The saying of Jesus in Jn 17:8 is noteworthy for the many key-words and terms which are combined in a single verse. Here more than eight key concepts and elements of Johannine vocabulary are brought together. It thus serves as a kind of summary of the thought expressed in the discourses of Jesus, as well as the Johannine writings as a whole, and which I have explored in the recent article on “Knowledge and Revelation in John”.
Verse 8 is part of the prayer-discourse of Jesus that makes up chapter 17. For an outline of this chapter, cf. my earlier note on 17:3. The main section (vv. 7-23) is framed by transitional ‘refrains’ (vv. 4-6, 24-26) which convey two main themes of Jesus’ prayer to the Father:
- Jesus’ relationship with the Father: the pre-existent glory
- That Jesus has shone forth (manifested) the Father’s name
The core of the prayer-discourse in vv. 7-23 deals more with Jesus’ disciples (believers)—his petition is on their behalf. Verse 7 picks up from v. 6, which effectively summarizes the main thrust of the prayer:
“I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave me out of the world. They are yours [lit. of you] and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch (over) [i.e. guarded] your word [lo/go$].”
Verse 7 brings in the important theme of the disciples’ knowledge:
“Now they have known that all (thing)s, as (many) as you have given me, are (from) alongside [para/] of you.”
Some MSS read the first person singular e&gnwn (“I have known”), but the context—especially the use of the particle nu=n (“now”) —strongly indicates that the third person plural is correct. In the verses that follow (9-12), three basic themes are expressed:
- The disciples were given to Jesus by God the Father
- He (Jesus) has guarded them by the Name which the Father gave to him
- He asks that the Father continue to guard them in this Name
This establishes the setting of verse 8, which I first give in translation here, and afterwards I will discuss each key word or concept in the order it occurs in the verse. To begin with, the connecting particle o%ti joins verses 7-8 as a single sentence; primarily it relates back to e&gnwkan (“they have known”)—i.e., “they have known…(in) that [o%ti]…”. In other words, it explains what it is the disciples know and how they came to know it.
“…(in) that the words [r(h/mata] which you gave to me I have given to them, and they received (them) and knew truly that I came out (from) alongside of you, and they (have) trusted that you se(n)t me forth.”
ta\ r(h/mata (“the words”)—The noun r(h=ma, best translated “utterance”, i.e. something spoken or uttered, I render here generally as “word”. It occurs 12 times in the Gospel (3:34; 5:47; 6:63, 68; 8:20, 47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:10; 15:7), always in the plural (r(h/mata, “things uttered, words”). In the Johannine vocabulary, it is largely interchangeable with lo/go$ (“word, account”), though the latter occurs much more frequently (40 times in the Gospel, another 7 in the Letters). The plural r(h/mata perhaps refers more directly to specific sayings or teachings by Jesus, but should not be limited to this sense. In 3:34, these words are identified as those which God the Father speaks (cf. 8:47), the Son saying what he has heard the Father say (14:10, etc). In 6:63, Jesus’ words are identified with (the) Spirit and (eternal) Life (cf. also v. 68). As in the case of the noun lo/go$, Jesus’ word (r(h=ma) is essentially the same as the person (and presence, power, etc) of Jesus himself (cf. 5:47; 15:7). The words (r(h/mata) and word (lo/go$) are to remain/abide in (e)n) the true believer, and the believer in the word(s) (5:38; 8:31, 37; 1 Jn 1:10; 2:5, 14, etc). Later in the prayer-discourse (17:14), Jesus gives virtually the same statement as in v. 8, using lo/go$: “I have given to them your word“. This Word is also closely related to the Name of the Father which was given to Jesus, and which Jesus has given or made known, in turn, to his disciples. On this Name, cf. the attached separate note.
e&dwka$ (“you gave”)—That is, “the words which you gave to me…” (cf. 3:34). On the specific motif of Jesus (the Son) saying and doing what he hears/sees the Father saying and doing, cf. the current article. The verb di/dwmi (“give”) is used quite often (75 times) in the Gospel, including 24 times in the Last Discourse, and 17 times in this prayer-discourse alone. It is thus a most important term, closely tied to the Johannine concepts of revelation and salvation in the person of Christ. Jesus (the [only] Son) comes from the Father, and so receives everything from the Father (see v. 7)—both in the sense of learning and inheriting—as a faithful son. Jesus imitates the Father, as a perfect reflection and representation of God the Father; as such, his words are the words the Father gave him to speak. Again, this word cannot be separated from the name of the Father.
de/dwka (“I have given”)—There is here a simple parallelism—”you gave to me, I have given to them“—which neatly expresses this idea of Jesus (the Son) imitating the Father. The perfect tense of the verb here, which typically indicates past action that continues into the present, may imply the incarnation, i.e. the presence of the eternal Son (and Word) with his people on earth. After his departure, this presence (and Word) will continue and remain with believers through the Spirit. Even more important to the immediate context of chapter 17, is the idea that Jesus has given—manifest (“shone forth”) and made known—the name of the Father to his disciples.
e&labon (“they received”)—Like the verb di/dwmi (“give”), the conceptually related lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”) occurs frequently in John (46 times, and another 6 in the Letters), and usually with special theological significance. Jesus receives from the Father (10:18), and the disciples receive from Jesus, though, in the Johannine idiom, to “receive” Jesus specifically means to accept him and his words (3:11, 32-33; 5:43-44; 12:48; 13:20). The verb is also used in connection with the disciples receiving the Spirit (7:39; 20:22; and note also 14:17; 16:14-15). Of special importance is the use of the verb in 1:12 (and cf. v. 16). For more on the image of giving/receiving, cf. the recent article.
e&gnwsan (“they knew”)—The aorist form would be translated literally as “they knew”, though we might have expected the perfect tense (i.e., “they received and have come to know”); yet the aorist matches the previous e&labon (“they received”), with which it is connected. Perhaps Jesus is describing the condition of the disciples at the moment, i.e. “now” (nu=n, see v. 7). A better explanation would be to view the disciples’ receiving and knowing as dual aspects of the same event (“they received and knew”), probably to be identified with the Last Discourse itself (chs. 13-17), centered as it is in the impending death (and resurrection) of Jesus. By participating in the suffering and death (13:1-11ff), symbolically, the disciples have received Jesus in a way that they had not yet been able to do. Through the following Discourse, they likewise receive his word(s) and come to understand. In receiving Jesus (and his word[s]), they also receive the Father and His Word (13:20, etc); similarly, in knowing the Son (Jesus), they also come to know the Father. On this vital theme, cf. the previous notes on 17:3 and 14:4-7, as well as the article on knowledge and revelation in John.
a)lhqw=$ (“truly”)—The noun a)lhqei/a (“truth”) is a key Johannine term (25 times in the Gospel, 20 in the Letters) applied to the person of Christ and God the Father (as well as the Spirit, i.e. “Spirit of Truth”). Cf. especially the Gospel references 1:14, 17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 14:6; 18:37f, and my earlier note on 8:32. Here we have the related adverb a)lhqw=$ (“truly”), which is also important in the Gospel (4:42; 6:14; 7:26, 40). In those four instances, it is used of Jesus, by others, in terms of his possible identity as the Anointed One, i.e. the end-time Prophet to Come. The only other use of the adverb by Jesus is in 8:31, which is worth quoting here:
“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly my disciples”
He said this “to the ones (who) had come to trust in him”, and the image of abiding/remaining in Jesus (and his word[s]), is a main theme of the Last Discourse—cf. 14:20; 15:2, 4-7, 9-10; 16:33; 17:11-12, 17, 21, along with the twin theme of Jesus[‘ word] remaining in the believer (14:17, 20; 15:4-7, 11; 17:13, 23, 26). In 17:8, the adverb a)lhqw=$ is applied to the disciples’ knowledge (“they truly knew”, “they knew truly”). The truth of this knowledge is clarified in the remainder of the verse, but it is worth considering the occurrences of the noun a)lhqei/a (“truth”) in chapter 17, in verses 17 (twice) and 19; the statement in v. 17 is especially significant:
“Make them (to be) holy in the truth; (for) your word [lo/go$] is truth”
The consecration Jesus requests for his disciples will equip and prepare them for being sent into the world (even as Jesus was sent into the world by the Father); but first, Jesus consecrates himself for the sacrificial act (his death) which is about to come:
“and (it is) over them [i.e. for their sake] (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they also should be made holy in (the) truth”
para\ sou (“[from] alongside of you”)—The preposition para/ (“along[side]”) is important in the Gospel of John for expressing the relationship of Jesus to God the Father, and his identity as one who come from the Father—that is, from alongside him, close to him (cf. 1:6, 14). It was used previously in verse 5, where Jesus anticipates his exaltation (death and resurrection) and return to the Father; he asks that the Father honor/glorify him “alongside Himself” (para\ seautou=) with the honor/glory (do/ca) which he held “alongside” (para/) the Father before the world began. A similar idea is expressed in the first part of this sentence (v. 7), where Jesus states that all things the Father has given him come from “alongside” (para/) the Father. It is this that the disciples have now come to know (truly)—i.e., of Jesus’ identity with the Father, that he comes from alongside the Father.
e)ch=lqon (“I came out”)—That is, Jesus came out from being alongside the Father (1:6, 14). On the specific image of Jesus coming “out of” (e)k) God (or, out of Heaven) and coming into the world, cf. the article on revelation in the Gospel of John. This particular verb (e)ce/rxomai) occurs often in John; when it is used by Jesus, it almost always refers to his coming from the Father (cf. 8:42; 16:27-28; also 13:3). In 16:30 the disciples confess this, indicating that now, indeed, they have come to know.
e)pi/steusan (“they trusted”)—In the Gospel of John the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and pisteu/w (“trust, believe”) are closely related, much moreso than in Paul or elsewhere in the New Testament. The verb pisteu/w occurs nearly 100 times in the Gospel, and another nine times in the First Letter—just less than half of all occurrences in the NT. It is found in key statements at the beginning and end of the Gospel (1:7, 12; 3:15-16ff; 19:35; 20:29, 31). In the prayer-discourse of chap. 17 it is used in the request for unity of all believers (with Christ and the Father) in vv. 20-21. That knowing Christ and trusting in him, from the standpoint of the Johannine discourses, mean essentially the same thing, can be seen by comparing verse 8 here with the earlier v. 3 (and cf. my note on this verse):
- V. 3: “that they should know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth…”
- V. 8: “and they knew truly that I came out (from) alongside you, and trusted that you sent me forth“
a)pe/steila$ (“you se[n]t forth”)—What the disciples trust/believe is “that you sent me forth”, i.e. that God the Father sent Jesus (his Son) into the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus often states that he was sent by God, sometimes referring to Father as “the (One) who sent me”, with a)poste/llw (“set [forth] from”) and pe/mpw (“send”) being used more or less interchangeably—28 and 32 times, respectively. They are so close in meaning in the Gospel that translators rarely try to distinguish them, rendering both simply as “send”. That they are essentially synonymous is demonstrated by their use together in 20:21. However, the verb a)poste/llw expresses more clearly that Jesus is sent from (a)po/) God; as such, it is more appropriate in the context of the prayer-discourse, where it is used 7 times (vv. 3, 18 [twice], 21, 23, 25). It is applied both to the Father sending Jesus, and, in turn, to Jesus sending his disciples, into the world. This reciprocal relationship is also expressed in 13:20 and 20:21. The association of this sending with knowledge (of the Father) is conveyed clearly and concisely in verse 25:
“Father…the world did not know you, but I did know you, and these (with me) also do know that you se[n]t me forth”
In some ways, this last statement is a summary of the Johannine Gospel (cf. the Prologue, 1:5-13), using three parallel forms of the verb ginw/skw (all aorist):
- The world did not know God
- Jesus (the Son) knew, because he comes from the Father
- The disciples (believers) also come to know, through Jesus