NTiR: Jesus and the Pharisees call each other names (John 7-12)

By | May 17, 2010

Bible and magnifying glassIn case you didn’t notice from my previous entry, I am not liking the Gospel of John. Mostly this is because John is creating a very different version of Jesus than any of the other gospel authors. In John, Jesus is almost condescending in how he talks to his disciples and followers. He is also obsessed with telling everyone “I am the Son of God! No doubt about it! It’s true!’ John’s Jesus seems far more concerned about himself than others.

Yeah, I think that is my biggest problem with John. It didn’t occur to me until I typed that last sentence. Jesus is not likable in John, because he is so concerned about himself and how others see him that he doesn’t have a lot of his time/attention/thoughts in helping those who want to follow him.

Or am I again reading too much into these things?

Chapter 7
John tells a lot of stories that aren’t in the other three gospels. One of the most important set of stories takes place in Chapter 7. Jesus and the disciples are hiding out in Galilee because “the Jews” want to kill Jesus. I still find it interesting that John refers to those who want to kill Jesus as “the Jews” and not “the Pharisees.” Is John anti-Semitic? The time of the Festival of Tabernacles rolls around, though, and Jesus and the disciples decide to go to Judea for the festival.

The Festival is Jesus’s major coming out party. He goes to the Temple in the middle of the Festival and begins to teach. And to directly confront the Jews (John’s phrase, not mine. I’ll continue to use that for the rest of John’s gospel). He asks why the Jews want to kill him; the answer he is given is that the Jews believe Jesus is deceiving the crowd. Blasphemy is not tolerated, and the punishment is death. However, the officers do not arrest Jesus, partially because no one has ever spoken the words Jesus has, but mostly because they wanted to avoid a riot.

Oh, our old friend Nicodemus from John: 3 is also at the festival. He also backs the decision not to arrest Jesus. And Nico has an honorable reason: “Surely our law does not condemn a person without first hearing from him and finding out what he is doing, does it?” It’s always good to have friends in high places! The Pharisees (hey, John finally switched from Jews to Pharisees. I wonder if that lasts) give up for now.

Chapter 8
This Gospel just keeps getting more and more surreal. John either saw and heard a lot that the other gospel authors didn’t, or he’s making things up as he goes along. Or both. It’s hard to tell…

The chapter starts off with the Pharisees bringing a known adultress – the woman was actually caught in the act of adultery, which seems rather rude to me – before Jesus. The Old Testament law demanded that the woman be stoned to death. The Pharisees wanted to see if they could get Jesus to break this law. Instead, Jesus turns his back on the whole scene and begins to write in the sand. (I would really like to know what he was writing. Something like “Jesus was here?”) The Pharisees continued to demand the woman be stoned, still hoping Jesus would act against it. Instead, Jesus simply states “Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” No stones are thrown, and the Pharisees slip away in shame. After everyone leave, the woman and Jesus are left alone. Jesus asks who accuses the woman of adultery; she points out that no one is there. Jesus tells her to go home, and don’t sin again.

THAT was awesome! I love that story; it’s one of those things that I wish Christian denominations nowadays would make part of their core dogma. Instead, many (most?) Christians nowadays believe in throwing that first stone as fast as they can.

There’s one little bit of dialogue that I quite like. Jesus is proclaming himself to be the light of the world. A Pharisee tells him, “You are testifying about yourself. Your testimony is not valid.” It was so rare to see a Pharisee get a zinger in on Jesus that this really made me chuckle. It’s also funny because it is true, as far as the law was concerned.

Jesus and the Pharisees then have a discussion about who is the father of whom. The Pharisees claim to be the sons of Abraham. Jesus says if they truly were, they wouldn’t kill Jesus. The Pharisees respond, “We are not illegitimate children. We have one Father, God himself.”

Translation comparison time again, because I laughed at the “we are not illegitimate children” part. That’s obviously a modern translation (from the ISV), so I wanted to see how the less-modern language Bibles translated that. And I have to say, they are even MORE humorous:

[ASV] We were not born of fornication
[KJV] We be not born of fornication
[NETtext] We were not born as a result of immorality!
[WEB]We were not born of sexual immorality.

[laughing] Sorry, but that is funny stuff!

This conversation devolves into flat-out personal attacks, as the Pharisees tell Jesus that he is controlled by a demon and Jesus says that the Pharisees are really the sons of the Devil. The Pharisees tell Jesus that he is obviously full of crap: Jesus isn’t even 50 years old, yet claims to have seen Abraham. Jesus retorts “Truly, truly I tell you, before there was an Abraham, I am!” There truly is no comeback to that one, so the Pharisees pick up stones to throw at Jesus, so Jesus runs away and hides.

And again I have to say: where did John come up with this stuff?

Chapter 9
John slows way down again to tell the tale of Jesus making a blind man see. I have lost track of where Jesus is right now. In Chapter 8, Jesus fled from the temple in Jerusalem after trading insults with the Pharisees. I don’t know where Jesus fled to, however, so I am not sure where this story takes place.This is the basic story that we’ve heard in the other three Gospels, including Mark’s detail that Jesus spits in dirt, makes mud and then smears it on the blind man’s eyes. (I think this was a practical joke on Jesus’s part, since the major parts of this miracle seem to be the man’s faith and the pool of Siloam.) John then blazes his own trail, as he tells of the immediate aftermath from this miracle.

The other residents of the unnamed town are amazed once the unnamed beggar gets his sight back. The citizens of the town want to know exactly what happened, but the Pharisees want to know exactly how the man’s sight was restored. The people of the town have to be careful: anyone caught proclaiming their belief that Jesus was the Christ would immediately be thrown out of the temple. This made it harder for the man to tell his story, but he still found a way.

The Pharisees are besides themselves with rage by this point. They refuse to believe that the man’s sight was restored, then refuse to believe that the man was blind at all. He interviews (interrogates?) the man’s parents, who repeated attest that the man was born blind. The Pharisees decide to try and trap someone – anyone – to make themselves feel better. They try to trap the parents into proclaiming that a miracle had been performed, but the parents won’t bite. They tell the Pharisees to go talk to their son directly, since he is of legal age. As you can guess, this doesn’t help the Pharisees mood.

This story can get confusing since John decided not to give anyone a name. If my recounting of this story seems a bit more confusing than normal, don’t blame me. It’s John’s fault. 🙂

The Pharisees question the man again, asking how Jesus could’ve restored the man’s sight. He asks the Pharisees “Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become his disciples, too, do you?”  *BURN!!!!* This infuriated the Pharisee, who screams back “we are disciples of Moses!” They demand to know if the man believe Jesus is the Christ so they can condemn either Jesus or the man (or both? John really needed to use names for his characters). The man says simply: “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do” these miracles. The Pharisees stay true to form and throw the man out of the temple.

Chapter 10
Jesus starts to talk (rant?) about sheep and shepherds. His basic conceit is that people are sheep (I believe that one, actually) and he is the shepherd who will guide the people into heaven. But he also throws in there that his predecessors were thieves and bandits (I assume he was talking about the Pharisees and not the Prophets) who come to steal, and other flocks that come by that he also must lead. Jesus goes way off-topic to say that he will lay down his life so he can take it back up again.

As should be expected, the people around him are baffled and confused. “Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is insane. Why bother listening to him?'” But others pointed out that a demon-possessed man wouldn’t be able to perform the miracles they’ve seen Jesus perform. They ask Jesus directly to proclaim whether or not he is the Christ. Jesus says “I and the father are one,” and the Jews pick up stones to throw at him again.  (Hey, John switched from “the Pharisees” to “the Jews” again!)

The Jews say they are going to stone Jesus for blasphemy to which Jesus decides to school them. “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”‘? […] Scripture cannot be set aside.” Again they tried to seize Jesus, and again he slipped away. The Pharisees are like the Keystone Kops of the bible. No matter how much they try to catch Jesus, he always gets away. Well, until Judas betrays him, of course.

Chapter 11
John can be lax on details about people, but he’s done a good job at giving hints about the chronology of events. Assuming they take place in the same year, about six months has transpired between Chapter 7 (the Festival of Tabernacles) and this chapter (Passover).

This is one of those chapters where a lot happens in a relatively short amount of time. Some of this is very important to the Bible narrative, so I am going to write about this in a lot of detail. Fair warning. 🙂

Jesus has had to flee Jerusalem after practically being stoned in Chapter 10, and is making his way towards. Mary (” the woman who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair”), Martha and Lazarus, all who are at least very good friends of Jesus (Mary maybe more than a friend) live in Bethany, which is within shouting distance of Jerusalem. Mary sends word to Jesus that Lazarus is very sick and is about to die. Jesus waits a couple of days, then tells his Disciples that they must return to Judea.

The Disciples are incredulous, as one might imagine. They (John doesn’t say which one, of course) ask Jesus to reconsider, since he was practically stoned to death just a few days earlier. Jesus tells them that he can see because he is the light of the world, so they must go back so he can awaken Lazarus. Yeah… that didn’t quite make sense to me, either. Some of what John writes that Jesus says by this part of the Gospel sounds very random and disjointed. Thomas on the other hand proves to be loyal and courageous. He states that they will stand by Jesus’s side, and would rather die with Jesus than abandon him..

Thomas is pretty cool.

Jesus and his Disciples arrive in Bethany, where Martha has arranged them a place to stay. Martha is lamenting the loss of her brother, and comes to Jesus to accuse him of not being there to save Lazarus. Jesus reassures her that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and that Lazarus will truly live again.

Mary catches up with Jesus, and is also tormented with grief. Jesus sees her grief and misery, and cries with her. He then insists that he be taken to Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus thanks God as a way to let everyone gathered know that God sent him (random!) and then commands Lazarus to awaken. Lazarus does, and walks out of the tomb, even though he is still tied up in bandages and burial cloths. John doesn’t state that those gathered ran screaming and fleeing from the zombie/mummy Lazarus, but isn’t it safe to assume that at least some did?

The last third of this chapter takes on a very weird turn. Instead of discussing Lazarus’s resurrection, John discusses politics. An un-named member of the council said that people believing in Jesus would ignite the Romans wrath, and that the Romans would then destroy their temple and their nation. To which I say, “wtf?” Where did this come from? In the other three Gospels, it seemed like the Romans didn’t give a flying fig about the Jesus or the Pharisees. As long as order was maintained, the Romans were content to rule and let the locals sort things out on their own. This can definitely be seen in the way that Pilate was so reluctant to allow Christ’s execution.

So why are the Pharisees afraid that the Romans are going to interject themselves now? And that the Romans would move only because people believed that Jesus was the Messiah? That doesn’t make any sense at all. I can’t make heads nor tails of it.

Caiphas – the high priest – then muddies the water a little more. He states that Jesus must die so that Judea can be saved. Apparently, he has prophesied that Jesus will be killed to save the Jews, both in Judea and the other tribes who were scattered about. It was for this reason that the Pharisees wanted to put Jesus to death. And they were not going to be deterred from doing so. They issued a standing arrest warrant. Which meant that Jesus again had to flee, this time to Ephraim.

Chapter 12
John continues to veer further and further from the path set by the other three gospel authors. It’s not just that his gospel details things the others don’t. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, I know that all four gospels are separate, distinct works, with different authors who had different views and themes that they wanted to emphasize. John’s theme is the divnity of Jesus, and he has his Jesus continually telling people “I am the son of god! Truly, truly listen to me! I really am the son of god!!!” Which is annoying, since it doesn’t match how Jesus speaks in the other gospels. But I can handle that.

The odd thing about John’s gospel is how John tries to twist the fact and his characters to fit a certain mold. Take Judas Iscariot, for example. In the other three gospels, he goes to the high priests and asks for money if he betrays Jesus. Jesus proclaims to know that there is a traitor in their midst at the Last Supper. In John’s gospel, however, Jesus says that he knows who the traitor is very early in the story. And then here in Chapter 12, John says that Judas is a thief who was willing to steal money from the destitute. To me, this connotes after-the-fact character assassination. It reads like John really wants Judas Iscariot to have been a life-long evil person. But I digress.

Jesus goes to Bethany to have dinner with Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Judas (John doesn’t state whether the rest of the 12 were there). Mary anoints Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume, and wipes it off Jesus’s feet with her hair. Judas yells that she should’ve sold the perfume and given the money to the destitute (so he could then steal the money, apparently), but Jesus hushes him. I think that John is the only gospel author who writes that Judas told Mary not to waste the expensive perfume on Jesus?

Interesting side note: The high priests planned to kill Lazarus, since Lazarus’s resurrection were making many people believe that Jesus was the Christ. Poor Lazarus, to be raised from the dead only to then have a death sentence put on you.

Jesus decides it is time to return to Jerusalem in glory. The voice of God speaks, though people around assume that it was either thunder or an angel. I think it was probably someone playing a practical joke on them. I do the same thing to my kiddos from time to time.

Up next: I’ll leave the foot washing to Jesus

New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.

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