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Johnson, John E. Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2017. 256 pp. Pb; $15.99. Link to Kregel
John Johnson has served as a pastor and a professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary in Portland. This blend of experience serves him well as he presents thirteen conversations from the Gospel of John. Each chapter is a meditation on an encounter with Jesus in the fourth Gospel. Johnson uses this conversation to present the theology of John’s gospel in a personally challenging way. Some of the conversations are with seekers (Nicodemus and the woman at the well), people seeking healing (the blind men), and others with people antagonistic toward Jesus (his brothers and the Jews in John 8:30-59, even Pilate in John 18:28-19:11).
Johnson presents enough historical and cultural detail (although not exegesis) to set the story in its proper context. For example, he explains the Jesus’s unusual response to his mother in John 2:4 or the clear parallels between Nicodemus and the woman at the well, or the contrasts between the two blind men in John 5 and 9. But since his goal is not to write a fully researched commentary on John, many details are overlooked. For example, there is far more to say about the Feeding of the 5000 than “pointing to a better meal” (116), or the quantity and quality of the wine Jesus provides in John 2 than “Jesus can be so generous” (50). Still, Johnson’s goal is a devotional reading of the text, it is not fair to expect him to fully tease out all of the theological implications of John’s Gospel.
The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion. Johnson also maintains a blog which touches on some of the topics in this book.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Lightfoot, J. B. The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 3; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 317 pp Hb; $40.00. Link to IVP
In the last two years IVP published the first two volumes of newly discovered commentaries by the late nineteenth century scholar J. B. Lightfoot. In the forward to that volume Ben Witherington recounted how he discovered hand-written manuscripts several long-forgotten commentaries J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. With this commentary on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter all of manuscripts discovered by Witherington have been published.
Compared to the other two volumes in this series, the commentaries on 2 Corinthians or 2 Peter are brief and fragmentary, 2 Corinthians runs about seventy pages and 1 Peter has a twenty page introduction with a mere nineteen pages of commentary with the notes breaking off in 1 Peter 3. Many of the comments on 2 Corinthians are simply textual notes with only a word or two of comment. Chapter 9, for example is about a half-page of text.
Since the commentary is less than 100 pages, the editors have included several additional essays by Lightfoot to round out the volume. As an introduction to 2 Corinthians commentary Lightfoot wrote a “Pauline Prolegomena” on the chronology and context of the letter. The essay interacts with a German text on Pauline chronology by Wieseler published in 1848, although these pages take the form of notes on Wieseler’s work.
Following the 1 Peter commentary are several appendices. The first is an essay on the mission of Titus in 2 Corinthians originally published in The Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology (1885). This essay was originally collected in Biblical Essays (1904, reprinted by Baker, 1979). The second appendix is a reprint or some lectures notes on “St. Paul’s Preparation for Ministry” (1863), also reprinted in Biblical Essays. Appendix three is a sermon preached in 1877 on 2 Corinthians 3:6 entitled “The Letter Killeth but the Spirit Giveth Life.” The sermon was preached at St Paul’s in Cambridge and collected in an 1893 volume.
The fourth appendix reprints “Lessons of History from the Cradle of Christianity.” Witherington had discovered this essay among Lightfoot’s papers, although a later edited version was published in the Durham University Journal in the 1980s. This manuscript was handwritten timed essay, eventually edited and published (and subsequently reprinted in the Durham University Journal in 1987).
Appendix five reprints “The Christian Ministry.” This 90 page essay first appear in Lightfoot’s commentary on Philippians. As Witherington comments in his note, editing this lengthy essay was the last scholarly work undertaken by B. F. Wescott, longtime mentor and friend of Lightfoot. This edition includes several pages of notes from Lightfoot not included in my copy of his Philippians commentary (Zondervan reprint, 1973).
Appendices six and seven essays evaluating the contribution of Lightfoot published in a 1992 Durham University Journal celebrating the centenary of Lightfoot’s death. First, C. K. Barrett’s considers Lightfoot as biblical commentator and James Dunn offers an essay looking back at the influence of Lightfoot, especially his commitment to historical inquiry. Initially this took the form of responding to D. F. Strauss. Lightfoot calls Strauss a “mythicizer” who dismisses the search for historical truth in the biblical records as hopeless. Lightfoot strenuously disagreed and sought to study early Christian with historical rigor, believing there is nothing to fear from the “full light of science and criticism” (cited by Dunn, 307). I find this a less-than-common attitude among conservative biblical scholars more than 100 years after Lightfoot.
Conclusion. When I reviewed the previous volumes in this series, I asked why a modern reader care about a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? That IVP Academic would be interested in reprinting the notes for commentaries never completed by a scholar who died more than a hundred years ago is a testimony of the influence Lightfoot had on scholarship. That Ben Witherington and Todd Still would devote effort to organize the volumes is a significant testimony to Lightfoot’s long shadow over contemporary biblical studies, even if that influence is not always recognized.
My main criticism of this volume is that these are not newly discovered commentaries, but brief notes which Lightfoot may have later used to write a commentary. The bulk of this book are reprinted essays by Lightfoot and two celebrating his legacy. This does not limit the value of the three volumes of this series published by IVP Academic. The series is a fitting tribute to an important scholar and will serve as worthy introduction of Lightfoot to many younger students of the Bible and early Christianity.
NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
The Mighty Angel stands in his place and speaks. The speech is described as the roar of a lion, and he is answered by the “seven thunders.” This description is significant for several reasons. It is the only place in Revelation where an angelic messenger speaks, but the words are not recorded. Why is the shout described in this way, and not recorded?
First, thunder is a stock metaphor for divine speech. In the Hebrew Bible, the voice of God is often described in terms of thunderous noise (2 Sam 22:14/Psalm 18:3; Job 37:2-5). It is possible thunderous speech is related to the description of the Lord as the “lion of Judah” (Amos 1:2, 3:8). Occasionally angels have voices like thunder, such as 3 Baruch 11:4, and in The Odyssey, Zeus speaks like thunder.
3 Baruch 11:4 And while we were waiting, there was a noise from the highest heaven like triple thunder. And I Baruch said, “Lord, what is this noise?” And he said to me, “Michael is descending to accept the prayers of men.”
So he spoke in prayer, and Zeus the counsellor heard him. Straightway he thundered from gleaming Olympus, from on high from out the clouds; and goodly Odysseus was glad. (The Odyssey, 20.100-104).
Why are there “seven thunders?” Psalm 29:3-9 has a seven fold description of the voice of God as thunder (although the word “voice” is not repeated seven times.) There is a rabbinic tradition that the voice of God was heard as seen thunders on Mt. Sinai (Exod. Rab. 28:6).
As John prepared to write the content of the words spoken by the thunders, a “voice from heaven” prevents him. John is told to “seal up the vision” and not write it down. The source of the voice is not identified and it is common in Revelation for John to hear an unidentified voice from heaven. Given the background texts where a divine voice sounds like thunder, perhaps this is the voice of God prohibiting John from writing what the thunders said.
The way the command is given is odd: he is told to seal up the vision (which would imply keeping it a secret), but also not to write anything down. If he had not written the words, what is the point of also sealing the scroll? There is a tradition in Jewish apocalyptic of a person being given revelation but forbidden to share it. David Aune suggested this ensures that prophet alone knows the information, making him “wiser” than his readers. It was a mark of authenticity to hold back a little revelation from the readers, if you gave it all then perhaps there were skeptics.
So what did the seven thunders say? Obviously we cannot know since it is still a secret, but John may have been given another series of judgments like the seals, trumpets, and bowls. He was told not to record this series for some reason. Caird suggested the reason John is told not to record the content of the visions is that God “cancelled” the judgments out of his grace and mercy (Revelation, 126-127). This would mean there were four sets of seven judgments, one set was set aside, perhaps an allusion to the four sets of curses in Leviticus 26:14-46.
John does not identify this angel, although some speculate it is Gabriel primarily because the name Gabriel means “mighty one.” It is not necessary to make the connection to Gabriel, although there are certainly other parallels here to Daniel. Gabriel is mentioned twice in Daniel, both times he is delivering a message to Daniel from God, and twice in Luke where he is the angelic messenger who tells Mary that she is pregnant.
The physical description of this angel borrows from the imagery of a theophany. While this angel is not to be equated with God (or Christ), it is a messenger that has been in the very presence of God and the message that he brings is of primary importance.
- “Robed in a cloud.” A cloud is often associated with the presence of God. It is used as an image in Revelation as a description of heaven (11:12) and the place where “something like a son of man” sits before he comes as judge, a reference to Jesus Christ (14:14-16).
- “With a rainbow above his head.” Rainbows are also associated with the glory of God, although the two places in scripture where a rainbow is associated with God it is a description of his throne or location (Ezek 1:28, Rev 4:3).
- “His face was like the sun.” Christ was described as having a face shining like the sun in Rev 1:16, but this description is more like Daniel 10:6, where an angelic being is described similar to this one, as well as in passages when someone has been in the “presence of God.”
- “His legs were like fiery pillars.” This is literally “feet.” Most modern translations translate this as legs, since it is odd to describe feet as pillars. This may be an allusion to the two pillars that led Israel in the wilderness (Exod 13:21), but a better solution is seeing this as another allusion to angelic beings, as in Ezekiel 1:7.
The angel stands with one foot on land and one foot on the sea. This is important because the beasts in chapter 13 come from both the land and the sea – God is demonstrating his sovereignty over both. This also corresponds to the oath he makes in verse 6, swearing by both the land and the sea. Because of this, David Aune argues the angel is an allusion to the Colossus of Rhodes (Revelation, 2:556-557).
The Colossus was a 105 foot tall bronze statue that was built about 280 B. C. It was placed in a promontory overlooking the harbor at Rhodes, and was known as one of the “seven wonders” of the ancient world. The statue was of Helios, a sun-god that was worshiped primarily in Rhodes. The image of a halo/rainbow and fire do evoke the memory of this well-known statue. It is possible that the statue had this right handed lifted towards heaven, as the angel in this passage does.
The Colossus was destroyed by an earthquake in 224 B. C. It broke off at the knees, and although it was looted for bronze, pieces were still visible during the first century. The fact that the Colossus was destroyed some 275 years prior to the writing of Revelation creates a problem for Aune’s argument the great wonder of the world influenced this description.
Nevertheless, the angel evokes memories of both Old Testament theophanies and an important Greco-Roman cultural icon. Perhaps this is why John describes this as he does so that the important message he will deliver resonates with both Jewish and Greek readers.
G. R. Reasley Murray commented that Revelation 13 is a kind of “satanic trinity” (Revelation, 207). Vern Poythress considers the language of Revelation 13 to be a “counterfeit” of the true Christ: “ kind of pseudo-incarnation of Satan, is a counterfeit unholy warrior opposed to Christ the holy warrior” (Poythress, 410). Greg Beale considers this a “Christological parody” (Revelation, 17). For Beale, the “war against the saints” is a “an ironic parody of the Son of man’s final triumph” and even the number 666 is a parody of the trinity (777). (Beale, Revelation 699).
This is a very common view, and one that is, I believe, an accurate assessment of Revelation 13. The Dragon is the father, who is the power behind an anti-Christ image (the beast from the sea). The beast from the earth is a kind of anti-holy spirit, preforming miracles which support the claims of the first beast.
The first beast has a counterfeit resurrection in the form of a mortal wound that was healed (Rev 13:3). The miraculous character of his healing creates astonishment and followers for him, just as the miracle of the resurrection creates followers of Christ. The beast has ten crowns (13:1), parallel to Christ’s many crowns (19:12).
The relationship between the dragon and the first beast is a parody of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Gospel of John. While it is not fashionable to see Revelation and the Gospel of John as representing similar theology, it appears to me that Beasts of Revelation 13 relate to the dragon and each other in ways which resonate with the Gospel of John.
First, the dragon gives the beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2). This is the same relationship which John describes in his Gospel between the Father and the Son. In John 5:22–27 the Father gives his authority to the Son in order that he execute judgment.
Second, In addition, those who worship the beast are implicitly worshiping the dragon (Rev 13:4). Jesus states in John 5:23 that those who honor the Son, honor the Father. This is an extremely common theme in the Gospel of John.
Third, Both beasts speak with the voice of the dragon (13:11). So too in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks only what he has heard from the Father (John 7:16-18). In John 5:19-24 the Son can only do what he has seen from the Father.
Fourth, the function of the second beast is to be exercise the authority of the first beast after the near-fatal wound (13:12-13). This beast is not worshiped itself, but does miracles in behalf of the first beast, causing people to worship the first beast. This is not unlike the activity of the Holy Spirit in John 16, who is sent after the resurrection in order to guide the followers of Jesus. The Advocate will not speak on his on authority, but of the one who sent him, the Father. It is perhaps significant that the second beast breathes fire to destroy, in John 20 Jesus breaths on the disciples, giving to them the Holy Spirit.
This list could be multiplied, but these few examples show that the “satanic trinity” is a parody of the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as presented in John’s gospel. While there is little in the way of exact verbal parallels, this not a serious problem since Revelation rarely quotes any text directly, even when it is certain that the writer is alluding to a previous text. While the writer, as a resident of Asia Minor, may have known John’s theology and incorporated it into his own book, it is also possible that this is a hint that the author behind the Gospel of John also produced Revelation.
Bibliography: Vern S. Poythress, “Counterfeiting In The Book Of Revelation As A Perspective On Non-Christian Culture” JETS 40 (1997): 411-18.
Lightfoot, J. B. The Gospel of John: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 2; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 317 pp Hb; $40.00. Link to IVP
Last year IVP released the first of three newly discovered commentaries by the late nineteenth century scholar J. B. Lightfoot. In the forward to that volume Ben Witherington recounted how he discovered hand-written manuscripts several long-forgotten commentaries J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. IVP plans one more volume collecting Lightfoot’s notes on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter.
When I reviewed Lightfoot’s Acts commentary, I asked why would anyone care to read a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? For some modern readers, Lightfoot’s legacy has been forgotten. But the mid-nineteen century, Lightfoot was considered one of the foremost scholars of his day. The editors of this book begin their introduction with the words of William Sanday: “No one could match Lightfoot for ‘exactness of scholarship, with the air addition, scientific method, sobriety of judgment and lucidity of style.’” His commentaries on the Galatians (1865), Philippians (1868) and Colossians (1875) are often reprinted and his work on the Apostolic Fathers was the standard until the Loeb edition by Krisopp Lake.
The forward to Lightfoot’s John commentary is nearly identical to the Acts forward and the Editor’s Introduction only adds three pages specific to Lightfoot on the Gospel of John. Witherington points out that Lightfoot had often lectured on John at Cambridge and was deeply concerned at the negative impact the higher criticism of F. C. Baur had on the study of John’s Gospel. Although it was unusual for a British scholar to be too concerned with German scholarship, Lightfoot read Baur and others seriously and sought to defend the authenticity of John’s Gospel against the protestant liberalism of his day.
For this reason the commentary includes a lengthy discussion of the external and internal evidences for the authenticity of John (pages 41-78) as well as two appendices reprinting articles published posthumously in Bible Essays (pages 205-66, external evidences, pages 267-325, internal evidences; Macmillan, 1904, reprinted by Baker, 1979). More than a third of this commentary is devoted to answering challenges to John’s authenticity by the Tübingen school popular in the late nineteenth century.
Unfortunately the body of the commentary only covers the first twelve chapters of John. After a short note on the meaning of Logos (pages 80-86), the commentary proceeds as does Lightfoot’s other published commentaries. He begins with a brief summary of the pericope followed by short notes on Greek words and phrases of interest. After this commentary, there are a few pages of notes on the Greek text itself, commenting on textual variants and suggesting solutions. As Hengel comments in his appendix to this book, Lightfoot’s academic method was based on the recovery of the text of early Christian writing (p. 333). Compared to modern commentaries (Keener on John, for example), the comments are indeed sparse.
There are at least two reasons for this. First, this is an unpublished set of notes, not a full commentary. If Lightfoot had intended to finish this commentary, the notes would have been expanded, although not as much as demanded by modern commentary buyers. Second, commentaries produced in the latter part of the nineteenth century focused on helping a scholar to read the Greek text of the Bible. Notes on textual variations and translation issues were the stuff of commentaries, with little or no interest in historical background or theology. Lightfoot was not uninterested in those issues, but the commentary was not the place to deal with background or theological issues.
Perhaps the most interesting section of this commentary is a reprinted article by Martin Hengel on Lightfoot and German scholarship on John’s Gospel” (p. 326-58). Originally printed in the Durham University Journal (1989) on the occasion of the centenary of Lightfoot’s death. As Witherington points out, Hengel himself was a historian and linguist at Tübingen, although he was far more sympathetic to Lightfoot’s views than F. C. Baur. Hengel offers a brief history of David Strauss and F. C. Baur and their approach to the Gospels, especially John. Baur famously dated the book to about A.D. 170. For Baur, Valentianian, Montanism and Gnosticism were “historical background” to the Gospel of John (p. 329).
By the time Lightfoot entered Oxford’s Trinity College in 1847, the influence of the Tübingen School was at its height. Baur would outlive Lightfoot by 8 years. Lightfoot’s work on the Apostolic Fathers was considered a “nail in the coffin” of Tübingen (p. 336) and his excursus on Paul and James in his Galatians commentary “the most important contribution to the Tübingen controversy” (337). Lightfoot did not engage in polemics, but built a positive argument for the authenticity of John, as is evidenced by the detailed material in this commentary.
Hengel’s essay also includes an assessment of Lightfoot’s influence on scholarship in England. Some considered him a representative of unbelief on par with Voltaire and some compared him to the antichrist (p. 352)! Ironically his commentary on John is now published by an evangelical publisher and Lightfoot is presented as a premier biblical scholar who stood against the inroads of protestant liberalism of his day. Hengel points out that Lightfoot not only remained a faithful member of the Church and “wore himself out” serving as both bishop and scholar (p. 342). It is a sad commentary on attacks on real scholarship done within the church by conservative Christianity in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Perhaps this is the best reason to read Lightfoot’s commentaries today.
Conclusion. Like Lightfoot’s newly discovered commentary on Acts, this commentary is a valuable contribution to the history of scholarship on the Book of John. In some ways it is dated since few scholars would argue along with Baur today that John is the product of the late second century. Yet Lightfoot’s model of Christian scholarship is important for a new generation of students of the Bible.
NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Edwards, Ruth B. Discovering John: Content, Interpretation, Reception. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 272 pp. Pb; $22. Link to Eerdmans
This book joins Ian Boxall’s Discovering Matthew as the first volumes of a new (or rebooted) Discovering the Bible series from Eerdmans and SPCK. The series intends to be a “comprehensive, up-to-date and student friendly” introduction to the books of the Bible. Edwards originally published this book in 2003, so this is a second edition even if the fact is not noted on the cover the book. As Edwards comments in the preface to this second edition, in the ten years since the original Discovering John was published, a number of significant commentaries have appeared. She has attempted to update this second edition with as much as this new material as possible.
The book breaks into three sections. The first five chapters cover what is normally included in an introductory text (authorship, purpose, audience, place and date of composition, etc.), but also a short chapter on reading strategies for John’s gospel. Edwards’s study is based on the historical-critical method but she fully understands the contributions of literary, social, historical and religions settings for illuminating the text of John (22).
With respect to authorship, she weighs various views on the Beloved Disciple as the author, and concludes there no proof for any specific individual in early Christianity. He is not the author of the Gospel, but the person the author uses to enhance the reliability of the Gospel (32). She reviews the Johannine Community hypothesis and concludes the Gospel would have been produced in the context of a community, but this codes not imply the Gospel was intended only for that community (53). The Gospel was written sometime between 75-95 CE to a Jewish Christian community in Asia Minor or Syria.
With respect to the historicity of John’s Gospel, Edwards recognizes it is “a well-nigh impossible task” to find Jesus’ exact words even in the Synoptic gospels (43). John’s Gospel is not a historical archive of Jesus’ words and deeds, but a “dynamic interpretation of how the Gospel’s author(s) understood him in the light of the Holy Spirit’s guidance (44). More could be said on the cultural content of John’s Gospel as an accurate reflection of Jewish life and religious practice in the first half of the first century.
The next four chapters of the book deal with the Christology of John. First, miracles serve as a catalyst for faith in Jesus (60). Although Jesus is a healer and worker of miracles, John intends his readers to see Jesus as the inauguration of the new eschatological era (71). Second, there are a number of Christological confessions in the Gospel which serve as a kind of “narrative theology: reinforcing the signs (85). Each of the titles given to Jesus in the Gospel contribute to John’s Christology, culminating in Thomas’s “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). Third, in the Passion and Resurrection narrative, Jesus is presented as willingly submitting to the cross as the means of his glorification (99). The cross is not a humiliation inflicted on Jesus, but the very reason he has come into the world. Fourth, Edwards discusses John’s prologue as a presentation of Jesus as the Word Incarnate. Jesus as Logos associations him with both Creation and Revelation; Jesus is the agent through whom all things were made as well as the agent of God’s revelation in the Gospel. As the Word of God incarnate, the “Only Son is the Father’s Exegete” (110). John 1:18 claims Jesus made known the Father, but as Edwards points out, the Son explains or interprets the Father, focusing on the verb exegoumai.
The final four chapters deal with some special issues in John’s gospel. First, Edwards surveys the characters in John’s story. She divides this into male and female disciples. Do the male disciples function as “ideals” or role models for the later church? Do they represent future Christian leaders and the rivalries of the early church? She concludes they do not, in fact, nothing in John connects Peter with “Jewish Christianity” or the Jews at all. The so-called rivalry between Peter and John is not an accurate portrayal of their relationship (119).
Edwards approaches the difficult problem of Anti-Semitism in John’s Gospel by first examining John’s use of the word “Jews.” Bultmann, for example, thought the term was always used for “representatives of unbelief.” Edwards does not think this can be sustained since not all Jews in the Gospel are “ignorant, deceitful and unbelieving” (134). Certainly the Gospel is confrontational and paints the Jews as Jesus’ opponents, but this is not unique to John’s Gospel either in the New Testament or in Second Temple Judaism (137-8). The Qumran community refereed to their rival Jews as “Sons of Darkness” who would be destroyed when the messiah comes. This sort of language is not anti-Semitic, but rather the language of the prophets.
A related issue is potential “Replacement Theology” in John’s Gospel. Jesus certainly challenges some aspects of Second Temple Judaism, but Edwards concludes he does not attack Jewish worship nor is there a clear replacement of Jewish practice with Christian practice. John depicts Jesus as a Jew and writes his Gospel in order to appeal to both Jews and Gentiles (148). More problematic is John’s claim that Jesus is God. There are hints throughout the Gospel that Jesus is divine, but they remain hints. The “I Am” statements, for example, may disclose who Jesus is, but that is not always obvious. John is not setting Jesus up as a separate deity who is a rival to the Jewish God (as if one should worship either the Jewish God or Jesus). As Edwards points out, John in not unique in the New Testament in calling Jesus God, both Paul and the writer of Hebrews refer to Jesus with divine language.
In the final chapter, Edwards suggests a number of reasons John’s Gospel has value for the Christian reader today. These short meditations attempt to draw on John’s Gospel as a source for “being Christian” today. The book concludes with two excurses, the first on the text of John, the second on the problem of “eyewitness” testimony in John.
Conclusion: Edwards’s introduction to John’s Gospel is a brief introduction to many of the key issues one encounters when studying the Fourth Gospel. She fairly presents major view on controversial topics without prejudicing her own view. This book would be an excellent textbook for a university or seminary class on the Gospel of John, but is written at a popular level so most readers will find it enjoyable. I look forward to future installments of this series (Discovering Genesis, Iain Provan and Discovering Romans, Anthony C. Thiselton are scheduled for 2016).
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Why does Jesus weep in John 11:35? The crowd assumes that it is because his friend Lazarus died, it is an emotional reaction to death. But most commentaries point out that the vocabulary used to describe Jesus’ emotions go beyond sorrow. In fact, the verbs in verse 33 have the connotation of indignation and anger.
Barrett says that the view that Jesus was angry “beyond question” (John, 399). Beasley-Murray argues that the verb ἐμβριμάομαι should be read as“became angry in spirit” (John, Second Edition, 192-3). That Jesus is moved “in his spirit” is an indication that this is a deeply internal emotional reaction.
The second verb in John 11:33 is ταράσσω, a verb associated with deep turmoil and In the next chapter, Jesus will use the same word to describe his spirit prior to the passion events (John 12:27), in Matthew 14:26 it is used to describe the terror felt by the disciples when they saw Jesus walking on the water; Luke 24:38 has a similar use, describing the terror of the disciples when they encountered the resurrected Jesus. In both cases, there may be a feeling of dread since a sinful person is encountering a divine being.
Whatever the combination of these terms means, it cannot be said that Jesus was shaken by the death of Lazarus (he has already predicted it) and we cannot say that he is expressing emotions similar to Mary and Martha, who are mourning for the dead. Jesus knows that he will raise Lazarus from the dead, so his tears cannot be sorrow with respect to Lazarus’ death.
A slight variation of this view is Keener, who thought that Jesus was angry at the mourners’ unbelief (John, 846). Raymond Brown suggested that Jesus was angry at Satan and the domain of death itself, or possibly Jesus is angry “at death” in general (John, 203).
When Jesus does cry, it is not the same as Mary and Martha, or the other mourners. They are “wailing” (κλαίω), while Jesus “weeps” (δακρύω). The word is rare in the LXX, appearing only a few times (for example, Job 3:24, Job’s tears). I am not sure that there is enough evidence to say that Jesus’ tears were more or less sorrowful based on vocabulary. I suspect John simply varied the terms in order to avoid repetition.
Perhaps a better way of looking at Jesus’ frustrated emotional response here is to see it in the light of Mary and Martha’s lack of understanding in his clear statement that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and their apparent unbelief in his status as the giver of Life. He has just told Mary and Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. Rather than some distant eschatological resurrection, Jesus is about to demonstrate that power over life and death, but none of the disciples seem to understand this!
The power of the coming age is present in Jesus’ ministry. But even Jesus’ closest disciples do not fully understand who he is until after the resurrection.
Jesus prays a “prayer of thanksgiving” before commanding Lazarus to come out of the tomb. This prayer has been discussed with respect to the possibility of historicity – is it the type of prayer that Jesus might have prayed in this context? Some scholars dispense with the historicity of the prayer as an addition by the writer of the Gospel. For example, R. H. Fuller, (Interpreting the Miracles) wrote that:
To the modern reader this prayer is irritating, if not offensive. The whole thing looks like a put-up show, anything but genuine prayer. Jesus knows he need not pray, but apparently stages a prayer to impress the bystanders.
Rather than an “irritating prayer”, this is actually a Prayer of Thanksgiving as prayed by Jews commonly in the context of first century Palestine. Following J. M. Robinson, Bingham Hunter has demonstrated that there are formal parallels to a Jewish thanksgiving prayer. As a Jewish Hodayoth, the prayer is intended to be heard by the audience for which it is prayed. The cited article lists many examples (including in the Pauline and Qumran literature) indicating that this sort of prayer was not only common enough in the first century, but expected in a religious context such as the one Jesus finds himself in John 11.
Because of its form the prayer seems to be genetically related to and a part of a tradition of piety exemplified by the Jewish personal thanksgiving psalm. Thanksgivings of this sort are characteristically prayers that both God and spectators are meant to hear.
With respect to the scholars that find offense in the prayer, Hunter points that the offense is entirely modern. Read in the context of the first-century, the prayer is exactly the sort of thanksgiving prayer we might have expected.
Bibliography: R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963); W. Bingham Hunter, “Contextual And Genre Implications For The Historicity Of John 11:41b-42” JETS 28:1 (March 1985) 53-70.