Tuesday, May 4, 2021

John 15:9-17

This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year B, most recently May of 2021.

The Greek in this little section unlocks many possibilities that the English disguises.  First, the Greek reminds us that Jesus is speaking to a group, not just individuals.  Second, various words for love are used here.  This reminds us that in Christ, divine love means love of humans, even if it comes to laying down one’s life.  Third, Jesus here actually says he lays us down.  The Greek totally covers this one up; he does not simply declare the heroics of his own death, but tells us he has chosen us to die and bear fruit.

Key Words:

φιλος ("friend"; 15.13;14)  Often the word "φιλος", related to φιλεω, is seen as a lesser type of love than αγαπη.  While there may indeed be a distinction, 15:13 brings them together:  αγαπη plays itself in acts of love for φιλος.  So, either we can rule out the possibility of a distinction between the two... or we can see a tension here that is beautifully resolved.  If we take αγαπη to mean divine love, than we are left with this -- what is divine love?  Sacrifice for humans.  Where do divine love and human love meet?  In the cross!  Where do divine and human love meet?  In the lives of the disciples as we live out Christ's command to love one another, through the trials of life.

ψυχη ("life" or "soul"; 15:13)  Jesus uses the word here that we often translate as "soul" or "mind," as in "psychology."  Its use in this verse reminds us it can also mean "life" in its entirety.  To think of it another way, when Jesus dies on the cross, he is giving up everything, not simply his body. ... Likewise I think we will also give up everything.  (or sentimentally, mothers for sure give up everything!)

εκλεγω ("choose" or "select"; 15:16).  This word does mean choose, really elect.  It also shows up in Ephesians 1:4; 1 Cor 1:27-28 and also significantly, in Jesus' Baptism in Luke where God declares him the chosen one.  The word noun form of this word also shows up in Romans (8:33; 9:11; 11:7 and 28) and elsewhere.  God's choice, not ours.

εν υμιν ("in you"; 15:11)  Throughout this section, the verbs (and pronouns) are in the second person PLURAL.  Jesus says abide in me as I abide in all y'all.  Or even "among all y'all."  Helpful to remind people that abiding in Jesus has a communal dimension.

τιθημι ("lay down" or "appointed"; 15:13 and 15:16) This verb comes up at some very powerful times in John's Gospel: John 13, when Jesus lays down his cloak to wash his disciples feet.  In this case:  the verb that Jesus uses for "appoint here" is "τιθημι"; this is the same verb that Jesus uses when he says, "I lay down my life." In other words, a more natural translation is:  "I lay you down." 

Jesus has laid down his life, now he lays  the disciples down that they would bear fruit.  The translation of "appoint" is disappointing because the average reader misses the connection.  Just as Jesus laid down, so will he lay us down. 

Maybe not key, but I found it interesting: 

μεινατε (aorist form of "abide"; 15:9)  The word μενω appears throughout John's Gospel.  I've written about its significant in many other posts.  What I find fascinating here is its particular form:  aorist imperative.  Typically aorist imperative is used for simple commands or commands that would have a finite point or ending:  fill the water jugs or fetch the donkey.  Yet here Jesus is telling the disciples to "abide in him" in a short-term (?), simple (?) or bounded (?) fashion??  None of these quite make sense.  Especially since the verb μενω appears in the present tense regularly throughout the Gospel of John.  The father abides with Jesus (14:10); Jesus abides with the disciples (14:25) and the Spirit is abiding with them and will be with them after he is gone (14:17).  In each of these cases, the verb is on-going, suggesting that God's presence is on-going.

So why here an aorist command?  I found one online source that argued an aorist active imperative:  "means the action that the verb is describing is the result of something that happened in the past and it gives rise to the action that you are commanded to take in the present."  This would make sense in this case, but I am not sure that one could argue that all active aorist imperatives have such linearity programmed into them; or that there is any command which is not the result of previous action in some way!  I will continue to explore this.

I suggest that this verb is in the aorist because Jesus is asking them to stay with him during his trial.  He gives the same command to the disciples in the garden in the synoptics.  (Also then in the aorist: Matthew 26:38 and Mark 14:34).  Also, the aorist use of "love" suggests that Jesus is referring now to the cross.  It feels like a more intimate and immediate command:  Stay in my love for I am going to lay down my life for you.

Grammar concept: Uncertainty vs contingency with ινα

15.11 The translators here come up against a difficult matter. The ινα ("hina") clause forces the Greek to use the subjunctive.  In English the subjunctive shows hypothetical or possible outcomes:  If I win the lottery, e.g.  But in Greek the point of the subjunctive is not always to show uncertainty about the outcome but rather the contingency.  With ινα the subjunctive signals the latter matter is dependent on the former matter. In short, your joy is "contingent," not on fate or randomness, but on the fact that these things were said:  "I have said this to you so your joy is complete."

When we add in English, "Your joy MAY be complete" to translate the subjunctive mood, we are expressing UNCERTAINTY while the Greek wants to show CONTINGENCY.  Nothing is uncertain about our joy now that Jesus words have been spoken.

No comments: