Friday, December 06, 2013

Jesus' Childhood Outside The Infancy Narratives (Part 6): John And Revelation

John 1:15 implies that John the Baptist was born before Jesus, which agrees with Luke's gospel. See Lydia McGrew's post here. John the Baptist's comments in that verse would make less sense if he was born after Jesus. The context in John 1 is about Jesus' deity and preexistence, his existence prior to his life on earth. If Jesus was born before John, then John's comments make less sense, since, under that scenario, Jesus' existing before John wouldn't imply anything significant in the context of John 1's emphasis on Jesus' deity and preexistence. By contrast, if John was born before Jesus, yet John says that Jesus existed before him, that has a lot of significance. So, John 1:15 makes the most sense if the passage is agreeing with Luke's gospel about the order in which John and Jesus were born.

John's gospel also repeats some of the other themes about Jesus' childhood found in other sources. Jesus is from Nazareth (1:45), had a father named Joseph (1:45, 6:42), was Mary's firstborn (implied by his responsibility for Mary in 19:26-7), has siblings (7:3-10), and is sinless (8:46).

Recall what I said earlier, when discussing the other gospels, about John the Baptist's anticipation of Jesus' adult ministry and the initial responses to John and Jesus. The same principles apply to the fourth gospel.

In John 2:3, Mary seems to be aware of Jesus' ability to perform miracles, and in 2:5 she expresses a high view of his character, even though Jesus had just rebuked her in verse 4. Notice, also, that even though John's gospel often addresses people's unbelief, and John comments on the significance of the unbelief of Jesus' brothers in 7:5, there is no comment in the John 2 passage or elsewhere about unbelief on Mary's part. Not only is Mary's high view of Jesus consistent with what she's reported to have experienced in the infancy narratives, but her combination of faith and sin (which Jesus rebukes in verse 4) is consistent with her wavering described in Luke's account of Jesus' childhood (Luke 2:34-35, 2:48-50).

John 7:42 implies that John accepted Jesus' Davidic ancestry and birth in Bethlehem. (For a discussion of John 7 as a whole and other relevant passages in John's gospel, see here and here.) Frederick Dale Bruner explains:

Yes, a majority of scholars believes, John knew about Jesus' birth in Bethlehem as recorded in Matthew and Luke and, therefore, John is being ironic when he hears the opponents of Jesus' messiahship objecting that Jesus of Nazareth is not the Davidic Jesus of Bethlehem whom Scripture predicted (Mic. 5:1): Bengel, 623; Meyer, 244; Godet, 2:81 ("John often takes pleasure in reporting objections which, for his readers who are acquainted with the Gospel history, turn immediately into proofs"); Westcott, 1:280; Bernard, 1:286; Hoskyns, 324; Brown, 1:330; Schnackenburg, 1:158-59, and Barrett, 330-331. (The Gospel Of John [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2012], 498)

While discussing the use of irony in Josephus, the Josephan scholar Steve Mason cites the example of irony in John's gospel:

The most famous example is probably the Gospel of John, which includes an authoritative divine prologue (1.1-18) concerning Jesus' heavenly origin (cf. John 3.11-21; 5.19-47; 6.35-58; 8.12-58; 10.1-38). The repeated claims of ignorant characters in the story to certain knowledge of Jesus' origins (John 1.45-6; 6.42; 7.41-3) are devastating because the audience - any audience at any time - knows otherwise. (Josephus, Judea, And Christian Origins [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], 74)

Remember, John 7:42 refers to both Davidic ancestry and coming from Bethlehem. Since John reacts to both in the same manner, he probably held the same view of both (accepted both, was agnostic about both, or rejected both). It's unlikely that a Christian as prominent as John, writing in the late first century, would have been agnostic about or have denied one of those two concepts. The notion that he was agnostic about or denied both is even more unlikely. Davidic ancestry is affirmed as early as Paul's letters (e.g., Romans 1:3) and Mark's gospel, where its affirmation is placed on the lips of Jesus and his contemporaries (10:47-48, 11:10, 12:35-37). And Davidic ancestry is affirmed elsewhere in the Johannine literature (Revelation 3:7, 5:5, 22:16). Both Davidic ancestry and the Bethlehem birthplace are found in early patristic Christianity among individuals and churches who were relationally and geographically close to John (e.g., Ignatius of Antioch, Letter To The Smyrnaeans, 1; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:16:4).

More significantly, notice how John's narrative develops after 7:42. In John 8:12, Jesus seems to be alluding to Isaiah 9:1-2. The account of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 wasn't part of the original gospel. Therefore, John 8:12 originally came just after 7:52. That latter verse refers to Galilee and Jesus' background there. Jesus then refers to himself as a light to people walking in darkness. The theme of a light shining in Galilee for those walking in darkness is found in Isaiah 9:1-2. The passage goes on to refer to God being born as a man, as the promised Davidic Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7; cf. 11:1, 11:10). Isaiah 9 and the context in John 7 that Jesus is responding to in 8:12 are both addressing issues of origins, which provides another parallel and further evidence that Jesus is primarily alluding to the light of Isaiah 9 rather than some other light. Though Jesus' comment in John 8:12 primarily answers what was said in 7:52, it also answers earlier comments, like what we find in 7:42 (verse 41, like verse 52, objects to Jesus on the basis of his association with Galilee, which Jesus is addressing in 8:12). As I've noted above, 7:42 links Davidic ancestry and a Bethlehem birthplace, as we see the two linked in Matthew, Luke, and other early sources. By identifying himself as the light of Isaiah 9, Jesus is implying his role as the Davidic Messiah, which in turn implies the Bethlehem birthplace. Thus, John 8:12 has Jesus himself publicly corroborating multiple aspects of the infancy narratives, and John's recording of the incident in his gospel tells us that John held the same view.

Notice, also, that John's account is corroborated to some extent by Matthew. Just as John has Jesus fulfilling Isaiah 9 both as a child and as an adult, so does Matthew's gospel (4:12-16).

A couple of other passages in the Johannine literature are worth mentioning.

The first is John 8:41. Jesus' opponents, by using an emphatic "we" (think of the word as if it's in italics), might be contrasting themselves to Jesus. Thus, there would be an allusion to the charge that Jesus was born illegitimately. But they could be contrasting themselves to some other individual or group rather than contrasting themselves to Jesus. A criticism of Jesus based on his alleged illegitimate birth is probable in Mark 6:3 and was common in ancient extrabiblical literature. I'm not aware of any way to demonstrate that John 8:41 probably is raising the issue, but there's a high possibility that it's there. So, while the passage isn't as significant as, say, John 8:12, it does serve as an additional caution against concluding that the infancy narratives aren't corroborated by other early sources.

The other passage I have in mind is Revelation 12. In verse 4, it's possible that John is alluding, in part or in whole, to the Slaughter of the Innocents. But since the Christ child is taken up into Heaven while still a child (verse 5), his infancy seems to represent Jesus' whole life, not just his time as a small child. He's portrayed as an infant relative to the woman, since his earthly life was so brief in comparison to the woman's. There's no implication that the dragon's actions had to occur when Jesus was young. The phrase "when she gave birth" could be taken as referring to an event just after birth rather than later in life. But the Slaughter of the Innocents apparently didn't occur until around two years into Jesus' life (Matthew 2:16). That's early, but not "when she gave birth". Besides, since the child in Revelation 12 is portrayed as a child throughout his life, how would we know just how early an event would have to be to correspond to "when she gave birth"? The dragon's attempt to devour the child, if it was even carried out rather than merely desired, could occur at any time up until near the end of Jesus' life. The crucifixion would be the best candidate, if one event has to be singled out. But it's possible that John had more than one event in mind, including the Slaughter of the Innocents. I see no way to prove it, however. I'd say that there's only a possibility, not a probability, of an allusion to the Slaughter here. The reference to the dragon's attempt on the child's life may just refer to some sort of spiritual opposition, without the crucifixion, the Slaughter, or any other such event in mind. On the other hand, we can derive some basic information about Jesus' childhood from the passage regardless, namely that he was born as a Jew (implied by the woman's Jewish associations in verse 1 [see Genesis 37:9] and the child's Messianic identity), was the Messiah who will rule the world, and overcame Satan's efforts against him (including during his childhood, but not limited to that timeframe). Thus, Revelation 12 only corroborates some of the most basic, least controversial aspects of the infancy narratives.

5 comments:

  1. I've just added some comments about John 19:26-7 to the post above.

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  2. I've just added some comments about John 1:15.

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  3. I've added the following comments to the section on John 2:

    Notice, also, that even though John's gospel often addresses people's unbelief, and John comments on the significance of the unbelief of Jesus' brothers in 7:5, there is no comment in the John 2 passage or elsewhere about unbelief on Mary's part.

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  4. Here are a couple more sentences I've added:

    (For a discussion of John 7 as a whole and other relevant passages in John's gospel, see here.)

    Isaiah 9 and the context in John 7 that Jesus is responding to in 8:12 are both addressing issues of origins, which provides another parallel and further evidence that Jesus is primarily alluding to the light of Isaiah 9 rather than some other light.

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  5. I've edited one of the sentences mentioned in my last comment, in order to include another link:

    (For a discussion of John 7 as a whole and other relevant passages in John's gospel, see here and here.)

    ReplyDelete