November 20: John 15:17

John 15:17

“These (thing)s I lay on you to complete—that you should love one another.”

With this declaration by Jesus in v. 17, the exposition of the Vine illustration, and the passage as a whole (15:1-17), comes to an end. It rather neatly summarizes the message of what it means for the branches (disciples/believers) to remain in the vine (Jesus). This state of remaining (vb me/nw), so vital to the illustration (the verb occurs 11 times in the passage), entails fulfilling the two duties (e)ntolai/) that Jesus places upon his disciples. Here the related verb e)nte/llomai is used, as in verse 14 (cf. the earlier note), for the act (by Jesus) of placing the duty on the disciples— “I lay on you to complete” (e)nte/llomai u(mi=n). This action mirrors the act by God the Father, in placing duties upon the Son (14:31). In fulfilling his duty, the Son (Jesus) remains in the Father, and in His love (14:10)—and believers are to follow this example (15:9-10).

As I have previously discussed, the two duties (e)ntolai/) for the believer are: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus, and (2) to show love to other believers, following the example of Jesus. Fulfilling these two duties means that we remain in Jesus’ word (8:31; cf. 15:7), and in his love (15:9-10)—and, in so doing, we remain in him. Or, it might be better to say: remaining in Jesus means that we will remain both in his word and his love, respectively:

A comparable paradigm is expressed syntactically here in verse 17, balancing the two duties—involving Jesus’ words and love—around the central idea of obedience to the duty he has given to us:

“these things”
(i.e. his words)
e)nte/llomai “that you should love”

The i%na-particle, governing the clause “that [i%na] you should love”, can be read two different ways:

    • Epexegetical—it defines/explains the things that Jesus requires, i.e., love itself as the duty (13:34-35; 15:12f)
    • Purpose/Result—Jesus says these things (i.e., teaches them) so that his disciples may be able to love.

Both are valid, from the standpoint of the Last Discourse; however, the latter would seem to be what is intended here. The thrust and emphasis of the exposition was on the duty to love; Jesus’ words (“these [thing]s”), in this specific context, refer to the Vine-passage itself, allowing also for the broader application to the Last Discourse as a whole. His teaching is meant to show the importance of the duty to love (cf. 13:34-35), exhorting (and warning) his disciples to remain in this love. The symbolism of the foot-washing, in the narrative introduction of chap. 13, clearly refers to Jesus’ own example, demonstrating sacrificial love for those dear to him.

With this in mind, it may be necessary to adjust our interpretation of the “bearing fruit” motif. While this motif may refer to the mission (and duty) of believers generally, its principal point of reference may well prove to be the duty to show love.

October 27: John 15:6

John 15:6

“If any (one) should not remain in me, he is cast out of (the place), as the broken (branch) (is), and it is dried up, and (when) they gather them together, is also cast into the fire and is burned.”

In this portion of the exposition of the vine illustration, Jesus explains what happens to the ‘branch’ (klh=ma) that does not “remain” in the vine: “it/he is cast out of (the place)” (e)blh/qh e&cw). The land-worker who does this work is God the Father (v. 1), and the Father must be seen as the implied actor of the passive verb here—an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum). The act of casting/throwing (vb ba/llw) away is parallel (and essentially equivalent) to the “taking away” (vb ai&rw) of the branch that does not bear fruit (v. 2). As is clear from vv. 4-5, the branch that does not remain in the vine, does not (and cannot) bear fruit.

The taking/casting away of such branches is part of the overall cutting/pruning of the vine that is indicated within the illustration. The noun klh=ma, typically translated “branch”, properly denotes something that is “broken (off)”; here in verse 6, the verbal aspect of the branch being broken off, is particularly prominent. The branches/tendrils that do bear fruit are also cut away and pruned, but this yields a fundamentally different result: the branch is not simply “taken away”; rather, it is “cleaned” (vb kaqai/rw) by the pruning process, so as to be able to produce more/better fruit.

The branch that is cut/broken off and “cast out” (the adverb e&cw indicating removal from a place) simply dries up (vb chrai/nw, “be[come] dry”), since, being separated from the vine (that is itself rooted in the ground), it no longer has access to the vine’s vital essence and life-giving nutrients. All the passive verbs in v. 6 should be read as “divine passives”, with God the Father effectively performing the action. However, at least in the case of the verb chrai/nw, the passive can also indicate the condition of the branch that is now on its own, apart from the vine (cf. the previous note on v. 5).

At this point, the grammatical number in the verse suddenly shifts from the singular to the plural (before shifting back again to the singular): “and they gather them together” (kai\ suna/gousin au)ta/). While some manuscripts read the singular here (“they gather it together”), that reading most likely represents a scribal ‘correction’ to match the singulars elsewhere in the verse. By the sudden shift to the plural, the individual ‘branch’ is recognized as part of a group—i.e., all of the branches that do not bear fruit (because they do not “remain” in the vine), and are thus removed and “thrown out”.

It is these branches that are “gathered together” and thrown into the fire, utilizing imagery that reinforces the eschatological emphasis of other comparable harvest-illustrations (see esp. Matt 3:12 par; 13:30 / 41), alluding to the end-time Judgment by God. The plural subject of the verb suna/gw, could refer to the end-time role of the angels (Matt 13:41; Mark 13:27 par), acting as God’s representatives in the onset of the Judgment. The implication thus is, that if a disciple (believer) does not remain in Jesus, he/she will perish in the Judgment (“and is burned [up]”, vb kai/w). In the upcoming notes, we will examine, in some detail, precisely what it means to “remain” (vb me/nw) in Jesus.

In the exposition/application of the vine illustration, Jesus focuses on the identification of the disciples with the cut/pruned branches. Here in verse 6, he is clearly speaking of the disciples, mentioning at the same time, again, their place in the illustration (as the ‘branches’)— “he [i.e. the disciple] is cast out of (the place), as the broken (branch is)”. The shift in verbal tense, from aorist to present, is best explained in terms of Jesus’ application of the illustration: the aorist verbs refer to the fate of the individual branch at a specific point in time; while the present verbs describe the regular activity of the workers who deal, each season, with the branches that are cut off. We may outline this as follows:

    • Aorist—the branch is “cast out” and “dried up”
      and so is dealt with as regularly happens for all such branches:
    • Present—the workers “gather together” all such branches, and the individual branch, being among them, “is cast” into the fire and “is burned (up)”.

It is also possible that the present tense could refer to an eschatological orientation—whether to the imminent (future) eschatology of early Christians, or to the realized eschatology that is emphasized in the Gospel of John:

    • Imminent—the ‘branches’ are about to be gathered together and thrown into the fire (of the end-time Judgment)
    • Realized—the cut-off ‘branches’ are even now, in the present, because of their failure to “remain” in Jesus, under God’s Judgment

An interesting aspect of the vine-illustration, that is not particularly emphasized in the exposition, is that the fruit-bearing branches are also cut away (as part of the pruning process). Presumably, these branches (or the cut-off portions of them) also also burned up in the fire. Yet, in terms of the Johaninne theology, the true believer has (already) passed safely through the Judgment (see esp. 5:24), and thus will not face its “fire”. It is possible to extend the imagery to refer to the “fire” as part of the cleansing process for the believer—the sinful portions (i.e., sins) are removed from the believer and ‘burned away’ in the fire. The Spirit is sometimes associated with the image of fire in this regard—cf. Isa 4:4-5; Mal 3:2-3; Matt 3:11 [par Lk 3:16]; 1QS 4:20-21.



October 26: John 15:5

John 15:5

“I am the vine, you (are) the broken (branche)s. The (one) remaining in me—and I in him—this (one) bears much fruit, (in) that, apart from me, you are not able to do anything.”

Verse 5 effectively summarizes the Vine illustration (vv. 1-3), including also the initial principle of the application, as expressed in verse 4 (cf. the previous note). As in verse 4, Jesus makes a central statement and then follows it with an exposition. The main statement reprises the opening of the illustration, building upon it:

    • “I am the true vine,
      and my Father is the land-worker” (v. 1)
    • “I am the vine,
      and you (are) the broken (branche)s” (v. 5a)

The emphasis on the relationship between the Son and the Father has been replaced by that of the relationship between the Son and believers. The qualifying adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”) is not included here, but it certainly still applies; Jesus, as the Son of God, is still the true vine. Again, the illustration-emphasis is now on the disciples (believers):

you (are) the broken (branche)s”
u(mei=$ ta\ klh/mata

It is significant that, in verse 1, the verb of being (ei)mi) was explicitly present in both predicative statements—i.e., for both the Son (“I am”) and the Father (“He is”). In verse 5, by contrast, the verb of being is only used with regard to the Son, not believers. This point is totally obscured in most translations, since it is necessary to insert the verb of being in English, in both statements, for readability; however, its absence is important to note, and I have indicated this above by placing the verb of being (“are”) in parentheses. Within the Johannine theological idiom, the verb of being, when used in essential predicative statements, tends to refer specifically (if not exclusively) to a Divine subject—i.e., to God, or to Jesus as the Son of God.

The noun klh=ma denotes something that is “broken (off)” (vb kla/w, “break”); often, as here, it is used in the specific sense of a branch that is (or may be) broken off. Most translations simply render klh=ma as “branch” (plur. klh/mata, “branches”); however, in light of the important theme of pruning/cutting (of the vine) that is present in the illustration, I think it is important to preserve the verbal aspect of “breaking (off)”.

The exposition that follows in verse 5 explains this statement in terms of the prior statement in verse 4; consider how these relate:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you”
    • “The (one) remaining in me, and I in him…”

In the verse 4 statement, an imperative of the verb me/nw (“remain”) was used (“you must remain,” “remain!”), indicating something that the disciple/believer must do. Here in verse 5, a substantive participle (with definite article) is used. This syntax is very much typical (and reflective) of Johannine style, and is part of the Johannine theological idiom. It expresses an essential characteristic or aspect of identity that defines a person (or group)— “the (one/s) doing/being {such}”. The disciple/believer is required to remain in the Son; the true believer is one who is (regularly/continually) remaining in the Son.

This relationship of abiding is reciprocal: the believer is remaining in the Son, and the Son is remaining in the believer. As discussed in the previous note, this follows the pattern of the relationship between the Son and the Father (see, e.g., 14:10): the Son remains in the Father, and the Father remains in the Son.

As Jesus made clear in verse 4, only when the “branch” (i.e., the believer) is in the “vine” (Jesus), can it “bear fruit”. This is basic to the very idea of a grape-vine: fruit comes from the branches and tendrils that are part of the overall vine, being connected to its central stalk (and the other branches). Here, this concept is enhanced:

“the (one) remaining in me…this (one) bears much [polu/$] fruit”

The bearing of fruit is qualified by the adjective polu/$ (“much, many”). The closest parallel to this use of polu/$ occurs in 12:24:

“if the kernel of grain, (hav)ing fallen into the earth, should not die off, it remains [me/nei] alone; but if it should die off, it bears much fruit.”

I discussed this saying, with its agricultural illustration comparable to that of the chap. 15 Vine-illustration, in an earlier note. The similarities of thought and language are worth highlighting:

    • The parallel between the seed “dying off” and the branches of the vine being ‘cut off’; both motifs relate to the concept of death, and to the death of Jesus.
    • The use of the verb me/nw (“remain”); in 12:24, it is used in the opposite sense, referring to the seed that does not bear fruit (remaining alone).
    • The idea of the seed/branch being by itself (“alone” / “apart from me”); such a seed/branch cannot bear fruit.

Most notable is the phrase “it/he bears much fruit” (fe/rei karpo\n polu/n), which is identical (only differing in word order) in both references. Clearly, then, the statements by Jesus in 12:24 and 15:5 are closely related, both thematically and conceptually. Most striking is the implicit parallel between “remaining in” Jesus and the idea of the seed “dying off”. As the seed-illustration in 12:24 refers primarily to the sacrificial death of Jesus, the parallel would seem to imply that “remaining in” Jesus entails a participation in his death. At the very least, based on the discipleship-sayings that follow in 12:25-26, the true believer is expected to follow the example of Jesus, following him even to the point of death (i.e., willing to sacrifice one’s own life).

It is worth considering several additional contexts in the Gospel of John where the adjective polu/$ is used. Beyond its common/ordinary use in narrative, a deeper meaning would seem to be implied or alluded to in a number of references. I would group these as follows:

The last two categories can be combined together: the “many” things Jesus (the Son) says and does are from the Father, and are evidence of his abiding relationship with the Father; our previous discussion of 14:10 relates to this important Johannine theological principle. Thus the adjective polu/$, insofar as it has a distinctive theological connotation in the Gospel, can be interpreted according to the following two aspects of meaning:

    • The things Jesus says/does as the Son sent by the Father, manifesting God the Father, during his earthly ministry.
    • The people who come to trust in Jesus, as the result of this witness.

Both aspects, I believe, are quite relevant to an understanding of what Jesus means by the idea of bearing “much fruit”.

The final clause of verse 5 essentially repeats, with different wording, a key teaching from verse 4:

    • “the branch is not able to bear fruit from itself, if it should not remain in the vine”
      “so you are not (able), if you should not remain in me”
    • “apart from me, you are not able to do anything”

The teaching in verse 5 has been simplified and distilled. The concepts of “not remaining in me” and “from yourself” have been combined in the expression “apart from me” (xwri\$ e)mou=). The adverb/preposition xwri/$ means “separate, apart”, connoting the presence of space between two things. Here, in the context of the illustration, it refers to a separation between the branch and the vine. We might think that this would allude to the act of the land-worker (i.e., the Father) “taking away” (i.e., cutting off) the vine that does not bear fruit (v. 2); however, the implication here clearly is that the separation is the reason why the branch does not bear fruit. A certain kind of separation thus occurs, even before the branch is ‘taken away’.

The idea of “bearing fruit” is also generalized here by the common verb poie/w (“do, make”). The act of bearing fruit thus is understood as something that the branch actively does. This has important implications for an understanding of the fruit-bearing motif, and will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming notes.

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

October 24: John 15:4

John 15:4-8

The application of the Vine-illustration (vv. 1-3) by Jesus follows in vv. 4-15. This has three components, the first of which (vv. 4-8) features the theme of remaining/abiding in Jesus.

John 15:4

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

In applying his vine illustration (vv. 1-3), Jesus (and the Gospel writer) utilizes an important Johannine keyword: the verb me/nw. I have discussed the Johannine significance of this verb in prior notes and articles. It can be glimpsed by a comparison of usage: me/nw occurs in the Gospel of John 40 times, compared with just 12 in the Synoptics combined (Mk 2, Matt 3, Lk 7); it also occurs 27 times in the Letters of John (24 in 1 Jn, 3 in 2 Jn), giving a total of 67 occurrences in the Johannine writings (plus another in the book of Revelation), which is more than half of all New Testament occurrences (118).

Though me/nw is a common enough verb (meaning “remain, abide, stay”), it is almost always used in a special theological sense in the Johannine writings. Even when it seems to have an ordinary meaning in a narrative context, in the Gospel (e.g., 1:38-39; 4:40), there is often an implied reference or allusion to the theological meaning. There are several important occurrences of the verb just prior to the Last Discourse; the occurrence in the 12:24 saying by Jesus is particularly significant, in relation to the Vine illustration, and was discussed in an earlier note. The concluding statement by Jesus in 12:46 may be cited:

“I have come into the world (as) light, (so) that every (one) trusting in me should not remain [mei/nh|] in the darkness.”

This dualistic light-darkness contrast is an important Johannine theme, established already in the Prologue (1:4-5ff, 9; cp. 1 John 1:5ff; 2:8ff). The world (ko/smo$), in the distinctively negative Johannine (theological) sense of the term, is dominated by darkness (sin, evil, lack of knowledge, etc), and the people of the world are trapped in this darkness. Jesus (the Son) came into the world (from heaven) as light (fw=$) to dispel the darkness and enlighten all those who belong to God. This is the significance of the verb me/nw here: the one who belongs to God may be in the darkness (of the world), but he/she will not remain in the darkness. Such a person will come to the light, trusting in the Son (Jesus).

The verb me/nw occurs three times in the Last Discourse prior to the Vine illustration. The first instance, in 14:10, is fundamentally Christological, referring to the relationship between God the Father and the Son (Jesus):

“Do you not trust that I (am) in the Father and the Father is in me? The utterances [r(h/mata] which I say [le/gw] to you I do not speak [lalw=] from myself [a)p’ e)mautou=], but the Father remaining [me/nwn] in me does His works.”

The Father is in (e)n) the Son, and the Son is in (e)n) the Father—the same sort of reciprocal abiding relationship described between the Son and believers here in 15:4. There is other language, highlighted by the Greek words in brackets above, from 14:10 that is quite similar to what we find in 15:3-4. The terminology of speaking (words/utterances), within the Johannine theological idiom, was discussed in the previous note. The important prepositional expression “from myself” (a)p’ e)mautou=) also finds a parallel here in 15:4, when Jesus states that the ‘branch’ cannot bear fruit “from itself” (a)f’ e(autou=) apart from the ‘vine’. The Son cannot ‘bear fruit’ apart from the Father, and, similarly, the believer cannot apart from the Son.

In 14:17, the first of the Paraclete sayings in the Last Discourse (cf. the earlier note on 14:16-17), Jesus, in referring to the coming of the Spirit (“the Spirit of Truth”), promises that:

“…he will remain [me/nei] alongside you, and will be [e&stai] in you.”

Here the Spirit acts in relation to believers just as Jesus (the Vine) is said to with the disciples (branches) here in v. 4: the Spirit will be/remain in the believer(s). In this regard, the Spirit continues the work of Jesus, even as Jesus (the Son) has been performing the work of the Father. There is an allusion to this in 14:25, where Jesus mentions that “I have spoken these (thing)s to you (while) remaining alongside you [par’ u(mi=n me/nwn]” —precisely the same wording used in the Paraclete saying of v. 17.

This, then, is the immediate Johannine background for the use of me/nw here in 15:4. The verse itself consists of a principal statement, followed by an exposition by Jesus. We begin with the principal statement:

“You must remain in me, and I in you.”
mei/nate e)n e)moi/ ka)gw\ e)n u(mi=n

As noted above, this reciprocal relationship of an abiding union, between Jesus and his disciples (believers), follows the similar relationship (using the same wording) stated between the Father and the Son (Jesus) in 14:10. Just as the Son is in (e)n) the Father, and the Father is in the Son, so also believers are to be in (e)n) the Son, and the Son in believers. The statement in 14:10 also made clear that the Father remains (i.e., abides) in the Son, and, we may assume, the Son remains in the Father. This is also what is expressed, here in v. 4, for the situation between believers (the branches) and the Son (the vine).

It is important to emphasize the wording from the original illustration, where, by the very nature of the vine-motif used in the illustration, the branches are in the vine: “Every broken (branch) in me [e)n e)moi]…”. In other words, the disciples, as branches are in Jesus (as the vine). Even the branches that are not bearing fruit are in the vine. The issue is not one of being in the vine, but of remaining in the vine. The implication is that a branch can cease from remaining in the vine. That this is a possibility for the disciple of Jesus is indicated by the imperative here in v. 4: “You must remain [mei/nate]…”.

Our discussion of verse 4 will continue in the next daily note.

October 23: John 15:3 (concluded)

John 15:3, continued

Having examined verse 3 in detail, word-by-word, in the previous note, we shall now consider the verse in terms of an interpretation of the Vine-illustration (vv. 1-3) as a whole.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the land-worker. 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. Already you are clean, through the word that I have spoken to you.”

The statement in verse 3:

“Already you are clean, through the word that I have spoken to you.”
h&dh u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste dia\ to\n lo/gon o^n lela/lhka u(mi=n

The first point to make is that the disciples, whom Jesus is addressing in the context of the Last Discourse, are identified as the branches (klh/mata) of the vine. However, unlike the statements in verse 1, this identification is not made explicit (until verse 5). The precise relationship of the branches (disciples/believers) to the vine (Jesus) will be discussed in the upcoming note on v. 5.

The second point is that the time of the cleaning/pruning (kaqai/rw) is now, at the present moment that the disciples are being addressed. The adverbial (temporal) particle h&dh (“even now, already”), in emphatic position at the beginning of the verse, emphasizes this point. As discussed in the previous note, the use of this particle here has eschatological significance, as with the similar usage in 3:18; 4:35. The latter reference is particularly relevant, since it involves a comparable agricultural illustration (cf. the earlier note dealing with 4:31-38), with the particle in a similarly emphatic position. The eschatological significance involves a contrast, related to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine Gospel. In 4:35, the end-time “harvest” (of the Last Judgment, etc) has already come—for both believers and non-believers. Similarly, the pruning of the vine—which typically occurs after the fall grape-harvest, in the dormant season—has already come for the disciples. In this regard, the adjective kaqaro/$ (“clean”) plays on the related verb kaqai/rw (“make clean”) in verse 2.

Third, the adjective kaqaro/$ here alludes to the cleansing of the disciples/believers from sin. It is important to keep in mind the close parallel between v. 3 and 13:10b, in the context of the foot-washing episode (esp. verses 8-11). This was discussed in some detail in a prior note. The basic declaration is: “Already you are clean” (h&dh u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste). The disciples have already been cleansed from sin in a fundamental way; for the idea of the removal of sin, cf. the earlier note on the “Lamb of God” declaration in 1:29. The same verb, ai&rw, in the sense of “take away” (i.e., remove), is used in both 1:29 and 15:2; and the idea of the removal of sin is present in both references. This cleansing allows and enables the disciples/believers to bear “more fruit”.

Fourth, the cleansing takes place, according to Jesus, “through [dia/] the word [lo/go$] that I have spoken to you”. The force of the preposition dia/ (“through”) could be on the word (lo/go$) as the specific means of cleansing, or that simply the cleansing takes place because of (or as a result of) the word Jesus speaks. There are two components of this source of cleansing: (a) the word (lo/go$), and (b) the act of speaking (vb lale/w) by Jesus.

I previously discussed the dual-meaning of the noun lo/go$ (translated loosely as “word”) within the Johannine theological idiom. As is established in the Gospel Prologue (1:1ff), lo/go$ can refer to the Son (Jesus) himself as the incarnation of the living/eternal Word (Logos) of God. On a secondary level, lo/go$ refers collectively to the words/teaching of Jesus during the time of his earthly ministry. Because the specific act of speaking is emphasized, the latter aspect of meaning is primary here in v. 3; however, the idea of Jesus as the incarnate/living Word is present as well.

This Christological concept is implicit from the presence of the Johannine theological idiom—such as the central occurrence of an “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement by Jesus, alluding to his (Divine) identity as the Son of God, along with the emphasis on the Son’s relationship to God the Father (“my Father…”). As I have mentioned, the idea of the Son speaking the words of the Father, utilizing the verb lale/w (“speak”), is an important theme in the Gospel. Cf. the references cited in the previous note. By speaking the Father’s word(s), Jesus demonstrates that he is the Son; moreover, his words are Divine in nature and character, since they belong to God.

But how does the word Jesus speaks cleanse the disciples? This brings us to the final point to be addressed. The key to answering this question lies in the Divine nature of the word. Since God is Spirit (4:24), then His word, which belongs to Him and comes from Him, is also Spirit. The statements in 3:31-35 are especially instructive in this regard, since they bring together three key Johannine themes: (i) the Divine origin of the words Jesus speaks, (ii) the idea of the Father giving to the Son “all things” that belong to Him, and (iii) the specific idea of the Father giving the Spirit (in its fullness) to the Son, who, in turn, is able to give it to believers. This close association between word and Spirit is made explicit by the statement (by Jesus) in 6:63b:

“the utterances [i.e. words] that I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life”

There is a close formal parallel between this statement and 15:3b:

    • “the utterances that I have spoken to you”
      ta\ r(h/mata a^ e)gw\ lela/lhka u(mi=n
    • “the word that I have spoken to you”
      to\n lo/gon o^ lela/lhka u(mi=n

The plural r(h/mata (lit. things uttered, utterances) refers to the specific things Jesus has said/taught, and, in this context, is essentially synonymous with the plural of lo/go$ (lo/goi, “words”). The singular lo/go$ refers to the sayings/teachings of Jesus in a general or collective sense.

The prior statement in 6:63a explains how the word of Jesus, which is Spirit, can cleanse the disciples:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making live [i.e. giving life], the flesh does not benefit anything”

The Spirit communicates life—that is, the life of God, eternal life—to the believer. This dynamic involves the removal of sin and protection from the Judgment (against sin). The association of the Spirit with water (as also with fire), has, as a major point of significance, the concept of cleansing. In giving the Spirit to believers, Jesus “baptizes” them/us with it (1:33), implying that they/we are cleansed (washed); cp. again the foot-washing scene (13:8-11). Cleansing is not the only significance of the association with water; the water-motif also is used to signify being born of the Spirit (3:3-8), and partaking of (i.e., drinking) the Spirit as “living water” which resides within the believer (4:10-14; 7:37-39).

The use of lo/go$ in v. 3 is best understood as general and comprehensive, referring to the teaching and proclamation by Jesus in total. Even so, a certain priority must be given to the teaching in the Last Discourse, since it represents the fullest revelation, given by Jesus, to the disciples. With the departure of Judas (13:29-30), only the close circle of Jesus’ true disciples (i.e., true believers) remains, and he now has the opportunity to instruct them in the truth at a deeper level. This instruction will continue, spiritually, through the abiding presence of the Spirit.

In communicating the word of God, Jesus is also communicating himself as the eternal/living Word. The two aspects of the theological meaning of lo/go$ really cannot be separated in this regard. Jesus communicates the Spirit, but is also himself present in/through the Spirit. The important conceptual parallel, between “remaining in” the Son and “remaining in” the Son’s word (cf. 8:31), will be discussed further as we proceed through these notes.

October 20: John 15:3 (continued)

John 15:3, continued

Having explored the parallel between vv. 2-3 of the Vine-illustration and the earlier foot-washing episode in 13:8-11 (part of the narrative setting for the Last Discourse) in the previous note, we shall now examine the statement in verse 3 in detail:

“Already you are clean, through the word that I have spoken to you.”
h&dh u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste dia\ to\n lo/gon o^n lela/lhka u(mi=n

As we proceed, it is important to keep in mind the close similarity of form (and theme) between v. 3 and 13:10b:

“Already you are clean…” / “and (so) you are clean”

The phrase “you are clean” (u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste) is identical in each statement, providing a clear indication that the intended meaning and significance of the two statements is quite similar.

h&dh (“already”)—The adverbial particle h&dh roughly means “even now”; it is fundamentally a temporal particle, giving a relative indication of time(frame), either for something past that has just (now) been completed or for something that is about to happen in the immediate future. The particle is used primarily in narrative (i.e., in the Gospels and Acts), and occurs rather more frequently in John (16 times) than the Synoptics (Matthew [6], Mark [8], Luke [10]). While it is tends to be used in an ordinary narrative context in John (e.g., 4:51; 5:6; 6:17; 11:17), there are few instances where it has special theological significance:

    • 3:18— “The [one] trusting in him [i.e. in the Son] is not judged; but the [one] not trusting in him has already [h&dh] been judged…”
    • 4:35— “…look at the (open) spaces [i.e. fields], (how) that they are white toward harvesting already [h&dh]”
    • 19:28— “…Yeshua, having seen that all (thing)s have now [h&dh] been completed, said…”

In the first two references, h&dh is used to express the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine Gospel. The emphasis is on the present fulfillment of certain end-time events. The end-time “harvest” (of the Last Judgment, etc) is already realized in the present—both for believers and non-believers. Believers have passed through the Judgment safe (without being judged), while non-believers have been judged by God, since they have not trusted in Jesus as the only Son of God. The position of h&dh in 4:35, in particular, at the end of the verse, is emphatic (cf. the discussion in the earlier note).

In the third reference, the particle reinforces the important theological point that the Son’s mission (for which he was sent to earth by the Father) is completed (vb tele/w, in the perfect tense) at the very moment (“even now”) of his death on the cross.

Here in 15:3, h&dh occurs in emphatic position, at the beginning of the verse, and may also be deemed, based on the context, to be of genuine theological importance. But in what sense? Most likely, it is meant to establish a certain contrast with the prior statement in v. 2, much as the particle does in 4:35 (cf. above). The branches that bear fruit are to be cleaned by the land-worker (God the Father) at the proper time; but Jesus tells his disciples that they are “already clean”. Likely the ‘pruning’ of the vine in the illustration has an implied eschatological context, much like the harvest motif in 4:31-38. The time of pruning has already come.

u(mei=$ (“you” [plur.])—The plural second person pronoun refers to the disciples of Jesus whom he is addressing in the Discourse. The introduction of this mode of address, at this climactic point in the illustration, clearly identifies the disciples with the fruit-bearing ‘branches’ that are cleaned/pruned.

As always in the Johannine Discourses in which Jesus addresses his disciples, and especially here in the Last Discourse, it is not entirely clear whether (or to what extent) a distinction is intended between the immediate circle of Jesus’ disciples and all other (future) believers. Is Jesus addressing the disciples only, or all believers? I am convinced that the principal orientation of the Gospel addresses all believers, even if the original disciples are the primary reference within the historical context of the narrative. Here, the immediate statement addresses the disciples—those who are hearing his word as he speaks it—but also applies to all other believers who subsequently “hear” this same word.

kaqaroi/ (“clean”)—The adjective kaqaro/$, along with the related verbs kaqai/rw (in v. 2) and kaqari/zw (in 1 Jn 1:7, 9), was discussed in the previous note. The other three Johannine occurrences of the adjective are in 13:10-11, within the foot-washing episode (cf. above, and in the previous note). As I discussed, the cleansing motif in 13:10-11 refers to the cleansing of the disciples (i.e., believers) from sin, a point that is confirmed by the use of the verb kaqari/zw in 1 John 1:7ff. In both 13:10-11 and 1 Jn 1:7ff, the point of reference specifically involves the believer’s participation in the sacrificial death of Jesus, and thus partaking in the cleansing and life-giving power that his death brings. This participation in his death is symbolized by the disciples’ (represented by Peter) involvement in the foot-washing act by Jesus. By contrast, in 1 Jn 1:7ff, the effect of Jesus’ death (his “blood”) is communicated spiritually to the believer (cp. the context of Jn 6:51-58, in light of v. 63).

e)ste (“you are”)—As I have discussed on numerous occasions, the verb of being (ei)mi) often has special theological significance in the Johannine writings. The use of the verb of being in the Gospel Prologue (1:1ff) established a distinctive syntactical/grammatical association between the verb and the being of God. This same association is alluded to at various points throughout the Gospel, including here. To say that the disciples are (e)ste) clean, implies that they are, in some sense, sharing in the identity and attributes of God. Such sharing is realized spiritually, through the Spirit, as the result of the believer’s trust in the Son (Jesus). Through one’s union with the Son, the believer is united with the Father, and thus is able to partake of the life-giving power of His holy Spirit.

dia/ (“through”)—When the preposition dia/ is used with the genitive case, it tends to indicate instrumentality, i.e., the means by which something takes place. Here it is used with the accusative case, suggesting a cause or result (i.e., “because of”).

to\n lo/gon (“the word”)—The noun with the article is in the accusative, part of a prepositional phrase governed by the preposition dia/ (“through, because of”), cf. above. The noun lo/go$ has an extremely wide range of meaning that defies consistent translation into English. This is all the more true in the case of the Johannine writings, where lo/go$ carries a distinctive theological (and Christological) meaning. In such a context, for lack of any better option, the translation “word” is as good as any.

Within the Johannine theology, the noun lo/go$ has two levels of meaning: (1) referring to the person of the Son (Jesus) as the incarnation of the eternal/living Word (Lo/go$) of God, and (2) as a reference to things said/spoken (teachings, etc) by the Son during his earthly ministry. In a number of passages, the author (and/or Jesus as the speaker) likely plays upon both aspects of meaning. This, I believe, is such an instance.

o^n lela/lhka (“which I have spoken”)—The use of the verb lale/w (“speak”) would indicate that lo/go$ here refers, at least primarily, to things that Jesus has said to his disciples. In this regard, lo/go$ is largely synonymous with rh=ma (“utterance”) in the Gospel; rh=ma always occurs in the plural, in which case it differs little from lo/go$ in the plural (lo/goi, “words”)—both refer to the specific things that Jesus has said to his disciples, teaching and proclaiming the truth to them. When used in the singular, lo/go$ refers to this teaching generally, or in a collective sense. Here it is the singular, which governs the relative phrase “the word which [o^n] I have spoken”.

An important theological principle in the Gospel of John is that the word Jesus speaks is not his own—it comes from God the Father. As a dutiful Son, Jesus speaks only what he hears from his Father, things which the Father tells him. This cuts right to the heart of the intimate relationship (and union) between Father and Son, a central aspect of the Johannine theology that is clearly established in the Prologue (1:1-18). The word(s) that Jesus speaks, since they come from God, are themselves Divine, and are spiritual in nature (being of God’s Spirit). As the statement in 6:63 declares, Jesus’ words are Spirit, and they communicate the Spirit to those (believers) who hear it. It is just at this point that the two aspects of the Johannine theological meaning of lo/go$ blend together.

The verb lale/w occurs frequently in this theological context; the most immediate occurrences, in the Last Discourse (and just prior), are—12:48-50; 14:10, 25, 30; 15:11, 22; 16:1, 4, 6, 13, 18, 25, 29, 33.

u(mi=n (“to you”)—Again, the second person plural pronoun identifies the disciples with the fruit-bearing ‘branches’ of the illustration. They are the ones whom Jesus is addressing, and he has spoken the cleansing word (lo/go$) to them. The pronoun is in the dative case.

In the next daily note, we will draw some interpretive conclusions based on the above exegesis of verse 3.


October 18: John 15:2 (concluded)

John 15:2, concluded

The final area to investigate, in this study on verse 2, is the precise meaning and significance of the parallel verbs ai&rw and kaqai/rw. As I discussed in a prior note, the action of the “land-worker” (God the Father) on the vine is the same (cutting/pruning), but the effective result is different based on the nature/character of the branch that is involved. The two clauses in verse 2 are thus parallel, but contrastive, and the contrast rests in the description of the branch: “bearing fruit” (fe/ron karpo/n) or “not bearing fruit” (mh\ fe/ron karpo/n). The contrast is amplified by the corresponding verb—ai&rw or kaqai/rw.

Let us begin with the first verb (and clause):

“Every broken (branch) in me not bearing fruit, he takes it (away)” (v. 2a)

The noun klh=ma is typically translated as “branch”; however, it properly denotes something that is broken. Thus, in the context here, klh=ma alludes to the worker’s act of cutting/pruning—i.e., the “breaking (off)” of branches. Even though the branch is in the vine (“in me”), it is cut (off) as part of the pruning process. However, this particular branch is not bearing any fruit, and so, the pruning of it simply removes it, without any effect to the fruit-bearing of the vine. This is expressed by the verb ai&rw (“take [away]”).

This verb (ai&rw) was discussed in an earlier article on the “Lamb of God” declaration in 1:29. The verb has two principal meanings: (a) “take up”, and (b) “take away”. The usage of the verb in the Gospel of John reflects both of these meanings. The first meaning, with the ordinary sense of taking/picking up an object, occurs in 5:8-12; 8:59, and figuratively in 10:18. The second meaning, referring to taking away (i.e. removing) an object, is more frequent—2:16; 11:39, 41, 48; 17:15; 19:15, 31, 38; 20:1-2, 13, 15—and can also be used similarly in a figurative sense (16:22). This usage suggests that the meaning of ai&rw in 1:29 is “take away” (i.e., remove), a point confirmed by the thrust of the Johannine theology, and the parallel in 1 Jn 3:5:

    • “See, the lamb of God—the (one) taking (away) [ai&rwn] the sin of the world” (1:29)
    • “you have seen that that (one) was made to shine forth, (so) that he might take (away) [a&rh|] sin…” (1 Jn 3:5)

The use of ai&rw in these two references is relevant for an understanding of v. 2a—both in the principal meaning of the verb (“take away, remove”), and in the (theological) context of removing something that is fundamentally in opposition to God. In 1:29 (and 1 Jn 3:5) the negative/harmful thing that is removed is sin (a(marti/a), while here in v. 2 it is the branch that is “not bearing fruit”. In the previous note, looking at the agricultural illustration in 4:31-38, we saw how the “fruit” that is harvested is defined specifically in terms of eternal life. There is a comparable emphasis in the saying by Jesus in 12:24 (cf. the earlier note), whereby the death of the seed (i.e., Jesus’ sacrificial death) produces new life (i.e. eternal life) out of the ground. The Son (Jesus) is the source of life, having received it himself from the Father.

Thus, the absence of fruit implies the absence of this (eternal) life, meaning that the branch is effectively dead. There is thus a reasonably close parallel between the idea of taking away sin (1:29) and of taking away what is dead (15:2a).

Let us turn now to the second clause, and the use of the verb kaqai/rw:

“and, every (branch that is) bearing fruit, he cleans it, (so) that it might bear more fruit.” (v. 2b)

The verb kaqai/rw means “(make) clean”; it is close in meaning to the related verb kaqari/zw, with both being derived from the adjective kaqaro/$ (“clean, clear, pure”). Occasionally, kaqai/rw can be used in the sense of “prune”, i.e., cleaning/clearing the branches of a vine, etc., and it obviously has this meaning here. The verb kaqari/zw is far more common; indeed, kaqai/rw occurs only here in the New Testament (it is also rare in the LXX, occurring just twice [2 Sam 4:6; Isa 28:27]). However, the conceptual similarity between the two verbs—both denoting the idea of cleansing—means that we are justified in examining the Johannine use of kaqari/zw, as well as the root adjective kaqaro/$, in order to elucidate the significance of kaqai/rw here.

Let us begin with the adjective kaqaro/$ (“clean, clear, pure”), which occurs 4 times in the Gospel, all four in the context of the Last Discourse. In spite of its relative rarity, the usage in 13:10-11 is instructive, since it establishes the theme of cleansing in the narrative setting for the Last Discourse. The adjective is featured in the foot-washing episode of the Last Supper scene (13:1-11). The author clearly sees important symbolism in this episode, though the precise significance is, to some extent, only hinted at. The reader is in something of the same position as the disciples (Peter, in particular), to whom Jesus says: “What I do here, you have not seen [i.e. known] yet, but you will know [i.e. understand it] after these (thing)s” (v. 7).

The episode has a loose discourse-format, as Jesus makes a series of statements (vv. 7, 8b, 10, 11b) which the disciples (represented by Peter) cannot properly understand (vv. 8a, 9, [11a]). Let us briefly consider the three statements in vv 8b-11:

    • “If I should not wash you, (then) you have no part with me.” (v. 8b)
    • “The (one) having bathed has no business washing, if not (only) his feet; but (his) whole (body) is clean [kaqaro/$]” (v. 10a)
    • “and (so) you are clean [kaqaroi/], but not all (of you)” (v. 10b) /
      “not all (of you) are clean [kaqaroi/]” (v. 11b)

These statements are interrelated, building upon each other inductively to form a coherent message. Because this message relates to the final statement of the Vine-illustration (v. 3), it is proper to examine the three occurrences of kaqaro/$ here, along with the two Johannine occurrence of the verb kaqari/zw (1 Jn 1:7, 9), in the note on verse 3, our next daily note in this series.

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
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.