Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | May 12, 2008

John 6:35-47: Literary Analysis Part I



The Gospel of John, commonly known as the fourth Gospel, was written by the apostle John the son of Zebedee.  In John 20:30-32, the apostle states to the reader his purpose for authoring this Gospel message, which is that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  Thus, the apostle’s goal for this book was evangelistic in nature, which is why the author has been traditionally characterized as an Evangelist.  This characterization is also appropriately made of the synoptic writers who, although not as explicit as John, shared the same goal in their own authorship.  It is indicative by any careful reading of John that its style, order and content are not the same as the other synoptic writers.  This distinction causes the fourth Gospel to be unique and complementary in its place in the canon of Scripture.


There are some who argue that the fourth Gospel is written in a chiastic structure from beginning to end.2 The theory suggests that there are six major parts to the overall structure of John that possess several sequences and sub-sequences within those parts.  The following is a summary of a suggested layout:


            Prologue: 1:1-18

(a)    Part I: 1:19-4:3 Witness and Discipleship

(b)   Part II: 4:4-6:15 Response: Positive and Negative

(c)    Part III: 6:16-21 The New Exodus

(a)    Part IV: 6:22-12:11 Response: Positive and Negative

(b)   Part V:  12:12-21:25 Witness and Discipleship


Although, the detail of the particular sequences and sub-sequences and the precise verse endings may be debated, the above mentioned structure does appear to represent a viable case for the chiastic structure for the fourth Gospel.


This would suggest that the text that will be examined within this work is situated in Part IV of the grand structure of the fourth Gospel.  The span of this part includes a period of several months of Jesus’ ministry ranging from Passover (John 6:4), the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2), and the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22).  All three of these pilgrim feasts obligated a male Israelite to travel to Jerusalem (Deut 16:1-17) in adherence to the Mosaic Law.  In obedience to these requirements, Jesus, whose mission was to fulfill the Law would have observed these stipulations of the covenant.  Thus, most of the content within this section of John is characterized by long discourses between Jesus and the Jews debating aspects of the Law.  However, the most rigorous exchanges especially revolved around who Jesus claimed to be.   


In descending the scale of structure Part IV arguably begins at John 6:22 whose sequence would carry on through the rest of the sixth chapter to verse 71.  There seems to be at least one, possibly two subsequences that occur from verses 22-34 that concern an exchange between Jesus and the Jews after the feeding of the five thousand.  The response to the third question from the crowd begins with Jesus response to it that takes us through the structure we are proposing to examine (verses 35-47).  A chiastic structure can be found in this subsequence, which can be proposed as support for the delineation of this pericope.  This structure is seen as follows:


            (aa) verses 35-37:  Only those given by the Father believe unto eternal life

            (bb) verses 38-39:  The Father sent the Son, those He redeems will be raised the last day

            (cc) verse 40:  The Father has sent the Son to redeem a people

            (bb) verses 41-44: The Father sent the Son, those He redeems will be raised the last day

            (aa) verses 45-47:  Only those given by the Father believe unto eternal life           


In the structure of this particular subsequence the literary focal point of this passage appears to be characterized by the Father sending the Son to redeem a people3. The entire subsequence seems to bear an emphasis that redemption is particular in its scope.  Moreover, this particular redemption has been planned among an intimate union including the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It is indicative that the text explicitly manifests this union between the Father and the Son.  It will be argued later that the Holy Spirit is implicitly manifested as part of this union.  


The particular text that is the concern of this work falls within the sixth chapter of the fourth Gospel.  In this chapter the apostle is giving an account of the events surrounding the feeding of the five thousand.  This event is recorded in all of the synoptic Gospels, however, John provides a much more thorough account of the discourse that day.  The material unique to the fourth Gospel begins in verse 14, where the people were astonished by what had just transpired in their midst, and they began to contemplate that Jesus was the Prophet promised by Moses (Deut 18:15-19).  In verse 15 it indicates that Jesus perceived their intentions, which was to “take Him by force and make Him king.”  As a result, He withdrew from the crowd to escape from their impulse reaction of having their bellies filled through a remarkable miracle.  In verses 16-25 it recounts the return to Capernaum and how the disciples encounter Jesus walking on water in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.  This further astonished the crowd who was aware that Jesus was not in the boat with the disciples, yet made it to the other side mysteriously.      

These events lead to the discourse that includes the text that will be examined in this work.  In verses 26-34 Jesus exposes the true intentions of the people in response to the miracles.  He points out that they wanted to make Him King not necessarily because of the miracle itself nor that Jesus was the Prophet promised by Moses, but because their stomachs were filled with food.  This craving led to a request for manna from heaven to provide an endless supply of food for their taking.  In verse 35 Jesus then states that “I am bread of life” and whoever “believes” in Him will neither “hunger” nor “thirst”.  This verse introduces the first of the “I am” statements that are repeated in subsequent sequences within Part IV of the fourth Gospel (John 8:12; 8:58; 9:5; 10:7-14; and 11:25).  In the original language these statements are constructed with the emphatic εγώ ειμι, which is identical to the form used in the Greek translation of the Divine name in Ex 3:14.  Although, not in and of it self a closed case for Jesus’ divine self-identification, when considering the context of 8:58 it surely extinguishes the realm of doubt that would seek to deny the significance of the construction of these statements.  This declaration is further supported in the text when Jesus appeals to His divine condescension in verse 38, which presupposes a divine nature.              


In briefly considering the literary context it is evident from the surrounding texts that the expectations that the people had for the Messiah are not being fulfilled in Jesus.  The actions and responses of Jesus are indicative of the fact that He was plainly aware of this unfulfilled expectation.  More will be elucidated about these peculiar circumstances in the subsequent historical analysis of the text. Nonetheless, it suffices to say that in this discourse it is apparent that Jesus is attempting to rectify this false expectation of the people in His response and be careful not to feed to it. 


In verse 36, continuing with the response to the third question of the discourse between Jesus and the Jews, it is evident that Jesus’ statement refers back to the opening remarks of the discussion (verse 26).  The crowd had “seen” the miracle, however, were overtaken from its significance by the satisfaction it brought to their stomachs.  Being aloof to what had occurred at best or manipulative at worst they ignore the miracle from the previous day and request that Jesus perform another sign to validate His message.  Jesus here points out the crassness of this request since they have already witnessed the validation of His message, yet chose not to believe it. Here the Word of God (John 1:1) who possesses the ability to pierce bone and marrow (Heb 4:12), in order to view the intentions of the heart, is making an adjudication about the spiritual status of His audience.  Although, the Jews here were witnesses to an extraordinary miracle, they can only manage to focus on gratifying their insatiable appetite to fill their stomach, entirely ignorant to the spiritual meaning of what was occurring within their midst.


After making a judgment about the crowd’s intentions in seeking Jesus, he exposes that they are coming in unbelief.  In verse 37 Jesus makes an interesting statement that defines an essential pre-requisite to those who “come” to Jesus.  First, it should be pointed out that the way “come” is used in this verse possesses a connotation of “belief”.  As is evident from the discourse, the crowd here in the text is “coming” to Jesus seeking to be fed with bread from heaven as their forefathers were (Ex 16:15; Num 11:7-9).  Thus, to suggest that the word is being used to express the physical act of approaching a destination in this verse would be problematic. The other option to describe the sense that this word possesses would be to define it as an intimate spiritual act of drawing close to the person of Jesus.  In other words, by believing or placing ones trust and faith in the person of Jesus as the context suggests the crowd was not doing.


The implication of this statement made by Jesus is that the crowd who did not come to Jesus in faith is not given by the Father.  In considering the positive implications of this statement it suggests that only those who meet the pre-requisite, those who have been given by the Father, will come to Jesus in faith.  Moreover, it should be noted the statement also expresses certain inevitability about those who are given by the Father, which is that they will effectively “come” to Jesus.  Jesus goes onto indicate that those who do meet this criterion of responding in faith, “He will certainly not cast out” (οὐ μὴ ἐκβάλω ξω).  In considering the Greek construction of this statement a double negative participle with the future indicative verb is found.  This type of construction, along with the aorist subjunctive, is the strongest way to negate something grammatically in the Greek language4. The ramifications, grammatically speaking, is a denial of any potential of the preceding terms from ever occurring.  Thus, those who have been given by the Father to respond in faith to the Son are secure in that intimate union (John 10:29).  The earnest desire of this commitment by the Son to those who had been given by the Father was fervently expressed in even His most dire hour (John 17:24).  This emphatic negation of the possibility of those who will “come” from being lost is thus a repeated assertion by Jesus.

1 O. Palmer Robertson “The Christ of the Covenants” (Phillipsburg, NJ, P&R 1980) p54

2 Peter Ellis 2003, “Inclusion, Chiasm and the Division of the Fourth Gospel”, St. Vladamir Theological Quarterly

3 This structure differs from Ellis’ in the inclusion of verse 35, which to us seemed awkward to delineate the pericope at Jesus’ mid-sentence.  Moreover, the glosses we have used to characterize the verses with differ from Ellis as well who does not emphasize the particular redemption overtones that we have 47.1: p. 281

4 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1996) p 468










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