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

To have life we must have the spirit/breath (pneuma, 6:63), which, as we have noted, in Greek and Hebrew is simply another word for life-breath (Rom. 8:2, 8:10-11; 2 Cor. 3:6; Gal. 6:8). In one sense the Spirit/breath of God, or the Holy Spirit/breath is simply God's breath, and when we inhale it, we are infused with the life-force of God. The most prominent part of this allegory in John is the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 (especially Jn. 6:33, 6:35, 6:48, 6:51.), which I will discuss later.

All the three primary requirements for ordinary human life—breath/spirit, drink, and food—are used as metaphors for the spiritual requirements for eternal life. These nutrition metaphors culminate in descriptions of eating Christ's flesh, and drinking Christ's blood (6:51-58)—allusions to the Last Supper (Mt. 26:26-9; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:15-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25). It is not just that we must eat and drink and breathe to have eternal life. We must consume and fully absorb the ultimate source of life, Christ himself. Just as failure to eat, drink, and breathe will cause physical death, failure to eat, drink, and breathe Christ will bring spiritual death. Our absorption of Christ must be as intense and constant as our instincts and need for drinking, eating, and breathing.

From here the discussion turns to the rivalry between the Samaritans and Jews over the temples of Mt. Gerizim and Jerusalem. I'll discuss this topic next week.

A pdf version of this paper, with full references can be found at

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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.
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