For those who have done some studies in the gospel of John, the seven signs will be familiar to them. They will have studied each sign in the gospel of John and contemplated on their significances. However, our English translation does no justice to the Greek of the original autograph. When we read the accounts without an appreciation of any Hebraic background, we find that we missed out the many layers that John intended in his narratives. In this post, I want to show that there is a hidden eighth sign in the gospel of John that we need to actively think about when we read the account.
The use of signs in the gospel of John
The gospel of John contains at least 7 miraculous signs that Jesus performed. As I was studying the signs, I realised that the signs require a response from the ones who experienced the signs and the readers of the account. Take for example, at Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine, we learned that Jesus was in fact inaugurating a new age of celebration. The response from the people involved is intriguing. The disciples, who witnessed the sign, believed in Jesus (John 2:11) but the account remained silent on the servants who were involved and knew what happened.it remained silent on the head of the banquet as well as the bridegroom, not to mention about Jesus’ mother.
Or we can look at the other sign that happened after Jesus met the Samaritan woman, when Jesus healed the son of the royal official from Capernaum. After the boy was healed, the royal official and his whole household believed (5:43)
So what we are seeing is that these signs demand a response from the readers. But hidden within the narrative is another sign which required response is more subtle than the rest.
The hidden sign in the gospel of John
Through out the gospel of John, Jesus continuously used the construction “I am” to identify himself and he used it without a noun predicate at times. This, in Greek, is “ἐγώ εἰμι” (ego eimi). For those who are privy to Old Testament, this construction was how Yahweh identified Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. By using the construction “I am” in his account, Jesus essentially identified himself with the God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament. This is the God whom we really worship. This is where we head to our hidden sign in John 6:16-21.
This was the time after Jesus finished feeding the 5000. Notice that before Jesus reunited with his disciples, the wind and water trapped the disciples in the middle of the lake. This is when Jesus reappeared into the picture, walking on water in the midst of the disciples’ fear. The NIV translation said that he proclaimed, “It is I…” In the Greek language, this should really translate to “I am.” He used the exact words “ἐγώ εἰμι” without the noun predicate. And immediately after he boarded the boat, the boat reached the shore.
This means that the trapped boat got immediately saved after the disciples took back Jesus who acknowledged himself as the God of the OT. This is thus the hidden sign that we are talking about in John.
The implications to our Christian life and Bible reading
The first implication behind this reading of the text lies with our Christian life. We remember that each sign in the gospel of John demands a response. In this case, Jesus’ identification required the disciples to decide if they were to receive him back to the boat in the midst of their fear. Perhaps this is similar to how some of us may be facing. When we find ourselves in impossible situations, do we acknowledge God to bring us out of the situation? Are we going to receive Him into our boat so that He can bring the boat to where it is originally heading? These are questions that we ought to ask about our responses.
But the implication that I want to talk about lies more with our Bible reading. When I was doing a course on the gospel of John, there was a time when we were discussing this passage. I remembered that it took a while for my classmates to realise the discrepancy in translation. The scene still stuck in my mind today. This brings to mind whether we truly recognise God in our own Bible reading. And this perhaps requires us to hone our mind in the intricacies of the gospel accounts. We need to ask ourselves if we do read our English translations as they are. Or do we read them with understanding that these are translations.
I do not want to create an impression that our English translations are unreliable. Bible translators do their best in ensuring that non-Hebrew and non-Greek readers can still read God’s word. But due to differences in language, we need to be aware that no translation is perfect. And therefore, it is my view that everyone should try to be aware of the original language and know that what the English translations say may not reflect a total picture.
Bible reading can be interesting when we find that we have a lot to discover. Sometimes, discovering such nuggets as the one in John adds to our awe in understanding God. We can take heart, nevertheless, that we have multiple English translations which aim to present the gospels as close to the original language as possible. For those who want to study deeper, there are ways to study. One method is to use Logos Bible Software. I have previously mentioned this as a tool for theological reflection. It is as much a tool for Bible study as well.
I hope that this post has inspired you to want to study more into the word. Share with you how you intend to do so in the comments below. I will love to hear from you.