was successfully added to your cart.

Saturday Series: John 14:7, 17

This is a belated Saturday Series discussion, which I was not able to post on Saturday proper.

John 14:7, 17

We have been looking at a variety of passages from the Gospel of John, using them as the basis for exploring important issues of New Testament criticism and exegesis. Today I wish to turn to the last of the Johannine discourses of Jesus—the great “Last Discourse”, set in the narrative at the time of the Last Supper, prior to Jesus’ arrest (chapter 18). It is comprised of the material in 13:31-16:33—the Discourse proper—and is followed by the famous prayer-discourse of Jesus in chapter 17. I divide the Discourse into three main parts (see my earlier outline), each of which functions as a distinct discourse, containing as a central theme the impending departure of Jesus from his disciples.

The character and orientation differs somewhat from the prior discourses, since here Jesus is addressing only his close followers, at the beginning of his Passion. The departure of Judas from the scene (13:30) is significant for two reasons: (1) it means that only Jesus’ true disciples remain with him, and (2) it marks the onset of his Passion, a time of darkness (“and it was night“, v. 30b). The latter motif is expressed elsewhere in the Gospel tradition (Luke 22:53; 23:44 par), and foreshadowed earlier in John as well (11:9-10; 12:35). Thus Jesus has occasion to speak with his followers in a way that he could not (or chose not to) before.

The discourses of Jesus in John are carefully constructed—almost certainly reflecting both Jesus (as the speaker) and the understanding/artistry of the Gospel writer. While the vocabulary of the Gospel is relatively simple (by comparison with Luke, for example), the thought and logic of the discourses is often complex and allusive. Each word and form used, every nuance, can carry tremendous importance as well as theological (and Christological) significance. Textual variants, however slight, can affect the meaning and thrust of the passage in a number of ways.

The two verses I wish to look at today are found in the first division of the Discourse (14:1-31), which I would outline as follows:

  • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
    • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
      • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
      • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
    • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
      • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
        —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
        —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
        —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
      • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
        —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)

The two verses relate to the two thematic sections—the first (v. 7), to the relationship between Jesus and the Father (with the central “I Am” sayings in v. 6 and 10-11), and the second (v. 17), to Jesus’ closing words for his disciples, with the two-fold promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17) and Peace (vv. 25-27) which will be given to them.

John 14:7

This statement by Jesus follows the great “I Am” saying in v. 6. It is a conditional statement, marked by the particle ei (“if”). However, the exact force and meaning remains uncertain, largely due to variant readings involving the four verbs (indicated by placeholders with braces):

“If you {1} me, (then) you {2} my Father also; and from now (on), you {3} Him and {4} Him”

There is little or no variation in terms of the verbs used; rather it is the specific form which differs. Let us briefly consider each of these in turn:

Verb #1ginœ¡skœ (“know”). The manuscripts show a surprising variety, indicating a lack of certainty among scribes; however, the options can be reduced to two—the difference being one of verb tense: (a) perfect (egnœ¡kate), “you have known”, or (b) pluperfect (egnœ¡keite), “you had known”. Just one or two letters are involved, but it creates a distinct difference in the force of the condition:

  • “if you have known [i.e. come to know] me…”, assuming a positive condition: as indeed you have.
  • “if you had known [i.e. come to know] me…”, assuming a negative condition: as indeed you have not (yet).

The former is the reading of several key manuscripts (Sinaiticus [a], the original copyist of Bezae [D], and the minuscule 579; see also the Bodmer papyrus Ë66). The latter is read by the majority of manuscripts, including Codex Vaticanus [B].

Verb #2ginœ¡skœ/eídœ (“know”). There is even more diversity with the form of this verb, though again it comes down to two options regarding the tense: (a) future (gnœ¡sesthe), “you will know”, or (b) pluperfect (¢¡deite or egnœ¡keite), along with the subjunctive particle án, “you would have known”. Again, the latter is the majority reading, including Codex Vaticanus [B], while the former is essentially the reading of the Bodmer papyrus Ë66, Sinaiticus [a] and Bezae [D]. Thus the text-critical choice comes down to two pairs of verb forms:

  • (1) “If you have known me [i.e. as indeed you do], (then) you will also know my Father…”
  • (2) “If you had known me [i.e. as yet you do not], (then) you would have also known my Father…”

Verbs #3 and 4ginœ¡skœ (“know”) and horᜠ(“look/gaze [at]”). Despite some minor variation, in this case we can be fairly certain of the text—a present indicative form (ginœ¡skete) “you know”, followed by a perfect form (heœrákate) “you have seen”. The form of these two verbs, in my view confirms option (2) for the first pair, specifically the use of the verb eidœ (instead of ginœskœ) in #2. Now both eidœ and ginœskœ can mean “know”, but the former verb literally means see, often taken in the sense of “perceive, recognize” (i.e. “know”). Thus internal considerations confirm the majority reading of v. 7a, and yield a text for the verse which would be translated:

“If you had known me, (then) you would have seen [i.e. known] my Father also; (but) from now (on) you (do) know Him and have seen Him”

Keep in mind that verses 9ff deal specifically with the idea of seeing God the Father (in the person of Jesus), which the earlier vv. 5ff emphasize knowing. Verse 7 combines both motifs—seeing/knowing—as is often the case in the Gospel of John.

If this reading is correct, how is it to be understood? The key, I believe, is the setting of the Last Discourse, in the light I have discussed above. It is only now that Jesus can begin to reveal the truth fully to his disciples. Before this point, even his close disciples have not really known him—that is, his true identity in relation to the Father. Now, with this revelation (in the Last Discourse), and through his coming death and resurrection, they do truly know him. And, since, knowing him means seeing him, they also have seen the Father, as it is only through Jesus that we come to see/know the Father.

John 14:17

In this verse, there is again a pair of verbs, for which there is an important variant. The saying of Jesus here follows upon the basic idea (and language) in verse 7. The first part of the saying, which I present along with v. 16 (as a single sentence), may be translated:

“And I will ask (of) the Father, and he will give to you another (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos], (so) that he might be with you into the Age—the Spirit of Truth, which the world is not able to receive, (in) that [i.e. because] it does not see/observe him and does not know him; but you know him…”

The contrast between believers and “the world” is introduced, a theme which will take on greater prominence in chapters 15 and 16 of the Discourse. While the world is unable to recognize the Spirit of Truth (the one “called alongside” [parákl¢tos], i.e. ‘Paraclete’), Jesus’ true disciples (believers) are able to see and know him, since they (and we) now know and see Jesus. The concluding portion of verse 17 contains the variant. Again it will be helpful to examine each of the two verbs:

Verb #1ménœ (“remain, abide”). Here there is no variation, the manuscripts being in agreement on its form: present tense (ménei, “he remains”). This is perhaps a bit surprising; we might have rather expected the future tense (i.e. “he will remain”), since, from the standpoint (and chronology) of the narrative, the Spirit has not yet been given to believers (see 7:39, 16:17 and, of course, 20:22). This apparent discrepancy may help to explain the variant readings for the second verb.

Verb #2eimi (verb of being). The manuscript evidence is rather evenly divided between present and future forms: estín (“he is”) vs. éstai (“he will be”). The present tense matches that of the previous verb; but this could reflect either the consistency of the author or a harmonization by the copyists. On the other hand, the future tense better fits a future coming of the Spirit (in 20:22), but copyists might have modified the present form for just this reason. In my view, the present of the first verb (“he remains”) + the future of the second verb (“he will be”) is the more difficult reading, and best reflects both the most likely original of the text and the context of the discourse. Here is how this portion would be translated:

“…you know him, (in) that [i.e. because] he remains alongside you and he will be in you.”

Why the present tense if the Spirit has not yet been given to the disciples? This is sometimes described as a proleptic use of the present (i.e. anticipating something in the future). However, in my view, a better explanation is at hand here in the discourse. The expression is “remains alongside [pará]”. This reflects the very title given to the Spirit—as “one called alongside [parákl¢tos]”. Note that here Jesus refers to the Spirit as “another parákl¢tos“, which suggests that Jesus himself was a parákl¢tos (“one called alongside” believers, by the Father). An important idea, introduced in the Last Discourse, is that the Spirit/Paraclete takes the place of Jesus with believers. This sense of continuity is expressed both by the present tense of the verb, and by the verb itself (“remain”). Through the Spirit, Jesus remains with believers.

Why then the shift to the future tense? Why would Jesus not say “he remains alongside you and he is in you”, as some manuscripts indicate? While Jesus remains with believers through the Spirit, the coming of the Spirit also indicates something new, a new condition. This condition—the indwelling of the Spirit—does not begin until after Jesus’ resurrection, during his appearance to the disciples in 20:19-23. This is stated in verse 22: “And, having said this, he blew in(to them) and (then) says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” While the preposition en (prefixed to the verb, “blow in/on”) could be read “he breathed on (them)”, it is better to translate literally here: “he breathed/blew in(to) (them)”. This may reflect the original creation narrative, in which God breathed life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). The coming of the Spirit would then indicate a new birth (“from above”) for believers, by the Spirit, as expressed in 3:5-8.

I hope this study demonstrates how carefully one must read and study the Greek, especially in the context of passages such as the Last Discourse, where even small differences in the form of a word can significantly affect the interpretation. For next week, I would ask that you continue reading through to the end of the Last Discourse, including the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. I will be looking at a couple of verses in that chapter which also involve text-critical questions, and which have proven challenging for commentators over the years.

Leave a Reply