For its Bible study, my church is going through John's Gospel: Wisdom from Ephesus, with Michael Card.
was a little thrown off by this question in our workbook: "Michael
notes that the gospel of John is unique among the four gospels. What is
one of your unique characteristics? (If this is a hard question for
you to answer, maybe the group can help!)"
problem was that I didn't think that anyone was truly unique. Can I
truly say that something is true about me, that is not true of at least one other person
on the face of the earth? But, as I thought some more, I came to gain
an appreciation for how unique each of us really is. I may (to use an
example) be interested in theology, and somebody else is interesting in
theology. But, even if the two of us read the same books and agree on
the same ideas, we're still unique. My commitment to the ideas is not quite like someone else's commitment to those same ideas.
Card on the DVD mentioned a couple of other things that caught my
interest. Michael Card said that eight other gods besides the God of
Israel were worshiped in the city of Nazareth, and that was one reason
that Nathaniel in John 1:46 asked if anything good could come out of
Nazareth. I have no idea whether that's true or not. There were rather
pagan cities in the land of Israel----they were called the Decapolis. But Nazareth was not part of the Decapolis. Mark Chancey's "The Myth of a Gentile Galilee" may be relevant to this topic.
Card was also speculating about what Nathaniel was doing under the fig
tree. You may recall that Nathaniel in John 1 was really impressed with
Jesus and concluded Jesus was the Messiah after Jesus told him that he
(Jesus) saw Nathaniel under the fig tree. Was Nathaniel praying?
Studying Scripture? Doing something embarrassing? Michael Card said
that Nathaniel was praying for the coming of the Messiah. That
interpretation makes sense to me: Nathaniel is praying for the Messiah
while he is under the fig tree, he is asked to come and see the Messiah,
he is skeptical at first, and then he is impressed that Jesus knows
that he was under the fig tree. It's like Jesus is speaking out of
intimate knowledge of Nathaniel's hope for the Messiah.
workbook also offers another possibility: Nathaniel was reading about
the stairway to heaven that Jacob dreamed about in Genesis 28. Jesus
would allude to that story by saying that Nathaniel would see angels
ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Michael Card says this
means that Jesus would be the fulfillment of Jacob's dream----that Jesus
himself would be the way to heaven. I don't think that this
interpretation makes as much sense as the one that says that Nathaniel
was praying for the Messiah. Nathaniel was impressed that Jesus knew he
was under the fig tree before Jesus alluded to the Jacob
story. I do believe, however, that the story of Jacob is relevant to
Jesus' encounter with Nathaniel in John 1. For one, there is the angels
ascending and descending, which appears to be an allusion to Genesis
28. Second, I appreciate John MacArthur's point that Jesus might be
contrasting the guileless Nathaniel with Jacob, who had his share of
On that note, I'd like to quote MacArthur's explanation for
why Jesus called Nathaniel an Israelite without guile. Remember that
Nathaniel had bluntly asked if anything good could come out of
Nazareth. MacArthur says: " Jesus’ point was that
Nathanael’s bluntness revealed that he was an Israelite without
duplicitous motives who was willing to examine for himself the claims
being made about Jesus. The term reveals an honest seeking heart."
Nathaniel's bluntness was a good thing, according to MacArthur.