Tuesday, May 16, 2006

'Give me a Sign' (as Britney Spears once said)

Lots of people say that there are seven 'signs' done by Jesus in John's gospel, around which much of the gospel is arranged. As these signs are key to what John says his book is about (see John 20:30-31) it seems a good idea to try and get them right (i.e. know how many there are and what are they doing there, has John arranged them in a special way etc. etc.?). In a lecture this afternoon it was suggested that the seven signs are;

1. Water into Wine (2:1-11)
2. Healing the Official's Son (4:43-54)
3. Healing the paralytic by the Pool (5:1-14)
4. Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-15)
5. Walking on Water (6:16-24)
6. Restoring sight to the Blind Man by the pool (9:1-34)
7. Raising Lazarus from the Dead (11:38-48)

As far as I can see there are three problems here;

a. The resurrection is 'missing' (and it's the biggest of the signs - hence why John 20:30-31 comes at the climax of the resurrection appearances).

b. The walking on water miracle is a misfit as it isn't called a 'sign' either directly or by implication like the others are. However it functions (more later) it doesn't seem to be a 'sign' around which the book is structured like the rest.

c. And, following on from b., if we were to include all the miracles as 'signs' then the post-resurrection miracle (loads of fish) is also missing from the 7.

Also, the outline above doesn't really seem to offer an awful lot by way of clues to the structure of the book as a whole (in my humble opinion).

So, here's an alternative suggestion, for your perusal, comment, criticism etc.

A Water into Wine (2:1-11)
B Healing the Official's Son (4:43-54)
C Healing the Paralytic by the Pool (5:1-14)
D Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-15)
(Ds) Walking on Water (6:16-24)
C' Restoring sight to the Blind Man by the Pool (9:1-34)
B' Raising Lazarus from the Dead (11:38-48)
A' resurrection of Jesus Christ (20:1-31)
(A's) Harvest of fish (21:1-14)

This alternative outline yields some interesting results and suggests some areas for digging deeper into John;

1. Firstly, there seems to be a chiastic structure for the signs in John. In case you worry I've joined the 'chiasm-mad brigade' (there is one believe me!) then have a think about why there are two healings involving pools (C and C') both taking place on a Sabbath, also think about why there are two miracles involving rescue from death (B and B', especially note how B draws attention to the official's son being 'near death' 4:47). The connection between A and A' is less obvious perhaps but for my money I reckon the water into wine miracle is a picture of the new creation whereas the resurrection is the miracle heralding the new creation (taking place as it does in the first day of the week). Why these pairs unless we're supposed to make a comparison? It suggests more could be learned from a study of how these pairs of signs function.

2. This chiastic structure draws attention to the stand alone sign in the middle, the feeding of the 5,000 (D). This suggests that this is in some ways a very important sign. No wonder it has a 'sister-miracle' (Ds, also see 3. below), is followed by some long and in depth teaching by Jesus as he explains the feeding miracle in terms of his whole mission, death and resurrection and the nature of true faith (rest of chapter 6), all climaxing with a pivotal moment in the disciples' understanding of Jesus and a major prediction of his death (6:60-71). Again, this suggests more could be learned about the Holy Spirit's presentation of Jesus through John by looking at how this important sign functions.

3. As miracles that are not called signs either directly or implicitly (and signs is a key word in John) I've designated (Ds) and (A's) as 'sister-miracles', functioning as support and supplementation to the major signs they accompany. I suggest that probably the walking on water miracle relates to the message of the feeding sign just as the fish miracle relates to the resurrection. Both (Ds) and (A's) are private revelations to the disciples alone, involving the same geographical location and boats etc. suggesting they are related somehow. This highlights the importance of D and A', both being supplemented in this way. Again, this suggests another potentially fruitful area for further study.

4. There is an escalation as the signs proceed. In B Jesus heals someone nearly dead, in B' he raises a man four days dead. In C the man has been paralysed for 38 years, in C' for all his life. A' obviously far surpasses A. This escalation could suggest a forward momentum to the book, the signs intensifying and thrusting us forward to the resurrection - the sign of all signs, when we are explicitly given John's purpose and told how we should respond to the signs in the clearest terms (John 20:30-31).

Other areas for study this proposed structure throws up include:

  • Geography - the signs move from Galilee to Jerusalem, back to Galilee then to Judea/Jerusalem again (then Galilee again for the resurrection sister-miracle). What does this tell us?
  • Sabbaths/Feasts - C, C', and D all take place during feasts and or Sabbaths. What is the significance?
  • Is there a significance to the fact that the first sign takes place on the 3rd day, being (apparently) 'twinned' with the resurrection (see John 2:19-20 and reference to three days and the resurrection there)?

Any comments, criticism, thoughts welcome.

Disclaimer: I think at least some of the ideas here are based on stuff I maybe vaguely remember from reading the RML on John so don't know how much is my thoughts and how much is my memory)

1 comment:

Ros said...

Shame. I was hoping for more Britney here.