“Gnosis” in the NT: John 17:3

John 17:3

Today’s note, supplemental to the current series “Gnosis and the New Testament” will examine the statement in John 17:3, perhaps the most explicitly “gnostic”-sounding declaration in the entire New Testament:

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

A question to be addressed right away is whether this statement is part of the actual words of Jesus in his prayer-discourse of chapter 17 or is an explanatory statement by the author of the Gospel (and/or his source). The specific reference to “Yeshua (the) Anointed” (Jesus Christ) strongly suggests the latter. If so, then the author/editor is specifically clarifying Jesus’ words in verse 2:

“Even as you [i.e. the Father] have given to him [i.e. the Son] authority o(ver) all flesh, (so) that (for) every (one) that you have given him, he should give to them life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life].”

However, it is often difficult to know for certain where or when an author/editor’s comment could be interrupting the words of Jesus. This is especially true for the discourses of Jesus in John, which demonstrate an intricate blending of Jesus’ own words with an interpretive layer which gives added meaning and significance to his words. The discourse in 3:1-21 is another good example; commentators continue to debate whether Jesus’ words as such end with verse 15 or continue on through 21 (note also the wording in v. 11); similarly, whether John the Baptist’s word end at verse 30 or continue through v. 36. I see little (if any) substantial difference with regard to the meaning of 17:3, whether it represents the actual words of Jesus or a comment by the author, since, as noted above, the discourses of Jesus in John consistently seem to blend these two components throughout, so that Jesus’ own words are enhanced by a level of interpretation.

In the prior study on John 8:32, I mentioned the format or pattern which makes up the discourses of Jesus in John. This applies also to the great chain of discourses in chapters 13-17, with the exception of chapter 17, which is uniquely a kind of monologue, which I would qualify as a prayer-discourse. Here, Jesus is addressing God (the Father) in the presence of his followers, much as we see in 11:41-42. It serves as a perfect and exalted climax to the discourse(s) of chs. 13-17. It is so deep and rich in its structure and language, that no single outline will be entirely satisfactory; here, I have followed, with some modification, the outline offered by R. E. Brown (in his Anchor Bible [AB] commentary [Vol. 29A, p. 749], based on the earlier work of A. Laurentin):

    • Narrative setting (v. 1a)
    • Prologue—saying/statement (vv. 1b-3)
      —”Response” (v. 3)
    • Refrain:
      (a) Jesus’ relationship with the Father: the pre-existent glory (vv. 4-5)
      (b) Jesus has shone forth (manifest) the Father’s name (v. 6)
    • Part 1—Prayer/petition (vv. 7-12)
    • Part 2—Prayer/petition (vv. 13-23)
    • Refrain:
      (a) Jesus’ relationship with the Father: the pre-existent glory (vv. 24)
      (b) Jesus has shone forth (manifest) the Father’s name (vv. 25-26)

(Cf. also my study on chapter 17 in the Monday “Notes on Prayer” series)

The initial prayer statement in vv. 1-2 functions in a manner similar to the saying of Jesus with opens the great discourses (cf. 8:31-32 and the prior study). The statement in verse 3 (cf. above) could be said to function like the response by Jesus’ hearers in the discourses, except that here it reflects the understanding and faith of believers, rather than the misunderstanding (and unbelief) of those hearing his words. The “refrain” of vv. 4-6 (followed again in vv. 24-26), contains two great themes (and keywords) of chapter 17: (1) do/ca (“honor, splendor, glory”) and (2) fanero/w (“shine [forth], cause to appear, [make] manifest”). Another important word is the verb di/dwmi (“give”) which occurs 17 times in the chapter. It has a two-fold meaning—(a) that which the Father has given to the Son, and (b) what the Son has given to believers. Interestingly it is the believers who are at the heart of what God the Father has given to the Son, creating a reciprocal relationship—Father-Son-Believers—involving an intricate and repetitive language. The central portion of the prayer-discourse I also divide here into two parts (vv. 7-12, 13-23), each with a similar structure (cf. Brown, p. 749); each part:

    • begins with the particle nu=n (“now…”), and then contains, in turn:
    • a pronouncement (7-8, 13-14)
    • a main petition (9, 15ff)
    • reference to glory (10, 22)
    • reference to unity (11, 21-23)

There is a kind of logical chain running through the prayer:

    • The pre-existent glory (do/ca) which the Son and Father shared
    • –Believers were given to the Son
    • ––The Son came into the world from the Father
    • –––The Son shines forth the Father’s name (making it known) to believers
    • ––––The Son glorifies the Father in this work
    • –––––The death/resurrection/exaltation of the Son
    • ––––The Father glorifies the Son
    • –––Believers will make the Son and Father (His name) known to others
    • ––Believers remain in the world
    • –Believers are one (united) with the Son
    • Believers will inherit the glory shared by Father and Son, and so be one (united) with them both

It is important to read the statement in verse 3 in light of the overall context and structure of the prayer-discourse. The Son gives to the chosen ones (believers) the life-of-the-Age, i.e. life of the Age-to-Come, which ultimately means eternal life with God and Christ in Heaven. How is this life given to believers? This is expressed in various ways, with different images, throughout the Gospel, but here, as in 8:31ff, it is perhaps best understood in terms of the word(s) (logo$, r(hma[ta]) which Jesus “speaks”—cf. especially the statements in Jn 5:24 and 6:63 (also v. 68). The expression “word(s) of life”, along with the same underlying association, in relation to the Gospel message (of Christ), is also found elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 5:20; 13:46, 48; Phil 2:16; 1 John 1:1). It is clear from the discourses of Jesus in John that this “word” does not simply represent the sayings and teachings of Jesus, but the presence of Christ himself, as the Son (of God) and living Word who reveals and manifests the Father (his name). Further, it is certainly to be identified also with the (Holy) Spirit, as indicated specifically in Jn 6:63. In chapters 14-16, the Spirit (Paraclete) is said to function effectively as the abiding presence of Christ in and with the believer (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13ff; cf. also 20:22).

It is now time to look a bit more closely at the statement in 17:3, which I will do in the next study.

“Gnosis” in the NT: John 8:32 (cont.)

John 8:32 (continued)

In the previous study, I examined the context and setting of the saying of Jesus in Jn 8:31-32; today, I will be giving attention to several key points regarding the saying:

    • The conditional relationship between the first and last clauses
    • The use of the terms “truth” and “free(dom)”, and
    • What it means to know the truth

“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly [a)lhqw=$] my learners [i.e. disciples], and you will know the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the truth will make/set you free.”

This saying is a conditional sentence, made up of two parts—the second (apodosis) is based on the condition established in the former (protasis):

Protasis—”If [e)a/n] you remain in my word [logo/$]”
Apodosis—”(then) you are truly my learners [i.e. disciples]…”

The apodosis actually has three components—that is, three things which will occur if the condition is met; note how each component involves the word truth (cf. below):

    1. you are truly my disciples
    2. you will know the truth
    3. the truth will make/set you free

It is significant that Jesus does not say “you will be my disciples”, but rather “you are my disciples”—that is, remaining in Jesus’ word demonstrates what these believers (already) are, namely, his true disciples. The verb me/nw (“remain”) is especially important, and is part of the key Johannine vocabulary—more than half of the NT occurrences are in the Gospel (40) and letters (27) of John. It occurs most notably in the famous illustration of the vine and the branches in chapter 15 (vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). The orientation is eschatological: believers will continue in faith, united with Christ, until the end. This is all the more clear here, by Jesus’ use of the verb in 8:35:

“the slave does not remain [me/nei] into the Age, but the Son (does) remain into the Age”

The expression “into the Age”, often obscured in translation as “forever, eternal(ly)”, etc, specially means into the Age to Come, which in an early Christian context, refers to the return of Christ, the last Judgment, the resurrection and the entry of believers into eternal life. We could paraphrase here as: “the slave (to sin) does not enter into eternal life…”; only the Son possesses this life (5:26, etc), and he gives it to those who trust in him. This is expressed by the phrase “remain in my word“. In the discourses and sayings of Jesus in John, the reference can be: (1) to believers being in Christ (his word, light, etc) [5:35; 8:12; 12:46; 15:9-10; 16:33], and also (2) to his word, etc, being in believers [4:14; 5:38; 6:53; 11:10; 14:17; 15:2ff, 11; 17:10, 13]—for the two mentioned together, cf. Jn 6:56; 14:20; 15:4ff; 17:20-26. Paul has the same two-fold aspect of being “in Christ” and Christ being “in you”. With regard to the term lo/go$ (usually translated “word”), the more common idiom is of the lo/go$ being or remaining in the believer (5:38), and Jesus uses this in our passage as well (8:37, cf. also v. 44)—so both aspects are present in the discourse. Primarily, the lo/go$ refers to the “account”, i.e. the things Jesus said, the substance of his teaching, and so forth; but clearly, in the context of the use of this word in John (1:1ff, etc), it also refers to the presence and power of Christ (the Son) himself.

A key term in 8:31-32, and also the discourse of vv. 31-59, is a)lhqei/a (“truth”), which is likewise a common Johannine word—of the 100+ occurrences in the NT, nearly half are in the Gospel (25) and letters (20) of John. Key references elsewhere in the Gospel are 1:14, 17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 5:33; 14:6, 17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 17:17, 19. It occurs five more times in this discourse:

    • v. 40: Jesus speaks the truth he has heard from God (the Father)
    • v. 44: the people (Jews) who oppose Jesus are actually children of the devil, of whom Jesus says that from the beginning “he has not stood in the truth” and “the truth is not in him” (note the two aspects)
    • v. 45: Jesus states, “because I give account of [le/gw, rel. to lo/go$] the truth, you do not trust [i.e. believe, have faith in] me”
    • v. 46: again, “if I give account of the truth, through what [i.e. for what reason] do you not trust (in) me?”

The use of the verb e)leuqero/w (“make/set free”) in v. 32 (and 36) is actually quite rare in the New Testament, occurring only in Paul (Rom 6:18, 22; 8:2, 21; Gal 5:1); similarly the adjective e)leu/qero$ (“free”) in vv. 33, 36 is primarily found in the Pauline letters. Indeed, Paul frequently makes use of the idea that God, through Christ, has freed human beings from bondage to sin, delivering (or ransoming, i.e. purchasing) them from the control and dominion of sin and darkness. The dualistic imagery is common in the Gospel of John, connecting Christ’s death with salvation from the dark and evil “world”, but not with this specific language of redemption, which is essentially unique to this passage in John.

What does it mean to know the truth? First, in the context of the discourse, the truth is something which Jesus has heard from the Father and speaks to the people (vv. 40ff). Thus it is intimately connected to the relationship between the Son and God the Father, which is expressed (by Jesus) in the Gospel of John, and which is formulated at the very beginning (1:1ff, using the term lo/go$, “word”). It is not so much the specific content of his teaching, but that his teaching reflects the very word ‘spoken’ by the Father. Elsewhere in the Gospel, knowledge (that is, knowing, ginw/skw/oi@da) means knowledge of the Son (Christ) who reveals the Father. This will be discussed further in the next study (on John 17:3). Here, 8:47 effectively summarizes Jesus’ (and the Johannine) meaning:

“The one being out of [i.e. from] God hears the words/utterances [r(h/mata] of God; through [i.e. because of] this, you [i.e. the Jewish opponents] do not hear, in that [i.e. because] you are not out of [i.e. from] God”

This saying is vital for a proper understanding of the “gnostic” aspect of Jesus’ teaching in John, as it conveys a very distinctive sense of salvation—the person who hears (that is, receives/accepts) Jesus’ words, which are the words of God the Father, does so because he/she actually comes from [lit. out of, e)k] God. In other words, the believer who is “born” as a child of God through faith (1:12-13) has ‘already’ come (i.e. been born) out of God. There is a paradoxical sense to this understanding, which will be explored further in the article in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament” dealing with election and predestination. Jesus says virtually the same thing in his famous dialogue with Pilate in Jn 18:37:

“…unto this [i.e. for this purpose] I have come to be (born) and unto this I have come into the world: that I might (bear) witness to the truth—every one being out of [e)k, i.e. from] the truth hears my voice.”

If we compare the parallel statement in 8:47 and 18:37, we see that the “truth” is essentially equivalent with God Himself. It is no wonder that Pilate, like the Jews of the discourse, responds with a lack of understanding: “What is (the) truth?”

“Gnosis” in the NT: John 8:32

John 8:32

“you will know the truth, and the truth will make/set you free”

This is one of the most famous and well-known statements in the New Testament, yet it is often cited out of context, without realizing that it is only half of a saying by Jesus in vv. 31-32:

“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly [a)lhqw=$] my learners [i.e. disciples], and you will know the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the truth will make/set you free.”

Even less familiar to the average Christian or student of the New Testament is the is the overall context of this saying—the discourse of Jesus in 8:31-59, part of larger sequence of discourses spanning chapter 7 and 8 (not including 7:53-8:11), and set during the festival of Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) in Jerusalem. All of the discourses of Jesus in John follow a basic pattern, involving:

    • A statement/saying by Jesus
    • A response or question by those hearing him, indicating that they have misunderstood his true meaning
    • An explanation/exposition by Jesus

The longer discourses sometimes repeat the question-explanation format. There is a definite homiletic style at work, which suggests that actual (historical) teaching by Jesus has been carefully edited and given a layer of interpretation by the author of the Gospel (and/or his sources). It is not a mere stenographic record. The discourse in 8:31-59 begins according to the pattern cited above:

    • Statement by Jesus (vv. 31b-32)
    • Response/question with misunderstanding (v. 33)
    • Explanation by Jesus (vv. 34ff)

Here the question/explanation pattern is repeated several times, creating a heightened level of dramatic tension not found in the other discourses:

  • Response #1 (v. 33)
    Jesus’ answer #1 (vv. 34-38)
    • Response #2 (v. 39a)
      Jesus’ answer #2 (vv. 39b-41a)
      • Response #3 (v. 41b)
        Jesus’ answer #3 (vv. 42-47)
        • Response #4 (v. 48)
          Jesus’ answer #4 (vv. 49-51)
          • Response #5 (vv. 52-53)
            Jesus’ answer #5 (vv. 54-56)
            • Response #6 (v. 57)
              Jesus’ answer #6 (v. 58)

This chain involves a kind of step-parallelism—where the start of the next element builds upon the end of the previous one—which is fairly common in the Gospel of John. The initial misunderstanding by the people (“the Jews”) involves the sort of freedom referred to by Jesus:

“We are (the) seed of Abraham and have been enslaved to no one (at) any time; (so) how do you say that ‘you will come to be free’?” (v. 33)

They understand freedom and slavery in terms of personal and national liberty—that is, of material, physical freedom—much as people tend to use the terms today. A similar nationalistic sentiment is expressed by Eleazar at Masada in Josephus’ Wars VII.323. However, Jesus is actually referring to freedom from sin, as is clear in his explanation in vv. 34ff:

“…everyone doing sin is a slave [of sin].”

It is (only) the Son (o( ui(o/$) who can set people free from the power and control of sin:

“The slave does not remain [me/nei] in the house into the Age [i.e. forever], (but) the son remains into the Age; therefore, if the Son sets/makes you free, you (really) will be free!”

In the remainder of the discourse, Jesus draws upon the Jewish people’s claim to be sons (“the seed”) of Abraham, and sets it in the context of the relationship between the Father (God) and the Son. These two interlocking themes continue, with the tension and conflict building, until the climactic end, in which Jesus identifies himself (the Son) with the Father: “before Abraham came to be, I am!” (v. 58, cf. the similar climax in 10:30-39). In so doing, he has circumvented entirely the span of Israelite/Jewish history and tradition—the one who was with the Father before Abraham, is now here among the people. Instead of being sons/children of Abraham in the ethnic and religious sense, they (i..e the elect) now are called to be sons/children of God (1:12-13).

Returning to the initial saying of vv. 31-32, there are several key points which should be examined. I will do so in the next study.

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 2: Knowledge and Salvation

A fundamental aspect of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought is soteriological—that is, salvation in terms of, or by way of, knowledge. This aspect, however, is hardly unique to the quasi-Christian religious groups of the first centuries A.D. (i.e., what is usually labelled “Gnostic” [cf. Part 1 & my article on Gnosticism]); it can be found, in various forms, all throughout the New Testament. Even so, there may a wide range for what is meant, or assumed, with regard to the nature and object of this “knowledge”. It is important, then, to examine the various passages in the New Testament carefully. This I will do in the present article, providing a survey and summary for the most relevant passages, while giving more details exegesis of several key verses in the separate daily notes.

The Terminology

The basic word rendered “save” in New Testament Greek is sw|/zw (sœ¡zœ), occurring more than 100 times. Its fundamental meaning is to make or keep (someone) safe. It can refer to any form of physical protection (esp. in battle), usually with the idea that serious harm (or death) threatens. Sometimes it has the specific sense of rescuing someone (i.e. bringing them to safety), and, in a medical context, can also refer to healing from disease. Naturally, it could be used in a religious context as well, in several ways: (a) protection by the divine powers from harm or loss, (b) deliverance from personal sin and its effects, often through ritual means, and (c) passing through the divine/heavenly Judgment after death. When dealing with this word-group, Christians tend to have (c) in mind, but that is not always the sense which is meant, and assuming it can cause considerable confusion among readers and commentators; the context of each reference must be examined closely. Several important words are derived from the verb sw|/zw: (i) swth/r (sœt¢¡r), “one who saves, savior” [24 times]; (ii) swthri/a (sœt¢ría), “safety, saving, salvation” [46 times]; and (iii) swth/rio$ (sœt¢¡rios), “(adj.) saving” [4 times], used as a substantive “(means of) salvation/protection”. The compound verb diasw/zw (“bring through safely, to safety”) also occurs several times.

There are a number of other words, some partly synonymous, which can relate to the idea of salvation or being saved:

    • r(u/omai, lit. “drag (to safety)”, i.e. rescue, deliver
    • lu/w, “loose”, and esp. the compound a)polu/w, “loose from (bondage, etc)”, i.e. from prison or debt; the related verb lutro/w, with the nouns lu/tron, lu/trwsi$, etc, refers to providing the means for release (from prison, slavery, etc), i.e. ransom, redemption
    • a)fi/hmi, with the noun a&fesi$, “release, loose”, in particular from sin—so used frequently in the NT
    • dikaio/w, “make right, make just, do justice”, with the related noun dikaiosu/nh, adjective di/kaio$, etc.
    • zwopoie/w and zwogone/w, “make alive”, “give/preserve life”, etc
    • words related to healing, health and wholeness: i)a/omai, qerapeu/w, u(giai/nw, etc

In addition there is some vocabulary and idiom which is distinct to early Christian and Jewish thought of the period, such as, for example:

    • the idea of entering or inheriting the kingdom (of God)
    • the way leading toward God
    • finding (eternal) life
    • the words related to resurrection

Concept and range of meaning

Quite often in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel and book of Acts, the verbs sw|/zw (with the noun swthri/a) and r(u/omai refer either generally to saving/protecting a person from physical harm or specifically (in the case of sw|/zw) to healing from disease—cf. Mk 3:4; 5:23, 28; 6:56; 10:52; 13:20; 15:30-31 pars; Luke 1:69, 71, 74; John 11:12; 12:27; Acts 4:9; 14:9; 27:20; Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 1:10; 2 Thess 3:2; Heb 11:17; James 5:15; 2 Pet 2:7-9; Jude 5, et al. If we exclude these references, we are left with the idea of salvation in the deeper religious (and/or metaphysical) sense—of the soul, or of the person in an eschatological (final) sense. The sifting of these references must be done carefully, since there are a number of passages which are ambiguous or which make use of wordplay with different (levels of) meaning, such as Jesus’ famous saying in Mark 8:35 par, or the shipwreck scene in Acts 27 (cf. vv. 20, 31). However, it is possible to isolate two main ways salvation is expressed, from a religious/metaphysical standpoint, in the New Testament and early Christian tradition:

    • Salvation from sin—either: (a) from the effect of personal sins, or (b) from the power and control of sin
    • Salvation from the end-time Judgment by God, often described in terms of being saved from the anger/wrath of God which is about to come upon humankind

Interestingly, the aspect of salvation which is probably most commonly in mind with people today—that of the individual’s personal salvation following death (i.e. from the punishment [of Hell])—is not emphasized particularly in the New Testament. This, of course, was a popular way of thinking even in ancient times, usually depicted in some manner as the person standing before a divine/heavenly tribunal after death to be judged according to his/her deeds and actions while alive. The background of this idea is retained in early Christian thought, as for example, in the Beatitude form (Matt 5:3-12 / Lk 6:20-26) and the image of entering/inheriting the Kingdom (i.e. of the heavenly/eternal life), cf. Mk 9:47; 10:23ff; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 25:34; Jn 3:5; Acts 14:22; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21, etc. However, specific references to the traditional (afterlife) scene of Judgment are somewhat rare in the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 2:6ff; 14:10-12; also Matt 10:32-33; 12:41-42 par; 25:31-46). This is largely due to the fact that the eschatological emphasis has shifted to the (imminent) coming of the end—that is, the coming of God’s Judgment upon the earth, expected to occur soon, within the lifetime of most people. Early Christians widely shared this expectation, along with many Jews of the period; the distinctly Christian component was the role of Jesus as the Anointed One (Christ) of God and heavenly “Son of Man” whose coming (back) to earth from Heaven would usher in the Judgment. Thus the idea of salvation meant being saved from the Judgment (the anger/wrath of God) about to be visited upon sinful, wicked humanity (cf. the “day of YHWH” motif in the Old Testament Prophets). Christ, as the divine representative of YHWH, oversees the Judgment, but also acts as savior and deliverer of the Elect—that is, of God’s faithful people, the believers. This eschatological context for salvation is found all throughout the New Testament; of the many passages, I would note the following:

A similar (generalized) sense of eschatological salvation is found widely in early Christian thought—e.g., Luke 3:6 [Isa 40:5]; John 3:17; 5:34; 10:9; 12:47; Romans 10:9; 11:14, 26; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:15; 9:22; 10:33; 15:2; Phil 1:6, 9-10; 2:16; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 2 Thess 2:10; 2 Tim 2:4, 10, (15); 4:16; James 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20; 1 Pet 1:5, 9-10; 4:18? [Prov 11:31]; (2 Pet 2:9); (Jude 23); Heb 1:14; (7:25); 9:28. Virtually the entire book of Revelation deals with this theme.

With regard to the second main aspect of salvation—that of being saved/delivered from sin and its power—this is likewise expressed frequently, and in a number of ways, throughout the New Testament. Salvation from sin, either in a general sense, or in terms of (the effect of) personal sins, is commonly described in terms of “release” (a&fesi$), as of from a debt, bond, or burden. Baptism was originally seen as symbolizing the washing/removal of sin, when it was preceded by genuine repentance. This is the primary sense expressed in the Gospels, with the movement from baptism (as administered by John) to “release” being announced/declared by Jesus (and the apostles) through the authority of his word. Only rarely, however, are the words sw|/zw and swthri/a connected explicitly with salvation from sin (cf. Matt 1:21; Luke 7:50; 19:10 [par]; also James 5:20; Jude 23); even more rare is the direct connection of salvation with repentance (cf. Acts 2:40; 2 Cor 7:10), though the idea of repentance is common enough in the New Testament. Along a similar line, in the apostolic teaching (in the Pauline writings, etc), ethical instruction and exhortation, while frequent, is generally not described in terms of salvation from sin. Much more common is the idea of being loosed or freed from the power and dominion of sin, as from bondage to a wicked and oppressive ruler. This view is central to the theology (and Christology) of the Pauline letters:

It also underlies the Pauline language of purchase/redemption out of slavery (i.e. bondage to sin)—cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; Gal 2:4; 3:13; 4:4-5; 5:1, 13; Rom 3:24; Col 1:14; Eph 1:7; Tit 2:14. This emphasis on freedom from bondage (to sin) is also found in the Johannine writings, including the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel. It often includes the specific motif of being delivered out of one domain (of sin and darkness) and into another (of truth, light and [eternal] life). These references will be discussed in more detail in a separate article, but it is important to note here that they have a good deal in common with the gnostic viewpoint; and is also expressed variously by Paul in his letters (cf. Gal 1:4; Col 1:12-14; [2 Tim 2:26], and note the entire discussion in Rom 5:12-8:2ff).

Salvation as knowledge

In turning to the idea of salvation specifically in terms of knowledge, we must keep in mind the two primary aspects of salvation outlined above—being saved (1) from the end-time Judgment, and (2) from the power (and domain) of sin. It is the latter aspect which is tied most directly with knowledge (gnw=si$), both in the New Testament and in gnostic thought. The terms “save/salvation” (sw|/zw / swthri/a) and “knowledge” (gnw=si$) appear together in several key passages:

    • Luke 1:77—part of the hymn/oracle of Zechariah, which moves from the deliverance of God’s people from the power of their (historical) enemies (vv. 71, 74) to deliverance from the power of sin. In verse 76 it is prophesied of John that he will act as the messenger of Mal 3:1, who will make ready the way for the Lord when he comes. The main purpose of John’s ministry will be “to give knowledge of salvation [gnw=si$ swthri/a$] to His people”; this knowledge will be disclosed and made manifest in the “release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”, which is symbolized in the ritual act of baptism. In verse 79, this knowledge is described using the image of light—”to shine upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death”.
    • 1 Cor 1:21—”For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through the wisdom, God considered (it) good, through the ‘stupidity’ of the proclamation [i.e. of the Gospel], to save the (one)s trusting”. I have discussed this verse as part of a series of notes on 1 Cor 1:18-2:14.
    • 2 Cor 2:14ff—For this important passage, cf. the studies in this series on 2:14 and 4:6.
    • 2 Pet 2:20-21—Again salvation is described as deliverance from sin, but with a slightly different nuance, emphasizing the action of those who come to faith (“fleeing from the defilement of the world”); this action, however, occurs strictly according to the knowledge of the Lord—that is, in our coming to know [e)n e)pignw/sei] him (Christ), who is identified as our savior (“the Savior Yeshua [the] Anointed”). This is personal knowledge of Christ—who he is and what God has done through him—but it is also, in verse 21, connected in religious terms to “the way of justice/righteousness”.

Elsewhere, this soteriological aspect of knowledge is expressed a number of ways, as:

As indicated previously, the motif of knowledge is fundamental in the Johannine writings; even though the noun gnw=si$ does not appear, the verb ginw/skw (“know”) occurs 86 times (56 in the Gospel), while the largely synonymous ei&dw (oi@da, “see, know”) occurs 113 times (85 in the Gospel). These passages are surveyed in a separate article, but several key verses should be noted here, which strongly express the idea of salvation by way of knowledge:

    • John 4:22—”you worship what you have not seen/known, we worship what we have seen/known—(in) that [i.e. because] salvation is out of the Jews”. This saying reflects the wordplay and dual-meaning typical of the discourses of Jesus in John. On the one hand, he seems to be expressing simply the traditional religious (and nationalistic) view that the Jews, rather than Samaritans, have preserved the true faith. However, according to the deeper spiritual meaning of his words, we have the idea that salvation comes “out of” (from) the Jews in the sense that Jesus himself came to be born and appear among the people, though without their knowing/realizing it. This true religious knowledge only comes by way of the Spirit (v. 23, cf. 3:3-8).
    • John 8:32—”and you will know the truth and the truth will make/set you free”. I discuss this verse in a separate pair of notes. For the idiom of knowing the truth, cf. above.
    • John 14:4-7—all of the important terms and motifs of knowledge and seeing, the relation between Father and Son (and the believer), etc., are encapsulated in this sequence of verses, centered around Jesus’ famous declaration: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life—no one comes toward the Father if not through me”. Knowledge of the way (o(do/$) which leads to God and (eternal) life involves knowing/seeing the Son who manifests the Father. Cf. my notes on this passage.
    • John 17:3—the declaration by Jesus in this verse is perhaps the most explicitly “gnostic” soteriological formulation in the New Testament (cf. the separate study):
      “And this is the life of (the) Ages [i.e. eternal life]: that they should know You the only true God and the (one) whom You se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed”.
    • 1 John 4:7—I include this verse because of the close connection it gives between knowing God and coming to be born from Him, drawing upon the distinctly Johannine relationship between spiritual birth (regeneration) and salvation (cf. John 1:9-13; 3:1-21, etc).

A gnostic approach in the New Testament?

Based on a number of the passages cited and discussed above, a strong argument can be made that there is, indeed, a gnostic component to the view of salvation expressed in the New Testament, especially within the Pauline and Johannine writings. At the same time, however, several other aspects of early Christian thought serve as a check or counterbalance toward the development of any (exaggerated) gnostic tendencies. Here, in conclusion of this article, I highlight what are probably the three most important elements in the New Testament in this regard, each of which will be discussed at different points in the remaining notes and articles of this series:

  • The emphasis on trust/faith—Much moreso than knowledge, salvation is expressed in terms of trust (pi/sti$), specifically trust in Christ as the means and embodiment of the (way of) salvation provided by God. When Jesus speaks of being “saved” by trust, it is usually in the context of physical healing (i.e., trust that Jesus has the power to heal); but, occasionally, the reference is to salvation from sin or eschatological salvation (Lk 7:50). In the early Gospel preaching and in the subsequent writings, it is trust/faith in the person and work of Jesus which is in view. This is especially prominent in the Pauline writings—cf. 2 Thess 2:12; 1 Cor 1:21; Gal 2:16ff; Rom 3:21-22; 10:9-13; Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 3:15; 1 Tim 4:10—and is ultimately expressed through the developed Pauline concept of “justification” by faith (Gal 2:16-21; 3:6-14, 21-22ff; 5:4-6; Phil 3:9; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:4-7, and frequently throughout Romans). Ephesians 2:8 provides the most explicit statement:
    “For by (the) favor (of God) you are (one)s (who) have come to be saved, through trust; and this (comes) not out of you (yourselves), but (is) the present/gift of God…”
  • The person of Christ, and the believers’ union with him—While a central savior figure, who reveals the knowledge of salvation, is common to gnostic (and Gnostic) thought, the primacy and centrality of Christ in the New Testament and early (orthodox) Christianity is especially significant. Salvation comes through knowing Christ, as poignantly expressed by Paul in Phil 3:8-10 (cf. the note on this passage). An even stronger Christological aspect of salvation is found in Col 1:26-27 and 2:2-3 (also discussed in a separate study). This orientation is still more pronounced in the Gospel and letters of John, as will be discussed in a separate article. It is no coincidence that the disputes between (proto-)Orthodox and Gnostic Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries tended to be christological in nature—that is, precisely how one should properly regard Jesus Christ as the Savior. The presentation of Jesus in the Pauline and Johannine writings could easily be interpreted in a decidedly gnostic manner. It is possible that 1 John already shows this dynamic at work (cf. 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:6-12), and the attempt to combat it.
  • The emphasis on love—The “love command (or principle)” is fundamental to early Christianity, normative for guiding behavior and relationships within the Community. It derives from Jesus’ teaching and has special prominence even in those writings (i.e. the Pauline and Johannine) which exhibit the greatest affinity with gnostic thought. In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes out of his way to set love over against any exaggerated sense of (spiritual) knowledge—cf. 8:1ff; 12:31b-14:1a; 16:14. Here he is referring to knowledge as a (prophetic) gift of the Spirit, not in the fundamental sense of knowing Christ. Indeed, Paul would surely say that knowledge of Christ, for the believer, means being guided by his presence (through the Spirit), following his example, which is epitomized and demonstrated perfectly through love.

August 28: 1 Cor 2:14-15 (continued)

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16]

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

In yesterday’s note, I provided a fairly detailed study on two key words used in these verses (14-15)—the adjective yuxiko/$ (related to yuxh/) and the verb a)nakri/nw. This was necessary in order to give a proper translation and interpretation of the passage.

“And the man with a soul does not receive [i.e. accept] the (thing)s of the Spirit of God, for it is (all) stupidity [mwri/a] to him and he is not able to know (them), (in) that they are judged (carefully) with the Spirit. And the (one) with the Spirit judges all ([th]ese) things, and (yet) he is judged under no one.”

It will be helpful to offer notes on specific words and phrases as they occur in the passage:

“with a soul”—I have decided, as a practical necessity, to slant the grammar of my translation, in order to give a meaningful rendering of the adjectives yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$ (cf. the previous note). Fundamentally, Paul’s use of yuxiko/$ here (and in 15:44-46), means a human being with a soul, but not yet united to (i.e. having received) the Spirit of God. As the prior look at the usage of yuxiko/$ in James 3:15 and Jude 19 makes clear, the sense of the term as a whole is not limited to this—it also connotes a distinctly worldly, human way of thinking and acting. However, Paul captures this more negative aspect in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 by specific use of “world” (ko/smo$) and “(hu)man” (a&nqrwpo$).

“receive”—It is worth noting the difference between the verbs de/xomai (here) and lamba/nw (in v. 12), both of which can be rendered “receive”. The verb lamba/nw basically means “receive” in the sense of taking (hold) of something, while de/xomai as accepting something offered as a gift, etc. This also touches back on verse 12, where the “things of God [lit. under God]” are said to be given (by God) to us as a favor or gift. The human being without the Spirit does not (indeed, can not) receive or accept the things offered to us (believers) as a gift.

“the (thing)s of the Spirit of God”—Paul’s use of a plural substantive with the definite article (“the [thing]s…”) is an important syntactical (and thematic) element of his argument in 1:18-2:16, and especially of 2:6ff, where the emphatic “wisdom” (sofi/a), i.e. of God, is given collective (and comprehensive) expression by the plural. It begins with the Scriptural citation(s) in verse 9—”the (thing)s which” (a%)—and continues on through the passage:

    • V. 10: “all (thing)s [pa/nta]”
    • V. 10-11: “the deep (thing)s of God [ta\ ba/qh tou= qeou=]”; “the (thing)s of God [ta\ tou= qeou=]”
    • V. 12: “the (thing)s under God [ta\ u(po\ tou= qeou=] given as a favor/gift to us”
    • V. 13a: “the (thing)s which [a%] we also speak”
    • V. 13b: “spiritual (thing)s [pneumatika/]”, or better, “(thing)s of the Spirit”
    • V. 14: “the (thing)s of the Spirit of God [ta\ tou= pneu/mato$ tou= qeou=]”
    • V. 15: “all ([th]ese thing)s [{ta\} pa/nta]”

“to him it is stupidity”—The noun mwri/a (“dullness, stupidity”), along with the related adjective mwro/$ and verb mwrai/nw, is a keyword of the entire section (cf. 1:18, 20-21, 23, 25, 27, and the notes on these verses; also 3:18-19; 4:10). Previously it described the world’s view of God’s wisdom as expressed specifically in the proclamation of the Gospel (and the death of Christ); now, it represents the world’s reaction to the wisdom of God taken as a whole—”all the (deep) things of God”. Note how the comprehensive plural is here put into the singular “it is [e)stin]”; Paul may be suggesting that the human mind/soul is inclined to dismiss all of God’s wisdom at a single stroke. I have tried to capture this with a parenthesis—”it is (all) stupidity”. The pronoun is emphatic in the phrase: “to him [i.e. the human] it is stupidity”.

“he is not able to know (them)”—The verb du/namai essentially means having the power, i.e. being empowered, to do something. Paul has already established the connection between the Spirit of God and power (du/nami$) in 2:4-5 (cf. also 1:18, 24; 4:19-20). The idea of knowledge (gnw=nai [ginw/skw], “to know”) is implicit under the arching theme of wisdom (sofi/a) in the passage (cf. 2:8, 11, 16; also 3:20; 4:19). Earlier, Paul applied this to believers with the verb ei&dw (“see”, i.e. perceive, recognize, know) in 2:2, 11-12. The object of the verb “know” here has to be supplied—I identify it with the comprehensive plural (“the [thing]s…”, i.e. “them”) relating to the wisdom of God (cf. above).

“judged/judges”—Paul uses the verb a)nakri/nw three times in vv. 14-15. Understanding the prepositional component (a)na) to the verb as an intensive, I render it as “judge (something) closely”, in the basic sense of “examine closely/carefully”. Each instance of the verb here has a slightly different nuance:

    • “the things of the Spirit of God…are judged with the Spirit”—they can only be examined (and understood) spiritually, by way of the Spirit of God, through the guidance of the Spirit; this may be related to the idea of the Spirit “searching out” the (deep) things of God in vv. 10-11.
    • “the one with the Spirit judges all (these) things”—the Spirit enables the believer to examine all the things of God closely. It is possible that Paul is beginning to shift the meaning slightly, with a play on pa/nta (“all things”); there may be an allusion here to the idea of believers judging the world (“all things”), as in 6:2ff.
    • “he is judged under no one”—here it would seem that Paul is drawing on a specific judicial meaning of the verb (interrogate, etc); i.e. believers stand under the judgment of no other human being, since we are truly judged only by God before the (heavenly) tribunal at the end-time. This emphasis would seem to be confirmed by the parallel discussion in 4:1-5.

We should probably also understand a bit of word-play between a)nakri/nw and sugkri/nw in v. 13 (cf. below).

“with the Spirit”—As indicated above, I use this to render the adjective pneumatiko/$ (second instance in the translation above), but also the related adverb pneumatikw=$ (first instance above). This contrasts with the standard translation “spiritual(ly)”, which is accurate enough, but misses the comparison between the human soul and God’s Spirit. The adjective describes the person (the believer), who is characterized by the Spirit, while the adverb describes the action (judging/examining). There is almost certainly a close parallel to be drawn with the phrase in verse 13: “judging spiritual (thing)s with spiritual (word)s”. The verb sugkri/nw shares with a)nakri/nw the root verb kri/nw (“judge, examine,” etc), which is extremely wide-ranging, but usually retains something of the primitive sense (“separate, divide, sift/sort”). As believers examine the things of God (of his Spirit), by the Spirit, and begin to understand them, we are able to sift through them and bring them together, allowing us to express and communicate them to others in the body of Christ.

“all ([th]ese thing)s” ([ta\] pa/nta)—There is a textual question regarding this word. A number of important manuscripts (Ë46 A C D* al) include the definite article, while many others do not. If the article is original, it almost certainly means that Paul is referring specifically to “the (thing)s of God”, i.e. the wisdom of God in a comprehensive/collective sense (cf. above). Even if the article is secondary, it may indicate that scribes sought to make the same point clear, to avoid confusion—the word pa/nta (“all [thing]s”) being taken in a general sense. I believe that here, as in verse 10, Paul is playing on the two aspects of this word: (a) all things generally, and (b) the wisdom of God specifically. The dual meaning is more properly combined at the end of the chapter 3 (vv. 21-23), where “all things” (in creation, etc) are subsumed under Christ (the wisdom of God manifest), who is, in turn, under God (YHWH, the Father) himself.

“under no one”—The preposition u(po/ can carry an instrumental sense (“by [way of], through”), but more properly it means “under”; here specifically the reference is to believers being examined and judged (in a judicial sense) under a human authority. Only God truly has the authority to judge believers (in Christ), at the end time (cf. 4:1-5). Note an interesting kind of parallel in Paul’s use of u(po/:

The line of reasoning serves as a fittingly climax to the overall contrast of human vs. divine wisdom, etc, running through this section, and which culminates powerfully with the declaration in verse 16, to be discussed in the next daily note.