“…Spirit and Life”: John 5:24, 39-40

John 5:24, 39-40

Today I will be continuing in the chapter 5 discourse (cf. the previous note on vv. 21-29), focusing specifically on two statements by Jesus—in verse 24 and 39-40, respectively. These come from key points in the two divisions of the exposition (vv. 19-47)—the first division (vv. 19-29) focuses on the living-giving work which the Son performs, while the second (vv. 30-47) emphasizes the testimony which bears witness to the Son’s work and his identity in relation to God the Father. The statements in vv. 24 and 39-40 are, in many ways, central to these sections. I begin with the first:

Verse 24

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$], and trusting in the (One) sending me, holds (the) Life of the Age [e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped with(in) [i.e. over/across], out of death (and) into Life [ei)$ th\n zwh/n].”

The centrality of this statement is indicated by the parallel with v. 25—marking the beginning and end of the two portions of the section (vv. 19-24, 25-29). This parallelism is indicated by:

    • The use of the “Amen, amen, I say to you…” formula at the start
    • The motif of hearing the word/voice of Jesus:
      “the one hearing my word (v. 24)”
      “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God” (v. 25)
    • The result of hearing is life:
      “the one hearing…holds Life…(and) has come…into Life” (v. 24)
      “…and the ones hearing will live” (v. 25)

This will be depicted in dramatic form in the Lazarus episode, when Jesus calls out to Lazarus (in the tomb) and he hears the voice and lives again (11:43-44). It was also foreshadowed in the healing miracle from chapter 4, when the official’s son is healed (and rescued from death) at the very moment Jesus’ voice uttered the word “your son lives” (vv. 50-53). This life giving miracle is connected with trust in Jesus (v. 50b), even as Jesus declared more clearly to Martha in 11:25-26 (cf. also v. 40).

Returning to the statement by Jesus in 5:24, it deftly blends both aspects of future and “realized” eschatology (cf. the discussion on this in the previous note):

    • the one hearing and trusting…
      • holds the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—in the present (“realized”)
      • does not come into the Judgment—in the future
    • …has stepped (across) out of death and into Life

The final (perfect) verb form, “has stepped…”, indicates a past action or condition which continues into the present. Here, by extension, it also signifies a present condition (“holding Life”) which continues into the future. While the dualistic construct (trusting vs. not trusting) is not especially emphasized here, it is implied in the repeated references to Judgment (vv. 22ff, 27, 29)—if the one trusting Jesus does not come into the Judgment, then, by implication, the everyone not trusting does come into Judgment.

Verses 39-40

It is interesting to consider how this Judgment theme is picked up from the first section (ending with v. 29) into the next (v. 30). The judgment which Jesus brings (already in the present) is based upon the testimony which bears witness about him. In order for such testimony to be valid in a judicial setting (i.e. court of law), it must be confirmed by at least two witnesses (cf. Deut 19:15ff, etc). Jesus refers to four distinct sources of testimony:

    • John the Baptist (vv. 33-35)
    • Jesus’ own works (i.e. miracles)—identified as having been given to him by the Father (v. 36)
    • God the Father—his Word, which abides [in the believer] (vv. 37-38)
    • God’s Word as manifest in the Writings [i.e. Scriptures, esp. the Torah] (vv. 39-40, cf. also vv. 45-47)

These four sources of testimony all bear witness to Jesus—both to the truth of his words/works and his identity (as the Son sent by the Father). The one who fails (or refuses) to trust in him has essentially rejected this testimony—and these witnesses will, in turn, testify against that person in the Judgment. Since Jesus is addressing his opponents in this discourse—persons who, it can be assumed, are to be identified as the supposed experts in Scripture, the Law (Torah) and related religious matters (cp. the Pharisees in chap. 9 and similar Synoptic scenes)—it is fitting that the Scriptures are set in the climactic position. These experts in the Scriptures have failed (and/or refused) to accept their own testimony regarding Jesus. There is thus a kind of irony in the rebuke offered by Jesus in vv. 39-40:

“You search the Writings, (in) that [i.e. because] you consider (yourselves) to hold (the) Life of the Age in them, and they are the (writing)s giving witness about me, and (yet) you do not wish to come toward me (so) that you might hold Life.”

I have discussed the context (and interpretation) of this statement in an earlier Saturday Series study, and will not repeat that here. It is not an exhortation to study Scripture, but rather a stern rebuke—and a word of judgment against the opponents of Jesus. The logic of this statement is clear enough:

    • you think that you hold life in [i.e. through study of] the Scriptures
      —the Scriptures give witness about me
      —(but) you do not wish to come toward me
    • (yet it is only by coming to me) that you will (actually) hold life

The underlying message is that, while the Scripture bear witness about Jesus, they are not the source of Life—it is only through the person and work of Jesus (the Son) that one receives Life (from the Father). The Father gives Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives it to those who trust in him. While the plural noun grafai/ (“writings”) may be taken as referring to the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole, the primary reference is to the Law (Torah), as contained in the books attributed to Moses (i.e. the Pentateuch, Genesis–Deuteronomy). This is clear enough from what follows in vv. 41-47, especially the statement of judgment in verses 45-47:

“the one bringing public (accusation) against you is Moshe {Moses}, (the one) in who you have placed (your) hope. For if you trusted Moshe, you would (have) trusted (in) me—for that (one) wrote about me. And if you do not trust in that (man)’s writings, how will you trust in my utterances [i.e. words]?”

I.e., their lack of trust in Jesus actually means that they do not really trust in the Scriptures (the Torah). The same sort of comparison (and contrast)—Moses/Torah vs. Jesus—appears at a number of points in the Gospel, beginning with the Prologue (1:11, 17-18). For the relationship between Jesus and the Law (Torah) in the Gospel of John, see my article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”. The contrast between Jesus and the Torah—or, better put, Jesus as the true fulfillment of the Torah—features prominently in the next Johannine discourse, the great “Bread of Life” discourse, which I will be examining in the next note.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 5:21-29

John 5:21-29

The next references to “Life” (zwh/) in the Gospel of John are from the chapter 5 discourse—specifically in the portion of Jesus’ exposition covering verses 19-29. I offered an outline and summary of this discourse in an earlier Saturday Series discussion (on v. 39); for this study today, it is important to consider the structure of the exposition by Jesus:

    • 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

The references to “life” come from the first division, dealing with the theme of resurrection—a theme that will be illustrated dramatically in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11. Here in the discourse, however, the reference is not to a specific resurrection miracle, but to the resurrection which was expected to occur at the end-time, in the context of the final Judgment by God upon humankind. Such a belief in an end-time resurrection, appears to have been fairly common and widespread by the time of Jesus, so much so that it was worth noting when certain individuals or groups (such as the Sadducees) denied it. For the most part, this resurrection was reserved for the righteous; though, by the first century A.D., belief in a resurrection of both the righteous and wicked, prior to the Judgment, is attested. Jesus refers to this more general concept of the resurrection in verse 29 (cf. below).

As indicated by the outline above, the two sections dealing with the resurrection are parallel—the first (vv. 19-24) largely from the standpoint of “realized” eschatology, the second (vv. 25-29) primarily in terms of traditional (future) eschatology. This distinction can be seen from a comparison of both sections, and is confirmed by the expressions used in verses 25 and 28:

    • “an hour comes…” (v. 28) [future eschatology]
    • “an hour comes and now is…” (v. 25) [realized eschatology]

This exact distinction was seen earlier in the chapter 4 discourse (cf. the previous note): “an hour comes” (v. 21), “an hour comes and now is” (v. 23).

There are two points of parallelism which I want to examine here today. The first is found in verses 21 and 26:

    • “For just as [w%sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live [zw|opoiei=]
      • so also [ou%tw$ kai] the Son makes (a)live [zw|opoiei=] th(ose) whom he wishes” (v. 21)
    • “For just as [w%sper] the Father holds life [e&xei zwh/n] in Himself,
      • so also [ou%tw$ kai] he gave to the Son to hold life [zwh\n e&xein] in himself” (v. 26)

Both statements utilize a nearly identical formulation, emphasizing that the Son (Jesus) does exactly what the Father does. The first statement in v. 21 focuses on the life-giving work of raising the dead (resurrection); the second (v. 26) is centered on the very Life (and life-giving power) which God “holds”. It is clearly emphasized that this Life is given by the Father to the Son—and the Son, in turn, gives it to those (i.e. believers) whom he wishes. In the previous note, we discussed that this “Life” (zwh/) which Jesus gives is essentially to be identified with the Spirit (3:34, and the “living water” [u%dwr zw=n] exposition in 4:10-26). The blending of traditional (future) and “realized” eschatology, found in 4:21-24, is expounded upon here in 5:19-29. The division between these eschatological viewpoints is perhaps not as neat as the outline of vv. 19-47 (above) might suggest. The two modes of expression are inter-related and overlap—what believers will experience in the future, they already “realize” through trust in Jesus in the present. This brings up the second main parallel in these sections (vv. 25 and 28):

    • “an hour comes [e&rxetai w%ra], and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)
    • “an hour comes [e&rxetai w%ra] in which all the (one)s in the memorial(-tomb)s will hear his voice, and will come out…into…life” (vv. 28-29a)

The specific reference to “the memorial(-tomb)s” in the latter statement points to the traditional (future) eschatology—i.e. of the resurrection at the end-time. Yet, such a resurrection would take place, in the present, in the Lazarus episode (chap. 11). In the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in that episode (only partially a discourse), Martha expressed the traditional eschatological viewpoint (v. 24), which Jesus corrects (vv. 25-26):

    • Martha: “I see [i.e. know] that he will stand up (again) in the standing up [i.e. resurrection] in the last day”
    • Jesus: “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life; the (one) trusting in me…”

Resurrection (and the Life which comes as a result) is to be found in the person and presence of Jesus. This is also the emphasis in 5:19-29, though there is in the discourse a more precise and detailed exposition of the relationship between the God the Father and the Son (Jesus). The Father is the ultimate source of the Life which the Son gives to believers. In this regard, we may include a third parallel between the two sections of the exposition, expressed in verses 24 and 29:

    • “he [i.e. the believer] does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped with(in) [i.e. across/over], out of death (and) into Life” (v. 24)
    • “they will come out—the (one)s doing good (thing)s into a standing up of Life, and the (one)s practicing bad (thing)s into a standing up of Judgment” (v. 29)

Here the parallelism is not so exact in terms of formulation, but remains close conceptually, with common vocabulary, especially in the contrast between Life and Judgment—the believer does not come into the Judgment, for he/she has already stepped over from death into Life through trust in Jesus. This idea will be discussed further in the next note, when we look at verse 24 in connection with vv. 39-40.

Saturday Series: Deuteronomy 32:1-43

Deuteronomy 32:1-43

I have chosen the great poem in Deuteronomy 32 as a way to demonstrate Old Testament criticism involving Hebrew poetry. It is often referred to as the “Song of Moses”, while in Hebrew tradition it is known by the opening word Ha°¦zînû, “Give ear…”. As with our earlier study on Exodus 32-34, I will be examining this section according to different areas or aspects of Biblical criticism—

    • Textual criticism
    • Form criticism
    • Source criticism
    • Historical criticism

followed by a brief exegetical survey of the text as it has come down to us, according to what is typically called Literary criticism.

Textual Criticism

An important component and emphasis of textual criticism is the determination, as far as it is possible, of the most likely original form of the text. This is based on the fundamental premise that the text has experienced corruption at numerous points during the process of transmission. The word “corruption” can be misleading, suggesting a moral failing; but this is not at all what the word means in the context of the science of textual criticism. Textual corruption simply means that the original text (as authored/intended) has been altered in some way at various points (variation units). This alteration may have been intentional, or, much more frequently, occurred by accident. The alteration may be limited to particular manuscripts (or manuscript groups), or, in some instances, has been preserved in the main line of transmission of the text as it has come down to us. In the case of the Old Testament, this main line of transmission is identified as the “Masoretic Text” (MT). Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (especially the texts from Qumran), the oldest copies of the Hebrew text were from the 9th-10th century A.D.—many centuries after even the latest of the Scriptures were composed. The Dead Sea Scrolls have changed the textual picture considerably. While the Scripture texts from Qumran (and other sites) have confirmed the general reliability of the Masoretic Text, they have also brought up many differences, including numerous points at which the Qumran MSS agree with the Greek version (and/or the Samaritan Pentateuch) against the MT. In such instances, the readings of the Qumran copies must be given most serious consideration.

A particular problem related to Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament, is that the poetic portions often contain older or archaic language which can be difficult to recognize and interpret. This was probably as true for ancient copyists, working centuries after the poems were originally composed, as it is for scholars today. There are many points in Old Testament poetry where the text appears to be corrupt. It is often difficult to be sure, since the confusion may be the result of a genuine word, phrase or syntactical construct, which is unknown or unintelligible to us today. However, a comparison with the Greek version (Septuagint), and, more importantly, the Dead Sea Scrolls, can help to clarify some of these difficulties, and to confirm points at which the Masoretic Text may indeed be corrupt.

There are three points in the Song of Moses were there is evidence for textual corruption, and/or variant readings. Let us look briefly at each of them in turn.

Deut 32:5

The first line (colon) in verse 5 appears to make very little sense as it has come down to us:

Šiµ¢¾ lô lœ° b¹n¹w mûm¹m
literally: “he made ruin to/for him his sons their blemish”

If you go to this verse in your English Bible, you will likely see a footnote indicating that the Hebrew is obscure or uncertain. As noted above, this is frequently the case in Old Testament poetry. There are hundreds of verses or lines where we simply do not know for certain what the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text (MT) means, or how to translate and interpret it, or whether the apparent confusion is the result of textual corruption. The Rabbis noted the difficult syntax of this verse and sought variously to explain the MT, without any emendation. For example, Nahmanides explains it along the lines of: “their blemish caused them [i.e. the Israelites] to act corruptly toward Him” so that, as a result, “they are not His sons”.

Many critical commentators believe that the verse, as it has come down to us, is corrupt. One suggestion (cf. J. Tigay, Deuteronomy: JPS Torah Commentary [1996], p. 301) is that originally the line read something like—

šiµ¦¾û lô b¹n¹w °¢m¥n
“His sons ruined (their) firmness [i.e. loyalty] to Him”

or, possibly:

šiµ¦¾û lœ°-b¹n¹w °¢m¥n
“(the ones who are) not-His-sons ruined (their) firmness [i.e. loyalty] to Him”

Admittedly, this would make a better fit with the second half of the line, but it remains quite speculative.

The Greek version (Septuagint, LXX) is somewhat confusing as well:

h¢mártosan ouk autœ¡ tékna mœm¢tá
perhaps: “they sinned, children (of) blame (who are) not to me [i.e. not mine]”

Unfortunately, verse 5 is not present among the manuscript fragments of Deuteronomy preserved at Qumran, so there is no help from that side in elucidating the Hebrew syntax. One must always be cautious in emending the text that has come down to us (i.e. the Masoretic text), especially when there is no clear manuscript support for such emendation. On the other hand, it is equally wrong to accept the MT blindly, ignoring places where the received text is difficult or unintelligible. Here textual criticism reaches it finest, and most challenging, point.

Deut 32:8

The Masoretic Text (MT) of these lines in verse 8 reads:

B®hanµ¢l ±Elyôn gôyim
b®ha¸rî¼ô b®nê °¹¼¹m
yaƒƒ¢» g®»¥lœ¾ ±ammîm
l®mi´par b®nê Yi´r¹°¢l

“In the Most High’s giving posessions (to) the nations,
in His breaking apart [i.e. separating] the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples,
to the count [i.e. number] of the sons of Israel.”

The last line has always struck commentators as a bit peculiar. Since the context overall suggests the dispersal of the nations (following the traditions in Genesis 10-11), occurring long before Israel was a people, establishment of the traditional number of nations (seventy, according to Gen 10) in terms of the number of Israel’s descendants (Exod 1:1-5; Deut 10:22, etc) seems somewhat out of place. Many commentators were drawn to the alternate reading in the Greek version (Septuagint, LXX), which, instead of “according to the sons of Israel”, reads “according to the Messengers of God” (katá arithmón angélœn Theoú). This version of the text finds confirmation in one of the Deuteronomy manuscripts from Qumran (4QDeutj):


l®mi´par b®nê °E_lœhîm

“…(according) to the count [i.e. number] of the sons of God

The expression “sons of God” is an ancient Semitic term for divine beings—”gods” generally, in Canaanite religion. Within the context of Israelite monotheism, this idea was modified so as to refer to heavenly beings, i.e. Angels (“Messengers”), who are not to be worshiped as gods. A traditional number of seventy such beings goes all the way back to ancient Canaanite religious lore, and was preserved in Israelite and Jewish writings. This variant reading would seem to be confirmed again by the context of verse 8 within the Song. An important theme throughout, as we shall see, is the need for Israel to serve and worship only Yahweh, and not to follow after the other nations, who worship other ‘deities’ (such as represented by the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies). While the other nations may have been allotted to various heavenly beings, Israel is God’s own portion (v. 9). Elsewhere in Deuteronomy (4:19-20) we find similar language to 32:8-9, which suggests again that the reading of 4QDeutj may be original (see further below, on verse 43). Indeed, a tradition reflecting this reading is preserved in Jewish writings, such as the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the “Sayings of Rabbi Eliezer” (chap. 24). The Targum makes reference to “the seventy angels, princes of the nations”, in the context of the the Tower of Babel episode and the dispersal of the nations. For a good discussion, see J. Tigay, Deuteronomy: JPS Torah Commentary (1996), pp. 514-5 (Excursus 31).

Deut 32:43

Here is another example where the Masoretic text appears to be corrupt, in this instance due, it would seem, to a portion of the verse having dropped out. Here is the MT as it has come down to us (for the moment, I give it only in translation):

“Cry out, O nations, (to) His people!
For he will take vengeance (for) the blood of His servants
and return vengeance to His opponents,
and will cover [i.e. wipe away, cleanse] His people’s land.”

Commentators have noticed the lack of poetic parallelism in the first lines, quite in contrast to the style and technique used consistently throughout the poem, and raising the possibility that the MT is incomplete. Indeed, the Greek version is more complete, and, in part, this has been confirmed by the Qumran manuscript 4QDeutq, where v. 43 reads as follows (note the differences in italics):

“O heavens, cry out [i.e. rejoice] with Him!
Bow (down) to Him, all gods [lit. Mighty Ones]!
For he will take vengeance (for) the blood of His sons,
and return vengeance to His opponents,
He will treat those who reject Him (as they deserve),
and will cover [i.e. wipe away, cleanse] His people’s land.”

This preserves more accurately the three-beat bicolon (3:3) strophic structure and parallelism characteristic of the rest of the poem. The Septuagint Greek is more expansive, which could indicate its secondary character. The first lines, in particular, appear to conflate (combine) the text from 4QDeutq and MT:

“Be of good mind [i.e. rejoice], O heavens, with Him,
and kiss toward [i.e. worship] Him, all (you) sons of God!
Be of good mind [i.e. rejoice], O nations, with His people,
and let all the Messengers of God strengthen themselves in Him!
…”

It is easy to see how the word °§lœhîm (“gods”, LXX “sons of God”), along with the line containing it, might have dropped out or been omitted during the process of transmission. It could have been misunderstood as supporting polytheism in some way (i.e. the existence of other deities), even if here the plural °§lœhîm (lit. “mighty ones”, in the sense of “divine beings”) is referring to heavenly beings (Messengers/Angels) and not pagan deities as such. The LXX wording (“sons of God”) more accurately reflects the typical Hebrew usage in the Old Testament (see Psalm 29:1, etc; but note Psalm 97:7). In favor of the Septuagint reading is the close association of the nations and the deities (or Angels), such as we saw in what is likely the original reading of verse 8 (above). Yet the Qumran text strikes me as being more precise and favorable to the ancient poetic (and religious) outlook. The call to the heavens also serves as a fitting conclusion, functioning as a parallel to the opening words of the poem (v. 1, “Give ear, O heavens…”).

I hope that this demonstrates some of the issues involved with the study of Old Testament poetry, especially in a poem as old as the Song of Moses appears to be. Textual and interpretive difficulties abound, and must not be glossed over or ignored. Continue to study and meditate on this great poem, and we will continue with our discussion next week, picking up with the remaining areas of critical analysis which need to be explored (such as form- and source-criticism). I will see you here again next week.