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» Ship of Fools   » Ship's Locker   » Limbo   » Kerygmania: The Gospel of John, a verse at a time. (Page 7)

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Source: (consider it) Thread: Kerygmania: The Gospel of John, a verse at a time.
pimple

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I agree. Anyone want to put up the next verse and comment?

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Nigel M
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OK - here it is. NIV again:
quote:

2:18 Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?"

A disturbance in the Temple could have attracted a massacre by [a] zealous Jews or [b] jittery soldiers. So this response to Jesus' bit of anti-social behaviour seems quite moderate by comparison. It's almost as though the Jews would have accepted Jesus' behaviour if he could prove his point. Or was this a Socratic trap?
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El Greco
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They wanted to sell their freedom. Sell their freedom for security. And they ask this from the one person who asks for insecurity!

But God is too gentle and too noble to buy man's faith. Faith cannot be bought with miracles. Faith is deeply personal, a result of freedom!

I heard a parallel being drawn between selling our freedom (a phenomenon that is universal; people want to feel secure) and the Jews' choosing Barrabas over Christ in front of Pilate. Barrabas was offering them an ideology, an earthly vision. Christ was asking for maturity, for the giving of our own selves, for leaving all security aside to trust God and follow the Spirit. Instead of the earthly messiah, we got the suffering servant. Glory be to God!

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Ξέρω εγώ κάτι που μπορούσε, Καίσαρ, να σας σώσει.

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TubaMirum
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Wasn't this one skipped?:

quote:

17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."
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TubaMirum
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(Oops, sorry. No, it wasn't, but I missed it.

Carry on.)

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by TubaMirum:
(Oops, sorry. No, it wasn't, but I missed it.

Carry on.)

Do feel free to comment on it if you want to TM; it's part of the same episode and we're bound to be flitting back and forth as we go through sections....
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pimple

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The Jews' question sounds like an artificial "set up" on John's part, to me. Not that they didn't ask such questions, but I think it's more a way of introducing the answer - which we haven't got to yet! There's a lot of dialogue in John where another evangelist might have said "Meanwhile the Jews (or the Scribes and Pharisees) thought in their hearts...."

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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TubaMirum
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
quote:
Originally posted by TubaMirum:
(Oops, sorry. No, it wasn't, but I missed it.

Carry on.)

Do feel free to comment on it if you want to TM; it's part of the same episode and we're bound to be flitting back and forth as we go through sections....
Thanks, Nigel. I noticed last night at Tenebrae that the first reading was Psalm 69, which contains the "...Zeal for your house has eaten me up..." passage. That Psalm also later speaks of the narrator being thirsty, but being given vinegar to drink.

And I think in general that John was always tying the pieces of Jesus' life together to point to his mission and especially to the events of Holy Week.

In the first scene after the Prologue, he has John the Baptist point out Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." In the first part of Verse 2, he has Jesus turning water into wine - and staying three days at Cana, after which his disciples "believed on him." Now we have this scene, with the quote from Psalm 69 that references Jesus' words from the cross - and shortly he will say "Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days."

And also John puts the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, not the end. That must occur soon, although I can't remember exactly when it does.

I don't know exactly what this all means, but it seems clear that John is always trying to establish Jesus as Redeemer and Son of God - and as the fulfillment of Prophecy.

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pimple

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TubaMirum. The cleansing of the temple is at the bottom of page six- we've passed it; but I don't see any reason not to refer to it further, to tie in with current verses. "One verse at a time" taken literally ends up being rather disjointed - and I'm sure John's intention was a continuous narrative, focused on Holy Week.

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by TubaMirum:
And also John puts the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, not the end. That must occur soon, although I can't remember exactly when it does.

I don't know exactly what this all means, but it seems clear that John is always trying to establish Jesus as Redeemer and Son of God - and as the fulfillment of Prophecy.

Which brings us back to that question: why did John place the temple cleansing episode so early in his gospel, when the other gospel writers have it close to the end, forming part of the climax to Jesus’ earthly ministry? This is assuming that John is referring to the same incident and that there were not two similar but separate events. Freddy noted this to be his take on it (posted on previous page).

There are some dissimilarities. The scriptural quotation is different: the synoptics have Isa. 56:7 and Jer. 7:11, whereas John refers to Psalm 69:9. John does quote Jesus, however, as criticising the stallholders for turning the temple into a market, which could be a rendering of the “house of prayer to den of robbers” saying.

Both sets of incidents occur in the run up to a Passover festival. In the synoptics this event occurs at the Passover where Jesus is arrested and crucified; John, however, has Jesus visiting Jerusalem a few more times (and at least one more Passover festival) before his end.

All four gospels record the religious leaders questioning Jesus’ authority; in the synoptics it occurs a day or two later, whereas John places it immediately after the temple cleansing (though there might be a time gap). The nature of the answer to the authority question is different: in the synoptics Jesus refuses to answer, instead he bounces the question back on those who confronted him by referring to John the Baptist. In John’s gospel, Jesus does answer – with a reference to the temple building itself.

It’s significant I think that John makes reference to ‘miraculous signs’ throughout his book. Most of them occur as signs that have already taken place, but in the current episode Jesus seems to postpone making one: rather than play the conjurer for the religious rulers, he gives a prophecy. Ultimately, John presents these signs as a way of encouraging belief in Jesus (John 20:31).

I wonder if John is playing off two sets of zeal? One is Jesus and his zeal supported by signs that show his glory, the other the zeal of the religious leaders who have no sign in support and end up killing Jesus. It’s a struggle for belief: will the readers choose to put their trust in the established and proven religious regime based on the Jerusalem temple, with all its rituals, or in Jesus? Putting the temple cleansing incident up front might be John’s way of signalling that very contest for peoples’ hearts.

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pimple

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Barnabas62 linked us some time back to a sermon on John which pointed out that his time-scale was completely different to that of the synoptics. He wasn't attempting a chronologically accurate account of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Sorry I can't find the link - I don't remember which thread it was on.

[ 06. April 2007, 21:53: Message edited by: pimple ]

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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TubaMirum
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I'm sorry, you guys, that I'm missing points already made. I did go back to the previous comments, but somehow am not going deep enough into the page.

I think it's because I've followed the thread from the beginning, but can't seem to locate where I need to start again, as I've been away from it for awhile. Will try to be read more carefully in the future.

Thanks for your last posts, Nigel and pimple. They've reminded me of something, but I need to think more about it before I post again....

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Nigel M
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I'll move it on since I guess I was the one who commented first after last verse. I hope people don't mind if I put together the next three verses (while bearing in mind these are part of the section we've been looking at). It's a short dialogue that makes sense as one unit [NIV]:
quote:
2:19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."

20 The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?"

21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.


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pimple

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Ah, but was it? Pace those who think the fourth evangelist "knew the mind of Christ" (which IMV makes him on a par with God).

Two questions come immediately to mind:
1. Are other interpretations possible/likely/allowed?

2. Could it be that the answer came before the question, in the mind of John? ("How do I make this theological point without interrupting the narrative?")

For me that would indicate competent authorship, but for others it would be telling lies.

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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TubaMirum
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This is a truly beautiful passage, to me.

Again, Jesus makes it clear that worldly powers cannot and will not defeat him; that however long it takes for human beings to build (and destroy), God can accomplish the ultimate miracle in only three days. Again, he uses his own body as metaphor. Again, he says that God is bigger than religion and culture and location and anything one can name.

And He does this from a position of total weakness. He says, essentially: "The body you may kill; God's truth abideth still."

I like Pimple's questions, too. I've never really thought of John as historical; for me, it's an extended meditation on the meaning of the "Christ-event." (When you get an intro like the one here, in the Prologue, it's not hard to come to that conclusion. John is a Fabulous Tale - the Fabulous Tale, I guess.)

It's interesting, though, always, to think about "other interpretations." And yes, I think the answer came before the question. [Biased]

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TubaMirum
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(Another wonderful thing about the story of Jesus Christ is that for the most part, His miracles are not "earth-shattering."

No temples actually fall; no lightening comes from the sky; no pillars of cloud and fire; no striking of rocks to find water.

The miracles are very homely, in fact, and all about human life: healing sick people, feeding hungry people, catching fish, etc. Stilling the waves and the storm so that people can go about their lives - that is the most cinematic-dramatic miracle.

The true miracle is embedded in the Incarnation: that God came to live (and die) as a human being. The Temple is His body. John is always talking about the cosmic struggle between Light and Darkness and between Good and Evil - the struggle we can't see or take part in. That's the wonderful and amazing thing, for me.)

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pimple

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Thanks, TM. I too feel that the miracles that are most eloquent are not the Cecil B. de Mille sort. Though for the lucky recipients they may have felt earth-shattering enough!

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Nigel M
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The dialogue between Jesus and the Jews here follows a pattern that John uses elsewhere. Jesus is addressed by someone, he replies with an answer that throws his partner in the conversation to the extent that they come back with what looks to be a sulky "you-haven't-followed-the-rules-of-conversation" type of reply. Nicodemus in 3:1-5 and the Samaritan woman in 4:9-12 are examples that follow this structure.

The difference is that with Nicodemus and the woman, Jesus provided a rejoinder that seems to have caused them to become convinced in him. Here in chapter 2, however, he doesn't. John stops the conversation. Perhaps this is to signal the Jews' growing opposition as the narrative proceeds?

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pimple

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I've just noted another ambiguity - if such it is. Jesus says "Destroy this temple and..." Which seems to put his interlocutors on the back foot. Who's doing the destroying, in the Greek - is it clear?

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by pimple:
Who's doing the destroying, in the Greek - is it clear?

The way it appears in the UBS text, it is Jesus answering the Jews directly ("Jesus answered and said to them..."), followed by the verb for 'destroy' in its second person plural aorist imperative form, which implies that Jesus was telling the Jews, "Youse destroy..." (struggling to find a second person plural form in UK English! Perhaps "You all destroy..." for some USA speakers?)

There might be an implied judgment against the Jews he was speaking to here: almost a "Carry on and finish off what your fathers started" statement of irony. Matthew 23:32 records a similar use of language in the context of killing prophets:
quote:

30 And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! [NIV]


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pimple

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Ah - let him that is without sin first cast a stone against misery-guts Matthew - and Jeremiah gloating over the same part of the Decalogue! Sorry - nothing at all to do with John! (But why is there so much more talk of sin in the New Testament than the old?)

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Nigel M
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Perhaps the concept was presented using different words and phrases? Israel turning its back on God; Israel playing the harlot; disobeying God; not listening or paying attention; rejecting God's message; following after other gods; etc.

It all looks so much more communal, rather than individual.

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TubaMirum
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Might as well post the next section?

John 2:22 - 25:

quote:
22 Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

23 While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.

24 But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,

25 and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.


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TubaMirum
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(Wanted to add that I've never really noticed 24-25 before. Quite a statement there!)
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pimple

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My version (NRSV) has "He needed no-one to testify about anyone, for he himself knew what was in everyone." Which is a bit stronger than a knowledge of human nature. It implies a supernatural knowledge of every individual mind.

There is an implication, in this passage (ISTM) that Jesus' purpose in going to Jerusalem is in that everyone should believe in his name. But he knew there were traitors among the believers? I keep hearing John - louder than Jesus.

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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pimple

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Hope someone will ignore that last irrelevance and carry on some time... [Hot and Hormonal]

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Nigel M
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No not irrelevant – opens up the question of inspiration (quickly steps aside before the entire thread is launched into Dead Horses...). Did John:
1] Speak for himself when he penned our verses 24-25;
2] Have inside knowledge from his time with Jesus during his ministry; or
3] Write what be felt inspired to write by God?

I tend to take a mix of [2] and [3] above.

Next – what do these verses (23-25) mean? What does John mean by the phrase people “believed in his name”? How does that tie in with Jesus not believing back, and not needing “man’s testimony”? Does it imply that people were capable of believing in Jesus one moment, but renouncing him later?

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TubaMirum
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I have to agree that what I posted above seems like a bad translation; "human nature" is really a read that isn't there, apparently, in the original (although I suspect that that is what is meant anyway). Here's Young's literal translation:

quote:
22when, then, he was raised out of the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this to them, and they believed the Writing, and the word that Jesus said.

23And as he was in Jerusalem, in the passover, in the feast, many believed in his name, beholding his signs that he was doing;

24and Jesus himself was not trusting himself to them, because of his knowing all [men],

25and because he had no need that any should testify concerning man, for he himself was knowing what was in man.

This seems interesting to me, because there are two distinct "reads" of Jesus' reticence in revealing himself to human beings. The first is the one suggested here: that he knew about "human nature" (since he's 100% human himself!) and did not "trust" people.

The second is more interesting, I think, and is the origin, I bet, of the early view of Jesus' having "tricked" the Devil: he's keeping secret his identity in order that Satan will be unaware of who Jesus really is, so that he (Jesus) can conquer death by his own death.

This last thing makes more and more sense to me as time goes on, because of the repeated use of this concealment in every Gospel account.

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pimple

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Thanks. I was going to ask whether these "denials" were more or less important to modern Christians than to John's readers. You seem partly to have answered that question in your last sentence. It's interesting that the denials appear in all the gospels. I still don't quite understand the significance of them then .

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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TubaMirum
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Well, it's just an idea that's been crystallizing for me lately - probably because "Christus Victor" atonement makes more sense to me than any other read. And of course, I like a good yarn - and that's a humdinger, as they say. [Biased]

In that vein, though, take a look at this blog entry, and read Comment #3. It's about a reading of the early Temptation narrative in Mark, one that came from "Gregory" (I'm actually not sure which one, now that I reread this). But it looks at the theme of "concealment" in a similar way.

Just an idea, as I say. This reading from John actually goes the other way, though....

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pimple

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Thanks for the blog link but it's not responding at the moment. I'll try again later.

[ 09. May 2007, 16:00: Message edited by: pimple ]

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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TubaMirum
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Bad code above, that's why. Here's the fixed link.

Sorry....

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the Ænglican
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I'm speaking here of Gregory the Great's sermon on Matt 4:1-11 in his 40 Gospel Homilies. Essentially the "deception notion"--which was quite common among the early Fathers--was that Satan didn't know what he was getting himself in for and would not have slain Jesus had he known who he was. Thus, the Temptation has nothing to do with establishing Jesus's self-understanding (as it's often read today), but is Satan literally testing Jesus to find out who he is. Since Jesus conquers Satan by only human means--nothing miraculous--Satan is still left in the dark...

Of course, one of the exegetical problems with this is that--especially in Mark--all the demons know exactly who he is on sight...

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The subject of religious ceremonial is one which has a special faculty for stirring strong feeling. --W. H. Frere

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pimple

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Good blog. Thanks to both of you. All those links could keep me off the Ship for weeks. Was that the idea? [Biased]

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Luke

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It's been a over a week, so here are the next few verses of a new chapter.
quote:
3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (esv)

Jesus, probably still in Jerusalem is approached secretly by one of the ruling Pharisees, Nicodemus, as opposed to your standard village Pharisee. Nicodemus seems to be on the verge of belief so Jesus challenges him and says if he wants to understand God properly he needs to be 'born again'.

The Kingdom of God is a major theme in the synoptics but not so much in John, so it's interesting to see it here in chapter 3. Nicodemus wants to know if God is with Jesus or not but Jesus seems to respond with a tangent about the Kingdom of God. This must mean there is a connection between knowing and understanding the signs of God and the Kingdom of God.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by Luke:
Nicodemus wants to know if God is with Jesus or not but Jesus seems to respond with a tangent about the Kingdom of God. This must mean there is a connection between knowing and understanding the signs of God and the Kingdom of God.

It could be an example of how Jesus cuts through conversation niceties to get to the real issue; John records a number of other instances where Jesus apparently ignores the question and throws out a statement that unbalances the person he’s talking to. For example, there’s the reply to the Jews in 2:18-19 and the response to the Samaritan woman in 4:9-12. Here, could it be that Nicodemus had prepped his conversation and wanted to get to the point via a reasoned route, but Jesus swung him away before he could get into his swing? In which case perhaps Jesus knew that talk of signs would not answer Nicodemus' real issue.

And what do we make of that “born again” phrase? Is it “born from on high”, or "born from above”, or something different? How does it connect to the Kingdom of God phrase?

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The born again is more of the same of what you have already pointed towards: Jesus moved the flow of the conversation from Nicodemus' fawning but still self aggrandizing "we know you are" towards a challenge along the lines of Unless you are this, you can not relate to the kingdom of God.

What is the this though?

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I wish I was seeking justice loving mercy and walking humbly but... "Cease to lament for that thou canst not help, And study help for that which thou lament'st."

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pimple

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I think it's the new man born "of the spirit" and not relying on his Jewish birthright and tradition. "Born again Christian" is often nowadays a pejorative phrase, but for John that was the only sort of Christian with any hope of salvation. Of course, the phrase has now lost its original anti-Jewish overtones. Or has it?

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Nigel M
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I was interested to map NT Wright’s take on ‘Kingdom of God’ language to this passage in John. Wright’s analysis of the use of that phrase in the Judaism of this period is that the coming kingdom of God meant the end of Israel’s exile, the overthrow of a pagan empire and the exaltation of Israel, and the return of God to Zion to judge and save. It wasn’t, in other words, being understood at the time as an individualised interiorisation of a spiritual event, but rather as a national political restoration and regeneration: a public vindication by God of his people (or at least the righteous ones in Israel). I’m not sure if Wright deals with John 3 anywhere in his analyses; it would be interesting to see his take on it, because John’s presentation seems to imply an interior spiritual experience, although when we get to verses 16-17 we are definitely in ‘save the world’ territory.

Here in John 3 we have Nicodemus, a leader among the people and apparently sympathetic to Jesus. He starts the conversation by establishing his belief that Jesus’ message has validity – i.e. is supported by signs, an appropriate method of validation. Jesus then goes straight to the regeneration theme. If Wright is correct, then presumably here Jesus is saying that a new agenda regarding the Kingdom is being announced and it needs a different viewpoint (world view?) to be able to see it. Jesus himself is the embodiment of God’s return to Zion; he is the means for end of exile and the calling of the whole creation back to God. To understand this will require a transformation on the part of the hearer.

Incidentally, I wonder if chapter 3 begins a ‘flash-back’ to Jesus’ ministry? Chapter 2 ended with the confrontation in the temple, which the other gospels place near the end of Jesus’ life. Perhaps John places that event up front in his gospel to establish where the battle lines were drawn and over what issues (where Jesus got his authority from – validation of his message, in other words); then he does a back flip to present a series of events that deal with that very issue: validating Jesus, starting with Nicodemus’ visit. John, in this scheme, is not concerned with presenting everything in order of time, but in setting out what he sees as the key issues and then dealing with them with whatever episodes he deemed relevant. We catch up again with the Passover events again in chapter 12.

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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
Incidentally, I wonder if chapter 3 begins a ‘flash-back’ to Jesus’ ministry? Chapter 2 ended with the confrontation in the temple, which the other gospels place near the end of Jesus’ life. Perhaps John places that event up front in his gospel to establish where the battle lines were drawn and over what issues (where Jesus got his authority from – validation of his message, in other words); then he does a back flip to present a series of events that deal with that very issue: validating Jesus, starting with Nicodemus’ visit. John, in this scheme, is not concerned with presenting everything in order of time, but in setting out what he sees as the key issues and then dealing with them with whatever episodes he deemed relevant. We catch up again with the Passover events again in chapter 12.

Wow, this is a really interesting idea, Nigel! Wonderful take!
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Nigel M
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Time to move on again? John 3:4 [NIV]
quote:
"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
Up until now I had thought that Nicodemus was either being grumpy or was somewhat dim; he either didn't like Jesus' response to his conversation opener and decided to be picky on the literalistic level, or he was completely at sea over Jesus' use of the 'born' language. I thought that he (Nicodemus) might have circulated this encounter to the early church in a self-deprecating way to demonstrate how astute Jesus was compared to his own silliness.

Just looking at the verse now, I wonder if I have done Nick a disservice. Perhaps he did understand Jesus to be using birth figuratively and was quick enough to appreciate this point. His response would then read: “Ah! I see it requires a complete change of world-view to appreciate your concept of God’s Kingdom and its realisation. But look at my colleagues and me among the Jewish leaders – we’re all old men! How can an old dog learn new tricks? Surely we are past changing opinions now?”

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pimple

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Interesting...that could well be John's point: never too late. My guess is that you are not an old man? [Biased]

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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quote:
Originally posted by pimple:
My guess is that you are not an old man?

[Killing me]

He might be an old woman!

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Nigel M
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There's a saying: Young people look forward, old people look back; middle-aged people just look tired. One day I'll be able to ask God why that is. I'm looking forward to that.
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Nigel M
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John 3:5 -
quote:
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

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Nigel M has kindly alerted me that you have reached this verse on this thread, which I haven't been following. Here is my question from the thread I just started "You Must Be Born of the Water" perhaps a kind host can delete it if it is going to be discussed here:
quote:
The other night I was talking with an aquaintance who was baptised as a child but lately has been worshipping with one of those necktie/microphone groups.

He said that they are taught differently to what the church has believed and taught for two thousand years, that this verse in John 3 does not refer to baptism, but instead to simply being born.

I tried to argue with him, though I am not a biblical scholar, that that particular idiom "born of the water" is used no where to refer to simply being born. It doesn't follow that our Lord would create a new metaphor for human birth and then it be misunderstood until the 19th century, until The Founder of a Movement gets it right.

I also brought up angels, who "see the kingdom" but they weren't "born of the water". He said but the next verse refers to "what is born of flesh is flesh, what is born of the spirit is spirit," this linking "born of the water and thee spirit".

Well, what are Jesus and Nick talking about here?



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Nigel M
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I realise that we are going to need verse six as well, so here’s the two verses together (from the NIV):
quote:
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
I’d better come clean (washed by water?!) and say that I have not been totally convinced that John 3:5 is a reference to baptism. But then again, I’m not really convinced by any other interpretation either!

I’ve come across six different interpretations of this “water” reference (and there may be more):
1] Water of baptism;
2] Physical birth of a baby;
3] Just another way of saying ‘Spirit’ (i.e., Holy Spirit);
4] Linked to the above – but translating ‘spirit’ (pneuma, πνευμα) as ‘wind’;
5] The ministry of John the Baptist; and
6] The Word of God.

I’ve listed them roughly in order of likelihood – if commentators are anything to go by. I should add that not a few commentators feel uncomfortable with the word ‘water’ in this verse and view it as a likely later addition, either by John (i.e. Jesus didn’t actually speak it) or someone after John. Frankly, this doesn’t help us much at the moment because it’s there, like it or not, and we have to deal with it. I’ll leave [1] above out of things for time being and look at the others.

Number [2]: this takes the context to be that Nick has just responded to Jesus with a reference to physical birth (verse 4 -"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"). So Jesus is confirming that a physical birth is at least necessary before a second stage is needed. The implication is that the first birth is the natural birth and ‘water’ refers to the water of the womb.

Number [3] has a venerable history. Commentators from Origen to Calvin and beyond concluded that there was just one thing being referred to and that this joint water-and-spirit reference was linked to the “born from above / born again” phrase (anothen ανωθεν - John being a master of double meanings, he might have used that word deliberately to mean both ‘from above’ and ‘again’).

Number [4] majors on the fact that both water and wind come ‘from above’. Reference is made to Isaiah 44:3-5 and Ezekiel 37:9-10 as examples of water and wind as life-giving symbols of the Spirit of God in his work among people. There’s a wider link here to the coming of the Holy Spirit in advance of the restoration of Israel and the re-establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth.

Number [5] takes ‘water’ to refer to the specific baptism by John the Baptist as a forerunner to Jesus’ ministry.

Number [6] draws in Ephesians 5:26: “...cleansing her [the church] by the washing with water through the word...” In other words, the Word of God makes the Church holy. Being born from above involves being taught the gospel.

I suspect the arguments used by those who favour [2] above against taking [1] as a reference to water baptism would major on what is takes to be ‘saved’ (or born again, converted, justified, brought into the kingdom, brought into the world-wide church....[insert favourite phrase]). Romans 5:1 states that we have been justified (or declared righteous) through faith and it could be said that if baptism were essential as well, then Paul would surely have mentioned it here. On the other hand, I note that in 5:9 Paul says we are justified (or declared righteous) by his blood, which adds something to mere faith....

Sorry - long post, but hopefully sets the context for the discussion.

Nigel

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pimple

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Jesus seems to be contrasting physical birth with a spiritual one- a radical change of heart and mind that effectively means a person starts out with a new life.

I don't know if it's significant in this matter that the fourth gospel was written some time after the Pauline epistles (and Luke/Acts) but there is a curious refernce to rebirth in the Holy Spirit in Luke's account of Paul at Ephesus (curious because Paul was not one who regarded speaking in tongues as de riguer for a validly reborn Christian:

ACTS 19 (NRSV): While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul....came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They replied, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." Then he said, "Into what were you baptized?" They answered, "Into John's baptism." Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied - Altogether there were about twelve of them.

So well before the fourth gospel was written there was, it seems, already a ritualised form of what Anglicans would now recognise as Confirmation, I think. Some charismatic groups - both catholic and protestant, have gone back to seeing speaking in tongues as "proof" that the thing has, um, "taken". I guess the Johanine community held the same view, since there's nothing to the contrary in the fourth gospel.

I hope that's not all too much of a tangent.

[ 07. June 2007, 22:00: Message edited by: pimple ]

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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pimple

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Sorry - a simple error - nowhere in that Acts passage is the new baptism called a rebirth. And it seems not everyone regards that as a given. So I am not sure where that leaves us.

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In other words, just because I made it all up, doesn't mean it isn't true (Reginald Hill)

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Nigel M
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The issue seems to be wide open!

I can see why some struggle with this verse as being from Jesus rather than the later church. If it does refer to baptism by water, then we are stuck with the fact that nowhere else before his death does Jesus advocate water baptism as a requirement for entry into God’s Kingdom. As an ordnance, baptism was not yet in effect. In fact, if the thief on the cross was granted entry into paradise without baptism, then why would Nicodemus be told that baptism was essential? Equally, if Jesus wanted to stress the importance of baptism, then why not just say so – “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is baptised and born of the Spirit.” These arguments seem to underlie the position of those who conclude that either John or someone after him inserted the ‘water’ reference into the text.

However, as Mama Thomas pointed out, the majority of the church Fathers (among others) see the reference to baptism by water. The earliest, I think, is Justin, who wrote: “For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, "Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” [First Apology, chapter 61]. Tertullian makes it clear that baptism is mandatory: For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: “Go,” He saith, “teach the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The comparison with this law of that definition, “Unless a man have been reborn of water and Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens,” has tied faith to the necessity of baptism.” [On Baptism, chapter 13].

So I guess the question is, should Christian commentators seek to undercut the opinion of the Church Fathers? They were nearer the time, but then they could be reading into the texts something that made sense in a church context, rather than a pre-resurrection one. My own limited take is that I see no reason why the reference to water couldn’t have been made by Jesus and that it was a response to Nicodemus’ feeling that it was too late for an old man to revisit his beliefs (verse 4). Jesus is here saying that it can indeed happen, but it needs a new birth – a new start, something that happen only by the power of God through his Spirit.

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