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Exegetical Commentary on John 7

OUTLINE:

    [3 A The Book of the Seven Signs (2:1 -12:50)]

      [2 B Selected Highlights from the Later Part of Jesus’ Public Ministry: Conflict and Controversy (chapters 5-10)]

        5 C Jesus teaches openly in the presence of his opponents in Jerusalem (7:1-8:59)

          1 D Preparation: the attitude of Jesus’ brothers as he delays his departure for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-13)

          2 D Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (7:14-52)

            1 E The Sabbath question renewed (7:14-24)

            2 E Public response to Jesus’ teaching: who is this One? (7:25-31)

            3 E The attempt to arrest Jesus (7:32-36)

            4 E Jesus as the Source of living water (7:37-39)

            5 E The response of the people (7:40-44)

            6 E The response of the Jewish leaders (7:45-52)

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Blenkinsopp, J., “John vii 37-39: Another Note on a Notorious Crux,” New Testament Studies 6 (1959/60): 95-98.

Blenkinsopp, J., “The Quenching of Thirst: Reflections on the Utterance in the Temple, John 7:37-39,” Scripture 12 (1960): 39-48.

Burge, G. M., The Anointed Community: The Holy Spirit in the Johannine Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), esp. 88-93.

Corts, J. B., “Yet Another Look at Jn 7, 37-38,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 29 (1967): 75-86.

Fee, G. D., “Once More—John 7:37-39,” Expository Times 89 (1978): 116-18.

Hooke, S. H., “‘The Spirit was not yet’,” New Testament Studies 9 (1962/63): 372-80.

Kilpatrick, G. D., “The Punctuation of John vii 37-38,” Journal of Theological Studies 11 (1960): 340-42.

Kuhn, K. H., “St. John vii, 37-38,” New Testament Studies 4 (1957/58): 63-65.

Olbricht, T. H., “Its Works are Evil (John 7:7),” Restoration Quarterly 7 (1963): 242-44.

Pancaro, S., “The Metamorphosis of a Legal Principle in the Fourth Gospel. A Close Look at Jn 7:51,” Biblica 53 (1972): 340-61.

Smith, C. W. F., “Tabernacles in the Fourth Gospel and Mark,” New Testament Studies 9 (1962/63): 130-46.

Woodhouse, H. F., “Hard Sayings—IX. John 7.39,” Theology 67 (1964): 310-12.

DETAILED EXEGETICAL NOTES:

        5 C Jesus teaches openly in the presence of his opponents in Jerusalem (7:1-8:59)

          1D Preparation: the attitude of Jesus’ brothers as he delays his departure for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-13)

7:1 Again, the transition is indicated by the imprecise temporal indicator metaV tau'ta. Clearly, though, the Evangelist has left out much of the events of Jesus’ ministry, because chapter 6 took place near the passover (6:4). This would have been the passover between winter/spring of AD 32, just one year before Jesus’ crucifixion (see following note).

7:2 Since 7:2 places these incidents at the Feast of Tabernacles (AD 32) there would have been a 6-month interval during which no events are recorded. The Evangelist is obviously selective in his approach; he is not recording an exhaustive history (as he will later tell the reader in 21:25).

After healing the paralytic on the Sabbath in Jerusalem (5:1-47) Jesus withdrew again to Galilee because of mounting opposition. In Galilee the feeding of the 5,000 took place, which marked the end of the Galilean ministry for all practical purposes. 7:1-9 thus marks the final departure from Galilee.

hJ skhnophgiva John’s use of skhnophgiva for the Feast of Tabernacles constitutes the only use of this term in the New Testament.

7:3 Jesus’ brothers (really his half-brothers) were mentioned previously by John in 2:12. [See 2:12 for discussion of the problem of their relationship to Jesus.] They are also mentioned elsewhere in Matt 13:55 and Mark 6:3.

“Depart from here [i.e., Galilee] and go into Judea, in order that your disciples may behold your works which you are doing” Is this to be understood as a suggestion on the part of Jesus’ brothers that he should attempt to win back the disciples who had deserted him in 6:66? Perhaps. But it is also possible to take the words as indicating that if Jesus is going to put forward messianic claims [i.e., through miraculous signs] then he should do so in Jerusalem, not in the remote parts of Galilee. Such an understanding seems to fit better with the following verse. It would also indicate misunderstanding on the part of Jesus’ brothers of the true nature of his mission—he did not come as the royal Messiah of Jewish apocalyptic expectation to be anointed king at this time.

7:4 “No one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be publicly recognized.” The phrase amounts to this: “if you’re going to perform signs to authenticate yourself as Messiah, you should do them at Jerusalem.” (Jerusalem is where mainstream Jewish apocalyptic tradition held that Messiah would appear.)

7:5 Apparently Jesus’ brothers later did come to trust in him—see Acts 1:14.

7:8 Although the word is kairov" here, it parallels John’s use of w{ra elsewhere as a reference to the time appointed for Jesus by the Father—the time of his return to the Father, characterized by his death, resurrection, and exaltation (glorification). In the Johannine literature synonyms are often interchanged for no apparent reason other than stylistic variation.

7:7 Compare 3:19-21, especially concerning the light and darkness imagery.

7:8 ejgwV oujk ajnabaivnw eij" thVn eJorthVn tauvthn How are we to reconcile Jesus’ statement to his brothers with his later action in 7:10? The major explanations that have been proposed are these:

(1) The use of the present tense does not exclude later action of a different kind. (It does not say anything about the future.)

(2) Jesus is really denying his brothers’ request to perform signs. He will go up to the feast, but not in their way, openly.

(3) What John means here is that Jesus did not travel up to Jerusalem with the other pilgrims to the feast, an act which would have been conspicuously public, and would have drawn undue attention to himself. Jesus chose to travel to Jerusalem by himself, privately.

The problem with all three of these explanations is that they require the reader to supply some understood word or expression to mean “not at present,” “not publicly,” or the like. This may well be valid but it is difficult to see why the Evangelist left it up to the reader to supply the missing word or phrase.

(4) One could accept the variant textual reading which substitutes oujpw for oujk. Manuscript evidence is very weighty in favor of this reading: [66 75 B L T W Q Y 0105 0180 0250 1 13 etc.]. It is true that the reading with oujk is the more difficult reading, but it is also easy to see how a confusion of letters could have occured in uncial script which would have produced the shorter reading: a copyist who saw OUPW confused the PW for K and wrote OUK.

The fourth explanation, on the whole, seems preferable because the variant has excellent manuscript support and the reading is consistent with the Johannine tendency to clarify whatever a reader might not easily understand.

7:10-13 So Jesus does go up to the feast, but later, in secret (verse 10). Note how John prepares in verses 12-13 for the later debate about the identity of Jesus in verses 25-36, and also keeps before the reader’s mind the question, “Who is Jesus?”

          2 D Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (7:14-53)

            1 E The Sabbath question renewed (7:14-24)

7:14 When Jesus does go up to Jerusalem, he makes no attempt to remain hidden once he arrives (in fact he makes himself quite conspicuous). This suggests that “going up in secret” (verse 10) meant not so much covertly but that he did not go up with the pilgrim procession (as suggested above at verse 8, perhaps to avoid a premature “triumphal entry” scene).

7:15-24 Note how the Evangelist, in this section, treats a number of Jewish “objections” to believing in Jesus. Verses 15-18 deal with the question of authority. Jesus does not teach from his own authority but speaks on behalf of the One who sent him. If Jesus had claimed to be his own authority, or said he did not need a teacher, he would have been discredited. Rabbis cited authorities for all significant statements. Likewise, Jesus cites his own authority: the Father who sent him.

There is irony here too: when the Jewish leaders come face to face with the Word become flesh—the pre-existent Lovgo", creator of the universe and divine Wisdom personified—they treat him as an untaught, unlearned person (verse 15)!

7:20 tiv" se zhtei' ajpoktei'nai… Many of the crowd (if they had come in from surrounding regions for the feast) probably were ignorant of any plot. The plot was on the part of ‘the Jews’, which for the Evangelist here indicates the Jewish leaders. Note how carefully John distinguishes between the leadership and the general populace in their respective responses to Jesus.

7:21 The “one work” must surely refer to 5:1-47, the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda. (The Synoptics record other Sabbath healings, but John does not mention them.) It is significant that after the Bethesda incident, the Jewish leaders began seeking to kill Jesus (see 5:18) [although this was probably an unplanned emotional response and did not develop until later into an outright plot.]

7:23 ejmoiV cola'te o{ti o[lon a[nqrwpon uJgih' ejpoivhsa ejn sabbavtw/… The Rabbis counted 248 parts to a man’s body. In the Talmud, b. Yoma 85b states: “If circumcision, which attaches to one only of the 248 members of the human body, suspends the Sabbath, how much more shall the saving of the whole body suspend the Sabbath?” So absolutely binding did rabbinic Judaism regard the command of Lev 12:3 to circumcise on the eighth day, that Mishnah Shabbath 18.3; 19.1, 2; and Nedarim 3.11 all hold that the command to circumcise overrides the command to observe the Sabbath.

This provides insight into Jesus’ relationship to the Mosaic Law (cf. Matt 5:17). “Are you angry with me because I made a whole man well on the Sabbath?” Again we see a contrast between Moses and Jesus (cf. 1:17—”law” versus “grace and truth”). What Moses did in part, Jesus does completely. It is as though Jesus were saying, “I have not done a purifying work to one particular part of him, but have restored his whole body to health and strength. I have not done a work of necessity to one single member only, but a work of necessity and benefit to the whole man.”

But for Jesus, it is not so much a question of suspension of the Sabbath as fulfillment of it: his actions fulfilled the purpose of the original institution. Such deeds of mercy were not just permissable on the Sabbath, they were obligatory! They looked forward to the state of affairs which would prevail in the final Sabbath rest of the entire world, the messianic Kingdom (see Heb 4:9 and John 2:1).

7:24 In the light of their own practice of circumcising on the Sabbath, Jesus calls on his hearers to stop judging (present imperative used in a specific instance) according to outward appearance (in this specific instance of his healing the man at the pool), but instead to judge with righteous judgment. (Some manuscripts read the aorist krinate for the second reference to judging [a Q 0105 0250 1 13 ].)

            2 E Public response to Jesus’ teaching: who is this One? (7:25-31)

7:25-27 Note the response of the general populace to Jesus’ teaching: it was very favorable. Some of the citizens of Jerusalem say, “Isn’t this the one they are seeking to kill? And see, he is speaking openly and they are saying nothing to him. Perhaps truly the rulers know that this one is the Messiah?” Some people who had heard Jesus were so impressed with his teaching that they began to infer from the inactivity of the opposing Jewish leaders a tacit acknowledgment of Jesus’ claims.

oiJ a[rconte" Note how carefully the Evangelist distinguishes the general populace from the “rulers,” otherwise known in the Fourth Gospel as “the Jews”.

7:27 oJ deV cristoV" o{tan e[rchtai oujdeiV" ginwvskei povqen ejstivn Further discussion arises, however, over the origins of the Messiah. The view of these people (apparently residents of the city as opposed to pilgrims in Jerusalem for the feast, note 'Ierosolumitw'n in 7:25, in the NT only here and in Mark 1:5) reflects the idea that the origin of the Messiah is a mystery. In Mishnah Sanhedrin 97a Rabbi Zera taught: “Three come unawares: Messiah, a found article, and a scorpion.”

Apparently Old Testament prophetic passages like Mal 3:1 and Dan 9:25 were interpreted by some as indicating a sudden appearance of Messiah.

Note: It appears that this was not a universal view: the scribes called by Herod at the coming of the Magi in Matt 2 knew that Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. It is important to remember that Jewish messianic expectations in the early first century were not monolithic—a considerable variety of viewpoints existed, not all of them capable of harmonization with one another.

The Evangelist apparently did not consider this objection worth answering. The true facts about Jesus’ origins were readily available for any reader who didn’t know already. Here is an instance where the Evangelist assumes knowledge about Jesus independent from the material he records.

7:28 kajmeV oi[date kaiV oi[date povqen eijmiv Jesus’ response while teaching in the Temple is more difficult—it appears to concede too much understanding to Jesus’ opponents. It is best to take the words as irony: “So you know me and know where I am from, do you? Indeed I have not come of myself, but the one who sent me is true, whom you do not know.” On the physical, literal level, they do know where he was from—Nazareth of Galilee (at least they think they know). But on another deeper (spiritual) level, they do not: he came from heaven, from the Father. Jesus insists that he has not come on his own initiative (cf. 5:37), but at the bidding of the one who sent him.

7:29 Note the contrast with the preceding: ejgwv is emphatic. You don’t know him, but I know him. This claim to unique, intimate knowledge of the Father is mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel in1:18; 6:46; 8:25; and 17:25. Note the two-fold claim: I am from him (origin) and that one sent me (mission). The preposition parav + genitive case has the local sense preserved and can be used of one person sending another. This does not necessarily imply origin in essence or eternal generation.

7:30 Here the response is on the part of the crowd. They seek to seize Jesus. This is apparently distinct from the attempted arrest by the authorities mentioned in 7:32.

Jesus’ claims to intimate knowledge of the Father, intimate fellowship with him, and ultimately identification with him, could not be overlooked. People who are confronted with the claims of Jesus are not able to remain neutral: either they must acknowledge and embrace those claims, or reject them utterly. In the words of C. S. Lewis:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.80

Note the reason Jesus’ opponents could not touch him: his hour had not yet come. This is the hour appointed by God for his death, resurrection and return to the Father. See the discussion on the use of w{ra in the Gospel of John at 2:4 above.

7:31 Some of the crowd, faced with Jesus’ teaching, respond in faith. “Whenever Messiah comes,” they say, “will he perform more signs than what this one has done?” This apparently refers again to other miracles besides the seven “sign-miracles” selected for inclusion by the Evangelist. Note that even though this faith is based on signs, we are given no indication that this is less than genuine faith. It is better to believe on the basis of miracles than not to believe at all [compare the statement made to Thomas in 20:29].

            3 E The Attempt to Arrest Jesus 7:32-36

7:32 Here John specifies what groups are involved: the High Priests and the Pharisees.

7:33 Note Jesus’ response: “Yet a little time I am with you and I am going to the one who sent me.” Jesus again has his return to the Father in view.

7:34 Note the Jews’ misunderstanding of Jesus’ words, as made clear in verses 35-36. They didn’t realize he spoke of his departure out of the world. This is another example of the Evangelist’s use of misunderstanding as a literary device to emphasize a point.

When will the events Jesus alluded to in verse 34 take place? Jesus’ words in 7:34 may be compared to those of Wisdom in Proverbs 1:24-29 [NASB]:

“Because I called, and you refused;
I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention;
And you neglected all my counsel,
And did not want my reproof;
I will even laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your dread comes,
When your dread comes like a storm,
And your calamity comes on like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come on you.
Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me,
Because they hated knowledge,
And did not choose the fear of the LORD.”
Amos 8:11-12
also states:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
“And people will stagger from sea to sea,
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.”

Similar themes may also be found in the OT in Job 28:12 ff.; Isaiah 55:6; Deut 4:29; and Hosea 5:6.

7:35 The Evangelist may be using the term oiJ =Ioudai'oi here to refer to the officers (note uJphrevta", v. 32) sent out by the Pharisees and chief priests. More likely, however, is that the words of verse 35 are spoken by the Jewish authorities among themselves after they receive the report from their servants of Jesus’ reply (found in the preceding verse).

            4 E Jesus as the Source of living water (7:37-39)

The setting for Jesus discourse at the Feast of Tabernacles:

L. Morris gives an excellent description of the background of Jesus’ words on the last day of the feast:

Tabernacles was a festival rich in symbolism and popular appeal, and the symbolism forms the background to our Lord’s saying. The principal features of the observance, in addition to the erection of the leafy bowers in which the people camped out and the offering of the sacrifices, appear to have been these. The people carried with them bunches of leaves, called lulabs. There was apparently a disagreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees over the correct interpretation of Lev 23:40, “And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook….” The former took the words to refer to the material out of which the booths for the observance of the feast were to be constructed, while the latter held them to mean that the worshippers were actually to carry branches of the trees named as they entered the temple. The Pharisaic interpretation prevailed among the people, and accordingly each worshipper, as he marched in procession, would carry a lulab in his right hand and a citron in his left. The lulab symbolized the stages of the wilderness journey (marked by different kinds of vegetation), and the fruit the fruit of the goodly land that God had given His people. As certain Psalms were recited the worshippers shook their lulabs. The rejoicing was marked further by the flute-playing and dancing that went on for most of the feast and by bringing in young willow branches and arranging them round the altar (Sukk. 4:5). The tops thus were bent over the altar forming a leafy canopy for it. The reciting of the words, “Save now, we beseech thee, O Jehovah: O Jehovah, we beseech thee, send now prosperity” (Ps 118:25), is probably to be understood as a prayer for rain and fruitful season. On each of the seven days of the feast a priest drew water from the pool of Siloam in a golden flagon and brought it in procession to the temple with the joyful sounding of the trumpet. There the water was poured into a bowl beside the altar from which a tube took it to the base of the altar. Simultaneously wine was poured through a similar bowl on the other side of the altar. These symbolic ceremonies were acted thanksgivings for God’s mercies in giving water in past days (probably looking right back to the smiting of the rock in the wilderness and then on to the giving of rain in recent years). They were also an acted prayer for rain in the coming year. It is also significant that the words of Isaiah are associated with these ceremonies, “with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Isa 12:3). The Jerusalem Talmud connects the ceremonies and this scripture with the Holy Spirit: “Why is the name of it called, The drawing out of water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: ‘With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.’”81

Jesus’ words are to be understood against this background. Up till now nothing has been recorded of His teaching at this feast, for all His words in this chapter hitherto have been replies to the accusations of His foes. But now, at the culmination of the greatest feast of the Jewish year, He unfolds its significance in terms of the life that He came to bring. He takes the water symbolism of the feast and presses it into service as He speaks of the living water that He will bestow. The people are thinking of rain, and of their bodily need. He turns their attention to the deep need of the soul, and to the way He would supply it. In chapter 4 we have had references to the living water, but here only is the explanation given of its significance in terms of the Holy Spirit.

Note: The following verses are particularly important for understanding the symbolism of water in the Gospel of John.

7:37 th'/ ejscavth/ hJmevra/ th'/ megavlh/ There is something of a problem with this reference to the “last day of the feast, the great day”: it appears from Deut 16:13 that the feast went for seven days. Lev 23:36, however, makes it plain that there was an eighth day, though it was mentioned separately from the seven. It is not completely clear whether the seventh or eighth day was the climax of the feast, called here by the Evangelist the “last great day of the feast”. Since according to Mishnah Sukkah 4.1 the ceremonies with water and lights did not continue after the seventh day, it seems more probable that this is the day the Evangelist mentions.

Note that once more, coming to Jesus (37b) and believing in him (36a) are the same, cf. 6:35.

7:38 potamoiV ejk th'" koiliva" aujtou' rJeuvsousin u{dato" zw'nto" These verses have been the subject of considerable scholarly debate. Certainly Jesus picks up on the literal water used in the ceremony and uses it figuratively. But what does the figure mean? According to popular understanding, it refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in the believer. There is some difficulty in locating an OT text which speaks of rivers of water flowing from within such a person, but Isa 58:11 is often suggested: “And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail”[NASB]. Other passages which have been suggested are Prov 4:23 and 5:15; Isa 44:3 and 55:1; Exek. 47:1 ff.; Joel 3:18; and Zech 13:1 and 14:8.

The meaning in this case is that when any man comes to believe in Jesus the Scriptures referring to the activity of the Holy Spirit in a persons life are fulfilled. “When the believer comes to Christ and drinks he not only slakes his thirst but receives such an abundant supply that veritable rivers flow from him.”82 In other words, with this view, the believer himself becomes the source of the living water.

This is the traditional understanding of the passage, often called the “Eastern interpretation” following Origen, Athanasius, and the Greek Fathers. It is supported by such modern scholars as Barrett, Behm, Bernard, Cadman, Carson, R. H. Lightfoot, Lindars, Michaelis, Morris (see quotation above), Odeberg, Schlatter, Schweizer, C. H. Turner, M. M. B. Turner, Westcott, and Zahn. In addition it is represented by the following Greek texts and translations: AV, RSV, NASB, UBS4 and NA27.

Note: Carson has a thorough discussion of the issues and evidence although he opts for the previous interpretation.83

There is another interpretation possible, however, called the “Western interpretation” because of patristic support by Justin, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Irenaeus. Modern scholars who favor this view are Abbott, Beasley-Murray, Bishop, Boismard, Braun, Brown, Bullinger, Bultmann, Burney, Dodd, Dunn, Guilding, R. Harris, Hoskyns, Jeremias, Loisy, D. M. Stanley, Thüsing, N. Turner, and Zerwick. This view is represented by the translations in the NEB and the RSV margin. It is also sometimes called the “Christological interpretation” because it makes Jesus himself the source of the living water in verse 38, by punctuating as follows:

37=

ejavn ti diya'/ ejrcevsqw prov" me,

 

kaiV pinevtw

38

oJ pisteuvwn eij" ejmev.

 

KaqwV" eipen hJ grafhv,

 

potamoiV ejk th'" koiliva" aujtou'

 

rJeuvsousin u{dato" zw'nto".

   

37b

If anyone thirsts let him come to Me,

 

and let him drink

38

who believes in Me.

 

Just as the scripture says,

 

rivers of living water

 

will flow from His belly.

Three crucial questions are involved in the solution of this problem: (1) punctuation; (2) determining the antecedent of aujtou'; and (3) the source of the scripture quotation.

With regard to (1), 66 does place a full stop after pinevtw, but this may be theologically motivated and could have been added later. Grammatical and stylistic arguments are inconclusive.

More important is (2) the determination of the antecedent of aujtou'. Can any other Johannine parallels be found which make the believer the source of the living water? John 4:14 is often mentioned in this regard, but unlike 4:14 the water here becomes a source for others also. Neither does 14:12 provide a parallel. Furthermore, such an interpretation becomes even more problematic in light of the explanation given in verse 39 that the water refers to the Holy Spirit, since it is extremely difficult to see the individual believer becoming the ‘source’ of the Spirit for others. On the other hand, the Gospel of John repeatedly places Jesus himself in this role as source of the living water: 4:10, of course, for the water itself; but according to 20:22 Jesus provides the Spirit (cf 14:16). Furthermore, the symbolism of 19:34 is difficult to explain as anything other than a deliberate allusion to what is predicted here (and also explains why the Spirit cannot come to the disciples unless Jesus “departs” [16:7]).

As to (3) the source of the scripture quotation, Boismard has argued that John is using a targumic rendering of Ps 78:15-16 which describes the water brought forth from the rock in the wilderness by Moses.84 The frequency of Exodus motifs in the Fourth Gospel (paschal lamb, bronze serpent, manna from heaven) leads quite naturally to the supposition that the Evangelist is here drawing on the account of Moses striking the rock in the wilderness to bring forth water (Num 20:8 ff.). That such imagery was readily identified with Jesus in the early church is demonstrated by Paul’s understanding of the event in 1 Cor 10:4. Jesus is the Rock from which the living water—the Spirit—will flow. Carson (see above) discusses this imagery although he favors the traditional or “Eastern” interpretation.

In summary, it appears that the latter or “Western” interpretation is to be preferred. G. M. Burge has summarized well:

John 7:37 records that Jesus spoke out “on the last day of the feast.” In the Tabernacles setting, on this day the water libations were increased significantly. But the Jewish prayers for water were answered in an unexpected way. The water which would flow from beneath the temple would now flow from Jesus, the new temple (cf. 2:18ff.). R. J. McKelvey remarks that “Jesus’ claim to supply living water could not fail to challenge Jewish readers. It means that the centre and source of the world’s life was no longer the temple of Jerusalem, but himself, the new temple.” The inexhaustible Mosaic supply of life-giving water in the wilderness could now be found in Jesus, the new prophet-like-Moses (7:40). Jesus is the source of the awaited eschatological stream. In the wilderness Moses supplied manna: Jesus is the bread from heaven (6:32ff.). Moses gave water: Jesus is the living water (7:38). Moses led with a pillar of fire: Jesus is the light of the world (8:12). In Jesus’ person one can find the fulfillment of all the Tabernacle expectations.85

7:39 ou[pw gaVr h pneu'ma Since only B (Vaticanus) and a handful of other NT manuscripts supply the participle dedomenon [“given”], it would be better to translate this “for the Spirit was not yet”. This is expressed from a human standpoint and has nothing to do with the preexistence of the third Person of the Godhead. The meaning is that the era of the Holy Spirit had not yet arrived; the Spirit was not as yet at work in the world because Pentecost had not yet come.

            5 E The response of the people (7:40-44)

7:40-44 Note the questions and responses (which the Evangelist does not even comment on). Verse 42 is particularly ironic because it was true of Jesus: he was of the lineage of David and had been born in Bethlehem (neither of which John records). Here it appears the Evangelist was at least aware that Jesus’ birth narrative must have been common knowledge, since he is so thorough about these things elsewhere. For the reader who knows these things, the statements by the crowd can be seen as truly ironic.

Again, the question John holds before the reader’s mind is: “who is this Jesus, who makes these astounding claims?”

            6 E The response of the Jewish leaders (7:45-52)

7:45-47 In response to the question of the high priests and Pharisees, “Why did you not bring him?” the officers merely answer, “Never did a man speak as this man speaks.” They offer no further explanation for their failure to carry out their assignment. Obviously they were deeply impressed by what Jesus had to say.

7:48-51 At this point, while a few of the rulers or Pharisees may have believed, they had not done so openly. An example of this is Nicodemus himself, who speaks up (somewhat dramatically) in defense of Jesus (though he does not commit himself to a position). We should not condemn Nicodemus for his lack of boldness here; in light of the fact that the leaders were already angered, an open witness might have enraged them further. Instead, Nicodemus reminds them of their own law. The question with mhv looks for a negative answer; he is sure of his point.

7:52 But these leaders reply brusquely: “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Search and see that a prophet does not arise from Galilee.” This presents some difficulty, because Jonah had been from Gathhepher, in Galilee ( 2 Kings 14:25). Also the Babylonian Talmud later stated, “There was not a tribe in Israel from which there did not come prophets” [B. Sukkah 27b].

Two explanations are possible:

(1) In the heat of anger the members of the Sanhedrin overlooked the facts (this is perhaps the easiest explanation).

(2) We are to understand this anarthrous noun as a reference to the prophet of Deut 18:15 (note the reading of 66 which is articular). In this case the statement is in accord with the facts. Compare also 7:40.

Either explanation is acceptable. I prefer the latter, but in light of the overwhelming textual evidence for the anarthrous reading, it is impossible to be certain (although a reference to the ‘prophet like Moses’ of Deut 18:15 could still be anarthrous).

7:53 This verse belongs with the disputed section in chapter 8. Evidence for its omission or inclusion will be discussed along with 8:1-11 (see the following chapter).


80 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943), 55-56.

81 Morris The Gospel According to John, 419-21.

82 Morris, The Gospel According to John , 424-25.

83 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 322-29.

84 M.-E.Boismard, “Les citations targumiques dans le quatrime vangile,” Revue Biblique 66 (1959): 374-78.

85 Gary M. Burge, The Anointed Community: The Holy Spirit in the Johannine Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 93.

Related Topics: Christology