“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Prologue, part 6

“…full of favor and truth”
plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

The final phrase of John 1:14 further modifies the third main phrase (“and we looked upon his splendor”), building upon the prior modifying phrase qualifying the “splendor” (do/ca) of the Logos, discussed in part 5: “(the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father”. This final phrase clarifies the nature of this do/ca, as being “full of favor and truth”.

The adjective plh/rh$ means “full, filled”. Here, it is in the masculine gender, which suggests that it does not directly modify do/ca (which is feminine)*, but either the original subject-noun lo/go$ or the substantive adjective monogenh/$ (“only[-born]”). The form plh/rh$ can be read either as being in the nominative or genitive case; the latter would agree with the case of monogenh/$ (monogenou=$). Thus, it is not merely the “splendor” of the Logos that is filled, but the Logos itself, in its character as an only Son of God.

* It has been noted (Blass-Debrunner-Funk [BDF] §1371) that this adjective can be treated as indeclinable, so it conceivably could be understood as modifying do/ca; cf. Brown, p. 14.

But with what is the Logos said to be “filled”? This is explained by a pair of nouns in the genitive (“of…”), indicating what the Logos, as God’s Son, is full of. The first noun is xa/ri$, which is often translated “grace”, but properly means “favor”. In the context of the image of the Logos as God’s Son, this certainly refers to favor shown to him by the Father, just as a human father tends to show great favor to an only (and much beloved, cf. 3:16) son.

In earlier portions of this study, it was discussed how the “splendor” (do/ca) of the Logos relates to its Divine nature and position in the presence of God. In vv. 1-2, this nearness to God is expressed by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), while here in v. 14 the preposition para/ (“alongside”) is used. In verse 18, a more colorful idiom is used, referring to the Logos as an only Son (again, the adjective monogenh/$) who resides “in the lap [or ‘bosom’]” (ei)$ to\n ko/lpon) of the Father; cp. the same basic image of intimacy in 13:23.

Thus, the Logos shares God’s own splendor, having possessed it “in the beginning” (v. 1); cf. the same idea in 17:5. Yet the relationship between God and the Logos, compared to that between a Father and an only/beloved Son, also contains the idea that God the Father gives from Himself (and His own) to the Logos/Son, an idea that is developed throughout the Gospel (and which we will examine in the next division of our study); cf. especially 3:34-35. This giving by the Father, to the Son (the Logos), is covered here by the noun xa/ri$ (“favor”).

The fullness of the Logos, and the nature of his splendor, is also defined by the second noun of the pair—a)lh/qeia (“truth”). This is a major Johannine keyword; the noun, along with the related adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$, occurs with great frequency in the Gospel and Letters of John (the noun itself occurs 25 times in the Gospel), and is of considerable theological importance. It is a fundamental attribute of God, one which ties back to the use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue, emphasizing the ultimate being and reality of God (the adjective a)lhqino/$ can be translated “real”).

There is also a religious-ethical aspect to God’s truth (a)lh/qeia), as it applies to human beings. The ontological and religious-ethical aspects of truth can be combined in the motif of light (fw=$), introduced earlier in the Prologue (vv. 4-5ff). Light is a sign (and source) of life, but it also represents the truth—in its clarity and purity, etc—especially the truth of God which is conveyed to human beings by the light of revelation.

That which God (the Father) gives to the Logos (the Son), is meant to be given, in turn, to human beings. This intermediary role of the Logos was established earlier in the Prologue, with the reference to the Logos’ role in Creation (vv. 3ff), but particularly its role as the source of life and light (enlightenment) for humankind (vv. 4-5, 9). The closing words of the Prologue’s underlying Logos-poem emphasize again the role of the Logos in communicating the Divine light, etc, to human beings:

“…and of his fullness [plh/rwma] we all (have) received, even favor upon favor.” (v. 16)

The noun plh/rwma means “fullness”, and is obviously related to the adjective plh/rh$ in v. 14. Earlier in the Prologue, the first person plural (“we / us”) carried multiple levels of meaning: all rational human beings, the people of Israel, and believers in Christ. However, following the reference to the incarnation of the Logos in v. 14, this “we” now refers unquestionably to believers. All people who encountered the incarnate Logos (in the person of Jesus) “looked on” his splendor, but only the believers truly saw it and comprehended its significance. This also means that they truly “received” his splendor, and, in so doing (through trust in Jesus), they also received from his fullness—that fullness of favor (xa/ri$) which God gave to the Logos, like a Father to His only Son.

The precise meaning of the expression xa/ri$ a)nti\ xa/rito$, in v. 16, is not immediately clear. The preposition a)nti/ means “against”, but sometimes in the sense of “in place of, instead of”, and so it has been explained here by some commentators. Anticipating the contrast in vv. 17-18, the expression has been interpreted as referring to the xa/ri$ of Christ (in the New Covenant) replacing the xa/ri$ of Moses (i.e., the Torah of the Old Covenant). Commentators uncomfortable with a replacement emphasis may prefer to explain a)nti/ in the sense of “added to” —i.e., the grace that comes through Christ being in addition to the grace that came through the Torah, etc.

The sense of “addition” for the preposition a)nti/ in v. 16 is doubtless correct, though the more concrete translation “upon” better preserves the fundamental meaning (“against”)—i.e., one thing laid against another, as we might image objects being piled up upon one another. This is almost certainly the proper meaning of the expression in v. 16—viz., a ‘piling up’ of favor, following along the motif of fullness. Believers receive an abundance of favor (from God) through the Logos (the Son, Jesus).

Verses 17-18 continue this theme; it is here that the contrast, between Jesus and Moses, is specifically introduced. Recognizing the likelihood that vv. 17-18 represent expository comments (by the Gospel writer), added to the end of the adapted Logos-poem (and commenting specifically upon v. 16), we can see the Moses theme—which the author develops throughout the Gospel—being introduced here.

However, there were earlier allusions to this theme in the Prologue (and the Logos-poem). Most notably, as was discussed in previous portions of our study, the motif of seeing God—and, specifically, of “looking upon” His glory (do/ca)—likely draw upon the Moses traditions in Exodus 19-20ff, 33-34 (see esp. Moses’ famous request in 33:18). The Gospel writer doubtless recognized this, and was inspired by it to include the expository comments of vv. 17-18. The contrast in v. 17, in particular, builds upon the wording of our phrase in v. 14:

“(For it is) that the law was given through Moshe, but the favor and the truth came to be through Yeshua the Anointed.”

The same pair of nouns—favor (xa/ri$) and truth (a)lh/qeia)—is used, being juxtaposed (in contrast) to the law (no/mo$, i.e., the Torah, or Law of Moses). Another key point of the contrast involves the two verbs that are used:

    • di/dwmi (“give”)—the law was given (e)do/qh) through Moses
    • gi/nomai (“come to be”)—the favor and truth came to be (e)ge/neto) through Jesus

The use of the same aorist form (e)ge/neto) of the verb of becoming as that in v. 14 almost certainly entails an allusion to the incarnation of the Logos (“came to be flesh”), being now explicitly identified with the person of Jesus. Moses and Jesus are both mediators, through (dia/) whom God’s revelatory truth and presence is communicated. But they are very different in kind, with Jesus far surpassing (and replacing) Moses as a mediator for God’s people (and all humankind).

Jesus is the incarnate Logos, the only/beloved Son of God, himself sharing in God’s glory, possessing the fullness of Divine favor and truth. As the Son of God, he manifests not only God’s splendor (do/ca), but God Himself. This is clear from the climactic words of the Prologue in v. 18:

“No one has looked at God (with their eyes) at any time; (but) the only-born Son, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, this (one has) led (Him) out (to us).”

Having examined verse 14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue, it is now time to consider it in the wider context of the Johannine Gospel itself. This we will do, beginning with Part 1 of the next (second) division of our study. Within this context, we will be looking again at each word and phrase in the verse, but also the central idea of the incarnation of the Logos, to see how this specific Christological concept (of the underlying Logos-poem) relates to the overall theology of the Gospel.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Prologue, part 5

“…(the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father”
do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$

This phrase modifies the third of the three main phrases of verse 14, “and we looked on his splendor” (discussed in part 4). In particular, it modifies the expression “his splendor”, and the noun do/ca (“splendor, glory”). The modifying phrase, w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$ introduces the idea of sonship, and of Jesus as the Son of God. This is of tremendous significance for the relationship of the Prologue to the Gospel as a whole (a point that will be discussed in the second division of this study). The identification of Jesus with the Logos of God is largely absent from the remainder of the Gospel, being (at best) only alluded to at several points by the use of the word lo/go$; in particular, the idea of the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, the central point of verse 14, is not to be found. This is one of the strongest arguments in favor of the view that the Prologue has adapted earlier material (a ‘Logos-poem’). By contrast, throughout the Gospel we see Jesus repeatedly identified as the Son of God.

A bit of caution needs to be taken in reading the Sonship theme of the Gospel here in verse 14, since the specific term ui(o/$ (“son”) does not occur until verse 18, and even there its presence is questionable (as a large number of witnesses read qeo/$ [“God”] rather than ui(o/$). Still, the use of the adjective monogenh/$ would seem to imply a reference to the Logos as a son. Moreover, a Son is obviously implied by the reference to God as “Father” (path/r).

There are three points of difficulty in this phrase which complicate any interpretation regarding its theological (and Christological) force. First we have the use of the comparative particle w($ (“as”), which means that the Logos is being compared to a son (qualitatively), rather than being directly equated to the son. The second difficulty involves the precise meaning here of the adjective monogenh/$ (to be discussed below). Third, we have the meaning of the prepositional expression para\ patro/$ (“alongside [the] Father”). Let us deal with the second of these first.

The adjective monogenh/$ is derived from two components: the adjective mo/no$ (“only, alone”) and the noun ge/no$, the latter being derived from gi/nomai, the very verb of becoming used here in v. 14 (and elsewhere in the Prologue). The neuter noun ge/no$ properly denotes something that comes to be, in a general or even abstract sense. It can be applied to a family-line, ethnic group, or people/nation, or even (in the case of animals and plants more broadly) to a species. When used more abstractly, it can mean “kind, sort, order, group,” or the like. The question, then, is whether the ge/no$ element (-genh$) of the adjective monogenh/$ is being used in a concrete or abstract sense. That is, does the substantive use of monogenh/$ here mean “only one (who has) come to be” or “only one of (its) kind”?

Apart from the five occurrences in the Johannine writings, in the rest of the New Testament the adjective clearly means “only child” —that is, the only child (son or daughter) of a parent. In Luke 7:12 and 8:42, a specifying noun ui(o/$ (or quga/thr, “daughter”) is included; however, in Lk 9:38 and Heb 11:17, the same meaning applies to the use of the adjective alone. The Johannine usage is identical: in Jn 3:16, 18 and (probably) also 1:18, the adjective is used with the noun ui(o/$, while in 1 Jn 4:19 the adjective has same meaning when used alone. A comparison with the general usage in Greek confirms that monogenh/$ often carries the general meaning “only, unique”. In the LXX, the general/abstract meaning applies in Psalm 22:20 [21:21], 25:15 [24:16], 35[34]:17, and also in Wisdom 7:22; while the regular meaning of “only child” occurs in Judg 11:34 and also Tobit 3:15; 6:11 [BA], 15 [S], and Baruch 4:16 [v.l.].

Even so, the fact that monogenh/$ typically refers to an only child clearly preserves the idea of coming to be born, and thus maintaining, however implicitly, the association with the verb of becoming (gi/nomai, cp. genna/w which more properly connotes being born). Here in verse 14, the Logos is being compared to an only son.

What of the prepositional expression para\ patro/$? The preposition para/ means “alongside”, but sometimes it can indicate origin—in terms of source, place, or position, i.e., “(from) alongside”. This is how the preposition is used in verse 6 of the Prologue, as well as at certain other points in the Gospel (e.g., 10:18). More commonly, it indicates a nearness of place/position—that is, “alongside,” in a spatial or relational sense. This usage in 17:5 is particularly relevant to our verse, and will be discussed further in the second division of our study.

The idea of the Son being sent from God the Father is certainly prominent in the Gospel, but the Prologue seems very much to be emphasizing his eternal (pre-existing) position in proximity/relation to the Father. In this case, the usage in 17:5 would seem to provide a close parallel, capturing the sense of what the author has in mind here—viz., the Divine splendor/glory (do/ca) which the Logos shared with God in the beginning.

If this particular phrase, or the specific use of the comparative particle w($, represents part of the Gospel writer’s adaptation of the Logos-poem, then the intention may be to avoid confusing the Divine Logos with the Son. They are not identical or equivalent concepts, but how they are understood in relation to one another would have important implications for Johannine Christology. For example, is it only after the incarnation that one can properly speak of Jesus as the Son, or does this Sonship apply equally to the eternal/pre-existent Logos? This will be discussed at a later point in our study.

How does this phrase in v. 14 fit within the context of the Prologue (and its underlying Logos-poem) as a whole? Three points need to be discussed:

    • The relation of the Logos to God described in verse 1
    • The concept of the Word/Wisdom (i.e., Logos) of God as the offspring (Son) of God, as attested at several points in the writings of Philo of Alexandria
    • The conclusion of the Prologue in vv. 16-18 (esp. verse 18)

As previously discussed, in verse 1 there is a triad of predicative statements regarding the Logos:

    • “In the beginning, the Word was [h@n]”
    • “the Word was [h@n] toward God”
    • “the Word was [h@n] God”

The Divine nature of the Logos is indicated by the very use of the verb of being (imperfect tense, h@n), but this essential deity is emphasized particularly in the first and third statements. However, in the second statement a distinction is maintained, between God and the Logos of God. The Logos is not identical with God; this is also indicated (it would seem) by the syntax of the third statement, with the use of qeo/$ without the definite article. Here, in the second statement, the Logos is said to be toward (pro/$) God. As I have discussed, this could either mean facing toward God or moving toward Him; the parallel with the use of para/ in v. 14 and 17:5 suggests that the spatial-relational aspect is intended, at least primarily.

In any case, the implication is that there is a close relationship between God and the Logos, a kind of intimate nearness and proximity that is being expressed, much like that between a parent and a child (cf. below on verse 18).

If the author of the Gospel (and/or the Logos-poem) was at all aware of Philo of Alexandria’s writings, then he may have known of Philo’s references to the Logos as the “firstborn” (prwto/gono$) Son of God (On Dreams I.215). Indeed, in On the Confusion of Tongues §§146-7, Philo actually uses the expression “firstborn word” (prwto/gono$ lo/go$). Such language certainly could have led a Johannine Christian author unreservedly to make the connection between the Logos and Jesus as the Son of God. For more of Philo’s use of the term lo/go$ and the philosophical-theological Logos concept, cf. the recent supplemental article.

Given the importance of the Sonship theme in the remainder of the Gospel, it would be natural, that, having introduced it in the Prologue here at verse 14, the author would develop or reiterate it in the concluding verses (vv. 16-18). For many commentators, verse 16 marks the end of the Logos-poem, with verses 17-18 representing expository comments by the Gospel writer.

Almost certainly, verse 15 (like the earlier vv. 6-8) represents an added comment by the author. Thus, presumably, verse 16 would have followed upon v. 14 in the original Logos-poem. With regard to verse 14 and the Logos-poem, I think it possible that the phrase do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$ may also represent an addition by the author, in his adaptation of the material. Omission this phrase does seem to yield a clearer poetic unit for vv. 14 + 16:

“And the Word became flesh and set (his) tent among us,
and we looked on his splendor, full of favor and truth;
and of his fullness we all received, and favor upon favor.”

If the phrase “splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father” is part of the Gospel writer’s adaptation of the poem, then the concluding verses 17-18 are even more clearly expository—expounding, in particular, the phrase “and favor upon favor” (kai\ xa/rin a)nti\ xa/rito$). This will be discussed in part 6. We are focusing here on how the idea of the “splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father” is expounded in vv. 17-18.

First, v. 17 makes clear that it is through the incarnate Logos that the Divine favor (xa/ri$) and truth (a)lh/qeia), coming from God, is communicated (dia/, “through”) to human beings. For the first time in the Prologue, the Logos—that is, the incarnate Logos—is explicitly identified with the person of Jesus. Thus, the do/ca of God is manifest in and through the person of Jesus Christ; this is a fundamental theme that is developed throughout the Gospel.

Secondly, in vv. 17-18, the mention of Moses, along with the reiteration of the motif of seeing God, alludes to the Exodus traditions regarding the theophany at Sinai (Exod 19-20ff, 24), and of Moses’ encounter with YHWH (chaps. 33-34) following the Golden Calf incident. God’s manifestation to Moses is in response to his request in 33:18: “Let me, I ask, see your dobK*!”. The word dobK* is roughly the Hebrew equivalent of Greek do/ca; in reference to God, both terms may be translated “splendor, glory”. In the LXX, the request is translated, “May you show to me your (own) splendor [do/ca]!”.

Along with this tradition, the Gospel writer alludes to Deut 4:11-15, and to the fact that no one (not even God’s people Israel) has ever seen God (with their eyes). Moses beheld God’s do/ca, but even there God Himself could be seen only in a partial and indirect way; as for the people at large, they could only observe this glory as reflected on Moses’ face (Exod 34:29-35; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-18).

In contrasting Moses with Jesus, the Gospel writer is emphasizing that all people are now able to look upon God’s glory in the person of the incarnate Logos (Jesus); moreover, they/we are able to see God Himself, in a more complete and direct way, in the person of his Son. The final words of verse 18 do, I think, indicate that it is not only God’s glory, but God Himself, that is manifest in Jesus:

“…(but the) only-born [monogenh/$] Son, the (one) being [w&n] in the lap of the Father, that (one) has led (Him) out (to us)”

Whether or not the adjective monogenh/$ was present in v. 14 in the original Logos-poem, its use here in v. 18 unquestionably represents a further explication of it by the Gospel writer. In particular, this verse explains how the Divine glory can be manifest through the Logos. The reason is that the Logos has the character of an only Son (monogenh\$ ui(o/$), one who possesses, both naturally and by right of birth, everything that belongs to the Father. Since the Son is an image/reflection of the Father, when one looks at the Son, one also sees the Father (14:9).

In the use of the adjective monogenh/$ in verse 18, the component mo/no$ (mono-) means “only” (i.e., God’s only Son), but it also connotes “beloved, most loved”; this is clear both from the imagery and wording of the verse, but also by the parallel in 3:16. There is also a parallel in 13:23, where the ‘beloved disciple’ (“the [one] whom Yeshua loved”) is reclining on the lap (ko/lpo$) of Jesus, just as the Son is said to reside in the lap (ko/lpo$) of the Father here in v. 18. It is an image of intimacy and love. The Son is able to show (lit. “lead out”) the Father to us. The specific verb is e)chge/omai (“lead out, bring out”), which clearly indicates an act of revealing, but also suggests the use of speech (i.e., declaring), which brings us back to the idea of Jesus as the incarnate Word (lo/go$) of God. In his words (lo/goi), but also by his actions (and specifically his death/exaltation), Jesus makes God the Father known to us.

In the next part (6) of this study, we will examine the final phrase of verse 14: “full of favor and truth” (plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$).

Textual Note: In discussing John 1:18 above, I adopt the reading monogenh/$ ui(o/$ (“only[-born] Son”), rather than monogenh/$ qe/o$ (“only[-bon] God”). The evidence is rather evenly divided between these two readings, but being a bit stronger in favor of the latter, which many commentators accept by virtue of it being, clearly, the more difficult reading. In spite of this textual evidence, I believe that the reading with ui(o/$ (“son”) is unquestionably correct, and should be accepted as original (though by a narrow margin) in light of the overall evidence. For more on this topic, see my earlier detailed note on verse 18.

November 2: John 15:9 (continued)

John 15:9, continued

“Just as the Father (has) loved me, I also (have) loved you—you must remain in my love.”

Continuing our examination of the next portion (vv. 9-11) of the exposition of the Vine illustration, we will be looking at verse 9 in more detail (cf. the previous note). There are three distinct statements, which are related, both in the context of the illustration, and in terms of the Johannine theology. We will consider each component, as well as the relationship between the three.

“Just as the Father (has) loved me…”
kaqw\$ h)ga/phse/n me o( path/r

The first statement emphasizes the Father’s love for the Son (Jesus). This is an important aspect of the love-theme in the Gospel of John. Love (a)ga/ph, vb a)gapa/w) is a natural part of the Parent-Child relationship, particularly with regard to the love that parent has for his/her child. A father will naturally have love for his son—and so does God the Father have love for His Son. The identification of Jesus as the eternal Son of God is central to the Johannine theology, and to the Gospel, being established from the beginning, in the Prologue (1:14, 18). The Father’s love for His Son is declared in a number of places in the Gospel:

    • 3:35— “The Father loves [a)gapa=|] the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”
    • 5:20— “The Father is fond of [filei=, i.e. loves] the Son, and shows him all (the thing)s that He does…”
    • 10:17— “Through [i.e. because of] this, the Father loves [a)gapa=|] me, (in) that I set (down) my soul, (so) that I might take it (up) again.”
    • 17:23-24, 26—At the climax of the Discourse-Prayer in chap. 17, Jesus requests/expects that the Father will love his disciples (believers), even as He has loved him.

The Father’s love for the Son is also clearly implied in 8:42; 14:21, 23; 16:27, where it is indicated that the Father loves the disciples (believers) because of their love for the Son.

The compound comparative conjunction (kaqw/$, “just as”) at the beginning of verse 9, establishes the Father’s love for the Son as the pattern for the Son’s love for believers (cf. below).

“…I also (have) loved you—”
ka)gw\ u(ma=$ h)ga/phsa

The compound ka)gw/ (conjunction kai/ plus pronoun e)gw/) means “and I”; however, here, in connection with the comparative kaqw/$ in the first statement (cf. above), it must be translated “I also”, or “so I (also)”. Jesus’ love for his disciples (“you” plur.) follows the example and pattern of the Father’s love for him. The form of the verb in both statements is in the aorist, which usually corresponds to the past tense in English. Here, it is practically necessary to translate the verb as though in the perfect tense—i.e., the Father has loved the Son, and the Son has loved the disciples/believers. The aorists do essentially correspond with perfects, in that the action or state (love) continues into the present; the continuous aspect of the Father’s love is expressed by the present tense of a)gapa/w (and file/w) in the Gospel references cited above.

Jesus’ love for his disciples (and all believers) is rarely stated explicitly in the Gospel, though it is implied throughout. Apart from the specific references to Lazarus and his family (11:3, 5, 36), and to the ‘beloved disciple’ (“the [one] whom he loved”, cf. 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20), the entire thrust of the Son’s mission on earth is rooted in the love for God’s own, throughout the world (3:16). The theme of love is tied to Jesus’ death, as a self-sacrifice, more explicitly in 10:17. The same thematic emphasis comes into special prominence in the Last Discourse, with the anticipation of Jesus’ death. The narrative setting of chapter 13 establishes this most clearly, from the beginning:

“…Yeshua, having seen that his hour (has) come, (and) that (soon) he would step across, out of this world, toward the Father, (hav)ing loved [a)gaph/sa$] his own th(at are) in the world, unto completion [i.e. to the end] he loved [h)ga/phsen] them.” (v. 1)

This sacrificial love is demonstrated through the symbolism of the foot-washing (vv. 4-11, followed by the teaching in vv. 12-17), which sets the stage for the introduction of the ‘love command’ (vv. 34-35)—i.e., the duty (e)ntolh/) of the disciples/believers to love one another, following Jesus’ own example (cf. 15:13). This love is the theme of 14:15-21, the section of the Last Discourse that immediately precedes the Vine illustration; see especially the teaching in 14:21:

“The (one) holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping watch (over) them—that (one) is the (one) loving me; and the (one) loving me shall be loved under [i.e. by] the Father, and I (also) [ka)gw/] will love him and will shine forth myself in/on him.”

The same thematic emphasis—on love and the e)ntolai/ (i.e., the duties required of the disciple/believer)—prevails here in the exposition of the Vine illustration (vv. 9-11ff).

“—(so) you must remain in my love.”
mei/nate e)n th=| e)mh=|

The first two statements provide the basis for the directive (or command) Jesus gives here to his disciples. The key-verb me/nw (“remain, abide, stay”), so important in the Johannine writings, is used again. It occurred 7 times already in vv. 4-7 (cf. the previous notes), and is clearly central to the exposition of the illustration. The exposition begins with a similar imperative:

“You must remain [mei/nhte] in me, and I in you…”

In verse 4, the directive was to remain “in me” —that is, in Jesus (the Son) himself. Here, it is to remain “in my love” —that is, in the love that the Son has for believers, and for the Father, and which is at the heart of the union between Father and Son. The love is shared by Father and Son, similar to that shared by a parent and child—the love is mutual and reciprocal.

This is the first time in the Gospel that love (a)ga/ph) was associated directly with the verb me/nw. However, there is an important parallel, in this regard, between Jesus’ love (a)ga/ph) and his word (lo/go$/r(h=ma). Here, remaining in the Son’s love is essentially the same as remaining in the Son himself; similarly, having the Son’s words (r(h/mata) remaining in the believer (v. 7) is comparable to having the Son himself remain in the believer. The parallel is even closer when we compare the wording in 8:31:

“If you should remain [mei/nhte] in my word [e)n tw=| lo/gw| tw=| e)mw=|], (then) truly you are my disciples.”

Thus, there is a dual-aspect to what it means to “remain” in Jesus, which can be illustrated by the following diagram:

This will be discussed further as we continue through the exposition.

October 31: John 15:8

John 15:8

“In this my Father is given honor: that you should bear much fruit, and should come to be my learners [i.e. disciples].”

The first section (vv. 4-8) of the exposition/application of the Vine illustration (vv. 1-3) concludes with this declaration by Jesus. God the Father (i.e., the land-worker of the illustration, v. 1) is given honor (e)doca/sqh) when the branches of the vine bear “much fruit”. The verb doca/zw (“give/show honor”) is an important Johannine keyword in the Gospel, occurring 23 times, compared with 14 in the Synoptics combined (Luke 9, Matthew 4, Mark 1). It tends to be used in the second half of the Gospel, being concentrated in the Last Discourse and the Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17. It features in the opening of the Last Discourse (13:31-32), repeating the earlier announcement by Jesus in 12:23 (cf. also v. 28):

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor” (12:23)
“Now the Son of Man is given honor, and God is given honor in him;” (13:31)

The second clause of 13:31 is precisely parallel to the statement here in 15:8:

    • “God | is given honor [e)doca/sqe] | in him [e)n au)tw=|]”
    • “the Father | is given honor [e)doca/sqe] | in this [e)n tou=tw|]

Before examining this parallel in more detail, let us consider 13:32, in which Jesus gives us an exposition of the statement in v. 31:

“[(and) if God is given honor in him,] (then) also will God give him honor in Him(self), and will straightaway give him honor.”

The words in square brackets are missing from a significant range of witnesses (Ë66 a* B C D* L W X P f1 al), and thus may not be original; but, as Brown (p. 606) notes, “it is easier to explain why it may have been lost than why it would have been added”.

Also problematic is the precise meaning (and referent) for the second dative pronoun au)tw=|: “…God will also give him honor in him [e)n au)tw=|]”. The pronoun is apparently being used in a reflexive sense (i.e., “in himself”), but is the reference to God the Father or Jesus the Son? Is the promise that God will give Jesus honor in himself, or in Himself (i.e., the Son in the Father)? The emphasis in the Gospel on the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son makes the latter more likely. If the Father is given honor in the Son, then the Son will be given honor (by the Father) in the Father (“in Him[self]”).

The verb doca/zw properly means “recognize”, usually in the sense of giving recognition to someone—i.e., treating them with esteem or honor; sometimes it can include the idea of raising someone to a position of honor. In the Gospel of John, the verb tends to be used in the specific context of the exaltation of the Son (Jesus). The process of exaltation begins with the suffering and death of Jesus, includes his resurrection from the dead, and then concludes with his return to the Father in heaven. This is clearly the context in which the verb is used in 7:39, 12:16, and here in 12:23 and 13:31-32. The Son’s mission on earth brings honor to the Father (11:4; 14:13; 17:4), and the Son is also given honor (and raised to honor) in the process (11:4; 17:1, 5, 10); ultimately it is God the Father who gives honor to the Son (8:54; 12:28; 17:1ff).

This helps us to understand the parallel between 15:8 and 13:31. The Father is given honor “in this” —believers becoming true disciples of the Son—just as He is given honor in the Son himself (“in him”). Believers, as disciples of the Son, continue the mission of the Son.

By continuing the Son’s mission, and following his example, the disciples (i.e., believers) are part of this same dynamic—bringing honor to the Father, and being honored in return (17:10, 22, 24; 21:19). In 15:8, it is clearly stated that, by bearing “much fruit”, the disciples will bring honor to the Father; implicit is the idea that the disciples (believers) are doing this in (e)n) the Son, indicating that they/we take part in the same relationship between Father and Son. This is very much the message in the chapter 17 Discourse-Prayer, and is an overarching theme throughout the Last Discourse (and elsewhere in the Gospel as well). Consider, for example, the statement in 17:10:

“Indeed, all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and all the (thing)s (that are) yours are mine, and I have been given honor [dedo/casmai] in them.”

When speaking of “all the (thing)s”, Jesus is referring principally to the disciples/believers, as is clear from v. 9: “…the (one)s whom you have given me”, saying of them, “that they are yours”. Believers belong to God the Father, and the Father has given them to the Son, so they also (equally) belong to the Son. Moreover, they are in the Son (and the Son is in them), and thus the honor given/received is shared by both. This relationship of unity is indicated in 14:13, as Jesus tells his disciples:

“And whatever you should request (from the Father) in my name, this I will do, (so) that the Father should be given honor [docasqh=|] in the Son.”

The same emphasis on prayer, with the promise of answered prayer, occurs in the immediate context here (v. 7, discussed in the previous note). The bond of unity is realized through the presence of the Spirit; see, for example, how this relates in 16:14, where Jesus says of the Spirit:

“That (one) will give me honor [e)me\ doca/sei], (in) that he will receive out of th(at which is) mine, and will give (it) forth as a message to you.”

In other words, through the Spirit, the ministry of Jesus continues in/through the disciples (believers), and this gives honor to the Son—and thus also to the Father, since, as it is again stated in 16:15, all things that belong to the Father also belong to the Son (“All [thing]s, as [many] as the Father holds, are mine”).

Returning to verse 8 of the Vine illustration, the Father is “given honor” when the disciples “bear much fruit”. An interpretative crux of the passage involves determining just what, precisely, it means for a disciple/believer to “bear (much) fruit”. We have discussed the matter, initially, in prior notes, but have yet to give it a thorough treatment. Here, however, Jesus himself (as the speaker) offers us a glimpse of the meaning, by effectively identifying the “bearing of fruit” with being a disciple:

“…that you should bear much fruit and should come to be my learners [ge/nhsqe e)moi\ maqhtai/]”

Some manuscripts read the future indicative genh/sesqe, rather than the aorist subjunctive (ge/nhsqe). This would give a slightly different emphasis to Jesus’ statement:

“…that you should bear much fruit, and (so) you will come to be my learners”

The noun maqhth/$ means “learner, one who learns”, but is typically translated as “disciple,” which is accurate enough; certainly, the noun is used in the New Testament almost exclusively for disciples/followers of Jesus. In two other places in the Gospel of John, Jesus (and also the Gospel writer) gives us an indication of what it means to be a true disciple:

    • “If you should remain in my word, (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples]” (8:31)
    • “In this all (people) shall know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples]—if you would hold love among (one) another” (13:35)

The Gospel thus gives two specific criteria for being a true disciple of Jesus—(1) “remaining” in his word, and (2) having love toward fellow believers (“each other”). And since, according to 15:8, “bearing fruit” is essentially the same as being a (true) disciple, then believers who fulfill/exhibit these two criteria are “bearing much fruit”.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next portion of the exposition, vv. 9-11, which introduces a new theme—love and the ‘commandments’ —that very much relates to the line of interpretation discussed here. And exegesis of these verses will give us an even clearer understanding of what it means for the disciple/believer to “bear much fruit”.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29A (1970).

 

October 25: John 15:4 (continued)

John 15:4, continued

The beginning of Jesus’ application of his vine-illustration (vv. 1-3) occurs here in verse 4. It consists of a central statement, followed by an exposition. The central statement, including its featured use of the verb me/nw (“remain”), was discussed in the previous note:

“You must remain in me, and I in you.”

How this statement relates to the vine-illustration is explained, at least initially, in the remainder of the verse:

“Just as the broken (branch) is not able to bear fruit from itself, if it should not remain in the vine, so also you are not (able) if you should not remain in me.”

The verb me/nw occurs twice, not as an imperative, but as a subjunctive, indicating a condition—viz., the condition required for bearing fruit. The condition is formulated from a negative standpoint:

“the branch is not able to bear fruit…
if it should not remain [mh\ me/nh|] in the vine”

The branch not remaining in the vine is qualified by the prepositional expression “from itself” (a)f’ e(autou=). The branch needs to be in the vine in order to bear; it cannot bear fruit (“is not able,” ou) du/natai) on its own, separated from the vine. This principle, derived from the illustration, is then applied to the disciples (believers), using the syntactical configuration “just as” [kaqw/$]… “so also” [ou%tw$ + de/]:

“…so also you (are) not (able to bear fruit) if you should not remain [mh\ me/nhte] in me.”

Clearly, the disciples (“you”) are identified with the branches of the illustration, though this identification is not made explicit until verse 5.

As discussed in the previous note, the context of the illustration (within the Last Discourse) establishes the theological (and Christological) significance of the language used here in verse 4. The Son is (and remains) in the Father, and the Father is/remains in the Son (14:10). The intended relationship between Jesus (the Son) and believers is patterned after this relationship between Father and Son. The pattern extends even to the prepositional qualifier “from itself” (a)f’ e(autou=), as Jesus declares that he does not speak from himself (“from myself,” a)p’ e(mautou=):

“the utterances that I say to you I do not speak from myself, but the Father remaining in me [e)n e)moi me/nwn] does His works.” (14:10b)

This clearly is a close conceptual parallel with what Jesus is saying in 15:4. He remains in the Father (and the Father in him), and so he does not speak “from himself”; rather, the Father is the source of his speaking. This is expressed in terms of the Father doing (vb poie/w) work (e&rgon). As we shall see, this parallel is important for a proper understanding of the motif of “bearing fruit” in the Vine illustration.

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 5, as the application of the illustration to the disciples (believers) is brought more clearly into focus

Saturday Series: John 8:31-47 (continued)

John 8:31-47, continued

Last week, we examined the sin-reference in 8:34ff, within the context of the Discourse-unit 8:31-47 (part of the great Sukkot Discourse-complex of chapters 7-8). The Disourse-unit actually extends all the they way through to the end of the chapter (v. 59), however we will only be looking at the passage up to v. 47.

In verse 37, Jesus picks up on the Abraham theme that had been introduced by his audience in v. 33, in their response to the foundational saying/statement at the beginning of the discourse (vv. 31-32). In this way, the previous theme of freedom/bondage is developed to include the idea of person’s identity, based on his/her parentage or ancestry.

This line of theological development is actually rather subtle and complex. In the discourse, Jesus contrasts having God as one’s father with having the Devil as one’s father. In between these theological poles is set the ethnic-religious identity of having Abraham as one’s father. All Israelites and Jews have Abraham as their “father” (i.e., principal ancestor) in an ethnic and religious sense; Jesus acknowledges this even of those in his audience who are hostile or opposed to him: “I have seen [i.e. know] that you are (the) seed of Abraham…”. And yet, through their hostile reaction to Jesus, they reveal their true identity:

“…but (yet) you seek to kill me off, (in) that [i.e. because] my word [lógos] does not have space [i.e. a place] in you.” (v. 37)

Throughout the Gospel, there is a reciprocal balance between the twin concepts of being/remaining “in” (en) God (or the Son) and of God (or the Son) being/remaining “in” (en) the person. In verse 31, Jesus emphasized the importance of his word (lógos) remaining in the disciple, implying its presence in the disciple. Now here, in v. 37, Jesus declares that his word is not present in the unbeliever, one who is hostile and refuses to trust in him.

In verse 38, Jesus again highlights his relationship (as the Son) to God the Father. Since, as a dutiful Son, he speaks according to what his Father tells him, the word (lógos) he declares is actually the Father’s word. And, since his audience will not accept this word, they cannot possibly belong to God as His children—they cannot have God as their Father. This contrast is sharply formulated:

“The (thing)s which I have seen (from) alongside the Father, I speak; and (so) you, then, do the (thing)s which you (have) heard (from) alongside the father.”

There is no pronoun present in either instance of the articular noun ho pat¢¡r (“the father”), yet such is certainly implied as part of the contrast—i.e., “my Father” vs. “your father”.

In vv. 39-40, the people again take refuge in their ethnic-religious identity of being descendants of Abraham—i.e., having Abraham has their father. But, again, Jesus makes clear that their hostility toward him demonstrates that their true identity is quite different. In response, they finally make the claim that God is their father: “We have one father—God!” (v. 41b).

This sets the stage for the important theological exposition in vv. 42-47, in which a key Johannine theme is expressed and developed. Believers in Christ are the “offspring” (i.e., children) of God, coming to be born from Him (as their Father), and belonging to Him. The non-believer, by contrast, does not (and cannot) belong to God—rather, they belong to the world, and to its ruler, the Devil (cf. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; also 17:15; 1 Jn 5:19). This means, essentially, that the Devil is the ‘father’ of the unbeliever. Moreover, the world’s opposition to the things of God—and especially to His Son—ultimately leads to increasingly evil thoughts and actions. Consider how the sin of unbelief leads to other sins, as Jesus explains the matter:

“Through what [i.e. why] do you not know my speech? (It is) that [i.e. because] you are not able to hear my word [lógos]. You are of [ek] your father the Devil, and the impulses of your father toward (evil) you wish to do. That (one) was a man-killer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, (in) that [i.e. because] there is no truth in him. When he speaks th(at which is) false, out of his own (word)s he speaks, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the false (one) and the father of him.” (vv. 43-44)

The unbeliever follows the evil impulses (toward sin) that belong to the world and its ruler (the Devil). Moreover, unbelievers do not abide in the truth, and the truth is not in them; indeed, they share the nature and character of their ‘father’ the Devil. As a result, like the Devil, they cannot help but speak what is false. Here, truth (al¢¡theia), and its opposite (falseness), is to be understood in a distinctive theological (rather than conventional ethical-religious) sense, according to the Johannine theology. Truth is a fundamental attribute of God, to the point that His Spirit can be identified with truth itself (1 John 5:6). Similarly, His Son is the truth (14:6) and speaks the truth of God, making God the Father known to believers in the world.

This theological understanding of falseness (pseúdos / pseúst¢s) is closely related to the Johannine understanding of sin. The true nature of sin is not ethical-religious, just as the true father of the unbelieving person is not Abraham. In the Johannine worldview, sin is fundamentally defined as unbelief—a refusal to trust in who Jesus is: the Son of God sent to earth by the Father. This emphasis is delineated clearly in verses 45-47:

“But, (in) that [i.e. because] I say the truth, you do not trust in me. Which (one) of you shows me (to be wrong) about sin? If I say (the) truth, through what [i.e. why] do you not trust in me?” (vv. 45-46)

The pronoun egœ¡ (“I”) in verse 45 is emphatic, being in the first position. Jesus contrasts himself with the unbelievers of the world (and their ‘father’ the Devil)—they speak what is false, but he (Jesus) speaks what is true. Indeed, it is because they belong to what is false, that they cannot hear or accept the truth that he speaks. Again, this “truth” is theological and Christological in nature—it is firmly rooted in Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father, who makes the Father known to the world.

The question Jesus asks in v. 46a has, I think, been somewhat misunderstood by commentators. It is typically translated along the lines of, “Who among you convicts me of sin?” The implication is that the people would be accusing him of being a sinner. The question certainly could be read that way, especially in light of the sin-references that follow in chapter 9 (to be discussed next week). However, the use of the verb eléngchœ suggests a deeper significance to the question.

There are two other occurrences of eléngchœ in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 16:8. The verb has a relatively wide semantic range, but the fundamental meaning is “show, demonstrate”, often in the particular sense of showing someone to be wrong about something. In the context of 3:20, its usage refers to a person’s evil deeds being exposed (i.e., shown for what they are) in the judgment—a judgment that occurs already in the present, based on one’s response to Jesus (whether trusting or refusing to trust). In 16:8, the verb describes the role and activity of the Spirit, which, Jesus promises, will show the world to be wrong about three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. We will discuss the reference to sin (vv. 8-9) in more detail in an upcoming study. Here, it will suffice to point out the parallel with Jesus’ question in 8:46a, and the specific meaning of eléngchœ based on this parallel: “show me (to be wrong) about sin”.

The entire thrust of our passage makes clear that Jesus is essentially defining sin in terms of whether or not one trusts in him and accepts his word. His hostile opponents cannot prove him wrong on this point; on the contrary, they are confirming this understanding of the true nature of sin. Their unbelieving response to Jesus leads them to act out a range of sinful and evil impulses, including the desire to kill Jesus.

The climax of this hostile reaction comes in verse 59, at the close of the Discourse. We, however, shall conclude this study on a somewhat different note, with the theological formulation given (by Jesus) in v. 47:

“The (one) being of [ek] God hears the words of God; through [i.e. because of] this, you do not hear, (in) that [i.e. because] you are not of [ek] God.”

This formulation is fully in the Johannine theological idiom. The verb of being defines the Divine nature of the believer—as one born of, and belonging to, God. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) with the definite article is also distinctively Johannine, as a way of describing the essential character and identity of a person— “the one being [i.e. who is] {such}”. The preposition ek (“out of”), as it is used here, is also a key element of the Johannine theological vocabulary. It has a dual significance: (1) origin, i.e., being “from”, and (2) belonging, i.e., being “of”. Frequently, the preposition alone serves as a shorthand for the fuller idiom involving the verb of becoming (gennáœ), in the specific sense of “coming to be born”, along with the preposition ek. In the Johannine writings this language is used almost exclusively for believers in Christ—i.e., those who have “come to be (born) out of God”. Given the emphasis of the father theme in this passage, there can be little doubt that birth—i.e., believers as offspring born of God—is implied by the use of ek here in v. 47.

If believers “are of God”, then the opposite is true of non-believers: they “are not of God”. As Jesus clearly states, the reason why his unbelieving (and hostile) audience does not hear/accept his words is that these people are “not of God”.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the sin references in chapter 9—the episode of the healing of the Blind Man.

October 14: John 15:2

John 15:2

“Every broken (branch) in me (that is) not bearing fruit, He takes it (away);
and every (branch) bearing fruit, He cleans it, (so) that it might bear more fruit.”

This pair of related statements continues the Vine-illustration, building upon the central (predicative) statement in verse 1. It relates to two particular aspects of that earlier statement: (1) the relationship between vine and worker (Son and Father), and (2) the specific work (e&rgon) that is done (on the vine) by the Father as land-worker (gewrgo/$).

In the context of the illustration, the work done relates specifically to the branches of the vine—that is, to the many shoots and tendrils that branch out from the rooted stalk at the center. Anyone who has had first-hand experience with tending a grape-vine knows well the importance of pruning back this growth, ideally each year, to keep the vine well-managed for optimal fruit-bearing. And, indeed, the theme of this portion of the illustration is the pruning of the vine.

It is interesting the way that this pruning is presented here in verse 2. The work (of cutting) is the same, but the condition of the branches involved is different, and this difference produces a clear contrast in the two (parallel) clauses of this statement. The contrast between the two types of branches is precise:

    • the branch “not bearing fruit” vs.
      the branch (that is) “bearing fruit”

The participial phrase (fe/ron karpo/n, “bearing fruit”) is the same, distinguished only by the use of a governing negative particle (mh/, “not”) in the first instance. And, in each instance, the same act of cutting (pruning) has a different result, indicated by the use of two different verbs:

    • the branch not bearing fruit is taken away (vb ai&rw)
    • the branch bearing fruit is cleaned (vb kaqai/rw)

Since, in the first instance, the branch is not bearing any fruit, the cutting of it simply removes it from the vine, without any effect on the vine’s fruit-bearing. In the second instance, the cutting of the branches “cleans (up)” the vine, making it more manageable and enabling it to bear more fruit; this last point is specified by the subordinate phrase/clause in v. 2b: “…(so) that it might bear more [plei/wn] fruit”.

How should we understand the illustration at this point, as applied to the person of the Son (Jesus) as the vine and God the Father as the worker? We can begin by looking at some of the specific words that are used, and their significance in a Johannine (theological) setting.

First, there is the use of the verb fe/rw (“bear, carry, bring [forth]”), in the form of a substantive verbal noun (participle), along with the object noun karpo/$ (“fruit”). Second, we have the pair of verbs ai&rw and kaqai/rw, which refer to the contrasting result of the worker’s act of cutting/pruning the vine’s branches.

Let us start with the verb fe/rw—both (a) its meaning and significance in the Gospel of John, and (b) the Johannine syntactical importance of the substantive verbal noun (participle) form.

The verb fe/rw occurs 13 times in the Gospel of John, but more than half (7) of these are found in the Vine passage (15:1-17). This leaves only six other occurrences. In five of these (2:8; 18:29; 19:39; 20:27 [twice]; cf. also 2 John 10), the verb is used in the general sense of bringing/moving (along) or carrying an object. Only in 12:24 do we find a contextual meaning comparable to its use in 15:2ff; the statement by Jesus in this verse is worth quoting:

“…if the kernel of the grain, falling into the ground [gh=], should not die off, it remains alone; but, if it should die off, (then) it bears much fruit.”

Here is another agricultural illustration that is comparable to what we have in 15:2ff. There is a rather clear conceptual similarity between the need for dying off (of the seed) and for the cutting off (of the vine’s branches)—both are required for the bearing of fruit (vb fe/rw + karpo/$).

When we turn to the noun karpo/$, it occurs 10 times in the Gospel, but eight of these are in our passage, along with the occurrence in 12:24 (cf. above). This leaves only one other reference—in 4:36, in an agricultural illustration that is part of a short Discourse-unit (vv. 31-38) within the larger chapter 4 Discourse (with the Samaritan woman, vv. 1-42).

What does it mean for the branches of the vine to “bear fruit”, or conversely, not to bear fruit? Here we must avoid reading into our passage other occurrences of the fruit-motif from elsewhere in the New Testament. It is important that our analysis focuses first and foremost on the Johannine usage of this terminology. Thus, it is necessary to present, in some detail, a comparative examination of 15:2 in light of 4:31-38 and the saying in 12:24. This we will do in the next daily note.

October 13: John 15:1b

John 15:1, continued
Verse 1b

“and my Father is the land-worker”
kai\ o( path/r mou o( gewrgo/$ e)stin

As discussed in the previous two notes (1, 2), verse 1 represents the central statement/saying by Jesus for the Discourse-unit 15:1-16:4a of the Last Discourse. It is also an example of what I call essential predication in the Johannine writings. These simple predicative statements contain three elements: (1) subject, (2) verb of being, (3) predicate. They are almost exclusively theological, insofar as they apply to a Divine subject (God, or Jesus as the Son of God). The verb of being itself is of theological significance, as I have discussed. The predication is deemed “essential” because the statements declare the essential identity and attributes of the Divine subject.

Two kinds of such predication are paired together here in the verse 1 statement by Jesus. First there is a self-predicative statement, an example of the “I am” sayings in the Gospel; Jesus declares what he is; the second, parallel, statement has God (the Father) as the Divine subject. As I have discussed, with this “I am” self-predication, Jesus is effectively identifying himself as the Son of God, and, as such, the predication involves his relation (as the Son) to God the Father. This is quite clear in regard to the parallel statements here:

“I | am | the true vine
and
my Father | is | the land-worker”

Consider the parallelism of the three elements:

    • Divine subject:
      “I” (e)gw/) [the Son of God]
      “my Father” [God the Father]
    • Verb of being:
      “am / is” (ei)mi / e)stin)
    • Predicate:
      “the true vine” (h( a&mpelo$ h( a)lhqinh/)
      “the land-worker” (o( gewrgo/$)

As noted above, I would argue that the “I am” formula itself implies Jesus’ identity as God’s Son; however, this is made explicit here by the way Jesus refers to God the Father (El-YHWH) as “my Father” (o( path/r mou).

The idea of El-YHWH as “Father” has ancient roots, going back to the earliest Old Testament tradition, and its Semitic/Canaanite religious background. The supreme Creator God (El, la@, the “Mighty [One]) was considered to be the “Father” of all beings—both divine and human. For the ancient Israelites, YHWH was the Creator, identified with the Creator El (as recognized by their ancestors); and, as such, the same religious conception of the Creator as “Father” of all divine and human beings automatically applied to YHWH (Deut 32:6).

Beyond this, YHWH was considered to be the “Father” of the Israelite people, in a special sense. This paternal motif was rooted in the unique covenant-bond between YHWH and His people. The Israelites could be called God’s “sons (and daughters)”, or by the singular “son” (in a collective sense). For the key Scriptural references, cf. Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; 11:1; Isa 43:6; 63:8 [7]; Jer 31:9. As an extension of this covenantal, figurative concept of the father-son relation, the king, functioning as a representative of the people, was also considered to be God’s “son” (2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 2:7; 89:27-29  [28-30]; Isa 9:6-7 [5-6]). This motif was applied, in particular, to David and his dynastic line (cf. 2 Sam 7:14; 1 Chron 17:13; 22:10; 28:16). Through this association, the idea of the king as God’s “son” came to be understood in a Messianic context, with the related passages (cited above) interpreted in a Messianic sense by Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D.

Thus the title “Son of God”, with its underlying religious-theological concept, was readily applied, in this Messianic sense, to Jesus in the Gospels and early Christian tradition. For more on the subject, cf. Parts 6-8 and 12 of my series “Yeshua the Anointed”. And this background informs the various references by Jesus to God (YHWH) as “Father” and “my Father” in the Gospel tradition.

The Gospel of John builds upon this tradition, developing the Father-Son theme in the context of the distinctive Johannine theology. This theology is expressed primarily by Jesus himself, in the Gospel Discourses. In the Discourses, Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as “the Son”, and to God the Father as “the Father” or “my Father”; compared to the usage in the Synoptics, this language is far more frequent in the Gospel of John. Only rarely is the actual title “(the) Son of God” used (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4; cf.  1:34, 49; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31), however it is unquestionably implied in all the Son/Father references. Indeed, the theme of Jesus’ relationship (as the Son) to the Father is central to the Discourses, and to the Johannine theology as a whole.

In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus is God’s Son in much more than the traditional Messianic sense; rather, he is the eternal and pre-existent Son who was with God the Father in heaven from the beginning (1:1ff; 17:5). Throughout the Discourses, it is emphasized that Jesus (the Son) was sent from heaven to earth by God the Father; often the (traditional) title “Son of Man” is used when referring specifically to this heavenly origin (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). This distinctively Johannine theological/Christological orientation will be discussed further as we proceed through these notes.

Having established the importance of the Divine Father-Son relationship in verse 1, let us consider the specific predicative statement in 1b, with the Father (“my Father”) as the Divine subject. Jesus states that “my Father is the land-worker”. The predicate is the articular (arthrous) noun o( gewrgo/$. Given the parallel with the vine (a&mpelo$), the noun a)mpelourgo/$ could have been chosen instead. An a)mpelourgo/$ is literally a “vine-worker” —one who tends and works the vine (cf. Luke 13:7; LXX 2 Kings 25:12; 2 Chron 26:10; Isa 61:5; Jer 52:16). However, the noun gewrgo/$ has a broader range of meaning; it literally means “worker of the earth” —i.e., one who does work [e&rgon] on/in the earth [gh=].

The noun gh= can be rendered specifically as “land, ground”, and this would be more appropriate here in the agricultural (or viticultural) context of working on a vine. However, one should not overlook the theological implications of the word gh=, alluding to the cosmic context of the entire surface of the earth—i.e., the entire inhabited earth/world. God the Father is the Creator of the earth, whose creative work on the earth (and among human beings) is continuous, a work that is shared by His Son (cf. 5:17ff, 36; 10:25ff, 37; 14:10-12, etc).

The noun gewrgo/$ can refer to different kinds of work on the land/ground, including that of farming (cf. James 5:7; 2 Tim 2:6). Here, of course, the context is of work in a vineyard or garden; the term “gardener” would not be inappropriate as a loose rendering of gewrgo/$. The word is rare in the New Testament, but it features in one of the Synoptic parables of Jesus (Mark 12:1-9 par), where it similarly refers to people working on vines (in a vineyard).

From a paradigmatic standpoint (cf. the prior note), the parallel predicative statements tell us something significant about the relationship between the Father and Son. If the Son is identified as a vine, the Father is identified as the one who works on/around the vine, tending it and caring for it. As we shall see from the remainder of the illustration, this work is primarily described in terms of pruning the vine, enabling it to bear more and richer fruit.

As with the noun gh=, we should not overlook the component term denoting work (e&rgon) that is built into the compound noun gewrgo/$. This alludes to a significant theme in the Gospel of John, focused on the relationship between the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. The Son shares in the Father work, doing the same work that the Father does; at the same time, the Father works through the Son. This theme is especially prominent in the chapter 5 Discourse, which has, as its central saying by Jesus, the statement in v. 17:

“My father works [e)rga/zetai] (even) until now, and I also work [e)rga/zomai]”.

The implication is that Jesus (the Son) is doing the same work (healing, raising the dead) as God the Father. This provocative implication was not lost on those who heard him, producing a hostile reaction (v. 18). In the remainder of the Discourse (vv. 19-29ff), the theme of the Son doing the work of God is developed further (see esp. verses 20, 36), and, indeed, can be found all throughout the Gospel—cf. 4:34; 9:3-4; 10:25ff, 32ff, 37-38; 14:10-12; 15:24; 17:4. Of special interest is the statement in 6:29, where doing the “work [e&rgon] of God” is specifically defined as trusting in the one (i.e., the Son, Jesus) whom the Father sent to earth (from heaven).

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 2, and the continuation of the Vine-illustration.

August 13: 1 John 2:20

1 John 2:20

Having considered the use of the title “the holy (one) of God” in Jn 6:69 (the confession by Peter, cp. Luke 9:20 par) in the previous note, I wish to examine now the same title (“the holy [one]”) in 1 John 2:20. In the previous discussion, I had mentioned that, within the Johannine theological context, the title “holy one of God” in Jn 6:69 contained an allusion to the important association between the Son (Jesus) and the holy Spirit of God. It is worth giving further consideration to the point by examining the evidence in the Gospel.

First, we have the Paraclete-saying in 14:25-26, in which the Spirit-Paraclete is specifically referred to as “the holy Spirit” (v. 26). In point of fact, the adjective a%gio$ is rather rare in the Gospel of John, occurring just five times. In addition to Peter’s confession (here, 6:69), and one occurrence in the Discourse-Prayer of Jesus (17:11, addressing God the Father), it is only used in three references to the Spirit (with the full, qualifying expression “[the] holy Spirit”, [to\] pneu=ma [to\] a&gion).

It is significant the way that these three Spirit-references frame the Gospel narrative, in relation to the ministry of Jesus (the incarnate Son of God) on earth:

    • 1:33—at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, part of the Johannine version (cf. also verse 26) of the saying by the Baptist (cp. Mark 1:8 par), alluding to the promise of Jesus’ giving the Spirit to believers: “(he) is the (one) dunking [i.e. baptizing] in (the) holy Spirit”.
    • 14:26—the Johannine narrative of Jesus’ ministry is structured around the great Discourses, culminating in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), in which Jesus gives the final teaching to his close circle of disciples (and true believers); the Paraclete-sayings deal with the coming of the Spirit, following Jesus’ teaching to this effect in the earlier Discourses—cf. the Spirit-references in 3:5-8, 34f; 4:10-15 [7:37-39], 23-24; 6:63.
    • 20:22—at the end of Jesus’ ministry, following the fulfillment of his mission (and his exaltation), Jesus finally gives the Spirit to his disciples (the first believers).

It is only natural that holy one of God (Jesus) would give the holy Spirit of God, particularly since the Son (Jesus) possesses the fullness of the Spirit, having received it from the Father (3:34-35). This Christological dynamic makes the use of the title “holy (one)” in 1 John 2:20 particularly intriguing:

“But you hold (the) anointing [xri=sma] from the holy (one) [o( a%gio$], and you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s.”

There is some debate among commentators as to whether the title o( a%gio$ (“the holy [one]”) refers specifically to Jesus (the Son) or God the Father. In the previous note, I discussed the use of the title “holy one” (in Hebrew, the use of the substantive adjective vodq* corresponds with a%gio$ in Greek). In the Old Testament Scriptures, almost exclusively it is used as a title for God the Father (YHWH)—particularly in the expression “the Holy One of Israel” (most frequent in the book of Isaiah)—and only very rarely is applied to human or angelic beings as God’s consecrated servants (Num 6:17; Psalm 106:16; Dan 8:13); the same usage is attested in the subsequent Jewish writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D.

By contrast, in the New Testament, “[the] holy one” ([o(] a%gio$) is predominantly a title, with Messianic significance, that is applied to JesusMark 1:24 [par Lk 4:34]; Acts 2:27 and 13:35 [citing Ps 16:10]; Rev 3:7, and of course in John 6:69 (cf. also 10:36); the Messianic context of these references was discussed (and established) in the previous note. Only in Rev 16:5 is the title used in its more traditional religious-historical aspect, as an epithet of YHWH. Interestingly, as I had mentioned, the adjective a%gio$ is actually rather rare in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), occurring just five times in the Gospel and once (here) in 1 John. In the Gospel, once it is applied to Jesus the Son (6:69), once to God the Father (17:11), and three times to the Spirit (i.e., “[the] holy Spirit,” 1:33; 14:26; 20:22).

Overall, the New Testament and Johannine usage favors o( a%gio$ (“the holy [one]”) here as a title of Jesus Christ (the Son).

Rather more certain, in my view, is the conclusion that the term xri=sma (“anointing”) here (and in v. 27) refers to the presence of the Spirit. The noun xri=sma occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, so there is little opportunity for comparative examination of word-usage. However, for reasons I detailed in the earlier article on 2:18-27, the anointing which believers received (v. 27) is best understood as a reference to the Spirit. Most likely, in common with other early Christians, the Johannine churches viewed the believer’s baptism as representing the moment when he/she received the Spirit (cf. Jn 1:33); to view the baptism as an ‘anointing’ by the Spirit was natural, drawing upon the type-pattern of Jesus’ own baptism (cf. especially the Lukan emphasis of 4:18ff, in light of 3:22; 4:1, 14). Also significant and influential are the Prophetic passages referring to God ‘pouring out’ the Spirit on His people in the New Age (cf. the Introduction to this series for the key passages).

But does the believer receive the Spirit from Jesus (the Son) or from God (the Father)? The immediate evidence from 1 John (3:24; 4:2ff, 13; 5:6-8ff) indicates the latter—that it is God the Father who gives us the Spirit. However, the Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ role in giving the Spirit (cf. above). According to the framework of the Johannine theology—expressed clearly in the Gospel, and only alluded to in the Letters—the Son (Jesus) receives the Spirit from the Father, and then, in turn, gives the Spirit to believers. The Father is the ultimate source, but the Son is the immediate giver; thus, there is a certain variability and interchangeability with how this is expressed in the Johannine writings (cf. for example, the variation in the Paraclete-sayings, in 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7b, 13-15).

The focus in 2:18-27 is on the person of Jesus—the Anointed One (xristo/$) and Son of God—and this would tend to confirm the point of reference for the title “holy one”. It also corresponds with the Messianic (and Christological) significance of the title in Jn 6:69, as was discussed in the previous note.

Yet in verse 27, the Divine subject, in relation to the anointing (xri=sma), is expressed more ambiguously:

“But (as for) you, the anointing which you received from him, it remains in you, and you do not have a need that any (one) should teach you; but, as his anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and is not false, and even as it (has) taught you, you must remain in him.”

The phrase “the anointing which you received from him” seems to allude back to verse 20; if the title “the holy one” refers to the Son (Jesus), then it is most likely that the pronoun of the prepositional expression “from him” (a)p’ au)tou=) also refers to Jesus. Turning ahead to verse 28, where Jesus is clearly the implied subject of the second clause, the implication is that the pronoun of the expression “in him” (e)n au)tw=|), at the end of v. 27 and beginning of v. 28, likewise refers to Jesus; certainly, there is no obvious indication of a change of reference. For the same reason, it would be simplest to interpret the qualifying subject “his anointing” (to\ au)tou= xri=sma) as meaning the anointing received from Jesus.

In other words, all the third person singular pronouns in vv. 27-28, refer primarily to Jesus Christ (the Son). It is he who gives the anointing (i.e., the Spirit) to believers, having himself received it from God the Father. As noted above, the Father is the ultimate source of the Spirit, but it is given through the mediation of the Son. Just as it was promised that the Jesus would baptize believers in the Spirit, so he anoints them, pouring out the Spirit upon them. Yet the anointing does not simply come from without, like physical liquid poured out on a person, but abides within; this is the clear significance of the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”)—both here and throughout the Johannine writings. The anointing (i.e., the Spirit) remains within (cf. 3:24; 4:13; Jn 14:17), and is the means by which believers remain in the Son; and, in turn, it is through the presence of the Son that we remain in the Father (and He in us). This is the essence of the Johannine theology; even though it is expressed more clearly and precisely in the Gospel, the theology is equally present, in an implicit and allusive fashion, throughout 1 John.

 

July 18: 1 John 5:20 (cont.)

1 John 5:20, continued

“And we have seen that the Son of God is here, and (that) he has given to us dia/noia, (so) that we might know the (One who is) true, and (that) we are in the (One who is) true, in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

The middle two clauses of verse 20 (b) were discussed in the previous note, and the first two clauses (a) in the note prior; we now turn to the final two clauses (c).

Verse 20c:
    • “in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—
      this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

The first phrase here in v. 20c (the fifth clause, or phrase, of the verse), is epexegetical—that is, it explains or qualifies the previous statement: “we are in the (One who is) true”. This theological statement (cf. the discussion in the previous note) means that believers are “in” (e)n) God the Father (“the [One who is] true”). Elsewhere in the Johannine writings, this idea of being “in” God is expressed more fully by the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”).

This is a fundamental Johannine theological idiom, which occurs in 1 John some 20 times. It is used to express the idea of the believer abiding in God (2:6, 10, 28; 3:6), or of God abiding in the believer (2:14; 3:9, 15, 17; 4:12), or both (2:24, 27; 3:24; 4:13, 15-16). Sometimes the idiom is expressed specifically in terms of the word/life/light/love, etc., of God, rather than God Himself, but these are simply specifications of the general theological principle, drawing upon particular attributes or characteristics related to the dynamic of the relationship between God and the believer.

The use of the verb of being (ei)mi) can substitute for the verb me/nw, whereby the union between the believer and God takes on a more essential quality, emphasizing its reality (or lack thereof) in the present. For the usage (ei)mi + e)n) in 1 John, cf. 1:8, 10; 2:4-5, 8, etc. The verb of being is used here in v. 20c: “we are [e)sme/n] in [e)n] (Him)”.

A central element of the Johannine theology is that God the Father abides in the believer (and the believer in God) through the presence of His Son (Jesus). And this quite clearly expressed by the author here; the statements (4&5) are parallel, with one building upon (and explaining) the other:

    • “we are in the One who is true [i.e. God the Father]” (because) =>
      • “(we are) in His Son Jesus Christ”

The Son makes the Father known to believers (cf. statements 1-3, v. 20ab), and is the means by which they/we are united with Him, coming to abide/remain “in Him”.

Verse 20 concludes with a final statement (6) that summarizes the entire Johannine theology:

“this is the true God and eternal Life”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( a)lhqino\$ qeo\$ kai\ zwh\ ai)w/nio$

There is debate as to the specific force of the initial demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this,” or “this one”). Commentators are divided as to whether the pronoun refers to God the Father or Jesus the Son. Given that Jesus (“His Son Yeshua…”) is the nearest antecedent, it would seem most natural that ou!to$ refers to him. However, as Brown (p. 625) notes, the pronoun can sometimes refer to an earlier subject; and there is a clear (Johannine) example of this in 2 John 7:

“(For it is) that many who lead (people) astray [pla/noi] have come into the world, the (one)s not giving account as one (of) [i.e. confessing/acknowledging] Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this (one) [ou!to$] is the (one) leading (people) astray and the (one) against the Anointed [i.e. antichrist].”

Even though Yeshua is the noun preceding the demonstrative pronoun, the pronoun clearly refers back to the false believer(s), called [oi(] pla/noi (“[the one]s going/leading astray”). This grammatical parallel suggests that the demonstrative pronoun here in v. 20c refers back to God the Father, rather than Jesus. The use of the expression “the true God” (o( a)lhqino\$ qeo/$) would seem to confirm this (cp. Jer 10:10; 2 Chron 15:3; 1 Thess 1:9). Beyond this, the parallel declaration in the Gospel (17:3) is decisive:

“And this [au%th] is eternal Life: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

In the literary context of chap. 17, Jesus is addressing God the Father, referring to Him (El-YHWH), in traditional Israelite-Jewish religious terms, as “the only true God”. Almost certainly, then, the expression “the true God” here in v. 20c likewise refers to God the Father.

However, the close parallel in thought and vocabulary between v. 20c and Jn 17:3 is instructive, in that it suggests that the author has a dual reference in mind. In other words, the demonstrative pronoun (“this”) refers to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The Father is the primary point of reference, but He, as the Father, cannot be separated from His Son. Indeed, the two are inseparable, especially given the Johannine theological principle (discussed above) that believers experience the God the Father through His Son.

If God the Father is the primary referent for the expression “the true God”, then it is the Son of God (Jesus) who is primarily being referred to by the expression “[the] Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal Life]” (zwh\ ai)w/nio$). Even though God the Father is the ultimate source of life (cf. Jn 5:26; 6:57; 12:50, etc), the Father gives this life to the Son, who, in turn, is able to give it to believers (4:14; 5:39-40; 6:27, 33, 51ff, 63; 10:28; 17:2). Life is predicated of the Son as an essential attribute (Jn 1:4; 6:48; 11:25; 14:6), and believers come to possess (“hold,” vb e&xw) this life through trust in Jesus (Jn 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 8:12; 11:25; 20:31).

In 1 John, the author ties the possession of this eternal life, as a defining characteristic of the true believer, specifically to the fulfillment of the great dual-command (or two-fold duty [e)ntolh/]) as stated in 3:23: genuine trust in Jesus Christ (as the Son of God), and love for one’s fellow believers (according to Jesus’ own example). True believers fulfill this e)ntolh/, while false believers (like the opponents) disregard and violate it. Their false view of Jesus Christ (as the author sees it) means that they do not truly trust in him, and thus cannot hold eternal life in themselves.

The author establishes this logic at the very beginning of his work (1:1-2), and the references to “life” (zwh/) throughout the rest of 1 John (2:25; 3:14-15; 5:11-13ff) follow this same line of argument. In 5:11-13, at the close of the third and (final) section (5:5-12) dealing with trust in Jesus (in opposition to the false view of Christ held by the “antichrist” opponents), the author clearly and emphatically restates the Johannine definition of eternal life as the result of trust in Jesus. Through this trust, believers are united with God’s Son, coming to abide/remain in him; as noted above, it is through the presence of the Son that we, as believers, abide in the Father (and He in us).

Ultimately, our union with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit, though that particular theological point is only stated implicitly here in v. 20 (cf. the previous notes on 20a and 20b). The Spirit is the foremost of the things which the Son receives from the Father (cf. Jn 3:34-35), and which he then gives to believers. The association between the Spirit and the Life of God is so close as to almost be synonymous (cf. Jn 3:5-8ff; 4:10-15 [7:37-39]; 6:63). As the author of 1 John makes clear (3:24; 4:13), the presence of the Spirit is the ultimate evidence that we, as believers, abide/remain in God and thus possess eternal life.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 (1982).