STRUCTURE OF JOHN’S GOSPEL (3.22-36)
First discourse: The idea of birth as initiation into Eternal Life has become a kind of program of the whole work of Christ; the narrative proceeds toward the “elevation of the Son of Man”, of the “Love of God” for the world, and “light” and “judgment.” The narrative passes to 3.22-36 - perhaps a fresh start, a change of scene, a brief narrative providing the setting for a dialogue in which the chief speaker is John, the Baptist, and a succeeding or monologue down to verse 30. The words of the Baptist (Jesus did not baptize like John. He came to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28.19); this baptism will extend to all nations) seem directly appropriate to the dramatic situation from verse 31 onward; the discourse becomes more general and is perhaps to be regarded as representing the evangelist’s reflection in his own person, as distinct from the Baptist’s reply. It is impossible to draw a clear line between reported dialogue or discourse and the evangelist’s reflection, which is marked by a vivid characterization that melts imperceptibly into the monologue. Here Jesus, or the Baptist is speaking and here the evangelist. In the present case, however, it contains many echoes of the ideas and language of the dialogue with Nicodemus and the discourse following. Perhaps these verses reveal the incarnation, Christ’s descent from God to man, “For he whom God has sent speaks the words (lalei) of God. Here is a description of Christ as “The Son,” and reference to His sending (apesteilen, 17,34); we have references to the Son of God and to Eternal Life, to Faith and to the Spirit.
It is impossible to decide definitely whether the subject of the verb is God or Christ! (e.g. John’s and Jesus’ baptism compared - John baptized at Aenon near to Salim immediately after Jesus’ temptation John was imprisoned (compare Matt. 4.11-17) If we take the latter view then the statement is a repetition of 1.33 - Luke 4.13,14, time between Jesus’ temptation and the arrest of John. (houstos hesten ho baptizon en pneumate hapio) If we take the former view, the reference is to 1.32 (to pneuma batabainon kai menon hap ‘auton), which explains how it is that Christ is equipped to baptize (in pneumati). In either case, we are led to the thought of Christ both as possessing the Spirit and as baptizing in the Spirit and in consequence mediating Eternal Life to the believer (3.6).
We can therefore conclude that the evangelist’s intent is to link the ideas of hudor and pneuma through the idea of baptism and in particular baptism by Jesus in contrast to John’s baptism. Therefore we can note why the recapitulatory passage (3.31-36) with the passage which (alone in the gospels) states that Jesus Himself baptized (compare with 4.1 and 4.2).
It seems best understood to regard 3.22-26 as an explanatory appendix to the dialogue with Nicodemus and the discourse which grows out of it, the whole of chapter 3, being concerned with the idea of Initiation into Eternal Life (a rebirth) in conjunction with the rich complex of ideas which are for its proper understanding.
The classic, indispensable work of Strack and Billerbeck (Volume I, p. 590 and Volume II, p. 558) places us in their debt. In this Johannine pericope, the divine envoy is no more than God’s spokesman, the mediator of his life giving words in a world estranged from God to a humanity in whom the anger of God has rested up to now (vs. 36) for this very reason to call and claim of this unique Revealer and Savior cannot be disregarded. He speaks God’s word and no more. Behind this is the old Jewish axiom, that man’s envoy is like himself (see Billerbeck) which is attested for Jesus in the Synoptics (Mark 9.37; Luke 9.48; Matthew 10.40) and also used in the Johannine Jesus with even stronger emphasis (12.44f; 13.20; 15.21; 17.18; 20.21). But the legal principle here is the vehicle of a more profound truth, the “envoy” is the “Son” (vs. 35ff) who is and remains most ultimately united with the Father. To have the words of Jesus is to hear the words of God. The prophetic words and Jesus’ words are the Word of God. Jesus is God’s envoy; “the redeemer who is sent to speak the words of God does not give the Spirit only in part. Here it is emphatically declared that the Father, Son and Spirit are One.
James Strauss, Lincoln, Illinois