We started fellowshipping (food, study, breaking bread) with a new and wonderful group of believers this week! We decided to do this by watching the first 3 chapters of The Visual Bible – The Gospel of John. I challenged everyone to read the first 3 chapters of John and come up with a single thing prior to our fellowship that spoke to them in our study of God’s word.
The following is a more in depth version of a hard question that I came up with as a result. I am using the TEV (Today’s English Version) because the movie uses it. It used to be called the (GNT) Good News Translation:
Consider the following:
John 1:47-48 (TEV)
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, he said about him,
“Here is a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him!”
48 Nathanael asked him,
“How do you know me?”
“I saw you when you were under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
It would seem that the fact that Yeshua could see Natan’el under the fig tree would be a miracle. Would we be correct in saying so?
You may be saying: “Doesn’t the text say something different? Doesn’t the text itself say turning the water into wine was the first miracle?”
Let’s look and consider what the text says carefully:
John 2:7-11 (TEV)
7 Jesus said to the servants,
“Fill these jars with water.”
They filled them to the brim, 8 and then he told them,
“Now draw some water out and take it to the man in charge of the feast.”
They took him the water, 9 which now had turned into wine,
and he tasted it. He did not know where this wine had come from
(but, of course, the servants who had drawn out the water knew);
so he called the bridegroom 10 and said to him,
“Everyone else serves the best wine first,
and after the guests have drunk a lot,
he serves the ordinary wine.
But you have kept the best wine until now!”
11 Jesus performed this first miracle in Cana in Galilee;
there he revealed his glory,
and his disciples believed in him.
Different bible translations call the Greek word for miracle or σημεῖον sēmeion
(Phonetic Pronunciation: say-may-on) which is used in verse 11 in the following ways:
- miracle – TEV (Today’s English Version)
- miraculous signs – CJB (Complete Jewish Bible)
- miraculous signs – NIV (New International Version)
- signs (miracles, wonderworks) – AMP (Amplified Bible)
- miracles – KJV (King James Version)
- signs – NASB (New American Standard Version)
- demonstration of the power of God in action – BARCLAY
- wonder-works – WILLIAMS
- evidences – FENTON
- displaying his glory – CAMPBELL
So what is it that Natan’el says?
John 1:49-50 (TEV)
49 “Teacher,” answered Nathanael, “you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus said, “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you when you were under the fig tree?
You will see much greater things than this!”
What “greater things” will Nathanael see?
(to a greater degree – μείζων meizōn) Phonetically: made-zone also meaning: (all the more)
Here is where you have to ask yourself a simple question . . .
Greater things than what?
Consider that for a second . . . we learned above that the meaning of “greater things” means “all the more” – “to a greater degree.” Greater things than what? What is the object?
Let’s do some simple logic if you are not understanding what I am saying.
If A = Yeshua (Jesus) stating of Natan’el: “Here is a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him!”
If B = Natan’el asking: “How do you know me?”
If C = Yeshua (Jesus) telling Natan’el: “I saw you when you were under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
if D = Natan’el believing and stating: “Teacher,” and “you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
if E = Yeshua (Jesus) stating: “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you when you were under the fig tree? You will see much greater things than this!”
Again I ask what is the “greater things?” Isn’t Yeshua referencing that it will be “all the more” than “C” above? Isn’t Yeshua referencing that it will be “to a greater degree” than “C” above?
So here is a question to consider carefully:
Didn’t Natan’el consider this a proof – a sign? Didn’t he exclaim as a result:
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Isra’el!”?
Some of you may say, “The text is contradicting itself here then,” but it is not. This is directed at Natan’el, and as a result, Natan’el believes and is the first to openly proclaim that Yeshua is the Son of God – The King of Isra’el.
The text calls the first miracle turning water into wine. This is correct also. How can it be both? The text gives us the answer:
John 2:11 (TEV)
11 Jesus performed this first miracle
in Cana in Galilee;
there he revealed his glory,
and his disciples believed in him.
Nowhere before this do we find that any of Yeshua’s talmidim (discipiles) other than Natan’el believe that Yeshua is the Son of God – The King of Isra’el.
We could rewrite this verse with the understanding we have learned about Natan’el and state that the turning of water into wine was the first miracle in which:
more than just Natan’el believed
because the text says (plural): “and his disciples believed in him.”
Sometimes, there are things in the text which are ignored – glossed over – misunderstood . . .
Doesn’t Yeshua confirm that this with his own response?
John 1:50-51 (CJB)
50 Yeshua answered him,
“you believe all this just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than that!”
51 Then he said to him,
“Yes indeed! I tell you that you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God going up and coming down on the Son of Man!”
If you want to understand the words used in the text, in the Greek English Dictionary, we see how “sign” was used in the secular Greek:
At the most basic level sēmeion (a noun related to sēma) denotes the “mark” by which something is known, a “sign,” especially in the sense of a sign of what will happen in the future. Thus sēmeion might be a “sign from the gods, an omen.” Sēmeion often includes a supernatural or wondrous dimension, and it might be described as a miracle (Liddell-Scott).
Nonreligious usages include a “signal,” a “boundary” or “limit,” the “signet of a ring,” and a “birthmark.” Much of sēmeion, therefore, concerns its being a visual sign by which something is distinguished (ibid.). In the language of logic and reasoning a sēmeion is a “proof,” something which could probably be regarded as certain. Medically a sēmeion is a “symptom” (ibid.; cf. Rengstorf, Kittel, 7:200-207).
The translators of the Septuagint predominantly recognized sēmeion as the equivalent of the Hebrew term ’ôth (in various forms), a “sign, mark” (e.g., Genesis 1:14, the sun and the moon are “signs” for marking seasons; Genesis 4:15, the “mark” of Cain). Of theological import is the sēmeion of the covenant with Abraham— “circumcision” (Genesis 17:11), or the sign of the covenant with Noah—the rainbow (Genesis 9:12,13,17). God regularly offered signs as signifiers and reminders of His covenantal promises. This may involve a future circumstance (Exodus 3:12) or a supernatural event calling for belief (Exodus 4:8,9), or a reminder (Exodus 31:13; Numbers 17:10).
God empowers His servants to perform signs (Exodus 4:17,28,30) with the result and intent that people can turn to God (Exodus 4:30; Numbers 14:11). But signs are no guarantee that belief will follow (Exodus 7:3,9ff.; 8:23f.; Numbers 14:22; Deuteronomy 29:3). In fact, disbelief or stubbornness may stimulate signs by God (Exodus 10:1; 11:9f.). “Signs” in and of themselves, however, are no guarantee of the reliability of a prophet or seer (Deuteronomy 13:1ff.).
The Synoptic Gospels
Rengstorf observes that in the Synoptics sēmeion is not used to describe Jesus’ miraculous works of healings, exorcisms, or miracles of nature. Rather, dunamis (1405), “miracle,” answers that call (“sēmeion,” Kittel, 7:235). He asserts the miracles prompt the demand for sēmeia, “signs.” What is at stake here is the rabbinic aversion to anything that even hinted at sorcery. They desired “proof” of Jesus’ identity because “miracles” were no guarantee of “orthodoxy.” They were seeking confirmation that it was God’s power at work and not human or demonic forces (ibid.; cf. the debate in Mark 3:22ff.).
I’m not so sure I am in agreement with Rengstorf. I understand the point he is trying to make and it has some merit, however, when we look at the dictionary entry on dunamis below and in the text, it would seem to be more about God’s show of power that results in miracles (signs) . . .
1405. δύναμις dunamis noun
Power, might, ability, force.
Greek philosophy in its earliest stages assigned dunamis an important part. Pythagoras’ numerological speculations afforded dunamis a place as the creative power of the kosmos (2862), the “created world.” Plato saw dunamis as the essence of existence.
These theories were decisive for the development of the Hellenistic concept of God. Stoics spoke of a self-created, self-generating energy which governed the world; this force was identified as God. Whereas God in Platonic philosophy and in Aristotelian theory was transcendent, here God was held to be a neutral impersonal force—dunamis. This force disclosed itself in lesser deities—dunameis (“powers, demons”). On this basis the gods of the Orient were imported into Greek thought; thus the Greek world became Hellenized under the pressure of the spirit of the Orient (see Reinhardt, Poseidonius as cited by Grundmann, “dunamis,” Kittel, 2:288ff.). From this, Greek philosophy branched into more popular speculations about how these forces could be controlled, which led to the practice of magic. “Controlling fate” ordered the circumstances of a given individual in every aspect of life.
It must be noted that dunamis as a New Testament term can be enlightened only to a limited degree from the vantage point of normal Greek usage. It is primarily Septuagintal usage which sheds light on its New Testament meaning. Dunamis is equated with 26 Hebrew terms. Nearly 140 times it stands for chayil and over 110 times for tsāvā’, most often in the meaning of “powers” or “military forces.”
Thoralf Gilbrant, ed., “1405. δύναμις,” in The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Delta-Epsilon, (Springfield, MO: Complete Biblical Library, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1405. Î´á½»Î½Î±Î¼Î¹Ï‚”.
Gospel of John
Jesus’ signs in John’s Gospel point to a significance beyond themselves. They positively outline Jesus’ ministry. For example, John marked time with the first sign (Cana, 2:11) or the second sign (healing at Capernaum, 4:54). Indeed, the positive place of signs is so pronounced in John’s Gospel that scholars have come to label chapters 1–12 as the “Book of Signs.” Interestingly, the only other instance of sēmeion apart from these chapters is 20:30—a verse telling that Jesus did many other signs, bearing witness that He is the Son of God. Signs are typically miraculous, and there is little indication that a superficially normal event was actually a disguised sign.
Paul also revealed an understanding of signs shared by the Gospel writers: signs and miracles would be performed in the last days by false prophets through the power of Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Jesus warned of this impending deception in His speech on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). John wrote in the Book of Revelation of evil spirits coming out of the mouths of the dragon, beast, and false prophet. These evil spirits work counterfeit miraculous signs all over the earth and deceive many (Revelation 16:14; cf. 13:13,14; 19:20).
Here we see clearly the paradox of sēmeion in the New Testament. “Signs” in and of themselves confirm God’s miraculous power and summon faith in Him. At the same time, however, “signs”— counterfeit—are a trick of the enemy to lead believers astray. In the final analysis, Christians are not to put their faith in signs themselves. Although signs can lead people to faith and confirm the truth of the gospel, they are only a starting point for true faith. Any sign pointing away from Christ or pointing toward a human being is not of God. “Sign-seekers” still belong to the “evil and adulterous generation.”
Thoralf Gilbrant, ed., “4447. σημεῖον,” in The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Sigma-Omega, (Springfield, MO: Complete Biblical Library, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4447. ÏƒÎ·Î¼Îµá¿–Î¿Î½”.
Some examples of the Hebrew equivalent of signs:
Deuteronomy 11:18 (CJB) 18 Therefore, you are to store up these words of mine in your heart and in all your being;
tie them on your hand as a sign;
put them at the front of a headband around your forehead;
1 Samuel 10:7 (CJB)
7 When these signs come over you,
just do whatever you feel like doing,
because God is with you.
Isaiah 7:11 (CJB)
11 “Ask Adonai your God to give you a sign.
Ask it anywhere,
from the depths of Sh’ol to the heights above.”
225. אוֹת ʾôth
Phonetic Pronunciation: oath
sign, landmark, banner, miracle
This is the common Hebrew noun (78 occurrences) meaning “sign.” This noun commands a wide semantic range. One can divide this range into mundane and supernatural groupings.
Among the former are distinguishing markings, such as Cain’s mark (Gen. 4:15). In Numbers 2:2, ʾôth denotes a standard (used parallel with deghel (HED #1764), “banner”). The purpose of the creation of heavenly bodies was to serve as markers “for seasons and for days and for years.”
Covenants are confirmed by “signs” of intended faithfulness. Examples would be the employment of the rainbow as a sign to confirm the Noahic covenant (Gen. 9:12); circumcision as confirmation of Abraham’s lineage to fulfill their covenantal responsibility (Gen. 17:11); and verbal confirmation on the part of the Israelite spies in the house of Rahab to her request for immunity from the coming obliteration of Jericho (Josh. 2:12).
This noun can also refer to commemorative markers. These can be in the form of monuments, such as the 12 stones piled upon the crossing of the Jordan by the tribes during the process of entering Canaan (Josh. 4:6). A commemorative sign can be an object, such as Aaron’s rod (Num. 17:10) or what later became phylacteries (Exo. 13:9). The blood of the Passover lamb and observation of the Sabbath are two more symbols of the eminence of Yahweh.
Signs confirm oracular messages. Gideon asks Yahweh to give him a sign (Judg. 6:17). Eli’s rejection as high priest (as well as his lineage) was confirmed by the sign of the death of his sons (1 Sam. 2:34). Samuel’s oracle concerning Saul’s elevation to kingship was confirmed by signs fulfilled that day (1 Samuel 10).
“Sign” also incorporates the concept of manifestation of power through supernatural means. In this sense, the manifestation is confirmation of the power vested in the individual making the covenant, namely Yahweh. Signs can be mediated by individuals, e.g., Moses (Exo. 4:8ff; Deut. 34:11) or a false prophet (Deut. 13:1f). About 20 times, the plural of this noun refers to Yahweh’s sign of deliverance, the Exodus (Deut. 6:22). The entire world trembles before his power (Ps. 65:8; Jer. 32:20).
Thoralf Gilbrant, ed., “225,” in The Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – Aleph-Beth, (Springfield, IL: World Library Press, Inc., 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “225”.
Sometimes, when we read the text, we miss things in it – beautiful things like the simple trust from a man that Yeshua proclaimed:
“Here’s a true son of Isra’el — nothing false in him!”
A trust based on a sign so simple it is called a “thing” or μείζων meizōn. And he did, Natan’el got to see water turned to wine – a much “greater thing!” In the end though, the beauty of the trust of Natan’el who states as a result of seeing this simple “thing”:
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Isra’el!”
can be juxtaposed against people such as Pharaoh who saw much greater things and had no trust . . .
Pharaoh saw locusts and frogs – he saw water turn to blood and hail with fire and wasn’t convinced.
What convinced Natan’el? Was it a huge sign? Nope. Just a “thing” as simple as Yeshua calling him by name and telling him he saw him under that fig tree . . .
As I said earlier, sometimes, the small things in the text (things that are often missed), are the most beautiful!