CHAPTER 3 CHRISTOLOGY IN JOHN
This chapter will deal with the Christology formulated in the Gospel of John. Christology appears in the titles associated with Jesus and these titles stem from the historical context of the polemical social interaction. It is not possible to read John 9 without being struck by the writer’s reconstruction of contemporary history, and the consequent reflection on the way Jesus was spoken about and of the nature of first century Jewish religion, mythmaking54 and social formation.55 The evangelist ingeniously shows how people, living in a context of persecution, came to think critically about the present state of things when thinking about how the past gives significance to the present. By using the socio-cultural texture, we will investigate the text’s language to see how the evangelist constructed the social and cultural world exhibited to the reader. Before tackling the issue of the titles attributed to Jesus, let us look at how John 9 reflects the world in which it takes place.
John 9.24-41 in the socio-cultural context
It is not easy to study the Gospel of John without seeing how the text reflects the world in the patterns of communication, and what it reveals about this world. The type of world projected and constructed in this text can be primarily understood through the concept of sin that appears at the beginning (v.2-3) and at the end (v. 41) of the story of John 9. The first-century Mediterranean culture, according to Crosby (2000:88-9), was dominated by the question of “who” or “what” was behind disease. People believed that blindness was caused by some kind of separation from God or by sin (see Genesis 19.11; Deuteronomy 28.28; II Kings 6.18) or by demonic powers. All the Mediterranean contemporaries of Jesus and his followers, in Malina’s view (1998:176), believed in the commonly shared explanations about the origins of sickness, of the body and of the spirit, and the proper way to deal with sickness. It is this culturally defined ideology that reflected the question of Jesus’ disciples, an ideology identifying sickness with sin. Jesus makes a clear break from the prevailing religiously legitimated view. For him, sin is not to be viewed as an ontological reality but, rather, a reality deeply rooted in unbelief. Sin is not natural, but rather it is unbelief displayed in the rejection of the revelation brought by the Son of man to earth. To claim to see or to pretend to be illuminated with the light of the Law, as interpreted by Jewish tradition, grounded on Moses, is the real sin which calls forth judgement. I will refer once again to this issue of sin and judgement at the end of the present work.
The world projected by the text can also be understood in terms of the concepts used in the text, which need to be situated in their own context, namely the Mediterranean world. This text refers to “explicit data” (van den Heever 1999:351) in terms of places (synagogue), the names of characters or historical figures (Pharisees, Jewish authorities, the man born blind, Jesus) and historical events (the healing of the blind man and the expulsion from the synagogue which took place, not during Jesus’ lifetime, but after it).
The power to open the eyes of the blind, in the Mediterranean world, was attributed to various deities. It is the case, for instance, of Vespasian, who was not expected to become emperor as he belonged to an undistinguished family and attained his imperial position by an indirect route, and therefore lacked authority. A certain witness testified to his having worked miracles, including the healing of a blind man and a man with a lame leg, who had appeared together before him from among the people. Both miracles, according to Klauck (2000:308), exalted Vespasian above normal human stature and served to ideologically legitimate him and his power while it was still fragile.56 It is indispensable to the interpretation of the story of the paralysed man (John 5) and the miracle of the man born blind (John 9), to bear in mind the reputation of Vespasian as a miracle-worker. Jesus is likewise presented as miracle-worker. Jesus’ power was not fragile like Vespasian’s, but I believe his legitimacy was very much at stake in the Graeco-Roman world of the Johannine Church at the end of the first century, which endeavoured rather successfully to legitimate Jesus in this way.
The theme of Christology is also a means to see how the different titles attributed to Jesusthroughout the narrative of John 9 stem from the social and cultural context.
Christology in John
It is commonly held that the New Testament marks new directions in understanding the purpose of God which are rooted in a transformation of the understanding of God. Johannine Christology needs to be viewed as the expression of the transformation that took place in the understanding of God. Painter (1991:234-5) is right to contend that:
Almost everything John says about God is in relation to Jesus, especially focused on the Father-Son relationship. Christology is John’s way of speaking of God at those points where the understanding of God is being transformed. The transformation introduces nothing absolutely new so that all the parts of the view can be found already in the Jewish scriptures (…) John’s Christology constitutes the new centre for understanding God, the purpose of God, the destiny of the creation and the meaning of faith.
The Fourth Evangelist concentrates on the identity of Jesus and he tries to show, through Jesus’ signs and words, how some came to believe whereas others, especially the Jews, a group antagonistic to Jesus, did not. Christology is without any doubt the main theme of the Fourth Gospel. As it seems clear from John 20.30-31, the central concern of the evangelist is Christology which, therefore, provides the key to the meaning of the entire Gospel. While in John 12.37, the evangelist closes the Book of signs (chap 1 – 12), by alluding to many great signs, which yet caused no faith among the Jews, in John 20.30-31, at the conclusion of the entire Book, the evangelist now speaks of the many signs which Jesus did “in the presence of the disciples” in order to lead his readers to faith. By using the term sêmeia, the evangelist referred to the signs in the first twelve chapters of the Book, or does he also include the appearance of the resurrected Jesus? (Schnackenburg 1980c:336; Brown 1966b:1058). Regardless of all the discussion surrounding this question, let us turn to Schnackenburg and Brown, since both agree that the evangelist refers simultaneously to the signs performed during Jesus’s lifetime and to his post-resurrection appearances. Schnackenburg observes (1980c:337) that all the signs throughout the Book, including the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, take into account the deeper meaning, that is “the revelatory quality”, but, beyond that, the sign of appearance bears an eminent sense, inasmuch as it reveals Jesus as the Exalted one belonging to God’s world. That is why the author inserts Thomas who confesses Jesus as “Lord and God.” Brown rightly contends (1966b:1059) that the signs performed in Jesus’s earthly ministry revealed in an anticipatory manner his glory and his power to give eternal life. The disciples who saw the risen Jesus, including Thomas, reached a deepened sense of Jesus’s lifetime by confessing that Jesus is Lord and God. After his resurrection, Jesus is no longer pointing symbolically to his glory but he is being glorified. In Beasley-Murray’s understanding, the key to the interpretation of the Gospel of John has to do with faith. The intention and purpose of the evangelist is stated in the conclusion of the Gospel, namely John 20.30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
The issue of “to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God” raises two main points of view. Beasley-Murray (1989:7) interpreted these words in two ways: the Gospel was written, in missionary perspective, to those who have to come to faith in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God, and then come to gain the life of the Kingdom of God; or to those who already believe in Jesus but whose faith has to be deepened. The former group has to get experience with Jesus as the Christ, while the latter should experience in fuller measure the life of the Kingdom, now, and be assured of possessing its fullness in the coming age.
In Malina’s view, reading John 20.20-31, the Gospel was written for the purpose of generating faith (1998:285). However, does that faith need to be taken from the missionary perspective or from the perspective of deepened faith? These two possibilities are created by variant readings in the Greek texts: some manuscripts have the subjunctive present (piseuete) meaning “stay in belief” and some manuscripts use the future tense (piseusete) that means “to come to believe in the future.”
The theme of whether “to believe” is employed a great deal in the Fourth Gospel, so there is cause to assert that this double perspective is meaningful to an interpretation of this Gospel.57 As argued by Beasley-Murray (1989:8), “the Gospel has both an evangelistic thrust and a deeply instructive quality. It has the power to awaken faith and to confirm faith, and was surely intended for use in mission to those outside the churches and for building up those inside them.” In my opinion, such a view is disputable. An issue that has to be tackled is to see whether the conclusion of the Gospel is concerned with a dual audience, namely Jews and Gentiles. When Jesus is shown as Christ, this speaks to Jews who are expecting a Jewish-Messiah or Davidic-Messiah. When he is portrayed as the Son of God, this speaks to Gentiles, for among them are found the sons of gods in connection with Graeco-Roman ideology.
Beasley-Murray, in my opinion, is wrong when he tries to retain the twofold possibility as this overlooks the important issue of literary criticism.
The best translation of the problematic verse 31 would be: “[The Gospel] was written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God, and so that in believing you continue to have life in his name.” That is why Malina and Rohrbaugh (1998:285-6) observe that the selection of signs has been made:
so that members of John’s group may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah – that is, Israel’s Redeemer, the Son of God, the divine Sky Man; further, by such belief they will maintain ‘life in his name’ (…) the Gospel has been written to mediate and maintain life in John’s antisocietal group and to whomever this group might include within its membership.
Since all life derives from God alone, only those who believe in the beloved Son, sent by the Father into the world, can hope to maintain themselves in life by continuing to believe in Jesus, the provider of life58 on God’s behalf. Faith in Jesus is to be understood in dynamic, and not in static, perspective, with the believer being committed to struggles against the unbelieving world. Jesus’s discipleship needs courage and loyalty and a true believer’s commitment in a troubled world of persecution for those who believe in Jesus in the Graeco-Roman environment where men are imagined to be sons of Gods, and even gods.
The best way to solve this dispute is to consider the overall Gospel picture of Jesus. According to Brown (1966:1060), the Gospel of John demands throughout not only a belief that Jesus is the Messiah predicted by the prophets – anyway, the evangelist has not been satisfied with presenting Jesus as the Messiah in any minimalist sense – but also a belief that Jesus comes forth from the Father as a special representative to the world (see John 11.42; 16.27, 30 and 17.8), that Jesus and the Father share a special presence in one another (John 14.11), and that Jesus bears the divine name (John 8.24; 13.19). Jesus is called either Son of God,59 or Son only60. He refers to himself as the son of his Father. This may be a reference to the title “son of God”, attributed to the emperors61, as well as the titles “God”, “Lord” and “Saviour.” The title “Son of God” attributed to Jesus is to be seen as an apologetical polemical title because “he alone has proved in words and deeds that he is from God” (van Tilborg 1996:53). In my view, unlike the Hellenistic “sons of god”, regarded as such since they were connected to divine powers and regarded as “thaumarturgists”, Jesus is the Son of God, not because he bears divine substances but, because of his relationship with God the Father. The “sons of god” of the Hellenistic era held the power to protect the city. Artemis, Zeus’s daughter, was believed to reinforce the city, through her divine qualities (1996:53). The title “the son” refers to “Jesus-as-the-one-sent”, “Jesus-as-the-envoy-of-his father”62 and implies that the functions of God the Father were transferred to him (1996:28)63. Jesus, in this cosmos, is the one who stands up for the interests of the “oikos” of his Father. He acts as representative of the oikos, since he is the envoy of his Father (van Tilborg 1996:55). In the history of the city of Ephesus, the names of various imperial sons are honoured – sons such as Agrippa, Gaius Caesar, and Tiberius … (van Tilborg 1996:55). In this context, the emperor-father was seen as God, while his successor was regarded as Son of God.
For Morris (1971:856), with whom I agree, both titles are identical for the expected Messiah (Davidic-Messiah) was not to stand in that very close relationship to the Father as John, throughout the Gospel, depicts the relationship of Jesus with God the Father. John’s conception of messiahship is fuller and richer than that of contemporary Judaism (see John 1.20, 41) when he argues that:
The combination of terms Messiah and Son of God indicates the very highest view of the Person of Jesus, and it must be taken in conjunction with the fact that John has just recorded the confession of Thomas which hails Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God’. There cannot be any doubt that John conceived of Jesus as the very incarnation of God. (see Morris 1971:856-7).
In Morris’s view, it is only because Jesus has such a high dignity that he can be the kind of Saviour that John conceives him to be and then be able to bring human beings (Jews and Gentiles alike) to life through faith in His name. The major thrust of the statement in John 20.31.
CHAP I INTRODUCTION AND FRAMEWORK OF THE STUDY
1.1 Introduction of the Study
1.2 Framework of the Study
CHAP II DETAILED EXEGESIS OF JOHN 9.24–41
2.1 John 9.24 – 41 in the Narrative Setting of the Gospel
2.2 The “Jews” in John
2.3 The Use of “oida”
2.4 Jesus-Messiah of Unknown Origin
2.5 Moses, a “theios aner” (v. v. 28, 29)
2.6 Hellenistic “theosebes” & the Jewish Expression of “To do God’s will”(v. v.31,32) 75
2.7 The Expression “pisteuein eis” (v. .35)
2.7 To Believe in “the Son of Man” (v. v.35–37, 39–41)
2.8 To Worship Jesus as Lord (v.38)
CHAP III CHRISTOLOGY IN JOHN
3.1 John 9.24-41 in the Socio-Cultural Context
3.2 Christology in John 9
CHAP IV CONFLICT AND DISCIPLESHIP IN JOHN 9: THE SACRED TEXTURE ANALYSIS
4.1 The Sabbath Issue
4.2 Moses and Jesus
4.3 Faith – Signs and Discipleship in John’s Outlook
4.4 The sin and judgment in John 9
FINAL CONCLUDING REMARKS
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
JESUS OR MOSES? ON HOW TO KNOW THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD IN JOHN 9:24-41