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Note of the Day – June 1 (John 12:50, continued)

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John 12:50, continued

In the previous note, I discussed the context of Jn 12:50, the concluding verse (and statement by Jesus) in chapters 2-12 of the Gospel. Today I wish to examine the verse more closely, especially the statement in the first half:

“And I have seen [i.e. known] that his e)ntolh/ is (the) Life of the Age.”

There are three components to this statement, which will be discussed in turn.

kai oi@da o%ti (“and I have seen that”)

Throughout the Gospel of John the motif of seeing has been of great importance. It plays on the dual-meaning, especially, of the verb ei&dw (“see”), which can also mean “know”—i.e., seeing in the sense of being aware, perceiving, recognizing, etc. It generally carries this meaning in the perfect tense, as here (oi@da, “I have seen/known”). Given the theological (and Christological) importance of seeing in the Gospel of John, Jesus is almost certainly referring here to something more than general understanding or awareness. Rather, it relates to his identity as the Son, who has a close, intimate relationship to the Father, and who, as a faithful son, watches and listens carefully to his father. Repeatedly in the Johannine discourses, Jesus states that he says and does only what he has heard and seen from the Father (cf. 3:32; 5:19, 30; 6:46; 8:26, 38; 14:24; 15:15). Similarly, the one who sees/hears Jesus (the Son), also sees/hears the Father (5:37; 14:7, 9, etc)—just as Jesus gives to the believer what he has received from the Father (3:35; 5:26, etc). In the Gospel of John, seeing Jesus is essentially the same as trusting him (9:37ff; 12:45; 14:17), and this differs entirely from ordinary sight or perception (6:36). The conjunctive particle o%ti (“that”) indicates specifically what it is that Jesus has seen.

h( e)ntolh/ au)tou= (“his [charge laid] on [me] to complete”)

The noun e)ntolh/ is a relatively popular Johannine word. In addition to 11 occurrences in the Gospel, it is found 18 times in the Letters; and, if we include two others in the (Johannine) book of Revelation, that makes 31 total—nearly half of all occurrences (68) in the New Testament. The word is often translated “commandment”, but that can be somewhat misleading; I discussed the fundamental meaning of the noun in the previous note. Despite Paul’s frequent reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah, Gk. no/mo$), he does not often use the noun e)ntolh/; it occurs only 9 times in the undisputed letters (6 of which are in Rom 7:8-13; also 1 Cor 7:19; 14:37). In these passages, Paul seems to be using it in a somewhat broader sense (i.e. “the Law of God”, “the e)ntolh/ of God”), rather than restricting it to the specific (written) commands of the Torah as such, though the latter is certainly included in the usage. The semantic range of the word in the (Synoptic) sayings of Jesus is similar (note the expression “the e)ntolh/ of God” in Mk 7:8-9 par).

The Johannine use of the word is complicated by two factors—it can be used either:

In none of these references does e)ntolh/ refer to the commands of the Torah as such, though there is less certainty on this point when we examine the occurrences in the Letters (esp. 1 John). Let us consider the second factor mentioned above.

1. Between God the Father and Jesus (the Son)—This is the context of the usage in 10:18 and here in 12:49-50, and in both instances it is the singular form. As I discussed in the previous note, e)ntolh/ here should not be understood in the traditional sense of a religious or ethical “commandment”, but as a mission given to Jesus (by the Father) to accomplish. In 10:18, this clearly refers to his sacrificial death (and resurrection), confirmed by Jesus’ final words on the cross in 19:30 (“it has been completed [tete/lestai]”, cf. also v. 28). The emphasis in 12:49-50 is on the words Jesus has been given by the Father to speak (i.e. what he is to say). In 14:31, the related verb e)nte/llomai is used of Jesus’ mission in a comprehensive sense, as a reflection of the love between Father and Son.

2. Between Jesus and Believers—Here we find both the singular and plural of e)ntolh/, apparently used interchangeably (as also in 1 John). This should caution us against identifying e)ntolh/ with any specific “commandment” given by Jesus, as though the e)ntolai/ represented a collection of commands similar to the Old Testament written Law (Torah). I believe there are three ways e)ntolh/ should be understood in this context:

  • as synonymous with Jesus’ word—i.e., whatever he says/speaks
  • as representative of all that he teaches believers, who would follow his example (just as Jesus follows that of the Father)
  • as epitomized by the command for believers to love one another (i.e. the so-called “Love-command”)

Even in the case of the “Love-command” (13:34-35, etc), the closest we come to a specific “commandment” (i.e., “you should love [each] other”), this should be understood not so much as an ethical injunction, but as a sign that believers are following the example of Jesus (“all will know that you are my disciples”).

zwh/ ai)w/nio$ e)stin (“is [the] Life of the Age”)

I have discussed the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) at length in prior notes, and will not go over that again here, except to mention that, in the context of the Johannine discourses, the reference is to the Life (zwh/) which God possesses and of which He is the source. What does it mean to say that the e)ntolh/ of God the Father is [e)stin] Life? There are a number of possibilities, but they are reduced considerably if we remember that here e)ntolh/ means specifically the charge [i.e. mission] given to Jesus to complete.

  • Qualitative—it describes the nature and character of Jesus’ mission from the Father
  • Significative—Jesus’ mission means or signifies Life
  • Resultative—Jesus’ mission results in Life for believers

All three are valid ways of interpreting the statement, and perhaps are best seen as three aspects of a single truth.

Note of the Day – May 31 (John 12:50)

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John 12:50

Today’s note involves the final, concluding verse to the first half of the Gospel of John (1:19-12:50). It belongs to the last discourse of Jesus in this section. The discourse, properly speaking, spans verses 20-36a of chapter 12. Verses 36b-43 serve as the narrative conclusion, both to the discourse-scene of chap. 12, as well as chapters 2-12 as a whole. In verse 36 it is stated that Jesus “…going away, hid (himself) from them”. In the narrative context, this means that Jesus has left the public scene in Jerusalem, away from the people. Though some did come to believe in him, the majority did not, as vv. 37-43 make clear. With Jesus having thus departed, the words in vv. 44-50 are lacking any definite historical-narrative setting. They are detached, and function in the narrative as a climactic statement (and summary) of Jesus’ teaching, with a number of themes and motifs from the earlier discourses (chaps. 3-10) being reprised and restated. Verses 44-50 may be divided into two portions, which I outline here as a chiasm:

  • Trusting in Jesus = trusting the One who sent him (v. 44)
    Seeing Jesus, who is the Light (vv. 45-46)
    Hearing Jesus’ words, which brings salvation from Judgment (vv. 47-48)
  • God the Father sent Jesus—trusting in him is Life (vv. 49-50)

The motifs of seeing and hearing, both frequent in the Gospel, serve as two different ways of expressing the idea of trusting in Jesus. In reference to hearing Jesus—that is, hearing his words or voice—the noun e)ntolh/ is introduced in verse 49. This word is often translated as “commandment”, which can be somewhat misleading. However, it does preserve the basic association with the Old Testament Law (Torah). The language Jesus uses relates back to the covenantal language of the Torah, especially in the book of Deuteronomy (e.g., 31:19ff; 32:46-47)—”If any (one) should hear my utterances [i.e. words] and would not guard/keep them…” (v. 47a). The failure to keep/guard Jesus’ words is effectively the same as failure (by Israel) to keep the commands and precepts of the Torah, thus violating the covenant (agreement) with God. Such failure is presented as evidence against the person in the time of Judgment:

“The one setting me aside [i.e. rejecting me] and not receiving my utterances [i.e. words] has the one judging him: the word/account [lo/go$] which I have spoken—that will judge him in the last day.” (v. 48)

This brings us to verse 49, where Jesus gives us more detail about the word[s] which he speaks:

“(For it is) that I did not speak out of myself, but the (one) sending me, the Father, he has given me an e)ntolh/—what I should say and what I should speak.”

The closing words in verse 50 repeat this statement: “Therefore the (thing)s which I spoke, even as the Father has said to me, so I spoke”. It is important to consider the syntax and context here carefully, to avoid misunderstanding about the meaning and significance of the word e)ntolh/. Jesus says, “the Father…has given me an e)ntolh/—what I should say and what I should speak”. The Greek noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is derived from the verb e)nte/llomai (entéllomai), and fundamentally refers to something given (placed on) a person to complete, sometimes in the technical sense of a “commission”. When we use the word commandment this tends to be understood as a religious or ethical injunction, but that is not really the meaning here; rather, we should render e)ntolh/ in its basic meaning: “the Father has given me a (charge) laid on (me) to complete…”. This relates to the mission and purpose for which Jesus was sent (into the world) by the Father. As the Son, Jesus imitates and repeats what he sees and hears the Father saying and doing—a theme which runs throughout the Johannine discourses. Ultimately the task given by Jesus to accomplish is his sacrificial death, as is strikingly clear in his final words on the cross: “it has been completed [tete/lestai]” (19:30, cf. also v. 28).

Here in 12:47-50, however, the emphasis is on Jesus’ words—using both the plural r(h/mata (“utterances”, i.e. spoken words, vv. 47-48) and the singular lo/go$ (“account”, i.e. his gathered words, v. 48b). Both terms appear frequently (and more or less interchangeably) in the Gospel. Jesus himself is identified with the Living and eternal Word (Lo/go$) of God in the Prologue (vv. 1-4ff), and we must always keep this theological/Christological aspect in mind when reading about Jesus’ “words” elsewhere in the Gospel. A person’s response to Jesus’ words is essentially a response to Jesus himself (and to God the Father who sent him). This is expressed two ways in vv. 47-48, as we have seen:

  • hearing (vb. a)kou/w) him and keeping/guarding (vb. fula/ssw) his words (v. 47)
  • receiving (lamba/nwn) his words (v. 48)

The motifs of hearing and receiving are essentially parallel:

  • hearing—i.e. both listening and responding (obeying/accepting)
    —keeping (watch) over / guarding
  • receiving—i.e. taking in and accepting

This does not refer simply to obeying something Jesus tells his disciples to do, but involves the broader (and deeper) sense of accepting who Jesus is and what he says. I mentioned the allusions to the book of Deuteronomy in 12:44-50, and this includes the famous passage in 18:15-19, which relates to a coming Prophet (cf. Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40) who will essentially fill Moses’ role. The words of this Prophet hold the same authority and weight as the Instruction (Torah) given by God through Moses (vv. 18-19). It is said that God will raise up this Prophet, and early Christians saw Jesus as filling the divinely appointed (and anointed, i.e. Messianic) role (Acts 3:22-23). This also reflects the fundamental meaning of the word e)ntolh/, as I discussed above.

Finally, we must consider Jesus’ statement in verse 50a:

“And I have seen [i.e. known] that His e)ntolh/ is (the) Life of the Age.”

The precise meaning of this statement requires special examination, which I will do in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – May 30 (John 10:10, 28; 12:25)

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Today (May 30) is the traditional date commemorating the ascension of Jesus—i.e. 40 days after Easter, based on the information in Acts 1:3ff. The “ascension” of Jesus is referred to differently the Gospels and Acts, and can be understood several ways, based upon the particular narrative under consideration. Most Christians have the scene in Acts 1:9-11 in mind, but there are other references to Jesus’ ascension/departure from the disciples in Luke 24:50-51 [MT] and the “long ending” of Mark (16:19), and, because of the differences in the narrative location and setting, it is not entirely clear if these passages are supposed to refer to the same event as Acts 1:9-11. The situation is further complicated by mention of an ‘ascension’ by Jesus in John 20:17. I have discussed these matters in a prior article.

The earliest Christians, in their preaching and proclamation of the Gospel, did not refer to specifically to the Ascension as such, but rather, the resurrection of Jesus was connected closely to his exaltation by the Father, to a place in Heaven and the Fathers right hand. The emphasis is not so much on Jesus’ actual departure from earth, as to his position in glory in Heaven following the resurrection. The Gospel of John preserves this early view, but it is expanded and developed in the discourses of Jesus in several ways:

  1. The motif of the Son’s ascent is set parallel to his descent—i.e. his coming to earth (as a human being). This ascent/descent theme appears numerous times throughout the Gospel and is related to the dualistic imagery of above/below, etc. The motif is expressed primarily through use of the related verbs a)nabai/nw (“step up”) and katabai/nw (“step down”)—Jesus (the Son) has stepped down (descended) from heaven, and again steps up (ascends) back to the Father in heaven.
  2. There is a strong emphasis on the Son’s return to the Father—he was sent (into the world) by the Father, and returns back to Him.
  3. In the Last Discourse (chaps. 14-17), the theme of Jesus’ departure becomes prominent, though it had been introduced earlier in the Gospel as well (6:62; 7:33-34; 8:21-22ff). It has a two-fold meaning, referring to: (1) Jesus’ death, and (2) his ultimate return to the Father.

Of all the New Testament writings, it is in John that the death, resurrection and ‘ascension’ of Jesus are most thoroughly combined—and by Jesus himself, in the great discourses which make up the core of the Gospel. One of the ways this is expressed is by the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”). In 3:14 and 8:28, Jesus refers to himself being “lifting high”, with the title “Son of Man”; while in 12:32, he makes the same essential declaration, but with the personal pronoun:

“And I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (person)s toward myself”

In 3:14, it is the death of Jesus (i.e. lifted up on the cross) which is most clearly in view, as also in 8:28; however, the same verb in 12:32 seems rather to refer to Jesus’ exaltation. He speaks of being “lifted high out of the earth“. This can refer concretely to being raised out of the tomb, but also, more properly, in the sense of his departure from earth. Just as the Father sent him into the world, so also he will be going out of it. Both aspects are likely in view here in this reference.

This series of notes is dealing with the themes of Life (zwh/) and the Spirit (pneu=ma). The theme of life in connection with resurrection features prominently in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11, especially the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in vv. 20-27. However, I have discussed these verses at length in an earlier series, and so will not be addressing them here. Instead, I wish to consider briefly three verses from the surrounding chapters (10 and 12) where Jesus makes use of the word zwh/ (“life”).

John 10:10

This is part of the “Good Shepherd” parable-discourse in chapter 10. It is here in this discourse that the sacrificial death of Jesus comes more clearly into view. The structure generally follows the Johannine discourse format and may be outlined simply as follows:

  • Saying (parable) of Jesus (vv. 1-5)
  • Reaction by the people indicating a lack of understanding (v. 6)
  • Exposition by Jesus, which may be divided into three parts (each beginning with an “I am” declaration):
    • Jesus as the door/gate of the sheepfold (vv. 7-10): “I am…”
    • Jesus as the herdsman of the sheep (vv. 11-13): “I am…”
    • What Jesus as herdsman does for the sheep (vv. 14-18): “I am…”
  • Narrative conclusion [reaction by the people] (vv. 19-21)

Verse 10 concludes the first expository section (on Jesus as the door or entrance [qu/ra] to the sheepfold). It is only the shepherd, with charge over the sheep, who opens and closes this door; thus this verse provides the transition to the next section, in which Jesus is no longer the door, but the shepherd. Only the shepherd is able to open/close the door, and, when it is closed, any other person who enters presumably does so only to steal or harm the sheep. This effectively distinguishes the shepherd from all other persons. Jesus makes this contrast clear in verse 10:

“The (one) stealing does not come if not [i.e. except] that he might steal and slaughter and bring to ruin; (but) I came that they [i.e. the sheep] might hold life, and might hold (it) over (and) above (all else)”

This involves the familiar expression “hold life”, using the verb e&xw (“hold”); elsewhere in the Gospel, as we have seen, this life is often specified as “the Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life). The role of herdsman is to protect the sheep (from harm) and to guide them where they can find life-giving sustenance. In both respects he is saving/preserving their lives—the sheep have/hold life under his care.

John 10:28

This verse is from the second half of chapter 10 (vv. 22-39), which comprises a second discourse, but one which shares important themes with vv. 1-21, and it is possible to read the passages in tandem as part of a single discourse-scene. Verses 25-30 reprise the “Good Shepherd” illustration—but here there is a more definite contrast between those sheep who belong to the shepherd and those who do not. For the religious leaders and others who are unable (or refuse) to accept Jesus, he designates them as those who are not part of his flock (vv. 25-26). By contrast, those who do trust in him are part of the flock:

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them (the) Life of the Age, and no, they should not (ever) come to ruin into the Age, and no one will seize them out of my hand.” (vv. 27-28)

This motif, of Jesus giving to believers the “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life), occurred the earlier discourses, as has been discussed in prior notes. In the context of the Johannine discourses, this Life which Jesus gives is to be identified primarily with the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35; 4:10ff, 24; 6:27ff, 63; 7:37-39). This is an important theological development of the traditional expression “life of the Age”, as we have discussed. That this Life is connected with the very presence and power of God is clear from vv. 28f, where God (the Father) is the ultimate source of this life (and its preservation/protection) for believers:

“My Father, who has given (them) to me, is greater than all, and no one is able [i.e. has power] to seize (anything) out of the Father’s hand.” (v. 29)

For the chain of relationship between Father and Son, see especially 3:34-35 and 5:26. This will become a central theme in the Last Discourse, in particular the great prayer-discourse of chapter 17.

John 12:25

The theme of Jesus’ sacrificial death, so central to the Good Shepherd discourse (10:11-18)—the laying down of his soul/life and taking it up again—takes on even greater significance as we approach the start of the Passion narrative. In the Gospel of John, the (triumphal) entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is narrated in 12:12-19; Jerusalem is the setting, from verse 20 on, into the beginning of the Passion (chap. 13). There is an interesting parallel here between 12:20-36a (set in Jerusalem) and the Synoptic tradition at the transition point between the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem. Consider the following points of similarity:

Indeed, the saying of Jesus in 12:25 is close in thought to the Synoptic saying in Mk 8:35 par:

“For whoever would wish to save his soul will bring it to ruin, but whoever will bring his soul to ruin for my sake and (for) the good message [i.e. Gospel] will save it.” (Mk)
“The one loving his soul brings it to ruin, and the one hating his soul in this world will watch/guard it into (the) Life of the Age.” (Jn)

However one would explain the development of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (on this, cf. my recent series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition“), there can be no doubt that the Johannine version of this traditional saying—this particular form of it—has certain elements which are distinctive to the Fourth Gospel. We may note the use of the articular participle, so frequent in John, to describe the disciple (believer)—”the (one)…ing”—as well as his opposite. Even more important are the qualifying expressions which enhance the point of contrast:

  • “in this world”—with the use of ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”)
  • “into the Life of the Age”—for this expression, cf. the previous daily notes

The believer is one who “hates” his soul [i.e. his human life] insofar as it is in the world—that is, in the current age and world-order dominated by sin and darkness. The non-believer, by contrast, loves the darkness (3:19), and thus loves his life in the darkness. The contrast to the world and its darkness is the Life and Light of God found in the person of Jesus. This aspect of (eternal) Life will be discussed further in the next daily note, on 12:50.

Note of the Day – May 29 (John 8:12)

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John 8:12

As discussed in the previous note (on 7:37-39), the festival of Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) is the setting for a complex discourse-scene that appears to span the entirety of chapters 7-8 (excluding 7:53-8:11). Jn 8:12-59 is the second half of this discourse scene. It is actually made up of three sections, each of which follows the Johannine discourse format, beginning with a saying (declaration) by Jesus, followed by the people’s reaction, and an exposition from Jesus in response. In these three sections, Jesus is engaged in debate/dispute with the religious authorities (Pharisees), as in the chapter 5 discourse. Indeed, 8:12-59 is parallel to 5:30-47, sharing the central themes of Jesus’ words as a witness to his identity, and of his relationship to God the Father. The line of argument in 8:13-18 is quite similar to that of 5:30-47. Each of the three sections concludes with an important declaration by Jesus regarding his relationship to the Father; note the following outline:

  • Part 1—vv. 12-20
    • Narrative introduction: “Then Yeshua again spoke…”
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 12)
    • Reaction by the Jewish leaders (v. 13)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 14-18)
    • Statement on his relationship to the Father (v. 19, picking up from v. 18)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 20)
  • Part 2—vv. 21-30
    • Narrative introduction: “Then he again said to them…”
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 21)
    • Reaction by the Jewish leaders/people (v. 22)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 23-27)
    • Statement on his relationship to the Father (vv. 28-29, picking up from v. 27)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 30)
  • Part 3—vv. 31-59
    • Narrative introduction: “Then Yeshua said to the Jews trusting in him…”
    • Saying of Jesus (vv. 31b-32)
    • Reaction by the Jewish leaders/people (v. 33)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 34-48)
    • Statement on his relationship to the Father (vv. 49-56, picking up from v. 48)
    • Concluding “I Am” declaration (vv. 57-58)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 59)

Note here the way that the discourse-episode begins with Jesus in dispute with the Pharisees, and gradually widens to include other “Jews”, at least some of whom begin to trust in him (v. 31). At the literary level, and perhaps at the historical level as well, these three discourses fit together as a running dialogue, building with dramatic tension, until the climactic moments of vv. 31-59.

Today I will be discussing the saying of Jesus which begins this second half of the Sukkoth discourse scene, verse 12:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the light of the world—the (one) following me should not (ever) walk about in darkness, but will hold the light of life.”

This saying is similar in form to the “I am” declarations in the Bread of Life discourse: “I am the Bread of Life…” (6:35, also v. 48), “I am the Living Bread…” (6:51, also v. 41). It begins with a fundamental “I am” statement in which Jesus identifies himself with the true/living form of some image from the natural world or from daily life—indicating that this “living” form comes from God. The statement is then followed by a promise for the one who receives/accepts this “living” form, which is defined as trusting in, or coming to, Jesus. Both aspects are included here in the defining participle following (a)kolouqw=n)—”the one following” = “the one trusting”. The essential promise “he will hold the Light of Life” is precisely parallel to the statement “he will hold the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”, introduced in 3:15-16 and repeated throughout the Gospel (3:36; 5:24, 40; 6:40, etc). Thus the expression “Light of Life” is largely synonymous with the “Life of the Age”, the eternal/divine Life which the righteous were thought to inherit at the end time, and which believers in Jesus possess already in the present.

It is worth examining each of the expressions Jesus uses here.

“Light of the World” (o( fw=$ tou= ko/smou)

In an earlier note, we examined the similar expression “Life of the World”, which was used by Jesus specifically in connection with his sacrificial death: “the bread which I will give is my flesh, (given) over the life of the world“. The basic concept involved reaches back to the Prologue, covering the role of Jesus (the Living Word) in Creation, as well as his coming into the world (i.e. the Incarnation). In verse 9 we read:

“(This) was the true Light, which gives light to every man, coming into the world”
which can also be read as:
“The true Light, which gives light to every man, was coming into the world”

In verses 10ff the Word (and Light) is described as being “in the world…and (yet) the world did not know him”; a more concrete reference to Jesus’ life in the world as a human being comes in vv. 14ff. This idea is repeated in 3:19-21, again using the motif of light, and introducing even more clearly the dualistic contrast of light vs. darkness:

“…the Light has come into the world, and (yet) men [i.e. people in the world] loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their works were evil” (v. 19)

Light features repeatedly in the Gospel, both the specific noun fw=$ (23 times), as well as the related verb fwti/zw (“give light”), and words derived from fai/nw (“shine [light]”). The expression “light of the world” appears again in 9:5, and cf. also 11:9; 12:46. In Matthew 5:14 it is Jesus’ disciples (believers) who are called the “light of the world”, much as they are referred to by the title “sons of light” in 12:36 (cf. also Lk 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8).

“Light of Life” (o( fw=$ th=$ zwh=$)

The background for this expression may be found in the Old Testament, in passages such as Job 33:30 (also v. 28) and Psalm 56:13. Ultimately, the association of light with life is fundamental to human experience and religious expression. Even without a modern scientific understanding, ancient peoples intuitively recognized the life-giving quality of light (from the sun’s rays, etc). The introduction of light represents the first stage of creation in the Genesis account, and precedes the formation of life. Light is typically associated with Deity in nearly all religions, and certainly is so in the Old Testament Scriptures—cf. Psalm 18:28; 27:1; 36:9; 43:3; Isa 2:5, et al. It often refers specifically to the manifestation of God—his Presence and action—to his people, especially in the live-giving (and preserving) salvation which he brings (Exod 10:23; 13:21 [the pillar of fire], etc; Psalm 97:11; Isa 9:2; 30:26; 42:6; 60:1ff, et al).

As mentioned above, Light and Life are related in the Johannine Prologue, again in connection both with the presence of God and the work of creation (vv. 4-9). Note the fundamental statement in verse 4:

“In him [i.e. the Word] was Life, and th(is) Life was the Light of men”

On the surface, it may seem that the author, in using the expression “the light of men”, is referring to knowledge and understanding (i.e. illuminating reason) in a general sense. This would fit the context of Creation, but the overall theological context of the Gospel, in which “life” (zwh/) virtually always refers to the divine/eternal Life of God, suggests something deeper. This, too, should be understood by the use of the expression “the Light of Life” in 8:12, with its parallel to “the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”, as discussed above.

The association with the Sukkoth festival

Along with the symbolic use of water (cf. the previous note), light also features in the traditional ceremonies associated with the Sukkoth festival, as described in the Mishnah tractate Sukkah (5:2ff). On the first night of the festival, a ceremonial lighting of four golden candlesticks took place. The parallel with the drawing of water, and the ceremonial libation offering, on the morning of each day, suggests that the lighting might have taken place similarly on each evening. Note the parallelism in relation to the two central statements by Jesus in the Sukkoth discourse-scene:

  • Water
    • Ceremonial drawing of water in a golden pitcher and offering in the Temple
    • Jn 7:37-38—Jesus identifies himself as the source of life-giving water (“Living Water”)
  • Light
    • Ceremonial lighting of four golden candlesticks in the Temple court
    • Jn 8:12—Jesus identifies himself as the source of the “Light of Life”

Both of these motifs are also found in Zech 14:7-8, which also has a Sukkoth setting, and may be in view here in the discourse (cf. the previous note):

  • A day in which there will be light in the evening (v. 7)
  • On that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem (v. 8)

The motif of light in the night-time relates to the contrast between light and darkness, for which there is a strong background in the Old Testament. In many of these passages the idea is that God (His presence) gives light to people within the darkness (cf. Exod 13:21; Job 12:22; Psalm 112:4; 139:11-12; Prov 4:18; Isa 9:2; 42:16; 58:8ff; 60:1ff, etc). The light/darkness contrast is a prominent part of the dualistic language and imagery in the Gospel of John, and appears here in verse 12: “the one following me should not (ever) walk in darkness, but will hold the Light of Life”. The same idea is expressed in 12:35, 46, and see also the the First Letter of John, 1:5-7; 2:8-11.

Light and the Spirit?

Unlike the symbolism of water, there is not as much of a direct connection between light and the Spirit, though it certainly can be inferred as part of Johannine theology; consider:

  • “God is Spirit [pneu=ma o( qeo/$]” (Jn 4:24)
  • “God is Light [o( qeo/$ fw=$ e)stin]” (1 Jn 1:5)

Nevertheless, light, as such, is not as common a symbol for the Spirit—fire is much more relevant and specific in this regard. In Old Testament tradition, the light of God is often connected with wisdom and the Law (Torah), as, for example, in Psalm 119:105, 130; Prov 4:18; 6:23, etc. Indeed, in the Qumran text 1QS, both the wisdom and Law of God are described by the very expression “light of life” (3:6-7), which is provided to the members of the Community through instruction and the interpretation of Scripture. It is possible that ancient Wisdom traditions, and those related to the Torah, also underlie the imagery of the Prologue of John (vv. 4ff)—i.e. God’s Word and Light is present in the world, seeking to find a dwelling place among human beings, but they do not receive it (i.e. the Wisdom of God). Jesus, of course, is the living personification of the Wisdom and Word (Torah) of God.

Note of the Day – May 28 (John 7:37-39)

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John 7:37-39

Today’s note will examine the declaration by Jesus in Jn 7:37-38, part of the great discourse-scene set in Jerusalem during the festival of Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles). At the very least, this episode spans all of chapter seven, through verse 52; however, many commentators, based on the view that 7:53-8:11 is an interpolation, would join 8:12-59 as part of the same discourse-scene. If this is correct, then the entirety of chapters 7-8 (excluding 7:53-8:11) is set during, or at the time of, the festival. According to ancient tradition (cf. Exod 23:14-19; Lev 23:33-36ff; Num 29:12-38), the harvest festival of Sukkoth was celebrated over 7 days (Tishri 15-22), beginning and ending with a special Sabbath. Later Jewish and Rabbinic tradition records a number of rituals and customs, some form of which could conceivably have been in practice in Jesus’ time, and which may be reflected in the discourse.

The structure of chapters 7-8 is extremely complex—with discourses and isolated sayings (or blocks of teaching) by Jesus alternating between reports of the people’s reaction to him (vv. 25-27, 30-32, 40-44; cf. also 8:20, 30, 59). These reaction passages contain two elements: (1) question as to Jesus’ possible identity as the Messiah, and (2) attempts to arrest and/or kill him. At the center of the discourse-scene are two statements by Jesus, relating to key motifs associated with the traditional Sukkoth ceremonies:

  1. 7:37ff—Water: Jesus identifies himself as the source of Living Water
  2. 8:12Light: Jesus identifies himself as (the source of) the Light of Life

An extended reaction episode (7:40-52) is set in between. I will be discussing the first of these sayings today.

Verse 37

“In the last great day of the festival, Yeshua stood and cried (out), saying ‘If any (one) should thirst, he must [i.e. let him] come [toward me] and drink'”

The setting is the final (7th) day of the Sukkoth festival, commemorated as a special Sabbath day; the importance of this celebration is indicated by the adjective “great” (e&sxato$). The motif of water is especially significant, since Sukkoth was a harvest festival which traditionally included a prayer for rain, as a sign that there would be a good crop in the coming year. The Mishnah tractate Sukkah records additional ceremonies involving water-offerings (cf. TDNT 4:281-2; Brown, pp. 326-7). Each morning a ceremonial procession would draw water (in a golden pitcher) from the Gihon spring, and, accompanied by worship and signing (including a recitation of Isa 12:3), would bring it into the Temple, circling the altar and pouring the water into a funnel where it would flow to the ground. On the seventh (last) day, the procession would circle the altar seven times.

The language used of Jesus in v. 37 (“he stood and cried [out]”) seems to echo Wisdom traditions—e.g., Prov 1:20-21ff; 8:1-4; 9:3-5. The call to come and drink of wisdom—with wisdom symbolized by water—is relatively frequent (cf. below on Prov 5:15; 9:5, etc). In the context of the Johannine discourses, Jesus’ call is a clear reflection of his earlier dialogue with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4. There, too, he invites the woman to drink from the water which he gives (vv. 10ff). Similarly, in the Bread of Life discourse of chap. 6, where Jesus presents himself as “bread” from heaven, the theme of eating this bread is joined with drinking (v. 35, and the eucharistic language of vv. 51-58). Jesus’ statement in 4:13-14 is perhaps closest to his words here in v. 37:

“Every one drinking out of this water [i.e. ordinary water from the well] will thirst again, but whoever should drink out of the water which I will give him, he will not ever thirst (again) into the Age…”

Note also 6:35:

“the one coming toward me should not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting in me will not (ever) thirst at any time”

Verse 38

“‘…the one trusting in me, even as the Writing [i.e. Scripture] said, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water‘”

The precise syntax and vv. 37-38 is somewhat difficult. Many commentators and translators treat v. 38 as the start of a new sentence, but this obscures the obvious parallel with 6:35 mentioned above:

  • “the one coming toward me”
  • “the one trusting in me”

Perhaps a better way of rendering vv. 37-38 would be as follows:

“If any one should thirst, let him come toward me and drink, (and for this person,) the one trusting in me, even as the Scripture (has) said, ‘out of his belly will flow rivers of living water’!”

In any event, both coming toward Jesus and drinking (from the water he gives) are defined specifically in terms of trusting in him.

What Scripture is Jesus citing here? There has been difficulty in identifying this, since the quotation does not correspond to any Old Testament passage which has come down to us. Unless Jesus is citing a Scripture now lost (which is possible, but unlikely), he is probably paraphrasing one or more passages. Of the possible references, note the following (cf. Brown, pp. 321-3, 27-9):

  • Verses such as Prov 5:15; 18:4; Sirach 24:30ff from Wisdom tradition (cf. above)
  • Isaiah 12:3 (cf. above)
  • Isaiah 58:11: “you will be like a garden soaked (with water), a (flow)ing forth [i.e. spring/fountain] of water—(a spring) of which its waters will (never) prove false”
  • Jeremiah 2:13 (cf. also 17:13): “my people have left me, the place to dig (for) [i.e. the source of] living waters…”
  • Psalm 78:15-16: “He caused streams to come forth out of the rock, and made (the) water(s) run down like rivers”—i.e., a reference to the Exodus tradition, cf. also Ps 105:40-41; Isa 43:20; 44:3; 48:21, and note 1 Cor 10:4.
  • Zechariah 14:8: “And it will be in th(at) day, (that) living waters will go forth from Jerusalem…”

The expression “rivers of living water will flow forth” would seem to reflect some combination of Psalm 78:16, Zech 14:8, and (perhaps) Isa 58:11. A contested detail in the verse involves the words “out of his belly”—is this the belly of Jesus or of the believer? The parallel with Jn 4:14 strongly suggests the latter:

“…the water that I will give him will come to be in him a gushing (spring) of water leaping (up) into the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”

On the other hand, the closest Old Testament references have the “rivers of (living) water” coming out of either (1) the Rock in the wilderness, or (2) Jerusalem, spec. the Temple—both of which are identified with the person of Jesus in the New Testament. Many commentators identify the “belly” here with the event following Jesus’ death in 19:34, in which “blood and water came out” of Jesus’ side. This possibility will be discussed in a later note.

The Sukkoth setting in Jerusalem makes it likely that Zech 14:8 is the primary Scripture in view here. The Sukkoth festival is mentioned specifically in 14:16-19, and appears to relate to chapters 10-14 as a whole (note the reference to a prayer for rain in 10:1, and cf. 14:17-18). It is also one of the only Scriptures using the expression “living water” in a symbolic/spiritual sense (cf. also Jer 2:13; 17:13, and possibly Song 4:15).

Verse 39

“And he said this about the Spirit, which the (one)s trusting in him were about to receive; for the Spirit was not yet (with/in them), (in) that [i.e. because] Yeshua was not yet granted (the) honor/esteem (from God)”

This explanation is given by the Gospel writer, much like the similar aside in 2:21-22. He identifies the “rivers of living water” with the Spirit. As I discussed in the earlier note on 4:10ff, the context of the narrative (cf. especially the reference in 3:34) itself indicated such an identification. Here the Gospel writer makes explicit what can otherwise be inferred. According to the structure of the narrative, the Spirit is not given to believers until after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascent to the Father. This process—all three elements or aspects—are summarized by the use of the verb doca/zw (“give [or regard with] honor/esteem”, often translated “glorify”). In the Gospel of John it refers specifically to the honor bestowed on Jesus, by God the Father, and relates both (a) to Jesus’ completion of the work given to him by the Father, and (b) his return to the Father in heaven. This is the first occurrence of the verb, which will feature prominently in the second half of the Gospel (18 times in chaps. 12-17), as the Passion begins to come more clearly into view. The Gospel writer provides a similar comment to v. 39 in 12:16.

In the next note I will turn to examine the second saying of Jesus at the heart of the Sukkoth discourse-scene, that in 8:12.

References above marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29 (1966).

Note of the Day – May 27 (John 6:51; Luke 22:19f)

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John 6:51; Luke 22:19f

Today, on Memorial Day, I wish to return to the declaration by Jesus in John 6:51, part of the great Bread of Life discourse (cf. the previous note and the Saturday discussion), especially as it relates to the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). Here is verse 51, with the main points for comparison given in italics:

“I am the Living Bread th(at) is stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven—if any one should eat out of this bread, he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is even my flesh, (given) over the life of the world.”

The form of the words of institution (in the Synoptic tradition), closest to the language here, is found in the Gospel of Luke:

“And taking bread (and) giving (thanks to God) for (his) favor, broke (it) and gave (it) to them, saying: ‘This is my body th(at is) being given over you—do this unto my remembrance’.” (Lk 22:19)

The last phrase is unique to the Lukan version, but Paul has similar wording in 1 Cor 11:23-25, except that the phrase “do this unto my remembrance” is applied to both the bread and the cup.

It is interesting to consider the differences in the object of the preposition (u(pe/r, “over”) between the Lukan and parallel Synoptic versions, as well as here in Jn 6:51:

  • “over you [pl.]” [u(pe\r u(mw=n] (Lk 22:19-20, applied to both bread and cup)
  • “over many” [u(pe\r pollw=n] (Mk 14:24, par Matt 26:28, applied only to the cup)
  • “over the life of the world” [u(pe\r th=$ tou= ko/smou zwh=$] (Jn 6:51, applied to bread)

The Lukan version is straightforward—Jesus is referring to his disciples (believers). The references in Mark/Matt and John 6:51 are more difficult. Who are the “many” in Mk 14:24 par? There is a similar expression in Mk 10:45 (par Matt 20:28), in which Jesus says:

“For the Son of Man also did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul [i.e. life] in exchange for (the) many [a)nti\ pollw=n], as a means of loosing (them from bondage).”

In both passages, Jesus is almost certainly alluding to Isaiah 53:11-12:

  • “by his knowledge my [righteous] Servant will cause righteousness (to be established) for the many [<yB!r^l*]” (v. 11)
  • “…and he carried/lifted the sin of (the) many [<yB!r^]” (v. 12b)

There is strong sacrificial language used in Isa 53:10-12, including the offering for sin/guilt (<v*a*, v. 10), which relates to the suffering and/or death of the Servant. This made the passage an obvious Scripture to apply to the sacrificial death of Jesus, an association which was recognized already by the earliest Christians (Acts 8:30-35, etc). However, there is some question whether “(the) many” should be understood in the generic sense (i.e. many people), or in a specific religious sense, as the assembly (of God’s people). While Christians typically read the passage in the former sense, an increasing number of commentators feel that it is really the latter which is in view. The same would apply to the use of <yB!r^(h*) in Daniel 11:33; 12:3.

The basis for this specific denotation of the word <yB!r^ is found in the texts associated with the Qumran Community, where the the word is used repeatedly as a title for the Community, especially in the Damascus Document (CD) 13-15 and the “Community Rule” (1QS) 6-8. The members of that Community viewed themselves as the Elect of Israel, the ones remaining faithful to the ancient covenant, who will see (and play a central role in) the coming Messianic Age. The Anointed One(s) will deliver and lead the Community. This involves a decidedly sectarian identity of the people of God—not the entire Israelite/Jewish population, but only a portion, the elect who, when assembled together in the Community, represent “the Many”. There is a clear application and development of the “remnant” image from the Prophets.

It is possible that a similar background of thought applies to the earliest Christians and Jesus’ own use of the expression “(the) many” in Mk 10:45; 14:24 par (cf. also Rom 5:15-19; Heb 9:28). In other words, he is not saying that he gives his body/life for people generally “many people”, but for “the Many” who are his followers. Certainly the fundamental idea of the covenant (diaqh/kh) God established with Israel is present in the Last Supper scene. While it is described as a new covenant (cf. Jer 31:31ff), the basic imagery is derived from the sacrificial ritual by which the covenant between God and Israel was established (Exod 24:4-8). There is thus a dual meaning to the preposition u(pe/r (“over”):

  • the concrete sense of blood being poured (or sprinkled) over the altar and on the people
  • the more abstract meaning “on behalf of”, “for (the sake of)”

If “the many” designates the disciples of Jesus as the new covenant Community within Israel, then it corresponds with the the plural pronoun (“you”) in the Lukan version (22:19-20):

“this is my body th(at is) being given over you
“this cup (is) the new covenant [diaqh/kh] in my blood being poured out over you

What of the expression in Jn 6:51, “over the life of the world”? We are accustomed to seeing this in the more general (universalist) sense—i.e., Jesus died on behalf of all people in the world. This would seem to be supported by 3:16-17 (cf. also 4:42; 12:47), in which the desire is expressed that the world (i.e. the people in it) should not be destroyed, but saved. Yet, elsewhere in the Gospel, there is a strong negative connotation (and denotation) to the word ko/smo$ (“world”), where it more literally signifies the world order—the current order and arrangement of things, dominated and governed by sin and darkness. The imagery is fundamentally dualistic—the “world” is opposed to God and his Spirit, to Jesus and his disciples (believers). The basic Johannine construct may be summarized as follows:

  • The “world” has rejected God’s Word and is dominated by sin and darkness
  • God sends Jesus (the Son and Living Word) into the world, to bring light, truth, etc, and salvation to it—that is, to believers—the elect who are in the world, but do not belong to it
  • Jesus (the Son) returns to God the Father and will bring believers with him—he has called them out of the world

The work of Jesus in the world is centered upon his self-sacrificial act—laying down his life, giving his (human) life for the sake of the world. Yet we must be careful to preserve his distinctive wording in 6:51 (and earlier in v. 33):

  • “for the Bread of Life is th(at which is) stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven and giving Life to the world” (v. 33)
  • “and the Bread which I will give is even my flesh (given) over the life of the world” (v. 51)

There is here a parallel to Creation, as expressed in the Prologue: Jesus (the Living Word) brings light and life to the world, but those who belong to the darkness do not receive the light—only those who belong to the light are able to receive it. Thus, we should probably not read the expression “life of the world”, as ‘for the sake of the world’, but, rather, in the more precise theological sense found in the Johannine discourses, etc—of Jesus as “the Life of the world”. This would be almost exactly parallel with the expression “Light of the world” in 8:12, which I will be discussing in an upcoming note. We also find the expression “Light of Life” in that same verse. This Light (and Life) is found in Jesus’ own person (in the world), and believers come to hold this Light/Life (in the world).

I would conclude this note with the one element which is unique to the Lukan (and Pauline) version of the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. While it is stated that Jesus gives his body and blood “over you”—that is, over believers—who are also “the many” whom God has called out of the world, an additional directive is given to us (who are believers):

“do this [i.e. this same thing] unto my remembrance [ei)$ th\n e)mh\n a)na/mnhsin]”

We are thus called to repeat Jesus’ action as a memorial, in memory of what he has done. This should be understood on two levels. First, in terms of repeating the ritual/symbolic act—i.e. the consecrated “Lord’s Supper”. This is certainly how Paul understands it in 1 Cor 11. However, second, and even more important: we are to follow Jesus’ own example of self-sacrifice, on behalf of others (and esp. our fellow believers)—not as a mere repetition of ritual, but as a way of life and thought. This comes through abundantly clear in the foot-washing scene in the Gospel of John (Jn 13:4-17), which effectively takes the place of the Lord’s Supper institution in the narrative. As expressed by the love command (13:34-35), it also becomes the central theme of the great Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16, and the prayer-discourse of chap. 17).

“The fine (shep)herd sets (down) his soul over the sheep…and I set (down) my soul over the sheep”
(Jn 10:11, 14)

(Peter): “I will set (down) my soul over you”
(Jesus): “Will you (indeed) set (down) your soul over me?”
(Jn 13:37-38)

“No one holds greater love than this—that one should set (down) his soul over his dear (friend)s”
(Jn 15:13)

Note of the Day – May 26 (John 6:63, 68)

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John 6:63, 68

These next two verses to be discussed are related, in some way, to the preceding Bread of Life discourse (vv. 22-59), though the precise relationship has proven difficult for commentators to determine. Verse 59 effectively serves as a conclusion to the discourse; and yet, without any other reference point, it would seem that verse 60 is referring back to the discourse (or a portion of it). The wording remains somewhat ambiguous:

“Then many out of his learners [i.e. disciples], (hav)ing heard, said, ‘This account [i.e. word/saying] is harsh [sklhro/$]—who is able to hear it?'”

There are two possibilities:

  • Verses 60ff are part of the same historical tradition, occurring in the aftermath of the discourse (as recorded in vv. 22-59)
  • The Gospel writer has joined to the discourse an entirely separate tradition, using the discourse, in the literary context of the narrative, as a way of demonstrating an example of Jesus’ teaching—i.e., the kinds of things he said which resulted in the sort of response described in vv. 60ff.

Most critical commentators would choose the second option, and there is much to be said in favor of it. In this particular instance, the view taken affects how one interprets the discourse—especially the eucharistic language and imagery in vv. 51-58. But, let us continue with the Jesus’ response to the disciples’ reaction:

“Does this trip you up? Then if you should look (and behold) the Son of Man stepping up (back to) where he was (at) the first(, what then)? The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.” (vv. 61b-63)

The logical connection and flow of these statements is rather difficult, and may possibly reflect separate sayings which have been brought together. The basic idea behind vv. 61b-62, as we have it, is relatively clear. If the disciples find Jesus’ teaching difficult (while he is present with them), how will they respond when he has left them and returned to the Father? The Christological language in v. 62 has, I think, led some commentators down the wrong track, as though Jesus were suggesting that it would be more difficult for the disciples to behold Jesus’ ascension in glory. Much more likely here is a foreshadowing of the kind of discussion Jesus will have with his (close) disciples in the Last Discourse, where he speaks at length of his departure and return to the Father. The mention of the Spirit in v. 63 would seem to confirm this. His statement here regarding the Spirit may be seen as preparatory for the later Discourse. Let us examine verse 63 in more detail.

Verse 63

Whether or not this verse ultimately derives from separate sayings, there certainly are two distinct statements being made by Jesus:

  1. “The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything”
  2. “The utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”

The first statement provides a clear contrast—between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). Such a dualistic contrast is familiar from Paul’s letters, where he uses it repeatedly—cf. especially Romans 8:4-6ff; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8; Phil 3:3. It is much less common in the Johannine writings, but may be found in Jn 3:6 (cf. the prior note), and a negative connotation to the term “flesh”, as something contrary or inferior to God, is present in 8:15 and 1 John 2:16. Usually, this negative aspect is expressed by “(the) world” (ko/smo$). Here, in verse 63, the contrast is especially pronounced—not only does the flesh not give life, but it offers no benefit at all! This harsh statement must be understood properly, in terms of the comparison of the flesh with the Spirit. Compared with the Spirit, which gives everything (Life), the flesh offers nothing.

A difficult point of interpretation is whether (or in what sense) this statement should be applied to the Bread of Life discourse, and the apparent eucharistic allusions in vv. 51-58. I have addressed this question in the most recent Saturday series post.

The second statement provides the theme for this series of notes: “The utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”. Again, there is some difficulty of interpretation here; consider the possible ways this may be understood:

  • Spirit and (divine, eternal) Life are conveyed to believers through Jesus’ words
  • This giving of “Spirit and Life” is parallel to the eucharistic (symbolic) act of eating/drinking the flesh/blood of Jesus—two aspects of the same basic idea
  • Jesus’ spoken words, i.e. his teaching, reflect part (or an aspect) of the Spirit (and Life) which he gives to believers
  • Trust in Jesus, through his words, will result in believers obtaining the Spirit and (eternal) Life

In my view, the statement is fundamentally Christological. Since Jesus is the Son (of God) sent by the Father, and since God the Father (who is Spirit, 4:24) gives the Spirit to Jesus, to say that Jesus gives the Spirit (3:34) to believers means that he conveys to believers everything that the Father is. This involves both the work, and the very presence, of Jesus—wherever he is, and whatever he does (or speaks), the Spirit of God is made manifest to those who trust in him. Jesus’ utterances are not merely the sayings and teachings recorded in the Gospel, but a manifestation of the life-giving, creative power, given to him by the Father. This interpretation will, I believe, be confirmed as we explore the remainder of the relevant passages in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John.

Verse 68

Jesus’ statements in vv. 61-63 are part of a larger narrative section; and here, beginning with verse 64, there is greater likelihood that a separate historical tradition has been joined—one which has important parallels with the Synoptic Tradition. Verses 64-71 deal specifically with the Twelve disciples, and the transition to this in v. 64 appears rather abruptly. The key saying by Jesus comes in verse 65:

“Through this [i.e. for this reason] I have said to you that no one is able to come toward me if it were not given to him out of [i.e. from] the Father”

In the narrative context, this relates back to vv. 37-40, and especially vv. 44-45, of the discourse, though it is also possible that similar sayings by Jesus were given (and circulated) separately, to the same effect. At any rate, this motif of election—of the disciples (believers) being given to Jesus by God the Father—starts to come into greater prominence at this point in the Gospel. As if in response to this declaration, we read that “many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went away, into the (place)s in the back, and no longer walked about with him”. This takes things a step further from the grumbling reaction in vv. 60-61; now many disciples drew back and no longer followed Jesus closely. What comes next in the narrative serves as a parallel, of sorts, with the confession of Peter in the Synoptic Tradition—note:

  • A direct and personal question (challenge) by Jesus to his close disciples:
    “And who do you count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:30a par)
    “You do not also wish to lead (yourselves) under [i.e. go back/away] (do you)?” (Jn 6:67)
  • To which Peter is the one who responds with a declaration of faith:
    “You are the Anointed One (of God)” (Mk 8:30b par)
    “…we have trusted and have known that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68b)

Just prior to this confession, in John’s account, Peter makes the following statement, in answer to Jesus’ question:

“Lord, to whom will we go away? You hold (the) utterances of Life of the Age” (v. 68a)

The last portion is made up of four Greek words which should now be familiar to you in studying the Gospel throughout this series:

  • r(h/mata “utterances”, i.e. spoken words, as in v. 63 (above)—cf. also 3:34; 5:47; 8:47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:7; 17:8.
  • zwh=$ “of Life”—the two words being in a genitival relationship, “utterances of life”, as in “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48), “light of life” (8:12), “resurrection of life” (5:29). This divine, eternal Life characterizes Jesus’ utterances—they belong to Life.
  • ai)wni/ou “of the Age”—the latest of many such occurrences of this adjective in the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ (“Life of the Age”). It reflects the idea of the divine, blessed Life which the righteous were though to inherit (and share with God) at the end-time, following the resurrection and Judgment. In the Johannine discourses, it tends to be used in the sense of the Life which believers in Jesus possess (“hold”) now, in the present, through trust in him—i.e. “realized” eschatology. The expression is typically translated as “eternal life”.
  • e&xei$ “you hold”—as indicated above, Jesus repeatedly states that those who trust in him hold eternal life. Peter here is expressing the belief that this Life comes from Jesus, who holds it, having himself received it from God the Father (cf. 5:26, etc).

While this language certainly reflects that of the Johannine discourses, it is interesting to see the way that it has developed here out of a core historical tradition, related to the calling of the Twelve and the betrayal of Judas. This framework has been chosen and utilized by the Gospel writer as a way to emphasize Jesus’ teaching on faith and discipleship, much as the tradition of Judas’ betrayal at the Last Supper has been used in the Gospel of Luke to introduce teaching of Jesus (cf. Lk 22:21-30). In the Johannine narrative, Judas has a special place in the “Last Supper” scene—his departure marks the moment when “the devil” has left, and only Jesus’ true disciples remain (13:2, 21-30; cp. 6:64, 70-71). It is at this point that the great Last Discourse can begin (13:31ff).

Note of the Day – May 24 (John 6:27ff)

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John 6:27-58

The motif of “life” (zwh=) is especially prominent in the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This discourse is similar to that of chapter 5 (cf. the previous daily notes), in being centered on a miracle story—in this case, the Miraculous Feeding episode, which is also found in the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 6:30-44 par, cf. also 8:1-10 par). I have discussed the Bread of Life discourse in a number of prior notes and articles, most recently as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (cf. the relevant notes). The discourse, in the context of the chapter as a whole, is quite complex; I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction—the Feeding Miracle Episode:
    • Narrative setting (vv. 1-4)
    • Tradition: The Feeding Miracle (vv. 5-14)
    • Transitional statement (v. 15)
    • Associated Tradition: The Walking on Water (vv. 16-21)
  • Introduction to the Discourse (vv. 22-24)
  • Part 1—The Bread from Heaven [Passover/Manna theme] (vv. 25-34)
    • Encounter scene—Question from the crowd (vv. 25-26)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 27)
    • Initial reaction by the people (v. 28)
    • Exposition (second saying) by Jesus (v. 29)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 30-31)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 32-33)
    • Concluding/transitional response by the people (v. 34)
  • Part 2—The Bread of Life [exposition of Bread from Heaven theme] (vv. 35-50)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 35), with exposition (vv. 36-40)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 41-42)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 43-50)
  • Part 3—The Living Bread [exposition of Bread of Life theme] (vv. 51-58)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 51)
    • Reaction by the people (v. 52)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 53-58)
  • Narrative Conclusion (v. 59)

There are thus three separate divisions to the discourse proper (vv. 25-58), each of which follows the basic discourse format: saying (by Jesus)–reaction (by the people)–exposition (by Jesus). In each instance, the exposition builds upon the central saying (vv. 27, 35, 51), explaining the true meaning of Jesus’ words. The word zwh= (“life”), along with related verb za/w (“live”), occurs repeatedly throughout these verses; these references may be grouped as follows:

  • The expression “Bread of Life“, in two forms:
    bread of Lifeo( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (vv. 35, 48)
    living breado( a&rto$ o( zwh=n (v. 51)
  • The expression “Life of the Age” (vv. 27, 40*, 47*, 53-54*, also v. 68*)
    the asterisk indicates that the expression involves the verb e&xw (“hold, have”)
    —i.e. “hold the Life of the Age”
  • The noun “Life” without modification:
    —giving Life to/for the world (v. 33)
    —over the life of the world (v. 51)
  • The verb “Live” (participle “Living“):
    —will live into the Age (v. 51, 58)
    —Living Father…I live…that one will live (v. 57)

All told, there are 13 occurrences over a span of 32 verses—quite a high number. The expression “Bread of Life” (once “Living Bread”) features in the second and third sayings of Jesus, both of which relate back to the first saying (in verse 27):

“Do not work for the food th(at is) going to ruin, but (for) food th(at is) remaining into (the) Life of the Age, which the Son of Man will give to you—for God the Father has set (his) seal (on) this (person).”

Jesus begins from the context of the feeding miracle—the eating of bread-loaves by the people—to establish a contrast between ordinary bread (which perishes) and the bread (or “food”, brw=si$) which the Son of Man (Jesus) gives. This is precisely parallel to the contrast between ordinary water and the “living water” which Jesus gives (4:7-15ff)—one involves eating, the other drinking. During this portion of the discourse, the motif shifts to another kind of “bread” provided miraculously to the people—the manna of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition (Exod 16:31ff; Num 11:6ff; Deut 8:3, etc). This manna is referred to as “bread from heaven” in Exod 16:4; Psalm 105:40; Neh 9:15—some combination of these may be intended by the general Scripture citation in v. 31 (“He gave them bread out of heaven to eat”). This reference, given by the people in their reaction to Jesus’ statement(s), almost certainly should be seen as relating to the Passover setting of the feeding miracle (v. 4). The people’s reaction should be understood according to the context of the following points in the saying/exposition by Jesus:

  • Jesus’ identification with the Son of Man who gives eternal food/bread
  • The divine/heavenly source of this—”God the Father set (his) seal”
  • Obtaining this food involves doing (working) the “work of God” (as in the gathering of the manna by the Israelites)
  • Jesus defines this “work” more precisely in v. 29b:
    “…that you would trust in th(e one) whom that (One) [i.e. God the Father] se(n)t forth”

The reaction by the people in vv. 30-31 is thus similar to the question by the Samaritan woman in 4:12. It also touches upon the contrast between Jesus and Moses (the Torah/Scriptures) in 5:39ff. The wording of verse 31 is significant:

“Our fathers ate manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written…”

One can envision an implied question/challenge along the lines of 4:12—i.e., “you are not greater than Moses, through whom God gave us this food to eat, are you?” Jesus makes the contrast definite in v. 32:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, (it was) not Moshe (who) has given to you the ‘bread out of heaven’, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

This bread coming down from heaven is said to “give Life to the world” (v. 33). Jesus has gone a step beyond the discourse with the Samaritan woman; now, rather than being simply one who gives Life, Jesus identifies himself (the “Son of Man”) with that very Life itself. This is clear enough from the saying which begins the second portion of the discourse:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Bread of Life; the one coming toward me should not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting in me will not (ever) thirst.”

The blending of hunger and thirst (eating and drinking) suggests that Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has the earlier “living water” discourse in mind, though the specific image of bread would seem to apply only to eating. The “I am” declaration is repeated in verse 48 (“I am the Bread of Life”), where it is connected back to the manna tradition (“Bread out of Heaven”). In the intervening exposition, Jesus makes absolutely clear that eating this “Bread of Life” means trusting in him:

  • “every one looking (closely) at the Son and trusting [pisteu/wn] in him holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 40)
  • “the one trusting [pisteu/wn] in me holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 47)

As in the earlier discourses, the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) is primarily eschatological, referring to the life which the righteous (believers) will come to possess in the end-time, following the resurrection (v. 40b, etc). Within the context of the Johannine discourses, however, this is blended with a “realized” eschatology for believers in Jesus—they experience in the present the very Life which the righteous are thought to inherit at the end-time. This is the main significance of the expression “holds the Life of the Age”—i.e. the believer already possesses it now.

The third portion of the discourse runs parallel to the second, and begins with a parallel saying by Jesus:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Living Bread th(at is) stepping down out of Heaven; and if any one should eat out of this Bread, he will live into the Age…” (v. 51)

If the second portion of the discourse expounds the theme of the first (“Bread from Heaven”), the third portion also expounds the theme of the second (“Bread of Life”). Now, it is designated as “living Bread” (similar to the “living water” of 4:10ff), and the spiritual significance of the exposition is deepened by the introduction of eucharistic language and motifs. I have discussed this controversial aspect of the discourse at length in prior notes, and will be addressing it again in this week’s Saturday series post. The eucharistic association is established already in the second half of the verse 51 saying:

“…and the Bread which I will give is my flesh, over [u(pe/r] the life of the world”

One need not look any further than words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel tradition:

  • Mark 14:22-24:
    “this is my body…this is my blood…th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many”
  • Luke 22:19-20 [MT]:
    “this is my body given over [u(pe/r] you…”

If there were any doubt as to an apparent eucharistic allusion here, verses 53-54 make it all but certain:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if you would not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold Life in yourself. (But) the one chomping my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) Life of the Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

It is interesting to consider the three aspects of (eternal) Life present in this statement:

  • Life which the believer holds in him/herself—i.e. through the essential presence of Jesus (his “flesh” and “blood”)
  • The Life of the Age which the believer holds (now, in the present)—”realized” eschatology
  • The Life which the believer will possess at the end time, following the Resurrection—traditional (future) eschatology

While the last two aspects have been present in the prior discourses (in chaps. 3-5), the first aspect is new to the Gospel here, though it has been implied, to some extent, both in the prologue and, perhaps, in verses 5-8 of chapter 3. It refers to the essential unity between the believer and Jesus, and this is a theme which will be developed considerably as one proceeds through the Gospel.

Note of the Day – May 23 (John 5:24, 39-40)

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John 5:24, 39-40

Today I will be continuing in the chapter 5 discourse (cf. the previous note on vv. 21-29), focusing specifically on two statements by Jesus—in verse 24 and 39-40, respectively. These come from key points in the two divisions of the exposition (vv. 19-47)—the first division (vv. 19-29) focuses on the living-giving work which the Son performs, while the second (vv. 30-47) emphasizes the testimony which bears witness to the Son’s work and his identity in relation to God the Father. The statements in vv. 24 and 39-40 are, in many ways, central to these sections. I begin with the first:

Verse 24

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$], and trusting in the (One) sending me, holds (the) Life of the Age [e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped with(in) [i.e. over/across], out of death (and) into Life [ei)$ th\n zwh/n].”

The centrality of this statement is indicated by the parallel with v. 25—marking the beginning and end of the two portions of the section (vv. 19-24, 25-29). This parallelism is indicated by:

  • The use of the “Amen, amen, I say to you…” formula at the start
  • The motif of hearing the word/voice of Jesus:
    “the one hearing my word (v. 24)”
    “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God” (v. 25)
  • The result of hearing is life:
    “the one hearing…holds Life…(and) has come…into Life” (v. 24)
    “…and the ones hearing will live” (v. 25)

This will be depicted in dramatic form in the Lazarus episode, when Jesus calls out to Lazarus (in the tomb) and he hears the voice and lives again (11:43-44). It was also foreshadowed in the healing miracle from chapter 4, when the official’s son is healed (and rescued from death) at the very moment Jesus’ voice uttered the word “your son lives” (vv. 50-53). This life giving miracle is connected with trust in Jesus (v. 50b), even as Jesus declared more clearly to Martha in 11:25-26 (cf. also v. 40).

Returning to the statement by Jesus in 5:24, it deftly blends both aspects of future and “realized” eschatology (cf. the discussion on this in the previous note):

  • the one hearing and trusting…
    • holds the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—in the present (“realized”)
    • does not come into the Judgment—in the future
  • …has stepped (across) out of death and into Life

The final (perfect) verb form, “has stepped…”, indicates a past action or condition which continues into the present. Here, by extension, it also signifies a present condition (“holding Life”) which continues into the future. While the dualistic construct (trusting vs. not trusting) is not especially emphasized here, it is implied in the repeated references to Judgment (vv. 22ff, 27, 29)—if the one trusting Jesus does not come into the Judgment, then, by implication, the everyone not trusting does come into Judgment.

Verses 39-40

It is interesting to consider how this Judgment theme is picked up from the first section (ending with v. 29) into the next (v. 30). The judgment which Jesus brings (already in the present) is based upon the testimony which bears witness about him. In order for such testimony to be valid in a judicial setting (i.e. court of law), it must be confirmed by at least two witnesses (cf. Deut 19:15ff, etc). Jesus refers to four distinct sources of testimony:

  • John the Baptist (vv. 33-35)
  • Jesus’ own works (i.e. miracles)—identified as having been given to him by the Father (v. 36)
  • God the Father—his Word, which abides [in the believer] (vv. 37-38)
  • God’s Word as manifest in the Writings [i.e. Scriptures, esp. the Torah] (vv. 39-40, cf. also vv. 45-47)

These four sources of testimony all bear witness to Jesus—both to the truth of his words/works and his identity (as the Son sent by the Father). The one who fails (or refuses) to trust in him has essentially rejected this testimony—and these witnesses will, in turn, testify against that person in the Judgment. Since Jesus is addressing his opponents in this discourse—persons who, it can be assumed, are to be identified as the supposed experts in Scripture, the Law (Torah) and related religious matters (cp. the Pharisees in chap. 9 and similar Synoptic scenes)—it is fitting that the Scriptures are set in the climactic position. These experts in the Scriptures have failed (and/or refused) to accept their own testimony regarding Jesus. There is thus a kind of irony in the rebuke offered by Jesus in vv. 39-40:

“You search the Writings, (in) that [i.e. because] you consider (yourselves) to hold (the) Life of the Age in them, and they are the (writing)s giving witness about me, and (yet) you do not wish to come toward me (so) that you might hold Life.”

I have discussed the context (and interpretation) of this statement in the recent Saturday Series post, and will not repeat that here. It is not an exhortation to study Scripture, but rather a stern rebuke—and a word of judgment against the opponents of Jesus. The logic of this statement is clear enough:

  • you think that you hold life in [i.e. through study of] the Scriptures
    —the Scriptures give witness about me
    —(but) you do not wish to come toward me
  • (yet it is only by coming to me) that you will (actually) hold life

The underlying message is that, while the Scripture bear witness about Jesus, they are not the source of Life—it is only through the person and work of Jesus (the Son) that one receives Life (from the Father). The Father gives Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives it to those who trust in him. While the plural noun grafai/ (“writings”) may be taken as referring to the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole, the primary reference is to the Law (Torah), as contained in the books attributed to Moses (i.e. the Pentateuch, Genesis–Deuteronomy). This is clear enough from what follows in vv. 41-47, especially the statement of judgment in verses 45-47:

“the one bringing public (accusation) against you is Moshe {Moses}, (the one) in who you have placed (your) hope. For if you trusted Moshe, you would (have) trusted (in) me—for that (one) wrote about me. And if you do not trust in that (man)’s writings, how will you trust in my utterances [i.e. words]?”

I.e., their lack of trust in Jesus actually means that they do not really trust in the Scriptures (the Torah). The same sort of comparison (and contrast)—Moses/Torah vs. Jesus—appears at a number of points in the Gospel, beginning with the Prologue (1:11, 17-18). For the relationship between Jesus and the Law (Torah) in the Gospel of John, see my article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”. The contrast between Jesus and the Torah—or, better put, Jesus as the true fulfillment of the Torah—features prominently in the next Johannine discourse, the great “Bread of Life” discourse, which I will be examining in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – May 22 (John 5:21-29)

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John 5:21-29

The next references to “Life” (zwh=) in the Gospel of John are from the chapter 5 discourse—specifically in the portion of Jesus’ exposition covering verses 19-29. I offered an outline and summary of this discourse in the recent Saturday Series discussion (on v. 39); for this study today, it is important to consider the structure of the exposition by Jesus:

  • Verses 19-29: Jesus (the Son) does the work of the Father, exemplified by the ability to raise the dead (the ultimate work of giving new life). This section also may be divided into two parts:
    (1) Resurrection (i.e. new life) in the present for believers—”realized” eschatology (vv. 19-24)
    (2) Resurrection at the end time for those who believe—traditional (future) eschatology (vv. 25-29)
  • Verses 30-47: Testimony that Jesus comes from the Father and does the Father’s work

The references to “life” come from the first division, dealing with the theme of resurrection—a theme that will be illustrated dramatically in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11. Here in the discourse, however, the reference is not to a specific resurrection miracle, but to the resurrection which was expected to occur at the end-time, in the context of the final Judgment by God upon humankind. Such a belief in an end-time resurrection, appears to have been fairly common and widespread by the time of Jesus, so much so that it was worth noting when certain individuals or groups (such as the Sadducees) denied it. For the most part, this resurrection was reserved for the righteous; though, by the first century A.D., belief in a resurrection of both the righteous and wicked, prior to the Judgment, is attested. Jesus refers to this more general concept of the resurrection in verse 29 (cf. below).

As indicated by the outline above, the two sections dealing with the resurrection are parallel—the first (vv. 19-24) largely from the standpoint of “realized” eschatology, the second (vv. 25-29) primarily in terms of traditional (future) eschatology. This distinction can be seen from a comparison of both sections, and is confirmed by the expressions used in verses 25 and 28:

  • “an hour comes…” (v. 28) [future eschatology]
  • “an hour comes and now is…” (v. 25) [realized eschatology]

This exact distinction was seen earlier in the chapter 4 discourse (cf. the previous note): “an hour comes” (v. 21), “an hour comes and now is” (v. 23).

There are two points of parallelism which I want to examine here today. The first is found in verses 21 and 26:

  • “For just as [w%sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live [zw|opoiei=]
    • so also [ou%tw$ kai] the Son makes (a)live [zw|opoiei=] th(ose) whom he wishes” (v. 21)
  • “For just as [w%sper] the Father holds life [e&xei zwh/n] in Himself,
    • so also [ou%tw$ kai] he gave to the Son to hold life [zwh\n e&xein] in himself” (v. 26)

Both statements utilize a nearly identical formulation, emphasizing that the Son (Jesus) does exactly what the Father does. The first statement in v. 21 focuses on the life-giving work of raising the dead (resurrection); the second (v. 26) is centered on the very Life (and life-giving power) which God “holds”. It is clearly emphasized that this Life is given by the Father to the Son—and the Son, in turn, gives it to those (i.e. believers) whom he wishes. In the previous note, we discussed that this “Life” (zwh=) which Jesus gives is essentially to be identified with the Spirit (3:34, and the “living water” [u%dwr zw=n] exposition in 4:10-26). The blending of traditional (future) and “realized” eschatology, found in 4:21-24, is expounded upon here in 5:19-29. The division between these eschatological viewpoints is perhaps not as neat as the outline of vv. 19-47 (above) might suggest. The two modes of expression are inter-related and overlap—what believers will experience in the future, they already “realize” through trust in Jesus in the present. This brings up the second main parallel in these sections (vv. 25 and 28):

  • “an hour comes [e&rxetai w%ra], and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)
  • “an hour comes [e&rxetai w%ra] in which all the (one)s in the memorial(-tomb)s will hear his voice, and will come out…into…life” (vv. 28-29a)

The specific reference to “the memorial(-tomb)s” in the latter statement points to the traditional (future) eschatology—i.e. of the resurrection at the end-time. Yet, such a resurrection would take place, in the present, in the Lazarus episode (chap. 11). In the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in that episode (only partially a discourse), Martha expressed the traditional eschatological viewpoint (v. 24), which Jesus corrects (vv. 25-26):

  • Martha: “I see [i.e. know] that he will stand up (again) in the standing up [i.e. resurrection] in the last day”
  • Jesus: “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life; the (one) trusting in me…”

Resurrection (and the Life which comes as a result) is to be found in the person and presence of Jesus. This is also the emphasis in 5:19-29, though there is in the discourse a more precise and detailed exposition of the relationship between the God the Father and the Son (Jesus). The Father is the ultimate source of the Life which the Son gives to believers. In this regard, we may include a third parallel between the two sections of the exposition, expressed in verses 24 and 29:

  • “he [i.e. the believer] does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped with(in) [i.e. across/over], out of death (and) into Life” (v. 24)
  • “they will come out—the (one)s doing good (thing)s into a standing up of Life, and the (one)s practicing bad (thing)s into a standing up of Judgment” (v. 29)

Here the parallelism is not so exact in terms of formulation, but remains close conceptually, with common vocabulary, especially in the contrast between Life and Judgment—the believer does not come into the Judgment, for he/she has already stepped over from death into Life through trust in Jesus. This idea will be discussed further in the next daily note, when we look at verse 24 in connection with vv. 39-40.