Mary's Voice in the Gospel According to John: A New Translation with Commentary by Michael Pakaluk

(New York: Simon and Schuster, 2021), 354

Recall: The progression of the Greek Jn 1:1 speaks of the Word as distinct from the Father but identical in nature:
–The Word was.
–The Word was with God.
–The Word was God.

Pakaluk says in his notes on the translation that the main value in a new translation is that it makes the Gospel fresh to us, as if we are hearing it for the first time. This is most certainly the case for Pakaluk's translation. Just one example is his rendering of John 1:38 as "But Jesus turns in his tracks and takes a look at them"...I can't get this image out of my mind! His commentary is healthily informed by his thesis that Mary gently influenced John's Gospel, but not at the expense of much commentary from Aquinas and Newman and it is not overdone. It is a translation made through the eyes in faith with reverence for our Lord and his first disciples.

I appreciate the ways in which Pakaluk's commentary causes one to consider God's providence in how these stories were remembered and passed down to us. How lucky we are that the Lord allowed Mary to remain with the apostle's after his death and resurrection to pass on her reflections on his life. How painful that must have been for her to be separated from her Son, and yet how much more glorious her heavenly crowning must have been as a result and powerful her intercession for us.


  • The "oversound" of Mary's voice is inspired by the poem Never Again Would Birds' Song Be The Same by Robert Frost (xiv)
  • Motivating question: Can traces of Mary's influence on John be identified? (xv)
  • "Christianity has been the greatest "feminist" force in history...Having been taught by my wife and daughters better to esteem the truths of the Christian faith that affirm and elevate the incommensurate dignity of the feminine nature." (xvi)
  • Jesus conferred Mary to John as his mother in an act that was deliberate, authoritative, typical, and hermeneutical: we should interpret his Gospel in light of this (xviii)
  • Mary, being contemplative, Theotokos, and profoundly creative, is not a person you could live with for thirty years and not be profoundly influenced by (xix)
  • While the disciples were just getting to know Jesus, Mary had been already been contemplating him for thirty years (xxi)
  • Mary was "profoundly creative in expressing the salvation history of the Jewish people" in her Magnificat (xxii; follow the scriptural references in footnote 6 on xxiii to meditate upon her Magnificat)
  • John shows himself to be deferential to John the Baptist, to Peter, to women generally, and to Mary specifically (xxv)
  • Pakaluk's method is similar to Bayesian inference: if we take the thesis of Mary's influence to be true, how is the text illuminated? (xxvi)
  • Some "modes of influence" (causal pathways) by which Mary may have influenced John (xxvii):
    • Deference: through her explicit preferences or by calling events to John's attention, where he deferred to her insights
    • Custom: John became familiar with Mary and assimilated himself to her
    • Attraction: John loved Mary (as a model for us) and was drawn to the beauty of her thought
    • Discipleship: John loved the Lord, and his love of Mary would be a mirror of the Lord's love for her
  • Major features of John's Gospel (xxx)
    • It consists mainly of conversations
    • It is mainly from the point of view of Jesus himself (aided by Mary's meditation upon his identity for many years)
    • Jesus proclaims his divinity clearly and consistently
    • Women play a significant role throughout
    • It speaks of the Passion and Resurrection throughout
  • "A principal goal of this book is to re-present to contemporary Christians the sense in which the original readers of John's Gospel read it." (xxxvii)

The Gospel of John

  • John is concerned about the details that reveal the person in the relationship, such as Jn-01: "But Jesus turns in his tracks and takes a look at them" ^621043
  • John's prologue "represents the insertion of the eternal Word into time by the insertion of one type of text into another" (6)
  • John deftly introduces main themes of his Gospel: truth, light, life, witness, being sent, corresponding to another, manifestation, dwelling and indwelling, sacrifice for sins (7); he starts with the universal and works back to the particular (8)
  • The structure of Jn-01 is rendered thus to capture the emphasis of the Greek and the progression that speaks of the Word as distinct from the Father but identical in nature:
    • The Word was.
    • The Word was with God.
    • The Word was God.
  • Jn-03: "And the Word came to be flesh, and he tabernacled among us."
  • Jn-01: "God—no one, yet, has looked upon him. The Only-Begotten God, he who is, resting on the bosom of the Father—he has made him clear." (2)
  • Mary is likely the source of her dialogue with Jesus at the Wedding at Cana in Jn-02. Given John's deference to her, it is unlikely he would have included Jesus' rebuke of her, and this makes clear that the miracle would not have happened without her. (17)
  • Newman comments on the connection between the "First Supper" at the Wedding at Cana and his Last Supper (18)
  • Jn-02: "Destroy this shrine and in three days I will raise it up": Jesus does not speak of the temple, but the shrine or innermost Holy of Holies where the divinity dwelt (19)
  • Chapters of John map to the sacraments: marriage (chapter 2), baptism (chapter 3), the Eucharist (chapter 6), anointing of the sick (chapter 9), confirmation (chapter 16), confession (chapter 20), and holy orders (chapter 21) (30)
  • "This Gospels is best understood as John's thinking through Jesus' life with the assistance of someone who saw it from a similar point of view as Jesus himself." (32)
  • Jn-03: Jesus apparently wanted to provoke a crisis in Nicodemus, just as Socrates used to do (37)
  • Newman in The Incarnate Son, a Sufferer and Sacrifice: "Only think of this one thing—of the eagerness of the great mass of men after matters of time, after engagements of this world, after gain, after national aggrandizement, after speculations which promise public or private advantage; and having thought of this, turn back to the contemplation of Christ's Cross, and then say, as candid men, whether the world, and all that is in the world, is not as unbelieving now as when Christ came. Does there not seem too great cause to fear that this nation, in spite of its having been baptized into the Cross of Christ, is in so unholy a state, that, did Christ dome among us as he came among the Jews, we should, except a small remnant, reject Him as well as they? May we not be sure that men no-a-days, had they been alive when he came, would have disbelieved and derided the holy and mysterious doctrines which He brought?" (79-80)
  • Jn-08 affirms Jesus as "I AM", a phrase that occurs no more than 3 times in the other Gospels, but 24 (!) times in John (114)
  • Thomas Aquinas cites Gregory the Great (Moralia in Job): afflictions come to us for five reasons (129)
    • Beginning of damnation showing the death that awaits if we don't repent
    • Designed to correct past wrongdoings
    • Steer us from future wrongdoings
    • Encourage virtue
    • Manifest divine glory
  • cf Edith Stein Essays on Woman 177
  • Jesus "loving them completely" in Jn-13 is a reference to the Eucharist which John sees as the consummation of the Lord's love (179)
  • "Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" in Jn-13: Jerome says that John loved to quote this commandment especially at the end of his life (184)
  • Table on 190 shows the verses across the gospels devoted to describing the events of the last supper and passion: John gives little attention to the disciples, but devotes most of his time to Jesus' teaching at the last supper (190)
  • Newman on obedience in Jn-14: "It is obedience which brings a man into the right path; it is obedience keeps him there and strengthens him in it." (198)
  • Jesus' deliberate language in Jn-17 is difficult to reconcile with Universalism (226)
  • Newman warns that it is a mistake to think that the meaning of the words of Scripture is solely their meaning in the context (257, cf Ecce homo in Jn-19, literally "look at this man here" but also "consider man" or "contemplate the human condition")
  • John assumes familiarity with the crucifixion and does not dwell on details, but Newman draws us out of complacence: "This is so fearful a thought, that when the mind first masters it, surely it will be difficult to think of any thing else; so that, while we think of it, we must pray God to temper it to us, and to give us strength to think of it rightly, lest it be too much for us." (260)
  • Consider that John was Jesus' cousin! And he stood beneath the cross with both his natural mother Salome, and his supernatural mother Mary (263)
  • Jn-20: John invites us to have faith as strong as Mary's: Mary didn't need to go to the empty tomb to believe in the resurrection because of the strength of her faith (271)
  • Jn-20: "The peace of Christ is inseparable from going out into the world apostolically. That peace is not a withdrawal, and while the mission can be perilous, it coincides with a fundamental peace of soul." (279)
  • Perhaps the change in the use of Greek words for love in the exchange between Jesus and Peter in Jn-21 is no more than the poetic device of expressing the same thought in slightly different words, or Jesus varying the affirmation of love to imitate the slightly different denials (296).
  • Jn-21: "Newman cites this verse as an exception that proves the rule. It shows that the Evangelists were capable of repeating the Lord's words exactly, but, as a rule, they thought it was enough to convey the same sense." (299)
  • On Life Everlasting and the Assumption of Mary (301)
  • A Note on Translation
    • "My basic aim for this translation has been that it be scrupulously accurate and very clear. I also aimed to make the language beautiful, since John writes beautifully." (315)
    • Identifies his translation more as "formal equivalence" rather than "dynamic equivalence" (316)
    • Three conventions (316):
      • Sharply distinguish the conversations from the narrative
      • Present conversations as they would be in a novel with identification of both sides embedded in the dialogue
      • Convey in English the emphasis connoted by the Greek word order and placement
    • "As regards emphasis and even word order, in my view, many of those translations which, according to the terminology, rightly style themselves as following principles of 'formal equivalence,' are not equivalent enough.'" (317, cf Robert Alter in The Art of Bible Translation)

Topic: The Bible, John



Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons and other works:

  • "The Mystery of Godliness" (36)
  • "Scripture a Record of Human Sorrow" (60)
  • "Christ, the Son of God made Man" (64, 119)
  • "Attendance on Holy Communion" (64)
  • "The Eucharistic Presence" (71, 75, 78, 81)
  • "The Gospel Feast" (74)
  • "Obedience to God the Way to Faith in Christ" (77)
  • "The Incarnate Son, a Sufferer and Sacrifice" (80, 260)
  • "The Shepherd of Our Souls" (141, 277)
  • "Tears of Christ at the Grave of Lazarus" (151, 156)
  • "Christ Manifested in Remembrance" (180, 288)
  • "Christ Hidden from the World" (194)
  • "Saving Knowledge" (195)
  • "The Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Church" (197, 219)
  • "Obedience the Remedy for Religious Perplexity" (198)
  • "The Indwelling Spirit" (199)
  • "Righteousness Not of Us, but in Us" (203)
  • "Christian Repentance" (205)
  • "Witnesses of the Resurrection" (205)
  • "The Gospel Witnesses" (218, 248)
  • "Peace in Believing" (222)
  • "The Gift of the Spirit" (231)
  • "The Unity of the Church" (232)
  • "Christ's Privations a Meditation for Christians" (292)
  • "The Ventures of Faith" (293)
  • "The Yoke of Christ" (297)
  • "Our Lord's Last Supper and First" (18, 178, 222, 264)
  • Apologia Pro Vita Sua (xv)
  • An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (xxx)

Bible Translations he cites:

  • NIV (xiii, "generally excellent" 259)
  • RSVCE (xvii, 137)
  • Douay-Rheims (xvii generally quoted, 60, 258)
  • Vulgate (60, 259)
  • NASB (197)
  • Knox (258)
  • KJV (259, 302)
  • ESV (304)

Created: 2023-01-17-Tue
Updated: 2024-01-14-Sun