Notes on Prayer: John 14:13-14

John 14:13-14

Some of the most important references to prayer in the New Testament are found in the great Last Discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The Johannine writings never use the common Greek terms for prayer (proseuxh/, vb proseu/xomai); instead, the idea of prayer is expressed by the verb ai)te/w, emphasizing making a request of God.

There are significant critical issues surrounding the origin and composition of the Johannine discourses. On the one hand, they are unlike anything we see in the Synoptic Gospels; in addition, they evince a language and style that is distinctly Johannine, and very close, for example, to that of First John. At the same time, there are Synoptic parallels for certain sayings and traditions in the Gospel of John, and there is clear evidence that the discourses, at the very least, are rooted in authentic historical tradition. Thus, the arguments regarding the Discourses—whether they are primarily Johannine compositions, or accurate reflections of Jesus’ own words throughout—run both ways. And, indeed, both aspects must be kept in mind with any study of the Gospel of John.

The great “Last Discourse”, set (in the narrative) on the eve of Jesus’ arrest, actually represents a complex of inter-related discourses, spanning more than three chapters (13:31-16:33). It may be outlined as follows:

    • 13:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The first Discourse/division (14:1-31), the first of two on the primary theme of Jesus’ departure, may be outlined in further detail:

    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
        • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
        • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
        • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
        • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
        • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
        • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
        • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
          —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
          —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
          —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
          —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
        • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
          —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
          —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
        • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)

The first sayings on prayer are in 14:13-14, which forms the conclusion of the first section, on the relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14). The basic Johannine discourse format is clear: Jesus makes an initial statement (vv. 1-4) which his audience (here, his close disciples) fails to understand (v. 5); Jesus responds in turn with an exposition of the true and deeper meaning of his words (vv. 6ff). Sometimes this discourse-format is expanded to include multiple exchanges between Jesus and his audience, and, indeed, we see this at several points in the Last Discourse. Even within this first section, there are two questions by the disciples, which lead to two different “I Am” sayings by Jesus in response (vv. 6-7, 9-11).

The substantive message of the first section involves the idea of Jesus leading the way for believers to the Father. As his exposition makes clear, this is not to be understood in traditional religious terms, nor in the special sense of a metaphysical translation to heaven (though that will take place in the future). Rather, the “way” to the Father comes through trust in Jesus and through union with him. Trust leads to union, and this essential union is realized through the presence of the Spirit, which is the Spirit of both Father and Son, and represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. Through this union with Jesus, believers already are in the presence of God the Father, and have access to Him.

This theological and Christological outlook, which is hardly unique to the Last Discourse, but is woven throughout the entire Johannine Gospel, informs the sayings on prayer. There are two sayings on prayer in vv. 13-14, virtually identical in form and meaning, and separated by a key phrase re-emphasizing the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son). I give the translation as a chiasm, to outline this structure:

    • “and any(thing) that you should request in my name, this I will do,
      • (so) that the Father should be given honor in the Son;
    • if you request any(thing of) me in my name, I will do (it).”

The granting of the request has, at its heart, the purpose of giving honor to the Father. The verb doca/zw is an important part of the Johannine vocabulary, occurring 23 times in the Gospel, and 13 times in the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse (13:31-16:33 and chap. 17). The Passion-focus of this usage begins to take on prominence in 12:28, and continues through the Last Discourse. By fulfilling the duty and mission placed on him (e)ntolh/) by God the Father, through his sacrificial death and resurrection, the Son (Jesus) gives honor and esteem to the Father. According to the narrative setting of the Last Discourse, the moment of Jesus’ death is drawing near, and so the moment of the Son bringing do/ca (“esteem, honor, glory”) to the Father is also at hand.

But the specific setting here within the discourse is of Jesus’ departure, the return of the Son back to the Father, which implies a post-resurrection context. It is perhaps worth asking how granting the requests of his disciples gives honor to the Father. The answer, I believe, is two-fold. First, it is predicated upon the special relationship between Father and Son; as a dutiful and faithful son, everything Jesus does is to the honor of his father. This is a principal Johannine theme, and is central to the Christology of the Gospel. Secondly, it involves the significance of the request being made in Jesus’ name (“in my name”, e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ mou). As we shall see, this is no superficial designation, as though we were simply to tack on the phrase “in Jesus’ name” to our prayers. Instead, the phrase cuts to the very heart of our identity as believers in Christ, and of our relationship to the Father through him. This will be discussed further in the following studies, as we proceed through all the key references in the Last Discourse.

As these studies will appear on Mondays during the weeks of Advent and Christmas, and will focus on the idea of Jesus’ name, you may wish to explore my earlier Christmas series “You Shall Call His Name…”, which deals with the significance of names and naming in the ancient Near East, and the importance of this within the Gospel Infancy narratives (Matt 1-2; Luke 1-2).


November 28: Romans 1:4 (continued)

Romans 1:4, continued

Following up on the discussion in the previous note, in our study on the Christological formula in Rom 1:3-4, it remains to examine the central expressions of second part of the formula (in verse 4):

    1. e)n duna/mei (“in power”), and
    2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$ (“according to [the] pneu=ma of holiness”)
1. e)n duna/mei

The prepositional expression e)n duna/mei (“in power”) qualifies the primary statement in verse 4—i.e., “the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God”. It introduces the predicate of the clause, but there is some uncertainty regarding the syntax: does it modify the participle o(risqe/nto$ or the title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=)? If the former, then the sense would be adverbial—that is, “having been marked out (by God)…in power”. If the latter, then it is adjectival, clarifying the sense in which Jesus is the Son of God, i.e., “the Son of God in power.”

Much depends, I think, on whether the expression truly is a Pauline addition to an earlier formula, or whether it represents an intrinsic part of the (original) formula as composed. The syntactical question, in this regard, is whether “in power” is an intentional parallel to “out of the seed…”, or whether the principal parallel in the two couplets is “out of the seed of David” / “out the resurrection of the dead”. In my view, the first option is to be preferred, in which case e)n duna/mei would have been part of the original formula. This means the full expression “the Son of God in power” is parallel with “out of the seed of David”, and may be intended to express a contrast along the lines of the Philippians hymn—i.e., incarnate human being vs. exalted divine being. His death/resurrection is greater than his birth, and moves in the opposite direction (ascent vs. descent).

What is certain is that the “power” (du/nami$) is the power of God, the very power that raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the “right hand” of God in heaven. In early Christian tradition, the power of God is closely aligned with His Spirit—Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38; Luke 1:35; 4:14; cf. also Matt 12:28 par, etc., an association that goes back to Old Testament tradition (e.g., Mic 3:8; Zec 4:6). Paul’s thought follows in line with this (1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4; Rom 15:13, 19), and he certainly emphasizes the power of God’s Spirit in raising Jesus (Rom 8:11ff), and how the exalted Jesus shares that same Spirit (1 Cor 15:45; 6:17). Thus, “Son of God in power” is an apt expression for the idea that the exalted Jesus possesses the very Spirit of God and is united with it.

2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$

This phrase is parallel with kata\ sa/rka in v. 3, and thus juxtaposes sa/rc (“flesh”) and pneu=ma (“spirit”). However, this is not the antithetical flesh-vs-Spirit dualism familiar from Paul’s letters (including a number of key passages in Romans); rather, it is meant to illustrate a more fundamental metaphysical contrast—of the material earthly realm (of human beings) with the divine and heavenly realm (of God). This has been seen by commentators as another piece of evidence for a pre-Pauline origin of the formula in vv. 3-4 (cp. a similar contrast in the hymn of 1 Tim 3:16, discussed in prior notes).

Here the term contrasted with “flesh” is not simply “spirit”, but “spirit of holiness [a(giosu/nh]”. This expression does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but is a literal rendering of vd#q) j^Wr in the Old Testament (“spirit of [God’s] holiness” = His “holy Spirit”), Psalm 51:13; Isa 63:10-11; cp. Dan 4:8-9, 18; 5:11. As such, it certainly refers to the Spirit of God, but specifically in reference to the presence (and effect) of His Spirit upon human beings (the people of God). The Qumran Community demonstrates a development in this line of tradition that is, in certain respects, comparable to that which took place within early Christianity. The references in the Dead Sea texts to the “holy Spirit” or “spirit of [God’s] holiness” are worth studying carefully; I have done this in a recent two-part article which I strongly recommend you consult as part of the current study.

If the formula in Rom 1:3-4 took shape earlier, among Jewish Christians, or if Paul himself composed it, then the Qumran usage would be important for an understanding of the background of the Christian development of this concept of God’s holy Spirit. In an early (Jewish) Christian context, the modifying expression (“according to [the] Spirit of holiness”) here would have several particular points of significance:

    • The ancient line of tradition whereby God empowers His chosen ones (prophet, king, etc) with His Spirit
    • As the spirit of holiness, God’s Spirit purifies and perfects His people (the chosen ones); this could easily be applied to the idea of resurrection from the dead
    • It is especially characteristic of the heavenly realm, the throne/sanctuary where the presence of God Himself resides; there is a strong correspondence in the Qumran texts between the faithful ones of God’s people (on earth) and the divine/heavenly beings (Angels, etc), both are designated as “sons of God”, “sons of Light”, etc.

These lines of tradition certainly would have informed the idea of Jesus’ exaltation, according to the contours of the earliest Christology. It was the special understanding of Jesus’ unique identity as the “Son of God” that gave to the Old Testament and Jewish tradition a powerful new Christian significance. At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (c. 57-58 A.D.), this Christology had begun to develop substantially, due in no small part, I am sure, to Paul’s own inspired contribution. The very fact that “Spirit of holiness” (pneu=ma a(giosu/nh) is used here, rather than the more common “holy Spirit” (pneu=ma a%gion), is another indication that Paul is adapting an older formula in Rom 1:3-4.

Following his use/inclusion of this formula, Paul returns in v. 5 to the main thrust of his greeting (v. 1), continuing the identification of himself as a missionary (apostle) and minister specially appointed by Christ (“through him”). The relative pronoun refers back to the concluding words of v. 4, to “Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord” (which themselves echo the opening words of v. 3, “Son [of God]”). Paul is a minister of Jesus Christ, commissioned by him and “set forth” (a)po/stolo$) by him to preach the Gospel and establish congregations (of believers). Even though Paul played no direct role in founding the congregations at Rome, he includes them as fellow believers, with whom he shares a common bond as people “called of [i.e. by] Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 6-7).

The implication is that true believers will affirm the Christological statement in vv. 3-4; there would be no real question on that point. So we may safely regard the statement as a fundamental confession of faith, to be cherished as one of the earliest that has come down to us. The Christology, rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus, defines the essential identity that we all share as believers in Christ. It encompasses his birth as a human being and reaches to his final exaltation as the Son of God in heaven—all in just a few short lines.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 35 (Part 2)

Psalm 35, continued

Verses 11-21

Verses 11-21 make up the middle portion of the Psalm, the development section that bridges the two main stanzas (vv. 1-10, discussed in the previous study, and vv. 22-28). Here, the conflict in the Psalm is developed, as the adversaries and opponents of the Psalmist are described, along with the threat they pose. We need not assume that specific historical persons are being referenced. In the Psalms, these adversaries tend to represent the wicked generally, the forces of evil that are at work in the world, oppressing the righteous, even to the point of presenting a danger of death and destruction.

It is possible to divide this section into two parts—verses 11-15 and 16-21; each of these emphasizes in different ways the threat that the wicked present to the righteous, in the person of the Psalmist, the protagonist of the composition.

Verses 11-12

“They stand up, witnesses of cruel (inte)nt,
(those) whom I do not know interrogate me;
they complete (for) me evil under (the) good,
(seek)ing the finish for my soul!”

These two couplets establish the action and purpose of the wicked in this section. They testify with cruel intent against the Psalmist, implying a judicial setting of sorts, a forum where accusations and charges are made. The noun du@ fundamentally signifies someone who repeats, in the sense of repeating something one (supposedly) has seen or heard. Here the idea is that certain people are acting as false witnesses, testifying with sm*j*, a noun that generally signifies violence, but often with a specific connotation of lawlessness and injustice. The effect of their evil testimony is to “complete” (vb <l^v*), in the sense of making a compensatory exchange, evil “under” (i.e., in place of) the good. Possibly this implies an act of betrayal against the Psalmist—i.e., while pretending to do good, their conduct is actually intended for evil.

The word lokv= in the final line can be taken for a noun meaning “childlessness”; however, I tentatively follow commentators such as J. A. Soggin and Dahood (p. 213), who would read it as a verbal noun of the root hlK in the Shaphel (causative) stem. The verb hl*K* has the basic meaning of “complete, finish”, and so makes a fitting parallel with <l^v* in the prior line. It can be used in the negative sense of “finish (someone) off”, i.e., bring a person’s life to an end, and that would seem to be the context here. In English idiom, we might translate the line as “bringing an end to my soul”.

Verse 13

“And I, in their wearing (me) down, my clothing (grew) loose,
I was pressed down (in) my soul with fasting,
and my plea turned (back) upon my (own) lap.”

The rhythm, structure, and meaning of this verse are all problematic. As it stands, it would seem to be a tricolon, with an irregular 4+3+3 meter. Moreover, the description is awkward and cumbersome, though this may be intentional, as if intending to convey poetically the wearisome burden that the protagonist feels. Faced with the oppressive actions of the wicked against him, the Psalmist responds with prayer and fasting. If the judicial setting of vv. 11-12 is retained, the “wearing down” (vb hl*j* in a causative sense) of the Psalmist may involve repeated slanderous accusations made against him.

The sense of the verb bWv (“turn [back]”) in the third line is not entirely clear. Does the “turning back” of the Psalmist’s petition indicate something positive or negative? The latter would seem more appropriate in the overall context of the tricolon—that is, even though the protagonist brings himself low with prayer and fasting, his plea (to God) seems to come back unanswered (cf. verse 17a, below).

Verse 14

“As (though for) a companion (or) a brother to me,
did I walk about, (yes even) as one mourning (his) mother,
going dark (with mourning), I bent myself (down low)!”

Another difficult verse. Presumably it is another tricolon, building upon that of verse 13; however, if the sense of the last line in v. 13 is positive, then conceivably it would be paired with the first line here in v. 14. In that case, vv. 13-14 would be comprised of 3 couplets rather than 2 tricola, and the middle couplet would be an expression of comfort and hope:

“and my prayer turned back upon my lap,
like a companion or a brother to me”

The overall sense of these verses, however, is one of suffering and an expression of grief and despair by the Psalmist. Thus, on this basis, the division into a pair of triplets (tricola) seems more appropriate. His efforts to change his circumstances (through prayer and fasting) having failed, the protagonist now responds like one who is in mourning. In v. 13, his clothing was loose and coarse, but now he goes about in dark/black garments (vb rd^q*), as if in mourning for a dear friend or family member. I take the references to a “companion” and “brother” in the first line as connected to the act of mourning in the second line. They are likewise objects of the verb, even though they are mentioned prior—a technique which builds suspense and is used for dramatic effect. In more conventional syntax, we might have instead worded it, “I walked about like (I was) mourning a companion, or my brother, or (even) my mother”.

Verse 15

“And, in my limping, they took joy and gathered,
they gathered (as one)s striking against me;
(the ones) I do not know tore away (at me),
and did not cease in acting false (with) me.”

With some reluctance, I have followed Dahood (p. 214) in including the first word of v. 16 (ypnjb) as part of the final line of v. 15. This results in a rhythmically consistent pair of 3-beat (3+3) couplets here in v. 15, and preserves the parallelism in the second couplet. The suffering and grief of the Psalmist only goads the wicked to further malice. With evil delight (vb jm^c*), they gather together around the Psalmist—the doubling of the verb Wpsan (“they gathered”) serves to emphasize this aspect of their behavior. The sense is that they surround him, taunting him in a manner that becomes increasingly hostile and violent. The verb [n~j* has the basic meaning of “be/act false”, and so echoes the idea of the wicked as ‘false’ witnesses who slander the protagonist (cf. on vv. 11-12 above). It also connotes both immorality (corruption) and betrayal, and continues the motif of ruthless/lawless behavior expressed by the word sm*j* at the opening of this section.

The phrase yT!u=d^y` al) (“I do not know”) is also repeated from verse 11, and so characterizes the wicked again as strangers, i.e. ones whom the Psalmist does not know. It seems likely that this emphasis actually reflects a sense of betrayal—his opponents may indeed have been known to him, but their cruel behavior shows that he did not realize their true nature until now.

Verse 16

“(The one)s mocking in a circle grind their teeth at me.”

This single 4-beat line opens the second part of the section, and continues the motif-setting from v. 15—of a circle of hostile, taunting adversaries surrounding the Psalmist. The basic meaning of the word goum* would seem to be something that has a curved or circular shape. The construct expression goum* yg@u&l^ (“mockers of a circle,” i.e., ones mocking in a circle) is difficult to translate literally; nor can the alliteration of the expression (la±¦gê m¹±ôg) be captured in English.

Verse 17

“My Lord, to what (end) do you see (this)?
Turn away my soul from (the one)s <giving roar>,
my only (life) from the (shaggy) lions!”

The scenario of the wicked surrounding the Psalmist leads to a despairing plea. The use of the common verb ha*r* (“see”) in the first line must be understood in the specific sense of “see (this), and yet do not respond.” The prepositional particle hm*K* (“for what”, i.e. for what reason/purpose) can have the force of “how long?”, adding to the sense of despair. Following the suggestion of Kraus (p. 391, and other commentators), I have reluctantly chosen to emend the MT <h#ya@V)m! (“from their destructions”) to <yg]a&V)m! (“from [the one]s roaring”). The Masoretic reading is awkward, but not impossible in context (viz., “from their destructive [act]s”); however, this emendation has the decided advantage of preserving a strong and clear parallelism in the final two lines. The term ryp!K= is one of several referring to a lion—in this case, to a vigorous young (male), possibly related to the idea of being covered (rpk I) with hair (i.e., a shaggy mane).

Verse 18

“(Then) I will throw you (praise) in (the) great assembly,
among (the) throng (of) people I will shout (praise to) you.”

The Psalmist promises to give a formal (public) account of what YHWH has done for him, extolling it in praise, if, indeed, God will deliver him from his wicked adversaries.

Verse 19

“They must not rejoice at me, (the) deceitful (one)s hostile to me;
(the one)s hating me for no (purpose), may they squeeze (their) eye(s shut)!”

The precise meaning of this couplet is difficult to determine. The sense seems to be of the Psalmist making an appeal to YHWH that the wicked not be allowed to exult in the suffering of the righteous. The imperfect verb forms have jussive (imperative) force; essentially God is being called on to act. The contrast is between a joyous demeanor (vb jm^c*), and an angry, frustrated expression, indicated by the idiom “squeeze [vb Jr^q*] the eye(s)”. The Psalmist calls on YHWH to frustrate the wicked, so that they are not able effectively to act out their hostility/hatred toward the righteous.

The word <N*j! poses certain difficulties in context here. I have followed the typical rendering that derives it (as an adverb) from the root /nj (I), “to show favor, do (a) favor”, in the negative sense of doing something “for no good (reason)”. However, Dahood (p. 214f) would derive it from a separate root /nj (II/III) meaning “act stealthily” (cf. the previous study on v. 7).

Verse 20

“For they do not speak (a message of) peace,
but (are) about stirring (up trouble) in (the) land,
(and so) they devise words of treachery.”

Here is an example where the semantic range of the root <l^v* (and the noun <olv*) are difficult to render clearly in English. I have opted for the typical translation of <olv* as “peace”, but I believe that the primary idea here is properly related to the context of the covenant, and of (God’s people) fulfilling the terms of the agreement—which includes acting in such a way so as to promote peace throughout the land. The noun hm*r=m! conveys just the opposite: deceit, treachery, and a violation of the covenant bond. The wicked may appear to be devout and faithful on the surface, but in reality their hearts and minds are set against the bond with YHWH.

The root ugr in the second line has an interesting range of meaning which creates a parallel with <lv in line 1. While the verb ug~r* can denote rest and repose (i.e., peace), it can also indicate the opposite—i.e., stirring and unrest. Possibly the linguistic evidence is the result of two separate roots being conflated, but that is uncertain (cf. Dahood’s analysis, p. 215, and previously on Ps 30:6). Here, the antithetic meaning is clearly in view, i.e. “stirring (up trouble)”. Similarly, “words [<yr!b*D=] of treachery” is contrasted with “speaking [vb rb^D*] peace” in line 1.

Verse 21

“And they open wide their mouth against me,
(and) say: ‘Ha, ha! our eyes have seen (it)!'”

While the behavior of the wicked is described broadly, and variously, throughout vv. 11-21, the main focus is that which was introduced at the start of the section (cf. on vv. 11-12, above)—namely, that of adversaries of the Psalmist giving false and slanderous testimony against him. This is restated here in a rather blunt and coarse manner, capturing the sense of taunting that was emphasized in the following verses 13ff. What do the Psalmist’s opponents claim to have seen? This is not specified; most likely, it would imply either a supposed religious transgression or ethical crime. In any case, the detail is more or less irrelevant; the main point is the way that the wicked are willing to slander and impugn the character of the righteous. This basic motif played a role, famously, in the Synoptic Passion narrative of the interrogation of Jesus (Mk 14:56ff), and is the sort of thing that many good and faithful believers are apt to have experienced, in different ways and in varying degrees, from time to time.

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol 16 (1965).
References marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).