Monday, March 12, 2012

The Light that Exposes and Reveals


Below is my initial translation of John 3:14-21. It seems to me that the temptation of this pericope is to treat John 3:16 as something special in and of itself, simply because it is so familiar as either a 'memory verse' or a 'slogan' by many persons. Despite that popularity, I think it is incredibly important to keep v.16 within the context of all of these verses. In fact, I think the pericope should be longer, to include the entire conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus (1-21). But, nobody asked me and probably for good reason.

Once again, your comments or suggestions are very welcomed!

14 καὶ καθὼς Μωϋσῆς ὕψωσεν τὸν ὄφιν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου,
And just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so it is necessary for the son of man to be lifted up. 
ὕψωσεν: AAI 3s, ὑψόω, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt  2) metaph.  2a) to raise to the very summit of opulence and prosperity  2b) to exalt, to raise to dignity, honor and happiness
δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains
ὑψωθῆναι: APInf, ὑψόω, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt  …
1. The term “son of man” in John. 
88 x in NT; Mt – 30x; Mk – 14x; Lk – 27x; Jn – 12x
2. The verb ὑψόω, could be a simple physical elevation or a metaphorical exaltation. The comparative “just as” is an indicator that the meaning here is determined by one’s reading of the story from Numbers 21. In the NRSV translation below, it simply says that Moses put the bronze serpent on a pole, indicating a physical elevation. 
4. The verb δέω (“it is necessary for”) is used 9x in John. A customary translation is “must.” My problem with that – born of ignorance, I’m sure – is that when we translate it ‘must’ then the accusative case often takes the form of the subject of the verb (in this verse, “the son of man must …”). If we translate it as ‘it is necessary for,’ then the accusative keeps its normal place as the object of the verb (“it is necessary for the son of man …”) and the agency is left in question. The actual meaning of δέω – as one can see above – is a fastening, a binding of some sort. Maybe “It is binding that the son of man be lifted up.”  
Joh 3:7 ...unto thee, Ye must be born again...
Joh 3:14 ...wilderness, even so must the Son of...
Joh 3:30 He must increase, but I...
Joh 4:4 And he must needs go through Samaria...
Joh 4:20 ...the place where men ought to worship.
Joh 4:24 ...that worship him must worship him in...
Joh 9:4 I must work the works...
Joh 10:16 ...them also I must bring, and they...
Joh 12:34 ...Son of man must be lifted up...
3. The fact that “lift up” here means to physically mount Jesus on a pole, isn’t the happiness of the song, “Lift Jesus Higher” a bit misplaced?  
Numbers 21:4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’ Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

15 ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
In order that anyone who believes in him will have life eternal. 
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed  1a1) to credit, have confidence  1b) in a moral or religious reference
ἔχῃ: PASubj 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have  (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating  emotions, etc.)
1. The people who looked at the bronze serpent that Moses elevated on a pole in the wilderness lived, despite being bitten by poisonous serpents. Whoever believes in the son of man lives. 
2. The qualification here is “life eternal,” as opposed to simply being healed of a life-threatening poison. 

16 Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ' ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
For in this way God loved the world, that [God] gave the only generated son, in order that anyone who believes in him would not [be] destroyed but have life eternal.
ἠγάπησεν: AAI 3s, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly  2) of things  2a) to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing
ἔδωκεν: AAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone  2a) of one's own accord to give one something, to his advantage
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed  1a1) to credit, have confidence  1b) in a moral or religious reference
ἀπόληται: AMSubj 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy  1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin  1b) render useless  1c) to kill  1d) to declare that one must be put to death  1e) metaph. to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell  1f) to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed  2) to destroy  2a) to lose
ἔχῃ: PASubj 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have  (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating  emotions, etc.)
1. Some modern translations begin this verse, “God loved the world so much…” , but that is a mistranslation of oὕτως. It can mean ‘so,’ as the KJV and NRSV translate it, but ‘so’ not in the sense of “so much” as in the sense of “in this way.” A better modern option would be, “Here’s how God loved the world …” 
2. The word  would be transliterated mono-genes. The phrase “only begotten son” in the KJV is more accurate than the “only son” in the NRSV. It seems like the uniqueness of ‘only’ qualifies the ‘genes’ more than the ‘son. 
3. There are two types of historical contexts at play in the phrase “only begotten son.” One is the Roman context of John’s day, when various Caesars – dead or alive – would be declared a “son of God.” (See John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed’s In Search of Paul for a discussion of this issue.) The second historical context is the Christian theological tradition over this phrase. The exegete needs to be aware of this ongoing conversation when consulting lexicons and other tools. The “lexicon” in greattreasures.org, for example, has an extended definition of this term which goes far beyond word study and argues for and against certain post-biblical interpretations. I have no problem with people commenting on the meaning of words (I’m doing it!), but I do have a problem with resources that portend to be giving historical data lapsing into ongoing theological arguments. [End of rant.]
4. By the way, why does the NRSV treat this sentence as a paragraph? There is nothing grammatical that suggests that this verse should stand out from its context. Is it the Billy Grahamification of the NT? Are they suggesting that John did not know how important this verse was, since for John its meaning is inherently connected to the previous verse (as indicated by the oὕτως)? [Okay, now it’s the end of the rant.] 
5. The verb ἀπόλλυμι is in the middle voice. It is contrasted with having life eternal. If we think about it, ‘having’ is something of a middle voice also (although technically it is active). The customary use of a middle voice might suggest, “destroys himself”, but some lexicons insist Paul and John use this to mean the passive, “be destroyed.” I guess I will yield to them, but I wonder… [See this rant was sidestepped.]
6. Unlike the verb δέω in v.14 above, the verbs ἀγαπάω and δίδωμι have a subject – God. God loves, God sends, but does God require that Jesus be lifted up on the cross? 

17 οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα κρίνῃ τὸν κόσμον, ἀλλ' ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος δι' αὐτοῦ.
For God did not send the son into the world in order that [God] might judge the world, but in order that the world might be rescued through him.
ἀπέστειλεν: AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss  2a) to allow one to depart, that he may be in a state of  liberty  2b) to order one to depart, send off  2c) to drive away
κρίνῃ: AASubj 3s, κρίνω, 1) to separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose  2) to approve, esteem, to prefer  3) to be of opinion, deem, think, to be of opinion  4) to determine, resolve, decree  5) to judge
σωθῇ: APSubj 3s,
σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction  1a) one (from injury or peril)  1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one  suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health  1b1) to preserve one who is in danger of destruction,  to save or rescue
1. My phraseology is a bit wooden here, but it is an attempt to pick up on the subjunctive verbs, which often follows “in order that” (ἵνα). The subjunctive mood speaks of possibilities, rather than declarations of fact (like this indicative mood). 
2. Personally, I find this verse to be as important as the previous one. 
3. The word I translate as “judge” (κρίνω) is often translated ‘condemned.’ That is a valid choice, but pay attention to the fact that κρίνω does not necessarily have a negative connotation. “Condemn” is a good choice if one is making a contrast between κρίνω and σῴζω (to rescue). 
4. I assume the ‘him’ refers to ‘the son’ and not to ‘God.’ 

18 ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται: ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται, ὅτι μὴ πεπίστευκεν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ.
The one who believes in him is not judged; but the one who does not believe has already been judged, because that one has not believed in the name of the only generated son of God. 
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place
κρίνεται: PPI 3s, κρίνω, 1) to separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose  2) to approve, esteem, to prefer  3) to be of opinion, deem, think, to be of opinion  4) to determine, resolve, decree  5) to judge
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place
κέκριται: PerfPI 3s, κρίνω, 1) to separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose  2) to approve, esteem, to prefer  3) to be of opinion, deem, think, to be of opinion  4) to determine, resolve, decree  5) to judge
πεπίστευκεν: PerfAI 3s, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place
1. The verb and participles translated “believe” (πιστεύω) here and in v.16 are compelling. But, does this text tell us what, exactly, one is to believe when believing ‘in him’, or, in believing ‘in his name’? 
2. The language of these verses makes it hard to imagine that they are being said in Jesus’ time. With the use of the 3rd person, John seems to be commenting on Jesus, via the mouth of Jesus. I would suggest that is the case for this entire pericope, beginning with v.11. 
3. The word κρίνω, as I noted in v.17, does not necessarily mean ‘condemn,’ as most translations have it. It can mean something good, like to honor. But, in this text it is contrasted with ‘rescue,’ so it would mean something perilous. I am using “judge” because that English word has the ambiguity of the Greek word, whereas ‘condemn’ is solely negative. 

19 αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ κρίσις, ὅτι τὸ φῶς ἐλήλυθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον καὶ ἠγάπησαν οἱ ἄνθρωποι μᾶλλον τὸ σκότος ἢ τὸ φῶς, ἦν γὰρ αὐτῶν πονηρὰ τὰ ἔργα.
Yet this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world and the people loved the darkness more than the light, for their works were evil. 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐλήλυθεν: PerfAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
ἠγάπησαν: AAI 3p, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly  2) of things  2a) to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The word “judgment” (κρίσις) has the same root a the verb for ‘judge’ in verses 17 and 18. This verse clarifies what it means to say that those who do not believe are already judged. 
2. Having seen how God loves, v.16, now we see how those who reject Jesus love – they love darkness more than light.  
3. Does the “for” (γὰρ), indicate that the evil works are the evidence or the reason that the people loved darkness more than light? 

20 πᾶς γὰρ ὁ φαῦλα πράσσων μισεῖ τὸ φῶς καὶ οὐκ ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς, ἵνα μὴ ἐλεγχθῇ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ:
For the one who practices evil acts hates the light and does not come to the light, in order that his works may not be exposed. 
φαῦλα: APN, φαῦλος, 1) easy, slight, ordinary, mean, worthless, of no account   2) ethically, bad, base, wicked
μισεῖ: PAI 3s, μισέω, 1) to hate, pursue with hatred, detest  2) to be hated, detested
πράσσων: PAPart nsm, πράσσω, 1) to exercise, practise, to be busy with, carry on  1a) to undertake, to do  2) to accomplish, perform  2a) to commit, perpetrate  3) to manage public affairs, transact public business  3a) to exact tribute, revenue, debts  4) to act
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
ἐλεγχθῇ: APSubj 3s, ἐλέγχω, 1) to convict, refute, confute  1a) generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted  1b) by conviction to bring to the light, to expose  2) to find fault with, correct  2a) by word  2a1) to reprehend severely, chide, admonish, reprove  2a2) to call to account, show one his fault, demand an explanation  2b) by deed  2b1) to chasten, to punish
1. The hatred of evil doer toward the light is because the light reveals one’s evil deeds. It is more a matter of shame and hiding than something like an inborn hatred of God.  
2. A translation challenge with this verse and the next is that ‘the works’ (τὰ ἔργα) is a plural but the verb ἐλέγχω is singular. 

21 ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς, ἵνα φανερωθῇ αὐτοῦ τὰ ἔργα ὅτι ἐν θεῷ ἐστιν εἰργασμένα.
Yet the one who does the truth comes to the light, in order that his works will be revealed, because it is in God they are worked. 
ποιῶν: PAPart nsm, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.  1b) to be the authors of, the cause  1c) to make ready, to prepare
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
φανερωθῇ: APSubj 3s, φανερόω, 1) to make manifest or visible or known what has been hidden or unknown,   to manifest, whether by words, or deeds, or in any other way   1a) make actual and visible, realised   1b) to make known by teaching
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
εἰργασμένα: PPPart npm, ἐργάζομαι, 1) to work, labour, do work  2) to trade, to make gains by trading, "do business"  3) to do, work out  3a) exercise, perform, commit  3b) to cause to exist, produce  4) to work for, earn by working, to acquire
1. John speaks of one who “does the truth” as opposed to “knows the truth.” And “truth” seems to be in contrast with “evil” from v.20, where one “practices evil acts (plural)” and the other “does the truth (singular).” 
2. The phrase “they are worked” is awkward, but I want to show the connection between the noun “works” (τὰ ἔργα) and the verb “are worked” (ἐργάζομαι). 
3. I like the contrast in vv.20-21 between evil acts which are “exposed” (ἐλέγχω) by the light and good works which are “revealed” (φανερόω) by the light. 

11 comments:

  1. Mark, your comments on binding and lifting up have given me food for thought as I attempt to tie these passages in with an ongoing covenant theme. I was heading in the direction that God's 'ultimate covenant' was Jesus' blood. His being lifted up physically (blood being shed) bound the covenant and our lifting him up in metaphoric exaltation seals or binds the covenant on our part. Don't know if I can preach this or will just have to keep it for myself.

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  2. Marian, I'm always intrigued when we pastors are torn between preaching and keeping to ourselves. Would you mind opening that question up a little bit and sharing what is behind it?
    I have an interest in this because I'm working on developing a radio show with another pastor and one segment we're planning is "the anonymous pastor," where we interview a pastor about one thing s/he would never say from the pulpit.

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  3. I was referred to your site by someone who says you do good homework! In John 3:16, does the "he" have to refer to Jesus or can it say "whoever believes in God"? I am completely incompetent in Greek, so will appreciate your help. IF he can be God, then the verse changes meaning from the memory verse of my childhood to more, "This is how God loves the world: God sent Jesus (to show us the way to live) so that by believing in God we will receive eternal life." Maybe?

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  4. Loree, Thanks for the comments. And what a great question! The question of which antecedent goes with which pronoun comes up a lot in the NT, and I'm not always sure how to connect the dots. Grammatically, I see no hard and fast reason why 'he' could not refer to either God or Jesus as an antecedent.
    However, the parallel structure between vv.15 and 16 seems to indicate that the topic is believing in the son - the son of man in v.15 and the only genetic son in v.16.
    My guess is that the interpretations we grew up with probably are correct in seeing 'he' as Jesus.
    You have brought to my attention two interesting differences in vv.15 and 16, however. First, "son of man" and "only genetic son" - I am trying to see what differences John sees in those titles. Second, v. 15 says 'believe IN him,' v.16 says 'believe INTO him.' I'm wondering now if there's a meaningful difference in those prepositions. Thanks for that!

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  5. Mark, I didn't mean I wouldn't want to say it from the pulpit; but I wouldn't want to say it so poorly that folks didn't get what I was saying and I might not even know what I'm saying yet. My brain has now taken me to thinking about being bound by sin and released by the binding of the new covenant. And Lazarus was brought to mind coming out of the tomb with partial bindings. Maybe that's an image for my spirituality. I know I'm alive because of Jesus; and I also know I'm still wrapped up in stuff that needs removed. I just get these weird tangential thoughts when words or phrases capture me.

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  6. Ah, yes. I apologize for misreading what you meant.
    I sympathize a lot with how you describe your own journey. Sometimes I need Jesus to look at people around me and say, "loose him and let him go."

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  7. Just wanted to thank you for sharing your study notes. It was very helpful and led to some good reflection on the thoughts here.

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  8. Thanks, Leslie. Glad to hear it.

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  9. There's so much here! but just focusing on v17-19:

    I'm very struck by the fact that "judge" is the *last* meaning of the verb κρίνω. It seems to me that the big difference between κρίνω and σῴζω is not between negative and positive, but between discriminating and non-discriminating. This is especially underlined by the grammatical difference: he is the *subject* of κρίνω , but the *instrument* through which σῴζω is accomplished.

    So perhaps a plausible reading is, God did not send the son into the world in order that he might select out some from others, but in order that he might be the means by which the whole world is rescued from deadly peril.

    It's the difference between picking out fruits at the grocery store ("Hmm, I'll take this one, and that one.. that one's got a soft spot, I'll leave it.. oh this is a good one, I'll take it") and plucking a child from the path of an oncoming train, which doesn't even come with words, exactly, more like "SHRIEK -- RUN -- GRAB -- KEEP RUNNING". I mean there's no attention to the qualities of the child at all: the attention is all on the peril.

    Which leads me to read v18 as placing the source of the judgment on the non-believers themselves: by not-believing, they themselves discriminated, and that discrimination is what they are enmired in.

    Then in 19, "for their works were evil", it makes me think that those works were the very peril from which the world is rescued through the son.

    And don't you think that John 8 is an example of this non-discriminating and rescuing??

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  10. (John 8:3-12, I mean, the woman brought as an adulteress)

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  11. Just read a post on text that infers that Jesus was basically blowing Nicodemus off, by a very circuitous & obtuse answer....

    Nicodemus was a doubter- and Jesus wasn't ready to take him in/ Nick had to figure that out for himself...

    any grounds for that in the translation?

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