Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bread That Does Not Spoil


John 6:24-35

Here are my rough translation and initial thoughts regarding the Gospel reading for Sunday, August 5, 2013. My thoughts are still at the ‘stream of consciousness’ level, moving from one verse to another without yet being at the point of synthesizing the text as a whole. For that perspective, I recommend an excellent article by James F. McGrath, “Food for Thought: The Bread of Life Discourses in Johanine Legitimation” at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/info/john-food.html

24ὅτε οὖν εἶδεν  ὄχλος ὅτι Ἰησοῦς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκεῖ οὐδὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ, 
ἐνέβησαν αὐτοὶ εἰς τὰ πλοιάρια καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ ζητοῦντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν. 
Then when the crowd saw that Jesus is not there nor his disciples, they climbed into the boats and went to Capernaum seeking Jesus.
εἶδεν : AAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
ἔστιν : PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐνέβησαν : AAI 3p, ἐμβαίνω, 1) to go into, step into
ἦλθον : AAI 3p, 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
ζητοῦντες : PAPart npm, ζητέω, 1) to seek in order to find  1a) to seek a thing 
“Then” (οὖν) This word could imply sequence (then) or consequence (therefore). “Then” seems to be how John is using it throughout this story.
The lectionary reading, for some reason, starts in the middle of a natural paragraph of thought, which would include vv.22-23, where the boats are introduced into the story.

25καὶ εὑρόντες αὐτὸν πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης εἶπον αὐτῷ, Ῥαββί, πότε ὧδε 
γέγονας;
And having found him on the other side of the sea said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
εὑρόντες : AAPart npm, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with  1a) after searching, to find a thing sought  
εἶπον : AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γέγονας: PerfAI 2s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
“When did you come here?” This seems to be a colloquialism that is not quite captured by my translation. It might literally be something like “When did you become here?” using the word for ‘becoming’ (γίνομαι) more than simply ‘coming/going’(ἔρχομαι). At any rate, the question of “when” seems odd and Jesus does not answer it. I’m not convinced that a simple translation captures the meaning of the seeking crowd’s question.

26 ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς  Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ζητεῖτέ με οὐχ 
ὅτι εἴδετε σημεῖα ἀλλ' ὅτι ἐφάγετε ἐκ τῶν ἄρτων καὶ ἐχορτάσθητε. 
Jesus answered them and said, “Amen amen I say to you, you seek me not because you saw signs but because you eat out of the bread and were satiated.  
ἀπεκρίθη : API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγω : PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ζητεῖτέ : PAI 2p, ζητέω, 1) to seek in order to find  1a) to seek a thing
εἴδετε : AAI 2p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
ἐφάγετε : AAI 2p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat  2) to eat (consume) a thing  2a) to take food, eat a meal
ἐχορτάσθητε: API 2p, χορτάζω, 1) to feed with herbs, grass, hay, to fill, satisfy with food,  to fatten  1a) of animals  2) to fill or satisfy men  3) to fulfil or satisfy the desire of any one 
“Amen amen” is phrase that was made known popularly in the KJV’s “Verily verily I say unto you.” It is not a quaint phrase, but an emphatic one. Ἀμὴν is transliterated from the Hebrew term אמן and indicates certainty or truth. In John, it is used very often and always appears as a double “Amen amen” except for the very last word of the Gospel.
I think of these “Amen amen” (or “Very truly” as some translations put it) phrases as proclamations. That is, they don’t always flow easily or directly from what has been said previously. In this verse, Jesus says nothing about when he got to Capernaum, which was the question preceding the proclamation. He is, however, saying something about the crowd and their motivation for seeking him. We need to keep reading to see if their motive for seeking him – not because they saw a sign but because they ate and were satisfied – is good, bad, or merely an observation. (Even at this point, it is probably not the latter, because an mere observation would not be set off by “Amen amen.”)

27 ἐργάζεσθε μὴ τὴν βρῶσιν τὴν ἀπολλυμένην ἀλλὰ τὴν βρῶσιν τὴν 
μένουσαν εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον, ἣν  υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὑμῖν δώσει: τοῦτον γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ἐσφράγισεν  θεός. 
Do not work for the food that spoils but for the food that lasts in life age-during, which the son of man will give to you; for the father the God sealed him.
ἐργάζεσθε : PMImpv 2p, ἐργάζομαι, 1) to work, labor, do work 
ἀπολλυμένην: PMPart asf, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy  1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin  1b) render useless 
μένουσαν : PAPart asf, μένω, 1) to remain, abide  1a) in reference to place
δώσει: FAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
ἐσφράγισεν : AAI 3s, σφραγίζω 1) to set a seal upon, mark with a seal, to seal  1a) for security
“Work” (ἐργάζεσθε) is in the middle voice, so it is translated ‘work for.’
“Spoils” and “lasts” are set at opposite possibilities for food. There may be better word selections, but I think these two bring out the opposition.
“Life age-during” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον): I found this phrase in Young’s Literal Translation. It is awkward and unwieldy and would probably change in later refining steps of translating, but I keep it in the rough translation because it keeps me mindful that the word that is usually translated ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’ is a complex word. We often think that it simply means “without end,” like something that we have now, going on forever. It can also mean “without beginning,” because it is a Greek philosophical and mythological word that refers to timelessness. I’m convinced that this is one of those concepts that arose during the very fertile theological Intertestmental period, when – after the Greek empire spread under Alexander the Great – Greek thought began to displace earlier ways of thinking. I don’t believe there is a consistent concept of pre-existing life or never-ending life in the Hebrew Bible until the 2nd century BCE (which would include the 2nd half of Daniel and many of the Apocryphal books). By the NT time, this is a common way of speaking about life, except among the traditionalists like the Sadducees. Since they only considered the Torah as Scripture, they didn’t accept this new way of thinking.
The word αἰώνιον literally means something like “of the ages.” In John’s gospel – see the language about Lazarus’ death in c.11 for example – the phrase “life age-during” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) does not mean the same thing as in Greek philosophy. Lazarus is raised from death. It is not simply that his eternal soul was re-acquainted with his previously dead body. Mary awaited the “resurrection” for him to live again. She did not think that somewhere out there he was still living and smiling down on her. When Jesus goes on to say, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he is not responding to the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul; he is responding to the newish Jewish concept of the resurrection. There’s a difference.
The “food that lasts in life age-during” seems to be similar to the “living water” in c.4
“sealed him” (ἐσφράγισεν): The ESV translates this as God setting a “seal of approval” on Jesus. The NRSV and NIV are more ambiguous: “set his seal.” The word could mean ‘to mark’ as in a seal that someone imprints on a letter. Or, it could mean ‘to hide away, conceal, or close up’ for security purposes. I think it helps to think of Tupperware or storage bags, with their sealing qualities which preserve the food inside. Remember that the Dead Sea Scrolls were sealed in clay jars for almost 2,000 years and remarkably preserved.
“God has sealed him”: I expected an ‘it’ not a ‘him.’ ‘Him’ implies that it is Jesus (the most previous and predominant masculine singular antecedent) is the one whom God has sealed. This may be one of those ‘as God has … me, so I … you’ sorts of phrases, that God has kept Jesus and Jesus will, in turn, keep non-spoiling nurturing food for his followers.

28 εἶπον οὖν πρὸς αὐτόν, Τί ποιῶμεν ἵνα ἐργαζώμεθα τὰ ἔργα τοῦ θεοῦ; 
Then they said to him, “What may we do in order that we may work the works of God?
εἶπον : AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ποιῶμεν : PASubj 1p ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
ἐργαζώμεθα : PMSubj 1p ἐργάζομαι, 1) to work, labour, do work
The idea of “doing something” seems a response to Jesus’ imperative voice in v.27 to “work … for the food that lasts.”

29  ἀπεκρίθη [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ ἔργον τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα 
πιστεύητε εἰς ὃν ἀπέστειλεν ἐκεῖνος. 
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you may believe in him whom he [God] sent.  
ἀπεκρίθη : API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔστιν : PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
πιστεύητε : PASubj 2p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
ἀπέστειλεν : AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss 
Believing is the ‘work for the food that lasts’ that they are called to do. Believing is doing.

30 εἶπον οὖν αὐτῷ, Τί οὖν ποιεῖς σὺ σημεῖον, ἵνα ἴδωμεν καὶ πιστεύσωμέν 
σοι; τί ἐργάζῃ; 
Then they said to him, “Then will you give us a sign, in order that we may see and may believe in you? What do you work?
εἶπον : AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ποιεῖς : PAI 2s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.
ἴδωμεν: AASubj 1p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
πιστεύσωμέν : AASubj 1p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed 
ἐργάζῃ: PMI 2s, ἐργάζομαι, 1) to work, labour, do work
At play here is that Jesus’ work should be – according to this crowd – to give a sign by which they can do their work, which is to believe. Curiously, these folks who have just eaten bread in the wilderness are asking Jesus to give a sign like the manna-bread in the wilderness that Moses (or, God, as Jesus corrects them) provided.

31 οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν τὸ μάννα ἔφαγον ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, καθώς ἐστιν 
γεγραμμένον, Ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς φαγεῖν. 
Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is what is written, “Bread out of the heaven he gave to them to eat.”
ἔφαγον : AAI 3p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat  2) to eat (consume) a thing  2a) to take food, eat a meal  3) metaph. to devour, consume
ἔστιν : PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
γεγραμμένον: PerfPPart nsn, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters 
ἔδωκεν : AAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
φαγεῖν: AAInf, ἐσθίω  1) eat  2) to eat (consume) a thing  2a) to take food, eat a meal
Another awkward phrase that will be refined is “just as it is what is written.” I translate it woodenly to point out the juxtaposition of the present tense (“is” ἐστιν) and the perfect participle (“has been written” γεγραμμένον). There is something very attractive to me of thinking about the scriptures as the present writings that were written in the past. The phrase lends itself to musing on the historical and contemporaneous senses of the Bible.

32 εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς  Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ Μωϋσῆς δέδωκεν 
ὑμῖν τὸν ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, ἀλλ'  πατήρ μου δίδωσιν ὑμῖν τὸν 
ἄρτον ἐκ το ῦοὐρανοῦ τὸν ἀληθινόν: 
Then Jesus said to them, “Amen amen I say to you, Moses did not give to you the bread out of the heaven, but my father gave to you the true bread out of the heaven.
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγω : PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
δέδωκεν : PerfAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
δίδωσιν : PAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
Again an “Amen amen” saying. Is the point that it was God and not Moses? That is clear enough from the story itself. My guess is that the point is in the next verse, not in the clarification of their language. I’m not sure what is at stake in this clarification, unless there is actually a tension at play between the activity of God in the past and the activity of God in the present. If nothing else, of all four gospel accounts of the feeding stories, John makes the most explicit connection between the bread Jesus broke and the manna.
“True bread”: It could be that the manna was more than manna/bread. The qualifier “true” might point to something larger at stake in the story of the manna, that God was giving them proof positive that God’s provision was steadfast and dependable (‘true’ in the sense of ‘tried and true’.)

33  γὰρ ἄρτος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν  καταβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ζωὴν διδοὺς τῷ κόσμῳ. 
For the bread of God is that which has come down out of the heaven and gives life in the world.”
ἔστιν : PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
καταβαίνων : PAPart nsm, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend  1a) the place from which one has come down from 
διδοὺς : PAPart nsm, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
My first impulse – reflecting my upbringing in the Christian community as well as one who has read this gospel in its entirety – was to imagine that Jesus is clearly speaking of himself now and is therefore changing the bread analogy with this verse. But, as the next verse will show, within the conversation, these words do not necessarily imply anything more than to say that Jesus provides God’s bread in the same way that Moses provided God’s manna.

34 Εἶπον οὖν πρὸς αὐτόν, Κύριε, πάντοτε δὸς ἡμῖν τὸν ἄρτον τοῦτον. 
Then they said to him, “Lord, always give to us this bread.”
εἶπον : AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
δὸς : AAImpv 2s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
The crowd’s request is intriguing. The verb is an aorist imperative. When in the indicative mood, an aorist refers to past tense (something like a single immediate instance of a past). But, in the imperative mood, aorist refers more to the mode of urgency in what is being commanded than the tense. An aorist imperative often carries the feel of “right now, be silent!” or something that expresses immediacy. Here, it would carry the sense of “Lord, give us this bread right now!” except that it is qualified by the adverb “always.” It’s like a “now and forever!” kind of feel behind this request.
At this point, they are looking at Jesus as the new and improved Moses. Like Moses, they see Jesus as one who can feed them as Moses once fed their fathers. Like an improved Moses, they see Jesus’ bread as an “always” kind of provision, not just a 40-years-in-the-wilderness provision.

35 εἶπεν αὐτοῖς  Ἰησοῦς, Ἐγώ εἰμι  ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς:  ἐρχόμενος πρός ἐμὲ οὐ 
μὴ πεινάσῃ, καὶ  πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ οὐ μὴ διψήσει πώποτε.
Jesus said to them, “I AM the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in my shall not thirst ever.
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰμι : PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐρχόμενος : PMPart nsm, 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
πεινάσῃ: AASubj 3s, πεινάω, 1) to hunger, be hungry  1a) to suffer want  1b) to be needy  2) metaph. to crave ardently, to seek with eager desire 
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
διψήσει : FAI 3s, διψάω, 1) to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst 
Now the metaphor changes in a very significant direction! “The bread that comes down out of the heaven” is not an analogy between manna (God’s provision via Moses) and the feeding story (God’s provision via Jesus), but an analogy between manna and Jesus himself. Jesus is the bread that comes down from heaven, but instead of merely feeding “our fathers in the wilderness,” he is nurture for the cosmos and – drawing from the previous verses – instead of a 40 year provision his bread is into the ages.
Jesus continues this thought throughout John’s 6th chapter: 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

5 comments:

  1. In v. 27, I find myself thinking of "seal" in terms of "sign and seal" as the sacrament. Calvin meant that in terms of the imprint on a letter, but I like that there's also a "freshness seal" sense there. (I'm probably not bold enough to do a show-and-tell with a bottle of Maker's Mark whisky.)

    Thanks also for the "that which" in v. 33. The sequence - Jesus talking about stuff, then being asked for more of it, then using the I AM - better fits the pattern established in John 4 with the woman at the well.

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  2. I agree that this "bread" conversation in John 6 seems remarkably parallel with the "water" conversation in John 4.
    Thanks for chiming in, Nathan. It was good to see you last week.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for this; you have given me so much food for thought! Discovered your writing via textweek; will be looking for more!

    Margaret johnson

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for this; you have given me so much food for thought! Discovered your writing via textweek; will be looking for more!

    Margaret johnson

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you, Margaret. I'm glad we can journey together with these texts.

    ReplyDelete

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