“In this my Father is given honor: that you should bear much fruit, and should come to be my learners [i.e. disciples].”
The first section (vv. 4-8) of the exposition/application of the Vine illustration (vv. 1-3) concludes with this declaration by Jesus. God the Father (i.e., the land-worker of the illustration, v. 1) is given honor (e)doca/sqh) when the branches of the vine bear “much fruit”. The verb doca/zw (“give/show honor”) is an important Johannine keyword in the Gospel, occurring 23 times, compared with 14 in the Synoptics combined (Luke 9, Matthew 4, Mark 1). It tends to be used in the second half of the Gospel, being concentrated in the Last Discourse and the Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17. It features in the opening of the Last Discourse (13:31-32), repeating the earlier announcement by Jesus in 12:23 (cf. also v. 28):
“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor” (12:23)
“Now the Son of Man is given honor, and God is given honor in him;” (13:31)
The second clause of 13:31 is precisely parallel to the statement here in 15:8:
- “God | is given honor [e)doca/sqe] | in him [e)n au)tw=|]”
- “the Father | is given honor [e)doca/sqe] | in this [e)n tou=tw|]
Before examining this parallel in more detail, let us consider 13:32, in which Jesus gives us an exposition of the statement in v. 31:
“[(and) if God is given honor in him,] (then) also will God give him honor in Him(self), and will straightaway give him honor.”
The words in square brackets are missing from a significant range of witnesses (Ë66 a* B C D* L W X P f1 al), and thus may not be original; but, as Brown (p. 606) notes, “it is easier to explain why it may have been lost than why it would have been added”.
Also problematic is the precise meaning (and referent) for the second dative pronoun au)tw=|: “…God will also give him honor in him [e)n au)tw=|]”. The pronoun is apparently being used in a reflexive sense (i.e., “in himself”), but is the reference to God the Father or Jesus the Son? Is the promise that God will give Jesus honor in himself, or in Himself (i.e., the Son in the Father)? The emphasis in the Gospel on the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son makes the latter more likely. If the Father is given honor in the Son, then the Son will be given honor (by the Father) in the Father (“in Him[self]”).
The verb doca/zw properly means “recognize”, usually in the sense of giving recognition to someone—i.e., treating them with esteem or honor; sometimes it can include the idea of raising someone to a position of honor. In the Gospel of John, the verb tends to be used in the specific context of the exaltation of the Son (Jesus). The process of exaltation begins with the suffering and death of Jesus, includes his resurrection from the dead, and then concludes with his return to the Father in heaven. This is clearly the context in which the verb is used in 7:39, 12:16, and here in 12:23 and 13:31-32. The Son’s mission on earth brings honor to the Father (11:4; 14:13; 17:4), and the Son is also given honor (and raised to honor) in the process (11:4; 17:1, 5, 10); ultimately it is God the Father who gives honor to the Son (8:54; 12:28; 17:1ff).
This helps us to understand the parallel between 15:8 and 13:31. The Father is given honor “in this” —believers becoming true disciples of the Son—just as He is given honor in the Son himself (“in him”). Believers, as disciples of the Son, continue the mission of the Son.
By continuing the Son’s mission, and following his example, the disciples (i.e., believers) are part of this same dynamic—bringing honor to the Father, and being honored in return (17:10, 22, 24; 21:19). In 15:8, it is clearly stated that, by bearing “much fruit”, the disciples will bring honor to the Father; implicit is the idea that the disciples (believers) are doing this in (e)n) the Son, indicating that they/we take part in the same relationship between Father and Son. This is very much the message in the chapter 17 Discourse-Prayer, and is an overarching theme throughout the Last Discourse (and elsewhere in the Gospel as well). Consider, for example, the statement in 17:10:
“Indeed, all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and all the (thing)s (that are) yours are mine, and I have been given honor [dedo/casmai] in them.”
When speaking of “all the (thing)s”, Jesus is referring principally to the disciples/believers, as is clear from v. 9: “…the (one)s whom you have given me”, saying of them, “that they are yours”. Believers belong to God the Father, and the Father has given them to the Son, so they also (equally) belong to the Son. Moreover, they are in the Son (and the Son is in them), and thus the honor given/received is shared by both. This relationship of unity is indicated in 14:13, as Jesus tells his disciples:
“And whatever you should request (from the Father) in my name, this I will do, (so) that the Father should be given honor [docasqh=|] in the Son.”
The same emphasis on prayer, with the promise of answered prayer, occurs in the immediate context here (v. 7, discussed in the previous note). The bond of unity is realized through the presence of the Spirit; see, for example, how this relates in 16:14, where Jesus says of the Spirit:
“That (one) will give me honor [e)me\ doca/sei], (in) that he will receive out of th(at which is) mine, and will give (it) forth as a message to you.”
In other words, through the Spirit, the ministry of Jesus continues in/through the disciples (believers), and this gives honor to the Son—and thus also to the Father, since, as it is again stated in 16:15, all things that belong to the Father also belong to the Son (“All [thing]s, as [many] as the Father holds, are mine”).
Returning to verse 8 of the Vine illustration, the Father is “given honor” when the disciples “bear much fruit”. An interpretative crux of the passage involves determining just what, precisely, it means for a disciple/believer to “bear (much) fruit”. We have discussed the matter, initially, in prior notes, but have yet to give it a thorough treatment. Here, however, Jesus himself (as the speaker) offers us a glimpse of the meaning, by effectively identifying the “bearing of fruit” with being a disciple:
“…that you should bear much fruit and should come to be my learners [ge/nhsqe e)moi\ maqhtai/]”
Some manuscripts read the future indicative genh/sesqe, rather than the aorist subjunctive (ge/nhsqe). This would give a slightly different emphasis to Jesus’ statement:
“…that you should bear much fruit, and (so) you will come to be my learners”
The noun maqhth/$ means “learner, one who learns”, but is typically translated as “disciple,” which is accurate enough; certainly, the noun is used in the New Testament almost exclusively for disciples/followers of Jesus. In two other places in the Gospel of John, Jesus (and also the Gospel writer) gives us an indication of what it means to be a true disciple:
- “If you should remain in my word, (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples]” (8:31)
- “In this all (people) shall know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples]—if you would hold love among (one) another” (13:35)
The Gospel thus gives two specific criteria for being a true disciple of Jesus—(1) “remaining” in his word, and (2) having love toward fellow believers (“each other”). And since, according to 15:8, “bearing fruit” is essentially the same as being a (true) disciple, then believers who fulfill/exhibit these two criteria are “bearing much fruit”.
In the next daily note, we will turn to the next portion of the exposition, vv. 9-11, which introduces a new theme—love and the ‘commandments’ —that very much relates to the line of interpretation discussed here. And exegesis of these verses will give us an even clearer understanding of what it means for the disciple/believer to “bear much fruit”.
References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29A (1970).