John 7-8

Good morning! Have you had your coffee yet today?? I find when reading the soliloquies of Jesus in John that I can quickly lose myself in the metaphors of these deceptively simple passages. Though the exact nature of the images and arguments tend to pile up in my head, what’s clear today in John 7-8 is Jesus’ antipathy for the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish authorities. While they present themselves as the ultimate authorities of Hebrew theological interpretation, Jesus claims his own identity with God as the final, definitive authority. As you can imagine, this does not go down well with the Jewish authorities, especially when he flatly contradicts them.

As I start reading in John 7, I’m brought up short almost immediately by one line: “the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill [Jesus]”. It’s vitally important that we recognize how verses like this are distorted for anti-Semitic purposes. For centuries, Christian leaders have suggested that since “the Jews” killed Jesus, God thinks nothing of violence against Hebrew people. However, this is a gross misreading of the tradition. Especially in John, who writes at a time of great hostility among Jews and Christ-followers, we need to remember that John’s common identifier “the Jews” means more appropriately “the religious authorities”. Everyday Jews, as we see during Jesus’ Jerusalem spectacle at the time of the Festival of Booths, were hotly divided about his identity. People didn’t know what to make of his audacious claims, and even the religious leadership was at least partially split over how seriously to take the Jesus threat. Jesus antagonizes the Pharisees deliberately, stinging them with his rebukes and remarks, but they argue over the best way to respond. In describing disagreement among people about how to respond, John mirrors the reality of his own day, and of every period in history since. Interestingly, we see Nicodemus emerge again, still as a Pharisee but now speaking out timidly for Jesus to get a fair hearing. I wonder, is Nicodemus supposed to be a sympathetic stand-in for the reader, slowly making his way from doubtful skeptic to tentative explorer, and finally to active devotee at the end of John?

Chapter 8’s opening story of the woman caught in adultery does not exist in some of the earliest manuscripts. The textual evidence suggests that it has been added at some later point. I’m not sure what the occasion might have been for adding a story like this (or where it comes from), but the writer wants to make clear that Jesus does not condemn “public sinners” outright, even as he tells them to change their ways. The injustice of this accusation against the woman becomes clear when we realize that the person she was sleeping with is not presented, even though she was caught “in the very act”. One other thing that has always puzzled me about this is what Jesus writes with his finger on the ground. I have always assumed that it was idle doodling, but now I see that some manuscripts suggest he writes the sins of all the accusers. Given the part of the story where they slowly slink away without stoning the woman, that detail appeals to me.

Finally, I’m struck by the clarity of identity and purpose that Jesus expresses in John. His existence as the Son of God, and a divine messenger bringing salvific knowledge to the world, is the solid rock on which he stands, impervious to critique or threat. Note in chapter 8 especially how he repeatedly uses “I am” in reference to himself (sometimes the English translation hides this). Here we also have another of his explicit “I am” statements: “I am the light of the world”. I have concerns with the black-and-white worldview that Jesus expresses here (light/darkness, flesh/Spirit, truth/falsehood, etc) because in my experience people are far more “both-and” than “either-or”, but the clarity of judgment and identity which Jesus brings allows him to make powerful, persuasive appeals for allegiance. Happy reading!

Read John 7-8.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is John 9-10. Thanks for reading!

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