Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who says there are seven signs in John's gospel anyway?

Okay, so I'm trying to organise a unit of Sunday School lessons on John's gospel for term 1 next year. Ideally, it would work such that a minister could take it and organise a preaching series to run at the same time, aligning nicely. Trouble is, with kids you can't go through a book like John from beginning to end like you might with adults in church. It's too long.

But how to chose which bits to do? And would any guy actually want to follow my plan?

I'm working with 2 ideas at the moment. They've both got their problems.

1. 'I am' statements.
The unit would be called 'Who am I? Detective work in John's gospel' or something like that.
We'd do:
1. John 6 - Feeding the 5000 - I am the bread of life
2. John 9 - Healing the man born blind - I am the light of the world
3. John 8 - Dispute with the Jews - Before Abraham was born, I am.
4. John 11 - Raising Lazarus - I am the resurrection and the life
5. John 14 - Farewell Discourse - I am the way, the truth and the life
6. John 10 / John 19 - Crucifixion - I am the good shepherd
7. John 20 - Resurrection (doubting Thomas) - My Lord and my God

I could add an 'I am the vine' one, but I can't imagine how I'd teach it in a compelling way.

2. Signs
Apparently there are seven signs in John's gospel. Commentators argue over what the seven signs are. I'm not sure who came up with this number seven. Seems a bit random to me. Was John counting anyway? 

I could fairly easily do a seven signs unit. I can imagine how it would look visually. I'd make a graphic like a street sign for each week and the kids would have to tell me what each sign meant - not just which story it referred to, but the significance of it.

Trouble is, which signs?

Someone suggested this formation:
1. Water into wine
2. Healing official's son
3. Healing paralytic at pool
4. Feeding 5000
5. Walking on Water
6. Healing a man born blind
7. Raising Lazarus

The most obvious problem is that these all signs are all from the first half of the gospel. Seems wrong to leave out the crucifixion and resurrection narratives. Why isn't the resurrection a (the!) sign? Remember back in chapter 2 after the cleansing the temple incident... the pharisees asked for a sign to show that Jesus had the authority to change temple practice. Jesus said 'destroy this temple and I'll raise it in three days,' speaking about his death and resurrection. Surely that qualifies the cross as a sign...  And I'm not sure why I'd bother with the paralytic at the pool story or the walking on water incident... 

My main issues with both the signs and the I am approaches is that neither of them lets me teach a lesson on Nicodemus. And I'd really like to do that. And how cool is the snake lifted up on the pole image?


  1. I preached a series on John last year, where (if I remember rightly) I divided the whole gospel up into chunks that a) had no more than one designated sign b) had no more than one (*yes, ok, it's hard to avoid the shepherd/gate thing, but aside from that) c) ran off the back of a different Jewish festival d) left me with the warm feeling afterwards that it had gone pretty well at capturing the diversity of the gospel and been interesting etc. I could email you everything, if you like...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Not sure about the 7 thing - could be someone trying to shoehorn it into 'God's number'.

    Wouldn't the empty tomb, not the cross be the sign? After all, plenty of people died on crosses back then but only one came back to life; plus he talks about restoring the temple in three days as the sign, not the destruction of it.

    Walking on water is possibly to show that he is master of the wider natural world, not just medical miracles or food and drink?