Jesus at the Feast of Booths: John 7-8 - Part 1

01.25.2012 by Kevin Hale


This post is part of the jesus at the feast of booths series (click to view the other posts in this series).

In chapters 7 and 8 of his gospel, John gives us an account of Jesus at the Feast of Booths. Even a cursory reading of this text alerts one to the tension that existed between Jesus and many of the Jews - the passage ends with a group of Jews picking of stones to throw at Jesus (John 8.59), presumably to kill him. Jesus makes several, bold claims throughout the passage that lead to this intense response; however, the boldness of Jesus’ claims is easily missed if the claims are not understood in light of the broader story of Israel. In this series of articles I aim to show how an understanding of the Old Testament, in particular the Feast of Booths and Israel’s wilderness wanderings, helps us to rightly understand the Feast of Booths passage in John 7-8 and therefore gain a better understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is not my goal to offer a technical commentary on the entire passage, but to gain a better understanding of this story by reading it in light of the larger story of Scripture.

Defining the pericope is always an important step in exegesis, and John 7-8 presents a unique challenge in this regard. A definite scene change occurs at beginning of John 7, which sets the stage for the story. John gives a very particular and important time marker in 7.2 when he writes, “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.” Verses 1-13 record a confrontation between Jesus and his brothers regarding his plans to attend the Feast of Booths. Eventually, Jesus goes to the feast. John gives a second time marker in verse 14, “About the middle of the feast...” Verses 14-36 record Jesus’ first confrontation with the Jews at the Feast of Booths. John gives a third time marker in 7.37, “On the last day of the feast, the great day...” Again time has advanced, but the scene has not changed. Jesus is still at Feast of Booths, which is in its final day.

Now we come to a great difficulty. If we take John 7.53-8.11 in stride, we have a fourth time marker. The Feast of Booths is over and it is the following morning when Jesus again visits the temple, a scene which would run through the end of John 8. However, if we reject 7.53-8.11 as a later addition, as the footnotes in several modern translations seem to suggest is appropriate, then John 8.12 would be a continuance of the record of the last day of the Feast of Booths. So we have the question before us, “Should 7.53-8.11 be treated as original or as a later addition?” There are a number of commentaries that deal with this issue in great detail (two modern commentaries that are quite helpful are D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John from the Pillar New Testament Commentary series and Andreas Kostenberger, John from the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series), so I will let a summary of the pertinent section of Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (pages 187-89 2nd ed.)  suffice. Metzger concludes, “The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adultress is overwhelming,” offering the following lines of evidence.

- The passage is absent from numerous early manuscripts across several traditions.
- “No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it” (Metzger).
- There are syntactical and lexical reasons to question the Johannine authenticity of the passage.
- Many ancient witnesses, in which the text is found, employ some editorial mark or note to indicate that questions of authenticity existed regarding the passage.

As noted above, the implications of our decision to consider John 7.53-8.11 as non-Johannine come into play when discussing John 8.12-59. Without the fourth time marker noted in John 8.2, John 8.12-59 read as a continuation of the very bold claims that Jesus has been making on the last and great day of the Feast of Booths. While it is true that claims such as, “before Abraham was, I am,” are bold whether made at the Feast of Booths or not, there is a certain pointedness added to them in such a context.

The closing of the pericope is clearly John 8.59. Somewhat of an inclusio is brought to completion in John 8.59 setting of Jesus’ teaching at the Feast of Booths as one unit. John 7.14 states that Jesus, “went up into the temple and began teaching.” While it is most likely that Jesus’ teaching ended each evening, it is worth noting that there is not a clear break in his teaching until the section closes with the words in John 8.59, “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” Of course, it is logical to see two main sections to Jesus’ teaching defined according to the time markers in John 7.14 & 37, nonetheless John seems to have framed the story around Jesus coming into and out of the temple in order to highlight that Jesus’ claims were made during the feast.

In the second article in this series, we will consider the Feast of Booths, in the context of both the Old Testament and the first century, as well as Israel’s time in the wilderness in order to more fully understand the significance of Jesus’ claims.

This post is part of the jesus at the feast of booths series (click to view the other posts in this series).