How To Drive a Theologian Insane…But Keep Him/Her Employed

“Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.” (John 3:25, ESV)

I’m into the last section of John 3  (John 3.22-36) and one of the things that strikes me as I initially study it is this funny little verse above.  Here is what we can glean from this verse:

  • There was a discussion/dispute/argument
  • It was between John’s disciples and a Jew (or maybe some Jews, some manuscripts have a plural “Jews”)
  • The dispute was over purification

That is all we know because that is all that John tells us.  He doesn’t say what he means by “purification” [BDAG says the word means: Cleansing from cultic impurity].  What cleansing?  What were they arguing about?  Who needed to be purified?  How was the purification done?  We don’t know any of that because John didn’t bother to tell us anything.  And that is how to drive a theologian insane.  He simply must know what John means by purification and what the argument was all about.  Lacking any, you know, data, he must come up with conjecture about what it means.  This has kept many theologians busy for many hundreds of pages in many commentaries speculating on what the purification was.  The answer is:  WE DO NOT KNOW, PEOPLE!!

We don’t know what John meant or what the argument was about because John doesn’t tell us.  Speculation beyond that is not helpful, indeed it may waste hundreds of pages—but more important, my time!—to no avail because there simply is no answer to the question, “what did John mean?”

Why didn’t John explain [I’m glad you didn’t asked, dear thousands of reader(s)].  He didn’t explain because that was not his point! His point was that John the Baptist was going to witness about Christ and he didn’t want speculating theologians to detract from the important point he was making!

Which should be a lesson for us.  It is oh so tempting to speculate about things upon which the Scriptures are silent.  Avoid the trap.  Just stick to the facts, ma’am (or sir)!

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