Wednesday, February 28, 2007

John 4:23—God seeks those already worshiping Him?

This is my first "Huh—look at that" post.

When I preached through John about twenty years ago, this passage stumped me. Oh, the EVV are clear enough:
ESV But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

CSB But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him.

NAS "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

NET But a time is coming– and now is here– when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.

NKJ "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

NIV Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

All are pretty plain in saying that the Father seeks people who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Standing alone, you could lean the verse Calvinist (yayy), or Arminian or worse (booo).

The trouble is the Greek text.
ἀλλὰ ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ νῦν ἐστιν, ὅτε οἱ ἀληθινοὶ προσκυνηταὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ πατρὶ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ· καὶ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ τοιούτους ζητεῖ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτόν.
The ESV's "the Father is seeking such people to worship him" renders τοιούτους ζητεῖ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτόν. "To worship" represents a (in itself) straightforward articular present participle. Other considerations aside, we'd more probably render it something like this: "for indeed the Father seeks such as these who worship Him." The worship, then, is either antecedent to, or concurrent with, the Father's seeking activity.

This is borne out in parallel uses of ζητέω and an articular present participle:
Ecclesiastes 3:15 τὸ γενόμενον ἤδη ἐστίν καὶ ὅσα τοῦ γίνεσθαι ἤδη γέγονεν καὶ ὁ θεὸς ζητήσει τὸν διωκόμενον

Matthew 18:12 Τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ; ἐὰν γένηταί τινι ἀνθρώπῳ ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ πλανηθῇ ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν, οὐχὶ ἀφήσει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη καὶ πορευθεὶς ζητεῖ τὸ πλανώμενον;

Luke 24:5 ἐμφόβων δὲ γενομένων αὐτῶν καὶ κλινουσῶν τὰ πρόσωπα εἰς τὴν γῆν εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτάς· τί ζητεῖτε τὸν ζῶντα μετὰ τῶν νεκρῶν·
In each, the condition precedes the seeking. In none of them is it the design of the seeking.

At the time, I ransacked every book I had. I've since looked in more recent books (including Wallace). No one seems troubled by the construction; or they are, and that's why they don't comment.

So what is Jesus saying? Are there those who, as He speaks, are worshiping the Father in spirit and truth already, and the Father is seeking them? Or is it some sort of pregnant construction that warrants the insertion of "as" or "to be," leaving open the thought that they aren't thus worshiping Him at present, but the Father will bring them to that point by sovereign grace?

When I expounded it, having found no help in my resources, I took it in the sense that there is in true worship a mutual seeking. We seek after God, and He seeks after us (Psalm 145:18; Proverbs 15:8, 29, etc.). Bringing in the rest of the Bible, I'm constrained to confess that this would never happen apart from the prior, monergistic grace of God (Romans 3:11-12).

But that still leaves this passage, and I admit I've no confidence in my understanding of it. It's yet another (to me) large question that it is as if the commentators have agreed that they'll all pass over it in silence.

So, I appeal to the Ἑλληνιστὶ γινώσκεις; brain-trust. What do you-all make of it?

(If you're a lost beginner, hang in there; I have posts coming just for you.)


Frank Martens said...

Sorry just thought of something...

1) What's the breakdown of προσκυνοῦντας?

2) Isn't there more to be said about what ζητεῖ stems from? Meaning isn't it more then just a "seeking"? I.e. What's the difference between this greek word of actively seeking and the others?

DJP said...

The "breakdown"? You mean, that it's a present active participle, accusative masculine plural, from προσκυνέω?

As to the other, if someone has a particular thought, this is an open invitation for shared insights. John uses the word quite a bit in the Gospel, not at all in the Epistles, once in the Revelation.

Stefan Ewing said...

DJP wrote,

"I took it in the sense that there is in true worship a mutual seeking. We seek after God, and He seeks after us (Psalm 145:18; Proverbs 15:8, 29, etc.)."

Perhaps there's something to that. I was raised as an atheist but in my adolescence—long before God first revealed himself to me—I already had a strong sense that there must be some kind of divine nature preceding and permeating creation. At that time, it was only an intellectual construct. In hindsight, however, I think the Holy Spirit was working in me, preparing me to receive God. In that sense, whenever God has called out to me in my life (because I turned away from him more than once before I finally surrendered myself to Jesus Christ), he's already been stirring in me a receptivity to hear him. In a sense, way back in my teeange years, I was already worshipping God without realizing it. (Dagnabit, does this mean I'm turning into one of them durned Calvinists?)

It's a dance--God is working on us before we even know it.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...


I think you are imposing a temporal framework on a statement which is atemporal. The participle functions as an adjective with the demonstrative. There is no authorial intent to specify some sort of temporal or logical sequence. John is stating a general truth about the kind of worshiper God seeks.

We should not import the post-reformational dogmatic disputes into the GJn :-)

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

I said:

"The participle functions as an adjective with the demonstrative."

This is somewhat misleading. The participle with the demonstrative refer to a particular class of worshiper. The time of worship in relation to God's seeking isn't an idea that John presents in this text.

DJP said...

Thanks for your opinion, but I don't really see how dismissing the question moves us ahead in understanding the passage. Does God seek people who are already worshiping Him in this manner? What does that mean, then? What is it that Jesus is saying?

I note, too, that you do nothing with the parallels I found.


Hickory Hill Baptist Church said...

(I'm not sure if this already's try 2)
I have to agree with c. stirling bartholomew. It seems that the common consensus maintains that atemporality for participles in general (with few exceptions). Picirilli reviewed Stanley Porter in a wonderfully concise treatment of this and similar issues. All of the translations cited translated it as such because that makes the most sense out of the context. Personally I don't infer much from the two parallel NT passages (much less from Ecc.). Nonetheless, one can easily look at all three of the parallel passages and note that there are clear contextual clues that mark the time of the participle. That is, the time isn't packed into the participle but rather into its context.
In Matthew, the sheep first went astray and then the shepherd sought after it. So, in referring to it, it's clearly the sheep that already had gone astray.
In Luke, I think it's quite possible that the participle is contemporaneous with the seeking. They are living.
Granting first that the Ecclesiastes passage is somewhat obscure (check out a few translations), it nevertheless seems evident that the only contextual option for what God is seeking is things that now are not. Hence it is antecedent. Though again, not because of the participle.

But, I'm still struggling with the verbal system and I'd love to be critiqued! Thanks.

David said...

Three considerations, DJP (and thanks for this great blog. I hope to be a regular. We all need this kind of sharpening).
1. Jesus begins by moving the discussion out of the way things are and into the way things will be now that He is around. The context, then, is "beginning, but not yet."
2. Like that, Jesus says that true worshipers προσκυνήσουσιν (will worship). Again, this moves the view forward. We're looking into the future, a realm in which we might expect "results." Something happens, and then something else. Jesus is here, and then...
3. More importantly, how does the γὰρ function? If we take it that "Now is the time when true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth, because God is seeking such people to worship Him," then the γὰρ provides the reason why the time is "now." I think that since we have an inaugurative action (now), its ground (γὰρ) should contain a reason, which we find if we allow τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας to mean "to worship".
I'm sorry these are a little confused. You've pushed us into murky territory. There is no grammatical support that I can see to not translate it a new way, so the burden is for us to try to understand why so many translated it the other way. So I'm trying to see the context. In sum, the two indicators I see for reasons to take τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας as "to worship" or as a result, is the future orientation and the presence of "gar." Maybe others could explain what I mean better.

Stefan Ewing said...

Hmmm, the more comments that come in, the more my thoroughly non-linguistic reply looks lame by contrast!

Mickey Sheu said...

Dan -

As a beginning NT Greek student who is just starting to recognize participles, it was a delight to see you focusing on something I could recognize. I love the blog, I hope I can continue to come back to it to encourage me to do my own reading!

Thanks for this blog, and your other two =p

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, a great ministry to keep us in the Greek. Thanks.

DJP said...

mxu—I love that this blog's getting responses like yours. Stay around!


Sewing—let's make a deal. I'll remember that I haven't promised that every post would be a thundering, authoritative, binding word from Mt. Sinai; and you remember that all I look is for you to bring what you have, and grow with the rest of us. I don't demand that my readers be A. T. Robertson, they don't expect that I be Rev. Dr. Prof. Heinrich Hornswab Featheringbotham III. Sound like a deal? (c:

David, Ryan, and CSB—thank each of you for your thoughts. I wonder whether each of you could give us a midrash, an expanded paraphrase, that brings out how you're taking the participle? I for one would appreciate it.

Stefan Ewing said...

Well, although the consensus seems to be against your reading, you helped me come to understand the motivation for the doctrine of unconditional election, which I've been struggling with ever since I discovered that Calvinists have the most interesting blogs.

...And bonus points for using "midrash" idiomatically like that!

B Treece said...

I agree with all the guys who appreciate this blog and thank God for it. I need encouragement in the Greek. In fact, I want to start doing this with some other young brothers in my church.

I have to agree with David in his 3-point post. The grammar and context seem to speak of an already-not yet reality - "a time is coming and already is when true worshippers will worship the Father . . ." In John 4, Jesus is answering the woman's question about the place of worship. Christ seems to be speaking of the coming (and already here) kingdom where it is not place that matters but Spirit and truth. This would also serve as an encouragement to those who do not feel their worship is "right," yet are currently worshipping the Father by faith. The Father is seeking them, too.

Already-not-yet is one of those tougher biblical realities to understand and explain , yet it undergirds so much of God's Word.

DJP said...

Thanks for all of that, Big B.

Could you take the request that, so far, noboyd's taken? Give your own interpretive paraphrase of what Jesus is saying in 4:23?


B Treece said...

Sure, I'd love to.

Let's try: "But the time is coming and is already here, when those who truly worship will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, because the Father also is seeking those ones who are worshiping Him."

Does that look like yours? Or another one? The grammar seems pretty straightforward but the English can still get wordy. I haven't thought out all the implications of such a translation, but it is interesting to dig deeper into the grammar and syntax.


The Last Hour Blog said...

Intriguing discussion is also needed when considering John 5:25-29 Jesus echoing Is 26:19, Ez 37:12 and Daniel 12:2 as already beginning.
Just wondering how a dispi would read this text.

DJP said...

We believe every word of it, of course. We don't, however, see it as a warrant for emptying other verses of their meaning.

The Last Hour Blog said...

I guess my point in bringing up the echoes in John 5 was to try and understand how a dispenationalist reading interprets Jesus when he is showing that eschatological sections of the OT are already beginning.
This is just one of the many 'already not yet' texts within John's gospel.