July 23: John 3:5-8, 34 etc

We bring this current series of notes to a close with a brief study on the references to the Spirit in the Gospel and Letters of John. All of these references were discussed previously, at considerable length, in the earlier study series “…Spirit and Life”. Here they will be discussed only briefly, in summary fashion, in terms of the development of traditions regarding the Spirit of God in early Christianity.

This question of development is complicated in the case of the Gospel of John, due to the nature and character of the Discourses of Jesus. On the one hand, the Johannine Discourses are rooted in authentic historical traditions regarding the words and teachings of Jesus; on the other, they also evince signs of having been shaped (and interpreted) within a distinctive literary and theological framework. This framework may be called “Johannine”, referring to the Community of believers within which the Gospel and Letters were produced and disseminated. That there was some definite literary and theological shaping of the Discourses is confirmed by the close similarities in thought and expression—the language, style, etc—between the Discourses and First John.

Thus, insofar as the Discourses reflect the genuine sayings/teaching of Jesus, they represent the beginning of the process of development; insofar as they reflect the Johannine thought-world at the time the Gospel was composed/completed, they represent a relatively late stage in the process. Most (critical) commentators would date the Gospel and Letters to the end of the first century (c. 90-100 A.D.), while the historical traditions drawn upon by the Gospel may have taken shape decades earlier. A proper study of the Discourses requires that both aspects of the critical question be kept clearly in view.

An objective analysis and survey of the references to the Spirit yields the following results:

1. The life-giving character of the Spirit, as symbolized by water. This traditional association of the Spirit with water is used by Jesus in his famous dialogue with Nicodemus (3:5ff), the discourse with the Samaritan woman (4:10-14, 21-24), and his declaration in 7:37-38 (where the Gospel writer explains that this is a reference to the coming of the Spirit, v. 39). The Johannine writings are unique in the way that they specifically associate the Spirit with “water and blood” —that is, the blood of Jesus, meaning his sacrificial death. This can be glimpsed in three passages:

    • The ‘Eucharistic’ allusions in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, with the comparable reference to drinking Jesus’ blood in order to quench one’s thirst—vv. 35, 53-57. In the context of this discourse, we find Jesus’ climactic words to his disciples stating that, in reality, it is the Spirit that gives life (6:63), rather than some sort of concrete (sacramental) eating and drinking, and that this Spirit is communicated to believers through Jesus’ own words.
    • The reference to “blood and water” coming out of Jesus at his death (19:34) must be understood in the context of his allusion to the giving of the Spirit at the moment of his death (v. 30).
    • The famous declaration in 1 John 5:6-8ff; cf. my earlier notes for a detailed study on this passage.

2. The coming of the Spirit as the mark of a ‘New Age’ for the people of God. This is another traditional theme, deriving ostensibly from the Prophetic writings of the 6th century B.C., and continuing down into the New Testament period. According to this line of tradition, in the New Age God will ‘pour out’ his Spirit upon the people as a whole, marking a new and restored relationship (or covenant) with YHWH. We saw how this idea received a unique development among early Christians, expressed throughout the early chapters of the book of Acts, and given an even deeper theological treatment, for example, by Paul in his letters. It may well be that the basic line of interpretation, among the earliest Christians, stems from Jesus’ own teachings, though there is relatively little evidence for this in the Gospels. However, it is certainly suggested by Jesus in his discourse with the Samaritan woman (esp. 4:21-24), as well as by the place of his references to the Spirit within the “realized” eschatology that dominates the Discourses—cf. the following note on the ‘Paraclete’ passages.

3. Jesus as the means by which the Spirit is given to God’s people. This belief regarding Jesus’ role in communicating God’s Spirit is rooted in early Gospel tradition—most notably, the saying of John the Baptist in Mark 1:7-8 par. That saying relates to an identification of Jesus as God’s chosen/anointed representative (Messiah), who will appear at the end of the current Age and usher in the New Age for the people of God. This Messianic association with the Spirit is a bit unusual, but not entirely unprecedented, when one considers the development of Messianic thought from its Prophetic roots, and as it is attested, for example, in a number of the Qumran texts (cf. my earlier article on the Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls). In the Gospel tradition, the saying of the Baptist is tied to the manifestation of the Spirit during Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11 par)—all of which the Gospel of John records, in its own way (cf. 1:29-34).

Even more significant, along these same lines, are the references to the Spirit in the Discourses. In addition to the ‘Paraclete’ passages of the Last Discourse (cf. the discussion in the note following), we have:

    • The key statement (by the Gospel writer?) in 3:34-35
    • The idea of Jesus giving the Spirit under the symbolic figure of water4:10, 13-14; 7:37-38 (cf. above)
    • The allusion to his giving the Spirit at his death (19:30, cp. verse 34)
    • The giving of the Spirit to his disciples following his resurrection (20:22)
    • The statements in 1 John 3:24; 4:13

4. The role of the Spirit in a “new birth” for believers as sons/children of God. The roots of such birth imagery, in connection with the Spirit of God, are probably to be found (a) in the general sense of the Spirit’s life-giving power (manifest at creation, etc), and (b) the Prophetic imagery that depicted the restoration of God’s people with the motif of new life from the dead (i.e. resurrection, in a figurative sense). Both aspects are naturally tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection-motif is especially prominent in the Gospel of John (5:25-29; 6:39-40ff; chapter 11 [esp. verses 23-27]).

A comparable matrix of ideas developed around the symbolism of the baptism-ritual, which entailed (i) the believer’s participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and (ii) the life-giving presence of the Spirit. Both of these aspects serve to effect our union with Christ (the Son), and, at the same time, with God the Father. Paul draws out the connection of the Spirit with the divine sonship of believers, in the context of the baptism symbolism, in Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:9-17 (discussed in prior notes).

The Johannine writings similarly emphasize the role of the Spirit in the experience of the “new birth” that allows believers to realize their identity as sons/children of God. The Gospel and Letters use the term te/knon (plur. te/kna), “offspring” for believers as children of God, reserving the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) more or less exclusively for Jesus (the Son). For instances of this usage, cf. Jn 1:12; (11:52); 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2. Even more common in the Johannine writings is the idiom of “coming to be (born) of God”, with its distinctive use of the verb genna/w (“come to be, become”)—Jn 1:13; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, etc. In First John, believers are often referenced as such through the use of a substantive perfect participle—i.e., “the (one) having come to be (born)”, cf. 3:9; 5:1, 4, 18.

The main Johannine passage associating the Spirit with this “birth” of believers, is the famous discourse with Nicodemus (3:3-8, cf. my earlier notes). In 1 John, the key references to the Spirit (3:24; 4:13; 5:6ff) occur within the context of a discussion centered around the identity of the (true) believer as one who has come to be born of God—i.e., the child/offspring of God—using the terminology mentioned above.

Due to the special importance of the ‘Paraclete’ references in the Johannine writings, these will be treated in a supplemental note.

February 22: Revelation 22:17-18a

Revelation 22:17

In the previous note, I treated verse 17 as the conclusion to the section spanning vv. 6-17; however, it is also possible to view it as transitional to the concluding section (vv. 18-21). I have chosen here to discuss verse 17 along with v. 18a:

“And the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come!’ And the (one) hearing must (also) say: ‘Come!’ And (the) one thirsting must come—the (one) willing (to do so), let him take/receive the water of life as a gift [i.e. freely]. I (myself) bear witness to every (one) hearing the accounts of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll…” (vv. 17-18a)

In verse 17 there are three distinct imperatives, exhorting/commanding people to come (vb. e&rxomai). Together these serve as a beautiful communal image of believers in the end-time; their response, as believers, is centered around the book of Revelation itself. Let us briefly consider each statement:

“And the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come! [e&rxou]'”

This reflects two aspects of the prophetic visions and messages in the book:

    • Source of the visions—their inspiration by the Spirit (pneu=ma) of God (and Christ), which communicates with the prophetic spirit of the seer
    • Content of the visions—their depiction of the community of true believers as the Bride (of Christ), i.e. the people of God in its exalted, heavenly aspect

It may also be that the community of believers adds its own (inspired) voice to that of the Spirit; certainly this would express the actual dynamic of how the prophetic gift was understood and realized in early Christianity.

“And the (one) hearing must (also) say: ‘Come! [e&rxou]'”

Once the prophetic message had been written down and made available for others, it would have been read aloud in the congregations—in the early Christian setting, such texts would have been heard, rather than read, by the majority of people (cf. the previous note on v. 16). Having received (i.e. heard) this message, true believers in the local congregation would add their voice to the inspired Community—i.e., the people of God in their earthly aspect.

“And (the) one thirsting must come [e)rxe/sqw]…”

Here the verb is a third person imperative, and it elucidates what is meant by the second person command, and how people (believers) respond to the command. The wording alludes to Isaiah 55:1 (as in 21:6b, cf. below), and reflects the true believer’s longing (i.e. “thirst”) for God and desire for eternal life. This is very much a Johannine motif—the verb and idiom occurs in the Gospel Discourses of Jesus (4:13-15; 6:35; 7:37, cf. also Matt 5:6); the exhortation in Jn 7:37 provides a close formal parallel:

“If any (one) should thirst, he must come [e)rxe/sqw, i.e. let him come] toward me and drink.”

Here, however, we are not dealing with a person’s response to the Gospel, but to their faithfulness in following Jesus, even in the face of suffering and testing, during the end-time period of distress. This is the significance of the believer’s response to the message of the book—he/she will take special care to remain faithful, aware of the severe tests and challenges to trust in Jesus that are coming, but also reminded of the promise of God’s ultimate victory over evil.

“the (one) willing (to do so), let him take/receive the water of life as a gift [dwrea/n, i.e. freely]”

The same statement, and allusion to Isa 55:1, occurred earlier in the “new Jerusalem” vision (21:6b, cf. the earlier note). Here the imperative is best rendered as an exhortative (“let him take/receive”, labe/tw), corresponding to the imperative pine/tw (“let him drink”) in Jn 7:37. The verb lamba/nw is often translated “receive”, but here it is perhaps better to render it in its fundamental sense as “take”. The context is that of the Paradise-motifs—river, tree of life—which symbolize eternal life, and which were inaccessible to humankind during the old order of Creation (i.e. the current Age). Now, however, in the New Age (and a new order of Creation), believers are able to come and take (i.e. eat and drink) from the tree and water of Life.

Revelation 22:18-21

Revelation 22:18a

“I (myself) bear witness [marturw=] to every (one) hearing the accounts of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this paper-roll [i.e. scroll]”

Here the exalted Jesus repeats his personal declaration from v. 16—again with the emphatic personal pronoun e)gw/ (“I”)—only this time he makes explicit the significance of his declaration as a witness (ma/rtu$), i.e. one who gives truthful and reliable testimony (cf. the previous note). It is once again the congregational setting, where the written accounts (lo/goi) of the visions in the book of Revelation are heard read aloud. Jesus himself bears witness that they are true; since he himself is the original witness who received the revelation from God (1:1), this confirms the truth of the message in a special way. In the Greek-speaking world of the time, official documents (esp. living wills and other binding agreements) would often begin with the person’s name, followed by marturw= (“I bear witness…”), e.g. P.Oxy. 105.13-14; 489.24-26; 490.15-16; cf. Koester, p. 844.

The remainder of the concluding section, beginning with vv. 18b-19, will be discussed the next few daily notes.

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February 13: Revelation 22:1-3a

Revelation 22:1-5

In this final section of the “new Jerusalem” vision, the city locale widens out to a Paradise-scene that intentionally echoes the garden paradise (Eden) of the Creation account in Genesis. This, of course, is entirely in keeping with the theme of the New Age as a New Creation—of a “new heavens and new earth” (21:1).

Revelation 22:1

“And he showed me a river of (the) water of life, radiant and clear as ice, traveling out, out of the ruling-seat of God and of the Lamb.”

The Paradise-scene is introduced through one geographic detail—a river (potamo/$). The eschatological aspect of this river derives from several key Old Testament passages:

    • Ezekiel 47:1—In Ezekiel’s great vision of the ideal/future Jerusalem, water is seen flowing out from the entrance of the Temple, all the way to the gates of the city (47:1-3).
    • Zechariah 14:8—In Zechariah’s prophecy of the New Age, it is declared that “living waters” will flow out from Jerusalem; to this may be added the promise of a well (spring/fountain) which will be opened up for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity (13:1).
    • Joel 3:18—A similar eschatological prophecy of restoration for Israel (and Jerusalem), vv. 17-19, in the context of the great Judgment of the nations (vv. 2ff, 11-16); in verse 18 there is the promise of a fountain that come forth from the “house of YHWH” (i.e. the Temple).

The setting of Revelation 22:1 seems to relate specifically, in different ways, to each of these Scripture passages. The main image, like most of the description of the “new Jerusalem”, is inspired by Ezekiel’s vision of the ideal/future Jerusalem in chaps. 40-48. In 47:1-3, the water that flows from the entrance of the Temple (to the East), continues as a river/stream to the eastern gate of the city, i.e. through at least part of the city. In the “new Jerusalem”, the Temple is replaced by the manifest presence of God Himself (21:22), which can be represented by His throne. The connection with Zech 14:8 is confirmed by the motif of “living water” (= “water of life”); moreover, verse 7 is the inspiration for the description in 21:25, which similarly precedes the “water of life” image here. And, in Joel 3:17ff, there is the particular emphasis on the holiness of the future/restored city of Jerusalem, as God’s own dwelling-place, so central to the vision of the “new Jerusalem”:

“And you shall know that I, YHWH your Mighty One [i.e. God], am dwelling on ‚iyyôn {Zion}, (the) mountain of my holiness; and Yerushalaim shall be holy, (and the one)s turning aside (for lodging) [i.e. strangers/foreigners] shall not not pass through in her again.” (Joel 3:17, from the Hebrew)

Here the “strangers” are generally equated with those from the surrounding nations who might (previously) have sought to travel through Israel’s territory, or to dwell temporarily in the land.

The motif of the “water of life” was introduced in 21:6 (for its background and significance, cf. the prior note). There it was described as a “spring” or “fountain” (phgh/), as also is the “living water” mentioned by Jesus in Johannine Gospel discourses (cf. 4:6, 14; 7:37-39). The LXX of Joel 3:18 [4:18] uses phgh/ to translate Hebrew /y`u=m^. Now, however, it is a mighty flowing river, akin to the primeval river that flowed out of Eden to water the Garden of God in the Creation account (Gen 2:10ff). It may also be that this great river of pure, living water at the center of the Bride (Jerusalem), from the ruling-seat of God, is meant as a contrast to the turbulent sea of “many waters” upon which he Prostitute (Babylon) has her own evil seat of rule (Rev 17:1).

Revelation 22:2

“(It traveled) in the middle of her broad (street), and on this (side) and that of the river (was) the tree of life, making [i.e. producing] twelve fruits, giving forth her fruit according to each month, and the sprouting (leave)s of the tree (were) unto [i.e. for] attending (to the need)s of the nations.”

The image seems to be of the river flowing down the wide golden main street of the city (21:21), which is not very practical—but then, this is scarcely a depiction of a real/ordinary human city. The implication is that the main street leads to the throne of God, from which the river flows out; this, of course, would be quite appropriate. The “tree of life”, while representing an ancient traditional/mythological motif known world-wide, here derives primarily from the Genesis Creation account (2:9; 3:22), where it is mentioned in the context of the Edenic river (2:10). It is fundamentally a symbol of eternal life, equally so with the river/water of life, and this is certainly how the book of Revelation understands it (cf. the earlier use of both idioms in 2:7; 7:17).

The idea of trees growing on each side of the river stems once again from Ezekiel’s vision (47:7, 12). In the Creation narrative, there is only one tree of life; however, there are two trees in the narrative–the tree of life, and the tree of the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ (2:9, 16-17; 3:1-7ff). Most likely, the second tree of life is meant to replace this second tree in the original Garden, thereby undoing the curse that was placed upon creation (the first heaven and earth) because of humankind (cf. below). Sin and evil entered into the created order when humankind ‘ate’ from the tree. Part of the curse entailed the barring of humankind from access to the tree of life (Gen 3:24); along with this, the motif was transferred to the ethical-religious domain, most notably within Wisdom literature and tradition, where the expression “tree of life” occurs rather frequently (Prov 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4; Psalms of Solomon 14:3; 4 Macc 18:16, etc). On similar eschatological use of the motif, see e.g., 2/4 Esdras 2:12; 8:52.

The production of different fruits each month is perhaps meant to correspond internally (within the city) to the luxuriant and colorful variety of precious stones, etc, on the outside of the city (21:9-11, 18-21). The number twelve, of course, is symbolic of the people of God (cf. the note on 21:12-14). The detail of the sprouting leaves which attend (medicinally) to the needs of the “nations” is a bit harder to explain. It may relate to the idea of the nations, as such (i.e. the ethnic distinctions, etc), being sanctified through the presence of Gentile believers in the city, part of the overall image of humankind being healed from the curse (v. 3, below). During the great Judgment (on earth), the wicked among the nations were struck by diseases and physical afflictions of various sorts (16:2, 10-11, etc), and there may be an intentional contrast here to the righteous/believers among the nations, who are healed rather than harmed.

Revelation 22:3a

“And (of) all (the curse) set down there will no longer be any (of it).”

The noun kata/qema literally means something that is “set down”, or, we might say, given over, even as the related a)na/qema, refers to something (or someone) “set up, given up”, i.e. in the technical (religious) sense of being given up/over to God, for the purpose of destruction (Judgment-context). This corresponds to the Hebrew <r#j@, and Paul uses a)na/qema in a similar sense, by way of general curse-formulae (Gal 1:8-9; 1 Cor 12:3; 16:22; cf. also Rom 9:3). The word kata/qema occurs only here in the New Testament; Paul uses kata/ra (something uttered against someone) in Gal 3:10, 13, which is the more common word for a curse (LXX Deut 11:26, 28, et al). Here, of course, the reference is to the curse placed on creation and humankind in Gen 3:16-19, where the specific word in Hebrew is rWra& (v. 17, also v. 14), which indicates the binding force of the imprecation (i.e. the person is held/bound by the formula). The LXX translates rWra& with the compound adjective e)pikata/rato$, indicating that someone is under the power of the thing uttered against them (i.e. the curse is “upon” e)pi/ them); cf. also Gal 3:10.

As the “new Jerusalem” is part of the New Age, and a ‘New Creation’, the curse set upon the old created order, as a result of the sin of humankind, is now removed. This is part of the early Christian eschatological understanding of salvation, though typically it was not expressed through the imagery of the creation narrative (on the idiom of believers as a ‘new creation’, cf. Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17). The removal, or undoing, of the curse also means that believers now have access to the tree of life (i.e. eternal life), which had previously been denied to human beings in the old created order (Gen 3:22-24).

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February 2: Revelation 21:6b-8

Revelation 21:6b-8

The remainder of this introductory section (cf. the previous note on vv. 5-6a) to the vision continues God’s words from verse 6a; it shifts from His self-identification to the relationship He holds with His people. As I have discussed throughout these notes, the motif of the “people of God” is central to the visionary narrative, even though the actual expression really does not occur prior to this final vision. This thematic emphasis is confirmed by two aspects of the symbolism in the book:

    • The scenes depicting a multitude of people surrounding God (His throne) and the exalted Christ (the Lamb), and
    • The various Old Testament imagery, occurring throughout the visions, otherwise related to Israel as the people of God

Like many of the symbols in the book of Revelation, there are both heavenly and earthly aspects to this idea of believers as the people of God. Believers are gathered in heaven (in an exalted state), and, at the same time, are enduring persecution and distress on earth. The clearest blending of this people-of-God imagery, applied to faithful believers in Christ, is found in the two scenes involving the 144,000 in chapters 7 and 14:1-5; this, of course, draws upon the fundamental symbolism of the twelve tribes of Israel, something the final vision will also build upon (vv. 12-14). The point will be discussed further in the next note.

Indeed, it is only here in the climactic vision, centered around the motif of the “new Jerusalem”, that the identity of believers in Christ as the true people of God becomes explicit; cf. the previous note on vv. 3-4, with its allusion to Ezek 37:27; Lev 26:11-12, and many other passages involving the covenantal language of the Old Testament. Now, in addition to this language, we have the idea of believers as the sons (i.e. children) of God, even as Israel had been regarded as His “son” (e.g., Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Isa 43:6; Jer 31:9; Hos 1:10; 11:1) in the old Covenant. And, as God’s sons/children, faithful believers will receive the divine inheritance that belongs to a true son. This is very much the principal idea here in verses 6b-8:

“I will give (freely) as a gift out of the fountain of the water of life to the (one) thirsting. The (one) being victorious will receive these (thing)s as (his) lot, and I will be God to him and he will be my son.” (vv. 6b-7)

There are three components to his promise of divine/heavenly reward; they are presented in reverse order, in the sense that each statement depends on the one that follows:

    • The believer is related to God as His son/child =>
      • The true/faithful believer will receive the divine/eternal inheritance =>
        • Believers have eternal life, using the symbolism of drinking the “water of life”

This generally corresponds with the promises in the letters of chapters 2-3, which declare that the believer who remains faithful, in the face of the evil and persecution of the end-time period of distress, i.e. is victorious (vb nika/w), he/she will receive the eternal/heavenly reward. The reward of eternal life is expressed through a variety of symbols and images, among which is this motif of drinking from the “water of life”. This particular image is ancient and widespread, based upon the natural life-giving characteristics of water. Of the many Old Testament passages, one may note Psalm 35:10; Prov 13:14; 14:27; Isa 43:20; 44:3; Jer 2:13; 17:13; Zech 14:8; for the specific idea of thirsting after God (and the water He gives), cf. Psalm 42:2; 63:1; Isa 41:17-18; 55:1, etc. The eschatological motif of “living water” coming out of Jerusalem derives primarily from Zechariah 14:8 (cf. also Joel 3:18; Ezek 47:1-12).

In the Old Testament / Near Eastern idiom, the expression “living water” refers to natural flowing water, as from a river, stream, or fountain/spring (phgh/). The latter is in view here, as it also is in the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, where the motif of “living water” likewise serves as an image for eternal lifeJn 4:10-14; 7:37-39; cf. also 6:35, 53ff.

“But for the fearful (one)s and (the one)s without trust and (the one)s having made themselves to stink—even murderers and prostitute(-seeker)s and drug-handlers and image-servers, and all th(ose acting) false(ly)—their portion (is) in the lake burning with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.” (v. 8)

Believers are contrasted in verse 8 with the wicked, or non-believers. It is easy for modern readers to misunderstand the manner of expression here, for several reasons. The first involves the specific setting of the book of Revelation. Throughout the visions, the focus has been primarily on the coming period of distress, which believers at the time where thought to be entering. During this period, the faith (“trust”, pisto/$) of believers in Christ would be increasingly (and severely) tested. Out of fear of persecution (and death), there was the danger that some might fall away; this is why being “fearful” (deilo/$) is paired here with being “without trust” (a&pisto$), i.e. faithless, without faith in God and Christ.

The second thing to note regarding the narrative context in Revelation is that, during the time of distress, when the forces of evil are especially dominant and active on earth, a turning away from faith means identifying oneself as belonging to the evil powers symbolized by the Dragon and Sea-Creature of chapters 13-14ff. At the pinnacle of the end-time distress, the choice is stark and clear—remain faithful and endure suffering/death, or turn and embrace the evil authority of the Sea-Creature (as manifest in the Roman Empire, etc). The use of the verb bdelu/ssw (indicating a reaction to something that stinks), may be an intentional allusion to the eschatological tradition in Mark 13:14 par (cf. Dan 9:27 LXX) and the related noun bde/lugma (“stinking thing”).

It is also important to understand the rhetorical force of such “vice lists” in the New Testament and early Christianity. They are part of a traditional kind of religious and ethical instruction, with strong parallels in Jewish tradition and in Greco-Roman philosophy as well. The lists are a way of dramatically summarizing the kinds of wickedness that the righteous (i.e. believers) must avoid. Paul uses them rather frequently to emphasize the clear contrast between believers and the wickedness/immorality traditionally associated with non-believers (“the nations”). In 1 Cor 6:9-10 and Gal 5:19-21 he utilizes the same motif of inheritance, stating bluntly that those who do such things will surely not inherit the Kingdom of God (i.e. receive eternal life).

Readers today might well question how this instruction would relate to non-Christians (non-believers) who generally conduct themselves in an upright and virtuous manner. However, such concerns were quite foreign to the thought-world of early Christianity, where non-believers were more or less identified with immorality and wickedness in a stock manner. We should not, however, assume that this was always taken literally, at face value, especially since “prostitution” and “idolatry” were often used figuratively for a lack of trust in God, even when no actual prostitution or idol-worship took place. Similarly, in Jesus’ teaching, anger and hatred toward others could be equated with “murder”, and so forth (Matthew 5:21-22, 43ff; cp. 1 John 3:11-12ff).

Even so, there is certainly a clear and precise contrast between believer and non-believer here in vv. 6b-8, as may be illustrated by the following chiastic outline:

    • Reward: Drinking from the Water of Life
      • Those who are victorious (believers) will inherit
        • Identification of believers as the Sons/Children of God
      • Those who are wicked (non-believers) will have their portion
    • Punishment: Submerged in the Lake of Fire (cf. 19:20; 20:15)
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“…Spirit and Life”: John 7:37-39

John 7:37-39

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

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

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

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

Verse 37

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

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

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

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

Note also 6:35:

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

Verse 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 39

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

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

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

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

“…Spirit and Life”: John 4:10-14

John 4:10-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This statement in verse 39 is instructive for several reasons:

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

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

3. The distinctive vocabulary: John 8:28

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

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

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

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

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

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