Notes on Prayer: John 17:6-8

John 17:6-8

The current Monday Notes on Prayer feature is examining what is perhaps the second most famous prayer in the New Testament—the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. The first two studies focused on verses 1-5; today I will be discussing verses 6-8. These verses follow upon Jesus’ parallel statements in vv. 2 and 4, emphasizing his completion of the mission given to him by the Father, which is the means by which he (as the Son) gives honor (vb. doca/zw) to God the Father.

In discussing verses 4 and 5 last week, I noted that the use of the verb teleio/w (“complete”) must be understood in the context of the Passion setting. The sacrificial death of Jesus represents the climax and culmination of his work on earth, as indicated clearly in his final word on the cross in 19:30 (tete/lestai, “it is completed”). However, it must be stressed again that, in spite of this, the death of Jesus is not what is primarily in view in chapter 17 (nor in the Last Discourse, 13:31-16:33 as a whole). Rather, the main point is the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to God the Father, and how the Son’s mission has been to make the Father known to people (believers) on earth. This aspect of his work is stressed and expounded in verses 6-8, a passage which may be viewed thematically as two parallel statements, each made up of three parts or components:

    • Jesus’ work involving that which God has given to him (vb. di/dwmi, “you gave” [e&dwka$])
      • Believers accepted the word[s] Jesus gave to them, as a witness to the Father, and, as a result
        • They now know (vb. ginw/skw) that Jesus has come from the Father

The first such statement following this pattern is in verses 6-7:

    • “I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave [e&dwka$] to me out of the world” (v. 6a)
      • “They were (belonging) to you and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch (over) your Word [lo/go$]” (v. 6b)
        • “Now they have known [e&gnwkan] that all (thing)s as (many) as you have given to me are (from) alongside of you” (v. 7)

The vocabulary throughout is thoroughly Johannine, and is distinctive, both of the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel, and the fabric of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters) as a whole. A striking example is the first word, a form of the verb fanero/w, “shine forth”. It occurs only once in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 4:22), but is used 9 times in the Gospel of John (1:31; 2:11; 3:21; 7:4; 9:3; here in 17:6, and again in the ‘appendix’, 21:1 [twice], 14). In all 6 occurrences in the Gospel proper, the verb has definite theological (and Christological) significance, as it also does in 1 John where it occurs another 9 times (1:2 [twice]; 2:19, 28; 3:2 [twice], 5, 8; 4:9). It is a key term which refers to both Jesus’ identity (in relation to the Father), and, in turn, the identity of the believer (in relation to both Father and Son). Here the verb summarizes the purpose and result of the Son’s mission on earth—to reveal the Father, defined in terms of making known the Father’s name. This involves much more than simple knowledge of the name Yahweh (the tetragrammaton hwhy, YHWH). According to the ancient Near Eastern mindset, a person’s name represents and embodies (in a quasi-magical way) the character and essence of the person. Thus, to reveal God’s name (lit. to make it “shine forth”) means revealing the person of God Himself. This point, which is fundamental to the Johannine theology (and Christology), is discussed in greater detail in the Christmas series “And you shall call His Name…” (especially the articles on the Names of God).

The name of God and the name of Jesus, together, are fundamental to the thought-world of early Christians, and take on an even deeper significance in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John. References become more frequent in the second half of the book, beginning with 12:28 (note the parallel with 17:1ff), and continuing on through the Last Discourse sequence (14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-24, 26) and the Prayer Discourse of chap. 17 (vv. 6, 11-12, 26). Jesus’ final statement in verse 26 repeats that of v. 6:

“and I made known to them your name, and I will make (it) known…”

The Father’s name plays an important role in vv. 11-12, which will be discussed in turn. Other examples of key Johannine vocabulary in vv. 6-7 are:

    • The verb di/dwmi (“give”) as a way of expressing the close hierarchical and reciprocal relationship between Father and Son—the Father gives to the Son who, in turn, gives to believers, and then, in turn, gives/returns back to the Father. Cf. 3:27, 34-35; 5:22, 26-27, 36; 6:27, 31-39; 10:28-29; 12:49; 13:34; 14:16, 27; 15:16; 16:23; and especially in chapter 17, where it occurs 17 times.
    • The word ko/smo$, “(world) order, world”, which occurs 78 times in the Gospel, and another 24 in the Letters (23 in 1 John, and once in 2 John), more than half of all the occurrences in the New Testament (186). In nearly every such instance in the Gospel and Letters, ko/smo$ is used in a negative, dualistic sense—i.e. the current world-order as opposed to God, governed and controlled by darkness and wickedness. Especially important is the contrast between the “world” and Christ, who came into the world, but does not belong to it. Likewise, believers, in their true identity, do not belong to the world, expressed by the preposition e)k (“out of, from”), as here in v. 6—they come from God, not the world. Again, ko/smo$ is especially frequent in the Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17, occurring 18 times.
    • The noun lo/go$, “account, word, etc” likewise has a special meaning in the Gospel of John, as is clear from its important use in the Prologue (1:1 [3 times], 14). Overall, it occurs 40 times, and 6 more times in the First Letter. In most of these instances there is a layered significance. On the one hand, it is used in the customary sense of “words, speech, thing[s] said”, more or less synonymous with r(h=ma (“utterance, word”); but on the other hand, it expresses the relationship between Father and Son—the Son speaks what he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. Thus the “word” (lo/go$) Jesus gives to his disciples goes beyond any specific teachings; it refers to the revelation of the Father Himself in the person and work of the Son.
    • The verb thre/w (“watch, keep watch over, guard”) is another important Johannine term, occurring 18 times in the Gospel and 7 times in the First Letter. A superficial reading of its use by Jesus might suggest that he is simply referring to a person “keeping” (i.e. following, obeying) his teaching; but clearly there is much more to it than that. The “word” or “command” which one keeps and guards, like the “name”, reflects the very presence of the person himself. This becomes especially apparent throughout the Last Discourse, as the discussion shifts to the promise of the Holy Spirit (the one “called alongside”). The verb thre/w occurs 12 times in the Last Discourse and the Prayer of chap. 17.
    • The verb ginw/skw (“know”, interchangable with ei&dw, “see, know”, etc) occurs 57 times in the Gospel and another 26 in the Letters (about a third of all NT occurrences). In nearly every instance, something more than ordinary knowledge is involved—the emphasis is on recognition of Jesus’ true identity (as Messiah and Son of God) and his relationship to the Father. The verb is used by Jesus 7 times in chapter 17 and another 12 times in the Last Discourse itself.
    • The use of the preposition para/ (“alongside”) in the specific sense of Jesus being (and coming from) alongside of the Father (cf. the prior discussion on v. 5).
    • The verb of being (ei)mi) is used explicitly (and emphatically) quite often in the Gospel of John, as here at the end of v. 7. It frequently carries the specific meaning of true Being and Life which belongs to (and comes from) God the Father.

When we turn to the second statement by Jesus (v. 8), the same three-part conceptual pattern holds, as was outlined above:

    • “the utterances [i.e. words] which you gave [e&dwka$] to me I have given [de/dwka] to them”
      • “and they received (them) [i.e. my words]”
        • “and they knew [e&gnwsan] truly that I came out (from) alongside you,
          and they trusted [e)pi/steusan] that you se(n)t me (forth) from (you)”

The twin statements that close verse 8 emphasize the point made above: knowing (vb. ginw/skw) in the Gospel of John does not involve ordinary knowledge, but is synonymous with trust in Jesus. This verse also makes clear that the verb thre/w does not refer primarily to legal obedience (of Jesus’ commands, etc), but to trust and acceptance of who he is: the Son come from the Father. Receiving his words is essentially the same thing as receiving him (1:12, etc).

This second statement in verse 8 may be viewed as epexegetical, further explaining and building upon that in vv. 6-7. The joining point is the (subordinating) conjunctive particle (o%ti) at the start of v. 8, which is best understood as causal—”in that”, i.e. “because”, “for”, providing the reason for the conclusion in v. 7. The disciples have come to know the truth about Jesus’ relationship to the Father because they have received what Jesus (the Son) received from the Father. The chain of giving is: Father => Son => Believers. Each point in this chain is a point of revelation (‘shining forth’, v. 6a), by which God the Father is ultimately made known to human beings (believers).

In verse 9, Jesus begins a new direction in his prayer, speaking to the Father on behalf of his disciples (believers). We will begin examining this next section (vv. 9-12) in next week’s notes.