Have you ever been so excited you could hardly sleep? That’s what happened to me the night I noticed something amazing in John’s Gospel. Toward the end of writing my post on the seven signs in John’s Gospel, I saw there was yet another chiastic structure. The more I thought about it, the more I was blown away by both John’s message and his literary genius.
Take a look at the signs in order:
Ever wondered why John’s Gospel has such different feel than the other three, which we call “synoptic” or “same view”? For one, Matthew, Mark and Luke record many more of Jesus’ miracles without necessarily drawing lessons from them. In contrast, John says what he’s recording are signs, actions that symbolize some element of Jesus’ nature or mission or power. His account of Jesus’ three teaching and ministry years is a crescendo of miraculous events that culminates in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Let’s take a look at all seven signs and what they say about Jesus.
Remember metaphors? My love is like a red, red rose. Oh wait, that’s a simile. A metaphor is You’re a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce. Just like You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, John’s Gospel is full of sit-up-and-take-notice metaphors. In this post, I’d like to talk about the structure of the 7 metaphors and what that means for interpreting them. Here is the list in order of appearance:
John 6:35, 48, 51 I am the Bread of Life
John 9:5 I am the Light of the World
John 10: I am the Gate for the sheep
John 10:11, 14 I am the Good Shepherd
John 11:25 I am the Resurrection and the Life
John 14:6 I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
John 15:1 I am the True Vine
Did you ever have to write an acrostic poem in elementary school? You know, down the left side of the page you write your name and for each letter you write a word or phrase that describes you? I was never very impressed by our so-called poetic creations and I came to view acrostic poems as poetry-for-people-who-can’t-write-poetry.
Later, my opinion of acrostics recovered as I discovered poems where the initial letters didn’t stand out from the others and spelled a code or a series of words, such as in Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason, or Lewis Carroll’s The Looking Glass. And the Bible is full of acrostics, too, though instead of spelling words, they are abecedarian, a list of the letters of the alphabet.
Two facts about the original languages of the Bible are important in appreciating God’s master plan. First, the fact that the New Testament was written in Greek, which had the same cross-cultural importance as English in the first century, meant that though few of the readers or writers spoke Greek as their mother tongue, everyone understood it and thus the gospel stories and the letters could rapidly and easily be disseminated all over the Roman world.
Second, the fact that much of the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, especially the works of poetry and prophecy, mean that readers of translations of these literary styles can still appreciate the beauty of the language. Why? Unlike English or many other languages, the poetic devices of Hebrew do not depend on the sounds of the original language. In English, traditionally, we have depended mostly on metre (how many syllables in a line and the pattern of stressed or unstressed syllables in a foot) and rhyme (same sounds at the end of a line). For example,
For a lot of people, the Bible is either art or truth. For me, it's both, and I hope to persuade readers in both camps to see the other perspective.