Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Word Made Flesh as Mystery Incarnate: Revealing and Concealing Dramatized by Jesus as Portrayed in John's Gospel

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Word Made Flesh as Mystery Incarnate: Revealing and Concealing Dramatized by Jesus as Portrayed in John's Gospel

Article excerpt

I.INTRODUCTION

Three decades ago D. A. Carson explored the role of misunderstandings in John's Gospel.1 His essay features sixteen occasions when Jesus's disciples failed to understand about him prior to the cross and resurrection and their coming to un derstand after his resurrection.2 Consider a few examples. John insists that Jesus's disciples did not understand until after the resurrection that by saying, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (2:19), he was speaking of his body (2:21-22). Only then, John explains, "the disciples believed the Scriptures and the saying that Jesus spoke" (2:22). Thus, early in his Gospel, John makes the case that the disciples' understanding of Jesus's temple riddle dawns upon them only when redemptive history climaxes with the crucified Messiah's resurrection.3 Likewise, only after Jesus's death and resurrection do the disciples come to understand Jesus's symbolic ride upon the donkey into Jerusalem as fulfilling Zechariah's prophecy (John 12:14-16). One more example must suffice. As Jesus approaches the Passover on which he would offer himself as the last Passover lamb, he announces, "If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all humans to myself' (éåv u^wØw éx TY¡g y%, 12:32). John preserves the riddle-like saying that features Jesus's double entendre use of ú^ów (cf 3:18; 8:28) situated with 5o^âÇw (12:28), alluding to Isa 52:13 where the two occur together.4 Jesus's saying puzzles those who hear him. Their response-"We understood from the Law that the Messiah remains forever, and how do you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" (12:34)-betrays inadequate knowledge of Scripture. They apprehend only one sense of ú^ów, so they are puzzled how Messiah remains forever but also dies. John's post-resurrection aside-"He said this to signify by what kind of death he was going to die" (12:33)-guides readers to understand the Jews' misunderstanding.5

Since the publication of Carson's essay several have addressed the misunderstanding motif in John's Gospel. Culpepper observes that John's misunderstanding motif is "supple and variable" and adds, "misunderstandings arise from his concept of revelation: inevitably those who did not accept Jesus misunderstood him."6 Yet, he does not develop this. So, in a more recent essay, Carson rightly laments that no one has followed up to explore how John insists throughout his Gospel "that the crucial events in Jesus' life and passion and resurrection fulfill Scripture" but also that "the disciples themselves did not read Scripture this way until after" Messiah's resurrection.7 He explains that the misunderstandings that he had isolated find resolution only with the passage of time, by way of insight acquired only after Messiah is raised from the dead. John was able to differentiate between what he and the other disciples understood during Jesus's ministry in the flesh and what he and they came to understand after his resurrection, a distinction of understanding upon which the evangelist insists. Of particular concern for Carson is how these phenomena have not been adequately explored concerning what they say about John's understanding of how he and the other apostles came to read the OT as Christian Scripture. Carson summarizes the challenge that he laments has not been taken up by another: "Thus we come by another route to something analogous to the dominant notion of ^uoT^piov in the Pauline corpus: the gospel is simultaneously said to be hidden in times past but now disclosed, and prophesied in times past and now fulfilled."8

So, Carson's challenge succinctly avows an integral element of my thesis, "that John's Gospel treats the mystery theme as tellingly as any New Testament writer, without using the word 'mystery.'"9 Though in a few prior essays I have touched upon this theme within John's Gospel as correlating with Paul's concept of ^uoT^piov, this essay is fully devoted to suggesting that John's Gospel literarily unfolds how the incarnate Word fulfills Scripture by replicating Scripture. …

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