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Johannine Tradition

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

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John 19:16b-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Jesus’ dying words (v. 30)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplemental Note on the Sanhedrin “Trial”

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As was discussed in the recent daily note in this series, there are three different versions of the “Trial” (or examination/interrogation) of Jesus before the ruling authorities of the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin). In each of these versions there is a distinct order and arrangement of traditional material:

In Mark/Matthew, there is a night session of the Council, assembled quickly, it would seem (Mk 14:53), soon after Jesus’ arrest on the evening beginning the Passover (Nisan 15). It is presented as a formal trial, with witnesses and announcement of sentence. The central scene has the High Priest (identified as Caiaphas by Matthew, 26:57) questioning Jesus directly (Mk 14:60-62). A second session (consultation) is mentioned in 15:1, after which Jesus is sent to the governor Pilate, where the Council would present their case (and the criminal charge) against Jesus.

In Luke, by contrast, there is only one session of the Council recorded, corresponding to the night session of Mk 14:53-65 par, but Luke has it set specifically in the morning (“as it came to be day”, 22:66). This fits with the Lukan order of events, which has the session take place after Peter’s denial.

The Gospel of John has nothing corresponding to the Synoptic episode, but instead records a separate interrogation of Jesus (by the Chief Priest Annas, described as the father-in-law of Caiaphas, 18:13). There is very little in common between this scene and the Synoptic account, except a general similarity of outline with Mark/Matthew—questioning, Jesus’ response, mistreatment (striking) of Jesus. Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene, indicating that they are taking place simultaneously.

For those concerned with harmonizing the Gospel accounts, it is relatively simple to blend Luke’s version together with that of John, but extremely difficult to reconcile either Luke or John with the order/arrangement in Mark/Matthew. Consider how the events in Luke and John might be put together:

  • NIGHT-TIME
    • Jesus is bound and taken to the house of the Chief Priest Annas where he is held in custody—Jn 18:12-14
    • Peter is waiting the Chief Priest’s (Annas, not Caiaphas) courtyard outside—Jn 18:15-16; Lk 22:54-55
    • Peter’s First denial, while he waits—Jn 18:17-18; Lk 22:56-57
    • Jesus is interrogated by Annas—Jn 18:19-21
    • While this is going on(?), Peter’s second and third denials take place outside—Jn 18:25-27; Lk 22:58-62
    • Mistreatment/abuse of Jesus by the “police” holding him in custody—Jn 18:22-23; Lk 22:63-65 (details differ between the two at this point)
    • Jesus is bound and sent to Caiaphas—Jn 18:24
  • MORNING
    • Jesus is question by the Council, led by the High Priest Caiaphas (to be inferred, cf. the Synoptic account)—Lk 22:66-70
    • [This may include witnesses/testimony as in the Synoptic account, cf. the wording in Lk 22:71]
    • Determination that Jesus is worthy of being sentenced to death—Lk 22:71
    • Jesus is bound and taken to the governor Pilate where the Council will present its case—Lk 23:1; Jn 18:28a

Insofar as it is possible to get back to the historical level of the tradition, in an objective sense, this would probably be a fair reconstruction. The problem lies in evaluating the Synoptic evidence of the Council session held at night (which Luke sets in the morning). Most critical scholars would hold that the Lukan order is almost certainly more accurate, and that, in many respects, John’s account, with its wealth of unique local detail (cf. Jn 18:10b, 12-13, 15b-16, 26, 28b, etc) may be closest to the original historical tradition. The reasons for preferring John’s chronology, in which all these events occur on the day before Passover (Nisan 14), rather than on Passover itself, have been discussed in an earlier note. At the same time, it is hard to explain the curious inclusion of the Synoptic Temple-saying report if it were not part of the historical tradition regarding an accusation/charge brought against Jesus by the Council. If Luke were aware of this tradition—which would be the case if he made use of the Gospel of Mark (cf. also Acts 6:14)—one can only guess as to why it was left out in his account. Perhaps the similarity of language and thought with portions of the speeches by Stephen (7:48-50) and Paul (17:24-25) in Acts prompted him to omit the “false” report of the saying (= a false saying by Jesus?) in Mk 14:58 par.

Supplemental Note: On Passover and the Passion Narrative

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On Passover and the Passion Narrative

One of the most certain traditions regarding the Passion Narrative is that the arrest and death of Jesus occurred around the time of the Passover festival. This is confirmed by multiple lines of tradition—in both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John, as well as in subsequent Jewish tradition (e.g., the Talmudic baraitha in b. Sanhedrin 43a). However, there is a distinct difference between John and the Synoptics in the precise dating and relationship to the day of Passover (Nisan 15).

According to the Synoptic Tradition, the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his disciples was a Passover meal which took place on the evening (after sundown) which begins the day of Passover (Nisan 15). This is stated explicitly in Mark 14:1, 12, 14, 16 par. The dating makes clear that we are dealing with the day of 14/15 Nisan—prior to the feast after sundown, on the daytime eve (of the 14th), the Passover lambs would be sacrificed (Mk 14:12; Luke 22:7).

However, according to the Gospel of John, the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-17ff) occurred some time before the day of Passover proper. This is indicated specifically by:

  • The introduction to the Passion narrative and the Last Supper scene in 13:1:
    “And before the festival of Pesah [i.e. Passover]…”
  • Jn 18:28 and 19:14 make clear that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus both took place on the day of Passover eve (Nisan 14), before sundown and the start of Passover. On the 15th of Nisan Jesus was already dead (and buried).

This creates an obvious chronological discrepancy between John and the Synoptics. Commentators have tried to solve the issue in a number of ways, none of which are entirely satisfactory. Many critical scholars would simply admit that two different (variant) traditions regarding the precise dating, in relation to Passover, have been preserved. For those interested in determining the “correct” historical tradition, or in harmonizing the two lines of Gospel tradition, there are several possibilities which must be considered:

  1. Either John or the Synoptics record the “correct” dating, while the other has adapted and interpreted it, giving the association with Passover a special theological or Christological application.
  2. Both traditions, in their own way, are giving a specific interpretation (or application) to the original historical tradition which generally recorded Jesus’ death as occurring around the time of Passover.
  3. Each tradition is following a different way of dating Passover—i.e. is using a different calendar.

The last of these has been a favored way of solving the problem, especially for traditional-conservative commentators eager to harmonize John and the Synoptics. The idea is that two different calendars were in use in Palestine at the time of Jesus—for example, a 364-day solar calendar, along with a lunar (or lunar-solar) calendar. According to this theory, popularized by the work of A. Jaubert (accessible in English as The Date of the Last Supper [Alba House: 1965]), the Synoptics, along with Jesus and his disciples, are following the solar calendar, by which the Last Supper was celebrated, as a Passover meal, the evening beginning Nisan 15, while Jesus would have been crucified and buried on Nisan 17/18. John, by contrast, is following the official lunar-solar calendar, whereby the Last Supper occurred on Nisan 12. Evidence for use of an alternate (solar) calendar has been found in the Qumran writings (Dead Sea Scrolls)—e.g. 1QpHab 11:4ff and 11QPsa 27—as well as in other Jewish writings such as the book of Jubilees. Nevertheless, despite its attractiveness and convenience, this theory has fallen out of favor somewhat in recent decades, largely because commentators do not see any real evidence (apart from our desire to harmonize the accounts) that there are two different calendars used in the Gospels.

Options 1 and 2 above posit the alternative view that either John or the Synoptics (or both) have made the dating specific so as to bring out a particular theological/Christological connection with Passover:

  • In making the Last Supper unquestionably a Passover meal, the Synoptic tradition, which records Jesus’ words of institution (of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper), associates the impending sacrificial death of Jesus with the sacrificial offering(s) drawn from the Exodus narratives (Exod 24:8), by which the Covenant with God’s people was established. Jesus’ own body and blood (i.e. his death) will similarly establish a (new) Covenant with believers.
  • John identifies Jesus with the Passover lamb (19:31, cf. also 1:29, 36), which is why the Gospel writer dates the crucifixion to Nisan 14, when the lambs are prepared for slaughter (19:14). The mention of “hyssop” (19:29 MT) may also be an allusion to the ancient Passover tradition (Exod 12:22). Paul offers a similar identification of Jesus with the Paschal Lamb in 1 Cor 5:7 (and cf. also 1 Pet 1:19).

We should perhaps consider a fourth option, which, while it does not solve all of the chronological problems, may offer a simpler way of harmonizing the two lines of tradition. It is possible that Jesus and his disciples observed the Passover meal—or a meal with Passover characteristics—ahead of time, i.e. on Nisan 14, or even earlier. Several details in the Gospels could be cited in favor of this solution:

  • The dating of the Last Supper in John 13:1ff.
  • The Synoptic tradition which records that the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) did not wish to have Jesus arrested on the feast of Passover, indicating that they would have done this before sundown on Nisan 14/15 (cf. Mark 14:1-2 par).
  • It has always seemed somewhat implausible that the Sanhedrin would have met to interrogate Jesus on Passover. This removes the difficulty, preserving the (accurate) information in John 18:28, 39—i.e., that the trial and execution of Jesus took place prior to sundown Nisan 14/15.
  • The language and wording of Luke 22:15 could be taken to indicate that the meal is prior to Passover.

The main argument against this view is the specific dating indicated by Mark 14:1, 12. It would end up as a variation of option 1 above, implying that the Synoptic Gospels redated the historical tradition in order to make the Last Supper more clearly a celebration of Passover.

Supplemental Note on Judas Iscariot

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Special attention should be given to the traditions involving Judas Iscariot in the Passion Narrative. He features variously in the first three episodes, as has been discussed in the prior notes of this series. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is one of the most secure traditions in the entire Narrative, and its authenticity as a historical tradition is all but certain (on objective grounds). The reasons for this are:

  • It is preserved in multiple lines of tradition, evidenced at multiple points in the Synoptic and Johannine lines, as well as Acts 1:16-20.
  • Early Christians are unlikely to have invented the idea that Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers, nor would it have been readily accepted if it did not derive from a strong and reliable historical tradition.
  • Indeed, there are signs that early Christians (including the Gospel writers) were uncomfortable with the idea and felt the need to explain it (on this, cf. below).

To this we must note that Judas scarcely appears in the Gospels at all apart from his role as betrayer in the Passion Narrative. He is associated exclusively with the betrayal, and there are indications that the fact of his betrayal had a profound affect on early Christian tradition. Consider that in the calling of the Twelve (an early/authentic tradition, to be sure), with the associated list of names (Mk 3:13-19 par), specific information is provided for only two of the Twelve disciples—the first (Simon Peter) and the last (Judas). The reference “Yehudah Ish-Qiryah [i.e. Judas Iscariot], the (one) who gave (Jesus) over…” was a familiar formula among early Christians, some version of which is found in the Gospels practically whenever his name is mentioned.

The Passion Narrative

Within the Passion Narrative itself, Judas appears at several key points, each of which is associated with a distinct tradition. I cite the Gospel of Mark as the simplest version among the Synoptics:

  • Mark 14:10-11 (par Matt 26:14-16; Lk 22:3-6):
    “And Yehudah Ish-Qiryah {Judas Iscariot}, one of the Twelve, went (away) from (there) toward the chief sacred-officials [i.e. chief Priests], (so) that he might give him [i.e. Jesus] along to them. And hearing (this) they were delighted, and gave a message upon (it) to [i.e. announced they would] give him silver.”
    In Mark/Matthew, this passage functions as an excursus between the first and second episodes. In Luke, it follows the introduction and similarly precedes the Passover meal episode.
  • Mark 14:18-21 (par Matt 26:21-25; Lk 22:21-23; also Jn 13:21-30):
    The prediction of betrayal, and the identification of the betrayer by Jesus, which includes a declaration of woe (Son of Man saying). This is part of the Passover meal episode, discussed in earlier notes.
  • Mark 14:43-46 (par Matt 26:47-50; Lk 22:47-48; also Jn 18:2-5):
    Judas comes with a crowd to arrest Jesus; he approaches to kiss Jesus. This is part of the Gethsemane/Garden scene, discussed in the previous notes. Mention should also be made of the declaration by Jesus which climaxes the previous Prayer scene (Mk 14:41-42 par): “…the hour came [i.e. has come]! See, the Son Man is (being) given along into the hands of sinful (men)…See, the one giving me along has come near!”

The last two traditions are found in all four Gospels, though with certain differences, indicating various ways in which the traditions have been developed. Matthew generally follows Mark closely, but adds certain details, including more direct interaction between Jesus and Judas (26:25, 49-50).

Luke has a different order/arrangement of events in the Last Supper scene (22:17-23), so that the prediction of the betrayal comes after the meal (and the words of institution); otherwise, the author generally follows the Synoptic/Markan account. However, this reordering allows the prediction of the betrayal to lead into teaching by Jesus regarding the nature of true discipleship (vv. 24-30)—that is, in contrast to the “false” discipleship of Judas the betrayer. The nature of this betrayal is brought out by Luke in the “Gethsemane” scene, and the arrest of Jesus, which follows (vv. 39-53), in two ways:

  • As Judas comes near to kiss Jesus, Luke is unique in the record of Jesus’ address to him: “Yehudah, you give along [i.e. betray] the Son of Man with a (mark of) affection [i.e. kiss]?” (v. 48)
  • The concluding declaration—”this is your [pl.] hour and the authority of darkness!” (v. 53)—alludes back to verse 14, as well as v. 3, where it is stated that “(the) Satan came into Yehudah {Judas}…” In the Gospel of John, Judas is similarly associated with darkness and the Devil (cf. below).

Development of the Tradition in Luke and John

Within the Gospel Tradition, two explanations were given for the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest disciples: (1) Judas’ greed, and (2) the influence of Satan. Neither of these are found in the core Synoptic tradition represented by Mark’s Gospel, though there is perhaps an allusion to the first in Mark 14:10-11. Luke’s version at this point (22:3-6) may bring out the idea of Judas’ desire for payment, but only slightly (compared with Matthew’s version, cf. below). However, both Luke and John record specifically the diabolical nature of the betrayal, and the influence of Satan over Judas. In Luke, this is indicated by verses 3 and 53, mentioned above. The presentation in the Gospel of John requires a closer look.

John does not include a specific tradition of the calling of the Twelve such as we see in the Synoptics (Mk 3:13-19 par), but there is a similar sort of reference in 6:66-71, where Jesus declares:

“Did I not gather out [i.e. choose] you the Twelve—and (yet) out of you [i.e. among you] one is a devil!” (v. 70, cf. the author’s explanation in v. 71)

Judas appears again in chapters 12-13, especially the Last Supper episode of 13:1-30. Note the role of Judas here, in comparison with the Synoptic tradition:

  • V. 2: “And (with the) dining coming to be, the Devil [lit. one casting (evil) throughout] already had cast (it) into the heart that Yehuda Ish-Qirya (son) of Shim’on should give him along [i.e betray him]”—the Greek is somewhat ambiguous, but it should probably be understood that the Devil cast the idea/impulse into Judas‘ heart, i.e. that he should betray Jesus.
  • V. 10 (Jesus’ words to his disciples at the foot-washing): “…and you are clean—but not all of you!” (and the author’s explanation in v. 11, compare with 6:70-71, above)
  • V. 18 (a similar declaration by Jesus): “I do not say (this) about all of you—I know (the one)s whom I gathered out [i.e. chose]—but (so) that the Writing may be fulfilled…” (a citation of Psalm 41:9 follows).
  • Vv. 21-30—the expanded role of Judas in the scene of the betrayal prediction:
    • Jesus gives special information to the ‘Beloved disciple’ that he will identify the betrayer by giving him a piece of bread dipped in the dish (vv. 25-26a)
    • Jesus gives (shares) the piece of bread with Judas—described by the narrator (v. 26b)
    • At the moment that Judas eats the bread, it is stated that “then the Satan came into that one [i.e. Judas]” (v. 27, compare Lk 22:3)
    • The exchange between Jesus and Judas (vv. 27b-29), followed by Judas’ exit, i.e. his departure from the the room and the circle of Jesus’ (true) disciples (v. 30a)
    • After Judas’ leaves, we have the simple (symbolic) statement by the author: “And it was night” (v. 30b, cf. Lk 22:53)

In addition to the Satanic influence over Judas, the Gospel of John also indicates his greed, expressed through a distinct development of the Anointing tradition (Jn 12:1-8)—the person who objects to the ‘waste’ of expensive perfume (Mk 14:4; Matt 26:8-9) is identified as Judas (v. 4). Moreover, the author goes out of his way to explain that Judas, despite his noble-sounding objection, really did not care for the poor; rather, he simply wanted to preserve the money in the disciples’ common purse, since he was a thief and often would filch from it (according to the best sense of v. 6b). In 13:29 we find again the tradition that Judas held the common purse of money.

The Development of the Tradition in Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew has developed the Synoptic traditions regarding Judas in a distinct way, at two points:

  • Matt 26:14-16—Judas takes the initiative and asks the Priests “What are you willing to give me…?” (v. 15). Also a specific amount of money is indicated (30 silver-pieces). Both details emphasize the motif of Judas’ greed.
  • Matt 27:3-10—The reaction of Judas to Jesus’ arrest, etc, culminating in his suicide. This is a tradition completely unique to Matthew, and it partially undoes the negative portrait of Judas, by showing him to be repentant/remorseful over his actions. At the same time the suicide (hanging) depicts him as coming to a terrible and wicked end. The idea seems to be that his (apparent) repentance cannot completely undo the evil effects of his betrayal. Yet, the Gospel writer is not so much interested in Judas’ psychology, as in his actions as the fulfillment of Scripture (the difficult citation in vv. 9-10).

The tradition of Judas’ death in 27:5-8 is partially confirmed by Acts 1:18-19, though the specific details differ. The manner of Judas’ death in the latter passage, with its more grotesque description, seems to be in line with other early Christian treatments of Judas which tend to depict him in increasingly evil and ugly terms.

Note of the Day – April 14 (Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1-11)

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The Prayer Scene—Mk 14:32-42; Matt 26:36-46; Lk 22:39-46

The Prayer scene in the Garden (or Gethsemane) is one of the most famous and moving portions of the Passion narrative, perhaps because of the powerful dramatic effect of seeing Jesus struggle with human fear and suffering—indicating how far he shared in the human condition (Heb 5:7, etc). The Synoptic Tradition makes this the central scene of the Passion narrative—epitomizing Jesus’ passion, properly speaking. The Markan outline vividly shows Jesus separate from the disciples, taking along with him only three (Peter and the brothers James and John); then he moves further away from them, and prays to God on his own. This movement into prayer takes place by steps:

  • To the disciples: “Sit here until [i.e. while] I speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray]” (v. 32)
    • He moves away, taking Peter, James and John with him (v. 33)
      He begins to be struck (with sorrow) and full (of distress) in (his) mind
    • To the three: “My soul is in pain (all) around until [i.e. to the point of] death! Remain here and stay aroused [i.e. keep awake, keep watch]” (v. 34)
      • He goes forward a little to pray by himself (v. 35a)
        He falls upon the ground (overwhelmed by the moment)

The time of prayer (lit. speaking out toward [God]) begins with verse 35b, where Jesus’ prayer is summarized by the narrator in the context of his Passion:

“he spoke out toward (God) [i.e. prayed] that, if it is possible, the hour [w%ra] might go along (away) from him”

This is then repeated in direct address by Jesus, as part of a three-fold cycle (vv. 36-41a), in which Jesus prays for a time, and then returns to the three disciples to find them asleep. Only in the first instance are Jesus’ words—the essence of his prayer—recorded:

“Abba, (my) Father, all things are possible for you [i.e. are in your power]—(please) carry along this cup (away) from me! But (yet let it not be) what I wish, but what you (wish)” (v. 36)

Following this first time of prayer, Jesus’ address to the disciples (to Peter) is also recorded:

“Shim’on, are you sleeping? Did you not have strength to keep aroused [i.e. awake] for one hour? Stay aroused and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], that you might not come into (the) testing! The spirit has a forward impulse [i.e. is ready/willing], but the flesh is without strength.” (vv. 37-38)

The Gospel writer provides no further words until Jesus’ third (final) return, when he wakes the disciples and gives the climactic declaration in vv. 41-42. The reference to the “hour” (w%ra) is parallel to that in verse 35b and marks the scene as the beginning of Jesus Passion—which will continue with his arrest, interrogation/trial, mistreatment, and death.

The Gospel of Matthew (26:36-46) follows Mark quite closely here, giving even greater definition to the three-fold cycle of prayer mentioned above. Several details serve to enhance and personalize the scene:

  • “he began to be in pain/sorrow…” [a different verb is used] (v. 37)
  • “remain here and keep aroused [i.e. keep awake/watch] with me” (v. 38)
  • “he fell upon his face” (v. 39)

More notable, Matthew records (the essence of) the first two times of prayer, giving us Jesus’ words:

  • 1st: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup go along (away) from me! Yet not as I wish (it), but as you (wish it to be)” (v. 39)
  • 2nd: “My Father, if this (cup) is not able to go along (from me) if not (that) [i.e. unless] I drink it, may your will come to be” (v. 42)

This doubling generally fits what Mark describes in 14:39, but creates a more dramatic moment.

Luke’s account (22:39-46) is rather different from the version in Mark/Matthew, though it clearly derives from the same basic tradition. Much depends on the status of verses 43-44, which are textually uncertain (for more on this, cf. the supplemental note). Commentators are divided on whether or not to include them as part of the original text. I am inclined to regard them as secondary—an ancient interpolation perhaps drawn from authentic (historical) tradition, despite the seemingly legendary quality to the details. If the shorter text is original, then Luke certainly presents a much abridged version of the scene, with two main differences:

  • The three-fold cycle of prayer is replaced with a single time of prayer, followed by Jesus’ return to the disciples.
  • There are two exhortations to pray, which frame the scene (cf. below)

The references to Jesus’ sorrow and distress have also been eliminated—that is, unless we accept vv. 43-44 as original, in which case Luke’s version contains a different (and even more striking) depiction of Jesus’ physical and emotional anguish. The overall tone and tenor of Luke’s account would seem to argue against this portrait in vv. 43-44. The shorter text has a clear chiastic structure (another argument in its favor):

  • Exhortation to the disciples to pray, so as not to come into testing/temptation (v. 40)
    —Jesus withdraws from them and falls down to his knees on the ground (v. 41)
    ——His prayer to the Father (v. 42)
    —He stands up from prayer and returns to the disciples (v. 45)
  • Exhortation to the disciples to pray, so as not to come into testing/temptation (v. 46)

The Lukan form of Jesus’ prayer differs slightly from those in Mark/Matthew, combining elements of both versions (cp. above):

“Father, if you will (it), carry along this cup (away) from me! Yet let your will, not mine, come to be” (v. 42)

This idiom of drinking the cup is a way of expressing the acceptance of one’s destiny, as it has been determined by God. For something of the Old Testament background, cf. Psalm 11:6; 75:9; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15; 49:12; Lam 4:21. Sometimes the image carries the sense of accepting one’s death, as in the expression “cup of death” in the Jerusalem II Targum on Gen 40:23 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 1442).

John 18:1-11

John’s version of the Garden scene is quite different from the Synoptics, and certainly derives from a separate line of tradition. Yet there are certain elements in common which indicate that both lines rely upon a fundamental set of historical traditions:

  • The general location—a place on the slope of the Mount of Olives, though indicated by different designations. John is unique in describing it as a garden spot across the “winter-flowing Kidron” riverbed (v. 1). There may be an allusion here to 2 Sam 15:23.
  • The arrival of Judas (the betrayal) with a crowd of police/soldiers and attendants of the religious authorities (Chief Priests, etc). The tradition that Judas was familiar with the place (v. 2) may have confirmation from the notice in Lk 22:39.
  • Jesus addresses them (spec. Judas) on their arrival
  • The incident of the disciple who cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s slave with a sword
  • Jesus’ words of rebuke in response (in Matthew & Luke, but not Mark), along with a declaration regarding the necessity of these things (i.e. his arrest) coming to pass
  • Jesus is taken into custody by the crowd

The outline of John’s account is quite simple:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 1-2)
  • The arrival of Judas with the crowd—their encounter with Jesus (vv. 3-9)
  • Peter’s violent action and Jesus’ response (vv. 10-11)

The central scene is very much unique to John, both in the way Judas is presented, and, even more so, by the depiction of the crowd’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 4-8). The detail in vv. 2-3 reminds the reader of Judas’ former inclusion as one of Jesus’ Twelve closest disciples, and of the betrayal as he arrives with a crowd of attendants (acting as police) from the Chief Priests, along with (Roman) soldiers (a detail found only in John). After verse 5, Judas essentially disappears from the scene; there is nothing corresponding to Mk 14:44-45 par. His role (as betrayer) was to set Jesus’ Passion and death in motion.

By contrast, the encounter in vv. 4-8 between Jesus and the crowd is striking, with nothing like it in the Synoptics (cp. Mk 14:48-49, for the nearest parallel). Jesus has a commanding presence, and speaks with such authority, so as to cause the crowd to shrink back and fall to the ground. His double declaration of e)gw\ ei)mi (“I am [he]”, vv. 6, 8) is certainly to be related to the earlier I AM statements of Jesus in John, and intended here as a declaration of his identity as the eternal Son of God. As such it carries definite Christological weight, and is a far cry from the portrait of Jesus in the Synoptic version of the Garden episode. In this same spirit is the emphasis on Jesus’ control over the disciples—those given to him by God the Father and left in his care (vv. 8-9). His authority protects them from harm in the moment of his arrest.

It is significant that John’s version contains nothing of the Synoptic depiction of Jesus’ distress and anguish; indeed, there is nothing at all corresponding to the Prayer scene (cf. above), except perhaps for the wording of the concluding declaration in v. 11. A closer parallel may be found at an earlier point in the narrative, in 12:27ff:

“Now my soul has been disturbed, and what may I say? ‘Father, save me out of this hour?’ But through this [i.e. for this reason] I came into this hour.” (v. 27)

The Johannine presentation of the disciple’s rash and violent act with the sword is meant to serve as a decided contrast to the calm authority and control with which Jesus acts. John provides several interesting (and unique) details:

  • The disciple, otherwise unidentified in the Synoptics, is Peter
  • The name of the slave—Malchus
  • Agreement with Luke in specifying the right ear

The latter is a natural development of the tradition; the second would appear (on objective grounds) to be authentic historical information. Only the identification of the disciple with Peter is problematic—how and/or why would the other Gospels have left out this key bit of information if it were part of the original tradition? However one judges the historical-critical question, the identification with Peter is important within the Johannine narrative, as it serves as a parallel to Peter’s role (his denial) in the next episode. His rash act with the sword is, in some ways, an extension of his failure in the denial scene. Often in the Gospel tradition, Peter effectively represents all the disciples, and so perhaps we should understand it here.

Even more significant is Jesus’ response to Peter’s act (v. 11). Matthew and Luke also record (very different) responses; John’s version is closest to the declaration by Jesus in Matthew (26:52-54), at least in its initial words:

“Turn your sword away back into its place!…” (Matthew)
“Cast (your) sword (back) into the sheath!…” (John)

In place of the Synoptic reference to the fulfillment of Scripture (Matt 26:54 par), in John’s version, Jesus’ words echo the Synoptic prayer scene:

“…the cup which the Father has given me (to drink), (indeed) shall I not drink it?” (v. 11b)

John’s account also differs slightly in that he separates the actual arrest of Jesus (v. 12) from the main Garden scene, making it part of the next episode—the interrogation of Jesus before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin)—which will be discussed in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28, 28A (1985).

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 – April 3 (John 12:1-8)

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John 12:1-8

Having discussed the Synoptic (Mark/Matthew) and Lukan versions of the Anointing of Jesus (cf. the previous two daily notes), it now remains to examine the version in John (12:1-8). Anyone who studies these three versions carefully will immediately recognize how close John’s version is to the Synoptic account (esp. that of Mark, 14:3-9). Indeed, the similarities far outweigh the differences. This marks the (Bethany) Anointing tradition as both early and authentic (on objective grounds), having been preserved in two distinct lines of Gospel tradition (John and the Synoptic). However, there are several significant differences in John’s account:

  • John’s episode is set six days before Passover (v. 1), compared with two days before in the Synoptic version (Mk 14:1 par).
  • The woman who anoints Jesus is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus (v. 3, cf. verse 2 and 11:1ff). In the Synoptics, the woman is unnamed (Mk 14:3 par).
  • She anoints the feet of Jesus (v. 3), rather than his head (Mk 14:3 par).
  • The person who voices objection to this action is identified as Judas Iscariot (vv. 4ff); cp. Mk 14:4-5 and Matt 26:8-9.
  • The beautiful image in v. 3b of the smell of the perfume filling the house is unique to John’s account.

Each of these will be discussed briefly, in turn.

1. Six days—”Then six days before the Pesah {Passover}, Yeshua came into Beth-Ananyah {Bethany}…” The context in Mk 14:1 par indicates that the Anointing took place two days before Passover. More significantly, John clearly sets the Anointing before Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem (12:12ff), while in the Synoptics (Mk/Matt) it takes place after. Which chronology is correct, or more accurately reflects the original historical event (and tradition)? On the one hand, the Synoptic version may have relocated it, setting it within the Passion narrative, in order to bring out the association with Jesus’ death and burial (Mk 14:8-9 par; Jn 12:7). On the other hand, it is possible that John has intentionally placed it earlier in the narrative, in order to bring out the association with Lazarus and Mary in chapter 11. The traditional commemoration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, one week prior to Easter, is based on the chronology in John.

2. Mary—John is unique among the Gospels in identifying the woman with Mary, sister of Lazarus (v. 3). The episode follows immediately after the resurrection of Lazarus in chapter 11, in which both Mary and her sister Martha play significant roles in the narrative (vv. 5, 19-27, 31-33, 45). All three siblings appear at the dinner in chapter 12 (vv. 2-3), which may have taken place in the family’s house. Outside of John 11-12, Martha and Mary appear in Lk 10:38-42, but without any mention of Bethany or Lazarus. The identification of the woman with Mary is likely a secondary development, in line with the early Christian (and Jewish) tendency of identifying unnamed figures in the Scriptures with specific persons. Almost certainly, Mark reflects an earlier version of the tradition in this regard.

3. Judas Iscariot—Similarly, John identifies the person objecting to the anointing as Judas Iscariot (v. 4). Here, we can actually trace the development:

  • Persons present at the dinner, otherwise unidentified (Mk 14:4)

Interestingly, Matthew’s identification of the people with Jesus’ disciples is presumably meant to be positive—they object to the extravagant ‘waste’ of costly perfume which could otherwise have been put to the more practical use of caring for the poor. However, in John, the identification with Judas turns this around and is decidedly negative—Judas was a ‘thief’ and did not really have any concern for the poor. Here we must separate out for consideration two specific details (or traditions) which John includes:

  1. The person voicing objection was Judas (v. 4)
  2. Judas was a thief and did not care for the poor (v. 6)

The first of these fits with the information in Matt 26:8, that Jesus’ disciples were the ones objecting to the waste of perfume. The second is more difficult. Many scholars are naturally suspicious of such a detail since it seems to follow the early Christian tendency to vilify Judas and depict him in an increasingly negative and hostile light. This will be discussed further in an upcoming note on the traditions surrounding Judas in the Passion Narrative.

4. The feet of Jesus—In the Synoptic version, the woman anoints Jesus’ head (Mk 14:3 par), however, in John’s account, somewhat strangely, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with the perfume (12:3). Traditional-conservative commentators might be inclined to harmonize here, and say that she anointed both the head and feet, but the Markan account would seem to rule this out. In Mk 14:3 it is stated that the women shattered the alabaster jar—the implication being that she poured all the perfume over Jesus’ head. This helps to explain the objection to the “waste”—she used it all up in one extravagant action. More to the point, in each of the versions, the woman anoints either Jesus’ head (Mk/Matt) or his feet (Jn), but never both. Curiously, in Luke’s version of the Anointing, the woman’s action matches that of Mary’s in Jn 12:3:

“and standing behind (him) alongside his feet (and) weeping, she began to wet his feet with (her) tears and she wiped (them) out with the hairs of her head, and she ‘kissed’ his feet and anointed (them) with the myrrh-ointment” (Lk 7:38)

John’s description of the action is simpler (indicated by the words in bold above), but appears to follow the same basic tradition:

“Then Maryam…anointed the feet of Yeshua and wiped out [i.e. off] his feet with her hair…” (v. 3)

Some critical commentators feel that this represents the original tradition—i.e. anointing Jesus’ feet—and that, in the Synoptic version, it has been modified to the more understandable act of anointing Jesus’ head. The latter, of course, is more fitting for Jesus’ identity and dignity as the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) and King. However, the anointing of the feet is actually more appropriate, in some ways, for the symbolic embalming of a dead body (Mk 14:8-9 par; Jn 12:7).

5. The house was filled—It is likely that this beautiful and evocative detail in v. 3b is meant to symbolize the faith and devotion of Mary (and disciples/believers like her). In some ways this is parallel to the scene with Martha in the Lazarus narrative (11:20-27, esp. her declarations in v. 21 and 27). R. E. Brown (The Gospel According to John [AB vol. 29], p. 453) notes a (later) Jewish parallel from the Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes 7:1: “The fragrance of a good perfume spreads from the bedroom to the dining room; so does a good name spread from one end of the world to the other” (translation his). This quotation also seems to suggest a relationship between v. 3 and the declaration by Jesus in Mk 14:9 par.

Note of the Day – March 16 (John 6:1-15)

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John 6:1-15

Having now discussed the miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic Gospels (cf. the previous two notes), it is time to examine the tradition as it appears in the Gospel of John. The corresponding passage in the fourth Gospel is found in Jn 6:1-15. The narrative setting of this episode in John is, of course, quite different:

  • Jesus has previously been in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1ff), and is now in Galilee (6:1); this abrupt shift would seem to indicate that we are dealing with the inclusion of traditional material, and no real attempt has been made by the author to smooth over the seam. Note the generic opening words, “After these things…” (meta\ tau=ta).
  • The occasion of Passover is mentioned (v. 4), which is almost certainly an insertion by the author to connect the miracle explicitly with the setting of the “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in 6:22-59.
  • Consider how the author includes the episode of Jesus’ walking on the water (6:16-20) right after the miraculous feeding, just as in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew), even though it doesn’t seem entirely to fit the narrative context in John (note the rather awkward transitional description in vv. 22-23). I take this as an indication that the two episodes were already coupled together at a very early point in the Gospel tradition. The connection with the walking-on-water episode will be discussed further in the next note.
  • There is, certainly, nothing at all like the Bread of Life discourse following the feeding miracle in the Synoptic Gospels—it appears to be a tradition unique to John.

As I mentioned previously, the account of the Miraculous Feeding in John is interesting in that it appears to contain details or elements from both miracle episodes in the Synoptics. Special details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic feeding of the 5000:

  • Crossing the Sea of Galilee (by boat) (v. 1; cf. Mk 6:32)
  • Reference to Jesus’ healing the sick (v. 2) [cf. Matt 14:14; Luke 9:11]
  • Jesus looks (up) and sees the “great crowd” [polu\$ o&xlo$] (v. 5; Mk 6:34)
  • Specific mention by the disciples of the cost of (at least) 200 denarii to feed so many people (v. 7; Mk 6:37)
  • The number of loaves (5) (v. 9)
  • The specific (round) number of men in the crowd (5000) (v. 10)
  • The mention of grass (v. 10; Mark 6:39, par Matt)
  • There are twelve baskets [kofino$] of fragments left over (v. 13)

Details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) feeding of the 4000:

  • The specific location along/across the Sea of Galilee (v. 1) [cf. Matt 15:29]
  • Jesus going up onto a mountain (v. 3) [cf. in Matt 15:29, but note also the mountain theme in Mk 6:46 par. Matt).
  • Jesus takes the initiative regarding the crowd (v. 5) [cf. Mark 8:2-3 par]—however this is more of an original/distinctive element of John’s narrative.
  • Jesus’ question (v. 5b) is quite similar to the question by the disciples in Matt 15:33 (par Mk 8:4). The author’s comment in verse 6 suggests that he was uncomfortable with such a question coming from Jesus.
  • The verb “sit/fall back” [a)napi/ptw] is used (v. 10) instead of “lay back/down” [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw]; also, there is no mention of the crowd sitting down in groups of fifty, etc.
  • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (v. 11) as in Matt 15:36 and MSS of Mk 8:7, instead of “bless” [eu)loge/w]
  • Jesus specifically directs the disciples to gather up the fragments (v. 12; cf. Mk 8:6, 8, but also note Matt 14:20)

The number of details in common with the feeding of the 4000 is striking—another indication, perhaps, that the two narrative episodes (of the 5000 & 4000) stem from a single historical tradition. It is also worth pointing out some details which are unique to John’s account:

  • The Passover setting (v. 4), though the mention of “green grass” (Mk 6:39) might generally indicate springtime.
  • Jesus’ specific question about buying food for the crowd (v. 5), described as intended to test the disciples (Philip) (v. 6)
  • The mention of specific disciples Philip (v. 5-7) and Andrew (v. 8), which may indicate a distinct Johannine tradition (cf. 1:40-46).
  • The boy with the loaves and fish (v. 9)
  • The loaves specified as “barley” [kriqino$] and the fish as “dried-fish” [o)yarion, instead of i)xqu$/i)xqudion]
  • Jesus’ command to his disciples to gather up the fragments (v. 12), along with the use of suna/gw (“bring together”) instead of ai&rw (“lift [up/away]”)
  • The reaction of the people to the miracle in vv. 14-15.

The significant number of details unique to John would seem to be incontrovertible evidence that John has not derived his account from any of the Synoptics, but has inherited an early Gospel tradition, some version of which is shared by the Synoptics as well. For a convenient chart comparing all of the miraculous feeding narratives in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible vol. 29: 1966), pp. 240-243.

Several of the details have a theological significance in the context of John’s Gospel. These include:

  • Reference to Jesus’ miracles as “signs” (semei=a) (v. 2, 14)
  • The reference to Jesus going up the mountain, using the verb a)ne/rxomai (v. 3)
  • The Passover connection (v. 4)
  • The people coming to(ward) Jesus, with the verb e&rxomai (v. 5)
  • The eucharistic allusions (v. 11), which are scarcely unique to John’s account, but which have special importance in connection with the Bread of Life discourse that follows.
  • The salvific context of Jesus’ words to his disciples in v. 12
  • Jesus’ identity in relation to popular Messianic conceptions—i.e. as Prophet (v. 14) and Davidic ruler (King, v. 15)

Some of these are especially important in terms of the discourse which follows in vv. 22-58. But before proceeding to that discussion, it is necessary first to address two topics related to the Miraculous Feeding tradition: (1) its connection with the walking-on-water episode, and (2) the eucharistic emphasis. These will be covered in the next daily note.

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.