John 6: 41-51

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    41 Ἐγόγγυζον οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι περὶ αὐτοῦ ὅτι εἶπεν• ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ καταβὰς ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ,41 Egongyzon oun hoi Ioudaioi peri autou hoti eipen• egō eimi ho artos ho katabas ek tou ouranou,41 Therefore they murmured the Jews about him, that he said, I am the bread having descended from heaven,41 Then the Jews grumbled about him for saying, "I am the bread from God."
    42 καὶ ἔλεγον• οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς ὁ υἱὸς Ἰωσήφ, οὗ ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα; πῶς νῦν λέγει ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβέβηκα;42 kai elegon• ouch houtos estin Iēsous ho huios Iōsēph, hou hēmeis oidamen ton patera kai tēn mētera? pōs nyn legei hoti ek tou ouranou katabebēka?42 And they were saying, Is not this Jesus, the son Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How now he says that from heaven I have descended?42 And they were arguing, "Isn't this guy Jesus, the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know?"
    43 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς• μὴ γογγύζετε μετʼ ἀλλήλων.43 apekrithē Iēsous kai eipen autois• mē gongyzete metʼ allēlōn.43 He answered Jesus and said to them: do not murmur with one another.43 Jesus answered them, "Stop grumbling all together.
    44 οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.44 oudeis dynatai elthein pros me ean mē ho patēr ho pempsas me helkysē auton, kagō anastēsō auton en tē eschatē hēmera.44 No one is able to come to me if not the father the (one) having sent him, he would have drawn him, and I will raise up him in the last day.44 No one is capable of being drawn to me, unless the Father, who sent me, draws him himself, and I will raise him up at the last day.
    45 ἔστιν γεγραμμένον ἐν τοῖς προφήταις• καὶ ἔσονται πάντες διδακτοὶ θεοῦ• πᾶς ὁ ἀκούσας παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μαθὼν ἔρχεται πρὸς ἐμέ.45 estin gegrammenon en tois prophētais• kai esontai pantes didaktoi theou• pas ho akousas para tou patros kai mathōn erchetai pros eme.45 It is written in the prophets: and they will all be taught of God. All the (one) having heard from the father and having learned, he comes to me.45 Indeed, the prophetic writings say: 'And God will offer his teaching to all'. Anyone who listens to God and opens up to his teaching is drawn to me.
    46 οὐχ ὅτι τὸν πατέρα ἑώρακέν τις εἰ μὴ ὁ ὢν παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ οὗτος ἑώρακεν τὸν πατέρα.46 ouch hoti ton patera heōraken tis ei mē ho ōn para tou theou houtos heōraken ton patera.46 Not that the father has seen anyone, if not the (one) being by the side of God, this one has seen the father.46 This does not mean that someone has seen the Father, since only he who comes from God has seen the Father.
    47 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὁ πιστεύων ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον.47 amēn amēn legō hymin, ho pisteuōn echei zōēn aiōnion.47 Truly, truly, I say to you, the (one) believing has eternal life.47 Truly, truly, I assure you, the believer has eternal life.
    48 Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς.48 Egō eimi ho artos tēs zōēs.48 I am the bread of the life.48 I am the bread of life.
    49 οἱ πατέρες ὑμῶν ἔφαγον ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τὸ μάννα καὶ ἀπέθανον•49 hoi pateres hymōn ephagon en tē erēmō to manna kai apethanon•49 The fathers of you, they ate in the wilderness the manna and they died.49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they died.
    50 οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβαίνων, ἵνα τις ἐξ αὐτοῦ φάγῃ καὶ μὴ ἀποθάνῃ.50 houtos estin ho artos ho ek tou ouranou katabainōn, hina tis ex autou phagē kai mē apothanē.50 This is the bread, the (one) descending from the heaven, in order that anyone from it may eat and not die.50 This is the bread of God, that one may eat it and not die.
    51 ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ζῶν ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς• ἐάν τις φάγῃ ἐκ τούτου τοῦ ἄρτου ζήσει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, καὶ ὁ ἄρτος δὲ ὃν ἐγὼ δώσω ἡ σάρξ μού ἐστιν ὑπὲρ τῆς τοῦ κόσμου ζωῆς.51 egō eimi ho artos ho zōn ho ek tou ouranou katabas• ean tis phagē ek toutou tou artou zēsei eis ton aiōna, kai ho artos de hon egō dōsō hē sarx mou estin hyper tēs tou kosmou zōēs.51 I, I am the bread the living, the one from heaven having descended; if anyone shall have eaten of this the bread, he will live into the age, and the bread then that I will give, the flesh of me is for the sake of the life of the world.51 I myself am the living bread that comes from God. If someone eats this bread, he will live forever, and the bread that I will give him is my flesh so that the world may have life."

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 41 Then the Jews grumbled about him for saying, "I am the bread from God."

    Literally: They murmured (Egongyzon) therefore (oun) the Jews (Ioudaioi) about him (peri autou), that he said, I am (egō eimi) the bread (artos) having descended (katabas) from heaven (ouranou),

Egongyzon (They murmured) This verb is the perfect tense of gongyzō which means: to murmur, recriminate, grumble, mumble, complain, mutter, whine. The imperfect tense expresses an action that lasts in time. The verb is infrequent: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 4; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it appears only in 1 Cor 10:10.

The important thing to remember is that we have here an echo of the Old Testament, specifically the coming out of Egypt, as the people are disappointed to find themselves in the desert starving, with the impression that they are about to die.

  • Ex 16: 3: "In that place the people suffered thirst, and the people murmured (gongyzō) against Moses, saying, 'What have you done? Hast thou brought us out of Egypt to kill us, and our children, and our cattle, with thirst?'"

Clearly enough, John intends to present Jesus as the new Moses from whom signs are expected, as were the manna and the quails. Earlier, Jesus fed the crowd, and they responded by crying out, "This is truly the prophet who is to come into the world" (6:14).

Why do we murmur now, as the people murmured against Moses? Jesus claimed to be the bread that came down from heaven, i.e. to be the bread that came from God. We will explain later what this expression means, but for now let us say that John presents us with shocked, scandalized people. This is, in fact, the meaning of the word gongyzō elsewhere in the gospels.

  • Lk 5: 30: "The Pharisees and their scribes murmured (gongyzō) and said to his disciples, 'Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?""
  • Mt 20: 11-12: "While receiving it (their wages), they murmured (gongyzō) against the owner: 'These last comers have done but an hour, and thou hast treated them as we, who have borne the burden of the day, with its heat'."

Thus, gongyzō translates a form of incomprehension before a word of Jesus. When one does not understand, there are two possible attitudes: either one accepts the incomprehension in the form of a mystery, and then it is an attitude of faith, or it is the critical refusal of what exceeds the understanding. Thus, gongyzō reflects an attitude of non-faith. This is the meaning that is noted, for example, in Isaiah:

  • Isa 30: 12: "Because of this, this is what the Holy One of Israel says: 'Because you have not obeyed these words, because you have hoped in falsehood, because you have murmured (gongyzō) and have put your trust in your murmuring."

In short, gongyzō does not primarily express an attitude of hostility, but that of a critical grievance in the face of an incomprehensible statement, and which refuses to take the leap of faith, as Peter will do later (6:68). We have therefore opted for the verb "to grumble" to express this critical complaint, the verb "to murmur" being too much associated today with the simple fact of speaking in a low voice.

Verb gongyzō in John
oun (therefore) The only reason to point out the conjunction oun (then, therefore, indeed, as a consequence) is that it is very frequent in John: Mt = 56; Mk = 6; Lk = 33; Jn = 200; Acts = 61; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 1. It often serves as a simple transitional element, with no idea that what comes is the consequence of what precedes.
Ioudaioi (Jews) This word comes from the adjective ioudaios, also used as a noun. It plays a very important role in John: Mt = 5; Mk = 6; Lk = 4; Jn = 70; Acts = 77; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. While elsewhere in the Gospels-Acts it is used only to designate the Jews as an ethnic group, without any pejorative connotation, in John it is intended to designate very often the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem hostile to Jesus. In fact, if we want to be more precise, there are two main meanings of the word "Jew" in John.

  1. The Jew refers first of all to the Jewish nation and the ordinary people who compose it. So, the word appears in two different contexts.
    1. It refers in a general way to the Jewish world: thus the evangelist will speak of "the six stone jars, intended for the purifications of the Jews" (2: 6), or of the Passover of the Jews (2: 13), or of Nicodemus as notable of the Jews (3: 1), or of the fact that the Jews have no relationship with the Samaritans (4:9), or of the Jews who came to Martha and Mary to console them for the death of their brother Lazarus (11:9), or of the sign above the cross entitled: "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews" (19:19)

    2. But on three occasions he refers to particular Jews who have become believers and disciples: "Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed him, 'If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples'" (8:31; see also 11:45; 12:11)

  2. But quite often (55% of the occurrences), the word "Jew" designates the Jews of Jerusalem, versed in the Scriptures and exercising a certain authority. Because of the role John has them play, they can be divided into two groups.
    1. There are the questioning Jews who seek to understand, are sometimes shocked by certain words, and argue: this began with John the Baptist ("And this was the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him, 'Who are you?'", 1, 19), and continued with Jesus ("Then the Jews answered and said to him, 'What sign do you show us that you do this?'", 2: 18)(see also 6: 52; 7: 15; 7: 35; 8: 57; 10: 24)

    2. Then the questioning tone turns into blatant hostility, and so they "persecute" (5:16) Jesus, try to "kill" him (5:18; 7:1), stone him (10:31), accuse him of being demon-possessed (8:48.52), exclude his disciples from the synagogues (9:22), and hand him over to Pilate to be executed (18:31.36)

To which category do these Jews who are cursing belong? They are, of course, the questioning Jews associated with the authorities in Jerusalem. But we are in Galilee, on the shore of the lake, in the region of Capernaum. The assumption that they were Jews from Jerusalem visiting Galilee does not work, because later they say they knew Jesus' parents in Nazareth, which presupposes a certain familiarity with the family environment. It must be recognized that this v. 41 and the theme of murmuring is out of place here, and reflects the editorial work of the evangelist who brought together different pericopes that originally belonged to different contexts (For someone like M.E. Boismard, Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - L'évangile de Jean. Paris: Cerf, 1977, 190-205), the original context of v. 41 is that of the Feast of Tabernacles and followed the scene of the expulsion of the vendors from the temple where the Jews ask Jesus for a sign as Moses gave).

All this is secondary if we place ourselves from the evangelist's point of view. For the latter, the Jews represent those people who are unable to enter the Christian perspective, and multiply objections; they are proof that believing is a real challenge.

Adjective ioudaios in the gospels-Acts
peri autou (peri autou) This simple expression, formed from the preposition peri (about, on, with respect to, because of) and the personal pronoun autos (him), here in the genitive, is worth mentioning only because John likes it and uses it regularly: Mt = 2; Mk = 3; Lk = 8; Jn = 11; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Most of the time, the evangelist uses it to refer to Jesus as the subject of the discussion. This is another sign of the simplicity of the style of the fourth gospel.

Expression peri autou in John
egō eimi (I, I am)
For an analysis of the expression egō eimi, we will refer to the glossary; let it suffice for us to summarize what is said there. The expression is composed of the personal pronoun egō (I, me) and the verb eimi (to be) in the present indicative. This is a quite commonplace expression in Greek and simply means: it is I, or I am. However, the gospels, the Old Testament and Greek religious writings also gave it a solemn and sacred meaning. John uses it the most: Mt = 4; Mk = 2; Lk = 8; Jn = 37; Acts = 10; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In his case, it appears with three different formulations:
  1. In an absolute form, without predicate or attribute. For example, "Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I Am (egō eimi), you will die in your sins" (8:24)
  2. In an absolute form, but with the idea that it is about recognizing someone we know. For example, "But he said to them, 'It is I (egō eimi). Do not be afraid.'" (6: 20)
  3. With a predicate in the nominative that associates Jesus with a known reality. For example: "I am (egō eimi) the bread of life, the light of the world, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life, the true vine" (6:35.51; 8:12; 10:; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1.5)

It is from the Old Testament that we must try to understand the meaning given by John, in particular Deutero-Isaiah (40-55).

  • Isa 45: 18: "For thus saith Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens, He is God, who fashioned the earth and made it, he founded it; he did not create it empty, he fashioned it to be inhabited. I (am) Yahweh (Heb.:ʾănî yhwh; LXX: egō eimi), there is no other."

Isaiah uses "I am" to designate Yahweh, John uses it to designate Jesus. Also, when this expression appears in the mouth of Jesus, his audience understands the divine connotation, and that is why they want to stone him (see 10:41). The synoptics mostly opt for the title Lord (kyrios), for his part, John, prefers "I am" (egō eimi).

The glossary on egō eimi

Expression egō eimi in John

artos (bread) Artos (bread) refers to the staple of our diet, and is naturally present in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 20; Mk = 21; Lk = 14; Jn = 24; Acts = 5. One may be surprised by its frequency in John, but it is chapter 6 with the account of the feeding of the crowd and the discourse on the bread of life that concentrates most of the occurrences, i.e. 21 occurrences out of 24 (the other three occurrences being in the last meal of Jesus before dying and in the final scene of the risen Jesus eating with his disciples).

In John, the word refers to two different realities: the physical bread that feeds the body, and the symbolic bread that refers to an immaterial reality, and which is described as: bread come down from heaven, bread of God, bread of life. What is this immaterial reality?

We get a hint of this later on when Jesus speaks of "coming to him" (v. 44), a theme related to faith in him, and quotes the prophetic writings saying that they will all be taught by God (v. 45): the bread would refer to his word; we are faced with the sapiential symbolism of bread, just as earlier the story of the Samaritan woman put forward the sapiential symbolism of water. John refers us to a symbolism very present in the Old Testament.

Let's start with the prophetic writings.

  • Am 11: 13: "Behold, the days are coming - Yahweh's oracle - when I will send hunger into the land, not a hunger for bread, not a thirst for water, but to hear the word of Yahweh. They will go staggering from sea to sea, from the north to the east, wandering in search of the word of Yahweh and they will not find it! In that day the beautiful young women and the young men will wither with thirst".

Thus, bread designates the word of Yahweh. But to speak of bread is also to speak of a festive meal and a banquet, and for a prophet like Isaiah, it is the evocation of the messianic banquet.

  • Isa 55: 1-3.10-11: "Ah, all you who are thirsty, come to the water, even if you have no money, come, buy and eat; come, buy without money, without paying, wine and milk. Why spend money on anything but bread, and what you have earned, on that which does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good; you will delight in delicious food. Listen and come to me, listen and you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, fulfilling the favors promised to David... As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, without fertilizing it and making it sprout to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so it is with the word that goes forth from my mouth, it does not return to me without effect, without having accomplished what I wished and fulfilled the object of its mission."

For Isaiah, during this messianic banquet, Yahweh will satisfy his people with his word, and this word will be effective. This passage is important for understanding John, because, let us not forget, for him the messianic banquet is already present in Jesus, and in him God satisfies his people.

Another setting for understanding John is that of sapiential literature.

  • Prov 9: 5: "Come, eat of my bread, drink of the wine I have prepared!"
  • Sir 15: 3: "She (wisdom) feeds him with the bread of prudence, she gives him to drink the water of wisdom."

In this literature, wisdom is that intelligent and wise conduct, which can be inspired by the word of God. For John, wisdom is Jesus himself, whom he calls logos (word or verb) in his prologue.

If it is true that the bread refers first of all to the revelation in and by Jesus, due to the fact that the gospel is written in a Christian context, we can also guess an allusion to the Eucharistic assembly. The first allusion comes with the scene of the feeding of the crowd where Jesus takes the loaves and gives thanks (6:11), as is done in the Eucharistic celebration, and later he associates the bread with his flesh given for the life of the world (6:51). We can also add the mention of the manna which, in Christian circles, was a reference to the Eucharist, as Paul testifies, when he alludes to it when discussing the question of Eucharistic celebrations:

  • 1 Cor 10: 2-4: "all were baptized in Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink - they were indeed drinking from a spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ"

Thus, in its immaterial dimension, bread designates first and foremost the revelation in and by Jesus, but we also find in filagram form an allusion to the Eucharistic bread.

Noun artos in John
katabas (having descended) Katabas is the aorist participle of katabainō which means: to descend, to come down. This verb describes a downward movement and appears a number of times in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 11; Mk = 6; Lk = 13; Jn = 17; Acts = 19; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Outside of John, it is mostly used to describe the physical action of coming down from somewhere, for example coming down from Jerusalem (Mk 3:22; Acts 8:26; 25:7). But in John, out of 14 occurrences, 11 refer to a descent from heaven (the three exceptions appear in the sequence of the narrative around the royal official who goes to Cana to meet Jesus so that he can heal his son in Capernaum, this city being situated on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, below sea level).

Thus, we must interpret these 11 occurrences in a symbolic sense. In the ancient imagination, the world of God is situated "above", and the world of darkness "below". This is how the Holy Spirit "descends" from heaven. In the modern universe, which no longer shares this imaginary and which explores interstellar space, one can no longer speak of a God up there. So I preferred to use the expression "coming from God".

Verb katabainō in the New Testament
ouranou (heaven) Ouranou is the noun in the genitive of ouranos (heaven), and as one might imagine, quite frequent in the Gospels-Acts, especially in Matthew the Jew where it often appears in the plural: Mt = 82; Mk = 18; Lk = 35; Jn = 18; Acts = 26; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. For an analysis of the word, we will refer to the glossary. Let it suffice for us to summarize what is said there.

The word is closely related to the cosmology of Judaism, where the universe is divided into two great parts, the world below, and the world above, one called earth, the other called heaven. A semi-spherical vault delimits the two worlds, and it rests at the end of the flat earth on columns or high mounts. In this part above the firmament, sometimes called "heaven", sometimes "heavens", there are different layers, those of the luminaries (sun, moon and stars), the water bowls for the rain, and above all this, the domain of God which offers a dwelling place for various beings: the chosen ones, the angels, the powers and God himself. When this beyond the firmament is presented in apposition to the earth, as the other pole of the universe, it is always in the singular: heaven, and we therefore speak of "heaven and earth". On the other hand, when it is presented in itself, in its composite dimension, it is usually in the plural: heavens; one will speak of the angels in the heavens or of the Father who is in the heavens.

Thus, in the Gospels the word ouranos can have three meanings:

  • That which is above the firmament and where the beings that dwell in the house of God reside
  • It can point to God himself to avoid pronouncing his name
  • Finally, it can refer to that space between the ground and the firmament, where we can see birds, clouds and weather phenomena

John distinguishes himself from the other evangelists by having the word ouranos only in the singular, and thus by only seeing the space above the firmament as a great unified whole, presented as one pole of the universe in opposition to the other pole that is the earth. Second, more than the other evangelists, ouranos intends to designate simply God: "to come from heaven" means "to come from God." Finally, since John never mentions birds or clouds or weather signs, he does not need to refer to the "heaven" as a dwelling place for them, with one exception, when he writes that Jesus, in his prayer, raises "his eyes to heaven" (17:1).

In v. 41, with the expression "bread from heaven", John simply means the bread that comes from God: "heaven" is then a euphemism for God.

The glossary with ouranos

Noun ouranos in the Gospel-Acts

v. 42 And they were arguing, "Isn't this guy Jesus, the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know?"

Literally: And they were saying (elegon), Is not this (ouch houtos estin) Jesus (Iēsous), the son Joseph (Iōsēph), whose father (patera) and mother (mētera) we know (oidamen)? How (pōs) now (nyn) he says that from heaven I have descended?

Elegon (they were saying) The verb elegon is the imperfect tense of the verb legō (to say), a very common verb in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 505; Mk = 290; Lk = 531; Jn = 480; Acts = 234; 1Jn = 5; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 0). We only want to underline the fact that the verb is in the imperfect tense, and therefore expresses a continuous, unfinished action: the question of Jesus' identity is raised, and this question is not settled. This is why I tried to convey the idea of an unresolved question with the verb "to argue".

Indeed, when John uses the verb "to say" in the imperfect tense, it is often to describe an intense discussion about Jesus:

  • 7: 12: "And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying (elegon), 'He is a good man,' others were saying (elegon), 'No, he is deceiving the crowd.'"
  • 7: 41: "Others were saying (elegon), "This is the Messiah." But some asked, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?"
  • 8: 19: "Then they were saying (elegon) to him, 'Where is your Father?' Jesus answered, 'You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also'."
  • 8: 25: "They were saying (elegon) to him, 'Who are you?' Jesus said to them, 'Why do I speak to you at all?'"
  • 10: 24: "So the Jews gathered around him and were saying (elegon) to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly'."
  • 16: 18: "They were saying (elegon), 'What does he mean by this 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about'."

Thus, despite the discussions, there is no agreement on the identity of Jesus: is he a good man or an impostor? Is he the Messiah or Christ? Whose son is he really? And in v. 42, there is discussion because it is not understood that Jesus claims to be a food of God when he is simply a human being like everyone else.

Verb legō in the form elegon in John
ouch houtos estin (Is not this) Let's first look at houtos. It is a demonstrative pronoun that means: this one, that one. It is a word that John uses a lot and is actually quite commonplace: Mt = 147; Mk = 79; Lk = 228; Jn = 190; Acts = 236; 1Jn = 39; 2Jn = 5; 3Jn = 4. But the context suggests a tone of contempt and denigration, especially in the face of Jesus' claims. In such a context, houtos should be translated as "that guy" to convey the idea of a word spoken with some arrogance.

It is important to note the expression ouch houtos estin (is he not), first because it appeared earlier in Mark as the people of his hometown are surprised to see him teaching with authority in the synagogue and healing people:

  • Mk 6: 3: "Is not this (ouch houtos estin) the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Copying Mark, Matthew will use the same expression:

  • Mt 13: 55: "Is not this (ouch houtos estin) the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?"

Luke also copies Mark, with a slight variation:

  • Lk 4: 22: "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, 'Is not this (ouchi houtos estin) Joseph's son?'"

Biblical scholars generally agree that John did not know the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. So John seems to be taking up an ancient tradition that he knew in another way: people were astonished at this ordinary man from a humble background who began to teach with unparalleled force and was perceived as having inappropriate pretensions.

The second reason for emphasizing the expression is to point out that it is part of John's vocabulary, since John will later use it to express the surprise of the people of Jerusalem to see Jesus there while they are trying to kill him (7:25), or the surprise of the entourage of the blind man to see him now healed (9:8), or the surprise of the Pharisees in front of a Jesus who does not seem to respect the sabbath (9:16). In the evangelist's case, it is a vocabulary for expressing astonishment.

Expression ouch houtos estin in the Gospels-Acts
Iēsous (Jesus) The name Iēunder comes from Hebrew, in the form יְהוֹשֻׁעַ or יְ הוֹשׁוּעַ (yĕhôšûaʿ), the name Joshua bore in the Old Testament. It means: Yahveh saves. Obviously, this name is eminently present in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 152; Mk = 82; Lk = 88; Jn = 243; Acts = 69; 1Jn = 12; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 0. The fourth gospel largely dominates these statistics: because of the number of dialogues it contains, it is understandable that he should always be named explicitly.

What sets this verse apart is that it presents for a rare time the name "Jesus" in the mouth of someone other than the narrator. This is rare in the gospels: Mt = 7; Mk = 5; Lk = 6; Jn = 7. Let us summarize these occurrences.

  • When Philip meets with Nathanael to tell him that he has found the prophet foretold by Moses and the Scriptures, he tells him that it is "Jesus, the son of Joseph, of Nazareth (Jn 1:45)
  • The man possessed by an unclean spirit in the synagogue of Capernaum calls him: Jesus the Nazarene (Mk 1:24 | Lk 4:34)
  • In the region of the Gerasenes, a man with an unclean spirit cries out to Jesus, "What do you want from me, Jesus, son of the Most High God?" (Mk 5:7 || Lk 8:28)
  • When we are surprised by the words and actions of Jesus, we remember his identity: "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know" (Jn 6:42)
  • Ten lepers who challenge Jesus with, "Jesus, Teacher, have mercy on us" (Lk 17:13)
  • On the way out of Jericho, the blind Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, "Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!" (Mk 10:47 || Lk 18:38)
  • Upon Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, the Jerusalemites are informed that he is "the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee" (Mt 21:11)
  • When the man blind from birth is asked to identify the one who healed him, he replies, "The man who is called Jesus made mud... (Jn 9:11)
  • When Greeks want to see Jesus, they address Philip saying, "Lord, we want to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21)
  • When Jesus asks those who have come to arrest him in Gethsemane what they are looking for, they answer, "Jesus the Nazarene" (Jn 18:5, 7)
  • At the Jewish trial of Jesus, Peter is thus challenged by one of the high priest's maids: "You too were with the Nazarene Jesus" (Mk 14:67 || Mt 26:71; Mt also has in the same episode: "Jesus the Galilean", 26:69)
  • At the Roman trial of Jesus, Pilate questions the crowd as to what he should do with "Jesus who is called Christ" (Mt 27:17, 22)
  • On the cross, one of the evildoers said to Jesus, "Jesus, remember me, when you come with your kingdom" (Lk 23:42)
  • On the cross, a sign is placed: "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews" (Jn 19:19; Mt 37:37 has instead: "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews")
  • At the empty tomb, the young man in the white robe announces to them the resurrection of "Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified" (Mk 16:6 || Mt 28:5 which has simply: Jesus, the crucified)
  • In the account of Emmaüs disciples informing their visitor concerning "Jesus the Nazarene, who has shown himself to be a mighty prophet" (Lk 24:19)

Let's make some remarks.

  1. The usual way of calling Jesus for people who know something about him is: Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus the Nazarene (or the variant Nazorean), just as in the past people were given as family names: English (from England), Wales (from Wales), Spain (from Spain), London (from London), Scott (from Scotland). His name was attached to Nazareth, the place where he lived and worked. (It is likely that Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. On this subject, see Meier).

  2. Jesus is also sometimes called: Jesus, son of Joseph. This is another very old way of naming people. Many groups reflect this usage in the family name, for example the "mac" (son) of the Gaelic language which gave MacPherson in Scotland, or the "vic" (son) in the Slavic language which gave names like Petrovic, or the "ben" (son) in Hebrew which gave Ben Gurion

  3. It is interesting to note the three occurrences where Jesus is simply called "Jesus", without more: each time it is about people who are not familiar with him, i.e. the blind man from birth (Jn 9:11), some Greeks (Jn 12:21), and one of the criminals on the cross (Lk 23:42)

  4. On a few occasions Jesus is given an honorific title, but it is usually on the occasion of an urgent request where his link with God is insisted upon for healing: son of the Most High God (Mk 5:7), teacher (Lk 17:13), son of David (Mk 10:47).

  5. Finally, there is the case of Mt 27:17.22 where Matthew puts in Pilate's mouth: Jesus who is called Christ. Since Matthew insists on Jesus' messiahship during his trial, it is understandable that he wants to make him the object of Pilate's condemnation. At the same time, this title fits well with how the Greco-Romans perceived Jesus in the early Christian era, as the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus testifies when he recounts the death of James, "the brother of Jesus called the Christ" (Antiquities, 20, 9: #200).

References to the name Jesus when not from the narrator

The birth of Jesus according to J.P. Meier

On Nazareth, see the Glossary

Iōsēph (Joseph) The name of Joseph, the father of Jesus, is not very frequent and appears especially in the infancy narrative: Mt = 8; Mk = 0; Lk = 5; Jn = 2; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. If we exclude the infancy narratives, what do we know about Joseph? First of all, the name. According to Genesis 30:24: "And she (Rachel) called him Joseph, saying, 'May the LORD add another son to me'. In Hebrew: יוֹסֵף (yôsēp). His name was thus chosen among the patriarchs.

According to the customs of the time, Joseph would have had several children: Jesus the eldest, then James, Joset, Simon and Jude (Mt 13:55) (on the question of Jesus' brothers, see Meier) whose names are related to the Patriarchs (on the subject, see Meier). There were daughters too whose names are unknown to us (Mt 13:56), as women had no social status. It was customary for a father to pass on his trade to his eldest son, so that Joseph is attributed the trade of carpenter (Mt 13:55), as well as Jesus (Mk 6:3). On this trade, see the Glossary, where it refers to a craftsman's or handyman's job. Joseph had probably died when Jesus was 30 or 35 years old, i.e., at the time he began his public life. He was the husband of Mary, whom he married when she was probably 14 years old (See Meier).

What was Jesus' relationship with his father Joseph? We obviously don't know. But it was usual for the father to show his son the trade, and his son tried to imitate him. Perhaps an echo of this relationship can be found in a statement that seems to be primarily theological: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself unless he sees the Father doing it; and what the Father does, the Son does in like manner" (Jn 5:19). What is certain is that Jesus could not have become the leader he was without the influence of his parents.

Joseph, father of Jesus in the Gospels

Glossary of the carpenter's trade

oidamen (we know) The verb oidamen has the root oida, which means either to see or to know or to perceive. We introduced it in our analysis of Jn 10:4. Knowledge plays a crucial role in the fourth gospel: Mt = 24; Mk = 21; Lk = 25; Jn = 83; Acts = 19; 1Jn = 15; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 1. In John, Jesus wants to bring his audience to the knowledge of the whole truth, but at the same time, pretending to know represents an obstacle. This is the case here: the Jews know Jesus' origin in Nazareth, and they know his parents. And they will come back to this knowledge a few times.
  • 7: 27: "But we know where he is from, while Christ, when he comes, nobody will know where he is from"
  • 9: 29: "We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where he came from"

The fact that God could speak through a humble craftsman whose origins are well known seems unthinkable.

patera (father) Patera is the accusative of patēr (father, ancestor), an extremely common term in the Gospels-Acts, but especially in the Johannine tradition: Mt = 62; Mk = 18; Lk = 52; Jn = 130; Acts = 34; 1Jn = 14; 2Jn 4. But, as in English, it can take on a variety of meanings, from biological father to spiritual father. When we go through the Gospels-Acts, we can group these various meanings into four categories:
  1. This is first the title given to God by Jesus, later taken up by the evangelists, especially by John: Mt = 44; Mk = 4; Lk = 13; Jn = 114; Acts = 3. For example, "So shall your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father (patēr) who is in heaven" (Mt 15:16)

  2. The word also obviously refers to the begetter, the biological father: Mt = 15; Mk = 13; Lk = 26; Jn = 2; Acts = 6. For example, "But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of Herod his father (patēr), he feared to go there; warned in a dream, he withdrew to the region of Galilee" (Mt 2:22)

  3. The word is also used, especially in the plural, to refer to the ancestors of a nation or community: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 7; Jn = 5; Acts = 22. For example, "If we had lived in the days of our fathers (patēr), we would not have joined them in shedding the blood of the prophets" (Mt 23:30)

  4. On a few occasions it is used in a spiritual sense to designate a person at the source of one's personal, social or religious identity; among the Jews this would be Abraham or David: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 9; Acts = 2. For example, "Don't you dare say in yourselves, We have Abraham as our father (patēr). For I tell you, God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Mt 3:9)

Here, in v. 42, "father" refers to the biological sire. The only other example is in the account of the healing of the royal official in Capernaum: "The father knew that it was the hour when Jesus had said to him, 'Your son lives', and he believed, he and his whole household" (4:53).

mētera (mother) Mētera is the accusative singular of mētēr (mother). When the Gospels-Acts speak of mother, they mean different categories: the mother of Jesus, the mother of another character, the mother in general.

Mother of Jesus827101
Mother of someone else54503
Mother in general1311510

To understand what is said about the mother of Jesus, we must include in our research the name of the mother of Jesus: Mary (Mt = 5; Mk = 1; Lk = 12; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0). What emerges from all this data?

Although there are a total of 47 references to Mary-mother, 19 are from the infancy narratives. Why mention this? The infancy narratives belong to a specific literary genre that sets them apart: not only is their content highly theological (in Matthew, Jesus is described as a new Moses and go through similar events of his life, in Luke the Old and New Testaments are presented in a form of continuity, one represented by John the Baptist, the other by Jesus), but they do not add much to our understanding of the environment of Jesus' ministry.

Let us restrict our analysis to Mary Mother in the context of Jesus' public life. Let us first say a few words about each evangelist.

  • Mark tells us of two scenes, the first where Jesus' immediate family (his mother and brothers) want to see him, but cannot, prevented by the crowd, which gives Jesus the opportunity to redefine the notion of mother and brother on the level of faith (3: 31-32); then, the one in which the people of his homeland, probably Nazareth, cannot understand that a simple craftsman, son of a well-known ordinary woman and with equally well-known brothers who can be named, is playing the prophet and the healer (6: 3). In the first scene, the "mother of Jesus" is referred to, in the second case "Mary", as if she were well known. Both scenes suggest a kind of misunderstanding and gap between the biological links and physical coordinates of a person and what is revealed by the deeper look of faith.

  • Luke has a surprise in store for us. In his infancy narrative, he refers 17 times either to the mother of Jesus (5 times) or to Mary (12 times), mother of Jesus, so that he could be called the evangelist of Mary. But with the ministry of Jesus, nothing, or almost nothing, is left. In fact, the only reference is to the scene of Jesus' family who want to see him (8:19-20), a scene that he simply copies from Mk 3:31-32). And it is surprising that he does not even take up the scene from Mk 6:3 where people mention that they know his mother, a scene that he must have known. What does this mean? It is as if the infancy narrative and the ministry of Jesus belong to two different worlds, and the latter belongs entirely to Jesus of Nazareth. Luke returns to Mary and the brothers of Jesus in his Acts of the Apostles (1:14) to point out that they participate assiduously with the eleven in community prayer. Generally speaking, Luke supports Mark in the idea that biological ties are not important and that only the ties of faith count, where everything is at stake.

  • Similar observations can be made in Matthew: in his infancy narrative he makes ten references either to Jesus' mother (6 times) or to his name Mary (4 times), but then he is silent, simply copying Mk 6:3 where people mention Jesus' parents and brothers. On the other hand, he does not copy Mk 3:31-32 where his family wants to see Jesus. As for his infancy narrative, Mary merely accompanies Joseph, and does not perform any action other than giving birth. In short, Matthew has nothing original to say about Mary.

  • With John, we enter into another reality. His interest is the inner reality of things, the world of faith. And the mother of Jesus occupies a place there that is unparalleled in the other gospels. I said "mother of Jesus" because John never calls her Mary, which would emphasize the biological ties. Calling her "woman" or "mother" presents her as Eve (see Gen 3:15: "I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, between your lineage and hers. He will crush your head, and you will strike him in the heel"; on the subject see R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John. Garden City: New York, Doubleday (Anchor Bible, 29), v. 1, p. 108); she is the mother of the Messiah, and thereby fights Satan. But to fully understand what she represents, we must refer to the scene with the beloved disciple when Jesus is on the cross and says to him, "Here is your mother" (19:26-27), which represents what this woman is in the eyes of the evangelist: Jesus' mother has moved from a biological relationship, which is natural for a mother toward her son, to a spiritual relationship, of the same type as that of the beloved disciple toward Jesus (on the subject, see R.E. Brown on Jn 19:26-27); she becomes a figure of the believing community, and thus of the church. This is possible in the context of Jesus' death by which the Father will draw all to Jesus. While the scene with the beloved disciple comes at the end of Jesus' ministry, the moment when Jesus' mother enters the scene is at the wedding feast in Cana (2:1-11). Since Jesus' hour has not arrived, i.e., the hour of his death, Jesus' mother, and thus the believing community, cannot play any role ("What do you want from me, woman? My hour has not yet come", 2:4), for Jesus only does what the Father instructs him to do; the community can only live in patient expectation of the moment chosen by the Father: "Whatever he tells you, do it" (2:5).

Thus, when we consider the synoptic writings and the role of Mary in Jesus' ministry, we end up with two scenes: the family that wants to see him and the mention of Jesus' parents and brothers, the latter scene also present in John. Both scenes are simply a reminder that biological ties can be a source of confusion and an obstacle to faith.

Here in v. 42, John takes up a tradition that Mark also knows, but he takes the trouble to remove Mary's name, keeping only the word "mother". As we have seen, what interests him is the role she will play as a figure of the believing community. And in this, blood ties play no role, and in this John joins the synoptic accounts.

Noun mētēr in the New Testament

Noun Mary in the Bible

pōs (how) There would be little to say about the adverb pōs (how, how much, like), except that John likes it (Mt = 14; Mk = 14; Lk = 16; Jn = 20; Acts = 9; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), and especially that it serves his purpose well of showing how Jesus' words and attitude baffle people and can only be understood after an inner transformation. Let us give some examples:

  • 3: 4: "Nicodemus said to him, 'How (pōs) can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?'"
  • 6: 52: "The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How (pōs) can this man give us his flesh to eat?'"
  • 8: 33: "They answered him, 'We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. How (pōs) can you say, 'You will be made free'?'"
  • 12: 34: "The crowd answered him, 'We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How (pōs) can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?'"

Thus, we fail to understand why we must be born again, and how this is done; we fail to understand how the person of Jesus can be true nourishment; we fail to understand what it means to be truly free; we fail to understand why the Messiah, in his role as Messiah, must go through death. Our v. 42 adds another element to this case: how does this food from God come through an ordinary person whose family is well known?

Adverb pōs in John

nyn (now) Again, the only reason to mention the adverb nyn (now, henceforth, currently) is that it is used extensively by John: Mt = 4; Mk = 3; Lk = 13; Jn = 29; Acts = 25; 1Jn = 4; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. We can group this use of the word into four categories.

  1. "Now" refers to Jesus' death on the cross, also called "hour" or "exaltation." For example, 5: 25: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming - and it is now (nyn) - when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live."

  2. "Now" refers to the new situation introduced by the presence and mission of Jesus. This situation is a blessing to some. For example, 16: 30: "We know now (nyn) that you know everything and do not need to be questioned. At this we believe that you have come out of God." But the same situation is a curse for others. For example, 15: 22: "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but now (nyn) they have no excuse for their sin"

  3. "Now" refers to the period when Jesus is still physically present as opposed to the later period of the Church. For example, 14: 29: "I tell you now (nyn) before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe."

  4. "Now" simply refers to a historical sequence where there is a past and a present. For example, 4: 18: "for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now (nyn) is not your husband. What you have said is true!".

Our verse 42 fits into the latter category: the Jews are shocked at the contrast between a past in which Jesus was well known as the child of well known parents living in Nazareth, and the present in which he presents himself as food from God.

Adverb nyn with simply a chronological meaning in John
v. 43 Jesus answered them, "Stop grumbling all together.

Literally: He answered (apekrithē) Jesus and said (kai eipen) to them: do not murmur with one another (allēlōn).

Apekrithē kai eipen (he answered and said) As one might imagine, apekrithē the aorist tense of the verb apokrinomai (to answer), is a very frequent verb in the Gospels-Acts, since it plays an important role in a dialogue: Mt = 55; Mk = 30; Lk = 46; Jn = 78; Acts = 20; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But the point here is not only that John uses it more than the others, but that the phrase "answer and say" (apokrinomai kai legō) is a peculiarity of his style: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 28; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

Expression "to answer and say" in John
allēlōn (one another) There is little to say about allēlōn, a personal pronoun of reciprocity, other than that it is used a great deal in the Johannine tradition: Mt = 3; Mk = 5; Lk = 11; Jn = 15; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 6; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. Because of the emphasis on community or groups, it is normal for this pronoun to come up regularly. In particular, it is used 11 times to invite mutual love.

But often, as here in v. 43, it describes discussions or questions within a group of individuals.

Pronoun allēlōn in the Johannine tradition
v. 44 No one is capable of being drawn to me, unless the Father, who sent me, draws him himself, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Literally: No one (oudeis) is able (dynatai) to come to me (elthein pros me) if not the father the (one) having sent (pempsas) him, he would have drawn (helkysē) him, and I will raise up (anastēsō) him in the last day (eschatē hēmera).

Oudeis (No one) Oudeis is an indefinite pronoun used for negation (no one, none, nil, nothing) and which John likes: Mt = 18; Mk = 25; Lk = 34; Jn = 49; Acts = 25; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. When this pronoun plays the role of subject, as is the case here, we note four major situations where this word appears in the fourth gospel.

  1. It is used to express the gap between human capacity and that of Jesus. For example, 1:18: "No one (oudeis) has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known."

  2. It serves to emphasize the human incapacity that requires or presupposes the intervention of God. For example, 7:30: "Then they tried to arrest him, but no one (oudeis) laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come"

  3. It is used to describe the paralysis of people for various reasons. For example, 4:27: "Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one (oudeis) said, 'What do you want?' or, 'Why are you speaking with her?'"

  4. It refers to the assertion of a truth or a fact known in the Jewish world. For example, 7:4: "for no one (oudeis) who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world."

What is denied here in v. 44? It is the human capacity to accept Jesus, his word and his deeds without the help of the Father. This suggests that there is an unbridgeable gap between the human way of perceiving things and the whole of life with that of God; only an intervention of God makes it possible to cross this gap.

Pronoun oudeis as the subject in John
Dynatai (he is able) Dynatai, a verb in the middle/passive form, comes from dynamai which means: to be able, to be capable of, to be strong enough to. It is a verb that is used in all sorts of ways: Mt = 21; Mk = 24; Lk = 24; Jn = 36; Acts = 21; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. One could say that John likes this verb which he uses regularly. But what is remarkable is that this verb is almost always in a negative form in his Gospel. And when it's not, it's because it's introduced by a question like: how (pōs) to be able, or who (tis) is able? The answer to this question is always negative.

When we talk about incapacity, who are we talking about? First and foremost, we are talking about the incapacity of the human being and the world.

  • It is the inability to heal or to act as Jesus does (3: 2; 9: 4; 10: 21; 15: 4-5)
  • It is the inability to see or enter the kingdom of God (3: 3-5)
  • It is the inability to believe in Jesus, to go to him, to listen and to understand his word (6: 44.65; 8: 43; 12: 39; 14: 17; 16: 12)
  • It is the inability to follow Jesus on the way to the cross (7: 36; 8: 21-22; 13: 33.36-37)
  • It is the inability to defeat God's plan (10: 29.35)

But sometimes it's about the inability of Jesus.

  • Jesus can do nothing by himself (5: 19.30; 9: 33)
  • He cannot attract people and bring them to believe by himself (3: 27)

Thus, our analysis of dynatai accentuates what we said in our analysis of oudeis : the gap between human views and God's views, and the inability of human beings to enter into those views on their own. Was John a pessimist? It is rather that he had a deep knowledge of the world of God and the world of the human being, and of the abyss that exists between the two.

Expression ou dunamai (not being able) in John
Elthein pros me (to come to me) Elthein is the aorist infinitive tense of erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go, to appear), a verb particularly favored by the Johannine tradition: Mt = 113; Mk = 86; Lk = 99; Jn = 155; Acts = 50; 1 Jn = 3; 2 Jn = 2; 3 Jn = 2. It is an ordinary and all-purpose verb, like to have, to be or to do in English, in keeping with the simple Greek style of the 4th gospel. But what catches our attention here is the expression: come to me, an expression that is found sometimes in the Gospels-Acts, but especially in John: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 8; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. And in John, it always means: to become a disciple, to believe in Jesus.
  • Coming to Jesus gives life and allows for resurrection at the last day (5: 40; 6: 44)
  • Whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry or thirsty again (6: 35)
  • It is the Father who allows us to go to Jesus (6: 37.44.65)
  • We come to Jesus because we listen to the Father (6: 45)
  • Someone who is thirsty comes to Jesus (7: 37)

Thus, believing in Jesus is not a personal initiative, but the effect of a desire of which God is the source, and which creates a kind of thirst for understanding that only Jesus will be able to satisfy, and the outcome is a life without end.

Expression erchomai pros me (to come to me) in John
Pempsas (having sent) Pempsas is the aorist participle tense of the verb pempō (to send something to someone), a very Johannine verb: (Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 10; Jn = 32; Acts = 11). Of the 32 occurrences of the verb, 24 are used to describe the sending of Jesus by the Father: for John, Jesus is on a mission, and therefore his life has meaning only in relation to this God the Father who has mandated him. What does this mean?

  • His actions are not personally motivated, but are subject to what he perceives to be the will of God: "Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent (pempō) me and to complete his work" (4: 34)
  • In a similar way, the one who is sent is a mere conduit of the message of the one who sends him: "My teaching is not mine but his who sent (pempō) me" (7: 16)
  • The identity of the one who is sent and the one who sends are intimately associated, so that the attitude towards the one is reflected in the attitude towards the other: "Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent (pempō) him." (5, 23); "And whoever sees me sees him who sent (pempō) me" (12: 45)
  • At the same time, there is a certain precedence of the one who sends over the one who is sent: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the servant is not greater than his master, nor is the one sent greater than the one who sent him" (13: 16).
  • But one cannot welcome the one sent if one does not know the one who sends: "But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent (pempō) me" (15: 21)

With this notion of sending, John affirms something very important on the theological level: Jesus does not derive his value from his own personality, but from his relationship to this father God of whom he is the mirror, the reflection, the revelator, so that a position taken with respect to him is a position taken with respect to God. His sending is the very manifestation of God in our world.

Here, in v. 44, it means that believing in God and believing in Jesus cannot be dissociated, and it is God who sends, he will see to it that Jesus' mission reaches its end.

Verb pempō in John when the Father is sending
Helkysē (he would have drawn) This aorist subjunctive tense of the verb helkō (to draw to oneself, to drag, to attract, to haul in) is very rare, not only in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 5; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), but also in the rest of the New Testament, where it is found only in the epistle of James. When used with an object, it has the meaning of pulling, for example pulling a sword from its sheath, or pulling the net from the water. When used with a person, it has the meaning of dragging someone, such as dragging them into court or out of a house.

It is thus a very unique meaning that John gives to the word helkō here, as well as in 12:32 ("and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw (helkō) all men to myself"). Biblical scholars have sought to understand the influences that may have been exerted on the evangelist and led him to choose this word to express Jesus' power of attraction to people. Thus, two texts appeared possible.

  • First, there is this excerpt from a compilation of rabbinic teachings, called Pirqe Abot I, 12 (part of the Mishna, 2nd c. CE): "The natural desire of one who feels this way (feels love for his fellow human beings) is to attract them to the Torah, and this means to bring them to share a fuller knowledge of God."
  • And there is the Septuagint version of Jeremiah 31:3: LXX "The Lord appeared to him from afar. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, in my mercy, I have drawn you (helkō) to myself."

In John this attraction to the knowledge of God leads people to turn to Jesus.

Verb helkō in the New Testament
Anastēsō (I will raise up) Anastēsō is the verb anistēmi (to cause to arise, to bring about, to rise, to stand up, to resurrect, to rise up) in the future tense. John uses it sparingly: Mt = 4; Mk = 16; Lk = 27; Jn = 8; Acts = 44; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. On the subject, one will consult the glossary on the resurrection of the dead. Let's summarize the main elements.

Anistēmi, along with egeirō (which originally means "to awaken," but whose symbolic value has been extended to: to cause to arise, to set up, to erect, to raise, to bring forth, to raise up) constitute the two main verbs in the New Testament to refer to the resurrection: the Greek language has no proper term to refer to the resurrection. Also, we can see that these two verbs refer to four different major realities. For the sake of brevity, we will only give examples with anistēmi.

  • The gesture of getting up to go. For example, Lk 1:39: "In those days Mary rose (anistēmi) and went in haste to the hill country, to a city of Judah."
  • The fact that Jesus was raised from the world of the dead and passed into the world of God, and which is usually translated as "being raised." For example, Lk 24:46: "So it is written that Christ would suffer and rise (anistēmi) from the dead on the third day."
  • The Jewish belief that at the end of time there will be a resurrection of the dead. For example, Mk 12:25: "For when one rises (anistēmi) from the dead, one does not take a wife or a husband, but is like an angel in heaven."
  • The fact that a person comes back to life, which could be translated as resuscitation or revival. For example, Lk 9:19: "They answered, "John the Baptist; to others, Elijah; to others, one of the ancient prophets has risen (anistēmi)."

Statistically, it is the first reality (the gesture of rising) that is the most frequent in the Gospels-Acts, confirming the fact that anistēmi is not primarily used to speak of resurrection.

Here, in v. 44, John refers to the resurrection of the dead. However, when we look at the whole New Testament, we notice a certain ambiguity: who will be resurrected, believers only, or everyone. Several texts speak only of the resurrection of the righteous or of those attached to Christ: "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are judged worthy to share in this age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Lk 20:34-35); thus only those who are judged worthy will be resurrected. Paul says similar things: "Since we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, so also those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, God will take with him" (1 Thess 4:14); it seems that only those who have died believing will be raised. On the other hand, other passages in the New Testament speak of a resurrection for all, such as this one where Paul speaks to the governor Felix: "having hope in God, as they themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and of sinners" (24:15); everyone is resurrected, even if the fate of each one is different.

The same ambiguity is found in John. On the one hand, he seems to assume that only the believer will be risen: "Yes, this is my Father's will, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (6:39); clearly, only the believer will inherit eternal life and be raised by Jesus at the last day. But on the other hand, in a speech addressed to the Jews, Jesus says: "Do not be surprised, for the hour is coming when all those who are in the tombs will hear his (son of man's) voice and come out: those who have done good, to a resurrection of life; those who have done evil, to a resurrection of judgment (5:28-29); clearly, those who have done good and those who have done evil are risen, even though it is not clear what will be the fate of those undergoing judgment. And here, in v. 44, the promise of resurrection concerns only believers.

This ambiguity cannot be resolved without addressing another ambiguity, that which concerns what has already been given and what will be given later: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (Jn 5:24); thus, the believer already has eternal life. The Pauline letters will say similar things: "buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him, because you believed in the power of God who raised him from the dead" (Col 2:12); for the believer, the resurrection has already taken place. Yet, even though he already has eternal life, the believer seems to be missing something. In fact, he seems to be missing two things.

  1. For, in spite of having eternal life, physical death awaits him ("He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live", Jn 11:25); he must therefore overcome this physical death, as Paul expresses it in this way: "And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom 8:11)

  2. Then there is the prospect of being able to live in true intimacy with Jesus: "Father, I want those whom you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may behold my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world" (Jn 17:24). This point will be taken up again in his first letter: "Beloved, even now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made manifest. We know that in that manifestation we will be like him, because we will see him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2).

A key to resolving these ambiguities is that of first century Judaism, a framework that permeated Jesus and the first Christian communities, an eschatological framework in which history is not infinite, but will have an end, an end seen with an apocalyptic vision, i.e. of intervention and final revelation of God that will be accompanied by a judgment ("until the coming of the Ancient One who rendered judgment for the saints of the Most High, and the time of the coming of the Holy One"). The end is seen with an apocalyptic vision, i.e., the intervention and final revelation of God, which will be accompanied by a judgment ("until the coming of the Ancient One, who will render judgment for the saints of the Most High, and the time will come for the saints to possess the kingdom", Dan 7:22). Another aspect of this framework is the obligation to have a body in order to live; in the Jewish universe, there is no "soul" without a body. This is how Paul must answer the question, "But how do the dead rise? With what body do they come back? (1 Cor 15:35). His answer will be to speak of a "spiritual" body (1 Cor 15:44), which all will have to put on as one puts on a dawn. In this context, the Jewish milieu envisaged a resurrection of the dead for all the deceased, in order first to identify them well, and then to exercise a final judgment, sending some to the light, others to the night (for an example of this vision, see 1 Enoch).

It is in this context that we must read our v. 44. Even though the believer has already passed from death to life, he needs divine intervention to overcome physical death. This victory over physical death seems to be reserved for the end of human history, when everyone will be given a pneumatic body. At that time, the believer, having become like his master, will be able to contemplate him in all his glory.

Glossary on the resurrection of the dead

Verb anistēmi in the New Testament

Eschatē hēmera (last day) The adjective eschatē is the feminine dative singular of eschatos : last. It is used occasionally in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 10; Mk = 6; Lk = 6; Jn = 7; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But what is remarkable is the meaning given to it by the Johannine tradition, which is different from what is found elsewhere in the Gospel-Acts. Indeed, eschatos designates either a final state (Lk 11:26 || Mt 12:45; Mk 5:23), or a last penny (Lk 12:59 || Mt 5:26), or the last people (Mk 10:31 || Lk 13:30 || Mt 19:30; Mk 9:35), or the last place (Lk 14:9), or the end of the earth (Acts 1:8; 13:47). But in John, the adjective always accompanies the word "day" in his gospel, and always the word "hour" in his first epistle. And so, with the exception of Jn 7:37 where it refers to the last day of the feast of tabernacles, eschatos refers to the end of human history. The only instance in the Gospels-Acts where eschatos is associated with the word "day" is in Acts 2:17, in Peter's speech at Pentecost: "It will be in the last (eschatos) days, says the Lord, that I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh"; this is a quotation from the prophet Joel 3:1, which does not speak of "last days," but of the "day of Yahweh" (י וֹם יְהוָה yôm yhwh), which the Septuagint rendered as "day of the Lord" (hēmera kyriou).

Thus, whether we speak of the "day of the Lord", or of the "last days", or of the "last day", or of the "last hour", we speak of the same thing: of the end of time or of the end of human history, linked to an intervention of God.

Judaism differs from other ancient Near Eastern countries in not seeing history in a cyclical way, but in a linear way: as there is a beginning (see the book of Genesis), so there is an end. But the word "end" must be taken in both senses of the term, i.e. in the sense of a goal, often expressed with words like "salvation", and in the sense of a stop, often expressed with terms like accountability or judgment. Thus, in the Old Testament, if Yahweh intervenes to unleash his wrath and judge human conduct by allowing Israel's enemies to plunder and slaughter them, it is to put an end to their violence and wickedness (see Ezek 7:1-14), and then to gather them from among the peoples, and give them one heart, and put a new spirit in them, and cut out of their flesh the heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh (Ezek 11:19). This is how a final intervention of God was expected, referred to as the "Day of Yahweh" (Isa 2:12; Ezek 13:5, Joel 1:15; Zeph 1:7; etc.) or "Day of wrath" (Lam 2:22; Ezek 22:24; Zeph 1:18), or "Day of judgment" (Jdt 16:17).

The New Testament echoes this context, especially the story around John the Baptist: "When he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers, who suggested that you escape the coming wrath? (Mt 3:7). But the event of Jesus transformed everything, because it became the definitive intervention of God. The wrath of God became the good news of God. However, the idea of an end to history has not been lost, an end in both senses of the word: end in the sense of goal, i.e. eternal life in God's world, end in the sense of end, i.e. the destruction of the present world accompanied by the return of Jesus in all his glory who will judge each one according to his works. In the meantime, it is urgent to preach the gospel so that everyone has the chance to accept or reject it. A set of words will translate all these ideas starting with that of telos (which means target or goal, but also end or completion), and Old Testament vocabulary such as "that day," "day of wrath," "day of judgment." Let's give some examples.

  • Mt 24: 14: "This Good News of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole world, as a witness to all nations. And then will come the end (telos)"
  • 1 Cor 15: 24: "Then it will be the end (telos), when he will hand over the kingship to God the Father, after destroying all Principality, Domination and Power."
  • Lk 17: 30: "So shall it be, on the Day (hēmera) when the Son of Man shall be revealed."
  • 1 Cor 3:13: "Each man's work will become manifest; for the Day (hēmera) will make it known, for it must be revealed in fire, and it is this fire that will test the quality of each man's work"
  • Mt 10:15: "Truly I say to you, on the Day of Judgment (hēmera kriseōs), there will be less severity for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for this city."
  • 2 Pet 2:9: "that the Lord knows how to deliver the godly from trial and to keep the ungodly to punish them on the Day of Judgment (hēmera kriseōs)"
  • Acts 2:20: "The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the Day of the Lord (hēmera kuriou) comes, that great Day."
  • 2 Cor 1:14: "as you have understood us in part - that we are to you a title to glory, as you will be to us, in the Day of our Lord Jesus (hēmera tou kyriou hēmōn Iēsou)"
  • Phil 2:16: "by presenting to him the Word of life. Thus you prepare me a cause of pride for the Day of Christ, for my race and my labor will not have been in vain."
  • 1 Pet 2:12: "Be of good conduct among the nations, so that even at the point where they slander you as evildoers, the sight of your good works may cause them to glorify God on the Day of His Visitation (hēmera episkopēs)"

All this context creates a great contrast with John's world. John shares with the New Testament writers the idea that there is an end to human history. But all the vocabulary of divine wrath has disappeared. The same is true for the upheaval of nature and the catastrophes preceding the coming of the day. It is no longer a question of a day of judgment, for judgment has already taken place in the statement about Jesus, and if there is mention of a resurrection of judgment (5:29), it is to mention that those who have done evil cannot have the same fate as those who have done good. The whole emphasis is on the "day of resurrection", so John only intends to speak to the believing community and the end of their lives. He does not even speak of the coming or the return of Jesus as elsewhere in the New Testament: for him, since his resurrection, Jesus permanently dwells in the believer: "On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you" (14:20). The only thing that is missing and that will be given to them at the end of human history is the destruction of physical death (11:25) and the contemplation of Jesus in all his glory (17:24).

One final question may be asked. John uses the expression "last day", in the singular, whereas everywhere else in the New Testament we find only the plural; for example: "Know well, moreover, that in the last days (in eschatais hēmerais) difficult times will come" (2 Tim 3:1; see also Jas 5:3; Pet 3:3; Acts 2:17). And even in Sirach we find the plural: "Think of the wrath of the last days (in hēmerais teleutēs), the hour of vengeance, when God turns away his face" (18:24); the latter uses the singular only for the end of the individual life (see Sir 2:3; 51:14). One possible answer is that John does not take on board all those terrible events that precede the end and are part of the apocalyptic literature: for Mark (see ch. 13), for example, there will be wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions that will last for some time, even though the Lord has decided to shorten those days (13:20), before the stars of heaven fall. In this context described by Mark, it is normal to speak of "last days", because the whole thing will last several days. Nothing of the sort happens in John, and so to speak of "last days" in the plural would make no sense. The "last day" is the day of the resurrection of the dead.

Adjective eschatos in John
v. 45 Indeed, the prophetic writings say: 'And God will offer his teaching to all'. Anyone who listens to God and opens up to his teaching is drawn to me.

Literally: It is written (estin gegrammenon) in the prophets (prophētais): and they will all be taught (didaktoi) of God. All the (one) having heard (akousas) from the father and having learned (mathōn), he comes to me.

estin gegrammenon (it is written) Gegrammenon is the perfect passive participle tense of graphō : to write, to draft, to compose, a verb that the Johannine tradition likes: Mt = 10; Mk = 9; Lk = 20; Jn = 22; Acts = 12; 1Jn = 13; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 3. As one can imagine, very often graphō is used to introduce a citation from Scripture, such as this passage from Mark 1:2: "As it was written (gegraptai) in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way." The verb gegraptai is the passive perfect of graphō, and it appears more than 66% of the time in the Gospels-Acts to introduce a citation from Scripture. But there is one exception: the 4th Gospel. In the six occurrences where graphō is used to introduce a passage of Scripture, the evangelist always uses the passive perfect participle gegrammemon, and five times out of six with the auxiliary "to be": estin gegrammemon (it is written), as is the case here in verse 45. In the Gospels-Acts, there are only two similar occurrences in the Gospel of Luke: 4:17 ("Jesus found the passage where it was written", the verb to be is in the imperfect tense) and 20:17 ("What then is the meaning of this which is written").

All this allows us to draw two conclusions: John belongs to a different tradition from that of the synoptic gospels; nevertheless, we find here and there in his gospel certain kinships with Luke, which leads us to suppose that they knew certain similar traditions (the most obvious being the miraculous fishing, in ch. 5 in Luke, in ch. 21 in John).

Which Old Testament books does John like to quote with the phrase gegrammenon? Of the six passages, four refer to the Psalms, and two to the prophets (i.e. Isaiah and Zechariah).

Verb graphō in the Gospels-Acts
prophētais (prophets) Prophētais is the plural dative of prophētēs: one who speaks in the name of God, prophet. It is a contraction of two words: pro (before, in place of) and phēmi (to declare, to say). The prophet is one who is the spokesman for another, who proclaims on his behalf. In the Jewish world, the prophet is first and foremost God's spokesman: he conveys God's thought, his purposes, his will. In Hebrew, he is called: nābîʾ (plural: nĕbîʾîm), a word said to be derived from the Akkadian: "to call", "to announce". But more importantly for our purposes, the word here is in the plural: Judaism has divided what we call "Old Testament" into three parts: the Law (heb. תוֹרָה: Torah), the Prophets (heb. נְבִיאִים: nĕbîʾîm) and the Writings (heb. כְּתוּבִים (ketouvim).

  • The Law includes the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy
  • The Prophets include three bodies of work.
    • The first one goes from the book of Joshua to the book of Kings; even if to our eyes all this seems to belong to the category "historical books", they speak about prophets like Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Elijah, Elisha, and Jehu
    • The second contains the three major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel
    • Finally, the third is the collection of the twelve minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
  • The Writings encompass a collection of disparate writings such as the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Qohelet, the books of Ruth, Job, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

Here, in v. 45, John refers to Isaiah 54:13. If one wonders why he uses the word prophet in the plural, one must probably answer that he is referring first of all to that part of Scripture which the Jews called the Prophets, and in which the book of Isaiah is found. In ch. 54, Isaiah invites Israel to shout for joy, for he announces the end of their woes and the beginning of their salvation, and promises not to be angry with his people any more. It is in this context that he says:

  • Hebrew version: "And all your sons (will be) taught (limmûdê) by God, and great peace (will be) upon your sons"
  • Septuagint version: "And all your sons (will be) taught (didaktous) by God and your children (will be) in great peace"
  • John's version: "and they will all be taught (didaktoi) by God."

John therefore does not quote Isaiah verbatim and takes only what serves his purpose: he eliminates the mention of sons to keep only "all." If he knew the Septuagint, he changed the accusative didaktous plural for didaktoi, the nominative plural: the accusative of the Septuagint, thus a direct object complement, is not well explained and forces us to assume that the preceding sentence ("I will make your crenels of ruby, your gates of carbuncle. .) also commands the following verse, i.e. "I will make ... that they all be taught".

Let us note in conclusion that this is John's only reference to this corpus called: the Prophets.

Noun prophētēs in the Gospels-Acts
didaktoi (taught) Didaktoi is the nominative plural of the adjective didaktos : instructed, taught. It is derived from the verb didaskō : to teach, instruct. The adjective is very rare throughout the Bible: in the New Testament it is found only here and in 1 Corinthians 2:13, and in the Septuagint only in Isaiah 54:13, 1 Maccabees 4:7, and Psalms of Solomon 17:32 (an apocryphal Jewish writing of the 1st century CE, not to be confused with the Odes of Solomon).

The Jewish equivalent is the adjective: limmud (to be taught, disciple, accustomed); to be taught by someone is to be their disciple.

So, in the Isaiah quote, it is the idea that all will be taught by a teacher who is God, and they will become his disciples. By the way, in the majority of cases where we find didaktos, it is God who is teaching.

Adjective didaktos in the Bible
akousas (having heard) Akousas is the aorist participle of the verb akouō : to hear, listen, learn, understand, consider, obey. It is very frequent throughout the New Testament, and in particular in the gospels-acts-epistles of John: Mt = 57; Mk = 41; Lk = 59; Jn = 54; Acts = 89; 1 Jn = 10; 3 Jn = 1. As can be seen, it is a word well integrated in the Johannine tradition. To appreciate all its nuances, we must divide the panoply of meanings into several categories. We propose seven of them.

  1. To hear the word or to listen to someone means to believe, to have faith (29 times in the Johannine tradition). For example, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears (akouō) my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (Jn 5:24; see also 1:37; 3:29; 5:25. 28; 6:45; 10:; 14:28; 18:37; 1 John 2:7.24; 3:11; 4:6). The act of believing is done by connaturality, i.e. our deep being has opened itself to God, and therefore is able to recognize the dimension of God in Jesus: "Whoever is of God hears (akouō) the words of God; if you do not hear (akouō), then you are not of God." (Jn 8:47). Conversely, not being able to hear a word means not believing. For example, "After hearing it, many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard word! Who can hear it (akouō)?" (Jn 6:60; see also 8:38.43; 9:27; 12:47; 14:24). Note that putting one's faith in someone usually applies to God and Jesus, but conversely someone can put his faith in Jesus' opponent: "I say what I have seen in my Father; and you do what you heard (akouō) from your father" (Jn 8:38).

  2. Listening sometimes has the trivial meaning of learning news (13 times in the Johannine tradition). For example, "Hearing (akouō) rumors about Jesus, the Pharisees sent guards to seize him" (Jn 7:32; see also 4:1.47; 9:32.35; 11:; 12:12.18; 1 Jn 2:18; 3 Jn 1:4).

  3. Listening sometimes has the meaning of being challenged, of receiving a word that compels a decision (9 times in the Johannine tradition). For example, "Some of the Pharisees, who were with him, heard (akouō) these words and said to him, "Are we also blind?" (Jn 9:40; see also 7:40; 8:9.27.40; 12:29; 19:8.13; 21:7).

  4. On a few occasions, the gospel uses this verb to describe Jesus' unique relationship and communion with God (6 times in the Johannine tradition). For example, "(He who comes from heaven) testifies to what he has seen and heard (akouō), and his testimony no one accepts" (Jn 3:32; see also 5:30; 8:26.40; 15:15; 16:13).

  5. The evangelist also uses this verb to describe the fact that God answers a prayer (6 times in the Johannine tradition). For example, "We know that God does not hear (akouō) sinners, but if anyone is religious and does his will, that one he hears (akouō)» (Jn 9:31; see also 11:41.42; 1 Jn 5:14).

  6. Then we have the unique case where the word refers to the legal action of hearing someone for investigation: "Does our Law judge a man without first hearing him (akouō) and knowing what he does!" (Jn 7:51).

  7. Finally, there is also the unique case where the word describes having gained knowledge: "The crowd then answered him, 'We have learned (akouō) from the Law that Christ remains forever. How can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" (Jn 12:34).

Within this semantic richness of the verb akouō, John intends here to describe the attitude of the believer. Referring to Isaiah 54:13, he assumes that God is at all times offering his teaching to the human heart. To believe is to hear this language in the depths of one's heart, to open oneself to it and to allow oneself to be led by it. And if this is the case, the person recognizes that the language of Jesus is of the same type as this language of the heart, and then he agrees to believe in him and to follow him. This is John's logic.

Verb akouō in John
mathōn (having learned) Mathōn is the aorist participle of the verb manthanō : to learn. It appears only seven times in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 2; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere, in the New Testament, it appears only 17 times, almost exclusively in the Pauline epistles (the only exception being Rev 14:3).

The meaning of the verb is clear enough: it is about learning, a learning that can be done through life experience, but most often through the company of teachers and didactic instruction. This is why the Jerusalem Bible often translates this verb as "go to school": "Take up my yoke and go to my school (manthanō; lit.: learn from me), for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find relief for your souls" (Mt 11:29). A similar meaning is found in the only other occurrence in John: "The Jews were astonished and said, "How does he know the letters without having studied?" (manthanō; lit.: without having been to school or without having learned)" (7:15).

In v. 45, the verbs "listening" (akouō) and "learning" (manthanō) should be read together. John was careful to unite them by using the same verb tense: having listened and having learned. Why? It is as if listening, i.e. having the openness of the heart and the right disposition to open to the inner voice of the heart is not enough. It takes a didactic approach, it takes a form of learning at school, it takes the help of a teacher. John may have in mind the experience of his own community, which not only had the necessary inner disposition, but also began to scrutinize the Scriptures to find everything about Jesus; they must have spent hours studying. This corresponds to the whole experience of the early Christian communities, as we see in some of the Pauline letters, where the apostle insists on the need to perfect their learning: "I beg you, brothers, keep away from those who cause dissension and scandal against the teaching you have received (manthanō; lit.: the teaching you have learned); avoid them" (1 Cor. 16:17).

Verb manthanō in the Gospels-Acts
v. 46 This does not mean that someone has seen the Father, since only he who comes from God has seen the Father.

Literally: Not that the father has seen (heōraken) anyone, if not the (one) being by the side of (para) God, this one has seen (heōraken) the father

heōraken (he has seen) Heōraken is the perfect indicative tense of the verb horaō: to see, look, aim, perceive, observe, notice, discern, watch. As one can imagine, it is very frequent in the Gospel-Acts, and more particularly in the Johannine tradition: Mt = 76; Mk = 60; Lk = 81; Jn = 82; Acts = 72; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2. It is part of that set of verbs around the action of seeing that the fourth gospel is fond of, such as blepō (to see with one's eyes, to cast one's eyes on, to notice): Mt = 20; Mk = 15; Lk = 16; Jn = 17; Acts = 13; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0; theaomai (to look at, contemplate, see): Mt = 4; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 5; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 3; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; theōreō (look, observe, examine, contemplate): Mt = 2; Mk = 4; Lk = 6; Jn = 23; Acts = 14; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

As is the case with the meanings of words in the gospels, and especially in John, they can vary according to context. For horaō, we can identify 6 different meanings; of course, we can argue about the accuracy of each meaning, but these categories help us understand the different nuances of the word.

  1. The first context is one that presupposes that one has faith to see what one sees, and so "seeing" is a look of faith (27 times). For example, Jn 1:34: "And I myself have seen (horaō) and have testified that this is the Son of God"

  2. The second is that of simple physical observation, while in one place a person or thing is seen. For example, Jn 5:6: "When Jesus saw (horaō) him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be made well?'"

  3. The third is where the verb is used as a simple exclamation: behold, inviting one to look or notice. For example, Jn 5:14: "Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See (horaō), you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you."

  4. The fourth is very particular to John where Jesus performs signs that people witness, but many "see" them without it triggering faith, while others begin to believe. If you like, this look is halfway between the physical look and the look of faith. For example, Jn 6:30: "Then they said to him, "What sign are you doing, then, that at the sight of it (horaō) we should believe you? What work do you accomplish?"

  5. The fifth is the unique case of Jesus who, because of his intimacy with the Father, knows who he is, and can testify to it. For example, Jn 3:32: "(He who comes from heaven) testifies to what he has seen (horaō) and heard, and his testimony no one accepts."

  6. Finally, there is the situation where the verb means "to observe" or "to note". For example, Jn 7:52: "They said to him, 'Are you also from Galilee? Study! You will see (horaō) that it is not from Galilee that the prophet arises.'"

Here, in v. 46, we have the phrase: "not that anyone has seen the Father, but only he who is of God has seen the Father". Let us recall the context: Jesus has just quoted Scripture to affirm that "all will be taught by God". V. 46 qualifies the statement: being taught by God does not mean that one has seen him. On the other hand, the situation is different for Jesus: since he comes from God, he has seen the Father. Thus, the word "see" in the same verse does not have the same meaning: in the first case, it means to see him physically; obviously, no one can physically see God. In the second case, it refers to the communion of Jesus and his Father, and the verb "to see" refers to this unique knowledge of Jesus of his Father.

Verb horaō in the johannine tradition
para (by the side of) Para is a preposition that John likes: Mt = 18; Mk = 17; Lk = 29; Jn = 35; Acts = 29; 2Jn = 3. It generally has four main meanings:
  1. it conveys an idea of origin as coming from someone or somewhere;
  2. or it expresses the fact of staying in someone's home, of being in their environment or in their intimacy;
  3. or it expresses proximity to an object, like walking along a lake or near a lake
  4. finally, it is used in a comparison and is literally said: compared to.

In John, the first two meanings dominate.

  • Para intends to express the origin of a person, thing or action (27 times): "There was a man sent from (para) God, his name was John" (1:6); or, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, which glory he has from (para) his Father as the only Son, full of grace and truth" (1:14)

  • Para translates staying with someone and being in their privacy (8 times): "He said to them, "Come and see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with (para) him that day. It was about the tenth hour" (1:39); or again, "When therefore they came to him, the Samaritans asked him to stay with (para) them. He remained there two days" (4:40)

In v. 46, para conveys the idea that Jesus is from God, for he was sent by his Father.

Preposition para in the Johannine tradition
v. 47 Truly, truly, I assure you, the believer has eternal life.

Literally: Truly (amēn), truly (amēn), I say to you, the (one) believing has eternal life.

amēn amēn (truly, truly) We will refer to the glossary for an analysis of amēn. Let's summarize what is said there in a few words.

Amēn is the Greek transcription of the Hebrew verb: אָמַן (ʾāman). The root ‘mn refers to that which is solid and firm (Ps 89:53 "Blessed be Yahweh forever! Amen! Amen!"). This final "amen" was translated by the Septuagint as genoito (let it happen, let it be so), from the verb ginomai (to happen, to arise). Otherwise the Septuagint translates this Hebrew verb as "to believe" (pisteuein). As for the nominal form אֶמֶט (ʾemeṭ), it is often translated as truth (alētheia) to denote that which is in accordance with reality or as sincere, that which can be trusted.

The presence of amēn in the New Testament is explained by two sources: the language of Jesus, and its use in the synagogue liturgy . In the Gospels, it is found exclusively in the mouth of Jesus and is always followed by legō (I say): (Mt = 31; Mk = 13; Lk = 5; Jn = 50; Acts = 0), and legō is mostly followed by hymin (to you). In John, it always appears as a doublet "amen, amen," which he alone does. It is translated as: "believe in my word", "well yes", "I guarantee you", "believe me", "truly", "verily". We have opted for the translation: "Really, I assure you". As for its content, it can be grouped into four categories.

  1. A teaching about Jesus himself: he is the son of man in communication with God (1:51); he knows the things of God (3:11); the Son does exactly what the Father does (5:19); "before Abraham existed, I AM" (8:58); he is the shepherd of the sheep (10:7)

  2. A teaching on the spiritual life: unless one is born from above, or born of water and the Spirit, no one can see the kingdom of God (3:3-5); it is not Moses, but Father who gives the true bread from heaven (6:32); if the seed dies, it bears much fruit (12, 24); the one sent is not greater than the one who sent him (13, 20); when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you up and lead you where you do not want to go (21, 18)

  3. A teaching on the fruits of faith in Jesus: Whoever believes has eternal life (5:24); the dead will live (5:25); whoever believes has eternal life (6:47); eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus gives eternal life (6:53); whoever keeps the word of Jesus will never see death (8:51); whoever believes will do even greater works than those of Jesus (14:12); sorrow will be turned into joy (16:20); whatever one asks of the Father, he will give (16:23)

  4. A teaching that reveals hearts: seeking Jesus not for a sign, but because one has been filled with bread (6:26); everyone who commits sin is a slave (8:34); whoever does not pass through the gate of the pen is a thief and a bandit (10:1); one of the disciples will betray him (13:21); Peter will deny him (13:38)

Using amēn, and even doubling it, gives a certain authority and solemnity to what is being asserted, a way of drawing the listener's attention to what Jesus is about to assert. Using the four categories we have suggested, v. 47 falls under the heading of teaching about the fruits of faith in Jesus. Earlier, he referred to the one who, because he listens to God and is open to his teaching, comes to Jesus, i.e. believes in him. Now, Jesus logically follows up on the fruits of this faith in him, eternal life. The same logic is found in the conclusion of John's gospel: "These (the signs) were written down so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (20: 31).

The glossary with amēn

The Hebrew term amēn in John

zōēn aiōnion (life eternal) The expression zōēn aiōnion is formed from the noun zōē (life) and the adjective aiōnios (eternal), in the accusative feminine singular. It is the Johannine tradition that has given full scope to this expression: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 17; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 6; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. While the other gospels may use the adjective "eternal" for other realities, John uses it only to associate it with "life".

What is this eternal life? At the outset, let us note that, apart from John, the evangelists situate this eternal life in the future ("(he who has left everything) who does not receive a hundredfold now, in the present time, in houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields, with persecutions, and in the world to come, eternal life", Mk. 10:30), so that it may be associated with the resurrection of the dead. This is not so in John, for this eternal life is already present. One need only note the verbs in the present tense: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life," "believes in him who sent me has eternal life," "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life," "I give them eternal life."

The word "life" (zōē) does not denote in John that natural life by which one is born and dies. Rather, in the latter case, he uses the word psychē: "No one has greater love than this: to give one's life (psychē ) for one's friends" (15:13).

In Judaism, the notion of eternal life was known. Around the year 164 BC, there is first Daniel:

  • LXX: "And many of those who sleep under heaps of earth will awake, some to eternal life (zōē aiōnios), others to shame and eternal confusion" (12:2)

And there is also the first book of Maccabees around 120 BC:

  • "and near to giving up the ghost, he (one of the seven brothers) spoke thus: You, O most wicked of men, lose us for this life; but the King of the world will raise us up for eternal life (zōē aiōnios), we who shall have died for His laws" (7:9)

We can also add the book of Wisdom whose author would be an Alexandrian Jew of the middle of the first century BC:

  • "But the righteous will live forever (zaō aiōnios), and their wages are in the Lord, and their thoughts in the Most High." (5: 15)

Finally, let us mention the Psalms of Solomon which would come from a Jewish milieu of the middle of the first century of our era:

  • "Such is the lot of sinners for eternity. - But those who fear the Lord will rise to eternal life (zōē aiōnios), - And their life in the light of the Lord will cease no more" (3:12)

What about Qumran? According to 1QS 4:7, the sons of light, who will walk in the spirit of truth at the coming of the Lord, will experience eternal joy, i.e. the messianic days will continue without end on earth. However, not everything is in the future, for the community is already experiencing the happiness of the presence of angels (1QS 11:7), for they are sons of God (on the subject, see Brown, The Gospel According to John, p. 506).

Later, in the rabbinic tradition, "temporal life" is contrasted with "eternal life": the latter is not only different in duration, being endless, but also in quality. The same idea will be taken up by the apocalyptic tradition of Enoch and Ezra, where they speak rather of two different "centuries" (see for example ch. 48 of 1 Enoch) or "ages."

For John, "eternal life" is the very life of God, which he shares with his son: "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has given the Son also to have life in himself" (5:26). And if the Son came into this world, it was to share this life: "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full" (10:10). In fact, Jesus is life itself: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (14: 6). The only way to access this life for human beings is to believe in him: "so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life" (3:16). How is this life communicated? According to Gen 2:7, the human being became alive when Yahweh breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so the human being receives eternal life when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples after his resurrection (20:22). Indeed, it is the Spirit who gives life: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is useless" (6: 63). But this Spirit is only available after the death of Jesus: "For there was not yet Spirit, because Jesus had not yet been glorified" (7: 39). Later, for the first Christian communities, the communication of this life will be associated with the waters of baptism: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, no one can enter the kingdom of God" (3:5); this water basically comes from the side of the crucified body of Jesus: "one of the soldiers pierced his side with his spear, and immediately blood and water came out" (19:34). For these first Christian communities, too, this eternal life is nourished by the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist: "Whoever eats this bread will live forever. Indeed, the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (6:51).

It is clear to John that "eternal life" is of a different quality than "natural life (psychē)."

  • It cannot be destroyed by death: "and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (11: 26); its only enemy is sin: "For there is a sin that leads to death" (1 John 5: 16)
  • It corresponds to the description in Revelation (22:1-2) of a river of life flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb, and on either side of the river are trees of life that can heal the Gentiles; however, instead of being for a future time, this life is present here and now
  • This "divine life" is now in the possession of the believer and allows him to be a son of God, and therefore to live an intimate and vital relationship with the Father

Expression zōē aiōnios in the Gospels-Acts
v. 48 I am the bread of life.

Literally: I am the bread of the life (Egō eimi ho artos tēs zōēs).

Egō eimi ho artos tēs zōēs (I am the bread of the life) All these words have been analyzed earlier. Let's just summarize what we have said.

The bread, in accordance with the symbolism of the Old Testament which designates the word of Yahweh and with the sapiential tradition which sees in it the wisdom that nourishes, John presents it as the revelation in and through Jesus of what God is, and thus of what we are.

This bread is called "bread of life". And the life we are talking about here is "eternal life", so not the bread for physical life, but the bread for that life which is the very life of God which his Son shares, and which he wants us to share. This life is of a completely different quality than physical life, and does not end with physical death. This life can be communicated to every living being after the death of Jesus, thanks to the breath of the Spirit. This life is already present in the believer.

The Jesus of John proclaims: "I am the bread of life". The expression "I am" is found in the mouth of Yahweh in the Old Testament, and thus has a divine connotation. Since the "life" in question is the very life of God, John clearly intends to affirm the divine quality of Jesus, and therefore to open oneself to the word of Jesus is to open oneself to the very word of God; it is the same life that is communicated to the believer. And so there is no other word or source of life to seek, than that of Jesus.

For John, when the community gathers for the Eucharistic meal, it does nothing but proclaim and put into practice these words of Jesus.

Expression artos zōē in John
v. 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they died.

Literally: The fathers of you (hymōn), they ate (ephagon) in the wilderness (erēmō) the manna (manna) and they died (apethanon).

hymōn (of you) Hymōn is the personal pronoun sy (you) in the genitive plural. It is superabundant in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 448; Mk = 160; Lk = 434; Jn = 405; Acts = 260; 1Jn = 34; 2Jn = 8; 3Jn = 10. The only reason to stop at this possessive pronoun here is to underline the fact that, by putting the pronoun "of you" or "your" in the mouth of Jesus, to designate the fathers or ancestors, John expresses a separation: it is no longer a question of our ancestors Abraham or Moses, but of "your" ancestors. Let us compare with the previous scenes.
  • 4:20: (This is the Samaritan woman speaking) "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, and you say, 'In Jerusalem is the place where one should worship'"
  • 6:31: (This is the crowd speaking) "Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat."

Let us also compare with these words from Peter's speech:

  • Acts 3:13: "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers has glorified his servant Jesus."

It is the same situation as when a couple is torn apart and one of the spouses, instead of saying: our son, says "your" son. What happened? It seems that at the time of the final writing of the gospel according to John, the Christian community of Jewish origin, many of whose members continued to attend the synagogue, was expelled from it. The gospel itself echoes this through several scenes which, even though they refer to events in the life of Jesus, echo the contemporary situation of John's community.

  • 9: 22: "His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone recognized Jesus as the Christ, he would be excluded from the synagogue.
  • 12: 42: "However, it is true that even among the nobles many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not declare themselves, for fear of being excluded from the synagogue"
  • 16: 2: "You will be excluded from the synagogues. Moreover, the hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is worshipping God.

The whole of John's gospel takes the form of a great trial between those who believed in Jesus and those who opposed him, and because both sides are of Jewish origin, a separation developed, so that the expression "our" fathers became "your" fathers, or "your" father (Abraham: 8:56), "our" Law became "your" Law (8:17) or "their" Law (15:25)

The expressions "your", "yours", "their" to express separation in John
Phagē (they ate) Phagē is the aorist form of the verb esthiō (to eat, devour). Among the evangelists, John uses it the least: Mt = 24; Mk = 27; Lk = 32; Jn = 15; Acts = 7; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In fact, it only appears in two scenes: the one that ends the story of the Samaritan woman where the disciples, having returned from the city where they had gone to get something to eat, ask Jesus to take some food (4:31-38), and the one where Jesus gives food to the crowd and which ends with the discourse on the bread of life (we can ignore the expression "eating the Passover" in 18:28). In both scenes, physical food is only a way of introducing another kind of food: in the first scene, Jesus expresses his hunger to see his mission accomplished: "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to carry out his work" (4:34); in the second scene, it is the food of revelation in and through Jesus, of that word which has its source in God. This is what interests John.

Thus, eating becomes an analogy to express this longing for food that is of a spiritual nature, which only God can fulfill through Jesus. This analogy is also associated by John with what happens to the community when it gathers for the Eucharist.

Verb esthiō in John
Erēmō (wilderness) Erēmō is the feminine dative of the adjective erēmos : desert, empty, desolate, barren, vacant. Here it is used in a nominal form, implying: (place) deserted, uninhabited. It is found throughout the Gospels-Acts, but on several occasions it is a citation from the Old Testament, for example that of Isaiah to describe John the Baptist: Mt = 8; Mk = 9; Lk = 10; Jn = 5; Acts = 9; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. This is also the case here with a reference to Exodus 16:1 where "the community of the Israelites arrived in the desert of Sin, located between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they left Egypt"; it is there that they will experience hunger, to which Yahweh will respond by making the manna fall.

One might ask: why use the adjective erēmos, rather than the proper noun for desert: erēmia. One possible explanation is that erēmos, by vaguely referring to an uninhabited, isolated place, offers more flexibility than the noun: desert. But another explanation comes from the fact that the Septuagint translators opted for the adjective erēmos to translate the Hebrew: מִדְבַּר (midbar : desert); and since Scripture is regularly referred to, probably in its Greek translation, it is understandable that the adjective came to the fore.

Adjective erēmos in the New Testament
manna (manna) The word manna originally means in Greek: grain of incense. This is the sense in which Baruch 1:10 has to be read: LXX "They said, 'We have sent you money; buy with the money burnt offerings and for sins and incense, and prepare the manna (manna: i.e. grains of incense) and offer them at the altar of the Lord our God.'" But the translators of the Septuagint used this word and its little brother: man, to translate the Hebrew word: מָּן (mān); thus, in the Septuagint one will sometimes find man, sometimes manna. The New Testament has retained only manna. But the word is very rare, and in the Gospels it occurs only in John, twice, and only twice elsewhere in the New Testament (Heb 9:4; Rev 2:17); it is found only 13 times in the whole Old Testament (Ex 16:31.33.35; Num 11:6-7.9; Deut 8:3.16; Josh 5:12; Ps 78:24; Ne 9:20).

According to some biblical scholars (see L. Monloubou, F. M. Du Buit, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Quebec: Desclée-Anne Sigier, 1984, pp. 447-448), the Hebrew mān would originally be the name of a shrub, the Tamirix mannifera, and when the Israelites crossed the desert regions, they were able to feed on its edible secretion, and then associated this unexpected fact with that of their liberation and with a marvellous action of God. But what is important is what Jewish tradition has retained: the manna appears as a thin layer, something granular, fine, like frost (Ex 16:14), resembling white coriander seed, with a taste of flour flower, mixed with honey (Ex 16:31). According to Num 11:8: "It was ground with a millstone or crushed with a pestle, and then cooked in a pot to make cakes. It tasted like a cake made of oil".

First, the book of Exodus, ch. 16, tells how the Israelite community, faced with the desolation of a desert region and plagued by hunger, began to miss the time when they lived in Egypt and cursed Moses, their leader. Then Yahweh promised Moses that he would rain bread from heaven, bread that they would have to gather every morning. And so a layer of evaporated dew appeared on the surface of the desert, something small, grainy, fine as frost on the ground. And when the sun became hot, it melted. When the Israelites saw this phenomenon, they said to each other, "What is this?" (v. 15). In the first part of ch. 16, only bread is mentioned, and it is only in v. 31 that we have this sentence: "The house of Israel called it manna". This story is echoed in the book of Numbers and Deuteronomy, and in Ps 78:24: "And he rained manna on them to feed them, and gave them bread from heaven". It is part of the Jewish imagination, so much so that the historian Flavius Josephus (1st century CE) uses it:

And even today this whole place is watered with rain like that which once, out of favor to Moses, God sent to be their food. The Hebrews call this food manna, for the word man is an interrogative in our language and serves to ask, "What is this?" So they only rejoiced at this dispatch from heaven, and they used this food for forty years, all the time they were in the wilderness (Antiquities, Book 3, ch. 1: 6)

But more important for our purposes is the symbolism that has developed around the manna in rabbinic Judaism. Here are some examples:

  • 2 Baruch 29:8 (apocryphal text from the 2nd century AD): "The treasure of manna shall come down from heaven again, and they shall eat of it in those days.
  • Midrash Mekilta on Ex 16:5: "You will not find the manna in this age, but you will find it in the age to come"
  • Midrash Rabbah on Eccl 1:9: "As the first redeemer caused manna to fall, as it is written, 'For I will rain bread for you from heaven,' so will the last redeemer cause manna to fall."
  • Midrash Tanḥuma (Beshallaḥ 21, 66): "This has been prepared for the righteous for the age to come. Whoever believes in it is worthy and eats of it."

The symbolism of the manna seems to be related to the eschatological period and to the celebration of Passover. For example, the midrash Mekilta on Ex 16:1 relates that the first manna fell on Passover. Thus, the expectation developed that the Messiah would arrive on Passover and that the manna would begin to fall again. Even if we cannot be sure that these texts of rabbinic Judaism also apply to John's time, we can easily imagine it, especially in view of other texts, such as this extract from the Sibylline oracles (which date back to before the Christian era): "Those who fear God will inherit true eternal life...feasting on the sweet bread from the starry sky" (for this section on rabbinic Judaism, see R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, pp. 265-266).

All this provides a context for the story. For the reference to the manna places us in an eschatological world where God will intervene and cause the manna to fall again, on the day of the Passover, in the presence of his Messiah. Now, John 6 is set in the context of the Jewish Passover. And the crowd asks Jesus for a sign similar to the one given by Moses, a sign par excellence, that of the manna.

Noun manna in the Nouveau Testament
apethanon (they died) Apethanon is the aorist form of the verb apothnēskō : to die, to be put to death. It is encountered from time to time in the Gospels-Acts, except in John where it appears regularly: Mt = 5; Mk = 8; Lk = 10; Jn = 28; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In the fourth gospel, four different contexts can be identified:
  • The context of a specific person or known group dying; this is a verifiable experience. For example 8: 53: "Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died (apothnēskō)? The prophets also died (apothnēskō). Who do you claim to be?"

  • The context of a group in general or of the whole of humanity being subjected to death. For example 8: 24: "I told you that you would die (apothnēskō) in your sins, for you will die (apothnēskō) in your sins unless you believe that I am he."

  • The context of a reality of nature that lives the cycle of death. For example 12: 24: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies (apothnēskō), it remains just a single grain; but if it dies (apothnēskō), it bears much fruit."

  • The context of spiritual life and non-physical death. The form is always negative. For example 11: 26: "and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die (apothnēskō). Do you believe this?"

V. 49 is to be placed in the category of humanity in general, not in the category of the recognition of a particular death; it is the human condition to have to die. Thus the Jewish ancestors, like those of all peoples, died. But the emphasis here is on the fact that, despite being fed by bread from God in the desert, the fathers could not avoid physical death.

The fourth gospel is unique in that it is the only gospel that addresses the general question of life and death, and more specifically that of physical death and spiritual death. The other gospels deal with death in terms of the death of a particular person. John is primarily concerned with spiritual life and death. This is confirmed when we extend our analysis to the word "death" (thanatos): Mt = 7; Mk = 6; Lk = 7; Jn = 8; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 6; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. For example, Jn 5:24: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death (thanatos) to life"; or 1 Jn 3:14: "We ourselves know that we have passed from death (thanatos) to life, because we love our brothers. He who does not love remains in death (thanatos)."

John's reflection is certainly inspired by the event of Jesus. He died physically, yet he is still alive. Why is this so? It is not enough to say that, as the Son of God, he was of a different "stuff". His life of communion with God, a reflection of his Father's being, could only be eternal, as ours will be if we take the same path.

Verb apothnēskō in John
v. 50 This is the bread of God, that one may eat it and not die.

Literally: This is (houtos estin) the bread, the (one) descending from the heaven, in order that (hina) anyone from it may eat and not die.

houtos estin (this is) The expression houtos estin (this is) is composed of the demonstrative pronoun houtos (this, this one, that, that one) and the verb eimi (to be) in the present indicative. It is worth pointing out here because the expression intends to identify or define a reality, as we say: this one is a hero, or again, that one is an impostor. The evangelists use it regularly, especially John: Mt = 14; Mk = 4; Lk = 6; Jn = 18; Acts = 11; 1Jn = 3; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. What interests us here is the question: what does John affirm about Jesus with this expression? It can be summarized in three aspects.

  1. Compared to the others: before John the Baptist, he was (1: 30)
  2. In relation to God: he is his announced prophet, the second Moses (6: 14; 7: 40), he is his Chosen One (1: 34), he is the true God who shares eternal life (1 Jn 5: 20), he is the one who gives his Spirit through his death (1: 33; 1 Jn 5: 6)
  3. In relation to us: he is the savior of the world (4: 44), he is the Messiah (7: 41), he is the bread that truly nourishes and gives eternal life (6: 50.58)

All these statements are theological. For John, they are the bread of revelation, that light in the world, the reason why he wrote his gospel.

The expression houtos estin in statements about Jesus in the Johannine tradition
hina (in order that) The conjunction hina (so that, in order to, for, that) has several meanings:
  • An end (expresses the purpose of an action): "Do not judge, so that (hina) you may not be judged" (Mt 7:1)
  • Consecutive (cause and effect relationship): "Rabbi, who sinned, he or his parents, that he (hina) should be born blind?" (Jn 9:2)
  • Complementary (makes explicit or completes an idea): "Therefore, whatever you (hina) want men to do for you, do it yourselves for them" (Mt 7:12)

Here, in v. 50, hina expresses an end or a goal: the purpose of the bread coming down from heaven is that, whoever eats of it, shall not die. When we focus on the purpose expressed by hina, we discover important theological statements, and it is worth listing some of them.

  • What is the role of Jesus? Through his death out of love, he reveals who God is (17:1: "After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that (hina) the Son may glorify you"

  • What is the purpose or the end of life? To live the universal communion with the whole universe (17: 21: "so that (hina) they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that (hina) the world may believe that you have sent me."

  • What is the meaning of illness and our infirmities? To allow human action with its power of love (9: 3: "Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that (hina) God's works might be revealed in him"), and see it as a sign from God (11:15: "For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that (hina) you may believe. But let us go to him")

  • What is the role of prayer? To obtain the necessary support for the pursuit of our mission, a mission that takes up that of Jesus (15: 16: "You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that (hina) the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name")

Thus, the bread that is Jesus, by being the source of eternal life, ultimately aims at this great universal communion in God and with Jesus. It is this transforming force that allows mission by taking the same path as that of Jesus.

Conjunction hina to express a goal in John
v. 51 I myself am the living bread that comes from God. If someone eats this bread, he will live forever, and the bread that I will give him is my flesh so that the world may have life."

Literally: I, I am the bread the living, the one from heaven having descended; if anyone shall have eaten of this the bread, he will live into the age (eis ton aiōna), and the bread then that I will give, the flesh (sarx) of me is for the sake of the life of the world (kosmou).

eis ton aiōna (into the age) Aiōna is the accusative singular of the masculine noun aiōn, a noun that refers to a period of existence: era, century, lifespan, age, generation, long period of time, epoch. Thus, the choice of translation will depend on the context. Let us give some examples from the translation of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV):
  • Lk 1:33: "he will reign over the house of Jacob forever (eis all aiōnas) and of his kingdom there will be no end."
  • Lk 1:55: "according to the promise he mde to our ancestors - to Abraham and to his descendants forever (lit.: until the age, eis thy aiōna)!"
  • Lk 1:70: "as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old (lit.: from the century, apʼ aiōnos)!"
  • Lk 18:30: "who will not get back very much in this age, and in the age (in tō aiōni) to come eternal life"
  • Acts 15:18: "(the Lord who makes) these things known for long ago (lit.: from the century, apʼ aiōnos)"

Aiōn is used a few times in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 8; Mk = 4; Lk = 7; Jn = 13; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. As one will have noticed, it is John who makes abundant use of it. But most of the time it is in the context of the expression eis ton aiōna (up to the century, translated as "forever," "never," "eternal", "permanent"): Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 1; Jn = 12; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. John looks at life from an eternal perspective.

What the Jesus of John affirms is that the life he proposes cannot have an end, it is for a space of time that has no end.

Expression eis ton aiōna in the Johannine tradition
sarx (chair) The feminine noun sarx (flesh) appears here and there in the Gospels-Acts, but especially in John: Mt = 5; Mk = 4; Lk = 2; Jn = 13; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It has various meanings.

  • It can refer to humanity in general. For example, Lk 3:6: "And every flesh (sarx) will see the salvation of God."
  • It can also designate one of the compounds of the human being, i.e. all the malleable human tissue as opposed to bones and blood. For example, Lk 24:39: "See my hands and feet; it is I! Feel me and realize that a spirit has neither flesh (sarx) nor bones, as you see that I have."
  • Most of the time, it is synonymous with the body and what defines the human being as a biological being. For example, Mk 10:8: "and the two will become one flesh (sarx). So they are no longer two, but one flesh (sarx)."
  • Finally, it describes the human being in his weakness, with his various impulses. For example, Mk 14:38: "Watch and pray that you do not enter into temptation: the spirit is fierce, but the flesh (sarx) is weak."

Here, in v. 51, "flesh" refers to the human body of Jesus, so that the phrase could be repeated as: the bread that I will give is my body. Jesus accepted the death of his bodily being, with the suffering that this implied.

But from v. 51 onwards the Eucharistic theme appears with greater insistence with words like "eat", "nourish", "drink", "flesh" and "blood". In this, John joins the synoptic vocabulary, as for example in Mt 26:26-28: "Take, eat, this is my body... Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood...". Let us note that in John there are no words of Jesus about the bread and the cup during his last meal. It is possible that we have here in v. 51 the Johannine form of the Eucharistic words (somewhat similar to Lk 22:19: "This is my body, given for you"). But then why speak of "flesh" rather than "body" as in the synoptics? Since there is no real Hebrew or Aramaic equivalent for "body" as we understand it today, it is possible that, at his last supper, Jesus said in Aramaic the equivalent of: this is my flesh. This is confirmed by the writings of Ignatius, bishop of the city of Antioch, a city that has long preserved the Semitic version of the Christian tradition, which often uses the word "flesh" in reference to the eucharist. Thus, John would have preserved a more accurate echo of Jesus' words (on this point, see R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, p. 285).

Noun sarx in the Johannine tradition
kosmou (world) Kosmou comes from the masculine noun kosmos in the genitive singular. This Greek word originally meant "order, good order." In ancient Greece, it could be used in the military world to refer to the orderly disposition of troops for battle. It is in this sense that the Septuagint translated Genesis 2:1: "Thus were heaven and earth completed, with all their army (kosmos)." But order also has to do with beauty, so the word can refer to women's ornaments and adornment, as the term "cosmetic" reminds us. Thus, the Septuagint translated Exodus 33:6: "Then the Israelites got rid of their adornments (kosmos) from Mount Horeb." It is the later books of the Hellenistic period (2nd and 1st century BC) that will introduce kosmos to speak of the created universe, a meaning that will be taken up by the New Testament (on the subject, see Pierre Létourneau, Kosmos in Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montreal: Bayard-Mediaspaul, 2004, pp. 423-430).

In the Gospels-Acts, kosmos would have gone almost unnoticed but for the Johannine tradition: Mt = 9; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 78; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 23; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. On the whole, it can have three different meanings.

  • It refers to the universe originally created by God and spoken of in Genesis. For example, Mt 24:21: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world (kosmos) to this day, nor will there ever be again."
  • But more often than not, it signifies that society of men that makes history. For example, Lk 12:30: "For these are all things that the heathen of this world (kosmos) seek; but your Father knows that you need them."
  • Finally, there is the meaning found only in the Johannine tradition where the world represents that part of humanity hostile to Jesus and the Christian community, a humanity under the leadership of Satan. For example, Jn 15:19: "If you were of the world (kosmos), the world (kosmos) would love its good; but because you are not of the world (kosmos), since my choice drew you from the world (kosmos), for this reason the world (kosmos) hates you."

These three meanings are found in the Johannine tradition: the created universe = 4 times; the society in which the human being evolves and the place of the mission = 53 times; the reality hostile to Jesus = 45 times. On this point, John is confusing in moving us from one meaning to another, using the same word, without warning us. For example, in 14:30 he writes, "I will not talk much more with you, for he is coming, the Prince of this world (hostile force); over me he has no power"; then he follows up in the next verse (14:31), "but the world (place of mission) must recognize that I love the Father and do as the Father has commanded me."

What does the evangelist say about this world that is not hostile to Jesus, this world that we have defined as the place of his mission?

  1. Jesus is the co-creator: "the world was made through him" (1: 10)
  2. To it he was sent by the Father (10: 36; 17: 18), as the promised prophet (6: 14), to be his light (1: 9; 8: 12; 9: 5), to bear witness to the truth (18: 37), so that the believer would no longer be in darkness (12: 46); in doing so, he made a discernment, so that those who pretended to see became blind, and those who were looking for the light were able to see (9: 39)
  3. Jesus' mission is to take away the sins of the world (1:29), becoming a propitiation victim (1 Jn 2:2), thus fulfilling his mission as the Messiah who saves the world (3:17; 4:42; 11:27; 12:47; 1 Jn 4:14)
  4. Stated differently, Jesus came to bring eternal life to everyone who believes (3:16) and eats the bread of his flesh (6:33.51), so that they may live by him (1 Jn 4:9)
  5. By this he showed that he loved his own who were in the world and loved them to the end (13:1), repeating what he had heard from his Father (8:26), showing how much he loved the Father and did what he commanded (14:31), keeping no secrets, but making all things manifest (7:4; 18:20)
  6. In return, the world is called to recognize him as the one sent by the Father as a sign of love (17: 21.23) and to go to him (12: 19)
  7. But it remains that his kingdom is not of this world (18:36), and that he leaves this world to return to his Father (16:28; 17:13), while his disciples remain in the world; Jesus also prays for his disciples, not that they leave the world, but that they remain disciples (17:11), that they guard against the Evil One (17:15), because this world is full of false prophets (1 Jn 4:1) and the Antichrist or Seducer is already present (1 Jn 4:3; 2 Jn 1:7)

In this context, we can read again our verse 51 as the proclamation of Jesus' role in this world: to offer the food that is the gift of his life to whoever accepts to welcome it in faith; it is this food that truly gives life to the world.

Noun kosmos in the Gospels-Acts
  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    The analysis of the structure takes into account the division made for the Catholic lectionary. If we take into account the fact that, according to some biblical scholars, the whole of 6:31-50 forms an entity, revealing a homiletical structure, we end up with a different structure. This will be seen in the analysis of the immediate context in the next section.

    1. Reaction of the Jews
      1. Reason for irritation: Claim to be bread of God
      2. Rationale: Jesus is someone the Jews are familiar with
      3. Conclusion: he cannot be a normal human being and be bread of God at the same time

    2. Jesus' answer
      1. Call to change the attitude (don't grumble)
      2. Explanation: The acceptance of his affirmation requires
        • the faith given by God
        • and the resurrection of the believer

      The faith given by God
      1. This is confirmed by the prophetic writings:
        1. In the future, the Father will offer his teaching to all
        2. All those who open themselves to this teaching, open themselves to the Son
      2. For this teaching of the Father passes through the mediation of the Son who is the only one to know him

      The resurrection of the believer
      1. Solemn proclamation: the believer has eternal life
      2. Mediation for eternal life (by Jesus)
        1. Thesis: I am the bread of life
        2. Antithesis: The ancestors ate bread from heaven and died
        3. Synthesis: He who eats of this bread shall not die


      • Jesus is the true bread of God that allows the one who eats it not to die
      • This bread is the gift of his life for humanity to live

    Thus, the whole passage is an attempt by Jesus to get the Jews to accept that he is the bread of life and to overcome their objection, which will be taken up again later: "But we know where he is from, while the Christ, when he comes, no one will know where he is from" (7:27).

    Jesus' response is in two steps. In order to see in this being, whom they believe to be familiar, the one sent by God, it is necessary to have the faith that only the Father is able to introduce into the human heart, as the prophets wrote, and which now allows one to hear in Jesus the same sound of voice as that of God. The second step is more subtle, for it presupposes faith in the resurrection of the dead, as among the Pharisees. But this eternal life cannot have come from Moses, because the Israelites died even though they ate the manna from God. Therefore, the true mediator of this eternal life is not Moses, but Jesus.

    The conclusion is obvious: he is the bread that gives eternal life, and this gift will be made by the very gift of his physical life.

  2. Context Analysis

    Let us proceed in two steps, first by considering a possible plan of the whole gospel and observing where our passage fits into this grand plan, then by considering the immediate context of our story, i.e. what precedes and what follows.

    1. General Context of the Whole Gospel

      It is not easy to find structure in it. Someone like R.E. Brown (The Gospel According to John. New York: Doubleday (Anchor Bible, 29), 1966-1970, 2 v.) divides the gospel thus: Prologue (1:1-18), the book of signs (1:19 - 12:50), the book of glory (13:1 - 20:31) which includes the last supper, the passion narrative, the risen Lord which ends with a conclusion (20:30-31), and an epilogue (21:1-25: the miraculous catch). For his part, Boismard (M. E. Boismard, A. Lamouille, Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - L'évangile de Jean: Paris, Cerf, 1977, p. 80) proposes a division into eight units (1, 19 - 20, 1-31), preceded by the Prologue and ending with a conclusion (21: 1-14). We propose an integration of these two structures.

      Prologue: 1: 1-18

      Book of the signs of Jesus (1: 19 - 12: 50) "What sign are you showing us for doing this?"

      Introduction: The beginning of the revelation with the testimony of John the Baptist and the movement of his disciples towards Jesus (1: 19-51)

      Sign 1 (2: 1 - 2: 12): Cana
      Sign 2 (2: 13 - 4: 54): healing of a child in Capernaum
      Sign 3 (5: 1-47): healing of a paralyzed person
      Sign 4 (6: 1-71): feeding of the crowd
      Sign 5 (7: 1 - 10: 21): healing of the blind man
      Sign 6 (10: 22 - 11: 57): raising of Lazarus

      Book of the glory of Jesus "Before the feast of Easter, Jesus knew that his hour had come..."

      Last meal (13: 1 - 17: 26)
      Passion narrative (18: 1 - 19: 42)
      The Risen Lord or 7th sign (20: 1-31)

      Epilogue (21: 1- 25)

      Our story is set in the context of the fourth sign, a sign that points to the seventh sign, Jesus' resurrection from the dead. In this book of signs, Jesus continues his mission to reveal his identity and what he can bring to the world. It is only in the second book, in the face of the Jews' refusal, that he turns to his disciples to give his farewell speech and face death. As we can see, in 6:41-51 Jesus is still maintaining a dialogue with the Jews.

    2. Immediate context

      This context is that of ch. 6, when "the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near" (6:4). This chapter could be divided into three parts

      1. 1-21: Feeding of the crowd near the northeast shore of Lake Galilee and walking on the water back to the Capernaum area
      2. 22-24: Transition scene where the crowd is looking for Jesus and finds him near the Capernaum area
      3. 25-71: Speech explaining the feeding of the crowd.

      Thus, our pericope 6:41-51 is part of the great discourse (25-71) where Jesus gives the meaning of the feeding of the crowd. This discourse is introduced by the fact that the crowd is looking for him (v. 25) and that Jesus challenges them by reproaching them for having sought to fill their bellies during the feeding of the loaves rather than seeing it as a sign, and then invites them to look for another kind of food, the one given by the son of man and which remains for eternal life. The spontaneous reaction of the crowd is to ask what they must "do to perform the works of God" (v. 28), like every good Jew, to obtain eternal life. Jesus' answer is astonishing: "The work of God is that you believe in him whom he has sent" (v. 29). So, no action is requested, except that of accepting Jesus in faith. Faced with such a request, we can understand the reaction of the crowd: "What sign are you doing, that we should believe you when we see it? What work are you doing? (v. 30). Here begins a section that we propose to call "synagogue homily" and which extends from vv. 31 to 50 (on the subject, see R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, pp. 277-278).

      This homiletical structure begins with a citation from Scripture, usually from the Pentateuch, which is paraphrased. The heart of the homily concentrates on commenting almost word by word on this citation and the other texts that surround it. The initial statement returns at the end as the main words are repeated.

      This is observed in 6:31-50. V. 31 quotes Ex 16:4 (the fathers who ate the bread from heaven in the desert) with elements of Ex 16:15, according to the rule of referring to the whole context. Vv. 32-33 are a paraphrase by Jesus: the bread from heaven becomes "my Father" gives this bread from heaven. Then comes the heart of the homily in vv. 35-50 where the themes of "bread", "from heaven", and finally "eating" are discussed. And as the heart of the homily began with "I am the bread of life" (v. 35), the affirmation is taken up again at the end in v. 48: "I am the bread of life". And as the whole homily had begun with the citation from Scripture and its paraphrase (v. 31-33), vv. 49-50 take them up: the fathers who ate the manna... the bread of heaven that gives life.

      Thus, what the Catholic lectionary proposes with 6:41-51 is a section of this homily. It is introduced by an objection from the crowd that Jesus could come from heaven, one of the themes of the scriptural citation at the beginning. Then Jesus develops the theme of faith in him of which the Father is the source. And this faith opens to eternal life.

      Biblical scholars have asked the question: who is the author of the homily? Of course, in its present form it is the work of the evangelist or the various writers, especially since this homily is interspersed with interventions from the crowd. But someone like R.E. Brown asks the question: given the very Jewish structure of this homily, might there not be a substratum that goes back to the historical Jesus, given that the latter frequented synagogues, such as the one in Capernaum, where this kind of homily was given and where a three-year liturgical cycle was probably followed, and where Ex 16 was read in the second year, four weeks after the feast of Passover?

  3. Parallels

    The analysis of the parallels assumes a fairly widespread consensus among biblical scholars that Mark is the first evangelist, that Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark's Gospel as well as a source common to them, called source Q, and that the evangelist John did not know the other three evangelists, just as they did not know him, and so drew from an independent source. In the presentation of the parallels we have underlined words from Mark that also appear in the other evangelists, and we have colored in red words from John that are also found in Luke or Matthew. Partially colored or underlined words indicate the same word, but in a different tense or form.

    There is no real synoptic parallel with Jn 6:41-51. Nevertheless, a number of words from his vocabulary can be found there.

    John 6MarkLukeMatthew
    41 Therefore they murmured the Jews about him, that he said, I am the bread having descended from heaven5:30: The Pharisees and their scribes murmured towards his disciples saying, "Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?"
    42 And they were saying, Is not this (guy) Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How now he says that from heaven I have descended?6:3a Is not this (guy) the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?22b and they were saying, Is not this (guy) the son of Joseph?55 Is not this (guy) the son of the carpenter? (Is) not his mother said Mary? And his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
    6:3b And are not his sisters here towards us?56 And his sisters are they not all towards us? Thus from where all these things?
    6:3c And they took offense in him.57a And they took offense in him.
    43 He answered Jesus and said to them: do not murmur with one another.
    44a No one is able to have come towards me if not the father the (one) having sent him, he would have drawn him,10:14 Then having seen, Jesus was indignant, and said to them, Permit the little children to come towards me, do not hinder them; for to such as these is the kingdom of God.14:26 If someone comes towards me, and hates not his father, and mother, and the wife, and the children, and the brothers, and the sisters, yes, also his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
    44b and I will rise up him in the last day.12:25 For when they will rise up from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels who are in heaven.
    45a It is written in the prophets: and they will all be taught of God.Then, him, having looked at them, he said, What therefore is it written this, The stone which those building rejected, this has become into the head of the corner?
    45b All the (one) having heard from the father and having learned, he comes towards me.6: 47 All the (one) who is coming towards me, and hearing of me the words, and doing them, I will show you whom he is like:
    46 Not that the father has seen anyone, if not the (one) being by the side of God, this one has seen the father.
    47 Truly, truly, I say to you, the (one) believing has eternal life.10:17 And going forth of him into the road, having run up one, and having knelt down to him, he was inquiring to him, Good teacher what shall I do in order that I might inherit eternal life.10:25 And behold a certain lawyer stood up testing him saying, Teacher, what having done I might inherit eternal life?
    10:30 (the one who will have left everything to follow Jesus) who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age which is coming, eternal life.18:30 who will not receive a manifold more in this time and in the age which is coming, eternal life.19:29 And every one who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.
    48 I am the bread of the life.
    49 The fathers of you, they ate in the wilderness the manna and they died.
    50 This is the bread, the (one) descending from the heaven, in order that anyone from it may eat and not die.
    51 I, I am the bread the living, the one from heaven having descended; if anyone shall have eaten of this the bread, he will live into the age, and the bread then that I will give, the flesh of me is for the sake of the life of the world.14:22 And while they were eating, having taken bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave to them, and he said, "Take, this is my body"22:19 And having taken bread and having given thanks, he broke it and gave to them, saying "This is my body, given for you; do this in memory of me"26:26 Then while they were eating, Jesus having taken bread, he blessed it, broke it, and giving to the disciples, he said, "Take, eat, this is my body"

    We can make a number of observations from these parallels.

    • Tradition has noted that Jesus had a disruptive presence, which caused strong reactions. One such reaction is expressed by the verb gongyzō (to murmur, grumble, recriminate, mumble). Luke emphasizes that it was Jesus' actions, such as breaking social conventions by eating his meals with the marginalized, that caused the grumbling. John emphasizes instead that it was Jesus' words about his identity and role

    • For the description of the origins of Jesus and his identity, we have two traditions: the one represented by John and Luke, and that of Mark, taken up by Matthew. In one, Jesus is the son of Joseph, in the other the carpenter son of Mary. One represents the traditional way of identifying a person, i.e. by the father's name, the other perhaps represents a historical situation where Joseph would have already died at the time of Jesus' public intervention. It will have been noticed that in Luke's version the people are in no way shocked to hear Jesus preach and heal as in the other synoptics, they are even in awe: it is typical of Luke to often eliminate the shocking scenes to insist on the beauty of the events. In any case, John and Luke seem to share the same tradition, remarkable for its conciseness.

    • The expression "come towards me" (erchomai pros me), we said, means "to believe" and to become a disciple in John. We find the same meaning in Luke with, "If anyone comes towards me (erchomai pros me) without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" 14:26. In Mark (10:14), the same expression has a slightly different meaning, where it is rather a question of integrating the children into the community: a true decision of faith cannot be assumed in a child, and there is nothing in the context of Mark to indicate this.

    • As for the final resurrection of the dead, John is the only one who sees it as an action of Jesus. And he returns to it several times, and always using the verb anistēmi. On the synoptic side, only Mark uses the same verb, and only once; he merely reflects the common belief of a Jewish tradition, supported by the Pharisees, that God will operate a general resurrection at the end of time; we see no connection with a faith in Jesus.

    • We note the expression "It is written" (estin gegrammemon) in v. 45a which is very rare in the Gospels-Acts, and occurs only in Luke 20:17 (and also in 4:17, but with estin in the imperfect tense). This is another case of lexical relatedness between John and Luke.

    • Another case of lexical kinship between John and Luke is found in v. 45b with the words "listen" and "come towards" to express faith and discipleship.

    • The idea of eternal life is part of the Jewish universe. That is why all the synoptic writings bear witness to it. But the contrast between John and the synoptics is striking: while Mark, Luke and Matthew present it in a context where one has to do things (Mark: "what shall I do" and "leave everything", Matthew: "I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or a prisoner and you helped me", Luke: "what shall I do"), John (v. 47) speaks simply of believing in Jesus.

    • We said that John's v. 51 was the equivalent of the Eucharistic institution in the synoptics. The contrast is striking. Sure, there are some common words like: eating, bread and giving. But the perspective is totally different. The synoptics focus on the disciples, inviting them to eat this bread as a sign of communion with the fate that awaits Jesus and that will impact many. In John, the perspective is immediately universal: for the life of the world. And there are the words "flesh" and "body", the "flesh" probably reflecting the language of Jesus, as we have said, "soma" reflecting a rather Greek milieu. The closest parallel would be between John's "flesh given" and Luke's "body given".

    On the whole, this parallel highlights the Christocentric aspect of John's gospel: everything unfolds around faith in Jesus, the acceptance of his word and the love of his person. God can only be discovered through him. And it is he who is responsible for giving eternal life. And the world can only have access to eternal life through him, by accepting to symbolically eat his flesh, a sign of adherence to all that he is. This is what offends the Jews, and may offend a multitude of people.

    Finally, a certain lexical kinship between John and Luke must be stressed. Both may have had some traditions in common, and their cultural milieu, at least in the final writing of John's gospel, may have been similar: tradition places "old" John in Ephesus, and Luke may have written his gospel in Corinth (see Where the gospel according to Luke was written), two seaports in close communication).

  4. Intention of the author when writng this passage

    The fourth gospel is a work that probably spans more than thirty years, not to mention the sources used, which may also have spanned thirty years before a single word was written. It is considered that Jesus probably died in April of the year 30, while most of the fourth gospel was written around the year 90. This long reflection is reflected in the composition of the gospel.

    Let us therefore consider ch. 6 as a whole, i.e. from the point of view of its final version. From vv. 1 to 21 we have the account of the feeding of the crowd by Jesus, followed by that of the walking on the waters, both accounts also found in the synoptics, even though John did not know them: John and Mark must have had access to a similar source (on the subject, see J. P. Meier, who treats the feeding of the crowd and the walking on the waters) differently. From this account, John follows a lengthy sequence that is meant to be a reflection on the feeding of the crowd and has no equivalent in the other synoptics. The heart of this reflection is first initiated by Jesus' reproach to the crowd for having sought to fill their bellies during the feeding of the crowd rather than seeing it as a sign, and then invites them to seek another type of food, that given by the son of man and which remains for eternal life. This reflection is also initiated by a question from the crowd after Jesus had invited them to accept him as the one sent by God: "What sign are you doing, then, that we should believe you? What work are you doing?"

    Our pericope of vv. 41-51 would belong to the larger whole which begins in v. 31 and which would take the form of a synagogue homily: it obeys a specific structure, beginning with a scriptural citation which it comments on word for word. Now, this scriptural citation is that of Exodus 16:4: "the fathers who ate the bread from heaven in the desert". When we get to v. 41, the homily comments on the expression "from heaven" of Ex 16:4. This expression is the equivalent of "coming from God" or "sent from God". It is at this point that John inserts the common objection of Jewish circles: how can he come from God, he who was born like everyone else of a father and mother we know well. This objection is typical of a perception of the religious world: the divine reality is separate, different, far from our usual reality, belonging to the world of the sacred. Thus, Jesus cannot be a familiar human being and be bread of God at the same time. This objection will be taken up again later: "But we know where he comes from, while the Christ (or messiah), when he comes, no one will know where he comes from" (7:27). Here is Jesus' answer through the pen of John.

    This answer is in two parts. Firstly, no one can accept his affirmation without the openness proper to the special outlook of faith. And this faith is the work of God who transmits his word into the human heart, i.e. his values and his way of seeing life, so that every being who welcomes this word, spontaneously welcomes all that Jesus says and does, because they are the same values and the same way of seeing life. And since no one can see God, Jesus is the only tangible data on what God thinks and asks. Paradoxically, God is only accessible through the familiar and known world represented by Jesus, not through any exoteric channels.

    Secondly, whoever accepts in faith the bread of Jesus' word has the personal experience that he is the source of life, a bit like Peter who wrote: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (6, 68). And this life cannot die. This is the conclusion of the homily, which takes up the citation from Ex 16:4 at the beginning: since the ancestors who ate the bread of heaven died, it is really Jesus who is the true bread of heaven, the true source of this life that does not die. In this, he is the sign that the crowd asked for, a greater sign than the one given by Moses.

    V. 51 begins a new reflection with the Eucharistic gathering in the background. This is the occasion for John to present his version of the Eucharistic institution that the synoptics place at the last meal of Jesus: by eating this bread in faith, the Christian welcomes this life that presupposes the gift of his life by Jesus through his physical death; this life has a timeless and universal scope, because it is a life forever, and it is offered to the whole world.

    As we have said, John is Christocentric, i.e. he is focused on what a theological reflection on the person of Jesus reveals. His gospel presents different ways to deepen the fundamental and universal impact of the person of Jesus. And here in ch. 6, on the occasion of the feeding of the crowd, it is the moment to present the value of the bread of his word which is a unique source of life, which will never die, a word which has become incarnate in our daily life. He also takes the opportunity to make the connection with the Eucharistic assembly where we remember Jesus' gift of his physical life, but a gift that is an extension of what he taught, so that receiving the Eucharistic bread and receiving his word represent two facets of the same reality.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      • There is the gesture of grumbling, growling, mumbling, let's call it what we want. What disturbs or upsets us is revealing. The Jews were shocked by what they heard about Jesus. What about us? What is it that shocks us? Are we able to stay tuned when we are shocked? What would have happened if the opponents of Jesus had continued to listen?

      • Bread is fundamental to stay alive and grow. But the bread we need is multiple: there is biological bread, of course, but there is also emotional bread, intellectual bread. What we need, others also need. Are we able to find the bread we need, and are we able to share it with others?

      • "They will all be taught by God". Who is really listening to this inner word? What are the conditions for hearing it? How does the reading of the gospels contribute to the clarification of this inner voice?

      • Death has several dimensions. There is, of course, physical death, from which no one escapes. But we can die while continuing our physical life: we can be dead to ourselves, without love, without relationship. How can it come to this? Is there a way out?

      • Like death, life has many dimensions. There are people who demonstrate a life force that bursts forth and transforms everything in their path. We can make this remark about Jesus. On a strictly human level, what brought him to transform humanity in this way? Is it surprising that this life cannot die?

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      The challenge here is to consider how an evangelical passage can shed light on events such as these:

      • A scorching heat is affecting different regions of the world, people are dying, regions in Greece and California are in flames. In the face of all this, doesn't John's text seem a bit esoteric? Yet it speaks to us of what we need directly. It speaks of the bread that gives life. What can this bread bring us?

      • In Nicaragua, a president is clinging to power and the army is violating the opposition. In Zimbabwe, even though the former president was successfully removed, new elections were held with violence, a sign that many are seeking power. The bread of power is such that one cannot get enough of it. Is it a bread that gives life? What a contrast with this bread "which is my flesh" given for the life of the world.

      • In a world where social media bombard us with a mishmash of news, some true, some false, don't we get to the point where we don't really know how to listen anymore? How can we listen to the heart, where God can speak? According to John, when we listen to this word, we come to Jesus. So, can we really have faith if we are unable to hear the word of our heart?

      • Summer is often the time chosen to take a break from the daily grind. For many, it is a contrast with the very regulated and demanding time of the working world. This time can be experienced in many ways: as a break in one's life, or as a place to eat a different kind of bread, a bread that can be a source of life for oneself and for others. There is no moment that cannot be the incarnation of what Jesus was and proposes.

      • No one is safe from unpleasant surprises such as illness. In general, we are "less alive", especially if we are suffering, bedridden, dependent on others. But is it possible that this bitter bread is a source of life? Is what Jesus proposes only for the healthy?


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, August 2018