Sunday, May 30, 2021

Trinitarian revelation ... about John's Gospel's brilliant literary skill

So, working on my sermon for Trinity Sunday and having a look at John 3:1-17, with special attention to verses 16 and 17, I noticed in the Greek some interesting parallelism, which I will try to capture in English (adjusted to reflect the underlying Greek so as to highlight preciseness of parallels). 

We start first with a set of parallels which includes v. 15.

1. Parallel concerning the ones believing in Christ.

Verse 15 is: "in order that everyone believing in him might have life eternal."

Verse 16 includes: "in order that everyone believing in him might not perish but might have life eternal."

2. Parallel concerning God's action on or to the Son:

Verse 16:  God ... the son the only gave

Verse 17: Not for sent God the son

In each case the world (see below) is in view as the reason why God "gives" the only Son and why God "sends" the son. 

We deduce that in both verses John is reporting something similar: for the sake of the world God involves the Son (via theologically weighted words, "gave" and "sent") in the salvation of the world.

The theological weight on "gave" includes Abraham being willing to give his only son as a sacrifice (Genesis 22), Mark's report of Jesus talking about giving his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45), and Paul's reference to God not withholding "his own Son, but gave him up for all of us" (Romans 8:32). And for "sent" we can read the whole of John's Gospel as a story of God's agency: Jesus sent to the world, Jesus coming into the world in order to reveal, to bring abundant life via signs and speeches, and, ultimately, to save the world through taking away the sins of the world.

The next observation is less about a parallel and more about 

3. development of God's attitude and action in respect of the world:

Verse 16: ... for loved God the world

Verse 17: not for sent God the son into the world in  order that might be judged the world but in order that might be saved the world through him.

Note there is a parallel between God's actions: loved ... the world, sent ... into the world. God's love acts, and God's acting is loving.

(We might additionally note that in verse 18 the theme of "judge(d)" is developed in relation to "believe" and also "only son":

Verse 18: The one believing in him is not judged but the one not believing has been already judged, because he has not believed in the name of the only son of God.)

As John reports Jesus' (Aramaic) discourse in Greek, John works his literary magic to emphasise and develop themes such as believing, world, and judging, in relation to God's love for the world - a love which both "gave" and "sent" the son.

John uses parallelism, repetition (of individual words, of phrases, of themes expressed previously) to underscore the importance of God's initiative out of love for the world and the appropriate response of believing in the son.

John the theologian is not only transmitting the teaching of Jesus, he is transforming it when translating it in order to convey the key messages he sees at the heart of the gospel, a "seeing" which he credits to the Spirit of Truth working in the disciples of Jesus after the exaltation of Jesus in order to develop the fullness of the meaning of Jesus' teaching (so John 14-16).


Unknown said...

Peter, I enjoy your OPs on biblical topics, and this one opens a box of chocolates for discussion. However, I'm en route to the Isle Royale in Michigan, and will be off the grid until next week. Perhaps Martin will say something Bauckham-ish? Or Jean will somehow relate our believing to God's judging? I'll find out when I have returned.


Anonymous said...

I doubt I could say anything Bauckham-ish but I would be flattered to be found hanging around in that company. The only three observations I would make are:
1. Did Nicodemus come alone, as we usually imagine, or was he in company? The pronouns Jesus uses are plural. Perhaps we should think of Nicodemus as spokesman for a group.
2. Where quotation ends and commentary begins is often very hard to tell in John's Gospel. Are verses 16-21 words by Jesus or (as I think more likely) John the Theologian's comment?
3. How much and how often did Jesus teach in Greek? More often than previous commentators have recognised.
Changing the subject, but staying in the same world, I wonder if Peter has read the submission by "Croaking Cassandra" on proposals for teaching history in NZ schools? He is always worth reading even when he gets wonkish, but I particularly liked some of his observations and criticisms about an ideologically driven curriculum proposal, viz;
1. He notes that NZ was settled c. 1300 by Polynesians from the north (naturally) and for the next 500 years there was no known communication with the outside world (except 1642 and 1769). That is a very long time of isolation even from the rest of Polynesia, but the curticulum doesn't comment on this fact. In other words, cultural stasis caused by extreme isolation. The woke left really struggles with the fact that history is all about the interface of advanced cultures and technologies with less advanced ones. And none of them want to be reminded that it was thd British settlers who ended slavery and cannibalism in New Zealand - that doesn't fit the narrative.
2. He notes that the curiculum proposal (reflecting contemporary secular leftism) shows no interest in pre-European Maori religion, social structure or conflicts; nor the pivotal role that the Church Missionary Society had in the settlement of New Zealand through the very successful evangelization of the Maori; nor the very high level of Maori-European intermarriage; nor the role of Christianity in defining the nature of the colony then the Dominion of New Zealand.
3. He notes that the focus of the proposed curriculum is more upon judging the past than on understanding it - which is just to be expected in the current race-based moralising on the past by the left. To understand the past before you presume to judge it is a good rule of life in many things, not just school curriculums.
4. He notes the lack of interest in economics in the curriculum, the economic stagnation in the past 30 years or why so many NZers have moved to Australia. Of course, no government publication would want to draw attention to these things!
The piece ends with an interesting reflection on the 1950 Centenary of Canterbury Province by Holland and Freyberg - of particular interest to me as well, since most of my family are in or around Christchurch.
Apologies for the diversion here - but I did think it would be wonderful if young people learned the role of Christianity - and Anglican missionaries - in the formation of their country.


Jean said...

Well Bowman that’s baiting if I ever read it - smile! And here I was reading the post and being caught up in the giving and salvation! A bit distracted recently as it’s been a tad damp down my way.

I don’t believe I have fully come to grips within my own being about the full implications of the words of John’s Gospel Peter has extrapolated upon. Although I can relate to John having encountered the words of Jesus whilst on earth being led by the Holy Spirit after His death and resurrection to grasp and share the transformational Good News.

As for judgement. Well sin has been on my mind this year, more so the consequences of it and what exactly to have sins forgiven or to be released from it’s affect/effect? actually mean. My pondering has come from the perspective of living and seeing the devastating result of sin in human lives, the type that makes you cry. Such as the child who was abused going on to abuse others or to spend their lives dealing with the relational and internal scars. As for judgement, well, do you judge someone who was abused for abusing others in the same way because that is the only way they know? For surely you observe the pain being re-inflicted at the same time as recognising the anguish the inflicted also carries.

The direction of my musings has lead or is leading to a greater awareness of the ‘Good News’ of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus remarked in so many words that he came to destroy sin, to ‘overcome the world’ I think I am slowly getting it. It’s the only way to escape the hold of sin for forgiveness of sins offers the opportunity of healing to the victim and release from guilt to the perpetrator - and of course we all in different ways are both. To be judged already, therefore, if we reject Christ is as far as I am able to come to a conclusion is to be bound to the world where there is no escape from the consequences of sin or the guilt of the sins we commit.

The outworking of this of course, both the healing from the consequences of sin done to us, the forgiveness of those who did them, and the repentance for sins we have committed are while worth the ‘fight’ are not easy paths to tread. “For we do not fight against flesh and blood but the powers and the principalities of this dark world.”

One of my favourite quotes from Shakespeare:
“If justice be thy plea consider this that in the course of justice none of us will see salvation.

Jean said...

Martin the teaching of NZ history in schools is quite the diversion from the topic lol.

First I acknowledge the proposed new curriculum is more social studies (sociology) than history and that the depth and breadth of any subject at Primary level is somewhat limited and will not include the whole of our social history and all it’s facets.

I think the proposal does redress some issues that have been neglected in terms of generic education in NZ for a long time, for example that all children learn the origins of Waitangi Day/Treaty of Waitangi, that past systemic injustices are acknowledged (e.g. parihaka, the unlawful taking of land, the treatment of Maori citizens as opposed to European), and that worldviews of different people groups affect how they interact.

You have a good point in terms of trade/economics being an integral part of this learning - it features strongly in the reason why European settlers first came to NZ. As I understand it we were to be either colonised by the French or the English and the English did so more to control their unruly settlers and so the French did not than for any great desire (at that point in history) to have another colony.

I think it is a fair point that there is some bias in the proposal at this point (e.g. the stories of place names could include both Te Reo and English placename origins), and it is not wise to perceive the culture of any people group to be ‘only good’ which the temptation (to go to the other extreme) whenever there has been a one-sided perspective put across for some period of time. There was tribal warfare, there was cannibalism, and the Moriori suffered similarly under other Maori tribes as some Maori did under European settlement. And alongside this there was the common sense way Maori approached land use, restorative justice and holistic health. Things to learn on both sides, as mostly is the case.

As for qualitative/quantitative social history, at this level of learning, until children get to years say 9 and 10 the breadth is going to be somewhat narrow so it is a bit of pick and choose what to teach.

Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bishop Peter, for this reflection. I can only respond by bearing testimony to my own faith in the Three-Person-hood of God. The actual doctrine of the trinity has become for me, personally, a reality: in God as Father (Creator), Son (Redeemer), and Holy Spirit (Enabler).

Trying to explain this a to a non-believer is almost impossible. However, my own explanation to youngsters in the Faith is to consider the reality of H2O which. in its essence is the liquid on which our life depends; another state is attained through freezing (when it becomes ice); and a third stage, when boiled, it becomes steam - ALL water, but in different modes!

I was thrilled today to read something of Fr. Richard Rohr's article, quoting another pwerson's understandinf of how, in the face of doubt, the doctrinal realities are both mystical and real:

"Doubt need not be the death of faith. It can be, instead, the birth of a new kind of faith, a faith beyond beliefs, a faith that expresses itself in love, a deepening and expanding faith that can save your life and save the world."

Brian D. McLaren, Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It (St. Martins: 2021), 206, 207, 212.