Sunday, August 5, 2018

Murmuring about Bread from Heaven

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding John 6:35, 41-51, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel text for the 12thSunday after Pentecost. Your comments are always welcomed. 

Before launching into this text itself, it is helpful to read this note from “The Christological and eschatological significance of Jesus' Passover signs in John 6” by Stephen S. Kim (Bibliotheca Sacra 164 no 655 Jl-S 2007, p 307-322) regarding the flow of John’s sixth chapter and especially the relationship between some of our previous lections with this one. Kim is addressing the three pericopes of John 6, namely the feeding of the 5,000 (5-15), Jesus walking on the water (16-21), and the discourse of Jesus on his feeding (vv.22-71):  

Thematically all three pericopes in chapter 6 reveal the person of Jesus as the Messiah from the background of the Passover and the Exodus.  Borchert explains this overarching theme of the chapter this way. 
In this context reminiscent of Israel's first generation, the crossing of the sea (6:1) and the coming of the crowd out to a lonely arid mountain region (6:3) formed a picture-perfect setting for considering how Jesus could be related to the stories of the exodus. Therefore it should be no surprise that the stories of Jesus in this chapter deal with a miraculous feeding and the control of the sea. Moses had been mentioned as a witness in the concluding arguments of the last chapter (5:45-46). Now the evangelist introduces the New Moses in the wilderness. . . . Passover epitomizes God's claiming and releasing of his people as well as his preservation of the people by supplying them with food and rescuing them from the threatening sea. Passover is a multifaceted identifying celebration, and the evangelist knew it well.
Thus the Evangelist's references to the Passover Feast are more than just time indicators. The two sign-miracles in chapter 6—Jesus feeding the five thousand and His walking on the water—contribute significantly to John's aim to present Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Son of God. (pp. 310-311) 

Now, on to the text! 

35εἶπεν αὐτοῖς  Ἰησοῦς, Ἐγώ εἰμι  ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς:  ἐρχόμενος πρός ἐμὲ οὐ 
μὴ πεινάσῃ, καὶ  πιστεύωνεἰς 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 
1. The lectionary committee circled back to include this verse in order to show the statement that provokes the reaction of v.41. 
2. John 6:4 indicates that the feeding of the 5,000 and this entire “bread of life” discourse takes place when the Passover was near. 
……………………………
41 Ἐγόγγυζον οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι περὶ αὐτοῦ ὅτι εἶπενἘγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ καταβὰςἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ,
Therefore the Judeans murmured about him because he said, “I AM the bread that has come down out of the heaven.” 
Ἐγόγγυζον: IAI 3p, γογγύζω, 1) to murmur, mutter, grumble, say anything against in a low tone  1a) of the cooing of doves  1b) of those who confer secretly together  1c) of those who discontentedly complain 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰμι : PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
καταβὰς: AAPart nsm, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend  1a) the place from which one has come down from 
1. “Judeans”: Following the suggestion of Richard Horsley (although he is writing about the use of the term in Mark’s gospel, not John), I have developed the habit of translating Ἰουδαῖοι as “the Judeans,” which is a more natural transliteration and – Horsley argues – is indicative of a tension between Galilean and Judean piety in Mark. . If Horsley is correct, the accusation of anti-Semitism in John’s gospel is actually an inter-Jewish struggle over whether their faith is temple-centered (with the holiness of God most strongly concentrated in the temple, emanating to Jerusalem the ‘holy city’ then to Judea, then places like Galilee, and finally to the rest of the world) or not. For the Galileans, Jewish piety may have been more village-based, regardless of their proximity to Jerusalem and its ‘holy’ status. Again, Horsley’s argument and my adaptation of it might be more fitting to Mark’s gospel, but if it is fitting to Mark’s gospel, I need to explore whether a similar issue is at stake in John’s gospel. (Horsley’s argument is in Hearing the Whole Story.) 
2. It is an interpretive question – to which I have no particular insight for an answer – whether the phrase in John , Ἐγώ εἰμι ought to be translated as “I AM,” with the capital letters signifying that this phrase plays a key role throughout the gospel, or as “I am,” just as it would appear in any other context. 

 42καὶ ἔλεγον, Οὐχοὗ τός ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς ὁυἱὸς Ἰωσήφ,οὗ ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα; πῶς νῦν λέγει ὅτι Ἐκτοῦοὐρανοῦ καταβέβηκα;
And they said, “Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph, of whom we have known the father and the mother? How does he now say, ‘I have come down out of the heaven’?” 
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
οἴδαμεν: PerfAI 1p, εἴδω/ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know. This is an obsolete form of the present tense of εἴδω, the place of which is supplied by ὁράω. The tenses coming from εἴδω and retained by usage form two families, of which one signifies to see, the other to know.
λέγει: λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
καταβέβηκα: καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend  1a) the place from which one has come down from 
1. The criticism here is not directed at Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life or his use of an ‘I AM’ saying. The problem for the Judeans is Jesus’ claim to have come down from heaven. They counter that they have known his father and his mother, so the question at stake is whether Jesus is of human origin or divine origin. 
2. The perfect tense for οἴδαμεν(have known) may indicate that Joseph is dead by now. But, the perfect tense also seems fairly common for this verb, so I may be overreaching here. 

43 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Μὴ γογγύζετε μετ' ἀλλήλων.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not murmur with one another. 
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γογγύζετε: PAImpv 2p, γογγύζω, 1) to murmur, mutter, grumble, say anything against in a low tone
1. “Murmur” here and in v.41: Perhaps “grumble” or “complain” would be better, but the idea of Jews/Judeans murmuring brings to mind the wilderness stories of the Exodus, when the people of Israel ‘murmured.’ See, e.g. Exodus 16:12, where the people murmur (γογγυσμὸνin LXX) and God, in response, sends Manna, later called the “bread of heaven” (Psalm 78:24). Following the feeding of the 5,000 earlier in this chapter, Manna has been a topic (v.31) and will come back to be the topic again (v.49). 

44 οὐδεὶς δύναταιἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.
No one is able to come to me unless the father who sent me has drawn him, and I will raise him up in the last day. 
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources, or of a state of mind, or through favorable  circumstances, or by permission of law or custom 
ἐλθεῖν: AAInf, 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
πέμψας: AAPart nsm, πέμπω, 1) to send  1a) to bid a thing to be carried to one  1b) to send (thrust or insert) a thing into another
ἑλκύσῃ: AASubj 3p, ἕλκω to draw as in to unsheathe a sword, or metaphorically to draw by inward power, to compel, to lead. 
ἀναστήσω: FAI 1s, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up  1a) raise up from laying down  1b) to raise up from the dead
1. This seems to be quite a sudden change of topic. Jesus is not addressing the question of his origin, but of whether one can follow him at will, or whether one can only follow if drawn to do so by the one who sent Jesus. 
2. I see two topics of interest here. One is the kind of topic that has been expressed through debates over predestination, prevenient grace, and other attempts to name the interaction between God drawing someone to Jesus and one coming to Jesus (to use the language of this verse) or between God’s providence and human freedom. That’s a huge topic and I will leave it for now. 
3. The second topic of interest that I find here is how this verse invites us to consider what is behind the ‘murmuring’ of v.43 (and, perhaps of the Exodus story). There may be an unwarranted presumption to murmuring, akin to assuming that one can evaluate Jesus apart from being drawn by God in the first place. 

45 ἔστιν γεγραμμένον ἐν τοῖς προφήταις, Καὶ ἔσονται πάντες διδακτοὶ θεοῦ: πᾶς ὁ ἀκούσας παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μαθὼν ἔρχεται πρὸς ἐμέ.
It is having been written in the prophets, ‘And everyone will be taught ones of God;” Anyone who has heard from the father and has learned comes to me. 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
γεγραμμένον: PerfPPart nsm, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters 
ἔσονται: FMI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἀκούσας: AAPart nsm, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear  2b) to attend to, consider what is or has been said 
μαθὼν: AAPart nsm, μανθάνω, 1) to learn, be appraised  1a) to increase one's knowledge, to be increased in knowledge 
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
1. “Taught ones”: This is a very awkward phrase, but διδακτοὶ is an adjective that is nominative plural, modifying “everyone” (πάντες , also nominative plural). 
The quote from the prophet seems to be Isaiah 54:13, “All your children [shall be] taught by the Lord …” (LXX: καὶ πάντας τοὺς υἱούς σου διδακτοὺς θεοῦ …)
2. The movement from the plural voice (all) to the singular (anyone) seems significant, but I cannot quite see what that significance is. If all will be taught, presumably all will ‘hear and learn/’ But, ‘hearing and learning’ modifies ‘anyone’ (singular) not ‘all’ (plural). 

46 οὐχ ὅτι τὸν πατέρα ἑώρακέν τις εἰ μὴ ὁ ὢν παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, οὗτος ἑώρακεν τὸν πατέρα.
Not that anyone has seen the father except the one who is from God, he has seen the father. 
ἑώρακέν: PerfAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know (2x)
ὢν: PAPart nsm, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. “except”: The phrase εἰ μὴ can be “unless” or “except” or something like. It appears here and in v.44. I normally try to translate phrases that are so close in proximity the same way, but it simply works better to have ‘unless’ in v.44 and ‘except’ in v.46. 
2. This sentence is awkward, because in English it turns out to be a run on sentence unless one adds a colon to separate the two nouns τις and ὁ (see NIV, ESV, NRSV). 

47 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὁ πιστεύων ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
Amen amen I say to you, the one who believes has life age-during. 
λέγω: λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
1. “Amen amen”: “From last week’s remarks - 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.
2. “life age-during”(ζωὴν αἰώνιον):: Also repeated from last week - 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.

48 ἐγώ εἰμιὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς
I am the bread of life
εἰμι : PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. This is an exact repetition of v.35. 

49 οἱ πατέρες ὑμῶν ἔφαγον ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τὸ μάννα καὶ ἀπέθανον:
Your fathers ate in the wilderness the manna and died; 
ἔφαγον: AAI 3p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat
ἀπέθανον: AAI 3p, ἀποθνήσκω,to die out, expire.
2. Again, this discourse follows the feeding of the 5,000 which has already been likened to the Manna story of Exodus 16 (John 6.31). 

50 οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβαίνων ἵνα τις ἐξ αὐτοῦ φάγῃ καὶ μὴ ἀποθάνῃ.
this is the bread which is coming down out of the heaven in order that one may eat out of it and may not die.
ἐστιν: 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 
φάγῃ: AASubj 3s, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat
ἀποθάνῃ: AASubj 3s, ἀποθνήσκω,to die out, expire.
1. The turn in the argument here is very similar to what Jesus says to the woman at the well in John 4:13-14: Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 
2. In the conversation of John 4, the woman was asking if Jesus were greater than Jacob (since they are at “Jacob’s well.”) Here, the question is whether Jesus is greater than Moses, through whom God provided the Manna in the wilderness. 

51 ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ζῶν ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς: ἐάντις φάγῃ ἐκ τούτου τοῦ ἄρτου ζήσει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα: καὶ ὁ ἄρτος δὲ ὃν ἐγὼ δώσω ἡ σάρξ μού ἐστιν ὑπὲρ τῆς τοῦ κόσμου ζωῆς.
I am the living bread which came down out of the heaven; if anyone eats out of this bread he shall live into the age-during; and the bread also which I give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 
εἰμι : PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
καταβάς: AAPart nsm, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend  1a) the place from which one has come down from 
φάγῃ: AASubj 3s, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat
ζήσει: FAI 3s, ζάω, 1) to live, breathe, be among the living (not lifeless, not dead)
δώσω:FAI 1s, δίδωμι, 1) to give
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. “Age-during” see v.47 above. 
2. I struggled a lot with trying to translate this verse closely and still make some meaning out of it. 

In the end, this passage seems to be a way of establishing Jesus as the new and improved Moses; just as he was the new and improved Jacob in c.4. But, it also seems to serve (as James McGrath points out) as a discourse on how to read the Scriptures (in this case, the Hebrew Bible). Jesus clarification (vv.31-32) that that phrase “He gave them bread from heaven to eat” refers not to Moses but to God, indicates that one topic at play is how to interpret the story of the exodus and the wilderness journey. It is certainly clear that in Psalm 78:24, “he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the bread of heaven,”the reference it to God and not Moses. So, the question of the phrase “He gave them bread from heaven to eat” seems to point to another source, which attributed that act to Moses. I don’t know who was making that argument. I could speculate that someone might have been making that argument in order to claim the “authority of Moses” in some way, but I have no warrant for taking it that far. 

The value for preaching might lie in keeping the entire liberative theme of the Exodus in mind. This is not just a struggle over biblical interpretation, but aquestion of how God is liberating now (as in John’s ‘now’). For John’s community, after the temple has been destroyed and there is evidently a struggle between Jews who follow Christ and Jews who do not follow Christ, the argument for the predominance of Christ over Jacob (c.4) and now Moses is critical. John proclaims Jesus as the provider and liberator, the product and surpasser of the biblical patriarchs and Moses, the living water and living bread itself. 

12 comments:

  1. Mark, a quick thought about being taught and learning: for me anyway, I can be taught many things but I will not really learn them until I apply them in my life somehow. Maybe it's the difference between head and heart knowledge. Also may be why the scripture tells those who have ears to listen; meaning go beyond mere listening to pondering and applying. I like a quote from Richard Feynman-many people learn things, few understand them.

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  2. Marian,
    That's a great observation Marian. Hearing and learning do not always happen at the same time.
    Thanks for the note.
    Mark

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  3. Mark, thank you for your work. I very much have appreciated this illuminating study. I hope for more from you.

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  4. As you know, I no longer preach anymore, but I do appreciate you keeping me up to date on so much...and you make my life better. Cherishing our friendship. Peace, brother.

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  5. At verse 41, I completely agree with your translation as Judeans. The word Jewish now means 'anyone of Israelite ancestry, without remainder.' This is not what is meant in the NT, but just the more restricted meaning of 'Judean.' The more inclusive word, for both John and for Paul, is 'Israelite'.

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  6. I so appreciate your work when I come to preach and miss it when our texts don't line up (we preach series, not always from lectionary). I do my own translation and work first and then seek out your thoughts. It's like having a pericope group even though I'm not part of one. Thanks for being an accessible partner in ministry. Blessings and HOPE

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    1. Thanks for your message. I started this blog using the notes I put together for a pericope group back when I lived in Iowa. I don't have one here, so the blog functions for me just as it does for you. Thanks again for your kind words.

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  7. Thanks for this--and all of your work! For further discussion on Jew/Judean see "The Jewish Annotated New Testament" (Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Zvi Brettler, eds.) with specific discussions at p. 524 and p. 155.

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    1. Will do, Mark. I enjoy Marc Brettler's work a lot, as well as Amy-Jill Levine's. She became one of my favorites when she cited this blog in an article. I was amazed and humbled.
      Thanks again. MD

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  8. So so helpful! I too was struck with these references to Moses and Jacob and Jesus' transcending them both...even in the poem in chapter 1: "for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ"

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