September 9, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: He claims divinity

See John, Chapter 8

 Those who say that Jesus was a great man, but never claimed to be God—and they are numerous today—should read this chapter of John’s Gospel. He was clear enough to those who heard him that they took up rocks (they’re everywhere in Jerusalem) to try to stone him. They thought that he blasphemed, calling himself God—and he would have if what he said wasn’t true.

The author of John’s Gospel has Jesus arguing with people whom he characterizes simply as “the Jews,” reflecting the animosity that existed between the Jews and Christians when the Gospel was written. Jesus was pretty rough with his antagonists, at one point telling them, “You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires,” and in another place, “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.”

Three times, Jesus deliberately called himself “I AM,” which Jewish tradition understood as God’s own self-designation. When God sent Moses to the Israelites while they were enslaved by the Egyptians, he told him to say to them, “I AM sent me to you” and, “This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations” (Ex 3:14-15). Now Jesus was telling them that, if they didn’t believe that he was on a par with God (Yahweh), they would die in their sins.

“The Jews” then argued that they were children of Abraham. But Jesus claimed that he was greater than Abraham or the prophets, and he said, “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” He explained how that was possible by saying, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM”—clearly a claim that he was eternal, God.

They understood that claim when they picked up the rocks to stone him.

If you read John’s Chapter 8 as I ­indicated at the top of this column, you already know that it begins with the episode of the woman caught in adultery. It’s the episode where Jesus told those who wanted to stone the woman, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” If you think that the episode doesn’t belong here, you’re right. It’s missing from all early Greek manuscripts of this Gospel.

Scholars tell us that the style of the story is similar to that of the author of Luke’s Gospel rather than John’s, and probably belongs there. It’s found in different places in different manuscripts. Nevertheless, the Church accepts the passage as canonical Scripture.

Besides the obvious lesson that we are all sinners and should not judge another person, we can observe that Jesus, too, did not judge the woman. He simply told her, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” As he earlier had told Nicodemus, he was not in the world to condemn it, but to save it. He will return as judge, but he was sent by his Father as redeemer. †


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