Textual Note on Psalm 2:12

Textual Note on Psalm 2:12

(This note is supplemental to the current study on Psalm 2)

The difficulties surrounding the last two words of verse 11 and the first two of verse 12 have led many commentators to believe that the Hebrew text as it has come down to us (i.e. the Masoretic Text [MT]) is corrupt in one or both places. Especially awkward is the expression “kiss the son”, the customary rendering of the MT rb-wqvn. While this might be appealing to Christians in terms of devotion to Jesus (the Son), for many, if not most, critical commentators today, the presence of the Aramaic word rB^ here seems quite out of place. Just once elsewhere in the entire Hebrew Bible (Prov 31:2) do we find the Aramaic rB^ used, instead of the Hebrew /B# (“son”); indeed, the normal Hebrew word was used earlier in this very Psalm (v. 7). That the text here proved difficult even in ancient times, is indicated by the various ways v. 12 was rendered by the early translations.

The Aramaic Targums, often highly interpretive and paraphrastic translations, here at verse 12 have an`p*l=Wa WlyB!q^ (“receive instruction”). Whether this reflects a different underlying Hebrew, or simply an interpretive rendering, is unclear; it may have been influenced by the use of the Hebrew adjective rB^ (cf. below) in Psalm 19:9. In any case, this line of translation/interpretation was followed by the Septuagint (dra/casqe paidei/a$), and entered into the Latin Vulgate (apprehendite disciplinam). Other early translators understood rB^ to be a different (Hebrew) word, derived from the root rrb (meaning to be bright, shining, often in the sense of “pure, clean”), either as a substantive adjective or an adverb. The latter results in the meaning of the expression being something like “worship purely”, which is reflected in the Greek versions of Aquila and Symmachus, and the Latin of Jerome (adorate pure, cf. the Vulgate “B” text). Unfortunately, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide no help in this instance, since verse 12 is not preserved in either of the Psalms manuscripts (11QPsc and 3QPs) which contain Psalm 2. We are left to grapple with the Masoretic Text, comparing it with the ancient Versions.

There are a number of solutions to the apparent textual difficulty in verse 12, reflecting various degrees of confidence in the Masoretic Text (MT)—the consonantal text and/or the vocalization provided by the Masoretes. Let us consider each of them in turn.

1. Some traditional-conservative commentators are willing to take the MT as it stands, and would explain the peculiarity of the Aramaic (rB^ instead of /B#) as an accommodation to avoid the awkwardness and potential confusion (when reciting the text) of having two similar-sounding words in sequence: /P# /B# (ben pen). The viability of this solution is difficult to judge, since, as far as I am aware, this is the only instance in the Old Testament Scriptures where the two words would have occurred in close proximity. It does not resolve the awkwardness of the expression “kiss the son” in the overall context of verses 10-12, which otherwise appear to refer primarily to the nations’ response to YHWH (not the king).

2. Other commentators would follow Aquila, Jerome, etc, in understanding rB^ not as the Aramaic word, but as the Hebrew adjective (or adverb) derived from the root rr^B* (cf. above). It could be read either as a substantive adjective (i.e., “[the] pure [one]”) or adverb (“purely”), the former being much more likely. This would require no modification of the Masoretic Text, and would have much the same general sense as solution #1—i.e., as a reference to the king, presumably, as the “pure” (or “bring/shining”) one. There may be some basis for such an epithet for the king, based on earlier (cognate) use of the root rrb in Canaanite (Ugaritic).

3. A solution introduced in the early 20th century (by A. Bertholet) would view the MT here in vv. 11-12 as corrupt, the four words (last two of v. 11 and first two of v. 12) having become scrambled. The emendation would involve primarily the word order (and separation):

    • MT (vocalized txt): rB^-WqV=n~ hd*u*rB! WlyG]w+
    • MT (consonantal): rb wqvn hdurb wlygw
    • Emendation [CT]: wylgrb wqvn hdurb
    • Emendation [VT]: wyl*g+r^b= WqV=n~ hd*u*rB!

The Masoretic text (“…circle round with trembling. Kiss the son…”) has been modified to read “With trembling kiss his feet”. See how this would fit in the context of vv. 10-12:

10(So) at (this) time, you should act with intelligence, (you) kings,
(and) receive correction, (you) judges of the earth!
11Serve YHWH with fear,
and with trembling 12kiss His feet,
lest He flare (His) nostrils [i.e. become angry] and you perish (in your) path,
for his nostrils start burning in little (time) [i.e. quickly]!”

A number of distinguished commentators (e.g., Kraus, Hossfeld/Zenger) have adopted this emendation, and it is used in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation, among others.

4. Dahood [D], in his provocative Commentary, offers a different solution, one which preserves the consonantal text (and word order) of the MT; he simply parses the letters differently (ignoring matres lectiones, i.e. letters used for vowels):

    • MT: rb wqvn (rB^ WqV=n~, “kiss the son”)
    • [D]: rbq vn (rb#q* yv@n+, “men of the grave”)

where <yv!n` (“men”) is short for <yv!n`a&. He draws upon similar expressions such as “man of death”, “sons of death” (1 Kings 2:26; 1 Sam 26:16), and understands it in the sense of “mortal men”, i.e. men who are destined for the grave. To see how this alters the emphasis of vv. 10-12, I insert his rendering into my translation of vv. 10-12 above:

10(So) at (this) time, you should act with intelligence, (you) kings,
(and) receive correction, (you) judges of the earth!
11Serve YHWH with fear,
and go around with trembling,
12(you) men of the grave,
lest He flare (His) nostrils and you perish (in your) path,
for his nostrils start burning in little (time) [i.e. quickly]!”

The expression “men of the grave” would then be parallel with “kings” and “judges of the earth”, adding to the polemic of the passage as a warning to the surrounding rulers who might be planning revolt at the accession of the new/young Israelite king. Dahood’s proposed solution is most intriguing, if a bit too speculative to adopt outright.

How should honest and sincere students of Scripture deal with such complex textual questions? While the Masoretic Text must be respected, blind adherence to it is certainly no virtue, especially when this extends to the vocalization of the consonantal text. Is to be regretted that Ps 2:11-12 is not among the preserved Scripture manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls; if it were, we may well have a definitive solution to the question at hand. Perhaps the best approach is to bring together and integrate three different aspects, or points of emphasis, in the Psalm which are reflected in the main solutions outlined above:

    1. The (new) Israelite king as the “son” (in a symbolic sense) of YHWH. This is the point made, of course, in verse 7f, and it drives home the central tenet of the Israelite royal theology: the special status of Israel’s ruler in relation to God (YHWH), who provides Divine power and protection on his behalf. The Masoretic text of v. 12, as customarily rendered, reflects this theological emphasis—to “serve YHWH with fear” means that one also must do homage to the Israelite king (“kiss the son”).
    2. The proposed emendation (solution #3 above) enhances the exhortation (and warning) for the rulers of the surrounding nations to serve YHWH the God of Israel. While this includes showing proper homage to the Israelite king, the emphasis in vv. 10-12 is rather on what it means to rebel against the king—it is the same as rebelling against YHWH Himself! This is why vv. 10-12 focus on the need to treat YHWH with the respect He deserves; the danger for not doing so is grave indeed. Thus the emphatic parallelism of vv. 11-12a (according to the emended text): “Serve YHWH with fear, (and) with trembling kiss His feet”.
    3. Dahood’s alternate parsing/division of the first two words of v. 12 gives to the entirety of vv. 10-12 a three-fold parallelism which is most attractive, even though it creates a tension in the rhythm of the lines. It enhances, vividly and dramatically, the warning/exhortation to the rulers of the surrounding nations (and to the nations as a whole). Note the structure of the parallelism:
      • act with intelligence
        • you kings—i.e. the rulers of the surrounding nations
      • receive correction
        • you judges of the earth—i.e. what you think yourselves to be
      • serve YHWH with fear
        go around with trembling
        • you men of the grave—i.e. what you ultimately are, mortals in the face of God

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen 1-59 (English translation Fortress Press: 1993 [Continental Commentary]).
Those marked “Hossfeld/Zenger” are to F.-L. Hossfeld and E. Zenger, Die Psalmen: Psalm 1-50, Die Neue Echter Bibel: Kommentar zum Alten Testament mit der Einheitsübersetzung (Echter Verlag: 1993).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 2

Psalm 2

The second Psalm is, in many respects the first Psalm proper of the collection, with Psalm 1 (discussed previously) being better viewed as a prologue or introduction to the Psalter. This is likely reflected in the variant reading of Acts 13:33; at the very least, there is some confusion in the manuscript tradition regarding how the Psalms were numbered. Psalm 1 is a piece of Wisdom literature, as the analysis given last week demonstrates, and likely dates from a later period, after most (if not all) of the Psalms had already been composed. Psalm 2, on the other hand, clearly stems from the kingdom period and, in both substance and language, may date back very nearly to the time of Solomon (10th century B.C.). It is thus fitting as the first Psalm of the collection; moreover, the royal theology reflected in it can be found in many of the Psalms, and is a central component of the Psalter (and to our understanding of it). This aspect was preserved in subsequent Israelite and Jewish tradition and informed Messianic beliefs regarding a future/end-time Davidic Ruler (on this, cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Psalm 2, given a Messianic interpretation, was applied to Jesus already in the very earliest stages of Christian tradition; its widespread application is seen at numerous points in the New Testament (Mark 1:11 par [Lk 3:22 v.l.]; 9:7 par; Acts 4:25-26ff; 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5).

In many ways, Psalm 2 is the royal Psalm par excellence—certainly, nowhere else is the Israelite/Judean royal theology presented so concisely and forcefully. It is generally recognized by most scholars that the setting of the Psalm is the accession (coronation/enthronement) of the new king; however, there are few clear signs of a specific ritual use of the Psalm. Thematically, Psalm 2 has a basic three-part structure, which may be outlined as follows:

    • Depiction of the surrounding nations and their rulers (at the time of the king’s coronation)—vv. 1-3
    • The Enthronement: YHWH and the King—vv. 4-9
    • Warning to the nations and their rulers (with the new king now enthroned)—vv. 10-12

The Psalm more or less follows the typical 3 + 3 bicola meter—i.e. three stressed syllables for each half line (colon).

Verses 1-3

The first two verses run parallel and show what the nations and their rulers are doing; in verse 3 they declare their intentions, climaxing in a sudden act of rebellion. In the ancient world, the accession of a new king (especially if he happened to be a child or young man) provided an opportunity, at this time of transition, for vassals and rulers of surrounding territories to seek to gain independence and/or power of their own. Acts of rebellion and warfare were not uncommon at such moments. This is what we see depicted in verse 1-3. At the time of accession, before the new (Israelite/Judean) king has the chance to establish/consolidate his rule, vassals and other surrounding nations are plotting to take action. Let us examine the structure of these lines, and some of the key words involved.

hM*l* (“for what”, i.e. “for what purpose, why”)—the opening word summarizes the wickedness and futility of such plans for rebellion. Despite the youth and/or inexperience of the new king, and the apparent vulnerability of the Israelite/Judean kingdom at this moment, king and kingdom have the protection of God (YHWH) himself. This is the point made in verses 4-9.

There is a chiastic parallelism to the remainder of words in verse/line 1:

    • “they throng (together)” [Wvg+r*]
      • “(the) nations” [<y]og]
      • “and (the) peoples” [<yM!u%l=W]
    • “they mutter empty (threats)” [qyr!-WGh=y#]

Moreover, the final word (qy!r, “emptiness, empty [thing]”) echoes the futility of the first (“for what, why”). The two verbs are certainly parallel, in a synonymous or synthetic manner:

    • vg~r* (r¹gaš)—this relatively rare verb, often translated “rage” here, more properly refers to a group or throng of people coming together, with a hostile intent or purpose (cf. also Psalm 55:14; 64:2).
    • hg`h* (h¹gâ)—this basic verb seems to refer to someone (or something) making a low/deep sound, as of a person moaning or an animal growling (Isa 31:4; 38:14; 59:11). It is used in the context of mourning in Isa 16:7; Jer 48:31. Figuratively, it can be used of words or thoughts coming from the heart, often in a negative or hostile sense (Prov 24:2; Isa 8:19; 59:3, 13; Lam 3:62), but also for the thoughts/words of the righteous and devout (Ps 1:2; 19:15; 35:28; 63:7; Prov 15:28, etc). Typically it is understood here in terms of negative/hostile thoughts (i.e. plans for rebellion, etc); however, Dahood (p. 7) cites the cognate usage in the Canaanite Kirta text (lines 90-91) where the root seems to be used in the sense of counting/numbering military troops. This meaning would fit the context of the Psalm as well.

The two nouns are also parallel and complementary, forming a hendiadys: “nations” (<y]og) and “peoples” (<yM!u%)—i.e. all of the surrounding people who are (and have been) under the influence and authority of the Israelite/Judean king, including individuals, socio-political and ethnic groups, vassal states, and separate kingdoms. This comprehensive depiction sets the stage for the warning—to any and all who might seek to rebel at the time of the new king’s coronation—at the end of the Psalm (vv. 10-12). In verse 2, the rulers of these nations/peoples are in view, following a similar poetic parallelism as in verse 1; note the sequence of words:

    • “they set/place themselves” (Wbx=y~t=)
      • “(the) kings of (the) earth” (Jr#a#-yk@l=m^)
      • “and (the) honored (one)s” (<yn]z+orw+)
    • “they are set/established” (Wds=on)

These parallel and partially synonymous verbs need to be considered:

The verb /z~r* should also be noted; it is similar in meaning to db^k*, “(be) weighty, worthy, honored/honorable” (cf. Judg 5:3; Prov 8:5; 31:4; Isa 40:23; Hab 1:10. Here the participle is parallel to “kings of the earth” and refers to persons who have a commanding presence or position, i.e. ruler, prince, etc; a related noun has a similar meaning (Prov 14:28). With all this in mind, here are verses 1-2 in full translation:

“For what [i.e. why] do the nations throng together,
and for (what) do the peoples mutter empty (threats)?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the honored (one)s are set (firmly),
against YHWH and against his Anointed.”

The rebellious plans and actions are directed against the new king (“[the] anointed [one]”, j^yv!m*), but, at the same time, also against Yahweh Himself; this is to be expounded in vv. 4-9. The drama of the scene continues to build in verse 3, where the rulers speak and declare their rebellious intent:

“We shall pull off their (cord)s binding (us)
and we shall throw away their ropes from (off of) us!”

This is a typical example of synonymous parallelism in Hebrew poetry, in which the second line heightens and intensifies the first. The verbs qt^n` (“pull, drag, draw [away]”) and El^v* (“throw, drag [away]”), along with the nouns rs@m) (from rs^a*, i.e. something which binds) and tb)u& (“woven [strands]”, i.e. rope), create a doubling which underlines the hostile intent of the rulers, but also, in a sense, the futility of their efforts. From the standpoint of the historical setting, the pronoun suffix “their” (o[m]) could simple refer to the Israelites; however, based on the context of what preceded in verse 2, the plural certainly refers to “YHWH and his Anointed” (i.e. God and the new king, together). The rebellious hostility of the rulers is directed specifically, and ultimately, against Yahweh and the anointed King of Israel/Judah.

Verses 4-9

In these verses, the focus shifts to the coronation and enthronement of the new king, who is under the protection of YHWH. This ruler is referred to specifically as “his [i.e. Yahweh’s] Anointed”. There would have been an actual anointing ceremony involved at the accession/coronation of the king, but here we see expressed the religious and theological dimension—the king is anointed by God, and belongs under His authority and protection. The power ruling Israel/Judah ultimately belongs to God, not the king. This is the basis for the Israelite royal theology in the Psalms, which we see expounded throughout vv. 4-9. It begins in striking fashion, emphasizing not the king’s enthronement, but that of God’s own throne in Heaven:

“The (One) sitting in the heavens laughs,
My Lord [yn`d)a&] chatters at them”

Both verbs indicate mocking derision: (a) qj^c* (equivalent to qj^x*), “laugh (at)”, perhaps in the sense of “play/toy (with)”; and (b) gu^l*, apparently a kind of stuttering/stammering, done in a mocking manner. In verse 5, the mockery gives way to more direct action against the rebels; but does God act by speaking, or by driving away and scattering his enemies in a more primal and concrete sense? Based on a customary reading of the MT, verse 5 begins:

“Then he speaks to them…” (omyl@a@ rB@d^y+ za*)

where omyla is read as the preposition la + object suffix; however, Dahood reads this as the noun lya (“ram”) with defective spelling, the expression “their rams” being a reference to the valiant warriors and commanders of the rebellious rulers. At the same time, Dahood understands the verb rbd not in the ordinary sense of “open the mouth, speak, say”, but according to the Akkadian duppuru/dubburu, “pursue, drive (away)” (p. 9; citing Chicago Assyrian Dictionary [CAD] III (D), p. 188a). For other Old Testament examples, he cites Psalm 56:5; 116:10; 127:5; Jer 9:20-21; Lam 5:9. According to this reading, v. 5 would be:

“Then he drives away their ‘rams’ [i.e. warriors]…”

Most notably, in support of this reading, I would point out Exodus 15:15, in the Song of the Sea; cf. also 2 Kings 24:15; Job 19:22 (Dahood, p. 9). The parallel use of the verb lh^B* (also in Ex 15:15) would seem to support this sense as well; it adds to the idea of God creating a disturbance which alarms and frightens the rebels, causing them move quickly (run away, etc). The nouns [a^ (lit. “nostril”, fig. “anger”) and /orj* (“burning”) add to the graphic depiction of the scene, often obscured in conventional English translation. Here is my rendering (using Dahood’s reconstruction of v. 5a for the moment):

“Then he drives away their ‘rams’ with his nostril(s flaring),
he frightens them (all) with his burning (anger)”

Verse 6 has proven even more problematic for commentators. As it stands, the Masoretic text reads:

“And I have placed [yT!k=s^n~] my king upon ‚iyyon,
upon (the) mountain of my holiness”

However, this has been frequently emended, based largely upon the reading of some Greek manuscripts, whereby it is the king speaking rather than God: “I have been placed (as) his king [Heb. oKl=m^ yT!k=S^n]?] upon ‚iyyon…”. Dahood (p. 10) repoints the MT to give a slightly different reading, along the same lines: “But I have been anointed [yT!k)s%n+] (as) his king upon ‚iyyon…”. According to this interpretation the waw (w+) at the beginning of the verse is contrastive: “Then he drives away their ‘rams’…but I have been set/anointed (as) his king…”. Following the traditional MT, the conjunction would indicate a dramatic climax to God’s action in v. 5: “Then he drives away…he frightens them…and (then says), ‘(See) I have placed my king upon ‚iyyon…”. If we keep to the understanding of the verb rbd in verse 5 as “speak”, then verse 6 represents what YHWH says to the rebels.

If it is God speaking in verse 6, then verse 7, in which the king is (again) clearly the speaker, suggests a dramatic dialogue, of sorts, within the Psalm. If the king is the speaker in verse 6, then v. 7 simply builds upon this scenario:

“But I have been placed (as) his king upon ‚iyyon,
upon (the) mountain of his holiness,
(and) I will recount the inscribed (decree) of YHWH
(in which) he said to me
‘You (are) my Son—I have given birth to you th(is) day!

Whichever is the precise scenario envisioned in vv. 6-7, all commentators can agree that vv. 7b-9, the remainder of the section, represents the “inscribed (decree)” [qj)] of Yahweh, in which God lays out His relationship with the Israelite/Judean king. God is the Ruler of All, enthroned in Heaven, and it is He, through His own written (inscribed/engraved) decree, who gives ruling power and authority to the king. This authority includes rule over the surrounding peoples and nations, extending even to “the ends of the earth”. It is this idea of the Israelite/Judean king’s authority over all the nations which influenced certain aspects of Messianic thought—i.e. the coming Davidic Ruler who will subdue the wicked nations and usher in God’s (end-time) Judgment against them. The influence of verses 7-9 can be seen both in the New Testament (Luke 3:22 v.l.; Acts 4:25-26ff; Heb 1:5; 5:5; Rev 2:27; 12:5), and in other Jewish writings of the period (e.g. Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25; 2/4 Esdras 13:33ff). For more on the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 2 (esp. verse 7) by early Christians, see Parts 6-8 and 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Here is my rendering of verses 7b-9:

“You (are) my Son—I have given birth to you th(is) day!
As (for it) from me, and I will give the nations (for) your inheritance,
and the ends of the earth (as land) seized for your (possession).
You will break them with a staff of iron,
(and) shatter them (to) pieces like vessel(s) shaped (from clay).”

Verses 10-12

A precise interpretation of these closing verses of the Psalm depend much on the textual question surrounding the last two words of v. 11 and the first two of v. 12. Because of the complexities involved, I have devoted a separate note to a discussion of the matter. Fortunately, a general interpretation is still possible, and, indeed, clear enough from the overall context. If the enthronement of the new king is the focus in vv. 4-9, here in verses 10-12 we have a warning to the surrounding nations, now that the king is on the throne. This time-indicator is present in the opening word of verse 10, hT*u^w+, which means something like “and (so) at (this) time”, i.e., “and now…”. I take the context of the warning which follows to be two-fold: (a) you missed your chance to rebel before the enthronement, (b) now that he is enthroned you must not dare to rebel against him. However one ultimately understands the first two words of verse 12 (customarily read as “kiss the son…”, cf. the supplemental note), there can be no doubt of the idea, central to the royal theology, that the Israelite king is under the protection of YHWH, and any action against the king is effectively taken against God Himself. Thus we have the forceful warning (and exhortation) for the surrounding nations, with their rulers, to submit to the rule of YHWH—who is ultimately the one on the throne (in Heaven). The closing line of the Psalm makes clear that the orientation of the work, as it has come down to us, transcends the original (historical) setting with its Israelite royal theology. Indeed, we find an echo of the beatitude that begins the first Psalm (cf. the earlier study):

“(The) happiness of all (the one)s trusting in Him!”

Thus, the second Psalm, despite the historical origins of its content, is not addressed merely to the rulers of the nations, but to the nations themselves—to all people everywhere. The one who serves as God’s representative on earth, among the people, is rightly called His “son”, being the heir to God’s own ruling power, with the privileges and protections that come from such a position. The central message of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is that divine representative, the Son of God, in the fullest possible sense, and all the ones who trust in him have the happiness and blessedness of knowing that they, too, share in that same status and position—of being children of God.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 16 (1965).

“…Spirit and Life”: John 14:6, 9

John 14:6, 19

Today’s note will examine two statements by Jesus in the great “Last Discourse”, set in the narrative on the night of the Last Supper (13:31-16:33 + chap. 17). The entire discourse-scene is extremely complex, bringing in and developing themes which occurred throughout the earlier discourses. Two of these involve “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/)—the very two motifs (cf. Jn 6:63) which are the focus of this series. The latter dominated the first half of the Gospel (chapters 1-12 [32 times]); by comparison, zwh/ appears just four times in the remainder of the book (14:6; 17:2-3; 20:31). It has been suggested that the reason for this is that the Life promised by Jesus, through trust in him, is now coming to fruition as his Passion draws near. A better explanation is simply that there is considerably less teaching by Jesus in chapters 13-20, and it is of a different character—given only to his closest disciples in order to prepare them for his upcoming death and departure (back to the Father). For this reason, the coming of the Spirit takes on greater emphasis and importance in the Last Discourse.

John 14:6

I have discussed the famous saying of Jesus in 14:6 in an earlier pair of notes (on vv. 4-7), and will not reproduce that entire study here. Instead, I wish to focus primarily on Jesus’ use of the word “life” (zwh/) in this saying, in connection to the overall context of the passage, which has to do with Jesus’ departure, introduced in 13:33:

“(My dear) offspring [i.e. children], (it is) yet (only) a little (while that) I am with you—you will seek (for) me, and even as I said to the Yehudeans {Jews}, ‘(the) place where I lead (myself) under, you are not able to come (there)’, and (so) I say (this) to you now.”

This refers back to statements by Jesus during the Sukkoth discourse-scene in chapters 7-8 (7:33-36; 8:21-22), statements made to the “Jews”—that is, the (Jewish) people, as opposed to Jesus’ (Jewish) disciples (i.e. believers). It is now in the Last Discourse that Jesus is speaking directly (and only) to his true disciples (Judas having departed in 13:30). Yet, even his disciples had difficulty understanding this statement, much as the people did earlier. Peter is the first to ask—

“Lord, where [pou=] do you lead (yourself) under?” (13:36a)

to which Jesus responds with a similar statement as in v. 33, but with an important difference:

“The place where I lead (myself) under, you are not able to follow me now [nu=n], but you will follow later [u%steron]” (v. 36b)

To the people, Jesus used the word come, but to Peter he says follow, indicating the role of the disciple who follows his master (and the master’s example). Also, it is only now, at the present moment, that Peter (and the other disciples) are not able to follow Jesus; the promise is that they will be able to follow later on. There is a strong sense throughout the Last Discourse that the disciples are only just beginning to realize the truth about who Jesus is, and to understand the full meaning of his words (the motif of misunderstanding is prominent in all of the Johannine discourses).

Picking up from the tradition of the prediction of Peter’s denial (13:37-38), the exchange which follows in 14:1ff returns to the theme of Jesus’ departure, which now is made more clear—he is going away, back to the Father:

“In my Father’s house there are many (place)s to stay… I am traveling (there) to make ready a place for you” (v. 2)

Readers can find confusing these references to Jesus’ departure, which seem to blend together two distinct contexts (from the standpoint of the traditional Gospel narrative)—(1) his death, and (2) his ascension to heaven. In 13:33ff, Jesus is apparently speaking of his upcoming death, but now, in 14:1ff, the context seems to be his “ascension” to the Father in heaven. These two aspects are interrelated, and have been interwoven throughout the Gospel of John; both are contained in the initial statement by Jesus in 13:31, through use of the verb doca/zw (“give [or regard with] honor/esteem”). The ambiguity of these aspects continues through the Last Discourse, adding poignancy to the exchange between Jesus and Thomas in vv. 4-7:

(Jesus): “And the place where I lead (myself) under, you see [i.e. know] the way (there)”
(Thomas): “Lord, we have not seen where you lead (yourself) under; how are we able to have seen the way (there)?”
(Jesus): “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the way and the truth and the life—no one comes toward the Father, if not [i.e. except] through me…”

In the Gospel of John, seeing and knowing are essentially synonymous—”seeing” Jesus means “knowing” (i.e. recognizing) him. The motif of misunderstanding here in the discourse involves the idea of the way (o%do$). Thomas is thinking of a conventional (physical) path leading to a location, but the true meaning of Jesus’ statement is spiritual—it is not a way up through the clouds to heaven, but the path that leads directly to God the Father through the person of Jesus (the Son). This is made clear by Jesus’ use of the preposition dia/ (“through”), which is often obscured in translation. The way to the Father leads through Jesus. The theological context of the Johannine discourses suggests two main aspects to this way, or path:

    1. it is found through trust in Jesus
    2. it is realized through the presence of the Spirit

It is possible that both aspects are incorporated into the statement in verse 6:

    • “and the truth [a)lh/qeia]”—i.e. trust in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father, who is Truth
    • “and the life [zwh/]”—i.e. the Spirit, given by Jesus to the believer

Ultimately, Jesus identifies himself with all three terms—Way, Truth, and Life—a triad which can be variously interpreted. Does the Way lead to Truth and Life, or does it lead to Truth which then results in Life? Or are the terms meant to be synonymous—i.e. Way = Truth = Life? A strong argument can be made that Truth and Life are to be regarded as essentially synonymous, given the close associations between “Spirit/Life” and “Spirit/Truth”—and that the Spirit is the unifying idea. This would seem to be confirmed by the references to the Spirit which follow throughout chapters 14-16.

John 14:19

The basic message of vv. 1-7ff is restated in vv. 18-21:

    • Jesus’ departure: “I will not leave you abandoned…” (v. 18)
    • Inability of people to come: “(It is) yet a little (while), and (then) the world will no longer see/observe me…” (v. 19)
    • The disciples will see/follow him: “I come toward you… you (do) see/observe me…” (vv. 18-19)
    • Jesus leads the way to the Father: “…you will know that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (v. 20)

In verse 19, the disciples’ seeing Jesus is entirely different that the sight/observance by the “world”; it means trust in him—i.e. disciples are believers. They know/see the truth, which is manifest in the person of Jesus (1:14, 17; 5:33; 8:32, etc). With regard to life (zwh/), Jesus is more specific:

“…in that [i.e. because] I live [zw=], you also will live [zh/sete]”

This reflects the statement in 5:26, of the divine/eternal Life which Jesus possesses (given to him by the Father), and which he, in turn, gives to believers. This theme was prominent in the Lazarus scene in chapter 11 (cf. especially vv. 20-27), and in the earlier discourses as well. That the Life which Jesus gives is to be identified with the Spirit, is relatively clear from a number of passages, as has been discussed in prior notes, and more or less stated explicitly in 3:34. If there were any doubt that the Spirit is in view here in 14:19, one need only look to the preceding verses 15-17, where we find the first specific reference to the Spirit in the Last Discourse. This will be discussed in the next note.