January 11: Baptism (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12)

Baptism: Union with Christ and Participation in His Death

The unique contribution made by Paul to the early Christian understanding of baptism was his emphasis on the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Elsewhere, he makes use of the simple symbolism of washing (vb lou/w), i.e., the earlier/original idea of a cleansing of sin, referring to the waters that (symbolically) wash away a person’s sins—1 Cor 6:11; also Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5. However, when it comes to the distinctly Christian development of the dunking/washing ritual (baptism)—(1) being performed “in the name of Jesus”, and (2) the association with the Holy Spirit (cf. the previous two notes)—Paul gave to these elements of the ritual a greater theological depth and significance. He did this primarily through his emphasis on the participatory aspect; that is to say, baptism symbolized the believer’s union with Jesus Christ, and, with it, a participation in Jesus’ own death.

Romans 6:3-4

This was very much a theological emphasis of Paul’s, even when there was no particular reference to baptism—see, most notably, Galatians 2:19-21 (also 5:24; 6:14). The central idea is that, through trust and union with Jesus, we die to sin (and its power). This goes a step beyond the traditional religious requirement of repenting from one’s sins; it means that the believer in Christ is actually dead to the power of sin. For Paul, it is the sacrificial death of Jesus that accomplishes this, freeing humankind from bondage to sin. This is the central tenet of Pauline soteriology, best and most fully expounded in chapters 5-8 of Romans; and it is in Romans 6:1-11 that Paul draws upon the baptism ritual to illustrate how believers have died to sin (and so must think and act accordingly). The ethical, paraenetic thrust of the passage is clear from the rhetorical question posed in verse 1 (“Shall we remain upon sin…?”), and which Paul answers himself in verse 2: “May it not come to be so! We, the (one)s who died away to sin, how shall we yet live in it?”. This leads to the argument based on the significance of Christian baptism:

“Or, are you without knowledge that, we, as (many) as were dunked [e)bapti/sqhmen] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death? So we were buried together with him through the dunking [ba/ptisma] into the death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of the dead through the honor/splendor of the Father, so also we should walk about in newness of life.” (vv. 3-4)

The concluding exhortation in v. 4 is part of the ethical instruction Paul is giving in these verses, but it, in turn, is based on a key theological and Christological point: we should “walk in newness of life” because we are united with both Jesus’ death and his resurrection:

“For if we have come to be planted together in the likeness of his death, (it cannot be) other (that that) we will also be (in the likeness) of his standing up (out of the dead)…. And, if we died away with (the) Anointed, we trust that we also will live together with him, having seen [i.e. known] that (the) Anointed (One), (hav)ing been raised out of the dead, does not die away any longer, (and) Death no longer acts as Lord (over) him.” (vv. 5, 8-9)

This idea of baptism symbolizing our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection does not appear to be part of the earliest Christian understanding of the dunking ritual (based on the evidence in the book of Acts, as discussed in the previous notes). How, then, did Paul come to emphasize and develop this particular aspect? Several factors seem to be involved. First, it is a natural development of the ritual action—i.e., stepping down into the water represents death, while emerging again indicates the beginning of new life. And, even though this symbolic dimension was, it seems, not part of either the Johannine dunkings or the earliest Christian baptisms, it is known from contemporary initiation rituals (in the mystery cults, etc). Tertullian specifically notes the similarities (On Baptism 5.1), and, indeed, it is to be expected that early Christians (and perhaps as early as Paul) would come to interpret baptism in a corresponding way.

Second, the ritual meal (the Lord’s Supper) specifically signified a participation of believers in Jesus’ death, and it would be natural for the baptism ritual to take on a similar significance. Unfortunately, we have precious little detail in the New Testament on how the earliest Christians viewed the Lord’s Supper, but the Gospel tradition, attested in multiple sources (Mark 14:22-25 par; 1 Cor 12:23-26ff; cf. also John 6:51-58), suggests that the ritual would have carried this meaning from the earliest times.

Third, it is a natural development of the fundamental belief that believers are united with Jesus. This union means that we are also joined with him in his death, and all that was accomplished in it. Note how Paul has developed the traditional idea of being baptized “into [ei)$] the name of Jesus” (cf. the earlier note), and the expression which would have signified that a person belonged to Jesus, as his trusting follower. Now, however, in Rom 6:3, Paul speaks simply of being baptized “into [ei)$] the Anointed Yeshua” —that is, into the person of Jesus himself. This is essentially equivalent with idea of being “in [e)n] Christ”, an expression (and theological statement) used repeatedly by Paul (8:1-2; 12:5; 1 Cor 1:30, et al), including here at the close of the passage (v. 11).

Finally, though sometimes overlooked, we have the Gospel tradition of the saying of Jesus whereby he refers to his suffering and death as a “dunking” (i.e. baptism, ba/ptisma); there are two ‘versions’ of this saying:

“Are you able to drink (of) the (same) drinking cup that I drink (from)? or to be dunked [baptisqh=nai] (with) the (same) dunking [ba/ptisma] that I am dunked [bapti/zomai]?…” (Mark 10:38f)
“And I hold a dunking [ba/ptisma] (that I am) to be dunked [baptisqh=nai] (with), and I am held (tight) together until the (time when) it should be completed!” (Luke 12:50)

The Markan version, with its pairing of the cup and the “dunking”, effectively establishes both Christian rituals—Lord’s Supper and Baptism—as being fundamentally tied to the disciple’s participation in Jesus death.

Colossians 2:12

The participatory aspect of baptism is stated again in Colossians 2:12, and in similar ethical, exhortational context—cf. verse 6: “So, as you received the Anointed Yeshua, the Lord, alongside, you must walk about in him [e)n au)tw=|]…”. This is the familiar Pauline idea of being “in Christ”, and is repeated in verses 10-11:

“…and you are in him [e)n au)tw=|] having been made full, (in the one) who is the head of all chief (rule) and authority, in whom [e)n w!|] also you were cut around [i.e. circumcised]—a cutting round [i.e. circumcision] done without hands, in the sinking out (away) from the body of the flesh, in the cutting round of (the) Anointed—”

The statement regarding baptism follows:

“(hav)ing been buried together with him in the dunking [ba/ptisma], in whom [e)n w!|] also you were raised together, through the trust (you have) of the (power) of God working in (it), the (One hav)ing raised him out of the dead” (v. 12)

This is precisely the same dying and rising with Christ theme expressed in Rom 6:3-4, stated more concisely in context of the framing concept of being “in Christ”. What is notable here is the way that Paul (accepting the genuine authorship of Colossians) blends baptism together with the motif of circumcision, suggesting that the ritual dunking holds a similar place for believers (in the New Covenant) as circumcision did for Israel (in the Old Covenant). This is the only place in the New Testament where such a parallel is drawn; however, the comparison here is perhaps better understood in terms of the nature and significance of the ritual action—that is, of cutting away the flesh. It very much fits the Pauline idea of the believer as a new creation, having set aside the old nature of things that had been in bondage under sin; indeed, this is the aspect Paul emphasizes here, when he refers to the ‘putting off’ (lit. sinking out away from, a)pe/kdusi$) the “body of the flesh”, as a snake would shed its skin. The same point is made in verse 13, uniting even more closely the motifs of baptism and circumcision:

“and you, being dead [in] the (moment)s of falling alongside, and in the (outer) edge of enclosure of the flesh, he (has) made you alive together with him, (hav)ing shown favor to you…”

I have translated the noun a)krobusti/a quite literally as “(outer) edge of enclosure”, rendered more commonly (and correctly) as “foreskin” (i.e. of the male genital organ). The paraptw/mata are the failings or sins (lit. “[moment]s of falling alongside”) of the believer, especially those committed while still under bondage to the power of sin. The “foreskin” signifies the outermost part of this old condition, and thus that which is most dead. Through trust in Jesus, and symbolized by the baptism ritual, this ‘old nature’ is cut off and put away—the believer dies to the old and comes alive again to the new.

This symbolic dimension of baptism is more frequently expressed with clothing imagery—i.e., of removing an old garment and “putting on” one that is new. This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we explore Paul’s understanding of the role of the Spirit in the baptism ritual.

Saturday Series: 1 John 5:13-21 (continued)

1 John 5:13-21, continued

Verses 13-21 of 1 John 5 form the conclusion of the letter; last week, we examined the first section (vv. 13-17), and now it remains to explore the final four verses. This portion is notable, since it serves as an effective summary of the letter’s message, and, indeed, of the Johannine theology as a whole. It may be divided into four components—the three principle statements of vv. 18-20, along with a closing (if cryptic) exhortation in verse 21. Each of these contains at least one significant critical issue, and, in addressing them we can again illustrate the principles and methods of Biblical Criticism at work.

To begin with, we have the three main statements in vv. 18-20; each begins with the first person plural perfect indicative verb form oídamen— “we have seen“, which can also be rendered “we have known“. The verb eídœ properly means “see”, but is also used equivalent to ginœ¡skœ (“know”). In the Johannine writings, especially, the motifs of seeing and knowing are interchangeable and go hand in hand.

1 John 5:18

We have seen [oídamen] that every (one) having coming to be (born) out of God does not sin, but (rather) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God guards him, and (so) the Evil does not attach (itself to) him.”

There are two text-critical questions which are key to a proper understanding of this verse. In addition, there is an important point of interpretation, related to the issue of sin and the believer. Let us begin with this last point.

Sin and the Believer (revisited)

The primary message of vv. 18-20, and of 1 John as a whole, is centered on the identity of the true believer in Christ. The letter essentially begins and ends with the question of the believer’s relationship to sin. The question is both theological and practical, centered on the apparent contradiction that a believer both can, and cannot, commit sin. In 1:6-2:2, it is clear that the author understands that believers do sin, and yet, following this, we have the declarations in 3:4-10 (esp. vv. 6, 9) that the true believer does not (and cannot) sin. Likewise, in 5:13-17, it is understood that believers commit sin (but not the sin that is “toward death”), yet here again, in verse 18, is a declaration (nearly identical with that in 3:9) that the true believer does not sin. How can such seemingly contradictory statements be harmonized or explained?

We have discussed this thorny question several times in previous studies (on 2:28-3:10, and last week on 5:13-17). Let me here briefly summarize four ways of interpreting these passages:

    • The sinlessness of the believer represents the ideal, to which every Christian should seek for his/her own life; it is realized essentially through our union with Christ, but still has to be experienced practically through faithfulness to Christ (and the guidance of the Spirit) in daily life.
    • The intended contrast is between occasional sins by the believer (that are confessed and forgiven, 1:7, 9) and a pattern of sinfulness that characterizes the person and their true identity.
    • The believer is sinless insofar as he/she remains in Christ. Sin occurs when the person (momentarily) falls out of this union; however, through forgiveness, he/she is restored. This line of interpretation draws on the Vine illustration by Jesus in John 15—the forgiven believer is ‘grafted’ back in to the vine.
    • Believers may commit occasional sin, but no true believer can sin in the sense of violating the great two-fold command (3:23-24, etc)—the only command binding for believers. Violation of the two-fold command is the sin, which no true believer can ever commit.

There are certainly elements of truth to each of these lines of interpretation; however, what is important here is how the author of 1 John understood the matter. In my view, the overall evidence from the letter itself, taken in combination with key parallels in the Johannine Gospel, suggests that the last (fourth) option above is to be preferred as the primary emphasis. Especially important is the theological vocabulary involving the noun hamartía and the related verb hamartánœ—on this, see the summary in last week’s study. The significance of sin in 1 John (and the Johannine Gospel) relates fundamentally to trust in Jesus—in other words, sin is defined not in terms of immorality or religious failing, but as unbelief. To be sure, the author would have taken for granted that true believers would live moral and upright lives, but that sort of ethical instruction is not what is being emphasized in the letter. Throughout, the author’s arguments center on the two-fold command (stated succinctly in 3:23-24), stressing that the ‘false’ believers (called “antichrist”) who separated from the Community have demonstrated both a lack of true belief in Jesus and a lack of true love for others.

Of special importance is the identity of the true believer defined in terms of being born of God, utilizing the verb gennᜠ(“come to be, become”) in its uniquely Johannine sense of coming to be born out of God. That was the language used in 3:9f and again here: “every one having come to be (born) out of God does not sin”. Instead, the believer, born out of God, is protected from evil—particularly from the evil of “antichrist”.

Textual Criticism

The main text-critical question in verse 18 involves the substantive participle (with definite article) ho genn¢theís. This is an aorist participle, parallel to the perfect participle (of the same verb) earlier in the verse. The perfect participle is the more common Johannine usage, especially when referring to believers—i.e., as “the (one) having come to be (born)”, ho gegenn¢ménos. It is not immediately clear whether the aorist form, similarly meaning “the (one hav)ing come to be (born)”, refers to the believer or to Jesus. The verb gennᜠis almost always used of believers in the Johannine writings (Jn 1:13; 3:3-8ff, etc), but Jesus is the subject at least once, generally referring to his human birth/life, in 18:37. That some copyists understood both occurrences of the verb here in verse 18 as referring to believers is indicated by the manuscripts that read the reflexive pronoun heautón (“himself”) instead of autón (“him”); with the reflexive pronoun, the verse would read:

“every (one) having coming to be (born) out of God does not sin, but (rather) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God guards himself…”

That is to say, the believer guards himself/herself from evil, i.e. so that the true believer will not sin. This makes the verse more of an ethical exhortation than a theological statement. In a few manuscripts and witnesses, the meaning is clarified by reading the noun génn¢sis (“coming to be [born]”, i.e. birth) instead of the participle genn¢theís. According to this reading, it is the spiritual birth itself that protects the believer. While this is closer to the Johannine theology, it is almost certainly not the original reading. Even though the verb gennᜠ is rarely used of Jesus in the Johannine writings, it would seem to be the best way of understanding the statement in verse 18. Believers are children of God, having come to be “born out of God”, just as Jesus, the Son of God came to be “born out of God” (Jn 1:12-13, 14, 18). Our union with God the Father is based on our union with Jesus the Son, and it is his sinlesseness (and power over evil) that protects us from sin and evil.

The second text-critical question involves the substantive adjective (with definite article) ho pon¢rós, “the evil (one)”. There is a certain ambiguity with this language—does it refer to the evil that is in the world, or to an evil person, the “Evil One” (i.e., the Satan/Devil). The same sort of ambiguity occurs, famously, in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13), but a much closer parallel is found in the the Prayer Discourse of Jesus in chap. 17 of the Johannine Gospel, where Jesus prays that God would protect his disciples (believers) from “the evil” (17:15), using the same verb t¢r霠 (“keep watch [over]”) as here in v. 18. Most likely, the author is thinking in terms of “the Evil (One)”, the Satan/Devil who is the opponent of God and controller of the evil in the world; however, in the Johannine theology, there is little difference between the evil in the world and the Evil One who dominates the world, as is clear from the statement in v. 19.

1 John 5:19

We have seen [oídamen] that we are out of God, and (that) the whole world is stretched out in the Evil.”

Here the contrast is between believers—again using the motif of being born out of God—and the world. This is a key point in the Johannine theology, expressed many times in both the Gospel and Letter. The usage of the word kósmos (“order, arrangement”, i.e. world-order, how things are arranged in the world) in the Last Discourse(s) of Jesus (chaps. 14-17) is quite close to that in 1 John. It is in those chapters that Jesus most clearly establishes the conflict between believers (his disciples) and the world (kósmos)—see 14:17ff, 27, 30-31; 15:18-19; 16:8-11, 20-21, 28, 33, and all through chap. 17 (where kósmos occurs 18 times). The noun occurs almost as frequently in 1 John (24 times). The world—the current world-order—is dominated by darkness and evil. Jesus was sent by God the Father into the world, to free believers from its power; now believers remain in the world, but we are no longer dominated by the power of sin and evil.

That the current world-order is thoroughly and completely evil is clearly expressed here in verse 19: “the whole world is stretched out in the evil”. Here the substantive adjective ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) is perhaps better understood as a domain or kingdom, rather than a person. It is where the world lies stretched out (vb keímai), though this could still be personified as the hand or presence of the Evil One. According to the author of 1 John, those ‘false’ believers who separated from the Community went out into the world, into the domain of evil. True believers, by contrast, do not belong to the world.

1 John 5:20

“And we have seen [oídamen] that the Son of God comes here (to us), and has given to us (the ability to work) through (the) mind [diánoia], (so) that we would know the (One who is) true, and (indeed) we are in the (One who is) true and in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

This is the third and final oídamen-statement; these statements reflect a theological progression which may be outlined as follows:

    • Believers are protected from sin and evil, since they/we are “born out of God”, even as Jesus (the Son) was “born out of God”.
    • As ones “born out of God”, believers do not belong to the world, which is thoroughly dominated by Evil.
    • This birth allows believers to know and recognize the truth—the truth of God and His Son (Jesus), with whom they/we are united. This is also the truth of their/our identity (as true believers).

The first verb and tense used are curious—the present tense of the relatively rare h¢¡kœ, “he comes here” (h¢¡kei). We might rather expect the past tense—i.e., he came, and so now we can know the truth, etc. Perhaps the closest parallel is in 8:42 of the Gospel:

“…for I came out of God, and come (to you) here [h¢¡kœ]…”

The present tense indicates the immediate encounter of human beings with Jesus the Son of God, in the present, prompting either trust or unbelief as a result. This is a present reality for all people, both believers and unbelievers alike. The truth of who Jesus is stands as the essence our identity as believers. Moreover, we continue to encounter him, in the present, through the presence and work of the Spirit.

By freeing believers from the power and influence of the evil in the world (and the Evil One), it is possible for them to know and recognize the truth—and this truth has two aspects or components: (1) the truth of God Himself (and His Son), and (2) the truth of our identity as believers, that we are in God (and in His Son). The substantive adjective ho al¢thinós (“the true”) is parallel with the substantive ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) in vv. 18-19, and there is a similar sort of ambiguity—does it refer to that which is true, or the one who is true? Here, the context more clearly indicates that it refers to a person, namely God the Father; some manuscripts make this specific by adding the noun theós, “God”, though this is scarcely necessary, given the closing words of v. 20.

The final declaration in verse 20 summarizes all three oídamen-statements of vv. 18-20. The syntax, however, is problematic, causing some difficulty of interpretation; literally it reads:

“This is the true God and Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The demonstrative pronoun hoútos (“this”) is rather ambiguous. The nearest antecedent is “Yeshua the Anointed”, but the demonstrative pronoun could still refer back to an earlier subject (compare the syntax in 2 John 7). There are, in fact, four possibilities for how this statement can be understood:

    • The demonstrative pronoun (“this [one]”) refers to Jesus, in which case it is Jesus who is called both “true God” and “eternal Life”
    • It refers back to the substantive “the (one who is) true” (i.e. God the Father), and identifies the substantive explicitly as “the true God” who is also “eternal Life”
    • It is a dual reference, matching the earlier statement: “the (one who is) true [i.e. God the Father] and His Son”, i.e. “the one who is true” = “the true God”, and “His Son Yeshua the Anointed” = “eternal Life”
    • It refers comprehensively to what is stated in verse 20 (and/or all of vv. 18-20), i.e. this is all said of the true God and the eternal life that comes through His Son.

In my view, the some combination of the second and third options best fits both the syntax and the Johannine theology. A rather close parallel is the declaration in John 17:3:

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

Here the adjective al¢thinós and the expression “the true God” unquestionably refer to God the Father, but in connection with His Son Jesus, the two—Father and Son—joined together as a unified pair. If I might paraphrase the closing words of v. 20 in this light, I think that the following well captures the meaning:

“The ‘one who is true’ —this is the true God, who, with His Son Yeshua, is the source of eternal Life.”

1 John 5:21

“(My dear) offspring, you must guard yourselves from the images.”

The letter ends with this curious exhortation (and warning). The meaning and purpose in context is difficult to determine, and has somewhat perplexed commentators. There is a general parallel here with the thought of verse 18:

“the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God keeps watch over him [i.e. over the believer], and the Evil does not attach itself to him”

The reading with the reflexive pronoun (see above) would offer a closer formal parallel:

“the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God keeps watch over himself…”

The verb fylássœ (“guard”) in v. 21 is generally synonymous with t¢réœ (“keep watch [over]”) in v. 18. It would serve as a fitting corollary to the statement in v. 18:

    • V. 18: The believer’s union with Jesus, as one “born out of God”, protects him/her from evil (and sin)
    • V. 21: At the same time, it is necessary for the believer to guard him/herself from the influence of evil

Perhaps the main difficulty in verse 21 is how to interpret the significance and force of the word eídœlon (“image”, here plural “images”). There are several possibilities:

    • “Images” in the simple and concrete sense of (Greco-Roman) pagan religious images (idols); or, perhaps a specific reference to food, etc, that has been consecrated to such images (Acts 15:20 par; 1 Cor 8-10; Rev 2:14, 21).
    • As a shorthand term for the influence of (Greco-Roman) paganism in general
    • As a similar shorthand pejorative for false religious belief, specifically that of the ‘false’ believers opposed by the author of 1 John

The second option seems most appropriate, given the setting of the letter and those believers to whom it is being addressed. And yet, there is very little religious or ethical instruction of the sort elsewhere in the letter (2:15-17 comes closest), so its sudden appearance here is surprising. Perhaps the author felt it necessary to include such an exhortation, in passing, as a reminder of the baleful influence of the pagan culture that surrounded his readers. Already well aware of this, his audience presumably would not require any more explanation.

Personally, I am inclined to the third option above, which, if correct, would preserve the author’s warning as a more integral part of vv. 18-21 (and the letter as a whole). Since the overall message and thrust of the letter was to warn his readers against those false (“antichrist”) believers who had separated from the Community, it seems likely that the author would continue this focus to the very end. Perhaps this helps to explain the emphasis in verse 20 on the true God (see above)—in contrast to the false “gods” of idolatry. However, instead of the traditional contrast between Christianity and Paganism, in 1 John it is between true and false belief in Jesus. In 2:22-23, the author treats the “antichrist” views of the ‘false’ believers as effectively the same as denying both the Son of God and God the Father himself! It would not be taking things much further to equate such false belief in God with the “idols” of false religion.

This study of the closing verses of 1 John have touched upon text-critical, historical-critical, and literary-critical issues—the latter, in particular, dealing with the vocabulary, syntax, and style of the author (compared with the Johannine Gospel, etc). All of these aspects and approaches are necessary to take into consideration when studying a passage. They will not always lead to definitive solutions to questions of interpretation, but such critical analysis, when done honestly and objectively, and in an informed way, should bring valuable elucidation to the Scriptures. Having now concluded a representative analysis on many of the key passages and issues in First John, it is now time to turn our attention to the second and third Letters. This we will do, God willing, next Saturday…I hope you will join me.

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 4:13

1 John 4:13

As I discussed in the previous notes, in chapters 4-5 of 1 John, the theme of trust/faith in Jesus takes on greater prominence, though still interconnected with the theme of love among believers which was emphasized in chapters 2-3. These represent the two aspects of the two-fold command defined and presented by the author in 3:23-24. According to the author, only those who confess the proper belief in Jesus, and who demonstrate proper love, can be considered true believers. The act/behavior indicates the underlying reality (cf. 3:10). Consider how this is expressed here in chapter 4:

    • 4:1-6: Trust in Jesus—confession of proper belief in his identity, indicating that we are of/from God
    • 4:7-12: Love for one another—demonstration that we follow his (and God the Father’s) example
    • 4:13-21: Trust and Love together—we abide in God and God abides in us

The two themes are unified in vv. 13-21, as indicated by the opening words:

“In this we know that we remain in Him and He in us, (in) that He has given us His Spirit.” (v. 13)

Properly speaking, here God (the Father) is the one who gives us the Spirit (“his Spirit”), and yet elsewhere in the Johannine writings it is stated that Jesus (the Son) is the one who gives the Spirit (Jn 3:34; 7:37-39; 15:26; 16:7; 20:22). This is part of the essential theological viewpoint in these writings: the Father gives to the Son (Jesus), and the Son, in turn, gives to believers. Here it is said that the Spirit allows us to know—that is, to recognize and be aware—of God’s abiding presence in us. In this sense, the Spirit both testifies and teaches, according to Jesus’ words in 14:26; 15:26; 16:8-15. The knowledge believers receive is an intimate awareness and understanding of both God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (Jn 17:3). The author essentially repeats here what he stated previously in 3:24 (cf. the earlier note on this verse).

The verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) is an important Johannine keyword, occurring 40 times in the Gospel and 27 in the Letters—more than half of all the occurrences (118) in the New Testament. It has tremendous theological significance (and symbolism), even when apparently being used in an ‘ordinary’ sense in the Gospel narrative (e.g., 1:38-39). It is perhaps the single most important word which summarizes the believer’s identity in Christ; it is both (a) reciprocal, and (b) establishes us in the chain of relationship Father–Son–Believers:

    • Jesus (the Son) abides in us, and we in him, and as a result:
    • We abide in the Father and, and the Father in us
    • Father and Son both abide (together) in us through the presence of the Spirit
      This unifying presence (of the Spirit) may be illustrated by the simple diagram:

An important aspect of the verb me/nw is idea of remaining—this relationship between Father, Son and Believer, through the Spirit, remains and continues “into the Age”. The traditional eschatological image of divine/eternal Life, which the righteous are though to receive following the Judgment, is “realized” and experienced by believers now, in the present, and will continue on into eternity. This is a fundamental aspect of Johannine thought, expressed many times by Jesus in the Gospel Discourses.

It is interesting to consider how this Christian identity, marked by the twin themes of trust/faith and love, is presented throughout this section. I offer the following (chiastic) outline:

    • Trust: Confession of Jesus’ identity—the Son of God, sent by the Father (vv. 14-15
      —God’s love for us—sending his Son to us (v. 16a, also v. 14)
      ——His love abides/remains in us, completing/perfecting us (vv. 16b-18)
      —God’s love for us—we follow his (and the Son’s) example (v. 19)
    • Love: Demonstration of love for one another [among believers] (vv. 20-21)

The “command” (e)ntolh/) given to us by God is here defined primarily by the second aspect, love—both God’s love for us and our love for one another. This is a uniquely Johannine expression of the great “Love command” in early Christian and Gospel tradition. In this regard, it is worth emphasizing again the distinctive use (and meaning) of the word e)ntolh/ in the Gospel and Letters of John, which is best understood by the literal (fundamental) meaning as something given to us (i.e. laid on us) to complete. Here this “completion” has a dual meaning—not only our completion of the duty/mission to love one another, but of God’s love being completed in us. This is at the heart of the passage, in vv. 16b-18 (cf. above):

    • “In this our love has been made complete [tetelei/wtai]…” (v. 17)
    • “…complete [telei/a] love casts out fear…the (one) fearing has not been made complete [tetelei/wtai] in love.” (v. 18)

Note the precise parallelism:

    • our love has been made complete
    • we have been made complete in love

This is the truest and deepest sense of the word e)ntolh/.

August 11 (2): Ephesians 2:15b

Ephesians 2:14-16

The primary theme of Eph 2:11-22 is the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, which is expressed most clearly in the central verse 15, especially in the second half of the verse (15b; on 15a see previous note). Before proceeding, it may be helpful to see again the context in the sentence of vv. 14-16:

“For he [i.e. Christ] is our peace, the (person) making the pair (of them) one and loosing [i.e. dissolving] the middle wall of the fence, th(at is) enmity/hostility, in his flesh, making inactive/ineffective the Law of the ‘injunctions’ in ‘decrees’, (so) that he might form in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace, and might make (things completely) different between the pair (of them), in one body to God, through the stake, killing off the enmity/hostility in him(self).”

The above is an extremely literal (glossed) rendering; here it is in more conventional translation:

“For he is our peace, who made them both one, dissolving the barrier in the middle, the hostility, in his flesh, and nullifying the Law (with its) commands in (written) decrees, so that he might in himself make the two into one new man, making peace, and might reconcile them both to God in one body, through (his death on) the cross, killing off the hostility in his (own body).”

For the structure and syntax of this passage, see the earlier note.

Ephesians 2:15b

“…so that he might produce [i.e. form/create] in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace”
i%na tou\$ du/o kti/sh| e)n au)tw=| ei)$ e%na kaino\n a&nqrwpon poiw=n ei)rh/nhn

In Eph 2:14-16, Christ’s work (his sacrificial death) is understood specifically in terms of its effect on Jews and Gentiles, and the religious-cultural differences that exist between them. The effect is negative (what it removes or negates), as well as positive (what it makes or creates):

    • Negative—it removes or negates:
      —the middle wall (i.e. barrier, fence) that stands between Jews and Gentiles
      —the commands, etc. of the Old Testament Law which separates Jews and Gentiles
      —the enmity/hostility that exists between Jews and Gentiles
    • Positive—it creates or makes:
      —unity: the two become one
      —peace/reconciliation

It is striking that Paul (or the author of the letter) specifically associates the Old Testament Law with the barrier (and the enmity) which exists between Jews and Gentiles. Unfortunately, apart from the mention of circumcision in verse 11, there is little in the passage which would indicate just how the Law separated them; this must be inferred from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, or from general considerations:

Clearly, it is not simply one portion of the Law that separates Jew and Gentile, but the divisiveness is fundamental to the Law and the old covenant as a whole. If we adopt here the Pauline teaching that the Law serves to increase awareness of sin and brings people (further) into bondage to it, this may help to explain the reference to “enmity/hostility” (e&xqra) twice in vv. 14-16. Just as human beings are at enmity with God, requiring reconciliation (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20), so we are enemies to each other and need to be reconciled. This reflects the two sides of the so-called Great commandment—love of God and love of neighbor (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18; Mk 12:28-34 par). In Col 1:20-22 we read that Christ’s death actually reconciles “all things” (ta\ pa/nta).

More to the point, Paul, in his writings, frequently emphasizes that Jews and Gentiles are equal before God—both equally enslaved under sin, and both saved/delivered only through Christ (Rom 1:16, and chapters 2-3; cf. also throughout Galatians). This is all the more true for Jews and Gentiles who have come to faith (1 Cor 1:24; Rom 9:24; 15:16ff; Gal 2:14b, 15ff). There are several passages, in particular, which suggest that, in Christ, the distinction between Jew and Gentile has been effaced or eliminated:

Gal 3:28: “in (Christ there is) not Jew and not Greek, (there is) not slave and not free (person), (there is) not male and female—for you all are one in Christ Jesus”

Virtually the same statement is made in Col 3:11:

“…where in (Christ there is) not Greek and Jew, circumcision and foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised], … slave (and) free, but (rather) Christ is all (thing)s and in all (thing)s”

The context of both passages is the ritual symbolism of baptism (putting on Christ), as also in 1 Cor 12:13:

“for in one Spirit we all were dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], into one body—even if Jews (or) if Greeks, if slaves (or) if free (person)s—and (we) all were made to drink one Spirit”

Eph 2:14-15ff, like 1 Cor 12:13 mentions both one body and one Spirit—certainly the same basic thought informs all of these passages. With regard to the reference to circumcision in verse 11, we should also note Rom 2:28-29; Phil 3:3; Col 3:11, along with Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19, where Paul clearly states that the Jewish religious distinctiveness marked by circumcision no longer applies to believers in Christ.

How exactly should we understand the nature of this unity (between Jews and Gentiles) in Christ? Eph 2:15b summarizes the dynamic at work: Christ, by his death on the cross, made the Law to cease working, the purpose (and result) being—

“…so that he might produce/form [kti/sh|] in him(self) the two into one new man

Is this “new man” (kaino/$ a&nqrwpo$) symbolic or is to be taken in a concrete sense? Paul only rarely uses the adjective kaino/$ (“new”), and in two distinct expressions:

    • kainh/ diaqh/kh (“new testament/covenant”)—in 2 Cor 3:6 the “new covenant” replaces the old covenant, which has come to its end (and fulfillment) in Christ (cf. also 1 Cor 11:25).
    • kainh/ kti/si$ (“new production/formation”, often rendered “new creation”)—in 2 Cor 5:17, every person in Christ is a “new creation”, likewise replacing what was previously there (the old/original nature), the old having passed along (i.e. passed away); in Gal 6:15, the “new creation” in Christ is contrasted specifically with the old Jewish/Gentile religious distinction, marked by circumcision.

The expression “new man” is used again in Eph 4:24, also with the verb kti/zw:

“and you sunk in(to) [i.e. put on] the new man th(at) is produced/formed according to [i.e. by] God in justice/righteousness and in holiness/purity of the truth [i.e. in true holiness]”

The baptismal context that is evident here would indicate primarily a symbolic significance to the expression “new man”; but, on the other hand, the unity is unquestionably real—if the old covenant and old created human nature were tangible, so too is the new covenant and new creation. The only difference is that the new covenant/creation is spiritual, realized in and by the Spirit. This is clear from the context of what follows in Eph 2:17-22:

V. 18—”through him [i.e. Christ] we hold—the pair (of us) in one Spirit—the way leading toward the Father” (cf. Rom 5:2)
V. 22—”in whom [i.e. Christ] you also were put together as a house, into a house set down for [lit. of] God, in (the) Spirit

Verses 18-22 draw heavily on religious imagery and terminology related to the Temple:

    • The Temple with its apparatus (sacred space and objects, priesthood, sacrificial offerings) provided the ritual means of access to God (v. 18)
    • The Temple was often referred to as the “house [oi@ko$] of God”, and believers become intimate members of the “household [oi)kei=o$] of God” (v. 19)
    • This house is built upon [e)poikodome/w] a sacred (and sure) foundation—upon the Prophets (of the old covenant) and the Apostles (of the new covenant), with Christ himself as the main cornerstone (v. 20)
    • The entire house-building [oi)kodomh/] is fit together precisely (and entirely) in Christ (v. 21a)
    • This building in Christ comes to be (lit. grows into) a (new) Temple-shrine (nao/$) (v. 21b)
    • We (all believers) are built together as a house [sunoikodome/w] and become a house laid down [katoikth/rion] for God—i.e. a new Temple building (v. 22)
    • This new Temple/house is spiritual (e)n pneu/mati, “in/by [the] Spirit”) (v. 22)

July 18: Galatians 3:26-29

This note provides a more detailed analysis of Galatians 3:26-29 (spec. vv. 27-28), the verses which conclude the argument of Gal 3:15-29 (on this, see the article on “Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”). The overall section is an argument from Scripture regarding God’s promise to Abraham; it is important to follow closely Paul’s line of reasoning, noting especially the careful manner in which he identifies traditional (ethno-religious) aspects of Jewish identity with believers (Jew and Gentile) in Christ. There can be no doubt that Jews would have found such a transferred application as unacceptable, even offensive; Jewish Christians may have found difficulty with it as well. Even today, for somewhat different reasons, well-meaning (and culturally sensitive) Christians are reluctant to use any terminology which suggests that Christianity replaces Israel/Judaism in God’s order of things. This issue will be touched on at the end of the exposition, below.

Verses 26 and 29 bracket this section with a pair of related, parallel statements:

    • Basic statement (v. 26)—”You are all sons through the trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua”
    • Recapitulation (v. 29)—”If you are of (the) Anointed, then you are {the seed/heirs}…”

The statement of v. 29 differs in two respects: (1) it is conditional (“if [ei)]…”), and (2) Paul uses a pair of traditional Israelite/Jewish expressions which qualify believers as “sons”:

In between, we have vv. 27-28, which may well reflect a (pre-Pauline) baptismal formula; in any case, the statement in v. 28 is clearly tied to the ritual of baptism, as similar formulations in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11 would indicate (see Betz, Galatians, pp. 181-4). The (traditional) language and imagery has already become standard in these early passages, as the phrasing in v. 27 suggests:

“For as many of you as have been dipped/dunked [e)bapti/sqhte] into (the) Anointed [ei)$ Xristo\n], you have sunk in(to) [e)nedu/sasqe] (the) Anointed”

    • Identification of the symbolic ritual
      —dipped/dunked into Christ
    • with being clothed, i.e. initiation rites
      —sunk in(to) Christ, as into (i.e. putting on) a garment

While largely foreign to Western culture today, this (ancient, mystical) language of initiation is important in several respects:

    • It prefigures and anticipates (future) death and judgment before God.
    • It establishes and confirms for the believer/initiate a present reality and experience of future blessedness (with God)—for early Christianity the emphasis was more on salvation than beatitude/blessedness (but note, esp. the Beatitudes of Jesus [on these, cf. my earlier series]).
    • This reality and experience is understood primarily in terms of religious (and spiritual) identity. The removal of clothing (i.e. the old self/nature) to enter the water, followed by the application of new clothing (such as a clean white garment), concretely symbolizes the realization of this new nature.

In verse 28, Paul concisely and dramatically describes the effect of the ritual—that is, the formulation of this new identity. He does this first with a series of negative propositions (likely using traditional language):

ou)k e&ni “in (Christ) there is no”… (the negative particle ou)k is emphasized—”there is no…”)

—”no Jew and no [ou)de\] Greek”
—”no slave and no [ou)de\] free (person)”
—”no male and [kai\] female”

Then this is summarized under a single positive statement:

“For you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua”
pa/nte$ ga\r u(mei=$ ei!$ e)ste e)n Xristw=|  )Ihsou=

This compact formula includes three themes which are central to Paul’s theology, and which are emphasized throughout Galatians:

    1. “All” (pa/nte$)—that is, all believers without distinction, socio-religious status, etc., and especially with no distinction between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles).
    2. “One” (ei!$)—this unity/oneness is a vital theme in Galatians, though this may not be so obvious from a casual reading—there is only one Gospel (Gal 1:6-7; 2:5), one promised seed (Gal 3:16), parallel to the one Spirit (Gal 3:14; 5:22).
    3. “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|)—this is the climactic expression and is central to Paul’s thinking: the new identity (and unity) of believers is in Christ—cf. Gal 1:22; 2:4, 16-17; 3:14, 26; 5:6, and often throughout the other letters.

A difficult point of interpretation in verse 28 is the precise force of the three negative propositions—how literally should one take these, and how do they apply in practice? It is not possible to deal with this enormous socio-religious question here; I would only state that the tendency has been to limit or qualify Paul’s statements, by reason, practical necessity, and comparison with other passages in his letters, especially in regard to biological (gender) distinction (“male and female”). This, I fear, turns the thrust of Paul’s statement in Galatians rather upon its head. First, it must be recognized that Paul states clearly here that the old natural and social categories do not apply to the new identity in Christ, according to three representative examples:

    • Ethno-religious: Jew/Greek
    • Socio-economic status: Slave/Free
    • Socio-biological distinction: Male and Female

Churches and commentators today can accept the elimination of the first two distinctions much more easily than the third, especially since Paul himself appears to apply it inconsistently—if the Jew/Greek and Slave/Free distinctions do not (apparently) have any effect in terms of the role and status of believers in the Christian community, how can the Male/Female distinction continue to be observed (as Paul instructs, in various ways, both in the undisputed and disputed letters)? This is a most pointed (and relevant) question for churches in our society today, and one which ought to be studied and grappled with fairly, objectively, and without prejudice, in the spirit of the very unity Paul declares in vv. 27-28. That Paul may intend the Male/Female distinction as a special case is, perhaps, indicated by the slight variation in formula:

    • “There is in (Christ) no Jew and no [ou)de\] Greek” (similar for Slave/Free)
    • “There is in (Christ) no ‘Male and [kai\] Female'”

It would seem that he is not so much eliminating a socio-biological distinction as the existent duality (i.e. the distinct role and status in society and the community). If so, it would be a strong argument against the approach taken (and/or retained) by many traditional-conservative churches and groups, in relation to the role of women in the Church. However, we ought to be cautious about reading too much into this difference in the text. Either way, I would fully affirm, in the words of commentator F. F. Bruce (The Epistle to the Galatians [NIGTC] 1982, p. 190), that any apparent or supposed restrictions on the roles of women in the other Pauline epistles (e.g. 1 Cor 14:34f; 1 Tim 2:11f) “are to be understood in relation to Gal 3:28, and not vice versa“.

If we should re-examine vv. 26-29 as a whole, in light of the preceding analysis, it seems clear that Paul is actually making three statements regarding religious identity:

V. 26: “You are all sons (of God) through trust in Christ
V. 27-28: “You are all one in Christ” (symbolized through the ritual of baptism)
V. 29: “If you are of Christ…” (this last being conditional, according to the first two statements, cf. above)

This brings us back to the concluding statement of verse 29, where the new identity (which is of/in Christ) is identified with the old (and distinct) ethno-religious identity of Israel/Judaism—the seed/heirs of Abraham, including God’s promise (and blessing) to him. This conclusion to Paul’s argument would seem to make clear that this traditional Jewish religious identity and understanding actually applies only to believers (the ones trusting) in Christ. As hard as it might be for people (naturally) to accept, the old ethno-religious distinction no longer applies. However, while this idea is clear and definite enough in Galatians, Paul has given the entire matter a somewhat different (more expansive and nuanced) treatment in Romans. There will be cause to refer to this difficult (and sensitive) question again during discussion of the relevant passages in that epistle.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Notes on Prayer: Jn 17:24-26 (continued)

This note is supplemental to the recent “Monday Notes on Prayer” series, in which I went through the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. In the last study of that series, we examined the concluding verses 24-26, but it remains to go into a bit more detail on the final vv. 25-26, to see how Jesus’ words serve to bring out and summarize many of the themes that run throughout the Discourses.

Verse 25

One important point to make is that there is a strong eschatological context to verses 24-26, even though that may not be immediately obvious to the average reader. To begin with, let us consider again the first address and petition to God the Father in verse 24:

“Father, (for) that which you have given to me, I wish that where I am those also [i.e. believers] would be with me, (so) that they would look upon my honor which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. founding] of the world.”

In the setting of the Last Discourse and the Prayer of chap. 17, Jesus is about to depart and return back to the Father; the fundamental emphasis, then, of the wish that believers “would be with” him, is eschatological—i.e. that they/we would be with him in heaven, alongside the Father. This heavenly (and eternal) dimension is described two ways:

    • The Divine glory (do/ca, honor/splendor) which Jesus, as the Son, shares with the Father, and
    • Divine pre-existence, understood, as in verse 5, in relation to the creation of the world (ko/smo$)

When Jesus returns to his disciples (believers) again, it will be to take them with him to the Father (14:1-3). This is a basic early Christian belief, attested at numerous points in the New Testament (cf. especially Mark 13:26-27 par, and 1 Thess 4:16-17). However, in the Gospel of John, and in the Discourses in particular, this traditional eschatology is enhanced (and supplemented) by a distinct kind of “realized” eschatology, in which the things to be experienced by the righteous at the end-time are already realized now, in the present, for believers in Christ. This “realized” eschatology is central to the message of the Last Discourse, and is rooted in the idea of the coming (and presence) of the Paraclete/Spirit (discussed further below).

If this two-aspect eschatology relates to what believers experience—including eternal life (lit. “Life of the Age”) and the vision of God (emphasized here in v. 24)—it also applies to the Judgment which believers must pass through. This Judgment separates the righteous (believers) from the wicked (the “world”, ko/smo$); while traditionally, this occurs at the end-time, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Johannine Discourses, believers already experience the reality of it in the present—i.e. they/we have already passed through the Judgment. How has this occurred? It is stated most clearly in 5:24:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you that the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$] and trusting in the (One) having sent me holds (the) Life of the Age, and he does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped across out of death (and) into Life”.

This is very much what Jesus refers to in the conclusion to his Prayer (v. 25) as well. The manner of his address (“Just/Righteous Father”, Path\r di/kaie) suggests God the Father’s role as Judge and administrator of Justice, and that the idea of the Judgment is in view. The petition serves to bring to a climax the dualistic theme of contrast between Father/Son/Believers and the World (ko/smos). The traditional concept of God judging the world here is re-interpreted in relation to trust in Jesus, an emphasis we find repeatedly in the Gospel, going all the way back to the Prologue (1:5, 10-13). It is stated perhaps most succinctly in 3:17-21, a passage which can be compared with the close of chapter 17; note several points of comparison:

    • God the Father sends Jesus (the Son) so that the world might be saved through trust in him (3:16-17)
      • Disciples/Believers are sent by Jesus so that the world might come to know and trust (17:20-23)
    • The salvation of the world = “all those who trust”, i.e. all believers (“every one [pa=$] trusting in him”) (3:16)
      • Similarly the “world” trusting and knowing = the elect (believers) who are “in the world” but have not yet come to trust/know; once they come to faith, then the believers will “all” be one (17:20-23)
    • Judgment takes place in relation to trusting in the Son (Jesus); those who do not trust are (already) condemned because they cannot see (i.e. know) the truth (3:18-21)
      • The separation between believers and the “world” (now understood as the wicked/unbelievers) occurs on the basis of knowing (i.e. seeing) the Son, and through him, God the Father (17:25)

The last point, in particular, is a key theme in the Last Discourse, beginning with the dialogue in 14:5-10ff—one sees God the Father through the Son—and the same point is made in v. 24 of the Prayer (cf. above). We should pay attention to precise way the Judgment theme is brought out in verse 25:

“Just/Righteous Father, indeed, the world did not know you, but I knew you, and these [ou!toi, i.e. believers] knew that you se(n)t me forth”

The dualistic contrast, between Believers and the World, here takes the form of a chiasm:

    • the world did not know [ou)k e&gnw] you
      • but I knew [e&gnwn] you
    • believers (“these”) did know [e&gnwsan]…

Embedded in this very structure is the key theological point of the entire Gospel: that one knows God the Father through trust in Jesus (the Son). This is emphasized again in terms of what the believers (“these”) know. Jesus does not say “these knew you” (par. to “but I knew you”); rather, he says “these knew that you sent me forth“. In other words, what believers “know” is centered in the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son of God, as is clear from the theological formula included in the opening of the Prayer (v. 3). It also confirms the distinctive sense of the word ko/smo$ (“world”) in vv. 20-23, where, as I argued in an earlier study, it means the Elect/Chosen ones (believers) living “in the world” who have not yet come to trust in Jesus. Throughout the Johannine writings, ko/smo$ refers to a realm of wickedness and darkness that is opposed to God, which characterizes the current “world-order”. In vv. 21, 23, the focus is on believers dwelling in this wicked realm, while in v 25 it is the wicked (unbelievers) themselves who are in view.

Verse 26

The key Johannine motif of knowledge, knowing, in verse 25 is expanded upon by Jesus in v. 26; at the same time, the traditional future eschatology (first aspect, cf. above) gives way to a present “realized” eschatology (second aspect). The idea of believers separating from the world, and passing through the Judgment (implied) to see the glory of God in heaven, now shifts to the union believers have with God in the present. It is worth examining each component, or phrase, of this verse in some detail. To begin with, v. 26 is part of a single sentence with v. 25, marked by the conjunction kai/ (“and”):

“and I made known your name to them” (kai\ e)gnw/risa au)toi=$ to\ o&noma/ sou)—On the surface, this simply restates what Jesus already said earlier in the Prayer (v. 6, also 11-12), that, through his work on earth (as the incarnate Son), he revealed the Person and Presence of God the Father to the Elect/Chosen ones (disciples/believers), a process that will continue as those believers, in turn, proclaim and reveal the message of Jesus to others. However, it is the positioning of this phrase which is distinctive here—first, in relation to the previous phrase in v. 25:

    • “these knew that you sent me forth,
      and I made known to them your Name”

We might have expected a reverse sequence—i.e. they came to know because Jesus made the Father known to them—but this is contrary to the basic theological outlook of the Gospel of John, in which believers come to know because they are the Elect,  they already belong to God. And, because they belong to God, and God the Father gives them to the Son, they are able to recognize the truth of who Jesus is; and, as they become disciples (believers), Jesus then is able to reveal the Father to them.

Secondly, we must read it in connection with the phrase that follows:

    • “and I made known to them your Name,
      and I will (yet) make (it) known”

“and I will (yet) make (it) known” (kai\ gnwri/sw)—Here we have implicitly a key theme from the Last Discourse: that of the coming of the Paraclete/Spirit, who will continue Jesus’ work after his departure back to the Father. I have pointed out several times in the prior studies that, though the Spirit is not specifically mentioned in the Prayer, the idea is certainly present, and is to be inferred throughout. Note this revelatory aspect of the Spirit’s work from the statements in the Last Discourse:

    • “this is the Spirit of Truth which the world is unable to receive, (in) that it does not look upon him and does not know; but you know him…” (14:17)
    • “…(he) will teach you all (thing)s and will place under memory (for) you all (thing)s which I said to you” (14:26)
    • “…that (one) will witness about me, and you also will witness…” (15:26-27)
    • “…he will lead the way (for) you into all truth; for he will not speak from himself, but what (thing)s he hears he will speak…” (16:13)

Through the Spirit, Jesus himself will be speaking to believers, and that it is ultimately God the Father’s word that he speaks, making the Father known:

“…he will receive out of (what is) mine, and will give (it) up as a message [i.e. announce it] to you. All things what(ever) that the Father holds are mine; through this I said that he will receive out of (what is) mine and will give (it) up as a message [i.e. announce it] to you.” (16:14-15)

“(so) that the love (with) which you loved me would be in them” (i%na h( a)ga/ph h^n h)ga/phsa/$ me e)n au)toi=$ h@|)—The particle i%na here indicates the goal or end result (“[so] that”), and, indeed, it may be justly said to be the desired purpose and result of the entire Prayer. It essentially restates the request for unity that dominated the earlier vv. 20-23, combining two basic motifs:

    • The Son being “in” (e)n) believers
    • This unity reflects the relationship (union) between Father and Son

The final phrase of verse 23 further defines the unity/union believers have with Father and Son in terms of the Johannine theme of love (a)ga/ph):

“…that the world [i.e. the elect/believers in the world] would know that you sent me forth, and (that) you loved them just as you loved me.”

There Jesus asks that believers would know this Divine Love; now he requests that the Love be “in” (e)n) them. While the Spirit is not associated with love, particularly, in the Gospel of John, it is certainly an association that is part of the Johannine  theology, and is more prominent in the First Letter (see esp. 4:7-21). Love characterizes one who “comes to be (born)” of God, which is very much in accord with the language Jesus uses in relation to the Spirit in Jn 3:3-8 (cf. also 1:12-13). The words of Paul in Romans 5:5 seem to echo, independently, the language in v. 26 of the Prayer:

“…(in) that the love of God has been poured out in(to) our hearts through the Holy Spirit th(at is) given to us.”

“and I in them” (ka)gw\ e)n au)toi=$)—Just as the Love of God is present in us (believers) through the Spirit, so also is Jesus himself personally present in us. The parallelism is precise:

    • “the love…in them”
      “and I in them”

Ultimately, this is the central theme of the Last Discourse: that Jesus (the Son) will remain united with believers, dwelling in and among us, through the presence of the Spirit. It is also the climactic message of the Prayer, and, indeed, ought to be the central focus of every prayer we make to God the Father. In this regard, and in closing, consider the Lukan context of the Lord’s Prayer (teaching on prayer, 11:1-13), which begins with the Prayer itself (vv. 2-4), but ends with an emphasis on Jesus’ disciples asking God the Father specifically for the Holy Spirit (v. 13).

Believers and the World (Jn 17:20-23, continued)

As a continuation (and conclusion) to the recently posted article, on the statements regarding believers and “the world” (o( ko/smo$) in John 17:20-23, I mentioned three specific questions which I felt still needed to be addressed:

    • How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?
    • What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?
    • How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit into the structure of the section?

I will briefly discuss each of these in turn.

1. How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?

The principal theme of verses 20-23 is Jesus’ request for the unity of his disciples (believers). This is expressed two ways:

    • With the neuter singular adjective e%n (“one”): “that they would (all) be one
    • Using the preposition e)n (“in”): believers in the Son (and the Father), and the Son in believers, just as the Father and Son are in one another.

The use of the comparative particle kaqw/$ (“just as”), and the relation of believers to the union between Father and Son, makes clear that believers share in the same (not just similar) unity that Father and Son share. This is a powerful theological (and spiritual) proposition, which may seem quite shocking to religious sensibilities, but it is not to be explained away or mitigated. The language used by Jesus (and the Gospel writer) must be allowed to stand. And yet, how does this unity relate to “the world”? In the main part of this article, I discussed how the concluding i%na-clauses, mentioning “the world”, are best understood as subordinate result clauses. Let us consider again how these fit in the parallel strophes of verses 20-23:

First strophe, verses 20-21:

    • “…(I ask) about the (one)s trusting in me through their word,
      • that [i%na] (they) all would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you,
      • that [i%na] they also would be in us,
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth.”

Second strophe, vv. 22-23:

    • “And the honor [do/ca] which you have given to me, I have given to them,
      • that [i%na] they would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one [e%n]—I in them and you in me—
      • that [i%na] they would be completed into one [e%n]
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would know that you se(n)t me forth
          and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

For ease of reference, here are the two clauses in context, with the immediate statement regarding unity in bold:

“…that they…would be in us, (so) that the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth”
“…that they would be completed into one, (so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth”

How does the unity of believers lead the world (i.e. others in the world who are not yet believers) to trust and know (i.e. recognize) Jesus’ divine origin as Messiah and Son of God? Some would cite the example of Christian unity as something which might convince people of the truth of the Gospel. While this is a noble sentiment, it is not at all what is in view here in the Prayer. Rather, the unity of which Jesus speaks is fundamental and essential—the very identity of believers is defined by their/our union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This union, indicated primarily by the preposition e)n (“in”, i.e. “in us”), is further defined three distinct ways in the Gospel of John; the divine Presence in believers is described in terms of: (1) Word [lo/go$], (2) Love [a)ga/ph], and (3) Spirit [pneu=ma]. It is the Word-Love-Spirit of God (and Christ), dwelling in and with believers, which brings others to trust and knowledge of the truth. This will be further discussed in the following two sections.

2. What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?

In the earlier notes on verses 20-23, I pointed out how the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”), in the passive, with believers as the subject, occurs only here in the Gospel of John, but that four similar instances are found in the First Letter (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). The passages in 1 John share much of the same thought, language, and vocabulary as the Prayer-Discourse of Jn 17. There, too, the unity believers share with Father and Son is defined in terms of love (cf. section 3 below). However, I believe there is one aspect of the use of the verb here in verse 23 which has not yet been explored, and it relates specifically to the statement regarding the world trusting/knowing. The unity of believers is only realized collectively, not individually—but as a universal Community, bound together by the living Word-Love-Spirit of God. To that extent, unity is not realized until all believers are included—that is, when all the Elect/Chosen ones, living throughout the world, in all times and places, come to trust in Jesus, becoming true believers in Christ. This is wonderfully expressed, though using different imagery, in the “Good Shepherd” discourse:

“And I hold other sheep, which are not out of [i.e. from] this yard, and it is necessary for me to bring them also, and they (too) will hear my voice, and they will be a single herd [poimnh/], (with) one herder [poimh/n].” (10:16)

It must be emphasized that, though believers may gather (physically) into local communities, the unity spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel of John is entirely spiritual—it is truly a universal Community, realized and possible only by and through the presence of the Spirit. It is no coincidence that the giving of the Spirit follows almost directly after the death and resurrection of Jesus (20:21ff), and that this is indicated symbolically in the narrative at the moment of Jesus’ death (19:30):

    • His dying word on the cross: tete/lestai (“it is completed“, vb. tele/w closely related to teleio/w), after which
    • “…he gave along the Spirit” (pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma)

3. How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit into the structure of the section?

Verses 20-23 conclude with a statement that defines unity in terms of love (a)ga/ph)—that is to say, divine love, the love of God, which believers share by way of our union with Christ. This divine love cannot be separated (as an attribute) from the very Presence of God Himself, which believers are joined with by way of the Person of Jesus, through the Spirit. As mentioned above, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, Word, Love and Spirit, are largely synonymous, all three representing the living presence of God the Father and Jesus (the Son). This special meaning of a)ga/ph is seen throughout the Gospel, but especially in the Last Discourse (5:42; 8:42; 13:34-35; 14:15, 21ff; 15:9-13, 17, 19). It is even more prominent in the Letters (42 times, including 36 in 1 John). In 4:8, God Himself is identified as Love, and I mentioned above how believers being “made complete” is understood in terms of this love (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). In many ways, the First Letter takes up where the Last Discourse leaves off, both serving as detailed expositions of the “love commandment” in 13:34-35. The wording in 17:23 summarizes this exposition, but from the standpoint of the Father’s relationship to believers: “you loved them just as you loved me”.

However, according to the syntax of vv. 22-23, this statement is part of the i%na-clause which mentions the world knowing:

“…that they would be completed into one, (so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth, and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

The statement of God’s love is part of what the world comes to know:

    • “(so) that the world would know
      • that you sent me forth
      • and (that) you loved them even as you loved me”

Some commentators have struggled with the pronoun “them”, pointing out that, in context, it must refer to the believers (“the ones trusting in me…”) of v. 20, rather than to the immediate subject “the world”. However, according to the interpretation I set forth (cf. the main discussion), here “the world” refers ostensibly to believers—i.e. the Elect/Chosen ones, in the world, who have not yet become believers. This renders the immediate syntax more intelligible: those “in the world” who come to be believers realize the love God the Father has for them, a love that is identified in the person of his Son (Jesus). The wonderful reciprocity that defines both the unity and love which we share, as believers, and expressed here, is supplemented by Jesus’ earlier statement in 14:31:

“…(so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and even as the Father placed (a duty) on me to complete, so I do (it).”

Here the idea of believers “in the world” is less in view; the focus is rather on Jesus’ impending sacrificial death, and the time of darkness which accompanies it. The statement in v. 31 is preceded by an ominous declaration that “the chief/ruler of the world comes”, along with a message of encouragement that “he holds nothing on/in me”. That last phrase could mean “he has no part in me”, or “he holds nothing on me” in the sense of having “no power over me”; probably the latter is intended. In any event, the wording of v. 31a is quite similar to that of the closing words of 17:23—the former mentions Jesus’ love for the Father, the latter the Father’s love for Jesus. The world—everyone in it, not just the elect/believers—can recognize in Jesus’ death his great love for God.

It is the “love commandment” in 13:34-35 which relates more directly to the statement in 17:23:

“A new duty I give to you to complete: that you love each another—just as I loved you, that also you would love each other. In this, all people will know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples], if you hold love among [lit. in/on, e)n] each other.”

There is a similar matrix of thought and language, including the idea that people in the world will know as a result of the unifying love which believers share. Here the sense of believers as an example to the world is more plausible; yet, the emphasis is still squarely on believers and their relationship to Jesus.

If we consider the statements in 13:34-35, 14:31, and 17:23 in sequence, representing a kind of development of thought, it seems to parallel Christian ministry itself:

  • 13:34-35—Believers as ministers, representatives of Christ, in the world
    • Love—We are to love each other according to the example of Jesus (“just as” [kaqw/$] he loved us); his sacrificial death is implicit and fundamental to this love.
    • World’s Response—”All people” recognize this love as a sign that believers are disciples of Jesus, i.e. that they are Christians
  • 14:31—The Gospel message believers proclaim in the world is centered on the sacrificial death of Jesus, which frees us from the power of the world (“ruler of the world”, v. 30)
    • Love—Jesus’ love is embodied in his sacrificial death, and demonstrates his love for God the Father
    • World’s Response—Those in the world, both the Elect and non-elect, can recognize Jesus’ love for God in his sacrificial death
  • 17:23—Believers proclaim the Gospel (the Word), being guided and empowered by the living Word (the Spirit) which unites us with God the Father and Jesus (the Son)
    • Love—As believers we share (“even as” [kaqw/$]) in the same Love which God the Father has for Jesus (the Son); it is not just an attribute of God, but the Presence of God Himself.
    • World’s Response—The Elect/Chosen ones in the world come to know that Jesus is the Son sent by God the Father, and recognize the love which God has for them, uniting them with all other believers.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:20-23

John 17:20-23

As discussed previously in these notes on the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17, verses 12-26 provide an exposition of the central petition of vv. 9-11. As in the Discourses proper, Jesus explains the true meaning of his words; in this regard, the situation is much like that of the prayer at the tomb of the Lazarus in 11:41-42—it is intended as much or more for the benefit of those around him (the disciples/believers) than it is for God the Father whom he addresses. Verses 12-19, discussed in the prior studies, comprise the first section of the exposition, verse 20-26 the second. The petition in vv. 9ff is for the needs of believers; in vv. 12-19, the focus is on Jesus’ immediate disciples (the Twelve, etc), while in vv. 20-26 the viewpoint widens out to encompass all believers everywhere. This is clear from the way the language in verse 9 is repeated, essentially restating the petition:

“And (yet) I do not ask about these only, but also about the (one)s trusting in me through their word [lo/go$]…”

The wording sharpens an important theme running through the Last Discourse: that of the disciples serving as witnesses of Jesus after he has departed to the Father. Verse 18, with its reference to the disciples as apostles—i.e. ones sent out from Jesus into the world—anticipates the post-resurrection commission in 20:21-23. Yet here, the emphasis is not on the work of the disciples, but on those who come to trust in Jesus through their work. In this regard, verses 20-23 serve as an expository refrain to the Prayer, moving from Jesus’ circle of disciples to the wider sphere of believers the world over. The parallelism in these verses is striking, and must be examined carefully; indeed, we have here two strophes that are nearly identical, following a precise pattern:

    • Initial statement regarding believers
      • i%na clause—that they (all) may be one
      • comparative kaqw/$ clause, relating their unity to that shared by Father and Son
      • i%na clause—that they may share the same (kind of) unity
        • concluding i%na (result) clause—believers’ witness to the world

Let us consider each strophe—first, vv. 20-21:

    • “…(I ask) about the (one)s trusting in me through their word,
      • that [i%na] (they) all would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you,
      • that [i%na] they also would be in us,
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth.”

Second, the following vv. 22-23:

    • “And the honor [do/ca] which you have given to me, I have given to them,
      • that [i%na] they would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one [e%n]—I in them and you in me—
      • that [i%na] they would be completed into one [e%n]
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would know that you se(n)t me forth
          and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

It will be most useful, I think, to take each corresponding pair of lines, from each strophe, and examine them together in turn.

With regard to the initial statement regarding believers, the first (v. 20) identifies believers as those trusting in Jesus through the intermediary work of the disciples (i.e. other believers) proclaiming the Gospel message about him. The second statement (v. 22a), I would suggest, characterizes the essential identity of the believer: one who shares in the honor/glory (do/ca) of God the Father and Jesus Christ (the Son). This divine honor/glory is not realized individually, but collectively, for believers as a whole. This will be discussed further when we come to verse 24. The Prayer-Discourse began with this idea of honor/glory (do/ca), in vv. 1ff, and has continued as a theme throughout (vv. 10, 17-18, 22ff). There can be little doubt that Jesus is here speaking of the same divine/eternal do/ca mentioned in vv. 5 and 10, however shocking that might seem to religious sensibilities. He states unequivocally that he has given this same do/ca to believers; and, it must be understood as the sign and basis of the unity we have with Father and Son (and with each other). This point will be expounded further by Jesus in vv. 24-26.

Now, for each of the i%na/kaqw/$ clause pairs:

  1. “that (they) all would be one” [i%na pa/nte$ e^n w@sin] (v. 21a)
    “that they would be one” [i%na w@sin e^n] (v. 22b)

These two statements are virtually identical, really only differing by the inclusion of “all” (pa/nte$) in the first statement, a distinction which certainly applies to the second as well. It emphasizes that Jesus’ prayer relates to all believers, everywhere. At other points in the Gospel we find a definite awareness of this universal outlook (1:12-13; 3:14-15ff; 6:44-45ff; 10:16; 11:25-26; 12:32, 46ff; 18:37; 20:29, 31, etc). The repeated use of the neuter e%n (“one”) emphasizes that believers should be understood collectively—i.e. as a universal community. It is similar in meaning to the Hebrew word dh^y~, used as an identifying self-designation by the Community of the Qumran texts; the same language was almost certainly applied by early Hebrew/Aramaic-speaking Christians as well (cf. Acts 2:42, etc).

  1. “just as you, Father, (are) in me and I in you” [kaqw\$ su/ path/r e)n e)moi\ ka)gw\ e)n soi/] (v. 21b)
    “just as we are one—I in them and you in me” [kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n: e)gw\ e)n au)toi=$ kai\ su\ e)n emoi/] (v. 22c-23a)

These are two distinct, but closely related statements; in several important respects the meaning is the same:

    • The unity of believers is patterned after the unity shared by God (the Father) and Jesus (the Son); this is the force of the particle kaqw/$ (“just as, even as”)
    • However, this unity is not just similar to the divine unity, it is fundamentally the same—it is based upon the unity of Father and Son and derives from it
    • The basis of this divine unity, in which believers share, is the joint/reciprocal relationship of being “in” (e)n) one another.

This unity is presented here in two aspects:

    • Horizontal (reciprocal)—equally between Father and Son (and, in turn, with believers): “you in me, and I in you”
    • Vertical (hierarchical)—from Father to Son to believers: “I in them and you in me”

Ultimately, for believers, the first aspect is dependent upon the second; that is to say, we share in the unity between Father and Son through our relationship to the Son. Though it is not stated here, this relationship with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit.

  1. “that they also would be in us” [i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n h(mi=n w@sin] (v. 21c)
    “that they would be completed into one” [i%na w@sin teteleiwme/noi ei)$ e%n] (v. 23b)

Here the point made above—that unity is based on being “in” the Father and Son—is beautifully set in parallel: “in us” and “completed into one” are synonymous. For the sake of simplicity, my translation of the second phrase, though generally literal in rendering, has somewhat obscured the force of the perfect participle teteleiwme/noi. This would more accurately be translated “(one)s having been completed” or “(one)s having been made complete”. In other words, the participle characterizes believers. This verb (teleio/w, “[make] complete”) is closely related to tele/w (“complete”), and both verbs together have a special theological significance in the Johannine writings. In the Gospel, they refer to Jesus (the Son) completing the work, or mission, for which the Father sent him to earth (4:34; 5:36). We saw that Jesus used the verb teleio/w earlier in the Prayer (v. 4); the Passion setting makes clear that this completed work is to culminate with his sacrificial death (19:28), being fulfilled in his final word on the cross: “it is completed” [tete/lestai, vb tele/w] (v. 30).

However, here the verb teleio/w, in the passive, is used of believers. The parallel for this usage is found in the First Letter of John, and these references must be consulted to understand its meaning here:

“but, whoever would keep watch (over) his word [lo/go$], in this (person) the love of God has been made complete [tetelei/wtai], (and) in this we know that we are in him [e)n au)tw=| e)smen]” (2:5)

“No one has ever looked (upon) God. (But) if we love (each) other, (then) God remains [i.e. dwells] in us, and his love is made complete [teteleiwme/nh] in us.” (4:12)
“In this [e)n tou/tw|], love has been completed [tetelei/wtai] with us…that just as [kaqw/$] that (one) [i.e. the Son/Jesus] is [e)stin], (so) also we are [e)smen] in this world. There is no fear in love, but the love (that is) complete [telei/a] throws fear (out)…and the (one) fearing has not been made complete [tetelei/wtai] in love.” (4:17-18)

Even a casual reading, in translation, should make clear how similar the thought and language is to that of the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus. Here the completion/completeness of believers is marked by the presence of God’s love (a)ga/ph) in them. That is certainly an important motif in the Gospel Discourses as well; in fact, it is one of the key themes that opens the Last Discourse (13:34-35), running all the way through it, to the end of the Prayer-Discourse (vv. 24-26, to be discussed in next week’s study). There is, in these passages from 1 John, a close connection between the verb teleio/w and the idea of the unity of believers that is based on the presence of God (and Christ) in us. This is precisely what we find here in vv. 21, 23 of the Prayer. Believers are made complete through their/our union with the Son, the presence of whom is variously defined in terms of (a) Word [lo/go$], (b) Love, but ultimately as (c) the Spirit.

However, this is not the full extent of the meaning of the verb teleio/w in this passage; there is an important aspect yet to be addressed, which requires study of the final (concluding) phrases of each strophe.

  1. “(so) that the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth” [i%na o( ko/smo$ pisteu/h| o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$] (v. 21d)
    “(so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth…” [i%na ginw/skh| o( ko/smo$ o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$]
    “…(and) that you loved them just as you loved me.” (v. 23c-d)

The references here to the “world” (ko/smo$) are complex and carry a special significance within the theological setting of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus. A proper understanding of it requires an extended discussion, which I will be giving in a supplemental article.

April 3 (2): John 10:1-18

John 10:1-18ff

Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” is one of the most beloved themes from the Gospels—however, the popular image of Jesus carrying the sheep really stems from the parable in Luke 15:3-7 (parallel in Matthew 18:12-14), of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to rescue the one “lost” sheep that had strayed: a beautiful image of care and concern for the sinner, the poor, the outcast. The parable in John (10:1-5, expounded in verses 7-18, 27-29) is rather different: the “good” (literally, “beautiful”, kalo/$) shepherd is one who guides and protects the entire flock (or herd, poi/mnh). Actually, Jesus describes himself as both the shepherd and the sheepgate (“door”, qu/ra) in the parable. This seems to have caused some confusion for early scribes: Ë75, along with Coptic (Sahidic, Akhmimc, Fayyumic) versions, read “shepherd” (o( poimh/n) instead of “door” (h( qu/ra) in verse 7. The “Good Shepherd” passage can be broken down as follows:

    1. The parable, 10:1-6
    2. Jesus as the door (gate) to the sheepfold, 10:7-10
    3. Jesus as the shepherd, 10:11-13
    4. The unity and preservation of the flock, 10:14-18
    5. A reprise of the shepherd theme, 10:25-30

Here I will look briefly at aspects of the last two sections, which are closely related and serve as a climactic revelatory moment for the parable (and exposition) of vv. 1-13. I find several primary themes, all of which are, in various ways, developed in subsequent chapters of the Gospel:

A. Mutual knowledge between Shepherd and Flock

In verse 14, right after the key declaration that he is (“I am”, e)gw/ ei)mi) the “beautiful shepherd” (o( poimh\n o( kalo/$), Jesus states that ginw/skw ta\ e)ma\ kai\ ginw/skousi/ me ta\ e)ma\, “I know the (things/ones that are) mine and the (thing/ones that are) mine know me”. The motif of knowing and knowledge (gnw=si$) is prominent throughout the Gospel of John (see especially the great discourses in chapters 8, 13, 14, and 17). Clearly this is not simply a matter of intellectual or factual knowledge, but of an intuitive recognition or “trust” (pi/sti$) (based on one’s true identity as a believer)—see Jesus’ response to the people questioning him in verse 26: u(mei=$ ou) pisteu/ete, o%ti ou)k e)ste\ e)k tw=n proba/twn tw=n e)mw=n, “you do not trust [i.e. believe], because you are not out of [i.e. from or belonging to] my sheep”. There something of a “gnostic” quality to this: it not so much a matter of conversion or learning something new, but of recognition, of realizing who (and whose) you (already) are. It would be precarious to read a full-fledged Augustinian-Reformed doctrine of predestination into passages such as this, but the basic concept is, I think, appropriate. Certainly the shepherd’s knowledge of the sheep is mentioned first, and takes priority. While the structure of the motif in verse 14 stresses mutual knowledge, it is not out of place to consider that our knowledge of Christ is based on his (pre-existing) knowledge of us (see John 15:16; 1 John 4:19, etc). This recognition of the shepherd leads to the sheep following him (not the other way around).

B. The Voice of the Shepherd

What the sheep follow is the voice of the shepherd (verse 16, 27; see also in the parable v. 3-5). The parallel motif of voice/hearing also occurs throughout the Gospel. The voice (fwnh/), of course is the audible expression of speech (i.e., lo/go$ “word, saying, account”)—Christ as the lo/go$ also gives account or “speaks” (le/gw). It is important to examine: (1) the source and nature of the voice in the Gospel, and (2) how the voice manifests itself in the context of the Gospel.

(1) First, the “word” (lo/go$) was (h@n) in the beginning (e)n a)rxh=|) with [lit. toward, pro$] God, and was God (qeo$) (John 1:1ff). Second, throughout the Gospel, Jesus emphasizes over and over that he (the Son) only does what he hears (John 5:30; 12:49-50; also 16:13 [of the Spirit], etc) and sees (5:19-20, etc) the Father saying and doing (the [incarnate] inter-relationship between Father and Son). And third, throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ words (voice) is identified with the voice of God—i.e., they speak with a common voice. This is especially so in relation to the idea of resurrection (5:19-29), where it is stated that all who are in the tombs “will hear his voice” (a)kou/sousin th=$ fwnh=$ au)tou=) and “will travel [i.e. come] out” (e)kporeu/sontai) (v. 28-29, cf. also v. 25 “the ones hearing [his voice] will live”).

(2) The message of 5:25, 28-29 will be acted out dramatically in the scene of the raising of Lazarus (11:1-44, esp. v. 43). Soon after, when Jesus is in Jerusalem, in response to his prayer (Pa/ter, do/caso/n sou to\ o&noma, “Father, glorify your name”, 12:28), there was “a voice out of heaven” (fwnh/ e)k tou= ou)ranou=) like “thunder” (bronth/)—a clear echo of the Theophany on Mt Sinai (Exodus 19:19; 20:18: in Ancient Near Eastern thinking thunder was generally understood as the “voice” of God). If, in these two scenes there is a visible, audible manifestation of the power of the Divine Voice, in chapters 13-17 the Voice is manifest at the spiritual level in Jesus’ discourses (presented as his parting words) to his disciples. Indeed, the coming Spirit (16:13-15) will, like Jesus himself [as his abiding presence in believers], speak whatever he hears (from the Father), and will glorify Christ (just like the Divine Voice of 12:28), receiving (lh/yetai) what is out of [i.e. from, belonging to] the Son, and will “declare” (a)paggelei= lit. “give [forth] a message”) it to the believer.  In the passion and resurrection narratives too there is a subtle dramatization of Jesus’ voice; note especially the words to Pilate: “into this [i.e. for this] I have come into the world, that I should witness [to] the truth; every one that is out of [e)k, “of, from, belonging to”] the truth hears my voice [a)kou/ei mou th=$ fwnh=$] (18:37). Note again that it is not hearing the voice that leads one to the truth, but one hears the voice because he/she already belongs to the truth. Interestingly, the crowd could not understand the Divine Voice (12:28-29).

C. The Authority of the Shepherd

The inter-relation and mutual identity of Father and Son has already been mentioned (cf. 10:15, “as the Father knows me and I know the Father”). But what is also specified in the Good Shepherd passage is the “authority” (e)cousi/a) Christ has (v. 18), specifically the authority to “set (down)” (aorist infinitive of ti/qhmi) and to “take/receive” (aor. inf. of lamba/nw) again his soul (or “life”, yuxh/). The word e)cousi/a (from e&cestin/e&ceimi) defies a strict literal translation in English, but it would be something like “from being” in the sense of something which “can be (done)”—i.e., power, ability, but also that which is permitted, lawful, etc. By extension, e)cousi/a often refers to the power or ability (to do something) granted by another (i..e, by one more powerful, king, ruler, etc). In this regard, orthodox believers are a bit uncomfortable speaking of authority being “given” to Christ by one “more powerful” (the Father); and, while it is not necessary to read a strict subordinationism here, Jesus specifically states that the authority (with the task of setting down and taking up his life) is a “commandment” or “charge” place on him (e)ntolh/) which he received from the Father (10:18). This charge is, literally, for the completion (te/lo$) of a mission, and to fulfill God’s purpose—for the suffering and death (the setting [down]) and resurrection and glorification (the taking [up] again) which was soon to come. This image of the shepherd who th\n yuxh\n au)tou= ti/qhsin u(pe\r tw=n proba/twn (“sets [down] his soul over [i.e. on behalf of] the sheep”) (10:11) is most beautiful indeed. One must also point out that the authority is not, in fact, merely “subordinate”, but equal to the Father—consider the powerful statement in verse 28: “and I give them life (of the) Age [i.e. eternal life], and no they shall not perish [or, be destroyed] into the Age, and someone shall not [i.e. no one shall] snatch them out of my hand!” This authority (indeed the sheep themselves, the believers) was given by the Father and no one “has power to snatch (them) out of the Father’s hand” (v. 29), and the statement culminates with Jesus’ famous declaration: e)gw\ kai\ o( path\r e%n e)smen (“I and the Father are one”, v. 30).

D. The Unity of the Flock

Perhaps most extraordinary in this passage is the effect both of the shepherd’s voice and of his laying down his life: that there will come to be (genh/sonta) “a single herd [i.e. flock], (and) one herdsman [i.e. shepherd]” (mi/a poi/mnh ei($ poi/mhn). This last phrase is quite remarkable; it is necessary to examine each part separately and then both combined:

(1) mi/a poi/mnh (“one herd” or “one flock”). This has two aspects: (a) the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers, clearly indicated by the “other sheep” (a&lla pro/bata) who will “hear his voice” (10:1, notice also in this context the Greeks who approach Jesus in chapter 12).  More importantly, (b) the unity of all believers, a message subtly present throughout the entire Gospel, but which will find sublime expression in the “prayer” of chapter 17.

(2) ei($ poi/mhn (“one shepherd”). In his exposition of the parable, Jesus speaks of the “thief” who tries to sneak in and steal (or kill) the sheep (v. 8, 10), and the mere hireling who does not protect the sheep (v. 12-13)—both are false shepherd (“strangers”) whom sheep will not truly follow (v. 5). There is only one shepherd the sheep follow (v. 4, 14, 16, 27), and only one who lays his life down for the flock.

(3) mi/a poi/mnh ei($ poi/mhn (“one [sheep-]herd, one shepherd”). This means more than simply a combination of the two statements; rather the combined statement itself represents something quite new (and deeper). The key, I think, is the parallel declaration in v. 14-15, which I arrange chiastically:

  • e)gw/ ei)mi o( poimh\n o( kalo/$ (“I am the beautiful shepherd”)
    • kai\ ginw/skw ta\ e)ma\ kai\ ginw/skousi/ me ta\ e)ma/ (“and I know the [ones that are] mine, and the [ones that are] mine know me”)
    • kaqw\$ ginw/skei me o( path\r ka)gw\ ginw/skw to\n pate/ra (“even as the Father knows me and I know the Father”)
  • kai\ th\n yuxh/n mou ti/qhmi u(pe\r tw=n proba/twn (“and I set [down] my soul over [i.e. on behalf of] the sheep”)

The inner phrases express the great two-fold theme of unity, declared more completely in Jesus’ words to the Father in chapter 17:

i%na w@sin e^n kaqw\$ h(mei=$
“they they might be one even as we [are] (v. 11)”

i%na pa/nte$ e^n w@sin, kaqw\$ su/, pa/ter, e)n e)moi\ ka)gw\ e)n soi/, i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n h(mi=n w@sin
“that all might be one, even as you, Father, [are] in me and I in you, that also they might be in us (v. 21)”

ka)gw\ th\n do/can h^n de/dwka/$ moi de/dwka au)toi=$, i%na w@sin e^n kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n
“and I have given the glory, which you have given to me, to them, that they might be one even as we [are] one (v. 22)”

i%na h( a)ga/ph h^n h)ga/phsa/$ me e)n au)toi=$ h@| ka)gw\ e)n au)toi=$
“…that the love [with] which you loved me might be in them, and I in them (v. 26b)”

Jesus as the Good Shepherd was a popular theme in early Christian art, including a number of depictions in the 2nd/3rd-century catacombs (underground burial sites in and around Rome)—making them some of the very earliest Christian works of art to survive. The pastoral imagery—well-known from mythology and the bucolic poetry of Theocritus, Virgil, et al.—was especially suited for an idyllic representation of the afterlife in Greco-Roman culture. But for Christians, there was probably an inherent religious message as well. The Good Shepherd discourse in John precedes the raising of Lazarus from the dead; and, surely the image of the shepherd protecting and preserving his sheep offered considerable comfort to those facing death. One might also have had in mind the words of John 10:28: “and I give them eternal life [life of the Age], and no they shall not perish unto the Age, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand!”