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Note of the Day – May 8 (John 11:26b)

John 11:26b

Having discussed the first three portions of John 11:25-26 in the previous notes, it is now left to examine the fourth (and last) part: Jesus’ question to Martha in v. 26b, stated simply:

“do you trust this?”
pisteu/ei$ tou=to

The demonstrative pronoun (tou=to, “this”) refers to what Jesus had said previously in vv. 25-26, beginning with the “I am” declaration in v. 25a—”I am the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life”. As discussed in the prior two notes, the main thrust of the dual-statement in vv. 25b-26a is a promise that the believer (lit. the one trusting [in Jesus]) will experience in the present the reality of the resurrection and eternal life normally thought to be experienced by the righteous in the future. The basis for this “realized” eschatology is the person and presence of Jesus—a truth encapsulated by the “I am” declaration. Throughout the Gospel, the believer’s relationship to Jesus is expressed primarily in terms of trust. This needs to be examined in a bit more detail.

The verb translated “trust” is pisteu/w (pisteúœ), often rendered in English as “believe” or “have faith”; the related noun pi/sti$ (pístis) is typically translated “faith”. It is extremely frequent in the Gospel of John, occurring nearly 100 times (more than a third of all occurrences in the New Testament). Most often, the verb is used in some variation of the expression “trust in [Jesus/him/the Son, etc]”, with the preposition ei)$ (lit. “into”). Here, in v. 26b, trust in Jesus is framed in terms of trust in his word—i.e. the message which he has spoken. Elsewhere in the Gospel, trust is sometimes described differently, in terms of the works (i.e. miracles) which Jesus has done. A survey of the use of pisteu/w in the Lazarus episode may be useful:

  • In vv. 14-15, Jesus makes an interesting statement regarding the purpose of Lazarus’ death (i.e. that he had essentially been allowed to die):
    “Lazar (has) died away, and I delight that I was not there, through you [i.e. for your sake], (so) that you may trust [pisteu/shte]…”
  • The dual statement in vv. 25b-26a, where the expression “the (one) trusting in me [ei)$ e)me]” twice is used.
  • The question (with Martha’s response) in vv. 26b-27, currently under discussion.
  • A subsequent statement to Martha in v. 40:
    “Did I not say to you that ‘if you would trust [pisteu/shte], you will see the splendor of God’?”
  • The concluding words of Jesus’ prayer in vv. 41-42:
    “…(it is) through [i.e. for the sake of] the throng (of people) standing around (that) I said (this), (so) that they might trust [pisteu/swsin] that you se(n)t me forth”
  • In the transitional passage which follows the Lazarus episode, it is stated that many of the people who had seen the things which Jesus did (e.g. the raising of Lazarus) “trusted in him” (v. 45, cf. also v. 48).

There is a symmetry to these references:

  • Lazarus was allowed to die for the disciples’ sake—that they might trust
    • “The one trusting in me will…”
      • To Martha: “Do you trust this?”
      • Martha: “I have trusted…”
    • “If you would trust you will see…”
  • Jesus’ prayer was made for the sake of the onlookers—that they might trust

The outer layers reflect trust which comes through witnessing supernatural deeds (miracles) performed by Jesus; the central exchange (between Jesus and Martha, vv. 26-27) reflects a deeper level of trust, in two respects: (1) it relates to his word, not his miracles, and (2) it centers on a recognition of Jesus’ identity. At numerous points in the Gospel, this deeper level of trust is contrasted with the more superficial level based on seeing signs and miracles—cf. Jn 2:18; 3:2ff; 4:41f, 48; 6:14, 26-30ff; 7:3-4; 10:25ff, 32-38; 12:18, 37; 14:10-11, etc, and most famously in 20:26-29.

There is an interesting parallel between Jn 11:26b-27 and Peter’s confession in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:27-29). This will be discussed in more detail in the next daily note; however, we may begin by comparing Jesus’ question in v. 26b what that in Mk 8:29a. In both scenes, discussion regarding Jesus’ identity (focusing largely on his miracle-working ability), is turned into a personal question directed to the disciple:

  • To Peter (and the others): “But who do you consider me to be [i.e. say that I am]?”
  • To Martha: “Do you trust this [i.e. what I have said to you, about who I am, etc]?”

When we compare the responses by the two disciples—Peter and Martha—we find an even greater similarity, which we will explore in the next note (on verse 27).

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