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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on John

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Prologue: The Word became Flesh and Revealed the Father ( 1:1–18 )

In a kind of overture the narrator gives his readers the impression that his story will be told ‘from a transcendent and eternal vantage point’ (Stibbe 1993: 22–3). The author uses subtle imagery to sum up main themes in the following work. As elsewhere in the Jewish tradition, light, life, and darkness, which are elements of the creation, are meant to symbolize spiritual realities. Life and light which were created in the beginning by the word of God (Gen 1 ) are manifested in the Word both before and after creation. The theme of light leads to that of the visible glory of the Word (v. 14 ) whereas the theme of life gives birth to that of the fullness from which believers receive (v. 16 ). The prologue begins with what appeals to the ear, the Word, and finishes with what the eye cannot see, God (v. 18 ). Through the Word, who is both light and life, the invisible and unheard God is revealed.

There has been much discussion about a pre-Christian or Christian hymn which the author may have used and adapted to fit his purpose. On these hypotheses, vv. 6–8 and 15 , on the Baptist, are generally considered as later additions (see different reconstructions in Rochais 1985; cf. Schnackenburg 1977–9 : i). But these views are open to objection; the whole prologue may have been written by the same author in a kind of solemn prose, with chiastic phrases which are developed by amplifications and contrasts. Moreover there is a kind of concentric construction with a centre in vv. 12–13 and different sentences that correspond to each other around this centre. This is especially clear for vv. 6–8 and 15 on the Baptist, but also for the beginning in vv. 1–3 and the end in vv. 17–18 (cf. Culpepper 1979–80 ).

The evangelist may have had in mind the gospel of Mark: ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mk 1:1 ). He wanted to prolong this ‘beginning’ by going back to God and the creation. In his prologue he mentions John the Baptist who in Mark opens the gospel proper. But, like Mark, he gives the reader a key to interpret his book: it will be about the revelation of Jesus who is both Christ and the Son of God, Jn 1:18 (see the purpose of John's book in 20:30–1; cf. Hooker 1974–5 ).

( 1:1–11 )

The evangelist shows first how the Word which was with God came to what was his own. vv. 1–2 , the author alludes to Gen 1:1 , but describes what was before the creation. If he has Mk 1:1 in mind, he wants to show that the gospel begins with the Word which was with God. God's Wisdom is created at the beginning (Prov 8:22 ), but John tells us about the uncreated Word. John usually uses pros with an implication of movement and one might therefore translate ‘the Word was turned towards God’ (so the Fr. TOB). This could be paralleled by an alternative translation of eis in v. 18 : ‘the only Son, who turns towards the Father's bosom’. Such a translation could fit the gospel's description of the Son's orientation towards the Father. But the preposition eis in v. 18 is probably used in place of en. The parallelism between vv. 1 and 18 favours therefore the usual translation of v. 1 , ‘was with God’. The Greek verb ēn has three different meanings in v. 1 : an existential (the Word was), a relational (was with God), and an identificational (the Word was God). Theos, ‘God’, is used without the article, which is normal in a predicate, but the author could have used it if he had wanted to underline a complete identification of the Word with God. Jesus is God ( 1:1, 18; 20:28 ), but normally it is his Father who is theos with a precedent article in Greek, v. 3 , the expression ho gegonen, ‘what has come into being’ at the end of v. 3 probably must be taken together with v. 4 , which was the normal interpretation among the Church Fathers before the heretics of the fourth century used it to prove Jesus' inferiority. Moreover, the joining of ‘what has come into being’ to v. 3 would yield a strange Greek sentence, which would be correct only if the expression were changed to hōn gegonen. There is a parallel text in 1QS 11:11 : ‘without Him not a thing is done’. The author now describes the Word's function in creation, as either the instrument by which God created, or as the fountain-head which made creation possible. The whole creation is marked by God's Word and reveals God, in opposition to later Gnostic speculations where the world is created by an evil demiurge. The Word in John is both an instrument and a model, similar to Col 1:16 , ‘all things have been created through him’. But in this text creation is also ‘for him’, whereas in John the goal of creation is the Father. vv. 4–5 , ‘What has come into being in him was life.’ One could also translate: ‘In what has come into being, there was life’; ‘In what has come into being, he was life’; or ‘What has come into being, was life (alive) in him’. But the NRSV translation best fits the context. Life and light have in these verses soteriological connotations: the creating Word of God is the fountain-head of spiritual life and light for all people. The author is specially interested in a moral choice between light and darkness. The image of a cosmic battle corresponds to humankind's spiritual struggle, and therefore the translation ‘did not overcome it’ fits the context better than ‘did not understand it’ or ‘did not accept it’. vv. 6–8 , these verses interrupt the cosmic viewpoint and introduce the description of the Word's incarnation. In a similar way Luke introduces Jesus' birth by the preparatory birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1–2 ). The expression para theou in v. 6 can mean, as in classical Greek, ‘from God’ or, as in later Greek, ‘by God’. John the Baptist is only a witness to the light of the Word, whereas Jesus himself is the light (Jn 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35–6 ). Jesus' testimony is greater than the Baptist's ( 5:36 ). This is probably an attack against disciples of the Baptist who considered him as a messianic figure (see also John's negative utterances about himself in 1:20–7 ). vv. 9–11 could be translated, ‘There was the true light that enlightens everyone who is coming into the world,’ but in that case ‘everyone who is coming into the world’ would be redundant. Another translation could take the remote ‘Word’ as the grammatical subject of the sentence (as in vv. 10–11 ), but NRSV is probably right when it considers the just-mentioned ‘light’ as the subject of a periphrastic construction. Theologically it is the light of the Word who comes to a world created through him. Therefore one can say that he comes to what is his own (v. 11 ). Some exegetes think that vv. 9–11 describe the presence of the Word in Israel during the OT period and that v. 12 alludes to the faithful remnant of Israel. But the concentric structure of the prologue makes it more probable that vv. 9–11 describe the time of Jesus' activity, since they correspond to v. 14 about the Word who became flesh. John's testimony in vv. 6–8 introduces vv. 9–11 and his testimony in v. 15 confirms v. 14 . Moreover, in the rest of the gospel those who reject Jesus' witness can easily be identified with his own people who did not accept him. What v. 5 describes as a cosmic conflict is in vv. 9–11 applied to the human world, which does not recognize or accept Jesus.

( 1:12–13 )

All that was said about the Word before vv. 12–13 and that which follows after has its centre in those who received the Word and became children of God. This agrees with the aim of the entire gospel that ‘through believing you may have life in his name’ ( 20:31 ). The contrast between those who receive him in v. 12 and those who do not accept him in v. 11 is fundamental throughout the gospel. In 1:19–12:50 different attitudes in relation to Jesus are described, in 13:1–17:26 everything is concentrated on the disciples, ‘his own’, whom Jesus has loved to the end ( 13:1 ). Those who become disciples are allowed to be called ‘children of God’ and are in relationship with the only one who in the Fourth Gospel is called ‘God's Son’. v. 13 , children of God cannot be born in a carnal way. The Greek has ‘blood’ in the plural, which might allude to the rabbinic doctrine (derived ultimately from Aristotle), that man's seed, considered as ‘blood’, is in the act of conception mixed with woman's blood. The mention of ‘the will of man’ reflects the prevailing idea that the male was the only active party in procreation. Some MSS have changed the plural ‘bloods’ into the singular in order to allude to the virgin birth of Jesus.

( 1:14–18 )

The evangelist finally shows how the Word become flesh has revealed the Father. v. 14 , in contrast to what is said in v. 13 about the ‘carnal will’, the Word that was with God becomes flesh. The author repeats logos, ‘the Word’, that he mentioned in v. 1 , but has had in mind all the time. The concrete word sarx, ‘flesh’, is used probably in order to refute Docetic views similar to those we meet in John's letters (1 Jn 1:2–3; 4:2; 2 Jn 7 ). ‘Lived among us’, or literally ‘put up his tent among us’ is used of Wisdom in Sir 24:10 . The temple in Jerusalem replaced the tabernacle in the desert as a dwelling-place for God. God's Wisdom is thus present in Israel and in its temple, but the presence of the Word in the flesh is physical. ‘Among us’ and ‘we have seen’ underline the Johannine witness to God's initiative. The Word's glory is dependent on the Father's presence in his only Son (cf. 17:5 ). Monogenēs can mean ‘only’, ‘unique’, ‘precious’ (cf. Heb 11:17 about Isaac), or ‘born from the one’. It is used four times in John ( 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18 ), and once in 1 Jn 4:9 . It seems to sum up the very special relationship between Jesus and his Father. ‘Full of grace and truth’ is best connected with ‘only son’, rather than with ‘glory’. The expression reflects God's revelation to Moses as ‘merciful and gracious’ (Ex 34:6 ), i.e. ‘full of loving initiative and of fidelity’. In the Word made flesh humanity can meet God's glory, v. 15 , in vv. 6–8 John testified to the light, but now he attests that the one who came after him in fact ranks ahead of him because he precedes him in time as God's Word. This anticipates v. 30 . v. 16 , the verse resumes what was said in v. 14 , but concentrates on the word charis, ‘grace’. Even if the preposition anti normally means ‘instead of’, the context favours NRSV ‘upon’ (cf. Philo, De posteritate Caini, 145). The word plērōma, ‘fullness’, does not yet have the later Gnostic meaning of the pantheon of deities, but the normal one (as in e.g. LXX Ps 23(24):1 ). ‘We’ are all those who in v. 12 become children of God, in contrast to v. 11 , ‘his own people’. v. 17 , what was given by Moses is not depreciated (as it often is in Paul), but ‘grace and truth’, already mentioned in v. 14 , are considered as of higher dignity and fulfil the former revelation. The prologue now makes it explicit that the Word is identical with Jesus, the Messiah, v. 18 , in contrast to Moses, who could not see God without dying (Ex 33:20 ), Jesus is said to be in the Father's bosom and is himself ‘God’ (probably the original reading, attested already in P66 and P75). The ‘bosom’ expresses the intimacy Jesus shares with his Father (see 13:25 on the beloved disciple), in his pre-existence, his mission on earth, and his return to the Father (cf. 17:5 ). He is therefore the proper revealer of God. Those who adhere to Jesus can in their turn see God ( 14:8–9 ).

First Book: Jesus Reveals his Glory to this World ( 1:19–12:50 )

( 1:19–3:21 ) First Geographical Grouping

( 1:19–34 ) The Baptist's Testimony

In 1:19–51 the evangelist develops some aspects of the prologue by means of a more concrete introduction to Jesus' activity. The testimony of the Baptist and the first disciples' discovery of Jesus introduce the reader to different features of the gospel's Christology. In contrast to the Synoptics the Gospel of John does not mention the events that surround the Baptist's activity and does not describe how Jesus was baptized by him. The evangelist wants the reader to see the decisive difference between the Baptist and Jesus, with the help of the former's testimony concerning himself (vv. 19–28 ) and concerning Jesus (vv. 29–34 ).

( 1:19–28 )

The evangelist first lets the Baptist testify that he is not the Messiah, the prophet, or Elijah. v. 19 , ‘the Jews’ in the Fourth Gospel is often used negatively for the authorities who are opposed to Jesus, especially the Pharisees and high priests, but sometimes also for ordinary people ( 6:41, 52 ). The expression can be treated in a neutral way (e.g. 5:1 ) or even have a positive connotation ( 4:22 ). The Jews are sent from Jerusalem, the centre of resistance to Jesus' message. They are associated with two religious factions, priests and Levites, probably as specialists on Jewish purifications which are so important in chs. 1–2 . In v. 24 a second group is that of the Pharisees. vv. 20–1 , just as in vv. 6–8 the Baptist underlines what he is not; there he was not the light, here he is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet. The Hebrew māšîaḥ and the Aramaic mešicha᾽, which in 1:41 and 4:25 are transcribed in Greek, mean ‘the anointed one’, a word derived from the anointing of kings. In Dan 9:25 a future anointed agent of God is expected and in the Dead Sea scrolls two such messianic figures are looked forward to, ‘one of Aaron and one of Israel’, i.e. a priestly Messiah and a kingly Messiah, who would be a descendant of David (see 1QS 9:11 ). In Lk 3:15 people also wonder if the Baptist is the expected Messiah. According to Mal 3:1 and 4:5 (HB 3:23 ), Elijah would be sent as a messenger to prepare the way of the day of the Lord. In the Synoptics the Baptist is normally identified with Elijah as the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah (Mk 9:13 par. and Lk 1:17; 7:27 ). In the Fourth Gospel Jesus himself seems to be a figure like Elijah (see Jn 1:27 ), as he is in some Lukan texts (Lk 4:24–6; 9:51; Acts 1:2, 9–11 ). The expectation of the prophet is derived from Deut 18:18 and is also present in 1QS 9:11 (‘until the coming of a prophet’). It plays an important role especially in Jn 4 and in Samaritan theology. vv. 22–3 , in his self-presentation the Baptist quotes only Isa 40:3 and not Mal 3:1 , unlike the Synoptics which identify him with Elijah. The evangelist adapts the citation to the only role the Baptist may assume, that of a voice preparing the way of the Lord. vv. 24–5 , ‘Now they had been sent’, the Greek text can also be translated: ‘Also some Pharisees had been sent’, as a partitive. Some MSS have added the article hoi in the beginning of the sentence: ‘Those who were sent were Pharisees’. In any case, the author does not describe the situation during Jesus' time when the Pharisees often were opposed to the priests and the Levites. After 70 CE the Pharisees could more easily be identified with ‘the Jews’. The new question put to the Baptist supposes that in order to be allowed to baptize he must be a kind of messianic figure. It may reflect discussions between Christians and the followers of the Baptist (see also 3:22–3; 4:1–2 ). vv. 26–7 , just as in the Synoptics, the Baptist underlines that he baptizes only with water. Instead of mentioning Jesus' baptism with fire, however, here he points out their inability to recognize the one who stands among them. In a way similar to the synoptic tradition he stresses his unworthiness in comparison to Jesus, but with different words (Mk 1:7–8 par.). v. 28 , Bethany across the Jordan is difficult to locate and has therefore been changed to Beth-barah (see Judg 7:24 ) by Origen and in some MSS after him.

( 1:29–34 )

Now the evangelist refers to the Baptist's testimony about Jesus. In vv. 29–31 , different days in Jesus' first week are mentioned: ‘the next day’ in 1:29, 35, 43 , and ‘on the third day’ in 2:1 . There will also be a last week before Jesus' death ( 12:1–19:31 ), and a week of appearances after the resurrection ( 20:1, 19 ). The evangelist replaces the synoptic baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:11 par.) by the Baptist's double testimony before the people of Israel: about Jesus as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29–31 ), and about Jesus on whom he has seen the Spirit descend (vv. 32–4; Richter 1974 ). The image of the lamb has, in the tradition behind the gospel, a double connotation: both the Suffering Servant (see 12:38 ), who is like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isa 53:7 ), who bears our infirmities, and is crushed for our iniquities (Isa 53:4–5 )—both ‘bear’ and ‘take away’ are possible translations of the Hebrew word nāsā᾽ in Isa 53:4, 12 —and the passover lamb, alluded to at the death of Jesus (Jn 19:31, 34 ). Even if the passover lamb has no atonement function in Judaism, it receives this in the Christian tradition by its association with the death of Jesus and of the Suffering Servant (cf. 1 Cor 5:7 and 1 Jn 3:5 ). v. 30 resumes the same thought that was expressed in the prologue (v. 15 ). If the expression ‘after me comes a man’ alludes to Elijah, Jesus is considered as the hidden Elijah, who already existed before the Baptist. But the latter also underlines Jesus' pre-existence (cf. 8:58 ), and, in contrast, his own ignorance (v. 31 ). vv. 32–4 , in the Synoptics the Baptist testifies to the baptism with the Holy Spirit before his encounter with Jesus. In the Fourth Gospel both the descent of the Spirit on Jesus and the baptism with the Holy Spirit are described as the object of the Baptist's witness. The scene culminates with the confession that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’, a reading already present in P66 and P75, which probably is better than ‘the Elect of God’ we find in other MSS. As in the Synoptics the dove is a symbol for the Spirit; John adds that the Spirit remains over Jesus. In contrast to the Baptist's mission as a mere witness, Jesus is sent by his Father with a unique task and message.

( 1:35–51 ) Jesus' First Disciples

The text tries to link together two traditions, one on the Baptist's own activity and one concerning his meeting with Jesus, which in its turn results in the first disciples' encounter with Jesus. Two days are described: one when Jesus meets two of the Baptist's disciples and Andrew's brother Simon, vv. 35–42 , and another when he encounters Philip and Nathanael, vv. 43–51 . In both episodes a disciple expresses his joy to have found the expected Messiah (vv. 41, 45 ). Jesus invites some of them to ‘come and see’ (v. 39 ) or to ‘follow’ him (v. 43 ). The whole text underlines the concrete and the symbolic meaning of different ways of ‘seeing’ Jesus or of ‘being seen’ by him, of ‘coming’ to him and of ‘finding’ him.

( 1:35–42 )

Jesus first meets two disciples of the Baptist, and then Simon. vv. 35–7 , in vv. 29–34 the Baptist testified before a larger crowd, whereas in vv. 35–7 his witness is directed towards the two disciples who leave him for Jesus. v. 38 , the address ‘Rabbi’, usual in Matthew and Luke, is explained in Greek (didaskale, teacher). In Jn 3:26 the Baptist is also addressed as ‘Rabbi’, but elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel the title is reserved for Jesus. v. 39 , ‘Come and see’ is usual in rabbinic literature, but gets a special meaning here by the double sense of menein, ‘to stay’ and ‘to remain’ with Jesus, and by an exact indication of time (‘the tenth hour’). vv. 40–2 , as the evangelist is probably acquainted with the Gospel of Mark the anonymous disciple is best identified with one of the sons of Zebedee (see Jn 21:2 ), and presumably with the apostle John, since James had already died in 44 CE. Andrew confesses that Jesus is the ‘Messiah’; as in 4:25 the reader is given the Greek equivalent, christos. Simon Peter is the son of John, as in 21:15–17 (contrast Mt 16:17 , in Aramaic bar-yōnâ). Jesus calls Simon ‘Cephas’, which is explained by the Greek petra, ‘rock’, as in Mt 16:16–18 . But the Fourth Gospel puts the renaming of Peter early, after his brother's confession rather than his own. Matthew seems to have combined Simon's confession at Caesarea Philippi with the change of name in order to emphasize his importance in the church.

( 1:43–51 )

Jesus now meets Philip and Nathanael. vv. 43–4 , according to Mk 1:29 Simon and Andrew lived in Capernaum, but the Fourth Gospel seems to correct this by locating them at Bethsaida across the Jordan, which according to Jn 12:21 is in Galilee (more properly Gaulanitis). As in the synoptic tradition, Jesus explicitly calls a disciple to follow him (cf. Mk 2:14 par.). Philip is one of the twelve (Mk 3:18 par.) but probably not identical with the evangelist Philip (Acts 6:5; 8:4–8, 26–40; 21:8 ). v. 45 , the Hebrew name Nathanael means ‘God gives’. Some have tried to identify him with Matthew or Bartholomew, but he rather represents all Jews who understand the great gift of God. The particular man Jesus from Nazareth is seen as a messianic figure announced by Moses and the prophets (cf. Lk 24:37 ). But there may also be an allusion to a prophet like Moses in Deut 18:15–18 . Jesus is the son of Joseph (as in Lk 3:23 and 4:22 , but in contrast to Mk 6:3 where he is the son of Mary). v. 46 , a typical Johannine irony makes Nathanael admit in the following discussion that something good comes from Nazareth (see Jn 1:49 ). v. 47 , truly (alēthōs) underlines the signification of ‘Israelite’, perhaps as ‘one who can see God’, horōn ton theon (e.g. Philo, De mutatione nominum, 81). v. 48 , the fig tree symbolizes in rabbinic literature the place where one studies the Torah (see Eccles. Rab. 5:11 ). That Jesus knows ‘under’ which ‘tree’ Nathanael was can also be compared with Daniel's prophetic knowledge (Sus 54, 58 ). v. 49 , the title ‘Son of God’ has in the Fourth Gospel a much profounder meaning than in the Jewish tradition, where it can be applied to an angel, a king, Israel, a judge, or a just man. Also the title ‘King of Israel’ fulfils an important purpose as will be shown in the discussion with Pilate (Jn 18:33–8a ) and in the inscription on the cross: ‘King of the Jews’ ( 19:19–22 ). vv. 50–1 , the reader is invited to expect greater things, that Jesus will soon reveal his glory ( 2:11 ), a beginning that will be concluded with the glorification on the cross. The final words of Jesus are still addressed to Nathanael, but also include all encounters with Jesus. By interpreting the gospel, the reader will see heaven opened. The angels of God ascend and descend not upon a ladder as in the dream of Jacob/Israel (Gen 28:12 ), but upon the Son of Man, who is the link between the Father and the world of humankind. The believing community will be able to see the unique revelation of the Son of Man (Neyrey 1982 ).

( 2:1–12 ) The First Sign at the Wedding in Cana

In 2:1–4:54 , which leads the reader from Cana back to Cana, the reader is confronted with Jesus' initial signs and works in Galilee, Jerusalem, and Samaria. In 2:11 the narrator draws attention to the account of the miracle in Cana by calling it the first of Jesus' signs. The healing of the official's son is considered as the second sign ( 4:53 ). In 20:30 the evangelist indicates that he has chosen only a few signs of Jesus. There have been learned and rather contradictory hypotheses about a ‘signs-source’ which the evangelist might have used (Fortna 1970; 1988 ). The actual gospel invites the reader to count the different miracle-stories that are reported. One can easily come to the number seven before Jesus' death and resurrection: after the first two signs we have the healing of a lame man in 5:1–9 ; the feeding of the five thousand in 6:1–13 ; the walking on water in 6:16–21 ; the healing of a man born blind in 9:1–12 ; and as a climax the raising of Lazarus in 11:1–44 , which anticipates Jesus' own death and resurrection. The main point of the wedding in Cana is therefore Christological and not to underline the sacramental aspects of water, wine, or wedding, or to show how important Jesus' mother is. The messianic time is inaugurated when Jewish purifications give way to the revelation of Jesus' glory (Olsson 1974 ). The miracle has been compared with stories about Dionysus, but OT models, such as the feeding miracles of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:1–16; 2 Kings 4:1–7, 42–4 ), are closer to it.

( 2:1–2 )

It is difficult to know whether the author already has the Twelve in mind or only the disciples named in ch. 1 . Their invitation is mentioned after that of the mother of Jesus who has a special connection with Galilee (cf. 1:46 ). She is never called Mary in the Fourth Gospel, perhaps in order not to confuse her with other Marys ( 11:1; 19:25 ). The third day may be an allusion to the day of resurrection, but it also completes Jesus' first week. vv. 3–5 , in preparation of the miracle Jesus' mother takes the initiative, both before and after her son's answer. Jesus addresses his mother with ‘woman’, which has no derogatory significance (see also 19:26 ). By his apparent rebuke (‘what concern is that to you and to me?’), Jesus wants her to understand that a miracle in Cana will lead to the hour of glorification on the cross. vv. 6–8 , the water jars are made of stone because they are used for purifications. The quantity of water is enormous for a private person, 120–80 gallons, but the miracle of the wine has rather an illustrative function. The number ‘six’ may symbolically express incompleteness, and the jars filled to the brim completeness. The second injunction of Jesus in v. 8 indicates indirectly that the miracle has taken place. vv. 9–10 , we do not get the reaction of the guests, but the steward expresses their astonishment. Ironically enough the one who is normally responsible for the meal does not know where the wine has come from, whereas his servants know. There is a comic aspect to the story in the allusion to the guests' drunkenness. The bridegroom appears in the story only here, but soon the Baptist will speak of Jesus himself as the bridegroom ( 3:29 ). The wine's quantity and quality hint at the time of the messianic wedding (cf. Am 9:13–14; Isa 25:6; 54:4–8; 62:4–5 ). vv. 11–12 , the reader is given the narrator's viewpoint on the miracle, and an echo from vv. 1–2 , with the happy conclusion that the disciples believed in Jesus. The ‘brothers’ make an appearance here, accompanying Jesus to Capernaum. In 7:3–5 they will show a rather sceptical attitude towards him.

( 2:13–25 ) Temple Cleansing in Jerusalem

v. 13 is a rather abrupt transition from the sign in Galilee to the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem, whereas vv. 23–5 describe the narrator's understanding of the people's reactions and forms a bridge to the following discussion with Nicodemus. The narrator's point of view is ‘an enlightened, post-resurrection’ one (Stibbe 1993: 51), which is especially apparent in vv. 17 and 22 . In the synoptic tradition the cleansing of the temple is the main cause of Jesus' arrest, whereas in the Fourth Gospel the raising of Lazarus has that function. Therefore the temple scene is placed much earlier as an illustration of how Jewish institutions (as already seen in the case of Cana), are meant to be replaced by Jesus. The actual scene is described in a way which differs markedly from the synoptic account. Through the reactions of the Jews and the disciples the purification of the temple becomes a sign of the destruction and raising of another temple, Jesus' body. The metaphors go in two directions: from Jesus' zeal for the house of God to his body, and from his risen body to the cleansing of the temple.

v. 13 , the Passover is mentioned also in 6:4 and 11:55 . Here it introduces Jesus' allusions to his last Passover when he will die and rise from the dead. vv. 14–16 , in the Fourth Gospel people sell not only doves as in the synoptic tradition, but also cattle and sheep, which was quite possible to do in the outer area of the temple (hieron) at the time of Caiaphas. The whip of cords, not mentioned in the synoptic tradition, is probably only meant for cattle and sheep. The money-changers are named kermatistai in v. 14 , but in v. 15 kollubistai as in the synoptic tradition. They exchanged Roman and Greek coins, with the image of the emperor (cf. Mk 12:16 ) or of gods, for Tyrian money which was allowed in the temple area. Unlike the synoptic account, in John Jesus does not cite Scripture (Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11 ) but speaks with authority about his own Father's house (cf. Lk 2:49 ). vv. 17–18 , the evangelist contrasts the disciples' understanding of Jesus' messianic action (in the light of Ps 69:10 where the present tense is replaced by the future) and the negative attitude of the Jews who ask him to legitimate his behaviour by signs. This request for ‘signs’ here and in Jn 6:30 is similar to the synoptic one (cf. Mk 8:11–12 par.). vv. 19–22 , in contrast to vv. 14–15 Jesus speaks now of destroying the inner temple area (naos). The eschatological catastrophe for Jerusalem and its temple became an important item in the lawsuit against Jesus (cf. Mk 13:2 par.). Perhaps he was also charged for his prophecy about its reconstruction. ‘The third day’ may be inspired by Hos 6:2 . By a typical Johannine misunderstanding the Jews continue to think of the forty-six years of rebuilding the temple. According to Josephus (Ant. 15.380) Herod started it about 20/19 BC. The scene would then take place about 27/8 CE, a satisfactory Johannine chronology to fit Jesus' death on the 14 Nisan in the year 30. vv. 23–5 , the reference to Passover and Jerusalem resumes what was said in v. 13 . The author has mentioned only one sign in Jerusalem, but he probably includes what has happened in Cana. By his close relation to the Father Jesus has a profound knowledge of people and therefore cannot trust their rather superficial faith.

( 3:1–21 ) Dialogue with Nicodemus

This scene contrasts Nicodemus' earth-bound understanding with Jesus' wide perspective on God and the Spirit. The mysterious origin and direction of the wind prepares the reader for the heavenly things that Jesus is about to reveal. The Son of Man will be lifted up on the cross as a link between heaven and earth, and as a sign of God's love. The text moves from the night in the beginning of the dialogue to the light which those who do what is true will receive. Three short questions of Nicodemus receive three answers which progessively become longer and in vv. 16–21 end up in a kind of commentary (by Jesus or by the evangelist). Nicodemus in this chapter still hesitates before Jesus' claims. In 7:50–1 and 19:39 he will spiritually evolve and become a secret disciple of Jesus.

vv. 1–2a , Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a teacher, and a ‘leader of the Jews’ (cf. 7:26, 48, 50–1 ), is presumably a member of the synedrion, a legal assembly which may at this time have comprised c.70 members representing three groups: the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes, of whom some were Pharisees. He encounters the personification of a higher wisdom. In Lk 18:18 a certain ruler also questions Jesus, but in the Fourth Gospel the discussion with an important representative of the Jewish faith takes place at the beginning. 2b–3, Nicodemus, like the people in Jerusalem, is probably impressed by the Jesus' signs (Jn 2:23 ), but he still has to learn in what sense Jesus ‘has come from God’. Jesus answers him with a solemn double ‘Amen’, a revelation formula characteristic of the Fourth Gospel. He does so indirectly by speaking of how one is able to ‘see’ (in v. 5 to ‘enter’) the kingdom of God. Only in these two verses does the Fourth Gospel mention the synoptic theme of the kingdom of God, but in 18:36 Jesus answers Pilate that he is king in a kingdom which is not from this world. According to the ideas of that time a child was conceived by his father. In a similar way a child must be born from above (cf. 1:12–13 and 1 Jn 3:9 ). But the answer of Nicodemus shows that the evangelist also considers the mother's contribution to birth. The Johannine sayings are similar to the synoptic theme of becoming like a child in order to enter the kingdom (Mt 18:3 par.). vv. 4–8 , the Greek expression anōthen in the Fourth Gospel generally means ‘from above’ (Jn 3:31; 19:11, 23 ), but Nicodemus interprets it as ‘again’, which is quite possible in Greek. Moreover, the evangelist lets him imagine the irony of an old person entering his mother's womb. Jesus alludes to Christian baptism, which the Baptist has already predicted in 1:33 (cf. also 7:38–9 ). There is no textual evidence supporting Bultmann's hypothesis that ‘and water’ has been added by a redactor (Bultmann 1971: 138). In order to explain the difference between natural birth and birth as a child of God (cf. 1:12–13 ) Jesus opposes flesh and spirit. The short parable on the ‘wind’ (the same word as ‘Spirit’ in both Hebrew, rûaḥ, and Greek, pneuma) prepares the reader for the mysterious origin and destination of the Son of Man which will be revealed in the following verses. vv. 9–15 , the third question of Nicodemus in v. 9 is short and gives Jesus an occasion to reveal who he is and how he will influence humankind's rebirth. But before that Jesus rebukes the teacher of Israel for his lack of understanding (vv. 10–11 ), an indirect attack on the Jewish contemporaries of the evangelist who do not accept the Christian testimony. As Son of Man Jesus is pre-existent and will ascend to heaven (v. 13 ), which is far more difficult to understand than the more earthly matter of baptism Jesus was speaking about (v. 12 ). At the end of v. 13 most MSS, of different text types, add ‘who is in heaven’. This difficult reading may be original and have been suppressed in important Alexandrian witnesses (among them P66, P75, and B). It underlines that even during his life on earth Jesus still has direct contact with heaven and can therefore testify to what he has seen (v. 11 ). The ‘we know’ in v. 11 contrasts with the ‘we know’ in v. 2 . Nicodemus' solemn declaration about what he knows as a representative Jew is insignificant in comparison with Jesus' personal knowledge of God. Nicodemus can now disappear and let Jesus reveal heavenly things about the Son of Man (vv. 13–15 ) and about the Son of God (vv. 16–18 ). Jesus is the light that attracts all believers (vv. 19–21 ). In the Jewish tradition we have different heroes who have seen heavenly visions (e.g. Enoch, Isaiah, Daniel), but only Wisdom, the Word, or the Spirit are presented as coming from God. The perspective of crucifixion (v. 14 ) in the gospel tradition is a common way of introducing the theme of the Son of Man. In Num 21:9 the serpent is placed upon a pole, but already in the targums the serpent is put in an elevated place (see Neofiti 1 and Pseudo-Jonathan; cf. Wis 16:6–7 ). That the Servant of God is exalted and lifted up in Isa 52:13 may also have contributed to the interpretation of the crucifixion as an elevation and a glorification. To see or enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3, 5 ) is reformulated in v. 15 as having eternal life. vv. 16–21 , after the prologue this is the first time the evangelist speaks of God's initiative. It is also the first time the theme of ‘loving’ is introduced, which will play an important role in the rest of the gospel. In v. 16 we have a kind of gospel in miniature, where Jesus' death is combined with God's love for humanity, in order to give it eternal life. v. 17 develops what is hinted at in v. 16a , whereas v. 18 gives some precision on the importance of faith which was mentioned in v. 16b . The idea of a judgement, which was implicit in v. 18 , is developed in vv. 19–21 with the help of the sharp contrast between light and darkness. The whole section is concentrated on the sending of the Son and the double way people respond to it. In 12:46–8 the evangelist will evoke the last judgement, whereas here the judgement is already present in this life. In 3:16, 18 Jesus himself reaffirms what was said about God's only Son in the prologue ( 1:14, 18 ). In the rest of the gospel Jesus often speaks of himself simply as the Son. In the beginning of the dialogue with Nicodemus baptism was evoked (cf. Mk 16:16 ), in the end all is concentrated on faith.

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