Reflecting on John 8 31-38

What does it mean to “know the truth,” when Jesus says it in John 8:32? What kind of knowledge is that, and how is it related to “abiding” or continuing in Jesus’s word, and being his true disciples, and being free? What kind of freedom is Jesus talking about there? Is that anything like what we ordinarily mean by “freedom”? For instance, is it the kind of freedom we mean when we put one of those “freedom isn’t free” bumper stickers on our cars?

This entire line of questioning seems to be opened up by the text (John 8:31-38) we are studying for Sunday, April 24. [Some notes on the text are here.] Whether it is “the” main point of Jesus’s speech here is less obvious to me; whatever “the” main point is seems to be even larger. But here are a few additional questions we might want to think about or discuss in class:

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How do we understand Jesus’s statement that whoever sins is a slave to sin? What does that tell us about sin? What does it tell us about the prospect of being free from sin? Do we think Jesus had any particular sin(s) in mind?

[A lot more theoretical – but something that bothers me] What is the relationship between verse 34 and verse 35, do we think? Would anyone want a permanent place in the household of sin? But if we are thinking Jesus has himself in mind as the son in v35, presumably he is not talking about the household of sin, but a different household. But then, who is the slave in that household a slave “to”? Or is the metaphor here simply dissolving? And if so, where does that leave us with respect to understanding what Jesus is talking about?  

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Why bring up Abraham, do we think? What does the image of Abraham add to the meaning of this discourse for us? What does it mean to be a “child of Abraham” for us? Anything? Why?

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What do we think it means for there to be “no place in you for my word”? How would that happen? Implications for us?

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In particular, this passage has me wondering the following: We think that this is a conversation in which Jesus is talking with people who, at least at first, have some “belief” in him. He is taking the next step, pointing them towards discipleship. So, we might get the impression that he is talking to a group of spiritually well-meaning people, who already have a set of “spiritual practices.” Ones they rely on and have some good reasons to have confidence in; texts, traditions, connections to spiritual exemplars, etc. And Jesus is challenging them to go beyond those to something else. We might characterize the “something else” as more personal devotion to Jesus, or we might characterize it some other way …

My point is that the scenario sounds a little too close to home for complete comfort. What that “something else” would entail seems like something we might need or want to explore. Also, we might ask ourselves why conventional, respectably spiritual people would have “no place” or room in them for Jesus’s word. That should probably concern us.

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Images: “La Pensadora,” photo by ÁWá, cropped, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; “Am Mittagstisch,” an image by Hermann Groeber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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