Tuesday, January 21, 2014

John 4:46-54; The Royal Official: Did he believe or not?

46 Then he again went to Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine.
Now there was a certain royal official whose son was sick in Capernaum.  47 After hearing that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was about to die.  48 Then, Jesus said to him, “If you don’t see (plural) signs and wonders, you (plural) will never believe.”  49 The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  50 Jesus said to him, “Go, your son is living.”  The man believed the word that Jesus had spoken to him, and he left.  51 While he was already going down, his slaves met him, telling him that his child is living.  52 Then, he inquired from them the time that his son got better.  So, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at 1:00pm.”  53 Then, the father realized that that was the time when Jesus said to him, “Your son is living.”  He himself and his whole household believed54 This again was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.  John 4:46-54

This is one of the greatest stories in the New Testament.  We have a royal official who had heard about Jesus and needed him to heal his young son who was dying with fever.  What I want to focus on is when did this royal official really believe in Jesus.  Did he believe based on what Jesus told him, or did he believe after his son was healed?  In this text, it seems like “both”!

As you can see from my translation, I’ve underlined and put in italics “believed”.  Both verbs are used in the Aorist tense in Greek.  The Aorist tense has an undefined aspect.  In other words, this tense doesn’t offer the time or duration of the action of the verb.  

With that said, there are types of emphasis with verbs in the Aorist tense:

  1. Ingressive
  2. Effective
  3. Constative

“Ingressive” describes the beginning of an action.  “Effective” describes the end of an action.  Last, but not least, “Constative” describes an action as a whole.

In this text, we may have the royal official at the beginning of his believing action in verse 50 (Ingressive Aorist).  If that is true, then verse 53 probably shows the royal official’s “believing action” after his son was healed (Effective Aorist).  In other words, he began believing in Jesus based on what Jesus said to him (and probably based on what he had heard from others), but he REALLY came to believe in Jesus after his son was healed.  Interpretations will differ, but there is no doubt that Greek verb tenses can help in our interpretation of the NT.

On a side note, John loved to incorporate word-plays in his Gospel.  This passage offers a good one.  In verse 49, John uses τὸ παιδίον (to paidion) for “child”, but in verse 51, he uses ὁ παῖς (ho pais) for “child”.  All of the NT authors did this as it was “catchy” for illiterate folks to hear.  It would have helped those folks to remember what had been read out to them.

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