John 19 – Between the Pavement and the Stars

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Today’s PassageJohn 19

I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with the gospel of John. Of all the four gospels, it was the one that most saturated my childhood. I have these random memories: reading it with my mom at a TCBY as part of homeschool lessons, memorizing John 3:16 and thinking about God’s love for the world while swinging on a pull-up bar on the playground. In high school, I became increasingly aware of the scholarly skepticism surrounding it, its alleged late authorship and its authenticity. The sun moved, everyone’s favorite gospel suddenly became shrouded in shadow, and for years afterward reading through it became weird for me.

But today? Today I’m mostly just tired. So I’m just going to crack open my Bible, crack open my mind, and pull out some thoughts on John 19 and my journey through the valley of the shadow of doubt.

John’s gospel is manifestly different in style and content than the synoptics. One of the common scholarly charges against it is that it represents a Hellenization of Christianity, a move away from Jewish religion to Greek mysticism. And in my first year of college, when I began studying a curriculum pervaded with Greek philosophy, suddenly the gospel of John seemed poisoned by Plato.

But while John knows his Greek, he also knows his Judaism with an intimacy that strikes me as authentic. Perhaps you’ve noticed over the past few weeks that John drops the Jewish name for this or that place alongside the Greek, and today we’ve got two such instances. As we’re told in Matthew and Mark, the hill on which Jesus was crucified was called Golgotha, “the Place of a Skull” (Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22), which John confirms (17). But here’s a John exclusive: Pilate pronounces his judgment on Jesus “at a place called The Pavement [Gr. λιθόστρωτον], but in Hebrew, Gabbatha” (13). And “Gabbatha” isn’t simply a translation of the Greek name; it’s its own unique Jewish Aramaic word, which apparently means “elevation.” Conveniently enough for the skeptics, I can’t ask Pilate if the Jews really called the spot “Gabbatha,” but it strikes me as particularly Jewish to refuse to call a Roman place by its Greek or Latin name, instead calling it a unique name in your native language. To my thinking, this detail is precisely the sort that grants a ring of veracity to John’s account.

Then there’s the prophecies. When I was in elementary school, a speaker at an after-school church program told us that the odds of Jesus fulfilling every prophecy about him were the same as any of us picking a unique silver dollar with an marked X on it out of enough silver dollars to cover the entire state of Texas two feet deep. And while I tend to think of Matthew as the prophecy guy, on this most recent read, I’ve found John to give Matthew a run for his money. While all the gospel authors note that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garments, only John notes that it fulfills the prophecy of Psalm 22:18: “They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (24). John also observes that Jesus died before the soldiers got around to breaking his legs to expedite the asphyxiation process inherent in crucifixion, fulfilling Psalm 34:20, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken” (36), and that the soldier who verified his death by piercing his side fulfilled Zechariah 12:10, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced” (37). Of course, if you can establish a date of authorship for John’s gospel outside the lifespan of any possible eyewitnesses, it becomes more likely that the author of John’s gospel wrote the fulfillments of these prophecies into the narrative. It’s not nearly so impressive to pick out a marked silver dollar from a two-feet-deep-covered Texas if you’re allowed to mark the silver dollar yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Even if you believe John was the last gospel to be written, I think you can establish an early enough date for the other three (notably Luke) that an eyewitness-period date of composition for John is eminently feasible. And I think that you can demonstrate its general consistency with the other gospel accounts, which further increases its credibility. I still have questions about the gospel of John, and I could bring up my issues about this very chapter. And I, with my limited knowledge and shameful dearth of higher degrees, am still woefully ignorant of many things. Perhaps new information, as it did in The Big Lebowski, will come to light (the Dude certainly didn’t use the word “information” in The Big Lebowski, but we are a Christian blog). Perhaps these hypothetical new findings will change our whole perspective on the gospel of John, the whole Bible, even the entire universe.

But at the end of the day, the gospel of John appears to me to be authentic and reliable. I’ve heard the arguments, the counter-arguments, the counter-counter-arguments, and if I really wanted to disbelieve his account, I’m sure I could find reasons to. But why would I want to? And at the end of the day, here I am once again, between the pavement and the stars.

One thought on “John 19 – Between the Pavement and the Stars

  1. Thanks, Jackson.
    Between the pavement and the stars is a great place to be.
    Isaiah 40.26-31 gets it:
    26 Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing.
    27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God “?
    28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.
    29 He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.
    30 Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly,
    31 Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.


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