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“…Spirit and Life” (continued): Acts and the Pauline Letters

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Having examined all of the relevant passages in the Gospel of John, before proceeding to the Johannine Letters, it will be useful to look at some of the key references to the Spirit and Life in the remaining New Testament writings.

I have already discussed the passages in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts, dealing with the Holy Spirit, in an earlier series of notes (last year) on “The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition” (notes for June 25 cover the Acts references).

Life (zwh/) in Luke-Acts

There are five occurrences of the noun zwh/ in the Gospel of Luke, along with nine of the related verb za/w (“live”). Most of these are derived from the wider Synoptic tradition, such as the use of the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ (“Life of the Age”) in 10:25 (+ the verb za/w in v. 28); 18:18, 30. In these episodes, a devout/religious person asks Jesus “What should I do to receive the lot of [i.e. inherit] (the) Life of the Age?”—that is, to inherit the divine/heavenly (eternal) life given to the righteous in the Age to Come (after the Judgment). In the first episode, Jesus elicits from the man the answer of the two-fold “Great Commandment” (Deut 6:5 + Lev 19:18), which came to be understood in early Christian terms as the so-called Love-command (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8; cf. also John 13:34-35; 15:9-13; 1 Cor 12:31b-14:1a, etc). In the second episode, Jesus emphasizes the need to follow him, and, in the process, give up the worldly things valued in this life. The only other occurrence of zwh/ in something like the sense of “eternal life” is the saying in 12:15, and in a similar context—i.e., the “life” of a person does not come out of an abundance of (material) possessions.

The verb za/w also refers to “eternal life” in Lk 10:28; we may also note the traditional citation of Deut 8:3 in the Temptation scene: “it is not upon bread alone that man will live” (Lk 4:4)—i.e., one “lives” through the life-giving Word of God. The discourses of Jesus in John develop this idea, as we have seen, especially in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6 (and the key-verse of this series, 6:63). A similar idea is expressed in the Lukan version of the saying in 20:38: “But he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live in/by him”. The giving of new (spiritual) life to persons lost or “dead” in sin, so familiar in the Johannine discourses, also appears at the conclusion of the Prodigal Son parable: “…this brother of yours was dead and came alive (again), and had ruined [i.e. lost] (himself) and was found!” (15:32).

Of course, the verb is also used of the actual resurrection of Jesus, as in 24:5, 23; Acts 1:3; 25:19 (on the symbolic/spiritual idea of resurrection, cf. John 5:21-24ff; 11:21-27), and similarly of physical raising of persons from the dead in the book of Acts (9:41 etc).

An interesting use of the verb is in Acts 7:38, where Stephen, in his sermon-speech, refers to the words given by God to Moses as “living sayings/declarations” (lo/gia zw=nta), the idea being that words spoken by the living God are themselves living. The concept of God as the source of life is expressed twice by Paul in sermon-speeches, delivered in a non-Jewish (Greco-Roman) setting—of the one true living God (14:15), and cf. especially the famous philosophical formula cited in 17:28: “for in Him we live and move and have being [e)sme/n]”.

“Life” in the Pauline Letters and Theology

Paul uses the verb za/w (“live, have life”) frequently in his letters (more than 50 times in the undisputed letters). Sometimes it is meant in the ordinary sense of human life (and/or daily living), but quite often it denotes divine/eternal or spiritual Life.

Paul also makes use of the verb zwopoie/w (“make [a]live”)—7 of the 11 occurrences in the New Testament are found in his letters (cf. also John 5:21 [twice]; 6:63; 1 Pet 3:18):

  • Rom 4:17; 8:11—where the reference is specifically to the life-giving (and resurrection) power of God
  • 1 Cor 15:22, 36, 45—the life-giving power of Jesus, specifically through his resurrection (on the last reference, cf. below)
  • 2 Cor 3:6—the life-giving power of the Spirit (Spirit/Law [“Letter”] contrast), cf. also Gal 3:21

The noun zwh/ (“life”) is somewhat less common, occurring 28 times in the undisputed letters (with 9 more in Ephesians and the Pastorals). The specific expression “Life of the Age” (zwh/ ai)w/nio$) occurs five times—Rom 2:7; 5:21; 6:22-23; Gal 6:8 (cf. also 1 Tim 1:16; 6:12; Tit 1:2; 3:7)—usually in a strongly ethical context (but note the emphasis on the “favor” [xa/ri$] of God in Rom 5:21; 6:23).

The remaining Pauline passage which are particularly relevant may summarized as follows:

“Life” in the other New Testament Writings

Before continuing on to look at the references to the Spirit in the Pauline letters, it is worth surveying briefly other occurrences of the noun zwh/ and verb za/w in the rest of the New Testament (excluding the Johannine letters and book of Revelation):

Hebrews
  • The basic idea of eternal life (in the sense of always living) is applied variously to the figure of Melchizedek (as a type/figure of Jesus) in 7:3, 8, 16, 25
  • The figure of God as living (cf. above), along with his Word as living—3:12; 4:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22
  • Of the sacrificial (priestly) work of Jesus, which leads to Life—10:20 (“living way”)
  • One lives through trust in Jesus—10:38 (citing Hab 2:4, cf. above)
James
  • The expression “crown of life” as a motif for eternal Life (1:12)
1 Peter
  • Life through (the death and resurrection of) Jesus—1:3 (“living hope”); 2:24
  • Participation/union of believers with Jesus, i.e. we are “living” as he is “living”—2:4-5
  • The living (and life-giving) Word of God—1:23
  • Life comes to believers through the favor [xa/ri$] of God—3:7 (“favor of life”)
  • Believers live “in the Spirit”—3:18 (vb. zwopoie/w); 4:6
2 Peter & Jude

 

Note of the Day – June 12 (John 17:3-4)

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John 17:2-3

Today’s note comes from the great prayer-discourse (chap. 17) which concludes the “Last Discourse”. At the beginning of this section (vv. 2-3), we find the most precise definition of the expression “Life of the Age [zwh/ ai)w/nio$]” (i.e. eternal life) in the Gospel. It also happens to be one of the most “gnostic”-sounding statements in the New Testament; indeed, I discussed this aspect of the passage at length in an earlier note (part of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”). Here are verses 1b-2 in translation:

“Father, the hour has come—give honor to your Son (so) that your Son might give honor to you, even as you gave him authority [e)cousi/a] o(ver) all flesh, (so) that, (for) all (person)s, whom(ever) you have given to him, he should give to them (the) Life of the Age.”

This repeats the idea, expressed at numerous points in the earlier discourses, that the Father gives Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives Life to believers. For the background of the specific expression “Life of the Age”, cf. the earlier notes in this series, as well as the notes on Jn 11:20-27. Verse 2 also expresses the idea that believers (elect/chosen ones) have been given to the Son by the Father (vv. 6ff). The definition of “Life of the Age” comes in verse 3:

“And this is the Life of the Age: that they should know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

This formulation, specifically referring to “Yeshua the Anointed [i.e. Jesus Christ]”, sounds very much like an early Christian credal statement; and, in fact, many critical commentators view it as a product of the Gospel writer, rather than a self-referential statement by Jesus himself. It is certainly possible to view verse 3 as a parenthetical comment by the writer—indeed, one can read verse 4 directly after v. 2 without any real disruption or loss of meaning. However one views the composition of verse 3, the value and significance of it as a definition of “the Life of the Age” is clear—and it is defined in terms of knowledge:

  1. of the only true God (i.e., God the Father, YHWH):
    “they should know you, the only true God”
  2. of the one sent forth by God (Jesus–Yeshua the Anointed):
    “(they should know) the (one) whom you sent forth…”

In terms of obtaining this knowledge, and thus possessing (“holding”) eternal Life, the order has to be reversed (cf. 1:18; 14:6-11, etc):

  1. One sees/knows Jesus (the Son)—i.e. recognizes and trusts in him
  2. One sees/knows God the Father through the Son

The theological framework of the Gospel of John can be outlined in more detail:

Thus the emphasis on knowledge in 17:3 can be misleading, if we think of it in terms of ordinary human knowledge and perception. Rather, in the Gospel of John, and much of the New Testament elsewhere, a deeper kind of theological and spiritual understanding is meant—centered on trust in Jesus and the presence of both the Son (Jesus) and the Father through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not mentioned directly in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17, but it can be inferred from the theme of unity (esp. verses 20-24) and the triadic relationship of Father-Son-Believer(s):

Mention should be made of the specific title xristo/$ (“Anointed [One]”). Though the Johannine portrait of Jesus goes far beyond the traditional Jewish conception(s) of the Anointed One (Messiah), it retains the title and the fundamental identification of Jesus with the Messianic figure-types—Prophet, Davidic Ruler, and also “Son of Man” (on these, cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed“). The association of the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” goes back to the early Gospel traditions (in the Baptism and Passion/crucifixion scenes, etc), and, while the latter title (i.e. Jesus as God’s Son) dominates the Gospel of John, the former is certainly not forgotten. True knowledge of Jesus—the knowledge which is the same as Life—includes recognition that he is the Anointed One of God. The closing words of the Gospel proper give unmistakable expression to this fact:

“These (thing)s have been written (so) that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed One, the Son of God, and that, trusting, you would hold Life in his name.” (20:31)

Note of the Day – June 11 (John 16:7-15)

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John 16:7-15

The fourth (and final) reference to the Spirit/Paraclete in the Last Discourse is the most extensive, and comes from the third part or division of the Discourse (cf. my earlier outline of the Discourse):

  • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
    • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 4b-7a)
      • The Coming of the Spirit (vv. 7b-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 11-15)
    • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (v. 16)
      • Question by the disciples (vv. 17-18)
      • Jesus’ response: The Promise of his Return (vv. 19-24)
    • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)

Each of the three main divisions deals with the central theme of Jesus’ departure. Though the Last Discourse is set in the narrative prior to Jesus’ death, much of it has a post-resurrection orientation—that is, it refers primarily to Jesus’ ultimate return back to the Father. This is important for a proper understanding of the Spirit/Paraclete passages. As I indicated in the previous notes, the main role and significance of the para/klhto$ is that he represents the presence of both Jesus (the Son) and God the Father in and with the believer. Primarily, it is the presence of Jesus himself which is emphasized. Once Jesus has returned to the Father, his presence will continue through the Spirit, and this presence will continue “into the Age”—i.e., until the coming of the final Judgment and the new/future Age.

The first section of this division—16:4b-15—deals specifically with the Spirit/Paraclete, prefaced by a restatement of Jesus’ impending departure (vv. 4b-6). This establishes the context for verse 7:

“But I relate the truth to you: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away from (you); for, if I should not go away from (you), the one called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you, but if I travel (away) (then) I will send him toward you.”

This coming of the Spirit represents the deeper meaning of Jesus’ promise that the disciples (and all believers) will see him again. On the surface, this promise more obviously relates to a post-resurrection or future appearance; however, in the context of Johannine theology, and the language of the discourses, where seeing Jesus is the same as knowing/recognizing him, the experience of the Spirit is a true fulfillment of the promise.

The Role of the Spirit/Paraclete in 16:7-15

The role of Spirit/Paraclete is described by Jesus in vv. 8-15, and it follows upon the theme of bearing/giving witness (15:26-27). There the emphasis was specifically on giving witness of Jesus—who he is and what he has said/done—expressed in terms of the Spirit’s role in the disciples’ (and other believers’) witness. Here, the scope of the Spirit’s witness has broadened, in the (eschatological) context of Judgment:

“And, at his coming, he will bring the world to shame/disgrace about sin and about justice and about judgment” (v. 8)

I have translated the verb e)le/gxw here rather literally; however, it is important to note that, in the New Testament, there is usually a legal and ethical connotation to its use—i.e., to expose (sin) and convict a person (of wrong), often with the religious aspect of bringing one to repentance. The “realized” eschatology found throughout the Johannine discourses means that the Spirit fulfills this role in God’s Judgment now, in the present time. Presumably this is done through the inspired witness and teaching of believers (following the train of thought in 15:26-27), though this is not specified here (but note vv. 12ff). In verses 9-11, each of the three subjects (governed by peri/, “about”) are clarified:

  • about sin [a(marti/a$]—in that they do not trust in me” (v. 9)
  • about justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh]—in that I lead (myself) back toward the Father and you do not see/observe me any longer” (v. 10)
  • about judgment [kri/si$]—in that the chief/ruler of this world has been judged” (v. 11)

I have always found the logic of this three-fold exposition a bit difficult to follow; it appears to be somewhat inconsistent in its point of reference. However, some confusion is removed, I think, if we realize that it does not so much reflect three parallel elements, as it does a two-part division. I would summarize this as follows:

The evidence brought in judgment against the people in the world follows the basic dualism of the Gospel—believer/non-believer, righteousness vs. sin, etc. Those who belong to the world (non-believers) are governed by sin and darkness, while those who belong to God and Christ by righteousness and light. The situation regarding non-believers is stated simply: “they do not trust in me”. For believers, it is more complex—how is justice/righteousness revealed or made manifest? This is expressed differently, in terms of the very dynamic Jesus is describing in the Discourse: “I lead (myself) under [i.e. go back] toward the Father, and you do not see me any longer”. In other words, the Spirit takes Jesus’ place, as we have already discussed—this is the primary aspect of the Spirit’s witness for believers. It is also the theme of the closing verses (12-15) of this section:

“I hold yet many (thing)s to say/relate to you, but you are not able to bear (them) now; and (yet) when that (one) should come—the Spirit of Truth—he will lead the way for you in(to) all truth…” (vv. 12-13a)

This follows the declarations in 14:25-26 and 15:26-27, but with a more general emphasis on the Spirit’s guidance—he will lead the way into all truth. The basis for this guidance, and the truth which the Spirit possesses, is his distinctive relationship to Jesus (the Son) and God the Father, as expressed throughout the discourses, and again here:

“…for he will not speak from himself, but (rather) whatever (thing)s he shall hear, (those) he will speak and will give a message to you up(on) the (thing)s coming” (v. 13b)

This is precisely parallel to Jesus’ relationship to the Father—he (the Son) speaks only what the Father gives him to say. The Spirit has the same relation to Jesus (the Son)—

“That (one) will give honor to me, (in) that he will receive out of the (thing)s (that are) mine and will give a message up(on them) to you” (v. 14)

which is set clearly in context in the closing declaration:

“All (thing)s whatever that the Father holds are mine—through this [i.e. because of this] I said that he receives out of the (thing)s (that are) mine and will give a message up(on them) to you.” (v. 15)

The Father gives to the Son, the Son then gives to the Spirit, who, in turn, gives to believers. The three-fold chain—Father-Son-Believer—is expanded to four:

Father-Son-Spirit-Believer

 

Note of the Day – June 10 (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27)

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John 14:25-26; 15:26-27

For the second day of Pentecost, I will be examining the second and third references to the Spirit in the Last Discourse. The meaning of the word para/klhto$ and its identification with the Spirit were discussed in the previous note (on 14:16-17), along with the primary significance of the “one called alongside”—the abiding presence of both Jesus (the Son) and God the Father in and with the believer, a presence which will last “into the Age”. In the three references which follow—14:25-26; 15:26-27 and 16:7-15—Jesus provides more detail as to the role and work of the Spirit/Paraclete, and the kind of help/assistance which the he will provide on behalf of believers. In discussing these two passages, I wish to explore two key aspects:

  1. The relationship between Jesus and the Father in the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete, and
  2. The specific role/action of the Spirit/Paraclete

1. With regard to this first point, there can be a good deal of confusion: is it the Father or Jesus (the Son) who gives/sends the Spirit? Let us look at how this is described in each of the passages, beginning with the two under discussion today:

  • “…the one called alongside [para/klhto$], the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (14:26)
  • “…the one called alongside [para/klhto$], whom I will send (from) alongside the Father, the Spirit of Truth…” (15:26)

There is even more variation if we include all four passages:

  • “I will ask (of) the Father and He will give…” (14:16)
  • “the Father will send in my name…” (14:26)
  • “I will send (from) alongside the Father…” (15:26)
  • “I will send (him)…” (16:7)

How are we to understand this interrelated dynamic—the involvement of both Father and Son (Jesus) in sending/giving the Spirit? To begin with, the ultimate source of the Spirit/Paraclete is God the Father, as is clear from 15:26: “…the Spirit of Truth which travels out [e)kporeu/etai] (from) alongside the Father”. This is also confirmed by the progression indicated in the four passages:

  • The Father gives (at Jesus’ request)—sole/primary action of the Father
  • The Father sends in Jesus’ name—primary action of the Father
  • Jesus sends from the Father—primary action of Jesus
  • Jesus sends—sole/primary action of Jesus

This transference reflects the basic theological model in the Johannine discourses—the Father gives to the Son (Jesus), who, in turn, gives to believers. This is expressed most precisely in 5:26:

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

Life and the Spirit are virtually synonymous in the Gospel of John, and this same relational dynamic is expressed, in terms of the Spirit, in 3:34-35:

  • “The Father…has given all things in(to) the (Son’s) hand” (v. 35)
  • “The (Son) God (the Father) sent…gives the Spirit” (v. 34)

2. The role and work of the Spirit/Paraclete is expressed by Jesus in both of these passages, which are closely parallel with each other:

“These things I have spoken (while) remaining alongside you, but the one called alongside, the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name—that (one) will teach you all (thing)s and will put under your mind/memory all (the thing)s that I said to you.” (14:25-26)

“When he should come, the one called alongside, whom I will send to you (from) alongside the Father—the Spirit of Truth who travels out (from) alongside the Father—that (one) will give witness about me, and you also will give witness…” (15:25-27)

Thus there are two roles the Spirit/Paraclete will have for believers:

  • To teach them all things, and especially to help them remember the things which Jesus himself has taught them
  • To give/bear witness about Jesus—that is, through the disciples (believers), as is clear from verse 27 (cf. also Mark 13:11 par; Luke 12:12; Acts 4:8, 31; 6:10; 7:55, etc)

There is a tendency, perhaps, to limit these (esp. the first) to the disciples (apostles), but this is unwarranted—the Last Discourse, and, indeed, all of Jesus’ teaching in the discourses, can be taken as applying to all believers. The role of the Spirit teaching believers “all things” is confirmed by the similar (Johannine) statement in the first Letter (1 Jn 2:27):

“And the anointing which you received from him [i.e. Jesus] remains on/in you, and you have no business [i.e. need] that any one should teach you; but (rather), as the anointing (from) him teaches you about all things and is true, and is not a lie, and even as it/he taught you—remain in him.”

This corresponds precisely with what Jesus says of the Spirit/Paraclete in 14:26. The function of bearing witness will be developed further in the final passage in the Last Discourse (16:7-15), to be discussed in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – June 9 (John 14:16-17)

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John 14:16-17

For the three days of Pentecost (Sunday/Monday/Tuesday), I will be examining the four passages in the Last Discourse where the Holy Spirit is specifically mentioned. The first of these is found in 14:16-17. I wish to discuss this reference according to three points:

  1. The meaning of the word para/klhto$ and its identification
  2. Its primary significance in the Last Discourse, and
  3. The connection between vv. 16-17 and verse 15
1. The meaning and identification of para/klhto$

The noun para/klhto$ literally means “one called alongside”, or, in the active sense, “one who calls (a person) alongside”. The “calling alongside” fundamentally refers to giving help or assistance to a person. This help sometimes is in the technical (legal) sense of a defender or “defense attorney”, i.e. an advocate—and so the word is rendered here in some translations. However, translations such as “Advocate” or “Comforter”, etc, are interpretive renderings which tend to focus only on one particular aspect of the kind of “help” a para/klhto$ might give. To avoid this, other translators and commentators give a simple transliteration in English—”Paraclete”—but this offers no guidance as to the meaning of the word. In point of fact, Jesus describes the specific “help” which the para/klhto$ will give to his disciples (believers) in the context of these sayings, so it is best to translate the word itself literally—i.e., “one called alongside”:

“And I will ask (of) the Father and he will give to you another (who is) called alongside [para/klhto$], (so) that he might be with you into the Age…” (v. 16)

The use of a&llo$ (“[an]other”) suggests that Jesus himself was a para/klhto$—i.e. one called alongside believers, and that this second “helper” will take his place. This would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 2:1, the only other occurrence of the word in the New Testament outside of the four in Jn 14-16. Who is this “second” para/klhto$? Jesus identifies him in verse 17:

“…the Spirit of Truth [to\ pneu=ma th=$ a)lhqei/a$], whom the world is unable to receive, (in) that [i.e. because] it does not observe [i.e. recognize] him and does not know (him)—but you know him, (in) that [i.e. because] he remains with you and will be in you.”

The expression “Spirit of Truth” is used to identify the para/klhto$ also in 15:26 and 16:13; only in 14:26 is the specific title “Holy Spirit” used. This has led some critical commentators to theorize that originally the “Spirit of Truth” may not have referred to the Holy Spirit (in a Christian sense), nor even to the essential Spirit of God (YHWH), but to a distinct divine/heavenly being (or “Angel”). The expression “Spirit of Truth” is found in the Qumran text 1QS (“Community Rule”), where the reference is to God’s cleansing of humankind (i.e. the righteous/believers) through His truth:

“He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from…the unclean spirit, in order to instruct the upright ones with knowledge of the Most High…There will be no more injustice…Until now the spirits of truth and injustice feud in the heart of man: they walk in wisdom or in folly. In agreement with with man’s inheritance in the truth, he shall be righteous…” (1QS 4:21-24)

Even in the thought of the Qumran Community, this “spirit of truth” is identified with the “holy spirit”

“For it is by the spirit of the true counsel of God that are atoned the paths of man, all his iniquities, so that he can look at the light of life. And it is by the holy spirit of the community, in its truth, that he is cleansed…” (3:6-7)

The idea seems to be that God, through his own Spirit (of truth and holiness), cleanses the “spirit” of the Community, and that, by joining the Community, a person’s own “spirit” is likewise cleansed. For early Christians, this cleansing Spirit was associated with the person (and work) of Jesus, already in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 1:8 par).

2. The primary significance of para/klhto$

As indicated above, the essential meaning of the noun is “one called alongside [para/]”. The primary emphasis is not on what this person does, but rather his presence alongside believers. This is clear from Jesus’ words here in vv. 16-17

  • “(so) that he might be with you [meq’ u(mw=n] into the Age” (v. 16)
  • “(in) that he remains alongside you [par’ u(mi=n me/nei] and will be in you [e)n u(mi=n e&stai]” (v. 17)

The parallel with verses 23-24 strongly indicates that the presence of this para/klhto$ signifies the presence of both God the Father and Jesus—Father and Son—together:

“…my Father will love him [i.e. the believer], and we will come toward him and we will make our abiding/dwelling (place) with him” (v. 23b)

The noun monh/ (“abiding [place]”, i.e. place to stay) is related to the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”)—just as the Spirit/para/klhto$ abides with the believer, so Jesus and the Father together have their abode with him.

3. The connection between verse 15 and vv. 16-17

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this passage is how verses 16-17 relate to the conditional statement in v. 15:

“If you love me, you will keep my e)ntolai/

The noun e)ntolh/ is typically translated “commandment”, which can be somewhat misleading, especially in the Johannine discourses. As I have discussed in earlier notes, the word essentially refers to something given (laid on) a person to complete. When Jesus applies it to himself (always in the singular), it signifies the task, or mission, given to him by the Father. Every aspect of the mission is involved, including all that he is to say and do, culminating in his sacrificial death on the cross. When the word (either singular or plural) applies to believers, the emphasis is on accepting Jesus word—primarily in terms of the witness to his identity, as the divine/eternal Son sent by the Father. The use of the plural e)ntolai/ can be somewhat confusing, especially when translated “commandments”, since it gives the impression of a set of specific commands, such as the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and other portions of the Old Testament Law (Torah). However, one finds no evidence for anything of the sort in the Gospel of John; and, while Jesus certainly gave considerable teaching of various kinds to his disciples, actual “commandments” are quite rare. Indeed, it is possible to isolate only two primary requirements which would seem to comprise Jesus’ e)ntolai/: (1) trust in Jesus, and (2) love for one another, according to Jesus’ own example. Both of these can be viewed as part of a single injunction to love; note the parallel:

  • “if you love me, you will keep/guard my e)ntolai/” (v. 15)
    “if anyone loves me, he will keep/guard my words [lo/goi]” (v. 23)
  • “the one holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping/guarding them—that (person) is the one loving me” (v. 21)

Loving Jesus is thus synonymous with keeping/guarding his words, which Jesus elsewhere identifies with the Spirit and Life (6:63).

Taking vv. 15-17 (and the parallel in vv. 23-24) out of context might lead to the idea of a probationary period for believers—i.e., only if they prove faithful and obedient to Jesus’ commands will the Spirit be sent to them. Such a view would be contrary to the overall evidence from the Gospel, and reflects a misunderstanding of the logic at work here. As will be discussed in an upcoming note (on Jn 20:22), the Spirit is given to believers immediately upon Jesus’ initial appearance to them after the resurrection. Similarly, in the book of Acts, the Spirit comes to believers in conjunction with their first demonstration of faith (usually associated with the baptism ritual), it is not earned as a result of religious obedience. How then should the conditional statements in vv. 15 and 23 be understood? The interpretive key, I believe, is found in the intervening statement in verse 21, which expresses two fundamental points:

  • The identity and character of the believer:
    “The one holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping/guarding them—that (person) is the one loving me”
    The person who loves Jesus is identified/characterized by accepting all his words and his identity as the Son sent by the Father—the acting out of this acceptance is not a pre-condition, but reflects the believer’s essential identity.
  • The reciprocal relationship of unity between Father, Son, and believer:
    “The one loving me will be loved by my Father and I (also) will love him”
    I.e., love is a sign of intimate relationship and unity.

I we wish to view this dynamic as a logical or temporal sequence, it might be summarized as follows:

Trust in Jesus—i.e. acceptance of his words, etc
|
Following the example of Jesus’ love—the presence of this love in the believer
|
The believer’s relationship with Father and Son is realized
|
The presence of the Father and Son is manifest in/with the believer

The Spirit is the manifest presence of Father and Son, as is clear both from verse 23 and the closing words of v. 21:

“…and I will make myself shine (forth) in/on him”

This relationship between Father, Son (Jesus) and Spirit will be discussed further in the next daily note (on 14:25-26 and 15:26-27).

Translation of the Qumran texts, given above, are taken from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 Vols), eds. Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8).

For a discussion of the Spirit in the Pentecost narrative of Acts 2, cf. my earlier three-part article “The Sending of the Spirit” and the article on Peter’s Pentecost speech.

Note of the Day – June 7 (John 14:6, 19)

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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 [alh/qei]”—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 daily note.

Note of the Day – June 1 (John 12:50, continued)

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John 12:50, continued

In the previous note, I discussed the context of Jn 12:50, the concluding verse (and statement by Jesus) in chapters 2-12 of the Gospel. Today I wish to examine the verse more closely, especially the statement in the first half:

“And I have seen [i.e. known] that his e)ntolh/ is (the) Life of the Age.”

There are three components to this statement, which will be discussed in turn.

kai oi@da o%ti (“and I have seen that”)

Throughout the Gospel of John the motif of seeing has been of great importance. It plays on the dual-meaning, especially, of the verb ei&dw (“see”), which can also mean “know”—i.e., seeing in the sense of being aware, perceiving, recognizing, etc. It generally carries this meaning in the perfect tense, as here (oi@da, “I have seen/known”). Given the theological (and Christological) importance of seeing in the Gospel of John, Jesus is almost certainly referring here to something more than general understanding or awareness. Rather, it relates to his identity as the Son, who has a close, intimate relationship to the Father, and who, as a faithful son, watches and listens carefully to his father. Repeatedly in the Johannine discourses, Jesus states that he says and does only what he has heard and seen from the Father (cf. 3:32; 5:19, 30; 6:46; 8:26, 38; 14:24; 15:15). Similarly, the one who sees/hears Jesus (the Son), also sees/hears the Father (5:37; 14:7, 9, etc)—just as Jesus gives to the believer what he has received from the Father (3:35; 5:26, etc). In the Gospel of John, seeing Jesus is essentially the same as trusting him (9:37ff; 12:45; 14:17), and this differs entirely from ordinary sight or perception (6:36). The conjunctive particle o%ti (“that”) indicates specifically what it is that Jesus has seen.

h( e)ntolh/ au)tou= (“his [charge laid] on [me] to complete”)

The noun e)ntolh/ is a relatively popular Johannine word. In addition to 11 occurrences in the Gospel, it is found 18 times in the Letters; and, if we include two others in the (Johannine) book of Revelation, that makes 31 total—nearly half of all occurrences (68) in the New Testament. The word is often translated “commandment”, but that can be somewhat misleading; I discussed the fundamental meaning of the noun in the previous note. Despite Paul’s frequent reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah, Gk. no/mo$), he does not often use the noun e)ntolh/; it occurs only 9 times in the undisputed letters (6 of which are in Rom 7:8-13; also 1 Cor 7:19; 14:37). In these passages, Paul seems to be using it in a somewhat broader sense (i.e. “the Law of God”, “the e)ntolh/ of God”), rather than restricting it to the specific (written) commands of the Torah as such, though the latter is certainly included in the usage. The semantic range of the word in the (Synoptic) sayings of Jesus is similar (note the expression “the e)ntolh/ of God” in Mk 7:8-9 par).

The Johannine use of the word is complicated by two factors—it can be used either:

In none of these references does e)ntolh/ refer to the commands of the Torah as such, though there is less certainty on this point when we examine the occurrences in the Letters (esp. 1 John). Let us consider the second factor mentioned above.

1. Between God the Father and Jesus (the Son)—This is the context of the usage in 10:18 and here in 12:49-50, and in both instances it is the singular form. As I discussed in the previous note, e)ntolh/ here should not be understood in the traditional sense of a religious or ethical “commandment”, but as a mission given to Jesus (by the Father) to accomplish. In 10:18, this clearly refers to his sacrificial death (and resurrection), confirmed by Jesus’ final words on the cross in 19:30 (“it has been completed [tete/lestai]”, cf. also v. 28). The emphasis in 12:49-50 is on the words Jesus has been given by the Father to speak (i.e. what he is to say). In 14:31, the related verb e)nte/llomai is used of Jesus’ mission in a comprehensive sense, as a reflection of the love between Father and Son.

2. Between Jesus and Believers—Here we find both the singular and plural of e)ntolh/, apparently used interchangeably (as also in 1 John). This should caution us against identifying e)ntolh/ with any specific “commandment” given by Jesus, as though the e)ntolai/ represented a collection of commands similar to the Old Testament written Law (Torah). I believe there are three ways e)ntolh/ should be understood in this context:

  • as synonymous with Jesus’ word—i.e., whatever he says/speaks
  • as representative of all that he teaches believers, who would follow his example (just as Jesus follows that of the Father)
  • as epitomized by the command for believers to love one another (i.e. the so-called “Love-command”)

Even in the case of the “Love-command” (13:34-35, etc), the closest we come to a specific “commandment” (i.e., “you should love [each] other”), this should be understood not so much as an ethical injunction, but as a sign that believers are following the example of Jesus (“all will know that you are my disciples”).

zwh/ ai)w/nio$ e)stin (“is [the] Life of the Age”)

I have discussed the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) at length in prior notes, and will not go over that again here, except to mention that, in the context of the Johannine discourses, the reference is to the Life (zwh/) which God possesses and of which He is the source. What does it mean to say that the e)ntolh/ of God the Father is [e)stin] Life? There are a number of possibilities, but they are reduced considerably if we remember that here e)ntolh/ means specifically the charge [i.e. mission] given to Jesus to complete.

  • Qualitative—it describes the nature and character of Jesus’ mission from the Father
  • Significative—Jesus’ mission means or signifies Life
  • Resultative—Jesus’ mission results in Life for believers

All three are valid ways of interpreting the statement, and perhaps are best seen as three aspects of a single truth.

Note of the Day – May 31 (John 12:50)

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John 12:50

Today’s note involves the final, concluding verse to the first half of the Gospel of John (1:19-12:50). It belongs to the last discourse of Jesus in this section. The discourse, properly speaking, spans verses 20-36a of chapter 12. Verses 36b-43 serve as the narrative conclusion, both to the discourse-scene of chap. 12, as well as chapters 2-12 as a whole. In verse 36 it is stated that Jesus “…going away, hid (himself) from them”. In the narrative context, this means that Jesus has left the public scene in Jerusalem, away from the people. Though some did come to believe in him, the majority did not, as vv. 37-43 make clear. With Jesus having thus departed, the words in vv. 44-50 are lacking any definite historical-narrative setting. They are detached, and function in the narrative as a climactic statement (and summary) of Jesus’ teaching, with a number of themes and motifs from the earlier discourses (chaps. 3-10) being reprised and restated. Verses 44-50 may be divided into two portions, which I outline here as a chiasm:

  • Trusting in Jesus = trusting the One who sent him (v. 44)
    Seeing Jesus, who is the Light (vv. 45-46)
    Hearing Jesus’ words, which brings salvation from Judgment (vv. 47-48)
  • God the Father sent Jesus—trusting in him is Life (vv. 49-50)

The motifs of seeing and hearing, both frequent in the Gospel, serve as two different ways of expressing the idea of trusting in Jesus. In reference to hearing Jesus—that is, hearing his words or voice—the noun e)ntolh/ is introduced in verse 49. This word is often translated as “commandment”, which can be somewhat misleading. However, it does preserve the basic association with the Old Testament Law (Torah). The language Jesus uses relates back to the covenantal language of the Torah, especially in the book of Deuteronomy (e.g., 31:19ff; 32:46-47)—”If any (one) should hear my utterances [i.e. words] and would not guard/keep them…” (v. 47a). The failure to keep/guard Jesus’ words is effectively the same as failure (by Israel) to keep the commands and precepts of the Torah, thus violating the covenant (agreement) with God. Such failure is presented as evidence against the person in the time of Judgment:

“The one setting me aside [i.e. rejecting me] and not receiving my utterances [i.e. words] has the one judging him: the word/account [lo/go$] which I have spoken—that will judge him in the last day.” (v. 48)

This brings us to verse 49, where Jesus gives us more detail about the word[s] which he speaks:

“(For it is) that I did not speak out of myself, but the (one) sending me, the Father, he has given me an e)ntolh/—what I should say and what I should speak.”

The closing words in verse 50 repeat this statement: “Therefore the (thing)s which I spoke, even as the Father has said to me, so I spoke”. It is important to consider the syntax and context here carefully, to avoid misunderstanding about the meaning and significance of the word e)ntolh/. Jesus says, “the Father…has given me an e)ntolh/—what I should say and what I should speak”. The Greek noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is derived from the verb e)nte/llomai (entéllomai), and fundamentally refers to something given (placed on) a person to complete, sometimes in the technical sense of a “commission”. When we use the word commandment this tends to be understood as a religious or ethical injunction, but that is not really the meaning here; rather, we should render e)ntolh/ in its basic meaning: “the Father has given me a (charge) laid on (me) to complete…”. This relates to the mission and purpose for which Jesus was sent (into the world) by the Father. As the Son, Jesus imitates and repeats what he sees and hears the Father saying and doing—a theme which runs throughout the Johannine discourses. Ultimately the task given by Jesus to accomplish is his sacrificial death, as is strikingly clear in his final words on the cross: “it has been completed [tete/lestai]” (19:30, cf. also v. 28).

Here in 12:47-50, however, the emphasis is on Jesus’ words—using both the plural r(h/mata (“utterances”, i.e. spoken words, vv. 47-48) and the singular lo/go$ (“account”, i.e. his gathered words, v. 48b). Both terms appear frequently (and more or less interchangeably) in the Gospel. Jesus himself is identified with the Living and eternal Word (Lo/go$) of God in the Prologue (vv. 1-4ff), and we must always keep this theological/Christological aspect in mind when reading about Jesus’ “words” elsewhere in the Gospel. A person’s response to Jesus’ words is essentially a response to Jesus himself (and to God the Father who sent him). This is expressed two ways in vv. 47-48, as we have seen:

  • hearing (vb. a)kou/w) him and keeping/guarding (vb. fula/ssw) his words (v. 47)
  • receiving (lamba/nwn) his words (v. 48)

The motifs of hearing and receiving are essentially parallel:

  • hearing—i.e. both listening and responding (obeying/accepting)
    —keeping (watch) over / guarding
  • receiving—i.e. taking in and accepting

This does not refer simply to obeying something Jesus tells his disciples to do, but involves the broader (and deeper) sense of accepting who Jesus is and what he says. I mentioned the allusions to the book of Deuteronomy in 12:44-50, and this includes the famous passage in 18:15-19, which relates to a coming Prophet (cf. Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40) who will essentially fill Moses’ role. The words of this Prophet hold the same authority and weight as the Instruction (Torah) given by God through Moses (vv. 18-19). It is said that God will raise up this Prophet, and early Christians saw Jesus as filling the divinely appointed (and anointed, i.e. Messianic) role (Acts 3:22-23). This also reflects the fundamental meaning of the word e)ntolh/, as I discussed above.

Finally, we must consider Jesus’ statement in verse 50a:

“And I have seen [i.e. known] that His e)ntolh/ is (the) Life of the Age.”

The precise meaning of this statement requires special examination, which I will do in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – May 30 (John 10:10, 28; 12:25)

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Today (May 30) is the traditional date commemorating the ascension of Jesus—i.e. 40 days after Easter, based on the information in Acts 1:3ff. The “ascension” of Jesus is referred to differently the Gospels and Acts, and can be understood several ways, based upon the particular narrative under consideration. Most Christians have the scene in Acts 1:9-11 in mind, but there are other references to Jesus’ ascension/departure from the disciples in Luke 24:50-51 [MT] and the “long ending” of Mark (16:19), and, because of the differences in the narrative location and setting, it is not entirely clear if these passages are supposed to refer to the same event as Acts 1:9-11. The situation is further complicated by mention of an ‘ascension’ by Jesus in John 20:17. I have discussed these matters in a prior article.

The earliest Christians, in their preaching and proclamation of the Gospel, did not refer to specifically to the Ascension as such, but rather, the resurrection of Jesus was connected closely to his exaltation by the Father, to a place in Heaven and the Fathers right hand. The emphasis is not so much on Jesus’ actual departure from earth, as to his position in glory in Heaven following the resurrection. The Gospel of John preserves this early view, but it is expanded and developed in the discourses of Jesus in several ways:

  1. The motif of the Son’s ascent is set parallel to his descent—i.e. his coming to earth (as a human being). This ascent/descent theme appears numerous times throughout the Gospel and is related to the dualistic imagery of above/below, etc. The motif is expressed primarily through use of the related verbs a)nabai/nw (“step up”) and katabai/nw (“step down”)—Jesus (the Son) has stepped down (descended) from heaven, and again steps up (ascends) back to the Father in heaven.
  2. There is a strong emphasis on the Son’s return to the Father—he was sent (into the world) by the Father, and returns back to Him.
  3. In the Last Discourse (chaps. 14-17), the theme of Jesus’ departure becomes prominent, though it had been introduced earlier in the Gospel as well (6:62; 7:33-34; 8:21-22ff). It has a two-fold meaning, referring to: (1) Jesus’ death, and (2) his ultimate return to the Father.

Of all the New Testament writings, it is in John that the death, resurrection and ‘ascension’ of Jesus are most thoroughly combined—and by Jesus himself, in the great discourses which make up the core of the Gospel. One of the ways this is expressed is by the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”). In 3:14 and 8:28, Jesus refers to himself being “lifting high”, with the title “Son of Man”; while in 12:32, he makes the same essential declaration, but with the personal pronoun:

“And I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (person)s toward myself”

In 3:14, it is the death of Jesus (i.e. lifted up on the cross) which is most clearly in view, as also in 8:28; however, the same verb in 12:32 seems rather to refer to Jesus’ exaltation. He speaks of being “lifted high out of the earth“. This can refer concretely to being raised out of the tomb, but also, more properly, in the sense of his departure from earth. Just as the Father sent him into the world, so also he will be going out of it. Both aspects are likely in view here in this reference.

This series of notes is dealing with the themes of Life (zwh/) and the Spirit (pneu=ma). The theme of life in connection with resurrection features prominently in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11, especially the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in vv. 20-27. However, I have discussed these verses at length in an earlier series, and so will not be addressing them here. Instead, I wish to consider briefly three verses from the surrounding chapters (10 and 12) where Jesus makes use of the word zwh/ (“life”).

John 10:10

This is part of the “Good Shepherd” parable-discourse in chapter 10. It is here in this discourse that the sacrificial death of Jesus comes more clearly into view. The structure generally follows the Johannine discourse format and may be outlined simply as follows:

  • Saying (parable) of Jesus (vv. 1-5)
  • Reaction by the people indicating a lack of understanding (v. 6)
  • Exposition by Jesus, which may be divided into three parts (each beginning with an “I am” declaration):
    • Jesus as the door/gate of the sheepfold (vv. 7-10): “I am…”
    • Jesus as the herdsman of the sheep (vv. 11-13): “I am…”
    • What Jesus as herdsman does for the sheep (vv. 14-18): “I am…”
  • Narrative conclusion [reaction by the people] (vv. 19-21)

Verse 10 concludes the first expository section (on Jesus as the door or entrance [qu/ra] to the sheepfold). It is only the shepherd, with charge over the sheep, who opens and closes this door; thus this verse provides the transition to the next section, in which Jesus is no longer the door, but the shepherd. Only the shepherd is able to open/close the door, and, when it is closed, any other person who enters presumably does so only to steal or harm the sheep. This effectively distinguishes the shepherd from all other persons. Jesus makes this contrast clear in verse 10:

“The (one) stealing does not come if not [i.e. except] that he might steal and slaughter and bring to ruin; (but) I came that they [i.e. the sheep] might hold life, and might hold (it) over (and) above (all else)”

This involves the familiar expression “hold life”, using the verb e&xw (“hold”); elsewhere in the Gospel, as we have seen, this life is often specified as “the Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life). The role of herdsman is to protect the sheep (from harm) and to guide them where they can find life-giving sustenance. In both respects he is saving/preserving their lives—the sheep have/hold life under his care.

John 10:28

This verse is from the second half of chapter 10 (vv. 22-39), which comprises a second discourse, but one which shares important themes with vv. 1-21, and it is possible to read the passages in tandem as part of a single discourse-scene. Verses 25-30 reprise the “Good Shepherd” illustration—but here there is a more definite contrast between those sheep who belong to the shepherd and those who do not. For the religious leaders and others who are unable (or refuse) to accept Jesus, he designates them as those who are not part of his flock (vv. 25-26). By contrast, those who do trust in him are part of the flock:

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them (the) Life of the Age, and no, they should not (ever) come to ruin into the Age, and no one will seize them out of my hand.” (vv. 27-28)

This motif, of Jesus giving to believers the “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life), occurred the earlier discourses, as has been discussed in prior notes. In the context of the Johannine discourses, this Life which Jesus gives is to be identified primarily with the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35; 4:10ff, 24; 6:27ff, 63; 7:37-39). This is an important theological development of the traditional expression “life of the Age”, as we have discussed. That this Life is connected with the very presence and power of God is clear from vv. 28f, where God (the Father) is the ultimate source of this life (and its preservation/protection) for believers:

“My Father, who has given (them) to me, is greater than all, and no one is able [i.e. has power] to seize (anything) out of the Father’s hand.” (v. 29)

For the chain of relationship between Father and Son, see especially 3:34-35 and 5:26. This will become a central theme in the Last Discourse, in particular the great prayer-discourse of chapter 17.

John 12:25

The theme of Jesus’ sacrificial death, so central to the Good Shepherd discourse (10:11-18)—the laying down of his soul/life and taking it up again—takes on even greater significance as we approach the start of the Passion narrative. In the Gospel of John, the (triumphal) entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is narrated in 12:12-19; Jerusalem is the setting, from verse 20 on, into the beginning of the Passion (chap. 13). There is an interesting parallel here between 12:20-36a (set in Jerusalem) and the Synoptic tradition at the transition point between the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem. Consider the following points of similarity:

Indeed, the saying of Jesus in 12:25 is close in thought to the Synoptic saying in Mk 8:35 par:

“For whoever would wish to save his soul will bring it to ruin, but whoever will bring his soul to ruin for my sake and (for) the good message [i.e. Gospel] will save it.” (Mk)
“The one loving his soul brings it to ruin, and the one hating his soul in this world will watch/guard it into (the) Life of the Age.” (Jn)

However one would explain the development of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (on this, cf. my recent series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition“), there can be no doubt that the Johannine version of this traditional saying—this particular form of it—has certain elements which are distinctive to the Fourth Gospel. We may note the use of the articular participle, so frequent in John, to describe the disciple (believer)—”the (one)…ing”—as well as his opposite. Even more important are the qualifying expressions which enhance the point of contrast:

  • “in this world”—with the use of ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”)
  • “into the Life of the Age”—for this expression, cf. the previous daily notes

The believer is one who “hates” his soul [i.e. his human life] insofar as it is in the world—that is, in the current age and world-order dominated by sin and darkness. The non-believer, by contrast, loves the darkness (3:19), and thus loves his life in the darkness. The contrast to the world and its darkness is the Life and Light of God found in the person of Jesus. This aspect of (eternal) Life will be discussed further in the next daily note, on 12:50.

Note of the Day – May 29 (John 8:12)

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John 8:12

As discussed in the previous note (on 7:37-39), the festival of Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) is the setting for a complex discourse-scene that appears to span the entirety of chapters 7-8 (excluding 7:53-8:11). Jn 8:12-59 is the second half of this discourse scene. It is actually made up of three sections, each of which follows the Johannine discourse format, beginning with a saying (declaration) by Jesus, followed by the people’s reaction, and an exposition from Jesus in response. In these three sections, Jesus is engaged in debate/dispute with the religious authorities (Pharisees), as in the chapter 5 discourse. Indeed, 8:12-59 is parallel to 5:30-47, sharing the central themes of Jesus’ words as a witness to his identity, and of his relationship to God the Father. The line of argument in 8:13-18 is quite similar to that of 5:30-47. Each of the three sections concludes with an important declaration by Jesus regarding his relationship to the Father; note the following outline:

  • Part 1—vv. 12-20
    • Narrative introduction: “Then Yeshua again spoke…”
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 12)
    • Reaction by the Jewish leaders (v. 13)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 14-18)
    • Statement on his relationship to the Father (v. 19, picking up from v. 18)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 20)
  • Part 2—vv. 21-30
    • Narrative introduction: “Then he again said to them…”
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 21)
    • Reaction by the Jewish leaders/people (v. 22)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 23-27)
    • Statement on his relationship to the Father (vv. 28-29, picking up from v. 27)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 30)
  • Part 3—vv. 31-59
    • Narrative introduction: “Then Yeshua said to the Jews trusting in him…”
    • Saying of Jesus (vv. 31b-32)
    • Reaction by the Jewish leaders/people (v. 33)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 34-48)
    • Statement on his relationship to the Father (vv. 49-56, picking up from v. 48)
    • Concluding “I Am” declaration (vv. 57-58)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 59)

Note here the way that the discourse-episode begins with Jesus in dispute with the Pharisees, and gradually widens to include other “Jews”, at least some of whom begin to trust in him (v. 31). At the literary level, and perhaps at the historical level as well, these three discourses fit together as a running dialogue, building with dramatic tension, until the climactic moments of vv. 31-59.

Today I will be discussing the saying of Jesus which begins this second half of the Sukkoth discourse scene, verse 12:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the light of the world—the (one) following me should not (ever) walk about in darkness, but will hold the light of life.”

This saying is similar in form to the “I am” declarations in the Bread of Life discourse: “I am the Bread of Life…” (6:35, also v. 48), “I am the Living Bread…” (6:51, also v. 41). It begins with a fundamental “I am” statement in which Jesus identifies himself with the true/living form of some image from the natural world or from daily life—indicating that this “living” form comes from God. The statement is then followed by a promise for the one who receives/accepts this “living” form, which is defined as trusting in, or coming to, Jesus. Both aspects are included here in the defining participle following (a)kolouqw=n)—”the one following” = “the one trusting”. The essential promise “he will hold the Light of Life” is precisely parallel to the statement “he will hold the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”, introduced in 3:15-16 and repeated throughout the Gospel (3:36; 5:24, 40; 6:40, etc). Thus the expression “Light of Life” is largely synonymous with the “Life of the Age”, the eternal/divine Life which the righteous were thought to inherit at the end time, and which believers in Jesus possess already in the present.

It is worth examining each of the expressions Jesus uses here.

“Light of the World” (o( fw=$ tou= ko/smou)

In an earlier note, we examined the similar expression “Life of the World”, which was used by Jesus specifically in connection with his sacrificial death: “the bread which I will give is my flesh, (given) over the life of the world“. The basic concept involved reaches back to the Prologue, covering the role of Jesus (the Living Word) in Creation, as well as his coming into the world (i.e. the Incarnation). In verse 9 we read:

“(This) was the true Light, which gives light to every man, coming into the world”
which can also be read as:
“The true Light, which gives light to every man, was coming into the world”

In verses 10ff the Word (and Light) is described as being “in the world…and (yet) the world did not know him”; a more concrete reference to Jesus’ life in the world as a human being comes in vv. 14ff. This idea is repeated in 3:19-21, again using the motif of light, and introducing even more clearly the dualistic contrast of light vs. darkness:

“…the Light has come into the world, and (yet) men [i.e. people in the world] loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their works were evil” (v. 19)

Light features repeatedly in the Gospel, both the specific noun fw=$ (23 times), as well as the related verb fwti/zw (“give light”), and words derived from fai/nw (“shine [light]”). The expression “light of the world” appears again in 9:5, and cf. also 11:9; 12:46. In Matthew 5:14 it is Jesus’ disciples (believers) who are called the “light of the world”, much as they are referred to by the title “sons of light” in 12:36 (cf. also Lk 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8).

“Light of Life” (o( fw=$ th=$ zwh=$)

The background for this expression may be found in the Old Testament, in passages such as Job 33:30 (also v. 28) and Psalm 56:13. Ultimately, the association of light with life is fundamental to human experience and religious expression. Even without a modern scientific understanding, ancient peoples intuitively recognized the life-giving quality of light (from the sun’s rays, etc). The introduction of light represents the first stage of creation in the Genesis account, and precedes the formation of life. Light is typically associated with Deity in nearly all religions, and certainly is so in the Old Testament Scriptures—cf. Psalm 18:28; 27:1; 36:9; 43:3; Isa 2:5, et al. It often refers specifically to the manifestation of God—his Presence and action—to his people, especially in the live-giving (and preserving) salvation which he brings (Exod 10:23; 13:21 [the pillar of fire], etc; Psalm 97:11; Isa 9:2; 30:26; 42:6; 60:1ff, et al).

As mentioned above, Light and Life are related in the Johannine Prologue, again in connection both with the presence of God and the work of creation (vv. 4-9). Note the fundamental statement in verse 4:

“In him [i.e. the Word] was Life, and th(is) Life was the Light of men”

On the surface, it may seem that the author, in using the expression “the light of men”, is referring to knowledge and understanding (i.e. illuminating reason) in a general sense. This would fit the context of Creation, but the overall theological context of the Gospel, in which “life” (zwh/) virtually always refers to the divine/eternal Life of God, suggests something deeper. This, too, should be understood by the use of the expression “the Light of Life” in 8:12, with its parallel to “the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”, as discussed above.

The association with the Sukkoth festival

Along with the symbolic use of water (cf. the previous note), light also features in the traditional ceremonies associated with the Sukkoth festival, as described in the Mishnah tractate Sukkah (5:2ff). On the first night of the festival, a ceremonial lighting of four golden candlesticks took place. The parallel with the drawing of water, and the ceremonial libation offering, on the morning of each day, suggests that the lighting might have taken place similarly on each evening. Note the parallelism in relation to the two central statements by Jesus in the Sukkoth discourse-scene:

  • Water
    • Ceremonial drawing of water in a golden pitcher and offering in the Temple
    • Jn 7:37-38—Jesus identifies himself as the source of life-giving water (“Living Water”)
  • Light
    • Ceremonial lighting of four golden candlesticks in the Temple court
    • Jn 8:12—Jesus identifies himself as the source of the “Light of Life”

Both of these motifs are also found in Zech 14:7-8, which also has a Sukkoth setting, and may be in view here in the discourse (cf. the previous note):

  • A day in which there will be light in the evening (v. 7)
  • On that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem (v. 8)

The motif of light in the night-time relates to the contrast between light and darkness, for which there is a strong background in the Old Testament. In many of these passages the idea is that God (His presence) gives light to people within the darkness (cf. Exod 13:21; Job 12:22; Psalm 112:4; 139:11-12; Prov 4:18; Isa 9:2; 42:16; 58:8ff; 60:1ff, etc). The light/darkness contrast is a prominent part of the dualistic language and imagery in the Gospel of John, and appears here in verse 12: “the one following me should not (ever) walk in darkness, but will hold the Light of Life”. The same idea is expressed in 12:35, 46, and see also the the First Letter of John, 1:5-7; 2:8-11.

Light and the Spirit?

Unlike the symbolism of water, there is not as much of a direct connection between light and the Spirit, though it certainly can be inferred as part of Johannine theology; consider:

  • “God is Spirit [pneu=ma o( qeo/$]” (Jn 4:24)
  • “God is Light [o( qeo/$ fw=$ e)stin]” (1 Jn 1:5)

Nevertheless, light, as such, is not as common a symbol for the Spirit—fire is much more relevant and specific in this regard. In Old Testament tradition, the light of God is often connected with wisdom and the Law (Torah), as, for example, in Psalm 119:105, 130; Prov 4:18; 6:23, etc. Indeed, in the Qumran text 1QS, both the wisdom and Law of God are described by the very expression “light of life” (3:6-7), which is provided to the members of the Community through instruction and the interpretation of Scripture. It is possible that ancient Wisdom traditions, and those related to the Torah, also underlie the imagery of the Prologue of John (vv. 4ff)—i.e. God’s Word and Light is present in the world, seeking to find a dwelling place among human beings, but they do not receive it (i.e. the Wisdom of God). Jesus, of course, is the living personification of the Wisdom and Word (Torah) of God.