COMPANION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT—The New English Bible. By A E Harvey.—© The Delegates of the Oxford University Press, The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press. 1970.—Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2014.


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The coming of Christ

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Bodmer papyrus P75 of Luke & John.

The purpose of the Gospel according to John is declared, not at the beginning, but at the end: 'in order that you may hold the faith that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God' (20:31).

To anyone (other than a Christian) who understood what was meant by the term "Christ" (Messiah, Anointed One), it would have come as a surprise that a book should have to be written for this purpose. "Christ", by definition, was a figure of power and glory. When he came, it would be impossible not to be aware of the fact. His destiny was to restore a kingdom of unprecedented splendour and justice to God's elect people among the Jews. Once his reign had begun, it would hardly be necessary to write a book to prove that he had come.

Nevertheless, Christians were not deterred from calling Jesus "Christ", even though the fact that the Christ had come was not recognized by the majority of the human race, not even by the Jews, who for centuries had been praying for his coming. This technical term of Jewish religion seemed the natural way to describe one who had actually been among them on earth, who was now at God's right hand in heaven, and who was the source of new life for his followers. They were able to find Old Testament texts which not only prophesied his glory but also implied a destiny of suffering and rejection; and the more they reflected on the life and teaching of Jesus, the better they began to understand the mysterious necessity that 'the Christ was bound to suffer' (Luke 24.26) and that his reign was to be, at least for the present, unrecognized by all but a few.

However, they soon came to realize that Jesus was more than this. He had power, not only over the hearts of men, but over the elemental and demonic forces of the universe; he gave meaning, not only to human life, but to the whole created order; he belonged, not only to time, but to eternity. But if so, then the problem of his rejection became more acute than ever. If Jesus belonged to the very structure of the world, why did the world not accept him? How could one possibly explain the bitter reality of the crucifixion?

John's gospel is an attempt to tackle the wider implications of this problem. The technical terms of Jewish religious expectation which are found in the other gospels—Christ, Son of God, Son of Man—were no longer adequate to describe the depth and universality of the Christian's understanding of Jesus. Accordingly, John uses a new vocabulary. Jesus is light, and life, and truth: words which belong more to religious poetry than to the prosaic language of doctrine, and which set Jesus in a much larger frame than could be provided by the traditional categories of the Jewish religion. These words need no explanation, though they take on new depths of meaning as they are put to work in the course of the gospel.

The distinctive character of John's gospel is apparent in the way it begins. The other gospels, confining themselves to a more modest programme, and mainly concerned to show that Jesus was—in some sense—the Christ of Jewish expectation, were each content to describe some of the circumstances in which this Christ made his appearance among men. But John, having so greatly enlarged the scale on which he proposed to tackle his subject, could not regard the story as beginning only with the birth or the first public appearance of Jesus. He needed some way of describing Jesus which would show him to have been an integral element in the created universe from the beginning. For this purpose he chose another suggestive term which featured in the vocabulary of both religion and philosophy: the Word.

No single English word conveys the associations which the word logos would have had for an educated Greek. It meant far more than a mere unit of spoken language: it included any articulate thought, any logical and meaningful utterance; it was that which gave order and shape to the process of thinking-proportion in mathematics, rational intelligibility in the study of the natural world, an ordered account of human affairs. It was almost equivalent to "rationality". As such, it was a convenient tool for philosophy: the Stoics, indeed, used the word logos for the immanent rational principle of the whole universe, the single divine system which (according to their philosophy) underlay the multiplicity of the visible world; and doubtless their use of the word had already begun to influence the everyday speech of many Greek-speaking people who had never troubled to explore the theoretical implications of Stoicism.

To a Greek-speaking Jew, the word had a still wider range of meanings. In the Bible, God's "word" was not only the means by which (as it might be through a prophet) God communicated with men and brought them into obedience to his Law; it was also the expression of his relationship with the whole created universe: God said ... and there was. God spoke ... and it was done. " My word ... shall not return to me fruitless without accomplishing my purpose" (Isaiah 55.11). God's word was an expression of his creative power.

A term which embraced so many ideas could be put to many uses. For Philo of Alexandria, whose life was devoted to the task of expressing the essence of the Jewish religion in terms borrowed from contemporary philosophy, the logos became a philosophical entity in its own right, and seemed in offer the key to understanding the relationship between the transcendent God of the Bible and the world that is known to the human senses. But there is no reason to think that John was addressing his gospel to readers who were accustomed to any particular or technical use of the word logos: they spoke Greek, and therefore shared the usual Greek understanding of it as a word with a wide range of meanings to do with the rational use of the intellect; but they were also familiar with Jewish traditions, and knew something of the power and vigour associated in the Old Testament with the Word of God. They were therefore prepared for this logos of John to mean a great deal more than can be expressed in English by "word "; and it was for John to show, by some specimen phrases, in exactly what sense he wished to apply it to Jesus Christ. The first eighteen verses of his gospel may be regarded as a kind of poem in which successive stanzas seek to draw out the implications of this single word, logos. ← These verses are poetical in the further sense that they are more evocative than precise; hence many of them can be translated in more than one way, as can be seen from the number of alternatives offered in the NEB footnotes. Moreover the sequence of thought seems less than perfectly logical; and it is possible (as some have supposed) that the writer did not in fact compose the poem himself but found it already in existence and, in adapting it to his purpose, made changes and additions which interrupted its continuity and disturbed its logic. On the other hand, it is not to be expected of poetry—and certainly not of poetry inspired by the Old Testament—that it should say things in perfectly logical order, any more than that each of the concepts it uses should be capable of exact definition.

Chapter 1.

Galaxy z8-GND-5296

When all things began (1). In the Greek, the first two words of the gospel are the same as the first two words of the Old Testament; and there can be little doubt that this echo is intentional. The first image brought to mind is the creation. But whereas, in Genesis, the sentence continues with a statement about the first thing that happened—God made the heavens and the earth—here it goes on quite differently: the Word already was. It is as if something is being said, not about creation itself, but about the conditions under which creation was brought about. This was in fact an old line of thought: surely God was not to be imagined as personally supervising every detail of the universe that was being brought into being? The omniscient intelligence which could be seen to underlie all created things, and which indeed rendered them intelligible to man's own power of reasoning—this intelligence was surely not identical with God himself (as some philosophers would have said, who denied the existence of any God beyond that which is revealed in the rational system of the universe)? An answer to these questions had been already supplied in some of the later writings of the Old Testament: God was assisted at the creation by the figure of Wisdom.

"The Lord created me when he began his work ...
When he marked the foundations of the earth
then I was beside him like a master-workman."
(Proverbs 8.22-31)
← This translation follows, not the Hebrew text, but the Septuagint Greek version, It was this version that John's readers were familiar with; and it contains certain small changes In the sense which make it seem to bear more directly on the part played by Wisdom at the creation.

"With thee is wisdom who knows thy works
and was present when thou didst make the world."
Wisdom 9.9)

No Jew would ever have been tempted to think of this "wisdom" as a separate deity, usurping the honour of the one true God. On the contrary, wisdom provided a way of speaking of God with greater respect, avoiding the somewhat crude and anthropomorphic idea of God actually at work on the details of his creation, and yet conceding that, in the last analysis, wisdom was nothing other than God, though it was God conceived under the particular aspect of the physical and moral laws of the universe. Nevertheless, it was the way of religious poetry to allow this figure of wisdom to take on almost a life of its own. Wisdom was "beside" God (Proverbs 8.30), it "went forth to make its dwelling among the children of men, and found no dwelling" (Enoch 42.2—an apocryphal Jewish scripture compiled during the second and first centuries BC.). John clearly stands in this tradition when, in his opening verses, he says similar things about the Word. Only, by using that term (instead of "Wisdom") he brings this old image of Jewish religious poetry within reach of a more philosophical reader. The Jesus who can be described in such terms is not a figment of the Hebrew imagination, but has to do with those essential and rational principles of the universe that must have existed from the beginning: no single thing was created without him (3).

By a progression which is again more poetical than logical, two further ideas are associated with the Word: life, and light (4). Both of these are developed as the gospel proceeds; but the second serves to lead into the next The light shines on in the dark(5): the concept of light presupposes its opposite; light would not be recognized as light if there were no darkness with which to compare it. A scientist would doubtless express the matter differently; but a poet speaks naturally of a light that shines in the dark, and goes on from there to imagine a kind of contest between the light on the one hand and the darkness on the other, the darkness surrounding the light and trying to quench it. This image is the first hint of (the mystery with which the gospel is concerned: the rejection of Christ by mankind. Christ is the Word, an agent of creation, a principle of the universe. As such he is eternal, he can never be mastered or "quenched", ← The darkness has never mastered it—is a brilliant rendering, suggested also by R. A. Knox in his own translation (1945), of an ambiguous Greek expression. The words can mean either, "the darkness has never quenched it" (NEB, First Edition), or "the darkness has never understood it", an interpretation which became popular in the Middle Ages, and has found its way into many English versions. Linguistically, the first of these meanings is more probable; but John may well have intended a double entendre. In 12.35 the same word is translated 'overtake'. , as a light can; but, just as light presupposes darkness, so the Word presupposes a world which does not understand and acknowledge. It need be no more paradoxical to say that the divine Word was not received than that a light is surrounded by darkness.

But this admission raises a new question. If it was of the nature of this Word that, although integral to the created order, it could yet be ignored and rejected by men, what assurance was there that it would ever be recognized and acclaimed at all? The answer was that there must be "witnesses" to it, men and women whose lives, by being dedicated to the Word and entirely determined by it, would be powerful arguments for its existence and power. Here was a way to understand that strange figure who always stood on the first page of the Christian story. There appeared a man named John (6)—the sentence is suddenly in the style of the Old Testament, and we are reminded at once of the other gospels, where it is as a man in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets—an ascetic preacher of the desert, with something of Elijah about him—that John the Baptist makes his appearance. He fulfils prophecies, he revives the long-silent gift of prophetic speech, he foretells his greater successor and places him in the flaming scenery of the Last Judgement-in short, a figure only comprehensible in a culture shaped by the Bible and conditioned by urgent expectation of a new world-order that is about to come. The writer of this gospel suggests a different and less esoteric he came as a witness to testify to the light (7).

The real light which enlightens every man was even then coming into the world (9). A strictly chronological scheme would yield a different order: Jesus' birth would come before John the Baptist's preaching. But this is poetry, not history: John's sequence of ideas reflects, not the passage of time, but a movement of thought, a movement from the metaphysical implications of the Word which was present with God 'when all things began', to that moment in time when there was on earth a person—Jesus—whose appearance challenged mankind to accept the Word. The description of that unearthly presence on earth is the climax of the prologue; but lest it should be supposed that the splendour of that moment commanded the assent of all who saw it, John first reminds his readers of the point already made: there was darkness around the light, the Word was inevitably not received, it needed witnesses to commend it. The world, though it owed its being to him, did not recognize him (10). That was true of the world in general; but certain people did recognize him, and these—that is, Christians, those who have yielded him their allegiance(12)—experienced a relationship with God which could be described as that of the children of God (for a new appreciation of the personal fatherhood of God was one of the distinctive marks of early Christianity).

So the Word became flesh (14). John makes no attempt to soften the harshness of this terrific proposition. The man Jesus was now at the right hand of God: that was an easy way of putting it, given the limitations of' such naively pictorial language (it was the way most early Christians did put it). But this "Christ" was also—had always been—part of the structure of the universe, something that is essential to understanding the created order; and all this was somehow concentrated in one individual who fully shared the human condition. John had no alternative but to bring into one sentence words which would normally seem to belong to totally different worlds of discourse: the Word became flesh.

He came to dwell among us. The man Jesus was also the Word. An easier way to conceive of this double aspect of Jesus' person is that adopted by most New Testament writers: the two aspects are assigned to two different periods of time. After (and perhaps also before) his life on earth, Jesus was a figure of glory, seated at the right hand of God, superior to all heavenly and earthly powers. But when he was literally 'among us', he was simply man—a unique and exceptional man, no doubt, but so far as his humanity went indistinguishable from other men. By contrast, John makes no such clear distinction between Jesus in heaven and Jesus on earth. Throughout his gospel he invests Jesus with something of the divinity and the glory which belongs to the Word, even though this Word became absolutely flesh, even though Jesus was absolutely human; and so here, his brief description of the manner in which Jesus was among us contains more than a hint of a presence that was all the time something more than merely human, merely 'flesh'. He came to dwell. The translation is as correct as any English rendering can be; but the Greek word has far more overtones than its English equivalent. Originally it meant "dwell in a tent": it was in a "tent" that God had dwelt when he first accompanied his people in their travels across the desert. Moreover, the same Greek word was reminiscent of a Hebrew expression for the glory of God "dwelling" on earth. He came to dwell among us is therefore a phrase which, with its Old Testament associations, already suggests a more than human side to the period of Christ's humanity. The following words—glory, grace, truth—are equally charged with meaning by their use in the Old Testament, where they belong to the vocabulary of God's care for his people; yet almost all these words are ones which will take on new meaning as the gospel unfolds. For the present, they serve as a summary of what it could be said that we saw—that is, not the mihjcctive impressions of one man or of a group of people, but the essential double aspect of Jesus' life on earth to which witness was borne by the whole community of those who had actually acknowledged him, whether after urcing him themselves, or after hearing the testimony of others.

Here is John's testimony to him (15). The synoptic gospels present a simpler view of John the Baptist's work: John prophesied that a greater than himself would come, and a greater did come. But in this gospel John is not so much a prophet as a witness: he was the first to recognize and give testiimony that a greater had come. Jesus' appearance was such as, in a sense, to put one off the scent. It was John who was drawing the crowds; Jesus only after(perhaps as a disciple, perhaps simply later in time). On the face of it, it was John who marked the arrival of something new. But his real importance was in the testimony he gave that, despite appearances, Jesus was of superior rank, of another order altogether: 'before I was born, he already was'.

The Law was given through Moses (17). This was one of the basic premises of Jewish religion. From this flowed the tremendous benefits and privileges which the Jewish people believed they had received from God: the Law was the expression and guarantee of the 'grace and truth' with which God had consistently treated his people. John boldly corrects this ancient belief: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. But of course it was not just a matter of Jesus having replaced Moses as the bearer of the same benefits as before. The 'grace' received through Jesus Christ was greater than anything received through the Law of Moses: it was grace upon grace.

No one has ever seen God (18). Pagan religions might speak lightly of gods appearing to men; but the seriousness with which the Jews took the idea of God forbade any such fantasy. God was far too terrible to be 'seen' by men; at most they might expect to have to face him at the moment of Judgement. Therefore the Jesus whom men had "seen", despite all the near-divine titles given to him, was not in every sense identical with God. ← As can be seen from the footnote in NEB, the evidence of the manuscripts is divided on this point. Since the exact relationship of Christ to God was one of the most burning questions which agitated the church in the early centuries, it is perhaps nor surprising that a verse which had such bearing on it as this one should have been quoted in different versions by theologians of different persuasions. The version given in the text is that which seems to give the best sense. But the much more difficult reading, which calls Jesus "himseld God", is offered by our earliest papyrus manuscripts, and must therefore have been current within a century of the writing of the gospel. He revealed God only to the extent that men could bear it. John uses what in Greek was almost a technical term for the inspired activity of one who imparted truths about God: he has made him known. Men did not literally "see" God in Jesus: "know" God.

This is the testimony which John gave (19). Jesus' work and message burst upon the Jews of Palestine as something entirely new and original; but it was immediately preceded by a movement which was itself quite out of the ordinary, that of John the Baptist. The gospels differ among themselves in the picture they give of him, and drop occasional hints that there was a good deal more to him than they have chosen to record; and the contemporary historian Josephus also sketches a portrait of him which is recognizably rl the same person, and yet is seen from a quite different point of view. The main question to which Christian writers had to address themselves wan this: the movement of John and the movement of Jesus was each in its own way unique; yet the one came immediately before the other, and there were clear points of contact between them, so much so that it was impossible to tell the story of Jesus without first referring to the story of John. What then was the relationship between the two? Out of what was clearly a mass of tradition about John, the writers of the other gospels selected three points in particular which seemed to point towards an answer. First, John fulfilled an Old Testament oracle about a voice crying aloud in the wilderness (Isaiah 40.3) which clearly cast him in the role of a person preparing for an event of universal importance; secondly, he was the precursor of someone infinitely greater than himself—he had used words like those of the humblest of servants about his master, 'I am not good enough to unfasten his shoes'; and thirdly (the most obvious point of contact) he had baptized Jesus.

John's gospel, where it uses the same material, uses it in a quite different way. The quotation from Isaiah, the sayings about the superiority of the Baptist's successor, and the description of the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove (32) (one of the phenomena accompanying the baptism of Jesus, according to the other gospels) are all phrased, not as news, but as reminiscences. They describe, not what John did, but what he said. They are his testimony. Accordingly, no interest is shown in what was, after all, his main activity—baptizing. This (as we know both from Josephus and from the other gospels) was a ritual of great significance: it was 'for the forgiveness of sins' (Mark 1.4). But for this writer it had only one meaning: it was the prototype—the first inkling, as it were—of that infinitely more profound experience offered by Jesus to his followers, baptism in Holy Spirit. In itself, it was unimportant: this writer does not even mention that John baptized Jesus. For him, the whole importance of John lay, not in his being a "baptist", but in his being the first "witness" to Jesus Christ.

This is subtly emphasized at the beginning. John, while working at a place ← The site of this Bethany had been forgotten even by the time Origen looked for it early in the third century A.D., and there was a tendency to insert into the manuscripts the name Bethabara, the site of which could still be identified. But a possible derivation for the name Bethany is bet aniyyah, House of the Boat—a very plausible name for a small place on the bank of the river which subsequently disappeared. At any rate, an early tradition fixed the place of 'John's baptism on the east bank of the Jordan, near the ford closest to Jericho, just below the small mountain which was believed to be the place where Elijah ascended into heaven—for John had much about him which seemed deliberately to recall the figure of Elijah, even though he is here said to have denied that he was Elijah. called Bethany beyond Jordan (28), was confronted by the Jews of Jerusalem (19)—that is to say, by that element in the total Jewish population which was to show itself consistently opposed to Jesus: the men of influence in Jerusalem. Here, they are represented first by some of those concerned with the administration and worship of the temple (priests and Levites), and subsequently by more learned men whose interests extended particularly to the interpretation of the Law—some Pharisees (24). His reply to them is introduced by a curious phrase: He confessed without reserve and avowed. In the Greek, as in the English, this sentence appears cumbrous and over-emphatic. But the emphasis of the words is surely deliberate: John's "testimony" to Jesus demanded, in the first place, that he should make it absolutely clear that his own role, though unique and significant, did not detract in any way from the weight of the titles which would soon be suggested for Jesus. (On Jesus' reaction to a similar question, and on the titles themselves, see above on Mark 8.28.)

However, John's "testimony" does not consist only of statements familiar from the other gospels. 'Among you, though you do not know him, stands the one who is to come after me' (26). This is something new. One of the many current beliefs about the coming Messiah was that he already existed, and might even be already on earth, but that he was to remain "unknown" until the day when he would be revealed. This idea was rich in possibilities for explaining the paradox that Jesus, 'the Word', entered his own realm, and his own would not receive him (11). Jesus conformed to the traditional type of a hidden Messiah; it was only the way in which he was revealed which was totally different from what his contemporaries expected. He was hidden, at first, even from his first witness: John says twice over, 'I did not know him' (31, 33). There is evidence in the other gospels that John continued for some time to be in doubt about him. But here, he has now seen enough to give his precious evidence: 'I have borne witness. This is God's Chosen One'." ← Another Old Testament title, probably derived, like "Beloved" in Mark 1.11 and Matthew 3.17, from Isaiah 42.1: "... my chosen in whom I delight; I have bestowed my spirit upon him". Here, as in Mark and Matthew, the reading of some manuscripts gives the much less technical and allusive title, " Son of God".

'There is the Lamb of God' (29). This too is something quite new; but it is hard to know how to interpret it. By the time the gospel was written, the phrase had a rich store of meanings: the death of Jesus, occurring as it did in the course of the Passover festival, could be described as the sacrifice of a Passover lamb (i Corinthians 5.7); and his glorious ascension into heaven as Messiah is represented in the Revelation as the exaltation of a slaughtered Lamb in heaven. If John the Baptist used this phrase about Jesus, he can hardly have foreseen all this, and the only clue to his meaning is in the sequel, 'it is he who takes away the sin of the world'. There was nothing in the Jewish sacrificial system about a "lamb" which could have such atoning power; but the words, takes away the sin of the world, are reminiscent of just one passage in the Old Testament, which describes a Servant of God who was "led like a sheep to the slaughter", and who " bore the sin of many" (Isaiah 53.7,12). It is even possible that the original Aramaic word used by John the Baptist was one which meant both "lamb" and "servant"; if so, John may have been the first to recognize in Jesus the mysterious Servant prophesied in Isaiah 53. However that may be, this is only the first of a series of related images in this gospel: here Jesus is the lamb, later he is the door of the sheepfold, and finally he is the shepherd himself.

After John the Baptist, the gathering of disciples—an episode which necessarily stands near the beginning in all the gospels. John again has a particular interest in it—not so much in the fact that certain disciples decided to follow Jesus, or in the reasons why they did so, but because they too could be called as early "witnesses" to the true nature of Jesus. The first two, for instance, called him 'Rabbi' (which means a teacher) (38), and their question 'where are you staying?' showed what they meant by it: a man of fixed abode, who gathered a group of pupils—a kind of "school"—around him. True, Jesus certainly deserved the title Rabbi, and much of his work consisted of teaching; and the prosaic question about his lodging received a prosaic answer. But his pupils were soon to find that he was a great deal more besides. Indeed, one of these two, Andrew, immediately went on to give a more significant testimony: 'We have found the Messiah' (41) (John characteristically both offers the original Hebrew word and explains that its Greek equivalent is 'Christ'). This led to the adherence of Simon Peter. In the other gospels, the call of these two men takes place beside the Sea ofGalilee. Here the setting is quite different; but John's account includes one of the most certain facts in the New Testament: that Jesus gave Simon the name Cephas, of which the Greek equivalent is Peter, the Rock (42).

Philip appears in the lists of the Twelve given in the other gospels (43). His testimony is much the same as Andrew's: 'we have met the man spoken of by Moses in the Law, and by the prophets' (45)—the person, that is to say, to whom so many passages of the Old Testament were believed to point forward, the Messiah, the Christ. It was not in itself implausible that this Messiah should turn out to be identical with a particular man Jesus, of known family (Joseph) and home (Nazareth): many believed that the Messiah would first appear incognito. But what the next disciple, Nathanael, found hard to accept was that the incognito should be so complete. Nazareth was a small, remote place, without even a mention in the Old Testament to give a clue to its future distinction. 'Can anything good come from Nazareth?' (46) Nevertheless, his initial doubt soon yielded to recognition, and he gave the most important testimony so far: 'You are the Son of God; you are king of Israel' (49). Like the titles already given, these will be shown In lie true (in a sense) as the gospel proceeds.

Nathanael (45) is not in any surviving list of the Twelve, and in fact it is not fact said here that he became a disciple. He is brought in, again, entirely because of the value of his testimony. But there was reason to place him as the last and most decisive witness in the series. Jesus said, 'Here is an Israelite worlhy of the mime; there is nothing false in him' (47). He was, in short, the exact opposite of Jesus' Jewish opponents in Jerusalem: he was a true Israelite, one whose Jewish nationality and upbringing were to yield their proper fruit in making him a man who recognized and acclaimed Jesus for what he was. But how did Jesus know this about him? Was it a guess? Or had he a true gift of prophecy ? This time it was Jesus' turn to be a witness. If you wished to give evidence about a scene you had witnessed, you could be asked about the exact place and time. The question might take the form (as in Daniel and Susanna 51-8), "What kind of tree did it happen under?" Jesus passed the test; he then went on to cap the series of testimonies with a startling statement of his own: 'You shall see heaven wide open, and God's angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.' (51)

Here again, the synoptic gospels preserve elements out of which this saying could have been constructed. At Jesus' baptism, the heavens were 'torn open' (Mark 1.10); immediately after, in the temptation story, 'angels waited on him' (Mark 1.13); and there are a number of places where Jesus appears to refer to himself in this same oblique way as the Son of Man. But even if these elements were the original material out of which this saying in John's gospel was composed, the result suggests a quite different picture. "Jacob dreamt that he saw a ladder, which rested on the ground with its top reaching to heaven, and angels of God were going up and down upon it" (Genesis 28.12). Grammatically, the last word in the Hebrew could equally well mean "upon him", that is, on Jacob; and in due course Jewish scholars came to be attracted by the possibility. Jacob, after all, was Israel, and the Israel on earth had surely some kind of spiritual counterpart in heaven; might it not be that the verse in Genesis was intended to illustrate the relationship of the earthly and the heavenly Israel? We do not know how much of this kind of speculation was going on in John's day, but it is tempting to see a similar train of thought here: when Nathanael saw Jesus it was as if the true Israelite saw the true Israel in heaven, and his true counterpart on earth. At any rate, the allusion to the Jacob story is unmistakable, and the picture is one which emphasizes what (at least for John) was an essential feature of the mythological title. Son of Man: it meant a figure whose destiny was to be played out both on earth and in heaven.

Christ the giver of life

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Chapter 2.

The marriage at Cana.

On the third day there was a wedding (1). We can fill in a few of the details. The wedding took place in a small town, Cana, which was about nine miles north-east of Nazareth. ← The modern Khirbet Kana, now a mound of ruins. Another possible site is Kefar Kenna, rather closer to Nazareth on the road to Tiberias. Here, two churches have been built to commemorate the miracle; but the tradition that this was Cana-in-Galilee seems not to be older than the middle ages. It was the home-town of Nathanael (21.2) and a place, according to this gospel, visited more than once by Jesus. Certainly, his family was well known there, for the mother of Jesus was present at the festivities, helping with the domestic arrangements (for only men were invited to the actual meal). Jesus and his disciples were guests also (2): whether he was invited because of a family connection, or out of a new respect for him as a teacher, it would have been normal and courteous to include in the invitation those who had begun to form a regular group of disciples around him. Five have been mentioned: there may already have been more. They will have gone, not merely to receive hospitality, but to assist the bridegroom in the formalities and the entertainment which were a necessary part of the wedding and which usually went on for several days.

On the face of it, the story describes how Jesus spared his host a serious social embarrassment. It is possible that Jesus had been partly responsible for the crisis (hence his mother's unexpected approach to him to tell him of the alarm felt in the domestic quarters). He had arrived with a large party, but without bringing the kind of contribution expected of such guests-food and wine. If so, his deed may have been originally understood as a miraculous resourcefulness in the face of an obligation which his chosen way of life made it impossible for him to meet out of his own resources (the story of the tribute-money found in a fish's mouth—Matthew 17.24-7—is on the same lines). In any case, he acted with great discretion. The other guests were spared the shock of knowing anything about it, and even the steward of the feast (who was probably a kind of head waiter or master of ceremonies) was not in the secret.

Reduced to these simple terms, the story yields no very obvious moral: like many of the stories which must have circulated about Jesus, it could only qualify to stand in a gospel if it could be shown to contain some deeper meaning. John describes it as one of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glory, and characteristically places a load of significance upon some of the most banal details. In the brief dialogue, for instance, between Jesus and his mother the sentence, 'Your concern, mother, is not mine' (4), can bear more than one meaning. The tone is a little formal ('mother' translates the Greek word meaning "woman", and would have been the correct form of address on such an occasion) and the idiom is the same as that used by the demons to Jesus in Mark 1.24 and 5.7 ('what do you want with me?'). At its simplest level, it need be no more than an expression of surprise and slight annoyance that his mother should have come in to interrupt his attention to the festivities. But (as the NEB rendering suggests) a further meaning is possible: "you are worried about the supply of wine, but my concern is with more important things". Again, the six stone water-jars (6) were nothing out of the ordinary, and their impressive size simply underlines the miraculous abundance created by Jesus; but when John adds the detail that they were of the kind used for Jewish rites of purification, we can be sure that we are intended to draw a moral: the ritual observances of the Jews had given place to the spiritual sacraments of the Christians. Finally, the comment of the steward, which rounds off the episode, sounds like a trite piece of convivial small talk; but for Christian readers it bears more than a hint of those sayings of Jesus in which the old wine of the Jewish religion is shown to be infinitely inferior to the new wine of the gospel.

After this he went down to Capernaum (12). John gives a quite different picture of Jesus' movements from that in the other gospels. There, Jesus makes Capernaum his base for much of his work in Galilee; here, Jesus makes Cana (if anywhere) his base, and only makes one brief visit to Capernaum. Again, in the other gospels Jesus (after his baptism) makes only one pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the pilgrimage which ends in his death; all the Jerusalem episodes are therefore concentrated in the last few days of Jesus' life. But in John's gospel Jesus makes several journeys to Jerusalem (a fairly frequent pilgrimage for the great festivals was customary for such a person), and his drastic action with regard to the temple is accordingly placed near the beginning of the gospel instead of towards the end. If we wish to know in what order things actually happened, we have to make our choice between the two versions, and allow for the fact that one or the other (or both) may have been deliberately rearranged in order to bring out better the significance of each period of Jesus' life.

The merchant chased from the temple - Tissot.

Jesus made a whip of cords (15). This is one of the small details by which John succeeds in conveying a slightly different and more agitated picture than the other gospels. Jesus' action was not just a prophetic gesture: he effectively drove the animals out of the precincts with his whip, causing chaos among the money-changers, and finally ordering out the dealers in pigeons with their caged birds. What was his reason for this action ? In the other gospels, the question is a complicated one (see above on Mark 11.15-19); here, there is a simpler answer. 'You must not turn my Father's house into a market' (16). This is a fairly plain allusion to the last words of Zechariah (14.21), "There shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day": Jesus was deliberately fulfilling this oracle, and his deed proclaimed the imminence of that "day of the Lord" which the prophet had foretold. For the disciples, on the other hand, the episode came to have another meaning. 'Zeal for thy house will destroy me' (17) is a quotation from Psalm 69.9—and the subject of that psalm is one of the nameless righteous sufferers of the Old Testament: even the devotion and piety of the man towards the temple had been held against him. These words of Scripture seemed to fit Jesus perfectly.

The Jews challenged Jesus (18). As in the other gospels, the action inevitably provoked a controversy. The reply of Jesus is a saying that is reported by the New Testament writers in different forms and contexts. Speaking sacrilegious words against the temple could have been a serious offence, possibly even punishable by death; and a charge of this kind was evidently brought against Jesus at his trial. It caused the evangelists some embarrassment: could Jesus really have threatened to destroy the temple ? Various solutions are suggested in the gospel accounts (see above on Mark 14.58). Here, the saying (as John reports it) is not so much an attack on the temple, as a claim that, if it were destroyed, Jesus could rebuild it in three days. With characteristic irony, John makes the Jews take this quite literally: the temple had been begun by Herod the Great in 20-19 B.C., and was not in fact finished until A.D. 63, though the main work may have been completed after forty-six 20 years—by, say, A.D. 27, which is about the time this conversation could have taken place. It is pedantic to ask whether John knew that work was still in progress a generation later: the point is simply to contrast the immense labours of the builders with Jesus' grandiose claim to accomplish something comparable in three days. The claim was absurd—taken literally; but that its literal meaning was absurd or sacrilegious was (according to John) quite beside the point. The temple he was speaking of was his body (21)—a hidden meaning which could only be grasped in the light of the resurrection and of the many scriptures which were thereby fulfilled.

Many gave their allegiance to him (23). The response to Jesus' 'signs' was positive. How could it be said, therefore, that 'his own would not receive him' (1.11)? The full answer lay in the sequel; but in the meantime a sufficient reason could be found in the attitude of Jesus himself: he would not trust himself to them. He knew men so well (24).

Chapter 3.

There was one of the Pharisees named Nicodemus (1). He was evidently more sympathetic to Jesus than most of the influential people in Jerusalem: he recognized Jesus as a teacher ((2) like himself) and acknowledged that the signs he performed indicated that he had a divine mission on the level at least of one of the great figures of the Old Testament. Nevertheless, though a famous teacher of Israel (11), this Pharisee could not advance to any real understanding of Jesus. He was a case in point of a man who was ready to "give his allegiance" to Jesus, but to whom, because of the limitations of his understanding, Jesus could not 'trust himself'.

So far as the narrative goes, this Nicodemus has a humble function. He simply provides the questions and comments that are needed to draw out a discourse from Jesus, and his contribution is of a kind that occurs again and again in this gospel: by understanding a saying of Jesus in its most literal and banal sense ('how is it possible ... for a man to be born when he is old?' (4)) he gives the dramatic cue for a more subtle explanation from Jesus. Indeed, the whole episode is characteristic of the way in which the writer ol this gospel presents the teaching of Jesus, a way which is quite different from that of the other gospels. In them, Jesus' teaching takes the form of brief and memorable sentences, usually evoked by some question or incident, sometimes running over into a parable or illustration, but never offering a systematic development of a particular line of thought. Even where we find substantial paragraphs entirely devoted to teaching (as in the Sermon on the Mount, or in the discourse on the future), they turn out to consist of collections of sayings, many of which were remembered separately and were only later brought together into a composite discourse. But in this gospel the style of teaching is quite different. Starting from a particular episode, or question, or comment, Jesus develops his thought on a given subject, and ranges over a wide field of ideas. Sometimes his words are reminiscent of sayings recorded elsewhere; but more often they are expressed in the more sophisticated and philosophical idiom which is characteristic of this gospel. Theoretically, it is possible that Jesus actually spoke like this, and that we have here an authentic style of teaching which is unaccountably missing from the other gospels. But this is hardly the most likely explanation. The sayings in the other gospels are pungent, poetic and easily memorable: many of them are in exactly the form to be expected of teaching given in a Semitic language, and there is no difficulty in imagining how they could have been preserved in people's memory until they came to be written down. The discourses in John, on the other hand, are literary and artificial. They are cast in the form of dialogues or monologues such as are familiar from some of the philosophical literature of the time; they are carefully composed around a group of concepts which occur again and again, with different variations, as the gospel proceeds; and they seem to presuppose a writer meditating in his study rather than a teacher responding spontaneously to the questions of his hearers. In other words, Jesus did not deliver the discourses that are attributed to him in this gospel. But nor (in all probability) did he deliver the "Sermon on the Mount" in the form in which Matthew has recorded it. The gospels present us with different attempts to gather the teaching of Jesus into a form which would bring out its meaning and meet the needs of subsequent generations of Christians. The author of this gospel has done this in a more systematic way than the others. If, in the process, he has recast it in a somewhat different idiom, it is still possible that he has come at least as near as any other New Testament writer to its essential meaning.

'Unless a man has been born over again he cannot see the kingdom of God' (3). This saying, introduced by the solemn and distinctive formula which so often goes with a pronouncement of Jesus in this gospel ('In truth, in very truth I tell you') is the substance of the discourse; the rest, in a sense, is commentary. The idea that, by committing himself to a new religion or philosophy, a man might be "reborn", was not unheard of in antiquity. But what precisely did this mean in Christian terms? In the subsequent experience of Christians, the obvious moment when this "rebirth" took place was at baptism (in Titus 3.5 baptism is actually called "rebirth"). The elements of Christian baptism were the water (5) which symbolized the washing away of sin, and a new spirit which was received; of these, it was the spirit which (to this writer at least) gave meaning to the notion of rebirth. It has already been said in the prologue (1.13) that those who accept Jesus as Christ are born, not 'by fleshly desire', but 'of God himself'. Here the same point is made by means of the psychology of flesh and spirit (see below on Romans 8.5-8). "Flesh" is the whole of the human person as it were in its crude state, untouched by God: physical birth in itself can bring forth nothing more. "Spirit" is that aspect of the personality which is capable of responding to God, and which is brought to life when the Spirit of God touches it. The argument is an example of the old philosophical principle that "like begets like". If Christian baptism was "in spirit", it evidently caused a rebirth in the spirit of a man: 'it is spirit that gives birth to spirit' (6). Jesus may originally have meant something much less technical; but John, in his commentary, makes sense of the saying about being born over again in terms of Christian baptism.

John's gospel contains only one explicit parable (10.1-6); but there are occasionally other illustrations which, like the parables in the other gospels, invite the reader to do some thinking for himself. 'The wind blows where it wills' (8) is one of these. The point of comparison seems to be the freedom and unpredictability of the wind: in the same way, Christian "rebirth" is not tied to physical laws and long processes like physical birth, but is sudden and unpredictable. Indeed you can take the comparison as far as you like; it happens that in Greek, as in Hebrew, the same word is used for both wind and spirit.

However, there is still more to be said about the concept of being "born again". In Greek the words have a double meaning: "born over again" or "born from above". This second meaning suggests a whole new line of thought. Baptism is something which happens on earth (12): the spirit is received as an enrichment of the possibilities of human life; it does not follow that it reveals to the Christian the things of heaven. But if rebirth is also "from above", then it must also introduce him to the divine world above. The clue to this aspect of it is in Christ himself. Rebirth is faith in Christ; and Christ is a figure who belongs to both worlds. The title which most clearly brings this out is Son of Man (13). It has already occurred once (1.51) with precisely this significance of uniting the two worlds. And here are two more Son of Man sayings which make the same point. This figure is one who is not only a special and perhaps representative Man on earth, he also has a place on the right hand of God in heaven. The conception of such a Son of Man belongs in both worlds; and if Jesus was in fact (as he appears to have claimed in a number of sayings) the eventual embodiment of this Son of Man conception, then lie was the unique link between the two worlds. 'No one ever went up into heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man.' And how was the believer helped by this ? Many of the Son of Man sayings in the other gospels seemed anything but illuminating. The Son of Man was to suffer and to die: how then could he help the believer to draw near to heaven, and give him a rebirth "from above"? John's version of these sayings (for that is what verse 14 appears to be) is that the Son of Man must be lifted up (14). This had all kinds of possible meanings—lifted up on the cross, lifted up to heaven—which could be said to have been fulfilled in what happened to Jesus. But for the present, we are left to grapple with a single image from the Old Testament. To end an attack of fiery serpents on the people of Israel in the wilderness,

"the Lord told Moses to make a serpent of bronze and erect it as a standard, so that anyone who had been bitten could look at it and recover. So Moses made a bronze serpent and erected it as a standard, so that when a snake had bitten a man, he could look at the bronze serpent and recover."
(Numbers 21.8-9)

This serpent, according to later tradition, was "raised on high" by Moses; it was a "token of deliverance" for the people (Wisdom 16.6). The parallel is subtle but illuminating: by "looking at" and believing in Jesus in the various ways in which he was "lifted up", the Christian may find deliverance, possess eternal life (15), and so be brought by the Son of Man into heaven.

'God loved the world so much'. Is Jesus still speaking? The original text, having no inverted commas, leaves the question open, and modern translators have to make a choice. Perhaps in fact it makes little difference. The whole discourse is a commentary on some basic affirmations of Jesus, and is the work of the writer. His task is to show what Jesus meant, not to provide a transcript of his actual words, and it does not much matter how much of the commentary is actually placed in Jesus' mouth. The object of these final paragraphs, in any case, is to get rid of a misconception. Mention of the Son of Man suggests judgement; for, in the classic Old Testament passage about him—Daniel 7—it is at God's final judgement that he makes his triumphant appearance. But if now this Son of Man has already appeared and gone up into heaven (13), does this mean that it is too late for any more rebirth, are men already lined up for judgement, is their fate already sealed ? The answer lies in a radical reformulation of traditional beliefs about God's judgement. The old conception was of a moment at the end of time when all men, the living and the dead, would be summoned to appear before the divine tribunal. To some extent that picture may still be valid; but now, much of what was traditionally thought of as belonging to the ultimate future must be realized as taking place in the present. Here lies the test (19)—here and now. Judgement has indeed begun, but it consists in the challenge now presented to mankind by Jesus: men are judged when they declare for or against the light. Rebirth, involving salvation, is still an option for all. Thus it can be said, 'It was not to judge the world that God sent n his Son into the world, but that through him the world might be saved.' (17)

Map: Palestine under the Herods. (Visual Display Unit Map. This is and excellent scripture visual  display resource)

Jesus ... baptized. John too was baptizing (22-3). This gospel records a period when both men were apparently doing identical work simultaneously. Such a period is not mentioned in the other gospels; indeed it seems to be implied that Jesus did not begin his public activity until after John had been imprisoned (Mark 1.14). John's gospel explicitly contradicts this: This was before John's imprisonment (24). There was an initial period when both John and Jesus were "baptists".

Nevertheless, the activity of the two men was quite distinct. First with regard to geography: John ... was baptizing at Aenon, near to Salim (23). We cannot locate this precisely. Aenon is probably simply a form of an Aramaic word meaning "springs", and in later centuries travellers were doubtful just where Salim was. But all traditions point to the northern end of that part of the Jordan valley which runs from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. If this is correct, it is certainly true that water was plentiful in that region; and there is the further point that it lay in the territory of one of the cities of the Decapolis, Scythopolis (Bethshan). There would still have been a substantial Jewish population there, but politically it was outside the jurisdiction either of Herod Antipas or of the Roman governor of Judaea. Meanwhile, Jesus was baptizing in Judaea (22)—that is to say, probably lower down the Jordan valley. The two baptizers were some way apart, in different political territories.

Secondly, the two men, even if they were both baptists, were not strictly comparable. This has already been shown by John's 'testimony' (1.26-30), and the reader is given a further reminder of that testimony here, along with a brief parable to illustrate how the two men stood in relation to each other (as the bridegroom's friend to the bridegroom on the wedding day (29)). The conversation arose out of a dispute with Jews ← There is a well-attested manuscript reading at this point (not recorded in NEB) which appears to mean "with a Jew". This is hard to make sense of; and it is possible that John originally wrote "with Jesus", and that this was accidentally copied as "with a Jew" and then changed to with Jews in order to yield better sense. about purification (25). This is something we hear nothing about elsewhere; there was clearly a great deal more to be known about John the Baptist than the gospels tell us, and this may be a genuine fragment of history. Possibly this gospel recorded it because of the word "purification": John's baptism remained on the level of outward observance and ritual purification, but Jesus, who had turned water intended for Jewish purification into wine, had a baptism which far transcended such things. Furthermore, John the Baptist's followers were evidently looking askance at the success of Jesus. Whatever John himself may have said, a certain sense of competition may have persisted between the two groups, and if this was still alive at the time this gospel was written, it could explain the particular emphasis with which, on several occasions, John the Baptist is made to disclaim any rivalry with Jesus.

Finally the difference is brought out in the terms already explored in the previous discourse. Once again, there is no indication in the original text whether verses 31-6 are intended to be read as a speech of John the Baptist or as a comment of the writer. This time the NEB chooses the second alternative. But again, it makes little difference. Coming from above—witness—Spirit—judgement (here, for once in this gospel, called wrath (36)) are concepts which have already been put to use. Flere they stand in a new combination, and serve to summarize the stage reached so far in defining the status and authority of Jesus.

Chapter 4.

In John's gospel, the opposition to Jesus always comes from "the Jews ", that is, people of influence in Jerusalem, represented sometimes by the priests or High Priests, sometimes (as here) by the Pharisees (1). Exactly what had aroused them on this occasion is a little obscure. It has just been said (3.26) that Jesus was baptizing, and crowds were flocking to him; but now a correction is made: in fact, it was only the disciples who were baptizing and not Jesus himself (2). This certainly matches better with the other gospels, where it is taken for granted that Jesus was not a "baptist". But in this gospel Jesus certainly had a "baptist" period, whether or not he did the actual baptizing himself (the correction, in fact, is impossible to reconcile with John's narrative, and may have been added by a later editor to remove the apparent discrepancy with the other gospels). In the face of some sort of threat from the Pharisees, he brought this period to an end, and moved to C lalilee, where he was to make use of a different kind of water-symbolism.

He had to pass through Samaria (4). In practical terms, this was not absolutely necessary: it was possible to travel from the lower Jordan to valley without climbing into the Samaritan hill-country. But it was common for Jewish travellers (despite the hostility of the Samaritans) to take the higher road through the mountains of Samaria: walking there was very much easier than in the stilling climate of the Jordan valley. Jesus' route was therefore perfectly normal. Moreover, there are several examples in Luke of Jesus' attitude towards the feud between Jews and Samaritans; in part, this episode in John's gospel clearly has the same intention.

Near the place where the road which Jesus would have taken from the Jordan valley joins the mountain road from Jerusalem there is a deep well. Recent archaeological evidence has shown that it was in continuous use from 1000 B.C. until A.D. 500. There is no other well in the area, and there can be no doubt that it was here that Jesus stopped on his journey. Later in the conversation it is explained why it was called "Jacob's well": it was 'Jacob our ancestor, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, he and his sons, and his cattle too' (12). This too fits the spot. Nearby was the ancient city of Shechem, which had particular 'associations with Jacob (Genesis 33.18-20, Joshua 24.32), and the burial place of Joseph, Jacob's son, is still venerated a few hundred yards away. Even if the neighbouring towns all had springs of their own (as they have today), a watering place outside would have been important for herds of cattle, and would have been kept in constant use. The tradition that this was "Jacob's well" does not rest on any text in the Old Testament but was doubtless already a very old one in the time of Jesus. It was beyond doubt the same "Jacob's well" which is still shown to visitors today.

The nearby city of Sichem (Shechem) had been in ruins ever since its destruction in war more than a century before. Nevertheless, there were certainly towns and villages in the area. We cannot identify the one mentioned here, a Samaritan town called Sychar (5), though it is quite likely that its name has survived in the modern village of Askar, less than a mile away.

Why should a Samaritan woman have walked out from Sychar (where there was probably a spring) to draw water at this well? (7) It is possible that its water was thought to be especially pure or even medicinal (this was certainly the case as recently as the nineteenth century), given the great depth and antiquity of the well; but John gives no hint of anything of the kind. However, from this point on the story fits perfectly into its setting. Jesus was in Samaria—that is to say, a country of people who, though closely related to the Jews, had their own customs and religion, and who were liable to be unfriendly to Jewish visitors. The distrust was mutual, and a generation later it found expression in a Jewish decree that all Samaritan women must be regarded by strict Jews as ritually unclean. "Unclean" persons automatically made all their household vessels "unclean". It followed that Jews who wished to remain ritually clean could not eat or drink from the household vessels of a Samaritan woman: in John's words, Jews and Samaritans, it should be noted, do not use vessels in common (9). This was true by the time the gospel was written. That it was true in the time of Jesus is questionable; but the anachronism (if it is one) is not serious. Relations were certainly strained between the two races, even if the decree about Samaritan women was not yet in force.

There was therefore some justification for the disciples' astonishment when they found Jesus talking with a woman (27). There was no Jewish convention forbidding a man to converse with a female stranger. On the other hand, there was a fairly strong prejudice against the idea of a learned teacher spending any time giving instruction to women; and the fact that the woman was a Samaritan must have made the scene which greeted them seem even odder.

However, the story is not told for this reason, but for the sake of the conversations which took place. First, the simple request by Jesus for a drink leads into some teaching about 'living water' (10). This expression, in the Greek, can also mean fresh or running water, so that the woman's misunderstanding of Jesus' meaning—though it is an example of John's most characteristic device for keeping this kind of conversation going—is not wholly implausible. Her mind remains on the level of wells and buckets; Jesus is speaking (in words which Jewish writers sometimes liked to use when describing the Law of Moses) of 'an inner spring always welling up for eternal life' (14).

Then the conversation makes a fresh start. Telepathic knowledge (as we should call it) marked a man as a prophet. If a prophet, then perhaps the Messiah himself—an inference which the Samaritans may have been particularly ready to draw, since they accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament, and the only reference there to any Coming One was to a "prophet like Moses" (Deuteronomy 18.18). The reaction of the woman was thus typically Samaritan (though many Jews might have had the same question): 'Could this be the Messiah?' (29)

But again, some deeper teaching is worked into the conversation. Just as, for the Jews, one of the tasks of the Messiah would be to restore the purity and splendour of the temple worship at Jerusalem, so, according to Samaritan belief, the Messiah would re-consecrate the Samaritan sanctuary which now lay in ruins on Mount Gerizim. This, in fact, was the point of the deepest cleavage between Jews and Samaritans. For the Jews, the place where God "made his name to dwell" (as the Book of Deuteronomy puts it) was unquestionably Jerusalem; for the Samaritans, it was Gerizim, one of the three great mountains of the country, to which the Samaritan woman could have pointed with a wave of the hand when she referred to 'this mountain' ((20) she and Jesus were actually at the foot of it). Jesus' attitude to this dispute was frankly Jewish: the Samaritans' eccentric cult was due to an ignorant interpretation of Scripture. 'You Samaritans worship without knowing what you worship, while we worship what we know' (22). However exclusive the Jewish religion seemed for the moment, there could be no question that it provided the only possible basis for a universal religion. 'It is from the Jews that salvation comes'. For many Jews, Jerusalem itself was doubtless mainly a symbol: il was not the actual city with its temple which was important, but the deeper realities it stood for. Nevertheless, they felt the need for some focus for their worship. Their conception of God was transcendent, yet it was still localized. Worship meant turning in the direction of Jerusalem, orientating oneself towards that place on earth which God had made particularly his own. To this, Jesus now opposed the conception of worship in spirit and in truth (24). The terms have a rich load of philosophical and religious meaning. There was a sense, for instance, in which any Stoic might have agreed that God is spirit (it was a possible way of defining God's substance). In the Old Testament, on the other hand, the words would have meant that there is a spirit which is God's Spirit, and that God therefore has that freedom and spontaneity which goes with wind or spirit. Here, these terms serve to hint at the possibilities of a worship which is totally detached from the limitations of any particular place.

'Can someone have brought him food?' (33) This time it is the disciples who keep the conversation going by their prosaic understanding of Jesus' words, 'I have food to eat of which you know nothing' (32). But then a few verses follow which read more like a recollection of some isolated sayings of Jesus (in the manner of the other gospels) than like the kind of continuous 35 discourse into which this writer usually casts his material. 'Do you not say, "Four months more and then comes harvest"?' (35) This sounds like a proverb (especially in the Greek, which scans like a line of verse): in Palestine the interval between sowing and harvest was regularly about four months. 'But look, I tell you'. Jesus is evidently not just commenting on the actual season of the year: the harvest stands for something else. In the other gospels, as in the Bible as a whole, it is a constant symbol of the Last Judgement. The same meaning fits here. Men have seldom expected the Last Judgement to come inconveniently soon: when you sow your corn, harvest seems a long time ahead; when you look at your moral record, the reckoning seldom seems imminent. But Jesus, in his own person, brought judgement into the present. He put an end to the comfortable sense of delay which belonged to the old way of looking at things. At the same time he brought the joy of a future heavenly reward within the grasp of human life. This, at least, seems to be the drift of his words. But we have little to go by, and we are still more at a loss when it comes to the other proverb, "One sows, and another reaps" (37). This was usually said from the point of view of the sower: it was the expression of a gloomy recognition of the inherent injustice of life. But here it is said from the point of view of the reaper, and has a cheerful note. It is possible to think of circumstances in the history of the church to which the saying might have applied by the time the gospel was written. The first "toiling" for the gospel in Samaria, for instance, was done by a group of "Hellenists" (Acts 8.4-13); when the Jerusalem leaders arrived, they simply
came in 'for the harvest of their toil'. But if Jesus used the proverb, he must have meant something different. 'I sent you to reap'. That: his followers were to have a part in the "reaping" that was the prelude to the judgement of the world, was something which Jesus certainly hinted at (Matthew 9.37). But who were the mysterious others who would have already done the hard work? The Samaritan religious leaders who had prepared their people so well for the coming of a great "prophet"? A group of Samaritans who came to believe in Jesus as a result of this very visit ? We cannot tell.

The Samaritan woman had believed in Jesus because of his apparently psychic powers ('He told me everything I ever did'). He was a prophet (39), and therefore he might well be the awaited Messiah. But after Jesus had stayed with the Samaritans for two days, many more became believers because of what they heard from his own lips (41). A feat of telepathy was only the prelude to much more serious pronouncements; and the idea that Jesus might be the Messiah gave place to the realization that he was a more universal figure than their religion allowed for: 'the Saviour of the world' (43).

A prophet is without honour in his own country (44). This saying is recorded in all the gospels, but here it has a completely new context. Jesus' "own country", in the most literal sense, was Nazareth, a village in Galilee; and the other three gospels record, as an apt setting for the saying (which was probably in fact already a proverb), an occasion when honour was withheld from Jesus in his home town (Matthew 13.57; Mark 6.4; Luke 4.24). But the literal meaning was not the only possible one, nor even the most plausible one. John took the phrase his own country in a much deeper sense: Jesus was sent to the Jewish people, the centre of whose religion and national life was Jerusalem. But "the Jews" (as John usually calls Jesus' influential opponents at Jerusalem, by contrast with the ordinary Jewish inhabitants of Palestine) consistently "dishonoured" him—this was the true application of the proverb. Jesus' own country was the place where, above all, he should have been accepted—Jerusalem. In due course, Jesus would deliberately face this hostility; but for the present he returned to the more welcoming Galileans.

An officer from Capernaum, whose son (or servant) was dangerously ill, is the subject of an episode recorded by Matthew (8.5-13) and Luke (7.1-10). These two accounts each tell the story in a somewhat different way, but both include a dialogue between Jesus and the officer which stresses the officer's exceptional faith; and there is the further point (especially in Luke) that the officer was a Gentile who showed very marked deference to Jesus. In John, the story is again different. The officer was not necessarily a soldier at all; he was simply in the royal service (46), that is to say, probably an official in the household of I lerod Antipas, and therefore just as likely to have been a Jew. Moreover, Jesus' rejoinder to him was reminiscent of the rebuke which Jesus gave In Jewish people in general in Matthew 12.38-9,' It is a wicked, godless generation that asks for a sign'; despite which, the boy's father continued to plead with him. Thus the interest arising from Jesus' first confrontation with a Gentile, and the whole dialogue that turns on a comparison between the authority of a soldier and that of Jesus, is absent from John's version. On the other hand, the emphasis is once again on faith. The man believed what Jesus said (50), and this initial act of faith turned into a whole-hearted acceptance of the gospel: in a phrase curiously reminiscent of the later history of the church as it is recorded in Acts, he and all his household became believers (53).

Chapter 5.

The Sheep Pool, Bethesda, Jerusalem.

Later on Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals (1). In this gospel, unlike the others, Jesus makes frequent visits to Jerusalem as a pilgrim: the festivals offered the most natural reason for a Galilean teacher to "go up". Now at the Sheep-Pool in Jerusalem there is a place with five colonnades (2). Archaeology has shown John's information to be correct. Architecturally, five colonnades is a puzzling number; but Cyril, a fourth-century bishop of Jerusalem, provides the solution: "four ran round the sides, but the fifth, where the crowd of sick lay, ran across the centre". We are therefore to imagine a pool enclosed by a colonnade on each of the four sides, the pool being in fact a double pool, divided by a fifth colonnade running down the middle. Exactly this arrangement has been excavated in the north-east corner of Jerusalem. The colonnades are of the style of Herod the Great, and were almost certainly there in the time of Jesus; and water can still be seen in the two pools. It may be only an accident that there is still a sheep market in the vicinity; but there is little reason to doubt John's statement that this pool was in some way associated with sheep and was called Bethesda. ← The NEB does not record that the manuscripts offer more than one version of these names. In particular, one very slight variant gives the meaning, "At the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool with five colonnades", which fits the archaeological evidence more neatly. Bethesda also appears in some manuscripts as Bethzatha or Bethsaida; but Bethesda (meaning "House of Mercy") is probably correct.

One more piece of information is given by implication. 'I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed' (7). Evidently the pool was thought to have miraculous power, and this was connected with a mysterious "disturbance" of the water. This could have been the result of a peculiarity of the spring which fed the pools (at least one intermittent spring, which produced a kind of siphon-action when it failed, has been known to exist in Jerusalem); and an occasional unexplained eddy in the pool would have been enough to account for the legend which drew a crowd of sick people to it. ← Most of this is made explicit in the additional sentences given in the NEB footnote. But these sentences, which occur only in some manuscripts, look like an intelligent inference from John's text, and not a piece of independent tradition.

Jesus' cure of the cripple is told, not just as a spectacular miracle, but as a meaningful encounter between healer and healed. It begins with a searching question—'Do you want to recover?' (6), after which, despite his relatively trivial answer, the man is cured. Subsequently, Jesus adds, 'leave your sinful ways, or you may suffer something worse.' (14) The other gospels see most of Jesus' cures as exorcisms: when the demon had been driven out of a man, there was always a danger of a worse one coming in, and Jesus was remembered to have made a vivid comment on precisely this danger (Matthew 12.43-5; Luke 11.24-6). Here, it is as if the same idea is translated into terms of a more sophisticated view of disease, though still with the presupposition (which lay deep in Hebrew culture and is sometimes reflected in sayings of Jesus) that disease is the result of sin.

But the story gains its dramatic point from the circumstance that that day was a Sabbath (10). The easiest offence to establish was that of the cripple himself: it was forbidden to carry any burden on the Sabbath, and so the Jews (who stand again, evidently, for the authorities) were justified in saying, 'You are not allowed to carry your bed' (9), even though the bed in question may have been no more than a stretcher. However, the cripple disclaimed responsibility, and passed the blame on to Jesus. In fact, far more than a case of "carrying" was involved: the healing itself was the real cause of offence. This is exactly the situation so often described in the other gospels: it was works of this kind done on the Sabbath that stirred the Jews to persecute Jesus (16).

It was certainly arguable that to heal was a form of "work", and therefore prohibited on the Sabbath. Jesus was impatient of this attitude. Sometimes (according to the other gospels) he simply poured contempt on it in the name of sheer humanity, sometimes he found in Scripture a precedent for his exceptional authority to waive the Sabbath regulations. His defence here was both more subtle and more far-reaching. 'My Father has never yet ceased his work, and I am working too' (17). There was certainly debate in Jesus' time on the implications of Genesis 2.2-3: "On the sixth day God completed all the work he had been doing, and on the seventh day he ceased from all his work. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy ..." This, it was supposed, was the origin of the Sabbath. But could it be the case that God, who is now enjoying his own "Sabbath", does no "work" of any kind? Surely God is still active; how then does he avoid breaking his own Sabbath regulations? Different answers were suggested to this question; but it was generally admitted that there must be some sense in which God is still "working", and that the Sabbath prohibition of work therefore does not apply to God in the same sense that it applies to men. Jesus seems to have been alluding to this debate when he said, 'My Father has never yet ceased his work'; but when he went, 'and I am working too', he clearly implied that the special exemption from the Sabbath rest which applied to God applied equally to himself. His opponents were quick to see that thereby he claimed equality with God (18).

This was a serious matter, more serious even than breaking Sabbath regulations. The God of the Old Testament was unique and absolute. For any man to compare himself with God was blasphemous: even to claim an attribute like "goodness", which properly belonged only to God, was to show irreverence (Mark 10.18). It was true that the Jews claimed a special relationship with God: in a certain sense, they were his "children", he was their "father". But this did not affect the immense distance which necessarily separated any individual from God. The claim Jesus had just made, and the form in which he had expressed it (calling God his own Father, as if he had a special and intimate relationship with him), went far beyond anything a Jew would normally dare to utter. It sounded like a direct assault on the basic monotheism of their faith. Did Jesus claim to be some sort of second "god"? The question could have been a burning one for John's readers as much as for Jesus' original hearers. Jesus' reply was a preliminary answer to it.

'The Son can do nothing by himself' (19). In this and the following verse, it would be perfectly correct (so far as the Greek goes) to write Father and Son without capital letters. When this is done, the saying reads almost like one of Jesus' parables in the other gospels: the picture is of a boy apprenticed to his father and learning his trade entirely under his father's supervision. But it would be clear, even without the capital letters, that in fact Jesus was applying the parable to himself: just as a boy-apprentice learns all his skill and derives all his knowledge from his craftsman-father, so Jesus, far from claiming "equality" with God, was completely dependent on his heavenly Father. But that is only one side of the parable's meaning. The other side is more startling. If Jesus was God's apprentice-son, then Jesus' work was God's work. This would be innocuous enough if it were meant in the general sense that all men are doing "God's work" (though some more than others, and Jesus to an exceptional degree). But the application Jesus made of it was to a "work" that would normally be thought to be the prerogative of God alone. 'As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to men' (21). God (it had always been believed) was the supreme judge of mankind; but even this had now been learnt and carried on from him by the apprentice: God has given full jurisdiction to the Son (23). Jesus pretended to no "equality" with God, he was no "second god" himself; yet in virtue of all that he had learnt from God and which he did with God's authority, 'all should pay the same honour to the Son as to the Father' (23).

Raising the dead and giving them life, judging—these terms belonged to the standard Jewish picture of the destiny which awaits every man after death: at a given moment, God will "raise" all who have died, so that they may stand before him for judgement; the righteous he will reward with an everlasting life of felicity, the unrighteous he will consign to an appropriate punishment. To put it in its simplest terms, 'those who have done right will rise to life; those who have done wrong will rise to hear their doom' (29). Jesus nowhere explicitly rejects this traditional picture; but in what has just been said he claims to occupy a significant place in it. It appears that he is to take over from God the actual administration of the final judgement: he is to have full jurisdiction (22). What is the importance of this? Is it simply a redistribution of roles in that mythological drama which is the way men tend to imagine the judgement of God ? Does it mean that in any picture of the last things the traditional representation of the divine Judge at the centre must now be replaced by the figure of Jesus ? Doubtless, yes—so long as the old picture is kept at all. But in this gospel Jesus' words, though still using the old language, suggest a different picture altogether.

The furthest possible extremes of human experience are represented by the two words, life and death. If one wants to describe two kinds of living as totally different from each other, one can draw a metaphor from the same antithesis. The old, poor kind of life one can call "death", the new and splendid dimension one can call "life", "real life", or better still, borrowing a term from the traditional picture of the life of the blest after death, "eternal life". In doing this, one is not necessarily denying that the old picture of a final judgement after death is in some sense valid; but one is deliberately using the old imagery to describe the intensity of a new way of life which is now attainable in the present.

This is what John is doing here. His interpretation of Jesus' parable about father and son begins with a preliminary definition of what this new kind of living consists of: 'anyone who gives heed to what I say and puts his trust in him who sent me has hold of eternal life, and does not come up for judgement, but has already passed from death to life' (24). The old imagery is pressed into service to show how radically different this new kind of life is from the old. The traditional concepts are not necessarily cancelled (the restatement of them in verses 28-9 is completely ambiguous: it could be an endorsement of them or a total reinterpretation of them). But now, the "judgement" which matters consists in the way a man reacts to Jesus, eternal life is what is experienced as a result of reacting warmly. This is all new; and yet it is an expression of the unchanging justice of the judgement of God: 'I judge as I am bidden, and my sentence is just, because my aim is not my own will, but the will of him who sent me' (30).

Reacting warmly to Jesus, however, meant believing him to be what he claimed to be; and it was legitimate to ask (as one would ask in a court of law) what the evidence was for such tremendous claims. In this sense, however compelling some people might find Jesus' own sayings, what he said himself could not count as evidence: to be believed, he must have independent witnesses. From this strictly legal point of view, it was correct for him to say, 'If I testify on my own behalf, that testimony does not hold good' (31). Now in fact two particular kinds of testimony to Jesus have already been mentioned, that of John the Baptist, and that of the scriptures. But both these were cogent only for those already disposed to believe. Most people saw significance in John the Baptist's movement only for a time (35): they failed to see its lasting significance as a testimony to Jesus. And as for the scriptures (39), the duty of studying them diligently was recognized by every Jew who took his religion seriously, and no one doubted that this was the surest way of securing the prospect of eternal life after death; but the Jews still missed the true meaning of those scriptures (that 'their testimony points to me' (40)), and so failed to come to him who could offer them 'that life' here and now. For anyone who was beginning to believe in Jesus, both these kinds of testimony were exceedingly important. About that of John, for instance, Jesus could say,'I remind you of it for your own salvation' (34). But, for those who remained unconvinced, Jesus' ultimate appeal was to a testimony higher than John's (36), a testimony more explicit than that of the scriptures—the testimony of God himself, not in the form of a crude and dazzling appearance of the divine (for the Jews quite rightly thought of
God as far too transcendent a figure for anyone to have heard his voice or seen his form (37)), but expressed in the works of Jesus (36), which testified to the true nature of him who performed them. It is of these "works" and of the testimony they gave to Jesus that John's gospel is principally a record.

'I do not look to men for honour' (41). There was of course something else which might have caused people to believe in Jesus. There is normally no difficulty in believing that a certain man is, say, a king: the fact becomes evident from the honour which people pay to him, and from the prestige which he acquires in the performance of his exalted office. The same kind of "honour" could conceivably have been concentrated in the person of Jesus, and so have convinced people of who he was. But "honour" of this kind is a purely human category, something which men receive from one another (44). It could be of no value in attesting Jesus' relationship with God. 'I do not look to men for honour'. On the other hand, there was a kind of
44 honour which he did possess, 'the honour that comes from him who alone is God' (44). Here there is a word-play which can hardly be reproduced in English. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, the Septua-gint translators used the word doxa, "honour", to translate the Hebrew expression which in English we usually call "the glory of God". This was an extension of language: it was as if God could be said to have an " honour" which (unlike honour in the ordinary sense) is given to him by no one else, but belongs to him by right, and is an expression of his transcendence and power, his "glory". Jesus' argument (at least as reported in Greek by John) makes deliberate play with this double meaning of the word doxa. No human "honour" would add any weight to Jesus' claims; but if people only had an eye for the kind of doxa which is the glory of God, they would realize that this was something which did attach to Jesus and showed him to have been accredited by his Father (43).

'Do not imagine that I shall be your accuser' (45). If everything depends on how a man reacts to Jesus, then it could be expected (given the traditional picture of the Last Judgement, when each man's words and deeds will be held against him) that Jesus himself would be the "accuser", saying to God (in effect), This man did not accept me. But this would be to suggest that Jesus introduced a new criterion of judgement—no longer right or wrong, good or evil, but for or against Jesus. In fact, the criterion is the same as it always was. Rightly understood, the whole of Scripture points to the same criterion. 'Your accuser is Moses'.

Chapter 6.

Some time later (1). A miracle performed by Jesus, in which a great crowd was fed from a small number of loaves and fishes, is told twice over by Mark and Matthew, and once each by Luke and John. In all these accounts, the main elements of the story are the same: the two episodes that are reported in Mark and Matthew differ only in relatively unimportant details, and Luke appears to follow Mark's first account. The version in John, like that of the second miracle in Mark and Matthew, places the episode on the farther shore of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias), Tiberias is on the west shore of the lake. It was built by Herod Antipas for his capital city, and its name was intended as a compliment to the reigning Emperor, Tiberius. To Gentiles, it would have been natural to call the lake by the same name. But the Jews, who disliked the new pagan city, preferred to call it either by its biblical name, the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5.1), or else (as usually in the gospels) the Sea of Galilee. but in other respects it comes closer to the first (Mark 6.33-44). A single well-remembered episode evidently forms the basis of these various accounts (even if Jesus, as Mark and Matthew record, actually repeated the miracle on a second occasion). But John characteristically tells the story in his own way, and, by a slight shift of emphasis, makes it yield a new meaning.

According to all the other accounts of this miracle, the crowd was hungry, the hour was late, the place deserted. A compassionate concern for the pilgrims' needs was the spring of Jesus' action. But John says nothing of this. Instead, he simply records that it was near the time of Passover, the great Jewish festival (4). Our attention is drawn, not to the urgent need for food, ← Most of Galilee, in the time of Jesus, seems to have been about as densely populated and cultivated as modern rural Surrey. Even on the mountains one could never have been far from towns. In this respect, John's account is perhaps more plausible than the others. but to the imminence of the one symbolic meal of the Jewish year. The food Jesus was about to provide must not be understood, any more than the Passover lamb, merely as a means of satisfying hunger.

When everyone had had enough (12). Five thousand men had been satisfied with five barley loaves and two small fishes: this was surely a sufficiently sensational fact to make the narrator pause a moment. But John allows it only a passing reference, and hurries on to another point: they filled twelve baskets with the pieces left uneaten of the five barley loaves (13). Why was this so important? On the face of it, it was the feeding that mattered, not what was left over. Admittedly, the detail is mentioned in the other gospels, and it may have seemed to the writer to be almost a necessary part of any story of this kind. A miracle performed by Elisha, for instance, included the same point (and also has other features in common with this one):

"A man came from Baal-shalisha, bringing to the man of God some of the new season's bread, twenty barley loaves ... Elisha said, 'Give this to the people to eat.' But his disciple protested,' I cannot set this before a hundred men.' Still he repeated,' Give it to the people to eat; for this is the word of the Lord: "They will eat and leave over"'. So he set it before them, and they ate and left some over, as the Lord had said." (2 Kings 4.42-4)

And there is also something similar in the story of Ruth: "Boaz passed her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over" (Ruth 2.14). Moreover, when Jesus (according to the other gospels) later alluded to this miracle, he referred deliberately to this point of bread having been left over:' When I broke the five loaves among five thousand, how many basketfuls of scraps did you pick up?' (Mark 8.19). Gathering up scraps of bread after a meal was certainly an ingrained habit. Bread was eaten with everything. It was the only implement for eating, and was used for wiping the fingers. To leave substantial pieces lying about was dirty, wasteful and irreverent. But on this occasion there was far more to it than that. It is important to visualize the quantities involved. A modern baker's loaf may feed several people; but the loaves of Jesus' time were the small, round, flat ones still used by Semitic peoples. Three of them were needed to give a man a meal (Luke 11.5). Twenty of them, in the Elisha story, seemed absurdly little to set before a hundred men. Any basket would hold at least a dozen such loaves, if not many more. On this occasion, they filled twelve baskets with the pieces left uneaten of the five barley loaves (13). In other words, even after the meal, they were left with many times more than they started with. We can now see why this detail is the real climax of the story. How much bread the men needed to eat could not be calculated. Perhaps (a cynic might have said) they were not very hungry. But this did not matter. The real evidence for the miracle lay in those twelve baskets full of scraps. This was the sign that the people saw (14). Moreover, it gave John the cue for adding some teaching of Jesus about food that lasts, the food of eternal life (27). Like the 'water' which is 'an inner spring always welling up for eternal life' (4.14), the bread which Jesus gives is always there, even after it has fed multitudes.

The word went round, 'Surely this must be the prophet that was to come into the world' (14). The Jewish religion encouraged people to pin their hopes on a figure " who was to come ", even though it allowed a wide variety of opinions on what kind of figure this would be. Speculation ranged from a purely human warrior-king to an almost transcendental being who would usher in a new age. One text which was often quoted in this connection was that in which Moses foretold that God would "raise up a prophet from among you like myself" (Deuteronomy 18.15). Moses had miraculously fed the people with manna, and here was Jesus doing much the same thing. It was not difficult for the crowd to guess that Jesus 'must be the prophet', and the subsequent dialogue shows that this was the way their minds were working. But this kind of religious excitement could easily spill over into something more practical and dangerous. There were several "prophets" in this period who promised to show an authoritative "sign" and then to lead the Jewish people against their Roman conquerors. It needed no more than what Jesus had just done for the crowd to come and seize him to proclaim him king (15).

Jesus ... withdrew. In Matthew and Luke, the possibility of an earthly kingship was one of the "tests" to which Jesus was exposed by the devil. In all the gospels, the point was important when it came to Jesus' trial; and there were many earlier occasions on which his words and actions had political implications. This is the only place in any of the gospels where the possibility of a political movement starting outside Jerusalem is explicitly referred to; but it would have been natural for the evangelists to play down this motif, and John may well preserve something here which the others have passed over. In any case, the danger (as Jesus saw it to be) provides a convincing motive for Jesus separating himself from his followers and for his disciples taking to their boat—an episode (16-21) which also comes in this place in Mark (6.45-52) and Matthew (14.22-32).

'It is I; do not be afraid' (21). All the accounts of this episode contain these words; but the story itself is told by John in a rather different way. Matthew and Mark leave the reader in no doubt that Jesus miraculously walked across the water. In John, the details are not so clear: Jesus could have been in shallow water near the edge of the lake. But (as the sequel shows) the writer certainly believed he was describing a supernatural event. Next morning (22) the crowd tried to work out what had happened to Jesus, and found his disappearance inexplicable. ← Verses 22-4 are somewhat obscure in the original; but the essential point seems to be that there was originally only one boat, and Jesus was known not to have embarked in it. When they finally tracked him down in Capernaum, this was the first thing they wanted to ask him. 'Rabbi', they said, 'when did you come here?' (26)


It looked, then, as if the crowd's motives in following Jesus were pure curiosity and a desire for more free bread. Jesus ignored the first and poured scorn on the second. The miracle of the loaves was not intended just to satisfy their hunger. It was a "sign" of something more important—something the crowd had failed to grasp. To turn the discussion in the right direction, Jesus used a form of words they could easily understand. 'You must work, not for this perishable food, but for the food that lasts, the food of eternal life' (27).

This was the familiar choice offered by religious teachers: either "perishable food"—that is, the material rewards of a wholly this-worldly life—or the kind of god-fearing and obedient living which would secure a favourable judgement on the Last Day and the reward of eternal life. Jesus' next words seemed at first sight to fit into the same picture: 'This food the Son of Man will give you'. The Son of Man (in Daniel 7 and also probably in popular belief) was a figure associated with the Last Judgement. So, missing the real point of Jesus' saying (which only becomes clear later in the chapter), ← 'He it is upon whom God the Father has set the seal of his authority' is a sentence open to many interpretations. The crowd would presumably have understood it as a piccc of normal Son of Man doctrine: God had in some sense marked out and chosen the figure who would ultimately be revealed as Son of Man. The metaphor of a "seal" could have been one way of saying this (though it could also perhaps have suggested another popular doctrine about the Son of Man, that he was " hidden"—shut away and kepi: secure under a seal—until the day when he was to be revealed). But later Christian readers would certainly have understood it quite differently. God " set his seal" on Jesus at any of those moments in his life—perhaps particularly his baptism which marked him out as someone unique. they asked him the usual question about the way of life which would secure their acquittal on the day of Judgement and entitle them to receive food from the Son of Man. 'Then what must we do', they asked him, 'if we are to work as God would have us work?' (28)

This was a stock question. In the other gospels it is put to Jesus in the form, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' (Mark 10.17); and Jesus' answer is, 'Follow me'. Here, his answer is similar, though "following" has given place to "believing": 'believe in the one whom God has sent' (29).

But how were they to believe? Jesus must do something, give some sign, to show who he was. Of course (John would have us understand) this is exactly what Jesus had been doing; but the "signs" Jesus gave were too subtle, and demanded too much readiness of acceptance, to be generally understood. The crowd was thinking of something more obvious, such as Moses providing the people with manna (Exodus 16; the quotation, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat" (31), does not occur in the Old Testament in precisely this form: it is a recollection of such passages as Psalm 78.24, Nehemiah 9.15). If Jesus were similarly to arrange a miraculous supply of bread, they would believe in him. Perhaps; but that was not Jesus' way. Believing in Jesus did not depend on happening to have witnessed a miracle. 'His own would not receive him' (1.11) expressed a greater mystery than this. Ultimately, believing was something given by God. 'No man can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me' (44). This sounds like the harshest determinism. But consider how God does in fact "draw" men: through the revelation of himself in the Bible. Jesus was witnessed to by Scripture; it was open to anyone to be "drawn". In this sense, those who came to Jesus were those who read Scripture aright— 'who ... listened to the Father' (45)—and who could be described in the words of a prophecy of Isaiah (54.13), "And they shall all be taught by God."

'The truth is, not that Moses gave you the bread from heaven, but that my Father gives you the real bread from heaven' (32). The manna was supernatural bread, certainly, but it did no more than satisfy physical hunger. Even if Jesus were to provide bread on that supernatural scale (instead of just once in the mountains beyond the lake), nothing would be achieved of real significance. What Moses had done in the wilderness was at most a shadow of what Jesus now proposed to do. He was offering, not the satisfaction of physical hunger, but real bread, real sustenance. 'Whoever comes to me shall never be hungry' (35). Jesus' claim was that in his own person he represented the spiritual values, the authentic experience, the true goal of existence, which until then had been envisaged only as a gift which God would give to the righteous after death. The old language of the after-life was doubtless still valid: 'I will raise him up on the last day' (40) was a perfectly conventional promise that, at the Last Judgement, Jesus would secure for his followers a favourable verdict and a share in the promised blessings. But by now the reader of this gospel has learnt that after-life language is also a way of talking about a new kind of life in the present. 'Eternal life' was attainable here and now, given a certain relationship with Jesus.

At this the Jews began to murmur disapprovingly (41). Such a claim, from any man who seemed in so many respects like other men, provoked incredulity and censure. 'Surely this is Jesus son of Joseph; we know his father and mother.' ← Did John know (as Matthew and Luke did) that Jesus had no human father, but was conceived 'by the Holy Spirit' (Matthew 1.18)? It is hard to be sure. The most one can say is that Jesus' miraculous birth is fully compatible with John's understanding of his nature. The present passage, in any case, hardly bears upon the question; the Jews merely echo the usual opinion at the time. Jesus was ' the son, as people thought, of Joseph' (Luke 3.23). Jesus recognized this obstacle to belief, and accepted the consequence that only some would be led to believe. Undeterred, he went on to give a further turn to the idea of' real bread' which this time led to a fierce dispute among the Jews (52) and caused many even of his disciples to withdraw from him. 'The bread which I will give is my own flesh' (51).

This is the climax of the chapter, the point towards which the discussion has been leading from the beginning. The Christians for whom this gospel was written were already accustomed to holding a solemn supper at which the bread and wine were affirmed to be the body and blood of Christ; and they knew that the institution of this new and distinctive act of worship went back to some explicit teaching of Jesus himself. They will have been prepared by a number of hints earlier on in the chapter to expect such teaching here (Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed (11), and the bread over which the Lord gave thanks, (23) ← This second hint may be due, not to John himself, but to a later copyist anxious to make the symbolism more explicit. If so, this would explain why some manuscripts omit the phrase. See the footnote in NEB. are phrases which are characteristic of the New Testament accounts of the Lord's Supper); and they will have found what they were expecting in the words, 'The bread which I will give is my own flesh; I give it for the life of the world' (51). These words are strikingly similar to those used by Jesus in the other gospels' accounts of the last supper, celebrated by Jesus with his disciples on the night before the crucifixion. Here, however different the setting, the substance of the teaching is the same. Indeed, it seems likely that John chose this point in his gospel to gather together all Jesus' teaching on 'the bread that comes down from heaven' (50), the bread which is Jesus' own body and which gives eternal life. In the context of his narrative, this teaching had the effect of still further shocking those who heard it into belief or disbelief. But for his readers, the whole chapter took on its full meaning only when read in the light of their own experience of the eucharist.

This was spoken in synagogue when Jesus was teaching in Capernaum (59). Considering the dramatic series of episodes which led up to the discourse, it seems both unnecessary and inappropriate to suggest that by the end it had become an ordinary synagogue sermon. But perhaps a new point is being made. This, in John's gospel, is Jesus' last public appearance in Galilee; and, just as in the other gospels it was in synagogue that the decisive confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders in Galilee took place, so here it is fitting that Galilee's final judgement on Jesus' words and works should have been passed at the local centre of religious worship and religious education: the synagogue at Capernaum.

'Does this shock you?' (62) Taken at all literally, Jesus' words about himself as "bread" to be eaten were of course shocking. Jews, in any case, had a horror of consuming the blood of any slaughtered animal. Therefore Jesus' statement, 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you can have no life in you' (53) seemed an almost deliberate affront to their sensibilities, however figurative the language was supposed to be. Jesus does little to soften the shock; but he adds a brief pointer to the way in which his words should be interpreted. 'What if you see the Son of Man ascending to the place where he was before?' (62) It is not as an ordinary man that Jesus can give his flesh to eat, but as Son of Man, that is, as a person who belongs both to heaven and earth. There have been hints of this earlier. The bread—or Jesus himself ← Verse 33 is perhaps deliberately ambiguous. See the footnote in NEB.—'comes down from heaven' (33). He belongs (and is soon to ascend) to the realm above, which is the realm of spirit. 'The spirit alone gives life; the flesh is of no avail' (63). To think only of the flesh of the human Jesus is to fail to see the meaning of the "bread". The Jesus who feeds others is a person who belongs to heaven, and whose real nature is therefore spirit. Unless one believed this, one could make nothing of Jesus' teaching.

Nevertheless, the shock remained, and many found it too much for them. The rejection of Jesus is necessarily a theme of all the gospels, though they treat it in different ways. Usually there is a clear distinction between the crowds on the one hand and the disciples on the other. Here, the dividing line runs right down the group of disciples themselves: the Twelve were only the remnant of a larger number who had once followed Jesus (there may be a hint of this in Luke 22.28). It was only from that time on (66) that there was a sharply defined group of twelve disciples corresponding to the Twelve of the other gospels.

So Jesus asked the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave me?' (67) In Mark 8.27-33 (and in the corresponding passages of Matthew and Luke) there is an important scene in which Peter recognizes Jesus' true nature, and in which Jesus then predicts what is to befall him in Jerusalem. This brief dialogue in John contains the same elements. Peter calls Jesus, not 'the Messiah' (as in Mark), but the Holy One of God (69). Doubtless it came to much the same thing: it was the title given to Jesus by a demon in Mark 1.24, and the demons knew who Jesus really was. In any case, it was a decisive confession of faith. It marked out those who were Jesus' "followers" (not of their own merit, but by Jesus' call)—except, of course, that even in that small group there was one who would betray him (71).

The great controversy

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The new heading marks a new stage in the narrative. It was said at the outset that Christ' entered his own realm, and his own would not receive him' (1.11). What has just been described is the refusal of some to believe, and the defection of others who had begun to believe. But in the story of Jesus, the failure of his own to receive him was to take a much more drastic form than this. It was not merely that they refused to believe in him. In the end they actually put him to death. That they did so was admittedly the result of a combination of circumstances: Jesus' execution followed a formal trial and was ordered, not by 'his own' (the Jews) but by the Roman governor. But this terrible denouement was not a sudden reversal of fortune. The intention was there from the moment Jesus arrived in Jerusalem: the arrest, trial and crucifixion were simply the historical form taken by the principle that 'his own would not receive him'. Much of The great controversy which follows turns on points that have been made earlier; but there is now a new and threatening factor. The Jews were looking for a chance to kill him (7.1).

Chapter 7.

Why did they not immediately succeed? On a practical level, it might be said that the appearance of the Son of God was too complicated a phenomenon for that. People who saw and heard Jesus were both attracted and scandalized by him; even the temple police (32), sent by the authorities to arrest him, found it impossible to carry out their orders—'No man', they answered, 'ever spoke as this man speaks' (46). These alternating reactions of exasperation and respect provide the dramatic framework of the controversy. But meanwhile there was another reason for Jesus' repeated escapes from his enemies, a reason of a different kind. Jesus' death, and the glorification which was to go with it, was something determined in advance by God. When the time came, it would take place inexorably; but for the present, his appointed hour had not yet come (30).

There was also another side to this alternation of admiration and enmity. It was as if Jesus was not fully showing his hand (10): he was present, not publicly, but almost in secret (5). To his brothers, who had no faith in him, and therefore represented the attitude of those who did not understand the nature of Jesus' person and work, it seemed obvious that one must either be resigned to the obscurity of a provincial existence in Galilee, or else "show oneself to the world" in Jerusalem: 'Surely no one can hope to be in the public eye if he works in seclusion' (4). But again, the presence of Jesus in the world, the coming of the Word 'into his own realm', was too complex a phenomenon to be expressed in such simple terms. A certain secrecy (as is particularly evident in Mark's gospel) was a necessary condition attached to the appearance of the Messiah. Those who recognized him did so because they discerned who he really was, not because his real nature was so apparent that it could not be denied. To evoke true faith, Jesus necessarily showed the world a face that was challenging and ambiguous. The great controversy provoked by his appearance in Jerusalem consists of a series of brief dialogues which lay bare different aspects of this essential ambiguity. The curiously non-committal way in which Jesus makes his pilgrimage to Jerusalem sets the tone for the conversations which follow.

The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (2) was the greatest of the year—and this may be a sufficient reason for John mentioning it: Jesus went up to Jerusalem on that occasion in the year when the largest number of Jews regularly made their pilgrimage. It was an autumn festival, to mark the safe gathering in of crops and fruit. It involved the setting up of token "tabernacles", or lints made of branches (the origin of which is uncertain), and there were processions with greenery and fruit; the services and festivities in the temple lasted for a week. It is true that certain subsidiary rites, such as the ceremonial pouring of water over the altar, or the lighting of candles in the court outside the temple, would have provided cues for sayings of Jesus about 'living water' (38) and 'the light of the world' (8.12). But in John's narrative these allusions to little-known ceremonies, if they were intentional, would have been very recondite, particularly since nothing is said of the "tabernacles" themselves, which were the best-known feature of the festival. For the most part, the festival seems merely to provide the occasion for Jesus' sudden appearance in Jerusalem.

Jesus began to teach (7.14). This immediately raised the question of his authority to do so. 'How is it', they said, 'that this untrained man has such is learning?' (15) All authority to teach normally came to the pupil from his master; but Jesus had been to no professional school to study the interpretation of Scripture. So far as anyone knew, he was untrained. So where did he get his authority? Jesus' answer was that his authority lay in no exterior qualification, but in the teaching itself. Anyone who sincerely had the will to do the will of God as it was revealed in the Law of Moses would find that Jesus' teaching enabled him to understand how to do so. The teaching authenticated itself: instead of giving honour to Jesus (18), it gave "glory" to God (there is the same play on the meanings of a single Greek word as in 5.41-4 above).

'Did not Moses give you the Law? Yet you all break it.' (19) The majority of the Jews did not aspire to observe every detail of the Law of Moses; but the Pharisees, despising this lack of seriousness, set themselves a very rigorous discipline by which they believed they could avoid even an inadvertent transgression. Yet even they were not always successful: the apostle Paul was a Pharisee who ultimately confessed himself defeated by the complexity of the demands which he believed the Law laid upon him. There may have been those standing by who would have personally denied Jesus' charge that they broke the Law; but they would have been ready to admit that the majority of Jews did so in one way or another. Why, in that case, single out Jesus and try to kill him for one transgression?

But of course Jesus' transgression was a serious one: 'Once only have I done work on the Sabbath' (21), but breaking the Sabbath was an offence against a basic principle of the Jewish religion, and it has already been said (5.16) that it was Jesus' deliberate healing on a Sabbath which aroused powerful opposition. The gospels all contain instances of such Sabbath work by Jesus, and record various lines which he adopted to justify his actions. Here is yet another (of a kind which some Jewish scholars of the time actually used themselves). Some commandments (such as that to circumcise a baby on the eighth day) inevitably conflict occasionally with resting on the Sabbath, but must slill be carried out. If circumcision, affecting only one member of the body, is permissible on the Sabbath, how much more an act giving health 'to the whole of a man's body'? (23)

'When the Messiah appears no one is to know where he comes from' (27). Popular belief, picturing the coming Messiah, tended to wrap him in mystery: he would be a person of unknown origin, appearing from some secret recess of the world at the time appointed for him to perform his great work. On the face of it, the known facts of Jesus' home and origin did not fit the conventional picture. Jesus' reply is characteristic of this gospel. Knowing the village "where Jesus came from" was irrelevant: what mattered was whether (in a much more fundamental sense) he "came from" God. This was harder to tell. Some judged the claim to be blasphemous, others reflected on the 'signs' he had done (31). Once again, there were conflicting reactions to him.

After the event, we can see that this "having come" from God implied also that Jesus would soon "go to" God. But at the time Jesus' sayings about going (33) could well have seemed enigmatic, and have led to speculation that Jesus proposed to leave Palestine (in which, of course, there was an element of prophetic truth: by the time the gospel was written, it could be said that a great part of the ultimate purpose of Jesus' work had been to 'teach the Greeks'.)

'If anyone is thirsty let him come to me; whoever believes in me, let him drink' (38). By itself, this belongs naturally to a whole series of sayings in this gospel in which Jesus likens himself to real food and real drink; but here, it gains added point from the context in which it is given. John tells us that it was delivered on the last and greatest day of the festival (37). The festival lasted eight days in all, and it is the way of such religious functions to be best attended at the end; this fact alone would be sufficient to give particular emphasis and solemnity to Jesus' pronouncement. (Exactly what stage had been reached in the ceremonies, and whether it was a day when the ritual of fetching and pouring out water was performed, are questions which John's sketchy indications do not allow us to answer; but his first readers can hardly have been much better informed than we are, and it is not likely that John intended them to be picturing any particular ceremonies when they read Jesus' words.) But his words also had strong Old Testament overtones. ← The punctuation of the saying is uncertain, and it is possible that the quotation from Scripture is actually part of it, instead of being a comment on ii (see the footnote in NEB). But this yields a meaning which seems lo fit less naturally into the sequence of Jesus' teaching. It was prophesied in Zechariah 14.8 that "in that day" (that is, at the beginning of a new age) "living water shall issue from Jerusalem"—a prophecy greatly elaborated by Ezekiel (47.1-12), who shared the same vision of the arid hills and valleys of Judaea being watered by a miraculously abundant spring flowing out of the temple itself (a vivid symbol of the place of Jerusalem in the religious life of the world). Moreover, when Moses struck a rock at Horeb, water came out for the thirsty people to drink (Exodus 17.6). There is no phrase in Scripture exactly corresponding to the quotation, 'Streams of living water shall flow out from within him' (38); it was probably a composite text, the result of scholars having constantly seen the possibilities of combining the story of the desert Rock with the prophecy of an abundance of water in the temple.

These Old Testament overtones raised questions. Admittedly Christians held the real clue to the interpretation of the saying: water, in Jesus' teaching, was a symbol for the Spirit (39), a gift which they received in abundance when the church came into existence after the resurrection of Jesus. But Jesus' hearers did not have this clue. Thinking more literally of water (and not of that which the water symbolized) they reflected that it was Moses who found the miraculous supply of water in the desert (and that the expected prophet (40), like Moses, would doubtless do something similar), and that it was the Messiah who would initiate the new age when water would flow from the temple in Jerusalem. 'If anyone is thirsty let him come to me' (38)—did this mean that Jesus was the Messiah? There seemed to be the fatal objection that Jesus had 'come from Galilee' (41), whereas the Messiah, being a successor to David, was expected to come ' from David's village of Bethlehem' (42). John's readers doubtless knew the answer to this: Jesus was in fact born in Bethlehem. But Jesus' hearers could not be expected to know this: for them, Jesus both was and was not like the Messiah. This is the theme of the whole scene: the challenge and ambiguity of the person of Jesus. This time, it caused a split among the people (43). The Pharisees, however, were quite clear in their own mind: his Galilean origin was fatal to Jesus' claims. No passage of Scripture could be quoted to show that any important figure or prophet would come from there. It made not the slightest difference what ordinary people thought. The Pharisees firmly believed that it was only the members of their own fellowships who made a serious attempt to observe the Law, and many of them regarded their less disciplined fellow-Jews as undoubtedly beyond salvation. 'As for this rabble, which cares nothing for the Law, a curse is on them' (49), was typical Pharisees' language.

(In most older translations of the New Testament, An incident in the temple 7.53-8.11 follows here, but is almost certainly out of place. See below, p. 395.)

Chapter 8.

'I am the light of the world' (12). After water, light. Jesus' great affirmations about himself use one great poetical concept after another. "Light" and "life" were two of the evocative words used in the prologue: they are about to be explored in the following chapters. Here they simply serve as an example of the kind of thing Jesus was saying about himself. He was making great claims, and the objection of his enemies at this stage was not so much to the language he was using about himself as to the fact that he was making such claims at all. 'You are witness in your own cause; your testimony is not valid' (13).

When a person made some claim, he normally had to support it with independent evidence. Jesus' enemies were saying, in effect, that to make the kind of claims he was making, Jesus ought to produce some independent evidence. But it could happen that under exceptional circumstances no such evidence was available: suppose, for example, a man's title deeds to a particular property had been lost, and there was no other evidence of his ownership; in that case a judge or arbitrator would have no choice but to decide whether or not to accept the man's "witness in his own cause". This was Jesus' defence. His claim to recognition rested ultimately upon his origin and his destiny. But the previous dialogue had proved that only Jesus knew what these were. 'I know where I come from, and where I am going. You do not know' (14). His case rested on facts to which only he had access. He was in the exceptional position of a claimant whose testimony about himself was the only evidence available. Therefore his testimony was valid.

'You judge by worldly standards.' (15) One reason why at this point the argument becomes hard for us to follow is that we are accustomed to make a sharp distinction between judging and giving evidence. To us, judges are utterly distinct from witnesses; their task is to determine impartially whether the evidence offered by the witnesses is true. But in a Jewish court, if the witnesses were persons generally accepted as reliable, if they could not be shown to have lied, and if their testimony agreed, there was no more to be said: judgement followed automatically. Indeed, since the penalty for criminal offences was prescribed by the Law, there was no need even for a judge to pronounce the sentence; the witnesses were entitled to see that it was carried out themselves. Thus, "judging" might often include framing an accusation, testifying as a witness, and carrying out the sentence. The Jews were concerned to "judge" Jesus on his claim to be the light of the world. Jesus had shown that only he had access to the kind of evidence which would support such a claim. The Jews had mistaken the nature of the case when they demanded independent evidence; they were judging by worldly standards. But suppose now the tables were turned. The Jews had failed to accept Jesus' claims. He could now "judge" them for their disbelief. True, that was not his purpose. I pass judgement on no man (16). But suppose he did (if I do judge): he accepted, as they did, the basic proposition of the Jewish law of evidence (Deuteronomy 19.15) that "a charge must be established on the evidence of two or three witnesses". It followed from this that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. If Jesus were bringing a charge against the Jews, his own evidence would count: lie would be one-witness (not quite "in his own cause", as the NEB puts it, for it was now the Jews who were on trial for refusing to accept Jesus' claims). Where was the other ? 'My other witness is the Father who sent me' (18). Taken literally, this would not count—and the Jews, by their question, 'Where is your father?' showed that they did take it literally. One's own relative could not normally be produced as an independent witness. But Jesus' real Father was God; and to call God as a witness was equivalent to swearing an oath that one's statement was true. Jesus' other witness was such that his words had the force of a solemn oath. This put Jesus' opponents in a difficult position. It was as sinful to disbelieve a statement made on oath as it was to make a statement on oath that was not true. It was only because they did not recognize that Jesus' Father was God that the Jews were indifferent to the consequences of refusing to believe Jesus' testimony.

'Where I am going you cannot come' (21). When Jesus said this earlier (7.34), his opponents could do no better than imagine that he meant he was leaving Palestine. This time their suggestion was less improbable: 'Perhaps he will kill himself' (22)—though this was still a total misunderstanding of Jesus' meaning. Jesus' origin and destiny belonged to a different order of things. A fairly obvious way of putting it was in terms of the world above as opposed to this world below (23). Admittedly this was not quite the language the Jews were used to: if asked to think of a world more real than this one, they conceived it as something in the future, the "age to come", as opposed to "the present age". Again and again, Jesus used this traditional language of future expectation to describe a present experience: what they believed would come to pass one day was already a reality, even if as yet they had no experience of it. There existed, not just an age to come, but a world above. With their present attitude, the Jews could have no part in that world; they remained in this world below, the world where death still has its old power, and where there is no escape from sin.

They asked him,' Who are you ?' (25). A true answer to this question could only have been in terms of the world above of which they had no knowledge. It was therefore impossible for Jesus to give them any answer they could understand which would not have been misleading. They did not even grasp what he meant when he talked about himself having been "sent". All lie could do was to offer them an apparently enigmatic phrase, 'I am what I am' (28). On the level of grammar this was almost meaningless. But there is a grammar of religion as well as of ordinary speech. In that grammar, the Jews were accustomed to use the future tense. Reality, for them, was something which would come one day: God would act, there would be a Person among them bringing about a new age. But Jesus' grammar was all in the present. 'I am what I am', whatever else it might mean, at least showed that Jesus was not merely a hint of what was to be, but was a reality already present. Of course, Jesus' words could have meant more than this. If you knew "what he was", you could fill in the meaning from what you knew. But ultimately, Jesus was of God, and God is essentially indefinable. It is probably no accident that the phrase seems to echo the mysterious words spoken by God to Moses, "I AM; that is who I am" (Exodus 3.14—compare Isaiah 43.10, "... know that I am HE "). All this would be easier to grasp (again, for those who could grasp it at all) when the destiny of the Son of Man was fully played out: the "lifting up" of that figure (on the cross, up to heaven) would make a bridge between the two worlds such that it would at last be possible to see how Jesus belonged to both.

Turning to the Jews who had believed in him (31). Jesus' words and actions had been evoking varied reactions: while there was strong opposition, nevertheless some were tempted to accept the claims he was making for himself. Suppose, now, that some Jews came to "believe in him". What difference was this going to make to them ? In what sense could their ancestral religion be said to be so inadequate and incomplete that it left room for the radical new factor introduced by Jesus ? Was not their Jewish inheritance of more ultimate importance than any new teaching that could be added by Jesus ? This question, we know, was to be raised in a sharp form by Jewish groups within the early church—Paul's letter to the Galatians is concerned with little else. It may well have occurred to some of Jesus' original followers; but John can hardly have written this paragraph without being aware how relevant it was to the church of his own day.

The argument turned on Abraham. 'We are Abraham's descendants' (33) was the basic premise of the case for the religious superiority of the Jew. Abraham had been a man of exceptional faith, piety and merit. In reward for these qualities, God had made great promises to him about his descendants; on the strength of these promises, the Jews believed that, whatever might be the destiny of the rest of mankind, they themselves could look forward to a privileged place in that new order which God ultimately intended for the universe. It was true, of course, that Jewish thinkers also saw that this could not be entirely automatic: personal integrity and righteousness must always be some kind of precondition for inheriting God's salvation. Nevertheless, it was a very deeply rooted presupposition that, in the last analysis, the fact of being a Jew was the most important factor of all in the judgement which God would pass on human beings. Again and again in the New Testament we meet the same exclusive claim to special consideration: 'We are Abraham's descendants'. However hard political circumstances might have borne on the Jewish nation (and the occupation of Palestine by the Romans seemed to some of them like virtual slavery), their sense of superiority to all other nations remained: even the Romans showed them exceptional consideration in allowing them to continue the practice of their own religion. In everything that mattered, they felt justified in saying, 'We have never been in slavery to any man'.

To non-Jewish thinkers, this would have sounded like nonsense. It is righteousness, self-understanding, self-control, not belonging to a particular race, which give men confidence and peace of mind. 'The truth will set you free' (32) ... 'everyone who commits sin is a slave' (34)—such phrases were often on the lips of Greek philosophers. It is perhaps a little difficult to imagine Jesus using such philosophical language himself (though it would probably have come quite naturally to John). But in essence his protest against the traditional Jewish attitude was the same as that of any thinker who took the facts of human sinfulness seriously. Indeed, it was a protest that was written into the Old Testament itself and had recently found a powerful spokesman in the person of John the Baptist.

The point would apply in the first instance to Jewish Christians: their new faith, however much it owed to their old, was concerned with the realities of an individual's relationship with God, and no appeal to the privileged history of a particular race was relevant to the one really important question of a man's own attitude to Christ. But the same point could also be turned against Jews who were opposed to Christianity—and Jesus seems to continue with his enemies in mind rather than his friends. 'Abraham is our father.' (39) This, to the Jews, was a statement of fact. It was their guarantee of special rights and privileges. But there were other senses, apart from the purely physical one, in which one could call a great figure of the past one's father. ← This is Paul's argument in Galatians 3, on which see below, p. 606. In particular, one could mean by it that one modelled one's conduct on his. The Jews' present conduct was sufficient to show that they could not be Abraham's children in this deeper, more ethical sense. They were bent on killing Jesus. 'That is not how Abraham acted.' (40)

The Jews were ready to accept this more significant sense of "father". Indeed, this was part of what they meant when they said, 'God is our father' (41). They professed to take all instruction on how to live their lives from God alone. Whether this claim was justified depended of course on how one conceived of God. If the Jews had had a true understanding of the nature of God (through their understanding of the Law of Moses), it might have been arguable that their lives were indeed modelled on his will, and that they were therefore justified in calling God their "father". But Jesus claimed to have "come from God", to have been "sent by God". This gave him a unique position from which to pass judgement on Jewish pretensions. Their failure to understand his language (43) showed that they had no true understanding of God. They did not know what they were modelling their lives on. Therefore they could not be 'God's children' (47)

'You are doing your own father's work (41) ... your father is the devil' (44) What in fact were the Jews modelling their conduct on? They were seeking to kill an innocent man; and they were refusing to listen to a truth which nevertheless they could not refute. This suggested a "father" from mythology. The devil had been 'a murderer from the beginning' (44)—he had been the cause of the death of Adam; and one of his most important roles, especially in the period immediately preceding the Last Judgement, was to be that of misleading men whose faith was weak, and, by deceiving them, of bringing them into condemnation: he was 'a liar and the father of lies'. An apt "father" for the Jews who opposed Jesus! And in so far as the devil was not merely a figure of mythology but an active and objective force in the world, here was perhaps a partial explanation of the Jews' attitude to Jesus: it was the work of the devil.

'A Samaritan' (48)—this was a studied insult: the Jews not merely disowned Jesus from membership of their race, they identified him with their bitterest enemies. 'Possessed'—this time something more than an insult: it was a sinister explanation of Jesus' words and deeds (Mark 3.22). Jesus of course denied the charge; but (here as in the other gospels), by denying that he was 'possessed', he did not thereby take personal credit for what he said and did. By so acting and speaking, he acted for God, he was "honouring his Father"; their reaction to him affected, not Jesus himself, but the judgement God would pass on them. The other gospels go so far as to call this blasphemous reaction an unforgivable sin. Here the same reality of judgement is expressed the other way round, in its positive form: 'if anyone obeys my teaching he shall never know what it is to die' (51).

"Death" and "life" in Jesus' vocabulary had a special meaning. Missing this, the Jews asked the obvious question. 'Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead ? ... What do you claim to be?' (53) This had, in effect, been the question all along. So far, Jesus' answers had been tantalizing and ambivalent; he was now about to make a claim that was absolutely decisive. But before doing so, he made an important reservation. Any answer he could give to the Jews' question would inevitably draw attention to himself, whereas his whole purpose was to draw men, not to himself, but to his Father (there is the same word-play on "honour" and "glory" as before). Whatever answer he gave must be understood as a statement, not about himself, but about God, or at most about himself in relation to God. The Jews' real error was not that they did not recognize Jesus for what he was, but that they did not "know God". And so Jesus made his reply in terms of that same Abraham whom the Jews believed to be the key to the history of God's relationship with men. 'Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day' (56). There was a tradition among Jewish scholars (for which there is evidence not long after the date of the writing of this gospel) that Abraham was given a vision of things to come. Whether or not Jesus was referring to this, his meaning is clear: Abraham may have been the key figure in the Jewish national mythology, but that was not to say that he was the last word in God's dealings with men. The form in which Jesus expressed this, if taken literally, suggested that Jesus must have been alive in Abraham's time, many centuries ago. This, as usual, was how the Jews took it: how could a man, who had not yet even become old himself (57), ← The phrase, 'not yet fifty years old' was understood by many early Christian writers to mean that Jesus was between forty and fifty. But this contradicts Luke's clear statement (3.23) that Jesus was about thirty years old, and in any ease does not follow from John's words. reach back across the centuries? Understood in this way, the proposition was absurd. But at the hands of the writer of this gospel, whose first sentence proclaimed that 'when all things began, the Word already was', it was meaningful and true. 'Before Abraham was born, I am' (58). The statement at last brought Jesus into the open: the speaker could belong to no human category. But to the Jews it seemed axiomatic that only God could make such a statement, and it followed that Jesus must be blaspheming. Death by stoning, even if disallowed by the Romans, would have been the proper Jewish punishment. Once again his life was threatened; once again he avoided the threat, though this time John does not even offer an explanation. Mysteriously, Jesus was not to be seen (59).

Chapter 9.

Jesus saw a man blind from his birth (1). Then as now, the spectacle of human suffering posed an acute religious question: how could a good and just God allow such things? The usual answer given by Jewish thinkers was that suffering and misfortune must be regarded as punishments for sin; and if, as in the present case, it appeared that the individual concerned could hardly have brought it upon himself, then there was still the possibility that it was the parents who had sinned and that the son or daughter was bearing the consequences. This somewhat naive way of looking at suffering needed considerable refinement if it was to account satisfactorily for all the facts, and it was by no means held uncritically by everyone. Nevertheless, the natural Jewish reaction to a case of illness or personal calamity was that the individual concerned, or possibly his parents, must have committed some sin. The disciples' question takes this for granted.

In the other gospels, Jesus seems occasionally to work from the same presupposition. But here he explicitly rejects it. 'He was born blind so that God's power might be displayed in curing him.' (3) This was certainly a sufficient explanation in this particular case, and in any other case (such as that of Lazarus later on, 11.15) when Jesus was there himself to turn tragedy into joy. But was it relevant to the innumerable other sufferers who could have no hope of a personal cure by Jesus? The unexpected "we" of verse 4—'we must carry on the work of him who sent me'—is perhaps a hint deliberately given by the writer that Jesus' saying applied to more than his own miracles of healing: it was addressed to "us", that is, the Christian church which found itself able to exercise something of Jesus' power over suffering and thereby (whether actual physical healing was involved or not) to find a meaning in suffering as one of the circumstances under which God makes himself known to men. At any rate, this healing was "God's work"; that is to say, it was of a different order from the " work " to which the Jewish Sabbath rules applied (for this, here as in chapter 5, was to be the main cause of Jewish opposition); it could go on being done continuously until that period of night when it would seem that the opposition of men had finally extinguished the light of Jesus (5). Meanwhile, Jesus was still 'the light of the world', of which the curing of a blind man was an apt illustration.

Siloam Pool.

He spat on the ground and made a paste with the spittle (6). Outwardly, the procedure was old-fashioned magic. Such treatment would normally be followed by a careful washing or anointing. In Jerusalem there was only one place where fresh spring water could be had, at Siloam (7), the outlet of the only spring which the city possessed. The spring still exists: it runs through the long underground tunnel originally made for it by King Hezekiah, and emerges at the lowest point of the old city, at the south-east corner of the city walls. In this area there has always been a pool (though its exact position has changed over the centuries). Here the blind man went to wash the paste from his eyes. It was the obvious place to do so; but it also had a name which (whatever it really meant) sounded like the Hebrew word for 'sent'. The symbolism was obvious: the blind man was cured, not by any magical properties of the water, but by Jesus, the man "sent" from God.

It was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the paste (14). This, as with the cure of the cripple in chapter 5, was the immediate cause of the controversy. But this time Jesus was absent, and the scene is played out between the man who had been cured and the Jews (mainly represented by the Pharisees (13), who were in fact the authors of much of the detail of the Sabbath regulations). As a result the episode moves more rapidly, and gives the narrator scope for working in some lively repartee on both sides. One detail, perhaps, betrays his hand: it is true that in the time of Jesus individuals were banned from the synagogue (22) for specified periods as a punishment for certain offences; but it is unlikely that this rule could have been applied to people who merely held a certain opinion, such as acknowledging Jesus as Messiah. It was only at the end of the century that the Jewish leaders revised their rules in such a way as deliberately to exclude Christians, and it looks as if John is here reading back this recent development into the time of Jesus. In other respects his narrative is entirely lifelike.

The point at issue was quite simple. A man born blind had been given his sight. In the popular view this showed that Jesus was, at the very least, 'a prophet' (17). There must have been a special reason why God had answered Jesus' prayer: 'It is common knowledge that God does not listen to sinners; he listens to anyone who is devout and obeys his will.' (31) To ordinary people it was obvious where Jesus "came from"—from God; and there is a hint here that some of the Pharisees were prepared to take the same view. But other Pharisees saw it differently. 'How could such signs come from a sinful man?' (16) was not an entirely convincing argument. There were magicians and exorcists about who certainly achieved remarkable feats, but who were very far from being sinless. Moreover, by their own principles, Jesus had been shown to be "sinful": 'This fellow is no man of God; he does not keep the Sabbath'. No one who deliberately set aside such an important commandment could possibly be devout (17), let alone a prophet (31). These uncertainties made it impossible for some of the Pharisees to join in the popular acclamation of Jesus. Their best course seemed to be to try to cast doubt on what had actually happened. When this failed, they simply resorted to abuse. 'Who are you to give us lessons', they retorted,' born and bred in sin as you are?' (34) This, again, was the authentic Pharisaic tone of voice towards the undisciplined multitude of their fellow-Jews in general, sharpened in this particular case by the fact that they, unlike Jesus, took it for granted that a man born blind must have been 'born and bred in sin'.

The man's own acceptance of Jesus was as definite as the Jews' rejection— and this is the moral of the whole episode. The person of Jesus brought into the world of the present that divine judgement which men usually conceived of as lying in the remote future. The blind man recovering his sight was symbolic: those who before had no pretensions that they could "see" came to believe in Jesus; those who relied on their "sight" were shown to be "blind ". Jesus' final rejoinder to the Pharisees is full of irony. 'If you were blind ... you would not be guilty' (41). This was the exact reversal of their presupposition that a man, because he was blind, was bound to be guilty. The only form of guilt that mattered now was that of those who could not "see" who Jesus was.

Chapter 10.

A parable that Jesus told them (6). In the other gospels, parables are one of the most distinctive elements in the teaching of Jesus. Of these, some are complete stories, some are simply pointed descriptions of familiar scenes. In I his gospel, Jesus' teaching is more discursive, and makes comparatively little use of parables; when it does (and this passage is the only one where an illustration is explicitly called a parable), they belong to the second kind, that is to say, they are brief and memorable descriptions of something already familiar to the hearer, but with an emphasis on certain details which suggests .1 particular application. So here: the "parable" consists of a straightforward description of Palestinian shepherding. In the evening (or before a storm, or at any other time when protection is necessary) the shepherd may bring l lie entire flock into the walled courtyard of a house (the translation sheep-fold (1), suggesting fences or hurdles, is misleading). The street door of this courtyard is kept by a door-keeper, who keeps the door closed against marauders, but opens it to the shepherd when he comes next morning to lead the sheep out to pasture. Kuropean shepherds drive their sheep from behind; but in the east the shepherd usually walks ahead of his flock: he has special calls which his own sheep know and respond to; indeed he knows his flock so well that he has a name for each sheep, just as an English farmer has a name for each of his cows. The flock is exposed to many dangers: on the mountains, there may be wild animals who will attack it; even inside the courtyard, a robber may climb in during the night and open the door from inside. The robber will not be able to lead away the entire flock, for the sheep will not follow him and will scatter as soon as he lets them out; but in fact he comes only to steal, to kill, to destroy (10). If he can get the meat and the wool of a few, he will have done a good night's work.

The image of a shepherd at the head of his flock occurs again and again in ancient literature. It was an obvious one for the ruler of a people or the general of an army. It occurs constantly in the Old Testament: the leaders of the Jewish people were its "shepherds", and in Ezekiel 34 (a chapter which has many points in common with this parable) those shepherds are subjected to fierce criticism on the grounds of their selfishness and rapacity, and threatened with being replaced by a new shepherd (David, or a descendant of David) who would make the flock into a single one, obedient to its Lord (who is God). Had Jesus' parable been purely in this tradition, it would have contained a thinly veiled attack on the present "shepherds" of Israel, and would doubtless have been easily understood by his hearers. The reason why, on this occasion, they did not understand what he meant by it (6), was perhaps because it did not exploit the obvious theme of good and bad shepherds, but concentrated on certain small details, accurately observed from real life, which in fact distinguished the real shepherd from a thief: his free access to the courtyard, and his familiarity with the sheep. These details are never mentioned when the shepherd-image is used in the Old Testament; and Jesus' hearers did not immediately grasp what he meant.

The parable is given an interpretation which makes it bear directly upon the person of Jesus. First (somewhat unexpectedly) one small detail is taken from the parable as a clue to Jesus' nature: 'I am the door' (7)—a pictorial symbol of the truth he is to make explicit later, 'No one comes to the Father except by me' (14.6), and also a very definite claim that he possesses an authority of a different order altogether from all previous teachers. But there is a far more important point of comparison than this: 'I am the good shepherd' (11). This goes beyond anything in the parable. There, two points have been mentioned which serve to distinguish the shepherd from a thief or impostor: his right of free access to the sheepfold, and the fact that the sheep have got used to him. Jesus refers to one of these again—'I know my own sheep and my sheep know me' (14)—but the thing which fundamentally distinguishes the good shepherd from all others is something that has not been mentioned in the parable and possibly would not have occurred to his hearers: he 'lays down his life for the sheep'. Such heroic conduct in a sheep-owner faced with the prospect of losing his flock to a wolf was conceivable; applied to the "shepherds" of nations or armies, it was something which might on occasion be called for, say in time of war. But in what sense could it be said of a religious leader-shepherd that it belonged to his role deliberately, of his own free will (18), to lay down his life? Christians, after the event, could understand this; they could understand also how Jesus' death had been of service, not just to those within the Jewish fold (16), but to the Gentiles outside. But Jesus' hearers were as bewildered by the idea as by his other references to "going away". These words once again caused a split among the Jews (19). Until the story was finished and all the clues fell into place, Jesus' words and deeds continued to display a tantalizing ambiguity.

The festival of the Dedication (22). Festivals, rather than seasons, offered to a Jewish writer the most natural way of marking the time of year. Like Luke, who dates important events in the history of the early church by reference to the Jewish religious calendar (see below on Acts 2.1), John separates the various episodes of Jesus' life by connecting each with a certain festival. Chapter 6 was dated by Passover to the spring, chapter 7 by Tabernacles to the autumn; and now it is Dedication, a winter festival instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in 164 B.C. to mark the re-dedication of the temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes. In this eight-day festival there were lights, processions, singing; but John clearly mentions it, not because of anything distinctive about the celebrations, but because it gives the episode an approximate date (we should say, "some time in December"). It was in any case a likely time for Jesus and many other visitors to be in Jerusalem.

It was winter. To a European, this suggests the cold months of December, January and February. But in Palestine, as indeed in most Mediterranean countries, there were only two seasons, that of hot, dry, settled weather (roughly from May to September) and that of periodic rainfall (()ctober to April). In Jerusalem, wintry weather—whether it be snow and frost, wind and rain, hail and thunder—can occur at almost any time during
I lie second of these seasons, between long periods of fine days and warm sun. 111 this sense, "winter" is half the year. No one would think of dating any-iliing by it. John's words probably mean that it was rough weather; and the other details he gives would then fall into place. Solomon's Portico ((23) on which see below on Acts 3.11) offered protection from rain and wind; but it also gave proceedings a more formal character than the open spaces of the temple precincts. Such porticos were regularly used for teaching and disputations in any city where there were philosophers or religious teachers. Illit they were also used as courts of law; and what follows is no longer a lucre controversy, but is in all but name a trial. The Jews gathered round him (24)—in the Greek, the expression is distinctly aggressive, evoking the picture of an army encircling a besieged city, or of a court like the Sanhedrin seated in a semicircle around the accused; and the dialogue follows the same pattern (and indeed uses many of the same words) as that which, in Luke's gospel (22.67-71), takes place at the formal hearing of Jesus' case before a Jewish court: Jesus is directly challenged to say whether he is the Messiah, refuses to give an explicit reply on the grounds of his judges' unbelief, but then makes a claim (in Luke, to be at the right hand of God, in John to be "one with the Father") which makes him appear guilty of blasphemy (30) and liable to the death penalty. All this, in the other gospels, takes place in the course of a formal trial, and leads directly to Jesus' crucifixion. John places it here, and has no record of a formal trial later (its place is taken by a kind of private interrogation by the High Priest). That is to say, John uses this occasion instead of the later one to lay bare the issue between Jesus and the Jewish authorities. Once again, Jesus' immediate execution is averted only by the strange elusiveness which he has displayed throughout The great controversy: he escaped from their clutches (30).

The scene, nevertheless, is worked carefully into the pattern of the whole section. The parable of the shepherd is developed a little further; and the discussion of Jesus' 'credentials' (25) is brought to a conclusion. Jesus had made various claims for himself; but the testimony of his words, even though there was a sense in which it was legally valid (8.14), had not been accepted. However, there was still another kind of evidence to be considered. 'My deeds done in my Father's name are my credentials'. These were done according to his Father's will and in his Father's power (32). Their purpose is now finally defined: 'that you may recognize and know that the Father is in me, and I in the Father' (38). John's readers were by now prepared for this kind of language, which belonged to a wider religious culture than that of the Jews: Jesus' relationship with God could not be described only in terms of the Jewish concepts of Messiah or Son of God. Indeed, Jewish thinking tended to draw a sharp line between language appropriate to men and language appropriate to God. Jesus' description of himself seemed to them to be overstepping that line: 'You, a mere man, claim to be a god.' (34) To this, Jesus replied, in effect, that they had drawn their line too sharply. Consider these verses of Psalm 82:

"God takes his stand in the court of heaven
To deliver judgement on the gods themselves ...
I said: you are gods,
And all of you sons of the Most High.
Yet you shall die like mortals ..."

The psalm was originally written against a background of a lingering belief in heathen gods alongside the one true God of Israel. Later interpreters, anxious to banish the idea that any such "gods" could exist, suggested that the beings meant were angels, demonic powers, or even men. We do not know what Jesus' hearers thought the psalm meant; but whatever view they took, they would have been bound to concede Jesus' point that it showed that the word "god" could be used of someone who is less than God. If so, then it was not so easy to draw the line between language that was and was not blasphemous. Jesus could truthfully say, 'I am God's son' (36). Even if his adversaries did not admit that it was true, they still could not prove that it was blasphemous.

Victory over death

| << | Lazarus dies; ... raised; the plot to kill jesus | bethany - the anointing | jerusalem - triumphal entry; greeks seek jesus; the son-of-man must be lifted; unbelief! | >> |

Jesus withdrew again across the Jordan (40). For a moment before the final conflict in Jerusalem, the contact with John the Baptist's work is renewed, and a last tribute is paid to John's "witness" to Jesus, which alone caused many to believe in him there (42(. The interlude also prepares for the next scene; for the drama of Lazarus' death depends on Jesus being across the Jordan, a long day's journey from the scene of events.

Chapter 11.

There was a man named Lazarus who had fallen ill (1). The characters in this scene are first carefully identified—and we receive an unexpected reminder that the readers of this gospel were assumed to be already so familiar with the events of Jesus' life that John could point forward (2) to an episode he had not yet recorded (12.1-8) in order to identify Mary. ← Two sisters named Mary and Martha had their home in "a village" in Luke 10.38-9. We cannot be certain that they are the same; though the reference below (12.2) to Martha "serving" makes it likely that they were. The family were friends of Jesus, and it was to be expected that he would use his undoubted power to cure one of them of an illness. This, in fact, is what everyone—the two sisters and their friends—assumed would happen; and they were naturally dejected (verses 21, 32), if not cynical (verse 37), when it failed to happen. What no one dared to hope was that anything could be done once Lazarus had died. Raising the dead, though not unheard of, was a rare and exceptional miracle, and Jesus was not assumed to have the power to perform it. Jesus, however, saw Lazarus' illness as an occasion for doing precisely this. 'It has come for the glory of God, to bring glory to the Son of God.' (4) This was to be the climax of his works of power, and a visible demonstration of the seriousness of his teaching about life and death. Two comparable miracles are related in the other gospels (Mark 5.21-43; Luke 7.11-17); but this is by far the most spectacular, and is the only one which leaches such a clear lesson of Jesus' Victory over death.

'This illness will not end in death' (4). By the time the reader has reached the end of the story, he will have grasped the meaning of this reaction of Jesus. But it was naturally taken by Jesus' disciples to mean that there was nothing further to worry about in Lazarus' illness, and they were therefore surprised when, two days later, Jesus suggested returning to Judaea (7), and exposing himself to the danger he had just left behind. Jesus answered them, 9 first, with a parable. 'Anyone can walk in day-time without stumbling' (9)—it was a vivid way of saying that even near Jerusalem he would be safe for the time being: his "hour", his "night", had not yet come (but the tell-tale phrase, the light of this world, shows that the parable, by the time this gospel was written, had come to mean more than this: the Christian, walking in the light of Christ, is safe from stumbling). Secondly, Jesus had a positive ii reason for going back, which he gradually unfolded to his disciples. 'Lazarus has fallen asleep' (11). In Greek, as in English, this was ambiguous. The disciples remembered that Jesus had said, 'This illness will not end in death' (4), and seized eagerly on what was apparently hopeful news (known apparently by intuition to Jesus): falling into a calm sleep was a sign that a fever was passing. Then Jesus spoke out plainly: 'Lazarus is dead' (14). Before, the journey seemed pointless because Jesus had said that Lazarus would not die. Now it seemed pointless because he was already dead. Nothing but certain death awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. One at least of the disciples
16 made up his mind what was expected of them. 'Let us also go, that we may die with him.' (16)

We can reconstruct what had happened. Lazarus had died soon after the sisters sent their message to Jesus. As was usual, he was buried the same day. The tomb was a cave, with a stone placed against it (38). There are thousands of such tombs in Palestine: they consist of a rock chamber, with small horizontal niches or tunnels hewn out of the sides. The corpse was wrapped in linen and laid on one of these rock shelves. The tomb was then sealed by a large flat stone placed over the entrance to the cave. The mourning continued for some days. It was a highly esteemed act of charity to visit and console the bereaved. Mary and Martha were naturally surrounded by their friends from the city. Moreover, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been four days in the tomb (17). There is probably a touch of folklore in this. For three days, it was believed, the soul continued to haunt the body, and a return to life might still seem just conceivable. After that, decomposition began and death was irrevocable. We are told twice over that Jesus did not arrive until the fourth day. What he was about to do exceeded the bounds even of imagined possibility.

In the main the episode is left to speak for itself. But it contains a characteristic piece of dialogue. Jesus said, 'Your brother will rise again' (23). This sounded like ordinary spiritual comfort: most people believed in a resurrection on the last day, and it could be consoling to know that one's dear ones would be there. But of course, this was not what Jesus meant. Lazarus was to rise again now; and iliis would demonstrate in visible form that the categories of life-after-death were being brought by Jesus into the present. The quality of living offered by Jesus was such that even physical death could not impair it. Martha could hardly yet grasp all this; but she did get so far as to make a correct confession of who Jesus was. Her confession was a limited one: Messiah was no more than a Jewish title. But at least she knew that the arrival of this Messiah who was to come into the world (27) must be the signal for something radically new in the experience of mankind.

Towards the end, Jesus showed signs of strong emotion, sighing and weeping. It is possible that he was simply entering into the general grief: this, at any rate, is what the Jews thought—'How dearly he must have loved him!' (38) But we must beware of assuming that they were right. It is a recurring feature of the style of this gospel that the bystanders are made to misinterpret the words and actions of Jesus. Moreover, it is clear from the very beginning of the narrative that Jesus, far from being disconcerted by Lazarus' death, welcomed it as an opportunity to show forth the glory of God. It would have been surprising (though perhaps only human) if, when it came to the point, he felt it to be a calamity to be wept over. Finally, the Greek word translated sighed heavily (33) or sighed deeply (38) is one which, usually expresses anger or indignation rather than grief—in Mark 14.5 it is translated 'turned upon her with fury'; in Mark 1.43 it expresses a 'stern warning'. In all the gospels Jesus has moments of anger, and his anger is usually provoked by the inhumanity and hypocrisy of people and institutions. The same may well be the case here. All these Jewish people, who professed a belief in the resurrection of the dead, were weeping their eyes out as if the death of their friend Lazarus was something tragic and final. This exhibition of superstitious weakness moved Jesus to tears of indignation (mistaken as sympathy by the Jews). He was to show them how foolish their weeping had been.

Now many ... But some ... (45) Even this most sensational of all Jesus' actions did not convince everyone who saw it. Many put their faith in him; but the continued hostility of others resulted in a meeting of the Council—the only such meeting recorded in this gospel.

It is possible to question John's account of this scene on points of historical detail. If the meeting was a formal session of the Sanhedrin, and not just a hurried conference of influential people (John's words would fit either interpretation), the Pharisees (47) as such would have had no official right to convene it; and John's language about Caiaphas being High Priest that year (49) makes one wonder whether he knew that he was in fact High Priest continuously from A.D.18 to 36. On the other hand, in general the episode is entirely convincing. All the gospels agree that the arrest and execution of Jesus was the result of plotting by the Jewish authorities; and one of the most plausible motives for their action was fear of what the consequences might be if someone who called himself the Messiah were allowed to gather a considerable following. 'The Romans will come and sweep away our temple and our nation' (48). This had happened by the time the gospel was written: it could well have happened earlier if a serious insurrectionary movement had got under way under the leadership of a man such as they took Jesus to be.

On the face of it, Caiaphas' advice was sound political sense: the judicial murder of one scapegoat was a small price to pay for avoiding serious trouble. But what might have been merely the practical wisdom of a political leader si was seen by John as an instance of inspired prophesying (51) such as might be expected from a High Priest. Jesus did indeed die for the nation, not to save it from Roman oppression, but to make possible a new kind of life. And John adds that there were to benefit from this many who did not belong to "that nation", but would be brought by Christ into a new community of the children of God (52).

In any case, Jesus once more retired from the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The other gospels do not mention this withdrawal, and a town called Ephraim (54) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is probably to be identified with a place some 12½ miles north-east of Jerusalem, on the edge of the arid range of mountains that fall down to the Jordan valley.

The Jewish Passover was now at hand (55). In this gospel, all Jesus' visits to Jerusalem have been associated with a festival. His last, which ends in his death, is placed by all the gospels at the time of the Passover. John opens his narrative with the first influx of visitors: those who, either by living abroad or for some other reason, had made themselves ritually "unclean" and had to be in Jerusalem for seven days in order to complete the rites of purification which would enable them to approach the temple on the day of the festival (see below on Acts 21.26). This was a day or two before the main crowd of pilgrims would arrive. It was the moment for the authorities to make their plans, and for the beginning of popular speculation about Jesus' intentions.

Chapter 12.

A supper was given in his honour (2). A somewhat similar episode is recorded in all the gospels. In Luke (7.36-50) it has nothing to do with Jesus' approaching death; the woman who anoints Jesus' feet, after washing them and wiping them with her hair, is a stranger who intends simply to express her gratitude and love. In Mark on the other hand (14.3-9)—who followed on most points by Matthew (26.6-13)—the woman's action is presented as a kind of rehearsal for the anointing which should have been administered to the body of Jesus before his burial: as such, it was a notable "act of kindness", and therefore far more meritorious than an ordinary contribution to the needs of the poor. Most of these elements are present here, but in a slightly different arrangement. First, the characters are all identified. The scene is once again Bethany, and of the three people already known to us there each is given a part: Lazarus sat among the guests (2), Martha was behind the scenes serving (characteristically, if she was the same Martha as appears in Luke 10.40), Mary came into the room to perform her extravagant act of devotion to Jesus. The shocked reaction which this caused is ascribed to Judas Iscariot, and gives John an opportunity to fill in a trait of Judas' character in advance of the betrayal itself: he used to pilfer the money put into the common purse, which was in his charge (6). This precision about the people involved goes with a vivid telling of the story (the house was filled with the fragrance (3) is a touch not found in any of the other accounts). But John has not made it clear how he understood the story. If he had wished to emphasize Mary's humble service to Jesus, he would surely have mentioned what was in fact the main point of a similar service performed by Jesus later—the washing of the guest's feet. Indeed, had he done so, it would have made his description much clearer. In Luke, the woman washes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and then anoints them with ointment. John also says that Mary wiped them with her hair—but apparently after putting on the ointment! John may in fact mean that (as in Luke) she washed them first, and then dried them before anointing them; but if so, his description is so condensed that he certainly cannot have intended to put any stress on the actual washing. Nor does he make anything of the contrast between giving money to the poor and performing exceptional acts of kindness (which seems to be the main point of the scene in Mark); and as for the point about anticipating Jesus' burial, it is expressed so obscurely that it is impossible to be sure what he thought it meant. ← 'Let her keep it until the day when she prepares for my burial' would make sense as an answer to Judas if Mary had not in fact already used it to anoint Jesus; and even so, we should have to reckon with the fact that, at Jesus' burial, it was not Mary's pound of ointment, but Nicodemus' hundred pounds, that were used (19.39). We are left with the impression that on this occasion John was content to set down the story for its own sake, without attempting to give it a fully consistent interpretation.

The next day (12). Jerusalem had now begun to fill up with the great body of pilgrims, who were moved to give Jesus a royal acclamation. The palm branches (13) were appropriate for greeting a king; the chanting of a psalm, 'Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!' (Psalm 118.25-6), though it was primarily a song for a religious festival, was apt enough with the addition of the words, 'God bless the king of Israel!' on a previous occasion, when there had been an attempt to make Jesus king (6.15), Jesus had hastily withdrawn from the scene. Here, his response was similar to that which he was to make when Pilate questioned him on the matter: he accepted the title, but in a special sense. Jesus found a donkey and mounted it (14). A warrior king would have chosen a horse; Jesus' action was that of a man of peace. When Zechariah had prophesied (9.9), 'See, your king is coming, mounted on an ass's colt', it was obvious that the prophet envisaged no ordinary king, but a figure who combined authority with a singular humility—in short, a universal peacemaker, a divinely appointed Messiah. Jesus allowed himself to be acclaimed king only on such terms as these.

The accounts of this episode in the other gospels contain much the same elements, but they leave tantalizing questions unanswered. What did the crowds recognize in Jesus which made them follow the disciples' lead and give him a triumphal entry ? And why did the demonstration peter out as suddenly as it had begun ? John's version makes it all sound more rational. The crowds acclaimed Jesus because of the sensational raising of Lazarus which they had seen or heard about; and far from petering out, the demonstration went on for as long as was to be expected; for some time it could be said, 'All the world has gone after him!' (19) This popular emotion was of course transient and superficial: the crowd would follow Jesus only so long as the impression of Lazarus' resurrection was fresh in their minds. Nevertheless, the episode had a deeper significance: in a certain sense, Jesus was truly a king, although even the disciples (who in the other accounts play a larger part in the scene, and might have been expected to grasp its real meaning) did not understand this (16). In this gospel, Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem was one more of those moments when his presence was half-accepted, half-rejected, his true nature at best half-understood.

A festival at Jerusalem not only drew a great crowd of Jewish pilgrims: people of other nationalities, whether they were full proselytes or merely sympathetic to the Jewish religion, also made the journey to visit the holy city. It was convenient to call such people Greeks (20), though they might come from almost anywhere in the eastern part of the Roman empire. Their common language would be Greek; and the main thing that was meant by the word was that they were not Jews by birth. Some of them expressed a desire to see Jesus—which sounds a simple enough request; but the fact that it elicited from Jesus a series of exceedingly solemn sayings shows that we must be prepared to look for a deeper significance in it. The Jews had said,'Why, all the world has gone after him' (19), meaning simply that Jesus had attracted a crowd. But, taken literally, their words suggested something more sensational. Jesus was attracting, not only his fellow-Jews, but the world, that is, strangers and foreigners, people who had no allegiance to the Jewish religion. An example is immediately given in the Greeks who approached Philip. But every reader of the gospel knew that the real fulfilment of these words was the existence of the Christian church, which had by now far out-grown its Jewish origins and was mainly composed of people who were, not Jews, but "Greeks".

The process by which this was to happen had already begun. 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.' (23) In straight Jewish terms, this would probably have meant that the person whose destiny it was finally to unite the two worlds of earth and heaven was now to be endued with supernatural splendour and lead his people to heaven. But John has been working out a different meaning for these terms. The "glorifying" of the Son of Man consisted in his being "lifted up" on the cross, it was the other side of what appeared to be a dark destiny of condemnation and death. The reader is helped to understand this first by a brief parable. 'A grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground' (24). The parable of a single seed growing into a great fruitful plant occurs in the other gospels (see especially Mark 4.26-32) as an illustration of spectacular growth from tiny beginnings. But now a new idea is added: 'if it dies, it bears a rich harvest.' The idea that a seed (and indeed nature itself) dies in the dead season of winter and comes to life again in the spring underlies a great deal of religious symbolism (it occurs again in 1 Corinthians 15.36-8). The seed, when it falls into the ground, enters the yearly cycle of death and rebirth. In this sense, it dies; and by this small elaboration, the parable of a rich harvest from a tiny grain is made to turn on that death—the death of Jesus which is also his glorification—which must precede the prodigious growth which is to follow. But this death involves others, it conditions the way in which men must seek to serve and follow Jesus. In a sequence of ideas and sayings very similar to those in Mark 8.34-8, the implications for Jesus' followers are spelled out.

'Now my soul is in turmoil' (27). All the gospels record a moment before The final conflict when Jesus seems suddenly to have had a moment of irresolution. Here the setting is different from that in the other gospels, but it is clear that the experience being described is the same. We must beware of psychologizing. Jesus' words are not chosen because these alone exactly describe his emotions, but because (being an allusion to Psalm 42) they evoke a classical expression of the agony of one whose faith in God is stretched to breaking-point. Both here and on the cross, Jesus uses the traditional language of Hebrew spirituality to show that he, like countless just men before him, is in a position where circumstances make it hard to continue to believe in God. The admission is unexpected: apart from this one moment, Jesus moves with a serene sense of purpose. It is also short-lived. In the other gospels, the prayer for deliverance gives place to acceptance: 'not what I will, but what thou wilt' (Mark 14.36). Here, the same is said in the distinctive idiom of John's gospel. Until now, the glory attending the person of Jesus (which is God's glory) has been ambiguous and incomplete: it will he fully realized only in Jesus' death and resurrection. So Jesus' acceptance of his destiny takes the form, 'Father, glorify thy name' (27). And the supernatural answer to this prayer (corresponding perhaps to the 'angel from heaven bringing him strength' in Luke's account of Gethsemane, 22.43) in effect that the glory already attendant upon Jesus is now to be consummated by that supreme act of glorification by which the Son of Man will be lifted up, on the cross, to heaven.

Jesus, after his brief moment of hesitation, firmly accepted this uniquely demanding mode of glorification. But for men there was still the great difficulty of seeing the glory in the humiliation, of accepting that Jesus' death was an expression of God's glory on earth. Jesus' teaching had been preparing them for this; now a voice from heaven declared it was so. 'This voice spoke for your sake, not mine' (30). Even this, of course, was ambiguous. Most people said it was thunder. The events leading up to the crucifixion itself were to be the decisive challenge to declare for or against Jesus: 'Now is the hour of judgement for this world' (31). Many would doubtless declare against; but this would not rob the crucifixion of its power. It was a firm Christian belief—supported by a number of Jesus' sayings—that the devil himself ('the Prince of this world') was vanquished by the crucifixion (compare Hebrews 2.14); and it was the crucifixion which finally broke through the exclusiveness of the Jewish religion and enabled Jesus to "draw all men to himself".

'Lifted up' (32). The expression seems to have been deliberately ambiguous—indeed the macabre pun was apparently quite well known (it is exploited for instance, in Genesis 40.12-19). Its most natural meaning was "exalted"; but it could also mean "lifted up (on the cross) for execution". John puts his readers wise to this second meaning—This he said to indicate the kind of death he was to die (33)—and then tells us that this was in fact the meaning which Jesus' listeners seized on, and found inconsistent with their conception of a glorious Deliverer. 'Our Law teaches us that the Messiah continues for ever' (34). There were varying interpretations of those passages in the Law which pointed foward to a Messiah; but most interpreters agreed that he must be an eternal figure. Call him what they would—Messiah in their own terminology, or Son of Man (apparently) in that of Jesus—the splendid figure they expected was surely not to be lifted up—to die! This of course was the question posed by the gospel right from the beginning: how could the Word be rejected, how could the Son of God be crucified ? Jesus, in his last response to this question, simply recalled answers he had given before. Light presupposes darkness, day presupposes night. Rejection by men belongs to the conditions under which the Word can dwell on earth. The essential thing is to make the right response: 'Trust to the light, so that you may become men of light.' (36)

Nevertheless, these people had actually seen the many signs which Jesus had performed in their presence (37). They, of all people, ought surely to have been prepared to believe. Yet it was the Jews of Jerusalem who were responsible for Jesus being condemned to death, and at the time this gospel was written it was still the Jewish nation which was the most unwilling to accept the Christian gospel. This was the extreme case of the paradox stated at the beginning, 'He entered his own realm, and his own would not receive him' (1.11). Concluding this part of his narrative, John offers two more explanations, the first theoretical, the second practical. The theoretical explanation was the one which was seized on most eagerly by Christians right from the beginning, and may indeed go back to Jesus himself: the prophet Isaiah's utterance had to be fulfilled (38). Scripture, rightly interpreted, foretold the rejection of Christ. Isaiah 53, with its description of a suffering servant who nevertheless bore the sins of many, was one of the passages most frequently invoked (it opens, 'Lord, who has believed what we reported ...'). Another was Isaiah 6.9, 'He has blinded their eyes ...' (40), which in all the gospels (though in a slightly different way in each) is used to explain the failure of Israel to accept and understand Jesus (see above on Mark 4.11-12). However mysterious the fact of this rejection, and however brutal and fatalistic this explanation might sound, it remained true that these things were predicted in Scripture, and must therefore be the will of God.

The second explanation was quite practical. There was a powerful incentive not to acknowledge Jesus: fear of being banned from the synagogue (42). In this form, the threat was probably more of a reality at the time the gospel was written than in the time of Jesus (see above on 9.22). But the general point was valid at any time and could be neatly expressed in a pun that has already been exploited earlier (see above on 5.41-4). One word meant both human "honour" and divine "glory". Men are men, and it was only to be expected they would prefer the former sense of the word: they valued their reputation with men rather than the honour which comes from God (43).

So Jesus cried aloud (44)—but there is no audience, no occasion (Jesus, so far as we have been told, is still in hiding (36)). What we have here is a final comment on the argument as it has been unfolding throughout these chapters. This argument has necessarily thrust Jesus into the centre of the picture. It is the Jesus who did these deeds and spoke these words about whom men must make up their minds. It is for Jesus or against Jesus that they must decide. But now comes the corrective. 'When a man believes in me, he believes in him who sent me rather than in me' (44) ... 'There is a judge for the man who rejects me' (48). The words and ideas have all occurred earlier; but here the emphasis is all on one point: Jesus is no independent divinity, no isolated challenge. Declaring for or against Jesus is nothing more nor less than declaring for or against God.

Farewell discourses

| << | the last supper: jesus - washes the disciples' feet; ... foretells his betrayal;

... foretells peter's denial; jesus - the way; ... promises the spirit; ... the true vine; the world's hatred; the work of the spirit; sorrow to joy! I have overcome the world; jesus' prayer | >> |

'He entered his own realm, and his own would not receive him' (1.11). The first part of the gospel has been wrestling with this paradox. It has illustrated the ambiguity necessarily involved in the appearance of the Son of God on earth, and the diversity of response which he elicited. It has described the words and actions by which Jesus sought to confront men and women with the challenge of his presence, and it has recorded the strength of the opposition which he aroused. There were certainly many who 'believed in him'; but so far the main emphasis has been on those who rejected him and who were soon to bring him to his death.

Yet the story of Jesus was not only a story of rejection. When this gospel was written, the Christian church had already taken firm root in many parts of the world; and this church traced its origin to those who in Jesus' lifetime had given their undivided allegiance to him. By some, Jesus was accepted. And to them, Jesus gave a great deal in return. As was said in the prologue, 'To all who did receive him ... he gave the right to become children of God' (1.12). The first Christians possessed in common, not only their faith that Jesus was the Christ, but a conviction of his continuing presence among them, and a relationship with him and with each other which was strong and new. It is to this aspect of Jesus' work that the writer now turns.

The other gospels all contain sections of teaching given privately by Jesus to his disciples, but this teaching is usually spread over the whole course of Jesus' activity. Only in Matthew is there a serious attempt to gather it together into substantial discourses; and even there the discourses occur at intervals throughout the gospel. In John all this teaching comes together at the end, and fills several pages. In part it makes use of ideas already introduced in earlier chapters; but in part it works out a new set of concepts, in particular the 'love' which is to bind Jesus' followers together and the effects of Jesus' "going to his Father" upon the nature of his continuing presence with them on earth.

In form, these chapters are unlike what has gone before: no longer a series of dramatic episodes followed by dialogue, but a long speech of Jesus interrupted only by occasional questions from the disciples. It is of course entirely probable that Jesus devoted much of the last night of his life on earth to talking with his disciples. At the same time, when John came to write this part of his gospel, he was doubtless influenced by the historian's convention of writing up a long parting speech purporting to have been made by the hero shortly before his death. An appropriate occasion for such a speech was a final meal shared with friends. John's is not the only gospel to make use of this convention: in Luke's gospel, Jesus' last supper is also made the occasion for a parting speech to the disciples. But in John, the opportunity to gather together Jesus' private teaching at this point is exploited much more systematically, and that moment in Jesus' life which in Mark and Matthew is described simply as a solemn meal and is made to carry only a few important sayings of Jesus, becomes here an occasion for a series of what may appropriately be called Farewell discourses.

Chapter 13.

In the other gospels this meal is stated to have been a Passover supper, celebrated by Jesus with his disciples according to Jewish custom; in the course of it, Jesus spoke certain words over the bread and the wine which gave the meal an altogether new significance and made it the origin and prototype of the Christian eucharist. John says nothing of all this (though he has made clear allusions to the eucharist in chapter 6); indeed the chronology he follows for the last days of Jesus' life makes it impossible for this supper to have been a regular celebration of the Passover: as he says himself, it was before the Passover (1). From the historical point of view this creates difficulties. The meal he describes was no ordinary meal. It was a sufficiently formal occasion for the guests to be reclining on couches around the table (23); and it was held, not in the afternoon (the usual time for the main meal of the day), but at night (30). These details would fit a dinner party or a solemn festivity such as a wedding. They would also fit a Passover supper, which is in fact the only kind of occasion which we should expect Jesus and his disciples to have marked with such careful formality. But by John's reckoning, Passover night, when a meal of this character would be enjoyed by all the Jews in Jerusalem, was the following night. It is not easy to imagine Jesus deliberately holding his own celebration of the festival one day earlier than everyone else. However, behind this historical difficulty lies a real difference of approach between John's gospel and the other gospels. All the gospels agree that the crucifixion happened at Passover time: they differ over the exact significance and timing of this connection. According to Mark (apparently followed by Matthew and Luke), Jesus was crucified on the day following Passover night, and the effect of this coincidence was to give Jesus' last meal with his disciples the character of a Passover supper. In John, on the other hand, the Passover came twenty-four hours later, so that Jesus' death was simultaneous with the slaughter of the lambs on the afternoon before the Passover supper. This made it possible to understand Jesus' death as that of a Passover victim; but it necessarily removed any specifically Passover associations from Jesus' own last supper.

Nevertheless, the meal had its own drama. Part of this drama was caused (as in the other gospels) by the presence of Judas Iscariot who was about to betray his master—a betrayal which was made still more horrifying by the fact that the betrayer had just shared this meal with Jesus and so was to betray, not just a friend, but the table-fellowship which such a meal was held to establish between friends. "He who eats bread with me has turned against me" (18) (Psalm 41.9) was one of the classic Old Testament formulations of such a betrayal. Jesus was well aware of what was to happen (another sign that he was no ordinary person) and was moved by it to deep agitation of spirit (21). He then identified the traitor. In all the gospels the question why Judas did what he did (which we would tend to explore in psychological terms) is answered quite simply: the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas (2). But John is careful not to give the impression that the devil held the initiative: it was only after Jesus had deliberately singled out Judas for his sinister role that Satan entered him (27); then, with Jesus' connivance, Judas slipped away to perform his deed without arousing the other disciples' suspicions. John allows us to visualize the scene: Jesus lay on his left side with his head towards the table, and his right arm free to help himself to food. The disciple on his right was in the same position; his head would have been at about the level of Jesus' chest (which is what the Greek of reclining close beside Jesus actually implies (23)), and he would have been in a better position than anyone to whisper to Jesus. Jesus' gesture to Judas was entirely natural. Bread was the main implement used at table: one dipped it like a spoon into the common dish, and it was polite to do so for a guest. It could well have escaped the notice of all present except the disciple he loved (the first appearance of this cryptic phrase—see below on 21.24); but it was a poignant signal for the traitor to begin his work.

But the main element of drama is provided by an action of Jesus which is recorded only in this gospel (though it may be alluded to in Luke 22.27). Jesus rose from table, laid aside his garments, and taking a towel, tied it round him (4). This was the uniform of the slave whose special task it was to carry out the hospitable act of washing the guests' feet before supper. The act itself was one which a Jew felt to be very much beneath his dignity; indeed, a Jewish slave was usually spared the task if a gentile slave was available; otherwise it was performed by a woman (as in Luke 7.38; 1 Timothy 5.10). The shock and surprise caused by Jesus' action was voiced by Peter: 'You, Lord, washing my feet?' (6) But, as so often in this gospel, this naive reaction was merely the cue for Jesus to continue the conversation on a deeper level.

On this occasion, the deeper meaning is no more than hinted at, and it is not easy to be sure how these hints should be interpreted. The first hint is one which occurs elsewhere in these discourses: 'You do not understand now what I am doing, but one day you will' (7). One of the themes of these chapters is the connection between the short period of Jesus' activity on earth and the subsequent life of the church. 'One day' meant after the resurrection, the time when Jesus' presence would be known mainly through the Spirit. Now in this gospel a constant symbol of the Spirit is water; and it is at once obvious that Jesus' act of washing his disciples' feet is intended to symbolize their possession of the Spirit after his resurrection. But we can probably go further: the rite by which Christians received the Spirit was baptism; and all the things which Jesus said about his action of washing his disciples' feet could also in fact be said about the symbolic washing of baptism. It was baptism which marked the moment when a believer found himself in fellowship with Jesus (8). Baptism was effective once and for all (the convert needed no further washing) (10). And baptism, since it procured forgiveness of sins, made any other purification ceremony (such as the Jews believed in) entirely unnecessary: after baptism, the Christian was altogether clean. All this teaching about the future rite of Christian baptism was elicited by Peter's unperceptive reactions to Jesus' wish to wash his feet. Indeed it could even perhaps be said (in case anyone wondered whether the disciples themselves had ever been baptized) that this was their baptism.

Nevertheless, if the deeper meaning of Jesus' action was to symbolize Christian baptism, it also had a more direct message: 'I have set you an example: you are to do as I have done for you.' (15) If Jesus' mastership and lordship could be expressed by such a startling reversal of the usual conventions, the relationship of Christians to each other must be expected to follow a similarly radical pattern. This, in short, is the first example of Jesus' love for his own. So far, his disciples have been there merely to listen and to question and to make their own decision in the face of the challenge of his work and teaching. But now we are taken far below this surface impression and shown something of the strength of that solidarity which binds Jesus to his followers. When Jesus washes his disciples' feet, we have the first and most striking illustration of a theme which runs right through these discourses: now he was to show the full extent of his love (1).

The scene also provides a new application for a proverb-like saying which elsewhere (both in John 15.20 and Matthew 10.24) is intended to show that a disciple cannot expect to receive less persecution than his master: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' (16) Here, it is clearly meant to silence any protest that washing a fellow-Christian's feet is beneath one's dignity. The addition, 'nor a messenger than the one who sent him' makes the same point, but leads on to a further illustration of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. It was an old principle that a messenger is equivalent in dignity to him who sent him: to maltreat an ambassador is to dishonour a foreign power, to welcome him is to welcome him whom he represents. Here (as in Matthew 10.40) the analogy is applied to the followers of Jesus who (as will soon be shown) are "sent" by Jesus, just as Jesus was "sent" by his Father.

'Now the Son of Man is glorified' (31). For some time the reader has been prepared for a fulfilment of this saying in a more subtle sense than was suggested by the conventional picture of an individual who, after a period of obscurity, was to he manifest to all, clothed in the visible glory of God. The moment of Jesus' final reject ion and deepest humiliation was to be the moment when in fact this "glorification" would take place, since the crucifixion itself, followed immediately by the resurrection and by the emergence of a church endued with the Spirit, was that which would enable all men to come to God through him. Once again, there is an important proviso: this "glory" attaching to the Son of Man was not intended for his own glorification in competition with God. It must always be remembered that 'in him God is glorified' (34).

'Where I am going you cannot come.' (34) To Jesus' adversaries this had been a riddle they were unable to answer (7.33-6). They were unable to understand the sense in which Jesus belonged to another world. But even for his disciples the saying caused difficulties. It was natural for them to think that Jesus' progress towards glorification was one on which they would be privileged to accompany him. A period of separation from him, even if temporary, was hard to understand. A full explanation was about to be given; but another false answer had to be disposed of first. Peter said, 'Lord ... I will lay down my life for you.' (37) Hints have already been given that Jesus' departure would involve him in "laying down his life" for others. Why should not his disciples do the same ? The short answer to this was that they simply were not capable of it. Peter was in fact to deny Jesus (all the gospels record this prediction, though in somewhat different contexts). No, they would have to be separated from Jesus. The followers would be left without their master. What would hold them together then, and how would their allegiance be known? The answer lay in a 'new commandment' ((34) new, at least, in the narrative of this gospel, and new in the radical interpretation Jesus was to put upon it): 'love one another'.

Chapter 14.

'Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always' (1). This is the traditional language of faith: it is the spirituality of many of the psalms in the Old Testament. But Jesus goes on, 'trust also in me'. Jesus himself is a decisive new factor in a man's faith in God. He affects even one's belief in life after death. 'There are many dwelling-places in my Father's house' (2)—this much was agreed by most people: the usual picture of the after-life was of a number of different "places" to which people would be allotted depending on the virtues or vices they had shown during their life on earth. But faith in Christ introduced a new element into this picture. The "place" of Christians would be such that after death they would certainly be with Christ. As Paul expressed it, 'the Lord himself will descend from heaven; first the Christian dead will rise, then we who are alive shall join them, caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord' (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17). The formulation in John is more abstract, but expresses the same truth: 'I shall come again and receive you to myself, so that where I am you may be also' (3). What then must a Christian do to be sure of coming to that "place"? What was his "way" to get there? One of the disciples, Thomas, is made to ask this question in a crudely literal form, as if a knowledge of the geography of heaven were necessary in order to be sure of finding oneself in the right part of it. Jesus characteristically seizes on this to give a new twist to the metaphor: 'I am the way' (6(. Solidarity with Jesus here and now is the guarantee of being with him hereafter.

'Lord, show us the Father and we ask no more.' (8) The request was natural: instead of constantly straining to glimpse and understand how God was brought near to them by Jesus, the disciples yearned for a direct vision of the Father. But the request only showed how little they had grasped of what Jesus was. In him, they had seen and known as much of God as man is capable of knowing in this world. Jesus' words and deeds constituted the final evidence on which a man must base his faith in God. This was to be true, not only during Jesus' visible presence on earth, but in the subsequent life of the church. The authority of Jesus' words and deeds was due to his closeness to his Father: 'it is the Father who dwells in me doing his own work'. But Christians, through their faith in Christ, would be equally close. Through prayer, they could do things at least as great as Jesus had done, which would have the same effect of bringing men to God, 'so that the Father may be glorified in the Son' (13).

'Your Advocate' (16). When (according to the traditional picture) men came before the judgement seat of God, they would find themselves facing formidable charges. Sins which they had forgotten would be brought against them; and the devil would be there, seeking to make them appear in the worst possible light. But there would be certain things on the other side. Good deeds they had committed might speak in their favour, and outweigh all contrary evidence. To borrow a technical term from Jewish legal procedure: they would find that they had a paraclete, an advocate (the original word parakletos was Greek, but it had been taken over into Jesus' own language, Aramaic, in the form paraclete). In a Jewish court, a plaintiff or a defendant was entitled to enlist the help, not only of witnesses to the facts, but of a person of high standing who might give him personal support before the judge and, by his intervention, make the case appear in a more favourable light. This was not "advocacy" in the western, professional sense: the paraclete influenced the judge's decision, not by his knowledge of the law (for this was the judge's business) but by the weight of his personal authority as a man enjoying the esteem of society. Nevertheless, the nearest word in English is probably "advocate", so long as this is understood in a nonprofessional sense.

In Jewish writing, the most common metaphorical use of the term paraclete was in the context of God's final judgement upon men. The Jews believed that when they came before God they would find they had an Advocate in such things as their own good deeds and the merits of their ancestors. But in John, language that was conventionally used of the Last Judgement is frequently applied to the present; and it is clear that in this passage Christians are promised an Advocate, not only when they come before God after death, but from the very moment that Jesus has left them. Given that John (alone of the New Testament writers) is using this title for the Holy Spirit, it is not too difficult to see why. Christians had been promised that, when they found themselves on trial for their faith, the Spirit would prompt them with the right words for their defence (Mark 13.11): in this sense, the Spirit was already their Advocate. Moreover, John is about to make Jesus depict the present confrontation between Christianity and the world as a trial, in the course of which the Spirit plays its part as the Christians' Advocate. But neither of these explanations fully accounts for all the things said of the Advocate here—that it will be the Spirit of Truth, that it dwells with you, that it will teach you everything, and will call to mind all that I have told you (26). It is just possible that John saw a further possibility in the metaphor of a paraclete. A man of standing who took up a friend's cause before a judge and obtained favourable terms for him would then find himself in the position of reporting back to his friend and having to persuade him to accept the judgement of the court. He would be in the position of a go-between, interpreting the law, as propounded by authoritative judges, to the individual whose interests were affected. In this role, he perhaps furnished to John (or to whatever Christian had previously used this title for the Holy Spirit) an illustration of that continuing relationship between Christ and his followers which is one of the principal themes of these Farewell discourses. 'If you love me you will obey my commands' (15). This had been the principle of Jesus' relationship with his disciples from the beginning. His 'commands' were simply the will of the Father; like an "advocate", he had been commending these commands to them all the time he was with them. When he left them, there would be 'another to be your Advocate' (16) ← The Greek means literally "another advocate". There was a sense in which Jesus himself had been, and continued to be, the Christians' "advocate", and the word is actually used of him in 1 John 2.1. to continue the same work: he would teach you everything (26). In this sense (though only in this rather technical sense) it is possible to understand a different translation of the word parakletos which was adopted by Greek commentators some centuries after John's time and which found its way into most older English versions: "Comforter". The Advocate "comforts" the individual by explaining and so far as possible lightening the judicial "commands" by which the individual is bound. In some such way as this, the lives of Christians would continue to be quite different even after Jesus' departure. Here was one way of realizing the fulfilment of Jesus' promise, 'I will not leave you bereft; I am coming back to you.' (18)

Judas asked him (22). Throughout this chapter, the discourse is kept going by questions from different disciples in turn. A Judas, other than Iscariot, is known only from the list in Luke (6.16). 'Lord, what can have happened, that you mean to disclose yourself to us alone and not to the world ?' This was indeed the greatest reversal of their presuppositions which the disciples had to face. They could perhaps understand how it was that the person of Jesus, during his time on earth, presented a humble appearance and provoked indifference or rejection instead of eliciting universal homage. But this period, Jesus had said again and again, was merely a prelude to his "glorification". Their whole notion of a Messiah was of a figure who would finally dispel the doubts and ambiguities of religious faith and present all men with a decisive manifestation of the power of God and the vindication of the righteous. But Jesus' words seemed to suggest a further period—even after his glorification—when things would not be so plain, and when faith still would not have given place to sight. And indeed, after the resurrection, the church found itself with the task of explaining why, since Christ was now glorified and God's kingdom was a reality, the world seemed to be going on exactly as before, and the glory of God was still perceptible only to those who believed. The answer was that God was now present in a new and unique way in the church. The old concept of a glorious Messiah-king, establishing the rule of God by force, had to give place to that of a new relationship between God and man: 'then my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him' (23).

Dove hovering. (animated gif)

'Peace is my parting gift to you' (27). Semitic peoples (and not only they) have always "given peace" to one another at greeting or parting. Jesus' parting from his disciples was not to be an ordinary human one, since he would soon be present with them again. This peace, too, was more than a mere word. The disciples would have real peace,' peace, such as the world cannot give'.

'Up, let us go forward!' (31) Almost exactly the same words occur in Mark and Matthew just before the arrival of the party sent to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Taken in the same sense here, they suggest that Jesus has done with talking and now resolves to go to meet his fate. This is in fact what happens—but only three chapters later. It is tempting to think that something may have gone wrong with John's text, and that these words appear in the wrong place. ← It is possible to understand the whole sentence in more than one way: see the footnote in NEB, But this does not greatly affect the question. Nevertheless, this apparent anomaly is not uncharacteristic of John. In the first place, it is in his manner to add a passage amplifying what Jesus has just said, even though the scene itself has come to an end (compare the concluding paragraph of chapter 3). In the second place, the literal meaning of Jesus' words is often no more than a decoy: the real meaning lies below the surface. Here perhaps a further explanation is being given for the course of Jesus' passion. It was not that the devil was in command, but that Jesus had to show his obedience. He would do so in action a little later: meanwhile, on the spiritual level, his words show that he was prepared for whatever might come.

Chapter 15.

Fig fruit.

'I am the real vine' (1). Vines grow slowly. In a vineyard in Palestine it was three years before any grapes could be gathered from new plants. They needed constant training and pruning. And any damage done to them could destroy in an hour the patient labour of years. Tending vines (the occupation of countless Palestinian farmers) naturally suggested itself as an illustration of the care with which God tended his people (Jeremiah 2.21; Isaiah 5), and the sudden destruction of a vine was a poignant image for national calamities (Psalm 80.8-16; Ezekiel 19.10-14). It was characteristic of Jesus to use such a familiar example in his own teaching. The other gospels preserve a parable about a vineyard (Mark 12.1-9); but it is only here that anything is made of the actual technique of vine-growing.

The solidarity of Jesus with his disciples (which is the main theme of these chapters) could be expressed as that of the stem with the vine-branches. But everyone knew that there was more to it than just letting the vine grow. Not all the branches would survive: there must be constant tending and pruning. The metaphor was easy to apply. A ruthless politician, for example, could be said to do some "pruning" in the state. So, among Jesus' disciples, God (who is the gardener) would do some rigorous selection and training.

But "pruning" really involved two processes: breaking unwanted shoots off the branches, and tending the shoots which remained. This made it possible to use the metaphor in two ways. Some disciples would forfeit their solidarity with Jesus and be pruned off altogether. This would amount to total rejection, for which the reward was loss of all possibility of new life: 'The withered branches are heaped together, thrown on the fire, and burnt' (6)—a sentence which has more than an echo of the traditional language used of the Last Judgement (and John again and again shows that he understands this Last Judgement as a thing of the present: it is what a man brings upon himself by his attitude to Jesus). Those disciples, on the other hand, who maintained their solidarity with Jesus still needed that further tending which is here called "cleaning" or "cleansing". Precisely what this means is obscured by the fact that the discourse is on two levels. In its context it is addressed to the disciples, who in some sense (though in what sense is not quite clear, either here or in the previous reference, 13.10) had 'already been cleansed'. But on another level it is addressed to the subsequent church, whose members would certainly need "cleansing", both when they entered it (by baptism) and doubtless thereafter (in a more metaphorical sense). The essential thing, in any case, was the solidarity; and the essence of this solidarity was love and obedience. Given this, Christians would be so much at one with Christ and God that prayer would be answered and the remaining term of the vine-image would be fulfilled: they would bear fruit (8).

The inspiration for such love could only be the example of Christ himself. 'Love one another, as I have loved you' (12). And this in turn was inspired by God: 'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you' (9). What such love involved has been illustrated already by the washing of the disciples' feet: it is about to be seen to its full extent in Jesus' own death. 'There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.' (13) As a general proposition, most people might have agreed with this. But friendship was usually defined in terms of mutual advantage. In what sense could it be said that Jesus had friends? The answer could lie only in a new definition of friendship. Jesus had no common interest with his disciples, he did not stand to gain anything by their friendship. He was their master, and it would have been natural to think of them as his pupils or his servants. But now he called them his friends, for no other reason than that he had chosen them to be his friends, and had loved them to ' the full extent of his love' (13.1). Love, friendship—these words took on a new meaning in the light of Jesus' relationship with his disciples. All this was implied in Jesus' reiterated commandment: 'love one another' (17).

"A servant is not greater than his master." (20) In 13.16 this saying was put to a new use. Here, it is given the meaning it has in the other gospels: persecution will come as much to the one as to the other. But persecution was never regarded in the early church as an avoidable evil, something which might just blow over. Many Christians saw it in terms which they had inherited from the Jewish way of looking at world history: it was a part of that necessary intensification of evil which would be the prelude to the Last Judgement. But there was also another way of looking at it. Just as the world, far from spontaneously acknowledging Jesus, treated him with such indifference or animosity that it could be said to have actually hated him (24), so it would hate his followers. The manner of his continuing presence among I hem would provoke exactly the same hostile reaction as he had provoked
during his time on earth. 'If I had not come and spoken to them (22) ... If I had not worked among them' (24). Jesus' words and works were the ultimate criterion: to reject them was to be guilty of sin. In view of what was soon to happen, "hatred" of Jesus and the Father was not too strong a word for (heir attitude; it was also a word used in a psalm which was found again and ai'.ain to have been fulfilled in the events of Jesus' life and death: "They hated me without reason" (25) (Psalm 69.4). Yet not everyone hated: some believed. I low did they come to believe? In Jesus' lifetime, they had been persuaded by the witness (26) of John the Baptist, and (in a certain sense) by the witness of Jesus himself. Such witness would still be available when men were challenged to believe by the disciples. It would be one of the functions of the Spirit (which has already been described as the Advocate in 14.16) to bear witness and to lend weight to the Christians' cause; and the disciples themselves would be powerful witnesses, having been eyewitnesses of Jesus' acts from the first (27).

Chapter 16.

The other gospels record detailed prophecies by Jesus of the persecutions and tribulations which would be suffered by the church. John gives only two: 'They will ban you from the synagogue' (2)—a stiffening of the Jewish attitude towards Christians which we know to have taken place within a few decades of Jesus' resurrection; and, 'anyone who kills you will suppose that he is performing a religious duty'—again, the Jews did believe that in certain circumstances it was a religious duty to punish blasphemy with death, and in due course they certainly came to regard Christians as blasphemers. These were the dangers which lay before any Jews who became Christians. We can glimpse (in the very narrow range of these prophecies compared with those in the other gospels) the specific readership for which John's gospel was written: Greek-speaking Christians of Jewish origin, exposed to hostile pressure from the Jewish communities in the cities where they lived. The persecution they would be exposed to, like other kinds of persecution which would fall upon other parts of the church, was all part of a picture which had been carefully painted by Jesus. To know this was to be guarded against the breakdown of one's faith (1).

'You are plunged into grief because of what I have told you' (6). On the human level, the prospect of Jesus' departure from the disciples on the eve of this period of troubles was daunting. But in the future, what the followers of Jesus would need most was the conviction that, through all their vicissitudes, they were in the right and had the truth on their side. Persecution is intolerable if you are not sure of that for which you are being persecuted. This would never happen to Christians because of the reality of their experience of the Spirit among them. This Spirit, in these discourses, is called the Advocate (7); and the scene of its action is again imagined as a law-court. Each encounter between the world and the church is like that of two opposing parties before a judge. The world sets out to show (i) that the Christians have sinned (done wrong) in adopting their new faith (which, from the Jewish point of view, involved the blasphemy of using divine titles of Jesus); (ii) that they cannot be in the right after pinning their faith to one who ended his life on the cross; and (iii) that Jesus' death itself, secured according to the principles of the Jewish faith, was a clear instance of the proper course of divine justice. The appearance of the Advocate on the Christians' side completely turns the tables on the accusers, (i) 'He will convict them of wrong' (9), in that, by being clearly on the side of the Christians in all they do, he will show that their faith has been vindicated, and that it is their enemies' refusal to believe which is wrong; (ii) 'He will convince them that right is on my side' (10), since he will strengthen and validate the Christians' faith that Jesus, by his resurrection and glorification, has been shown to be in the right despite the cross; and (iii) 'he will convince them of divine judgement' (11) by showing that what they took to be the condemnation of Jesus was in reality the condemnation of the devil, the Prince of this world. All this fits easily enough into the conventional picture of the Last Judgement. When all the world comes before God to be judged, Christians will certainly have an Advocate who will give decisive evidence in their favour. But this Advocate (in John's presentation of Jesus' teaching) is none other than the Holy Spirit who is present even now in the church. As so often in this gospel, 'now is the hour of judgement for this world' (12.31). The Advocate at the Last Judgement, and the Spirit which is on the Christians' side today, are one and the same.

'There is still much that I could say to you' (12). All the gospels report that Jesus gave his disciples some teaching about the conditions under which they would find themselves exercising their discipleship (conditions, it is explained in John, which were only the logical sequel of those under which Jesus himself made his appearance among men). In Matthew, Mark and Luke, these conditions are interpreted in terms of traditional Jewish expectation: their meaning was to be found in the fact that they formed a part of that great drama of inevitable sufferings which would be the prelude and earnest of the imminent end of the world. Given this traditional picture, it was not difficult to fill in the details of the kind of tribulations which the righteous were to endure. In John, this traditional view of the future is taken less for granted, and it is suggested that Jesus, instead of giving his disciples the conventional blueprint, as it were, of what was in store for them, forbore to overwhelm them with predictions of their sufferings ('the burden would be too great for you now'), but promised instead that they would receive enlightenment when the time came from the Spirit of truth. 'He will make known to you the things that are coming' (13). One of the ways in which the church actually experienced the Holy Spirit was as a spirit of prophecy, speaking through individual Christians and predicting events that were about to happen. But we need not suppose that it is only iliis literal kind of prophecy which is meant here. The essential thing for Christians was to know, not exactly what was about to happen, but the meaning of what was actually happening (which was in fact the main function of Old Testament prophecy). Jesus gave a certain amount of teaching on the subject. But the Spirit was to bring the same prophetic understanding of events into every situation that would be encountered by the church.

In all this, the phenomenon to be described was the continuing experience of the church that, after Jesus' death, they were nevertheless not bereft. For this purpose, it was necessary to use three apparently personal and distinct terms: Father, Son, and Spirit (or Advocate). This might seem a dangerous way of talking, as if there were more than one separate deity involved. Did Christianity, after all, ask for a belief in many gods ? Did it ask Jews to abandon their fundamental doctrine of the one true God? The answer to these fears was to be found in the intimate relationship between the three; and a few words are added here (13-15) to show how tightly the circle is drawn which includes Father, Son and Spirit.

'A little while' (16). Any reader of the gospel who knew what was about to happen could see one obvious meaning of this pregnant little phrase. In "a little while" Jesus would be arrested, tried and executed; and "a little while" after that he would rise from the dead. We read in the other gospels that Jesus predicted his death and his resurrection on the third day (see above on Mark 9.9), and that his predictions were simply not understood by the disciples. On the face of it, this is exactly the situation here. 'What is this "little while" that he speaks of? We do not know what he means' (18).

But this "little while" was also a standard phrase in the vocabulary of any Jewish teacher who professed to have an insight into the future. If you believed (as most Jews did, and as Christians certainly did to an intense degree) that world history was tending towards a climax, and that God was about to act, then at any moment when faith in this cosmic denouement seemed to be slackening, you would recall your hearers or your readers to a proper pitch of expectation by reminding them that all this must surely come to pass "in a little while". The phrase is in the Hebrew prophets, it is in the Christian book called the Revelation (6.11). Jesus, in this part of his discourse, had been saying something about what the future had in store for his followers. This "little while" was just what might have been expected: a cryptic reference to the period before the End, when history would at last be hastening towards its consummation. Teaching of this kind about the pattern of the future necessarily sounded cryptic to outsiders. But the intimate followers of such a teacher would expect to be let into the secret meaning. They would hardly remain content to say, 'We do not know what he means'.

Nor is this the only hint that the paragraph is cast in the mould of traditional esoteric teaching about the imminent crisis of history. It was commonly accepted (at least within certain circles of Jewish teachers) that the period before the end would be one of intensified violence and tribulation: the joys of the age to come would be heralded by unprecedented sufferings. To describe this period, one of the metaphors which suggested itself was that of a woman giving birth to her first child: the suffering would be such as she had never suffered before, but it would be short-lived, and the memory of it would be swallowed up in the joy which followed it. The metaphor had been worked out already in Isaiah 26.16-18, a passage which has many echoes in this chapter of John; and in the time of Jesus (or at least very soon after) the 'birth-pangs of the new age' (Mark 13.8) was almost a technical expression for the last period of world history. When, therefore, Jesus, in the context of his teaching about the future, elaborated the metaphor of 'a woman in labour' (21), and then described a state of affairs in which his disciples would be so close to God (23) that their prayers would be certain of an answer (one of the standard blessings in the age to come), there can be little doubt where these 'figures of speech' (25) came from. Jesus, here as in the other gospels, was making use of the traditional repertory of those who claimed to have insight into the coming last days of the world and the new age which was to follow them.

But in John's gospel, when Jesus uses language of this kind, it tends to bear a radically original meaning. What his contemporaries described as belonging to a world of the future, Jesus showed to be realities belonging to a kind of life which men may experience here and now. The whole of this section plays upon new meanings of the old language: both the " little while " of apparent dereliction, and the joy of communion, are simultaneous experiences in the life of the Christian. This actualization of traditional hopes becomes explicit towards the end of the section. According to the traditional scheme, one of the conditions of living in the time before the end was having to be content with partial vision, partial understanding. The signs of the limes were puzzling and ambiguous, one got no nearer the truth than figures of speech. But when the end came the veil would be lifted, the obscurities would be removed. As Paul puts it, 'Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face' (1 Corinthians 13.12). Figures of speech would give place to plain words, the truth would be known, no longer through anxious questioning and dimly understood answer, but by direct communication. Jesus had already talked many times about "going to the Father", but had never been understood, even by his own followers. Now, suddenly, they grasped what he meant, and the truth seemed to burst in upon them. It was as if the perfection of knowledge and clarity of vision which they believed they would have only in heaven was available to them here and now. 'Why, this is plain speaking; this is no figure of speech.' (29) Here was an earnest of what Jesus had promised: an experience hitherto conceived as only possible in an imagined future was already breaking into the present.

Jesus answered, 'Do you now believe?' (31) In the Bible, this period of "trouble" for the righteous was an element common to all inspired prophecies about the future. Nothing Jesus had said must be interpreted as if his 111Ilowers would be spared this trouble. He was still exhorting them to bear 11 Hut traditionally, every exhortation to bear trouble steadfastly was based mi ilit- promise of ultimate victory: in "a little while", those who now were oppressed and persecuted would conquer. The new factor in Jesus' exhortation was that he did not have to leave his followers with a mere promise. The victory had already been won. That which made the trouble worth bearing was already possessed. 'The victory is mine; I have conquered the world.' (33)

Chapter 17.

After these words Jesus looked up to heaven (1). It is easy enough to imagine Jesus concluding this long discourse to his disciples with an act of prayer. Equally, it is easy to imagine that when John came to arrange and reformulate the teaching of Jesus he should have thought it appropriate to round it off with a prayer. In fact, however, this final address of Jesus to his heavenly Father includes rather more than we normally look for in a "prayer". It expresses, certainly, the perfect resolution of Jesus to undergo his destiny— a resolution which had seemed to falter for a moment on a previous occasion (12.27); and it contains a number of petitions for the welfare of his followers is (including what appears to be an allusion to the Lord's Prayer: 'keep them from the evil one' (15)). But it also consists (particularly in its opening phrases) of a solemn summary of what has been said earlier about the nature of Jesus and the faith of his disciples; and with the words, 'I now consecrate myself' (19), it marks the actual moment when Jesus might be said to have committed himself irrevocably to his act of sacrifice 'for their sake'. All this is not quite "prayer" in the sense the word bears today. On the other hand, it falls well within the function which a prayer was deemed to have in antiquity, that is, not only supplicating and praising God, but defining carefully those beliefs about God and man which justify us in attempting to pray at all.

'Glorify thy Son' (1). That Jesus' "glorification" was to take place on the cross is a paradox which has already been hinted at more than once. But here it is related to an image more characteristic of the other gospels: 'For thou hast made him sovereign over all mankind' (2). Jesus was the Son of Man; and it was prophesied of this Son of Man that he would be installed at the right hand of God, and that all mankind would be made subject to him. Eternal life, which elsewhere in this gospel is usually defined in terms of believing in Jesus Christ, is here described as a matter of "knowing" God and Christ. To put these ideas together: the Christian is one who "knows" that the humble Son of Man who was crucified is now sovereign, that the crucifixion was in reality Jesus' glorification, that to recognize Jesus' glory is to see God's glory and to enter upon that new quality of living which can be called eternal life. Jesus' work on earth (4) has had the purpose of making all this credible. But it is something which has always been true. This glory of Jesus, which Christians come to understand through his life and death, has in fact existed (as the very first words of the gospel proclaim) since before the world began (5).

The main part of the prayer is for the disciples. They have just reached a 8 decisive point in their apprenticeship: 'they have had faith to believe that thou didst send me' (8). They are now to continue in the world in something of the same conditions under which Jesus himself taught and lived, that is, with the same sense of belonging to two worlds, of being strangers in the world (16). The inherent ambiguity of this relationship with the world sets the tone for the prayer which Jesus now makes for them.

He prays first for their safety. This is not just a matter of physical security: the stakes are higher than that. They must be protected, not so much from the danger of suffering and death, as from the danger of being forced by these things to renounce their faith and forfeit their new life. 'Protect by the power of thy name those whom thou hast given me' (11). God's name was an expression used in the Old Testament to describe the fact that God was believed to be present to a particular degree in a particular place: God made his name dwell in the temple of Jerusalem. Jesus' presence among his disciples was equivalent to this "power of the name", this presence of God on earth; and Jesus prays that the disciples may continue to have this power ← However, the "name" does not necessarily imply power. It might also mean simply the common name shared by all vvho have a common loyally. Hence the alternative translation offered in the NEB footnote. to protect them from disaster. If it were objected that Jesus' presence did not in fact protect Judas from his fate, the answer was that Judas was a special case; he was the man who must be lost (12), a traditional phrase for one who, in the current mythology about the future, would appear as a kind of personification of wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2.3); and his special role had been amply foretold by Scripture (13.18).

Secondly, Jesus prays that they may be one (22). For Christianity, as for any religious movement, unity among its adherents was of course essential for its survival (and indeed, by the time John wrote, the church had been exposed to serious threats to its unity). Jesus' prayer doubtless embraces this functional unity; but it also envisages something more fundamental. The intense solidarity between Jesus and his disciples has already been expounded. Here it is developed still further: 'as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, so also may they be in us' (21). The implication of this relationship between men and God is a new unity among men themselves; and this is to be embodied, not only in the original disciples, but in subsequent generations of Christians. (20) (Jesus may or may not have foreseen such a long history for his followers; but John already knew at least several generations of them.)

Thirdly, Jesus prays that they may be consecrated by the truth (19). The metaphor belongs to temples and sanctuaries. A priest consecrates himself by separating himself from the ordinary concerns and squalor of the world, in order to make himself a fit person to draw near to the presence of God in ritual and service. The metaphor can of course be refined and spiritualized: consecrating oneself need mean no more than simply committing oneself wholeheartedly to a particular task or form of service. But there is always in it a hint of separation: consecration implies freeing oneself from certain things in order to be fully available for something else. In this sense, it was an appropriate word for the disciples who, for the sake of Christ, had become strangers in the world (14). But again, their solidarity with Christ implied that they would share something of his consecration, a consecration which amounted to utter self-sacrifice.

The whole of the discourse has been exploring the manner in which Jesus would continue to be present with his disciples after the crucifixion and resurrection. Something of heaven, he has been saying, would attend their life on earth. But one could put it the other way round. It was not only that life in this world would be transformed by influences from another world: human beings, while still in this world, could have an experience of heaven. This was the climax of the possibilities of Christian discipleship, and the final subject of Jesus' great prayer for his followers: 'I desire that these men ... may be with me where I am, so that they may look upon my glory' (24).

The final conflict

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This is the heading given by the translators to the last section of all four gospels; and indeed at this point the gospel according to John, which up to now has followed a strikingly different pattern from the others, suddenly begins to run closely parallel to them. The differences no longer lie in the grand design, but in the details.

Chapter 18.

The Kidron Valley today.

After these words, Jesus went out with his disciples, and crossed the Kedron ravine (1). The name occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; but we know exactly what it stands for: it is the deep river-bed (or wady) which separates the hill on which Jerusalem was built from the range of higher hills to the east which includes the Mount of Olives. John tells us, therefore, which side of the city Jesus came out of, and when he goes on to say that there was a garden there (2), it is obvious that he means the place which appears in the other gospels as Gethsemane, on the slopes of the a Mount of Olives. The detail (also hinted at in Luke 22.39) that Jesus had often met there with his disciples casts Judas in a clear role: he was able to pass on information to Jesus' enemies on which they could act. But this, according to John, was the full extent of his treachery. His traitor's kiss is not mentioned: there was no need to identify Jesus, for Jesus immediately identified himself, causing some consternation to his captors. Whether or not they originally intended to arrest Jesus' followers as well (a possibility John leaves open), Jesus insisted that they should let them go, and in so doing gave, as it were, a literal demonstration of the truth of a promise he had made earlier in general terms (6.39), 'I have not lost one of those whom thou gavest me'. There is no question in this account of the disciples running away.


Jesus' captors are described as a detachment of soldiers, and police provided by the chief priests and the Pharisees (3). In the other gospels it is clear that they were sent by the Sanhedrin. John's description is less precise. The chief priests ex officio, and the Pharisaic party in fact, each formed an influential section of the Sanhedrin, and John doubtless meant the police to be understood as coming from that authority. But what about the detachment of soldiers? In the Greek, this is the correct term for a Roman cohort, and means a force of several hundred men. Apart from the fact that such a large detachment seems quite inappropriate, it is a surprise to find Roman soldiers involved at this stage. John may have known, independently of the other gospels, that Roman soldiers were in fact present, or he may perhaps have wished to tell the story of Jesus' arrest, trial and execution in such a way as would seem to implicate the Roman administration right from the start. Alternatively, just as in Mark 6.21 the senior officers in Herod's private army could be called 'commanders' (which, in Greek, was the correct title for a tribune in the Roman army), so John may have been using military language rather loosely, and have meant, both by this phrase and by the troops with their commander in verse 12, nothing more than a mixed force of Jewish armed men. At any rate, the brief scuffle took place just the same. John gives the names of both the disciple and the slave, and in Jesus' rebuke—'This is the cup the Father has given me'—makes a suggestive allusion to the scene of Jesus at prayer in the garden (Mark 14.36), which he may have known about even though he has omitted it from his own narrative.

They took him first to Annas (13). This is a significant departure from the account in the other gospels. Matthew and Mark report that Jesus was immediately brought before a meeting specially convened during the night; Luke describes Jesus being held prisoner in Caiaphas' house until dawn. John introduces a new element altogether with the mention of Annas. Annas had been deposed from the office of High Priest, which he had held for ten years, in A.D.15, but he remained a person of influence, for apart from his son-in-law Caiaphas, who was high priest from A.D.18 to 36, five of his sons also held the office, and it is not in itself unlikely that he was behind Jesus' arrest and was given an opportunity to conduct the first examination. John, however, combines this new piece of tradition with one that he shares with all the other gospels: the story of Peter's denial. Here too he has a fresh piece of information to give. Peter's presence in the courtyard was made possible by a disciple who was acquainted with the High Priest (15). We are not told who this was; and the fact that Jesus' following included people with connections of this kind is new to us. It does not look, therefore, as if John was simply rewriting the story from a version like that in Mark, he seems to have had an independent source of information which allowed him to identify some of the characters in the scene.

Christ before the High Priest. G van Honthorst.

The High Priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about what he taught (19). This suggests, not formal legal proceedings, but an informal interrogation. To the High Priest's questions, Jesus replied (as in the other gospels he replied to his captors in the garden) that after all his public
teaching in synagogue and in the temple (20) such a procedure was pointless. John gives no further details; he is hastening on to a new issue altogether, that between Jesus and the Roman governor. He pauses only to finish off the story of Peter, and to give his own very mild and attenuated version (which hinges on Exodus 22.28 "You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people") of the insults suffered by Jesus at the hands of the Jewish authorities. Here it is no more than a single blow struck by an officer; and Jesus replies by insisting upon the conditions of a fair trial: 'If I spoke amiss, state it in evidence' (23).

So Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the High Priest (24). John has already said that Caiaphas, Annas' son-in-law, was the High Priest for that year (13). This is correct, in so far as Caiaphas was certainly High Priest at the time, but misleading in that it suggests that the office was held for one year only—Caiaphas held it for 18 years. Possibly John was confused by the fact that a number of high priests did in fact hold office for not more than a year in the first half of the century. A further complication is that Annas, though no longer in office as High Priest, was still a member of the class of "High Priests", and therefore a person of great influence. John is therefore correct, though a little confusing, in referring to him too as the High Priest (15).

From Caiaphas Jesus was led into the Governor's headquarters (28). All the other gospels give some account of a session of a Jewish court, presided over by Caiaphas the High Priest; during this session, Jesus made a statement which the court judged to be blasphemous and punishable by death. Whether or not such a session actually took place, John makes no mention of it here. He has already recorded (10.22-39) an occasion when Jesus was heard committing blasphemy (as they thought) by the Jewish authorities. Even if John knew that a similar scene took place in the presence of Caiaphas, he had no need to delay his readers by repeating the details here. It was clearly the trial before the Roman authorities to which he wished to give the greatest emphasis in this chapter; and his account of it is a great deal fuller than that of the other gospels.

Ecce homo.

The trial scene itself is also conceived somewhat differently. Instead of hearing the case of accusers and accused together, Pilate has Jesus held prisoner inside his headquarters, but interviews the Jews outside, so that the prosecution and the defence are heard in different places, and Pilate, as judge, moves in and out from one to the other. John provides a reason for this: the Jews themselves stayed outside the headquarters to avoid defilement, so that they could eat the Passover meal (28). From an antiquarian point of view, this was probably (though not certainly) correct: the Jews who celebrated the Passover at Jerusalem, and in particular the priests who had ceremonial duties to attend to during the afternoon, were obliged to make themselves ritually "clean" beforehand; and the houses of Gentiles were regarded as places of possible ritual contamination (there was the danger, for instance, that there might be a grave underneath, which would make a Jew ritually "unclean" for a week). To this extent, the reason John gives for their remaining outside is plausible, though a little recondite. A more obvious reason would have been that it was customary for a Roman magistrate to set up his tribunal in a public place, and not inside his house, and what really needed explaining was, not that the Jews remained outside, but that Jesus was brought inside. However, the significance of the statement (certainly for us, and probably also for John) is that it clearly dates the Passover festival to the evening following the crucifixion, ← If the translation given in in the foot note were correct, this inconsistency would disappear, since the "Passover season" lasted for a week. But it is very doubtful whether the Greek words can bear this meaning. whereas the other gospels equally clearly place it on the evening before. The day of the week is the same in all accounts: Jesus was crucified on a Friday. But according to the first three gospels, Friday that year fell on 15th Nisan, the day after the celebration of the Passover meal, and Jesus' last supper was in fact a Passover celebration. According to John, on the other hand, the feast fell a day later that year, and Jesus hung on the cross while the lambs for the feast were being sacrificed at the temple. Both cannot be right, and a choice has to be made between them. But each, in its different way, exploits the fact that it was the season of Passover, in order to set the last events of Jesus' life against the background of a Jewish religious festival.

Jesus before Pilate.

It was the duty of the Roman governor to hear charges laid against his subjects, to check their accuracy, and to decide on the action to be taken under Roman law. Pilate's first question to the Jews was the normal opening of this procedure: 'What charge do you bring against this man?' (29) But their answer was curiously evasive. 'If he were not a criminal', they replied, 'we should not have brought him before you.' (30) It is not clear how John means us to understand this; but the fact that they did not immediately bring forward a charge apparently made Pilate assume that the n tatter was a technical one of Jewish law which the Jews were not disposed to explain to him and on which, in any case, he could not be expected to give a ruling (this, at any rate, was the reaction of the Roman governor of Corinth on a similar occasion, Acts 18.14-15). But the Jews replied to this that, even if it was a technical matter of their own law, it was a capital case, and they had no competence to carry out the death penalty. 'We are not allowed to put any man to death.' (31)

This statement provides, almost casually, the answer to the main problem posed by the gospel accounts of Jesus' trial and death. Jesus was crucified, a form of execution carried out only by the Romans; but the blame for his condemnation is placed by all the evangelists, not on the Romans, but on the Jews. How were these two facts to be reconciled? The solution offered is that it was indeed the Jews who found Jesus guilty of blasphemy; but that they prevailed upon the Roman authorities, in the person of Pilate, to carry out the execution. And the clue to this surprising procedure is provided by a chance remark made in John's narrative (and nowhere else in any of the gospels) that, at this time, the Jews themselves did not have the power to carry out the death penalty. That this was true is at least probable: we have no decisive evidence, but it is consistent with what we know of the Roman administration of the provinces of the empire. But it has to be admitted that this is the one single reference in the New Testament to a fact which is of critical importance to understanding the trial and execution of Jesus. John underlines the significance of the fact in his own way. That Jesus was crucified (31) was not merely the result of historical circumstances: it was the only form of execution which would have been consistent with what Jesus himself had said about the symbolism of his death (12.32). If the Jews had executed him, they would have done it by stoning, and this could never have been described as a "lifting up". To those mysterious obstacles which prevented the Jews from summarily doing away with Jesus earlier (see above, p. 336) is now added a purely technical one: they were not allowed to by the Roman regulations.

We must assume that more passed in the conversation between Pilate and the Jews than is actually recorded here, for when Pilate went inside to examine the defendant he put to him a specific charge ('Are you the king of the Jews?') and admitted that the charge was one put forward by the Jews. In the accounts in the other gospels, Jesus' reply to the charge, though he never altogether denied it, was always marked by a certain reserve. Here the same reserve is expanded into a definition of the exact sense in which Jesus claimed to be a king. This convinced Pilate that, if Jesus' kingship operated only with abstractions such as truth (38), no action need be taken. He consequently returned outside to inform the Jews of his decision. He also entertained the hope that he could at the same time exploit the situation by making his release of Jesus satisfy the Jews' customary demand for the release of one prisoner at Passover. But in this he was disappointed. Instead of being able to get away with releasing the harmless Jesus, he was forced to release one who was a bandit, that is, perhaps a member of one of the armed resistance groups which constantly harried the Roman occupying forces: Barabbas.

Chapter 19.

Pilate now took Jesus and had him flogged (1). Events were still taking a normal course according to Roman justice. The flogging was the Roman equivalent to "letting him off with a warning"; and the soldiers' mockery, and the public exhibition which followed, may have been a legitimate extension of it. But from this point the proceedings became more political than judicial. By Roman law Pilate had found Jesus innocent—indeed that no case had been made out against him at all. But by Jewish law (the chief priests maintained) Jesus had been proved to have committed blasphemy ('he has claimed to be Son of God' (7)) for which the penalty was death; and Pilate was now being subjected to pressure to carry out the sentence of a Jewish court which that court was not competent to carry out itself. At first Pilate was merely impatient. 'Take him and crucify him yourselves,' he said sarcastically, knowing that they had no power even to stone him, let alone to use the Roman method of crucifixion. But then the strength of the Jewish agitation seems to have unnerved him; he became more afraid than ever, and went inside for a further interview with Jesus, doubtless hoping to discover at least some reason why the Jews were so anxious to see the death sentence carried out. His question, 'Where have you come from?' (9) certainly sounded like the opening of a general interrogation. But Jesus gave him no answer. This motif of Jesus' silence appears in all the gospel accounts. Here it is made the cue for a brief dialogue about authority, and a further indication of where the main responsibility lay for Jesus' condemnation.

In Pilate's final interview with the Jewish leaders, the issue once again entered a new phase. Having failed to get their way so far, the Jews brought forward something of a threat: 'If you let this man go, you are no friend to Caesar' (12). "Friend of Caesar"—amicus Caesaris—this is what, under the empire, every Roman official aspired to be: to have the Emperor's ear, to be known for one's loyalty. A few years later Pilate was deposed from office at (lie instigation of one who was more of a "friend of Caesar" than he. At any lime, the possibility of reports reaching home that he was allowing disloyalty
10 Caesar among his subjects in Judaea would have alarmed him. Finally, iherefore, he determined to put the matter to the test: if the crowd showed that they were prepared to acknowledge Jesus as king, clearly the man was dangerous after all, and action must be taken. For the first time he brought I lie prisoner outside his headquarters to confront his accusers. The scene in carefully and solemnly set. The Roman governor normally set up his tribunal for the purpose of giving judgement ← The phrase, " took his seal on the tribunal", certainly suggests that Pilate is about to give judgement. But in fact he has given judgement already, and what follows is hardly judicial. Another possible translation of the Greek is, "he set Jesus on the tribunal". If this were correct, it would add point and drama to the scene: Pilate would be deliberately challenging the Jews to show their allegiance tlo a usurper of his own authority. in a public place outside his residence. John knows the name of the place. Greek-speaking people called it 'The Pavement': streets and squares paved with smooth and massive stone blocks were characteristic of Herodian Jerusalem, and it would not be surprising if there were a particularly fine one outside the Governor's residence (which was formerly Herod the Great's palace). ← An impressive area of such paving has been found on the site of one of Herod the Great's buildings in Jerusalem, the fortress-palace called Antonia which lay next to and dominated the temple area. It is tempting to believe that this was the site of Jesus' trial; but unfortunately this identification is not certain. It is in many ways more likely that Pilate had his headquarters (praetorium) in the main palace of Herod the Great that was situated in the highest part of the city (and which it has not yet been possible to excavate), than in the Antonia; and in any case the archaeological evidence suggests that the paving at the Antonia dates from the time of Hadrian, a century after the trial of Jesus. In the language of the Jews it was called 'Gabbatha', which probably represents a Hebrew or Aramaic word meaning "a high place": and again, in a city built on steep hills, this would be an obvious name for any public square in the higher parts of Jerusalem. John also appears to know the exact time: It was the eve of Passover, ← The alternative rendering given in the footnote would eliminate the second of the two statements in John's gospel which show that this author believed the crucifixion to have taken place before, not after, the Jewish Passover (the other is 18.28), and would make it possible to reconcile his chronology with that of the other gospels. But it is very doubtful whether the Greek words could bear the sense proposed. about noon (14). This conflicts with the other gospels, where Jesus is crucified in the morning. John may have had other information; on the other hand, if he knew that on the eve of Passover the sacrificial lambs were slaughtered at the temple in the early afternoon, and if he wished to make Jesus' death carry some of the symbolic meaning of these sacrifices, he may have deliberately pictured Jesus' final condemnation as taking place at the last moment when work was permissible on the eve of Passover: about noon.

Scene from THE PASSION. Jesus Condemned.

Pilate said to the Jews, 'Here is your king.' (15) This was a direct challenge to the Jews. But the Jews replied with a vigorous protestation of their loyalty to Caesar, and demanded Jesus' execution. The demand may have been unjust, but it could be taken as an expression of allegiance to the power of Rome; and Pilate yielded to it.

To this extent John's narrative permits us to make a possible reconstruction of the original events. At the same time, it is clear that here, as throughout his gospel, John is doing a great deal more than merely recording events as they happened. Like the authors of the other gospels, he has certain points that he wishes to make. Jesus was put to death by the Romans, allegedly as a claimant to the treasonable title, "King of the Jews": this was the basic fact known to anyone who had heard anything about Jesus at all. But two obvious inferences from this fact needed to be corrected. First, the execution was not the Romans' fault; on the contrary, Pilate tried hard to release him (12). It was the Jews, not the Romans, who were mainly responsible. Secondly, Jesus was not a traitor to Rome: his "kingship" was not political, and therefore his followers need not be regarded as disloyal citizens by the Roman authorities (a point of importance by the time John's gospel was written). It was true of the trial of Jesus—as it was true of the ensuing trials of Christians in Roman courts—that it was not the Roman administration which was ultimately to blame: 'the deeper guilt lies with the man who handed me over to you' (11). ← In its context this saying is ambiguous: it could mean Judas or Caiphas. But the vagueness may be deliberate. It would have made it easier for Christians to quote the saying when they found themselves on trial before the Roman authorities. But John's account of the trial, though it is in many ways so similar to that in the other gospels, is at the same time characteristic of him. For he uses it, as he uses many episodes, to explain to the reader the significance of some of the concepts used by Jesus. In particular (since it was known that Jesus was crucified as "king of the Jews") there is a conversation between Jesus and Pilate which, whatever may have passed between them (which John could hardly have had any means of knowing), fills a gap in this gospel's presentation of the person of Jesus by explaining what Jesus meant by the title. 'My task is to bear witness to the truth.' (18.37).

Simon takes the cross.

Carrying his own cross (19.37). John appears not to know of the tradition (vouched for by the man's own sons in Mark's account) that a certain Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross for Jesus. It may be, in any case, that Jesus did in fact carry the beam of his own cross at least some of the way, until he had to be relieved of it through exhaustion. John may have known of Jesus' saying that stands in Luke 14.27 in the form, 'No one who does not carry his cross ... can be a disciple of mine'; if so, he may have deliberately concentrated on the early stages of the procession, during which Jesus was as it were setting an example to his future disciples.

Not far from the city (20). This detail, given only by John, is exactly what we should expect: the Romans crucified insurrectionists to set a public example, and though custom forbade them to do this in the most public place of all (inside the city), they normally chose a place not far outside, where the victims would be seen by a large number of people. John also gives very plausible details about the inscription (which he calls by the technical Latin name, titulus). Hebrew can mean (as often in the New Testament) the language actually spoken by the inhabitants of Palestine; Latin was the native language of the Roman administrators; Greek was the common language in fact used for official purposes throughout the eastern part of the empire. Thus publicly displayed, the charge against Jesus could well have seemed to the chief priests a deliberate insult to their nation.


'They shared my garments among them, and cast lots for my clothing' (24). This quotation (Psalm 22.18) occurs in all the gospel accounts, and indeed the psalm, with its classic description of the predicament of a righteous sufferer, evidently offered a convenient and traditional framework in which to set the remembered details of the crucifixion of Jesus. But John scents to have worked out the exact way in which this text of Scripture came true. Even though, in Hebrew poetry, the two halves of a line are often intended to balance each other, and to yield, not two statements, but two ways of making the same statement, nevertheless John takes the whole line quite literally, and appears to ask himself how, if the four soldiers shared Jesus' garments by dividing them among themselves, they could also find anything to cast lots about (23). He found the answer in Jesus' tunic, which might well have been the one really valuable object among the spoils to which the soldiers were entitled: the tunic (chiton) was the long shirt (usually with short sleeves) which was worn under a cloak. Obviously it would have been silly to "share" this by tearing it up (even if it were not in one piece throughout, as John painstakingly assures us it was); therefore they "tossed for it", and thus fulfilled the prophecy to the letter.

That is what the soldiers did (25). With considerable artistry John builds up a surrounding frame of onlookers before coming to the centre of the picture, Jesus himself. All the gospels refer to the women who were present at the crucifixion, although they differ in the details: only John reports that they were actually near the cross, and that Jesus' mother was among them. We do not know who her sister was—the Greek, like the English, is ambiguous, and so far as grammar goes she could be the same person as Mary wife of Clopas: but it is perhaps not very likely that two sisters would both have been called Mary. Otherwise, the only woman of the group who can be certainly identified is Mary of Magdala, who is known from Luke 8.2. In any case their presence enables John to record a further saying of Jesus, 'Mother, there is your son' (26). This is evidently more than a last-minute concern for the welfare of a bereaved mother. If it had been merely this, it would have been sufficient to say to the disciple, 'There is your mother' (27); there would have been no need for Jesus to address his mother as well. In any case, the form of address is strange and solemn. Literally, the Greek gives "woman", for which mother is only a rough equivalent: the word was not rude (as "woman" would be in English), but it was formal (in a way that "mother" is not). Jesus addressed his mother in the same way at Cana (2.4 above), and on that occasion too his utterance had a solemn and formal ring. Clearly there is a hidden meaning, and subsequent Christian meditation has found the germ of many doctrines about the church, about womanhood, and about Mary herself in this single sentence. One point at least seems fairly certain. The disciple whom he loved (whoever he was) stands on this occasion for more than one individual: he represents the whole company of followers of Christ; and the saying falls into line with those great affirmations of Paul that Christians are Christ's "brothers", and share his sonship.

'I thirst' (28). All the gospels mention that Jesus was offered sour wine (29), and a verse from Psalm 69 (which was one of the classic descriptions of a righteous sufferer) must have helped to determine the words in which the incident was recorded: "for my thirst they gave me vinegar for drink" (Ps. 69.21). John, too, may well have had this text in mind when he added, in fulfilment of Scripture. But he also refashioned the incident in his own way. It would be a little strange if Jesus were really yielding to acute thirst at this point. It would be his only expression of physical suffering in any of the gospel accounts, and it would be surprising if John had chosen to record something so trivial at this critical moment. More probably, Jesus' "thirst" was (characteristically in this gospel) metaphorical: it was an intense longing for God. The word was misunderstood, and taken literally by the soldiers' ← A javelin is the translation of the Greek word hyssos. The manuscripts all give hysopops, "marjoram", which makes little sense. It was conjectured in the sixteenth century that John must originally have written hyssos, and that an easy slip of an early copyist produced the reading of all our existing manuscripts—except one of the thirteenth century which, perhaps by accident, supports the conjectural reading, "javelin".— this again was a favourite device of the writer when he wished to draw attention to the deeper meaning of a saying of Jesus. Its true meaning is given in another psalm (63.1):

"O God, thou art my God, I seek thee,
my soul thirsts for thee."

This psalm begins, in Hebrew, elohim eli. Mark and Matthew both record that Jesus cried eli from the cross, and that this was misunderstood as 'Elijah' by the bystanders. John may have assumed that the cry was a prayer of Jesus based on this psalm and that the misunderstanding consisted in his "thirst" being taken literally.

That Jesus' life and work was a perfect unity, a work to be finished and a destiny to be accomplished, is one of the themes of John's gospel (4.34; 5.36; 17.4). Aptly, John records, as his final cry, 'It is accomplished!' (30)

Because it was the eve of Passover. (31) ← The translation, "eve of Passover", is a correct inference rather than an exact rendering. The Greek word means simply "Friday"; but it is true that, at least by John's reckoning, the Passover was about to begin at nightfall, and so, in that sense, this Friday was the "eve" of Passover. The alternative translation given in the footnote is a further attempt to harmonize John's dating with that of the other gospels. See above on 18.28 and 19.14. It was laid down in Deuteronomy 31 that a criminal executed by "hanging on a tree" must be buried before nightfall. Moreover, the day on which Jesus was crucified was a Friday: the Sabbath began at dusk, and was a day that must not be profaned by dead bodies in public places—especially (as John adds, perhaps unnecessarily) since that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity (31), being the first day of the festival. The request of the Jews was therefore reasonable. The "defilement of the land" (Deuteronomy 21.23) which would have ensued otherwise would have been a serious matter for the consciences of strict Jews who had come to Jerusalem to keep the festival. Execution by crucifixion was a slow death—sometimes it could take up to thirty-six hours. Breaking the legs of the victims was a recognized way of hastening death. But Jesus was already dead (33), so they did not break his legs. Why did John mention this? We know that many Jews at this time were beginning to have scruples about deliberately breaking a man's bones (for example, by stoning): might it not affect the victim's chances of bodily resurrection at the last day? Possibly John shared this concern, and thought it necessary to show that Jesus was not affected; or possibly he was impressed by the text, 'No bone of his shall be broken' (36). It is not quite certain what text he was referring to. Exodus 12.46 reads (of the lamb eaten at Passover), "You shall not break a bone of it". If John intended his readers to have in mind the fact that Jesus was crucified at the same time as the lambs were being slaughtered in the temple, then this might have been meant as a further detail in the symbolism of Jesus' death. Alternatively, the allusion is to Psalm 34.20, which describes how the Lord protects the righteous: "He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken".

Instead of having his legs broken, Jesus was stabbed in the side with a lance. There was a flow of blood and water (34). This is said to be physiologically possible—a white fluid could have been released by the wound. But John, who lays great stress on the reliability of his report, obviously saw more in it than a mere physical phenomenon. Blood and water were both highly significant symbols; at the very least, they suggested the two sacraments of eucharist and baptism. In addition, the whole incident fulfilled another prophecy (quoted also in Revelation 1.7), 'They shall look on him whom they pierced'.This is certainly a quotation of Zechariah 12.10—and the last chapter of Zechariah provided a number of prophecies which seemed to have been fulfilled in the passion of Jesus.

After that, Pilate was approached by Joseph of Arimathaea (38). Different suggestions are made by the evangelists about the motives of this Joseph. In Mark and Luke, he is a pious and influential Jew, anxious to avoid the ritual defilement which would ensue if a dead body were left exposed overnight, or else moved to make some amends for the injustice of the Sanhedrin's action. John comes closer to Matthew's explanation: Joseph was a secret disciple and was joined by another person of influence, Nicodemus (3.1), who was doubtless also obliged to keep his discipleship secret. They evidently intended to bury Jesus with the full honours that were customary among the Jews. They were pressed for time: it was the eve of the Jewish Sabbath (42), and once the sun had set their activity would no longer be permissible. They therefore made use of a new tomb that happened to be near at hand in a garden. ← The traditional site of the Holy Sepulchre is about twenty yards from the rock of Calvary, and since the area was certainly not built over in the time of Christ, a part of it could well have been under cultivation. But they did not (as in the other gospels) neglect to anoint the corpse. On the contrary, they brought with them a prodigious quantity of spices for the purpose (more than half a hundredweight (39)). Such things were precious, and were normally packed in small jars with long narrow necks, so that they could be used sparingly; and since it was usual to anoint a corpse with olive oil, one would have expected them simply to mix a little of the perfume with it. John perhaps means to emphasize that the two distinguished Jewish disciples gave Jesus a burial worthy of the ' King of the Jews'.

Chapter 20.

Early on the Sunday morning (1). Ultimately, the faith of the first Christians that Jesus had risen from the dead rested on the conviction that they, or at least certain witnesses whom they had reason to trust, had seen him with their own eyes. But all the gospels tell of a sensational event which preceded any appearance of Jesus: the discovery that the tomb was empty. Exactly how this discovery was made, and why it was not immediately seized upon by the disciples as convincing proof of the resurrection, are questions which receive a different answer in each gospel. Clearly there was some uncertainty in the writers' minds about the importance of the discovery, in view of the fact that it was so soon followed by an encounter with the risen Jesus himself. This gospel, however, seems to present a more considered account. John takes for granted many of the details recorded in the other gospels: his readers are evidently expected to know, without having been told, that Jesus' tomb had been sealed with a massive stone, and they are given no explanation how Mary, having left the tomb in verse 2, is back again weeping there in verse 11. In other words, John is evidently working with a narrative similar to the others; but not only does he offer certain details which are different and add whole episodes which are new to us: he arranges the material in such a way that it shows a clear progression from simple consternation to assured belief.

This is at its clearest in the first paragraph. The first reaction to the discovery that the tomb had not remained as it was left on the Friday was that of Mary of Magdala (in John she is alone, in the other gospels there is a group of women). She drew the obvious conclusion: 'They have taken the Lord out of his tomb', she cried, 'and we do not know where they have laid him' (2) (the other women of the other gospel accounts seem to have left their mark in the word we). The second reaction was that of a disciple, and was much more perceptive. Here there is an elaborate distribution of roles between Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved (1). From a formal point of view, Peter seems to be given precedence (he was, after all, and was intended to be, the chief of the apostles). But in reality the decisive reaction belonged to the other disciple. He, like Peter, noticed both the linen wrappings (19.40) and the napkin (6) (such as was wrapped round the head of Lazarus 11.44) still lying in the tomb. It was inconceivable that anyone stealing the corpse should have first unwrapped it and left the wrappings in a neat pile. Something of a different order altogether must have happened. There were of course prophecies in the scriptures about a "rising from the dead", but until then (9) these had been but dimly understood. The disciple now grasped the significance of this puzzling discovery: he saw and believed (8).

This is the only occasion in the New Testament on which it is said that someone believed as a result of the empty tomb. In principle, all the apostles came to believe because they saw the risen Jesus. But subsequent generations of Christians were required to believe on the basis of something far less sensational; their faith was, so to speak, at second-hand. It was for such Christians that this gospel was written; and John shows how much he had them in mind when he records Jesus saying, 'Happy are they who never saw me and yet have found faith' (29). This disciple had not yet seen the risen Christ; he had not received that decisive experience which was to give the other disciples their faith in the resurrection. He had merely noticed a strange fact about the wrappings in the tomb. But this was enough for him: he saw and believed (8). We do not know who this disciple was. He appears, again in close company with Peter, both in chapter 13 and in chapter 21. Whether or not he stands for the author of the gospel (see below), he was certainly a person whom the first readers of the gospel knew and whose memory (if he was dead) they revered. His was a powerful example to appeal to; and he, despite such slender and puzzling evidence, had come to that faith in the resurrection which was to be the cardinal belief of the whole church.

However, events moved quickly. According to Matthew and Luke, the discovery of the empty tomb was followed almost at once by supernatural appearances, first to the women, then to the disciples. John faithfully follows the same pattern. Mary of Magdala continues to take the place of the whole group of women, and her vision of angels corresponds to the scene in the other gospels. But this vision leaves her still assuming that there must be some natural explanation of the body's disappearance, so much so that, when Jesus himself appears to her, she immediately (since she does not recognize him) puts the same explanation to the stranger, and asks for his help.

Jesus said, 'Mary!' (16) That simply addressing her by name was enough to open her eyes is a piece of vivid and convincing reporting. The scene is told with a rare simplicity and economy of words. It is of course possible that John meant his readers to have in mind some words that Jesus had spoken earlier: 'he calls his own sheep by name' (10.3). At any rate, there is some serious teaching in the rest of the dialogue. 'Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.' (17) In Matthew, the women who first saw the risen Jesus 'clasped his feet, falling prostrate before him' (28.9). This (John may have felt) was to attach the wrong significance to these appearances of Jesus. They were intended to convince, not to excitc homage. The reader must not be given the impression that the women, or in this case Mary, or indeed any disciple, had been given a chance to know and worship the risen Christ in a way more direct, more personal, more privileged than was given to any subsequent Christian. The Christ whom Christians worshipped was the Christ who had ascended to the Father. If this were imagined in spatial terms, it could be said that Mary saw him, so to speak, on his way to heaven. But the truth behind this naive form of expression was that Mary's experience, though at that particular place and time it was decisive in convincing her and others of the fact of Jesus' resurrection, was in no way more direct or more privileged than all Christians have when they worship their ascended Lord. ← It is impossible to be sure of the exact sense of Jesus' words in the Greek (see the footnote in NEB), and their interpretation must remain uncertain. It is possible that John chose the word "touch" (as it is rendered in the footnote) in order to make a deliberate reference in the Eucharist: Christians "touch" the Lord in the bread they share (compare 1 John 1.1), and this is the authentic way of experiencing him. Jesus forbade Mary to "touch" him in a literal sense, pending the time when all Chrislians would be able to "touch" him in the eucharist.

'But go to my brothers'. That Jesus' followers are his brothers is implied by a saying recorded in the other gospels (Mark 3.35) and is a presupposition of much of his teaching in Matthew's gospel—indeed, in Matthew the risen Jesus actually says to the women who have seen him 'Go and take word to my brothers' (28.10). In this gospel the idea is a new one (though it is perfectly consistent with the teaching so far about Christians being children of God, and friends of Jesus); but even if John was faithfully reproducing some tradition that the risen Jesus had used this very word, he did not miss the opportunity to draw the consequence: God was 'my Father and your Father, my God and your God'. For all the majesty implied in Jesus' ascension, his followers remained in close solidarity with him. In their relationship with God, they were privileged to be his equals.

Mary of Magdala went to the disciples with her news (18). Each of the other gospels suggests an answer to the question why this news had no immediate effect on the disciples (see above on Mark 16.8). John ignores the question. It is as if he is simply following the traditional pattern of Jesus' appearances: first he was seen by some women (or Mary of Magdala), then by the disciples all together. He makes little attempt to link these appearances together in a single coherent narrative. The appearance of Jesus to his disciples late that Sunday evening (19) takes place exactly as if it were the very first of its kind. This, in any case, was doubtless the appearance which was remembered as the most important and authoritative of all. Paul mentions an appearance 'to the Twelve' (1 Corinthians 15.5); and Luke also gives an account of it (24.36-43) which is in many respects similar to this one. John's version has details which are characteristic of this gospel. 'Peace be with you' is doubtless intended (as in 14.27) to be understood as more than a formal greeting; and 'As the Father sent me, so I send you' (21) belongs to the pattern of Jesus' teaching as it is often presented in the Farewell discourses. But the scene as a whole falls into place alongside passages in the other gospels. Just as in Luke there is much emphasis on the fact that the risen Jesus was no mere ghost, so here the apparition, though he enters through locked doors (19), shows the disciples his hands and his side (20). Again, the ending of the scene represents a formal commission given by Jesus to his disciples. Then he breathed on them, saying, 'Receive the Holy Spirit!' (22) It was the distinctive experience of the earliest Christians that, as soon as the church began its existence, it possessed the gift of the Holy Spirit. This spirit was understood in different ways, and had a variety of manifestations. Moreover, there was evidently some doubt about the exact occasion on which it could be said that this new factor had entered the lives of men and women. But all agreed that the Holy Spirit was a reality in the church, and had been so ever since the church began to exist. To describe how in fact it had been given necessarily involved using highly metaphorical language. In Acts 2, Luke narrates a particularly sensational phenomenon which he saw as the definitive irruption of this new power into human lives. Here, John uses a metaphor straight from the Old Testament. "The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2.7; compare Ezekiel 37.7-14). "Breath", in Hebrew, is the same word as "spirit": the giving of the Spirit by Jesus lent itself easily to being described in the same terms as the original giving of the breath of life by God.

'If you forgive any man's sins, they stand forgiven' (23). It is clear (and not at all surprising) that Jesus was remembered to have given to his disciples—and thereby, it has usually been understood, to their successors—a definite authority over the lives of their fellow-Christians. In Matthew (16.19 and 18.18) this is expressed in terms of "forbidding" and "allowing"— apparently an idiom of Jesus' own language, and one that could have been understood in certain rather technical senses. Here, the saying has the same form, but concerns the disciples' power to pronounce the forgiveness of sins. It is likely that it was in this way that Greek-speaking Christians understood the original saying: in the life of the church, it was necessary sometimes to decide whether the conduct of a member made it necessary to exclude him. Authority to do this was found in a saying of Jesus; and John, although he does not elsewhere show interest in the concept of the forgiving of an individual's sins, nevertheless records that Jesus gave this authority to the disciples.

There are traces elsewhere in the gospels that not all the disciples were immediately convinced of the resurrection. In Matthew, there is the laconic statement that 'some were doubtful' (28.17). John, alone of the gospel writers, gives a concrete instance. Thomas, that is ' the Twin' (24), has already been named twice in the course of the gospel (11.16; 14.5); here he is an example of one who refuses to believe without incontrovertible and tangible evidence. When it comes to the point, Jesus' appearance elicits from him what is probably intended to be the most significant confession of faith that has been made by anyone in the gospel: 'My Lord and my God'. Earlier in the narrative this might have been misunderstood: Lord and God were titles which, in the Old Testament, belonged to God alone, and to address Jesus so might have seemed like calling him another "god". But by now the reader knows more of the relationship between Jesus and his Father. Jesus had even said, 'Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father' (14.9). Thomas, like the whole church after him, acknowledged Jesus as Lord; but he now understood also that his Lord was (in one sense at least) God. Nevertheless, in this story, Thomas is no more than a foil to the true picture of the Christian believer. To convince Thomas, Jesus had to make, so to speak, a special appearance. But John was writing for Christians who had come to their faith without demanding an impossible confirmation of it. Fittingly, Jesus' last words are addressed to them: 'Happy are they who never saw me and yet have found faith.'(29)

There were indeed many other signs ... which are not recorded in this book (30). The writer now addresses his readers directly. The signs, in this gospel, are mostly what we should now call miracles; and from a comparison with the other gospels it is quite clear that John has recorded only a small selection of those that were ascribed to Jesus. The same indeed is true of Mark's gospel (1.34); and it is also true that Mark tended, like John, to narrate only those miracles which had a bearing upon faith. John now makes this explicit: Those here written have been recorded in order that you may hold the faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (31). From our point of view, the phrase is disappointingly ambiguous. ← It also appears in more than one form in the manuscripts. See the footnote in NEB. It does not make it clear whether John was writing a missionary book for unbelievers or a treatise for people who were already Christians (an answer to this question can only be given on the basis of the work as a whole). Nevertheless, it effectively sums up the grand purpose for which the gospel was written. The purpose, indeed, was the same as that for which any gospel was bound to be written. Any gospel was, almost by definition, 'of Jesus Christ the Son of God' (Mark 1.1), and it can hardly have had any other purpose than to awaken or to strengthen faith in those who heard it or read it. John's gospel is only different from the others in the way in which he approaches his task. As a summary of the writer's aims, the sentence could stand appropriately the end of any of the gospels. Only the word life is distinctive: almost from the beginning, this has been John's most characteristic and emphatic way of describing the benefits and possibilities which are now open to mankind as a result of the story he has been telling.

Normally, it was only by way of a preface or an epilogue that a writer addressed Ins readers about his own book. The last verse of chapter 20 is a typical way of ending a book; and it is astonishing to find that in fact another chapter follows. This alone would be sufficient to make one suspect that chapter 21 was added after the main work was finished. But there are other oddities.

Chapter 21.

The scene is set by the Sea of Tiberias (1). Nothing has prepared us for this. The disciples were last heard of in Jerusalem. Yet we read that Simon Peter said, 'I am going out fishing' (3), as if he was living the normal life of a fisherman in Galilee. Apart from a kind of editorial comment—this makes the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection from the dead (14)—there is nothing to suggest that the episode belongs to the sequence of events that has just been related. If it is an afterthought by the author of the whole work, one would have expected him at least to have worked it in more neatly. The style is very similar (though there are a few points of detail where one would have expected the writer of the rest of the gospel to express himself differently), and many of the idioms and ideas are found elsewhere in the gospel. But the awkwardness of the join is such that, even though all the manuscripts run straight on from chapter 20 to chapter 21, it seems almost impossible to resist the apparent implication of 21.24 that someone else has had a hand in writing the end of the gospel.

This is my body!

The episode is made up of a number of different elements. The main plot, so to speak, is the story of a group of Galilean fishermen who, after a night's unsuccessful fishing, are told by Jesus to try once more; they then make an astonishingly large catch. A story of this kind is also told by Luke (5.1-11), who places it near the beginning of Jesus' activity, and uses it to explain how Jesus attracted his first disciples. Here it has a more unearthly quality, for it is placed after the resurrection, and Jesus' sudden appearance is as inexplicable as the catch of fish. It is still a wonder story; but its real significance is in the by-plots. The first of these is a delicate balancing of priorities between Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, very much as in the discovery of the empty tomb (20.1-9): Peter took action, but it was the other disciple who first recognized (and believed) that the figure on the shore was Jesus. The second by-plot (which is rather loosely integrated into the main plot, since there is no obvious reason why Jesus should have asked for the disciples' catch of fish, when he already had other fish laid on the fire) is a meal shared by the risen Jesus with his disciples. This, again, has a parallel in Luke (24.30, 36-43), and is described in a way which might well be intended to make the reader think of the eucharist, for the eucharist, the original meal in which Jesus took the bread, and gave it to them (13), was celebrated again and again in the church in the conviction that the risen Lord was present. Besides all this, there is a rich load of symbolism. We are told that the net was full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them (11). The writer hardly intends us to think that someone present counted and remembered the exact number: to give an idea of the size of the catch, a round number would have been at least as impressive. In a culture where the symbolism of numbers meant far more than it does now, it would have been even more obvious that this number had a secret meaning. It happens that the sum of the numbers 1+2 + 3+ ... up to 17 is153; 17 = 10 + 7, and ten and seven were each numbers signifying a perfect whole. By such reasoning, 153 could have been understood to stand as a symbol for the whole of something (the whole of mankind, or the whole of the church). Alternatively, the explanation may be that some naturalists (again perhaps influenced by the arithmetical properties of the number rather than by actual observation) allowed for exactly 153 different species of fish—in which case the number would again be a symbol of totality. Whether either of these explanations is correct we shall never know; but we can be fairly sure that the writer intended something of the kind. And when he goes on to tell us another quite unimportant detail—the net was not torn—we can hardly be wrong in seeing here another symbolical statement. Again, we cannot be sure what is meant; but if the fish in the net represented the totality of peoples who would be brought into the church then the fact that the net was not torn would stand for the unity of the church: for all the great number and diversity of its members, there was no division, no schism. All this may seem rather recondite. But it was Jesus himself who started the metaphor: 'I will make you fishers of men' (Mark 1.17). The rest is only elaboration of this basic idea.

Jesus said to Simon Peter (15). Sayings of Jesus which seemed to assign a special place to Peter among the apostles are recorded in Matthew (16.18) and Luke (22.31-2). At the same time, all the gospels faithfully record Peter's threefold disowning of Jesus during the trial. Here Peter's threefold profession of love ← Two different Greek words are used in this brief dialogue. One of them (agapo) is the one characteristically used in the Gospel and Letters of John for the "love" of Christ and of Christians; the other(philo) is the commonest Greek word for human affcction in general. This alternation may be just a question of style. But in case a distinction is intended, the foot notes in NEB offer a translation which preserves it. for Jesus may be intended to balance his threefold denial; and certainly Jesus' final command to him, 'Follow me' (19), seems to refer back to 13.36, where Jesus said, 'You cannot follow me now, but one day you will'. But the actual form of the commission to Peter is new: 'Feed my sheep' (17). Up to now, Jesus has been the only shepherd. In the period of the church, the shepherding is to be continued by a disciple.

'And further' (18). What follows has a proverbial ring. To walk any distance, a man must hitch up his long clothes by making a fold over his belt, and then fasten his belt tighter. A young man is perfectly independent; but an old man is dependent on others, he can only stretch out his arms for other people to arrange his clothes for him and lead him where they will. Taken by itself, this reads like a pessimistic aphorism, of the kind that is so brilliantly elaborated at the end of Ecclesiastes (12.1-8). What was the application of it for Peter? The writer tells us: He said this to indicate the manner of death by which Peter was to glorify God—in other words, Peter was to find himself as helpless as an old man in the face of those who would put him to death as a martyr for his faith. This comment was clearly written after the event, and is one of our first pieces of evidence that Peter was in fact martyred (probably in Rome, soon after the middle of the first century A.D.). Tertullian, writing a century or so later, knew (or assumed) that Peter had been crucified (and Origen, later still, says that he was crucified, at his own request, head downwards), and saw a prophetic significance in the words stretch out your arms and bind you fast (18). But this interpretation involves a certain forcing of the Greek words. "Another will do up your belt" is a more accurate translation than a stranger will bind you fast. Taken as it stands, the prophecy seems to mean only that Peter would not die a natural death.

On two occasions already in these last chapters, there has been a careful balancing of honours between Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved (20). If Jesus had made a prophecy about Peter's death (and at the time of writing the death of a Christian martyr was much honoured: it was the most esteemed way of all to glorify God), had he not also said something to the other disciple? He had: 'If it should be my will that he wait until I come, what is it to you?' (22) On the face of it, this was less mysterious. For many years after the resurrection, it was believed by the church (here called the brotherhood (23), a word more familiar in Acts than in this gospel), that, though some Christians might die, the majority, or at least a certain number, would "wait until the Lord's coming". This disciple, it seemed, was intended to be one of these. But the "coming" of Jesus did not take place in this way—indeed it has been one of the themes of this gospel that such naive language about the future was in reality only a way of speaking about a new dimension of the present. The disciple died. And it became necessary to draw attention to the oracular ambiguity of what Jesus had said. Correcting this misunderstanding was doubtless one of the objects for which this chapter was added to the completed gospel (25). The writer then provided a new ending, which is little more than a rhetorical flourish such as many ancient writers used, and answers somewhat colourlessly to the real ending of the gospel in 20.30-1. The proper conclusion of this chapter is in the previous verse. Peter may have glorified God by his death; but this disciple gave testimony of another kind: it is this same disciple who attests what has here been written. It is in fact he who wrote it. (24) We hear the voice now, no longer of an author, but of the community which used and treasured this book. They believed, rightly or wrongly, that they had the clue to the mysterious phrase, 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'. It was the author himself. This meant, moreover, that this chapter at least, if not the whole book, had been written by an eye-witness. In an account of Jesus' life and teaching where so much was said to depend on "witness", testimony, here was the ultimate ground for confidence. The author had been there himself. We know that his testimony is true.

An incident in the temple

This passage did not form part of the original gospel according to John. In its traditional place (7.53-8.11) it clearly disturbs the sequence of John's narrative; and in any case most of the early manuscripts omit it altogether, and some manuscripts have it in a different place. In style, it is more like a passage from one of the other gospels (especially Luke, to which one group of manuscripts actually ascribes it). What appears to have happened is that an isolated story about Jesus was somehow preserved without having been incorporated into any gospel until it was ultimately slipped in at some point where it did not seem inappropriate.

A great many stories about Jesus circulated in the first few centuries of the Christian era, but were never incorporated in the New Testament, and are preserved in what are called the Apocryphal gospels. Almost all of these can be recognized as being of considerably later date than the New Testament. By contrast, this one falls well into place beside all that we know of Jesus from the New Testament gospels, and seems (so far as we can tell) to reflect the conditions of Jesus' own time. Even if it is impossible to find a place for it in any of the four gospels, there is no reason to doubt that it preserves an authentic memory of an episode in the life of Jesus.

It is necessary to fill in the background of the incident. The immediate result of a woman committing adultery would have been that her husband would be entitled to divorce her without any financial loss, and that the woman would bear the disgrace of the act among her own family. Where there was doubt about whether adultery had been committed, further evidence might be collected, or the woman might be subjected to a primitive kind of ritual test (Numbers 5). But in this case we are told that the woman was caught in the very act of adultery (8.4), so that there was presumably no doubt about the facts, and the divorce would have followed almost automatically. And there, normally, the affair would have ended. Adultery and divorce in most societies are subjects of civil litigation, and carry no graver consequences; and although laxity in sexual matters was very strongly disapproved of in Jewish society, there was seldom any punishment beyond a certain degree of social disgrace. Nevertheless, in the Law of Moses a more serious view was taken. Adultery was conceived of as something which was both against the will of God and a source of harm to the community as a whole. Consequently the Law (which was still the law by which the Jewish people lived) laid down nothing less than the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22.22). It is unlikely that in more recent times this law was often invoked: adultery, after all, is hard to prove conclusively, and most courts are loth to impose the death penalty unless they have to. On the other hand, there were certainly sections of Jewish opinion which zealously tried to bring the society in which they lived into full conformity with the Law of Moses, and to eradicate conduct which was inconsistent with its demands. Among the doctors of the law and the Pharisees (3) who make their appearance in this story, there may well have been some who felt that this case of an adulteress caught in the very act (4) offered an opportunity for applying the law in all its rigour.

The situation was complicated by the fact that, under the Roman administration, the Jewish authorities had apparently lost the power to impose the death penalty (John 18.31). Those wishing to see the law enforced in its full severity therefore could not hope to get what they wanted through a public trial. Their only course was to constitute themselves as a court and, after making sure that their action was strictly legal according to the Law of Moses, to see justice done themselves. As for the sentence, the relevant passage of Deuteronomy did not prescribe exactly how this was to be carried out; but death by stoning was one of the standard punishments mentioned in the Law, and it is fairly certain that this was the accepted penalty for adultery in the time of Jesus (though it was later changed to the somewhat more humane one of strangling). It was therefore a fair summary of the situation to say that 'in the Law Moses has laid down that such women are to be stoned'.

In this particular case, zeal for the full application of the Law was doubtless combined with a desire to compromise Jesus. It was courteous and reasonable to invite someone who had made a name for himself in expounding the Law to give his judgement in such a matter; but against the background of a growing conspiracy against Jesus, the case seemed to offer a handle to his enemies. If Jesus recommended the Mosaic Law to be enforced, he could be accused to the Roman authorities of interfering in their administration of the province. If he did not, he would be showing that he did not take the Law seriously, and therefore had no right to expound it. In some such way as this, the narrator may be right in saying, They put the question as a test, hoping to frame a charge against him (6).

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. It is possible that he wrote some Hebrew characters, say the first few words of a text from the Law which bore on the case at issue; the advantage of doing this would have been that it is sometimes possible to read Hebrew words with more than one pronunciation, and so to give them more than one meaning: writing the words, instead of speaking them, would have been a way of pointing out a number of possible meanings in a clause of the Law. Alternatively, Jesus was just thinking—his writing on the ground may simply be a vivid touch by which the narrator tells his readers that, on this occasion, Jesus gave no snap answer.

And no wonder. Not only his own position, but the woman's life, was at stake. When it did come, his answer did not for a moment take lightly (lie binding force of the law about adultery; but by invoking another basic principle of the Law, it at once cast the whole matter in a different light. To convict on a capital charge, the evidence of at least two witnesses was necessary. To a certain extent their evidence could be checked by examination in court. But in a Jewish court, what carried weight most was the known character and probity of the witnesses. The judges required, not so much independent proof of their story, as reason to believe that the witnesses were trustworthy. If the court was convinced of this, no more questions need be asked: sentence was given and the witnesses had the right and the duty to throw the first stones (Deuteronomy 17.7). In view of this heavy responsibility of the witnesses, there was a large number of conditions they had to fulfil before their word could be accepted. If their probity was questioned, they had to show that they had not been implicated in any way with the crime they had witnessed nor with any other unlawful proceeding. The penalties for giving and accepting evidence when all these conditions were not fulfilled were heavy: both witnesses and judges would be implicated in the grave sin of bearing false witness. Jesus was in effect challenging those who in this case had claimed to have been witnesses of the very act of adultery. It was all very well to insist on a literal application of the Law of Moses in the interests of a high standard of morality. But had these zealous reformers considered that they must also observe an equally high standard of probity as witnesses and judges? 'That one of you who is faultless shall throw the first stone.' (7)

Jesus had extricated himself and saved the woman. Under these circumstances, no one had dared pronounce the death sentence, no witness had dared insist on exercising the witnesses' right to cast the first stone. In the absence of the witnesses, Jesus, even if he had wanted to, was in no position to do so himself. 'Do not sin again'. From a judge, this would have been a significant warning: on a subsequent occasion, the woman would have been that much more obviously guilty. But Jesus was now alone with her. His words were not the decision of a court, but expressed what he really felt. The letter of the Law of Moses was not to be enforced. There would be no punishment. But this made no difference to the seriousness of the woman's offence. 'Do not sin again'.