Monday, April 19, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: John 8-12

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 8-12.

Chapter 8

  • Verses 1-11 - This passage (including the last verse of Chapter 7--this is one of those times where one wonders why the chapters were set as they are.  Verse 1 starts in the middle of a sentence!) is one that doesn't appear in the earliest manuscripts, and thus many scholars believe that it's a later addition to the gospel (presumably by a different author).  Some manuscripts even insert this portion in a different location entirely!1
  • Verse 4 - If this woman was indeed "caught in the act of adultery," it stands to reason that someone else was caught at the same time.  Where is he?
  • Verse 5 - The law mentioned here would seem to be Deuteronomy 22:22.  While that law does indeed proscribe death for the woman (it doesn't explicitly mention stoning), it's pretty explicit that both the woman and the man caught with her are to be put to death.  Again, where is the man?
  • Verses 6-8 - The act of Jesus writing on the ground is quite odd (and unique in the gospels).  What was he writing? Those questioning him seem not to notice, or at least their response seems to be one that doesn't see anything more than a delaying tactic at work.  Then, when Jesus finally does give an answer (and what an answer!), he starts writing again, but again, we're not told what he's writing....
  • Verse 22 - Since Jesus talks about his upcoming death a fair bit (sometimes more explicitly than others), it's perhaps odd that people don't wonder if he's suicidal more often....
  • Verse 37 - I've said before that Jesus doesn't seem to worry about saying things that will offend people (especially in this gospel), but this verse seems especially odd, since Jesus is accusing people who (at least at one time?) "believed in him" (v. 31) of seeking to kill him.
  • Verses 39 and 41 - Jesus' opponents seem confused.  A mere two verses after insisting that "Abraham is our Father" they proclaim that "the only Father (they) have is God himself."
  • Verse 48 - While I can understand how opponents of Jesus might accuse him of being "demon-possessed," I'm at a bit of a loss as to where the accusation that Jesus is a Samaritan comes from (but readily acknowledge that, given the deep racism that exists at this time between Jews and Samaritans, it's intended as a grevious insult).
Chapter 9
  • Verse 2 - Leaving aside the importance of this story for demonstrating that physical maladies are not always the result of sin, one wonders how the disciples could have imagined that a person could be blind from birth due to a sin of his own (Michaels does suggest that Psalm 51:5 might have been in their minds,2 but even so, I'd have the same question).
  • Verse 7 - The idea that the name of the pool of Siloam means "sent," must of been of some importance for the gospel to make a special note of the fact, but the significance is lost on me.3
  • Verses 20-23 - One wonders at what kind of a relationship the blind man had with his parents.  The text certainly doesn't paint them in a very favorable light.  Rather, they're pretty quick to pass any potential hostility from the Jewish leaders back on him.
  • Verse 27: "Do you want to become his disciples too?" - Given the nature of the questions, thus far, I have to believe that the formerly-blind man knows that his questioners don't like Jesus much.  Why is he asking them a question that's only going to make them mad?
Chapter 10
  • Verses 1-18 - Someday, I should make a list of all the places that "sheep" and "shepherd" language shows up in the Bible.  I'm at least somewhat sympathetic with the fact that the people Jesus is talking to here seem confused.  In this particular example of the metaphor, Jesus simultaneously claims to be the "shepherd" and the gate itself!  If someone did this today, we'd accuse them of not understanding how a metaphor should work!
  • Verses 40-42 - The legacy of John the Baptist is still felt....

Chapter 11
  • Verses 1-2 - We've read about Mary and Martha in Luke, but this is the first we read of Lazarus (the name was used of a character in a parable told in (a different part of) Luke, but this is clearly a different--and real--person).  Given what happens to Lazarus, I'm somewhat amazed that his story is told less often than theirs!
  • Verse 16: "Thomas (also known as Didymus)" - I wonder why the translators of the TNIV chose to translate this bit in this way.  The fact that John went to the trouble of telling us the "other" name of Thomas means that he saw significance in the name that he knew would be lost on his Greek readers if he didn't spell it out.  In this case, that significance seems to be in the fact that (as the footnotes attest) both "Thomas" and "Didymus" mean "twin."  Apparently, Thomas was a twin, and John wanted us to know that.  Yet, by retaining this Greek name as a name (rather than translating to something an English-speaker would understand), this significance is entirely lost on TNIV readers (other English-language translations do this, too.  The TNIV is hardly the only culprit.  But quite a few English translations come right out as translate "Didymus" as "twin" without the need for footnotes).4
  • Verses 53: "So from that day on they plotted to take his life" - Errr, what about all those times we've read about people wanting to kill Jesus already?

Chapter 12
  • Verse 3 - John's actually already referenced this action of Mary's, in verse 2 of the previous chapter.  This would indicate that the story John's only getting around to telling now is already well-known among the early Christians.5
  • Verse 6 - Judas is really rotten.  He's not only going to betray Jesus, thus leading to Jesus' death, he's also a thief!  What's interesting to me is that no other gospels care enough about this "other" of Judas' failings to even mention it, yet John goes to some length to rub it in.  Then, having established that Judas has a weakness for money, he doesn't specifically mention that Judas was paid ("thirty pieces of silver," you may recall) for the act of betraying Jesus.
  • Verse 10 - I wonder what became of the chief priests' plan to have Lazarus killed.  The gospel doesn't mention him again (except for the upcoming verse 17, which has little to do with this scheme).


1J. Ramsey Michaels, John (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1989, p. 146.
2Michaels, p. 159.
3Michaels, p. 164, gives some of history behind how the pool may have gotten the name, but that doesn't really answer the question, and I find his suggestion that "the narrator probably took advantage of (the name) to make a symbolic connection between this pool and the Spirit sent from God" to be possible, but an argument from silence rather than a clear connection.
4Michaels, p. 199, notes that "Thomas" was also a Greek name, if one used (exclusively?) by Jews. Perhaps the fact that both names were Greek is part of why some translations are reluctant to make things easier on English-readers.
5Michaels, p. 194.

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