Re: Re. The perfects in John 6:69

Carl W. Conrad (
Sat, 21 Sep 1996 08:06:04 -0500

At 4:05 AM -0500 9/20/96, wrote:
>To the List:
>Please comment on the following obeservation, as to whether is
>represents a fair interpretation fo the text.
>I am beginning sermon research on the pericope from which the
>reference is taken. Before I go off at a tangent that will effect
>the outcome of my original train of thought I wanted a little
>guidance on the perfect tenses that occur in these two verses.
>The context is such that Jesus has performed the miracle of feeding
>the 5000 and the result was that the crowd was impressed more with
>the material ramifications that the spiritual ones. When the Lord
>did in fact seek to redirect their attention the result was that they
>did not understand him and asked for proof (a sign) that he was in fact the
>bread from heaven. The Lord them seems to use their own slowness of
>understanding against them by insisting that they eat his flesh and
>drink his blood.
>To this many take great offense and grumble. When Christ explains
>that it is the Spirit that counts and not the material things their
>hopes are dashed and many of the peripheral disciples leave.
>In questioning the 12 as to whether they will leave too, I was
>astounded to find Peter's reply on behalf of the 12 in the prefect
>tense, that they both believed (PEPISTEUKAMEN) and knew (EGNWKAMEN)
>that Jesus was the Holy One from God, the very point Christ was
>trying to make earlier. The perfect tense seems to imply that the
>twelve had believed and still believed in spite of the apostacy of
>others. That is, their faith and knowledge remained firm and
>Christ uses an aorist (EXELEXAMHN) in reply to this assertion, saying
>that he had chosen the twleve, yet one among them (EK) is a devil.
>Would we not ordinarily expect a present tense here in Peter's
>reassurances to the Lord, or is there some reason other than Peter's
>desire to be firm and strong in his reply that requires a perfect?
>In reminding Peter that he had chosen them, was the Lord downplaying
>the strong assertions of Peter? In other words is he reacting to
>Peter's use of the perfect tense here? (I mean of course what that
>implies and not that Christ is concerned with syntax) Even though
>this one of Peter's great confessions of faith, are we to understand
>Peter's remarks as tantamount to saying they had chosen to remain
>loyal to Jesus and, therefore, is Christ here saying that in spite
>of the Peter's strong assertions of loyalty, on behalf of the 12
>notwithstanding, that even among those who still "believe and know"
>that there is the possibility of turning back, of failure? If so is
>this intended as a subtle and solemn warning? ( A Question for good
>measure but off the subject: Is there a even a hint of Peter's
>denial of Christ?)

I see that nobody has thus far commented on the question raised in this
interesting inquiry, although there's been lively and interesting
discussion of secondary revelations in the post. More on that anon, but to
the question:

Given the context of Jn 6:69-71--observation of those hangers-on who leave
Jesus at this point and those who deliberately remain with him, I think
that the suggestions set forth above are eminently reasonable. After all,
Jesus does say to the Twelve, "Don't you want to go your way too?" So I
think that this passage is indeed closely related to the theme broached in
chapter 13 and in the Synoptic tradition of Peter's denial. John's gospel
doesn't really purport to follow a clear chronological sequence in the
manner of the Synoptics, but lets particular themes recur at several points
throughout the gospel as a whole, and I would think that that's the way we
should understand this almost Markan, wistful observation of Jesus about
the as-yet untested and undemonstrated claim of Peter to faith. It is also
true that John uses perfects more deliberately and more often than the
other evangelists. So here I think Peter's PIPISTEUKAMEN KAI EGNWKAMEN ...
are meant to underscore the assertion--not just for himself (because I
think the first-plural is also important) but for the twelve as a
group--that their faith and recognition is rock-solid conviction. Jesus'
response seems to me more wistful than cynical, implying also that he knows
very well that he has chosen, among the Twelve, his own betrayer.

If one wants to make anything of the relatively early placement of this
theme in John's gospel, one might compare Mark 4 (and parallels, of
course), where Jesus' interpretation of the Parable of the Sower is an
explicit commentary on the levels of commitment of Jesus' followers, some
of whom (including all of the Twelve, as it turns out) will desert him when
QLIPSIS comes.

The discussion of use of Greek in sermon preparation reminds me of an
account I read some thirty years ago (I think it was in TIME) about how
George Buttrick (hearing whom at Harvard's Memorial Church was one of the
treasured experiences of my grad school years) went about preparing
sermons; according to the account he had a big piece of poster board
divided into columns and rows into which he would write out the Greek or
Hebrew text from which he was preaching, phrase by phrase, and then work
through several stages of word-study and exegesis before ending up with the
application he intended to present in his sermon. As I recall, the article
was written on the occasion of completion of the last volume of the
original _Interpreter's Bible_.

And where in NC, pray tell us, Paul, _IS_ Thunder Swamp? Sounds like those
hurricane-visited Outer Banks, probably far from the mountain fastnesses of
Yancey County, my summer and retirement stomping grounds. I do wish that
e-addresses and signature files gave us more detail to help us individually
fix our invisible conversation partners on the internet.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR