September 2: John 17:8

John 17:8

The saying of Jesus in Jn 17:8 is noteworthy for the many key-words and terms which are combined in a single verse. Here more than eight key concepts and elements of Johannine vocabulary are brought together. It thus serves as a kind of summary of the thought expressed in the discourses of Jesus, as well as the Johannine writings as a whole, and which I have explored in the recent article on “Knowledge and Revelation in John”.

Verse 8 is part of the prayer-discourse of Jesus that makes up chapter 17. For an outline of this chapter, cf. my earlier note on 17:3. The main section (vv. 7-23) is framed by transitional ‘refrains’ (vv. 4-6, 24-26) which convey two main themes of Jesus’ prayer to the Father:

    • Jesus’ relationship with the Father: the pre-existent glory
    • That Jesus has shone forth (manifested) the Father’s name

The core of the prayer-discourse in vv. 7-23 deals more with Jesus’ disciples (believers)—his petition is on their behalf. Verse 7 picks up from v. 6, which effectively summarizes the main thrust of the prayer:

“I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave me out of the world. They are yours [lit. of you] and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch (over) [i.e. guarded] your word [lo/go$].”

Verse 7 brings in the important theme of the disciples’ knowledge:

“Now they have known that all (thing)s, as (many) as you have given me, are (from) alongside [para/] of you.”

Some MSS read the first person singular e&gnwn (“I have known”), but the context—especially the use of the particle nu=n (“now”) —strongly indicates that the third person plural is correct. In the verses that follow (9-12), three basic themes are expressed:

    • The disciples were given to Jesus by God the Father
    • He (Jesus) has guarded them by the Name which the Father gave to him
    • He asks that the Father continue to guard them in this Name

On the last point, presumably the presence of the Spirit is in mind (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7ff), though this is not stated.

This establishes the setting of verse 8, which I first give in translation here, and afterwards I will discuss each key word or concept in the order it occurs in the verse. To begin with, the connecting particle o%ti joins verses 7-8 as a single sentence; primarily it relates back to e&gnwkan (“they have known”)—i.e., “they have known…(in) that [o%ti]…”. In other words, it explains what it is the disciples know and how they came to know it.

“…(in) that the words [r(h/mata] which you gave to me I have given to them, and they received (them) and knew truly that I came out (from) alongside of you, and they (have) trusted that you se(n)t me forth.”

ta\ r(h/mata (“the words”)—The noun r(h=ma, best translated “utterance”, i.e. something spoken or uttered, I render here generally as “word”. It occurs 12 times in the Gospel (3:34; 5:47; 6:63, 68; 8:20, 47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:10; 15:7), always in the plural (r(h/mata, “things uttered, words”). In the Johannine vocabulary, it is largely interchangeable with lo/go$ (“word, account”), though the latter occurs much more frequently (40 times in the Gospel, another 7 in the Letters). The plural r(h/mata perhaps refers more directly to specific sayings or teachings by Jesus, but should not be limited to this sense. In 3:34, these words are identified as those which God the Father speaks (cf. 8:47), the Son saying what he has heard the Father say (14:10, etc). In 6:63, Jesus’ words are identified with (the) Spirit and (eternal) Life (cf. also v. 68). As in the case of the noun lo/go$, Jesus’ word (r(h=ma) is essentially the same as the person (and presence, power, etc) of Jesus himself (cf. 5:47; 15:7). The words (r(h/mata) and word (lo/go$) are to remain/abide in (e)n) the true believer, and the believer in the word(s) (5:38; 8:31, 37; 1 Jn 1:10; 2:5, 14, etc). Later in the prayer-discourse (17:14), Jesus gives virtually the same statement as in v. 8, using lo/go$: “I have given to them your word“. This Word is also closely related to the Name of the Father which was given to Jesus, and which Jesus has given or made known, in turn, to his disciples. On this Name, cf. the attached separate note.

e&dwka$ (“you gave”)—That is, “the words which you gave to me…” (cf. 3:34). On the specific motif of Jesus (the Son) saying and doing what he hears/sees the Father saying and doing, cf. the current article. The verb di/dwmi (“give”) is used quite often (75 times) in the Gospel, including 24 times in the Last Discourse, and 17 times in this prayer-discourse alone. It is thus a most important term, closely tied to the Johannine concepts of revelation and salvation in the person of Christ. Jesus (the [only] Son) comes from the Father, and so receives everything from the Father (see v. 7)—both in the sense of learning and inheriting—as a faithful son. Jesus imitates the Father, as a perfect reflection and representation of God the Father; as such, his words are the words the Father gave him to speak. Again, this word cannot be separated from the name of the Father.

de/dwka (“I have given”)—There is here a simple parallelism—”you gave to me, I have given to them“—which neatly expresses this idea of Jesus (the Son) imitating the Father. The perfect tense of the verb here, which typically indicates past action that continues into the present, may imply the incarnation, i.e. the presence of the eternal Son (and Word) with his people on earth. After his departure, this presence (and Word) will continue and remain with believers through the Spirit. Even more important to the immediate context of chapter 17, is the idea that Jesus has given—manifest (“shone forth”) and made known—the name of the Father to his disciples.

e&labon (“they received”)—Like the verb di/dwmi (“give”), the conceptually related lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”) occurs frequently in John (46 times, and another 6 in the Letters), and usually with special theological significance. Jesus receives from the Father (10:18), and the disciples receive from Jesus, though, in the Johannine idiom, to “receive” Jesus specifically means to accept him and his words (3:11, 32-33; 5:43-44; 12:48; 13:20). The verb is also used in connection with the disciples receiving the Spirit (7:39; 20:22; and note also 14:17; 16:14-15). Of special importance is the use of the verb in 1:12 (and cf. v. 16). For more on the image of giving/receiving, cf. the recent article.

e&gnwsan (“they knew”)—The aorist form would be translated literally as “they knew”, though we might have expected the perfect tense (i.e., “they received and have come to know”); yet the aorist matches the previous e&labon (“they received”), with which it is connected. Perhaps Jesus is describing the condition of the disciples at the moment, i.e. “now” (nu=n, see v. 7). A better explanation would be to view the disciples’ receiving and knowing as dual aspects of the same event (“they received and knew”), probably to be identified with the Last Discourse itself (chs. 13-17), centered as it is in the impending death (and resurrection) of Jesus. By participating in the suffering and death (13:1-11ff), symbolically, the disciples have received Jesus in a way that they had not yet been able to do. Through the following Discourse, they likewise receive his word(s) and come to understand. In receiving Jesus (and his word[s]), they also receive the Father and His Word (13:20, etc); similarly, in knowing the Son (Jesus), they also come to know the Father. On this vital theme, cf. the previous notes on 17:3 and 14:4-7, as well as the article on knowledge and revelation in John.

a)lhqw=$ (“truly”)—The noun a)lhqei/a (“truth”) is a key Johannine term (25 times in the Gospel, 20 in the Letters) applied to the person of Christ and God the Father (as well as the Spirit, i.e. “Spirit of Truth”). Cf. especially the Gospel references 1:14, 17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 14:6; 18:37f, and my earlier note on 8:32. Here we have the related adverb a)lhqw=$ (“truly”), which is also important in the Gospel (4:42; 6:14; 7:26, 40). In those four instances, it is used of Jesus, by others, in terms of his possible identity as the Anointed One, i.e. the end-time Prophet to Come. The only other use of the adverb by Jesus is in 8:31, which is worth quoting here:

“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly my disciples”

He said this “to the ones (who) had come to trust in him”, and the image of abiding/remaining in Jesus (and his word[s]), is a main theme of the Last Discourse—cf. 14:20; 15:2, 4-7, 9-10; 16:33; 17:11-12, 17, 21, along with the twin theme of Jesus[‘ word] remaining in the believer (14:17, 20; 15:4-7, 11; 17:13, 23, 26). In 17:8, the adverb a)lhqw=$ is applied to the disciples’ knowledge (“they truly knew”, “they knew truly”). The truth of this knowledge is clarified in the remainder of the verse, but it is worth considering the occurrences of the noun a)lhqei/a (“truth”) in chapter 17, in verses 17 (twice) and 19; the statement in v. 17 is especially significant:

“Make them (to be) holy in the truth; (for) your word [lo/go$] is truth”

The consecration Jesus requests for his disciples will equip and prepare them for being sent into the world (even as Jesus was sent into the world by the Father); but first, Jesus consecrates himself for the sacrificial act (his death) which is about to come:

“and (it is) over them [i.e. for their sake] (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they also should be made holy in (the) truth”

para\ sou (“[from] alongside of you”)—The preposition para/ (“along[side]”) is important in the Gospel of John for expressing the relationship of Jesus to God the Father, and his identity as one who come from the Father—that is, from alongside him, close to him (cf. 1:6, 14). It was used previously in verse 5, where Jesus anticipates his exaltation (death and resurrection) and return to the Father; he asks that the Father honor/glorify him “alongside Himself” (para\ seautou=) with the honor/glory (do/ca) which he held “alongside” (para/) the Father before the world began. A similar idea is expressed in the first part of this sentence (v. 7), where Jesus states that all things the Father has given him come from “alongside” (para/) the Father. It is this that the disciples have now come to know (truly)—i.e., of Jesus’ identity with the Father, that he comes from alongside the Father.

e)ch=lqon (“I came out”)—That is, Jesus came out from being alongside the Father (1:6, 14). On the specific image of Jesus coming “out of” (e)k) God (or, out of Heaven) and coming into the world, cf. the article on revelation in the Gospel of John. This particular verb (e)ce/rxomai) occurs often in John; when it is used by Jesus, it almost always refers to his coming from the Father (cf. 8:42; 16:27-28; also 13:3). In 16:30 the disciples confess this, indicating that now, indeed, they have come to know.

e)pi/steusan (“they trusted”)—In the Gospel of John the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and pisteu/w (“trust, believe”) are closely related, much moreso than in Paul or elsewhere in the New Testament. The verb pisteu/w occurs nearly 100 times in the Gospel, and another nine times in the First Letter—just less than half of all occurrences in the NT. It is found in key statements at the beginning and end of the Gospel (1:7, 12; 3:15-16ff; 19:35; 20:29, 31). In the prayer-discourse of chap. 17 it is used in the request for unity of all believers (with Christ and the Father) in vv. 20-21. That knowing Christ and trusting in him, from the standpoint of the Johannine discourses, mean essentially the same thing, can be seen by comparing verse 8 here with the earlier v. 3 (and cf. my note on this verse):

    • V. 3: “that they should know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth…”
    • V. 8: “and they knew truly that I came out (from) alongside you, and trusted that you sent me forth

a)pe/steila$ (“you se[n]t forth”)—What the disciples trust/believe is “that you sent me forth”, i.e. that God the Father sent Jesus (his Son) into the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus often states that he was sent by God, sometimes referring to Father as “the (One) who sent me”, with a)poste/llw (“set [forth] from”) and pe/mpw (“send”) being used more or less interchangeably—28 and 32 times, respectively. They are so close in meaning in the Gospel that translators rarely try to distinguish them, rendering both simply as “send”. That they are essentially synonymous is demonstrated by their use together in 20:21. However, the verb a)poste/llw expresses more clearly that Jesus is sent from (a)po/) God; as such, it is more appropriate in the context of the prayer-discourse, where it is used 7 times (vv. 3, 18 [twice], 21, 23, 25). It is applied both to the Father sending Jesus, and, in turn, to Jesus sending his disciples, into the world. This reciprocal relationship is also expressed in 13:20 and 20:21. The association of this sending with knowledge (of the Father) is conveyed clearly and concisely in verse 25:

“Father…the world did not know you, but I did know you, and these (with me) also do know that you se[n]t me forth”

In some ways, this last statement is a summary of the Johannine Gospel (cf. the Prologue, 1:5-13), using three parallel forms of the verb ginw/skw (all aorist):

    • The world did not know God
    • Jesus (the Son) knew, because he comes from the Father
    • The disciples (believers) also come to know, through Jesus

For more on verse 8, see my study in the “Monday Notes on Prayer” series.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Knowledge and Revelation in John

Because of the very distinctive—and extensive—use of terms related to knowledge and revelation in the Johannine writings, it has been necessary to devote a separate supplemental article to this topic. The vocabulary, language and imagery used in the discourses of Jesus in Gospel are so close, at many points, to that in the letters, that most scholars ascribe them to a single Christian community or “school” of authorship. Tradition establishes the apostle John as the author of the Gospel and letters both, though, strictly speaking, they are all anonymous works. Regardless of how one theorizes the actual authorship of the writings, there is strong evidence that, in the discourses of Jesus, the actual words of Jesus—i.e. the historical sayings/teachings—have been edited and given an added interpretative layer within a literary dialogue (and homiletic) format.

I have previously discussed the specific vocabulary related to knowledge and revelation (cf. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series). The extent to which they occur in the Gospel and letters of John is striking:

    • The verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ, “know”) occurs 56 times in the Gospel, and 26 in the letters—more than a third of all occurrences in the NT (222). Interestingly, the related noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”), is not used (on this, cf. the following special note).
    • The verb ei&dw (oi@da) (“see”), which is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw in Greek at the time of the New Testament, occurs 85 times in the Gospel, and another 16 in the letters—again, more than a third of all occurrences in the NT.
    • Other verbs for seeing are used frequently in the Gospel and letters:
      o(ra/w (“see, perceive”, 31/8); ble/pw (“look [at], see”, 17/1); qewre/w and qea/omai (“look with wonder, look [carefully] at, behold”, 24/1 & 6/3)
    • The noun fw=$ (“light”), 23 times in the Gospel, 6 in the letters (29 out of 73 in the NT); in addition, we have the related verbs for giving/shining light: fai/nw (3), emfani/zw (2), fanero/w (15).

Knowing and Seeing (& Hearing)

Fundamentally, the references involving knowing and seeing (taken together) can be divided into several categories:

    1. Jesus (the Son) knows the Father, and makes Him (his word, his truth, etc) known to his disciples
    2. Disciples/believers know him (the Son), and the Father through him; by contrast, the “world” does not know
    3. Jesus knows his disciples (believers), who are also known by the Father

1. The Son knows/sees the Father

The main passages expressing this knowledge of the Father are: Jn 5:32; 7:29; 8:14, 19, 55; 10:15; 12:50; 13:3; 15:15; 17:25. Frequent in the discourses of Jesus is the idea that the Son has seen and heard the Father, and does/says what he sees/hears the Father doing/saying. This is expressed in Jn 3:32; 5:19ff; 6:46; 8:26, 38, 40; 12:49-50; 15:15 (cf. also 10:18, 37; 14:10; 17:6-8). The basic image derives from daily life—the dutiful son, as a pupil or apprentice, imitates his father, following the pattern and example of behavior. In 16:13, it is extended to the Spirit, who, like the Son (and as the abiding presence of the Son in the believer), will speak (only) the things he hears from the Father.

In turn, the Son makes known the Father to humankind, especially to his followers (believers). It is for this purpose that he was sent into the world by the Father (cf. below). The specific verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) occurs in Jn 15:15:

“…all the (thing)s that I heard (from) alongside my Father I (have) made known [e)gnw/risa] to you”

It is also found (twice) in the prayer-discourse of Jesus in chapter 17 (v. 26):

“and I made known [e)gnw/risa] to them Your name, and will make (it) known [gnwri/sw], (so) that the love with which you loved me might be in them, and I (also) in them”

An interesting example is Jn 1:18, where the verb e)chge/omai (“lead/bring out”) is used. The statement (by the author) emphasizes that no one has ever seen God, but that Jesus, the unique Son (of God) “…the (one) being [i.e. who is/dwells] in the lap of the Father, this (one) has brought (Him) out”—i.e. brought God out in the sense of declaring and making Him known.

More common is the verb fanero/w (“make/cause [to] shine [forth]”), where it refers to Jesus making God known (17:6)—especially His work and power (through miracles, etc), as in 2:11; 9:3; the same is expressed by the verb deiknu/w in 10:32; 14:8. It is also used in reference to Jesus’ appearing to his disciples—1:31; 14:21f; cf. also 7:4. In 1 John, it occurs in the more traditional sense of Jesus’ appearance (and future appearance) on earth (1:2; 2:28; 3:2, 5, 8, also 4:9).

Closely related is the key motif of Jesus as light (fw=$)—Jn 1:5-9; 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:35-36, 46; and cf. also 1 Jn 1:5-7; 2:8-11. John the Baptist is also a light (5:35) , but only insofar as he reflects and reveals the true light (1:5ff). The verb fai/nw (“shine light”) occurs in 1:5; 5:35; 1 John 2:8; while e)mfani/zw (“make [light] shine in”) is used in Jn 14:21-22 associated with the personal (abiding) presence of Jesus in the believer.

2. Believers know/see the Son

It is specifically Jesus’ disciples (believers) who come to know him (the Son). The main references are Jn 6:69; 8:28; 10:4-5, 14-15, 27, 38; 14:9, 17, 20; 17:3, 7-8, 23; cf. also 3:11; 18:21. People see the signs (miracles, etc) which Jesus does (2:23; 4:19, 48; 6:2, 14, 26; 11:45), and also come to see him (on this narrative motif, cf. below). They also hear his voice—cf. 3:29; 5:25, 28, 37; 12:29f; 18:37, and note 4:42; 11:43f; 20:16. Through the Son, believers see and hear the Father—this motif is frequent (cf. above), but emphasized particularly in Jn 14:7-8ff; 17:3.

By contrast, the “world”—that is, unbelievers—do not know him. Even Jesus’ own disciples have difficulty understanding, and are unable to know completely. This is a theme which runs throughout the narrative; of the many references, cf. 1:10, 26, 31, 33; 4:32; 7:27-28; 8:14, 19, 55; 9:29; 12:35; 14:9, 17; 15:15, 21; 16:3; 17:25; 20:14. The contrast is part of the dualism in the Johannine writings (to be discussed in Part 6). It is also expressed through the contrast of seeing vs. not-seeing (i.e. blindness)—chapter 9; 12:40; 1 Jn 2:11.

In the letters of John, knowing Christ essentially functions as a central point of religious identification, marked especially by the presence and manifestation of Christian love—cf. 1 Jn 2:3ff, 13-14; 4:2, 6-8, 16; 5:19-20; it also includes the same dualistic contrast found in the Gospel (1 Jn 2:11; 3:1, 6, etc). Likewise, the twin motif of seeing/hearing occurs (1 Jn 1:1-3; 3:11; 4:14; 2 Jn 6), as well as the specific idea of knowing the Father by way of the Son (4:8ff, 12, 14; cf. also 2:23; 5:9; 2 Jn 9).

3. Believers known by Jesus (and the Father)

Jesus’ knowledge of his disciples (believers), as those chosen and given to him by God (cf. below), is emphasized in Jn 2:25; 6:64; 10:14, 27; 13:11, 18. Within the narrative, the various references of Jesus coming to his disciples (cf. below) and, specifically, seeing them (1:42, 48; 11:33; 19:26, etc), take on added meaning. A reciprocal relationship is expressed—Jesus sees (and comes to) believers, who also see (and come to) him. Ultimately, these passages are tied to an overriding sense of Christian identity, for believers as those who come from (or out of) God, just as Jesus himself comes from God. This motif will be discussed next.

Other concepts and expressions

The rich treasury of Johannine language and imagery can only be surveyed partially here. I will endeavor to point out a few of the most relevant ideas and expressions used in the Gospel and letters.

Coming from God

This often involves the specific preposition e)k (lit. “out of”). Frequently Jesus speaks of himself (the Son) as coming from, or “out of”, God—Jn 7:17; 8:42; 16:28ff, and cf. also 1:14; 3:2; 17:5; 1 Jn 1:2. More or less synonymous is the idea of his coming out of heaven (or “above”), as in Jn 3:13, 27, 31; 6:32-33ff; 8:23. The (spatial) dualism of above/below, heaven/earth, etc., is related to the conceptual dualism of Jesus “stepping down” and “stepping (back) up”, using the related verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw. As Jesus came down out of heaven (from God), so he will be returning back into heaven (to the Father). At the same time, those who believe in him, are also said to be “(out) of God”, especially under the image of being born from Him—Jn 1:12-13; 3:3ff; 8:47; 18:37. This will be discussed further in Part 5 (on Election/Predestination). Being “of God” is important in the Johannine letters as signifying Christian identity—cf. 2:16, 29; 3:9-10, 19; 4:2-3ff; 5:1, 4, 18-19; 3 Jn 11.

Coming into the world

Related to the concept of Jesus coming from God, out of heaven, is the specific motif of his coming into the world. This is expressed most clearly in Jn 1:9, 11; 3:31; 5:43; 8:14; 9:39; 11:27; 12:46-47; 18:37. For the closely connected use of the verb fanero/w (“make to shine, make manifest, cause to appear”) to describe this appearance of Jesus on earth, cf. above. Coming into the world also means coming to the people—to human beings generally, but also to the people Israel, and, more specifically, to the people (believers) chosen by God.

Coming to the disciples / Disciples coming to Jesus

This twin motif occurs frequently in the Gospel narrative, but the “coming” carries a deeper significance in John, due to the previously mentioned concepts, as well as to the added motif of seeing. The references here which include the element of sight/seeing are marked with an asterisk:

Two other, related, concepts should be mentioned:

Sending

In the Gospel, Jesus is identified as (the Son) who was sent by God the Father, using both verbs a)poste/llw and pe/mpw: the references are too numerous to mention them all—3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36ff; 6:38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, et al. The Spirit is also sent by the Father (and the Son) to believers, 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; and Jesus sends forth his disciples (believers), just as the Father sent him (4:38; 17:18; 20:21).

Abiding/remaining in

As in the Pauline letters, the Johannine writings frequently refer to believers being “in” (e)n) Christ, just as Christ is “in” the believer. Sometimes this is specified in terms of truth, love, or the word(s) (logo$, r(hma) of Jesus. Most frequently, it involves the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), which becomes a distinctly Johannine theme and unique for an understanding of both revelation and the believer’s religious identity (in Christ). For more on this latter point, cf. the discussion in Part 4.

The frequency with which both aspects are mentioned together, side-by-side, is striking.

Giving & Receiving

One other way revelation is expressed in the Gospel of John is with the verbs di/dwmi (“give”) and lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”). These two verbs occur together at the beginning of the Gospel, in 1:12, 16-17 (cf. the note on these), and again at several points throughout. God the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to his followers (believers). At the same time, believers themselves are among the things given by God to Christ (17:2ff). Those who trust in Christ and come to him also receive him. In 17:8, the verbs lamba/nw and di/dwmi are used together, along with ginw/skw (“know”); I discuss this verse in a separate daily note. For more on the prayer-discourse of chapter 17, cf. my earlier note on 17:3.

Glory/Splendor

Finally, we should mention the numerous occurrences of the term do/ca (“esteem, honor”, i.e. “glory, splendor”, esp. when used of God), along with the related verb doca/zw. While do/ca is related to the idea of divine revelation throughout the New Testament, it carries special significance in the Gospel of John, as it is distinctly tied to the person of Christ, and his identity with God the Father. This glory/splendor is at the center of the two-sided presentation of Christ in the Gospel—his descent (stepping down) from God the Father, and his ascent (stepping up) back to the Father. The death and resurrection/exaltation of Jesus stands between these two points, much as the vision described in Jn 1:51, which is offered as a vision of glory of God/Christ promised to believers (cf. also 3:3, 36). For the key passages referring to do/ca, cf. Jn 1:14; 2:11; 5:44; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4; 12:23, 28, 41, 43; 13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1ff, 22ff. These cover virtually the entire range of meaning connected with the idea of revelation in John.

Special Note: On the noun “knowledge” in John

As part of my analysis of knowledge and revelation in the Johannine writings (cf. the current article), I pointed out that, while the verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ, “know”) is found quite often, the noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) does not occur at all. Compare this with the relatively frequent use of the noun in Paul’s letters (esp. 1 and 2 Corinthians). Some commentators have theorized that the Christian communities which produced (and used) the Johannine Gospel and letters were combating an early form of Gnosticism (with a docetic Christology, cf. 1 Jn 4:1-6, etc). The persons or groups referred to in 1 John may be related in some way to those mentioned by Ignatius of Antioch (Smyrneans 2-5, Trallians 9-10) in the early 2nd century (c. 110 A.D.). There is a good discussion of this topic, for example, in R. E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (Paulist Press: 1979), especially pp. 103-23. According to this basic theory, the author(s) of the Gospel and letters may have intentionally avoided use of the noun gnw=si$. For a possible similar phenomenon in the Pastoral letters, cf. my recent note on 1 Tim 6:20-21. However, there are several other explanations which do not require any relationship to Gnosticism or anti-gnostic tendencies:

  1. The Gospel and Letters of John have a much simpler vocabulary than, for example, the letters of Paul. Related to this is a marked tendency, in many instances, to prefer the use of verbs rather than nouns to govern the basic mode of expression. Just about anything that one might say about “knowledge” could easily be expressed through use of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see, know”). This dependence on the verb also tends to emphasize Jesus Christ as the means and instrument of knowledge, rather than the knowledge per se. This differs in certain respects from Paul, who frequently emphasizes the message (the Gospel) itself.
  2. The Gospel (and Letters) also seem to rely upon a relatively small set of descriptive nouns to refer to the revelation which comes in the person of Jesus; these include—light (fw=$), truth (a)lh/qeia), life (zwh/), word (lo/go$, r(h=ma), way (o(do/$), splendor/glory (do/ca), and so forth. A number of these convey in the popular mind a more immediate and dynamic sense of the divine presence and activity than would the word gnw=si$. That these can be seen as interchangeable with gnw=si$, to some extent, is indicated by the statement in Jn 1:17: “…the favor [i.e. grace] and truth (of God) came to be through Jesus Christ”. Paul, on the other hand, could say much the same thing using the word “knowledge”—”in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away” (Col 2:3), “…the light of the knowledge of the splendor of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6), etc.
  3. As noted above, while Paul has a strong sense of knowledge in terms of the message about Christ (i.e. the Gospel), which could effectively be summarized by the noun gnw=si$, the Gospel and Letters of John emphasize a different aspect of revelation—the person of Christ, the Son of God. This would be natural enough within the Gospel narrative, since it deals primarily with the words and actions of Jesus, along with the people’s response to them; but the same emphasis continues in 1 John as well. Indeed, the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”, i.e. Gospel) does not occur at all in the Johannine writings (unless one includes Rev 14:6), an omission almost unthinkable for Paul in his letters. Instead, the emphasis is decidedly on having seen and heard Jesus himself (1 Jn 1:1-3)—his words, etc.—and, in particular, the great commandment to love one another. For a full list of the relevant passages, see the current article. Within early Christian thought, the Gospel message is, of course, directly related to the person of Christ; it is really a question of which aspect of the Christian faith one seeks to emphasize.

“Gnosis” in the NT: 1 Tim 6:20-21

1 Timothy 6:20-21

“O Precious-to-God {Timothy}, you must keep watch (over) th(at which is) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] (you), turning out of (the way) the free [be/bhlo$] (and) empty voices, and the (thing)s set against (it) from the falsely-named ‘knowledge’ [gnw=si$], which some (person)s, giving a message upon (themselves) about the (Christian) faith [pi/sti$], were without (true) aim.”

This is perhaps the only passage in the New Testament which can truly be called anti-gnostic—i.e., opposed to gnostic teaching. Whether the author of 1 Timothy (whether Paul or pseudonymous) is addressing an early form of the Gnosticism known from the 2nd century A.D. is a separate question. If the letter is Pauline and/or relatively early (c. 60-65 A.D.), then this is highly unlikely. However, things have clearly moved a step or two beyond Paul’s concern to check the Corinthians’ emphasis on spiritual knowledge (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:16ff; 8:1-3ff). There is conceivably a connection with the Jewish Christianity represented by the opponents Paul addresses in 2 Cor 10-13, but this could only be called “gnostic” in a very loose sense. It can be no coincidence that 1 Tim 6:20 is the only occurrence of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in the letter—indeed, within the Pastoral letters as a whole—while it is relatively frequent in the undisputed letters (21 times, including 16 in 1 & 2 Corinthians), often in a positive sense. Here, it is entirely negative, marked by the qualifying adjective yeudw/numo$ (“falsely-named”), to distiguish it from true religious knowledge. At the very least, the author is referring to Christians who claim to have a certain knowledge, and, presumably, rely upon the use of that word—which would explain why the author does not otherwise use it himself. The noun is also absent entirely from the Johannine writings, even though the related verb ginw/skw (“know”) is used quite often (82 times). Some commentators have thought that the Christians who produced these writings were combating an incipient form of Gnosticism (cf. 1 John 4:1-6, etc).

Especially significant is the use of the word paraqh/kh, derived from the verb parati/qhmi (“set/put along[side]”), and which I discuss briefly in the last section of  Part 4 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. In the Pastoral epistles the verb and noun are both used in the special (figurative) sense of the collected body of Christian teaching—of Gospel and Apostolic traditions—which have been passed down (from Paul and the first Apostles) and put into the care of trustworthy ministers (such as Timothy). It is this “trust”, this carefully preserved Tradition, which is set against the so-called “knowledge”. Actually, there appear to be two forces against which the minister must contend; he is to “turn out of [the way]” (i.e. “turn aside”, the verb e)ktre/pw):

    • “the free/loose ’empty voices'” and
    • “(thing)s…of the falsely-named ‘knowledge'”

Possibly these are a hendiadys, two expressions for a single concept, or two labels referring to a single group. The first phrase makes use of two words. The first (a) is be/bhlo$, “free”, in the sense of “freely accessible”, and, in a religious context, often indicating something that is “profane”; it is certainly used in a pejorative sense here, perhaps with the connotation of “loose-lipped”, i.e. freely and carelessly uttered. The second (b) is kenofwni/a, “empty voice”, i.e. empty or hollow sounding, but probably best taken literally here—the voices of the people who say these things are “empty”, void of anything true or real. This same expression, using both words, also occurs in 2 Tim 2:16:

“But stand about [i.e. away from] the free (and) empty voices, for (more) upon more they cut (the way) toward a lack of reverence (for God)”

It follows directly after the expression “the account of truth” in v. 15, with which it is set in contrast. The adjective be/bhlo$ also occurs in 1 Tim 1:9 and 4:7.

The second phrase includes two elements: (a) the noun a)nti/qesi$, derived from the same verb as the base of parati/qhmi, only instead of something put alongside (into one’s care), it signifies the opposite, something set against it (in opposition to it); and (b) the expression “falsely-named knowledge”, with the adjective yeudw/numo$. Those who are characterized by these descriptions, and who oppose or threaten the true faith and tradition, are defined further in 1 Tim 6:21:

    • tine$ (“certain, some”)—that is, some Christians
    • e)paggello/menoi (“giving a message upon [themselves]”)—middle voice (reflexive) participle of the verb e)pagge/llw; these people announce (lit. give a message) concerning themselves
    • peri\ th\n pi/stin (“about the faith”)—the word pi/sti$ usually means specifically trust (or faith/belief) in Christ, but here it would seem to signify more properly the Christian faith (religion); however, it may also indicate the profession of faith in Christ by these persons
    • h)sto/xhsan (“they were without [true] aim”)—the verb a)stoxe/w is derived from the adjective a&stoxo$ (“without aim”), i.e. a bad shot, missing the mark

In other words, these people claim to be Christians, professing Christ and speaking about the faith, but are actually in error and ‘miss the mark’. From the standpoint of the author (Paul), it is a matter of the entire Christian faith being at stake, and an urgent need to preserve the true faith and (apostolic) tradition. The comprehensiveness of this understanding is indicated by an brief examination of the other occurrences of the verb parati/qhmi and noun paraqh/kh:

    • 1 Tim 1:18:
      “This message given along (to me) I place alongside (for) you, dear offspring [i.e. child] Timothy, according to the (thing)s foretold [i.e. prophecies] brought out before(hand) upon you, that you might fight as a soldier in them, (doing) the fine work of a soldier”
    • 2 Tim 1:12, continuing on from v. 11, speaking of the “good message”, i.e. the Gospel (“unto which I was set” as a preacher, apostle and teacher…)
      “…through which cause I also suffer these (thing)s—but (yet) I do not have (any) shame brought upon me, for I have seen [i.e. known] the (one) in whom I have trusted and have been persuaded that he is powerful (enough) [i.e. able] to keep/guard the (thing) set alongside (for) me unto [i.e. until] that day”
    • 2 Tim 1:14 (note the connection between the paraqh/kh and the Spirit):
      “you (too) must keep/guard th(is) fine (thing which has been) set alongside (us), through the holy Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in us”
    • 2 Tim 2:2:
      “and the (thing)s which you have heard alongside me through many witnesses, these you must place alongside trust(worthy) men who will be capable/qualified to teach others also”

The chain of transmission is clear: to Paul, then to Timothy, and then, in turn, to other trustworthy ministers. Timothy himself has received the tradition not only from Paul (“the whole/healthy accounts which you heard [from] alongside me”, 2 Tim 1:13), but from “many witnesses” (2:2). This emphasizes that the tradition has been transmitted within the Community of believers as a whole (on the motif of witnesses to the Gospel, cf. Lk 1:2; 24:48; Acts 1:8, 22; 5:32; 10:39ff; 13:31, etc., and note Heb 12:1).

September 1 (3): John 14:4-7 (v. 7)

John 14:4-7 (continued, v. 7)

Following the great declaration in verse 6 (see the previous note), Jesus adds the statement in v. 7, addressed directly to his disciples. The precise meaning remains uncertain, due to the textual difficulty surrounding the verb forms used by Jesus. I translate the verse initially based on the reading of the Nestle-Aland critical text:

“If you have known [e)gnw/kate] me, you will know [gw/sesqe] my Father also; and from now (on) you know [ginw/skete] him and have seen [e(wra/kate] him.”

It is in the first part, the conditional clause, where the most significant textual differences are involved. The NA text generally follows the key papyrus Ë66, along with a D 579, in the first two forms of the verb ginw/skw (“know”) that are used:

    • Perfect indicative (e)gnw/kate)—”if you have known me”, i.e. if (indeed) you have (truly) come to know me
    • Future indicative (gnw/sesqe)—”(then) you will know my Father”, i.e. just as you know me

However, the majority of manuscripts (including Vaticanus [B]), have a different initial form, which creates a somewhat different conditional clause. The Westcott-Hort [W-H] critical text follows B:

    • Pluperfect (e)gnw/keite)—”if you had known me”, the implication being that you do not yet truly know me
    • Pluperfect (h&|deite) with the conditional particle a&n—”you would have seen/known my Father”, i.e. you do not (yet) know Him

This difference of emphasis effects how the second half of the sentence should be understood. The majority reading (as in B, W-H) would be interpreted this way:

    • Right now—you do not yet (truly) know me, and so have not yet known (or seen) the Father
    • But from this point on—you do know me, and so have known/seen the Father

It creates a relatively straightforward contrast between the disciples’ understanding and awareness before and after the Last Discourse (and the death/resurrection of Jesus). This interpretation is favored, on internal grounds, by the overall context and setting of the Last Discourse. At a number of points, Jesus conveys the idea that the disciples are undergoing a transformative experience (cf. 13:8-10, 34f; 14:25ff; 15:3, 9ff, 17; 16:4ff, 21, etc), which will only be complete after the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit (13:7, 36; 14:16-17, 20, 25ff, 29; 15:26; 16:4, 6-7, 12ff, 22ff, 25-28). Especially favoring this view is Jesus’ (parallel) response to Philip in 14:9, which stresses the disciples’ lack of understanding.

On the other hand, the reading of Ë66, etc, NA, leads to a different sort of interpretation, which I would outline as follows:

    • The Disciples know Jesus (the Son) =>
      • They also know the Father
        And, if one has come to know the Father, then =>
        • One has truly seen the Father

In favor of this interpretation (and reading) is the step-parallel motif/method which appears frequently in the Gospel of John. Moreover, it creates, much moreso than in the Majority reading, a distinct and parallel relationship between knowing and seeing, which is so fundamental to the Johannine Gospel (cf. the special article on this). Indeed, it much better suits the context of what follows in vv. 8-11, where the theme of seeing God the Father is emphasized.

Here is an instance where strong arguments can be offered on both sides, and so, the text and essential reading of the verse cannot be established with complete certainty. No reputable commentator today would treat this passage without acknowledging the textual variants and uncertainty which exists. Indeed, I would maintain that much is to be gained by a careful examination of both sets of variants summarized above. Given the importance of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”), ei&dw (“see, know”) and o(ra/w (“look at, perceive, behold”) in the Gospel of John, and the frequency with which they are used in the discourses of Jesus, the precise form of the verb, with the nuance of meaning that results from it, ought to be considered most carefully. This is an integral part of a faithful study of the Scriptures, and should not be ignored.