You will find and introduction and outline to John, here
A prayer from the Book of Common Worship to use before you read.
God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I. Book of Signs chapter 1-12
A. The Prelude to Jesus’ Ministry 1:1-51
B. “The Greater Things”: Jesus’ Words and Works 2:1-5:47
C. Jesus’ Words and Works: Conflict and Opposition Grow 6:1-10:42
a. Feeding of the Five Thousand and Bread Discourse 6:1-71
b. Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles 7:1-52
c. The Woman Taken in Adultery 7:53-8:11: Your Bible may have a note that this section of John is not part of the earliest manuscripts of John. If you are interested in what scholars think about this, you can read more in the works listed in the “Read More About It” section. Or you may pose your questions in the comments and we’ll talk about them.
To the first readers, there are several odd things about this story. The scribes and Pharisees do not provide witnesses as they should. So Jesus is not given sufficient information to make his decision. Also only the woman is present in contrast to the Law which held that both persons faced the death penalty. In addition, the Law came out of a culture which was concerned with the man’s property rights ( with respect to women and children). Adultery was mostly a problem because – to put it bluntly- one man violated the property of another. That the men involved, both the adulterer and the husband, are not present is odd. Verse 6 tells us what is going on. This isn’t really about proper interpretation of the Law but rather an opportunity to trap Jesus. Verse 7, modern people often wonder what Jesus wrote and are perplexed that the text doesn’t tell us. In the ancient world “an act of writing would have been recognized as an act of refusal and disengagement.” (O’Day 629). Does this information change your understanding of this story? What does this story tell us about sin, judgment and grace?
d. Jesus the Light of the World 8:12-59: You may wish to re-read chapter 7 to recall where Jesus is and what events are happening. Light, like water was an important part of the Feast of Tabernacles. Four large lamps were lit in the Temple Court of the Women at the end of the first day of the festival. These lampstands are reported to have been very, very bright illuminating a large area. People danced with ‘”burning torches” before the large lamps in celebration. (O’Day, 632). This is one of Jesus’ “I AM” statements which occur in John’s gospel. Can you think of examples in the Old Testament where light is a symbol of God or of God’s revelation? Re read 1:4-10. Verse 12 “follow” is discipleship language. Verse 13, here again witnesses are mentioned. Legally one needed two other people ( men) for legally admissible evidence. Verse 18,19 notice again the misunderstanding over what Jesus’ means and what others hear. Verse 22 “the Jews” remember these are not another group of people, Jesus is a Jew. This is an intra- Jewish discussion. Verse 28 “lift up” can also mean “exalt”, just as in 3:14. Both the NIV and NRSV downplay the Greek which uses ego eimi, “I am”.
“John 8:31-59 has been called the locus classicus of Johannine theology. In these verses, the Fourth Evangelist lays bare what he perceives to be the fundamental lines of debate and disagreement between Judaism and Christianity.” (O’Day, 636) Verse 31-33 again, people misunderstand what Jesus means. Verse 31 The NIV’s “teaching” is better translated “word”. Notice how often “word” appears in this section. What is the relationship between truth, freedom and Jesus? Compare verse 32 with verse 36. Verse 39 and following, the focus shifts from being descendants of Abraham to Abraham as father. Notice in this section ( v 31-47) the three times that paternity is appealed to by the crowd and rebutted by Jesus. What is the relationship between inheritance, paternity, and actions? Verse 44, other texts in the Mishnah and Qumran use similarly harsh language to contrast those who follow Abraham and those who do not. This sort of harsh language was commonly used by one group against another – again this is an argument within Judaism. This language reflects the intensity of these debates but also reflects expected rhetoric. The verses 48-59 now discuss the relationship between Jesus and Abraham. Calling Jesus a Samaritan does what? Why do you think Jesus does not respond to the charge he is a Samaritan? Remember that in the ancient world there is no distinction between the treatment one gives and emissary and the treatment one gives to the sender of the emissary. The one sent “is” the sender. To honor one sent is to honor the sender. To dishonor one sent is to dishonor the sender. Verse 56 before this verse, the Jews have used Abraham to prove their claims, now Jesus uses Abraham as his witness. Verse 58, again “I AM”.
This entire chapter has harsh language about “the Jews”. How should we read and interpret this language, recalling the situation of John’s community after 70 C.E. and recalling our post Holocaust world?
e. The Man Born Blind 9:1-41: Recall that in John’s gospel, sin is not about bad behavior but is about a person’s response to who Jesus is. Notice the mention of light, darkness and sin. Notice the man does not ask to be healed. The Pool of Siloam is where the water for the water libations of the Feast of Tabernacles came from. “Work” can have multiple meanings, what does it mean here? Verse 14 now we find out this happens on the Sabbath. Notice how as the story progresses the formerly blind man’s understanding becomes clearer- he sees in all senses of the word (and ultimately in verse 38 worships Jesus) and the authorities are “blind”. Verse 22 may reflect the situation of John’s community more than the situation at Jesus’ time. Again a word, “blind” is used multiple ways and contributes to misunderstanding. Verse 24 “Give glory to God’ is a way of saying tell the truth. Recall what “sin” is in John’s gospel.
f. Jesus the Good Shepherd 10:1-42 : Verse 6, why don’t the Pharisees understand? Images of sheep and shepherd were often used in the Old Testament to tell about God and God’s people. Verse 7-10, what does Jesus mean when he says he is the gate? Verse 11 another “I AM” statement. See Ezekiel 34. Verse 15 does this use of “know” mean more than knowledge? Or a certain kind of knowledge? How do the images of Jesus as gate and Jesus as shepherd interpret each other? And what role do the “sheep” play? Verses 22-42. The Feast of Tabernacles happens in late September/early October. The Feast of Dedication (AKA Hanukkah, celebrating the liberation of Jerusalem from the Syrian Antiochus Epiphanies, see 1 Maccabees for the story) happens in December. Why might this be important? Verse 24 literally translated means “How long are you taking away our life?” which is an idiom meaning “How long will you continue to annoy us?” Are the questioners irritated or do they genuinely want to know? This is the only place in the gospel where Jesus is directly asked if he is the Messiah. Verse 30, modern persons will tend to read this in light of our understanding of the Trinity but this understanding of who God is was not developed in John’s time. Taken in context with earlier verses, Jesus is saying the he and the Father are united in the work they do. Jesus shares fully in God’s work, it is not possible to separate the work of Jesus from the work of God. “Miracles” in the NIV translation might better be translated at “works”. Works includes miracles but includes other things that Jesus does. Jesus argument in verses 34-36 may seem strained to modern readers, but this was commonly accepted exegesis in the first and second century. Verses 40-42 John’s witness is recalled.
D. The Prelude to Jesus’ Hour 11:1-12:50 Commentators think that chapter 13 begins a major new section of the gospel. Chapters 11 and 12 serve as a bridge between these two sections.
a. The Raising of Lazarus 11:1-44: The anointing referred to in verse 2 has not taken place yet ( 12:3). The author assumes we know the story. Why is it important to this story to remind us of Mary’s anointing of Jesus? Verse 3 notice the sisters do not ask for healing. Verse 4 Recall how Jesus’ signs function in John’s gospel. Verses 11-15 another misunderstanding about what Jesus means. Verse 17 Jewish tradition held that the soul stayed near the body for three days after death. Verse 21 is Martha complaining? If she is, would that be a problem? Verse 25, another of the “I AM” statements. These verses function on two levels, the present and the future are linked together in Jesus. Verse 32 Mary greets Jesus with the same sentence as Martha. Martha’s encounter with Jesus is private, Mary’s is public. Verse 33, why do you think Jesus is disturbed and weeps? (Commentators offer a variety of suggestions) Verse 40 recall how signs/miracles function in John. Verses 41-42, a prayer of Thanksgiving which redirects the attention of the crowd (and the reader) toward God rather than Jesus and emphasizes the close relationship between God and Jesus. Verses 43-44 Lazarus comes out of the tomb still bound in grave-clothes. Compare this to the location of the grave-clothes in Jesus resurrection. What is John suggesting?
b. The Condemnation of Jesus 11:45-54: Verse 45-46 some believe but some do not. Verse 48 the Greek suggests they are more concerned with loss of their power than with the destruction of Jerusalem. John’s audience knows, as do we, that the Romans will come and take away their power. Verses 51-52 suggest that verse 50 is not only a self serving political statement. Caiaphas manages to speak the truth while at the same time working against it.
c. Jesus Final Jerusalem Visit and the End of His Public Ministry 11:55-12:50: This is the third Passover. Notice the echoes of the Last Supper found in the next few verses. Verse 3 the word translated as “wiped” is the same one used when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Verse 4-6 Judas is present in both stories. “Thief” is the same word used in 10:1,8,10 for the one who threatens the flock. Verse 8 is a familiar text, sometimes taken out of context. What does Jesus mean? Verses 12-19 Jesus entry into Jerusalem. John’s account is much shorter than the story in the other gospels. What does John emphasize? Palm branches were symbols of national triumph and victory. Verse 13, see Psalm 118. Psalm 118 is a psalm sung in thanksgiving for a royal triumph in battle. Verse 15 see Zech 9:9. Jesus is not a warrior king but the king found in Zech 9:9. Verse 16, again glory, only recognized in hindsight. Verse 17-19 Lazarus mentioned again. Recall Caiaphas’ prophecy on 11:50-52 and the Pharisees fears ( 11:47). Also recall 3:16-17 and 4:42. Verse 20 Greeks come seeking Jesus, confirming the Pharisees worries in verse 19. Recall Phillip and Andrew’s roles in the first chapter. Verse 23 the beginning of a series of statements about Jesus’ death. Verse 23 the ‘many seeds of the NIV, better translated by NRSV as “much fruit”. Verses 27-28 in John’s gospel there is never any difference between God’s will and Jesus’ will. The voice from heaven confirms what Jesus has just prayed. Verse 32 “lifting up” once again also has the meaning of “exaltation. The crowd in verse 29 nearly understand what is happening, but not quite and also in 34 they do not completely understand. Verses 35-36 light and dark again. Verses 37-43 the writer deals with the same problem as Paul in Romans 9-11, how can Jesus’ “own” reject him? (O’Day 716). Is the author talking about predestination? Or is he trying to understand this more complexly? See verses 42-43 where human choice is part of the equation. Verses 44-50 These verses function as a summation of the Gospel. Recall the first chapter.
Read More About It
Carter, Warren John: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist, (Peabody, MA:Hendrickson Publishers) 2006.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 24 “The Gospel of John”
Miller, Donald G. and Bruce M. Metzger “The Gospel According to John” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume IX, Leander Kirk,eds. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1995.
Smith, D. Moody “John” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.