September 1 (2): John 14:4-7 (v. 6)

John 14:4-7 (continued, v. 6)

In response to the disciples’ question in verse 5 regarding where Jesus is going (v. 4, cf. the previous note), he answers with the declaration of verse 6, one of the most famous statements in the New Testament:

“Yeshua says [le/gei] to him {Thomas}, ‘I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the way, and the truth and the life—no one comes toward the Father if not [i.e. except] through me.”

Both the statement in v. 4, and the question of v. 5, use the word o(do/$ (“way”) with an adverb/particle (of place) derived from the pronoun po/$ (“who/what/which”):

    • “the (place) which/where [o%pou] I am going…you have seen/known the way [o(do/$]” (v. 4)
    • “we have not seen/known what(ever place where) [pou=] you are going…how can we see/know the way [o(do/$]?” (v. 5)

It seems to suggest a specific location with a distinct path that leads to it (cf. Jesus’ illustration in Matt 7:13-14 par). However, Jesus’ response in verse 6 makes clear that he himself (emphatic pronoun e)gw/, “I”) is the path or way (o(do/$). This point of emphasis is all the more solemn in its use of the pronoun + verb of being (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”), with its Johannine connotation of identifying Jesus with God the Father (YHWH). For other “I am” sayings of Jesus in John, cf. 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 24; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 13:19; 15:1, 5; 18:5; and note also the foreshadowing of the expression in 1:20ff; 3:28, and the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in 1:1-15. Especially worth noting, is the parallel with 14:4-5 in 7:33ff, where Jesus says:

“(It is only) a little time yet (that) I am [ei)mi] with you, and I go away [u(pa/gw] toward the (one who) sent me. You will seek (for) me and you will not find [me], and the (place) where [o%pou] I am [ei)mi] you are not able to come (there).” (vv. 33-34)

There is an interesting parallelism within this saying:

    • ei)mi (“I am”)—Jesus’ presence with the people (i.e. his disciples)
      u(pa/gw (“I go under/away”)—his departure back to the Father
      o%pou (“the [place] where”)—where he is, with the Father
    • ei)mi (“I am”)—His presence with God the Father (1:1ff)

The statement that Jesus goes “toward” (pro/$) the Father is important, and the basic expression occurs numerous times in Gospel of John. In the prologue, the orientation of the eternal Word (Lo/go$) is toward (pro/$) God the Father (1:1-2), and the Son ultimately goes back toward Him (13:1, and throughout the Last Discourse). Similarly, the preposition is used for people (believers) who come to Jesus—toward him, toward the light, etc., as in 3:20-21; 5:40; 6:35, 37, 44-45, et al. It is only in coming toward the Son (Jesus), that is, by believing/trusting in him, that one is able to come toward the Father. This dynamic is not spelled out in detail, but the basic image in the Last Discourse is that Jesus will return (future eschatology) to bring believers with him to the Father (14:3; 17:24, etc). However, at the same time, in a different sense (‘realized’ eschatology), the Father (with the Son) is already present with believers, residing in them (14:23, etc). Both aspects are found in chapter 14, and both should be understood as relating to the idea of Jesus as the way to the Father. That he is the only way was expressed already in the parable/illustration of the shepherd and sheep-fold in chapter 10 (vv. 1-5)—Jesus is both the door leading into the sheepfold (vv. 7-9) and the shepherd who guides the sheep into the fold (vv. 11-16). Something of the same image of the door is certainly implied in 14:6, since Jesus speaks of believers as coming to the Father through (dia/) him.

The motif of the way (o(do/$) was extremely important in the earliest Christian tradition, though, without the book of Acts, this fact would have been almost completely lost to us. One of the earliest names or labels for Christians and Christianity was, collectively, “the Way” (o( o(do/$)—cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22. This is perhaps the most distinctive and precise parallel between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), since both referred to themselves this way. Both traditions would seem to derive from an interpretation of (and identification with) Isaiah 40:3ff, which, in combination with Mal 3:1ff, would be associated with the early Gospel traditions regarding John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—cf. Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4; Jn 1:23. For Isa 40:3 and the religious identity of the Qumran Community, cf. especially the ‘Community Rule’ [1QS] 8:12-16.

Jesus’ declaration in Jn 14:6 expands upon the identification of Jesus with “the way”:

“I am the way, and the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the life [zwh/]…”

Both words are important and occur frequently in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John. Probably here they are best understood as epexegetical, qualifying and characterizing Jesus as the Way—i.e., the “way of truth“, “way of life“—though certainly they can also be viewed as separate (related) “I am” declarations. For the idea of a way leading to life, see Gen 3:24; Psalm 16:11; Prov 6:23; 15:24; 16:17, as well as Jer 21:8 (also Ezek 3:18; 13:22) which prefigures Matt 7:14 and the “Two Ways” religious-ethical tradition that developed in early Christianity (Didache 1-6; Barnabas 18-21). Similarly, the “way of truth” has its background in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—cf. Psalm 86:11; 119:30; Tob 1:3; Wisdom 5:6; 1QS 4:15-16, etc.; the expression is found in 2 Pet 2:2 (cf. also v. 15). The Gospel message is called the “way of salvation” in Acts 16:17; cf. also 18:25-26. There is an echo of Jn 14:6 in the Gnostic text known as the Gospel of Truth (mid-2nd century?):

“This is the gospel of the one who is searched for, which was revealed to the ones who are perfect through the mercies of the Father—the hidden mystery, Jesus, the Christ. Through it he enlightened those who were in darkness. Out of oblivion he enlightened them, he showed (them) a way. And the way is the truth which he taught them.” (translation G. W. MacRae in the Nag Hammadi Library [NHL], ed. James M. Robinson)

Here we see one of the clearest differences between the Gospel of John and the Gnosticism of the 2nd century A.D. In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus himself (i.e. the person of Christ, the Son) is the way. By contrast, in the ‘Gospel of Truth’, the way is the gospel (message), the revelation of truth which Jesus brings to the Elect (believers). This is a seemingly small, but very significant difference, and it thoroughly colors how one understands “knowledge” (gnw=si$) from a Christian (and Christological standpoint). The emphasis on knowledge will be addressed in relation to the final verse (14:7) to be discussed here, in the next note.

September 1 (1): John 14:4-7 (v. 5)

John 14:4-7

The brief exchange in Jn 14:4-7, especially the statement by Jesus in v. 7, is part of the block of material spanning chapters 13-17, a major section of the Gospel of John often referred to as the Last (or, Upper Room) Discourse. It actually represents a series of discourses, joined together in a literary framework, and which may not have been delivered by Jesus all on a single occasion. Jn 13:31-14:31 forms a distinct unit, made up of three parts, each of which follows the basic pattern for the discourses of Jesus in John. I would divine this section as follows:

    • 13:31-38—First Part (Introduction)
      Statement by Jesus, vv. 31-35
      Disciples’ question (Peter), v. 36a
      Jesus’ Response, vv. 36b-38
    • 14:1-14—Second Part
      Statement by Jesus, vv. 1-4
      Disciples’ first question (Thomas), v. 5
      Jesus’ Response, vv. 6-7
      Disciples’ second question (Philip), v. 8
      Jesus’ Response, vv. 9-14
    • 14:15-17Promise of the Spirit
    • 14:18-24—Third Part
      Statement by Jesus, vv. 18-21
      Disciples’ question (Judas), v. 22
      Jesus’ Response, vv. 23-24
    • 14:25-26Promise of the Spirit
    • 14:27-31—Closing Statement

The first section 13:31-38 also serves as an introduction to the Last Discourse as a whole; Jesus’ statement contains three parts, or themes, which run through the discourse(s):

    • Glorification of the Son—his death and resurrection/exaltation (vv. 31-32)
    • His departure from the disciples—death and return to the Father (v. 33)
    • What he leaves for the disciples—the Love command (vv. 34-35)

Chapter 14 deals primarily with the second theme (Jesus’ departure), which forms the basis for the statements by Jesus in vv. 1-4 and 18-21, along with the disciples’ questions. In verses 1-4, Jesus states that he is traveling (poreu/omai) to the Father to make ready (e(toima/sai) a place (to/po$, i.e. rooms) for believers to stay. His statement concludes with the promise in verse 4:

“And where(ever) I (am) go(ing) under [i.e. away], you have seen [i.e. known] the way (there)”

The Greek is more concise than indicated by the translation:

kai\ o%pou [e)gw\] u(pa/gw oi&date th\n o(do/n

There is also a wonderful bit of alliteration which is lost in translation:

hopou egœ hupagœ oidate t¢n hodon

The verb u(pa/gw literally means “lead under”, i.e. to lead/take oneself away, out of sight. It often is used in the general sense of “go away, depart”, but here it is preferable to retain as much of the literal meaning as possible, since it suggests two important themes in context: (a) that Jesus is going to disappear and no longer be seen, and (b) he also shows or leads (a&gw) the way for his followers. The verb ei&dw, as indicated above, has a dual meaning—see/know. The disciples both see the way and know it, that is, to the place where Jesus is going. The verb is a perfect form, oi&date (“you have seen/known”), by which Jesus may imply that they have known from the beginning—in the sense that they have been with Jesus, following him all along. Nevertheless, the disciples’ question (by Thomas) in verse 5, shows that they do not yet fully understand Jesus’ words. This is a common element in the discourses of Jesus—the misunderstanding of those who hear him, prompting a question, such as we see in v. 5:

“Lord, we have not seen/heard where (it is) you (are) go(ing) under [i.e. away]; (so) how are we able to see/know the way (there)?”

As is common in the Johannine discourses, Jesus’ audience takes his words in their apparent sense, unaware of the deeper meaning. In the earlier parallel of 7:33-36, the people are thinking of an actual geographic location, and that may be in the disciples’ mind here as well. At any rate, Thomas’ question assumes a specific way or direction one may follow. The pronoun po$ used as an adverb or particle indicating place (o%pou, pou=), i.e. somewhere, what/which place, suggests a distinct location. The use of the noun o(do/$ (“way, path, road,” etc) is especially significant here in its (figurative) religious and ethical meaning. This will be explained further in the discussion of verses 6-7 which continues in the next note.

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Gnosis and the New Testament: Introduction

“…Spirit and Life”: John 14:6, 9

John 14:6, 19

Today’s note will examine two statements by Jesus in the great “Last Discourse”, set in the narrative on the night of the Last Supper (13:31-16:33 + chap. 17). The entire discourse-scene is extremely complex, bringing in and developing themes which occurred throughout the earlier discourses. Two of these involve “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/)—the very two motifs (cf. Jn 6:63) which are the focus of this series. The latter dominated the first half of the Gospel (chapters 1-12 [32 times]); by comparison, zwh/ appears just four times in the remainder of the book (14:6; 17:2-3; 20:31). It has been suggested that the reason for this is that the Life promised by Jesus, through trust in him, is now coming to fruition as his Passion draws near. A better explanation is simply that there is considerably less teaching by Jesus in chapters 13-20, and it is of a different character—given only to his closest disciples in order to prepare them for his upcoming death and departure (back to the Father). For this reason, the coming of the Spirit takes on greater emphasis and importance in the Last Discourse.

John 14:6

I have discussed the famous saying of Jesus in 14:6 in an earlier pair of notes (on vv. 4-7), and will not reproduce that entire study here. Instead, I wish to focus primarily on Jesus’ use of the word “life” (zwh/) in this saying, in connection to the overall context of the passage, which has to do with Jesus’ departure, introduced in 13:33:

“(My dear) offspring [i.e. children], (it is) yet (only) a little (while that) I am with you—you will seek (for) me, and even as I said to the Yehudeans {Jews}, ‘(the) place where I lead (myself) under, you are not able to come (there)’, and (so) I say (this) to you now.”

This refers back to statements by Jesus during the Sukkoth discourse-scene in chapters 7-8 (7:33-36; 8:21-22), statements made to the “Jews”—that is, the (Jewish) people, as opposed to Jesus’ (Jewish) disciples (i.e. believers). It is now in the Last Discourse that Jesus is speaking directly (and only) to his true disciples (Judas having departed in 13:30). Yet, even his disciples had difficulty understanding this statement, much as the people did earlier. Peter is the first to ask—

“Lord, where [pou=] do you lead (yourself) under?” (13:36a)

to which Jesus responds with a similar statement as in v. 33, but with an important difference:

“The place where I lead (myself) under, you are not able to follow me now [nu=n], but you will follow later [u%steron]” (v. 36b)

To the people, Jesus used the word come, but to Peter he says follow, indicating the role of the disciple who follows his master (and the master’s example). Also, it is only now, at the present moment, that Peter (and the other disciples) are not able to follow Jesus; the promise is that they will be able to follow later on. There is a strong sense throughout the Last Discourse that the disciples are only just beginning to realize the truth about who Jesus is, and to understand the full meaning of his words (the motif of misunderstanding is prominent in all of the Johannine discourses).

Picking up from the tradition of the prediction of Peter’s denial (13:37-38), the exchange which follows in 14:1ff returns to the theme of Jesus’ departure, which now is made more clear—he is going away, back to the Father:

“In my Father’s house there are many (place)s to stay… I am traveling (there) to make ready a place for you” (v. 2)

Readers can find confusing these references to Jesus’ departure, which seem to blend together two distinct contexts (from the standpoint of the traditional Gospel narrative)—(1) his death, and (2) his ascension to heaven. In 13:33ff, Jesus is apparently speaking of his upcoming death, but now, in 14:1ff, the context seems to be his “ascension” to the Father in heaven. These two aspects are interrelated, and have been interwoven throughout the Gospel of John; both are contained in the initial statement by Jesus in 13:31, through use of the verb doca/zw (“give [or regard with] honor/esteem”). The ambiguity of these aspects continues through the Last Discourse, adding poignancy to the exchange between Jesus and Thomas in vv. 4-7:

(Jesus): “And the place where I lead (myself) under, you see [i.e. know] the way (there)”
(Thomas): “Lord, we have not seen where you lead (yourself) under; how are we able to have seen the way (there)?”
(Jesus): “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the way and the truth and the life—no one comes toward the Father, if not [i.e. except] through me…”

In the Gospel of John, seeing and knowing are essentially synonymous—”seeing” Jesus means “knowing” (i.e. recognizing) him. The motif of misunderstanding here in the discourse involves the idea of the way (o%do$). Thomas is thinking of a conventional (physical) path leading to a location, but the true meaning of Jesus’ statement is spiritual—it is not a way up through the clouds to heaven, but the path that leads directly to God the Father through the person of Jesus (the Son). This is made clear by Jesus’ use of the preposition dia/ (“through”), which is often obscured in translation. The way to the Father leads through Jesus. The theological context of the Johannine discourses suggests two main aspects to this way, or path:

    1. it is found through trust in Jesus
    2. it is realized through the presence of the Spirit

It is possible that both aspects are incorporated into the statement in verse 6:

    • “and the truth [a)lh/qeia]”—i.e. trust in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father, who is Truth
    • “and the life [zwh/]”—i.e. the Spirit, given by Jesus to the believer

Ultimately, Jesus identifies himself with all three terms—Way, Truth, and Life—a triad which can be variously interpreted. Does the Way lead to Truth and Life, or does it lead to Truth which then results in Life? Or are the terms meant to be synonymous—i.e. Way = Truth = Life? A strong argument can be made that Truth and Life are to be regarded as essentially synonymous, given the close associations between “Spirit/Life” and “Spirit/Truth”—and that the Spirit is the unifying idea. This would seem to be confirmed by the references to the Spirit which follow throughout chapters 14-16.

John 14:19

The basic message of vv. 1-7ff is restated in vv. 18-21:

    • Jesus’ departure: “I will not leave you abandoned…” (v. 18)
    • Inability of people to come: “(It is) yet a little (while), and (then) the world will no longer see/observe me…” (v. 19)
    • The disciples will see/follow him: “I come toward you… you (do) see/observe me…” (vv. 18-19)
    • Jesus leads the way to the Father: “…you will know that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (v. 20)

In verse 19, the disciples’ seeing Jesus is entirely different that the sight/observance by the “world”; it means trust in him—i.e. disciples are believers. They know/see the truth, which is manifest in the person of Jesus (1:14, 17; 5:33; 8:32, etc). With regard to life (zwh/), Jesus is more specific:

“…in that [i.e. because] I live [zw=], you also will live [zh/sete]”

This reflects the statement in 5:26, of the divine/eternal Life which Jesus possesses (given to him by the Father), and which he, in turn, gives to believers. This theme was prominent in the Lazarus scene in chapter 11 (cf. especially vv. 20-27), and in the earlier discourses as well. That the Life which Jesus gives is to be identified with the Spirit, is relatively clear from a number of passages, as has been discussed in prior notes, and more or less stated explicitly in 3:34. If there were any doubt that the Spirit is in view here in 14:19, one need only look to the preceding verses 15-17, where we find the first specific reference to the Spirit in the Last Discourse. This will be discussed in the next note.