“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:6-8 & the Trinitarian addition

1 John 5:6-8 (continued)

In the previous note, I argued that the expression “in/through water and blood” in 1 Jn 5:6 refers to two aspects of Jesus’ humanity (that is, his real humanity, against a “docetic” view of Christ): (1) his human birth and life, and (2) his sacrificial death (involving the shedding of blood). Both of these appear together at the time of his death (“blood and water”, Jn 19:34), and may be prefigured (i.e. water and wine [= blood]) in the episode at Cana at the beginning of his earthly ministry (2:1-11). It is Jesus’ very life (water and blood) which is poured out on behalf of humankind. If this interpretation is correct, then we must ask exactly how the Spirit relates to these two aspects, since, in vv. 6b-8, the Spirit is joined to “water” and “blood” to form a triad.

Let us first consider how this is introduced by the author:

“This is the (one) coming through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not in water only, but in water and in blood; and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness (of this), (in) that [i.e. because] the Spirit is the Truth.” (v. 6)

There are two phrases involved. The first is:

“the Spirit is the (one) giving witness”
to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin to\ marturou=n

The basic meaning of this is clear enough: the Spirit gives witness (to believers) of Jesus’ coming “in/through water and blood”—i.e. of his real human life and sacrificial death. It may seem a bit strange for us today that there would be Christians who might deny or object to Jesus Christ as a real flesh-and-blood human being. In modern times, the opposite is more often the case—many people accept Jesus’ humanity and death on the cross, but object to the idea that he was divine or the “Son of God” in any real sense. The context of 1 John suggests a Christian setting which espoused a “high” Christology—i.e., Jesus as the pre-existent Son of God—but which was a distance removed from any memory of Jesus’ actual earthly life and ministry. Thus Johannine Christians could easily confess Jesus as the “Son of God” but have genuine doubts or questions about whether, or to what extent, he was actually a human being like us. The author of the letter goes out of his way, at several points, to emphasize this point. We see it already in the opening verses (1:1ff), where he speaks of Jesus as the “word of Life” which “we” (i.e. the apostles or an earlier generation of believers) have heard, seen with eyes, felt with hands, etc—Jesus was a real human being who walked and lived among us. Most scholars regard the Johannine Letters as addressed to a later (second or third) generation of Christians, dated c. 90-100 A.D., and this is likely to be close to the mark.

An important point in the Last Discourse is that the Spirit/Paraclete will teach and instruct believers, giving witness of things both to them and through them (14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15); in particular, 15:26f states:

“…that one [i.e. the Spirit/Paraclete] will give witness about me, and you also will give witness…”

Thus the first statement about the Spirit in 1 Jn 5:6 is fully in accord with the view of the Spirit presented in the Gospel, and is confirmed again in 2:26-27, with the idea that the Spirit (“the anointing”) instructs believers in all things. In the view of the author, true believers will hold a correct view of Jesus because they hold the Spirit who gives true witness about Jesus. This leads to the second statement:

“(in) that [i.e. because] the Spirit is the Truth”
o%ti to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin h( a)lh/qeia

In the Gospel, this is expressed by the title “Spirit of Truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13) and also in 1 Jn 4:6. The Spirit is also associated closely with Truth in Jn 4:23-24, and also with the indwelling word/presence of God in 1 Jn 1:8; 2:4, etc. That Jesus and God the Father also also identified as Truth (Jn 1:14, 17; 14:6; 18:37, etc) simply confirms the basic Johannine idea that the Spirit is both the Spirit of God the Father and of Jesus (the Son). Interestingly, this statement in 1 Jn 5:6b seems to provide a belated answer to the question by Pilate in Jn 18:38:

    • Question: “What is (the) truth?”
    • Answer: “The Spirit is (the) Truth”

In the immediate context of the letter, however, the emphasis is on the truthfulness of the Spirit’s witness. Since the Spirit is Truth itself, it/he can only speak the truth, as indicated by Jesus in Jn 16:33: “…he will lead the way for you in all truth”.

While it might seem that the Spirit is sufficient to give witness for believers, in verses 7-8 the author of the letter turns to the ancient legal principle that testimony in a court of law must be confirmed by at least two witnesses (i.e. two or three witnesses). This is expressed a number of times in the Old Testament Law (cf. Deut 19:15, etc), and appears in the Johannine discourses of Jesus (5:30-46; 8:16-19). In Jn 5:30ff, Jesus cites four different sources of testimony that give witness about his identity (as the Son sent by the Father). Here the author of the letter cites three:

“(so) that the (one)s giving witness are three—the Spirit and the water and the blood—and the three are (together) into one.” (vv. 7-8)

This thematic formula of three-in-one certainly helps explain the trinitarian addition, found in some Latin (Vulgate) manuscripts, which, inappropriately, made its way into the 16th/17th century “Textus Receptus” editions of the New Testament (see spec. the KJV of vv. 7-8). It is, however, clearly a secondary addition (interpolation), as virtually all today commentators agree. We must avoid reading later theological concepts (from Nicene orthodoxy, etc) into the passage, and focus instead on the thought-world of the author and the (Johannine) congregations whom he is addressing. The main question is: how exactly does the Spirit relate to the “water” and “blood” which, as I have argued, symbolize the human life (and sacrificial death) of Jesus. There are are several avenues to explore:

    • The relationship of the Spirit to Jesus in the Johannine Gospel and Letters
    • The connection between the Spirit and water, especially as a symbol of birth and life for those who trust in Jesus
    • The connection between the Spirit and the death (i.e. blood) of Jesus

This will be done in the next note which will conclude our extended discussion on 1 John 5:6-8.

Special Note: “Truth” in the Writings of John

As an appendix to the just-concluded series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, in which I gave special attention to the Gospel (and Letters) of John, I felt it worth added a note on the Johannine use of the term truth. This is expressed by three related Greek words:

    • a)lh/qeia (al¢¡theia, “truth”)—25 times in the Gospel, 20 in the letters (out of 109 in the NT)
    • a)lhqh/$ (al¢th¢¡s, “true”)—14 times in the Gospel, 3 in the letters (out of 26 in the NT)
    • a)lhqino/$ (al¢thinós, “true, truthful”)—9 times in the Gospel, 4 in the letters + 10 in Revelation (out of 28 in the NT)

While the Johannine concept of “truth” is not, strictly speaking, part of a contrasting pair (i.e. truth vs. falsehood), it is very much part of the dualistic language and imagery which we find in the Gospel (including the discourses of Jesus) and First Letter—on this topic, cf. Part 6 of this series. In particular, I would point to the basic contrast between God (or Christ) and the world (ko/smo$). The world is characterized by darkness, but also in the way that its thinking and acting is limited by that which is apparent, i.e. immediately visible or available to touch, etc. On the other hand, Jesus, as the one who comes from God, the Son sent by the Father, makes manifest what is eternal and Divine. That which comes from God is the Spirit and truth, just as He Himself is Spirit and Truth (4:23-24; 7:28; 8:26); indeed, the Spirit is referred to by Jesus as “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). When Jesus declares that he is the truth (14:6), this is essentially the same as declaring his (Divine) identity with God the Father (as Son). He has already stated that he speaks the truth from the Father (5:31-32; 8:14ff, 40-46). This truthfulness is, I think, also implicit in the frequent use of the double a)mh\n a)mh\n (am¢n am¢n) which transliterates the Hebrew /m@a*, a word derived from the root /ma, and which essentially refers to something which is firm, reliable, sure, etc. The Semitic idiom, preserved in Greek, and as used by Jesus in the Johannine discourses, emphasizes the truthfulness of Jesus’ words.

Another aspect of the “amen, amen” formula, is that it is often used to introduce specific teachings or sayings by Jesus regarding his own identity, especially of his relationship to the Father and the revelation (of the Father) which he brings—cf. 1:51; 5:19, 24ff; 6:26ff; 8:51, 58; 10:1ff; 13:16, 20, etc. This applies as well to his use of the adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$. The first of these tends to be used in reference to the truth (and truthfulness) of Jesus’ words and testimony regarding the Father (5:31-32; 7:18; 8:13-14, etc), as well as to others (believers) who testify regarding Jesus (3:33; 10:41; 19:35; 21:24). The second (a)lhqino/$) has much the same meaning, but also carries the connotation of something that is genuine or real. This particular aspect has important Christological significance in the discourses, where Jesus draws upon images from ordinary human (earthly) experience and applies them to himself; for example—

    • the true bread (from heaven, i.e. manna) (6:32); similarly expressed with a)lhqh/$ in 6:55:
    • “my flesh is true food, and blood is true drink”
    • the true vine (15:1)

The same could be understood as implicit in all the “I am” declarations of Jesus—”I am the (true) light… shepherd… door…” etc. The Gospel writer had already made the first association explicit in 1:9, and it is also stated in 1 Jn 2:8:

“…the darkness passes along and the true light already shines (forth)”

This adjective is applied directly to God (the Father), as part of key Christological statements, in John 17:3 (cf. my earlier note on this verse) and 1 Jn 5:20; this latter verse, in particular, encapsulates a powerful summary of Johannine theology:

“And we have seen [i.e. known] that the Son of God comes (here) and has given us (understand)ing through (our) mind, (so) that we should know the true (One), and we are in the true (One), in His Son Yeshua (the Anointed). This One is the true God and (the) Life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The word truth (a)lh/qeia) is also important in terms of the believer’s identity in Christ. On this, cf. especially 3:21; 8:31-32 (and my note on v. 32), 44ff; 14:6; 16:13; 17:8, 17ff. I have already discussed Jesus’ declaration in 18:36-37 on several occasions (cf. Part 5 and the note on 8:32). In the letters of John, this aspect of the believer’s identity is expressed through several different idioms used by Jesus in the Gospel:

“Gnosis” in the NT: John 8:32 (cont.)

John 8:32 (continued)

In the previous study, I examined the context and setting of the saying of Jesus in Jn 8:31-32; today, I will be giving attention to several key points regarding the saying:

    • The conditional relationship between the first and last clauses
    • The use of the terms “truth” and “free(dom)”, and
    • What it means to know the truth

“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly [a)lhqw=$] my learners [i.e. disciples], and you will know the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the truth will make/set you free.”

This saying is a conditional sentence, made up of two parts—the second (apodosis) is based on the condition established in the former (protasis):

Protasis—”If [e)a/n] you remain in my word [logo/$]”
Apodosis—”(then) you are truly my learners [i.e. disciples]…”

The apodosis actually has three components—that is, three things which will occur if the condition is met; note how each component involves the word truth (cf. below):

    1. you are truly my disciples
    2. you will know the truth
    3. the truth will make/set you free

It is significant that Jesus does not say “you will be my disciples”, but rather “you are my disciples”—that is, remaining in Jesus’ word demonstrates what these believers (already) are, namely, his true disciples. The verb me/nw (“remain”) is especially important, and is part of the key Johannine vocabulary—more than half of the NT occurrences are in the Gospel (40) and letters (27) of John. It occurs most notably in the famous illustration of the vine and the branches in chapter 15 (vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). The orientation is eschatological: believers will continue in faith, united with Christ, until the end. This is all the more clear here, by Jesus’ use of the verb in 8:35:

“the slave does not remain [me/nei] into the Age, but the Son (does) remain into the Age”

The expression “into the Age”, often obscured in translation as “forever, eternal(ly)”, etc, specially means into the Age to Come, which in an early Christian context, refers to the return of Christ, the last Judgment, the resurrection and the entry of believers into eternal life. We could paraphrase here as: “the slave (to sin) does not enter into eternal life…”; only the Son possesses this life (5:26, etc), and he gives it to those who trust in him. This is expressed by the phrase “remain in my word“. In the discourses and sayings of Jesus in John, the reference can be: (1) to believers being in Christ (his word, light, etc) [5:35; 8:12; 12:46; 15:9-10; 16:33], and also (2) to his word, etc, being in believers [4:14; 5:38; 6:53; 11:10; 14:17; 15:2ff, 11; 17:10, 13]—for the two mentioned together, cf. Jn 6:56; 14:20; 15:4ff; 17:20-26. Paul has the same two-fold aspect of being “in Christ” and Christ being “in you”. With regard to the term lo/go$ (usually translated “word”), the more common idiom is of the lo/go$ being or remaining in the believer (5:38), and Jesus uses this in our passage as well (8:37, cf. also v. 44)—so both aspects are present in the discourse. Primarily, the lo/go$ refers to the “account”, i.e. the things Jesus said, the substance of his teaching, and so forth; but clearly, in the context of the use of this word in John (1:1ff, etc), it also refers to the presence and power of Christ (the Son) himself.

A key term in 8:31-32, and also the discourse of vv. 31-59, is a)lhqei/a (“truth”), which is likewise a common Johannine word—of the 100+ occurrences in the NT, nearly half are in the Gospel (25) and letters (20) of John. Key references elsewhere in the Gospel are 1:14, 17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 5:33; 14:6, 17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 17:17, 19. It occurs five more times in this discourse:

    • v. 40: Jesus speaks the truth he has heard from God (the Father)
    • v. 44: the people (Jews) who oppose Jesus are actually children of the devil, of whom Jesus says that from the beginning “he has not stood in the truth” and “the truth is not in him” (note the two aspects)
    • v. 45: Jesus states, “because I give account of [le/gw, rel. to lo/go$] the truth, you do not trust [i.e. believe, have faith in] me”
    • v. 46: again, “if I give account of the truth, through what [i.e. for what reason] do you not trust (in) me?”

The use of the verb e)leuqero/w (“make/set free”) in v. 32 (and 36) is actually quite rare in the New Testament, occurring only in Paul (Rom 6:18, 22; 8:2, 21; Gal 5:1); similarly the adjective e)leu/qero$ (“free”) in vv. 33, 36 is primarily found in the Pauline letters. Indeed, Paul frequently makes use of the idea that God, through Christ, has freed human beings from bondage to sin, delivering (or ransoming, i.e. purchasing) them from the control and dominion of sin and darkness. The dualistic imagery is common in the Gospel of John, connecting Christ’s death with salvation from the dark and evil “world”, but not with this specific language of redemption, which is essentially unique to this passage in John.

What does it mean to know the truth? First, in the context of the discourse, the truth is something which Jesus has heard from the Father and speaks to the people (vv. 40ff). Thus it is intimately connected to the relationship between the Son and God the Father, which is expressed (by Jesus) in the Gospel of John, and which is formulated at the very beginning (1:1ff, using the term lo/go$, “word”). It is not so much the specific content of his teaching, but that his teaching reflects the very word ‘spoken’ by the Father. Elsewhere in the Gospel, knowledge (that is, knowing, ginw/skw/oi@da) means knowledge of the Son (Christ) who reveals the Father. This will be discussed further in the next study (on John 17:3). Here, 8:47 effectively summarizes Jesus’ (and the Johannine) meaning:

“The one being out of [i.e. from] God hears the words/utterances [r(h/mata] of God; through [i.e. because of] this, you [i.e. the Jewish opponents] do not hear, in that [i.e. because] you are not out of [i.e. from] God”

This saying is vital for a proper understanding of the “gnostic” aspect of Jesus’ teaching in John, as it conveys a very distinctive sense of salvation—the person who hears (that is, receives/accepts) Jesus’ words, which are the words of God the Father, does so because he/she actually comes from [lit. out of, e)k] God. In other words, the believer who is “born” as a child of God through faith (1:12-13) has ‘already’ come (i.e. been born) out of God. There is a paradoxical sense to this understanding, which will be explored further in the article in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament” dealing with election and predestination. Jesus says virtually the same thing in his famous dialogue with Pilate in Jn 18:37:

“…unto this [i.e. for this purpose] I have come to be (born) and unto this I have come into the world: that I might (bear) witness to the truth—every one being out of [e)k, i.e. from] the truth hears my voice.”

If we compare the parallel statement in 8:47 and 18:37, we see that the “truth” is essentially equivalent with God Himself. It is no wonder that Pilate, like the Jews of the discourse, responds with a lack of understanding: “What is (the) truth?”

“…Spirit and Life”: John 14:6, 9

John 14:6, 19

Today’s note will examine two statements by Jesus in the great “Last Discourse”, set in the narrative on the night of the Last Supper (13:31-16:33 + chap. 17). The entire discourse-scene is extremely complex, bringing in and developing themes which occurred throughout the earlier discourses. Two of these involve “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/)—the very two motifs (cf. Jn 6:63) which are the focus of this series. The latter dominated the first half of the Gospel (chapters 1-12 [32 times]); by comparison, zwh/ appears just four times in the remainder of the book (14:6; 17:2-3; 20:31). It has been suggested that the reason for this is that the Life promised by Jesus, through trust in him, is now coming to fruition as his Passion draws near. A better explanation is simply that there is considerably less teaching by Jesus in chapters 13-20, and it is of a different character—given only to his closest disciples in order to prepare them for his upcoming death and departure (back to the Father). For this reason, the coming of the Spirit takes on greater emphasis and importance in the Last Discourse.

John 14:6

I have discussed the famous saying of Jesus in 14:6 in an earlier pair of notes (on vv. 4-7), and will not reproduce that entire study here. Instead, I wish to focus primarily on Jesus’ use of the word “life” (zwh/) in this saying, in connection to the overall context of the passage, which has to do with Jesus’ departure, introduced in 13:33:

“(My dear) offspring [i.e. children], (it is) yet (only) a little (while that) I am with you—you will seek (for) me, and even as I said to the Yehudeans {Jews}, ‘(the) place where I lead (myself) under, you are not able to come (there)’, and (so) I say (this) to you now.”

This refers back to statements by Jesus during the Sukkoth discourse-scene in chapters 7-8 (7:33-36; 8:21-22), statements made to the “Jews”—that is, the (Jewish) people, as opposed to Jesus’ (Jewish) disciples (i.e. believers). It is now in the Last Discourse that Jesus is speaking directly (and only) to his true disciples (Judas having departed in 13:30). Yet, even his disciples had difficulty understanding this statement, much as the people did earlier. Peter is the first to ask—

“Lord, where [pou=] do you lead (yourself) under?” (13:36a)

to which Jesus responds with a similar statement as in v. 33, but with an important difference:

“The place where I lead (myself) under, you are not able to follow me now [nu=n], but you will follow later [u%steron]” (v. 36b)

To the people, Jesus used the word come, but to Peter he says follow, indicating the role of the disciple who follows his master (and the master’s example). Also, it is only now, at the present moment, that Peter (and the other disciples) are not able to follow Jesus; the promise is that they will be able to follow later on. There is a strong sense throughout the Last Discourse that the disciples are only just beginning to realize the truth about who Jesus is, and to understand the full meaning of his words (the motif of misunderstanding is prominent in all of the Johannine discourses).

Picking up from the tradition of the prediction of Peter’s denial (13:37-38), the exchange which follows in 14:1ff returns to the theme of Jesus’ departure, which now is made more clear—he is going away, back to the Father:

“In my Father’s house there are many (place)s to stay… I am traveling (there) to make ready a place for you” (v. 2)

Readers can find confusing these references to Jesus’ departure, which seem to blend together two distinct contexts (from the standpoint of the traditional Gospel narrative)—(1) his death, and (2) his ascension to heaven. In 13:33ff, Jesus is apparently speaking of his upcoming death, but now, in 14:1ff, the context seems to be his “ascension” to the Father in heaven. These two aspects are interrelated, and have been interwoven throughout the Gospel of John; both are contained in the initial statement by Jesus in 13:31, through use of the verb doca/zw (“give [or regard with] honor/esteem”). The ambiguity of these aspects continues through the Last Discourse, adding poignancy to the exchange between Jesus and Thomas in vv. 4-7:

(Jesus): “And the place where I lead (myself) under, you see [i.e. know] the way (there)”
(Thomas): “Lord, we have not seen where you lead (yourself) under; how are we able to have seen the way (there)?”
(Jesus): “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the way and the truth and the life—no one comes toward the Father, if not [i.e. except] through me…”

In the Gospel of John, seeing and knowing are essentially synonymous—”seeing” Jesus means “knowing” (i.e. recognizing) him. The motif of misunderstanding here in the discourse involves the idea of the way (o%do$). Thomas is thinking of a conventional (physical) path leading to a location, but the true meaning of Jesus’ statement is spiritual—it is not a way up through the clouds to heaven, but the path that leads directly to God the Father through the person of Jesus (the Son). This is made clear by Jesus’ use of the preposition dia/ (“through”), which is often obscured in translation. The way to the Father leads through Jesus. The theological context of the Johannine discourses suggests two main aspects to this way, or path:

    1. it is found through trust in Jesus
    2. it is realized through the presence of the Spirit

It is possible that both aspects are incorporated into the statement in verse 6:

    • “and the truth [a)lh/qeia]”—i.e. trust in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father, who is Truth
    • “and the life [zwh/]”—i.e. the Spirit, given by Jesus to the believer

Ultimately, Jesus identifies himself with all three terms—Way, Truth, and Life—a triad which can be variously interpreted. Does the Way lead to Truth and Life, or does it lead to Truth which then results in Life? Or are the terms meant to be synonymous—i.e. Way = Truth = Life? A strong argument can be made that Truth and Life are to be regarded as essentially synonymous, given the close associations between “Spirit/Life” and “Spirit/Truth”—and that the Spirit is the unifying idea. This would seem to be confirmed by the references to the Spirit which follow throughout chapters 14-16.

John 14:19

The basic message of vv. 1-7ff is restated in vv. 18-21:

    • Jesus’ departure: “I will not leave you abandoned…” (v. 18)
    • Inability of people to come: “(It is) yet a little (while), and (then) the world will no longer see/observe me…” (v. 19)
    • The disciples will see/follow him: “I come toward you… you (do) see/observe me…” (vv. 18-19)
    • Jesus leads the way to the Father: “…you will know that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (v. 20)

In verse 19, the disciples’ seeing Jesus is entirely different that the sight/observance by the “world”; it means trust in him—i.e. disciples are believers. They know/see the truth, which is manifest in the person of Jesus (1:14, 17; 5:33; 8:32, etc). With regard to life (zwh/), Jesus is more specific:

“…in that [i.e. because] I live [zw=], you also will live [zh/sete]”

This reflects the statement in 5:26, of the divine/eternal Life which Jesus possesses (given to him by the Father), and which he, in turn, gives to believers. This theme was prominent in the Lazarus scene in chapter 11 (cf. especially vv. 20-27), and in the earlier discourses as well. That the Life which Jesus gives is to be identified with the Spirit, is relatively clear from a number of passages, as has been discussed in prior notes, and more or less stated explicitly in 3:34. If there were any doubt that the Spirit is in view here in 14:19, one need only look to the preceding verses 15-17, where we find the first specific reference to the Spirit in the Last Discourse. This will be discussed in the next note.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:16-19

John 17:16-19

Verses 16-19 close the first Expository section of the Prayer-Discourse (vv. 12-19, cf. the outline in the previous study). A curious detail to note is the way that verse 16 repeats, almost verbatim, the second half of v. 14. This apparently led a number of scribes to omit the verse, but there a number of such repetitions throughout the Johannine Discourses of Jesus (and the Last Discourse, in particular), and text here is secure. As a result, we ought to regard the repetition as intentional, in terms of the structure of this section. It gives to the triadic structure a chiastic outline:

    • Expository narration—the work of the Son (vv. 12-14a)
      • Unity of Believers with Jesus—”not out of the world” (v. 14b)
        • Petition to the Father—protection from the evil in the world
      • Unity of Believers with Jesus—”not out of the world” (v. 16)
    • Exposition—the work and presence of the Son in believers (vv. 17-19)

According to this detailed outline, verses 17-19 are parallel to 12-14a, both representing the core exposition in the section. How do these two passages relate? The first deals with the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth (“When I was with them…”); the second focuses on the time after Jesus’ departure back to the Father. It must be admitted that the latter emphasis is not explicit or immediately apparent on a reading of the text; however, with a little study, I believe it come through quite clear. There are three statements in this exposition:

    1. A request that his disciples be “made holy” by the Father (v. 17)
    2. A declaration similar in formula to Jesus’ words to his disciples after the resurrection, sending them into the world as apostles/missionaries (20:21)
    3. A statement explaining that the disciples are “made holy” even as Jesus himself is made holy, using reciprocal language and hearkening back to the invocation (v. 1, cf. also 13:31)

Let us examine each of these in turn.

Verse 17

This is another petition by Jesus to the Father, and must be understood in relation to the central petition of vv. 9-11, as well as the further request in v. 15 (cf. the previous study). The motif of protection has been defined in terms of holiness—which, from a religious standpoint, essentially refers to separation from evil (and the world) and protection from it. Here is the request:

“Make them (to be) holy in the truth—your word is truth.”

We may isolate three key components to this petition:

    • The verb (a(gia/zw, “make holy, treat as holy”)
    • Emphasis on truth (a)lh/qeia), and
    • The identification of truth with the word (lo/go$) of God the Father

The second and third of these are important theological key words in the Johannine Writings (both Gospel and Letters), and occur far more frequently than the first. In this regard, they serve to expound and explain the primary petition comprised of the initial words: a(gi/ason au)tou\$, “(May you) make them (to be) holy”. The verb a(gia/zw (hagiázœ, “make holy, treat as holy”) is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring just 28 times, compared with the much more common adjective a%gio$ (hágios, “holy”). In the Synoptic Gospels, in the words of Jesus, its usage is almost entirely limited to the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2), a context similar to that in John 17 (with the emphasis on the name of God the Father and His holiness, vv. 1, 6ff):

Pa/ter […] a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“Father […], may your name be made holy”

Pa/ter… (“Father…”, v. 1)
e)fane/rwsa/ sou to\ o&noma (“I made your name shine forth…”, v. 6)
Pa/ter a%gie th/rhson au)tou\$ e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ sou
(“Holy Father, keep watch [over] them in your name…”, v. 11)

Paul uses the verb 6 times in the undisputed letters (1 Thess 5:23; Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; 7:14 [twice]); it occurs three more times in Eph 5:26; 2 Tim 2:21; 1 Tim 4:5. It is used 7 times in Hebrews (2:11 [twice]; 9:13; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12), in the context of the Israelite priesthood—a point to be discussed on v. 19 below.

It is important to emphasize again that the following phrase “in the truth” and the statement “your word is truth” both qualify and explain the meaning of the petition. First, we have the full form of the petition: “Make them (to be) holy in the truth”. The noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) occurs 25 times in the Gospel of John, and another 20 times in the Letters (9 in 1 John). It has a special theological (and Christological) meaning, going far beyond the simple idea of factual truth, or even moral and religious truth. Rather, it is a fundamental characteristic of God the Father Himself, and of Jesus as the Son (of God). Moreover, it does not refer primarily to Jesus’ teaching and the proclamation of God’s word (as a message), but is embodied in the person of Jesus himself. Cf. John 1:14, 17; 8:32ff, 44-46; 14:6; 18:37-38; 1 Jn 1:6, 8; 2:21, etc. Distinctive of the Johannine theology, including that expressed by Jesus in the Discourses, is the special association (and identification) of the Spirit with this Truth (4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 1 John 4:6). The declaration in 1 John 5:6 makes this identification explicit and unqualified, and provides the answer to Pilate’s provocative question (Jn 18:38, “What is [the] truth?”):

“The Spirit is the Truth”
to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin h( a)lh/qeia

This declaration also informs the statement in 17:17b (cp. Psalm 119:142b Greek v.l.), which has similar wording (the only real difference being the emphatic position of the verb):

“Your Word is (the) Truth”
o( lo/go$ o( so$ a)lh/qeia/ e)stin

Taking these statements together, we have the fundamental identification of God’s Word (lo/go$) with the Spirit. Again, this does not refer to any particular message or set of words spoken by Jesus (though these are included, Jn 6:63, etc), but to the essential identity of Jesus (the Son) as the living embodiment of God’s Word on earth (Jn 1:1ff, 14, etc). Jesus’ manifest presence with the disciples cleanses them (Jn 13:10-11; 15:3), culminating in his sacrificial death (1 Jn 1:7-9) that protects believers and makes them clean (i.e. holy) from sin. This cleansing power again is identified with the Spirit (“water and blood”, Jn 19:34; 1 Jn 5:6-8)—the living and indwelling presence of Jesus (and God the Father) in believers. The Spirit is given following Jesus’ death (19:30, 34, understood symbolically) and resurrection (20:22).

Thus we may see here in verse 17 an implicit reference to the Holy Spirit as the means by which the disciples (believers) are made holy.

Verse 18

This is confirmed by what follows in verse 18, a reciprocal statement similar to the ‘commission’ of the disciples in 20:21:

“Even as you se(n)t me forth into the world, I also se(n)t them forth into the world” (17:18)
“Even as the Father se(n)t me forth, I also send [pe/mpw] you” (20:21b)

In 17:18, the aorist is used (indicating a past occurrence), while in 20:21, in addressing the disciples, Jesus uses the present tense (and a different verb [pe/mpw]). It is possible that the aorist assumes a tradition such as in the Synoptics (Mk 3:14-15; 6:6b-13 par; Lk 10:1ff), where Jesus is to have sent the disciples out on preaching assignments. The Gospel writer is certainly familiar with such traditions (3:34-38; 6:67-71), though he makes little of them in the narrative. However, a better explanation is at hand in the context of the Last Discourse. An important point of emphasis (discussed in the prior studies) is that Jesus was able to sanctify his disciples by his presence with them on earth (i.e., in the past, up to this point). Now that he is about to return to the Father, he is no longer able to “make them holy” the same way—thus the need (in the present) for the Father to send the Spirit as the Divine Presence (and Power) to fill this role in Jesus’ place. The words of commission in 20:21 are followed directly by the disciples receiving the Spirit from Jesus (who, in turn, had received it from the Father). The Spirit’s presence cleanses the disciples and makes them holy.

In this regard, the disciples are to function in the manner of priests in ancient religious tradition. Through a proscribed ceremonial ritual, Israelite priests were consecrated (made holy) for service in the sacred place(s), handling of sacrifices and sacred objects, etc—e.g., Exod 40:13; Lev 8:30; 2 Chron 5:11. Jesus’ disciples (believers) are compared or described as priests at numerous points in early Christian tradition, part of a wider religious phenomenon whereby devotion to Jesus takes the place of (or fulfills) the earlier cultic ritual practiced by the priesthood. Of the passages in the New Testament indicating this, cf. Matt 12:1-8; Rom 12:1-2; 15:16; 2 Cor 3:6ff; 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6.

Verse 19

The imagery of priesthood is even more prominent in verse 19. Indeed, it is due almost entirely to the influence of verses 17-19 that the Prayer-Discourse in chapter 17 is sometimes called the “High Priestly” Prayer of Jesus. However, this label is quite inappropriate for the Prayer as a whole, since it is only in these three verses that there is any real indication of priestly language or emphasis. Nevertheless, it remains a small, but important, element of the Prayer, and follows the overall theology of the Gospel, in which it is not believers, but Jesus himself, who is described in priestly terms. The emphasis is on the sacrifice (esp. the Passover sacrifice) rather than the one administering it; however, as in the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus would certainly be seen as fulfilling both roles. This is expressed here in verse 19, where the Passion setting of the Prayer again comes to the fore:

“And (it is) over them [i.e. the disciples] (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they (also) would be made holy in the truth.”

Jesus functions as a priest, consecrating himself for service (symbolized by his actions in 13:4-12)—the primary service being his impending sacrificial death on the cross, which represents the completion of his ministry on earth (19:30). The only other occurrence of the verb a(gia/zw is in 10:36, which comes at the end of the “Good Shepherd” Discourse. The central motif of this Discourse is the idea that Jesus, as the excellent or exemplary (kalo/$) herdsman, lays down his life for the sake of the sheep. God the Father has given him the authority (and the command) to lay down his life (death) and take it up again (resurrection), cf. 10:11, 15, 17-18. The preposition is u(pe/r (lit. “over”), essentially the same idiom as we see here in 17:19, and also in the Last Supper scene in the Synoptics; let us compare these (and the general parallel in Jn 6:51):

    • “This is my blood of the covenant th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many” (Mk 14:24 par)
    • “the bread which I will give is my flesh over [u(pe/r] the life of the world” (Jn 6:51)
    • “…I set (down) my soul [i.e. life] over [u(pe/r] the sheep” (Jn 10:15, cf. also vv. 11, 17-18)
    • “I make myself holy over [u(per/] them…” (17:19)

There can thus be no real doubt that there is a direct allusion to sacrificial death of Jesus. The idiom in Mk 14:24 par is more concrete, drawing upon the ritual image of blood actually being poured (or sprinkled) over the people at the covenant ceremony (Exodus 24:6-8). In the Johannine references, it is more symbolic, dealing the sacrificial nature and character of Jesus’ death, much as we see in the Letter to the Hebrews (esp. throughout chapters 5-10). From the Johannine (theological) standpoint, it is the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of Jesus which releases the Spirit to believers, both symbolically (19:30, 34) and literally (20:22). The Spirit remains essentially connected with the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7-9; 5:6-8), transmitting its live-giving (and protecting) efficacy to the believer.

A point should be made about the reflexive use of a(gia/zw in verse 19, whereby Jesus says: “I make myself holy” (a(gia/zw e)mauto/n). We might have expected him to ask the Father to make him holy, or at least to emphasize the Father as the source of holiness (v. 11). The key to understanding this lies in the Johannine theological-christological framework, perhaps best expressed by Jesus in 5:26:

“as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave life to the Son to hold in himself”

There is a parallel to this in 13:31-32, using the idea of honor/glory (do/ca) rather than life (zwh/). Moreover, the context of 17:19 is elucidated in this regard by turning back to the use of the verb a(gia/zw in 10:36:

“…the (one) whom the Father made holy [h(gi/asen] and se(n)t forth into the world”

This expresses the same chain of relation as in 5:26, both reciprocal and hierarchical:

The Son alongside the Father—made holy by the Father’s Life and Power
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Sent into the world by the Father
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The Son (on earth) has the Life and Power given to him by the Father
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Prepares to finish his work in the world
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The Son about to return to the Father—makes himself holy

This dynamic continues as the Son makes his disciples (believers) holy in turn, through his work, and, ultimately, through the presence of the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit represents the presence of both Father and Son (together) in and among believers, and this theme of unity becomes dominant in the remainder of the Prayer (vv. 20-26), as we will begin to explore in next week’s study.