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.
|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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
It is from the Old Testament that we must try to understand the meaning given by John, in particular Deutero-Isaiah (40-55).
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|
|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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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:
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|
|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:
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:
Copying Mark, Matthew will use the same expression:
Luke also copies Mark, with a slight variation:
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.
Let's make some remarks.
|References to the name Jesus when not from the narrator|
|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|
|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.
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:
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.
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.
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|
|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:
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.
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.
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.
But sometimes it's about the inability of Jesus.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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|
|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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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:
In John, the first two meanings dominate.
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.
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|
|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:
And there is also the first book of Maccabees around 120 BC:
We can also add the book of Wisdom whose author would be an Alexandrian Jew of the middle of the first century BC:
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:
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)."
|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.
Let us also compare with these words from Peter's speech:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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):
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.
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.
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?
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|
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, August 2018