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Gospel of John--High Christology

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4:43 - 54--The Official's Son


Jesus spends two days with the Samaritans before resuming his journey to Galilee (remembering that Jesus began this journey in 4:3). Verse 44 gives us yet another example of John alluding to the Synoptics, with the assumption that his readers have read at least the Gospel of Mark. John notes, "Now Jesus Himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country," yet this has occurred nowhere in John's Gospel. Rather, the comment seems to be a direct reference to Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:4 (see also Luke 4:16 - 24).


It is more difficult to determine whether the discourse of the royal official is likewise a parallel to the accounts found in Matthew 8:5 - 10 and Luke 7:2 - 10. Certain difficulties arise. Matthew 8:6 uses the Greek pais, which could refer to a child or servant; Luke 7:2 clarifies the matter by using the Greek doulos, which refers to a servant or slave. John, however, uses the Greek huios, which refers to a son.


Furthermore, Matthew and Luke refer to this man as a centurion, whereas John refers to him as a "royal official." Matthew and Luke's centurion would have been a Gentile (indeed, many Jews give the man a positive character reference in Luke 7:5, "…he loves our nation and has built our synagogue"); John gives no indication as to the man's nationality. And yet the circumstance (a man pleading for the life of someone under him) and the location (Capernaum) are similar enough that the initial assumption is they refer to the same event.


If John and Luke are both referring to the same event, then they seem to be at odds as to whether the young man is a servant, or the centurion's own son. Some possible explanations arise:


--the first is to point to John's role as "clarifier of the Synoptics"; Matthew's account leaves open the possibility the young man is a son or a servant, Luke seems to favor the servant; John, however, may be clarifying that the young man was, indeed, a son. Furthermore, as one of the Twelve, John and Matthew would have seen this miracle firsthand, whereas Luke would have relied on second-hand information. Perhaps John is clarifying some details Luke got wrong.


--another possibility is that we are being too stringent with our vocabulary (doulos/servant-slave vs. huios/son). Perhaps John or Luke's use of the word intended certain ambiguities to which we are no longer privy. Or, perhaps this young man was in a unique situation.


--it is also possible that both John and Luke are referring to different stories--that the centurion and the "royal official" are two different men who find themselves in similar circumstances. Certainly, Jesus' glowing reaction in Luke 7:9 is a far cry from His reaction in John 4:48! It may be that Jesus healed the centurion's servant; the royal official heard of the healing and, his son being in the same predicament, came to Jesus for a similar healing.


Ultimately, any proposed solution is academic. We are trying to read between the lines, but we must not miss the forest for the trees. What was John trying to communicate in these two stories?


Our outline of John places this story in the same area as the Samaritan Woman, noting a "New Universalism." Certainly this is clearly seen in Jesus' interaction with the Samaritan; how does it apply here? Two possibilities.


If, as in Matthew and Luke, this royal official were a Gentile, then the whole passage points to universalism in the sense that Gentiles and Samaritans--those whom Jews considered outsiders--are accepting, and accepted by, Jesus. If, however, the official is not a Gentile (John does not say either way), then his story may serve to contrast the preceding narrative: the Samaritans eagerly accepted Jesus, while others (Jesus' own hometown and this apparently Jewish official) only reluctantly accept Jesus. Either possibility is plausible; the second of the two goes well with John's earlier comment in 1:11, "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him."


Next week we begin a new section on Jesus and the Jewish Festivals. See you then!


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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