Lectionary Year B
April 2, 2000
John 3:14-21

Step IV: Broader Context


(JFC) A. PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY

The fourth Gospel seems to have been written originally in Greek to help early Christians in their attempts to understand, refine and deepen the faith they found in Jesus as the Christ. These earliest Christians were still in the youth of the movement based on Jesus’ sayings and doings. Christianity is still admittedly a mystery to many in the first century. Questions arise when believers analyze what they believe, in whom they believe and what they are to do based on whose authority and example. When believers’ faith is stimulated by new and different people, events and teachings, their faith provoked by other data, tend to argue the validity of the new forms of faith. Other, more popular religions surround Christianity as it is being developed. Though the people then and there were hardly as competitive as we here and now have become, still challenges of traditions could stimulate intense discussions.

(JFC) B. OLD TESTAMENT AND JUDAISM

As we have seen, the fourth Gospel both admits a Judaistic background and challenges Jews to put their trust in Jesus as the Messiah. In the pericope at hand, we find allusions to the story of Moses’ raising a serpent in the desert in Numbers 21:4-9.
Also, in the margin of Nestle-Aland, NTG, we get referred to Isaiah 52:13’s prophesying “See, my servant shall prosper and he shall be lifted up, and shall be very high.”
Furthermore, our Gospel lesson’s verse 20 speaking of evil lurking in darkness, reminds us of Job 24:13-17, where rebels, murderers, thieves, adulterers, vandals, terrorists, etc., avoid the light and operate in darkness.
The final verse of our pericope (21) could come from Tobit 4:6 (225-175 BCE, Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Book), on “every day practical, moral, and sapiental aspects of being and doing good” (NRSV Introduction to Tobit), and “those who act in accordance with truth will prosper in all their activities.”
II Baruch 18:2 (first or second decade of the second century CE) tells also of many seeking darkness for questionable deeds when light was availed for them.
Similarly, from late first century CE, II Enoch, says, “then the Lord will send out his great light, and in darkness the judgement will take place.” The Odes of Solomon 9:7 (late first or early second century CE), says those knowing God “may not perish and those who receive him may not be ashamed”. This verse reminds us of John 3:16f.

(JFC) C. HELLENISTIC WORLD

Surely, the whole idea of Jesus as the logos would get the Hellenists’ attention. And, if the Gospel of John seems to be the most philosophical of the Gospels, the Hellenists would certainly like it. Since we have so many symbolical terms in the pericope at hand, these Greek speaking Jewish Christians, scattered throughout Asia Minor, could most likely appreciate the figurative images as well as enjoy discussing their meanings. For example, the concept of doing what is true, is a notion that requires dialogue to begin to comprehend. Somewhere its noted that Hellenists had developed a confidence in philosophy as the way to truth. Is that sentiment what they could recall when reading in this passage of doing what is true?
Furthermore, Hellenists could appreciate this text’s dichotomies of perishing and having eternal life and of light and darkness and of condemning the world and saving the world.
Then, too, Hellenism emphasizes dualism such as flesh and spirit and life born of blood or of will of flesh or of man and life via rebirth as the Gospel of John highlights regularly.
Hellenists could enjoy hearing and/or reading about no condemnation for those who believe in the Son. They would probably object to the condemnation already for those not so believing, if, in fact, they could imagine such.

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