Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Seven Day Structure of John 1:29–2:11

The four pericopes that make up John 1:29–2:11 have been given a particular setting in time by the author of John’s Gospel. The first three pericopes are each introduced by the phrase τῇ ἐπαύριον on the next day (John 1:29, 35, 43), and the final pericope is introduced with the words καὶ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ and on the third day (John 2:1). The presence of these adverbials of time forces the reader to question why they are present.

All in all, when taken sequentially, it seems like John 1:19–2:11 has been deliberately structured according to a seven day pattern:

Day 1  John 1:19–28
Day 2“on the next day”  John 1:29–34
Day 3“on the next day”John 1:35–42
Day 4“on the next day”John 1:43–51
Day 7“on the third day”John 2:1–11

Given the author’s obvious concern with Gen 1 in John 1:1–5 (as seen in the phrase in the beginning, which is a quotation of the first phrase of the Bible in Gen 1:1; and also in John’s concern with the concepts of creation, life, light, darkness, which are key themes in Gen 1), it makes sense to take the seven day structure of John 1:19–2:11 as presenting the first seven days of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism. If creation week back in the beginning involved a seven day time period, then the suggestion seems to be that Jesus’ ministry involves a kind of re-creation. This seven day sequence serves to remind the reader that, through Jesus, a new beginning has arrived for creation. Jesus’ entrance into the world is a new episode in which God’s creative and life-giving power, mediated through the Spirit, is going to be made manifest in the cosmos. The climax of this new creation week is Jesus’ first recorded miracle, the turning of the water into wine.

Concerning the final episode in this sequence, the phrase on the third day in John 2:1 is most likely meant to be taken as indicating that the miracle of turning the water into wine took place three days after the previous episode, i.e., on the seventh day. Given Jesus’ habit of performing miracles on the Sabbath (John 5:9; 9:14; see also Matt 12:9–13; Mark 3:1–5; Luke 6:6–10; 13:10–16), we are probably meant to understand that the day when this miracle took place was not just the seventh day of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism, but also literally the seventh day of the week, that is, the Sabbath. The fact that Jesus seems to have performed the sign of turning the water into wine on a Sabbath day helps in understanding the significance of this miracle and the seven day structure in John 1:19–2:11. Jesus has come to usher in the eternal Sabbath rest, which will be a time of joy and celebration amidst the fullness of God’s new covenant provision and blessing.


John Davies said...

A very stimulating post. And would it be pushing it too far to observe that there are some possible verbal/thematic links on days two, three and four as well?
On day two Genesis deals with the placement of waters in relation to the heavens (Gen 1:9). John has the heavens opening (John 1:51) and Jesus experiencing the waters of baptism (John 1:52).
On day three Gen 1:9 has the emergence of the terrestrial sphere, the dry land. John’s day three ends with the designation of Cephas as the Rock (John 1:42).
Genesis has the heavens being populated on day four (Gen 1:14-19) while John has the heavens opening and its inhabitants ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51).
We might wonder why John skips days five and six on this scheme. An answer could be that he wants the opportunity to say “on the third day” (John 2:1) thus introducing another important motif with strong OT background. It is the third day when change is effected.
Just a thought.

Steven Coxhead said...

Hello John!

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think there might be some further connections, as you have pointed out. Given the strong Gen 1 allusions in the prologue (John 1:1–18), I don’t think it is stretching things too far to hear other echoes of Gen 1 in the seven day structure of John 1:29–2:11. I like your suggestion for John’s use of the third day too.

Thanks for your contribution.

Randa said...

It's been great following the last posts on John and the insights into the connection with the Genesis text. Blessings - Randa

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks for that, Randa. All the best with your studies in the Word!