The Shape of John’s Gospel: The Creational-Covenantal-Festal Pattern, The Woman Caught In Adultery, and Textual Criticism
A few days ago, I shared some thoughts about textual criticism on my Facebook. I mentioned that the older I get, the less preferable I find the English Standard Version of the Bible to be because it has philosophical biases that do damage to the text of Scripture. Take a look for yourself. A quick Google search will show that dozens of texts have been removed or bracketed with notes in the text during the process of creating the ESV. All because the texts in question aren’t found in the supposed most reliable manuscripts.
I find this thesis to be unconvincing.
Now, the question is why do I find it to be unconvincing? Why would I decide to go against the grain of modern-textual critics (Some of whom I greatly respect) who are undoubtedly more competent in the field of textual criticism than I am?
Well, let me say at the outset: It’s not because I’m a King James Onlyist or even a Traditional Text guy (Even though I also respect some of the Byzantine priority guys). I have no problems with those people, and I think they’re right the majority of the time, but for the wrong reasons.
I find it unconvincing because I’ve become convinced that the text itself shows some of these texts as authentic (Not all of them, but some of them that are in question). Not only does Scripture interpret Scripture, but Scripture also determines Scripture.
The Shape of The Gospel of John
Let me show you what I mean.
For Easter, I’ll be preaching from the Gospel of John. The interesting thing about John’s Gospel (As well as the Book of Revelation, as Peter Leithart has shown in his excellent commentary) is that it is structured in cycles of sevens. These are also called heptamerous cycles.
Now, what do I mean that John’s Gospel is structured in cycles of sevens?
Basically, I mean that John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was inspired not only to pen Holy Writ but also to shape it in a particular way. The particular way that he has shaped it is in heptamerous cycles.
At a textual level, the cycles repeat all throughout the book like a musical motif. One begins, runs its course, and then ends. Then another begins immediately following with a slight variation. You can think of it as similar to The Imperial March throughout Star Wars — and its slight variations as the narrative progresses.
What is the seven-fold pattern of John’s Gospel? Well, basically it follows the seven-day creation pattern from Genesis 1, with some variation, of course.
Unconvinced? Let me show you.
The Shape of John 1:1–3:21
John’s Gospel begins with an echo back.
Back to what?
Back to Genesis 1:1 — In the beginning.
Meaningful? Meaning is inevitable. God doesn’t waste words. But, not only does John 1:1 open with an echo back to Genesis 1:1 but the entire first three chapters are structured according to that pattern. Here’s how it works.
Transcendence — Day 1 — Sabbath (John 1:1–19)
The Logos and the Light corresponds with Day 1 of creation in Genesis 1:1 where creation was spoken into existence. John tells us that the Logos (Jesus the Messiah) was the Word through which the world was created.
Hierarchy — Day 2 — Passover (John 1:20–34)
John the Baptist and his testimony about Jesus baptizing with water and fire correspond with Day 2 of creation where the waters were divided. Division also corresponds to the Pass
Ethics (Ascension — Priest) — Day 3 — First-Fruits (John 1:35–42)
Disciples following Jesus correspond with Day 3 of creation where seed-bearing plants were created. On that day, the church, in seed form was coming into existence. They are the first-fruits church.
Ethics (Testing — King)— Day 4 — Pentecost (John 1:43–50)
Philip and Nathanael correspond with Day 4 of creation where the sun, moon, and stars are set in the heavens. Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see the heavens opened and the angels (also called stars in Job 38:7, and Revelation 1:20) will ascend and descend on the Son of Man.
Ethics (Maturity — Prophet) — Day 5 — Trumpets (John 2:1–12)
The Wedding at Cana, and basins filled with water being changed into wine corresponds with Day 5 of creation where God filled the waters.
Oaths/Sanctions — Day 6 — Atonement (John 2:13–25)
The cleansing of the Temple of moneychangers and land animals (sheep, cattle, and doves) corresponds with Day 6 of creation where God filled the earth with land animals and created man.
Succession — Day 7 — Booths (John 3:1–21)
Jesus invites Nicodemus to come to share in the New Creation by finding rest through being born again. This corresponds with Day 7 of creation where God sabbathed from the work of creation.
As you’ll notice, not only do these days follow the seven-day creation pattern, but they also follow the seven-fold structure of ancient near eastern covenants and the seven-fold festivals of Israel found in Leviticus 23. The reason why is because these structures are also based off the creation pattern from Genesis 1. God creates, He covenants in history, and He gives feasts to commemorate.
One could think of these heptamerous patterns as being creational-covenantal-festal patterns. Or, another way of thinking of them is that there are layers stacked on top of one another. They’re like harmony and melody that go together and complement one another.
The Shape of John 3:22–5:17
Maybe you’re still skeptical. Maybe you think I’m reaching and seeing what I want to see in the text (But, you’ll have to deal with the fact that I’m not the only person seeing the same literary structures in the text).
But, what if the same seven-fold, cyclical pattern started up again immediately after the last one ended? Would you believe me then? Would that be enough to convince you that the literary structure was there if I could show it to you again?
Transcendence — Day 1 — Sabbath (John 3:22–36)
John the Baptist exalts He who comes from above. This corresponds to the God in heaven who speaks creation into existence on day one. He who believes in the Son has eternal rest — Sabbath.
Hierarchy — Day 2 — Passover (John 4:1–29)
Jesus is baptizing, dividing the waters from the waters — Like the firmament that divided the waters from the waters on the second day of creation. Jesus comes to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus sets beside the well. A woman from Samaria comes to the well to draw a drink of water. Jesus tells her of the water that He gives.
Ethics (Ascension — Priest) — Day 3 — First-Fruits (John 4:31–38)
The disciples urge Jesus to eat. Eating the food that grows from the earth corresponds to the seed-bearing plants on the third day of creation. Jesus tells them that he has food that they do not know about — Which is priestly because the priests are the ones who deal with the showbread. Jesus tells the disciples to look up, the fields are white for harvest. Those who come to Him and find eternal life are like a first-fruits offering.
Ethics (Testing — King) — Day 4 — Pentecost (John 4:39–42)
Many Samaritans believe in Jesus because of the woman's testimony. It’s a miniature Samaritan Pentecost. Those who were once in darkness and worshipped what they did not know (4:22) now are the light and know that Christ is the savior of the world. They are tested, and they pass, becoming like wise kings.
Ethics (Maturity — Prophet) — Day 5 — Trumpets (John 4:43–45)
Jesus departs for Galilee — The fishing town. Jesus testifies that a prophet has no honor in His own hometown. However, the Galileans welcomed Him seeing all he did in Jerusalem at the feast. There’s a great catch by the Fisher of men, which corresponds to the waters being filled with swarming fish on the fifth day of creation.
Oaths/Sanctions — Day 6 — Atonement (John 4:46–54)
Jesus comes to Cana in Galilee where he made water into wine. Jesus heals an official's son. He did not return to the dust of the ground and instead lived, which corresponds to God forming Adam from the dust of the ground and breathing the breath of life into him on the sixth day of creation. The man's son is made a new creation.
Succession — Day 7 — Booths (John 5:1–17)
Jesus went up to Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate to a pool called Bethesda in Aramaic. Jesus heals a man at the pool on the Sabbath, which corresponds to the seventh day of creation. God has come to tabernacle among His people and to restore that which was broken. The man experiences the blessings of the covenant.
The Shape of John 5:18–7:13
Conincidental? Not a chance. God doesn’t deal in coincidences. Everything He does is intentional. God has intentionally inspired John to shape his Gospel according to this pattern. It’s really there.
And now, I’m going to show it to you again for a third cycle. Perhaps this one will be the charm if you’re still unconvinced.
Transcendence — Day 1 — Sabbath (John 5:18)
The Jews seek Jesus to kill Him because He was calling God His Father, making Himself equal with God. Jesus is the Transcendent One. He is the Word by which all things were created (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16). This corresponds to the first day of creation.
Hierarchy — Day 2 — Passover (John 5:19–29)
Here the veil is pulled back and we see the authority of the Son of God — His hierarchy. He does nothing of his own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. The Father has given Him the authority to execute judgment or division of the sheep and the goats — those who have done good will come out to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil will come out the resurrection of judgment. The dividing language corresponds to the second day of creation.
Ethics (Ascension — Priest) — Day 3 — First-Fruits (John 5:30–35)
Jesus does nothing on His own. He seeks not His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him. He is the Father’s priestly Son who lifts up God’s people to Him and brings the Father to them. John the Baptist bears witness about Jesus like a fruit-bearing tree, which corresponds to the third day of creation.
Ethics (Testing — King) — Day 4 — Pentecost (John 4:36–47)
The interesting thing was that in the Temple, the lamps were symbols of trees. And, Jesus says that John the Baptist was like a burning and shining lamp (This one is very convincing because it falls clear and beautiful in the pattern). The people were willing to rejoice for a while in his light, but they cannot receive the illuminated glory that comes from the only God while receiving the glory of another. The people cannot become kings if they fail the test and receive the glory of another. The lamps, glory, and burning correspond to the fourth day of creation and the filling of the heavens with lights.
Ethics (Maturity — Prophet) — Day 5 — Trumpets (John 6:1–21)
Jesus goes by the side of the Sea of Galilee which is the Sea of Tiberias. There is a large crowd that follows Him. Jesus feeds five thousand with loaves and fish. They recognize Jesus as the Prophet who came into the world. Jesus then walks on the sea. This corresponds with the fifth day of creation and the swarming creatures in the waters.
Oaths/Sanctions — Day 6 — Atonement (John 6:22–59)
The next day, the crowd stood on the other side of the sea. Jesus declares Himself as the bread of life. Whoever comes to Him and trusts in his atoning work will never hunger and will never be cast out. Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will be raised up from the ground, like Adam on the sixth day of creation.
Succession — Day 7 — Booths (John 6:60–7:13)
Jesus teaches at the Feast of Booths. Jesus is the God who tabernacles among His people. We have seen His Shekinah glory (John 1:14). He gives Sabbath rest to all who rest in Him.
The Shape of John 7:14–8:20
There are too many correspondences at this point for all of this to be reaching or coincidence at this point. I hope you see that. The pattern is there, and it’s real. The text really is structured according to this particular pattern.
And, that has major implications for textual criticism, as you will see in this next cycle. I will speak about this more after I show it to you.
Transcendence — Day 1 — Sabbath (John 7:14–24)
Jesus goes up into the temple in the middle of the feast and begins to teach. His Word is transcendent — The word of the Living God. The crown accuses him of having a demon. The synagogue is divided into darkness and light — the crowd and the followers of Christ. the crowd is angry at Jesus for healing on the sabbath. A division in judgment — judging by appearances rather than right judgment.
Hierarchy — Day 2 — Passover (John 7:25–36)
Some of the people of Jerusalem said “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? Pointing toward Jesus being the Passover lamb. This corresponds to the second day of creation with the division occurring.
Ethics (Ascension — Priest) — Day 3 — First-Fruits (John 7:37–38)
Jesus ascends on the great feast and cries out that if anyone drinks of his priestly offering, from his heart, will flow rivers of living water. This corresponds to the third day of creation with the dry land emerging and rivers flowing from it.
Ethics (Testing — King) — Day 4 — Pentecost (John 7:39)
Those who believed in Jesus’ Words and proved themselves as wise as kings by passing the test would receive the spirit. It hadn’t been given yet at this point because Jesus hadn’t yet been glorified and enthroned as king. Glorification and enthronement in the heavens correspond to the fourth day of creation and the fixing of the lights in the heavens.
Ethics (Maturity — Prophet) — Day 5 — Trumpets (John 7:40–53)
The crowd is divided once again. Some in the crowd say that Jesus truly is the Prophet. Others say, “No, for is the Christ going to come from Galilee? Some proved themselves mature, others did not. The Trumpet will be blown and the two will be separated. This corresponds to the fifth day of creation.
Oaths/Sanctions — Day 6 — Atonement (John 8:1–11)
John 8 opens up with the religious leaders bringing a woman to Jesus to sanction. She was said to be caught in the very act of adultery. They accuse her like Satan. Jesus as the New Adam draws in the dust of the ground, where Adam came from and defends her from her satanic accusers — Putting the original creation story to right.
Succession — Day 7 — Booths (John 8:12–20)
Jesus declares Himself to be the light of the world. Again, He is the Shekinah glory come down from heaven to tabernacle among us. This is repeated over and over again for a reason. Because it corresponds to the seventh day of creation.
Now, here’s where things get interesting.
Even though textual critics assert that John 8:1–11 is not authentic, notice how it perfectly fits the cyclical pattern we’ve been looking at.
In fact, it fits so perfectly that if you removed it, the heptamerous pattern would be destroyed. Though you’d have a Day 1–5 pattern cycling along in the preceding texts (John 7:14–53), if you removed the Pericope Adulterae you’d lose Day 6 in the creation pattern (John 8:1–11). You’d lose the sanctions step in the covenant pattern, and you’d lose the atonement piece in the festal pattern. It would be just like looking at a puzzle that just so happened to be missing one last piece.
It is for this reason that I am asserting it is authentic. Am I a textual critic? No. But, perhaps others and I see something they are missing. The pattern is there and it fits. To remove the Pericope Adulterae is to do serious damage to the text and cause a fractal-failure because it removes a piece of the fractal pattern given to us in Genesis 1.
This is also why I have become skeptical of some translations. The text-critical philosophy underlying them, if not guided by biblical-theological presuppositions, can destroy the text if one is not careful. I think this would be better handled in church rather than by academics who have no affiliation with the church or para-church ministries.
Understanding that the entire Bible is structured around this heptamerous pattern can help us in determining text-criticism issues. The work that people like Michael Bull with The Bible Matrix, James Jordan with Through New Eyes, Peter Leithart with his Revelation Commentary and Theopolis Institute, and Jonathan Pageau with his work at The Symbolic World has given us something that has been missing in these conversations. It’s given us glasses to see with new eyes. It’s given us a way to come into the story. Or, stated differently, in a Lewisian way — Their work helps us to not just look at the beam of light, but to come within it and look through it.
Let me know your thoughts on this.