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Note of the Day – August 9 (Revelation 2:12-17)

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Revelation 2:12-17

The third letter of chapters 2-3 is addressed to the believers in Pergamum (Grk. Pe/rgamo$, modern Bergama). The name (i.e. a fortified site, or citadel) seems to refer to the ancient (pre-Roman) acropolis, which was renowned for its impressive walls and buildings. It was the center of a kingdom which was absorbed into the Roman Empire (in the mid-2nd century B.C.) and became a leading imperial city, even after the center of the provincial government had shifted to Ephesus.

The distinctive details in the letter are discussed here in turn (for the letter-format itself, cf. the earlier note).

Rev 2:12b

“These (things are) said (by) the (one) holding the sharp two-mouthed [i.e. double-edged] sword…”

Here, following the format in all the letters, the phrase introducing the risen Jesus is taken from the vision in 1:11-16ff—in this case, from the description in v. 16. The motif of the sword, emphasizes both the danger for believers of being put to death for their faith, as well as the judgment which is about to come upon evil-doers (utilizing the military aspect of the eschatological/Messianic image, Isa 11:4, etc [cf. 2 Thess 2:8]).

Rev 2:13

As in the previous letter (to Smyrna, cf. the most recent note), the praise given to the congregations is related to their faithfulness and endurance in the midst of (religious) persecution:

“I have seen where you (have) put down house—(in) the (place) where the ruling-seat of the Satan (resides)—and (yet) you (have) held firm(ly) to my name, and did not deny the trust of [i.e. in] me, even in the days of Antipas my trust(worthy) witness, who was killed off (from) alongside you, (in) the (place) where the Satan puts down house [i.e. dwells/resides].”

The emphasis here has to do with the location (i.e. Pergamum) where the believers currently reside. It is marked by a two-fold (parallel) expression:

  • “the (place) where [o%pou] the ruling-seat [qro/no$, i.e. throne] of the Satan (resides)”
  • “the (place) where [o%pou] the Satan resides [katoikei=, lit. puts down house]”

This is a remarkable declaration that “the Satan” (o( satana=$) both resides in Pergamum and has his “seat of rule” (qro/no$) there. The title “Satan”, of course, derives from ancient Israelite and Jewish tradition, by which the (heavenly/angelic) opponent of God’s people, so understood, came to be described with the title /f*c* (“[the] adversary”)—cf. Job 1:6ff; Zech 3:1-2; 1 Chron 21:1. The Greek transliteration of this title ([o(] satana=$), generally treated as synonymous with [o(] dia/bolo$ (“[the] one casting [slander/evil] throughout”, i.e. ‘Devil’), occurs 36 times in the New Testament, including 8 times in the book of Revelation (5 in chaps. 2-3).

How should we understand the specific use of the term here, with the idea that Satan lives (and rules) in Pergamum? There are several possibilities:

  • It refers to Pergamum’s legacy as a leading center of Roman rule/government in Asia Minor. [#1]
  • It is an allusion to Pergamum as the first city in which the imperial cult (i.e. venerating the Emperor) was established in Asia Minor (c. 29 B.C., in honor of Augustus and Roma, the goddess personifying Rome). [#2]
  • It is a colorful reference to the influence of Greco-Roman (pagan) religion and culture (in Asia Minor) generally; the specific application to Pergamum is circumstantial. [#3]
  • It relates primarily to the persecution of Christians, which, in Pergamum, has led to at least one believer being put to death. [#4]
  • It refers back to the Jewish opposition to Christians (verse 9; also 3:9), which may have involved the denouncing of believers to the provincial authorities; there, such Jewish opponents were called “a gathering together [i.e. synagogue] of Satan”. [#5]
  • More generally, it refers to false teaching and religious belief/practice [#6]

All of these relate to definite themes and points of emphasis (and conflict) both in the letters and the book as a whole:

  • The influence of Greco-Roman culture and religion.
  • The images and practices surrounding the imperial cult, in particular.
  • The persecution of believers.
  • Religious identity of believers, both in relation to Judaism and the surrounding Greco-Roman culture.
  • False teachings and beliefs which are gaining influence in the congregations.

Here, in this letter specifically, the twin motifs of persecution and false teaching appear to frame the issue, though it is certainly also related to the influence of Greco-Roman (pagan) religion. Central to the message in verse 13 is the idea of faithfulness and endurance in the midst of persecution, even to the point of death—as in the case of one Antipas, about whom we otherwise have no reliable information. This is the first clear instance in the New Testament where the term “witness” (ma/rtu$) is tied directly to the idea of being put to death for being a Christian. This, of course, would come to be the primary denotation of the term, in its special Christian sense, transliterated in English as “martyr”.

Rev 2:14-15

Verses 14-16 make up the blame/rebuke portion of the “mixed” message of the letter, which, according to the regular formula, begins, “But I hold (this) against you…” The use of the adjective o)li/go$ reflects the primarily positive side of the message (i.e., their faithfulness in the midst of persecution): “…I hold a few (thing)s against you”. The complaint, or charge, is two-fold:

  • “you have (among you)…(one)s grabbing (hold) firmly [kratou=nta$] (to) the teaching of Bil’am…” (v. 14)
  • “you have (among you) (one)s grabbing (hold) firmly [kratou=nta$] (to) the teaching of the Nikolaitans…” (v. 15)

The use of the verb krate/w (“take strong/firm [hold of]”) is meant as a clear contrast to the faithful believers in v. 13, who are said to have “grabbed (hold) firmly” [kratei=$] to Jesus’ name. If the issue was persecution in verse 13, here it is the influence of false teaching among believers. Two kinds of such teaching are indicated.

The teaching of Bil’am (v. 14)—The name Bil±¹m (Heb <u*l=B!), transliterated in Greek (as Balaa/m), and in English (as “Balaam”), derives from the book of Numbers in the Old Testament, and draws upon several ancient lines of tradition, including one which is positive, and another which is decidedly negative:

  • Positive (Num 22:1-6ff; 23-24): The king of Moab (Balak) called on the seer/prophet Bil’am to curse Israel, which, according to the ancient (magical) worldview, meant bringing about Israel’s demise. However, Bil’am, under God’s influence, instead blessed Israel, uttering four oracles which announced what God would do for his people.
  • Negative (Num 25): The Baal-Peor episode, in which Israelites joined together (intermarriage?) with Moabite women and then took part in Canaanite (pagan) religious ceremonies (vv. 1-5ff); this is combined with a (separate?) tradition involving Midianite women (vv. 6-15ff). Bil’am’s involvement is not mentioned in this narrative, but only through a separate notice in 31:16 (cf. also Josh 13:22).

The statement here in Rev 2:14 combines both traditions, though it is certainly the latter which is primarily in view, in accordance with the dominant (negative) association with the name of Balaam among Jews and Christians at the time (cf. 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 11)—Jewish tradition generally depicted Balaam as a magician and false prophet. The mention of Balak (the Moabite king) here may also be a subtle way of connecting false religious teaching and practice (represented by Balaam) with the imperial Roman government (i.e. Balak), the two being closely connected.

The false teaching of “Balaam” (Bil’am) is specifically defined here, according to the language of the ancient tradition, as:

“to throw (down) in the sight of Yisrael something to trip (them) up [ska/ndalon]—to (make them) eat (offering)s slaughtered to images, and to engage in ‘prostitution’.”

The key terms are: (1) ei)dwlo/quta and (2) the verb porneu/w. The first is a plural noun which essentially means “(offering)s slaughtered [vb. qu/w] to an image [ei&dwlon]”. It is a uniquely Jewish (and Christian) way of referring to sacrificial offerings made to Greco-Roman (pagan) deities, for which the common term was i(ero/quton, i.e. a sacred offering slaughtered (more rarely, qeo/quton, offering “slaughtered to [a] god”). The Jewish/Christian term is a pejorative, reflecting the basic idea that the other (pagan) deities have no real existence, but are represented merely by lifeless images.

In the Greco-Roman cities, food sacrificed to deities could be eaten as part of a religious ceremony; but the meat (from animal sacrifices) could also be subsequently purchased in the marketplace and eaten in a wide range of ordinary (secular) settings. For Jews and early Christians, this aspect of the surrounding Greco-Roman culture was particularly problematic, and is addressed at several points in the New Testament—most notably, in the Jerusalem “decree” (Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25), and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-10. The view among most early Christian leaders seems to have been that believers must absolutely avoid eating any food that had been sacrificed to “idols”. However, Paul, while sharing this basic outlook, takes a more careful, nuanced approach when addressing the Corinthians, devoting three whole chapters to the subject. Here, in the letter to the believers in Pergamum, no such consideration or qualification is given—those who allow/accept the eating of food sacrificed to idols, and especially, those who teach and encourage this, are characterized as “Balaam” and are condemned in no uncertain terms.

The verb porneu/w literally refers to taking part in prostitution (i.e. sexual intercourse for hire), but could also be used (together with the related noun pornei/a) as a catch-term for any sort of sexual behavior which was deemed immoral or improper. While it is possible that the message here does refer to sexual immorality (it is certainly associated with “Balaam” through the tradition[s] in Numbers 25), the overall context suggests otherwise. Frequently in the Old Testament “prostitution” (using the comparable Hebrew hnz) was used figuratively, as a way to symbolize unfaithfulness in a religious sense (i.e. to God). Any sort of false or illicit religious practice, regardless of whether a sexual component were involved, could be called “prostitution” (tWnz+[T^], pornei/a). Thus, it is perfectly appropriate to regard the improper participation of believers in Greco-Roman religious culture—i.e., through the eating of food sacrificed to “idols”—as committing pornei/a (cf. 1 Cor 6:12-20, in light of Paul’s following discussion in chaps. 8-10). Most likely, the term here is not limited strictly to the question of food sacrificed to idols, but extends to the influence of (pagan) Greco-Roman culture as a whole (cf. again, the association of ei)dolw/quta and pornei/a in Acts 15:20, 29).

The teaching of the Nikolaitans (v. 15)—The group called “Nikolaitans” was mentioned in the first letter (v. 6). As I indicated in the earlier note, we have virtually no reliable information about the teachings or practices of this group. Many commentators assume, based on the context here, that they followed in the example of “Balaam” and taught that it was permitted for believers to eat food which had been sacrificed to other deities (cf. above). However, I am by no means convinced of this. The point of the comparison seems to be that there are two distinct groups (and sets of teachings) involved in vv. 14-15: (1) those who accept/allow the eating of the sacrificed food, and (2) the Nikolaitans. We simply cannot be certain of what the Nikolaitans taught or believed, other than: (a) they seem to have exercised considerable influence among Christians in Asia Minor, and (b) their teachings/practices were serious enough that, in the message, the risen Jesus could be said to “hate” (vb. mise/w, v. 6) them and their “works”. I find rather dubious the suggested association between the name Nikolaos (Niko/lao$, “victor[ious] over the people”) and an etymology of Bil’am as “he destroyed the people” (<u* ul^B*), though this is at least possible.

Rev 2:16

The warning, stern and foreboding, is given in verse 16, drawing upon the earlier reference to the two-edged (lit. two-mouthed) sword that comes out of the risen Jesus’ mouth (v. 12):

“Therefore you must change (your) mind(set) [i.e. repent]; and if not, (then) I (will) come to you quickly and will make war with them in [i.e. with] the sword of my mouth.”

It is interesting to note the way that the focus shifts here. While the call goes out to the believers in Pergamum as a whole (“you must [repent]…”), the threat of making war is narrowed to the ones who are erring/sinning (i.e. those in vv. 14-15): “…I will come to you [soi] and will make war with them [au)tw=n]…” As noted previously, the motif of the sword coming out of the mouth is an eschatological and Messianic image (coming mainly from Isa 11:4 and 49:2). However, it is not clear whether its use here refers to the end-time Judgment in the full, traditional sense, or to a local manifestation of God’s Judgment (through Jesus) which might take place at some point prior. Probably it is best to view the idea of “Jesus coming” as a generalized expression signifying here “the coming of judgment” upon evil-doers. The orientation would still be eschatological, but not in as precise and dramatic a context as the reference in 2 Thess 2:8.

Rev 2:17

The final exhortation and promise in the letters always beings “(To) the (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious…”. Here the promised (heavenly) reward is two-fold (“I will give to him…”):

  • “(to eat) of the hidden manna”
  • “a white pebble” upon which was written “a new name…which no one has seen [i.e. known] if not [i.e. except] the (one) receiving (it)”

According to Old Testament/Israelite tradition, after the manna had ceased to fall from heaven (Josh 5:12), it only existed through the portion stored away in the tabernacle (Exod 16:32-34), and then, it would seem, in the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed, it was “hidden away” by God, to be restored to his people in the future, when it would come down again from Heaven (2 Baruch 29:8; Mekilta on Exodus 6.82; cf. also 2 Macc 2:4-8, etc; Koester, p. 289-90). In the great Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, Jesus plays on this idea of believers eating the manna (“bread”) which comes down from heaven, which he identifies with his own person (his word, his sacrificial death, the Spirit he gives). Here in the book of Revelation, the eating of the “hidden manna” is more or less synonymous with the earlier motif of “eating of the tree of life” (v. 7)—i.e., partaking of Eternal Life at the end-time. There may also be a contrast here between the errant Christians who eat food sacrificed to idols, and the faithful believers (who do not), and, as a result, are allowed to eat of the heavenly food (“manna”).

The second reward is “a white pebble”, which may also echo the motif of the manna (both are small and white in color, cf. Exod 16:31). Of course, white is also a common symbol of purity, and the believers who receive this white pebble (yh=fo$) have likewise kept themselves pure (from sin, in faith, etc). There are several possible meanings to the idea of a “name” being written on the pebble (cf. Koester, p. 290):

  • It indicates a favorable judgment—white (instead of black) indicating victory or vindication, through the vote, in court, etc.
  • A similar use of a white pebble was involved in determining who would be the one to receive certain honors.
  • A name written on a stone could conceivably allude to a kind of (magical) protection for the person—the inscribed stone functioning like a talisman.

The second option seems most probable—that it signifies a special honor for the believer, much like the wreath/crown in verse 10. What is the significance of the “new name” written on the pebble, which is known only to the one who receives it? There would seem to be two possibilities:

  • It is a special name, i.e. of honor, etc, given by Christ, to the believer (cp. Matt 16:17; John 1:42)
  • It alludes to the name of Jesus and/or the name of God (cf. Phil 2:9f). The idea that the name of God is something ‘hidden’ which is made known (by Jesus) to believers is found at several points in the Gospel of John (e.g., 17:6ff).

The latter option would seem to be preferable, in light of the similar language in 3:12 (and cf. also 14:1; 19:12ff; 22:4). The believer’s new “name” is that of Jesus’ himself—not necessarily the simple name “Yeshua/Jesus”, but the name which identifies him with God (Son and exalted One of the Father). As I have discussed previously, a name, in ancient thought, typically represented and embodied the true nature and essence of the person.

Saturday Series: John 17:12

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

John 17:11-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Note on 1 John 5:18

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

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

Each reading has a different emphasis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 – May 29

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Matthew 18:18-20 (continued)

The previous note examined the “Great Commission” by Jesus at the close of the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 28:18-20), especially the command to baptize in vv. 19-20a. Today I will be looking in detail at the specific phrase “into the name of…” [ei)$ to\ o&noma tou=…].

The Name

Ancient Near Eastern cultures treated names and naming in a quite different manner than modern Western society. The name had a dynamic, magical quality, effectively embodying the character and essence of the person. This was all the more true with regard to religious belief—to “call upon” or to invoke the name of a deity was fundamental to ancient religious practice and identity (Gen 4:26b, etc). The invocation and use of a divine name also had to be done with great care—there was considerable power involved, and danger if handled improperly; this is the situation which underlies the famous command regarding the name of YHWH/Yahweh (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11). In addition to its use in religious ritual, the divine name would be invoked in oaths, treaties and other agreements—both for the purpose of guaranteeing truthfulness and fidelity, and also to bind the oath or agreement, etc, under the power of the god. There would be divine blessing for the one who fulfills and agreement, but divine curse or punishment for the one who violates it. Indeed, there was believed to be theurgic power and efficacy in the name, which could be invoked over just about any area of daily life.

The Name of Jesus

For early Christians, it was specifically the name of Yeshua (Jesus) which was central to religious belief and practice. Already in the earliest layers of Christian tradition, the belief in Jesus’ deity—as the Son of God who is now seated in glory at the right hand of God the Father (YHWH)—was well-established. All aspects of Christian religious life took place according to the name of Jesus. This is expressed clearly in the book of Acts; note the following examples:

  • The citation of Joel 2:32 in Acts 2:21 (“everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord”), where the Lord (YHWH) is now understood as referring to Jesus.
  • Healing and exorcism miracles are performed “in the name of Jesus”—Acts 3:6; 4:7, 10, 30; 16:18; 19:13, and also tied to faith in his name (3:16). Cf. Mark 9:38 par; Matt 7:22; Lk 10:17.
  • Life-giving (and saving) power is conveyed through the name of Jesus—Acts 4:12; 10:43; 22:16; cf. also Jn 1:12; 2:23; 20:31.
  • The related idea of being baptized in Jesus’ name (cf. below).
  • Preaching and teaching was done in the name of Jesus—Acts 4:17-18; 5:28, 40; 8:12; 9:15, 27-28.
  • The religious identity of believers was tied to the name of Jesus—Acts 5:41; 9:15-16, 21; 15:14, 17; 19:17; 21:13; 26:9.

In the Gospels, there are number of sayings and teachings by Jesus where he refers to “my name”—Mark 9:37-39; 13:6 pars; [16:17]; Matthew 18:20; also Luke 24:47. Especially significant is the teaching in the Discourses of John, cf. Jn 14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-26; also 3:18. The emphasis there is on believers requesting of God the Father in Jesus’ name. Also important is the related idea that Jesus himself has come—i.e. speaks, works and acts—in the name of the Father (Jn 5:43; 10:3, 25; 12:28; 17:6, 11-12, 26; cf. also Mk 9:37; 11:9 pars; Matt 23:39 par). This latter point will be discussed further in the next daily note.

Baptism in Jesus’ Name

The central, intiatory act of baptism, marking one’s conversion and entry into the Community of believers, in the early Christian period was performed specifically “in the name of Jesus”. Given the religious importance and significance of this (divine) name (cf. above), this is hardly surprising. However, it is important to note that is especially prominent in the earlier Christian tradition (as recorded in the book of Acts), and is less commonly attested in later periods. Here are the key passages, where baptism is said to be:

  • Acts 2:38—”upon [e)pi/] the name of Yeshua into/unto a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]” (Note: some MSS read “in” [e)n] instead of “upon”). This follows precisely the formula in Luke 24:47.
  • Acts 8:16—”into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua”, after which they receive the Holy Spirit (v. 17)
  • Acts 10:48—”in [e)n] the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed”, after having received the Spirit prior (vv. 44ff)
  • Acts 19:5—”into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua”, parallel to believers trusting in(to) [ei)$] Jesus (v. 4)
  • Cf. also 1 Cor 1:13, 15—”into the name of…”

Matthew 28:19 uses the same idiom of baptism “into [ei)$] the name of…”. It was also said of John’s baptism that it was “into [ei)$] a change-of mind [i.e. repentance]” (Matt 3:11, cf. Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38), where the preposition ei)$ indicates purpose or result. Elsewhere in Gospel tradition, John’s baptizing is described as being “of [i.e. for, leading to] repentance” and “into [ei)$] release [i.e. forgiveness]” (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4), i.e. for the purpose of (and resulting in) the forgiveness of sins. There are two key aspects of the use of ei)$ (“into”) with regard to baptism:

  1. It reflects trust/faith in(to) Jesus—Matt 18:6 par; Acts 10:43; 19:4-5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18. The idiom is especially frequent in the Gospel of John: Jn 2:11; 3:16, 18, 36; 4:39; 6:29, 40; 7:31, 38-39; 8:30; 9:35-36; 10:42; 11:25-26, 45, 48; 12:36-37, 44, 46; 14:1, 12; 16:9; 17:20. The parallel use of e)n (“in”) at Jn 3:15; 8:31 strongly suggests that the expressions “trust in” and “trust into” are virtually equivalent (cf. Mk 1:15; Acts 18:8). Also generally synonymous is the phrase “trust upon [e)pi] (the Lord) Jesus”, cf. Acts 3:16; 9:42; 11:17; 16:31.
  2. It signifies entrance into the Community and spiritual/symbolic union with Jesus. This theme is developed considerably by Paul in several of his letters, where we find the phrase “dunked/baptized into (the) Anointed {Christ}”. The key verse is Galatians 3:27—”as many of you (as) have been dunked into (the) Anointed, you have sunk in(to the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]”. The emphasis is no longer on the name of Jesus, even though Paul still uses this language (cf. 1 Cor 1:2, 10ff; 5:4; 6:11; Col 3:17; 2 Thess 1:12; 3:6, etc); rather, it is on the person of Christ. In Romans 6:3-4, baptism is interpreted as symbolizing the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus (cf. Col 2:12). Cf. also 1 Cor 10:2; 12:13—the latter reference specifically emphasizing baptism into one body (the Community as the body of Christ) and in one Spirit (Eph 4:4-5).