Monday, April 12, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: John 3-7

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through John, chapters 3-7.

Chapter 3

  • Verses 1-21 - Nicodemus is an interesting character, who will show up again later in Luke's narrative.
  • Verse 2 - The fact that Nicodemus approaches Jesus at night is suspicious, but perhaps one should be impressed that he approaches Jesus at all.  Even if he has ulterior motives (and he does seem to be laying to compliments on rather thick), he is notable for actually engaging Jesus in conversation throughout this passage.
  • Verse 10 - Translations (including the TNIV) almost universally phrase this sentence as a question.  Michaels suggests that it should be taken as a statement, instead.  Part of the reason for this is that, if it's a question, one expects Jesus to be referencing the Old Testament for support of his teachings on baptism, which he does not do here.  Thus, "there is no way Nicodemus can be expected to understand Jesus' new teaching."  Rather, Jesus' point here is that these "spiritual things" are only able to be understood "by those born of the Spirit."1
  • Verses 22-26 - Apparently, according to John, Jesus and John were both active at the same time at the beginning Jesus' ministry.  Other gospels seem to imply that John was imprisoned shortly after Jesus' baptism (which this gospel still never explicitly discusses, despite another clear opportunity to do so).
  • Verse 26 - Already, there seems to be some confusion about whether or not Jesus himself is baptizing people.  John doesn't immediately clarify that it was Jesus' disciples (and not Jesus himself) performing the baptisms until a little later.
Chapter 4
  • Verse 2 - Here John makes explicitly clear that Jesus isn't the one performing the baptisms.  I've always wondered why not....
  • Verse 3 - And why is Jesus responding to this word about baptizing more people than John by returning to Galilee?
  • Verses 13-15, 31-34 - These are among several passages (especially in John) where Jesus is discussing spiritual matters in terms that not only sound a lot like physical hunger and thirst (and their fulfillment), but it is clear that those to whom he is speaking understand these words in precisely these physical terms.  Does Jesus want people to understand what he's really talking about or not?
  • Verse 54 - Other gospels seem content to record Jesus' miracles and leave room for any number of unrecorded signs that may have taken places earlier or later in his lifetime.  John is still being very specific at this point.  This is miracle number two.  He doesn't seem to allow for the possiblity of Jesus performing any other miracles earlier than these that John didn't write down.
Chapter 5
  • Verses 6-7 - Given the man's response to Jesus' question (not so much an answer as an excuse), one wonders if he really did want to get well, as absurd as the idea that he might not would seem on its surface.
  • Verse 14 - What sinning does Jesus refer to, that the formerly invalid man had been committing?
  • Verses 36-40 - I'm not going to spell this out every time it appears, but it seems to me that a strong recurring theme in the gospel of John is Jesus' insistence that he is sent by God as a kind of emissary or ambassador, given authority by God to do the work of God.

Chapter 6
  • Verses 1-13 - There are only a small handful of stories that appear in all four gospels.  The fact that the feeding of the five thousand is one of them (and that so many of the details remain consistent.  Five loaves and two fish.  Twelve baskets of food left over...) would seem to suggest that it is a story considered especially remarkable.
  • Verses 50-65 - Oddly, John doesn't tell the story of Jesus eating (or offering) the Last Supper on the night before his crucifixion, but Jesus' teachings about his flesh and blood are clearly intended to connect with the sacrament that developed out of that event.

Chapter 7
  • Verses 3-5 - How interesting.  Jesus' own brothers tell Jesus to make himself more public, not because they really want his message to spread, but because they "did not believe in him."  Apparently, even Jesus' own brothers want to see him fail.  Do they somehow suppose that this is for Jesus' own good (if his "delusions" are brought to light, might he then "come to his senses"?), or do they not care about their own brother at all?
  • Verses 14-24 - Jesus clearly doesn't mind telling people things that he knows will offend them....
  • Verse 42 - Note that the gospel of John doesn't explicitly confirm Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.  One can only speculate if he is himself aware of this birth history (yet doesn't bother to record it), or if he simply doesn't consider the objections he quotes other people as having as sufficient to deny Jesus' claim to be the Messiah, even if the facts of the objection turned out to be true.  (Other common contemporary "objections" to Jesus being the Messiah--dying on the cross, for example--certainly shouldn't be considered as "evidence" against him).
  • Verse 50 - Nicodemus makes his second of three appearances in this gospel.  Blink and you'll miss him.


1J. Ramsey Michaels, John (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1989, p. 61.

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