November 13: John 15:15

John 15:15

“No longer do I say you (are) dou=loi, (in) that a dou=lo$ has not seen [i.e. does not know] what his lord does; but I have said (that) you (are) fi/loi, (in) that, all the (thing)s that I (have) heard (from) alongside my Father, I (have) made known to you.”

The final statement in this unit of the Vine-exposition further expounds the declaration in verse 14 (discussed in the previous note), in which Jesus identifies his disciples as those dear to him (“his dear [one]s”). The noun used to express this is fi/lo$ (plur. fi/loi), related to the verb file/w (“have/show affection”)—a verb that is largely synonymous (and interchangeable) with a)gapa/w (“[show] love”) in the Gospel of John. Thus the term fi/lo$ relates to the theme of love, and to the duty (e)ntolh/) of disciples/believers to love each other, that is so prominent in the Last Discourse. For more on the use and significance of fi/lo$, cf. the previous notes on vv. 13 and 14.

Here, in verse 15, fi/lo$ is juxtaposed with the noun dou=lo$, which properly denotes a slave. This creates a stark contrast: a dear friend or loved one vs. a slave. Unfortunately, the term “slave” in English brings to mind certain aspects of slavery that would have been somewhat out of place in the first-century Greco-Roman world. For this reason, many commentators prefer the translation “servant”, but this can be misleading as well, and too general a term, lacking the characteristic of a state of bondage or servitude. In Greco-Roman society, a household slave was not necessarily treated harshly, and could even hold a relatively prominent position in the administration of the house. Cf. the use of the term in 4:51; 18:10, 18, 26.

There are two occurrences of dou=lo$ elsewhere in the sayings/teachings of Jesus that are worth noting. The first occurs in the Sukkot Discourse of chaps. 7-8, within the Discourse-unit of 8:31-47, which deals with the theme of freedom and bondage. The central statement by Jesus (in vv. 31-32) ties this theme to a person’s identity as a disciple:

“If you would remain in my word, (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples], and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

In addition to the principal theme of being a true disciple of Jesus, the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), along with an emphasis on Jesus’ word (lo/go$), makes for a clear connection between this statement and the Vine-exposition (vv. 4-11). In particular, the expression “remain in my word” is precisely parallel with those in the Vine-exposition (“remain in me,” vv. 4ff; “remain in my love”, vv. 9-10); cf. also v. 7: “if you should remain in me, and my words [r(h/mata] should remain in you…”.

Some of the people respond to Jesus’ statement by basing their freedom not on being his disciple (i.e., trusting in him), but on their ethnic-religious identity as ‘children of Abraham,’ along with what that implies—God’s chosen people (Israel), in covenant-bond with Him:

“…we have been enslaved [vb douleu/w] to no one ever, (so) how can you say that ‘you will come to be free’?” (v. 33)

In answer to them, Jesus expounds his statement in two ways. First, he defines freedom and slavery in terms of sin:

“every (one) doing the sin is a slave [dou=lo$] of the sin” (v. 34)

Second, he explains its meaning specifically in Christological terms—that is, in terms of his identity as the Son (of God):

“the slave [dou=lo$] does not remain in the house into the Age, (but) the Son remains into the Age.” (v. 35)

On the surface, Jesus is simply making a distinction between a household slave and a (human) son of the house; however, on a deeper level there can be no doubt that he is also referring to his identity as the Son—one who remains in God’s house forever. In this regard, the two aspects of vv. 34-35 are unquestionably related, since, in the Johannine theology (and the Gospel), sin (a(marti/a, vb a(marta/nw) refers principally to the great sin of unbelief—of failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God (see esp. 16:9).

The second occurrence of dou=lo$ is the saying by Jesus in 13:16 (alluded to also in 15:20):

“a slave [dou=lo$] is not greater than his lord, nor is (one) sent forth [a)po/stolo$] greater that the (one hav)ing sent [vb pe/mpw] him”

This saying comes from the Last Supper scene, in the context of the foot-washing episode (13:4-15), and serves as its culmination. It emphasizes the need for the disciple to follow the example (and command) of his/her master. But there is also, in this saying, a strong Christological emphasis, as in 8:34-35 (cf. above). In the Johannine Gospel, the verbs a)poste/llw / pe/mpw (“send [forth]”) refer primarily to Jesus’ identity as the Son who was sent (to earth from heaven) by God the Father. This implies that a disciple is one who trusts in Jesus as the Son.

In the narrative context of the Last Discourse, the disciples do not yet truly understand the nature of who Jesus is. They have trust, but not yet a true awareness or understanding. Therefore, it is still possible for Jesus to refer to them as “slaves/servants” (dou=loi), as is implied in 13:16. However, with the Vine-illustration, which lies at the center of the Last Discourse, this situation begins to change. Now Jesus says to them, “I no longer [ou)ke/ti] say you (are) slave/servants [dou=loi]…”. The characteristic of the household slave is that, while he is obedient, he does not fully know (or understand) what his master is doing. That has been the disciples’ position up to this point. Now, however, it has changed:

“but (now) I have called you dear (one)s [fi/loi]”

The basis for this change is that now they are beginning to know and understand “what their lord does” —implying a growing awareness in his identity as the Son sent by God the Father. This Christological point is clear from the wording:

“…(in) that all the (thing)s that I (have) heard (from) alongside my Father, I (have) made known to you.”

This has been a key emphasis throughout the Gospel—viz., that the Son’s words come from the Father, that Jesus speaks to believers what he has heard from the Father. He has been doing this all along, but now, during the Last Discourse, it has been revealed to his disciples in a new and more complete way. It begins a process of revelation that will continue, through the presence of the Spirit (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15).

The disciples are to remain in both his word (8:31; 15:7) and his love (15:4ff, 9-10ff), even before the coming of the Spirit (cf. the context of 14:15-21). Ultimately the true disciple (believer) remains in him, in this same way, through the presence of the Spirit.


November 2: John 15:9 (continued)

John 15:9, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 31: John 15:8

John 15:8

“In this my Father is given honor: that you should bear much fruit, and should come to be my learners [i.e. disciples].”

The first section (vv. 4-8) of the exposition/application of the Vine illustration (vv. 1-3) concludes with this declaration by Jesus. God the Father (i.e., the land-worker of the illustration, v. 1) is given honor (e)doca/sqh) when the branches of the vine bear “much fruit”. The verb doca/zw (“give/show honor”) is an important Johannine keyword in the Gospel, occurring 23 times, compared with 14 in the Synoptics combined (Luke 9, Matthew 4, Mark 1). It tends to be used in the second half of the Gospel, being concentrated in the Last Discourse and the Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17. It features in the opening of the Last Discourse (13:31-32), repeating the earlier announcement by Jesus in 12:23 (cf. also v. 28):

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor” (12:23)
“Now the Son of Man is given honor, and God is given honor in him;” (13:31)

The second clause of 13:31 is precisely parallel to the statement here in 15:8:

    • “God | is given honor [e)doca/sqe] | in him [e)n au)tw=|]”
    • “the Father | is given honor [e)doca/sqe] | in this [e)n tou=tw|]

Before examining this parallel in more detail, let us consider 13:32, in which Jesus gives us an exposition of the statement in v. 31:

“[(and) if God is given honor in him,] (then) also will God give him honor in Him(self), and will straightaway give him honor.”

The words in square brackets are missing from a significant range of witnesses (Ë66 a* B C D* L W X P f1 al), and thus may not be original; but, as Brown (p. 606) notes, “it is easier to explain why it may have been lost than why it would have been added”.

Also problematic is the precise meaning (and referent) for the second dative pronoun au)tw=|: “…God will also give him honor in him [e)n au)tw=|]”. The pronoun is apparently being used in a reflexive sense (i.e., “in himself”), but is the reference to God the Father or Jesus the Son? Is the promise that God will give Jesus honor in himself, or in Himself (i.e., the Son in the Father)? The emphasis in the Gospel on the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son makes the latter more likely. If the Father is given honor in the Son, then the Son will be given honor (by the Father) in the Father (“in Him[self]”).

The verb doca/zw properly means “recognize”, usually in the sense of giving recognition to someone—i.e., treating them with esteem or honor; sometimes it can include the idea of raising someone to a position of honor. In the Gospel of John, the verb tends to be used in the specific context of the exaltation of the Son (Jesus). The process of exaltation begins with the suffering and death of Jesus, includes his resurrection from the dead, and then concludes with his return to the Father in heaven. This is clearly the context in which the verb is used in 7:39, 12:16, and here in 12:23 and 13:31-32. The Son’s mission on earth brings honor to the Father (11:4; 14:13; 17:4), and the Son is also given honor (and raised to honor) in the process (11:4; 17:1, 5, 10); ultimately it is God the Father who gives honor to the Son (8:54; 12:28; 17:1ff).

This helps us to understand the parallel between 15:8 and 13:31. The Father is given honor “in this” —believers becoming true disciples of the Son—just as He is given honor in the Son himself (“in him”). Believers, as disciples of the Son, continue the mission of the Son.

By continuing the Son’s mission, and following his example, the disciples (i.e., believers) are part of this same dynamic—bringing honor to the Father, and being honored in return (17:10, 22, 24; 21:19). In 15:8, it is clearly stated that, by bearing “much fruit”, the disciples will bring honor to the Father; implicit is the idea that the disciples (believers) are doing this in (e)n) the Son, indicating that they/we take part in the same relationship between Father and Son. This is very much the message in the chapter 17 Discourse-Prayer, and is an overarching theme throughout the Last Discourse (and elsewhere in the Gospel as well). Consider, for example, the statement in 17:10:

“Indeed, all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and all the (thing)s (that are) yours are mine, and I have been given honor [dedo/casmai] in them.”

When speaking of “all the (thing)s”, Jesus is referring principally to the disciples/believers, as is clear from v. 9: “…the (one)s whom you have given me”, saying of them, “that they are yours”. Believers belong to God the Father, and the Father has given them to the Son, so they also (equally) belong to the Son. Moreover, they are in the Son (and the Son is in them), and thus the honor given/received is shared by both. This relationship of unity is indicated in 14:13, as Jesus tells his disciples:

“And whatever you should request (from the Father) in my name, this I will do, (so) that the Father should be given honor [docasqh=|] in the Son.”

The same emphasis on prayer, with the promise of answered prayer, occurs in the immediate context here (v. 7, discussed in the previous note). The bond of unity is realized through the presence of the Spirit; see, for example, how this relates in 16:14, where Jesus says of the Spirit:

“That (one) will give me honor [e)me\ doca/sei], (in) that he will receive out of th(at which is) mine, and will give (it) forth as a message to you.”

In other words, through the Spirit, the ministry of Jesus continues in/through the disciples (believers), and this gives honor to the Son—and thus also to the Father, since, as it is again stated in 16:15, all things that belong to the Father also belong to the Son (“All [thing]s, as [many] as the Father holds, are mine”).

Returning to verse 8 of the Vine illustration, the Father is “given honor” when the disciples “bear much fruit”. An interpretative crux of the passage involves determining just what, precisely, it means for a disciple/believer to “bear (much) fruit”. We have discussed the matter, initially, in prior notes, but have yet to give it a thorough treatment. Here, however, Jesus himself (as the speaker) offers us a glimpse of the meaning, by effectively identifying the “bearing of fruit” with being a disciple:

“…that you should bear much fruit and should come to be my learners [ge/nhsqe e)moi\ maqhtai/]”

Some manuscripts read the future indicative genh/sesqe, rather than the aorist subjunctive (ge/nhsqe). This would give a slightly different emphasis to Jesus’ statement:

“…that you should bear much fruit, and (so) you will come to be my learners”

The noun maqhth/$ means “learner, one who learns”, but is typically translated as “disciple,” which is accurate enough; certainly, the noun is used in the New Testament almost exclusively for disciples/followers of Jesus. In two other places in the Gospel of John, Jesus (and also the Gospel writer) gives us an indication of what it means to be a true disciple:

    • “If you should remain in my word, (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples]” (8:31)
    • “In this all (people) shall know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples]—if you would hold love among (one) another” (13:35)

The Gospel thus gives two specific criteria for being a true disciple of Jesus—(1) “remaining” in his word, and (2) having love toward fellow believers (“each other”). And since, according to 15:8, “bearing fruit” is essentially the same as being a (true) disciple, then believers who fulfill/exhibit these two criteria are “bearing much fruit”.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next portion of the exposition, vv. 9-11, which introduces a new theme—love and the ‘commandments’ —that very much relates to the line of interpretation discussed here. And exegesis of these verses will give us an even clearer understanding of what it means for the disciple/believer to “bear much fruit”.

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


October 30: John 15:7 (continued)

John 15:7, continued

As we examined in the previous note, there is a close connection between the motif of Jesus’ word (lo/go$ / r(h=ma) and the theme of the believer remaining in Jesus (and he in the believer). This is certainly expressed in v. 7a:

“If you should remain in me, and my utterances [r(h/mata] should remain in you…”

The same idiom—viz., of the word of Jesus (or of God the Father) remaining (or being) in (e)n) a person—is found in 5:38 and 8:37, as discussed in the previous note. The noun r(h=ma (lit. “utterance, something uttered”) is used here in v. 7, but r(h=ma and lo/go$ are largely synonymous, in this context, in the Gospel of John; r(h=ma always occurs in the plural (r(h/mata), being virtually identical in meaning with the plural lo/goi—both referring to specific things taught/said by the Son (Jesus) during the time of his earthly ministry.

If Jesus himself “remains” in the believer (vv. 4-5), then his words also will; similarly, based on the reciprocal nature of the abiding relationship, the believer will remain in Jesus, and also will remain in his word(s) (cf. 8:31). Indeed, the relationship of the believer to Jesus’ word(s) is a demonstration of the truth of his/her relationship to Jesus himself. This becomes an especially important point of emphasis for the author of 1 John. The true believer in Christ remains firmly rooted in Christ’s words (i.e., his teaching, proclamation, witness).

The content of the remainder of verse 7 is a bit surprising. Without any preparation, in the context of the Vine-illustration, there is an abrupt introduction of the theme of prayer (and the answer to prayer). If the believer remains in Jesus, and in Jesus’ words, then, as a result of this condition, the promise is:

“…you may request what ever you might wish, and it will come to be (so) for you.”
[In Ë66*, and a few other witnesses, the final word u(mi=n (“for you”) is absent/omitted.]

This echoes a promise stated elsewhere in the Last Discourse, most notably in 14:12-14 and 16:23-24, 26; it also occurs again at the close of the Vine-illustration (v. 16). In 14:12-14 and 16:23-24ff, the condition for prayer being answered is that the disciple (believer) should make the request of God in Jesus’ name (“in my name”). I have discussed these passages in earlier studies in the Monday Notes on Prayer feature. It is clear that the qualifying expression “in my name” relates principally to the believer’s trust in Jesus—specifically, believing that Jesus is the Son sent from heaven by God the Father (16:27), and recognizing the abiding relationship of unity between Father and Son (14:10ff). The latter is particularly important, since the relationship between Father and Son serves as the pattern for the same kind of relationship between the Son and believers. It is worth citing again Jesus’ words to his disciples in 14:10:

“Do you not trust that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The utterances [r(h/mata] that I say to you I do not speak from myself; but the Father remaining [me/nwn] in me, He does His works.”

Central to the Father’s work [e&rgon] that He does in the Son are the words that He speaks through him. The Son (Jesus) speaks the Father’s words, even as he does the Father’s works. Even if one cannot fully understand the nature (in a purely theological sense) of the abiding relationship they share, one can still trust that the works Jesus does, and the words he speaks, are evidence of this relationship—and of his identity as the Son of God:

“You must trust that I am in the Father, and the Father (is) in me; but, if (you can) not, (then) trust through [i.e. because of] the works (them)selves.” (v. 11)

The one who trusts, comes to share in the same relationship—viz., the believer is in the Son, and the Son is in the believer, just as the Son is in the Father, and the Father is in the Son. As a result, the believer does the Son’s works, even as the Son does the Father’s works:

“Amen, amen, I say to you: the (one) trusting in me—that (one) also will do the (thing)s that I do…” (v. 12)

This sense of the believer’s abiding union with Jesus is at the heart of the Johannine understanding of the expression in Jesus’ name (“in my name”). When requests are made to God from the standpoint of this relationship, then the promise is that they will be answered.

Returning to the version of the promise in 15:7, there is a general parallel with the condition in 14:11:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you”
      “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you…”
    • “You must trust that I am in the Father and the Father (is) in me…
      …trust in the works…”

It is clear that remaining in Jesus is parallel to (and synonymous with) trusting in him (as the Son of God). Similarly, remaining in his words is comparable to trusting in his works. Both the words and works of Jesus testify to his identity as the Son; indeed, there is a intimately close connection between the words (r(h/mata) and works (e&rga)—so as to be virtually equivalent in meaning (cf. the interchangeability of terms in 14:10).

Commentators can focus on the practical implications of these statements regarding the answer to prayer, and miss the theological (and Christological) implications, which are primary in the Gospel of John. The Son (Jesus) hears what the Father says, but the Father also hears what the Son requests. This aspect of the Father-Son relationship is not as prominent in the Gospel, but it does occur at several points—most notably, at the climactic moment of the Lazarus episode; just prior to the miracle, Jesus prays, addressing the Father:

“Yeshua lifted up his eyes above and said: ‘Father, I give thanks to you (for your) favor, (in) that you (have) heard me. Indeed, I had seen [i.e. known] that you always hear me, but I said (it) through [i.e. because of] the throng (of people) standing around (here), that they might trust that you did send me forth.'” (11:41-42)

The purpose of Jesus’ prayer is that people (i.e., those belonging to God) would come to trust in him—that he is the Son sent by God the Father. This is an important emphasis in the Gospel of John: the prayer that takes place “in Jesus’ name”, and which will surely be answered, relates to this mission of the Son. Believers continue the Son’s mission, and are to pray to the Father following the example of the Son. The theme expressed in 11:41-42, and which is central to the Johannine understanding of prayer, is developed in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17. The prayer-references in the Last Discourse, including the reference here in the Vine illustration, anticipate the teaching and message of Jesus to his disciples (and to us as believers) in chap. 17.



October 25: John 15:4 (continued)

John 15:4, continued

The beginning of Jesus’ application of his vine-illustration (vv. 1-3) occurs here in verse 4. It consists of a central statement, followed by an exposition. The central statement, including its featured use of the verb me/nw (“remain”), was discussed in the previous note:

“You must remain in me, and I in you.”

How this statement relates to the vine-illustration is explained, at least initially, in the remainder of the verse:

“Just as the broken (branch) is not able to bear fruit from itself, if it should not remain in the vine, so also you are not (able) if you should not remain in me.”

The verb me/nw occurs twice, not as an imperative, but as a subjunctive, indicating a condition—viz., the condition required for bearing fruit. The condition is formulated from a negative standpoint:

“the branch is not able to bear fruit…
if it should not remain [mh\ me/nh|] in the vine”

The branch not remaining in the vine is qualified by the prepositional expression “from itself” (a)f’ e(autou=). The branch needs to be in the vine in order to bear; it cannot bear fruit (“is not able,” ou) du/natai) on its own, separated from the vine. This principle, derived from the illustration, is then applied to the disciples (believers), using the syntactical configuration “just as” [kaqw/$]… “so also” [ou%tw$ + de/]:

“…so also you (are) not (able to bear fruit) if you should not remain [mh\ me/nhte] in me.”

Clearly, the disciples (“you”) are identified with the branches of the illustration, though this identification is not made explicit until verse 5.

As discussed in the previous note, the context of the illustration (within the Last Discourse) establishes the theological (and Christological) significance of the language used here in verse 4. The Son is (and remains) in the Father, and the Father is/remains in the Son (14:10). The intended relationship between Jesus (the Son) and believers is patterned after this relationship between Father and Son. The pattern extends even to the prepositional qualifier “from itself” (a)f’ e(autou=), as Jesus declares that he does not speak from himself (“from myself,” a)p’ e(mautou=):

“the utterances that I say to you I do not speak from myself, but the Father remaining in me [e)n e)moi me/nwn] does His works.” (14:10b)

This clearly is a close conceptual parallel with what Jesus is saying in 15:4. He remains in the Father (and the Father in him), and so he does not speak “from himself”; rather, the Father is the source of his speaking. This is expressed in terms of the Father doing (vb poie/w) work (e&rgon). As we shall see, this parallel is important for a proper understanding of the motif of “bearing fruit” in the Vine illustration.

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 5, as the application of the illustration to the disciples (believers) is brought more clearly into focus

October 24: John 15:4

John 15:4-8

The application of the Vine-illustration (vv. 1-3) by Jesus follows in vv. 4-15. This has three components, the first of which (vv. 4-8) features the theme of remaining/abiding in Jesus.

John 15:4

“You must remain in me, and I in you. Just as the broken (branch) is not able to bear fruit from itself, if it should not remain in the vine, so also you are not (able) if you should not remain in me.”

In applying his vine illustration (vv. 1-3), Jesus (and the Gospel writer) utilizes an important Johannine keyword: the verb me/nw. I have discussed the Johannine significance of this verb in prior notes and articles. It can be glimpsed by a comparison of usage: me/nw occurs in the Gospel of John 40 times, compared with just 12 in the Synoptics combined (Mk 2, Matt 3, Lk 7); it also occurs 27 times in the Letters of John (24 in 1 Jn, 3 in 2 Jn), giving a total of 67 occurrences in the Johannine writings (plus another in the book of Revelation), which is more than half of all New Testament occurrences (118).

Though me/nw is a common enough verb (meaning “remain, abide, stay”), it is almost always used in a special theological sense in the Johannine writings. Even when it seems to have an ordinary meaning in a narrative context, in the Gospel (e.g., 1:38-39; 4:40), there is often an implied reference or allusion to the theological meaning. There are several important occurrences of the verb just prior to the Last Discourse; the occurrence in the 12:24 saying by Jesus is particularly significant, in relation to the Vine illustration, and was discussed in an earlier note. The concluding statement by Jesus in 12:46 may be cited:

“I have come into the world (as) light, (so) that every (one) trusting in me should not remain [mei/nh|] in the darkness.”

This dualistic light-darkness contrast is an important Johannine theme, established already in the Prologue (1:4-5ff, 9; cp. 1 John 1:5ff; 2:8ff). The world (ko/smo$), in the distinctively negative Johannine (theological) sense of the term, is dominated by darkness (sin, evil, lack of knowledge, etc), and the people of the world are trapped in this darkness. Jesus (the Son) came into the world (from heaven) as light (fw=$) to dispel the darkness and enlighten all those who belong to God. This is the significance of the verb me/nw here: the one who belongs to God may be in the darkness (of the world), but he/she will not remain in the darkness. Such a person will come to the light, trusting in the Son (Jesus).

The verb me/nw occurs three times in the Last Discourse prior to the Vine illustration. The first instance, in 14:10, is fundamentally Christological, referring to the relationship between God the Father and the Son (Jesus):

“Do you not trust that I (am) in the Father and the Father is in me? The utterances [r(h/mata] which I say [le/gw] to you I do not speak [lalw=] from myself [a)p’ e)mautou=], but the Father remaining [me/nwn] in me does His works.”

The Father is in (e)n) the Son, and the Son is in (e)n) the Father—the same sort of reciprocal abiding relationship described between the Son and believers here in 15:4. There is other language, highlighted by the Greek words in brackets above, from 14:10 that is quite similar to what we find in 15:3-4. The terminology of speaking (words/utterances), within the Johannine theological idiom, was discussed in the previous note. The important prepositional expression “from myself” (a)p’ e)mautou=) also finds a parallel here in 15:4, when Jesus states that the ‘branch’ cannot bear fruit “from itself” (a)f’ e(autou=) apart from the ‘vine’. The Son cannot ‘bear fruit’ apart from the Father, and, similarly, the believer cannot apart from the Son.

In 14:17, the first of the Paraclete sayings in the Last Discourse (cf. the earlier note on 14:16-17), Jesus, in referring to the coming of the Spirit (“the Spirit of Truth”), promises that:

“…he will remain [me/nei] alongside you, and will be [e&stai] in you.”

Here the Spirit acts in relation to believers just as Jesus (the Vine) is said to with the disciples (branches) here in v. 4: the Spirit will be/remain in the believer(s). In this regard, the Spirit continues the work of Jesus, even as Jesus (the Son) has been performing the work of the Father. There is an allusion to this in 14:25, where Jesus mentions that “I have spoken these (thing)s to you (while) remaining alongside you [par’ u(mi=n me/nwn]” —precisely the same wording used in the Paraclete saying of v. 17.

This, then, is the immediate Johannine background for the use of me/nw here in 15:4. The verse itself consists of a principal statement, followed by an exposition by Jesus. We begin with the principal statement:

“You must remain in me, and I in you.”
mei/nate e)n e)moi/ ka)gw\ e)n u(mi=n

As noted above, this reciprocal relationship of an abiding union, between Jesus and his disciples (believers), follows the similar relationship (using the same wording) stated between the Father and the Son (Jesus) in 14:10. Just as the Son is in (e)n) the Father, and the Father is in the Son, so also believers are to be in (e)n) the Son, and the Son in believers. The statement in 14:10 also made clear that the Father remains (i.e., abides) in the Son, and, we may assume, the Son remains in the Father. This is also what is expressed, here in v. 4, for the situation between believers (the branches) and the Son (the vine).

It is important to emphasize the wording from the original illustration, where, by the very nature of the vine-motif used in the illustration, the branches are in the vine: “Every broken (branch) in me [e)n e)moi]…”. In other words, the disciples, as branches are in Jesus (as the vine). Even the branches that are not bearing fruit are in the vine. The issue is not one of being in the vine, but of remaining in the vine. The implication is that a branch can cease from remaining in the vine. That this is a possibility for the disciple of Jesus is indicated by the imperative here in v. 4: “You must remain [mei/nate]…”.

Our discussion of verse 4 will continue in the next daily note.

October 23: John 15:3 (concluded)

John 15:3, continued

Having examined verse 3 in detail, word-by-word, in the previous note, we shall now consider the verse in terms of an interpretation of the Vine-illustration (vv. 1-3) as a whole.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the land-worker. Every broken (branch) in me (that is) not bearing fruit, He takes it (away); and every (branch) bearing fruit, He cleans it, (so) that it might bear more fruit. Already you are clean, through the word that I have spoken to you.”

The statement in verse 3:

“Already you are clean, through the word that I have spoken to you.”
h&dh u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste dia\ to\n lo/gon o^n lela/lhka u(mi=n

The first point to make is that the disciples, whom Jesus is addressing in the context of the Last Discourse, are identified as the branches (klh/mata) of the vine. However, unlike the statements in verse 1, this identification is not made explicit (until verse 5). The precise relationship of the branches (disciples/believers) to the vine (Jesus) will be discussed in the upcoming note on v. 5.

The second point is that the time of the cleaning/pruning (kaqai/rw) is now, at the present moment that the disciples are being addressed. The adverbial (temporal) particle h&dh (“even now, already”), in emphatic position at the beginning of the verse, emphasizes this point. As discussed in the previous note, the use of this particle here has eschatological significance, as with the similar usage in 3:18; 4:35. The latter reference is particularly relevant, since it involves a comparable agricultural illustration (cf. the earlier note dealing with 4:31-38), with the particle in a similarly emphatic position. The eschatological significance involves a contrast, related to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine Gospel. In 4:35, the end-time “harvest” (of the Last Judgment, etc) has already come—for both believers and non-believers. Similarly, the pruning of the vine—which typically occurs after the fall grape-harvest, in the dormant season—has already come for the disciples. In this regard, the adjective kaqaro/$ (“clean”) plays on the related verb kaqai/rw (“make clean”) in verse 2.

Third, the adjective kaqaro/$ here alludes to the cleansing of the disciples/believers from sin. It is important to keep in mind the close parallel between v. 3 and 13:10b, in the context of the foot-washing episode (esp. verses 8-11). This was discussed in some detail in a prior note. The basic declaration is: “Already you are clean” (h&dh u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste). The disciples have already been cleansed from sin in a fundamental way; for the idea of the removal of sin, cf. the earlier note on the “Lamb of God” declaration in 1:29. The same verb, ai&rw, in the sense of “take away” (i.e., remove), is used in both 1:29 and 15:2; and the idea of the removal of sin is present in both references. This cleansing allows and enables the disciples/believers to bear “more fruit”.

Fourth, the cleansing takes place, according to Jesus, “through [dia/] the word [lo/go$] that I have spoken to you”. The force of the preposition dia/ (“through”) could be on the word (lo/go$) as the specific means of cleansing, or that simply the cleansing takes place because of (or as a result of) the word Jesus speaks. There are two components of this source of cleansing: (a) the word (lo/go$), and (b) the act of speaking (vb lale/w) by Jesus.

I previously discussed the dual-meaning of the noun lo/go$ (translated loosely as “word”) within the Johannine theological idiom. As is established in the Gospel Prologue (1:1ff), lo/go$ can refer to the Son (Jesus) himself as the incarnation of the living/eternal Word (Logos) of God. On a secondary level, lo/go$ refers collectively to the words/teaching of Jesus during the time of his earthly ministry. Because the specific act of speaking is emphasized, the latter aspect of meaning is primary here in v. 3; however, the idea of Jesus as the incarnate/living Word is present as well.

This Christological concept is implicit from the presence of the Johannine theological idiom—such as the central occurrence of an “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement by Jesus, alluding to his (Divine) identity as the Son of God, along with the emphasis on the Son’s relationship to God the Father (“my Father…”). As I have mentioned, the idea of the Son speaking the words of the Father, utilizing the verb lale/w (“speak”), is an important theme in the Gospel. Cf. the references cited in the previous note. By speaking the Father’s word(s), Jesus demonstrates that he is the Son; moreover, his words are Divine in nature and character, since they belong to God.

But how does the word Jesus speaks cleanse the disciples? This brings us to the final point to be addressed. The key to answering this question lies in the Divine nature of the word. Since God is Spirit (4:24), then His word, which belongs to Him and comes from Him, is also Spirit. The statements in 3:31-35 are especially instructive in this regard, since they bring together three key Johannine themes: (i) the Divine origin of the words Jesus speaks, (ii) the idea of the Father giving to the Son “all things” that belong to Him, and (iii) the specific idea of the Father giving the Spirit (in its fullness) to the Son, who, in turn, is able to give it to believers. This close association between word and Spirit is made explicit by the statement (by Jesus) in 6:63b:

“the utterances [i.e. words] that I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life”

There is a close formal parallel between this statement and 15:3b:

    • “the utterances that I have spoken to you”
      ta\ r(h/mata a^ e)gw\ lela/lhka u(mi=n
    • “the word that I have spoken to you”
      to\n lo/gon o^ lela/lhka u(mi=n

The plural r(h/mata (lit. things uttered, utterances) refers to the specific things Jesus has said/taught, and, in this context, is essentially synonymous with the plural of lo/go$ (lo/goi, “words”). The singular lo/go$ refers to the sayings/teachings of Jesus in a general or collective sense.

The prior statement in 6:63a explains how the word of Jesus, which is Spirit, can cleanse the disciples:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making live [i.e. giving life], the flesh does not benefit anything”

The Spirit communicates life—that is, the life of God, eternal life—to the believer. This dynamic involves the removal of sin and protection from the Judgment (against sin). The association of the Spirit with water (as also with fire), has, as a major point of significance, the concept of cleansing. In giving the Spirit to believers, Jesus “baptizes” them/us with it (1:33), implying that they/we are cleansed (washed); cp. again the foot-washing scene (13:8-11). Cleansing is not the only significance of the association with water; the water-motif also is used to signify being born of the Spirit (3:3-8), and partaking of (i.e., drinking) the Spirit as “living water” which resides within the believer (4:10-14; 7:37-39).

The use of lo/go$ in v. 3 is best understood as general and comprehensive, referring to the teaching and proclamation by Jesus in total. Even so, a certain priority must be given to the teaching in the Last Discourse, since it represents the fullest revelation, given by Jesus, to the disciples. With the departure of Judas (13:29-30), only the close circle of Jesus’ true disciples (i.e., true believers) remains, and he now has the opportunity to instruct them in the truth at a deeper level. This instruction will continue, spiritually, through the abiding presence of the Spirit.

In communicating the word of God, Jesus is also communicating himself as the eternal/living Word. The two aspects of the theological meaning of lo/go$ really cannot be separated in this regard. Jesus communicates the Spirit, but is also himself present in/through the Spirit. The important conceptual parallel, between “remaining in” the Son and “remaining in” the Son’s word (cf. 8:31), will be discussed further as we proceed through these notes.

Saturday Series: John 9:2-3ff

John 9:2-3ff

In the prior studies, it was discussed how the Johannine view of sin involves two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. The first defines sin in conventional ethical-religious terms—that is, as misdeeds or wrongs done by people during the course of their daily life. The second defines sin in terms of the great sin of unbelief—of a failure or refusal to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. These two aspects give to the sin-terminology of the noun hamartía, and the related verb hamartánœ, a dual meaning.

Such dual-meaning is not at all uncommon in the Gospel of John; indeed, it is part of the Johannine style, and can be seen throughout both the Gospel Discourses and narrative passages. Many examples could be cited, such as the use of the common verb ménœ (“remain”) or the verb pair anabaínœ / katabaínœ (“step up / step down”). These verbs can be used in the ordinary sense, in a narrative context. For example, the disciples might “remain” with Jesus (1:39), in the sense of staying in the same dwelling-place, or Jesus may be said to “go up” (lit. “step up”) to Jerusalem, in the ordinary sense of journeying/traveling there (2:13, etc); but these verbs are also used in a special theological (and Christological) sense throughout the Gospel.

Another piece of thematic vocabulary with a dual-meaning is the sight/seeing motif, along with its opposite (privative) aspect of lack of sight (i.e., blindness). A person can see with the eyes, in the ordinary physical sense; but ‘seeing’ in the Gospel also refers to trust/belief in Jesus as the Son of God, with the knowledge of God (the Father) that this brings. Similarly, lack of sight, or a failure to see, can mean a failure to trust in Jesus. The light-darkness thematic pair functions the same way in the Johannine writings, with a comparable dual meaning.

Both the seeing/sight and light motifs feature in the chapter 9 episode of Jesus’ healing of the Blind Man, and both motifs have a dual-meaning within the narrative. Chapter 9 does not contain a Discourse, per se, but the narrative features a number of Discourse-elements. The dual-meaning of these motifs, along with the inability of the audience to understand the true and deeper meaning of them, are elements that feature prominently in the Johannine Discourses.

Sin is also a significant thematic and conceptual reference-point throughout the chapter 9 episode, and it involves both of the aspects/levels of meaning highlighted above. The conventional ethical-religious understanding of sin is emphasized at the beginning of the episode, as the disciples ask Jesus about the relation of the blind man’s disability to wrongs (i.e., sins) that may have been done:

“Rabbi, who sinned [h¢¡marten]—this (man) or his parents—that he should (have) come to be (born) blind?” (v. 2)

Jesus makes clear that, at least in this instance (compare 5:14), the man’s blindness was not the result of any particular wrongdoing (sin):

“This (man) did not sin [h¢¡marten], nor (did) his parents, but (it was so) that the works of God should be made to shine forth in him.” (v. 3)

In other words, as in the case of Lazarus’ illness (and death), the ailment was allowed to exist so that the power and glory of God would be manifest through the healing miracle (“work”) performed by Jesus (see 11:4). Through the miracle, it would be clear (to those who would believe) that Jesus is the Son of God who performs the works of God.

The sight/seeing motif is obviously present in the figure of the blind man himself, but the parallel light motif is introduced, also at the beginning of the episode, in the declaration by Jesus in verses 4-5:

“It is necessary for us to work the works of the (One hav)ing sent me as long as it is day, (for) night (soon) comes, when no one is able to work. When I should be in the world, I am (the) light [fœ¡s] of the world.”

Verse 5 is, of course, one of the famous “I am” (egœ eimi) sayings by Jesus in the Gospel of John. This vocabulary and syntax clearly reveals that sight/seeing motif—like the related light motif—has a special theological meaning that is not immediately apparent at the surface-level of the narrative. At the surface-level, Jesus heals the blind man, allowing him to see (vv. 6-7). This is the ordinary physical/optical sight of the eyes.

It is just at this point, as the people begin to react to the healing, that the sin motif starts to be developed within the narrative. At first, it is the neighbors who react to the blind man’s healing (vv. 8-12), but then the Pharisees, functioning (in the narrative) as a collective group of religious authorities, enter the scene (vv. 13ff). Their role is essentially identical with that of “the Jews” in the earlier healing episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-17). In both episodes, the healing occurs on a Sabbath (5:9b; 9:14), and it is this fact that initially spurs the people’s hostility and opposition to Jesus’ healing work. The Johannine tradition corresponds generally with the Synoptic tradition in this regard (see my earlier articles on the Sabbath Controversy episodes, Parts 45 of the series “Jesus and the Law”).

The religious claim is made that Jesus’ healing work on the Sabbath is a violation of the Torah regulations prohibiting work on the Sabbath (Exod 20:10-11, etc). If such a claim were to be admitted as valid, it would be an example of religious wrongdoing (i.e., sin)—violating the Divine regulations of the Torah—and would make Jesus a sinner (hamartœlós), one who commits sin (hamartía). This, of course, would be sin as defined in the traditional and customary ethical-religious sense (see above). The Pharisees imply that Jesus is a sinner, as one who violates the Torah regulations. This, as other people in the audience recognize, would seem to be at odds with Jesus’ ability to work miracles:

“How is a sinful [hamartœlós] man able to do such signs?” (v. 16)

When the blind man himself is asked about this (“What do you say about him, [this man] that opened up your eyes?”), he responds that Jesus must be a prophet (v. 17). This is significant, in the context of the Johannine theology, since Jesus’ Messianic identity as an Anointed Prophet was established earlier in the Gospel (1:20-21ff; 4:19, 25, 29; 6:14; 7:40). In the Johannine writings, the titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “Son of God” go hand in hand; any true confession of faith will affirm Jesus’ identity as both the Messiah and Son of God (11:27; 20:31; 1 Jn 1:3; 2:22; 3:23; 5:20). However, according to the developed Johannine Christology, it is not enough to believe that Jesus is the Messiah; one must also trust that he is the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, sent from heaven to earth by God the Father.

At this juncture, about halfway through the narrative, the focus shifts from a conventional ethical-religious understanding of sin (aspect/level 1) to the distinctive Johannine theological/Christological understanding (aspect/level 2). This is expressed in a subtle way at the beginning of verse 18:

“The Jehudeans [i.e. Jews] then did not trust [ouk epísteusan] concerning him…”

In the immediate narrative context, this refers to an unwillingness to believe that the blind man had actually been blind. Yet this response actually reflects an unwillingness to believe in the miracle performed by Jesus, as a work of God, performed by the Son of God. Thus, there is implicit here a clear reference to a lack of trust in Jesus (in the Johannine theological sense). Their lack of trust is demonstrated further by the blunt declaration that Jesus is a sinner: “Give honor to God, for we have seen that this (man) is a sinner [hamartœlós]” (v. 24). Now apparently admitting the reality of the healing, the people (“the Jews”) recognize that God must be responsible for it. They thus essentially confess that the healing was a work of God, but that Jesus could not have been responsible, since he “is a sinner”.

The Johannine theology creates a profound irony here. In claiming that Jesus is a sinner, the people are actually showing themselves to be sinners, committing the great sin of unbelief. It is this theological aspect of sin that dominates the remainder of the narrative; at the same time, the true and deeper meaning of the sight/seeing motif also comes to the fore. True sight means trusting in Jesus as the Son of God; and true blindness (lack of sight) is the lack of such trust.

The climax of the narrative (vv. 35-41) demonstrates this Christological emphasis most vividly. Having been given sight in the ordinary physical sense, the man now begins to see in the true and deeper sense of trusting in Jesus. The question Jesus poses in verse 35 is:

“Do you trust in the Son of Man?”
sý pisteúeis eis tón huión toú anthrœ¡pou

Some manuscripts read “Son of God” rather than “Son of Man”, presumably because (quite rightly) “Son of God” is the more appropriate title for a confession of faith. However, two points must be kept in mind. First, in the Gospel tradition, the expression “son of man” often functions as a self-reference by Jesus, as a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”; thus, the question in verse 35 can be taken as essentially meaning “Do you trust in me?”. Secondly, in a number of the “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel, Jesus is clearly identified (or identifies himself) with a heavenly being, who is sent to earth as a representative of God, to act in His name. In the Gospel of John, in particular, the title “Son of Man” refers specifically to Jesus’ heavenly origin, as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father (1:51; 3:13f; 5:27; 6:27, 53 [in light of vv. 33, 38, 41ff, 51], 62; 12:23; 13:31). In any case, the manuscript evidence overwhelmingly favors the reading “Son of Man” as original here in v. 35.

The true/deeper meaning of the sight-motif is made explicit in verse 37: “Indeed you have seen [heœ¡rakas] him…”. The man’s confession of faith comes in verse 38 (“I trust, Lord”), indicating that now he truly does see. By contrast, those who do not trust in Jesus are truly blind. They are also sinners since they commit the great sin of unbelief; and, indeed, they face judgment from God on the basis of this sin:

“(It is) unto [i.e. for] judgment (that) I came into this world: (so) that the (one)s not seeing should see, and (that) the (one)s seeing should become blind!” (v. 39)

The Pharisees, still thinking of blindness in the ordinary (physical) sense, respond with puzzlement to Jesus’ declaration, asking, “(Surely) we are not also blind?” (v. 40). The episode concludes with a final expository declaration by Jesus, in which he identifies the true meaning of both sin and blindness as being a refusal to trust in him (i.e., unbelief):

“If you were blind, you would not have sin; but (since) now you say that ‘we see’, your sin remains.” (v. 41)

This statement is a rich trove of wordplay, utilizing the Johannine theological vocabulary. Next week, we will examine verse 41 in more detail, along with 15:22-24, in which a similar message is expressed. This follow-up study will demonstrate the way in which the theological/Christological understanding of sin is emphasized in the second half of the Gospel.

October 13: John 15:1b

John 15:1, continued
Verse 1b

“and my Father is the land-worker”
kai\ o( path/r mou o( gewrgo/$ e)stin

As discussed in the previous two notes (1, 2), verse 1 represents the central statement/saying by Jesus for the Discourse-unit 15:1-16:4a of the Last Discourse. It is also an example of what I call essential predication in the Johannine writings. These simple predicative statements contain three elements: (1) subject, (2) verb of being, (3) predicate. They are almost exclusively theological, insofar as they apply to a Divine subject (God, or Jesus as the Son of God). The verb of being itself is of theological significance, as I have discussed. The predication is deemed “essential” because the statements declare the essential identity and attributes of the Divine subject.

Two kinds of such predication are paired together here in the verse 1 statement by Jesus. First there is a self-predicative statement, an example of the “I am” sayings in the Gospel; Jesus declares what he is; the second, parallel, statement has God (the Father) as the Divine subject. As I have discussed, with this “I am” self-predication, Jesus is effectively identifying himself as the Son of God, and, as such, the predication involves his relation (as the Son) to God the Father. This is quite clear in regard to the parallel statements here:

“I | am | the true vine
my Father | is | the land-worker”

Consider the parallelism of the three elements:

    • Divine subject:
      “I” (e)gw/) [the Son of God]
      “my Father” [God the Father]
    • Verb of being:
      “am / is” (ei)mi / e)stin)
    • Predicate:
      “the true vine” (h( a&mpelo$ h( a)lhqinh/)
      “the land-worker” (o( gewrgo/$)

As noted above, I would argue that the “I am” formula itself implies Jesus’ identity as God’s Son; however, this is made explicit here by the way Jesus refers to God the Father (El-YHWH) as “my Father” (o( path/r mou).

The idea of El-YHWH as “Father” has ancient roots, going back to the earliest Old Testament tradition, and its Semitic/Canaanite religious background. The supreme Creator God (El, la@, the “Mighty [One]) was considered to be the “Father” of all beings—both divine and human. For the ancient Israelites, YHWH was the Creator, identified with the Creator El (as recognized by their ancestors); and, as such, the same religious conception of the Creator as “Father” of all divine and human beings automatically applied to YHWH (Deut 32:6).

Beyond this, YHWH was considered to be the “Father” of the Israelite people, in a special sense. This paternal motif was rooted in the unique covenant-bond between YHWH and His people. The Israelites could be called God’s “sons (and daughters)”, or by the singular “son” (in a collective sense). For the key Scriptural references, cf. Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; 11:1; Isa 43:6; 63:8 [7]; Jer 31:9. As an extension of this covenantal, figurative concept of the father-son relation, the king, functioning as a representative of the people, was also considered to be God’s “son” (2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 2:7; 89:27-29  [28-30]; Isa 9:6-7 [5-6]). This motif was applied, in particular, to David and his dynastic line (cf. 2 Sam 7:14; 1 Chron 17:13; 22:10; 28:16). Through this association, the idea of the king as God’s “son” came to be understood in a Messianic context, with the related passages (cited above) interpreted in a Messianic sense by Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D.

Thus the title “Son of God”, with its underlying religious-theological concept, was readily applied, in this Messianic sense, to Jesus in the Gospels and early Christian tradition. For more on the subject, cf. Parts 6-8 and 12 of my series “Yeshua the Anointed”. And this background informs the various references by Jesus to God (YHWH) as “Father” and “my Father” in the Gospel tradition.

The Gospel of John builds upon this tradition, developing the Father-Son theme in the context of the distinctive Johannine theology. This theology is expressed primarily by Jesus himself, in the Gospel Discourses. In the Discourses, Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as “the Son”, and to God the Father as “the Father” or “my Father”; compared to the usage in the Synoptics, this language is far more frequent in the Gospel of John. Only rarely is the actual title “(the) Son of God” used (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4; cf.  1:34, 49; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31), however it is unquestionably implied in all the Son/Father references. Indeed, the theme of Jesus’ relationship (as the Son) to the Father is central to the Discourses, and to the Johannine theology as a whole.

In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus is God’s Son in much more than the traditional Messianic sense; rather, he is the eternal and pre-existent Son who was with God the Father in heaven from the beginning (1:1ff; 17:5). Throughout the Discourses, it is emphasized that Jesus (the Son) was sent from heaven to earth by God the Father; often the (traditional) title “Son of Man” is used when referring specifically to this heavenly origin (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). This distinctively Johannine theological/Christological orientation will be discussed further as we proceed through these notes.

Having established the importance of the Divine Father-Son relationship in verse 1, let us consider the specific predicative statement in 1b, with the Father (“my Father”) as the Divine subject. Jesus states that “my Father is the land-worker”. The predicate is the articular (arthrous) noun o( gewrgo/$. Given the parallel with the vine (a&mpelo$), the noun a)mpelourgo/$ could have been chosen instead. An a)mpelourgo/$ is literally a “vine-worker” —one who tends and works the vine (cf. Luke 13:7; LXX 2 Kings 25:12; 2 Chron 26:10; Isa 61:5; Jer 52:16). However, the noun gewrgo/$ has a broader range of meaning; it literally means “worker of the earth” —i.e., one who does work [e&rgon] on/in the earth [gh=].

The noun gh= can be rendered specifically as “land, ground”, and this would be more appropriate here in the agricultural (or viticultural) context of working on a vine. However, one should not overlook the theological implications of the word gh=, alluding to the cosmic context of the entire surface of the earth—i.e., the entire inhabited earth/world. God the Father is the Creator of the earth, whose creative work on the earth (and among human beings) is continuous, a work that is shared by His Son (cf. 5:17ff, 36; 10:25ff, 37; 14:10-12, etc).

The noun gewrgo/$ can refer to different kinds of work on the land/ground, including that of farming (cf. James 5:7; 2 Tim 2:6). Here, of course, the context is of work in a vineyard or garden; the term “gardener” would not be inappropriate as a loose rendering of gewrgo/$. The word is rare in the New Testament, but it features in one of the Synoptic parables of Jesus (Mark 12:1-9 par), where it similarly refers to people working on vines (in a vineyard).

From a paradigmatic standpoint (cf. the prior note), the parallel predicative statements tell us something significant about the relationship between the Father and Son. If the Son is identified as a vine, the Father is identified as the one who works on/around the vine, tending it and caring for it. As we shall see from the remainder of the illustration, this work is primarily described in terms of pruning the vine, enabling it to bear more and richer fruit.

As with the noun gh=, we should not overlook the component term denoting work (e&rgon) that is built into the compound noun gewrgo/$. This alludes to a significant theme in the Gospel of John, focused on the relationship between the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. The Son shares in the Father work, doing the same work that the Father does; at the same time, the Father works through the Son. This theme is especially prominent in the chapter 5 Discourse, which has, as its central saying by Jesus, the statement in v. 17:

“My father works [e)rga/zetai] (even) until now, and I also work [e)rga/zomai]”.

The implication is that Jesus (the Son) is doing the same work (healing, raising the dead) as God the Father. This provocative implication was not lost on those who heard him, producing a hostile reaction (v. 18). In the remainder of the Discourse (vv. 19-29ff), the theme of the Son doing the work of God is developed further (see esp. verses 20, 36), and, indeed, can be found all throughout the Gospel—cf. 4:34; 9:3-4; 10:25ff, 32ff, 37-38; 14:10-12; 15:24; 17:4. Of special interest is the statement in 6:29, where doing the “work [e&rgon] of God” is specifically defined as trusting in the one (i.e., the Son, Jesus) whom the Father sent to earth (from heaven).

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 2, and the continuation of the Vine-illustration.

October 12: John 15:1a (continued)

John 15:1, continued
Verse 1a

“I am the true vine”
e)gw/ ei)mi h( a&mpelo$ h( a)lhqinh/

In the previous note, I discussed the position of this “I am” saying of Jesus as the central statement of the Discourse-unit 15:1-16:4a. The background and theological significance of the “I am” formulation was also examined, in relation to the phenomenon in the Johannine writings that I call essential predication. These simple predicative statements, made up of three elements, utilizing the verb of being (ei)mi), declare what the subject is—i.e., stating the subject’s essential identity and attributes.

In the Johannine writings, essential predication is reserved (almost exclusively) for a Divine subject—that is, God, or Jesus as the Son of God. Thus Jesus, in making these predicative “I am…” statements, is effectively declaring his identity as the Son of God, and, with it, his relationship to God the Father. This is particularly clear here in 15:1, where Jesus’ self-declaration as the Son (“I am…”) is paired with a predicative statement about God the Father (“my Father is…”).

In one major class of “I am” sayings, Jesus identifies himself with an object or feature of the natural world—e.g., bread, light, shepherd, or, in this case, a vine (a&mpelo$). First, let us outline again the three elements of this predicative statement:

    • Divine subject: “I” (e)gw/)
    • Verb of being: “am” (ei)mi)
    • Predicate: “the true vine” (h( a&mpelo$ h( a)lhqinh/)

The first two elements, in combination (“I am,” e)gw/ ei)mi), were discussed in the previous note. It remains to analyze the third element (the predicate). It consists of an arthrous (i.e., with the definite article) noun and a modifying adjective (also with the article).

h( a&mpelo$ (“the vine”)—Jesus thus identifies himself as a vine, with the word a&mpelo$ denoting specifically the coiling and clinging tendrils of the grape-vine. The related noun a(mpelw/n refers to a place where vines are grown (i.e., vineyard). In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus told several parables with a vineyard setting (Mark 12:1-19 par; Matt 20:1-16; 21:28-32; Luke 13:6-9), but the only other specific use of a vine-motif occurs in his saying at the last supper (Mk 14:25 par). The association between the fruit of the vine and Jesus’ death is significant, and is due to the obvious similarity between the juice of the red grape and blood (cf. Rev 14:18-19). This point will be discussed later on in our notes.

Since it makes little sense for a person to identify him/herself with an actual growing vine, it is quite clear that the use of the vine-image is figurative, serving as a metaphor. There is ample precedence for this in Old Testament tradition, most notably in the use of the vine/vineyard to represent the people/nation of Israel—cf. Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Jer 2:21; 6:9; 12:10; Ezek 19:10ff; Hosea 10:1. The vine/vineyard motif features prominently throughout the Song of Songs; this is imagery inherited from ancient Near Eastern love poetry, but, as the Song came to be interpreted allegorically by Jews and Christians (i.e., of God’s love for His people, etc), it relates to the prophetic passages cited above. In Wisdom tradition, the vine (or its fruit, wine) occasionally serves as a figure for wisdom (e.g., Sirach 24:17ff), though, more commonly, there are negative associations with the image of wine (as a symbol of sin and its judgment).

h( a)lhqinh/ (“the true”)—The figurative and symbolic character of the vine in 15:1 is clarified by the use of the modifying adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”). The fundamental meaning of this adjective is “unhidden, unconcealed”, but it tends to be used in the more general sense of “true”, as also the similar adjective a)lhqh/$. The distinction between a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$ is fine; but the latter, particularly as it is used in the Johannine writings, tends to connote something real, in contrast to that which one might consider to be real (but is not).

The a)lhq– word-group is especially important and prominent in the Johannine writings. The noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) occurs 25 times in the Gospel (compared with 7 in the Synoptics combined), and another 20 times in the letters, making 45 in all (nearly half of the 109 NT occurrences). The adjective a)lhqh/$ occurs 14 times in the Gospel (compared with 2 in the Synoptics), and 3 times in the letters—more than half (17) of all NT occurrences (26). The adjective a)lhqino/$ occurs 9 times in the Gospel (and only once in the Synoptics), and 4 times in the letters; if one adds the 10 occurrences in the book of Revelation (considered as a Johannine work), then nearly all of the NT occurrences (23 out of 28) are Johannine.

The adjective a)lhqino/$ is somewhat less common than a)lhqh/$ in the Gospel (9 occurrences compared with 14). However, it’s usage is of particular importance, particularly given the closeness in meaning to a)lhqh/$; if the one adjective is used rather than the other, it likely is intended to convey something specific or distinctive. The other eight occurrences of a)lhqino/$ are:

    • 1:9— “He was the true light, that gives light to every man, coming into the world.”
    • 4:23— “…the true worshipers will worship the Father in (the) Spirit and (in) truth”
    • 4:37— “…the saying is true, that…”
    • 6:32— “…but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven”
    • 7:28— “…I have not come from myself; but the (One) (hav)ing sent me is true, whom you have not seen [i.e. do not know]”
    • 8:16— “…and yet, if I should judge, my judging is true, (in) that I am not alone, but (it is) I and the (One) (hav)ing sent me, (the) Father”
    • 17:3— “And this is eternal life: that you should know the only true God, and the (one) whom He sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”
    • 19:35— “and the (one) having seen has given witness, and his witness is true…”

We may isolate three important theological themes related to this usage of a)lhqino/$:

    • Truth is a fundamental attribute and characteristic of God Himself—17:3; also 7:28, and implied in 8:16 and 4:23
    • The words and actions of Jesus (the Son) are true, because of his relationship to God the Father (the One who sent him to earth)—7:28; 8:16; the theme of the truthfulness of a witness is also present in 19:35
    • An essential association between the Spirit and truth—4:23f; cf. also 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; and 1 John 4:6; 5:6.

As we proceed through these notes, we will consider how all three of these points of emphasis apply to Jesus as “the true vine”.

The closest formal parallels to 15:1a are in 1:9 and 6:32, where Jesus is identified with the true form/version of a natural object or feature—viz., the “true light [fw=$]” and the “true bread [a&rto$] out of heaven”. The distinction “true” (a)lhqino/$) is applied in contrast to the ordinary physical/material thing (light, bread). In other words, a physical loaf of bread may seem to be real/true, but it is not so; the real (i.e. true) bread is eternal and spiritual, and is found in/with the person of Jesus (the Son). In the chapter 6 (Bread of Life) Discourse, the point of reference is the tradition of the “bread from heaven” (i.e., the manna) in the Exodus narratives (Exod 16:31ff; Psalm 78:24, etc). The manna was an actual physical substance, but it was not the true bread from heaven. Similarly, the ordinary light by which we see (with our physical eyes) is not the true light (cf. 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5ff; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5, 7; 2:8-10).

Applying this same logic to our passage, an ordinary grape-vine is not the true vine—for that is found only in the person of Jesus the Son.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the second half of the verse 1 saying.