Note on the Johannine “Paraclete” passages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 John 4:1-6

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

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

 

April 23: John 17:26

John 17:26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 22: John 17:25

John 17:25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 21: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 20: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

i%na qewrw=sin th\n do/can th\n e)mh\n h^n de/dwka/$ moi
“that they would look upon my honor/splendor that you have given to me”

This is the second of the three i%na/o%ti clauses that make up verse 24. The first (i%na) clause, discussed in the previous note, states the primary wish or request that Jesus makes to the Father (“I wish that [i%na]…”). It is parallel to the i%na-clause in the first line of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 (discussed in prior notes), in which he requests that [i%na] all believers would be one. This unity is based on the union we have with Jesus (the Son)—and this union is reflected in the initial wish-clause of v. 24:

“that [i%na] wherever I am, they also would be with me”

This raises the question of how we should understand the force of the second i%na-clause here. Is it epexegetical, further explaining and building upon the first clause? or, does it reflect the goal/purpose and result of that clause? According to the latter view, believers are to be with Jesus so that they/we can see his do/ca. I tend toward the first view, in which case the second i%na-clause builds upon (and explains) the first—i.e., that believers would be with Jesus and that they/we would behold his do/ca. The implication is that wherever Jesus is, believers will see the honor/splendor given to him by the Father, since this is based on his identity as the Son.

There can be no doubt, however, that a heavenly setting is in mind. The context (cp. 14:1-7) is Jesus’ departure (return) to the Father, to be alongside of Him just as he (the Son) was in the beginning (1:1-2ff). While believers can see him now, in the present, through the Spirit, a different sort of vision will be possible in heaven, being present with Jesus alongside the Father. An eschatological/afterlife context is certainly implied, marked, in terms of the traditional early Christian eschatology, by the end-time appearance of the exalted Jesus on earth. It is at this moment that all believers will be gathered to him, and taken up with him into heaven (Mk 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc), even as Jesus indicates in 14:3.

There is a powerful reference to this in 1 John 2:28-3:3, as the author presents his instruction with an eschatological framework (a common feature of ethical-religious instruction in the New Testament). The nearness (i.e. imminence) of his coming (v. 28, cf. verse 18) makes it all the more important that believers remain faithful, continuing in union with Christ (and each other). As believers, we are already the offspring of God—His children, even as Jesus is the Son—but, in the end, with the appearance of Jesus, the full nature of this identity will be revealed (cp. Rom 8:18-25). This revelation comes by way of a direct vision of God (“we will see Him just as He is”), and the vision transforms believers so that they/we will also be just as God is. Some commentators understand 1 Jn 3:2-3 as referring to the vision of Jesus, rather than of God the Father; this does not seem to be correct, though it could just as easily apply, and it certainly is what is being referenced in Jn 17:24.

The verb used here in v. 24 is qewre/w, which is sometimes translated blandly as “see”, but more properly signifies an intense or careful observation of something—i.e., “look (closely) at, look upon, behold” —sometimes with the sense of “perceive”. It is used frequently in the Gospel of John (28 out of the 58 NT occurrences), including 7 times in the Last Discourse (14:17, 19 [twice]; 16:10, 16, 17, 19). In those references, the emphasis is on the world (including the disciples) not being able to look upon Jesus—because he is going away to the Father. However, at a deeper level, this also refers to an inability to see the truth about Jesus. At the moment, in the narrative context of the Discourse, the disciples have only a limited awareness of this as well; but, following the resurrection, and with the coming of the Spirit, they will truly know and understand who Jesus is, as the Son sent by the Father. This visionary knowledge finds its completion, and fulfillment, when they are united with the Father and Son in heaven.

The key term in this regard is do/ca, typically translated “glory”, but more properly rendered as “esteem, honor”. It corresponds (loosely) to the Hebrew dobK* (“weight, worth, value”), which, when applied to God, may connote that which makes him worthy of our honor and esteem. For lack of a better term in English, this quality may be referred to as “splendor”, a shorthand honorific for the nature and character of God Himself. It is sometimes conceived of visually, through various light- and color-imagery, and so forth; however, according to the traditional Israelite theology, no human being can truly see God (visually) in this life.

A central theme of the Johannine theology (and Christology) is that Jesus, as the Son sent by God the Father, makes this do/cathe nature and character of the Father—known to his disciples (believers). This is because Jesus (as the Son) shares the same do/ca, given to him by the Father. The point is made specifically by Jesus here in v. 24, as also earlier in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 5). What is most important about this do/ca, is that it was given to the Son (Jesus) by the Father. This follows the guiding theological principle of the Johannine Gospel, that the Father gives “all things” to the Son (3:35). This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

April 19: John 17:24

John 17:24

Having discussed each line of the 5-line stanzas in vv. 21-23 last week, the daily notes this week will focus on the remaining verses (24-26) of the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17.

“Father, (for that) which you have given to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me, (and) that they would look (upon) my honor [do/ca] that you have given to me, (in) that [i.e. because] you loved me before (the) casting-down [i.e. foundation] of (the) world.” (v. 24)

The wording of Jesus’ request here follows that of vv. 21-23, in the use of the subjunctive verb of being to express his wish for believers (“they would be…” [w@sin]). In vv. 21-23, as we discussed last week, the emphasis was on unity or oneness; now, the request relates back to ideas expressed earlier in the Last Discourse, regarding the identity of Jesus (as Son of the Father) and the relationship of believers to him.

The neuter relative pronoun o% (“that which”) is a bit awkward, combined with the plural pronoun and syntax (“they…”) in the remainder of the verse. Many manuscripts and versions naturally read the easier masculine plural relative pronoun ou%$, but this is certainly a ‘correction’ for the neuter form. The neuter pronoun must be understood as relating back to the neuter numeral e%n (“one”) in verses 21ff—i.e., for the collective sense of all believers, in union. It also reflects the earlier wording in verse 2 (“all that [o%] you have given to him…”). This refers generally to “all things” (cf. 3:35 etc), but more specifically to all believers (the elect).

One of the main themes of the Last Discourse, restated here, is that of Jesus’ departure from the world and his return to the Father. Given his impending departure, two primary issues are dealt with in the Last Discourse:

    • That the disciples (believers) would be “with” Jesus, including, and ultimately, with him in heaven alongside the Father.
    • That, correspondingly, Jesus would remain in/with believers as they/we continue to live in the world.

The first of these is emphasized especially in 14:1-7ff, and is also the focus here in v. 24.

As in vv. 21-23, the key clauses are subordinate clauses marked by a beginning i%na (or o%ti) particle. There are three such statements (i%na/o%ti clauses) in verse 24, and it will be useful to look at each of them in order.

i%na o%pou ei)mi\ e)gw\ ka)kei=noi w@sin met’ e)mou=
“that where(ever) I am, they also would be with me”

Just as in the two stanzas of vv. 21-23, the first i%na clause states the primary wish/request of Jesus (“I wish that…”). In vv. 21-23 the request was “that they [all] would be one”, and the wish here must be understood in the light of that earlier request for the unity/oneness of believers. As we discussed, the basis of that unity is the union of believers with Jesus the Son (and God the Father), and that this union is realized both in terms of the presence of the Spirit, and our sharing in the love that binds Father and Son together.

The difference in v. 24 has to do with the emphasis on Jesus’ departure back to the Father (in heaven). This is one of the main ways that Jesus uses the locational conjunction o%pou (“where[ever]”) in the Discourses. In 7:34-36; 8:21-22, the thrust was negative—people in the world were not able to come to the place where Jesus goes. At the beginning of the Last Discourse, he says the same thing to his disciples (13:33, 36), but with the promise to them (spec. to Peter) that ultimately they will be able to follow him. This sets the stage for the sayings in 14:3-4, and the subsequent exposition by Jesus. By seeing Jesus (= knowing & trusting in him), believers know the “way” to the Father (vv. 6-7ff). This trust/knowledge leads to being united with Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit, a point expounded by Jesus in the remainder of the Last Discourse. By way of this union, believers are with Jesus wherever he might be. This was declared by Jesus, using more conventional (discipleship) terminology, earlier in 12:26:

“If any one would serve me, he must follow me, and where(ever) I am [o%pou ei)mi\ e)gw\], there also my servant will be…”

The wording is quite similar to that here in v. 24.

Returning to 14:1-7, this portion of the Last Discourse seems to preserve a traditional eschatological understanding of Jesus future/end-time return, at which point all believers will be gathered to him (and taken up to heaven)—Mark 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc. Admittedly, the emphasis throughout the Gospel of John is on what we would call a “realized” eschatology—that is, the end-time events (resurrection, judgment, inheriting/entering eternal life) are already being realized for believers, in the present, through the presence of the Spirit. There, are however, instances of the more traditional future aspect that are preserved in the Gospel Discourses as well. While believers are present with Jesus even now, through the Spirit, this union will be fulfilled, and made complete, when he appears to us at the end-time.

Paul expresses this eschatological dimension of our union with Jesus, in a slightly different (but highly memorable) manner, in Colossians 3:1-4. This passage builds upon the Pauline theme of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (i.e. dying and rising with him), expressed at numerous points in the letters (and drawing upon the symbolism of the baptism ritual). At first, the wording suggests customary early Christian ethical instruction, using the context of baptism as a starting point: “So, if you were raised together with the Anointed, you must seek the (thing)s above, where the Anointed (One) is… You must set your mind (on) the (thing)s above, not the (thing)s upon the earth” (vv. 1-2). Then comes the powerful and striking eschatological declaration in vv. 3-4:

“For you died away, and you life has been hidden with the Anointed (One), in God; (and) when the Anointed (One) should be made to shine forth, (who is) your life, then also you will be made to shine forth with him in honor/splendor.”

This emphasis on honor/splendor (do/ca) is central to the next i%na-clause of verse 24, and will be discussed in the next daily note.

April 16: John 17:22a, 23d

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 5: John 17:22a, 23d

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

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

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

Verse 22a

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

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

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

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

Verse 23d

“and you loved them just as you loved me”

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 15: John 17:21d, 23c

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 4: John 17:21d, 23c

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 14: John 17:21c, 23b

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 3: John 17:21c, 23b

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

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

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

Verse 21c

“that they also would be in us”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 23b

“that they would be made complete into one”

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 17:20-23, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 21b

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

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

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

Verse 22c-23a

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

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

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

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

“I and the Father are one [e%n].”

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

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

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

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

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

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