May 29, 2009

John 15-28

Here is John's testimony; he cried aloud, "This is the man I meant when I said, 'He comes after me, but takes rank before me;' for before I was born, he already was."

Out of his full store we have all received grace after grace; for while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the only one, the one nearest to the Father's heart, has made him known.

This is the testimony which John gave when the Jews of Jerusalem sent a deputation of priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He confessed without reserve and avowed, "I am not the Messiah."

"What, then? Are you Elijah?"

"No," he replied.

"Are you the prophet we await?"

He answered, "No."

"Then who are you?" They asked. "We must give an answer to those who sent us. What account do you give of yourself?"

He answered in the words of the prophet Isaiah, "I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, 'Make the Lord's highway straight.' "

Some Pharisees who were in the delegation asked him, "If you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet, why then are you baptising?"

"I baptise in water," John replied, "but among you, though you do not know him, stands the one who is to come after me. I am not good enough to unfasten his shoes." This took place at Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptising.


At 2:12 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Here's an example of how the "New Testament" alone can be way insufficient. We have, for one thing, this man John, who the synoptic gospels describe as wearing the characteristic clothing of the prophet Elijah (who was supposed to return from Heaven before the Day of the Lord, to reconcile parents and children "so that [God] will not come and strike the land with a curse.")

The "Jews of Jerusalem," that is, the Judeans' of the Jerusalem Temple cult, want to check this man out, because his outfit virtually screams "trouble" and his practice of baptising there in the Jordan suggests sending his followers into Israel to claim it, much as the followers of Joshua. There is already a government, upheld by Roman military power, with its own claim on the land, and these people represent it!

But he is not Elijah, he says. Neither is the the "prophet like Moses" mentioned toward the end of Deuteronomy.

And he is not "the Messiah." [Do we need a separate posting re what that might mean, to a contemporary Jew, vs the ideas of modern Christians?]

But this part about the "voice crying out in the wilderness," isn't just about Isaiah's call to make the roads straight for Jews returning to the promised land. Consider Malachi 3 (& that context): "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple!" This is not necessarily good news for the Temple's staff & administration!

Now where, among whom, Jesus stands when John is saying this, is moot. We don't necessarily have the correct context here for when John gives this line about "not fit to untie his shoes," but clearly John is not telling the delegation who this successor is, nor really what role he is to play!

At 6:05 p.m., Blogger Diane said...

I believe shoes represent (according to my Jungian symbolism dictionary) the right to own what you stand on (such as the Earth).

At 7:13 p.m., Blogger Diane said...

I don't have the citations in front of me, but this Elijah dialogue reminds me of the verse that, to some, hints of reincarnation (or pre-existence of the soul) as well as OT prophecy. That could also be the context for the exchange. Is it unfair to think this was edited to disguise that?

At 7:50 a.m., Blogger forrest said...

Elijah is named as the prophet to return, because he is not supposed to have died, but to have gone directly into the Heavens via a fiery chariot.

There is some question as to what the authors of the Bible thought abt reincarnation, or death in general. Really promising rabbinic students sometimes got the job of "finding the resurrection in the Torah," because there was nothing about that until Daniel. The later Hasidim definitely held that reincarnation happens, and that their traditions went all the way back, but who knows? The lack of early mentions may reflect cultural assumptions so deeply held that no one bothered to state them, or alternatively, hostility by the Jerusalem cult refugees in Babylon towards either rural ancestor worship or the afterlife obsessions of the Egyptians...

At 12:54 p.m., Blogger Diane said...

fiery chariot ... cool

just peeking in quickly... off to study John and Romans ... visit again in a few days

At 4:04 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Another thing... the early Jewish legends are chock full of sibling rivalry, with the first born expected to inherit the goodies, except that the 2nd born underdog enjoys God's favor, & whether by fair means or cunning, takes his place. We have, for example, Jacob coming out of the womb literally pulling on his brother's heel. When Jacob in his turn is expected to bless Joseph's sons, he has suffered so much from that condition that he crosses his hands to give the best blessing to the younger.

Here (unless you buy into the Luke nativity story) there's no familial relationship, but John is coming first, but giving precedence to his successor.

I have my own notion why that is, but it's more relevant to the synoptics than here.

At 11:34 p.m., Blogger Daniel Wilcox said...

These verses help me as I wrestle with the doctrines of traditional Christianity and the strange denominations which have come about in past history.

While John says Jesus is the Word of God (not simply a man, but the incarnation of God), he is not literally God for the verse clealy says no one "has ever seen God." I suppose this might be a section of Scripture that lead some early Friends to question the traditional doctrine of the Trinity.

I find it intriguing that John the Baptist claims he is not Elijah, but in Matthew 17:10-13, Jesus clearly identifies John as Elijah returned.

That raises interesting questions.

As does also Jesus asking for baptism by John...

Daniel Wilcox

At 9:57 a.m., Blogger Diane said...

In response to sorting out the trinity, I was reading a Wm. Penn article called "A Key" which is posted on In it he defends Quakers against accusations, one of which refuted that Quakers denied the Trinity... saying that did they believe according to scripture: "And that these things are truly and properly one; of one nature as well as will. But they tender of quitting Scripture terms and phrases for schoolmen's..." That making distinctions could lead people to "entertain gross ideas and notions" of the three. That speculation of this sort lends little to the aims of godliness and peace. "Speculative truths are, in their judgment, to be sparingly and tenderly declared, and never to be made the measure and condition of Christian communion. Men are too apt to let their heads outrun their hearts, and their notions exceed their obedience, and their passions support their conceits, instead of a daily cross, a constant watch, and a holy practice."

It reminded of a recent message when after someone gave another mini-sermon during silent worship, that we should be careful about creating idols even with scripture verse.

But trying to sort through the three has been something I'm looking at, asking myself is the Holy Spirit just a vehicle or is it more? Is the Spirit the only thing we can reach, and therefore why do we put emphasis on the Son? why not the Father of the Trinity (other than the patriarchy baggage)?

I think the Holy Spirit is more than a vehicle because it permeates everything and knows the will of God (Rom 8.26-27) and is God's voice. God, I take it, is always the Father part of the Trinity. (Although I not sure how the God of Israel, or even Europe becomes God of the world, or universe, or if that is said anywhere in the Bible.)
What I find on Christ is that "we have the mind of Christ" 1 Cor 2.16. Hence, our conversation on Divine Wisdom and either the second or third Logos is something I'm still interested in exploring.

If Wisdom of Solomon 7.13-16 links friends of God with Wisdom: "For she is a treasure unto men that never faileth: which they that use become the friends of God, ..."

Since Nature generally follows simple rules of thumb... the question is why we need three. First, because God is all speculation (unknowable, only to be sensed) and creation needs a more material vehicle.

And I believe what the Bhagavad-Gita says about the appearance of divine manifestations such as Christ (4.7-8): "Whenever dharma declines and the purpose of life is forgotten, I manifest myself on earth. I am born in every age to protect the good, to destroy evil, and to re-establish dharma."

So Christ manifests, whereas the Spirit permeates, it "speaks," it "intercedes for us though wordless groans." I just love that imagery.

So Christ is our example, our role model so to speak. And this is important, to my thinking, if Christianity is to keep pace with the higher spiritual aims (as in Buddhism's bodhisattva vows, for example) of altruism that even forgoes personal salvation (you don't hear that spoken of in the Bible, unless I'm missing something. That we model and relate to Christ or whatever you call this altruistic calling seems essential to most religions. I still think it's universal, but see this as something that divides Christianity and makes it divisive in the world. At least in application.

And the only one we seem to deal with is the Spirit. Good enough for me.

That is why what Penn said appeals to me. And since, overall I do speculate a great deal, and I often hear speculation in the voices of how others want me to understand the Trinity in specific ways, I agree it can lead to the abuses he mentions.

At 12:02 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Concepts of trinities make good theopoetry. I agree with Penn this far: that building academic theologies with them is to dangerously confuse fiction with actuality.

We like threes--like the three bears and their three basic lines--as well as dualistic divisions. More complex divisions of experience get increasingly less cogent.

We conceptionally divide God into the world and that Self which transcends all we know; but really it is all God. We can subdivide that part of God we conceive of as external to the world, into functions of (continually) creating/doing ("The Father") or relating to us as an external person ("The Son") or simply being us from inside (The Spirit--which transcends our ego and our self-image, but includes these too, as sacred creations of God.)

But this is sort of like talking about an electron as being like a particle if we're running a particle experiment, like a wave if we're running a wave-detecting experiment. Really it's neither of these, merely an electron. But the thoughts we're given are for our nourishment; speculate as far as thy appetite takes you!

I think that some Hebrews recognized the God of All in the same figure that others saw as merely the God Who Can Whup Your Tribal God. A religion may be a solid creation in the mind of God, but in our reality it diffuses into a stew of different people's personal thoughts and practices!

"He who would save his life shall lose it." Wanna tell someone with his bags packed for Heaven to take take literally? (It sure leaves me with no way to save my life, not that I wouldn't like to!)

I would say I've also met the "Father"--in the many synchronicities He likes to decorate the world with--and the "Son"--in the various messages that have clobbered me from many religions, including that of Jesus.

Altruism vs mystic connection... How to keep a clear head without the Buddhist precepts or their equivalent? How to be any real help in the midst of human suffering, how to even keep to some simple oughtses, without God's help... as we cannot, by our own efforts, add one inch to our stature?

At 3:52 p.m., Blogger Diane said...

Still mulling our conversation over, but I ran into a note a made in the middle of the night (reading from printouts or the Bible if I wake up) ...
Maybe I could ask for thoughts on this question:
What makes Jesus' relationship with God unique?

At 5:21 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

I think that the wishes of many Jesus fans would make his relationship with God unique.

I don't know whether God sees it that way--or doesn't. Jesus (later in this book if I'm not mistaken) says that anything he can do, we can (potentially) do. Hmm, but could that refer merely to external actions?

Should I copy your question as a post of its own, see what people think?

At 5:52 p.m., Blogger Diane said...

That would be fine, unless you think it is devisive in any way.

At 11:21 a.m., Blogger Hystery said...

I do not think that the relationship that Jesus had with the Divine was any more unique than any other relationship. Notice that I did not say it was not unique. It just wasn't more unique. Maybe it was better than most because he went through some process to achieve that. We can't just ride on his theological coattails. We have our own work to do. If it were impossible for all of us to achieve a similarly important and loving relationship with the Divine, I would think there would be precious little good in his ministry. Theological emphasis on the divine nature of the Christ seems to undermine the teaching itself. If we think that what he did was beyond us, what motivation do we have to go through our own process to reconcile ourselves to the Divine? It seems to me that the result of the deification of Christ in Christian history has been a whole lot of praise for him, "Lord! Lord!" But they do not do what he told them. (Luke 6.46) Lucretia Mott preached "practical righteousness" and had little patience with emphasis on the divine nature of Jesus. She agreed with Emerson who cautioned against elevating the messenger above the message.

Here again in John there may be a greater emphasis on justifying later Hellenistic tendencies to deify a public man and/or to reframe Jesus' relationship with John whose ministry preceded and likely influenced that of Jesus.

At 5:45 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

There's an assumption here, that Jesus was exercising "a ministry", like John's "ministry" only different.

My so-far conclusion is that John, as a prophet recognized by the people, though not by the hierarchy, anointed (not "baptized") Jesus as Messiah, that is, as King of Israel.

That was not a comfortable job at the time, since there were already de facto rulers with considerable military power, wealth, everything but popular legitimacy.

All this is considerably mushed over by the time the tradition reaches John's gospel; instead we are told about "the Jews" with their unaccountable opposition to this nice man with such beautiful teaching. Substitute "Judeans"== "adherents to the official Jerusalem Temple cult" and the story makes more plausible sense. There is not, at this time, much going for Jerusalem economically except as a center for pilgrimage and tithe-collection. Supporting Jesus's claim to legitimate rule looks bad for everyone's business, and far too likely to get the whole populace hung up on Roman crosses. Only the desperate rural population has much to hope for from him.

Hmmm... This was a lot for me to say about one quibble.

And what I've said could be misleading in a sense; the man was intensely political, but not merely political.

Yes, it is vital for us to do what he told us, rather than to wallow in hero worship. But we're talking about a man "wise as serpents", so what he's telling us is too simple for us to easily get.

At 11:27 a.m., Anonymous Joanna said...

Sorry to be posting here extremely late. I just found this blog.
I have found the image of the Trinity true and helpful in describing my experience of God--of the power and light that is not weakened or dimmed by anything we can do; of God's presence with us, in us, suffering our brokenness, our blindness, our death; and of the breath of God, the wind that blows where it will, the inspiraton that comes and goes and changes us but can't be held onto or explained.


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