Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Jn 7:1-9)

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

John 7:1-9

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

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

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

“For even his brothers did not trust in him”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The points of similarity should be readily apparent.

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