Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (Jan. 1975) 37-46.

Copyright 1975 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.




Topics from the Gospel of John

Part I: The Person of the Father



Merrill C. Tenney


The Gospel of John is a unique document. It differs from the

Synoptic Gospels in its language, in its structure, and in its approach

to the Person of Christ. It differs from the Epistles because it is

concerned more with viewing Christ through the glass of personal

contact than through His significance in the theology of the church.

It is unique in religious literature because it combines a mystical

relationship ("Abide in me, and I in you," John 15:4) with a

genuine historical framework. The Prologue links the eternal Word,

a suprahistorical being, with the manifestation of a historical Person

in the flesh (1:14).

Behind this revelation is the concept of God. qeo<j was a

term accepted in the world of the first century for the sovereign

of heaven and earth. The Greeks called Zeus "the father of gods

and men." The Hebrews spoke of Yahweh: "Hear, 0 Israel,

YHWH our God is one YHWH" (Deut. 6:4). There could be no

mistake about the meaning of the word. Furthermore, the theology

of the Jews regarded God as a person, whose purpose and will had

chosen them to be His people and to become the vehicle for His

revelation to the world. The Exodus was the supreme demonstration

of His power (Exod. 15:11-13). The Law given at Sinai declared His

holiness and His ethical standards for men. The prophets had ex-

pressed His love for His people, and His grief over their sins (e.g.,


EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of four articles, first de-

livered by the author as the Louis S. Bauman Memorial Lectures at

Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana, February 12-15,




38 / Bibliotheca Sacra January 1975


Hos. 11:1-8). Nevertheless the revelation was incomplete. He had

revealed Himself in historical action and in religious types and

symbols, but they were external. How could His love for them

be realized in personal experience and how could redemption be

more perfectly manifested than through sacrifices which had be-

come perfunctory ritual? Could He be found only in the Temple

service, or could He enter the life of the individual? Moses expressed

this feeling in his intercessory prayer for a disobedient Israel when

he included his own dominating desire: "Show me thy glory" (Exod.

33:18). God refused him, saying: "Thou canst not see my face;

for there shall no man see me and live" (33:20). Yet the dis-

content with an invisible God was not allayed. The second com-

mandment forbade the making of any image to represent God,

because presumably no inanimate effigy made by man could ade-

quately represent the living God. He could communicate Himself

to man only by a personality that would express perfectly His

characteristics, purpose, and mind through the medium of flesh.

The incarnation is the answer; for, as John says, "The Word [the

expression of God's personality] was made [became] flesh, and

dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only

begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The

Gospel confirms the statement of Exodus: "No man hath seen

God at any time; the only begotten Son [or, as the best Greek

MSS. read, the only-begotten God], which is in the bosom of the

Father, he hath declared (e]chgh<sato) him" (John 1:18).

The revelation of God in Christ depends on a unique rela-

tion between God and the Revelator, Jesus, and implies also a

new relation between God and man. God is not only the Sovereign

of man's destinies, the Judge of man's sin, and the Redeemer of

man's estate, but He is also a Father who can be approached

personally and who creates a new family by His salvation. The

one name for God that Jesus used constantly was "Father." The

term predominates in the Gospels, and particularly in John, where

it appears 118 times. It was Jesus' title for God; and only once

did He ever address Him in any other way. That single instance

occurred in the moment of death, when Jesus underwent the agony

of alienation that was inevitable in being "made ... sin for us"

(2 Cor. 5:21). He called the Father "my God" (Matt. 27:46;

Mark 15:34). Even then, when the moment of agony had passed,

Luke records that He said, "Father, into thy hands I commend

my spirit" (Luke 23:46 ) .


The Person of the Father / 39



The concept of God as Father originated in the Old Testa-

ment. Hosea mentions it with reference to God's concern for Israel:

"When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son

out of Egypt" (Hos. 11:1). Isaiah, speaking for God, says: "Hear,

O heavens, and give ear. O earth, for the Lord hath spoken. I have

nourished and brought up. children, and they have rebelled against

me" (Isa. 1:2). Later in his prophecies he appeals to God for

the nation on the same basis: "Thou art our Father, though Abra-

ham be ignorant of us and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O

Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy Name is from everlasting"

(63:16). A closer relationship with the people is presented further

along in the text: "But now, 0 Lord, thou art our father; we are

the clay, and thou our potter, and we are all the work of thy hand"

(64:8). Both of these appeals are for mercy toward the people

and the land as viewed collectively. Malachi, in his discussion of

the oppression of the poor by the rich, challenged the people by

his question: "Have we not all one father? Hath not one God

created us?" (Mal. 2:10).

Although these texts assert that God is a Father to His people,

their emphasis is on His creative purpose rather than on a direct

relationship, on concern for them rather than on close and con-

tinuing contact with them. The revelation of the fatherhood of

God through Christ did not introduce a new concept, but it effected

a new contract. Jesus expressed that when He said to Thomas, "No

man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). He did

not imply that the title was unfamiliar, but that the means of

realizing its significance depended on Him.




The prologue of John presents the fact that the normal rela-

tion between a believer and his God is like the relationship of a

son to a father. "But as many as received him, to them gave he

power [the right] to become the sons [children] of God, even to

them that believe on his name" (John 1:12). The believer is not

a follower of a new system, nor a worshipper of a vague and distant

deity, nor the subject of a capricious tyrant; instead he is the

member of a family. It is normal for him to regard God as a

Father who is personally concerned for him and with whom he

can communicate freely.

The prayer that Jesus taught to His disciples begins with the

salutation, "Our Father," and all its subsequent petitions and im-


40 / Bibliotheca Sacra January 1975


plied relations depend on that recognition (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke

11:2-4). Jesus impressed on the disciples that the Father loved

them (John 16:23), and when speaking to Mary Magdalene after

the resurrection He told her that He would ascend to "my Father

and your Father, and my God and your God" (20:17). He regard-

ed this title of "Father" as expressive of the new relationship be-

tween the believer and God.




One purpose of this Gospel is to elucidate for the believer

what the proper consciousness of the fatherhood involves. The

author does this through the demonstration of how Jesus, the per-

fect Son of God, conducted Himself in a society where many were

sons of the devil (8:44). Their nature was revealed by their atti-

tude of unbelief and hatred toward Him. Had they really been

sons of God, they could not have taken an attitude of hostility

toward Him who more than any other person could rightly be

called the Son of God. In what did this sonship consist?

The establishment of this relationship began with a super-

natural transformation in response to faith. Those who believed on

His name were made sons of God, not by a natural birth, but by

a new birth in which the nature of God was implanted in them

(3:5). Jesus' parable of the vine (15:1-10) indicates that they

become part also of the divine life, drawing on it for their strength

and for their fruitbearing. In that context He used the word abide

(me<nw), which implies a close and enduring connection with the

source of life. Severance from it means death.

Jesus Himself was born supernaturally, and the language of

John 1:13 in its literal rendering may reflect His birth: "Who were

born not from bloods [the ancients thought that conception origi-

nated in the mingling of the bloods of the parents], nor from

biological impulse, nor from a husband's [a]nh<r] will, but from

God." A number of ancient witnesses including OL b, Irenaeus,

Tertullian, Origen, and some others read the singular pronoun

"who" while seven Syriac MSS. read the plural pronoun and a

singular verb. The resultant reading in the singular would be:

"who was born, not of bloods," etc. Although the genuineness of

the singular reading is highly improbable, it does reveal that at an

early time the spiritual birth of the believer was regarded as an-

alogous to the miraculous birth of Christ. While it may be asserted

that the fatherhood of God is universal in the sense that He is the


The Person of the Father / 41


Creator of all men, the spiritual relationship is established not by

physical birth but by a distinctive and supernatural impartation of

His nature and life to the believer.

Christ reveals the fatherhood of God not only through His

birth but also through His nature. There could be no adequate

revelation of God to men unless the mediator of that revelation

were able to communicate exactly with both God and men. He

must be, to use a modern metaphor, the transformer by which

the frequency of the divine message may be brought over into

the frequency of human understanding. Nor does this depend wholly

on speech; it involves also the total being and life of the mediator.

Jesus asserted that He possessed complete experiential knowledge

of the Father (ginw<skein) . He observed the Father at work

(5:17), and cooperated with Him. He was the object of the

Father's affection, and consequently was given insight into all that

the Father did (5:20). The Father had committed to Him the

prerogative of judgment (5:22). The Father had sent Him with

full endorsement of His mission and with the honor that such a

mission deserved (5:23). Jesus asserted also His unity with the

Father: "I and the Father are one" (10:30). Concerning this claim

of unity, Stevens says:


When every concession to those who maintain the ethical import

of these passages (John 6:46; Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22) is made,

there still remains the capital fact that Jesus makes claims for Him-

self which would be preposterous in any other.l


Not only is this unity the ethical unity of purpose and desire, but

it implies also a metaphysical unity of nature.

The fact that His enemies so understood His claim is proved ,

by their attempt to stone Him for blasphemy. Neither did He deny

their charge, but rather replied: "Though ye believe not me, believe

the works: that ye may know and believe [gnw?te kai> ginw<skehte,

realize and go on to experience] that the Father is in me and I

in him" (10:38). He repeated the same statement later in His

prayer on the eve of His death (17:21).

Jesus thus definitely claimed to know the Father and to possess

the Father's nature. Likewise, Jesus was human. He "became flesh,"

and His humanity was neither an illusion nor an artifical device. He

shared the joys of a wedding (2:1-11) and the sorrows of a funeral

(11:1-44); He was thirsty (4:7), troubled by danger (12:27),


1 G. B. Stevens, The Johannine Theology (New York: Scribners, 1894),

p. 112.


42 / Bibliotheca Sacra January 1975


and fully aware of human obligations (19:26). He did not appear

among us as a disguised angel, but as a man.

John thus represents the God-man to whom God was in a

peculiar sense His Father. It is noticeable that never in the Gospels

does Jesus say "our Father" except when He taught His disciples to

pray. When addressing Mary He spoke of "my Father and your

Father" (20:17), referring not to two different individuals but

to two different relationships. God was His Father from eternity;

He becomes our Father by the new birth.




The consciousness of God as His Father is marked strongly

in Christ. At the cleansing of the Temple which John describes

early in his narrative Jesus expressed His motivation by saying,

"Make not my Father's house a house of merchandise" (2:16).

He regarded the commercialization of the Temple courts as an

insult to His Father, and He resented it deeply. Not only was He

scandalized by the impropriety of making a business venture out

of worship, but also He felt that the priesthood had dishonored one

who was dear to Him. God for Him was not simply an object of

religious worship nor a philosophical absolute like Plato's Demi-

urge or Aristotle's Prime Mover, but a beloved Person whose name

and interests He should defend at all costs. He was constantly aware

of the Father's love and trust (3:35) and of an intimate partner-

ship with Him (5:17). God was profoundly involved in Jesus'

experience (10:15), and the nature of that involvement became

the pattern for the relation of His disciples to Him. He was confi-

dent that the Father always listened to His petitions and answered

them (11:42). In the uncertain fluctuations of His fortunes the

Father's presence was His ultimate destination and abiding hope

(14:2; 17:24). From the beginning of His ministry to the end,

Jesus' fellowship with the Father was the mainspring of His activity

and the stabilizing factor in His life.

This consciousness gave Him His sense of mission which was

expressed in the formula, "The Father who sent me" (o[ pe<myaj

me path<r), which is used twenty-three times in the Gospel. The

verb a]poste<llw, which has much the same meaning, is used

concerning Christ seventeen times. The difference between them in

the Gospel of John seems to be minimal, though a]poste<llw con-

tains a connotation of equipping or commissioning that is generally

lacking in pe<mpw. These verbs appear most frequently in the pas-

sages which describe Jesus' controversy with His enemies. In the


The Person of the Father / 43


argument with the Jews after the healing of the man at the pool

the word sent occurs five times (5:24, 30, 36, 37, 38); in the

sermon in the Capernaum synagogue, five times (6:29, 38, 39,

40, 44) ; in the debate with the crowd in the Temple, five times

(7:16, 18, 28, 29, 33) ; in the controversy over the spiritual ances-

try of the Jews, five times (8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42); and in the utter-

ance of Jesus that closed John's account of His public ministry,

two times (both in 20:21). His commission was His authority and

His defense.

In the First Epistle of John the term is used three times to

express the purpose of the Father in sending Jesus: to give men

eternal life (4:9) ; to be a propitiation (i[lasmo<n) for sin (4:10);

and to be the Savior of the world (4:14).

Jesus remarked to His disciples, "My meat [food] is to do the

will of him that sent me and to accomplish his work" (John 4:34).

He asserted that He could do nothing of Himself, but that He was

dependent on the Father both for His direction and for His power

(5:19). His final report indicated that He had completed the

commission which the Father had given Him (17:4), and in the

tension of Gethsemane He reaffirmed His complete obedience:

"The cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?"

(18:11) Jesus' relation to the Father exemplified completely what

the believer's relation was intended to be.




If Jesus' relation with the Father revealed what the nature

of the believer's sonship should be, the response of the Father to

Him exemplifies also God's attitude toward the believer. He told

the woman of Samaria that God was seeking worshippers who

would approach Him "in spirit and in truth" (4:24). God is not

austere and distant, but welcomes the love and fellowship of His

creatures. He draws men to Himself (6:44), and desires that be-

lievers should have eternal life (6:40). He answers the prayers of

those who approach Him rightly (11:41-42; 15:16; 16:23). The

normal relationship is not fear, but love; for Jesus promised the

disciples that "If a man love me . . my Father will love him, and

we will come unto him and make our abode with him" (14:23).

He confirmed the promise by saying that "the Father himself

loveth you" (16:27). In His valedictory prayer He twice stated

that the Father loved the disciples whom He was commending to

Him (17:23, 26).


44 / Bibliotheca Sacra January 1975




The full implications of God's fatherhood for the daily life of

the disciples are not stated categorically, nor would one expect them

to be. If, however, the fatherhood of God is basic to the entire

revelation of His person in Christ, the nature of that fatherhood

should be apparent in His dealings with men through Christ.

First, as the potential Father of every believer, God is reveal-

ing the normal relationship of men to Him. By normal is meant

the standard of what the relationship should be, not a consensus

of what it is. Jesus told His adversaries that they were descended

from their father, the devil, and that they reproduced his nature

(8:44). Their obvious opposition to God was evidence that they

did not belong to His family, and their rebellion was an abnor-

mality. Jesus was desirous that all should believe on Him and be

brought into the family relationship.

This introduction could be accomplished only by the new

birth. The confession of faith evinced by baptism and the indwell-

ing of the Holy Spirit would mark the implantation of a new

nature that would recognize and respond positively to the person

of God the Father. This response involves confidence in God's

promises. He becomes the focus of interest and of devotion. He is

no longer a distant person whose power and holiness must be

acknowledged without any further concern for relationship with

Him. He becomes at once an intimate Friend, a personal Counselor,

and the gracious Arbiter of life. God is no longer a name or a

power, but a Person with whom the believer maintains daily


Such a relationship means that God becomes knowable. Jesus

claimed a perfect experiential knowledge of God. He said to the

Samaritan woman, "Ye worship ye know not what: we know

what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews" (4:22). The Sa-

maritans' religion had suffered corruption by an admixture of pagan

rites and attitudes at the time of the Exile, and in subsequent times

had accepted a syncretism that united their deity with Zeus. In such

worship there could be no contact with a personal God. Jesus said

also to the recalcitrant Jews, whose worship was not diluted by

paganism, "He that sent me is true [real], whom ye know not. But

I know him, for I am from him, and he hath sent me" (7:28-29).

On another occasion He repeated almost the same words: "Ye

neither know me nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should

have known my Father also" (8:19). At the conclusion of this


The Person of the Father / 45


interview with the Jews He said: "Ye have not known (e]gnw<kate )

him, but I know (oi#da) him; and if I should say, I know him not

(oi#da), I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him (oi#da)

and keep his saying [word]" (8:55). Both verbs employed in this

context indicate knowledge: oi#da is generally used of knowledge

concerning facts; ginw<skw, of the knowledge which comes from

experience. In either case Jesus indicated that not even a factual

understanding of God is possible to unbelief.

Jesus' knowledge of the Father involved also a comprehen-

sion of the Father's purpose for Him. On the occasion of the Last

Supper, when the disciples exhibited a remarkable obtuseness to

the significance of the situation, Jesus knew (ei]dwj) that His hour

had come, and that the Father had committed to Him all respon-

sibility (13: 1, 3). Not only was He aware of impending death, but

also He was absolutely confident of His destiny. The contrast between

His calmness and the anxiety of the disciples is striking.

An illuminating difference between these two verbs is illustrated

in Jesus' reply to Thomas after the latter had said, "Lord, we

know (oi@damen) not whither Thou goest; and how can we know

(oi@damen) the way?" (14:5) Jesus replied, "If ye had known

(e]gnw<kate) me, ye should have known (h@deite) my Father

also" (14:7). Although the significance of the interchange of verbs

in this passage may be argued either way, either that there is a

subtle difference or that they are completely synonymous, it is

probably better to assume a distinction. Jesus is saying that if the

disciples had become fully acquainted with Him by experience,

they would have had a correct concept of the nature of the Father.

The sin of men can be attributed to experiential ignorance

of God. Jesus, in describing His persecutors, said, "These things

will they do unto you, because they have not known (e@gnwsan)

the Father nor me" (16:3). Sin is not caused simply by intellectual

ignorance or bewilderment, but by an alienation of will that pre-

cludes acquaintance with the holiness and protection of the Father.

Another corollary of the fatherhood of God is protection. He

guards the destinies of the members of His family. John states

that when Jesus fell into disfavor with the Jews no man took Him,

because "his hour was not yet come" (8:20). On another occasion

"they sought him . . . but he escaped out of their hand" (10:39).

His life was preserved until His destined work was completed.

Jesus' relation with the Father explains His prayer for the dis-

ciples: "The world hath hated them, because they are not of the


46 / Bibliotheca Sacra January 1975


world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldst

take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from

the evil one" (17:14-15). The protection of God does not mean

immunity from danger, but it does mean protection from the power

of evil and from ultimate disaster.

The fatherhood of God is a motive for life. In explaining the

figure of the vine and the branches, Jesus impressed on His dis-

ciples that they were obligated to bring forth fruit (15:2, 5). The

motive for fruitbearing is the glorification of the Father. The ulti-

mate purpose of all life is to honor the wisdom and power of God,

who has created man and placed him in the world for a construc-

tive purpose. To fulfill this purpose is the way to the fullest realiza-

tion of the fatherhood of God.

The fatherhood of God implies also a destiny. Jesus' parting

promise was that He would go to prepare a place for His disciples

in the Father's house (14:2-3). He certainly would not prepare a

place for those whom He never expected to arrive. Jesus knew

that He was going to God via the suffering of the cross (13:1;

17:11), and He was promising to them what He expected on the

basis of His knowledge of God's fatherhood (17:24).




From the beginning of the believer's spiritual life to his final

glorification the fatherhood of God is the basis for the believer's

experience. It is not surprising that Paul speaks of "the Father of

our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family [every fatherhood,

patri<a] in heaven and earth is named" (Eph. 3:14-15). This

relationship of God to men, perfectly exemplified in the life of

the Lord Jesus Christ, is both the highest expression of His con-

sciousness of His relation to God and the fullest attainment that

man can reach through union with Him. In this way Jesus' prayer

reaches its full fruition: "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" (John 17:21).



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