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Saturday Series: John 3:16

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John 3:16

This week I would like to address again the importance of studying a verse or passage in context. I turn to John 3:16, one of the most famous verses in all the New Testament. Countless Christians (and non-Christians as well) are familiar with it, yet I wonder how many have ever really read or studied it in its context within the Gospel of John.

It is part of Jn 3:1-21, one of the great Discourses of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. These Discourses, which are really unlike anything in the other (Synoptic) Gospels, present the historical traditions—that is, Jesus’ words and actions—within a very distinctive literary setting, utilizing a dialogue format. Generally, they follow a common structure:

  • Narrative introduction, which establishes the setting and action of the historical episode, often a miracle or encounter episode.
  • A central saying or statement by Jesus
  • The reaction of those who see/hear him, reflecting some measure of misunderstanding
  • An explanation by Jesus of the true, deeper meaning of his words

Sometimes there are multiple exchanges between Jesus and his audience, so that the discourse preserves a more extensive dialogue. The outline of John 3:1-21 should be examined according to this pattern:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 1-2)—an encounter episode, between Jesus and Nicodemus (a member of the Jewish Council [Sanhedrin]), presumably in Jerusalem (see 2:13-25). Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night (secretly?), and addresses him (verse 2).
  • Central saying/statement by Jesus (v. 3).
  • Reaction by Nicodemus who has not understood the true meaning of Jesus’ words (v. 4)
  • Explanation by Jesus (vv. 5-8)
  • Second reaction (question) by Nicodemus (v. 9)
  • Explanation/exposition by Jesus (vv. 10-21)

The central saying by Jesus is in verse 3:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God”

This statement is apparently in response to Nicodemus’ address in verse 2, in which he recognizes that Jesus is “a teaching (who) has come from God”, yet does not fully realize Jesus’ identity. The implication is that only the person who has been “born from above” can see and recognize Jesus truly. The recognition of Jesus is described in more conventional religious terms, drawn from Old Testament and Jewish thought, as seeing “the kingdom of God”.

From verse 4, it is clear that Nicodemus has misunderstood Jesus. This is based on a bit of wordplay in Greek. The adverb anœthen literally means “from above”, but can also have the sense of “from the beginning, again”. This is how Nicodemus takes it, thinking that Jesus is referring to a second physical birth from the mother’s womb. Jesus’ explanation, touching on the true meaning of his words, begins with a statement parallel to that of verse 3:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God” (v. 5)

Clearly, being born “from above” is essentially the same as being born “out of water and (the) Spirit”. The exact relationship between water and the Spirit in this statement continues to be debated by commentators. Some take it as a reference to the need for (Christian) Baptism, but this likely would not have been Jesus primary meaning, if we accept the substance of the saying as genuine. A simpler interpretation, in accord with that of verse 3 (and the discourse as a whole), would be that, without a spiritual birth (from above), in addition to one’s natural human birth (out of water), one cannot see/enter the Kingdom. Nicodemus is still thinking and experiencing things from the ordinary human standpoint. In verse 8, Jesus identifies the birth “from above” specifically with being born “out of [i.e. from] the Spirit“.

A second question from Nicodemus (“How are these things able to come to be?”, v. 9) introduces the exposition (by Jesus) which makes up the remainder of the discourse. This exposition can be divided into two parts:

  1. Jesus as the Son of Man who has come down from Heaven (vv. 10-15), and
  2. Jesus as the Son (of God) who brings light and life into the world (vv. 16-21)

At first glance, it may not seem obvious how these sections relate to the exchange with Nicodemus in vv. 1-9. But I believe that the key lies in a narrative technique found in the Gospel of John sometimes referred to as “step-parallelism”, in which a word or idea from a prior passage is taken up to start the next. Remember that the central idea in Jesus’ exchange with Nicodemus was that of being born “from above” (anœthen, verse 3). It is this motif that Jesus expounds in response to Nicodemus’ question. There are two components to the first part of Jesus’ explanation (vv. 11-15): (a) the heavenly source of Jesus’ words (his testimony), vv. 11-12, and (b) the heavenly origin of Jesus (the “Son of Man”), vv. 13-15. Consider how these two aspects relate, centered on the motif of heaven (i.e. from above):

  • Earthly things (v. 12a)
    —Heavenly things (v. 12b)
    —Ascent to Heaven (v. 13a)
  • Descent from Heaven [to earth] (v. 13b)

In verse 13-15 Jesus picks up and further expounds this motif of ascent/descent (using the verbs anabainœ and katabainœ, literally “step up” and “step down”, see last week’s study on John 1:51). According the Johannine view of Jesus, as expressed (by Jesus) in the other discourses, this ascent/descent concept is one of several in the Gospel which serves as a comprehensive symbol or image of both the death and exaltation of Jesus. Another such concept involves the verb hypsoœ (“lift high”) which Jesus uses in vv. 14-15:

“And even as Moshe lifted (up) high the snake in the desert, so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every one trusting [in him] may have [lit. hold] (the) Life of the Age [i.e. Eternal Life].”

The primary emphasis here has shifted to Jesus’ sacrificial death (on the cross) which will bring (eternal) life to every one who trusts in him. This now becomes the transition to the second half of Jesus’ exposition (vv. 16-21), which begins with the famous verse 16 (note the points of similarity with vv. 14-15):

“For God loved the world this (way), so (that) he even gave his only (born) [monogen¢s] Son, so that every one trusting into him will not be destroyed, but might have/hold (the) Life of the Age [i.e. Eternal Life].”

The joining word which introduces vv. 16-21 is the adverb houtœ[s], related to the demonstrative pronoun houtos (“this”). The idea seems to be that God loved the world “this way”, referring to what precedes—i.e. the “lifting up” of the Son of Man in the manner of the snake upon the pole (Numbers 21:9). This connection also serves to identify Jesus the “Son of Man” as the “only Son” of God (see the earlier study on John 1:18). Once again, by way of step-parallelism, Jesus takes up this motif and continues it for the remainder of the exposition:

  • God sent forth his Son into the world, so that the world might be saved through him (v. 17)
  • Salvation comes through trusting (vb. pisteuœ) in [lit. “into”, eis] God’s Son (v. 18)

Two important Johannine motifs are blending into verse 18: (1) the adjective monogen¢s (“only [born]”), i.e. God’s only Son, and (2) the identification of the person (Jesus) with his name. According to ancient Near Eastern thought, the essence of a person was seen has being bound up, in a quasi-magical sort of way, with his/her name. This took on special significance for Israelites and Jews with regard to the name of God (YHWH), and early Christians developed a similar reverence for the name of Yeshua/Jesus. In the Gospel of John, we find the important idea that Jesus (the Son) reveals God (the Father) by making known his name (i.e., who He truly is)—see 5:43; 10:25; 12:26; 17:6-26. At the same time, the Father acts on behalf of believers in the Son’s name (14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-26). This inter-relationship of Father and Son is typical of John’s theology and Christology, and is found all throughout the Discourses of Jesus.

In verse 17-21 there is an interesting shift, from the theme of life (vv. 17-18) to that of light (19-21). Both are central to the Gospel of John and feature prominently in the Prologue (1:4-9ff). After the reference to Jesus’ death in verse 14, it seems that it is the incarnation of the Son (Jesus) which is more clearly in view in vv. 17-21. Jesus, in his very person, brings life and light into the world. The reference to light in verse 19 also introduces an aspect of dualism into the discourse—light vs. darkness. This takes us back to the original saying in verse 3. The word “from above” reflects a similar sort of dualism—above vs. below, heavenly vs. earthly. Only those who belong to the light, etc, are able to come to it (i.e. trust in Jesus). Trust is not a matter of human will-power, nor even of repentance and sacrifice, but of belonging to God. This is perhaps best expressed by Jesus words (to Pilate) in John 18:37:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] I have come to be (born) and unto this I have come into the world, that I should give witness to the truth—every one being out of [i.e. who is from/of] the truth hears my voice.”

And consider also the words of Jn 1:12-13:

“(for) as many as received him, he gave to them authority to come to be offspring of God, to the ones trusting in his name—the (one)s which, not out of blood, and not out of the will of the flesh, and not out of the will of man, but out of God, came to be (born)”

This concludes our study of John 3:16 in the context of the discourse (vv. 1-21). Often it is useful, and even necessary, to consider the wider context of the book as well. I would thus encourage you to go back and read again the first two chapters of John, paying especially close attention to chapter two and episode(s) of verses 13-25. As you read these verses, keep in mind your study of 3:1-21.

And I will see you again next Saturday.

Note of the Day – April 12 (John 13:31-38ff)

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John 6:51-58; 13:31-38 (continued)

Today, I wish to explore the final difference between John and the Synoptics in the presentation of the Last Supper scene—the inclusion of the great Last Discourse (or series of Discourses) which follows the Supper and precedes the episode in the Garden (Jn 18:1-11). There is nothing remotely like it in the Synoptic Gospels, though perhaps a very loose parallel may be seen in the teaching which Luke records in 22:25-30, 35-38 (cf. the earlier note). It is not possible here to examine the Last Discourse (13:31-17:26, or, properly 13:31-16:33) in much detail, but a structural and thematic survey may help us to understand its place in the Passion Narrative (on this, cf. the supplemental note).

Jn 13:31-38—The Introduction to the Last Discourse

I regard 13:31-38 as the beginning, the introduction, of the Last Discourse. Indeed, these verses introduce the primary themes of the Discourse, weaving them around the Passion Narrative tradition of the prediction by Jesus of Peter’s denial. I will leave the role of Peter in the Passion (and Resurrection) Narratives for a later note. It is more important, at this juncture, to consider the place of this tradition in terms of the Last Discourse, and how it connects with the earlier Last Supper scene. I outline these verses as follows:

  • Narrative transition (v. 31a)
  • Saying of Jesus #1—Son of Man saying (vv. 31b-32)
  • Saying of Jesus #2—Declaration of his going away (v. 33)
  • Saying of Jesus #3—The Love Command (vv. 34-35)
  • Excursus: Prediction of Peter’s Denial (vv. 36-38)

Let us examine each of these elements briefly.

Narrative transition (v. 31a)—This short statement serves to join the sayings of vv. 31-35 with the Last Supper scene. It is parallel with the even shorter statement that closes the earlier scene:

  • “And it was night” (v. 30b)—darkness symbolizing the identification of Judas as the betrayer, his departure, and the beginning of the Passion.
  • “Then, when he [i.e. Judas] went out…” (v. 31a)

Judas’ departure is significant for a number of reasons, but it has special importance in terms of the Last Discourse. With Judas gone, only the true disciples, the true believers, remain in the room with Jesus. This allows Jesus the opportunity to begin his great “Farewell Discourse” with his faithful followers, imparting information and teaching which he could not have done earlier. Now it is the right time.

Saying #1 (vv. 31b-32)—This is a complex Son of Man saying with a clear earlier parallel in 12:23. Both sayings involve the verb doca/zw—which fundamentally means to regard someone with honor/esteem, but can also be used in the sense of “give honor”. Typically it is translated in the New Testament as “glorify” (i.e. give glory). For other occurrences of the verb in John, see 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16, 28. It will become an important keyword in the Last Discourse—14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10, and cf. also 21:19. First consider the Son of Man saying in 12:23:

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor/glory [docasqh=|]”

The context is Jesus’ impending death (vv. 24-27, note the parallel with the Synoptic Passion narrative in v. 27), as well as the declaration of Jesus in v. 28:

“Father, give honor/glory [do/cason] (to) your name”

This emphasis on the name of God is also an important motif in the Last Discourse, especially the Prayer-discourse of chapter 17.

I mentioned the complex structure of the saying in 13:31:

“Now the Son of Man is given honor/glory, and God is given honor/glory in him; [if God is given honor/glory in him], (then) also God will give him honor/glory in him(self), and straightaway will give him honor/glory”

The textual evidence for the phrase in brackets is divided; a simpler structure results if it is omitted:

  • Now the Son of Man is given honor
    —God is given honor in him
    —God will give him honor in him(self)
  • Straightaway (God) will give him honor

The interrelationship between the Son (Jesus, here called by the self-title “Son of Man”) and the Father is a fundamental (Christological) theme in the Fourth Gospel, which reaches a high-point in the Last Discourse.

Saying # 2 (v. 33)

“(My) little children [tekni/a], (only) a little (time) yet am I with you—you will seek (after) me, and, even as I said to the Yehudeans {Jews} that ‘(the place) where I lead (myself) under [i.e. go away], you are not able to come (there)’, (so) also I relate (this) to you now”

This saying refers back to 8:21-22, and introduces the theme of Jesus’ departure—his going away—which covers the entire process of his Passion, much as the verb doca/zw does in v. 31 (cf. above). It refers, variously, and with complex layers of dual meaning, to: (1) his death, and (2) his return to the Father. The theme is especially prominent in chapters 14 and 16 of the Last Discourse, where it is also tied to the promise of the Spirit (the Helper/Paraclete). The word (tekni/on), used by Jesus to address his disciples, is a diminutive form of te/knon (“offspring”, i.e. “child”), which features in several key verses in the Gospel (1:12; 8:39; 11:52) and the Letter of John (1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; 2 Jn 1, 4, 13; 3 Jn 4)—always in the plural (te/kna). It may indicate that Jesus is identifying the disciples (the true believers, with Judas absent) as the “offspring [i.e. children] of God” (1:12). The diminutive tekni/on (“little children”) occurs only here in the Gospel, but is used frequently in the first Johannine letter (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21).

Saying #3 (vv. 34-35)—The last saying introduces another primary theme of the Last Discourse: the bond of love which binds the disciples to Jesus (and God the Father), and to each other. It had a precursor in the foot-washing scene of vv. 3-17 (cf. the previous note), especially Jesus’ teaching in vv. 12-17. Here Jesus frames it as a “command” (e)ntolh/), the literal Greek referring to something laid upon a person which he/she is charged to accomplish. The so-called “love command” is an essential aspect of Jesus’ teaching (cf. Mark 12:28-34 par, also Matt 5:43-46 par; Lk 7:41-48), and became a primary (and binding) component of the early Christian identity—Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 8:1-3; 12:31b-14:1; 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 5:13-14; Phil 1:9; 2:2; 1 Thess 4:9; James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22, etc. When the term “commandment(s)” is used in the Gospel and letters of John, it primarily refers to the love-command.

Prediction of Peter’s Denial (vv. 36-38)—As in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 14:26-31) functions as an excursus within the Passion narrative, following the Passover meal scene. It is transitional to the Gethsemane scene (Mk 14:32-52 par), which in John’s version does not come until after the Last Discourse (18:1-11). The similar outline indicates that both John and the Synoptics are drawing upon a common historical tradition:

John’s version differs from the Synoptic primarily in the way that the core Peter tradition (vv. 37b-38) is incorporated into the Last Discourse. Verses 36-37a mark this joining transition:

“(Then) Shim’on (the) Rock [i.e. Simon Peter] says to him, ‘(To) what (place) do you lead (yourself) under [i.e. go away]?'” (v. 36a)
(to which Jesus answers:)
“(To) whatever (place) I lead (myself) under [i.e. go away], you are not able to follow me (there)—but you will follow later” (v. 36b)

Note the similarity in language and phrasing to verse 33 (Saying #2, above). The declaration that Peter will follow Jesus at a later point has a loose parallel in Lk 22:32. Peter’s response in v. 37a continues the same Johannine emphasis:

“Lord, through what [i.e. why] am I not able to follow you now?”

His declaration in v. 37b may also be shaped by the language and thought of the Fourth Gospel—compare with 10:11, 15, 17 (from the Good Shepherd parable):

Peter: “I will set (down) my soul [i.e. lay down my life] over you” (v. 37b)
Jesus: “I set (down) my soul [i.e. lay down my life] over the sheep” (10:15)

 

Supplemental Note: Outline of the Last Discourse

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As a supplement to the recent daily notes on the Passion Narrative and the Last Supper scene (cf. the last two notes on this scene in John), it may be useful to provide a survey of the structure of the Last Discourse, which many commentators regard as a series of discourses joined together. It has been outlined many different ways; I suggest the following thematic outline:

  • 13:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
  • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
    • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
      • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
      • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
    • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
      • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
        —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
        —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
        —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
      • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
        —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)
  • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
    • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • The Illustration (vv. 1-3)
      • Application:
        —Remaining/abiding in Jesus (vv. 4-9)
        —Love and the Commandments (vv. 10-11)
        —The Love Command (vv. 12-15)
      • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 16-17)
    • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
      • Instruction: The Hatred of the World (15:18-25)
      • Exhortation: The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 26-27)
      • Concluding warning of the coming Persecution (16:1-4a)
  • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
    • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 4b-7a)
      • The Coming of the Spirit (vv. 7b-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 11-15)
    • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (v. 16)
      • Question by the disciples (vv. 17-18)
      • Jesus’ response: The Promise of his Return (vv. 19-24)
    • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
  • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

Some commentators would make chapter 17 part of the Last Discourse. Generally, this fits, but structurally, it is probably better to regard it as a separate component of the Passion Narrative in John. Despite the odd reference in 14:31b, it would seem that the Gospel writer intended (and envisioned) all of chapters 13-17 taking place at the time of the Last Supper. This, at least, is the narrative setting, which seems clear enough from the opening words of chapter 18: “(Hav)ing said these (thing)s, Yeshua went out [i.e. out of the room/house] with his learners [i.e. disciples]…”

Note of the Day – April 11 (John 13:3-17)

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John 6:51-58; 13:1-38 (continued)

Yesterday, in regard to the lack of any reference to the Lord’s Supper in John’s account of the Passover meal (Last Supper) scene, I looked at the possible references to the Eucharist in Jn 6:51-58. Today, I will examine the other major difference in John’s version.

The Foot-Washing (Jn 13:3-17)

Assuming that both John and the Synoptic are referring to the same essential historical tradition—the (Passover) meal with Jesus and his close disciples (the “Last Supper”)—it is striking that, not only has the author left out any reference to the institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (cf. the previous note), but has included a very different sort of sacramental scene. This, of course, is the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus in vv. 3-17. In order to gain a better understanding of the possible significance of this tradition (that is, why the author chose to include it so prominently), a quick survey of the structure of the episode may be helpful:

  • Narrative introduction (v. 2), which spotlights the betrayal by Judas (as in the Synoptic tradition, Mk 14:10-11 par). Verse 1 serves as the narrative (and thematic) introduction to the Passion narrative as a whole.
  • The Foot-Washing tradition (vv. 3-17) which functions as a short discourse in the style of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus:
    —The narrative description of Jesus’ act (vv. 3-5)
    —The Dialogue with Peter (vv. 6-11)
    —The Exposition by Jesus (vv. 12-17)
  • The Prediction of the Betrayal (vv. 18-30a)
  • Concluding statement (v. 30b): “And it was night”

Thus the foot-washing is one of two main components to the episode; as such, it clearly takes the place of the “Lord’s Supper” in the Synoptic tradition. Each of the three parts of the foot-washing scene provides important information as to its significance and importance for the Gospel writer (and/or the tradition he inherited).

Description of Jesus’ act (vv. 3-5)—Here the author sets the act precisely in context:

“Seeing [i.e. knowing] that the Father gave all (thing)s into his hand, and that he came out from God and that toward God he leads (himself) under [i.e. back]…” (v. 3)

This introductory statement is a veritable epitome of Johannine theology and the portrait we see of Christ in the Gospel. The entire scope of the Passion is under the guidance of God the Father, and takes place completely according to his purpose. Jesus, as the Son sent by the Father, is fully aware of this, that the process of his glorification (cf. verse 31ff)—his death, resurrection, and return to the Father—is about to commence. Seeing/knowing all this, Jesus

“…rises out of the dining and sets (aside) his garments and, taking a linen-towel, girded himself thoroughly…” (v. 4)

It is tempting to see this action as a kind of symbolic picture of the incarnation itself—in which Jesus “sets aside” his glory and takes on the role of a human servant (slave), whose duty it would be to perform such menial tasks as washing the feet of guests. Certainly, it is meant to depict the sacrificial service which Jesus’ was about to perform (i.e. his death) on behalf of those (the disciples/believers) whom God the Father had given to him. The wording suggests determination and purpose by Jesus in performing this act. Moreover, the participial labw/n (“taking…”) is also used in the Synoptic description of Jesus’ action with the bread and cup, and strongly indicates a similar allusion to Jesus’ sacrificial death.

“…then (after this) he throws [i.e. pours] water into a wash-basin and began to wash the feet of the learners [i.e. disciples] and to wipe it off with the towel with which he had been thoroughly girded” (v. 5)

Jesus’ action here reflects that of the woman (Mary) who anointed him in John’s version of the Anointing scene (12:1-11, v. 3; cf. also Lk 7:38). As that action was associated with Jesus’ coming death, so we should recognize a similar connection here. Only Jesus’ act of washing the feet of the disciples emphasizes the purpose of his death (i.e. that it is on their behalf), and that it is a sign of his willing self-sacrifice (cf. 10:11, 15, 17-18). There is an interesting parallel to this in the Synoptic tradition (cf. below).

The Dialogue with Peter (vv. 6-11)—The exchange between Jesus and Peter has always been seen as somewhat enigmatic. Is the point of it sacramental (i.e. the need for baptism), ethical (tied to repentance/penance), spiritual/mystical (participation in Jesus’ death), or something else entirely (e.g., a portrait of the need to show love)? A bit too much traditional theological and doctrinal weight has been given to the exchange. The key to it, I think, lies in the Johannine discourse format and style, which typically involves three basic components: (1) a saying or action by Jesus, (2) the person’s reaction which indicates a lack of understanding, and (3) an explanation by Jesus of its true/deeper meaning:

  1. Jesus’ action (cf. above) symbolizing his humble and sacrificial service (death) on behalf of those whom he loves (Peter and the other disciples/believers)
  2. Peter misunderstands on two levels:
    (a) Vv. 6, 8: it is not worthy of Jesus (his Lord/Master) to wash his feet (cp. the Synoptic tradition in Mk 8:32f par)
    (b) V. 9: it is a question of ordinary washing/bathing with water
    Jesus’ declares outright to Peter in v. 7 that he does not (and cannot) understand now the significance of the act
  3. Explanation by Jesus. The principal statement is v. 8b: “If I should not wash you, you have/hold no part with me”

The statement in v. 8b indicates that acceptance of Jesus’ sacrificial act is necessary in order to join and be united with him. The further illustrative exposition in verse 10 has caused commentators some difficulty, mainly, I think, because they have focused too much on the first half of the verse, rather than the second. The first half corrects Peter’s misunderstanding (v. 9)—i.e., that is not simply a question of bathing oneself with water. The true meaning is declared in the second half (v. 10b):

“…(the) whole (body/person) is clean; and (indeed) you are clean—but not all of you”

There is a clever conceptual play on words here:

  • the whole (of you) is clean
    —you [pl.] are clean
  • not all of you (are clean)

The implication is that all those whom God/Christ has chosen (disciples/believers) are fully clean; there is no need for any cleansing—physical, sacramental, or otherwise—in addition (cf. 15:3). Judas, however, is not one of the true believers chosen by God; Jesus chose him to be one of the Twelve (6:70-71), but his ultimate association is with the Devil and darkness (13:2, 30b; cf. also Lk 22:3, 53).

The Exposition by Jesus (vv. 12-17)—Here we have Jesus’ own explanation of the action. The disciples are to follow Jesus’ example, and give themselves (even their own lives) in sacrificial service to each other, as a sign of love. This comes to be an important theme in the Last Discourse (13:31-17:26) which follows the Supper scene.

Synoptic Parallel—While the Synoptics do not record the foot-washing episode as such, there is a general parallel, perhaps, in Luke 22:25-27. There, after the Passover meal (Last Supper), the author includes a block of teaching on discipleship (vv. 25-30, also 35-38). Because the sayings in vv. 25-27 have corresponding Synoptic versions in Mark 10:42-45 par, commentators have questioned their place in the Last Supper scene. However, the orientation of the Johannine foot-washing is roughly similar to vv. 25-27, with its emphasis on humility and sacrificial service. Interestingly, though Luke has nothing corresponding to it at this point, the saying in Mk 10:45 (in the context of vv. 42-44) is strikingly similar in tone and theme to what we see in John:

“For indeed the Son of Man [i.e. Jesus himself] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul [i.e. life] as a (means of) loosing (from bondage) in exchange for many” (Mk 10:45)

Such a saying would have fit well in the Last Supper scene (cf. Mk 14:22-25 par).

Note of the Day – April 10 (John 6:51-58; chapter 13)

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John 6:51-58; 13:1-38

It now remains to examine how the “Last Supper” Passover scene is presented in the Gospel of John. Here, as is often the case, we are dealing with an entirely separate line of tradition, though one which shares certain elements and details with the Synoptic.

The first point to consider is the identification of the “Last Supper” as a Passover meal. This is all but certain in the Synoptic tradition (cf. the last three daily notes), but not so in the Gospel of John. Indeed, the Gospel of John has rather a different chronology for the Passion narrative, which will be discussed in more detail in a separate note. As we shall see, there are other prominent differences between the two (John and the Synoptics); and yet certain elements would seem to confirm that they are drawing upon a common historical tradition. The common features may be outlined as follows:

  • If not on the eve/day of Passover proper (Mk 14:1, 12ff par), clearly there is a general Passover setting for this meal (John 13:1, cf. also 11:55; 12:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14).
  • It is a meal shared between Jesus and his disciples (Mk 14:12ff par; Jn 13:1-2ff).
  • It is connected with a narrative introduction referencing the betrayal by Judas (Mk 14:10-11 par; Jn 13:2).
  • Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal, including the identification of the betrayer (Mk 14:18-21 par; Jn 13:18-30 [note the greatly expanded tradition in John]).
  • The prediction of Peter’s denial, following the scene of the meal (Mk 14:27-31 par; Jn 13:36-38).

The main differences in John’s account, compared with the Synoptic tradition, may be summarized:

  1. The meal does not occur on the evening which marks the start of Passover proper (Nisan 15), but some time before this (Jn 13:1).
  2. There is no account of the “Lord’s Supper” and its institution (cf. the previous note).
  3. In its place we find a different sort of symbolic, sacramental act—Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (vv. 3-17).
  4. Judas features more prominently in the episode (vv. 2, 25-30; cf. also 12:4-6).
  5. In between the Last Supper meal and the Gethsemane/Garden scene (18:1-11) there is an extensive collection of teaching by Jesus—the “Last Discourse” (13:31-17:26).

Items #1 and 4 will be discussed in separate upcoming notes; today, and in the note following, we will examine #2, 3, and 5.

The Absence of the “Lord’s Supper” (cf. Jn 6:51-58)

As discussed in the prior note, the Lord’s Supper, with Jesus’ words of institution, features prominently in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 14:22-25; Matt 26:26-29; Luke 22:17-20). It is all but certain that the Gospel writers, in various ways, have shaped this portion of the narrative to reflect early Christian ritual and practice regarding the “Supper of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:20), which came to be known by the technical term of Eucharist (from the verb used by Jesus, eu)xariste/w, eucharistéœ). There is nothing of this at all in John’s version of the scene, a fact which has perplexed commentators throughout the years. However, as it turns out, there is a scene in the Fourth Gospel which seems to relate in some way to the Eucharist—in Jn 6:51-58, part of the great “Bread of Life” discourse (6:25-59). I have discussed these verses several other times on this site, most recently in the notes on the Feeding Miracle (6:1-15) in the current series (cf. the note on Jn 6:22-59). There is general similarity between verse 51 and Mk 14:22ff par (note the words in bold):

  • ”taking bread…and giving it to the disciples (he) said, ‘Take (it and) eatthis is my body‘” (Matt 26:26 [very close to Mk])
  • “taking bread…he gave (it) to them, saying, ‘This is my body th(at is be)ing given over you‘” (Lk 22:19 MT)
  • “if any one should eat this bread…the bread which I will give is my flesh (given) over the life of the world” (Jn 6:51)

Moreover, there are other instances of strong Eucharist language or allusions in the verses which follow (esp. vv. 52-56):

  • The people ask “how is this (man) able to give us [his] flesh to eat?” (v. 52)
    (the four statements by Jesus in response clearly have a parallel structure, set in tandem):
  • “If you would not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold life in your(selves)” (v. 53)
    • “The one chomping [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]” (v. 54)
  • “For my flesh truly is food and my blood truly is drink” (v. 55)
    • “The one chomping [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood remains in me and I in him” (v. 56)

Commentators continue to debate how one should interpret these references in the context of the Bread of Life discourse. There are a number of possibilities:

  • Option 1: The statements are all part of an authentic discourse given by Jesus at the time indicated in the narrative, and that he is referring to the Lord’s Supper—i.e. the Christian Eucharist.
  • Option 2: The narrative setting is authentic, but Jesus is not primarily referring to the Eucharist, but to a symbolic/spiritual “eating” of his words (and the power/presence of his person), as indicated in vv. 35-50 and vv. 60-63ff. A Eucharistic interpretation is secondary, but applicable.
  • Option 3: Eucharistic words by Jesus, from an original Last Supper (Passion) setting, have been “relocated” and included within the earlier discourse by the Gospel writer (or the tradition he has inherited).
  • Option 4: Vv. 51-58 represent an early Christian interpretation (by the Gospel writer?) of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse/teaching, so as to tie it in with the Eucharist.
  • Option 5: Vv. 51-58, along with much of the discourse as a whole, are essentially an early Christian production, derived (in some fashion) from Jesus’ actual words. As such, they definitely refer to the Eucharist.

In my view, only the middle three (2nd, 3rd and 4th) options have any real chance of being correct. Traditional-conservative commentators (especially Evangelical Protestants) would perhaps opt for the second; and, it must be said, the overall tone of the discourse (and Johannine thought) favors a spiritual/symbolic interpretation of vv. 51-58. Critical scholars would probably tend toward option 4—i.e., that vv. 51-58 represent a distinctly Christian ‘layer’ of interpretation that has been added to the discourse, which otherwise would have been a Passover exposition (given to Jews in the Synagogue, v. 59) on the “Bread of Life” motif from Exodus. However, there is much to be said for option #3—that the Gospel writer(?) has included Jesus’ Eucharistic words and teaching, originally given to his disciples in the context of the Last Supper and his impending Passion. Arguments in favor of this view are:

  • The lack of any reference to the Eucharist at the “Last Supper” (cf. above). The author certainly knew of this tradition, and it is hard to image that he would not have included it, or a reference to it, somewhere in the Gospel.
  • The general similarity here to the words (and essential thought) presented by Jesus at the Last Supper in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 14:22ff par, cf. above).
  • The fact that, in the chapter 6 setting, such references to eating/drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood would have been virtually incomprehensible to people at the time (including interested but uncommitted followers). They are more intelligible when spoken to Jesus’ close disciples at a time closer to his death.
  • The Passover setting in chapter 6 might have made it possible, in the mind of the author, to “transfer” the Eucharistic words from one Passover to another, so as to take advantage of the “Bread of Life” motif (which involves ‘eating’ Jesus).

A careful examination of the structure of vv. 51-58 may help us to interpret the passage more clearly. Consider:

  • V. 51a: I AM saying of Jesus (“I am the Living Bread stepping down out of Heaven”); this connects vv. 51-58 with the earlier portions of the discourse (vv. 26-34, 35-50).
  • Vv. 51b-52:
    Exposition by Jesus (v. 51b)—The need to eat this Bread, which is identified with Jesus’ flesh
    Reaction/Question by the people (v. 52)
  • Vv. 53-56:
    Exposition by Jesus (four statements)—Eating/drinking his flesh and blood
  • V. 57:
    Exposition by Jesus—Feeding on him (the Son)
  • V. 58: Concluding statement by Jesus (“This is the Bread stepping down out of Heaven”)

There is a definite chiasmus involved in this structure:

  • Bread coming down out of Heaven (v. 51a)
    —Eating this Bread, which is Jesus’ flesh (vv. 51b-52)
    ——Eating/drinking his flesh and blood [Eucharistic motif] (vv. 53-56)
    —Eating Jesus, the one (Son) sent from the Father (v. 57)
  • Bread coming down out of Heaven (v. 58)

It appears that the Eucharistic motif in vv. 53-56 has been carefully set or ‘inserted’ into the conceptual structure of the Bread of Life discourse—with the sudden (and rather unexpected) shift from bread/flesh to flesh and blood. Only in these verses is there any mention of drinking in the discourse, which otherwise naturally, and appropriately, refers only to eating. The critical question is whether the Gospel writer or Jesus himself is responsible for this development. If one decides that the latter is more likely, then it is harder to maintain a primary Eucharistic reference in vv. 51-58 (though a secondary application is still possible); if the former, then a direct allusion to the Eucharist is all but certain.

Note of the Day – March 18 (John 6:22-59)

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John 6:22-59

Today’s note will look at the relationship between the Feeding Miracle tradition (6:1-15) and the Bread of Life discourse (6:22-59) in the Gospel of John. There are three motifs from the Miracle tradition which are developed in the following discourse:

  1. The Passover setting—which is unique to John’s account, though Mk 6:39 could also indicate springtime.
  2. The eating of Bread, and
  3. The Eucharist (on these allusions, cf. the previous note)

These three themes run through the discourse, but it may be said that each dominates one of the three main sections. Verses 22-24 serve as the narrative introduction to the discourse, and are transitional, joining the discourse with the Feeding Miracle, etc, in vv. 1-21. Each of the three main sections builds on the dialogue/discourse format used in the Gospel—

  • Saying of Jesus
  • Reaction/question by the people, indicating some level of misunderstanding
  • Explanation/Exposition by Jesus

In addition, the three sections are joined together, forming a larger discourse, by way of a step-parallel thematic technique:

  • Miracle of the bread-loaves —>
    • Passover: manna / bread from heaven —>
      • Eating bread: Jesus the “bread from heaven”, Bread of Life —>
        • Jesus the Living Bread —>
          • Eucharist: eating his flesh/blood leads to (eternal) Life

Section 1 (vv. 25-34)

  • Principal saying by Jesus—verse 27:
    “Do not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food remaining into (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]…”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 29
  • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 28-31
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 32-33
  • Theme: transition from the Feeding Miracle (v. 26) to the Passover motif (i.e. the manna, “bread from heaven”, vv. 31-33)

Section 2 (vv. 35-50)

  • Saying by Jesus—verse 35:
    “I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the Bread of Life—the one coming toward me (no) he will not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting into me (no) he will not ever thirst. …”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—vv. 36-40
  • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 41-42
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 44-50
  • Theme: Eating Bread—Jesus as the “Bread of Life”, the Bread come down from Heaven

Section 3 (vv. 51-58)

  • Saying by Jesus—verse 51a (parallel to v. 35):
    “I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the Living Bread stepping down [i.e. coming down] out of Heaven—if any one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age (to Come)…”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 51b
  • Reaction/question by the people—v. 52
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 53-58
  • Theme: transition from Bread (of Life) to the Eucharist motifs (vv. 53-56ff)

I will not here discuss the rich texture and theology of the discourse; this has been done in some detail in an earlier note. The outline above is meant to demonstrate how the Gospel writer has developed the Feeding Miracle tradition, by making it part of the larger Bread of Life discourse, much as he did with healing miracle (and Sabbath controversy) episode in chapter 5. The Discourses of Jesus in John are complex and difficult to analyze, due to the sophisticated way that authentic historical traditions have been adapted and interpreted within the Johannine literary style/format (i.e. of the Discourses). This compositional style can be seen at many different points in the Gospel. Compare, for example, the close similarity of structure, language and ideas, between Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman (4:9-15) and that of 6:25-34 (above, cf. also Brown, p. 267). The parallel between Jesus as the living water (ch. 4) and the living bread (ch. 6) is unmistakable, and is clearly intentional within the context of the Gospel.

Also most difficult is the relation between the Bread of Life and Eucharist symbolism in second and third sections (vv. 35-58) of the discourse. As challenging as these passages have been for Christians throughout the ages, Jesus’ words must have been completely baffling to the first hearers, if we accept the essential historicity of the discourse (v. 59). Indeed, this is a prominent theme of the Discourses in John—the misunderstanding of his words by the people who hear him. The explanation by Jesus, within in the discourse format, expounds the true (and deeper) meaning of his words, much as we see him, on occasion in the Synoptics, explaining his sayings and parables to the disciples in private (Mk 4:10-20 par, etc).

John 6:60-65ff

As it happens, John records a similar sort of “private” explanation by Jesus to the disciples in vv. 60-65. This comes in addition to the exposition(s) within the discourse proper; as such, vv. 60ff functions as an epilogue or appendix to the discourse. There is a loose parallel, perhaps, to this in 4:31-38. Verses 60-65 have greatly complicated interpretation of the discourse (particularly the eucharistic motifs in vv. 51-58), since they contain a distinctly spiritual explanation of Jesus’ words. This section may be outlined as follows:

  • Reaction by the disciples (i.e. to the discourse)—v. 60
    “This account [i.e. word/discourse] is hard/harsh; who is able to hear it?”
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 61-65, which is framed by a question and a statement directed toward his disciples:
    “Does this trip you (up)?” (v. 61b)
    “But there are some of you that do not trust (in me)” (v. 64a)

The explanation in vv. 62-63 is comprised of three sayings, which must be taken together:

“Then if you should look upon the Son of Man stepping up to where he was at (the) first(, how will you react)?” (v. 62)
“The Spirit is th(at which) makes (one a)live; the flesh does not help (in) anything” (v. 63a)
“The utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you (they) are Spirit and Life” (v. 63b)

The first saying (a rhetorical question) emphasizes the divine origin of the “Son of Man” (Jesus), and foreshadows his departure back to the Father. It is at the time of his departure that the Spirit will come to the disciples (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:13-15; 20:22-23; cf. also 8:39). The second saying clearly states that the Spirit (of God, and Christ) is that which gives life; the flesh plays no role, or is of no use in this. In the third saying, Jesus identifies his words with the Spirit and with the life the Spirit gives. The disciples, at this point in the narrative, could not possibly understand the significance of these things, since they foreshadowed events which had not taken place. They simply had to trust Jesus. This is the emphasis of verses 64-65, and in the tradition which follows (vv. 66-71). Not all of Jesus’ disciples truly trust in him, but only those chosen and given to Jesus by the Father (i.e. the Elect believers). Here the author seems to have joined to the discourse a separate tradition, with similarities to several found in the Synoptics—i.e., the calling of the Twelve (cf. Mk 3:13-19 par) and the confession by Peter (vv. 68-69; cp. Mk 8:29 par). On the latter point, compare Peter’s words in Mk 8:29/Lk 9:20 and Jn 6:69 respectively:

“You are the Anointed One [xristo$] of God”
“You are the Holy One [a%gio$] of God”

It is another example (among many) of how the Synoptic and Johannine traditions are so very similar, and yet, at the same time, so very different.

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

Note of the Day – March 12 (John 5, etc)

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Having surveyed, however briefly, the different kinds of traditions in the Synoptics, and how they have been combined and arranged within the various Gospels—using just one segment of the narrative (from the Galilean period)—it now remains to compare how this may have taken place in the Gospel of John. The fact that the Fourth Gospel has inherited a distinct line of tradition, separate from the Synoptics, makes a comparative study extremely valuable. The presumption is that any similar or common traditions, between John and the Synoptics, would likely go back to a very early stage in the process of transmission—when the original historical traditions were (first) being preserved in written form. Such a comparison reveals numerous examples of tradition-units—sayings, miracle stories, and other episodes—in the Gospel of John which are similar (in certain respects) to those in the Synoptics, but have been set and developed within a very different narrative context. I have already discussed several of these in the earlier notes in this series on the Baptism of Jesus, the Calling of the Disciples, and a few other places as well.

Generally speaking, there is a fundamental difference between the way that traditions are handled in the Gospel of John. We have seen how the Synoptic narrative, especially in the Galilean period (i.e. Mk 1:14-8:30 par), has been built up by joining together various tradition-units. In the core Synoptic narrative, these involve: short narratives centered around a saying (or group of sayings), parables, miracle stories, and “encounter” episodes (often featured conflict/debate between Jesus and the religious authorities). In the previous two notes, we studied how these small units were joined together to form larger segments (about a chapter in length), and again, in the individual Gospels, into even larger sections or narrative divisions. The sequence of units and segments may be historical-chronological, but, more often than not, they appear to have been joined together by a thematic association. The many differences in order between the various units of the Synoptic Gospels prove decisively that they are not governed by a strict chronological arrangement.

The Gospel of John, by contrast, arranges its material—especially in the portion that corresponds (loosely) with the Galilean period in the Synoptics (2:1-7:1ff)—into extended Discourses by Jesus. These discourses utilize a dialogue format, similar to that found in Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, whereby there is an exchange between Jesus and various persons whom he encounters, or who see/hear the things he is saying and doing. There are discourses in each of chapters 3-6 of the Gospel. We may isolate three components of these discourses:

  • The setting, which is often based upon a particular traditional episode (miracle story, encounter story, etc)
  • The dialogue, which is sometimes limited to a simple two-part exchange, and is centered around a saying (statement or declaration) by Jesus
  • An exposition by Jesus, in which the true meaning of his statement is explained, at a deeper spiritual/theological level

Let us survey the four main discourses in chapters 3-6:

The setting (i.e. traditional episode)—

  • 3:1-2ff—Jesus and Nicodemus (encounter story)
  • 4:1-7ff—Jesus and the Samaritan woman (encounter story)
  • 5:1-14—Healing of the disabled man at the pool (miracle story)
  • 6:1-13—Feeding of the Five Thousand (miracle story)

The dialogue—

  • 3:2-5ff, 9-10ff—Jesus and Nicodemus (saying: verse 3)
  • 4:7-15ff—Jesus and the Samaritan woman (main saying: verse 10)
  • 5:15-18—Jesus and the “Jews” (saying: verse 17)
  • 6:25-34ff—Jesus and the “Jews” (central saying: verse 35)

The exposition—

  • 3:5-21, which is built into the dialogue to make three parts:
    —vv. 5-8, then after another question by Nicodemus (v. 9)
    —vv. 10-15, which is followed by a parallel exposition with a different emphasis:
    —vv. 16-21
  • 4:13-26, which covers a more detailed exchange (between Jesus and the woman):
    —vv. 13-14 (the woman’s response, etc, vv. 15-20)
    —vv. 21-24 (her response, v. 25)
    —v. 26 (Jesus’ final declaration)
  • 5:19-47, a single exposition, in two parts: vv. 19-30, 31-47 (cf. below)
  • 6:32-58, the most complex of the four discourses, to be discussed in an upcoming note (on the Feeding Miracle in the Gospel Tradition)

The discourses in chapters 5 and 6 are similar in that they derive from a miracle story similar to those we see in the Synoptic Gospels. I discussed the chapter 5 discourse in a recent note, but it is worth reviewing here.

The basic miracle story (the tradition) is found in verses 1-9a. Verse 9b introduces the motif of the reaction to the healing miracle by certain people (“Jews”) with a strict traditional-religious mindset. They are not identified specifically as Pharisees (compare 9:13ff), but the implication is that they are experts/authorities on Scripture and the Law; in the Synoptic tradition these ‘opponents’ of Jesus are typically referred to as “Scribes and Pharisees”. These two components—the miracle and the reaction—make up the traditional narrative in verses 1-14. As such, the episode resembles somewhat the healing miracle in Mark 2:1-12; the detail in verses 9b-14 also turns it into a “Sabbath controversy” episode, not unlike those in the Synoptics (Mark 3:1-6 par, and Luke 13:10-17; cf. also Lk 14:1-6, and the recent notes on these passages). However, it is clearly a Johannine tradition, and is narrated in the style of the Fourth Gospel. This can be seen by the close structural and thematic similarity between 5:1-14ff and 9:1-41.

Verses 15-16 are transitional, joining the tradition in vv. 1-14 with the saying (v. 17) and discourse which follows. As discussed in the earlier note, Jesus’ saying relates generally to the ancient tradition regarding the Sabbath, of God resting/ceasing from His work as Creator. The statement by Jesus makes two points—(1) the creative, live-giving work of God (the Father) continues to the present time, and (2) Jesus (the Son) does the same work as God. The reaction by the “Jews” is narrated in verse 18, after which comes the explanation of the saying by Jesus, where he expounds its true, deeper meaning. This exposition can be divided into two parts:

  • The Son performs the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
  • These works are a witness to the Son (and to the Father)—vv. 31-47

The first part (vv. 19-30) is also divided into two sections, like poetic strophes, in which the same theme and motifs and repeated:

  • The Son gives eternal/spiritual life to those who believe—vv. 19-24
  • The Son gives new life (resurrection) at the end time (to those who believe)—vv. 25-30

These two aspects of the resurrection power at work in Jesus will reappear in the great Lazarus episode of chapter 11—a more dramatic miracle story that is foreshadowed here.

This same sort of the development of traditional material can be seen in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. It has a much more complex (cyclical) structure, utilizing the dialogue format extensively in its narration. I have discussed this discourse in some detail in earlier notes, and will address it again in the next topic of this series—the tradition of the Miraculous Feeding—which begins in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – March 8 (John 5:1-5ff)

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John 5:1-15ff

Having discussed the Sabbath Controversy episodes from the Synoptic Gospels—in particular, the healing miracle of Mark 3:1-6 par (see the previous notes)—it will be worth concluding this topic with a brief study of a (somewhat) similar miracle story in the Gospel of John. The Fourth Gospel actually contains two miracles stories, with a similar outline and structure—Jn 5:1-15 and 9:1-41. Each of these episodes is said to have occurred on a Sabbath day (5:9-10; 9:14-16), though only in the first does the Sabbath play a central role.

Actually, in the main section (vv. 1-9a), narrating the healing itself, the Sabbath is not mentioned. We are clearly dealing here with an authentic (historical) tradition, which includes several interesting local details (vv. 2-3, 5; also verse 4, which may not have been part of the original text). The reference to the Sabbath comes in verse 9b: “And the Shabbat {Sabbath} was on that day”. As in the Synoptic traditions, certain people object to “work” being done on the Sabbath. However, in the Johannine narrative, the people—they are not referred to as Scribes or Pharisees, simply other “Jews”—raise their objection, not to Jesus’ act of healing, but toward the man who was healed, for carrying his mat on the Sabbath (v. 10). The exchange between these “Jews” and the healed man (vv. 10-12) is similar to that which occurs in the later episode of chapter 9 (vv. 14-17), where the people interrogating the man are identified as Pharisees (vv. 13, 15). On the whole, the Sabbath healing episode of 5:1-14 is not all that different from similar traditions in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 2:1-12; 3:1-6 par; Lk 13:10-17). The tradition has been developed in John through its association with the discourse of Jesus that follows in 5:15-47.

A common feature of the great Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John is the way that they start with a specific (historical) tradition. The Johannine traditions are quite similar to episodes we find in the Synoptic Gospels; but in the narrative context of the Fourth Gospel, they serve as the launch-point for a discourse. These discourses follow a dialog format, which leads into an expository ‘sermon’ by Jesus; the basic structure may be outlined as follows:

  • Narrative setting, often in the context of a traditional episode (miracle story, etc)
  • A statement or declaration by Jesus
  • The reaction by those who hear him (sometimes including a question or exclamation), which indicates a lack of understanding, i.e. regarding the true meaning of Jesus’ words
  • An explanation by Jesus—a kind of sermon or homily—in which he expounds and elaborates on the (true) meaning of his earlier statement

Occasionally these elements are repeated, producing a discourse with a more complex, cyclical structure. In John 5, the basic structure has been maintained, but widened in scope:

  • Narrative setting—context of a healing miracle on a Sabbath (and festival) day (vv. 1-14)
  • Statement by Jesus (verse 17; vv. 15-16 are transitional)
  • Reaction by those who hear him (verse 18)
  • Explanation/Exposition by Jesus, in two parts:
    • The Son does the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
    • The work(s) as a witness of the Son (and the Father)—vv. 31-47

Verses 16 and 18 establish the connection between the discourse and the Sabbath healing episode; otherwise, there would seem to be little relation between the two. Jesus does not even mention the Sabbath in verses 19-47; rather, the theme, especially in verses 19-30, is on Jesus (the Son) doing the works of God (the Father). The statement by Jesus in verse 17 does, however, draw upon the ancient tradition that associates the Sabbath rest with God resting (ceasing) from his work (as Creator) on the seventh day. There are two components to Jesus’ saying, and each is provocative in its own right:

  • “My Father works (even) until (right) now…”—which implies that God’s work of creating (new) life actually continues right until the present moment. Jesus’ relationship to God (i.e. as Son) is also implied by his emphatic personalization, “my Father”.
  • “…and I (also) work”—the parallelism is intentional here, meaning that Jesus does the same kind of (life-creating) work as God. In the narrative context, this would refer to the healing of the disabled man; but in the discourse which follows (vv. 19-30ff), the emphasis is on resurrection—the granting of new life to those who are dead (literally and figuratively).

The implications of Jesus’ saying were not lost on his hearers, according to the reaction of the “Jews” narrated in verse 18:

“Through [i.e. because of] this, then, the Jews sought to kill him off, (in) that [i.e. because] not only did he loosen [i.e. break/violate] the Shabbat (law), he even counted God (as) his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

Do the Jews misunderstand Jesus’ statement, as the position of this reaction in the Johannine discourse format would suggest? Jesus never quite presents himself as equal (i&so$) to God in the Gospel. The closest he comes is in 8:58 and 10:30; but, in neither passage is the word i&so$ used. The word only occurs once in the New Testament in such a context—in the “Christ-hymn” of Philippians (2:6-11, v. 6), a passage which must read and studied carefully.

What, then, does Jesus actually say about his relationship to God in the discourse of Jn 5:19-30ff? It is precisely that of a Son to his Father. The principal idea stems from basic parental instruction, but, more specifically, from the common situation of the son who follows in the occupation of his father, and who must learn his trade by watching and listening to his father carefully. Jesus uses this motif repeatedly in the Gospel of John—the Son says and does (only) what he hears and sees his Father saying and doing (v. 19). It is a perfect imitation, and perfect obedience as well. Ultimately, the Son does the work that the Father does—the same work. This work essentially is to give life—new life—to those who are without it. The discourse moves from healing (vv. 1-14) to raising the dead (vv. 21-29)—resurrection both in a spiritual (vv. 21-24) and physical (vv. 25-29) sense. Verse 26 perhaps summarizes best Jesus’ own understanding of his relationship to God in this passage:

“For just as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave (it) to the Son to hold life in himself”

It is this life that the Son (Jesus) gives to others, to those who believe in him (vv. 24, 47, etc). It should be apparent how this idea relates to the miracle story (tradition) in vv. 1-15, and yet far transcends it, leading to a much deeper sense, and understanding, of Jesus’ life-giving power.

Note of the Day – February 27 (John 7:1-9)

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The past two daily notes have examined the traditions regarding the family/relatives of Jesus in Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 par. While the Gospel of John does not preserve these specific episodes, it does contain a separate tradition which has a rough similarity to Mk 3:20-21.

John 7:1-9

In John 7:1, we find Jesus in Galilee, presumably somewhere near his home town (Capernaum? cf. Jn 6:17, 59). It is about the time of the Sukkoth festival (Booths/Tabernacles), and the celebration of this festival, in Jerusalem, will serve as the setting for the discourses of Jesus in chapters 7-8ff. Verses 1-9 serve as an introduction to traditional material and sayings/discourses which follow. Within this framework, the Gospel writer appears to have included a tradition regarding the insensitivity of Jesus’ family (his brothers) to his ministry, much as we see in Mk 3:21. This is recorded in vv. 3-8 as a simple dialogue; note the overall structure of the opening section (which I give here as a chiasm):

  • The narrative setting—Jesus in Galilee (Capernaum?) prior to the festival (vv. 1-2)
    —Statement by Jesus’ brothers (vv. 3-4)
    ——Central comment by the narrator (v. 5)
    —Response of Jesus to his brothers (vv. 6-8)
  • Narrative conclusion—Jesus remains in Galilee (v. 9)

Verse 9, along with v. 10, is transitional to the main section(s) which follows in vv. 11ff. The narrator’s comment in verse 5 is central to the episode:

“For even his brothers did not trust in him”

This states simply and directly what was only implied in the Synoptic tradition of Mark 3:20-35 par (and also in the Nazarath episode of Mk 6:1-6a par, to be discussed). Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him, at least during this (Galilean) period of his ministry. Four such brothers are mentioned by name in Mk 6:3, but there is no way of knowing if those are specifically the ones meant in Jn 7:3ff. There is perhaps a derisive tone to the brothers’ words in vv. 3-4; however, more important for the Gospel writer is that their words reflect an ordinary, human (wordly) mindset. The implication is that the festival of Sukkoth, with so many pilgrims and others gathered in Jerusalem, would be an ideal opportunity for Jesus to make a name for himself, both with his own disciples and to people at large. The reference to the “works” (e&rga) that he is doing (i.e. in Galilee) suggest that they are urging him to perform his miracles publicly in Jerusalem, before a wide audience. Cf. Matt 4:3-7 par for a interesting comparison with the Temptation scene.

Jesus’ response to his brothers in vv. 6-8 is full of details and language common to the discourses of Jesus in John, and involves wordplay with some key vocabulary. I will treat these here briefly, in order of occurrence:

  • The contrast between “my” and “your” (e(mo/$/u(me/tero$). This is part of the dualism we find throughout the discourses of Jesus in John—i.e. Jesus vs. the (unbelieving) people around him, the Son sent by the Father vs. those belonging to the world. Perhaps the most pointed example of this imagery is found in 8:31-59, the climax of chapters 7-8.
  • The expression “my time (ha)s not yet (come) along” (o( kairo\$ o( e)mo\$ ou&pw pa/restin). Jesus frequently uses language of this sort in the Gospel of John, though always with the word “hour” (w%ra) instead of “time” (kairo/$). This will be touched on further below.
  • The important theme of the relationship between Jesus and the world, and the world’s hostility/hatred of him (cf. 3:20; 15:18-25; 17:14). This is part of the dualism mentioned above.
  • Along with this is the idea of Jesus’ witness again the world and its evil works. The verb marture/w (“[give/bear] witness”) has special theological significance in John, occurring 33 times (out of 76 in the NT).
  • The use of the verb a)nabai/nw (“step up”), i.e. “go up”. There is a definite play on words here. On the surface, Jesus seems to be saying simply that he will not be “going up” (i.e. traveling) to Jerusalem for the festival. But he is actually using it in a deeper sense, referring to (the time of) his eventual death and exaltation (including his return to the Father). For the specific theological and Christological meaning of this (otherwise common) verb, cf. 1:51; 3:13; 6:62; 20:17. This alternates with the “ordinary” usage in 2:13; 5:1; 7:10; 11:55, etc, though here too the double-meaning is no doubt implied.

Of special interest is Jesus’ use of the word kairo/$ in verses 6 & 8, in which the same basic idea is repeated:

“my time (ha)s not yet (come) along” (v. 6)
“my time has not yet been (ful)filled” (v. 8)

From the Gospel context (including similar usage in the Synoptics), it is clear that Jesus is referring to the time of his death, exaltation and return to the Father. However, as I noted above, in the Gospel of John, this is always expressed with the term w%ra (“hour”) rather than kairo/$ (“time”). The expression is “my/the hour has come (or has not yet come)”—7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1. The similar idea of an hour coming, related to the person and work of Jesus, is found in 4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 16:2, 4, 21, 25, 32. The word “hour” is also used in reference to believers (i.e. the disciples) being in the presence of Jesus (5:35; 11:9). In all of these instances, w%ra (hœ¡ra) refers to a specific moment in time which is to come. The word kai/ro$ (kairós), we may say, has a somewhat different nuance of meaning—a particular point (and place) in time, i.e. during which a specific event takes place. In English, the word is often rendered as “season”. In the Gospel of John, kairo/$ occurs only here, whereas it appears more frequently in the Synoptic Gospels, in the teaching of Jesus, often in an eschatological context (Mk 1:15; 10:30; 11:13; 12:2; 13:33 par; also Lk 19:44; 21:8, 24, etc). Luke uses it in 4:13, at the Temptation scene, as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ future testing (i.e. during his Passion), even as the word occurs in Matt 26:18 (“my time is [now] near”). Elsewhere in the Synoptics, and in John, the time of Jesus’ suffering and death is expressed by w%ra (“hour”)—Mk 14:35, 37, 41 par; Matt 26:55; Lk 22:14, 53.

The use of kairo/$ in John 7:6, 8, may be due to the setting of the Sukkoth festival—”the (time of the) festival was near…” (v. 2). Essentially, Jesus is saying that this particular festival, in Jerusalem, was not to be the occasion of his glorification—i.e. of his death and resurrection/exaltation. His brothers may have been urging him to put on a public display of miracle-working, etc, in Jerusalem, but, for Jesus, the only such public display in that city would be his death on the cross—cf. 3:14; 8:58; 12:32, 34. That event truly would “draw all people” to him. It is interesting to consider the dualistic contrast Jesus makes, between himself and his brothers, in verse 6:

  • my time (ha)s not yet (come) along, but”
    your time is always ready”

The time of his (unbelieving) brothers is that of the world, which is constant and always present, in its evil and darkness. Even the occurrence of regular religious festivals does not change this. Jesus, however, as the eternal Son sent by the Father, is only present in the world for a short time, for the purpose of making the Father known, and bringing salvation, to those who will believe. There is an interesting parallel here with the statement Jesus makes to his mother in 2:4:

“my hour does not come here yet”
ou&pw h%kei h( w%ra mou

There is a general similarity. In both episodes, members of Jesus’ family essentially ask him to perform public miracles, albeit for different reasons. In each instance, Jesus’ response is not so much a refusal as it points to something deeper—to the time of his death and exaltation. All of his miracles lead to that great event, just as the Cana episode (2:1-12) directly precedes the Temple scene in Jerusalem (2:13-22) with its veiled prediction of death and resurrection (vv. 19-22).

Even though the Gospel of John does not contain narratives corresponding with the Synoptics at these points, it seems all but certain, on objective grounds, that the writer (trad. John) has inherited historical traditions quite similar, in many respects, to those of the Synoptics. They have been adapted and set within a very specific Johannine framework (involving repeated festival-trips to Jerusalem), using distinctive theological language. Yet something of the early traditional narrative is definitely preserved. Consider the loose parallel between John and Mark here, in which each Gospel has joined together:

  • Reference to the calling of the Twelve, featuring Peter, and concluding with the mention of Judas’ betrayal—Jn 6:67-71 / Mk 3:13-19
  • An episode involving the family/relatives of Jesus which shows misunderstanding (even hostility) toward his ministry work, etc—Jn 7:1-9 / Mk 3:20-21, 31-35

Even the basic division of the Synoptic narrative—divided into Galilean and Judean (Jerusalem) periods, can be glimpsed through the Johannine structure:

  • Jesus’ Galilean ministry (punctuated, in John, by trips to Jerusalem)—2:1-6:71
    • Which opens with a scene in Galilee involving Jesus’ family (mother), performing miracles, and a saying: “My hour does not come here yet”
    • And concludes with a great miracle (feeding the multitude), which is connected with
    • A confession (by Peter) regarding Jesus’ identity (6:68-69)
  • Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem—7:1-11:54?
    • Which opens with a scene in Galilee involving Jesus’ family (brothers), etc, along with the saying: “My time has not yet (come) along”
    • And concludes with a great miracle (raising Lazarus), which also is connected with
    • A confession (by Martha) regarding Jesus’ identity (11:27)

The points of similarity should be readily apparent.

Note of the Day – February 20 (Luke 6:12-16; John 6:67-71)

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Today’s note continues the discussion from yesterday, on the tradition of the call/commission of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles). Here we will explore the tradition as found in the Gospels of Luke and John.

Luke 6:12-16

The Lukan version of the call of the Twelve, like that in Matthew, is simpler than Mark’s version. It is possible that Luke has abbreviated the earlier tradition, though, in this instance, it is perhaps more likely that each Gospel writer has, in his own way, developed the core Synoptic tradition independently. Luke has also, it would seem, modified the tradition so as to emphasize certain themes which he brings out elsewhere in his Gospel. Consider the following observations:

  • Luke has the unique detail of Jesus first being alone on the mountain, in prayer (v. 12). A similar detail is found in the Lukan version of the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (3:21; 9:28-29).
  • It is stated that Jesus gathered out (i.e. chose) the Twelve from among his disciples. Luke uses the verb e)kle/gomai, which, along with the related adjective e)klekto/$, is used of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospel (9:35 [v.l.], the Transfiguration scene; and 23:35), referring to him as the “Elect/Chosen One (of God)”—parallel to the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” (cf. also Jn 1:34 [v.l.]). Similarly in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the verb in reference to his call/choosing of his disciples (cf. below). Elsewhere in the New Testament, both verb and adjective came to be applied to believers generally as the “chosen ones” (i.e. the elect), according to the pattern of the people of Israel in Old Testament tradition. Note how this verb is central to the statement in Lk 6:13 (re-translating slightly, to bring out the symmetry of the word order):
    • he called [lit. gave voice] toward
      —his disciples
      ——and gathering out from them twelve
      —whom also (were) “apostles
    • (so) he named (them)
  • Luke specifically refers to Jesus naming the Twelve, i.e. designating them, as apostles—lit. “ones (who are) se(n)t forth”. The majority text also reads this at Mk 3:14, but, as it is not present in certain manuscripts, and is perhaps suspect textually as a harmonization with Lk 6:13b, it remains in question.
  • There is no mention here of Jesus giving them authority, etc, to work miracles (cp. Mark 3:15; Matt 10:1)
  • The list of the Twelve in vv. 14-16 differs little from the main Synoptic tradition, except for the variant names for the 10th and 11th apostles, compared with those in Mark/Matthew.

As in Matthew 5:1ff and 10:1-4ff, a sermon (or collection of teaching) follows the call/gathering of Jesus’ disciples to him. In Matthean narrative, the “Sermon on the Mount” is placed earlier than the call of the Twelve. By contrast, in Luke, the corresponding “Sermon on the Plain” does follow Jesus’ calling of the Twelve.

In the Gospel of Luke, moreso than in the other Synoptics, the call of the Twelve lies at the center of the Galilean ministry period, especially as it begins in 4:14. The Nazareth episode (4:16-30) precedes the ministry narratives (4:31-6:11) corresponding to Mk 1:16-2:28. The call of the Twelve, and their parallel mission (9:1-6ff), each culminate (and mark off) the two periods of the Galilean ministry, as narrated by Luke. Here is an outline for all that comes after the opening Nazareth episode:

  • First period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—miracles and teaching (4:31-6:11)
    • Calling of the Twelve (6:12-16)
      • and Jesus’ teaching them (6:20-49)—the “Sermon on the Plain”
      • with the example of his authority to cast out spirits/disease (6:17-19)
  • Second period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—miracles and teaching (7:1-8:56)
    • Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
      • and Jesus’ teaching them (9:10-17)—the Feeding miracle
      • with the question of Jesus’ identity as one who acts with the authority to work miracles, etc (9:7-9)

The Galilean period culminates with Peter’s confession regarding Jesus’ identity (9:18-20)

John 6:67-71

There is no corresponding passage narrating the calling of the Twelve in the Gospel of John; however, there is at least one reference to this general tradition, occurring at the end of the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. It would appear that a distinct tradition (vv. 67-70) has been joined to the end of the discourse. Thematically, a reference to “the Twelve” at this point would make sense, in light of the narrative context of the Feeding miracle (in 6:1-13f). Within the Synoptic tradition, the two Feeding miracles (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10, 14-21 par), are closely associated, in various ways, with the Twelve. The Bread of Life discourse which follows in vv. 22ff is typical of the Johannine narrative structure, whereby a miracle and/or saying by Jesus leads into a complex (and theologically significant) discourse between Jesus and the people (sometimes including his disciples) who hear him. The audience misunderstands the words and actions of Jesus, interpreting them on a superficial or conventional level, which brings about an explanation (exposition) by Jesus as to their true/deeper meaning. The core Bread of Life discourse—the most complex in the Gospel (outside of chapters 13-17)—is contained in verses 22-59. A second, simpler discourse, specifically involving Jesus’ disciples, follows in vv. 60-65, reprising the motifs and imagery of the earlier discourse—much as Jesus is recorded explaining his parables to his close disciples (the Twelve) in the Synoptics (Mk 4:10-11ff par).

As noted above, it seems likely that a (separate?) tradition (vv. 67-70) was joined to the discourse, creating a fitting (and striking) climax to the entire narrative of chap. 6. Verse 66 provides the transitional joining point:

“Out of this [i.e. as a result of his words, from this point on] many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went (away) from (him) into the back, and did not any (more) walk about with him [met’ au)tou=].”

The last phrase is reminiscent of Mk 3:14 (cf. yesterday’s note), where it is stated that a main purpose in Jesus’ calling the Twelve was “that they might be with him [met’ au)tou=]”. Then in the following verse 67 we read:

“Then Yeshua said to the Twelve: ‘You do not also wish to bring (yourselves) under [i.e. go back, sink/sneak away], (do you)?'”

The tradition, such as it may have existed earlier, has been shaped into a Johannine (mini-)discourse, which also (as it happens) has a general similarity to the scene of Peter’s confession in the Synoptic tradition:

  • Jesus asks the disciples a question, regarding his identity—i.e. their relationship to him (as followers/believers) [v. 67; Mk 8:27-29]
  • Peter responds with a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity [vv. 68-69; Mk 8:30]
  • Jesus responds in turn (or afterward) with a statement involving the “Devil” and teaching regarding discipleship [v. 70; Mk 8:33, 34-37f]

What is most striking about the tradition(s) in Jn 6:67-71 is that they involve details otherwise attested in the Synopic call of the Twelve:

  • An introductory reference to “the Twelve” (v. 67; Mk 3:14a, par)
  • The reference to Jesus’ disciples as those who were “with him” (v. 66; Mk 3:14b, cf. above)
  • The primary/leading position of Peter (v. 68; Mk 3:16 par)
  • The use of the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”) to refer to Jesus call/choice of the Twelve (v. 70a; Lk 6:13)
  • A concluding reference to Judas Iscariot as the one who betrayed Jesus (vv. 70b-71)

This presentation (of the traditional material) in John is also significant for the way it foreshadows the scene in chapter 13, with strands relating to: (a) the disciples (the Twelve) and their relationship to Jesus, (b) the betrayal of Jesus, (c) the central presence/position of Peter, and (d) the idea of Jesus choosing his followers, again using the verb e)kle/gomai (v. 18).