New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 15: John 7-8

Bits and pieces this week.

John 7:1- Who are “the Jews?” John frequently says things like “the Jews” did this and “the Jews” said that, often treating “the Jews” as a monolithic group, even though John himself, Jesus, and many of Jesus followers (if not most) were Jews.

This categorical distrust of the Jews is widely felt to reflect a much later situation in the life of the church when excommunication from the synagogue for confessing Christians was officially sanctioned (cf. 9:22), a view widely made known by J. L. Martyn’s study of the relevant chapters and of the life setting of John’s Gospel. By all appearances John’s Gospel is no longer aware of the diversity of parties within early first-century Judaism*. They are all lumped together as one group: “the Jews.” Jews appear to the readers of this Gospel as outsiders (e.g., “your Law,” 10:34).
But Jews also believe (11:45). And they are at times divided (10:19–21). Israel always remains a positive term (1:31, 47), and singular respect for Judaism is evinced (4:22). Other uses of “the Jews” are neutral (e.g., 11:19; 18:20). The usage of “the Jews” seems therefore to demonstrate what has been described as a sense of remoteness rather than hatred. -“Israel” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 1st ed.

As the other gospels make clear, though, Jesus had lots of popular support.  Even in John “many in the crowd”  (7:31) believe him, and most of those would have been Jews. Many times in the Gospels, it is the elites who want to take action against Jesus, but cannot act because of his popular support. So we should be careful as to how we understand “the Jews” in John’s gospel.

John 7: Jesus and deception. Jesus’ brothers say to him “You should go to the feast of Booths, in Jerusalem.” 2-4. Jesus replies, “Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival.” (8, NRSV) Then, though, “But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret.” (7:10 NRSV)

Jesus doesn’t change his mind about going as much as deceive his non-believing brothers (v.5).  Can Jesus legitimately deceive people? Does God deceive? Apparently he does, in certain ways. See this blog post and this follow-up.

7:22 has an interesting editorial insertion. As part of an argument, Jesus says  “Moses gave you circumcision” and someone very early “corrected” him by adding “(it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs).” And indeed, this is true. Circumcision was not given with Moses, but back with Abraham in Genesis.

Can Jesus be “wrong”? Clearly, a scribe/editor along the way thought it needed correction. But is he actually doing the kind of attribution we think?

John 8- The woman taken in adultery

In a pattern that continues to this day, a double standard is applied, as the woman becomes merely an object to be used to gratifying various ends, while the man and men get off scot-free. Many modern translations bracket this story, as the oldest manuscripts don’t contain it, and some that do have it in Luke. However, most include it, instead of dropping it entirely like some other passages.

“the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts in various places,”-Bruce Metzger, in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament

What was Jesus writing on the ground?

God wrote the Ten Commandments with his finger (Ex 31:18; Deut 9:10); perhaps Jesus writes the first line of the tenth commandment in the Septuagint of Exodus 20: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” This text would declare them all guilty of adultery (Mt 5:28). This proposal is at best speculation, but we have no better clues concerning what Jesus might have written with his finger; perhaps the most reasonable other option is that he is merely passing time until they leave. The witnesses were normally the first to throw the stones, but false witnesses were to pay the same penalty they had hoped to inflict on their victim (Deut 17:7; 19:19).-IVP Bible Background Commentary on the  New Testament 

Nobody knows, of course, what Jesus was writing on the ground. (In the ancient world, teachers often used to write or draw in the dust; that’s how some of the great geometry teachers would explain things, in the days before chalkboards and overhead projectors.) We can guess if we like; maybe he was writing lists of other sins, including hypocrisy. Maybe he was making a point about sins of the eye and heart, as in Matthew 5:28. Or maybe he was just doodling, treating their question with the contempt it deserved.- N.T. Wright, John for Everyone.

Since Jesus has, throughout the Gospel of John, alluded to being God in flesh (see note on v. 12), the implication is that He is the only one permitted to sentence judgment in this scenario; yet, He chooses to be gracious. This is either because the woman is innocent, the accusers have backed down, or simply because Jesus desires to give her an out that she doesn’t deserve.-Faithlife Study Bible

8:11 “do not sin again.” (C.f. John 5:14)  Said Joseph Smith “Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God.”

8:31-35  Note that the KVJ rarely uses the word “slave” (only in Jer. 2:14 and Rev 18:13), although it is a better translation of both Hebrew ‘eved and  Greek doulos. Both “slave” and “servant” carry mismatched cultural baggage; “slavery” in the US connotes serious racial inequality and extreme dehumanization, which do not necessarily apply to the biblical world. “Servant” on the other hand conjures up ideas of British butlers, maids, and chauffeurs, also not the case in the ancient world. Being a “servant of sin” (KJV) conveys something very different than “slave of sin” (virtually every other translation.)

Contemporary interpreters of “slavery”/“service” language in the Gospel texts have to contend with two challenges: (1) the theological and ethical difficulty posed by English not having a single word group that is sufficiently multivalent to embrace categories ranging from, on the one hand, humble but voluntary service (e.g., of God) to, on the other hand, forced, oppressive and inhuman slavery; (2) the reality that different cultures, over different periods, both prior and subsequent to the writing of the Gospels, have regarded slavery quite differently. For example, first-century A.D. social attitudes and practices toward slaves differed significantly from those of the African slave trade in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. – “Slave, Servant,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition.

I’ve combined that article, and articles on Slavery from the Anchor Bible Dictionary and Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch here.

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