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Person of Christ

Special Note on 1 John 4:3

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Special Note on 1 John 4:3

As indicated in the most recent daily note, there is a famous text-critical question in 1 Jn 4:3. It is unusual in that the majority reading is found in the entire Greek manuscript tradition, as well as nearly all versions, and yet the minority reading is still thought to be original by a number of scholars. Here is a translation of the verse with the variation unit marked by braces:

“…and every spirit which { } Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God; and this is the (spirit) th(at is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$], of which you have heard that it comes, and now is already in the world.”

The first italicized phrase characterizes this “spirit” which is subsequently identified as being “against the Anointed (One)”. Let us examine the verb which is at the point of variation:

  • The majority reading:
    pa=n pneu=ma o^ mh\ o(mologei= to\n Ihsou=n
    “every spirit which does not give common account [i.e. confess] (regarding) Yeshua…”
  • The minority reading:
    pa=n pneu=ma o^ lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n
    “every spirit which looses Yeshua…”

As indicated above, the majority reading is found in every Greek manuscript (and lectionary), as well as nearly all the versions, and in most of the Church Fathers who cite the passage. The minority reading, by contrast, has very limited attestation. Indeed, the Greek (manuscript) evidence is limited to the margin of the 10th century MS 1739, where it is noted that the verb lu/ei is the reading known by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen in the late 2nd century. That Irenaeus and Origen knew (and cited) this reading is confirmed, but only in Latin translation, by Against Heresies III.16.5, 8 and Origen’s Commentary on Matthew (§65 [PG] of the books/portions preserved only in Latin). The Latin equivalent of lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (solvit Iesum) is also cited by Tertullian (Against Marcion 5:16), Priscillian (Tract 1:31), and other Church Fathers, as well as in a number of Old Latin and Vulgate MSS. The earliest surviving citation of the actual Greek would seem to be by the 5th century historian Socrates (Church History 7:32).

On the basis of the overwhelming textual evidence, most commentators accept the majority reading as original, though some scholars prefer the minority text as the lectio difficilior (on the principle that the “more difficult reading” is more likely to be original). If secondary, it is hard to explain how the verb lu/ei would have been introduced in place of mh\ o(mologei=. On the other hand, mh\ o(mologei= is grammatically peculiar enough that its presence in the entire Greek manuscript tradition, substituted throughout in place of lu/ei, seems most unlikely. Which ever direction the change took place, it probably occurred as an explanatory gloss, perhaps as a marginal reading such as we see in the Greek MS 1739. The reading lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (solvit Iesum, “looses Yeshua”) is cited in the 2nd-3rd centuries—by Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian (and, presumably, Clement of Alexandria)—in relation to the Christological controversies of the time. This increases the likelihood that the reading was introduced, perhaps intentionally, in order to defend an orthodox (or proto-orthodox) Christology against certain “Gnostic” views which separated the man Jesus from the divine Christ. According to such an interpretation, the (variant reading of) 1 John 4:3 was cited to demonstrate that anyone who “separated” Jesus in this way was, in effect, denying him; certainly such a person was not giving account (i.e. confessing) as one (with the orthodox believers) the proper view of Christ.

But is this anything like what the author of the letter had in mind? Let us consider for a moment what the variant reading lu/ei might have meant for the author if original. The verb means “loos(en)”, and can be used: (1) in this general, fundamental sense; (2) of loosening a bond in the sense of freeing or releasing a person; (3) in the negative sense of “dissolve” (i.e. destroy). It occurs 7 times in the Gospel and Letters of John, more or less in each of these three senses:

  1. The basic meaning of “loosen” (Jn 1:27)
  2. The positive sense of freeing or releasing a person (Jn 11:44)
  3. The negative sense of dissolving/destroying something (Jn 2:19; 1 Jn 3:8)
    To this may be added a special usage (3a) related to the observance of the commands, etc. in the Law (Torah). To “loosen” observance of the Law means essentially to nullify its binding authority (Jn 5:18; 7:23; cf. also 10:35).

The context of 1 John 4:3 is decidedly negative, which suggests that something like meaning 3 above would be intended. The closest parallel is found in the Temple-saying by Jesus in Jn 2:19:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (again).”

The Gospel writer in verse 21 makes clear that the sanctuary, or Temple building, of which Jesus spoke was his own body. This association is not too far removed from false view of Jesus in 1 Jn 4:2-3. As verse 2 speaks of confessing that Jesus is the Anointed One who has come in the flesh—i.e., as a real flesh-and-blood human being—the contrary message or belief in verse 3 would deny this. In effect, such a “spirit” would dissolve or destroy the body of Jesus, perhaps in the less concrete sense of denying or nullifying its importance for believers (cf. the parallel in Jn 5:18; 7:23).

Of course, if the majority text is original, the question is moot. The author in verse 3 simply negates the (orthodox) view of Christ in verse 2: the different “spirit” does not agree that Jesus is the Anointed One who has come in the flesh.

For several citations and points above, I have relied upon the detailed discussion by Bart Ehrman in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: 1993), pp. 125-35. He presents strong arguments in favor of the Majority text of 1 Jn 4:3.

Note of the Day – June 26 (1 John 4:1-6)

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1 John 4:1-6

There is a shift in the letter of 1 John, beginning in chapter 4. Previously, the theme of love for one another was emphasized in chaps. 2-3; now, that of faith in Christ comes more clearly into view. These represent the two aspects of the two-fold “command” defined in 3:23 (for more on this, cf. the previous daily note). This shift is marked by the sudden and striking wording in 4:1:

“Loved (one)s, you must not trust every spirit, but consider the spirits (carefully)—if they are out of [i.e. from] God (or not)—(in) that [i.e. because] many false foretellers [i.e. prophets] have gone out into the world.”

This use of the word pneu=ma (“spirit”) follows upon the closing words of the previous section (3:24): “…out of the Spirit which he gave to us”. Thus there is a clear contrast between the Spirit (of God and Christ) given to believers, and other “spirits” in the world. Are these to be understood as spiritual beings or in a more abstract sense, i.e. representing generally views, ideas, teachings, etc, which are contrary to God and the truth? Most likely, the author has the former in mind. The reference to “false foretellers [i.e. prophets]” suggests that these other “spirits” are entities which inspire the false prophets just as the Spirit of God inspires and teaches believers in Christ. If so, then this marks the only portion of either the Gospel or Letters of John where the word pneu=ma refers to false or evil “spirits”.

The context indicates that these “false prophets” are people who claim to be Christians, speaking in the name of Christ and in the Spirit, but who are not true believers and actually speak against Christ and thus speak from a different “spirit”. This section (4:1-6) must be read in light of the earlier passage in 2:18-25, where the word an)ti/xristo$ is introduced, which literally means “against (the) Anointed”, and which has been preserved as a transliteration in the English “Antichrist”. We are accustomed to think of “Antichrist” as a grandiose end-time ruler, based on passages such as 2 Thess 2:1-12 and Rev 13-17; notably, however, the word an)ti/xristo$ does not appear in such passages, but only in the letters of John, where it has a quite different denotation.

It is clear in 1 Jn 2:18ff that the “antichrists” are to be identified with supposed believers who have “gone out from us”—i.e., from the Community/congregations (of true, faithful believers) with whom the author considers himself to belong. This identification with the Community is clearly stated in verse 19 (note the wordplay involving the preposition e)k, “out of”):

“They went out of [i.e. away from] us, but they were not out of [i.e. belonging to] us; for if they (had) been out of [i.e. belonging to] us, they would have remained with us, but (they left so) that it might be made to shine forth [i.e. be revealed] that they all are not out [i.e. belonging to] us.”

In conventional religious terminology, we would say that these were separatist Christians—i.e., those who separated from the ‘mainstream’ Johannine congregations, and, we may assume, had a somewhat different theological (and Christological) outlook. The false (“lying”) message referenced in 2:21-22 and 4:1ff is described as a)nti/xristo$ (“against the Anointed”, 2:18, 22; 4:3, also 2 Jn 7). As such, it clearly relates to Jesus’ own identity as “the Anointed (One)”, which, in the Gospel tradition, at a very early point, was closely connected with the title “Son of God”. These two titles, taken together, were part of a confessional statement among Johannine believers, as indicated by passages such as Jn 1:34; 11:27; 20:31, and 1 Jn 1:3; 3:23; 5:20, etc. It is noteworthy that they are part of the foundational “command” in 3:23: “…that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed” (cf. the previous note). Consider the way the names/titles are combined:

  • His Son [i.e. Son of God] —Yeshua/Jesus
  • The Anointed One

The titles are clearly parallel, and, in many ways, equivalent. But what, exactly, was meant by them? The history of Christology provides countless examples of how believers can declare Jesus to be the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) or “Son of God”, and yet each mean something slightly different. For the author of 1 John, the “antichrists” and “false prophets”, who separated from the Community, declare a different view of Jesus than he (and his Community) holds. This is stated in both of the passages under consideration:

  • “Who is the false (speaker) if not the (one) denying that Yeshua is the Anointed (One)? This is the (one who is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$], the (one) denying the Father and the Son.” (2:22)
  • “Every spirit which gives account as one [i.e. confesses together] (that) Yeshua (the) Anointed has come in the flesh is out of [i.e. from] God.
    And every spirit which does not give (this) account as one [i.e. confess together] (about) Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God—and this is the (spirit) th(at is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$]…” (4:2-3, cf. the similar statement in 2 Jn 7)

The implication would seem to be that the one who speaks falsely about Jesus’ identity is inspired by a false/lying spirit—and that both speaker and spirit are characterized as “against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristo$). Two distinct “false” statements regarding Jesus’ identity are indicated:

  • Jesus is not the Anointed One
  • Jesus, the Anointed One, has not come in the flesh

It is possible that these could represent the purported views of different groups or leaders. The second statement is much more precise, and suggests a kind of “docetic” view of Christ—that he did not come to earth as a true flesh-and-blood human being, or that his humanity needs to be qualified in some way. Yet, as there is a wide range of such views in early Christianity, we cannot be certain just what Christological belief these Johannine opponents or “separatists” held. Greater clarity can perhaps be provided from 5:6-12, which will be discussed in an upcoming note. The famous variant reading in 4:3 could conceivably shed light on the context; I discuss this in a separate note.

Regardless of the specific Christological view characterized as “against the Anointed”, it is clear that the author (and the congregations he represents) identifies himself, along with all true believers, as possessing the Spirit of God (and Christ), rather than the false/lying spirit(s) of the ‘separatists’, as indicated in verse 6:

We are out of [i.e. from] God, (and) the (one) knowing God hears us, (while) the (one) who is not out of [i.e. from] God does not hear us. Out of [i.e. from] this we know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error [lit. straying].”

According to tradition, the author of the letter is the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ close disciples, and, we must assume, among those addressed in the Last Discourse (Jn 13:31-16:33; chap. 17) and in the commission of Jn 20:21-23. This would give added weight to the idea of other believers hearing an Apostolic voice who represents Jesus for the congregations under his leadership. However, even if the traditional identification of authorship is not correct, the same authority would apply to the Community as a whole (i.e. “hearing us“)—all true believers who possessed the Spirit of God and Christ. According to the view of the author, one who separates from the Community of (true) believers, and proclaims a different (i.e. “false”) message regarding Jesus Christ, possesses a different “spirit”. Here in verse 6, the second occurrence of the word pneu=ma seems to be used in a more abstract sense—i.e., “the spirit of straying” (to\ pneu=ma th=$ pla/nh$). It could still refer to a spiritual entity, an evil/sinning spirit who leads would-be believers away from the true path. A pla/no$ is one who wanders about, straying from a path; figuratively, it can refer to one who is deceived/deluded or who misleads others. For the expression “Spirit of Truth” as a title for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and Christ, cf. John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13, and 1 Jn 5:6. There is a similar dualistic distinction between the “spirit of truth” and “spirit of falsehood” in the “Two Spirits” section of the Qumran ‘Community Rule’ text (1QS 3:13-4:26).

Note of the Day – June 17 (1 John 1:1-2)

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The Johannine Letters (1 John)

In this series, we now turn to the Letters of John, to see how the words “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/) are used in these other Johannine writings. Many commentators believe that both the Gospel and the Letters (esp. the First Letter) may be written by the same author. Tradition does ascribe them to the same person (John the Apostle), though technically the works are anonymous. At the very least, it is clear that the Gospel and First Letter draw upon similar language and imagery, sharing the same basic theological (and Christological) point of view. Critical commentators have typically explained this by way of a Johannine Community or “School”. Both tradition and internal factors have led many scholars to see these writings (along with the book of Revelation) as being the product of distinct Christian communities in Asia Minor (centered around Ephesus).

An especially complex critical issue lies in the fact that the Johannine discourses (indicated as being spoken by Jesus) and the Letters of John (esp. 1 John) are often so close in thought and wording. Many passages in 1 John could have been lifted right out of the discourses. This raises the question as to the Gospel writer’s role in the creation/composition of the discourses. Most critical scholars would view the discourses as largely the product of the author, while traditional-conservative commentators, naturally enough, are more inclined to seem them as reflecting the actual words of Jesus (with some amount of translation and editing allowed). The situation is akin to that of the Sermon-Speeches in the book of Acts—though they are said to be spoken by different persons (and even in different languages?), much of the actual (Greek) language and wording seems to reflect that of the author of Luke-Acts. For more on this latter question, see my earlier series on the Speeches of Acts.

The words pneu=ma (“spirit”) and zwh/ (“life”) occur only in the First Letter, thus the discussion will generally be limited to that writing. The second and third Letters will be referenced only to give supplemental information, or to help clarify an idea or expression in 1 John. The relevant passages to be discussed are:

1 John 1:1-2

The first two occurrences of the word zwh/ (“life”) come from the introductory sentence of the Letter (vv. 1-3a), which, as even a casual reading should make clear, is similar in thought and expression to the opening of the Gospel Prologue (1:1-4ff). This is only confirmed by a study of the Greek words and phrases involved. Consider the opening words of the letter:

“That which was from the beginning…”
o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$

A comparison with John 1:1 suggests that here the demonstrative pronoun o%$ refers to the “Word” (lo/go$) indicated in the opening of the Prologue:

“In the beginning was the Word…”
e)n a)rxh=| h@n o( lo/go$

The combination of the word a)rxh/ (“beginning”), reflecting Genesis 1:1 [LXX], with the verb of being (ei)mi, the spec. form h@n, “was”), makes it likely that the author of the letter had the Gospel Prologue (or a similar tradition) in mind. The distinctive use of the verb of being in the Prologue (and elsewhere in the Gospel) is theological—referring to God as source of all being and existence.

However, the fact that a neuter form of the demonstrative pronoun (o%) appears at the start of 1 John, indicates that the reference is more generalized and comprehensive—i.e. “(all) that which…”—that is to say, both to the Living Word (Lo/go$) of God, identified with Jesus, and to the “word” or account (lo/go$) of Jesus (i.e. the Gospel message). This dual-meaning of lo/go$ appears a number of times in the letter, beginning here in v. 1 (cf. below).

Before proceeding to examine several key words and phrases, here is the opening sentence of vv. 1-3a in translation:

“(That) which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which our eyes have seen (clearly), which we have looked (upon), and (which) our hands have felt, about the word of Life—and th(is) Life was made to shine forth, and we have seen (it clearly) and give witness and give up as a message to you the Life of the Age(s) which was toward the Father and made to shine forth to us—(that) which we have seen (clearly) and have heard, we also give up as a message to you, (so) that you also might also hold common (bond) with us.”

Despite the repetitiveness in much of this statement (preserved accurately above), the basic idea is clear enough, and it is fully in accord with the outlook of the Gospel writer; note the conceptual structure:

  • The Word which was from the beginning (i.e. with God the Father)
  • This Word was made to shine forth to us (in the person of Jesus)
  • (1) We have seen/heard/felt this (incarnate) Word
    (2) and we, in turn, give witness about it to others
  • This witness is the word of the (Gospel) message

At the very center of this statement is the expression “Word of Life” (o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$), which, as I indicated above, has a dual-meaning: (a) Jesus as the Living Word of God (and source of Life), and (b) the message (word/account) regarding Jesus, which will lead to Life for those who trust in him. In the Gospel, the noun zwh/ virtually always refers to the Life which God possesses (i.e. divine, eternal Life), and which is given to believers through Jesus. Just as God the Father’s word and voice gives life to all things (Gen 1:3ff; cf. also Psalm 119:25, 107, etc), so that of the Son (Jesus) gives this same life (Jn 1:3-4; 5:24-29; 6:63; 11:43, etc).

Verse 2 is essentially a parenthesis which explains this Life; there appears to be a loose chiastic structure to its logic:

  • This Life (i.e. the divine/eternal Life)
    —Manifest to us (in the person of Jesus)
    ——We have seen it
    ——We give witness/message of it
    —Manifest to us (through Jesus’ gift)
  • The Life which was with [lit. toward] God

The closing reference to Life uses the expression “Life of the Age”, which appears repeatedly in the Gospel, and which I have discussed at length in earlier notes. It typically refers to the Life given by Jesus to believers, which is also identified numerous times in the Gospel with the Spirit. This same association may be intended here, though the actual word pneu=ma does not occur until chapter 3 of the letter.

If there were any doubt regarding the connection between John 1:1-3 and vv. 1-3 here in the letter, there is added confirmation in the fact that in verses 5ff light is introduced as a thematic motif, just as it is in vv. 4-5ff of the Gospel Prologue. The theme includes the same dualistic light vs. darkness contrast. This may help to explain the interesting use of the preposition pro/$ in Jn 1:1-2 and 1 Jn 1:2. It is typically translated “with”—i.e. the Word was with God—but properly it indicates direction or location, i.e. of motion toward something, or facing toward (i.e. before, in front of) something. Presumably the latter is intended here—the Living Word facing toward God the Father. This would seem to be confirmed by the close association with light-imagery and use of the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”). Christ the Son and Living Word of God faces the Father and is (perfect) reflection of the Father’s Light, etc. That same Light is then made to shine forth to believers.

Note of the Day – May 31 (John 12:50)

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John 12:50

Today’s note involves the final, concluding verse to the first half of the Gospel of John (1:19-12:50). It belongs to the last discourse of Jesus in this section. The discourse, properly speaking, spans verses 20-36a of chapter 12. Verses 36b-43 serve as the narrative conclusion, both to the discourse-scene of chap. 12, as well as chapters 2-12 as a whole. In verse 36 it is stated that Jesus “…going away, hid (himself) from them”. In the narrative context, this means that Jesus has left the public scene in Jerusalem, away from the people. Though some did come to believe in him, the majority did not, as vv. 37-43 make clear. With Jesus having thus departed, the words in vv. 44-50 are lacking any definite historical-narrative setting. They are detached, and function in the narrative as a climactic statement (and summary) of Jesus’ teaching, with a number of themes and motifs from the earlier discourses (chaps. 3-10) being reprised and restated. Verses 44-50 may be divided into two portions, which I outline here as a chiasm:

  • Trusting in Jesus = trusting the One who sent him (v. 44)
    Seeing Jesus, who is the Light (vv. 45-46)
    Hearing Jesus’ words, which brings salvation from Judgment (vv. 47-48)
  • God the Father sent Jesus—trusting in him is Life (vv. 49-50)

The motifs of seeing and hearing, both frequent in the Gospel, serve as two different ways of expressing the idea of trusting in Jesus. In reference to hearing Jesus—that is, hearing his words or voice—the noun e)ntolh/ is introduced in verse 49. This word is often translated as “commandment”, which can be somewhat misleading. However, it does preserve the basic association with the Old Testament Law (Torah). The language Jesus uses relates back to the covenantal language of the Torah, especially in the book of Deuteronomy (e.g., 31:19ff; 32:46-47)—”If any (one) should hear my utterances [i.e. words] and would not guard/keep them…” (v. 47a). The failure to keep/guard Jesus’ words is effectively the same as failure (by Israel) to keep the commands and precepts of the Torah, thus violating the covenant (agreement) with God. Such failure is presented as evidence against the person in the time of Judgment:

“The one setting me aside [i.e. rejecting me] and not receiving my utterances [i.e. words] has the one judging him: the word/account [lo/go$] which I have spoken—that will judge him in the last day.” (v. 48)

This brings us to verse 49, where Jesus gives us more detail about the word[s] which he speaks:

“(For it is) that I did not speak out of myself, but the (one) sending me, the Father, he has given me an e)ntolh/—what I should say and what I should speak.”

The closing words in verse 50 repeat this statement: “Therefore the (thing)s which I spoke, even as the Father has said to me, so I spoke”. It is important to consider the syntax and context here carefully, to avoid misunderstanding about the meaning and significance of the word e)ntolh/. Jesus says, “the Father…has given me an e)ntolh/—what I should say and what I should speak”. The Greek noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is derived from the verb e)nte/llomai (entéllomai), and fundamentally refers to something given (placed on) a person to complete, sometimes in the technical sense of a “commission”. When we use the word commandment this tends to be understood as a religious or ethical injunction, but that is not really the meaning here; rather, we should render e)ntolh/ in its basic meaning: “the Father has given me a (charge) laid on (me) to complete…”. This relates to the mission and purpose for which Jesus was sent (into the world) by the Father. As the Son, Jesus imitates and repeats what he sees and hears the Father saying and doing—a theme which runs throughout the Johannine discourses. Ultimately the task given by Jesus to accomplish is his sacrificial death, as is strikingly clear in his final words on the cross: “it has been completed [tete/lestai]” (19:30, cf. also v. 28).

Here in 12:47-50, however, the emphasis is on Jesus’ words—using both the plural r(h/mata (“utterances”, i.e. spoken words, vv. 47-48) and the singular lo/go$ (“account”, i.e. his gathered words, v. 48b). Both terms appear frequently (and more or less interchangeably) in the Gospel. Jesus himself is identified with the Living and eternal Word (Lo/go$) of God in the Prologue (vv. 1-4ff), and we must always keep this theological/Christological aspect in mind when reading about Jesus’ “words” elsewhere in the Gospel. A person’s response to Jesus’ words is essentially a response to Jesus himself (and to God the Father who sent him). This is expressed two ways in vv. 47-48, as we have seen:

  • hearing (vb. a)kou/w) him and keeping/guarding (vb. fula/ssw) his words (v. 47)
  • receiving (lamba/nwn) his words (v. 48)

The motifs of hearing and receiving are essentially parallel:

  • hearing—i.e. both listening and responding (obeying/accepting)
    —keeping (watch) over / guarding
  • receiving—i.e. taking in and accepting

This does not refer simply to obeying something Jesus tells his disciples to do, but involves the broader (and deeper) sense of accepting who Jesus is and what he says. I mentioned the allusions to the book of Deuteronomy in 12:44-50, and this includes the famous passage in 18:15-19, which relates to a coming Prophet (cf. Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40) who will essentially fill Moses’ role. The words of this Prophet hold the same authority and weight as the Instruction (Torah) given by God through Moses (vv. 18-19). It is said that God will raise up this Prophet, and early Christians saw Jesus as filling the divinely appointed (and anointed, i.e. Messianic) role (Acts 3:22-23). This also reflects the fundamental meaning of the word e)ntolh/, as I discussed above.

Finally, we must consider Jesus’ statement in verse 50a:

“And I have seen [i.e. known] that His e)ntolh/ is (the) Life of the Age.”

The precise meaning of this statement requires special examination, which I will do in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – May 26 (John 6:63, 68)

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John 6:63, 68

These next two verses to be discussed are related, in some way, to the preceding Bread of Life discourse (vv. 22-59), though the precise relationship has proven difficult for commentators to determine. Verse 59 effectively serves as a conclusion to the discourse; and yet, without any other reference point, it would seem that verse 60 is referring back to the discourse (or a portion of it). The wording remains somewhat ambiguous:

“Then many out of his learners [i.e. disciples], (hav)ing heard, said, ‘This account [i.e. word/saying] is harsh [sklhro/$]—who is able to hear it?'”

There are two possibilities:

  • Verses 60ff are part of the same historical tradition, occurring in the aftermath of the discourse (as recorded in vv. 22-59)
  • The Gospel writer has joined to the discourse an entirely separate tradition, using the discourse, in the literary context of the narrative, as a way of demonstrating an example of Jesus’ teaching—i.e., the kinds of things he said which resulted in the sort of response described in vv. 60ff.

Most critical commentators would choose the second option, and there is much to be said in favor of it. In this particular instance, the view taken affects how one interprets the discourse—especially the eucharistic language and imagery in vv. 51-58. But, let us continue with the Jesus’ response to the disciples’ reaction:

“Does this trip you up? Then if you should look (and behold) the Son of Man stepping up (back to) where he was (at) the first(, what then)? The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.” (vv. 61b-63)

The logical connection and flow of these statements is rather difficult, and may possibly reflect separate sayings which have been brought together. The basic idea behind vv. 61b-62, as we have it, is relatively clear. If the disciples find Jesus’ teaching difficult (while he is present with them), how will they respond when he has left them and returned to the Father? The Christological language in v. 62 has, I think, led some commentators down the wrong track, as though Jesus were suggesting that it would be more difficult for the disciples to behold Jesus’ ascension in glory. Much more likely here is a foreshadowing of the kind of discussion Jesus will have with his (close) disciples in the Last Discourse, where he speaks at length of his departure and return to the Father. The mention of the Spirit in v. 63 would seem to confirm this. His statement here regarding the Spirit may be seen as preparatory for the later Discourse. Let us examine verse 63 in more detail.

Verse 63

Whether or not this verse ultimately derives from separate sayings, there certainly are two distinct statements being made by Jesus:

  1. “The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything”
  2. “The utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”

The first statement provides a clear contrast—between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). Such a dualistic contrast is familiar from Paul’s letters, where he uses it repeatedly—cf. especially Romans 8:4-6ff; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8; Phil 3:3. It is much less common in the Johannine writings, but may be found in Jn 3:6 (cf. the prior note), and a negative connotation to the term “flesh”, as something contrary or inferior to God, is present in 8:15 and 1 John 2:16. Usually, this negative aspect is expressed by “(the) world” (ko/smo$). Here, in verse 63, the contrast is especially pronounced—not only does the flesh not give life, but it offers no benefit at all! This harsh statement must be understood properly, in terms of the comparison of the flesh with the Spirit. Compared with the Spirit, which gives everything (Life), the flesh offers nothing.

A difficult point of interpretation is whether (or in what sense) this statement should be applied to the Bread of Life discourse, and the apparent eucharistic allusions in vv. 51-58. I have addressed this question in the most recent Saturday series post.

The second statement provides the theme for this series of notes: “The utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”. Again, there is some difficulty of interpretation here; consider the possible ways this may be understood:

  • Spirit and (divine, eternal) Life are conveyed to believers through Jesus’ words
  • This giving of “Spirit and Life” is parallel to the eucharistic (symbolic) act of eating/drinking the flesh/blood of Jesus—two aspects of the same basic idea
  • Jesus’ spoken words, i.e. his teaching, reflect part (or an aspect) of the Spirit (and Life) which he gives to believers
  • Trust in Jesus, through his words, will result in believers obtaining the Spirit and (eternal) Life

In my view, the statement is fundamentally Christological. Since Jesus is the Son (of God) sent by the Father, and since God the Father (who is Spirit, 4:24) gives the Spirit to Jesus, to say that Jesus gives the Spirit (3:34) to believers means that he conveys to believers everything that the Father is. This involves both the work, and the very presence, of Jesus—wherever he is, and whatever he does (or speaks), the Spirit of God is made manifest to those who trust in him. Jesus’ utterances are not merely the sayings and teachings recorded in the Gospel, but a manifestation of the life-giving, creative power, given to him by the Father. This interpretation will, I believe, be confirmed as we explore the remainder of the relevant passages in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John.

Verse 68

Jesus’ statements in vv. 61-63 are part of a larger narrative section; and here, beginning with verse 64, there is greater likelihood that a separate historical tradition has been joined—one which has important parallels with the Synoptic Tradition. Verses 64-71 deal specifically with the Twelve disciples, and the transition to this in v. 64 appears rather abruptly. The key saying by Jesus comes in verse 65:

“Through this [i.e. for this reason] I have said to you that no one is able to come toward me if it were not given to him out of [i.e. from] the Father”

In the narrative context, this relates back to vv. 37-40, and especially vv. 44-45, of the discourse, though it is also possible that similar sayings by Jesus were given (and circulated) separately, to the same effect. At any rate, this motif of election—of the disciples (believers) being given to Jesus by God the Father—starts to come into greater prominence at this point in the Gospel. As if in response to this declaration, we read that “many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went away, into the (place)s in the back, and no longer walked about with him”. This takes things a step further from the grumbling reaction in vv. 60-61; now many disciples drew back and no longer followed Jesus closely. What comes next in the narrative serves as a parallel, of sorts, with the confession of Peter in the Synoptic Tradition—note:

  • A direct and personal question (challenge) by Jesus to his close disciples:
    “And who do you count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:30a par)
    “You do not also wish to lead (yourselves) under [i.e. go back/away] (do you)?” (Jn 6:67)
  • To which Peter is the one who responds with a declaration of faith:
    “You are the Anointed One (of God)” (Mk 8:30b par)
    “…we have trusted and have known that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68b)

Just prior to this confession, in John’s account, Peter makes the following statement, in answer to Jesus’ question:

“Lord, to whom will we go away? You hold (the) utterances of Life of the Age” (v. 68a)

The last portion is made up of four Greek words which should now be familiar to you in studying the Gospel throughout this series:

  • r(h/mata “utterances”, i.e. spoken words, as in v. 63 (above)—cf. also 3:34; 5:47; 8:47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:7; 17:8.
  • zwh=$ “of Life”—the two words being in a genitival relationship, “utterances of life”, as in “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48), “light of life” (8:12), “resurrection of life” (5:29). This divine, eternal Life characterizes Jesus’ utterances—they belong to Life.
  • ai)wni/ou “of the Age”—the latest of many such occurrences of this adjective in the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ (“Life of the Age”). It reflects the idea of the divine, blessed Life which the righteous were though to inherit (and share with God) at the end-time, following the resurrection and Judgment. In the Johannine discourses, it tends to be used in the sense of the Life which believers in Jesus possess (“hold”) now, in the present, through trust in him—i.e. “realized” eschatology. The expression is typically translated as “eternal life”.
  • e&xei$ “you hold”—as indicated above, Jesus repeatedly states that those who trust in him hold eternal life. Peter here is expressing the belief that this Life comes from Jesus, who holds it, having himself received it from God the Father (cf. 5:26, etc).

While this language certainly reflects that of the Johannine discourses, it is interesting to see the way that it has developed here out of a core historical tradition, related to the calling of the Twelve and the betrayal of Judas. This framework has been chosen and utilized by the Gospel writer as a way to emphasize Jesus’ teaching on faith and discipleship, much as the tradition of Judas’ betrayal at the Last Supper has been used in the Gospel of Luke to introduce teaching of Jesus (cf. Lk 22:21-30). In the Johannine narrative, Judas has a special place in the “Last Supper” scene—his departure marks the moment when “the devil” has left, and only Jesus’ true disciples remain (13:2, 21-30; cp. 6:64, 70-71). It is at this point that the great Last Discourse can begin (13:31ff).

Note of the Day – May 24 (John 6:27ff)

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John 6:27-58

The motif of “life” (zwh=) is especially prominent in the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This discourse is similar to that of chapter 5 (cf. the previous daily notes), in being centered on a miracle story—in this case, the Miraculous Feeding episode, which is also found in the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 6:30-44 par, cf. also 8:1-10 par). I have discussed the Bread of Life discourse in a number of prior notes and articles, most recently as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (cf. the relevant notes). The discourse, in the context of the chapter as a whole, is quite complex; I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction—the Feeding Miracle Episode:
    • Narrative setting (vv. 1-4)
    • Tradition: The Feeding Miracle (vv. 5-14)
    • Transitional statement (v. 15)
    • Associated Tradition: The Walking on Water (vv. 16-21)
  • Introduction to the Discourse (vv. 22-24)
  • Part 1—The Bread from Heaven [Passover/Manna theme] (vv. 25-34)
    • Encounter scene—Question from the crowd (vv. 25-26)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 27)
    • Initial reaction by the people (v. 28)
    • Exposition (second saying) by Jesus (v. 29)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 30-31)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 32-33)
    • Concluding/transitional response by the people (v. 34)
  • Part 2—The Bread of Life [exposition of Bread from Heaven theme] (vv. 35-50)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 35), with exposition (vv. 36-40)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 41-42)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 43-50)
  • Part 3—The Living Bread [exposition of Bread of Life theme] (vv. 51-58)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 51)
    • Reaction by the people (v. 52)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 53-58)
  • Narrative Conclusion (v. 59)

There are thus three separate divisions to the discourse proper (vv. 25-58), each of which follows the basic discourse format: saying (by Jesus)–reaction (by the people)–exposition (by Jesus). In each instance, the exposition builds upon the central saying (vv. 27, 35, 51), explaining the true meaning of Jesus’ words. The word zwh= (“life”), along with related verb za/w (“live”), occurs repeatedly throughout these verses; these references may be grouped as follows:

  • The expression “Bread of Life“, in two forms:
    bread of Lifeo( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (vv. 35, 48)
    living breado( a&rto$ o( zwh=n (v. 51)
  • The expression “Life of the Age” (vv. 27, 40*, 47*, 53-54*, also v. 68*)
    the asterisk indicates that the expression involves the verb e&xw (“hold, have”)
    —i.e. “hold the Life of the Age”
  • The noun “Life” without modification:
    —giving Life to/for the world (v. 33)
    —over the life of the world (v. 51)
  • The verb “Live” (participle “Living“):
    —will live into the Age (v. 51, 58)
    —Living Father…I live…that one will live (v. 57)

All told, there are 13 occurrences over a span of 32 verses—quite a high number. The expression “Bread of Life” (once “Living Bread”) features in the second and third sayings of Jesus, both of which relate back to the first saying (in verse 27):

“Do not work for the food th(at is) going to ruin, but (for) food th(at is) remaining into (the) Life of the Age, which the Son of Man will give to you—for God the Father has set (his) seal (on) this (person).”

Jesus begins from the context of the feeding miracle—the eating of bread-loaves by the people—to establish a contrast between ordinary bread (which perishes) and the bread (or “food”, brw=si$) which the Son of Man (Jesus) gives. This is precisely parallel to the contrast between ordinary water and the “living water” which Jesus gives (4:7-15ff)—one involves eating, the other drinking. During this portion of the discourse, the motif shifts to another kind of “bread” provided miraculously to the people—the manna of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition (Exod 16:31ff; Num 11:6ff; Deut 8:3, etc). This manna is referred to as “bread from heaven” in Exod 16:4; Psalm 105:40; Neh 9:15—some combination of these may be intended by the general Scripture citation in v. 31 (“He gave them bread out of heaven to eat”). This reference, given by the people in their reaction to Jesus’ statement(s), almost certainly should be seen as relating to the Passover setting of the feeding miracle (v. 4). The people’s reaction should be understood according to the context of the following points in the saying/exposition by Jesus:

  • Jesus’ identification with the Son of Man who gives eternal food/bread
  • The divine/heavenly source of this—”God the Father set (his) seal”
  • Obtaining this food involves doing (working) the “work of God” (as in the gathering of the manna by the Israelites)
  • Jesus defines this “work” more precisely in v. 29b:
    “…that you would trust in th(e one) whom that (One) [i.e. God the Father] se(n)t forth”

The reaction by the people in vv. 30-31 is thus similar to the question by the Samaritan woman in 4:12. It also touches upon the contrast between Jesus and Moses (the Torah/Scriptures) in 5:39ff. The wording of verse 31 is significant:

“Our fathers ate manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written…”

One can envision an implied question/challenge along the lines of 4:12—i.e., “you are not greater than Moses, through whom God gave us this food to eat, are you?” Jesus makes the contrast definite in v. 32:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, (it was) not Moshe (who) has given to you the ‘bread out of heaven’, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

This bread coming down from heaven is said to “give Life to the world” (v. 33). Jesus has gone a step beyond the discourse with the Samaritan woman; now, rather than being simply one who gives Life, Jesus identifies himself (the “Son of Man”) with that very Life itself. This is clear enough from the saying which begins the second portion of the discourse:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Bread of Life; the one coming toward me should not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting in me will not (ever) thirst.”

The blending of hunger and thirst (eating and drinking) suggests that Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has the earlier “living water” discourse in mind, though the specific image of bread would seem to apply only to eating. The “I am” declaration is repeated in verse 48 (“I am the Bread of Life”), where it is connected back to the manna tradition (“Bread out of Heaven”). In the intervening exposition, Jesus makes absolutely clear that eating this “Bread of Life” means trusting in him:

  • “every one looking (closely) at the Son and trusting [pisteu/wn] in him holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 40)
  • “the one trusting [pisteu/wn] in me holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 47)

As in the earlier discourses, the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) is primarily eschatological, referring to the life which the righteous (believers) will come to possess in the end-time, following the resurrection (v. 40b, etc). Within the context of the Johannine discourses, however, this is blended with a “realized” eschatology for believers in Jesus—they experience in the present the very Life which the righteous are thought to inherit at the end-time. This is the main significance of the expression “holds the Life of the Age”—i.e. the believer already possesses it now.

The third portion of the discourse runs parallel to the second, and begins with a parallel saying by Jesus:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Living Bread th(at is) stepping down out of Heaven; and if any one should eat out of this Bread, he will live into the Age…” (v. 51)

If the second portion of the discourse expounds the theme of the first (“Bread from Heaven”), the third portion also expounds the theme of the second (“Bread of Life”). Now, it is designated as “living Bread” (similar to the “living water” of 4:10ff), and the spiritual significance of the exposition is deepened by the introduction of eucharistic language and motifs. I have discussed this controversial aspect of the discourse at length in prior notes, and will be addressing it again in this week’s Saturday series post. The eucharistic association is established already in the second half of the verse 51 saying:

“…and the Bread which I will give is my flesh, over [u(pe/r] the life of the world”

One need not look any further than words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel tradition:

  • Mark 14:22-24:
    “this is my body…this is my blood…th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many”
  • Luke 22:19-20 [MT]:
    “this is my body given over [u(pe/r] you…”

If there were any doubt as to an apparent eucharistic allusion here, verses 53-54 make it all but certain:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if you would not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold Life in yourself. (But) the one chomping my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) Life of the Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

It is interesting to consider the three aspects of (eternal) Life present in this statement:

  • Life which the believer holds in him/herself—i.e. through the essential presence of Jesus (his “flesh” and “blood”)
  • The Life of the Age which the believer holds (now, in the present)—”realized” eschatology
  • The Life which the believer will possess at the end time, following the Resurrection—traditional (future) eschatology

While the last two aspects have been present in the prior discourses (in chaps. 3-5), the first aspect is new to the Gospel here, though it has been implied, to some extent, both in the prologue and, perhaps, in verses 5-8 of chapter 3. It refers to the essential unity between the believer and Jesus, and this is a theme which will be developed considerably as one proceeds through the Gospel.

Saturday Series: John 5:39

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John 5:39

In a previous Saturday post, we studied John 3:16, as a famous verse often cited completely out of its context in chapter 3. Today we will be looking at another verse that is frequently referenced outside of its context—the statement by Jesus in 5:39. It happens to involve a variant reading, though not a textual variant as such. The Greek of the verse is secure—in particular, the first word (eraunáte), a form of the verb ereunáœ, “seek, search” (in the sense of “search out”, “search for”, “search after”).

There is ambiguity, however, in that the form eraunáte (e)rauna=te) can be read as either (a) an indicative (“you [do] search”) or (b) an imperative (“you [must] search”, “search!”). Many commentators have understood it as the latter (an imperative), and those who cite the verse out of context invariably read it this way: i.e., “Search the Scriptures…”. Traditional-conservative Protestants have been especially prone toward referring to the verse (out of context) this way, as a kind of proof-text demonstrating the view held by Jesus on the authority of Scripture. When quoted outside of its context in chapter 5, the verse gives the impression of being an exhortation by Jesus, to his disciples, on the importance of studying Scripture. While this is a noble and true sentiment, it would appear to be off the mark in terms of what Jesus is actually saying in this passage. In order to gain a proper understanding, it is necessary, as always, to look carefully at the place of the verse in the passage as a whole.

Chapter 5 is an extended discourse—one of the great discourses of Jesus that make up the core of Gospel (especially the ministry period spanning chapters 3 through 10). There is a major discourse in each of chapters 3-6, each of which is based upon a central historical tradition—in chs. 3 and 4 it is an encounter episode (Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman), while in chs. 5 and 6 a miracle story is involved, similar to ones we see narrated in the Synoptic Gospels. The miracle story in chapter 5 functions as part of the narrative introduction (vv. 1-16), which may be divided as follows:

  • Narrative setting (vv. 1-3)
  • Healing miracle by Jesus (vv. 5-9a)
  • Reaction to the miracle (vv. 9b-16)

Central to this narrative, though introduced only in v. 9b, is the fact that this healing occurred on a Sabbath. In terms of the Gospel Tradition, this marks the episode as a “Sabbath Controversy” scene, similar to a number of such scenes in the Synoptic Gospels. There is a block of episodes in Mark 2:1-3:6, all involving negative reaction to Jesus’ ministry (and/or debate with him) by religious authorities—that is, the experts on Scripture, the Law (Torah) and related matters of religion, typically identified as those among the Pharisees (i.e. “Scribes and Pharisees”). In Mk 3:1-6 (par Matt 12:9-14; Lk 6:6-11) the Sabbath controversy is centered on a healing miracle, as in Jn 5:1-16, though in some ways in the miracle narrated in Mk 2:1-12 is closer to John’s account. Luke records two other Sabbath miracle scenes (13:10-17; 14:1-6), which are similar in tone and structure.

In all of these “Sabbath Controversy” episodes there is a negative (even hostile) reaction to Jesus. This is implied already in v. 10, but is not made explicit until the end of the narrative in v. 16: “And through [i.e. because of] this, the Yehudeans {Jews} pursued [i.e. persecuted] Yeshua, (in) that [i.e. because] he did these (thing)s on a Shabbat (day)”. This is the setting for all that follows in verses 17-47, which means that Jesus is not addressing his disciples, but his opponents. In all of the Synoptic Sabbath controversies, the negative reaction comes from religious authorities (“Scribes and Pharisees”, etc). While this is not stated specifically in chapter 5, it may be assumed fairly from the overall context; and it is more or less confirmed by the close points of similarity between chap. 5 and the episode in chap. 9, where the opponents of Jesus are identified as Pharisees (vv. 13-16, 40).

The negative reaction to Jesus (by his opponents) sets the stage for the central saying of the discourse (5:17): “My Father works (even) until now—and I also (do this) work!”. It draws upon the ancient Sabbath theme of God’s work and life-giving power in creation. Jesus identifies his own working of healing miracles—i.e. giving (new) life to those suffering from illness and disease—with this same creative power exercised by the Father. The implications of this were not lost on Jesus’ opponents—indeed, it only increased their hostile reaction, according to the statement by the Gospel writer in verse 18. A lengthy exposition by Jesus follows in vv. 19-47 covering the remainder of the chapter. This exposition has two main divisions:

  • Verses 19-29: Jesus (the Son) does the work of the Father, exemplified by the ability to raise the dead (the ultimate work of giving new life). This section also may be divided into two parts:
    (1) Resurrection (i.e. new life) in the present for believers—”realized” eschatology (vv. 19-24)
    (2) Resurrection at the end time for those who believe—traditional (future) eschatology (vv. 25-29)
  • Verses 30-47: Testimony that Jesus comes from the Father and does the Father’s work

It is the second division that supplies the immediate context for verse 39. The interpretive key lies in the opening verses (30-32), in which Jesus expounds the principle that a person who gives witness about himself cannot be considered reliable (v. 31). On this point, see, Deut 19:15, where the testimony of more than one witness, in a legal/judicial setting, is necessary to secure valid evidence (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; Matt 18:16, etc). Jesus makes precisely this point later on in the Gospel (8:14-18). Verse 32 is vital for an interpretation of what follows:

“There is another [allos] th(at is) witnessing about me, and I have seen that the witness which he witnesses about me is true.”

The Greek word állos (a&llo$), “(someone) different, another”, is in an emphatic position at the start of the verse. Who is this “other”? There are two possibilities:

  1. It simply means “another” in the general sense—i.e. someone different from Jesus, or
  2. It refers primarily (and fundamentally) to God the Father as the one who gives witness about Jesus

The initial context of vv. 30-32 suggests #1, but the overall context of the passage makes it likely that #2 is intended—i.e., God the Father is the ultimate source of this testimony. Actually, there are four different witnesses, or sources of testimony, referenced by Jesus in this section:

  • John the Baptist (vv. 33-35)
  • Jesus himself—specifically the works (miracles) which he does (v. 36)
  • God the Father—his Word (vv. 37-38)
  • The Scriptures (vv. 39-40)

Each of these is connected in important ways; note the chain of relation:

  • John the Baptist
    • Jesus himself (greater than John)—does the Father’s work
      • The Father who sent Jesus—His Word abiding in believers
        • (His Word) manifest in the Scriptures

The Scriptures come at a climactic point in this chain of testimony. Verses 39-40 also serve as a transition into the declaration of judgment against Jesus’ opponents in vv. 41-47. Clearly, verse 39 is not an exhortation to study the Scriptures, but rather a strong rebuke against those who fail to accept Jesus. The reference to the Scriptures, in this regard, is especially significant if, as the context suggests, Jesus is addressing the supposed experts (Scribes/Pharisees) in Scripture and the Law. Almost certainly, the initial word of verse 39 (eraunáte) should be read as an indicative:

“You search the Writings [i.e. Scriptures], (in) that [i.e. because] you consider (yourselves) to hold Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life] in them, and those are the (writing)s witnessing about me, and (yet) you do not wish to come toward me, (so) that you might hold Life” (vv. 39-40)

The force of the contrast (and rebuke) is largely lost if eraunate is read as an imperative. Indeed, the context would seem to demand the indicative:

  • “You (do) search [eraunate] the Scriptures…(which witness about me)
  • and (yet) you do not wish [thelete] to come toward me”

The idea that a person might gain (eternal) life from the Scriptures (and a study of them) was not uncommon in Judaism, especially in the Rabbinic tradition, with its strong emphasis on a detailed study of the Torah. Consider the following statements from the Rabbinic collection “Sayings of the Fathers” (Pirqe Abot):

“He who has acquired the words of the Law has acquired for himself the life of the world to come” (2:8)
“Great is the Law for it gives to those who practice it life in this world and the world to come” (6:7)
(Translation by R. E. Brown in The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, p. 225)

Paul declares virtually the opposite in Gal 3:21b:

“For if (the) Law was given being able to make alive [i.e. give life], (then indeed) justice/righteousness would (have) been out of [i.e. from] the Law”

Note also Romans 7:10: “and it was found with/in me (that) the (commandment) laid on me (which was to be) unto life, this (turned out to be) unto death”.

The Scriptures are not the source or means of Life; this is only found in the person of Jesus—the Son who makes God the Father known to us. He possesses the Father’s Life in himself (Jn 5:26), and gives that same Life to those who trust in him (the Elect/Believers). Yet the Scriptures bear witness to Jesus, and his identity as the Son sent by the Father. Protestant Christians have, at times, perhaps, been guilty of placing too much emphasis on the Scriptures (the Bible), and too little on the person of Christ, and his presence in and among us through the Spirit. Fortunately, if we really do study the Scriptures carefully—particularly, the Gospels and writings of the New Testament—we will never lose sight of the centrality of Christ (and the Spirit). The Gospel of John is especially valuable in this regard, which is one of the main reasons why I often use it as the ground for Bible study and instruction in methods of interpretation.

I would encourage you to read the entire discourse of chapter 5 (again), giving careful consideration to what has been discussed here, and then proceed to do the same with the following discourse in chapter 6—the great “Bread of Life” discourse. Analyze the chapter as whole—are you able to detect the points of the Johannine discourse-format, used throughout the Gospel? Where is the central saying of Jesus in this discourse? (Recall that it was verse 17 in chapter 5). Is there more than one central saying? Examine the structure of the dialogue in verses 25-58. How would you divided this? What patterns in the text do you see? In particular, consider how verses 51-58 relate to vv. 35-50. What do you make of the apparent Eucharistic imagery in vv. 51ff? This has been the source of considerable difficulty (and controversy) for commentators over the years. We will be examining Jesus’ words in vv. 53-58 when we meet again…next Saturday.

Note of the Day – May 14 (John 1:4)

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

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

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

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

John 1:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here there is definitely a kind of step-parallelism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John 11:27, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note of the Day – May 9 (John 11:27)

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John 11:27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each of these important titles will be discussed in turn.

o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”)

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

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

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

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