was successfully added to your cart.

Tag

Gospel of John

Special Article on the Letters of John

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Supplemental Study | No Comments

Special Article on the Letters of John

As I have dealt at length with the Letters of John (1 John, in particular) in the recent notes of this series, touching upon many aspects of their life-setting (and church-setting), I felt it would be worthwhile to supplement this study with a brief survey of the background of the letters, insofar as it is possible to determine. This will not be a thorough or exhaustive introduction (for that, you may consult any reputable critical Commentary); rather, I will outline some of the key points which are especially helpful for analyzing and interpreting the letters.

Authorship, Timeframe, and Geographical Setting

Tradition ascribes authorship of both the Gospel and Letters to John the Apostle. This was established by at least the middle of the 2nd century, as indicated by texts from the latter half of the century, such as the Muratorian fragment and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (I.16.3, III.1.1), as well as the “Anti-Marcionite” prologue to John, and Clement of Alexandria (in Eusebius’ Church History VI.14.7). While this tradition is fairly strong, the writings themselves are actually anonymous, with no specific identification of authorship. Support for the apostle as the author of 1 John, as well as the authenticity (and canonical status) of the letter, is somewhat stronger than that of 2-3 John (cf. Eusebius’ Church History III.24.17, 25.2; VI.25.10; VII.25.7-8, but note also his view in the Demonstration of the Gospel 3.5.88). There are strong indicators in the Letters to suggest that they were not written by a leading Apostle such as John.

With regard to the authorship/origins of the Gospel, the main figure is the close disciple of Jesus referred to as “the disciple whom he loved” (Jn 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20), often rendered as “the Beloved Disciple”. Most often, this person is identified with John son of Zebedee, according to tradition, but commentators have suggested other possibilities as well, such as John Mark or Lazarus (cf. Jn 11:5, 36; 12:1-2). All we can say for certain, is that the “Beloved Disciple” was one of Jesus’ close followers, and that he was not Simon Peter (13:23-24; 20:2-8; 21:7, 20ff). The responsible commentator really ought not to presume more than this. It is noteworthy that the “Beloved Disciple” only features in the Passion Narrative spanning the second half of the book (chaps. 13-21), and, it would seem, was regarded by the Gospel writer as a key source of information for this section. It has been suggested that he was the unnamed disciple accompanying Peter in 18:15ff, as well as the witness cited in 19:35-36. The last point is quite likely, especially considering how the ‘appendix’ to the Gospel (chap. 21) identifies the “Beloved Disciple” specifically as a prime witness for the events being narrated in the Gospel (v. 24). This statement is worth quoting:

“This (person) is the learner [i.e. disciple] giving witness to these things and having written them, and we have seen [i.e. known] that his witness is true.”

The reference to “having written” is sometimes assumed, by traditional-conservative commentators especially, to mean that the “Beloved Disciple” is the Gospel writer; but this interpretation is scarcely required by the text. All the statement really means is that the “Beloved Disciple” committed his testimony to writing in some form. It could just as easily indicate that his written testimony was a source used by the Gospel writer, who was a different person; indeed, this seems most likely. Critical commentators generally regard the authorship of the Gospel along the following lines:

  • The “Beloved Disciple” was a leading figure (if not the leading figure) among the Community (i.e. congregations) which produced and first circulated the Gospel. As a close disciple of Jesus, he was a key source for the traditions (including eyewitness testimony and memories) preserved in the Gospel. These would have been transmitted orally, and also in writing; indeed, he may have composed a core Gospel account which the writer incorporated within the main text.
  • The Gospel writer—a different person from the “Beloved Disciple”, though almost certainly coming from the same line of tradition (or “school”, cf. below); he may have been a close follower himself of the “Beloved Disciple”, committed to preserving his Apostolic witness (much like the relationship tradition ascribes to John Mark and Peter in the composition of the Gospel of Mark).
  • The final editing/redaction of the Gospel. This may have been done, at a later point, by the Gospel writer himself, or by a second author/editor. Commentators are divided on this point, though in general agreement that chapter 21 is a secondary (later) addition to the main Gospel, which concluded at 20:31.

On the whole, this a very plausible general reconstruction, which seems to fit the available evidence.

With regard to the Letters, scholars are divided as to authorship, in terms of the relation of the Letters to the Gospel. Clearly, they share the same thought-world and theology (including Christology), as well as having considerable similarity in vocabulary, language, and style. If one takes into account the normal differences, between the Gospel and First Letter, due to the adaptation of earlier historical/traditional material in the Gospel, the two works appear to be very close indeed, and could have been written by the same person. Depending on the relative roles given to the Gospel writer and a (possible) subsequent editor/redactor, commentators have identified the author of the letters (or at least the First Letter) with either the writer or editor/redactor of the Gospel, respectively. There are a range of valid possibilities, but none can be determined with certainty.

There are also differences of opinion regarding the relationship between 1 John and the second & third Letters, which are almost certainly written by the same person. The author of 1 John is not identified in any way, but 2 and 3 John both were written by a man calling himself “the Elder”. While the designation o( presbu/tero$ (“the elder”) could conceivably be used for an Apostle (such as John), this is rather unlikely, especially the context of the initial address of a letter. For example, in 1 Peter, the author (who identifies himself as Peter) calls himself sumpresbu/teros (“elder [along] with [you]”), but only in the immediate context of addressing other elders; in the initial address he clearly refers to himself as a)po/stolo$ (“[one] sent forth”, apostle), even as Paul does in many of his letters. Moreover, the author of 2-3 John does not appear to write as one possessing apostolic authority. Indeed, the entire milieu of the Letters suggests a time after the first generation of apostolic witnesses has passed from the scene. According to tradition, John the Apostle would have been one of the last to pass away. The (recent) death of the “Beloved Disciple” is suggested by the context of Jn 21:22-23ff.

Even so, many commentators would attribute all three Letters to the same person—i.e., “the Elder” in 2-3 John. The close similarity of language, style and content between 1 and 2 John would seem to confirm this. The best explanation as to why this author did not address himself the same way in First Letter, is that 1 John, in fact, is not a letter or epistle, but a (theological) tract or exposition which achieved circulation among the various congregations. Thus, it would not have been formulated the same way as an actual letter, and, indeed, is lacking most of the common characteristics of the epistolary format. Who is “the Elder” who produced the Letters? There are several ways to understand this:

  • He is simply one of the (leading) Elders of the Johannine churches
  • He is the chief (overseeing, i.e. e)pi/skopo$) Elder for the (Johannine) churches of the region
  • He is a leading figure with the special title “the Elder”, due to his close connection with the founding apostle of the churches (the “Beloved Disciple”, whether John or another apostle)
  • He is, in fact, the “Beloved Disciple” (John or another apostle) who calls himself by the title “Elder”

In my view, only the second and third options are likely to be correct. As an interesting side note, which might confirm option #3, there is an early Christian tradition which distinguishes the apostle John from another elder John. Eusebius (Church History 3.39.4) records a statement by Papias (c. 130 A.D.) which identifies two such distinct figures named John (cf. also Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men 9; and the Apostolic Constitutions 7:46). A relatively simple, more general explanation would be to distinguish a group of leading “Elders”, installed by the Apostles and other early/leading missionaries, in the various churches, all of whom represent the second generation of Christian leaders. The apostolic witness was passed on to them, and they, in turn, faithfully preserve and transmit it for subsequent generations. This is very much the situation expressed in the Pastoral letters, and is attested elsewhere in early tradition (cf. Acts 14:23; 20:17). Irenaeus confirms such a distinction between “apostle” and “elder” (Against Heresies III.3.4; IV.27.1; V.33.3), and this would seem to be in accord with the general setting of the Johannine Letters.

Geographic Setting—Where were the Gospel and Letters first composed and circulated? Two regions are usually cited as the most likely possibilities: (1) Syria, the area around Antioch, and (2) Asia Minor, spec. the area around Ephesus. In favor of Syria, we might cite as evidence:

  • The Palestinian background of the Gospel, including the Jerusalem setting for many of the episodes, an abundance of local detail not found in the other Gospels, and the occurrence of numerous Semitisms. However, this may reflect the underlying historical traditions, rather than the place of composition.
  • The primacy and importance of Antioch as one of the earliest (and most influential) centers of Christianity.
  • Ignatius was bishop of Antioch, and his letters (c. 110-115 A.D.) reflect Johannine thought and expression at various points, though there are no certain quotations.
  • There are also considerable points of similarity between the Johannine writings (esp. the Gospel) and the so-called Odes of Solomon, a collection of early Christian hymns (late-1st/early-2nd century) which are assumed to have a Syrian provenance.

In favor of Ephesus:

  • Early Christian tradition associates John the apostle (and the Johannine writings) with Ephesus. This is part of the Johannine tradition established by the middle of the 2nd century—cf. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 81.4; the Acts of John; Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.1.1, etc; and the testimony of Polycrates bishop of Ephesus (in Eusebius’ Church History V.24.3). On the other hand, Ignatius, in writing to the Christians of Ephesus, mentions Paul’s work, but says nothing of John having been there.
  • As mentioned above, Ignatius’ letters (c. 110-115 A.D.), many of which are addressed to congregations in Asia Minor, show many similarities with Johannine thought. The same is true of the letter of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who is said to have been a disciple of John the apostle. In writing to the Christians of Smyrna and Tralles, Ignatius attacks Christological views similar to those denounced in 1 John (on this, cf. below).
  • The book of Revelation, written by a “John”, and traditionally identified with John the Apostle, is addressed primarily to churches in Asia Minor (chaps. 2-3), the first of which is Ephesus. The warnings in those letters are similar in certain respects to those given in 1 and 2 John.
  • The island of Patmos, where “John” writes the book of Revelation, and where John the Apostle was exiled (according to tradition), is not too far from Ephesus.
  • John the Baptist features prominently in the Gospel of John, and it often thought that the Gospel was written, in part, against those would might identify the Baptist (rather than Jesus) as the Messiah. According to Acts 18:25ff; 19:2-6, there appear to have been disciples of the Baptist in the vicinity of Ephesus.

Timeframe—When were the Gospel and Letters written? Most scholars would place them at the end of the 1st century A.D., making them among the latest of the New Testament writings. This would be possible, even for those who identify the author as John, since, according to tradition, John the Apostle died an advanced age, toward the end of the century. Moreover, the danger expressed in the Gospel, of early Christians being expelled from the Synagogues, and in the way this is formulated by the author, has been thought to reflect a time around 80-90 A.D. There are other aspects of the treatment and adaptation of traditional material in the Gospel which suggests a similar time frame. I have discussed this at some length in the earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition“.

The Relationship between the Johannine Letters and the Gospel

The similarities in thought, language, and expression, indicate that the Gospel and Letters of John both derive from a common church-setting or environment (usually referred to as the Johannine Community), and also date from around the same time. The Gospel probably was composed earlier than the Letters (though this is not absolutely certain); a date of around 90 A.D. is often posited for the Gospel, with c. 100 A.D. for the Letters, and this likely is not too far off the mark. It would seem that the First Letter was written after the pattern of the Gospel (in the notes we examined the similarities between the opening and closing of both works), and functions a kind of authoritative exposition of the theology (and Christology) expressed in the Gospel. In particular, it draws heavily upon the discourses of Jesus, especially the Last Discourse (chaps. 14-17); or, at the very least, is working from the same basic Tradition. The main theological concerns of First Letter are echoed in the Second, which is addressed to a particular congregation (a “sister church”) some distance removed from the author. The subject matter of the Third Letter differs, but helps provide a glimpse of the overall church setting of the Letters (cf. below).

It is sometimes held that the separatist Christians who are the opponents (“antichrists”) in 1 and 2 John reflect a split in the Johannine Community centered on different approaches to the Christology of the Tradition (i.e. in the Fourth Gospel). I have discussed this in the recent notes, and address it again down below.

The Relationship between 1 John and 2-3 John

As stated above, I tend to regard the author of 1 John as the same as “the Elder” who wrote the Second and Third Letters. The similarities in thought and emphasis between 1 and 2 John would seem to confirm this; at any rate, it is the simplest explanation. There is some question as to the order in which the Letters were composed. The traditional arrangement tells us nothing, since it simply reflects length (longest to shortest). There is really no way to determine the chronology. However, from our standpoint, the traditional order is helpful, since the theological exposition of 1 John helps to elucidate the church situation of 2 and 3 John (which are actual letters). 1 John 2:18-27 is a warning against the “antichrists” who separated from the Johannine congregations (“they went out of us…”) and would deceive others in the churches (v. 26). This is precisely the situation the author describes in 2 John 7-11, and it is clear that these “false” believers are considered (by the author) to hold and proclaim the “false” view of Jesus indicated in 1 John 4:1-3. The author warns his “sister church” not to treat such persons as fellow believers in Christ (2 Jn 10-11). This could mean that the situation has grown more serious by the time 2 John was written, though this is not certain. It is also possible that the conflict with Diotrephes in 3 John (vv. 9-10ff) is related in some way to this same situation involving the Johannine separatists. Missionaries and representatives from both “sides” would have sought to visit the various congregations in the region. Just as the author of 2 John urges his audience to refuse hospitality to the other side, so Diotrephes may be doing the same (but in the opposite direction) in 3 John.

The Church Setting and Opponents in the Letters

If either region proposed for the Johannine Churches (and Writings) is correct—i.e. Antioch or Ephesus—then it is possible to reconstruct, to some extent, the church setting of the Letters. This would involve the congregations of a major city or town (such as Ephesus), which had authority or influence over congregations in the surrounding region; quite likely, these outlying churches would have been founded by missionaries working from the main city. All of these congregations would have been fairly small—house churches (typically the house of a relatively wealthy individual), large enough to support perhaps several dozen people, though many congregations were likely much smaller than that. The earliest church centers were founded by apostles—men (and possibly women) who represented the first-generation of believers, who had either been close companions of Jesus, or who witnessed the resurrection and the beginning of Christianity (in Judea). The “Beloved Disciple”, whether or not he is to be identified with John son of Zebedee, was certainly one of these apostles, and, according to the Gospel, he was the source of reliable early tradition and teaching; presumably he was the leading figure (and founder) of the Johannine congregations. Such apostles would have set in place leaders (“elders”) in every congregation, and where appropriate, special elders assigned to be overseers of a particular area. In the setting assumed by the Pastoral letters, Timothy and Titus functioned as this sort of regional overseer, under Paul’s (apostolic) authority; it is possible that “the Elder” of the Johannine Letters had a similar role (and/or relationship to the “Beloved Disciple”).

As I discussed above, only 2 and 3 John are true letters, addressed to a specific group or individual. Second John is addressed to a “sister church” (vv. 1, 13), presumably one with a very close relationship to the author’s own congregation(s). At any rate, he is writing to believers whom he assumes will be, and should be, in agreement with him. Third John is written to an individual (Gaius) who is a member of a particular congregation. This may (or may not) be the same congregation currently being led by Diotrephes (vv. 9-10); probably it is a separate congregation. The author is asking Gaius for support in the missionary work of certain “brothers”. In ancient times, relations between groups (such as churches), and leadership networks, had to be maintained through personal visits and messengers delivering authoritative letters. Travelling missionaries (both “apostles” and “prophets”) were common in the early church, and it could be difficult at times to determine the legitimacy and authority of such persons. Both those aligned with the author, and those on the other side (the “antichrists”), would have visited various congregations seeking to gain support and influence. In 2 John 10-11 the author urges the congregation to refuse hospitality to any missionary or representative who holds the aberrant view of Jesus described in vv. 7-9. Similarly, in 3 John 9-10, Diotrephes apparently is doing much the same thing—urging people to refuse hospitality to representatives aligned with the author. Demetrius (v. 12) would seem to be one of these representatives, or missionaries, and that the author is asking for Gaius to provide support for him.

Clearly, Diotrephes is presented as an opponent in 3 John; however, we do not really know the basis or origin of the apparent conflict that has resulted in the situation described in vv. 9-10. It is a different matter in 2 John, where the opponents are characterized by particular Christological views (vv. 7-9). The language used to describe them is quite close to that in 1 John 2:18ff and 4:1-3. Some commentators have questioned whether one or more opposing groups are being referenced in 1 John; in my view, there would seem to be one main group in focus—a group which separated from the Johannine congregations, holding and proclaiming a distinctive view of Jesus that differed markedly from the traditional (Johannine) portrait presented in the Gospel. These “false” believers (“antichrists”), according to the author, are violating both aspects of the two-fold ‘commandment’ which defines our identity as (true) believers in Christ—(1) trust in Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God, and (2) love for fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example.

There have been many attempts to identify these separatist opponents with various heretical or heterodox groups in the early Church, such as the Nicolaitans, mentioned in Revelation 2:6, 15, but of whom we know very little. More common is an association with Cerinthus, who, according to Irenaeus (Against Heresies I.26.1-2; III.3.4., 11.1), was both an early “Gnostic” and adversary of the apostle John (in Ephesus). Unfortunately, much of the information provided by the Church Fathers regarding Cerinthus is contradictory and far from reliable. He appears to have held a quasi-Gnostic “separationist” view of Jesus, which does not quite square with the data in 1 and 2 John. Much closer to the Johannine opponents are the Christological views attacked by Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110-115 A.D.), in his letters to the Christians of Smyrna and Tralles. This is echoed closely by Polycarp in his letter to the Christians of Philippi (7:1 is virtually a quotation of 1 Jn 4:2-3 and 2 Jn 7). It would seem to confirm that there were Christians in Asia Minor in the period 110-130 A.D. (within a generation of the Johannine letters) holding views similar to those described (and condemned) in 1 and 2 John.

The Johannine “School”

Many critical commentators have referred to a Johannine “School”, though this term can be quite misleading. The basic idea it expresses is of a chain of common tradition, stemming from the apostolic testimony of “the Beloved Disciple” and the first generation of believers associated with him, down to the end of the 1st century A.D., and the leaders of the congregations he helped to found. These leaders are the ones who preserved and safeguarded the traditions—the Gospel message, teaching of Jesus, and the theology/Christology expressed in the Gospel of John—and represent the group(s) which originally composed and circulated the Gospel (and First Letter). The author of the Letters (“the Elder”) was a leading figure (perhaps the leading figure) for these Johannine congregations. The language, ideas, and theology in the Gospel and Letters is distinctive—”Johannine”, as compared with that of the Pauline letters and churches, etc. The Book of Revelation has also been considered a “Johannine” work, with certain characteristics in common with the Gospel and Letters, though written in a very different language and style. According to tradition, all five writings are attributed to John the apostle (hence, “Johannine”), but few commentators today would accept this traditional identification without further ado.

Christology appears to be at the root of the conflict in 1 and 2 John—between the author (representing the ‘mainstream’ Johannine congregations) and the separatists who “went out” from them. Many commentators feel that this split reflects a fundamental difference of interpretation regarding the portrait of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The viewpoint of these separatists, by all accounts, was an early “docetic” Christology, one which denied the reality of Jesus’ human life (and death), or, at least, minimized or relativized its importance. It is easy enough to see how such a view might develop out the uniquely “high” Christology of the Fourth Gospel. Indeed, the Gospel of John proved to be popular among certain heretical/heterodox Christians, including so-called Gnostics, many of whom evinced “docetic” or “separationist” tendencies which challenged and clashed with the (proto-)orthodox view of Christ as the incarnate Son of God. Heracleon, for example, wrote perhaps the earliest commentary on the Gospel of John, which spurred Origen to compose his own massive (and unfinished) Commentary.

This question of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” plunges us into a difficult and sensitive issue which ought to be addressed, in closing. How far should Christians today go in following the example of 1 John 5:16-17 and 2 John 10-11, essentially refusing to regard or treat as fellow those with differing Christological views? Remember that the author of 3 John decries the fact that Diotrephes is apparently doing much the same thing (vv. 9-10), only on the other side of the fence! Surely this is not merely a question of lining up to a precise Christological formulation or creed. The author of 1 John spends five chapters expounding the theological (and ethical) aspects of what we might call the “fundamentals” of Christian identity—of our identity as (true) believers in Christ. It is tied to such powerful notions as what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God, the affect of his death, the meaning and significance of sin, and the presence of the Spirit in and among believers. For centuries, supposed Christians have accused one another of not being true believers, not holding the correct belief, and this has often resulted in many tragic episodes (often based on unfortunate misunderstandings), including angry words, insults, excommunication, hostility of all sorts, not infrequently leading to persecution and violence. In the name of Christ, many have exhibited the very sort of hatred which violates the command to love other Christians, according to Christ’s own example. Before proceeding to the drastic step of refusing to acknowledge Christians as fellow believers, let us take the author’s own advice and “test the spirits”—including the manner in which we are acting and reacting. Is it in accordance with the Holy Spirit of God and Christ?

Sadly, many Christians today are no longer faced with the kind of Christological questions with which the Johannine congregations sought to grapple. Christology has almost disappeared entirely from the Church. We must return to it anew, and I can think of no better place to start than with the Gospel and Letters of John. I hope and trust that this series has been stimulating and inspiring, perhaps encouraging you to further study of these marvelous works.

Note of the Day – July 1 (1 John 5:6-8, continued)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

1 John 5:6-8 (continued)

In the previous daily note I examined the context of 1 John 5:6 and began exploring the statements made in the verse itself. I noted the parallel with 4:2-3, especially the two expressions “in the flesh” and “in/through water and blood” which I regard as being closely related in thought. If the expression “come in the flesh [e)n sarki/]” refers to Jesus being born and appearing on earth as a true human being, then it stands to reason that “in/through water and blood” in 5:6 follows this same basic meaning. There appears to be little apparent difference here in the use of the prepositions dia/ (“through water and blood”) and e)n (“in water and…blood”), though it is possible that distinct aspects of Jesus birth/life as a human being are implied. We see the same interchangeability of the prepositions in Hebrews 9:12, 25 and Rom 6:4 / Col 2:12 (Brown, p. 574).

Before proceeding, I should point out that many Greek manuscripts and versions have a different reading of the first phrase in verse 6 (“the one coming through water and blood”), variously adding “and (the) Spirit” (or “and the holy Spirit”), to form a triad. That this reading is secondary, and not original, is strongly indicated by the fact that the reference to the Spirit appears at different points in the phrase; the most widespread of these variant readings is: “through water and blood and (the) Spirit” (a A 104 424c 614 1739c, etc). It may simply reflect the influence of what follows in vv. 6b-8. However, if early Christians understood the verse as referring to Jesus’ birth (cf. below), then the addition of “and (the) Spirit” in 6a could have theological significance (i.e. to safeguard the idea of the virginal conception, and the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ conception); on this, cf. Ehrman, pp. 60-1.

What exactly does the author mean when stating that Jesus came “through (or in) water and blood”? There would seem to be three main possibilities recognized by commentators:

  1. It refers to the birth and death of Jesus, respectively—fundamentally, to his (incarnate) human life on earth
  2. Similar to #1, it refers to the baptism and death of Jesus—to his mission on earth
  3. It refers specifically to Jesus’ death, following Jn 19:34
  4. In relation to #2, the reference is primarily sacramental—to baptism (water) and the eucharist (esp. the cup [blood])

In my view, the last of these can be eliminated. There is little indication anywhere else in the letter that either sacrament (Baptism or the Lord’s Supper) is in view. While it is possible that “water” and “blood” could be shorthand keywords for Baptism and the Eucharist, it seems quite out of place here in the letter, where the emphasis is clearly on the person and identity of Jesus. Otherwise, I can find no other definite Johannine references to (Christian) baptism, despite the emphasis on baptism in the early Gospel traditions recorded in Jn 1:19-34 and 3:22-23ff; there are eucharistic allusions in chapter 6 of the Gospel (esp. vv. 51-58), but the Lord’s Supper (i.e. as a ritual or sacrament introduced by Jesus) is completely absent from the Last Supper scene in John.

The choice, then, is between interpretations #1-3 above. There can be little doubt that “blood” refers to the sacrificial death of Jesus. The statement in 1:7 (“the blood of Yeshua…cleanses us from all sin”) reflects the idea of Jesus’ death (the shedding/pouring of blood) as a sacrificial offering, already found in the Gospel tradition of Mark 14:24 par (recording Jesus’ own words); there are, indeed, two aspects to this sacrificial motif:

  • The blood shed and poured on the altar (and upon the people) at the establishment of God’s covenant with Israel (cf. Exod 24:3-8)
  • The blood of the sin offering poured/sprinkled on the altar (Lev 4:1-5:13, etc)

While the Gospel of John does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper (and the symbolic drinking of Jesus’ “blood”), the language in 6:51-58 is quite similar (esp. vv. 51b, 53). It is only in the Fourth Gospel that the shedding of Jesus’ blood is actually narrated and described (19:34, cf. below).

More difficult is determining exactly what is signified by “water”. There are seven other significant Johannine passages, in the Gospel and Letters, involving water (all from the Gospel):

  • The traditions related to John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus (1:26-34, cf. also 3:22ff)
  • The miracle of turning water into wine (2:6-9ff)
  • The discourse/dialogue with Nicodemus (3:5-8)
  • The “living water” dialogue with the Samaritan woman (4:7-15)
  • The “living water” declaration by Jesus (7:37-38f)
  • The washing of the disciples’ feet during the Last Supper scene (13:5ff)
  • The “blood and water” which came out of Jesus’ side after his death (19:34)

Commentators have sought to associate these passages variously with Baptism (cf. above), but the only instance where such an association can plausibly be made is in 3:3-8, and yet I am not at all convinced that (Christian) baptism is being referred to by Jesus in that passage (except, possibly, in a secondary sense). As far as water being related to the baptism of Jesus, it is noteworthy that the Gospel of John appears to downplay this episode; it is not even narrated directly, but only indirectly, through the testimony of the Baptist. The traditional detail from the Baptism scene which the author emphasizes is two-fold:

  • The presence of the Spirit (1:32-33), and
  • The identification of Jesus as the Son and Chosen (i.e. Anointed) One of God (1:34)

It thus seems unlikely to me that the author of the letter is specifically referring to Jesus’ baptism in 5:6-8. This leaves options #1 and 3 above. In analyzing each of these, it is important to consider the significance of water in the Gospel. I find three distinct themes or aspects:

  • A figure and symbol of the Spirit
  • Symbolic of the new/eternal Life which Jesus gives
  • Association with the sacrificial death of Jesus

The evidence cited above appears to be divided rather equally between these, with the first two being particularly emphasized. I would divide the passages into two primary themes:

  1. Life through the Spirit—1:26 (cf. 32-33); 3:3-8 (birth motif); 4:7-15ff; 7:37-39
  2. Association with Jesus’ death (i.e. blood)—2:6-9ff (cp. 6:51-58); 13:5ff; 19:34

Now, in Johannine thought, Life and the Spirit are closely associated with the idea of birth—especially the motif of believers coming to be born (i.e. a new, spiritual birth). This is expressed most clearly in John 3:3-8, where water and the Spirit are tied together in a manner similar to water and blood in 1 Jn 5:6-8; note the parallelism of logic:

  • born out of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5)—i.e. not out of water alone, but also of the Spirit (cp. the same contrast in 1:26)
  • come in/through water and blood—not only water, but also blood (1 Jn 5:6)

It is important to understand the contrast Jesus establishes in Jn 3:5ff; as verse 6 makes clear, there is a parallel between water and flesh, indicating that the idea of human birth is in view:

  • water = “flesh”—ordinary, physical human birth and life
  • water and Spirit—the new spiritual life (“from above”) given to a human being through trust in Jesus

Based on this thematic logic, I believe that the birth (and human life) of Jesus is primarily in view in 1 John 5:6:

  • coming through/in water = Jesus’ birth and (incarnate) life
  • coming through/in blood = Jesus’ sacrificial death

These reflect the beginning and end points of Jesus’ earthly life and mission, and, significantly, “water and blood” are featured in the two episodes which open and close Jesus’ ministry on earth:

  • The miracle at Cana (2:1-11)—water and wine (= “blood”)
  • The death of Jesus (19:34)—blood and water

Both elements (water and blood) reflect Jesus’ human life which he sacrificed (poured out) for us. The issue for the author of 1 John is that there were would-be believers (“antichrists”, who have separated from the Johannine congregations) who did not correctly believe (and confess) that Jesus “came in the flesh”—that he was born and lived on earth as a true human being (i.e., an early “docetic” view of Christ). Now, if Jesus did not exist as a true flesh-and-blood human being, then neither did he shed real (human) blood on behalf of humankind. For later Christian authors and theologians in the second and third centuries, this was the most serious consequence of a docetic Christology—if Jesus was not a real human being like us, then he could not have truly suffered and died on our behalf, and this effectively nullifies the salvific meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death. In combating the docetic views of “Gnostics” and others at the time, proto-orthodox theologians such as Ignatius, Irenaeus and Tertullian were absolutely clear on this point. The same point, it would seem, was recognized already by the author of First John. Consider the logic:

  • Jesus came “in the flesh“—i.e. incarnation, existence as a real human being
    • = came “in/through water“—a real earthly life on earth, including the period of his ministry (the beginning of which is marked by water-motifs in 1:26-34; 2:1-11)
    • not only a real earthly life (in/through water), but Jesus also
      • came “in/through blood“—a real (human) death and shedding of blood, which has saving power for humankind

Johannine theology is unique in the way that these essential Christological motifs are tied so closely to the presence of the Spirit. The association between the Spirit and water is clear enough from the passages we have studied (and are cited above); however, the precise relationship between the Spirit and blood is not as readily apparent. And yet, the statements in vv. 6b-8 bring all three elements, or aspects, together into a triad. This is the subject which we will be discussing in the next daily note.

References above marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982). Those marked “Ehrman” are to B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: 1993).

Saturday Series: John 17:12

By | Saturday Series | No Comments

(My apologies for the belated posting of this Saturday series; next week I hope to return to regular postings on Saturday proper.)

John 17:11-12

The great prayer-discourse of John 17 serves as the conclusion both to the Last Discourse (ch. 13:31-16:33) and to the Johannine Discourses of Jesus as a whole. As such, in the Gospel narrative, they represent the climax of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples before his death. Many of the themes and ideas in the Discourses are restated and given new significance in chapter 17. For an outline of the prayer-discourse, see my earlier note on 17:3.

Today we will be looking specifically at verses 11-12:

“And (now) I am no longer in the world, and (yet) these [i.e. the disciples] are in the world, and I come toward you. Holy Father, keep watch (over) these in the name which you have given to me, that they might be one, even as we (are). When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, and I guarded (them) and not one of them came to ruin…”

There are textual and interpretive difficulties throughout chapter 17, including these verses. As I discussed last week, while the language and vocabulary of the Gospel of John (and the Discourses) is relatively simple, the way this language is applied is often quite complex and allusive. Every grammatical detail and nuance of wording can carry special (theological) significance. At the same time, the style and wording of the Johannine discourses is quite consistent, with the same words, phrases, and images often being repeated from one discourse to the next. This means that we can look to earlier usage in the Gospel for reliable information as to what the author (and Jesus as the speaker) intends to convey.

Moreover, it is possible to use the first Johannine letter (1 John) for added insight as to the meaning of passages in the Gospel. Normally it is not wise to rely upon other New Testament writings for the interpretation of a passage in a particular book; however, the case of the Gospel and Letters of John is special. If they were not written by the same author (traditionally, John the Apostle), then they at least must be viewed as the product of a Community, or congregations, which share a common language and thought-world. The vocabulary and mode of expression in the Letters (esp. 1 John) is very close to that of the Gospel (and the Discourses of Jesus). Many passages in 1 John could have been lifted right out of the Discourses.

There are three elements of John 17:11-12 which we will examine:

  1. The use of the verbs t¢réœ and phylássœ
  2. The meaning and significance of the “name” (ónoma)
  3. The relationship between Father and Son (Jesus), and that between Jesus and the believer

1. First, we have the two verbs t¢réœ and phylássœ, which are largely synonymous:

  • thre/w (t¢réœ) has the basic meaning “watch”, often in the sense of “keep watch (over)”
  • fula/ssw (phylássœ) similarly means “watch, be alert, guard”

Let us look at how these verbs are used in the Gospel (and Letters) of John.

Most commonly they relate to the idea of believers keeping/guarding Jesus’ words. This is expressed three ways, which are more or less synonymous:

  • (1) Jesus’ word/account (singular, lógos)—Jn 8:51-52; 14:23; 15:20; 1 Jn 2:5 (all using t¢réœ)
  • (2) Jesus’ words (plural, lógoi)—Jn 14:24 (using t¢réœ)
    or, similarly, his “utterances [i.e. spoken words]” (rh¢¡mata)—Jn 12:47 (using phylássœ), interchangeable with “word[s]” (lógos, v. 48)
  • (3) The things Jesus lays on believers to complete (plur. entolaí), typically translated “command(ment)s”—Jn 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jn 2:3-4; 3:22, 24

This wording is distinctive in the Gospel and letters of John, and must be studied properly in context, as it can be easily misunderstood. The use of the word entol¢¡ (e)ntolh/), especially when translated “commandment”, can give the impression of a religious or ethical commandment such as we find in the Old Testament Law (Torah). To speak thus of “commandments” of Jesus again suggests a collection of authoritative “commands” like many in the Torah, or, more specifically, in something like the Sermon on the Mount. However, a careful study of the Gospel of John reveals nothing of the kind. While Jesus certainly gave much teaching to his disciples, there is really only one “command” as such—the directive that believers love one another (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12ff; and also 1 Jn 3:11ff, etc). It can be fairly well established from the Gospel that the “commands” actually are two (and only two): (1) trust in Jesus, and (2) love for one another, following Christ’s own example. The author of 1 John states this two-fold “commandment” explicitly in 3:23-24.

An important point is that believers are to keep Jesus’ word(s) just as Jesus (the Son) has kept the word(s) of the Father—Jn 8:55; 15:10; 17:6. This chain of relationship between Father, Son and Believer(s) is central to Johannine theology and will be discussed under point 3 below. Jesus’ words are identified as being precisely those of God the Father; thus, if one keeps/guards Jesus‘ words, the believer is also keeping/guarding the Father’s words (John 12:49; 17:6; 1 Jn 5:2-3).

But this is only one aspect of the verb t¢réœ/phylássœ. Part of the reciprocal relationship between Jesus and the believer is that, just as the believer keeps/guards Jesus’ word, so Jesus also keeps/guards the believer. This is the idea expressed here in vv. 11-12. Jesus prays to the Father, asking that He keep watch (over) the disciples—i.e. the elect/believers, the ones given by the Father into Jesus’ care. Jesus states that he himself kept watch over them while he has been with them on earth (v. 12); but now, he is going away, and requests that the Father would keep watch over them. Almost certainly this refers to the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete (see the discussion last week). It is possible to view Jesus’ request here as a fulfillment of 14:16ff.

What is the nature of this protection? It is more or less explained in verse 15:

“I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep them out of evil” (or, “…out of [the power of] the Evil [One]”)

God, through the Spirit/Paraclete, which is also the Spirit of Jesus (taking his place with believers), will keep watch over us and guard us from sin and evil. In the same manner, we find exhortations for believers to keep/guard themselves (their souls) from evil—Jn 12:25; 1 Jn 5:21 (“from idols/images”).

2. The second point to examine is the reference to the name (ónoma). Twice in vv. 11-12, Jesus uses the phrase “the name which you have given to me”. Copyists apparently misunderstood the syntax, as we find a number of instances in the manuscripts where it reads a plural accusative form (hoús, ou%$), i.e. referring to the disciples—”these…whom you have given to me”. There is basis for such a formulation in the Gospel, but almost certainly the dative singular (hœ¡, w!|) is original. The reference is to the name which God has given to Jesus, and it is this name which keeps/guards believers—”in the name which you have given to me”.

What is this name? Clearly it belongs to God the Father, since Jesus says “your name”—”in your name which you have given to me”. Elsewhere in the Gospel, the “name” specifically refers to Jesus‘ name, usually with the expression “trust in (Jesus)’ name”. The author speaks of trusting in his name, in Jn 1:12; 2:23; 20:31; 1 Jn 3:23; 5:13, while in Jn 3:18 the reference is to trust “in the name of the…Son of God”. The name of Jesus has great power and efficacy, as we see expressed throughout the New Testament. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples (and all believers) that they are to pray/ask of the Father in his [i.e. Jesus’] name—Jn 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26. Moreover, believers experience the release (forgiveness) of sins through Jesus’ name (1 Jn 2:12). Jesus also tells his disciples that the Father will send the Spirit/Paraclete in his name (14:26).

It is overly simplistic (and somewhat inaccurate) to take the view that Jesus’ name is simply the name Jesus/Yeshua itself. This would reduce “in the name of…” to a quasi-magical formula; and, while many Christians have used and understood it this way, the New Testament suggests something deeper (e.g. Phil 2:9-11, and many other passages). The key is in realizing how ancient peoples understood and treated names. In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represented the person himself (or herself), embodying the person’s essence and power in an almost magical way. To know or have access/control of a person’s name meant knowledge/control of the person (and the power, etc, which he/she possessed). From a religious standpoint, this gave to the name of God an extraordinary importance. To know the name of God, and to “call on” his name, meant that one had an intimate access to God Himself. For more on this topic, see my earlier Christmas season series (“And you shall call his name…”).

This is important because it relates to the Father/Son relationship that is central to the Gospel (and Discourses) in John. Jesus is the Son sent by the Father—thus he comes in his Father’s name (representing) him, working and acting in His name (Jn 5:43; 10:25; cf. also 12:13). As a faithful Son, he does and says what he seen and hears the Father doing/saying—i.e. his words are those of the Father. Moreover, as the Son (and heir), the Father gives to Jesus everything that belongs to Him (3:35, etc), including His name. Jesus, in turn, gives this name to believers, both in the sense of making it known—i.e. manifesting it to us (17:6, 26)—and also in the sense expressed here in vv. 11-12. Believers are kept/guarded in (en/e)n) this name which God the Father gave to Jesus. Is it possible to define or identify this name more precisely? There are several possibilities:

  • It is the ancient name represented by the tetragrammaton (YHWH/hwhy)
  • It is the ancient name as translated/interpreted in Greek as egœ eimi (e)gw/ ei)mi), “I AM”
  • It is to be understood in the fundamental sense of the name representing the person—i.e. the name of God the Father indicates the presence and power of God Himself

The last option is to be preferred, along the lines suggested above. However, serious consideration should also be given to the second option, considering the prominence of the many “I Am” declarations by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. In these statements, Jesus is identifying himself with God the Father (YHWH), as the divine/eternal Son who represents the Father.

3. The third point has already been touched on above—the relationship between Father and Son (Jesus), which is also paralleled in the relationship between Jesus and believers. Central to this two-fold relationship, the key theme of chapter 17, is the presence of the Spirit. While the Spirit/Paraclete (pneúma/parákl¢tos) is not specifically mentioned in chap. 17, it can be inferred at a number of points, based on the earlier references in chaps. 14-16 (and elsewhere in the Gospel). Jesus states clearly in verse 11 that he is departing and “is no longer in the world”. It is fair to conclude that the request in v. 11 relates to the request for the sending of the Spirit (in 14:16, etc). The keeping/guarding done by Jesus in the Father’s name now will be done for believers through the Spirit. The Spirit is also the basis for the unity (between Father/Son/Believers) which is so much emphasized in the prayer-discourse of Jesus in chap. 17.

Special Note on 1 John 5:18

Perhaps the Johannine passage closest to Jn 17:11ff is found in 1 Jn 5:18. The statement made by the author is notoriously difficult to interpret, as evidenced by several key textual variants. Especially problematic is the central phrase, which has been read several ways:

  • “the one coming to be (born) out of God keeps/guards him”
    ho genn¢theís ek tou Theou t¢reí auton
  • “the one coming to be (born) out of God keeps/guards himself”
    ho genn¢theís ek tou Theou t¢reí h(e)auton
  • “the coming to be (born) [i.e. birth] out of God keeps/guards him”
    ho génn¢sis ek tou Theou t¢reí auton

Each reading has a different emphasis:

  1. The “one born out of God” (presumably Jesus, the Son) guards the believer
  2. The believer, as “one born out of God”, guards himself/herself (see verse 21)
  3. The (spiritual) birth itself guards the believer

The reading with the noun génn¢sis (i.e., “birth”) is almost certainly not original, but reflects a modification of the participle, most likely in an attempt to clarify the meaning of the passage.

Typically, in the Gospel and First Letter of John, the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”) is applied to the believer, not to Jesus—see Jn 1:13; 3:3-8; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, and all of these references use the same expression “(born) out of God” [or, “…out of Him”]. It is thus reasonable to assume that both occurrences of the participle in 1 Jn 5:18 apply to the believer. On the other hand, the use of the aorist (genn¢theis) for the second participle is a bit unusual (compare the perfect gegenn¢menos for the first participle). This has led many commentators to suspect that there is an important distinction intended by the author. Though the verb gennᜠonly refers to Jesus’ birth (his human birth) only once elsewhere in the Gospel and 1 John (in Jn 18:37), the basic idea of Jesus as the Son makes the idea of a “birth” from God the Father entirely appropriate. Given the wordplay so common in the Johannine writings, it is likely that something similar is intended here in 1 Jn 5:18, with a dual meaning of “the one born out of God”—both the believer (i.e. child of God) and Jesus (the Son of God). If so, then the most likely original reading would be as follows:

“We see that every (one) th(at) has come to be (born) out of God does not sin, but the (one who has) come to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him, and the evil (one) does not touch him.”

The parallels with Jn 17:11-12 (and 15) are obvious. Yet, in that passage, as I indicated above, it would seem that the Spirit is in view. Upon Jesus’ departure (back to the Father), the Spirit takes his place in and among believers—thus it is the Spirit which continues the word of keeping/guarding believers in the Father’s name (which is also the name given to the Son). How might this relate to 1 Jn 5:18? The idea of coming to be “born out of God” is closely related to the Spirit, especially in John 3:3-8, where we read of coming to be born “out of the Spirit”. Now the Spirit comes to believers from the Father, but through Jesus—he is the direct source of the Spirit (Jn 3:34; 7:37-39; 15:26-27; 16:7; 20:22). Thus, it may be that the dual use of gennᜠin 1 Jn 5:18 is meant to indicate the shared birth we have with Jesus as Son/Children of God, a relationship which we have through the Spirit. The importance of the Spirit in earlier in chapter 5 makes such an inference all the more likely.

This concludes our exploration of the Gospel of John in these Saturday discussions. I have used this particular book as a way to demonstrate, inductively, many important aspects of Biblical (i.e., New Testament) criticism. Next week, I will begin introducing some of the special problems and issues involved in study and criticism of the Old Testament. I hope that you will be here to embark on this new area of exploration…next Saturday.

Note of the Day – June 16 (John 19:30, 34; 20:22)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

John 19:30, 34; 20:22

Today’s note looks at three verses in the closing chapters of the Gospel of John (the Passion and Resurrection narratives) which refer, or may allude, to the Spirit. This note is also preparatory for the study of the relevant passages in this series from the Johannine Letters, which will begin tomorrow.

John 19:30

This verse records the last words of Jesus, at the moment of his death, one of the traditional “Seven Words” from the Cross. It reads:

“Then, when he (had) taken the sharp [i.e. sour] (wine), Yeshua said ‘It has been completed’, and, bending the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

The description of Jesus’ actual death is similar to that in the Synoptic Gospels, and certainly reflects the wider Gospel Tradition. Compare:

  • Mark 15:37: “And Yeshua, releasing [a)fei\$] a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired]”
  • Matt 27:50: “And Yeshua, crying (out) again with a great voice, released the spirit/breath [a)fh=ken to\ pneu=ma].”
  • Luke 23:46: “And, giving voice [i.e. crying out] with a great voice, Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit [to\ pneu=ma/ mou]’. And, saying this, he breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired].”

It is clear that all three verses derive from a common (Synoptic) tradition; the versions in Mark and Matthew certainly are simple variants of a shared tradition. Luke’s version, however, has interesting points of similarity with John’s account:

  • Both record actual words of Jesus, marking the conclusion of his earthly life and ministry (compared with the wordless “great cry” in the Synoptic tradition)
  • They use a similar expression:
    Luke (Jesus speaking): “I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit
    John (Gospel writer): “He gave along [pare/dwken] the spirit
  • Most surprising of all is the close similarity between the Gospel writer’s words at the end of Lk 23:46 and that in John 20:22:
    Luke: “And, saying this, he breathed out” (tou=to de\ ei)pw\n e)ce/pneusen)
    John: “And, saying this, he blew/breathed in” (kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e)nefu/shsen)

This last similarity increases the likelihood that more than a simple description of Jesus’ death is intended in John 19:30. While, on the basic level of the historical narrative, the expression “he gave along the spirit” could merely mean “he died”, much like the archaic English expression “he gave up the ghost”, or, more commonly in modern idiom, “he expired (i.e. breathed out)” ,”he breathed his last”. Yet, the frequent wordplay in the Gospel of John, along with the important emphasis on the Spirit, makes it likely indeed that there is a double meaning here. Almost certainly there is an allusion to Jesus’ giving the Spirit (cf. 3:34; 15:26; 16:7, etc) to believers. Thus, while it is not the primary meaning, we could also translate (in a secondary sense) as:

“…and, bending the head, he gave along the Spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

John 19:34

The Gospel of John records a famous detail following the death of Jesus. It is tied to the tradition in vv. 31-37, in which the soldiers are directed to break the legs of the crucified victims in order to hasten their death. But when they come to Jesus, we read:

“but coming upon Yeshua, as they saw (that) he had already died, they did not break down his legs, but (instead) one of the soldiers nudged in(to) his side with the spear-point, and straightaway water and blood came out [e)ch=lqenai!ma kai\ u%dwr].” (vv. 33-34)

This information, especially the detail in v. 34, is unique to John’s Gospel, though it may still have derived from the wider Gospel Tradition. The fact that a narrative statement akin to v. 34 is found following Matt 27:49 in a number of manuscripts makes this a definite possibility. Yet only the writer of the Fourth Gospel has included it as a significant element of the Passion narrative.

At the historical level, many attempts have been made to give a physiological explanation for the “water and blood” which came out of Jesus’ side. While such speculation is interesting, it is far removed from the Gospel writer’s interest. In the context of the narrative, the main point would seem to be a confirmation that Jesus had experienced a real (human) death. Yet, for the author, both the detail regarding the breaking of Jesus’ legs (spec. that they were not broken), and the pricking/piercing of his side, were also regarded as the fulfillment of prophecy (vv. 36-37). The citing of the Scriptures (Psalm 34:20 [cf. Exod 12:10, 46; Num 9:12] and Zech 12:10) follows verse 35, in which the author explicitly states the importance of these details:

“And the one having seen (this) clearly has given witness, and his witness is true, and that (one) has seen [i.e. known] that he relates (it) true(ly), (so) that you also might trust.”

While the recognition of the fulfillment of Scripture certainly could lead one to trust in Jesus, there seems to be special importance given to the detail of the “water and blood” coming out—it is this, primarily, which the trustworthy witness has seen and reported. How would this particular detail lead to trust in Jesus? Many commentators feel that there is a deeper theological meaning to the image of water and blood coming out of Jesus’ side.

Certainly, the idea of blood shed (“poured out”) at Jesus’ death was given sacrificial and soteriological significance in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 14:24 par; Acts 20:28; Rom 5:9; 1 Cor 10:16, etc). While there is nothing comparable to Jesus’ words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel of John, there is strong eucharistic language and imagery in the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 (esp. verses 51-58); indeed, vv. 53-56 provide the only other reference to Jesus’ blood (and the only other use of the word ai!ma, apart from 1:13) in the Gospel.

As there is nothing unusual about blood coming out from the pierced side, it is likely that the appearance of water, along with the blood, is what makes the event particularly noteworthy. And, if we consider how water—the word (u%dwr) and the image—is used within the discourses of Jesus, we note its close association with the Spirit:

  • John 3:5: “if one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit…”
  • John 4:10ff: “living water…the water that I will give [v. 14]…in the Spirit and the Truth [vv. 23-24]”
  • John 7:37ff: “come to me and drink…rivers of living water…(He said this about the Spirit)”

The last two passages refer specifically to water which Jesus gives (i.e. to believers), and, elsewhere, that which Jesus so gives is identified with the Spirit (3:34; 6:63; cf. also 15:26; 16:7). There may be an even closer connection between 7:38 and 19:34, if “his belly” refers to Jesus rather than the believer—i.e. it is out of Jesus’ belly/stomach that rivers of living water flow to the believer. Many commentators would interpret 7:38 this way and hold that the Gospel writer has this in mind in 19:34.

It is possible that an association between water and blood may also be found in the Cana miracle scene in 2:1-11 (i.e. wine as symbolic of blood). If so, then there is a parallel between episodes at the very beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; interestingly, Jesus’ mother Mary appears in both episodes (2:1-5; 19:25-27).

That water, blood, and the Spirit are closely connected in the thought of the Gospel writer would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 5:6-8ff. While the Letter may (or may not) have been written by the same author as the Gospel, at the very least the two works draw upon the same language, imagery and theology. This passage will be discussed in an upcoming note in this series.

John 20:22

Finally, toward the close of the Gospel, we find the actual moment when Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples:

“and, (hav)ing said this, he blew/breathed in(to them) and says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'”

For Christians accustomed to thinking of the coming/sending of the Spirit in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4ff), it can be difficult to know what to make of the description in John 20:22. Is this a ‘preliminary’ or ‘partial’ giving of the Spirit, prior to the day of Pentecost? Or perhaps it is a special gifting for Jesus’ closest followers (the Twelve), compared with the wider audience of Acts 1-2? I have discussed these critical and interpretive questions in my earlier three-part article “The Sending of the Spirit“. We must avoid the temptation of comparing John with Luke-Acts, and attempting to judge or harmonize on that basis. If we look simply at the Gospel of John, and how the Gospel writer understood things, and what he intended to convey, the following points become clear:

  • There is nothing in the Gospel to suggest that 20:22 is anything other than the fulfillment of what Jesus described and promised in 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15, and what the author himself refers to in 7:39. Indeed, there is no suggestion of a ‘second’ giving/sending of the Spirit. Not even in the “appendix” of chapter 21 (which might otherwise correspond to Acts 1:3) is there any indication that an event like Acts 2:1-4 is to be expected.
  • Jesus’ statement to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 suggests that, for the Gospel writer, Jesus “ascends” to the Father prior (logically and/or chronologically) to his appearance to the disciples in vv. 19-23, thus fulfilling his statements in the Last Discourse.
  • This giving of the Spirit in 20:22 is described in terms which almost certainly allude to the Creation narrative—God breathing/blowing life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). As such, there would seem to be a definite connection to the “new birth” which believers experience (3:5-8)—”born from above” and “born out of the Spirit”.
  • The giving of the Spirit is connected with two aspects of Jesus’ “commission” for the disciples (and, by extension, to all believers):
    (1) He is sending them out (i.e. into the world) just as the Father sent him—i.e. the are literally “apostles” (ones sent forth), and function as Jesus’ representatives (in his place). This explains the role and importance of the Spirit, who effectively takes Jesus’ place in and among believers.
    (2) He grants to them the power/authority to “hold” and “release” sins. Again, it would seem that this is a result of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit (cf. 16:8-11, etc).
  • There is nothing to suggest that 20:21-23 applies only to the original disciples (apostles), and not to all believers. The language used throughout the Gospel, including the Last Discourse (addressed specifically Jesus’ closest followers), whom seem to confirm this—Jesus is effectively addressing all believers.

Saturday Series: John 14:7, 17

By | Saturday Series | No Comments

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.

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

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

John 17:2-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

John 16:7-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

which is set clearly in context in the closing declaration:

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

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

Father-Son-Spirit-Believer

 

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

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

John 14:16-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The primary significance of para/klhto$

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Series: John 7:37-39; 8:28, etc

By | Saturday Series | No Comments

Today, I wish to explore several points related to chapters 7-8 of the Gospel of John, in order to demonstrate different aspects of Biblical criticism and interpretation which must be considered if one wishes to gain a proper a understanding of the Scripture passage. These involve: (1) Textual criticism and the authority of Scripture, (2) the theology of the book as expressed by the author himself, and (3) the distinctive vocabulary used by the author.

1. Textual Criticism: John 7:53-8:11 in the context of chapters 7-8

Even the casual student of the New Testament is likely aware of the situation surrounding John 7:53-8:11, the famous “Pericope of the Adulteress”. In most reliable translations, you will find a footnote indicating that this section is not found in many ancient manuscripts. Some Bible versions even block out the section in square (or double-square) brackets, to indicate that it may not be part of the original text.

The textual situation is summarized in any decent critical commentary (you will find a concise summary in the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [2nd edition], pp. 187-9). While contained in the majority of Greek manuscripts, 7:53-8:11 is absent from a significant number (and wide range) of early and important witnesses, including the Bodmer papyri (Ë66,75) and the major Codices Sinaiticus (a) and Vaticanus (B). For this reason, most commentators, including nearly all critical scholars, believe that the section was not part of the original Gospel of John.

At the same time, the tendency is to regard the episode as an authentic tradition—a “floating” tradition which made its way into the Gospel at various points, both elsewhere in John (after 7:36, 44, or 21:25), and even in the Gospel of Luke (after 21:38). It seems that the episode was so good, and so much beloved, that it was hard to leave out—a view most readers of the New Testament would share today. The views regarding John 7:53-8:11, and how one should treat it, may be summarized as follows:

  • It is part of the original Gospel of John. As indicated above, few critical commentators and scholars would accept this; it is a view held today primarily by traditional-conservative commentators who hold strongly (on doctrinal grounds) to the priority of the Majority text.
  • It is a secondary addition (interpolation) to the Gospel, but its authority is retained and respected as part of the canonical book. This is the view held by most commentators (including many Evangelicals). It is retained in the text, though set apart or blocked off in some way, and is usually analyzed and commented upon in its canonical position (i.e. after 7:52).
  • It is a secondary addition, and thus is not part of the inspired text. Scholars who adopt this view represent a minority—primarily traditional-conservative commentators and theologians for whom only the original form of the text (the “autograph”) is inspired. For example, Andreas Köstenberger in the Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament (BECNT) does not comment on these verses for this very reason.

If the prevailing critical view is correct (i.e. that 7:53-8:11 is an interpolation), then it means that 8:12 presumably would have followed 7:52 in the original text. It also means that the presence of 7:53-8:11 in most Bible versions and Greek editions effectively obscures the intent of the author and the structure of the passage.

Consider that, with 7:53-8:11 present, the impression is that 8:12ff took place on a separate occasion from that of 7:1-52 (the festival of Sukkoth, or Booths/Tabernacles). However, if 8:12ff is read directly after 7:52, the likelihood increases that the entirely of chapters 7-8 (excluding 7:53-8:11) is part of a discourse-scene set during the Sukkoth festival. If you have read chapters 7-8 carefully, you doubtless will have noticed a number of themes, motifs and vocabulary in 8:12-59 which indicate a continuation with chapter 7 (especially 7:14-39). There would appear to be additional confirmation of this narrative continuity in the two sayings of Jesus surrounding 7:53-8:11—7:37-38 and 8:12—which contain motifs traditionally associated with the Sukkoth festival (on this, see the Mishnah tractate Sukkah, and my recent notes on these verses):

  1. Water (7:37-38)—ceremonial procession each morning of the festival, drawing water from the Gihon spring and pouring it as an offering at the Temple altar.
  2. Light (8:12)—ceremonial lighting of golden candlesticks in the Temple courtyard in the evening.

We cannot be certain just how old the Mishnah traditions are, but it is possible that some version of the ceremonies mentioned above was associated with Sukkoth in Jesus’ time. The connection with water was certainly very ancient; as a harvest festival, the traditional ritual prayer for rain, was probably part of its celebration from early times. This is indicated from at least the early post-exilic period, based on the reference in Zechariah 10:1—the later chapters of this book have a Sukkoth setting (14:16-19). The motifs of water and light are found together in Zech 14:6-8, and Jesus is likely drawing upon this passage in the discourse scene of John 7-8.

2. The theology of the book: John 7:37-39

Any number of references from chapters 7-8 could be used to demonstrate this; but, as I have just mentioned the water and light motifs associated with the Sukkoth festival, it makes sense to examine briefly Jesus’ saying in 7:37-38:

“In the last great day of the festival, Yeshua had stood and cried (out), saying:
‘If any one should thirst, he must [i.e. let him] come toward me and drink—the (one) trusting in me, even as the Writing said: Rivers of living water will flow out of his belly‘.”

Here Jesus identifies himself with water, just as he identifies himself with light in 8:12. More precisely, he claims here to be the source of “living water”. This same idea was central to the discourse with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4 (see verses 7-15). Similarly, Jesus identified himself as “living bread” in chapter 6 (vv. 27, 33, 35-50 and 51ff). This powerful imagery brings forth much discussion and thought as to the true meaning and significance of Jesus’ words. For the most part, the Gospel writer does not comment directly on the discourses; yet here he does, in verse 39, in which he identifies the “rivers of living water” specifically with the Holy Spirit:

“He said this about the Spirit which the (one)s trusting in him were about to receive…”

The follow-up statement in 39b is a bit awkward in the way that it tries to make clear that the Holy Spirit did not come upon the disciples until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Note the important theological use of the verb of being (“was not yet…”), and the key Johannine verb doxázœ (“give [or regard with] honor/esteem”, typically translated “glorify”).

This statement in verse 39 is instructive for several reasons:

  • It points out what should already be clear from a careful study of the discourses—that the sayings of Jesus carry a deeper, spiritual meaning which people had (and have) difficulty understanding.
  • The central theme of the Spirit—in many ways this is the interpretive key to the discourses, even though the Spirit is not always mentioned specifically in the discourses of chapters 3-12 (cf. 3:5-8, 34; 4:23-24; 6:63). The Spirit will be emphasized more in chapters 14-16 of the Last Discourse.
  • Another guiding theme of the discourses is the twin aspect of Jesus’ exaltation/glorification—being “lifted high” through both his death/resurrection and his return back to the Father. The giving of the Spirit and Life is tied directly to this sequence of descent/ascent which summarizes Jesus mission on earth: descent–death–resurrection–ascent.

All of the discourses in the Gospel of John should be studied with these points in mind.

3. The distinctive vocabulary: John 8:28

This distinctive Johannine vocabulary has already been mentioned and illustrated above. Here I wish to focus on one verse in the Sukkoth discourse-scene—the saying of Jesus in 8:28:

“When you (have) lifted high [hypsœs¢te] the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [egœ eimi], and (that) from myself I do nothing, but even as the Father taught me, these (thing)s I speak”

One tricky aspect of the Johannine discourses is the frequent wordplay involved. This is often the basis of the misunderstanding which is part of the discourse-format—Jesus’ audience understands the words in one sense, or at one level, not realizing that Jesus actually means them in a different (theological or spiritual) sense. Two examples of such wordplay are found in this saying:

  • The verb hypsóœ (u(yo/w), “raise/lift high”—this word occurs five times in the Gospel, in three passages (3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34). It is one of several verbs of ascent which has a dual meaning in the discourses, as indicated above:
    (a) Jesus’ death on the cross—this is the primary reference in 3:14 and here in 8:28
    (b) His resurrection and exaltation, including his return to the Father—this is primarily in view in 12:32.
  • The expression egœ¡ eimi (e)gw/ ei)mi) “I am”, which often means simply “I am he”, “I am the one (who)”, etc. Some commentators and translators fill out the sentence this way here—”I am (the Messiah)”, “I am he [i.e. the Son of Man]”, etc—in order for it to make sense to Jesus’ audience in the context of the narrative. However, the expression “I Am” has a special theological significance in the Gospel of John—it signifies Jesus’ identity as the divine/eternal Son, in relation to God the Father (YHWH). There are several times in the Gospel narrative when egœ eimi has this deeper meaning implied, even though it could be read as “it is I” or “I am he” in the ordinary context of the narrative (see, for example, 1:20; 3:28; 4:26; 6:20; 8:24; 18:5ff).

Sometimes this wordplay is obscured in translation, and much is lost as a result. Every effort should be made to study the original Greek of the passage—and specially in the case of the discourses of Jesus—as far as this is possible for you. If you are making use of Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible software, you probably have access to tools and resources which will be of considerable help, even if you do not (yet) read Greek.

For next week, I will be moving ahead in the Gospel of John to the great “Last Discourse”, which begins in 13:31 and continues to the end of chapter 16. As you are able, you should read chapters 9-13 carefully. If you have already done this recently, I would recommend going over these chapters again, examining the Greek whenever and wherever you can. Pay careful attention to the close of the first half of the Gospel (12:36-50) and the start of the Passion Narrative in chapter 13, as well as the beginning section of the Last Discourse (13:31-38). As you continue on through the initial verses of chapter 14, study them closely, noting especially the variant reading(s) indicated (in the footnote, etc) for verse 7, as this will be one of the main items we will be looking at…next Saturday.