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 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.

March 22: John 12:20-23

John 12:20-23

The daily notes here leading into Holy Week will focus on John 12:20-36. In the previous note, I discussed the place of this section in the context of chapters 11-12, as the conclusion to the first half of the Gospel (the “Book of Signs”, 1:19-12:50).

“And there were some Greeks out of the (one)s stepping [i.e. coming] up (to Jerusalem so) that they might kiss toward [i.e. worship] (God) in the festival. So (then) these (persons) came toward {Philip}, the (one) from Beth-Saida of the Galîl, and inquired (of) him, saying: ‘Lord [i.e. Sir], we wish to see Yeshua’. (Then) {Philip} comes and relates (this) to {Andrew}, (and) {Philip} and {Andrew} come and relate (it) to Yeshua. And Yeshua gives forth (an answer) to them, saying:

‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be honored’.”

This is the historical tradition that serves as basis for the discourse. Verses 20-22 provide the narrative introduction, while the remainder of the discourse essentially functions as an exposition of the initial saying of Jesus in verse 23. The regular discourse-feature of the audience response (and misunderstanding) is introduced further on in the discourse (vv. 29, 33-34). In terms of the Johannine discourses, this one is rather loosely constructed. It takes the form of a sequence of individual sayings, which may well have originally been uttered by Jesus on separate occasions, but gathered together and connected based on common theme and wording (i.e. catchword bonding). This is typical of many discourse-blocks in the Synoptic Gospels, while the Johannine discourses, by comparison, tend to be more developed literary pieces.

Almost certainly we can determine that verses 20-22 represent an authentic historical tradition. The details appear, on the surface, to be irrelevant to the sayings that follow in vv. 23ff. The references to Philip and Andrew, while characteristic of the Johannine tradition (1:40-48; 6:5-8; 14:8-9), are entirely incidental to the passage here. Apparently the Gospel writer has drawn from a specific historical tradition to introduce the discourse, without altering it significantly to fit the scenario. Even the mention of the “Greeks” who wish to see Jesus is not followed through in the discourse—they disappear without further mention (did they ever actually meet with Jesus?). This is rather typical of the Johannine discourses; note, for example, how Nicodemus, after his involvement in the opening of that discourse (3:1-9), is not mentioned again in the remainder, which consists entirely of exposition by Jesus.

The detail of these “Greeks” coming to see Jesus is actually more significant that it might seem at first glance. Here the word  (Ellhne/$ refers, not simply to Greek-speakers, but to non-Israelite Greeks (and Romans), i.e. Gentiles. Their statement “we wish to see Yeshua”, and the idea of their “stepping up” (vb a)nabai/nw) and “coming toward” (vb prose/rxomai) him, expressed in the idiom of the Johannine theological vocabulary, indicates that these are believers—Gentiles who would come to trust in Jesus. In the Gospel of John, to “see” (i)dei=n) is an idiomatic way of referring to trust in Jesus, and of union with God the Father through Jesus the Son. Even in ordinary Greek expression seeing and knowing are interconnected, with the verb ei&dw (“see”) used interchangeably with ginw/skw (“know”); this is all the more so in the Johannine writings, where one sees/knows God the Father through Jesus the Son.

The immediate context of the passage, too, tends to confirm this theological aspect of the Greeks coming to Jesus. We would note, for example, the declaration by Jesus in 10:16, where he states that

“…I hold other sheep which are not out of [i.e. from] this yard, and it is necessary for me to lead them also, and they will hear my voice—and they will come to be a single herd [i.e. flock], (and) one herder [i.e. shepherd].”

There can be little doubt that this is an allusion to believers coming to Jesus from the surrounding nations and peoples (i.e. other yards). The discourse that follows here also contains a saying of Jesus that reflects this idea more directly, when he declares

“and I, if [i.e. when] I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward me.” (12:32)

It is perhaps significant that we are never told whether those Greek actually were able to meet with Jesus—that is, to come toward [pro/$] him. The scene gives a foreshadowing of what will occur after (and as a result of) Jesus’ death and resurrection; in other words, believers from the other nations/peoples will only be able to come toward Jesus, when his work on earth is complete (19:30).

This leads us to the initial saying of Jesus in verse 23:

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be honored.”

This is one of the few “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John; while frequent in the Synoptic tradition, such Johannine sayings are less common, though the ones which occur are notable—1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28, etc. The sayings with an eschatological context are quite rare (5:27); most follow the Synoptic line of tradition, of sayings whereby Jesus refers to his impending suffering and death. The statement here involves the lifting/raising high (vb u(yo/w) of the Son of Man, essentially repeating that from the earlier discourse in 3:14f:

“And, even as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate land [i.e. desert], 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].”

The allusion to the episode in Numbers 21:4-9 makes rather clear that the idea of Jesus’ death on the stake (crucifixion) is in view. The snake raised on the pole brings healing, to everyone who sees it; so also Jesus’ death (his body raised on the stake) brings salvation to every one who sees—that is, trusts in—him. The coming of the Greeks toward him indicates, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, that the moment for his death is close at hand. This is made explicit in the saying here: “The hour has come…”. The word w%ra (“hour”) has this specific connotation in the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 14:35, 41 par; cf. also Luke 22:53). Indeed, a nearly identical declaration is made in Mk 14:41: “the hour came [i.e. has come]—see, the Son of Man is given along into the hands of sinful (men)”. The same idiom occurs in the Gospel of John, in the narration (7:30; 8:20; 13:1), but also in the parallel saying of Jesus in 2:4—one statement occurring at the beginning of the “Book of Signs”, the other at its conclusion:

“My hour has not yet arrived” (2:4)
“The hour has come…” (12:23)

The moment of his death is further explained here as the time when the Son of Man will be honored. The verb doca/zw fundamentally means “esteem, treat/regard with honor”. It is a distinctive Johannine word, occurring 23 times in the Gospel, compared with 14 in all three Synoptic Gospels combined. It is especially prevalent in chapters 13-17 (13 of the 23 occurrences), in the context of the Passion Narrative; its use in the saying here was anticipated in the Lazarus episode (11:4), and again in the narrative aside at 12:16. The word do/ca essentially refers to how a person regards or considers something, i.e., the regard or esteem one has for it. When applied to God, in a religious context, it relates to the honor and respect one ought to show Him; moreover, by extension, it also signifies to the attributes and characteristics which make Him worthy of honor—His greatness, holiness, purity, etc. These may be summarized as His “splendor” or “glory” (the customary English translation of do/ca). What applies to God the Father applies just as well to Jesus the Son—however, here, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, it refers to two distinct aspects of Jesus’ work on earth: (1) the completion of his mission (with his sacrificial death, 19:30 etc), and (2) his exaltation following his death (resurrection and return to the Father). These two aspects play on the common motif of Jesus being “lifted up” —his death (lifted up on the cross), and his exaltation (raised from the death and lifted to heaven).

This will be discussed further on the saying in verse 28, where the verb doca/zw is again used.

“Gnosis” in the NT: 2 Cor 4:6

This is the second of a pair of daily notes dealing with Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in 2 Corinthians 2:14 and 4:6. The prior study discussed 2:14; here I will address 4:6. For the overall structure and context of the section 2:14-4:6, cf. the previous note.

2 Corinthians 4:6

“—(in) that (it is) God, the one saying ‘out of (the) darkness light [fw=$] shall (shine as a) beam [la/myei]’, who has shone a beam [e&lamyen] (of light) in our hearts, toward the lighting [fwtismo/$] of the knowledge of the honor/splendor of God in (the) face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

This climactic statement must be read both in terms of the section 2:14-4:6 as a whole, but also within the smaller structure of 4:1-6 (itself parallel with 2:14-17):

    • v. 1: Paul and his fellow missionaries have received this duty of service (diakoni/a) through the mercy of God, just as they were made slaves/captives of Christ through the favor (xa/ri$) of God (cf. 2:14a); note the specific use of dou=lo$ (“slave”) further in 4:5.
    • v. 2: As ministers of the Gospel they shine/manifest the truth to people everywhere (“in the sight of God”), just as they shine/manifest the scent of God’s knowledge everywhere (2:14b); here the verb fanero/w takes on more the literal sense of shining (in the darkness).
    • vv. 3-4: The Gospel gives light to those being saved, while the ones perishing remain blinded in darkness; similarly the contrast between the Gospel as pleasant fragrance (of life) to the one group, but a stench (of death) to the other (2:15)
    • v. 5 formally returns to the theme of v. 1 (and 2:14a), leading into verse 6:
      “For we did not proclaim ourselves, but Yeshua (the) Anointed (the) Lord, and ourselves as your slaves through Yeshua—”
      The word ku/rio$ is best understood as a predicate—i.e. Yeshua (the) Anointed (who is the) Lord, as (our) Lord, etc.

The specific relationship of Jesus to God the Father, implicit in verse 5, is given greater clarity in vv. 3-4; here the nature of the Gospel is stated in dramatic fashion:

“…to cast (as) a ray the light of the good message [i.e. Gospel] of the honor/splendor of (the) Anointed, who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of God” (v. 4b)

The language Paul uses here is important for the way it brings together all the imagery of 2:14ff, before repeating it again in v. 6. The various words relating to light, as applied to the Gospel, are here stated explicitly—”the light [fwtismo/$] of the good message [eu)agge/lion]”. The Gospel itself conveys the do/ca (dóxa) of Christ. The full significance of this word (do/ca) is extremely difficult to render into English. Fundamentally, as related to God, it has the meaning “consider/regard (worthy of honor)”, “esteem, honor,” etc. However, it also connotes the nature and character of God which makes him worthy of honor. Typically it is translated flatly as “glory”; however, I tend to avoid this rendering, and, in such a context as 2 Cor 4:4 and 6, find something like “splendor” much preferable. While this splendor, honor or “weight” (i.e. the corresponding Hebrew term dobK*) is ultimately ineffable, it is often depicted or described in terms of light. Paul certainly draws upon this traditional imagery throughout 2:14-4:6, and especially in chapter 3 where he uses the episode of the shining (and veiling) of Moses’ face (Exod 34:29-35) to compare (and contrast) the Old Covenant with the New (3:7-18). The splendor (do/ca) of the Old Covenant, symbolized by the shining of Moses’ face, has passed away, eclipsed by the far greater splendor of the New Covenant in Christ. Believers, including, in particular, Paul and other ministers of the Gospel, are able to gaze upon this splendor without any veil or intermediary, through the presence of the Spirit (v. 17). This splendor is that of Christ’s face, which, in turn, is a (perfect) reflection of the face of God—described by Paul in v. 4 as the image (ei)kw/n) of God. Note the parallelism:

    • The face of Moses, along with the faces of the people (veiled)
      —The face of Christ (the veil is removed)
    • The face of believers, including ministers of the Gospel (unveiled)

This analysis will help us ourselves to see more clearly what Paul is finally stating in 4:6. He moves beyond the Exodus narrative to the very account of Creation—Gen 1:2-3 being paraphrased very loosely in Greek:

“…God, the one saying, ‘out of (the) darkness light shall (shine as a) beam'”
cp. “…darkness was over the deep…and God said, ‘Light shall come to be!'” (LXX)

The original act of creation God has now reproduced (as a ‘new creation’) for believers in Christ:

“…(he) has shone a beam (of light) into our hearts”

Both phrases use the same verb la/mpw (lámpœ), cognate with the English word lamp, which is derived from it. There is a clear parallelism of vocabulary joining the two creative acts:

    • fw=$ (“light”)
      la/myei (“shall shine”)
      e&lamyen (“he has shone”)
    • fwtismo$ (“light, lighting, [en]lightening”)

The latter word fwtismo/$ refers more properly to the act of shining light, or, perhaps, the means and/or source of light. In Christian (Pauline) conception, this source/means of light is to be identified with the Spirit, sometimes referred to as the (living) word of God, but also with the proclamation of the Gospel. Once a person receives the Gospel, it comes to abide in them as a living word through the presence and work of the Spirit; it is also the word (and Spirit) of Christ—the presence of Christ in the believer. This is powerfully summarized in the genitive chain that concludes verse 6:

“…toward the light(ing) of the knowledge of the splendor of God in the face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

The preposition pro/$ (“toward”) indicates purpose, i.e. the purpose of the proclamation of the Gospel. The four-part genitive chain represents an extremely exalted manner of description, which is found quite often in Ephesians, but rather less common in the undisputed Pauline letters. Most translations obscure this construction, but the chain of relationship it expresses is worth retaining in English:

    • the shining of light [fwtismo/$] reveals and leads to —>
      • knowledge [gnw=si$], which specifically makes known —>
        • the honor/splendor [do/ca] which belongs to, and reveals the nature/character of —>
          • God, that is, the Father (YHWH)—his splendor is manifest and expressed —>
            • in the face [pro/swpon] of the Anointed (Christ)

Ultimately, the light is identified with the “face” of Christ—that is, his presence made manifest to believers (through the Spirit). The Gospel is the means by which the elect (believers) first come to know and experience his presence.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:24-26

John 17:24-26

With verses 24-26 we come to the end of our study of the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. These verses conclude the exposition section that makes up the body of the Prayer (in relation to the Discourse-format), as well as the Prayer itself. It contains most of the key words and ideas found throughout the chapter, serving as a summary of the theology expressed therein. It also forms an inclusio with the first portion of the Prayer, with the dual address to God the Father; note the parallel:

    • “Father” / “Holy Father” (vv. 1, 11)
    • “Father” / “Just/Righteous Father” (vv. 24-25)

In particular, the address in verse 11b (“Holy Father… [pa/ter a%gie]”) marks the beginning of the exposition, which is bracketed here in vv. 24ff. There is a formal parallel between v. 11b and verse 24 (note the italicized portion):

“Holy Father, may you keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, that they would be one just as we (are).” (v. 11b)

Father, (that) which you have given to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me…” (v. 24a)

A principal theme in the Prayer is the idea that God the Father has given (vb. di/dwmi, in the perfect). This verbal expression has two points of reference, and there is a play between them:

    • The Father has given his (own Divine) name, glory, etc, to the Son
    • The Father has given the disciples (i.e. believers, the Elect) to the Son

Verse 24 again contains both aspects:

“Father, (that) which you have given [de/dwka$] to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me, (so) that they would look (upon) my honor which you have given [de/dwka$] to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down of the world.”

The parallel is precise, differing only in the gender of the relative pronoun:

    • “which [neut.] you have given to me” (o^ de/dwka/$ moi)
    • “which [fem.] you have given to me” (h^n de/dwka/$ moi)

The use of the neuter pronoun seems to have caused some difficulty for early copyists, as it was widely changed to the masculine plural ou%$, so as to agree with the subject “they” (i.e. disciples/believers). The neuter actually refers back to the beginning of the Prayer, in verse 2:

“…just as you gave him [i.e. the Son] authority over all flesh, (so) that, (for) all which you have given to him, he would give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”

Compare the italicized phrase with that in v. 24:

    • “all which you have given to him” (pa=n o^ de/dwka/$ au)tw=|)
    • “which you have given to me” (o^ de/dwka/$ au)tw=|)

Clearly, the neuter pronoun refers to neuter substantive pa=n (“all”)—that is, the disciples (believers) considered as a collective whole, or unity; given the emphasis in vv. 20-23 (cf. the previous study), this is unquestionably the focus here as well. The following phrases in vv. 2 and 24 also match, and are more or less synonymous:

    • “(that) he [i.e. the Son] would give to them (the) Life of the Age”
    • “that where I am, they also would be with me”

In other words, to be with Jesus (the Son) is the same as possessing eternal life. More to the point, this is expressed in verse 24 by a subjunctive form (w@sin) of the verb of being (ei)mi); this is obscured somewhat in English translation, but is clear and vivid if we examine the conditional clause in the Greek:

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

Note the structure, presented as concentric pairs:

    • o%pou (“where [I am]”)
      • ei)mi (“I am”)
        • e)gw/ (“I”)
        • ka)kei=noi (“they also”)
      • w@sin (“they would be”)
    • met’ e)mou= (“with me”)

The indicative statement by Jesus (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”) has special significance in the Gospel of John, being used (by Jesus) repeatedly to express his identity (as the Son) and relationship to God (the Father). Here, in the closing portions of the Prayer, Jesus’ desire is that all believers would share in the same divine identity/relationship which he has with the Father; this is the very point made throughout vv. 20-23 (and again in vv. 25-26, cf. below), and gives equal significance to the subjunctive w@sin (“they would be”, used also in vv. 19, 21-23): that believers “would be” what Jesus “is”. In this regard, a point should be made on the coordinating particle o%pou, which itself functions as a relative pronoun; though difficult to render exactly in English, it is something like “a certain (place) in which”, and may be translated fairly as “where” or “wherever”. It is an ordinary enough word, but it comes to have a special theological (and Christological) meaning in the Gospel of John, taking on this significance in the second half of the book. This “where” or “place in which” refers consistently to Jesus’ return back to the Father, and, as such, effectively confirms his identity as the (pre-existent) Son of God. The first occurrence of this usage is in the great Sukkoth discourse of chapters 7-8, where it appears in two related declarations by Jesus (each of which is repeated):

    • where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\], you are not able to come (there)” (7:34, 36)
    • where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you are not able to come (there)” (8:21-22)

These statements are given to the public at large (and to Jesus’ opponents), but in the Last Discourse, he essentially re-states them for his disciples:

    • where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you are not able to come (there)” (13:33, 36)

Jesus’ departure (vb. u(pa/gw, “lead/go under”, i.e. go away, withdraw, go back) encompasses both his death and final return to the Father. In 13:33, 36, the former is in view, while it is the latter in 14:3-4:

    • “…that where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\], you also may be.
      And where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you see [i.e. know] the way (there).”

Before the Last Discourse, the disciples (represented by Peter, 13:36ff) are unable to come to the place where Jesus is (with the Father), but the promise is that they will be able to, and much of the Last Discourse is centered on this revelatory point. The declaration in 14:4, that the disciples “see/know the way (there)”, leads to the revelation that Jesus himself is the way (o(do/$) to the Father (v. 6). In this light, let us compare three key statements where the particle o%pou is used:

    • 12:26: “If any (one) would serve me, he must follow me, and (then) where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] my servant also will be.”
    • 14:3: “If I travel (away) and make ready a place for you, I will…take you along toward me (myself), (so) that where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] you also may be.”
    • 17:24: “Father…I wish [i.e. it is my will] that, where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] they also would be with me”

The statements are similar, both in form and meaning, but they reflect a development of thought within the (narrative) context of the Gospel:

    • 12:26—Believers (the Elect) coming to be disciples of Jesus
    • 14:3—The Departure of Jesus (the Son), which allows his disciples (believers) to come along (with him) to the Father
    • 17:24—The essential identity (and unity) of Believers (all Believers), that they/we will ultimately be with Jesus, together with the Father

We move from (1) being/becoming disciples, to (2) the eschatological promise of our presence (with Jesus) in heaven, and finally (3) of our fundamental union with Christ. The purpose of our being with Jesus is expressed in the second half of verse 24:

“…that they would look (upon) [qewrw=sin] my honor [do/ca] which you have given to me”

The verb qewre/w, which can have the sense of “look with wonder (at), behold” (sometimes in a religious setting), is relatively frequent in the Gospel of John, occurring 24 times, and often in the context of believers trusting in Jesus and coming to knowledge of the truth (6:40, 62; 12:45), which involves a recognition of who Jesus truly is. It is especially important in the Last Discourse (14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-17, 19), where it expresses two themes of contrast:

    • The disciples soon will not see Jesus any more (on earth), but will soon see him again; this theme has two primary aspects:
      (1) they will see him again after his death (resurrection appearances)
      (2) they will see him again after his departure to the Father (presence of the Spirit/Paraclete)
    • The disciples can see/recognize Jesus, but the world cannot

Both of these themes continue on, in various ways, within the chapter 17 Prayer-Discourse, especially the contrast between believers and the world. The ability to “see” or “look upon” Jesus, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, means to recognize (and trust in) his identity as Son of God, as the one sent by the Father. This identity includes the idea of divine pre-existence, indicated earlier in verse 5, and again here. Evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is actually quite rare in the New Testament, in spite of its importance for orthodox Christology. The belief, however, is clear and unmistakable in the Gospel of John, being affirmed (in majestic terms) in the Prologue (1:1ff), and again at various points throughout the Gospel. Jesus’ departure means a return to the Father, back the place where he was in the beginning, before the world was created. Note this point made, at both the start and end of the Prayer, in terms of (1) the do/ca (“honor, splendor”) Jesus shares with the Father, and (2) in relation to the world (ko/smo$):

    • “the honor/splendor which I held alongside of you before the (com)ing to be of the world” (v. 5)
    • “my honor/splendor which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down [katabolh=$, i.e. founding] of the world” (v. 24)

The (dualistic) contrast between Jesus and the world is fundamentally based on his pre-existence, his eternal identity as God’s Son—he comes from above, sent by the Father to the world below. It is for this reason that the world is unable to see (recognize) or hear (accept) him; only the Elect/Chosen ones (believers) are able to see and hear. They recognize his identity as Son (and thus see the Father), but remain unable to perceive this divine honor/splendor in its fullness; it will only become manifest when they/we are finally with Jesus (in heaven) with God the Father.

Verses 25-26, even more than v. 24, bring together all of themes and motifs of the Prayer—and, indeed, the Discourses of Jesus as a whole—and deserve an extended discussion in their own right. I will be posting this, as a supplement, later this week.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:1-5 (continued)

John 17:1-5, continued

Last week, I began a discussion on the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17, looking at verse 1 in some detail. Today I wish to continue on with an examination of the remainder of verses 1-5.

Of particular importance is the use of the verb doca/zw, both in verse 1 and again in vv. 4-5 (and v. 10); the related noun do/ca also occurs several times in the chapter (at the beginning and end, vv. 5, 22, 24). Both words are an important part of the vocabulary of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, especially the verb which is used 23 times (out of 61 total in the New Testament)—7:39; 8:54 (2); 11:4; 12:16, 23, 28 (3); 13:31 (2), 32 (3); 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1 (2), 4, 5, 10; 21:19. There are also 19 occurrences of the noun do/ca1:14 (2); 2:11; 5:41, 44 (2); 7:18 (2); 8:50, 54; 9:24; 11:4, 40; 12:41, 43 (2); 17:5, 22, 24. Unfortunately, it is not easy to give a (consistent) literal translation in English for either verb or noun, as they can differ in meaning and nuance depending on the context, and, in particular, whether the subject/object involves human beings or God (or Christ). While do/ca is typically translated “glory”, in many instances a much better rendering is “esteem”, which more closely captures the fundamental meaning of the word. When used in a religious context, the predominant idea tends to be that human beings are to give to God the esteem and honor which He is due. However, when applied as a divine attribute or characteristic it is better understood in terms of the “splendor” which God possesses, and which surrounds him. In order to capture both aspects, in the special way that the words are used in the Gospel of John, I prefer to translate the verb doca/zw as “give honor (to)”.

There are several key Johannine passages (in the Discourses of Jesus) where the verb is used, sometimes together with the noun, and these need to be considered in order to gain a proper understanding of their usage in chapter 17.

1. Jn 8:50ff. The words are part of the conceptual vocabulary that frames the great Discourse of chapters 7-8 set during the Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) festival in Jerusalem. Thematically, there is a clear symmetric (and chiastic) structure to the discourse-sequence, with the concluding discourse (8:31-59) serving as a parallel to the opening episode (7:14-24). In particular, we may note how the exchange in 8:48-51ff refers back to Jesus’ declaration in 7:18:

“The (one) speaking from himself seeks his own honor/esteem [do/ca]; but the (one) seeking the honor/esteem [do/ca] of the (One) having sent him, this (one) is true and there is not (any) injustice in him.”

The long and increasingly hostile exchange in 8:31-59, sharpens and comes to a climax as Jesus makes the following statement in verse 49, in response to the attack from his opponents that he “has [lit. holds] a daimon“:

“I do not hold a(ny) daimon, but (rather) I honor [timw=] my Father and you treat me without honor [a)tima/zete/ me]!”

This use of the verbs tima/w & a)tima/zw demonstrate how close in meaning the noun timh/ (“value, worth”, often in the sense of “honor”) is to do/ca (“esteem/honor”), especially in this context. Jesus follows in verse 50 with the language of 7:18, using the noun do/ca:

“And I do not seek my own esteem/honor [do/ca]—(but) there is there is the (One) seeking (it)…”

Here we find the same reciprocity (between Father and Son) as we have in 17:1ff—Jesus (the Son) seeks the honor of God the Father, and the Father seeks the Son’s honor. This raises an interesting point regarding the syntax of verses 1-5 and the use of the particle i%na (discussed below).

2. Jn 11:4, 40. In the Lazarus scene, the entire episode—the death of Lazarus and his subsequent resurrection—is for the declared purpose of giving honor/esteem (do/ca) to Jesus; and this, not simply due to the fact that he works a great miracle, but for what it indicates (as a sign) regarding Jesus’ true identity. The purpose is stated by Jesus, to his disciples (and to the readers as well) in the opening portion of the narrative (verse 4):

“This lack of strength [i.e. weakness/illness] is not toward death, but (instead it is) under the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God, so (that) the Son of God might be given honor [docasqh=|] through it.”

In other words, the illness (and death) of Lazarus is under the control of the do/ca of God and serves that divine purpose. The association of do/ca/doca/zw with resurrection here emphasizes again the difference between Jesus’ prayer in 17:1ff and the similar prayer-language used during the Synoptic garden scene (discussed in last week’s study). The “hour” in 17:1 is not that of Jesus’ Passion (his suffering and death) alone, but instead points more directly toward his subsequent resurrection and return to the Father, just as Lazarus’ moment of suffering does not point toward physical death alone, but to the resurrection power possessed by Jesus as God’s Son. The moment of Lazarus’ own resurrection confirms the point (11:40): “Yeshua says to her [i.e. Martha], ‘Did I not say to you that, if you would trust, you will see the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God?'”.

3. Jn 12:23, 28, 41, 43. The portion of the Gospel of John spanning chapters 2-12 forms a clear division in the narrative (sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”), covering the period of Jesus’ public ministry, and comprised of a combination of miracles by Jesus (and other “signs”) and related discourses in which the signs (together with their true meaning) are explained. The words do/ca/doca/zw feature prominently in the concluding scenes of the “Book of Signs” in chapter 12. We already looked at verses 23 and 28 in last week’s study, as they fit so closely with the language used by Jesus in 17:1ff. To these may be added the important, but often neglected, words of the Gospel writer in verses 41-43. As in the Synoptics, Isaiah 6:10 is cited to explain why many of Jesus’ contemporaries were unwilling (or unable) to accept him as the Messiah. The Gospel writer further states that Isaiah “saw his honor/splendor [do/ca]”, by which the original context (the do/ca of YHWH) is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ divine status as God’s Son. There is a clear echo of 8:56-58 in these words (cf. above on the use of do/ca in 8:50, 54). The failure of people to recognize Jesus’ divine do/ca, is further explained, through a bit of ironic wordplay, by the author in verse 43:

“For they loved the honor/esteem [do/ca] of men more than the honor/esteem [do/ca] of God.”

We must keep this Johannine usage of do/ca & doca/zw in mind as we return to examine 17:1-5. The reciprocal language used by Jesus, indicating the intimate relationship between Father and Son, creates certain ambiguities and tensions in the fabric of the text. This is part of the immense beauty and power of the Johannine discourses of Jesus, but it also creates points of difficulty for the commentator. One example is the use of the conjunctive particle i%na to join together the phrases and clauses of vv. 1-2 into a structure and chain of relation. There are actually three connective particles; let us consider them and how the phrases fit together:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousi/a over all flesh
          • (so) that [i%na] (for) all which you have given to him, he might give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

There are two i%na-clauses, both of which are best understood as indicating a purpose or result (i.e. “so that…”). However, the precise relationship between them is not entirely certain. It is possible to view them in more parallel terms, as representing two related results of the Father giving honor to the Son; one might even view this as a chiastic structure:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousia over all flesh
      • (so) that [i%na] for all that you have given to him
    • he might give to them—(the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The sense of reciprocity is perhaps better illustrated in the second (chiastic) structure, and is to be developed by Jesus throughout the Prayer-Discourse. A powerful inter-relationship is established: Father—Son—Believers. As indicated above, the particle i%na in verse 1 is best understood as indicating purpose or result—the Son giving honor to the Father is the result (and end purpose or goal) of the Father giving honor to the Son. However, it is interesting to note that, in the parallel verses 4-5, we find the opposite—that the Father honors the Son as the result of the Son’s work which give honor to the Father. This would allow for the reading of the i%na clause in verse 1 in a causal sense (“in that…”, i.e., “because”). I would maintain that it is, indeed, better to keep to the more natural grammatical sense of i%na indicating purpose/result in verse 1, and to see verses 4-5 as reflecting a reciprocal parallelism with vv. 1-2. This fits with the overall chiastic structure of vv. 1-5, as I noted already last week:

    • The Father gives honor to the Son
      • (so that) the Son may give honor to the Father (v. 1)
        • through the (work) given him by the Father (to complete) (v. 2)
        • the Son has completed the work by him by the Father (v. 4)
      • (and so) the Son has given honor to the Father
    • (thus) the Father will give honor to the Son (v. 5)

It is in vv. 4-5 that we have a clearer indication of the coming death of Jesus, with the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”). Earlier in the Gospel (4:34; 5:36) the verb seems to refer more generally to Jesus’ ministry work (teaching, healing miracles, etc); but here, in the Johannine context, there can be no doubt that the verb, when used by Jesus in the Discourses, must be understood in a comprehensive sense—Jesus’ work on earth (as the Son), culminating in his sacrificial death. This is confirmed by Jesus’ dying words on the cross (19:28), actually a single word in the Greek: tete/lestai (“it is completed”). The verb takes on a somewhat deeper significance later in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 23), when Jesus uses it to refer to the unity that his work achieves for believers, uniting them/us together with Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit. This will be discussed later in these notes on John 17.

Looking at verses 1-5 as a whole, again, it  must be stated that the death of Jesus is not what is primarily in view, despite the general Passion setting and the use of the verb teleio/w in verse 4 (see above). His sacrificial death certainly represents the climax and completion of his work on earth; however, it is this work, taken as a whole, and as a reflection of the relationship between Father and Son, which is the main emphasis in chapter 17 (and, one may say, in the Last Discourse itself). If there were any doubt on this point, we would simply turn to the declaration in verse 3, which stands at the heart of verses 1-5. Many commentators regard this statement, not as the words of Jesus, but as an explanatory aside (comment) by the Gospel writer. This seems likely given the particular formulation, which sounds very much like an early Christian creedal formula, and, indeed, is similar in many ways to the concluding declaration in 20:31. While the objective statement in verse 3 may be, theologically speaking, a bit too precise to fit the historical context of the narrative, it is vital for what it reveals about the identity of Jesus. I discuss this verse in considerable detail in a separate series on the use of the words “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/) in the Gospel of John (soon to be posted on this site), and will not reproduce that here. The expression “life of the Age” (here h( ai)w/nio$ zwh/), typically translated as “eternal life”, is a key Johannine term, appearing many times in the Discourses of Jesus, but also elsewhere in the Gospel and Letters. Here it is given a precise definition:

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

If verse 3 is indeed an explanatory statement by the author, it was triggered by the use of the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ at the end of verse 2. The parallel with verse 4 makes clear that the “work” which the Son (Jesus) completes may be understood as the giving of (eternal) Life to all those (believers) whom God the Father has given to him. This point will be discussed in more detail in next week’s study (on verses 6-10).

Finally, it is worth noting the temporal-keyed statement that concludes verse 5; it should be understood as parallel to the initial declaration of v. 1: “the hour has come”. Again, we must make clear that here, in contrast to the Passion-context of the similar Synoptic saying (cf. last week’s study), this “hour” goes beyond the moment of Jesus’ impending suffering and death, to the completion of the Son’s work on earth, which includes his resurrection and return to the Father. This is confirmed by the statement in v. 5b which further describes the honor/splendor (do/ca) the Son is to receive from the Father: “…the honor [do/ca] which I held alongside you before the (coming) to be of the world”. Note again the parallelism:

    • The hour has come
      • May you give honor the Son (v. 1)
      • Now may you give honor to me, Father… (v. 5a)
    • (in the time) before the world (came) to be (v. 5b)

This coming “hour” marks a return to the beginning (1:1ff)—the Son’s return to the Father in Heaven. As Christians, we are so accustomed to thinking, in orthodox terms, of Jesus’ divine pre-existence, that it is easy to forget (or ignore) how rare this idea actually is in the New Testament. It is not to be found at all in the Synoptic Gospels, nor in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts; it is also quite rare in the Pauline letters (though Paul himself accepted some basic version of the idea), and in the other New Testament letters as well (with the exception of Hebrews). The first generation of Christians appears to have come to a realization of this belief only gradually. While the idea that Jesus, after the resurrection, was exalted to a divine position and status at the right hand of God in Heaven, was widespread, there does not seem to be clear evidence for a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent Deity prior to about 60 A.D. The ‘Christ hymn’ in Philippians 2:6-11 has a descent/ascent conceptual formulation which is generally similar to what we find throughout the Gospel of John. The traditions underlying the Johannine Prologue (1:1-18), and reflected all through the Gospel, probably date from around the same time as the ‘Christ hymn’. One may surmise that it was during the period c. 50-60 A.D. that a distinct belief in Jesus’ pre-existence began to take shape. If it were more widespread by or before this time we would expect to see greater evidence for it throughout the New Testament. In any event, there is no doubt of this belief in the Gospel of John; the pre-existent deity of Jesus is expressed in unmistakable terms, including by Jesus himself in the Discourses. However, the idea is, perhaps, not stated so precisely by Jesus as we find it here in the Prayer-Discourse. The wording in v. 5b seems to hearken back to the opening words of the Gospel (1:1ff). What is unique about the setting in the Prayer-Discourse is the added dimension, developed by Jesus during the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), involving the promise that believers will share in this same glory (do/ca) that the Son has alongside the Father. This will be discussed further in the coming weeks’ studies.

March 19: Mark 9:2-10 par

Mark 9:2-10 (par Matt 17:1-9; Luke 9:28-36 )

The Transfiguration—from the Latin translation (transfiguratus) of the Greek (metamorfw/qh, “he was trans-formed”) in Mark 9:2—is one of the more famous episodes in the Gospels. It is part of the “Triple Tradition” (i.e., occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels: Mark 9:2-10; Matthew 17:1-9; Luke 9:28-36), and is to be found at the same point in the narrative framework: following Peter’s Confession, and in between the two pronouncements by Jesus of his upcoming betrayal and death (Mark 8:31; 9:31-32 par.); however only in the Lukan account, is it connected directly with the Passion (Luke 9:31, but see also the question concerning Elijah, Mark 9:11-13 par).

Still, the entire episode remains enigmatic; it has been, and continues to be, interpreted any number of ways. Particularly curious are the presence of Moses and Elijah (Peter apparently recognizes them without any explanation), “speaking with” (sullalou=nte$) Jesus (only Luke mentions their discussion, see below). The two Old Testament figures are commonly thought to represent the Law and the Prophets, with Jesus in the middle as a kind of fulfillment of the Scriptures. However, in the original context of the Gospels—and at the historical level—I think it is more likely that Moses and Elijah both represent prophetic figures. Jesus as a Prophet (or as the eschatological, coming Prophet) was an important concept during the time of his own ministry and in the earliest Christian period. That there was widespread (‘messianic’) expectation of an eschatological Prophet is confirmed by numerous passages in intertestamental Jewish literature (1 Maccabees 14:41, CD 6), the Qumran scrolls (1QS 9, 4Q175 [Testimonia], etc), and the New Testament (see esp. John 1:21, 25; [4:19, 25]; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). There were key Old Testament passages in this regard—(1) Deuteronomy 18:15ff (cf. Exodus 20:21 in the Samaritan Pentateuch), which speaks of a “prophet like Moses” who is to come; and (2) Malachi 3:1; 4:5 [MT 3:22], where a Messenger preceding the coming of the great Day of the Lord is mentioned, along with Elijah (cf. Sirach 48:10; Sibylline Oracles 2:187-189; Mark 9:11-13 par; Matthew 11:4; Luke 1:17; 9:8; John 1:21, 25; [Rev 11:1-13]). One might also mention a third prophetic paradigm from the Old Testament: the “Servant of the Lord” from the book of Isaiah (esp. Isa 61, which Jesus specifically applies to himself [Luke 4:17-21]); a text from Qumran (4Q521) describes an Elijah-like Messianic figure in language drawn from Isa 61 and Psalm 146. (For more on this subject, cf. especially Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”)

Of course, the climax of the Transfiguration scene is the Divine Voice (Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35), speaking out of the cloud. It seems to come in response to Peter’s desire to build three “tents” (in imitation of the Sukkot, Feast of Booths); after the Voice has spoken, the cloud, along with Moses and Elijah, has vanished. I would like to examine briefly this verse, from two vantage points: one, text-critical, and the other, source-critical (or historical-critical).

1. Text-Critical: Luke 9:35 differs notably from the parallel text in Matthew and Mark—instead of the articular adjective o( a)gaphto/$ (“[the one] loved”), it reads the articular (passive) participle o( e)klelegme/no$ (“[the one] chosen”). This is almost certainly the original reading, found in Ë45, 75 a B L C (579) 892 1241 pc, and in a range of Latin, Syriac (syrs, hmg) and Coptic manuscripts. In numerous MSS it was harmonized to the text of Mark (A C* W f13 33 ª et al) or Matthew (C3 D Y pc), but not the other way around; in a few MSS we also find the more common adjective e)klekto/$ used instead. By all accounts, the reading o( e)klelegme/no$ is more unusual (and difficult—lectio difficilior potior); it is hard to imagine how it could have come about if the reading common to Matthew/Mark were original, whereas a scribal tendency to harmonize with the “easier” reading in the other two Gospels is quite natural. Literally, e)kle/gw/e)kle/gomai should be translated “gather out [of/from]” (le/gw in its original, primary sense of “gather, collect”), and was used quite often in the LXX, normally translating the Hebrew rjb (“choose, chosen”); and, as such, often with real theological significance—’anointed’ kings and priests, David, the city of Jerusalem, the “Servant of the Lord”, etc., were all chosen by God. Jesus, then, as o( e)klelegme/no$, is “the one [being] gathered out” from all other beings. It is perhaps easy to see how such a title might make scribes and commentators in the early Church uncomfortable: the text could have been modified for doctrinal reasons, in order to avoid an “adoptionistic” view of Christ.  However, it would be dangerous to read later Christological concerns very far into Luke’s account: more vital to him, surely, are the Old Testament parallels: just like the people Israel, David, Jerusalem, and the Prophets, so Jesus was chosen by God.

2. Source-Critical: In studying any one of the Synoptic Gospels, it is always worth holding up the common passages for comparison, to look carefully at the differences between them. Here, for example, is the best text in each Gospel for the Divine Voice:

Mark 9:7:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o\$ mou o( a)gaphto/$
“This is my (be)loved son”
Matthew 17:5b:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$, e)n w!| eu)do/khsa
“This is my (be)loved son, in whom I have good regard”
Luke 9:35:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( e)klelegme/no$
“This is my son the (one I have) gathered out [i.e. chosen]”
or, “This is my son the Chosen (One)”

In each Gospel, the voice concludes, a)kou/ete au)tou= (Lk. reverses the two words), “hear him!” The question of the text of Luke 9:35 was examined above. But what of the relationship between the three Gospels here? The common critical theory—that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark as a written source—encounters difficulties in the Transfiguration scene, as both Evangelists (Luke, in particular) use very different language in places and include numerous details not found in Mark’s account. This means, at the very least, that Matthew and Luke are drawing from other traditions (or their own inspired creativity), in telling the story. Luke, especially, seems to apply an extra layer of symbolism, drawn from the Old Testament, at key points in the narrative (on this again, see below). In Mark (and Matthew), the Divine Voice speaks much as it did at the climax of Jesus’ baptism, and Matthew may be intentionally drawing a closer connection (in Matthew the two pronouncements are identical). Is it possible to determine the text at the historical level? One might view Mark’s version as “original”, to which the other Evangelists have added details. From a traditional-conservative position, one may be tempted to combine all three, in which case the Voice would have said something like: “This is my (be)loved son, the Chosen one, in whom I have (good) pleasure”. However, there is really no basis for such a conflate reading, beyond a pious desire to avoid discrepancy. Instead, should we not consider that, at the level of the inspired received text, the Voice speaks all three ways?

Old Testament parallels in Luke:

In conclusion, I would like to note several details, unique to Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, which seem to be the result of specific Old Testament symbolism applied to the traditional text.

  1. Jesus’ Face (Luke 9:29):
    Instead of stating that Jesus metamorfw/qh (“was trans-formed”), Luke indicates that the ei@do$ [“sight” i.e., appearance] of his face [prosw/pon] was e%tero$ [“other, different”, i.e. altered]. Matthew also mentions Jesus’ face (one of several minor agreements between Matthew and Luke, against Mark); however, here, especially, a reference to the glorification (LXX dedo/castai) of Moses (Exodus 34:29-33) seems to be in mind. Luke also refers twice in this context to “splendor” [do/ca], once referring to the appearance of Moses and Elijah (v. 31). Also, as Moses speaks (LXX e)la/lhsen) to the (chosen) representatives of Israel (34:31), so he speaks with (sunela/loun) Jesus.
  2. The Conversation (Luke 9:31):
    Luke records something of the nature of the conversation Jesus has with Moses and Elijah, that they recounted [i.e. spoke of] th\n e&codon au)tou= h^n h&mellen plhrou=n e)n Ierousalh/m (“…his way out [i.e. departure], which he was about to [ful]fill in Jerusalem”). The Greek word e&codo$ (éxodos, lit. “way out [of/from]”) unmistakenly references the “Exodus” of the Israelites, under Moses, out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
  3. The Cloud (Luke 9:34-35):
    All three Gospels mention the cloud (nefh/lh), and the Divine Voice issuing out of it, as well as the cloud overshadowing (e)piskia/zw) them; but only Luke mentions the unusual detail: e)fobh/qhsan de\ e)n tw=| ei)selqei=n au)tou\$ ei)$ th\n nefe/lhn, “and they were afraid in their coming into the cloud”—apparently the disciples (with Jesus) enter into the cloud. This would seem to be an echo of Exodus 19:20, where God calls Moses up onto the mountain to the “thick cloud” (LXX nefe/lh, v. 16) where God Himself is; see also 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, in reference to the “pillar of cloud”. The image of believers “entering into” the dark cloud of God’s Presence, proved to be a powerful symbol in Christian mystical tradition (cf. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses II:162-169; Pseudo-Dionysius’ Mystical Theology §1ff; and many other references).

The archetypal imagery of the Transfiguration was particularly prominent in the mystical tradition of the Greek Church. Especially noteworthy is an episode in the Hesychast controversy of the 14th century. “Hesychasm” (from h(suxi/a, “quiet, stillness, silence”) was a characteristic term applied to mystic-ascetic monks and hermits in the Eastern Church, reflecting a life of contemplation and unceasing prayer [“prayer of the heart”], with the ultimate goal of union with God and qe/wsi$ (“deification”, i.e., man becoming like God, cf. John 1:12-13 and Athanasius’ famous axiom, On the Incarnation 54.3). Part of this mystical contemplation involved a special vision of the Divine “Light”—not the essence of God, but his “energy” (e)ne/rgeia)—an uncreated, “hypostatic” light, synonymous with the Glory of Christ (as manifested especially during the Transfiguration [traditionally on Mt. Tabor]), and sometimes referred to as the “Taboric light”. Famously, Barlaam of Calabria and Gregory of Akindynos opposed the possibility of such a transcendent vision, while the Hesychast position was powerfully defended by Gregory Palamas in his Triads.