Sunday, August 19, 2018

Scandalizing Words Are Life-Giving Words

Below are my rough translation and some comments for John 6:56-69, the gospel reading for Sunday, August 26. First, let me begin by musing a bit on the entirety of John 6. One way of approaching this entire chapter is as a lesson on hermeneutics (interpretation theory). The people following after Jesus make a clear connection between the feeding of the 5,000 that begins this chapter, with the manna story when they cite to Jesus Psalm 78:24, “he gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Immediately, Jesus clarifies the meaning of the text to say that it was not Moses, but God who fed the Israelites manna. Likewise, the matter arises in the pericope of whether Jesus’ words are a scandal or whether Jesus’ words are life-giving spirit. The comment that this conversation is taking place as Jesus is teaching in the synagogue also brings into focus the relationship between Jesus’ words and the teachings of Moses, which I assume one typically hears in the synagogue. 
The question in v.60, “How is one able to hear [these words]?” is another indicator that hermeneutics is the overall topic. I connect this question with the idea of “having ears to hear” that appears throughout the gospels. There is a sense that some teachings are not possible to understand without being enabledto do so. The Christian community – via Paul, then Augustine among others – often speak of God illuminatingthe Scriptures. On the other hand, the Christian community – particularly since the Scottish ‘common sense’ tradition – often assumes that there is a ‘plain reading’ of the Scriptures. One emphasis is a caution against arrogance; the other is a caution against novel or wild interpretations. Here, even those who cannot abide Jesus’ teachingsacknowledge that they require an enabling of some sort. That is quite different from a reaction like, “This is stupid!” which assumes that the speaker is able to evaluate the teaching. 

To what extent this extended conversation on hermeneutics was really at play in Jesus’ day, or whether we are seeing John addressing the questions of his own time (late 90’s?) is beyond me to answer. 

Enough of that. Now to the translation and comments. Please feel free to chime in if you will. 

56  τρώγων μου τὴν σάρκα καὶ πίνων μου τὸ αἷμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μένεικἀγὼ ἐν 
Whoever gnaws my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 
τρώγων : PAPart nsm, τρώγω, 1) to gnaw, crunch, chew raw vegetables or fruits
πίνων : PAPart nsm, πίνω, 1) to drink
μένει: PAI 3s, μένω, 1) to remain, abide
1. “Gnaws”: Last week I pointed out that the verb “gnaws” (τρώγω) is different than the verb “eat” (ἐσθίω). I do not want to make too much of the difference, but I am using ‘gnaws’ (one possible translation of τρώγω) in order to show that there is a difference. This word change generated some insightful remarks from others last week. 
2. “Remains”: When this verse was at the end of a pericope last week, the words “remains in me” took on one meaning. This week, at the beginning of a pericope, it takes on another meaning, since by the end of this pericope some of his disciples will have left him and the twelve will continue to walk with him. 

57 καθὼς ἀπέστειλέν με  ζῶν πατὴρ κἀγὼ ζῶ διὰ τὸν πατέρα, καὶ  τρώγων 
με κἀκεῖνος ζήσει δι' ἐμέ. 
Just as the living father sent me and I live through the father, so whoever gnaws me also will live through me. 
ἀπέστειλέν : AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed
ζῶν: PAPart nsm, ζάω, 1) to live, breathe, be among the living 
ζῶ : PAI 1s, ζάω, 1) to live, breathe, be among the living
τρώγων : PAPart nsm, τρώγω, 1) to gnaw, crunch, chew raw vegetables or fruits
ζήσει : FAI 3s, ζάω, 1) to live, breathe, be among the living
1. “Through” (διὰ) has an “on account of” tone. Some translations make it ‘by’ or ‘because of.’  

58 οὗτός ἐστιν  ἄρτος  ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς, οὐ καθὼς ἔφαγον οἱ πατέρες καὶ ἀπέθανον:  τρώγων τοῦτον τὸν ἄρτον ζήσει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. 
This is the bread which has come down out of heaven, not as the fathers ate and died; whoever gnaws this bread will live into the age-long. 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
καταβὰς: AAPart nsm, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend  1a) the ἔφαγον : AAI 3p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat
ἀπέθανον: AAI 3p, ἀποθνήσκω,to die out, expire.
τρώγων : PAPart nsm, τρώγω, 1) to gnaw, crunch, chew raw vegetables or fruits
ζήσει : FAI 3s, ζάω, 1) to live, breathe, be among the living
1.This verse circles back to the argument of vv.49-51, comparing the temporal nature of the manna versus the age-lasting nature of Jesus’ own bread/flesh. It is a reminder that this chapter begins with the feeding of the 5,000 around the time of the Passover, an explicit echo of the Manna story from the wilderness journey to the Promised Land. 

59 Ταῦτα εἶπεν ἐν συναγωγῇ διδάσκων ἐν Καφαρναούμ. 
These things he said in the synagogue teaching in Capernaum. 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
διδάσκων: PAPart nsm, διδάσκω, 1) to teach  1a) to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them
1. This is a very curious observation. This conversation began – it seems – with the words in v.25, “When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’” with no mention of the synagogue as the location for the conversation. There are a few moments during the conversation where it would be possible that the location would change, but the narration does not say that it did. Now, we have this postscript that Jesus said “these things” while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. I cannot see where the context shifted to the synagogue. 
2. That the narrator places this conversation in the synagogue – remembering that the Passover is near – offers a different shade of meaning to it. It could mean that Jesus is fulfilling the kind of community that trusts in God’s abundance that the manna story envisions. As such, his feeding and the reflection on it would be a kind of synagogue teaching. It might also signify that Jesus is proclaiming himself as one greater than Moses, therefore, greater than the usual synagogue teaching. That would pose quite a scandalous challenge (see below). 

60 Πολλοὶ οὖν ἀκούσαντες ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ εἶπαν, Σκληρός ἐστιν λόγος οὗτος: τίς δύναται αὐτοῦ ἀκούειν; 
Therefore many who heard out of his disciples said, “This word is hard; how is one able to hear it?” 
ἀκούσαντες: AAPart npm, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf 
εἶπαν: AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
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
ἀκούειν: PAInf, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf 
1. “Many … out of his disciples”: We often associate the word “disciples” with the “twelve,” but there is a difference. 
2. Still, it is not clear to me what it is that these folks find hard to grasp. Is it the concept of ‘eating my flesh’? Is it the implication that Jesus is greater than Moses? Is it the idea that to follow Jesus is to see the Mosaic tradition fulfilled? 

61 εἰδὼς δὲ  Ἰησοῦς ἐν ἑαυτῷ ὅτι γογγύζουσιν περὶ τούτου οἱ μαθηταὶ 
αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τοῦτο ὑμᾶς σκανδαλίζει; 
Yet Jesus having known in himself that his disciples are murmuring concerning these things said to them, “Does this scandalize you?” 
εἰδὼς: PerfAPart nsm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
γογγύζουσιν: PAI 3p, γογγύζω, 1) to murmur, mutter, grumble, say anything against in a low tone
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
σκανδαλίζει: PAI 3s, σκανδαλίζω, 1) to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which  another may trip and fall, metaph. to offend
1. Murmuring (γογγύζω): As I said in an earlier post, this verb brings to mind the un-trusting murmurings of the Israelites during their wilderness journey. It is used four times in John, to describe the disbelief of numerous people, this time some disciples: 
6:41  The Judeans then murmured at him, because...
6:43  ...said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves...
6:61  ...that his disciples murmured at it, he...
7:32  The Pharisees heard that the people murmured such things concerning...
2. Scandalize (σκανδαλίζω): I like to transliterate this verb, rather than translate it as “offend” or “cause you to stumble,” partly because “the scandal of the gospel” is a concept that I find lacking in too many conceptions of evangelism that seem to follow ‘marketing’ principles that lose sight of the offense of the gospel and the need for ears to hear. 

62 ἐὰν οὖν θεωρῆτε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀναβαίνοντα ὅπου ἦν τὸ 
Then what if you may behold the son of man going up where he was before? 
θεωρῆτε: PASubj 2p, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold  
ἀναβαίνοντα: PAPart asm, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up  1b) to rise, mount, be borne up, spring up
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. This is an awkward translation, which needs to be refined along the way. I’m trying to pick up on the subjunctive verb with ‘you may behold’ as well as the present participle ‘going up’ and the imperfect verb ‘was.’ It is framed as a question, so I am adding ‘what’ to ‘if’. 
2. “Before” (πρότερον): This could be “the first,” but my guess is that if it were intended to be translated that way it would be a nominative predicate, as opposed to an accusative. I may be wrong about that. 
3. The point of this question seems to be that accepting Jesus as the one who ascends from where he was sentis, in itself scandalous, not merely his words regarding eating his flesh or the implication that he is greater than Moses. 

63 τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ ζῳοποιοῦν,  σὰρξ οὐκὠφελεῖ οὐδέν: τὰ ῥήματα  
ἐγὼ λελάληκα ὑμῖν πνεῦμά ἐστιν καὶ ζωή ἐστιν.
The spirit is the life-giver, the flesh is not profiting nothing; the words which I have spoken to you is spirit and is life. 
ἐστιν (3x): PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ζῳοποιοῦν: PAPart nsm,ζωοποιέω 1. quicken, to make alive, give life, especially of that life which will last for ever, to give eternal life.
ὠφελεῖ: PAI 3s, ὠφελέω, 1) to assist, to be useful or advantageous, to profit
λελάληκα: PerfAI 1s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak 
1. The latter half of this sentence sounds awkward because John uses a singular verb (is) with a collective plural antecedent (the words). 
2. Some translations make the participle “life-giver” (ζῳοποιοῦν) into a simple verb “gives life,” but the main verb in this first part of this verse is “is” and the participle is set off with a definite article ‘the.’ 
3. The use of a double negative, ‘not profiting nothing’ is common in the NT and does not result in a positive. 
4. The interplay between the statement that “the flesh is not profiting nothing” and the earlier repeated claim that one must gnaw on Jesus’ flesh is perplexing. 

64 ἀλλ' εἰσὶν ἐξ ὑμῶν τινες οἳ οὐ πιστεύουσιν. ᾔδει γὰρ ἐξ ἀρχῆς  Ἰησοῦς 
τίνες εἰσὶν οἱ μὴ πιστεύοντες καὶ τίς ἐστιν ὁ παραδώσων αὐτόν. 
But there are out of you some who do not believe.” For from the beginning Jesus had known there are some are not believing and who the one who will betray him.
εἰσὶν (2x): PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
πιστεύουσιν: PAI 3p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
ᾔδει: PluperfAI 3s, an obsol. form of the present tense, the place of which is supplied by ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
πιστεύοντες: PAPart npm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
παραδώσων: FAPart nsm, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another) 
1. Whoever divided this pericope up with verses seems to have chopped Jesus’ comment in half. The first part of this verse is obviously the remainder of Jesus’ words; the second part is very obviously a retrospective comment by the narrator. 
2. The addition of “the one who would betray/hand over him” connects the scandal and the ones who leave off following Jesus with the betrayal of Judas. That seems to raise the stakes quite a bit in this whole story. 
3. Through comments like this, the Jesus of John’s story seems omniscient, more than simply insightful. 

65 καὶ ἔλεγεν, Διὰ τοῦτο εἴρηκα ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν 
μὴ  δεδομένον αὐτῷ ἐκ τοῦ πατρός. 
And he said, “Because of this I have said to you that nobody is enabled to come to me unless it may have been given to him by the father.” 
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἴρηκα: PerfAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
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 favourable  circumstances, or by permission of law or custom
ἐλθεῖν: AAInf, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
: PASubj 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
δεδομένον: PerfPPart nsn, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
1. “enabled” (δύναμαι): This could simply be ‘able’ but I want to reflect that it is in the middle voice. 
2. “May have been given” I am trying to combine the subjunctive verb “may be” () with the perfect participle “have been given” (δεδομένον). 

66  Ἐκ τούτου πολλοὶ [ἐκ] τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ἀπῆλθον εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω καὶ 
οὐκέτι μετ' αὐτοῦ περιεπάτουν. 
From this many [out] of his disciples left in the journey and no longer were walking with him. 
ἀπῆλθον: AAI 3p, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart
περιεπάτουν: IAI 3p, περιπατέω, 1) to walk 
1. “This” (τούτου): is a substantive pronoun. Many translations make it ‘this time,’ picking up on the temporal meaning of ‘no longer’ (οὐκέτι). 

67 εἶπεν οὖν  Ἰησοῦς τοῖς δώδεκα, Μὴ καὶ ὑμεῖς θέλετε ὑπάγειν; 
Therefore Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you not also wish to go?” 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
θέλετε: PAI 2p, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
ὑπάγειν: PAInf, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under  2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart 

68 ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Σίμων Πέτρος, Κύριε, πρὸς τίνα ἀπελευσόμεθα; ῥήματα 
ζωῆς αἰωνίουἔχεις, 
Simon Peter answered to him, “Lord to whom will we go? You have words of life age-long.   
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
ἀπελευσόμεθα: FMI 1p, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart 
ἔχεις: PAI 2s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold 
1. “Life age-long” (ζωῆς αἰωνίου): I’m sure I sound like a broken record to both of my regular readers, but I think the words “eternal life” are too easily assumed to mean ‘long time after we die,’ and I think that nullifies the richness of this term. 

69καὶ ἡμεῖς πεπιστεύκαμεν καὶ ἐγνώκαμεν ὅτι σὺ εἶ  ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ. 
“And we have believed and have known that you are the holy one/saint of God.” 
πεπιστεύκαμεν: PerfAI 1p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in
ἐγνώκαμεν: PerfAI 1p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. “Holy one” (ἅγιος): Apparently some of the later texts have “son of the living God” instead of “holy one of God” because that is how the KJV and YLT translate it.  
2. This is quite a profession of faith and knowledge by Peter on behalf of the twelve. While the disciples struggle some in John’s gospel to grasp and accept, they do not receive the same ongoing, biting critique here that they do in Mark’s gospel. 
3. HOWEVER, much like the pattern in Mark 8, this profession by Peter is immediately followed by a cautious and disturbing remark by Jesus, which the lectionary committee did not choose to retain in this week’s reading (vv.70-71). 


  1. Regarding the word aionion: I get your point about the misunderstanding that our word 'eternal' can raise, but I'm not sure "age-long" gets us much closer. I prefer to think of the concept of 'eternal' in John as referring to the quality or substance of spiritual life rather than to the quantity of existence. So 'eternal' would not at all be the adjectival form of 'eternity', but something quite different.

  2. Mark, That's a great point. In my own theology, I tend to follow Tillich's suggestion that 'eternal' points to space more than time, the depth of the moment. Hence, his use of 'the eternal now.'
    Here, I am trying to find as close to a literal translation as I can, and not to simply use 'eternal' because that is how we've come to hear these texts. Young's Literal Translation uses 'age-during,' because that is as literal as he could get with aeon-ion.
    My suggestion for age-long is to try to capture the literal meaning. If one were to ask me my own opinion of what it means, I would be much closer to what you are saying.
    Thank you so much for the comment.

    1. Also S. Kierkegaards' use of the 'eternal' as a different sense of reality works in here. The greengrocer walking down the lane 'willing to be the self that he is' is walking on the eternal with every step he takes...

  3. In some ways, I have found that simply reversing the order [from 'eternal life' to 'life eternal'] provides an opportunity enough to explore the depth of the concept

  4. Dear Anonymous Person: That is a very good comment. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Just for fun ... regarding v.64 n.1, "Whoever divided this pericope up with verses...." Versification of the Bible was done several times by several medieval Jewish and Christian scholars. The form most common in today's Christian Bibles was done by Robert Estienne sometime in the Sixteenth Century. I chuckled at your complaint about how "chopped up" Jesus' speech was by the verse divisions because I recalled my Greek teacher telling the class that Estienne had engaged the task merely to pass the time on a long journey. I have never seen this bit of trivia in print; my one and only source is the offhand comment of my (respected and reputable) teacher. The story might be legend, but it does explain the clumsiness - the apparent lack of care and precision - of the versification found here and MANY other places throughout scripture.

    As ever, Mark, thank you for your work!

    ~Barry Rempp

  6. Barry, I think the sign of a good anecdote is that it feels right. This one sure does. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I was struck by the apparent inconsistency between "Whoever does not eat my flesh and drink my blood.." to just a few verses later discounting the flesh with "The spirit gives life, the flesh profits nothing." Any thoughts on this?

  8. Hi Victoria,
    That is a great question. For a text that begins with so much emphasis on eating/gnawing flesh, it is an odd turn to say that flesh profits nothing.
    I wonder if the turn has to do with whether the disciples are being scandalized over taking Jesus' words literally, or understanding the spirit of those words? I've often felt (in fact, this is part of the motivation behind my book Left Behind and Loving It) that by taking some biblical words literally, we lose their power entirely. My sense is that when Jesus says "the flesh profits nothing ..." that he is responding to the perceived scandal that, in the end, will cause many of them to leave.
    Hmm... again you ask a question that will stay with me for a while. Thanks.

  9. As a "lay" preacher (no formal education or training in Greek or the Bible) I too have often wondered about the point Victoria brings up. Last night jin my dropping off to sleep mode it occurred to me that perhaps Jesus is trying to tell his listeners that they are taking him too litterally when he speaks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Is he trying to say here; "come on folks, you are listening with your animal ears, and I'm speaking spiritual words that take spiritual ears to hear. That is why I told you that only those whose ears have been opened by the Father can come to me." Would this be missing the mark to preach from? I'm already leary of going to such a dangerous place, but my experience is that it is in the densest thickets that the best quarry hides. Thoughts?
    And thank you for this excellent post, where even someone ignorant of Greek can find much usefull material and guidance.

  10. Barry - in my History of the Book class in library school, our textbook (which I've forgotten the name of, sorry!) did give this anecdote, that the verse divisions came about rather arbitrarily depending on the bumps and pauses of a journey.

    Last anonymous poster - I'm much more of an amateur than anyone else posting here, but I think you have an excellent point, which I'll bring up with my Bible study class today. Thanks!

  11. So many confusing things in this whole chapter! In addition to what has been mentioned, why introduce Judas? Why introduce the 'holy' idea (holy one of G-d)out of the blue? Speaking of the blue, is the real problem, and so scandal, not the eating/gnawing at all but the origin of the food/flesh? v 62 would suggest that, wouldn't it? (a la v52 where the problem is not eating flesh but how can 'this man' whose DNA we know claim to be from heaven?). Not to mention preaching hassles for any preacher now in their umpteenth week on this chapter!

    1. John's writing style can indeed be confusing, feel repetitive, and filled with items that seem to come out of nowhere. I think it is meant to be savored slowly, like chewing the cud, rather than consumed and washed down like a burger. Hmm... Maybe it's the difference between singing "Ode to Joy" while reading Mark and a Taize chorus while reading John.


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