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 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 2 (2): John 16:33; 19:30

John 16:33; 19:30

This second daily note (for Good Friday) looks at two declarations by Jesus in the Passion narrative of the Gospel of John. Each marks the end, or climax, of the narrative, in different ways: 16:33 is the end of the Last Discourse (the teaching/ministry of Jesus to his disciples), while 19:30 marks the very end of his earthly life and ministry, and serves as the climax to the entire Passion Narrative. There is thus a clear parallelism between these two declarations, and they also express a common theme and message. It will be worth examining each statement in this regard.

John 16:33

“…I have been victorious (over) the world!”

This triumphant declaration makes a fitting end to the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), and the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry, in terms of the teaching he gives to his disciples. The Last Discourse is actually a complex literary work, containing a number of distinct units, each of which forms a discourse in its own right—that is, it generally follows the basic Johannine discourse format: (1) statement by Jesus, (2) reaction/misunderstanding by the audience, and (3) exposition by Jesus explaining the true/deeper meaning of his words. The unit 16:16-33 is just such a discourse:

    • Initial saying/statement by Jesus (v. 16)
    • Response/misunderstanding by the disciples (vv. 17-18)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 19-28)
    • Conclusion (vv. 29-33), which also forms the close of the Last Discourse as a whole

The saying in verse 16 will be discussed in tomorrow’s daily note (for Holy Saturday). Here I wish to focus on the conclusion in vv. 29-33. It begins with an exclamation by the disciples, in which they seem now to have a true understanding of just who Jesus is. This is important from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, and the place of the Last Discourse within it. After the departure of Judas (13:30), Jesus is able to speak directly to his close (i.e. true) disciples, and this collection of teaching comprises the Last Discourse, much as the Sermon on the Mount has a similar place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Matthew (chaps. 5-7).

This direct instruction is revelatory, in a way that his teaching in the earlier discourses was not. At the start of the Last Discourse, the disciples still have difficulty understanding what Jesus says to the them (14:5ff), but at its conclusion, their eyes are opened and they can see the truth with greater clarity:

“The learners [i.e. disciples] say to him: ‘See, now you speak in outspoken (terms) [i.e. plainly/directly], and you say not even one (thing) to us (by) a (word) along the way [i.e. illustration, figure of speech]. Now we have seen [i.e. known] that you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s, and you hold no business [i.e. have no need] that any (one) should inquire (of) you. In this we trust that you came from God!'” (vv. 29-30)

While this trust is real enough, Jesus, in response, points out how their trust will be tested:

“Yeshua gave forth (an answer) to them: ‘Now do you trust? See, an hour comes—and (indeed) has come—that you shall be scattered, each (one) unto his own (thing)s, and you shall leave me (all) alone…” (vv. 31-32a)

I discussed the use of the term “hour” (w%ra) in a previous note; it has a dual-meaning in the Gospel of John: (a) the moment of Jesus’ suffering and death, and (b) the coming period of distress before the end. Both of these aspects are combined here, fully in line with the early Christian eschatology and understanding of the nature and significance of Jesus’ death. The hour that “has come” is indeed the time of Jesus’ suffering and death, as is clear from the Passion context here. At the same time, the death/departure of Jesus marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress—a time of intense (and increasing) darkness in the world, which will result in the suffering and persecution of believers. This will be discussed further in the next note. The idea of the disciples being “scattered” (vb skorpi/zw), is stated more famously in the Synoptic saying of Jesus (Mark 14:27 par, citing Zech 13:7).

While the hour of darkness (cf. Lk 22:53) that comes with Jesus’ Passion may introduce a time of great distress (qli/yi$) for all humankind (including believers), at the same time believers in Christ are victorious over this darkness and evil in the world, in spite of all they might suffer. This is the paradox at the heart of the Passion Narrative—how suffering and death can result in victory and life. The source of this victory is expressed by Jesus in the remainder of verse 32:

“…you shall leave me (all) alone; and (yet) I am not alone, (in) that [i.e. because] the Father is with me.”

The Christological declaration again identifies Jesus’ relationship (as the Son) to God the Father, but also emphasizes the union he has with the Father. He is never alone because the Father is always with him. Believers ultimately share in this same union, through the presence of the Spirit—a teaching expounded throughout the Last Discourse (and the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17). It is the presence of Jesus, through the Spirit, that is in view in the closing words of the Discourse (v. 33):

“I have spoken these (thing)s to you (so) that you would hold peace in me. In the world you hold distress [qli/yi$], but you must have courage—I have been victorious [neni/khka] (over) the world!”

The perfect tense of the verb nika/w (“have victory, be victorious”) is important, since it typically signifies a past action or condition which continues into the present. Even as Jesus has been victorious—through his earthly life and death—over the darkness and evil in the world, so also believers, who are united with him, share in this victory. This is why the author of 1 John can similarly declare to his readers (as believers) that they “have been victorious” over “the evil” in the world (and/or “the Evil One”, i.e. the Satan/Devil)—2:13-14; 4:4. Indeed, believers, as ones who have “come to be born” (as offspring/children) of God, by this very fact of their identity, are able to be victorious over the world (5:4-5).

John 19:30

This victory by Jesus encompasses his entire life and existence on earth. However, the moment of victory is especially to be noted at the completion of his life and ministry—that is, at the moment of his death. The Synoptic Passion narrative emphasizes the end-time darkness, and foreshadowing of Judgment, at the moment of Jesus’ death—i.e., the darkness over the land (Mk 15:33 par), his cry of abandonment (v. 34 par), his final cry at death (v. 37 par), and the tearing of the Temple curtain (v. 38 par). The portrait of Jesus’ death is rather different in the Gospel of John—none of the aforementioned Synoptic details are present. There is even a positive contrast to the tearing of the Temple curtain (“from above unto below”, i.e. from top to bottom)—Jesus’ garment is kept intact and untorn (19:23-24; on the parallel between the Temple and Jesus’ body, cf. 2:21-22).

The only real indication of suffering on Jesus’ part in the Johannine narrative is the brief mention of his thirsting in vv. 28-29 (cp. Mark 15:36 par). And, instead of a great cry at the moment of his death, Jesus, with his final words (actually a single word in Greek), utters a declaration similar in meaning to that of 16:33 (cf. above):

“It has been completed” (tete/lestai)

This refers to the completion (te/lo$, vb. tele/w) of his earthly mission. It relates to how the word e)ntolh/ is used in the Johannine writings. Typically,  that noun is rendered “command(ment)”, but this is rather misleading, especially in the Johannine context. The word properly refers to something given to a person to complete or accomplish (te/lo$/te/llw)—that is, a duty or charge placed on (e)n) someone. Thus, with his sacrificial death, Jesus (the Son) fulfills the e)ntolh/ given to him by the God the Father (10:18; 12:49-50; 15:10). The related verb teleio/w (“complete, bring to completion”) is used in this same sense in 4:34; 5:36; 17:4 (cf. also 19:28); Jesus words (to the Father) in 17:4 are especially close in meaning, in light of the context of his Passion:

“I honored you upon the earth, (hav)ing completed [telei/wsa$] the work that you have given me, that I should do (it)”

Other traditional details of the crucifixion scene are given a new meaning in the Johannine narrative, including the very moment of Jesus’ death (also in v. 30), which reads:

“And, (hav)ing bent the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

On the surface, this would simply indicate that Jesus breathes his last breath (i.e. “gave along his spirit”), as in Mark 15:37:

“And Yeshua, (hav)ing released a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [e)ce/pneusen] (his last).”

The Lukan version (23:46) is closer in sense to Jn 19:30, seeming to be a combination of the Markan/Synoptic and Johannine versions:

“And, (hav)ing given voice to a great voice [i.e. cry], Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I place along my spirit [parati/qemai to\ pneu=ma/ mou]. And, (hav)ing said this, he breathed out (his last).”

The strong emphasis on the Spirit throughout the Gospel of John, along with the important idea that the death/resurrection of Jesus results in the presence of the Spirit in believers, suggests that there is a bit of dual-meaning wordplay in 19:30, and that the phrase pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma could rightly (and more literally) be rendered: “…he gave along the Spirit” (cf. 20:22).

The same idea seems to be at work in the detail of the “blood and water” that come out of Jesus’ body after his death (v. 34). Many commentators have sought to explain this as an authentic historical/physiological detail. While this may be legitimate—and the Gospel writer does take care to point out that it was an actual observable event (v. 35)—it rather obscures the importance of the detail from a theological standpoint. The “blood and water” represents the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (and incarnate life) that is conveyed to believers through the Spirit. The parallel with the Spirit is clear enough (both come from Jesus after his death), but receives absolute confirmation, from the Johannine theological standpoint, in 1 Jn 5:6-8 (considered in the previous note).

If we might summarize the Johannine theology surrounding Jesus’ death:

    • It represents the completion of the mission given to him by the Father
    • His death ‘releases’ the life-giving power he possesses (from the Father, as the Son), manifest in his earthly life and death (“water and blood”)
    • This life giving power is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit
    • The (eternal) life given through the Spirit, makes believers complete—and is, in a real sense, the final completion of Jesus’ mission (cf. Jn 17:23).

 

March 29: John 12:1-8; 13:1-2

John 12:1-8; 13:1-2ff

In the Synoptic Gospels, the Passion Narrative begins with a trio of narrative episodes, firmly established in the tradition at an early point, probably well before the Gospel of Mark was composed; and, using the Markan narrative as the point of reference, the three episodes are:

    • Mk 14:1-2—The introductory episode, establishing the Passover setting, and the plans of the religious leaders to arrest Jesus
    • Mk 14:3-9—The anointing of Jesus by a woman (unnamed) at Bethany
    • Mk 14:10-11—Judas agrees to betray Jesus

The central Anointing scene is bracketed by the two short passages relating to the plans to arrest Jesus. It is interesting to consider how these components of the historical tradition were adapted within the Gospel of John, perhaps reflecting a distinctive Johannine line of tradition (for more on this, cf. my study on the Anointing scene, and also the supplemental study on Judas Iscariot, in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). In fact, the Anointing scene in the Gospel of John differs little from the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) version, with the exception of two major details:

    • Identification of the woman with Mary, sister of Lazarus (vv. 1-3), and
    • Identification of the objecting disciple(s) with Judas Iscariot (vv. 4-6)

Whatever the relationship of these details to the historical traditions, they are significant to the Johannine narrative, both in literary and theological terms; and, each detail has considerable thematic importance to the narrative, which may be summarized as:

    1. The defining place of the Lazarus miracle, and
    2. The role of Judas Iscariot among the disciples

1. The Lazarus Miracle (Resurrection)

The raising of Lazarus (chap. 11) is the last and greatest miracle (or sign) of the “Book of Signs” (chaps. 2-12), and it clearly shapes the way the Passion Narrative is introduced and presented. It affects the early episodes of the Tradition, including the Triumphal Entry scene (cf. the previous note)—11:45ff; 12:1ff, 9-11, 17-18—and provides an effective transition between the first half of the Gospel (“Book of Signs”) and the second (Passion Narrative). From a thematic standpoint, the significance of the Lazarus miracle is three-fold:

    • It shows Jesus to be the Son who possesses the same life-giving power as God the Father (cf. 5:19-29).
    • Resurrection to new life is symbolic of the eternal life that believers experience through trust/union with Jesus (cf. especially the discourse in vv. 20-27, and my earlier notes on this passage).
    • The reference to resurrection establishes the emphasis on “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (cf. the recent article in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”).

All three of these points run through the Johannine Discourses, and are developed, especially, in the great Last Discourse (with its Last Supper/Passion setting).

The specific detail of the location of the Bethany anointing scene (the house or neighborhood of Lazarus) joins these aspects of the resurrection theme to the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (i.e. the Passion Narrative). Here is how the Anointing scene is introduced:

“Then Yeshua, six days before the Pesaµ [i.e. Passover], came into Beth-‘Aniyyah, where Lazar was, whom Yeshua raised out of the dead. So they made an (extensive) supper for him there, and Marta served, and Lazar was one out of (those) stretched out (at the table) with him. And then Maryam, taking a litra of myrrh-ointment…” (vv. 1-3a)

The reference to Lazarus being raised out of the burial-tomb is paralleled with the idea of Jesus being anointed in preparation for his own burial (v. 7b), a detail (saying of Jesus) that is central to the core tradition (Mk 14:8 par). Similar Passion traditions are adapted and developed in the subsequent discourse of vv. 20-36 (discussed in the recent daily notes).

2. The Role of Judas Iscariot

The Johannine portrait of Judas Iscariot, however brief, is distinctive, though very much rooted in the established Gospel Tradition (cf. again my earlier study in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). The negative aspect of Judas is strongly emphasized in the Johannine Gospel (“…one out of you [i.e. one of the disciples] is a dia/bolo$ [i.e. devil]”, 6:70-71, cp. Mk 3:19 par), and the identification of Judas as the disciple who objects to the woman’s anointing of Jesus is part of this wider tendency (esp. the ugly additional detail in v. 6). Beyond this, however, the presence of Judas in the Anointing scene is significant in the way that it prepares for his role in the Passion Narrative.

In the Last Supper scene (chapter 13), we find another example of the special way that the Gospel of John adapts and develops the traditional material—namely, Judas’ presence at the meal and his departure (going out to betray Jesus). Consider how Judas’ presence is introduced in vv. 1-3:

“And (then), before the festival of the Pesaµ [i.e. Passover], (with) Yeshua having seen [i.e. known] that his hour (had) come, (and) that he should step across out of this world toward the Father, (hav)ing loved his own, the (one)s in the world, he loved them unto the completion (of it) [i.e. of his hour]. And, (with the) coming to be of (the) supper, (and) the (One) casting (evil) throughout [i.e. the Devil] having cast (it) into the heart of Yehudah (son of) Shim’on ish-Keryot that he should give him along [i.e. betray him], having seen [i.e. known] that the Father gave all (thing)s to him, into his hands, and that he came out from God and leads (himself) under [i.e. back] toward God, he rises out of the supper…”

The syntax is a bit awkward, especially the clause referring to Judas in v. 2; however, the main point to note is that, as part of the “hour” (cf. the prior note on 12:23) of Jesus impending suffering and death, the Devil puts the impulse to betray Jesus into Judas’ heart. In the Synoptic tradition, it is implied that Judas does this, in part at least, out of greed, a motive fully in accord with the detail in 12:6. However, ultimately, the betrayal is the result of the action of the Evil One (the Satan/Devil). Above, I have translated the term dia/bolo$ rather literally, as one who “casts [vb ba/llw] (evil) throughout”, to capture the word play—i.e. the Devil here “having cast” [beblhko/to$] the evil impulse (to betray Jesus) into Judas’ heart. This evil/diabolic influence becomes even more pronounced as the narrative continues:

    • The foot-washing episode, where Jesus states that one of his disciples there (i.e. Judas) is not clean— “…you are clean, but not all (of you)” (v. 10f)
    • The identification of Judas as the one who will betray him (vv. 21-26, cp. Mk 14:18-21 par)
    • The dramatic moment of Judas’ departure (vv. 27-30)

In one of the most striking moments of the entire Gospel, the Satan enters Judas as he eats the morsel of food given to him by Jesus:

“And with the morsel, then [i.e. at that very moment] the Satan went into that (one) [i.e. Judas].” (v. 27a)

The actual departure of Judas is equally dramatic:

“So (then), (hav)ing taken the morsel, that (one) went out straightaway. And it was night.” (v. 30)

The concluding statement “And it was night” is hardly an incidental detail; it is charged with symbolism, reflecting the darkness of the scene as Jesus’ hour comes. Fair or unfair from the standpoint of the historical tradition, in the Johannine Gospel Judas represents and embodies the evil and darkness of the world, and, as he leaves the group of disciples he goes outside, into the world, where it is night.

It is only after Judas (representing the evil of the world) has left, that Jesus is able to deliver his great Last Discourse to his close disciples. This body of teaching begins in 13:31, precisely after Judas’ departure. A central theme of the Last Discourse (and the Prayer-Discourse in chap. 17) is the relationship of the disciples (believers) to the world. This world (ko/smo$), the order of things in the present Age, is dominated by darkness and evil, and the Evil One (i.e. the Satan/Devil) is himself the “chief (ruler) of the world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou, 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The true believer does not belong to this world anymore than Jesus does, but is united with God the Father and (Jesus) the Son through the Holy Spirit. In the Johannine Gospel, Judas Iscariot represents the false believer (cp. 1 John 2:18-19; 4:1ff, etc) who belongs to the world, instead of to God.

 

March 26: John 12:31-34

John 12:31-34

“‘Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world shall be thrown out(side); and I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself.’ And he (was) say(ing) this, signifying [shmai/wn] what sort of death he (was) about to die away from.” (vv. 31-33)

In the discourse as we have it, the dual-saying of Jesus in vv. 31-33 follows directly after the sounding of the voice from heaven—the declaration of God the Father in response to Jesus’ request (cf. the previous note on vv. 27-30). Thus, Jesus’ own declaration in v. 31 must be understood here in that context: “Now is (the) judgment of this world…”. The hour of Jesus’ death—which is also the moment when he (the Son of Man) will be given honor/glory—marks the judgment (kri/si$) of the world. This is an example of the “realized” eschatology that is so prominent in the Gospel of John. The events which were believed to occur at the end of the current Age—the resurrection, the great Judgment, and eternal life for the righteous who pass through the Judgment—are already being experienced now, in the present, especially for believers in Christ. Indeed, there are several places in the Discourses where Jesus clearly states that those who trust in him have already passed through the Judgment, and, by contrast, those who are unable/unwilling to trust have already been judged—cf. 3:19; 5:22-24 [cp. 27-30]; 9:39; 12:47-48; 16:8-11. For more on this, see the recent article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In the Johannine theology and religious outlook, the term “world” (ko/smo$, perhaps better rendered “world order“) refers to the current Age (i.e. the current order of things) that is dominated by darkness and wickedness and fundamentally opposed to God. The end-time Judgment—already being experienced in the present—involves the judgment/defeat of these forces of evil, led and embodied by the figure here called “the chief [a&rxwn] of this world”, perhaps also personified as “the Evil (One)” (o( ponhro/$, cf. 1 John 5:18-19; John 17:15, etc). In more traditional religious language, this figure would be identified as the Satan/Devil. This expression “the chief of this world” also occurs at 14:30 and 16:11:

“…the chief of the world comes, and he holds nothing in/on me” (14:30)
(the Spirit will demonstrate [the truth] to the world) …about (the) Judgment, (in) that the chief of this world has been judged” (16:11)

The statement in 16:11 corresponds closely with that in 12:31; in terms of the context of the narrative, 14:30 and 16:11 are ‘located’ before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus, which confirms the idea that his death/resurrection is the moment when the “ruler of this world” is judged. The actual verb used is e)kba/llw (“throw/cast out”), with the adverb e&cw giving added emphasis (“thrown outside“). This means that the power/control of the Evil One is broken and he no longer has dominion over the world. Revelation 12 similarly sets the Satan’s expulsion from heaven (being thrown out/down) in the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 5-9ff). The saying of Jesus in Luke 10:18 (“I observed the Satan [hav]ing fallen as a flash [of lightning] out of heaven”) relates to the time of his earthly ministry, and the authority he has (over evil spirits, etc), the same power/authority he gives to his disciples (i.e. believers) over the forces of evil (cp. the statement on the purpose of Jesus’ mission in 1 Jn 3:8). His death, of course, represents the completion of his mission on earth, and is to be seen especially as the moment of the Evil One’s defeat. This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

To this statement is added, in v. 32, an apparently separate saying which resembles, and repeats the message of, that in 3:14f:

“…even as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him would hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].” (3:14-15)

“…and I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself” (12:32)

As previous noted, the verb u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”) in these Johannine passages (cf. also 8:28) has a dual meaning: (1) Jesus’ death, being lifted up on the stake, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father). The author’s comment in v. 33 specifies that the first of these is primarily in view, as is fitting for the Passion-context of the narrative at this point. To come toward (pro/$) Jesus means to trust in him, even as the Greeks who wish to “come toward” Jesus and see him (vv. 20-22) represent all the believers from the surrounding nations who will come to trust in him.

A sense of election/predestination (to use the traditional theological terminology) is connoted by the verb e(lku/w (“drag”), a verb that is rare in the New Testament, being used in 21:6, 11 in the context of fishing (i.e. pulling/dragging in the nets). It is also used in the judicial context of ‘hauling’ someone into court, etc, which would fit the judgment theme in verse 31 (cf. Acts 16:19; James 2:6). The most relevant parallel, however, is found in 6:44, in the Bread of Life discourse, as Jesus speaks of the dynamic of people “coming” to him (i.e. to trust in him):

“No (one) is able to come toward me, if (it is) not (that) the Father, the (One) sending me, should drag [e(lku/sh|] him (there)…”

The language almost suggests someone being pulled against his/her will, which would be a bit too strong of an interpretation; however, there is a definite emphasis in the Johannine Discourses on what we would call election or predestination—believers come to Jesus because they (already) belong to God, and have been chosen. The inclusive language in 12:32— “…I will drag all (people)” —is best understood in terms of all believers, especially in light of the presence of Greek (i.e.  non-Jewish) believers here in the narrative context; that is to say, believers from all the nations/peoples will come to him.

Verse 34

The response of the crowd in verse 34 is another example of the motif of misunderstanding that is built into the Johannine discourse format. Which is not say that these instances do not reflect authentic historical details, but only that they have been tailored to fit the literary context of the discourse. Indeed, the response of the crowd here is entirely believable. It refers primarily to the main line of the discourse—the saying in verse 23, along with the latter statement in v. 32—that is to say, the core tradition regarding the death of the “Son of Man”:

Then the throng (of people) gave forth (an answer) to him: “We heard out of the Law that ‘the Anointed (One) remains into the Age’, and (so) how (can) you say that ‘it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

This is best understood as a summary of different questions Jesus’ followers (and other interested hearers) had regarding his message. It reflects two basic issues, in terms of Jesus’ Messianic identity:

    • The idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, would die (and/or depart) before establishing the kingdom of God (on earth) in the New Age.
    • The manner in which he identified himself with the “Son of Man” figure—in two respects:
      • The Son of Man sayings which refer to his upcoming suffering and death
      • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, which refer to the appearance of a heavenly deliverer at the end-time

This will be discussed further in the upcoming note for Palm Sunday; you may also wish to consult my earlier series on the Son of Man Sayings of Jesus.

 

Saturday Series: 1 John 5:13-21 (continued)

1 John 5:13-21, continued

Verses 13-21 of 1 John 5 form the conclusion of the letter; last week, we examined the first section (vv. 13-17), and now it remains to explore the final four verses. This portion is notable, since it serves as an effective summary of the letter’s message, and, indeed, of the Johannine theology as a whole. It may be divided into four components—the three principle statements of vv. 18-20, along with a closing (if cryptic) exhortation in verse 21. Each of these contains at least one significant critical issue, and, in addressing them we can again illustrate the principles and methods of Biblical Criticism at work.

To begin with, we have the three main statements in vv. 18-20; each begins with the first person plural perfect indicative verb form oídamen— “we have seen“, which can also be rendered “we have known“. The verb eídœ properly means “see”, but is also used equivalent to ginœ¡skœ (“know”). In the Johannine writings, especially, the motifs of seeing and knowing are interchangeable and go hand in hand.

1 John 5:18

We have seen [oídamen] that every (one) having coming to be (born) out of God does not sin, but (rather) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God guards him, and (so) the Evil does not attach (itself to) him.”

There are two text-critical questions which are key to a proper understanding of this verse. In addition, there is an important point of interpretation, related to the issue of sin and the believer. Let us begin with this last point.

Sin and the Believer (revisited)

The primary message of vv. 18-20, and of 1 John as a whole, is centered on the identity of the true believer in Christ. The letter essentially begins and ends with the question of the believer’s relationship to sin. The question is both theological and practical, centered on the apparent contradiction that a believer both can, and cannot, commit sin. In 1:6-2:2, it is clear that the author understands that believers do sin, and yet, following this, we have the declarations in 3:4-10 (esp. vv. 6, 9) that the true believer does not (and cannot) sin. Likewise, in 5:13-17, it is understood that believers commit sin (but not the sin that is “toward death”), yet here again, in verse 18, is a declaration (nearly identical with that in 3:9) that the true believer does not sin. How can such seemingly contradictory statements be harmonized or explained?

We have discussed this thorny question several times in previous studies (on 2:28-3:10, and last week on 5:13-17). Let me here briefly summarize four ways of interpreting these passages:

    • The sinlessness of the believer represents the ideal, to which every Christian should seek for his/her own life; it is realized essentially through our union with Christ, but still has to be experienced practically through faithfulness to Christ (and the guidance of the Spirit) in daily life.
    • The intended contrast is between occasional sins by the believer (that are confessed and forgiven, 1:7, 9) and a pattern of sinfulness that characterizes the person and their true identity.
    • The believer is sinless insofar as he/she remains in Christ. Sin occurs when the person (momentarily) falls out of this union; however, through forgiveness, he/she is restored. This line of interpretation draws on the Vine illustration by Jesus in John 15—the forgiven believer is ‘grafted’ back in to the vine.
    • Believers may commit occasional sin, but no true believer can sin in the sense of violating the great two-fold command (3:23-24, etc)—the only command binding for believers. Violation of the two-fold command is the sin, which no true believer can ever commit.

There are certainly elements of truth to each of these lines of interpretation; however, what is important here is how the author of 1 John understood the matter. In my view, the overall evidence from the letter itself, taken in combination with key parallels in the Johannine Gospel, suggests that the last (fourth) option above is to be preferred as the primary emphasis. Especially important is the theological vocabulary involving the noun hamartía and the related verb hamartánœ—on this, see the summary in last week’s study. The significance of sin in 1 John (and the Johannine Gospel) relates fundamentally to trust in Jesus—in other words, sin is defined not in terms of immorality or religious failing, but as unbelief. To be sure, the author would have taken for granted that true believers would live moral and upright lives, but that sort of ethical instruction is not what is being emphasized in the letter. Throughout, the author’s arguments center on the two-fold command (stated succinctly in 3:23-24), stressing that the ‘false’ believers (called “antichrist”) who separated from the Community have demonstrated both a lack of true belief in Jesus and a lack of true love for others.

Of special importance is the identity of the true believer defined in terms of being born of God, utilizing the verb gennᜠ(“come to be, become”) in its uniquely Johannine sense of coming to be born out of God. That was the language used in 3:9f and again here: “every one having come to be (born) out of God does not sin”. Instead, the believer, born out of God, is protected from evil—particularly from the evil of “antichrist”.

Textual Criticism

The main text-critical question in verse 18 involves the substantive participle (with definite article) ho genn¢theís. This is an aorist participle, parallel to the perfect participle (of the same verb) earlier in the verse. The perfect participle is the more common Johannine usage, especially when referring to believers—i.e., as “the (one) having come to be (born)”, ho gegenn¢ménos. It is not immediately clear whether the aorist form, similarly meaning “the (one hav)ing come to be (born)”, refers to the believer or to Jesus. The verb gennᜠis almost always used of believers in the Johannine writings (Jn 1:13; 3:3-8ff, etc), but Jesus is the subject at least once, generally referring to his human birth/life, in 18:37. That some copyists understood both occurrences of the verb here in verse 18 as referring to believers is indicated by the manuscripts that read the reflexive pronoun heautón (“himself”) instead of autón (“him”); with the reflexive pronoun, the verse would read:

“every (one) having coming to be (born) out of God does not sin, but (rather) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God guards himself…”

That is to say, the believer guards himself/herself from evil, i.e. so that the true believer will not sin. This makes the verse more of an ethical exhortation than a theological statement. In a few manuscripts and witnesses, the meaning is clarified by reading the noun génn¢sis (“coming to be [born]”, i.e. birth) instead of the participle genn¢theís. According to this reading, it is the spiritual birth itself that protects the believer. While this is closer to the Johannine theology, it is almost certainly not the original reading. Even though the verb gennᜠ is rarely used of Jesus in the Johannine writings, it would seem to be the best way of understanding the statement in verse 18. Believers are children of God, having come to be “born out of God”, just as Jesus, the Son of God came to be “born out of God” (Jn 1:12-13, 14, 18). Our union with God the Father is based on our union with Jesus the Son, and it is his sinlesseness (and power over evil) that protects us from sin and evil.

The second text-critical question involves the substantive adjective (with definite article) ho pon¢rós, “the evil (one)”. There is a certain ambiguity with this language—does it refer to the evil that is in the world, or to an evil person, the “Evil One” (i.e., the Satan/Devil). The same sort of ambiguity occurs, famously, in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13), but a much closer parallel is found in the the Prayer Discourse of Jesus in chap. 17 of the Johannine Gospel, where Jesus prays that God would protect his disciples (believers) from “the evil” (17:15), using the same verb t¢r霠 (“keep watch [over]”) as here in v. 18. Most likely, the author is thinking in terms of “the Evil (One)”, the Satan/Devil who is the opponent of God and controller of the evil in the world; however, in the Johannine theology, there is little difference between the evil in the world and the Evil One who dominates the world, as is clear from the statement in v. 19.

1 John 5:19

We have seen [oídamen] that we are out of God, and (that) the whole world is stretched out in the Evil.”

Here the contrast is between believers—again using the motif of being born out of God—and the world. This is a key point in the Johannine theology, expressed many times in both the Gospel and Letter. The usage of the word kósmos (“order, arrangement”, i.e. world-order, how things are arranged in the world) in the Last Discourse(s) of Jesus (chaps. 14-17) is quite close to that in 1 John. It is in those chapters that Jesus most clearly establishes the conflict between believers (his disciples) and the world (kósmos)—see 14:17ff, 27, 30-31; 15:18-19; 16:8-11, 20-21, 28, 33, and all through chap. 17 (where kósmos occurs 18 times). The noun occurs almost as frequently in 1 John (24 times). The world—the current world-order—is dominated by darkness and evil. Jesus was sent by God the Father into the world, to free believers from its power; now believers remain in the world, but we are no longer dominated by the power of sin and evil.

That the current world-order is thoroughly and completely evil is clearly expressed here in verse 19: “the whole world is stretched out in the evil”. Here the substantive adjective ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) is perhaps better understood as a domain or kingdom, rather than a person. It is where the world lies stretched out (vb keímai), though this could still be personified as the hand or presence of the Evil One. According to the author of 1 John, those ‘false’ believers who separated from the Community went out into the world, into the domain of evil. True believers, by contrast, do not belong to the world.

1 John 5:20

“And we have seen [oídamen] that the Son of God comes here (to us), and has given to us (the ability to work) through (the) mind [diánoia], (so) that we would know the (One who is) true, and (indeed) we are in the (One who is) true and in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

This is the third and final oídamen-statement; these statements reflect a theological progression which may be outlined as follows:

    • Believers are protected from sin and evil, since they/we are “born out of God”, even as Jesus (the Son) was “born out of God”.
    • As ones “born out of God”, believers do not belong to the world, which is thoroughly dominated by Evil.
    • This birth allows believers to know and recognize the truth—the truth of God and His Son (Jesus), with whom they/we are united. This is also the truth of their/our identity (as true believers).

The first verb and tense used are curious—the present tense of the relatively rare h¢¡kœ, “he comes here” (h¢¡kei). We might rather expect the past tense—i.e., he came, and so now we can know the truth, etc. Perhaps the closest parallel is in 8:42 of the Gospel:

“…for I came out of God, and come (to you) here [h¢¡kœ]…”

The present tense indicates the immediate encounter of human beings with Jesus the Son of God, in the present, prompting either trust or unbelief as a result. This is a present reality for all people, both believers and unbelievers alike. The truth of who Jesus is stands as the essence our identity as believers. Moreover, we continue to encounter him, in the present, through the presence and work of the Spirit.

By freeing believers from the power and influence of the evil in the world (and the Evil One), it is possible for them to know and recognize the truth—and this truth has two aspects or components: (1) the truth of God Himself (and His Son), and (2) the truth of our identity as believers, that we are in God (and in His Son). The substantive adjective ho al¢thinós (“the true”) is parallel with the substantive ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) in vv. 18-19, and there is a similar sort of ambiguity—does it refer to that which is true, or the one who is true? Here, the context more clearly indicates that it refers to a person, namely God the Father; some manuscripts make this specific by adding the noun theós, “God”, though this is scarcely necessary, given the closing words of v. 20.

The final declaration in verse 20 summarizes all three oídamen-statements of vv. 18-20. The syntax, however, is problematic, causing some difficulty of interpretation; literally it reads:

“This is the true God and Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The demonstrative pronoun hoútos (“this”) is rather ambiguous. The nearest antecedent is “Yeshua the Anointed”, but the demonstrative pronoun could still refer back to an earlier subject (compare the syntax in 2 John 7). There are, in fact, four possibilities for how this statement can be understood:

    • The demonstrative pronoun (“this [one]”) refers to Jesus, in which case it is Jesus who is called both “true God” and “eternal Life”
    • It refers back to the substantive “the (one who is) true” (i.e. God the Father), and identifies the substantive explicitly as “the true God” who is also “eternal Life”
    • It is a dual reference, matching the earlier statement: “the (one who is) true [i.e. God the Father] and His Son”, i.e. “the one who is true” = “the true God”, and “His Son Yeshua the Anointed” = “eternal Life”
    • It refers comprehensively to what is stated in verse 20 (and/or all of vv. 18-20), i.e. this is all said of the true God and the eternal life that comes through His Son.

In my view, the some combination of the second and third options best fits both the syntax and the Johannine theology. A rather close parallel is the declaration in John 17:3:

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

Here the adjective al¢thinós and the expression “the true God” unquestionably refer to God the Father, but in connection with His Son Jesus, the two—Father and Son—joined together as a unified pair. If I might paraphrase the closing words of v. 20 in this light, I think that the following well captures the meaning:

“The ‘one who is true’ —this is the true God, who, with His Son Yeshua, is the source of eternal Life.”

1 John 5:21

“(My dear) offspring, you must guard yourselves from the images.”

The letter ends with this curious exhortation (and warning). The meaning and purpose in context is difficult to determine, and has somewhat perplexed commentators. There is a general parallel here with the thought of verse 18:

“the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God keeps watch over him [i.e. over the believer], and the Evil does not attach itself to him”

The reading with the reflexive pronoun (see above) would offer a closer formal parallel:

“the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God keeps watch over himself…”

The verb fylássœ (“guard”) in v. 21 is generally synonymous with t¢réœ (“keep watch [over]”) in v. 18. It would serve as a fitting corollary to the statement in v. 18:

    • V. 18: The believer’s union with Jesus, as one “born out of God”, protects him/her from evil (and sin)
    • V. 21: At the same time, it is necessary for the believer to guard him/herself from the influence of evil

Perhaps the main difficulty in verse 21 is how to interpret the significance and force of the word eídœlon (“image”, here plural “images”). There are several possibilities:

    • “Images” in the simple and concrete sense of (Greco-Roman) pagan religious images (idols); or, perhaps a specific reference to food, etc, that has been consecrated to such images (Acts 15:20 par; 1 Cor 8-10; Rev 2:14, 21).
    • As a shorthand term for the influence of (Greco-Roman) paganism in general
    • As a similar shorthand pejorative for false religious belief, specifically that of the ‘false’ believers opposed by the author of 1 John

The second option seems most appropriate, given the setting of the letter and those believers to whom it is being addressed. And yet, there is very little religious or ethical instruction of the sort elsewhere in the letter (2:15-17 comes closest), so its sudden appearance here is surprising. Perhaps the author felt it necessary to include such an exhortation, in passing, as a reminder of the baleful influence of the pagan culture that surrounded his readers. Already well aware of this, his audience presumably would not require any more explanation.

Personally, I am inclined to the third option above, which, if correct, would preserve the author’s warning as a more integral part of vv. 18-21 (and the letter as a whole). Since the overall message and thrust of the letter was to warn his readers against those false (“antichrist”) believers who had separated from the Community, it seems likely that the author would continue this focus to the very end. Perhaps this helps to explain the emphasis in verse 20 on the true God (see above)—in contrast to the false “gods” of idolatry. However, instead of the traditional contrast between Christianity and Paganism, in 1 John it is between true and false belief in Jesus. In 2:22-23, the author treats the “antichrist” views of the ‘false’ believers as effectively the same as denying both the Son of God and God the Father himself! It would not be taking things much further to equate such false belief in God with the “idols” of false religion.

This study of the closing verses of 1 John have touched upon text-critical, historical-critical, and literary-critical issues—the latter, in particular, dealing with the vocabulary, syntax, and style of the author (compared with the Johannine Gospel, etc). All of these aspects and approaches are necessary to take into consideration when studying a passage. They will not always lead to definitive solutions to questions of interpretation, but such critical analysis, when done honestly and objectively, and in an informed way, should bring valuable elucidation to the Scriptures. Having now concluded a representative analysis on many of the key passages and issues in First John, it is now time to turn our attention to the second and third Letters. This we will do, God willing, next Saturday…I hope you will join me.

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:16-18 (concluded)

1 John 5:16-18 (concluded)

In the last two notes, we have pursued a detailed study of 1 Jn 5:16-18 and the various difficulties surrounding this passage. Before offering a conclusion, it will be good to examine certain other details in these verses, to gain a bit more clarity as to what the author is actually saying.

“If any (one) should see his brother sinning sin (that is) not toward death [mh\ pro\$ qa/naton], he will ask and (God) will give him life—(that is,) the (one)s not sinning toward death. | There is sin toward death, and about that (sin) I do not say that he should make (such a) request. All injustice is sin, and (yet) there is sin (which is) not toward death. | We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin, but the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him, and the evil does not attach (itself) to him.”

We may divide this passage into three sections, or statements, marked by vertical bars above:

Statement 1. “If any (one) should see his brother sinning sin (that is) not toward death [mh\ pro\$ qa/naton], he will ask and (God) will give him life—(that is,) the (one)s not sinning toward death.”

This was discussed in detail in the previous note; however, it is worth considering the structure of this sentence:

    • A brother (i.e. believer) sinning sin not toward death
      —ask (of God) and (God) will give him life
    • those not sinning toward death

The chiasm gives double emphasis to the idea that only those not sinning “toward death” will be given life; indeed, it is only for these (i.e. true believers) that the request/prayer should be made to God on their behalf. As I discussed yesterday, the best way of understanding the “sin toward death” is as violation of the two-fold commandment (3:23-24) which defines the believer’s identity in Christ. True believers are not able to violate this command; only “false” believers who effectively speak and act “against Christ” (i.e. anti-christ) sin in this way. Since they are false believers, and not among the elect/chosen ones, they do not possess Life—indeed, they cannot.

Statement 2. “There is sin toward death, and about that (sin) I do not say that he should make (such a) request. All injustice is sin, and (yet) there is sin (which is) not toward death.”

This is actually comprised of separate statements, which are related to each other, and which have the same conceptual structure as Statement #1 above:

    • There is sin “toward death”
      that sin
      ——one should not make any request regarding it, but only for
      —all (other) sin
    • There is sin “not toward death”

Here the author more precisely makes the distinction between the sin “toward death” (i.e., violation of the two-fold command) and that which is not (i.e., all other sin a believer might commit). All sin is wrong (lit. “without justice, without right-ness”), but only the sin which violates the central (two-fold) commandment is “toward death”. Bear in mind that the author is addressing those whom he considers true believers and urges them to live and act according to that identity. This is perhaps the reason why the author does not address traditional ethical and religious concerns, except only very loosely and in passing (2:15-17). He would have taken for granted that true believers in Christ would live upright lives, conducting themselves honorably, in spite of occasional lapses of sin (1:8-10; 2:1-2). The main issue in the letter relates to those who separated from the mainstream congregations and now belong to “the world” (2:19; 4:1ff; 5:19; 2 Jn 7). According to the viewpoint of the author, these “false” believers violate both aspects of the two-fold command that defines the Christian:

    • By separating from (and opposing) the Johannine congregations they do not show proper love for their “brothers”; on the contrary, they actually demonstrate the opposite, hate (2:9, 19; 3:11-15)
    • They do not have proper trust in Jesus, in that they hold (and proclaim) a false view of Jesus (2:22-23; 4:1-6; 5:6-12; 2 Jn 7ff)

Especially difficult for many Christians to appreciate today is the directive that one should not make any prayer/request to God on behalf of those “sinning” in this way. This seems rather harsh, especially in light of the Christian ideal of showing love for sinners. However, early Christians held rather a different view when it came to supposed (i.e. “false”) believers who were thought to be opposing the truth. This applied both to theological and Christological opinions, but also to behavior which violated or disrupted Christian unity. The approach advocated regarding such persons, and the way they are described in the Writings, is consistently strident and harsh—Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5:4-5, 11; 2 Cor 11:12-15; Gal 5:7-12; 6:12-13; 1 Tim 6:3-5; 2 Tim 3:1-9; 2 Peter 2; Jude vv. 3-4ff, etc. There is, indeed, a clear parallel in the Second Letter (vv. 10-11), where the author urges those whom he is addressing not to take the “false” believers into their houses, nor even to offer them a polite greeting.

Regarding the above points, many sad (and tragic) episodes in Church History have demonstrated vividly that such instruction in the New Testament must be interpreted and applied most carefully. I will be discussing this further in an upcoming note dealing with the background and setting of the Johannine letters.

There is, however, perhaps a deeper significance to the advice given here in v. 16. It has to do with the nature of the Christian Community—that is, of believers united together in Christ through faith and love. The sort of concern shown over the person sinning, and indicated by the request made to God, relates to the preservation of the bond of unity between believers. Sin disrupts and defiles this covenant bond and must be cleansed. In other words, verse 16 reflects the love that believers have for each other; it does not apply to non-believers (much less to false believers). Whatever concern or love one might show to the world, it is not the same as the bond of love that unites believers in Christ. With regard to prayer, there may be an echo of this idea in John 17:6-9:

“I have made your name shine forth to the ones [lit. men] whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch (over) your word. … I make (my) request about them; I do not make (any) request about the world, but about (those) whom you have given to me, (in) that [i.e. because] they are yours…”

Jesus’ prayer is not for “the world” (and those who belong to it), but those (believers) given to him by the Father (i.e., the elect/chosen ones). This does not mean that Jesus has no concern or “love” over others in the world (cf. Jn 3:16, etc); rather, it reflects a distinctive understanding (and expression) of love.

Statement 3. “We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin, but the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him, and the evil does not attach (itself) to him.”

Most of this statement has been discussed in detail in the previous notes; I wish to draw attention to the closing words: “…and the evil does not attach (itself) [a%ptetai] to him”. Many commentators read the substantive adjective with the article (o( ponhro/$) as “the Evil (One)”, and this probably reflects the author’s understanding. This protection from evil is important in several respects:

    • It is central to the idea of both: (a) the believer being born out of God, and (b) that God keeps watch over the believer (primarily through the Spirit).
    • It relates to the idea that the believer does not (and cannot) sin. While the believer may commit occasional sins (moral lapses, etc), sin and evil does not “attach (itself)” to him/her. The verb a%ptw / a%ptomai is often translated as “touch”, but that is not quite strong enough. Sin remains foreign to the believer and does not become part of his/her identity or destiny. A somewhat similar idea is expressed beautifully in Wisdom 3:1.
    • The reference to “the evil (one)” here must be understood in light of the statement which follows in verse 19:
      “We have seen that we are out of [i.e. from/of] God, and (that) the whole world is stretched (out) in th(is) Evil.”
      The contrast between believers (born of God) and the world (lying in evil) could not be made more clear.
Conclusion

I wish to conclude this discussion on 1 Jn 5:16-18 with a series of summarizing points, which, I hope, will help to elucidate this difficult passage:

Sin and the Believer

    • Statements indicating that the believer does not (or cannot) sin are to be understood in terms of the believer’s fundamental identity in Christ. At this essential level, we participate in the sinlessness of Jesus.
    • This union with Jesus (and God the Father), by which we participate in the divine purity (sinlessness), is presently realized for believers through the Spirit. However, it will not be fully realized and experienced until the end-time.
    • For this reason, believers do (and are able to) commit sin (moral lapses, etc) during this earthly life. Through admission/confession of sin, we are cleansed and forgiven.
    • It is the power and work of Jesus—both his sacrificial death and (priestly) work of intercession before God the Father—which cleanses us from sin. This is part of God’s saving work and life-giving power.
    • We as believers are exhorted to live and act—developing patterns of thought and behavior—in a manner which reflects our true identity (pure/sinless) in Christ.
    • While we may sin, as believers we possess (“hold”) Life, and have been transferred out of “the world”—i.e., out of the domain of sin and darkness. We are thus no longer on the path leading “toward death”.
    • The life-giving presence of Jesus (the Spirit) protects us from evil. Though we may sin, evil and sin cannot touch us or “attach itself” to us. It is incidental, like the dust which gathers while we walk (cf. John 13:5-11); it is not part of our nature or identity as believers.

The Sin “toward Death”

    • Sin is understood primarily as the lack of “right-ness” or “just-ness” (i.e., righteousness, justice). In traditional religious terms, this is expressed as transgressions or violations of (religious and moral) Law.
    • However, for believers in Christ, there are now only two “commandments”—a two-fold command, or duty—which we must follow: (1) trust in Jesus and (2) love for one another (i.e. for our fellow believers), according to Jesus’ own example. All other aspects of religious and ethical behavior stem from this.
    • Since these two commands reflect our fundamental identity as believers in Christ, true believers will not (and cannot) violate them. The presence of the Spirit works in us, teaching and guiding us to observe this command, protecting us from sin.
    • It follows that only those who are not true believers (“false” believers) sin in this way by failing to observe the two-fold command.
    • Such false believers are actually “in the world” (i.e., belonging to the world); they do not hold Life, but remain on the path leading toward death.
    • They are thus sinning the “sin toward death”.
    • This sin is observable and demonstrable in that such “false” believers:
      (1) do not show genuine love toward other believers (according to Jesus’ example), and/or
      (2) do not have a proper (or correct) trust/faith in Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God sent by the Father.
    • Since they do not possess the true Spirit of God (and Christ), but speak and act from a different spirit, it is possible (and necessary) to “test” such “spirits”. The author of 1 John makes this test specific: (a) lack of love (i.e. “hatred”) which leads to disruption of unity, separation and hostility, and (b) an aberrant view of the person of Christ, specifically one which denies the reality of his human life and sacrificial death.
    • Such persons are not to be regarded or treated as fellow believers; in particular, we ought not to pray for them in the same way we would for a fellow believer who sins.

Notes on Prayer: Jn 17:24-26 (continued)

This note is supplemental to the recent “Monday Notes on Prayer” series, in which I went through the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. In the last study of that series, we examined the concluding verses 24-26, but it remains to go into a bit more detail on the final vv. 25-26, to see how Jesus’ words serve to bring out and summarize many of the themes that run throughout the Discourses.

Verse 25

One important point to make is that there is a strong eschatological context to verses 24-26, even though that may not be immediately obvious to the average reader. To begin with, let us consider again the first address and petition to God the Father in verse 24:

“Father, (for) that which you have given to me, I wish that where I am those also [i.e. believers] would be with me, (so) that they would look upon my honor which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. founding] of the world.”

In the setting of the Last Discourse and the Prayer of chap. 17, Jesus is about to depart and return back to the Father; the fundamental emphasis, then, of the wish that believers “would be with” him, is eschatological—i.e. that they/we would be with him in heaven, alongside the Father. This heavenly (and eternal) dimension is described two ways:

    • The Divine glory (do/ca, honor/splendor) which Jesus, as the Son, shares with the Father, and
    • Divine pre-existence, understood, as in verse 5, in relation to the creation of the world (ko/smo$)

When Jesus returns to his disciples (believers) again, it will be to take them with him to the Father (14:1-3). This is a basic early Christian belief, attested at numerous points in the New Testament (cf. especially Mark 13:26-27 par, and 1 Thess 4:16-17). However, in the Gospel of John, and in the Discourses in particular, this traditional eschatology is enhanced (and supplemented) by a distinct kind of “realized” eschatology, in which the things to be experienced by the righteous at the end-time are already realized now, in the present, for believers in Christ. This “realized” eschatology is central to the message of the Last Discourse, and is rooted in the idea of the coming (and presence) of the Paraclete/Spirit (discussed further below).

If this two-aspect eschatology relates to what believers experience—including eternal life (lit. “Life of the Age”) and the vision of God (emphasized here in v. 24)—it also applies to the Judgment which believers must pass through. This Judgment separates the righteous (believers) from the wicked (the “world”, ko/smo$); while traditionally, this occurs at the end-time, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Johannine Discourses, believers already experience the reality of it in the present—i.e. they/we have already passed through the Judgment. How has this occurred? It is stated most clearly in 5:24:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you that the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$] and trusting in the (One) having sent me holds (the) Life of the Age, and he does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped across out of death (and) into Life”.

This is very much what Jesus refers to in the conclusion to his Prayer (v. 25) as well. The manner of his address (“Just/Righteous Father”, Path\r di/kaie) suggests God the Father’s role as Judge and administrator of Justice, and that the idea of the Judgment is in view. The petition serves to bring to a climax the dualistic theme of contrast between Father/Son/Believers and the World (ko/smos). The traditional concept of God judging the world here is re-interpreted in relation to trust in Jesus, an emphasis we find repeatedly in the Gospel, going all the way back to the Prologue (1:5, 10-13). It is stated perhaps most succinctly in 3:17-21, a passage which can be compared with the close of chapter 17; note several points of comparison:

    • God the Father sends Jesus (the Son) so that the world might be saved through trust in him (3:16-17)
      • Disciples/Believers are sent by Jesus so that the world might come to know and trust (17:20-23)
    • The salvation of the world = “all those who trust”, i.e. all believers (“every one [pa=$] trusting in him”) (3:16)
      • Similarly the “world” trusting and knowing = the elect (believers) who are “in the world” but have not yet come to trust/know; once they come to faith, then the believers will “all” be one (17:20-23)
    • Judgment takes place in relation to trusting in the Son (Jesus); those who do not trust are (already) condemned because they cannot see (i.e. know) the truth (3:18-21)
      • The separation between believers and the “world” (now understood as the wicked/unbelievers) occurs on the basis of knowing (i.e. seeing) the Son, and through him, God the Father (17:25)

The last point, in particular, is a key theme in the Last Discourse, beginning with the dialogue in 14:5-10ff—one sees God the Father through the Son—and the same point is made in v. 24 of the Prayer (cf. above). We should pay attention to precise way the Judgment theme is brought out in verse 25:

“Just/Righteous Father, indeed, the world did not know you, but I knew you, and these [ou!toi, i.e. believers] knew that you se(n)t me forth”

The dualistic contrast, between Believers and the World, here takes the form of a chiasm:

    • the world did not know [ou)k e&gnw] you
      • but I knew [e&gnwn] you
    • believers (“these”) did know [e&gnwsan]…

Embedded in this very structure is the key theological point of the entire Gospel: that one knows God the Father through trust in Jesus (the Son). This is emphasized again in terms of what the believers (“these”) know. Jesus does not say “these knew you” (par. to “but I knew you”); rather, he says “these knew that you sent me forth“. In other words, what believers “know” is centered in the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son of God, as is clear from the theological formula included in the opening of the Prayer (v. 3). It also confirms the distinctive sense of the word ko/smo$ (“world”) in vv. 20-23, where, as I argued in an earlier study, it means the Elect/Chosen ones (believers) living “in the world” who have not yet come to trust in Jesus. Throughout the Johannine writings, ko/smo$ refers to a realm of wickedness and darkness that is opposed to God, which characterizes the current “world-order”. In vv. 21, 23, the focus is on believers dwelling in this wicked realm, while in v 25 it is the wicked (unbelievers) themselves who are in view.

Verse 26

The key Johannine motif of knowledge, knowing, in verse 25 is expanded upon by Jesus in v. 26; at the same time, the traditional future eschatology (first aspect, cf. above) gives way to a present “realized” eschatology (second aspect). The idea of believers separating from the world, and passing through the Judgment (implied) to see the glory of God in heaven, now shifts to the union believers have with God in the present. It is worth examining each component, or phrase, of this verse in some detail. To begin with, v. 26 is part of a single sentence with v. 25, marked by the conjunction kai/ (“and”):

“and I made known your name to them” (kai\ e)gnw/risa au)toi=$ to\ o&noma/ sou)—On the surface, this simply restates what Jesus already said earlier in the Prayer (v. 6, also 11-12), that, through his work on earth (as the incarnate Son), he revealed the Person and Presence of God the Father to the Elect/Chosen ones (disciples/believers), a process that will continue as those believers, in turn, proclaim and reveal the message of Jesus to others. However, it is the positioning of this phrase which is distinctive here—first, in relation to the previous phrase in v. 25:

    • “these knew that you sent me forth,
      and I made known to them your Name”

We might have expected a reverse sequence—i.e. they came to know because Jesus made the Father known to them—but this is contrary to the basic theological outlook of the Gospel of John, in which believers come to know because they are the Elect,  they already belong to God. And, because they belong to God, and God the Father gives them to the Son, they are able to recognize the truth of who Jesus is; and, as they become disciples (believers), Jesus then is able to reveal the Father to them.

Secondly, we must read it in connection with the phrase that follows:

    • “and I made known to them your Name,
      and I will (yet) make (it) known”

“and I will (yet) make (it) known” (kai\ gnwri/sw)—Here we have implicitly a key theme from the Last Discourse: that of the coming of the Paraclete/Spirit, who will continue Jesus’ work after his departure back to the Father. I have pointed out several times in the prior studies that, though the Spirit is not specifically mentioned in the Prayer, the idea is certainly present, and is to be inferred throughout. Note this revelatory aspect of the Spirit’s work from the statements in the Last Discourse:

    • “this is the Spirit of Truth which the world is unable to receive, (in) that it does not look upon him and does not know; but you know him…” (14:17)
    • “…(he) will teach you all (thing)s and will place under memory (for) you all (thing)s which I said to you” (14:26)
    • “…that (one) will witness about me, and you also will witness…” (15:26-27)
    • “…he will lead the way (for) you into all truth; for he will not speak from himself, but what (thing)s he hears he will speak…” (16:13)

Through the Spirit, Jesus himself will be speaking to believers, and that it is ultimately God the Father’s word that he speaks, making the Father known:

“…he will receive out of (what is) mine, and will give (it) up as a message [i.e. announce it] to you. All things what(ever) that the Father holds are mine; through this I said that he will receive out of (what is) mine and will give (it) up as a message [i.e. announce it] to you.” (16:14-15)

“(so) that the love (with) which you loved me would be in them” (i%na h( a)ga/ph h^n h)ga/phsa/$ me e)n au)toi=$ h@|)—The particle i%na here indicates the goal or end result (“[so] that”), and, indeed, it may be justly said to be the desired purpose and result of the entire Prayer. It essentially restates the request for unity that dominated the earlier vv. 20-23, combining two basic motifs:

    • The Son being “in” (e)n) believers
    • This unity reflects the relationship (union) between Father and Son

The final phrase of verse 23 further defines the unity/union believers have with Father and Son in terms of the Johannine theme of love (a)ga/ph):

“…that the world [i.e. the elect/believers in the world] would know that you sent me forth, and (that) you loved them just as you loved me.”

There Jesus asks that believers would know this Divine Love; now he requests that the Love be “in” (e)n) them. While the Spirit is not associated with love, particularly, in the Gospel of John, it is certainly an association that is part of the Johannine  theology, and is more prominent in the First Letter (see esp. 4:7-21). Love characterizes one who “comes to be (born)” of God, which is very much in accord with the language Jesus uses in relation to the Spirit in Jn 3:3-8 (cf. also 1:12-13). The words of Paul in Romans 5:5 seem to echo, independently, the language in v. 26 of the Prayer:

“…(in) that the love of God has been poured out in(to) our hearts through the Holy Spirit th(at is) given to us.”

“and I in them” (ka)gw\ e)n au)toi=$)—Just as the Love of God is present in us (believers) through the Spirit, so also is Jesus himself personally present in us. The parallelism is precise:

    • “the love…in them”
      “and I in them”

Ultimately, this is the central theme of the Last Discourse: that Jesus (the Son) will remain united with believers, dwelling in and among us, through the presence of the Spirit. It is also the climactic message of the Prayer, and, indeed, ought to be the central focus of every prayer we make to God the Father. In this regard, and in closing, consider the Lukan context of the Lord’s Prayer (teaching on prayer, 11:1-13), which begins with the Prayer itself (vv. 2-4), but ends with an emphasis on Jesus’ disciples asking God the Father specifically for the Holy Spirit (v. 13).

Believers and the World (Jn 17:20-23, continued)

As a continuation (and conclusion) to the recently posted article, on the statements regarding believers and “the world” (o( ko/smo$) in John 17:20-23, I mentioned three specific questions which I felt still needed to be addressed:

    • How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?
    • What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?
    • How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit into the structure of the section?

I will briefly discuss each of these in turn.

1. How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?

The principal theme of verses 20-23 is Jesus’ request for the unity of his disciples (believers). This is expressed two ways:

    • With the neuter singular adjective e%n (“one”): “that they would (all) be one
    • Using the preposition e)n (“in”): believers in the Son (and the Father), and the Son in believers, just as the Father and Son are in one another.

The use of the comparative particle kaqw/$ (“just as”), and the relation of believers to the union between Father and Son, makes clear that believers share in the same (not just similar) unity that Father and Son share. This is a powerful theological (and spiritual) proposition, which may seem quite shocking to religious sensibilities, but it is not to be explained away or mitigated. The language used by Jesus (and the Gospel writer) must be allowed to stand. And yet, how does this unity relate to “the world”? In the main part of this article, I discussed how the concluding i%na-clauses, mentioning “the world”, are best understood as subordinate result clauses. Let us consider again how these fit in the parallel strophes of verses 20-23:

First strophe, verses 20-21:

    • “…(I ask) about the (one)s trusting in me through their word,
      • that [i%na] (they) all would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you,
      • that [i%na] they also would be in us,
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth.”

Second strophe, vv. 22-23:

    • “And the honor [do/ca] which you have given to me, I have given to them,
      • that [i%na] they would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one [e%n]—I in them and you in me—
      • that [i%na] they would be completed into one [e%n]
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would know that you se(n)t me forth
          and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

For ease of reference, here are the two clauses in context, with the immediate statement regarding unity in bold:

“…that they…would be in us, (so) that the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth”
“…that they would be completed into one, (so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth”

How does the unity of believers lead the world (i.e. others in the world who are not yet believers) to trust and know (i.e. recognize) Jesus’ divine origin as Messiah and Son of God? Some would cite the example of Christian unity as something which might convince people of the truth of the Gospel. While this is a noble sentiment, it is not at all what is in view here in the Prayer. Rather, the unity of which Jesus speaks is fundamental and essential—the very identity of believers is defined by their/our union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This union, indicated primarily by the preposition e)n (“in”, i.e. “in us”), is further defined three distinct ways in the Gospel of John; the divine Presence in believers is described in terms of: (1) Word [lo/go$], (2) Love [a)ga/ph], and (3) Spirit [pneu=ma]. It is the Word-Love-Spirit of God (and Christ), dwelling in and with believers, which brings others to trust and knowledge of the truth. This will be further discussed in the following two sections.

2. What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?

In the earlier notes on verses 20-23, I pointed out how the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”), in the passive, with believers as the subject, occurs only here in the Gospel of John, but that four similar instances are found in the First Letter (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). The passages in 1 John share much of the same thought, language, and vocabulary as the Prayer-Discourse of Jn 17. There, too, the unity believers share with Father and Son is defined in terms of love (cf. section 3 below). However, I believe there is one aspect of the use of the verb here in verse 23 which has not yet been explored, and it relates specifically to the statement regarding the world trusting/knowing. The unity of believers is only realized collectively, not individually—but as a universal Community, bound together by the living Word-Love-Spirit of God. To that extent, unity is not realized until all believers are included—that is, when all the Elect/Chosen ones, living throughout the world, in all times and places, come to trust in Jesus, becoming true believers in Christ. This is wonderfully expressed, though using different imagery, in the “Good Shepherd” discourse:

“And I hold other sheep, which are not out of [i.e. from] this yard, and it is necessary for me to bring them also, and they (too) will hear my voice, and they will be a single herd [poimnh/], (with) one herder [poimh/n].” (10:16)

It must be emphasized that, though believers may gather (physically) into local communities, the unity spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel of John is entirely spiritual—it is truly a universal Community, realized and possible only by and through the presence of the Spirit. It is no coincidence that the giving of the Spirit follows almost directly after the death and resurrection of Jesus (20:21ff), and that this is indicated symbolically in the narrative at the moment of Jesus’ death (19:30):

    • His dying word on the cross: tete/lestai (“it is completed“, vb. tele/w closely related to teleio/w), after which
    • “…he gave along the Spirit” (pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma)

3. How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit into the structure of the section?

Verses 20-23 conclude with a statement that defines unity in terms of love (a)ga/ph)—that is to say, divine love, the love of God, which believers share by way of our union with Christ. This divine love cannot be separated (as an attribute) from the very Presence of God Himself, which believers are joined with by way of the Person of Jesus, through the Spirit. As mentioned above, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, Word, Love and Spirit, are largely synonymous, all three representing the living presence of God the Father and Jesus (the Son). This special meaning of a)ga/ph is seen throughout the Gospel, but especially in the Last Discourse (5:42; 8:42; 13:34-35; 14:15, 21ff; 15:9-13, 17, 19). It is even more prominent in the Letters (42 times, including 36 in 1 John). In 4:8, God Himself is identified as Love, and I mentioned above how believers being “made complete” is understood in terms of this love (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). In many ways, the First Letter takes up where the Last Discourse leaves off, both serving as detailed expositions of the “love commandment” in 13:34-35. The wording in 17:23 summarizes this exposition, but from the standpoint of the Father’s relationship to believers: “you loved them just as you loved me”.

However, according to the syntax of vv. 22-23, this statement is part of the i%na-clause which mentions the world knowing:

“…that they would be completed into one, (so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth, and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

The statement of God’s love is part of what the world comes to know:

    • “(so) that the world would know
      • that you sent me forth
      • and (that) you loved them even as you loved me”

Some commentators have struggled with the pronoun “them”, pointing out that, in context, it must refer to the believers (“the ones trusting in me…”) of v. 20, rather than to the immediate subject “the world”. However, according to the interpretation I set forth (cf. the main discussion), here “the world” refers ostensibly to believers—i.e. the Elect/Chosen ones, in the world, who have not yet become believers. This renders the immediate syntax more intelligible: those “in the world” who come to be believers realize the love God the Father has for them, a love that is identified in the person of his Son (Jesus). The wonderful reciprocity that defines both the unity and love which we share, as believers, and expressed here, is supplemented by Jesus’ earlier statement in 14:31:

“…(so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and even as the Father placed (a duty) on me to complete, so I do (it).”

Here the idea of believers “in the world” is less in view; the focus is rather on Jesus’ impending sacrificial death, and the time of darkness which accompanies it. The statement in v. 31 is preceded by an ominous declaration that “the chief/ruler of the world comes”, along with a message of encouragement that “he holds nothing on/in me”. That last phrase could mean “he has no part in me”, or “he holds nothing on me” in the sense of having “no power over me”; probably the latter is intended. In any event, the wording of v. 31a is quite similar to that of the closing words of 17:23—the former mentions Jesus’ love for the Father, the latter the Father’s love for Jesus. The world—everyone in it, not just the elect/believers—can recognize in Jesus’ death his great love for God.

It is the “love commandment” in 13:34-35 which relates more directly to the statement in 17:23:

“A new duty I give to you to complete: that you love each another—just as I loved you, that also you would love each other. In this, all people will know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples], if you hold love among [lit. in/on, e)n] each other.”

There is a similar matrix of thought and language, including the idea that people in the world will know as a result of the unifying love which believers share. Here the sense of believers as an example to the world is more plausible; yet, the emphasis is still squarely on believers and their relationship to Jesus.

If we consider the statements in 13:34-35, 14:31, and 17:23 in sequence, representing a kind of development of thought, it seems to parallel Christian ministry itself:

  • 13:34-35—Believers as ministers, representatives of Christ, in the world
    • Love—We are to love each other according to the example of Jesus (“just as” [kaqw/$] he loved us); his sacrificial death is implicit and fundamental to this love.
    • World’s Response—”All people” recognize this love as a sign that believers are disciples of Jesus, i.e. that they are Christians
  • 14:31—The Gospel message believers proclaim in the world is centered on the sacrificial death of Jesus, which frees us from the power of the world (“ruler of the world”, v. 30)
    • Love—Jesus’ love is embodied in his sacrificial death, and demonstrates his love for God the Father
    • World’s Response—Those in the world, both the Elect and non-elect, can recognize Jesus’ love for God in his sacrificial death
  • 17:23—Believers proclaim the Gospel (the Word), being guided and empowered by the living Word (the Spirit) which unites us with God the Father and Jesus (the Son)
    • Love—As believers we share (“even as” [kaqw/$]) in the same Love which God the Father has for Jesus (the Son); it is not just an attribute of God, but the Presence of God Himself.
    • World’s Response—The Elect/Chosen ones in the world come to know that Jesus is the Son sent by God the Father, and recognize the love which God has for them, uniting them with all other believers.

Believers and the World (John 17:20-23)

This is a follow-up article to the discussion on verses 20-23 of the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17 (part of a Monday Notes on Prayer series). It is necessary to examine the use of the word ko/smo$ (“world”) in the concluding phrase of the two (parallel) strophes that make up this section:

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

Jesus has been praying on behalf of believers, but now suddenly he shifts to the response of the “world”. There is some question as to the syntactical place of these two i%na-clauses, whether they are parallel to the prior i%na-clauses in each strophe (see the earlier discussion), or represent a subordinate result clause. In the first view, the world’s trusting/knowing would be part of the unity of believers in Jesus’ request; according to the second view, it is the result of the unity shared by believers. I consider the latter to be more likely, and more in keeping with the thought of the Prayer, and have rendered the conjunctive particle i%na to reflect this (i.e., “so that…”).

However, this reference to the “world” (ko/smo$) raises a problem. All throughout the Prayer, as well as the Last Discourse, and, indeed, the Gospel of John as a whole (with but few exceptions), the expression “the world” (o( ko/smo$) designates a realm of sin and darkness which is opposed to God and hostile to Christ; moreover, Jesus warns his disciples (and future believers), that, as long as they are living in the world, it will remain hostile to them (cf. 14:17, 22, 30; 15:18-25; 16:33; 17:9ff). This has been discussed repeatedly in the previous notes on chapter 17. Now, suddenly, Jesus speaks of the world trusting and knowing. How are we to understand this? There are several possible answers to this question:

1. It refers to a different kind (or level) of trust and knowledge, one which shows awareness of Jesus’ divine origins, but does not indicate true trust and knowledge. In traditional religious terms, we might refer to this as faith (of sorts), but not saving faith. There is some precedence for this in the Gospel of John. On several occasions, the populace at large (including Jesus’ opponents) are said to “trust” or “know”, but without any definite indication that they are true, committed believers (7:28ff; 8:30-31 [compare with the discourse that follows]; 11:45ff; 12:43-44). However, throughout the Gospel, the verbs pisteu/w (“trust”) and ginw/skw (“know”) are overwhelmingly used to characterize true believers, being used almost interchangeably. Even more to the point, the emphasis on Jesus as one “sent forth” (vb. a)poste/llw) by the Father serves as a shorthand for (true) trust/belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (see esp. verse 3 of the Prayer).

2. An interpretation more in keeping with the portrait of “the world” as hostile to God and unable to accept the truth, is to read the subjunctive verb forms (“might trust”, “might know”) as indicating a possibility which, for the most part, will not be realized. In this view, the missionary work of the disciples serves as a challenge to the world which leads, not to true faith, but to judgment for their inability (and/or unwillingness) to accept the truth. This preserves the contrast between believers and the world, which Jesus states unequivocally again in verse 25. The theme of Judgment is certainly present in the Last Discourse (14:30 [cf. 12:31]; 15:22ff; 16:8-11, 33), but is generally absent from the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17, and, it must be said, is quite foreign to the thought of verses 20-23.

3. A simple reading of the phrases, taking the words at face value, might suggest that Jesus is speaking of the wicked/sinners in the world being converted to faith by the witness of believers. This is a common enough Christian outlook which continues to inform missionary work and evangelistic preaching today. It is certainly present in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel context of Luke-Acts, where an emphasis on repentance and forgiveness of sin is an essential component of the Apostolic message (Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 17:30, etc). However, it is almost entirely absent from the Johannine writings. Apart from the episode in 7:53-8:11 (which likely was not part of the original Gospel), it is hard to find any examples referring to the conversion of sinners (5:14 is a rare instance, perhaps drawn from the wider Gospel tradition). Admittedly, some key passages in the Gospels have been understood this way (most notably 3:16-17), but only when taken somewhat out of context from the rest of the Gospel of John.

4. An interpretation closer to the mark would again be to understand the subjunctives as “might trust” / “might know”, but in the sense of “might be able to trust”, etc. In other words, through the work and Gospel of Jesus, the world is freed from the power of sin, and has the ability to accept Christ. This does not mean that all in the world will accept—indeed many (perhaps most) will not—however, they are no longer prevented from doing so by the power of evil (and the Evil One) at work in the world. As appealing as this view might be, it reflects a universalism that, I would maintain, is foreign to the Gospel of John. By “universalism” I do not mean it in an absolute or final sense (i.e. “everyone will be saved”), but in a qualified sense related to the human will (i.e. “everyone is able to be saved”). In classical theological terms, the contrast is between a universal and limited application of the atoning work of Jesus. It would be anachronistic to use either label in the case of the Johannine writings; however, it seems abundantly clear that the Gospel, in particular, evinces a strong view of what we would call Election/Predestination—i.e. believers come to Christ because they already belong to God, being “born” of God and “chosen” by Him beforehand (1:12-13; 3:21; 6:37ff, 44-45, 64-65ff; 8:42-47; 10:3-5, 14ff, 27-29; 18:37, etc). To be sure, through Christ’s work, believers are freed from the power of sin and darkness in the world (1:5; 8:12, 31-32; 12:35-36, 46; 14:30; 16:33, etc); however, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, they never really belonged to the world in the first place—they were “in” the world, but not “of” it. This is a central theme in the Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 (vv. 2, 6, 9, 11ff).

In my view, a proper understanding of the phrases in question requires a close examination of the usage of the expression o( ko/smo$ (“the world”), beginning here in chapter 17, and widening out to the Last Discourse, the Gospel as a whole, and, finally to the Letters of John for comparison. Such a study is beyond the scope of this article; however, let us at least summarize the language and usage in the Last Discourse and the Prayer. Overall, in spite of some wordplay, o( ko/smo$ is part of a dualistic contrast—i.e. Jesus/Spirit/Believers vs. the World. A few points of detail:

    • The world is unable to receive the Spirit, and also unable to receive the Truth (“Spirit of Truth”) (14:17; 17:25); similarly, the world cannot “see” (i.e. recognize, accept) Jesus (14:19ff; 16:28)
    • The Spirit will judge/convict the world of its sin, this sin being that it does not trust in Jesus (16:8-11)
    • The world is contrasted with Jesus in the person of its chief/ruler (presumably to be identified with the Satan/Devil), a person (and/or personification) embodying evil. This “Ruler of the World”, and, the world itself, has no power over Jesus (14:30; 16:11, 33), who, in turn, has the power to remove believers from the world, i.e. freeing and protecting them from sin and evil (15:19; 17:15)
    • The world hates both Jesus and his disciples (believers), being hostile to them and persecuting them, etc (15:19; 16:20, 33)
    • Believers are not “of” (lit. “out of”, i.e. “from”) the world; rather, they are “of” God, belonging to the Father (14:19ff; 17:6ff, 16), and this is the reason for the world’s hatred of them (15:19; 17:14-15). The Father has given believers to Jesus, who, in turn, sends the Spirit to protect them in his place (14:26; 15:26; 16:7ff; 17:6, 9)
    • There is a clear contrast between the realm of the world (below) and that of the Father (above) (14:27; 16:28; 17:16ff)

Now let us look specifically at the way believers are contrasted with “the world” in chapter 17. In particular, there is an interplay of two expressions: “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou) and “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|):

    • Believers are “out of [e)k] the world” in the sense that they/we do not belong to it; rather, they/we belong to God (vv. 6, 9). If believers, like Jesus, are “out of” the world, then it means that they/we are truly not “in [e)n]” it (v. 11).
      • In a secondary, but related, sense, God gave the disciples (believers) to Jesus “out of” the world (v. 6); this refers specifically to their/our coming to be believers in Christ.
    • The exact same point can be made, saying that believers are not “out of [e)k] the world”, meaning that they/we do not come from it—their/our true origins are from God (vv. 14, 16)
    • Yet it is also said that believers are not “out of [e)k] the world” in the sense they/we are still living on earth and, more importantly, must face the evil and hostility that dominates the world; in this sense, believers are “in [e)n] the world” (vv. 11, 13, 15)
      • Jesus’ ministry on behalf of believers relates to their being “in the world”: he speaks to them, giving them his word, “in the world” (v. 13), and sends them, as his representatives, out “in(to) the world” (v. 18)

Now, let us consider how this relates to the wording in vv. 21, 23. If we piece together the evidence in the Prayer, we can discern three key points:

    • Believers (the Elect) do not belong to the world (i.e. are not “of” it), but come from God
    • Yet believers remain living “in” the world, in the face of its darkness and evil
    • When believers are “given” by the Father to Jesus (the Son), they/we are taken “out of” the world and come to be believers in Christ

Thus, it would seem, when Jesus speaks of “the world” trusting and knowing as a result of the disciples’ (believers’) ministry, etc, it must be understood in light of the three points outlined above. In other words, here “the world” signifies the Elect/Chosen ones living in the world who have not yet come to be believers in Jesus. The same situation is described, though in different terms, in 10:16, where Jesus speaks of “other sheep”; of them he says that “it is necessary for me to bring/lead (them)”. And, from where does he, the herdsman, bring them? The answer is given here—from out of the world. The call, the sending out of the shepherd’s voice, is done through the work of other believers (“…trusting in me through their word”, v. 20), led and directed by the Spirit. I should say that the other universal-sounding statements in the Gospels, referring to the saving/salvation of “the world”, are best understood in this light as well (cf. 1:7, 29; 3:16-17; 6:33, 51; 12:32, 47).

If the above interpretation is indeed correct, there still remain three questions which I feel need to be addressed:

    • How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?
    • What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?
    • How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit in to the structure of the section?

I will look at each of these briefly in the continuation of this article.