Circular* Reasoning in John

john-9-healing-blind-man-mosaic

The Johannine books (John; I,II, III John) share a number of characteristics in style.  This is why John the Apostle was held until modern times as the author of all of them.  Of course there are as many other theories as there are scholarly treatises on that.

I’ve been struggling in John’s Gospel with the discourse sections.  There are two that are fairly easy to track: John 3 with Nicodemus, and John 4 with the Woman of Samaria.  But the discourses in chapter 5 Miracle at Bethesda; Chapter 6, Feeding the 5000; Chapter 7, at the Festival of Booths; John 8; John 9 with the healing of the man born blind are all more difficult.

Even the discourse in chapter 4 is rambling – Jesus and the woman talk about water and worship and the holy spirit before all is done.

I’ve struggles to make sense of the shape of these discourses.  They seem to ramble or on occasions bounce between Jesus and some opponent or opponents.  So there is no neat or linear way to represent the discussion.  You know that outline method you learned in school? throw it out!

In desperation I went to my library.  There I found a book I had not spent much time with.  “John: Evangelist & Interpreter” by Stephen S. Smalley.  Smalley made some helpful observations. In the “first act” of John, there are a number of sign/miracles which are followed by discourses.  He describes their structure as being “spiral” in nature.

“John…structures his discourse material so as to advance his subject, almost in spiral fashion, through a series of dramatic disclosures towards a climax.” p. 147

So we have this: a sign/miracle followed by a discourse or disputation with Jesus and another party or parties. The theme of the discourse tends to be repeated in some way in each division in the discourse.

In John 9, the man blind from birth is healed by Jesus who anoints his eyes with mud and asks him to go and wash.

Then there these sub sections, each one except the concluding two repeating something about the man born blind: (p. 143)

  • v. 8-12 Man and Neighbors
  • v. 13-17 man and Pharisees
  • v. 18-23 Man’s parents  and “Jews” (i.e. Authorities)
  • v. 24-34 Man and “Jews”
  • v. 35-38 Jesus and Man
  • v. 39-41 Jesus and Pharisees

The last two parts leave to two conclusions: The man comes to believe in Jesus as the Son of Man and even worships him.  the Pharisees reject Jesus as a sinner because he healed the man on the Sabbath.

Through this we have woven themes of sin (was the man or his parents responsible for his blindness, Did Jesus sin by breaking the Sabbath, are the Pharisees sinners for rejecting Jesus?) and blindness (the man’s physical blindness which is cured, his spiritual insight. the Pharisees who see Jesus’ works but are blind to his light.)

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind”  v. 39

*This is misnamed “circular reasoning” because a circle returns on itself. A spiral however is circular but it also moves from beginning to end.  One has to hang with all the turns and not get lost.

I am still figuring out how to preach such a passage.

 

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