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Note of the Day – May 14 (John 1:4)

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As discussed in the introduction, this series of daily notes deals with the key thematic motifs of Spirit (pneu=ma) and Life (zwh=), as joined together in the statement by Jesus in Jn 6:63: “the utterances [i.e. words] that I speak to you are Spirit and Life”.

These notes will begin with the Johannine writings, as both terms have special significance in these works. The noun zwh= occurs 36 times in the Gospels (compared with 16 in the Synoptics combined). There are 13 further occurrences in the First Letter; if we include references (16) in the book of Revelation (considered as a Johannine work), there are 65 total, nearly half of all occurrences (135) in the New Testament. The primary verb za/w (“live”), from which zwh= is derived, is also frequent in the Gospel of John (17 out of 140 in the NT), especially used as verbal adjective or substantive. The verb zwopoie/w (“make [a]live”) also occurs twice in the Gospel.

The noun pneu=ma (“breath, spirit”) is more common in the New Testament, often in reference to the Spirit of God (or Holy Spirit). It occurs 24 times in the Gospel of John, and in all but 2 (or 3) instances, the reference is to the Spirit of God; the specific expression “Holy Spirit” appears three times (1:33; 14:26; 20:22). Thus the Spirit is more prominent in John than the other Gospels (though Luke is relatively close), and evinces a marked development of the early Gospel Tradition. The Johannine Discourses of Jesus are extremely complex literary pieces, reflecting a level of theological and Christological expression (and interpretation), though they certainly derive from authentic sayings and teachings of Jesus. For a survey of the evidence from the Synoptic Gospels, cf. the Introduction.

I begin with the first relevant passage in the Gospel of John, from the initial section of the Prologue (1:1-18).

John 1:4

An analysis of this verse is complicated because there is a variant reading involved. It is not a textual variant per se—rather, it is reflected more in the way that verses 3 and 4 are punctuated. In order to see this in context, I begin with verse 1 (note that for the sake of simplicity, I translate lo/go$ conventionally as “Word”):

“In the beginning was [h@n] the Word, and the Word was [h@n] toward God, and the Word was [h@n] God. This (One) was [h@n] in the beginning toward God.” (vv. 1-2)

The first two verses are governed by a four-fold use of the verb of being (ei)mi), in the imperfect active (indicative) form h@n (“he was…”). There are three components in verse 1, each characterized by an h@n phrase:

  • in the beginning was the Word
  • the Word was toward [pro/$] God [qeo/$ w/definite article]
  • the Word was God [qeo/$ w/out definite article]

Verse 2 restates the first two phrases: “This (One) was in the beginning | toward [pro/$] God”. The preposition pro/$ likely reflects the idea of facing God (or even moving toward him), suggesting that the Word is in close proximity (and intimacy) with God. What is most important is to realize how the verb of being (h@n, “was…”) characterizes the divine, eternal Being and Existence. In standard theological parlance, we might say that this relates to the inner life of the Godhead.

This brings us to verses 3 and 4, which can be understood (and translated) several ways. The crux lies in the last two words of verse 3 (o^ ge/gonen), indicated by italics below:

  • Translation (punctuation) #1:
    “All (thing)s came to be through him, and apart from him not even one (thing) came to be (of) that which has come to be. In him was life…”
  • Translation (punctuation) #2:
    “All (thing)s came to be through him, and apart from him not even one (thing) came to be. That which has come to be in him was life…”

Many commentators prefer the latter punctuation, citing a number of key early Church Fathers in support of it (cf. R. E. Brown, Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 6-7). Those who favor it also note the supposed “staircase” parallelism of the poetic lines, whereby the start of one line picks up where the previous line leaves off—i.e. “…came to be” // “that which has come to be…” However, in my view, this is incorrect. The strongest argument against punctuation #2 (above) is the specific use (and meaning) of the verb gi/nomai in the context of the Johannine Prologue (and elsewhere in the Gospel). The verb of being (ei)mi) governs verses 1-2, while gi/nomai, a verb of becoming (“come to be, become”) governs v. 3. The verb gi/nomai in the Prologue refers to creation—i.e., that which comes to be (in contrast to God, who Is), especially creatures (human beings) who come to be born. Punctuation #1 above preserves this distinction accurately:

“All (thing)s came to be [e)ge/neto] through him, and apart from him not even one (thing) came to be [e)ge/neto] (of) that which has come to be [ge/gonen].”

The three-fold use of gi/nomai parallels the three-fold use of ei)mi (h@n) in verse 1. In conventional theological parlance, verse 1 deals with the life/existence of the Godhead, while verse 3 deals with creation (and the central role of Word in the process of creation). According to this interpretation, verse 4 has a clear and simple symmetry:

“In him was [h@n] life, and the life was [h@n] the light of men”

The dual use of the verb of being (ei)mi [h@n]) marks a return to a focus on the divine Being/Existence emphasized in vv. 1-2:

  • “in him [i.e the Divine Word] was Life”
  • “th(is Divine) Life was the Light…”

Here there is definitely a kind of step-parallelism:

  • In him was Life
    • Life was the Light of men

This first occurrence of the noun zwh= in the Gospel of John is significant in the way that it defines the term, not in the traditional sense of the blessed life to be inherited by the righteous at the end-time, but as the life which God possesses (in Himself). This reflects a more profound sense of what might be referred to as “eternal life”—not as everlasting life, but as divine life, the life which is in God. The two halves of verse 4 are virtually a summary of the Johannine Gospel message:

  • The Word (i.e. Jesus, the Son) shares the Life of God and holds it in himself (cf. 5:26, etc)
  • This Life is communicated to human beings in the world (i.e. believers) through/by the Son (Jesus, who is also the [living] Word)

The sense of verse 4, in my opinion, becomes quite confused if one adopts the second punctuation (#2) cited above: “That which has come to be in him was life…”. First it mixes together the verbs gi/nomai and h@n in a way that is most difficult to interpret. What exactly does this statement mean? The difficulty is reflected by the fact that there are two distinct ways of interpreting this reading:

  • That which has come to be in him was life…” or
  • “That which as come to be was life in him

The first phrasing suggest that Life (zwh=) was the thing which “came to be” in the Word. The second phrasing allows for the idea that something which “came to be” in the Word was given life, or was identified with Life. In either instance, there is a strange mixing of Creation with the Divine Life which is not at all clear. Admittedly, within the thought and theology of the Gospel, believers come to be “in” Christ, united with him (and God the Father), but this idea does not seem to be in view at this point in the Prologue. Rather, it is introduced in vv. 12-13, only after it is stated that the Word was [h@n] “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|) [v. 10]. This a foreshadowing of the incarnation, of the Word coming to be born as a human being (vv. 14ff).

What does it mean to say that the Life (h( zwh=) was “the Light of men”? As in the case of the noun zwh=, the word “light” (fw=$) has a special significance in the Gospel of John. It does not typically refer to ordinary light (except in a symbolic sense), nor of human reason, etc as “light, enlightenment”; rather, it relates specifically to the knowledge and awareness of God the Father (and his Truth, etc) which is revealed and manifest in the person and work of Jesus. The Life which Jesus (the Son and Word) possesses is communicated to human beings (believers), bringing Light to them. While this is almost certainly the sense of verse 4, many commentators recognize that the Johannine Prologue likely draws upon ancient Wisdom traditions. In this regard, the “light of men” could be understood in a more general sense—i.e. God and the Divine Word as the source of enlightening wisdom. However, such Wisdom traditions are sublimated in the Prologue as we have it, having been reinterpreted from a Christological viewpoint. We will see further examples of this as we continue through the remaining passages in the Gospel dealing with the motifs of “Life” and “Spirit”.

“…Spirit and Life”

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For the next few weeks, leading into the celebration of Pentecost, I will be presenting a series of daily notes based on Jesus’ statement in John 6:63:

“the utterances [i.e. words] that I speak to you are Spirit and Life

This involves two key words (and concepts) in the New Testament—pneu=ma (“Spirit”) and zwh= (“Life”). Because these have such an important place in the Johannine writings, those works (especially the Gospel and First Letter) will be my primary focus. However, I will be examining key passages in the remainder of the New Testament as well.

Before proceeding, it will be helpful to define both of these Greek words.

pneu=ma

The fundamental meaning of pneu=ma (pneúma), derived from the verb pne/w (pnéœ), is that of blowing. This is usually understood either (1) of the wind (a natural phenomenon), or (2) of breath (a personal/physiological phenomenon). In ancient thought, of course, these were often combined, especially in the mythological/cosmological sense of wind as the breath of God. For human beings, the life-animating principle, divinely bestowed, was often identified with the breath. Thus pneu=ma came to be used in reference to this inward life-force—the “soul” or “spirit”. When speaking of God (or deity), the source of life given to human beings could likewise be understood as the “breath” or “spirit”—i.e. the life-giving Spirit of God.

zwh=

The noun zwh= (zœ¢¡) is somewhat easier to explain, being derived from za/w (záœ), a primary verb meaning “live”. Thus zwh= fundamentally means “life”—usually in the sense of natural, physical/biological life. Again, since God represents the source of life, zwh= could also be used to refer to the life possessed by God (or the Gods, in a polytheistic worldview). This divine life can be understood both in a qualitative and quantitative sense—both aspects are combined in the expression “eternal life”. Often, the divine life is contrasted with that of mortal beings, thus hinging on the idea of deathlessness (i.e. “without death”, a)qa/nato$). In ancient thought, the righteous or deserving among humans, either after death or following a final Judgment, could come to possess and share in the blessed life of (the) God(s).

The Synoptic Gospels

I begin this study with a survey of passages from the Synoptic Gospels, which include sayings of Jesus which are central to the early Gospel Tradition—thus reflecting one of the earliest (if not the earliest) layers of Christian thought. To someone who has not analyzed the evidence carefully, it may come as a surprise how rarely both words zwh= (“life”) and pneu=ma (“Spirit”) occur in the Synoptics, especially if we combine together the parallel passages. Admittedly the word pneu=ma itself is found relatively frequently, but often in the sense of a human “spirit” or of other “spirit”-beings (i.e. daimons, “demons”). Passages where the reference is clearly to the Spirit of God (or “Holy Spirit”) are far fewer. Let us survey these.

Pneu=ma in the core Synoptic Tradition

By this is meant the “Triple”-tradition, shared (generally) by all three Synoptics, and usually best represented by the Gospel of Mark. There are just six occurrences of pneu=ma (as “Spirit”) in Mark:

  • Three times in the context of the Baptism of Jesus:
    • The saying of John the Baptist:
      “I dunked [i.e. baptized] you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit” (Mk 1:8, par Matt 3:11 & Lk 3:16 [both add “and fire”])
    • The Baptism scene:
      “…stepping up out of the water he saw the heavens being split, and the Spirit as a dove stepping [i.e. coming] down unto him” (Mk 1:10; par Matt 3:16 [“Spirit of God”] and Lk 3:22 [“Holy Spirit”])
    • After the Baptism:
      “And straightway [i.e. immediately] the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land)” (Mk 1:12; cp. Matt 4:1; Lk 4:1)
  • The saying regarding the “sin against the Holy Spirit”:
    “All (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men, the sins and the insults, however they might give insult; but whoever should give insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release [i.e. forgiveness] into the Age…” (Mk 3:28-29; cp. Matt 12:31-32; Lk 12:10)
  • In Mark 12:36 (par Matt 22:43), Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit as the source of David’s inspiration in the composition of Ps 110:1ff.
  • Mark 13:11 (par Matt 10:20; cp. Lk 12:12)—as part of the eschatological teaching given by Jesus to his disciples, he refers to the Holy Spirit:
    “…whatever shall be given to you in that hour, this you shall speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the holy Spirit

It is only in the last of these (Mk 13:11), part of specific teaching by Jesus to his disciples, that something like the early Christian concept of the Holy Spirit appears to be in view. The sense of the “Holy Spirit” in the famous saying in Mk 3:28-29 is much more difficult to determine.

Pneu=ma in the “Q” material and the Gospel of Matthew

(References marked with an asterisk might be considered part of the so-called “Q” material, shared by Matthew and Luke [but not found in Mark])

  • In the Matthean Infancy narrative, the Holy Spirit is mentioned as the source of the supernatural (virginal) conception of Jesus—Matt 1:18, 20 (on the Lukan parallels, cf. below).
  • Matt 12:18—part of a citation of Isa 42:1-3, a (Messianic) prophecy applied to Jesus (“I will set my Spirit upon him…”)
  • *The saying of Jesus in Matt 12:28: “but if in [i.e. with/by] the Spirit of God I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God has (already) arrived upon you”. The parallel saying in Luke 11:20 reads “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”.
  • *The saying regarding the “sin against the Holy Spirit” in Matt 12:31-32 and Lk 12:10 differs in certain respects from the Markan parallel, and may be derived from the “Q” tradition.
  • Matt 28:20—The famous statement by Jesus, part of the closing “Great Commission” refers to the Holy Spirit in something like a Trinitarian sense. Here it seems to reflect (or at least anticipate) early Christian thought and understanding regarding the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus.
Pneu=ma in Luke

The Gospel of Luke contains noticeably more references to the Spirit, representing a key theme and motif that continues on in the book of Acts. This will be discussed in a separate note in this series. Here it is necessary to survey the key Gospel references unique to Luke:

  • In the Infancy Narrative, John the Baptist, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon are said to be “filled with the Spirit”, or that the Spirit is (or will be) upon them, that they are “in the Spirit”, etc.—Lk 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27. This reflects both the traditional idea of Prophetic inspiration, as well as a foreshadowing of the role of the Spirit among Christians (e.g., in the book of Acts). In reference to the conception of Jesus (cf. Matt 1:18, 20), “the Holy Spirit” is parallel (and synonymous) with “the Power of the Highest” (Lk 1:35).
  • Luke has expanded the basic Synoptic tradition from Mark 1:12 (par Matt 4:1), describing in more precise terms, the relation between the Spirit and Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (before and after the Temptation scene):
    Lk 4:1: “And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden, and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land)”
    Lk 4:14: “And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl…”
  • As part of this narrative recording the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (in Galilee), there is the citation of Isa 61:1 in Lk 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” This a fundamental passage regarding Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (“Anointed One”), both at the historical level, and in the Gospel of Luke.
  • This same aspect of Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit is reflected in the introduction to his saying in Lk 10:21:
    “In that hour he leapt (for joy) [in] the holy Spirit and said…”
  • The Lukan version of the saying in 11:13 (cp. Matt 12:34):
    “if you…have known (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will the Father out of Heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking him?”
  • Mention should also be made of Lk 24:49, which, though the word pneu=ma is not used, clearly refers to the Holy Spirit. On “Power” as a kind of synonym for the Spirit, cf. Lk 1:35.

Thus, even without considering the evidence from the book of Acts, it is clear that there has been a degree of development in the Gospel Luke, giving greater emphasis to the (Holy) Spirit, both in relation to believers and to Jesus himself.

Zwh= (“Life”) in the Synoptic Gospels

It is somewhat surprising that the word zwh= occurs just 16 times in the Synoptic Gospels (compared with 36 in the Gospel of John). If we exclude the Synoptic parallels as such, the actual number of distinct occurrences is even smaller. Found in the sayings of Jesus, they involve certain idiomatic expressions, generally with an eschatological orientation:

Only twice (in Luke 12:15 and 16:25) is zwh= used in the normal sense of an ordinary human life (or life-time). In all the other occurrences cited above, it can more properly be understood as eternal life—that is, the divine life which the righteous will come to possess (or enter) at the end-time (following the Judgment). This is important, as it indicates the background to the term as it came to be used regularly by early Christians. If we accept the fundamental authenticity (and historicity) of the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics, we would have to recognize that the early Christian usage has been shaped and influenced in important ways by Jesus’ own teaching.

Saturday Series: John 3:34-36

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John 3:34-36

Last week we explored the context of John 3:22-36, especially the relationship between vv. 27-30 and 31-36. The parallelism between Jesus and John the Baptist, brings chapter 3 in connection with 1:19-51 (as well as the Prologue, vv. 1-18), framing the entirety of chapters 1-3. As a result, it is possible to view the exposition in 3:31-36 as forming the conclusion of this portion of the Gospel. The thought and imagery expressed in these verses are important for a proper understanding of what follows (from chapter 4 on). In particular, I would point to the last three verses (vv. 34-36) has having special significance for the remainder of the Gospel. There are some difficulties of interpretation, but these can be overcome with a careful study of several key words and phrases in the Greek. In today’s study, I will address two of these—one in verse 34 and the other in verse 36.

Verse 34—The statement in this verse introduces the important reference to the Spirit (pneuma), which had first been mentioned in Jesus’ earlier dialogue with Nicodemus (vv. 5-8). Here is the statement in translation:

“For the (one) whom God has se(n)t forth speaks the utterances [i.e. words] of God; for (it is) not out of measure (that) he gives the Spirit.”

Here we have two fundamental ideas, expressed previously in the Gospel, and which are to become key themes throughout: (1) that God the Father has sent forth Jesus (the Son) from him, and (2) that Jesus (the Son) speaks the words of God (the Father). What is especially intriguing is the way that this “speaking the words of God” is treated as synonymous with “giving the Spirit”. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in 6:63: “the utterances [i.e. words] that I speak to you are Spirit and Life“. Jesus refers to the action/work of the Spirit in vv. 5-8, but does not mention the giving of the Spirit. Later in the Gospel, in the Last Discourse, Jesus promises that he and/or the Father will send the Spirit (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; cf. also 16:13). This same idea is mentioned by the writer in 7:39. The giving the Spirit is actually recorded in 20:22, where, notably, it comes by Jesus’ mouth—thus reflecting the connection with his speaking.

What does it mean that Jesus gives the Spirit “not out of measure [ou ek metrou]”? Some commentators feel that God (the Father) is actually the subject of the verb didœsin (“he gives”) in this verse. The overall context makes that unlikely, especially when one considers the thrust of verse 35 which follows:

“The Father loves the Son and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand”

God the Father has already given all things (including the Spirit) to the Son, and it is the Son who will give them, in turn, to believers. Here the parallel between Spirit and Life (6:63) is instructive, especially Jesus’ statement in 5:26:

“For even as the Father holds Life in himself, so also does he give to the Son to hold Life in himself”

But what of the expression “not out of measure”? The negative particle (ou, “not”) implies a contrast with the giving of the Spirit “out of [i.e. with/by] measure”. A likely explanation is to be found in the Jewish midrash (Midrash Rabbah) on Lev 15:2 (words of Rabbi Aµa): “…the Holy Spirit resting on the Prophets does so by measure“. The idea may be that, in the past, the Spirit was given only on a temporary basis, and in a portion, usually for the accomplishment of a certain mission (such as that of the Prophets). By contrast, Jesus (the Son of God) gives the Spirit without measure—that is, complete and in full, and on a permanent basis. This certainly fits with the idea, expressed in the Last Discourse, that the Holy Spirit will function as the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. It is through the Spirit that believers experience the divine, eternal Life of God and are united with both the Father and the Son.

Verse 36—The motif of life (zœ¢) is reiterated in the closing statement of this passage. In the Gospel of John, the word zœ¢ (zwh=) always refers to divine, eternal life. This is clear enough from the first occurrence in the Prologue (1:4):

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men”

This is the divine Life which the Son (or the Word/Logos) shares with God the Father (cf. on 5:26 above). The next occurrence of the word comes from the discourse in 3:1-21, where it occurs, for the first time, in the expression “the life of the Age [ho aiœnios zœ¢]”, usually translated in English as “eternal life”. It literally refers to the blessed divine life which the righteous will possess in the “Age to Come”—at the end time, following the resurrection, according to tradition Israelite/Jewish thought. In the Gospel of John this eschatological condition (i.e. eternal life) is “realized” for believers already in the present, through trust in Jesus. This is essentially expressed in vv. 14b-16:

“…so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]. For (in) this (way) God loved the world, so (that) he even gave his only (born) Son, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should not be destroyed, but (rather) should hold (the) life of the Age.”

Here the eschatological significance of the expression is clear enough—it refers primarily to the life which the believer will come to possess (literally “hold”) at the end time. The basis for possessing this (eternal) life, and being saved from the Judgment, is trust in Jesus (the Son). This same concept is found in the closing statement of v. 36, but with a somewhat different formulation and emphasis:

“The (one) trusting in the Son holds life of the Age; but the (one) being unpersuaded by the Son will not see life, but (rather) the anger of God remains upon him.”

There are two parallel, contrasting phrases:

  • the one trusting holds life…
  • the one being unpersuaded (i.e. refusing to trust) will not see life…

The second phrase uses a future verb form (“will not see”), and so preserves the original eschatological context. However, the first (relating to believers) is in the present tense—”holds” life, i.e. already in the present. This is an important distinction. Believers possess eternal life in the present, having “realized” the eschatological condition through trust in Jesus. Non-believers (i.e. those failing/refusing to be persuaded) endure the fate of the world in the future Judgment, expressed vividly by the phrase “the anger of God remains upon him”.

A careful study of the Greek words and phrases gives us important insight on the way that John the Baptist, Jesus, and/or the Gospel writer has made use of traditional religious and theological expressions, transforming them in the light of the Gospel message—giving to them a profound Christological significance. This transformed vocabulary runs through the Gospel of John, informing nearly every discourse and episode in the narrative. We must always pay attention to the way these key words and phrases are utilized.

Next week, we will be jumping ahead to the discourse in chapter 5, and another occurrence of the expression “life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life). I would recommend that you read through chapters 4 and 5 carefully, paying special attention to the way that the words “life” and “living” are used. Study the discourse in chapter 5, considering its structure and the line of thought in the exposition by Jesus spanning verses 19-47. Beginning with verse 30, read these concluding verses with particular care. As you reach verse 39, what are your thoughts on this statement, based on the context of the passage? I will be discussing it is some detail…next Saturday.

Note of the Day – May 10 (John 11:27 continued)

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John 11:27, continued

o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= (“the Son of God”)

The second of the titles in Martha’s confession is “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=). This, of course, came to be a regular title applied to Jesus by early Christians (Acts 9:20; Rom 1:4, etc), but its precise meaning in this period remains somewhat uncertain. The association with the title “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) in the Gospel tradition strongly suggests that the Messianic figure of the Davidic Ruler type is in view. The (Davidic) king as the “Son” of God, in a symbolic sense, is expressed most clearly in 2 Sam 7:14ff and Psalm 2:7. The latter verse came to be associated with Jesus, both from the standpoint of his resurrection/exaltation (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5, cf. also Rom 1:4, and note the context of Acts 4:25-28), but also in the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes in the Gospels (Mk 1:11 par [esp. Lk 3:22 v.l.]; 9:7 par). In this respect, it was unquestionably understood as a Messianic title that was applied to Jesus. It is part of the Matthean version of Peter’s confession (“Son of the living God”, Matt 16:16, cf. also 26:63 par), and is used of Jesus a number of times in the Synoptics, but never by Jesus himself.

The title takes on added theological and Christological significance in the Gospel of John, where Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as “the Son” (o( ui(o/$). This is analogous to his use of “Son of Man” as a self-reference in the Synoptic tradition, which also occurs in John (1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, etc). However, in the Fourth Gospel, the title “Son” is always used to express Jesus’ relationship to God the Father, and, in a number of passages, clearly indicates Jesus’ divine/eternal status. Thus it is essentially synonymous with the title “Son of God”, which Jesus also uses in 3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4. The idea that, in using the title “the Son (of God)”, Jesus was claiming deity—or even some kind of equality with God (Yahweh)—comes through in the hostile reaction to him (5:18; 8:58-59; 10:29-39; 19:7ff). I would point out three important occurrences of the title—at the beginning, middle, and end of the Gospel, respectively—which, I believe, show a progression or development of meaning:

  1. Jn 1:49—(Nathanael speaking to Jesus) “You are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel”
    Most likely, the title here was meant (by Nathanael) in a traditional Messianic sense, identifying Jesus as the coming Davidic Ruler.
  2. Jn 11:27—(Martha speaking to Jesus)
  3. Jn 20:31—the conclusion of the Gospel proper (cf. below)
o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”)

English translations here may obscure the fact that this is a descriptive title. It is also a specific Messianic title, but one which, at the traditional-historical level, relates not to the Davidic Ruler figure-type, but to that of a coming Prophet figure (for more on this, cf. Parts 2-3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as the supplemental note on “the one coming”). The title was important with regard to the identity of both Jesus and John the Baptist in the early Gospel tradition (Matt 3:11; 11:3 pars; Jn 1:27), but eventually its significance was lost for Christians, virtually disappearing from the later strands of the New Testament. This particular Messianic expectation is stated clearly in John 6:14:

“Truly this (man) is the Foreteller [i.e. Prophet], the (one) coming into the world!”

The italicized portion is nearly identical with the phrase in 11:27 (only the word order differs). Martha thus would seem to be declaring also that Jesus is this coming (Messianic) Prophet, just as Nathanael (cf. above) declared him to be the Davidic Ruler. In each instance, the distinct Messianic figure-type is associated with the title “Son of God”.

However, from the standpoint of the Johannine Gospel, the verb e&rxomai (“come”) has special theological (and Christological) significance, as does the expression ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”). We see this clearly enough at several points in the Prologue:

  • “…(this/he) is the true Light, which gives light to every man, coming into the world [e)rxo/menon ei)$ to\n ko/smon]” (v. 9)
  • “he came unto (his) own…” (v. 11)
  • “the one coming in back of me…” (v. 15, also vv. 27, 30)

This use of e&rxomai refers to what we would call the incarnation—according to three aspects:

  1. Jesus as the divine/eternal Son (and Word, Light, etc) of God who is sent forth from the Father, coming to earth
  2. Jesus taking on human form, being born a human being—i.e. his coming into the world
  3. His coming into the presence of his fellow human beings in the world—reflecting his work and ministry in the world

All three conceptual strands are wrapped up in the idea of Jesus coming into the world. The specific expression ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”) occurs numerous times in the Gospel:

  • “God se(n)t forth (his) Son into the world…” (3:17)
  • “the Light has come into the world…” (3:19)
  • “the (One) sending me is true, and the (thing)s which I heard (from) alongside of Him these I speak into/unto the world” (8:26)
  • “I have come (as) Light into the world…” (12:46)
  • “and (just) as you se(n)t me forth into the world, I also se(n)t them forth into the world” (17:18)
  • “unto this I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world…” (18:37)

Thus, even if, at the historical level, Martha identifies Jesus as a Messianic figure (in the traditional sense), from the standpoint of the Gospel, occurring as it does at a central mid-point of the book, her confession must be understood as expressing something much deeper with regard to Jesus’ identity. This is confirmed when we consider that the confession of 11:27 is essentially echoed at the conclusion of the Gospel proper (20:31)—a summary declaration by the Gospel writer which expresses his very purpose in writing:

“…these (thing)s have been written, (so) that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed One, the Son of God, and (that) in trusting you might hold life in his name.”

Note of the Day – May 9 (John 11:27)

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John 11:27

Verse 27 is the climax to the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, and it is her response to the question by Jesus in v. 26b—”do you trust this?” (cf. the prior note). As I discussed, the demonstrative pronoun “this” (tou=to) refers to Jesus’ statement in vv. 25-26a, which begins with the “I am” declaration (v. 25a). Thus Jesus is asking her about his identity—not only that she trusts in his word, but in who he is. In this regard, as I pointed out in the previous note, there is a basic similarity between the question to Martha, and that posed to Peter (and the other disciples) in Mark 8:29 par. In the Synoptic scene, the question is more direct in relation to Jesus’ identity—”But who do you consider me to be?”. The question of Jesus’ identity in the Johannine episode is framed differently, but, in many ways, remains quite the same—i.e. “do you trust what I have said (about who I am)?” Before proceeding to a detailed examination of verse 27, it is worth continuing the comparison with Peter’s confession. The beginning of both statements is identical:

su\ ei@ o( xristo/$
“You are the Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah]…”

The Matthean version of Peter’s confession is closest to Martha’s:

“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of…God” (Matt 16:16)
“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God…” (John 11:27)

In some ways, Martha’s declaration takes a central place in the Gospel of John, much as Peter’s confession does in the Synoptics. The Fourth Gospel has nothing corresponding to the scene in Mark 8:27-30 par, though there is a rough parallel, with certain points of similarity, in Jn 6:66-71 (compare v. 69 with Mk 8:29 par). With Peter and Martha, here we have disciples, through an expression (confession) of faith, making a fundamental declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. Both passages are also positioned at a similar point in the Gospel narrative—the conclusion of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry and the start of his (final) period in Jerusalem.

If we turn specifically to Martha’s statement in verse 27, we see that there are three components to it, each of which involves a particular title applied to Jesus:

  • “You are
    • the Anointed One [o( xristo/$]
    • the Son of God [o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]
    • the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] into the world”

Each of these important titles will be discussed in turn.

o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”)

This, of course, is the title applied to Jesus by early Christians, so thoroughly that it came to function virtually as a second name—”Yeshua (the) Anointed”, i.e. Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1:17; 17:3). I have discussed the significance and background of this title at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed“. It occurs less frequently in the Gospels than elsewhere in the New Testament, for obvious reasons. The historical tradition underlying the Gospel narratives reflects the fact that the title was applied to Jesus during the time of his ministry only on certain occasions, taking on greater prominence during the final period in Jerusalem. The title occurs 19 times in the Gospel of John, almost always on the lips of other people, not Jesus himself. The issue in these passages is whether Jesus might be the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), a matter discussed and questioned by the people who saw and heard (about) him. A brief survey may be useful:

  • In 1:20 (also v. 25 and 3:28), John the Baptist declares that he is not the Anointed One
    By contrast, in v. 41, John’s followers (now disciples of Jesus) identity Jesus as this figure.
  • In 4:25, 29, the Samaritan woman refers to the expectation of the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah, Samaritan Taheb), and raises the possibility to her fellow villagers that it might be Jesus.
  • In 7:25-31, and again in vv. 40-44, people wonder, question and debate whether Jesus might be the Anointed One.
  • In 10:24 people want Jesus to tell them whether he truly claims to be the Anointed One.
  • In 12:34, again there are questions surrounding Jesus as the Anointed One, here connected with the title “Son of Man” so often used by Jesus in reference to himself.

There is some uncertainty as to the precise meaning of the title “Anointed One” in these passages, as there are a number of different Messianic figure-types to which it may refer. The type which came to be most prominent, that of the end-time Ruler from the line of David, is clearly in view only in 7:40-42, where “Anointed One” is contrasted with a Messianic Prophet figure. However, in 4:25ff and 7:25-31, the title seems to refer to an end-time Prophet. The references in chapter 1, in connection with John the Baptist, are harder to determine. As a result, we cannot be certain, at the historical level, just how Martha might have understood the title.

The remaining two titles, along with an interpretation of the verse as a whole, will be examined in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – May 8 (John 11:26b)

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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).

Note of the Day – May 7 (John 11:26a)

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John 11:26a

Today we will be looking at the second half of Jesus’ statement in Jn 11:25b-26a (the first half was discussed in the prior note). Here again is the statement:

“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live; and every (one) living and trusting in me shall (certainly) not die away into the Age”

As I discussed, the first half refers to the promise of life to the believer who should happen to die physically (as in the case of Lazarus). This “life” (zwh=) reflects both the physical reality of resurrection, usually understood as occurring at the end-time (v. 24), and the realization of the future (eternal) life. Both aspects should be recognized in the verb zh/setai (“he will live“). Now let us consider the second half in v. 26a:

kai\ pa=$ o( zw=n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ou) mh/ a)poqa/nh| ei)$ to\n ai)w=na
“and every (one) living and trusting in me will (certainly) not die away into the Age”

Even more so than in v. 25b, here there is a profound play on two meanings of the verb za/w, used as a qualifying participle, “the (one) living [zw=n]”:

  1. “living” in the ordinary sense of one who is still alive (physically)
  2. “living” in the sense of one who shares in eternal life (in the present)

The second aspect is indicated by the parallel use of the participles zw=n (“living”) and pisteu/wn (“trusting”). On the surface, one could understand this simply as a believer who is (still) alive; however, the use of the verb za/w (along with the related noun zwh=) in the Gospel of John strongly indicates that the divine/eternal life, possessed by God the Father and the Son, is meant. The one who trusts (believes) in Jesus shares in this life, in a fundamental sense. This promise of life is expressed by the adjective pa=$ (“all, every”)—every one who trusts will experience (eternal) life.

Let us consider for a moment the parallel established in vv. 25b-26a:

  • (if) he should die away, he will live
  • the one living…will not die away

Conceptually, I would outline the relationship between these phrases as follows:

  • die away (physical death)
    —will live (resurrection / new life)
    ——believer is alive
    —living (experiencing eternal life)
  • will not die away (final death)

The final phrase “he will not die away into the Age” requires a bit more discussion. It involves the expression “into the Age” (ei)$ to\n ai)w=na) which is related to “the life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh=). The idea of dying “into the Age (to Come)” refers to the eschatological sense of a final or “second” death which extends into the distant (everlasting) future. This is tied to the concept of the end-time Judgment by God on humankind. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away”) is used in a similar sense (and context) in Jn 8:21, 24, where we find the specific expression of dying in one’s sins. The person who dies without trusting in Jesus will remain under the anger of God and will experience the Judgment which leads to final death (cf. 3:19, 36, etc). This is expressed clearly in 5:24, where it is said of the believer that “he does not come into (the) judgment”. Jesus’ statement in this verse, which serves as the climax of his exposition in vv. 19-24, is worth quoting here in full:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One) sending me holds life of the age [i.e. eternal life], and he does not come into (the) Judgment, but he has stepped (over) out of death (and) into life”

This is one of the best examples in the Gospel of “realized” eschatology. The one hearing and trusting in Jesus (and in God the Father through Jesus) holds eternal life—he/she does not merely come to possess it or enter it at the end-time, but holds it already now, in the present. The language in v. 24b is clearly eschatological, and yet it expresses a different reality. The present tense of ou)k e&rxetai (“he does not come”) is parallel to e&xei (“he holds”)—i.e., just as the believer already holds eternal life in the present, so he/she also is already guaranteed (now in the present) not to come into the Judgment. This is expressed in a different way by the perfect form of the verb metabai/nw, a verb which can be difficult to translate in English. Literally it means something like “step with(in)”, usually indicating a change of place—i.e., “step across, step over”. Here in verse 24, the closing phrase is “he has stepped over/across out of death (and) into life”. Quite often the perfect form (here metabe/bhken) signifies a past action or condition which continues into the present. In the context of Jesus’ statement this is a powerful declaration that the one who trusts has already stepped into life—that is, has already experienced the resurrection and possesses the eternal life normally associated with the future (end-time) state of the righteous.

Note of the Day – May 6 (John 11:25b)

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John 11:25

Jesus’ statement in John 11:25b-26a follows the “I Am” saying in v. 25a—”I am the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life”, which I discussed in the previous daily note. Verse 25b-26a is a two-fold statement which explains this saying; it also serves to correct Martha’s misunderstanding (v. 24), according to the Johannine discourse-format. Her misunderstanding was addressed first in the “I Am” saying, shifting the focus from the end-time resurrection of the dead to Jesus’ own person, in the present. The exposition continues in vv. 25b-26a:

“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live; and every one living and trusting in me shall (certainly) not die away into the Age”

There is a poetic parallelism to this statement:

  • the one trusting—dies—will live (again)
  • every one living—trusting—will not die

Today we will be looking at the first part of this statement (in verse 25b):

o( pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ka*n a)poqa/nh| zh/setai
“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live”

There is some question as to the precise meaning of living and dying, life and death, in this verse. Two main possibilities have been recognized:

  • It refers to physical death and resurrection
  • It refers to spiritual death and new (eternal) life

Because the words zwh= and za/w (“life”, “live”) in the Gospel of John usually refer to something akin to “eternal life”, many commentators assume the latter interpretation above. However, I believe that this is incorrect. The idea of a person being dead “spiritually”, while a popular concept and expression in modern Christianity, is hard to find in the New Testament. There is certainly precious little evidence for it in the Gospel of John. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away”) occurs 28 times in John, and always, it would seem, in reference to the ordinary (physical) death of a human being. The same is true of the adjective nekro/$ (“dead”), used substantively as a collective (“the dead”, i.e. people who have died). Therefore we can fairly assume that a)poqnh/skw has the same sense here in vv. 25-26. The context is clearly that of the resurrection from the dead (to be illustrated in the case of Lazarus).

However, it is important to understand the conceptual background of “life” and “death/dying” in the Gospel. The fundamental emphasis is eschatological. This is confirmed by the fact that the word “life” (zwh=) is regularly used in the expression “(the) life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh=), typically translated in English as “eternal life”. That customary translation, however, obscures the original sense of the expression, which refers to the Age to Come. In ancient thought, shared by Israelites and Jews, the future age represents a period of blessedness, in which the righteous will share in the heavenly (divine) life. Often this was understood in a realistic sense, of a future time (and/or condition) established on earth, expressed in Jewish thought as the “Kingdom of God”. Others came to view the idea in a more symbolic sense, reflecting the divine/eternal life that the righteous would experience with God in heaven.

Perhaps the earliest occurrence of the expression corresponding to ai)w/nio$ zwh= is in Daniel 12:2, where the resurrection of the righteous is in view. In Hebrew it is <l*ou yY@j^ (µayy¢ ±ôl¹m), where the word <l*ou essentially refers to something distant—i.e. that of the distant past or future, often in the sense of time stretching out into the far distant (“everlasting”) future. The temporal aspect of life without end is clearly expressed in Jewish writings such as the Qumran 1QS 4:7 and the Damascus Document [CD] 3:20. By the 1st century A.D., this aspect was supplemented by the idea of “eternal life” in a qualitative sense, whereby the “Age to Come” had a character completely different from the current Age (“this Age”). While the expression “life of the Age” in John retains something of the temporal background, the overall meaning has shifted to the qualitative—it reflects the life of God the Father (and the Son) in which the righteous (believers) will come to share. In this sense, eternal does not refer to duration, but to its Divine character.

The traditional contrast between “this Age” and “the Age to Come” has also been reinterpreted within the Gospel to reflect a different sort of dualism—the world (o( ko/smo$) vs. God, the realm below vs. that which is above, etc. By the “world” we should understand ko/smo$ in its fundamental sense of order, that is, the current world-order, the arrangement of things and how they appear. In Johannine dualism, this world-order is governed by darkness, evil and sin, and is set precisely in contrast to the realm of God, characterized by light and truth. The presence of sin ultimately leads to (1) physical death, and (2) judgment by God (after death). Thus the ordinary human condition—that of mortal beings—ends in death, realized in these two aspects. After physical death, there is a kind of final or “second” death which is the fate of the wicked (cf. Rev 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8).

Let us now consider Jn 11:25b in light of this background. I would argue that “death” in Johannine thought and expression has nothing whatever to do with the Spirit, or to the “spirit” of humankind; it is entirely separate, belonging to “the World”—the realm of sin and darkness. Human beings are bound under the conditions of the sinful world-order (ko/smo$), and are destined to suffer both physical and final (eschatological) death. Jesus is referring to the first aspect: physical, mortal death.

“even (if) he should die away [a)poqa/nh|]…”

The subjunctive here indicates a conditional clause, i.e. if a person should die, if he/she happens to die, just as happened to Lazarus. The promise of the statement is, that if a person trusts in Jesus, and happens to die (physically), that person will live (zh/setai). In the immediate context, this last phrase would seem to refer to the future resurrection, as Martha assumed in v. 24. Yet Jesus is actually saying that the person will live again now. This must be understood on two levels:

  • In the context of the narrative, the impending resurrection of Lazarus
  • In the sense of what may be called a “realized” eschatology

By “realized” eschatology is meant the idea that believers in Christ experience the essential reality of the future life in the present. In other words, the resurrection and “life of the Age” (eternal life) will be experienced through the presence of Jesus in and with the believer. In the Gospel of John, as elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. the letters of Paul), this divine/eternal life is realized primarily through the abiding presence and work of the Spirit. There is no mention of the Spirit in the Lazarus episode, it has to be understood based on other passages in the Gospel. I will be dealing with the relationship between the Spirit and Life (cf. Jn 6:63) in a subsequent series of notes.

It is now time to proceed to the second part of Jesus’ statement, in v. 26a. This I will do in the next daily note.

Saturday Series: John 3:31-36

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John 3:31-36

Last week we looked briefly at John 3:28 (and the parallel sayings in 1:15, 30) in the context of chapter 3. A particular difficulty of interpretation involves the relationship between verses 22-30 and 31-36. Verses 22-30 comprise a specific narrative (and historical tradition) related to John the Baptist and his ministry (I noted the parallels with 1:19-34ff last week). Indeed, the Baptist is the one speaking in vv. 27-30. However, commentators are divided on who the speaker is in verses 31-36. The main reason for the uncertainty lies in the strong similarity of language, thought and expression between vv. 31-36 and the discourse of Jesus in the earlier vv. 10-21. There would seem to be three possibilities which should be considered regarding the true speaker of these verses:

  • It is John the Baptist, continuing from verse 30, as a simple reading of the narrative would indicate.
  • It is Jesus speaking, perhaps part of a discourse like that of vv. 10-21.
  • It is essentially the work of the Gospel writer, repeating the words and ideas expressed by Jesus earlier.

Let us first examine the main points of similarity between vv. 31-36 and the earlier discourse of Jesus (especially vv. 11-21):

  • The use of the word anœthen (“from above”)—v. 31 and 3, 7.
  • Reference to Jesus as “the one coming (down) out of heaven”—v. 31 and 13
  • A contrast between heavely and earthly (i.e. above/below)—v. 31 and 12.
  • The idea of giving witness (the verb martyreœ) to what one “has seen” (eœraken), along with the related idea that people (i.e. in the world at large) do not receive (vb. lambanœ) this witness—v. 32 and 11.
  • The idea/expression of Jesus (the Son) as the one whom the Father sent forth (vb. apostellœ)—v. 34 and 17.
  • The central theme/motif of the Spirit—v. 34 and 5-8.
  • The specific phrase “[every]one trusting in [the Son] has life of the age (i.e. eternal life)”, with a statement regarding the opposite—v. 36 and 15ff.
  • Emphasis on the judgment/anger of God for the one who does not trust—v. 36 and 18.
    Note: In preparing this list I have followed the order given in R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29 (1966), pp. 159-60.

These close parallels make for a strong argument that Jesus and/or the Gospel writer is responsible for vv. 31-36. However, at the same time, there is no clear indication of a change in speaker between verses 30 and 31, and, since it would have been easy enough for the Gospel writer to include such an editorial detail, it seems likely that he is presenting John the Baptist (in the narrative) as the speaker for all of vv. 27-36. The John/Jesus parallelism in 1:19-51 (as well as in the Prologue) makes it likely that a similar parallel structure is at work in chapter 3. Consider the following outline:

  • Encounter/dialogue between Jesus and a Jewish leader (Nicodemus)—vv. 1-10
    • Exposition/Testimony by Jesus about himself—vv. 11-21
  • Encounter/dialogue between the Baptist (along with his disciples) and a Jew—vv. 22-30
    • Exposition/Testimony by the Baptist about Jesus—vv. 31-36

It is possible that this could be a clue to the curious use of the plural verb forms in v. 11—”we see…we speak…we give witness…”. This witness involves both Jesus himself and the earlier/prior testimony of John the Baptist (see 1:7-8, 15, 29-34, 35-36). Ultimately, this witnessing of Jesus (the Son) will extend to his disciples (believers), aided by the presence of the Spirit.

But how exactly does the “testimony” in vv. 31-36 relate to vv. 22-30? Here, I think it is useful to distinguish the components of the passage. I recognize these as follows:

  • Narrative introduction, setting the (historical) scene—vv. 22-24
    Here we have a clear parallel between the work of Jesus’ disciples and the disciples of the Baptist, taking place in close proximity.
  • Testimony of the Baptist: historical tradition and dialogue—vv. 25-30
  • Testimony (of the Baptist): theological exposition—vv. 31-36

John’s testimony in vv. 27-30 is rooted in the historical tradition (compare 1:19-34; Mark 1:7-8 par; Matt 3:11b-12 par), but takes on deeper theological (and Christological) significance in the context of the Fourth Gospel (see the discussion last week). The overriding theme is the superiority of Jesus as the Messiah (and Son of God), and the Johannine understanding of this superiority (and the basis for it) is Christological. Jesus is “the one who has come out of heaven”, whom God Father has sent forth. This is implicit in the Baptist’s saying in verse 27:

“A man is not able to receive anything if it has not been given to him out of heaven”

We should perhaps understand a fourfold-sense to this statement: (1) John’s testimony about Jesus was given to him from God (1:6, 33), (2) Jesus, the very Word of God, has been given (i.e. sent) to humankind, (3) Jesus was given everything he says and does from the Father (i.e. from heaven), and (4) Jesus’ disciples (believers) are given to him by the Father (out of heaven). Senses 1 and 4 are more immediately applicable to verses 22-30, while 2 and 3 apply especially to vv. 31-36. If we are to break down the verbal and thematic structure of verses 31-36, I would suggest the following outline:

  • “The one coming from above is over (and) above all (thing)s, (while) the one being out of [i.e. from] the earth (truly) is out of the earth” (v. 31a)—dualistic contrast between heavenly and earthly, above vs. below.
  • “The one coming out of heaven [(who) is over (and) above all (thing)s] gives witness to this which he has heard, and (yet) no one receives his witness. The one receiving his witness (has) sealed that God is true” (vv. 31b-33)—contrast between Jesus’ witness from heaven and the failure of those on earth to receive it; only those who belong to heaven (believers) receive it.
  • “For the (one) whom God se(n)t forth speaks the utterances [i.e. words] of God, for (it is) not out of measure (that) he gives the Spirit. The Father loves the Son had given all (thing)s in(to) his hand” (vv. 34-35)—these statements establish what God has given to Jesus (the Son) out of heaven.
  • “The one trusting in the Son holds life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]; but the one (be)ing unpersuaded by the Son will not see life, but (rather) the anger of God remains upon him” (v. 36)—the dualistic contrast has shifted to believers (those given by God), and, by contrast, those who are unable/unwilling to believe.

Next week I would like to examine verses 34-36 in more detail, focusing on several key words and phrases (in the Greek) which, I believe, are vital for a proper understanding of the remainder of the Gospel of John. I would ask that you study and meditate on these verses carefully, looking back at the immediate context of chapter 3, and also chapters 1-3 as a whole. Give thought especially to the motif of the giving of the Spirit in vv. 34-35 and the keyword life (zϢ) in v. 36, which are developed in many important ways throughout the Gospel.

And I will see you next Saturday.

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

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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.