Friday, March 6, 2009

Theology Worksheet #2

Theology Worksheet #2
Second choice: John 9: 1-41

Worksheet #2: Structural Analysis in John’s gospel

In this worksheet, you will analyze the structure of a passage of John’s gospel. You need to perform the various operations that you performed on an OT book last term, to wit: 1) Determine or explain the boundaries of the text; 2) break down the text into its component sections; 3) explain the formal or narrative arrangement of the parts; and 4) explain the purpose or effect of the structure.

First off, thank you for letting us do John: he is my favorite Scriptural author, and my favorite Biblical character (though Phineas and Jehu are not too far behind).

John 9:1-41: I chose this section as nine is the world’s most interesting number, and this section is encapsulated within a really spiffy inclusio:

A: 9:1: Falsely declared sinful because of blindness,
A’: 9:41: Justly declared sinful because of sight.

A quick bit of background: chapters 1-12 of John contain what are commonly seen as his “seven signs,” seven great miracles that John gives (as proof of Christ’s divinity), and this is the sixth of these signs. Also, this is toward the end of John’s section on bread and light: John can be viewed as an entrance into the temple, so the first five chapters deal with water (the ceremonial washing: water into wine, woman at the well, born of water and blood, etc), the second five deal with bread and light (the showbread and Menorah: burning and shining lamp, the feeding of the five-thousand, bread of heaven, bread of life, I am the light of the world, giving light to the blind man), and so on.

There are references (which I will deal with in greater depth later) to creation (a new creation with clay), anointing (with clay, which is interesting in itself), baptism (washing in the pool), discipleship (the Pharisees’ interrogation and his response), and, very interestingly, an elusive Christ that brings to mind your comments in lecture regarding Him being the one “born of the Spirit,” of whom we cannot tell where He is from or where He is going. This theme in particular is capitalized upon in this chapter: “Where is he?” “I do not know.” “He is not from God;” “We do not know where he is from,” “You do not know where he is from,” etc. This cannot be accidental.

A quick throwaway: the clay theme may have something to do with this being the sixth of the seven signs: six is generally viewed as the number of man (made on the sixth day, six days he may work, slavery lasted six years for a Hebrew slave, six cities of refuge for the accidental slaying of a man, etc), and man is made from the dust of the ground. Personally, I would be hesitant to venture much further out on the skinny branches of two man-made hermeneutical tools, but it may bear more fruit upon later study. I found nothing all that apparent save a definite focus upon man’s relationship with man.

Also this section is chiastic: I have made it rougher than it has to be for space considerations (especially points E and E’, which could justifiably be E-R), but it is easily expanded once the basic outline is grasped. Since it is rough, there are a great number of points worth studying that may not even be mentioned, and I am open to many slight changes within this overall chiastic frame. All chapter references are chapter 9 and are omitted, and I have changed the phrasing to make the parallels more obvious.

• A: 1: Jesus and His disciples: he’s blind; is he a sinner? No.
o B: 4-5: Day and night, I am the light of the world…
• C: 6-12: sent, who is he? Receives sight.
• D: 13-16: brought to the Pharisees, not from God, can’t be a sinner.
o E: 17-21: Prophet, blind—sight, parents interrogated, born blind, he is of age, etc.
• F: 22: “they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that he was the Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.”
o E’: 23-29: Disciples of Moses (prophet), blind—see, son interrogated, blind, he is of age, etc.
• D’: 30-34: cast out by the Pharisees, must be from God, God doesn’t hear sinners.
• C’: 35-38: cast out, who is he? You have seen Him.
o B’: 39-40: Seeing and blind, I am the judgment of the world…
• A’: 41: Jesus and the “disciples of Moses:” Are we sinners? You’ve sight; yes.

The overall theme is that of the blind, “sinless” false Israel accusing Christ, the absentee defendant, while the seeing, “sinful” true Israel acts as His advocate. The parents appear to be two cowardly witnesses that, nevertheless, validate the testimony of the true Israel, who is then cast out when he successfully defends the One that sent him out, and sends him out again.

The central point (F) accents an aspect of this trial: two mindsets of the Jewish world. First, there are the captive Jews that fear their captors rather than the Liberator, and out of fear of being cast out of Israel reject Israel for the “synagogue of Satan.” Second, there are their captors, who greatly fear the Liberator and decide to excommunicate anyone that accepts Him (a rather weak threat to anyone that had accepted him, but quite terrible to anyone that was on the fence).

Two verbs in this verse interest me, so far as time is concerned. The Greek συντίθεμαι (had agreed already) is in the pluperfect tense, which is quite rare, and is like a perfect past tense: the meaning is “had once and for all agreed,” and puts one in mind of a covenant. The verb ὁμολογέω(confessed) is in the aorist, and therefore pays no heed to time: past, present, future, it doesn’t matter: the aorist includes them all. The action of this sentence then feels along the lines of “the Jews had irrevocably agreed that if anyone ever confessed Jesus as the Christ, he would be excommunicated.” No big difference is impressed upon the sentence, save perhaps a bit more force.

Another interesting tidbit is how Jesus healed this man. The man was blind from birth, and had apparently done a good deal of work to find a cure (“Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind…”), and being blind from birth was apparently viewed in no favorable light (“Who sinned, this man or his parents…” and “You were steeped in sin in your mother’s womb…”). It is not too much of a stretch to say that this hopeless beggar didn’t suffer from an excess of popularity, and I don’t think I’d be wearing white socks with my exegetical suit were I to posit that he’d been spit on plenty of times. It is of course just like God to take shame and turn it into glory, into an anointing. This may be completely off base, and there is no Scriptural leg to stand on, but I like the interpretation, and will probably keep it around.

Back to solid ground: this is a recreation story, and that without question. Jesus molds clay, anoints a blind man with it, and has him baptized. He emerges from his baptism as a new man. There is division in the “opening” of the man’s eyes, and there is separation in his excommunication from the synagogue. What God had divided, He filled: in this case, with Himself (verse 37). His separation also speaks to John’s ever-present message of light and darkness, which is obviously a pervasive theme in this story.

There are two ways to interpret John’s light vs. dark message: either good verse evil or the New Covenant being rejected by the so-called adherents to the Old. Arguments are made for both, and I think that there are times when both are equally valid. However, his message in John appears to be the latter: “and the darkness comprehended it not…” “He was sent to bear witness to that light…” etc. If this is the case, and it seems to be, then this recreation is yet again a symbol of the new creation being rejected and cast out by the old: the created light (blind man) shines (speaks truth) into the darkness (the truly blind Pharisees), but the darkness comprehended it not, and men loved darkness rather than light.

The verb anoint is a very peculiar choice of word. The translation is good, but why did John use that word? Why is the blind man “anointed” with mud? And why are we told this twice? It is obviously important, but what is important about it?

Several explanations present themselves. First, this is the Sabbath, and John, intentionally or no, sanctifies Christ’s “work” on the Sabbath.

Second, the man was about to be brought before the synagogue, and he hadn’t given any thought to what he would say. So, the image is given that Paul later refers to.

But most likely it is because Jesus says that He is doing the work of His Father just before He anoints the man’s eyes. So this can easily be taken to represent his actions on a larger scale: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me for He has anointed me…” Jesus was going around opening the eyes of the Spiritually blind, and especially in John’s eyes.

We have also seen that the work of the Spirit is portrayed differently in John than in the synoptic Gospels, and this is fitting with that theme. The anointing is what opens the man’s eyes; it is what prepares him to face the Pharisees alone, and it is what enabled him to recognize and worship Christ.

The theme of clay is also interesting, but as I have alluded to it several times already, I will only give it a brief overview here. I believe that it mostly refers to the creation theme: “He formed him out of the dust of the ground…” but it also references the curse. So, the curse is taken and placed upon the blind eyes of the man, and is done so as an anointing? Or the anointing is mixed with the curse? It is unclear, and I don’t think it matters much: the main point that can be drawn is the washing, the cleansing from the curse that is accomplished by baptism, and even this really is a bit of a stretch in my opinion.

One of the most interesting features of this chapter is the absence of Christ from it when He is so central to it. He appears at the beginning and at the end, but is nowhere to be found between his bookending cameos. He is the central figure: He is the one that is on trial (“Give glory to God we know this man is a sinner…”), and it would certainly have removed the pressure from the formerly blind man had He shown up. But He didn’t. He didn’t even wait to be thanked: the blind man first sees Him when Jesus seeks Him out.

First off, I’d just like to comment that this is about as flawless an analogy of conversion as can be made. Blind from birth, anointed and healed by the Spirit of a God we know of but don’t know, baptized into Him, violently and unpleasantly divorced from our idolatry, and then we begin to see Christ as the Son of God as He seeks us.

I think that Christ is absent from the story for one main reason (though I am sure there are others): so we can get a picture of what it is like to serve an absent Master. We are the people that put up that obscene footprints poem on our walls and think nice thoughts about gentle Jesus. We have no concept of the God that spoke to Jeremiah, asking him how he was going to manage to keep up with horses if men wore him out. We have some pagan notion in our minds that God is primarily concerned with out comfort and happiness, when we have nothing of that in Scripture or in life. This is the God that we serve: He does not come when called; He is not a tame Lion. We are to serve Him faithfully anyway.

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