John 5 and 14 - Greater Works

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Daniel Wee
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John 5 and 14 - Greater Works

Post by Daniel Wee »

Some background stuff

Those of you who have read the "gospel according to John" (that's what it's called in Greek) should have noticed that John has a distinctive style and approach that differs from the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke - wiki "synoptic gospels" for more info.) He doesn't start the gospel with a genealogy as Matthew and Luke did, he has a slightly different chronology (sequence of events) and basically just looks at things from a different angle.

It is also possible that John was originally written in Aramaic (before being translated to Greek) due to some word usage such as "Rabboni" in John 20:16 and so on. The quality of the Greek in John's gospel (as well as Revelations) is not fantastic. Here and there we may run into difficult renderings in Greek which make it hard to translate and interpret.

There are several major themes in John that keep cropping up throughout the book, some of which are:-
1. Yeshua is the unique Son of God, attested to by the 8 miracles in John
2. Yeshua's special relationship with the Father, his oneness and unity with Him
3. In believing Yeshua, we receive life from him

Of course, other themes exist too but these are the ones that are of most interest for the upcoming discussion. What is important to note is that these themes re-cur throughout the gospel of John and retains a prominent place in John's thinking and writing. We will get into this a bit more later on.

Finally, John probably wrote the gospel much later than the Synoptics were written, meaning that he probably knew or even had access to those other gospels while he was writing his own.

Glossary for upcoming discussion:-

1. Synoptics - refers to Matthew, Mark and Luke. So-called because they are more similar or see things the same way, hence "syn"-"optics".

2. LXX - refers to the Greek translation of the OT made around 200BCE to cater to Jews who were so Hellenized that they were better at Greek than Hebrew (kinda like how we use English more than Mandarin.)

3. Peshitta - the Aramaic translation of the bible, both NT and OT. We are especially interested in the NT Peshitta here for our upcoming discussion. The dating of the Peshitta and origins are somewhat debated. Some say that it is a translation from the Greek from around the 5th century AD. Others argue that it is much older and, in some cases, pre-date the Greek. This is actually a very interesting discussion.
Daniel Wee
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Re: John 5 and 14 - Greater Works

Post by Daniel Wee »

The Son's special relationship with the Father (John 5:19-20)

(for background stuff and glossary, see previous post on intro to the gospel of John)

In John 5:19, Yeshua said that "the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner" (NKJV) The literal translation (from the critical Greek text NA27) of this bit of the verse reads something like:-

<no ability/power>[has]<the son><to do><of himself><nothing><if he doesn't see><the father><do>

So what does this mean for us? What is Yeshua trying to say here?

First of all, this looks like one of those places where John is zooming in on the special relationship between the Son and the Father. From v.19-23 Yeshua explains about his relationship with his Father in heaven, and because of this relationship, from v.24 onwards, we should believe in him. So we know that we are looking at something that describes the Father-Son relationship that Yeshua enjoys with God.

Yet, on the surface of it - this text reads a little clumsily. What do you mean when you say that Son cannot do anything unless he sees the Father do it? Does he somehow lack the authority or power until he sees the Father act? That doesn't really make a lot of sense. What makes more sense is that the Son "will not" do anything unless he sees the Father do the same - which speaks about the submission of the Son's will to the Father's will, something that is pretty consistent throughout the gospel of John. However, we can't just change the translation because it happens to make more sense - we need more supporting evidence if we want to argue for this reading instead of the traditional reading. All we can say at this point is that the Greek doesn't make a lot of sense in this verse.

Here is where it helps to look at other translations - in this case the Syriac/Aramaic NT, the Peshitta. Without going into the debate or the antiquity of the Syriac manuscript except to say that it's very old, the Aramaic of the same verse reads something like the following:-

<not able><the son><do something><from his soul-matter><if he does not see the Father do>

Okay, this is getting interesting here. What does it mean that the Son is unable to do something from "his soul-matter"? The English translations of the Peshitta translate this as "of his own pleasure" which is pretty good and really means, "his own desire" or "his own will". This is exactly what we would have thought the verse would read. If we accept this argument, then John 5:19 really says:-

"the Son does nothing of his own will, but what he sees the Father do"

Yeshua does the Father's will, not his own. Does this sit well with the rest of John 5? It turns out that it does. The Jews wanted to kill Jesus for breaking the Sabbath but Jesus argues in 5:17 that he is only doing God's will.

John 5:20 now elaborates on this special relationship - the Father reveals all His works (meaning His will) to the Son so that the Son perfectly knows the Father's mind. This is why Yeshua can claim that he does only what he sees the Father do, because the Father has revealed all to him. The reason the Father does this is because the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father.

In summary, the Father-Son's relationship of mutual love is marked by two main features:-
1. a full mutual revelation and disclosure of wills
2. a full mutual compliance and submission of wills

Because of this love, the Father perfectly reveals His will to the Son, and the Son perfectly keeps the Father's will. In fact, it seems that "works" here is being used almost in the sense of "will" - this is important to note.

All of this, BTW, is just introduction to the real discussion that's coming up. If you're still awake at this point, hang in there. It should get more interesting as we go on.

As we proceed through John 5:20, Yeshua basically says, "You guys ain't seen nothing yet because the Father is going to do something even greater." Actually it says "... and He will show him greater works than these, that you may marvel." (NKJV) Since we know that the Son does whatever the Father shows him and nothing else, this should mean that the Son is going to perform this "greater works" that the Father is going to show him - referring to something that the Son is going to do. Okay, so now we know that Yeshua is about to do something even greater than what they've seen so far, but what is this amazing works that he is about to do?

Fortunately, Yeshua answers that question for us in the very next verse - John 5:21 - as the Father raises the dead and gives life, the Son will do the same - give life. The passage then goes on to elaborate that the Son has been given authority to judge as to who is given life, and who is not (v.24)

What is the point of this whole discussion so far? - "Greater works". We have been working towards trying to understand what is meant by "greater works" in John 5:20. In this case, the greater works, greater than any miracles than have witnessed so far - in fact, the greatest works of all, are the resurrection from the dead and the gift of eternal life. Yeshua is going to do these works, raise the dead and give life, starting with his own resurrection.

With this in mind - read through the whole of John 5 and see if such an understanding is consistent with the entire chapter. I believe you will find that it fits right in. We're still going somewhere with this but I will take questions if you have any at this point.
Daniel Wee
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Re: John 5 and 14 - Greater Works

Post by Daniel Wee »

Our special relationship with the Son (John 14)

In the previous installment, we've looked at the special relationship between the Father and the Son in John 5:19-20, and how that is expressed in the Father's perfect revelation to the Son, and the Son's perfect obedience to the Father. Moreover we saw that the greater works that the Father will show the Son, and which the Son will do are the raising of the dead and the giving of life (to those who believe in the Son.) It was important for us to understand this because this same relationship paradigm is also applied to our relationship with Yeshua which will be the subject of our discussion now.

In John 14, we see Yeshua saying that:-

1. Those who love Yeshua, Yeshua also loves and will reveal himself to them (v.21)
2. If we love him, we will keep his commands (v.15) In other words, if we love him, we will do his will.

We find this in Yeshua's high priestly prayer in John 17:20-21 where he prays that we may be one in him just as Yeshua is in the Father. We find ourselves on pretty solid theological and contextual ground when we look at John 14 in this manner. Our relationship with the Son should mirror the Son's relationship with the Father, because no one has seen the Father except the Son (Jn 1:18) .This was the problem that gave rise to the discourse in John 14 - Philip wanted to see the Father (Jn 14:8). Yeshua's answer was that he can see the Father in the Son who perfectly reflects the Father (Jn 14:9). [On a more practical note - Yeshua found his purpose and identity completely in the will of the Father. Never once did Yeshua talk about his own needs or suffering, he was totally focussed on completing his Father's mission. We could learn from this attitude.]

This brings us to the central verse for our discussion - John 14:12 - in which Yeshua says:-
"... he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to the Father."

If you remember Jn 5:19-20, this is the same kind of language that we are seeing here. In John 5:20,23, God would marvel us with greater works so that the Son may be honoured. In John 14:13, greater works will be done so that the Father will be glorified. There are definitely some strong parallels between Yeshua's teaching in John 5 and John 14, and this is going to help us understand some of the things in John 14.

The question that we're looking to address here is - "What did Yeshua mean by this?" People have used this particular verse as evidence that not only will we perform miracles, but that we will perform even greater miracles than Yeshua ever did, for example. Are they correct in interpreting John 14:12 in this manner - this is the subject of our study.

The Greek for John 14:12 excerpted above reads as follows:-
<the one who believes><in me><the works I do><he will also do><and greater>[still]<he will do>

A couple of things to note right off the bat:-

1. There is no "greater works" in the Greek, only "greater". The [still] I inserted to smooth out the reading. Some use [than these] instead of [still]. In either case it is a reference to something greater but not necessarily greater "works".

2. When you see "the works I do, he will also do" - it can be read in two slightly different moods. It can be read as "the works I do, he will also BE ABLE to do" which is how it is quite popularly understood and taught. It can also be read as "he will do what he sees me do". This is my preferred reading because it works better when we consider the parallel with John 5 where Yeshua does the works that he sees the Father do, and here we are to do the works we see Yeshua do. The important difference here is that in this reading, there is no promise of some new ability to perform miracles, even "greater miracles."

Taking all the previous discussion about the relationship between the Father and the Son and using that as the template to understand John 14, we now end up with a passage that tells us that we are to relate to the Son in the same way that the Son relates to the Father.

1. The Father loves the Son and reveals himself to the Son (Jn 5:20)
2. The Son sees what the Father does, and he does the same (Jn 5:19)
3. Yeshua loves us and will manifest himself to those who believe (Jn 14:21)
4. We who believe will do the works that we see Yeshua do (Jn 14:12) - from the above explanation

The force of this passage, therefore, lies not so much in the miracles but in the submission of our works and our will to Yeshua in the same way that the Son submitted his works and will to the Father. One could rightly ask - "What is it that we see Yeshua do?" and that's a really good question but the answer lies beyond the scope of this discussion.

The next thing we want to address is this "greater [still]" part. What is this greater thing that we will do as a result of Yeshua going to the Father? Let us consider some of the popular interpretations:-

1. Some say that this means we will do even greater miracles than Yeshua, and use this verse as their proof text. Keep in mind that this applies to all who believe. Just on a very practical level I think there are already problems with this interpretation. Yeshua walked on water - I've yet to see anyone even come close to claiming this (other than Naruto!). Yeshua fed the multitudes with two fish and five loaves - I've not heard of this either. Even Yeshua's very first miracle of turning water into wine - I'd like to see someone try that one today. If we are honest about it, I don't think we are coming anywhere close to the Master as far as performing miracles are concerned and those who claim such are really stretching the meaning of the word "greater." On a theological level - why was it necessary for Yeshua to go to the Father first if this was just about performing miracles? The apostles were already performing miracles while Yeshua was there. Are we saying that Yeshua's ability to enable his apostles were somehow limited while he was on earth? Textually we have shown that the central idea here isn't even about miracles but about conforming ourselves to God's will through the Son.

2. Others say that this is "greater" in terms of degree - so we may not perform greater miracles qualitatively, but we will perform more miracles (quantitatively.) Personally I find this kind of reasoning rather flimsy. On a practical level I doubt if anyone performs more miracles than Yeshua did, much less every believer which is what this verse is about - anyone (singular) who believes. Theologically, as before, how does Yeshua going to the Father relate to one's ability to perform more miracles (quantitatively)?

If we look at the context and, in particular, the parallel with John 5 - the "greater [still]" bit most likely refers to being raised from the dead and given eternal life (Jn 5:21). Let's see if this makes sense:-
"the one who believes in me, he will do what I do, and even more than this - he will be raised from the dead, because I go to My Father."
This is pretty good so far but I think we can do better because the careful reader will have observed that the believer "will do" - this is something active and not passive (as in just receiving something.) We need to press this a bit further to the point that not only will the believer receive the resurrection and the gift of eternal life, he will also mediate this resurrection and eternal to others. This is the "greater [still]" part that we will do. Imagine that - we will mediate God's forgiveness, resurrection and eternal life! That's pretty awesome. Actually it was exactly this kind of thinking that God Yeshua into all kinds of trouble. Once again, notice the parallel with John 5:-

1. the Father has committed all authority to the Son in regards to judgement (Jn 5:22)
2. the Son mediates God's forgiveness, mercy and judgement (Jn 5:21,24,26-27)
3. the Son lives!
4. because the Son lives, we too will live (Jn 14:19)
5. the Son will commit authority to believers (Jn 14:13,14)
6. believers will mediate God's forgiveness, mercy and judgement ("greater [still]", Jn 14:12)

Why are we to do this "greater" thing? Easy - because Yeshua is going to the Father, he's going away (Jn 14:19). So to really refine the reading of John 14:12, we now have:-
"the one who believes in me, he will do what I do, and even more than this - he will be raised from the dead, and he will bring this forgiveness of God and eternal life to others, because I am going to My Father."

In the subsequent verses we see the re-emphasis:-
John 14:15 - if you love me, keep my commandments
John 14:21 - He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me
John 14:23 - If anyone loves me, he will keep my word
John 14:31 - the Father commanded the Son, the Son commands us now

There are a number of very useful lessons to learn from this passage:-

1. The key to John 14:14 ("anything you ask in my name") is our submission and conformity to Yeshua's will (and by extension, God's will.) This is not a "blank-cheque" - it is predicated upon our alignment to God's will and modelled after the Son's alignment to the Father's will (which is why the Father empowers the Son.) We should be pretty concerned about what's on God's mind.

2. God's will/mind is primarily revealed in His commands and law. Loving God is not just about certain types of religious feelings, it is about keeping Yeshua's commandments. Being ruled by his laws is what being in the kingdom of God is all about. The function of the Holy Spirit is not to enable us perform more spectacular miracles, but to lead us into truth and to remind us of Yeshua's commands (Jn 14:26).

3. This verse has been often abused and misappropriated to bolster up arguments for miracles and so on. It is actually less about miracles and more about our special relationship with Yeshua. Having said that - it doesn't say that we won't do miracles either.

I should mention that it is all too easy to misappropriate the bible for another agenda. When people do this, they stand on really dangerous ground and what they teach has no divine authority, regardless of how popular or convincing they are. The reason for saying this is because God's inspiration and empowerment lie in God's true revelation, and not in our own fabrications.

[Suggestion: Read through John 14, and then John 5, and see if it starts to come together for you.]
Daniel Wee
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Re: John 5 and 14 - Greater Works

Post by Daniel Wee »

John 6:29 also points in this direction - "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."
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