Monday, December 19, 2005

John 3:25 and Jewish Purification

“Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew regarding purification” - John 3:25

Is it just me, or is it impossible to read this verse without thinking, “Okay . . . is there something ‘missing’ here?” No doubt, there are probably a host of issues related to this verse that one might address. I would like to open up a discussion on one in particular: this verse’s relationship to John 2:1-11 (“the miracle at Cana”). I cannot help but think that the mention of purification in John 3:25 is intended to point the reader back to John 2:1-11. Thus far, my research has only turned up a few commentators (Carson, Barrett, and Borchert) that posit a link with John 2:1-11. [If there are others, feel free to correct me on this.]

I would like to pose the following questions:
1) Does John 3:25 allude to John 2:1-11?
2) What is the function of this allusion?

Any takers . . .


Mark Anthony said...

I'll try a few thoughts...

A) It seems to me that the stories of chapters 2 and 3 of John center around the theme of regeneration and purification. The specific mention of the purification jars in the Cana story appears to serve two, linked purposes: 1) to underscore the overabundance of the wine produced, and 2) the replacement of the means of ritual purification with good wine, a sign of the Kingdom. Both the story of the Temple Cleansing and the encounter with Nicodemus involve a rebuilding or rebirth. By the time we get to Jn. 3:25, the issue of ritual purification has been dealt with for John's hearers, but it remains important for the "Jew" or "Jews", depending on the manuscript.

B) Note that in Jn. 4:1, Jesus stops baptizing near John due to the interference of the Pharisees. I think it is probable that the "they" of 3:26 are the Pharisees. Note that John says to the "they" in 3:28, "You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him." John's denial of being the Messiah linked with a claim to be the predecessor of the one to follow was made to the Pharisees in Jn. 1:24-27. A concern with purification outside the Temple would be likely among Pharisees.

C) So, I think the link, if it was conscious, was the idea of purification and that Jesus was replacing those issues and concerns something new. John, when dragged into the controversy, sides with Jesus, even though it means that John's position is going to continue to fade.

Mark Owens said...

Mark Anthony,
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The more I research this passage, the more I'm convinced that John is pointing to Jesus' 'replacement' of Jewish purification rites. I've since read Carson and Barrett's treatment of this passage and they come to similar conclusions. They are normally one of the first I look at and I don't know how I overlooked them; further proof of my disorganization, I guess. I've also looked at a work entitled "The Symbol of Water in the Gospel of John" by L. Jones and he has confirmed my suspicion that the phrase "water was plentiful there" (3:23) is parallel to the phrase "each holding twenty or thirty gallons" (2:6). Finally, Keener also suggests that the "Jew" in 3:25 was connected to the Pharisees.
Thanks again for stopping by.


Chris said...

yes, John 2 miracle at Cana kicks off a series of water narratives that, in my opinion, may be similiar to Markan "sandwich" style. Notice the following pattern, loose albeit, but nonetheless a patter in each of the following water narratives ending with the woman at the well.

1. Water is present
2. Representative of the Jewish establishement either person or custom etc..
3. A conversation or event dealing with eternal life, this is typically a verse pertaining to eternal life.

4. Discussion or conflict with Jewish customs or rituals as pertaining to being "clean".

It is my view that John is writing to a community of people who no doubt would have experienced Christian baptism. John employs deep water significance, pun intended, to Christ's message of life particularly "New Life". This is too be a fresh transformation and departure from the stale legalistic brand of Judaism of Jesus' Day.

See Alan Culpepper's Commentary of John's Gospel for futher development of water passages in John's gospel.


Mark Owens said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm inclined to think that John was familiar with the Synoptics, though he obviously utilized independent traditions. Regarding your comments about Christian baptism, I'm inclined to distinguish between the FG's purpose prior to canonization (a strong interest in "evangelizing" post-70 AD Jews) and its purpose after canonization (a strong interest in strengthening the faith of believers). No doubt, that is an issue that could be "debated" at length sometime in the future. I've got to do more research on the Johannine community hypothesis in a few weeks, so maybe I'll post something then.


Anonymous said...

Just doing a little research on this and notice that in John 4 Jesus answers the dispute given in John 3 by his interaction and request of the Samaritan woman. Christs requests a drink from the vessels of a Samaritan woman without first purifying them.

Joe said...

Yes and Jesus concludes that "True Worship" will no longer be done on this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem either.(temple worship). He definitely was teaching the Kingdom of God has come and things are changing and there is a totally new way of purification. In my opinion.