“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”
Verses 16-17 represent the conclusion of the Vine-illustration section (15:1-17). These two verses reprise a number of key points and teachings from the illustration (and its exposition), stringing them together in summary fashion. The result, in verse 16, is an extremely awkward Greek sentence—the awkwardness of which is quite evident in the literal translation above.
It will be helpful, I think, to focus on each individual clause or phrase. While the syntax of the sentence may be convoluted, it actually represents a coherent statement from the standpoint of the Johannine theology. The phrases and clauses form a sequential and relational chain, which functions better on the narrative and theological level than it does on the grammatical.
“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out,
but I (who) gathered you out”
ou)x u(mei=$ me e)cele/casqe
a)ll’ e)gw\ e)celeca/mhn u(ma=$
The verse begins with a pair of parallel contrastive phrases, centered on the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”). To gather (le/gw, mid. le/gomai) someone out (e)k) essentially means to “pick out,” i.e., select or choose. This compound verb preserves the fundamental and primary meaning of le/gw (“collect, gather”); in the New Testament, it is only used in the middle voice (e)kle/gomai). The verb is relatively rare in the NT, occurring just 22 times; it is something of a Lukan term, occurring 11 times in Luke-Acts. Within the Gospels, it only appears once outside of Luke and John (Mk 13:20).
In the Gospel of Luke, e)kle/gomai is part of the Lukan version (6:12-16) of the Synoptic account of Jesus’ selection of the Twelve (cf. Mk 3:13-19). These twelve disciples were specially chosen by Jesus to serve as his representatives, to carry out an extension of his mission. Mark’s account describes this process by a series of verbs, whereby Jesus
- calls them toward him—vb proskale/w (mid. voice)
- he made them (vb poie/w) to be his close associates
- so that he might send them forth (vb a)poste/llw) to continue his mission
The designation a)po/stolo$ (apóstolos, one “se[n]t forth”) is derived from the latter verb (a)poste/llw, apostéllœ).
The Lukan account is much more streamlined, with the three principal verbal actions by Jesus expressed with greater precision:
- “he gave voice toward [i.e. called to] his disciples” (vb prosfwne/w)
- “and he gathered out from them twelve” (vb e)kle/gomai)
- “whom he named (as one)s (he would) send forth [a)posto/loi]” (vb o)noma/zw)
Just as in Jn 15:16, Jesus is said to have “gathered out” (vb e)kle/gomai) his close disciples. However, the Johannine use of the verb in this context has deeper theological meaning, as we shall see.
There are three other occurrences of the verb in the Gospel of John. The first is in 6:70, part of a narrative (and discourse) unit (vv. 60-71) that functions as an appendix to the chap. 6 Bread of Life Discourse. In this unit, the disciples of Jesus are now his audience, and he is addressing his words specifically to them. The response to his teaching (cf. the discourse-unit of vv. 60-65) proves to be a test of discipleship—do they truly trust in him, and will they continue to follow him? It is here that vv. 66-71 foreshadows the setting of the Last Discourse (including the narrative introduction in chap. 13).
As in the Last Supper narrative, Peter and Judas represent two different kinds of disciples—the true and the false. It is in this context, following Peter’s confession of faith (vv. 68-69), that Jesus makes the statement: “Did I not gather out [e)celeca/mhn] you, the Twelve?” (v. 70). On the surface, Jesus’ words simply echo the historical tradition (Lk 6:13, cf. above). However, the parallel with chap. 13 (and the ensuing Last Discourse) indicates that there is a deeper meaning here as well. This can be glimpsed by considering the contextual parallel between 6:70 and 13:18:
- “Did I not gather out you, the Twelve? And yet, one of you is a diábolos!”
- “I do not say this about all of you; (for) I have seen [i.e. I know] (the one)s whom I (have) gathered out…”
In the foot-washing episode (13:4-16), Jesus speaks to his disciples and gives them important instruction regarding what it means to be a true disciple. Yet, here in v. 18, he declares “I do not say this about all of you”. As in 6:70, he is making a veiled reference to Judas’ status (as a false disciple). Judas was allowed to remain in the circle of disciples up to this point so that “the Scripture would be fulfilled…” (v. 18b)—that is, it was necessary for Judas to fulfill his determined role in the coming suffering and death of Jesus. With the departure of Judas, out into the darkness of the world (v. 30), only the true disciples of Jesus remain, and it is to them that he addresses the Last Discourse.
Jesus knows the ones who are truly his disciples (“I have seen…”), referring to them again by way of the verb e)kle/gomai: “…whom I (have) gathered out [e)celeca/mhn]”. Only now, the sense of how this verb is being used has shifted. It no longer follows the context of the original Gospel tradition regarding the choosing of the Twelve (cf. above). In that context, the Twelve are “gathered out” from the other disciples of Jesus, being specially chosen as his close associates and missionary representatives. Now, in the Johannine Gospel setting of the Last Discourse, the distinction is between the true disciple (represented by Peter) and the false disciple (i.e., Judas).
On a wider level, from the standpoint of the Johannine theology, the real distinction is between the true disciple (i.e., the true believer) and the world (o( ko/smo$). As I have discussed, the noun ko/smo$, in the Johannine writings, tends to be used in distinctively negative sense, referring to “the world” as a domain of darkness and evil that is fundamentally opposed to God. Ultimately, the true disciple (believer) is gathered out of the world. This, in fact, is how the verb e)kle/gomai is used in 15:19, just a few short verses after our sentence (v. 16):
“If you were of [e)k] the world, the world would have affection [vb file/w] (for you as) its own; but (it is) that you are not of [e)k] the world—rather, I (have) gathered you out [e)celeca/mhn] of [e)k] the world, (and) for this (reason) the world hates you.”
This same theological emphasis runs through the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (vv. 6, 11, 14-16, 18). The believers are not of (e)k) the world, but have been taken out of (e)k) the world and its darkness.
Here in v. 16, Jesus makes clear that it was he (the Son) who “gathered out” the believers, choosing them to be his disciples. The negative particle precedes the pronoun u(mei=$ (“you”), which means that the emphasis is on the pronoun—viz., “it was not you who chose…”. It was Jesus who chose the disciples, and not the other way around. Ultimately, it is the Father who “gathers out” the believers from the world, and gives them to the Son (Jesus). This is abundantly clear from the wording in chap. 17 (vv. 2, 6f, 9-10ff), but it can be seen elsewhere in the Gospel as well (e.g., 3:35; 6:37, 39, 44ff, 65; 10:29; 13:3).
In this regard, it is worth pointing out that Jesus (the Son), in his own way, stands as one chosen (i.e. “gathered out”) by God the Father. In the Gospel tradition, this refers to the Messianic identity of Jesus (cf. the use of e)kle/gomai in Lk 9:35; cp. 23:35, and Jn 1:34 [v.l.]). However, in the Gospel of John, overall, the Christological understanding has developed, so that the emphasis is now on the identity of Jesus as the Son sent from heaven by the Father. He was sent to earth by the Father to fulfill his mission, a mission which believers inherit and are expected to continue.