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The Sabbath in the Gospel of John
by Jon Paulien
The Sabbath in the Gospel of John is of interest to this project(1) for at least two reasons. First, the Sabbath occurs in four different locations in the Gospel of John.(2) No study of the Sabbath in the New Testament would be complete without an examination of these texts. Second, John 5:17-18 provides, in the minds of many Sunday-keeping scholars, the definitive evidence that Jesus abolished the Sabbath as a requirement for those who follow him.
We will examine, therefore, the various occurrences of the Sabbath in the Gospel of John, with special emphasis on the Sabbath conflict miracles in chapters 5 and 9.(3) We will do so in conversation with earlier scholarship, including representatives of those who disagree regarding the ongoing validity of the Sabbath for Christians.
The Four Sabbath Texts in John
The first reference to the Sabbath is found in John 5:9 and following, at the heart of the story about a paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. Healing the man gets both Jesus and the former paralytic in trouble. The second reference to the Sabbath in John is found in 7:22-23. Jesus briefly draws the attention of “the Jews” back to the Sabbath healing of chapter 5.
The third reference to the Sabbath is found in John 9:14, 16. Jesus heals a man born blind on the Sabbath day, using a poultice made from mud. The healed man not only comes to believe in Jesus, but argues ably in His behalf. The fourth and final reference to the Sabbath in John is found in the story of the crucifixion, John 19:31. It notes the ritual concern of the Jews that the victims of the crucifixion not hang on the cross during Sabbath hours.(4)
John 5:17-18 as Evidence for
the Abolition of the Sabbath
John 5:17-18 is seen as evidence for the early abolition of the Sabbath by a number of NT scholars. Nevertheless, there is little agreement among them in terms of how the passage should be read. Barnabas Lindars,(5) Rudolf Bultmann,(6) and Heather McKay,(7) for example, argue from John 5:17 that God is not bound to rest on the Sabbath and the same liberty belongs to His Son. Bultmann goes even further to state that in chapter 5, Jesus asserts this liberty and extends it to those who follow Him by ordering the healed man to carry his bedroll on the Sabbath (8-12).(8)
Paul Jewett, Herold Weiss, Oscar Cullmann and Willy Rordorf argue from John 5:17 that the decisive rest of God was not achieved at the end of the first creation. God’s work of salvation continued “until now” and was completed in Jesus Christ. The Sabbath, therefore, was a foretaste of the new creation rest in Christ. In fulfilling the ultimate intent of the Sabbath by His redemptive work, Christ set it aside, to be replaced by Sunday or by a daily celebration of redemption.(9)
There is a third major approach that assumes a negation of the Sabbath in John 5:17-18. Rudolf Schnackenburg argues on the basis of the Greek behind “was breaking” in John 5:18 (NIV) that Jesus not only violated the Sabbath, but completely abolished it.(10) Schnackenburg, therefore, takes the statement of 5:18 at face value. Jesus both made Himself equal with God and broke the Sabbath.(11) Beside these major positions, there are a couple of other Sabbath-abolishing approaches that are too idiosyncratic to gain wide support.(12)
Dale Ratzlaff takes something of an “all of the above” approach.(13) Like Bultmann, he argues that Jesus has a divine right to work on the Sabbath and extends that right to the healed man by ordering him to carry his bedroll.(14) Like Rordorf and others he argues that the primary purpose of the Sabbath law was to point forward to the salvific work of Christ.(15) And like Schnackenburg, he accepts the statements of John 5:18 at face value. Jesus was breaking the Sabbath.(16) He unites these arguments with a covenantal perspective(17) that he imports from his study of other parts of Scripture.(18)
What all these scholars have in common is the belief, as Bacchiocchi puts it, that John 5:17-18 is “an implicit (if not explicit) annulment of the Sabbath commandment.”(19) Jesus replaces the Sabbath with Sunday or an ever-present rest in the finished work of Christ. This essay will not attempt a point by point refutation of the arguments offered by these scholars. Instead, we will carefully investigate the Sabbath texts in the Gospel to understand their meaning in the larger context. We will then conclude with the implications of the exegetical analysis for the debate over the ongoing validity of the Sabbath for Christians.
The Purpose of John’s Gospel
We begin our examination of the Sabbath in the Gospel of John with a brief summary of the purpose for which the Gospel was written. Understanding the purpose of the Gospel is crucial to understanding how the Sabbath functions in the places where it appears, particularly in chapter 5. Out of the four gospels in the New Testament, only Luke (Luke 1:1-4) and John (John 20:30-31) have clear statements of purpose. It would be foolish to examine the purpose of either gospel without careful attention to the statements of purpose placed in each.
John expresses the purpose of his gospel in the following words (John 20:30-31, ESV):
“30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
We are told here that the events recorded in the Fourth Gospel are selected from a much larger body of events. There is a purpose in the selection. It is “so that” (translates a Greek expression of purpose) the reader may believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God” and in so doing experience life at its fullest.(20) Since the latter is the consequence of the former, the crucial purpose of the Gospel is to convince the reader that Jesus is the Messiah of Jewish expectation,(21) and more than this, that He is the Logos, who was with the Father from the beginning. The Sabbath miracles chosen by John uniquely serve this purpose of the Gospel.(22)
The Prologue of the Gospel
In the Prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-18), the author summarizes its main themes. Before Creation, the Word was already in existence (John 1:1a) and was a constant companion of the Father (1:1b, 18). While distinct from “God” (the Father), He completely shared the divine nature (1:1c). Not only this, He was the God of creation.(23) Apart from Him, not a single thing was made (1:3). The identity of Jesus is clearly central to the opening verses of the Gospel.
John then introduces two creation themes that will be crucial for our main texts. Jesus is the source of both life and light (1:4-5). In the main body of the Gospel He brings life to the paralytic in chapter 5 and light to the blind man in chapter 9. These stories become real-life parables, demonstrating who Jesus really is and how human beings should regard Him. Both of these healing miracles occur on the Sabbath, further reminders of the original creation week in Genesis.(24)
The Prologue moves to a stirring conclusion in verses 14-18. Though the Word always “was” (1), in verse 14 He “became” (Greek), the same term used to describe the original creation in 1:3 and Genesis 1. The Word went from being “with God” (1-2) to being “with us” (14). Although He does not replace Moses (1:17), He and His mission certainly exceed who Moses was and what he was able to accomplish for God.(25) The One who was always “with God” (John 1:1-2), who is now again at the Father's side (1:18), this is the One who became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14).
The Prologue to John, therefore, interprets everything that happens in the Gospel in the larger perspective of eternity. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus says and does things that only make sense in the light of His identity in the Prologue. In light of this introduction, it is clear to the reader why “the Jews” and others in the Gospel had such a hard time understanding many of Jesus’ sayings and actions. While readers know what the Prologue says, the characters in the stories do not.
John 20:30-31 clearly states the purpose of the Gospel of John: to bring the reader to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. The identity of Jesus, who is the object of Johannine faith, is clearly stated in the Prologue to the Gospel (1:1-18). The body of the Gospel, then, portrays human beings in the earthly context grappling with who Jesus really is. It is in the latter context that the Sabbath conflict stories of John 5 and 9 are set.
The Sabbath Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5)
The Preceding Context
The identity of Jesus is at the heart of the narrative in John 1:19 - 4:54. This section begins with a debate between John the Baptist and “the Jews” (Pharisees– John 1:19, 24) regarding “the Christ” (the Messiah– 1:19-28). John then identifies Jesus as the Messiah (1:30) and the Son of God (1:34), titles central to the purpose statement of John 20:30-31.
The next chapter introduces the theme of believing(26) as the appropriate human response to the words and deeds of Jesus (John 2:11, 22-23).(27) Then Nicodemus, being impressed with what Jesus did in the temple (John 3:2), struggles to make sense of it.(28) In story after story, the Gospel portrays people wrestling with the issue of who Jesus is and how to explain His words and actions.
In chapter 4 we encounter two more responses to the words and actions of Jesus. The Samaritan woman, somewhat like Nicodemus, is skeptical of Jesus at first. But after He reveals His prophetic insight into her life, she becomes totally receptive to Him. Then, the encounter with the royal official at the end of chapter 4 again highlights faith as a response to who Jesus is (4:46-54). In a real sense, the healings of 4:46-54 and 5:1-9 are quite similar, so the second sign at Cana (4:54) sets the stage for the healing sign of chapter 5.(29)
Chapters 2-4 also prepare the way for the healing at Bethesda by introducing the themes of temple and water.(30) The ineffectual healing water at Bethesda (5:2, 7) recalls the ineffectual waters of purification at Cana (2:6). Nicodemus is informed that he must be born of both water and the spirit (3:5). Jesus begins his encounter with the Samaritan woman by requesting a drink of water (4:7). He then offers the woman living water (4:10, 14).
The mention of the temple in John 5:14 is anticipated by the Passover cleansing of the temple in 2:14-17.(31) Jesus’ cleansing of the temple did not result in faith on the part of “the Jews,” instead it led to confrontation. While John 2 sets the stage for John 5, the decisive difference is that Jesus’ sign in John 5 occurs on the Sabbath. If the healing of the paralytic had occurred on any other day, it would not have caused a stir, any more than the healing of the royal official’s son in chapter 4 did (46-54). While the core issue of the Gospel has to do with the identity of Jesus, the Sabbath plays a central role in how that issue works itself out in chapter 5, as we will see.
An Exegesis of John 5
John 5 centers on a story of conflict between Jesus and “the Jews.”(32) The conflict arises on account of a Sabbath healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-14), which lies today just north of the temple mount in the vicinity of St. Anne’s church.(33) In the story, Jesus healed the man arbitrarily. He picked one man out of a whole crowd of people; a man who hadn’t sought Jesus out, a man who didn’t even know Him, a man who expressed no faith in Him before being healed.(34) Jesus also clearly chose to heal the man on the Sabbath.(35) It was not an accident, the timing was deliberate.(36) The rabbis allowed for healing on the Sabbath in emergencies, but this was no emergency.(37) After all, since the man had been crippled for thirty-eight years, a day or two’s delay for the sake of the Sabbath would not have made a major difference.(38) So Jesus was deliberately making a point here.(39)
The man’s responses make it clear that he had no idea who Jesus was in human terms, much less in the cosmic perspective of the Prologue (John 5:7, 11). In contrast, the reader is well aware of Jesus’ divine origin (1:1-2) and miraculous powers (2:1-11; 4:46-54).(40) Taking up the bed roll and walking (John 5:8-9a) was not part of the healing itself, but the proof that the healing had occurred.(41)
It is at this point in the story that the author introduces the crucial detail.(42) The healing had taken place on the Sabbath day (5:9b). This introduces a decisive complication into the narrative and changes the whole direction of the action to follow.(43) The Sabbath is central to the purpose of this chapter in the Gospel.(44) The whole matter comes to a head when the man, after finding out who had healed him (5:14(45)), immediately goes to “the Jews” and identifies that it was Jesus who had healed him (5:15).(46)
In John 5:18 the religious leaders level two distinct charges against Jesus. They accuse him, first of all, of breaking the Sabbath and, second of all, of making Himself equal with God. Actually, both claims are false in the context of the Gospel.(47) While there are strong statements in the Gospel that assert Jesus’ equality with God in the ultimate sense (1:1; 10:30; 20:28), “the Jews” in this text accuse Him of “making Himself” equal with God, something He would have no right to do if He were merely human, as the religious leaders perceive Him. The very point of John 5:19-30 is to argue that Jesus’ divine work is directly authorized by His Father.
The issue of Sabbath breaking is not taken up directly until chapter seven, where there is a clear reference back to the Sabbath healing at Bethesda (7:21-23).(48) In that passage Jesus clearly denies being a Sabbath breaker. He justifies the Sabbath healing on the grounds that circumcision is not postponed on the Sabbath (7:23).(49) The argument is quite logical, from an ancient Jewish perspective. Circumcision on the Sabbath appears to be breaking the Sabbath law, but it is necessary in order to make a small part of a baby boy conform to God’s will. Making an entire person conform to God’s will would be even more important on the Sabbath.(50) It would fulfill the creation purpose of the original institution.(51) So in Jesus’ own mind He was honoring the Sabbath.(52) He was disputing their inconsistent practice of the Law’s principles (7:24).(53)
In light of chapter seven, let’s return to the assertion of John 5:18 (NIV) that Jesus “was breaking the Sabbath.” The Greek translated “was breaking” (e;luen) readily means to destroy something (2:19) or to violate the law (7:23, cf. Matt 5:19) in John, so the translation is not at issue here. We need to keep in mind, however, that the claim of Sabbath-breaking does not come from Jesus’ mouth or the pen of the evangelist, rather it is an accusation from His opponents. And throughout the Gospel “the Jews” are portrayed as very unreliable characters, their opinion on this question should not be taken at face value.(54)
To argue that Jesus here annuls the Sabbath through these words (as Schnackenburg does(55)), therefore, is to hold the same position as Jesus’ accusers, a charge Jesus explicitly refuses to admit in John 7:21-24.(56) Jesus also states later on (John 10:35) that Scripture cannot be “broken” (luqh/nai). Why would we accept the characterization of His enemies rather than His own testimony regarding Himself?(57) Jesus’ healing of the paralytic did not abolish the Sabbath, He was acting as God’s agent to do what God does on the Sabbath, as noted in the previous verse.(58)
In John 5:17 (NIV), Jesus summarizes his response to the accusation of Sabbath breaking (John 5:16, 18). Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”(59) Jesus asserts that His Sabbath work involves participation in God’s ongoing work to sustain and redeem His creation.(60) Behind this assertion lay a long history of Jewish debate about the relation of God to the Sabbath. It was clear to Jews of the time that God could not stop working on Sabbath or life as we know it would cease.(61) God’s ongoing action on the Sabbath was clear to them from the fact that children are born and nourishing rain occurs on that day. While various ancient Jewish thinkers justified God’s actions in different ways,(62) there was a general consensus that God is able to work on the Sabbath without in any way breaking the Sabbath.(63)
Jesus’ assertion that God is always at work, therefore, would have gone over well with his accusers if He had left it at that. His claim that He had the same right as God to work on Sabbath did not go over well.(64) “The Jews” clearly understood Him to be claiming prerogatives that belonged to God alone.(65) To the reader of the Gospel, Jesus’ claim made perfect sense in light of the Prologue. The religious leaders, on the other hand, were enraged that He might consider Himself equal with God.(66)
So the introduction of the Sabbath in chapter 5 served to highlight the identity of Jesus.(67) If He was truly the Messiah, the Son of God, then He did not really break the Sabbath. Instead, He did what God always does on the Sabbath, sustain and rescue His creation.(68) He was not usurping the power and authority of God, He was doing what the Logos had done from the beginning (John 1:1-3). As the Creator, He was the author of the Sabbath and was therefore Lord of how to keep it (cf. Matt 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).
With Jesus’ statement in John 5:17, therefore, the story turns once more. It is no longer centered on the Sabbath, but is now centered on the identity of Jesus,(69) on His claim to a special relationship with God, His Father.(70) The central point of this chapter is not the Sabbath nor the healing of the paralyzed man, it is John’s ongoing mission to convince the reader that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30-31).(71) To make the ongoing validity of the Sabbath the point of contention in the chapter is to miss the point.
By claiming equality with God, however, Jesus was not claiming independence from God.(72) Rather, in John 5:19-20 Jesus defends Himself by clarifying two things: 1) The Son in no way acts independently of His Father (John 5:19-21, 30), and 2) He has both natural right (5:26) and divine authorization (5:22-23, 26-27) to act as God acts in both the giving of life (5:21, 25) and judgment (5: 22, 27-29).(73) He is not defying God’s will, He is carrying it out.(74) They are not honoring the God of Israel when they dishonor Him (John 5:23).
In the rest of this chapter (John 5:31-47), Jesus brings forth witnesses to undergird His own testimony concerning Himself. The testimony of John the Baptist, the nature of Jesus’s works, the Father himself, the Scriptures and Moses, rightly understood (5:33-45), all testify that the Father has sent Jesus to do His works. Rather than defending the God of Moses and Israel, Jesus’ accusers are resisting that God (5:45-47). If Jesus had been attempting to abolish the Sabbath, He would not have appealed to Moses and the Law as part of His defense (John 5:39, 45-47).(75) His dispute with the Jews is not about the validity of the Sabbath, but about how the Sabbath ought to be kept.
Anyone who looks for justification of a casual observance of the fourth commandment will not find it here. The Sabbath is written into the order of the universe, and Jesus does not challenge or change that order.(76)
It was not the purpose of John 5 to demonstrate that Jesus broke the Sabbath and thereby abolished it for His followers. Healing the man by the Pool of Bethesda was performed by the same God who created the Sabbath (John 1:1-3; Gen 2:1-4). If the Sabbath was valid throughout OT times, it was certainly still valid at the time when John was written. The Sabbath is not introduced in John 5 to assess whether it has ongoing validity, but as the trigger point of a controversy which enabled Jesus to more clearly outline His divine nature and activity.(77)
The Sabbath Healing Outside the Temple (John 9)
The Preceding Context
The context of John 9 clearly goes back to chapter 5.(78) In both narratives water plays a central role (John 5:2, 7; 9:7). In both narratives Jesus takes the initiative to heal on the Sabbath (5:9; 9:14) and the religious leaders accuse Jesus of violating the Sabbath (5:10; 9:16). In both narratives the healed person doesn’t know where or who Jesus is (5:13; 9:12). Sin is discussed in relation to each man’s suffering (5:14; 9:3). In both cases, Jesus ends up seeking the man out and inviting belief (5:14; 9:35). Both narratives concern the identity of Jesus. And in both narratives, Jesus justifies His actions with a lengthy speech in defense.(79) The two passages, therefore, need to be looked at together, as we are doing here.(80)
The theme of conflict between Jesus and His religious contemporaries is taken up again in chapter six. Jesus returns to Galilee (John 6) and engages in a lengthy debate with “the crowd” (John 6:24) and “the Jews” (6:41, 52) over his Bread of Life statements. The sense of conflict is clear, but there is no mention of the Sabbath in this chapter.
At the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, the stage moves back to Jerusalem (John 7:1-14), where Jesus engages His opponents in the temple (7:14 - 8:59). The wording of John 8:59 and 9:1 makes it clear that the story of John 9 is an extension of the Feast of Tabernacles narrative of John 7 and 8.(81) As we have seen, there is a brief reference to the Sabbath in chapter seven, but the main source of controversy in this section, as usual, is the identity of Jesus.
The debate over Jesus’ identity escalates throughout this section until Jesus’ opponents take up stones to kill Him (8:59). Two themes of chapters 7 and 8, in particular, set the stage for the Sabbath controversy in John 9. Both themes are based on the Feast of Tabernacles, which celebrated the miraculous provision of water in the desert and the pillar of fire and cloud during the Exodus. In John 7:37-39 Jesus applies the metaphor of water to Himself. What the Feast of Tabernacles promised to the worshiper is provided by Jesus.
In John 8:12, Jesus declared Himself to be the Light of the World. Just as the pillar of fire provided light in the wilderness, Jesus provides spiritual light to those who follow Him. Both themes, water and light, are taken up in chapter 9. The reference to the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7) recalls how Jesus transforms the literal elements of Jewish worship (including the water procession of the Feast of Tabernacles) into spiritual realities by faith. The healing of the blind man is a living illustration of Jesus’ role as Light of the World (9:5).
While the conflict motif of John 5 is continued in chapters 6-8, the Sabbath is not at the center of that conflict, except for the brief recollection of John 5 in John 7:22-23. It is only in chapter 9 that the author of the gospel takes up the Sabbath once more as a focal point in the conflict over Jesus’ identity.
Exegesis of John 9
The narrative of chapter 9 is closely linked to the Good Shepherd passage in the next chapter, creating a continuous narrative (9:1 - 10:21).(82) The combined narrative is a unity in which Jesus, the Light of the world (8:12; 9:5), brings judgment on the religious leaders (particularly in 9:39 - 10:21) who resist the shining of His light on the hearts and lives of those who had once served the system.
As mentioned earlier, in John 9 Jesus acts out in real life what He meant when He said, “I am the Light of the world” (8:12; 9:5).(83) In healing the man born blind, Jesus first of all gave him access to literal light; the man could now see (9:7, 11, 15). At the end of the chapter Jesus moves beyond the miracle of physical sight and gives to the man his spiritual sight (9:35-39). His power to give physical sight demonstrated His ability and His authority to give spiritual understanding and spiritual life.
Chapter 9 opens with a brief discussion between Jesus and His disciples regarding who is to blame for the blindness of a man they are walking by (9:1-5). Jesus then anoints the man’s eyes with mud and sends him off to the Pool of Siloam to wash the mud off (9:6-7). At this point in the narrative, the Sabbath has not yet been mentioned, but the method of the healing prepares the way.
There seem to be several breaches of the oral law regarding the Sabbath in this action of Jesus.(84) First of all, mixing was forbidden on the Sabbath.(85) Second, kneading is one of 39 prohibited types of work in m. Shabbath 7:2.(86) Thirdly, the smearing of mud on the man’s eyes could have transgressed the stricture against anointing on the Sabbath.(87) The healing itself would also have been considered unlawful on the Sabbath, as the man’s blindness from birth was far from creating a health-care emergency.(88) So while Jesus does not challenge any written precept of the Mosaic law, His actions are in conflict with a number of strictures in the oral tradition.(89)
As the healed man is brought to the Pharisees for questioning (9:13), the narrative drops the bomb into the discussion. Since the day of the healing was a Sabbath (14), Jesus’ actions of making mud and healing the man are problematic for His identity. The fact that it was Sabbath is not critical to the fact of the man’s healing, but it is critical to the Pharisees’ condemnation of that healing.(90)
The Pharisees conclude from this new healing on the Sabbath that they have further evidence that Jesus’ identity claims are false (9:16).(91) They level once again the same basic accusations expressed in John 5:18: Jesus does not keep the Sabbath, therefore He is not from God. But this time they are divided in their sentiment.(92) Some among them argue that the greatness of the sign militates against a sinful origin (9:16). Their use of the word “signs” reminds the reader that everything Jesus did was designed to develop faith in Him as the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30-31).(93) So the identity of Jesus remains at the core of the issue here. If Jesus was who He claimed to be, He was not breaking the Sabbath in John 9. He was demonstrating His identity as the One who was Lord of the Sabbath and therefore knew how it ought to be kept.
The healed man’s picture of Jesus grows and grows throughout the narrative. He immediately testifies that Jesus must be a prophet (9:17, cf. 4:19). Then he waxes bolder and bolder in sarcastic defiance of the religious leaders who oppose Jesus (9:27, 30-33). His part in the narrative concludes with a full and complete expression of commitment to Jesus (38).
In contrast, the religious leaders’ opposition grows in intensity and irrationality as the narrative moves on. In their final statement the religious leaders even let on that they know that the healing was valid (34). The way they cast the man out of the synagogue shows that their opposition to Jesus was not based on reasoned argument, but on blind hatred (39-41).(94) But at this stage, Jesus as the Good Shepherd steps in (John 9:35-38 - 10:21) and cares for the outcast man.
A crucial point in the narrative, for our purpose, is the response of the religious leaders to the man’s question, “Do you also want to become His disciples (9:27, ESV)?” In response, they assert that they are disciples of Moses (9:28). Moses is the one they trust to speak for God, not Jesus (9:29).(95) The basis for this contrast is their understanding of the Sabbath. The disciples of Moses claim to exhibit their discipleship by scrupulously observing the Sabbath laws given by Moses.
The reader of the Gospel, however, already knows that the opposition between Jesus and Moses, between the gospel and the law, is a false dichotomy. First, as the messianic Son of God, who was with the Father from the beginning and who created everything that was made (1:3), Jesus enjoys the same prerogatives as the Father. He is not the adversary of Moses, but the One who elaborates and expands on the Law (1:17). In the Old Testament, the Sabbath celebrated both creation (Exod 20:8-11) and re-creation (Deut 5:12-15). So for Jesus to do works of healing on the Sabbath day was to participate in God’s continuing work of sustaining His creation (John 5:17, 19-30). If Jesus is who He claims to be, He has not broken the Sabbath, He has rather affirmed its celebration of creation in His work of re-creation (5:26-27).
It is on this point that the fourth Sabbath text in the Gospel of John has relevance. In John 19:31, “the Jews” show more concern for the ritual observance of the Sabbath than they do for the Lord of the Sabbath. They are acting as disciples of Moses, yet they ironically demonstrate that Jesus has obeyed Moses at a far deeper level than they comprehend (19:36; cf. Exod 12:46; Num 9:12). The cause of this Sabbath controversy in John 9, therefore, was not the action of Jesus, but the Pharisees’ lack of understanding of the words God spoke through Moses (5:45-47).(96)
The healed man underscores this very point in 9:30-33. His healing is without precedent “since the world began” (9:32). This allusion to creation recalls to the reader’s mind the role of the Logos in creation (1:3) and Jesus’ earlier claim to be exercising God’s sustaining power in the current situation (John 5:17, 19-30). In a sense, by giving the man something he was born without, Jesus was bringing the work of creation to its perfect completion (see John 5:36).(97) The healed man affirms this conclusion by his words and actions in verse 38.(98)
The narrative of John 9, therefore, invalidates the judgments of “the Jews” with regard to Jesus. First, the fact that God’s power is at work in Him means that he cannot be a sinner (cf. 9:16, 24), in other words, a Sabbath breaker. Second, the unprecedented nature of the healing indicates there must be a special relationship between Jesus and the God of creation Himself. Jesus’ Sabbath healings, therefore, are not violations of the Sabbath, they are testimonies to the unique identity of Jesus, who does the work of the Father on this earth.(99)
As many scholars and other chapters in this book make clear, the authors of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts assume that the Sabbath was honored by Jesus and His disciples.(100) The same would appear to be the case in the Gospel of John. But the purpose of the Sabbath texts in John is not to address whether the Sabbath should be kept by Christians, it is to highlight the identity of Jesus.(101) He is the One apart from whom nothing was made (1:3), the one who is equal with the Father (10:30), who works on the Sabbath as His Father works (5:17). It would be taking the evidence too far, therefore, to say that the author of John, or the Jesus he portrays, is intentionally re-affirming the validity of Sabbath observance for his readers.(102)
What is clear, however, is that the Sabbath texts in the Gospel of John do not support the idea that the Sabbath has been abolished for Christians. Even D. A. Carson, who organized and edited the most thorough case for a shift from Sabbath to Sunday,(103) agrees that John 5:17-18 does not make that case. “John, by taking the discussion into Christological and eschatological realms, does not deal explicitly with the question of whether or not Christians are to observe the weekly Sabbath.”(104) This conclusion is affirmed by Geza Vermes, who wrote, “If, as is often claimed, the evangelists aimed at inculcating. . . Christian doctrine such as the annulment of the Sabbath legislation. . . they did a pitiful job which falls short of proving their alleged thesis.”(105) Jesus did not reject the Sabbath, He simply kept it in a way that was different from most of His contemporaries.(106) While Jesus clearly rejected the rabbinical rules for Sabbath keeping, He honored the deeper principles implied within the Sabbath command He Himself had established at creation.
(1)The purpose of this book is understanding and promoting the Sabbath as of ongoing validity for Christians today.
(2)Scholars have noted that John’s treatment of the Sabbath is quite different from that of the other gospels. See A. J. Droge, “Sabbath Work/Sabbath Rest: Genesis, Thomas, John,” History of Religions 47 (November 2007/February 2008, Numbers 2/3): 128; and the literature cited in Henry Sturcke, Encountering the Rest of God: How Jesus Came to Personify the Sabbath (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 2005), 204-265.
(3)These two Sabbath miracles are unique to the Gospel of John and were probably recorded in the Gospel because they highlight the theme of creation. In the first account, the miracle is effected by the spoken word (John 5:8, 19, cf. Gen 1:3, 6, 9, etc., Ps 33:6, 9), in the second, by handling the dust of the earth (John 9:6, 32, cf. Gen. 2:7). See Abraham Terian, “Creation in Johannine Theology,” in Good News in History: Essays in Honor of Bo Reicke, edited by Ed L. Miller (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1993), 54, 57.
(4)But note the comments of Weiss on this text: Herold Weiss, “The Sabbath in the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 110 (2, 1991): 319-320.
(5)Barnabas Lindars, The Gospel of John: Based on the Revised Standard Version, New Century Bible (London: Oliphants, 1972, 218.
(6)Rudolph Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, translated by G. R. Beasley-Murray (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971), 246-247.
(7)Heather A. McKay, Sabbath and Synagogue: The Question of Sabbath Worship in Ancient Judaism, Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, vol. 122, edited by R. van den Broek, H. J. W. Drijvers and H. S. Versnel (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994), 148.
(8)See also Samuele Bacchiocchi, “John 5:17: Negation or Clarification of the Sabbath?” Andrews University Seminary Studies 19 (1, Spring 1981): 4-9 and note 11.
The point of John 5:17, according to McKay (148), is that Jesus is equal in authority to God and is therefore above the authority of both Torah and tradition.
(9)Paul K. Jewett, The Lord’s Day: A Theological Guide to the Christian Day of Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 84-87. Oscar Cullmann, “Sabbat und Sonntag nach den Johannesevangelium,” in Memoriam, Ernst Lohmeyer (Stuttgart: Evangelisches Verlagswerk, 1951), 127-131; idem, Early Christian Worship (London: SCM Press, 1953), 89-90. Willy Rordorf, Sunday: The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Era (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), 98-100.
Cullmann’s point of view is criticized by Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI), The Anchor Bible, vol. 29 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 2: 1019-1020; see also Weiss, JBL, 316.
Weiss (JBL, 318-320) seems to hold a similar view, except that the ritual weekly Sabbath is not replaced by Sunday, but by “every” day. For followers of Jesus “every day is a Sabbath” (320), since the Sabbath has been released from the weekly cycle (319).
Though Sturcke is more nuanced than the others, he seems to lean in this direction (264-265). He argues that whether or not the Johannine community had abandoned the Sabbath by the time of writing, the theology adopted in the Gospel would have eventually led them to do so.
(10)“Jesus. . . did away with the Jewish sabbath in a radical manner with all its stipulations.” Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John: Commentary on Chapters 5-12, vol. 2 of 3, translated from the German by Kevin Smythe et al, Herder’s Theological Commentary on the New Testament (NY: Herder and Herder, 1968), 97.
(11)Ibid. Schnackenburg’s view is criticized by Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 2 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 1: 645-647.
(12)From a postmodern reading of the Gospel of John, Tom Thatcher draws the conclusion that Jesus truly broke the Sabbath in John 9. His “neutral” standpoint toward the perspective of the Gospel, however, causes Him to see Jesus as the chief sinner in the Gospel, which attempts to “trick” the reader into accepting unconditionally the authority of the Gospel and thereby also the authority of Jesus. This strange reading of the Gospel of John is not likely to impact conservative Christians in their attitude toward the Sabbath. See Tom Thatcher, “The Sabbath Trick: Unstable Irony in the Fourth Gospel,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 76 (1999): 75-76.
A. J. Droge argues that the Sabbath, according to John 5:17, has not even been established yet, because the creation itself is unfinished and incompete. The fact that the Father is working implies that the true Sabbath is still future from John’s perspective. See Droge, 129-130.
(13)Dale Ratzlaff, Sabbath in Christ (Glendale, AZ: Life Assurance Ministries, 2003), 150-175. Ratzlaff’s work is thoughtful and gives careful attention to an English translation of the Gospel. He does not, however, deeply engage the scholarly issues and literature. This makes his work less useful for our purpose than it might otherwise have been.
(18)Ratzlaff makes no attempt to argue for old and new covenant language within the Gospel of John itself. He simply restates what he has argued on the basis of covenantal language elsewhere in the Bible. His argument in John stands or falls on the validity of these covenantal assumptions, which will be evaluated elsewhere in this book.
(19)Bacchiocchi, AUSS, 11.
(20)The scholarly debate on this text is whether the appeal of 20:31 is directed to “outsiders,” seeking conversion, or to “insiders,” to confirm a faith they already hold. Tanzer takes an interesting middle position. She feels that the Gospel is directed to individuals caught in between the synagogue and the Johannine community. It would then serve as a call to Jewish believers in Jesus to fully commit to the Jesus community represented in the Gospel. See Sarah J. Tanzer, “Salvation is for the Jews: Secret Christian Jews in the Gospel of John,” in The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester, edited by Birger A. Pearson and A. Thomas Kraabel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 285-286.
(21)The English word “Messiah” is based on the Hebrew word for anointing, the English phrase “the Christ” is based on the Greek word for anointing.
(23)The opening passage of the Gospel of John deliberately recalls the language of creation in Genesis 1 and early Jewish interpretation of that language. See Terian, 50-53. There are also echos of “wisdom” in Proverbs 8:22-31, which alludes back to the Genesis stories. See Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (I-XII), The Anchor Bible, vol. 29 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), vol. 1, cxxii-cxxiv.
(24)Terian, 54. According to the creation accounts in Genesis, two main legacies of creation are marriage and the Sabbath. It is not surprising, therefore, that the first of Jesus’ “signs” in the Gospel of John (see 20:30-31) occurs in the context of a wedding (John 2:1-11), a wedding that takes place at the conclusion of Jesus’ first week of ministry in the gospel (see Droge’s enumeration of John’s first “week” on page 132, note 7). The references to the Sabbath in the Gospel of John are consistent with the theme of creation.
(25)The “but” in some translations of John 1:17 is supplied, it is not present in the original. An adversative conjunction would imply that Jesus and Moses are at odds (“Moses is bad, Jesus is good”). Instead, the progression of the text is elaboration and expansion (“Moses is good, Jesus is better”).
(26)For example, at the wedding of Cana the “master of the feast” (John 2:9, ESV) had no idea who Jesus was, nor did he perceive the significance of the drink Jesus provided. On the other hand, the disciples, who had already encountered Jesus in chapter 1, develop an initial level of faith in Him (John 2:11). After the cleansing of the temple, “the Jews” clearly misunderstand the significance of the event (John 2:18-21, 23-25), but the disciples’ faith in Jesus is strengthened.
In the Gospel of John “faith” is always a verb (translated “believe” in English), while in Paul “faith” is normally a noun (see, for example, Rom 3:21 - 4:5).
(27)Martin Asiedu-Peprah, Johannine Sabbath Conflicts as Juridical Controversy, Wissenschaftlich Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 2. Reihe, edited by Martin Hengel and Otfried Hofius (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Siebeck), 2001), 39-40.
(28)Jon Paulien, “Nicodemus,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), volume 4, page 1105-1106.
(29)In a number of ways, the royal official in chapter 4 is the mirror image of the paralytic in chapter 5. See Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community, second edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 52.
(31)In chapter 5, the Jewish feast is not named, leading to much scholarly speculation. One of the peculiarities of the Gospel of John is that whenever a feast is mentioned, the major characteristics of Jesus described in the narrative tend to correspond to the major characteristics of the feast. In John 5, the main themes are judgment and life-giving creation. Judgment and creation happen to be the major themes of the Feast of Trumpets, on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish festal calendar. See Jon Paulien, John: Jesus Gives Life to a New Generation, Abundant Life Bible Amplifier, George R. Knight, general editor (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1995), 117.
(32)See Sturcke (206-207) for evidence that chapter 5 is a discreet unit somewhat distinct from what precedes and what follows.
(33)There is archaeological evidence that the pool at some point was a shrine to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. See James H. Charlesworth, “Jesus Research and Archaeology: A New Perspective,” in Jesus and Archaeology, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 34. Asclepius was usually depicted in conjunction with snakes, so the statement in John 3:14 (“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,” NIV) may have prepared the educated reader of the Gospel for Jesus’ replacement of this Hellenistic shrine with the healing power of His heavenly identity.
(34)Koester (53-54) goes so far as to say that the paralytic’s lack of commitment to Jesus allowed him to be intimidated by the authorities into betraying Jesus. See the amusing account of the man’s unbelief in Michael Card, The Parable of Joy: Reflections on the Wisdom of the Book of John (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 65-67. While the biblical text does not portray the man as having faith in Jesus, Ellen White suggests some level of faith was necessary to his acting on Jesus’ command. See Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1898), 203.
(35)It seems in all four gospels that whenever Jesus takes the initiative in healing someone, the healing comes on a Sabbath! See Paulien, John, 119. Jesus initiative in John 5 runs counter to the pattern established in the first two “signs” (water to wine [2:1-11] and royal official’s son [4:46-54]) in which a request is made of Jesus that He seems reluctant to fulfill. See Sturcke, 212.
According to Ellen White, Jesus deliberately chose the worst case at the pool to raise the question of what is or is not lawful to do on the Sabbath. The Desire of Ages, 206.
(36)Schnackenburg, 2:97; Tom Wright, John for Everyone: Part 1, Chapters 1-10 (London: SPCK, 2002), 59; Brown, 1:210. Carson underlines this point by noting that the paralyzed man was singularly dull mentally and incapable of taking the initiative in a matter like this. Jesus is clearly the one taking the initiative. See D. A. Carson, “Jesus and the Sabbath in the Four Gospels,” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation, edited by D. A. Carson, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 80-81. His pre-destinarian perspective, however, encourages him to think that Jesus was not provoking a confrontation over the Sabbath, but simply carrying out His mission.
(37)Walter F. Specht, “The Sabbath in the New Testament,” in The Sabbath in Scripture and History, edited by Kenneth A. Strand (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1982), 100. Specht considers Jesus’ act an open challenge to rabbinical rules of Sabbath-keeping, nevertheless, he acknowledges that Genesis 2:2 had challenged early Jewish exegetes to allow that for God, with a universe to maintain, there is truly no rest, no Sabbath.
Jewett (39-41) discusses the non-emergency character of this and several other Sabbath healings.
(38)Keener notes that the rabbis prohibited any action on the Sabbath that could have been done before the Sabbath. See Keener, 1:642 and note 75.
(39)To carry a pallet on the Sabbath was contrary to the oral law. See Sturcke, 215, 233.
(41)Asking the man to carry his bed roll may have violated a couple of strictures in the Mishnah (m. Shabbath 7:2 and 10:5). See Herbert Danby, editor, The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), 106, 109. See also Specht, 100; Charles H. Talbert, Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles, Reading the New Testament Series (NY: Crossroad, 1992), 123.
(42)The omission of essential information until the point in the story where it is essential is a common feature of Hebrew narrative. See Sturcke, 215, note 48; Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 66; and Jeffrey L. Staley, “Stumbling in the Dark, Reaching for the Light: Reading Character in John 5 and 9,” Semeia 53 (1991), 60.
(43)Sturcke, 215. Thatcher (59-60) considers this late-breaking detail so remarkable he calls it “The Sabbath Trick.” He believes that the author of the Fourth Gospel often deliberately withholds crucial information to force the reader to re-evaluate first impressions in a given narrative. The sudden revelation that the healing occurred on a Sabbath undermines the reader’s earlier perceptions by forcing a complete change of direction in the reader’s impression of the narrative and its role in the overall direction of the Gospel. This certainly underlines that the Sabbath is the crucial context in the story.
Thatcher’s point is ironic in that John normally favors the reader of the Gospel with advance information (see 1:1-18, for example), but in the two Sabbath narratives, the characters in the story know it is Sabbath before the reader does.
(44)McKay, 148. The Sabbath is the means by which the author achieved his intention, to highlight the identity of Jesus in the story.
(45)The implication in 5:14 that the paralytic’s illness was in some way connected to sin is in startling contrast to Jesus’ assertion in 9:2-3. See Sturcke, 217.
(46)In contrast to the man blind from birth (John 9:38), the paralyzed man of Bethesda does not become a disciple of Jesus. See Keener, 1: 644. Sturcke points out (216) the irony that the act of carrying a pallet on the Sabbath arouses more interest from the religious leaders than the mighty work of God that had just occurred in their midst.
(47)Weiss, JBL, 317; Sturcke, 261.
(48)Sturcke, 223. Sturcke also notes (246) a connection between the two arguments in defense of Jesus’ Sabbath activity. The only male babies who would be circumcised on the Sabbath (7:21-24) are those that were born the previous Sabbath (see 5:17– the work of God)!
(49)See citations of Jewish discussions of this in Terian, 57. McKay (148) notes that Jesus has exploited the inherent contradiction in allowing circumcision to over-ride the Sabbath law but not healing. Sharon Ringe points out that Jesus’ response in this passage does not concern whether the Sabbath should be kept, but rather how it should be kept. See Sharon H. Ringe, “Holy, as the Lord Your God Commanded You: Sabbath in the New Testament,” Interpretation 59 (number 1, January 2005),17-19.
According to Carson, the point of this passage is that some laws over-ride other laws. In this case the opportunity to do good over-rides any detailed and legalistic observance of the Sabbath. Carson, 82; see Keener, 1:716.
(50)Wright, 101. In this argument Jesus is moving from the minor to the major. Circumcision was regarded as completing a man’s perfection. Abraham was not regarded as perfect until he was circumcized. See Specht, 101; see also Bacchiocchi, AUSS, 18. The principle, as enunciated by Jesus in this text, was acknowledged by more than one ancient Jewish teacher, see George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, 36, Glenn W. Barker and David A. Hubbard, general editors (Waco, TX: Words Books, 1987), 109-110; Talbert, 146.
(51)Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 408-409; Brown, 1: 317.
(52)This is consistent with a point made by Weiss: the early Christian communities observed the Sabbath while engaging in debates over what was and was not permissible behavior on the Sabbath. See Herold Weiss, JBL, 313; idem, “The Sabbath in the Synoptic Gospels,” JSNT 38 (1990), 13-27. White, The Desire of Ages, 456.
Sturcke (241) argues that Jesus presumes in 7:21-24 the continuing validity of both circumcision and the Sabbath.
(53)Keener, 1:714, 716; Sturcke, 243.
(54)On the concepts of misunderstanding and characterization in the Gospel of John see R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).
(56)This point is forcefully made by Keener, 1:636. Jesus is not undermining the Sabbath, He is disputing “the Jews” interpretation of it. See also Bacchiocchi, AUSS, 15.
(57)The same Greek word is used in both John 5:18 and 10:35. Jesus is explicitly contradicting the assertion of 5:18.
(59)The Greek behind John 5:17 actually has “until now” instead of “always.” Bacchiocchi argues that there is a significant difference between the two. Rather than a constant disregard of the Sabbath, “until now” suggests activity focused from a beginning point to a goal. In other words, the Sabbath work of Jesus and His Father is not so much a continuation of creation as it is working for the redemption of a fallen creation, from the first “to the final Sabbath.” Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Sabbath in the New Testament, Biblical Perspectives, vol. 5 (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 1985), 49; see also idem, AUSS, 11-13.
According to Weiss (JBL, 317-318), the phrase “until now” has an eschatological ring that highlights the saving activity of the Father in the work of the Son. The time will come when no more “work” can be done (John 9:4), but for now the Son’s work must go on even on the Sabbath.
Whatever the merits of the above, the phrase does not imply a termination point so much as continuing, uninterrupted action on the part of the Father. Any inference that the Johnannine community had given up the Sabbath on the basis of this phrase is speculative at best. See Sturcke, 248-251.
(60)The monologue in 5:19-30 makes it clear what Jesus had in mind by “works,” in the Gospel’s terms it was “giving life” and “judging.” See Sturcke, 220.
Bacchiocchi (AUSS, 13-14) draws a distinction between the sustaining and redeeming work of Jesus and the Father. He argues that in the Gospel of John the “works of God” are repeatedly and explicitly identified with the saving mission of Christ (John 4:34; 6:29; 10:37-38). This is a point worth noting. I am not sure, however, that 5:17 is drawing that fine a distinction, so I have chosen to use both “sustain” and “redeem” with reference to this text.
Weiss points out that in Hebrews, God is portrayed as being at rest since creation, and people in Old Testament times failed to enter that rest, even though they superficially kept the Sabbath. Ironically in John the same point is made in the opposite way. God is always doing the right thing on the Sabbath and Jesus does so as well, inviting his follows to a true grasp of the Sabbath. In a sense, the eschatological quality of the Sabbath has been brought into the Jesus community. Weiss, JBL, 318-319.
(61)In a side note, Ellen White argues that the demands upon God are even greater on the Sabbath day than on other days of the week. See The Desire of Ages, 207.
(62)Asiedu-Peprah, 77 and notes; Brown, 1: 216-217; Weiss, JBL, 315.
(63)Terian, 55-56. Philo said that while God rested on the Sabbath day it only means that His Sabbath activity required no labor. See Brown, 1:217; Keener, 1:646; Talbert, 123-124.
These discussions affirmed that the exclusive prerogatives of God were His activities as life-giver and judge, the very things Jesus highlights in verses 19-30.
(64)To exercise the prerogatives of one’s father in a culture where sons are subordinated to fathers would have been offensive. See Sturcke, 236.
(65)Brown, 1: 217; Paulien, John, 119.
(66)In a way, I sympathize with the religious leaders in John 5. Although Jesus’ words in John 5:17 and 19-30 are powerful and eloquent, they would ring false in the mouth of every other human being who ever lived. See Paulien, John, 122. Without the knowledge gained from the Prologue, even readers of the Gospel would probably be stumped by Jesus’ claims at this point.
Ellen White ties the negative reactions of the religious leaders to the deceptive actions of Satan, which prevented them from picking up the clues in Jesus’ actions that He truly was far greater than any other human being. See The Desire of Ages, 205-206. The blindness of this opposition is exposed in the Gospel itself in John 9:27-41.
(67)Ringe, 22; McKay, 149; Sturcke, 220.
(72)See Asiedu-Peprah, 80; Karen Pidcock-Lester, “John 5:1-9,” Interpretation 59 (number 1, January 2005), 63; Talbert, 124. While the Jews speak of Jesus’ relationship to His Father in terms of “equality,” Jesus does not take up that language in His own defense. According to Ringe (23), by doing the work His Father does, Jesus is claiming not equality but obedience. He is carrying on the family business.
Weiss (JBL, 317) argues that “the Jews” were wrong about both issues in John 5:18. According to him, Jesus was neither breaking the Sabbath nor claiming equality with God in the absolute way the editorial comment of John 5:18 would imply.
(73)See Beasley-Murray, 75.
(75)Keener, 1: 641. See note 19 on page 7 concerning the relationship of Jesus and Moses in the Prologue. See also Sturcke, 242.
(79)The analogy of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-21) is linked to the narrative of chapter 9 and forms the major part of Jesus’ defense of His identity in the narrative.
(80)Sturcke (231) notes some contrasts between chapters five and nine as well as the similarities.
(81)The scene occurs as Jesus is walking away from the temple after the conflict episodes of John 7 and 8. See Asiedu-Peprah, 117; Keener, 1:776-777.
(82)See Sturcke, 227. The close linkage between John 9:1-41 and 10:1-21 is evident in the original language. The chapter is not sharply divided from what precedes, but begins with “I tell you the truth” (Amh.n avmh.n le,gw u`mi/n). Nowhere else in the Gospel does Jesus use this expression at the beginning of a discourse, it always comes as a point of emphasis in the midst of a discourse or a discussion (for example, 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58). Furthermore, the reference to opening the eyes of the blind in John 10:21 shows that the events of chapter 9 are still squarely in view.
In chapter 10 Jesus builds on the story of His healing of the blind man and then rescuing him from the spiritual abuse of the religious leaders (9:1-41). The response of the healed blind man to Jesus is reflected in 10:4; he was a sheep that recognized the voice of the Shepherd and followed Him. In John 10 Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep, even the sheep that have been cast out of the sheepfold. See Paulien, John, 169-170; see also Beasley-Murray, 167; Keener, 1:775; Talbert, 164.
(83)Terian notes (57) that creation week began with the creation of light and ended with the creation of the Sabbath. So John 9 ties these two themes together in a way that was natural to the Jewish mind of the first century. See also Brown, 1: 379; Keener, 1:779; Talbert, 158.
(84)Beasley-Murray, 156-157; Brown, 1: 373; Carson, 82; Specht, 101; Sturcke, 230. These scholars assume that these strictures in the Mishnah accurately reflect earlier practice.
(85)m. Shabbath 24:3. See Danby, 120-121.
(86)Danby, 106. See also Asiedu-Peprah, 118.
(87)m. Shabbath 14:4. See Danby, 113.
(88)As was also the case with the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years (John 5:2-5).
(89)Carson, 84. According to Brown (1: 210): “That Jesus violated the rules of the scribes for the observance of the Sabbath is one of the most certain of all the historical facts about his ministry.”
(90)Keener, 1:784. According to Deut 13:1-5, the prophet who does mighty works yet does or teaches things contrary to the law of God is a false prophet.
(91)According to Ellen White, the Pharisees revealed here their ignorance that Jesus was the one who had made the Sabbath and therefore knew all of its obligations. The Desire of Ages, 472. The prologue is once more decisive for readers of the Gospel of John.
(93)The man born blind is one of the best examples in the Gospel of faith growing directly out of a “sign.” Tanzer, 299, cf. Thatcher, 69.
(94)Douglas K. Clark, “Signs in Wisdom and John,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45 (1983): 208.
(95)Asiedu-Peprah (141) notes that the particle de. is used in these verses to establish a contrast between “the Jews” and the man, on the one hand, and between Moses and Jesus, on the other.
(96)In this paragraph I am considerably indebted to Asiedu-Peprah, 141-142. He goes on to note (142) a central message of the Gospel of John. The Law of Moses is not in opposition to Jesus and the gospel, it finds its perfection in the truth that was given through Jesus (1:17-18). The two are not opposed in any way, instead the writings of Moses in the Law bear witness to Jesus and, rightly understood, lead to faith in Him (5:39-40).
(97)Wright, 138-139. Droge (128) makes the fascinating observation that in John 1:5 the presence of darkness (“the light shines in the darkness”) indicates that the full Sabbath rest of creation (as stated in Gen 2:1-3) has yet to be achieved. From the standpoint of John, the original creation remains incomplete and unfinished at the time when Jesus comes. Thus, the work of Jesus in the Gospel is designed as a completion of the original work of creation.
Droge (see 133-134) goes on to enumerate the various places where Jesus speaks of His mission as “to finish his (the Father’s) work” (John 4:32, 34, cf. Gen 2:2). He speaks of “the works that the Father has given me to finish” (5:36), glorifying God by “finishing the work” (17:4-5), and pronouncing that “it is finished” (19:28, 30).
(98)This paragraph is indebted to Asiedu-Peprah, 145.
(100)One non-Adventist scholar who makes this point unequivocally is Ringe, 17-19. See also the arguments and literature cited in Weiss, JBL, 313-314; and idem, JSNT, 13-27.
(101)This is almost universally acknowledged by Johannine scholars, even those who attempt to make John 5:17-18 a negation of the Sabbath for Christians. “The Gospel of John fundamentally contains but a single theme: the Person of Jesus.” Bultmann, 5. Bultmann then tellingly makes the following admission: “The stories of healings on the Sabbath, for example (chs 5 and 9) do not, as in the Synoptics, demonstrate the Christian understanding of the Sabbath command, but serve as occasions for discussions about the person of the miracle worker.” Ibid. So there is an internal contradiction in how Bultmann handles these passages.
See also Ruldolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John: Volume One, Introduction and Commentary on chapters 1-4, translated by Kevin Smythe, Herder’s Theological Commentary on the New Testament (NY: Herder and Herder, 1968), 154-156; Sturcke, 204, 227, 264.
(102)Ibid.; Wright, 138-139. Sturcke, nevertheless, feels that while the Johannine community acted in ways the Jews interpreted as Sabbath breaking, they themselves understood their behavior as in harmony with the Sabbath as interpreted by Jesus.
(103)D. A. Carson, editor, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation, Academie Books Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982).
(105)Quoted in Keener, 1: 643.
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