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Theology Notebook: Exegesis of John 7:14-31 Where Does Jesus Get His Teaching?

I am exegeted out. I mean, not "I Am", just that I am. No, wait....

John 7: 14-31 — Where Does Jesus Get His Teaching?

Thesis: In John 7:14-31, Jesus represents himself as a man who is not representing himself.

I. The context of the passage in the Gospel sets up the question of Jesus’ activity and identity.
    A. The Prologue sets up Jesus as both Christ and as a counter-figure to Moses: “The Law indeed was given
        through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17)
         i. Throughout the Tabernacles passage Jesus words and those of his interlocutors are said in the midst of
            great Messianic expectation.
            1. There is curiosity about whether the authorities have concluded that Jesus is the Christ (v. 26)
            2. Debate ensues because of the expectation that the Christ will be of mysterious origin and Jesus’
                origin seems straightforward.  (v. 27)
            3. Many in the crowd hold that Jesus is doing exactly the kinds of signs one would expect of the
                Christ. (v. 31)
         ii. Comparisons and Contrasts to Moses
            1. Comparisons
                a. He has authority like Moses’.
                     i. Jesus’ teaching does not come from learning from the rabbis in the traditional fashion.  (v. 15) 
                        Like Moses, he speaks while not appealing to human authority.  (vv. 16-18, 28-29)
                     ii. He explicitly appeals to God as the direct source of his teaching (v. 17)
                b. He acts like Moses
                    i. His healing on the Sabbath is like Moses’ (and the patriarchs’) giving of circumcision for
                        spiritual healing.
                     ii. He interprets the correct understanding of the Law.  (vv. 19-24)
            2. Contrasts
                a. He transcends the Law and the Sabbath.  The consensus seems that healing was an inappropriate
                    activity for the Sabbath.  He reverses that judgment, ruling over the Law of God in the House of
                    God. (v. 23)
                b. He speaks with the words of God. “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right
                    judgement.” (v. 24) 
                     i. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature,
                        because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; but the Lord looks on the
                        heart.’”  (1 Sam. 16:7)
                     ii. And a prophecy of the Messiah: “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.  He shall not
                        judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall
                        judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth
                        with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.”  (Is. 11:3-4.)
                c. He claims that there is “nothing false in him.” (v. 18)  This is not a claim Moses would or could
    B. The healing of the man on the Sabbath in John 5 will provide an immediate context of conflict regarding
        Jesus’ authority.  (as above)
    C. This passage serves as the first act of a much longer dialogue between Jesus and the crowds throughout
        the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7-8.  This material loses its impact if you do not know that it will end
        with the following identifications of himself being made by Jesus:
        i. The one who can satisfy thirst, and cause the flowing of rivers of living water. (vv. 37-38)
        ii. The light of the world.  (8:12)
        iii. And, in climax, “I AM”
    D. A plot to kill Jesus is part of the immediate context, having been mentioned by the narrator in v.1. 
         i. The crowd denies any knowledge of such a plot when Jesus accuses them (vv. 19-20)
         ii. The crowd acknowledges it among themselves (v. 25)
         iii. Jesus uses the plot (and its violation of the Law) as a way of contrasting his obedience with his
            opponents' lack of obedience.

II. Jesus uses the setting to his advantage
    A. The Temple is the place Jesus chooses to reveal himself and begin to teach and debate.
         i. As Jesus moves toward identifying himself with God, his locating himself in the Temple to teach
            re-inforces that identification.
         ii. John has already begun to prioritize Jesus over the Temple by Jesus’ claiming “ownership” of  it (ch.
            2) and by foretelling a coming lack of need for it. (ch. 4)
    B. The Feast of Tabernacles is a harvest feast, one of the three most popular feasts among the people, along
        with Passover and Pentecost.
         i. The prayers offered during the feast are the basis for Jesus’ claims in the later passage.
            1. Prayer for water.
            2. Prayer for light.
         ii. Jesus is the object and giver of what is prayed-for in the Temple: his identification of himself with God
            is not a surprise climax, but one that develops through the passage.

III. Jesus portrays his teaching as a mission.
    A. Twice the nature of his authority is question, and both times provokes a re-direction of the question by
         i. “How does the man have such learning?”
            1. Jesus gives a two-part test to determine the origin of his teaching
                a. Anyone who tries to will what God wills recognizes Jesus’ teaching as from God. (v. 17)
                b. Anyone who speaks for themselves, seeks their own glory; since Jesus seeks after God’s glory,
                    he must be speaking for or from God. (v. 18)
         ii. “How could the authorities conclude he is the Christ, as we know where he comes from?”
            1. Jesus contrasts knowing where he is from with knowing who sent him. (v. 28)
            2. Since Jesus knows the one who sent him, and the crowd does not, they have misunderstood which
                was the more important knowledge.  (v. 29)
    B. “The one who sent me”—In both cases, Jesus turns the question of “where he gets his teaching” to a
        question of who his teaching comes from.
         i. In response to both, Jesus seems to disregard the importance of the questions and instead (in the
            Temple, as both passages note, vv. 14, 28) proceeds to glorify God. 
         ii. Both responses stress the idea of being “sent.” (vv. 16, 18, 28-29)  A prophet can be sent, but also one
            who was with God in the beginning, which is the direction that this will develop.
    C. These two passages are divided by the passage on the question of Moses and the Law.  (vv.19-24) Jesus
        uses Moses as a foil to demonstrate a correct reading or understanding of the Law, which is the content of
        his teaching and the goal of the mission on which he was sent. 

Conclusion: In this passage, Jesus affirms that his mission is to achieve the will and glory of the one who sent him: God.  This lays the necessary groundwork for him to then use the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles to transcend the crowd’s messianic expectations.  Having classified himself as one who was “sent” and who does nothing for himself, Jesus can then go on to show how this is possible.  He will do this over the course of the Feast by not making the Christ to be an “über-prophet,” but rather by so identifying himself with the Sender as to be God.

Tags: biblical studies, christology, gospels, jesus, johannine literature, judaism, theological notebook, trinity

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