So I send you: believing

john20 v21Thomas. Although many translations include “doubt” in v. 27 — and thus lead to the phrase “Doubting Thomas,” but there is no Greek word for “doubt” in the verse. The phrase do not be unbelieving, but believe contrasts apistos and pistos — the only occurrence of both these words in John. Simply put, the word does not mean “doubt” and Greek does not lack the equivalent words: diakrinomai, dialogismos, distazō, dipsychos, aporeō, and aporia. Lowe and Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains) give three definitions for the adjective – pistos.

  • pertaining to trusting — one who trusts in, trusting
  • pertaining to being trusted — faithful, trustworthy, dependable, reliable
  • pertaining to being sure, with the implication of being fully trustworthy — sure

Thus apistos would be “not having trust or faith or certainty.” Continue reading

So I send you: receiving

john20 v21“Receive the holy Spirit” The sacred writer had already introduced the giving of the Holy Spirit in John 7 in a scene during the Feast of Tabernacles in which the Spirit is promised at a future time when Jesus was glorified. In the Fourth Gospel it is at the crucifixion that Jesus is glorified in that his willing obedience manifests the nature of God, which is love. It is there on the cross that Jesus deliver the Spirit into the world (19:30), symbolized immediately afterward by the flow of the sacramental symbols of blood and water. Continue reading

So I send you: mission

john20 v21Commentary. Meanwhile the disciples, still reeling from the events of the last three days, gather in the upper room. In Matthew 28:8, Mary Magdalene’s reaction to the encounter with Jesus was “fearful but overjoyed.” Perhaps this too is the experience of the disciples. All John tells us is that they were gathered together, hiding as it were, for fear of the Jews (v.19)

These are the disciples who scattered and fled at Jesus’ arrest, who stood at a distance from the cross, and in the case of Peter denied Jesus. These are disciples that upon seeing Jesus appear within the room would have likely experienced shame as they remembered all they had done and failed to do. Yet Jesus’ words are not words of recrimination or blame, his first resurrected words to the disciples as a group is “Peace be with you.Continue reading

So I send you: context

john20 v21John 20:19-31 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” 24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name. Continue reading

An Interlude

prologue-johnVerses 9-18 are not part of our gospel reading for this 3rd Sunday in Advent (Year B), but let us at least summarize its content

The Word Incarnate (1:9–14) Attention is now fastened on the incarnation. Two points receive special emphasis: one is the astonishing fact that the Word of God, true God as he is, took upon him human nature, and the other is the even more astonishing fact that when he did this, people would have nothing to do with him. John is concerned that we should miss neither the good news of the incarnation of God, nor the tragedy of the human rejection of God. Continue reading

The Word Made Flesh

prologue-johnJesus was not born into a time of theological vacuum. Jewish theology was robust and with a history of succeeding and competing rabbinic schools. The followers of Jesus and the people of his time were Jews who were raised and lived this theology. It provided the framework for their daily lives and shaped their expectations about the Messiah, the Anointed One, who was to come. Among the gospels, John’s is the writings whose work expresses the fulfillment of those expectations and provides the theology for those that would follow Jesus. The basis of the theology is evident from the opening: John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God…” Continue reading

Context in the 4th Gospel

prologue-johnJohn the Evangelist has deftly changed the narrative presented in the Synoptic Gospels. Here in the fourth gospel the story of Jesus is not ultimately a story about Jesus; it is the story of God as God reveals God’s self in the person of Jesus. Thus the narrative is well placed in Advent at the head of the liturgical year: “In the beginning…Continue reading

It comes back to love

Holy-Face-of-Jesus-23I will not leave you…I will come to you. The second promise of continuing presence is Jesus’ promise of his own return (vv. 18-20). “Orphan” (orphanos) was a common metaphor to describe disciples left without their master but the use of the meta­phor here has a special poignancy in the light of the familial and domestic imagery that runs throughout Jesus’ words to his own (e.g., 13:33; 14:2-3, 10-14; 15:9-11; 16:21-24, 27). Jesus’ promise that he will not leave the disciples or­phaned recalls his use of the address “little chil­dren” in 13:33 and is an assurance that the intimacy of that familial relationship is not under­cut by Jesus’ departure. His promise to return (v. 18b) thus immediately counters any possible per­ception of Jesus’ death as his abandonment of his own. Continue reading

Love and holding dear

gospel_of_john_logo3Keeping His Commandments. If we now have some hint at what we mean by “commandments,” what does it mean to “keep” (tereo) them? The basic meanings of this word [TDNT 1:21 ff] are:

  1. keep watch over, guard
  2. keep, hold, reserve, preserve someone or something
  3. keep = not lose
  4. keep = protect
  5. keep, observe, fulfill, pay attention to

NOTE: that “obey” is not one of the meanings (although perhaps implied by “observe”).

Brian Stoffregen’s paraphrase of tereo as “hold dear” or perhaps, “consider important” seems to capture the sense of the passage. This interpretation goes beyond mere obedience. One may detest the words that one is hearing and obeying. One may detest the one giving the orders, but to avoid punishment, one obeys them. In contrast to this, phrasing it, “Holding Jesus’ word dear,” implies having a positive attitude towards that Word and the Word-giver. That is, wanting to hear and obey it out of love for the speaker.

Loving Jesus and “holding dear” what Jesus said and did are inseparable. In chapters 14-15, twice “love” comes before “keep” (14:15; 23) and twice “keep” comes before “love” (14:21; 15:10). In addition, “keeping” is used with “commandments” (entole) (14:15, 21; 15:10) and with “word” (logos) (14:23, 24; 15:20). Loving Jesus and “holding dear” his word and commandments are inseparable.

The connection between love and keeping (i.e., holding dear) the commandments is illustrated by Jesus himself in v. 31. He is doing what the Father has commanded him, so that the world might know that he is loving the Father. The purpose of Jesus’ obedience is witnessing. The results of that witnessing are given in v.23:

  1. The Father will love that one
  2. The Father and Son will come to that one
  3. The Father and Son will make a dwelling with that one

The promise we have from Jesus is that he (and his Father) will be present to those who, out of their love for Jesus, keep (i.e., hold dear) his word. These are those to whom Jesus will reveal himself.

In contrast to these who love Jesus and keep his word, Jesus next talks about “Whoever does not love me does not keep (hold dear) my words” (v. 24). Presumably these non-lovers and non-keepers do not receive the Father’s love or the abiding presence of the Father and the Son. This is understandable if the love and presence comes through the Word that one “holds dear” or “considers valuable,” those who do not have this relationship with the Word will not have the presence of the divine in their lives.

The Advocate. This is the first occurrence of the noun parakletos in the Fourth Gos­pel. This word occurs five times in the NT. It is used in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus; and four times in John’s Farewell Discourse (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

Perhaps it best not to translate the Greek word paraclete because there are too many possibilities. While the literal meaning of the related verb (parakaleo) means “to call to one’s side,” usually asking the other for help, the noun took on a legal meaning as “helper in court”. Thus we have translations like “counselor,” “advocate,” or “one who speaks for another” as well as the too general translation of “helper”.

If the Paraclete is a “helper in court,” whose helper is it? Clearly the Paraclete has a role as helper to the disciples (and, now, our helper); but there are also indications that it is Jesus’ helper. The Paraclete comes to speak to us for Jesus. In 14:26, it will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us. In 15:26, it will testify on Jesus’ behalf. The Paraclete comes to speak to us on behalf of Jesus. In our text, the Paraclete will teach us “everything” and remind us of “all” that Jesus has said to us. (In 16:8; its topics are more specific: the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment.) It is not too much of a stretch to say that the Paraclete “helps” us to hear Jesus’ word, which, as noted above, brings the continuing presence of Jesus and his Father to us. The Paraclete reveals Jesus to us, but those without the help of the Paraclete will not properly hear or remember the word of Jesus’ presence.

What the Paraclete does is not new, but is a continuation of the work of Jesus. This can be seen clearly in the description of the Paraclete as the Spirit of truth in v. 17. To call the Paraclete the “Spirit of truth” is to identify the Paraclete as more than a true—i.e., truthful—Spirit. As the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete shares in the work of Jesus, because Jesus is the truth (14:6). The work of the Paraclete is thus to keep the truth of Jesus present to the world after Jesus’ departure (cf. 16:7-11). As with the unity of the Father and Jesus in their work, the relationship between Jesus and the Paraclete is also defined by the unity of their work.

The response of the world to the Paraclete’s presence echoes the response of the world to Jesus, a division between those who receive and those who do not (cf. 1:10-13). Yet the focus of vv. 16-17 is not ultimately on this division, but on the assurance that the presence of the Paraclete gives to Jesus’ “own.” Knowledge of the Paraclete is defined as the Paraclete’s abid­ing with the believing community (v. 17b). The Paraclete is repeatedly described in ways that emphasize its presence in and relationship with the faith community: “will be with you forever”; “abides with you”; and “will be in you.” The Paraclete ensures that the revelation of God in the incarnation does not end with Jesus’ death and return to God.

Notes

John 14:16 another Advocate: Jesus is the first advocate (paraclete); see 1 John 2:1, where Jesus is an advocate in the sense of intercessor in heaven. The Greek term derives from legal terminology for an advocate or defense attorney, and can mean spokesman, mediator, intercessor, comforter, consoler, although no one of these terms encompasses the meaning in John. The Paraclete in John is a teacher, a witness to Jesus, and a prosecutor of the world, who represents the continued presence on earth of the Jesus who has returned to the Father. another: There are two Greek words meaning “another”, allos and heteros. It is sometimes argued that the first means another of a similar kind, the second another of a different kind, and because allos is used in v.16 the other Advocate is of the same kind as Jesus himself. However, the way allos and heteros are used in the Fourth Gospel and the NT as a whole does not support this distinction.

John 14:17 the Spirit of truth: The Advocate is described as “the Spirit of truth” here and in two other places in this Gospel (15:26; 16:13). In this respect, the Advocate is like Jesus, who revealed the truth (8:31–36, 40, 45–46; 16:7; 18:37) and embodied the truth of God (1:14, 17; 14:6). This expression was also used at Qumran community (Jewish), where it is a moral force put into a person by God, as opposed to the spirit of perversity. The Spirit of truth is more personal in John; it will teach the realities of the new order (14:26), and testify to the truth (14:6). While it has been customary to use masculine personal pronouns in English for the Advocate, the Greek word for “spirit” is neuter, and the Greek text and manuscript variants fluctuate between masculine and neuter pronouns. it remains with you, and will be in you: the manuscripts are not consistent on the tenses of the two verbs in this verse, while remains is always present tense, is/will be varies from present to future tense (differing only by an accent mark) in otherwise consistent manuscripts. Without repeating the myriad of explanations, perhaps it is no more complicated that the “former” Paraclete (Jesus) is now with them while “another Advocate” (v.16) will be in them – always realizing that “another Advocate” takes place after and because of the departure of Jesus. In you:The expression en hymin is also validly translated as “among you” and is perhaps indicated given that “you” is plural. But it should also be noted that the promise will become individualized in vv.21-23.

Love and Commandments

gospel_of_john_logo1Commentary. Jesus’ discourse (at this point) begins to move in a new direction by focusing on the ways in which belief in Jesus empowers the believing community (v.12 ff). Jesus has emphasized that the works he does are not his own but are the Father’s; now Jesus begins to emphasize the link between his works that of the believing community. Our gospel text describes two dimensions of the believer’s relationship with Jesus: (1) the inseparability of one’s love of Jesus and the keeping of his commandments (vv.15, 21, 23-24) and (2) the abiding and indwelling of the presence of God, even after Jesus’ death and departure with those who love him (vv.16-20, 22-23). Continue reading