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"Water Symbolism" in John

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  • Matthew Estrada
    Now that I have established more firmly our link between the Cana Miracle and our Exodus material (in particular Ex 2), I would like to return to
    Message 1 of 4 , Feb 22 12:53 PM
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      Now that I have established more firmly our link between the Cana Miracle and our Exodus material (in particular Ex 2), I would like to return to parallel/connection # 10 that I made between Jn 2:1-11 and Ex 2 (again, to see these connections you can go to the following link/previous post: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/johannine_literature/message/4187 ). My reason for returning to this parallel is to try and convince the majority of my interpretation of John's "water" symbolism. Understanding this symbolism correctly will help us not only better understand the present Cana Miracle story that we have been examining, but will help us better understand John's gospel. This is a very important discovery, in my opinion, so please give this due consideration:

      Parallel # 10 stated the following:

      Lastly, having asked why else John might mimic Exodus 2:11-25 in the creation of John 2:1-11, I happened upon what I consider to be my most important discovery- the symbolic meaning of "water" for the author of John. In Exodus 2:10 we read:

      "When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh�s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, �I drew him out of the water� (EK TON UDATOS AUTON ANEILOMHN)."

      Moses was named Moses because he was "drawn from the water". Even though the verb "to draw" in the Greek is not the same verb in Exodus 2:10 that is used in John 2:8 (although the Greek verb for "to draw" used in Ex.2:16, 17, and 19 are the same as that used in John 2:8), we can still demonstrate that the author of the Gospel of John had Exodus 2:10 in mind when creating the symbolic meaning of his use of the word "water". The name "Moses" sounds like the Hebrew word meaning, "to draw out". Scholars have already noted the wordplay in Exodus on Moses� name. Even as the name "Moses" was given to him on account of him being "drawn from the water", so, too, does God use Moses to "draw from the water" the Israelites, and save them in their escape from the Red Sea when fleeing from the Egyptians. The Egyptians, unlike the Israelites, are drowned in the water. And even as the name "Moses" comes from the Egyptian verb, meaning "to be born", so too does God use Moses to bring about the birth
      of the Israelite nation. But what the scholars have not noted before, to my knowledge, is that Moses himself, in this verse in Exodus 2:10, is connected with "water". Moses = water because he was "drawn from the water". How can we be sure that John expected his readers to pick up on the equation of Moses with "water"? I would like for us to look at other passages in John where this "water" symbolism is used to see if this interpretation makes sense.

      John 1:19-34

      I would now like to return to our "water" symbolism and offer more promised proofs to support this interpretation that would understand the word "water" to symbolize "the Law and the Prophets".

      In John 1:19-28 we are told about John the Baptist� "testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was" (Jn. 1:19). The interpretation that I am proposing understands the Baptist to be a symbolic figure who is jointed to and made into one with Moses, so that the two together stand for all of the Law and the Prophets. Therefore, when "the Jews" send to inquire of the Baptist his identity, asking if he is the Christ, or Elijah, or the Prophet (all messianic figures), the author is demonstrating to his readers that "the Jews" are trying to give a status to the Law and the Prophets (=John the Baptist) that the Law and the Prophets never claimed for itself. Rather, the Baptist (who represents the Law and the Prophets) responds to their inquiries with the confession, "I am not the Christ". What the author is communicating to his readers is that even though "the Jews" (who represent John�s opponents during the time of the writing of the gospel) would give
      to the Law and the Prophets a "messianic" status, the Law and the Prophets reject this status. Rather, the Law and the Prophets state that their purpose is to "Make straight the way for the Lord". "I am not the Christ�. I am not [Elijah]�. No [I am not the Prophet]" (John shows Jesus to fulfill these three roles). And then when questioned why he baptizes, the author of John�s Gospel has John the Baptist say three times that he came to baptize with water. The first time he says this, he implies that Jesus is the greater.

      "�I baptize with water�, John replied, �but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie�" (John 1:26-27).

      The second time the Baptist says that he came "baptizing with water", he identifies Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!", and reverberates an earlier testimony (Jn. 1:15):

      "This is the one I meant when I said, �A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me. I myself did not know Him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel" (John 1:30-31).

      John the Baptist, who represents the Law and the Prophets (which was "deified" by "the Jews"), is stating his true purpose. Not only does he say that Jesus is much worthier than he (the Law), but he also states that his (the Law�s) purpose is to reveal Jesus (the Messiah) to Israel. The reason why John the Baptist states "I myself did not know Him" is because he is speaking as a symbol for the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets came before Jesus� incarnation, and was separated from Jesus by the 400 years of silence (even though Jesus was really before the Law and the Prophets. In having the Baptist (the Law and the Prophets) state twice that he "did not know" Jesus, John the author is communicating to his readers this new interpretation of the Law and the Prophets that he, and others who have also been enlightened as to the meaning of this mystery, are now introducing to the Jewish people. What the author is saying is that the Law and the Prophets were not always
      interpreted in the way in which he is now interpreting them because not even the Law and the Prophets understood God�s future plan of salvation in Christ. But now has this mystery been made known to "the Law and the Prophets"/John the Baptist, and John the Baptist, who represents the Law and the Prophets, is giving testimony to Jesus being the promised Christ (Jn. 1:6-9; 5:31-47). Others who interpret correctly the Law and the Prophets (i.e. in light of Jesus) become "servants" of this mystery. They, too, now "know" him (Jesus), and help others to "know" him in a like manner. They serve the "new wine" (the Holy Spirit) to the ARXITRIKLINOS (the master of the banquet), helping the ARXITRIKLINOS to come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah because they/the servants know where the "wine" came from. Thus we read in Romans 16:25-26:

      "Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now (NUN) revealed and made known (PHANERWTHENTOS) through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him- to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen."

      Here Paul uses the same word PHANEROW ("to reveal") that John uses in Jn. 1:31. He says that this "mystery" (Jesus as the Christ) is "NOW" (NUN) being "revealed" (PHANERWTHENTOS) through "the prophetic writings" so that all nations might believe (cf. Rom. 11:25-32). The word "now" (NUN), which would have an eschatological ring to it in Jewish ears, is also used by John in Jn. 2:8 once the jars have been "filled with wine". As we have shown, the filling of the jars "to the brim" signifies "the end of a period of time". This is the time that Paul refers to again and again through his use of "now" (NUN). John the Baptist, who stands for "the Law and the Prophets", likewise says that the reason "he"/"the Law and the Prophets" came was so that Jesus might be "revealed" (PHAVERWTHh) to Israel.

      Again, in Ephesians 1:9-10, Paul states,

      "And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."

      These "times reached their fulfillment" when the jars were "filled with water/the Law and the Prophets "to the brim"/the end of a period of time. "Now" the "servants" could draw the "wine"/Holy Spirit out and serve it to the people.

      In Ephesians 3:2-6, Paul states,

      "Surely you have heard about the administration of God�s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known (EGNWRISEN) to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not known (OUK EGNWRISTHh) to men in other generations as it has now been revealed (NUN APEKALUFTHh) by the Spirit to God�s holy apostles and prophets�. I became a servant (DIAKONOS) of this gospel�to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now (NUN), through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known (GNWRISTHh) to the rulers and authorities�".

      In Colossians 1:26-27 Paul states:

      "I have become its servant (DIAKONOS) by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God (TON LOGON TON THEON) in its fullness- the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now made known (NUN DE EPHANERWTHh) to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known (GNWRISAI) among the Gentiles the glorious riches (THS DOXHS) of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (THS DOXHS)" (cf. Col. 2:2-3)

      By quoting the above texts, italicizing some words while showing the Greek of others, I hope to convince you, the reader, that John was aware of Paul�s writings, and that he alluded to these specific texts to show that although God�s plan of salvation in Jesus was not manifest before, it now is, and the Scriptures/John the Baptist gives testimony to this. John borrows from Paul the words "now", "servants", "word" and "glory", and uses them in his Cana Miracle. That words can have more than one source for John does not lessen their meaning. To the contrary, when words, such as "the word of God" (TON LOGON TON THEON), have more than one source (Amos 8:11-12; Col. 1:26), it only strengthens John�s play on it, though making it more difficult for the reader to believe that there existed such a network of words that could be used to convey so much theology.

      We may wrongly assume that John is denigrating the Law and the Prophets. He does not. He only places the Law and the Prophets in their truly intended, divinely appointed place. The Law and the Prophets are not equal to Jesus. Rather, they are his subordinates. Their true purpose is to lead people to belief in Jesus.

      The author of the Gospel of John, in having John the Baptist (who stands for the Law) state, �A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me�, is alluding not only to Jesus� pre-existence but also to what Paul says in Galatians 3- that the promise/faith came before the giving of the Law, and therefore it is only just that the promise be fulfilled and that the Law (which was intended as an interim period) come to an end. John, therefore, again, is revealing his knowledge of Paul�s writings in a very subtle manner.

      The third time John the Baptist says that he came to "baptize with water", he adds the comment that Jesus "will baptize with the Holy Spirit".

      "I did not know Him, but the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, �The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33).

      The baptism of "water" is contrasted to the baptism of the "Spirit". John the Baptist is identified with "water". John the Baptist = water. Moses has also been identified with "water". Moses = water. Moses was the first of the Law and the Prophets; John the Baptist was the last of the Law and the Prophets. "Water", therefore, has been given the symbolic meaning of "the Law and the Prophets", from Moses, the 1st of the Law and the Prophets, to John the Baptist, the last of the Law and the Prophets. Water = the Law and the Prophets. So, what we are saying is that Moses, because he was "drawn" from the "water", is being represented by "water" by the author of the gospel of John. John the Baptist, because he came "baptizing" with "water", is also being represented by "water" by the gospel author. And because Moses was the first of the Law and the Prophets (and the most important figure), and John the Baptist was the last of the Law and the Prophets, when taken together, they represent
      all of the Law and the Prophets. Moses + John the Baptist = Water = the Law and the Prophets.

      Interestingly, in Matthew 11:13 we read:

      "For all the Prophets and the Law (OI PROFHTAI KAI O NOMOS) prophesied until John."

      Perhaps John obtained the idea of using John the Baptist and Moses as personifications of the Law and the Prophets, in part, from this text.

      In Matthew 14:1-13, John the Baptist is said to have been executed on account of his condemnation of Herod�s coveting his brother�s wife, saying to Herod,

      "It is not lawful for you to have her" (Mt. 14:4).

      Perhaps this text also aided John in coming up with the idea of using John the Baptist as a personification of the Law and the Prophets in his gospel, as here he is depicted as acting as a spokesperson on behalf of the Law (here accusing Herod of breaking the tenth commandment- "Do not covet�your neighbor�s wife").

      And in Mark 6:20 we read:

      "�because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous (DIKAION) and holy (AGION) man".

      If we read Paul�s description of the Law in Romans 7:12, there we find the same two Greek words employed that were also used by Mark to describe the Baptist:

      "So then, the law is holy (AGIOS), and the commandment is holy (AGIA), righteous (DIKAIA) and good (AGATHh)."

      John, noting the similarities in the Synoptics between John the Baptist and the function and description of the Law and the Prophets elsewhere, may have picked up on these parallels and decided to carry the comparison one step further- namely, to turn John the Baptist, along with Moses, into a personification of the Law and the Prophets (if indeed this had not already been done by the Synoptic authors).

      So not only is Jesus being used as a Moses-type by the author of the gospel of John, but so too is John the Baptist being used as a Moses-type, but for different purposes. Jesus is compared to Moses in that both are "redeemers". Jesus is shown to be the greater redeemer. John the Baptist is also compared to Moses, but for a different purpose. He is compared to Moses because both are representative of the Law and the Prophets (one is the first, and the other is the last). John the Baptist is, therefore, a Moses figure in that he, too, represents the Law. But unlike Jesus, John the Baptist is not portrayed to be greater than Moses. The reason for this is because he, like Moses, represents the Law and the Prophets. Both Moses and John the Baptist are on the same level. But Jesus is on another level altogether. For this reason, both Moses and John the Baptist are shown to be His subordinates.

      So in the Moses figure we discover both 1) the Lawgiver, whose role is to show humanity their sin and point them to the remedy- the Lamb of God, and 2) the redeemer, but an imperfect redeemer, who foreshadows the perfect Redeemer who was to come. The gospel author takes these two aspects of Moses and uses the historical figure of John the Baptist to symbolize and equal the one, and the historical figure of Jesus to fulfill and surpass the other.

      Now, with this interpretation in mind, in John 1:6-9 we are told about John the Baptist and his role as a witness, and a witness only, to the light (to Jesus). The scholars have noted how different the Baptist� role in the gospel of John is from the Synoptics. In John�s Gospel, the author emphasizes that the Baptist came only as a witness. The Greek word "to bear witness" (MARTUREW) is used over and over again as emphasis in describing the role of the Baptist (John 1:7-8, 15, 19, 32, 34; 3:28, 32; 5:31ff). The scholars have noted that John�s role is being downplayed in its comparison with the role of Jesus. But why? According to many of the scholars, there was a John the Baptist sect that was rivaling the Jesus sect. The author of the gospel, by placing John in a "servant" role, is making it clear to those who would follow John the Baptist over following Jesus that they are in error. John A.T. Robinson, in his book entitled The Priority of John, states,

      "For ever since Wilhelm Baldensperger Johannine criticism has been dogged by the notion that the entire treatment of John the Baptist in this Gospel is motivated- and thoroughly distorted- by polemic against the Baptist groups opposed to the early church. There are a string of denials and disclaimers which, it is said, can make sense only as rebuttals of counter-claims that John the Baptist was all these things- the true light (1:8; cf. 5:35), the superior in rank (1:15, 30; 3:30), the Messiah, Elijah, the prophet like Moses (1:19-21; 3:28). That there is theological motivation at work here- as throughout the Gospel- cannot be doubted. The sole question is whether it distorts the history and provides evidence merely for the life-setting of the Johannine community rather than affording any reliable information about the Baptist and his mission" (pp.170-71).

      Then, providing us with his own opinion on the matter, Robinson states,

      "In fact, there is no element of dispute between John and Jesus (as opposed to one between the disciples of John and �a Jew�), and their relations are represented as uniformly friendly throughout the Gospel. There is absolutely no evidence for such a statement�that John regarded Jesus as a renegade. Indeed if my interpretation is right Jesus saw the mission of the Baptist as sowing the seeds of his harvest (4:38)�. It is much easier to think that the fourth evangelist had an eye to persuading those who (like him?) were brought up on the Baptist�s teaching to believe in Jesus as the one to whom John pointed" (pp.171-72).

      Robinson correctly faults the view that sees the author of the gospel echoing an existing polemic in his day between disciples of the Baptist and those of Jesus. Robinson also correctly sees the mission of the Baptist as preparing the way for Jesus. And finally, Robinson also correctly sees the intention of the author of the gospel to be that of persuading those who were discipled by the Baptist to come over to Jesus� teachings. But what Robinson and the scholars have not understood thus far is that, and most importantly, John the Baptist, at least in the gospel of John (and most likely in Acts as well), has been cast as a symbolic figure for Moses, conveniently so because of where he stands in history. Even as John the Baptist was the last of the Law and the Prophets in Israel�s history, so was Moses the first of the Law and the Prophets in Israel�s history. John is "binding" these two great figures in history together into one- to represent, in either figure wherever they appear in
      his gospel, the Law and the Prophets. For sure, Moses can, by himself, be a representative figure for the Law; for he is that important of a figure in Israel�s history. He was the Lawgiver. For the Jews, Moses was the Law. So why do we need John the Baptist to perform the same function? The author of the gospel of John uses the Baptist as a representative figure for Moses (or the Law and the Prophets) so as to include all the other prophets of Israel since Moses up until the arrival of the historical figure of the Baptist. By doing so, he can give a superficial historical continuity to his story on the literal level when telling the story of Jesus, while at the same time, use the Baptist as a type of Moses (on the symbolic level) to call the Jews to switch from their faith in Moses to their faith in Jesus. The author is revealing that all of the Law and Prophets from Moses to John the Baptist testify that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah. Even though the emphasis of the meaning of
      the symbolic figure of the Baptist goes back to Moses, since he was the Lawgiver, it is from Moses up through John the Baptist what is being symbolized. So when we read about John the Baptist (or Moses) in John�s Gospel, we should automatically put in his place what it is he represents for the author of the Gospel- the Law and the Prophets, and allow that voice (the voice of the Law and the Prophets, beginning with the most important figure- Moses) to speak to us instead of the individual characters (whether that be the Baptist or Moses). If we do this, and reread John 1:6-9, then what we discover is a statement from the Church that the Law is a witness, and a witness only, to the One that would come after it. The Law is not Israel�s salvation. It came only to serve as a witness to the One who would be Israel�s salvation. The Law is not "the Light", as claimed to be in Bar 4:1-2, Wis 18:4, and in T. Levi 14:4:

      "the light of the law which was granted to you for the enlightenment of every man?"

      The Law only came as a witness to "the True Light". John the Baptist, who is really the Law, "cries out", "Behold, the Lamb of God!". The Law, who demands that a sacrifice be made for sin, calls Jesus that perfect sacrifice. The Law, whose primary purposes are to convict humanity of its sin and point the way to the Savior, is now saying, through John the Baptist, who represents the Law and the Prophets, Jesus is the Christ, the sacrificial offering for humanity!

      So there is no riff between the disciples of the Baptist and Jesus (and His disciples). The riff is between those who would misinterpret the Law (who the Baptist symbolizes) and the true interpretation of the Law (which is represented in John the Baptist, Jesus and His disciples). It is not so much the Baptist by himself who has prepared the way for Jesus, but it is the whole Law and the Prophets (who the Baptist represents) who have prepared the way. It is not the intention of the gospel author to persuade those who were disciples of the Baptist to come over to Jesus� discipleship. His intention is rather to persuade those who were disciples of the Law (what the Baptist symbolizes) into seeing Jesus as the Law�s fulfillment!

      Paul was doing the same thing in his books to the Romans and Galatians. Paul was demonstrating that the Law and the Prophets were a witness to Jesus, and not in opposition to Jesus. Paul was not trying to abrogate the Law. John had read Paul�s documents, and used them as source materials in the writing of his gospel. He used the Law and the Prophets in the same way Paul used them- namely, to testify concerning Jesus, to support Jesus as the Christ of the Jews, but not only of the Jews. In Romans 3:21, 22a, and 31 Paul states:

      "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (MARTUROUMENH UPO NOMOU KAI PROPHhTWN). This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe�. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law."

      John, too, in his gospel, is upholding the Law, showing the Law and the Prophets to "testify" (the same word used by Paul to describe the function of the Law and the Prophets) concerning Jesus� true identity.

      How can we further confirm this? In John 2:1-11, the "water" (the Law and the Prophets) is changed into the "wine". We have already noted, from our examination of the prophecies in Joel, that the symbolic meaning for "wine" is "God�s Spirit". Therefore, even as in John 1, "the baptism of water" is being contrasted with "the baptism of the Spirit" (the former given by John the Baptist who symbolically represents the Law and the Prophets, and the latter given by Jesus, who inaugurates the age of the Holy Spirit), so, too, in John 2 is "water" (the Law and the Prophets, summed up by Moses=water and John the Baptist=water) being contrasted with "wine" (the Holy Spirit).

      Jesus changes the "water" (the Law and the Prophets) to "wine" (the Holy Spirit). How does He do this? He does this through His death and resurrection. (to be continued).



      Matthew Estrada

      113 Laurel Court

      Peachtree City, Ga 30269


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    • Bob Schacht
      ... Excuse me, but established is not the proper verb here. You have suggested, provided evidence for, argued that, made a case for, etc., but you have not
      Message 2 of 4 , Feb 22 1:16 PM
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        At 12:53 PM 2/22/2004 -0800, Estrada wrote:

        >Now that I have established more firmly our link between the Cana Miracle
        >and our Exodus material (in particular Ex 2), ...

        Excuse me, but "established" is not the proper verb here. You have
        suggested, provided evidence for, argued that, made a case for, etc., but
        you have not "established" it, which implies that it is now accepted as a
        fact (which, however, is not necessarily the case.)

        In a forum such as this, just because no one has disputed your case to your
        satisfaction does NOT mean that you have "established" it.

        Bob
        Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D., Research Associate
        Northern Arizona University
        Flagstaff, AZ
        (928) 527-4002



        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Matthew Estrada
        ... Excuse me, but established is not the proper verb here. You have suggested, provided evidence for, argued that, made a case for, etc., but you have not
        Message 3 of 4 , Feb 22 6:09 PM
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          Bob Schacht <bobschacht@...> wrote:At 12:53 PM 2/22/2004 -0800, Estrada wrote:

          >Now that I have established more firmly our link between the Cana Miracle
          >and our Exodus material (in particular Ex 2), ...

          Excuse me, but "established" is not the proper verb here. You have
          suggested, provided evidence for, argued that, made a case for, etc., but
          you have not "established" it, which implies that it is now accepted as a
          fact (which, however, is not necessarily the case.)

          In a forum such as this, just because no one has disputed your case to your
          satisfaction does NOT mean that you have "established" it.

          Excuse me, Bob. How's this? Now that I have provided "evidence" that suggest a very likely link from the Cana Miracle story to our Exodus 2 passage...



          Matthew Estrada

          113 Laurel Court

          Peachtree City, Ga 30269


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          Yahoo! Mail SpamGuard - Read only the mail you want.

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        • Bob Schacht
          ... Thank you. Bob [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          Message 4 of 4 , Feb 22 6:13 PM
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            At 06:09 PM 2/22/2004 -0800, Matthew Estrada wrote:


            >...How's this? Now that I have provided "evidence" that suggest a very
            >likely link from the Cana Miracle story to our Exodus 2 passage...


            Thank you.
            Bob


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