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John 7:1-8:20

10.14.2010

This passage of John contains two of the cooler stories from the Gospel, in my opinion, one of which is quite famous.

7:17 | Before jumping into the first story, I think this verse has some interesting implications.  Jesus is essentially saying here that an obedient heart leads to understanding.  In other words, there must be a willingness to obey before there can be an intellectual conviction about the truth of the Gospel.  These seems a definitive statement that you cannot reason your way to God.  To someone who is unwilling to submit to Him, there’s no way to become convinced that He is real and that He is whom He says He is.  It’s similar to the idea that you cannot argue someone into (or out of) faith; there’s no argument that will convince the nonbeliever to believe, and vice versa.

7:37 | The first of the cool stories comes at the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles, depending on the translation).  This was the final feast in the Jewish religious calendar.  There was a solemn procession where people brought jars of water and poured them into a pool from which the priests poured water onto the altar.  The runoff then ran out the gates, and the people, acting out the prophecies of the Old Testament, drank the water that flowed out from the temple.  This ceremony centered around the prominent role water had played in the relationship between God and Israel, particularly the water that sprung from the rock in the wilderness.

In this context, Jesus gets up and says to all the celebrants that He is the true source of living water and that those who thirst will find satisfaction in Him.  He is the rock that, when struck, will pour forth the water that will save the people.  For all the times that Jesus appears to be cryptic in His ministry, this is a powerfully explicit declaration of His divinity.  This is what Lewis talks about when he says that you can’t call Jesus just a good moral teacher.  What moral teacher co-opts the traditions of his people and declares himself to be their god?  Either He was lying, He was insane, or He was God.

7:53-8:11 | One of the most famous stories from Jesus’ ministry, the anecdote about the woman accused of adultery is actually absent from most early manuscripts of John (but, again, was clearly added in before they started assigning chapter and verse numbers).  The ESV folks surmise that it’s likely, because of its early acceptance among the first generation of believers, that the incident did take place, but that it was not recorded by John when compiling his gospel.  It’s not inconsistent with Jesus’ character or ministry or message in any way, but the ESV folks nevertheless think that it’s most likely not divinely inspired scripture and should therefore not be the basis for any doctrine not substantially supported elsewhere in the Bible.*

8:6 | This is the prime example used by Lewis when he talks about mundane details that lend credibility to the Bible narrative (in this case, to the fact that the story actually happened, not that it was in the original Johannine manuscripts).  What did Jesus doodle in the dirt?  Was it a message?  A drawing?  Hangman?  We have no knowledge.  It’s not so much mysterious as it is irrelevant.  As Lewis says, there has arisen a modern tradition of including the mundane in fiction and legend, but it is completely unknown in the first century.  The only explanation for Jesus’ writing in the dirt is that this event happened, and that’s what He did.

8:7 | One of the most powerful and oft quoted statements of Christ is, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’  I remember a funny (Catholic) joke about this verse:

Jesus tries to avert the death of an adulteress by exclaiming, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’  While the others sheepishly drop their stones and grumble, an old woman nudges through to the front with a large rock, rears back into a full windup, and lets fly, bopping the adulteress between the eyes.  Jesus cried, ‘Mom, don’t you have somewhere else to be!’

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* I’ve already made clear my frustration and curiosity with these things.  Why is it part of the generally accepted Bible if it’s ultimately non-scriptural?  If the people that created the canon didn’t exclude this passage, what other decisions might they have made about what to include and exclude that are erroneous?  Why is John 5:4 excised from the Bible on account of it’s absence in early manuscripts but this story is left in?  Is it merely because of the cultural currency provided by this story?  So many questions…

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