Heaven Opened Intertextuality And Meaning In John 1:51 -- By: David R. Kirk

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 63:2 (NA 2012)
Article: Heaven Opened Intertextuality And Meaning In John 1:51
Author: David R. Kirk

Heaven Opened
Intertextuality And Meaning In John 1:51

David R. Kirk


John 1:51 presents unique interpretational challenges at a theological level. In this study, the allusion to Jacob’s encounter with the LORD at Bethel is the point of departure for an approach which brings together this background with a consideration both of the title Son of Man, and the function of the verse within the gospel. A re-examination of the Bethel narrative casts doubt on the stairway being an image of communication. A Jesus-Jacob nexus arises from a natural reading of John 1:51, and is the interpretational key which unlocks the meaning of the verse. This nexus gives a representative emphasis to the gospel’s first Son of Man saying, and the theological connection to the patriarchal promises leads to a conclusion about the identity of the ‘greater things’ which are promised.

1. Introduction

Let me assure you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God
ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.1

These words of Jesus have challenged interpretation as much as any in the Fourth Gospel. In the words of one scholar, ‘in theological terms, the complexity of the saying is almost baffling’.2 Yet, they contain the first Johannine Son of Man saying and so are potentially programmatic for understanding the Son of Man motif in the Fourth Gospel as a whole. But what does the saying mean, and what event, or events, does

Jesus speak of here? The clearest allusion is to the account of Jacob’s vision of the Lord at Bethel in Genesis 28:

He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.3

This intertextuality provides a basis for many of the interpretations of John 1:51. Many interpreters draw a parallel between Jesus and the stairway, in order to propose Jesus as a connection between earth and heaven. Some link Jesus with the stone at Bethel, and others adopt the position of this paper and link Jesus with Jacob.4 Few interpreters adopt an approach which addresses interpretative energy both towards the Genesis 28 intertextuality and the ‘Son of...

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