June 12: John 11:52

John 11:52

The Johannine keyword te/knon (plur. te/kna, “offspring”), used in reference to the believers as the children of God, occurs with some frequency in the Letters (nine times, five in 1 John), but only three times in the Gospel. We have already discussed two of the occurrences, in 1:12 (note) and 8:39 (see the previous note). The third is in 11:52; interestingly, however, it is not spoken by Jesus, but by Caiaphas—as an opponent of Jesus. This is an example of the irony that we find in a number of places throughout the Gospel. An opponent of Jesus unwittingly speaks using Johannine theological terminology—regarding Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and believers as the children of God.

We saw something similar in the Discourse-section 8:31-47 of the Sukkot Discourse (chaps. 7-8), discussed in the previous note. In verses 33 and 39a, some in the audience make the claim of being children of Abraham, to which Jesus responds, in v. 39b, using the noun te/kna (“offspring”). His point is, that they cannot truly be the te/kna of Abraham, since they are opposed to him, and even wish to see him put to death—something which Abraham never would do. The implication is that they are actually children of the Devil. To this, Jesus’ opponents respond further by claiming to have God as their Father—drawing upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition that defined the relationship between YHWH and Israel (and especially the righteous ones of Israel) as that of a Father to his son. In doing so, they unwittingly use the Johannine theological idiom genna/w + e)k (“come to be [born] of”), implying that they are the offspring (te/kna) of God. This, of course, is not possible, since they do not trust in Jesus as the Son of God, a point made clear by Jesus in the exposition of vv. 40-47.

The episode in 11:45-53 also involves opponents of Jesus. It follows the great Lazarus episode of chapter 11 (vv. 1-44), which is at the center of the entire Gospel narrative (cf. the central confessional statement in verse 27). Largely in reaction to the raising of Lazarus, the religious authorities in Jerusalem—that is, the high Council, or Sanhedrin—gather together, in order to determine what action they should take. Eventually, they decided that Jesus must be put to death, and made plans to achieve that goal (v. 53). As presented in the narrative, key to that decision was the advice given by the high priest Caiaphas (vv. 49-50), advising that “…it bears together (well) for us, that one man should die off over [u(pe/r, i.e. for the sake of] the people, and that the entire nation should not perish”.

Here Caiaphas unwittingly describes the salvific character of Jesus’ death, using terminology found elsewhere in the Gospel. For example, the preposition u(pe/r (“over”, in the sense of “on behalf of, for the sake of”) occurs on a number of occasions in reference to the sacrificial, atoning nature of Jesus’ death—6:51 (cp. Mark 14:24 par); 10:11, 15; 17:19; cf. also 13:37-38; 15:13. Also, the idea that the entire nation “should not perish” echoes the wording in 3:16 (cf. 6:39; 10:28; 17:12).

According to the information provided by the Gospel writer, Caiaphas’ advice is in line with a prophecy he had apparently spoken some time earlier, in which he predicted that:

“…Yeshua was about to die off over [i.e. for the sake of] the nation—and not over the nation only, but (so) that also the offspring [te/kna] of God, having been scattered throughout, might be gathered together into one.” (vv. 51b-52)

This is perhaps the supreme example of Johannine irony, and also of the lack of understanding by Jesus’ opponents (presented so frequently in the Discourses). Here, Jesus’ opponents do not even understand the true meaning of their own words. Caiaphas’ prophecy is an unwitting prophecy of the effect of Jesus’ mission (and his sacrificial death)—that it would unite together all of the “offspring of God”. Caiaphas meant this expression in the manner of Jesus’ opponents in 8:39 (see above), as a reference to the Israelite/Jewish people; however, from the Johannine standpoint, it refers to believers in Christ.

The theme of unity, expressed by Caiaphas’ final words (ei)$ e%n, “into one”), also has an important place in the Johannine theology. It is most prominent in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, where the adjective ei!$ (neut. e%n), “one”, occurs five times (vv. 11, 21, 22 [twice], 23). There is also an important occurrence in 10:16, where Jesus similarly uses it in the context of the unity of believers. Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the proclamation of the Gospel message—the Christian mission—will result in uniting together all the “offspring of God”. Every one who belongs to God will respond to the Gospel, and through trust in Jesus, will come to be born (1:12-13; 3:3-8) as the offspring/children of God. Through the Spirit, all of these believers are united as one—in union with God the Father and Jesus the Son, but also with each other.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 3:13-14, cont.)

John 3:13-14, continued

John 3:14

“And, even as Moshe lifted high [u&ywsen] the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the son of man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”

This “son of man” saying follows upon the one in verse 13 (discussed in the previous study). While it is possible that these sayings once circulated separately, they are clearly connected here, being integral—indeed, central—to the Johannine Discourse of Jesus in chap. 3 (3:1-21). In this case, the initial conjunction (kai/), connecting verse 14 with v. 13, would seem to have a coordinating (and explicative) force (i.e., “and so…”).

The bonding motif, uniting the two sayings, is the idea of ascent. In verse 13 (as in 1:51, cf. the earlier study) the verb used is a)nabai/nw (“step up”), while here in v. 14 it is u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”). Both verbs are important Johannine keywords, used throughout the Gospel, with special theological (and Christological) meaning. In verse 13, the “stepping up” of the son of man (Jesus) is anticipated, and this is expressed with greater clarity in v. 14.

We may isolate two component clauses to the saying, reflecting two distinct lines of tradition:

    • Phrase 1: An illustrative comparison from Scripture, viz., a particular Moses tradition (Numbers 21:4-9, vv. 8-9)
    • Phrase 2: A “son of man” saying rooted in the Gospel Tradition, comparable to the three Passion-prediction sayings by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 pars)

Before turning to the Moses-tradition, let us consider the resemblance of v. 14b to the Synoptic Passion-predictions—all of which utilize the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) as a self-reference by Jesus. The first prediction, in particular, bears a close formal resemblance:

    • “it is necessary [dei=] (for) the son of man to suffer many (thing)s…” (Mk 8:31)
    • “it is necessary [dei=] (for) the son of man to be lifted up high” (v. 14b)

In the Synoptic saying, the chain of infinitives covers the full range of Jesus’ Passion—suffering, death, and resurrection. By contrast, here in John, a single infinitive (of the verb u(yo/w) suffices. The parallel suggests that the verb corresponds similarly to the range of Jesus’ Passion (entailing both his death and resurrection), though it is his impending death that would seem to be primarily in view (cf. below).

The illustration of the bronze snake, set up by Moses on a ‘pole’ (Num 21:8f), certainly is suggestive (visually) of Jesus being placed upon a stake. Thus, it would seem that the primary reference is to Jesus’ crucifixion; the other occurrences of the verb u(yo/w (8:28; 12:32, 34) would tend to confirm this (see esp. the comment in 12:33).

However, the Hebrew word for the pole or staff, upon which the snake was set, is sn@, which specifically refers to a signal-flag or banner—viz., something placed up high (and waved) so that everyone can see it (and rally to it). This brings out additional associations for the symbolism. In the original Moses tradition, the snake served as signal-flag, so that, whenever a person was bitten by a snake, he/she could look to the elevated bronze snake, and thus be healed (lit. “live”). In verse 8, the verb ha*r* (“see”) is used, but in v. 9 it is the verb fb^n`, which can imply a more intense or careful looking (i.e., gazing at, contemplating).

Given the theological importance of the sight/seeing motif in the Gospel of John, it is no surprise that this aspect of the tradition is particularly brought out by the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker). This becomes clear from the expository application that follows in verse 15:

“…(so) that every(one) trusting in him should hold (the) life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life].”

In the Johannine theological idiom, seeing means trusting in Jesus (as the Son of God)—see, in particular, this correlation in the chapter 9 narrative (esp. vv. 35-41). Thus, everyone “seeing” the raised snake corresponds to everyone “trusting in” Jesus.

What significance, if any, is there to the use of the expression “the son of man” here in v. 14, beyond its use as a self-reference by Jesus? If we limit our analysis to the parallel with the Synoptic Passion-prediction (Mk 8:31 par, see above), then there would seem to be a specific association between the expression and the suffering (and death) of Jesus. This, in turn, represents a natural extension of the poetic use of the expression in the Old Testament Scriptures, in which the limitation and weakness of the human condition—including its mortality—tends to be emphasized. Jesus identifies himself with these aspects of the human condition.

However, if we turn to the prior occurrences of the expression in the Gospel of John (1:51; 3:13) there would seem to be a rather different orientation and point of emphasis. As we saw in our studies on each of these references [1:51 and 3:13], there are two key thematic motifs associated with the expression “the son of man”: (1) the heavenly origin of Jesus, and (2) the descent/ascent motif. The principal point in verse 13 is Jesus’ descent to earth from heaven; implicit in the saying is the expectation that, after his descent (stepping down) to earth, he will then ascend (stepping back up) to heaven.

It is in this regard that the verb u(yo/w (“lift up high”) can be understood as signifying something more than Jesus’ death on the cross. Indeed, while the Johannine understanding of Son’s exaltation may begin with his being ‘lifted up’ on the cross, it also includes his resurrection and ultimate return to the Father (in heaven). Jesus’ suffering and death begins a process of exaltation that reaches its climax with his return to heaven. We shall find this same Christological dynamic at work in the remaining “son of man” sayings as well.

Given the parallel between verse 14b and Mark 8:31 par (see above), it would be enough to explain Jesus’ use of the expression “the son of man” here on that basis. However, in light of the proximity to the saying in v. 13, we may fairly assume that the expression in verse 14 carries the same theological import as it does in v. 13 (and 1:51). In other words, Jesus’ identity as the “son of man” must be understood in terms of the distinctive Johannine theology. As we begin to expound this in the context of the descent/ascent motif, we can isolate two principal theological strands:

    • Descent: Jesus’ heavenly origin, and his incarnation on earth as a human being (“son of man”)
    • Ascent: A process of exaltation that begins with his death (i.e., suffering of the “son of man”), and culminates with his return to heaven.

*     *     *     *     *     *

The association with Moses in verse 14 raises an interesting (possible) point of interpretation for verse 13. Indeed, it is possible that the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) intends a specific comparison, between Jesus and Moses, in v. 13. Central to this theory is the idea of Moses’ ascension, as it is found in Jewish tradition. When Jesus declares that “no one has stepped up into heaven”, he may have the ascension of Moses specifically in mind. For traditions regarding an ascent by Moses, see Meeks, pp. 104ff, 110-111, 192-5, 235-6 (cf. Moloney, p. 56f).

Such a comparison is made more plausible by the thematic relationship, between Jesus and Moses, that runs through much of the Gospel. This begins in the Prologue (1:14-18, esp. vv. 17-18), where the comparative superiority of Jesus is established. These verses draw upon various Moses/Exodus traditions, particularly the theophany (YHWH’s revelation to Moses) in chapters 33-34—and especially the notice in 33:23 (cf. Deut 4:12ff). The wording in v. 18 of the Prologue resembles that of 3:13:

    • “no one has seen God at any time”
    • “no one has stepped up into heaven”

If the phrase in 1:18 alludes to Moses (Exod 33:23), then it is plausible that the similar phrase in 3:13 does so as well (particularly given the reference to Moses in v. 14).

References above marked “Meeks” are to Wayne A. Meeks, The Prophet-King: Moses Traditions and the Johannine Christology (Brill: 1967).
Those marked “Moloney” are to Francis J. Moloney SDB, The Johannine Son of Man, Second Edition (Wipf and Stock: 1978/2007).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 14:25; 15:2)

We have seen how the king/kingdom theme in the Synoptic narrative (Mark 11-13 par), following the Triumphal Entry scene, was developed in a number of important ways. A conflict paradigm provides the narrative means by which an understanding of the kingship (and Messianic identity) of Jesus shifts: from the Davidic/royal Messiah to God’s own Divine/Heavenly Messenger—the Son of Man (from Daniel 7:13f) and the very Son of God. Instead of fulfilling the nationalistic expectations of the crowds for their Messiah, by fighting and subduing the nations (as in Psalm 118), Jesus finds himself in an internal conflict—as the king (Jesus) faces hostility and rebellious opposition from his own people.

In the Passion narrative that follows (Mark 14-15 par), the contrastive juxtaposition, of two different understandings of Jesus’ kingship, becomes even more pronounced. Two contrasting themes become prominent in the narrative:

    • The heavenly kingdom that Jesus will inherit (as king), following his death, and (by contrast):
    • The earthly kingdom, with its nationalistic political implications, connected with the title “king of the Jews”

These themes are expressed at two key points in the narrative, represented (in Mark) by 14:25 and 15:2ff.

Mark 14:25 par

In the Last Supper (Passover) scene, 14:12-25, the episode closes with the following statement by Jesus:

“Amen, I relate to you that I shall not again drink of the produce of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (v. 25)

The implication is that Jesus will not drink again with his disciples until after his death and resurrection. In spite of the concrete imagery of drinking (wine), there is every reason to think that the reference here is to a heavenly setting. The Matthean version (26:27) brings out this aspect a bit more clearly:

“…until that day when I shall drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.”

The kingdom which Jesus receives, as the Messiah, is in heaven, with God the Father. The Lukan Gospel presents this sense of the kingdom—and of the kingship of Jesus—even more prominently. This begins even prior to the Passion narrative, with the saying in 17:20-21 and the notice at the beginning of the parables of the Minas (19:11). The Lukan version of the Triumphal Entry scene has to be understood in the context of these references. The kingdom which Jesus will rule (as Messiah) will not be established on earth in a socio-political (and nationalist) manner, contrary to the expectation of the crowds who acclaimed Jesus (as king) upon his entry into the city.

In Luke’s Gospel, the coming of the kingdom of God is ultimately an eschatological event (21:31)—the kingdom will be established only after Jesus has been raised from the death and exalted (to God’s right hand) in heaven. This reflects the core Christology of the early believers, and it is expressed most precisely in Luke-Acts. The idea of Jesus departing to receive his kingdom/kingship is expressed in the parable of the Minas (19:12), just prior to the Triumphal Entry scene. It then defines Jesus’ kingship throughout the remainder of the narrative.

Let us first note the Lukan handling of the tradition in Mark 14:25 par (see above). To begin with, the basic idea expressed in the Synoptic saying (Lk 22:18) is included as well at the beginning of the Last Supper (Passover) episode (v. 15-16)—thus framing the entire episode under the same interpretive motif. Consider how this is formulated:

    • “For I relate to you, that I shall not eat it [i.e. the Passover] (again) until (the time) when it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (v. 16)
    • “For I relate to you, that, from now (on), I shall not drink from the produce of the vine, until (the time) when the kingdom of God should come.” (v. 18)

The Passover ritual finds its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of God. Jesus will feast again with his disciples only when the Kingdom comes. This reflects a traditional eschatological theme of the heavenly banquet which the righteous will attend, as an eternal reward—dining (in a figurative sense) with God in His Kingdom, at the King’s table. This motif was introduced earlier in the Gospel (cf. 13:29; 14:15). On its background in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, cf. Isa 25:6-8; 55:1-2; 65:13-14; 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Baruch 29:4; Pirqe Aboth 3:20; it is also utilized in the book of Revelation (3:20; 19:19). Cf. Fitzmyer, p. 1026.

The kingdom-banquet theme is further developed within the Last Supper scene, by the Lukan inclusion of the material in vv. 24-30 (cp. Mk 10:42-45 par; Matt 19:28). In verses 28-30, Jesus promises to his disciples—those who remain faithful to him through the time of distress—that they will receive a kingship of their own, ruling alongside Jesus himself, under his royal authority:

“I will set through to you, just as my Father set through to me, a kingdom, (so) that you might eat and drink upon my table, in my kingdom, and you will sit upon thrones, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.” (vv. 29-30)

Jesus will receive a kingdom from God the Father, ruling as King alongside God Himself; similarly, Jesus will establish for his close disciples (the Twelve) ruling seats within his kingdom. Again, the Lukan narrative emphasizes that Jesus will receive this eternal/heavenly kingdom only after his death; this point is made at a climactic moment in the Passion narrative (23:42; on the textual issue in this verse, see my earlier discussion), and is reiterated toward the close of the Gospel, in the Resurrection narrative (24:26). This last reference shows clearly how the Gospel writer understood the true nature of Jesus’ Messianic kingship:

“Was it not necessary (for) the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s, and (then) to come into his honor/splendor [do/ca]?”

Jesus receives his kingship, and his kingdom is established, only after his death and resurrection.

Mark 15:2ff

If the tradition in Mark 14:25 par represents one side of the kingdom theme in the Passion narrative, the other is represented by the Roman interrogation of Jesus in 15:2 par:

“And Pilatus inquired of him, ‘Are you the king of the Yehudeans?'”

The only response Jesus gives to this direct question is “You say (so) [su\ le/gei$]”. The Synoptic tradition is unified at this point, and there is essentially no difference in the parallel versions (Matt 27:11; Lk 23:3). Jesus gives no further answer to Pilate, contrary to the presentation in the Gospel of John (18:33-19:11). However, the Johannine version of this scene shares with the Synoptic the important thematic contrast, between an earthly (national/political) kingdom and the heavenly Kingdom of God. Jesus’ kingdom is heavenly, and thus, for this reason, he refuses to admit to being “king of the Jews” in the nationalistic sense that Pilate understood the title.

This contrast is developed as the narrative proceeds. We may point out the following details, which are generally common to the Gospel Tradition, and which show, most discordantly, how the earthly and heavenly models for kingship are incompatible:

    • The crowds reject Jesus as their king, and call for his death as ‘king of the Jews’ (vv. 8-15); this, of course, represents a reversal of the popular reaction in the Triumphal Entry scene.
    • The mocking treatment of Jesus by the soldiers (vv. 16-19), in which they dress him up and taunt him as ‘king of the Jews’.
    • The inscription placed above Jesus’ head (on the cross), effectively giving the charge for which he was being crucified—viz., that he was, or claimed to be, “king of the Jews”, a political rival to Roman authority (v. 26).
    • Jesus is further taunted by the religious leaders, while he is on the cross, as ‘king of the Jews’ (v. 32).

The conflict theme, developed throughout chapters 11-14, between the people and their king (Jesus), comes to a climax in the interrogation and crucifixion scenes (of chap. 15). The people, for the most part, were unable to understand and accept Jesus in the true sense of his kingship, but could only see him as king in an earthly (nationalistic-political) sense. Their understanding of his Messianic identity was thus quite limited and distorted; the same may be said for how they understood the nature of the Kingdom of God, and what they thought its coming entailed. Even after the resurrection, Jesus’ own disciples still held an imperfect (and limited) conception of the Kingdom, as their question in Acts 1:6 clearly indicates.

In upcoming studies within this series, we will explore further the Kingdom-theme within Luke-Acts, as we consider the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer within the context of the Lukan Gospel (and the book of Acts) as a whole. The same will be done for the petition in the context of the Matthean Gospel.

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

References marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).


March 22: Hebrews 2:10-18 (continued)

Hebrews 2:10-18, continued

An important aspect of the sonship-of-believers theme in the New Testament is the idea that the sonship of believers is contingent upon on the unique Sonship of Jesus Christ. This is expressed in a number of different ways. Notably, in the Pauline letters, as we have seen (cf. esp. Rom 6:3-10; 8:9-11, 17ff), the identity of believers as the sons/children of God is closely tied to the participation of believers in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is a vital component of our union with Christ, as believers. Realized through the presence of the Spirit, and symbolized by the baptism ritual, this participation in Jesus’ death (and his subsequent resurrection), enables us to become God’s offspring.

The letter to the Hebrews contains a similar emphasis on the death of Jesus, along with the effect of this sacrificial death for us, as believers. The connection between Jesus’ death and our identity as sons/children of God is less clearly developed, compared with Paul’s theological exposition (in Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans), yet it is certainly established in Hebrews 2:10-18, a passage which we began examining in the previous note.

Interestingly, in certain ways, the author of Hebrews, in developing this sonship-theme, is more closely rooted to the Gospel Tradition than Paul. It is significant, for example, the way that he alludes to the distinctive identification of Jesus with the expression “(the) son of man” —an expression applied by Jesus (to himself) throughout the Gospels. It occurs virtually nowhere else in the New Testament (or comparable early Christian writings), outside of this Tradition. The use of the expression here in 2:5-7ff, quoting from Psalm 8:4-6, captures its range of meaning, as used by Jesus, within the Gospel Tradition.

I will be discussing this expression, “(the) son of man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), in an upcoming exegetical series for Holy Week. Two important aspects of meaning, as applied to Jesus, are present here in the author’s use of Psalm 8:4-6:

    • An emphasis on the human condition, particularly with regard to human suffering, weakness, and mortality.
    • The idea of the exaltation of the human being, which, as applied to Jesus (i.e., the exaltation of Christ) in the Gospel Tradition, is enhanced by the connection with the Son of Man figure (“one like a son of man”) from Daniel 7:13-14.

These two aspects generally correspond with the death (suffering) and resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus; and this correspondence is definitely brought out by the author of Hebrews. Note how the Psalm passage is interpreted and applied, in verse 9:

“But (as) the one having been made less, (for a) short (time), compared with (the) Messengers, we see Yeshua, through the suffering and the death (he endured), having been crowned (now) with splendor and honor, so that, by (the) favor of God, he might taste death over [i.e. on behalf of] every (one).”

Paul’s emphasis, on our participation in Jesus’ death (see above), is here reversed—viz., the focus is on Jesus’ sharing in our experience of death. As a human being (“son of man”), Jesus experienced the same kind of suffering and death that is common to all human beings. The result of this participation, by Jesus in the human condition, is made clear in verse 10:

“It was suitable for Him—for [dia/] whom and through [dia/] whom all (thing)s (come to be)—(in hav)ing led many sons into splendor [do/ca], to make complete through sufferings the chief leader of their salvation.”

It is through the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of His Son that God leads (vb a&gw) “many sons” (i.e., believers) into honor/splendor. As part of this process, the Son himself is “made complete” (vb teleio/w) through the sufferings he experienced. The Son is called the “chief leader” (a)rxhgo/$) of our salvation, implying that he is the one, working at God’s behest, who leads us to salvation. This can be understood in the sense that he leads the way for us, through his death and resurrection. Our future resurrection to glory is patterned after Jesus’ own, and is made possible by our participation in his resurrection.

At least as important is the recognition that we all—Jesus and we as believers—alike are God’s offspring, His sons. Thus, in leading us to salvation, the Son (Jesus) understands his kinship to us, and the importance of our being brought to the same honor/splendor which he possesses alongside God the Father:

“For both the (one) making holy and the (one)s being made holy (are) out of One—for which reason he is not ashamed to call them (his) brothers” (v. 11)

The expression e)c e(no/$ (“out of one”), in light of this sonship-emphasis, is best understood as a reference to God as our common Father. The Johannine writings make extensive use of the preposition e)k (“out of”) in this context of the birth of believers from God, as His offspring. Also part of the Johannine theology is the idea that the Son (Jesus) makes known the Father’s name to believers (cf. especially in John 17). The author of Hebrews brings out this same emphasis through a quotation of Psalm 22:22:

“…saying, ‘I will give forth (the) message (of) your name to my brothers; in (the) midst of (the) assembly called out [e)kklhsi/a], I will sing (praise) to you.'” (v. 12)

In this context, the motif of making known the Father’s name—that is, making known the Father Himself—must relate to the realization by believers of their/our identity as God’s children. This, indeed, is the point brought out in verse 13, with the quotation from Isaiah 8:17b-18:

“…I will be (one) persuaded [i.e. having trusted] upon Him…see, I and the children which God has given to me.”

This suggests another Johannine theme: namely, the idea that God the Father has given believers to the Son (Jesus). In this context, giving children to a person does not mean that the person gives birth to the children (as his/her own); rather, they are already children (born of God), given over to the Son’s care as his brothers (and sisters). The close kinship, between the Son and his fellow brothers, is developed in vv. 14-18:

“On (the basis), then, (that) the children share in common blood and flesh, (so) also he (him)self held along fully with (us) the same (thing)s, (so) that, through the (experience of) death, he might make the (one) holding the force of death cease operating…” (v. 14)

The Son was able to vanquish the power of death by experiencing death himself, by fully possessing the flesh and blood of human beings (and thus the mortality of the human condition, cf. above). This thematic emphasis on freeing human beings from the power of death—Death personified as an enslaving tyrant (and identified with the Devil)—very much resembles Paul’s emphasis (esp. in Romans, cf. chapters 5-7). Even the use of the verb katarge/w (“make [to be] without work [i.e. stop working]”) is thoroughly Pauline—this is one of just two NT occurrences [27] outside of the Pauline corpus (assuming Hebrews was not written by Paul). The apparent Pauline language continues in verse 15:

“…and (that) he might bring them forth (to a) different (place), those who, in fear of death, through all (the time) of their living were (be)ing held in slavery.”

The identification of believers as the “seed of Abraham” (v. 16), in the context of this sonship-theme, is also reflective of Pauline theology (see the earlier note on Gal 3:26).

Ultimately, at the close of this passage (vv. 17-18), the author departs from the sonship-theme, to introduce the theme which will dominate the rest of the main body of Hebrews—namely, Jesus’ role as the great High Priest, whose sacrificial offering removes the effects of sin from the Community. Even so, the author frames this thematic introduction in terms of the sonship of believers, in v. 17a (“…to be made like his brothers in all [thing]s”), through a reiteration of the kinship motif in v. 18, and again at the beginning of chapter 3 (“holy brothers…”, v. 1).

In the next daily note, we will examine one further sonship-passage in Hebrews—the ethical exhortation in 12:5-11ff.



“The Word Became Flesh…”: Supplemental note on Jn 1:14 and 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6

On John 1:14 and 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6

This note is supplemental to Part 3 of the current study article on John 1:14, looking, in particular, at the use of the verb gi/nomai in the statement “the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”, within the overall context of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters). Two references will specifically be examined here: the saying by the Baptist in John 1:15, and the Christological confession in 1 John 4:2 par.

Beginning with the Baptist’s declaration in Jn 1:15 (par 30), it is clear that the verb e&rxomai (“come”) refers to the earthly career and ministry of the incarnate Logos; in English idiom, we might say, “when he came upon the scene”. The phrase is “the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] in back of me [o)pi/sw mou]”.

Only in terms of his public ministry, can Jesus (as the Logos) be said to come “in back of” (i.e. after, following) John the Baptist. At the time of his first appearance (the baptism), Jesus was virtually unknown, while the Baptist had already been on the scene for some time and had developed a reputation. Conceivably, Jesus may have been (for a time) a disciple of the Baptist; commentators are far from being in agreement on this point, but, if it were historically accurate, then it would provide a clearer meaning for the expression “in back of me” (cp. the use of o)pi/sw in Mk 1:17, 20 par, etc). John 1:15/30 likely represents a Johannine version of an historical tradition, otherwise preserved in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:7 par). On the background and Messianic significance of this saying, cf. my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

But, if e&rxomai in 1:15 refers to Jesus’ public ministry, what of the verb gi/nomai? There would seem to be two possibilities: (a) it refers to the human life of Jesus generally, or (b) it refers specifically to his birth. If we build out the statement in v. 15, it reads:

“the (one) coming in back of me, has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me [e&mprosqe/n mou]”

In what sense has Jesus come to be “in front of” the Baptist? In light of verse 14, the answer can only be: it is because he is the Logos who became a human being. The connection with verse 14 (and the prior vv. 12-13) provides, in my view, conclusive evidence that gi/nomai here refers to primarily (if not exclusively) to Jesus’ birth—that is, the birth of the Logos as a human being.

This brings us to the confessional statement in 1 John 4:2. The author essentially asserts that every true believer will acknowledge and affirm that Jesus Christ has come “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/). The actual wording is “Yeshua (the) Anointed having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh”, utilizing the verb e&rxomai (“come”). There is a formal similarity with Jn 1:14, involving the conjunction of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) and sa/rc (“flesh”).

In the Baptist’s declaration of Jn 1:15 (cf. above), the verbs e&rxomai and gi/nomai are connected. As I have interpreted this verse, e&rxomai refers to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (i.e., his “coming” on the scene), while gi/nomai, in light of the prior v. 14 (and vv. 12-13), refers to Jesus’ birth (i.e., the birth of the Logos as a human being). But how does 1 Jn 4:2 (par 2 Jn 7) understand the verb e&rxomai? Elsewhere in 1 John (2:18; 4:3), the verb, used of the figure/spirit of “antichrist”, has the basic meaning of “coming on the scene” here on earth, i.e., being present and active among human beings. This generally parallels the references in Jn 1:7, 11, 27, 29-31, referring to the public appearance (and ministry) of John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively.

On the other hand, Jn 1:9 has the wider revelatory context of the Divine Logos (the Word/Wisdom of God) being manifest in Creation (and on earth). In certain respects, this would parallel the usage in 1 John of “antichrist” as an evil spirit, that is opposed to God (and His Spirit), and gives a false/deceiving revelation. In this regard, the use of the verb e&rxomai is closer in meaning to how gi/nomai is used in the Prologue, since the incarnation of the Logos represents the climactic manifestation of it within Creation. Other references in the Gospel support this cosmic orientation, utilizing e&rxomai to refer to the Son coming to earth from heaven, and then, having completed his mission, going back to his heavenly origin (i.e., coming [back] to the Father)—cf. 3:19, 31; 5:43; 7:28; 8:14, 21f, 42, etc.

We may thus isolate three Christological uses of the verb e&rxomai:

    • A person appearing, coming on the scene, to begin his public ministry/career
    • The coming to earth (from heaven) of a Divine/heavenly being
      to which a third, intermediate usage may be added:
    • The (eschatological) appearance of the Messiah (cf. 1:27; 4:25; 7:31, 41-42, and also my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

These differing emphases in the Johannine use of e&rxomai are of significance for determining the opponents’ view of Christ, in light of the confessional statements in 1 Jn 4:2 par and 5:6. The two statements are clearly related:

    • “…having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/]” (4:2)
    • “…(hav)ing come [e)lqw/n] in the water and the blood” (5:6)

In the latter statement, there are two forms of the phrase in bold: (a) “through [dia/] water and blood”, (b) “in [e)n] the water and in [e)n] the blood”. I have essentially combined these in the quotation above, in order to bring out more clearly the parallel. Given this parallel, almost certainly the phrase “in the water and (in) the blood” is an elucidation of what is meant by “in (the) flesh”. To say that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh” means (according to the author) that he came “in the water” and “in the blood”.

If “in the flesh” refers to Jesus’ life and existence as a human being, then the expressions “in the water” and “in the blood” must relate to this. Most commentators understand “in/through the water” as a reference to the baptism of Jesus, while “in/through the blood” certainly refers to his death. By this interpretation, the two expressions would designate, respectively, the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is also possible that “in the water” refers to the birth of Jesus, given the use of the water-motif in John 3:3-8, in relation to the idea of believers coming to be born as offspring of God (an idea very prevalent in 1 John). The pair of expressions, then, would designate the beginning and end of Jesus’ human life—that is, the boundaries and the span of it.

The author’s argument in 5:6, as it is worded, suggests that the opponents accepted that Jesus came “in/through the water”, but not “in/through the blood”. This would mean that they accepted the reality and/or significance of either—his human birth, or his baptism. If it is the latter, then this would strengthen the hypothesis that the opponents held an early “separationist” view of Jesus, akin to that which is attributed to Cerinthus (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.1). In a “separationist” Christology, it is held that the Divine Christ (= Son) came upon the man Jesus during the baptism, the two joining, only to separate again at the moment of Jesus’ death. A simpler version, drawn from the Johannine Gospel narrative, would affirm that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at the baptism, and then departed from him at his death (19:30). The opponents would have affirmed the importance of the baptism, since that was when Jesus received the Spirit, but not his death (since that is when the Spirit departed).

If “in/through the water” refers to the birth of Jesus, then the opponents would have affirmed the reality of Jesus human life, and its importance. What they denied was the death of the Son (Jesus). If their main objection was to the idea that the incarnate Son/Logos could die, then they would have something in common with those who held an early docetic view of Christ (such as that of the opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters). Alternately, they may have denied the importance or significance of Jesus’ death.

Commentators remain divided on the precise nature of the opponents’ Christology; I have discussed the matter in more historical and exegetical detail in earlier notes and studies.

November 10: John 15:13 (continued)

John 15:13, continued

The believer’s duty (e)ntolh/) to show love is based upon the love that Jesus himself showed to his disciples (and to all believers). The sacrificial character of this love is expressed in verse 13 by the phrase “set (down) his soul over his dear (one)s [i.e. those dear to him]”. The specific expression involved is “set down (one’s soul) over”; the corresponding idiom in English is “lay down one’s life for…”, which is very close in both form and meaning. The two key components, indicated in bold, are: (1) the verb ti/qhmi (“set, put, place”) and (2) the preposition u(pe/r (“over”). Having discussed verse 13 as a whole in the previous note, we shall now look in more detail at these two elements.

The verb ti/qhmi occurs 18 times in the Gospel of John, but is not a particularly Johannine term. Being a common verb, and occurring frequently in narrative, in most of the occurrences it is used in the ordinary sense of setting/placing an object, etc. There are, however, three passages where the use of ti/qhmi is relevant for an understanding of v. 13 here. The first is in the Good Shepherd Discourse of chapter 10, specifically vv. 11-18. This section begins with an “I am” saying by Jesus—

“I am the good [kalo/$] herder.”

and then he qualifies the nature of this goodness (adj. kalo/$, in the sense of fineness, excellence) as follows:

“The good herder sets (down) [ti/qhsin] his soul over [u(pe/r] the sheep.”

This is precisely the same expression we find in 15:13. It clearly refers to the herdsman’s willingness to give up his own life to protect the sheep. The noun pro/baton denotes an animal that “steps forward”; it can refer to any quadruped that is herded, but is commonly used for sheep. In vv. 12ff, Jesus develops this illustration, expounding his self-identification with the “good shepherd” figure, and with the sacrificial action that demonstrates his “goodness”:

“…I set (down) my soul over the sheep” (v. 15)

Jesus is willing to give up his own life for the sake of his sheep (i.e., his disciples/believers), alluding to his impeding death on the cross. He knows those who belong to him, just as the Father knows him (the Son). Indeed the Father loves the Son especially because of this willingness of the Son to give up his life:

“Through [i.e. because of] this, the Father loves me: (in) that I set (down) [ti/qhmi] my soul, (so) that I might take it (up) again.” (v. 17)

Here is added to the illustration the idea of a person “taking (up)” (vb lamba/nw) again what was “set (down)”. In this context, it alludes to the resurrection of Jesus (i.e., ‘taking up’ his soul again) after his death. The Father’s love toward the Son encompasses both his sacrificial death and his return to life (resurrection)—both being components of the Son’s exaltation.

In the concluding verse 18, it is made clear that Jesus’ impending death is a willing self-sacrifice, made by the Son:

“No one takes it (away) from me, but I set it (down) from myself [i.e. on my own]. I hold (the) e)cousi/a to set it (down), and I hold (the) e)cousi/a to take it (up) again. This is the (duty laid) on (me) to complete [e)ntolh/] (that) I received (from) alongside my Father.” (v. 18)

The noun e)cousi/a is difficult to translate in English; basically it refers to something that is possible, or is in one’s power, to do. It indicates the ability to do something, but also can connote that one has been given permission (by a superior) to do it. Here, in this instance, it means that the Son (Jesus) has been given the ability to lay down his life and then take it up again, but also that this is something the Father has given him to do. Indeed, the self-sacrificial death (and resurrection) of the Son is described as an e)ntolh/—a duty placed on the Son (by the Father), which he is obligated to complete. The mission is completed at the moment of his death on the cross, as the declaration in 19:30 (“it has been completed”) makes clear.

The second occurrence of ti/qhmi which we must note also refers to the self-sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death, but in a more subtle way. At the Last Supper with his disciples, as Jesus initiates the symbolic foot-washing action, we read:

“…he rises from the supper and sets (down) [ti/qhsin] his garments, and (ha)ving taken [vb lamba/nw] a linen cloth, ties it around himself” (v. 4)

The combination of the verbs ti/qhmi and lamban/w echoes 10:17-18, but, more specifically, the image of Jesus “setting down” his outer garment(s) here almost certainly alludes (by way of foreshadowing) to his upcoming death (cf. the reference to his garments in the Crucifixion scene, 19:23f). The context of chapter 13 (vv. 1ff) clearly has the impending death of Jesus in view.

If there was any doubt of the significance of the verb ti/qhmi in this context, the third reference, in the opening section of the Last Discourse, unquestionably confirms it. In the exchange between Jesus and Peter, the latter asks:

“Lord, for what (reason) am I not able to go on (the same) path with you now? My (own) soul I will set (down) [qh/sw] over [u(pe/r] you!” (v. 37)

Peter declares his willingness to follow Jesus to the death—a disciple being willing to lay down his own life for his master. Jesus’ challenge to Peter in response uses the exact same wording:

“Your (own) soul will you (indeed) set (down) over me?” (v. 38)

The question is followed by the famous prediction of Peter’s threefold denial. In Peter’s failure to remain faithful to Jesus, he did not show the love required of the true disciple, who would be willing to lay down his own life. However, his status as a true disciple was restored, after the resurrection, with his threefold affirmation of love and devotion for Jesus (21:15-19).

The exchange between Jesus and Peter follows immediately after the ‘love command’ —the declaration by Jesus of the duty of disciples/believers to love one another—in vv. 34-35. Thus, a willingness to lay down one’s life is very much connected with the duty to love, even as it is here in the Vine illustration passage.

Finally, we must mention several other occurrences in the Gospel of the preposition u(pe/r (“over”), where a similar reference to Jesus’ sacrificial death is indicated or implied. First, there is the “I am” declaration in the final section of the Bread of Life Discourse:

“I am the living bread (hav)ing stepped down out of heaven. If any(one) should eat of this bread, he shall live into the Age; and, indeed, the bread that I will give is my flesh, (given) over [u(pe/r] the life of the world.” (6:51)

As many commentators have noted, this use of the pronoun u(pe/r seems to echo the eucharistic declaration by Jesus (at the Last Supper) in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 14:24; Lk 22:19-20). In the Markan form of this saying, Jesus’ blood is said to be poured out “over many”; in Luke, the sacrifice is directed toward the disciples (“over you”). The Lukan version is thus closer in sentiment to the Johannine words of Jesus to his disciples in the Last Discourse.

One of the most unusual Johannine traditions, recorded in the Gospel, is the unwitting (and ironic) prediction by Caiaphus of Jesus’ sacrificial death, when he:

“…foretold that Yeshua was about to die off over [u(pe/r] the nation—and not over the nation only, but (so) that also the offspring of God scattered throughout should be gathered together into one.” (11:51-52; cf. also v. 50; 18:14)

Clearly, in all these references, u(pe/r essentially means “on behalf of, for the sake of”.

The final reference of note occurs toward the end of the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, being (in the narrative context) among the last words spoken by Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, before his death. In this instance, his impending death is described by the verb a(gia/zw (“make holy”, i.e., purify, sanctify, consecrate):

“and (it is) over [u(pe/r] them (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they (them)selves might be (one)s having been made holy in (the) truth” (17:19)

The death and resurrection of Jesus is for the sake of his disciples (and all believers). The Father consecrated the Son (10:36) for his mission, and now the Son consecrates himself, in preparation for its completion (19:30). By participating in the life-giving and cleansing power (cf. 1 Jn 1:7ff) of Jesus’ death, the disciples themselves are purified and made holy. Since the Son is the truth (14:6), believers are thus made holy in the truth (i.e., in Jesus); in particular, the cleansing that makes believers holy is communicated through the Spirit (who also is the truth, 1 Jn 5:6).

November 9: John 15:13

John 15:13

“Greater love than this no one holds: that one would set (down) his soul over his dear (friend)s.”

The duty (e)ntolh/) of believers to love one another was presented in verse 12 as a directive, given by Jesus, to his disciples. The verb a)gapa/w (“[show] love”) is in the subjunctive mood, with the force essentially of an imperative (“you should love,” i.e., “you shall/must love”). The wording in v. 12 is virtually identical with the earlier ‘love command’ in 13:34; cf. the discussion in the previous note.

Here in verse 13 Jesus distills the essence of what it means for disciples (believers) to show love for one another—particularly love that follows the example of Jesus himself (“just as I have loved you”). The greatest love—the love that Jesus (the Son) holds and shares with God the Father—is characterized by a willingness to lay down one’s life for others. This point is formulated by the comparative adjective mei/zon (“more, greater”), along with a comparative use of the genitive case (“greater than…”). The specific expression in mei/zona tau/th$ (“greater than this”), with the demonstrative pronoun referring ahead to the statement that follows: “that one would set (down) his soul over his dear (friend)s”. The phrase “set down his soul” is a literal rendering in the Greek; the corresponding idiom in English would be “lay down his life”. In this instance, the subjunctive mood of the verb ti/qhmi indicates volition— “would set (down),” i.e., be willing to set down.

The goal or purpose of this willingness to lay down one’s life is expressed by the final phrase “over his dear (one)s” (u(pe\r tw=n fi/lwn au)tou=). The preposition u(pe/r (“over”) can be understood as essentially meaning “for the sake of, on behalf of”. The expression tw=n fi/lwn au)tou= (“his dear [one]s”) might be more accurately translated “th(ose) dear to him”, i.e., his friends or loved ones. The verbs file/w (“have affection for”) and a)gapa/w (“[show] love”) are, to some degree, interchangeable, and very much so in the Gospel of John.

The verb file/w occurs somewhat more frequently than the noun fi/lo$. Outside of the Vine illustration (vv. 13-15), fi/lo$ occurs just 3 times in the Gospel. In 3:29, John the Baptist refers to himself as a “dear (friend) [fi/lo$] of the bride-groom”, as a way of explaining that he himself is not the Messiah, but only a close friend to the Messiah (Jesus), who stands nearby and listens. In 11:11, Jesus refers to Lazarus as his “dear (friend)”, parallel to the designation of Lazarus in v. 3 as the one whom Jesus loves (“the [one] whom you love [vb file/w]”)—i.e., a close and beloved friend. This has led some commentators to identify Lazarus with the ‘beloved disciple’ mentioned in 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20. Finally, fi/lo$ is used in 19:12, referring to Pilate (in relation to the Emperor), echoing the idea alluded to in 18:33-38, viz., that Pilate represents the kingdom of the world, in opposition to the kingdom of God (and Christ).

As noted above, the verb file/w is largely synonymous with a)gapa/w, being similarly used in reference to the love between Father and Son (5:20; 16:27), and also between the Son and his disciples—11:3, 36; 16:27; 20:2; 21:15-17. The occurrence in the discipleship-saying of Jesus in 12:25 is also relevant to our study here:

“The (one) being fond [filw=n] of his soul loses/destroys it, while the (one) hating his soul in this world will guard it unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The love believers have for one another characterizes and demonstrates their identity as true disciples of Jesus (13:34-35). Here the noun fi/lo$ specifically designates a fellow disciple/believer. It is important to realize that, in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), love is understood almost exclusively in terms of love toward other believers. Virtually nothing is said about love toward non-believers, and this distinguishes the Gospel of John from the Synoptics, which record a number of sayings by Jesus regarding love toward enemies and outsiders, etc. The Johannine writings focus on love between believers, reflecting of the bond of unity between believers, as they/we are united with the Son (and through the Son, with the Father). As previously discussed, to remain in the Son’s love means essentially the same as remaining in the Son himself (cp. verses 4-7 with 9-10).

Such love is demonstrated by a willingness to “set down” one’s soul (i.e., life) “over” one’s fellow believers. The key terms are the verb ti/qhmi (“set, put, place”) and the preposition u(pe/r (“over”). In the next daily note, we will examine the significance of these terms, in relation to the self-sacrifice of Jesus (i.e., his death) as a manifestation of this ideal of love.

October 19: John 15:3

John 15:3

“Already you are clean [kaqaroi/], through the word that I have spoken to you.”

This is the final statement of the initial illustration (vv. 1-3), but it is also transitional, as Jesus begins his exposition (and application) of the illustration for his disciples. Before we proceed with a detailed exegesis of verse 3, let us examine a bit further the relationship of the verse to the prior v. 2, in its development of the thematic motif of cleansing. Verse 2 used the verb kaqai/rw (“[make] clean”), while here we have the related adjective kaqaro/$ (“clean, clear, pure”). There are three other occurrences of this adjective in the Johannine writings—all in Jn 13:10-11, in the foot-washing episode of the Last Supper scene, which establishes the narrative setting for the Last Discourse.

These occurrences were discussed briefly in the previous note; let us now examine them in more detail:

    • “If I should not wash you, (then) you have no part with me.” (v. 8b)
    • “The (one) having bathed has no business washing, if not (only) his feet; but (his) whole (body) is clean [kaqaro/$]” (v. 10a)
    • “and (so) you are clean [kaqaroi/], but not all (of you)” (v. 10b) /
      “not all (of you) are clean [kaqaroi/]” (v. 11b)

The important symbolism of this episode is conveyed in a subtle fashion, with the true meaning only hinted at. The weight of the symbolism is indicated by Jesus’ warning to Peter in verse 8:

“If I should not wash [ni/yw] you, (then) you have no part [me/ro$] with me.”

It is necessary for Peter to be washed (vb ni/ptw) by Jesus; this is certainly true for all of the disciples, but Peter is particularly singled out in the narrative. There are various reasons for this, including, I believe, an important contrastive parallel between Peter’s (temporary) denial of Jesus and the (complete) defection by Judas. Note, in particular, how this is developed throughout chapter 13 (up to verse 30, following the departure of Judas), and compare the similar contrast in 6:66-71.

Many commentators see in the washing motif of this episode a primary reference to baptism. I find this line of interpretation to be quite off the mark; at best, there is only a loose secondary allusion to baptism. The principal significance of the washing theme/motif is two-fold: (1) the cleansing of the disciple/believer (from sin), and (2) participation in the sacrificial death of Jesus. In order to have a part or share (me/ro$) with Jesus, these two aspects, as symbolized by the foot-washing, must be applied (by Jesus) to the disciple.

The statement in verse 10a gives us the important distinction that only the feet must be cleansed. It is only the feet that accumulate dirt, during the normal activity of moving/traveling about, to the extent that washing is required or desirable. If a person has otherwise bathed (vb lou/w), then the whole (o%lo$) rest of the body is clean, and only the feet need to be washed. In v. 10b, Jesus declares that the disciples are fully clean (kaqaroi/, plur.) in this way, and need only for their feet to be cleansed. The dirt that naturally accumulates on the feet represents the sin of the disciple/believer, which needs to be cleansed (by Jesus). Such occasional sins are quite different from the fundamental sin of unbelief. Even Peter’s denial of Jesus can be forgiven, in contrast to the betrayal and defection of Judas; Peter’s (implicit) restoration represents the repentance and forgiveness of the believer, while Judas’ departure into the darkness (vv. 29-30) represents the sin of unbelief.

Along these lines, it is possible to read the body/feet juxtaposition as symbolic of the collective body of the disciples. Judas represents the portion (feet) that is unclean, while the rest of disciples (who remain with Jesus to hear the Last Discourse) represent the remainder of the body that is clean. The wording and emphasis in vv. 10-11 tends to support such an interpretation.

The association of the foot-washing with Jesus’ death is also key to the episode’s meaning. In addition to the location of this episode, at the Last Supper and at the beginning of the Passion narrative (cf. verses 1-3), the symbolism of the act undertaken by Jesus (vv. 4-5) seems to allude to the self-sacrificial character of his death. It is this aspect that Jesus emphasizes in the short explanation he gives in vv. 12-17. The washing by the disciples of each other’s feet (vv. 14-15) must be viewed as a demonstration of the sacrificial love that believers are commanded to show to one another, following the example of their Lord Jesus (vv. 13-14, 34-35). Believers must follow even to death, being willing to lay down their lives in love for one another, just as Jesus has done (15:12-13; cp. 10:11, 15, 17-18). Jesus’ words to Peter in vv. 37-38 (cp. 21:18-19) confirm this thematic emphasis.

The two aspects of the foot-washing motif—cleansing from sin and participation in the death of Jesus—are combined together in the two Johannine occurrences of the verb kaqari/zw (“make clean, cleanse”), which is so close in meaning to kaqai/rw (in v. 2). These are found in 1 John 1:7, 9, in a passage (1:5-2:2) dealing specifically with sins committed by the believer. Contrary to the claims of some Christians (1:8, 10), believers do, on occasion, sin, but they/we are cleansed of all such sin through the “blood” (i.e., the sacrificial death) of Jesus. This is stated generally in verse 7:

“If we would walk about in the light, as He is in the light, (then) we hold common-bond with each other, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses [kaqari/zei] us from all sin.”

The actual process is described, somewhat cursorily, in verse 9:

“If we would give account (of) [i.e. confess/acknowledge] our sins, he is trustworthy and right(eous), (so) that he should put away [i.e. remove/forgive] the sins for us, and should cleanse [kaqari/sh|] us from all (that is) not right.”

Here sin is defined by the parallel term a)diki/a, literally a “lack of what is right,” i.e., “what is not right”. As noted above, this a)diki/a for the believer is symbolized by the dirt that can accumulate on one’s feet during the daily activity of moving/traveling about. Following repentance and confession of such a)diki/a, the believer is cleansed from it. The role of Jesus (the Son) in this process is elucidated in 2:1-2; the use of the noun i(lasmo/$ alludes again to the sacrificial character of Jesus’ death, and the efficacy of the cleansing “blood”. It should be emphasized again that Jesus is the one who cleanses the disciples/believer in the symbolism of the foot-washing: “If I should not wash you…” (13:8).

Before proceeding to an examination of 15:3, let us first note the general parallel between this statement and the declaration in 13:10 (cf. above):

Already you are clean [kaqaroi/], through the word that I have spoken to you.”
and (so) you are clean [kaqaroi/], but not all (of you)”

In the next daily note will look at v. 3, examining each word in some detail.

October 16: John 15:2 (12:24)

John 15:2, continued

In considering how to interpret the idiom of “bearing fruit” (vb fe/rw + karpo/$) in the context of the Vine-illustration (cf. the previous note on v. 2), it is necessary to examine the use of this same terminology elsewhere in the Gospel of John. There are two relevant references: (1) 4:36, in the context of the discourse-illustration of vv. 31-38, and (2) the saying in 12:24. As the saying by Jesus in 12:24 is closer in form and substance to the statement in 15:2, we will look first at that reference.

John 12:24

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, (that) if the kernel of the grain, falling into the earth, should not die off, (then) it remains alone; but, if it should die off, (then) it bears much fruit.”

This saying is part of the Discourse-unit of 12:20-36. The narrative introduction is established in vv. 20-22, describing the unusual circumstances of some Greek visitors to Jerusalem (for the Passover festival) who expressed an interest in seeing Jesus (“we wish to see [i)dei=n] Yeshua”). In the Gospel of John, the idiom of seeing (and the specific use of the verb ei&dw, along with other sight-verbs), has theological and Christological significance. To see Jesus means coming to know and trust in him. Thus, this short episode, occurring toward the close of Jesus’ public ministry (as narrated by the Gospel), likely is meant by the author as a foreshadowing of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. At the historical level, the “Greeks” (or Greek-speakers) should probably be understood as Gentile converts (proselytes) or ‘God-fearers’ (such as Cornelius [cf. Acts 10-11]).

This allusion to the Christian mission is a sign that Jesus’ own mission on earth is nearing its end. This is the significance of the central declaration in verse 23:

“…the hour has come that the Son of Man should be shown honor [docasqh=|]”

Throughout the Gospel, the title “the Son of Man” (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) is used specifically in reference to the heavenly origin of Jesus—as the Son sent by God the Father to earth.

The verb doca/zw essentially means “recognize”, typically in the sense of giving/showing honor to a person, sometimes by placing the person in an esteemed/honored position. It is one of several verbs in the Gospel used in the specific theological context of the exaltation of Jesus. Within the Johannine Christological narrative, the exaltation of Jesus involves a process that covers (and includes) Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father (in heaven). Jesus’ passion (and the passion narrative), preceding his death, marks the beginning of the process of exaltation. For other occurrences of the verb doca/zw with this meaning, cf. 7:39; 12:16; 13:31-32; 17:1, 4-5; it occurs three more times in this passage (v. 28).

Thus, the immediate context of verse 24 is the beginning of Jesus’ exaltation, anticipating his impending suffering and death. As noted above, his death marks the end of his earthly mission, and foreshadows the beginning of the believers’ mission. This is the light in which we must read verse 24. The dying (vb a)poqnh/skw, “die off/away”) of the seed in the ground (or “earth”, gh=) clearly alludes to Jesus’ impending death. And yet, the proverbial and gnomic character of this saying suggests that it applies to the disciple of Jesus (i.e., believer in Christ) as well. The following verse 25 more or less confirms this point:

“The (one) being fond of his soul loses it, but the (one) hating his soul in this world shall guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life].”

This saying resembles comparable discipleship-sayings in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 8:35; Matt 10:39; 16:25; Luke 9:24; 17:33), and likely derives from the same underlying historical tradition(s). The implication is that the disciple must be willing to sacrifice his/her own life (“in this world”)—dying, if necessary—in order to obtain eternal life. This attitude of willing self-sacrifice follows the example of Jesus himself. In the Synoptics, this teaching is best expressed by the saying regarding the disciple “taking up his cross” and following Jesus; versions of this saying are preserved in both the Synoptic/Markan and “Q” lines of tradition (Mk 8:34 par; Matt 10:38 par). In the Gospel of John, this same principle is expressed primarily in terms of the “love command” (13:1, 14ff, 34-35; 15:12-13; cf. also 10:11-17). In both the Johannine and Pauline writings, we also find the idea that the believer shares/participates in Jesus’ death, and its life-giving power, through the Spirit, as symbolized by the rituals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The servant who follows Jesus in this manner, willing to share in his suffering and death, will be shown/given honor (same verb, doca/zw) by God the Father, just as Jesus (the Son) is exalted (v. 26; cp. 21:19).

It is in this context that we are to understand the motif of “bearing fruit”. Consider the short dialogue and exposition by Jesus that follows (vv. 27-36), in which he discusses further the nature and effect of the Son’s exaltation (beginning with his death). Here, in verse 32, an earlier Son of Man saying (3:14; 8:28; cp. in v. 34) is reprised, utilizing the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”) to express the theme of exaltation:

“…and I, if I should be lifted high [u(ywqw=] out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself.”

Most commentators translate the prepositional expression e)k th=$ gh=$ as “from the earth”; however, this misses the important connection with the agricultural imagery in verse 24. The seed, falling “into the earth” (ei)$ th\n gh=n), dies, and then produces new life/growth that comes up “out of the earth” (e)k th=$ gh=$). The “fruit” (karpo/$) motif, in this agricultural context, thus refers to the life that is produced through the death of Jesus (the Son), and which is then communicated to the world. This Divine/eternal life is made available to every one who trusts in him; so powerful is this source of life that believers find themselves dragged (vb e(lku/w) toward it. The qualifying idiom “much fruit” (polu/$ karpo/$) in verse 24 should be understood in relation to the idea of “all (people)” (i.e., all believers) being drawn/dragged to the eternal life that the Son gives.


Saturday Series: John 8:21-30 (continued)

John 8:21-30, continued

In picking up from last week’s discussion on the references to sin in Jn 8:21-30, there are two questions which need to be addressed: (1) how does this passage relate to the earlier sin-reference in 1:29, and (2) what is the significance of the parallel versions of the statements in vv. 21 and 24, using the singular and plural forms, respectively, of the noun hamartía?

With regard to the first question, the statement in verse 24 is key:

“if you do not trust that I am, you will die off in your sins”

The fate of dying in one’s sin(s) thus is tied directly to whether or not the person trusts (vb pisteúœ) in Jesus. This trust is defined in terms of the essential predication (“I am,” egœ¡ eimi), that is characteristic of God (the Father), being applied to Jesus (the Son). This is a roundabout (and distinctly Johannine) way of affirming Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. In other words, unless a person trusts that Jesus is the eternal/pre-existent Son sent by the Father, that person will die in his/her sin(s). This fate of dying, lost in sin, must be contrasted with the salvation and eternal life that comes through trust in Jesus.

The famous declaration in 3:16-17 brings this out with particular clarity, and it helps us to understand the significance of the earlier Lamb of God declaration (1:29) in this regard. In each instance, the relationship between Jesus and the world (ho kósmos) is at issue:

    • “See, the Lamb of God—the (one) taking (away) the sin of the world.” (1:29)
    • “God sent forth the Son into the world…(so) that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17)

As previously discussed, in these passages, the noun kósmos is not (primarily) used in the negative sense that is so distinctive and typical of the Johannine writings. Instead, the principal meaning here is of humankind generally—i.e., of all the people on earth, in the inhabited world. The idiom of the world “being saved” is parallel, and essentially synonymous in meaning, with its sin being “taken away”. In the earlier study on 1:29, I discussed the use of the verb aírœ (“take up”) in that verse, and determined that the primary meaning there is “take away” (i.e., remove). Thus, the Lamb of God takes away (removes) sin, which is central to the idea of people (in the world) being saved.

As in 8:24, the statement in 3:16 makes clear that one is saved through trust in Jesus; combining this with the declaration in 1:29 leads to the conclusion that the Lamb of God “takes away” sin when one trusts in Jesus as the Lamb. As I discussed, the Passover lamb is the principal figure that informs the “Lamb of God” concept, and, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is identified with the Passover lamb primarily in the context of his death on the cross. The lamb is “lifted up” on the cross, in a way that is comparable to the application of the bronze-serpent tradition (Num 21:9) in 3:14-15:

“And, just as Moshe lifted high the serpent in the desolate (land), so also it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold (the) life of (the) Age [i.e. eternal life].”

These words occur immediately prior to the salvation-statement(s) in 3:16-17, and clearly frame the concept of one’s trust in Jesus in terms of trusting in his exaltation (i.e., being “lifted up”). In the Gospel of John, the exaltation of Jesus represents a process that includes: his death, resurrection, and return to the Father in heaven. The exaltation begins with his sacrificial death—as the Passover lamb who is slain, and whose blood protects (i.e., saves) people from death and judgment. When one trusts in Jesus the Son, this necessarily entails trusting in the sacrificial nature of his death and its life-giving power (represented by the image of blood). It is not enough to trust that Jesus is the Son of God, if that trust does not include this understanding and belief regarding the cleansing (i.e., sin-removing) and life-giving power of his death. This is a point that the author of 1 John argues vigorously against certain ‘opponents’ who apparently hold a rather different view of Christ’s death.

But what of the second question mentioned above? Is there any particular significance to the author’s use of both the singular and plural forms of the noun hamartía in 8:21 and 24?

    • “…you shall seek me, and (yet) you shall die off in your sin [hamartía]; for the (place) to which I go away, you are not able to come (there)” (v. 21)
    • “…if you do not trust that I am, (the) you will die off in your sins [hamartíais]” (v. 24)

In 1:29, the singular hamartía (“sin”) was used in a general or collective sense—that is, for the sin(s) that the people in the world possess, and the condition of sin(fulness) that controls and dominates the world of humankind. It is possible that the variation between singular and plural in 8:21, 24 simply expresses this same general/collective sense of sin. However, I believe that the author (and Jesus as the speaker) is utilizing a clever bit of wordplay (something that occurs frequently in the Johannine Discourses), bringing out two important and distinct aspects of sin. The plural refers to sin in the general/conventional sense, as wrongs, errors, and misdeeds committed by people; however the singular refers to sin in a specific sense—which, I would argue, is the primary sense of sin in the Johannine writings.

If we translate the genitive expressions in 8:21, 24 in an ultraliteral way, it may help us to perceive the distinction:

    • “you will seek me, and (yet) you will die off in the sin of you”
    • “if you do not trust that I am, (the) you will die off in the sins of you”

In v. 21, Jesus tells his audience that they will not be able to follow him, and so will die off in their sin (“the sin”). What is this sin? It is the great sin—the sin of unbelief, of not trusting in Jesus. As v. 24 makes clear, when a person possesses this great sin, it means that all other sins remain and cannot be removed; thus the person will die in “the(se) sins”. R. E. Brown, in his famous commentary on the Gospel (Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 29, p. 350) states the matter this way:

We note that “sin” is in the singular in vs. 21, for in Johannine thought there is only one radical sin of which man’s many sins (plural in vs. 24) are but reflections. This radical sin is to refuse to believe in Jesus and thus to refuse life itself.

I generally concur with Brown’s analysis in this regard, though I am perhaps not so quick as he to connect this idea of one great sin with the Synoptic tradition of the unforgivable sin (of blaspheming the Holy Spirit).

In any case, I would maintain that the Johannine writings understand two distinct levels, or aspects, of sin, which can be distinguished here in 8:21, 24 by the use of the singular and plural, respectively:

    • Singularthe great sin of not trusting in Jesus (as the Son of God)
    • Plural—sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense of wrongs and misdeeds that a person commits.

As we proceed through the remaining sin-references in the Johannine writings, this important distinction will come more clearly into view, along with certain theological, Christological, and spiritual implications.

Next week, we will examine the next section of the Sukkot Discourse in chaps. 7-88:31-47, with the statement regarding sin in verse 34. This passage defines sin through thematic idiom of slavery and bondage/freedom. The further reference in verse 46 will also be discussed.