The Marriage Motif in John 13 and 14, Part 1

A–“Where I am going (Gr. hypago), you cannot come.” v. 33b

B– “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another (Gr. agapate allelous), even as I have loved you, that you also love one another (Gr. agapate allelous).” v. 34

B– “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (Gr. agapen echete en allelois).” v. 35

A– “Jesus answered, ‘Where I go (Gr. hypago), you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.’”  v. 36b

 

Explaining the Chiasm

In June of 2017, my family and I attended a funeral in Los Angeles. The pastor delivering the eulogy portion of the service referenced John 14:2 which reads: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” At the gravesite, a second pastor repeated this verse. And it was written into the program for this unfortunate occasion.

The use of that particular verse certainly seems fitting. People attending a funeral, even those who are not followers of Jesus, take comfort in hearing what they understand to be the dwelling place of the dearly departed after death. Yet, when I heard this verse, over and over, I thought less of death and more about a wedding. . .in this case, an ancient Jewish wedding.

The ancient Jewish wedding, according to halacha–the umbrella term for “walking,” the “way,” or “path,” covering Torah law, the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings, and long-standing customs, each of which is seen as equally authoritative within Rabbinical Judaism–would begin with a betrothal ceremony at the home of the prospective bride. This aspect is known as kiddushin. Kiddush is a blessing conducted over wine. The word derives from kadosh or kodesh, meaning holy, sanctified, set apart. This kiddushin sanctified the union between a bridegroom and his bride. It is at this point that a ketubah (contract) was entered into, detailing the obligations of the parties to each other. Key aspects of the ketubah according to Tractate Ketubot in the Talmud (Mishnah specifically) is that the groom promises to support the bride, and a “bride price”–a mohar–is paid. In return, the bride must remain chaste, in other words, faithful to her prospective husband.

The groom then would depart for his father’s house. In a period of roughly one year, he would add living quarters there for he and his bride to reside in. When he returned for his bride, there occurred the second stage of the wedding process called nisu’in, the union of husband and wife “under one roof,” symbolized by the chuppah, stepping under a canopy. Then, having been considered fully married, they would return to the house of the bridegroom’s father to reside.

When Jesus told His disciples that “In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places” and “I will go prepare a place for you,” that reminded me of a Jewish bridegroom, who, after being sanctified with his bride, went to his father’s house to add a room for them to reside as husband and wife. The Greek word translated in the NASB for “dwelling places” is monai, which can also mean “rooms.” The very next verse reads: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” The bridegroom returned to his bride, consummating the marriage, and brought her home where they would live under one roof.

When  I mentioned this observation to Pastor Andy Basilio, he coined the phrase, “marriage motif.” He looked in and around this passage of Scripture, citing that he’d found a similar “marriage motif” in Chapter 13. Though he didn’t exactly say what it was, when I looked at Chapter 13, I saw the chiasm that I’m sharing with you in this article.

In lines 33b and 36b, we have a repeating phrase, “where I go.” The bridegroom, in the marriage motif, goes to prepare a dwelling for his bride. And she cannot join him until the marriage is consummated under the chuppah.

There is no higher calling for a bridegroom and bride in waiting than to love each other–to show faithfulness toward each other while they await the day they will be joined “under one roof.” So as it is between a bridegroom and a bride, so it was between Jesus and His disciples. In line 34a, we read Jesus saying: “A new commandment I give to you, that you should love one another.”  The words “new commandment”, in Greek, are entolen kainen. Kainen is frequently translated as “new.” This word, however, translates the Hebrew chadash, which in turn, can also mean “new”–as in “fresh out of the box” new, or as seems more likely here, renewed. Since loving one another was not unknown to those in covenant with each other–the disciples were, after all, Jews in covenant with each other according to Leviticus 19:18–it would seem more appropriate to view Jesus using chadash in the sense of renewed–“a renewed commandment I give you.”  In any case, the phrase “love one another” repeats in verses 34 and 35, symbolic of the ketubah obligation found in the Jewish wedding process, and a fulfillment of the covenant obligation owed by the disciples to each other.

We now have identified the “marriage motif” in John 13. The discussion in which it is found began with a pre-Passover meal (John 13:2). This same discussion, principally on discipleship, carries on into Chapters 14 through 17.  Later the same evening as the discussion, Jesus was arrested (John 18:12). John 14:2, used so liberally in funeral services, fits the “marriage motif” in that the “bridegroom,” Jesus, will add a room to His Father’s house and then return to reunite with the disciples. Could this same “motif” form a basis to understand John 14:6, one of the most quoted verses in the New Testament? For an answer to that question and perhaps more, we move next to Part 2, coming soon.

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