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Holy Conversations

Richard Bauckham points out that in John’s Gospel, Jesus has seven, relatively extended, private conversations. When gathered together as a single sequence, these appear to recapitulate the homologous, heptamerous sequences in Genesis 1 and 2.

This makes sense when we consider that the subject matter in each case is the fulfilment of the Old Covenant in the New. Jesus sheds light on the mysterious types and shadows, drawing back the veil to reveal the realities of which these superseded models were only a taste.

Jesus speaks with:

  1. Nathanael
  2. Nicodemus
  3. The Samaritan Woman
  4. Martha
  5. Pilate
  6. Mary Magdalene
  7. Peter1My well-read friend Seraphim Hamilton suggested that this might be the case concerning these seven interactions.

The significance of some of these is a little subtle, but I am sure the Spirit put such sequences into the text to provoke us to meditation. Here is a possible “Covenant-literary” scenario behind John’s careful inclusion and arrangement of these conversations:

TRANSCENDENCE
Nathanael (John 1:43-51) – Discerning between light and darkness (Ark)
Creation: The origins of Jesus. Nathanael is an Israelite indeed (a man with a circumcised heart), in whom there is “no guile.” The Lord sees him under a fig tree, but unlike Adam, Nathanael does not hide himself from God.
(Genesis: Adam and the serpent; the seed of the woman; Abraham’s true sons)

HIERARCHY
Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) – A contrast between the waters below and above (Veil)
Division: Teaching the teachers of Israel. The New Covenant rite divides between the once-born and the twice-born, between flesh and Spirit rather than between Jew and Gentile flesh.3This is why the division of waters at the Exodus was horizontal rather than vertical. Inheriting the heavenly country is by personal faith, not by physical descent, rendering circumcision redundant.
(Exodus: Separation of the firstborn; division of the waters)

ETHICS – Priesthood
The Woman of Samaria (John 4:1-45) – The dry land and its firstfruits (Atlar & Table)
Ascension: On the mountain of God, Adam was divided and reunited in marriage. The failure of this unnamed woman’s six “Adams” and her adultery with a seventh leads to a discussion of the emancipation of true worship from its earthly roots. The woman asks a question regarding the discernment of which earthly priesthood was the true one. Jesus replies that all earthly priesthood would be removed in favour of a heavenly one. Interestingly, the conversation with the woman is followed by a conversation with the disciples concerning heavenly food, so this step is divided into Altar and Table, or wells in the Land and miraculous fruits.
(Leviticus: Priesthood, external law and purity)2The book of Leviticus ends at Oath/Sanctions, and is thus missing its “Day 7” Covenantal section (Succession/Glorification), since the Levites had no earthly Abrahamic inheritance.

ETHICS – Kingdom
Martha (John 11:1-27) – Governing lights (Lampstand)
Testing: After a statement concerning “twelve hours in the day” and a division between walking in light or stumbling in darkness, Jesus and His disciples risk death to go to Bethany. Lazarus has been dead four days, so this is Day 4. The conversation with Martha concerns asking of God and never dying, despite physical death.
(Numbers: Israel’s lack of faith, adulteries, and death in the wilderness)

ETHICS – Prophecy
Pilate (John 18:33-40) – Hosts in sky and sea (Incense/clouds)
Maturity: The theme in this conversation is legal testimony, and whether it is the Jews or Jesus bearing false witness. Jesus bears the sword of the prophet (the tongue), rather than that of an earthly king. Pilate asks, “What is truth?” and declares Jesus to be without guilt.
(Deuteronomy: Conquest of Gentile kings, internal law and purity)

OATH/SANCTIONS
Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) – Mediators (Sacrifices, High Priest, Laver)
Conquest: References to Adamic death, “the Woman” and “the Gardener” tie this not only to Day 6 but also Feast 6, the Day of Atonement. Jesus’ request that Mary not cling to him alludes both to the “cleaving” of Adam and Eve (since Jesus would only “marry” Mary via the Spirit at Pentecost) and also the offering of the firstfruits and the Levitical tithes devoted to God. Just as the first to open the womb was God’s, so also the first to rise from the dead was God’s.
(Joshua: Conquest, firstfruits “under the ban,” and eternal inheritance)

SUCCESSION
Peter (John 21:1-25) – Rest and Rule (Shekinah)
Glorification: Jesus’s conversation with Peter forms the Testing section of this final chapter in John’s Gospel. Corresponding to the feast of Booths, that is, Israel as a tree of righteousness, the discussion concerns “food” and “shelter” and “love.” Concerning Succession, Peter is asked to choose between his earthly inheritance and a heavenly one, and asked about John’s longevity, the final disciple to die.
(Judges: Wisdom, succession, legal representation, enthronement via death)


If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. My well-read friend Seraphim Hamilton suggested that this might be the case concerning these seven interactions.
2. The book of Leviticus ends at Oath/Sanctions, and is thus missing its “Day 7” Covenantal section (Succession/Glorification), since the Levites had no earthly Abrahamic inheritance.
3. This is why the division of waters at the Exodus was horizontal rather than vertical.

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