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In Jesus’ conversation with Pilate in John 19:11, responding to his question, “Don’t you know that I have the authority….to crucify you?” Jesus answers:

“You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (ESV)

οὐκ εἶχες ἐξουσίαν κατ’ ἐμοῦ οὐδεμίαν εἰ μὴ ἦν δεδομένον σοι ἄνωθεν· διὰ τοῦτο ὁ παραδούς μέ σοι μείζονα ἁμαρτίαν ἔχει. (NA28)

I’m having trouble understanding the logical connection between these two sentences. 'Therefore' (διὰ τοῦτο) seems to indicate that this qualification of Pilate’s authority has as its result the fact that greater sin is attributed to the other (Caiaphas? Judas? - a topic for another question). But 'the other' has somehow more unqualified authority?

This is further complicated by the fact that 'what was given from above' appears to not refer to 'authority' in Greek, although it seems to in English (to this reader). The participle in the periphrastic verbal construction is neuter: unless it were having been given, where 'it' refers to some item with grammatically neuter gender (not evident (to me) proximately; 'authority' is feminine) or a concept without an explicit antecedent (I suppose).

  • What is the connection between these two sentences?*
  • What is here 'given from above'?

*In my mind, this is a re-statement of the title question, but if not feel free to answer that one too.

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  • Thus far, It makes sense to me that Jesus is referring to Satan, the Power of the Air, of this world. Satan gave Pilot his authority; it was Satan who instigated turning Jesus over - and Satan who has greater sin than Pilot. "Satan entered Judas..."
    – tblue
    Dec 9, 2018 at 15:28

12 Answers 12

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This is a good question, as it relies on the proper understanding of ἄνωθεν (anōthen) . This word is used 13 times, and in most of the instances it is an adverb defined as "from above" meaning God or heaven (see here).

But it is clear in this case the "greater sin" cannot be attributed to heaven, although the "authority" over Jesus was given by His Father-in Heaven. Pilate was responding to a request from the Chief priests and Sanhedrin to put an innocent man to death-a man who's innocence he learned of from his wife(Mt. 27:19). The manner of death which they were requesting was crucifixion, which only Pilate had the authority to do.

But the Chief priests and the Sanhedrin had the authority "under the law" to put to death anyone for blasphemy, which conclusion they came to in Matt. 26:64-65,

"Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 65Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. 66What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.

The "greater sin" was that although they "sat in Moses's seat", and therefore did have authority over Jesus under the Law,(Matt. 23:1-3),

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Therefore, the Father(from above ἄνωθεν (anōthen), had given authority to the Chief priests and scribes, and furthermore, they "knew" whom they were crucifying, John 9:40,

And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 41Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth

In His parable about the Wicked Servants(Mk. 12:1-12), Jesus alluded to the scribes and Pharisees;

6Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. 7But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. 8And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. 9What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.

Furthermore, they knew He was talking about them,(vs 12)

And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.

Conclusion: They had been given the authority "ἄνωθεν" to put Jesus to death; yet they knew who He was and what they were doing. Therefore, they incurred the "greater sin" than Pilate, who was attempting to appease a restless population, and against the counsel of his wife, decided to have Jesus crucified; although he made a 'public gesture' of absolving himself.

In Jesus's Final Words,"

"34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,"

He fulfills His Purpose; as the once and for all sacrifice, extending forgiveness not only to those who put Him to death, but to all men in every generation who have sinned;

27Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. 28Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again..

Therefore, it was to the glory of the Father that Jesus submitted Himself to the authority of those who put Him to death.

.

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  • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I don't think the meaning of ἄνωθεν is really in question here (although ScottS has pointed out that it can have other senses). You've gone on to the big picture but I'm still caught up with trying to understand the sentence structure. It seems from your conclusion that you consider "authority" to be the answer to my Q2, but you haven't responded to my grammatical concerns about that. (You may be right; I'm just not getting it.)
    – Susan
    Nov 6, 2014 at 6:02
  • 1
    I also got lost trying to figure out how this answers Q1. The conclusion ends up being about how the Jewish leaders are given authority from above and are guilty of greater sin, but the passage is about Pilate having been given [something] from above in contrast to those (him, really) guilty of greater sin. Right?
    – Susan
    Nov 6, 2014 at 6:03
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    @Susan Pilate's "authority" over Jesus in this instance stems from the Chief Priests and Sanhedrin handing Him over to be crucified-those that the Father put His Son under the "authority" of the Law. Pilate, in this instance was an unwilling accomplice attempting to placate an angry mob. He had no quarrel with Jesus, and gave Him a 'yeah, whatever' response by asking Him "What is truth?"
    – Tau
    Nov 6, 2014 at 8:53
  • @I apologize for not syntactically addressing your concerns; I usually avoid these questions as it requires linguistic skills I don't possess. I do believe the answer is in context with authority "from above", which rightly describes God's authority transferred to men, who in turn misused it to their own purposes.
    – Tau
    Nov 6, 2014 at 9:02
  • No problem, this adds some valuable perspective anyway.
    – Susan
    Nov 7, 2014 at 0:02
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John 19:11 seems a disjointed verse, with no clear reason Jesus would have said Pilate only had authority because it was given from above, and with the second sentence apparently unrelated to the first. More spiritual commentators prefer 'from above' to refer to Pilate receiving his authority from God, but that seems a stretch of logic. Others say that, because Caesar was 'above' Pilate, the authority came from Caesar, but that simply makes Jesus' response seem petty and pedantic. Whatever the proper meaning of the first sentence in this verse, it must explain and be explained by the second sentence, something that neither of these two interpretations does. Furthermore, it seems that Pilate's intention "from thenceforth" to release Jesus(John 19:12) ought to have been in some way prompted by Jesus' words spoken here.

If Jesus told Pilate that his authority came from above, in the sense that it came from God (or from Pilate's own gods), he would surely have felt privileged to continue judging Jesus under this divine authority. On the other hand, if Jesus said this to mean that Pilate's authority came from Caesar, he would surely have been firm in his resolve to continue with the trial. Yet, on hearing Jesus' words, Pilate intended to release Jesus.

In another answer, Mike goes part of the way to recognising the meaning, when he says that anothen not only means 'from above', but also 'again' or 'from the beginning'. Most commentators say that in this case, it clearly means 'from above', but then fail to explain the passage successfully. On the other hand, 'again' does not seem a good interpretation.

I may be missing something in the nuance of Greek grammar, but I believe 'from the beginning' to be a more satisfactory translation for anothen in this case, implying that Pilate's authority over Jesus was given to him by the chief priests when they handed him over in the first place. This explains why Jesus exonerates Pilate to some extent, saying that because they had done so in the beginning, those who delivered him to Pilate had the greatest sin. Realising that Jesus has identified the chief priests as bringing a false charge, Pilate sought to release Jesus. It is also a more direct explanation as to why the Jews cried out when Pilate sought to do this - John's Greek-speaking audience knew that Jesus had identified them as the real villains of the piece.

In this way, there is no suggestion that the chief priests, or the Jews more generally, had authority over Pontius Pilate, but that they gave him that authority when, in the beginning, they brought Jesus to him. The greater sin was that they had arrested Jesus and brought him to Pilate for judgement.

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The Neuter Participle δεδομένον

The antecedent of the the neuter participle δεδομένον could be the implied substantivized infinitive «τὸ ἔχειν ἐξουσίαν» (i.e., τὸ ἐξουσιάζειν)1—“to have power,” instead of the feminine noun ἐξουσίαν. Hence, “to have power” against Jesus was given to Pilate from God.2

“Therefore, he who delivered me to you has the greater sin”

Although Pilate was given this power—and the Lord Jesus Christ clearly acknowledges such—Pilate was responsible for its judicious application. Three times Pilate said, “I find no fault in him.”3 Despite thrice acknowledging his innocence, Pilate still delivers Jesus to be crucified.4 He also allows Jesus to be scourged and beaten by the Roman soldiers.5 He has sinned on account of his perversion of justice, after being intimidated by the Jewish mob.6

The most immediate mention of some person or group delivering Jesus to Pilate occurs in John 18:35, wherein it states that “your own nation and the chief priests delivered you to me.” However, Jesus was led from Caiaphas to the judgment hall (i.e., Pilate).7 Therefore, the high priest Caiaphas is likely «ὁ παραδιδούς».

Why, then, would Caiaphas have “the greater sin”? The Mishna states, “The King may neither judge nor be judged, testify nor be testified against.”8 Not only was Caiaphas transgressing the Torah by judging the King Messiah, over whom he had no such authority, he also aggravated the miscarriage of justice by “malignantly endeavoring to obtain the sanction of a magistrate who was invested with authority by God, and who wielded the power that God gave him.”9


Footnotes

1 As you know, the substantivized infinitive is preceded by the neuter (singlular) definite article. See Goodwin, Ch. V “The Infinitive,” B., p. 315, §788. cf. Phil. 1:29
2 On authorities being divinely ordained, cf. Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13–14. On δίδωμι + infinitive in the sense of being allowed or granted to do something, see BDAG, p. 243, δίδωμι, 12.:

to grant by formal action, grant, allow, freq. of God (cp. 7 above) ἐξουσίαν δ. (Hippol., Ref. 5, 26, 21 grant someone the power or authority, give someone the right, etc.

3 John 18:38, 19:4, 19:6
4 John 19:16
5 John 19:1–3
6 John 19:7–8, 19:12
7 John 18:28
8 Sanhedrin 18a, Mishna: המלך לא דן ולא דנין אותו לא מעיד ולא מעידין אותו. Not much later in the Gemara (19a), Rabbi Yosef states that this only applies to the King of the nothern kingdom of Israel, but the later mention of David (i.e, מצינו בדוד) in the same mishna (18a) leads me to believe that his statement is contrived.
9 Barnes, p. 382

References

Arndt, William; Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.

Barnes, Albert. Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Gospels. Rev. ed. Vol. 2. New York: Harper, 1862.

Goodwin, William Watson. Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb. Boston: Ginn, 1893.

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Most commentators suggest that ἄνωθεν means 'from God' in this context but, of course, it doesn't have to. A brief word search shows an number of meanings of this term.
A few uses of ἄνωθεν
Matt 27:51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Luke 1:3 I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,
John 3:3 no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
John 3:31 He who comes from above is above all,
John 19:23 This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
If we go with 'from above', Jesus could be referring to Caesar, which would make far more sense in this context. We find a few verses later Pilate is warned 'if you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar's'. Pilate really doesn't have the option of releasing Jesus. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He cannot act according to his conscience because he is accountable to his superiors and he cannot afford to allow the city to riot.
Thus those who have put Pilate in this impossible situation are indeed guilty of a greater sin.
I have assumed, of course, that the 'it' refers back to the authority which leaves that part of your question unanswered.

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What is the connection between these two sentences:

You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.

Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.

Without the second sentence, Pilate might have concluded that he would somehow be exonerated. But when Jesus' reference to a "greater sin" makes it clear that Pilate, too, is guilty.

The "therefore" might be better read as "because of this", i.e. because of the fact he just stated. It is true that Pilate had been given his authority from above, but that in itself does not exonerate him. It merely lessens his guilt compared to that of the Jews.

This is the explanation I think that Chrysostom provides, explaining the verse in Greek to Greeks in the late 4th century:

To pull down his pride and arrogance, He saith,

Thou wouldst have no power except it were given thee

Showing that this did not come to pass merely in the common order of events, but that it was accomplished mystically. Then lest, when thou hearest, Except it were given thee, thou shouldest deem that Pilate was exempt from all blame, on this account therefore He said, Therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin. “And yet if it was given," [one might say,] "neither he nor they were liable to any charge.” Thou objectest idly; for the ‘given’ in this place means what is ‘allowed’; as though He had said, ‘He hath permitted these things to be, yet not for that are ye clear of the wickedness.’

Homily LXXXIV on the Gospel According to St. John



What is here 'given from above'?

"Given from above" means allowed, or even preordained, by God, also signaling that Jesus' death was voluntary. A later Greek, Theophylact of Ohrid explains:

"Thou couldst have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above. My death is not meaningless; rather, it is preordained in heaven to accomplish a secret, mystical purpose - the salvation of the world" ... The words "it was given from above", mean that divine assent was given for Christ's death, but they do not imply that either Pilate or the Jews are absolved of guilt.

Explanation of the Gospel According to St. John

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Hmmm... All authority is from God Romans 13 We could easily attribute everything that happens God's "fault"... But, that would be blasphemous, because God can not have sin or be a sinner. True enough, Jesus "became sin" when He took our sins, but this is a different issue. The authority that Jesus is telling Pilate God has over Pilate is different from the culpability of say Judas or the Jews who handed Jesus over to Pilate. Pilate is kind of a governmental pawn carrying out his Romans 13 authority "given to him by God". The Jewish leadership and Judas plot is not a formal Romans 13 God ordination. It is a rebellious "anti-christ" act against against God Himself. Jesus made a point of asking the Jewish authorities to find some particular sin or law that he had broken. They could only "nail Him" (pardon me) for blasphemy… the number one sin... Jesus was "making Himself equal to God". What is [the] Truth? Pilate asked... Jesus is God? King of the Jews? That was a tough pill to swallow... and Jesus did not push the point theologically, but by the miraculous works and implication. The Jewish authority picked up on this. Jesus threatened their religious authority and the personal identities they rested on in having this religious authority. They weren't happy with the implications of this threat Jesus posed to them. They needed to nail Him.

So, "therefore" Pilate is sinning if he does not follow the protocol of his God ordained authority. But "the one who delivered Me" has the greater sin because it is purely spiritually motivated by anti-Christ rebellion. True, it too was given by God if we attribute EVERYTHING to God's sovereign permissive will, not given by God in terms of carrying out the protocol of Romans 13 God-ordained authority. It was rebellious and therefore greater sin.

Was that too convoluted?

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  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for this good answer.
    – user25930
    Nov 5, 2018 at 8:24
  • "Was that too convoluted" I think it would benefit from better formatting and structure — can you refine this into clear points rather than a 'train of thought'? Nov 13, 2018 at 16:59
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The answer is simple. Satan has the greater sin. Satan is the God and the prince of this world. He has control over all the kingdoms of the earth. How else could he have presented Jesus with the offer of rulership over all the kingdoms of the earth when he tempted him in the desert? Also, at the last supper, Jesus handed the sop to Judas and said what you have come to do, do it quickly and then Satan entered Judas. Isn't the answer obvious? The devil (the god of this world) conspired to crucify Jesus. Since Satan has the authority over the kingdoms of the earth, then Pilate was only acting by an order from 'high above'. Is it any wonder why Satan is called the prince of the power of the air? Notice Jesus, said the one who delivered me to you, indicating the singular. The one being the evil one.

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  • 1
    Hello and welcome. Have you taken the tour? hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour Please cite your source(s). Thanks. It isn't enough to get the right answer here, you have to show your work. Like in High School. :)
    – Ruminator
    Nov 27, 2018 at 0:36
  • I echo Ruminator in welcoming you to the BHSE community. I like the idea of what your answer is getting at, but a more detailed delineation of your answer would be great. Dec 3, 2018 at 4:46
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Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.”

Pilate claims authority to release or to crucify Jesus, but Jesus replies that Pilate's authority is not his own. The important term here, however is not ἄνωθεν (which is often translated here as 'from above', although the Greek word more commonly means 'from the beginning'), but instead the term δεδομένον, meaning given. What Jesus is remarking on is that Pilate has no authority to release or crucify Jesus unless it is given to him in the first place.

Pilate cannot release Jesus on his own authority, but can only release one man at the request of the Jewish people, who insist that Barab'bas be released instead of Jesus:

“I find no crime in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barab′bas!” (John 18: 38-40)

Likewise, Pilate's 'authority' to crucify Jesus is not his decision to make either - in fact, he twice refuses this authority, having found Jesus to be innocent. But Pilate's 'authority' binds him to act only according to the demands of the Jewish people and high priests, who have apparently handed Jesus over to Pilate because their own laws prevent them from putting a man to death during the Passover:

Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” (John 18:31)

Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; (John 19: 6-8)

Pilate recognises at this point that Jesus' words are true: that whatever 'authority' he thinks he has here is given to him by the Jews - it is not a decision that Pilate has any real authority to make himself.

The cause of the 'greater sin', according to John's account, would therefore be the "nation and high priests" who apparently handed Jesus over to Pilate (John 18:35) and called for his death.

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John 19:11: "You would have no power over me except it was given from above. (NIV)

Couldn't this simply be Jesus expressing the true nature of His office? Maybe he's expressing the fact that the only force in existence that has any type of "rank" over Him, is His Father in heaven. He's outlining the fact that while Pilate is guilty of the sin of condemning the flesh incarnate of God, the Pharisees that gave Him up to be tried and condemned in the first place are guilty of a greater sin, especially because of their (supposed) familiarity and connection with the things of God.

The "therefore" could simply be a driving home of Jesus' power of office, and how grave of a sin it truly was to condemn Him as the Pharisees did.

In other words: "I'm God in the flesh, it's a pretty BIG DEAL to whip me, crucify me, etc. THEREFORE, the ones that are REALLY in hot water, are the ones who accused me falsely and brought me to you."

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This one is simple. See Romans 13:1.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which is from God. The authorities that exist have been appointed by God.

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  • Pilate was an outsider who had little first hand knowledge of Jesus and was also not an expert in Jewish law. So he had the lesser sin in comparison to Judas, who had spent years working with Christ on a daily basis - and had seen His miracles first hand - yet betrayed him directly, and in comparison to the legal experts, the Pharisees, who also participated in delivering Jesus to Pilate. Jun 8, 2019 at 19:44
  • Welcome to BiblicalHermaneutics.SE. Unlike other sites (e.g. Quora), StackExchange answers are meant to be factual and authoritative, something one might hope to find in a secular encyclopedia. Your answer contains mostly conjecture and opinion, not researched facts or references, and so isn't appropriate here. It also fails to directly address the original question. Please take the time to take the tour and read about how this site is different from others. Jun 18, 2019 at 13:35
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I appreciate your explanation and viewpoint but I disagree. While some aspects of what you say seems right, it is altogether disjointed.

First, Israel or the Jews were vassals to the Roman empire which means they paid tribute and received permission to continue their traditional feast, etc. It was the Pharisees and Sadducees that were afraid of disrupting the Roman peace. Jesus was such an individual! Just a few decades earlier Pilate had massacred thousands of Jews and crucified them along the road as a warning of any rebellion against Roman authority. The authority which had been given to Rome (Pilate represents Rome) can be linked back to Daniel's vision of great empires that would rule. Rome was one of those empires and had been decreed to rule as Daniel's dream confirmed. So Authority had already been given before Rome was an empire and before Pilate ever made that statement. So Jesus' answer is correct when He said, "you (to Pilate which represents Rome) you have no power over me except it had been given from above (heavenly decree)and fulfillment of what was prophesied concerning His death.

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    – Community Bot
    Dec 28, 2021 at 4:01
  • @Tommy Leaks - Welcome to BH Comm. Perhaps we should focus on the point of the question and make our comments. The question is why Jesus declares the sin of the Jewish authority, who delivered Jesus to Pilate, is greater than Pilate's. Scriptural clues point to Pilate was doing his part in the divine purpose (is guilty nonetheless), but Jewish leaders, who should know better, were doing it out of a rejection of Jesus and envy (Jn 1:11; Mk. 15:10), hatred toward Jesus. All wrongdoing is sin (1 John 5:17), but some are greater, says Jesus.
    – Sam
    Dec 30, 2021 at 2:33
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Can God sin? Was it Judas who turned him over? Who is offering this sin offering, when Jews placed their hand on a lamb and transfer Their sin for its purity, was this what Judas did with the kiss? Abraham put the wood on Isaacs back and said god would provide an offering So god provided the offering wrapped him in swaddling placed him in a manger The Hebrews said let his blood be on us and our children’s children (our house) Just as at the pass over. Jesus hands were raised up just as when Moses hands held up the staff in victory. And Paul said where sin abounds grace superabounds There for we who accept Christ accept that he is our sin offering We have the greatest sin his blood is on our hands on our house We receive grace because we gave to god what is gods. His blood mixed withe water and flooded the whole earth the rainbow mirrors the coat of many colours and Jesus resurrection mirrors Joseph saving his brothers after his death And bringing them into plenty. The first flood killed all the second saves all who believe it was gods own blood that was shed for all sins. We killed our brother in jealous and rage but god used it to cleanse us.

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