Criswell Theological Review 3.1 (1988) 141-159.

              Copyright © 1988 by The Criswell College. Cited with permission.    




                       ON THE STYLE AND

                SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17



                                    DAVID ALAN BLACK

                            Grace Theological Seminary West

                                    Long Beach, CA 90807



                                             I. Introduction


A consensus is emerging among biblical scholars that generaliza-

tions about language are to be found not just in the rules of grammar

but also in the ways that language is used. Indeed, the past two

decades can be characterized as a time of excited searching for the

right conceptual tools and methods to investigate the relationship of

discourses to contexts and situations, to actions and events, and to

participants and their mutual relations.

            The appearance of a number of recent monographs published

under the auspices of the United Bible Societies reflects this period of

assessment and consolidation, In Sociolinguistics and Communication,

for example, E. Nida stresses the importance of sociolinguistic method-

ology in exegesis, and shows that “any feature of language, from

sounds to rhetoric, may be sociolinguistically relevant,”l Thus, Nida

concludes, if a good sociolinguistic analysis is lacking, grammatical

analysis remains at a superficial level since linguistic units contain very

important sociolinguistic markers.2

            Another reflection of this period of advance is a renewed appre-

ciation of the importance of semiotics--the study of the stylistic,

rhetorical, and symbolic levels of language. Here, too, Nida and his

colleagues have made a significant contribution. Their treatment of


            1 E. Nida, "Sociolinguistics and Translating," Sociolinguistics and Communication

(ed. J. P. Louw; UBS Monograph Series 1; New York: United Bible Societies, 1986) 17.

            2 Ibid., 46-48.




rhetorical criticism, entitled Style and Discourse, With Special Refer-

ence to the Text of the Greek New Testament, is doing much to help

the Bible student recognize the significance of style as an imperative

component in any theory and practice of biblical interpretation.3 It

now seems clear that Greek studies, and particularly NT Greek studies,

need to be reexamined in the light of these new insights into the

functions and features of rhetoric and style.4

            While it may be too early to expect a full-scale migration out of

more traditional areas, it is heartening to note the number of Johannine

scholars who have been willing to explore and even consider annexing

this new-found land of literary analysis. An example is C. H. Talbert's

efforts to uncover the chiastic design of John 1:19-5:47 and of several

major sections in the rest of the Gospel (6:1-12:50; 13:1-35; 13:36-

14:31; 15:1-17:26).5 Talbert concludes that "a balanced symmetrical

plan for the construction of most of the Gospel emerges,"6 with the

first half of John (1:19-12:50) falling into two large chiasmuses (1:19-

5:47; 6:1-12:50) introduced by a chiastically arranged prologue (1:1-

18), and with chaps 13-17 falling into the same pattern of two large

chiastic sections (13:36-14:31; 15:1-17:26) preceded by a chiastically

arranged frontispiece (13:1-35). Talbert shows how this chiastic pat-

tern is not merely for show but is the ally of meaning, both in

heightening the aesthetic impact of the Gospel in general and in

serving as an effective mnemonic device for the hearer/reader. More

recently, J. Staley has contended that the Fourth Gospel exhibits a

symmetrical, concentric pattern that is built upon the structure of the

prologue through the interplay between narration and the use of

Leitworter.7 The implications of this study for exegesis are many. If

Staley is correct in his analysis, the student of John can no longer rely

on the standard commentary division of John 1-12 and 13-20, with

chap 21 as a tagged-on epilogue.


            3 E. Nida, J. P. Louw, A. H. Snyman, J. v. W. Cronje, Style and Discourse, With

Special Reference to the Text of the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible

Societies, 1983); see my reviews in JETS 27 (1984) 346-47, GTJ 7 (1986) 133-34, and

Filologia Neotestamentaria (forthcoming).

            4 For a discussion of stylistic formulations and their function in the discourse

structure of the Greek NT, see my Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek

(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988) 132-36.

            5 C. H. Talbert, "Artistry and Theology: An Analysis of the Architecture of In

1,19-5,47," CBQ 32 (1970) 341-66. Talbert significantly observes that "The Fourth

Evangelist. . . appears before us not only as a great theologian but also as a masterful

literary artist. In the Fourth Gospel theology and aesthetics are mutually complemen-

tary" (p. 366).

            6 Ibid., 360.

            7 J. Staley, "The Structure of John's Prologue: Its Implications for 'the Gospel's

Narrative Structure," CBQ 4 (1986) 241-64.

            Black: STYLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17    143


            In citing the above studies I have had to leave many others

unmentioned, as it is not my purpose here to compare and contrast

the various proposals put forward by different scholars.8 Rather, in

this essay I should like to join the increasing numbers of adventurous

souls who are seeking their fortunes and hazarding their wits in the

territory charted by books such as Style and Discourse. Our focus will

be the Lord's prayer for unity in John 17. After some general remarks

on the prayer's narrative technique, I shall turn to a rhetorical analysis

of its chief stylistic components before attempting to draw conclu-

sions about the significance of Jesus' words for the question of eccle-

siastical unity in today's world.


                            II. The Narrative Framework of John 17


            This chapter forms a unit of its own, but one that obviously is

inseparable from its larger context. Without going into detail,9 it

appears that this pericope forms the conclusion of that section of the

Gospel in which Jesus withdraws from the world and is continually

with his disciples (chaps 13-17). In this period fall the last supper

(chap 13), the farewell discourses (chaps 14-16), and the final prayer

of Jesus (chap 17). At the supper Jesus washes the disciples' feet, a

symbolic gesture which points to the cross looming ahead. In the

discourses, spoken in the shadow of the cross, Jesus reassures his

disciples of his complete victory over the world. Finally, Jesus' last

prayer marks the end of his earthly ministry and looks forward to the

ongoing work that would now be the disciples' responsibility. Through-

out the section, Jesus' death is emphasized, not in a mood of despon-

dency, but in its peculiarly Johannine significance as the glorification

that finally demonstrates Jesus' do<ca. The unfolding of the plot by

means of these events underscores the seriousness of Jesus' "hour"

(17:1). Jesus is on his way to death--not to an involuntary execution,

but rather to a death that will prove the consecration of the Son to the

Father and his ability to overcome the world (16:33).

            In tracing John's foreshadowing of the events related to Jesus'

death, one must keep in mind the narrative perspective of John 17. In


            8 For an example of the application of current literary theory to the Gospel of

John, see R. A. Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983). Note also the thorough bibliography provided on

pp. 239-48.

            9 For a fuller discussion, see Culpepper, Anatomy, 34-43; J. A. Fitzmeyer, The

Gospel According to John (AB 29A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1970) 744-51. For an

overview of John 14-17, one can do no better than to consult the excellent treatment by

D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John

14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980).



the first place, v 1 establishes the fact that this is a prayer, but it is

immediately apparent that the prayer was uttered not primarily for

the benefit of the Father, but of the disciples, who were listening

(v 13). This means that the chapter is more a brief discourse than a

prayer in the usual sense. Secondly, it is vital to note that Jesus speaks

as though he were already in heaven: "I am no longer in the world"

(v 11).10 In this sense, the prayer assumes an atemporal character.

Finally, the relative length of the prayer is important in establishing

the fact that the Fourth Gospel is more than a body of doctrines, but

also a witness to the mind and heart of Jesus, including "the hidden

foundation of all his work, namely, his relationship with his Father."11

We are thus reminded of themes that are emphasized earlier in the

Gospel (cf. 1:1, 18; 3:13; 6:57; 8:58). One is therefore fully justified in

calling John 17 yet another example par excellence of Jesus' teaching

as the Son of God.


                           III. The Stylistic Features of John 17


            While there is a fair degree of consensus among scholars that

John 17 contains an important number of stylistic features, there is no

general agreement as far as the structure of the chapter is concerned.

Differing analyses have been offered by A. Laurentin,12 J. Becker,13

and E. Malatesta.14 Each has presented several stylistic features that

could not have been accidental, but none of these analyses is problem-


            Instead of attempting to advance another structural analysis of

the text, I think it more valuable to observe the subject from a slightly

different angle. In this approach, an attempt will be made to classify

the rhetorical features that occur in the text, and to determine on this

basis the possible functions or meanings of these features for the

reader. In order to accomplish this purpose, the methodology pro-

posed by E. Nida et al. will be followed.15 Our analysis will take into

account the broader and more inclusive units normally related seman-

tically as well as the rhetorical features that serve to increase the

impact and appeal of these broader units. Specifically, the method


            10 The same thought is emphasized in John 3:13, if the reading  e]n t&? ou]ran&?

retained; see my "The Text of John 3:13," GTJ 6 (1984) 49-66,

            11 J. Cadier, "The Unity of the Church. An Exposition of John 17," Int 11

(1957) 166.

            12 A. Laurentin, "We'attah-kai> nu?n. Formule caracteristique des textes juridiques

et liturgiques (a propos de Jean 17,5)," Bib 45 (1964) 168-97, 413-32.

            13 J. Becker, . . Aufbau, Schichtung und theologiegeschichtliche Stellung des Gebets

in John 17," ZNW 60 (1969) 56-83.

            14 E. Malatesta, "The Literary Structure of John 17," Bib 52 (1971) 100-214.

            15 Style and Discourse, 25-55, 93-144.

            Black: STYLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17      145


will be to (I) break up the sentences into their nuclear structures;

(2) describe the progress in the chapter in terms of the logical rela-

tionships between the nuclear structures; (3) analyze the cohesion of

the whole discourse, and (4) identify the rhetorical features on the

microlevel of rhetoric. The possible meanings for these stylistic

devices will then briefly be considered.


Demarcation of nuclear structures

            John 17 is much more complexly organized than most discourse

units in the NT. In the analysis presented in Figure I, each numbered

expression consists of a single nuclear structure, though frequently

ellipses have had to be filled in for the sake of clarity.



            Before drawing attention to the logical relations between the

nuclear structures in terms of progression, it is necessary to describe

the syntactic structure of the text. The syntactic structure is indicated

by the couplings on the left-hand side of Figure I and consists of 95

nuclear structures (if the divisions between 10-12 and 56-57 are

accepted), embedded into 52 cola. The pericope consists of relatively

short sentences, considerable embedding in places, heavy ellipsis and

anacoloutha, and considerable parallelism and contrast. Items 4-16

clearly form a subsection, marked by chiasmus:

            a "Father... glorify your Son" (5)

                        b "that the Son may glorify you" (6)

                        b' "I glorified you on the earth" (12)

            a' "glorify me, Father" (15)

                                                Figure I

            1. tau?ta e]la<lhsen   ]Ihsou?j

         |  2. kai> e]pa<raj tou>j o]fqalmou>j au]tou? ei]j to>n ou]rano>n

         |  3. ei#pen

            4. pa<ter, e]lh<luqen h[ w!ra

  |         5. do<caso<n sou to>n ui[o<n

  |   |      6. i!na o[ ui[o>j doca<s^ se<

  |   |   | 7. kaqw>j e@dwkaj au]t&? e]cousi<an pa<shj sarko<j

  |   |   | 8. i!na pa?n o{ de<dwkaj au]t&? dw<s^ au]toi?j zwh>n ai]w<nion


  |         9. au!th de< e]stin h[ ai]w<nioj zwh<

  |      | 10. i!na ginw<skousin se> to>n mo<non a]lhqino>n qeo>n

  |      | 11. kai> (i!na ginw<skousin) o{ a]pe<steilaj  ]Ihsou?n Xristo<n


  |         12. e]gw< se e[do<casea e]pi> th?j gh?j

  |        | 13. to> e@rgon teleiw<saj o{ de<dwka<j moi

  |        | 14. i!na poih<sw (au]to<)



       |   15. kai> nu?n do<caso<n me su<, pa<ter, para> seaut&?

       |   16. t^? do<c^ ^$ ei#xon pro> tou? to>n ko<smon ei#nai para> soi<

            17. e]fane<rwsa< sou to> o@noma toi?j a]nqrw<poij ou{j e@dwka<j moi

                        e]k tou? ko<smou

            18. soi> h#san

            19. ka]moi> au]tou>j e@dwkaj

            20. kai> to>n lo<gon sou teth<rhkan

   |        21. nu?n e@gnwkan

   |     |  22. o!ti pa<nta o!sa de<dwka<j moi para> sou? ei]sin

   |     |  23. o!ti ta> r[h<mata a{ e@dwkaj moi de<dwka au]toi?j

            24. kai> au]toi> e@labon (au]ta<)

         |  25. kai> e@gnwsan a]lhqw?j

         |  26. o!ti para> sou? e]ch?lqon

         |  27. kai> e]pi<steusan

         |  28. o!ti su< me a]pe<steilaj

            29. e]gw> peri> au]tw?n e]rwtw?

            30. ou] peri> tou? ko<smou e]rwtw?

         |  31. a]lla> (e]rwtw?) peri> w$n de<dwka<j moi

         |  32. o!ti soi< ei]sin

            33. kai> ta> e]ma> pa<nta sa< e]stin

            34. kai> ta< sa> e]ma< (e]stin)

            35. kai> dedo<casmai e]n au]toi?j

            36. kai> ou]ke<ti ei]mi> e]n t&? ko<sm&  

            37. kai> au]toi> e]n t&? ko<sm& ei]si<n

            38. ka]gw> pro>j se> e@rxomai

  |         39. pa<ter a!gie, th<rhson au]tou>j e]n t&? o]no<mati< sou &$ de<dwka<j moi

  |       | 40. i!na w#sin e!n

          | 41. kaqw>j h[mei?j (e!n e]smen)

          | 42. o!te h@mhn met ] au]tw?n

          | 43. e]gw> e]th<roun au]tou>j e]n t&? o]no<mati< sou &$ de<dwka<j moi

            44. kai> e]fu<laca (au]tou<j)

          | 45. kai> ou]dei>j e]c au]tw?n a]pw<leto ei] mh> o[ ui[o>j th?j a]pwlei<aj

          | 46. i!na h[ grafh> plhrwq^?

            47. nu?n de> pro>j se> e@rxomai

            48. kai> tau?ta lalw? e]n t&? ko<sm&

            49. i!na e@xwsin th>n xa<ran th>n e]mh>n peplhrwme<nwn e]n au]toi?j

            50. e]gw> de<dwka au]toi?j to>n lo<gon sou

  |         51. kai> o[ ko<smoj e]mi<shsen au]tou<j

  |      |  52. o!ti ou]k ei]si>n e]k tou? ko<smou

  |      |  53. kaqw>j e]gw> ou]k ei]mi> e]k tou? ko<smou

         |  54. ou]k e]rwtw?

         |  55. i!na a@r^j au]tou>j e]k tou? ko<smou

       |    56. a]ll ] (e]rwtw?)

       |    57. i!na thrh<s^j au]tou>j e]k tou? ponhrou?



       |    58. e]k tou? ko<smou ou]k ei]si<n

       |    59. kaqw>j e]gw> ou]k ei]mi> e]k tou? ko<smou

            60. a[gi<ason au]tou>j e]n t^? a]lh<qei%

            61. o[ lo<goj o[ so>j a]lh<qeia< e]stin

        |   62. kaqw>j e]me> a]pe<steilaj ei]j to>n ko<smon

        |   63. ka]gw> a]pe<steila au]tou>j ei]j to>n ko<smon

        |   64. kai> u[per au]tw?n e]gw> a[gia<zw e]maouto<n

        |   65. i!na w#sin kai> au]toi> h[giasme<noi e]n a]lhqei<%

            66. ou] peri> tou<twn de> e]rwtw? mo<non

 |       |  67. a]lla> (e]rwtw?) kai> peri> tw?n pisteuo<ntwn dia> tou? lo<gou

                        au]tw?n ei]j e]me<

 |     |    68. i!na pa<ntej e{n w#sin

 |     |   | 69. kaqw>j su<, pa<ter, e]n e]moi> (ei#)

 |     |   | 70. ka]gw> e]n soi< (ei]mi)

     |      71. (e]rwtw?) i!na kai> au]toi> e]n h[mi?n w#sin

     |     | 72. i!na o[ ko<smoj  pisteu<^

     |     | 73. o!ti su< me a]pe<steilaj

            74. ka]gw> th>n do<can h{n de<dwka<j moi de<dwka au]toi?j

          | 75. i!na w#sin e!n

          | 76. kaqw>j h[mei?j e!n (e]smen)

            77. e]gw> e]n au]toi?j (ei]mi)

            78. kai> su> e]n e]moi< (ei#)

|           79. (e]rwtw?) i!na w#sin teteleiwme<noi ei]j e!n

|  |         80. i!na ginw<sk^ o[ ko<smoj

|  |   |     81. o!ti su< me a]pe<steilaj

|  |   |    | 82. kai> h]ga<phsaj au]tou<j

|  |   |    | 83. kaqw>j e]me> h]ga<phsaj

      |     84. pa<ter, o{ de<dwka<j moi qe<lw

      |   |  85. i!na o!pou ei]mi> e]gw> ka]kei?noi w#sin met ] e]mou?

      |   |  86. i!na qewrw?sin th?n do<can th>n e]mh>n h{n de<dwka<j moi

            87. o!ti h]ga<phsa<j me pro> katabolh?j ko<smou

            88. pa<ter di<kaie, kai> o[ ko<smoj se ou]k e@gnw

            89. e]gw> de< se e@gnwn

            90. kai> ou$toi e@gnwsan

            91. o!ti su< me a]pe<steilaj

            92. kai> e]gnw<risa au]toi?j to> o@noma< sou

    |       93. kai> gnwri<sw (au]to<)

    |    |   94. i!na h[ a]ga<ph h{n h]ga<phsa<j me e]n au]toi?j ^#

    |    |   95. ka]gw> e]n au]toi?j (w#)


As far as logical relations are concerned, item 6 is the reason for the

petition in item 5: Since Jesus' power to grant eternal life (7-8) can be

exercised only as he is glorified in the cross, he calls upon the Father

to glorify him (5). Items 9-11 serve as a characterization of item 8:

Eternal life is simply the knowledge of God and his Son, Jesus Christ.



This is followed by a statement (12-16) that reiterates the thoughts of

items 5-8. Because of the ring structure, "We may regard items 4-16 as

a unit, while items 1-3 clearly have their own structure and serve as

the introduction to the prayer.

            The remainder and greater part of the chapter is more difficult to

analyze. Item 17 clearly starts a new statement and the main subsec-

tion of the chapter--Jesus' prayer for his disciples. Items 17-28 form

the basis for the actual petitionary section beginning in item 29 and

are therefore transitional. Here Jesus tells the Father what he has done

in subordination to the Father (17-19) and in the faithful disciples

(20-28), whom he has called out of the world and instructed (chaps

13-16). Thus in the opening verses of the chapter the author of the

Gospel has provided the proper setting and has laid the groundwork

for such statements about the disciples as we find in this prayer.

            In item 29 Jesus begins to pray for his little band of friends,

carefully drawing a distinction between them and the world. The

latter stands in opposition to God and, therefore, to the disciples.

Although the disciples are "in the world" (37) they are not "of the

world" (52), just as Jesus is not "of the world" (53). They have a task,

however, that can be carried out only as Jesus sends them "into the

world" (63). And, in order to accomplish this task, they must be kept

from evil (39, 43, 44, 57), united as one (40), full of joy (49), and

wholly consecrated to God (60, 65). The major thrust of this entire

section (29-65) is on the church as a unified, witnessing community,

not for the sake of the world's condemnation but for its salvation.

            The concluding section of the chapter begins in item 66. After a

long petition for the disciples (items 17-65, or at least items 29-65),

Jesus prays "for those who will believe in me through their message"

(67). This can only mean all believers, of all generations. Specifically,

Jesus prays for the unity of the church (68, 75, 79), a unity that is

grounded in the unity of Jesus and the Father (69-70, 76-78). The

goal of this unity is so that the church might be able effectively to

bear witness to God's sending of the Son as an expression of his love

for the world (72-73, 80-83). The visible expression of this unity is

found in the love of the disciples for one another (94).

            It is certainly possible to describe the logical relations of this

passage in greater detail, but this brief explanation gives at least a

basic idea of the progression of the text. The prayer itself seems to

fall into three parts (4-16, 17-28, 29-65); but the division between

them is not sharp. There is some justification for viewing items 4-28

as a transitional section to the prayer proper, because in these items

the ministry of the earthly Jesus is still in view. One might suggest that

Jesus' prayer for his own glorification (4-16) and the description of his

special ministry among his disciples (17-28) are preparatory to the

            Black: STYLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17    149


main part of the prayer which concerns the ministry of his followers

after his departure from the world (29-65).



            The cohesion in the prayer is accomplished especially by the

different means of repetition occurring in it. The same lexical units are

repeated: di<dwmi (7, 8, 13, 17, 19, 22, 23, 31, 39, 43, 50, 74, 84, 86);

ko<smoj (16, 17, 30, 36, 37, 48, 51, 52, 53, 55, 58, 59, 62, 63, 72, 80, 87,

88); thre<w (39,43,57); a]lh<qeia (60, 61, 65); a]poste<llw (11, 28, 62, 73,

81, 91); e{n (40, 68, 75, 76, 79); doca<zw/do<ca (5, 6, 12, 15, 16). These

expressions may be regarded as involying redundancy or more proba-

bly emphasis.

            The same syntactical structures are repeated: clauses with i!na (6,

8, 10, 14, 40, 46, 49, 55, 57, 65, 68, 71, 72, 75, 79, 85, 86, 94); compara-

tive clauses with kaqw<j (7, 41, 53, 59, 62, 69, 76, 83); relative clauses

involving di<dwmi (8, 13, 17, 22, 23, 39, 43, 74, 84, 86).

            Finally, the same themes are frequently repeated: the significance

of Jesus earthly mmlstry (12, 13, 17, 23, 43, 44, 50, 74, 92), the

glorifying of the Son through his death (5, 15, 16, 35); the close

connection between the Father and Jesus (10, 11, 16, 22, 32, 33, 34, 41,

69, 70, 71, 76, 77, 78, 89); the theological premise that God loves the

world and sent the Son to save it (8, 25, 26, 27, 28, 72, 73, 80, 81, 82);

the name (ie., character) of God (17, 39, 43, 92); the unity of the

disciples with Jesus and thereby with the Father (40, 41, 68, 69, 70, 71,

75, 76, 77, 78, 79); the disciples' alienation from the world even while

in it (37, 51, 52, 53, 55, 58, 59, 63); the outward marks of discipleship

(49, 94). Interestingly, items 84-95 appear to comprise a summary in

which certain motifs of the whole prayer are taken up and repeated.

The somewhat repetitious style of the J ohannine discourses is thus

apparent in the style of the prayer. But the cohesion of the prayer is

further marked by certain features on the microlevel of rhetorical

structure, to which we now turn.


Rhetorical features

            There are a good number of significant rhetorical features in John

17. According to the classification of the figures (sxh<mata) in the NT

proposed by A. H. Snyman and J. v. w. Cronje,16 these features may

be classified in terms of three processes, namely, repetition, omission,

and shifts in expectancy. In what follows an attempt is made to

classify all the figures found in John 17 according to these principles.


            16 Ibid., 172-91; see also their study, "Toward a New Classification of the Figures

of Speech (SXHMATA) in the Greek New Testament," NTS 32 (1986) 113-21.






1. Repetition of single items in structurally significant positions.

            a. Epanaphora (initial position).

                -pa<ter (4, 39, 84, 88).

                -i!na (6, 8, 10, 14, 40, 46, 49, 55, 57, 65, 68, 71, 72, 75, 79, 85,

                        86, 94).

            b. Epiphora (final position).

                -e]k tou? ko<smou (52,53,55,59).

                -ei]j to>n ko<smon (62, 63).

                - e]rwtw? (29, 30).

                - e]n t&? o]no<mati< sou &$ de<dwka<j moi (39,43).

            c. Homoeoteleuton (identical endings).

                 -ta> sa< e]ma< (34).

                  -a]pe<steilaj (81).


                    h]ga<phsaj (83).

                   de<dwkaj (84).

                   de<dwkaj (86).

                    h]ga<phsaj (87).

            d. Alliteration (repetition of sounds).

                   -ta> e]ma> pa<nta sa< (33).

                   -o[ lo<goj o[ so<j (61).

2. Repetition of single items in non-structurally significant positions.

            a. Anaphora (repetition of content words).

                        -pa<ter (4, 39, 84, 88).

                        -e@dwkaj (7,17,19,23).

                        -de<dwkaj (8, 13, 22, 31, 39, 43, 74, 84, 86).

                        -de<dwka (23, 50, 74).

                        -ko<smoj (51, 72, 80, 88).

                        -ko<smou (17, 30, 52, 53, 55, 58, 59, 87).

                        -ko<sm& (36, 37, 48).

                        -ko<smon (16, 62, 63).

                        -do<cason (5, 15).

                        -doca<s^ (16).

                        -e]do<casa (12).

                        -do<c^ (16).

                        -h]ga<phsaj (82, 83, 87, 94).

                        -e!n (40, 68, 75, 76, 79, implicit in 41).

                        -a]pe<steilaj (11, 28, 62, 73, 81, 91).

                        -kaqw<j (7, 41, 53, 59, 62, 69, 76, 83).

                        -e]rwtw? (29, 30, 54, 66, implicit in 31, 56, 67, 71, 79).

                        -th<rhson (39).

            Black: STYLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17    151

                        e]th<roun  (43)

                        thrh<s^j (57).

                        -a]lh<qeia (61).

                        a]lhqei<% (60,65).

                        -o@noma (17,92).

                        o]no<mati (39,43).

            b. Polysyndeton (repetition of structure words).

                        -kai< (20, 24, 27, 33, 35, 36, 37, 44, 48, 64, 92).

3. Repetition of two or more items in structurally significant positions.

            a. Synonymia (semantic parallelism).

                        -i!na . . . dw<s^ au]toi?j zwh>n ai]w<nion (8).

                        i!na ginw<skousin se< (10).

                        -e]gw< se e]do<casa e]pi> th?j gh?j (12).

                        to> e@rgon teleiw<saj o{ de<dwka<j moi

                        -e]th<roun (43).

                        e]fu<laca (44).

                        -i!na w#sin e!n (75).

                        i!na w#sin teteleiwme<noi ei]j e!n

                        -e]gnw<risa au]toi?j to> o@noma sou

                        kai> gnwri<sw (93).

                        -pro> tou? to>n ko<smon ei#nai

                        pro> katabolh?j ko<smou (87).

                        -teth<rhkan (20).

                        e@gnwkan (21).

                        e@gnwsan (25).

                        e]pi<steusan (27).

            b. Chiasmus (inverted parallelism)

                        -do<caso<n sou to>n ui[o<n (5)

                        i!na o[ ui[o>j doca<s^ se< (6)

                        -pa<ter . . . do<cason (4, 5)

                        do<cason . . . pa<ter (15)

                        -zwh>n ai]w<nion (8)

                        ai]w<nioj zwh< (9)

                        -e]ma> . . . sa< (33)

                        sa>  e]ma< (34).

                        -e]k tou? ko<smou ou]k ei]si<n (58).

                        ou]k ei]mi> e]k tou? ko<smou (59).

            c. Diaphora (identical forms with different meanings).

                        -ko<smon, ko<smou 16, 87).

                                    (the created universe)

                        ko<smoj and related forms elsewhere (17, 30, 36, 37, 48, 51,

                                    52, 53, 55, 58, 59, 62, 63, 72, 80, 88).




                        -i!na (6,  8, 40, 46, 49, 65, 68, 72, 75, 80, 85,94).


                        i!na (10, 14, 55, 57,71,79).


            d. Antithesis (different forms with opposite meanings).

                        -e]pi> th?j gh?j  (12).

                        para> seaut&? (15).

                        -e]gw> peri> au]tw?n e]rwtw? (29).

                        ou] peri> tou? ko<smou e]rwtw? (30).

                        -kai> ou]ke<ti ei]mi> e]n t&? ko<sm& (36).

                        kai> au]toi> e]n t&? ko<sm& ei]si<n (37).




1. Omission of words important for the referential context.

            a. Zeugma (the same word).

                        -i!na ginw<skousin

                        -e]rwtw? (31, 56, 67,79).

                        -e!n e]smen (41).

2. Omission of words important for the linguistic context.

            a. Ellipsis (words that are obviously understood).

                        -au]to<j in its declined forms (14, 24, 44, 93).

                        -ei]mi in its conjugated forms (34, 41, 69, 70, 76, 77, 78, 95).

            b. Asyndeton (conjunctions).

                        -kai< or de< (12, 17, 29, 42, 50, 54, 60, 66).

3. Omission of deep-structure features.

                        -u[po> tou? qeou? (35).


                                    Shifts in expectancy


1. Shifts involving word-order.

            a. Hyperbaton (unusual position in a clause).

                        -sou (5).

                        -kai> au]toi< (65).

                        -qe<lw (84).

            b. Parenthesis (insertion).

                        -items 9-11 (which are omitted by some analysts as a gloss).

2. Shifts involving communicative function.

            a. Metaphora (a figure based on similarity).

                        -h[ w!ra (4) = the consummation of Jesus' earthly ministry on

                                    the cross.

            b. Metonymia (a figure based on association of part for whole).

                        -pa<shj sarko<j (7) = mankind.

            Black: STYLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17   153


                        -ko<smon, ko<smou (16, 87) = the universe.

                        -ko<smoj and related forms elsewhere = mankind.

                        -o@noma, o]no<mati (17, 39,43,92) = one's character.

                        -do<cason, e]do<casa (5, 12) = to lift up (on the cross).

            c. Idioms (words whose meaning is not to be derived from the

                        sum of the parts).

                        -o[ ui[o>j th?j a]pwlei<aj (45) = one whose nature is charac-

                                    terized by "lostness."


            Now as to the possible meanings of the rhetorical features of the

prayer, it is obvious that the great majority of the features on the

microlevel of rhetorical structure are those which can be classified as

repetitions. Of the 59 sxh<mata identified in the prayer, 40 cause a

process of repetition. Since repetition is the most effective way in

which cohesion is attained, it is clear that the prayer is closely bound

together as far as its structure is concerned. For example, by the

repeated use of the vocative pa<ter on the broad level, and by its

repetition at the beginning and the end of the prayer (items 4, 39, 69,

84, 88), the unity of the discourse is significantly reinforced. Likewise,

the fact that the major thematic units are repeated anaphorically is a

striking confirmation of cohesion. Thus the cohesion of the prayer is

confirmed by the rhetorical features on the microlevel of rhetoric.

            The obvious demarcation of items 4-16 as a separate unit is

further reinforced by synonymia in items 8 and 10 and items 12 and

13, the repetition of the doc- stem in items 5, 6, 12, 15 and 16 (and

nowhere else in the prayer), and the chiasmuses in items 5 and 6,

items 4-5 and 15, and items 8 and 9. For these reasons items 4-16 as a

whole are in a closer relationship than for instance the relationship

between items 17-28 or items 29-65.

            A special feature of the prayer is the frequency of both semantic

and inverted parallelism, which strengthens cohesion in the chapter as

a whole while characterizing the discourse as graceful. On the other

hand, the omission of words that can be supplied from the context

lends compactness to the text, thus increasing the likelihood that the

content will be remembered. The numerous shifts in expectancy also

contribute to the effectiveness and acceptability of the text in terms of

impact and appeal.

            On the basis of these possible meanings of the rhetorical features,

it can be concluded that the text of John 17 is well marked by

repetition and structural organization. Such a magnificent prayer appro-

priately sets the stage for the following chapters in which Jesus moves

into the garden, and thence to the court of the high priest, the

judgment seat of Pilate, and the cross of Calvary.



                                    IV. The Significance of John 17


            A study of Jesus' prayer in John 17 reveals several distinctive

features. The following are especially to be noted.

            1. The prayer is obviously intended to summarize the content of

the preceding chapters, especially the words that were spoken by

Jesus in the upper room. In this lengthy discourse Jesus dealt with

three topics that involve the disciples: their relationship with him,

their relationship with one another, and their relationship with the

world around them. In the prayer Jesus continues these themes as he

prepares his small group of followers for the change his departure

would make in their relationships.

            2. The prayer is also intended to summarize Jesus' relationship

with the Father and the relationship he desired his disciples to main-

tain with him and the Father. It assumes Jesus' equality with God,

confirming his claim that he and the Father are one (10:30). Each has

full possession of the other's interests and responsibilities, and it is

from this unity in the Godhead that the common interests and responsi-

bilities of the disciples spring. Just as the Father sent Jesus with

authority, so Jesus gives them authority (cf. Matt 28:18-20); as Jesus

had come to proclaim God's love for the world, so they must proclaim

the message of forgiveness; as Jesus had experienced conflict with the

world, so they would encounter the same opposition; and as the Son

had enjoyed the Father's protection, so they would enjoy the security

that eternal life imparts.

            3. By far the largest part of the prayer relates to the disciples and

not to the Son's needs. Having already predicted the desertion of his

followers (16:32), Jesus was much more concerned about them than

about himself. Nevertheless, the last section of the prayer shows that

Jesus expected the failure to be temporary. The upper room discourse

had already made plain the continuation of Jesus' work in these men

through the new ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thus the prayer breathes

a tone of expectant confidence that the disciples would be kept by the

Father's power against the persecution that would soon be theirs.

            4. The underlying theme of the prayer is unity. This is estab-

lished, not by counting how many times the expression e]n occurs, but

by noting where it occurs and how it is used. It expresses the purpose

both of Jesus' petition for the Father's protection of the disciples and

his petition for the disciples' consecration to the Father's service

(vv 11, 17). It forms the basis upon which the disciples can maintain a

convincing testimony before the world to. the revelation of God's

character as manifested in the Son (vv 21,23). It witnesses to the new

nature of the church because it springs from the common life of

            Black: STYLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17    155


believers in the Father and the Son (vv 11, 21-23). In short, it is the

indispensable testimony to the divine mission of Jesus and the essential

basis of intimate knowledge and personal communion between God

and man. The topic of unity is clearly a theme of great importance

and one that lay close to Jesus' heart as he prepared to leave his


            5. No less important is the location of the prayer in the Fourth

Gospel, before the prayer in Gethsemane reported in the passion

narrative of the synoptic Gospels (Matt 26:36-45; Mark 14:32-41;

Luke 22:39-46). This means that, despite the anguish in Gethsemane,

Jesus crosses the book Kidron with the confidence that the way of the

cross is the way of true glory--a basic NT teaching and one that is

uniquely exemplified in the life and ministry of the apostle Paul.17

Therefore the deep agony which Jesus shared with his disciples in the

garden must be read against this background, not solely with refer-

ence to the synoptic accounts.

            With these preliminary thoughts, it is necessary to inquire into the

nature of the unity spoken of in the prayer and the implications of this

for evangelical Christianity. This is, of course, a matter of great

concern, as well as of great difficulty. But several conclusions seem


            First, regarding the nature of the unity here envisioned, we should

be clear that the unity for which Christ prays is a unity which rests on

the unity of the Son and the Father. This does not mean that the unity

between believers and God is exactly the same as the unity between

Christ and the Father. But it does mean that because God is one, his

people are to live on the basis and in the recognition of unity.

L. Morris uses too weak an expression when he speaks of an "anal-

ogy,"18 for there is a causal and final connection between the two.

The unity of the church dynamically, effectively, and epistemologi-

cally depends upon the oneness and unity of God. Similarly in other

NT passages the oneness of God is the ontic presupposition of state-

ments about the oneness of the church (cf. esp. 1 Cor 12:4-6; Eph

4:1-6).19 Thus in John 17 oneness is not a dormant attribute of God

but rather God's power to unite and reconcile those hostile to him and

to each other. This oneness is, furthermore, not only to be an attribute


            17 See my Paul, Apostle of Weakness (New York: Lang, 1984); "Paulus Infirmus:

The Pauline Concept of Weakness," GTJ 5 (1984) 77-93.

            18 L. Morris, The Gospel According to John (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1971) 734.

            19 See also the important argument in Phil 2:1-11 and my "Paul and Christian

Unity: A Formal Analysis of Philippians 2:1-4," JETS 28 (1985) 299-308.



of God the Father and God the Son but also an attitude of the unified

people of God. In point of fact, the church cannot help but exhibit

this attitude: by its very existence the church manifests God's nature

to the world.

            There is another important factor that demonstrates Jesus' dy-

namic rather than static understanding of God's oneness. This is the

mission of the church as a witnessing and ministering body. God's

own oneness and manifoldness define the church's oneness and mani-

foldness.20 For just as God is one in three, so the church is made up of

different parts, all of them important, and yet the whole body func-

tions as a unit. Thus for Jesus to call for the unity of his followers,

with their various temperaments and abilities, is not a non sequitur. A

multiplicity of persons could never truly express oneness if God had

not shown himself to be one even in his plurality, the unity amid

diversity, the power that establishes and guarantees community. As

M. Barth insightfully puts it, "Unless God were three in one, no great

feat would be accomplished by calling him 'One'."21 Likewise, if the

church fails to prove its unity in diversity, it cannot attest to the

oneness of God.

            In the light of the above discussion, there are at least two pitfalls

that must be avoided in interpreting John 17. The first is to regard

denominationalism as something inherently wrong. A multiplicity of

denominations does not necessarily imply that Christianity is sectarian.

To quote D. Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia:

"Diversity--divergences in faith and practice from one denomination

to another--is not divisiveness; it is what we would expect when

Christianity is being spread among some 8,990 peoples speaking 7,010

languages in the modern world."22 R. Webber likewise writes that

"an adequate theology of the church cannot ignore the pluriformity of

the church. The church has unfolded in many forms, and no one

single external form stands alone as the correct visible expression. As

the church settled in various geographical areas and as it penetrated

through a variety of cultures, it found expression in multifaceted

forms. Thus, the insistence that the church must exist in a single form

is a denial not only of the richness of creation, but also of the

complexities of the human response."23 Hence there is no question of


            20 For the following discussion I am indebted to the insightful comments of my

former professor M. Barth, Ephesians 4-6 (AB 34A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1974)


            21 Ibid., 467.

            22 D. Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford: University Press, 1982) v.

            23 R. Webber, Common Roots. A Call to Evangelical Maturity (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1978) 57.

            Black: STYLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17     157


an attempt to establish a world church in which everyone would be a

catholic, or an orthodox, or an evangelical, not to mention a Methodist,

a Southern Baptist, and so forth.

            The second pitfall to be avoided is to regard the unity of the

church as a purely social or organizational phenomenon. The unity

spoken of here is not a matter of agreement on doctrinal or other

matters. It is something vastly more difficult. It is, to quote Morris, a

unity of heart and mind and will."24 This unity is never merely

outward and external, since it involves the union of believers with a

spiritual Being. Thus the unity for which Christ prays is essentially a

unity which rests upon the believer's abiding in him just as the branch

abides in the vine (15:1-8), This relationship with Christ is evidenced

(among other things) by a loving and patient attitude toward others.

Thus, for example, since each individual believer has the right to

embrace the belief of his or her choice, Christians should respect this

basic human right by showing genuine religious toleration to all other

expressions of faith, including those expressed in what one may con-

sider deviations.

            In the second place, the picture of unity in John 17 challenges the

overemphasis in evangelical circles on the church as “invisible.” The

unity in question, while it is essentially spiritual rather than organiza-

tional, has an outward expression since it is a unity which the world

can observe and which can influence the world. This fact is recognized

in the Chicago Call:


            We must resist efforts promoting church union-at-any-cost, but we must

            also avoid mere spiritualized concepts of church unity. We are convinced

            that unity in Christ requires visible and concrete expression, In this

            belief, we welcome the development of encounter and cooperation

            within Christ's church.25


This same emphasis is found in the Lausanne Covenant of 1974: We

affirm that the church's visible unity in truth is God's purpose."26

The Covenant then calls for unity “in fellowship, work and witness”

and urges “the development of regional and functional co-opera-

tion for the furtherance of the church's mission, for strategic planning,

for mutual encouragement, and for the sharing of resources and



            24 Morris, John, 728.

            25 "The Chicago Call," in The Orthodox Evangelicals (eds. R. Webber and

D. Bloesch; Nashville: Nelson, 1978) 16.

            26 "Lausanne Covenant" (Lausanne: International Congress on World Evangelism,

n.d,) Clause 7.

            27 Ibid.



            Clearly, Jesus' prayer for unity does not leave unanswered the

question of how this unity can achieve visible form. Such tangible

expression is found in the love of the disciples for one another, in

fulfillment of Jesus' command (13:34-35). Jesus himself will exemplify

this love by his death for them on the cross. It is in the light of his

death and subsequent exaltation that the disciples will be able to see

the real meaning of his earthly ministry (Phil 2:1-11). Thus the unity

mentioned here is not a unity achieved by legislation; rather, it is

based on the Son's love for his followers, and is manifested in their

common love for Christ and for one another.

            Exactly what forms of expression this love will take are, of

course, variable and much beyond the scope of this paper. But our

times demand an open and honest reevaluation of the options. At the

very least, mutual love will express itself in the honest acknowledge-

ment that each person and tradition has failed to be as tolerant with

differing people and traditions as the demands of Christ would re-

quire. The next step would perhaps be a careful study of the Chicago

Declaration and the Lausanne Covenant in order to become more

aware of the issues that are being raised and the gulfs that some are

trying to bridge. One might then move on to works that examine the

contemporary evangelical movement and that provide a window

through which one can view the rapid changes taking place in evan-

gelicalism. Not to overlook theological issues, the reader is also en-

couraged to consult books that treat the question of biblical authority

and interpretation, as well as works that seek to define missions in

terms of evangelism and social justice.28


            28 An annotated bibliography of works in each of these areas-evangelicalism,

Scripture, and missions--may be found in R. J. Coleman, Issues of Theological Conflict

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 275-82. See also the recent work edited by D. A.

Garrett and R. R. Melick, Jr., Authority and Interpretation: A Baptist Perspective

(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987). One might also consult F. B. Nelson, "A Call to Church

Unity" (in The Orthodox Evangelicals, 190-210). Nelson writes, "I believe the time has

come for all the stops to be pulled out in the contemporary quest for church unity"

(p. 207). Some of the implications he raises are most telling and need to be considered

by every thinking evangelical. These include the setting aside of stereotypes and hasty

judgments of others; the belief that evangelicals need the whole church in their pil-

grimage toward maturity; the rejection of the false dichotomy between evangelism and

social justice; the promotion of denominational mergers and the union of local congre-

gations; the cultivation of increased discussion between evangelicals; and the explora-

tion of concrete and visible ways of meeting together, worshiping together, and

praying together (p. 208). Concerning the latter suggestion I may be permitted a

personal reminiscence. While a student in Basel, Switzerland, I attended die Baptisten-

Gemeinde Basel, a small Baptist congregation of about thirty-five members. But an

annual' okumenischer Gottesdienst (ecumenical worship service) was held in the city's

great cathedral, and we Baptists were invited to participate (along with all the other

            Black: STYLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN 17    159


            A third and final implication of our study of John 17 is so obvious

it is almost unnecessary to mention. If our Lord prayed for the unity

of his church, should we who have believed in him and have received

his Spirit do any less?

            Only as unity is sought with passion and bathed in prayer can it

be cultivated. I do not doubt for a moment that there will be some

disagreement with my merely mentioning mutual toleration as an

implication of our study of John 17. It is my conviction that some-

thing very real is to be gained by discussing the issues that divide

evangelicals. It would be impossible, however, even to begin this

process without first dealing with the prejudices within ourselves that

hinder the positive analysis and appreciation of another's heritage. If

we in the evangelical community cannot humbly turn to God and ask

him for a new awareness of our own shortcomings and for a sincere

desire to love our brothers and sisters within the community, the

chances are slim that we will ever become an effective witness to

those outside the church. Let us, therefore, gratefully reaffirm before

God our unity as members of Christ's body, humbly acknowledge our

sectarian mentality, and sincerely commit ourselves by the power of

the Spirit to flesh out the prayer of John 17 in a way that will promote

the growth of the whole church of Jesus Christ.


churches in Basel) in this "great congregation" in order to joyfully praise God, hear the

Word, and give public testimony to the unity of the body of Christ. Such a service

affirmed both the unity and diversity of the church, and the Swiss were amazed at the

sense of oneness that could cross denominational and confessional ties. Could not

similar meetings be held in large public arenas in American cities, uniting all the people

of God who will cooperate, so that the world could see the visible reality of the unified

church? The annual Easter sunrise celebration in Los Angeles is a good start, but only a




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