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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.
One of the frustrations reading the letters of John is the John’s rather stark, black-and-white view of the world. He begins in 1 John 1:5 by stating that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness.” There is a “polarity between God and ‘the world’” (Jobes, Letters to the Church, 415). There rest of the letter is filled with similar contrasts – one either walks in the light or walks in the darkness. One either does not sin, or one continues in sin.
The first chapter of the book can be read as saying there are two types of people in the world, those who have been enlightened (the Christians) and those who remain in the darkness (the non-Christian). That is true, of course, but for Christians who have read their Paul, it is hard to imagine “the one who does not sin.” Romans 6-7, for example, describes the struggle of the believer who was a slave to sin and is now a slave to righteousness. Even our own experience seems to make the sharp black/white dualism of John difficult to understand.
In the history of interpretation of the Letters, there are two possible sources for this dualism. In the nineteenth century the Letters were dated much later that the first century, so the light / darkness language was thought to be an allusion to Gnostic dualism. Gnosticism developed in the second century by blending Jewish and Christian theology with a Platonic Dualism. This meant that the world was sinful and evil, only the spirit was good. The goal of life was to separate from the life of this world and purify one’s spirit, perhaps leaving the sinful flesh to return someday to the spiritual realm.
The Gnostic view is far less popular since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Community Rule (1QS) describes the world in terms similar to 1 John. The Community represents the “sons of light” and those in the world are the “sons of darkness.” There is a spirit of truth and a spirit of deceit, humans choose between the two “spirits.” In 1 John 3:6 the writer says that the one who has the “spirit of truth” hears God and knows God, the one who has the “spirit of error” is a liar and will not follow God. The Community Rule has similar language:
1QS 3:18-19 [God] created man to rule the world and placed within him two spirits so that he would walk with them until the moment of his visitation: they are the spirits of truth and of deceit. From the spring of light stem the generations of truth, and from the source of darkness the generations of deceit. (Garciá-Martiínez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1:75)
But as Andreas Köstenberger points out, the dualism in John is not at all like what is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, he thinks that it is not really “dualism” in the classic sense since there is both a vertical and horizontal aspect to the dualism. (The Theology Of John’s Gospel and Letters, 277). The Gnostics minimized the human relationships since all human flesh is sinful. The Qumran Community minimized the horizontal as well, declaring war on the Sons of Darkness.
I want to suggest here that John’s so-called dualism is drawn from the creation story. In Genesis 2-3, humans have an ideal relationship with God and with each other. They live in perfect fellowship with God and in perfect harmony with each other. After sin enters the world through Adam’s rebellion, the vertical relationship destroyed – perfect fellowship becomes terror of God’s voice and hiding from him in the bushes. Likewise, the relationship between Adam and his wife changes and there is anything but harmony over the next few chapters (Cain and Abel, Lamech’s revenge, the Flood, etc.)
For the one who is a disciple of Jesus, the relationship with God has been restored, implying that relationships with other humans ought to also be restored. The word was not evil when it was created, nor did our relationship with God cause terror and hiding. For John, the one who is a follower of Jesus has been restored to a pre-fall state in which we can “walk in the light” and quite literally “not sin.” As the writer says in 2:15-17, this world is passing away, we belong to another world which will endure forever.
If this is on track, how would it help read 1 John? Does it help overcome some of the “black or white” ethical commands in the letter?
By the end of the first century, at least some Christians began to deny that Jesus had a physical body. This teaching is known as Docetism, and was motivated by a strong belief that Jesus was in fact God, but also that material things are inherently evil The logic of their teaching is based on the Gnostic (or proto-Gnostic) idea that matter is evil. Since matter is evil and Christ is good, he could not have had a physical body. If Christ really suffered, then he was not divine, since God cannot suffer, and if he was God he did not suffer (Burchard, 326.)
Frequently Docetism is seen as part of the larger theology of Gnosticism, and therefore more or less a “Greco-Roman Philosophy” or perhaps even an early Christian attempt to develop a rational non-Jewish theology which would appeal to the larger Roman world. Since it was strange to imagine a god really becoming flesh and submitting to death on a cross, some Christians described Jesus as “appearing” to be human flesh. The name “docetic” comes from the Greek δοκέω (dokeo), meaning to “appear” or “seem.”
But it is possible that Docetism more Jewish than Gentile. If 1 John was written from Ephesus in the late 80’s or early 90’s, it is at least plausible to argue that John was reacting to a Jewish Christian attempt to explain who Jesus was. Rather than making Christianity more palatable to Romans, Docetism would have been appealing to Jews who might find the idea of “God made flesh” contradictory to their view of God as completely transcendent.
Docetism is sometimes associated with a group of Jewish Christians known as the Ebionites. This group was ascetic, living a live of voluntary poverty in the desert. This voluntary poverty may have been based on the early Jewish Christians in Acts 2 (selling possessions for needs of the group), or perhaps based on Jesus’ own voluntary poverty. While they rejected sacrifice, they thought that many of the Jewish traditions were still of value, especially circumcision. Bart Erhman describes the Ebionites as similar to Paul’s opponents in Galatia. Since they were a Jewish Christian group, they used only Matthew as scripture, but they also rejected Paul completely (Erhman, Lost Christianities, 99).
The real problem with this identification is that Docetism as a Jewish viewpoint would have developed in Palestine, not Ephesus. It is possible that John’s gospel was developed while he was still doing ministry in the Land, and that the fall of Jerusalem forced Jews out of the Land, many of whom ended up in places like Ephesus and Corinth. But this objection does not take into account the large Jewish population in Ephesus in the late first-century. John’s work in Ephesus may have been with Jewish Christian congregations in the city rather than with primarily Gentile, Pauline congregations.
What is there in the first Letter of John that indicates that he is in fact answering an inadequate view of who Jesus was? The evidence is in the opening paragraph, but runs throughout the book.
Bibliography: G. L. Burchard, “Docetism”, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986.
Bart Erhman, Lost Christianities. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
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.
Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching for the morning Worship Service at Rush Creek Bible Church in Byron Center, Michigan. I do not get to do this very often since I usually teach the Sunday Evening Bible study as well as a Sunday School class. I was asked to finish out a long series on the Gospel of John so I used the final words of the book as a way to summarize many of the themes of John’s gospel.
If you would like to watch video the sermon here is a link: The World Itself Could Not Contain the Books… (Scroll down past the overly large series title for audio or video.) Be warned: people tell me I have a face made for radio. You may prefer to listen to the audio instead!
Here is a summary: After the resurrection Jesus met some of his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. After providing a miraculous catch of fish, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved him. This conversation was a public restoration of Peter, a confirmation that Jesus has forgiven him and that Peter’s denial will not define the rest of his life. Jesus then predicted that Peter would be faithful to the end; he would be crucified because of his testimony for Jesus.
But what about the Beloved Disciple? The final chapters of the Gospel of John have contrasted Peter’s actions with the belief of this disciple, who is likely John, the son of Zebedee. If Peter is to be executed, what will happen to John?
John does not want to focus the attention on himself or his book (“I could write more,”or “This book could be much longer….”) The story has been about who Jesus is from the very beginning! “The greatness of the revelation of God in the Logos-Son is vaster than the cosmos created through him.” John’s gospel is about the vastness of Jesus from the first line to the last.
It is remarkable that the final words of Jesus are “you follow me!” Jesus began his ministry asking people what they wanted of him. In John 1:38, Jesus’ first words are “what do you want?” and he command his disciples to follow even then (1:43). At the end of the book Jesus expects his two closest disciples to continue to follow him, one to his death, the other to a long life of ministry, both looking forward to the return of Jesus in glory.
When Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he is preforming a parabolic act. As with parables, we need to understand the context in order to understand what Jesus was trying to teach through the washing of his disciples’ feet.
It is well-known that hospitality in the ancient world included foot-washing. Since virtually all travel was by foot, a visitor should be allowed to “refresh themselves” when they arrive by washing their feet. If the host had servants, the task of washing the guest’s feet fell to the lowliest servant. For a Jewish family, the task would be assigned to a Gentile slave (Köstenberger, John, 405). In this case, Jesus takes off his outer clothes and wraps himself in a long towel and does the job of the lowliest slave.
Since this is a Passover meal, it is likely that each of the disciples have washed their hands ceremonially before touching the food of the meal. My guess is that the feet would need to be washed since the are most likely to have come into contact with uncleanliness, the slave who washed the feet would therefore himself be unclean.
This is therefore a shocking act by a Jewish teacher prior to the Passover meal. Jesus’ humble service of his disciples is an illustration of how the disciples are to continue his work after the resurrection.
Said R. Joshua b. Levi, “All acts of labor that a slave performs for his master, a disciple of a sage performs for his master, except for removing his shoe.” b. Ketub. 96a (Neusner, b. Ketub. 11:1, I.2.A; 9:440)
Jesus is due the titles Teacher (Rabbi) and Lord. Even if we take the title Lord as equivalent to sir, both titles put Jesus well above the disciples socially. In a teacher-student relationship of the Second Temple Period, there was little a teacher could not ask his disciple to do for him. Yet Jesus reverses cultural expectations by doing an extremely humbling service for his disciples.
This is a pattern for the disciples to follow (v.15). The noun used here (ὑπόδειγμα) has the sense of a pattern, or model used for moral instruction. Jesus is saying this is an illustration of how you are to serve one another. This is not a pattern to be followed for worship, for example. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with practicing foot-washing in some Christian denominations, it is not an ordinance like the Lord’s Supper. To me this is analogous to saying the Lord’s Prayer. It is not particularly wrong, but misses Jesus point when he gave the prayer of an illustration of how to pray!
How do we serve as Jesus did? First, Jesus did not insist on his titles and honors. Ideally, Peter ought to have served Jesus, but Jesus radically reverses expectations and serves those who are socially lower than himself. If the Lord (and God) of the universe can get down on his hands and knees to wash the feet of those who owe him honor and loyalty, how ought we to serve?
Second, notice that he washes all the disciples’ feet, including Judas. He knew that Judas was the betrayer, yet he extended to him the same humble service that he gave the other “loyal” disciples. Jesus knew that Satan was about to enter Judas and he knew exactly what Judas was about to do, but he treated him in exactly the same way he did Peter or John.
That is remarkable to me. I have no problem humbly serving my family or my church family. But what about those who are outside the church? There are people who are outside of my normal circle who I do not serve, in fact, I sometimes treat them with contempt.
Jesus did not, he died for them as well.
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.