Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Examining John 17 and Christian Disunity

On his personal blog, Roman Catholic Bryan Cross has a post that consists of a flowchart (link to post). If you examine his flow chart, you'll notice that in the upper right hand corner he asks the reader to "Go read John 17." The reason to go read that chapter, per Bryan's flow chart, is if one thinks that "Christ intended the present disunity of Christians that is due to their interpretive disagreements."

I. Perspicuity and Interpretation

We do appreciate Bryan's implicit assertion that John 17 is perspicuous and his implicit concession that everyone is competent to interpret John 17. Sometimes we find Roman Catholic who argue that one needs the Roman Catholic church in order to properly understand Scripture, or that private judgment is an unreliable way to interpret Scripture.

One wonders, though, whether Bryan is aware of the fact that he is attempting to build the authority of the Roman Catholic church on the authority of private judgment and personal interpretation of Scripture. This ends up being problematic, because Rome demands that the individual submit to Rome's judgment and interpretation - but one who follows Bryan's path to Rome would not have accepted Rome's judgment or interpretation except on the authority of his own private judgment and personal interpretation of Scripture. As such, Bryan is setting up his proselytes to be in a self-undermined position. They have accepted Rome on the basis of private judgment and personal interpretation, but they are told by Rome that they cannot trust their private judgment and personal interpretation any more.

II. Actual Content and Text of John 17

Nevertheless, whether Bryan is strategically wise to encourage folks to read Scripture, reading Scripture is actually good. Here is John 17:
(1) These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: (2)as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. (3) And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

(4) I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (5) And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (6) I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. (7) Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. (8) For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. (9) I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. (10) And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

(11) And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. (12) While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. (13) And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

(14) I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (15) I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (16) They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

(17) Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (18) As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. (19) And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (20) Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; (21) that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (22) And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: (23) I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (24) Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

(25) O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. (26) And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
So, that is the whole chapter. We will proceed to the analysis of the chapter in the following sections.

III. Determining Christ's Intent in General

The passage doesn't come right out and say "I intend [X]." If it did, it would much easier to answer Bryan's question from the text. The text, though, does have several purposive statements. Those purposive statements are statements that are in the form "[Y] so that [X]" or more simply "[Y] that [X] may or should occur."

1. the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee (vs. 1)
2. thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him (vs. 2)
3. keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are (vs. 11)
4. those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled (vs. 12)
5. now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves (vs. 13)
6. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil (vs. 15)
7. for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth (vs. 19)
8. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (vss. 20-21)
9. the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me (vss. 22-23)
10. I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me (vs. 24)
11. I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them (vs. 26)

Finally, notice that Christ once directly speaks to what he wants. In verse 24 (and at item 10 above), Christ says "I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am," which means essentially that Christ is say that this is what he wants. Nevertheless, in other instances we see implicit that Christ wants something, which should be clear from the fact that Christ is praying to the father for something.

IV. Determining Whether Intent Met in General

Bryan's question asks us to determine whether Jesus intended the way things are today. This raises the general question of how we determine whether Jesus' intent in John 17 is met. There are several ways that we might judge this by comparing the facts of history to various senses in which Jesus might intend or will something.

Having read the passage in general, we note that there are no commands from Jesus to men. After a brief introduction, the entire chapter is a long prayer from Jesus to the Father. Thus, if we are using John 17 as the standard, the question is not whether Christians are obeying Jesus' commands, since there are no commands, as such, to obey stated in the text.

Another way to analyze God's will is from the standpoint of his decree of Providence. God's works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. Roman Catholics, at least in theory, agree that everything turns out in God's Providence according as God has foreordained. While open theists might imagine a world where Christ is disappointed by the way things turned out, Roman Catholics have to admit that God is both omniscient and omnipotent, and that consequently things do not turn out in a way that frustrates Providence. Even things that violate God's commands are used by God, in His Providence, for good (Genesis 50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.). So it cannot be the case (regardless of what John 17 says) that things have not turned out the way that God wanted in the sense of His Providence.

What other general sense could be meant by Bryan's question? We've already addressed the secret (Providence) and revealed (Commands) wills of God. There doesn't seem to be much left upon which to analyze whether things are the way that Christ intended, at least in general terms. There may, however, be one further consideration.

Jesus is here praying to the Father. Jesus Christ is asking the Father for various things. Bryan's question, viewed in light of the fact that John 17 is a prayer, sounds as though Bryan is asking whether the Father granted the Son's request. If the Father would not grant the prayers of His Only-Begotten Son, whose prayers would the Father grant? It seems impious to even leave open the possibility that the Father might refuse to hear the Son's prayer and grant him these requests.

What would be even more impious, however, would be to suggest that though Jesus was praying to the Father for something, mere mortals could stand in the way and prevent the Father from giving the Son what the Son wanted. Shall we ascribe to mere men a power greater than that of the Father and the Son? Surely such an ascription is nothing short of blasphemous.

It might appear from the demonstrations above that every avenue by which one might ask, even in general, whether God's will had been done has been foreclosed. There is, however, one general sense in which one could ask whether the present scenario is what Jesus Christ intended. That sense is the sense of the timing of the matter. After all, it may be that Jesus' requests will be fulfilled but have not yet been fulfilled. We will discuss this possibility when we consider each of the eleven statements of intent found in the chapter.

V. Considering Each Statement of Intent

1) The first request that Jesus is makes is for the Father to glorify the Son so that the Son may glorify the Father. Given that this request is prefaced by "the hour is come," we may understand that this request was granted by the Father in that Jesus was offered up on the cross, died, was buried, rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven.

2) This statement is not a request. It declares that Jesus has been given universal jurisdiction so that he can save the elect (those that the Father has given Him).

3) This request is that God would keep those given to Christ, so that they would be "one, as we are." This is the first request that relates to unity. More discussion on this request in the next section.

4) This statement is not a request. It declares that Jesus lost Judas so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

5) This statement seems to be a hybrid between a request and a bare statement. Jesus explains that the purpose of his prayer is so that the world might experience the joy of Jesus.

6) This request is that God would keep Jesus' people from the evil without removing them from the world.

7) This statement is not a request. It declares that Jesus sanctified himself so that his people might be sanctified through the truth. This is the first statement that involves the issue of truth, which is as close to interpretation as we are going to get in the passage. More discussion on this in the next section.

8) This is another hybrid, though this statement leans more toward being a request. The point of the statement is that Jesus is not praying only for those who presently believe on him, but for all those who will ever believe on him, that they all may be one. This is the second unity-related request, and we'll address it further in the next section.

9) There are a chain of statements in this section, none of which is specifically a request. First, Jesus indicates that he has passed on the glory he received from the Father to his people so that they would be one, and made perfect in one. Then Jesus indicates the further desire that the world would know that the Father had sent Jesus and loved the world as He loved Jesus. This third unity-related statement will be addressed further in the next section.

10) This request is that the elect would be with Jesus so that they would see the glory the Father gave to Jesus. Notice the similarity between this request and the first statement above, about glory.

11) This statement is not a request. In this statement Jesus declares that he and the love of the Father will be in the elect. Notice the connection as to love between this statement and the request at item 9 above.

VI. Focusing on the "Unity" Statements

Items 3, 8, and 9 each deal with unity. Here they are again:

3. keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are (vs. 11)
8. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (vss. 20-21)
9. the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me (vss. 22-23)

Notice that the unity is expressed in three different relations: in relation to the Father's preservation (3), in temporal relation (8), and in relation to glory/divinity/love (9).

A. In Relation to the Father's Preservation (vs. 11)

The first of three unity statements in the prayer comes in verse 11. In context, that verse says:

John 17:10-12

(10) And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. (11) And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. (12) While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

Notice that in the context, the issue is that Jesus, who has been keeping his people here (except Judas, for whom there was a different plan) is asking that as he goes away out of this world, the Father keep those people. The unity that Jesus is asking for seems to be a unity of love for God. The reason for supposing this is that the only one not kept by Jesus is Judas. Yet Judas departed from unity in betraying Jesus, not in starting a separate sect, or anything like that.

B. In Temporal Relation (vss. 20-21)

The second of the three unity statements comes in verses 20-21. Those verses state:

John 17:20-21
(20) Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; (21) that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

The new feature that is brought into this discussion of unity is one that transcends time. Jesus is not asking simply for the current believers to be unified, nor that future generations of believers be unified, but that all believers both then and now be unified. What is interesting about this is that the unity that Jesus is talking about is something that is not specifically tied to this present life. If it were, death would destroy the unity that Jesus is requesting, but Jesus is asking that "they all may be one," which suggests that death does not terminate it.

Furthermore, we can see why death does not terminate, when we observe that the unity is not necessarily unity of physical location, but unity in the Godhead: "in us" Jesus says. That kind of unity is a unity of love for the Father and the Son, a unity that is visible to the world, yes, but not a unity that is specific to this life.

C. In relation to Glory/Divinity/Love (vss. 22-23)

The third statement about unity comes in verses 22-23. In fact, this immediately follows the statement above, so I will simply continue from where I left off above, with the context immediately following:

John 17:22-24
(22) And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: (23) I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (24) Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

Notice that the way in which Jesus had brought about unity was by giving the glory that the Father gave to the Son, and that the aim of this glory giving was the process of being made perfect in unity. Again we see mention of the world seeing what has happened, and in this case they are specifically to see the love relation between Jesus and the Father reflected in the love relation between Jesus and his people. Notice as well that verse 24 ties the love and glory together again.

What then is the unity that Jesus is talking about here? It is a unity of love for the Father and the Son. It is a unity in which we are growing, and which will have its ultimate fulfillment in heaven.

VII. Going Back to the Big Picture

Focusing on the statements about unity can cause one to lose site of the big picture. It is important to remember that the statements about unity are part of a bigger picture. They are part of an overall flow of a prayer in which Jesus is thanking God for giving him some men, asking that God would keep them, stating his own intention to fill them with the love of the Father, and asking that they eventually be brought to where Jesus is so that they may see His glory. The overall theme is highly Calvinistic, but even if one seeks to find some other view of the text, the overall theme is one whose highest fulfillment is found in the life to come. It is in the life to come that we will find perfect unity, perfect love, perfect joy, perfect knowledge of the truth, and complete glory. All those things go together in the text. Here on earth those things are not complete, but we are still kept by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from the evil until we are made perfect in love, joy, knowledge of the truth, and unity.

This big picture is clear, when we do not seek to impose Roman Catholic ecclesiology on the text, and when we do not seek to treat portions of the text in isolation from the entire prayer. The prayer as a whole is practically triumphal. Jesus is aware of the glory that he will presently receive with respect to the cross, and wishes out of great love to give a good gift to his people, those whom the Father has given Him.

VIII. Conclusion

The unity that Jesus is talking about in the text is specifically a unity of love for the Father and the Son among believers. This is what Jesus intended, and what Jesus intended is being fulfilled. In this life, that love is still imperfect, but it will be made perfect in heaven, when Jesus' request that his people join him in heaven is granted. Thus, the unity that Jesus has in mind has nothing to do with forming sects, having large numbers of denominations, or the like. In fact, the unity that Jesus is talking about is perfectly consistent with a large number of denominations, provided that believers in any denomination love the Father and the Son and glorify them. With Bryan Cross, I encourage people who disagree to read John 17. If one reads it without imposing one's ecclesiology on the text, it becomes clear that the text has nothing to do with ecclesiology.

9 comments:

rfwhite said...

TF: in your view, how does the unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17 compare and contrast with the unity described in Eph 4.3-6?

Turretinfan said...

Dr. White:

Perhaps a separate post could be devoted to that, but briefly (starting at verse 1, where the sentence appears to start):

Ephesians 4:1-6
(1) I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, (2) with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; (3) endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4) There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

It seems to me as though verse 3, viewed in light of verse 2 has the emphasis on keeping peace within the unity that exists, with verses 4-6 explaining the fact of the unity.

In other words, Ephesians 4 reflects the fact of the unity that exists among all believers and emphasizes that in view of that unity we should treat the brethren mildly, patiently, etc.

That seems to be confirmed by the comments that follow in verses 7-16, which speaks of various things, including the growth in knowledge and faith that finds its perfection in the glory to come (something we don't really see until about verse 30).

It would be interesting to do a more detailed study of Ephesians 4 on this matter, as well.

Acts 2:43-47 would be another interesting passage to examine on this theme.

Ken said...

Thanks Turretfan -
That is the very best explanation I have ever read of John 17!
Press on in the Lord, brother!
Phil. 3:7-14
Ken Temple

rfwhite said...

TF:

I agree substantially with your observations. Here are a few that have struck me.

As you suggest, Eph 4.3-6 describes the unity both that is and that is to be kept. Even if the unity of Eph 4 is not identical to the unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17, it is closely related to it thematically, at least in that it is a unity that the Spirit of Jesus has already created in His church. Arguably, the unity that Paul describes is the unity that Jesus anticipated in 10.16 and 11.52 and for which he prays (effectually!) in vv 20-21.

Strikingly, the unity in Paul is expressed in seven confessional acclamations. It is, however, a unity of the church's immaturity from which she must grow into a unity of her adulthood through the proper operation of the Spirit's gifts, as 4.6-17 make clear.

Noteworthy too is that love (vv 2, 16) is key among the virtues by which the church grows and is built.

natamllc said...

TF,

commending you for excellent work here, I would focus on one bit and quote a passage that underscores this disunity/unity debate as put over by the RCC chap:::>

"....This ends up being problematic, because Rome demands that the individual submit to Rome's judgment and interpretation - but one who follows Bryan's path to Rome would not have accepted Rome's judgment or interpretation except on the authority of his own private judgment and personal interpretation of Scripture....".

My question is this: "how does the RCC have more understanding than Jesus when it comes to defining Unity?"

Here is Jesus establishing "unity" that fits all occasions, including both John 17 and that part Dr. White points to from the book of Ephesians. And one would be safe in concluding that walking in a lowly and humble manner before God and man brings about His Unity in the True Church in this dark and dangerous world.

Here is Jesus' response to a "point" John makes about "disunity", setting his private judgment aside by establishing "what" True "unity" with Him looks and is in this world, then and now:::>

Mar 9:38 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."
Mar 9:39 But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
Mar 9:40 For the one who is not against us is for us.

It appeared to John there was "disunity" among the "followers" of Jesus in His days of Flesh simply because that guy was not with them guys following Him personally.

Jesus lays to rest the reality of unity here, does He not?

I would say, in my opinion, He does.

And, to digress with a question:::> "how" can Jesus be in both places doing the Works of God, that is, being in one location with the Twelve, personally and in another place with those that John spoke about to Jesus, somewhat impersonally and all of these True follwers be unified to Him? :)

natamllc said...

Dr. White, if I might make an observation to your recent post regarding Paul by way of a question?

It does seem to me from where I sit that God opens up the reality of this adulthood unity, does He not, when we read these Words of Paul?


Rom 15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Rom 15:2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Rom 15:3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me."
Rom 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Rom 15:5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,
Rom 15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rom 15:7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Rom 15:8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
Rom 15:9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name."
Rom 15:10 And again it is said, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people."
Rom 15:11 And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him."
Rom 15:12 And again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope."
Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Rom 15:14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Now, of course, this "unity" here implies and is implicit within the understanding of it, rejection and division and disunity as is instructed here by Paul:::>

Tit 3:10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,
Tit 3:11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Ken said...

This is great -

"We do appreciate Bryan's implicit assertion that John 17 is perspicuous and his implicit concession that everyone is competent to interpret John 17."

Truly classic - he thinks it is clear according to his interpretation.

Sorry I mis-spelled, Turretinfan earlier.

Joy said...

This is great. As to your first point --I always think the same thing when I hear would-be apologists of the RCC point to scripture. We must be so annoying. :)

Jae said...

You said, "In fact, the unity that Jesus is talking about is perfectly consistent with a large number of denominations, provided that believers in any denomination love the Father and the Son and glorify them"...

"unity of love?"

I think there is an effort to wiggle around the True meaning of Christ's Words just to fit a certain theology.

Jesus said, "Sanctify them through thy TRUTH: thy Word is Truth. (18) As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. (19) And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the TRUTH. (20) Neither pray I for these alone, but for THEM also which shall believe on me THROUGH THEIR WORD; (21) that they all may be ONE; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be ONE in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

LOVE IS LOVE. Jesus knows that our love is imperfect by our human condition but the unity He's talking about in John 17 is more so with the sanctification of His disciples by the TRUTH of God's Word (Teaching) and thus through their (meaning: all disciples must have the UNITY of same mind) WORD in order the world might believe IN Jesus Christ as the One sent by the Father.

This is almost in direct verbatim from Apostle Paul when He made an appeal for Christian UNITY in I Cor 1:10

"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you ALL AGREE and that there be NO DIVISIONS among you, but that you be made complete in the SAME MIND and in the SAME JUDGMENT."

Unity in dictionary means: AGREEMENT, UNISON, UNION, ACCORD.

Peace and Grace.