Flesh and Spirit

John 6:60-71

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.”  NRSV

Once again, we see Jesus elevate the role of the “spirit” and devalue the need for the flesh. In John, Jesus is the essence of God (Spirit) assuming physical form. The body’s sole purpose is to make the essence of God (Spirit) visible to the world, like clothing on an invisible person. One might say that the body is to the spirit as the cup is to our morning coffee. The cup’s only purpose is to make the coffee accessible.

To grasp the teachings of Jesus in John we must recognize the spirit/body dualism of John’s thought. The spirit is good. The body is evil. Faith in Jesus meant doing the things Jesus taught to escape the body into the spiritual or higher realm. This dualism is a Greek concept, not a Jewish one. The Jews believe in the unity of body and spirit.

Gnosticism is a philosophy that believes in a mind and body dualism. It is through the enlightened mind that one escapes the constraints of the body and rises to the higher, spiritual realm. Many biblical scholars see Gnosticisms influence in John’s gospel for this reason.

It is important to note that focusing on this dualism distinguishes John from the other three gospels. They are much more influenced by Judaism and thus see redemption wholistically. They see Jesus as truly human and divine, which raises the importance of redeeming the whole person. For Matthew, Mark, and Luke, God is truly incarnate, spirit and flesh interwoven into an inseparable whole. John sees the body of Jesus as simply rental property for the spirit while it sojourns among the people.

Each perspective has strengths and weaknesses (biases). We study, we pray, we apply what we learn to life in order to discern more fully who the real Jesus really was and what that means for our own journeys of faith.

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