"Not every word is equal in a sentence with regard to its force, focus, and the attention it demands. Not every verb in a discourse unit shares the same amount of weight and prominence. Silva has used the illustration of a chessboard with its pieces distributed. He suggests that the location of each chess piece on the board may not actually reflect the state of a particular match. Instead, he says, 'there is a dynamic relationship among the pieces that reveals the true ‘meaning’ of the game.' Moreover, 'analyzing its individual components without reference to their place in the linguistic system' is dangerous. Building upon his illustration, it would not do justice to the game of chess to consider that each piece is equally important. The loss of one’s rook or one's queen is a devastating blow in the game of chess, more so than the loss of one's pawn. The requests in prayer genre, especially in John 17, must carry, like the rook or queen, more weight, especially in determining the structure of the passage, than supportive material."Now the reason why this is important is because most people––especially in my circles––divide the structure according to the participants or referents mentioned in the prayer. In other words, Jesus first prays for himself (17:1–5), then for his disciples (17:6–19), and then for his future disciples (17:20–26). Only on occasion have people suggested a structural division different than the one I just mentioned. You'd have to read one of the following texts to find something really different:
1. A. Laurentin, “We'attah— καὶ νῦν. Formule caractéristique des textes juridiques et liturgiques (a propos de Jean 17,5),” Bib 45 (1964): 168-432.
2. Edward Malatesta, “The Literary Structure of John 17,” Bib 52 (1971): 190-214.And to these I might add the structural division that I identified in my discourse analysis, which is based on distinguishing mainline and supportive material. In the case of prayer discourse, mainline is viewed at the requests. The supportive material that I identified were grouped into the following categories: (1) accounts and (2) statements of fact. There is one final category. You might call it the "most mainline" section of the prayer since it constitutes a deviation from the rest of the discourse. That category is a commitment, which is how Jesus ends his prayer. You can read the whole discourse analysis by clicking here. But let me also give you the rough outline that I ended up with. You'll see it's quite different.
One quick note before I give you the outline and hit post though: When people think about John 17, almost everyone thinks about the standard division that has been adopted so often. In other words, people don't really remember very much about the actual content of the prayer, just who Jesus prayed for in the prayer. This is one reason why it's so important for us to think about the structure of a discourse. Structure is closely tied to intent, and when we miss the structure, we open the door to also miss the intent. The outline that follows, in my opinion, is based a closer analysis of the prayer. Identifying referents is hardly scientific. The goal of discourse analysis isn't to make things complicated or decorate the analysis of syntax, style, and structure in ways that camouflage the original intent from your average reader of the New Testament. It's to get at the text, into the text, and then out of the text with the actual "heart" of the discourse.
Here's my outline:
I. Transitory introduction. (17:1)
II. Request #1: Jesus' request for glorification. (17:1-11a)
III. Requests #2 and #3. (17:11b-19)
A. Request #2: Jesus requests for the Father to keep the disciples. (17:11b-16)
B. Request #3: Jesus requests for the Father to sanctify the disciples. (17:17-19)IV. Request #4: Jesus requests a unity for his disciples that results in the salvation of souls. (17:20-23)
V. Request #5: Jesus requests that the disciples will be with him and experience his glory forever. (17:24)
VI. Jesus’ Final Commitment: Jesus commits to making known the Father’s name. (17:25-26)
You'll want to read my whole discourse analysis to see the problems with the traditional three-fold division, or wait for the next post. But this will get you started and hopefully open to rethinking (1) whether structure matters in exegesis and (2) whether there is a better way to understand the structure of John 17.