WARNING: Longer than usual notes.
I agree with the generally accepted scholarly conclusion that John 7:53-8:11 is a later insertion into the original text. So I will deal with John 7:1-42 and John 8:12-59 as one narrative, the story of what Jesus does at the feast of the tabernacles. Then I will deal with the story of the woman taken in adultery separately.
A more accurate translation of the word Jewry is “Judea.” in other words Jerusalem: Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee. Nevertheless, the theme of Jewish opposition to Jesus is frequent in these chapters (John 7:1, 13, 19, 25, 30, 32, and 44; and 8:37, 40, and 59). John is setting the stage for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion, but how should we understand the term Jew in John’s gospel? Does the term always refer to the same group? If it does, who are they? If it doesn’t, in what ways does he use the term? Does it refer to the party of the High Priest, the Sadducees, in other words, the rulers of the temple? To the Pharisees? If so, to all of them or only some? Does it refer to the multitude, to the mass of those who live in Jerusalem and the surrounding area?
The book of John has been used for centuries to justify anti-Semitism. Do you think that the book’s attitude is anti-Semitic? Even if it is, can we justify anti-Semitism? What does the Book of Mormon teach us about Israel and the Jews?
According to Josephus, the feast of the tabernacles, an autumn harvest feast, was the most popular feast of the year. (See “Feasts” in the LDS Bible Dictionary.) The city would have been filled with pilgrims and there was a triumphal procession of pilgrims met and welcomed by temple priests as it entered the city.
John appears to tell us that these events happened at the time of the feast to help us understand Jesus’ brothers’ advice to him. Why is he “in secret” (verses 4, 10)? Why do they want him to go to Judea? What are they asking Jesus to do? Does verse 5 shed any light on their advice?
How do the brothers understand Jesus’ work? Do they believe he can work miracles? Why do they want him to go to Jerusalem? Do they believe he is the Messiah? Is it significant that, according to tradition, one of them, James, will later not only become a Christian, but will be the head of the Church in Jerusalem? Is John drawing a parallel between the unbelief of the multitudes in chapter 6 (John 6:66) and the unbelief of Jesus’ brothers (John 7:5)?
Verses 6-10: What does Jesus mean when he says “it is not yet time for me” in verse 6? What does he mean when he says that their time is “always ready”? What is their time? Why won’t the world hate the brothers? (Compare John 15:19.)
The Greek for time in verse 6, kairos, means “decisive time,” a time particularly fit for something. What does Jesus mean when he says to his brothers, “my decisive time has not yet come, but the decisive time is always right for you”?
There may be a word play in verse 8: the word translated “go up” (anabainein) is a variation of the word for resurrection (anabasis).
Up to this point, the world has been what needs to be saved. However, here (verse 7) it appears for the first time in John as something that opposes Jesus.
Is there a contradiction between what Jesus said in verse 8–“I go not up yet unto this feast”–and what he does in verse 10? If so, what do you make of it? When he told the brothers that he wasn’t going up to Jerusalem, what was he telling them he wouldn’t do? (Remember what they were asking him to do.)
Verses 11-13: Like Jesus’ brothers, many in Jerusalem are expecting him to make an appearance at the festival. Why would they expect him to come? Do their expectations say anything about the impact of his ministry?
There is disagreement about Jesus. Some say that he is a good person, but others accuse him of leading people astray, in other words, of being a false prophet (verse 12). Deuteronomy 13:1-6 make clear that a false prophet must die.
What do people find amazing, Jesus’ appearance at the festival or his teaching?
In verse 15, “knoweth his letters” is a literal translation, but it means “is educated.” “Having never learned” is also literal. It means “he has never been taught by a rabbi.” Given what they say, what is education for them? What does it mean that he doesn’t meet their educational expectation? Compare what they say to what others have said about his teaching (Mark 1:22; Luke 4:22).
Verse 17 gives us a “test” for deciding the origin of Jesus’ teaching. (Compare Mosiah 5:13 and, perhaps, Numbers 16:28.) How does it compare with Moroni 10:4-5? What is unusual about these tests if we compare them with others ways that we test what people teach?
How can a person who does not already know the will of God carry out this test? Isn’t this a kind of tautology: “Everyone who knows the will of God will know that what I teach is the will of God”? How does a person know what to do?
One response is to say that if we first do what God wills out of blind obedience, we will then come to know that it is his will. Another response is that if doing and knowing the will of God are different aspects of the same thing. Do you prefer one of these over the other? If so, why? Do you have an alternative?
In verse 18, Jesus repeats the point that he is not his own witness. (Compare John 5:31.) Is this another test of those who say that they teach the will of God? Is this a different test than that in verse 17 or the same one?
The Greek and Hebrew words translated true in usages like that we see in verse 18 suggest “trustworthy,” “truthful,” “righteous.” Jesus reminds them that he is not unrighteous, and the evidence is that he does not seek his own glory. Then in verse 19, he describes the Jews (whoever they are) in a way that compares them to what he has just said of himself. What is the contradiction between their behavior and their claim to keep the law of Moses that Jesus uses as strong evidence that they do not keep that law? (What does John 5:18 tell us about Jesus’ claim?)
Compare verses 20 and 25. What do you conclude about those who charged Jesus with being possessed by an evil spirit when he said that the Jews were plotting to kill him? Why is the crowd so clueless? What do the Pharisees (another ambiguous group) say of them in verse 49?
Only one miracle by Jesus is recorded as happening in Jerusalem, the healing at the pool of Bethesda. Presumably that is the miracle that he refers to in verse 21 as “one work.”
How would the Pharisees have understood verse 24? How would the Christians come to understand it after the resurrection? How should we understand it today?
In verses 25-26, how do some begin to explain the Jewish leaders’ failure to silence Jesus? Are they speaking honestly or ironically?
What is the significance of verse 29? How would those in the crowd have understood it? How would the leaders have understood it?
In verse 30, to whom does they refer? Why do you think John is so unclear about the groups he is talking about?
Verse 31 tells us the basis of the faith of those who believed on Jesus, namely his miracles. But chapter 6 has already shown us that those who believe because of miracles may not really understand Jesus or his teaching. For us, what is comparable to believing because of miracles? What more than miracles must we have if our faith will allow us to understand who Jesus really is?
Verses 32-36: How does the attempt to arrest Jesus in verse 32 differ from that in verse 30? What motivates the first attempt? The second? To see what happened to those sent to arrest Jesus, read verses 45-46.
Notice that John makes it clear (verse 32) that the two forces in Jerusalem who opposed each other for leadership, namely the Pharisees and the temple priests, were united in their opposition to Jesus. Why? Notice also that they must intend what they say in verse 35 sarcastically. That the Messiah would teach the Gentiles was unthinkable to them.
Verses 37-39: Does the LDS Bible Dictionary’s description of the Feast of the Tabernacles help us understand better why Jesus chooses the figure that he does—water—and how those who heard him would have understood what he was saying?
In Greek there are two ways of reading the end of verse 37 and verse 38. One way: “If any man thirst, let him come to me; and [let him] drink, he that believeth on me. As the scripture says . . . .” On that way of reading, the living waters flow from Christ. Another way is the way that the King James translators decided to read it: the scripture describes the believer rather than Christ. Which reading do you think is most likely? Why?
Verses 45-52: Why haven’t the temple guards brought Jesus to the priests and the Pharisees? How do the priests and Pharisees respond in verses 47-48? What does their reply show about them? Verse 49 suggests that they believe that those who have believed Jesus did so because they don’t know the law.
Nicodemus’s interjection at this very point (verse 50) is telling, for he is a person learned in the law and he has been affected by Jesus’ teaching (see John 3:1-13). However, what do you make of the fact that Nicodemus doesn’t defend Jesus? Instead, he insists that they follow the law with regard to Jesus. What do you make of the response to Nicodemus in verse 52? Why was Jesus’ geographic origin so important to them? How did their learning, which allowed them to use a proof text against Nicodemus (probably a proverb since there is no scripture with that content) cause them to stumble with regard to the question of where Jesus came from?
Verse 12: It appears that when first written, the John 7:37-38 immediately preceded this verse and Jesus’ declaration, “I am the light of the world.” In those verses Jesus uses the water symbolically drawn as part of the Feast of the Tabernacles to explain who he is. Here does the same thing with the lamp lighting in the Temple court that was also part of the ritual. Why was it important for him to connect the people’s thinking of him to the Feast of the Tabernacles? What would people have heard him saying in that festival context?
Why does Jesus speak of following the light rather than seeing it? Is there a connection between what Jesus is saying here and Israel’s experience in the Exodus?
Verses 13-14: How does Deuteronomy 19:15 make it possible to understand the Pharisees’ objection? Do you think they would have been surprised by Jesus’ response? Why isn’t Jesus’ testimony invalidated by the fact that it is self-testimony?
Verses 15-16: What does it mean to judge according to the flesh? Is that the same as judging according to appearances (John 7:24)? What does Jesus mean when he says “I judge no man”? Is John 5:30 relevant here? If he doesn’t judge, then why add “But if I were to judge [the Greek verb is in the subjunctive mood], my judgment is true”?
The Greek verb translated judge is krin?. It can mean something as simple as “decide” (Acts 20:16) or “rule over” (Luke 22:30). But the legal sense is also common: “judge”—and, particularly, “condemn.” Does that help us understand what Jesus may be saying?
Verses 17-18: Jesus turns the law against his accusers, but he does so in a strange way: “The law requires the testimony of two witnesses: I am one.” As the Pharisees have already stated, according to the normal understanding of the law at the time, a person couldn’t testify on his own behalf. “The other is God,” hardly the usual witness in court. In addition, the Father doesn’t seem to testify that Jesus is who he says he is. Rather, he appears to tell Jesus what to teach (John 5:30 ; 7:16-17).
Jesus seems to be provoking the scholars he encounters. Why does he do that?
Verse 19: Are those questioning him asking about his earthly father or about the Father? What does their answer show about themselves? Does it show us anything about Jesus?
Verses 21-24: If you think a bit about what Jesus says, it is easy to be sympathetic to those Jesus is talking with when they misunderstand him or become confused. I doubt that many of his apostles would have understood these things. When Jesus says that his interlocutors will seek him, what does he mean? Is he predicting that they will vainly seek the gospel, seeking it but nevertheless dying in their sins? If they really sought it why would their search be in vain?
When these people hear Jesus say “You cannot go where I am going,” they think he is threatening to kill himself (verse 22). What would make them think that?
When Jesus says that they are “from beneath” (verse 23), what does he mean? Beneath what? Is he saying that they are from hell? How could that be? But if not hell, then what?
How are we to understand the phrase “die in your sins” in verse 24?
Jesus says “I am,” a shorthand way of referring to himself as God, here and in verse 58. Do you think his interlocutors understand what he is saying? Their response in verse 25 suggests that they don’t, that they think he hasn’t finished the sentence, “I am ____.”
Verse 25: The end of the verse can be translated in more than one way. Some translators, such as the King James translators, take Jesus response to be “I am the one I said I was from the beginning.” Others, however, argue that the clause means “Why should I speak to you at all?” (Ernst Haenchen, John 2: A Commentary on the Gospel of John 7-21, trans. Robert W. Funk [Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1984] 28). Which of these do you believe fits the story best?
What do you make of this continual back and forth of Jesus saying who he is and those he is speaking with not understanding what he says? What is John trying to help us see by telling us of that dialogue in such detail?
The word translated continue in verse 31 could also have been translated endure. What does it mean to endure in the word of God? What does it mean to know the truth? How does knowing the truth make one free? Notice the connection of ideas in verses 31-32: if you endure in my word, then you are my disciples; if you are my disciples, then you know the truth; if you know the truth, then you are free. Why do you think that Jesus gives them this chain of ideas? Why not, instead, just tell them, “Endure in my word and you will be free”?
Compare verse 32 and verse 36: the first says that the truth will make us free; the second says that the Son will make us free. That means that “the truth” and “the Son” mean the same thing. Explain how that can be.
Given the fact that the Jews had spent the last several hundred years under the rule of one foreign nation or another, how could they say “We . . . were never in bondage to any man”? What must they understand by freedom, and what do they think makes them free?
In verses 34-36, Jesus uses a metaphor that becomes central to Paul’s thinking later: the comparison between the servant (literally slave) of the household and the son of the house. What would have been the difference between the servant and the son (verse 35)? What does it mean to be a servant of sin? (Compare 2 Nephi 2:27.) In the ancient eastern Mediterranean, servants (slaves) could only be freed by the master of the house or his son acting under the master’s authority. How is that relevant to Jesus’ teaching?
Verse 39: How does Jesus say we can identify the true children of Abraham?
Verse 40-41: They claim to be the children of Abraham, but Jesus directly argues that they are not. Who does the say is their father? What does he say disqualifies them from being the children of Abraham? Is their response “We, unlike you, are not born of fornication”? Is that what they mean?
Verses 42-44: Of what does Jesus accuse the scribes and Pharisees in the temple? What does it mean to say that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning”? How does Satan the murderer contrast with Jesus the bringer of new life?
What does Jesus promise in verse 52 and how do his interlocutors understand that promise in verse 53? Is Jesus intentionally provoking his audience to anger? Of what do they accuse Jesus in verse 53 and how does he respond to that accusation in verse 54?
Jesus was in secret at the beginning of this narrative, hidden from people’s view and understanding. In verse 59, he returns into hiding. So the story moves us from Jesus in secret, to Jesus in public, to Jesus in secret again. Why? What does that teach us?
As I said earlier, this story seems originally not to have been where we now have it. In fact, most good manuscripts of John do not include the story at all. Many scholars believe that the story was originally part of Luke. Others believe that it was part of John, but located some place else in the book. Few doubt that it is an authentic story, but few believe it belongs where it is.
John 7:53; 8:1-2: The chapter and verse divisions, created thousands of years after the gospels were written, can sometimes cause us to miss things we might see otherwise. Compare John 7:52 and John 8:51. When John wrote his gospel, these two sentences were right next to each other, with no break between them. What contrast do you see between them? What reasons might Jesus have had for going to the Mount of Olives at night? What does verse 1 tell us about Jesus at this time? Why did Jesus return to the temple the next day, the day after the feast was over?
John 8:3-11: This story and the parable of the good Samaritan are probably the two favorite stories of the New Testament? Why? What do they have in common? What do they show us about Jesus? Why is their message important to us? In what ways are we like the woman of this story? In what ways are we like the scribes and Pharisees who bring her to Jesus?
The scribes and Pharisees bring the woman to Jesus and they put the question to him in a legal way: “Moses commanded . . . , what sayest thou?” Deuteronomy 22:23-24 decrees stoning for a betrothed virgin who has committed adultery. (Joseph worried that this was the case with Mary: Matthew 1:18-19.) Deuteronomy 22:22 decrees death for a married adulteress, but says nothing of how the penalty is to be carried out. (Most rabbis believed it should be done by strangulation.) What do you think they are asking Jesus to decide, and how do you think his answer might allow them to accuse him?
In verse 6, he seems to ignore them, tracing something in the dirt. (The word translated “wrote” does not necessarily mean that he wrote words.) Why do you think he refuses to answer their question?
Deuteronomy 17:7 says that the first witness against a person had also to initiate the execution of the death sentence. When the scribes and Pharisees continue to demand an answer, how does Jesus use that scripture against them?
What does verse 9 mean when it says that the accusers were convicted by their own consciences? The word convicted translates a Greek word that means “to show someone his sin and to bring him to repentance.” In verses 10-11, the word condemn translates a Greek word that means “to cut off.” Does Jesus excuse anyone in this story? He doesn’t condemn the woman, but does he condemn the scribes and Pharisees?
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