November 20: John 15:17

John 15:17

“These (thing)s I lay on you to complete—that you should love one another.”

With this declaration by Jesus in v. 17, the exposition of the Vine illustration, and the passage as a whole (15:1-17), comes to an end. It rather neatly summarizes the message of what it means for the branches (disciples/believers) to remain in the vine (Jesus). This state of remaining (vb me/nw), so vital to the illustration (the verb occurs 11 times in the passage), entails fulfilling the two duties (e)ntolai/) that Jesus places upon his disciples. Here the related verb e)nte/llomai is used, as in verse 14 (cf. the earlier note), for the act (by Jesus) of placing the duty on the disciples— “I lay on you to complete” (e)nte/llomai u(mi=n). This action mirrors the act by God the Father, in placing duties upon the Son (14:31). In fulfilling his duty, the Son (Jesus) remains in the Father, and in His love (14:10)—and believers are to follow this example (15:9-10).

As I have previously discussed, the two duties (e)ntolai/) for the believer are: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus, and (2) to show love to other believers, following the example of Jesus. Fulfilling these two duties means that we remain in Jesus’ word (8:31; cf. 15:7), and in his love (15:9-10)—and, in so doing, we remain in him. Or, it might be better to say: remaining in Jesus means that we will remain both in his word and his love, respectively:

A comparable paradigm is expressed syntactically here in verse 17, balancing the two duties—involving Jesus’ words and love—around the central idea of obedience to the duty he has given to us:

“these things”
(i.e. his words)
e)nte/llomai “that you should love”

The i%na-particle, governing the clause “that [i%na] you should love”, can be read two different ways:

    • Epexegetical—it defines/explains the things that Jesus requires, i.e., love itself as the duty (13:34-35; 15:12f)
    • Purpose/Result—Jesus says these things (i.e., teaches them) so that his disciples may be able to love.

Both are valid, from the standpoint of the Last Discourse; however, the latter would seem to be what is intended here. The thrust and emphasis of the exposition was on the duty to love; Jesus’ words (“these [thing]s”), in this specific context, refer to the Vine-passage itself, allowing also for the broader application to the Last Discourse as a whole. His teaching is meant to show the importance of the duty to love (cf. 13:34-35), exhorting (and warning) his disciples to remain in this love. The symbolism of the foot-washing, in the narrative introduction of chap. 13, clearly refers to Jesus’ own example, demonstrating sacrificial love for those dear to him.

With this in mind, it may be necessary to adjust our interpretation of the “bearing fruit” motif. While this motif may refer to the mission (and duty) of believers generally, its principal point of reference may well prove to be the duty to show love.

November 15: John 15:16 (2)

John 15:16, continued

“(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.”

“and I set you…”
kai\ e&qhka u(ma=$

The first part of verse 16, discussed in the previous note, deals with the idea of Jesus having chosen his disciples. The verb used to express this was e)kle/gomai (“gather out”). The next phrase describes the subsequent action by Jesus, using the common verb ti/qhmi (“set, put, place”). Often this verb is used in the ordinary, concrete sense of putting a physical object in a particular place—11:34; 19:19, 41-42; 20:2, 13-15, cf. also 2:10.

However, in the Gospel of John, ti/qhmi can also carry a deeper meaning, as part of the Johannine theological vocabulary and idiom. I discussed the relevant references in the previous note on verse 13; they all relate to the idea of Jesus’ sacrificial death—using the specific idiom of “setting (down) one’s soul” (i.e., laying down one’s life). This sacrificial action is done for the sake of (lit. “over,” u(pe/r) another person. This is how the verb is used in 10:11-18 (vv. 11, 15, 17-18), and also in 13:37-38 and 15:13. In the latter two references, it applies to the willingness of believers (disciples) to lay down their life for others, following the example of Jesus himself.

Here in verse 16, the specific meaning of ti/qhmi seems to be different; however, the aforementioned usage strongly suggests that the specific theological significance in those references applies here as well. On the surface, the verb in v. 16 is being used in the more general figurative sense of placing a person in a position of leadership, service, etc (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 12:28). The statement by Jesus, “I set you”, refers to the historical tradition of the call of the (Twelve) disciples (Mark 3:13-19 par), whereby Jesus appointed these specific twelve men to be in a special position, as his close associates and missionary representatives. As I discussed in the previous note, the Synoptic/Markan account uses a sequence of three verbs, the first two of which are:

    • proskale/w (“call toward”)—Jesus calls the disciples to him
    • poie/w (“make, do”)—he made (the) twelve of them to be his special representatives

The verb ti/qhmi here in v. 16 corresponds to poie/w in Mk 3:14. However, in the Johannine context of the Last Discourse, Jesus’ address is not limited to the Twelve, but is given to all of his true disciples; cp. 6:67-71, which represents the Johannine version of the tradition in Mk 3:13-14ff par. Indeed, the Last Discourse (and the Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17) has in view not only Jesus’ disciples, during the time of earthly ministry, but all true believers.

In the theological context of the Last Discourse, the willingness to lay down one’s life (“set down [vb ti/qhmi] one’s soul”), in obedience to Jesus’ example of sacrificial love, is a distinguishing mark of the true disciple. This is established at the beginning of the Last Discourse (13:34-35), and continues as a theme throughout. It is especially prominent in the exposition of the Vine-illustration (vv. 9-14), as we have seen. Thus, when Jesus says here that he “set” them as his chosen disciples, he has in mind that they will fulfill the duties (e)ntolai/) of the (true) disciple. As for these duties, there are essentially, and fundamentally, two: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus (“remain in my word”); and (2) to demonstrate love to fellow believers, according to the example of Jesus (“remain in my love”). The latter assumes a willingness to “set” down one’s life for the sake of others.

November 11: John 15:14

John 15:14

“You are my dear (friend)s, if you would do the (thing)s that I lay on you to complete.”

Here, Jesus picks up on the term fi/lo$ (“dear [one]”) from v. 13, introduced as a way of referring to the love that his disciples (believers) must show to one another. This love should follow the example given by Jesus himself, as demonstrated by his sacrificial death—viz., one must be willing to lay down one’s life for the sake of others (cf. the previous note). The noun fi/lo$ denotes a person for whom one has affection, i.e., who is held dear. It is often translated flatly as “friend”, but “loved one” would perhaps be more accurate; in most instances, I translate it as “dear (one)” or “dear (friend)”. The use of this noun (and the related verb file/w, synonymous in meaning with a)gapa/w) elsewhere in the Gospel was discussed in the prior note.

In verse 13, the implication was that the disciples should regard one another as fi/loi— “dear (one)s,” those who are held dear. Now, in v. 14, Jesus declares that the disciples are his “dear ones” (i.e., dear to him). This is an example of the Johannine themes of reciprocity and unity, in terms of the relationship between Jesus and believers:

    • Reciprocity—as Jesus shows love to his disciples (believers), so the disciples are to show love to him (spec. in the person of those he loves, i.e., other believers)
    • Unity—believers are united with one another, through love, with the unity also being demonstrated by this love; the unity of believers with the Son (Jesus) is also realized and demonstrated through love (see esp. the parallel “remain in me” / “remain in my love”, vv. 4ff, 9ff).

As the earlier directive regarding love in 13:34-35 makes clear, showing love to one another is a sign that believers are true disciples of Jesus. Here, the same duty (e)ntolh/) to show love is a sign that they are his “dear (friend)s”. In this regard, we may mention the role of the ‘beloved disciple’ as a figure-type in the Gospel, representing the ideal of the true disciple. The verbs a)gapa/w and file/w are used interchangeably in referring to this ideal disciple (cf. 20:2 [note also 11:3], in comparison with 13:23; 19:26; 21:7, 20); thus the true disciple is properly called a fi/lo$ of Jesus.

That the true fi/lo$ fulfills the duty (e)ntolh/) to show love (to other believers) is clear, both from the immediate context of verse 13 (and the prior vv. 9-12), and also by the use of the verb e)nte/llomai here. As I have discussed, the verb e)nte/llomai denotes laying a charge or duty on (e)n) a person, regarding something that he/she must complete (vb tele/w / teleio/w); the noun e)ntolh/ refers to that duty. Love is clearly defined as an e)ntolh/, both here in the exposition (v. 12), and earlier in 13:34. Elsewhere, here in verse 10, and in 14:15-21, it is stated that love is realized when the disciple fulfills the duties (plural, e)ntolai/) that are required. Love is one of those duties, so the logic expressed is somewhat elliptical; the specific duty to be fulfilled is showing love to one’s fellow believers, according to the example of Jesus himself.

The plural is used again here: “…if you do the (thing)s that [a%] I lay on you to complete”. The verb e)nte/llomai is thus used with regard to at least two duties (e)ntolai/). I would argue that, in the Johannine writings, the plural of e)ntolh/ has, in fact, two duties principally in mind. One of these, certainly, is the duty to show love to fellow believers. What is the other duty? In the Gospel, it is best understood as keeping/guarding the word (lo/go$) of Jesus (or words, lo/goi, par r(h/mata)—i.e., his teaching, message, and witness (regarding who he is). This is clearly the focus in 14:15-21 (vv. 23-24), and is an important theme throughout the Last Discourse (14:10; 15:3, 7, 20; 16:13-15; 17:6, 8, 14ff; cf. also 5:24, 38; 6:63; 8:31, 37, 51-52; 12:47-48).

The suggested identification of these two duties (e)ntolai/) would seem to be confirmed by the parallel between the idiom of “remaining” (vb me/nw) in the Son (Jesus) [15:4ff] and: (a) remaining in his word (lo/go$) [8:31, cp. 15:7], and (b) remaining in his love (a)ga/ph) [15:9]. I have illustrated this by the following diagram:

Thus, a person shows oneself to be a true disciple of Jesus (and one dear [fi/lo$] to him) by fulfilling the duties he has given—(1) keeping/guarding his words, and (2) showing love to other disciples/believers. As discussed in the previous notes on vv. 12-13, the love of the true disciple entails a willingness to give one’s own life for others, in a sacrificial manner, according to the example of Jesus.

In the next daily note (on verse 15), we will examine a bit further what it means to be a fi/lo$ of Jesus.

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.

November 8: John 15:12

John 15:12-15

Verse 12

“This is my (charge) on (you) to complete: that you should love one another, just as I (have) loved you.”

Verses 12-15 reprise the thematic emphasis of vv. 9-11: the relationship between love (a)ga/ph, vb a)gapa/w) and taking care (to fulfill) the duties (e)ntolai/) given by Jesus to his disciples. As I discussed in the previous notes, love is one of these duties. This creates a somewhat elliptical line of argument in vv. 9-11 (as also in 14:15-21): love entails fulfilling the duties, and yet love is also one of the duties that the believer must fulfill. Here in vv. 12-15, this confusion is removed, with love being clearly treated as a duty (e)ntolh/) given by Jesus:

“This is my e)ntolh/…”

In the passage-quotations in prior notes, I left the noun e)ntolh/ (plur. e)ntolai/) untranslated. Now I am translating it, according to what I understand the fundamental meaning of the word to be—a charge or duty placed on someone that he/she is obligated to complete:

“This is my (duty laid) on (you) to complete…”
au%th e)stin h( e)ntolh\ h( e)mh/

The demonstrative pronoun at the beginning of the sentence (in emphatic position) makes clear that what follows is the duty which the disciples are obligated to complete (“This is…”). The duty is stated simply and briefly:

“that you should love one another”
i%na a)gapa=te a)llh/lou$

There is an obvious parallel with the directive to love given by Jesus in 13:34-35, in the opening section of the Last Discourse; indeed, the wording of the directive is identical:

“A new (duty) to complete [e)ntolh/] I give to you: that you should love one another [i%na a)gapa=te a)llh/lou$]”

The qualifying phrase that follows is also identical—

“just as I (have) loved you”
kaqw\$ h)ga/phsa u(ma=$

only in 13:34 this is given in an expanded form, emphasizing the twin motifs of reciprocity and following the example of Jesus:

“just as I (have) loved you, (so it is) that you should love one another”

The compound comparative conjunction kaqw/$ (“just as…”) was used twice before in the exposition, for a similar purpose—namely, to emphasize that the disciple is to follow the example of Jesus. This is significant because Jesus himself (the Son) also follows the example of his Father:

    • “Just as [kaqw/$] my Father (has) loved me, (so) I also (have) loved you” (v. 9a)
    • “If you would keep watch (over) my e)ntolai/, you will remain in my love, just as [kaqw/$] I have kept watch (over) the e)ntolai/ of my Father, and (so) I remain in His love.” (v. 10)

This chain of relationship is expressed in two directions:

    • The Father has loved the Son
      • the Son has loved Believers
    • Believers should fulfill the duties given by the Son
      (and so remain in the Son’s love)

      • the Son has fulfilled the duties given by the Father
        (and so remains in the Father’s love)

In verse 13, Jesus gives us the essence of what this love signifies and entails. We will explore this in the next daily note.

November 4: John 15:10 (continued)

John 15:10, continued

In order to understand what it means for a disciple/believer to “keep watch over” (vb thre/w) the e)ntolai/ of Jesus, it is necessary to examine how the Gospel of John understands Jesus’ fulfilling of the duties (e)ntolai/) given to him by God the Father. The pattern in verse 10 (continuing from v. 9), as discussed in the previous note, establishes this as the basis for our study: the believer is to fulfill the duties given by the Son (Jesus), just as the Son has fulfilled the duties given to him by the Father.

The noun used to express this concept is e)ntolh/, which is typically translated as “command(ment)”, but this can be quite misleading, especially if one has in mind a set of written commands or regulations such as we find in the Torah. The term properly refers to a charge or duty that is placed upon a person, and which one is obligated to complete (vb e)nte/llomai). The verb does carry the sense of commanding (i.e., ordering) a person to do something.

The noun e)ntolh/ occurs 10 times in the Gospel of John, including three times here in the exposition of the Vine illustration (vv. 10, 12), while the verb e)nte/llomai occurs 4 times (and twice in the Vine exposition, vv. 14, 17); the noun also occurs 18 times in the Letters, including 14 in 1 John. Let us briefly examine the relevant occurrences in the Gospel prior to chapter 15.


“Through this, my Father loves me, (in) that I set (down) my soul, (so) that I might take it (up) again. No one takes it from me, but I set it (down) from myself. I hold (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to set it (down), and I hold authority to take it (up) again—this (is) the e)ntolh/ I received (from) alongside my Father.”


“I did not speak out of myself, but the (One hav)ing sent me, (the) Father, He has given me an e)ntolh/ (regarding) what I should say and what I should speak. And I have seen that His e)ntolh/ is (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]. Therefore, (with regard to) the (thing)s that I speak, just as the Father has said (it) to me, so I speak.”

In these two references, Jesus talks of receiving an e)ntolh/ from the Father. In the first instance (10:17-18), he has been given something to do—namely, to lay down his life, i.e., in a sacrificial death, so that he might “take it up” again (i.e., his resurrection). This is the mission (and duty) which the Father has given him to complete, and he has been given the authority/ability (by the Father) to complete it. At the moment of Jesus’ death, on the cross, he declares that the mission has been completed: “It has been completed [tete/lestai]” (19:30).

In the second instance (12:49-50), the mission or duty (e)ntolh/) regards things that he must say. The Father gives him the words to speak, much as He gives Jesus (the Son) the authority/ability (e)cousi/a) to lay down his life (and take it up again). This is an important Johannine theme, emphasizing that Jesus’ teaching, and the word that he speaks, comes from God. It is an evident witness of his identity as the Son of God that his words come from God, and not from himself. Like a dutiful Son, Jesus follows the example of his Father, doing what he sees his Father doing and saying what he hears his father saying.

It is significant that we have here two different e)ntolai/, and thus can use the plural of the noun. The duties placed on Jesus by the Father are: (1) to lay down his life and take it up again (death / resurrection), and (2) to speak the words of God that were given to him by the Father.

It is in this light that we must understand the use of the noun e)ntolh/ (and verb e)nte/llomai) in 14:15-21 and here in the Vine illustration. Both passages have the following emphases in common:

    • Fulfilling the duties (e)ntolh/) is closely connected with love (a)ga/ph, vb a)gapa/w)
    • The believer’s fulfilling of the duties follows the example/pattern of Jesus’ fulfilling of his duties; in so doing, there is a real sense that the believer shares in the love experienced (and possessed) by Jesus.
    • The pattern: the Son (Jesus) fulfills the duties given to him by the Father, and the believer fulfills the duties given by the Son.

If the duties of the believer are patterned after the Son’s duties, then we must look to the two examples, the two e)ntolai/, discussed above:

    • Action—laying down his life, indicating a willingness to endure death, for the sake of others
    • Speech—speaking the word(s) of God, given to him by the Father

How do these relate to the believer? The first e)ntolh/, that of a willingness to lay down one’s life, is best understood in terms of the ‘love command’ that Jesus gives to his disciples in the opening section of the Last Discourse:

“A new e)ntolh/ I give to you: that you shall love one another; just as I (have) loved you, so you shall love one another. In this, all (people) will know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples]—if you hold love among one another.” (13:34-35)

The duty for believers to love one another is based on the example provided by Jesus, of the love that he has shown. The narrative setting of chapter 13 clearly establishes this point (cf. the opening words in v. 1), associating Jesus’ love in the context of his impending death. The foot-washing (vv. 4-11, 12-17) is meant to symbolize and illustrate this sacrificial love, even to the point of death. If there were any doubt regarding the centrality of this thematic association, it is reinforced by the exchange between Jesus and Peter in vv. 36-38, and then is made explicit in 15:13 (to be discussed), at the heart of the Last Discourse, as Jesus instructs his disciples (and us as believers):

“Greater love than this no one holds: that one would set (down) his soul over [i.e. for the sake of] his dear (one)s.”

The language used to describe this willingness to lay down one’s life essentially matches what Jesus says of himself in 10:17-18 (cf. above).

Thus, one of the duties (e)ntolai/) of disciples/believers is to show sacrificial love to one another, following the example of Jesus himself, being willing to lay down one’s life for the sake of others.

What of the second duty? It should match the second duty for Jesus, as described in 12:49-50 (cf. above)—namely, to speak the word(s) given to him by God. The context of 14:15-21ff, prior to the Vine illustration, explains how the pattern applies to believers: the Son (Jesus) gives believers the word(s) (of God) to speak. The theme of fulfilling the duties (e)ntolai/), in this passage, is connected with the promise of the coming of the Spirit-Paraclete. There are two Paraclete-sayings by Jesus in this context:

    • Vv. 16-17—The Spirit (of truth) will be given to believers from the Father, and will be with/alongside them, and will remain (vb me/nw) in/among them.
    • Vv. 25-26—The Spirit will teach believers; this entails reminding them of the things Jesus said during his earthly ministry, but also that Jesus would continue to speak to them through the Spirit (cf. 15:26-27; 16:12-15).

The twin emphases of love (a)ga/ph) and the word (lo/go$/r(h=ma) serve as two distinct, but interrelated, strands that run through the passage, informing the meaning of the duty/mission (e)ntolh/) that believers must fulfill. The aspect of love is dominant in vv. 15-21, while the word is more prominent in vv. 23-24ff:

“If any (one) would love me, he will keep watch (over) my word [lo/go$], and my Father will love him, and we will come toward him, and will make our abode [monh/] alongside him. The (one) not loving me will not keep watch (over) my words [lo/goi]; and (indeed) the word [lo/go$] that you hear is not mine, but (is the) Father’s, the (One hav)ing sent me.”

Jesus has instructed his disciples both to remain (vb me/nw) in his word (8:31, cf. 15:7) and in his love (15:9-10). This reflects both of the e)ntolai/ that believers are obligated to fulfill—or, we may say, both aspects of the two-fold e)ntolh/ (the singular and plural of this noun being interchangeable in John) that is required of all true disciples/believers. Remaining in Jesus’ word/love also represent twin aspects of what it means to remain in him—i.e., in the Son himself. In the previous note, I illustrated this by the following diagram:

In closing, it is also important to emphasize again that the fulfilling of these duties follows the pattern of Jesus (the Son) himself, in the way that he completed the duties given to him by the Father:

“…(so) that world may know that I love the Father, even as the Father laid (the duty/mission) on me to complete [e)netei/lato], so I do (it).” (14:31)

Love is demonstrated by the completing of the duty/mission (e)ntolh/) that is given; and, of course, love itself is part of that duty. When we, as believers, fulfill that duty, we share in the love that is shared between Father and Son. We will examine this theme a bit further in the next daily note, when we turn to verse 11.

November 3: John 15:10

John 15:10

“If you would keep watch (over) my e)ntolai/, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept watch (over) the e)ntolai/ of my Father, and (so) I remain in His love.”

In verse 10, Jesus begins to explain what it means to remain (vb me/nw) in his love (v. 9, cf. the previous note). There are two aspects of this explanation here, which correspond to the two parts of v. 10. The first aspect (in the first part) expounds the idea (of remaining in his love) as a conditional statement. The second aspect (in the second part) extends the pattern-comparison from v. 9, whereby the relationship between the believer and the Son (Jesus) is patterned after the relationship between the Son and the Father.

Let us begin with the first part:

“If [e)a/n] you would keep watch (over) my e)ntolai/, you will remain in my love”

The condition is established in the initial clause, using the conditional conjunction e)a/n (“if…”) along with a verbal subjunctive (of the verb thre/w, “[keep] watch”). The object of the verb—that is, what the disciple/believer should keep watch over—is the plural of the noun e)ntolh/. This noun is somewhat difficult to translate. It is typically rendered rather flatly as “command(ment)”, but this is a bit misleading, especially in the context of the Gospel of John. It properly refers to a duty or charge that a person is obligated (i.e., placed upon him/her) to complete (vb e)nte/llomai). The implication here is that the disciple takes good care (vb thre/w, “watch [over]”) to fulfill the obligation, or duty, that Jesus gives. The qualifying genitive mou (“of me, my”) can be understood as a possessive (i.e., the e)ntolai/ ultimately belong to Jesus), but it seems more accurate to view it as an ablative genitive of source (or origin)—i.e., the requirement (to fulfill the duties) comes from Jesus. The same applies to the genitival expression “of my Father” in the second part.

Two questions naturally arise: (1) what is the force of the condition in this statement, and (2) what are the duties (e)ntolai/) that the disciple should complete?

As to the first question, the condition can be understood two different ways. First, where the result is dependent upon fulfilling the condition. In other words, if (and only if) one “keeps watch over” the duties (i.e., to complete/fulfill them), will one “remain in” Jesus’ love. According to this line of interpretation, remaining in his love is dependent upon fulfilling the duties.

A second way of reading v. 10a is epexegetical, whereby the “then” clause (apodosis) explains or clarifies the conditional clause (protasis). If the disciple watches over the duties (to fulfill them), then he/she truly does remain in Jesus’ love—in other words, that is what it means to remain in his love.

Both approaches can be seen as valid, and both are supported in the prior section, dealing with love and the e)ntolai/, in 14:15-21. The idea that love is dependent on fulfilling the duties is suggested by Jesus’ words in verse 15:

“If you would love me, (then) you will keep watch over my e)ntolai/…”

Here we have a conditional statement that is similar to 15:10a, though it reverses the relationship between the condition of love and fulfilling the duties (e)ntolai/).

On the other hand, the epexegetical reading of 15:10a is supported by the wording of 14:21a:

“The (one) holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping watch (over) them, that (person) is the (one) loving me…”

In other words, love is defined by, rather then dependent on, taking care to fulfill the duties.

Let us now turn to the second part of the verse (10b):

“…just as I have kept watch (over) the e)ntolai/ of my Father, and (so) I remain in His love.”

This syntax resembles that of verse 9, utilizing the same comparative conjunction kaqw/$ (“just as…”); and, indeed, the sense of its use is the same, establishing the relationship between God the Father and the Son (Jesus) as the pattern (“just as…so [also]…”) for the relationship between the Son and believers. In verse 9, the Father’s love for the Son was the focus of the pattern; here, it is the Son watching over the duties (e)ntolai/) given to him by the Father, which, in its own way, reflects the Son’s love for the Father.

The parallelism is clear and straightforward:

    • The Son takes care to fulfill the duties given by the Father
      • …and so “remains” in His love
    • The believer should take care to fulfill the duties given by the Son
      • …and so “remain” in his love

Furthermore, it becomes quite clear, based on this parallel, that, in order to understand the duties (e)ntolai/) the Son requires of disciples/believers, we must examine the duties that God the Father has given to the Son. This we will do, in the next daily note, with a study on the use of the noun e)ntolai/ (and the verb e)nte/llomai) in other key passages of the Gospel.

November 2: John 15:9 (continued)

John 15:9, continued

“Just as the Father (has) loved me, I also (have) loved you—you must remain in my love.”

Continuing our examination of the next portion (vv. 9-11) of the exposition of the Vine illustration, we will be looking at verse 9 in more detail (cf. the previous note). There are three distinct statements, which are related, both in the context of the illustration, and in terms of the Johannine theology. We will consider each component, as well as the relationship between the three.

“Just as the Father (has) loved me…”
kaqw\$ h)ga/phse/n me o( path/r

The first statement emphasizes the Father’s love for the Son (Jesus). This is an important aspect of the love-theme in the Gospel of John. Love (a)ga/ph, vb a)gapa/w) is a natural part of the Parent-Child relationship, particularly with regard to the love that parent has for his/her child. A father will naturally have love for his son—and so does God the Father have love for His Son. The identification of Jesus as the eternal Son of God is central to the Johannine theology, and to the Gospel, being established from the beginning, in the Prologue (1:14, 18). The Father’s love for His Son is declared in a number of places in the Gospel:

    • 3:35— “The Father loves [a)gapa=|] the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”
    • 5:20— “The Father is fond of [filei=, i.e. loves] the Son, and shows him all (the thing)s that He does…”
    • 10:17— “Through [i.e. because of] this, the Father loves [a)gapa=|] me, (in) that I set (down) my soul, (so) that I might take it (up) again.”
    • 17:23-24, 26—At the climax of the Discourse-Prayer in chap. 17, Jesus requests/expects that the Father will love his disciples (believers), even as He has loved him.

The Father’s love for the Son is also clearly implied in 8:42; 14:21, 23; 16:27, where it is indicated that the Father loves the disciples (believers) because of their love for the Son.

The compound comparative conjunction (kaqw/$, “just as”) at the beginning of verse 9, establishes the Father’s love for the Son as the pattern for the Son’s love for believers (cf. below).

“…I also (have) loved you—”
ka)gw\ u(ma=$ h)ga/phsa

The compound ka)gw/ (conjunction kai/ plus pronoun e)gw/) means “and I”; however, here, in connection with the comparative kaqw/$ in the first statement (cf. above), it must be translated “I also”, or “so I (also)”. Jesus’ love for his disciples (“you” plur.) follows the example and pattern of the Father’s love for him. The form of the verb in both statements is in the aorist, which usually corresponds to the past tense in English. Here, it is practically necessary to translate the verb as though in the perfect tense—i.e., the Father has loved the Son, and the Son has loved the disciples/believers. The aorists do essentially correspond with perfects, in that the action or state (love) continues into the present; the continuous aspect of the Father’s love is expressed by the present tense of a)gapa/w (and file/w) in the Gospel references cited above.

Jesus’ love for his disciples (and all believers) is rarely stated explicitly in the Gospel, though it is implied throughout. Apart from the specific references to Lazarus and his family (11:3, 5, 36), and to the ‘beloved disciple’ (“the [one] whom he loved”, cf. 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20), the entire thrust of the Son’s mission on earth is rooted in the love for God’s own, throughout the world (3:16). The theme of love is tied to Jesus’ death, as a self-sacrifice, more explicitly in 10:17. The same thematic emphasis comes into special prominence in the Last Discourse, with the anticipation of Jesus’ death. The narrative setting of chapter 13 establishes this most clearly, from the beginning:

“…Yeshua, having seen that his hour (has) come, (and) that (soon) he would step across, out of this world, toward the Father, (hav)ing loved [a)gaph/sa$] his own th(at are) in the world, unto completion [i.e. to the end] he loved [h)ga/phsen] them.” (v. 1)

This sacrificial love is demonstrated through the symbolism of the foot-washing (vv. 4-11, followed by the teaching in vv. 12-17), which sets the stage for the introduction of the ‘love command’ (vv. 34-35)—i.e., the duty (e)ntolh/) of the disciples/believers to love one another, following Jesus’ own example (cf. 15:13). This love is the theme of 14:15-21, the section of the Last Discourse that immediately precedes the Vine illustration; see especially the teaching in 14:21:

“The (one) holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping watch (over) them—that (one) is the (one) loving me; and the (one) loving me shall be loved under [i.e. by] the Father, and I (also) [ka)gw/] will love him and will shine forth myself in/on him.”

The same thematic emphasis—on love and the e)ntolai/ (i.e., the duties required of the disciple/believer)—prevails here in the exposition of the Vine illustration (vv. 9-11ff).

“—(so) you must remain in my love.”
mei/nate e)n th=| e)mh=|

The first two statements provide the basis for the directive (or command) Jesus gives here to his disciples. The key-verb me/nw (“remain, abide, stay”), so important in the Johannine writings, is used again. It occurred 7 times already in vv. 4-7 (cf. the previous notes), and is clearly central to the exposition of the illustration. The exposition begins with a similar imperative:

“You must remain [mei/nhte] in me, and I in you…”

In verse 4, the directive was to remain “in me” —that is, in Jesus (the Son) himself. Here, it is to remain “in my love” —that is, in the love that the Son has for believers, and for the Father, and which is at the heart of the union between Father and Son. The love is shared by Father and Son, similar to that shared by a parent and child—the love is mutual and reciprocal.

This is the first time in the Gospel that love (a)ga/ph) was associated directly with the verb me/nw. However, there is an important parallel, in this regard, between Jesus’ love (a)ga/ph) and his word (lo/go$/r(h=ma). Here, remaining in the Son’s love is essentially the same as remaining in the Son himself; similarly, having the Son’s words (r(h/mata) remaining in the believer (v. 7) is comparable to having the Son himself remain in the believer. The parallel is even closer when we compare the wording in 8:31:

“If you should remain [mei/nhte] in my word [e)n tw=| lo/gw| tw=| e)mw=|], (then) truly you are my disciples.”

Thus, there is a dual-aspect to what it means to “remain” in Jesus, which can be illustrated by the following diagram:

This will be discussed further as we continue through the exposition.

November 1: John 15:9

John 15:9-11

Verse 9

“Just as the Father (has) loved me, I also (have) loved you—you must remain in my love.”

The next portion (vv. 9-11) of the exposition of the Vine illustration introduces a new theme—love (a)ga/ph, vb a)gapa/w). This is a central Johannine theme, though one that has only been dealt with occasionally, up to this point, in the Gospel (prior to the Last Discourse). The love-terminology, involving the noun a)ga/ph and related verb a)gapa/w, is also distinctively Johannine in its emphasis. The noun occurs 7 times in the Gospel (compared with just 2 in the Synoptics), and 21 in the Letters (18 in 1 John). The verb occurs 37 times in the Gospel (compared with 26 in the Synoptics combined), and 31 in the Letters (28 in 1 John). Of the 37 occurrences of the verb in the Gospel, only 7 are prior to chapter 13, and only 1 of the 7 occurrences of the noun. Thus, the love-terminology and the love-theme are most prominent in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), the preceding narrative in chap. 13, and the following Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17.

The references to the noun a)ga/ph in the Vine illustration (vv. 9-10, 13), are framed, within the literary setting of the Last Discourse, by the key statements in 13:35 and 17:26:

    • “In this all (people) will know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples]—if you hold love among (one) another.”
    • “And I made known to them [i.e. the disciples] your name, and I will make (it) known, (so) that the love with which you (have) loved me might be in them—and I (also) in them.”

These two references are essential for an understanding of the central importance of love as a defining characteristic of the disciple/believer in Christ. In particular, 17:26 is relevant for the statement in v. 9 here, with love being a fundamental part of the dynamic and abiding relationship between Father and Son. Consider the similarity of wording:

    • “that the love with which you (have) loved me
      might be in them”
    • “Just as the Father (has) loved me, I also (have) loved you—
      you must remain in my love.”

The verb a)gapa/w is used more frequently than the noun, both throughout the Gospel, and here in chapters 13-17. It is used to establish love as a theme for the Passion narrative from the beginning, in 13:1:

“Now before the festival of the Pesaµ, (with) Yeshua having seen that his hour (has) come, (and) that he should (soon) step across, out of this world, toward the Father, (ha)ving loved his own th(at are) in the world, unto completion [i.e. unto the end] he loved them.”

Even before the start of the Last Discourse, this love-theme is developed in the narrative in several important, though subtle, ways:

    • Jesus demonstrates his love for the disciples through the symbolism of the foot-washing—vv. 4-11, and the instruction that follows in vv. 12-17.
    • The loving bond between Jesus and his disciples is represented by the figure of the ‘beloved disciple’ (“the [one] whom Yeshua loved”) reclining in the lap of Jesus (v. 23)
    • The true disciples, who share this bond of love, represented by both the ‘beloved disciple’ and Peter (vv. 6-9, 24, 36-38), are intentionally contrasted with the false disciple (Judas) who departs from their circle (vv. 2, 10b-11, 18-19, 21-30).

This sets the stage for the Last Discourse, with its opening section (vv. 31-35) that climaxes with Jesus’ declaration to his disciples regarding the duty (e)ntolh/) to love (vv. 34-35). In the First Discourse-division, this same specific theme is developed, in 14:15-31, with the duty to love being repeatedly emphasized (the verb a)gapa/w occurs 10 times in 14:15-31). This is the immediate context for the love-references here in the Vine-illustration. The duty (e)ntolh/) of believers to show love to each other is an essential and fundamental component of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.

In the next daily note, we will look in detail at each of the three statements in verse 9:

    • “Just as the Father (has) loved me”
    • I also (have) loved you”
    • you must remain in my love”