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John 7

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-53

VII-XII THE PUBLIC MINISTRY, PART II In the Fourth Gospel, which is the history of light and darkness engaged in a tremendous duel, chh 7-12 form a distinct block. They tell of the supreme combat which Jesus joined with the hostile leaders of his nation at Jerusalem in revealing himself as the Envoy and very Son of God. The two great dominant ideas of light and life partition this section between them. After ch 7, which is a first general sketch of the conflict, Jesus reveals himself as the Light of the World, 8:1-9:41 This revelation takes place at the joyful festival of Tabernacles and is illustrated by the cure of a man born blind. With the parable—allegory of the Good Shepherd—Jesus comes forward more particularly as the Giver of Life. This revelation of the Good Shepherd, giving his life that his sheep may live, continues through the festival of the Dedication and the raising of Lazarus and closes with the decision to put him to death, 10:1-11:56. What remains, 12:1-12:50, tells of the approach of the Paschal festival and the coming of Jesus to meet the hour of which he had so often spoken, the hour appointed by his Father, an hour not of defeat but triumph. He enters Bethany and Jerusalem. The favourite ideas of life and light (in the reverse order to that of the Prologue) occur again at the end of this section, where also figure some reflexions of St John on the tragic blindness of the Jewish people.

VII:1-52 The Breach widens.

7:1-13 Circumstances of the Ascent to Jerusaleln — 1. In refusing to transpose ch 5 (cf. § 781l) into what seems illuminating proximity to ch 7, and in following the probability that the time of the miracle of Bezatha was a Paschal feast, we committed ourselves to a gap of nearly 12 months between the first declaration of deadly hostility to Jesus at Jerusalem and the Eucharistic crisis close to another Pasch which marked the decline of his popularity in Galilee. Then six months separated the proximity of this spring festival of the Jews, 6:4, from the approach of the autumnal festival of Tabernacles, 7:2. [This gap of 18 months is of course a serious objection to the view that the feast of Jn 5 was the second Passover of the public life, for John 7:11-24 makes it clear that the miracle of 5:8 was still fresh in the minds of the Jews. The difficulty disappears if we can assume that the feast in question was the feast of Purim. It would also disappear if the original order of the chapters was chh 4, 6, 5, 7, the present order being the result of a dislocation occurring probably before the publication of the Gospel.—Gen. Ed.] Jn seems to insinuate (in spite of 7:11) that Jesus did not go to Jerusalem for the second last Pasch of his life. He went from place to place in Galilee, because of the set design on his life on the part of the Jews in Judea. Chh 15-18 of Mt with their parallels help to fill the void. It was a time of withdrawal from the synagogue and concentration on the training of the Apostles, important events being a circuit which brought Jesus into Phoenicia and then eastwards into Decapolis; then from the eastern side of the Lake to Dalmanutha; thence north for the famous day of Caesarea Philippi, after which occurred the Transfiguration on Thabor and what seems to have been the last visit to his missionary city of Capharnaum. The sentence, 7:1, in which Jn notes these journeys in Galilee (and about it) also marks the end of the Galilean ministry. Events described in Luke 9:51-; Luke 19:28 are connected by that Evangelist with journeyings towards Jerusalem (9:51; 13:22; 17:11, cf. 19:28), but it seems almost impossible to assign them a convincing chronological order.

2. The feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth, more properly booths or huts) was a harvest festival celebrated at the middle of the seventh month (determined by the moon of the autumnal equinox and therefore often coinciding with the beginning of the Roman October). The feast lasted a week (15-21 Tishri) to which a supplementary day of high festival was added, Leviticus 23:34 ff. Its characteristics were vintage joy, the joy of living in improvised huts of leafy branches erected everywhere in and around Jerusalem in memory of Israel’s pilgrimage in the wilderness, waving of branches (lulab of palm, willow, myrtle, and ethrog of citron), many sacrifices, sounding of trumpets, illuminations in the court of the women, libations of water from Siloe mixed with wine. The ceremonies underlined seem to have special bearing on Christ’s reference to the outpouring of the Spirit, 37 ff., and to himself as the light of the world, 8:12.

3. The ’brethren’ of Jesus—his cousins—were those who had once tried to restrain him when he seemed over-zealous, Mark 3:21. Now they want him to appear more in public by passing to Judaea—an apparent indication that he had not been to Jerusalem for the last Pasch, nor perhaps for 9 months (Dedication feast) or 12 (Tabernacles of last year) or even 18 (the Pasch of Bezatha).

4. The brethren emphasize the apparent contradiction of working miracles and thereby wishing to be a public personage in obscure Galilee. They want him to show himself to the great world in the centre of Judaism.

5. They had but an imperfect idea of his Messianic mission, since he was bringing no worldly glory to himself and them.

6. Christ’s answer means that the right time for a public ascent to Jerusalem involving a triumphant manifestation had not yet come—there were yet six months to Palm Sunday. The right time for the brethren is any time.

7. They have the peace of the worldly with the world; not so Jesus who has the hatred of the world for condemning its badness.

8. Although the text-critical balance between the reading ??, ’not,’ and ??p?, ’not yet’, is rather even, it seems that Jesus really said he was ’not’ going up to this festival, meaning that he was not going with his brethren in the public manner they desired. A scribal change from ?? to ??p?, in order to avoid the appearance of dissimulation, is more probable than the reverse. The reason given is the same as before. The appointed time for the public encounter with the full hatred of Jewry has not come.

9. When the caravan set out, Jesus remained in Galilee.

10. Not more than 4 or 5 days later he set out for Jerusalem, but as an unknown pilgrim—probably even without the company of the Twelve.

11. The enemies in Jerusalem were on the look-out.

12. There was much whispered talk in the groups that gathered in the city. Those who considered his way of life said he was good, those ruled by human respect agreed with the hostile verdict that he was an impostor (cf.Matthew 27:63, on which Aug. makes the touching comment: ’This name was given to our Lord Jesus Christ, for the consolation of his servants’).

13. The friends were not brave enough to speak openly ’for fear of the Jews’.

14-24 Jesus teaching In the Temple —14. Mid-festival would be the fourth day. Jesus teaches in the temple for the first time.

15. The Jews who, in this context, would be chiefly Pharisee scribes, could not deny his knowledge of Scripture, whereas they knew for certain that he had never frequented a rabbinical school. Hence their outspoken surprise.

16. Jesus’ learning is not that of a self-taught man. What he teaches (as man) has a higher source, namely the One who sent him. St Augustine’s beautiful comment which is read in the Breviary (Tuesday after 4th Sunday of Lent) referring the words to eternal generation rather than temporal mission is true theological interpretation rather than literal exposition. It amounts to this: His doctrine is himself and he is the Word of the Father—his own personal self and yet not his own. In this place, however, it is rather as an Envoy that Jesus speaks.

17. Discernment of the divine origin of the teaching belongs to those who have the sympathy of an obedient will towards God and his truth.

18. Another test—a moral one—is in the conduct of the Speaker. To seek only the glory of Another who has sent him is not the conduct of a self-constituted philosopher, but of One whose very disinterestedness commends him as truthful and free from the injustice (impiety) that is opposed to truth.

19. As hostility to Jesus parades under the mantle of Mosaism, he takes up the charge of the event at Bezatha and unmasks the retended loyalty to the Law of Moses which masqueraded as its justification. To all whose intentions towards him were murderous Jesus can say: ’None of you keepeth the law’.

20. ’Why seek you to kill me?’ The crowd, part of which at least may not have been aware of the real situation, set this down as persecution mania. Thou hast a demon’ was a common expression for, ’Thou art mad’.

21 ff. Jesus, ignoring the remark, turns to the case which occasioned the murderous intention of the Jews. The cure of Bezatha was no violation of the Law of Moses. The introductory ’therefore’, 22, seems to cover the whole process of reasoning but belongs logically to the conclusion, namely, that the Law of Moses was higher and more human than mere sabbatarianism. The law of circumcision on the eighth day—really preMosaic or patriarchal, as the parenthesis says—was such as to include those infants whose eighth day from birth was a Sabbath. So plain was it, that these were to be circumcised and cared for on the Sabbath, that the rabbis formulated the maxim: ’Circumcision ousts the sabbath’. One of them (about a.d. 100) even argued that since allowance was made for circumcision which affected only one of the 248 members of the body, much more consideration should be had for the whole body. Our Lord’s argument is rather this: If a beneficial operation like circumcision carried out on the Sabbath only fulfils the law of Moses, why be angry with One who healed a whole man (perhaps both body and soul are meant) on the Sabbath? 24. Just judgement according to properly legal and impartial weights and measures must be deeper than superficial appearances.

25-30 Jewish Comment on Christ’s Origin —25. The miscellaneous and changing character of the crowds or of prominent elements in them throughout these vivid chapters should be kept well in mind. In the last section Jesus had addressed a hostile group, probably Pharisees, mixed with pilgrims or others who knew nothing of a set design to kill him; here a more indifferent group of Jerusalemites appear amidst a crowd somewhat favourably disposed.

26. These Jerusalemites think that the apparent explanation of our Lord’s freedom of speech is a change in the national leaders. Have they turned from homicidal enmity to recognition that he is really the Christ?

27. But like Trypho about a.d. 130( Justin, Dial. 8) they hold that a man known to be from Galilee does not fulfil the common Jewish conception of a Messias who should be of unknown or mysterious origin.

28 f. Jesus fixed on this matter of origin. ’Crying out’— which means not shouting but taking a higher and more solemn tone—he told them that he who came from Nazareth (as they thought) was not a selfappointed Prophet but an Envoy sent by, One who was a true Sender. The adjective ’true’ (???T????) does not mean ’veraciòus’ but ’really such’. The Sender is not known to them, but the Envoy does know the One from whom he has his embassy. 30. Thereupon a move was made in the crowd to arrest him but the arrest did not take place. The immediate reason is not given, but Jn indicates the higher providential reason: ’His hour was not yet come’.

31-36 Believers and Emissaries of the Sanhedrin —

31. The many who believed under the impression of this word of Jesus were persons who had heard of the many miracles worked in Galilee. The text affords no evidence that Jesus had recently worked many miracles in Jerusalem.

32. On the hostile side, the Pharisees are the prime movers. Here we have the first official measure taken against Jesus by two Orders of the Sanhedrin. ’The chief priests (now mentioned for the first time in Jn) and the Pharisees (scribes) sent guards (Levitical police officers) to arrest him’. No doubt, the guards were instructed to act with caution, for the crowd was divided in its sympathies.

33-36. Jesus, knowing that there could be no arrest, till his hour was come, warns his audience that the time is short. Of the three things that he declares, namely, the shortness of his stay, his speedy return to him who sent him, the subsequent frustration of Jewish desire to find him or come to where he is— of these three they seize only on the last. With a disdain which Palestinian Jews commonly nourished, they thought of him as going to the Diaspora or Jews dispersed amongst Greeks, especially in such places as Alexandria and Rome, and even as teaching the Greeks themselves. The repetition in 36 shows that they were particularly puzzled by the words: ’You shall seek me and shall not find me: and where I am, you cannot come’. The words are best understood of Jewry’s continually frustrated quest for a true Messias, ever since Jesus of Nazareth, whom they rejected and continue to reject, ascended into heaven. The teaching of Jesus has really gone to the Gentiles, and the irony of their remark, 35, has fallen on the Jews themselves.

37-39 Promise of Living Water —37f. It seems that the last great day of the festivity was not the supplementary eighth day (22 Tišri) but the seventh—a day of processions, hosannas = special libations. The water of Siloc poured from a golden vessel may have been the occasion of our Lord’s words, pronounced by him standing and with the solemnity of a ’proclamation. Two variant punctuations involve variety of interpretation. Irenaeus, Cyprian, and some other ancient authorities read: ’If any one thirst, let him come to me. And let him who believes in me drink. As the Scripture says: From within him rivers of living water shall flow’. In this case, the source of living water indicated by the Scripture would be Christ himself symbolized by the Rock, of which special mention was made in the liturgical chant of Ps 104(105):41 accompanying the libations: ’He rent the rock and water flowed—it ran in the wilderness like a river’. This interpretation, depending on what is really the earliest known punctuation, has in its favour that there is reference to a particular Scripture; it supposes that Christ, already symbolized in Jn by the Temple, the Brazen Serpent, the Manna, now appears as the Spiritual Rock from which believers must drink the profusion of the Holy Spirit; cf.1 Corinthians 10:4. Nevertheless, however desirous we might be to adopt this grammatically defensible interpretation, which would make the words of Christ an echo of the beautiful promise of Isaias: ’You shall draw waters in joy from the fountains of salvation’, 12:3, and which would also supply a theological argument for the Filioque, the natural and obvious connexion of the whole passage seems to favour the punctuation commonly received, and adopted by DV. In this case, it is from the heart of the believer that the rivers of living water shall flow. The scriptural reference would be to many passages of the OT, for instance, the effusion of water (and spirit) in Isaiah 44:3 (cf. 55:1; 58:11), the pure water of Ez 36:25 and especially the water from the temple in 47:1-12, the irrigating fountain of Joel 3:18, the open fountain and living waters of Zach 13:1; 14:8. It is not one river but many rivers that shall flow, for the gifts of the Spirit are various, 1 Cor 12. 29. Jn explains that the water did signify the Spirit. The realization of this promise came at Pentecost. Jn says in language commonly employed when comparing the very little to the very great, that the Spirit was not yet given. Its effusion in such abundance, as a widely distributed gift, and with such every-day frequency was to be consequent on the glorification of Jesus;

40-44 For and Against —The effect on the crowd takes four different forms. Some declare Jesus to be the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15; some say he is the Christ; others object that he came from Galilee and was, as they thought, neither a descendent of David nor a Bethlehemite by birth—both scriptural marks of the Messias, Ps 131(132):11; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Mich 5:2; others wished to end the matter by arresting him, but again no one laid hands on him.

45-52 Sanhedrin Scene —45 f. Amongst those most favourably impressed were the guards who returned to the Chief Priests and Pharisees empty-handed. They could not arrest One who ’spoke as no man ever spoke’.

47 ff. The Pharisees dub them as victims of imposture, try to confound them with the example of the religious and intellectual aristocracy, and pour their scorn on the crowd whose ignorance of the law makes them nothing less than a ’cursed crew’. The words were pronounced in anger, but the habitual contempt of the Pharisees for the common people was very great.

50 f. The brave stand of Nicodemus— for it was really such—showed that a Sanhedrite, a Pharisee, and a distinguished doctor of the law shared in the sympathy of the benighted guards towards Jesus. Nicoodemus simply insisted in the name of the Law, Deuteronomy 1:16 ff., that no man should be condemned ’unheard’.

52. They abuse Nicodemus as if he were a Galilean—which to Judaeans ordinarily meant stupid, as Boeotian did to Athenians. ’Search (the Scriptures is a gloss even in Vg) and see that out of Galilee a prophet riseth not’. They forgot that Jonas was from Gethhepher and that Isaias had foretold the rising of a great light in Galilee.

7:53-9:41 The Light of the World.

VII 53-VIII 11 Forgiveness of an Adulteress —This pericope is certainly canonical Scripture. If it is also part of Jn (see § 781h,i, Integrity) its place here is easily understood. The ’most joyful feast’ of Tabernacles with its circumstances of camping out and crowding was not always exempt from moral disorder

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on John 7". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/john-7.html. 1951.
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