“Gnosis” in the NT: John 17:3 (cont.)

John 17:3 (continued)

In the previous study, I looked at the statement of John 17:3 in the context of the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. Today, I will be examining the statement itself in a bit more detail.

“And this is the Life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life]—that they should know you the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

This is clearly connected with Jesus’ words in verse 2, though the precise relationship is not absolutely certain (cf. the discussion in the prior note):

“Even as you [i.e. the Father] have given to him [i.e. the Son] authority o(ver) all flesh, (so) that (for) every (one) that you have given him, he should give to them life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life].”

Verse 3 explains and defines what this “eternal life” is. The word zwh/ (“life”) appears frequently in the Gospel of John, and usually denotes eternal life—that is, the divine or spiritual life which God the Father possesses (with the Son) and which is, and will be, granted to faithful believers in Christ. The specific expression “life of the Age[s]” makes the meaning clear (Jn 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50); the very expression has a definite eschatological orientation—the life believers will enter/inherit at the end, in the “Age to Come”. Life (zwh/) appears most frequently, as a key-word, in the discourse of 5:17-47 (esp. vv. 24-29, 39-40) and in the “Bread of Life” discourse of chapter 6 (11 times). In the language of the Johannine discourses, to have or receive life is a primary idiom for salvation, since the specific words “save, saving, salvation” (sw|/zw and related words) are not commonly used in the Gospel and letters of John. This means that there is a definite soteriological significance to Jn 17:3. Eternal life—i.e. salvation—is defined specifically in terms of knowledge: “that they should know [ginw/skwsin]…”

While knowledge and salvation are often connected in various ways in the New Testament, as I have discussed in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, such a direct and explicit association is extremely rare. It sounds extremely “gnostic” in orientation—salvation in terms of knowledge (gnw=si$). Let us first consider the precise object of this knowledge in verse 3, which is two-fold:

    • “you”, i.e. God the Father—YHWH the Creator, according to the Old Testament Scriptures and Israelite religious tradition, specifically that He is:
      —”the on(ly) [mo/no$] true [a)lhqino/$] God”, which is, of course, a central tenet of Yahwist/Israelite monotheism (cf. Exod 34:6; Isa 37:20, etc)
    • “Yeshua (the) Anointed”—that is, Jesus identified by the title “Anointed (One)” (Messiah, Christ); for more on this title as applied to Jesus, cf. the articles of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Here, too, something specific is involved:
      —”the (one) whom you se(n)t forth”; the verb a)poste/llw (“set forth from”) appears frequently in John, used of Jesus, including 7 times within chapter 17

Thus, in addition to (correct) knowledge of the true God of (Israelite) monotheism, believers are given knowledge of Jesus as the Anointed One who has come from God. While there is certainly a tinge of orthodoxy to this statement, it should not be limited to that sense. Indeed, in terms of the actual words (and thrust) of Jesus’ prayer, we are better informed by the terminology of vv. 6, 11-12, 26, where there are four important references to the name (o&noma) of God the Father; there is a clear symmetry present in the passage:

    • “I have shone forth [e)fane/rwsa] your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world” (v. 6)
      —”keep/guard them in your name which you have given to me” (v. 11)
      ——”that they might be one, even as we (are)”
      —”I kept/guarded them in your name which you have given to me” (v. 12)
    • “I made known [gnwri/zw] your name to them…” (v. 26)

(On the use of these two verbs fanero/w and gnwri/zw to signify divine revelation, cf. Part 3 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”)

Now, the name of God in the Old Testament and Israelite religion, strictly speaking, is the name represented by the four letters (tetragrammaton) hwhy [YHWH], originally vocalized something like Yahweh (cf. my earlier article on this name). However, Jesus is not referring here to giving his followers the simple factual information about this name, such as one might read in a Semitics textbook, or even as presented in Exod 3:13-14. In the ancient world, a person’s name was thought to reflect and encapsulate the essence, nature and character of that person, in a manner quite foreign to our way of thinking today. To “know” a person’s name meant effectively the same thing as knowing the person. There was a quasi-magical aspect to the name—speaking it allowed one to access the reality and the person behind the name. In Old Testament/Israelite religious tradition, this underlies the expression of “calling” on the name of YHWH (cf. Acts 2:21 & Rom 10:13, citing Joel 2:32). In order to speak a name, one must first know it, and what it represents. Jesus makes known to his followers the name (o&noma) of God the Father, which means making the Father (Himself) known to them. In Gospel tradition, Jesus is associated with Psalm 118:26 as the one who comes to the people “in the name of the Lord (YHWH)” (cf. John 12:13 par)—from the standpoint of Jesus in the Gospel of John, this means one who comes from the Father, the “Son” who reflects the character of his Father and who reproduces His words and actions. In early Christian tradition, the “name of the Lord (YHWH)” merged and became transformed into “the name of the Lord (Jesus)”; the declaration in Joel 2:32 thus carries a double-meaning (cf. Acts 8:16; 9:28; 19:5; 1 Cor 5:4; 6:11; Col 3:17; James 5:14, etc).

In John 17:11-12, this name is described by Jesus as “the name which you have given to me”. This can be understood two ways—first, in the sense that God the Father has given it to him (as the word/lo/go$) so that Jesus can make it known to his followers. However, as part of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven following the resurrection—expressed in Gospel tradition in terms of his coming to be seated at the “right hand” of God—Jesus himself was identified as the Lord, as indicated above. In Philippians 2:9, we have the famous declaration (a kind of credal statement):

“Therefore God even/also lifted him high over (all) and granted to him the name (that is) over every name…”

Almost certainly this name given to Jesus is not “Jesus” but the very name of God (YHWH), probably understood and expressed by the title Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) which was often used to render hwhy (YHWH) in Greek. This is significant due to the close relationship, and unity, between Father and Son presented in the Gospel of John—a theme which runs through all of chapter 17. The Son kept watch over his followers, the believers, guarding them in the name which the Father gave to him (v. 12). Now, as Jesus is about to depart from earth (and return to the Father), he asks the Father Himself to guard believers in that name. According to the Johannine context of chapters 14-16, this should be understood in terms of the (coming) presence of the Spirit. This idea of keeping close watch reflects the sense of intimacy and unity which is unquestionably an aspect of “knowledge” in the Gospel of John.