Yochanan Chapter 7

James Trimm’s Nazarene Commentary on Yochanan Chapter 7


11 Then the Judeans sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he?
12 And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceives the people.
13 Howbeit no man spoke openly of him for fear of the Judeans.
14 Now about the midst of the feast Yeshua went up into the Temple, and taught.
15 And the Judeans marvelled, saying, How knows this man letters, having never learned?
(John 7:11-15)

What did the Judeans mean when they asked “How does this man know letters?”. The real answer, from a Jewish perspective, is far deeper than you probably imagined!

In the book of Yochanan, Yeshua journeys from Galil to Judea, to attend Sukkot at the Temple. This was a perilous journey, “because many Judeans wanted to kill him” (Yochanan 7:1):

1 After these things Yeshua walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Judea, because the Judeans sought to kill him.
2 Now the Jewish feast of Sukkot was at hand.
3 His brother therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that your talmidim also may see the works that you do.
4 For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.
5 For neither did his brothers believe in him.
6 Then Yeshua said to them, My time is not yet come: but your time is always ready.
7 The world cannot hate you; but me it hates, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.
8 Go you up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come.
9 When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee.
10 But when his brothers were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.
(John 7:1-10)

Notice it says “after these things” (Jn. 7:1) the Judeans sought to kill him. “These things” are those recorded previously in the book. Yeshua had turned water into wine (2:1-11) performed miracles in the Temple (2:12-25 esp. verse 23) healed a man at the pool of Beit Chesda (Jn. 5:1-9) and multiplied bread and fish to feed a crowd (Jn. 6:1-15) etc. We repeatedly read of his “miracles” (Jn 2:11, 23; 3:2; 6:2, 26).

Yochanan goes on to say:

11 Then the Judeans sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he?
12 And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceives the people.
13 Howbeit no man spoke openly of him for fear of the Judeans.
14 Now about the midst of the feast Yeshua went up into the Temple, and taught.
15 And the Judeans marvelled, saying, How knows this man letters, having never learned?
(John 7:11-15)

This phrase “how knows this man letters” is very interesting. I believe the underlying Hebrew word here is אותות which literally means “signs” and can refer to signs like “letters” but can also refer “signs” as in “miracles”.

The Judeans were asking how Yeshua knew “signs” (miracles) having never learned.

Here it is important to know according to Jewish tradition, miracles or “signs” could be performed by those having special, secret, knowledge, of how to permutate strings of Hebrew letters, in special ways.

The Sefer Yetzirah describes the process of the formation of the world as follows:

Twenty-two Foundation letters: He engraved them,
He carved them, He permuted (TZIRUF) them,
He weighed them, He transformed them,
And with them, He depicted all that was formed
and all that would be formed.
(Sefer Yetzirah 2:2)

Aryeh Kaplan comments on this passage as follows:

First the letters are “engraved” out of nothingness. Then they are “carved” out and separated. They are then “permuted,” so that a given combination appears
in different sequences…. Each letter represents a different type of information. Through the various manipulations of the letters, God created all things…. This section can also be read in the imperative: “Engrave them, carve them, permute them… When interpreted in this manner, this section is teaching a technique…
The initiate must first depict the letters “engraving” them in his mind. Then he must “carve” them out, making them fill his entire consciousness. After this
he can permute them in various ways.
(Sefer Yetzirah; the Book of Creation in Theory and Practice; Revised Edition; by Aryeh Kaplan p. 100-101)

The Talmud describe this process this way:

Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: Bezalel knew how to combine (TZIRUF) the letters by which the heavens and earth were created. It is written here, And He hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom and in understanding, and in knowledge (Ex. 35:31), and it is written elsewhere, The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens (Prov. 3:19), and it is also written, By His knowledge the depths were broken up (Prov. 3:20).
(b.Ber. 55a)

The Zohar gives a more detailed explanation saying:

R. Eleazar began here with the verse, “Ask thee a sign [Hebrew: OT “sign” or “letter”] of the Lord thy God, ask it either in the depth or in the height above” (Isa. 7:11). He said: ‘We have compared the former with the latter generations, and found that the former were conversant with a higher wisdom by which they knew how to combine (TZIRUF) the letters that were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and even the sinners of Israel knew a deep wisdom contained in the letters and the difference between higher and lower letters, and how to do things with them in this world. For every letter that was transmitted to Moses used to ascend as a crown upon the heads of the holy celestial Hayyoth, who with them flitted through the ether which is under the refined and unknowable supernal ether. There were large letters and small letters; the large letters came from the most high and hidden Temple (hekhal) and the smaller letters from another lower Temple; and both kinds were transmitted to Moses on Sinai, along with their hidden combinations.
(Zohar 3:2a)

And elsewhere:

Observe that the world has been made and established by an engraving of forty-two letters, all of which are the adornment of the Divine Name. These letters combined and soared aloft and dived downwards, forming themselves into crowns in the four directions of the world, so that it might endure. They then went forth and created the upper world and the lower, the world of unification and the world of division. … These forty-two letters thus constitute the supernal mystical principle; by them were created the upper and the lower worlds, and they indeed constitute the basis and recondite significance of all the worlds. Thus is explained the verse, “The secret of the Lord is to them that fear him; and his covenant to make them know it”, the first part alluding to the undisclosed engraven letters, whereas the latter speaks of the revealed. Now, it is written: “And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim” (Ex. 28:30). The term “Urim” (lit. Iight, illumination) signifies the luminous speculum, which consisted of the engravure of the Divine Name composed of forty-two letters by which the world was created; whereas the Thummim consisted of the non-luminous speculum made of the Divine Name as manifested in the twenty-two letters. The combination of the two is thus called Urim and Thummim. … Thus we read, “In the beginning God created the (eth) heaven and the (eth) earth” (Gen. I, 1), where the particle eth (consisting of Aleph and Tau) is a summary of the twenty-two letters by which the earth is nourished. Now, the same letters were the instruments used in the building of the Tabernacle. This work was carried out by Bezalel for the reason that, as his very name (Bezel-EI = “in the shadow of El”) implies, he had a knowledge of the various permutations of the letters, by the power of which heaven and earth were created. Without such knowledge Bezalel could not have accomplished the work of the Tabernacle; for, inasmuch as the celestial Tabernacle was made in all its parts by the mystical power of those letters, the lower Tabernacle could only be prepared by the power of the same letters. Bezalel was skilled in the various permutations of the Divine Name, and for each several part he employed the appropriate permutation of the letters. But when it came to the rearing up of the Tabernacle it was beyond his power, for the reason that the disposition of those letter-groups was entrusted to Moses alone, and hence it was by Moses that the Tabernacle was erected. So Scripture says: “And Moses reared up… and [he] laid… and put in…” (Ex. 40:18) Moses, but not Bezalel.’
(Zohar 2:234a-235a)

This is why the Judeans marveled and asked concerning Yeshua “How knows this man letters, having never learned?” (John 7:15). They were asking how Yeshua could have performed all of these “signs” or “miracles” without having been taught this secret knowledge.


16 Yeshua answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of Elohim, or whether I speak of myself.
18 He that speaks of himself seeks his own glory: but he that seeks his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.
19 Did not Moshe give you the Torah, and yet none of you keeps the Torah? Why go you about to kill me?
(John 7:16-19)

To the Torah literate, Yeshua was clearly invoking the Torah Passage about a special Prophet like Moseh (the Messiah):

18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brothers, like unto you, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
19 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
(Deut. 18:18-19)

Yeshua was saying that his teaching was not his, but that Elohim had put the words in his mouth, and that the Judeans were not keeping the Torah because it required them to give heed to this special Prophet. Yeshua was in effect saying that he knew “letters” (signs/miracles) because he was (and is) the Messiah! He was the prophet like Moshe, and knew “letters” (signs/miracles) the same way Moshe did!


22 Because of this, Moshe gave you circumcision; not because it was from the fathers: and on the Sabbath, you circumcise a man.
23 If a man is circumcised on the day of the Sabbath, that the Torah of Moshe be not loosed, do you murmur against Me, because I have healed the whole man on the day of the Sabbath?
(Yochanan 7:22-23 HRV)

The Talmud says:

“R. Eleazar answered and said: If circumcision, which attaches to one only of the two hundred and forty-eight members of the human body, suspends the Sabbath, how much more shall [the saving of] the whole body suspend the Sabbath!”
(b.Yoma 85b)

This is in keeping with the Mishnah, which states:

All of the requirements of circumcision may be done on the Sabbath.
(m.Shabbat 18:1; b.Shabbat 128b)

Rabbi Eleazar (in agreement with Yeshua) applies the first rule of Hillel, Kal vechamer “light and heavy” , to argue that if the sabbath is loosed to circumcise an infant on it’s eighth day on the Sabbath, how much more so must it be loosed to heal a whole man on the Sabbath.


And on the great day, which is the last of the feast, Yeshua stood and cried out and said, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures have said, rivers of water of life will flow from his belly.
(Yochanan 7:37-38)

The occasion of this event is the last great day of Sukkot (Jn. 7:2) and the setting appears to be the water libation ceremony at the Temple. A priest had a flask of gold filled with water and another has a flask of gold filled with wine. There were two silver bowls perforated with holes like a narrow snout. One was wide for the water the other is narrow for the wine. The priests poured the wine and water into each of their bowls. The wine and water mixed together. The wine flowing slowly through the narrow snout and the water flowing quickly through the wider snout.
The ceremony is described in the Mishnah as follows:

How was the water libation [performed]?  A golden flagon holding three logs was filled from the Siloam.  When they arrived at the water gate, they sounded a tekiah [long blast], a teru’ah [tremulous note] and again a tekiah [logn blast] [the priest then] went up the ascent [of the altar] and turned to his left where there were two silver bowls.  Rabbi Judah said, They were of plaster [but they looked silver] because their surfaces were darkened from the wine.  They had each a hole like a slender snout, one [hole] being wide and the other narrow so that both emptied themselves together.  The one on the west was for water and the one on the east was for wine.  If one poured the flagon of water into the bowl for wine, or that of wine into that for water, he has fulfilled his obligation.  Rabbi Judah states, With one log he performed the ceremony of the water libation all eight days.  To [the Priest] who performed the libation they used to say, ‘Raise thy hand’; for on a certain occasion, a certain man poured out the water over his feet, and all the people pelted him with their etrogs.

As was its performance on weekdays, so was its performance on the Sabbath, save that on the eve of the Sabbath an unhallowed golden barrel was filled from the Siloam, and placed in a chamber.  If it was poured away or uncovred, it was refilled from the laver, for wine or water which has become uncovered is invalid for the altar.(m.Sukkah 4:9 (b.Sukkah 48a-b)

It was as this ceremony was being performed that Yeshua stood up and said:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures have said,
rivers of water of life will flow from his belly.

Similar imagery appears in the Book of Enoch (see comments to Jude 1:14-15):

And in that place I saw the fountain of righteousness
Which was inexhaustible:
And around it were many fountains of wisdom:
And all the thirsty drank of them,
And were filled with wisdom,
And their dwellings were with the righteous and holy and elect.
(1Enoch 48:1)

And elsewhere in the Mishna:

…Let your house be a gathering place for sages…
and drink in their words with gusto.
(m.Avot 1:4)