Sunday, June 28, 2015

Signs in the Gospel of John (3)

Healing of the Lame Man

John 5:1-17

John 2-4 was the first cycle and was a travel circuit from Cana to Jerusalem and back to Cana. Now in John 5-10 the cycle has been identified as a festival cycle built around Jesus being at a variety of Jewish festivals.[1] Thus we read, “After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (5:1). The name of this feast this was not given;[2] although there were three feast that required attendance (Deut. 16:16-17).  It is at this feast that the first sign demonstrates the deity of Jesus as the Messiah. In this cycle there is a growing conflict with the Jewish leadership.

The Circumstances of the Miracle 5:1-5

After some time in Galilee, Jesus came back to Jerusalem for the feast. The passing of time is clearly indicated in the phrase—“After these things...”—however the amount of time is indefinite. Keener points out that these chronological and geographical gaps are a common pattern in John.[3] When he found Himself at the pool of Bethesda, meaning the place of mercy or outpouring (5:2). [4] It is mentioned only here in the New Testament. Some have taken the word there is (petin, present tense) as evidence that John worte the gospel before the destruction of 70 AD. This is not necessarily so, for two reasons: First, John commonly uses the “historic present” for past events.[5] Second, there is evidence that after the destruction of the city, the pool was used as a Roman healing sanctuary.[6]

Archeology has discovered its location under the property of St Anne’s Church located in the northeast quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was really made up of two pools separated by a dike. Each pool was believed to be the size of a football field.[7] There were five porticoes, one on all four sides and one between the two. This upholds that the area was of some size, more than able to handle a multitude of people. Some have held these were merely symbolic for the first five books of Moses, but “the hard evidence excludes the suggestion.[8]

It is presumably near the sheep gate, however the word gate is not found in the Greek text. The Greek text simply reads probatikos, meaning belonging or pertaining to sheep. It is an adjective and could be nominative or dative tense. If dative it refers to the pool, meaning near the sheep pool. If nominative, it has no modifier, and has been taken to mean sheep market (place) or sheep gate.[9] The majority of scholars, as well as translators, takes it as sheep gate; based on Nehemiah 3:1, 32; 12:39.[10] This was a little opening in the north wall where the sheep were brought into the city for the market.

The pools were the place where the multitude of sick, blind, lame, and withered waited for the so-called miracle waters to be stirred (5:3). Many of the manuscripts omit the last of verse 3 and all of verse 4. Some translations omit the verses completely, while others make note that early manuscripts do not contain the verses. Morris observes that these verses “form a very ancient explanation which has somehow crept into the text. The manuscript evidence makes it certain that it is not part of the original Gospel. But there is no reason for doubting that it explains the presence of the people (cf. v. 7).[11] However, there is support for it being in the text and included in spite of the critical consensus. Hodges gives the following summation of arguments in support:
The confidence with which modern scholars dismiss John 5:4 from the text of the Fourth Gospel is seriously misplaced. On the contrary, there are excellent grounds for accepting it as both authentic and original. These grounds may be summarized as follows: (1) All known Greek manuscripts of John's Gospel, with the exception of less than a dozen, include the verse. Most of the omitting witnesses are recognized as being textually related to one another in many other readings as well. (2) The antiquity of the passage is vouched for by the citation from Tertullian in the third century and by its apparent inclusion in Tatian's Diatessaron in the second. (3) The reading was widely diffused in both the East and the West as is clearly shown by the evidence of versions and fathers. (4) In view of its unique content and probable connection with the traditions of Bethesda itself, the verse is unobjectionable on stylistic grounds. (5) The deliberate omission of the passage can be explained as quite possibly motivated by a falsely perceived "pagan tinge." (6) Finally, the statement about the assembled sick in verse 3, and still more the response of the invalid in verse 7, demands the presence of verse 4 in order to make John's text genuinely comprehensible. The Evangelist is not at all likely to have left this story in the kind of obscurity which the excision of the verse entails. He is too good a narrator for that. [12]

These arguments have some degree of merit, although the controversy will continue, with the majority for omitting it from the text. I favor keeping it in and simply footnoting that some early manuscripts do not contain the information.

In the midst of this crowd was “a man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years” (5:5). The man is unnamed, but his need is clear. He had been ill for some time. The Greek word is astheneia, meaning weakness, ill health, or infirmity. The exact weakness or illness is not told us. We can deduce that it is some type of paralysis or lameness (cf. v. 7). Some see an allusion to the thirty-eight years that Israel wasted in the wilderness, interesting but unwarranted. In the context it underscores the helplessness and hopelessness of the situation. It emphasizes a longtime illness with no hope of recovery. It is a picture of us in sin.

The Compassion of Jesus 5:6                                             

Jesus was passing the pool when his focus came upon this man. “When Jesus saw him lying [there], and knew that he had already been a long time [in that condition], He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’” (John 5:6). Many of the miracles of Jesus begin by His “seeing” a person (e.g. Luke 7:13; 13:12). Jesus sees and responses with compassion. The verse entails:
  • The omniscience of Jesus. He “knew” the circumstances, condition, and history. It is an example of his supernatural knowledge. The Greek word is gnous is to know, whether the action be inceptive or complete and settled.
  • His divine knowledge leads to him taking the divine initiative in compassion. He does not wait for the man to call out to him, or approach him. He moves with compassion and goes to the man. He can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).
  • He sees this man’s helplessness and asks if he is willing to get well. While some see this as a test of faith, I see the question as an invitation to faith. This is an offer of His compassionate grace and mercy. He asks everyman who is weak in sin “are you willing?”  The sad part is that many are unwilling to get well.

The Concern of the Man 5:7

In answer the man points to his helplessness and hopelessness. He realizes his condition. Whitacre wisely observes:
The man’s answer implies that he wants to be healed, for he explains to Jesus how it can take place. All he needs is someone to help him into the pool at the right time. By explaining the situation to Jesus he seems to interpret Jesus’ question as an offer to help. He is right in assuming that Jesus wants to help him, but it is not in the way he expects.[13]

The Command of Jesus and its Consequence 5:8-9

The help comes in the form of a command: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (John 5:8). At this point the pool fades from sight in the passage; it is unimportant and virtually forgotten. Notice this command circumvents any other form of assistance or work—no  human assistance, or healing water—Jesus’ word was more than sufficient. He simply had to trust and obey. While faith is never mentioned in the text, the action reveals its presence. Once acted upon, the man was cured, and accentuates the completeness of the cure. “Immediately the man became well, picked up his pallet and [began] to walk” (5:9). Interestingly, the man in Mark 2 is given the same command (Mk. 2:9) and told to take his mat or pallet (Mk. 2:12). It there any significance to the taking the pallet? Michaels states it is to show his independence and departure from the scene.[14] It can also signify strength replacing weakness, inability with ability, thus a departure from his past condition.

The Charge by the Legalists 5:9a-13

John waits until now to inform us this was done on the Sabbath (5:9a). This is new and crucial information. It sparks a controversy over the observance of the Sabbath, not the healing itself. The charge was not against the healer (Jesus), but the healed (the man). The charge was breaking the Sabbath by carrying his pallet (5:10). They may well be referring to Jeremiah 17:21-27. This passage refers to the type of burden-bearing connected with commerce.[15] Likewise the oral law of the rabbis listed 32 activities not to be done on the Sabbath, one of which was not to take or carry one thing from one domain to another.[16] However, Jesus disregarded the Pharisaic understanding of the Sabbath (5:8-12; cf. 9:14-16). Kent observes that we must understand “that Jesus chose this day to cause men to see the sabbath in proper perspective (see Mark 2:23-38).”[17]

We should observe the following about this charge:
  • The word “Jews” should be taken as the religious leaders, not all Jews. After all, the man healed was a Jew as well.
  • They wanted to know who gave him the authority to carry the pallet (5:10).
  • The man clearly laid the blame on the healer who told him to carry the pallet.
  • The man could not identify Jesus; he could only tell them it was a man and that it happened. Jesus keeps a low profile upon healing the man, blended into the crowd (5:12-13).
  • They viewed the real culprit as the man who told him to disobey their prohibited rules. They are concerned not for the man who was healed, but for their regulations and the one who told him to disobey them. 
  • This confrontation ends abruptly, probably because they could not at this time learn who was responsible.

The Challenge of Christ 5:14-15

Later, Jesus again takes the initiative in finding the man. The word “afterward” is meta when used of time means later or afterward. How long afterward is not defined in the text, but the tone of the text indicates later the same day. He finds him in the Temple, not far from the pool. The word found and the tone indicates this was not an accidental meeting, but Jesus intentionally found him. Jesus will not leave the man in ignorance, although the text never indicates that Jesus identified Himself. He challenges the man in two ways: First, to confirm his healing—“you have become well” (5:14). This is a statement of fact. It is in the perfect tense indicating the healing was permanent. This is the foundation upon which the challenge is built. The challenge falls within two sections: First, he instructs him—“Do not sin anymore.” The Greek text reads “stop sinning.” This is the first occurrence of the verb “to sin” by John. The verb is a present tense; showing that Jesus is not referring to a past completed act, rather but to a present condition. It also implies a degree of urgency. Laney notes it “commands the cessation of some act in progress.[18] This command takes us somewhat by surprise. Yet, the sin is never identified. Second, if the command takes us by surprise, much more so does the warning—“so that nothing worse happens to you.” Yet the clear implication is that the warning is related to the command or instruction to stop sinning. Failure to stop so leads to something worse happening. There are three views one can take here: first, it is talking about additional suffering because of the sin. What a man sows, he reaps. It may indicate that his physical condition resulted form some sin; however, we must be careful here since Jesus such is not always so (cf. John 9:2-3). Second, it speaks of the future judgment after death (probably the most popular view). Third, it could refer to both suffering and judgment. There is no indication of any repentance; expression of gratitude; mention of faith; indication of salvation; and no inquiry as to Jesus’ identify. How he now knew it was Jesus the text does not reveal, but we must presume Jesus identified himself to the man. We are only told that after this confrontation, the man goes to the authorities to reveal Jesus’ identity to them (5:15). Could his sin be related to his present action? It may be, and Jesus is warning him not to continue with it. Carson views this as that of dullness, not treachery. He goes on to point out that “the motive can hardly be a desire to assign appropriate praise to Jesus.[19] However, Keener is more on point when he becoms a betrayer prefiguring Judas (6:71).[20] It certainly could not be ignorance since he knew what the leadership was up to (cf. 5:10-13). All interest in this man ceases at this point. This verse is transitional and sets up the next section on the Sabbath controversy. It is an introduction as to reason of the controversy, as seen in the beginning word of the next section—“for this reason” or “therefore.”(5:16).

The significance of sign three is at least threefold:
  • It reveals Jesus’ deity as Jehovah Rapha (Exodus 15:26)—the Lord of Healing.
  • It reveals Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath; therefore He supersedes the legalism that now characterizes Judaism. He does superior acts.
  • It reveals not all who benefited from His gracious and merciful acts were willing to go a step further to obtain salvation by faith. It portrays His sovereignty to work even in those who will not accept him. The signs in John are to call one to faith (cf. John 7:31; 12:37). Likewise, the lack of faith after seeing the signs caused by the stubbornness of disbelieving is also possible and seen (cf. John 10:25; 12:37). They are intended to challenge the readers to turn to God in faith. Thus the signs are linked with the responses they evoke: either to faith or unbelief. This one who is healed represents those unbelieving ones. He may have confessed Jesus as healer, but not as savior.

[1]  Andreas J. Kostenberger, BECNT: JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Baker, 2004], 173.
[2]  This is the only unnamed one in the Gospels, there are several opinions. For a brief summary see J. Carl Laney: MGC: JOHN [Chicago, Moody Press, 1992], 106. Also D.A. Carson, PNTC: JOHN [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1991], 240-241.
[3]  Craig S. Keener, THE GOSPEL OF JOHN: A COMMENTARY, [Peabody MA, Hendrickson, 2010], 1:634.
[4]  See D.J. Wieand, “Bethesda,” THE INTERNATION STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA, 4 Volumes, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, Revised 1979], 1:467-468. 
[5]  D.A. Carson, PNTC: JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1991], 241.
[6]  J. Rmasey Michaels, NICNT: THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2010]. 288.
[7]  Keener, 1:634,
[8]  D.A. Carson, PNTC: JOHN,, 242.
[9]  The Sinaitic MS holds the translation as “the reservoir or the pool for sheep, but is so weakly supported it is not adopted by the scholars.” See Frederic Louis Godet, COMMENTARY ON JOHN’S GOSPEL (Grand Rapids, Kregel, reprint 1978], 454.
[10]  D.A. Carson, PNTC: JOHN,,241. Also see F.F. Bruce, THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983], 121-122.
[11]  Leon Morris: NICNT: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1971], 302.
[12] Zane C. Hodges, “Problems Passages in the Gospel of John, Part 5: The Angel at Bethesda—John 5:4,” BIBLIOTHECA SACRA, January-March 1979, 39.
[13]  Rodney A. Whitacre, IVP NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY: JOHN, [Downers Grove IL, Inter-Varsity Press, 1999], 120.
[14]  Michaels, NICNT: JOHN, 294.
[15]  William Hendricksen, NTC: THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Baker, 1979], 193.
[16]  Ibid, 295. (m. Sabbat 7:2).
[17]  Homer A. Kent Jr., LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS: STUDIES IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Baker, 1974], 89.
[18]  Laney, MGC: JOHN, 110.
[19]  Carson, PCNT: JOHN, 246.
[20]  Keener, JOHN, 644.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Signs in the Gospel of John (2)

John 4: 43-54

John opens the event of the second sign in connection with the first sign by location. Both take place in Cana of Galilee. Verses 43-44 are transitional in nature. John uses a proverb to make the transition: “For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country” (4:44). This statement is found twice in the synoptic gospels (Matt13:57; Mark 6:4).  There is a debate as to how John uses this proverb. In Matthew and Mark it is used referring to his rejection at Nazareth. Here no such reference is given. It appears that this proverb may have been said by Jesus on different occasions. This is reinforced by the absence of the reference to his own “house” as in the synoptic gospels. Therefore, the proverb in this verse cannot refer to Jesus’ rejection by his hometown. John is borrowing this proverb which Jesus himself used and applying it here to the situation. It does not seem to apply to his reception in Samaria which he just left. For two reasons: (1) Samaria was not dishonoring him, and (2) it was not a part of his home country. The question seems to be: Is John referring to Galilee or Judea? Bible students and scholars are somewhat divided as to which it refers. It does not seem to be Galilee, for the context indicates that he was going back to Galilee because he was being dishonored. The text reads, “He went forth from there into Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country” (4:43-44). There are two things that should be pointed out in the text: First, for (gar) is a coordination conjunction and is explanatory, that is it is giving additional information of why he is going back to Galilee.[1] Second, it is parenthetical, giving a general reason, not necessary a specific one. It seems to reinforce the idea of John 1:11 of not being received by His own. It is best to take this as a general reference to people of Judea, for it is specifically stated that “the Galileans received Him” (4:45). This fits the belief/unbelief motif of John and sets up a contrast set up between those of Galilee and those of Judea. This motif leads us into the second sign: the healing of the Nobleman’s Son.

We are not to confuse this Nobleman’s miracle with the Centurion’s in Matthew 8:5-13. Both have a lot of similarities, but there are significant differences:[2] (1) Location, this is in Cana, the Matthew miracle is in Capernaum. In Matthew it is a servant of a Roman Gentile, which here the ethnic identity is unspecified by John. While some think the nobleman is a Gentile, Morris brings out that nothing in the story confirms that, and he appears to be included in the crowd of miracle-seeking Jews.[3] In Matthew the centurion asserts himself unworthy to have Jesus in his home; while John the nobleman begs Jesus to go to his home. These are two difference events.

John opens the miracle making the connection with the first miracle in Cana (John 4:46). Clearly the connection is geographical. In addition there are rebukes in each event (Acts 2:4; 4:48). In both the action is simply to speak the Word (2:5-8; 4:50). Keener suggests these connections: Both Mary and the nobleman refuse to take no as an answer (cf. 2:3-5; 4:48-50). Both challenge the people to a deeper faith.[4] Laney says this miracle: “illustrates the progress or development of faith from belief based on signs, to belief based on the word of Jesus, culminating in belief based on the Person of Jesus”.[5]

As we look at this miracle we see seven parts to the event:

The Sites—4:46

Jesus is in Cana, whereas the father and son are in Capernaum. Cana is in the high country about 14 miles from Capernaum, a coastal city on the Lake of Galilee. It was about a 4 to 5 hour walking distance. Why Jesus bypassed Capernaum and returned to Cana we are not told, but that is where he is. However, in Capernaum is a certain ruler or nobleman and his ill son. The word for nobleman is basilikos, meaning literally a royal, one of royal blood; it denotes a public functionary—civil or military.[6] It is used also of a person who serves the king, a courtier or royal officer as here in John. In this case it would be Herod Antipas, although not a king (Tetrarch of Galilee), nevertheless he could be called King (e.g. Matthew 14;9, Mark 6:14). He is in Capernaum because it is the most important government center in the area. It acted as a port of entry from Lake Galilee, had a Roman troop presence, and a custom house, where taxes were collected. However the locations are pointed out by John because distance plays a key role in the miracle.

The Seeker—4:47

Upon hearing that Jesus was in Cana, the nobleman immediately leaves to seek out Jesus. He does not wait or hesitate. He is seeking help and a healing for his son. There is no time to waste because his son is at death’s door. He was thinking two things: (1) Jesus had to come to Capernaum. (2) Jesus had to be present to heal his son. Evidently, that Jesus could heal his son without coming with him did not enter his mind. He is “imploring [Him] to come.” The word imploring is the Greek word erotao, a common word used in the NT 63 times that has a twofold connotation: (1) asking in the sense inquiring or interrogate (Matt 21:24; Luke 20:3); (2) asking in the sense of a strong request, begging, or beseeching (Matt. 15:23; John 14:16), which is the sense here. It is in the imperfect tense meaning that this was a continual request, speaking of his persistence (cf. Matt. 7:7). It has been observed that the nobleman “sounds as if he is approaching Jesus out of the desperation of need, but with little thought as to who Jesus is.”[7]

The Sadden Lament—4:48

The imploring of this man led Jesus to make the statement: “Unless you [people see] signs and wonders,[8] you [simply] will not believer.” Observe three things:
  • This lament acts as a rebuke.
  • This saying is a general lament concerning not simply this man, but the whole of the nation as seen from the use of the plural—you people. It is a lament over the condition of His people that seek His benefits, but not the acknowledgment of his person. It indicates that the nobleman was a Jew, not a Gentile, since he is included in the lament and rebuke.
  • This is not only a lament, but a rebuke and summons to the nation of Israel to acknowledge his true identity.[9]

The Nobleman’s Stubbornness —4:49

The Nobleman insist; in his stubbornness he pleads: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” The word Sir is the Greek word kyrie, and is translated as Lord as well. It is a term of respect of various force. It has the meaning Lord, master, or sir. It is used of Jesus in a number of occasions as Lord (cf. Matt. 1:22; 1 Cor. 4:5). Michaels views this as a prayer and supports the translation of Lord.[10] It is a prayer of desperation as seen in the Greek tenses describes a crisis with progress of illness.[11] Jesus responds to this breath of prayer, “but in such a way as immediately to elevate the faith to a higher degree.[12]

The Spoken Word—4:50

In reply to the urgent request, Jesus declares: “Go; your son lives.” The statement is somewhat ambiguous, in that is does not directly speak of healing. It speaks of the fact that the lad is alive. (A fact given three times in the text, 4:50, 51, 53 for emphasis on the accomplishment of the healing).  The NIV tries to take the ambiguity out by translated the phrase “You may go. Your son will live.” However, they are reading into the text what it does not explicitly say. None-the-less, the nobleman “believes the word Jesus spoke to him and started off.” This has striking resemblance to Elijah and the woman of Zarephath (cf. 1 Kings 17:23). The Word was enough to invoke faith by the noblemen (cf. Rom. 10:17). The perception of faith gives confidence that the saying of Jesus will happen and the boy lives as a statement of healing. The nobleman had nothing to go on except the ambiguous statement, but faith evidently saw it as a promise. Believing[13] the word is the difference. Augustine is reported as saying: “Faith is to believe what you do not see—the reward of faith is to see what you believe.” This sums up the experience of this nobleman. He did not see the healing of his son because of the distance; he simply believed the spoken word. That belief was rewarded by seeing his son was healed.

Meeting his slaves—4:51-53

Upon returning to Capernaum, he met his slaves on their way to him. They were coming to bring him good news about his boy—“saying he was living” (4:51). The statement is a declaration that the boy was healed. This act is both a fulfillment of the Word of Jesus and a confirmation to the father to the power of the Word. It was not bound by geographical distance. The healing is tied to the Word by the verification as to time of the healing. It was at the “seventh hour[14] the fever left him” (4:52). He knew that was the exact time Jesus spoke the Word. The verb knew (4:53) is an aorist indicating he just realized the pronouncement and the healing were at the same time.[15] The healing was instantaneous with the pronouncement. They are inseparable.

This is a restoration narrative. The son is restored to heath. It is a restoration of life and to life. It is seen physically and spiritually. The spiritual restoration is seen in the statement—“he himself believed and his who household.” John does not give the detail only the fact of restoration.

Significance of the Sign—4:54

John ends the report by noting it was the “second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.” It is significant that both the first and second sign are said to be in Cana of Galilee. It completes a literary device known as inclusion. This device encloses similar material or topic. It brings the section to a full circle. The first sign happened in Cana before he set out for Judea, bringing it full circle geographically. It also anticipates a new phase that follows.

Other significant facts are:
·        It signifies the Lord’s graciousness and compassion.
·        It signifies His power is unlimited in distance.
·        It signifies Jesus has the power to heal and give life, both physical and spiritual.
·        It signifies the process of faith—from unbelief, to faith in the Word, unto a growing faith, to spreading the faith.

[1] George R. Beasley-Murray, WBC: JOHN [Dallas, Word, 1987], 73.
[2]  Andreas J. Kostenberger, BECNT: JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Baker, 2004], 169.
[3] Leon Morris, NICNT: JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1971], 288 fn 167.
[4]  Graig S. Keener, THE GOSPEL OF JOHN: A COMMENTARY, Volume 1 [Peabody MA, Hendrickson, 2003], 630. 
[5]  J. Carl Laney: MOODY GOSPEL COMMENTARY: JOHN, [Chicago, Moody Press, 1992], 100.
[6]  Frederic Louis Godet, [Grand Rapids, Kregel, reprint 1978], 444.
[7]  D.A. Carson, PNTC: JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1991], 238.
[8]  This is the only place in John the word wonder occurs and it is connected with signs.
[9]   Kostenberger, BECNT: JOHN, 171,
[10]  Ramsey Michaels, NICNT: JOHN [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2010], 279.
[11]  Merrill C. Tenny, EBC: JOHN, [Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1981], 60.
[12]  Godet, JOHN, 445.
[13]  I am greatly saddened by the translation of the NIV in this verse—“took Jesus at his word.” Why they translate the word episteusen as “took” is beyond me, since they translate it as believing in verse 48. To me this translation downplays the element of faith.
[14] 1 o’clock in the afternoon in Jewish time.
[15]  Michaels, NICNT: JOHN, 282.