Good morning, and happy November! Can you believe we’ve been reading through the Bible since January 1st? We’ve made it through some barren and lush parts of the Bible together—I’ve been grateful for your company and encouragement of each other along the way! With just two months to go, today we begin the fourth gospel (John 1-2) before turning our attention to the happenings of the Christian community after Jesus’ resurrection.
John’s gospel differs significantly from the first three. While the others largely share a basic framework of events in Jesus’ life, John arranges things quite differently. It may be that since John was written 80-90 years after Jesus’ ministry (according to most scholars it’s the latest gospel written), he felt more free to structure the gospel in light of theology rather than biography. John makes Jesus seem almost like a demi-god, made incarnate in order to communicate the knowledge of God, yet largely numb to the wounds and sufferings of physical life. To this end, Jesus is called “the Word” of God, and that which he teaches takes the form of highly-developed metaphysical thought. John makes frequent use of symbols in opposition, such as light/dark, flesh/spirit, law/grace, and “children of God”/“children of men”. We can discuss other differences we detect in our reading together.
John 1 starts out sounding a bit like a Star Wars film, declaring from the beginning its epic significance. The writer clearly identifies Jesus with God, and names him co-creator of the universe. John the Baptist’s role is more developed and described than in other gospels, a longer “prologue” of sorts to Jesus’ ministry. Note that unlike any other gospel, Jesus’ baptism isn’t described but only reported on by John, whose testimony has the nature of a legal affidavit. Jesus begins calling the disciples immediately, when two “transfer” from following John to following Jesus. I like that Jesus doesn’t answer their initial questions, but encourages them to follow their curiosity farther: “come and see”. A little later as other disciples are recruited, skeptical Nathanael hears the same words from Philip. This is what the most persuasive religious experiences are about—not trying to compel or persuade with arguments, but instead inviting people to a personal encounter that may transform the future.
I’ve always appreciated that Jesus’ first wonder-working act involves turning water into gallons upon gallons of fantastic wine, at the encouragement of his mother no less. Wine represents life, delight and extravagance. For Jesus this is also “the first of his signs” that reveal “his glory”. John consistently uses the language of “signs” instead of miracles. Each healing or exorcism “points” to Jesus as the child of God and builds a case for accepting him as the Messiah. We hear of other signs in the final verses of this chapter, but the other major story is the cleansing of the temple. With every other gospel this narrative comes as part of the final week, but here it reveals animosity at the very beginning between “the Jews” and Jesus. John consistently discusses “the Jews” as a block, ignoring the fact that Jesus himself and all the disciples are Jews as well. In this he again presumes the later division between Jews and Jesus-followers. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is John 3-4. Thanks for reading!