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John 3:23-27

Context
3:23 John 1  was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, 2  because water was plentiful there, and people were coming 3  to him 4  and being baptized. 3:24 (For John had not yet been thrown into prison.) 5 

3:25 Now a dispute came about between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew 6  concerning ceremonial washing. 7  3:26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, 8  about whom you testified – see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!”

3:27 John replied, 9  “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven.

1 sn John refers to John the Baptist.

2 tn The precise locations of Αἰνών (Ainwn) and Σαλείμ (Saleim) are unknown. Three possibilities are suggested: (1) In Perea, which is in Transjordan (cf. 1:28). Perea is just across the river from Judea. (2) In the northern Jordan Valley, on the west bank some 8 miles [13 km] south of Scythopolis. But with the Jordan River so close, the reference to abundant water (3:23) seems superfluous. (3) Thus Samaria has been suggested. 4 miles (6.6 km) east of Shechem is a town called Salim, and 8 miles (13 km) northeast of Salim lies modern Ainun. In the general vicinity are many springs. Because of the meanings of the names (Αἰνών = “springs” in Aramaic and Σαλείμ = Salem, “peace”) some have attempted to allegorize here that John the Baptist is near salvation. Obviously there is no need for this. It is far more probable that the author has in mind real places, even if their locations cannot be determined with certainty.

3 tn Or “people were continually coming.”

4 tn The words “to him” are not in the Greek text, but are implied.

5 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.

6 tc Was this dispute between the Baptist’s disciples and an individual Judean (᾿Ιουδαίου, Ioudaiou) or representatives of the Jewish authorities (᾿Ιουδαίων, Ioudaiwn)? There is good external support for the plural ᾿Ιουδαίων (Ì66 א* Θ Ë1,13 565 al latt), but the external evidence for the singular ᾿Ιουδαίου is slightly stronger ({Ì75 א2 A B L Ψ 33 1241 the majority of Byzantine minuscules and others}).

tn Or “a certain Judean.” Here BDAG 478 s.v. ᾿Ιουδαίος 2.a states, “Judean (with respect to birth, nationality, or cult).” If the emphasis is simply on the individual’s origin, “Judean” would be preferable since it designates a nationality or place of origin. However, the mention of ceremonial washing in the context suggests the dispute was religious in nature, so “Jew” has been retained in the translation here.

7 tn Or “ceremonial cleansing,” or “purification.”

sn What was the controversy concerning ceremonial washing? It is not clear. Some have suggested that it was over the relative merits of the baptism of Jesus and John. But what about the ceremonial nature of the washing? There are so many unanswered questions here that even R. E. Brown (who does not usually resort to dislocations in the text as a solution to difficulties) proposes that this dialogue originally took place immediately after 1:19-34 and before the wedding at Cana. (Why else the puzzled hostility of the disciples over the crowds coming to Jesus?) Also, the synoptics imply John was imprisoned before Jesus began his Galilean ministry. At any rate, there is no reason to rearrange the material here – it occurs in this place for a very good reason. As far as the author is concerned, it serves as a further continuation of the point made to Nicodemus, that is, the necessity of being born “from above” (3:3). Note that John the Baptist describes Jesus as “the one who comes from heaven” in 3:31 (ἄνωθεν [anwqen], the same word as in 3:3). There is another lexical tie to preceding material: The subject of the dispute, ceremonial washing (3:25), calls to mind the six stone jars of water changed to wine at the wedding feast in 2:6, put there for “Jewish ceremonial washing.” This section ultimately culminates and concludes ideas begun in chap. 2 and continued in chap. 3. Although the author does not supply details, one scenario would be this: The disciples of John, perplexed after this disagreement with an individual Jew (or with the Jewish authorities), came to John and asked about the fact that Jesus was baptizing and more and more were coming to him. John had been preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sin (see Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3). Possibly what the Jew(s) reported to John’s disciples was that Jesus was now setting aside the Jewish purification rituals as unnecessary. To John’s disciples this might also be interpreted as: (a) a falling away from Judaism, and (b) a break with John’s own teaching. That Jesus could have said this is very evident from many incidents in his ministry in all the gospels. The thrust would be that outward cleansing (that is, observance of purification rituals) was not what made a person clean. A new heart within (that is, being born from above) is what makes a person clean. So John’s disciples came to him troubled about an apparent contradiction in doctrine though the explicit problem they mentioned is that Jesus was baptizing and multitudes were coming to him. (Whether Jesus was or was not baptizing really wasn’t the issue though, and John the Baptist knew that because he didn’t mention it in his reply. In 4:2 the author says that Jesus was not baptizing, but his disciples. That reference would seem to cover this incident as well, and so the disciples of John are just reporting what they have heard, or thought they heard.) The real point at issue is the authority of Jesus to “overturn” the system of ritual purification within Judaism. John replied to this question of the authority of Jesus in 3:27-36. In 3:27-30 he reassured his disciples, reminding them that if more people were coming to Jesus, it did not threaten him at all, because “heaven” had ordained it to be so (v. 27). (After all, some of these very disciples of John had presumably heard him tell the Jewish delegation that he was not the Messiah but was sent before him, mentioned in John 1.) Then John compared himself to the friend of the bridegroom who stands by and yet participates in the bridegroom’s joy (v. 29). John was completely content in his own position as forerunner and preparer of the way.

8 tn “River” is not in the Greek text but is supplied for clarity.

9 tn Grk “answered and said.”



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