Interpretation 8


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  Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002

John 8

By verse one of John eight, the Galilean ministry of Jesus has ended; we find him now in Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives: "1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives." Throughout John, revealed in the temple and in Cana, Jesus’ hour has not yet come; even here, at the Mount of Olives, we hear the same delay:

17 In your law it is written that the testimony of two men is true; 18 I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me." 19 They said to him therefore, "Where is your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither me nor my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father also." 11     These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

Here, John provides the predictable theological hook from present chapter into previous chapter; as proclaimed by Nicodemus in chapter seven. He who has previously been revealed as the bread of life and living water shines now as the light of the world. The debate, though, continues about Jesus' identity and  the role of law.  Jesus proceeds logically to ask whether Jewish law does not require the testimony of two? 18 I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me."  Of course, those observing are spiritually blind to the testimony of the Father. " 18 I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me."  Of course, those observing remain spiritually blind to the testimony of the Father. The reader  realizes quickly the continuing rejection of Jesus by tradition, by the establishment, but in the meanwhile, he has already enacted a new age and new revelation of Divine will.

  The Jewish law for the testimony of two has been invoked by Jesus’ own self-testimonial: 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

13 The Pharisees then said to him, "You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true." 14 Jesus answered, "Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know whence I have come and whither I am going, but you do not know whence I come or whither I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and he who sent me.

The accusation of a singular and self-inspired  testimonial comes with no evidence: John, from the beginning, has brought forward testimonial after testimonial of Jesus’ identity based on his work. And how many have longed for the conviction: “ I know whence I  come or whither I am going.” Far too many, on the other hand, have no idea of “whence I” [Word, Logos, Son of God/Son of man] has come or is going. The reader may hear the words of Isaiah in the “light of life”:

49:6 he says, "Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant, to reestablish the tribes of Jacob and restore the remnant14 of Israel?15 I will make you a light to the nations,16 so you can bring17 my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth."

Or again, more words from Isaiah:

60:1 "Arise! Shine! For your light arrives The splendor1 of the LORD shines on you! 60:2 For, look, darkness covers the earth and deep darkness covers2 the nations,  but the LORD shines on you;  his splendor3 appears over you. 60:3 Nations come to your light, kings to your bright light.

Jesus, sure that his work brings light to the nations, extends deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.

            What is chapter eight of John really about?  Jesus reveals himself  in the temple, the place where traditionally God dwells; here, he begins to teach those who are experts in the law, or at least, they’re supposed to be experts in the law.  The Pharisees enter with a woman who has been accused of adultery. One sees illustrated immediately  the difference between active faith and ritualistic religion. The law, the law of Moses, condemns the woman:

1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?" 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus looked up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again."

Actually, the law of Moses more exactly requires the death of both the woman and man caught in adultery. Jesus’ act demonstrates compassion: whatever he writes on the ground has perhaps revealed the personal shortcomings of the accusers, for one by one, they have walked away. "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again."

Recalling how Moses has received the law as a covenant between God and his people helps the reader to understand the theological teachings of chapter eight. First of all, Moses has received the law in the presence of God on Mount Sinai. He has been instructed, “Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy.” When Moses delays to come down from the mountain, the people set up their own gods. As a result, the anger of Moses burns hot, and he destroys the tablets upon which the commandments have been written.  Moses, on the next day, however, returns to the mountain to make atonement for the sins of the people. Yahweh passes before Moses with these words:

34:6 And the

LORD passed by before him and proclaimed:10 "The LORD, the LORD,11 the compassionate and gracious12 God, slow to anger,13 and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness,14 34:7 keeping loyal love for thousands,15 forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity16 of the fathers on the children and on the children's children, to the third and fourth generation."

Whatever else Jesus may have written upon the ground in the presence of the adulterous woman, the action one observes demonstrates compassionate forgiveness: “Neither do I condemn thee.”  The narrative incident in this chapter prepares the reader for the discussion concerning the law and the identity of Jesus that follows.

            Jesus teaches, for the hour has not come; in the interlude between birth and destiny, a people questions what it has been,  its destiny.  In the presence of spirit, destiny becomes clear: the physical inevitably languishes and dies. Flesh cannot enter into spirit except the spirit be given from above. The only choice becomes that of believing or not believing.  Not to believe entombs within the flesh; active belief, on the other hand, emancipates and frees the spirit eternally. The will of God for the emancipation of spirit remains constant; only weak flesh falters in the face of what has been told, is true, from the beginning. Misunderstanding, the spiritually blind listen to what Jesus teaches only with an effort to ensnarl him in the law or in self-contradiction::

21 Again he said to them, "I go away, and you will seek me and die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come." 22 Then said the Jews, "Will he kill himself, since he says, `Where I am going, you cannot come'?" 23 He said to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he." 25 They said to him, "Who are you?" Jesus said to them, "Even what I have told you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge; but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him." s27 They did not understand that he spoke to them of the Father.

“He who sent me is true,” but wandering, dispersion, and rebellion continue rampant: “They did not understand.”

            Theologically, the question of “two” in John is resolved as testimonial of Jesus’ acts born witness to by God:

28 So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him."

As he spoke thus, many believed in him. Jesus’ life as manifestation of God’s will causes many to believe, yet still others misunderstand and await that moment of conviction that manifests the spirit ever present in the physical moment.

            How can one be reborn? How  can one have more than one father?  These are reasonable, physical questions. To suggest more than one father suggests sexual impropriety, or to suggest two perspectives, two ways of seeing:

8 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father." 39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. 41 You do what your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

Two ways ultimately become the human way and lead to inevitable choice; the Way reveals itself as God’s way through flesh redeemed; the other way  lies, evidencing both an illusion and delusion, a lie, and existentially, the lie of all lies; the denial of life:

44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.

            Jesus remains spiritually sound and clear in his mission: he does not seek self-glory but a glory bestowed by the Eternal; his glory is that of being recognized, of being known by the Creator and Father of Life:

 I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it and he will be the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death." 52 The Jews said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, as did the prophets; and you say, `If any one keeps my word, he will never taste death.' 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?" 54 Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. 55 But you have not known him; I know him. If I said, I do not know him, I should be a liar like you; but I do know him and I keep his word.

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad."

57 The Jews then said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" 58 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." 59 So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

How far the hearts separate themselves from the law, from God’s eternal purpose of redeeming  humankind contrasts to Jesus' one purpose: to glorify God; he reveals clearly that those judging him have forgotten that knowing God requires active obedience: “I do know him and I keep his word.” One of the saddest moments in human history is that of self-rejection: because Jesus has revealed clearly the potential of human life to choose itself in spirit, to emancipate itself from the “bound” moment and from death, he is rejected. This choice has stood eternally: “before Abraham, I am.”  And humanity, tradition, takes up stones to throw at the revelation, and the Shekinah departs the temple. Yet in the temple of the humble and believing heart, God indwells!