Sunday, March 8, 2015

Facing Evil, Coming to Light

Below is a rough translation and some comments – too many, perhaps – on John 3:14-21. I find that the more familiar a passage is, the more questions I feel are warranted, because we tend to get sloppy with the familiar. I am captivated by the very first verse of this pericope and have an essay on it entitled “The Politics of Reckoning” found at http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/category/departments/the-politics-of-scripture/.  
I am also including a quasi-heretical rumination at the end on who Jesus is, who is both particular and larger than life.

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” is often treated as a “synoptic” term (that is, a term used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but rarely by John), but a simple word count argues against that. Using the bible.oremus.org tool for a word search, I’m seeing “Son of man” used 83 times in the gospels: 30 times in Matthew; 14 times in Mark; 27 times in Luke; and 12 times in John. Certainly it is used less in John relative to the size of the gospel, but it is not absent or even rare.
2. The verb ψόω, 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.
3. 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.”  Below are instances of where δέω is used in John, using the translations found in the lexical tool (from Strong’s Lexicon) on greattreasures.org.
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...
4. The reference to the Son of Man being “lifted up” here means that Jesus will be physically hung on a pole. One would not know that by jauntily singing the song “Lift Jesus Higher.”
5. The story to which Jesus is referring is in 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 I think that is a bad paraphrase of oὕτως. oὕτως 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 μονογενῆ would be transliterated mono-genes. The phrase “only begotten son” in the KJV is more accurate than the “only son” in the NRSV, because there is the reference to generation/begotten-ness in the term. 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 claim to be giving historical data lapsing into ongoing theological arguments. [End of rant. End of blog claiming to be about Scripture and suddenly becoming commentary on commentaries.]
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)?
5. The verb πόλλυμι 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…
6. Unlike the verb δέω in v.14 above, the verbs γαπάω 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 he 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 σζω (to rescue).
4. There are two pronouns that arise in this verse. In the phrase “he might judge” the “he” is implied as the subject of the verb because the verb is in the 3rd person singular form. Does it refer to God, the subject of the first clause? Or, does it refer to the son, the object of the first clause? The “him” of “might be saved through him” is the translation of the 3rd person masculine pronoun αὐτοῦ, which is the object of the preposition “through.” That one seems to refer to the son, since the point of the verse is to explain the manner for which God has sent the son. 

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” (γρ), 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’ (τ ργα) is a plural but the verb λέγχω 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” (τ ργα) and the verb “are worked” (ργάζομαι).
3. I like the contrast in vv.20-21 between evil acts which are “exposed” (λέγχω) by the light and good works which are “revealed” (φανερόω) by the light.

There is an interesting difference in tone and emphasis in vv.16-18 and vv.19-21. 
In vv.16-18, the point is that God’s only generated son is the one whom God has sent, not to judge the world, but to save it. In these verses, Jesus is defined by his particularity. Salvation, here, comes by believing in him as the one whom God has sent. In vv.19-21, it is less a matter of believing in a particular person – the only generated son sent from God – as in the ‘light.’ ‘The light’ is – using a felicitous phrase – “larger than life.” In these verses, one can imagine any number of persons in any number of places either following the light or following deeds of darkness. So, in a distant place, far far away, where one has never had a chance of hearing about the historic figure of Jesus, one can still practice deeds of light or darkness and thereby be judged. One hears in these verses less about the particularity of Jesus and more about the general principle of loving light, truth, goodness, etc.

I am not trying to fully separate ‘Jesus’ from ‘the light,’ because in John’s gospel they are surely one and the same – just as Jesus and ‘the Word’ are one and the same in John’s prologue. But, just as ‘the Word’ referred to something real, creative, and inseparable from God before the Word “become flesh and dwelt among us,” so too “the light” is a description of Jesus as larger than life, larger than the historical presence of Jesus who was sent.

I am not being particularly creative here. I am merely giving my understanding of “Logos theology,” in which Jesus is both limited, as the real and fleshly presence as the historic person of Jesus; and, at the same time, unlimited, as ‘the Word’ or ‘the Light’ which point beyond historical particularity.


If that is who Jesus is in John’s gospel, then imagine what that can mean when we get to places like John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the father, except through me.” Does that verse demand belief in the historical particularity of the person of Jesus? Or, is it about the greater presence of Truth, Light, Life, the Word, etc. – which may present itself historically in more than just the person of Jesus?

7 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for the work you put into this each week!
    You made me do a double take on verse 18 and your discussion of krino. If "to judge" is the fifth definition, then it made me think that what John/Jesus is saying that to pick/choose the world (the first meaning of krino) is to accept or declare its values and ways as "right". To save/rescue it, though, is to say that its values and ways are not "right". God did not pick the world but he did choose to save it (from itself certainly) by sending the Only Generated Son. I don't know if I'm making sense, but it was something somewhat revelational for me.

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  2. Excellent. I think paying attention to other-than-usual nuances of a term - and in this case it is the more normative use of the term generally - gives us a new way of hearing the text. Thanks for the response.

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  3. Good observations on verse 21. I like your three points - they are helpful. I hadn't caught the contrast or comparing of "exposed" vs. "revealed/manifestations". Good work

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  4. Thanks for your hard work!

    You said of verse 20: "A translation challenge with this verse and the next is that ‘the works’ (τὰ ἔργα) is a plural but the verb ἐλέγχω is singular."

    The answer is that in Greek, neuter plurals always act as a collective group, and therefore they always take a singular verb. So, for example, the probata always estin, not eisin.

    Hope this helps!

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  5. Thank you for this disciplined work. It encourages me.
    Btw, I really, really miss your preaching. (Really!)
    Any chance that St. Mark's would stream worship? (I do realize that podcasts of previous weeks are available.)
    Priscilla

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    1. Hi Priscilla,

      St. Mark has audio podcasts, but we also have video captures of the sermons each week. They usually get posted by around Tuesday, once the video guy gets it to the Admin Assistant and she posts it. Except for some dim lighting issues, the video captures come out quite well.

      We have not gone to live streaming at this point and I'm not sure if we're heading in that direction. We'll see.

      Good to hear from you. And thanks for your kind words. I hope all is well in the Heartland.

      Delete

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