Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Better Structural Outline Of John 17 (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series is here.

TWH: The structure of John 17 is typically identified with a three-fold division. As Ridderbos has mentioned, there have been a few that have attempted to divide the verse in a variety of ways, but this remains the typically accepted division. Ridderbos writes:
"Expositors have attempted to further divide the prayer in a variety of ways and on the basis of a number of methods and criteria. Some proceed from the structure representatives of the farewell prayer genre, others from the rhythmic cadence that the prayer is said to show or from the recurrent transitional formula ‘and now’ and the use of certain transitional keywords. The majority, however, attempt to lay bare the structural outline on the basis of the content of the prayer. But neither form nor content has thus far led to a consensus" (Herman N. Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans], 547).
Verses 1–5 constitute Jesus’ prayer for himself. Verses 6–19 contain Jesus’ prayer for his immediate disciples. Verses 20–26 pertain to his future disciples. Ridderbos is perhaps the most clear in his distinction writing that Jesus prayed for those "followers whom he has not yet met" (The Gospel of John, 142).

Who follows or adopts this structure? A great many expositors and commentators do with some slight variations. Whitelaw writes, "With almost perfect unanimity the prayer is recognized as falling into a threefold division; according to which Christ prays, first, for Himself (ver. 1–5); secondly, for His immediate disciples (ver. 6–19); and, thirdly, for His future followers (ver. 20–26)" (Thomas Whitelaw, Commentary on John [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993], 349). Stallings calls this the "natural outline" (Jack W. Stallings, The Gospel of John, Randall House Bible Commentary [Nashville, TN: Randall House, 1989], 245). Morris writes: "The prayer is difficult to subdivide, for it is essentially a unity, but it is possible to discern a movement" (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, rev. ed., NICNT [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995], 634). The movement is seen through the three-fold division. There are some varying flavors to this typical three-fold division. Some split the first and second division between verse eight and nine.

This structure hinges on the participants. One determines the "natural outline" and the "movement" based upon those who are involved in the prayer. The most disappointing aspect about this division is the tendency to view the last division as referring to future disciples as if it does not refer to the eleven remaining with Jesus. Stallings, even though he does not actually provide an outline, does exactly this. Not everyone does this, however. Many avoid the distinction and clearly state that it includes the present and future disciples. Is it important? Absolutely, if you think Peter, James, John, and the rest are part of the "they" group in verse 24.

Another common trait, a cousin of the three-fold division, is to divide the last six verses in half. Sometimes verses 20–23 and verses 24–26 represent the divisions while for others the division comes between verses 24 and 25. For example, Barrett sees a shift at verse 25 with Jesus reviewing his ministry. There are some other types of divisions that are more complicated like the ones mentioned by Becker, and others that are much simpler.

The question remains whether or not one should identify structure based upon the participants involved. Some problems are evident, as demonstrated above with the absence of the eleven from the final part of the prayer if it only refers to future disciples. This is not the only weakness. The requests cannot be subordinated beneath other parts of the prayer. The fact that other parts of the prayer can be understood subordinately is one proof that the mainline element of the requests is not being imposed upon the text. Others have recognized the importance of the petitions. Neyrey has done the best work thus far in this respect. He says that the three-fold division reduces "the entire prayer to a series of petitionary prayers" and points out that "while John 17 contains many prayers of petition, it also expresses prayers of other types and purposes" (Jerome Neyrey, The Gospel of John, NCBC (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007], 278). In his analysis, he identifies petitionary, informative, self-focused, and petitionary/self-focused prayers. His work is not definitive or without its own issues, but it is extremely helpful. Lincoln paid close attention to the petitions writing, "In line with the evangelist's fondness for structuring episodes in seven parts, the prayer contains seven specific petitions, the first and last sections having two each and the longer middle section three." Quast bases his outline off of the petitions as well. He comes short, however, when he only identifies three: glorification, sanctification, and unification. Quast's division is helpful to show the danger in the three-fold division (Kevin Quast, Reading the Gospel of John: An Introduction, rev. ed. [Mahway, NJ: Paulist Press, 1996]). He obviously observes the importance of the petition for the structure. Sadly, he still ended up with the typical structure. By doing so, he omits Requests #2, #3, and parts of Request #5 (such as that the world might believe). It could be argued that believing falls under the umbrella of unification. It could also be argued that Request #6, that the disciples would be with Jesus and experience his glory, is under the same umbrella. But one element of the prayer is completely missed––namely the final commitment. Most miss it.

There are a minimum of four significant contributions for giving prominence to the requests/petitions of Jesus in order to determine the structure of the passage. First, when the requests are viewed as primary, one of the most overlooked and under-stressed points in the prayer is uncovered. The requests are made in the aorist (1, 5, 11, and 17) and present (15, 20, and 24). The presence of the future, the only future tense verb, is striking in comparison. Second, when the requests are viewed as primary, they uncover how intentionally congested the prayer becomes toward the end. The prayer is moving toward a climax, most likely the future tense declaration at the end. This congestion helps to build the climax. Observing the verbs more carefully alerts the reader of this. Third, when one pays closer attention to the verbs uncovers the inclusio in verses 1–5, which is missed many times. And finally, paying attention to the verbs uncovers the Great-Commission element in John’s Gospel which this prayer provides.

Again, if you're interested in seeing the entire discourse analysis, you can read it here.

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