Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Waters of Life: John 3:22-36 and 4:1-16

William HamblinAnother Encounter with John the Baptist (Jn. 3:22-36)
As a segue from the discussion of being born of the water and Spirit in John 3:1-21, Jesus and his disciples go into the countryside and begin to baptize (3:22-24)—that is, to bring people into the Kingdom of God (3:3, 5). John is the only Gospel that describes Jesus and his disciples baptizing during Jesus' life (3:22, but 4:2). The location of their baptizing is said to be at "Aenon (Ainōn)near Salim (Saleim)." Aenon is a Hellenization of an Aramaic word meaning the "spring ('ayin) of On," or perhaps just "springs" with a Greek grammatical ending or mispronunciation. The location of Salim is uncertain, but is often thought to be near Bet Shean, ancient Scythopolis, where there are a number of springs.

John and Jesus do not actually meet in this narrative. Rather, John's disciples are concerned because Jesus seems to be attracting numerous disciples. There is a sense of rivalry with Jesus among some of John's disciples (3:25-26). John's response is to reaffirm his earlier testimony that Jesus, not John, is the Messiah (3:27-30). The chapter ends with a theological commentary by John the Beloved (3:31-36).

The Bridegroom (Jn. 3:29)
For the most part, John the Immerser's second testimony of Jesus parallels the earlier themes I have already discussed. However, John also gives a brief metaphor or parable:

The one who has the bride [Israel] is the bridegroom [Messiah].

The friend of the bridegroom [John], who stands and hears him [the Messiah], rejoices greatly at the Bridegroom's voice.

Therefore this joy of mine is now complete [because the Messiah/Bridegroom has come].

The obvious point is here that the Immerser and his disciples should not be concerned that Jesus has the bride—that is more disciples in Israel than John. Rather they should rejoice that the Messiah—the bridegroom Jesus—has now come and the wedding feast is at hand.

Why does the Immerser use the image of a bridegroom as an allegory for the Messiah? Would this have made sense to first-century Jews? This Bridegroom allegory derives from the Hebrew Bible where a number of prophets describe the relationship between YHWH and Israel as the relationship between a jealous husband (YHWH) and an adulterous wife (Israel) (Ex. 20:5; 34:14-16; Hos. 1-3 [esp. 2:1-23]; Is. 54:4-8; Mic. 1:7; Jer. 2-3 [esp. 2:32]; Ezek. 16, 23; Mal. 2:14). Righteous Israel, on the other hand, is like a bride preparing for a wedding (Is. 49:18, 61:10, 62:3-5). Thus the Sinai covenant between God and Israel is like a marriage covenant. When both parties are faithful, the marriage is blessed; but when one is unfaithful, the covenant is annulled. The pattern of the Hebrew Bible allegory is:



=Sinai Covenant
=worshipping other gods; breaking the Covenant

The New Testament extension of this allegory creates the following pattern:


=Sinai Covenant
=worshipping other gods

=the Church/Kingdom
=the New Covenant
=rejecting the Messiah

This imagery of the Messiah as the Bridegroom and the Church as Bride is found elsewhere in the New Testament (Mt. 9:14-15, 22:1-14, 25:1-13; Mk. 2:18-20; Lk. 5:33-35, 14:7-11; Eph. 5:21-33; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:6-10, 21:1-10, 22:17). As such it represents one of the fundamental messianic themes of the early Church. Some scholars think they see many other hints of this Bridegroom allegory throughout the Gospel of John, some aspects of which I will discuss later.

He Who Is From Above (Jn. 3:31-36)
John the Beloved then adds an editorial comment, amplifying and clarifying the earlier idea of being born from above (anōthen) (3:3, 7). This passage is a kind of catena—a chain of interlocking and overlapping phrases each one building upon the other. Outlining this passage highlights these overlapping concepts.

  1. He who is from above (anōthen) [= Jesus] is above (epanō) all (3:31a, cf. 3:13).
  2. He who is of the earth () . . . speaks from the earth () (3:31b).
  3. He [who is from above] bears witness to what he has seen and heard [while above, that is, of the "heavenly things" (epourania) 3:12] (3:32a).
  4. Yet no one [who is of the earth] receives his testimony (3:32b).
  5. Whoever receives his [Jesus'] testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true (3:33).
  6. For he whom God has sent [to the earth from above = Jesus] utters the words of God (3:34a).
  7. For he [God the Father] gives the Spirit without measure [to those who receive the testimony of Jesus] (3:34b).

2/18/2011 5:00:00 AM
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    About William Hamblin
    William James Hamblin is professor of Near Eastern History at Brigham Young University. You can follow and discuss "An Enigmatic Mirror" on Facebook.