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Johannine Theology

Special Note: “Truth” in the Writings of John

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As an appendix to the just-concluded series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, in which I gave special attention to the Gospel (and Letters) of John, I felt it worth added a note on the Johannine use of the term truth. This is expressed by three related Greek words:

  • a)lh/qeia (al¢¡theia, “truth”)—25 times in the Gospel, 20 in the letters (out of 109 in the NT)
  • a)lhqh/$ (al¢th¢¡s, “true”)—14 times in the Gospel, 3 in the letters (out of 26 in the NT)
  • a)lhqino/$ (al¢thinós, “true, truthful”)—9 times in the Gospel, 4 in the letters + 10 in Revelation (out of 28 in the NT)

While the Johannine concept of “truth” is not, strictly speaking, part of a contrasting pair (i.e. truth vs. falsehood), it is very much part of the dualistic language and imagery which we find in the Gospel (including the discourses of Jesus) and First Letter—on this topic, cf. Part 6 of this series. In particular, I would point to the basic contrast between God (or Christ) and the world (ko/smo$). The world is characterized by darkness, but also in the way that its thinking and acting is limited by that which is apparent, i.e. immediately visible or available to touch, etc. On the other hand, Jesus, as the one who comes from God, the Son sent by the Father, makes manifest what is eternal and Divine. That which comes from God is the Spirit and truth, just as He Himself is Spirit and Truth (4:23-24; 7:28; 8:26); indeed, the Spirit is referred to by Jesus as “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). When Jesus declares that he is the truth (14:6), this is essentially the same as declaring his (Divine) identity with God the Father (as Son). He has already stated that he speaks the truth from the Father (5:31-32; 8:14ff, 40-46). This truthfulness is, I think, also implicit in the frequent use of the double a)mh\n a)mh\n (am¢n am¢n) which transliterates the Hebrew /m@a*, a word derived from the root /ma, and which essentially refers to something which is firm, reliable, sure, etc. The Semitic idiom, preserved in Greek, and as used by Jesus in the Johannine discourses, emphasizes the truthfulness of Jesus’ words.

Another aspect of the “amen, amen” formula, is that it is often used to introduce specific teachings or sayings by Jesus regarding his own identity, especially of his relationship to the Father and the revelation (of the Father) which he brings—cf. 1:51; 5:19, 24ff; 6:26ff; 8:51, 58; 10:1ff; 13:16, 20, etc. This applies as well to his use of the adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$. The first of these tends to be used in reference to the truth (and truthfulness) of Jesus’ words and testimony regarding the Father (5:31-32; 7:18; 8:13-14, etc), as well as to others (believers) who testify regarding Jesus (3:33; 10:41; 19:35; 21:24). The second (a)lhqino/$) has much the same meaning, but also carries the connotation of something that is genuine or real. This particular aspect has important Christological significance in the discourses, where Jesus draws upon images from ordinary human (earthly) experience and applies them to himself; for example—

  • the true bread (from heaven, i.e. manna) (6:32); similarly expressed with a)lhqh/$ in 6:55:
  • “my flesh is true food, and blood is true drink”
  • the true vine (15:1)

The same could be understood as implicit in all the “I am” declarations of Jesus—”I am the (true) light… shepherd… door…” etc. The Gospel writer had already made the first association explicit in 1:9, and it is also stated in 1 Jn 2:8:

“…the darkness passes along and the true light already shines (forth)”

This adjective is applied directly to God (the Father), as part of key Christological statements, in John 17:3 (cf. my earlier note on this verse) and 1 Jn 5:20; this latter verse, in particular, encapsulates a powerful summary of Johannine theology:

“And we have seen [i.e. known] that the Son of God comes (here) and has given us (understand)ing through (our) mind, (so) that we should know the true (One), and we are in the true (One), in His Son Yeshua (the Anointed). This One is the true God and (the) Life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The word truth (a)lh/qeia) is also important in terms of the believer’s identity in Christ. On this, cf. especially 3:21; 8:31-32 (and my note on v. 32), 44ff; 14:6; 16:13; 17:8, 17ff. I have already discussed Jesus’ declaration in 18:36-37 on several occasions (cf. Part 5 and the note on 8:32). In the letters of John, this aspect of the believer’s identity is expressed through several different idioms used by Jesus in the Gospel:

Gnosis and the New Testament: Part 6 – Dualism

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In this final part of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, I will be discussing the aspect of Gnosticism that is perhaps best known to people generally—their dualistic worldview and mode of expression. In an earlier article defining and explaining the term (cf. also the main article on “Gnosticism“), I outlined the four main kinds or types of dualism:

  1. Cosmological—There are two opposing principles which control and govern the world.
  2. Metaphysical—There two contrasting (and opposing) principles which make up the structure of the universe.
  3. Anthropological—The human being is made up of two contrasting principles.
  4. Ethical—The human being chooses (and must choose) between two contrasting/opposing principles.

When we turn to the dualism that exists in early Christian thought, and in the writings of the New Testament, it is the first and last of these types which are most common and widespread. For the most part, such early Christian dualism was simply inherited from the language and imagery of the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish writings—especially from the (later) Prophets and Wisdom tradition. In the Gospels, and the earliest strands of Christian tradition, we can isolate two areas of dualistic thought and expression:

  • The conflict between God and the Devil (Satan), which can be understood as a kind of partial or qualified cosmic (cosmological) dualism. There is a sense in which the current (fallen) order of creation has come under the control or dominion of the Devil—cf. Matt 4:1-11 (esp. verse 8); Mk 3:26ff; 4:15; Lk 13:16 etc, and pars, along with the overall context of the many healing (exorcism) miracles narrated in the Gospel (and Acts). This means that the world is controlled by evil and darkness, and is generally in conflict with, and opposed to, the ways and things of God (Mark 8:33 par). Jesus’ presence on earth reflects this sense of conflict against the forces of sin and evil, etc (cf. Lk 10:18; Heb 2:14), a struggle which is continued in the lives of believers (James 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8, etc).
  • More common is the ethical dualism such as we see in the sayings and teachings of Jesus, expressed in language and images largely inherited from Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Sayings such as Matt 6:24; 7:13-14, 17-20, 24-27 par, or the Lukan form of the Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26), as well as the contrasting figures and settings in a number of the parables (e.g., Matt 13:24-30, 36-43; 21:28-32 par; chap 25; Lk 16:19-31; 18:9-14), present two different (opposite) “paths” or examples a person may follow. Under the direct influence of Jesus’ teaching, this developed into the so-called “Two Ways” conceptual framework in early Christianity, preserved within several different lines of tradition (cf. Didache 1-16; Epistle of Barnabas 18-21). The earliest Christians, like the Qumran Community, understood their identity in light of Isa 40:3ff and apparently referred to themselves as “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). On the expressions “way of truth”, “way of God”, etc, see Acts 16:17; 18:26; 2 Pet 2:2, 15, 21. The ethical instruction in the letter of James is almost entirely dependent on the teaching of Jesus as found in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul draws upon this as well, though he also expresses the “two ways” in the traditional language of the “virtue and vice” lists from Greco-Roman (and Jewish) tradition.

Both of these aspects—cosmological and ethical—are found blended together in Jewish writings roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus, especially in the Qumran texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Community represented in these texts had a strongly dualistic worldview, best expressed in the so-called Community Rule (1QS) 3:13-4:26, a section often referred to as the “treatise of the Two Spirits”. There are two Spirits at work in the world—one of Truth and one of Falsehood, of light and darkness, God and Belial. Human beings are characterized by one of these two “worlds”, ultimately choosing the follow the path of one or the other. The Elect or faithful ones, the true believers, are the “sons of light”, while those who refuse (or are unable) to join the Community remain among the “sons of darkness”. Needless to say, as has been amply documented, in spite of many differences, there is a good deal in common between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts.

The most pronounced dualism in the New Testament is found in the letters of Paul and the Johannine writings, respectively. As we shall see, the dualism expressed in the latter is closer both to that of the Qumran texts, and to gnostic modes of expression.

Pauline Dualism

In Paul’s letters, we see very distinctive forms of both cosmological and ethical dualism (on these in the New Testament generally, cf. above).

Cosmological

Paul has more or less inherited the Christian worldview outlined above—that there is a fundamental conflict between God and the Devil, with the current condition/order of the world being under the dominion of sin and evil. Paul’s direct references to Satan or the Devil are relatively rare; indeed, the term dia/bolo$ (i.e. devil) does not occur in the undisputed letters (only in Eph 4:27; 6:11; 1 Tim 3:6-7; 2 Tim 2:26). The transliterated Semitic title Satan[a$] (/f*C*h^, ha´´¹‰¹n, “the adversary, accuser”) is the term Paul regularly uses (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9; also 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15). Though he does not often state it directly, there can be no doubt that Paul believed that the current age or “world” was wicked and corrupt, under the effective control of evil (2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4, also Eph 2:2; 3:10; 6:12), characterized by a definite (cosmological) structure and hierarchy (Gal 4:3, 9 [Col 2:8, 20]; Col 1:16; 2:15). For more on Paul’s understanding and use of the term “world” (ko/smo$), cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 3:19; 6:2; 7:31; Gal 6:14; Rom 12:2, etc. The most distinctive Pauline teaching is that the world—and, in particular, humankind—is under the dominion of sin, in bondage to it. This theme is most prominent in Romans (3:9, 19-20; 5:12-21; 7:7-24; 8:18-22; 11:32) and Galatians (3:19-24; 4:1-3, 21ff, etc); for the relation between sin and the Law in Paul’s thought, cf. my earlier articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”. God, through Christ, has freed us from this bondage; occasionally this is expressed in terms of being delivered out of the world of sin and darkness (Col 1:13; 1 Thess 5:4-5, and note Eph 5:8). However, it is only at the end of this current Age that God will finally destroy the power of evil (Rom 16:20).

Ethical

As noted above, Paul occasionally draws upon the “two ways” tradition, usually expressing it in the “virtue/vice list” format known from Greco-Roman philosophy and also found frequently in other early Christian writings—cf. Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-23, etc. Paul’s unique contribution is in his frequent contrast between “flesh” and “(the) Spirit”. Read carelessly, in a superficial manner, one might think that Paul is espousing a kind of metaphysical dualism, such as is known from certain Gnostic writings and teachings, whereby the good spiritual realm is contrasted with the evil material world. He is, perhaps, somewhat closer in thought to the anthropological dualism in some version of Greek ascetic philosophy. The key to Paul’s Spirit/Flesh contrast is found in a careful reading of Romans 5-7. The “flesh” (sa/rc) represents the aspect of the human soul (i.e. the human being or person) that is under bondage to the power of sin. Even after the believer in Christ is freed from this power, he/she is still prone to the old, habitual patterns of thought and behavior (i.e. the “flesh”, or the ‘impulse[s]’ of the flesh). Thus the believer must consciously allow him/herself to be guided by the (Holy) Spirit, rather than by the impulses of the flesh. In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul applies this Spirit/Flesh contrast to the “two ways” ethical tradition, describing the “works” (or “fruit”) of the flesh and the Spirit, respectively. His ethical instruction is summed up in verse 25: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we must also walk [lit. step in line] in/by the Spirit”. The Johannine idiom (cf. below) would be “walk in the light”, but it has much the same meaning.

Rather more difficult is Paul’s contrast between the Law and the Gospel, letter vs. Spirit, etc., which is perhaps best described as a kind of religious dualism, whereby the religious identity of believers in Christ (the new covenant) is contrasted with the old ethnic-religious identity of Israelites and Jews (the old covenant). Much of Paul’s writing and teaching on this point is rooted in the specific historical circumstances and background of the early Christian missionary work, but remains important for us to consider and study today. I have dealt with it extensively in the articles on Paul’s view of the Law in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Perhaps the most dualistic portion of ethical teaching in the Pauline corpus is 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which has many points of contact with the language and imagery of the Qumran texts. The precise relationship of this section with the surrounding material in 2 Corinthians remains a matter of considerable discussion and debate among commentators. It appears suddenly, and seems very much to interrupt the train of thought. Many scholars consider it to be an interpolation, or part of a composite document (i.e. portions of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence collected together). However, there has never been any convincing explanation as to how such a fragment came to be inserted between 2 Cor 6:13 and 7:2; nor, for that matter, as to just why Paul (as the author) would have ‘interrupted’ his address to include it as he does. It remains one of unexplained ‘mysteries’ of New Testament and Pauline studies.

Johannine Dualism

There are three main themes or motifs by which a dualistic contrast is expressed in the Gospel and letters of John. So distinctive was the dualism of the Johannine writings that an earlier generation of scholars (prior to the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls) could theorize that these writings were influenced by a primitive form of Gnosticism, or by way of similar dualistic tendencies in Greco-Roman religion and philosophy. The Qumran texts have since made abundantly clear that commentators need not look further afield for the background of this dualism than to the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish tradition (on this, cf. above). However, in at least two of three themes discussed here, very distinctive theological (and Christological) elements have been incorporated into the mode of expression. As in the Qumran texts, there is a blending of cosmological and ethical dualism.

Light/Darkness

The first theme is the contrast between light (fw=$) and darkness (skoti/a). It is a natural contrastive pairing, and can be found in many religious and philosophical traditions, including the Old Testament Scriptures—of the numerous passages, cf. Gen 1:4ff; Job 17:12; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; Psalm 18:28; 112:4; 139:12; Eccl 2:13; Isa 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 58:10; Mic 7:8; Dan 2:22; Matt 4:16; Lk 1:79. This dualistic motif is quite prominent at several points in the Gospel and Letters of John, and carries a theological (and Christological) meaning. In the Prologue of the Gospel (1:4-9), the pre-existent Christ (the Word) is the Light which shines into the darkness of the world (cf. below). Jesus applies the image to himself in the discourses—he is the light, and those who come to him are in the light, while those who do not remain in darkness (3:19-21; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46). Since he is the true, eternal light which shines in the darkness of the world, Jesus identifies himself as “the light of the world” (11:10), including in two famous “I am” declarations (8:12; 9:4-5). This is related to the Johannine motif of seeing (and not seeing, i.e. blindness, cf. chap. 9), along with the idea of revelation as bringing light, causing to shine, etc. On this, see the article “Knowledge and Revelation in the Gospel of John”.

An interesting detail in the Gospel narrative is the night-time setting of the Passion scene (the Last Supper and arrest/trial of Jesus). After Satan enters Judas and he departs from the disciples, the author states simply “…and it was night” (13:30). A similar description of Peter warming himself in the cold darkness occurs in 18:18. Again, when the women come to the tomb the morning after Jesus’ death (20:1), the setting is described as “it being still dark [skoti/a]”. These are basic narrative details of the Gospel, but in the Johannine context they almost certainly carry a deeper symbolism as well.

In the First Letter, this same light/darkness contrast occurs in two key passages—1:5-7 and 2:8-11. If we count the book of Revelation among the same Johannine writings, then we may have the motif in the vision of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21, where the very glory/splendor of God and the Lamb (Christ) gives continual light and “there will not be (any) night there” (vv. 23-25).

According to a common Gnostic way of understanding, Jesus brings knowledge and awareness to believers of their (true) identity as offspring of the Divine, eternal Light. This is similar to the teaching in John, only in the Gospel the emphasis is squarely on Christ as the light—believers come to the light, walk in the light, and come to be “sons/children of light”.

Above/Below

The second dualistic theme is spatial, drawing upon the ancient cosmological pairing of heaven and earth—heaven above, earth below. This conceptual framework had already been given a theological interpretation in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, which early Christians inherited; but in the Johannine discourses of Jesus, it has an even more distinctive Christological emphasis. The fundamental dualism is: God above, the World below. Christ comes from God, from above (a&nwqen), while the world is in darkness below (ka/tw). He has come down into the world, as light shining in the darkness (cf. above), one sent by God, come to show people (believers) the way out of darkness, back to the Father. The main passages illustrating this spatial dualism are: 3:13f, 31; 6:33, 38, 50-51, 58, 62; 8:23, (28); 10:17f; (12:32ff); 20:17. Those (believers) who come to Jesus and trust in him, are also born a&nwqen (“from above”, cf. 3:3ff), and thus are, or come to be, from above, just as he is; on the other hand, those who refuse to trust in him remain below (8:23, etc).

Closely related to the spatial motif is the specific idea of Jesus descending from the Father, and ascending back to Him. This is expressed through the use of the verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”). This ascent/descent theme is introduced in the description of the Baptism scene (1:32-33) and again with the vision of the Son of Man promised by Jesus in 1:51. In the discourses, these verbs are used in 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58, 62; 10:1; 20:17. The verb a)nabai/nw is common in narration, used for a person “going up” (to Jerusalem, etc), but because of the special meaning elsewhere in John, it is possible that the references to Jesus “stepping up” to Jerusalem may carry a deeper significance (cf. especially in 7:8ff). In the great Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), Jesus expresses the idea of his going away (back to the Father), and then coming again to his disciples—cf. throughout ch. 14, 16 and again in the prayer-discourse of chap. 17. His reason for coming to his disciples is to bring them with him back to the Father (14:1-4; 17:24, etc); at the same time, in Jesus’ absence, the Spirit comes to reside in and among believers—a ‘realized’ union with God the Father, prior to the (final) ascent with Jesus at the end-time.

The World

The term ko/smo$ (kósmos), usually translated “world”, refers to the visible universe, in the sense that it is “decorated”, but also in its apparent and structured “order”. Often, in the New Testament, it would be fair to render ko/smo$ as “world order“—i.e., how things are ordered and arranged. This can have a decidedly negative connotation, as a (dualistic) term set in contrast with God (his will, ways, Kingdom, etc). On this cosmological dualism, cf. above.

In the Gospel of John, ko/smo$ (“world”) occurs 78 times, with another 24 in the Letters—the 102 combined representing more than half of all occurrences in the NT (186). There are two main aspects to its usage in the Gospel: (a) in reference to Jesus coming into the world (i.e. the Incarnation, etc), and (b) as the domain of darkness, etc, which is hostile and opposed to the Light. Both of these aspects can be seen already in the Prologue:

  • “the light shines in the darkness
    …and the darkness did not take down (hold of) it” (1:5)
  • “he was the true light coming into [ei)$] the world…he was in [e)n] the world…
    …and the world did not know him” (1:9-10)

For the specific connection between the world (ko/smo$) and the light/darkness motif, cf. 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46. This aspect of opposition is found throughout the Gospel, though occasionally the word is used in the more general (neutral) sense, for humankind (and, specifically, believers), cf. 3:16-17; 6:33, etc. The “world” is associated with sin in 1:29 (cf. also 16:8, etc), but more commonly we find a direct contrast between Christ and the world. Jesus comes into the world bringing judgment and to testify against it (3:19; 7:7; 8:26; 9:39; 12:31, etc., but see also 3:17; 12:47); and, because he (the Light) shines into the darkness, the world, which loves the darkness, hates him (3:19; 7:7). Even more fundamental is the idea that the “world” can have no part of Christ, since he is not “of the world” (8:23ff).

As the death of Jesus approaches in the Gospel narrative, the motif of opposition and conflict with the world becomes more prominent, even drawing upon the more traditional dualism of God vs. Satan (the “ruler” of the world). This begins with the declaration in 12:31, and runs through the Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), in which the word ko/smo$ occurs no less than 38 times. Jesus’ closing declaration in 16:33 provides a suitable parallel to that in 12:31:

  • “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast out” (12:31)
  • “…have courage! I have been victorious (over) the world!” (16:33)

This harkens back to 1:5 in the Prologue and the ambiguity of the verb katalamba/nw, which means literally “take down”, but which, however, can be understood in several possible ways, in the sense of: (a) “bring down, overtake, overcome”, (b) “take down, grasp [with one’s mind]”, i.e. “understand, comprehend”, or (c) with kata/ as an intensive, “take/receive fully, eagerly”, etc. The statement in 1:5 thus can mean: (a) “the darkness did not overcome it”, (b) “the darkness did not understand/recognize it”, or (c) “the darkness did not receive it”. The immediate context of the passage suggests some combination of (b) and (c), but the theme of opposition which runs through the Gospel also makes (a) a possibility.

What is true of the conflict between Christ and the world, also applies to the Spirit, and to those who follow Christ (believers). These two points are important themes in the Last Discourse—cf. 14:17; 15:18ff; 16:8, 11, 20, 33. Especially significant is the emphasis on Christian identity—that believers, like Jesus, are not “of the world”. The preposition involved is e)k, literally “out of”, which can indicate one’s origin (being from), but also that to which one belongs (being of). The birth motif (3:3ff, and frequently in 1 John) uses the concrete sense of the preposition—i.e. born out of another. This specific theme is introduced in 15:19 and then becomes a major point of emphasis in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. I have discussed this in earlier notes, as well as in Part 5 of this series.

Jesus’ final reference to the “world”, in the dialogue with Pilate, brings together both the dualistic contrast, as well as the theme of the believer’s identity as being “of God” (and not the world):

  • 18:36: “My kingdom is not of [e)k] this world…”
  • 18:37: “…I have come into the world that I might bear witness to the truth; everyone being [i.e. who is] of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”

In Gnostic thought, there is a similar negative sense of the “world”, but typically with a more pronounced metaphysical dualism (cf. above). In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls believers “out of” the world, in a manner similar to the role of Jesus as Savior in certain Gnostic systems. There can be no mistaking, however, the Christological emphasis in John—it is not that believers are “not of the world” because they are offspring of the divine Light, but because they belong to Christ.

Note of the Day – November 12 (John 20:31)

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John 20:31

In the closing words of the Gospel of John—that is, the Gospel narrative proper—the author gives his reason for writing:

“I have written these (things) that you might/should trust that Yeshua {Jesus} is the Anointed (One), the Son of God, and that, trusting (him), you would hold life in his name.”

The two key points of doctrine are central to the Gospel and early Christian tradition—that Jesus is (1) the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), and (2) the Son of God. On the centrality of this two-fold statement of belief, see e.g., Mark 1:1 v.l. and the Matthean version of Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16, cp. Lk 9:20). There can be little doubt as to the author’s own belief, though the specific expression “Son of God” may reflect the unique understanding of the relationship between the Son (Jesus) and God the Father as presented in the Gospel of John. That a specific and definite Christology is intended, would seem clear from corresponding statements in 1 John (1:1-4; 2:22-24; 3:23; 4:1-6, 15; 5:1-5, 6-11, 13, 20, etc), assuming that the letter stems from the same author and/or community as the Gospel. What is perhaps of greater interest for the commentator is the specific verb forms used in the verse. The four verbs reflect a step-parallel structure used at a number of points in the Gospel:

  • I have written [ge/graptai]…that you might/should trust
    • and that trusting…you should hold [e&xete] life…

In this “step” format, the first element of the line or phrase, picks up from the last element of one prior. In this instance, we have two forms of the verb pisteu/w (“trust”, i.e. “have faith [in], believe”), which occurs frequently in the Johannine writings—98 times in the Gospel, 9 in the letters (nearly half of all NT occurrences). The first form is a subjunctive, indicating an intended purpose (and/or result)—”so that, in order that”. The second form is a present participle, suggesting a continual (present) action or condition—believers are trusting, ones who trust. There is an interesting variant with regard to the first (subjunctive) form, which is significant and relevant, in terms of the author’s purpose:

  • Aorist subjunctive (pisteu/sete)—which here is generally taken to mean that the author is writing so that people will come to trust in Christ; in other words, it is aimed primarily at non-believers, or those who are not yet Christian.
  • Present subjunctive (pisteu/ete)—in this case, the present tense would perhaps best be understood as “you would continue to trust”; that is, the purpose being to strengthen the (current) faith of believers.

In modern language, we might say that the first reading indicates an evangelistic purpose, the second a spiritual purpose. The textual evidence is fairly divided, with the majority supporting the first (aorist subjunctive), including a2 A C D L W Y f1,13 33; on the other hand, a number of key early manuscripts (Ë66vid a* B Q) read the present subjunctive. The same variants occur in 19:35 as well, and it is possible that both verses were changed together. In my view, internal considerations tilt things slightly in favor of the latter reading (present subjunctive). The entire thrust of the Gospel, especially in the discourses of Jesus, appears aimed at presenting (to believers) the deeper, true meaning of Jesus’ words. The very pattern of the discourses utilizes the motif of misunderstanding—Jesus’ hearers (including his own disciples) typically fail to understand the real import of his words, latching onto the apparent or superficial meaning. The question or response of his audience (based on this misunderstanding) prompts Jesus to present a more in-depth explanation and exposition of his initial saying. In this light, I am inclined to interpret 20:31 as follows:

“I have written these (thing)s, (so) that you would (truly) trust that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of God, and that, trusting (in him), you would (indeed) hold life in his name.”

This interpretation would seem to be confirmed by the parallel statement in 1 John 5:13:

“I have written to you (so) that you would have seen [i.e. known] that you hold life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life], to the ones trusting in the name of the Son of God.”

Here there is no doubt that the author is writing to believers; his purpose is indicated by the used of a perfect subjunctive (a past condition continuing into the present)—i.e., believers have seen/known, but he wishes that they will continue to know, and know more fully. It is almost as though he is writing specifically to those believers addressed in Jn 20:31, but that his purpose now is for an even deeper level of (spiritual) awareness. Again, this awareness is Christological—tied to the correct understanding of the person and work of Jesus (the Son). More importantly, the author is concerned that his audience recognize their real identity as believers in Christ, and to think and act more consistently (and faithfully) in this light. From the standpoint of the Christian Community, this is expressed primarily in terms of the principle of love for one another (i.e. the “love command”) in Christ. Another important aspect of Johannine thought (and theology) is the believer’s identity as being of/from [lit. “out of”] God—that is, belonging to Him, coming from or being born of Him. I have discussed this a number of times in recent notes and articles (cf. especially Part 5 of the current series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, on the theme of Election/Predestination). It is possible that something of this understanding is expressed in 1 Jn 5:13, and also in John 20:31, especially if the reading with present subjunctive is correct (cf. above). From the standpoint of predestination, there is a sense in which believers, over the course of their lifetime, gradually gain a deeper understanding of just who we are—and, indeed, who we have always been—in Christ. I think that the specific expression in John of the believer “holding” (eternal) life, along with the image of “remaining/abiding” in Christ (and Christ in the believer), expresses this profound aspect of our Christian identity. It is not simply a question of gaining or finding life through faith in Christ, but of “holding” it—i.e., truly having it in and with oneself. According to the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, God gave the disciples (believers) to Jesus beforehand, into his care, and so we remain through the presence of the Spirit.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Part 5 – Election/Predestination

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An important aspect of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought is the idea that believers come to know their true identity—that is, what they already are in truth, but of which they have lost awareness through ignorance in the world of sin and darkness. In many Gnostic texts, this (the believer’s identity, or “soul”) is expressed as a divine spark (of light) or seed that has become trapped in the (fallen) material world. The saving knowledge Christ brings is of the believer’s true nature and identity (the light), which leads to the way out of darkness. The New Testament writings share certain soteriological elements in common with the Gnostic viewpoint, though, in many ways, the fundamental differences of outlook (and expression) are even greater. One common element is a belief in what we would call Election—that believers (i.e. the ones who will come to believe and know the truth) belong to God even before they actually come to faith and awareness in their lifetime. However, on the whole, early Christian belief is more closely rooted to the traditional religious understanding of election, as found in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Election—The Terminology (“choose, call,” etc)

The two main aspects of this view may be summed up by the verbs choose (Hebr. rjb) and call (arq, etc). In the New Testament, the first aspect is expressed through several different verbs:

  • e)kle/gw (eklégœ, “gather out”), along with the derived adjective e)klekto/$ (eklektós) and noun e)klogh/ (eklog¢¡)
  • ai(re/w (hairéœ, “take [up]”) and the related ai(reti/zw (hairetízœ), which relates more properly to the decision to take or choose, along with the reasons involved. This latter verb occurs only in Matt 12:18.

The second aspect is represented almost entirely by the verb kale/w (“call [out/aloud]”), and its compound forms—e)kkale/w (“call out [of]”), proskale/w (“call toward”), and e)pikale/w (“call on”). The verb e)kkale/w is represented in the New Testament only through the related noun e)kklhsi/a (ekkl¢sía), which early on came to be used in the technical sense of a congregation or assembly of believers, i.e. those called out (of their homes, etc) to assemble together. It often carried a (theological) connotation similar to e)klekto/$—believers as the ones “called/gathered out” from the rest of humankind. The noun klh=si$ (“call[ing]”) and adjective klh=to$ (“called”), were both applied to believers as important religious terms, derived from the verb kale/w. Several other verbs and related terms are worth noting:

  • ti/qhmi (“set, place, put”) and i(sth/mi (“make stand”), both of which can be used in the sense of “appoint”.
  • ta/ssw (“arrange, put in order”), sometimes meaning “appoint”, i.e., put things (or a person) in a certain arrangement.
  • o(ri/zw (“mark [out]”), in the sense of appointing or determining something; cf. below on Predestination
  • xeirotone/w, which refers to making a choice, etc (i.e. voting), by stretching/raising the hand; cf. also on Predestination below.

The Scriptural Concept of Election

In the Old Testament, the primary idea was God’s call/selection of Israel as his chosen people. This is found frequently in the Scriptures, especially as a Deuteronomic theme (Deut 4:19-24; 7:6-11; 10:14-22; 14:2; 26:18-19) and a key motif in the Prophets (Isa 41:8-9; 44:1-2; 45:5, etc). Israel would remain God’s chosen people as long as they were faithful in observing the covenant agreement God established with them (reflected in the Torah). The tragedy of the conquest and exile meant that this idea of election had to be given a new and distinctive interpretation; and, in the Prophets, we regularly find the motif of the remnant—i.e. the chosen ones were those who remained faithful and obedient to God (cf. Isa 4:2-4; 6:13; 10:20-23; 65:9ff; Mic 2:12; Amos 9:11-15; Zeph 3:12-13; Ezek 11:16-21; Zech 13:9, etc.). The Community of the Qumran texts and the early Christian Community both drew upon this remnant-motif to express their own religious identity as the elect/chosen people of God.

Occasionally, the Scriptures refer to Israel as the “son” of God, in a symbolic or religious/spiritual sense (e.g., Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9), and the faithful Israelites as “sons” (cf. especially in Wisdom tradition, Wis 2:16-18; Sir 4:10, etc). It is appropriate to refer to this as a kind of “adoption”, that is, God chose Israel to be his son. The same relationship is found in Israelite royal theology, which draws upon Ancient Near Eastern tradition; the king is God’s “Son”, the one chosen to represent God for the people (cf. Psalm 2:7; 89:27-29; 2 Sam 7:14; Isa 9:6). Both of these concepts—the people Israel and the king as God’s chosen “son”—were fundamental to the Messianic thought and expression which developed in Judaism, as seen both in early Christianity (applied to Jesus) and in the Qumran texts. For more on this, cf. the articles in my series “Yeshua the Anointed“. The idea of one chosen and anointed by God could be understood of king, priest, and prophet alike—three Messianic roles and “offices” ascribed to Jesus. In addition, we find the tradition of the “Son of Man” (cf. Daniel 7:13-14), a heavenly/divine being (identified with Jesus) who is appointed by God to oversee the end-time Judgment and the deliverance of his people.

When we consider the various verbs and terms related to the idea of election in the New Testament (cf. above), these can be divided between: (a) Jesus as the Elect One, and (b) Believers as the Elect Ones.

Jesus as the Elect One

The verb e)kle/gw (e)kle/gomai), and the derived noun e)klekto/$, are applied to Jesus in a number of passages, marking him as one who is specially “gathered out” (i.e. chosen) by God—Luke 9:35 v.l.; 23:35; 1 Pet 2:4, 6 (citing Isa 28:16); cf. also Matt 12:18 (Isa 42:1ff), where a different verb (ai(teri/zw) is used. These verses certainly are dependent upon Messianic tradition and imagery which have been applied to Jesus. In the Gospels and early Christian thought, they cannot be separated from the idea of Jesus as God’s Son, which likewise has a strong Messianic context—especially Ps 2:7, suggested by the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism/transfiguration (esp. Lk 3:22 v.l.), and cf. Acts 4:25-26; 13:33; Heb 2:5; 5:5. The Lukan version of the Transfiguration scene is particularly significant, since here (in the more probable original reading) the divine/heavenly voice refers to Jesus as “the one gathered out [e)klelgme/no$]”, i.e. “Elect/Chosen one”, parallel to “my Son”. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find the idea of Jesus being set/appointed/marked beforehand as God’s Chosen One; these references apply different verbs (cf. above) to Jesus:

Occasionally, the specific idea of foreknowledge—that is, God knowing/appointing Jesus beforehand, before his appearance on earth (indeed, even before creation)—is emphasized, as in 1 Peter 1:20, using the verb proginw/skw (“know before[hand]”). Cf. below on Predestination.

Believers as the Elect

More commonly in the New Testament, it is believers (Christians) who are said to be chosen or called by God. Quite often, this implies foreknowledge and/or predestination (cf. below), but more significant is the emphasis on the choice being made by God. I divide the most relevant passages according to the two aspects—called/chosen; for an interesting combination of both aspects, cf. Matt 22:1-14 (v. 14).

CalledActs 2:39; 15:17 (Amos 9:12); Rom 1:6-7; 8:28-30; 9:11, 24ff; 11:29; 1 Cor 1:2, 9, 24, 26; 7:15-24; Gal 1:6, 15; 5:8, 13; 1 Thess 2:12; 4:7; 5:24; 2 Thess 1:11; 2:14; Phil 3:14; Col 3:15; Eph 1:18; 4:1, 4; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 1:9; Heb 3:1; 9:15; James 2:7; 1 Pet 1:15; 2:9, 21; 3:9; 5:10; 2 Pet 1:3, 10; Jude 1; Rev 17:14. To these may be added instances of God calling believers to specific ministry, to preach the Gospel, and so forth (Acts 13:2; 16:10; Rom 1:1, etc).

In the Gospel of John, we find the distinct motif of Jesus calling believers. This, of course, reflects the historical facts and setting of the Gospel narrative (Mark 1:20; 3:13 par, et al), but it takes on special significance in John. Note, in particular, Jn 10:3—this is connected with the related motif of hearing the voice of Jesus (3:29; 4:42; 5:25ff, 37; 11:43ff; 12:29f; 18:37; 20:16). Important also is the close association of calling with the name—for the intimate personal knowledge and relationship which is implicit in knowing and calling/hearing the name, cf. the recent note on this motif in John. In 1 Jn 3:1, calling is also related to believers’ identity as “children of God” (on this, cf. the recent daily note on Jn 1:12-13).

Chosen—Here we should consider first the references using the verb e)kle/gw (“gather out [of]”) and related words:

This choice of persons by God is depicted dramatically in the Gospel narrative through Jesus’ choosing of the disciples to follow him (Luke 6:13, and pars; Acts 1:2). He also ‘appointed’ them to be his special representatives (apostles)—this designation (Mark 3:14ff; Lk 10:1, etc) becomes the pattern and paradigm for Christians being appointed to positions of ministry, using the verbs ti/qhmi (“set, place, put”) and i%sthmi (“[make] stand”), etc (Acts 6:3; 1 Cor 12:28, etc). Jesus’ choosing of his disciples is given special theological significance in the Gospel of John (cf. below). For the use of the compound verb kaqi/sthmi (cf. above) in a soteriological context, see Rom 5:19, and note also Matt 25:21ff; Lk 12:42ff.

Predestination

I will not deal here with the complex and longstanding theological and philosophical issues which have surrounded this topic for centuries, except to point out that the main problem for (modern) Western Christians—how the Divine determination and control of events and human decisions conflicts with the ideal of individual freedom—does not seem to have been a significant issue for ancient Christians (nor, indeed, for devout Jews and Greco-Roman pagans of the period). The New Testament authors, and other early believers, like the Jews in the Community of the Qumran texts, were perfectly able to hold up the principles of Divine control and human responsibility side-by-side; and, much to the surprise of many modern scholars, they scarcely felt the need even to note a possible contradiction (Rom 9:19ff is one of the few exceptions, but even here Paul does not devote much attention to it). That God (or the Gods, in a polytheistic context) exercised sovereign control over the world and human affairs, determining their course and destinies, was a basic and well-established religious belief in the ancient world, and required no real explanation or proof. The specific aspect of predestination—of God determining things beforehand—is expressed at numerous points throughout the New Testament writings, usually through verbs which contain the prepositional element pro/ (“before[hand]”). Romans 8:28-30 uses several of these in a sequential chain, with a definite soteriological context:

  • proti/qhmi (“set before[hand]”)—this verb does not always indicate action beforehand, since the preposition pro/ can simply imply something “before” (i.e. in front of) a person, etc. The derived noun pro/qesi$ (used here in Rom 8:28) can refer to a person’s plan or purpose (to do something), and is used, in a theological sense, for the plan of God. Here, believers are referred to as “the (one)s called according to His purpose [lit. the thing set before{hand}]”. We see the same context in Rom 9:11; Eph 1:9-11; 3:11; 2 Tim 1:9. Cf. also the adjective proqe/smio$ in Gal 4:2.
  • proginw/skw (“know beforehand”)—that is, foreknowledge, properly speaking; it also occurs in Rom 11:2 and in 1 Pet 1:20 (applied to God’s foreknowledge of Jesus).
  • proori/zw (“mark [out] beforehand”)—on the use of the simple o(ri/zw to indicate God appointing, designating, etc., Jesus as the Anointed One, cf. above; the compound form also occurs in Acts 4:28; 1 Cor 2:7, and Eph 1:5, 11. These two pro- verbs are followed in v. 30 by:
  • kale/w (“call”)—for the calling of persons to be (and become) believers, cf. above
    dikaio/w (“make right/just”)—this verb has special meaning in Paul’s letters, referring to salvation in terms of being “made right” with God; it carries a strong legal sense in his thought
    doca/zw (“give honor/esteem”)—that is, believers are glorified, made to share in the honor and splendor (do/ca) of the Father and Christ the Son; primarily, Paul has the end-time resurrection in mind (vv. 18-23)

Several other pro- verbs are used to express the idea of foreknowledge and predestination—proetoima/zw (“make ready beforehand”, Rom 9:23; Eph 2:10), proxeiri/zw (“take in hand before, hand forth”, Acts 22:14), proei/dw (“see before, foresee”, Acts 2:31; Gal 3:8, of the inspired Prophets [in Scripture]); proble/pw (“look/see before”, i.e. look ahead, Heb 11:40).

The main Predestination passages in the New Testament (the Pauline letters) are Romans 9-11 (along with 8:28-30, cf. above); Gal 1:15; Eph 1:3-14; 2 Thess 2:13, though certainly many of the other verses cited above should be consulted as well. Of special significance is the way the idea is expressed—theologically, and in Christological terms—in the Gospel of John.

The Johannine Discourses

In the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, we find a sense of election and predestination, which, in certain respects, comes close to the gnostic understanding. A number of the key passages have already been discussed in the notes and articles of this series (cf. the note on Jn 1:12-13, etc), but it will be helpful to summarize and outline them here.

In three passages, Jesus refers to his choosing the disciples (using the verb e)kle/gomai, “gather out”, cf. above)—Jn 6:70; 13:18, and 15:16, 19. In 13:18, the choosing is related to his knowing them (“I have seen/known [oi@da] any [i.e. all] of [the ones] I gathered out”); moreover, the selection comes from Jesus’ initiative—it is not the disciples’ decision (15:16, cf. also 5:21). The aspect of foreknowledge and predestination in this choice is demonstrated and prefigured in the narrative, cf. 1:48—”I saw you…before his calling you”. Throughout the discourses, this sense of the believers’ identity (in Christ) is expressed in two primary ways:

1. God the Father has given believers to the Son (Jesus), who, in turn, keeps them safe and guarded (from evil) during his time on earth. We find this idea in 6:39ff and, more prominently, in the great prayer-discourse of chapter 17 (vv. 6-8, 11ff, 24). It is connected with the motif of the believer remaining/abiding (the verb me/nw) in Christ, and Christ in the believer. From a temporal standpoint, in the context of the Gospel narrative, believers first come to Jesus (and he comes to them), and, receiving him, they remain with him (and he with them). However, from the eternal standpoint, this aspect of remaining takes on a slightly different sense—believers are already in Christ, since they have been given to him by the Father, but must continue to remain in him (cf. 8:31-32; 15:1-11, etc). After Jesus’ departure (back to the Father), this situation will continue through the presence of the Spirit (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:7ff); indeed, 14:17 suggests that the Spirit is already with the disciples, but will come to be in them after Jesus’ departure. That all of this takes place under the Father’s full control and direction is clear from the statement by Jesus in 6:44: “No one is able to come toward me, if the Father…does not draw [lit. drag] him”.

2. Believers belong to God, come from Him, are born out of Him, etc, even before they actually come to faith in Christ. In fact, in a number of places, Jesus makes it clear that the reason people are able to come to him is that they (first) come from God. I summarize here the most relevant passages:

  • 3:3-8—one cannot see or enter the Kingdom of God, unless first having been born “from above [a&nwqen]” and “out of [e)k] the Spirit”. Traditionally, this birth is thought to take place following one’s acceptance of Jesus (and baptism, etc); however, in the Johannine idiom, to see almost always means seeing Jesus (the Son), that is, coming to know him, to have faith in him. It is thus possible to understand this saying in the sense of spiritual birth preceding the believer’s recognition of Christ.
  • 3:19-21—In verse 21, Jesus states that “the (person) doing the truth comes toward the light”. On the surface, this suggests that a person who is living a good, righteous life will recognize Jesus and come to trust in him; indeed, this would be the conventional religious understanding. However, in the Gospel of John, “doing the truth” essentially means trusting and believing in Christ (who is the truth), as stated clearly in 6:29. In other words, a person is, in a sense, a believer even before actually coming to faith in Christ. Much the same is indicated in 7:17; for a more precise formulation, cf. 18:37 (below).
  • 8:47—”the one being [i.e. who is] out of [e)k] God hears the words of God; through this [i.e. for this reason] you do not hear, in that [i.e. because] you are not out of God”. Along with 18:37, this is the clearest theological statement to the effect that only those who are from [e)k, “out of”] God can hear/recognize the word of God, and thus come to Jesus.
  • 10:3-5ff—The idea of believers hearing the voice of the Son (Jesus) who speaks with the words and voice of his Father is an important theme in the Gospel of John. In the parable of chapter 10, the sheep hear (i.e., know, recognize) the voice of the shepherd because they (already) belong to him (he knows them), vv. 14, 26-29.
  • 15:19—Here Jesus tells his disciples “you are not out of the world, but I gathered you out of the world”, playing on the double meaning of the idiom “out of [e)k] the world”. On the one hand, Jesus chose them “out of the world” (that is, from the rest of the people); on the other hand, the disciples are “not of the world” since they come from God and do not belong to it. The statement in 17:16 is even more striking: “they [i.e. the believers] are not out of [e)k] the world, even as I am not out of the world”.
  • 18:37—”…I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth; every one being [i.e. who is] out of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”. Only the person (already) belonging to the truth, that is, to God, is able to hear the voice of Jesus and come to faith in him.

On the textual variant in 20:31, the closing words of the Gospel proper, and a possible way to interpret it, cf. the separate note.

Note of the Day – November 10 (John 1:12-13)

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John 1:12-13

This is the second of two daily notes on John 1:12-13, 16-17. Yesterday’s note looked at vv. 12 and 16-17 in the use of the verbs di/dwmi and lamba/nw—”give” and “receive”—to express the divine revelation granted to believers in the person of Jesus (the Son). Today I will be focusing on verse 12-13 for the description of what is given to believers, utilizing the image of birth and sonship. In part, this discussion is related to the article (Part 5) on Election in the current series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. I have already discussed these verses in prior notes, and will refer to these at several points.

Verses 12-13 follow the statements in vv. 10-11, of the Son (the Word [lo/go$] and Light [fw=$]) coming into the world (v. 9):

  • “He was in the world…and the world did not know him” (v. 10)
  • “He came to his own, and his own (people) did not receive him alongside” (v. 11)

Here are vv. 12-13 in translation:

” But as (many) as received [i.e. did receive] him, he gave to them (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to become (the) offspring of God—to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of the will of man, but out of God have come to be (born).”

I have tried to retain the Greek syntax here, as far as possible, to illustrate the important structure of the first half of the sentence (v. 12) in particular. There are two parallels at work, which can be shown in outline form:

  • They received him
    —he gave to them…
    —to become the offspring of God
  • The ones trusting in his name

According to the outer pairing, to “receive” the Son (Jesus) means to “trust” (i.e. believe, have faith) in his name. I discussed this identification in the previous note; for the significance of the name, cf. the recent note on the “name of the Father”. The second, inner pairing connects Jesus’ giving with the believers’ becoming. This same association (using the verbs di/dwmi and gi/nomai) is found in vv. 16-17, as I also discuss in yesterday’s note; consider:

“The Law was given [e)do/qh] through Moses, but favor and truth came to be [e)ge/neto] through Jesus Christ”

The contrast here is one of fullness and completeness—Moses/Christ, the “favor” shown by God in the Law compared with the “favor and truth” manifest in the person of Christ. The common verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) has special theological (and Christological) significance in the Gospel of John, and is used very carefully, both in the Prologue and throughout, along with the verb of being (ei)mi) and the verb e&rxomai (“come”), etc. Note the precise way these are used together in the Baptist’s declaration (1:15, 30). Within the prologue, the verb gi/nomai refers literally to creation—coming into existence, coming to be (vv. 3, 10), especially of a human being born into the world (v. 6). It is thus of great moment when it is used of the pre-existent Word and Light: “and the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh and camped/dwelt among us…”. There can be little doubt that this same sense of incarnation is meant in both verse 15 and here in v. 17. It thus also informs the use in v. 12 as well; note the formal parallelism:

  • God gave favor (the Law) through Moses
    • Favor came to be through Christ (i.e. the Word coming to be flesh)
  • Christ gave believers this favor (authority)
    • Believers come to be children of God

The Word “came to be flesh” means came to be born, i.e. as a human being. It is something of the reverse process for believers—human beings are born as sons/children of God. I have discussed this aspect of vv. 12-13 in a note from a series last Christmas season. On the textual issue and variants in verse 13, these are also addressed in an earlier note. Jesus refers to this spiritual birth (i.e. born from above, born again) in the famous discourse with Nicodemus (3:3-8), and the image of believers as “born of God” is found often in 1 John (2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). In these passages, it is the related verb genna/w, referring more precisely to one coming to be born, which is used. Literally, believers are born “out of” (e)k) God, and this idiom informs the shorter expression, frequent in the Gospel and First Letter, of being (or coming) e)k tou= qeou=, “out of [i.e. from] God”. Cf. especially 1 Jn 3:10, where being “out of God” (e)k tou= qeou=) is synonymous with being “offspring/children of God” (te/kna tou= qeou=). The word te/kna is more or less interchangeable with ui(oi/ (“sons”) and “sons of God” has essentially the same meaning as “offspring of God”. Both expressions are found in the New Testament—for “sons of God”, cf. Matt 5:9; Luke 20:36; Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26 (cf. also Matt 5:45; Lk 6:35; Rom 9:26); “children of God” is the typical expression in John (11:52; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2), but also occurs in Paul (Rom 9:8; Phil 2:15), being equivalent to “sons of God” (Rom 8:16, 21, cp. verses 14, 19). The expression “sons/children of light” has a similar meaning, being applied to believers, usually in an ethical context (cf. Lk 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8). The noun te/kna is more appropriate for the Johannine idea of being born from or “out of” God, since its fundamental meaning is something “brought forth, produced” (cf. the verb ti/ktw).

What Christ gives to the believer, according to verse 12, is the e)cousi/a (exousía) to become the offspring of God. This word is difficult to translate in English; derived from the verb e&cestin (e)k + the verb of being ei)mi), it has the basic meaning of something which comes from (lit. out of) a person, and, as such, is in the control or ability of a person to handle or accomplish. It may properly convey the sense of ability/capability, but also of permission—that is, something permitted, or over which permission is granted. The noun e)cousi/a is usually translated as “power” or “authority”. In the Gospel of John, it refers primarily to what God the Father has given to Jesus (the Son)—i.e., placed in his charge and control (5:27; 17:2), including control over his own life and death (10:18). This latter point is especially emphasized in the brief dialogue with Pilate (19:10-11). To understand the precise significance of the word here in 1:12, it is important to look at the use in 17:2:

“…even as you [i.e. the Father] gave to him [i.e. the Son] e)cousi/a o(ver) all flesh, (so) that, (for) every (one) that you have given to him, you should give to them (the) life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life]”

The verb di/dwmi (“give”) occurs three times in this verse:

  • The Father gives (aorist indicative, “gave”) to the Son power/control over all human beings (“all flesh”)
  • The Father gives (perfect, “have given”) specific human beings (the elect, believers) to the Son
  • The Father gives (aorist subjunctive, “should give”) them (believers) eternal life

Believers (the Elect) are in the care/control of the Son; the eternal life which we receive is given only in that context—i.e., our relationship/connection with the Son. For a good description of the dynamic that is involved, we should compare Jesus’ statements in 5:26 and 6:57:

“For, just as the Father holds life in Himself, so also He gave the Son life to hold in himself”
“Even as the living Father sent me forth, and I live through the Father, (so) also…that one [i.e. the believer] will live through me”

The theological chain is clear and straightforward:

  • The Father gives the Son life to hold in himself (through the Father)
  • The Son gives believers life to have in themselves (through the Son)

This is the sense of the power/control/authority with believers now have, to become children (“sons”) of God through Christ (the Son). This giving and becoming occurs in connection with our trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, which we first experience at a particular moment in time—that is, when we come to him, come to faith. However, there is also a sense in which believers are already (born) of God, even before coming to faith. Consider Jesus’ words to Pilate in Jn 18:37, where he states that he was born and came into the world

“…that I should (bear) witness to the truth—every (one) being [i.e. who is] out of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”

That is to say, only the person who comes (i.e. is ‘born’) out of the truth, will be able to hear the voice of truth. I would suggest that the same idea is present in vv. 12-13 as well. I point again to the Greek syntax preserved in translation (cf. above):

  • Believers receive Christ (i.e. trust in him)
    —He gives to them authority/ability to become children of God (i.e. born of God)
  • The ones trusting in his name (i.e. believers) are those who
    —were born out of God (i.e. are children of God)

Verse 13 also clearly expresses the point, given threefold emphasis, that this birth—and, indeed, our very receiving Christ—is not the result of our own (human) will and choice, but comes directly from God. This represents a somewhat different aspect of our Christian identity which we are not accustomed to recognizing or considering. It is also the point at which the early Christian (Johannine) sense of religious identity corresponds most closely with gnostic thought. It will be addressed further in the article (Part 5) on Election.

Note of the Day – November 9 (John 1:12, 16-17)

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John 1:12, 16-17

These next two daily notes—on John 1:12-13, 16-17—relate to articles and areas of study in the current series Gnosis and the New Testament: the article on “Knowledge and Revelation in John” and Part 5 (on Election). Today’s note deals with the first area, especially the motif of revelation in terms of giving and receiving. These twin aspects are expressed by the verbs di/dwmi (“give”) and lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”), both of which occur frequently in the Gospel of John and are found here in the Prologue as well. First, in verse 12:

“but as (many) as received him, he gave to them (the) authority to become (the) offspring of God, to the (one)s trusting in his name”

There is a simple and precise parallelism at work:

  • they received [e&labon] him
  • he gave [e&dwken] to them

Verse 11, the first half of the sentence, places this in context: “he came into/unto his own (thing)s, and his own (people) did not receive him alongside (them)”. This specifies what was already stated in verse 10, that the Word/Logos (i.e. the Son) “was in the world, but the world did not know him”. From the more abstract expression “the world” (o( ko/smo$) we move to the neuter plural “his own (thing)s” [i.e. the things of humankind, in a particular place, etc], then to the more specific plural “his own (people)” [i.e. the Israelite/Jewish people]. The word translated “receive” in v. 11 is the compound form paralamba/nw (“take/receive along[side]”). While it is not always necessary (or possible) to translate the prepositional (prefixed) component of such verbs, here it is probably best to preserve the specific meaning of para/ (“along[side]”), which conveys a sense of nearness and intimacy. This preposition is often used with definite (theological) significance in the Gospel of John, especially when describing the relationship of the Son to the Father—i.e., as coming “(from) alongside [para/]” the Father, cf. verse 14. The same aspect of nearness should be assumed in the use of the simple lamba/nw in v. 12 as well—i.e., those who receive the Son (the Word and Light) alongside them. The Gospel narrative shows this at work; in verse 39, when the first disciples choose to follow Jesus, they went “and remained alongside [para/] him that day” (cf. also 4:40; 14:25, etc). The verb here is me/nw (“remain, abide”) which, later in the Gospel, comes to have immense spiritual and theological significance: for Christ (and his word[s]) remaining in [e)n] the believer, and the believer remaining in Christ (6:56; 8:31; 15:4-10; and frequently in 1 John). There are thus two aspects to the idea of receiving as expressed by the verb lamba/nw:

  • Receiving the Son (Christ) alongside [para/], close by, so as to remain/abide with him
  • Receiving the Son (Christ) in [e)n]—i.e. remaining/abiding within the believer, and among believers

That the second aspect follows upon (and completes) the first may be seen from the saying of Jesus in 8:31 (discussed in an earlier note), when Jesus declares to those who have just recently come to trust in him: “if you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples”.

The second verb in the tandem is di/dwmi (“give”), which occurs quite often in John. The associated meanings are interrelated, in at least two ways; first—

  • The Father gives to the Son, and
    • The Son, in turn, gives to his disciples (believers); to which we may add
      • The Spirit also gives to believers, and
      • {Believers give to others}

and, secondly—

  • The Father gives the chosen ones (disciples/believers) to the Son
    —The Son keep/guards them in the Father’s name; so also
    —The Father keeps/guards them in His name (through the Spirit)
  • The Son returns to give (bring/lead) believers back with him to the Father

Here, in verse 12, it is the comprehensive sense of this dynamic—and, especially, the inner aspect—which must be understood by the use of di/dwmi. It is stated that the Son (Word and Light) “gave to them [i.e. believers] the authority to become offspring of God”. This idea of becoming children of God will be discussed in the next note; here, it is important to emphasize the aspect of giving that is expressed—what the Son gives to those who receive him is the ability to be transformed, born anew (from above) through a spiritual birth (cf. 3:3-8).

When we turn to verses 16-17, the emphasis has shifted to the person of Jesus as the Son (of God). Verse 16 picks up from v. 14 (15 being parenthetical), which declares, in rather exalted language, the appearance (i.e. incarnation) of the Son on earth:

“And the Logos came to be flesh and set up tent [i.e. camped/dwelt] among [e)n] us, and we looked with wonder (at) his splendor [do/ca], (the) splendor as of (the) only (one who has) come to be [i.e. only son] (from) alongside [para/] the Father, full of (His) favor and truth”

Verses 16 and 17 are subordinate statements, each beginning with the (connecting) particle o%ti, which I leave untranslated here:

  • V. 16: “out of his fullness we all received [e&labon] even favor a)nti favor”
  • V. 17: “the Law was given [e)do/qh] through Moshe, and favor and truth came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

There is some difficulty in interpreting verse 16 because of the ambiguity surrounding the preposition a)nti/, “against, opposite”, which has a wide range of figurative meanings (“in place of, in exchange for, on behalf of”, etc). Unfortunately, this is the only occurrence of the separate preposition in the Johannine writings, so we cannot compare it with any other instance in the Gospel. In all likelihood, it is meant to express a contrast, which is developed in v. 17—Moses/Jesus, Law/Favor. This suggests a)nti should be understood here in the sense of “in place of”—in place of the favor (xa/ri$) Israel received through the Law, believers have received favor and truth through Christ. The expression “favor and truth” (xa/ri$ kai\ a)lh/qeia) should perhaps be viewed as a hendiadys (two words expressing a single concept)—i.e. true favor. By this interpretation, we need not see Christ as replacing the Law of Moses, though this idea is found at times in the New Testament, both in the Pauline and Johannine writings. A better way of saying it is that the favor of God manifest in Christ is full and complete, while the Torah is only partial, pointing the way to the person of Jesus (cf. Jn 5:39-40). It is out of [e)k] this fullness that all believers (“we all”) receive this (full) favor. If we compare verse 16 in light of v. 12 (cf. above), then this favor (xa/ri$) may be identified with the “authority” (e)cousi/a) that we have been given to become children of God. A careful reading of verse 17 reveals the connection between the verbs di/dwmi (“give”) and gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)—what believers were given is the ability to become. This will be explored in greater detail when verses 12-13 are examined in the next daily note.

Special note on the “name” of the Father

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As I discussed in the previous daily note on John 17:8, the “name” (o&noma), and, in particular, the name of God the Father, is vital for an understanding of the person and work Christ as presented in the Gospel of John. I will be discussing the name (and names) of God in some detail in a series of notes and articles to begin in December during Advent/Christmas season. Here, I will focus on the use of the concept, and expression, in the Gospel of John. It should be pointed out, as I have done on several occasions in the past, that names and naming in the ancient world had a very different significance than in modern (Western) society. To know a person’s name was essentially the same as knowing the person. In the ancient way of thinking, there was a kind of magical quality to the name—it communicated and encapsulated the nature and character of the person. The sacredness and efficacy of the name(s) and epithets applied to God is well established in the Old Testament and Jewish religious tradition, especially with regard to the name signified by the tetragrammaton (hwhy, YHWH, Yahweh). In early Christian tradition, the name Yeshua/Jesus also had an efficacious quality similar, and parallel, to YHWH. Jesus and God the Father (YHWH) could both be called by the title “Lord” (Ku/rio$), almost interchangeably, giving a dual meaning to Scripture passages such as Joel 2:32 (cf. Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13). Calling on the “name of Lord (Jesus)” for early Christians was the same as accepting Jesus, trusting/believing in him, and so the common use of the expression “trust in(to) the name of Jesus”, which we also see in the Gospel of John (1:12; 2:23; 3:18). For early Christians, prayer (for healing, etc) was done “in Jesus’ name” (cf. Jn 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26, and frequently in the book of Acts, etc). From the standpoint of the theology (and Christology) of the Johannine Gospel, trusting the name of Jesus truly meant trusting in the person of Jesus—who he is (Son of God) and where he came from (the Father); cf. especially 3:18; 17:3; 20:31.

The idea of Jesus coming “in the name of the Father” (5:43; 10:25) derives from early Gospel tradition and the application of Psalm 118:26 to Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) and coming (Davidic) Ruler expected by many Jews and Israelites of the time (cf. Matt 21:9; 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; 19:38; and John 12:13). The association was given a new interpretation by early Christians, and, in the Gospel of John, the meaning has deepened still further. In the Johannine discourses, we find frequent references to Jesus as the one who comes from the Father, sent by Him, doing and saying what he sees/hears from the Father—on this, cf. the recent article on “Knowledge and Revelation in John” and the previous note on Jn 17:8. Moreover, we also find the distinct Christological view expressed that Jesus (the Son) was with (alongside) the Father in eternity (cf. the Prologue, 1:1-18); this is also indicated throughout the discourses, where Jesus identifies himself, in various ways, with God the Father. This is best seen in the “I am” sayings of Jesus, which use the 1st-person pronoun (e)gw/, “I”) + the verb of being (ei)mi)—e)gw\ ei)mi (“I am”). These all-important sayings punctuate the discourses, often most dramatically—cf. 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 24; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 13:19; 15:1, 5; 18:5; and note also the foreshadowing of the expression in 1:20ff; 3:28, and the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in 1:1-15. Cf. also 7:33ff and my earlier note on 14:4-7. It has been suggested that the “name” of the Father in the Johannine discourses is actually e)gw\ ei)mi, “I AM” (cf. Brown, pp. 755-6); if so, it still should be understood in relation to the tetragrammaton (hwhy/YHWH, cf. Exod 3:6, 13-15).

In the Gospel narrative, Jesus’ references to the Father’s name begin to gain prominence following the triumphal entry (in which Jesus comes “in the name of the LORD”, 12:13). Soon after, it is mentioned in verse 28:

“Father, honor/glorify [do/cason] your Name!”

This request echoes the opening of the Lord’s Prayer in the Synoptics (Matt 6:9 par), only here it is associated specifically with the impending death of Jesus. This connection between the Father’s name, the divine glory/splendor/honor (do/ca), and the death (and resurrection) of Jesus, is strengthened, expanding and developing throughout the great Last Discourse of chapters 13-17 (cf. 13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14, etc). As Jesus (the Son) was sent in the Father’s name, so, too, the Spirit will be sent by the Father (in the name of the Son)—cf. 14:6, 26; 15:26; 16:7. It is in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17, that the name of the Father becomes a major theme, occurring at three points—at the beginning of the main section (v. 6), at the midpoint (vv. 11-12), and again at the end (v. 26). The first and last (framing) references should be considered in tandem:

  • V. 6: “I made your name (to) shine forth to the ones whom you gave me out of the world”
    —connection with the word [lo/go$] God has given (through Jesus), which believers have kept/guarded (i.e. abides in them)
  • V. 26: “I made known to them your name, and I will make (it) known…”
    —connection with the love which God has for Jesus, and which is in believers

Clearly, this is not a matter of Jesus giving his disciples factual information about the name Yahweh; rather, according to the ancient way of thinking, making the Father’s name known means making the Father Himself known (cf. Exod 23:20-21; Ps 9:10; 22:22, etc). This takes place through the person of the Son, who represents and reflects the Father, and makes Him manifest to believers. The association between the word and love of God naturally brings to mind the “love command” of Gospel tradition (13:34-35, etc), representing the word[s] (lo/go$/r(h/mata) of God which Christ speaks. But it goes deeper than this, for the word (lo/go$) is Christ himself (1:1ff), and, likewise, God’s love is identified with the person of Christ (17:26, cf. also 3:16, etc). This brings us to 17:11-12, where the emphasis is on Jesus keeping/guarding his disciples “in the name” [e)n tw=| o)no/mati] which God gave to him. For the idea of God giving this name to Jesus, cf. the early Christian tradition expressed/preserved by Paul in Phil 2:9-11. In the Philippians hymn, Jesus receives the name following his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of the Father); however, in the Gospel of John, he was given this name even before, and certainly should be so understood in relation to the Son’s pre-existence (and pre-existent glory) shared with the Father. Upon his coming to earth, he was “given” this name, in order to make it known to his followers. It is important to keep in mind the twin aspects of knowing and seeing expressed in 17:6, 26, since, in the Johannine discourses, to know Jesus is the same as seeing; and, if one sees Jesus (the Son) then the believer has also seen the Father. This important chain of logic is best expressed in 14:1-14 (cf. the notes on 14:4-7).

This Johannine understanding of the “name of the Father”, and the relationship between Jesus and the Father, was given a distinctive interpretation in several key Gnostic writings of the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. The Gospel of John appears to have quite popular in many Gnostic groups. The earliest NT commentary known to us is the Commentary on John by the Gnostic Heracleon, which, in large part, inspired Origen to embark on his own massive (and unfinished) Commentary. Of the numerous references to the Gospel in the surviving Gnostic texts, two passages are especially relevant and may be cited here—from the so-called Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Philip (cf. Brown, p. 755):

“Now the name of the Father is the Son. It is he who first gave a name to the one who came forth from him, who was himself, and he begot him as a son. He gave him his name which belonged to him; he is the one to whom belongs all that exists around him, the Father. His is the name; his is the Son. It is possible for him to be seen. But the name is invisible because it alone is the mystery of the invisible which comes to ears that are completely filled with it. For indeed the Father’s name is not spoken, but it is apparent through a Son.” (Gospel of Truth, translation by G. W. MacRae, NHL I.38.6-24, p. 47)

The remainder of the text (39-43) develops the ideas and theology of this passage. The Son speaks of the Father from whom he came forth, and the true believers (Gnostics) respond likewise, recognizing their true nature as having come from God:

“They are the ones who appear in truth since they exist in true and eternal life and speak of the light which is perfect and filled with the seed of the Father…and his children are perfect and worthy of his name, for he is the Father: it is children of this kind that he loves.” (43.9ff)

And, here is a passage from the “Gospel of Philip”:

“One single name is not uttered in the world, the name which the Father gave to the Son, the name above all things: the name of the Father. For the Son would not become Father unless he wears the name of the Father. Those who have this name know it, but they do not speak it. But those who do not have it do not know it.” (translation by W. W. Isenberg, NHL II.54.6-13, p. 133)

A long discussion follows regarding names—hidden and revealed—drawing heavily upon Scripture and various images in the Old and New Testament. It also gives a distinctive interpretation to Baptism and other Christian rituals, using the motif of marriage and the “bridal chamber”. The believer (Gnostic) who “enters” the water and the bridal chamber becomes a “son of the bridal chamber” and will “receive the light”—that is, will experience the mystery, the hidden reality that is revealed in the Son.

Clearly, these Gnostic texts have gone considerably beyond the Old Testament and early Christian tradition regarding Jesus and the “name of the Father”. They draw equally upon ancient religious (and mythological) tradition related to the secret, hidden name of God. The true name and nature of the Deity cannot be spoken or expressed in ordinary human terms. From the Gnostic standpoint, it comes to be known in a spiritual (and mystical) manner—through the saving knowledge (revelation) brought by Jesus to the believer. Through the experience of this revelation, the believer becomes aware of his/her true identity as the offspring of God.

In the references above, “NHL” refers to The Nag Hammadi Library (in English), James M. Robinson, General Editor (Brill: 1978). References marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29/A.

Note of the Day – November 8 (John 17:8)

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John 17:8

The saying of Jesus in Jn 17:8 is noteworthy for the many key-words and terms which are combined in a single verse. Here more than eight key concepts and elements of Johannine vocabulary are brought together. It thus serves as a kind of summary of the thought expressed in the discourses of Jesus, as well as the Johannine writings as a whole, and which I have explored in the recent article on “Knowledge and Revelation in John”.

Verse 8 is part of the prayer-discourse of Jesus that makes up chapter 17. For an outline of this chapter, cf. my earlier note on 17:3. The main section (vv. 7-23) is framed by transitional ‘refrains’ (vv. 4-6, 24-26) which convey two main themes of Jesus’ prayer to the Father:

  • Jesus’ relationship with the Father: the pre-existent glory
  • That Jesus has shone forth (manifested) the Father’s name

The core of the prayer-discourse in vv. 7-23 deals more with Jesus’ disciples (believers)—his petition is on their behalf. Verse 7 picks up from v. 6, which effectively summarizes the main thrust of the prayer:

“I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave me out of the world. They are yours [lit. of you] and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch (over) [i.e. guarded] your word [lo/go$].”

Verse 7 brings in the important theme of the disciples’ knowledge:

“Now they have known that all (thing)s, as (many) as you have given me, are (from) alongside [para/] of you.”

Some MSS read the first person singular e&gnwn (“I have known”), but the context—especially the use of the particle nu=n (“now”) —strongly indicates that the third person plural is correct. In the verses that follow (9-12), three basic themes are expressed:

  • The disciples were given to Jesus by God the Father
  • He (Jesus) has guarded them by the Name which the Father gave to him
  • He asks that the Father continue to guard them in this Name

On the last point, presumably the presence of the Spirit is in mind (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7ff), though this is not stated.

This establishes the setting of verse 8, which I first give in translation here, and afterwards I will discuss each key word or concept in the order it occurs in the verse. To begin with, the connecting particle o%ti joins verses 7-8 as a single sentence; primarily it relates back to e&gnwkan (“they have known”)—i.e., “they have known…(in) that [o%ti]…”. In other words, it explains what it is the disciples know and how they came to know it.

“…(in) that the words [r(h/mata] which you gave to me I have given to them, and they received (them) and knew truly that I came out (from) alongside of you, and they (have) trusted that you se(n)t me forth.”

ta\ r(h/mata (“the words”)—The noun r(h=ma, best translated “utterance”, i.e. something spoken or uttered, I render here generally as “word”. It occurs 12 times in the Gospel (3:34; 5:47; 6:63, 68; 8:20, 47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:10; 15:7), always in the plural (r(h/mata, “things uttered, words”). In the Johannine vocabulary, it is largely interchangeable with lo/go$ (“word, account”), though the latter occurs much more frequently (40 times in the Gospel, another 7 in the Letters). The plural r(h/mata perhaps refers more directly to specific sayings or teachings by Jesus, but should not be limited to this sense. In 3:34, these words are identified as those which God the Father speaks (cf. 8:47), the Son saying what he has heard the Father say (14:10, etc). In 6:63, Jesus’ words are identified with (the) Spirit and (eternal) Life (cf. also v. 68). As in the case of the noun lo/go$, Jesus’ word (r(h=ma) is essentially the same as the person (and presence, power, etc) of Jesus himself (cf. 5:47; 15:7). The words (r(h/mata) and word (lo/go$) are to remain/abide in (e)n) the true believer, and the believer in the word(s) (5:38; 8:31, 37; 1 Jn 1:10; 2:5, 14, etc). Later in the prayer-discourse (17:14), Jesus gives virtually the same statement as in v. 8, using lo/go$: “I have given to them your word“. This Word is also closely related to the Name of the Father which was given to Jesus, and which Jesus has given or made known, in turn, to his disciples. On this Name, cf. the attached separate note.

e&dwka$ (“you gave”)—That is, “the words which you gave to me…” (cf. 3:34). On the specific motif of Jesus (the Son) saying and doing what he hears/sees the Father saying and doing, cf. the current article. The verb di/dwmi (“give”) is used quite often (75 times) in the Gospel, including 24 times in the Last Discourse, and 17 times in this prayer-discourse alone. It is thus a most important term, closely tied to the Johannine concepts of revelation and salvation in the person of Christ. Jesus (the [only] Son) comes from the Father, and so receives everything from the Father (see v. 7)—both in the sense of learning and inheriting—as a faithful son. Jesus imitates the Father, as a perfect reflection and representation of God the Father; as such, his words are the words the Father gave him to speak. Again, this word cannot be separated from the name of the Father.

de/dwka (“I have given”)—There is here a simple parallelism—”you gave to me, I have given to them“—which neatly expresses this idea of Jesus (the Son) imitating the Father. The perfect tense of the verb here, which typically indicates past action that continues into the present, may imply the incarnation, i.e. the presence of the eternal Son (and Word) with his people on earth. After his departure, this presence (and Word) will continue and remain with believers through the Spirit. Even more important to the immediate context of chapter 17, is the idea that Jesus has given—manifest (“shone forth”) and made known—the name of the Father to his disciples.

e&labon (“they received”)—Like the verb di/dwmi (“give”), the conceptually related lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”) occurs frequently in John (46 times, and another 6 in the Letters), and usually with special theological significance. Jesus receives from the Father (10:18), and the disciples receive from Jesus, though, in the Johannine idiom, to “receive” Jesus specifically means to accept him and his words (3:11, 32-33; 5:43-44; 12:48; 13:20). The verb is also used in connection with the disciples receiving the Spirit (7:39; 20:22; and note also 14:17; 16:14-15). Of special importance is the use of the verb in 1:12 (and cf. v. 16). For more on the image of giving/receiving, cf. the recent article.

e&gnwsan (“they knew”)—The aorist form would be translated literally as “they knew”, though we might have expected the perfect tense (i.e., “they received and have come to know”); yet the aorist matches the previous e&labon (“they received”), with which it is connected. Perhaps Jesus is describing the condition of the disciples at the moment, i.e. “now” (nu=n, see v. 7). A better explanation would be to view the disciples’ receiving and knowing as dual aspects of the same event (“they received and knew”), probably to be identified with the Last Discourse itself (chs. 13-17), centered as it is in the impending death (and resurrection) of Jesus. By participating in the suffering and death (13:1-11ff), symbolically, the disciples have received Jesus in a way that they had not yet been able to do. Through the following Discourse, they likewise receive his word(s) and come to understand. In receiving Jesus (and his word[s]), they also receive the Father and His Word (13:20, etc); similarly, in knowing the Son (Jesus), they also come to know the Father. On this vital theme, cf. the previous notes on 17:3 and 14:4-7, as well as the article on knowledge and revelation in John.

a)lhqw=$ (“truly”)—The noun a)lhqei/a (“truth”) is a key Johannine term (25 times in the Gospel, 20 in the Letters) applied to the person of Christ and God the Father (as well as the Spirit, i.e. “Spirit of Truth”). Cf. especially the Gospel references 1:14, 17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 14:6; 18:37f, and my earlier note on 8:32. Here we have the related adverb a)lhqw=$ (“truly”), which is also important in the Gospel (4:42; 6:14; 7:26, 40). In those four instances, it is used of Jesus, by others, in terms of his possible identity as the Anointed One, i.e. the end-time Prophet to Come. The only other use of the adverb by Jesus is in 8:31, which is worth quoting here:

“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly my disciples”

He said this “to the ones (who) had come to trust in him”, and the image of abiding/remaining in Jesus (and his word[s]), is a main theme of the Last Discourse—cf. 14:20; 15:2, 4-7, 9-10; 16:33; 17:11-12, 17, 21, along with the twin theme of Jesus[‘ word] remaining in the believer (14:17, 20; 15:4-7, 11; 17:13, 23, 26). In 17:8, the adverb a)lhqw=$ is applied to the disciples’ knowledge (“they truly knew”, “they knew truly”). The truth of this knowledge is clarified in the remainder of the verse, but it is worth considering the occurrences of the noun a)lhqei/a (“truth”) in chapter 17, in verses 17 (twice) and 19; the statement in v. 17 is especially significant:

“Make them (to be) holy in the truth; (for) your word [lo/go$] is truth”

The consecration Jesus requests for his disciples will equip and prepare them for being sent into the world (even as Jesus was sent into the world by the Father); but first, Jesus consecrates himself for the sacrificial act (his death) which is about to come:

“and (it is) over them [i.e. for their sake] (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they also should be made holy in (the) truth”

para\ sou (“[from] alongside of you”)—The preposition para/ (“along[side]”) is important in the Gospel of John for expressing the relationship of Jesus to God the Father, and his identity as one who come from the Father—that is, from alongside him, close to him (cf. 1:6, 14). It was used previously in verse 5, where Jesus anticipates his exaltation (death and resurrection) and return to the Father; he asks that the Father honor/glorify him “alongside Himself” (para\ seautou=) with the honor/glory (do/ca) which he held “alongside” (para/) the Father before the world began. A similar idea is expressed in the first part of this sentence (v. 7), where Jesus states that all things the Father has given him come from “alongside” (para/) the Father. It is this that the disciples have now come to know (truly)—i.e., of Jesus’ identity with the Father, that he comes from alongside the Father.

e)ch=lqon (“I came out”)—That is, Jesus came out from being alongside the Father (1:6, 14). On the specific image of Jesus coming “out of” (e)k) God (or, out of Heaven) and coming into the world, cf. the article on revelation in the Gospel of John. This particular verb (e)ce/rxomai) occurs often in John; when it is used by Jesus, it almost always refers to his coming from the Father (cf. 8:42; 16:27-28; also 13:3). In 16:30 the disciples confess this, indicating that now, indeed, they have come to know.

e)pi/steusan (“they trusted”)—In the Gospel of John the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and pisteu/w (“trust, believe”) are closely related, much moreso than in Paul or elsewhere in the New Testament. The verb pisteu/w occurs nearly 100 times in the Gospel, and another nine times in the First Letter—just less than half of all occurrences in the NT. It is found in key statements at the beginning and end of the Gospel (1:7, 12; 3:15-16ff; 19:35; 20:29, 31). In the prayer-discourse of chap. 17 it is used in the request for unity of all believers (with Christ and the Father) in vv. 20-21. That knowing Christ and trusting in him, from the standpoint of the Johannine discourses, mean essentially the same thing, can be seen by comparing verse 8 here with the earlier v. 3 (and cf. my note on this verse):

  • V. 3: “that they should know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth…”
  • V. 8: “and they knew truly that I came out (from) alongside you, and trusted that you sent me forth

a)pe/steila$ (“you se[n]t forth”)—What the disciples trust/believe is “that you sent me forth”, i.e. that God the Father sent Jesus (his Son) into the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus often states that he was sent by God, sometimes referring to Father as “the (One) who sent me”, with a)poste/llw (“set [forth] from”) and pe/mpw (“send”) being used more or less interchangeably—28 and 32 times, respectively. They are so close in meaning in the Gospel that translators rarely try to distinguish them, rendering both simply as “send”. That they are essentially synonymous is demonstrated by their use together in 20:21. However, the verb a)poste/llw expresses more clearly that Jesus is sent from (a)po/) God; as such, it is more appropriate in the context of the prayer-discourse, where it is used 7 times (vv. 3, 18 [twice], 21, 23, 25). It is applied both to the Father sending Jesus, and, in turn, to Jesus sending his disciples, into the world. This reciprocal relationship is also expressed in 13:20 and 20:21. The association of this sending with knowledge (of the Father) is conveyed clearly and concisely in verse 25:

“Father…the world did not know you, but I did know you, and these (with me) also do know that you se[n]t me forth”

In some ways, this last statement is a summary of the Johannine Gospel (cf. the Prologue, 1:5-13), using three parallel forms of the verb ginw/skw (all aorist):

  • The world did not know God
  • Jesus (the Son) knew, because he comes from the Father
  • The disciples (believers) also come to know, through Jesus

Note of the Day – November 7 (John 14:4-7)

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John 14:4-7 (continued, v. 7)

Following the great declaration in verse 6 (see yesterday’s note), Jesus adds the statement in v. 7, addressed directly to his disciples. The precise meaning remains uncertain, due to the textual difficulty surrounding the verb forms used by Jesus. I translate the verse initially based on the reading of the Nestle-Aland critical text:

“If you have known [e)gnw/kate] me, you will know [gw/sesqe] my Father also; and from now (on) you know [ginw/skete] him and have seen [e(wra/kate] him.”

It is in the first part, the conditional clause, where the most significant textual differences are involved. The NA text generally follows the key papyrus Ë66, along with a D 579, in the first two forms of the verb ginw/skw (“know”) that are used:

  • Perfect indicative (e)gnw/kate)—”if you have known me”, i.e. if (indeed) you have (truly) come to know me
  • Future indicative (gnw/sesqe)—”(then) you will know my Father”, i.e. just as you know me

However, the majority of manuscripts (including Vaticanus [B]), have a different initial form, which creates a somewhat different conditional clause. The Westcott-Hort [W-H] critical text follows B:

  • Pluperfect (e)gnw/keite)—”if you had known me”, the implication being that you do not yet truly known me
  • Pluperfect (h&|deite) with the conditional particle a&n—”you would have seen/known my Father”, i.e. you do not (yet) know Him

This difference of emphasis effects how the second half of the sentence should be understood. The majority reading (as in B, W-H) would be interpreted this way:

  • Right now—you do not yet (truly) know me, and so have not yet known (or seen) the Father
  • But from this point on—you do know me, and so have known/seen the Father

It creates a relatively straightforward contrast between the disciples’ understanding and awareness before and after the Last Discourse (and the death/resurrection of Jesus). This interpretation is favored, on internal grounds, by the overall context and setting of the Last Discourse. At a number of points, Jesus conveys the idea that the disciples are undergoing a transformative experience (cf. 13:8-10, 34f; 14:25ff; 15:3, 9ff, 17; 16:4ff, 21, etc), which will only be complete after the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit (13:7, 36; 14:16-17, 20, 25ff, 29; 15:26; 16:4, 6-7, 12ff, 22ff, 25-28). Especially favoring this view is Jesus’ (parallel) response to Philip in 14:9, which stresses the disciples’ lack of understanding.

On the other hand, the reading of Ë66, etc, NA, leads to a different sort of interpretation, which I would outline as follows:

  • The Disciples know Jesus (the Son) =>
    • They also know the Father
      And, if one has come to know the Father, then =>

      • One has truly seen the Father

In favor of this interpretation (and reading) is the step-parallel motif/method which appears frequently in the Gospel of John. Moreover, it creates, much moreso than in the Majority reading, a distinct and parallel relationship between knowing and seeing, which is so fundamental to the Johannine Gospel (cf. the prior article). Indeed, it much better suits the context of what follows in vv. 8-11, where the theme of seeing God the Father is emphasized.

Here is an instance where strong arguments can be offered on both sides, and so, the text and essential reading of the verse cannot be established with complete certainty. No reputable commentator today would treat this passage without acknowledging the textual variants and uncertainty which exists. Indeed, I would maintain that much is to be gained by a careful examination of both sets of variants summarized above. Given the importance of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”), ei&dw (“see, know”) and o(ra/w (“look at, perceive, behold”) in the Gospel of John, and the frequency with which they are used in the discourses of Jesus, the precise form of the verb, with the nuance of meaning that results from it, ought to be considered most carefully. This is an integral part of a faithful study of the Scriptures, and should not be ignored.

Note of the Day – November 6 (John 14:4-7)

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John 14:4-7 (continued, v. 6)

In response to the disciples’ question in verse 5 regarding where Jesus is going (v. 4, cf. the previous day’s note), he answers with the declaration of verse 6, one of the most famous statements in the New Testament:

“Yeshua says [le/gei] to him {Thomas}, ‘I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the way, and the truth and the life—no one comes toward the Father if not [i.e. except] through me.”

Both the statement in v. 4, and the question of v. 5, use the word o(do/$ (“way”) with an adverb/particle (of place) derived from the pronoun po/$ (“who/what/which”):

  • “the (place) which/where [o%pou] I am going…you have seen/known the way [o(do/$]” (v. 4)
  • “we have not seen/known what(ever place where) [pou=] you are going…how can we see/know the way [o(do/$]?” (v. 5)

It seems to suggest a specific location with a distinct path that leads to it (cf. Jesus’ illustration in Matt 7:13-14 par). However, Jesus’ response in verse 6 makes clear that he himself (emphatic pronoun e)gw/, “I”) is the path or way (o(do/$). This point of emphasis is all the more solemn in its use of the pronoun + verb of being (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”), with its Johannine connotation of identifying Jesus with God the Father (YHWH). For other “I am” sayings of Jesus in John, cf. 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 24; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 13:19; 15:1, 5; 18:5; and note also the foreshadowing of the expression in 1:20ff; 3:28, and the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in 1:1-15. Especially worth noting, is the parallel with 14:4-5 in 7:33ff, where Jesus says:

“(It is only) a little time yet (that) I am [ei)mi] with you, and I go away [u(pa/gw] toward the (one who) sent me. You will seek (for) me and you will not find [me], and the (place) where [o%pou] I am [ei)mi] you are not able to come (there).” (vv. 33-34)

There is an interesting parallelism within this saying:

  • ei)mi (“I am”)—Jesus’ presence with the people (i.e. his disciples)
    u(pa/gw (“I go under/away”)—his departure back to the Father
    o%pou (“the [place] where”)—where he is, with the Father
  • ei)mi (“I am”)—His presence with God the Father (1:1ff)

The statement that Jesus goes “toward” (pro/$) the Father is important, and the basic expression occurs numerous times in Gospel of John. In the prologue, the orientation of the eternal Word (Lo/go$) is toward (pro/$) God the Father (1:1-2), and the Son ultimately goes back toward Him (13:1, and throughout the Last Discourse). Similarly, the preposition is used for people (believers) who come to Jesus—toward him, toward the light, etc., as in 3:20-21; 5:40; 6:35, 37, 44-45, et al. It is only in coming toward the Son (Jesus), that is, by believing/trusting in him, that one is able to come toward the Father. This dynamic is not spelled out in detail, but the basic image in the Last Discourse is that Jesus will return (future eschatology) to bring believers with him to the Father (14:3; 17:24, etc). However, at the same time, in a different sense (‘realized’ eschatology), the Father (with the Son) is already present with believers, residing in them (14:23, etc). Both aspects are found in chapter 14, and both should be understood as relating to the idea of Jesus as the way to the Father. That he is the only way was expressed already in the parable/illustration of the shepherd and sheep-fold in chapter 10 (vv. 1-5)—Jesus is both the door leading into the sheepfold (vv. 7-9) and the shepherd who guides the sheep into the fold (vv. 11-16). Something of the same image of the door is certainly implied in 14:6, since Jesus speaks of believers as coming to the Father through (dia/) him.

The motif of the way (o(do/$) was extremely important in the earliest Christian tradition, though, without the book of Acts, this fact would have been almost completely lost to us. One of the earliest names or labels for Christians and Christianity was, collectively, “the Way” (o( o(do/$)—cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22. This is perhaps the most distinctive and precise parallel between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), since both referred to themselves this way. Both traditions would seem to derive from an interpretation of (and identification with) Isaiah 40:3ff, which, in combination with Mal 3:1ff, would be associated with the early Gospel traditions regarding John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—cf. Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4; Jn 1:23. For Isa 40:3 and the religious identity of the Qumran Community, cf. especially the ‘Community Rule’ [1QS] 8:12-16.

Jesus’ declaration in Jn 14:6 expands upon the identification of Jesus with “the way”:

“I am the way, and the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the life [zwh/]…”

Both words are important and occur frequently in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John. Probably here they are best understood as epexegetical, qualifying and characterizing Jesus as the Way—i.e., the “way of truth“, “way of life“—though certainly they can also be viewed as separate (related) “I am” declarations. For the idea of a way leading to life, see Gen 3:24; Psalm 16:11; Prov 6:23; 15:24; 16:17, as well as Jer 21:8 (also Ezek 3:18; 13:22) which prefigures Matt 7:14 and the “Two Ways” religious-ethical tradition that developed in early Christianity (Didache 1-6; Barnabas 18-21). Similarly, the “way of truth” has its background in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—cf. Psalm 86:11; 119:30; Tob 1:3; Wisdom 5:6; 1QS 4:15-16, etc.; the expression is found in 2 Pet 2:2 (cf. also v. 15). The Gospel message is called the “way of salvation” in Acts 16:17; cf. also 18:25-26. There is an echo of Jn 14:6 in the Gnostic text known as the Gospel of Truth (mid-2nd century?):

“This is the gospel of the one who is searched for, which was revealed to the ones who are perfect through the mercies of the Father—the hidden mystery, Jesus, the Christ. Through it he enlightened those who were in darkness. Out of oblivion he enlightened them, he showed (them) a way. And the way is the truth which he taught them.” (translation G. W. MacRae in the Nag Hammadi Library [NHL], ed. James M. Robinson)

Here we see one of the clearest differences between the Gospel of John and the Gnosticism of the 2nd century A.D. In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus himself (i.e. the person of Christ, the Son) is the way. By contrast, in the ‘Gospel of Truth’, the way is the gospel (message), the revelation of truth which Jesus brings to the Elect (believers). This is a seemingly small, but very significant difference, and it thoroughly colors how one understands “knowledge” (gnw=si$) from a Christian (and Christological standpoint). The emphasis on knowledge will be addressed in relation to the final verse (14:7) to be discussed here, in the next day’s note.