May 23: 1 John 1:2

1 John 1:2

Much of the syntactical awkwardness of the 1 John prologue (1:1-4) is due to the parenthetical clauses in verse 2. As indicated in the previous note, verse 3 picks up the main line of syntax from verse 1, with its repeated relative phrases (modifying the initial phrase). As a parenthesis, verse 2 is expository, expounding the significance of the expression “the word of life” (o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$) at the close of verse 1. The subject of verse 2 is “the life” (h( zwh/):

“and th(is) life was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh], and we have seen and give witness and give forth as a message to you th(is) life of the age(s) [i.e. eternal life], which was toward the Father, and was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh] to us”

The parallel use of the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”) brackets the statement. This verb is something of a Johannine keyword, occurring nine times each in the Gospel and First Letter. As applied to Jesus, it refers to his public appearance on earth, alluding both to the incarnation of the Logos (1:14ff, cf. verse 31) and to Jesus’ earthly ministry with his disciples. One may understand the passive voice in these instances as an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. In the Johannine theological idiom, this is otherwise expressed by the idea of God the Father sending the Son (Jesus) to earth.

The Logos was made to shine forth (on earth), but also specifically “to us” —that is, to believers, beginning with the first disciples (the implied eyewitnesses in verse 1). The same implication is repeated here in verse 2: “we have seen” (e(wra/kamen). In the Johannine Gospel, the motif of seeing has Christological significance—it signifies recognizing who Jesus is (i.e., the Son sent by the Father) and trusting in him.

Believers, from the first disciples to the present (when the author is writing), both “give witness” (vb marture/w) to Jesus and declare the message (vb a)pagge/llw) of who he is (and of what he has said and done, cf. verse 5ff). These two verbs are also part of the Johannine idiom, playing an important role in the Paraclete-sayings of the Last Discourse. The Spirit as a witness is specifically emphasized in the third saying (15:26-27), and is indicated again in the final saying(s) (16:7b-11ff). The only other Johannine use of a)pagge/llw (“give forth a message”) occurs in 16:25, where the reference is to Jesus (the Son) communicating the truth to believers “about the Father”; however, the parallel verb a)nagge/llw, which has nearly identical meaning, features prominently in the final Paraclete-saying (16:13-15), and is also used here in 1 Jn 1:5.

The implication of this vocabulary analysis is that the terminology, which applies here to the witness of believers to the truth of Jesus’ identity, is closely tied to the Johannine view of the Spirit’s witness. Indeed, in the third Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the Spirit and the disciples (believers) work together as a witness—the Spirit bears witness to believers, who, in turn, give witness of the truth to others in the world (see esp. 17:18-21).

For this reason, I believe it is proper to find here in the prologue to 1 John a certain indirect allusion to the Spirit. This is confirmed, I think, by the use of the expression “the word of life,” when understood within the Johannine theological idiom—especially as expressed in the Gospel Discourses. An important component of this theology is the idea that Jesus (the Son) is said to give the Spirit to believers, and also to give life to them. On the specific motif of giving life (zwh/, which means Divine/Eternal Life), cf. 5:21ff; 6:27ff, 57; 10:28; 17:2-3, with many other clear allusions, tied to trusting/following Jesus (3:15-16, 36; 5:39-40; 8:12; 10:10ff; 11:25), including the important theological statement in the Prologue (1:4; cp. 14:6). Jesus’ giving of the Spirit brackets (and informs) the entire Gospel narrative (1:33; 19:30/20:22), is implied in 3:34, and features prominently in the Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7bff). The two motifs of life and Spirit are combined in the image of the “living water” that Jesus gives (4:10-15; 7:37-39).

The wording of Jesus’ famous saying in Jn 6:63 seems especially relevant in this regard (cf. the earlier study on this verse):

“The Spirit is the (thing) making alive [vb zwopoie/w], the flesh is not useful (for) anything; the words [r(h/mata] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life [zwh/].”

The close association of the Spirit with both word and life makes an allusion to the Spirit in 1 Jn 1:1-2 all the more likely. The plural r(h/mata (lit. “utterances”) is used in Jesus’ saying, rather than the singular lo/go$, which means that the reference is to the message (words/teaching) that Jesus speaks to believers, rather than to his own person (as the Logos). Even so, this is one of the three aspects of the meaning of lo/go$ here in 1:1, as I explained in the previous note; the point is confirmed by the context of what immediately follows the prologue in verse 5.

By communicating the Spirit to believers, Jesus gives life to them/us—and, indeed, gives the Divine source of that (eternal) life, since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). According to the Gospel tradition and narrative (20:22), the first disciples received the Spirit through the (meta)physical presence of the resurrected Jesus; for all other believers, this same takes place as a result of our trust, having received and accepted the Gospel witness, beginning with the witness of the first disciples (17:20-21, etc; see esp. the important closing statement in 20:29).

It is worth emphasizing again the close relation between the prologue of 1 John and the Gospel Prologue. Of particular theological importance is the essential predication, whereby Jesus is identified with the (pre-existent) Word (lo/go$) and Life (zwh/) of God; if we add to this the attribute of Light (fw=$), introduced in verse 5ff, then all three key Divine attributes from the Prologue (1:1-5ff)—Word, Light, Life—are similarly represented here in 1 John. Jesus is specifically identified with the Word and Life of God, while in verse 5 it is God the Father who is identified as Light; however, there can be no doubt of the Christological significance of the light-motif, with an understanding of Jesus (the Son) manifesting the “true light” (2:8ff), just as we see throughout the Gospel.

Why was the parenthetical statement in verse 2 included with such bold emphasis, so as to contribute to such a noticeably awkward syntax in the prologue? I have to wonder if the emphasis may be tied specifically to the rhetorical purpose and strategy of the author. He seems to out of his way to position both elements of the expression “the word of the life” —the Word and the Life—within a dual-meaning context. As outlined in the previous notes, the two aspects of meaning are: (1) Christological (the person of Jesus), and (2) Evangelistic (the message/traditions about Jesus). This is significant if, as I believe to be the case, the crisis (and the opponents) addressed by the author in 1 John relate to the spiritualism of the Johannine churches. One theory regarding the nature of this crisis is that it involved a tendency to localize the Word and Life of God in the abiding presence of the Spirit, in a way that devalued the importance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. This topic will be discussed in the upcoming articles (on 1 John) in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will conclude our discussion on the prologue, looking specifically at verses 3-4.

May 22: 1 John 1:1 (continued)

1 John 1:1, continued

First John begins with the phrase:

o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$
“That which was from (the) beginning…”

This phrase clearly reflects the language of the opening lines of the Gospel Prologue (1:1), and suggests that an edition of the Gospel had been written and was in circulation at the time that 1 John was composed. The various points of similarity between the prologue of 1 John (1:1-4) and the Gospel Prologue (esp. 1:1-5, 14ff) have been noted and charted by many commentators (see, e.g., in Brown, pp. 175-80).

In the previous note, I discussed the significance of the opening (neuter) relative pronoun (o%) and the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$. For all 10 occurrences of the noun a)rxh/ (“beginning”) in the Johannine letters, the prepositional expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) is used: the other instances are in 2:7, 13-14, 24 (twice); 3:8, 11, and 2 John 5-6. I noted how there is a clear dual-meaning to the expression, referring to (a) the cosmological context of the beginning of Creation (2:13-14; 3:8), or (b) the beginning of the Christian witness that goes back to the first disciples and the earthly life of Jesus (2:7; 3:11). The references here in 1:1 and in 2:24 encompass both aspects of meaning.

However, the parallel with the Gospel Prologue strongly indicates that the cosmological (and Christological) aspect is primary. This would seem to be confirmed by the repeated use of the relative pronoun throughout vv. 1-3. Note, in this regard, the syntactical structure of verse 1, the main line of which is picked up at verse 3 (with verse 2 being parenthetical):

    • “That which [o%] was from (the) beginning,
      • which [o%] we have heard,
      • which [o%] we have seen with our eyes,
      • which [o%] we looked at
        and (which) our hands felt,

        • about the word [lo/go$] of life—
      • that which [o%] we have seen and heard,
        • we give forth also as a message to you…”

It is quite clear that the neuter pronoun refers, principally, not to a message about Jesus, but to the person of Jesus himself. Specifically, it refers to the physical presence of Jesus during his earthly life and ministry (cf. the emphasis in vv. 14ff of the Gospel Prologue). This, indeed, is the emphasis denoted by the second-level syntax of the repeated relative phrases (using the relative pronoun o%) which qualify the initial phrase. In terms of the Gospel Prologue, these lines refer to the incarnation of the Lo/go$: “the Word [lo/go$] came to be flesh and put down (his) tent [i.e. dwelt] among us”. The disciples heard, saw, and touched the incarnate Word (Jesus) during his earthly life and ministry.

At the third level of syntax, the focus shifts from the person of Jesus to the witness about Jesus, with the syntagmatic parallel phrases:

    • “about the word of life”
      peri\ tou= lo/gou th=$ zwh=$
    • “we give forth also as a message to you”
      a)pagge/llomen kai\ u(mi=n

The use of the preposition peri/ (“about”) clearly shows the reference is to a message, a witness, about Jesus; cp. the use of peri/ in the Gospel Paraclete-sayings (15:26; 16:8-11), discussed in recent notes. The verb a)pagge/llw in verse 3 makes this quite explicit; this verb, or the parallel a)nagge/llw, also features in the Paraclete-sayings (16:13-15, cf. also v. 25).

Just as there is a dual-meaning to the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”), so there also is here with the use of the keyword lo/go$, in the expression o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$ (“the word of life”). Actually, one might delineate three distinct layers of meaning:

    • Jesus himself as the (incarnate) Word of God; this is confirmed by the parallel with the use of lo/go$ in the Gospel Prologue (1:1, 14).
    • In reference to the word(s) which Jesus speaks—that which he gives and communicates (from God the Father) to believers; in relation to the specific expression “word of life,” cf. John 6:63, also 5:24.
    • According to the basic meaning of lo/go$ as an “account” —i.e., as an account or message about Jesus and the life that he brings; in other words, a reference to the early Christian (Gospel) witness.

It is not immediately apparent that the second meaning above would apply here; however, this aspect becomes quite evident once the reader proceeds to verse 5, where the reference is to the message (i.e., the lo/go$) that Jesus (the incarnate Lo/go$) gives to believers.

In the next daily note, we will give further consideration to the expression “word of life”, and how it is expounded in the parenthetical verse 2.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 30 (1982).

May 19: 1 John 1:1

The next few daily notes are prefatory to the upcoming articles (on 1 John) in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The Johannine view of the Spirit—and the Johannine spiritualism—is perhaps most evident in the work known as the First Letter of John. It is in 1 John that we gain a sense of how the spiritual beliefs and ideas, expressed in the Gospel, were understood and applied within the wider Community.

1 John 1:1-4

It is appropriate to begin this study of 1 John with the prologue (1:1-4), even though it makes no reference or allusion to the Spirit. The author’s rhetorical strategy is established in the prologue, and, as I shall demonstrate, the spiritualism of the Johannine congregations is central to the crisis (within the Community) that informs the entire work.

“That which was from (the) beginning…”
o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$

Verses 1-3 of the prologue constitute a single long and complex (and gramatically awkward) sentence in Greek. It begins with a neuter relative pronoun (in the accusative), o% (“that which”). It is not uncommon for a statement or clause to begin this way in the Johannine writings; indeed, it is rather typical of the Johannine literary style—in the Gospel, see for example 2:5; 13:7, 27; 14:17, 26; 15:7; 17:24.

The use of the noun a)rxh/ (“beginning”) together with the verb of being (in the imperfect tense), h@n, “he was”, immediately brings to mind the opening lines of the Gospel Prologue (1:1ff), with their allusion to the Genesis Creation account (Gen 1:1 LXX). Nearly all commentators would agree that the prologue of 1 John relates to the Gospel Prologue; most likely, 1 Jn 1:1-3 was written with the Gospel Prologue hymn (or some form of it) in mind. This would mean (most probably) that 1 John was composed after an edition of the Johannine Gospel had been published and in circulation among the congregations.

There is a dual-meaning to the noun a)rxh/ here in 1 John. One the one hand, the allusion to the Gospel Prologue suggests that the beginning of Creation is in view, with the Christological implication of the Son’s (Jesus’) existence alongside God the Father prior to the Creation. Often overlooked in this regard is the similarity between the opening words of 1 John and Jesus’ statement in Jn 8:25. In response to a question regarding his true identity (“who are you?” su\ ti$ ei@;), Jesus declares: th\n a)rxh\n o% ti kai\ lalw= u(mi=n. This rather enigmatic statement has been explained (and translated) a number of different ways. Most commonly, it is rendered as an exclamation, in a sense corresponding to a literal reading of the words: “What I have been saying to you (from) the beginning!” —perhaps reflecting a certain frustration on Jesus’ part.

While this may be correct, almost certainly there is here another example of Johannine double-meaning, along with the misunderstanding-motif that features so frequently in the Discourses—Jesus’ audience hears his words only on the level of their apparent meaning, unable to grasp the true and deeper significance of what he is saying. In this case, the true meaning of his statement is Christological, and does, indeed, answer the question as to his real identity: “that which is from the beginning” (cf. Jn 1:1). The formal parallel with 1 Jn 1:1 is noteworthy:

    • Jn 8:25:
      th\n a)rxh\n o%
      “that which (is from) the beginning”
    • 1 Jn 1:1:
      o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$
      “that which was from (the) beginning”

In spite of the clear Christological parallel between the opening words of the First Letter and those of the Gospel, it is important to note that, elsewhere in 1 John, in a number of instances, the noun a)rxh/ (and the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$) refers to the beginning of the Christian witness. In the context of the prologue here, this witness goes back to the time of the first disciples, who were physically present with Jesus during his earthly ministry. In this regard, the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) does, indeed, have a dual meaning:

    • Theological/Christological:
      • “you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning” (2:13, 14)
      • “…from (the) beginning the {Devil} sins” (i.e., the dual opposite of God and Christ, 3:8)
    • Evangelistic (Gospel/Christian witness)
      • “…an old e)ntolh/ which you hold from (the) beginning” (2:7)
      • “this is the message which you heard from (the) beginning” (3:11)

The use of the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ in 1:1, and again (twice) in 2:24, I believe, encompasses both aspects of meaning. That is to say, a)p’ a)rxh=$ refers to Jesus Christ as the one (i.e., the Son) who is from the beginning, and also to the Gospel witness about Jesus which has been proclaimed from the beginning (i.e., his earthly ministry, alongside the first disciples). While both aspects are present in 1:1, I believe that the Christological aspect is primary. This can be seen by the way that the neuter relative pronoun (o%) is repeated throughout the verse. I will further explain and demonstrate this point in the next daily note.

May 18: John 16:12ff

John 16:12-15

The Paraclete-saying in vv. 8-11 (discussed in the previous notes) continues in verses 12-15. Some commentators would treat these as two distinct units, however I prefer to consider vv. 7b-15 as a single Paraclete-unit. The main reason is that, in the prior three sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27), the statement on the coming of the “one called alongside” (para/klhto$) is followed by a reference to the parákl¢tos as “the Spirit of truth” (or “the holy Spirit”). Here, the parákl¢tos is called the “Spirit of truth” in verse 12, which strongly indicates that vv. 12-15 represents a continuation of the saying in vv. 7b-11, and that vv. 7b-15 constitutes a single saying, albeit expanded and more complex, according to the pattern in the Last Discourse.

The Spirit’s role and function was described in vv. 8-11: he will expose the world (o( ko/smo$), showing it to be wrong; this is fundamental meaning of the verb e)le/gxw, as previously discussed. The Spirit will show the world to be wrong on three points, each of which was discussed in some detail in the prior notes: (1) about “sin” (a(marti/a, note), (2) about “right[eous]ness” (dikaiosu/nh, note), and (3) about “judgment” (kri/si$, note). That the Spirit’s witness is aimed primarily at the disciples (believers), rather than directed at the world, is indicated by what follows in vv. 12-15. The world’s understanding of sin, righteous, and judgment is shown to be wrong, mainly for the benefit of believers. At the same time, believers (esp. the disciples) give witness toward the world, and the Spirit’s witness enables and guides them in this mission (cp. the Synoptic tradition in Mark 13:9-13 par, and throughout the book of Acts).

Thus it is that in vv. 12-15 the focus shifts back to the teaching function of the Spirit, emphasized in the second Paraclete-saying (14:25-26), an emphasis that is also reflected in the third saying (15:26f). In the articles on those sayings, I brought out the important point that the Spirit continues the mission of Jesus with his disciples (and future believers), and that Jesus is present, in and among believers, through the Spirit, continuing to speak and teach. This aspect of the Paraclete’s role is made particularly clear here in vv. 12ff, where Jesus begins:

“I have yet many (thing)s to relate to you, but you are not able to bear (them) now”

The verb he uses is basta/zw, which has the basic meaning of lifting something up and holding/supporting it. The disciples’ inability to “bear” Jesus’ teaching means that they are not yet ready to hear and understand what he has to say. The failure of the disciples to understand during the Last Discourse (e.g., 14:5, 8, 22) is part of a wider misunderstanding-motif that features throughout the Johannine Discourses. Jesus’ hearers are unable to understand the true and deeper meaning of his words. Only after the disciples have received the Spirit, will they be able to understand. Jesus still has “many (thing)s” to tell them, and he will communicate this further teaching through the Spirit:

“…but when that (one) should come, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you on the way in all truth; for he will not speak from himself, but (rather), as many (thing)s as he hears, he will speak, and the(se) coming (thing)s he will give forth as a message to you.” (v. 13)

The statement that the Spirit will guide believers “in all truth” corresponds to the claim  that the Spirit will teach them “all things”. In this regard, the identification of the Spirit-Paraclete by the title “the Spirit of truth” is particularly significant. The author of 1 John would take the connection a step further, declaring that the Spirit is the truth (5:6). For more on the expression “Spirit of truth,” cf. the article on the first Paraclete-saying.

Some commentators would limit these Paraclete-sayings in application to the original disciples, but such a restriction runs counter to the overall thrust of the Last Discourse, as well as to the Johannine theological-spiritual understanding. The Spirit continues to teach believers “all things”, as is clear from 1 Jn 2:20, 27 (to be discussed in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”). The focus in the narrative is, however, primarily upon the original disciples of Jesus, who are the first believers to receive the Spirit and to continue Jesus’ mission on earth.

The (correlative) neuter plural pronoun o%sa (“as many [thing]s as”) relates back to the neuter plural adjective polla/ (“many [thing]s”) in v. 12. The Spirit will hear the “many (thing)s” that Jesus has to say to believers, and will then speak them, on Jesus’ behalf; effectively, Jesus will be speaking through the Spirit, even as he will be present alongside believers through the Spirit. Interestingly, the statement in v. 12 (cf. above) seems, on the surface, to contradict what Jesus said in 14:30; note the formal similarity in expression:

    • not yet [ou)ke/ti] many (thing)s [polla/] will I speak [lalh/sw] with/to you” (14:30)
    • “yet [e&ti] many (thing)s [polla/] I have to say [le/gein] to you” (16:12)

This is another example of double-meaning in the Johannine discourses—where Jesus’ words can be understood on two different levels, or in two different ways. On the one hand, Jesus will not yet speak “many things” to his disciples, since he will not be present with them (on earth) much longer; but, on the other hand, he will yet say “many things” to them through the Spirit.

This chain of relation, between the Son (Jesus) and the Spirit, is given in verse 14, expressed very much in the Johannine theological idiom:

“That (one) will show me honor, (in) that he will receive out of th(at which is) mine and will give (it) forth as a message to you.”

The Spirit receives the words from Jesus, and gives them along to believers. This corresponds to the relationship between Father and Son, whereby the Son (Jesus) receives from the Father, and then gives it, in turn, to believers. The Spirit represents, in one sense, a further link in this chain; at the same time, Jesus himself is manifest in the Spirit, just as the Father is personally manifest in him (the Son). An important emphasis throughout the Gospel is how Jesus speaks the words he receives from the Father; in this regard, he is functioning as a dutiful son learning from his father and following the father’s example—i.e., the Son says (and does) what he hears (and sees) the Father saying (and doing). On this important theme, see esp. 3:31-34; 5:19ff, 30ff; 7:17-18; 8:26, 28, 38ff; 12:49f; 14:10; 15:15; 17:8, 14.

The Son speaks only what he hears from the Father; similarly, the Spirit speaks only what he hears from the Son. The precise expression is that he will receive “out [i.e. from] of th(at which is) mine” (e)k tou= e)mou=). Since the Father has given “all things” to the Son (3:35; 17:7, etc), the words of God which the Spirit receives come from the Son, and belong to him. In my view, the neuter plural participle (verbal noun) ta\ e)rxo/mena (“the coming [thing]s”) in v. 13 refers, not to news of future events, but simply to the words/teachings that are “coming” to the Spirit from the Son (the verb e&rxomai tends to have this Christological focus in the Gospel of John). The neuter plural has a general and comprehensive meaning, corresponding to the plural adjective poll/a (“all things”) in v. 12 (cf. above).

The disciples’ receiving of the Spirit marks the final stage of Jesus’ exaltation. The process of the Son being honored (vb doca/zw), which began with his Passion (cf. 12:23, 28), culminates in his receiving the Spirit from the Father to give to believers. The entire narrative of exaltation, from Jesus’ earthly suffering to communicating the Spirit from heaven, is characterized by the verb doca/zw (cf. 7:39; 12:16, etc).

“All (thing)s [pa/nta], as many as [o%sa] the Father holds, are mine; through this [i.e. for this reason] I said that he receives out of th(at which is) mine and will give (it) forth as a message to you.” (v. 15)

Verse 15 summarizes the theological message of the passage, stating quite clearly the key points of the Johannine theology which I have noted above. The neuter plural adjective pa/nta (“all [thing]s”) corresponds to the polla/ (“many [thing]s”) in v. 12, and the (correlative) neuter plural pronoun o%sa (“as many [thing]s as”) is repeated from v. 13. The adjective pa=$ (“all, every”) plays an important theological role in the Gospel; special attention should be given to other occurrences of the neuter (“every [thing], all [thing]s”)—cf. 1:3; 3:31, 35; 5:20; 6:37, 39; 10:4; 14:26; 16:30; 17:2, 7, 10; 18:4; 19:28.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: The Paraclete (3)

(The first Paraclete-saying [14:16-17] was discussed in the part 1 of this article; the second saying [14:25-26] in part 2.)

Saying 3: John 15:26-27

Here is a reminder of the structure of the Last Discourse, according to my outline, divided into three distinct discourses (with an introduction and conclusion):

    • 3:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The third Paraclete-saying occurs the second part of the second discourse (15:1-16:4a). The theme of this discourse I would label as “The Disciples in the World”. Thematically, the two parts of the discourse are

    • Jesus and the Disciples: Illustration of the Vine and Branches (vv. 1-17)
    • The Disciples and the World: Instruction and Exhortation (15:18-16:4a)

The first part emphasizes the union believers have with Jesus, while the second discusses how that union is manifest as believers remain in the world, facing opposition and persecution from the current world-order (ko/smo$). The Instruction/Exhortation in 15:18-16:4a is comprised of three sections:

    • Instruction: The Hatred of the World (15:18-25)
    • Exhortation: The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 26-27)
    • Concluding warning of the coming Persecution (16:1-4a)

The promise of the Spirit (exhortation) is given in the context of a description of the world’s fundamental hatred of believers—a theme that is introduced and stated succinctly in v. 18: “If the world [ko/smo$] hates you, know that it has hated me first, (before) you.” The world’s opposition to believers is rooted in its opposition to Jesus. It is because believers live and act in Jesus’ name, that the world hates them (v. 21). This is important in light of the point made in the prior Paraclete-saying (cf. Part 2), where it is stated that God the Father will send the Spirit in Jesus’ name (“in my name”).

Here is the core Paraclete-saying in v. 26:

“When the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] should come, whom I will send to you (from) alongside [para/] the Father—the Spirit of truth, who travels out (from) alongside the Father—that (one) will give witness [marturh/sei] about me”

As in the first Paraclete-saying (14:17), the “one called alongside” is referred to as the “Spirit of truth”. On this expression, cf. the discussion in Part 1. It only needs to be added that here the motif of truth (a)lh/qeia) relates specifically to the function of the Spirit as a witness (vb marture/w). It means that the Spirit’s witness is true, that the Spirit testifies to the truth. In this case, the truth is fundamentally, and primarily, Christological (cf. below).

In the first two sayings, the Spirit is said to be sent from God the Father; however, here, Jesus says that he will send the Spirit, though the Spirit does ultimately come from the Father. There is a definite progression in these sayings:

    • The Father gives the Spirit, at Jesus’ request (14:16)
      • The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:26)
        • Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father (15:26)

The Spirit is “alongside” (para/) the Father, and is called (and sent) to be “alongside” (para/) believers. The Father as the ultimate source of the Spirit is confirmed by the qualifying phrase “who travels out [vb e)kporeu/omai] (from) alongside the Father”. One should not be led astray by later theological debates over this reference (i.e., the so-called Filioque controversy); it must be understood in terms of the Johannine theology and conceptual framework in the Gospel. This theology presents a clear chain of relation: the Father gives the Spirit to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives the Spirit to believers—see, e.g., 3:27, 34-35; 5:21; 6:32, 51, 57; 17:2, 8, 12ff.

We saw that, in the second Paraclete-saying, the function of the Spirit was to teach believers “all things”, and to cause them (esp. the disciples) to remember all the things Jesus’ said and did during his earthly ministry. The function of the Spirit here is further defined as giving witness, fulfilling the role of a witness (ma/rtu$). The noun ma/rtu$ does not occur in the Johannine writings (unless one includes the book of Revelation), but the witness-motif is quite prominent, as is evidenced by the relative frequency with which the related noun marturi/a and verb marture/w are used. The noun marturi/a occurs 14 times in the Gospel, 6 times in 1 John, and once in 3 John—well over half of all NT occurrences (37); the percentage is even higher if one includes the 9 occurrences in Revelation. The verb marture/w occurs 33 times in the Gospel, 6 times in 1 John, 4 in 3 John, which is again (even without counting the 4 in Revelation) more than half of all the NT occurrences.

The emphasis throughout is on bearing witness to the truth of who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. The focus is thus Christological. There are different witnesses, but they all bear witness to the same essential truth. Jesus also serves as a self-witness, his words (and actions) giving testimony about himself. An important point in the Gospel Discourses is how Jesus’ own testimony is confirmed (as true) by these other witnesses (cf. especially 5:31-39; 8:13-19). The greatest confirmation of Jesus’ self-witness, regarding his identity (as the Son), comes from the Father Himself (5:37ff; 8:18ff; 10:25). This same confirming witness will take place through the Spirit, who comes from the Father—he will give further witness about Jesus (“about me [peri\ e)mou]”).

We must remember that the role of the Spirit is to be “alongside” believers, giving assistance to them. Thus, this witness of the Spirit relates to the teaching-function (emphasized in 14:26); but it also is tied to the role of the disciples (believers) themselves in continuing Jesus’ mission. This is clear from the continuation of the saying here in v. 27:

“…and you also give witness, (in) that you are with me from (the) beginning.”

The verb form marturei=te is in the present tense, indicating the regular/continual function of the disciples as witnesses, a role that they serve even now (in the present), before the giving of the Spirit to them. It is possible to parse the verb form as an imperative (“you must give witness”), but the indicative is to be preferred; even so, there is little difference in meaning between the two, since being a witness is an essential part of the believer’s duty.

Verse 27 is not to be limited to Jesus’ original disciples, however it does refer primarily to them. They, indeed, are the ones who were “with” Jesus from the beginning. The expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) is theologically charged in the Johannine writings, but here the main focus is on the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (just as it is in 1 John 1:1). Even so, I would contend that there is a deeper Christological allusion here—that is, to the truth of who Jesus is: the pre-existent Son, sent from heaven by God the Father. On the dual-meaning of the expression in the Johannine writings, cf. 8:25; 1 Jn 2:7, 13-14, 24.

The implication is that the Spirit and believers (esp. the disciples) work together in bearing witness about Jesus. Luke-Acts also ties the role of the disciples as witnesses to the (coming) presence of the Spirit (e.g., Lk 24:48-49; Acts 1:8); indeed, the entire early Christian mission is depicted as being empowered and guided by the Spirit (see throughout the book of Acts). A good example of a dual-witness statement, outside of the Johannine writings, is found in Acts 5:32 (cf. Brown, p. 700): “…we are witnesses of these (thing)s, (as) also (is) the holy Spirit which God gave to the (one)s (hav)ing trusted in Him”.

Just as the Father gave the Spirit to the Son (Jesus), empowering him to speak the words of God (cf. 3:27, 31ff, 34-35, etc), so also the Son gives the Spirit to believers, which enables them to speak the words of the Son (which are also the words of the Father). The aspect of prophetic inspiration is also expressed in the famous Synoptic saying in Mark 13:11 par (cp. Matt 10:20; Lk 12:2). That saying shares with the third Paraclete-saying here the context of the persecution of believers (part of the end-time period of distress).

In my view, an emphasis on the (prophetic) inspiration of believers was a fundamental component of Johannine spiritualism, to the point that it was a significant factor in the crisis described by the author of 1 John. In this regard, the second and third Paraclete-sayings are important for a proper understanding of the religious and theological background of 1 John. This will be discussed further in this series, when we come to the important passages in 1 John.

One final point to mention is the legal-judicial connotation of the witness-motif. There is no doubt that the Johannine writings (including the Gospel Discourses) make significant use of this legal-judicial background. The passages where this is expressed most clearly are 5:22-24ff, 30-40 and 8:13-29; but there are numerous other legal-judicial allusions throughout, including several references in the Last Discourse. Some commentators view the judicial aspect as primary for the Paraclete-references; however, in my view, this really only applies to the final saying(s) in 16:7-11ff. These final saying(s) will be examined in Part 4 of this article, along with a set of supplemental daily notes (on vv. 8-11).

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A (1970).

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: Jn 6:63

John 6:63

“The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

In some ways, this provocative statement by Jesus captures the essence of Johannine spiritualism better than any other passage in the Gospel. Yet it is arguably the most difficult of the Spirit-passages to interpret. Much of the reason for this is the position of the saying in relation to the “Bread of Life” Discourse in chapter 6, and, in particular, the apparent eucharistic references in vv. 51-58.

Chapter 6 represents a more complex literary structure than the Discourses in chaps. 3-5. Like the discourse in chap. 5, the “Bread of Life” discourse in chap. 6 is related to an established Gospel tradition—a miracle-episode, in this case, the Miraculous Feeding episode (vv. 1-15), an historical tradition also found in the Synoptics (Mark 6:32-44 par); I discuss this episode in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

The Discourse proper begins at verse 22, with vv. 22-24 serving as the narrative introduction. There are three sections to the Discourse, each of which follows the Johannine discourse-pattern:

    • Principal saying by Jesus
    • Reaction/question by the audience
    • Exposition/explanation by Jesus

Here is my outline of the Discourse:

Section 1 (vv. 25-34)

    • Principal saying by Jesus—verse 27: “Do not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food remaining into (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]…”
    • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 29
    • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 28-31
    • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 32-33
    • Theme: transition from the Feeding Miracle (v. 26) to the Passover motif (i.e. the manna, “bread from heaven”, vv. 31-33)

Section 2 (vv. 35-50)

    • Saying by Jesus—verse 35: “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Bread of Life—the one coming toward me (no) he will not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting into me (no) he will not ever thirst. …”
    • [Explanation by Jesus]—vv. 36-40
    • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 41-42
    • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 44-50
    • Theme: Eating Bread—Jesus as the “Bread of Life”, the Bread come down from Heaven

Section 3 (vv. 51-58)

    • Saying by Jesus—verse 51a (parallel to v. 35): “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Living Bread stepping down [i.e. coming down] out of Heaven—if any one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age (to Come)…”
    • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 51b
    • Reaction/question by the people—v. 52
    • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 53-58
    • Theme: transition from Bread (of Life) to the Eucharist motifs (vv. 53-56ff)

Thematically, the “Bread of Life” discourse follows the Samaritan Woman discourse in chap. 4 (discussed in the previous article), with the expression “the bread of life” (o( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$) parallel to “living water” (u%dwr zw=n). The expression in v. 51, “living bread” (o( a&rto$ o( zw=n), makes for an even more precise parallel. In chapter 4, Jesus gives (i.e. is the source of) the “living water”, while here in chap. 6, he himself is the “living bread”.

Working from the Miraculous Feeding, and the Passover setting of the miracle (v. 4), Jesus utilizes the motif of bread, drawing upon the Moses/Exodus tradition of the manna—the “bread from heaven”. In good homiletic style, Jesus works from a Scripture reference (v. 31; Exod 16:4, 15, cf. also Psalm 78:24), giving to it a unique theological (and Christological) interpretation. At the historical level, it is possible that the Exodus reference may be following the Synagogue (v. 59) Scripture readings (sedarim) for the Passover season (cf. Brown, pp. 277-80).

The bread motif runs through all three sections of the Discourse; and we can see the expository development at work, moving from the Scriptural motif (“bread out of heaven”) to the Johannine theological expression (“living bread”):

    • “bread out of heaven” (vv. 31-34)—Jesus identifies himself with this bread, since he is the one who came from heaven (v. 38; 3:13, 31ff), that is, from God—hence the parallel expression “bread of God” (v. 33)
    • “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48)—as the “bread from heaven” (v. 41), sent by God to give life to the world (vv. 32-33, 40; cf. 3:15-16, etc), he is rightly identified further as the bread of life (zwh/, i.e. eternal life)
    • “living bread” (vv. 51, 58)—as the “bread of life,” one can also speak of Jesus according to the Johannine theological idiom as “living” (zw=n) bread, parallel to the expression “living water” (4:10-11; 7:38), as noted above.

It is possible to trace this expository development in theological/Christological terms:

    • “bread out of heaven” —Jesus is the Son sent from heaven by God the Father
    • “bread of life” —he is the source of the Divine/eternal life, which he received from the Father, and gives (in turn) to believers
    • “living bread” —referring more properly to the eternal life which he possesses (as the Son), sharing it with the Father (v. 57); as such, this expression alludes more definitely to the presence of the Spirit.

One is to receive the living bread by “eating” it, just as one “drinks” the living water that Jesus gives. Interestingly, in the third section, the idiom of eating is expanded to eating and drinking, even though the idea of drinking does not fit the bread motif. It is just here that the ‘eucharistic’ aspect of the imagery comes into view, as is clear from the initial wording in verse 51:

“I am the living bread, (hav)ing stepped [i.e. come] down out of heaven; if any(one) should eat this bread, he shall live into the Age—and, indeed, the bread which I shall give is my flesh, (given) over the life of the world.”

Jesus expounds this statement in vv. 53-56, following the reaction by the people in v. 52; in particular the central declaration of v. 51 is expounded—first negatively, then positively:

    • “if any(one) should eat this bread, he shall live into the Age”
    • “if you should not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold life in yourselves” (v. 53)
    • “the (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]” (v. 54)

Clearly, “bread” is explained as Jesus’ “flesh” and “blood”, which one must eat and drink (v. 55). The apparent eucharistic language in vv. 53-54 (Mk 14:22-24 par) is further expounded in the Johannine theological idiom, in verse 56:

“the (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood remains [me/nei] in me, and I in him”

The statement that follows in verse 57, often neglected in discussions on this passage, is vital for a proper understanding of vv. 51-58 in context; again the wording follows the Johannine mode of theological expression:

“Just as the living [zw=n] Father sent me forth, and I live [zw=] through the Father, (so) also the (one) eating me, that (one) also shall live [zh/sei] through me.”

The verb za/w (“[to] live”) is used three times, and the specific forms have theological significance, in terms of expressing the chain of relation between Father, Son, and believer(s):

    • zw=n (“living”)—present participle, as an attribute of God (the Father), referring to the Divine/eternal life which He possesses, and by which He is the ultimate source of life.
    • zw= (“I live”)—present indicative (first person), expressing the active reality of the life which Jesus (the Son) receives from the Father
    • zh/sei (“he shall life”)—future indicative (third person), referring to the life which the believer receives from the Son, which includes the promise of future eternal life.

Based on the earlier statements in 3:34-35, we can identify this Divine/eternal life with the Spirit. As we saw, the “living water” that Jesus gives to the believer is also identified with the Spirit, and it is fair to assume that the same is true for the “living bread” here in 6:51ff. We find confirmation of this line of interpretation in the section that immediately follows (vv. 60-71) the end of the Discourse proper (in v. 59).

In verse 60, we finally hear the disciples’ reaction to the Discourse (especially vv. 51-58):

“This word [lo/go$] is hard—who is able to hear it?”

To what, precisely, does “this word” refer? In terms of the Discourse as a whole, as it has come down to us, we can discern three levels to the reference:

    1. The principal saying, presented with variation in each section of the Discourse, by which Jesus identifies himself as the “bread from heaven” (vv. 32-33, 35 and 48, 51)
    2. The idea, as developed by Jesus, that one must “eat” him (v. 50); according to some commentators, in the original form of the Gospel, verse 60 would have immediately followed v. 50, with vv. 51-58 representing a subsequent addition
    3. The specific (eucharistic) idea in vv. 51-58 that one must eat and drink Jesus’ flesh and blood in order to have life.

The disciples naturally find all of this difficult to understand (and accept). This reaction reflects the regular discourse-feature of misunderstanding by Jesus’ hearers. The implication seems to be that the disciples are reacting in a manner similar to that of the other people (in v. 52), whereby they understand Jesus to be speaking at the ordinary, material level, referring to his actual (physical) flesh and blood. As we saw in both the Nicodemus and Samaritan Woman discourses, this is basic to the failure of Jesus’ hearers to understand the true meaning of his words. For he is not speaking on the material level—i.e., of ordinary flesh and blood, etc—but on the spiritual level. Just as he was not speaking of an ordinary physical birth in chapter 3, nor of ordinary water in chap. 4, so here in chap. 6 he is speaking neither of ordinary bread nor of his physical flesh and blood.

Responding to the disciples’ frustration, Jesus asks them simply: “Does this trip you up?” (v. 61), and follows this with another question: “Then (what) if you should look (and behold) the Son of Man stepping up (back to) where he was (at) the first?” (v. 62). Commentators continue to debate the force of the Son of Man saying in v. 62; the main significance, however, surely is to the divine/heavenly origin of Jesus (the Son). The saying forms both a promise and a challenge to his disciples—they must confront the truth regarding Jesus’ identity as the Son of God come to earth from heaven. Moreover, it is only after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father, that the disciples will be able to receive the Spirit. Their understanding will remain incomplete until the Spirit dwells within them.

In the previous study, we saw how “drinking” the living water Jesus gives essentially means trusting in him. The same is true regarding the idea of “eating” the living bread Jesus gives. However, there are two additional components to the imagery here which broaden and deepen the theological significance of the eating/drinking idiom. First, Jesus does not only give the living bread—he is the bread (v. 51). This essential predication specifies that trust in Jesus means trust in his identity (who he is), as the Son come from the Father in heaven. Second, by eating this ‘bread’, we are eating and drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood, which is symbolic (eucharistic) language signifying the sacrificial death of Jesus. Thus, trust in Jesus also entails, fundamentally, belief in the atoning and life-giving power of his death.

This brings us to the saying in verse 63, where Jesus makes clear that he is not talking about eating ordinary physical flesh (nor drinking actual blood)—these things take place in a spiritual way, at the level of the Spirit. Moreover, Jesus declares that the words (lit. utterances, r(h/mata) of his discourse “are spirit and are life”. As the living Word (lo/go$) of God, who possesses the eternal Life and Spirit from God the Father, the words which Jesus (the Son) speaks are God’s own. And, since God is Spirit (4:24), His words are also Spirit, and must be received (and understood) in a spiritual way, through the Spirit; and, since God’s words have life-giving power, so also do Jesus’ words. This is certainly true of the words given by Jesus here in vv. 51-58.

What, then, of the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58? Is the Gospel writer (to say nothing of Jesus as the speaker) referring to the ritual of the Lord’s supper? And, if so, how does this relate to the rest of the Bread of Life discourse, and to the Spirit-saying of Jesus here in v. 63? If the essence and significance of the words are spiritual, if the concrete physical aspect (“flesh”) of the idea expressed in vv. 51-58 is not of any use, then how should the eucharistic language be understood?

Some commentators (e.g., Brown, pp. 299-300) would claim that the term “flesh” (sa/rc) here in v. 63 has a fundamentally different meaning than it does in vv. 51ff; and, as such, Jesus’ statement does not refer to the same eucharistic emphasis of vv. 51-58. For many Christians, this is the only way that the apparent eucharistic focus in vv. 51-58 can be maintained within the context of the Discourse. After all, how can Jesus say that a person needs to eat his flesh (in the ritual sense of actually eating the physical bread of the Supper), and then go on to say that the “flesh” is of no benefit?

Taken on its own, the statement in v. 63 is fundamentally spiritualistic, providing a clear contrast—between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). As we have seen, such dualism is a common feature of Paul’s letters, where he uses it repeatedly—cf. especially Romans 8:4-6ff; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8; Phil 3:3. It is much less common in the Johannine writings, but may be found in Jn 3:6 (cf. the prior study), and a negative connotation to the term “flesh”, as something contrary or inferior to God, is present in 8:15 and 1 John 2:16. Usually, this negative aspect is expressed by “(the) world” (ko/smo$). Here, in verse 63, the contrast is especially pronounced—not only does the flesh not give life, but it offers no benefit at all! This harsh statement must be understood properly, in terms of the comparison of the flesh with the Spirit. Compared with the Spirit, which gives everything (Life), the flesh offers nothing.

Through trust in Jesus’ words—his teaching and witness as to who he is (the Son come from the Father in heaven)—one receives from Jesus the life-giving Spirit; similarly, we also receive, through the Spirit, the life-giving power of his sacrificial death. Our participation in his death (and resurrection) is described symbolically as “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood”. Even if the Gospel writer (and the Johannine ‘Community’) still deemed important the partaking of the ritual meal (the Eucharist/Supper), the emphasis is clearly on participation in Jesus’ death in a spiritual manner, through the presence of the Spirit.

The scandalous nature of this language was not lost on Jesus’ hearers, neither the people at large nor his disciples (who call the message “hard/harsh” [sklhro/$], v. 60). After all, in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the imagery of eating flesh and drinking blood refers to hostile and violent action (cf. Deut 32:42; Psalm 27:2; Isa 49:26; Ezek 39:17-18; Jer 46:10; Zech 11:9). Even the very juxtaposition of flesh/blood can designate violence and slaughter (e.g., Psalm 79:2-3; Ezek 32:5-6; Zeph 1:17; 4 Macc 6:6). And, of course, the idea of ingesting blood (along with flesh [meat]), a fundamental violation of the Torah regulations, would have been abhorrent to any devout Israelite or Jew (Gen 9:4; Lev 3:17; 19:26; Deut 12:23; Ezek 33:25; Acts 15:20). Cf. Brown, p. 284.

It is easy to see how Jesus’ words would “trip up” and offend even his close disciples. In addition to the difficult concept of Jesus (in his person) as the “bread from heaven” that one must ‘eat’, he adds the particularly offensive idea of eating/drinking his flesh/blood. All of this, however, must be understood in a spiritual way, in terms of the life-giving Spirit. To “eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” of Jesus means to trust in the message of who Jesus is (the Son of God come from heaven), and to be united with him (to “remain” in him) through the Spirit.

In a supplemental note, I will discuss the Spirit-sayings, here in 6:63 and in 4:23-24, in relation to more developed (and extreme) forms of Christian spiritualism, whereby any external ritual or worship observance is deemed unnecessary, since the essence of all religious experience is realized entirely through the Spirit. Since Jesus’ statements in 4:23-24 and 6:63 (in connection with the Eucharist, vv. 51-58) could be read and interpreted in this light, it is worth giving some consideration to the extent of Johannine spiritualism.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

April 22: 1 John 5:9-12

1 John 5:9-12

This note follows up the discussion (yesterday and the day before) on 1 Jn 5:6-8, with a brief examination of the subsequent verses (9-12). Indeed, these verses continue the thought in vv. 6-8 and help us to understand more clearly what the author is saying.

“If we receive the witness [marturi/a] of men, the witness of God is greater; (and it is) that this is the witness of God that He has given witness [memartu/rhken] about His Son.” (v. 9)

The theme of witness continues here; as I discussed in the previous note, this is an important Johannine theme, with the noun marturi/a and verb marture/w serving as important theological keywords in both the Gospel and Letters (also prominent in the book of Revelation). This contrast between human and Divine witnesses also featured in the chapter 5 Discourse in the Gospel (vv. 30-47; see especially in vv. 43-44). The statement there regarding the willingness of people to accept human witnesses is harsher and polemically charged, whereas here it is framed as a simple objective statement, almost certainly with the legal principle of Deut 17:6 in mind (cf. also Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; Heb 10:28). Evidence can be deemed reliable for establishing a legal case if it can be confirmed by two or (especially) three witnesses.

If three human witnesses will confirm the truth, how much more will three Divine witnesses do so—especially since, as v. 9 makes clear, God’s witness is much greater than that of man. This suggests that God’s witness here is to be identified with the three witnesses of vv. 7-8, but most particularly with the Spirit, which ultimately serves to guarantee the truth of the other two witnesses (“water” and “blood”, v. 6). And this witness by God is about (peri/) His Son, confirming the line of interpretation established for vv. 6-8—namely that the three-fold witness is a witness regarding the identity of Jesus, as the Son of God. This is the significance of the witness motif in the Johannine writings.

“The (one) trusting in the Son of God holds [e&xei] th(is) witness in himself, (while) the (one) not trusting in God has made Him (to be) a liar, (in) that he has not trusted in the witness (with) which God gave witness about His Son.” (v. 10)

The repetitive wording is typical of Johannine style, and should not be varied in translation to make for more engaging English. As throughout 1 John, the author presents a stark (dualistic) contrast between the person who trusts in God (i.e., the believer), and one who does not (i.e., the non-believer or ‘false’ believer). The opponents referenced by the author (cf. the discussion in the prior note) are considered by him to be among those who do not trust. Their lack of trust—showing them to be “antichrists” rather than true believers (cf. 2:18-27; 4:1-6)—is evidenced primarily by their false view and teaching regarding Jesus. The author would say about them that they “have not trusted in the witness (with) which God gave witness about His Son”. In particular, they seem to have denied, in some way, the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and death; in other words, they do not trust in the witness of the “water” and “blood” that God has given (through the incarnation) declaring the truth about who Jesus is. I will be discussing this in more detail in upcoming notes.

By contrast, the one who truly trusts in Jesus as the Son of God, accepting all three witnesses God has provided, has this three-fold witness abiding within. The literal wording is “he holds [vb e&xw] th(is) witness in himself”. This can only mean that the believer holds the Spirit within; since the witness of the “water” (Jesus’ life) and “blood” (his life-giving death) are united with the Spirit’s witness, and cannot be separated (which is the point of vv. 6-8), the believer also holds the witness of the “water” and “blood” within. We now begin to approach the interpretation of 1:7ff which I offered in the earlier note—namely, that the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood is communicated to the believer through the Spirit.

“And this is the witness—that (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life] God (has) given to us, and this life is in His Son.” (v. 11)

The declaration “this is the witness” can be understood two ways. First, the statement that follows in v. 11 represents the substance of what the witness says. The three witnesses—water, blood, and Spirit—all say the same thing, which can be summarized by a two-part theological statement:

    • Part 1: “God has given to us (the) Life of the Age(s)”
    • Part 2: “this Life is in His Son”

The expression “life of the age(s)” (zwh\ ai)w/nio$) is more typically rendered “eternal life”, and, indeed, in the Johannine writings “life” (zwh/) almost always refers to eternal life, in the qualitative (and attributive) sense of the Life which God Himself possesses. The message of the three-fold witness is that God has given us (believers) this Life “in His Son”. There is a comparable theological definition found in the Gospel:

“And this is the Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (17:3)

There are two aspects to the prepositional expression “in [e)n] His Son”. The first is the aspect of trusting in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God). This emphasis on trust is present both in our passage and the corresponding statement of Jn 17:3 (above). However, the more common preposition for trust in Jesus is ei)$ (lit. “into, unto”), and this points to the second aspect, which, in some ways, I think is more prominent here; this second aspect is best expressed by the Johannine idiom of “remaining” (vb me/nw) in Jesus. The believer remains in [e)n] Jesus (the Son), and the Son, in turn, remains in the believer—a unity which is realized through the presence of the Spirit.

Both aspects may be further summarized by the Christological mode of understanding “in His Son” as meaning that the eternal life we hold is based in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And Jesus is personally present in (and among) believers through the Spirit. For more on the association between the Spirit and (eternal) life, see my earlier note on Jn 6:51-58, and the recent articles (on 3:5-8ff, 4:10-15, and 6:63 in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”).

“The (one) holding the Son holds th(is) Life, (while) the (one) not holding the Son does not hold the Life.” (v. 12)

This final verse summarizes the thought of vv. 9-11 quite succinctly, repeating the same stark contrast between believer and non-believer from v. 10, and also reiterating the key concept of the believer “holding” (vb e&xw). In light of this context, the idea of “holding” the Son can only refer to the believer “holding” the (three-fold) witness about the Son. The point of contact is obviously the Spirit. The Spirit witnesses about the Son (Jn 15:26, etc), but the Son is also personally present in the believer through the Spirit. Thus, by holding the Spirit within (v. 9), the believer also holds the Son within (v. 12). Since (eternal) life comes through the Son, and is communicated (by the Son) through the Spirit, the believer also holds this same life within. This is a fundamental theological premise in the Johannine writings, which is perhaps expressed most concisely in John 6:57.


Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: Jn 4:10-15ff; 7:37-39

John 4:10-15ff (21-24); 7:37-39

In the recent notes on 3:31-36, I discussed how those verses form conclusion to chapters 1-3 as a division of the Gospel. At the same time, it is clear that there is a literary relationship between the Nicodemus discourse in chapter 3 (vv. 1-21, cf. the previous study) and the Samaritan Woman discourse in chapter 4 (vv. 1-42). Each discourse involves a specific individual who embodies one end of the spectrum spanning the entirety of Jewish/Palestinian society.

On the one hand there is Nicodemus, a learned and prominent Jewish man, a leading religious figure and member of the Jerusalem Council (3:1; cf. also 7:50; 19:39). On the other side, we have the Samaritan woman, an ordinary (and uneducated) person, who, because of her gender, ethnic-religious status (as a Samaritan), and her personal marital/sexual history (vv. 16-18), was a marginalized individual, at the outcast fringe of society.

Yet, despite the marked differences between these two figures, they each hold a comparable place within the Discourse-framework, and in the way that they interact with Jesus. Consider, for example, how Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman each identify Jesus in conventional religious terms, which reflect a certain measure of belief, and yet evince a fundamental lack of understanding regarding Jesus’ true identity.

In 3:2, Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is an inspired/prophetic teacher sent by God, yet this does not prevent him from completely misunderstanding Jesus’ words (vv. 4, 9-10ff). After her initial exchange with Jesus, the humble Samaritan woman is able to proceed further than Nicodemus in the direction of understanding. She recognizes that Jesus is a genuine Prophet (4:19), and soon becomes aware that he is the Anointed (Messianic) Prophet of the end-time (vv. 25-26).

There are other points of similarity between the two discourses, both thematic and formal. Particularly notable for this study is how the misunderstanding in each discourse is based on a double-meaning. In the case of the Nicodemus discourse, the double-meaning involves the adverb a&wqen, “from above”, which can also be used a temporal sense, “from the beginning, again”. When Jesus refers to a person being born “from above” (a&wqen), Nicodemus hears born “again”, and thinks Jesus is talking about a person having a second physical/biological birth (v. 4). But, in fact, Jesus is speaking of a spiritual birth (“born of the Spirit,” vv. 5-8), with “above” (a&nw[qen]) denoting spatially the ‘place’ where God Himself dwells and is present (v. 31).

Something quite similar occurs in the Samaritan Woman discourse, and the misunderstanding, in this instance, involves the verbal adjective (participle) zw=n (“living”), from the verb za/w (“[to] live”). Here the adjective modifies the noun u%dwr, in the expression “living water” (u%dwr zw=n), which is central to the main saying by Jesus in verse 10:

“If you had seen [i.e. known] the gift of God, and who is the (one) saying to you, ‘Give me (water) to drink,’ you would (have) asked him, and he would (have) given to you living water.”

The woman’s response (vv. 11-12) reveals her misunderstanding. In Hebrew idiom, “living water” (<yY]j^ <y]m^) means flowing/running water, as in a river or fountain, rather than water that has collected in a pool or cistern—e.g., Lev 14:5-6, 50-52; 15:13; Num 19:17. The woman, like Nicodemus, understands Jesus’ words on this ordinary material level, while, in truth, he is speaking on the spiritual level. The question by Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman, respectively, leads to an exposition by Jesus (3:5-8; 4:13-14), in which he begins to explain the true meaning of his words. That is, to the Samaritan Woman, he explains what he truly means by the expression “living water”:

“Every (one) drinking out of this water will thirst again; but who ever would drink out of the water which I give to him, he will not thirst (again) into the Age, but (rather) the water which I shall give to him shall come to be in him a fountain of water leaping up unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The water which Jesus gives leads to eternal life—this the true meaning of “living water”. And what is this water? For the Gospel writer, there can be no doubt that it refers to the Spirit. Compare the similar declaration by Jesus in 7:37-38:

“If any (one) should thirst, let him come toward me and drink. (For) the (one) trusting in me, (it is) just as the Writing said: ‘Streams out of his belly shall flow, of living water.'”

The motif of living/flowing water here is indicated by the image of river-streams (potamoi/), rather than a spring/fountain (phgh/), but the idea is essentially the same. An explanatory comment by the author (or editor) follows in verse 39:

“Now he said this about the Spirit, which the (one)s (hav)ing trusted in him were about to receive…”

This contrast between the material and the spiritual occurs repeatedly throughout the Johannine Discourses, and is a fundamental expression of Johannine spiritualism. Jesus refers to something from the material realm (such as flowing water) and uses it to symbolize the Spirit. Jesus “gives” the Spirit to the person who trusts in him, and this allows the believer to experience the eternal life of God.

In the Nicodemus discourse, there also was an association between water and the Spirit (vv. 5-8), along with a similar kind of contrast—between an ordinary physical/material birth (“out of water”) and a spiritual birth (“out of the Spirit” [= “from above”]). Here, in chapter 4, the water-motif has a different significance, emphasizing the presence of the Spirit within the believer. This is another important aspect of Johannine spiritualism. The Johannine writings, more than any other New Testament scripture, emphasize the internal presence and work of the Spirit within the individual believer.

The imagery in 4:14 and 7:38 reflects this internal aspect. The living water of the Spirit is located “in him” (e)n au)tw=|), or, more colorfully, “out of his belly” (e)k th=$ koili/a$ au)tou=). Some commentators (e.g., Brown, pp. 320-4) would identify Jesus as the subject of the latter phrase—that is, the living water of the Spirit comes out of Jesus‘ belly, alluding to the symbolic scene at the crucifixion (19:30, 34). This will be discussed in an upcoming note. For the moment, I will adhere to the parallelism between 4:14 and 7:38, understanding the Spirit to come forth out of the believer’s ‘belly’ —i.e., from down deep within.

There is also the additional motif of drinking the living water. The context of 4:13-14 and 7:37-38f makes clear that ‘drinking’ here is symbolic of trust in Jesus. According to the Johannine theological idiom, we may go a step further and declare that what the believer ‘drinks’ is the word which Jesus brings. Jesus’ words serve as a witness to his identity as the Son of God sent from heaven. By ‘drinking’ his word(s), through faith, the living Word himself comes to be present within the believer, releasing the living power and presence of the Spirit—the Divine/eternal Spirit which is shared by both the Son (the Word) and the Father. This Word-Spirit association will be discussed further in the next article.

It should be noted that the Spirit is not specifically mentioned in 4:13-14, even though there can be no doubt that the “living water” is to be identified with the Spirit, as in 7:39 (cf. above). Jesus does, however, mention the Spirit further on in his discourse with the Samaritan Woman. It is worth considering the outline of the discourse to see how the development takes place (for a more detailed outline of chapter 4 as whole, cf. my earlier note on vv. 10-14):

    • Central saying by Jesus (v. 10)
    • Reaction by the Woman (vv. 11-12)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 13-14)
    • Reaction by the Woman (v. 15)
    • Exposition by Jesus—Messianic dialogue (vv. 16-26)

The Nicodemus discourse follows a similar outline-structure, with two reactions and corresponding expositions by Jesus. The woman’s second reaction (v. 15) shows that she is nearing a true faith/trust in Jesus, but still fails to understand the spiritual nature of his words. The dialogue-exposition by Jesus, in response, may be outlined as follows:

    • Miracle—demonstration of Jesus’ (divine) foreknowledge (vv. 16-18)
      • Declaration by the woman:
        “I look (on and perceive) that you are (the) Foreteller” (v. 19)
        and statement relating to the role of the Messiah (v. 20)
        • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 21-24)
      • Declaration by the woman:
        “I see [i.e. know] that the Mashiaµ {Messiah} comes” (v. 25a)
        and statement regarding the role of the Messiah (v. 25b)
    • I Am saying—identification of Jesus as the Anointed One of God (v. 26)

As with several other episodes (and discourses) in the Gospel, a miracle, demonstrating Jesus’ God-given power, leads to an “I am” statement by which Jesus effectively declares his special status (and nature) in relation to God the Father. This is the framework for the dialogue in vv. 16-26, within which the portion spanning vv. 19-25 is, as I have already indicated, a kind of “Messianic dialogue” —with a central exposition by Jesus (vv. 21-24) flanked by two declarations by the woman. Each of these declarations has a Messianic significance; for more detail on this, cf. my earlier note on vv. 21-24.

Let us now turn to the central exposition by Jesus, examining briefly, but carefully, the main statements. His initial statement in verse 21 is a direct response to the religious differences (between Samaritans and Jews) mentioned by the woman. I noted above how Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman, respectively, represent the two ends of the societal spectrum—from prominent (religious) Jew to lowly (non-religious) Samaritan woman. Yet these two figures share a similar position in relation to Jesus. This is significant, as the declaration by Jesus in verse 21 essentially abrogates and removes the religious-cultural differences between Samaritans and Jews:

“Trust me, (my dear) woman, that an hour comes when (it will) not (be) in/on this mountain, and not in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem} (either), that you will worship* the Father.”
* Lit. “kiss toward” (vb proskune/w), as a gesture of homage and adoration; so also in vv. 23-24.

In the New Age, religious expression (and experience) will no longer be realized through a specific physical location—represented here by the central difference (between Jews and Samaritans) regarding the place for worship. Jesus’ statement is given from an eschatological point of view— “an hour comes”. At that time, worship will transcend specific (sacred) places, etc, rooted in ancient ethnic and religious traditions. For the present—that is, at the moment when he is speaking with the woman—it would seem that Jesus recognizes (and even affirms!) the religious differences (v. 22). He appears to speak from the Israelite/Jewish standpoint, which represents the “correct” religious tradition; yet, if Jesus seems to confirm the religious-cultural distinctions in v. 22, he eliminates them again, repeating (even more forcefully) his statement in v. 21:

“But an hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in (the) Spirit and (the) Truth—for (it is) even (that) the Father seeks these (very sorts of people) worshiping him.” (v. 23)

What Jesus characterizes as true (a)lh/qino$) worship is said to occur, not in a specific place, but, rather, “in (the) Spirit and Truth” (e)n pneu/mati kai\ a)lhqei/a|).

Yet when and how will this true worship occur? Jesus has modified the eschatological orientation of v. 21; instead of saying “an hour comes”, he states: “an hour comes, and now is [kai\ nu=n e)stin]” —that is to say, it is here now, in the present. Believers experience now, in the present, what traditionally would be experienced by the righteous at the end time (in the Age to Come). The basis for this ‘realized’ eschatology is trust in the person and work of Jesus.

The Johannine Christological theme of Jesus (the Son) making God the Father known to believers is very much central to this passage. Worship in the Spirit, which is the only true worship (“in the Spirit and Truth”), can only be realized through the gift of the Spirit (the “living water,” cf. above). Jesus (the Son) gives the Spirit, which is given to him by the Father (3:34-35)—the ultimate source of the Spirit is God the Father. Jesus expresses this clearly enough in the concluding verse 24:

“God (is) Spirit, and the (one)s worshiping Him, it is necessary (for them) to worship (Him) in (the) Spirit and Truth.”

We cannot truly worship God, who is Spirit, unless we are in the Spirit. This is not a temporary, charismatic phenomenon, but an essential and permanent condition—it is the very Life (eternal, divine Life) given to us by Jesus (the Son) from the Father.

Jesus’ words in vv. 21-24 would seem to be among the most explicitly spiritualistic statements in the New Testament. Yet there are legitimate questions as to the extent of this spiritualism. I will be discussing this sensitive subject in a supplemental note, addressing both vv. 21-24 and the famous saying in 6:63 (within the apparent eucharistic context of vv. 51-58). First, however, it will be necessary to devote an article to 6:63 and the setting of the chapter 6 “Bread of Life” discourse.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).


March 30: John 3:35

John 3:35

Our examination of verse 34 (cf. the previous note) raises several important interpretive questions, both Christological nature and related to the Johannine understanding of the Spirit. A careful study of the passage is thus vital toward establishing a clear sense of Johannine spiritualism.

First, it is necessary to consider verse 34 in relation to the following v. 35:

34For the (one) whom God sent forth speaks the utterances of God, for (it is) not out of a measure (that) He gives the Spirit. 35The Father loves the Son and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

When the two verses are read in tandem, it becomes clear that vv. 34-35 is an expression of the distinctive Johannine theology, emphasizing the chain of relationship whereby the Father gives to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives the same to believers. This giving is essential to the Father-Son relationship, and is the result of Father’s love for His Son (v. 16; cf. also 5:20; 15:9ff; 17:23-26). This is the first of the two statements in v. 35, the second being the consequence of the first:

    • “The Father loves the Son…
    • …and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand”

The Spirit certainly is to be included among “all things” (pa/nta) that the Father gives to Jesus; indeed, it is the principal and foremost thing the Father gives him.

In verse 35, the perfect tense is used (de/dwken, “has given”), while in v. 34 it is the present tense (di/dwsin, “gives”). When referring to the Father’s action toward Jesus, the Gospel writer tends to use the perfect or aorist tense (cf. Brown, p. 158); this has led commentators to view Jesus as the principal subject of v. 34b. I.e., God the Father has given the Spirit to Jesus, and Jesus now gives it to believers. This theological construct is certainly implicit within vv. 31-36—as, indeed, it is present virtually throughout the entire Gospel; however, the main point here in vv. 34-35, I believe, is on what God the Father gives to Jesus.

Given the strong pre-existence aspect to Johannine Christology, it is rather strange that there little specific indication of how Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit ought to be understood in light of the Son’s pre-existence. As I noted previously, the Gospel of John presents the Spirit-references within the traditional Gospel-framework that begins with the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism. Yet, surely, the pre-existent Son would have had access to the Spirit of God even before his appearance on earth. Nowhere in the Johannine writings—nor anywhere else in the New Testament, for that matter—is this Christological issue discussed or mentioned with any clarity. It is only by inference that we may assume the Gospel writer would have understood that the Son, in his Divine pre-existence, was given the Spirit.

For example, by combining vv. 34-35 here with the later statement by Jesus in the Great Prayer-Discourse (17:24), the chain of logic can be established:

    • The Father loved the Son before the foundation (creation) of the world {and}
      • His love for the Son entails giving him the Spirit {therefore} =>
        • The Son was given the Spirit before the foundation of the world

A second question we may ask is: do believers also receive the Spirit “without measure” (from Jesus), or is it only the Son (Jesus) who receives the Spirit “without measure” from the Father? The answer to this question goes beyond the scope of these notes on vv. 31-36. However, in terms of the Johannine theological framework, I would say that the prevailing idea is that the Son (Jesus) gives to believers precisely what the Father has given to him. This does not necessarily mean that Jesus gives to believers everything (“all things”) that he received from the Father, but what he does give is the same that he received from the Father. This would mean that believers do, in fact, receive the Spirit, from Jesus, “without measure”. It is possible to define this theological-spiritual principle more precisely, but it will require a thorough examination of the remaining Johannine Spirit-passages.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the final verse (v. 36) of our current passage.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

March 28: John 3:31-33

John 3:31c-33

“The (one) coming out of heaven [is up above all]; what he has seen and heard, (to) this he gives witness, and (yet) his witness no one receives. The (one) receiving his witness (has) sealed that God is true.”

Regardless of whether the words in square brackets are original (cf. the discussion in the previous note), verse 31c syntactically belongs with v. 32f, rather than with v. 31ab. Indeed, the statements in v. 31a & c are parallel and essentially identical:

    • The (one) coming from above is up above all
    • The (one) coming out of heaven [is up above all]

The expression “out of heaven” (e)k tou= ou)ranou=) has the same meaning as the adverb “from above” (a&nwqen). The prepositional expression, however, forms a more precise contrastive parallel with “out of the earth” (e)k th=$ gh=$) in v. 31b.

There is a contrast between the two figures in v. 31ab, whereas in vv. 31c-32 the parallelism is synthetic—that is, the second statement builds upon the first. The same person “coming from heaven” (v. 31c) is described in v. 32f. The point of contrast, rather, is between the descriptions of the one “out of the earth” (31b) and the one “out of heaven” (v. 32). In particular, the contrast involves the way that they speak. The one who is “of the earth” simply speaks (vb lale/w) out of his/her earthly nature (“out of the earth”). By contrast, the one coming “out of heaven” speaks in a heavenly manner, and speaks of heavenly things (cf. verse 12).

This idea of ‘heavenly speaking’ is expressed through the Johannine motif of witness (ma/rtu$/marturi/a). Jesus, as the one coming from heaven, bears witness to the heavenly reality. This is understood primarily in relation to God the Father. Jesus, as the dutiful Son, pays close attention to the Father’s example—everything that he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. This is a fundamental component of the Johannine Christology and portrait of Jesus. The point is made a number of times throughout the Gospel—cf. 1:18; 5:19-20ff, 30-31ff; 6:46; 7:16-18; 8:26, 38, 40ff, 47; 17:8ff.

It is quite likely that the wording in v. 32 continues the thematic contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist (cf. the discussion in the previous note). John and Jesus both bear witness to the Divine truth, testifying to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father. John, however, makes this witness in an “earthly” manner, based on the visionary experience of what he has actually seen and heard through his senses (1:32-34). By contrast, Jesus, having come from the Father in heaven, is a direct witness of God, and his witness is thus heavenly and spiritual in nature. As previously noted, John the Baptist as a witness is a key theme of chapters 1-3, beginning with the prologue (1:6-8).

Jesus gives witness (vb marture/w) to “that which he has seen and heard” (o^ e(w/raken kai\ h&kousen). The wording of this phrase, utilizing the relative (neuter) pronoun, very much reflects the Johannine style and theological idiom. This is clearly illustrated by the opening words of 1 John:

“That which [o^] was from the beginning, which we have seen [o^ a)khko/amen], which we have heard [o^ e(wra/kamen]…about the word [lo/go$] of life” (1:1)

The (Gospel) message, about who Jesus is, is a truthful witness that reflects what Jesus himself manifested to us on earth through his own incarnate person.

The idea that “no one” (ou)dei/$) receives Jesus’ witness is general and categorical, reflecting the basic theme that the “world” (ko/smo$), as a whole, is dominated by darkness and evil, and is unable/unwilling to accept the Divine truth and revelation that Jesus brings from heaven. As is clear from verse 11 earlier in the Discourse, and echoing the foundational statement in the Gospel prologue (1:11), even the most learned and religiously devout among his own people (e.g., Nicodemus) are unable to receive this witness. Indeed, it is not possible to receive it, to “see” the kingdom of God (v. 3), unless one is first “born from above” —that is, born of the Spirit.

The statements here in vv. 32-33 are indeed similar to those in 1:11-12 of the Prologue:

    • “and his witness no one receives [vb lamba/nw]” (v. 32b)
      “and his own (people) did not receive [vb paralamba/nw] him” (v. 11b)
    • “the (one) receiving his witness…” (v. 33a)
      “but as (many) as received him…” (v. 12a)

No one belonging to the world receives his witness, only those belonging to God. Every one belonging to God, who is drawn to the truth (by His Spirit), receives the witness of Jesus (through trust); then, having been born “from above” (i.e., of the Spirit), such a person is able to hear and understand the heavenly witness of Jesus. This recognition by the believer essentially seals the truth (and truthfulness) of God (v. 33b).

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 34, which contains the important Spirit-reference.