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Signs in the Fourth Gospel

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Signs in the Fourth Gospel:

What is the Evangelist Doing?

The purpose of the Fourth Gospel (FG) seems clear because the author states his purpose in John 20:30-31. What is not as clear, however, is how the Fourth Evangelist (FE) is going about his task. Some scholars have put forth the contention that the FE is presenting us with a trial. A.E. Harvey[1] is probably the leading proponent of this view. Another popular way of viewing the FG is to see it as a narrative on two levels. J. Louis Martyn[2] holds this view. One level takes place at the time of Jesus and the second is about the trouble between the FE's church and the local synagogue. It is my intention to investigate these presentations of the FG to examine whether they offer compelling arguments. If they do, we will consider whether they are also compatible with other ways of looking at the presentation of the FE. If not, we will try to answer the question "How is the FE presenting his purpose in the signs of the first twelve chapters?"

Our approach will begin, in section 1., by looking to see if there are any signs of a trial in the FG. We will examine Harvey's case in 1.1., and in 1.2. we will examine the support he gets from other scholars. 1.3. considers the evidence against the trial motif. The second major section looks at the signs of synagogue conflict. We consider Martyn's proposal that the FG is really a drama on two levels in 2.1., before we turn to 2.2. which looks at some of the weaknesses of this proposal. In section 3., Signs of the Narrative, we turn our attention away from the external considerations of synagogue conflict and back toward the internal logic of the Gospel. 3.1. looks at dividing the FG in terms of the location of Jesus who moves from "beyond" to Jerusalem in a series of cycles. Section 3.2. analyzes the implications of the signs as they relate to the feasts which Jesus attends. Then 3.3. examines the implications of the signs for Jesus' identity. Finally, in section 3.4., we show how the signs relate to the faith of those who experience them, either directly or indirectly. Once we have done our analysis we will be in a better position to answer the question of what the FE is doing in the FG.

1. Signs of Trial

1.1 Harvey's Case. One of the main arguments that Harvey makes is that "a number of episodes in the Gospel are deliberately reported in the form of legal proceedings" and terms like witness and evidence have their full formal meaning.[3] This view of the FG, according to Harvey, has the advantage of helping us to interpret the abrupt way in which the FE introduces the witness of John the Baptist in the prologue. Many of us are so accustomed to thinking of witnessing as evangelism that maybe we miss the point that the FE is presenting John as a witness in a legal sense. In John 1:6, John is called on to be a witness to the light.

However, John does not sound like he is giving testimony in a court of law. He is not presenting the type of evidence that we would expect of a legal witness. Harvey has an answer for our questions. Jews did not use inductive reasoning with witnesses providing proof. Their question was "Whose word can we trust?"[4] John is the type of witness that can be trusted, so he is called on to give his word on the matter.

John is not the only witness called on to testify to Jesus, the first disciples are also witnesses. Their witness complements John's. The FE's task is to show that they are trustworthy witnesses. Andrew hears John's witness and trusts it. Peter hears Andrew's witness and trusts it. Philip is also from Bethsaida, so he knows the standing of Andrew and Simon and could accept their evidence. Each heard the evidence from someone they were disposed to trust. Nathanael, on the other hand has to meet Jesus and experience his telepathic powers before he gives the John 20:31 witness. Nathanael's witness can be trusted because he is an Israelite, as opposed to the Jews who are the antagonists. He is also without guile--which is required of a reliable witness.

Yet, in order for these witnesses to be legal testimony, there needs to be a trial in which the witness is given. Harvey helps us out here by providing his own evidence that what is happening between the Jews and Jesus in the first twelve chapters has the marks of a trial, or trails. The Jews accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath law (John 5:1-8; 9:16, 24-25), and he is guilty of making himself equal with God (John 5:17-18; 8:58-59; 10:24-38), etc. Jesus calls witnesses for his side of the trial: the Father (John 5:31-37; 8:17-18), the scriptures and Moses (John 5:39-45). Each of these instances are part of an ongoing trial that the FG is presenting.

1.2. Support from Other Scholars. Allison A. Trites probably gives the most support to Harvey's trial motif. He also sees all of the first twelve chapters of the FG as a trial. According to Trites, the sayings of Jesus in the FG are really juridical debate rather than discourse. He says that "The discussions of Jesus with 'the Jews' sound like a lawsuit' throughout the first 12 chapters."[5] He also compares the FG to the Old Testament lawsuit and specifically ties the argument of the FG to Isaiah 40-55 which is a lawsuit between God and the world.[6]

Many other modern authors agree that there is a trial motif present in the FG. G.B. Caird thinks that the FG has the most elaborate use of the forensic metaphor. He says that the FE is taking up the Old Testament theme of God's lawsuit where God puts the world on trial. He agrees with Harvey that the first witness is John the Baptist in John 1:6-7. Then Jesus gives evidence in John 3:31, and his works are evidence in John 5:31-37. Scripture and Moses are also witnesses in John 5:39-45, while Jesus and the Father are witnesses in John 8:17-18.[7] These are all giving a forensic witness in the FG according to Caird.[8] George R. Beasley-Murray agrees that John 5:31-47 is like a court scene that is reminiscent of the trial scenes in the Old Testament.[9] Bultmann says that the world brings the revelation (Jesus) to trial in the FG.[10] These are just a few of the authors who confess that there is a trial motif present in the FG. Not all of them see trial motif extending throughout the first twelve chapters, but they all note its presence.

1.3. Evidence Against the Trial. The FE is defending Jesus and using forensic terminology to do so. But there is more going on than just a trial. Robert Kysar says that the purpose of the Gospel is to help defend the Christian community against its Jewish opposition. He says, "The author showed them how they might argue with their Jewish neighbors in response to the charges posed against Christianity."[11] It does not seem impossible that someone who was defending themselves would use the forensic terminology of his or her culture, even if they were not specifically thinking of a trial. Kysar's quotation talks about defense, but not about a trial going on. This shows us that there are ways of understanding the FG's defense without supposing that the FE had a trial in mind when he wrote the gospel.

How do people in the culture in which the FE wrote defend themselves? Authorities are usually cited, if any can be found, that support one's case. In the middle ages the church fathers were often cited as authorities. Today few people would use church fathers as support for their arguments unless they are trying to prove that the church fathers held a certain view. They would not cite them to support any contemporary position. Instead, we usually rely on different defense tactics.

This type of support is also called "evidence" or "witness." Even outside of the court, arguments are considered to be evidence and support. Words and types of arguments that have distinctly forensic uses are also common outside of the court system. More generally, we could say that a cultural way of supporting one's position is adopted by both the academy and the courts, the man on the street and the lawyer. Different cultures play different language games of defense. The FE is playing the language game of defense according to the grammar of his society. We do not have to see every defensive position as an actual court proceeding. For the FE, the defense of Jesus included reinterpretations of Jewish feasts, arguments about Jesus' origin and relationship with the Father, Old Testament metaphors, as well as legal terminology.

We can admit that certain portions of the signs part of the FG do remind us more of a forensic setting than others. There are limited uses of court imagery, but that does not make this whole portion a court scene. Legal metaphors can be used without specifically intending them to portray a trial scene. Besides, there is one place where the FE assumes that a trial has not been taking place. In John 7:51 Nicodemus asks, "Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?" If the preceding scenes had actually been a trial Nicodemus would not have brought this up. The idea of conflict and defense has also been discussed by another author: J. Louis Martyn. We need to turn to his analysis of the FG in order to investigate what the FE is doing with the conflict over Jesus' signs.

2. Signs of Synagogue Conflict

2.1. Martyn's Proposal. The FG is said to be the most Jewish of the Gospels, but it is also called the most removed from Judaism because it speaks so vehemently against "the Jews." Martyn's thesis involves his view that the FG is a "Christian theologian who writes in response to contemporary events and issues."

The early church had great concern for tradition, which "lived on with power and somehow mingled with events of the present." But they viewed the relationship differently. No NT writer merely repeats the tradition. Like Dvorak putting Negro spirituals into symphonic form. In the FG's miracle stories these miracles are the first of a sequence of scenes. This is unique among the Gospel writers. The miracle stories are transformed into dramas. Paying attention to style will show us what is Johannine and what is traditional material.

In the first seven verses of John 9, the FE gives us an account of a miracle that fits into the normal miracle story form. But the FE's story does not stop there, he adds a dramatic expansion which is found in verses 8-41. The expansion has seven scenes. Like an ancient drama, each scene has two main actors. However, Martyn is not satisfied to give us a simple literary analysis of the artwork of the text. He wants us to look for "specific reflections of some definite situation in the life of [the FE's] church."[12]

Martyn transposes the story into dramatic form. In this rendering, he doubles Jesus with an early Christian preacher. This doubling is explained by linking John 14:12 with 9:4a. He calls it an Einmalig ("back there" as opposed to "now and here") that shows that John is extending Jesus' work, which occurred just once, to the ongoing work of the Christian preacher.

Scene by scene, as if it were a staged play, the drama is recounted. The story of Jesus' healing the blind man is also the story of Jesus' power flowing through a faithful witness in the Johannine church who heals a blind man. The drama in the text is compared to the actual drama in John's community.

John 9 has an immediacy that makes Martyn think "that some of its elements reflect actual experiences of the Johannine community."[13] He admits, however, that questions need to be answered. Focusing his analysis, Martyn points out 4 elements in John 9:22: 1) "The Jews," 2) "already agreed," 3) messianic confession of Jesus, 4) "out of the synagogue."[14]

The first two phrases "show us clearly" this is a formal agreement by some "authoritative Jewish group" prior to the writing of the FG.[15] Martyn believes the distinction between disciples of Moses versus Jesus would have been inconceivable during Jesus' lifetime.

The term a)posuna/gwgoj is found nowhere outside the FG. Therefore he thinks that putting someone "out of the synagogue" has happened in the community of the FE. The term is also in John 12:37 where some of the rulers believe, but are afraid to confess.

Martyn points out that "The picture may, however, be coherent without being historical."[16] He then sets out to see if he can find any historical referent that could underlie the term a)posuna/gwgoj.

a)posuna/gwgoj, although it could just mean away from one's synagogue, actually means expelled from the synagogue. Martyn considers if it may be linked to the Jewish Ban.

Two kinds of ban, temporary and permanent, may have been used at Jesus' time. The permanent ban also accompanied a pronouncement (anaoema). Of the two kinds of ban, niddui and cherem, Martyn says that neither equal a)posuna/gwgoj because, a) there was no cherem before the third century C.E., and b) niddui refers to purity of legal rulings and is used against scholars.

Next, Martyn considers whether or not a)posuna/gwgoj refers to the kind of disciplinary action taken against Christians according to Acts. This might be the type of persecution Paul took against the church before his conversion. However, in Acts the Jews saw Christianity as a sect. Paul was out to discipline not excommunicate the Christians. Paul's experience was also one of being disciplined by the Jews, not excommunicated.

These lines of investigation do not lead Martyn to any connections with Acts and the a)posuna/gwgoj of John. Nevertheless, there is one more biblical possibility. Behind Luke's portrait of the parting of ways in Acts 18 and 19 stands an event which might have been excommunication from the synagogue: Paul withdraws from the synagogue in Corinth and Ephesis. Maybe he did not leave on his own volition but was thrown out.

Martyn notes two major objections to this theory. Luke would have reported it as it happened and, also, this does not seem like the "formal" separation of two rivals. Acts does not show the kind of separation that a)posuna/gwgoj represents.

Although we have not found any correlation between a)posuna/gwgoj and other material outside of the FG, there is one more possibility. The formal separation between church and synagogue has been accomplished in the FG's milieu by means closely related to the Jewish Benediction Against Heretics.

The 18 Benedictions were fixed by the Jamnia council sometime between 85 and 115 C.E.. Martyn holds to the probability of this and its connection with John 9:22.[17] He goes through the history of how the Benedictions were written and how the twelfth Benediction against the heretics arose. The wording is such that it cannot refer to an inner-synagogue discipline, so it must be excommunication. The synagogue president, overseer, and the delegate of the congregation were involved. The delegate had to read the Benedictions. If he stumbled, out he went.

When John 9:22 says "The Jews had already agreed that", "already agreed" refers to the action under Gamaliel II. "The Jews" means the Jamnia Academy. Martyn thinks this connection can be seen when we compare John 9:22 to Berakoth 8a: "The Wise Men of Jamnia have before now appointed the Benediction Against Heretics." The phrase "before now" reflects the "already agreed" of John 9:22.

"The Pharisees" of John 12:42 refers to either those who delivered the Benediction to the community, or to members of the local Gerousia who enforce this formulation. "The rulers" are those in the Gerousia who believe. John 16:2a refers to the excommunicants.

Thus, in the two-level drama of John 9, the blind man healed by Jesus also refers to Jews who have confessed Jesus in John's church and have become separated from the synagogue by the twelfth Benediction.

There are five accounts of three healings by Jesus on the Sabbath, of these Luke 13:10-17 breaks the pattern. Jesus' remark becomes a dialogue which now comes after, instead of before, the healing. Thus, Martyn takes these changes to suggest a church-synagogue conversation. The thing that he notes is the difference between Luke 13 and John 9. Where John has a succession of scenes, Luke has but one. Where the healed person takes center stage in John 9, he drops out in Luke 13. John introduces new characters where Luke does not really bring anyone new onto the stage. Thus, the Johannine uniqueness is accented.

It seems that the way the authorities reproach their police for not arresting Jesus leaves open only two possibilities: either one is led astray (pepla/nesqe) or one may withhold oneself from believing in Jesus. The police have been led astray so as to believe in Jesus. tw@s, tsayF is used in the Old Testament and in rabbinic literature to mean "lead astray to do something."[18] xdagF also has the same meaning. These examples show that the use of pla/nan with the epexegetical infinitive in John 7:47 and Revelation 2:20 is a Hebraism. Martyn wants to interpret John 7:47 as suggesting that the guards have been led astray to believe in Jesus as a second god alongside God.[19] Again, what has happened to the guards in the FG also represents events in the FE's contemporary church. Those who follow Jesus are accused of being led astray to follow another god.

Martyn's analysis of John as a two-level drama is very thorough and consistent. Prima facie it is a good argument, especially with the disclaimers he adds to it. He is not trying to pin everything down to exact details, just outlining the situation as it could be according to the evidences of the text. He even says, "it is certainly not my intention to suggest that the verses are wholly dictated by contemporary events known to the Johannine church."[20]

Like Harvey, Martyn also has supporters. Many scholars have embraced his thesis that the FG represents the contemporary situation of the FE. Most scholars even agree that the situation is one of conflict with the local synagogue.[21] Yet, there are weaknesses in his proposal.

2.2. Weaknesses of Martyn's Proposal. Part of Martyn's argument concerns the fact that killing someone means that that person comes under Jewish authority. He says that the stoning of Akabiya shows that he was still under Jewish authority, therefore those instances in Acts and elsewhere that have someone under threat of death mean that they are not "put out of the synagogue" the way John is speaking about. But Martyn also has a whole section where he tries to explain why they are trying to bring to trial (and to kill?) Christian evangelists (ch.3). This is self-referentially inconsistent.

Martyn starts by looking for "specific reflections of some definite situation in the life of his church."[22] This is where he starts to stray. There is no reason why we "must" mirror the story in this way. Maybe he is asking the wrong question of the text when he seeks to find specifics of "some definite situation."

Martyn has made a convincing argument for a church/synagogue separation in the Johannine community. But he has taken the details of the two-level drama too far. The FE could be relating events of Jesus' life with events that are taking place in the Johannine community without making an exact parallel to some Christian evangelist. John could be using certain literary devices to make his audience relate to the story of Jesus without it being their exact story. For instance, it could be the formerly blind man's confession that parallels the lives of John's readers rather than his healed blindness.

Robinson's arguments that the Benediction against heretics is not reflected in the term a)posuna/gwgoj seem valid to me.[23] Martyn's only reaction to them is: "I can only say that Robinson's arguments seem to me to be designed to make water run uphill."[24] This outright rejection of Robinson's arguments is unjustified.

Martyn points out the importance of John 9:4a: "It is necessary for us to work the works of him who sent me."[25] This seems to point to the two-level drama. The "us" is supposed to include Jesus and those in John's community, especially the Christian preacher that Martyn proposes. This is not a necessary reading of the text though. The "us" could just as well include the disciples that Jesus is talking to in John 9.[26]

Maybe the most telling argument against Martyn concerns his history of the Johannine community. He argues for a period where the synagogue and the church had a time of peace that later broke down. There does not seem to be any evidence that there ever was such a period in the early church's development. In the book of Acts we see great hostility between the synagogue and the preaching of Jesus. The split between the two was much too early for there ever to have been the kind of development Martyn is talking about. There is no proof that any period existed in which there was not animosity at the preaching of the gospel. Each time that Paul preaches the gospel in Acts (cf. 13:50) he encounters hostility from many of the Jews. Mark 8:36-38 voices a similar concern. The evidence is on the side of early conflict. Robinson's conclusions about the separation are more in line with the evidence. The edict, instead of causing a separation between the church and the synagogue, is merely the result of a long process of antipathy.[27]

The particular nature of any of the signs is not considered in either the trial motif of Harvey or the two-level drama of Martyn. It does not matter what kind of a sign it is that Jesus does on any particular occasion. The only thing that really matters for the forensic argument is that some of the signs occur on the Sabbath which leads to controversies about Jesus' breaking the Sabbath. Neither does the occasion or the location of the sign matter. In order to see if these particulars about the signs have any significance, we will be looking at the signs in terms of their location (and the movements of Jesus), their setting within the Jewish calendar, what they say about the origin of Jesus, and their meaning for faith.

3. Signs of the Narrative.

3.1. Signs of Space. The travels of Jesus within the narrative of the FG moves in cycles. We will divide the FG into sections according to the travels of Jesus.[28] Each section consists in a movement of Jesus coming to Jerusalem. The first section goes from John 1:19 to 3:21. This section starts from "Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing" (John 1:28) and takes us to Cana of Galilee (John 2:1), Capernaum (John 2:12), and on to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:13). The second section extends from John 3:22 to 5:47 and takes us from the Judean countryside (John 3:23) to Samaria (John 4:4), Cana in Galilee (John 4:46), and back to Jerusalem (John 5:1). Section three starts at John 6:1 and ends at John 10:39. Just before the Passover, Jesus goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1), then walks across the water to meet the disciples (John 6:19) and they all go to Capernaum (John 6:24-5), wander around Galilee (John 7:1), then Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for the festival of Booths (John 7:10), where he is also reported to be at the festival of Dedication (John 10:22). The last section starts at John 10:40 where we once again find Jesus "across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier." From there Jesus goes to Bethany in Judea (John 11:1 and 7), then on into Jerusalem for the Passover (John 12:1 and 12). After his resurrection Jesus reverses his travels. After first appearing in Jerusalem Jesus next appears by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1) where he is last reported in John 21:23.

Curiously, these cycles address a commonly perceived problem in the FG. Many biblical critics see chapter six as misplaced. Jesus is in the Temple at the end of chapter five then we see him leaving for the other side of the lake in John 6:1. Many scholars have suggested re-ordering the chapter sequences in order to 'correct' this problem. Scholars who want to leave the chapters in their canonical order are pressed to find some reason for doing so. Mark Stibbe suggests the sudden change of scenery points to "a phenomenon which will recur throughout Chapters 5 to 10: the mysterious and elusive movements of the Messiah."[29] Yet, within the narrative itself, this movement to the other side of the Sea of Galilee is not a mysterious or elusive movement in the same way that Jesus' movements are in the following chapters. Our analysis, on the other hand, places the so called 'incongruity' in a more basic position within the structure of the Gospel. John 6:1 begins the next cycle, moving from the "beyond" to Jerusalem.

Our division also has an advantage over Raymond Brown's four part division of the book of signs. Part three includes chapters five to ten.[30] Yet, within the division of part three, John 5:16-47 is supposed to be a "Discourse explaining the two preceding signs which gave life."[31] Since the first sign that it covers is in part two of Brown's division, this separates the content of the discourse from the first sign that it supposedly covers. Our separations have an advantage over Brown's units because the two signs come within the same division that the discourse covers. It makes more sense to put the signs in the same divisions as the discourses that cover them.

It might seem that our segmentation of the book according to location is arbitrary. Yet, as Kieffer points out, "One can guess from his remarks on the plans of Jesus that the author consciously plays with this change of scene (see especially John 1:43; 4:3, 43, 46 f. 54; 7:1-10)."[32] Of the four sections, three of them start with Jesus coming from "beyond" or from "on the other side of."[33] The general movement in each cycle is then, from the "beyond" to Jerusalem. Each time Jesus is in a place "beyond" he is contrasted with something else. Beyond the Jordan Jesus is contrasted with John the Baptist. On the other bank of the lake Jesus is contrasted with the manna in the desert. Kieffer points out to us that "We have therefore here a deepening of the meaning of Christian baptism and the gift of bread, that in the conversation in the synagogue of Capernaum becomes the bread of life."[34]

Like Kieffer, Lohmeyer also divides the FG according to the physical location of Jesus and his disciples.[35] However, Lohmeyer's divisions are different than Kieffer's. Lohmeyer depends on a sevenfold structure, and substructure, of the FG. He divides the FG into seven divisions with the signs part of the Gospel accounting for the third and fourth division. Division three "'Signs' and Journeys of Jesus throughout Palestine (2:1-6:71)"[36] is itself subdivided into seven sections:

    1. Jesus in Cana (2:1-11)
    2. Jesus in Jerusalem (2:12-3:21)
    3. Jesus in Ainon (3:22-36)
    4. Jesus in Sychar (4:1-41)
    5. Jesus in Cana (4:43-54)
    6. Jesus in Jerusalem (5:1-47)
    7. Jesus by the Sea of Galilee (ch. 6)[37]

Lohmeyer's fourth division "'Signs' and Journeys of Jesus in and around Jerusalem (7:1-12:50)"[38] is also subdivided into seven sections:

    1. Jesus in Galilee, Departure for Jerusalem (7:1-13)
    2. Jesus at the Festival of Booths (7:14-8:59)
    3. Jesus and the Man Born Blind (9:1-10:21)
    4. Jesus at the Festival of the Dedication of the Temple, Flight from Jerusalem (10:22-42)
    5. The Raising of Lazarus, Condemnation by the Sanhedrin, Flight to Ephraim (1[1]:1-54)
    6. Jesus in Bethany (12:1-11)
    7. Jesus in Jerusalem (12:12-50)[39]

According to Lohmeyer, the number seven governs these two sub-sections of the FG.[40] Although his division does not correspond to Kieffer's, it does not contradict it. With Kieffer, Lohmeyer does recognize the importance of space and time for the meaning and purpose of the signs.[41] His division also contributes to our ordering of the FG because it sheds light on another aspect of the journeys of Jesus. Lohmeyer points out that in the section four Jesus' movements are more concentrated around Jerusalem. Yet, even here the FE shows Jesus moving away from Jerusalem across the Jordan (John 10:40-42) in order to bring Him from the "beyond" back to Jerusalem.

Generally, the physical movements of Jesus within the signs narrative correspond to the spiritual movement of the discourses. Jesus is the one who comes from both heaven and "beyond." In the first section (John 1:19 to 3:21) Jesus tells Nicodemus that "No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13). He also says that God sent him into the world (John 3:17, 19). Section two contains an extended discourse on Jesus' coming from heaven (John 3:31-34). Physically, he is coming from baptizing down by the Jordan. This may be beyond the Jordan, but the FE does not state so explicitly. In a sense, coming from heaven is a more radical "beyond" than any earthly location. The third section contains the bread of life discourse where Jesus tells the crowd that he is the bread which comes down from heaven (John 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58, & 62). There is also the dispute in chapter 8 where Jesus says that the Jews are from below and he is from above and not of this world (John 8:23). Jesus also speaks of coming into the world in John 9:39 and 10:36. In the last section Martha says that she believes that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world" (John 11:27). In each of these section, the physical movement of Jesus consistently corresponds to the spiritual content of his discourses.

Looking at where Jesus is coming from brings up the question of his origin. This is a major concern in the FG. We need to turn to this question. However, the Jewish feasts also address the question of Jesus' origin, so we will have to look at them before we turn to the question of origin.

3.2. Signs of Jewish Feasts. The feast of booths was set up in Leviticus as a way of remembering the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel when they came out of Egypt (Leviticus 23:43). This act of solidarity with the past could be what the FE is trying to do with Jesus at the feasts.

Every time that a festival or a Sabbath is mentioned, the sign or preaching that Jesus does leads to controversy. There is the cleansing of the temple at Passover (John 2:13); the healing of the lame man during an unnamed festival of the Jews (it is also a Sabbath, John 5:1); the festival of Booths (John 7:2) when the Pharisees sent the temple police to arrest him (John 7:32); and the healing of the blind man on the Sabbath (John 9:14). The only possible exception is in chapter six where the multiplication of bread is said to occur near the Passover. There is no conflict with the authorities connected with this sign, but the discourse that follows leads many of his disciples to turn away from him (John 6:66). On the other hand there is also a problem with the raising of Lazarus. This sign does not occur in connection with a festival or a Sabbath, but leads to controversy. One conclusion that we can draw from our analysis of these controversies is that a significant portion of the controversy about Jesus occurs in connection with festival or Sabbath days. Maybe the FE is trying to say something through the timing of these events?

The first sign is set in the context of a wedding. Although a wedding is not an official festival day, or a Sabbath, it still falls within the context of Jewish celebration. In the Old Testament, weddings are used as symbols of messianic days (Isaiah 54:4-8, 62:4-5).[42] The abundance of wine can then be seen within the context of certain Old Testament passages (Amos 9:13-14; Hosea 14:7; Jeremiah 31:12),[43] giving the sign of the wedding a messianic meaning.

The Sabbath may have held eschatological significance for Jesus' audience. In Tamid 7.4 it says,

H. On the Sabbath-day they did sing, A Psalm, A song for the Sabbath-day (Ps. 92)--

I. A psalm, a song for the world that is to come, for the day which is wholly Sabbath-rest for eternity.[44]

Barrett notes that "the Sabbath was so great a delight that it was used as a type of the Age to Come."[45] If Jesus' work on the Sabbath relates to this eschatological idea, then Jesus could be seen as bringing the eschaton to those he healed.

There are two sayings of Jesus that take on additional significance when the background of the feast of Booths is understood. During the feast of Booths there was a water libation for seven days.[46] Josephus attests that the festival sacrifices took place for all eight days.[47] While Jesus attended the feast he said, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38). Barnabas Lindars suggests that understanding the festival setting gives the meaning of Jesus' words a more direct association with the events of the festival.[48] The other association becomes clear when we look at Sukkah 5:3 which says that during the feast of Booths,

A Out of the worn-out undergarments and girdles of the priests they made wicks,

B. and with them they lit the candles.

C. And there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem which was not lit up from the light of bet hashsho'ebah.[49]

The saying of Jesus in John 8:12 "I am the light of the world" may reflect this aspect of the festival.[50]

Together, these two sayings during the feast of Booths also associate Jesus with the wilderness wanderings of Israel and the Jewish expectation of a new Exodus. In Exodus 14:19-25 God was a pillar of cloud by day and a pilar of fire by night.[51] Since clouds supply water and fire supplies light, Jesus is the water and the light that leads us into the new promised land.

There are other connections between these sayings and the God of Israel. Psalm 27:1 says that God is the Psalmist's light. This light is defined more precisely in Psalm 44:3 which says "for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory; but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, for you delighted in them." God's light is his saving activity among Israel. Zechariah 14:7-8 mentions both the light and the living waters present "on that day" when the Lord comes. This passage was read at the feast of Booths[52] and thus supplies part of the background for these sayings of Jesus.

As we have seen, these sayings of Jesus at the feast of Booths look back at the wilderness wanderings and forward toward the new Exodus. Considering that the conversation following John 8:12 involves a discussion of Jesus' origin, we can also conclude that these sayings are pertinent to that discussion. Jesus is claiming to display the activity of God among men. It is a specific activity that alludes to the Exodus. Jesus is bringing a new Exodus.

The multiplication of bread near the time of the Passover is also a sign of the new Exodus.[53] It occurs outside of Jewish territory and the discourse that follows concerns the manna that was given during the Exodus. Both of these factors make it a good Exodus sign.

Jesus comes from a place beyond this world and gives new meaning to the Jewish feasts. The location and timing of the signs in the FG point us in the direction of Jesus' origin. It is to this question that we now turn.

3.3. Signs of Origin. D. Moody Smith says of the signs,

    they point to Jesus as one sent from God and are acknowledged outside the immediate circle of his disciples (John 3:2). They have the express function of raising the question of who Jesus is and suggesting an answer. Those who are impressed by his signs do not for that reason only know who Jesus really is (John 3:2 ff.), but they are on the right track.[54]

When it comes to Jesus' identity, the signs point us in the right direction. They raise questions of how he can do these things, and thus suggest his origin.

The FG says that the first sign revealed the glory of Jesus (John 2:11). Glory refers to the glory of God which Jesus is manifesting.[55] It can be understood through the references to Jesus made in the first chapter. John said that Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:36). The disciples called him the Messiah, and Nathanael called him the Son of God. Therefore, when the FG says that the sign revealed Jesus' glory it is revealing these things about him.[56] According to Raymond Brown the emphasis in the first sign is on "Jesus as the one sent by the Father to bring salvation to the world."[57] He also points out that the emphasis on the replacement of the purification water is a "sign of who Jesus is, namely, the one sent by the Father who is now the only way to the Father."[58] Thus, Jesus' origin as the one sent by the Father is revealed.

The second and third signs are followed by an explanation by Jesus of what he is doing. John 5:17 reveals that Jesus has not broken the law, he is, instead, carrying on the Sabbath work of God.[59] Jesus is thus claiming a position that belongs to no human being, but to God alone.[60] The 'Jews' misunderstand Jesus in that they interpret Jesus' claim of equality with God as independence from God,[61] when Jesus is actually claiming origin from God. Jesus claims that he is dependent on God to do his works (John 5:19-20a). Since Jesus is carrying out God's own work, it cannot be an infringement of the law.[62] The whole argument depends of the origin of Jesus. If Jesus is not from God then the Jews are right and Jesus is blaspheming. Since Jesus is from God he can truly do the works of God who sent him.

The bread of life discourse, which occurs after the multiplication of loaves and the walking on water, reveals that Jesus is the bread that comes down from heaven (John 6:41). The sign of the loaves is meant to show that Jesus came from heaven. He comes from the Father (John 6:32-33), just as the manna that came down out of heaven during the Exodus came from the Father.

When Jesus healed the man born blind he sent him to the pool called Siloam. The word Siloam is sometimes written Shiloah (Isaiah. 8:6). Shiloah is similar to a word Shiloh. Since Genesis 49:10 says that the scepter will not leave Judah "until Shiloh comes," Shiloh came to be a reference to the Messiah.[63] The FE could then be using this reference to speak of Jesus' messianic status. Jesus is the Sent One:[64] sent from God.

Since God is the giver of life, the raising of Lazarus reveals whom Jesus is from. The sign confirms the statement by Martha that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world" (John 11:27). The most telling verse in this whole account, however, is found in John 11:4 when Jesus said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." The sign reveals God's glory since it manifests God's power to give life to the dead. Since Jesus is the one who performs the sign, he shares in the divine glory.[65] The sign reveals Jesus' origin with the Father as the Son of God.

The origin of Jesus is also one of the main concerns of debate between Jesus and the Jews. They do not believe that Jesus is from God because he breaks the Sabbath and his growing popularity is seen as a threat to peace with the Romans (John 11:48). Over and over, Jesus claims to be doing the work of the Father who sent him. He also says that he is from above, and from heaven. The signs confirm that what Jesus says is true, that he is from God (John 5:36; 10:37 f. ).

3.4. Signs of Faith. The FE says that the signs have to do with faith. John 20:31 says that these signs were recorded "so that you may come to believe."[66] But this verse might also mean "so that you may continue to believe."[67] The difference does not matter for our investigation. What we are interested in is what role the signs play in the FG in bringing about or sustaining faith?

At the wedding of Cana only the servants know that Jesus turned the water into wine,[68] and that was only after the chief steward drank the wine. The royal official's son was healed from a distance and the man did not find out if a miracle had actually taken place until the next day. The lame man that was healed at the Sheep Gate did not even know who it was who healed him until later. When Jesus walks on water only the disciples are present. The blind man that was healed was not actually healed until he went to the pool of Siloam to wash. He did not know who it was who healed him until later. Of the four healing signs, three of the healed persons do not know that Jesus has healed them until later. The exception is when Lazarus is openly brought back to life. Of the three nature signs, two of them have limited audiences. The multiplication of bread is the only one seen by the people (John 6:14).

In both of the open signs, Jesus sets the sign up in such a way that it exposes people to doubt about what Jesus can do in the situation: How are we going to feed all these people? If you had been here my brother would not have died? So, in all the signs there is a period of unknowing. This unknowing opens up the possibility of faith.

The servants do not know that the water they are carrying has been turned into wine. The royal official does not know that his son has really been healed when he leaves. The lame man does not know who it was who healed him. The disciples do not know how Jesus will feed the crowd. The crowd wonders how Jesus got to Capernaum. The blind man does not know who healed him. Martha and Mary do not know if Jesus can do anything for their brother because he has been dead for four days.

After Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana the FE says that the sign "revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him" (John 2:11). Yet, the disciples had already believed in him. Based on the words of Jesus, Nathanael confessed that Jesus was a Rabbi, the Son of God, and the King of Israel in John 1:49. What the sign did was confirm[69] or strengthen[70] the faith of the disciples.

The second Cana sign is related to the first. The FE explicitly states the connection by saying that Jesus "came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine" (John 4:46; cf. 4:54). The royal official "believed the word that Jesus spoke to him" (John 4:50) before he saw any results. He was in the same condition of faith that the disciples had been in when they believed because of Jesus' word in John 1:49. However, there are at least three ways that faith can relate to signs in this story. Before the FE tells us that the official believed the word of Jesus, Jesus rebukes the people for having a faith based on signs (John 4:48). The rebuke of Jesus adds a level of mystery to the performance of the sign. The whole story could be taken as a rebuke of faith based on signs. Or, Since Jesus does perform the sign, the story can, alternately, be seen as an affirmation of belief through signs. Or, this story could be trying to distinguish between a faith based on signs and one based on the word of Jesus.[71] Like the disciples, the faith of the official was confirmed by the sign, not based on it.[72] Both of these signs resulted in a positive response of faith. The third option is correct.

What is most striking about the healing of the lame man at Bethzatha is his continued lack of faith even after the sign had been given. This sign is not a sign of faith, but of unbelief. It is also the sign with which the Jews, in unbelief, started persecuting Jesus (John 5:16). This sign then plays a negative role in relation to faith.

The FE prefaces the next sign, multiplication of bread, by pointing out that the crowd was following Jesus "because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick" (John 6:2). Whereas the first two signs confirmed the faith that had been stirred by the words of Jesus, and the second was devoid of faith, any faith that was present in the crowd on the other side of the Sea of Galilee was based on the signs. Verse fourteen says that "When the people saw the sign that he had done" they proclaimed that Jesus was a prophet. In case we might think that this is a sign of faith, Jesus says to the crowd, "you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves" (John 6:26). Like the healing of the lame man, this is another sign which did not lead to genuine faith.

When Jesus walked on the water, the FE gave us no indication of its relationship to faith. This is a sign that is neutral in respect to faith.[73] The disciples certainly do no lack faith, but neither are they said to believe. They do, however, respond favorably to the sign.

The sixth sign, the healing of the man born blind, is a sign of progressive faith. Jesus puts mud in the man's eyes and tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. The FE does not say whether or not the man went because he believed based on the word of Jesus as in the healing of the royal official's son. After the healing, however, the man makes several statements about Jesus that progress from calling him a man (John 9:11), to a prophet (John 9:17), to worshipping him (John 9:38). His faith seems to be the result of the sign, but it goes beyond a faith that is dependent on the sign.

After the raising of Lazarus many of the Jews believed in Jesus (John 11:45), but this was not the only reaction to the sign. Others went to tell the Pharisees what had been done. Since they are placed in apposition to the believers by the FE, it we can assume that they did not respond to the sign with faith. However, the ones most closely associated with the healing, Mary, Martha, and, we can assume, Lazarus, already believed in Jesus. Although Martha had confessed that Jesus was "the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world" (John 10:27), she tried to stop Jesus from having the stone removed from Lazarus's grave. The FE does not say how the sign affected the faith of this family. The evangelist seems to be concentrating on the effect of the sign on the crowd. Jesus prays aloud and says his prayer "for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me" (John 11:42). This is then a sign of both faith and unbelief.[74]

The signs have moved from confirming faith that already existed, to an inability to effect belief, to being the cause of faith. Finally, the raising of Lazarus lead to both faith and unbelief. The FG is ambivalent concerning the relationship between faith and signs. Jesus derides his mother (John 2:4), and the people (John 4:48) for seeking a sign from him. Yet he gives them the signs they seek anyway. In the FG, faith does not come automatically with signs, but signs do play a positive part in some people's lives by evoking faith.[75] Since the signs do not have a necessary connection to faith we do not have to agree with Bultmann who applies the positive role of signs to a signs source and the negative references of signs to the FE himself.[76] The positive role of signs is a part of what the FE is presenting to us. He is simply showing that there is no necessary connection between signs and faith. It is the particularity of the signs in space and time which gives them warrant for faith.[77]

Although the signs play a somewhat ambiguous role in relation to the people who witness them, they are more clearly applied to Jesus. The signs help reveal who he is. D. Moody Smith puts it this way, "One can infer from their prominence that the miracle stories are taken up or recounted in the first instance because they aptly put the question of Jesus' identity (and thus create the possibility of genuine faith)."[78] In pointing to Jesus, the signs are inseparably linked to the word[79] and person of Jesus. Because they do point to Jesus they may lead one to faith. The signs are not conclusive proof that unfailingly leads one to Jesus. Instead, they are grounds for believing.[80]

4. Conclusion

Our analysis of the FG has taken us from the trial motif to synagogue conflict. We went on to a look at the location of the signs and how they reveal the origin of Jesus. We saw how they relate to faith and what they mean in the context of the Jewish feasts (including the Sabbath) that some of the signs accompany. Our goal in doing all this was to investigate how the FG presents the signs and how they support his purpose. We are now in a better position to do that.

Our analysis, in section three, of the signs in the FG has been segmented according to spatial location. The FG is a complex narrative with many layers. Therefore, this particular analysis is not offered as the 'best' way to look at the FG and certainly not the 'only' way. Specifically, we have ignored the FE's use of time (except for the festivals), plot, narrative structure, genre, sources, etc. All of these could be used to determine the structure of the FG.

What our study has shown, however, is that the FG does show signs of contention. The FE is defending Jesus and using forensic terminology to do so. But there is more going on than just a trial. The FG is a complex book. Any single way of looking at will be inadequate. Yet the element of defense is ubiquitous. Robert Kysar says that the purpose of the Gospel is to help defend the Christian community against its Jewish opposition.[81] He says, "The author showed them how they might argue with their Jewish neighbors in response to the charges posed against Christianity."[82] It seems probable that anyone defending themselves would use the forensic terminology of his or her culture. For the FE, the defense of Jesus included reinterpretations of Jewish feasts, arguments about Jesus' origin and relationship with the Father, Old Testament metaphors, as well as legal terminology. In 3.3. our analysis supports the trial motif of Harvey. Jesus is defending himself and one of the main elements of contention is Jesus' relationship to the Father. The signs point to the identity of Jesus as the one sent by God from heaven, who does the works of God.

Our recognition of contention in the FG might need to be tempered, however. Whereas we see the law-court only as a place of justice, the Jews also used it as a place to search for truth. C. B. Caird says, "the law-court was the only context in which they experienced a systematic quest for truth governed by rules of procedure. Truth, like justice, was for them something to be discovered and maintained in court."[83] Maybe, by focusing on the trial motif, we have read more strife into the FG than the author intended. Nevertheless, as we have seen, there is a lot of controversy in the FG between Jesus and 'the Jews.' Martyn has shown that the FG reveals strife, not only on the Einmalig level, but also on the FE's contemporary level.

Forensic elements in the FG, and other defensive components, would help the first readers to defend themselves against opponents from the Synagogue. The Gospel shows definite marks of Synagogue conflict, even if we cannot give specific details of how the conflict came about or how it was acted out in the writer's contemporary situation.

Most of the signs are connected with some sort of Jewish feast. Like the movement of the signs, the timing of them also reveals something about Jesus. Jesus has come to lead the people through a new Exodus which would have a new temple (John 2:13-21), a new Passover and a new form of worship (John 4:21-23).

One of the main items that the FE was defending was Jesus' origin as the one sent from the Father. The signs both point to this reality and act as instigators of conversations about Jesus' origin. The movement of Jesus throughout the Gospel acts as a physical example of the spiritual truth that Jesus comes from beyond this world. The signs are set up in such a way that they parallel the message of the FG.

Since the stated purpose of the FG relates to faith, it was necessary for us to look at the signs as they connect to faith. Since the signs are designed to show us about Jesus, they inevitably lead to some sort of faith response from those who witness them. For some people, the signs reveal the glory of Jesus and therefore lead to faith, and, as Jesus says, life. For others, the signs arouse only suspicion and anger and therefore lead to unbelief and death (the death of Jesus). The faith component of the FG could work as a defensive mechanism. If the first readers were engaged in conflict with the synagogue they would not only have to be able to take the offensive with good arguments for their side, they would also need to be fortified against the onslaught of their enemies. The call to faith that the signs elicit for those who experienced them in Jesus' day also reaches the readers. The signs do work toward the stated purpose of the FE in John 20:31 "that you may come to believe [or continue to believe] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God."

Terry A. Larm
Pasadena, CA

Published October 6, 1996.
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Theological Gathering 1, Fall 1996

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