“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 1:1-2

The Johannine Letters (1 John)

In this series, we now turn to the Letters of John, to see how the words “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/) are used in these other Johannine writings. Many commentators believe that both the Gospel and the Letters (esp. the First Letter) may be written by the same author. Tradition does ascribe them to the same person (John the Apostle), though technically the works are anonymous. At the very least, it is clear that the Gospel and First Letter draw upon similar language and imagery, sharing the same basic theological (and Christological) point of view. Critical commentators have typically explained this by way of a Johannine Community or “School”. Both tradition and internal factors have led many scholars to see these writings (along with the book of Revelation) as being the product of distinct Christian communities in Asia Minor (centered around Ephesus).

An especially complex critical issue lies in the fact that the Johannine discourses (indicated as being spoken by Jesus) and the Letters of John (esp. 1 John) are often so close in thought and wording. Many passages in 1 John could have been lifted right out of the discourses. This raises the question as to the Gospel writer’s role in the creation/composition of the discourses. Most critical scholars would view the discourses as largely the product of the author, while traditional-conservative commentators, naturally enough, are more inclined to seem them as reflecting the actual words of Jesus (with some amount of translation and editing allowed). The situation is akin to that of the Sermon-Speeches in the book of Acts—though they are said to be spoken by different persons (and even in different languages?), much of the actual (Greek) language and wording seems to reflect that of the author of Luke-Acts. For more on this latter question, see my earlier series on the Speeches of Acts.

The words pneu=ma (“spirit”) and zwh/ (“life”) occur only in the First Letter, thus the discussion will generally be limited to that writing. The second and third Letters will be referenced only to give supplemental information, or to help clarify an idea or expression in 1 John. The relevant passages to be discussed are:

1 John 1:1-2

The first two occurrences of the word zwh/ (“life”) come from the introductory sentence of the Letter (vv. 1-3a), which, as even a casual reading should make clear, is similar in thought and expression to the opening of the Gospel Prologue (1:1-4ff). This is only confirmed by a study of the Greek words and phrases involved. Consider the opening words of the letter:

“That which was from the beginning…”
o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$

A comparison with John 1:1 suggests that here the demonstrative pronoun o%$ refers to the “Word” (lo/go$) indicated in the opening of the Prologue:

“In the beginning was the Word…”
e)n a)rxh=| h@n o( lo/go$

The combination of the word a)rxh/ (“beginning”), reflecting Genesis 1:1 [LXX], with the verb of being (ei)mi, the spec. form h@n, “was”), makes it likely that the author of the letter had the Gospel Prologue (or a similar tradition) in mind. The distinctive use of the verb of being in the Prologue (and elsewhere in the Gospel) is theological—referring to God as source of all being and existence.

However, the fact that a neuter form of the demonstrative pronoun (o%) appears at the start of 1 John, indicates that the reference is more generalized and comprehensive—i.e. “(all) that which…”—that is to say, both to the Living Word (Lo/go$) of God, identified with Jesus, and to the “word” or account (lo/go$) of Jesus (i.e. the Gospel message). This dual-meaning of lo/go$ appears a number of times in the letter, beginning here in v. 1 (cf. below).

Before proceeding to examine several key words and phrases, here is the opening sentence of vv. 1-3a in translation:

“(That) which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which our eyes have seen (clearly), which we have looked (upon), and (which) our hands have felt, about the word of Life—and th(is) Life was made to shine forth, and we have seen (it clearly) and give witness and give up as a message to you the Life of the Age(s) which was toward the Father and made to shine forth to us—(that) which we have seen (clearly) and have heard, we also give up as a message to you, (so) that you also might also hold common (bond) with us.”

Despite the repetitiveness in much of this statement (preserved accurately above), the basic idea is clear enough, and it is fully in accord with the outlook of the Gospel writer; note the conceptual structure:

    • The Word which was from the beginning (i.e. with God the Father)
    • This Word was made to shine forth to us (in the person of Jesus)
    • (1) We have seen/heard/felt this (incarnate) Word
      (2) and we, in turn, give witness about it to others
    • This witness is the word of the (Gospel) message

At the very center of this statement is the expression “Word of Life” (o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$), which, as I indicated above, has a dual-meaning: (a) Jesus as the Living Word of God (and source of Life), and (b) the message (word/account) regarding Jesus, which will lead to Life for those who trust in him. In the Gospel, the noun zwh/ virtually always refers to the Life which God possesses (i.e. divine, eternal Life), and which is given to believers through Jesus. Just as God the Father’s word and voice gives life to all things (Gen 1:3ff; cf. also Psalm 119:25, 107, etc), so that of the Son (Jesus) gives this same life (Jn 1:3-4; 5:24-29; 6:63; 11:43, etc).

Verse 2 is essentially a parenthesis which explains this Life; there appears to be a loose chiastic structure to its logic:

    • This Life (i.e. the divine/eternal Life)
      —Manifest to us (in the person of Jesus)
      ——We have seen it
      ——We give witness/message of it
      —Manifest to us (through Jesus’ gift)
    • The Life which was with [lit. toward] God

The closing reference to Life uses the expression “Life of the Age”, which appears repeatedly in the Gospel, and which I have discussed at length in earlier notes. It typically refers to the Life given by Jesus to believers, which is also identified numerous times in the Gospel with the Spirit. This same association may be intended here, though the actual word pneu=ma does not occur until chapter 3 of the letter.

If there were any doubt regarding the connection between John 1:1-3 and vv. 1-3 here in the letter, there is added confirmation in the fact that in verses 5ff light is introduced as a thematic motif, just as it is in vv. 4-5ff of the Gospel Prologue. The theme includes the same dualistic light vs. darkness contrast. This may help to explain the interesting use of the preposition pro/$ in Jn 1:1-2 and 1 Jn 1:2. It is typically translated “with”—i.e. the Word was with God—but properly it indicates direction or location, i.e. of motion toward something, or facing toward (i.e. before, in front of) something. Presumably the latter is intended here—the Living Word facing toward God the Father. This would seem to be confirmed by the close association with light-imagery and use of the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”). Christ the Son and Living Word of God faces the Father and is (perfect) reflection of the Father’s Light, etc. That same Light is then made to shine forth to believers.

September 2: John 17:8

John 17:8

The saying of Jesus in Jn 17:8 is noteworthy for the many key-words and terms which are combined in a single verse. Here more than eight key concepts and elements of Johannine vocabulary are brought together. It thus serves as a kind of summary of the thought expressed in the discourses of Jesus, as well as the Johannine writings as a whole, and which I have explored in the recent article on “Knowledge and Revelation in John”.

Verse 8 is part of the prayer-discourse of Jesus that makes up chapter 17. For an outline of this chapter, cf. my earlier note on 17:3. The main section (vv. 7-23) is framed by transitional ‘refrains’ (vv. 4-6, 24-26) which convey two main themes of Jesus’ prayer to the Father:

    • Jesus’ relationship with the Father: the pre-existent glory
    • That Jesus has shone forth (manifested) the Father’s name

The core of the prayer-discourse in vv. 7-23 deals more with Jesus’ disciples (believers)—his petition is on their behalf. Verse 7 picks up from v. 6, which effectively summarizes the main thrust of the prayer:

“I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave me out of the world. They are yours [lit. of you] and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch (over) [i.e. guarded] your word [lo/go$].”

Verse 7 brings in the important theme of the disciples’ knowledge:

“Now they have known that all (thing)s, as (many) as you have given me, are (from) alongside [para/] of you.”

Some MSS read the first person singular e&gnwn (“I have known”), but the context—especially the use of the particle nu=n (“now”) —strongly indicates that the third person plural is correct. In the verses that follow (9-12), three basic themes are expressed:

    • The disciples were given to Jesus by God the Father
    • He (Jesus) has guarded them by the Name which the Father gave to him
    • He asks that the Father continue to guard them in this Name

On the last point, presumably the presence of the Spirit is in mind (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7ff), though this is not stated.

This establishes the setting of verse 8, which I first give in translation here, and afterwards I will discuss each key word or concept in the order it occurs in the verse. To begin with, the connecting particle o%ti joins verses 7-8 as a single sentence; primarily it relates back to e&gnwkan (“they have known”)—i.e., “they have known…(in) that [o%ti]…”. In other words, it explains what it is the disciples know and how they came to know it.

“…(in) that the words [r(h/mata] which you gave to me I have given to them, and they received (them) and knew truly that I came out (from) alongside of you, and they (have) trusted that you se(n)t me forth.”

ta\ r(h/mata (“the words”)—The noun r(h=ma, best translated “utterance”, i.e. something spoken or uttered, I render here generally as “word”. It occurs 12 times in the Gospel (3:34; 5:47; 6:63, 68; 8:20, 47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:10; 15:7), always in the plural (r(h/mata, “things uttered, words”). In the Johannine vocabulary, it is largely interchangeable with lo/go$ (“word, account”), though the latter occurs much more frequently (40 times in the Gospel, another 7 in the Letters). The plural r(h/mata perhaps refers more directly to specific sayings or teachings by Jesus, but should not be limited to this sense. In 3:34, these words are identified as those which God the Father speaks (cf. 8:47), the Son saying what he has heard the Father say (14:10, etc). In 6:63, Jesus’ words are identified with (the) Spirit and (eternal) Life (cf. also v. 68). As in the case of the noun lo/go$, Jesus’ word (r(h=ma) is essentially the same as the person (and presence, power, etc) of Jesus himself (cf. 5:47; 15:7). The words (r(h/mata) and word (lo/go$) are to remain/abide in (e)n) the true believer, and the believer in the word(s) (5:38; 8:31, 37; 1 Jn 1:10; 2:5, 14, etc). Later in the prayer-discourse (17:14), Jesus gives virtually the same statement as in v. 8, using lo/go$: “I have given to them your word“. This Word is also closely related to the Name of the Father which was given to Jesus, and which Jesus has given or made known, in turn, to his disciples. On this Name, cf. the attached separate note.

e&dwka$ (“you gave”)—That is, “the words which you gave to me…” (cf. 3:34). On the specific motif of Jesus (the Son) saying and doing what he hears/sees the Father saying and doing, cf. the current article. The verb di/dwmi (“give”) is used quite often (75 times) in the Gospel, including 24 times in the Last Discourse, and 17 times in this prayer-discourse alone. It is thus a most important term, closely tied to the Johannine concepts of revelation and salvation in the person of Christ. Jesus (the [only] Son) comes from the Father, and so receives everything from the Father (see v. 7)—both in the sense of learning and inheriting—as a faithful son. Jesus imitates the Father, as a perfect reflection and representation of God the Father; as such, his words are the words the Father gave him to speak. Again, this word cannot be separated from the name of the Father.

de/dwka (“I have given”)—There is here a simple parallelism—”you gave to me, I have given to them“—which neatly expresses this idea of Jesus (the Son) imitating the Father. The perfect tense of the verb here, which typically indicates past action that continues into the present, may imply the incarnation, i.e. the presence of the eternal Son (and Word) with his people on earth. After his departure, this presence (and Word) will continue and remain with believers through the Spirit. Even more important to the immediate context of chapter 17, is the idea that Jesus has given—manifest (“shone forth”) and made known—the name of the Father to his disciples.

e&labon (“they received”)—Like the verb di/dwmi (“give”), the conceptually related lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”) occurs frequently in John (46 times, and another 6 in the Letters), and usually with special theological significance. Jesus receives from the Father (10:18), and the disciples receive from Jesus, though, in the Johannine idiom, to “receive” Jesus specifically means to accept him and his words (3:11, 32-33; 5:43-44; 12:48; 13:20). The verb is also used in connection with the disciples receiving the Spirit (7:39; 20:22; and note also 14:17; 16:14-15). Of special importance is the use of the verb in 1:12 (and cf. v. 16). For more on the image of giving/receiving, cf. the recent article.

e&gnwsan (“they knew”)—The aorist form would be translated literally as “they knew”, though we might have expected the perfect tense (i.e., “they received and have come to know”); yet the aorist matches the previous e&labon (“they received”), with which it is connected. Perhaps Jesus is describing the condition of the disciples at the moment, i.e. “now” (nu=n, see v. 7). A better explanation would be to view the disciples’ receiving and knowing as dual aspects of the same event (“they received and knew”), probably to be identified with the Last Discourse itself (chs. 13-17), centered as it is in the impending death (and resurrection) of Jesus. By participating in the suffering and death (13:1-11ff), symbolically, the disciples have received Jesus in a way that they had not yet been able to do. Through the following Discourse, they likewise receive his word(s) and come to understand. In receiving Jesus (and his word[s]), they also receive the Father and His Word (13:20, etc); similarly, in knowing the Son (Jesus), they also come to know the Father. On this vital theme, cf. the previous notes on 17:3 and 14:4-7, as well as the article on knowledge and revelation in John.

a)lhqw=$ (“truly”)—The noun a)lhqei/a (“truth”) is a key Johannine term (25 times in the Gospel, 20 in the Letters) applied to the person of Christ and God the Father (as well as the Spirit, i.e. “Spirit of Truth”). Cf. especially the Gospel references 1:14, 17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 14:6; 18:37f, and my earlier note on 8:32. Here we have the related adverb a)lhqw=$ (“truly”), which is also important in the Gospel (4:42; 6:14; 7:26, 40). In those four instances, it is used of Jesus, by others, in terms of his possible identity as the Anointed One, i.e. the end-time Prophet to Come. The only other use of the adverb by Jesus is in 8:31, which is worth quoting here:

“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly my disciples”

He said this “to the ones (who) had come to trust in him”, and the image of abiding/remaining in Jesus (and his word[s]), is a main theme of the Last Discourse—cf. 14:20; 15:2, 4-7, 9-10; 16:33; 17:11-12, 17, 21, along with the twin theme of Jesus[‘ word] remaining in the believer (14:17, 20; 15:4-7, 11; 17:13, 23, 26). In 17:8, the adverb a)lhqw=$ is applied to the disciples’ knowledge (“they truly knew”, “they knew truly”). The truth of this knowledge is clarified in the remainder of the verse, but it is worth considering the occurrences of the noun a)lhqei/a (“truth”) in chapter 17, in verses 17 (twice) and 19; the statement in v. 17 is especially significant:

“Make them (to be) holy in the truth; (for) your word [lo/go$] is truth”

The consecration Jesus requests for his disciples will equip and prepare them for being sent into the world (even as Jesus was sent into the world by the Father); but first, Jesus consecrates himself for the sacrificial act (his death) which is about to come:

“and (it is) over them [i.e. for their sake] (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they also should be made holy in (the) truth”

para\ sou (“[from] alongside of you”)—The preposition para/ (“along[side]”) is important in the Gospel of John for expressing the relationship of Jesus to God the Father, and his identity as one who come from the Father—that is, from alongside him, close to him (cf. 1:6, 14). It was used previously in verse 5, where Jesus anticipates his exaltation (death and resurrection) and return to the Father; he asks that the Father honor/glorify him “alongside Himself” (para\ seautou=) with the honor/glory (do/ca) which he held “alongside” (para/) the Father before the world began. A similar idea is expressed in the first part of this sentence (v. 7), where Jesus states that all things the Father has given him come from “alongside” (para/) the Father. It is this that the disciples have now come to know (truly)—i.e., of Jesus’ identity with the Father, that he comes from alongside the Father.

e)ch=lqon (“I came out”)—That is, Jesus came out from being alongside the Father (1:6, 14). On the specific image of Jesus coming “out of” (e)k) God (or, out of Heaven) and coming into the world, cf. the article on revelation in the Gospel of John. This particular verb (e)ce/rxomai) occurs often in John; when it is used by Jesus, it almost always refers to his coming from the Father (cf. 8:42; 16:27-28; also 13:3). In 16:30 the disciples confess this, indicating that now, indeed, they have come to know.

e)pi/steusan (“they trusted”)—In the Gospel of John the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and pisteu/w (“trust, believe”) are closely related, much moreso than in Paul or elsewhere in the New Testament. The verb pisteu/w occurs nearly 100 times in the Gospel, and another nine times in the First Letter—just less than half of all occurrences in the NT. It is found in key statements at the beginning and end of the Gospel (1:7, 12; 3:15-16ff; 19:35; 20:29, 31). In the prayer-discourse of chap. 17 it is used in the request for unity of all believers (with Christ and the Father) in vv. 20-21. That knowing Christ and trusting in him, from the standpoint of the Johannine discourses, mean essentially the same thing, can be seen by comparing verse 8 here with the earlier v. 3 (and cf. my note on this verse):

    • V. 3: “that they should know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth…”
    • V. 8: “and they knew truly that I came out (from) alongside you, and trusted that you sent me forth

a)pe/steila$ (“you se[n]t forth”)—What the disciples trust/believe is “that you sent me forth”, i.e. that God the Father sent Jesus (his Son) into the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus often states that he was sent by God, sometimes referring to Father as “the (One) who sent me”, with a)poste/llw (“set [forth] from”) and pe/mpw (“send”) being used more or less interchangeably—28 and 32 times, respectively. They are so close in meaning in the Gospel that translators rarely try to distinguish them, rendering both simply as “send”. That they are essentially synonymous is demonstrated by their use together in 20:21. However, the verb a)poste/llw expresses more clearly that Jesus is sent from (a)po/) God; as such, it is more appropriate in the context of the prayer-discourse, where it is used 7 times (vv. 3, 18 [twice], 21, 23, 25). It is applied both to the Father sending Jesus, and, in turn, to Jesus sending his disciples, into the world. This reciprocal relationship is also expressed in 13:20 and 20:21. The association of this sending with knowledge (of the Father) is conveyed clearly and concisely in verse 25:

“Father…the world did not know you, but I did know you, and these (with me) also do know that you se[n]t me forth”

In some ways, this last statement is a summary of the Johannine Gospel (cf. the Prologue, 1:5-13), using three parallel forms of the verb ginw/skw (all aorist):

    • The world did not know God
    • Jesus (the Son) knew, because he comes from the Father
    • The disciples (believers) also come to know, through Jesus

For more on verse 8, see my study in the “Monday Notes on Prayer” series.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:16-19

John 17:16-19

Verses 16-19 close the first Expository section of the Prayer-Discourse (vv. 12-19, cf. the outline in the previous study). A curious detail to note is the way that verse 16 repeats, almost verbatim, the second half of v. 14. This apparently led a number of scribes to omit the verse, but there a number of such repetitions throughout the Johannine Discourses of Jesus (and the Last Discourse, in particular), and text here is secure. As a result, we ought to regard the repetition as intentional, in terms of the structure of this section. It gives to the triadic structure a chiastic outline:

    • Expository narration—the work of the Son (vv. 12-14a)
      • Unity of Believers with Jesus—”not out of the world” (v. 14b)
        • Petition to the Father—protection from the evil in the world
      • Unity of Believers with Jesus—”not out of the world” (v. 16)
    • Exposition—the work and presence of the Son in believers (vv. 17-19)

According to this detailed outline, verses 17-19 are parallel to 12-14a, both representing the core exposition in the section. How do these two passages relate? The first deals with the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth (“When I was with them…”); the second focuses on the time after Jesus’ departure back to the Father. It must be admitted that the latter emphasis is not explicit or immediately apparent on a reading of the text; however, with a little study, I believe it come through quite clear. There are three statements in this exposition:

    1. A request that his disciples be “made holy” by the Father (v. 17)
    2. A declaration similar in formula to Jesus’ words to his disciples after the resurrection, sending them into the world as apostles/missionaries (20:21)
    3. A statement explaining that the disciples are “made holy” even as Jesus himself is made holy, using reciprocal language and hearkening back to the invocation (v. 1, cf. also 13:31)

Let us examine each of these in turn.

Verse 17

This is another petition by Jesus to the Father, and must be understood in relation to the central petition of vv. 9-11, as well as the further request in v. 15 (cf. the previous study). The motif of protection has been defined in terms of holiness—which, from a religious standpoint, essentially refers to separation from evil (and the world) and protection from it. Here is the request:

“Make them (to be) holy in the truth—your word is truth.”

We may isolate three key components to this petition:

    • The verb (a(gia/zw, “make holy, treat as holy”)
    • Emphasis on truth (a)lh/qeia), and
    • The identification of truth with the word (lo/go$) of God the Father

The second and third of these are important theological key words in the Johannine Writings (both Gospel and Letters), and occur far more frequently than the first. In this regard, they serve to expound and explain the primary petition comprised of the initial words: a(gi/ason au)tou\$, “(May you) make them (to be) holy”. The verb a(gia/zw (hagiázœ, “make holy, treat as holy”) is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring just 28 times, compared with the much more common adjective a%gio$ (hágios, “holy”). In the Synoptic Gospels, in the words of Jesus, its usage is almost entirely limited to the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2), a context similar to that in John 17 (with the emphasis on the name of God the Father and His holiness, vv. 1, 6ff):

Pa/ter […] a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“Father […], may your name be made holy”

Pa/ter… (“Father…”, v. 1)
e)fane/rwsa/ sou to\ o&noma (“I made your name shine forth…”, v. 6)
Pa/ter a%gie th/rhson au)tou\$ e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ sou
(“Holy Father, keep watch [over] them in your name…”, v. 11)

Paul uses the verb 6 times in the undisputed letters (1 Thess 5:23; Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; 7:14 [twice]); it occurs three more times in Eph 5:26; 2 Tim 2:21; 1 Tim 4:5. It is used 7 times in Hebrews (2:11 [twice]; 9:13; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12), in the context of the Israelite priesthood—a point to be discussed on v. 19 below.

It is important to emphasize again that the following phrase “in the truth” and the statement “your word is truth” both qualify and explain the meaning of the petition. First, we have the full form of the petition: “Make them (to be) holy in the truth”. The noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) occurs 25 times in the Gospel of John, and another 20 times in the Letters (9 in 1 John). It has a special theological (and Christological) meaning, going far beyond the simple idea of factual truth, or even moral and religious truth. Rather, it is a fundamental characteristic of God the Father Himself, and of Jesus as the Son (of God). Moreover, it does not refer primarily to Jesus’ teaching and the proclamation of God’s word (as a message), but is embodied in the person of Jesus himself. Cf. John 1:14, 17; 8:32ff, 44-46; 14:6; 18:37-38; 1 Jn 1:6, 8; 2:21, etc. Distinctive of the Johannine theology, including that expressed by Jesus in the Discourses, is the special association (and identification) of the Spirit with this Truth (4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 1 John 4:6). The declaration in 1 John 5:6 makes this identification explicit and unqualified, and provides the answer to Pilate’s provocative question (Jn 18:38, “What is [the] truth?”):

“The Spirit is the Truth”
to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin h( a)lh/qeia

This declaration also informs the statement in 17:17b (cp. Psalm 119:142b Greek v.l.), which has similar wording (the only real difference being the emphatic position of the verb):

“Your Word is (the) Truth”
o( lo/go$ o( so$ a)lh/qeia/ e)stin

Taking these statements together, we have the fundamental identification of God’s Word (lo/go$) with the Spirit. Again, this does not refer to any particular message or set of words spoken by Jesus (though these are included, Jn 6:63, etc), but to the essential identity of Jesus (the Son) as the living embodiment of God’s Word on earth (Jn 1:1ff, 14, etc). Jesus’ manifest presence with the disciples cleanses them (Jn 13:10-11; 15:3), culminating in his sacrificial death (1 Jn 1:7-9) that protects believers and makes them clean (i.e. holy) from sin. This cleansing power again is identified with the Spirit (“water and blood”, Jn 19:34; 1 Jn 5:6-8)—the living and indwelling presence of Jesus (and God the Father) in believers. The Spirit is given following Jesus’ death (19:30, 34, understood symbolically) and resurrection (20:22).

Thus we may see here in verse 17 an implicit reference to the Holy Spirit as the means by which the disciples (believers) are made holy.

Verse 18

This is confirmed by what follows in verse 18, a reciprocal statement similar to the ‘commission’ of the disciples in 20:21:

“Even as you se(n)t me forth into the world, I also se(n)t them forth into the world” (17:18)
“Even as the Father se(n)t me forth, I also send [pe/mpw] you” (20:21b)

In 17:18, the aorist is used (indicating a past occurrence), while in 20:21, in addressing the disciples, Jesus uses the present tense (and a different verb [pe/mpw]). It is possible that the aorist assumes a tradition such as in the Synoptics (Mk 3:14-15; 6:6b-13 par; Lk 10:1ff), where Jesus is to have sent the disciples out on preaching assignments. The Gospel writer is certainly familiar with such traditions (3:34-38; 6:67-71), though he makes little of them in the narrative. However, a better explanation is at hand in the context of the Last Discourse. An important point of emphasis (discussed in the prior studies) is that Jesus was able to sanctify his disciples by his presence with them on earth (i.e., in the past, up to this point). Now that he is about to return to the Father, he is no longer able to “make them holy” the same way—thus the need (in the present) for the Father to send the Spirit as the Divine Presence (and Power) to fill this role in Jesus’ place. The words of commission in 20:21 are followed directly by the disciples receiving the Spirit from Jesus (who, in turn, had received it from the Father). The Spirit’s presence cleanses the disciples and makes them holy.

In this regard, the disciples are to function in the manner of priests in ancient religious tradition. Through a proscribed ceremonial ritual, Israelite priests were consecrated (made holy) for service in the sacred place(s), handling of sacrifices and sacred objects, etc—e.g., Exod 40:13; Lev 8:30; 2 Chron 5:11. Jesus’ disciples (believers) are compared or described as priests at numerous points in early Christian tradition, part of a wider religious phenomenon whereby devotion to Jesus takes the place of (or fulfills) the earlier cultic ritual practiced by the priesthood. Of the passages in the New Testament indicating this, cf. Matt 12:1-8; Rom 12:1-2; 15:16; 2 Cor 3:6ff; 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6.

Verse 19

The imagery of priesthood is even more prominent in verse 19. Indeed, it is due almost entirely to the influence of verses 17-19 that the Prayer-Discourse in chapter 17 is sometimes called the “High Priestly” Prayer of Jesus. However, this label is quite inappropriate for the Prayer as a whole, since it is only in these three verses that there is any real indication of priestly language or emphasis. Nevertheless, it remains a small, but important, element of the Prayer, and follows the overall theology of the Gospel, in which it is not believers, but Jesus himself, who is described in priestly terms. The emphasis is on the sacrifice (esp. the Passover sacrifice) rather than the one administering it; however, as in the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus would certainly be seen as fulfilling both roles. This is expressed here in verse 19, where the Passion setting of the Prayer again comes to the fore:

“And (it is) over them [i.e. the disciples] (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they (also) would be made holy in the truth.”

Jesus functions as a priest, consecrating himself for service (symbolized by his actions in 13:4-12)—the primary service being his impending sacrificial death on the cross, which represents the completion of his ministry on earth (19:30). The only other occurrence of the verb a(gia/zw is in 10:36, which comes at the end of the “Good Shepherd” Discourse. The central motif of this Discourse is the idea that Jesus, as the excellent or exemplary (kalo/$) herdsman, lays down his life for the sake of the sheep. God the Father has given him the authority (and the command) to lay down his life (death) and take it up again (resurrection), cf. 10:11, 15, 17-18. The preposition is u(pe/r (lit. “over”), essentially the same idiom as we see here in 17:19, and also in the Last Supper scene in the Synoptics; let us compare these (and the general parallel in Jn 6:51):

    • “This is my blood of the covenant th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many” (Mk 14:24 par)
    • “the bread which I will give is my flesh over [u(pe/r] the life of the world” (Jn 6:51)
    • “…I set (down) my soul [i.e. life] over [u(pe/r] the sheep” (Jn 10:15, cf. also vv. 11, 17-18)
    • “I make myself holy over [u(per/] them…” (17:19)

There can thus be no real doubt that there is a direct allusion to sacrificial death of Jesus. The idiom in Mk 14:24 par is more concrete, drawing upon the ritual image of blood actually being poured (or sprinkled) over the people at the covenant ceremony (Exodus 24:6-8). In the Johannine references, it is more symbolic, dealing the sacrificial nature and character of Jesus’ death, much as we see in the Letter to the Hebrews (esp. throughout chapters 5-10). From the Johannine (theological) standpoint, it is the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of Jesus which releases the Spirit to believers, both symbolically (19:30, 34) and literally (20:22). The Spirit remains essentially connected with the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7-9; 5:6-8), transmitting its live-giving (and protecting) efficacy to the believer.

A point should be made about the reflexive use of a(gia/zw in verse 19, whereby Jesus says: “I make myself holy” (a(gia/zw e)mauto/n). We might have expected him to ask the Father to make him holy, or at least to emphasize the Father as the source of holiness (v. 11). The key to understanding this lies in the Johannine theological-christological framework, perhaps best expressed by Jesus in 5:26:

“as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave life to the Son to hold in himself”

There is a parallel to this in 13:31-32, using the idea of honor/glory (do/ca) rather than life (zwh/). Moreover, the context of 17:19 is elucidated in this regard by turning back to the use of the verb a(gia/zw in 10:36:

“…the (one) whom the Father made holy [h(gi/asen] and se(n)t forth into the world”

This expresses the same chain of relation as in 5:26, both reciprocal and hierarchical:

The Son alongside the Father—made holy by the Father’s Life and Power
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Sent into the world by the Father
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The Son (on earth) has the Life and Power given to him by the Father
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Prepares to finish his work in the world
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The Son about to return to the Father—makes himself holy

This dynamic continues as the Son makes his disciples (believers) holy in turn, through his work, and, ultimately, through the presence of the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit represents the presence of both Father and Son (together) in and among believers, and this theme of unity becomes dominant in the remainder of the Prayer (vv. 20-26), as we will begin to explore in next week’s study.

Jesus and the Law, Part 9: The Gospel of John (continued)

The outline for this article is:

    1. The Festal Setting of the Discourses and related Narratives
    2. The Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word
    3. The Farewell Discourses and the “Love Command”

The first heading was discussed in Part 8 of this series; here I will continue with the second and third sections.

2. The Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word

Since the Law and Torah (as Scripture) is sometimes identified as the “Word of God” it is worth exploring the distinctive manner in which “word” (lo/go$, and/or r(h=ma) is associated with Jesus in the Gospel of John—both the Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word. I will start with the second of these concepts.

(a) Jesus as the Word

[This section draws especially on the fine summary by R. E. Brown in his classic commentary on John (Anchor Bible vol. 29), Appendix II, pp. 519-24.]

This is found primarily in the Prologue to the Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), where Jesus is identified with the (divine) lo/go$ in verses 1 (3 times) and 14. There is no single satisfactory English translation for lo/go$—”word” being as good as any. From the standpoint of creation (vv. 3, 10), it could also be understood: (i) in the sense of the underlying creative principle giving order to things (already used this way by Heraclitus, 6th-early 5th cent. B.C.), or (ii) as reason, reflecting the (ordered) thought and mind of God (cf. the typical Stoic usage). Philo of Alexandria, representing Hellenistic (and Alexandrian) Judaism at the time of the New Testament, blends the Greek philosophical use of lo/go$ with Old Testament concepts, resulting in the idea of the Logos as a divine intermediary, used by God in creation and serving as a pattern for the human mind/soul. In recent decades, scholars have looked closer at the Jewish background to the Logos-concept in John in at least three respects—(i) the “word of YHWH” as a distinct hypostasis, (ii) the personification of (divine) Wisdom, and (iii) the pre-existence of the Torah.

(i) The “word of YHWH” (hw`hy+Árb^D=) in the Old Testament does not simply reflect a statement or utterance received (by the Prophets, etc), but represents a dynamic (revelatory) manifestation of God to human beings, especially in the formula “the word of YHWH came to {so-and-so}…” (Gen 15:1, 4; 1 Sam 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; 24:11; 1 Kings 6:11, etc; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1, et al). According to Genesis 1:1ff, the universe (the heavens and the earth) was created by the word of God (by his speaking), and continues to be sustained/renewed by his word—cf. Psalm 33:6; 147:15ff; Isa 55:11; also Wisd 9:1, etc. Over time, and with an interest in safeguarding the idea of God’s transcendence, the “word of God” came to be used as a kind of substitute (or periphrasis) for God Himself, which would speak and act (toward human beings)—effectively becoming a distinct hypostasis (divine manifestation). In Aramaic, this term for “the word” of God was ar*m=ym@ (m¢mrâ).

(ii) Similarly, the Wisdom of God could be personified or treated as a distinct hypostasis (manifestation); originally, this personification need have been nothing more than a poetic representation in ancient Wisdom Literature, used for dramatic and didactic effect (cf. Prov 1:20-33; 9:1-12, etc). However, the practical usage came to take on added theological dimension, as we see already in the famous passage of Proverbs 8—especially vv. 23-31 which depict Wisdom as existing at the beginning with God and participating in the work of Creation. There is indeed a close parallel between the Wisdom and (personified) Word of God in Jewish tradition—both are involved in the process of creation, being with God in the beginning, reflecting His glory, and coming forth from (the mouth of) God (cf. Sir 1:1; 24:3ff; Wisd 7:22, 25–8:1; 9:1-2). The parallels with the Johannine prologue are strong enough to suggest a Wisdom background, possibly even involving the influence or adaptation of a hymn in praise of (divine) Wisdom. There are a number of passages which refer to Wisdom coming (from heaven) to dwell among human beings, or wishing to (Prov 8:31; Wisd 9:10; Sir 24:8ff), but with some doubt as to whether she will be welcome (Baruch 3:9ff, etc); in the book of Enoch (1 Enoch) chapter 42, we find an especially close parallel to the idea in John 1:10-11, 14—Wisdom wishes to make her dwelling among the children of men, but sadly can find no dwelling-place and must return to heaven.

(iii) In later Rabbinic and mystical tradition, this personification (or hypostasis) of the Word of God was extended specifically to the Torah, conceived of as God’s offspring (or daughter, as with Wisdom) and existing prior to the creation of the universe. This was a natural identification, since Scripture (and particularly the Torah) was regularly understood as the “Word of God”. Already in Wisdom literature, the Law (Torah) is specifically identified with personified (divine) Wisdom (cf. especially Baruch 4:1 and Sirach 24:23ff). There is a long history as well of referring to the the Law (Torah) as light, which serves to illuminate human beings with God’s own (holy and revelatory) light (Jn 1:4-5, 9)—cf. Psalm 119:105; Baruch 4:2; Wisd 18:4; Testament of Levi 14:4.

(b) The Word(s) of Jesus

As a theme and motif, the word (or words) of Jesus plays a key role in the Gospel of John, occurring frequently (more than 40 times). These can be categorized as follows (note that lo/go$ [“word, account”] and r(h=ma [“word, utterance”] appear to be used interchangeably, with little difference in meaning):

So we see evidence in the Gospel of John that: (a) according to the Prologue (1:1-18), Jesus is the incarnation of the eternal and pre-existent Word of God, which encompasses the idea of the Wisdom and Law (Torah) of God, and (b) Jesus’ words are to be treated and regarded as God’s own Word, including everything typically associated with the commands and ordinances of the Torah.

3. The Farewell Discourses and the “Love Command”

When discussing the sayings of Jesus in Matthew 5:17-20 (especially verse 19) in an earlier note, I brought up the important question as to the relationship between the command(ment)s of Jesus and those of the Torah. We find the same issue here in the Gospel of John (and will see it again when addressing 1 John). There are a dozen or so references to: (a) commandments Jesus received from God the Father, and (b) Jesus’ (own) commandments to his followers; conceptually these two are closely related, if not synonymous. The passages are:

(a) Commandments Jesus received from God the Father—Jn 10:18; 12:49-50; 14:31; 15:10

(b) Commandments given by Jesus (to his disciples)—Jn 13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12, 14, 17

All of these instances involve the noun e)ntolh/ (or the related verb e)nte/llomai), which fundamentally refers to something “laid on (a person) to complete”, and is usually translated “command(ment)” or sometimes “charge, order,” and the like. In a Jewish religious context, of course, e)ntolh/ refers to the commands of the Law (Torah), the corresponding term in Hebrew being primarily hw`x=m! (from the verb hw`x*). Yet, here in the Gospel of John, it is not clear to what extent (if at all) the “commandments” are related to the Torah commands. Let us look briefly at the context of these passages:

(a) Commandments Jesus received from God the Father:

    • Jn 10:18—here the command (or charge) has to with the power/authority Jesus has to (willingly) lay down his life and then take it up again (his death and resurrection)
    • Jn 12:49-50—the emphasis is on what the Father (“the One who sent me”) has given Jesus to speak; again this indicates the divine source (and authority) of Jesus’ own words
    • Jn 14:31—the sense is much the same: that Jesus does just as (and only as) the Father has commanded him
    • Jn 15:10—here Jesus states that he has kept the Father’s commandments, and abides/remains in His love

(b) Commandments given by Jesus (to his disciples):

    • Jn 13:34—Jesus gives his disciples a “new” commandment, the “love command” (see below)
    • Jn 14:15, 21—In these two verses Jesus states that those who love him will keep his commandments (and vice versa); it is a general statement, with no specific indication what those commandments are
    • Jn 15:10—draws a parallel between keeping Jesus’ commandments and abiding/remaining in his love, just as Jesus does for the Father
    • Jn 15:12, 14, 17—verse 12 restates the “love command” (13:34), verse 14 generally restates 14:15, 21, and verse 17 brings both of these together into a single teaching

Of all the references above, only 15:10a could conceivably relate to the Torah commands specifically, but even that is highly uncertain; in light of the other passages in category (a), it is better to see 15:10a in terms of Jesus’ mission—what he is directed to say and do. The Torah commands are clearly referenced as such only in Jn 8:5, which is part of the passage on the woman caught in adultery (generally recognized as an interpolation, and likely not part of the original Gospel).

Many of these references come from the so-called Farewell Discourse (chapters 13-17), a cluster of discourses probably built up out of (separate) smaller blocks of teaching, in which Jesus gives definitive instruction (and exhortation) to his disciples. There are many sayings and teachings of Jesus—both in John and throughout the Synoptic Gospels—which may be regarded as commands; but the only command clearly identified and emphasized as such in the Farewell Discourse(s) is the so-called “love command” in 13:34; 15:12. In Jn 13:34 the command is:

“that you should love one another—even as I have loved you, (I say) that you should love one another”
(the aorist subjunctive forms of the verb having the force of imperatives)

Clearly this is related in some way to the “Great Commandment” (Mk 12:29-31 par)—complete love for God and one’s neighbor—the second half of which, in particular, would become central in Jesus’ teaching as preserved in the early Church (Rom 13:9-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8). Love for God—demonstrated by loving Jesus (whom God sent)—is effectively treated as a command elsewhere in John, particularly in terms of abiding/remaining in Christ (Jn 15:4, 9, etc); but it is love for one’s fellow (believer) that is stressed in Jn 13:34; 15:12ff, and specifically referred to as a commandment. Indeed, it is called a “new” (kaino/$) commandment in 13:34, though the precise meaning and force of this distinction remains uncertain. These and other related questions will be dealt with in more detail in an article on “The Commandments of Christ” later on in this series; for now, it will suffice to conclude with the following observations:

  1. Jesus’ commandments come directly from God the Father (stressing Jesus’ unique role and nature as Son of God)
  2. They relate primarily to his mission on earth—what he is to say (teaching and proclamation, etc) and do (miracles, his willing and sacrificial death [and resurrection], etc)
  3. By word and example, he transmits these commandments to his disciples, best exemplified in the Farewell Discourse(s)
  4. The primary and leading command is two-fold: (i) to love one another, and (ii) to abide/remain in Christ (and his love)

The Old Testament Law (Torah) as such does not appear to be an essential part of this, except insofar as it provides the religious and ethical background to the “love command” and other teachings of Jesus. In this respect, the Gospel of John differs somewhat from the Synoptic Gospels, which depict Jesus dealing more directly (and regularly) with questions derived from (and related to) the Law of Moses.

Jesus and the Law, Part 8: The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John holds a unique and unusual position in New Testament studies, with critical scholars having mixed views as to the relationship between this Gospel and (authentic) traditions and sayings of Jesus. On the one hand, the lengthy and theologically-developed Discourses in John are really like nothing we find in the Synoptics; moreover, the language, style and thematic treatment of the Discourses is often extremely close to that of 1 John, making it seem rather unlikely that we are dealing simply with the unvarnished words of (the historical) Jesus. On the other hand, critical scholars have increasingly recognized numerous strands suggesting early (authentic) tradition, even within the most ‘developed’ sections of the Gospel, and many commentators are willing to admit a significant historical kernel (or core) to the Discourses.

In light of all this, and with regard to this overall series on “The Law and the New Testament”, one could either: (a) discuss the Gospel of John under “Jesus and the Law”, or (b) discuss it along with the Epistles of John under the wider heading. I have decided to treat the Gospel of John primarily as part of the sub-series “Jesus and the Law”, under the basic premise (for the purposes of these articles), that the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels (including the Discourses in John) reflect the authentic words and teachings of Jesus, at least in substance (the ipsissima vox if not the ipsissima verba). However, I recognize that many scholars would dispute this; it should be stated that I neither reject nor dismiss the more critical examination and scrutiny regarding authenticity, and realize fully that the question is even more difficult and complicated with regard to the Discourses of Jesus in John. Yet I believe that my approach is justified, all the more as I am quite convinced of the extreme difficulty (and precarious nature) of attempting to separate the “authentic” words of Jesus from subsequent early Christian interpretation and elaboration. Ultimately, we must work from the integral text of the Gospels as they have come down to us.

This article will proceed according to the following outline:

    1. The Festal Setting of the Discourses and related Narratives
    2. The Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word
    3. The Farewell Discourses and the “Love Command”

1. The Festal Setting of the Discourses and related Narratives

The Gospel of John is also unique (among the four canonical Gospels) in its presentation of Jesus appearing in Jerusalem on multiple occasions, in observance of the holy days—i.e. the Israelite/Jewish festivals (or “feasts”). This in contrast to the Synoptic Gospels, which record just one main journey to Jerusalem, for the Passover, shortly before Jesus’ death. The Johannine festal settings should be considered according to three principal aspects: (a) historical, (b) narrative, and (c) theological.

(a) Historical—The “feasts” are more properly referred to as appointed days or times, generally related to the harvest and seasons of the year, which the people of Israel were to observe with religious ritual, sacrifice and communal celebration. There were five main appointed times (cf. Lev 23:4), including three pilgrimage festivals—Pesach/”Passover” (Unleavened Bread), Shavuot/Weeks (‘Pentecost’), and Sukkot/Booths (‘Tabernacles’)—which (according to Deut 16:16) adult males were commanded to attend, bringing offerings for the Lord. An observant Israelite or Jew in Jesus’ time would journey to Jerusalem at least three times a year for the pilgrimage festivals. In this regard, the Johannine framework of Jesus appearing in Jerusalem on multiple occasions, more accurately reflects the historical situation than the single Passover journey of the Synoptics, as virtually all commentators recognize. Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem (and in the Temple) suggests a (religious) concern to observe the Torah commands, though this is nowhere so stated in the Gospels. Clearly it was not an important point to emphasize for the Gospel writers (or was simply taken for granted), otherwise there surely would have been some mention of Jesus’ religious devotion, such as we find in the Lukan Infancy narratives for Joseph/Mary and Zechariah/Elizabeth (Lk 1:6; 2:21-24, 39). The closest we come, perhaps, is Jesus’ statement in Lk 22:15, where he speaks of his fervent desire to share the Passover with his disciples; though the context rather emphasizes his impending suffering and death as the reason.

(b) Narrative—Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “book of Signs”, are primarily divided according to the occasions of the feasts, each of which are associated with a discourse by Jesus:

The Discourse-format in John is the primary method used to incorporate traditional material—sayings of Jesus, miracle stories, etc—into the narrative framework; it is likely that, to some extent, shorter discourses (or simple exchanges) have been combined into a larger discourse-structure. A basic outline of the discourse-format would be:

    • A question (from “the Jews”) posed to Jesus
    • A saying by Jesus, often enigmatic or provocative, in response
    • A further question or reaction indicating misunderstanding of the true meaning of Jesus’ words
    • An exposition by Jesus, in reply

In Jn 2:13-25, the shortest of the episodes listed above, we do not have a full-fledged discourse, but it still more or less follows the basic format:

    • Question from “the Jews” (v. 18), in response to the Temple “cleansing” action of Jesus (vv. 14-17)
    • Enigmatic/provocative saying by Jesus (v. 19)
    • Question/reaction misunderstanding the true meaning of Jesus’ words (v. 20)
    • Instead of an exposition by Jesus, there is an explanation provided by the author (vv. 21-22)

The narrative structure of the Discourses, with their festal settings, can be demonstrated further:

  • Passover (2:13-25)—including the Temple-saying (v. 19) which foreshadows and prefigures the death and resurrection of Jesus
    • Two discourses with a feast setting, each of which is preceded by a miracle similar to those in the Synoptic tradition, but neither takes place (entirely) in the Jerusalem Temple:
      Sabbath (& unspecified feast, 5:1-47)—miracle (healing of crippled man), vv. 1-15; discourse, vv. 16-18, 19-47
      Passover (6:1-65, [66-71])—miracle (feeding the multitude), vv. 1-15; discourse, vv. 25-65ff
    • Two discourses with a feast setting, each taking place in Jerusalem (and the Temple); these discourses are specifically centered on the theme of the identity of Jesus, and his relation to God the Father:
      Booths (7:1-52; 8:12-59)—a highly complex structure with a narrative introduction (7:1-13), followed by a sequence of five (or six) discourse-scenes, the last two of which (8:21-30, 31-59) identify Jesus with the Father
      Dedication (10:22-39)—a shorter combination of two discourse-sections (vv. 22-30, 31-38), each of which concludes by Jesus identifying himself with the Father
  • Passover (12:1-13:30)—a complex narrative and discourse structure in preparation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, leading into the “Farewell Discourse(s)” (13:31-16:33 and chap. 17) and the Passion narrative (chaps. 18-19)—all set during Passover

(c) Theological—It is not possible here to study each discourse (or discourse sequence) in detail, as they are dense and often complex, with an unbelievably rich thematic and symbolic texture. I will simply provide some basic observations which indicate the way in which Jesus is depicted as fulfilling (in his own person) certain Old Testament themes and symbols related to the feasts and holy days. I begin with the two “outer” sections in the chiastic outline above, both of which show Jesus in Jerusalem for the Passover:

John 2:13-25—This is John’s version of the symbolic Temple action (“cleansing”) by Jesus (vv. 13-17) and the Temple-saying (v. 19ff), each of which is attested in Synoptic tradition (Mark 11:15-19; 14:58 par); however, in John, the two are connected, with the clear implication (explained by the author in vv. 21-22) that Jesus fulfills (or replaces) the Temple itself, including the entire sacrificial/ritual apparatus associated with it. I have discussed this section in more detail in prior notes and earlier in this series.

John 12:1-13:30ff—Jesus’ death, presenting himself as a sacrificial offering, is suggested throughout this section (see esp. 12:23-24, 32f; 13:4-11ff) beyond what is found in the common Gospel tradition shared by the Synoptics (cf. 12:3-8, 27; 13:1-3, 21-30). John’s account of the Passion is unique in having the crucifixion occur on the very eve of Passover (19:14) when the lambs are slaughtered, and clearly identifies Jesus with the Passover lamb (19:31-33, 36; cf. also 1:29, 36).

The first pair of discourses of the “inner” sections (in the outline above) are:

John 5:1-47
Festal setting: The feast is unspecified, though commentators have frequently suggested the feast of Weeks (Shavuot, or ‘Pentecost’), which is traditionally associated with the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai (cf. Exod 19:1). This is likely, since it would relate to the Sabbath—the Sabbath command (Exod 20:8-11) being part of the Decalogue given to Moses on Sinai. More important to the author is the fact that the festal day coincides with the Sabbath.
Narrative setting: The section begins with a Sabbath healing miracle story (vv. 1-16ff) which has similarities to those in the Synoptics (Mark 3:1-6 par; Luke 13:10-17); the objection to Jesus healing on the Sabbath (vv. 10-16, 18) is central to the discourse which follows (vv. 17, 19-47) and serves to introduce it. The miracle took place at the pool of Bethesda (or Betzatha), a location close (just N/NE) to the Temple; the action then shifts to the Temple precincts (v. 14), with the discourse presumably understood as occurring in the Temple as well.
Structure of the Discourse: The principal saying of Jesus is in verse 17 (“my Father is even working until [now], and I [also] am working”). The bulk of the discourse (vv. 19-47) consists entirely of a lengthy exposition which can be divided into three sections:
—Jesus’ work: the Son does what the Father shows him (life-giving power), vv. 19-30
—Witness to Jesus’ work: four-fold witness (John the Baptist, the miracles themselves, the Word of God in the heart of believers, and Scripture), vv. 31-40
—Refusal of people to believe the witness (disbelief), vv. 41-47
Theological significance: The Sabbath theme is central, with Jesus identifying himself with God the Father in terms of his work as Creator (an important aspect of the Sabbath command itself, Exod 20:11). According to Jewish tradition (cf. b. Taanith 2a), God is understood to be continually at work, especially in the life-giving areas of: (a) rain, (b) birth, and (c) resurrection. It is the last of these (the power of resurrection) that Jesus particularly emphasizes (and claims for himself) in the discourse (vv. 21, 25, 28-29). According to the narrative (v. 18), some of “the Jews” who heard him recognized that Jesus was identifying himself with God the Father. It is not clear that Jesus here specifically fulfills (or replaces) the Sabbath, but the Synoptic saying in Mark 2:28 par would certainly take on added dimension in this context.

John 6:1-65ff
Festal setting: It is close to the time of the festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread (v. 4).
Narrative setting: Verses 1-15 record the miracle of feeding the 5000, similar to the Synoptic accounts (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10 par); verses 16-21 have the episode of Jesus walking on the water, already joined to the feeding of the 5000 in early tradition (cf. Mk 6:45-51 par). Verses 22-24f serve as a narrative bridge leading into the discourse.
Structure of the Discourse: I have discussed the structure of chapter 6 in more detail elsewhere; the “Bread of Life” discourse proper I limit to verses 31-59.
Theological significance: Jesus himself fulfills two main symbols and motifs related to Passover and the Exodus:
—He identifies himself with God the Father who fed the hungry Israelites in the wilderness (cf. the miracle in vv. 1-15 and the discussion in vv. 25-30); note especially in this regard Scripture references such as Psalm 107:4-9.
—In the discourse (vv. 31-59) and the discussion which follows (vv. 60-71) he identifies himself with the manna (“bread from heaven”, cf. Exod 16:4, 15; Psalm 78:24; Wisd 16:20), specifying that he is the true bread which has come down from heaven.
The episode of Jesus walking on the water (vv. 16-21) may also be connected with God’s role in Israel’s crossing the sea (see esp. Psalm 77:19).

The second pair of discourses are as follows:

John 7:1-52; 8:12-59
Festal setting: The feast of Booths (Tabernacles), as indicated in the narrative introduction (v. 2).
Narrative setting: This is provided by the narrative introduction in verses 1-13, which records a partial dialogue with Jesus and his brothers, and narrates Jesus’ (secret) journey to Jerusalem for the feast. Verse 14 shows him in the Temple, teaching.
Structure of the Discourse: The structure is lengthy and complex, spanning two whole chapters, and is further complicated by the presence of the pericope of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 7:53-8:11, generally recognized as an interpolation and not part of the original Gospel). I understand 7:14-8:59 (not including 7:53-8:11) as representing a cluster or sequence of five (possibly six) discourses combined into a single arc, which emphasizes different aspects of Jesus’ identity (and his relationship to the Father):
—Jesus as Teacher (7:14-24): his relation to the Law, with a reprise of the Sabbath question from chapter 5
—Jesus as Messiah (7:25-36): where he comes from and goes to (returns)
—Jesus as (living) Water and Light (7:37-39ff; 8:12 + vv. 13-20): motifs associated with the feast of Booths
—Jesus as I AM (8:21-30): he comes from the Father and goes (returns) to Him
—Jesus as Word of God (I AM) (8:31-59): juxtaposition of Abraham and God as Father
Theological significance: Here I will limit discussion to the discourse in 7:37-39ff; 8:12-20, and the two principal motifs, associated with the feast of Booths, with which Jesus identifies himself. Traditional themes and images are largely dependent on Zechariah 9-14 (on Jewish ritual and ceremony, from a slightly later period, see the Mishnah tractate Sukkah):
Water (7:37-39): Cf. Zech 12:10; 13:1; 14:8; also Isa 44:3; Jer 2:13. A festal ceremony developed, involving filling a golden pitcher with water from the Gihon spring, followed by a procession to the Temple, where the water was poured out and made to flow into the ground around the altar; during the ceremony Isa 12:3 and Psalm 118:25 were recited. The ritual itself reflects an agricultural background and involving a prayer for rain (cf. Zech 10:1; 14:17).
Light (8:12ff): Cf. Zech 14:8. For the traditional ceremony of lighting the four golden candlesticks, see m. Sukkah 5:2-4. The theme of Jesus as light continues in the next chapter (Jn 9), and see also the thematic reprise in 12:35-36.

John 10:22-39
Festal setting: The feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), v. 22.
Narrative setting: It is likely that 10:1-21 is meant to be connected with this section (as chap. 9 is with the prior discourse); note the reprise of the “good shepherd” theme in vv. 25-28. The possibility has also been raised that Ezekiel 34 may have been a synagogue reading (haphtorah) from the Prophets around the time/season of Dedication, which means that the “good shepherd” discourse of 10:1-21 may have been delivered at that time. In verse 23, Jesus is shown in the Temple, the setting for the discourse which follows.
Structure of the Discourse: It can be divided simply into two sections: verses 22-30 and 31-38, with a short narrative summary in verse 39. The structure becomes more complex if one wishes to include the “good shepherd” discourse of vv. 1-21 are part of unified sequence.
Theological significance: Like the Tabernacles discourse(s) of chapters 7-8 (above), these two discourse sections specifically emphasize the identity of Jesus and his relationship to the Father, and each concludes with a specific identification:
—Jesus as Messiah (vv. 22-30): identification with the Father in verse 30 (“I and the Father are one”)
—Jesus as Son of God (vv. 31-38): identification with the Father in verse 38 (“the Father [is] in me and I [am] in the Father”)
The feast of Dedication commemorates the rebuilding of the altar and new dedication of the Temple (1 Maccabees 4:41-61); this theme of consecration is implicit in this section, emphasized only in verse 36. The implication is that Jesus is to be identified (in his person) with the sacrificial altar (and the Temple itself), much as we see in the Temple saying of Jn 2:19ff.

The remainder of this article will continue in the next part of this series.

For a number of points and references above, I am indebted to R. E. Brown’s excellent critical commentary (part of the Anchor Bible series, vol. 29), cf. especially pp. 212-230, 245, 255-6, 261-6, 277-80, 326-9, 343-4, 404-12.