Monday, September 3, 2012
'Knowledge' In John 1-2
In preparation for The Gospel of John class that I am teaching at my church, I have begun writing annotated notes that I will fill-out more completely with the secondary literature as I go. I am also refraining from reading ahead, as I want to sort out the flow of the text as it was heard or performed for those hearing it for the first time. So, connections that occur later in the text will not be made here.
With those caveats aside, I was struck by the references to knowledge in the Gospel's opening chapters (1-2). Here are some of those observations:
1) The Word (ὁ λόγος) as the 'light' (τὸ φῶς) shines in the darkness, but paradoxically, the darkness does not 'overcome/understand it' (καταλαμβάνω; 1.5).
2) John is sent in part, to testify concerning the light, so all may believe (πάντες πιστεύσωσιν; 1.7)
3) Even though the Word created the world (1.3, 10), the world did not 'recognize' (form of γινώσκω; 1.10) him, nor did they 'receive' him (1.11).
4) For those who do receive the Word, however, by 'believing in his name' (τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ; 1.12; cf. 2.23), they are given the privilege of becoming 'children of God'.
5) Jesus, identified as the Word in 1.17, himself God, makes God known (form of ἐξηγέομαι; 1.18).
6) The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem send priests and Levites to question Jesus, and after John's negative responses to their questions, he tells them, "...among you stands one you do not know" (οὐκ οἴδατε; 1.26)
7) Ironically, John claims that he himself did not know (οὐκ ᾔδειν 1.31,33) who Jesus was until after God instructs exactly what will happen during Jesus' baptism (1.33-34). Interestingly, here, 'sight' is connected with knowledge ( 'I saw[τεθέαμαι] the Spirit come down...' [1.32]; 'The man on whom you see [form of εἶδον]the Spirit come down...' [1.33]) Also, of interest here is John's double designation of Jesus as 'the Lamb of God' (vv.29, 35), after 'seeing' Jesus.
8) Jesus 'sees' John's disciples, asks them, 'What do you want?' When they respond, 'Where are you staying?, ' his response is 'Come, and you will see' (1.37-39).
9) Andrew summons his brother, Simon Peter, tells him that he has found the Messiah, with the other unnamed disciple (vv.41-42), and when Jesus 'looks' at Peter, he renames him, indicating intimate knowledge of his character (v.42)
10) After Nathanael skeptically asks, Philip, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Philip responds just as Jesus' does to John's two disciples in 1.39, 'Come and see' (1.46b). Jesus identifies Nathanael, keeping in step with what the reader knows to this point of the Word in the prologue (1.3,10,18). When Nathanael incredulously asks Jesus how he 'knows' (γινώσκω; v.48) him, Jesus responds by telling him 'he saw' (εἶδον) him under the fig tree before Philip found him (v.48). : Nathanael responds by giving Jesus three appellations: 'Rabbi' (cf. 1.38), 'Son of God' (cf. 1.14,18), and 'King of Israel'. This naming is also making an implicit claim on the part of Nathanael, that he 'knows' who Jesus is.
11) Jesus' response to Nathanael is telling: "You will see (εἶδον) greater things than that. ...you will see (ὄψεσθε) heaven open, and the angles of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (1.51, quoting Gen 28.12).
What is telling about this verse, is that in the previous Nathanael, thinks he knows Jesus when he gives him the three titles, but Jesus in essence, tells him that he has seen nothing yet, and instead of adopting one of Nathanael's titles, gives himself the title 'Son of Man' (cf. Daniel 7.14).
In chapter 2, the narrative begins with the first sign (2.11) that Jesus performs, namely, the wedding at Cana (2.1-12). After Jesus instructs the servants of the wedding to fill the six stone jars with water (2.7), he then asks them to pour some out and take it to the master of the banquet (2.8). Next, the master tastes the water turned to wine, and the narrator states: "he did not realize (οὐκ ᾔδει; cf. 1.10) where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew" (ᾔδεισαν; 2.9).
Skipping down to the end of chapter two, while at the Passover festival, Jesus performed many 'signs' (τὰ σημεῖα; cf. 2.11 ) that the people saw (θεωροῦντες; cf. 1.32) and believed in his name (ἐπίστευσαν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ; 2.23; cf. 1.12). With this language recalling the privilege of being called children of God ringing in the readers ears, along with similar language found at the conclusion of his first 'sign' affecting his disciples (2.11; cf. 1.12-14), one would expect the next two verses to be a positive in Jesus' nascent ministry. Instead, the narrator shocks the reader, by stating that "Jesus would not entrust himself to them (ἐπίστευεν αὐτὸν αὐτοῖς), for he knew (τὸ αὐτὸν γινώσκειν)all people (2.24). He did not need human testimony about them, for he knew all people (ἐγίνωσκεν; 2.25).
Concluding observations: So what does all of this 'knowing' language point to in the first two chapters of John's Gospel? So far, a few things are evident. First, only God's Son really knows anything. Jesus reveals God, making him known (1.18), renames Simon Peter (1.42), identifies Nathanael's character (1.47), while revealing intimate knowledge of his actions (1.48), knows the intentions of those who believe in him solely due to his miracles (i.e. 'signs'; 2.24-25).
The Jewish leaders are presented as those who abide in darkness and do not recognize or receive Jesus (1.19-27; 2.18-21; cf. 1.5; 10-11). Even those on the inside, namely, John (1.33), Andrew (1.41), Philip (1.44), Nathanael (1.49) all have incomplete knowledge of him at best. Those who follow his signs, including his disciples (2.11; 2.23) have missed knowing Jesus truly and completely.