John 14:4-7 (continued, v. 7)
Following the great declaration in verse 6 (see yesterday’s note), Jesus adds the statement in v. 7, addressed directly to his disciples. The precise meaning remains uncertain, due to the textual difficulty surrounding the verb forms used by Jesus. I translate the verse initially based on the reading of the Nestle-Aland critical text:
“If you have known [e)gnw/kate] me, you will know [gw/sesqe] my Father also; and from now (on) you know [ginw/skete] him and have seen [e(wra/kate] him.”
It is in the first part, the conditional clause, where the most significant textual differences are involved. The NA text generally follows the key papyrus Ë66, along with a D 579, in the first two forms of the verb ginw/skw (“know”) that are used:
- Perfect indicative (e)gnw/kate)—”if you have known me”, i.e. if (indeed) you have (truly) come to know me
- Future indicative (gnw/sesqe)—”(then) you will know my Father”, i.e. just as you know me
However, the majority of manuscripts (including Vaticanus [B]), have a different initial form, which creates a somewhat different conditional clause. The Westcott-Hort [W-H] critical text follows B:
- Pluperfect (e)gnw/keite)—”if you had known me”, the implication being that you do not yet truly known me
- Pluperfect (h&|deite) with the conditional particle a&n—”you would have seen/known my Father”, i.e. you do not (yet) know Him
This difference of emphasis effects how the second half of the sentence should be understood. The majority reading (as in B, W-H) would be interpreted this way:
- Right now—you do not yet (truly) know me, and so have not yet known (or seen) the Father
- But from this point on—you do know me, and so have known/seen the Father
It creates a relatively straightforward contrast between the disciples’ understanding and awareness before and after the Last Discourse (and the death/resurrection of Jesus). This interpretation is favored, on internal grounds, by the overall context and setting of the Last Discourse. At a number of points, Jesus conveys the idea that the disciples are undergoing a transformative experience (cf. 13:8-10, 34f; 14:25ff; 15:3, 9ff, 17; 16:4ff, 21, etc), which will only be complete after the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit (13:7, 36; 14:16-17, 20, 25ff, 29; 15:26; 16:4, 6-7, 12ff, 22ff, 25-28). Especially favoring this view is Jesus’ (parallel) response to Philip in 14:9, which stresses the disciples’ lack of understanding.
On the other hand, the reading of Ë66, etc, NA, leads to a different sort of interpretation, which I would outline as follows:
- The Disciples know Jesus (the Son) =>
- They also know the Father
And, if one has come to know the Father, then =>
- One has truly seen the Father
- They also know the Father
In favor of this interpretation (and reading) is the step-parallel motif/method which appears frequently in the Gospel of John. Moreover, it creates, much moreso than in the Majority reading, a distinct and parallel relationship between knowing and seeing, which is so fundamental to the Johannine Gospel (cf. the prior article). Indeed, it much better suits the context of what follows in vv. 8-11, where the theme of seeing God the Father is emphasized.
Here is an instance where strong arguments can be offered on both sides, and so, the text and essential reading of the verse cannot be established with complete certainty. No reputable commentator today would treat this passage without acknowledging the textual variants and uncertainty which exists. Indeed, I would maintain that much is to be gained by a careful examination of both sets of variants summarized above. Given the importance of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”), ei&dw (“see, know”) and o(ra/w (“look at, perceive, behold”) in the Gospel of John, and the frequency with which they are used in the discourses of Jesus, the precise form of the verb, with the nuance of meaning that results from it, ought to be considered most carefully. This is an integral part of a faithful study of the Scriptures, and should not be ignored.