April 14: John 17:21c, 23b

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 3: John 17:21c, 23b

Based on the structure of the two parallel stanzas in John 17:21-23 (outlined in a prior note), the first and third lines contain (parallel) statements that contain the principal request Jesus makes to the Father, on behalf of all believers (v. 20). Each of these statements (lines 1 & 3 of each stanza) is expressed by a i%na-clause (cf. the note on line 1), with a explanatory kaqw/$-clause (line 2, prev. note) in between. The third line re-states the first, incorporating the insight from the explanatory clause. Thus, in examining the third line of each stanza here, it will be necessary to keep the prior two lines clearly in view.

    • “that they also would be in us” (v. 21c)
      i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n u(mi=n w@sin
    • “that they would be made complete into one” (v. 23b)
      i%na w@sin teteleiwme/noi ei)$ e%n

In different ways, these statements build upon the initial request (for the unity of believers) in line 1. We will examine them in turn.

Verse 21c

“that they also would be in us”

To begin with, there is a fundamental textual question regarding this phrase. The majority text includes e%n (“one”): “that they also would be [one] in us” (i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n u(mi=n [e^n] w@sin). By contrast, the shorter text (above) is read by some of the oldest/best manuscripts (e.g., Ë66vid B C*) and among a wide range of the versions (and in the Church Fathers). The shorter text is most likely original, with the numeral e%n a natural addition to help explain/clarify the meaning. In my view, however, its inclusion distorts the force of the statement, though it is certainly correct in terms of emphasizing the subject of unity/oneness.

The initial statement in line 1, of the request by Jesus, was “that they all [i.e. all believers] would be one”. Now, the statement in line 3 makes clear that this unity = being in (e)n) the Father and Son (“in us”). It does not simply refer to a unity of believers in relation to each other, but is rooted in a union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This effectively eliminates any local-congregational or ecumenical interpretation of unity. While the unity of believers may be manifest at a local or regional level, in different ways, the view of unity expressed here utterly transcends such limitations. This was clear enough from verse 20, where Jesus speaks inclusively of all believers (cp. 10:16), a conception which cannot be limited to a particular place or time. Unity manifest in local or regional communities is a natural (and practical) by-product of the essential unity of believers.

The explanatory kaqw/$-clause in line 2 further clarifies what it means to be “in” the Father and Son—it is defined by a participation, or joining, in the unity that the Father and Son share with each other. This unity is reciprocal, as the phrasing of the line indicates, with Father and Son each being “in” the other (cf. 10:38, cp. verse 30). In the previous note, I discussed how this might be understood, both in terms of the parent-child idiom, and in light of the Johannine theology. Traditionally, this relationship has been expounded, theologically, two primary ways—(1) as the love between Father and Son, and (2) by the binding and unifying presence of the Spirit. Interestingly, while Jesus says much about both subjects in the Johannine Discourses, he gives little indication of how either relate to his union (as Son) with the Father. That level of theological discussion is, for the most part, simply beyond the scope of the Discourses. There are, however, several interesting allusions, which can be examined.

With regard to the Spirit, perhaps the most interesting line of imagery involves the identification of the Spirit and Word of God. Repeatedly in the Discourses Jesus refers to the words given to him by the Father, to speak and give them, in  turn, to believers in the world. Moreover, according to the majestic Prologue to the Gospel, Jesus himself is the incarnation of the eternal Lo/go$ (or ‘Word’) of God (1:1-2ff). Thus, what the Father “gives” to the Son does not merely represent a (prophetic) message, but reflects the very identity of the Father, manifest in the person of the Son. This is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in 6:63, that these “words” are the very Spirit and Life of God.

Jesus says rather more about love (a)ga/ph) in the Discourses, including repeated assertions that the Father loves the Son—3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 15:9f; 17:24ff—though corresponding statements of his love for the Father are rare (cf. 14:31). It is the Father’ love for the Son that precedes, and is the reason for, what He gives to the Son. Outside of the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse, this is perhaps best expressed in 3:35ff:

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all (thing)s into his hand”

This statement on the love they share follows directly after v. 34, where we read:

“For the (one) whom God sent forth speaks the utterances [i.e. words] of God, for He does not give the Spirit out of a measure.”

Thus the love of the Father for the Son is directly related to the idea of giving to him the fullness of His Spirit.

Verse 23b

“that they would be made complete into one”

A different sort of emphasis is found in the second stanza, where the same request for the unity of believers in line 1 (“that they would be one”) is here qualified as “that they would be made complete into one”. The precise syntax is actually a bit difficult to translate, since it involves a (substantive) perfect participle following the verb of being. Literally, this would be rendered “..they would be (one)s having been made complete” (w@sin teteleiwme/noi). In other words, the substantive participle serves to describe (and identify) believers as “ones having been made complete”.

The verb here is teleio/w (“[make] complete, bring to completion”), related to the simpler tele/w (“complete”). It is used nine times in the Johannine writings (5 in the Gospel, 4 in the First Letter), out of 23 occurrences in the New Testament (more than a third). In the Gospel, it generally refers to Jesus’ completion of the work God the Father has given him to do on earth (4:34; 5:36; 17:4), also expressed by the verb tele/w in Jesus’ dying word on the cross (tete/lestai, “it has been completed”, v. 30, also v. 28). Notably, in all four occurrences in 1 John, teleio/w specifically refers to the idea of God’s love (a)ga/ph) being “made complete” in believers (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). Both of these aspects inform the use of the verb here, though the latter is primarily in view. Believers are made complete when they/we are united in the love that Father and Son share with each other.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the idea of believers being (or becoming) complete, expressed by the related adjective te/leio$, has a strong ethical emphasis—Matt. 5:48; 19:21; Rom 12:2; James 1:4, 25; 3:2, etc. In Paul’s letters the adjective is used to refer to the character of believers (as mature, whole, ideal), sometimes with an eschatological connotation—cf. 1 Cor 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; 4:12. The ethical aspect of teleio/w is not absent here, as can be illustrated by its use in 1 John (cf. above), in connection with the duty believers have to show love to each other. However, we must be cautious about limiting its significance to the practical side, i.e. of how we demonstrate love in practice. As important as this is, it is not what Jesus is emphasizing here. A consideration of the kaqw/$-clause in line 2 elucidates the proper meaning (cf. further in the previous note):

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The love we have is not our own—it stems from God’s love, i.e. the love between Father and Son that unites them together. This is the significance of the references in 1 John—God’s love is made complete in us, to the extent that we, as believers, share in it and remain united with it. It is this same Divine Love that makes us complete as believers, and, in turn, makes us “into one”. The very syntax in verse 23c seems to depict this idea of the plural (i.e., the participle, referring to believers) being turned “into” (ei)$) a single thing (unity with God).

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