Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 4 (John 4:50, 1 Kings 17:21-24)

The following is part 4 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

4. “Your Son Lives”

1 Kings 17:21-24 (LXX)
[Elijah prayed,] “Oh Lord my God, please let the life of this child return to him.” It happened as [he had prayed], and the child cried out. [Elijah] led him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother, and said, “See, your son lives” (ζῇ ὁ υἱός σου). The woman said to Elijah, “Behold, I have known (ἔγνωκα) that you are a man of God and the word of the Lord is true (ἀληθινόν) in your mouth.”

John 4:50 Jesus said to him, “Go, your son lives. (ὁ υἱός σου ζῇ)” The man believed the word that Jesus said to him and began going.
… ὁ παῖς αὐτοῦ ζῇ (4:51)
… ὁ υἱός σου ζῇ (4:53)

In John, repetition and final sayings are often keys to the meaning of stories. “Your son lives” is Jesus’ final saying in this pericope, and it is recorded three times. Jesus’ saying reminds us of John’s theme of Jesus as the source of life, found in almost every pericope in John. As with the rest of the “signs” in John, the healing of the nobleman’s son is designed primarily to reveal something about Jesus’ identity.

“Your son lives” also seems designed to draw the readers’ attention to Elijah’s famous healing of the widow’s son at Zarephath. The phrase is distinctive; it is not found elsewhere in the NT or LXX. It also functions as an allusion in that the phrase causes the reader to notice other connections between the two miracle accounts. In both cases, the miracle results in the parent’s belief that the healer is genuinely from God and speaks for God. The nobleman believed when he heard Jesus (4:50), and then he believed when he heard news of his son’s healing (4:53). The widow’s response to the healing affirms her belief in Elijah in terms that could be comfortably applied to Jesus in the gospel of John. The use of the perfect ἔγνωκα to intensify or solemnize a statement of belief is well-known in John (6:69, 11:27; cf. 1:34, 1:41, 1:45, 4:42). Elijah, like Jesus, is a “man of God” who speaks the word of God. John may have even been drawn to this passage because of his interest in “truth” (ἀληθινόν).[1] Although many books in the LXX use ἀληθινόν, in the NT, it is primarily a Johannine term, and usually applies to Jesus or his message (23 of its 28 occurrences in the NT are in John, 1 John, or Revelation). John’s theology of signs is very similar to the theology of Elisha’s miracle: both produce faith in God’s representative and his message.

If John 4:7 contains an allusion to 1 Kings 17:10 (argued above), then John 4 contains two successive allusions to two successive passages in the Elijah narrative. In intertextual studies, repeated allusions to the same text or nearby texts is one of the criteria for verifying the genuineness and strength of an allusion. The second allusion confirms the suspicion in the reader that the first allusion was intentional. Combined, the allusions suggest that John wanted to show a Jesus who was like Elijah.

John is not the only NT author to allude to Elijah’s raising of the widow’s son. Luke’s account of the raising of the widow’s son at Nain contains the allusive phrase “and he gave him to his mother” (καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὸν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτοῦ, Luke 7:15/1 Kings 17:23).[2] Luke’s allusion is stronger than John’s, since it has more details in common (the raising of a dead widow’s son by touch rather than the healing of a nobleman’s son at a distance). This suggests that John’s appropriation of Elijah imagery for Jesus is not unique to John.

[1] Similarly, John’s ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινὴ (John 15:1) is an allusion to Jeremiah’s ἄμπελον… ἀληθινήν (Jer 2:21).
[2] A similar allusion can be found in Acts 20:7-10/2 Kings 4:32-37. Paul raised Eutychus from the dead by laying down on top of him, as Elisha did to raise the son of the Shunammite woman.

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