dianoigo blog

Thursday 23 April 2020

'Believe that I Am': Encountering John's Christ in the Light of Isaiah (Part 2)

100-Word Summary

Jesus' words in John 8:12-30 are saturated with allusions to Isaiah (especially chapter 43). This article ties together these and other allusions to Isaiah in John, which collectively show that Jesus in John self-identifies as Isaiah's Servant figure but also makes for himself the divine claims that God makes for himself in deutero-Isaiah. Of particular note is the observation that Jesus' mysterious expression 'I am' (egō eimi) in John 8:24-28 is drawn from Isaiah LXX and must therefore be interpreted in light of its meaning in Isaiah—a task that will be left to the next article.

1. Introduction
2. John 8:12-20: The One Who Has Two Witnesses  
3. John 8:24: 'If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins'
4. John 8:25: The One Who Speaks at/from the Beginning
5. John 8:28: The One Who is Lifted Up  
6. Conclusion  

In the first article in this series, we discussed some background issues about the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of John and then looked briefly at the influence of the former on the latter. With this background out of the way, we are ready for the good stuff: identifying some fascinating allusions to Isaiah in the Gospel of John that help to illuminate the evangelist's Christology. Our primary focus in this article will be on two particular passages from the Septuagint (LXX) version of Isaiah and one particular passage from John, though we will bring in other passages as needed.1 These passages are Isaiah 43:1-28,2 Isaiah 52:13-53:12,3 and John 8:12-30.4 (You can read translations by clicking the links or mousing over the ellipsis [...] graphic after each one.)5 It will be argued that John 8:12-30, above all vv. 24-28, contain several striking allusions to Isaiah 43 LXX, which inform the meaning of Jesus' claims.6

John 8:12-20 records a disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees over his claim to be 'the light of the world.' Light/darkness imagery is prominent in deutero-Isaiah. Jesus' saying in John 8:127 most likely alludes to Isaiah 9:28 and 50:10.9 Jesus will take up the 'light of the world' designation again in John 9:5, as he is about to heal a blind man.10 This, and the ensuing condemnation of the Pharisees for spiritual blindness,11 evoke language from Isaiah 42 about God's Servant being 'a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind' and the ensuing discussion of spiritual blindness there.12 Notice that Jesus in John 9:41 equates blindness with sin, just as Isaiah 44:22 likens sin to darkness.13 (On healing of blindness, see also Isa. 35:514; on spiritual blindness, see Isa. 6:10 [quoted in John 12:40].15) Thus, we have every reason to situate Jesus' claim in John 8:12—and thus also the ensuing controversy—in the context of Isaiah. 

The Pharisees declare that Jesus' testimony cannot be verified because he testifies on his own behalf. Jesus alludes to the law that twofold testimony is reliable, and then declares, 'I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me' (John 8:18). Here we have our first allusion to the above-quoted passage from Isaiah 43 LXX. There, God implores Israel to 'Be my witnesses.' The text continues, '"I too am a witness," says the Lord God, "and the servant whom I have chosen"' (Isa. 43:10). Observe that this text mentions two witnesses, God and the Servant. Since we know that John understands the Servant to be Christ, this statement provides a scriptural basis for Jesus' claim to have two witnesses: himself (the Servant) and the Father (God).16

In John 8:24 we have an unmistakable allusion to Isaiah 43:10 LXX that will play an important function in the argument of this study. Here, Jesus declares, 'That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.' Compare Isaiah 43:10 LXX:
10 Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me... 24 ...in your sins and iniquities I have stood before you. 25 I am, I am the one [or: I am 'I am,' the one]17 who blots out your acts of lawlessness, and I will not remember them at all. 26 But as for you, do remember, and let us be judged; you state your acts of lawlessness first so that you may be justified.
Both key phrases in John 8:24, 'in your sins' and 'believe that I am,' are drawn from Isaiah 43 LXX. 'In your sins' (Greek: en tais hamartiais humōn) occurs twice in John 8:24. Nearly the exact same Greek expression occurs in Isa. 43:24: en tais hamartiais sou. The only difference is that the second-person pronoun in John 8:24 is plural, while in Isa. 43:24 it is singular (but refers to Israel collectively). This phrase 'in your sins' might seem fairly ordinary, but in fact it occurs only once more in the entire Septuagint.18

Then we have the expression, 'for if you do not believe that I am' (gar mē pisteusēte hoti egō eimi). This very closely follows Isaiah 43:10 LXX: 'that you may know and believe and understand that I am' (hina gnōste kai pisteusēte kai sunēte hoti egō eimi). The words 'believe...that I am' (pisteusēte hoti egō eimi) occur in both texts. Isaiah has two additional verbs, 'know' and 'understand'; John 8:28 uses a similar expression with 'know' instead of 'believe': 'then you will know that I am' (tote gnōsesthe hoti egō eimi), and John 13:19 repeats nearly the same formula as 8:24/Isa. 43:10 LXX: 'From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I am' (hina pisteusēte...hoti egō eimi). The formula 'believe that I am' occurs in the Septuagint only in Isa. 43:10. We are left with two possible conclusions: either John 8:24 has brought together two distinctive phrases from Isaiah 43 LXX by coincidence, or John 8:24 is borrowing the language of Isaiah 43 LXX. The chances of this occurring by coincidence are infinitesimal (especially given the other parallel between Isa. 43:10 and John 8:18). Surely, then, we cannot fail to see that John 8:24 is drawing on Isaiah 43 LXX. The Christological implication of this finding is simple but profound: we must interpret the expression 'I am' (egō eimi) in John through the lens of its meaning in deutero-Isaiah. Hence, Jesus' egō eimi sayings in John cannot be reduced to the ordinary, mundane sense of this expression, viz., 'I am he' or 'it is I' (though the ordinary meaning may also be present).19

More can be said about the formula found in Isa. 43:10 LXX and borrowed in John 8:24, 28 and 13:19. It is a special case of a more general formula, used almost 90 times in the Old Testament, that goes something like, 'you/they will/may know that I am the Lord [your God].' What makes Isa. 43:10 unique is that the formula ends with 'I am' rather than adding a predicate like 'the Lord.'20 The referent of the general formula in the Jewish Scriptures is always God, yet John applies the formula of Isa. 43:10 to Christ. In fact, John uses the general formula numerous other times (with predicates other than 'I am,') and where the object of belief/knowledge is named explicitly, it is always Jesus or Jesus and his Father.21 See John 1:7,22 9:36,23 10:38,24 11:42,25 14:20,26 14:29,27 17:21,28 17:23,29 19:4,30 19:35,31 and 20:31.32 This is a powerful circumstantial argument for the deity of Christ in John.

The Pharisees miss the double meaning in Jesus' statement egō eimi in John 8:24; they fail to detect that this expression conveys the ultimate truth about Jesus' identity. (Jesus' opponents will finally grasp his meaning in 8:58, prompting them to attempt to stone him.) The Pharisees take egō eimi in its ordinary sense of pointing out oneself, like 'I am he' or 'it is I' or 'that's me.' Accordingly they ask, 'Who are you?' Jesus' response is one of the most grammatically difficult clauses in the New Testament. In Greek, it reads tēn archēn ho ti kai lalō humin. Students of John have puzzled over the meaning of this phrase since antiquity, and the enduring lack of consensus can be appreciated simply by looking up the verse in a whole host of English translations. Perhaps the most common solution is to follow something like the NET's rendering, 'What I have told you from the beginning.' The NRSV, however, differs starkly: 'Why do I speak to you at all?' A reading attested in the Vetus Latina (the ancient Latin version of the New Testament that preceded the Vulgate) implies that Jesus identifies himself as 'the Beginning.' However, the main issue here is not text-critical, i.e. a dispute over the original Greek wording, but over the meaning of what is a very strangely constructed sentence.33 Much hinges on the function of the words tēn archēn ('the beginning'), and here we need to get a bit technical (if you're not up for it, skip down a few lines!) tēn archēn is accusative in case, which ordinarily would indicate that this noun is the sentence's direct object. But the direct object has no subject or verb! If we take 'I am' as the implied subject and verb, we have 'I am the beginning' (like the Vetus Latina reading). The problem is that a linking verb like eimi ('am') takes a predicate nominative, so we should have hē archē (nominative) rather than tēn archēn (accusative). This basically rules out the Vetus Latina interpretation (assuming that our Greek text is correct). The NET and many other translations have 'from the beginning.' This is equally problematic, because there is a perfectly clear way to express 'from the beginning' in Greek, and this isn't it. One would precede archē with a preposition meaning 'from' (apo or ex). Indeed, both of these constructions occur frequently in Scripture, including in John,34 suggesting John is deliberately conveying something different here.  The NRSV's 'Why do I speak to you at all?' is an attempt at an idiomatic rendering, but is not at all obvious from the syntax, and suggests exasperation, whereas Jesus goes on speaking through v. 30.

Scholars like Hanson have observed that tēn archēn as an absolute phrase can mean 'at the beginning.'35 This is exemplified in several Septuagint passages.36 With this insight in hand, a suitable translation would be something like the Young's Literal Translations, 'Even what I did speak of to you at the beginning,' or Hanson's proposal, '[I am] at the beginning what I am now saying to you.'37 Now, the obvious question that presents itself is, what 'beginning' is Jesus talking about? The beginning of his public ministry? Perhaps; this mundane sense of 'beginning' does occur, for instance, in John 2:11, 15:27, and 16:4. However, it could also be the primeval beginning mentioned in the Gospel's opening words (John 1:1-2) and again within the present discourse (8:44). Isaiah 43:9-13 LXX is helpful in deciding between these two options:
Who will declare these things? Or who will declare to you the things that were from the beginning? ... I too am a witness, says the Lord God. Even from the beginning there is also no one who rescues from my hands38
This 'beginning' is, if not the beginning of creation, certainly the beginning of Israel (i.e. the patriarchs). Although the question in Isaiah is rhetorical, Jesus' statement can be seen as an answer: I am the one who spoke to you at the beginning. 'Jesus is ambiguously claiming to be he who from the beginning has declared the course of salvation history and who was indeed there at the beginning when God created the world.'39 Why would Jesus say 'at the beginning' and not 'from the beginning' (ex archēs) as Isaiah has it? Perhaps to emphasise his pre-existence, and in this way to anticipate the bold and climactic remark of 8:58: 'Before Abraham was, I am!'

This is but one possible interpretation of what is admittedly a very difficult text, a text that may be intentionally ambiguous.40 Yet however one construes Jesus' exact meaning, it is very likely that he is alluding somehow to the question of Isaiah 43:9. This is likely because of the several other allusions to this Isaianic passage within this section of John 8, but also because of wider conceptual parallels between Isaiah and John. Numerous passages of deutero-Isaiah declare God's uniqueness on the grounds of his having existed and spoken 'from the beginning.'41 God declares that he has 'not spoken in secret nor in a dark place of the earth' (Isa. 45:19), and also repeatedly emphasises that he alone foretells events before they occur.42 Of special interest is a passage in Isaiah 48 LXX. The speaker throughout the oracle seems to be God. In v. 5, for instance, 'I declared to you the things of old; before they came upon you I made them to be heard by you.' In v. 12, 'I am the first, and I am forever. And my hand laid the foundation of the earth'. Then, in v. 16, without any obvious transition, we have one referring to 'the Lord' in the third person:
Draw near to me, and hear these things! From the beginning I have not spoken in secret; when it happened I was there, and now the Lord has sent me and his spirit.
The speaker seems to be God: he has been around since the beginning, and has not spoken in secret (echoing God's words in 45:19-21). However, he declares himself to have been sent by the Lord and his Spirit. He is, as it were, God, and yet with God.43 Certainly this language, read through early Christian eyes, is conducive to the development of 'high Christology.' What I really want to emphasise is how similar all of these statements in deutero-Isaiah are to things Jesus says about himself in John.

In Isaiah, God says he declares things before they happen? So does Jesus, in John.44 In Isaiah, God (and the mysterious figure of 48:16) have not spoken in secret? Neither has Jesus, in John.45 We could go further: in Isaiah, God knows from the beginning who will reject him,46 just as Jesus does in John.47 Thus, the claim that John 8:25 alludes to Isa. 43:9 is not some hand-waving based on vague verbal correspondences, but is based on a consistent framework whereby claims made by God in deutero-Isaiah precisely to highlight his unique deity are made by Jesus in John about himself.

We have already discussed one clause of John 8:28, 'then you will realise that I am.' However, one of John's richest allusions to Isaiah occurs in the preceding clause, 'When you lift up the Son of Man.' The Greek verb hupsoō ('lift up') occurs three other times in the Gospel. In John 3:14, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be 'lifted up' like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.48 The allusion is to Num. 21:6-9, but the LXX of this text does not use the word hupsoō and thus does not explain John's choice of verb. In John 12:31-34, Jesus makes another reference to his 'lifting up' that John explicitly tells us refers to his manner of death.49 Now, the verb hupsoō can also mean 'lift up' in the sense of 'exalt,' and is used frequently with that meaning in Isaiah LXX. Often, the object of exaltation is God,50 Isaiah also once describes God as exalting Israel.51 Most strikingly, however, the opening verse of deutero-Isaiah's fourth Servant Song (a passage that John unquestionably understood Messianically)52 states, 'See, my servant shall understand, and he shall be exalted and glorified exceedingly' (Isa. 52:13). With this text in mind, we can perceive that John uses the verb hupsoō with a double meaning: Jesus' death by crucifixion is precisely the moment of his exaltation, because by it he saves the world.

The claim that this double meaning is intended by John is bolstered by his similar use of the verb doxazō ('glorify'). This verb often occurs alongside hupsoō in Isaiah LXX, including in 52:13. In John, Jesus' death is his ultimate moment of 'glorification,' just as it is his moment of 'lifting up/exaltation.' For instance, just prior to Jesus' climactic 'lifting up' saying in John 12:31-32, he declares, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified' (12:22), a remark he explains with a metaphor about a grain of wheat dying in order to bear fruit.53 

Now, given that John understood the Servant's 'lifting up' in Isa. 52:13 LXX to be a prophecy of the manner of Jesus' glorious death, is it possible that John might also have seen a reference to Jesus' death in certain Isaianic references that describe God as 'lifted up'? Given the close identification between the Servant figure and God elsewhere in deutero-Isaiah (e.g. chapter 48), it may be worth considering. There is indeed some evidence to support this view. First and foremost, the enthroned figure in the vision of Isaiah 6 is described as 'lifted up' or 'lofty' (hupsēlos, from the same root as hupsoō) and filling the temple with his 'glory.' The figure is clearly divine, and we might never suspect it to be Christ were it not that the Evangelist tells us it is. In John 12:41, immediately after quoting from Isa. 6:9-10, the narrator remarks, 'Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.'54 Moreover, John weaves together a quotation from Isa. 53:1 with his quotation from Isa. 6:9-10. He is probably using the ancient Jewish hermeneutical technique called gezerah shavah, in which two scriptural texts are connected based on a shared word or phrase. Since 'lifting up' and 'glory' are key words throughout John 12:20-43, these are probably the words by which John connected Isaiah 6 with the fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

There is more. God's 'lifting up' in Isa. 5:16 and 30:18 is linked to judgment and mercy, just as Jesus' 'lifting up' in John 12:31-32 are linked to judgment ('Now is the time of judgment on this world') and mercy ('And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself'). Moreover, there is a close verbal parallel between John 13:31 ('Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him') and Isa. 33:10 ('Now I will be glorified, now I will be lifted up').

In this article, we have identified some fascinating allusions to Isaiah in John that shed light on the Gospel's rich Christology. At the heart of the argument was the observation that Jesus' words in John 8:24-25 are rooted in God's words in Isaiah 43 LXX. As we spread our net wider in John and in Isaiah (especially deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40-55), we found more and more allusions and connections. Among the most striking are allusions to Isa. 52:13 LXX in John's description of Jesus' death as his 'lifting up' and 'glorification,' and allusions to Isaiah 48 in John's description of Jesus declaring events before they happen and not speaking in secret. We have certainly not exhausted John's allusions to Isaiah,55 but we have compiled enough evidence to show that John's Christology cannot be understood without recourse to Isaiah. In particular, our analysis of John 8:24, 28 has shown that the mysterious expression 'I am' (egō eimi) has a layer of meaning that is drawn from deutero-Isaiah LXX. Thus, to correctly understand this phrase in John, we must first understand it in Isaiah. This will be the purpose of the third and final article in this series.

  • 1 Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from John herein are taken from the New American Bible (Revised Edition) and quotations from Isaiah are taken from the New English Translation of the Septuagint.
  • 2 1 But now thus says the Lord God, he who made you, O Iakob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. 2 And if you should pass through water, I am with you, and rivers shall not overwhelm you, and if you should go through fire, you shall by no means be burned; the flame shall not consume you, 3 because I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, who saves you... 8 And I have brought forth a blind people, and their eyes are likewise blind, and they are deaf, though they have ears! 9 All the nations have gathered together, and rulers will be gathered from among them. Who will declare these things? Or who will declare to you the things that were from the beginning? Let them bring their witnesses, and let them be justified and speak truths. 10 Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I am God, and besides me there is none who saves. 12 I declared and saved; I reproached, and there was no stranger among you. You are my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God. 13 Even from the beginning there is also no one who rescues from my hands; I will do it, and who will turn it back? 14 Thus says the Lord God, the one who redeems you, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and stir up all who are fleeing, and the Chaldeans will be bound in ships. 15 I am the Lord God, your Holy One, the one who exhibited Israel as your king. Thus says the Lord, who provides a way in the sea, a path in the mighty water, who has brought out chariots and horse and a mighty throng together; they have lain down and will not rise; they have been quenched like a wick that is quenched: 18 Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. 19 Look, I am doing new things that will now spring forth, and you will know them, and I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the dry land... 23 There are no sheep for me from your whole burnt offering, nor have you glorified me with your sacrifices, nor have I made you tired with frankincense, 24 nor have you bought me incense with silver, nor did I desire the fat of your sacrifices, but in your sins and iniquities I have stood before you. 25 I am, I am the one [or: I am 'I am,' the one] who blots out your acts of lawlessness, and I will not remember them at all. 26 But as for you, do remember, and let us be judged; you state your acts of lawlessness first so that you may be justified. 27 Your fathers first, also their rulers, acted lawlessly against me. 28 And the rulers defiled my holy things, and I gave Iakob to destroy him, and Israel for a reproach.
  • 3 13 See, my servant shall understand, and he shall be exalted [or: lifted up] and glorified exceedingly. 14 Just as many shall be astonished at you—so shall your appearance be without glory from men, and your glory be absent from the men—15 so shall many nations be astonished at him, and kings shall shut their mouth, because those who were not informed about him shall see and those who did not hear shall understand. 53:1 Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a child, like a root in a thirsty land; he has no form or glory, and we saw him, and he had no form or beauty. 3 But his form was without honor, failing beyond all men, a man being in calamity and knowing how to bear sickness; because his face is turned away, he was dishonored and not esteemed. 4 This one bears our sins and suffers pain for us, and we accounted him to be in trouble and calamity and ill-treatment. 5 But he was wounded because of our acts of lawlessness and has been weakened because of our sins; upon him was the discipline of our peace; by his bruise we were healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; a man has strayed in his own way, and the Lord gave him over to our sins. 7 And he, because he has been ill-treated, does not open his mouth; like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before the one sheering it, so he does not open his mouth. 8 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away. Who will describe his generation? Because his life is being taken from the earth, he was led to death on account of the acts of lawlessness of my people. 9 And I will give the wicked for his burial and the rich for his death, because he committed no lawlessness, nor was deceit found in his mouth. 10 And the Lord desires to cleanse him from his blow. If you give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived offspring. And the Lord wishes to take away 11 from the pain of his soul, to show him light and fill him with understanding, to justify a righteous one who is well subject to many, and he himself shall bear their sins. 12 Therefore he shall inherit many, and he shall divide the spoils of the strong, because his soul was given over to death, and he was reckoned among the lawless, and he bore the sins of many, and because of their sins he was given over.
  • 4 12 Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You testify on your own behalf, so your testimony cannot be verified.” 14 Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified, because I know where I came from and where I am going. But you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.h 16 And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me. 17 Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men can be verified. 18 I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.” 19 So they said to him, “Where is your father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the treasury in the temple area. But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. 21 He said to them again, “I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “He is not going to kill himself, is he, because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. 24 That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning. [or: at the beginning that which I tell/told you.] 26 I have much to say about you in condemnation. But the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world.” 27 They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father. 28 So Jesus said [to them], “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” 30 Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.
  • 5 The provided translation of Isaiah 43:1-28 contains a couple of ellipses due to length. I have put certain key clauses in bold for emphasis.
  • 6 This is by no means a novel idea: 'Most commentators agree that the Johannine presentation of egō eimi as the object of belief (John 8:24; 13:19) and knowledge (8:28) finds its closest parallel in Isaiah 43:10, where Yahweh calls on Israel to act as witnesses "so that you may know and believe and understand that I am" (LXX egō eimi; MT ʿanî hû)' (Catrin H. Williams, '"I Am" or "I Am He"? Self-Declaratory Pronouncements in the Fourth Gospel and Rabbinic Tradition', in Jesus in Johannine Tradition [ed. Robert T. Fortna and Tom Thatcher; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001], 347. 'But undoubtedly the scripture passage of greatest importance in connection with the whole section John 8.11-30 occurs in Isaiah 43. This is because there is not just one link, as is the case with all the other texts, but a whole series of connections." (Anthony Tyrrell Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel: Study of John and the Old Testament [London: T&T Clark, 1991], 119).
  • 7 'Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."'
  • 8 'O you people who walk in darkness, see a great light! O you who live in the country and in the shadow of death, light will shine on you!'
  • 9 'Who among you is the one who fears the Lord? Let him hear the voice of his servant. Those who walk in darkness—they have no light; trust in the name of the Lord, and lean upon God.'
  • 10 'While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.'
  • 11 39 'Then Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind." 40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains"' (John 9:39-41).
  • 12 '6 I, the Lord God, have called you in righteousness, and I will take hold of your hand and strengthen you; I have given you as a covenant to a race, as a light to nations, 7 to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out from bonds those who are bound and from the prison house those who sit in darkness... 18 Hear, you that are deaf, and you that are blind, look up to see! 19 And who is blind but my servants, and deaf but they who lord it over them? Even God's slaves have become blind. 20 You have often seen but not observed; your ears are open, but you have not heard.'
  • 13 'For see, I have blotted out your acts of lawlessness like a cloud and your sins like darkness.'
  • 14 'Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear'
  • 15 'For this people's heart has grown fat, and with their ears they have heard heavily, and they have shut their eyes so that they might not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them.'
  • 16 I want to make a further, albeit conjectural, suggestion. The most natural reading, in context, of Isa. 43:10 LXX is, 'I too am a witness...and [so is] the servant whom I have chosen.' However, it is also grammatically possible to read the Greek as, 'I too am a witness...and [I am] the servant whom I have chosen.' On this reading, God becomes Incarnate as the Servant in order to bear witness to the truth before His people—precisely what Jesus claimed was his purpose in coming into the world (John 18:37). In view of other already given that John understands the Servant to be divine, I think it is plausible that John could have read Isa. 43:10 LXX in this way, as identifying God and the Servant as 'one' (cf. John 10:30).
  • 17 Regarding the repetition of egō eimi in Isaiah 43:25 LXX, Williams writes, 'This distinctive doubling of egō eimi may well have prompted [the Fourth Evangelist] to interpret its second occurrence as a divine name: 'I am "I Am".' It would lead, moreover, to further reflection on other egō eimi passages from Isaiah that convey Yahweh's uncontested claim to be the only true God' ('"I Am" or "I Am He"?', 347).
  • 18 In Ezek. 16:52. Equivalent third-person or first-person expressions (i.e., 'in our/his/their sins') are found in 3 Kgdms 14:22, 15:3, 15:26, 15:34, 16:19, 16:26, 16:31, 22:53, 4 Kgdms 1:18, 14:6, Sir. 12:14, Ezek. 3:20, 18:24, and Dan. 9:16 OG (not Θ). The exact term from John 8:24 is also used once by Paul, in 1 Cor. 15:17.
  • 19 That John can use the expression with its ordinary meaning is clear from John 9:9, where the blind man identifies himself using this phrase. An identificatory sense of egō eimi is also clearly present in the sayings of Jesus in John 4:26, 6:20, 13:19, and 18:5-8, though we will argue in the next article that the theological sense drawn from Isaiah is present in those texts as well.
  • 20 I count 88 instances of such a formula in the Septuagint, excluding Isa. 43:10 (Ex. 6:7; 7:5; 7:17; 8:22; 10:2; 14:4; 14:18; 16:12; 29:46; 31:13; Deut. 29:6; 32:39; 3 Kdgms 21:13, 28; Ps. 45:11(46:10); Isa. 49:23; 49:26; 60:16; Jer. 9:23(9:24); 24:7; Ezek. 6:7, 13, 14; 7:4, 9, 27; 11:10; 12:15, 16, 20; 13:9, 14, 21, 23; 14:8; 15:7; 16:62; 17:24; 20:12, 20, 38, 42, 44; 22:16; 23:49; 24:24, 27; 25:5, 7, 11, 17; 26:6; 28:22, 23, 24, 26; 29:6, 9, 16, 21; 30:8, 19, 25, 26; 32:15; 33:29; 34:15, 27, 30; 35:4, 9, 12, 15; 36:11, 23, 38; 37:6, 13, 14, 28; 38:23; 39:6, 7, 22, 28; Joel 2:27, 4:17(3:17); Bar. 2:31). Only in Isa. 43:10 and Deut. 32:39 does the formula end with 'I am'.
  • 21 The only New Testament instance of the general formula outside John is in Rev. 2:23 (an allusion to Jer. 17:10), where the referent is also Christ.
  • 22 '[John] came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.'
  • 23 'He answered and said, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?"' The speaker is the healed blind man and the referent is the Son of Man, in whom Jesus has invited him to believe.
  • 24 'but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.'
  • 25 'I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.'
  • 26 'On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.' The phrase 'in/on that day' also features in many of the Old Testament prophecies about God's eschatological self-revelation.
  • 27 'And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.' The causal link between foretelling and belief here, as in John 13:19, reflects Isa. 43:9-13 LXX.
  • 28 'so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.'
  • 29 'I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.'
  • 30 'Once more Pilate went out and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him."'
  • 31 'An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe.'
  • 32 'But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.'
  • 33 There is some text-critical debate, however. Some scholars have concluded precisely from the awkwardness of the sentence that the text must be corrupt. According to Hanson (The Prophetic Gospel, 120), the great German New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann gave up on trying to interpret the text, regarding it as hopelessly corrupt. However, apart from the Vetus Latina attesting a reading that is inconsistent with the Greek text as we have it, the manuscript evidence for the reading given here is pretty secure.
  • 34 ex archēs occurs in John 6:64 and 16:4; ap' archēs occurs in 8:44 and 15:27.
  • 35 Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel, 120.
  • 36 '[Abram journeyed] to the place of the altar that he had made there at the beginning (tēn archēn)' (Gen. 13:4); 'And the seven scrawny and ugly cows ate up the first seven fair and choice cows... and their appearances were ugly as also at the beginning (tēn archēn)' (Gen. 41:21); 'We plead, lord; we came down at the beginning (tēn archēn) to purchase provisions' (Gen. 43:20, cf. v. 18); 'and while I was still speaking in my prayer, and lo, the man whom I had seen at the beginning in my sleep, Gabriel, being carried swiftly approached me at the time of the evening sacrifice' (Dan. 9:21 OG). I have followed the NETS apart from changing the translation of tēn archēn from 'at first' to the more literal 'at the beginning' in each case.
  • 37 Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel, 122; this is a translation that reflects the saying's 'definite reference to Isaiah 43.9b.' Hanson follows the more detailed analysis of E. L. Miller, 'The Christology of John 8:25', Theologische Zeitschrift Basel 36 (1980): 257-65. The verb 'speak/say/tell' (lalō) is in the present tense, but could be a historical present.
  • 38 As an aside, there may possibly be an allusion to this last clause in John 10:28-29, where Jesus says concerning his sheep, 'No one can take them out of my hand...No one can take them out of the Father's hand.' The Greek verb in John is harpazō, 'to seize,' 'to snatch.' The verb in Isa. 43:13 LXX is exaireō, which literally means 'take out.' It is frequently used (including in Isaiah LXX) in the sense of 'deliver,' and that is probably its meaning in Isa. 43:13: no one can deliver God's enemies from his hands. However, exaireō can also take on a negative sense analogous to harpazō, i.e. 'tear out' (see, e.g., Matt. 5:29). Given the references to God's 'saving' and 'redeeming' his people just prior and after this statement (vv. 12, 14), John may have read exaireō in the sense, 'there is no one who tears [my people] from my hands,' and thus found in it the basis for the saying in John 10:28-29. This is, of course, conjectural.
  • 39 Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel, 122.
  • 40 Hanson remarks, 'we must emphasise that John is deliberately being ambiguous here. He is dealing with Jesus' claim to be God, which is in the Fourth Gospel what the claim to be Messiah is in Mark's Gospel, a truth which is to some extent veiled and not openly proclaimed to the world' (The Prophetic Gospel, 121).
  • 41 'Will you not know? Will you not hear? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not known the foundations of the earth?' (40:21); 'Who has wrought and done these things? The one calling her from the beginning of generations has called her. I, God, am first, and for the things that are coming, I am' (41:4) 'For who shall declare the things that were from the beginning so that we might know them, and the former things, and we will say that they are true?' (41:26), 'As for the things that were from the beginning, see, they have come; also new things, which I myself will declare, and before they sprang forth they were made plain to you' (42:9), 'Do not cover yourselves; did you not give ear from the beginning, and I declared it to you? You are witnesses whether there is any god besides me' (44:8), 'I am, I am the Lord, speaking righteousness and declaring truth... let them draw near so that they may know together who made from the beginning these things that are to be heard' (45:21).
  • 42 'Let them draw near and declare to you the things that will happen... Declare the things that are coming at the end, and we will know that you are gods' (41:22-23); 'Who is like me? Let him stand; let him call... let them declare to you the things that are coming before they come' (44:7); 'I am God, and there is no other besides me, declaring the last things first, before they happen, and at once they come to pass' (46:9)
  • 43 I allude, of course, to John 1:1. Indeed, the verbal structure of the statement, hēnika egeneto, ekei ēmēn ('when it came into being [aorist], there I was [imperfect]' closely resembles that of John 1:1, en archē ēn ho logos... panta di' autou egeneto ('In the beginning was [imperfect] the Word... everything came into being [aorist] through him. One hardly needs to add that Jesus' having been sent by the Father is a frequently recurring idea in John.
  • 44 'Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken' (2:22); 'From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I am' (13:19); 'And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe' (14:29); 'I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you' (16:4).
  • 45 'Jesus answered him, "I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing"' (18:20). The parallel in Greek is striking: en kruptō elalēsa ouden (Isa. 48:16); en kruphē elalēsa oude (John 18:20).
  • 46 'You have neither known nor understood, nor did I open your ears from the beginning. For I knew that betraying you would betray, and that even from the womb you would be called a lawless one' (Isa. 48:8).
  • 47 'Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him' (John 6:64).
  • 48 'And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up'
  • 49 '31 Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." 33 He said this indicating the kind of death he would die. 34 So the crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. Then how can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?"'
  • 50 'A person shall be brought low, and a man shall be dishonored, and the eyes that are high shall be brought low. But the Lord Sabaoth shall be exalted in judgment, and the Holy God shall be glorified in righteousness' (Isaiah 5:15-16); 'Be glad, and rejoice, O you who dwell in Sion, because the Holy One of Israel has been exalted in your midst' (Isaiah 12:6); 'And again God will wait to have compassion on you; therefore he will be exalted to show mercy to you' (Isaiah 30:18); '"Now I will arise," says the Lord, "now I will be glorified; now I will be lifted up"' (Isaiah 33:10).
  • 51 'But on that day God will gloriously shine on the earth with counsel, to uplift and glorify what remains of Israel' (Isa. 4:2). Language about God 'glorifying' his people or his servant can be found in Isa. 44:23; 45:25; 49:5; 55:5.
  • 52 This is clear because (i) John quotes Isa. 53:1 in John 12:37-38 and interprets it as fulfilled by unbelief in Jesus; (ii) John the Baptist's identification of Jesus as 'the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29) likely alludes to Isa. 53:6-12, about the lamb/sheep that goes to the slaughter and bears the sins of many; (iii) Jesus' statement in John 5:41 that he does not receive 'glory from men' likely alludes to Isa. 52:14 LXX, which states that the Servant's appearance is 'without glory from men'; (iv) Jesus' silence before Pilate in John 19:9 likely alludes to Isa. 53:7, which mentions the lamb's/sheep's silence; (v) John 19:38-39 (in which Jesus is buried by two rich men who follow him but were unwilling to do so openly) is seen by some as an allusion to Isa. 53:9 ('And I will give the wicked for his burial and the rich for his death').
  • 53 '23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."'
  • 54 In context, 'his glory' can only mean 'Christ's glory.' For other uses of 'his glory' in reference to Christ in this Gospel, see John 1:14; 2:11.
  • 55 Two more possible allusions that space did not allow us to discuss are the references to Jesus being struck and scourged (John 18:22-23; 19:1), which parallel Isaiah 50:6 LXX ('I have given my back to scourges and my cheeks to blows, but I did not turn away my face from the shame of spittings'), and Jesus' demand before the high priest, 'If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong' (John 18:23). This, together with his question, 'Can any of you charge me with sin?' (8:46) parallel God's demands for Israel to bear witness and judge in Isaiah 43:9-12, 26 and 44:8.


Kepha said...

As for John and the OT, I read a book on John's use of Ezekiel. It seems that John knew his OT. But, here's another: In John 12, a bat kol testifies to Jesus, as the bat kol testified to Moses at Sinai and to Elijah when he was in hiding. Is this to tell the Jews that one greater than Moses and the Prophets has come? I'm of the mind that the "anti-Judaism" of John is not so much a testimony to the final break of church and synagogue, but an intra-mural continuance of the "prophetic lawsuit" found in the OT. This may be hard to get for a people raised on post-enlightment self-congratulation, but the origins of the West's self-critical spirit lie not in Athens, but Jerusalem.

Tom said...

Thanks Kepha for this insightful comment. Indeed, the point about 'the Jews' in the Gospel of John is well taken. You might like Christopher M. Blumhofer's new book, The Gospel of John and the Future of Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2020). He regards the Gospel as an inner-Jewish narrative argument on the future of Israel. He prefers to use the transliteration Ioudaioi rather than 'Jews' to help distinguish the opponents targeted in the Gospel from those whom modern readers might associate with the term 'Jews.' I think this should be standard practice among Christian preachers today when preaching from the Gospel of John.