Weekly Bible Devotional
“The Bible: Using the Bible the Way Jesus Did”
January 10, 2021
Scripture for Sunday: John 5:39-47
39 “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 I do not accept glory from human beings. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”
Notes on the Text:
Since we are reading the Bible together this year, I hope to be able to provide you with more materials for understanding the Bible as we go along. We will begin with the historical context of the Gospel of John. Please feel free to skip over this part if it does not interest you.
The author of this Gospel is anonymous. The traditional title, “The Gospel According to John,” appeared in manuscripts dating back to the second century CE. Traditionally, it was presumed that this Gospel was written by John the disciple of Jesus, but there is no scholarly evidence to support this claim. The assumption came from the assertion of Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons (130-200 CE) that the Gospel was written by the disciple John in order to refute the claims of the Christian Gnostics that it was written by them. According to evidence from manuscripts, early church traditions, and some external evidence, scholars have discerned that the date of writing the Gospel is between 85 and 95 CE. The date of the writing of this Gospel is important because of the struggle of Judaism to exist after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. That struggle had a strong impact on the community of John who were beginning to emerge from the Jewish faith as a separate faith. This inter-Jewish conflict was the setting for the Gospel. According to The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Jewish wisdom traditions in particular pay a prominent role in John. These traditions, found in both canonical and extra-canonical Jewish documents (e.g., Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon), personify Wisdom as the presence of God’s Word in the world (e.g., Proverbs 8:22, 34; Wisdom 7:22-26) and draw attention to God’s Word as a source of nourishment and life (e.g., Proverbs 9:5; Sir 15:3; 24:21). One hears echoes of the idioms of the wisdom traditions in the Prologue (1:1-18) and throughout Jesus’ discourses in John (e.g., 6:35; 7:37-38)”
It is important to note that the Gospel of John was written by a Jewish follower of Christ for a Jewish community that followed Christ as the Messiah. Yet, they were in conflict with the synagogue authorities of their day. We tend to think of Christianity as a new and separate religion, but at the time of the writing, the followers of Christ were very concerned to explain that their faith was a continuation of the Jewish faith. For a long time, scholars believed that John was written from a Hellenistic/Greek perspective but in the last thirty to forty years scholars have found strong Jewish connections and roots in this Gospel.
Socio-historical, Religious and Political Background:
Because of its theological and philosophical overtones, the Gospel of John is often presented and interpreted as a spiritual Gospel with matters relating to faith only. However, a careful understanding of the historical context of first century Jewish Christianity can help us to understand that John, like the other Gospels, was written with a strong awareness of the social and political struggles of the people of Israel under the rule of the Roman Empire. The imperial cult and the Augustan theology of imperial divine power were the context of life for the Jewish people in the first century in the Roman Empire. Just like the other Gospels, the author of John uses language that challenges the theology of the imperial cult such as exousia (“power’), ho soter tou kosmou (“the savior of the world”), and ho huios tou theou (“the son of God”). In speaking of Jesus as the savior, the author of John challenged the Roman usage of savior for emperors. The imperial cult was one of the unifying factors for the Roman Empire because they believed that the divine had blessed the powers of the empire. This was a common way of thinking in those days for many of the empires. What was unique about Rome was the development of the Augustan Ideology. This developed after Octavian’s ascension to power in 31 BCE. This was the end of the period of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the rise of the emperor as the new center of Rome’s power.
In our Bible story for this week we hear Jesus challenging the misconceptions of the religious leaders about their interpretation of the scriptures. He had healed a man who was paralyzed and blind, but he did it on the Sabbath. This was supposed to be a day of rest and such a healing violated the religious leaders’ strict adherence to complete rest on the Sabbath. They thought that they were following the laws of God given to them through Moses while they forgot how to stay open to God like Moses was.
Imagine if you saw someone suffering and then getting healed. You would imagine that everyone would be rejoicing, but in real life when such healing gets in the way of our certainties, our belief systems, and the status quo, we often react badly. It is easy to vilify biblical characters because we have the advantage of hindsight. It is much harder to see as God sees when we are during a situation.
Jesus challenged the religious people of his day to see him as one who was continuing and fulfilling the prophecies of old about justice, healing, and love. They missed the truth of Jesus’ ministry because their certainties blinded them. Their biases, fears, and personal interests prevented them from seeing reality as it was. Healing and love should have trumped their religious rules because ultimately that is the point of such practices. Yet, when the status quo of what we know is threatened, we tend to hold on more tightly to what we know, even if it is not serving us anymore. The same can be true of the reading Bible. We have to be careful as to not use the Bible to only interpret it through our preexisting ideas that don’t ask much of us in terms of change and transformation.
The invitation this week is to read the Bible with Jesus in mind. He was not attached to the letter of the Bible but to its greater message about love and justice. He saw clearly how people got stuck focusing on their limited understanding of scripture while ignoring the needs of others around them. Reading the Bible with openness to God’s Spirit will always lead us to expand our love for others.
Prayer: An active prayer
inspired by Psalm 139
O God, you know when I am happy;
Inhale: Express your joy with a smile coming from your heart and radiating out through your hands and feet.
You know when I am in the gutter.
Exhale: Sag your body down, depleted of energy, drained of life.
You know well the choices I make
Inhale: Lift up your arms.
And the paths they lead to.
Exhale: Bring your arms down toward your front foot and check the path you took today.
Your thoughts go beyond my reach;
Inhale: As you breathe in, reach up.
Your depth beyond all thoughts.
Exhale: As you breathe out, reach down, letting your head dangle freely.
I open my eyes, and there you are.
Inhale: Look up toward God in the heights.
I look inward, and there you are.
Exhale: Close your eyes and feel your humanness.
Thanks for your wonderful gifts.
Inhale: Count your blessings and give thanks. Smile.
Because of you, I am wonder.
Exhale: Smile. Radiate God’s joy.
from Praying with the body: Bringing the psalms to life by Roy DeLeon, p. 94