November 14: John 15:16

John 15:16-17

Verse 16

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

Verses 16-17 represent the conclusion of the Vine-illustration section (15:1-17). These two verses reprise a number of key points and teachings from the illustration (and its exposition), stringing them together in summary fashion. The result, in verse 16, is an extremely awkward Greek sentence—the awkwardness of which is quite evident in the literal translation above.

It will be helpful, I think, to focus on each individual clause or phrase. While the syntax of the sentence may be convoluted, it actually represents a coherent statement from the standpoint of the Johannine theology. The phrases and clauses form a sequential and relational chain, which functions better on the narrative and theological level than it does on the grammatical.

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out,
but I (who) gathered you out”
ou)x u(mei=$ me e)cele/casqe
a)ll’ e)gw\ e)celeca/mhn u(ma=$

The verse begins with a pair of parallel contrastive phrases, centered on the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”). To gather (le/gw, mid. le/gomai) someone out (e)k) essentially means to “pick out,” i.e., select or choose. This compound verb preserves the fundamental and primary meaning of le/gw (“collect, gather”); in the New Testament, it is only used in the middle voice (e)kle/gomai). The verb is relatively rare in the NT, occurring just 22 times; it is something of a Lukan term, occurring 11 times in Luke-Acts. Within the Gospels, it only appears once outside of Luke and John (Mk 13:20).

In the Gospel of Luke, e)kle/gomai is part of the Lukan version (6:12-16) of the Synoptic account of Jesus’ selection of the Twelve (cf. Mk 3:13-19). These twelve disciples were specially chosen by Jesus to serve as his representatives, to carry out an extension of his mission. Mark’s account describes this process by a series of verbs, whereby Jesus

    • calls them toward him—vb proskale/w (mid. voice)
    • he made them (vb poie/w) to be his close associates
    • so that he might send them forth (vb a)poste/llw) to continue his mission

The designation a)po/stolo$ (apóstolos, one “se[n]t forth”) is derived from the latter verb (a)poste/llw, apostéllœ).

The Lukan account is much more streamlined, with the three principal verbal actions by Jesus expressed with greater precision:

    • “he gave voice toward [i.e. called to] his disciples” (vb prosfwne/w)
    • “and he gathered out from them twelve” (vb e)kle/gomai)
    • “whom he named (as one)s (he would) send forth [a)posto/loi]” (vb o)noma/zw)

Just as in Jn 15:16, Jesus is said to have “gathered out” (vb e)kle/gomai) his close disciples. However, the Johannine use of the verb in this context has deeper theological meaning, as we shall see.

There are three other occurrences of the verb in the Gospel of John. The first is in 6:70, part of a narrative (and discourse) unit (vv. 60-71) that functions as an appendix to the chap. 6 Bread of Life Discourse. In this unit, the disciples of Jesus are now his audience, and he is addressing his words specifically to them. The response to his teaching (cf. the discourse-unit of vv. 60-65) proves to be a test of discipleship—do they truly trust in him, and will they continue to follow him? It is here that vv. 66-71 foreshadows the setting of the Last Discourse (including the narrative introduction in chap. 13).

As in the Last Supper narrative, Peter and Judas represent two different kinds of disciples—the true and the false. It is in this context, following Peter’s confession of faith (vv. 68-69), that Jesus makes the statement: “Did I not gather out [e)celeca/mhn] you, the Twelve?” (v. 70). On the surface, Jesus’ words simply echo the historical tradition (Lk 6:13, cf. above). However, the parallel with chap. 13 (and the ensuing Last Discourse) indicates that there is a deeper meaning here as well. This can be glimpsed by considering the contextual parallel between 6:70 and 13:18:

    • “Did I not gather out you, the Twelve? And yet, one of you is a diábolos!”
    • “I do not say this about all of you; (for) I have seen [i.e. I know] (the one)s whom I (have) gathered out…”

In the foot-washing episode (13:4-16), Jesus speaks to his disciples and gives them important instruction regarding what it means to be a true disciple. Yet, here in v. 18, he declares “I do not say this about all of you”. As in 6:70, he is making a veiled reference to Judas’ status (as a false disciple). Judas was allowed to remain in the circle of disciples up to this point so that “the Scripture would be fulfilled…” (v. 18b)—that is, it was necessary for Judas to fulfill his determined role in the coming suffering and death of Jesus. With the departure of Judas, out into the darkness of the world (v. 30), only the true disciples of Jesus remain, and it is to them that he addresses the Last Discourse.

Jesus knows the ones who are truly his disciples (“I have seen…”), referring to them again by way of the verb e)kle/gomai: “…whom I (have) gathered out [e)celeca/mhn]”. Only now, the sense of how this verb is being used has shifted. It no longer follows the context of the original Gospel tradition regarding the choosing of the Twelve (cf. above). In that context, the Twelve are “gathered out” from the other disciples of Jesus, being specially chosen as his close associates and missionary representatives. Now, in the Johannine Gospel setting of the Last Discourse, the distinction is between the true disciple (represented by Peter) and the false disciple (i.e., Judas).

On a wider level, from the standpoint of the Johannine theology, the real distinction is between the true disciple (i.e., the true believer) and the world (o( ko/smo$). As I have discussed, the noun ko/smo$, in the Johannine writings, tends to be used in distinctively negative sense, referring to “the world” as a domain of darkness and evil that is fundamentally opposed to God. Ultimately, the true disciple (believer) is gathered out of the world. This, in fact, is how the verb e)kle/gomai is used in 15:19, just a few short verses after our sentence (v. 16):

“If you were of [e)k] the world, the world would have affection [vb file/w] (for you as) its own; but (it is) that you are not of [e)k] the world—rather, I (have) gathered you out [e)celeca/mhn] of [e)k] the world, (and) for this (reason) the world hates you.”

This same theological emphasis runs through the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (vv. 6, 11, 14-16, 18). The believers are not of (e)k) the world, but have been taken out of (e)k) the world and its darkness.

Here in v. 16, Jesus makes clear that it was he (the Son) who “gathered out” the believers, choosing them to be his disciples. The negative particle precedes the pronoun u(mei=$ (“you”), which means that the emphasis is on the pronoun—viz., “it was not you who chose…”. It was Jesus who chose the disciples, and not the other way around. Ultimately, it is the Father who “gathers out” the believers from the world, and gives them to the Son (Jesus). This is abundantly clear from the wording in chap. 17 (vv. 2, 6f, 9-10ff), but it can be seen elsewhere in the Gospel as well (e.g., 3:35; 6:37, 39, 44ff, 65; 10:29; 13:3).

In this regard, it is worth pointing out that Jesus (the Son), in his own way, stands as one chosen (i.e. “gathered out”) by God the Father. In the Gospel tradition, this refers to the Messianic identity of Jesus (cf. the use of e)kle/gomai in Lk 9:35; cp. 23:35, and Jn 1:34 [v.l.]). However, in the Gospel of John, overall, the Christological understanding has developed, so that the emphasis is now on the identity of Jesus as the Son sent from heaven by the Father. He was sent to earth by the Father to fulfill his mission, a mission which believers inherit and are expected to continue.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next phrase(s) in verse 16.


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).

March 24: John 12:26

John 12:26

“If any (one) would serve me, he must follow (the same path as) me, and where I am, there also my servant will be; (and) if any (one) would serve me, the Father will value him (greatly).”

This is the third of the three sayings which follow the initial declaration in verse 23. They all relate to the theme of discipleship—of following Jesus, even to the point of imitating (or participating in) his sacrificial death. As previously noted, there are similar sayings (and parables) in the Synoptic Gospels; indeed, there is a general parallel between 12:23-26ff and the discourse-block in Mark 8:31-9:1 par, which contains a similar cluster of discipleship-sayings. The saying here in verse 26 corresponds, more or less, to that of Mk 8:34 par, with the emphasis on following Jesus, using the same verb a)kolouqe/w:

“If any (one) wishes to follow [a)kolouqei=n] in back of me, (surely) he must deny himself and take up his stake [i.e. cross-piece] and follow [a)kolouqei/tw] me.”

The fundamental meaning of this verb entails following the same road or path (ke/leuqo$) that another person takes. The Synoptic saying uses the regular prepositional expression o)pi/sw (“in back of, behind”). In the Johannine saying, the emphasis is not on following behind Jesus, but on ending up in the same place that he does. Thus, we have a rather different aspect of discipleship here—one which corresponds entirely with the distinctive Johannine theology of the Gospel. The same basic point is made in Last Discourse (Jn 14:3-4):

“And if I should travel and make ready a place for you, I (will) come and will take you along toward myself, (so) that where [o(pou=] I am, (there) also you would be. And (the place) where [o(pou=] I lead (the way) under [u(pa/gw], you have seen [i.e. you know] the way (there).”

In both 12:26 and 14:3-4, the locational particle o(pou= (indicating “at whichever [place]”, i.e. “[the place] where”) is used. The lack of the preposition o)pi/sw is significant—the believer does not follow behind Jesus, but exists, united with him, in the same place. This all occurs with Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the Passion-context of these sayings would indicate. After this—that is, following his death, resurrection, and return to the Father—believers are united with him through the Spirit (in the present), and ultimately will be together with him in heaven (in the future). This does not eliminate the traditional idea of discipleship (cp. the Synoptic sayings), but, rather, gives to it a new and deeper meaning.

Significant also is the way that the Johannine saying here introduces the idea of serving (vb diakone/w). The verb is used in the Gospel of John only here in chapter 12—the Passion narrative setting of the Anointing of Jesus (v. 2), and twice here in v. 26. The related noun dia/kono$ (“servant”) is equally rare, occurring outside of this verse only in early Cana miracle-episode (2:5, 9). The terminology is more common in the Synoptics, including the idea that following Jesus (as a disciple) entails serving him (cf. Mark 15:41 par; Luke 8:3). Elsewhere, the emphasis is on Jesus acting as a servant—giving of himself to serve others—and on the need for his disciples to follow the same example (Mk 10:43-45; par Matt 20:26-28; Lk 17:7-10; 22:26-27, cf. also 12:37). While the Gospel of John does not contain any comparable sayings, the idea is expressed clearly in the Last Supper scene in chapter 13—the washing of the disciples’ feet (vv. 4-11), along with the explanation of what this signifies (vv. 12-20); there is a definite parallel with the setting of Lk 22:26-27.

Thus, in the Johannine context especially, the idea of serving is closely connected with the sacrificial death of Jesus, even as it is in a saying such as Mk 10:45 par. We may well infer here, in Jn 12:26, that for the disciple to serve Jesus means participation in his death, just as the parable in v. 24 also indicates. One is reminded of the statement by Ignatius of Antioch, in the early second century; himself following Jesus’ example, on his way to being put to death for his faith in Christ, he calls himself “the (grain of) wheat of God” (Romans 4:1). Indeed, with his death he declares “then I will be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ” (v. 2).

It is this aspect of the believer’s participation in Jesus death that explains the relationship of these sayings to the initial Son of Man statement in v. 23 (as well as the narrative introduction of vv. 20-22). I will be discussing this further in the next daily note. The reference to God the Father at the close of v. 26 is also of special importance, since it serves to unite the discipleship-sayings with what follows in vv. 27-30, to be studied in the next note.

March 23: John 12:24-25

John 12:24-25

Within the structure of 12:20-36, the main line moves from the initial saying in verse 23 to vv. 27-28ff. In between, there is a trio of sayings (vv. 24-26) which, on the surface, appear to be only marginally related to the main line of the discourse. Actually, there is an interesting parallel to this section in the Synoptics (Mark 8:31-9:1 par), in which there is a statement regarding the glory (do/ca) of the Son of Man (v. 38) in the context of his upcoming suffering and death (v. 31). Indeed, there is a reasonably close parallel for two of the Johannine sayings here in that Synoptic section (vv. 25-26, cp. Mk 8:34-35 par), sharing the basic discipleship-theme—of the willingness to give up one’s life to follow Jesus, even to the point of imitating his sacrificial death. This suggests that, quite independently, sayings-material has been combined in a similar way, in the Synoptic and Johannine Tradition respectively. In today’s note, we will be examining the first two of the sayings, in verses 24 and 25.

Verse 24

“Amen, amen, I relate to you: if the kernel of wheat falling into the earth should not die away, it remains alone; but if it should die away, it bears much fruit.”

This saying is an illustration (or short parable) utilizing agricultural (farming/planting) imagery, like many others we find in the Synoptic tradition. Several of these deal specifically with a grain or kernel (of wheat, etc), that is planted in the ground—most notably, the famous parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9 par) and the parable of the mustard seed (4:26-29), the latter being closer to the Johannine illustration here.

The agricultural imagery is used to illustrate a basic premise: that new life comes as the result of death. This observation from the natural world has been noted and expressed many times by philosophers, theologians, and mystics around the world, regarding the interconnected mystery of life, death, and rebirth in the universe. Here, of course, it relates specifically to the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also—and more precisely—to the new (i.e. eternal) life that his death brings to those who trust in him.

The application of such agricultural symbolism to the person of a divine being is hardly unique to Jesus (as the Son of God); there are many ancient parallels of this sort, especially within (seasonal) cosmological and religious myths. One thinks, for example, of the Sumerian tales involving Dumuzi, who personified the life-giving power within the fruit-trees, etc, as well as that which enables the animals of the herd/flock to give birth; he ‘dies’ in the heat of summer, only to come back to life again in the spring-time. Similarly, we might note the daughter of Demeter in the myths at the core of the Greek Eleusinian mysteries; indeed, the mystery religions tended to make ritual of this symbolism, in a somewhat comparable manner to the early Christian baptism rite, in which believers participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. below). There are agricultural life/death/rebirth aspects to the Canaanite Baal Haddu, the Egyptian Osiris, and many other examples could be cited.

Jesus’ illustration makes an important contrast that can be easily overlooked—if it enters the ground, but does not die, the seed “remains alone” (an alliterative expression, mo/no$ me/nei). The verb me/nw (“remain”) is particularly significant within the Johannine theological vocabulary, being used repeatedly (in the Discourses, etc) to express the union of believers with Jesus. To “remain alone” is the opposite of this union, of separation from the life-giving power of Jesus (cp. the Vine illustration in chap. 15)—a power that is realized through the Spirit, but defined primarily by his sacrificial death. Thus, the illustration transitions from the idea of Jesus’ own death, to that of the believer who is united with Jesus’ through participation in his death. The effect of this union is depicted in the second part of the contrast—if the seed does die, then it becomes part of the natural process of bringing life and growth. This relates to the life-giving power of Jesus, but also to the way that this power is experienced by the believer.


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

This saying is quite similar to that of Mark 8:35 par (cf. above); in fact, there are several versions (or variations) of this saying in the Synoptic Tradition. In such instances, the critical view tends to be that the different versions go back to a single historical tradition, with the variations being primarily due to the process of transmission and (literary) adaptation; however, here it seems much more likely that the variations go back to Jesus himself. The saying is so simple, the the contrast so fundamental, that one can easily envision Jesus using it repeatedly in his teaching, in slightly different forms.

It is a dual-saying, each part with its own contrast—a conditional phrase (protasis) followed by the result statement (apodosis). Let us consider the first part of the saying, in its three Synoptic variations:

“Who ever would wish to save [sw=sai] his soul will suffer loss from it” (Mk 8:35; cf. also Lk 9:24)
“The (one) finding [eu(rw=n] his soul will suffer loss from it” (Matt 10:39)
“Who ever would wish to make his soul (secure) about (him) [peripoih/sasqai] will suffer loss from it” (Lk 17:33)

The version here in Jn 12:25 is:

“The (one) being fond of [filw=n] his soul will suffer loss from it”

Formally, the Johannine version is closer to Matt 10:39, with its use (in Greek) of the articular particple (“the one finding” / “the one being fond of”). The pattern of Jesus’ saying allows for four different verbs, each with its own nuance; however, in each version, the result-statement uses the verb a)po/llumi, which can be translated “lose”, “ruin”, “destroy”, but which I render more literally above as experiencing “loss from” something. Taken on its own (and out of context), the significance of the saying is not immediately clear, though its basic meaning (as a proverb) is straightforward—the person who is concerned about the welfare of his/her own life will end up experiencing the loss of (or from) it.

The second part of the saying is as follows:

“…but who ever suffers loss from his soul, for my sake and (for) the good message, will save it” (Mk 8:35)
“…and the (one) suffering loss from his soul, for my sake, will find it” (Matt 10:39)
“…but who ever would suffer loss from (his soul) will cause it to be [i.e. remain] alive” (Lk 17:33)

In Jn 12:25 it is:

“…and the (one) hating his soul in this world will guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life”

The Johannine version differs primarily in that the saying does not reverse itself, pivoting on a repeated use of the verb a)po/llumi; instead, a formal contrast is made between the verb file/w (“the one being fond of…”) and mise/w (“the one hating…”). This emphasis resembles the thought and language of the Synoptic sayings in Luke 14:26 and Matt 10:37. The thrust of this is explained by an additional layer of contrast in the saying: “this world” vs. eternal life (“life of the Age [to Come]”). The use of ko/smo$ (“world order, world”), in the context of Johannine theology, indicates that Jesus is not merely speaking of a concern for ordinary daily matters, but of involvement in the darkness and wickedness that is intrinsic to the current world order.

The opposite of losing/ruining one’s soul (vb a)po/llumi) is to guard it (vb fula/ssw)—i.e. protect it and keep it from harm. The verb fula/ssw is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, with the synonymous thre/w (“keep watch [over]”) being much more common. In 12:47, fula/ssw is used to describe the believer as one who “guards” Jesus’ words; while, in the great Prayer-discourse (17:12), it refers to the work of Jesus in guarding his disciples (believers) while he is present with them (a protection that will continue through the presence of the Spirit). The specific wording is worth noting, in light of 12:25:

“When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in the name that you have given to me, and I guarded [e)fu/laca] (them), and not one out of them was lost/ruined [a)pw/leto]…”

The same juxtaposition of fula/ssw and a)pollumi occurs here as in 12:25, and we may infer here a similar meaning—it is Jesus who guards believers and keeps them from harm, when they unite with his life-giving (and preserving) power through participation in his sacrificial death. The Johannine theological context has shifted the emphasis somewhat from the straightforward discipleship motif (i.e. in Mark 8:34-38 par), to the idea of trusting in Jesus with the idiom of seeing and remaining (i.e. being united with him). However, the more traditional theme of discipleship—following Jesus—is still present in the Johannine discourse, as we will examine in the next daily note.



March 27: Luke 9:57-62

The next Son of Man saying in the Gospel of Luke is found in Lk 9:58, part of a sequence of three sayings (9:57-62) regarding the “cost of discipleship” in following Jesus (cf. the prior note on Lk 9:23-27). The first two sayings are also found in Matthew (Matt 8:18-22, part of the so-called “Q” material), but in a different location within the narrative.

Luke 9:57-62

Here is an outline of the passage:

  • Narrative setting (v. 57a)—”And (on) their traveling in/on the way…” [i.e. “as they traveled along the way”]
  • 1st Encounter with a follower (v. 57 b) and Jesus’ response (Saying 1, v. 58)
  • 2nd Encounter with a follower (v. 59) and Jesus’ response (Saying 2, v. 60)
  • 3rd Encounter with a follower (v. 61) and Jesus’ response (Saying 3, v. 62)

The reference to the “Son of Man” is found in the first saying, in response to the first would-be follower who approaches Jesus and declares: “I will follow you wherever you should go from (here) [i.e. from here on]”. Jesus answers him:

“The foxes have holes/burrows (to live in), the birds of the heaven [i.e. the sky] (have) ‘tents’ put down [i.e. nests] (for them), but the Son of Man does not have (any)where to bend (down) his head [i.e. to sleep/reside].”

The saying has a proverbial feel about it, and certainly draws upon the same common-place imagery from nature regularly used by Jesus in his parables and illustrations. As in a number of the Son-of-Man sayings, there are two points of emphasis at work:

    1. Jesus identifies himself with humankind, especially in its weakness and lowliness. It is possible that, at the historical level, Jesus is simply using “Son of Man” in place of “I” (as a self-reference). The (Aramaic and/or Hebrew) expression is known to have been used this way, but its currency at the time of Jesus is quite uncertain.
    2. He particularly stresses the suffering and/or humiliation endured by the “Son of Man”. If, by this expression, a coming heavenly/Messianic figure is meant (cf. the note on Lk 9:26f), then it offers a striking contrast to his power/glory, as appears to be the case in the earlier Passion predictions (Lk 9:21, 43-45).

On the more practical, ethical level, Jesus presents himself as an example of self-denial and poverty, having abandoned everything, and now with nothing, no place to call his own—not even a pillow for his head! Those who would follow him must be willing to live the same way.

Now let us briefly consider the last two sayings. Each is set as an encounter with a would-be follower, but in a slightly different format—(1) Jesus calls the person to follow him, (2) the person requests time first to deal with family business, and (3) Jesus answers with a stark (even harsh) saying regarding the cost of following him. Here are the two encounters in outline:

    • Jesus: “Follow me”
      Response: “[Lord,] turn/give upon me (permission) to go from (here) first (and) to bury my father” (v. 59)
      Jesus’ saying: “Leave/release the dead to bury their (own) dead; but you, go from (here and) give throughout the message (of) [i.e. declare/announce] the kingdom of God!” (v. 60)
    • Jesus: (“Follow me”)
      Response: “Lord, I will follow you, but first turn/give upon me (permission) to arrange (things and depart) from the (one)s in my house” (v. 61)
      Jesus’ saying: “No one casting a hand upon the plough and looking (back) to the (thing)s behind is set (very) well for the kingdom of God!” (v. 62)

On the surface, both men make very reasonable requests of Jesus—they are apparently willing to leave their homes to follow Jesus, but ask permission to go and set their affairs in order first. In each instance, however, Jesus responds with a striking proverb illustrating the cost of discipleship and the requirement to follow him immediately. Each saying also makes mention of the “kingdom of God”. The latter saying is more in keeping with Jesus’ parables regarding the kingdom, and the typical imagery from nature and agriculture used so often in them; it is also relatively simple and straightforward to understand. The former saying is far more difficult, and has proven quite problematic (even troubling) for Christians over the centuries, especially since Jesus appears to be telling the man to abandon his filial obligation toward his parents, seemingly in violation of the commandment to honor one’s father and mother (Exod 19:12 par). This is not the place to survey the history of interpretation and the various attempts to explain (away) the difficulty of the saying, other than to note that it is best to take the saying at face value and to allow its full impact. In my view, there are two primary ways to read the saying:

    • “Let the dead bury themselves”—i.e. forget about the obligation to bury the dead, you must follow me right now!
    • “Let those who are dead (figuratively) bury their own people”—i.e., for you, following me takes priority over the ordinary (family/community) activities of (living and) dying; a deeper theological/spiritual interpretation along these same lines might be, e.g. “those who do not (or refuse to) follow me are dead; as for you, follow me and be among the living” (cf. Lk 24:5, also Lk 9:24; 17:18-22 par, etc).
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