Note on the Johannine “Paraclete” passages

This is a supplement to the recent daily note, the last of a series exploring the development of traditions regarding the Spirit of God within early Christianity. Given the special character of the “Paraclete” passages in the Johannine writings, I felt it was best to discuss them separately. I will not be presenting a detailed critical and exegetical analysis of them here, as that has been done in earlier notes and studies. Instead, the focus will be along the lines of the recent note on the Johannine references to the Spirit, considering how these passages relate to the development of the early Christian belief.

The term “Paraclete” is a transliteration of the noun para/klhto$ (parákl¢tos), used as a title four times in the Johannine Last Discourse of Jesus (13:31-16:33)—at 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7. It also occurs at 1 John 2:1, but nowhere else in the New Testament (nor in the LXX), essentially marking it as a distinctive Johannine term. The noun is derived from the more common verb parakale/w (“call alongside”), often used in the sense of calling someone alongside to give help. This help can be understood various ways, including the more technical sense of serving as a (legal) advocate. The relatively wide semantic range has led New Testament translators to render para/klhto$ variously as “advocate”, “counselor”, “comforter”, all of which can be misleading and are not entirely accurate. A safer route would be to transliterate the noun as a title in English—i.e., Paraclete—as many translators and commentators have done. The best solution, however, is to adhere to the literal, fundamental meaning of “(one) called alongside” (i.e. to give help). A related noun, para/klhsi$ (parákl¢sis), more common in the New Testament, refers properly to the help that is given by the person “called alongside”.

In each of the four references in the Last Discourse, Jesus first mentions the para/klhto$, and then subsequently identifies it with the Spirit (pneu=ma):

    • 14:16-17— “And I will make a request of the Father, and He will give to you another (one) called alongside [para/klhto$], (so) that he would be with you into the Age, the Spirit of truth…”
    • 14:26— “…but the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$], the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, that (one) will teach you all (thing)s…”
    • 15:26— “When the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] should come, whom I will send to you (from) alongside the Father, the Spirit of truth who travels out (from) alongside the Father, that (one) will give witness about me”
    • 16:7, 13— “…if I should not go away, the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you; but, if I should travel (away), (then) I will send him toward you. …. And, when that (one) should come, the Spirit of truth, he will lead the way for you in all truth…”

This has led to all kind of interesting speculation as to whether the Last Discourse material may originally have referred only to the para/klhto$, and that the identifications with the Spirit were introduced in a subsequent stage of editing. I do not find such theories very convincing; in any event, within the overall framework of the Gospel as we have it, there can be no doubt that the “Paraclete” and the Spirit are identical.

In three of the references, the expression “Spirit of truth” is used, while “holy Spirit” is found in 14:26 (though some manuscripts there read “Spirit of truth” as well). It should be noted that “holy Spirit” is quite rare in the Johannine writings; apart from a traditional reference in the baptism scene (Jn 1:33), presumably inherited as part of the wider Gospel tradition, the expression occurs only in the episode where Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples (20:22), and does not occur in the Johannine letters at all. Also, it is worth noting that there is no other reference to the Spirit in the Last Discourse, apart from these four “Paraclete” references.

It is perhaps best to begin with the use of the word para/klhto$ in 1 John 2:1, as in some ways it is the key to a correct understanding of the term in the Last Discourse as well. There the author assures his readers that, if any believer happens to commit sin, “we hold (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] (for us) toward the Father—Yeshua (the) Anointed, (the) just/righteous (one)”. In his role as para/klhto$, Jesus speaks before God on our behalf, much like a legal advocate in front of a judicial court. This implies the exalted position of Jesus (following his resurrection), standing at the “right hand” of God the Father, in accordance with the exaltation-Christology that dominated the earliest period of Christianity.

The main point to note, however, is that it is Jesus who is identified as the para/klhto$, a fact which helps to explain the use of the expression “another para/klhto$” in Jn 14:16. Jesus himself was the first para/klhto$, one called by God to be alongside believers (i.e. his disciples) during his time on earth. He quite literally spent time alongside (para/) them, having previously been alongside (para/) the Father. In his ministry, Jesus gave all sorts of help and guidance to his disciples, teaching them about God the Father and instructing them in the way of truth. The Spirit continues this same work of Jesus, remaining alongside the disciples (believers) and “leading the way” for them “in all truth” (16:13). This association of the Spirit with the truth of God is a key Johannine theme, expressed most clearly elsewhere in John 4:23-24 and 1 John 4:6; 5:6 (“the Spirit is the truth”); cf. also Jn 1:14ff; 8:32, 44; 14:6; 17:17-19; 18:37; 1 Jn 1:8; 2:4; 3:19.

Even more important, from the standpoint of the Last Discourses, is the idea that the Paraclete/Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus himself, after he has departed/returned back to the Father. This is part of a wider tendency in early Christianity, whereby the Spirit came to be understood as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus. Paul uses “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” more or less interchangeably, though the latter is admittedly more rare. In prior notes, we examined the idea, best seen at several points in Paul’s letters, that, through his resurrection/exaltation, Jesus came to be united with God’s own Spirit. The Gospel of John, of course, expresses a much clearer sense of Jesus’ pre-existent deity; and his identity as the Son—both in the Gospel prologue and throughout the Discourses—must be understood in light of this Christological emphasis. Jesus the Son was present with the Father, in heaven/eternity, prior to his human life and ministry on earth. With his departure from his disciples, he returns back to the Father, leaving the Spirit in his place. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains with believers (the important Johannine use of the verb me/nw, “remain”); it is also the means by which Jesus shows the way for us to the Father. We are united with both Jesus the Son and God the Father through the presence of the Spirit.

Commentators have long noted the apparent ambiguity with regard to who it is that sends the Spirit, whether the Father or the Son, or the two of them together:

    • The Father gives the Spirit at Jesus’ request (14:16)
    • The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:26)
    • Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father (15:26; 16:7)

Ultimately, the Spirit comes from the Father, but this has to be understood in terms of the clear chain of relationship established and expressed repeatedly throughout the discourses: the Father gives all things to the Son, who, in turn, gives them to believers. The Spirit is certainly among those things that are given—indeed, it is the primary thing given by God to the Son (and then to us as believers). This is summarized and expressed most clearly in John 3:35:

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

According to the prior verse 34, the Spirit is what is primarily in view in this statement:

“For the (one) whom God sent forth from (Himself) speaks the utterances of God, for (it is) not out of a measure (that) He gives the Spirit.”

To say that God does not give his Spirit “out of a measure” means that he gives it fully and completely—that is, here, fully and completely to the Son. The Son, in turn, is able to bestow God’s Spirit upon all who trust in him.

1 John 4:1-6

Finally, some light may be shed on the Paraclete passages from the discussion in 1 John 4:1-6, where the expression “Spirit of truth” is used. This passage has a strong eschatological orientation, whereby the author has set the conflict (in the Johannine Community) involving certain ‘false’ believers as part of the end-time appearance of “Antichrist” —a)nti/xristo$, literally “against the Anointed”. According to the author, these false Christians hold a false view of Jesus Christ, which, being false, cannot be inspired by the Spirit of truth—that is the Spirit of God and Christ. Instead, such “false prophets” are inspired by evil and deceitful spirits—the opposite of God’s own Spirit—characterized as “the spirit th(at is) against the Anointed” (i.e., spirit of ‘antichrist’). Part of the early Christian eschatology, inherited from the Judaism of the period, involved the expected rise of “false prophets” and Satanic-inspired figures during the time of distress (qli/yi$) which precedes the end of the current Age. For further study, cf. my three-part article “The Antichrist Tradition” in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

This eschatological worldview was central to much early Christian thought, going back to Jesus’ own teachings, and received a distinctive expression within the Johannine writings. The presence of the Spirit marked the beginning of the New Age for believers in Christ. All of the anticipated future blessings of the New Age—resurrection, eternal life, abiding with God in heaven—were experienced by believers, through the Spirit, already in the present. This is the “realized” aspect of early Christian eschatology, and it is especially prominent in the Gospel of John. At the same time, the activity of the Spirit in the present offers a promise of what will be experienced fully in the future. For more on the Johannine eschatology, in terms of the Last Discourse and references to the Spirit, cf. my articles in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, along with the earlier notes, e.g., on Jn 16:7-15.

 

July 23: John 3:5-8, 34 etc

We bring this current series of notes to a close with a brief study on the references to the Spirit in the Gospel and Letters of John. All of these references were discussed previously, at considerable length, in the earlier study series “…Spirit and Life”. Here they will be discussed only briefly, in summary fashion, in terms of the development of traditions regarding the Spirit of God in early Christianity.

This question of development is complicated in the case of the Gospel of John, due to the nature and character of the Discourses of Jesus. On the one hand, the Johannine Discourses are rooted in authentic historical traditions regarding the words and teachings of Jesus; on the other, they also evince signs of having been shaped (and interpreted) within a distinctive literary and theological framework. This framework may be called “Johannine”, referring to the Community of believers within which the Gospel and Letters were produced and disseminated. That there was some definite literary and theological shaping of the Discourses is confirmed by the close similarities in thought and expression—the language, style, etc—between the Discourses and First John.

Thus, insofar as the Discourses reflect the genuine sayings/teaching of Jesus, they represent the beginning of the process of development; insofar as they reflect the Johannine thought-world at the time the Gospel was composed/completed, they represent a relatively late stage in the process. Most (critical) commentators would date the Gospel and Letters to the end of the first century (c. 90-100 A.D.), while the historical traditions drawn upon by the Gospel may have taken shape decades earlier. A proper study of the Discourses requires that both aspects of the critical question be kept clearly in view.

An objective analysis and survey of the references to the Spirit yields the following results:

1. The life-giving character of the Spirit, as symbolized by water. This traditional association of the Spirit with water is used by Jesus in his famous dialogue with Nicodemus (3:5ff), the discourse with the Samaritan woman (4:10-14, 21-24), and his declaration in 7:37-38 (where the Gospel writer explains that this is a reference to the coming of the Spirit, v. 39). The Johannine writings are unique in the way that they specifically associate the Spirit with “water and blood” —that is, the blood of Jesus, meaning his sacrificial death. This can be glimpsed in three passages:

    • The ‘Eucharistic’ allusions in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, with the comparable reference to drinking Jesus’ blood in order to quench one’s thirst—vv. 35, 53-57. In the context of this discourse, we find Jesus’ climactic words to his disciples stating that, in reality, it is the Spirit that gives life (6:63), rather than some sort of concrete (sacramental) eating and drinking, and that this Spirit is communicated to believers through Jesus’ own words.
    • The reference to “blood and water” coming out of Jesus at his death (19:34) must be understood in the context of his allusion to the giving of the Spirit at the moment of his death (v. 30).
    • The famous declaration in 1 John 5:6-8ff; cf. my earlier notes for a detailed study on this passage.

2. The coming of the Spirit as the mark of a ‘New Age’ for the people of God. This is another traditional theme, deriving ostensibly from the Prophetic writings of the 6th century B.C., and continuing down into the New Testament period. According to this line of tradition, in the New Age God will ‘pour out’ his Spirit upon the people as a whole, marking a new and restored relationship (or covenant) with YHWH. We saw how this idea received a unique development among early Christians, expressed throughout the early chapters of the book of Acts, and given an even deeper theological treatment, for example, by Paul in his letters. It may well be that the basic line of interpretation, among the earliest Christians, stems from Jesus’ own teachings, though there is relatively little evidence for this in the Gospels. However, it is certainly suggested by Jesus in his discourse with the Samaritan woman (esp. 4:21-24), as well as by the place of his references to the Spirit within the “realized” eschatology that dominates the Discourses—cf. the following note on the ‘Paraclete’ passages.

3. Jesus as the means by which the Spirit is given to God’s people. This belief regarding Jesus’ role in communicating God’s Spirit is rooted in early Gospel tradition—most notably, the saying of John the Baptist in Mark 1:7-8 par. That saying relates to an identification of Jesus as God’s chosen/anointed representative (Messiah), who will appear at the end of the current Age and usher in the New Age for the people of God. This Messianic association with the Spirit is a bit unusual, but not entirely unprecedented, when one considers the development of Messianic thought from its Prophetic roots, and as it is attested, for example, in a number of the Qumran texts (cf. my earlier article on the Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls). In the Gospel tradition, the saying of the Baptist is tied to the manifestation of the Spirit during Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11 par)—all of which the Gospel of John records, in its own way (cf. 1:29-34).

Even more significant, along these same lines, are the references to the Spirit in the Discourses. In addition to the ‘Paraclete’ passages of the Last Discourse (cf. the discussion in the note following), we have:

    • The key statement (by the Gospel writer?) in 3:34-35
    • The idea of Jesus giving the Spirit under the symbolic figure of water4:10, 13-14; 7:37-38 (cf. above)
    • The allusion to his giving the Spirit at his death (19:30, cp. verse 34)
    • The giving of the Spirit to his disciples following his resurrection (20:22)
    • The statements in 1 John 3:24; 4:13

4. The role of the Spirit in a “new birth” for believers as sons/children of God. The roots of such birth imagery, in connection with the Spirit of God, are probably to be found (a) in the general sense of the Spirit’s life-giving power (manifest at creation, etc), and (b) the Prophetic imagery that depicted the restoration of God’s people with the motif of new life from the dead (i.e. resurrection, in a figurative sense). Both aspects are naturally tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection-motif is especially prominent in the Gospel of John (5:25-29; 6:39-40ff; chapter 11 [esp. verses 23-27]).

A comparable matrix of ideas developed around the symbolism of the baptism-ritual, which entailed (i) the believer’s participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and (ii) the life-giving presence of the Spirit. Both of these aspects serve to effect our union with Christ (the Son), and, at the same time, with God the Father. Paul draws out the connection of the Spirit with the divine sonship of believers, in the context of the baptism symbolism, in Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:9-17 (discussed in prior notes).

The Johannine writings similarly emphasize the role of the Spirit in the experience of the “new birth” that allows believers to realize their identity as sons/children of God. The Gospel and Letters use the term te/knon (plur. te/kna), “offspring” for believers as children of God, reserving the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) more or less exclusively for Jesus (the Son). For instances of this usage, cf. Jn 1:12; (11:52); 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2. Even more common in the Johannine writings is the idiom of “coming to be (born) of God”, with its distinctive use of the verb genna/w (“come to be, become”)—Jn 1:13; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, etc. In First John, believers are often referenced as such through the use of a substantive perfect participle—i.e., “the (one) having come to be (born)”, cf. 3:9; 5:1, 4, 18.

The main Johannine passage associating the Spirit with this “birth” of believers, is the famous discourse with Nicodemus (3:3-8, cf. my earlier notes). In 1 John, the key references to the Spirit (3:24; 4:13; 5:6ff) occur within the context of a discussion centered around the identity of the (true) believer as one who has come to be born of God—i.e., the child/offspring of God—using the terminology mentioned above.

Due to the special importance of the ‘Paraclete’ references in the Johannine writings, these will be treated in a supplemental note.

July 14: Ephesians 6:16-18

Ephesians 6:16-18

The final Pauline reference to the Spirit to be considered in these notes is also the last such reference in Ephesians (see the previous notes on 2:18-22 and 4:3-4). It is part of the closing exhortation in 6:10-20, the famous “armor of God” section, which develops, in much expanded form, a Pauline illustration used as part of his ethical instruction elsewhere in the undisputed letters (1 Thessalonians and Romans). Here, in 6:11 we read:

“You must sink yourself in(to) [i.e. put on] all the equipment [panopli/a] of God, toward your being [i.e. so that you are] able to stand toward [i.e. in the face of] the ways of the Dia/bolo$ [Devil]”

The noun panopli/a means “all the equipment”, every kind of o%plon (piece of equipment, instrument, tool), a term frequently used for military equipment—weapons, armor, etc—and so also the connotation here. The weaponry is primarily defensive and protective, enabling the person (i.e., the believer) to stand against the Devil’s attacks. The warfare is not physical but spiritual, as Paul (or the author) famously states in verse 12:

“…(for) us the shaking [i.e. grappling] (in combat) is not (directed) toward blood and flesh, but … toward the world-powers of this darkness, toward the spirit-(thing)s of th(is) evil, in the (place)s over the heavens”

Elsewhere in his letters, Paul clearly has the same basic idea in mind, though he does not go into such detail. In 1 Thessalonians and Romans, the illustration is part of a more general ethical instruction, with a strong eschatological orientation. Note the same emphasis on darkness and on the current Age of wickedness:

    • “The night (has) cut (its way) forward [i.e. gone ahead], and the day has (now) come near. (So) then, we must put away from (us) the works of darkness, [and] we must sink ourselves in(to) [i.e. put on] the equipment [o%pla] of light.” (Rom 13:12)
    • “…you are not in darkness, (so) that the day [i.e. the day of Judgment] should not take you down as (one) stealing [i.e. a thief], for you are all sons of light and sons of the day—we are not of the night and not of darkness. … and we, being of the day, we should stay sober, sinking ourselves in(to) [i.e. putting on] (the) chest-guard of trust and love and (the protection) around the head of (the) hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5:4-8)

In Thessalonians, Paul mentions two pieces of equipment—a chest-guard (qw/rac) and a helmet, lit. protection around the head (perikefalai/a). The same two pieces are part of a more extensive armor-list in Eph 6:14-17, with similar kinds of associations with divine attributes:

    • loin-guard (something “being girded around the loins”)—truth
    • chest-guard (qw/rac)—justice/righteousness
    • footgear (equipment “bound under the feet”)—the good message (Gospel) of peace
    • shield (“door-[guard]”, qu/reo$)—trust/faith
    • helmet (protection “around the head”, perikefalai/a)—salvation
    • sword (ma/xaira)—the Spirit

The final, climactic element in the list (v. 17) is “the sword of the Spirit” —the sword (ma/xaira) being the piece of equipment which best enables the believer to strike back against the Devil’s attack. Since the nature of this attack is spiritual, from “things of the spirit” (pneumatika)—that is from unclean or evil spirits—the only real defense comes from the holy Spirit of God (and of Christ). The directive to the believer that “you must take the sword of the Spirit…” is followed by the qualifying phrase “…which is the utterance [r(h=ma] of God”.

This particular phrase has been poorly understood, especially for those who only read the passage in English translation, where the syntax and grammar in Greek are obscured or ignored. For Protestants with a Bible-centric orientation, it is popular to read this verse as saying that the “word of God” (understood as the Bible) is an inspired “sword” by which (through study and memorization, etc) one can defeat the Devil. Such a view, however, represents a backward and distorted reading of the text. For one thing, the relative pronoun here (o%) is neuter, and thus agrees with the noun pneu=ma (“Spirit”) rather than ma/xaira (“sword”, feminine). In other words, the emphasis is: “…the Spirit, which is the utterance of God”; that is to say, the Spirit is identified as the “utterance of God”.

The noun r(h=ma is often translated “word”, but properly refers to something uttered (“utterance”); while it can be used of the Scriptures (or a specific Old Testament prophecy), such a facile substitution should not be made here. Paul (or the author) is not speaking primarily about Scripture, but about the presence and power of the Spirit itself that dwells in and among believers. The Spirit is the source of life and power for the believer—and it is the internal guidance of the Spirit which allows us to combat the evil power of sin and wickedness, and to remain faithful and pure in our union with Christ. This emphasis is thoroughly Pauline, as even a casual reading of Galatians or Romans will make clear. The central role of the Spirit in this ethical-religious dimension of the believer’s life, was discussed, in particular, in the earlier note on Gal 5:16-25.

How this “sword of the Spirit” works is clarified in verse 18:

“Through all (your) speaking toward (God) and (making) request (to Him), (you should be) speaking toward (God), in every moment, in the Spirit [e)n pneu/mati]…”

The immediate context of the “sword of the Spirit” is not Scripture at all, but prayer—that is, we are to speak to God “in the Spirit” (cp. the role of the Spirit in Rom 8:26-27). The implication is that this realm of Spirit-guided communication (with God) is the main battleground where the combat with the Devil and evil spirits is to take place. There may be a connection here with the gift and experience of speaking in “tongues”, as Paul discusses it in 1 Corinthians 12-14. By contrast with the narratives in Acts 2:1-4ff, etc (where the speaking of real human languages is involved), this gift of tongues, as described in Corinthians, seems to have more the character of a special kind of prayer language, meant to be spoken to God, not to others (14:2ff). Note how Paul characterizes tongues as a state in which the believer “…speaks not to men, but to God; for no one hears [i.e. understands] (it), but in the Spirit [e)n pneu/mati] he speaks secrets [musth/ria]”.

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

Ephesians 2:18-22, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 9: Ephesians 2:18-22

Ephesians 2:18-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 24: Galatians 5:16-25

Galatians 5:16-25

Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law (Torah)—as expressed in Galatians and Romans—was striking and controversial enough that many Jewish Christians at the time opposed it vehemently. Even today, thoughtful and devout believers can find it difficult to accept. This is partly due to the apparent contradiction with the inspired character of the Torah, but of even greater (practical) concern is that freedom from the Law would seem to allow license for immorality. For this reason, many Christians would maintain that the moral/ethical regulations of the Torah (the Ten Commandments, etc) continue to be binding, even as other ritual/ceremonial requirements have fallen away. This, however, does not seem to be what the New Testament teaches, and I certainly do not find evidence in Paul’s letters that he taught anything of the sort.

The problem lies in confusing the specific regulations of the Torah with the existence of effective moral and religious standards for Christians. While stating that believers in Christ are free from the Law, Paul clearly expresses the view that believers are still expected to live in a pure and upright manner. But how is such a moral way of life to be maintained without the regulations of the Law to guide believers? The answer lies in the very nature of the new covenant, where the inner presence of God’s own Spirit takes the place of the external regulations of the Torah.

Given his unique teaching on freedom from the Law, it is somewhat surprising the Paul does not touch upon this matter more often in his letters. There must have been Christians at the time who were concerned about how one should maintain moral and religious rectitude without the Law. However, he does address the question clearly enough in the parenetic/exhortation (exhortatio) section of Galatians (5:1-6:10), especially the portion beginning with verse 13:

“For you were called upon freedom, brothers—only th(is) freedom (must) not (lead) to a rushing (out) from the flesh, but through love you must be a slave to each other.”

A distinctive teaching among early Christians, found throughout the New Testament, is that the regulations of the Torah have effectively been supplanted by a single command, or principle—that of love (a)ga/ph). It is a principle that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (Mk 12:30-33 par; Matt 5:43ff par; John 13:34-35), and Paul clearly expresses the idea that the “love command” represents a fulfillment of the entire Torah (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10, etc; cp. James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23-24). The main point Paul makes here is that, instead of our freedom leading to a fulfillment of fleshly impulses, our choices should be guided by our love for each other. All that remains for believers from the Torah is this love-principle.

While the love-principle is authoritative and guiding, it is ultimately derived, not from any specific command or regulation, but by the presence of God’s Spirit. This is the essence of the New Covenant, and Paul expresses, in Gal 5:16-25, something of the manner in which the Spirit takes the place of the Torah for believers. Note the regulatory aspect of verse 16:

“I relate to you: you must walk about in the Spirit, and (then) you shall not complete (the) impulse [e)piqumi/a] of the flesh.”

To walk about (vb peripate/w) “in the Spirit” (pneu/mati) means to be guided by the Spirit in all that a person does. We saw this idiom expressed previously in the narratives of Luke-Acts, with the emphasis on being “in the Spirit” and guided/led by the Spirit (cf. the note on Luke 4:1, 14ff). The force of Paul’s exhortation implies that this does not happen automatically for believers, simply as a result of the Spirit’s presence; rather, it requires a willingness and attentiveness to accept and allow this guidance to occur (a point emphasized again by Paul at the close of v. 25). Even though Christians are freed from the power of sin, there remains a conflict with the “flesh” (v. 17), and the impulse (qumo/$) toward sin. Paul here uses the noun e)piqumi/a, which means something like an “impulse (to act) upon (something)”; in English idiom we might say “set one’s mind/heart upon” it. For the believer, it is possible to ignore, neglect, or even extinguish (i.e. quench, cf. 1 Thess 5:19) the influence and guidance of the Spirit.

While an impulse toward sin remains in our “flesh”, we are no longer enslaved by it, and we have the ability not to act upon it—to complete it, as Paul indicates here by the verb tele/w. Acting upon such an impulse results in “works of the flesh” (ta\ e&rga th=$ sarko/$); a representative list of these “works” is given in vv. 19-21, following the traditional “vice list” pattern in ethical instruction of the time. Thus, the kind of immorality which was prohibited and regulated by the Torah will be avoided by believers, simply by following the internal guidance of the Spirit, without any external legal standard being required. Not only will immorality be avoided, but there will be additional “fruit” that comes from the Spirit’s active guidance (vv. 22-23). It is most significant that this “fruit” does not consist in good deeds—not even acts of Christian ministry—but of fundamental attributes of a person’s character, which reflect the very attributes of God present in His Spirit.

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that this moral standard comes through the internal influence of the Spirit, and not by observance of the Torah nor any other external command. Paul makes this clear by two statements which punctuate the instruction in vv. 16-25:

    • “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under (the) Law” (v. 18)
    • “…against such (thing)s [i.e. the fruit of the Spirit] there is no Law” (v. 23b)

In other words, the New Covenant of the Spirit has nothing whatever to do with the Law. This is a uniquely Pauline development of the early Christian belief regarding the presence of the Spirit among believers. The new covenant motif was part of the application of the earlier Prophetic tradition (regarding the restoration of Israel in the New Age), interpreting the presence and activity of the Spirit among early believers as its fulfillment. Paul has sharpened the contrast between old and new covenant, emphasizing, more than any other Christian minister of the time, that the Spirit in the new covenant takes the place of the Torah in the old.

One point that has not been discussed yet, in the context of Paul’s treatment of the Spirit, is how the presence and activity of God’s Spirit relates to the personal presence of Jesus Christ himself, in and among believers. This will be examined in the next daily note, with a comparison of several key passages in Galatians and Romans.

For more on the question of Paul’s view of the Law, cf. my extensive articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament”, including those on Galatians (spec. on 5:1-6:10), along with the separate article on “antiomianism”.

April 23: John 17:26

John 17:26

“…and I made known to them your name, and will make (it) known, (so) that the love by which you loved me would be in them, and I in them.”

In the previous note (on v. 25), we discussed the important Johannine theme of Jesus as the Son who makes the Father known to believers. This idea of knowledge (vb ginw/skw) is central to the Gospel—we come to know the Father through the Son. With the Son’s departure (return) back to the Father, this process of revelation—of making known (vb gnwri/zw) the Father—occurs through the presence of the Holy Spirit, operating in Jesus’ place. It is the related verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) that is used here, and the Father is made known by way of His name (o&noma). Both of these are key points of emphasis in the Gospel, and especially here in the Prayer-Discourse.

Jesus speaks in the name of His Father (5:43)—that is, as His chosen representative, and more, as His beloved Son. Similarly, he works in that name (10:25), referring to the entirety of his mission (e)ntolh/) on earth—the signs and miracles, etc—culminating in his sacrificial death. In so doing, he makes the Father’s name known to his disciples. In verse 6 of the Prayer-Discourse, this is expressed through the verb fanero/w—literally, “make (to) shine (forth)”. This blends together the motifs of knowing (ginw/skw), and seeing (ei&dw, and other verbs), expressing knowledge (and revelation) in visual terms. The verb fanero/w occurs 8 other times in the Gospel (1:31; 2:11; 3:21; 7:4; 9:3; 21:1 [twice], 14), and 9 more in 1 John (1:2 [twice]; 2:19, 28; 3:2 [twice], 5, 8; 4:9). Here is how Jesus’ statement reads in 17:6a:

“I made your name shine forth to the men that you gave to me out of the world.”

The emphasis on the name of the Father continues in vv. 11-12:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are (still) in the world, and I come toward you. Father (most) holy, may you keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, (so) that they would be one, just as we (are). When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, and I guarded (them), and not one out of them went to ruin, if not [i.e. except] the ‘son of ruin’, (so) that the Writing might be fulfilled.”

Two points are clear: (1) the Father has given His name to Jesus (the Son), and (2) believers are protected and kept united in this name. As previously noted, in the ancient world, a person’s name was thought to embody and represent the essential nature and character of the person, often in a quasi-magical manner (cf. my earlier notes and articles on this point in the series “You shall call his name…”). Thus, in giving and making known the Father’s name, the Son is revealing the Father Himself (14:6-11, etc). Ultimately this is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit, by which we are united with Father and Son, and in the bond of love that the two share.

Indeed, here in 17:26, the name of the Father and the divine love are closely connected, and both are fulfilled through the presence of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that Jesus can continue to make known the Father (His name)—note the use of the future tense, “and will make (it) known [gnwri/sw]”. Moreover, it is only through the uniting bond of the Spirit that both God’s love, and the presence of His Son (Jesus), can be in us. God is Spirit, and union with Him can only occur in the Spirit (4:24). The abiding presence of this love—the Father’s love, given to us, as His children, through (and as part of) His love for His own Son—has been emphasized at a number of points throughout the Last Discourse, and again here in verse 23 (cf. the prior note). The same structural idiom is used: the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives the same to those who trust in him.

This indeed makes for a powerful and fitting end to the Last Discourse, and to the Johannine Discourses as a whole. All of the key themes and theological points are distilled, in these few verses, into a poetic description of our union with God. It follows the chain of relationship—Father-Son-Believers—but is ultimately resolved into a triadic unity, which I like to represent (however inadequately) through the following simple diagram:

April 22: John 17:25

John 17:25

“Father (most) just, indeed the world did not know you, but I (have) known you—and these (have) known that you se(n)t me forth”

After closing verse 24 with a reference to the creation (i.e. laying down the foundation) of the world (ko/smo$), the statement in v. 25 picks up again with the use of the word ko/smo$. This may be seen as an example of “catchword-bonding” —the joining of two sayings or traditions based on a common word or theme—a key building block in the development of the early lines of the Gospel Tradition. In such a developed Discourse as chap. 17 (in the wider context of the Last Discourse, 13:31-16:33), however, it is more likely that this simply reflects a creative recapitulation of the themes expressed elsewhere in these chapters.

As previously noted, the term ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”) is a regular part of the Johannine vocabulary, and occurs 18 times in the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse alone. It is used two different ways: (1) for the inhabited world, in a geographic and social sense, and (2) for the current world-order, as it is dominated by sin and darkness and is opposed to God. The word is used in the first (neutral) sense in v. 24, and in the latter (negative) sense here in v. 25; there is a similar alternating play on these two aspects of meaning throughout chap. 17.

The other key term here is the verb ginw/skw, with the theme of knowledge—specifically, that of knowing God the Father through the person of Jesus the Son. This is virtually synonymous in the Gospel with the theme of seeing (sight, vision), expressed through the use of several different verbs. Indeed, the verb ei&dw (“see”) is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw (“know”), and this corresponds with the theological idiom of the Gospel—to “see” God is the same as to “know” Him, and occurs through seeing/knowing Jesus as the Son sent by the Father. Here this knowledge of God is represented by three different subjects:

    • the world (o( ko/smo$)—i.e., those who belong to the world, dominated by the evil in it
    • Jesus himself, the Son (“I”, e)gw/)
    • “these” (ou!toi)—that is, Jesus’ disciples and believers in Christ—those (elect) who belong to God, and not to the world.

This triad is really a duality—a clear and stark contrast between believers who know God, and all others in the “world” who do not. That their knowledge of God the Father is based on a knowledge of Jesus the Son, is clear from the specific wording used here: “…that you se(n)t me forth”. The verb a)poste/llw literally means “set (away) from”, often in the positive (or neutral) sense of setting someone out, as a messenger or representative. The noun a)po/stolo$ (transliterated in English as “apostle”), of course, derives from this root, referring to someone who is “se(n)t out” on a mission. The verb is thus largely synonymous with pe/mpw (“send”), and, indeed, both are used interchangeably in the Gospel of John. The verb a)poste/llw, however, more properly connotes the idea of the Son (Jesus) being sent from the Father; it occurs 7 times in the Prayer-Discourse, beginning with the key theological declaration in verse 3:

“And this is the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—that they would know [ginw/skwsin] you the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth [a)pe/steila$], Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

Eternal life is defined in terms of knowledge (of God and Christ), and specifically entails trust in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father. This confirms the identity of “these” as believers in Christ—those trusting in him (v. 20). The “world” is unable to trust in Jesus; only the elect (believers), who belong to God, can and will do so. On the special use of ko/smo$ in vv. 21-23, cf. my earlier note.

Some would regard the self-declaration “but I (have) known you” as parenthetical; however, I feel that it more properly is intended to center the entire construct—the dualistic contrast—clearly in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Son. It is the Son who truly knows the Father, having been ‘born’ from Him, and sharing/inheriting all that the Father gives to him. Our knowledge of the Father, as believers, is based upon Jesus’ own knowledge of Him—it is this knowledge which he reveals to us. With his departure back to the Father, the imparting of this knowledge takes place primarily through the presence and work of the Spirit (14:26; 15:26; 16:13ff). It is this that the author of 1 John has in mind when he speaks of believers as ones taught by God, requiring no human teacher (2:27; cp. 2 Jn 9; Jn 7:16-17; 1 Thes 4:9; 1 Cor 2:13). The Spirit is identified as the very Truth of God (14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6; cf. also Jn 4:23-24).

A word should be said about the use of the adjective di/kaio$ (“just, right[eous]”) at the beginning of v. 25. The idea of justice (or “justness”) and righteousness as attributes of God is common to nearly all religious traditions, and certainly is prominent among Jews and Christians in both Old and New Testaments. The dikaio- word-group is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, occurring a bit more in the Letters (1 John) than the Gospel. In 5:30 and 7:24, the other two occurrences of the adjective in the Gospel, it is used in the customary ethical sense of exercising sound or “right” judgment (kri/si$). The related noun dikaiosu/nh (“justness, justice” or “right[eous]ness”) occurs only at 16:8, 10, in reference to the work of the Spirit as a witness to the justice/justness of God. In 1 John 2:1, 29, the adjective is used specifically as an attribute of Jesus, essentially as a divine attribute shared with the Father (1:9). This differs somewhat from the earliest Christian use of the term as a reference to Jesus’ innocence—that is to say, he was put to death unjustly (e.g., Lk 23:47; Acts 3:14; 7:52).

When believers act justly toward one another (through the bond of love), it demonstrates that they/we are true believers, united with the Father and Son, and reflecting the (divine) justness/righteousness that the two share—1 Jn 3:7, 10, 12. The contrast between believers and the world here indicates that the current world-order (ko/smo$), as opposite to God, is fundamentally unjust, characterized by wickedness and injustice. This is an important part of the truth that the Spirit will make known (16:8-11)—i.e., regarding sin (a(marti/a), justice (dikaiosu/nh), and judgment (kri/si$). The Spirit will demonstrate the truth of this to the world—and this indicates that it is primarily the work of God’s Judgment, already realized in the present, prior to its fulfillment at the end-time. The witness regarding sin and judgment (vv. 9, 11) are relatively straightforward, but that regarding justice (v. 10) is a bit more difficult to understand:

“…and about justice, (in) that I go back toward the Father and you no longer look at me”

How is it that Jesus’ departure (return) back to the Father manifests justice? From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, this refers to a confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father, and to the honor (do/ca) that comes to him following his sacrificial death (an act of injustice by the world). True justice is not based on the world’s standards, however noble they may seem, but on the nature and character of God Himself (“Father [most] just…”). The Son makes known this nature/character of the Father, and, in uniting with the Son (through the Spirit), as believers we come to share in it. The world, however, cannot accept this truth, and is so is judged (by God) accordingly. The relationship between believers and the world is a key theme of the Prayer-Discourse, running through the entire chapter, to its climax here.

April 21: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

o%ti h)ga/phsa$ me pro\ katabolh=$ ko/smou
“(in) that [i.e. because] you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. foundation] of the world”

This is the last of the three i%na/o%ti-clauses in verse 24. Following the first two (i%na) clauses (discussed in the two previous notes), this o%ti clause builds upon the prior clause—especially the phrase “my honor/splendor [do/ca] that you have given to me”. Both conjunctive particles (i%na and o%ti) can be translated generally as “that”, but o%ti often indicates specifically the reason that something is— “(in) that…”, i.e. “for, because”. In particular, this clause states the reason for God the Father having given do/ca (honor/splendor) to Jesus the Son. The verb de/dwka$ (“you have given”) is a perfect form, while h)ga/phsa$ (“you loved”) is an aorist. In context, this difference is perhaps best understood as indicating the priority of the act of love—i.e., the love (past action) precedes the gift (action/condition continuing into the present). In 3:35, a similar point is made, using the present tense of a)gapa/w (indicating the love as it is generally, and regularly, demonstrated):

“The Father loves [a)gapa=|] the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

This “all” certainly includes the do/ca of the Father. As discussed in the previous note, the word do/ca, which properly means something like “esteem, honor”, as applied to God, refers essentially to the nature and character of His person that makes him worthy of our honor/esteem. As the Son, Jesus receives this same do/ca from the Father, possessing it as his own (1:14; 17:5), just as a child carries within him/her, in various ways, the nature and character of the parent. The Son then reveals this do/ca to his disciples (believers) in the world (2:11; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4, 40). This is his mission on earth,  the duty (e)ntolh/) given to him by the Father, and the reason why he was sent into the world; it was completed with his sacrificial death (and resurrection), which “gives honor” (related vb doca/zw) to Father and Son both (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:1, etc).

The phrase “before the casting-down [katabolh/] of the world” refers to the creation of the universe (the current world-order, ko/smo$), utilizing the image of a craftsman or builder laying down a foundation. The same expression occurs 10 other times elsewhere in the New Testament, including twice (as here) with the preposition pro/ (“before”)—Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20. These latter passages evince a belief in what we would call the “pre-existence” of Jesus—that is to say, he existed as the divine/eternal Son of God prior to his life on earth, indeed, prior to the very creation of the world. The Gospel of John clearly presents such a Christological view as well (1:1-2, etc), though, in the Discourses of Jesus, it is nowhere stated so clearly as here in the Prayer-Discourse (also in v. 5). It merely confirms the idea, expressed throughout the Gospel, that, as the Son of God, Jesus shares the same (divine/eternal) nature and character of the Father.

However, the main point here is that believers are able to see this do/ca, and to share in it as well (as the offspring/children of God). By being with (meta/) Jesus, in union with him, we can see his do/ca—that is, to see the Father—and will be able to look upon it (vb qeore/w) even more closely when we are with him in heaven. As I noted, this same idea is expressed in 1 John 3:2-3, and Paul promises something similar in his famous declaration in 2 Cor 3:18:

“And we all, with a face having been uncovered, (look)ing against (the glass) at the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord [i.e. as looking at it in a mirror], we are (chang)ed over in (the) shape (of) th(at same) image, from splendor into splendor, even as from (the) Lord, (the) Spirit.”

The phrase “from do/ca into do/ca” is probably best understood as a transformation from what we are now as believers (in the Spirit), into what we are destined to be in the end. This latter splendor also comes from the Spirit—which is both the Spirit of God (the Father) and of Christ (they share the same Spirit, 1 Cor 6:17; 15:45, etc). This basic idea would certainly be worded differently in a Johannine context, but as a fundamental promise for believers, and as a theological statement, it is much the same.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study, by turning to the next verse (25), the second to last of the Prayer-Discourse, as Jesus circles around to another theme of the Discourses, building on the common key-word and theme of the “world” (ko/smo$).