The Use of the Old Testament in John 1-2 (Pt. II)

Here I will look at the structure of the narrative of John 1-2, with special attention on parallels with OT structural devices.

I. Basic Outline / Structure

• 1:1-18—theological explanation of the Incarnate Word
• 1:19-28—John witnesses indirectly of Jesus
• 1:29-36—John witnesses directly of Jesus
• 1:37-51—Jesus gathers disciples
• 2:1-11—the wedding at Cana; first miracle
• 2:12-22—Subverting the Temple as symbol of true Judaism
• 2:23-25—Connection of signs with belief not reciprocal

In terms of the structure of the two chapters taken together, an interesting contrast is seen between 1:15, which states that John bore witness of Christ, and 2:25, which states that Jesus did not need anyone to bear witness of man. If we were to treat 1:1-14 as simply a prologue to the actual content of the two chapters, then this “unit” of John’s Gospel opens with a man bearing public witness to the God-Man and ends with the God-Man bearing private witness to man. If we were to go further and propose that these two antithetical occurrences are the beginning and end of a chiastic structure, then the passage could be diagrammed like this:

A: A man bears public witness to the nature of the God-Man (1:15)
   B: John performs no signs
      C: Jesus does not discourage public proclamation of his identity
         D: Jesus prophesies about Himself (1:51)
      C’: Jesus discourages a request for a public sign of his power (2:4)
   B’: Jesus performs a major sign (2:7-11)
A’: The God-Man bears private witness to the nature of man (2:25)

This arrangement seems to capture the main flow of the passage and allows us to reflectively consider the general thematic points of John’s narrative.

II. Structure of Chapter 1

The major theme of chapter 1 is that of beholding Christ / bearing witness to Him. This theme is conveyed several times explicitly: “[John] came for a witness” (v. 7), “he…came that he might bear witness” (v. 8), “we beheld his glory” (v. 14), “John bore witness of him” (v. 15), “this is the witness of John” (v. 19), “he confessed” (v. 20), “this is he on behalf of whom I said…” (v. 30), “in order that he might be manifested to Israel I came…”(v. 31), “John bore witness” (v. 32), “I have seen and borne witness” (v. 34), “he looked upon Jesus and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’” (v. 36). It is also conveyed implicitly, as in verse 51, where the angels will bear witness to Jesus’ fulfillment of the vision of Jacob’s Ladder.

Chapter 1 closes with Jesus prophesying about Himself to those who believe in Him – specifically about the glory of His ministry as the divinely-appointed mediator between God and man. By radical contrast to man’s foolish attempts to build up to heaven (as with the tower of Babel), God’s own self-revelation is that He Himself lets a ladder down from heaven to man. The testimony to Christ moves from John’s to Christ’s own, for without a word from God man cannot know anything of God at all. Not so concerning God’s knowledge of man, as the end of chapter 2 will show.

III. Structure of Chapter 2

The major theme of chapter 2 is Jesus’ performing of signs. Unlike John’s witness to Him, which featured no miraculous signs at all, Jesus’ own witness to Himself begins and ends (the resurrection) with miraculous signs. Only one miracle is explicitly related here—turning water to wine at the Cana wedding feast (2:1-11) – but others are mentioned (v. 23).

Chapter 2 closes the same way chapter 1 did, with Jesus prophesying about Himself. This time the prophecy is made to those who do not believe, and so it is given in a veiled sense. His words challenge the identification of Israel with the physical Temple in Jerusalem, and would later be seen by those who belonged to Him as a refocusing of Israel’s covenant story on the point of the whole Scripture—Himself (2:22). We are then told that Jesus needs no witness of man because He “knew what was in man” (2:25). The contrast with chapter 1 is striking.

IV. A Further, Generalized Old Testament Narrative Pattern

The basic Old Testament narrative parallel of these two chapters is “revelation / signs / rejection / judgment.” Broadly considered, (a) revelation of the Truth is given by God to the Jews (1:1-2:17), (b) many Jews reject this revelation by asking for an additional sign (2:18), (c) the sign they are given is the predicted destruction of “this temple” – a sign they misunderstand, but which will, in A.D. 70, come true in the literal sense they were expecting – (2:19-22), and (d) Jesus, knowing “what was in man” judges them (2:23-25).

This pattern was played out over and over again in the Old Testament, during the Exodus, the period of the Judges, the Davidic Kingdom, and the Divided Kingdom up to the point of the cataclysmic divine judgments at the hands of Assyria and Babylon. The coming of a new phase of revelation by means of a prophet was always accompanied by signs and wonders, and always resulted in the hardening of the hearts of God’s enemies. Those who ask for signs in order to believe are, generally speaking, “a wicked and adulterous generation” (Matt. 12:39), and the more signs they have the more guilty they become for their unbelief.

And yet, the relationship between the giving of signs and the kindling of belief is not so starkly negative as these facts seem to imply. While Jesus chastises Thomas for requiring a sign prior to believing in the resurrection, He lauds the other disciples for believing without one (Jn. 20:29). Additionally, John himself tells us that the purpose of his narrative of Jesus’ signs is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn. 20:31).

So, whereas the Old Testament seems to have been dominated by a paradigm of “revelation / signs / rejection / judgment,” the New Testament shows us the opposite – “revelation / signs / belief / salvation.” This would be consistent with the John’s theme that “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world” (3:17), but to save it. If in the New Testament the signs Jesus performed and even the mere report of them in Scripture are enough to bring His people to faith, then something has indeed radically changed. Although God is still calling out His own from the cursed mass of undeserving sinners, in the New Testament He has expanded the community of “Israel” beyond all expectations. In Christ, who ministers in the true Temple (of which the national Jewish one was always only a shadow) by means of a new and better sacrifice, God is now reconciling the world.

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