Notes on Prayer: John 17:13-15

John 17:13-15

As we continue through the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus (Jn 17) in these Notes on Prayer, we come to what we might call the exposition portion of the first section of the Prayer proper. Keep in mind the basic format of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, of which this Prayer shares many features in common (thus the designation “Prayer-Discourse”):

    • Saying/statement by Jesus
    • Reaction to those listening to him—his disciples, etc
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true/deeper meaning of his saying

This being a prayer (monologue) by Jesus, there is no reaction by the disciples (indicating their lack of understanding, etc, as throughout the Last Discourse); instead, we find the important theme of the needs of the disciples in the face of Jesus’ impending departure (back to the Father). And, in place of the traditional/core saying by Jesus that serves as the base for the Johannine Discourse, we have here the central petition by Jesus (to the Father), which I define as comprised of verses 9-11. There are many ways of outlining the Prayer-Discourse; here I suggest the following:

    • Invocation—introductory address to the Father (vv. 1-5)
    • Narration—summary of the Father’s work which he (the Son) completed on earth (vv. 6-8)
    • Petition—the central request made to the Father (vv. 9-11)
    • Exposition, Part 1: Application to Jesus’ immediate Disciples (vv. 12-19)
    • Exposition, Part 2: Application to All Believers (vv. 20-26)

I discussed the elements of the petition in the previous two notes (on vv. 9-10 and 11-12, respectively). Verse 12 is transitional, in that it picks up the primary theme of the petition and carries it forward into the exposition. Again, because of the prayer setting, the exposition by Jesus takes on a different tone compared with the Discourses. It also has a triadic structure which follows the pattern of the Prayer as a whole:

    • Narration—summary of the work done by the Son on earth (vv. 12-14)
    • Petition—restatement of the central request (v. 15)
    • Theological/Christological Exposition (vv. 16-19)

We can see how verse 12 serves as the hinge, joining the main petition to the expository narration, by the syntax in verse 13:

12When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name that you have given to me, and I guarded (them), and not one out of them went to ruin…
13 But now [kai\ nu=n] I come toward you, and I speak these things in the world, (so) that they would have my delight filled (up) in themselves.”

The particles kai\ nu=n (“and now”), also used at the start of verse 5, establish the current/present situation that Jesus is addressing. In last week’s study, I discussed the double meaning of the expression “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw=|). In verse 11, Jesus specifically states that he is not (ou)ke/ti, “not yet, no longer”) in the world; and yet now he indicates that he is in the world. The ambiguity has to do with the position of his disciples (believers). On the one hand, they/we do not belong to the world and are not in it (“out of the world”); but, at the same time, they/we remain present in the world and are thus in it, facing the evil and hostility of the current world-order. The latter aspect is what Jesus is referring to in verse 13—even though he is not “in the world” (and is about to leave it, returning to the Father), he still speaks to his disciples (and all believers) “in the world”. The words he speaks—the Last Discourse sequence, including the Prayer-Discourse itself—are primarily intended to give help and comfort to his disciples, along the lines indicated in 14:27ff; 15:11; 16:20ff, 33. This comfort includes the promise of the coming of the Spirit (the para/klhto$, or ‘Helper’), and is central to the idea of Jesus own delight (xa/ra) being “filled” (peplhrwme/nhn) in (e)n) the disciples.

In verse 14, the theme of the contrast between Jesus/Believers and the world (ko/smo$, world-order), found throughout the Last Discourse (and in vv. 6ff), is likewise developed further:

“I have given [de/dwka] to them your word [lo/go$], and the world hated them, (in) that [i.e. because] they are not out of [e)k] the world, even as I am not am not out of [ou)k] the world.”

There are four parts, or phrases, to this statement, each of which delineates an important related theme in the Johannine Discourses. Let us consider each of them briefly:

1. “I have given to them your word” (e)gw\ de/dwka au)toi=$ to\n lo/gon sou). This continues the repeated use of the verb di/dwmi (“give”) throughout the Prayer (cf. the discussion in the previous studies) and emphasizes the relationship between Father and Son: God the Father gives to the Son (Jesus), who, in turn, gives to his disciples (believers). The “word” (lo/go$, used many times, with deep significance, in the Gospel) relates to the idea that the Son faithfully repeats what he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. But there is an even greater theological (and Christological) idea involved—that Jesus (the Son) reveals the person, presence, and power of God the Father Himself. In the context of the Prayer, the “word” Jesus gives to his disciples is parallel to the “name” which he makes known—and which was given to him by the Father. It is the Father’s own name, representing and embodying the Father (YHWH) Himself. So it is with the lo/go$; it is no ordinary “word” (cf. 1:1ff).

2. “and the world hated them” (kai\ o( ko/smo$ e)mi/shsen au)tou/$). The dualistic contrast between the “world” (ko/smo$) and God/Jesus/Believers is one of the central themes of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), and is especially prominent in the Last Discourse. The wickedness and outright hostility of the world is the very reason (causa) for Jesus’ petition to the Father. Since he is departing the world, he will no longer be present himself to protect his disciples from this hostility and opposition. The hatred (vb. mise/w), of course, is exactly the opposite of the love (a)ga/ph) which is so vital to Jesus’ teaching in the Disourses, and to Johannine theology as a whole. The theme of love will come into more prominence at the close of the Prayer.

3. “(in) that [i.e. because] they are not out of the world” (o%ti ou)k ei)si\n e)k tou= ko/smou). Just as there is a double meaning for the expression “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|), so there is for the parallel expression “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou). In verse 6, Jesus’ disciples are said to be “out of the world” in the sense that they do not belong to the world, and have been chosen (and taken) out of it as believers in Christ. Yet here they are said to be not “out of the world” in that they are not from it. This plays on the semantic range of the preposition e)k (“out of, of, from”), but the essential meaning is the same: Jesus’ disciples (believers) do not belong to the world.

4. “even as I am not out of the world” (kaqw\$ e)gw\ ou)k ei)mi\ e)k tou= ko/smou). Here we find a theme which will be developed richly in the remainder of the Prayer: the unity of believers with Jesus himself. This unity is made clear by the compound particle kaqw/$ (“even as, just as”), along with the emphatic pronoun “I” (e)gw/). Believers come from God the Father, having their birth/origins with Him, even as Jesus himself (the Son) does; they do not belong to the world any more than Jesus himself does. Classic Christian theology would explain this as being the result of faith in Jesus; the Johannine emphasis, however, is somewhat different—believers respond in faith to Jesus because they/we have (already) been chosen, belonging to the Father even before coming to faith, and given to Jesus (the Son) by the Father Himself. In classic terms, the emphasis is squarely on Divine Election/Predestination.

This expository narrative sets the stage for a restatement in verse 15 of Jesus’ petition to the Father, in which the danger believers face from the world (ko/smo$) is stated vividly (and bluntly):

“I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but (rather) that you would keep watch (over) them out of [i.e. protect them from] the evil.”

Here we find a third sense of the expression “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou)—the concrete sense of a person being taken (removed) from out of the world itself. This is significant on two levels: (a) the ordinary human condition (i.e. living on earth), and, more importantly, (b) in relation to the wickedness and evil present in the world, dominating the current world-order. This is the thrust of the second half of verse 15: “…but that you would keep watch (over) [i.e. protect] them out of [i.e. from] the evil”. Commentators debate the precise meaning of the substantive adjective (“the evil”, o( ponhro/$), much as in the similar petition of the Lord’s Prayer (cf. below). It may be understood three ways:

    • Evil generally, with the definite article perhaps in the sense of “that which is evil”
    • “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Satan or ‘Devil’
    • “the evil (of the world)”, i.e. the evil that is in the world and which dominates it

Many commentators prefer the second interpretation, often taking it for granted; however, I do not agree with that position. In my view the context overwhelming favors the third sense above. Two factors, I believe, confirm this rather decisively:

    1. The clear parallel, both thematic and syntactical, between “the world” and “the evil”. The contrast in the verse only makes sense if “the evil” means the evil in the world, or the evil nature/character of the world, etc.:
      “I do not ask that you take them out of the world (itself), but (only) that you keep them out of the evil (that is in it)”
    2. The exact parallel of expression which reinforces this meaning:
      “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou)
      | “out of the evil” (e)k tou= ponhrou=)

This is not to deny the prominent role that the Satan/Devil has in the current world-order (ko/smo$). It is entirely valid, and certainly so from the New Testament and early Christian standpoint, to see evil personified (and/or as a person) this way. The most relevant passage in the Gospel of John is found in the Last Discourse—Jesus’ declaration in 14:30 (note certainly similarities of thought and wording with 17:12-15ff):

“No longer [ou)ke/ti] will I speak with you (about) many (thing)s, for the chief/ruler of the world comes, and he holds nothing in/on me…”

Consult also the lengthy Sukkoth Discourse sequence in 8:12-59, in which Jesus more or less equates the world and the Devil, and sets them in marked contrast with God the Father. In this regard, there is an obvious parallel between the petition in 17:15 and that which concludes the Lord’s Prayer, in the Matthean (and longer Lukan) version:

“and may you not bring us into testing, but (rather) rescue us from the evil” (Matt 6:13)

As I argue in the earlier study on this verse, in the Lord’s Prayer, the substantive expression “the evil” is best understood in an eschatological sense—i.e. the evil that is coming—which had at least a partial fulfillment in the suffering and death of Jesus (cp. Mark 14:33-38, 41 par; Lk 22:53), and which, in turn, ushered in a period of suffering and persecution for believers (Mk 13:5-13; 14:27, 41 par; Lk 22:36-37; Rev 3:10, etc). In the Gospel of John, traditional eschatological motifs and ideas are presented in a ‘realized’ form—i.e. as a present reality for believers, and for the world (in terms of Judgment, etc). In this regard, the emphasis in 17:15 is not on the evil that is coming (beginning with Jesus’ Passion, cp. 13:30; 14:30), but on the evil that is ever-present in the world, and which believers must face daily. This prayer for protection from the evil that governs the world finds a most striking parallel in the First Letter of John, at the conclusion (5:18-19), a passage which further explains 17:9-15 from the standpoint of Johannine theology:

“We see [i.e. know] that every (one) having come to be (born) out of [e)k] God does not sin, but (rather) the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch [threi=] (over) him, and the evil [o( ponhro/$] does not attach (itself to) him. We see that we are out of [e)k] God, and (that) the whole world [ko/smo$] is stretched (out) in the evil [e)n tw=| ponhrw=|].”

This declaration virtually contains a fulfillment of what Jesus requests of the Father in chapter 17. We can also determine, based on the evidence from both the Gospel and Letter, how it is that the believer is protected from the evil that dominates the world. It is the living presence of Christ (the one born out of God) in the believer (like Jesus, born out of God), and it is through the Spirit that He is present. For more on this, please consult the series “…Spirit and Life” [Jn 6:63] soon to be posted here on this site.

In next week’s study, we will move on to explore verses 16-19, and, in particular, the newly formulated petition in v. 17, which gives greater clarity to the protection God the Father will provide for Jesus’ disciples. It will confirm the relation of this protection to the promise of the Spirit/Paraclete found at key points in the Last Discourse and elsewhere in the Gospel.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:11-12

John 17:11-12

Last week, in these Prayer Notes on the great prayer-discourse of Jesus in John 17, we looked at verses 9-12, focusing detail on vv. 9-10. Today, I wish to continue by examining vv. 11-12, which contains the substance of Jesus’ petition to God the Father on behalf of his disciples

“And (now) I am no longer in the world, and (yet) they [i.e. the disciples] are in the world, and I come toward you. Holy Father, keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, that they might be one, even as we (are). When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, and I guarded (them) and not one of them came to ruin…”

Jesus’ initial words are striking: “I am no longer [ou)ke/ti] in the world”. He says this even as he is still in the presence of his disciples (i.e. on earth) speaking to them; indeed, the statement appears to be contradicted by his words that follow in v. 13 (“I speak these [thing]s in the world”). There is a dual-meaning to the expression “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|). On the one hand, until Jesus departs and returns to the Father, he remains in the world; but, on the other hand, he and his disciples do not belong to the world (ko/smo$, the current world-order). In verse 6, Jesus describes his disciples as men whom God gave to him “out of [e)k] the world”; this is the opposite of being “in [e)n] the world”. In the same sense, while he is with his disciples, especially at this moment (and after the departure of Judas), Jesus is no longer “in the world”.

Even more important is the way that this expression anticipates his return to the Father. We can see this by an outline of the first sentence of verse 11; thematically, it can be represented by a chiasm:

    • “I am no longer in the world”
      —”but they are (still) in the world”
    • “I come toward you”

This emphasizes the idea that Jesus does not belong to the world, but to the Father; he does not come from the world, but from the Father—and it is to the Father that he returns. The contrast with the disciples presents the other aspect of the expression “in the world”. Even though the disciples, like Jesus, do not belong to the world, they will still remain in it, after Jesus has departed. This refers both to the ordinary sense of living as a human being on earth, and, more importantly, to the reality of believers faced with a hostile world dominated by sin and darkness. This is the context of much of the Last Discourse—cf. especially 15:18-25 and the ominous declaration in 14:30 that “the chief [i.e. ruler] of the world comes [i.e. is coming]”. With regard to this latter phrase, note the parallel (words in italics):

    • “(now) the chief of the world [ko/smo$] comes [e&rxetai] and he holds nothing on/in me
    • “(now) I am no longer in the world [ko/smo$]…and I come [e&rxomai] toward you [i.e. the Father]”

It is the fact of Jesus’ impending departure from the disciples which creates the need for which he prays to the Father in vv. 11b-12. The opening words of this actual request echo those of the Lord’s Prayer:

    • Holy Father [pa/ter a%gie]…in the name [e)n tw=| o)no/mati] which you…”
    • “Our Father [pa/ter h(mw=n]…may your name be made holy [a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou]” (Matt 6:9 par)

The emphasis on the name of God the Father is most important to the Prayer-Discourse as a whole, as I discussed last week. The word o&noma (“name”) appears a number of times, beginning with verse 6; that opening declaration, at the start of the prayer proper, gives the thematic (and theological) basis for the remainder of the Prayer-Discourse: “I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave to me out of the world”. Three key elements of this declaration are also present here in verse 11b: (1) God’s name, (2) the disciples/believers, and (3) God the Father giving to Jesus (the Son). These elements are present, but combined differently, in the specific request made by Jesus:

“Holy Father, keep watch (over) them in the name which you have given to me”

Jesus made the Father’s name “shine forth” to the disciples (“the men”) during his time with them on earth; now he asks the Father to continue that work, the emphasis shifting from revelation to protection—protection from the evil and darkness of the world. Two verbs, largely interchangeable in meaning, are used together here:

    • thre/w (t¢réœ) has the basic meaning “watch”, often in the sense of “keep watch (over)”
    • fula/ssw (phylássœ) similarly means “watch, be alert, guard”

Let us look at how these verbs are used in the Gospel (and Letters) of John. Most commonly they relate to the idea of believers keeping/guarding Jesus’ words. This is expressed three ways, which are more or less synonymous:

    • (1) Jesus’ word/account (singular, lo/go$)—Jn 8:51-52; 14:23; 15:20; 1 Jn 2:5 (all using thre/w)
    • (2) Jesus’ words (plural, lo/goi)—Jn 14:24 (using thre/w)
      or, similarly, his “utterances [i.e. spoken words]” (rh/mata)—Jn 12:47 (using fula/ssw), interchangeable with “word[s]” (lo/go$, v. 48)
    • (3) The things Jesus lays on believers to complete (plur. e)ntolai/), typically translated “command(ment)s”—Jn 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jn 2:3-4; 3:22, 24

An important point is that believers are to keep Jesus’ word(s) just as Jesus (the Son) has kept the word(s) of the Father—Jn 8:55; 15:10; 17:6. This chain of relationship between Father, Son and Believer(s) is central to Johannine theology and will be discussed in more detail as we proceed through the Prayer-Discourse. Jesus’ words are identified as being precisely those of God the Father; thus, if one keeps/guards Jesus‘ words, the believer is also keeping/guarding the Father’s words (John 12:49; 17:6; 1 Jn 5:2-3).

But this is only one aspect of the verb thre/w/fula/ssw. Part of the reciprocal relationship between Jesus and the believer is that, just as the believer keeps/guards Jesus’ word, so Jesus also keeps/guards the believer. This is the idea expressed here in vv. 11-12. Jesus prays to the Father, asking that He keep watch (over) the disciples—i.e. the elect/believers, the ones given by the Father into Jesus’ care. Jesus states that he himself kept watch over them (note the emphatic pronoun e)gw/, “I kept watch”) while he has been with them on earth (v. 12); but now, he is going away, and requests that the Father would keep watch over them. Almost certainly this refers to the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete (see below). It is possible to view Jesus’ request here as a fulfillment of 14:16ff. What is the nature of this protection? It is more or less explained in verse 15:

“I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep them out of the evil”

This request, so similar in many ways to the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, will be discussed next week. It is important to note that it was Jesus himself (the Son) who protected believers during his time on earth; now it is necessary for the Father to provide similar protection in his absence. Let us consider how Jesus states this situation in verse 12:

“When I was with them, I kept watch (over) [e)th/roun] them in your name which you have given to me, and I guarded [e)fu/laca] them…”

The wording is almost identical to the request in v. 11b, indicating again the close relationship between Son and Father. The English phrase “in your name which you have given to me” in both verses glosses over certain difficulties of interpretation. The reading of the best manuscripts is:

    • au)tou\$ e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ sou w!| de/dwka/$ moi
      “…(watch over) them in your name which you have given to me”

Copyists apparently misunderstood the syntax, as we find a number of instances in the manuscripts where it reads a plural accusative form (ou%$), i.e. referring to the disciples:

    • au)tou\$ e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ sou ou%$ de/dwka/$ moi
      “…(watch over) them, the (one)s whom you have given to me, in your name”

There is basis for such a formulation in the Gospel (cf. the wording in verse 6, also 18:9), but almost certainly the dative singular (w!|) is original. The reference is to the name which God has given to Jesus, and it is this name which keeps/guards believers—”in the name which you have given to me”. An even trickier interpretive point involves the nature of the name given to Jesus.

What is this name? Clearly it belongs to God the Father, since Jesus says “your name”—”in your name which you have given to me”. Elsewhere in the Gospel, the “name” specifically refers to Jesus‘ name, usually with the expression “trust in (Jesus)’ name”. The author speaks of trusting in his name, in Jn 1:12; 2:23; 20:31; 1 Jn 3:23; 5:13, while in Jn 3:18 the reference is to trust “in the name of the…Son of God”. The name of Jesus has great power and efficacy, as we see expressed throughout the New Testament. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples (and all believers) that they are to pray/ask of the Father in his [i.e. Jesus’] name—Jn 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26. Moreover, believers experience the release (forgiveness) of sins through Jesus’ name (1 Jn 2:12). Jesus also tells his disciples that the Father will send the Spirit/Paraclete in his name (14:26). The more familiar reference to protection/power for believers in Jesus’ name presumably explains the variant reading in vv. 11-12 of the Bodmer Papyrus (Ë66*): “…in my name which you have given to me”.

It is overly simplistic (and somewhat inaccurate) to take the view that Jesus’ name is simply the name Jesus/Yeshua itself. This would reduce “in the name of…” to a quasi-magical formula; and, while many Christians have used and understood it this way, the New Testament suggests something deeper (e.g. Phil 2:9-11, and many other passages). The key is in realizing how ancient peoples understood and treated names. In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represented the person himself (or herself), embodying the person’s essence and power in an almost magical way. To know or have access/control of a person’s name meant knowledge/control of the person (and the power, etc, which he/she possessed). From a religious standpoint, this gave to the name of God an extraordinary importance. To know the name of God, and to “call on” his name, meant that one had an intimate access to God Himself. For more on this topic, see my earlier Christmas season series (“And you shall call his name…”).

This is important because it relates to the Father/Son relationship that is central to the Gospel (and Discourses) in John. Jesus is the Son sent by the Father—thus he comes in his Father’s name (representing) him, working and acting in His name (Jn 5:43; 10:25; cf. also 12:13). As a faithful Son, he does and says what he seen and hears the Father doing/saying—i.e. his words are those of the Father. Moreover, as the Son (and heir), the Father gives to Jesus everything that belongs to Him (3:35, etc), including His name. Jesus, in turn, gives this name to believers, both in the sense of making it known—i.e. manifesting it to us (17:6, 26)—and also in the sense expressed here in vv. 11-12. Believers are kept/guarded in (e)n) this name which God the Father gave to Jesus. Is it possible to define or identify this name more precisely? There are several possibilities:

    • It is the ancient name represented by the tetragrammaton (YHWH/hwhy)
    • It is the ancient name as translated/interpreted in Greek as e)gw/ ei)mi, “I AM”
    • It is to be understood in the fundamental sense of the name representing the person—i.e. the name of God the Father indicates the presence and power of God Himself

The last option is to be preferred, along the lines suggested above. However, serious consideration should also be given to the second option, considering the prominence of the many “I Am” declarations by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. In these statements, Jesus is identifying himself with God the Father (YHWH), as the divine/eternal Son who represents the Father.

Following each of the parallel requests in vv. 11b-12, involving the name of the Father given to Jesus and the protection of the disciples, we find two statements relating to the unity of the disciples (believers). First, note how these fit into the structure of the passage:

    • “Holy Father, keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me,
      • (so) that they may be one even as we (are). ” (v. 11b)
    • “When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me,
      • and I guarded them, and no one out of them went to ruin [i.e. was lost/perished]” (v. 12)

The phrase in v. 11b anticipates the prayer for union/unity that is developed in vv. 20ff; interestingly, Ë66* along with Old Latin, Coptic and Syriac witnesses does not include this phrase. The statement in 12, by contrast, looks back to the role and position of Judas Iscariot among the disciples (6:70-71). This reflects a basic Gospel tradition regarding Judas, of course (Mk 14:20-21 par), but it takes on deeper symbolism in the Johannine Last Supper scene (13:1-3ff, 18, 27-30). There are two main points of significance to the departure of Judas in the narrative: (1) it marks the coming of a time of darkness (“and it was night”, v. 30; cp. 12:35-36), and (2) it allows Jesus to give his ‘Last Discourse’ instruction, speaking now only to his true disciples (believers). At the same time, the mention of Judas (as an exception, in fulfillment of Scripture) only underscores the unity of the remainder of the disciples—”not one of them went to ruin”. This is given dramatic expression during the Passion narrative (18:8-9).

A final point to be made on these verses has already been touched on above—the relationship between Father and Son (Jesus), which is also paralleled in the relationship between Jesus and believers. Central to this two-fold relationship, the key theme of chapter 17, is the presence of the Spirit. While the Spirit/Paraclete (pneu=ma/para/klhto$) is not specifically mentioned in chap. 17, it can be inferred at a number of points, based on the earlier references in chaps. 14-16 (and elsewhere in the Gospel). Jesus states clearly in verse 11 that he is departing and “is no longer in the world”. It is fair to conclude that the request in v. 11 relates to the request for the sending of the Spirit (in 14:16, etc). The keeping/guarding done by Jesus in the Father’s name now will be done for believers through the Spirit. The Spirit is also the basis for the unity (between Father/Son/Believers) which is so much emphasized in the prayer-discourse of Jesus in chap. 17. This will be discussed further in next week’s study (on verses 13-15).

Notes on Prayer: John 17:9-12

John 17:9-12

We are continuing to explore the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17 during these Monday Notes on Prayer. In verse 9, the focus shifts toward Jesus’ disciples, though in a manner that builds seamlessly upon the themes and language used previously in the prayer. We may observe something similar to the pattern used by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (discussed previously in these Notes on Prayer). In the first portion of the Prayer (Matt 6:9-10 par), the believer is to address God, focusing on His honor and work; while in the second portion (6:11-13), the focus shifts to the needs of believers, making request to God the Father regarding them. This pattern generally holds, though with a decided difference in perspective, in the Prayer-Discourse:

    • Vv. 1-8: Addressing God, focusing on His honor (do/ca) and work (e&rgon)—based on the intimate relationship between Father and Son, the Father’s honor and work both belong to the (faithful) Son as well
    • Vv. 9-23: Addressing the needs of believers—not for ordinary daily needs (as in the Lord’s Prayer), but in light of their/our relationship to both Father and Son

The petitions of the second part (for the needs of believers) are made entirely with the statements of the first part (regarding the honor and work of God) in mind. The Lord’s Prayer begins with a statement involving the name of God the Father (“Father […], may your name be made holy”); and the Father’s name is likewise central to the Prayer-Discourse, beginning with verse 6 which opens the main section (discussed last week):

“I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave me out of the world”

This statement provides four distinct elements or components which run through the entire Prayer-Discourse:

    1. The name (o&noma) of God the Father
    2. The focus on Jesus’ followers (believers)—”the men whom…”
    3. The Father giving to the Son, using the key verb di/dwmi
    4. The contrast between believers and the world (ko/smo$, the [current] world-order)

All of these are present and feature prominently in verses 9-12 as Jesus begins addressing the needs of believers to God the Father. In verse 9 we find the first occurrence in the Prayer-Discourse of the verb e)rwta/w, “ask (about)”, used again at key points in vv. 15 and 20. Jesus uses this verb when he speaks of his making a request to the Father (16:26), whereas elsewhere in the Last Discourse, when instructing his disciples on their making requests to the Father, he uses the verb ai)te/w (14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24, and see both verbs used together in 16:26). The verb e)rwta/w fundamentally refers to a person seeking information about something (i.e. a point of discussion or interrogation), while ai)te/w properly refers to a specific request (or, more forcefully, a demand). When e)rwta/w is used in the Last Discourse, it is in the sense of the disciples asking questions of Jesus (to find out information). Here, in the Prayer-Discourse, the point is not the request itself, but what Jesus is asking about. This is expressed by the preposition peri/ (“around, about”), with the object being the disciples (believers): “I ask about them…” (e)gw\ peri\ au)tw=n e)rwtw=). A contrast with the “world” (ko/smo$) follows immediately:

“I ask about them—(it is) not about the world (that) I ask, but about the (ones) whom you have given [de/dwka$] to me…”

In verse 6 (cf. above), Jesus specifically refers to his disciples (believers) as the ones God gave to him “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou). There is a two-fold significance to this phrase in the context of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, playing on the semantic range of the preposition e)k (“out of, from”):

    • Jesus chose people who were in the world, so as to take them out of the world—i.e. as his followers, taking them (with him) to God the Father.
    • Believers respond to Jesus because they ultimate come from God the Father, belonging to him—they do not belong the world

This latter sense, generally corresponding to the idea of divine election, is primarily in view here in the Prayer-Discourse, as the final words of the verse make clear:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] they are [i.e. belong] to you” (o%ti soi/ ei)sin)

Much the same was already stated in verse 6:

“They were [i.e. belong] to you” (soi\ h@san)

This idea, that believers come from (e)k) God—even as Jesus himself does—is expressed at many points in the Gospel and First Letter of John. One of the clearest statements in this regard is in Jesus’ great declaration to Pilate in 18:37, which serves virtually as a summary of Johannine theology (and Christology):

“I have come to be (born) unto this [i.e. for this purpose], and unto this I have come into the world: that I might give witness to the truth; every (one) being out of [e)k, i.e. from, belonging to] the truth hears my voice.”

The message is clear: the person who hears and responds in faith to Jesus does so because he/she already belongs to God, coming from Him. Here in the Prayer this is expressed in terms of God the Father giving believers to Jesus (the Son). The verb di/dwmi occurs numerous times in chapter 17, as a key term summarizing the relationship between Father and Son (and the believer): the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to his followers (believers), who, as it happens, are among the very things given to the Son by the Father. The wonderfully elliptical logic does create some confusion in the text, since Jesus refers to two different primary objects the Father gives to him: (a) believers, and (b) His name. It is not always immediately clear which is being referred to, and several textual variants have arisen in the manuscript tradition as a result. Let us survey the use of di/dwmi in the Prayer up to this point:

    • “you gave [e&dwka$] to him [i.e. the Son] authority o(ver) all flesh” (v. 2)
    • “so that every [pa=$] (one) that you have given [de/dwka$] to him, he might give [dw/sh|] to them [pl.] the Life of the Age” (v.2)
    • “I honored you upon the earth, completing the work that you have given [de/dwka$] me (to do), that I should do it” (v. 4)
    • “…the men whom you gave [e&dwka$] to me out of the world” (v. 6a)
    • “they were [i.e. belong] to you and you gave [e&dwka$] them to me” (v. 6b)
    • “all (thing)s [pa/nta], as (many) as you have given [de/dwka$] to me, are (from) alongside of you” (v. 7)
    • “the words [lit. utterances] which you gave [e&dwka$] to me, I have given [de/dwka] to them” (v. 8)

The comprehensiveness of this language, using the verb di/dwmi, is confirmed by the declaration which follows in verse 10:

“and all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and the (thing)s (that are) yours (are) mine”

The reciprocal relationship between Father and Son is stated here concisely, more than English translation allows; in Greek it is:

kai\ ta\ e)ma\ pa/nta sa/ e)stin kai\ ta\ sa\ e)ma/

We find the same basic idea expressed elsewhere in the Gospel, perhaps most notably in 3:35:

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all (thing)s [pa/nta de/dwken] in(to) his hand.”

The concluding words of verse 10 state this in a slightly different manner, according to the theme of the Prayer: “all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and the (thing)s (that are) yours (are) mine, and I have been given honor in them [kai\ dedo/casmai e)n au)toi=$].” For more on the important verb doca/zw in chapter 17, see the discussion in the earlier note on vv. 1-5. At the start of the Prayer, Jesus asks the Father to given him honor, and yet here he declares that he has already been given honor (cp. with 12:28 and 13:31-32). This is a declaration of his fundamental identity as God’s Son; the request in vv. 1ff refers to the return of the Son to the Father following the completion of his work on earth, as is clear from v. 5b.

This powerful theological and Christological background is vital to a proper understanding of what follows in the Prayer, beginning with Jesus’ petition on behalf of his disciples (believers) in verse 11, which he expounds in verse 12. Let us consider this petition as a whole, before examining the individual parts of it:

“And (now) I am no longer in the world, and (yet) they are in the world, and I come toward you. Holy Father, keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, (so) that they may be one even as we (are).” (v. 11)

Anyone familiar with the Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 will recognize how the content and language of this primary petition is woven through the remainder of the text. It will aid our understanding greatly if we examine it carefully here, which we will do in next week’s study.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:6-8

John 17:6-8

The current Monday Notes on Prayer feature is examining what is perhaps the second most famous prayer in the New Testament—the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. The first two studies focused on verses 1-5; today I will be discussing verses 6-8. These verses follow upon Jesus’ parallel statements in vv. 2 and 4, emphasizing his completion of the mission given to him by the Father, which is the means by which he (as the Son) gives honor (vb. doca/zw) to God the Father.

In discussing verses 4 and 5 last week, I noted that the use of the verb teleio/w (“complete”) must be understood in the context of the Passion setting. The sacrificial death of Jesus represents the climax and culmination of his work on earth, as indicated clearly in his final word on the cross in 19:30 (tete/lestai, “it is completed”). However, it must be stressed again that, in spite of this, the death of Jesus is not what is primarily in view in chapter 17 (nor in the Last Discourse, 13:31-16:33 as a whole). Rather, the main point is the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to God the Father, and how the Son’s mission has been to make the Father known to people (believers) on earth. This aspect of his work is stressed and expounded in verses 6-8, a passage which may be viewed thematically as two parallel statements, each made up of three parts or components:

    • Jesus’ work involving that which God has given to him (vb. di/dwmi, “you gave” [e&dwka$])
      • Believers accepted the word[s] Jesus gave to them, as a witness to the Father, and, as a result
        • They now know (vb. ginw/skw) that Jesus has come from the Father

The first such statement following this pattern is in verses 6-7:

    • “I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave [e&dwka$] to me out of the world” (v. 6a)
      • “They were (belonging) to you and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch (over) your Word [lo/go$]” (v. 6b)
        • “Now they have known [e&gnwkan] that all (thing)s as (many) as you have given to me are (from) alongside of you” (v. 7)

The vocabulary throughout is thoroughly Johannine, and is distinctive, both of the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel, and the fabric of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters) as a whole. A striking example is the first word, a form of the verb fanero/w, “shine forth”. It occurs only once in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 4:22), but is used 9 times in the Gospel of John (1:31; 2:11; 3:21; 7:4; 9:3; here in 17:6, and again in the ‘appendix’, 21:1 [twice], 14). In all 6 occurrences in the Gospel proper, the verb has definite theological (and Christological) significance, as it also does in 1 John where it occurs another 9 times (1:2 [twice]; 2:19, 28; 3:2 [twice], 5, 8; 4:9). It is a key term which refers to both Jesus’ identity (in relation to the Father), and, in turn, the identity of the believer (in relation to both Father and Son). Here the verb summarizes the purpose and result of the Son’s mission on earth—to reveal the Father, defined in terms of making known the Father’s name. This involves much more than simple knowledge of the name Yahweh (the tetragrammaton hwhy, YHWH). According to the ancient Near Eastern mindset, a person’s name represents and embodies (in a quasi-magical way) the character and essence of the person. Thus, to reveal God’s name (lit. to make it “shine forth”) means revealing the person of God Himself. This point, which is fundamental to the Johannine theology (and Christology), is discussed in greater detail in the Christmas series “And you shall call His Name…” (especially the articles on the Names of God).

The name of God and the name of Jesus, together, are fundamental to the thought-world of early Christians, and take on an even deeper significance in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John. References become more frequent in the second half of the book, beginning with 12:28 (note the parallel with 17:1ff), and continuing on through the Last Discourse sequence (14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-24, 26) and the Prayer Discourse of chap. 17 (vv. 6, 11-12, 26). Jesus’ final statement in verse 26 repeats that of v. 6:

“and I made known to them your name, and I will make (it) known…”

The Father’s name plays an important role in vv. 11-12, which will be discussed in turn. Other examples of key Johannine vocabulary in vv. 6-7 are:

    • The verb di/dwmi (“give”) as a way of expressing the close hierarchical and reciprocal relationship between Father and Son—the Father gives to the Son who, in turn, gives to believers, and then, in turn, gives/returns back to the Father. Cf. 3:27, 34-35; 5:22, 26-27, 36; 6:27, 31-39; 10:28-29; 12:49; 13:34; 14:16, 27; 15:16; 16:23; and especially in chapter 17, where it occurs 17 times.
    • The word ko/smo$, “(world) order, world”, which occurs 78 times in the Gospel, and another 24 in the Letters (23 in 1 John, and once in 2 John), more than half of all the occurrences in the New Testament (186). In nearly every such instance in the Gospel and Letters, ko/smo$ is used in a negative, dualistic sense—i.e. the current world-order as opposed to God, governed and controlled by darkness and wickedness. Especially important is the contrast between the “world” and Christ, who came into the world, but does not belong to it. Likewise, believers, in their true identity, do not belong to the world, expressed by the preposition e)k (“out of, from”), as here in v. 6—they come from God, not the world. Again, ko/smo$ is especially frequent in the Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17, occurring 18 times.
    • The noun lo/go$, “account, word, etc” likewise has a special meaning in the Gospel of John, as is clear from its important use in the Prologue (1:1 [3 times], 14). Overall, it occurs 40 times, and 6 more times in the First Letter. In most of these instances there is a layered significance. On the one hand, it is used in the customary sense of “words, speech, thing[s] said”, more or less synonymous with r(h=ma (“utterance, word”); but on the other hand, it expresses the relationship between Father and Son—the Son speaks what he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. Thus the “word” (lo/go$) Jesus gives to his disciples goes beyond any specific teachings; it refers to the revelation of the Father Himself in the person and work of the Son.
    • The verb thre/w (“watch, keep watch over, guard”) is another important Johannine term, occurring 18 times in the Gospel and 7 times in the First Letter. A superficial reading of its use by Jesus might suggest that he is simply referring to a person “keeping” (i.e. following, obeying) his teaching; but clearly there is much more to it than that. The “word” or “command” which one keeps and guards, like the “name”, reflects the very presence of the person himself. This becomes especially apparent throughout the Last Discourse, as the discussion shifts to the promise of the Holy Spirit (the one “called alongside”). The verb thre/w occurs 12 times in the Last Discourse and the Prayer of chap. 17.
    • The verb ginw/skw (“know”, interchangable with ei&dw, “see, know”, etc) occurs 57 times in the Gospel and another 26 in the Letters (about a third of all NT occurrences). In nearly every instance, something more than ordinary knowledge is involved—the emphasis is on recognition of Jesus’ true identity (as Messiah and Son of God) and his relationship to the Father. The verb is used by Jesus 7 times in chapter 17 and another 12 times in the Last Discourse itself.
    • The use of the preposition para/ (“alongside”) in the specific sense of Jesus being (and coming from) alongside of the Father (cf. the prior discussion on v. 5).
    • The verb of being (ei)mi) is used explicitly (and emphatically) quite often in the Gospel of John, as here at the end of v. 7. It frequently carries the specific meaning of true Being and Life which belongs to (and comes from) God the Father.

When we turn to the second statement by Jesus (v. 8), the same three-part conceptual pattern holds, as was outlined above:

    • “the utterances [i.e. words] which you gave [e&dwka$] to me I have given [de/dwka] to them”
      • “and they received (them) [i.e. my words]”
        • “and they knew [e&gnwsan] truly that I came out (from) alongside you,
          and they trusted [e)pi/steusan] that you se(n)t me (forth) from (you)”

The twin statements that close verse 8 emphasize the point made above: knowing (vb. ginw/skw) in the Gospel of John does not involve ordinary knowledge, but is synonymous with trust in Jesus. This verse also makes clear that the verb thre/w does not refer primarily to legal obedience (of Jesus’ commands, etc), but to trust and acceptance of who he is: the Son come from the Father. Receiving his words is essentially the same thing as receiving him (1:12, etc).

This second statement in verse 8 may be viewed as epexegetical, further explaining and building upon that in vv. 6-7. The joining point is the (subordinating) conjunctive particle (o%ti) at the start of v. 8, which is best understood as causal—”in that”, i.e. “because”, “for”, providing the reason for the conclusion in v. 7. The disciples have come to know the truth about Jesus’ relationship to the Father because they have received what Jesus (the Son) received from the Father. The chain of giving is: Father => Son => Believers. Each point in this chain is a point of revelation (‘shining forth’, v. 6a), by which God the Father is ultimately made known to human beings (believers).

In verse 9, Jesus begins a new direction in his prayer, speaking to the Father on behalf of his disciples (believers). We will begin examining this next section (vv. 9-12) in next week’s notes.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:1-5 (continued)

John 17:1-5, continued

Last week, I began a discussion on the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17, looking at verse 1 in some detail. Today I wish to continue on with an examination of the remainder of verses 1-5.

Of particular importance is the use of the verb doca/zw, both in verse 1 and again in vv. 4-5 (and v. 10); the related noun do/ca also occurs several times in the chapter (at the beginning and end, vv. 5, 22, 24). Both words are an important part of the vocabulary of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, especially the verb which is used 23 times (out of 61 total in the New Testament)—7:39; 8:54 (2); 11:4; 12:16, 23, 28 (3); 13:31 (2), 32 (3); 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1 (2), 4, 5, 10; 21:19. There are also 19 occurrences of the noun do/ca1:14 (2); 2:11; 5:41, 44 (2); 7:18 (2); 8:50, 54; 9:24; 11:4, 40; 12:41, 43 (2); 17:5, 22, 24. Unfortunately, it is not easy to give a (consistent) literal translation in English for either verb or noun, as they can differ in meaning and nuance depending on the context, and, in particular, whether the subject/object involves human beings or God (or Christ). While do/ca is typically translated “glory”, in many instances a much better rendering is “esteem”, which more closely captures the fundamental meaning of the word. When used in a religious context, the predominant idea tends to be that human beings are to give to God the esteem and honor which He is due. However, when applied as a divine attribute or characteristic it is better understood in terms of the “splendor” which God possesses, and which surrounds him. In order to capture both aspects, in the special way that the words are used in the Gospel of John, I prefer to translate the verb doca/zw as “give honor (to)”.

There are several key Johannine passages (in the Discourses of Jesus) where the verb is used, sometimes together with the noun, and these need to be considered in order to gain a proper understanding of their usage in chapter 17.

1. Jn 8:50ff. The words are part of the conceptual vocabulary that frames the great Discourse of chapters 7-8 set during the Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) festival in Jerusalem. Thematically, there is a clear symmetric (and chiastic) structure to the discourse-sequence, with the concluding discourse (8:31-59) serving as a parallel to the opening episode (7:14-24). In particular, we may note how the exchange in 8:48-51ff refers back to Jesus’ declaration in 7:18:

“The (one) speaking from himself seeks his own honor/esteem [do/ca]; but the (one) seeking the honor/esteem [do/ca] of the (One) having sent him, this (one) is true and there is not (any) injustice in him.”

The long and increasingly hostile exchange in 8:31-59, sharpens and comes to a climax as Jesus makes the following statement in verse 49, in response to the attack from his opponents that he “has [lit. holds] a daimon“:

“I do not hold a(ny) daimon, but (rather) I honor [timw=] my Father and you treat me without honor [a)tima/zete/ me]!”

This use of the verbs tima/w & a)tima/zw demonstrate how close in meaning the noun timh/ (“value, worth”, often in the sense of “honor”) is to do/ca (“esteem/honor”), especially in this context. Jesus follows in verse 50 with the language of 7:18, using the noun do/ca:

“And I do not seek my own esteem/honor [do/ca]—(but) there is there is the (One) seeking (it)…”

Here we find the same reciprocity (between Father and Son) as we have in 17:1ff—Jesus (the Son) seeks the honor of God the Father, and the Father seeks the Son’s honor. This raises an interesting point regarding the syntax of verses 1-5 and the use of the particle i%na (discussed below).

2. Jn 11:4, 40. In the Lazarus scene, the entire episode—the death of Lazarus and his subsequent resurrection—is for the declared purpose of giving honor/esteem (do/ca) to Jesus; and this, not simply due to the fact that he works a great miracle, but for what it indicates (as a sign) regarding Jesus’ true identity. The purpose is stated by Jesus, to his disciples (and to the readers as well) in the opening portion of the narrative (verse 4):

“This lack of strength [i.e. weakness/illness] is not toward death, but (instead it is) under the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God, so (that) the Son of God might be given honor [docasqh=|] through it.”

In other words, the illness (and death) of Lazarus is under the control of the do/ca of God and serves that divine purpose. The association of do/ca/doca/zw with resurrection here emphasizes again the difference between Jesus’ prayer in 17:1ff and the similar prayer-language used during the Synoptic garden scene (discussed in last week’s study). The “hour” in 17:1 is not that of Jesus’ Passion (his suffering and death) alone, but instead points more directly toward his subsequent resurrection and return to the Father, just as Lazarus’ moment of suffering does not point toward physical death alone, but to the resurrection power possessed by Jesus as God’s Son. The moment of Lazarus’ own resurrection confirms the point (11:40): “Yeshua says to her [i.e. Martha], ‘Did I not say to you that, if you would trust, you will see the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God?'”.

3. Jn 12:23, 28, 41, 43. The portion of the Gospel of John spanning chapters 2-12 forms a clear division in the narrative (sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”), covering the period of Jesus’ public ministry, and comprised of a combination of miracles by Jesus (and other “signs”) and related discourses in which the signs (together with their true meaning) are explained. The words do/ca/doca/zw feature prominently in the concluding scenes of the “Book of Signs” in chapter 12. We already looked at verses 23 and 28 in last week’s study, as they fit so closely with the language used by Jesus in 17:1ff. To these may be added the important, but often neglected, words of the Gospel writer in verses 41-43. As in the Synoptics, Isaiah 6:10 is cited to explain why many of Jesus’ contemporaries were unwilling (or unable) to accept him as the Messiah. The Gospel writer further states that Isaiah “saw his honor/splendor [do/ca]”, by which the original context (the do/ca of YHWH) is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ divine status as God’s Son. There is a clear echo of 8:56-58 in these words (cf. above on the use of do/ca in 8:50, 54). The failure of people to recognize Jesus’ divine do/ca, is further explained, through a bit of ironic wordplay, by the author in verse 43:

“For they loved the honor/esteem [do/ca] of men more than the honor/esteem [do/ca] of God.”

We must keep this Johannine usage of do/ca & doca/zw in mind as we return to examine 17:1-5. The reciprocal language used by Jesus, indicating the intimate relationship between Father and Son, creates certain ambiguities and tensions in the fabric of the text. This is part of the immense beauty and power of the Johannine discourses of Jesus, but it also creates points of difficulty for the commentator. One example is the use of the conjunctive particle i%na to join together the phrases and clauses of vv. 1-2 into a structure and chain of relation. There are actually three connective particles; let us consider them and how the phrases fit together:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousi/a over all flesh
          • (so) that [i%na] (for) all which you have given to him, he might give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

There are two i%na-clauses, both of which are best understood as indicating a purpose or result (i.e. “so that…”). However, the precise relationship between them is not entirely certain. It is possible to view them in more parallel terms, as representing two related results of the Father giving honor to the Son; one might even view this as a chiastic structure:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousia over all flesh
      • (so) that [i%na] for all that you have given to him
    • he might give to them—(the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The sense of reciprocity is perhaps better illustrated in the second (chiastic) structure, and is to be developed by Jesus throughout the Prayer-Discourse. A powerful inter-relationship is established: Father—Son—Believers. As indicated above, the particle i%na in verse 1 is best understood as indicating purpose or result—the Son giving honor to the Father is the result (and end purpose or goal) of the Father giving honor to the Son. However, it is interesting to note that, in the parallel verses 4-5, we find the opposite—that the Father honors the Son as the result of the Son’s work which give honor to the Father. This would allow for the reading of the i%na clause in verse 1 in a causal sense (“in that…”, i.e., “because”). I would maintain that it is, indeed, better to keep to the more natural grammatical sense of i%na indicating purpose/result in verse 1, and to see verses 4-5 as reflecting a reciprocal parallelism with vv. 1-2. This fits with the overall chiastic structure of vv. 1-5, as I noted already last week:

    • The Father gives honor to the Son
      • (so that) the Son may give honor to the Father (v. 1)
        • through the (work) given him by the Father (to complete) (v. 2)
        • the Son has completed the work by him by the Father (v. 4)
      • (and so) the Son has given honor to the Father
    • (thus) the Father will give honor to the Son (v. 5)

It is in vv. 4-5 that we have a clearer indication of the coming death of Jesus, with the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”). Earlier in the Gospel (4:34; 5:36) the verb seems to refer more generally to Jesus’ ministry work (teaching, healing miracles, etc); but here, in the Johannine context, there can be no doubt that the verb, when used by Jesus in the Discourses, must be understood in a comprehensive sense—Jesus’ work on earth (as the Son), culminating in his sacrificial death. This is confirmed by Jesus’ dying words on the cross (19:28), actually a single word in the Greek: tete/lestai (“it is completed”). The verb takes on a somewhat deeper significance later in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 23), when Jesus uses it to refer to the unity that his work achieves for believers, uniting them/us together with Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit. This will be discussed later in these notes on John 17.

Looking at verses 1-5 as a whole, again, it  must be stated that the death of Jesus is not what is primarily in view, despite the general Passion setting and the use of the verb teleio/w in verse 4 (see above). His sacrificial death certainly represents the climax and completion of his work on earth; however, it is this work, taken as a whole, and as a reflection of the relationship between Father and Son, which is the main emphasis in chapter 17 (and, one may say, in the Last Discourse itself). If there were any doubt on this point, we would simply turn to the declaration in verse 3, which stands at the heart of verses 1-5. Many commentators regard this statement, not as the words of Jesus, but as an explanatory aside (comment) by the Gospel writer. This seems likely given the particular formulation, which sounds very much like an early Christian creedal formula, and, indeed, is similar in many ways to the concluding declaration in 20:31. While the objective statement in verse 3 may be, theologically speaking, a bit too precise to fit the historical context of the narrative, it is vital for what it reveals about the identity of Jesus. I discuss this verse in considerable detail in a separate series on the use of the words “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/) in the Gospel of John (soon to be posted on this site), and will not reproduce that here. The expression “life of the Age” (here h( ai)w/nio$ zwh/), typically translated as “eternal life”, is a key Johannine term, appearing many times in the Discourses of Jesus, but also elsewhere in the Gospel and Letters. Here it is given a precise definition:

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

If verse 3 is indeed an explanatory statement by the author, it was triggered by the use of the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ at the end of verse 2. The parallel with verse 4 makes clear that the “work” which the Son (Jesus) completes may be understood as the giving of (eternal) Life to all those (believers) whom God the Father has given to him. This point will be discussed in more detail in next week’s study (on verses 6-10).

Finally, it is worth noting the temporal-keyed statement that concludes verse 5; it should be understood as parallel to the initial declaration of v. 1: “the hour has come”. Again, we must make clear that here, in contrast to the Passion-context of the similar Synoptic saying (cf. last week’s study), this “hour” goes beyond the moment of Jesus’ impending suffering and death, to the completion of the Son’s work on earth, which includes his resurrection and return to the Father. This is confirmed by the statement in v. 5b which further describes the honor/splendor (do/ca) the Son is to receive from the Father: “…the honor [do/ca] which I held alongside you before the (coming) to be of the world”. Note again the parallelism:

    • The hour has come
      • May you give honor the Son (v. 1)
      • Now may you give honor to me, Father… (v. 5a)
    • (in the time) before the world (came) to be (v. 5b)

This coming “hour” marks a return to the beginning (1:1ff)—the Son’s return to the Father in Heaven. As Christians, we are so accustomed to thinking, in orthodox terms, of Jesus’ divine pre-existence, that it is easy to forget (or ignore) how rare this idea actually is in the New Testament. It is not to be found at all in the Synoptic Gospels, nor in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts; it is also quite rare in the Pauline letters (though Paul himself accepted some basic version of the idea), and in the other New Testament letters as well (with the exception of Hebrews). The first generation of Christians appears to have come to a realization of this belief only gradually. While the idea that Jesus, after the resurrection, was exalted to a divine position and status at the right hand of God in Heaven, was widespread, there does not seem to be clear evidence for a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent Deity prior to about 60 A.D. The ‘Christ hymn’ in Philippians 2:6-11 has a descent/ascent conceptual formulation which is generally similar to what we find throughout the Gospel of John. The traditions underlying the Johannine Prologue (1:1-18), and reflected all through the Gospel, probably date from around the same time as the ‘Christ hymn’. One may surmise that it was during the period c. 50-60 A.D. that a distinct belief in Jesus’ pre-existence began to take shape. If it were more widespread by or before this time we would expect to see greater evidence for it throughout the New Testament. In any event, there is no doubt of this belief in the Gospel of John; the pre-existent deity of Jesus is expressed in unmistakable terms, including by Jesus himself in the Discourses. However, the idea is, perhaps, not stated so precisely by Jesus as we find it here in the Prayer-Discourse. The wording in v. 5b seems to hearken back to the opening words of the Gospel (1:1ff). What is unique about the setting in the Prayer-Discourse is the added dimension, developed by Jesus during the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), involving the promise that believers will share in this same glory (do/ca) that the Son has alongside the Father. This will be discussed further in the coming weeks’ studies.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:1-5

Continuing the post-Easter celebration of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, during the upcoming weeks (through Pentecost) in this Monday Notes on Prayer feature, I will be examining the great prayer (or prayer-discourse) of Jesus in John 17. This prayer is unique due to its form and position within the Gospel of John. Like other instances of Jesus’ sayings and teachings in the Gospel Tradition, as they are adapted and included in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ words here reflect a distinctive Johannine discourse format. Indeed, chapter 17 represents the last of the great discourses of Jesus—it serves as fitting conclusion, not only to the Last Discourse sequence of 13:31-16:33, but to all of the prior discourses as well. Many of the words, images, and themes from the earlier discourses are recapitulated and restated here. It is thus proper and fitting to refer to chapter 17 by the term “prayer-discourse”. Even though it is technically a monologue, with Jesus addressing God the Father, certain structural and formal attributes of the discourses can be detected. This discernable literary style, so distinct to the Gospel of John (and absent from the Synoptics), of course, raises questions as to the relationship between chapter 17 as we have it, and the original/authentic words of Jesus. However, this is a question which applies to all of the discourses in John and cannot be limited to Jesus’ Prayer in chap. 17; I will, for the most part, not be addressing it in these notes.

The Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 is extremely rich and complex, and may be outlined or divided numerous ways. At several points, I will offer my own structural analysis; to begin with, it would seem that verses 1-5 have a clear chiastic structure, and can be treated as a unit:

    • Request for the Father to give honor/glory to the Son (v. 1)
      • Jesus’ authority over all the Father has given to him (v. 2)
        • Statement on “eternal life” in relation to the Son and Father (v. 3)
      • Jesus’ work involving all the Father has given to him (v. 4)
    • Request for the Father to give honor/glory to the Son (v. 5)

John 17:1-5

Verse 1

The narrative introduction (v. 1a) to the Prayer-Discourse, with the action/gesture of Jesus described, is similar to the moment of prayer in the Lazarus scene (11:41), and also reflects the earlier episode in 12:27-28ff (see below). The language and imagery, however, is traditional, and can be seen elsewhere in the Gospels, as for example in the miraculous feeding episode (Mark 6:41 par; cf. John 6:5). Overall, in the Johannine context, these simple words take on added meaning:

“Yeshua spoke these (thing)s and, lifting up his eyes unto heaven, said…”

Three details, distinct to the theological (and Christological) language of the Johannine discourses, can be noted here:

    1. On the surface, and at the narrative level, the verb “spoke” (e)la/lhsen) simply refers to Jesus’ words to his disciples after the ‘Last Supper’ (13:31-16:33). However, throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly makes the point that everything he “speaks” (vb. lale/w) or says comes from what he (as the Son) has heard God (the Father) say to him. It is part of the wider Johannine theme of Jesus’ intimate relationship to, and identification with, God the Father. The most relevant passages in this regard are: 3:31-34; 5:30ff; 7:16-18; 8:26-29, 38-40ff; 12:49; 14:10, 24ff; 15:15; cf. also 6:63; 16:13.
    2. Here the verb “lift up” (e)pai/rw) refers to Jesus’ reverent gesture of raising his eyes upward during prayer. However, again, the verb ai&rw (“take [up], lift, carry”), along with others related to “raising, lifting, etc” (a)nabai/nw, u(yo/w), features prominently in the Johannine Discourses. The image of Jesus being “lifted up” has a two-fold meaning: (1) his death on the cross, and (2) his return to the Father—both aspects inform the idea of his being “glorified” (cf. below). Some of the most significant passages are: (a) for ai&rw, 1:29; 10:18, 24, and the resurrection context of 11:39, 41; (b) for u(yo/w, 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 24; (c) for a)nabai/nw, 1:51; 3:13; 6:62; 20:17, and note the contrastive play on words in 7:8ff; 12:20, etc.
    3. Jesus’ act of looking up toward heaven also has special meaning in the Johannine context. The entire thrust of the Last Discourse relates to Jesus’ impending departure, his return back to the Father (in Heaven). Thus the simple gesture of looking up here becomes a theological picture that, in a sense, summarizes the entire setting of the Last Discourse. For this referential point of “heaven” as Jesus’ place of origin and return, cf. 1:51; 3:13, 27, 31; 6:31-58; 12:28.

Jesus’ initial statement, or invocation, in v. 1b, likewise can be divided into three parts—three distinct phrases, from a syntactical standpoint; they can be understood as a step-chain of relation:

    • “Father, the hour has come” (Pa/ter, e)lh/luqen h( w%ra)
      • “may you give honor to your Son” (do/caso/n sou to\n ui(o/n)
        • “(so) that the Son might give honor to you” (i%na o( ui(o\$ doca/sh| se/)

Certainly, the last two phrases form a clause-pair marked by the coordinating particle i%na (“[so] that”). The initial phrase more properly serves as the prayer invocation and could stand apart; however, I prefer to keep the sequential chain intact throughout the entirety of vv. 1-5. Indeed, the temporal statement at the beginning (“the hour has come”) can be seen as parallel to the time indication at the close of v. 5: “before the world(‘s coming) to be”. This demonstrates the stark difference between the Johannine and Synoptic handling of this tradition—i.e. Jesus’ saying that his “hour” (w%ra) has come. In the Synoptic tradition, it refers specifically to his Passion, to the moment of his arrest which marks the beginning of his suffering (and death). It is foreshadowed in Jesus’ prayer to Father (Mark 14:35, cf. also v. 37 par); but the declaration comes in verse 41 par:

“…the hour came [i.e. has come]! See—the Son of Man is given along into the hands of sinful (men)!”

The Matthean version uses a different verb, but has the perfect tense in common with Jn 17:1:

“…See—the hour has come near [h&ggiken] and the Son of Man is given along into the hands of sinful (men)!” (Matt 26:45)

In Luke, the tables are turned and the emphasis is not on Jesus’ hour (i.e. his passion/suffering), but on the evil character of the moment (esp. of Judas and those who take him captive):

“…but this is your hour and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness!” (cf. also 4:13, and note a similar sort of contrast in John 7:6-7)

How different is the feel of the Johannine statement by Jesus in John 17:1! It shares with the Synoptic tradition a Last Supper setting, and, as such, is certainly related to the idea of his impending death, but there is little sense of that in the immediate context of chapter 17. Interestingly, the Gospel of John does retain the traditional association of the expression with Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death), but in a different location, at an earlier point in the narrative (12:23ff):

“The hour has come [e)lh/luqen] that the Son of Man should be given honor [docasqh=|].”

Note the similarity of wording to 17:1, especially the important use of the verb doca/zw; the reference to his suffering and death comes in the illustration (v. 24) and sayings on discipleship (vv. 25-26) which follow. The Gospel of John has nothing like the Synoptic Prayer/Passion scene in the Garden, but Jesus’ declaration in 12:27ff in many ways is similar to it and takes its place. Again, it differs markedly from the Synoptic tradition in two respects: (1) the use of the verb doca/zw gives it a significance beyond the basic idea of his suffering/death, and (2) it includes the Johannine emphasis on the relationship between Jesus (the Son) and God (the Father). Both of these points are central to the setting of the Prayer-Discourse in chapter 17. Thus, even though Jesus’ suffering and death is not principally in view in 17:1, it is still an important component to the idea of Jesus’ being “given honor” or glorified by the Father. It is this that we will explore next week as we examine verses 1-5 in greater detail.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 3 (Lk 22:39-46; Jn 18:1-11)

The Prayer Scene—Mk 14:32-42; Matt 26:36-46; Lk 22:39-46

The Prayer scene in the Garden (or Gethsemane) is one of the most famous and moving portions of the Passion narrative, perhaps because of the powerful dramatic effect of seeing Jesus struggle with human fear and suffering—indicating how far he shared in the human condition (Heb 5:7, etc). The Synoptic Tradition makes this the central scene of the Passion narrative—epitomizing Jesus’ passion, properly speaking. The Markan outline vividly shows Jesus separate from the disciples, taking along with him only three (Peter and the brothers James and John); then he moves further away from them, and prays to God on his own. This movement into prayer takes place by steps:

  • To the disciples: “Sit here until [i.e. while] I speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray]” (v. 32)
    • He moves away, taking Peter, James and John with him (v. 33)
      He begins to be struck (with sorrow) and full (of distress) in (his) mind
    • To the three: “My soul is in pain (all) around until [i.e. to the point of] death! Remain here and stay aroused [i.e. keep awake, keep watch]” (v. 34)
      • He goes forward a little to pray by himself (v. 35a)
        He falls upon the ground (overwhelmed by the moment)

The time of prayer (lit. speaking out toward [God]) begins with verse 35b, where Jesus’ prayer is summarized by the narrator in the context of his Passion:

“he spoke out toward (God) [i.e. prayed] that, if it is possible, the hour [w%ra] might go along (away) from him”

This is then repeated in direct address by Jesus, as part of a three-fold cycle (vv. 36-41a), in which Jesus prays for a time, and then returns to the three disciples to find them asleep. Only in the first instance are Jesus’ words—the essence of his prayer—recorded:

“Abba, (my) Father, all things are possible for you [i.e. are in your power]—(please) carry along this cup (away) from me! But (yet let it not be) what I wish, but what you (wish)” (v. 36)

Following this first time of prayer, Jesus’ address to the disciples (to Peter) is also recorded:

“Shim’on, are you sleeping? Did you not have strength to keep aroused [i.e. awake] for one hour? Stay aroused and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], that you might not come into (the) testing! The spirit has a forward impulse [i.e. is ready/willing], but the flesh is without strength.” (vv. 37-38)

The Gospel writer provides no further words until Jesus’ third (final) return, when he wakes the disciples and gives the climactic declaration in vv. 41-42. The reference to the “hour” (w%ra) is parallel to that in verse 35b and marks the scene as the beginning of Jesus Passion—which will continue with his arrest, interrogation/trial, mistreatment, and death.

The Gospel of Matthew (26:36-46) follows Mark quite closely here, giving even greater definition to the three-fold cycle of prayer mentioned above. Several details serve to enhance and personalize the scene:

    • “he began to be in pain/sorrow…” [a different verb is used] (v. 37)
    • “remain here and keep aroused [i.e. keep awake/watch] with me” (v. 38)
    • “he fell upon his face” (v. 39)

More notable, Matthew records (the essence of) the first two times of prayer, giving us Jesus’ words:

    • 1st: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup go along (away) from me! Yet not as I wish (it), but as you (wish it to be)” (v. 39)
    • 2nd: “My Father, if this (cup) is not able to go along (from me) if not (that) [i.e. unless] I drink it, may your will come to be” (v. 42)

This doubling generally fits what Mark describes in 14:39, but creates a more dramatic moment.

Luke’s account (22:39-46) is rather different from the version in Mark/Matthew, though it clearly derives from the same basic tradition. Much depends on the status of verses 43-44, which are textually uncertain (for more on this, cf. the supplemental note). Commentators are divided on whether or not to include them as part of the original text. I am inclined to regard them as secondary—an ancient interpolation perhaps drawn from authentic (historical) tradition, despite the seemingly legendary quality to the details. If the shorter text is original, then Luke certainly presents a much abridged version of the scene, with two main differences:

    • The three-fold cycle of prayer is replaced with a single time of prayer, followed by Jesus’ return to the disciples.
    • There are two exhortations to pray, which frame the scene (cf. below)

The references to Jesus’ sorrow and distress have also been eliminated—that is, unless we accept vv. 43-44 as original, in which case Luke’s version contains a different (and even more striking) depiction of Jesus’ physical and emotional anguish. The overall tone and tenor of Luke’s account would seem to argue against this portrait in vv. 43-44. The shorter text has a clear chiastic structure (another argument in its favor):

    • Exhortation to the disciples to pray, so as not to come into testing/temptation (v. 40)
      • Jesus withdraws from them and falls down to his knees on the ground (v. 41)
        ——His prayer to the Father (v. 42)
      • He stands up from prayer and returns to the disciples (v. 45)
    • Exhortation to the disciples to pray, so as not to come into testing/temptation (v. 46)

The Lukan form of Jesus’ prayer differs slightly from those in Mark/Matthew, combining elements of both versions (cp. above):

“Father, if you will (it), carry along this cup (away) from me! Yet let your will, not mine, come to be” (v. 42)

This idiom of drinking the cup is a way of expressing the acceptance of one’s destiny, as it has been determined by God. For something of the Old Testament background, cf. Psalm 11:6; 75:9; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15; 49:12; Lam 4:21. Sometimes the image carries the sense of accepting one’s death, as in the expression “cup of death” in the Jerusalem II Targum on Gen 40:23 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 1442).

John 18:1-11

John’s version of the Garden scene is quite different from the Synoptics, and certainly derives from a separate line of tradition. Yet there are certain elements in common which indicate that both lines rely upon a fundamental set of historical traditions:

    • The general location—a place on the slope of the Mount of Olives, though indicated by different designations. John is unique in describing it as a garden spot across the “winter-flowing Kidron” riverbed (v. 1). There may be an allusion here to 2 Sam 15:23.
    • The arrival of Judas (the betrayal) with a crowd of police/soldiers and attendants of the religious authorities (Chief Priests, etc). The tradition that Judas was familiar with the place (v. 2) may have confirmation from the notice in Lk 22:39.
    • Jesus addresses them (spec. Judas) on their arrival
    • The incident of the disciple who cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s slave with a sword
    • Jesus’ words of rebuke in response (in Matthew & Luke, but not Mark), along with a declaration regarding the necessity of these things (i.e. his arrest) coming to pass
    • Jesus is taken into custody by the crowd

The outline of John’s account is quite simple:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 1-2)
    • The arrival of Judas with the crowd—their encounter with Jesus (vv. 3-9)
    • Peter’s violent action and Jesus’ response (vv. 10-11)

The central scene is very much unique to John, both in the way Judas is presented, and, even more so, by the depiction of the crowd’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 4-8). The detail in vv. 2-3 reminds the reader of Judas’ former inclusion as one of Jesus’ Twelve closest disciples, and of the betrayal as he arrives with a crowd of attendants (acting as police) from the Chief Priests, along with (Roman) soldiers (a detail found only in John). After verse 5, Judas essentially disappears from the scene; there is nothing corresponding to Mk 14:44-45 par. His role (as betrayer) was to set Jesus’ Passion and death in motion.

By contrast, the encounter in vv. 4-8 between Jesus and the crowd is striking, with nothing like it in the Synoptics (cp. Mk 14:48-49, for the nearest parallel). Jesus has a commanding presence, and speaks with such authority, so as to cause the crowd to shrink back and fall to the ground. His double declaration of e)gw\ ei)mi (“I am [he]”, vv. 6, 8) is certainly to be related to the earlier I AM statements of Jesus in John, and intended here as a declaration of his identity as the eternal Son of God. As such it carries definite Christological weight, and is a far cry from the portrait of Jesus in the Synoptic version of the Garden episode. In this same spirit is the emphasis on Jesus’ control over the disciples—those given to him by God the Father and left in his care (vv. 8-9). His authority protects them from harm in the moment of his arrest.

It is significant that John’s version contains nothing of the Synoptic depiction of Jesus’ distress and anguish; indeed, there is nothing at all corresponding to the Prayer scene (cf. above), except perhaps for the wording of the concluding declaration in v. 11. A closer parallel may be found at an earlier point in the narrative, in 12:27ff:

“Now my soul has been disturbed, and what may I say? ‘Father, save me out of this hour?’ But through this [i.e. for this reason] I came into this hour.” (v. 27)

The Johannine presentation of the disciple’s rash and violent act with the sword is meant to serve as a decided contrast to the calm authority and control with which Jesus acts. John provides several interesting (and unique) details:

    • The disciple, otherwise unidentified in the Synoptics, is Peter
    • The name of the slave—Malchus
    • Agreement with Luke in specifying the right ear

The latter is a natural development of the tradition; the second would appear (on objective grounds) to be authentic historical information. Only the identification of the disciple with Peter is problematic—how and/or why would the other Gospels have left out this key bit of information if it were part of the original tradition? However one judges the historical-critical question, the identification with Peter is important within the Johannine narrative, as it serves as a parallel to Peter’s role (his denial) in the next episode. His rash act with the sword is, in some ways, an extension of his failure in the denial scene. Often in the Gospel tradition, Peter effectively represents all the disciples, and so perhaps we should understand it here.

Even more significant is Jesus’ response to Peter’s act (v. 11). Matthew and Luke also record (very different) responses; John’s version is closest to the declaration by Jesus in Matthew (26:52-54), at least in its initial words:

“Turn your sword away back into its place!…” (Matthew)
“Cast (your) sword (back) into the sheath!…” (John)

In place of the Synoptic reference to the fulfillment of Scripture (Matt 26:54 par), in John’s version, Jesus’ words echo the Synoptic prayer scene:

“…the cup which the Father has given me (to drink), (indeed) shall I not drink it?” (v. 11b)

John’s account also differs slightly in that he separates the actual arrest of Jesus (v. 12) from the main Garden scene, making it part of the next episode—the interrogation of Jesus before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin)—which will be discussed in the next note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28, 28A (1985).

March 5: Matthew 6:9 (continued)

Matthew 6:9b, continued

In the previous note, we examined the longer invocation to the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew (and the Didache [8:2]): “Our Father, the (One who is) in the heavens”, pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$ (Did. “…e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|“). I pointed out how the expression “…Father the (One) in the heavens”, as well as “(in) the heavens [pl.]” itself, is distinctive to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount, where it occurs numerous times (along with the parallel, “heavenly Father”). Indeed, it is a key thematic phrase within the Sermon, and expresses an important theological principle. The significance of the expression will be examined here in today’s note.

To begin with, let us consider the use of the plural “heavens” (ou)ranoi/). The word ou)rano/$ in Greek refers specifically (according to the ancient cosmology) to the high hemispheric vault (‘firmament’) which covers the earth, separating it from the waters (above), and providing the atmospheric space (air/sky) directly below. It came to be used broadly for the entirety of the skies above the earth, especially when used in the plural—on this traditional usage in the New Testament, cf. Mark 1:10 par, etc. Ancient religious thought tended to view the dwelling place of God (or the gods), in spatial terms, as being in a high location above the ‘vault of heaven’ (ou)rano/$). The divine dwelling-place generally came to be called by this name, whether in the singular or plural (“heavens”, ou)ranoi/). Most of the occurrences of ou)ranoi/ in the New Testament refer to the place where God the Father (YHWH) and other divine beings (“Angels”) reside, and this is certainly so in the Gospel sayings of Jesus.

The extensive use of the plural (ou)ranoi/) in Matthew, however, may also reflect the corresponding word in Hebrew and Aramaic, which is always in the plural—<y]m^v* š¹mayim; Aram. /y]m^v= (always emphatic aY`m^v= š§mayy¹°, “the heavens”). A reconstruction of the Matthean phrase in Aramaic might be: aY`m^v=B! yD! an`Wba& (°A_»ûn¹° dî bišmayy¹°); cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901. Aramaic aY`m^v= has essentially the same range of meaning as oi( ou)ranoi/ in Greek. For Aramaic references in the Old Testament, where it refers to the abode of God, cf. Dan 2:18-19, 28, 37, 44; 4:31, 34; Ezra 5:11-12; 6:9-10, etc. The close association of God with “heaven” is indicated by the fixed (emphatic) expression “the God of Heaven” (aY`m^v= Hl*a$). It is possible that “…Father the (One) in the heavens” in Matthew reflects such a traditional expression in Aramaic.

Whether one attributes the phrase “our Father the (One) in the heavens” primarily to the Gospel writer or to Jesus himself (in Aramaic), there can be no doubt of the importance it has to the Sermon on the Mount, where it occurs six times (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21); the expression “in the heavens” itself occurs again in 5:12, and “the kingdom of the heavens” (par. to “kingdom of God”) also six times (5:3, 10, 19 [twice], 20; 7:21). In addition, we find the parallel expression “(your) heavenly Father” (o( path\r [u(mw=n] o( ou)ra/nio$) four times in the Sermon (5:48; 6:14, 26, 32). Thus there is a definite (and concentrated) emphasis on associating God the Father with “the heavens” in the Matthean Sermon on the Mount, beyond anything we find elsewhere in the Gospel tradition. How is this to be understood?

The main point of emphasis appears to be idea that the behavior of Jesus’ disciples on earth should follow the example of God the Father in heaven. This is clearly expressed in 5:16 and 45, and the principle is summarized powerfully in the declaration of verse 48, whereby, if Jesus’ teaching is followed:

“You shall then be complete, (even) as your heavenly Father is complete.”

When we turn to the instruction in 6:1-18 (of which the Lord’s Prayer is a part), we find a slightly different emphasis: that of a dualistic contrast between common religious behavior by people (on earth) and the behavior of Jesus followers (focused on God in heaven). The principle is well expressed in the opening verse: “you must not do (things) in front of men to be seen by them, otherwise you hold no wage [i.e. reward] from your Father the (One) in the heavens“. The earthly desire and inclination of human beings is to demonstrate one’s religious devotion publicly, and to receive recognition for it from other people. Such recognition, Jesus says, is the only reward such people will receive—i.e. earthly, not heavenly (vv. 2b, 5b, 16b). Jesus’ followers are instructed to behave in just the opposite way—to act privately (“in the hidden [place]”), being concerned only about being seen by God (who is in heaven), vv 3-4, 6, 17-18. When it comes to instruction regarding prayer, the contrast is expressed two ways:

    • Prayer should not be done (publicly) in front of people, especially not for the purpose of being seen/recognized by others for one’s devotion; rather, it should be practiced privately, in one’s inner room (whether understood literally or figuratively), before God alone [vv. 5-6].
    • The importance in prayer is not the number of words/petitions, nor the pious-sounding character of them—characterized by the verb battologe/w (“give a chattering account”) and noun polulogi/a (“account [of] many [words]”). Moreover, even with the best of intentions, it is not necessary to utter everything out loud to God, since the Father (in heaven) knows the all needs of his children (on earth) before any request is made [vv. 7-8].

In all of this there is an implicit spiritual dimension at work, even though the Spirit (Pneu=ma) is not specifically mentioned, neither in the Lord’s Prayer (the variant reading in Lk 11:2b will be discussed), nor in the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. This is in contrast to the Lukan context of the Prayer, where the Spirit it is of the utmost importance. I would, however, maintain that for the Matthean form of the Prayer, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the idea of the Spirit is embedded in the expression “in the heavens”—i.e. the heavenly dimension defined by God’s own Power and Presence. This will be discussed further in the notes which follow.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

Monday Notes on Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer

I am introducing a new feature on this site: Monday Notes on Prayer—a brief critical and exegetical study on a verse or passage related to prayer, to be posted each Monday, as a supplement to the regular Daily Notes and Exegetical Study Series, etc. This first Monday Prayer Note will actually begin a week-long set of daily notes on the Lord’s Prayer—for Christians, certainly the most famous and well-known prayer in all the Scriptures. And yet, there are many textual and interpretive difficulties surrounding this prayer of which the average reader is largely unaware. Translations slant and gloss over some the difficulties, in order to provide a readable and understandable text. For the faithful commentator and exegete, however, it is necessary to dig into the original Greek of the Lord’s Prayer, critically analyzing the language, style, and context within the Gospel narrative. This we will do in this series of notes.

To begin with, as most students of the New Testament realize, there are two different forms, or versions, of the “Lord’s Prayer”—one in Matthew (6:9-13, part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’) and another in Luke (11:2-4). There is actually a third instance of the Prayer in early Christian literature—in the writing known as the Didache (“Teaching [of the Twelve Apostles]”), 8:2, a work which, in the form we have it, likely dates from c. 125-150 A.D., but which may contain earlier traditional material. Some commentators regard Didache 8:2 as a third version of the Prayer, transmitted independently of those in Matthew and Luke. However, a close examination of the text shows, I think, that the Didache form of the Prayer is the same as the Matthean. It follows the Matthean version closely, differing in wording only slightly, so that it can be considered as an adaptation of it. The only question is whether the author/compiler of the Didache (and/or his underlying source material), made use of the Gospel of Matthew directly, or is drawing upon a tradition shared by that Gospel. The former view seems more likely.

That still leaves the two distinct versions of the Prayer, in Matthew and Luke, respectively. The Lukan version is noticeably shorter, and there are a number of other significant differences. This has led commentators to discuss and debate the precise relationship between the two versions. Since the Lord’s Prayer occurs in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark, it technically belongs to the so-called “Q” material. Many commentators regard “Q” as a specific document, rather than a set of traditions considered more broadly; and, for these scholars, it remains something of a question whether the Lord’s Prayer belongs to such a Q-document, or was preserved through a separate line of tradition. This also brings up the historical critical question of whether Jesus himself uttered two different forms of the Prayer, or whether the differences are the result of the transmission and adaptation of a single historical tradition. There are thus several possibilities which must be considered:

    • Matthew and Luke record different historical scenarios, and Jesus spoke a distinct version of the Prayer in each. This takes the text at face value and harmonizes the two accounts, in a manner popular among many traditional-conservative commentators. The substance of the Prayer is largely the same, but Jesus, according to this view, did not adhere to one fixed form when he instructed his disciples on prayer.
    • There is one Prayer—that is, a single historical tradition—which came to be transmitted (and included in the Gospels) in two different versions. According to this view, the differences are primarily traditional, and not the result of editing by the Gospel writers.
    • There is a single “Q” Prayer form (historical tradition), which Matthew and Luke each handled differently; here there are two possibilities:
      • Luke represents the more original form, to which Matthew has added wording, etc, either by his own composition or from a known traditional/liturgical adaptation, or both.
      • Matthew has the fuller (original) form, which Luke has abridged/shortened, modifying the language, perhaps to make it more understandable for a Gentile audience.

The harmonizing approach (first option above) is problematic, for a variety of reasons. One simple difficulty seems obvious, and has been noticed by many commentators: if Jesus gave the instruction in Matt 6:5-13ff to his disciples at the point, and in the manner, described in the Matthean account, how is that the disciples subsequently (at the point in the Lukan account) would have felt the need to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, as they do in Lk 11:1? More to the point, such harmonizing efforts founder on the basic fact that in each Gospel there is just one (historical) account of the Lord’s Prayer. That it occurs at different points in the narrative, and in different contexts, is best explained as the result of a literary, not historical-chronological, arrangement of material.

Each Gospel writer has set the Prayer (a single historical tradition) within a distinctive collection of teachings/sayings of Jesus, according to their own literary/narrative framework. For Matthew, it is part of the great collection of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), which is set at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry—a compendium of the kind of instruction Jesus gave to his disciples during his (Galilean) period of ministry. Luke places it at a different point in the narrative—during the journey to Jerusalem, which the author has expanded (9:51-18:30; cp. Mk 10) to include a wide range of sayings, parables, and other teaching by Jesus (to his disciples). The journey to Jerusalem provides the narrative framework for these Gospel traditions in Luke.

From the standpoint of the development of the historical tradition, Lk 11:1-13 probably reflects an early collection of Jesus’ instruction on prayer (“Q” material), which Matthew has chosen to incorporate within the wider context of his “Sermon on the Mount” framework in a different manner. Indeed, the Matthean location of the Prayer appears to be intrusive. The Sermon structure in Matt 6:1-18 follows a consistent pattern: three areas of religious behavior are addressed—(1) almsgiving (vv. 2-4), (2) prayer (vv. 5-6), and (3) fasting (vv. 16-18)—each according to the principle taught in verse 1. Verses 7-15 (on prayer) disrupt this pattern, suggesting that separate traditions have been included by the author at this point; these may be outlined as follows:

    • Saying[s] of Jesus on prayer (v. 7-8)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9b-13), introduced by v. 9a
    • Saying/teaching of Jesus on forgiveness (vv. 14-15)

This sequence (vv. 7-15) makes for a powerful little homily in its own right. The thematic significance of this setting is discussed below. First, let us compare the Lukan sequence in outline:

    • The Lord’s Prayer (11:2-4), introduced by the narrative summary in v. 1 with the request by the disciples
    • Parable by Jesus (vv. 5-8)
    • Sayings of Jesus on the theme of asking God (to provide for one’s needs, etc), “Q” material (vv. 9-13, cp. Matt 7:7-11)

Each Gospel writer has incorporated traditional material in a different way. We must be careful not to confuse literary arrangement with a strict historical-chronological sequence. Moreover, this literary arrangement gives to the Lord’s Prayer, in each Gospel setting, a different thematic emphasis or thrust.

In Matthew, the main point of the teaching in 6:1-18 is a contrast between religion practiced in front of others, for the purpose (in part at least) of receiving recognition, and true religious devotion which is done privately (“in the hidden/secret [place]”) to be seen only by God the Father. The contrast is between things done ‘on earth’ (in front of other people), and things done in the sight of God the Father, “the One [who is] in the heavens“. The expression “the One (who is) in the heavens” is an important key phrase of the Sermon on the Mount, a fact that must be remembered when examining the Matthean Lord’s Prayer. This contrast between public religious expression (by the masses) and the private devotion expressed by true followers of Jesus informs the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer in context.

The Lukan setting of the Prayer has a rather different emphasis; the structure of the Journey narrative is much more complex than the Sermon on the Mount, but the immediate context (of chapters 10-11) provides several important themes:

    • Disciples following the example of Jesus, in ministry, etc (10:1-12, 16)
    • The presence and power of the Spirit (10:19-20, 21)
    • Authority, revelation, etc, given to the Disciples by Jesus, and, in turn, by God the Father (10:16, 19f, 21-22ff)

These themes govern the presentation of the instruction on prayer in chapter 11—note:

    • The Disciples see Jesus in prayer, and, seeking to follow his example, request that he teach them to pray (as he does) (v. 1)
    • When they ask of God (in prayer) as Jesus does, the Father will answer and give to them (vv. 5-13)
    • The ultimate goal of prayer for Jesus’ followers is the Holy Spirit which God the Father will give to them (v. 13)

There is a deeper theological dimension to the Lukan setting of the Prayer (and one that is more distinctly Christian). Again, it is important to keep these points in mind when examining the Lord’s Prayer, and not to treat it apart from its Gospel context. While it is possible that, at the historical level, the Lord’s Prayer may have originally been uttered by Jesus to his disciples in a different setting, we must admit that, if so, this is now lost to us. What has been preserved is the form of the Prayer as it appears within the narrative setting of the Matthean and Lukan Gospels. The setting of the Prayer in the Didache is secondary, but may be worth noting here in passing. The work is divided into two main parts: (1) The “Two Ways” (1:1-6:2), a dualistic instruction derived largely from the teaching of Jesus (esp. the Sermon on the Mount), and (2) a kind of Church Manual (6:3-16:8) providing instruction for congregations on a variety of religious and practical matters. The Church Manual begins with a brief warning against involvement with pagan culture (in terms of food sacrificed to idols, cf. Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Cor 8-10; Rev 2:14, 20), followed by teaching regarding baptism (chap. 7), fasting (8:1), prayer (8:2-3), and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist, chaps. 9-10). The Lord’s Prayer is cited, almost verbatim, from Matt 6:9-13 (8:2), including the preceding teaching in verse 7 (8:2a), increasing the likelihood that a citation from Matthew is involved. There is really no theological or thematic context to the Prayer in the Didache—it is simply quoted as an authoritative (fixed) prayer, to be recited three times daily (8:3).

The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic?

If we accept that the Lord’s Prayer essentially derives from the words and teaching of Jesus himself (as even critical commentators almost universally admit), then we must consider the likelihood that the Prayer would originally have been spoken (by Jesus) in Aramaic. Even though an Aramaic original of the Prayer is now lost to us, being preserved only in Greek in the New Testament, it is not particularly difficult to reconstruct the Prayer back into Aramaic, such as it might have been spoken by Jesus and the earliest (Jewish) Christians in Palestine and Syria. I will be touching upon this at various points in these notes; however, I though it might be good here, in closing, to provide at least one possible Aramaic reconstruction. For the sake of simplicity, I limit this here to the Lukan version of the prayer; I am also, for the moment, following the Aramaic given by Joseph A. Fitzmyer (something of an Aramaic specialist among New Testament scholars) in his Commentary on Luke (Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28A, p. 901):

°Abb¹°
yitqaddaš š§mak
t¢°têh malkût¹k
laµmán¹° dî mist§y¹° hab
lán¹h yôm¹° d§n¹h
ûš§buq lán¹h µôbayn¹°
k§dî š§báqn¹° l§µayy¹bayn¹°
w§°al ta±¢linnán¹° l§nisyôn

February 18: The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10; Lk 11:2)

The Lord’s Prayer is undoubtedly the most familiar passage in the New Testament. For centuries it was an essential part of the catechism (basic instruction) of Christians, and has been recited regularly in public worship from the early Church period until the present day. So familiar is the Lord’s Prayer, that one may not realize just how remarkable a text it is.

The Prayer is found, in two forms: in Matthew (6:9-13, part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’), and in Luke (11:2-4), both in the context of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Critical scholars generally hold that the Prayer is part of a collection of common sayings and traditions (designated as the source document “Q”, Quelle) shared by Matthew and Luke; however, in the case of the Lord’s Prayer, it could just as easily have come by way of a separate tradition. As with the Beatitudes, the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter, made up of four imperatives (compared with seven in Matthew), with some differences in wording as well.

In these few, concise verses, one finds a multitude of difficulties and questions of interpretation, such as:

    1. What exactly does it mean to “make holy” (a(gia/zw) the name of God?
    2. What does it mean for the kingdom of God to come, and what is the force of the request?
    3. Similarly, what is the force of the request for God’s will to be done w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$ (“as in heaven and/also upon earth” [only in Matthew])?
    4. What is the meaning of the word e)piou/sio$ in Matthew 6:11 (request for bread)?
    5. What are the “debts” (o)felei/mata) we ask to be released from? and what of the variant form of the request in Luke 11:4 which parallels “sin” (a(marti/a) and “debt” (vb. o)fei/lw)
    6. Is our releasing the “debts” of others a prerequisite for God releasing our “debts”, or does it follow as a consequence, or both?
    7. In what sense does God “lead” us into (“bring into”, ei)sfe/rw) testing/temptation (peirasmo/$)? And what does it mean when we pray that he not lead us so?
    8. What exactly is “the evil” (to ponhro/$) and what does it mean to be “rescued” (lit. “dragged [away from]”, r(u/omai) from it/him?
    9. How does the traditional doxology relate to: the prayer as whole, its context in the Gospel, its use in early Christian worship?

For the moment, I will discuss just one phrase, as found in Matthew 6:10a and Luke 11:2b—e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“[let] come your kingdom”, or “[may] your kingdom come”); for two reasons: (1) this request seems to be the focal point of the first half of the prayer, and (2) there is most interesting textual variant here [in Luke] that is worth discussing.

1. Position of the phrase in the Prayer

In Matthew, there are three imperatival phrases in the first half of the prayer:

  • God’s namea(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou (“[let/may] your name be made holy“)
  • God’s kingdome)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“[let/may] your kingdom come“)
  • God’s willgenhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou (“[let/may] your will/wish come to be“)
    to which is added the qualifying phrase w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$ (“as in heaven and/also upon earth”), a phrase which, in a real sense, can be applied cumulatively to all three imperatives

Note that kingdom is in the center, between name and will, and closely connected to both. The “kingdom of God” is traditional Jewish language encapsulating and signifying God’s power, authority, sovereignty, His attributes, and everything related to his work (both in Creation and on behalf of His People). It is a simple, mighty concept, providing (for the ancient world, at least) an immediate sense of greatness and rule. The earthly metaphor of a kingdom is not merely fortuitous: for it expresses, or at least promises, the presence of (God) the king on earth—an expression also at the center of the Gospel message, and centered in the message of the incarnate Son of God—h&ggiken h( basilei/a tou= qeou=, “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.)

In Luke, there just four imperatival phrases in the prayer, the two in the first half identical with the first two in Matthew:

  • God’s namea(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou (“[let/may] your name be made holy“)
  • God’s kingdome)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“[let/may] your kingdom come“)

2. A textual variant in Luke 11:2

There are actual two substantial variants in this verse: (1) at the end of the verse, the majority of witnesses include the text of Matthew 6:10 (the third petition), but almost certainly an interpolation and probably not original to Luke’s version.

(2) The second variant is most interesting: in two late (11th-12th c.) manuscripts (162 700), instead of the petition regarding the kingdom (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou, “[let/may] your kingdom come”), we find (with slight variation): e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$ (“[let] come your holy Spirit upon us and cleanse us”). The same basic variant is also attested in Gregory of Nyssa (4th cent., Sermon 3 on the Lord’s Prayer), and in Maximus Confessor (7th cent., Comm. on the Our Father §4, probably dependent upon Gregory). Earlier, Tertullian (Against Marcion 4:26) mentions a petition for the Holy Spirit along with the petition for the Kingdom; however, the reference is ambiguous (it may have been in Marcion’s version of Luke). There is also a similar petition which occurs in the (Greek) Acts of Thomas (§27). It is possible that the variant is the result of a liturgical notation (an adaptation for Baptism?) which accidentally made its way into the text. However, it is very much worth considering why such a connection might have been made in the early Church.

Perhaps one does not tend to think of the Kingdom of God in terms of the Holy Spirit; but how else are we to experience the Kingdom, how else is it to come upon us—”as in heaven also upon earth”? Gregory, in his Sermons on the Prayer was keenly aware of contemporary disputes—the so-called Macedonian heresy (Pneumatomachoi), which denied full deity (in the orthodox sense) to the Spirit—and took pains to emphasize, on the basis of this passage, that the Spirit possesses all the attributes, including power and sovereignty, of God the Father (and Son). He even goes so far to state, succinctly: to\ de\ Pneu=ma to\ a%gion baslei/a e)stin, “but the holy Spirit is kingship” (PG 44 col. 1157 C). In this regard, the coming of the (Holy) Spirit parallels closely the sanctifying (‘making holy’) of God’s own Name (which, in ancient thought was a way of signifying the Person himself), with the cleansing work in hearts and lives of God’s People: that is, in the temple (or palace—closely related in the ancient world) of the King. Is this not also where we most fully find the God’s will being done…or, at least to pray that it be so?

For more on this particular variant, see the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (second edition, pp. 130-131), and the standard Critical Commentaries.

There is a third ancient version of the Lord’s Prayer, found in the so-called Didache (“Teaching [Didakh/] of the Twelve Apostles”)—an early Church manual, probably dating from the mid-second century, but perhaps containing older material. The second half of the work (chapters 7-15) provides instructions for congregational worship and practice—ch. 8 briefly discusses prayer and fasting, and the text of the Lord’s Prayer is found in verse (or section) 2. This is the longest of the three versions, including the doxology, and is probably derived from the text in Matthew; however, it is at least possible that it came into the Didache through a separate tradition.