Verse 69 represents the second part of Peter’s confession (on the first part, v. 68, see the previous note), which forms the climactic point of the great Bread of Life Discourse-Narrative in chap. 6. It holds a place in the Johannine Gospel similar to that of the more famous confession in the Synoptics (Mk 8:29 par, cf. below). The two parts are related syntactically as comprising a single confessional statement:
- “You hold (the) utterances of (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]
- we have trusted and have known that you are the holy (one) of God.”
- “You hold (the) utterances of (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]
The verbs pisteu/w (“trust”) and ginw/skw (“know”), though commonly used by early Christians (in a religious and theological sense), are especially prominent in the Gospel of John. The verb pisteu/w occurs 98 times (out of 241 in the entire NT), while ginw/skw is used somewhat less frequently (57 out of 222 NT occurrences). There is a special emphasis on knowing the truth (8:32, etc), which is defined in the Christological sense of trusting in Jesus (as the Son of God)—in this way, one “knows” the Son, and, through him, knows God the Father as well (7:28-29; 8:14ff, 19, 28; 10:14-15, 27, 38; 14:4-7ff, 20; 15:15; 17:3, 7-8, 23ff).
Peter’s confession of trust in Jesus is centered on the title “the holy (one) of God” (o( a%gio$ tou= qeou=). In the Old Testament Scriptures, “holy (one)” (vodq*) is used almost exclusively as a title of YHWH (Job 6:10; Prov 9:10; Hos 11:9, 12; Hab 1:12; 3:3; Ezek 39:7), where it typically occurs within the expression “the Holy (One) of Israel” (2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Jer 50:29; 51:5). It is used most frequently in the book of Isaiah (1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6, et al.), while in later Jewish writings the substantive “Holy One” continues to be used almost entirely as a Divine title (e.g., Sirach 4:14; 23:29; 43:10; 47:8; 48:20; Baruch 4:22, 37; 5:5; 2 Macc 14:36; 1 Enoch 1:2; 93:11; 97:6). The title itself relates to the fundamental attribute of holiness (Josh 24:19; 1 Sam 2:2), which Israel, as God’s people, must maintain as well (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; Deut 7:6, etc).
Only on rare occasions in the Old Testament is the substantive “holy (one)” applied to a human being, in reference to the consecrated priests (Num 16:7; Psalm 106:16), while in Dan 8:13 vodq* refers to a heavenly (angelic) being. In Prayer of Azariah 12, the title “holy one” is applied to Israel. In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, it was common to refer to both heavenly beings and righteous Israelites as “holy ones”; the Qumran texts make a good deal of this parallelism, identifying the Community as the “holy ones” on earth, who act in consort with the “holy ones” in heaven—both groups functioning as end-time representatives of God.
The only Old Testament parallel to the specific title “the holy one of God” is found in Psalm 106:16— “(the) holy (one) of YHWH” (hwhy vodq=)—referring to the special status of the high priest Aaron. The adjective ryz]n`, which similarly denotes a consecrated individual, separated out for special service to God, has comparable meaning when used as a substantive “consecrated [i.e. holy] (one)”. In Judg 13:5, 7 and 16:17, we find the expression <yh!ýa$ ryz]n+ (“consecrated [i.e. holy] one of God”), which is quite close to the corresponding Greek here in Jn 6:69. Most English versions transliterate ryz]n` (i.e., “Nazir[ite]”) rather than translate it; on the Nazirite vow, cf. the regulations in Numbers 6 (cp. Amos 2:11-12).
Thus, for the historical background of the expression “holy one of God”, we find two lines of religious tradition: (a) the sanctified status of the (high) priest, and (b) those set apart for service by the Nazir(ite) vow. In the New Testament, the latter is related to John the Baptist, where, in the Lukan Infancy narrative, it refers to his eschatological/Messianic status, fulfilling the figure type of the prophet Elijah (Lk 1:15-17; cf. also vv. 76ff). In the Gospel of John, as elsewhere in the Gospel tradition, it is Jesus, rather than John the Baptist, who fulfills the Elijah figure-type (1:21, 25); for more on this subject, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.
Other occurrences of the title “holy (one)” in the New Testament confirm its significance as a Messianic designation that is applied to Jesus. It occurs once in the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 1:24 / Lk 4:34), in the context of Jesus’ miracle-working power—as a sign that he fulfills the role of Messianic Prophet (in the manner of Elijah, cf. the references in Lk 4:24-27, in the context of vv. 18ff). In Acts 2:27 and 13:35, the expression “holy one” in Psalm 16:10 (where the Hebrew adjective is dys!j* rather than vodq*) is clearly intended as a Messianic reference, applied specifically to the resurrection of Jesus (cf. vv. 24, 30-31ff, 36). The title also has a Messianic (Davidic) significance in Rev 3:7.
These factors, taken together, make it all but certain that here, in v. 69, Peter similarly uses the title “the holy one of God” in a Messianic sense—though it is not immediately clear which Messianic figure type is primarily in view. The immediate context of the Feeding Miracle (vv. 1-14) suggests a Messianic Prophet (like Elijah); however, the Bread of Life Discourse (as well as the wider literary context of the Johannine Gospel) indicates that a Prophet like Moses is intended. Yet the reference in verse 15 also raises the possibility that a royal (Davidic?) Messiah may be in view as well. In any case, the Messianic identity of Jesus is very much the focus of Peter’s confession in the Synoptic Gospels:
“You are the Anointed (One) [i.e. the Messiah]”
The Lukan version corresponds generally with the Johannine tradition here:
From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, the title “holy (one)” also refers to Jesus’ identity as the (pre-existent) Son of God, sent to earth from heaven by God the Father. This gives to the Messianic title a deeper Christological significance, as is suggested by Jesus’ statement in 10:36:
“…(the one) whom the Father made holy [vb a(gia/zw, i.e. set apart, consecrated] and sent forth into the world”
This statement is connected with a more direct declaration of his essential identity as God’s (eternal) Son: “I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] (the) Son of God”. The Johannine theological and literary context (esp. in the Prologue) clearly connects this Divine Sonship with a strong pre-existence Christology, rather than the earlier Christology which explained the Sonship almost entirely in terms of Jesus’ exaltation (to God’s right hand in heaven) following his death and resurrection. In the Johannine writings, the confession of the true believer combines both titles— “Anointed One” and “Son of God” —with this distinctive Christological understanding, giving new meaning to the older forms.
In this regard, the main Johannine statement (in the Gospel) is not the confession by Peter, but the one by Martha in 11:27:
“I have trusted that you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world.”
The Gospel concludes with a similar confessional statement, in 20:31 (cp. 17:3; 1 Jn 1:3; 3:23; 5:20). The combination of titles, of course, also resembles the Matthean version of Peter’s confession, as representing a comparable (theological/Christological) development of the Synoptic tradition:
Finally, I would suggest that, from the Johannine theological standpoint, the title “holy one of God” also alludes to Jesus’ association (and identification) with God’s holy Spirit. In addition to the immediate context of the Spirit-saying in v. 63 (the Christological significance of which has been examined, in detail, in recent notes), there are other aspects of the Johannine writings (Gospel and First Letter) which seem to bear this out, including the intriguing use of the title “holy one” in 1 John 2:20. I will discuss this verse in the next daily note.
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Textual Note on Jn 6:69—There is some variation in the manuscripts (and versions) with regard to the text of title in Peter’s confession (cf. above). The text followed above, o( a%gio$ tou= qeou= (“the holy [one] of God”), would seem to have decisive manuscript support, representing the reading of Ë75 a B C* D L W al. In other witnesses, the title was expanded in various ways, most likely as a harmonization with the Matthean form (16:16) of the Synoptic version of Peter’s confession (cp. Mk 8:29; Lk 9:20), or with the local Johannine confessional statements in 1:49; 11:27. Cf. the brief note in the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary (4th revised edition), p. 184, and in the various exegetical-critical commentaries (ad loc).