Archive for August, 2016

The Jewish Gospel of John, a book review

August 16, 2016

I finished a book worthy to read: “The Jewish Gospel of John, Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel”, by Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, 2015. Recommended for all those who are seeking to fit the message and the purpose of the Gospel of John in its right context. (More info on his website:

Eli has done a great job with writing this book. He understands Judaism, historic circumstances of the time of Jesus and Christianity.

The Gospel of John usually turns out to be an anti-semitic book, or at least containing anti-judaism. However, this is not the case.

Eli shows us a thoroughly thought through and a brilliant designed message composed by John to his own Jewish people. It is written in Greek, probably to the exiled Jews, with some distance to the subject as a writer can do.

From the beginning of the gospel John shaped a message as sharp as it could be for the Jews (and all who accepted the gospel too) showing that Jesus is the Messiah and King of Israel. And that there is no place in-between, one has to hear the voice of Jesus and accept his Messiah-ship. And to accept is to accept the whole package, also that Jesus is God Himself revealed as such. Jesus is even more than a “son of God”. He is also more than just a “God”, as that could be referring to a king. He is the Lord God and the holy Word being flesh on earth. The only One God has come among us.

One of the great questions of the book of John is what is meant by “the Jews”, in Greek: Ioudaioi. The answer of Eli is the Judeans opposed to the northern Israel, the Samaritans. So there is a difference between Jewish groups.

The Judean leadership is the contemporary authority representing the Jewish people. Those are representing the evil shepherds (Ezekiel) and now the “Son of Man” has come (Daniel) to re-establish the true faith. “It is Jesus who has come as the covenant prosecutor to press charges against the evil shepherds of Israel.” (page xv) Eli walks through the whole gospel to show this. It is one story with one goal: that Jesus is the King of all Israel. Not only the ‘Ioudaioi’ but also the 10 tribes and all who are in exile. Maybe especially written for those who are in exile, because of the Greek language. It is at least written for those who understand Judaism. This becomes also clear in this book. Probably John went on to reach “Israel” abroad since the Jerusalem Jews did not accept Jesus.

John deals with the fact that the Ioudaioi did not accept their Messiah at that time. He wants to persuade them and other Jews. He certainly does not rule out his brothers. He rules out evil do-ers as the ancient prophets did. It is not against a person or a Jew, it is about the attitude of the very heart. They did not understand, and a conflict about the authority of Jesus was inevitably the result.

Jesus has the ultimate authority and that is the mean problem of the Ioudaioi, the Judean leadership. “There was no place for them and Jesus together. Either they would remain in power, or he would replace them.” (page 126) Several times Jesus “as a matter of principle did not respond to their requests to submit to their authority.” (page 78)

At the difficult passage of John 6 about the bread and wine, Eli points to “an interpretive error to read this passage in the context of a religious polemic of a “Christian Jesus” and “Jewish Jews.” It should rather be read in the original context of an intra-Israelite polemic.” (page 99) He also argues that the passage is “referring to national salvation and not simply to individual salvific experience.” (page 107)

It is good to read that “As was customary for Jesus, he didn’t argue with the Ioudaioi about the legitimacy of the Torah of Moses. After all, the Torah of Moses was Jesus’ Torah. He only argued with them about its interpretation.” (page 125) As Eli says, this gospel contains high Christology. And the reader must be quite familiar with the very concepts of the Torah to understand the bread and wine typology, because it is deeply rooted in the Torah. And one who did not understand (like the church departed from Judaism and purposely opposed to it) likely concludes that Judaism at all is abandoned by Jesus by reading this chapter.

Eli also is familiar with the Protestant concept of belief. On page 100 and 101 he gives a nice explanation of the difference of the Jewish 1st century view and the Protestant 16th century view.

You have to read the book, but I’ll briefly give something here. John 6:28-29 states: “Then they said to him, “what must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Then Eli says about verse 29: “Viewed through the lenses of the 16th century Catholic-Protestant debate this means ‘By what works of ours can we be saved from God’s wrath?”

Then he gives the original view: “How can we be faithful to the Covenant God of Israel?” And hence the answer is: “You can be faithful to the Covenant God of Israel only by believing in his authorized representative (Jesus vs. Ioudaioi).”

Then Jesus gives the answer through the bread typology. Eli: “First he will argue that the Ioudaioi do not understand the basic facts of the Torah they claim as their own. It was not Moses who gave bread to the people, but Moses’ God. Secondly, the manna God gave the ancient Israelites through Moses was but a picture of the true sustenance for the human soul: the incarnate, crucified and finally resurrected Logos of Moses’ God. Jesus called the manna simply ‘the bread of God’. As we reread and reconsider John 6:28-31 inasmuch as we are able within the context of intra-Israelite polemic of the first century, we must be disciplined and adjust theories to fit the facts, not the facts to our theories. If we learn to live with this methodology, our interpretations will be far more accurate.” (page 103)

I would like to finish with a remark of Eli when the Jews (Ioudaioi) reject Jesus and choose Barabbas (meaning Son of the Father), in this chapter 19 he comments: “Yet Jesus is the King of the Ioudaioi in spite of their rejection of him. This is the tension of the entire Gospel.” (page 260)