April 9: John 17:20-23 (introduction)

John 17:20-23

In the previous daily note, I briefly examined the theme of unity in John 17:20-23, in light of its basis in the believer’s participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and how this is communicated and realized through the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is worth considering in more detail how the theme of unity is presented and understood in these verses.

The message is made twice, through a pair of poetic 5-line stanzas—each states the message in a similar (parallel) form, with certain small but significant variations. This sort of duplication/repetition is a regular feature of the Johannine style, and a number of examples could be cited from both the Gospel and First Letter (cf. the recent Saturday Series studies on 1 John). Indeed, at many points, the language and manner of expression in the Gospel Discourses is quite close to that of 1 John. In the case of the Gospel, one may rightly conclude that this reflects a distinctly Johannine treatment of the historical traditions (i.e., the words and teaching of Jesus).

For ease of reference, the lines of vv. 21-23 are identified by letter—21a-d, 22a-c, and 23a-d (cf. Brown, pp. 768-9). The second line of the second stanza is comprised of 22c & 23a.

The first point to note is that this section of the Prayer-Discourse (chap. 17) is inclusive. That is, Jesus is referring to all believers—his immediate disciples, together with those who come to trust in him, all throughout the world, in the future:

“I do not make (this) request about these alone, but also about the (one)s trusting in me through their word/account…” (v. 20, cp. 10:16; 11:52)

The statement in v. 20 introduces the actual prayer-request in the parallel stanzas that follow. The parallelism of these stanzas is precise, as outlined here below (cf. also Brown, p. 769):

    • “that [i%na] they all would be one {21a}
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you {21b}
        • that [i%na] they also would be in us {21c}
          • (so) that [i%na] the world might trust that you se(n)t me forth {21d}
            • and I have given to them the honor that you have given to me” {22a}
    • “that [i%na] they would be one {22b}
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one, I in them and you in me {22c-23a}
        • that [i%na] they would be made complete into one {23b}
          • (so) that [i%na] the world might trust that you se(n)t me forth {23c}
            • and I loved them just as you loved me” {23d}

This formal parallelism is remarkable, though it tends to be obscured in English translation. Note the significance of each line pair:

    • Line 1: i%na-clause with the request for believers to be one
    • Line 2: kaqw/$-clause comparing this oneness with the unity shared by God the Father and Jesus the Son
    • Line 3: i%na-clause restating the unity of believers in relation to the Father and Son
    • Line 4: i%na-clause stating the goal/purpose in terms of the effect this unity will have on the world
    • Line 5: Jesus declares his action (aorist vb. forms) toward believers as patterned after (and repeating) the Father’s action toward him.

Beginning on Monday, I will be devoting a detailed note, each day of the week (Mon-Fri), to each line. The first note (line 1) will cover the initial i%na-clause (vv. 21a, 22b).

References above (and in the following notes) marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A (1970).

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