Tag Archives: Gospel of John

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.

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Irony in John’s Gospel

I’m reading a book by Chris Skinner of Cruxsolablog called Reading John. Throughout the book Skinner takes a rhetorical approach to John’s Gospel and shows the reader how to read John by the way John begins his Gospel, the way he portrays his characters, and they way they interact with Jesus.

In his chapter called An Alien Tongue, he gives us some examples of irony.

John 1.5

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Greek term here… [katalambanō]… can be used of comprehending as well as overcoming. It is functioning ironically here, because both nuances prove to be as true as the narrative progresses; those who are shrouded in darkness fail to understand Jesus and while the forces of darkness attempt to overcome Jesus, they ultimately fail (86).

John 7.33-36

Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?

The reader knows more about Jesus than the characters, for John gives the reader the Prologue (1.1-18). We know that Jesus is the Word who was with God and who is God (1.1). He came into the world (1.9) and lived among people (1.14). So the reader knows what Jesus means when he says he is going to “him who sent me.” “[He] must return to the Father” (86). We understand, but the Jewish leaders do not.

John 11.49-50

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

The chief priests and the Pharisees are brainstorming over what to do about Jesus. If they allow him to perform his signs, “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (11.48). But Caiaphas speaks “about what is good for the nation. His point is that it is better for the Romans to punish Jesus for his teachings, than for all of Israel to suffer at the hands of the Romans” (86).

The irony, of course, is that the reader knows Jesus must die for the sins of the world. It is his mission. What may be even more ironic though is that it will be because of Jesus’ death that Israel will be judged and in 70 AD the temple in Jerusalem will be razed (Matt 21.33-46; 24.1-51). Who will the Temple be razed by? None other than the feared Romans themselves. This is just what Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders didn’t want to have happen.

This is but a taste of the irony in the Gospel of John. There is double-entendre, multiple layers of meaning, and mass confusion all over. Reading John is a short little book, but it’s very helpful on accomplishing its title and teaching the reader to read John.


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Jesus: the Passover Lamb, No Bones About It

Jim Hamilton’s What Is Biblical Theology? has been eye-opening. It was an easy read with little technical lingo, yet the overall connections he shows have far-reaching meaning to them. He shows how prophecy is fulfilled in patterns, not just by “prophetic utterances.” Hamilton examines key symbols, patterns and themes that are found throughout Scripture. One of the texts I’ll focus on is John 19:36, These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’
Many of us have probably heard that the Passover Lamb pointed to Jesus, and that He represents what the Passover Lamb does. Yet John 19:36 is a fulfillment of Exodus 12:46 where Moses tells the people, It [the lamb] shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.”
That doesn’t sound like a “prediction” of an unbroken Messiah to me. I don’t imagine anyone was thinking, “Oh, that means the Messiah will have no broken bones!” How then is there a fulfillment of what isn’t prophecy?

Let’s diverge for a second. In Psalm 18 David tells how the Lord rescued him from the hands of his enemies, including Saul. He professes his love for the Lord (18:1-3), then uses metaphors to describe his difficulties (18:4-5) and how he called upon Yahweh [the Lord] (18:6). The Lord answers his prayers and David tells us how using Mt. Sinai imagery (Ps. 18:7-15, cf. Ex. 19:16-20). He goes on to liken the Lord’s saving hand to the parting of the Red Sea (Ps 18:15; cf. Ex. 15:8), to his being dawn out of the waters as Moses was (Ps. 18:16; cf. Ex. 2:10), and to the Lord taking him into a broad place like the Land of Promise (Ps. 18:19). 
David uses the events of the exodus and the conquest of the land as a form of interpretive schema to show how the Lord saved him from his distress. 

What does this have to do with Jesus? David used the exodus events as a template to shows God’s salvation. The exodus was the paradigm of God’s saving hand to the Hebrews. In fact, Isaiah speaks of a second exodus, and Jesus would actually be the one to come and usher it in (Lk 9:31; NKJV says His decease; ESV says his departure). The exodus was the archetype, the template, the motif, the paradigm to be used, and David’s deliverance is another “installment in the typological pattern of the exodus” (p. 85).

John doesn’t say that Exodus 12:46 predicts that the Messiah will not have any broken bones. He makes the claim that Jesus equals the typological fulfillment of the Passover lamb. “The death of Jesus fulfills the death of the lamb” (p. 85) to wipe away the sins of not just Israel, but the whole world.


Filed under Biblical Theology