was successfully added to your cart.

Monthly Archives

April 2019

Note of the Day – April 29 (John 11:25)

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

John 11:25

Jesus’ response to Martha in vv. 25-26, which also expounds the meaning of his saying in v. 23, can be divided into four parts, though it makes up a single sentence:

  • “I am the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life”
  • “the (one) trusting in me, even if he should die away, he will live”
  • “every (one) living and trusting in me, no he does not die away into the age”
  • “do you trust [i.e. believe] this?”

Each of these will be discussed in turn, beginning with the declaration in v. 25a:

e)gw/ ei)mi h( a)na/stasi$ kai\ h( zwh/
“I am the standing-up and the life”

There are three elements to this saying: (1) pronoun (subject), (2) verb, and (3) dual predicate. The first two are taken together, as the phrase “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) marks this as one of the famous “I am”-sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

e)gw/ ei)mi—There are at least 17 “I am” sayings or statements by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, and these can be divided into: (a) those with a predicate, and (b) those without a (specific) predicate. I begin with the latter, since they are necessary for a proper understanding of the former. There are three important occurrences in the discourse of Jesus set in Jerusalem during the festival of Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) in chapters 7-8:

  • “for if you do not trust that I am [e)gw ei)mi], you will die away in your sins” (8:24)
  • “when you lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [e)gw ei)mi]…” (8:28)
  • “…before Abraham(‘s) coming to be [gene/sqai], I am [e)gw ei)mi]” (8:58)

To these may be added Jesus’ wording in verses 18 (“I am the one witnessing about myself…”) and 23 (“I am out of [i.e. from] the things above”), which have more in common with the sayings with a predicate (below). The statement in 13:19 is similar in aspects of thought and vocabulary with the three sayings above:

“From now I say (this) to you before (its) coming to be, (so) that you may trust, when it comes to be, that I am [e)gw ei)mi]”

In two other instances, the expression e)gw/ ei)mi is understood, in the context of the narrative, as “I am he“—6:20 and 18:5.

The background for this Johannine usage of e)gw/ ei)mi by Jesus is to be found in the self-declaration by God (YHWH) in the Old Testament: “I am YHWH…”. This formula of divine revelation, occurs in key passages such as Gen 28:13; Exod 6:6-7; 7:5; 15:26; 20:2, 5; Lev 18:5; Isa 45:18; Hos 13:4; Joel 2:27, etc. This involves the pronoun yn]a& (“I”) but no specific verb (a verb of being is implied). A similar declaration, “I am He” (aWh yn]a&), occurring in Deut 32:39 and frequently in (Deutero-)Isaiah (41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12; 51:12; 52:6) is translated in the Greek version (LXX) as e)gw/ ei)mi—”I am“. For Greek-speaking Jews in the post-Exilic period, “I Am”, e)gw/ ei)mi, could function effectively as the Divine name (i.e. YHWH), and this is important in the context of the portrait of Jesus in the Gospel of John.
For more on the name YHWH and the explanation provided in Exod 3:14, cf. the earlier Christmas season note.

A central theme throughout the Gospel, in the discourses of Jesus, is that Jesus (the Son) is making known the name of the Father to his disciples (i.e. to believers). In ancient thought, to make known a person’s name is essentially the same thing as making known the person himself. Thus the “I Am” sayings of Jesus should be understood in terms of theophany—the manifestation of God to human beings on earth. In this regard, even the sayings typically translated “I am he” (Jn 6:20; 18:5) still have the character of a theophany. This is especially clear in the case of 6:20, which is part of the walking-on-water episode, where Jesus appears to the disciples, in the midst of wind and storm (typical elements of a theophany), and declares: “I am (he) [e)gw ei)mi]—do not be afraid!”

A recognition of this religious and theological background of the expression e)gw/ ei)mi will help us understand the sayings which involve a specific predicate. In most of these, Jesus is identifying himself with a particular image or symbol:

  • “I am the bread of life” / “I am the living bread” (6:35, 51)
  • “I am the light of the world” (8:12, cf. also 9:5)
  • “I am the door of the sheep(-fold)” (10:7, 9)
  • “I am the excellent (shep)herd” (10:11, 14)
  • “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5)

Jesus appears to be taking details from the natural world and daily life, much as he does in the (Synoptic) parables, and interpreting them from a spiritual and divine standpoint—he is the true [i.e. eternal/divine] bread, water, vine, shepherd, etc. However, the saying closest in form to 11:25a is found in the famous declaration of 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life”. Both statements take the pattern “I am…the life”.

a)na/stasi$–This noun, derived from the verb a)ni/sthmi, literally means “standing up”, but is commonly used in the technical sense of “resurrection”, i.e. standing up from the dead. Martha uses it in the conventional religious sense of the end-time resurrection, as discussed in the previous note. Indeed, it is always used this way elsewhere in the Gospels (Mark 12:18, 23 par; John 5:29; and cf. also Acts 23:6, 8; 24:15). Eventually, early Christians applied it specifically to the resurrection of Jesus, as in Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33, and throughout the letters. There is an interplay of both meanings in Acts 24:21 and 26:23 (cf. also 17:18, 32). Jesus’ statement to Martha in 11:25 combines these meanings and transcends them. By using the e)gw/ ei)mi formulation—”I am the resurrection”—Jesus is identifying himself with the effective power (of God) to raise the dead, and with God Himself who will raise them.

There are two aspects to Jesus’ correction of Martha’s misunderstanding, reflected in each of the two predicate nouns. First, he corrects her understanding of the resurrection (h( a)na/stasi$) by identifying himself as the resurrection—it is not simply something which will take place in the future, it is present now, in the person of Jesus. Second, he adds to it the life (h( zwh/).

zwh/—This word occurs quite frequently in the Johannine writings: 36 times in the Gospel, and 13 times in the letters; if we include the book of Revelation (17 times), that makes nearly half of all occurrences (135) in the New Testament. Based on the context of the narrative (the death of Lazarus), it would seem that ordinary physical life is in view. Certainly Martha has this in mind, thinking of the resurrection from the dead at the end time (v. 24). And yet, the word zwh/ almost always carries a deeper meaning throughout the Gospel and letters of John. In the Gospel, zwh/ occurs 17 times (nearly half of the 36) within the expression [h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh/, “[the] life of the age”, usually translated as “eternal life”. Even when it is used alone, it tends to denote eternal life, in the qualitative sense of spiritual and divine life—i.e., the life which is found in God the Father and the Son (Jesus). This fundamental identification is confirmed by the use of the e)gw/ ei)mi formula (cf. above), and is clarified by Jesus’ statement in 14:6. Jesus (the Son) reveals the life, truth, etc, of the Father and points/leads the way to Him.

I will be discussing the expression “life of the age” (i.e. eternal life) in more detail in upcoming notes. Here it is important to realize how Jesus (and the Gospel writer) makes use of the word “life”, and the idea of it, moving from the conventional understanding of the disciple (Martha), to a profound revelatory expression which even the committed believer can only begin to grasp. This will be examined as we proceed through the remainder of vv. 25-26 in the next few daily notes.

Saturday Series: John 1:15, 30; 3:28

By | Saturday Series | No Comments

Last week, we looked at John 3:1-21 in the context of the prior chapter 2 (especially 2:13-25). Today, we will be looking ahead to the next section, 3:22-36. I do not intend to provide a similarly detailed comparison with 3:1-21, only to note the general correspondence. There is indeed a similarity between the discourse involving John the Baptist (vv. 25ff) and the earlier one between Jesus and Nicodemus. In particular, the language and thought of vv. 31-36 has much in common with Jesus’ exposition in vv. 11-21. According to the context of the narrative, John the Baptist is the one speaking in vv. 31ff (there is no certain indication of a change in speaker), and the similarity of expression between Jesus and the Baptist is very much part of the overall theme of the Gospel. This was established in chapter 1, going back to the Prologue (vv. 1-18). John the Baptist is one sent from God to bear witness to Jesus. As 1:7-8 describes, John is not the light, but gives witness to it—so well indeed, that he and Jesus use much the same language. They are essentially witnessing to the same thing—Jesus’ own person and identity. Only, after chapter 3, John the Baptist disappears from the scene, and from that point on in the Gospel, it is Jesus’ words and works alone which bear witness.

The discourse in 3:22-36 reflects the narrative in chapter 1 even more closely. This is part of the Johannine blending of details and elements from the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry, as we saw in the case of 1:51 and the episodes of chapter 2. The main dialogue in vv. 25-30 is parallel to 1:19-34. The clearest reference is found in verse 28, where the Baptist says to those with him:

“You (your)selves (can) witness for me, that I said [that] ‘I am not the Anointed One, but that I am (one) having been se(n)t forth in front of that (one)’.”

If we look back at chapter 1, there are several statements which, if taken together, are similar to the saying here in v. 28b:

  • “I am not the Anointed One [i.e. Messiah]” (1:20b)
  • “the (One) sending me…” (v. 33; see also verse 6)
  • “the (one) coming behind me…” (v. 27, compare with the Synoptic saying in Mark 1:7 par)
  • the saying in verse 15 and 30 (discussed below)

The idea that Jesus is the Anointed One (on this title, see my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“), and that he comes after (or behind) John the Baptist, is a basic historical tradition found in all four Gospels (and the book of Acts). Yet it is clear from Jn 3:27-30ff that there is a deeper theological significance to the statement in v. 28. This comes out most vividly when we examine the saying of the Baptist in 1:15 and 30. Let us look at the form in verse 30, given in a literal translation:

“Behind me comes a man who has come to be in front of me, (in) that he was the first of [i.e. for, before] me”

The significance of this saying, as recorded in the Gospel of John is rather obscured by most translations; consider the NIV rendering as typical:

“A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me”

The basic idea of Jesus’ superior rank and (divine) pre-existence comes through well enough, but the powerful sequence of verbs (marked by italics above), and the profound theological (and Christological) statement contained within it, is impossible to capture in conventional English. Here is an instance where something truly is lost if one does not (or is not able to) study carefully the actual Greek words that are used. The saying is made up of three phrases, each of which contains a key verb:

  • “A man comes [erchetai] in back of [i.e. behind] me”
  • “who has come to be [gegonen] in front of me”
  • “he was [¢n] first of [i.e. for, before] me”

These three phrases (and verbs) essentially refer to an aspect of Jesus’ identity, which can best be understood by consulting the Prologue (vv. 1-18). Indeed, this same saying appeared earlier in the Prologue (v. 15), in a slightly different form, stated more succinctly:

“the one coming [erchomenos] in back of me has come to be [gegonen] in front of me (in) that he was [¢n] first of [i.e. for, before] me”

Let us see how each of these verbs is used in the Prologue:

1. comes/coming (vv. 7, 9, 11)—the verb erchomai (e&rxomai), which refers to human beings (and Jesus as a human being) coming into the world. This covers a person’s birth, but also extends to the place in which he lives, his community, his work and career, etc. It is frequently used in the Gospel of John in the context of Jesus coming into the world, to those who will believe in him (his disciples, believers)—a comprehensive idea spanning his human life, ministry, witness, and sacrificial death. His baptism, where he appears on the scene after (behind) John the Baptist, marks the beginning of his ministry, and the moment in which he first comes into public view.

2. has come to be (vv. 3, 6, 10, 12, 14, 17)—this is the verb ginomai (gi/nomai), an existential verb meaning “come to be, become”. It occurs frequently in the New Testament, usually in a common, ordinary sense; but, in the Gospel of John, it often has special theological significance, due to its overlapping meaning with the related verb gennaœ (genna/w). This latter verb regularly means “come to be born“, and ginomai can carry this meaning as well. It is used several different ways in the Prologue: (1) for creatures (and the world) coming into existence (vv. 3 [three times], 10), (2) for a human being coming to be born (v. 6), and similarly (3) of believers coming to be born (spiritually) (v. 12), and finally (4) of Jesus (the Word/Light) coming to be born as a human being (v. 14). It is this latter sense that is in view in verse 15—the incarnation, Jesus’ birth and his coming into the world as a human being. There is also a reference to the incarnation in verse 18, but with the added connotation of the revelation of God the Father in the person of Jesus (the Son). We should understand the phrase in verse 15/30 in this light. This second phrase works backward from the first: from Jesus coming into the world (into his life and ministry, etc) to his coming to be born as a human being. It is this—the incarnation itself —which, paradoxically, puts Jesus “in front of” John the Baptist. The perfect form of the verb (gegonen, “has come to be”) often indicates a past action, condition, event, etc, which continues into the present.

3. was (vv. 1-2, 4, 8-10)—this is the primary verb of being (eimi, ei)mi), in the third person imperfect form ¢n (h@n, “he was”). As such it occurs 10 times in the Prologue, including three times in verse 1. In this context, it refers to Divine Being—that is the being of God, and expresses something of the manner in which Jesus (the Word/Light/Son) shares in it. It reflects more than pre-existence—rather, eternal, divine existence which the Son (Jesus) shares with the Father. This informs the climactic third phrase of the saying in verse 15/30, taking yet another step back: from the incarnation (the birth of the Son as a human being) to the eternal life and being shared between the Father and the Son. In this light, we may better understand the somewhat ambiguous wording of the phrase “he was first of me”. The word prœtos (“first”) here is something more than a comparative (i.e. “superior to me”), but ought to be understood in a fundamental sense—Jesus is first of all things (including John the Baptist), sharing with God the Father both the eternal Life and the work of Creation. In a sense, prœtos is synonymous with the words that begin the Gospel—en arch¢ (“in the beginning”).

Returning to 3:28, and with this study of 1:15, 30 in mind, I would encourage you to read verses 22-36 of chapter 3 most carefully. Even if you do not read Greek, or do not have access to the Greek text, you can probably notice some important words, ideas, and themes which have occurred throughout the first three chapters of the Gospel. If you read Greek, or are using Greek study tools (such as those available in PC Study Bible), try to pay attention to any recurring words and phrases. In the Gospel of John, these often have special significance. How do verses 27-30 relate to what follows in vv. 31-36? Look especially at the words translated “eternal life” in verse 36, and consider how they relate to this discourse (and chapter 3 as a whole). We will be discussing the Johannine theme of “eternal life” in several upcoming studies, so it will be good for you to be thinking and meditating upon its meaning in the Gospel.

Continue in your reading and study of the Scripture…and I will see you next Saturday.

Note of the Day – April 26 (John 11:24)

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

John 11:24

In the previous note, I examined the statement by Jesus to Martha in verse 23 (“Your brother will stand up [again]”), observing that it holds the same place in this dialogue as the central statement/sayings by Jesus in the major Discourses. Similarly, Martha’s response in v. 24 reflects the same discourse pattern, whereby the person(s) hearing Jesus misunderstand the true meaning of his words. This is indicated clearly here:

“Martha says to him, ‘I see [i.e. know] that he will stand up [a)nasth/setai] in the standing-up [a)na/stasi$] in the last day’.”

She is referring to the belief that human beings (the righteous, at least) will be raised from the dead by God at the end-time. While evidence for such a belief among Israelites in the Old Testament is ambiguous at best, in the exilic and post-exilic periods it appears to have been more common, as seen from references such as Daniel 12:2; Sirach 46:12; 49:10; 2 Macc 7:9ff; 12:43-46; and 1 Enoch 91:10. The promise of resurrection in these passages is for the righteous ones; evidence for belief in a universal resurrection (of righteous and wicked both) is not clearly attested prior to the 1st century A.D. (cf. 2/4 Esdras 7:32ff). According to both the New Testament and Josephus, some Israelites and Jews (i.e. the Sadducees) in the time of Jesus did not believe in a resurrection (Mark 12:18ff par; Acts 23:8; Antiquities 19.3-5ff; War 2.11ff, 154ff). Scholars continue to debate whether, or to what extent, an end-time resurrection was accepted by the Community of the Qumran texts. While early Christians held firmly to a belief in Jesus’ resurrection, there may have been some who had doubt regarding the end-time resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:12-13).

The noun a)na/stasi$, derived from a)ni/sthmi (“[make] stand up”), came to be a technical term for both the end-time resurrection and, among Christians, the resurrection of Jesus. The noun is frequently used in this sense in the New Testament, both in the book of Acts and the letters. However, interestingly, in the Gospels, the resurrection of Jesus typically is referenced by the verb e)gei/rw (“rise, raise”), with the related noun e&gersi$ in Matthew 27:53.

Martha confesses a belief in the end-time resurrection (a)na/stasi$) and understands Jesus’ statement as referring to this event. From the standpoint of the Gospel writer, the misunderstanding involves wordplay and shades of meaning. While a)ni/sthmi and a)na/stasi$ can be used in the technical sense of the end-time resurrection, Jesus is using them in the more fundamental sense of giving life (i.e. to the dead). This can be seen by an examination of Jesus’ famous exposition in verses 25-26, which we will begin in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – April 25 (John 11:23)

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

John 11:23

In verse 23, Jesus responds to Martha (vv. 21-22, cf. the previous two daily notes). His declaration has a place similar to that of the central statement/saying in the major Discourses (e.g., 3:3; 4:10; 5:17, etc). According the Johannine discourse-format, Jesus’ saying brings about misunderstanding by the person(s) hearing it, which then serves as the basis for the exposition which follows. Given the apparent faith expressed by Martha in v. 22, Jesus’ statement in v. 23 seems somewhat abrupt; he declares simply to her, “Your brother will stand up (again)”. Martha’s misunderstanding of this statement will be discussed in the next note. It is, however, important to consider first the significance of the verb a)ni/sthmi (lit. “stand up”). The verb can be used either in a transitive (“make [someone] stand up”) or intransitive sense. By the time of Jesus, among Greek-speaking Jews, it had come to have a technical meaning in reference to the raising of the dead—with the related noun a)na/stasi$ (“resurrection”). It was used previously (four times), in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, in which Jesus identifies himself as “the Bread from Heaven”, i.e. which has come down out of Heaven. In verse 38 he declares:

“…I have stepped down from heaven, not (so) that I might do my (own) will, but the will of the (One) having sent me.”

This is followed by a dual (parallel) statement regarding the will of God (the Father):

  • “And this is the will of the (One) having sent me–
    • that every(thing) which he has given to me I shall not lose (anything) out of it
      • but I will make it stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 39)
  • “For this is the will of my Father—
    • that every(one) th(at is) looking (closely) at the Son and trusting in him might hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]
      • and I will make him stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 40)

This phrase “and I will make him stand up [i.e. raise him up] in the last day” is repeated in v. 44, and again in v. 54, where the reference is to eating (chomping) the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Note the parallelism in these verses:

  • Everything (i.e. everyone) given to Jesus by the Father (v. 39)
    • Everyone seeing the Son (Jesus) and trusting him (v. 40)
  • (All) those drawn to Jesus by the Father (v. 44)
    • Those who eat his flesh and drink his blood (v. 54)

The second pair indicates a more immediate and dramatic experience by the believer—being drawn to Jesus, eating/drinking his flesh/blood—than the first, which reflects the essential dynamic of election (i.e. being chosen by God) and faith. That the eating/drinking of Jesus by the believer is primarily spiritual rather than sacramental is indicated by the overall context of the discourse, though there can be no doubt that there is a Eucharistic aspect to the language used.

The qualifying phrase of being raised “in the last day” is essentially eschatological, referring to the end-time resurrection, according to Jewish belief (to be discussed in the next daily note). However, it should not be understood exclusively in this sense. We can point back to the previous discourse in chapter 5, especially vv. 17-29, in which resurrection is a central theme, though there the verb e)gei/rw (“raise”) is used, rather than a)ni/sthmi. Jesus’ exposition in vv. 19-29 may be divided into two parts: (1) vv. 19-24, and (2) vv. 25-29. In the latter, it certainly is the end-time resurrection that is in view, but this would not appear to be the case in the former (vv. 19-24). There Jesus is referring to a more fundamental sense of the (eternal) life which he gives to the one who responds to his voice and trusts in him. The reality of this life is experienced even in the present by believers, and corresponds to the idea of being “born from above” (which can also be translated “born again“) in 3:3 (also “born of the Spirit” in v. 5). Thus the motifs of new life (from death) and spiritual life to believers (who not yet died) are interrelated and interchangeable in the Gospel of John. Both aspects will appear again, together, in the remainder of the Lazarus episode and the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, as we shall see.

Note of the Day – April 24 (John 11:22)

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

John 11:22

If Martha’s statement in verse 21 (cf. the previous daily note) was spoken out of her human need and sorrow, that of verse 22 is spoken with a measure of true faith. Her words in this verse may be divided into three segments:

1. “And (yet even) now I see that…”—The conjunctive particle kai/ (“and”) relates to the condition expressed in verse 21, i.e. “if you had been here, my brother would not have died”, a situation contrary to fact—Jesus did not arrive in time, and Lazarus passed away. The conjunction opening verse 22 is adversative, establishing a contrast—”and (yet)”, “but”. In some manuscripts this is made more explicit by the use of the conjunction a)lla/ before kai/ (“but even”). The particle nu=n (“now”), used together with the conjunction, intensifies and dramatizes the statement—”even now“, i.e., even after her brother has died—and ties it to the present moment of her exchange with Jesus. The verb ei&dw literally means “see”, but also has the meaning “know”, used interchangeably with ginw/skw. In the Gospel of John, this extends to a thematic (and theological) interplay between seeing and knowing. In Johannine expression, to see Jesus means something more than physical sight, rather a recognition and understanding of who Jesus is—his identity in relation to the Father.

2. “whatever you should ask God (for)…”—The use of the (correlative) pronoun o%so$ (“as [much] as”) in the plural, together with the subjunctive particle a&n, indicates “whatever”, lit. “as (many thing)s as (you) would…”. In simple English we might say “anything that you would ask God (for)”, but it is worth maintaining the grammatical plural of o%sa, if for no other reason than that it gives a comprehensive sense to Martha’s statement—i.e., all the (individual) things which Jesus might ask of God”. The verb ai)te/w (“ask”) is important here, and must be understood in tandem with the following verb di/dwmi (“give”).

3. “God will give to you”.—The double-use of “God” (qeo/$) here is significant in the way that it (emphatically) introduces the theme of Jesus’ relationship with God (the Father). The future aspect of the verb di/dwmi (dw/sei, “he will give”) indicates fulfillment. This pairing of ai)te/w/di/dwmi (“ask/give”) must be understood at several different levels.

First, in terms of the immediate context of the narrative, that is, the raising of Lazarus, it refers to the miracle-working, life-creating power which God (the Father) gives to Jesus (the Son). Second, on a more direct theological level, it reflects the essential relationship between Father and Son. Third, this same relationship extends to Jesus’ disciples (believers), who are to follow his example after he has returned to the Father—they are to ask of the Father in Jesus’ name. This pattern indicates the fundamental unity of believers with Jesus.

The motif of asking/giving was introduced in the earlier discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (4:7, 10, 12, 14-15), involving the double-meaning and interplay of asking for water. The “water” which Jesus would give is life-giving and eternal (cf. also 7:37-39, where it is identified specifically with the Holy Spirit). In the Last Discourse, this motif shifts to the disciples asking the Father in Jesus’ name—14:13-14; 15:7-16; 16:23-24, 26. Ultimately, the basis of this is theological and Christological, deriving from the relationship between Father and Son. The loving and obedient Son (Jesus) asks his Father, and the Father gives it all to him—the work he does, the word he speaks, the power to give life, the authority to judge, etc. In 5:22, 26-27, 36, as in the Lazarus episode, this is expressed in the context of resurrection—both spiritual and eschatological. In the Bread of Life discourse, the emphasis shifts to Jesus’ sacrificial death, while retaining the association with resurrection, along with Jesus’ word identified with the life-bestowing Spirit. In 14:16 (cf. also 15:26; 16:7; 20:22), we read specifically of the Spirit being given by Jesus (and the Father) to believers. The most extensive use of the verb di/dwmi occurs in the great prayer-discourse of chapter 17 (no fewer that 11 times); and note also the important occurrence in the Jesus’ dialogue with Pilate (19:9, 11).

Note of the Day – April 23 (John 11:21)

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

For the days following Easter, I will be presenting a short series of notes on the Lazarus episode in the Gospel of John (11:1-44)—specifically, the dialogue between Martha and Jesus in verses 21-27. This exchange is similar in certain respects to the dialogue format used in the Discourses, as for example, in the scenes with Nicodemus (in chapter 3) and the Samaritan woman (in chapter 4).

John 11:21

The exchange between Martha and Jesus partially follows the pattern of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in 3:1-10ff. Martha’s initial address—”Lord [Ku/rie]…”—is not all that different from how Nicodemus addresses Jesus (“Rabbi…” v. 2, cf. 20:16 etc), with an honorific title. The use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) may indicate a level of deeper relationship—i.e. of a disciple to his/her master—but it should not be understood here in its full Christological sense (cp. 20:28). The occurrence of the second Ku/rie (“Lord…”) from Martha in v. 27, however, may be intended to show a greater degree of awareness as to Jesus’ true identity, and so is set in parallel with the first address in v. 21, to bring out the comparison.

There are several points to note in Martha’s statement. First, she is giving emphasis on Jesus’ miracle-working ability. It is this which marks her understanding and appreciation of him, and corresponds with her desire to see her brother Lazarus healed of his illness. By all accounts, the working of healing miracles was the basis for much of Jesus’ fame and notoriety during his lifetime and the period of his ministry, as the Gospels (esp. the Synoptic narrative) make abundantly clear. In so far as Jesus was regarded as an Anointed (i.e. Messianic) figure during the (Galilean) ministry period, it was primarily as a miracle-working Prophet in the manner of Elijah, or the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. Nicodemus certainly recognized this as well:

“Rabbi, we see [i.e. know] that you have come from God (as) a teacher, for no one is able to do these signs which you do, if God were not with him” (3:2)

While not used exclusively of miracles, the word shmei=on (“sign”) tends to have this meaning in John, as in the rest of the New Testament.

Second, the first half of her statement focus on the physical presence of Jesus in order to work miracles: “Lord, if you were [i.e. had been] here…” This is similar to the request by the official in 4:46ff, who asked “that (Jesus) come down and cure his son” (v. 47). Clearly he, like Martha, believes that Jesus is capable of working such a cure; yet, Jesus’ response, somewhat surprisingly, suggests that this indicates a lack of faith: “If you do not see signs and wonders, (surely) you do not trust” (v. 48). In fact, the man’s son is cured from a distance, without requiring Jesus’ presence, but only the power and effect of his word (vv. 50ff). In terms of the theology (and Christology) of the Gospel of John, the presence of Jesus is important, as he is the incarnate Son who makes the Father known to his disciples (believers), and yet an equally important message is that true faith (trust) in Jesus ultimately is not based on the observance of physical events and phenomena (such as miracles), but on acceptance of the living, eternal word [lo/go$] which Jesus speaks, and which is present in his person.

Third, it is significant here that Martha frames the question of healing and life by a negative. She might have said, “if you were here, my brother would have lived,”, etc; but, instead, her statement is, “…my brother would not have died away [ou)k a*n a)pe/qanen]”. In other words, life is not-death. This introduces the important interplay between life and death which runs through the dialogue of vv. 21-27 and the remainder of the episode. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away, die off”) first appears in the Gospel of John in the earlier episode of the official’s son who is healed (4:47), occurs in a number of the discourses which follow (6:49-50, 58; 8:21, 24, 52-53). The motif of the Son’s life-giving creative power, which even gives life to the dead (i.e. resurrection), is central to the discourse in 5:19-29 as well as the Bread of Life discourse (6:35-58). In both passages, it is fundamentally Jesus’ word (or words, command, “voice”) which gives life to the dead. As the Gospel progresses, the positive aspect—of Jesus’ word being not only life-giving, but life itself—becomes a more dominant motif. This shift is manifest in the very dialogue between Jesus and Martha, as we shall see.

Note of the Day – April 21 (Easter Sunday)

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

John 11:50-52

On this Easter Sunday, in celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I will be looking at what I have always considered one of the most extraordinary passages in the Gospels dealing with the salvific effect of Jesus’ sacrificial death. It is found in John 11:45-54, especially the prophetic statement(s) made by the High Priest Caiaphas in verses 50-52. It is an example of supreme irony in the Gospel narrative—the words of Jesus’ enemies unwittingly become a prophecy of the true effect and result of Jesus’ death.

This tradition is found in no other Gospel, and critical commentators would tend to question its historicity. However, there is some basis for the idea that High Priest could, and would, utter prophecies regarding events that would take place during the year—cf. Josephus, Antiquities 11.327, 13.299. As an anointed figure, in the service, ideally, of God and the Israelite/Jewish religion, the prophetic gift was a natural characteristic of the Priesthood, in terms of the phenomenology of religion. Whether or not the Gospel writer would recognize this gift in Caiaphas, he interprets the High Priest’s words ultimately as prophetic, though in a way, and at a level of meaning, different than Caiaphas intended.

We should distinguish between the statement by Caiaphas in verse 50, and the explanation by the Gospel writer in vv. 51-52 which summarizes an earlier prophecy. The setting of the utterance in v. 50 involves the effect of Jesus’ miracles on the people, which is especially significant in the context of the raising of Lazarus (vv. 1-44). The concern expressed by the Jewish Council in verse 48 is that people will come to trust in Jesus in greater numbers because of these miraculous signs (cf. 7:31; 10:25-26, 37-38; 12:18-19, etc). Regarding Jesus as a miracle-working Messianic Prophet, the popular support could easily create such disturbance and prove a sufficient threat to Roman authority that it would cause the Romans to act. Josephus describes a number of such would-be Messianic figures in the 1st century prior to the war of 66-70 (Antiquities 18.85; 20.97, 169-72; War 7.437ff; cf. also Acts 5:36; 21:38; Mark 13:5-6, 21-22 par). In the face of such danger, Caiaphas gives his advice in verse 50—

“and you do not take account [i.e. consider, realize] that it bears together (well) for us that one man should die away over [i.e. on behalf of] the people, and (that) the whole nation should not be destroyed”

i.e., it is better for one man to die rather than the entire nation. The wording suggests a kind of substitution—sacrifice this one would-be Messiah for the good of the nation. This is straightforward enough, but what follows in vv. 51-52 gives much greater scope to this saying. The explanation (presumably by the Gospel writer) refers to a prophecy given by Caiaphas in his role as High Priest that year. According the narrative, he prophesied

“that Yeshua was about to die away over [i.e. on behalf of] the nation—and not over the nation [i.e. Judea] only, but (so) that even the offspring of God having been [i.e. which had been] scattered he might bring together into one”

According to this amazing prophecy, Jesus’ death would somehow result in the entire Jewish people—including those in the Diaspora—being reunited. It is impossible to recover the precise meaning of this historical tradition, i.e. the prophecy as Caiaphas might have uttered it. Early Christian tradition, as represented by the Gospel of John, interprets it in terms of Jesus’ death, in a new and unique way. Let us examine briefly the key words and phrases in vv. 51-52.

Dying “over” [u(pe/r] the people/nation. We find this idea essentially in the Gospel tradition, in Jesus’ words of institution at the Last Supper (Mark 14:24; par Lk 22:19-20 MT):

“This is my blood of the agreement [i.e. covenant] th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many”

A similar idea expressed in Mk 10:45 uses the preposition a)nti/ (i.e. “in exchange for”) instead of u(pe/r. The preposition u(pe/r should be understood both in its literal sense (blood poured over/upon people) and in the figurative sense (i.e. “on behalf of”). Jesus’ death is presented as a sacrificial offering comparable to that by which the (old) Covenant was established in Exod 24:5-8. The letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus’ death similarly in terms of a sacrificial offering over people—cf. 2:9; 5:1; 6:20; 7:25, 27; 9:7, 24; 10:12—specifically an offering on behalf of sin.

In the Gospel of John we also find the expression in the context of Jesus’ sacrificial death—i.e. 6:51; 10:11, 15; and the associated tradition that believers should follow his example (13:37-38; 15:13). The closest parallel to Caiaphas’ prophecy is the illustrative language used by Jesus in 10:11, 15 (cf. below).

“Offspring of God” [te/kna qeou=]. While Caiaphas presumably would have used this expression to refer to Israelites/Jews as the “children of God”, for the Gospel writer (and other early Christians) it had a deeper meaning, as we see clearly in Jn 1:12. It is used specifically as a title of believers, indicating their spiritual status, in the first Johannine letter (3:1-2, 10; 5:2), and similarly in the Pauline writings (Rom 8:16, 21; 9:8; Phil 2:15, cf. also Eph 5:1, 8).

The verbs diaskorpi/zw and suna/gw. These two verbs must be taken in tandem, whereby Jesus’ death will “bring together” (vb. suna/gw) the ones who have been “scattered throughout” (vb. diaskorpi/zw). Caiaphas certainly means this in the sense of reuniting the Jewish people (Israel) that has been scattered throughout the Greco-Roman world (and other nation)—i.e. the Diaspora or “Dispersion”. The Old Testament Prophetic background for this can be found in passages such as Isa 11:12; Mic 2:12; Jer 23:3; 31:8-11; Ezek 34:16, etc. While early Christian thought retained something of this theme (cf. Acts 1-2), it is understood in terms of Israelites and Jews responding to the Gospel and coming to faith in Jesus. Yet, the mission to the Gentiles also meant that the concept had to be extended—to all believers throughout the world, Jew and Gentile both.

In the Gospel tradition, the verb diaskorpi/zw occurs once in connection with Jesus’ death—in Mk 14:27 par (citing Zech 13:7), referring to the persecution which the disciples will face following his death (cp. Acts 5:37). The verb suna/gw (from which the noun sunagwgh/, “synagogue” is derived) occurs elsewhere in the Gospel of John at 4:36, and, most notably, in the miraculous Feeding episode (6:12-13). In particular, the motif of the gathering together of the fragments came to be interpreted by early Christians as a distinct sacramental (Eucharistic) image expressing the unity of believers. This is clear in Didache 9:4, which seems to contain an allusion to Jn 11:52:

“Just as this broken (bread) was scattered throughout [dieskorpisme/non] upon the mountains above, and (then) was brought together [sunaxqe/n] and came to be one [e%n], so may your ekklesia [i.e. Church] be brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom”

Thus, we may say that the true meaning of Caiaphas’ prophecy is that Jesus’ sacrificial death will bring all believers together, at a level of fundamental and essential unity.

“One” [ei!$, e%n]. This aspect of unity is confirmed by the last word of the prophecy—literally, “one” (ei!$, n. e%n). While it may be understood in the simple sense of a people united as a community, it has a far deeper (theological) meaning in the Gospel of John. There are two interrelated themes in the Gospel: (1) the unity of believers in Christ, and (2) our spiritual participation in the unity shared by the Son (Jesus) and the Father. Both themes are prevalent throughout the Fourth Gospel (esp. the Last Discourse, chapters 14-17), and involve use of the specific word ei!$ (“one”):

  1. Unity of Believers in Christ—Jn 10:16; 17:11, 21-23
  2. Unity of Father and Son (and Spirit)—1:3; 10:30; cf. also 1 Jn 5:8

Perhaps Jesus’ statement in 10:14-16 best approximates the essential message of Caiaphas’ prophecy (verbal parallels in bold italics):

“I am the excellent (Shep)herd, and I know the (sheep that are) mine and the (ones that are) mine know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I set down my soul [i.e. lay down my life] over the sheep. And I hold other sheep which are not out of this (sheep)fold, and it is necessary for me to bring them (also), and they will hear my voice—and there will come to be one herd [i.e. flock] (of sheep) and one (Shep)herd.”

Note of the Day – April 20 (John 19:16-37)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

John 19:16b-37

With John’s version of the Crucifixion scene, we come to the conclusion of this study on the Passion Narrative in the series Jesus and the Gospel Tradition. Throughout we have seen that the Gospel of John draws upon a separate line of tradition from the Synoptic, often developing it considerably, in creative ways, and in light of its distinctive theology. At the same time, both John and the Synoptics share core historical traditions which stem from the earliest period of Gospel formation. Nowhere is this more clear than in the Passion Narrative. Consider the final episode—the Crucifixion/Death of Jesus—as it is presented in the Fourth Gospel; I give an outline below:

  • The Crucifixion Scene—Vv. 16b-25a
    —Introduction, vv. 16b-18
    —The Inscription, vv. 19-22
    —The Garment of Jesus, vv. 23-25a
  • Jesus on the Cross—Vv. 25b-30
    —Jesus and his Mother, vv. 25b-27
    —The Death of Jesus, vv. 28-30
  • The Body of Jesus—Vv. 31-37
    —Removal from the Cross, v. 31
    —The Bones unbroken, vv. 32-33
    —The Blood and water, vv. 34-35
    —Fulfillment of Scripture, vv. 36-37

The first two scenes are relatively close in outline to the Synoptic version, with two main differences: (a) the dialogue between Pilate and the Jewish leaders regarding the inscription on the cross (vv. 19-22), and (b) the exchange involving Jesus’ Mother (Mary) and the Beloved Disciple (vv. 25b-27). Other significant differences are worth noting. For example, in John’s account, Jesus carries his own cross to the place of execution (v. 17), whereas in the Synoptics this done by the passerby Simon the Cyrenian (Mk 15:21 par). If the Gospel writer was aware of the Simon tradition, he has omitted it, perhaps to convey the sense that Jesus is fulfilling his destiny, the work given him by the Father to accomplish, from beginning to end (cf. the introduction to the Passion narrative in 13:1). It may also be meant to illustrate the words of Jesus, e.g. in 10:15, 18—that he lays down his life willingly, by himself.

Below I examine briefly the most distinctive features and elements in John’s version.

1. Pilate and the Inscription (vv. 19-22)

The dialogue exchange between Pilate and the Jewish leaders over the inscription is unique to John’s account, and is certainly meant to echo the earlier trial/interrogation scene in 18:28-19:16a, introducing the theme of kingship and Jesus’ identity (cf. the supplemental note on this passage). Jesus effectively denied being “King of the Jews” in the ordinary ethnic/political sense; now, the Jewish leaders are saying the same thing, but from a very different point of view. For the last time in the Gospel, we see the motif of misunderstanding and double-meaning which characterizes the great Discourses.

2. The Garment of Jesus (vv. 23-25a)

Apart from making the association with Psalm 22:18 explicit, John’s version of the soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments differs from the Synoptic account in one significant detail: the reference to Jesus’ tunic (shirt/undergarment). It is described as made of a single piece (“without seam”), woven throughout from the top (to the bottom). This may seem like a small, incidental detail, but here in the Gospel it has special symbolic and theological meaning. It is hard to avoid a comparison with the Synoptic tradition of the Temple curtain, which was split from top to bottom at the death of Jesus (Mk 15:38 par). By contrast, Jesus’ tunic—the garment closest to his body—is not split this way, as the soldiers declare: “let us not split it…” (v. 24). The parallel would seem to be appropriate, for two reasons. First, both traditions involve the specific words a&nwqen (“from above”, i.e. from the top) and the verb sxi/zw (“split, divide”). Second, in Jn 2:19ff, Jesus’ own body is identified, in a symbolic/spiritual sense, with the Temple, specifically in the context of his death (and resurrection).

3. The scene with Mary and the Beloved Disciple (vv. 25b-27)

This evocative scene is totally unique to John’s account, almost certainly deriving from (historical) traditions related to the “Beloved Disciple”. Critical commentators are naturally skeptical; if Mary were present at the cross in the original historical tradition, how/why would this have been left out by the other Gospels? Historical questions aside, we must consider what the significance of this scene was for the Gospel writer, and why it was included at this point. In my view, it represents the end, the completion of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. The only other appearance of Mary in the Fourth Gospel was in the Cana miracle episode of 2:1-11—that is, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Now she appears again, at the very end of it. This parallelism is confirmed by the way Jesus addresses his mother (“Woman…”) in both scenes. A secondary interpretation involves the role of the “Beloved Disciple”. Clearly, a kind of substitution is involved—the Beloved Disciple takes Jesus’ place as Mary’s son; in a similar way, Jesus’ own disciples (i.e. believers), represented and symbolized by “the disciple Jesus loved”, take his place on earth, continuing his work and witness. Jesus remains present with them, through the Holy Spirit, but the mission is carried on by them. For more on this, read carefully the Last Discourses (chaps. 14-17) and note the final commission in 20:21-22.

4. Jesus’ dying words (v. 30)

Here we are able to trace something of the development of the Gospel tradition in situ. Consider all four versions in sequence:

  • In Mark, Jesus’ death is described this way:
    “And Yeshua, releasing a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [i.e. gave out his last breath]” (Mk 15:37)
  • There is sign of development in Matthew, in the wording of the narrative:
    “An Yeshua, again crying (out) with a great voice, released the spirit [i.e. his breath]” (Matt 27:49b)
  • In Luke, what is described in Matthew, is given form in Jesus’ own (dying) words (quoting Psalm 31:5):
    “And giving voice [i.e. crying] with a great voice, Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I set [i.e. give] along my spirit‘. And saying this, he breathed out [i.e. breathed his last].” (Lk 23:46)
  • John’s version reads as follows:
    “Yeshua said, ‘It has been accomplished’, and, bending his head, he gave along the spirit.” (Jn 19:30)

Notice the common motif of releasing/giving out the breath/spirit (words in italics above). In the ordinary sense of the narrative, in John the words “he gave along the spirit” simply means that Jesus gave out his last breath, i.e. his “spirit” (pneu=ma) which literally is the life-breath. However, in the context of Johannine theology, there is almost certainly a double meaning here. Jesus’ sacrificial death, followed by his resurrection and return to the Father, also results in his giving the (Holy) Spirit (Pneu=ma) along to his disciples (believers).

5. Jesus’ bones unbroken (vv. 32-33) and the Scriptures in vv. 36-37

The details and traditions in verses 31-37 are unique to John’s account, and it must be said that, interesting as they are as historical data regarding Jesus’ death, they carry deeper symbolic and theological significance in the Gospel. The action taken in vv. 31-32 is seen as a fulfillment of the Scripture cited in v. 36, which is best identified with Psalm 34:20. However, there can be little doubt that the reference is also to the instruction regarding the Passover lamb in Exod 12:10, 46 and Num 9:12. The chronology of the Passion narrative, and the Crucifixion specifically, in John is meant to identify Jesus with the Passover lamb—which is to be slaughtered at the time, on the very day, Jesus is on the cross (cf. Jn 18:28; 19:14, 31). His death thus coincides with the Passover sacrifice. This association had been established already at the beginning of the Gospel (1:29, 36).

The second Scripture (Zech 12:10) in verse 37 is more difficult to interpret. Its placement at the end of the episode would indicate that it is meant to summarize the crucifixion scene, both in terms of the imagery (i.e. the piercing of Jesus), and the public observation of his death. The Johannine book of Revelation (1:7) also cites Zech 12:10, in an eschatological context, emphasizing the coming Judgment which will take place at Jesus’ return. This does not appear to be the meaning given to the Scripture in the Gospel. Rather, the context suggests that the people (i.e. the soldiers, etc) look upon Jesus (the one they pierced) without realizing his true identity. In a way, of course, this relates to the Judgment that comes on humankind (3:18-21, etc), both now and at the end-time.

6. The Blood and Water (vv. 34-35)

Commentators continue to debate the significance and meaning of this particular detail. My own explanation is two-fold:

First, as was previously noted, the Gospel of John does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper as part of the Last Supper narrative, though there is a parallel of sorts in the Eucharistic language used by Jesus in 6:51-58 (on this, cf. the supplemental note). Paradoxically, John is also the only one of the Gospels which actually depicts Jesus blood being ‘poured out’ at his death. The essence of what Jesus communicates in the words of institution is described visually.

Second, and more importantly, the blood and water which comes out symbolizes the giving forth of the Spirit, along with the spiritual effect of Jesus’ sacrificial death. This is not readily apparent here in the narrative itself, but is confirmed, and can be supported, I believe, from several other passages in the Gospel, along with 1 John 5:6-8. I will be discussing this in detail in an upcoming note on the Holy Spirit in early Christian tradition and theology.

Supplemental Note on Luke 23:47

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Supplemental Study | No Comments

Luke 23:47

In the most recent daily note, I discussed briefly the difference between the centurion’s declaration in Luke and that in the Synoptic tradition of Mark/Matthew. It is one of the most dramatic differences or discrepancies in the Synoptic Passion Narrative, and has resulted in a considerable amount of commentary, both from a critical and traditional-conservative viewpoint, much of which is foreign to the context of the Gospels.

To begin with, a simplistic harmonization to the effect that the centurion actually said both things, together or in sequence, would seem to be ruled out by the fact that the two versions of the declaration have virtually the same form:

  • a)lhqw=$ (Truly)
  • o&ntw$ (Really)
    • ou!to$ o( a&nqrwpo$ (this man)
    • o( a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$ (this man)
      • ui(o\$ qeou= ([the] Son of God)
      • di/kaio$ (just/righteous)
        • h@n (was)
        • h@n (was)

Critical commentators who hold that Luke made use of the Gospel of Mark would assume that the former has altered the Synoptic tradition at this point. On the other hand, if a change/development in the tradition took place, it is perhaps more likely that it was in the opposite direction—altering “righteous (one)” to the more exalted title “Son of God”, rather than the other way around. If one is determined to retain the historicity of both, conceivably the centurion could have said something like, “Surely this man was a righteous son [of God]”—however, this remains entirely a matter of speculation.

However one judges the historical-critical question, and whether or not Luke has altered the Synoptic tradition, we are left to consider what the Gospel writer intends to convey to us with this form of the centurion’s declaration. An important detail is preserved in the first half of the verse: “And seeing the (thing which) came to be, the chief-of-a-hundred [i.e. centurion] gave esteem/honor to God [e)do/cazen] saying…”. Thus the centurion is portrayed as a God-fearing Gentile who gives esteem [do/ca] to God—i.e. recognizes and worships the true God—much like the centurion in 7:2-5ff or the centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. This is an important theme in Luke-Acts, closely related to the early Gentile mission—cf. Lk 2:30-32; 3:6; Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; 11:18; 13:46-48; 15:7-11ff, etc. On the motif of giving honor/esteem (i.e. “glory”) to God, using the verb doca/zw, see Lk 2:20; 5:25-26; 13:13; 17:15; 18:43.

As far as the declaration itself in verse 47b, there are two other important aspects to consider in the use of the adjective di/kaio$ (“just, righteous”):

1. The Innocence of Jesus

In the LXX, di/kaio$ can be used to translate Hebrew yq!n` (“clean, without guilt”, etc), as in Gen 20:5; Prov 6:17; Joel 3:19; Jon 1:14. It seems to have this sense also in Matt 27:19 and Acts 16:39 D (cf. also 1 Pet 3:18). The innocence of Jesus is an important motif in the Passion Narrative, but is especially prominent in Luke’s version, running through the entirety of the Roman interrogation and crucifixion scenes of chapter 23—cf. especially vv. 4, 11, 14-15, 22, 41. In the dialogue between Jesus and the criminals on the cross, di/kaio$ referred to the just punishment given to the criminals, while the “good” thief declares that Jesus, on the other hand, has done “nothing out of place [i.e. nothing wrong]”. Jesus’ punishment then is not just, for he is innocent of any guilt, precisely as the centurion states in v. 47.

2. Jesus as the Just/Righteous One

The adjective di/kaio$, used as a substantive, occurs in the Lukan book of Acts as a title of Jesus—i.e., “the Just/Righteous One”, Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14. It is found similarly in the New Testament in 1 Jn 2:1, etc. The references in Acts reflect early Christian tradition, i.e. preaching and proclamation of the Gospel message by the first believers. It is natural that Luke would prepare his readers for it here at the end of the Gospel narrative. The early Christian use of the title may derive from Messianic passages in the Old Testament (Jer 23:5; Zech 9:9; also Isa 53:11) and later Jewish tradition (Ps Sol 17:32). We may also recall how in Luke’s version of the Crucifixion Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5; in verse 18 of the same Psalm, in a context evocative of the crucifixion scene, the sufferer is referred to as “the just/righteous one”.

Returning to the difference in the titles used by the centurion in the Markan and Lukan version of his confession—”Son of God” and “Righteous One”—it is worth considering the association of the righteous as “sons/children of God”. This derives from the Old Testament image of Israel as God’s “son”—more specifically, of the faithful ones in Israel as the sons/children of God. In Wisdom Literature, it was natural to extend this to the righteous ones generally. In the book of Wisdom, such an identification is made (cf. 2:13, 16, 18); moreover, in 3:1 there is a passage which would seem to apply well to the idea expressed by Jesus in his dying utterance (Lk 23:46): “the souls of the righteous is in the hand of God”.

Saturday Series: John 2:13-25

By | Saturday Series | No Comments

John 2:13-25

Last week we looked at the famous verse John 3:16 in the context of the discourse of Jn 3:1-21. However, in order to gain a proper understanding and appreciation of a passage, it is often necessary to examine its place in the wider context of the book. If we take a quick summary look at the Gospel of John, the following basic outline suggests itself:

  • The Prologue—1:1-18
  • The Introduction to Jesus and his ministry: Testimony of John the Baptist—1:19-51
  • DIVISION ONE: The ministry of Jesus—Miracles and Teaching—2:112:50
  • DIVISION TWO: Jesus and His Disciples—The Passion and Resurrection Narratives—13:120:31
  • Conclusion (Appendix): Jesus with His Disciples after the Resurrection—21:1-23
  • Epilogue—21:24-25

The main division spanning chapters 2-12 is sometimes called “The Books of Signs” by scholars, but this is somewhat misleading, since “signs” (s¢meia) in the customary sense of miracles, are only featured in a portion of this material. Chapter 2 introduces and begins the ministry of Jesus, with two distinct episodes: one in Galilee, involving a miracle (vv. 1-11), and one in Jerusalem, involving a significant symbolic action and saying by Jesus (vv. 13-22). Each of these episodes involves the key word s¢meion (“sign”). The miracle at Qanah (Cana) of turning water into wine is referred to as “the beginning of the signs” Jesus did—i.e. the beginning of his public ministry. The concluding statement in verse 11 serves as a kind of thematic (and theological) refrain for the remainder of chapters 2-12 (key words and phrases italicized):

“This, the beginning of the signs [arch¢n tœn shmeiœn], Yeshua did in Qanah of the Galîl {Galilee} and made his splendor shine forth [ephanerœsen t¢n doxan autou], and his learners [i.e. disciples] trusted in him [episteusan eis auton].”

One of the main differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels is that the Synoptics really record only one journey of Jesus to Jerusalem; John, on the other hand, has Jesus go to Jerusalem a number of times, in celebration of the festivals (Passover, Sukkoth [Booths/Tabernacles], etc). This is an important aspect of the Johannine Gospel, and it begins in verse 13 of chapter 2, with the start of the second episode in the chapter: “And the Pesaµ {Passover} was near…and Yeshua went up [lit. stepped up] into Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}…” This episode involves Jesus’ so-called “Cleansing” of the Temple, a scene found in all four of the Gospels, only John includes it at a very different point in the Gospel narrative. Almost certainly the “Cleansing” scene in the Gospels goes back to a single historical event (and tradition), not two—we must always be careful not to confuse literary arrangement with historical chronology—and there is good reason to think that the Synoptic location is generally correct (from an historical standpoint). In Mark and Matthew, a reported saying by Jesus regarding the Temple, similar in many ways to the saying in John 2:19 (discussed below), featured prominently in the Sanhedrin interrogation of Jesus prior to his death. Indeed, the episode in Jn 2:13-22 is closely related to the theme of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is quite possible the Gospel writer (trad. John the Apostle) has brought together two episodes from the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry, respectively. In the earlier study on Jn 1:51, I discussed the possibility that the author intended that saying of Jesus to serve as a comprehensive symbol of his person and work—his ministry, from beginning to end—and the juxtaposition of the two episodes at the beginning of chapters 2-12 may have something of the same purpose.

In passing, I should note that another key word in this section is the verb anabainœ (“step up”, i.e. go up)—Jesus “stepped up” (i.e. went up) unto Jerusalem (v. 13). Travelling to Jerusalem entailed a rise in elevation, so Jesus would “step up” to the city; however, the verbs katabainœ and anabainœ (“step down” and “step up”) have special theological meaning in the Gospel of John, as I have previously mentioned. On the surface, when Jesus “steps down” to Capernaum (v. 12) and “steps up” to Jerusalem, this simply refers to his travels, but the pair of verbs also signifies Jesus’ descent (from Heaven)—the incarnation, leading all the way to his death—and his ascent, through death (on the cross), resurrection, and his return to the Father. These two verbs are used together in both the saying in Jn 1:51, and again in 3:13 (see last week’s study).

The Temple “cleansing” action by Jesus in 2:14-17 and the Temple saying (vv. 19-22) are two parts of the same episode, and they are joined together by the question of “the Jews” (the first time this designation is used in connection with Jesus) in verse 18:

“What sign [s¢meion] do you show us (so) that you (should) do these things?”

The idea is that they are requesting Jesus to show them a sign (miracle, etc) from God to show that he has the authority to take such an action in the Temple. This question is similar to the statement of Nicodemus (the Jewish Council leader) in 3:2:

“Rabbi, we see [i.e. know] that you have come from God (as) as teacher, for no one to do these signs [s¢meia] that you do if God were not with him.”

Jesus’ response in verse 19 would seem to be giving the people the very sign they are asking for:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine [i.e. the Temple], and in three days I will raise it again”

This saying introduces two important elements in the Gospel of John: (1) the discourse format with the sequence of Jesus’ saying + misunderstanding + exposition, and (2) the motif of raising/lifting Jesus. On the first of these, notice how the people misunderstand Jesus, hearing his words only in what would seem to be their ordinary sense—i.e. that he is declaring he can miraculously rebuild the Jerusalem Temple building(s). For a discussion of how this relates to the Temple-saying at the “trial” of Jesus (Mark 14:58 par), see my earlier note on the subject. Even though Jesus does not here give an explanation of his words, this is done by the Gospel writer (vv. 21-22), and effectively serves the same purpose as the expositions by Jesus of his true meaning in the discourses, such as we saw in 3:5ff, 11-21.

The second element, the motif of raising/lifting Jesus, as the Gospel writer explains, has to do with the true meaning of Jesus’ words in verse 19—by destroying and raising the Temple, Jesus was referring to his death and resurrection, with his own person (his body) being identified with the Temple (the house/dwelling of God). This appears again in the Nicodemus discourse, in 3:14, though a different verb is used—hypsoœ (“lift high”) instead of egeirœ (“raise”). The “lifting” of Jesus (the Son of Man) in 3:14 refers primarily to his death on the cross, but also to his subsequent resurrection/exaltation and return to the Father (in glory).

The two episodes of chapter 2 are joined with the discourse of 3:1-21 by the transitional verses 23-25, which both give a narrative summary and establish further a number of key words and terms in the Gospel:

“And as Yeshua was in Yerushalaim on the Pesach {Passover}, on the festival (day), many trusted in his name, looking (closely) at his signs [s¢meia] that he (was) do(ing); but Yeshua did not (en)trust him(self) to them through [i.e. due to] his knowing all (men), and that he did not have a(ny) need that anyone should witness about the man, for he knew what was in the man.”

If you read chapters 3-12 carefully, you will notice many of these motifs, such as:

  • Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem on the festival days/times—the setting of the discourses
  • The importance of trusting in [literally “into”, eis] Jesus and his name (Jn 3:15-16, 18)
  • Imagery related to seeing/sight—seeing Jesus and God the Father (3:3, 11, 21)
  • The key term “signs” (s¢meia)
  • The work that Jesus is doing
  • The theme of knowing (related to seeing), especially the verb ginœskœ
  • Witnessing regarding Jesus, and Jesus’ own witness, using the verb martyreœ

It is always important to pay close attention to the specific words and language that is used in a passage, but all the more so in the case of the Gospel of John, which has a fairly limited vocabulary and uses certain words repeatedly in a very distinctive way. Next week, I will demonstrate this with a particular example, involving verses from the first and third chapters. I would ask you to read on through the remainder of chapter three, including verses 22-36. What points of similarity do see with the earlier discourse in verses 1-21? How does this section relate to the prior chapters 1-3 as a whole? Look specifically at 3:28 in context and compare it with the testimony of John the Baptist in 1:15 and 30, reading those verses carefully in context. What are your thoughts on how these passages relate?

Blessings to you in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior…and I will see you next Saturday.