Category Archives: Jesus and the Gospels

John’s Prologue

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort” (The Hobbit).

The beginnings of narratives provide us clues, purpose. They can lead us to expect one thing before unveiling the blinders over our eyes. They can provide pivotal information that we need for the rest of the story. If you read The Lord of the Rings, but skip The Fellowship of the Ring, you will, frankly, be utterly lost in Isengard without a compass.

The beginning of The Hobbit reveals that hobbits, like humans, love comfort. But as the story goes on, this hobbit, in particular, remains in no such cozy hobbit holes. He will later find himself stranded in such holes in which the ends of worms and oozy smells would bring him the greatest delight if he could see them only once more. Anything beats dragon breath.

John’s prologue is a guide to the remainder of his Gospel. If you miss this, you’ll be as lost as John’s characters. In ancient Greco-Roman writings, “prologues were often used to introduce the important characters in the narrative, situate them within the story, and give some understanding of their importance” (84). Prologues explained the “seen” and “unseen” forces that were at play throughout the drama.

Morna Hooker explains that prologues provided “vital information that would enable [the audience] to comprehend the plot, and to understand the unseen forces — the desires and plans of the gods — which were at work in the story” (84). Rather than reveal the plans of the Gods, John explains “the desires and plans of the God” (84). 

The prologue is not mere background information, for it is a guide to the drama. With John’s story of Jesus, “the reader is provided with comprehensive inside information about the origins, identity, and mission of ‘the Word’ (1:1, 14), a figure subsequently described as Jesus Christ (1:17)…. John’s Prologue places the reader in a position of privilege while the characters in the narrative remain in the dark” (Skinner, 9-10).

John’s prologue is not mere theological abstraction that comes right out of the ether. It is connected to the real events that take place throughout the drama. It explains the “unseen” forces in the midst of the “seen.” If Jesus is the unique Son of God, why do so few believe him, and why do so many of Israel’s leaders want to kill him?  He [the “true light”] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (Jn 1.10–11). “Thus, the prologue is guiding the reader to see the invisible (God) in the visible (historical persons and events)” (85). 

There are two strands in John’s plot: the visible and the invisible. The first strand is the historical setting. Jesus, a real person, comes to tabernacle among God’s people in first-century Israel. In the second strand, “The setting of this second story is not Palestine in the first century but the cosmos in eternity itself. Interestingly, the cosmological story is the very first thing introduced to the reader” (85). It is in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus where both strands reach their climax. Jesus is the stairway to heaven, greater than what Jacob saw. He will ascend to the very real Father and send his very real Spirit to his physical disciples who will preach the message of the King who forgives sins.

Buy John (ZECNT) from Zondervan or on Amazon!

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Review Lecture, ‘Mark’ by Rikk Watts

Rikk Watts is a full-time teacher at Regent College, and is known for his work on the Gospel of Mark and his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. He wrote the 100,000 word contribution on Mark to Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the NT Use of the OT [CNTUOT] and will be replacing Lane’s volume on Mark in the NICNT series. And word on the street says Watts is writing two books: Jesus and the Mighty Deeds of Yahweh (lecture here) and Heaven on Earth: an Introduction to the Christian Vision.

This is the second of Watts’ lectures that I’ve been able to review (see my review on Isaiah). This time I wanted to learn about Mark from one of the experts. I’ve been interested in Mark’s Gospel ever since I co-taught it at CCBC York in 2014. Ever since then I’ve stocked up on a number of commentaries, anticipating when Watts’ volume will see the light of day. I had the pleasure of partnering with Lindsay Kennedy (see his review of Watts’ class lectures here) in one of his Mark classes last fall and I found Watts to be extremely helpful in understanding Mark’s message.

Mark

As I’ve mentioned before, in his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Watts opens up Scripture to the reader to see how Mark wrote his Gospel around Jesus’ fulfilling of (can you guess?) Isaiah’s Second Exodus. While I have yet to read INEM, Watts’ contribution to Carson and Beale’s CNTUOT convinced me to his position. His contribution is packed full of both grammatical and theological information, which seems like Watts is full of “heady” information about God and his Word. Yet listening to Watts’ is an entirely different experience. While his genius still comes out, his application comes straight from the principles of the text.

What relevance does a 2,000 year old Gospel have for us today? To pray like Jesus we must live sacrificial lives where we pick up our crosses to serve humbly (9.28; 10.45). I am to cut off that which causes me to sin. How do I see other people and how do I treat them? Do I humiliate them? Do I regard them as nothing? Or do I give them the most importance? Watts application cuts to the quick, and it’s the kind of application we need. Watts proves that a deep study and understanding of the Bible and a heartfelt relationship with God are not mutually exclusive.

Watts looks at Mark’s Gospel as being both a masterful work of literature. He is aware of how words and phrases are used throughout Mark. A “marketplace” seems like such an obscure word, but Watts sees that Jesus, the true Shepherd (6.34) and glorious Lord who walks on water (6.48), heals the sick in a marketplace (6.56). It was in the first exodus where Israel found out they were supposed to be holy, and here, following the New Exodus theme, Jesus teaches the marketplace Pharisees (7.4) about true holiness. He is the healing glorious Lord, and those who follow him are both holy and to live holy lives that honor him.

Watts also looks at Mark’s Gospel as being a historical document about the true living Son of God. And because these characters are real and situations tense, Watts uses this understanding to explain why Jesus does what he does. For example, in Mark 14 Jesus sends two disciples to find a man carrying a jar of water (which would be rare). They are to follow him and talk to him about something “the Teacher” has said. Watts believes it is pre-arranged (the room would already be furnished and ready, v15), and given that Jesus is a wanted man (the Jewish leaders were trying to trap him in Mark 12), it makes sense that Jesus would work in the shadows. He still had to have one last meal with his disciples before he picked up his cross.

Watts believes the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, before 70 AD. Unlike his Isaiah class, Watts’ doesn’t delve much into the views of other scholars, and when he does his discussion is brief. That being said, he doesn’t always finish class where he intends and often runs out of time only to have to catch up in the next class. He always makes it work out well, but I was disappointed with his treatment of Mark 13. It’s an extremely difficult passage for many Christians and scholars, and I was hoping to hear a thorough (as far as is possible in a classroom setting) of Mark 13. Watts reads all of Mark 13 as having to do with 70 AD, and I especially wanted to hear about 13.26 (“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”). Instead, because of the way Watts spaced out the other classes, Mark 13 had to be split between two classes (Lectures 11 and 12) with both parts being rushed.

Though not a major downside, I was disappointed that the Mark lectures didn’t come with a handout like the Isaiah lectures did. The Isaiah handout PDF was 96 pages long. The Mark handout PDF is only 4 pages long (with a little bit extra on page 5). The handout for Isaiah helped hold my attention during the lectures as I was able to follow along while giving me plenty to look up after the lectures were finished. Since the lectures are not a book, it is difficult to go search and find the right spot where Watts speaks on a particular text. And since there is no handout, I would suggest that you take notes while listening to his lectures (though in my opinion, you should be taking notes anyway).

Conclusion

If I could ever recommend lectures on Mark, it would be ones taught by Rikk Watts. Watts certainly has a solid understanding of the Gospel of Mark. He is a biblical scholar who considers deeply both the biblical text, its teaching on God and his gracious character, and its application to our lives. Even though he rabbit trails a bit, Watts gives you plenty of good information to think about, and one can hear that he really loves the Lord. Watts studies God’s word and uses the Bible’s theology to shape his views on life so that he can teach us how we are to live before and serve our holy, loving, and glorious God.

Lagniappe

  • Speaker: Rikk Watts
  • Date: Winter 2014
  • Length: 27h 17m
  • Product ID: RGDL4404S

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Our Response to Parables

Outline

  1. Introduction; Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  2. Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  3. Mark 1.14-45
  4. Mark 1.2-3.35
  5. Mark 4.1-5.43
  6. Mark 6
  7. Mark 7.1-8.21
  8. Mark 8.22-9.13
  9. Mark 9.2-50
  10. Mark 10
  11. Mark 11.1-13.31
  12. Mark 13.32-16.8

Video

Classes

(Sometimes these are on discount at certain times of the year. Along with these Watts has quite a few free lectures). 

[Special thanks to Regent College for allowing me to review this class!]

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Filed under Jesus and the Gospels, Mark, Review

Our Response to Parables

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been listening to Rikk Watts’ lectures on the Gospel of Mark. Watts is well-versed in Mark’s Gospel, and he’s currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series.

When it comes to the parables, there is a wide range of views on what Jesus was trying to convey. What is a parable? Is it pure allegory? Is there only one meaning? Are there multiple meanings? Many think that parables are an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” but that places too much of a dichotomy in Jesus’ words as if he had a Gnostic ideal where we were to shed our earthly self to reach our heavenly life.

In the Beginning…

We must first ask the question, “Why did Jesus speak in parables anyway? What purpose did they serve?” The first use of “parable” in Mark is in 3.23, “And [Jesus] called them to him and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’” Jesus poses this question against the Jerusalem leaders who believed that the miracles he performed were really the works of Satan.

In Isaiah 6 (esp. vv8-13), Isaiah’s call initiates the judgment that the people have brought on themselves (Isa 1-5). Because they have rejected Yahweh, Isaiah’s preaching would cause the hearts of Israel to be hard. In Mark, the Jerusalem leaders have called judgment upon themselves by grouping the actions of the Messiah with that of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Sowing the Word

In Mark 4 Jesus begins with the Parable of the Sower, which contained themes that would likely have been familiar to his audience. 4 Ezra 9.26-37 (a pseudepigraphical work) speaks about Yahweh sowing the law after the first exodus out of Egypt. The Jewish fathers received the Law from Yahweh, but they didn’t follow it. As a result, they went into judgment and exile (2 Kings 24-25) which would require a second exodus (Isa 40-55).

Watts argues that Mark shapes his Gospel around Isaiah’s second exodus, and here the words of Jesus, Yahweh in human form, are having the same affect as they did in the book of Isaiah. Those who reject Jesus will end up in exile (Mk 13) and judgment (Mt 25).

Listen!

In Mark 4.3, at the beginning of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

Watts points out that Jesus doesn’t say “Listen!” often. The critical point is that you must listen, and if you don’t understand how this works, then you won’t understand how the others work (v13).

According to Watts, the point of the parables is: (1) to reveal the mystery of the Kingdom, and (2) to reveal the nature of JC’s hearers’ hearts. This is what the whole Gospel of Mark is doing. Mark is teaching his readers about the promised kingdom of God which is coming through the Son of Man (Dan 7.13-14, 15-27), and you are being shown whether or not you care as you read Mark’s Gospel. In reading and listening to his Gospel, Watts contends that we are being put on trial. How will we respond to Mark every time we read his Gospel?

The response to Jesus’ parables passes judgment on the hearers (e.g., David’s response to Nathan’s parable [2 Sam 12], Israel’s response to Isaiah’s vineyard parable [Isa 5]). Starting from the Garden of Eden, Israel has a long history of thinking they are better than they really are. They say, “I’ll trust God… as long as it makes sense.” Adam and Eve didn’t think God’s word made much sense when it came time to take their test (Gen 3.1-6). The same goes for Israel immediately after the Exodus (Ex 32.1).

However in Mark’s Gospel no one understands Jesus! Jesus doesn’t make sense. Even his disciples have trouble understanding him, yet they still follow him despite they’re lack of understanding. The only way to deal with your arrogance and self-reliance is to follow Jesus even when he doesn’t make sense.

Idolatry and Hard-Hearts

The nations ask, “Where is their God?” (Ps 115.2). And we reply, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115.3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps 135.6). Those who turn to and follow after lifeless idols become ones who cannot see, hear, nor speak.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

(Ps. 115.4-8; cf. 135.15-18)

Rather than following lifeless idols and becoming like them, we follow the one who does whatever he pleases. We can be like him. He gave us his word for us to know and to use wisdom so that we may live in a way that glorifies him. Humans are made in the image of God, but when we worship idols, we lose our humanity. We lose our ability to perceive and know how to live.

Watts calls Christianity the true humanism. It is only by being Christians, by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, that we can be who we were truly created to be.

Parables take away our security blankets. Parables show us what we really think about Jesus and his message.

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

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Filed under Biblical Studies, Isaiah, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark

Was The Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may remember my series on Rikk Watts’ lectures on Isaiah. Rikk Watts, NT lecturer at Regent College, is currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series. The focus of his dissertation was on Mark’s use of Isaiah’s second exodus (Isa 40-55; 56-66). Now I’ve been listening to Watts’ lectures on Mark, and when Watts taught on the rich young man in Mark 10, he took a different perspective from what I’ve always heard.

Growing up I’ve only heard one perspective on the rich young man. He was rich, he was young, and he was self-righteous. He didn’t really keep the whole Law. He simply wanted to pull-one over on Jesus, or at least he was so deceived he really thought he had kept the whole law. Yet Jesus sees straight through his facade. Knowing the young man is covetous and greedy, Jesus tells him that he must sell his belongings, those things that keep the rich man from Jesus, and follow Jesus so that he will have eternal life.

The Other Way

But Watts doesn’t think that’s what’s happening at all. Instead, Watts sees Mark presenting the rich young man in a positive light.

The rich young man “knelt before” Jesus and calls him “Good teacher” (v17). He’s not a scumbag. He believes that Jesus can tell him how he can have eternal life. And Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v18). His answer to the rich man to follow him (and not Torah) implies that he is equating himself with Yahweh.

Jesus points first to the law and gives a list of commandments that the rich man should know: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t defraud, do honor your parents. But the rich man has kept all of these from his youth. While this sounds farfetched, Paul says that when it came to “righteousness under the law,” he was “blameless” (Phil 3.6b). This doesn’t mean Paul nor the rich man were perfect, but that they were faithful to God by keeping to the Jewish laws and sacrifices.

Good, You Lack One Thing

In verse 21, Mark doesn’t say, And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lie.’” Instead, Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” For the rabbis, “lacking nothing” was the mark of a truly righteous man. Jesus doesn’t require anyone else in Mark to do this. Why is this?

People can tell the difference between someone who wealthy and righteous and someone who is wealthy and rotten. For the Jews, keeping the law and having money was a genuine sign that someone was righteous. Watts believes this guy is being told to let go of his reliance on both Torah and all of the brownie points (material wealth) that testify to his being a truly righteous man from a Jewish point of view. He “kept the law and has shekels in the bank to prove it” (Watts, Lecture 10).

Watts says that if the rich young man really was selfish, the disciples would say, “Well, we know why he isn’t getting in. He’s selfish!“ They know about the oppressive wealthy (10.42), but here they are surprised! If this man has kept the law, he has money, but he can’t gain eternal life, what on earth can the disciples do?

But Many Who Are First…

But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v31). This rich man, who is first in everyone’s eyes, is now last because he refuses to follow the one who is greater than the Torah, Jesus Christ. But the disciples, who were low in everyone’s else’s eyes, and who would become lower because they followed the one who would be crucified, will be first.

But how can this be? They are not the best disciples. They do not understand Jesus’ teachings (4.10). They’re hearts are hard (6.52). They care little about those whom Jesus cares much about (6.36-37). They do not yet understand (8.21), and Peter rebukes his Teacher (8.32). They can not cast out a demon (9.18), and they do not pray with a heart of humility (9.29). They all want to be on the top (9.34).

The disciples will have eternal life so long as they follow and listen to the Beloved Son of God (Mk 9.7) who was crucified for our sins (15.39) and was risen from the dead (16.6).

“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v27).

Previous Posts

  1. Our Response to Parables
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

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Filed under Biblical Studies, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark

The Cloud Rider

GokuHasANewNimbus

One of the biggest threats to God’s people in the OT was another god called Baal. Israel was to be a monotheistic community, a group whose sole devotion was directed towards YHWH only. But as the pages of Scripture repeatedly tell us, Israel didn’t follow the rules.

Baal was the storm and fertility god. So if his followers needed crops, they would pray for rain and grain. In some ways it was easier to be polytheistic, at least for the placebo affect. You don’t just pray to one god because, really, how can one God do it all? So you pray to all gods to get all of your prayers fulfilled.

Yet Baal wasn’t just another face in the crowd. He was one of the higher deities in the polytheistic pantheon. And Israel like to worship him, especially since one form of worship involved sexual rituals. Who could say no to that?

In some of the texts of Ugarit, Israel’s northern neighbor, Baal is called “the one who rides the clouds.” It pretty much became his official title. LeBron James shoots hoops, Baal rides clouds.

Yet, it wasn’t just Baal who rode clouds. To turn all the attention back to Yahweh instead of Baal, the biblical authors “occasionally pilfered this stock description of Baal… and assigned it to Yahweh…” (251). 

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty (Deut 33.26)

O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice (Ps 68.32-33)

Bless the Lord, O my soul!… He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire (Ps 104.1-4)

An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them (Isa 19.1)

“The effect was to… hold up Yahweh as the deity who legitimately rode through the heavens surveying and governing the world” (252).

Every instance in the OT where someone is riding the clouds, that “someone” is Yahweh. Except, there is… one exception. There is a second figure. A human figure. 

Dan 7.13, The Lone Exception

Daniel 7.13 reads,

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

In the NT we find a number of connections to Jesus. A few are given below:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mk 2.10-11)

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Lk 17.24-25)

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24.26)

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14.61-62)

Here, “Caiaphas understood that Jesus was claiming to be the second Yahweh figure on Daniel 7:13 — and that was an intolerable blasphemy” (253). Along with these Son of Man texts, there are other connections with Jesus and clouds. 

And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1.9).

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev 1.9)

Some form of the Trinity was seen in the OT. Even the Jews around and before the first century were talking about “two powers in heaven.” Yet, once Christians began to elaborate on the Trinity, the Jews declared the “two powers” idea a heresy, and belief that still holds today among Jews.

So far we’ve only looked at these “two powers,” but what about the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit? Are the lines blurred with the Holy Spirit too? Heiser brings up a few texts, and I’ll look at them in my next post.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

Buy it on Amazon!

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon!

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Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology, Jesus and the Gospels

Review: Reading John

Skinner.ReadingJohn.78033
I’ve always had a hard time with reading the Gospel of John. I love the Gospels because Jesus is in them, but between the four Gospel, John is difficult for me. Pretty much everything Jesus says or does is enigmatic, and they way people respond to him can be just as confusing! I co-taught Mark a few semesters back, and since (and even before) John has been on the back burner with the Synoptics up in front.

When I heard about Skinner’s book Reading John, about a few of the reviews that praised it, and about how short it was I was interested to see if Skinner could teach me to read John.

Skinner teaches at and blogs at Cruxsolablog.

Summary

Chapter One is an outline of the rest of the book. Skinner is not blind to the fact that he sees “the Gospel of John not as it is, but as” he is (2). Skinner has his own lenses in which he reads John’s Gospel, and we all have ours. Despite laboring to be as objective as possible, he knows he still has his own life lenses. It is here where Skinner lays out his main goal: “Above all, I want to help others become better, more perceptive readers of the Gospel of John, with an ability to trace the rhetoric of the narrative from beginning to end” (2). If you take this to mean that you’ll see the flow of the entire Gospel, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Rather Skinner intends to give us the principles of John’s rhetoric so that we can figure out how to read the rest of John’s Gospel.

Chapter Two examines John’s prologue (1.1-18) and how it hints at themes that will be seen throughout the Gospel. After reading the first 18 verses, the readers already know more than the characters do.

Chapter Three shows us how to read John on two levels. Skinner is very good at bridging the cultural divide, and uses an example of Toy Story 3. On one level, TS3 is a fun movie for kids where Andy finally grows up and his toys need to feel like they are wanted. On another level, parents know that Andy represents their own children, and one day their children will grow up, leave home for college, and start off on their own journey. Here, “the Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus while also revealing the story of a community in crisis” (34).

Chapter Four is about the Jewishness and the presumed anti-Jewishness of John’s gospel. Many have used the Gospel of John to attack the Jews, saying they are the ones guilty of the death of Christ. Here Skinner illuminates the Jewish background of John by pointing out the Jewish characters, the Jewish settings, the Jewish Christological phrases (like “lamb of God”), and the Jewish feasts found throughout the Gospel. He shows how “the Jews” are viewed in John, both positively and negatively, and then raises a solution on how to work with the tension.

The focus of Chapter Five is to “examine closely the distinctiveness of Jesus’ speech” (70) giving attention to his I AM statements (including the seven well-known statements and more), the use of irony, double amen sayings, and literary asides (or parenthetical statements).

Chapter Six tells us that, besides Jesus, it is the characters’ actions, not the characters themselves, that are important. In fact, “almost every character exists to serve the narrator’s agenda, which is to clarify the gospel’s exalted Christology” (98). Peter is provided as a test case on how characters misinterpret Jesus.

Having all of this in mind, in Chapter Seven Skinner brings us through John 3. Nicodemus is introduced. He is male, a ruler, a named character, and comes to Jesus at night. Jesus speaks with double entendre, and Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, misunderstands all that the Jewish Jesus says, which, of course, is ironic. The narrator clarifies Jesus’ mission in vv16-21, using terms found in the Prologue (1.1-18).

Chapter Eight is a short postscript telling us how to read John theologically. Skinner says, “[The] Gospel of John ultimately speaks about God and to humanity in ways that remain universally important” (144).

The Spoiled Milk

There were a few issues I had with the book, but I’ll focus on one main view that I disagreed with. And though I disagreed with it, my main issue was a lack of argument/evidence for this view.

Skinner believes that not everything in the Gospel is historical, but is there to make a point. While I disagree, I also don’t think Skinner gives much evidence to back up this view. He says, “Often when I teach the Gospel of John, I find it necessary to point out that even though the gospel presents a sharp conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, such a conflict is historically unlikely. The Jesus movement was likely not big enough during Jesus’ lifetime for such a significant divide to have developed“ (64).

Why does John give his readers unhistorical stories about Jesus? It may very well be that the Gospel is a “theologically stylized narrative with historical roots, which most closely resembles Greco-Roman biography (bios)” (45). According to Skinner, the Johannine community (those receiving John’s gospel and letters) are Jewish and are being expelled from the synagogues by Jewish friends, relatives, and leaders for their belief in Christ. John writes his Gospel so that the Jewish Christians will see themselves in it. They are the “blind man” in John 9, and those who reject them are “the Jewish leaders” who can’t see who Jesus really is. In “narrative terms, ‘the Jews’ represent not any or all people of Jewish origin, but rather those who reject the revelation of God in and through Jesus” (65). Basically, there are only two sides: “those who accept Jesus and those who reject him” (65). I agree this is sentence is true, but I don’t agree that the conflicts in John are unhistorical.

There simply isn’t enough evidence or discussion to convince me of Skinner’s view. I’m no Johannine scholar, so I must remain as one of the “many casual readers of the Bible [who] assume that everything they read in the New Testament reflects ‘what actually happened’” (37).

Recommended?

Despite the above, yes, this book is well recommended. Though I don’t agree with all of Skinner’s points, this is truly an introductory book for John, and one that is written by a scholar. So often the introductory books are written as if you’ve spent years in research on the Bible, but Skinner brings the cookies down from the top shelf and shares his knowledge with everyone interested in the Gospel of John. This would be a good source for required reading in a John class.

But, the main question, did Skinner teach me how to read John? It’s still tough by far, but I would say he has succeeded in teaching me how to read John and in giving me a new interest in this neglected gospel. And that interest is the most important of all.

Lagniappe

Posts

  1. Irony in John’s Gospel
  2. Authentic Belief in John: Word vs Work

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[Special thanks to Wipf & Stock for allowing me to review this book. I was not required to give a positive review in exchange for this book].

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Authentic Belief in John: Word vs Work

What does John intend to teach us when Jesus tells Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? In his book Reading John, Chris Skinner says that John is an example of those in the Gospel of John “who come to follow Jesus as a result of specific signs they have witnessed” versus “those who follow on the basis of Jesus’ word” (129).

Signs

When it comes to Jesus’ signs, many who choose to follow him because of his grand signs end up either falling away or misunderstanding his message.

In John 2, Jesus cleanses the temple in Jerusalem. Zeal for God’s house had consumed him (2.17; Ps 69.9).

In John 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night (Jn 3.2; 1.5, 10). Nicodemus speaks to Jesus three times. The first time he relays knowledge that he and the other Pharisees know Jesus is a teacher form God, “for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Yet when Jesus answers him, Nicodemus doesn’t understand what Jesus means [see the post on Irony in John here].

In John 6, Jesus feeds 5,000 people. “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” Verse 15 tells us Jesus withdrew from them because they wanted to make Jesus King (by force, at that). They didn’t understand his purpose (3.16-17).

Later, others follow him because they want to see a sign (6.26). Once Jesus says, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” it’s all over for most of his followers. Many of them turned away (6.66). They misunderstood his message.

John 12.37 says, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.“

Word

“On the other hand, those who act on or believe in Jesus’ word are the ultimate models of belief and faithfulness” (129).

In John 2 before Jesus has performed any signs, his mother (whose name is not given) tells the wedding servants to “do whatever he tells you” (2.5). No signs have yet been performed, yet she trusts his word. Later she is one of the women standing at his cross while all of the disciples but the Beloved have gone to hide.

In John 4 Jesus speaks to a nameless woman. One who had five previous husbands, and is with a sixth man who is not her husband. Besides the fact that she’s speaking with the true Husband (fulfilled by being #7?), Jesus, having performed no miraculous signs, says to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (4.21). In verse 25, of all people, this nameless, loose, Samaritan woman believes Jesus is the Messiah and goes out to tell others about this Messiah, “a man who told me all that I ever did.”

Thomas

What about Thomas? Thomas was not with the disciples when they first saw the resurrected Jesus. When they told Thomas about seeing Jesus, he wouldn’t believe them. He would only believe if he also saw Jesus. (For this, Thomas often gets a bum rap, but would we not have done the same?)

In 20.27 Jesus shows up on the scene and tells Thomas,

“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20.27-29).

Thomas believed according to the sign of the nail and spear marks. Yet throughout John many (I haven’t reviewed at every case) either fell away from or misunderstood Jesus. How much greater is it to not have seen and yet believe?

What About the Purpose of John?

John 20.30-31 says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written 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.”

If people who believed the signs misunderstood Jesus or fell away, why does John give us these seven signs? The difference between us and them is we are reading about the signs. They saw them. We have to make the choice between believing what we read, which includes believing Jesus’ words and his ability to perform miracles, or playing the part of Nicodemus misunderstanding what Jesus says.

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