Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Bookend Book

Kathy of Sumballo has given us a tough assignment this week. We are to study the design of a Bible passage. Please do take a minute and visit her blog to view this lesson.She can pack more into a few paragraphs than I could in a whole book. It probably wouldn't be so tough if I would just pick a short passage and follow directions. (Some of you know me well enough not to expect that.) I had started writing a post of the structure of the gospel of John so that's what I'll post for this assignment.

We came to the last chapter in Luke last week. I was sad to say goodbye. I don't like coming to the end of a book in the Bible because then I need to make a decision about where to go next. We took a vote at the kitchen table. Acts or John? Acts seemed to be the more logical choice for its author and timeline continuity but we chose John. We wanted to see Jesus in a different light. Luke focuses on the humanity of Jesus and John on His divinity.

The gospel of John scares me. Standard wisdom is to tell one new to Bible reading to start with John. For the life of me, I can't figure out why this is good advice. It has such depth that the first time or two that I read through it, I felt like I was drowning in theology. I am beginning to see more this time through but not without the help of printed commentary. Usually, I read through an online commentary and take quick notes before I read the chapter out loud to the children. I found, with John, that I was copying the commentary verbatim and resorted to printing it out in its entirety. We are reading through ten or eleven verses at a time. More than that and my head starts to spin.

Unlike the Barrel of Monkeys links that we find in Luke, John appears to be a Bookend Book. (I discovered this without the help of the commentary. I love when God shows me extra stuff.) People and events are introduced in the beginning of the book and reappear at the end to bring the gospel to a close. Here are some examples:

1. The book begins by presenting Jesus as the Word...the eternal, divine God. The last sentence testifies that there are not enough words to capture Jesus' sojourn on the earth. Of course. He's God and cannot be confined to the printed page!

2. Simon, son of John, is given the name Cephas, meaning stone, in the first chapter. He is a stone, buffeted about throughout the book. In the last chapter he is reinstated and by the grace of God he goes on to become a rock, a leader in establishing the church.

3. Nicodemus sits with Jesus on a rooftop under a nighttime sky in chapter three. We see him again in chapter 19 assisting Joseph of Arimathea in taking Jesus' body from the cross and placing it in a tomb.

4. Jesus points Nicodemus to the story of the bronze snake in Numbers 21:4-9 (This snake is Sin on a Stick according to my Lauren) and in John 19 it is Jesus Himself who is lifted up on the cross.

5. He performs his first miracle at the request of a woman. His mother, Mary. Even the miracle, changing water into wine, points to the New Covenant that is brought about by his death and resurrection. At the end of the book there is another first. The first person that He reveals his resurrected self to is another woman. Another Mary.

I am sure that I have missed some bookends. Get out your Bibles and see if you can find any more in The Bookend Book and post a comment below. I'm looking forward to learning from you.

Kathy instructs us to find the very center of the text and see if we find anything of importance there. I thought this was so interesting because after I made the discovery about the bookends, I found myself asking, I wonder if there is anything significant in the middle? I do not have a definitive answer to this question but I wonder if the center of this book is found in chapter 12. Jesus says, Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name! Then a voice came from heaven, I have glorified it, and will glorify it again...You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light...Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may be sons of light. These verses reflect back to the opening words in John1:9, The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

It will take us weeks and weeks to make our way through this book. As I learn more, I'll write another post or two.


bubandpie said...

I love this idea of "bookends." It's so easy to miss stuff like that with the chapter-a-day devotional approach.

I also love Peter. He's stubborn, wrong-headed, faulty - but never lacking in love. Even after so dismally failing on the night before the crucifixion, he does not hang back for a moment - he rushes to the tomb, eager to see the man he had just betrayed, simply overjoyed that he's alive.

Melissa @ Breath of Life said...

I never thought about the bookends before. Great observation.

I recently heard Priscilla Shirer say it took her TWO YEARS to go through the Book of John, because she was reading 2 - 3 verses at a time & really meditating on them. So, looks like your estimation of months puts you on the fast track ;D

The Small Scribbler said...


I hate the chapter a day devotional stuff. What's the point in reading that way? To check it off your list of things to do and puff up with pride because you had time in the Word but are no wiser at the end of the chapter?

I love Peter too. I once read an article that wondered if he had ADHD. Makes him even more dear to my heart. I had not thought about his audacity to rush to the tomb after he had just betrayed Jesus. Thanks for the thought.


After your comment about TWO YEARS, I think we'll slow down our estimate a little. I'll share that information with the kids this morning over breakfast.


Kathy at Sumballo said...

Kate, you did an excellent job identifying the "bookends" of John. What's great is that you'll be watching for "word" as you read John, and also for Peter's progress as well. Great insights.