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Week 7: John 2-4


JOHN 2

Verses 1-3: There is some debate as to whose wedding feast this was. What is known, therefore, is that the person being married appears to have been a close relative of Mary and Jesus. McConkie suggests it was "one of Mary's children" (DNTC, digital copy, p. 78) and other LDS scholars are adamant about how it was not Jesus' wedding:
"There is no way of knowing from the text whose wedding was being celebrated (there are numerous reasons why it could not have been Jesus own wedding, as some have suggested), but it was apparently a grand affair lasting for many days." (C. Wilfred Griggs, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 5: The Gospels, ed. by Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986], 126.)
Dr. Wayment simply says this wedding festival was for a "near relative" (NT:TFLDS, p.168).

Verse 4: "The word translated [for] mother is technically woman, but is more polite than the English word suggests." (Jackson and Millet, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 5: The Gospels, 126)

Verse 6: A firkin is about 9-10 gallons/35 liters. This further suggests that this wedding party was quite large since we are talking about having well over 100 gallons of water (that was eventually turned into wine).

Verses 7-11: Dr. Wayment points out that John always refers to the miracles as the 'miracles of Jesus'. This he says it is better translated as 'signs', therefore, and not just miracles. There are seven total 'signs' given in the text of John and this miracle of water turning into wine is the first one (NT:TFLDS, p. 168).

Dr. Margaret Barker speculates about the possible significance this miracle had:
"Turning water into wine was not a sign of the Messiah... Offering wine instead of water was the sign of Melchi-Zedek. Philo, [a Jewish Philosopher who lived during the time of Jesus], referred to this aspect of the Melchi-Zedek story in order to make another point - the divine intoxication offered by the Logos who was Melch-Zedek (see Philo, Allegorical Interpretation III.82). This suggests he (Philo) was drawing on something already known, and wine instead of water would have been recognized as the sign of Melchi-Zedek." (King of the Jews, p. 188)
This is interesting since we know that Christ was the one who restored the Melchizedek priesthood and restored the fulness of the priesthood/the sealing power that was lost among the Jews. It is consistent with the idea of Christ not only being the Messiah, but also the one who would restore the ways of the First Temple Period from the corrupt ways of the Second Temple Period.

Verse 12: We learn in this verse that John makes a clear distinction between Jesus' biological brothers and his actual disciples.

Verses 13-17: The chronological placement of the cleansing of the temple in John is much different from the other Gospel's. John puts it at the beginning of Jesus' ministry while the rest put it at the end. It could be possible that John is referring to a separate cleansing of the temple, which would mean Jesus did this twice in his life. We just do not know, but it is interesting to point out that things like this occur all over the Gospels. It suggests that the Gospel's shouldn't necessarily be read as factual history. They can help us piece it together, but they shouldn't be isolated to stand on their own.

Dr. Margaret Barker writes in favor of John's placement of this event and uses the evidence that the cleansing of the temple is not mentioned at all during Jesus' trial before His scourging and crucifixion (KOJ, p. 191). An event, like turning over tables in the temple, surely would have been a large part of His trail if it had just occurred. If it had occurred 3-4 years previously, then we can see how it might have been out of sight and out of mind for the High Priests and Elders.

Barker further writes:

"John presents the cleansing of the temple as the true way of making atonement, which was effected by sprinkling blood, and he presents Jesus' action as the great high priest coming to reclaim his holy place." (KOJ, p. 194)

It also should be pointed out that this event might have been an initial fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-3. We usually interpret those verses in a Latter-Day context (which is correct), but Jews during the period in which Jesus lived would have been familiar with this passage. The Lord coming to His temple to purify the sons of Levi (see Mark 11:18) would have been a sign of who Jesus was.

Verses 18-22: Jesus testifies of his resurrection. John inserts (verse 22) a look at what Christ's disciples thought of the resurrection long before it actually happens.

Verses 23-25: McConkie gives good commentary on these verses:
"During his mortal life our Lord went from grace to grace and from truth to truth. He progressed from intelligence to intelligence until finally after the triumph of a glorious resurrection he gained all power, all knowledge, and all truth. It is only in this exalted and resurrected state that he came to a knowledge of all things in the ultimate and unlimited sense. (D. & C. 93:6-28.) However, in the course of his mortal probation, he knew all things in the sense that, having the constant companionship of that Spirit (the Holy Ghost) who does know all things, Jesus could and did receive revelation of all that was needed for his ministry from time to time. He knew all things in the sense that a knowledge of all things was constantly available to him." (DNTC, digital copy, p. 82)
JOHN 3

Verse 2: Dr. Barker suggests the night is symbolic of the wording in verses 19-21 in this chapter. She further suggests he came by night to Jesus because he was afraid of being taught forbidden teaching. In other words, the temple traditions of the first temple period. (KOJ, p. 198)

Verse 3: 'To see' the kingdom of God is also comparable to Facsimile 2 in Abraham. To see the kingdom of God is illustrated by the facsimile looking like an eye. It represents seeing the kingdom of God. Margaret Barker confirms this when she says that seeing the Kingdom is also a reference to seeing the Holy of Holies. (King of the Jews, p. 199) Dr. Bradshaw also confirms: "Consistent with Jesus’ expectation that Nicodemus, as a “master of Israel” should have already been familiar with this line of interpretation, there is evidence that “some early Jewish exegetes in the more mystic tradition may have also understood ‘seeing God’s kingdom’ in terms of visionary ascents to heaven, witnessing the enthroned king.” Moreover, the Jewish scholar “Philo, a near contemporary of Jesus Christ, declares that the Sinai revelation worked in Moses a second birth which transformed him from an earthly to a heavenly man; Jesus, by way of contrast, came from above to grants others a birth ‘from above.'" ("By the Blood Are Ye Sanctified"; 2016 Temple on Mount Zion Conference)

Verse 5: It speaks of entering the kingdom of God instead of just seeing it. This is not to say that 'seeing' is bad, but I understand this verse as Jesus speaking in more plain terms from verse 3. Joseph Smith gives interesting commentary:
"A man may be saved, after the judgment, in the terrestrial kingdom, or in the telestial kingdom, but he can never see the celestial kingdom of God, without being born of water and the Spirit. He may receive a glory like unto the moon, (i.e. of which the light of the moon is typical), or a star, (i.e. of which the light of the stars is typical), but he can never come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, unless he becomes as a little child, and is taught by the Spirit of God." (History of the Church 1:283.)
Verse 7: Dr. Bradshaw gives this commentary:
"Nicodemus’ astonishment at Jesus’ teaching was not an entirely negative thing, since, in later rabbinic literature, “marveling or wondering … formed an important part of the process of gaining knowledge.” For example, it was said of Rabbi Akiba that “his learning began with wonder and culminated with a crown, a symbol of his power … to bring hidden things to light.” Thus, Jesus’ words to Nicodemus that night, “Marvel not,” should not be understood as a peremptory dismissal of his interlocutor’s initial doubts, but rather as a spur to his further faith and inquiry, as also manifested in the Lord’s later directive to the wondering Thomas: “be not faithless, but believing.” (“By the Blood Ye Are Sanctified”, 2016 Temple on Mount Zion Conference)

Verse 8: Spencer W. Kimball gives the best commentary that I am aware of on the subject:
"He who has a testimony does not know exactly of what it is made, or where it came from. He cannot measure it. He cannot weigh it. He cannot count it. He can only feel it. That is the testimony, and it is like a breeze or the dew. We were in Upper Galilee the other day...It is a warm day. You stand perspiring in the warmth and all at once there is a little cooling wind or breeze. You feel it, a pleasant cooling sensation. You do not know from where it comes, but all at once you are cooled and refreshed and that is like the Spirit when a man is born again. 'The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.' (John 3:8.) " (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 67. borrowed from gospeldoctrine.com)

Verse 10: I personally subscribe to the idea that Jesus should be seen, especially in the Gospel of John, as one who is restoring lost teachings from the First Temple Period. Nicodemus has been taught the Deuteronomist reforms all of his life that have resulted in the apostasy of Israel for quite some time. Jesus asks this question in a rhetorical sense to bring the contrast between His ways and the ways of the Second Temple period. Spencer W. Kimball gives a moving retelling of this verse here.

Verse 11: 'Ye receive not' is plural. Jesus is referring to the general Pharisees.

Verse 12: For me, the idea expressed in Matthew 6:10 brings this verse to life. Jesus told Nicodemus of earthly things, which are a reflection of what is to be in heaven. The kingdom of God on earth, as it is built through the temple ordinances, is to be seen here and now. If we are waiting for some future fulfillment of entering the celestial kingdom, we are missing the point a bit.
"I have always thought that the heavenly things that Jesus spoke of were these wonderful blessings that we receive in the temples of the Lord, and I thank the Lord that temples are reaching out to our people in these far-off lands." - Legrand Richards (Conference Report, October 1959, Afternoon Meeting 35.)
Verses 14-15: Bradshaw gives interesting commentary on the serpent:
"To comprehend the double meaning of “lifted up” (from Greek verb hypso┼Ź) in Jesus’ words, we must first realize that, in the story of Moses, both the serpents that bit the Israelites and the figure on the standard that was “lifted up” by Moses were not meant to be seen as ordinary desert snakes. Rather, in the rich symbolism of the Old Testament, they are portrayed as representations of the glorious seraphim, using the same Hebrew terms that are used elsewhere in scripture to describe the angelic attendants of God’s throne. If we fail to identify the seraphim of the heavenly temple with the “fiery flying serpents” that were presented as both the plague and the salvation of the children of Israel, we lack the interpretive key for the entire chapter. Once we realize that in these verses Jesus has compared Himself, as the “Son of Man” or, more explicitly, as the Son of the “Man of Holiness,” meaning the Son of God, to the seraphim that surround, in intimate proximity, the throne of the Father, the meaning of His statement that He was to be “lifted up” becomes apparent. In temple contexts, the essential function of the seraphim was analogous to the role of the cherubim at the entrance of the Garden of Eden: they were to be as sentinels or “keepers of the way,” guarding the portals of the heavenly temple against unauthorized entry, governing subsequent access to increasingly secure compartments, and ultimately assisting in the determination of the fitness of worshipers to enter God’s presence. Thus Jesus, described by Nephi as “the keeper of the gate,” could legitimately and literally assert: “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”" ("By the Blood Are Ye Sanctified" 2016 Temple on Mount Zion Conference)
Verses 16-17: Verse 16 is the most popular Christian scripture on the planet, but the context surrounding it is missing. Many scholars believe we are still in the teachings that Jesus gave to Nicodemus. It might be helpful, therefore, to read this verse in the context of the story of the serpents in the previous verses. In short, this widely popular verse has powerful symbols and language in it that mirror a classic Old Testament story. That Old Testament story has powerful symbols in it that are abundant in our understanding of various temple themes.

Verses 22-26: The ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus overlap and caused some confusion. Interestingly, McConkie calls the words that came from the Baptist at this time "one of the greatest sermons ever delivered on the divinity of Christ" (DNTC, digital copy, p. 88).

Verse 32: The phrase 'seen and heard' is a fascinating one in scripture. The phrase is convincingly shown by scholars to be a clue to show that one has entered into the Divine Presence and received a prophetic commission from the Divine Council. More can be read about it here.

Verse 36: The JST 2nd Transcript, which was never printed but the manuscripts are with the Community of Christ Church, says this:
"He who believeth on the Son hath everlasting life and shall receive of his fulness."
This echoes the teachings found in John 1:16 and D&C 93. I write about such themes here and here.

John 4

Verses 1-4: The JST makes theses much plainer. For we get a complete contradiction in John 3:22 and in John 4:2. Jesus is said to have baptized and then it is said he did not baptize in the exact same city. For those who revere Article of Faith number 8, this is just one tiny reminder out of a thousand why we say what we say about the Bible.

Even further, Jesus takes a detour through Samaria on his way to Galilee. This is significant for the following reasons:
"The shorter road from Judaea to Galilee led through Samaria (Jos. Life 52); and this...was generally taken by the Galileans on their way to the capital. On the other hand, the Judaeans seem chiefly to have made a [detour] through Peraea, in order to avoid hostile and impure Samaria...Such prejudices in regard to Samaria, as those which affected the ordinary Judaean devotee, would, of course, not influence the conduct of Jesus." (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, [Hendrickson Publishers, 1993], 273)
Verses 7-26: Here we have the classic woman at the well experience. There is so much to glean from this story. Jesus offers living water:
"Living water is the words of eternal life, the message of salvation, the truths about God and his kingdom; it is the doctrines of the gospel. Those who thirst are invited to come unto Christ and drink. (John 7:37-38.) Where there are prophets of God, there will be found rivers of living water, wells filled with eternal truths, springs bubbling forth their life-giving draughts that save from spiritual death. "Unto him that keepeth my commandments," the Lord says, "I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life." (D. & C. 63:23.)" (DNTC, Digital Copy, p. 93-94)
After offering this, the two get into a conversation about how many husbands she has had. Many through the centuries and today read this and perhaps think she was a dubious person, but the culture of ancient Israel during the apostate Second Temple period might tell us she was a victim. In Jewish society, it was very hard for a woman to divorce her husband. It was almost always the man's prerogative to get a divorce.  We can gain a glimpse into her victimhood, therefore, when we consider she was perhaps abandoned 5 different times. This was probably due to her inability to have children. She came unto the well at noon (see verse 6), according to Margaret Barker, "to avoid the other women who would have seen her childless state as a punishment from God." (KOJ, p. 216)

Jesus doesn't scold the woman because of this, but, interestingly, goes right into a commentary of how Jerusalem is apostate because of their lack of understanding of whom they worship. Soon, "true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (verse 23). 

In this story, we also get the classic, but sorely misapplied scripture in modern Christendom, that 'God is a Spirit':
"There are no indefinite articles (“a” or “an”) in ancient Greek, so the passage can be translated “God is a Spirit” or “God is Spirit.” Most modern translations have chosen the latter, because John’s statement “God is Spirit” is parallel to two passages in his first epistle, “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In context, all of these passages seem to be refer- ring to God’s activity toward men rather than to the nature of His “Being,” and of course we would never say that God is “a love” or “a light.”
Furthermore, Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School (another non-Mormon scholar) explains how such statements would have been interpreted within ancient Judaism:
“By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he has no body ... but rather that he is the source of a mysterious life-giving power and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in the fullest measure.”
It must always be remembered that the Bible was written by Hebrews, and the New Testament writers were all Jews. We saw at the beginning of this article that the Hebrews consistently pictured God in human form."(3)
"Those who believe that God is some type of spirit essence point to John 4:24 to support their view. In the King James Bible, this verse reads: "God is a Spirit.” At first glance this may appear to be convincing evidence but one biblical scholar has declared that to translate this passage as “‘God is a Spirit' is the most gross perversion of the meaning” of the Greek text (Charles H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: University Press, 1953, 225). Indeed, this particular translation does not hold up well under close scrutiny. To begin with, the word “is” is italicized because it does not exist in the Greek document from which the translation was made but was added to the sentence by the King James translators (see LDS Bible Dictionary, 708). In addition, some biblical scholars believe a few translations of John 4:24 are correct to omit the indefinite article [ a ] before Spirit … Greek has no such article, and we insert it… in English as the sense requires (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Giand Rapids, Michigan hardpans, 1989]. 271). In other words, the Greek text from which this sentence was created only consists of two words-theos (God) and pneuma (Spirit). Modem biblical scholars recognize that the book of John has been tampered with over time and that some material has been deleted from it (see Urban C. Von Wahide, The Earliest Version of John's Gospel [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1989], 21)." 
Verses 42-53: It should be remembered that the Greek word for 'Savior', 'sodzo', can also be translated as 'Healer'. It is interesting, therefore, that a story of healing occurs right after a collective Samaritan declaration that He 'truly is the Savior/Healer of the world'.

 FURTHER READING

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