July 13: Ephesians 4:1-6

Ephesians 4:1-6

The same theme of Christian unity in the first half of Ephesians (chaps. 1-3) continues in the second half (chaps. 4-6), but with the theological emphasis giving way to the practical. The theological (and Christological) exposition concludes with the praise declaration of 3:20-21, which itself recapitulates the message of chaps. 1-3, through the unifying expressions “in the e)kklhsi/a” and “in (the) Anointed Yeshua” —that is to say, God’s presence and power is manifest among believers (the e)kklhsi/a, those “called out” to assemble as one), who are united together “in Christ”. The central point of unity in all this is the Spirit, as discussed in the previous notes on 2:18-22.

Chapter 4 is written with the message of chaps. 1-3 clearly in view; here is how Paul (or the author) begins:

“(So) then, I call you alongside—I, (the one) held bound in (the) Lord—(urging you) to walk about (in a way that is) brought (in balance with) the calling with which you were called”

The ethical orientation is clear enough, repeating a line of instruction that was widespread among early Christians—to the effect that believers should live and behave in a manner that reflects their identity as holy ones, united with God in Jesus Christ. Such instruction is largely traditional, and doubtless has its origins in the baptism ritual. As baptism symbolized the death of the old, and the beginning of new life in Christ, characterized by the holiness of the Spirit, so believers should continue to live in a like manner. Here the point of reference extends beyond baptism to the calling (klh=si$) of believers, related to the noun e)kklhsi/a in 3:21 (cf. above). God “calls out” his people (believers) to gather together in the bond of the Spirit—a process that begins with the moment a person comes to trust in Jesus, and continues throughout one’s life. The verb peripate/w (“walk about”) is the idiom signifying a person’s daily activity and behavior.

Verse 2 describes the character of this walk, utilizing a simple ‘virtue-list’ format—the Christian attributes (of humility, meekness, and patient endurance) all encompassed under the fundamental principle of love (a)ga/ph). The goal of the believer’s faithful walk is expressed in verse 3:

“…making haste to keep watch (over) the oneness [e(no/th$] of the Spirit, in the bond of peace (we hold) together”

The term e(no/th$ literally means “oneness”, and the expression e(no/th$ tou= pneu/mato$ (“oneness of the Spirit”) effectively summarizes the theme of believers’ unity in the Spirit. The author (Paul) speaks in v. 1 of his being held bound as a prisoner (a de/smio$); now he plays on this terminology to affirm the common bond (desmo/$) believers share in the Spirit—this bond holds us together (su/n, i.e. su/ndesmo$). It is also a bond of peace (ei)rh/nh); on this theme of peace in Christ, cf. 2:14-17 and the prior note on 2:18-22. The ethical instruction of vv. 1ff is framed here in terms of “keeping watch” over (vb thre/w) or guarding this bond we share in the Spirit. As indicated in verse 30, it is possible for believers to bring sorrow (vb lupe/w) to the Spirit through their conduct or attitude. A Spirit-guided life does not happen automatically, but requires faithful attention and devotion from each believer.

This “oneness” or unity of the Spirit is expounded further in verse 4:

“…one [e%n] body and one [e%n] Spirit, even as you also were called in (the) single [mi/a] hope of your calling”

The hope (e)lpi/$) of the believer is the ultimate salvation one will experience after death (or at the end-time), when the new life we experience now, in the Spirit, will transform our entire person and being. The term is fundamentally eschatological for early Christians, and refers primarily to the resurrection that will take place at the future return of Jesus. The presence and work of the Spirit represents the “realized” aspect of this eschatological hope for believers—i.e., it is realized now, in the present, but will be fulfilled and made complete in the future.

The body (sw=ma) that we share in common (“one body”) must be understood in terms of our union with Christ—in Christ all believers form a single body, the “body of Christ”. This is very much a Pauline theme, drawn from the theological principle of being united with Christ’s body—participating in his death and resurrection (cf. Rom 6:6ff; 7:4; 8:10; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:24ff; 15:44-49; 2 Cor 4:10; Gal 2:19-20; 6:17; Phil 3:21; Col 1:22). From this thought developed the ecclesiological principle of believers, collectively, forming Christ’s ‘body’ —Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:17; 12:12-27ff; Col 1:18, 24. The two principles are closely connected, and go hand in hand, as the juxtaposition in 1 Cor 10:16-17 and Col 1:18-22 makes clear; they are also both realized for believers in the Spirit (rather than sacramentally or through ecclesiastical organization). That is also why “one body” and “one Spirit” occur in tandem here—the expressions are inseparable.

This exposition on unity continues in verses 5-6:

“…one [ei!$] Lord, a single [mi/a] trust, one [e%n] dunking,
one [ei!$] God and Father of all (thing)s—the (One who is) above all (thing)s, and through all (thing)s, and in all (thing)s.”

If verse 4 begins with unity viewed from the standpoint of the bond believers share together in the Spirit, it expands outward in vv. 5-6 based on the identification of the Spirit as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. Verse 5 makes clear that the “one Spirit” refers to the “one Lord” (ei!$ ku/rio$), and, in this instance, the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) unquestionably means Jesus Christ. Our unity is thus “in Christ” (a popular Pauline expression), and the realization of this union with him is two-fold, through (a) our trust in him, and (b) the symbolism of the baptism ritual.

For the Christian, however, union with Jesus (the Son) also means union with God the Father, whose nature as Creator and Sovereign Lord encompasses “all things”. The plural form of pa=$ (“all”) is not neuter, but a masculine form, which could be understood as “all people”; however, the cosmic sense of “all things” is to be preferred, supported by the context that follows in vv. 8-9 (cp. Col 1:15-17ff; 1 Cor 15:27-28). The expression “one God”, of course, is a statement of (absolute) monotheism, which early Christians inherited from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition.

July 12: Ephesians 2:18-22 (continued)

Ephesians 2:18-22, continued

Having discussed verses 18-22 in the wider context of vv. 11ff (and chaps. 1-3) in the previous note, today we will examine them in more detail. Verse 18 marks the climax of the exposition in this section, declaring that the unity of believers—Jews and Gentiles—is realized through the Spirit:

“…that through him the both (of us), in one Spirit, hold the way leading toward the Father.”
or, in a somewhat more literal rendering:
“…that through him we hold the way leading toward (Him)—the both (of us), in one Spirit—toward the Father”

To state the matter with more precision, the unity is realized through Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit. As I have mentioned repeatedly, from the Pauline standpoint, the Spirit means both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, and to be “in the Spirit” is the same as being “in Christ”. This reality of being “in the Spirit” also means that we hold, in and among us, the way “leading toward” the Father (cp. John 14:6).

In verse 19, the imagery shifts to that of a house (oi@ko$), utilizing the motif of a building—a constructed dwelling—as an illustration of this unity in the Spirit. Paul (or the author) continues alluding to the idea of the separation between Jews and Gentiles, prior to the saving work of Jesus, with the traditional contrast between the Israelite people and others (non-Israelites) who simply dwell among them. The common Hebrew term for the latter is rG@, with the comparable Greek word being pa/roiko$ (one who “houses [i.e. dwells] alonside”). This word is used in v. 19 along with ce/no$ (“foreigner, stranger”), and is contrasted with sumpoli/th$, one who lives “together with” other citizens/natives of the same city. Here is how this is phrased:

“So then, (now) no longer are you foreigners and (one)s housing alongside, but you are (resident)s together (in the) city of the holy (one)s, and (the) house-hold [oi)kei=o$] of God” (v. 19)

Believers are citizens of one city, and even belong to a single household. It is the city and house of God, residency shared by all the “holy ones” (a%gioi), both in heaven and on earth.

“(the) house (hav)ing been built upon the (foundation) set (down) of the apo/stoloi and the profh/tai, (the stone) at the top corner being (the) Anointed Yeshua himself” (v. 20)

The compound verb e)poikodome/w encapsulates the idea of a house (oi@ko$) being built upon (e)pi/) a foundation. This foundation (qeme/lio$) is literally something “set down” on the ground, at the base, in preparation of building. It is identified by the pairing “apostles and prophets” —those “se(n)t forth” (a)po/stoloi) and the “foretellers” (profh/tai), the latter term either in the sense of speaking something beforehand or speaking it before (in front of) an audience. The latter meaning more properly captures the sense of the corresponding Hebrew term ayb!n`, i.e. one functioning as a spokesperson for God, who declares His word and will to the people.

Traditionally, this pairing of apostles and prophets has been understood in terms of the unity of the new and old covenants, respectively. To be sure, early Christians held widely to the belief that the Gospel of Christ was foretold by the Old Testament prophets, and also that the inspired ministers of the Gospel functioned in a manner comparable to the Prophets of old. Paul affirms this correspondence a number of times in his letters (e.g., Rom 1:2; 16:26; 1 Thess 2:15), however it seems rather out of place to read it into the passage here. The same pairing of apostles/prophets in 3:5 rather confirms that the reference is to Christian prophets—and the pairing signifies the leading Christian ministers who possess the spiritual gifts of apostleship and prophecy. Apostles and prophets have the highest place in the ministry list in 4:11, as also in 1 Cor 12:28-29.

The apostles were the missionaries who played a leading role in the proclamation of the Gospel in a particular territory, and in the founding and maintenance of local congregations. The prophets were the primary teachers and preachers within the congregation, those who proclaimed the word and will of God to others through inspired revelation. Here it is said that such ministers serve as the foundation for all other believers, presumably in the practical sense that they are the ones, primarily, who proclaimed the Gospel message for congregations in their formative stage. This tends to contradict the illustrative language Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3, but follows the traditional imagery associated with the Twelve (Matt 16:18f; Gal 2:2, 6-9, etc).

Verse 20 does, however, agree with Paul in 1 Cor 3:10-11, in affirming that Christ is the true foundation of the house/building of God. The adjective used here is a)krogoniai=o$, meaning something like “at the top corner”. Elsewhere it occurs only in the citation of Isa 28:16 in 1 Pet 2:6, where the Scripture quotation makes very much the same point (cf. also the citation of Psalm 118:22 and Isa 8:14 in vv. 7-8; cp. Mark 12:10-11 par). More than simply a reference to the foundation stone of a building, the motif seems to locate the Christ-stone as central to the entire edifice, and may more properly allude to the keystone used to top an arch (cf. Barth, p. 318, citing earlier studies by J. Jeremias).

“in whom all (the) building [oi)kodomh/], being joined (close) together, grows into (the) holy shrine [na/o$] in (the) Lord” (v. 21)

Here the “house” is specifically identified as the shrine (na/o$), i.e. Temple sanctuary, of God. This follows the longstanding tradition of referring to the Temple as the house (tyB@) of God. The term oi)kodomh/ refers specifically to the edifice or structure of a house. Paul makes use of such a Temple-motif in his letters, most notably in 1 Cor 3:16-17; cf. also 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16, and cp. the context of 1 Cor 9:13. Long before the Jerusalem Temple was actually destroyed, early Christians had already begun reinterpreting and “spiritualizing” the Temple, identifying believers in Christ—collectively and individually—as the true dwelling-place of God. We find the same emphasis, for example, in the book of Revelation (3:12; 21:22, etc), and a strong argument can be made that the entire line of thought has its origins in the Gospel traditions in which Jesus identifies himself with the Temple building (Matt 12:6; John 2:19, cp. Mk 14:58 par). A marked anti-Temple tendency can be detected, for example, in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:41-50, cf. 6:13-14), and this attitude towards the sacrificial ritual of the Temple cultus generally pervades early Christianity. At the same time, the Temple itself continued to serve as a positive symbol—not for the ritual of the old covenant, but as a metaphor depicting the presence of God’s Spirit in and among believers.

The “in whom” (e)n w!|) at the beginning of the verse refers to Jesus Christ (“[the] Anointed Yeshua”) at the close of v. 20. Similarly, the same expression (“in whom”, e)n w!|) begins verse 22, and refers to “(the) Lord” at the end of v. 21. Syntactically, v. 22 is subordinate to v. 21, but in reality these are parallel statements, referring to believers as those being “in Christ” (= “in the Lord”). Even so, we should keep in mind that the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) had a dual-usage in early Christianity, and could refer to God the Father or Jesus, interchangeably.

“in whom you also are built together into a (place) for God to put down house, in (the) Spirit.” (v. 22)

The “you also” (kai\ u(mei=$) applies to the audience of the letter as Gentile believers, alluding again to the key emphasis throughout these chapters on Jewish-Gentile unity for believers in Christ. The use of the term katoikhth/rion brings out the aspect of the Temple sanctuary as the place where God “puts down (his) house”, i.e. where he dwells. The verse (and the entire pericope) concludes with the expression “in the Spirit”, which is clearly parallel with the “in whom” (i.e. in Christ / in the Lord) at the start of vv. 21 and 22. It functions as a comprehensive reference, even if its immediate place in the syntax of the verse is somewhat ambiguous. It can be understood four different ways, according to four points of reference:

    • “you”, i.e. believers as those who are “in the Spirit”
    • “God”, that God dwells in/among believers “in the Spirit”
    • house/building—believers make up this building, but it exists and has its substance/reality “in the Spirit”
    • “built…in the Spirit”, it refers to primarily to the process of building/growth

It is difficult to isolate and give preference to just one of these aspects, but I would tend to focus on the first two as the most consistent with early Christian and Pauline tradition. That it is God’s Spirit that dwells in believers is certainly made clear by Paul in 1 Cor 3:16-17 and 6:19, and may be the intended point here as well, given the proximity of the expression “in the Spirit” to katoikhth/rion tou= qeou= (“a [place] for God to put down house”, i.e. “dwelling-place of God”). However, the overall theme of chapter 2 relates to the unity of believers, and that this is realized “in the Spirit”; it is perhaps best to view these concluding words here along the same lines—as the source, basis, and fundamental reality of Christian unity.

References above marked “Barth” are to Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 34 (1974).

July 9: Ephesians 2:18-22

Ephesians 2:18-22

As we continue the study of our recent notes, on Paul’s view of the Spirit, the question of the development of early Christian tradition within the Pauline corpus depends, in no small measure, on one’s view of the authorship of the disputed letters—especially Ephesians and the Pastorals. References to the Spirit are more significant and extensive in the case of Ephesians, where there are several passages that warrant careful study.

If the letter was genuinely written by Paul, then it was likely composed in the early 60’s A.D. (probably no earlier than 60); if pseudonymous, then presumably it would have been written some years later, in which case it would also provide evidence for the development of the tradition (regarding the Spirit) during the years 70-100 A.D. On the question of authorship, strong arguments can be made on both sides, and the matter is much too complex to address here in this setting. However, a comparison of the references to the Spirit in Ephesians, with those in the undisputed letters of Paul (previously examined), may offer some evidence in this regard. That is to say, we may be able to discern whether the treatment of the Spirit in Ephesians is comparable to that in the other letters, or whether there is indication of any distinct or substantial further development—which might then indicate the work of a later author.

There are two references to the Spirit in the introductory sections—1:3-14 and 15-23. Eschewing the standard rhetorical-epistolary categories, it is perhaps best to view all of chapter 1 as the “introductory” division of the work, which establishes the main theme(s) and purpose for writing (causa / propositio). Verses 3-14 are framed as a blessing (benedictio), while 15-23 as a thanksgiving, such as we find at the beginning of other Pauline letters. The references to the Spirit (vv. 13, 17) have already been mentioned in the previous note, and they have an important place in each section:

    • vv. 3-14—Blessing to God for what He has done in choosing/saving believers, which entails sealing them with His Spirit (v. 13)
    • vv. 15-23—Thanksgiving to God for the believers to whom Paul is writing, with the wish that they will obtain a true and complete knowledge of God, through the presence and work of the Spirit (v. 17)

The central theme of the first half of Ephesians (chaps. 1-3) is the unity of believers in Christ—Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers alike. This emphasis on Jewish/Gentile unity is a key point for Paul, and one that he expounds fervently—and at considerable length—in Galatians and Romans. However, here in Ephesians there is no carefully argued defense of the point, such as we find in the earlier letters. Rather, the principle is simply assumed and affirmed, and then subsequently developed as part of a broader theological treatment of Christian unity and identity. This development—in rhetorical terms, the probatio—begins in 2:1-10, expounding the traditional message of how God saved believers (Gentiles and Jews) through the work of Jesus Christ. Among the regular Pauline themes in this passage, that of deliverance from bondage to the power of sin (in the flesh) is expressed in vv. 1-3.

When we turn to the next section (2:11-22), the nature of Christ’s sacrificial work (his death and “blood”) is expounded as the basis for the new life believers have in Christ (vv. 11-13). This is treated further, in a more poetic fashion, in vv. 14-18, emphasizing the effect of Christ’s work on believers—Jew and Gentile “both” (a)mfo/tero$). The declaration in verse 14 is that the Anointed One (Christ)

“…is our peace, the (one hav)ing made both [a)mfo/tero$] (into) one [e%n], and (hav)ing loosed [i.e. dissolved] the middle wall of the enclosure, (and) the hostility, in his flesh”

This formula goes beyond the Pauline argument that there is no difference between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ, as framed in the negative context of the proposition that we are no longer under the old covenant Law (Torah). Now, instead, we are given a positive statement regarding this equality, in its own right—that we are all one (ei!$, neuter e%n). To be sure, the message of the abolition of the old Law is prominent here as well (v. 15), and the Torah regulations certainly represent part of the “middle wall” (meso/toixon) that separates Jews from Gentiles. But the overriding emphasis on unity—in terms of essential existence and identity—for believers in Christ is something of a new development in the Pauline corpus. This is expressed powerfully in vv. 15-16:

“…(hav)ing made the Law cease working…(so) that the two might be formed, in him, into one new man, making peace, and (that) he might make (things completely) different (for) them with God, in one body, through the stake [i.e. cross]”

An even more direct, positive statement comes in verse 18:

“…that through him the both (of us), in one Spirit, hold the way leading toward the Father.”

The Greek syntax of this verse cannot be reproduced with precision in English; a somewhat more literal rendering would be:

“…that through him we hold the way leading toward (Him)—the both (of us), in one Spirit—toward the Father”

This perhaps better captures the specific emphasis on the unity of believers. This unity occurs “in the Spirit” —in one Spirit (e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati), and the Spirit thus represents the “(way) leading toward” (prosagwgh/) God the Father. One is immediately reminded of Jesus’ famous words in the Johannine Last Discourse, to the effect that he is the “way” (o(do/$) to the Father (14:6). It is clear from the context of the Last Discourse, however, that this is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit, which is the abiding presence of Christ himself, that unites us with the Father. The message is thus ostensibly the same as we find here in Ephesians. As we have discussed, at some length, Paul uses the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably in his letters, and the Spirit is to be understood as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. To be “in Christ” is essentially the same as being “in the Spirit”. Admittedly, Paul does not explain or develop this theological point in much detail (nor is it so here in Ephesians), but the fundamental premise can be well established from a careful reading of his letters (cf. the recent notes for further discussion).

In the next daily note, we will continue our study on verses 18-22.

July 8: 1 Corinthians 6:11; Philippians 1:27, etc

In these notes on Paul’s view of the Spirit, we have seen how he draws upon early Christian tradition regarding the nature and role of the Spirit. Often he simply maintains the existing line of tradition, though at times he also develops it in interesting and profound ways. In continuing our survey of references in the Pauline letters (cf. the previous note), we may note the following areas of early Christian thought and belief regarding the Spirit:

The role of the Spirit in the resurrection (of Jesus). Paul deals with this extensively in 1 Corinthians 15 (especially verses 44-46, cf. the earlier note), and also in Romans 8 (vv. 9-11, 23ff). In his resurrection (and exaltation), the life-giving Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead, transforming his entire person so that he “became a life-giving Spirit”, wholly united with God’s own Spirit. This is expressed less clearly in Romans 1:3-4, which many commentators believe represents an earlier credal formula that Paul has adapted. In verse 4, this statement declares that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the Son of God through the resurrection, which took place “according to (the) spirit of holiness”. The Greek pneu=ma a(giwsu/nh$ (“spirit of holiness”) is a literal rendering of the Hebrew vd#q) j^Wr, which typically refers to the Spirit of God’s holiness; however, it can also refer to the holiness of a righteous person’s spirit, as we saw in several of the Qumran texts (cf. the earlier study). There is thus some ambiguity in the use of the expression here.

1 Timothy 3:16 is also thought to represent an older hymn or creed-fragment expressing the early kerygma. The opening lines parallel the thought of Rom 1:3-4:

“…(he) was made to shine forth [i.e. was manifest] in (the) flesh,
(and he) was made just/right in (the) Spirit…”

The second line alludes to the resurrection of Jesus, though the use of the verb dikaio/w (“make right/just”) creates certain difficulties in light of Paul’s frequent use of the same verb (in Romans, Galatians, etc) to express the idea of believers (human beings) being made right/just in God’s eyes. Such a sense of the verb, applied to Jesus, would be highly problematic in terms of a developed (orthodox) Christology. This atypical use of dikaio/w is a strong indicator that the verse may be pre-Pauline in origin.

Again, it is not entirely clear whether pneu=ma refers to the Spirit of God or Jesus’ own spirit, or both. The fundamental idea, in terms of the earliest Christological thought, has to do with the injustice that was done to Jesus by his death. Not only was he innocent of any crime, but as God’s own Anointed One (Messiah), he certainly was not deserving of such treatment. This situation was “made right” by God through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, which took place through the work of God’s own Spirit, but also involved the glorification/transformation of Jesus’ spirit (1 Cor 15:44-46). Admittedly, this exaltation-Christology is problematic in the context of subsequent belief (and revelation) regarding the pre-existent deity of Jesus, but it very much reflects the early Christian view in the New Testament (at least prior to c. 60 A.D.).

Washing/Cleansing by the Spirit. This is perhaps the earliest aspect of the Spirit emphasized by Christians, being inherited as it was from the Old Testament and Gospel tradition (beginning with the historical tradition of John the Baptist’s ministry). It was a core component of the baptism ritual from the beginning, and was so basic that it scarcely needed to be explained or expounded further. Paul makes relatively few direct references to believers being cleansed by the Spirit, the most obvious being in 1 Cor 6:11:

“…but you were washed from (sin), but you were made holy, but you were made right—(all) in the name of the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed and in the Spirit of our God.”

Clearly this refers specifically to the cleansing symbolized by the water-rite of baptism (cp. Eph 5:26). A similar statement is found in Titus 3:5:

“…but according to His mercy He saved us, through (the) washing of coming to be (born) again [paliggenesi/a] and being made new again [a)nakai/nwsi$] (through the) holy Spirit.”

The process of sanctification—of believers being “made holy” (vb a(gia/zw)—begins with baptism, but continues throughout the course of one’s life. This sanctification is a fundamental goal and purpose of the Spirit’s work, and of the Gospel ministry (cf. Paul’s statement in Rom 15:16). It underlies the ethical instruction associated with the baptism ritual proper, and likewise informs much of the instruction and exhortation given by Paul to believers throughout his letters. Such ethical instruction is central to the “flesh vs. Spirit” juxtaposition, for example, in Galatians 5-6. The references to the Spirit in Gal 5:16-25 were discussed in an earlier note, but mention should be made of the agricultural illustration in 6:7-9 as well; note verse 8 in particular:

“…the (one) scattering (seed) into his flesh will harvest decay out of the flesh, but the (one) scattering (seed) into the Spirit will harvest life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life] out of the Spirit.”

This Flesh/Spirit dualism is most prominent in Galatians, but we have also seen it in Romans (esp. 8:4-9ff). Elsewhere, it is relatively rare, but I would note Philippians 3:3, where circumcision (and worship of God) in the flesh is contrasted with that for believers in the Spirit (cf. also Rom 2:25-29; Col 2:11; Eph 5:18-19).

Love and the Spirit. Paul is scarcely alone in emphasizing the association between the Spirit and love—the divinely-inspired love that binds and unites believers together. It has even greater prominence in the Johannine Gospel and Letters, for example, and is rooted in a core Christian tradition (i.e., the love command or principle) that goes back to Jesus’ own teachings. Paul is the only New Testament author, however, who develops this tradition in terms of the “New Covenant”, stressing how, in this New Age for believers in Christ, the Spirit takes the place of the old Law (Torah), even as the “love command” represents the fulfillment of the entire Law. This point has been discussed in prior notes, and there is no need to cite again the most relevant passages in Corinthians, Galatians and Romans. However, several specific references should be mentioned here, connecting love with the Spirit:

    • Rom 5:5—the famous image of God’s love being “poured into our hearts” through the holy Spirit
    • Rom 15:30— “I call you alonside[, brothers], through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, and through the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me…”
    • 2 Cor 13:14— “…the love of God and the common-bond [koinwni/a] of the holy Spirit (be) with you all”
    • Phil 2:1— “…if (there is) any calling alongside [para/klhsi$] in (the) Anointed, if (there is) any speaking alongside [paramu/qion] of love, if (there is) any common-bond [koinwni/a] of (the) Spirit…”
      —the nouns para/klhsi$ and paramu/qion are similar in meaning, i.e. giving help or comfort alongside (para/) someone
    • Col 1:8— “…your love in the Spirit”
    • See also the immediate juxtaposition of the Spirit and love in the ‘virtue lists’ of 2 Cor 6:6 and Gal 5:22 (fruit of the Spirit).

Unity of believers in the Spirit. An especially important point of emphasis for Paul in his letters is on the unity of believers in Christ. This applied not only to the question (in Galatians and Romans) of the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers, but to anything that might cause separation or disunity (cf. the central issue of divisions among the congregations in 1 Corinthians). For Paul, there were two primary guiding forces for unity—(a) the love principle (cf. above), and (b) the presence of the Spirit. We noted the expression “the common-bond [koinwni/a] of the Spirit” in 2 Cor 13:14 and Phil 2:1 above, and how it was closely connected with the divinely-inspired love which believers share in Christ. Mention should also be made of Paul’s instruction in Phil 1:27, were he urges believers

“…that you would stand (firm) in one Spirit, and (with) a single soul, contending together in the trust of the good message [i.e. faith of the Gospel]”

Regarding the rather unusual expression “(with) a single a soul”, one is reminded of the repeated use of the term o(moqumado/n in the early chapters of the book of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; also 15:25), used to express the unity of the first believers. Literally, that word means something like “(with) one impulse”; in English, we might say “of one mind” or “with one heart” —sharing a common bond and with a single guiding purpose. Paul clarifies what this “single soul” entails: that believers stand together “in the Spirit”, here specified as “in one Spirit”. In a non-Christian context, the expression e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati could mean in a single (human) spirit, i.e. acting and living and thinking in a common way. Certainly Paul does expect cooperative unity at that level, but such is only realized truly through the far deeper bond of our union with the Spirit of God (and Christ). As history has proven repeatedly, it is almost impossible for human beings to achieve lasting, positive unity, without the presence and work of God’s Spirit; efforts at unity, even with the best of intentions, often devolve into destructive and oppressive patterns of behavior.

No writing in the New Testament addresses the theme and goal of Christian unity so powerfully as does the Pauline letter to the Ephesians. In the next daily note, we will examine several of the key references to the Spirit in Ephesians.

April 16: John 17:22a, 23d

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 5: John 17:22a, 23d

This is the fifth (and final) line of the stanzas in John 17:21-23 (cf. the prior note on the stanza-outline). For some reason, R. E. Brown in his Commentary on John (pp. 769ff) does not include this line with the four prior as part of the parallelism in vv. 21-23. Indeed, many commentators and translators would treat the fifth line of the first stanza (v. 22a) as a separate sentence; however, the parallel in the second stanza (v. 23d) makes clear that the line is integral to the stanza as a whole, and should be included in any treatment of it.

    • “and I—the honor that you have given to me, I have given to them” (v. 22a)
      ka)gw\ th\n do/can h^n de/dwka/$ moi de/dwka au)toi=$
    • “and you loved them just as you loved me” (v. 23d)
      kai\ h)ga/phsa$ au)tou\$ kaqw\$ e)me\ h)ga/phsa$

In this concluding line, the chain of relationshipFather-Son-Believers—is restated as the basis for unity. The basic point is the same, though it is expressed rather differently in each stanza.

Verse 22a

“and I—the honor that you have given to me, I have given to them”

A simpler translation would be “and the honor that you have given to me, I have given to them”; however, this glosses over the emphatic pronoun at the beginning of the line ka)gw/ (“and I…”). Jesus emphasizes that he, as the dutiful Son, is the one who has given from the Father to his disciples (believers). This stresses again the terminology from line 4 (cf. the previous note), that Jesus was sent from the Father, as His messenger and representative. Being also God’s Son means that he is a special kind of representative—one who embodies the very nature and character of God Himself. This is part of the overall theology of the Gospel, and takes on particular significance in the Prayer-Discourse.

The key term in the line here is do/ca (“esteem, honor”, but often translated “glory”)—it is the word that summarizes the relationship between Father and Son. It is especially important within the context of the Passion narrative, as it (or the related verb doca/zw) is used to describe the death and resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus, as the moment when the Son faithfully completes the mission given to him by the Father—12:23, 28; 13:31-32; 17:1, 4-5. The request by Jesus at the start of the Prayer-Discourse (v. 1), closely follows the earlier statement in 13:31 and the sense of the similar request in 12:27-28.

Equally important in the Last Discourse is the emphasis that this same honor (or ‘glory’) is established in the person of Jesus’ disciples, (believers) following his departure back to the Father. Their continued faithfulness and unity of purpose is said to bring honor to Father and Son both (14:13). The emphasis on unity is especially clear in the Vine illustration (15:8)—as believers “remain” (united) in Jesus, through the Spirit, the “fruit” they/we bear brings honor to God. The realization of this honor/glory through the Spirit, as the continuing presence of Jesus uniting all believers, is specifically indicated in 16:14. Indeed, the Spirit fills the very role of Jesus as described here in v. 22a: the Spirit receives from the Father, and gives it, in turn, to believers.

Verse 23d

“and you loved them just as you loved me”

If the key term in the first stanza was do/ca (“honor”), in line 5 of the second stanza it is love (a)ga/ph). Anyone with even a casual knowledge of the Gospel and Letters realizes the importance of love within the Johannine theological vocabulary. Drawing upon the historical (and early Gospel) tradition, love represents the one great command or duty (e)ntolh/) that believers in Christ are obligated to fulfill. In early Christian thought, the ‘love-command’ came to be seen as a fulfillment of the entire Old Testament Law (Torah). This goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (Mark 12:30-33 par; Matt 5:43-48 par), but was expressed more precisely by the New Testament authors (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:13-14; James 2:8ff; cf. also Rom 12:9-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 13:1-14:1; 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 5:6; Col 2:2; 3:14, etc).

In the Gospel of John, the historical tradition is expressed in 13:34-35, at the beginning of the Last Discourse, throughout which the theme of love remains central (14:15, 21-24, 28, 31; 15:9-13, 17-19; 16:27). Love serves to embody (and represent) the unity believers share with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This unity is described by reciprocity—a reciprocal relationship of shared, mutual love, such as exists, naturally enough, between Father and Son. But believers, equally as the offspring (or children) of God, share in this same relationship, and the same love. For more on this, see the previous note on line 3.

In 13:34-35, Jesus genuinely presents love as an e)ntolh/. This Greek word is typically translated as “command(ment)”, but more properly refers to a duty—i.e., something given (placed on) a person to complete. Jesus’ entire mission on earth was just such an e)ntolh/, and now he gives his disciples (believers) an e)ntolh/ as well. This idea was preserved and developed in the Johannine tradition, eventually taking the form of a definitive two-fold e)ntolh/—the only ‘command’ that is binding on believers. It is stated clearly in 1 John 3:23-24, as (1) trust in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God), and (2) love between fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example. The love and the Spirit of God are closely connected, to the point of being virtually identified with each other (cf. Jn 3:34-35). It is in 1 John, especially, that the correspondence between love and the Spirit, as the binding/unifying power between God and believers, is rather clearly expressed—3:23-24; 4:13ff; 5:1-5ff.

Given the parallel line in the first stanza, we might expect Jesus here to say “…and I loved them, just as you loved me”. Indeed, this is the reading of some manuscripts, but is likely secondary, and may be a modification influenced by the wording in 15:9, which more properly follows the chain of relationship Father-Son-Believers: “Just as the Father loved me, (so) I also loved you”. The Son’s role as binding intermediary (between the Father and believers) is certainly to be understood here as well, even if not stated explicitly. However, what the best reading of the text indicates is that, ultimately, the emphasis is not on the union of the believers with Jesus (the Son), but on their/our union with the Father. Jesus’ role is to establish and facilitate this relationship, as the “way” to the Father (14:4-6), and the role is continued through the presence of the Spirit.

Implicit in the wording of v. 23d is the identification of believers as the offspring/children (tekna/) of God. The Father loves us (his children), just as (kaqw/$, cf. the note on line 2) he loves Jesus (his Son). Apart from the term “son” (ui(o/$) being reserved for Jesus, there is no other distinction (i.e. ‘natural’ vs. ‘adopted’ sonship) indicated in the Johannine writings. We, as believers, along with Jesus, share in the same identity (and status) as offspring/children of God.

In the next few daily notes, I will be continuing on to the end of the Prayer-Discourse, discussing the remaining verses 24-26. This, I feel, is necessary in order to complete a proper study of vv. 20-23.

April 14: John 17:21c, 23b

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 3: John 17:21c, 23b

Based on the structure of the two parallel stanzas in John 17:21-23 (outlined in a prior note), the first and third lines contain (parallel) statements that contain the principal request Jesus makes to the Father, on behalf of all believers (v. 20). Each of these statements (lines 1 & 3 of each stanza) is expressed by a i%na-clause (cf. the note on line 1), with a explanatory kaqw/$-clause (line 2, prev. note) in between. The third line re-states the first, incorporating the insight from the explanatory clause. Thus, in examining the third line of each stanza here, it will be necessary to keep the prior two lines clearly in view.

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

In different ways, these statements build upon the initial request (for the unity of believers) in line 1. We will examine them in turn.

Verse 21c

“that they also would be in us”

To begin with, there is a fundamental textual question regarding this phrase. The majority text includes e%n (“one”): “that they also would be [one] in us” (i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n u(mi=n [e^n] w@sin). By contrast, the shorter text (above) is read by some of the oldest/best manuscripts (e.g., Ë66vid B C*) and among a wide range of the versions (and in the Church Fathers). The shorter text is most likely original, with the numeral e%n a natural addition to help explain/clarify the meaning. In my view, however, its inclusion distorts the force of the statement, though it is certainly correct in terms of emphasizing the subject of unity/oneness.

The initial statement in line 1, of the request by Jesus, was “that they all [i.e. all believers] would be one”. Now, the statement in line 3 makes clear that this unity = being in (e)n) the Father and Son (“in us”). It does not simply refer to a unity of believers in relation to each other, but is rooted in a union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This effectively eliminates any local-congregational or ecumenical interpretation of unity. While the unity of believers may be manifest at a local or regional level, in different ways, the view of unity expressed here utterly transcends such limitations. This was clear enough from verse 20, where Jesus speaks inclusively of all believers (cp. 10:16), a conception which cannot be limited to a particular place or time. Unity manifest in local or regional communities is a natural (and practical) by-product of the essential unity of believers.

The explanatory kaqw/$-clause in line 2 further clarifies what it means to be “in” the Father and Son—it is defined by a participation, or joining, in the unity that the Father and Son share with each other. This unity is reciprocal, as the phrasing of the line indicates, with Father and Son each being “in” the other (cf. 10:38, cp. verse 30). In the previous note, I discussed how this might be understood, both in terms of the parent-child idiom, and in light of the Johannine theology. Traditionally, this relationship has been expounded, theologically, two primary ways—(1) as the love between Father and Son, and (2) by the binding and unifying presence of the Spirit. Interestingly, while Jesus says much about both subjects in the Johannine Discourses, he gives little indication of how either relate to his union (as Son) with the Father. That level of theological discussion is, for the most part, simply beyond the scope of the Discourses. There are, however, several interesting allusions, which can be examined.

With regard to the Spirit, perhaps the most interesting line of imagery involves the identification of the Spirit and Word of God. Repeatedly in the Discourses Jesus refers to the words given to him by the Father, to speak and give them, in  turn, to believers in the world. Moreover, according to the majestic Prologue to the Gospel, Jesus himself is the incarnation of the eternal Lo/go$ (or ‘Word’) of God (1:1-2ff). Thus, what the Father “gives” to the Son does not merely represent a (prophetic) message, but reflects the very identity of the Father, manifest in the person of the Son. This is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in 6:63, that these “words” are the very Spirit and Life of God.

Jesus says rather more about love (a)ga/ph) in the Discourses, including repeated assertions that the Father loves the Son—3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 15:9f; 17:24ff—though corresponding statements of his love for the Father are rare (cf. 14:31). It is the Father’ love for the Son that precedes, and is the reason for, what He gives to the Son. Outside of the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse, this is perhaps best expressed in 3:35ff:

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all (thing)s into his hand”

This statement on the love they share follows directly after v. 34, where we read:

“For the (one) whom God sent forth speaks the utterances [i.e. words] of God, for He does not give the Spirit out of a measure.”

Thus the love of the Father for the Son is directly related to the idea of giving to him the fullness of His Spirit.

Verse 23b

“that they would be made complete into one”

A different sort of emphasis is found in the second stanza, where the same request for the unity of believers in line 1 (“that they would be one”) is here qualified as “that they would be made complete into one”. The precise syntax is actually a bit difficult to translate, since it involves a (substantive) perfect participle following the verb of being. Literally, this would be rendered “..they would be (one)s having been made complete” (w@sin teteleiwme/noi). In other words, the substantive participle serves to describe (and identify) believers as “ones having been made complete”.

The verb here is teleio/w (“[make] complete, bring to completion”), related to the simpler tele/w (“complete”). It is used nine times in the Johannine writings (5 in the Gospel, 4 in the First Letter), out of 23 occurrences in the New Testament (more than a third). In the Gospel, it generally refers to Jesus’ completion of the work God the Father has given him to do on earth (4:34; 5:36; 17:4), also expressed by the verb tele/w in Jesus’ dying word on the cross (tete/lestai, “it has been completed”, v. 30, also v. 28). Notably, in all four occurrences in 1 John, teleio/w specifically refers to the idea of God’s love (a)ga/ph) being “made complete” in believers (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). Both of these aspects inform the use of the verb here, though the latter is primarily in view. Believers are made complete when they/we are united in the love that Father and Son share with each other.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the idea of believers being (or becoming) complete, expressed by the related adjective te/leio$, has a strong ethical emphasis—Matt. 5:48; 19:21; Rom 12:2; James 1:4, 25; 3:2, etc. In Paul’s letters the adjective is used to refer to the character of believers (as mature, whole, ideal), sometimes with an eschatological connotation—cf. 1 Cor 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; 4:12. The ethical aspect of teleio/w is not absent here, as can be illustrated by its use in 1 John (cf. above), in connection with the duty believers have to show love to each other. However, we must be cautious about limiting its significance to the practical side, i.e. of how we demonstrate love in practice. As important as this is, it is not what Jesus is emphasizing here. A consideration of the kaqw/$-clause in line 2 elucidates the proper meaning (cf. further in the previous note):

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The love we have is not our own—it stems from God’s love, i.e. the love between Father and Son that unites them together. This is the significance of the references in 1 John—God’s love is made complete in us, to the extent that we, as believers, share in it and remain united with it. It is this same Divine Love that makes us complete as believers, and, in turn, makes us “into one”. The very syntax in verse 23c seems to depict this idea of the plural (i.e., the participle, referring to believers) being turned “into” (ei)$) a single thing (unity with God).

April 13: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 2: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

Following the i%na-clause in line 1 (cf. the previous note), in each of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 there is an explanatory kaqw/$-clause. The comparative particle kaqw/$ (kata/ + w($) is a bit difficult to translate literally and concisely, but it means something like “just as”. It is used rather frequently in the Johannine writings—31 times in the Gospel (almost always in the Discourses), and 13 in the Letters (9 in 1 John), making up about a quarter of all New Testament occurrences.

Keeping in mind that the clause is epexegetical—that is, it explains the meaning of the initial statement in line 1—here is how it reads in each stanza:

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

The point being made is that the unity of believers, which Jesus requests in line 1, is to be explained in terms of the unity between Jesus (the Son) and God the Father. For many orthodox or otherwise pious-minded Christians, this is something of an uncomfortable comparison. Indeed, I would argue that the force of the clause is more than comparative—the unity of believer is not just similar to that between Father and Son, but is the same kind of unity. There is a tendency to soften the implications of this, popularized by the theological distinction between the “natural” sonship of Jesus and the more general (or “adopted”) sonship of believers. However, such a distinction, while made out of a genuinely pious intention, is facile and artificial, and more or less unsupported by the New Testament evidence.

For one thing, the distinction is meaningless in terms of legitimate sonship—the ‘adopted’ son has the same legal rights, status and privileges, as the naturally-born. Moreover, while Paul does make use of the idea of ‘adoption’ (lit. placement as a son, ui(oqesi/a), it is foreign to the Johannine writings, where believers are repeatedly described, in biologic-existential terminology, as ones who have “come to be (born) out of [e)k] God” (1:13, cf. also 3:3-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The only clear distinction in these writings is that the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) tends to be reserved for Jesus, while believers are almost always referred to as tekna/ (“offspring, children”). This use of the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) is applied to believers, rather than to Jesus; however, in 1 John 5:18, the textually difficult verse is best understood as referring both to Jesus and to believers, using the same sort of terminology:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God [i.e. believer] does not sin, but (that) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] keeps watch (over) him, and the evil {or, the Evil [One]} does not attach itself to him.”

Thus, we must take seriously that the unity of believers is to be understood in terms of the relationship between Father and Son. Let us consider the kaqw/$-line of the first stanza, where this is established.

Verse 21b

“just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you”

Throughout the Gospel of John, this relationship is described (by Jesus himself, in the Discourses) using the ordinary human imagery of the relationship between parent and child (father/son). This is basic to the Gospel and early Christian tradition; however, the first generation of believers understood this Sonship of Jesus almost entirely in terms of the resurrection—his exaltation to a divine status and position at the right hand of God the Father. The situation is rather different in the Gospel of John, which reflects considerable Christological development; the emphasis is on an ontological (and eternal) relationship that Father and Son have shared from the beginning. In classic theological terms, we would refer to this as an emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus. In the Discourses, this is perhaps expressed most clearly here in the Prayer-Discourse, both in the opening (v. 5) and closing sections (v. 24, right after the passage under discussion).

How is the Father “in” (e)n) the Son, and the Son “in” the Father? Working from the human metaphor, this could be understood using the biological correspondence—the ‘seed’ of the offspring is contained in the parent, while, correspondingly, the genetic nature and makeup of the parent is contained in the child. Or, we could utilize the simple image of an embrace—where interlocking parent and child form a single entity, and each is contained “in” the other. This would be close to the Johannine understanding, with the repeated emphasis on love (a)ga/ph). We are reminded, for example, of the image of the Son resting in the lap (or at the bosom/breast) of the Father (1:18), even as the Son’s beloved disciple rests close to him (13:23, 25). We should also not ignore the aspect of motion that characterizes this relationship, with the Son coming toward (pro/$) the Father (1:1-2, etc), and ultimately returning to Him. Communication takes place along this chain of relationship, with words being sent, and, indeed, the life-giving Spirit being sent as well (the divine Word and Spirit being essentially the same, 6:63). The unifying character of the Spirit is discussed further below.

Verse 22c-23a

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The kaqw/$-clause in the second stanza is more complex, folding believers into this unity between Father and Son (“we are one”). This demonstrates that it is not simply a comparison; rather, the very unity of believers is dependent on the unity between Father and Son. In the first stanza, the Father-Son unity was reciprocal, now it is part of a triadic chain of relationship. This is fundamental to the Johannine Discourses, where Jesus repeatedly indicates that he is giving to his disciples (believers) what the Father has given to him. This will be discussed in more detail when we come to line 5 (vv. 22a, 23d). By reversing the phrases in v. 23a we can illustrate this chain of relationship:

    • You => in me
      • I => in them

In speaking of unity (or oneness), it is worth considering a key passage where the same neuter numeral (e%n) is used—10:30, which happens to be the only other such passage in the Gospel which refers to the Father and Son together:

“I and the Father are one [e%n].”

This climactic declaration lies at the heart of the discourse in 10:22-39. The discourse centers on the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to the Father, with similarities to the long and complex discourses in chapter 5 and 7-8. It may be divided into two portions, the second of which builds upon the first. There are two exposition-sections by Jesus (vv. 25-30, 34-38), each of which concludes with a powerful declaration of the unity of Father and Son; the corresponding declaration in v. 38 is:

“the Father (is) in me and I (am) in the Father”

This is exactly the language Jesus uses in 17:21b (cf. above), and the parallel clause in 22c-23a confirms that the unity (e%n) of believers is based on the unity (e%n) of Father and Son. We will explore this point further in the next daily note, on line 3 (21c, 23b).

Before concluding today, it is worth mentioning again a point made in a prior note, regarding the resurrection of Jesus. As discussed above, the earliest Gospel preaching and teaching tied the divine Sonship of Jesus to the resurrection (and his exaltation to the Father). Paul, in his letters, tended to follow this Christological understanding, though on occasion he evinces an awareness of the idea of Jesus’ pre-existent deity (e.g., Phil 2:6ff) as well. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul makes the striking statement that, with his resurrection, Jesus came to be (e)ge/neto) a “life-making Spirit”. This must be understood in terms of the Spirit of God, in light of how the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” could be used interchangeably (by Paul and others) to refer to the (Holy) Spirit. The same interchangeability is found in the Johannine Last Discourse, where the Spirit is said to come from the Father, from Jesus, or (in essence) from both together (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In 1 Cor 15:45, the idea seems to be that the spirit of Jesus was transformed into the Spirit of God, in accord with the early Christology that located his divine Sonship with the resurrection/exaltation. Paul’s words in 6:17 are suggestive of this dynamic:

“the (one) being joined (together) with the Lord is one Spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]”

This can be understood of Jesus’ union with God the Father, as well as equally (and properly here) of the believer’s union with Christ, and, through him, with the Father. The same neuter numeral e%n (“one”) is used in 1 Cor 6:17, and tends to confirm what the Johannine context of the Prayer-Discourse already makes clear—that the unity of believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This triadic unity of Father, Son, and believers, may be illustrated by a simple diagram, which will be expounded in some measure in the following notes:

April 12: John 17:21a, 22b

John 17:21-23

Line 1: John 17:21a, 22b

This is the first of five notes on the five line pairs in John 17:21-23. As discussed in the previous daily note, in these verses there are two parallel 5-line stanzas; the formal parallelism is precise, as I have outlined. It thus makes sense to examine together the corresponding lines in both stanzas. The first line, in v. 21a and 22b respectively, states the central request Jesus makes here in the Prayer-Discourse to God the Father, on behalf of believers (all believers, v. 20). The two lines state this request concisely, and are virtually identical:

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

The only difference is the inclusion of the adjective pa=$ (plur. pa/nte$), “all”, in the first line. It is clearly implied in the parallel line as well, without any need for the modifier to be repeated. The word translated “one” is the neuter (e%n) of the primary numeral ei!$. The neuter does not represent an abstraction as much as it does the collective—the many (believers) as a single entity, or community. As previously noted, in Hebrew/Aramaic, this would be rendered by the noun dj^y~ (yaµad), as indeed it was used by the Community of the Qumran texts. Cf. The Community Rule [1QS]: “…(in order) to be as a dj^y~” (5:2), “…in their being gathered (in)to the dj^y~” (5:7). Quite literally (and concretely), e%n denotes “one (thing)”, a point that will be discussed in the following notes.

Jesus’ request is existential—it refers to what believers would be (w@sin). This is expressed by the present subjunctive of the verb of being. Since Jesus makes this request of God the Father, the implication is that the condition has not yet been realized. In the narrative context of the Prayer-Discourse—his impending death and his departure to the Father, referenced throughout the Last Discourse—this must be related to his request for the Spirit to be sent (14:16; 15:26, also 14:26; 16:8ff). With his death, the disciples will be scattered (16:32), only to be gathered back together following his resurrection, symbolized by their being gathered in one place (even though it was out of fear, 20:19ff, cp. Lk 24:36ff; Acts 1:12ff; 2:1), where they receive the Spirit from the exalted Jesus (20:22). This basic type-pattern is fulfilled for future believers, in all places, and continues the subjunctive wish of Jesus in the Prayer-Discourse. Some translators render it as “may be” or “might be”, but this, I feel, misreads the force of Jesus’ request. In some ways, it is closer to the nature of a command, directed as much toward the believers themselves as it is to God the Father whom he addresses (cp. 11:42). He could as easily have said (to the disciples/believers), “I ask of you that you would (all) be one”. Compare also the use of imperatives in a prayer setting, such as in the Lord’s Prayer. When addressing God, it seems rather impious to translate these as “you must…”, etc, the preferable rendering being rather that of an entreaty (“may you…”, “please…”).

Going beyond the text to certain theological ramifications regarding this sort of prayer-language, it may be said that the believer ought to make the request to God with the sense of trust that it will be done, or even that it has been done (cf. 14:13; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24, 26ff). These references in the Last Discourse center this mindset in the relationship (i.e. union) believers have with Jesus the Son and God the Father, the very point of 17:20-23. The nature of this relationship will be elucidated by a study of the following lines.

The immediate context of this request for unity has to do with trust (vb pisteu/w) in Jesus (v. 20). This might suggest that the unity of believers is Christological—based on a proper understanding and recognition of who Jesus is (Messiah & Son of God) and what he has done. The centrality of trust (pi/sti$) within the Johannine writings cannot be minimized; it represents one half of the dual-command (or duty) required of all believers (1 Jn 3:23-24, etc). Indeed, much of First John is devoted to the problem of division in the Community, being caused by false (“antichrist”) believers who, according to the author, espouse an erroneous view of Jesus. Centuries of Christological disputes have similarly been the source of much division, and, as a result, many Christians have sought to establish unity in terms of definitive creeds or statements of faith/belief. However, at the same time, Jesus’ request for unity would seem, in some sense, to be separate from the question of trust, since he is speaking of all who trust (i.e. all believers), and makes the additional request that they would be one.

If we wish to understand exactly what Jesus (and the Gospel writer) have in mind, it will be necessary to examine the remaining lines of the stanza(s), beginning with line 2 (vv. 21b, 22c-23a), in the next note.

 

April 9: John 17:20-23 (introduction)

John 17:20-23

In the previous daily note, I briefly examined the theme of unity in John 17:20-23, in light of its basis in the believer’s participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and how this is communicated and realized through the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is worth considering in more detail how the theme of unity is presented and understood in these verses.

The message is made twice, through a pair of poetic 5-line stanzas—each states the message in a similar (parallel) form, with certain small but significant variations. This sort of duplication/repetition is a regular feature of the Johannine style, and a number of examples could be cited from both the Gospel and First Letter (cf. the recent Saturday Series studies on 1 John). Indeed, at many points, the language and manner of expression in the Gospel Discourses is quite close to that of 1 John. In the case of the Gospel, one may rightly conclude that this reflects a distinctly Johannine treatment of the historical traditions (i.e., the words and teaching of Jesus).

For ease of reference, the lines of vv. 21-23 are identified by letter—21a-d, 22a-c, and 23a-d (cf. Brown, pp. 768-9). The second line of the second stanza is comprised of 22c & 23a.

The first point to note is that this section of the Prayer-Discourse (chap. 17) is inclusive. That is, Jesus is referring to all believers—his immediate disciples, together with those who come to trust in him, all throughout the world, in the future:

“I do not make (this) request about these alone, but also about the (one)s trusting in me through their word/account…” (v. 20, cp. 10:16; 11:52)

The statement in v. 20 introduces the actual prayer-request in the parallel stanzas that follow. The parallelism of these stanzas is precise, as outlined here below (cf. also Brown, p. 769):

    • “that [i%na] they all would be one {21a}
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you {21b}
        • that [i%na] they also would be in us {21c}
          • (so) that [i%na] the world might trust that you se(n)t me forth {21d}
            • and I have given to them the honor that you have given to me” {22a}
    • “that [i%na] they would be one {22b}
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one, I in them and you in me {22c-23a}
        • that [i%na] they would be made complete into one {23b}
          • (so) that [i%na] the world might trust that you se(n)t me forth {23c}
            • and I loved them just as you loved me” {23d}

This formal parallelism is remarkable, though it tends to be obscured in English translation. Note the significance of each line pair:

    • Line 1: i%na-clause with the request for believers to be one
    • Line 2: kaqw/$-clause comparing this oneness with the unity shared by God the Father and Jesus the Son
    • Line 3: i%na-clause restating the unity of believers in relation to the Father and Son
    • Line 4: i%na-clause stating the goal/purpose in terms of the effect this unity will have on the world
    • Line 5: Jesus declares his action (aorist vb. forms) toward believers as patterned after (and repeating) the Father’s action toward him.

Beginning on Monday, I will be devoting a detailed note, each day of the week (Mon-Fri), to each line. The first note (line 1) will cover the initial i%na-clause (vv. 21a, 22b).

References above (and in the following notes) marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A (1970).

April 6: John 6:63; 17:20-23

John 6:63; 17:20-23

In the previous note, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), we examined Paul’s understanding of the resurrection of Jesus, and its association with the Holy Spirit. Pauline theology is closely aligned with the Johannine theology, in its emphasis on the participation of believers in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Three key points may be made regarding this participation:

    • It is the means by which believers are united with Jesus (the Son), and, in turn, with God the Father
    • This union occurs through the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, and
    • The presence of the Spirit conveys the eternal, life-giving power of Jesus—the same power that raised him from the dead—to believers.

At the ritual level, this participation is symbolized through the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In his letters, Paul tends to use the baptism ritual as a way of expressing the participatory aspect, whereas, in the Gospels, the emphasis is on the Lord’s Supper. This is clearly so with regard to the idea of participation in Jesus’ death, built into the very language of the institution, in the Synoptic Last Supper scene (Mk 14:22-25 par). The association with Jesus’ resurrection is less apparent; probably the closest we come is in the Emmaus episode of the Lukan narrative, with the eucharistic allusions in 24:30-31. With the breaking of the bread, the disciples see the resurrected Jesus, and recognize his presence with them.

The sacramental symbolism is more complex in the Gospel of John, having been detached from the Passion/Resurrection narrative, and given a new (and deeper) interpretation within the context of the great Discourses of Jesus. The eucharistic language in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:51-58) is a natural development of the Gospel tradition of the miraculous feeding, where, at an early point, eucharistic allusions were recognized and applied to the narrative (6:11ff, cp. Mark 6:41ff / 8:6ff par). What is distinctive in the Bread of Life discourse, is how this association is further developed and given a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning. To “eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” of Jesus means to trust in the message of who Jesus is (the Son of God come from heaven), and to be united with him (to “remain” in him). The overall context of the Gospel makes clear that this is realized through the Spirit, even as Jesus declares in 6:63:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making [i.e. giving] life, the flesh is not useful, not (for) one (thing); the utterances [i.e. words] that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.”

The same point is made elsewhere in the Discourses, through the image of drinking water, which symbolizes the presence of the Spirit (7:37-39; 4:13-14, 23-24). Through the Spirit, the believer is able to participate in the life-giving power of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, to (symbolically) “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood”.

Again, in the previous note, I discussed how, through the resurrection, Jesus comes to share the Spirit of God, and that it is through this Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—that believers are united with him. That this union is based upon the Spirit is a fundamental point of Johannine theology, and one, it seems, that Paul shared. Certainly his exposition of the resurrection of Jesus (in 1 Cor 15 and Rom 8:9-11, cf. also 1:4 etc) would tend to confirm this. Consider also his statement in 1 Cor 6:17: “…the (one) being joined to the Lord is one Spirit“. This is true of the union of Jesus (the Son) with God the Father, and, correspondingly, it is equally true of our union (as believers) with Jesus. While Paul does not develop this idea much further in his letters, it is central to the great Johannine Discourses of Jesus—especially the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33) and the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17.

It is in the Prayer-Discourse, that this aspect of Johannine theology reaches its pinnacle, forming, we may say, the climactic point of the entire Gospel. In terms of the narrative context, it represents Jesus’ last words, in the presence of his disciples, prior to his death. From this narrative standpoint, the Prayer-Discourse holds a similar place in the Gospel of John as the institution of the Lord’s Supper does in the Synoptics. Through the presence of the Spirit, believers participate in the life-giving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Spirit is the means by which the union is achieved, while, in the Prayer-Discourse, the focus is on the nature of this union.

While sharing features of the Johannine discourse-format, chapter 17 is unique among the Discourses in that it is a prayer, addressed formally to God the Father, though the main message is intended for Jesus’ disciples (believers)—cp. 11:41-42. I have discussed the Prayer-Discourse at length as part of a series in the Monday Notes on Prayer; you should consult those notes for a detailed exegesis. The main thrust of the prayer is Jesus’ request for the protection/preservation of his disciples (believers). This request to the Father is to be understood in terms of the central message of the Last Discourse—the promise of the Holy Spirit (also referred to as “the [One] called alongside”, para/klhto$), who will continue the presence of Jesus in and among believers, uniting them with both the Son of God (Jesus) and God the Father. It is through the Spirit that the Father will “keep watch over” them (vb thre/w), protecting them from the evil in the world (vv. 11-15). As the Spirit of holiness, it will also purify believers, even as the Father Himself (and Jesus the Son) is holy (vv. 17-19).

That the Johannine Discourses are addressed to all believers, and not merely to Jesus’ immediate disciples, is a vital and essential point for interpretation. The point is made explicit here in the Prayer-Discourse, with Jesus’ words in verse 20:

“And (it is) not about these alone (that) I make (this) request, but also about the (one)s trusting in me through their word/account…”

The universal scope of the Discourses, involving all believers, was hinted at in earlier passages (e.g., 3:16; 4:21ff; 10:16; 11:52), and is clearly in view in the mind of the Gospel writer (20:29-31). The emphasis on the unity of believers—all believers—was stated previously, both by Jesus and the Gospel writer, respectively:

“…and they will hear my voice, and they shall come to be a single [mi/a] herd [i.e. flock], (with) one [ei!$] herdsman [i.e. shepherd]” (10:16)

“…but also that the offspring [i.e. children] of God, having been scattered throughout, would be gathered together into one [e%n]” (11:52)

Both of these passages are set in the context of Jesus’ impending death, as the means by which—through the resurrection and the presence of the Spirit—believers are united into one. In Hebrew and Aramaic this sort of oneness, or unity, is expressed through the related roots dja and djy, and the respective words dj*a@ and dyj!y`. The latter noun (y¹µîd, “unity”), has a corollary dj^y~ (yaµad) that specifically refers to a unity of persons, i.e. a community, being united together by a common identity or purpose. The Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls) referred to itself as a dj^y~, and so also, we may assume, early Hebrew/Aramaic-speaking Christians did the same for their own Community. In the New Testament, the Greek word for this common bond is koinwni/a (koinœnía, Acts 2:42 et al); it does not occur in the Gospel, but is used by the author of 1 John (1:3, 6-7).

Many Christians, I fear, have misunderstood the sense of Jesus’ prayer for unity in 17:20-23, primarily due to the tendency to read these verses out of context. Indeed, Jesus’ words here must be read in the light of the Last Discourse, with its Passion setting, as well as in terms of the Johannine Discourses as a whole. Keeping the following points in mind will help readers and commentators avoid off-target explanations regarding the unity/oneness expressed in vv. 20-23:

    • It is Jesus’ sacrificial death that is the basis for this unity—this is clear both from the Passion setting of the Prayer-Discourse, and the earlier references to the unity of believers in 10:16; 11:52 (cf. above).
    • The unity involves participation in (“remaining in”) the life-giving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection—cf. the discourses dealing with the theme of resurrection (esp. 5:19-29; 11:21-27ff), the motif of eating/drinking what Jesus gives (4:13-14; 6:51-58; 7:37-38f, etc), and the repeated use of the verb me/nw (“remain”) throughout (esp. 5:38; 6:27, 56; 8:31ff; 12:24, 46; 14:10, 17; 15:4-10ff).
    • The unity is realized through the presence of the Spirit—the coming of the Spirit, following Jesus’ death and resurrection, is a central theme of the Last Discourse (see esp. 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15), as well as being alluded to numerous times in the prior discourses.

Verses 20-23 will be discussed in further detail in the next daily note.