April 16: John 17:22a, 23d

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 5: John 17:22a, 23d

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

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

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

Verse 22a

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

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

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

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

Verse 23d

“and you loved them just as you loved me”

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 15: John 17:21d, 23c

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 4: John 17:21d, 23c

The fourth line of the parallel stanzas in John 17:21-23 (cf. the prior note on the stanza-outline) is perhaps the most difficult to interpret. A correct understanding hinges on how one interprets the key Johannine vocabulary, in context.

    • “(so) that the world might trust that you se(n)t me forth” (v. 21d)
      i%na o( ko/smo$ pisteu/h| o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$
    • “(so) that the world might know that you se(n)t me forth” (v. 23c)
      i%na ginw/skh| o( ko/smo$ o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$

The two statements are nearly identical, differing only in the specific verb—pisteu/w (“trust”) vs. ginw/skw (“know”); however, in the Gospel of John these two verbs, as applied to believers in Christ, are more or less synonymous.

The first point of difficulty is the the opening particle i%na. This is the third i%na-clause in the stanza (along with lines 1 & 3), but there is some question whether the force of the clause is the same. In other words, does it again re-state Jesus’ primary request to the Father (lines 1 &3), or does it represent a subordinate purpose/result clause (i.e. “so that…”)? Most commentators understand it here in the latter sense, and this is probably (more or less) correct. However, a careful study of the remainder of the line can provide some clarity on this point.

The main difficulty involves the use of the noun ko/smo$ (“world, world-order”), truly a distinctive Johannine term, as more than half (102) of all New Testament occurrences (186) are in the Gospel (78) and Letters (24) of John. More to the point, it occurs 44 times in the Passion Narrative (chaps. 13-19), including 20 in the last Discourse (13:31-16:33) and 18 in the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse (nearly a tenth of all NT occurrences in a single chapter). A certain amount of confusion arises due to the fact that the word is used on two different levels, one neutral, and the other decidedly negative:

    • Neutral—the inhabited world, in a geographic and social sense
    • Negative—the current order of things in the (inhabited) world, dominated by darkness and sin

More often that not, in the Johannine writings, the negative aspect is in view, including throughout the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse. There is a strong dualistic contrast, between the ko/smo$ and God, with the world in opposition to God the Father and His Son Jesus; as such, the world is also hostile and opposed to believers as well. The relation of believers to the “world” dominates much of chapters 13-17. Indeed, this contrast is perhaps most clear in the Prayer-Discourse; at the same time, there are numerous instances of the neutral sense of the term ko/smo$, including some wordplay involving both meanings. In this regard, you should study all the prior occurrences (14, in vv. 5-6, 9, 11, 13-16, 18) closely.

Given the strong negative aspect of the term ko/smo$, its use here in vv. 21, 23 is a bit puzzling. On the one hand, the world is opposed to Christ and his followers, being so separate, indeed, that Jesus states bluntly that he does not pray for the world (v. 9), but only for his disciples (believers). Now, however, he seems to be expressing the wish, or request, that the world may come to trust/know him as the Son sent by the Father. How is this to be understood? There are three main possibilities:

    • It reflects the genuine wish of Jesus that all (people in) the world would come to trust in him, even though many (perhaps the majority) ultimately will not.
    • It implies the opposite side of trust/knowledge—while it leads to salvation for the elect/believers, it results in judgment for the rest of the world.
    • Here ko/smo$ properly signifies believers in world.

While there is some truth in the first two approaches, in my view only the third does full justice to the Johannine theological vocabulary and the overall message of the Discourses. The first approach could be seen as supported, for example, by the use of ko/smo$ in 3:16ff; however, the reduction of this passage as an expression of evangelistic optimism is largely the result of reading vv. 16-17 out of context (a close study of vv. 18-21 helps clarify their proper meaning). At the same time, some validation of the second approach above might be seen in the way that the verbs pisteu/w (“trust”) and ginw/skw (“know”) are used in 7:28ff; 8:31(?); 10:38; 12:42-43—the passages imply that there can be level of trust/knowledge of Jesus which ultimately does not result in one being a true believer. On the same sort of ambiguity involving the idea of seeing (i.e., = knowing), cf. 4:48; 6:36; 9:39ff; 15:24, etc; 20:25-29—seeing/knowing Jesus, at this level, does not necessarily result in genuine (saving) trust.

In spite of these parallels, I would still maintain that the third option above best fits the context of the Johannine Discourses (esp. the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse). Here, by “the world”, Jesus means the elect in the world who have not yet come to trust in him. This gives to the general inclusive request (regarding “all” believers, vv. 20-21a) a more precise global significance—i.e. all those who will become believers, throughout the world (cp. Mark 13:10 par; Matt 28:19 etc; also Jn 10:16; 11:52). This maintains the proper sense of the verbs pisteu/w and ginw/skw, as referring to genuine trust/knowledge in Jesus that results in union with him. The definition of this trust/knowledge, in terms of Jesus as the one (i.e. the Son) sent forth (vb a)poste/llw) from the Father, makes clear that he is speaking of the true, saving trust/knowledge that allows one to experience eternal life (5:24, 38; 6:29, 57; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44-45; 13:20; 15:21; and, in the Prayer-Discourse, vv. 3, 8).

But if this is so, how does the unity of believers result in (or have as its purpose) others coming to trust in Jesus throughout the world? This must be understood in light of verse 20 and the narrative context of the Prayer-Discourse. Until the disciples come together again (after being scattered, 16:32), as one, and receive the unifying presence of the Spirit (20:19-22), they are not able to proclaim the Gospel message to others. Their commission by Jesus (20:21, 23) is tied closely to their receipt of the Spirit (20:22), as also in the Lukan tradition (Lk 24:47-49; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4ff). Following this same pattern, all others (of the Elect) who come to trust in Jesus, do so in response to the Gospel message as proclaimed/presented by those who are already believers, united together in the Spirit and Love of God. In other words, this unity is integral to the Gospel message, which cannot truly be proclaimed without it.

In lines 1 and 3, I translated the subjunctive verb forms as “would be one”, etc. The subjunctive here in line 4 could be rendered similarly (“would know”, “would trust”); however, I have decided to alter the translation slightly, as “might know/trust”, so as to preserve something of the idea, otherwise expressed (to some extent) in 3:16-17, of Jesus’ inclusive wish that the world (as a whole) might be saved. It is, however, only the elect in the world who can (and will) become believers. The traditional/customary religious idea of “conversion” (from a life of sin, etc) is generally foreign to the Gospel of John (with the main example, in 8:2-11, likely not part of the original Gospel). Instead, there is a strong emphasis on what we would call election or predestination—those who come to trust in Jesus do so because they already belong to God. These elect “in the world” are living in the world, but do not belong to it; rather, they belong to God. This is a key theme of the Prayer-Discourse (vv. 2, 6, 9, 14, 16, 25), as well as elsewhere in the Gospel. This context for the emphasis on unity in vv. 20ff was established earlier in verse 11:

“And I am no longer in the world, and (yet) they are in the world, and I come toward You. Holy Father, may you keep watch over them in the name you have given to me, that they would be one, just as we (are).”

April 14: John 17:21c, 23b

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 3: John 17:21c, 23b

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

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

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

Verse 21c

“that they also would be in us”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 23b

“that they would be made complete into one”

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 17:20-23, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 21b

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

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

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

Verse 22c-23a

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

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

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

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

“I and the Father are one [e%n].”

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 12: John 17:21a, 22b

John 17:21-23

Line 1: John 17:21a, 22b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

John 17:20-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 6:63; 17:20-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 5: 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

1 Corinthians 15:45-49

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

This is part of Paul’s famous chapter on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (discussed recently in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”), a chapter that begins with the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus (vv. 3-7, cf. the previous note), and concludes with a memorable declaration of the resurrection (of believers) as a climactic end-time event (vv. 50-56). Thus the idea of the future resurrection of believers is blended together with the resurrection of Jesus—the latter serving as the basis (and pattern) for the former.

Indeed, in verses 45-49, as part of his attempt to describe the nature of the resurrection, Paul establishes a contrast between the living body of a human being (possessing a soul, yuxh/), and the body of a resurrected person that has been transformed by the Spirit (pneu=ma). This is expressed in verse 44 (and following) by a bit of wordplay that is most difficult to translate accurately in English. Paul uses two parallel, but contrasting, adjectives: yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$. For the first adjective (yuxiko/$) there is no comparable English word. It is derived from yuxh/, i.e. the cool wind/breath that animates a living being, and typically translated “soul”. Thus, as an adjective, yuxiko/$, would properly mean something like “possessing a soul”, “animated by a soul” —that is, a living (human) being. However, the point of the contrast with pneumatiko/$, is that the living being only possesses a soul, being animated/guided only by its natural soul-breath, and not by the Divine life-breath of the Spirit (pneu=ma). The same contrast is made, even more pointedly, by Paul in 1 Cor 2:14-16. That the point of the contrast is as I have explained here, is confirmed by Jude 19 (cp. James 3:15).

In 1 Cor 15:44ff, the adjective yuxiko/$ is primarily neutral, rather than negative, in meaning. The negative aspect is only hinted at, implied by the reference to Adam, and the idea that humankind is mortal, fated to die and return to the dust (i.e. decay). More important to Paul’s line of argument is the parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the second/last man), used also in Rom 5:12-21. All human beings share the nature and characteristics of the first man, but only believers in Christ take on the nature/characteristics of the second (and last) man. And what are the nature/characteristics of the second man, Jesus? Here is how Paul describes it in vv. 45-49:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul, the last man into a life-giving Spirit. But the (thing possess)ing the Spirit (does) not (come) first, but the (thing possess)ing a soul (comes first), (and) upon [i.e. after] that, the (thing possess)ing the Spirit. The first man (is from) out of the dirt, the second man (is from) out of heaven.”

Jesus is a life-making (i.e. life-giving) Spirit, possessing and animated by the Spirit of God. He is also heavenly, coming from out of heaven, and sharing the nature and character of the One who is upon (i.e. above/over) the heavens. Paul understands this of Jesus, primarily, not in terms of divine/eternal pre-existence, but in terms of the resurrection, and his exaltation to the right hand of God the Father. In the wording of v. 45, Paul indicates that Jesus “came to be” (transformed) “into” a life-making Spirit; this certainly refers to the resurrection and exaltation.

The relationship between Jesus and the Spirit is complex, and there is no definitive treatment of the matter in the New Testament. The Johannine writings deal with the relationship extensively, as does Paul, in his own way, in his letters. The Spirit can be referred to as “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ,” almost interchangeably (see esp. Rom 8:9); in some passages, the Spirit seems to be a divine power (or being) separate from Jesus, at other times it clearly represents the power and presence of Christ himself. The passage which connects the Spirit most closely with the resurrection is Romans 8:9-11ff. It is said that the resurrection of Jesus came about by the power of the Spirit of God (that is, of God the Father), and yet, just two verses earlier (v. 9), Paul refers to “the Spirit of Christ” as that which dwells in believers. The idea seems to be that, with the resurrection, God’s Spirit is united with Jesus, so that they share the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:17).

In Rom 1:4, Paul, following the early line of Christian thought, describes Jesus’ identity as the Son of God as based on the power of the resurrection, by which he was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. This power is connected with “(a) spirit of holiness” —it was according to this spirit (pneu=ma) that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the “Son of God”, language that reflects the earliest Christian preaching and tradition (cf. Acts 2:23; 10:42; 17:31). The expression “spirit of holiness” could be understood as “Spirit of holiness”, i.e. “holy Spirit”, even though it lacks the definite article. Certainly, it would only take a small step of Christological development for the wording in Rom 1:4 to be understood in terms of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus’ resurrection, even as Paul states in 8:11:

“But if the Spirit, the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead, houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you.”

The precise reference of the expression “his Spirit” is a bit ambiguous—is it again God‘s Spirit, or is the reference now to the Spirit of Christ as that which dwells in the believer? Almost certainly, the latter is intended, being part of the same Christological belief reflected in verse 9, and stated above. With the resurrection, Jesus comes to share the very Spirit of God which raised him from the dead, and it is this “Spirit of Christ” that dwells in the believer; we experience the Spirit of God (the Father) through the Spirit of Christ (the Son). This unifying and uniting principle is presented even more clearly in the Gospel and Letters of John, but, in this regard, Pauline and Johannine theology are very close.

Thus, when Paul says that Jesus came to be (transformed) “into a life-making Spirit”, this is to be understood in the sense that his spirit comes to be united with God’s own Spirit; this occurs through “a spirit of holiness”, the transforming power at work in the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus (Rom 1:4). With this exaltation, Jesus is identified as God’s Son (“Son of God”), and, as such, he shares the same Spirit as God the Father. While Paul likely held an (early) form of belief in Jesus as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:13-20), when speaking of the Sonship of Jesus, he tends to follow the earlier Christology that defines this in terms of the resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand.

The promise in Rom 8:11b—

“…the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you”

which declares that the resurrection of believers will follow after the pattern of Jesus’ own resurrection, is essentially stated by Paul again in 1 Corinthians 15, as the Adam/Christ parallel and illustration continues in vv. 48-49:

“Such as the (one made) of dirt (is), even (so) these (one)s (made) of dirt (are); and such as the (One) upon the heavens (is), even (so) these (one)s upon the heavens (are). And, just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God.

April 4: John 20:17

John 20:17

Yeshua says to her: “You must not attach yourself to me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father. But you must travel toward my brothers, and say to them, ‘I step up toward my Father and your Father, and (toward) my God and your God’.”

Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 represent perhaps the most challenging (and controversial) detail of the Johannine resurrection narrative. Much attention has been paid to the precise meaning of the prohibition “you must not attach yourself [a%ptou] to me…”, but this tends to ignore the reason given by Jesus in the words immediately following: “…for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”. The verb a)nabai/nw (lit. “step up”), is common enough, frequently used in narrative in a general sense (i.e. “go up” {to a place}); however, in the Gospel of John, it has a special theological (and Christological) meaning, along with the related verb katabai/nw (“step down”). In the account of Jesus’ baptism, katabai/nw is used to describe the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (1:32-33, cf. Mk 1:10); similarly, in the visionary scene of Jesus’ saying in 1:51, katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw are used together (i.e. Angels descending and ascending upon the Son of Man).

In the Johannine Discourses, katabai/nw refers to the descent of the Son of God to earth as a human being, especially in the Bread of Life discourse (6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58). In descending from heaven, the Son comes to earth from the Father, and is ultimately to ascend back to Him. This is the context of a)nabai/nw in 6:62, and also in 3:13, where the two verbs are paired together. The Son’s ascension (return) to the Father occurs with the completion of his earthly mission—that is, his sacrificial death. In early Christian thought, the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus were closely connected, almost to the point of being considered part of a single event (Acts 2:32-33; 1 Pet 3:21-22, etc). This tends to run contrary to the thinking of later Christians, where the “ascension” of Jesus is fixed in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:1-3ff, 9-11), as a separate event occurring at least forty days after the resurrection, following a number of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. I have discussed this at length in an earlier set of articles.

The references in the Gospel of John to Jesus’ ascension (“stepping up”) to the Father are complicated, because they function on two different levels:

    • Jesus ascends to the Father, then returns to the disciples, and they receive the Spirit
    • Jesus ascends (departs) to the Father, only to return at a future (end) time, and believers receive the Spirit

The first level involves the traditional narrative, and the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. At the second level, the same dynamic of the historical tradition is repeated again for all future believers. Jesus’ words to Mary refer to the first level (i.e. the first ascension); that is to say, after his resurrection, Jesus ascends (“steps up”) to the Father, and is then able to give to his disciples the Spirit when he appears to them (vv. 19-23).

Why does Jesus give the prohibitive command to Mary (“You must not attach yourself to me”)? The Johannine understanding of the resurrection (outlined above) fits uneasily in this narrative framework. It would have made much more sense for Jesus to ascend immediately after his resurrection, without the initial appearance to Mary. However, this would have been impossible, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative; the historical tradition of a post-resurrection appearance to certain women (and Mary, specifically) was so well-established that it had to be included. In the Synoptic Tradition, Jesus appears to a group of women that included Mary (Mk 16:1ff par), while in John, it is to Mary alone. It is not entirely clear whether this difference is specific to the Johannine Tradition, or whether it reflects an intentional simplification of the scene, for literary and dramatic effect. In any case, the Johannine interpretation of the resurrection takes place within the historical-traditional context of the appearance to Mary.

Beyond this, the exchange between Jesus and Mary does have genuine theological significance, and it is important to the Johannine narrative. It establishes a contrast between the disciples (believers), relating to Jesus in terms of his earthly human life, rather than through the presence and power of the Spirit. As Jesus notes in his famous saying in 6:63: “The Spirit is the (thing) making [i.e. giving] life, the flesh is not useful, not (for) one (thing)…”. Mary was seeking to unite with Jesus again at the level of the flesh (i.e. human friendship/discipleship), whereas the true and proper union of the believer with Jesus can only take place through the Spirit; and, the Spirit cannot be given until Jesus ascends to the Father.

That is the very point Jesus makes to his disciples in the Last Discourse, in 16:7:

“But I relate to you the truth: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away. For if I should not go away, the (One) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you; but if I travel (away), I will send him toward you.”

For the disciples, this was fulfilled in the Passion and Resurrection, with the sending of the Spirit, narrated briefly, but pictorially, in 20:22. This serves as the type-pattern for all future believers, who receive the Spirit, though no longer in the visible presence of Jesus on earth (cf. 20:29ff and 17:20-23). Until Jesus goes away (ascends, “steps up”) to the Father, he does not send the Spirit.

The relationship between the Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus is often ignored or neglected by Christians. One main reason for this, I think, is the overriding influence of the narrative in Acts 1-2, which effectively separates the coming/sending of the Spirit from the Resurrection. The Spirit is recognized in commemoration of Pentecost, not Easter/Resurrection Sunday. The situation would be different, however, if we focused instead on the narrative in the Gospel of John. Not only does the sending of the Spirit function clearly as the climactic moment of the resurrection narrative in chapter 20, but Jesus’ teaching regarding the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete is central to the Last Discourse that precedes his Passion. I will discuss this further in the next daily note, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), when we turn to Paul’s famous discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

April 3: John 16:16-33

John 16:16-33

In the previous note, we examined the concluding words of Jesus in the Last Discourse (16:33); today, I wish to look more closely at the final discourse-unit (vv. 16-33) as a whole. The unit itself follows the Johannine discourse format:

    • Initial saying of Jesus (v. 16)
    • Response/misunderstanding by his audience (vv. 17-18)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true/deeper meaning of the saying (vv. 19-29)

Here is the central saying/statement by Jesus:

“A little (while), and you (will) no longer look on me; and again a little (while), and you will (look) at me (with open) eyes.”

This repeats an important theme of the Last Discourse: the departure of Jesus from his disciples (and from the world). The theme is stated several different ways, most notably at the beginning of the Discourse (13:33, par 7:33-34), and again in the discourse-unit 14:1-4ff, where a saying by Jesus regarding his going away leads into the dialogue with his disciples. In all of these passages, the difficulty for interpretation is that Jesus’ departure can be understood on a least two different levels:

    • His death and burial, which would be the most immediate point of reference based on the narrative context (i.e. the Passion setting of the Discourse).
    • His (final) departure back to the Father, which appears to be the better sense for the Discourse as a whole.

Along with this, the disciples’ seeing Jesus, and his coming (back) to them, can be interpreted on three different levels:

    • His appearing to them after the resurrection
    • His end-time appearance from heaven, and
    • His presence in the interim, through the Spirit

All of this is further complicated by the fact that, apparently, Jesus ascends/returns to the Father shortly after the resurrection (implied in 20:17ff), while his ultimate ascension/return is not narrated in the Gospel at all.

From the standpoint of the Passion Narrative, the tendency would be to read 16:16 in terms of Jesus’ impending death and burial (a fitting subject for Holy Saturday), yet confusion remains regarding the true point of reference. Within the narrative (the discourse), the disciples were also confused by this (vv. 17-18): “What is this that he says to us?…”. The key, of course, lies in the exposition by Jesus (vv. 19ff), though often in the Johannine Discourses Jesus does not provide the sort of conventional, straightforward explanation that his audience is expecting.

Let us briefly examine the first part of this exposition, beginning with verse 20:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you that you will weep and mourn, and (by contrast) the world will delight; but (yet) your sorrow will come to be delight.”

The reference to weeping (vb klai/w, loud crying/wailing) and mourning (vb qrhne/w) connotes funerary practices in the ancient world. Indeed, qrh=no$ can be a technical term for a funeral dirge or lament. As such, this would certainly be appropriate for the death and burial of Jesus. The “delight” (xara/) that the world (ko/smo$) might feel regarding his death simply reflects the fundamental idea that the “world” (i.e., the order of the things in the current Age of wickedness) is opposed to God, hostile to Him and to His Son, Jesus. This is all part of the Johannine theological vocabulary.

The message of encouragement for the disciples is that the “sorrow” (lu/ph) they experience from his death/departure will be changed into (“will come to be”, genh/setai) their own true delight. The use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be”), which can connote coming to be born, along with this juxtaposition of sorrow-joy, leads into the illustration of childbirth in verse 21:

“When a woman should produce (a child), she holds sorrow, (in) that her hour (has) come; but when the child comes to be (born) [gennh/sh|], she no longer remembers the distress [qli/yi$], through the delight (she feels) that a man [i.e. child] (has) come to be (born) into the world.”

Almost imperceptibly, this illustration blends together aspects of Jesus’ suffering/death with the eschatological suffering that believers will experience following his death and departure. As previously discussed, the use of the word “hour” (w%ra) likewise encompasses (and combines) both of these aspects. Moreover, the motif of the woman in labor was commonly used as an eschatological image, though it could just as well serve as a general symbol of the suffering that is characteristic of the human condition.

In the Old Testament, childbirth was frequently used as a metaphor for human suffering, either in the negative sense of pain (and possible death) or the positive sense of the joy which replaces the pain when the child is delivered (such as in Jesus’ illustration here). Of the many relevant passages in Scripture, cf. Gen 3:16-17; Psalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17-19; 42:14; 66:7-8; Jer 4:31; 22:23; 48:41; 49:22ff; Gal 4:19. In the Genesis Creation narrative, the pains associated with childbirth are part of the “curse” —the suffering and ‘evil’ —that marks the current Age. In a similar sense, the pains of women also serve to symbolize the suffering that comes in relation to God’s JudgmentPsalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17; 42:14; Jer 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; 22:23; 30:6; 48:41; 49:22, 24; 50:43.

The illustration used by Jesus suggests the idea of deliverance from pain/suffering—Mic 4:10; 5:3; Isa 65:23ff; 66:7-9—which also can have an eschatological significance. Perhaps the closest Old Testament parallel is in Isa 26:17-18, though 66:7-8 expresses a similar idea. In several other New Testament passages, the motif of childbirth, and the pains associated with it, are unquestionably used in an eschatological sense or context. Most notably, we have Jesus’ prophecy (in the Eschatological Discourse [Mk 13 par]) of the coming events/phenomena that mark the end-time period of distress; he describes all of these signs in vv. 5-8 with the declaration that “these (are the) beginning of (the birth) pains” (a)rxh\ w)di/nwn tau=ta). Other eschatological references of note are:

    • The suffering of Judea/Jerusalem predicted by Jesus in Luke 23:28-31.
    • Paul’s statement in Romans 8:22: “we see that all creation groans together and is in pain together until now”.
    • The vision of the Woman and the Dragon in Revelation 12.

In fact, the eschatological motif is traditional; the time of suffering, marking the end of the current Age, came to be referred to as “the birth pains of the Messiah”.

The other clear eschatological allusion in Jn 16:21 involves the use of the word qli/yi$ (“distress”), which came to be a technical term in early Christianity for the end-time ‘period of distress’ that will come upon humankind, and which will entail, specifically, the persecution and oppression of believers. Such use of the word derives primarily from the Greek version (LXX) of Daniel 12:1 (cf. also LXX Zeph 1:14-15; Hab 3:16). Jesus uses it in this sense in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:19, 24 par), and it occurs repeatedly in the book of Revelation (1:9; 2:22; 7:14 etc). Other references, by Paul, and elsewhere in the New Testament, are almost certainly eschatological as well, though less explicitly so—e.g. 1 Thess 3:3, 7; 2 Thess 1:4, 6; Rom 2:9, etc.

The illustration of the woman in labor is applied to the situation of the disciples in verse 22:

“And so you, (on the one hand) now you hold sorrow, but (on the other hand) again I will (look) at you with (open) eyes, and your heart will have delight, and your delight no one takes (away) from you.”

In verse 16, the vantage point was the disciples seeing Jesus; here the same relationship is established from the opposition direction—Jesus will see the disciples again; in both instances the future sense of seeing is expressed by the verb o)pta/nomai (“[look] with [open] eyes”), i.e. Jesus and the disciples will gaze at one another. Does this refer to an initial post-resurrection appearance (20:19-23) by Jesus, or does it reflect the eschatological dimension of v. 21, or both? The idea that “no one takes” away the disciples’ delight suggests something more permanent than the initial joy of seeing the resurrected Jesus again—is it an allusion to the presence of the Spirit (20:22)?

The expression “in that day” (vv. 23, 26), also occurring earlier in 14:20, might perhaps clarify the context of Jesus’ statement further; however, the same ambiguity attends its use in the Discourse. The immediate Passion setting of the narrative suggests that it refers to the day of Jesus’ resurrection, but its use elsewhere in the New Testament rather indicates that it has an eschatological connotation—cf. Mark 13:11, 32 par; Matt 7:22; Luke 6:23; 17:31; 2 Thess 1:10; 2 Tim 1:18; 4:8. Since here in vv. 23-27, the focus is on what God the Father will do for believers in Jesus’ name—i.e. when they pray and make request to him—the context would have to be the time after Jesus’ (final) departure/return to the Father, while he remains present with his disciples (believers) through the Spirit. Thus the eschatological sense of the expressions “that day”, and “(the) hour” (that is coming), is best understood in terms of the New Age that believers in Christ experience now, in the present, following the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the “realized” eschatology that dominates the Johannine Gospel—believers experience the end-time events of the resurrection, passing through the Judgment, and inheriting eternal life, in the present, through the Spirit.

According to the early Christian eschatology, the period during which believers experience the New Age, through the Spirit, would be relatively brief; Jesus’ was expected to return very soon, to deliver his people (believers) and to usher in the Judgment. The imminence of this eschatology is not nearly so prominent in the Gospel of John, and is offset by the emphasis on the present (“realized”) aspect. Even so, the early Christian outlook, involving (1) the death and resurrection of Jesus, (2) the New Age realized for believers as they live in the world during the period of distress, and (3) the return of Jesus—all understood as end-time events—was much tighter and closely-knit than it would be for believers living centuries later (or today, after 1900+ years).

Let us consider the thematic outline of Jesus’ exposition, in light of our study so far:

    • The sadness and mourning that will be experienced initially as a result of Jesus’ death and burial (v. 20)
    • Illustration of the woman in labor (v. 21)—the sadness they experience is part of the pain/suffering they will have during the end-time period of distress
    • At the same time, with the resurrection, they will have joy, and it will continue all through the time of distress (v. 22); they will see Jesus again, both immediately after the resurrection, and through the abiding presence of the Spirit
    • While Jesus is with the Father, he will remain present, united with believers through the Spirit, giving them access to the divine/eternal life and power of God; this is explained in terms of:
      • Prayer, making request/petition to the Father in Jesus’ name (vv. 23-24)
      • Instruction/understanding regarding the Father (vv. 25-27)

This exposition comes between the initial statement in v. 16 and restatement of it, in terms of Jesus’ return back to the Father, in verse 28. It bridges the gap between the moment of his death, and his  exaltation/return to the Father. Jesus returns to the moment of his death in the conclusion to the discourse (verse 32), as he establishes again the idea that his Passion begins the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$) for believers. Yet, even at the darkest point of this suffering, we can be assured that, as believers, we also share in the joy and victory that Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished.