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Eternal life

Note of the Day – June 18 (1 John 2:25)

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1 John 2:25

In the previous note on 1 John 1:1-2, we examined the use of the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from the beginning”) in the opening words, noting the parallels with the Prologue to the Gospel (John 1:1ff). I pointed out that the “word” (lo/go$) in the first verse of the Letter (the expression “the Word of Life” [o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$]) is to be understood and carrying a dual meaning:

  1. the Living Word of God (identified with Jesus), and
  2. the word/account of Jesus (i.e. the Gospel message).

It so happens that there is a similar double-meaning to the expression “from the beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$]”, which occurs seven more times in the letter (2:7, 13-14, 24 [twice]; 3:8, 11), and twice more in 2 John 5-6. The word a)rxh/ (“beginning, first, leading”) does not appear in the Johannine letters apart from this expression.

In 2:7, which begins a section of exhortation and instruction (vv. 7-17), the author says:

“Loved (one)s, (it is) not (about something) new laid on (you) to complete (that) I write to you, but (about something) old laid on (you) to complete, which you hold from the beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$]—th(is) ‘old’ (charge) laid on (you) to complete is the word [lo/go$] which you heard.”

He goes on to write:

“(But) again, I (do) write to you (about) a new (charge) laid on (you) to complete—which is true in him and in you—(in) that the darkness is leading [i.e. passing] along and the true Light already shines.” (v. 8)

I have translated the word e)ntolh/ here in an excessively literal manner, according to its fundamental meaning, rather than with the customary “command(ment)”, which can be quite misleading in the context of the Johannine writings. We are not dealing with a specific set of religious or ethical “commands”—certainly not of the Old Testament Law (Torah), nor even a collection of Jesus’ teaching such as we find in the Sermon on the Mount. A careful reading of both the Gospel and the Letters makes clear that there are really only two commands as such: (1) trust in Jesus as the Anointed One and divine Son sent by God, and (2) love for one another, following Jesus’ example. The author states this specifically in 3:23-24.

Moreover, it is clear from vv. 9ff, that the new ‘command’ in 2:8 is the command to love one another, which Jesus gave to his disciples in Jn 13:34-35. What, then, is the old ‘command’? As the author identifies this in v. 7 with “that which you hold/held from the beginning”, we must conclude that it is essentially equivalent to the first ‘command’ in 3:23—namely, trust in Jesus Christ as God’s Son. Both of these ‘commands’—trust in Jesus and love for fellow believers—are the tests by which the author (and, we must assume, the communities/churches he represents) defines one’s identity as a true Christian. The emphasis in 2:7ff suggests that there may have been Christians in the Johannine churches, or known to them, who demonstrated a true faith in Christ but were perhaps not exhibiting true love. At any rate, this is the thrust of the exhortation (and warning) in 2:9-11.

We see, then, that in 2:7ff, the expression “from the beginning” refers not to eternity and the beginning of Creation (as in John 1:1), but rather to the beginning of believers’ trust in Jesus, and subsequent new/spiritual “birth” as children of God. In particular, the context is of the word (lo/go$) heard from the beginning, which I take to mean primarily the Gospel message (i.e. truth about Jesus), but also the presence and work of the Spirit which teaches believers the truth, and continues Jesus’ own work. In 2:13-14, this is defined in terms of knowledge of God the Father (and Jesus the Son):

“…you have known the (one) from the beginning

This is probably best understood as “the (one who is) from the beginning”, returning to the context of John 1:1ff and 1 John 1:1-2. It is also likely that there is some wordplay involved; at least the syntax here is slightly ambiguous. What is clear, however, from the remainder of the letter, is that true knowledge is more or less synonymous with proper/correct belief in Jesus (cf. John 17:3, etc)—i.e. just what is meant in saying that he is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God.

When we turn to 2:24-25, we find the author once again reflecting the language and thought of the discourses of Jesus from the Gospel (note esp. the use of the verb me/nw, “remain, abide”):

“(That) which you heard from the beginning, you must (let/have) it remain [mene/tw] in you. If (that) which you heard from the beginning should remain [mei/nh|] in you, (then) you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.” (v. 24)

The exact reference of “that which you heard from the beginning” is again somewhat ambiguous. Primarily, it refers to the Gospel message (i.e. the truth) about Jesus; yet, the use of me/nw indicates something deeper as well—the abiding presence of Jesus (the Living Word), both through the Spirit and also the love which fills and works in the believer. The association with the Spirit (as the abiding presence of Christ) is confirmed by what follows in vv. 26-27, referring to the “anointing” (xri/sma) which remains/abides in the true believer.

The author concludes the thought from v. 24 in verse 25:

“And this is the message which he presented as a message [i.e. announced] to us: the Life of the Age.”

The noun e)paggeli/a is rather difficult to translate literally in English. The fundamental meaning of the verb a)gge/llw is “give a message, report, declare”. The prefixed preposition e)pi/ is an intensive, emphasizing a message/report about something or upon a subject, etc. Used in the sense of a declaration, it can refer specifically to something one offers or promises to do. The latter connotation typically applies to the noun e)paggeli/a in the New Testament, and is often translated as “promise”. Again, it is wise to translate as literally as possible, preserving the fundamental meaning, recognizing that it can be understood here on two levels: (1) the message of the Gospel (about Jesus) given to us, and (2) what God has declared or promised to us. With regard to the latter, it is important to note that the noun e)paggeli/a (with the verb e)page/llw) is specifically associated with the Spirit in a number of passages, including Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33ff; Gal 3:14ff; Eph 1:13; cf. also Rom 9:8; Gal 4:23ff.

On the one hand, according to the traditional background of the expression “Life of the Age”, verse 25 simply asserts the (eschatological) promise of eternal life for the believer. However, as we have seen in the earlier notes in this series, the discourses of Jesus (and the Gospel as a whole), reflect a “realized” eschatology—believers experience the reality of the divine/eternal Life already in the present, through trust in Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. The author of the Letter certainly shares this basic outlook, and expresses it in his use of “Life” and “Life of the Age” elsewhere in the letter, such as in 3:14-15, the passage we will examine in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – June 17 (1 John 1:1-2)

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The Johannine Letters (1 John)

In this series, we now turn to the Letters of John, to see how the words “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/) are used in these other Johannine writings. Many commentators believe that both the Gospel and the Letters (esp. the First Letter) may be written by the same author. Tradition does ascribe them to the same person (John the Apostle), though technically the works are anonymous. At the very least, it is clear that the Gospel and First Letter draw upon similar language and imagery, sharing the same basic theological (and Christological) point of view. Critical commentators have typically explained this by way of a Johannine Community or “School”. Both tradition and internal factors have led many scholars to see these writings (along with the book of Revelation) as being the product of distinct Christian communities in Asia Minor (centered around Ephesus).

An especially complex critical issue lies in the fact that the Johannine discourses (indicated as being spoken by Jesus) and the Letters of John (esp. 1 John) are often so close in thought and wording. Many passages in 1 John could have been lifted right out of the discourses. This raises the question as to the Gospel writer’s role in the creation/composition of the discourses. Most critical scholars would view the discourses as largely the product of the author, while traditional-conservative commentators, naturally enough, are more inclined to seem them as reflecting the actual words of Jesus (with some amount of translation and editing allowed). The situation is akin to that of the Sermon-Speeches in the book of Acts—though they are said to be spoken by different persons (and even in different languages?), much of the actual (Greek) language and wording seems to reflect that of the author of Luke-Acts. For more on this latter question, see my earlier series on the Speeches of Acts.

The words pneu=ma (“spirit”) and zwh/ (“life”) occur only in the First Letter, thus the discussion will generally be limited to that writing. The second and third Letters will be referenced only to give supplemental information, or to help clarify an idea or expression in 1 John. The relevant passages to be discussed are:

1 John 1:1-2

The first two occurrences of the word zwh/ (“life”) come from the introductory sentence of the Letter (vv. 1-3a), which, as even a casual reading should make clear, is similar in thought and expression to the opening of the Gospel Prologue (1:1-4ff). This is only confirmed by a study of the Greek words and phrases involved. Consider the opening words of the letter:

“That which was from the beginning…”
o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$

A comparison with John 1:1 suggests that here the demonstrative pronoun o%$ refers to the “Word” (lo/go$) indicated in the opening of the Prologue:

“In the beginning was the Word…”
e)n a)rxh=| h@n o( lo/go$

The combination of the word a)rxh/ (“beginning”), reflecting Genesis 1:1 [LXX], with the verb of being (ei)mi, the spec. form h@n, “was”), makes it likely that the author of the letter had the Gospel Prologue (or a similar tradition) in mind. The distinctive use of the verb of being in the Prologue (and elsewhere in the Gospel) is theological—referring to God as source of all being and existence.

However, the fact that a neuter form of the demonstrative pronoun (o%) appears at the start of 1 John, indicates that the reference is more generalized and comprehensive—i.e. “(all) that which…”—that is to say, both to the Living Word (Lo/go$) of God, identified with Jesus, and to the “word” or account (lo/go$) of Jesus (i.e. the Gospel message). This dual-meaning of lo/go$ appears a number of times in the letter, beginning here in v. 1 (cf. below).

Before proceeding to examine several key words and phrases, here is the opening sentence of vv. 1-3a in translation:

“(That) which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which our eyes have seen (clearly), which we have looked (upon), and (which) our hands have felt, about the word of Life—and th(is) Life was made to shine forth, and we have seen (it clearly) and give witness and give up as a message to you the Life of the Age(s) which was toward the Father and made to shine forth to us—(that) which we have seen (clearly) and have heard, we also give up as a message to you, (so) that you also might also hold common (bond) with us.”

Despite the repetitiveness in much of this statement (preserved accurately above), the basic idea is clear enough, and it is fully in accord with the outlook of the Gospel writer; note the conceptual structure:

  • The Word which was from the beginning (i.e. with God the Father)
  • This Word was made to shine forth to us (in the person of Jesus)
  • (1) We have seen/heard/felt this (incarnate) Word
    (2) and we, in turn, give witness about it to others
  • This witness is the word of the (Gospel) message

At the very center of this statement is the expression “Word of Life” (o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$), which, as I indicated above, has a dual-meaning: (a) Jesus as the Living Word of God (and source of Life), and (b) the message (word/account) regarding Jesus, which will lead to Life for those who trust in him. In the Gospel, the noun zwh/ virtually always refers to the Life which God possesses (i.e. divine, eternal Life), and which is given to believers through Jesus. Just as God the Father’s word and voice gives life to all things (Gen 1:3ff; cf. also Psalm 119:25, 107, etc), so that of the Son (Jesus) gives this same life (Jn 1:3-4; 5:24-29; 6:63; 11:43, etc).

Verse 2 is essentially a parenthesis which explains this Life; there appears to be a loose chiastic structure to its logic:

  • This Life (i.e. the divine/eternal Life)
    —Manifest to us (in the person of Jesus)
    ——We have seen it
    ——We give witness/message of it
    —Manifest to us (through Jesus’ gift)
  • The Life which was with [lit. toward] God

The closing reference to Life uses the expression “Life of the Age”, which appears repeatedly in the Gospel, and which I have discussed at length in earlier notes. It typically refers to the Life given by Jesus to believers, which is also identified numerous times in the Gospel with the Spirit. This same association may be intended here, though the actual word pneu=ma does not occur until chapter 3 of the letter.

If there were any doubt regarding the connection between John 1:1-3 and vv. 1-3 here in the letter, there is added confirmation in the fact that in verses 5ff light is introduced as a thematic motif, just as it is in vv. 4-5ff of the Gospel Prologue. The theme includes the same dualistic light vs. darkness contrast. This may help to explain the interesting use of the preposition pro/$ in Jn 1:1-2 and 1 Jn 1:2. It is typically translated “with”—i.e. the Word was with God—but properly it indicates direction or location, i.e. of motion toward something, or facing toward (i.e. before, in front of) something. Presumably the latter is intended here—the Living Word facing toward God the Father. This would seem to be confirmed by the close association with light-imagery and use of the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”). Christ the Son and Living Word of God faces the Father and is (perfect) reflection of the Father’s Light, etc. That same Light is then made to shine forth to believers.

“…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 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.

Note of the Day – May 27 (John 6:51; Luke 22:19f)

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John 6:51; Luke 22:19f

Today, on Memorial Day, I wish to return to the declaration by Jesus in John 6:51, part of the great Bread of Life discourse (cf. the previous note and the Saturday discussion), especially as it relates to the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). Here is verse 51, with the main points for comparison given in italics:

“I am the Living Bread th(at) is stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven—if any one should eat out of this bread, he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is even my flesh, (given) over the life of the world.”

The form of the words of institution (in the Synoptic tradition), closest to the language here, is found in the Gospel of Luke:

“And taking bread (and) giving (thanks to God) for (his) favor, broke (it) and gave (it) to them, saying: ‘This is my body th(at is) being given over you—do this unto my remembrance’.” (Lk 22:19)

The last phrase is unique to the Lukan version, but Paul has similar wording in 1 Cor 11:23-25, except that the phrase “do this unto my remembrance” is applied to both the bread and the cup.

It is interesting to consider the differences in the object of the preposition (u(pe/r, “over”) between the Lukan and parallel Synoptic versions, as well as here in Jn 6:51:

  • “over you [pl.]” [u(pe\r u(mw=n] (Lk 22:19-20, applied to both bread and cup)
  • “over many” [u(pe\r pollw=n] (Mk 14:24, par Matt 26:28, applied only to the cup)
  • “over the life of the world” [u(pe\r th=$ tou= ko/smou zwh=$] (Jn 6:51, applied to bread)

The Lukan version is straightforward—Jesus is referring to his disciples (believers). The references in Mark/Matt and John 6:51 are more difficult. Who are the “many” in Mk 14:24 par? There is a similar expression in Mk 10:45 (par Matt 20:28), in which Jesus says:

“For the Son of Man also did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul [i.e. life] in exchange for (the) many [a)nti\ pollw=n], as a means of loosing (them from bondage).”

In both passages, Jesus is almost certainly alluding to Isaiah 53:11-12:

  • “by his knowledge my [righteous] Servant will cause righteousness (to be established) for the many [<yB!r^l*]” (v. 11)
  • “…and he carried/lifted the sin of (the) many [<yB!r^]” (v. 12b)

There is strong sacrificial language used in Isa 53:10-12, including the offering for sin/guilt (<v*a*, v. 10), which relates to the suffering and/or death of the Servant. This made the passage an obvious Scripture to apply to the sacrificial death of Jesus, an association which was recognized already by the earliest Christians (Acts 8:30-35, etc). However, there is some question whether “(the) many” should be understood in the generic sense (i.e. many people), or in a specific religious sense, as the assembly (of God’s people). While Christians typically read the passage in the former sense, an increasing number of commentators feel that it is really the latter which is in view. The same would apply to the use of <yB!r^(h*) in Daniel 11:33; 12:3.

The basis for this specific denotation of the word <yB!r^ is found in the texts associated with the Qumran Community, where the the word is used repeatedly as a title for the Community, especially in the Damascus Document (CD) 13-15 and the “Community Rule” (1QS) 6-8. The members of that Community viewed themselves as the Elect of Israel, the ones remaining faithful to the ancient covenant, who will see (and play a central role in) the coming Messianic Age. The Anointed One(s) will deliver and lead the Community. This involves a decidedly sectarian identity of the people of God—not the entire Israelite/Jewish population, but only a portion, the elect who, when assembled together in the Community, represent “the Many”. There is a clear application and development of the “remnant” image from the Prophets.

It is possible that a similar background of thought applies to the earliest Christians and Jesus’ own use of the expression “(the) many” in Mk 10:45; 14:24 par (cf. also Rom 5:15-19; Heb 9:28). In other words, he is not saying that he gives his body/life for people generally “many people”, but for “the Many” who are his followers. Certainly the fundamental idea of the covenant (diaqh/kh) God established with Israel is present in the Last Supper scene. While it is described as a new covenant (cf. Jer 31:31ff), the basic imagery is derived from the sacrificial ritual by which the covenant between God and Israel was established (Exod 24:4-8). There is thus a dual meaning to the preposition u(pe/r (“over”):

  • the concrete sense of blood being poured (or sprinkled) over the altar and on the people
  • the more abstract meaning “on behalf of”, “for (the sake of)”

If “the many” designates the disciples of Jesus as the new covenant Community within Israel, then it corresponds with the the plural pronoun (“you”) in the Lukan version (22:19-20):

“this is my body th(at is) being given over you
“this cup (is) the new covenant [diaqh/kh] in my blood being poured out over you

What of the expression in Jn 6:51, “over the life of the world”? We are accustomed to seeing this in the more general (universalist) sense—i.e., Jesus died on behalf of all people in the world. This would seem to be supported by 3:16-17 (cf. also 4:42; 12:47), in which the desire is expressed that the world (i.e. the people in it) should not be destroyed, but saved. Yet, elsewhere in the Gospel, there is a strong negative connotation (and denotation) to the word ko/smo$ (“world”), where it more literally signifies the world order—the current order and arrangement of things, dominated and governed by sin and darkness. The imagery is fundamentally dualistic—the “world” is opposed to God and his Spirit, to Jesus and his disciples (believers). The basic Johannine construct may be summarized as follows:

  • The “world” has rejected God’s Word and is dominated by sin and darkness
  • God sends Jesus (the Son and Living Word) into the world, to bring light, truth, etc, and salvation to it—that is, to believers—the elect who are in the world, but do not belong to it
  • Jesus (the Son) returns to God the Father and will bring believers with him—he has called them out of the world

The work of Jesus in the world is centered upon his self-sacrificial act—laying down his life, giving his (human) life for the sake of the world. Yet we must be careful to preserve his distinctive wording in 6:51 (and earlier in v. 33):

  • “for the Bread of Life is th(at which is) stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven and giving Life to the world” (v. 33)
  • “and the Bread which I will give is even my flesh (given) over the life of the world” (v. 51)

There is here a parallel to Creation, as expressed in the Prologue: Jesus (the Living Word) brings light and life to the world, but those who belong to the darkness do not receive the light—only those who belong to the light are able to receive it. Thus, we should probably not read the expression “life of the world”, as ‘for the sake of the world’, but, rather, in the more precise theological sense found in the Johannine discourses, etc—of Jesus as “the Life of the world”. This would be almost exactly parallel with the expression “Light of the world” in 8:12, which I will be discussing in an upcoming note. We also find the expression “Light of Life” in that same verse. This Light (and Life) is found in Jesus’ own person (in the world), and believers come to hold this Light/Life (in the world).

I would conclude this note with the one element which is unique to the Lukan (and Pauline) version of the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. While it is stated that Jesus gives his body and blood “over you”—that is, over believers—who are also “the many” whom God has called out of the world, an additional directive is given to us (who are believers):

“do this [i.e. this same thing] unto my remembrance [ei)$ th\n e)mh\n a)na/mnhsin]”

We are thus called to repeat Jesus’ action as a memorial, in memory of what he has done. This should be understood on two levels. First, in terms of repeating the ritual/symbolic act—i.e. the consecrated “Lord’s Supper”. This is certainly how Paul understands it in 1 Cor 11. However, second, and even more important: we are to follow Jesus’ own example of self-sacrifice, on behalf of others (and esp. our fellow believers)—not as a mere repetition of ritual, but as a way of life and thought. This comes through abundantly clear in the foot-washing scene in the Gospel of John (Jn 13:4-17), which effectively takes the place of the Lord’s Supper institution in the narrative. As expressed by the love command (13:34-35), it also becomes the central theme of the great Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16, and the prayer-discourse of chap. 17).

“The fine (shep)herd sets (down) his soul over the sheep…and I set (down) my soul over the sheep”
(Jn 10:11, 14)

(Peter): “I will set (down) my soul over you”
(Jesus): “Will you (indeed) set (down) your soul over me?”
(Jn 13:37-38)

“No one holds greater love than this—that one should set (down) his soul over his dear (friend)s”
(Jn 15:13)