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Living Water

Saturday Series: John 7:37-39; 8:28, etc

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Today, I wish to explore several points related to chapters 7-8 of the Gospel of John, in order to demonstrate different aspects of Biblical criticism and interpretation which must be considered if one wishes to gain a proper a understanding of the Scripture passage. These involve: (1) Textual criticism and the authority of Scripture, (2) the theology of the book as expressed by the author himself, and (3) the distinctive vocabulary used by the author.

1. Textual Criticism: John 7:53-8:11 in the context of chapters 7-8

Even the casual student of the New Testament is likely aware of the situation surrounding John 7:53-8:11, the famous “Pericope of the Adulteress”. In most reliable translations, you will find a footnote indicating that this section is not found in many ancient manuscripts. Some Bible versions even block out the section in square (or double-square) brackets, to indicate that it may not be part of the original text.

The textual situation is summarized in any decent critical commentary (you will find a concise summary in the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [2nd edition], pp. 187-9). While contained in the majority of Greek manuscripts, 7:53-8:11 is absent from a significant number (and wide range) of early and important witnesses, including the Bodmer papyri (Ë66,75) and the major Codices Sinaiticus (a) and Vaticanus (B). For this reason, most commentators, including nearly all critical scholars, believe that the section was not part of the original Gospel of John.

At the same time, the tendency is to regard the episode as an authentic tradition—a “floating” tradition which made its way into the Gospel at various points, both elsewhere in John (after 7:36, 44, or 21:25), and even in the Gospel of Luke (after 21:38). It seems that the episode was so good, and so much beloved, that it was hard to leave out—a view most readers of the New Testament would share today. The views regarding John 7:53-8:11, and how one should treat it, may be summarized as follows:

  • It is part of the original Gospel of John. As indicated above, few critical commentators and scholars would accept this; it is a view held today primarily by traditional-conservative commentators who hold strongly (on doctrinal grounds) to the priority of the Majority text.
  • It is a secondary addition (interpolation) to the Gospel, but its authority is retained and respected as part of the canonical book. This is the view held by most commentators (including many Evangelicals). It is retained in the text, though set apart or blocked off in some way, and is usually analyzed and commented upon in its canonical position (i.e. after 7:52).
  • It is a secondary addition, and thus is not part of the inspired text. Scholars who adopt this view represent a minority—primarily traditional-conservative commentators and theologians for whom only the original form of the text (the “autograph”) is inspired. For example, Andreas Köstenberger in the Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament (BECNT) does not comment on these verses for this very reason.

If the prevailing critical view is correct (i.e. that 7:53-8:11 is an interpolation), then it means that 8:12 presumably would have followed 7:52 in the original text. It also means that the presence of 7:53-8:11 in most Bible versions and Greek editions effectively obscures the intent of the author and the structure of the passage.

Consider that, with 7:53-8:11 present, the impression is that 8:12ff took place on a separate occasion from that of 7:1-52 (the festival of Sukkoth, or Booths/Tabernacles). However, if 8:12ff is read directly after 7:52, the likelihood increases that the entirely of chapters 7-8 (excluding 7:53-8:11) is part of a discourse-scene set during the Sukkoth festival. If you have read chapters 7-8 carefully, you doubtless will have noticed a number of themes, motifs and vocabulary in 8:12-59 which indicate a continuation with chapter 7 (especially 7:14-39). There would appear to be additional confirmation of this narrative continuity in the two sayings of Jesus surrounding 7:53-8:11—7:37-38 and 8:12—which contain motifs traditionally associated with the Sukkoth festival (on this, see the Mishnah tractate Sukkah, and my recent notes on these verses):

  1. Water (7:37-38)—ceremonial procession each morning of the festival, drawing water from the Gihon spring and pouring it as an offering at the Temple altar.
  2. Light (8:12)—ceremonial lighting of golden candlesticks in the Temple courtyard in the evening.

We cannot be certain just how old the Mishnah traditions are, but it is possible that some version of the ceremonies mentioned above was associated with Sukkoth in Jesus’ time. The connection with water was certainly very ancient; as a harvest festival, the traditional ritual prayer for rain, was probably part of its celebration from early times. This is indicated from at least the early post-exilic period, based on the reference in Zechariah 10:1—the later chapters of this book have a Sukkoth setting (14:16-19). The motifs of water and light are found together in Zech 14:6-8, and Jesus is likely drawing upon this passage in the discourse scene of John 7-8.

2. The theology of the book: John 7:37-39

Any number of references from chapters 7-8 could be used to demonstrate this; but, as I have just mentioned the water and light motifs associated with the Sukkoth festival, it makes sense to examine briefly Jesus’ saying in 7:37-38:

“In the last great day of the festival, Yeshua had stood and cried (out), saying:
‘If any one should thirst, he must [i.e. let him] come toward me and drink—the (one) trusting in me, even as the Writing said: Rivers of living water will flow out of his belly‘.”

Here Jesus identifies himself with water, just as he identifies himself with light in 8:12. More precisely, he claims here to be the source of “living water”. This same idea was central to the discourse with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4 (see verses 7-15). Similarly, Jesus identified himself as “living bread” in chapter 6 (vv. 27, 33, 35-50 and 51ff). This powerful imagery brings forth much discussion and thought as to the true meaning and significance of Jesus’ words. For the most part, the Gospel writer does not comment directly on the discourses; yet here he does, in verse 39, in which he identifies the “rivers of living water” specifically with the Holy Spirit:

“He said this about the Spirit which the (one)s trusting in him were about to receive…”

The follow-up statement in 39b is a bit awkward in the way that it tries to make clear that the Holy Spirit did not come upon the disciples until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Note the important theological use of the verb of being (“was not yet…”), and the key Johannine verb doxázœ (“give [or regard with] honor/esteem”, typically translated “glorify”).

This statement in verse 39 is instructive for several reasons:

  • It points out what should already be clear from a careful study of the discourses—that the sayings of Jesus carry a deeper, spiritual meaning which people had (and have) difficulty understanding.
  • The central theme of the Spirit—in many ways this is the interpretive key to the discourses, even though the Spirit is not always mentioned specifically in the discourses of chapters 3-12 (cf. 3:5-8, 34; 4:23-24; 6:63). The Spirit will be emphasized more in chapters 14-16 of the Last Discourse.
  • Another guiding theme of the discourses is the twin aspect of Jesus’ exaltation/glorification—being “lifted high” through both his death/resurrection and his return back to the Father. The giving of the Spirit and Life is tied directly to this sequence of descent/ascent which summarizes Jesus mission on earth: descent–death–resurrection–ascent.

All of the discourses in the Gospel of John should be studied with these points in mind.

3. The distinctive vocabulary: John 8:28

This distinctive Johannine vocabulary has already been mentioned and illustrated above. Here I wish to focus on one verse in the Sukkoth discourse-scene—the saying of Jesus in 8:28:

“When you (have) lifted high [hypsœs¢te] the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [egœ eimi], and (that) from myself I do nothing, but even as the Father taught me, these (thing)s I speak”

One tricky aspect of the Johannine discourses is the frequent wordplay involved. This is often the basis of the misunderstanding which is part of the discourse-format—Jesus’ audience understands the words in one sense, or at one level, not realizing that Jesus actually means them in a different (theological or spiritual) sense. Two examples of such wordplay are found in this saying:

  • The verb hypsóœ (u(yo/w), “raise/lift high”—this word occurs five times in the Gospel, in three passages (3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34). It is one of several verbs of ascent which has a dual meaning in the discourses, as indicated above:
    (a) Jesus’ death on the cross—this is the primary reference in 3:14 and here in 8:28
    (b) His resurrection and exaltation, including his return to the Father—this is primarily in view in 12:32.
  • The expression egœ¡ eimi (e)gw/ ei)mi) “I am”, which often means simply “I am he”, “I am the one (who)”, etc. Some commentators and translators fill out the sentence this way here—”I am (the Messiah)”, “I am he [i.e. the Son of Man]”, etc—in order for it to make sense to Jesus’ audience in the context of the narrative. However, the expression “I Am” has a special theological significance in the Gospel of John—it signifies Jesus’ identity as the divine/eternal Son, in relation to God the Father (YHWH). There are several times in the Gospel narrative when egœ eimi has this deeper meaning implied, even though it could be read as “it is I” or “I am he” in the ordinary context of the narrative (see, for example, 1:20; 3:28; 4:26; 6:20; 8:24; 18:5ff).

Sometimes this wordplay is obscured in translation, and much is lost as a result. Every effort should be made to study the original Greek of the passage—and specially in the case of the discourses of Jesus—as far as this is possible for you. If you are making use of Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible software, you probably have access to tools and resources which will be of considerable help, even if you do not (yet) read Greek.

For next week, I will be moving ahead in the Gospel of John to the great “Last Discourse”, which begins in 13:31 and continues to the end of chapter 16. As you are able, you should read chapters 9-13 carefully. If you have already done this recently, I would recommend going over these chapters again, examining the Greek whenever and wherever you can. Pay careful attention to the close of the first half of the Gospel (12:36-50) and the start of the Passion Narrative in chapter 13, as well as the beginning section of the Last Discourse (13:31-38). As you continue on through the initial verses of chapter 14, study them closely, noting especially the variant reading(s) indicated (in the footnote, etc) for verse 7, as this will be one of the main items we will be looking at…next Saturday.

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

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John 7:37-39

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

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

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

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

Verse 37

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

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

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

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

Note also 6:35:

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

Verse 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 39

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

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

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

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

Note of the Day – May 20 (John 4:10-14)

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John 4:10-14

Having discussed the use of zwh= (“life”) in the discourses of chapter 3, we now turn to the discourse of Jesus with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4. This draws upon an encounter episode (or tradition), like that involving Nicodemus in 3:1-21. The dialogue format of the chapter 4 discourse is more complex, with considerably more interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. We may outline the passage as follows:

  • Narrative setting (vv. 1-6a, with vv. 1-3 providing the transition from 3:22-36)
  • Historical tradition—encounter episode (vv. 6b-9) established between Jesus and the Samaritans (esp. the Samaritan woman at the well)
  • Discourse #1—Jesus and the Woman
    • Central saying by Jesus (v. 10)
    • Reaction by the Woman (vv. 11-12)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 13-14)
    • Reaction by the Woman (v. 15)
    • Exposition by Jesus—Messianic dialogue (vv. 16-26)
  • Historical tradition (continued)—encounter episode developed between Jesus and the Samaritans (vv. 27-30)
  • Discourse #2—Jesus and the Disciples
    • Central saying by Jesus (v. 32)
    • Reaction by the Disciples (v. 33)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 34-38)
  • Narrative conclusion (vv. 39-42)

Thus we may say that there are two (parallel) mini-discourses which comprise the larger narrative. The parallelism is obvious enough from the opening verses:

  • Jesus asks the woman for something to drink (v. 7)
    • He states that he has “living water” (v. 10)
  • The disciples ask Jesus to eat something (v. 31)
    • He states that he has “food to eat which you have not seen” (v. 32)

Today, we are interested in the first discourse (with the Samaritan woman)—the main saying by Jesus (v. 10), the woman’s reaction (vv. 11-12), and exposition by Jesus (vv. 13-14). Here is the central saying, following upon Jesus’ initial request for something to drink (“Give me to drink”, v. 7):

“If you had seen [i.e. known] the gift of God, and who is the (one) saying to you, ‘Give me to drink’, you would (have) asked him, and he would (have) given to you living water [u%dwr zw=n].” (v. 10)

Twice the verb di/dwmi (“give”) is used, along with the related noun dwrea/[n] (“gift”). This is important to keep in mind, with reference to the repeated use of the same verb (di/dwmi) in chapter 3 (vv. 16, 27, 34-35, cf. the previous note). Comparison with 3:34-35 is helpful for an understanding of the saying in v. 10:

  • (God) the Father “has given” into the Son’s hand (3:35)
    — “the gift of God” (4:10a)
  • The Son “gives the Spirit” (3:34)
    — “he would give you living water” (4:10b)

This strongly indicates an association between the Spirit and “living water”. However, the reaction of the woman in vv. 11-12 makes it clear that she has not understood this, but rather takes the idiom “living water” in its traditional sense—i.e. as running water (from a river or spring), contrasted to the water stored in a well or pond (Hebrew <yY]j^ <y]m^, Lev 14:5-6, 50-52; 15:13; Num 19:17; Song 4:15). Already in Jer 17:13, this idiom has been applied in a symbolic sense, referring to the life which comes from God, who is the source of life. Moreover, flowing (i.e. “living”) water was used frequently, in an ethical (and spiritual) sense, in Wisdom literature, and/or in relation to the Torah within Jewish tradition—cf. Prov 13:14; 18:4; Sirach 24:21-29; CD 19:34, etc. There are reasonably close parallels to Jesus’ language and imagery e.g., in Isa 55:3 and Sir 24:21.

The Samaritan woman’s reaction, and the misunderstanding which marks it (a typical element of the Johannine discourses), is expressed in verse 11:

“(My) lord, you hold no (pail for) taking up (water), and the well is deep—(from) where, then, (would) you hold this ‘living water’?”

In verse 6a, the word phgh/ was used, referring to a (flowing) spring or fountain of water; by contrast, here in verse 11, the word is fre/ar, a pit or cistern dug into the ground. The idea is certainly that of a well dug deep into the ground which taps into the spring/fountain of water. From the woman’s standpoint, she knows only of the well (fre/ar); if there is a spring of flowing (i.e. “living”) water, it lies deep below, and she has no way of accessing it. This is the basis of her question to Jesus, wondering how he, from were he is sitting (at the well), could possibly have access to “living water”. The question in verse 12 may have been intended in a light-hearted or joking manner, asking whether Jesus was “greater than our father Ya’qob {Jacob} who gave us th(is) well”. For the Gospel writer, however, it is a prescient question, forshadowing the exposition of Jesus which follows, beginning with verses 13-14:

“Every one drinking out of this water [i.e. from the well] will thirst again; but whoever should drink out of the water which I will give him will not (ever) thirst into the Age, but (rather) the water which I will give him will come to be in him a spring/fountain [phgh/] of water leaping (up) into (the) Life of the Age.”

We find again the use of the word phgh/ (also in v. 6, cf. above), referring to a spring/fountain which is the source of flowing (i.e. “living”) water. Only now it has been internalized, given a spiritual interpretation (and application). For the person (believer) to whom Jesus gives this water, it comes to be in [e)n] him—that is, inside or within—as a perennial spring (phgh/) constantly providing water. It is no longer a question of drinking water to quench thirst, but of having no thirst at all, because of the living water coming up from within. This “leaping” up (vb. a%llomai) of the living water begins now, in the present, and continues on into the Age to Come (ei)$ to\n ai)w=na); moreover, it is identified with the expression “Life of the Age” (ei)$ zwh\n ai)w/nion) which we encountered in chapter 3 (cf. the previous note), and which is typically translated as “eternal life”.

As discussed above, the “living water” which Jesus gives is to be identified with the Spirit. The statement in 3:34, along with other passages in the Gospel, allows us to assume this. But it also is confirmed by what follows in this very discourse, within the dialogue-exposition of vv. 16-26—especially the central exposition by Jesus in vv. 21-24. I will be discussing this in the next daily note.