Lesson 05 - Luke and John
Course: New Testament Introduction
Lecture: Luke and John
We were talking about Luke writing for Gentiles, and he had to audience his material in a way that this audience would understand. His methodology, however, is very definitely the methodology of a historian.
What's interesting about that is that while Matthew arranges the teaching material topically - okay? Luke arranges material like a student writing a term paper. He Source A, then he goes to Source B. Then he goes to Source A, then he goes to Source B. Then he goes to Source A, then he goes to Source B, which is how ancient historians wrote their documents.
So if you were to look at the structure of the Gospel of Luke, what you have interestingly enough is a block of Markan material followed by a block of non-Markan material, followed by a block of Markan material, followed by a block of non-Markan material, etc., etc., et ad nauseam. That's' how he arranges his material, and when he does that he's following the practices of ancient historians who were writing first century and even earlier Greek history.
The other interesting thing he does, is he's trying to arrange his material geographically, as well. You can see this better in Acts than you can in the gospel, but basically his gospel has a "to Jerusalem" orientation, and Acts is from Jerusalem to a world, including and finishing in Rome. Are you with me now? You get the picture?
So the geographical funnel in the gospel is to Jerusalem, going up from Galilee to Jerusalem. In the middle of Luke's gospel we hear he's set his face like a flint to go up to Jerusalem. The gospel has this to Jerusalem orientation. So strong is that to Jerusalem orientation in this gospel, that in fact, he leaves out all the appearances of Jesus in Galilee. Have you noticed that?
All of the appearance stories that show up in Luke's gospel are in or around Jerusalem. The one that's the furthermost astray is on the road to Emmaus.
The resurrection Easter appearance stories don't include any of the appearances of Jesus in Galilee. Why? Well, this is a schematization. He's providing a to Jerusalem orientation in his gospel and a from Jerusalem to the world, including to the heart of the empire in Rome in the Book of Acts.
So, he's arranged his material geographically like an ancient historian and geographer would do in various ways. That affects the way he presents the material, and where he houses certain kinds of material here, there and yonder. That sort of portion of Luke's gospel that are after the birth narratives and before the Passion narrative - he's arranging that very clearly according to historiographical precedence of how you arrange your material. Okay? That's what he's doing as an historian.
Now here's the interesting - Then I have this up here, of the Gospel of Mark, Luke uses only 55 percent of the Markan material we have in Mark's gospel. Okay? What percentage did I tell that you of Mark's material that we find in Matthew?
Audience member: 95 percent.
95 percent. A huge difference. An enormous difference. And the reason Luke is doing less is because he's got a lot more unique material. There is a lot more "Special L" material; uniquely Lukan material in Luke that than there is "Special M" material in the Gospel of Matthew.
In order to make room for things like the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus and the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee and all kinds of other uniquely Lukan stories - the way he makes room for that is he's uses less of Mark. That's -
Because why? Because he has a limit to the size of the document. Right? It's not because he doesn't like Mark. It's because he really wants to include this unique material. Here's the other thing: Luke is writing, knowing that there are other gospels out there, so he doesn't feel it absolutely incumbent upon him to simply repeat everything that was in previous gospels.
It's clear to me he knew Mark. It's possible that he knew Matthew. I'm not clear about that. It's possible he knew Matthew, but most certainly he knew Mark.
Here's the other interesting thing: Of the Markan material that he takes over, it's not only 55 percent of Mark that he takes over in the Markan material, he repeats it 55 percent verbatim. Which is a bit more than Matthew does. In terms of the actual verbiage, the vocabulary, etc.
He's very faithful to his Markan source when he's repeating Mark. Okay? Very little stylistic variation here, there and yonder. So, he's presenting himself as a careful historian, even to those who may have read Mark's gospel. You know, they might say, "Oh, I've read Mark. Now I'm reading Luke. Why the heck did Luke say this, but Mark said this?"
You know, he's careful when he's dealing with that Markan material. Here's the other thing about Luke that I really would want to stress to you as a historian. He's trying to avoid anachronism. Now remember what I mean by anachronism. The reading back into the past of something that wasn't a part of the past. Okay?
Let me give you an example of how he avoids anachronism while still addressing a Christian audience. Turn with me, if you will, to Luke, Chapter 7. (pause)
We're going to deal with the story about the widow of Nain's son. A uniquely Lukan story, one of many. Okay? This is verse 11 of chapter 7 of Luke.
"Now soon afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain." Which by the way, is just a stone's throw from Nazareth. "And his disciples in a large crowd went with him and as he approached the gates of the town a man who had died was being carried out. A young man. He was his mother's only son, and she was now a widow. With her was a large crowd from the town."
Notice this next verse. "And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion for her and said to her, 'Do not weep'."
Now, what I want you to notice is the use of the term "Kurios" here. Lord, okay? For us this is no big deal. Well, of course Jesus is Lord. But, in fact, Jesus was not called Lord with a capital "L" before Easter. So what Luke does is very interesting. No where in Luke's gospel is Jesus addressed as Lord with a capital "L" in the dialogue. Okay? Are you with me now?
In the sayings of Jesus and in the dialogues with Jesus nobody calls him Lord with a capital "L". We do have this word, and there is a difference. We have a vocative that is Kyrie. This is what we'd call the Lord with a little "l" like lords and ladies. It's a term of respect meaning good sir. Right? It would be the ancient equivalent of "sir". You know?
So, for example, Jesus says, "No one who says 'Kyrie, Kyrie' is necessarily going to get into the kingdom of God. He's not talking about "calling me Lord, calling me Lord". He's talking about no one simply says "respected sir, respected sir" has automatically got a free ticket into the kingdom of God.
Audience member: (coughing)
So the word "Lord" is not used in its post-Easter sense in the dialogue in Luke's gospel, but in the framework of Luke's gospel. In the narrative framework, where it's Luke addressing the audience, like this verse, he's going to call him Lord because of course, He is Luke's Lord, and He is the Theophilus's Lord. You see what I'm getting at?
He's very careful not to read back into the ministry of Jesus language that would be post-Easter language. He's very careful about that. Well, that's a historical concern, of trying to avoid an anachronism and this is a good example of this. Okay?
Call Jesus "Lord" in the narrative that you're narrating to somebody, but you wouldn't want to have the characters who are, after all, all Jews talking like post-Pentecost Christians, because they didn't. Right? So, that's the issue. That's a historical issue that's the important one.
Now there's several other things to say about the Gospel of Luke that I would like you to understand. One of the things is, is that it does seem clear to me that Luke is concerned with apologetics because of who he's written this gospel to, namely Theophilus. But a Gentile, maybe his patron, maybe a god-fearer, in any case a new Christian.
One of the things he is concerned about is to make clear to Theophilus that Christianity first of all is a legitimate religion, secondly Christianity is not simply Judaism, Part II, the sequel, and thirdly, Christianity is no threat to the Roman Empire.
Now this is very important to Luke. You can see this more in the Book of Acts than you see it in the gospel, but you definitely see it in the trial scenes in the gospel. What does Pilate in Luke's gospel say over and over about Jesus? Is he guilty or innocent?
Pilate, in Luke's gospel repeats over and over again, "I can find no fault in this man." Now what's the point of that? The point is, that the Roman judicial process does not think he's guilty of treason.
Why is this so important to a brand new religion? Any religion that didn't have the official endorsement of the Roman Empire was considered a superstition and illegal.
Are you with me now? Judaism was a licit, or legal, religion. Luke is arguing Christianity should just as much be a legal religion as Judaism is. That's part of what he's arguing for here and the way he presents the inner changes between Roman authorities and either Jesus or his successors.
So, for example, fast forward to the story about Paul in the pokey in Philippi. Remember this story? What happens in this story? Well, he's incarcerated for preaching away and doing this that and the other in Philippi and you know, being some kind of public nuisance and all of that. And, there's this earthquake. You know the whole story, right?
But what happens at the end of the story is crucial. Paul refuses to leave jail. Why? He refuses to leave jail until he gets a public apology for being wrongly incarcerated, especially since, as a Roman citizen, no Roman citizen should have ever been jailed without benefit of a fair trial first.
This did not happen. He's a victim of malpractice of jurisprudence. He says, "I'm going to stay right here until you apologize." You know? And you can actually hear the Philippian official, which was a Roman colony city, in other words it was a city run on the model of Rome with Rome's law. Philippi had been a Greek city. It was not a Greek city any more. It was a Roman colony city and it's law was Roman law. Okay?
Paul says, "Not to mention I'm a Roman citizen." And now the guy's really swallowing hard. (swallowing sound) "What? You're a Roman citizen? Oh, dear."
Slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. Drop off the key, Lee. Set yourself free. I don't want this trouble any more. Okay? Get out of town!
He suddenly realized that he has shamed a Roman citizen and not given him due process. Well you see, Luke is concerned to make clear that Christianity is not inherently a threat to Roman jurisprudence. It's not a new revolution. It's not a slave revolt. It's not a militaristic movement, even though it talks about kings and kingdoms. Okay?
Well, that's a hard message to get across, because anytime you start talking about kingdoms you're talking about a king. In the ancient world you don't have kings that don't have weapons. You know? You don't have kings that lead rebellions against the Roman Empire.
So, the way that Luke couches the presentation of the gospel in both his gospel in Acts is he's trying to show apologetically to Theophilus, and whoever else will listen, that Christianity should be seen as a genuine, legitimate option in the pluralistic options of religions in the Roman Empire, and you don't need to worry that it's subversive. I mean, that's the bottom line. You don't need to worry that it's subversive.
And, of course, then that makes sense all the more of this huge portion of Acts devoted to the trial of Paul, which goes on ad infinitum, ad nauseam to the end of the book. He gets a free ride to Rome on a grain freighter with a Roman centurion. Why? Because he's appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen. Right?
So, he's vindicated in Jerusalem. Phæstus and Felix can't convict him of anything, and when there's any danger of malfeasance, he simply says, "I appeal to Caesar." And he's off to Rome.
At the end of the book, what happens? He's preaching freely in Rome while under house arrest and probably busily converting all these nice little Roman soldiers that are chained to his wrist. Talk about having a captive audience.
"You know Publius, I'm glad you're here for today. There's a lot you're going to hear. Some of my disciples will be visiting me in this house, and then some synagogue officials, and while we're here it would be good if you would listen as well.”
And, of course, Paul brags about this in Philippians. He talks about how he converted various members of the Praetorian guard who had come to guard him. In Luke Acts there is an apologetic bent to the document to make clear that Christianity is user friendly for the Roman Empire.
Now, I think that's very clear and that it is not subversive. I think that shapes the way he does his two volumes as historian. He's doing an apologia, which doesn't mean he's going around saying, "I'm ever so sorry for Christianity. I just apologized," when apologia means a defense of the faith and that's what he's doing.
Audience member: What were the time frames for the writing of Luke and Acts?
Well, I think it, of course it comes after Mark, and I think it probably comes after Matthew. So, it's probably in the '80s.
Audience member: Both of them?
Yes. I think it's one and then the other. You know, one after the other.
Now here's another little footnote that you would not get unless you were reading some detailed commentary on Luke Acts. What's interesting to me is that Acts looks like it went through a process of refinement and editing more than the gospel did. Okay?
It looks to me like Luke began working backwards, producing a smoother version of Acts because the gospel actually after the first two really beautiful chapters has more grammatical, iffy bits and sentence structured question marks. It looks like Acts got a second edition. The version of Acts that we have looks like it had a second - got a second edition whereas the Gospel of Luke looks like it's still the first draft, from a grammatical, syntactical and vocabulary point of view.
Nevertheless, Luke Acts together has some of the best Greek in all of the New Testament, and rightly so. Alright, we're going to move on.
We're now going to move on to the fourth gospel, and as I said, this is a whole different ball of wax. Yes, Cathy?
Cathy: ...Can I ask a question?
Cathy: ...way earlier?
Cathy: [inaudible 0:17:52] question about the son of man conversation.
Cathy: Your books were really [inaudible 0:17:56] talks to him about [inaudible 0:17:58] misuse...
Cathy: When you were reading from Daniel 7 you said, "Humans [crosstalk 0:18:05]
Cathy: How can we [inaudible 0:18:07] of those things when we do translations [crosstalk 0:18:11]...
Cathy: [inaudible 0:18:11 to 0:18:13] completely different in Daniel [inaudible 0:18:14] no way he would [inaudible 08:16]
Here's what I think. I think that you don't mess with technical phrases that are dependent in their very wording on some earlier portion of scripture that gives you a context for understanding. If you just call Jesus a son of humanity, it just means He's a human being and you completely miss the Daniel context.
The reason for sticking with son of man is not just because Jesus is a male, although that's true. The reason for sticking with this is that what is being said here is that that figure back there in Daniel 7 is the particular son of man he's talking about. He's not just talking about, for example, the son of man referred to in Psalm 8.Which is just - where it just means human being, right?
See, there's another whole side to this which makes this important. That is, that you may notice that there are no son of man phrases in Paul's letters anywhere. He does not ever call Jesus the son of man. In fact, the phrase son of man applied to Jesus doesn't occur anywhere out of the gospels in Acts. It never happens, except in the Book of Revelation. But in the Book of Revelation it's simply a quoting of Daniel. It's not a quoting of a saying of Jesus. It's the quoting of Daniel, and that's a whole different ballgame. Right?
Here's what I think is happening here. Instead of son of man, Paul has a different word. He wants to call Christ the last Adam. Now this is a theologically loaded phrase. You could actually call him the eschatological Adam. The eschatos Adam. The last Adam. Okay?
What Paul may have deduced from the use of Jesus's use of son of man is that Jesus's claiming to be the founder of the race of human beings all over again. He's Adam gone right. Whereas the first Adam was Adam gone wrong. And so we have two passages in Paul's letters Romans 5:12-21 and I Corinthians 15:45 and following where we hear about the last Adam as opposed to the first Adam. Okay? You with me now?
Well, that image to a Jew is this person is the last founder of the human race. This is the last chance the human race has to start over again and it started over with Jesus. Right?
It may be that this is Paul's way of using the concept of son of man to convey that idea to Gentiles who would not know the Old Testament. I mean, calling Jesus the son of man would not set off any royal, regal or messianic bells for a Gentile unless they knew the Old Testament. Even then they would have to know a specific portion of the Old Testament. They'd have to know Daniel for it to have anything - mean anything other than a mere human being. Right?
When you're dealing with a technical phrase like son of man, it seems to have a theologically charged sense and context. That's when I say to the translator, "Don't mess with this." The reason not to is that what you will do is you will dumb down the phrase to a level that nobody will hear the echo of Daniel here. Nobody will understand that this is a loaded term. It's not just claiming Jesus is truly human. It's claiming far more than that. So, it's always tricky how you're going to translate Christological terms like this. Okay?
Ordinary human terms like, you know, Peter is addressing an audience of both me and women. In the Greek it simply says men, it may even say males, andres, you know. But he means men and women. I have no problems with a translation that's inclus - gender inclusive because it's clear that the audience is both men and women. Okay?
That's just a reflex of a patriarchal culture. That's all. There's not a theological issue here. I don't have a problem with a translation that wants to - which Paul says brothers in Christ and it's clear from the letter he's addressing people like Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians, and he means brothers and sisters in Christ. I don't have a problem with the translation that instead of just saying brothers "x" he's going to translate this "brothers and sisters" because the context makes clear he's addressing men and women. Okay?
If he's addressing only a male audience, that's a different ballgame. It's fine just to say brothers there. So - I mean, first of all, inclusive language is an issue at the anthropological level, and I don't there are problems with that. The places where you get into sticky water is when you start talking about inclusive language applied to Christological language or even straight forward theological language.
So lets talk just a minute - since this is such an important theological issue lets talk about this. Premise number one is that as Jesus Himself says, "God is spirit. God in the divine nature is neither male nor female." Okay?
Sorry Mormons, you're wrong. That's just bad theology. God is spirit. The Son of God, however, has a human nature which is male, but it's His human nature that is male. It's not the divine nature that is male.
Now here's where it really gets interesting. I argued this at some length in my little tiny book called "Shadow of the Almighty". What's interesting to me is how seldom father language comes up in the Old Testament for God. For example, have you noticed that nowhere in the Old Testament is God addressed in prayer as "Father"? There's not a single example of that in the Old Testament.
That's a shocker. When you turn to the New Testament and in John's gospel alone God is called "Father" 145 times. Wow! What a contrast from the Old Testament. You know?
One of the typical arguments of radical feminists is that calling God "Father" is just a reflex of patriarchal culture. Off with his head. We don't like this language any more. it conjures up images of bad human fathers. Lets not go there. Right?
This is problematic for several reasons. First of all, Jesus taught us to pray to God as "Father". So you're going to do theology quite specifically against the recommendation of the second person of the Trinity. That's a problem, you know? That's a theological problem right there.
But the other point that they think they have made they have not made. God is rarely called "Father" in the Old Testament and it actually has nothing whatsoever to do when He is called that, with Him being a great white male in the sky.
What it has to do with is that God is the generator. He's the Creator. He's the creator of Creation, He's the creator of his own people. When He's called Father it has to do with the role that He plays, not His identity but His role that He plays as a father in relationship to His people. Okay?
But even then, God is not addressed in prayer as "Father" in the Old Testament. So when you get to this plethora of references to God as "Father" in all the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, it's not because they are repristinizing a patriarchal culture and calling it good. That's not what's happening here.
The reason God is called "Father" in the New Testament is because in the first instance He is the father of Jesus Christ. Let's be very clear about this. Jesus is the only begotten son of the Father. We are adopted sons and daughters of God. He's the only begotten son of the Father.
I was teaching Sunday school in Durham, England when I was doing my doctoral work and this sweet little eight-year-old British girl who was just bright as a button came up to me at Christmas and said, (with British accent) "Let me see if I've got this right. If - if God is Jesus's father - " You could just hear the wheels turning. " - and Mary is Jesus's mother, were God and Mary married? And if not -" Wheels turning. "- was Jesus illegitimate?"
Now this is a better question than I get from some seminary students. You know? This is a very good question. Why does Jesus call God "Abba"? It's because He is His Abba. He is His father. That's the facts, Jack. That's it. It's a theological thing. He's the only begotten son of the Father.
God from God, light from light, etc., etc., etc. That's who He is. And here's the thing - we get in on the deal. We get to call God Abba when we become the adopted sons and daughters of God through Christ who is the only begotten son.
So this language of God as Abba doesn't come to us through the patriarchal culture but through the unique relationship of Jesus with God. That's where it comes from, and that's a theological principal, not a cultural principal. And therefore, I'm saying lets not mess with the theological language for God.
Now - I'm all for using all the Biblical images for God that we have in the Bible, and some of the images of God are female. God, like a mother nurtured his people. God like a mother nursed his children. Okay? You have images like this. Use them. It's okay. It's in the Bible. Right?
It reminds us that God is neither male nor female in the divine nature. Use all of the Biblical images. Don't limit the images of God that you use to just a few narrow ones that might convey to somebody that God is either a male or a female, or both. You know? That's a problem. Use all of the Biblical images for God.
But when God is named, God is never called a "she" in the Bible, and there was a specific reason for that as well. Because the only "she" goddesses out there were fertility goddesses and that's the last thing that the Biblical God should have been called. God is not a god of the crop cycle. God is not a god of fertility, like Ba'al, the storm and fertility deity, you know.
At the end of the day when I'm dealing with translators, I'm going to tell them, "You be very careful how you handle the God language because you're going to offend all kinds of people for theological reasons. Not incidental reasons, theological reasons you're going to upset them, if you mess with the God language.
I think the same is true with son of man. Lets not mess with that because it will dumb it down in such that nobody will get the theological overtones. Lets not mess with that. After all, He was a man. Jesus was not a girl. I'm sorry. He wasn't. So it's okay to call him son of man anyhow. That's how I would deal with that.
At the anthropological level, be inclusive. Call them brothers and sisters if it's brothers and sisters that are addressed. Call them men and women if they're both addressed, you know. Don't translate the word "anthrópos" as mankind. Translate it as humankind if you're talking about an inclusive group. Okay? That's fine. Call them humankind. That's fine. That's what I would say about inclusive language.
Alright. We need to get on with the Gospel of John. An hour of Sturm und Drang and the Gospel of John, you cannot go wrong. This is powerful stuff.
One of my favorite quotes from Ernst Kasemann and his famous commentary on the Gospel of John is he saith, "Wheresoever I look in the Gospel of John, Jesus bestrides the stage of history like a deity."
It's very clear in the Gospel of John that the divinity of Christ is more clearly portrayed, more openly portrayed, more vividly portrayed than in the synoptics. I mean, I think that's very fair to say. It's only in the Gospel of John that Jesus starts saying things like, "Before Abraham was, I am." Hello? You know? Okay.
It's only in the Gospel of John that we start with "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God." That's only in the Gospel of John. So, yes, there is no messianic seeker in the Gospel of John. It's right out there in the open.
I think there's a reason for that. I think the three synoptic gospels were written to Christians, for Christians to use for discipling purposes. Okay? I think the Gospel of John has a different purpose. He tells us what the purpose is in John 20. What does he say? "These things have been written in order that might begin to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Okay?
John 20, Purpose Statement: These things are written in order that you might begin to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In other words, the Gospel of John is intended as a tool for evangelism. Matthew, Mark and Luke intended as a tool for discipleship.
What's the difference? A huge difference, and what you need to be clear about in evangelism is both the divinity and the humanity of Christ. You've got to be clear in evangelism about that.
So, I think this was intended as a tool, not to be handed out as a tract, but to be used for evangelism purposes. These stories are framed deliberately, beautifully framed as tools for evangelism. So what we going to see is a whole stream of different kind of people coming to Jesus that need to be evangelized: A Nicodemus, a Samaritan woman, the Greeks, Jewish authorities, the high and mighty, the low, slaves, centurions.
You've got everybody coming to Jesus and here's another interesting thing about all of that. In the Gospel of John, people seem to be attracted to Jesus by some kind of spiritual gravity. I mean, have you noticed that there is no going and calling disciples by the Sea of Galilee? You don't have the calling of James and John the fisherman by the Sea of Galilee. You don't have that story in the Gospel of John at all.
People are seeking Jesus. "We would see Jesus," say the Greeks. This was the seeker gospel. This was the vineyard gospel. Are you with me now? Are you getting the picture? This is the seeker friendly gospel. Use it. It's important. It's the evangelist's gospel and I think that's part of the nodal instinctual understanding of translators.
This is why they began with the Gospel of John. They'd like us to believe in Jesus. Start there, it's a good place to start.
Another thing that's been said about the Gospel of John that is so true and so powerful is that John's gospel is deep enough for an elephant to drown in, but shallow enough for a baby to wade in it. Just depends on what level you plug into this gospel. It can be profound in its theological depth. I mean, you knew that from the very beginning.
When I'm reading John, Chapter 1 the prologue, the Word of God prologue, I'm hearing Wagner's Die Walküre in the background. (musically) Dun-dun, ta-de dun dun, dun -
In the beginning was the word. It's like the beginning of Star Trek, you know? "Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away." I mean, we're having this huge run-up from all eternity that all of a sudden Jesus comes on the stage of human history. It's a huge run-up to get to the story of John the Baptist and Jesus at the beginning of this gospel.
This gospel goes from eternity to eternity, you know? (chuckles) To eternity and beyond is this gospel's thing, you know? And so, you know from the very first 14 verses you're in deep theological waters. Right?
And out author is going to focus on the theological significance of Jesus in a way into a depth that the other gospels do not. It is not an accident that it was this gospel that got debated at the Counsil of Nicea. It was this gospel that got debated at the Counsil of Chalcedon, and was the basis of the Nicene Creed, and the basis of the Chalcedonian creed.
This was the gospel that helped to firm up what our Christology should be if we are orthodox. It is a theologically profound gospel. Now, here's another thing you need to understand. This gospel is full of irony. What is irony?
Irony is when you say one thing but may mean more than you realized you said, or you say one thing and you really mean another. This gospel is loaded with irony. For example, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Caiaphas says, "I know how to solve this problem. Lets kill him."
Oh, that's going to work. He's just raised the dead, so lets kill him. Hmmmm. If it can happen once, it can happen twice, you know. But then Caiaphas says this, "Didn't you know it was necessary for one man to die for the nation so that the nation doesn't have to perish?" Now there's irony.
Oh, he's said a lot more than he realized. That's right, but not in the way you mean it, Caiaphas. Not in the way you mean it.
This gospel is loaded with irony. It's also got two levels of discourse. There is the mundane, ordinary level and then there's the deeper level. Jesus's disciples are always hearing him at the mundane level, whereas he's actually talking about something much deeper.
Remember the Samaritan woman's story? They offer him food. They've gone to Hardee's for takeout, right? And they've come back after this dialogue that Jesus has had at the Samaritans, you know? And then they've come back from the village with their little bag lunches. They're offering Jesus some food and Jesus says "I have food that you know not of."
They're going, "Was there another drive-thru that we missed?"
No, I'm thinking not! You see? See, they're thinking on a very mundane level and he's talking about something that's feeding his soul. Namely the conversion of the Samaritan woman. He's talking about a different kind of food, and a different kind of eating, altogether.
So, there are two levels of discourse going on. These are complex narratives, and you can see that Jesus says, "Nicodemus you must be born again," and Nicodemus thinks he's talking about physical rebirth.
Not so much. He's talking about a different and deeper kind of being born, you see. This gospel is complex. It has depth and character to it. And it is a very specifically schematized gospel.
This is probably the last gospel to be written but it is based on the testimony of an eyewitness. The eyewitness is the beloved son. We will say more about that in a minute.
I think he's a Judean disciple. I think that the best probability is that it's Lazarus. And that brings in a whole other equation here because, dear friends, being raised from the dead is a heady thing. That will change your world view. If Jesus has raised you from the dead that will definitely change your world view. That will rewind your mind and rethread your head about what is reality and what is not. Right?
I do think that this gospel is looking at Jesus through the eyes of resurrection, from the beginning to the end. I think that's pretty clear. That's one of the reasons this gospel of looks so different than the synoptics, but it's by no means the other only reason.
Let me go ahead now and just tell you why I think the beloved disciple is:
A. A Judean disciple; and
B. Likely to be Lazarus
Okay. Here are some fast facts. None of the unique Galilean stories about the sons of Zebedee are found in John's gospel. That is, the calling of the Zebedee's - not mentioned. That time when the Zebedee's were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration - not mentioned. That time that James, John and Peter went in and saw him raise Jairus's daughter - nowhere mentioned in this gospel.
I could keep going. All of the special or unique stor - You know, when James and John say, "Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, we want a favor. We want the box seats on your right and your left."
This story is so not in the gospel of John. Alright. None of the unique sons of Zebedee stories are in John. In fact, the word Zebedee occurs like once in the Gospel of John and it's in the appendix, John 21. Okay?
So, there is no focus on the Zebedee boys in this gospel. They have bit parts. They were mentioned in passing, and none of the special stories that they would have had insider knowledge on is even related in this gospel.
Now, if John's son of Zebedee was the author of this gospel what would you expect? There is an emphasis on eyewitness testimony. I'm thinking they're going to tell the story of their own calling by Jesus. I'm thinking they're going to tell the stories especially where they had unique insight into Jesus and the other disciples didn't get to participate. Okay?
We don't have any of that. None of that in this gospel. Alright? No, instead we have a very different perspective.
Let's go to the other end of the gospel. In John 21 in the appendix we hear about Peter and the beloved disciple. Now we've heard about Peter and the beloved disciple before running to the tomb. Okay? The author is very careful to not name the beloved disciple, nor does he mention John's son of Zebedee, aka the beloved disciple, at all.
In John, Chapter 11 we have the very first use of the phrase "the one whom Jesus loved". The Greek is very clear. This is what it says: "Now a certain man was ill. Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha -"
Mary was that one who had anointed Jesus with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was ill, so the sister sent a message to Jesus: "Lord, the disciple whom you love is ill." Now this is the only named disciple in this whole she-bang called the Gospel of John that is called the one whom Jesus loves. It's the only one.
If you're hearing the Gospel of John seriatim, the first time you hear the phrase "the one whom Jesus loved" is here. Not in the first ten chapters of John; nowhere. It's right here in the Greek. Is it any accident that thereafter in John 12 and John 13 we hear about the beloved disciple who reclines with Jesus at table? No.
And where does he recline with Jesus at table? In Galilee? Not so much. In Judea. In Bethany. John 11, "Lazarus identified as the beloved disciple." John 12, "Anointing of Jesus in the house of Lazarus." Are you with me now? John 13, another meal in Bethany, he reclines on a couch with the beloved disciple.
Now just a little bit about food protocol. The normal practice at a reclining dinner, a formal dinner in Jesus's world, was that the chief guest reclines on the same couch as the host. So who's the host of this meal? The beloved disciple is the host of the meal. Where does this meal take place in John 13? Survey says -
Audience member: Lazarus's house.
Yes. It takes place in Judea and more specifically in the larger environs of Jerusalem. That's where this meal takes place.
I'm reading John 11. I'm reading John 12. I'm reading John 13. If I'm hearing this with fresh ears for the first time, it's a no-brainer. I know who the beloved disciple is because I already heard John 11 - it's Lazarus. It's the only thing that makes sense, and boy this makes sense of so much else that follows from this.
In the synoptics we are told that not one of the Twelve gets near the cross when Jesus is crucified.
Dr.Witherington: But the beloved disciple wasn't one of the Twelve. He wasn't one of the Galilean dirty dozen. He was a Judean disciple, on top of which he was a Judean disciple that was a prominent person. When he dies, in John 11, who comes to the funeral? The Jewish officials from Jerusalem. That's who the Jews are in John 11. I mean, everybody there is a Jew. Why are some of them singled out as "the Jews who are present at Lazarus's - ?
It's because the phrase means the Jewish officials there. The Jewish officials are present at the grieving and mourning time for Lazarus and they are there to see the raising of Lazarus. So what do they do? They go and tattletale to Caiaphas.
"You won't believe what just happened. We were out there mourning Lazarus and four days after he was dead, who knew? He was raised from the dead."
"I know how to solve this," says Caiaphas, "lets kill them both."
Hmmm. What's wrong with this picture?
But here's the other thing. Caiaphas lives in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. The beloved disciple knows where his house is. Not only does he know where his house is, he has an all access pass into Caiaphas's house. He's the only one who gets beyond the guards.
Remember when Jesus was taken to Annas's and Caiaphas's house in John, Chapter 18? What happens? The beloved disciple gets in and then brings Peter in. How did that happen? Well guess what - the people in Caiaphas's house already knew who the beloved disciple was. They're chums.
This is not some Galilean disciple leaping the wall into Caiaphas's house. It's a Judean disciple named Lazarus whom they already knew. A high-status Jew whom they knew. That's how it happened.
Look at the cross. What happens at the cross? Who's there? According to the Gospel of John there's Mary, Mary, Mary and Mary. Got enough Marys there at the cross? There was Mary, Mary, Mary and Mary and two of those Marys were sisters. And, by the way, yes they did that in antiquity. Imagine if you had three daughters all named Mary. This is Big Mary, this is Little Mary and this is Mary who sings. Okay?
Alright. You know, their lexicon was narrow. Well, what's interesting is that the only male who was there at the cross is the beloved disciple, and it's not one of the Twelve. It's the Judean disciple.
That means that the synoptics don't contradict John. What the synoptics say is the Twelve did what? They denied, they betrayed and they deserted Jesus. They were not there at the crucifixion.
The female disciples were there. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, others - they were there. Jesus's mother showed up. Jesus's mother's sister showed up. Mary Magdalene showed up and was right there at the cross, but the only male who was there was the beloved disciple and that would be probably Lazarus.
I mean, I could keep going.
Have you noticed you need to compare what happens in John 12 and Mark 12? It's the same story. An annoying anointing that upsets Judas Iscariot. Remember this? Who's doing the anointing? It's Mary of Bethany doing the anointing, but in Mark she's anonymous. In John we have specificity. We know exactly who does the anointing. It's Mary of Bethany. Okay? It's clearly the same story, happens in a house in Bethany.
Mark says it happened in the house of Simon the Leper. Now, lets really put on our Sherlock Holmes hat. (musically) Ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum. Okay?
Lets connect the dots. Are you with me now? Watch the bouncing ball.
The first story about anybody in that house having a meeting with Jesus is when Jesus visits Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. You know the story.
Martha's trying to be the hostess with the mostest, Mary's saying, "Not so much. I'm listening to Disciple 101 here. Don't bother me. We'll get the food later."
Jesus says, "You know, Mary has chosen the better portion. Martha, cool it."
Right? You remember the story, right? Here's what's odd about this story.
A. Jesus is alone. The disciples are not with him. These are grown women. Why aren't they married? Then there's Lazarus. Where does he live? He lives in the same house.
Why isn't he married? I'll tell you why. You know who their daddy was? Simon the Leper. How did early Jews feel about leprosy? Did it make a person unclean? Out of bounds? Outcast? Oh, yes. You are so not marrying somebody who's father died of leprosy, for fear of contracting the disease from the son or the daughter.
Now this is very interesting. Lazarus died prematurely. What did he die of? It could well have been Hansen's disease. We know that Hansen's disease - we now know, because we've found evidence of it on a corpse, in bone marrow in Judea. He could well have died of Hansen's disease, which indeed it is contagious. Okay?
Jesus had a special love for this family, and here' something about Jesus. Jesus was not afraid of anybody's uncleanness. He never shied away with contact from somebody because they were unclean ,or ill, or demon possessed or an outcast. He never shied away from contact on the basis of any of the normal Jewish rules about these kinds of people. He's probably the only houseguest they had.
But when Lazarus was raised from the dead, the first task is to show him to the priest. The priest declares him clean, the house is declared clean - good things happen. Others can come to the party.
The first time the disciples show up at Lazarus's house is when? Not until after Lazarus is raised from the dead and we've got - the HAZMAT people have declared we're good now. Right?
It's a powerful story. It's the story about two women and a man who were never married, and loved Jesus. They were Judean disciples. Now - this explains so much about this gospel. Think of the stories you love the most that are in this gospel. Okay?
Jesus meets Nicodemus. Is that in Matthew, Mark and Luke? No. Where does it happen? In Judea. Okay. How about the Samaritan woman? Anything like that story in Matthew, Mark and Luke? No. Where does it happen? In an unclean country.
Samaria - Jews avoided Samaria altogether as an unclean land. Here are two famous Rabbinic sayings about Samaria.
"To what shall we compare a Samaritan woman? They are like menstruants from the cradle. They are perpetually unclean."
Don't go there. Don't talk to them, don't touch them and certainly don't ask for a drink of water from them because you'll get their cooties.
That's only in the Gospel of John.
You think the author of the Gospel of John might have been a little sensitive about the issue of uncleanness and how Jesus superceded that? Yes. I think so.
Yes, I think so.
Where is the only place we here about the story of the man born blind? John 9, only there. Where is the only place we here about the raising of Lazarus? That would be John 11. In fact, if you list the miracles in the Gospel of John, all of them are unique to the Gospel of John except the feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water which is counted as a single burst of miracle.
And then there's this. You know something I think about Hebrew numerology. What was the number of perfection in Judaism? (pause)
So we have seven "I am" sayings in the Gospel of John. We have seven sign miracle narratives in the Gospel of John. We have seven discourses by Jesus tagged to the "I am" sayings. This gospel is highly theologically schematized. Somebody put on their thinking cap when they wrote this gospel.
And that brings us to John 21. Listen to the end of the Gospel of John. Listen to it closely.
"The light will go on. I promise. The light is about to go on."
Now Peter turned on that verse 20 of the last chapter. Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. By the way, that phrase there in that verse is identical to the phrase in John 11:2. The disciple whom Jesus loved. It's identical - John 11:2.
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. He was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and said, "Lord, who is it that's going to betray you?"
Here's a little footnote. The reason for the identification here is because originally these stories were told separately, and whoever compiled this gospel left in the little reminder tips when these stories were told separately.
When I read to you the bit about Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus, - remember at the beginning of - before that story is told in John 12, in John 11, when Mary is identified, we have a parenthesis that says, "Now this is the Mary who anointed Jesus in Bethany." But he hasn't even told that story yet.
But it's a reminder. Why? Because these stories were all told individually, separately, and they have simply been collected and edited together into a gospel, the same as here. He's not assuming that the audience has Alzheimers. It's that these were separate traditions before they were ever bound together in a gospel.
Peter saw him and he said, "Lord, what about that man?"
And Jesus said to him, "Well, if it's my will that he remains until I come back, what is that to you? Follow me."
Now listen to verse 23. Listen carefully.
So the rumor spread in that community that this disciple would not die.
Yet Jesus didn't say that he would not die, he just said, "If it's my will" - conditional statement - "that he remain until I come, what is that to you?
Now, why...why do we have this story? Why would anybody think that the beloved disciple was not going to die? I'll tell you why. Jesus raised him from the dead.
I mean - you know? You're not expecting to die twice if Jesus has raised you once. Why did the community think he wasn't going to die? Because Jesus had already taken care of that problem in his life.
So now, why do we have this story? We have this story because he has, in fact, died. He's now dead, so we have to have the disclaimer. Jesus didn't say he wasn't going to die. You get the picture here?
This is an etiological story, told for apologetical purposes. Listen to the very end.
"This is the disciple who testified to these things and wrote them down and we know his testimony is true."
Who is the "we"? (pause) Oh, dear friends, who is the "we"? (pause) That his testimony is spoken of as in the third person? Who is the "we"?
The "we" is the Christian community. The "we" is the community after the beloved disciple's death who gathered his famous stories that he had written down and edited them together into a single collection called the Gospel of John. That's who the "we" is.
And by the way, there was a lot more that didn't get included because we're told that in John 20. In John 20 we are told, "You know, if we wrote down everything Jesus said and did, there are not enough books in the world."
This is an edited edition of the stories of the beloved disciple about Jesus put together after his death by his community. Very powerful.
Audience member: I'm sorry, I [inaudible 0:58:30]
Audience member: Why is it called the John?
Dr.Witherington: We're going to get there.
Audience member: Okay.
I promise you.
Hang in there. We're going to get there, and there's a good reason why. Okay?
The beloved disciple, according to Christian tradition, went to Ephesus and started churches. Okay? That's what those letters of John are all about. Okay?
And then there was a man named John of Patmos. He was in that same community. He tells us what churches he's involved with and what's the very first one he mentions? In John - In Revelations Chapter 2 he says, "I'm writing to the church in Ephesus."
And then he's going to write to the six other churches that are on the same Roman road, ending in Laodicea. Okay? Are you with me now?
So here's the deal: There are two important leader figures in this community. One is the beloved disciple, the other is John of Patmos.
The beloved disciple dies. Who's the second most literate person in this community? That would be John of Patmos.
Now here's what happened. John of Patmos returns from exile when demission goes down for the count because any time an emperor sends somebody into exile, that is null and void upon the death of the emperor.
So, where does he go back to? He goes back to Ephesus. And what is he busily going to do? He's collecting the memoirs of the beloved disciple, editing them, putting them together and presenting this to the world.
Now this is not his own testimony. It's the testimony of the beloved disciple. However, there arose the tradition that Papias knows about.
And here's what Papias says. He says in regard to the gospel that is called John's, the John that was involved was not John Zebedee, but John the old man. John, the older John, the really ancient John. And this John, says Papias, "I've personally met and talked to.."
Now here we've got a connection between the first generation and the beginning of the second century. Papias actually met John of Patmos. He actually met John, the prophet, and so what Papias says, is, "John, the old man, had something to do with the production of this gospel." He did. He put it together. He edited it, and church tradition in the second century taking off from Papias said what? "This gospel is Kata Ioannes"; according to John.
Well, it is in the sense that he put it together, if not in the sense that it's all about him. So - there is a good historical reason why it's called Kata Ioannes. It's not because the beloved disciple is either John the First or John the Second here. It's because we wouldn't have this gospel without this John. And thanks be to God that he put it together. So, that's the reason.
Now, here's some other little tidbits that help us make sense of this whole deal that I hope will be helpful.
Audience member: (coughing)
Dr.Witherington: Think about some of the other stories. Mary Magdalene is at the tomb. The tomb is empty. She goes and reports to whom? Well she just walks down the road to Bethany, knocks on the door. Who's in there? Well this is Lazarus's house. So who is going to come and check on this? It's Peter and Lazarus.
By the way, his proper Old Testament name is Eleazar. Lazarus is a later Anglicizing for the name, so his proper name is actually Eleazar. Okay? We have some of those in the Old Testament. That's his proper name.
Eleazar, the beloved disciple, and Peter run to the tomb. Who gets there first?
Audience member: [inaudible 1:02:34]
Mm-mm. Who gets there first and looks inside but doesn't go inside. That's the beloved disciple. You know, he didn't need MapQuest or a GPS device. He was the Judean disciple that knew perfectly well where this tomb was because he knew members of the Sanhedrin and who did know? Nicodemus. Remember "Nick at Night"? And Joseph of Arimathea. These were two of his friends. He knew where Joseph of Arimathea's tomb was. Peter did not. So Peter is trailing along behind. Even the little details make sense when you realize the beloved disciple is a Judean disciple.
Cathy: You mentioned [inaudible 1:03:24] How could he have been prominent if he was [inaudible 01:03:31]
Well, here's the thing. Once his father died, you would have a ritual of purification. Okay? And so, officially they are clean. Right? This doesn't prevent people from fearing the stigma. What happens in a case like that - Remember again, they got engaged when they were teenagers.
The gossip in Bethany would have been clear. Okay? The priest says they're clean. We don't know. The priest says they are clean. They are ritually pure. They may not be physically pure. They are ritually clean. Right? Okay.
So, officially they can go out in public. Officially they can visit their friends. Officially they can go to the synagogue, but are they still going to be shunned because of fear of this dread disease where there is no cure for this disease at all?
Yes. That's just human nature. Do you remember the Ryan White story when AIDS started up? It's that kind of story. It's that kind of situation. Even though Ryan White couldn't have given anybody AIDS. You know? Not by contact, by hand or whatever. Okay?
It's that kind of contagion story. So, yes. But then Lazarus gets sick. So what are the grandmothers in Bethany saying? "See, we told you. Didn't we tell you?"
Audience member: [chuckling]
Didn't we tell you? [crosstalk] We told you. It's a good thing that you didn't marry that boy. It's a good thing you didn't. Not so much, you know. He didn't drink enough soup.
You know? Not so good. Ryan?
Ryan: I was just thinking about how is that going to be much different than, for example, mothers who have been purified after giving birth. The mother -
Right. The difference is ritual uncleanness and actual uncleanness. These two ideas are certainly connected in the mind of Jews but they are not identical. You can get rid of ritual uncleanness pretty quick. Physical uncleanness you need a healer. Right? It's a difficult [inaudible 1:05:31]
I want us to deal with a couple of stories. This gospel is just too good to pass up and so we're going to deal with a couple of stories. [music continues]
They say familiarity breeds contempt. If there is one story in the Gospel of John you probably know by heart and have memorized certain verses of it's this one. I mean in my lifetime John 3:16 is the most overused and memorized verse on the planet.
But this story is important in a lot different ways. It's part of the larger schema of showing the kind of people who were inquirers or seekers, trying to learn from Jesus and understand Him. So, as I said, this is the seeker gospel and this is one of the most first - most prominent seekers that are portrayed in this gospel. You notice that Nicodemus is not portrayed as an adversarial Jew. He's just a Jew that lacks understanding of where Jesus is coming from.
So this it is not an adversarial conversation. This is a friendly conversation. It's the type of discussion and debate the Jewish teachers had at night, but you know, in the Gospel of John, he has his own theological vocabulary and it's different from the synoptics, light is the word for revelation. Darkness is the word for "lostness" and ignorance. Everlasting life - by the way, I really prefer the translation everlasting life, not eternal life, because the life that Jesus is giving us begins at a particular point in time and then continues forward into eternity.
The phrase eternal life should only really be applied to God. A life that always was, is and always will be. So it theologically would be a more appropriate to call this life that Jesus is offering Nicodemus and others everlasting life. Okay?
That's important because we're not God. We don't have eternal existence and everlasting life is a gift to us, which by the way, in the Greco-Roman world would have been a non sequitur. Because they believed that your soul was what? Inherently immortal.
The immortal soul has nothing to do with salvation in Greek thought. You were born that way and you were stuck with it and when you die you're sloughing off the prison house of the soul and you're immortal somewhere. You're everlasting, alright. You may not be saved. That's a different issue.
So, the Greek language about immortality is very different than the Jewish language about everlasting life and everlasting life that Jesus is talking about begins at a particular point in time and continues forward into eternity. Alright. That's what He's talking about.
Now here's the second thing and I've mentioned this in passing and I want to mention it again. Nicodemus is operating on perfectly good orthodox early Jewish principles, which was that they didn't really believe in what we today would be calling "having a born again experience". Okay?
Even when they used a word like convert, what they meant was changed religions. Okay? What's the process of joining Judaism? Well, you attend a synagogue and you become a God fearer. Right? You're on the fringe or penumbra of the sun. This is step number one.
Then if you want to get more serious about it, you become a proselyte. You start learning the Torah. You start learning the teachings. And this is a long process. Right? And then if you really want to get serious what's going to happen is you're going to become a Jew. And how that happens is not by you having a born again experience. How that happens is you get circumcised, if you're a male. And you start keeping 613 commandments religiously. Okay?
And then you're just a Jew. You're no longer a Gentile, you're a Jew. That's who you are. You're a convert to Judaism but it doesn't have to do with having a born again experience. That is the process of conversion to Judaism and that's the model that Nicodemus knows. And Jesus is not talking about that.
For sure He's not talking about circumcision and keeping 613 commandments. He's talking about a spiritual rebirth. Something we're all too familiar with. Okay?
Now here is one of those theological points that is so important about John there is a deliberate ambiguity here. The Greek word here is "anothen". Now this word has two meanings. It can mean "again" and it can also mean "above". This is why you'll find different translations of this story in John 3.
Is Jesus talking about a birth from above or a birth again? Well, we know how Nicodemus took it. He took Jesus to be referring to a second birth of some kind. Maybe a physical one, and as I said to you before, Nicodemus was, "Oy vey! I am so not crawling back into my mother's womb and calling for womb service. What the heck are you talking about, Jesus? How can these things be? I don't get it."
But it is deliberately ambiguous because Jesus is talking about a birth that is from above, not below. Yes, He's talking about a second kind of birth, but He's also talking about a spiritual rebirth. He's talking about a birth that comes from God.
This is why we bring the Holy Spirit into the conversation. And here is where it gets even more ambiguous. Okay?
Lets just "complexify" the story a little bit.
Now, lets talk about that word spirit for a minute. What is a pneumatic drill? You have a pneumatic drill - what have you got?
Audience member: Power one.
It is a power drill, but it's an air pressure drill. Are you with me? A pneumatic drill is an air drill. Alright? "Pneuma-" is the Greek word which has three translations. It is identical to the Hebrew word "ruach". Lets try our Hebrew for a minute, okay? You've got to get the glottal stop going down here. "Ruach."
Audience members: [repeating "ruach"]
It's like you're hacking up a cough, right? Ruach. That's what it is. Ruach. Okay. This is "puh-numa; ruach." These words both mean - catch it - breath, wind or spirit. They have all three meanings. This is why you can play on this word.
Go back to the Genesis story. And the ruach of God was hovering over the waters. Should we translate that "breath", "wind" or "spirit"? It could be any of those. Take your pick.
Here, as well, Jesus is going to play on the meaning of this word. Jews love to do this. They love word play. If you read other early Jewish sources like the Talmuds and the mission, they are big on puns and wordplay. They just, you know? Anything they can do wordplay with they are happy.
Jesus says the wind blows, the ruach blows, where it will. The Holy Spirit is just like that he says. It's invisible. You can't see where it came from You can't see where it's going. But, you can recognize its effects.
Know the famous poem "Who Has Seen the Wind"? Great little poem you learned in elementary school. Absolutely. That's the way the Holy Spirit is. The Holy Spirit is not visible. (chuckles)
One of my favorite things of Martin Luther when he was dealing with the Schwenkfelders, which were kind anti-Baptist Mennonites before their time, is the Schwenkfelders were always saying "The Holy Spirit told me. The Holy Spirit told me." You've doubtless run into some people like this, right?
And Luther once said, "I won't believe that Schwenkfelder was inspired by the Holy Spirit even if I saw him swallowing the Holy Spirit, feathers and all."
One of my favorite Luther quotes.
The spirit is invisible. It's like the wind. [murmuring in background] You can't see where it came from. You can't actually see it, or where its going but you can see its effects. And what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus is, "You can see the effects of the work of the spirit and you must be born from above. You must be born again. If you want to enter the kingdom, it's not enough to be a Jew."
So what is the implicit message?
"I am a good card carrying Jew. I keep the law. I'm even a teacher in Israel."
Is that enough to be saved?
What's Jesus's view? Survey says: No. You must be born again through the aid of Jesus and the spirit.
In fact, he says you must be born of water and spirit. Somebody's drumming downstairs.
The thing is, about this, that you need to know the Greek. He's not talking about water baptism and spirit baptism. He's not having a debate with Nicodemus about baptism at all. They didn't debate such things in Judaism. And besides, Christian baptism didn't exist yet.
Here's where I tell you that the word water is a metaphor in early Judaism for physical birth. Here's what the Greek literally says. You must be born out of water - ekudatas - and by the spirit, these are two different births referred to.
In other words, what Jesus is saying here is, "You must be physically born and then spiritually reborn." That is, you need two births to get into the Kingdom of God. right? You have to be born and then you've got to be spiritually reborn. Are you with me now? Are you getting picture?
Where water refers to physical birth, and when Jews talked about physical birth they used the word "water" as a euphemism or a metaphor for the whole process. The word water was the word they used for semen. Here is a Jewish phrase: A man should only put his water into his personal cistern.
Audience member: [inaudible 01:17:31]
What's the water? That would be the semen. What's the cistern? That would be the wife, who was considered the well where you plant the water. Okay? This is the way Jews viewed it.
Then we have the process of birthing. And even we call it the "breaking of the" what?
Audience member: Water.
The water. You've got to be born out of water. If you've ever seen a physical birth this is a mess. The waters break, here comes the baby. You have to be born out of water. There were not hospitals in antiquity. Where did birthing take place? At home. If you've ever seen "Gone With The Wind" there is a famous scene about this. Butterfly McQueen says, [in voice] "I don't know nothing about birthin' babies."
Here comes one. The waters have broken. Right.
Jesus says you've got to be born out of water. That's the physical birth, and by the spirit. That's the spiritual birth. He's talking about natural birth and spiritual rebirth. He's not talking about baptism. This text has nothing to do with baptism. It's not saying you get the Holy Spirit in baptism. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with a Jewish conversation about physical birth and spiritual rebirth. [slapping sound]
Notice how He uses the kingdom language here. Until you get that spiritual rebirth are you entering the kingdom? That is so not happening. You're not entering the kingdom with just the credentials "I Am A Good Jew". You're not entering the kingdom with "I'm A Teacher in Judaism". You're not entering the kingdom with "I'm a Pious Jew".
What's got to happen? You have to be reborn in Jesus. Who's he telling this to? A leader in the Sanhedrin. Hello?
Now if he's going to tell that to the leaders in the Sanhedrin, what about everybody Jew? Uh-huh? Everybody has to be born again. This is a tremendously offensive message in antiquity to say to devout Jews and it is equally offensive today.
You go tell a Jew "You must be born again" they're going to say you must be crazy. I'm an observant Jewish person who loves my faith. I'm devout. I believe profoundly in God. Who are you to tell me I must be born again?"
And that point Christians just kind of back off, and they go, "Sorry. Didn't mean to offend you."
Jesus was offensive. Sorry, but he was. Nicodemus is puzzled.
"You are a great teacher in Israel and you don't understand this as Jesus."
"Well let me tell you something. How will you believe me if I tell you about heavenly things? About the son of man and going up into Heaven, and the only son of man who is going up into Heaven the way I'm talking about it is the son of man who came down from Heaven."
What text is He referring to? The story of the so of man coming down from Heaven where? Daniel 7. Second verse, same as the first.
Here we have an allusion to Daniel 7 and the Johanna in the gospel. This is very powerful there. One of the great problems we have in the Gospel of John is trying to figure out where the words of Jesus stop and where the commentator, the evangelist's words, begin.
The usual assumption is that you have gotten to the commentary of the evangelist when he goes into direct third person speech. So, for example, John 3:16. Is this the saying of Jesus?
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."
If you noticed in the film, what did they do? They changed to the voice of the narrator when we got "there". And I think that's probably right. I think this is the commentary of the beloved disciple about what Jesus is meaning here.
He's finished quoting the dialogue. He's gone to commentary and you have that problem - you have it more in the Gospel of John because you have a lot more commentating and theological exposition in John that you've got in the synoptic. That I think is absolutely going on in this story.
So here is the commentary. The theolo - Johanan theological point. The point is this: God loves the world. Now, the word for world here is "cosmos" from which we get the word - wait for it - cosmos. That's the word translated "world" here, but it has a very specific meaning in the Gospel of John.
Just as life is the word for salvation in John and light is the word for revelation, world is the word in the Gospel of John for the world of humanity that has fallen, and can't get up.
Let me tell you what the world does not mean. It does not mean God so loves the elect that He predestined from before the foundation of the world to be saved. It does not mean that.
When it says "God loves the world" it means God loves the world, and when it says He sent His only begotten son for the world's sake to die, He means that He sent His only begotten son to die for the sins of the world. Not just the sins of the elect. Okay?
So this is a favorite Wesleyan verse, okay? Those of us who are Armenian or Wesleyan in our theology, this is big because it says what Paul says elsewhere. Let me read you a verse from Paul. Lest you think this is a Johanan peculiarity, I can quote you Paul on the same point.
From First Timothy, Chapter 2, verse 3: "This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our savior who desires everyone to be saved." Hello?
Everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth for there is one God and there is also one mediator between God and humankind - Christ Jesus Himself human who gave Himself as a ransom for all."
And by all He means - wait for it - all. Not the elect. All. Who did Jesus die for? Everybody. He died for the sins of the world and world means world. It doesn't mean the elect. Okay?
And God sent Him to do this. This was not a purpose that Jesus took on Himself and said, "You know, I know God, that you've sent me to die for the elect, and I've just come for your chosen and frozen ones."
No. Jesus's purpose is not different from God's father. God the Father. The Father and the Son are in complete agreement about this. He came to save the world and He died for the world.
And that's what both Paul and the Gospel of John says. That's two good enough witnesses for me. Yes ma'am.
Audience member: So we're not supposed to love the world.
We're not supposed to love the ways of the world. That's different. The world's ways are not very lovable and He describes what the love of the world amounts to. The lust of the flesh, the pride of life. Remember these verses from First John. He tells us what the love of the world looks like. He's not talking about not loving fallen persons. He's talking about not loving the ways, their fallen behavior. We shouldn't fall in love with that.
Audience member: [coughing]
That's a whole different ballgame. Alright. Now - in addition to this, as I said to you before, there is very little kingdom language in this gospel. Really, when the kingdom comes up, it is almost exclusively referring to the future kingdom. One that you will enter later. One that you will inherit later. One that you will possess later. One that you will obtain later.
Very little kingdom language and he is mostly talking about a place. The other place the kingdom language comes up is in the dialogue in the Johanan gospel between Pilate and Jesus.
"My kingdom is not of this world." This does not mean my kingdom is not in this world. It means my kingdom is not a worldly kingdom. It is not a kingdom that is oriented like normal human kingdoms. It's not like the beastly empires, in other words.
This is the kingdom that comes from God and from Heaven, but exists on earth in the lives of the saved. If you want to know where is the Kingdom of God today you are the ensigns of the kingdom. The question is, when people look at you do they see Jesus, the son of man and the kingdom? Do they see the reign of God in the life of humanity in you? Is that what they see?
Let me tell you a story. Dr. Fred Douglas Shepard was a medical missionary in Armenia in Turkey; overwhelmingly Muslim area. He set up a medical hospital.
One day he was dealing with a small Muslim man who was near death, who had been brought to him basically on a stretcher at death's door, and Dr. Shepard nursed him back to health. As he nursed him back to health he shared Esau with him, which is the Arabic name for Jesus. Okay?
This Muslim got fired up about Jesus. He went back to his village and he just wouldn't shut up about Jesus. The Imam got a little tired. The mullah was not happy. You know?
One day the mullah comes to this little Muslim man and says, "Jesus this and Jesus that. Jesus died 2000 years ago and you've never seen him."
And the little man summoned up his courage and he said, "I have seen Dr. Fred Douglas Shepard and Jesus lives in him."
When people look at you do they see Jesus and the kingdom reigning in your life? That's the kind of question this story is asking us.
So, we're going to have a series of stories, punctuated by seven fine miracles. The miracles are approached from an entirely different way in John than they are in the synoptics.
In the synoptics they are the miracles, the mighty works of the kingdom. And the word used of them is dunamis, from which we get the word "dy-no-mite". Hence the King James translation, "mighty works".
"And he could do no mighty works in Nazareth because there was no faith."
They are miracles of the kingdom. In John they are not called dunamis, they are called "semeions" - signs. Signs of the coming of the king.
In the synoptics they are mighty works of the kingdom. In John they are signs of the king. Seven miracles. Now, dear friends, I want you to get hold of this and tomorrow morning we will deal with it some more.
There is a crescendo of the miraculous in this gospel. A "Can you top this?" We start with water turned not into Welch's grape juice, but wine. The joke about my denomination is Jesus turned the water into wine and ever since the Methodists have been trying to reverse the process.
We start with the cana miracle. That's the first sign. We finish with the raising of Lazarus, which is a picture of what is about to happen to Jesus. It's a foreshadowing of what is about to happen to Jesus. It's the last of the seven fine miracles, and there is a crescendo of the miracles leading up to this incredible story.
The next to the last miracle story is a sign narrative. The story is the healing of the man born blind. Now why is that such a shocker?
In the Old Testament there is no record of a blind person ever receiving their sight through any prophet, priest or king. There is a promise that that would happen in Isaiah.
Remember? The lame shall walk, the deaf shall hear, the blind shall receive their sight. It never happened in Old Testament times, and in fact, here's what Jews believed. They believed that if you were born blind - guess what - you were cursed by God.
It was because of your sin or your parents' sin. The disciples repeat this story in John 9.
"Master, who was it that sinned? This man, or his parents?"
It explains why he was born blind and Jesus's answer is "Neither one, but God's going to use it for his glory." Okay?
Now here's the thing. Jews believed, and there is a tradition that's very clear, that when someone is finally able to give sight to a man born blind, which is the most difficult of all cases, right? When somebody is able to give sight to a man born blind, then you will know Messiah has come.
What makes this such a stupendous miracle is:
A. It's never happened before from the point of view of Judaism, right? And
B. It's the sign that who has shown up? The king has come to town.
And it happens right in the shadow of the temple. And it causes no end of the row as we will see.
So we have a crescendo of the miraculous. The seven mighty signs. The last two which are man born blind and the raising of the dead of the man who was four days dead! Which, by the way, according to Judaism, was impossible because the spirit of the deceased departed after three days.
The reason you're next to the grave for three days is he might revive.
Audience member: [inaudible 01:32:29]
Which leaves me to tell you an Irish our story and then we're quitting for the day.
In the Middle Ages lots of people got lead poisoning from drinking their Irish whiskey from lead tumblers. They got lead poisoning and went comatose. This is why the Irish began having wakes. What they would do is they would lay out Uncle Ian on the dining room table, and if he woke, then they'd all celebrate and he was alive.
This is where the phrase "a wake" comes from. Okay? If he didn't, well, then you needed to have a funeral and you'd bury him. Unfortunately, and this sadly true, there were people who were buried alive, who had had so much lead poisoning that they were comatose for days.
They were buried alive and the way they found this out is that they had to move a famous Irish graveyard, I think in County Cork, and when some of the wooden caskets fell open they found fingernail scratches on the inside. Just yuck!
Now this lead to a remedy. What they would do is they would put - I'm not kidding you - they would tie a string to the finger of the person they were burying and they would link the string to a bell in the graveyard. Okay? Are you with me?
And if he twitched and the bell rang, they said, he was saved by the - wait for it - bell. It has nothing to do with boxing!
Audience members: [chuckling]
Dr.Witherington: Nothing to do with boxing. But then there was this problem. What happens at nighttime? You know, three days after you've buried him, what happens? Well, they had to have somebody do the "grave yard shift" which is where we get the phrase "graveyard shift". It's somebody watching in the graveyard to see if the bell rings.
This is where we get a lot of our idioms that we have no idea where they came from to begin with. So, the Irish term "wake", the "saved by the bell" and the "graveyard shift" - this is all coming from this Irish practice. And last but not least, if a person awoke and he was rescued, he was called a "dead ringer". A dead ringer.
From which we get the phrase dead ringer, which has nothing to do with looking like somebody. It has to do with being alive again. Okay?
Long story short. Don't drink your whiskey tonight out of lead tumblers.