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4:1-42   The second discourse passage of the Gospel, but one which is intimately related to the incident with which it is associated.  It actually contains three discourses, skilfully integrated with a narrative presented in a series of distinct scenes:

(i)    vv 1-6        :     Introductory

(ii)   vv 7-15      :     1st scene - Jesus’ initial encounter with the woman, occasioning his words about living water       

(iii)  vv 16-26    :     2nd scene - Jesus prompts a mutual revelation, the setting for his words about true worship

(iv)  vv 27-30    :     3rd scene - the return of the disciples prompts the woman’s departure and her testimony to Jesus in the city

(v)   vv 31-38    :     4th scene - the disciples with Jesus, the occasion for his words about God’s harvest

(vi)  vv 39-42    :     5th scene - Samaritans respond with faith

The passage continues the themes of the previous two chapters (newness, linked with water symbolism and the issue of worship; testimony and belief, related to the identity and work of Jesus). But it also marks a new stage (Jesus moves outside orthodox Judaism to the Samaritans, and is eventually hailed as o` swthr tou kosmou).


1-4  A linking statement between the incidents on either side, explaining Jesus’ presence in Samaria.  The obvious inference is that Jesus perceives the growing hostility of the Pharisees and retires prudently to Galilee, since it is not yet h` w`ra for confrontation.  Verse 4 makes sense as a simple geographical note [Josephus confirms that, despite their antipathy toward the Samaritans, Jews commonly took the direct route between Judea and Galilee, through Samaria], although it is possible that it carries a secondary sense of divine purpose. Neither of the textual variants (vv.1,3) is of significant interest.

5  There is some debate over the identification of the polij to which Jesus comes. There is, first, a textual variant, but there is strong manuscript support for Sucar, as reflected in the UBS4 A rating. Of the other readings, Sicar and Shcar look like pronunciation-based spelling variants, while Sucem has limited and non-Greek support, and looks like a modification to suit the expectation of the obvious location of Shechem. Almost certainly, we should accept Sucar, and this might well (though by no means certainly) be identified with the modern Askar, quite near the site of ancient Shechem. Michaels points out (p.76) that Askar’s being about a kilometre away from the probable site of the well actually fits the narrative even better than greater proximity. What John stresses is the close association of the location with Jacob and Joseph, who were especially significant figures for the northern kingdom and hence for Samaritans – cf. Joshua 24:32 (also Genesis 33:19; 48:22).

6  Reinforces the above association.  And we have here (in kekopiakwj, “having grown weary”) a reflection of Jesus’ genuine humanity, whether intentional or not.  The time note may serve to explain Jesus’ weariness and thirst, or may suggest the woman came at an unusual time and hence that she was a social outcast because of her reputation.

7f  Sets scene for encounter, the note about the disciples explaining Jesus’ being alone.  But both Jesus and the disciples are depicted as being ready to interact with Samaritans (the purchase of food is especially significant). Ridderbos points out (p.154) that the opening clause “contains precisely those words that will dominate the conversation that now follows” (i.e. gunh, Samareia, u`dwr).

9  This underlines this readiness, and probably implies that her being a woman is an additional factor [Carson cites a slightly later rabbinic statement, probably reflecting longstanding popular sentiment: “the daughters of the Samaritans are menstruants from the cradle”]. Note the repetition of terms of ethnic identification.

10 The expression h` dwrea tou qeou can either refer forward to u`dwr zwn or be a term for the Torah.  Either way, Jesus seizes the opportunity to bring the conversation around to his identity and his mission.  The precise significance of u`dwr zwn is debated. It clearly uses the fact that fresh spring water was prized and there may also be an OT background (e.g. the water from the rock in Num.20:11; also Is.12:3, Jer.2:13). As to deeper meaning here, verse 14 suggests zwh aivwnioj, or its source (the Spirit?).

11f  The woman betrays that she understands neither Jesus’ mission nor his identity, although her first use of kurie suggests a dawning respect. She takes him to be speaking of spring water and assumes that he cannot be a greater person than the patriarch Jacob. There is dramatic irony in her response, however: John is presenting Jesus precisely as a greater-than-Jacob, who does a new and greater thing.

13f  Jesus makes his meaning a little clearer, certainly its universal relevance and its metaphorical character.  John is probably conscious of rich Old Testament echoes [see Carson, p.220], of which Isaiah 55:1 is perhaps most significant (see Isaiah 55:1,5,7).  A Samaritan might have been expected to think of their hoped-for prophet, to whom Numbers 24:7 seems to have been applied (certainly a little later). The expression ouv mh diyhsei eivj ton aivwna is emphatically negative, and may possibly recall Ecclus. 24:21, if so exceeding by reversal what is there said of Wisdom/Law.

15  But the woman still fails to understand (or else is ironically expressing her scepticism : “if you’re so great, then do this for me”). Note the repetition of kurie. Perhaps John wants us to see that this is appropriate here in a stronger sense than the woman intends.

16  Jesus appears to change the subject abruptly, but is actually pointing to the woman’s real need and in so doing to his own identity (as vv 17-19 reveal).

17f  Jesus reveals his knowledge of the woman’s history and her sinfulness. Clearly her present relationship is irregular, while the linking with this of her five previous husbands suggests irregularity there as well. Even if the possibility of successive legitimate marriages be allowed, it then may become relevant that the Rabbis disapproved a woman’s remarrying more than once, or twice. Köstenberger (152f.) suggests a play on the sense of anhr, so that her “men” may not necessarily be husbands, and her present man may not be hers, but another’s.

19  Like Nathanael, she is impressed by Jesus’ knowledge, which she takes to be a prophet’s insight. This affects how we understand the third use of kurie.

20  She then raises a major issue between Samaritans and Jews - the lack of immediate connection has prompted speculation about her motive, but this is risky, since John displays no interest in it, and it is certainly not strange to seek the opinion of a profhthj on such a matter. “This mountain” is Mt Gerizim and the Samaritans’ choice of it reflects both their interpretation of the Pentateuch and their history - look at Deut.11:29f.,12:5 [see further in Carson, p.222]

21  Jesus initially downplays the significance of this debate by pointing to a future when it will be irrelevant (an indefinite future as he speaks, but John’s use of w`ra hints that it is the future Jesus himself ushers in).

22  Jesus does not declare explicitly for Jerusalem, but does affirm the Jewish tradition, which includes the central place of Jerusalem. It also includes their larger canon of Scripture, over against the Samaritan (the tradition which John sees as fulfilled in Jesus as Messiah). In 22a the use of the plural u`meij - Jesus addresses the woman as representative of the Samaritan people, thus maintaining the emphasis of the chapter on this great division, which he is about to bridge.

23f  A pregnant yet somewhat ambiguous declaration.  In the light of the combination of terms used and of the context, I would understand its primary implications to be these four:

(i)  Jesus as the One sent by the Father brings the decisive hour and the new worship (Barrett,238 makes the helpful point that the expression o` pathr toioutouj zhtei is essentially a statement of the Father’s purpose in sending the Son)

(ii)  As a result the issue is no longer the place of worship but the character of our worship

(iii)  True worship will recognise Jesus as the Son, the bearer of God’s Spirit and God’s truth (i.e., the reader is meant to understand this eventually in the light of the linking of pneuma and alhqeia in the Farewell Discourse)

(iv) True worship will be shaped by the Spirit and truth imparted by Jesus

See further, Carson, pp.224-226; KeenerI, pp.608-619

25  The woman seems now to recognise something of what Jesus says, but not its present fulfilment in himself.  So she relates it to the Jewish hope of the Messiah, but understood in Samaritan fashion as primarily a prophet (the Samaritan Taheb <Restorer> is the second Moses, the promised prophet of Deut.18:18). The use of both Messiaj and Cristoj probably underlines this important moment.

26  Jesus now declares the key missing element: he is the Messiah.  The evgw eivmi is at least emphatic, but probably also anticipates the later occurrences of the expression.

27  This underlines the unconventionality of what Jesus was doing.  The Imperfect evlalei might suggest an extended conversation, which is certainly what has just been recorded. Much (not all) Jewish thought considered that a rabbi should not waste his time talking to a woman, and certainly that they should not be treated as serious disciples. Several commentators expand on this, e.g. Köstenberger, p.159. Their silence may suggest respect for Jesus’ judgement or simply reluctance to get involved with this woman themselves.

28f  But she proves the fruitfulness of Jesus’ attention to her by going and bearing witness. The form of her testimony [introduced by mhti] expresses some uncertainty (since an outright negative doesn’t fit the context), but it is not clear whether this reflects her own hesitancy or, especially in the light of v.42, her sensitivity to theirs. It is not clear how much we should make of the detail of her leaving her jar behind. If we are guided by what has preceded, the most natural interpretation (if we see it as more than a lively detail suggestive of haste) is that it points to her having found the u`dwr zwn.

31f  The disciples’ urging Jesus to eat is natural, and in line with the expectation that disciples should care for the physical well-being of their master [so, Köstenberger, 160f.]. But in the narrative it provides Jesus with an opportunity to teach them something, and John with a discourse related to, though distinct from, the earlier one about living water. There may also be a parallel with the woman’s leaving of her jar.


33  The disciples, like the woman (and others in these early chapters), fail to understand.

34  A probable reference to Deut.8:3: Jesus lives as God desires his people to do.  Its terms also bring together three prominent themes of the Gospel: Jesus’ obedience; his being sent; his doing the works of God.

35a  There have been attempts to identify a particular time, the time of a festival, but most natural is a reference to the gap between the latest sowing and the beginning of harvest, especially since harvest is a common eschatological metaphor. If so, then the emphatic u`meij conveys that this is well known to them.



35b-36  Hence: the eschatological harvest has begun (possibly with a scriptural reference to Amos 9:13 and a contextual reference to the approaching Samaritans). Read Amos 9:13-15. If so, Jesus is the reaper and either the Father or the prophets constitute the sower. But some see a reference to a future harvest, viewing Jesus as sower and his disciples as reapers – see Moloney, 139f.,144.


37f  The expression evn gar toutw| can refer forward or back, but here the former seems easier.  Jesus takes a common saying, but gives it a new and positive twist (usually it had idea of injustice or judgement).  Some have queried its appropriateness here, but it can apply if we see the disciples as already sharing in Jesus’ harvest in vv 39-42.  However, it is likely that we are also meant to see this event as anticipatory, either specifically of the Samaritan influx recorded in Acts 8 or more generally of the fruitful ministry of the apostles in the earliest days of the church.

39-42  A description of the Samaritan response, furthering Johannine themes of testimony and faith.  Most striking but most difficult is the expression o` swthr tou kosmou.  It is probably best to see it as John’s own choice of expression to characterise the Samaritan response.  They presumably accepted him as the Taheb, and possibly more (eg. Taheb and Messiah together, thus instrument of God’s salvation for Jews and Samaritans together).  But John catches up the language of 3:16f in an expression which at once echoes Old Testament statements about God and Greco-Roman statements about their gods and the emperors [certainly Hadrian, 117-138, was termed ‘saviour of the world’]. Clearly this conclusion emphasises that Jesus has been sent for the salvation not only of Jews, but of “the world”.


4:43-45  A transitional passage, containing a saying found also in the Synoptics but more problematic in this setting.  In this context it makes best sense to understand verse 44 as a reference to Galilee as Jewish over against the Samaritans, and verse 45 as depicting a positive welcome but one which falls short of the faith of the Samaritans. This fits both the description of Jewish responses in chapter 2 and the statement of Jesus in 4:48. For a more detailed discussion, see Carson, 234-238.

4:46-54  The second sign recorded in this Gospel, and the balancing conclusion to chapters 2-4.  It continues the interest of these chapters in levels of faith, telling the story of a man’s growth in faith.  But as a sign which points especially to Jesus as giver of life, it not only recalls chapter 3 but also anticipates the discourse in chapter 5.

46  The opening words favour the view that chs. 2-4 constitute a unit. The basilikoj [“royal official” - adjective derived from basileuj] is probably a servant of Herod Antipas.

47  The words hvmellen gar avpoqnhskein underline the seriousness of the son’s condition and hence the pointedness of the sign. Köstenberger calculates (p.170, with a declared debt to Dalman<1935>) that this journey would have taken about six hours, and that the official would have only got part way home that day, and met his slaves on the following morning.

48  The verb ivdhte is plural, so Jesus is generalising, either about Galileans or more probably about all Jews, not singling out the official.  In context it seems to constitute a challenge to deeper faith (probably deliberately so, although John does not say).

49  His response is not explicitly in these terms, but it does imply belief that Jesus can heal.

50  Jesus’ response is positive but not in the form which the official sought, so the reported faith is worth something (and the obedience suggests that the kurie of verse 49 was more than mere courtesy). Jesus says, o` ui`oj sou zh|, literally, “Your son lives.” At the primary level of meaning, the context (together with some LXX precedent) suggests a word about physical recovery, but if the story anticipates ch.5 then a secondary reference to life of the Age seems likely. If so, the present tense anticipates Jesus’ claim to give eternal life now.


51f  News which justifies his belief. The word evpuqeto [BAGD: “inquire, ask, seek to learn”] tends to suggest some measure of curiosity. So perhaps we are to understand that the official already suspects that this might be the answer.

53  The climax : the man comes to a strengthened faith which acknowledges Jesus as the one whose word is true and powerful, and who gives life. Repeatedly, something of this kind is the conclusion of Johannine pericopes. Here it is given added force by the mention of his oivkia. This doesn’t mean that he or they had come to fullness of faith, but it does seem to point the reader to such faith.


54  A further connecting with Cana. This probably also suggests a parallel between the response of the official and his household and that of the disciples in 2:11.

   If chapters 2 to 4 can be seen as the opening section of John’s account of Jesus’ public ministry, we now enter into the main body of that account, which seems to end at 10:42. This is so both because 10:40-42 marks a pause and appropriately concludes several related strands of the account, and because the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11 begins the movement toward the Cross (11:53).  Hence Brown treats chapters 5-10 as a unit, which he labels “Jesus and the Principal Feasts of the Jews” and subdivides into Sabbath (5:1-47), Passover (6:1-71), Tabernacles (7:1 - 10:21) and Dedication (10:22-39). Look at 5:1, 5:9b, 6:4, 7:2, 10:22. Carson divides them into two sections, divided by the “excursus” of the woman taken in adultery : (i) “Rising opposition” (5:1 - 7:52)  (ii) “Radical confrontation” (8:12 - 10:42).

  This chapter is, then, probably best seen as the opening part of a larger unit.  It contains the third sign, the healing of a man on the Sabbath, with an associated debate and discourse.

  Carson rightly notes a growing prominence of opposition (the discourse recorded in ch.5 is the first with a strong element of polemic), but this is balanced by positive responses.  John continues to depict the contrast between belief and unbelief, and at the same time to elaborate his picture of the One in whom people are called to believe.



5:1  Essentially a transition verse, placing Jesus in Jerusalem.  The variant reading h` e`orth is not likely [UBS4 text: A reading for e`orth without the article, based on better manuscript evidence and more likely direction of alteration – see Metzger], and no attempt to identify the feast is convincing. On this occasion it is the Sabbath setting that matters, rather than the particular feast.

5:2-9a  The healing story proper, which focuses on the power of Jesus to raise up (the Sabbath timing is not mentioned until 9b).

2  Both the name and the location details are unclear. This is partly due to structural ambiguity and partly due to varied manuscript evidence concerning the name. As to the first, kolumbhqra is seen as either nominative or dative, hence th| probatikh| as either standing alone or attached, which leaves h` evpilegomenh detached. It seems to me that it is easier to take up the former option, and supply the term “gate” in line with Nehemiah 3:1/12:39. The name is impossible to be confident about, with UBS4 rating bhqzaqa as C, and UBS3 as D [, apart from Metzger, see Barrett, 251-253 for a detailed discussion]. Fortunately very little hangs on this uncertainty. What matters is that this was a pool which showed periodic disturbance and where people came to seek miraculous healing.

3a  Sets scene, depicting both the general expectancy and the obstacle to the man Jesus heals.


3b - 4 are almost certainly a later addition, providing an explanation for verse 7 [UBS4: A reading for their omission].

5  The illness is not specified but verse 7 suggests inability to walk properly, for whatever reason.  The 38 years is a detail stressing length of illness, hence Jesus’ compassion and power.  Some detect a parallel with the unnecessary years in the wilderness (Deut. 2:14).

6  Possibly implies special knowledge, although some take the fact that the aorist participle gnouj is used to imply an action of coming to know (hence NIV’s “learned”). But certainly we see here Jesus’ responsiveness to the man’s need.

7  Implies a superstitious religion, and specifically a belief like that provided in vv 3b - 4 (hence we see the ineffectiveness of such religion, in contrast with the effectual power of Jesus).  This is certainly not faith in Jesus, but it is evidence of an earnest desire to be healed.


8  It is significant that the word evgeire (here naturally translated as “stand up”) corresponds with evgeirei in verse 21 (where “raises” is the natural translation, since the object is touj nekrouj): this sign corresponds with that discourse, showing Jesus to share the life-giving power of the Father.

9a  The immediate (euvqewj) effectiveness of Jesus’ word is recorded. As Köstenberger remarks (p.180), “no healing springs, no human assistance was needed – Jesus’ mere word sufficed”.

9b- 15  The controversy which arises immediately as a result of the healing.  The attack on Jesus through the man who was healed is seen by many as John’s deliberate parallel with Jewish opposition to the church, which was often directed against sympathetic outsiders.

9b-10  The accusation which begins the controversy, based on rabbinic amplification of the Sabbath law, which included moving an object from one place to another.  John’s designation of the man as teqerapeumenoj draws attention to what the Jewish opponents have ignored, cf. pattern in vv 11 - 13.

11-13  An interchange which reveals the determined hostility of Jesus’ opponents and how far the healed man is from adequate faith.  But there is irony also: the question in verse 12 (Tij evstin o` avnqrwpoj) is the right one, while the surrounding details point toward the right answer – note the double references both to Jesus’ act of healing and to the effectual words which he used in conjunction with the act.

14  This has occasioned debate, but seems to assume that this man’s illness is related to his own sin (though it is possible to see merely analogy: illness/healing = sinfulness/salvation).  Certainly it seems best to see the warning as related to final judgement, given the content of the following discourse. It may well be significant that the verb eu`riskei is used, i.e. Jesus is said to have “found” the man, implying that Jesus takes the initiative to complete his work (of spiritual, not merely, physical healing). But the translation “met”, suggesting an unplanned encounter, is also possible.

15  The man bears testimony, probably for wrong reasons, but it is true nonetheless and further emphasises both the sign and its rejection (through the phrase o` poihsaj auvton u`gih). Ridderbos points out (p.190) that this story runs parallel in several respects with that of the blind man in ch.9, but that the blind man is markedly more responsive.

16  The wrong-headed hostility of Jesus’ opponents further underlined, but now in generalising language (the two Imperfect verbs evdiwkon and evpoiei, plus  the plural tauta). The first Imperfect could be inceptive (so, NRSV: “started persecuting”), but this is by no means necessary.

17f  These verses connect the specific controversy with the following discourse, anticipating its terms.  John invites us to see that the real issue is the identity of Jesus. Michaels (p.89) draws attention to the unusual form (aorist middle) of the verb avpekrinato here and in v.19 (the only two instances among more than 70 occurrences of the verb apokrinomai in this Gospel), and (following BAGD) takes it to suggest a solemn utterance, Jesus’ formal defence of his behaviour. Certainly John is drawing attention to the significance of Jesus’ use of the expression o` pathr mou.

The choice required by the textual variant between inclusion and omission of Ivhsouj does not affect the meaning, whereas kurioj would be interesting in this context, but has little support.

5:19-47  A closely-packed passage theologically, focused on the person of Jesus as Son and the work of Jesus as mediator of both life and judgement.  Closely related to these is the theme of witnesses to Jesus, and the call for faith in response to such witness.  Beasley-Murray suggests plausibly that the shape of 5:17-47 reflects the concern of a missionary apologetic toward the Jews, of the proclamation and justification of the Christian view of Jesus [his general section 4:43-5:47, pp.79-81 is worth reading].

19  Should be read in conjunction with verse 18: the equality of the Son with God the Father is not an independent divinity, but precisely the dependence and imitation of faithful sonship.  Yet this is also a statement of a perfect correspondence of behaviour (and, by implication, of character).  The last clause is the first of a series of gar clauses, which together serve to reinforce and expand on the initial statement. This first gar clause essentially repeats the initial statement, but probably links in with the language of evrgazomai and evrga in vv. 17 & 20, thus implying that the evidence of Jesus’ Sonship is to be found in his acts.

20  The first half is the second gar clause: the Son’s ability perfectly to imitate the Father springs from the latter’s full love and confidence.  This is reinforced by a kai clause: the Father has yet greater works for the Son to do, works of life-giving and judgement (vv 21f) which go beyond his healing and teaching on this Sabbath.

21  The third gar clause, here introducing an outworking and evidence of the relationship declared in vv 19f: the Son exercises according to his own will the exclusively divine prerogative of raising the dead and giving life. The expression evgeirei touj nekrouj and the sequel of judging suggest that we should take the eschatological sense to be primary, but the use of zw|opoiei in parallel (which is the verb explicitly picked up with reference to Jesus) and the wider Johannine context encourage us to see an anticipatory action in the present.

22  The parallel action, again a divine prerogative, of judgment (the last of the four gar clauses). The negative first half should not be understood absolutely, but as saying that God the Father judges no one without reference to the Son. It is nonetheless a very striking statement, since both the OT and later Jewish thought see judgment as the exclusive prerogative of God.

23  To divine function is now added divine honour: Jesus is to receive honour kaqwj (just as) God himself, and from this point failure to honour him in this fashion is a failure to give due honour to God himself. The second half, of course, implies judgment.


24  A pressing home of the implications of all this for those who hear: pistij means zwh aivwnioj, life of the Age to Come; avpistia means coming eivj krisin,  and such adverse judgment is linked with qanatoj. But this is a “realised eschatology” (to be balanced by vv 25-29): those who have pistij can enter into life now.


25  The tension declared: the hour of resurrection life is yet to come, but is also already present in the ministry of Jesus. The language here may well be reminiscent of the passage in Ezekiel (37:1-14) about the valley of dry bones, where it is the word of God (Yahweh) through the prophet which gives life.

26  This should be understood in the light of the Prologue, especially vv.2-4: this is not a giving in time but eternity [or it means “the power of life”].

27  It is for this reason that Jesus has authority to exercise judgment, but also because he is ui`oj avnqrwpou. Without article, hence because he is human (as well as divine, which is already established)?  But it is probably still  titular, ie as Danielic Son of Man. The absence of  articles could be intended to strengthen the echo of Daniel 7.

28f  The clearly future dimension, which strengthens the case for a reference to the Danielic Son of Man in v.27. Note that the kai nun evstin of v.25 is not repeated. Jesus gives life and judges now in anticipation of his role at the End. In the context of this Gospel oi` ta avgaqa poihsantej  should be understood as designating either simply those who have put their faith in the Son or those whose actions have demonstrated such faith.


30  Resumptive of vv.19f., but applied now to the role of judgment.

31f.  A shift from the theme of life-giving and judgement to that of marturia/witness. But there are two points of connection: Jesus is continuing to confront their challenge, which bears on his identity and authority, and he is continuing to reply by appealing to his special relationship with God the Father.  That is, given verse 34, he is not yet appealing to John’s testimony but is saying that in his case self-testimony is not unsupported, but is necessarily the Father’s testimony also.

33-35 But Jesus shows himself ready to appeal also to corroborative testimony at a human level, and appeals first to John the Baptist.  The terms of verse 35 are strongly positive but probably also imply, certainly in this Gospel, a subordinate place (as a lucnoj, and proj w`ran - for a time).  Its language is probably intended to recall Psalm 132:16f.  [LXX contains not only lucnoj but also avgalliaomai, and cristoj].  The “for a time” may imply criticism of the Jewish leaders, but could simply describe John’s correct role.

36  Jesus now returns to the divine testimony, but in the form in which it becomes accessible to human observation, ie the evrga which he does (picking up the earlier language of “works” and making explicit the implication of v.19). The evgw at the beginning is emphatic, helping to convey the uniqueness of Jesus’ case.

37f  The precise reference of 37a is not clear – probably it either refers to Scripture, anticipating verse 39, or is a more forceful restating of verse 36 (a possible use of kai in Greek).  It is not clear whether 37b is critical (presumably of a failure to see and hear the Father in the Son) or a statement of fact, but 38 is certainly critical: they fail to receive God’s marturia because they reject Jesus who embodies that testimony.

39f  Jesus now explicitly appeals to the testimony of the Scriptures.  He acknowledges that they diligently study them, but accuses them of failing to see that they point to him, and thus failing to attain what they desire when it is freely offered to them. Ridderbos (p.204) notes that “the word used here for ‘search’ or ‘explore’ [evraunate] corresponds to a rabbinic term – daraš, cf. ‘midrash’ – which denoted professional study and exposition of the law”, and goes on to infer a criticism of the way in which they study the Scriptures.

41  Jesus reiterates that he is not concerned about human testimony [doxa can mean opinion or reputation or praise, as well as glory], probably to avoid misinterpretation of his concern for their response.

42  Ambiguous, but in context probably accuses them of lacking a love for God, despite their study of the Scriptures.

43f  This is made evident by their rejection of Jesus: their concern is really for human doxa (opinion/glory/praise) rather than for God. There is a textual variant in 44b: UBS4 rates inclusion of qeou as B. Significant early mss. omit it, but many include it, and omission of the abbreviated form QU within TOUMONOUQUOU is easy to understand. With or without qeou, but especially with it, the expression tou monou is interesting. It probably makes the point that their concern is for what many people think rather than what the one and only God thinks.

45  This probably alludes to the Jewish expectation that Moses, who interceded in his lifetime, continued to intercede for the Jewish people in heaven.  Jesus attacks their wrongly-based confidence both in Moses and in the Pentateuch.

46  Possibly a reference specifically to Deut. 18:15 but it may well be that the effect of the Pentateuch as a whole, and indeed of all the Scriptures, is in mind (given v.39).

47  Jesus implies that his speech has the same authority as the Mosaic writings. Or it may even be, as Köstenberger suggests (p.195), that this is an example of the established rabbinic practice of arguing from the lesser (here, Moses) to the greater (Jesus).



The feeding of the five thousand, which is significant in this Gospel primarily as the basis for the subsequent discourse.  But it also continues to present Jesus as giver of life, and ends with recognition of him as the one promised by Moses (which does tell in favour of an intended reference to Deut 18 in 5:46)

1  The introductory meta tauta is imprecise, allowing for a movement from Jerusalem not described. The preposition peran can simply represent a Jewish perspective, ie. eastern (though one can understand those who suspect dislocation, usually from immediately after chapter 4 – see 4:54).

2f  Setting of the scene. All three verbs in v.2 are in the imperfect tense – this is a continual pattern. The reason given for their “following” shows it to be mere physical following, not discipleship. In v.3 to o`roj is probably simply high ground, ie. the Golan Heights east of the lake.

4  A time note which is probably theologically motivated, ie. helping to draw attention to Second Exodus connotations of the incident and discourse.

5-7  Serves to underline the miracle and to contrast Jesus’ level of thought with Philip’s. Philip’s question could be seen as echoing Moses’ question in Numbers 11:13. This connection is made more likely by the presence of other possible parallels between John 6 and Numbers 11 – see Köstenberger, p.201(n.10). By contrast with Philip, Jesus knew what he was going to do. Jesus’ knowledge is a characteristic Johannine emphasis, but here may have special importance if there is a parallel with Numbers 11. If Philip’s question is like that of Moses, then Jesus’ assured knowledge is like that of God.

8f  The dimension of the miracle further underlined. It may be significant that the words paidarion and ovyaria are both diminutives, although paidarion can refer to a teenager or even very young adult. The mention of barley cakes (more like our rolls than our loaves) may be merely incidental Johannine detail (these were the cheap bread of the poor), but may well help to recall II Kings 4:42-44 - a greater than Elisha!

10-13  Again, the strongest note is the extent of the miracle. Clearly the number 5,000 contributes strongly to this, and the fact that this figure is a count of oi` avndrej suggests that the full number is probably considerably more than 5,000. The gathering of what is left over accords with Jewish custom, but here certainly draws attention to God’s bountiful supply, which may be suggestive of the messianic age.

14  In context this seems to be an identification of Jesus as the second Moses, again providing supernatural supply. But some commentators favour a broader interpretation, given v.15, i.e. a merging of prophet and king in the figure of the Messiah.

Textual variant: Metzger seems to be right in seeing o` Ivhsouj as a clarifying addition, given the change of subject and the low probability of its being dropped. He also favours the singular o` shmeion over the plural a` shmeia on the grounds of likely scribal assimilation to 2:23 and 6:2, but (as he concedes) the witnesses for the plural are significant ones, and a change to fit the immediate context better is possible.

15  This serves to link the feeding of the five thousand with the next incident, but also to provide another note of Jesus’ knowledge and to inform us of a climate of Messianic hope (which probably helps us to understand the Synoptics).

16-21  There has been some debate about the reason for this sign’s inclusion [see Carson, pp.273f].  It lacks clear connection with any discourse.  Some (eg. Morris) have tried to link it with 7:1-52  (see 7:3f.,11f.,25-31) but this is far from obvious.  I think it is best to see it as useful to the narrative (establishing the circumstances of verse 22), but also serving to show how Jesus’ signs helped to establish Jesus’ identity. Consider the combined effect of Jesus’ walking on the water, the terror of the disciples, and the two parts of Jesus’ statement (v.20: Evgw eivmi mh fobeisqe). This has the character of a theophany.  Perhaps it also furthers the Exodus connection (as a miraculous water crossing).


This discourse, in which Jesus speaks of himself as the Bread of Life, interprets the sign of the feeding of the five thousand but draws also upon the background of Passover and especially of the manna in the wilderness.  Its primary meaning, one at least potentially accessible to Jesus’ hearers as well as John’s readers, is (I believe) metaphorical.  It speaks of a full receiving and believing, in line with the rest of the Gospel and especially Peter’s response in vv.68f.  The metaphor, as with much in the discourses in John, is surprising and confronting, but not as difficult as some have suggested. As Beasley-Murray points out (p.99) metaphorical use of eating and drinking is generally common [eg “devouring” a book, “drinking in” someone’s words] while, more specifically, the rabbis often interpreted Ecclesiastes 8:15 metaphorically, including of the study of the Law.

Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine that John could have failed to expect that the passage would make Christian readers (or even seriously interested enquirers) think of the Lord’s Supper (especially verses 53-59).  I agree with those who see such a secondary reference as present, but governed by the primary, metaphorical sense, ie. this passage speaks of the same truth as the Supper [see Morris, pp. 311-315 for a helpful account of the sacramental debate; also Schnackenburg II,65-69 for another useful account from a more sacramental perspective]. I think it is likely, but by no means certain, that John has chosen to omit the Last Supper but to deal with the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in this indirect fashion because he is correcting a false sacramentalism (which emphasises the mere act of eating and drinking).

I like the words of F.D. Maurice cited by Leon Morris (p.313, n.58): “If you ask me, then, whether he is speaking of the Eucharist here, I should say, ‘No’.  If you ask me where I can learn the meaning of the Eucharist, I should say, ‘Nowhere so well as here’.”

22-24  Essentially a connecting statement.  What seems to have happened is that some of those who were fed have lingered, probably hoping to see Jesus again.  They have apparently noticed that Jesus did not accompany his disciples in the only boat, and initially assume that he must still be nearby.  But they are disappointed in their expectation so, when boats are available, they travel back to Galilee and look for Jesus in Capernaum, his family’s home town at this point [cf. 2;12].

But it is a little more than a narrative connection: it serves to draw attention to the connection in thought between the discourse and the feeding, and possibly also the walking on the water (by implied reference to his manner of crossing the lake).  If the latter is relevant it is perhaps because this sign justifies Jesus’ focus on himself.

Textual variants (v.23): The first variant is an excellent example of a case where a bewildering array of variants makes decision difficult, but there is little significance for meaning. The second is a little more interesting, since the inclusion of kurioj would give some slight encouragement to seeing a reference to the Supper. The solid ms. support has prompted the UBS4’s B rating for this (vs. C of UBS3), but an original without specific subject could have led to two clarifying alternatives.

25  Ironic.  John underlines the sign of walking on the water but the crowd are merely puzzled.  Their R`abbi is thus inadequate, yet right as far as it goes.  But they are about to reject the teaching he gives.













26f  Jesus does not appear to answer their question, but perhaps he does in a sense.  His statement says that the miracle which they have seen has not proved fruitful, so why tell them of another?  And it may challenge the addressing of him as R`abbi: you come to me not for meaning but for material benefit (ie. as worldly Messiah? cf. Verse 15).  As with the Samaritan woman, he points them toward a different level of thought, toward the eternal life which he has authority to offer. Michaels expresses the opinion concerning the final sentence that it “is best understood as the Gospel writer’s reflection on the baptism of Jesus” (p.117), and the aorist tense verb evsfragisen can certainly be read this way. But it makes good sense in the mouth of Jesus himself (whether the reference is to his baptism, or his signs, or more general), given what he is going to say soon.

28  They focus too exclusively on one element within his reply, ie. evrgazesqe  (without weighing dwsei).

29  So Jesus makes it clear what God does require: faith in himself as the One sent by God.  The antithesis is not quite in Pauline terms, but is very similar in substance.

30f  They demand miraculous accreditation before they will believe, comparable to God’s accreditation of Moses.  They presumably want either repetition of the feeding miracle or something even greater, but John seems to want us to see their unbelief.  There was probably an expectation at that time of manna from heaven at the coming of the Messiah - certainly there was by the second century [see Brown, I, 265f].  There is some debate about the Scripture reference in 31b, but Psalm 78:24 (read verses 17-24) seems probable.

32f  Jesus seizes upon the key term, avrtoj evk tou ouvranou, and uses it to correct and redirect their attention:

(i)  It is not Moses but God who is the supplier of need, and God as the Father of Jesus

(ii) It is not the manna given in the past which is now important, but Jesus himself who is being given by God in the present

(iii) It is not material supply for Israel which is now available but eternal life for all people

In relation to the second point, it is relevant that the expression o` katabainwn evk tou ouvranou can be understood impersonally of the bread or personally of Jesus. John probably intends the reader to see this possibility or, if, as Michaels again believes (pp.117-118), this is an authorial aside, it could even be the primary sense.

34  In view of what follows, this clearly does not represent understanding - it is parallel to the response of the Samaritan woman.  But again there is irony: the wording is susceptible of a meaning which would constitute a response of faith (including the kurie).

35  Jesus corrects the misunderstanding by directly claiming to be the bread of life (the first of the evgw eivmi… sayings).  He probably also indicates that he does not need to keep giving (in one sense, at least, as in ch. 13, but balanced by ch. 15) - it is necessary once to come to him.  There is debate over possible reference, but Ecclesiasticus 24:21 (cf. vv.1,22-26) is attractive: this would have Jesus claiming to be greater than Wisdom/Torah and would help to explain the broadening of the metaphor (though this also serves to strengthen the parallel with ch.4, and to anticipate vv 53-56).


36  Probably a reference back to verse 26. This is a more obvious understanding if we follow the variant reading which lacks me. Its inclusion by UBS4 is only rated a C, although ms. evidence certainly favours it, since addition is easier to understand than omission. Even with me, it is the best specific reference available. If so, they are being rebuked for failure to accept the opportunity given.

37f  Seems to take up possible inference from verse 36 that Jesus’ mission is a failure.  Rather than that, he accomplishes the Father’s purpose.  The neuter pan is surprising, but probably emphasises inclusiveness, even cosmic significance. Another suggestion is that the combination of neuter and singular, here and in v.39, conveys that Jesus initially thinks of all believers as a single corporate entity, before offering a promise to believing individuals in v.40. Even if we prefer the first view, the focus is clearly human: to see is not enough, unless God gives a person to the One whom he sends, but those so given to the Son will never be cast out by the Son [verse 39 favours this interpretation, over that of initial welcoming].

39f  God’s saving purpose in Jesus is now traced through to th| evscath| h`mera|: this is where the success of his mission will finally be vindicated.  Again there is the neuter in verse 39, but not verse 40, suggesting a human focus within a broader prospect of restoration, or an individual within a corporate. The inclusiveness of God’s saving will here (for all who believe) balances the implied selectivity of vv.37 and 44. The evgw is placed unusually in 40b, presumably for increased emphasis.

41f  The reaction of oi` Ivoudaioi (here, it would seem, in view of later distinction <verse 60>, the non-disciples among his hearers).  The use of the verb gogguzw is probably meant to recall the behaviour of faithless Israel in the wilderness [the same Greek word is used in Exodus 16:2,8f. of the complaining which was answered by the gift of manna].  They reject Jesus’ claims on commonsense grounds, thus revealing their narrow conception of signs.


43f  Jesus again rebukes them, repeating his earlier statement but with a negative slant. Köstenberger (p.213) suggests a possible background to the concept of God’s “drawing” (e`lkw) in rabbinic use of the expression “to bring near to the Torah” with reference to conversion. In this instance, of course, it is to the Son that the Father draws, and to whom people must come. So Jesus’ point is probably that their discussion falsely assumes independence, the right and ability to accept or reject as they choose.

45  This seems to be meant to amplify the concept of God’s drawing, by appealing to Scripture [probably Isaiah 54:13 - see Barrett, p.296 for other possibilities], then commenting.  The comment maintains the emphasis on divine initiative but the use of the participle maqwn seems to introduce the requirement of human response. Ridderbos (pp.232-233) points out that the quotation itself, certainly if we accept the Isaiah origin, declares the saving purpose of God, which tells against the view that v.44 implies that God only wants to save some.

46 This does not follow easily, and is perhaps John’s parenthetical note. It seems to guard against an interpretation of verse 45 as allowing for a mystical experience of God prior to and independent of coming to Jesus.

47f  Resumptive both of the call for faith and of Jesus’ pointing to himself as the object of faith.

49-51  Again stresses the superiority of what Jesus offers.  Verse 51c is a little difficult, but the future tense dwsw plus u`per suggests an allusion to the Cross, and if this so some association with the Supper seems inevitable. Those who deny this generally give great weight to the use of the word sarx, rather than  swma. The question of the extent to which this verse and other features of this discourse should be interpreted sacramentally is discussed by most commentators. One who attaches his discussion to this verse is Ridderbos (pp.235-239).

52  The understandable reaction, used by John to introduce the final section of the discourse.

53  Best understood in the light of verse 35  - ouv mh peinash|  and ouv mh diyhsei are picked up by faghte and pihte.  Noting also 51c and the use of the aorist, this seems to speak of coming in faith to Jesus as the one who lays down his life, and thus entering into a close identification with him.  The Supper is not the means of doing this but is a means of remembering this.  The combination of sarx and ai`ma may well serve to point to the Incarnation as well as the Supper, i.e. the importance of the unique life which is laid down in death.



54-56  The shift to the present tense together with the word menw suggests a movement through to a continuing in the life of faith-identification, marked by a continuing dependence on the Son for life.  Once again, the Supper comes appropriately to mind as symbolic of the same truth.  The progression is completed by reference to final resurrection, which Jesus claims as his work (kagw avnasthsw auvton).

57 This seems both to establish a chain (we receive life from the Father through the Son) and to imply a model: Jesus shows us what it means to be in perfect union with and dependence on the Father, which is how we should live in relation to the Son.

58  The theme of superiority and fulfilment is reiterated.

59  A note of occasion [evn sunagwgh is probably best understood like our “in church”, ie. of the gathering], but it is not clear whether or not it applies to the whole of verses 25-59 [Carson suggests 27-59; Painter 41-59]. Köstenberger (p.217) cites Abrahams as claiming that there is evidence that some synagogue services allowed the kind of exchange found in this passage.


Beasley-Murray appropriately entitles this section “The Result of the Revelation: Defection and Confession”.  It sets in contrast the drawing back of those disciples who are offended by the extent of Jesus’ claims (and possibly the demand which these involve) and the strong affirmation of faith by Peter on behalf of the Twelve.  But Judas is distinguished from the others, making the contrast more complex.  It seems likely that John intends this section to invite his readers to relate the discourse to themselves, and certainly it is of great importance in the contemporary exposition of the passage.  We are warned against drawing back, and even against too complacently assuming that we are proof against so doing (since Judas outwardly continues at this point), but encouraged to identify with Peter’s words of affirmation.

60f  A shift from Ivoudaioi (v.52) to maqhtai  but identifying a similar attitude in the latter (even to the use of the same word gogguzw).  As earlier with faith, John distinguishes between a shallow, temporary discipleship and the real thing.  In verse 60 sklhroj is best understood as meaning harsh, or hard to accept, rather than difficult to understand (which is not to deny that this could be said of the discourse). Jesus’ response suggests that they are “offended” (skandalizw) by his teaching.

62  Jesus’ initial response is ambiguous, both as regards its reference (the Cross, resurrection, ascension, final judgment, some combination?) and the expected reaction (faith or greater offence or the possibility of either?) [See Morris, 383f for a helpful discussion].

63  Also somewhat difficult.  In this context it seems best to understand this as both a cautioning against literalism and an allusion to Jesus’ offering the new life of the Spirit (cf. Chapter 3). Note the emphatic evgw.

64f  This brings us back to themes of the necessity of faith and of God’s drawing, but also of Jesus’ special knowledge, by means of which the complication of Judas’ presence among the Twelve is introduced. Köstenberger (p.220) sees these verses as marking a shift of focus from the wider circle of followers to the Twelve, and thinks that evx avrchj  probably refers to the point at which the Twelve attached themselves to Jesus. But the plural oi` mh pisteuontej in v.64 and the placement of the turning away of many disciples in v.66 tell against this. I would interpret evx avrchj more broadly to speak of Jesus’ knowledge of people throughout his ministry, as in 2:24-25. These comments rely on the UBS4 B reading, whereas the textual variant lacking the mh would encourage an exclusive focus on the Twelve. Weight of manuscript evidence favours their reading, although a change in either direction would be understandable (contra Metzger). Omission of the whole clause also occurs but is rare, and understandable as the eye passing on to similar words.

66  The language is insistent, probably serving both to underline the tragedy and to invite comparison with apostates from the church (peripatew is often used metaphorically).  Cf. I John 2:19.

67  Jesus challenges the Twelve (and John his readers).  The pronoun u`meij is emphatic (doubly so with the kai), and the introductory mh asks for a negative answer.

68f  Peter’s response, on behalf of the Twelve and potentially of John’s readers: he accepts Jesus’ own claims (r`hmata zwhj); he declares the asked-for pistij in terms suggestive of firmness and continuance (with ginwskw, both in perfect tense); he addresses him both as kurioj (in this context, much more than courtesy) and o` a`gioj tou qeou  (probably Messianic, but in this context perhaps best understood as accepting Jesus at his own estimation, as the one sent by God and in unique relationship with him). There are, of course, several textual variants which introduce the term cristoj. But the UBS4 confidently rejects these (A reading). There are several significant manuscripts without this addition, while their vary variety and the likelihood of such an addition tell against accepting it. The language of verse 68 also serves to declare a sense of the impossibility of turning away.

70f  It is a little surprising that John doesn’t conclude with the words of faith.  Perhaps it is merely because he feels it is necessary to note that Judas is not truly included in these words, thus avoiding any misunderstanding regarding “the twelve”.  But possibly there is more, possibly there is the implication that it is not sufficient to stand among believers and rely on the declarations of others.  Each of us is required to make Peter’s declaration consciously our own.

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