As I transition to my new website, I’ll make a few more posts on here and link you to my new site.
Today I wrote a few things regarding an introductory session I had on John’s Gospel that I’m leading at my church.
Jesus has now moved from Galilee (in the north) to Jerusalem (in the south) as the Jewish Passover feast was near (2:13). This is Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem in this Gospel. Again John the author is highlighting belief (2:22), something that, as we have seen, is commonplace to the purposes of John’s Gospel.
As Jesus is in Jerusalem he goes to the Temple and finds people selling oxen, sheep, and doves and people exchanging money (v. 14). Jesus, dismayed at this, creates a whip and drives them all out, overturning tables and forcing out the animals (v. 15). His explanatory statement for his doing this is found in v. 16, “Don’t make my father’s house into a market!” The disciples present are said to remember that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me,” a quotation from Psalm 69:9.
Understandably the Jews present want to know by what authority Jesus can clear out the Temple. They ask, “What sign will you show us for your doing this?” (v. 18).
Jesus’ response is, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). Since this is said in the presence of the physical Temple it is understandable that the Jews listening would have understood him to be making a statement about that very Temple. Their response shows this and takes the cryptic nature of Jesus’ command to be about that Temple: “This Temple has taken 46 years to build, and you’re going to raise it up in 3 days?” (v. 20).
But, John tell us that he wasn’t speaking of the physical Temple in their presence, rather he was speaking about his own body (v. 21). No one properly understood it when he uttered it though. It wasn’t until after he was raised from the dead that the disciples remembered what he said “and believed the Scripture and the words which Jesus spoke” (v. 22). So in what sense is Jesus the Temple and what did it mean for the physical Temple standing in their presence at that time?
To fill in what Jesus was meaning by calling himself the Temple that would need to be destroyed and raised, it would be helpful to consider the purpose of the Temple, in very broad strokes, throughout the Old Testament period.
The Temple-proper begins with Solomon. His father, David, had in mind to build a ‘house’ for God but God advised David that his son would build it instead (2 Samuel 7). Solomon does indeed build this ‘house’ for God, what is known as the First Temple.
This so-called First Temple or Solomonic Temple didn’t come out of nowhere in Israel’s history. It was the first permanent structure but prior to this Moses was given instructions to build a Tabernacle that would move with the people in their desert wanderings. It was to be the dwelling place of God with his people. One may even move further back than this to the Garden of Eden but we’ll save that for another time (see e.g., G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission). In fact, I won’t trace it out now, but consider reading Revelation 4-5 and 20-22 for a picture of where this all eventually leads.
Back to Solomon’s Temple; it would not last. When Babylon invaded Judah in 587 B.C. the Temple was destroyed. It was subsequently rebuilt as the exiles returned to Jerusalem around 538 B.C. It was completed in 515 and known as the Temple of Zerubbabel (Wise, “Temple,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 811). This Temple would not stand in toto through its history and would need rebuilding, resulting in Herod’s building project starting in 20/19 B.C. (idem.). Herod’s ambitions were grand and while most of the Temple was built by the time of Jesus, internal adornments and continual work was being done. It so happens that 46 years had passed at the time relayed by our text in John 2. This period has come to be known as the Second Temple period (though the terminology is not completely accurate as the Temple at the time of Jesus was sort of a 4th Temple).
About this Temple, Ezekiel speaks of God’s glory leaving it (Ezek. 43:1-12), indicating that it was seen as a place where God’s glory dwelt and at a time to come (from Ezekiel’s day) would lack God’s presence. Many Jews believed in Jesus’ day that God’s presence indeed was not there as it had been in former days. But the Ezekiel text forecasts a day when God would dwell in his peoples’s midst forever.
Then Jesus shows up on the scene and declares in the Temple’s presence, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John later understands Jesus to be talking about his body declaring Jesus to be the new Temple that the Lord had envisioned. Jesus is the new meeting place with God. Jesus is the very presence of God, the one who became flesh and tabernacled (recall our study in 1:14) among us.
In making this pronouncement and then dying and rising, Jesus also made the physical Temple obsolete. And indeed the Temple would be destroyed in 70 A.D. in the Jewish-Roman war. It was no longer the meeting place with God. The new meeting place with God would be Jesus. Know Jesus and you know God.
This is the sign Jesus offers those who questioned his authority. The sign of his death and resurrection. His authority to cleanse the Temple would be the cross and the empty tomb.
The issue of glory has already surfaced in this Gospel. In the Prologue, John says that “we have seen [the Word's] glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14, TNIV). We have seen that the Word would make known or reveal the Father to us (1:18). And now in this passage Jesus’ glory is said to be revealed to us (2:11).
This first sign is said to have revealed Jesus’ glory so it is fitting that John would include it in his narrative and that it would result in his disciples putting their faith in him, or believing in him (2:11). As previously seen, John’s purpose (as expressed in 20:30-31) is to show forth Jesus so that his readers would believe in him. This first sign is included for this very reason and it is the first time we see that his disciples ‘believe in him’ in that language (though belief is evidenced in Ch. 1 by the new disciples).
So, what is the sign? Jesus and his disciples find themselves invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother is also there. A problem arises, however; a big no-no in the ancient world (in ours too perhaps): they have run out of wine. The shame on the groom (the one responsible) would be enormous.
The mother of Jesus says to him, “They have no more wine” (v. 3). What appears to be a simple statement is understood by Jesus to be some sort of call for him to do something, as evidenced by his response, “Woman, why do you involve me?… My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). His mother next involves the servants at the wedding by saying to them, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Mary (who actually isn’t named as such) takes the mild rebuke in stride (or a rebuff as Keener calls it) by evidencing trust in what Jesus could do to remedy the situation. It is perhaps possible that Mary has approached Jesus in her first statement about the wine ‘on an inside track’ as his mother, but Jesus refuses to be approached by anyone on an inside track.
Jesus’ comment about his ‘hour’ is interesting. Jesus pushes back on getting involved since his ‘hour has not yet come.’ Throughout this Gospel Jesus speaks about his ‘hour,’ almost entirely in reference to the cross. It seems that Jesus would be hastening on the hour by getting himself involved in a way that would reveal his glory. He nonetheless does respond to his mother’s request and performs this sign. His hour is coming.
After a narrative comment about the stone water jars present, Jesus is quoted again telling the servants what to do. He takes the reigns, telling the servants to fill those jars to the brim with water and then draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet (vv. 7-8). The servants listen to Mary and thereby listen to Jesus and do just as he tells them. The master tastes it and is amazed at the quality of the wine, better than the first, though it was expected that the worse wine would be served after people had already had a little too much of the good stuff. This essentially is the story of the sign.
The narrative comment in v. 6 that I passed over may be significant. The water jars that Jesus uses for the wine are said to be the ones used by the Jews for ceremonial washing. In altering the purpose of these jars Jesus may be setting aside the purificatory rites and setting the shame of the groom needing rectification over against purificatory rites. Indeed there may be connections to the Temple narrative which follows this that I’ll explore later.
The long and short of it is that the road toward Jesus’ hour of the cross has begun and his glory is being revealed resulting in those around him believing in him.
In this passage John, the writer, tells of Jesus gaining his first disciples. The first two, Andrew and John (?!), begin to follow Jesus upon the hearing John the Baptist say again, “Look, the Lamb of God!” These two disciples were actually disciples of John but due to the faithfulness of John’s bearing witness to someone greater than himself, the disciples became followers of Jesus. It is clear that the Baptist had no ego and pride to surrender. In fact, later he will say, “He must become greater, I must become less” (3:30). The Baptist remained faithful to his mission; the Messiah was pointed out.
At this point the Author relays to us how Simon Peter is brought into the mix. His brother Andrew had already started to follow Jesus but the first thing he did (v. 41) was to go and find Simon and he said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (v. 42) Philip then does the same thing Andrew did with his brother. Philip found Nathanael and told him: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the Prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (v. 44).
I am always amazed at these statements, although as I grow in my understanding of the Bible, they are making more and more sense. Andrew’s statement, that they had found the Messiah, highlights that they had found the one the Scriptures (the Old Testament) had been promising. God’s Anointed was now here, and he was found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God’s promises were coming to fulfillment!
Philip’s statement is similarly amazing but it claims more specifically that Jesus of Nazareth is the very one that was written about by Moses and whom the Prophets also wrote about. That suggests to me that if we go back through the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible, the “Law” or “Instruction”) and through the Prophets we will see patterns that lead us to this Jesus of Nazareth.
The passage ends with an encounter between Jesus and Nathanael. Nathanael comes to Jesus and Jesus gives information to Nathanael about himself from before they had even met, showing that Jesus had supernatural knowledge of him (vv. 47-48). When Nathanael hears this he explodes with what can only be considered worship: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” (v. 49).
Jesus calmly responds: “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vv. 50-51).
This whole passage is wonderfully littered with claims about who Jesus is. He is addressed as Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel, Messiah and called the one about whom Moses and the Prophets wrote. He addresses himself as the Son of Man. He accepts all these titles, indicating (as will become evermore clear throughout the Gospel) his identity with the Father, one with God. The disciples don’t yet have a full understanding of what these titles mean, but they’re on the right track and speak better than they know. What we know so far is that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is about to bring to fruition all that has gone on in redemptive history in incredible ways. We will see heaven opened. We will see Jesus’ glory. We will see the glory of God.
*all Scripture from the NIV
Whereas John the Baptist would provide testimony of Jesus in his absence, he also provides it in his presence. The day after the interaction with the Jewish leaders (vv. 19, 29), John sees Jesus and announces, “Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
A popular level book I read this week was quick to heap all sorts of heavy meaning into this clause, placing all our current understanding of the cross as expiatory sacrifice back into it. The result was talking about the Jewish sacrificial system and Jesus’ bloody sacrifice for our sins as the fullest understanding of “Lamb of God” in verse 29. But what did John the Baptist understand when he uttered these words? Was it a full blown understanding of Jesus coming to be a sacrificial lamb taking away the sin of the world?
In the first place, when John the Baptist said this it was pre-cross. That is, the death of Jesus on the cross had not yet occurred. And prior to the cross there is ample evidence showing that those around Jesus hadn’t understood and grasped that Jesus needed to be a suffering Messiah, a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Elsewhere Peter rebukes Jesus upon the prediction that he would be put to death (Matt. 16:22-23). In John’s Gospel, where we find ourselves, the disciples are slow to get the exact status and mission of Jesus, as in chapter 2 when he says, “Destroy this Temple and in 3 days I will raise it again.” The author tells us that it was not until after Jesus had died and raised again that they understood this had to happen from Scripture (2:22). John the Baptist, in Matthew’s Gospel, sends delegates to Jesus while in prison to ask if Jesus is the Messiah or if he should expect someone else (Matt. 11:2-3).
Having said that, I also think that the author, John, and his readers would have had a fuller understanding of what it meant that Jesus was the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. Knowing the end story (either by reading to the end of the Gospel or by knowing what historically happened) will inevitably and rightly colour a fuller understanding of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How did Jesus take on the sin of the world? Through his death on the cross; by being a sacrifice.
So, what then did John the Baptist mean by “Lamb of God”? Many suggestions have been offered and to be honest, I’m not quite if I’ve got this right and the delay in posting this study has been partly due to my uncertainty. While not the most pressing concern in the book, I also think it is worth thinking about since it would give us a picture of how “lamb” language was used prior to the cross of Christ in the early 1st century Jewish culture. But, I am going to admit my uncertainty on this point and move forward, maybe revisiting it later on. Given the Isaianic influence on the book, the servant of Isaiah 53:7 seems a possible allusion, and we can’t rule out undertones of the Paschal lamb being thought of as a sacrifice in this time period. Craig Keener argues such a point (John, 454). Others argue for an understanding of the Lamb in an apocalyptic sense (cf. e.g., Carson, John, 150).
What else can be profitably said to sum this section up?
John the Baptist, in vv. 29-34, is bearing further witness to who Jesus is with Jesus present. He is pointing out Jesus as the one that he said would come after him but is greater than him. He is bearing witness to Jesus being God’s Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. This is a significant claim in light of the (correct) assumption that only God could remove sin.
He further testifies (vv. 32-34) that he “saw the Spirit come down from heaven” on him and remain and this one would be the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This one is God’s Son.* Jesus’ baptism is not recorded in the Fourth Gospel but has already happened by this point. At the baptism John saw the Spirit come down and remain on him and this is what convinced John that Jesus was the one he was looking for. Jesus was the one who would bring the Spirit to God’s people. With this, the narrative will rightly turn back to a focus on Jesus as the Baptist points him out for such focus.
*There is a textual variant here that I may deal with in a separate post.
Verse 19 of chapter 1 is where the narrative proper begins in John’s Gospel. The first 18 verses function as a Prologue, introducing people and themes that will be addressed and expounded upon throughout the rest of the Gospel. And here in verse 19 is where John the Baptist’s testimony is picked up on and explained. In this short section (vv. 19-28) John provides his testimony to the Jewish leaders.
In verse 6 John the writer introduced us to John the Baptist as a man sent from God. His purpose was to be a witness, testifying to Jesus with the purpose that people would believe Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (v. 7). The content of John’s testimony was not given there. It was hinted at in verse 15 but now in verse 19 it will be given in more detail.
“And this is his testimony.” Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to John out in the wilderness on the other side of the Jordan in Bethany (vv. 19, 30). They wanted to know who this John was that was proclaiming a baptism of repentance. And so John’s testimony is initially given in the context of being questioned.
He is evidently asked if he is the Messiah, the Christ. But he responds that he is not.
If he is not the Messiah, then perhaps he is Elijah. He says he is not.
If he is not Elijah, then perhaps he is the promised prophet. He says he is not.
These three figures, the Messiah, Elijah, and the Prophet are all end time figures that in some way or other were expected by first century Jews. Some were looking for a Davidic Messiah, some a priestly one; some were looking for Elijah from Malachi 4:5 or the Prophet like Moses from Deut. 18:15-18 (Carson, The Gospel According to John, 142-43). But with three denials and no positive statement about his ministry the Jewish leaders are understandably not satisfied. They need a response to bring back with them to those who sent them (v. 22). So, they flat out ask, “What do you say about yourself?”
John responds in the words of Isaiah the prophet: “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord” (v. 23). In the Isaiah text the ground is being levelled to make a way for the return of the exiles and the coming of the Lord and now John picks up this text to apply to his work of announcing the coming of the Messiah in Jesus.
This still leaves open in their mind why he baptizes if he is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet. What authority does he have to do this? The Pharisees among the group ask him this question and he responds by saying, “I baptize in water. Among you stands one you don’t know. He comes after me and I am not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandals.” This water baptism is a pointer to the one who comes after and is greater. Even untying his sandals, the job of a slave, is too much honour for John, he believes.
John’s testimony can be summed up as it was in the Prologue with inclusion from this section: to bear witness to the Light by being the voice in the desert.
Having addressed Exodus 32-34, we can now look at John 1:14-18, assess the text, and also consider some possible allusions to the Exodus passage.
The text begins by bringing the Word (logos) back into focus as the subject and it tells that he became flesh. The one who was spoken of in verse 1 as being with God and God himself is now said to have taken on flesh, entering into the earthly sphere as a human being.
He made his dwelling among us or tabernacled among us. The Word became a human being and lived among us. Recall how Moses was seeking God to be among his people in light of God’s saying he would not lest he destroy them for their wickedness. Moses pleaded, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Ex. 33:15-16) And God grants that his presence will go with them. But now, in the 1st century A.D., John announces an even greater presence, the Word who is with God and himself God, has condescended to become human and live among his people.
John the writer goes on to say that “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Exodus allusions continue. Moses asks to see God’s glory (Ex. 33:18) and God tells him he will cause all his goodness to pass before him and will proclaim his name to him, but Moses is not allowed to see God’s face since no one can see the face of God and live (Ex. 33:19-20). But now John the writer tells us that we have seen God’s glory and it is through seeing his one and only Son. We see God’s glory by seeing Jesus, who is full of grace and truth. And this expression, “full of grace and truth” echoes Exodus as well. When God does proclaim his name before Moses, he says, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” (Ex. 34:6). The Hebrew expression is hesed v’emet which is captured nicely by John’s use of kharis kai alethia in Greek (see Carson, The Gospel According to John, 129-130, for full argumentation, I won’t recount it here). Jesus reveals God’s glory being full of grace and truth, part of the very nature of God.
Verse 15 breaks up verses 14 and 16 providing us with some of John the Baptist’s testimony: “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” Despite John seemingly being prior to Jesus and therefore possibly of more importance, John states that Jesus is before him and is of greater importance.
Verse 16 then picks up from verse 14 stating that out of the Word’s fullness “we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” This phrase, “grace in place of grace…” has been variously translated with widely different understandings as a consequence. The TNIV rendering I just quoted, I believe, sticks to the meaning of the text very well. The preposition between the two uses of “grace” is best understood as “substitutionary” and so “in place of” is an excellent rendering of the preposition (see Porter, Idioms, 145). We have received grace in place of grace. But what grace was replaced? The text tells us in verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This means that the giving of the law was God’s grace upon the people but it has now been supplanted by a new grace: that of Jesus Christ.
Finally, John uses further Exodus language referring to God’s never being seen, making explicit in the negative what was stated above in the positive in verse 14 about God’s glory. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Even though no one has seen God, Jesus who is himself God has now made him known. It doesn’t say that we have now seen the Father (and this will be elaborated upon in later chapters by John) but we now know God through Jesus.
Do you want to see God? Do you want to see his glory manifest? Look to Jesus.
As we move through the narrative proper of John’s Gospel the themes we have seen in this Prologue will be expounded and expanded. Look to see Jesus and the glory of God as we proceed through the book.
(* Because of my semi-remote location in writing this it was easier to use the TNIV than my usual personal translations so the above quotations are all TNIV)
We have already seen some parallels and use of the Old Testament in John’s Prologue. It seems to me that these uses of the OT get stronger in the last 5 verses of the Prologue. As such, I have decided to breakdown the analysis into two parts starting in this study with an excursus into Exodus 32-34 and then analyzing John’s text in the next study having already looked at a potential background. This one is a long one but it is a good story so I hope you’ll be captivated.
Chapters 32-34 of the book of Exodus take us back to approximately 1400 B.C. The book begins its story where Genesis left off. Joseph is now dead (1:6) and many generations have passed since his time. The Israelites had become a large group of people (1:7) and were now under a new king that did not look favourably on Joseph as in the past (1:8). They were oppressed by slave masters and were put through hard labour (1:11).
It is in this time that God raises up Moses. He was raised in Pharaoh’s household (2:5-10) and when he was grown up (2:11) he found himself killing an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew (2:11-12). When it was found out (2:14-15) his life was sought by the Pharaoh and so he escaped to Midian (2:15). A long time passes, the king of Egypt dies, and Moses grows old (2:23).
God then appears to Moses at the burning bush and calls him to go to Pharaoh to seek the release of the Israelites from bondage (Chs. 3-4). Not without a fight Moses ends up going to Pharaoh with Aaron and they seek the release of the Lord’s people. Through several plagues placed on the Egyptians God has the Israelites released into the wilderness (Chs. 5-11) by lastly killing all the firstborns of Egypt culminating in the first Passover (Ch. 12). The Israelites leave Egypt (Ch. 12) and head for the promised land through the desert.
With much grumbling the Israelites continually despise Moses and his leadership since the conditions of the wilderness appear to them to be worse than when they were under slave masters in Egypt. It is in this context that our story in chapters 32-34 take place.
Moses was up the mountain speaking with God and receiving the law. But due to this delay, the people called on Aaron to make from them gods who would go before them (32:1). Aaron tells them to give them their gold and he fashioned it into the shape of an idol, declaring, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (32:4). They build an altar, call for a festival, and the next day sacrifice burnt offerings and present fellowship offerings, then drinking and indulging in revelry (32:5-6).
This blatant idolatry angers the Lord who tells Moses to go down to his people who have become corrupt (32:7-8). He says to Moses, “I have seen these people… and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
But Moses seeks God’s favour and entreats God to not destroy the people (32:11-13). He cites the promises God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their forefathers, to make their descendants a great nation (32:13) and God relents (32:14).
Moses then went down the mountain, sees the Israelites wickedness, is fuming angry and so he threw the tablets containing the 10 commandments to the ground and proceeded to burn the calf in the fire, grind it to a powder, scatter it over the water and make the Israelites drink it (32:15-20).
Aaron tries to pass the buck (32:22-24) and Moses then tells all who are on the side of the Lord to rally to him. The Levites rallied to him (32:26) and then they kill about 3000 that day (32:28).
Moses goes back to speak to the Lord and seeks forgiveness for their sin (32:31-32). The Lord says he will blot out of the book those who have sinned against him (32:33) and then tells Moses to lead the people to where they were going in the first place and he would send his angel before them (32:34). But God makes clear that he himself will not go with them since he would have to destroy them on the way due to their wickedness (33:3).
Along the way Moses meets with the Lord at the “tent of meeting” where he would speak to the Lord “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (33:11). He uses this friendship to entreat the Lord, saying, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people.’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me…. If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people” (33:12-13).
God answers by assuring him that his presence will go with him and he will give him rest (33:14). Moses responds by saying that if God’s presence doesn’t go with them he doesn’t want to be sent: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (33:15-16)
Then Moses asks to see the Lord’s glory (33:18) and the Lord responds by saying he will cause all his goodness to pass in front of him and proclaim his name, the LORD, in his presence (33:19). But, the Lord goes on to say, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (33:20).
The Lord has Moses return to him in the morning and he then passes in front of Moses and declares his name: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children from the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (34:6-7).
Moses responds by bowing and worshipping the Lord. He says, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the LORD go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance” (34:8-9). The Lord then makes a covenant with Moses and tells Moses that those he lives among will see how awesome the Lord is (34:10).
When Moses returns from the mountain, his face is radiant from speaking with the Lord (34:29).
This passage of Scripture shows the grace of God in not wiping out his people though he had ample reason to do so. The Israelites were called to trust in the one true God but they continually went astray earning them the moniker, a stiff-necked people. Moses as the one who had found favour in God interceded on their behalf and God was pleased to honour his own promises to their forefathers through these actions.
A glimpse of his glory is also seen here as the climax of the story comes in 34:6-7. God reveals himself as “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” His grace, love and faithfulness would continue on throughout the entire Old Testament period.
This has now set the background for us to evaluate better John 1:14-18 in the next study.
*all direct quotations are from the TNIV
In thinking about John’s Gospel today I picked up a book I had a lot of fun reading a year ago when I received a copy. I wrote a review and thought I would repost it here since my old blog is no longer active.
In writing Why Four Gospels?The Historical Origins of the Gospels, David Alan Black has put what has become a minority opinion in scholarship into popular form. Working off of the ideas of Bernard Orchard and his own, Dr. Black has made a case to return to the majority opinion of the historic church: that of Matthean priority. The position is known as the Four-Fold Gospel Hypothesis.
The book weighs in at only 78 pages of text, consisting of three main sections. The prose is very readable making it an enjoyable read. Student and layperson alike will benefit greatly from this initial exposure into the world of the origins of the Gospels.
In his first section, “The Development of the Gospels,” Black has written a narratival reconstruction of how the Gospels were first constructed, including their circumstances. He breaks the development into four phases, wherein each of the Gospels finds a home. The four phases are the Jerusalem Phase, the Gentile Phase, the Roman Phase, and the Johannine Supplement. You can perhaps guess where each of the four Gospels fits and if you can, you will notice that the order of writing he proposes is Matthew, Luke, Mark and John, not the common proposal found today (priority often goes to Mark).
The narratival reconstruction is engagingly written but he says some strange things, at least they were strange to me. There were numerous occassions where I had no idea how he would justify, what I thought to be, a fanciful historical fiction. Black claims that Luke was written second, commissioned by Paul for use in his gentile mission, but not published until after they could get it authenticated by Peter in Rome, who then lectured in five sessions using both Matthew and Luke and his own recollections, which was immediately copied by competent scribes, including his assistant Mark, and in due course became the Gospel of Mark. I had decided ahead of time to read only the first section before going to bed one night but I had to hear more from him on it, so I proceeded to read section 2: “The Origins of the Gospels.” How on earth would he justify the story?
In the second section, Black sets forth his arguments to support the reconstruction he gave in section one. It is at this point where I started to see the pieces of the puzzle come together: he didn’t create a fanciful historical account! He actually bases his reconstruction on patristic evidence. As I now thought back to section one and saw the patristic evidence in front of me, I kept wanting to open my Bible and ask, “Does that work?” Indeed one of the best blessings of this book was the excitement to move back to the Bible to test and explore what I was reading for the first time.
But it is not as though Black is reading patristic writings that have been lost to every other scholar. So why the difference in opinion today? The problem is they have been dismissed and/or overlooked. The majority opinion is that Mark wrote first and so the patristics’ testimony must be explained away. But Black is reluctant to lose their testimony. In his preface (to the 2nd edition) he claims that they are necessary for this task. But, he says, “it is not that the fathers of the church solve the synoptic problem. It is that any approach to a solution that rejects their testimony is, by definition, illegitimate” (ix).
So what becomes of internal evidence? The sad truth is that internal evidence has not yielded the results expected of it: i.e. the priority of Mark is not proven by internal evidence. Just about any order can be justified by the internal evidence but with a guide like the evidence of the Fathers present, a more likely approach to the internal evidence is found.
Black’s final section returns to the story of the development of the Gospels by discussing each of their respective compositions. It was by the end of this section, and the end of the book, that I had the full picture in my head that bewildered me only 70 pages earlier. Only having studied Matthew and Mark heavily in the Greek (Luke much less so), I had not yet given much thought to the historical order of the Gospels besides the popular majority opinions. I now feel equipped to return to the study of the Greek Gospels with a viable hypothesis (indeed very viable) to test as I read through.
Given the target readership of the book, I have no criticisms. As I said above, it is readable and engaging. As for further study on the issue, I would love to see how the divisions of Mark’s Gospel into the five lectures of Peter proposed work with a discourse analysis approach to Mark’s Gospel. For example, can a division break be justified between 3:19 and 3:20? The text as we have it seems seamless. If so, should we attribute some redacting to Mark as well?
To read the reconstruction that at first bewildered me but gripped me, and later made perfect sense, get a hold of the book. At a very reasonable $10.19 (Amazon.com price as of 03/03/11), you can’t go wrong. It will expand your horizons, expose you to the historical majority viewpoint of the church on this issue, and help you read the Gospels with new vigour. No matter what your training, this book is worth reading. And more than that, I think Dr. Black has made a convincing case for Matthean priority. One I want to inspect more for myself now.
Verses 6-8 talked about John the Baptist’s witness to the light and now in verse 9 the light is made the subject again. Here the text also qualifies the light as the true light. Jesus is said to be true in the sense of ‘ultimate.’ Whatever one thought of ‘light’ in the first place, this here is the true light (cf. Carson, Gospel of John, 122; Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 166). And this true light, which gives light to all people, was coming into the world.
In fact, verse 10 tell us that the light was in the world (this earthly realm) now bringing focus to the Word and the Light as actually in space/time history. When verses 1-5 talk about the Word it is in his relationship to God and his relationship to creation. But only here does it begin to outline that the true light actually was in the world, a historical fact that could be looked back on from the time of John’s writing. The first 5 verses could be uttered at any time post-creation.
The second clause of verse 10 reiterates what we already know: the world was made through him, but the next clause tells us that the world did not know him, that is, it did not recognize him. Verse 11 goes on to specify this world even further as his own. He came to his own and his own did not receive him. Shockingly, even though the world was made through the Word, the world collectively has not acknowledged the Word’s entrance into space/time history.
But, this isn’t the whole story. The Word would not be rejected in total. There is a group that the author can refer to as receiving the Word. And to those who did receive him, to those believing in his name, he gave the right to become children of God! Though we start out separated from God, receiving God’s divine self-disclosure (Jesus) results in being adopted into God’s own family as children. This adoption is not the result of bloodlines, it is not the result of the will of the flesh, nor the result of the will of a husband, but rather it is being born of God. And this born of God language will return in chapter 3 in an exciting exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus.
But there it is, the result of receiving Jesus is to be born of God, adopted into his very family, something greater than we can ever achieve or have simply through natural relationships. Being born into a certain family, whether Jewish or Christian or any other will not ensure you are born of God, only receiving Jesus will ensure it, something that transcends natural bonds.