A room in the house

In today’s gospel we find Jesus with his apostles and disciples. It is a time that finds the followers of Jesus confused, worrying, and wondering what is unfolding? It the evening of Holy Thursday, the traitor Judas has left the scene to initiate the betrayal of Jesus and those who remain have just been told that Jesus is going,..and they’re not coming along. But they are not to worry because the Father in Heaven has prepared a house (mansion in the Kings James translation) that has many rooms. The New American translation says that “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” (Verse 2)

Verse 2 also has some translation options: “In my Father’s house [oikia] there are many dwelling places [monai].”Should oikia be translated “house,” i.e., a physical structure (as in 11:31 & 12:3); “household,” i.e., a community of people (as in 4:53 & 8:35)?; or even “family” – all of which are valid translations [EDNT 2:495]. Often people immediately think of the King James’ translation: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” – which immediately moves one thoughts and reference to heaven. Is this the intention of this passage?

If one is convinced that house [oikia] refers to heaven alone (v.2) then the prepare a place (v.2) and the where I am (v.3) refer to a place in heaven where Jesus is. The I will come back speaks to the parousia – although that is not a topic the Gospel speaks about elsewhere. But clearly oikia has other meanings: household, community, family. If one lends credence to those understandings, then the reference can be heaven and earthly life.

Some of this should sound familiar to those who would study the Gospel According to John. The encounter with Nicodemus (ch. 3) and the Samaritan Woman at the well (ch. 4) hinge of the ambiguity of words. And there is more. The same ambiguity exists with mone (singular). It means a “place where one may remain or dwell,” It can mean a physical structure – and often in secular use it refers to a transient or overnight lodging [TDNT 4:574] – rather than the fixed “mansions” of the KJ translation.

Then again, all the focus on the “where” might be a diversion from the more important element. Many argue that here in v.2 the context (because of v.3) lends itself to a permanent dwelling – but is it physical? The only other NT use of mone is John 14:23, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling [mone] with him.” The use there seems to imply an abiding relationship between people and God – and one in which the Father and the Son come to the human person!

This noun is related to the verb menō meaning “to remain, stay, await” [EDNT 2:407]. The verb occurs often in the Farewell Discourse (14:10, 17, 25; 15:4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 16) most often referring to the relationship between God and Jesus or God and us. Another reference with this meaning of menō is 8:35 (where oikia also occurs): “ A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains.” Do the words “remain” and “house” refer to a physical place or to a relational state? Our children remain our children forever, even though they may not be living in our house. The relationship remains even while the physical presence may not.

Fr. Raymond Brown (627) writes:

This special house or household where the son has a permanent dwelling place suggests a union with the Father reserved for Jesus the Son and for all those who are begotten as God’s children by the Spirit that Jesus gives. Thus there would be some precedent for reinterpreting “many dwelling places in my Father’s house” parabolically as possibilities for permanent union (mone/meno) with the Father in and through Jesus.

Why mention all this? Jewish traditions that identify the ‘Father’s house’ with a heavenly dwelling place clearly lie behind the imagery of v. 2a (e.g., Pss 2:4; 66:1; 113:5-6; 123:1; Is 66:1), but it is critical to the interpretation of Jesus’ words in this gospel that “my Father’s house” not be taken as a synonym for heaven. This needs to be read first in the context of the mutual indwelling of God and Jesus, a form of indwelling that has been repeatedly stressed from the opening verses of the Gospel (e.g., 1:1, 18). And that indwelling is the critical relationship for the disciples in the post-Resurrection era.

In the courtroom

One of the wonderful things about the Gospel of John is the Book of Signs a name commonly given to the first main section of the Gospel of John, from 1:19 to the end of Chapter 12. Included within this section are the seven signs of the reign of God as evidence, as witness, to a new creation. The seven signs are

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First words, next words

I like trivia games. Nothing too esoteric or arcane, but still a bit challenging. A friend of mine knows music. Not my specialty. Because of life on a submarine, time in Kenya, and formation time as a friar and priest, I have large gaps in my musical knowledge and exposure. I do alright in history, swimming, and (likely no surprise here) the Bible. Continue reading

So I send you: believing

john20 v21Thomas. Although many translations include “doubt” in v. 27 — and thus lead to the phrase “Doubting Thomas,” but there is no Greek word for “doubt” in the verse. The phrase do not be unbelieving, but believe contrasts apistos and pistos — the only occurrence of both these words in John. Simply put, the word does not mean “doubt” and Greek does not lack the equivalent words: diakrinomai, dialogismos, distazō, dipsychos, aporeō, and aporia. Lowe and Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains) give three definitions for the adjective – pistos.

  • pertaining to trusting — one who trusts in, trusting
  • pertaining to being trusted — faithful, trustworthy, dependable, reliable
  • pertaining to being sure, with the implication of being fully trustworthy — sure

Thus apistos would be “not having trust or faith or certainty.” Continue reading

Coming to believe receiving

john20 v21“Receive the holy Spirit” The sacred writer had already introduced the giving of the Holy Spirit in John 7 in a scene during the Feast of Tabernacles in which the Spirit is promised at a future time when Jesus was glorified. In the Fourth Gospel it is at the crucifixion that Jesus is glorified in that his willing obedience manifests the nature of God, which is love. It is there on the cross that Jesus deliver the Spirit into the world (19:30), symbolized immediately afterward by the flow of the sacramental symbols of blood and water. Continue reading

Coming to believe: mission

john20 v21Commentary. Meanwhile the disciples, still reeling from the events of the last three days, gather in the upper room. In Matthew 28:8, Mary Magdalene’s reaction to the encounter with Jesus was “fearful but overjoyed.” Perhaps this too is the experience of the disciples. All John tells us is that they were gathered together, hiding as it were, for fear of the Jews (v.19)

These are the disciples who scattered and fled at Jesus’ arrest, who stood at a distance from the cross, and in the case of Peter denied Jesus. These are disciples that upon seeing Jesus appear within the room would have likely experienced shame as they remembered all they had done and failed to do. Yet Jesus’ words are not words of recrimination or blame, his first resurrected words to the disciples as a group is “Peace be with you.Continue reading

Coming to believe: context

john20 v21John 20:19-31 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” 24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Continue reading

Come and See: context

Ecce Agnus Dei - Francis Hoyland

Ecce Agnus Dei – Francis Hoyland

This coming Sunday is the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – the cycle of readings in which The Gospel according to Mark is the principal source of our Sunday gospels. That being said, our reading is from the Gospel According to John. In fact, regardless of which cycle of readings (A,B, or C), the “Second Sunday of Ordinary Time the Gospel continues to center on the manifestation of the Lord” with a gospel from John (General Introduction to the Lectionary, 105). It is done as a means of transitioning from the theme of “manifestation” highlighted in Epiphany to ordinary time readings – I suspect – because there are some years when the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Monday following the Sunday celebration of Epiphany (when Epiphany Sundays falls on Jan 7th or 8th). The reading for the 2nd Sunday ensures the theme is continued in the simple verse: “We have Found the Messiah.” Continue reading

Testimony: memra

prologue-johnIf the 4th Gospel is indeed more about how God reveals God’s self in the person of Jesus, then we need to realize that Jesus was not born into a time of theological vacuum. Jewish theology was robust and with a history of succeeding and competing rabbinic schools. The followers of Jesus and the people of his time were Jews who were raised and lived this theology. It provided the framework for their daily lives and shaped their expectations about the Messiah, the Anointed One, who was to come. Among the gospels, John’s is the writings whose work expresses the fulfillment of those expectations and provides the theology for those that would follow Jesus. The basis of the theology is evident from the opening: John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God…” Continue reading

Testimony: Gospel context

prologue-johnThe 3rd Sunday in Advent continues to feature John the Baptist as the herald and forerunner of the Messiah, using the 4th gospel. John the Evangelist has deftly changed the narrative presented in the Synoptic Gospels. Here in the fourth gospel the story of Jesus is not ultimately a story about Jesus; it is the story of God as God reveals God’s self in the person of Jesus. Thus the narrative is well placed in Advent at the head of the liturgical year: “In the beginning…Continue reading