backgroundThe text of John 7-10 is better understood if you also have some background understanding of how things worked politically and socially among the Jews.


Here is the first verse of John 7.


After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.

I pay attention to anything that makes me mentally “trip” and “stumble” as I read the scriptures. When I read something that makes me stop and go, “What?” I have learned that this is a signal from the Holy Ghost that I need to go back and search for the answer to something. As I read the first verse of John 7 I kept coming back to the word Jewry. It suddenly dawned on me that I needed to know why Galilee and Jewry were different. What was Jewry anyway? Why was this difference important enough for John to include it in his record?

After some searching, this is what I found. I encourage you to read this entire entry. You will most likely find it very eye opening. It certainly was for me. It has changed how I look at life in New Testament times.

7 Differences Between Galilee and Judea in the Time of Jesus

The information in the link above explains the motivation for the conversations and actions of the rest of the verses in John 7. If you haven’t already read them, reread them after having read from the link above. It surely opened my eyes as to what was really going on. The whole chapter now makes plain sense to me.

Mobility question

As I read John 7 the thought occurred to me that there seemed to be a lot of confusion over where Jesus was from. I know from my studies that as a rule, society didn’t become highly mobile until after the first wave or two of the black death starting in the 1300s A.D., more than a thousand years after the time of Jesus. Most people were born and raised in the same place. If they moved about, it was often within just a few miles of home. So the life of Jesus was singular, in that he was born in Bethlehem, which was not his hometown (they were only there because of the mandatory census), raised in Egypt, and finally in Nazareth in Galilee. So he originally came from Judea, which is where the scriptures said he would be born, but was raised in the backwater town of Nazareth in Galilee.

In this chapter, when he was preaching to them in the temple, it never occurred to them to actually ask the simple question, “Where were you born?” He came to them from having lived most of his life in Nazareth, so to them that is where he was from. The Pharisees didn’t believe he could be a prophet, because he didn’t fulfill the scriptures that stated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, in Judea. No one knew he was from Bethlehem, because it never occurred to them to ask where he was born. This is something we would think of quickly today, because we have such a mobile society. But they assumed that wherever you came from as an adult is where you were born.

This assumption of birth is why in verse 52 Nicodemus’ fellow Pharisees make this statement.

52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.

And they were correct.

Mount of Olives

Where is the Mt. of Olives? What gives it significance? How does it figure into the life and ministry of Jesus? What makes the olive oil from this grove so important historically? Here is a link to an article about what the Mt. of Olives meant to Jesus. Very informative.

The Meaning of the Mount of Olives to Jesus

The nature of Pharisees

As you read the New Testament, it can be difficult to fathom the obstinacy of the Pharisees. Even though Jesus speaks to them with all plainness, they seem to revel in being obtuse, refusing to see what is so simply and logically laid out before them by the Master. These were learned men, some of the brightest and most capable of their generation. How could they be so flagrantly ignorant of the truth? I think the answer was spoken hundreds of years before any of these men were born.

A while after the last prophet lived in Israel, a class of men grew to prominence among the people claiming to be the last word in interpreting the law of Moses. They were educated men, as well as ambitious. They did not have the gift of the Holy Ghost. They were intellectuals, many of whom saw an opportunity to become public figures of great importance, since the populace held so tightly to their Jewish heritage. As these men interpreted the law and its meaning, opportunities arose for them to “clarify” the meaning and purpose of the law.

It was because of these “clarifications” that they were able to gain power over the people by adding rules of their own making, all in the name of “keeping” the law that Moses wrote. Over the centuries whole schools of thought arose, and debate over the nuances of the law of Moses became a regular activity for writing and participating in among themselves. Their schools were open to the elite of society. With all that money and influence came power. One hundred percent of their focus was on the details of which behaviors were acceptable and which were not, and why. They completely lost the vision and purpose behind why the law was given.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, more than 300 years of custom and intellectual rigor had cemented their thinking into society. Even the common people had been raised to look to the Pharisees and others of their ilk for what was permissible and what was not. Only those few who still thought with reason and read the scriptures with an eye towards the glory of God saw that much of what they taught was foolishness and the product of the human mind, and not of God. But speaking such things out loud was forbidden.

We need to remember that the Pharisees ran all of their religious services in Synagogue. They even had great influence at the temple. If they were unhappy with someone they could declare them a heretic and have them expelled from the Synagogue. That means that they were ostracized from their neighbors and community, since everything revolved around their worship. No one would be allowed to speak to them, do business with them, or be their friend. In effect, they would need to leave the community and go live among the gentiles. For many, that thought was a fate worse than death.

As you read John 7-10, look at all the times and ways this dynamic plays out between the simple people who call it like they see it, and the intellectual Pharisees, as well as between them and Jesus. Jesus was a real and present threat to everything that upheld their order and their power base. If his doctrine was allowed to prevail, the Pharisees would no longer be needed. Everything they knew and loved would be destroyed.

There were some among their order who honestly believed that they were there to do good for their people. But there were also many who, like many modern ministers, who saw the profession as a way to earn a good living and to become a powerful influence in their community. Religion was just a vehicle used to gain their end. Nicodemus was one of those who sincerely sought for the truth. Notice that he was a minority voice among the Pharisees. Many of the rest of them reveled in feeling doctrinally and socially untouchable.

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Background For a Better Understanding of John 7-10