Below is a rough translation and some preliminary notes regarding John 12:20-33, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent. Jesus'/John's emphasis on how Jesus "glorifies" God via his death brings to mind the Westminster Shorter Catechism, where the "chief end" of humanity is articulated as "to glorify God and enjoy God forever." I love that statement, but this passage from John's gospel pairs "glorify" with a soul that is deeply troubled. As such, it is hard text about the sharper edge of being faithful.
20 ησαν δὲ Ελληνές τινες ἐκ τῶν ἀναβαινόντων ἵνα προσκυνήσωσιν ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ:
Yet there were some Greeks out of those who came up in order that they might worship in the festival.
ησαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἀναβαινόντων: PAPart gpm, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend 1a) to go up 1b) to rise, mount, be borne up, spring up
προσκυνήσωσιν: AASubj 3p, προσκυνέω, 1) to kiss the hand to (towards) one, … 3) in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication
1. “The Festival”: This chapter is filled with references to the Festival crowds. It begins “six days before the Passover,” with Jesus eating at the home of Lazarus and Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. Then, v.9 says, “When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead,” which is when the chief priests set out to put both Jesus and Lazarus to death. Then, v.12 says, “The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,” to begin Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna” waving palm branches and causing the religious leaders to say, “Look, the whole world has gone after him.”
2. “Greeks, who came to worship in the festival.” Are these the so-called ‘god-fearers’ that we meet in Acts? (Cf. Acts: 10: 2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26 [φοβούμενοι] and 13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7 [σεβομένων]. Some scholars feel these categories are Lukan constructs. Others point to significant Gentile presence among things like names that are listed as contributors to building a synagogue, etc. to say that diasporic Jewish synagogues attracted many non-Jewish followers. John does not give us much to go on with these visitors.
21 οὗτοι οὖν προσῆλθον Φιλίππῳ τῷ ἀπὸ Βηθσαϊδὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ ἠρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Κύριε, θέλομεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἰδεῖν.
Then these came to Philip who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and implored him saying, “Lord, we wish to see Jesus.”
προσῆλθον: AAI 3p, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach 2) draw near to 3) to assent to
ἠρώτων: IAI 3p, ρωτάω, 1) to question 2) to ask 2a) to request, entreat, beg, beseech
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
θέλομεν: PAI 1p, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend 1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose 1b) to desire, to wish
ἰδεῖν: AAInf, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes 2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
1. The use of “Lord” (Κύριε) as the Greeks’ address to Philip calls into question our modern assumption that “Lord” is an exclusively religious term. The Spanish use of “Señor” is a similar case in point. It can refer as shorthand to Jesus or God; or, it can simply be a term of respect.
2. Why Philip from Bethsaida? Bethsaida, re-named “Julia” after Caesar’s wife by Herod Philip, seemed to be a key city in Galilee under Roman rule. Perhaps it was a cosmopolitan city whose folks were naturally easier for Greeks to seek out and communicate with than others. I don’t know.
3. The way John sets up this chapter, the use of a mediator to speak with Jesus may be due to the sheer popularity of Jesus and the difficulty of a direct approach.
22 ἔρχεται ὁ Φίλιππος καὶ λέγει τῷ Ἀνδρέᾳ: ἔρχεται Ἀνδρέας καὶ Φίλιππος καὶ λέγουσιν τῷ Ἰησοῦ.
Philip comes over and speaks to Andrew; Andrew comes over and Philip and speak to Jesus.
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
λέγει: PAI 3s, , λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
λέγουσιν: PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
1. The Greeks come to Philip, Philip comes to Andrew, Andrew with Philip come to Jesus. At least it is good to know that the Presbyterian habit of running every idea through a circuit of committee meetings has some biblical warrant.
2. Andrew, along with his brother Simon Peter, were also from Bethsaida.
3. I translate the first ἔρχεται as “comes over” to reflect the middle voice, as opposed to a simple active voice. I’m not sure what John signifies by that.
4. The reason I don’t just say, “Andrew and Philip come over …” is because the verb is singular and Andrew is the closest noun.
23 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀποκρίνεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἐλήλυθεν ἡ ὥρα ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.
Yet Jesus responding to them says, “The hour has come in order that the son of man may be glorified.
ἀποκρίνεται: PMI 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
λέγων: PAPart, nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἐλήλυθεν: PerfAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
δοξασθῇ: APSubj 3s, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion 2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate 3) to honor, do honor to, hold in honor
1. John uses “son of man” 12 times - 1:51, 3:13, 3:14, 5:27, 6:27, 6:53, 6:62, 8:28, 12:23, 12:34 (2x), 13:31. Often, but not exclusively, it is associated with suffering and the cross.
2. Jesus’ response begins here and concludes in v.28. Yet, he never quite addresses the request of the Greeks to see him. At least not directly. In the end, I feel compelled to consider Jesus’ words in themselves, as well as Jesus’ words contextualized within a request of some Greeks at the Passover asking to see Jesus.
3. The verb “glorify” plays a key role in John. Remembering the prologue that states, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth,” here is how the narrator and Jesus use the verb δοξάζω. Notice that in 15:8 and 21:19 disciples of Jesus are also part of this act of glorifying God.
7:39 ...because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
8:54 ...answered, If I honor myself, my honor...
8:54 ...is my Father that honoreth me; of whom...
11:4 ...Son of God might be glorified thereby.
12:16 ...but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they...
12:23 ...Son of man should be glorified.
12:28 Father, glorify thy name. Then...
12:28 ...from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will...
12:28 ...glorified it, and will glorify it again.
13:31 ...Jesus said, Now is the ... man glorified, and God is...
13:31 ...glorified, and God is glorified in him.
13:32 If God be glorified in him, God...
13:32 ...in him, God shall also glorify him in himself...
13:32 ...in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.
14:13 ...that the Father may be glorified in the Son...
15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear...
16:14 He shall glorify me: for he...
17:1 ...hour is come; glorify thy Son, that...
17:1 ...thy Son also may glorify thee:
17:4 I have glorified thee on the...
17:5 ...now, O Father, glorify thou me with...
17:10 ...are mine; and I am glorified in them.
21:19 ...by what death he should glorify God. And when...
24 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ κόκκος τοῦ σίτου πεσὼν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἀποθάνῃ, αὐτὸς μόνος μένει: ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ, πολὺν καρπὸν φέρει.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat that has fallen into the earth would die, it remains alone; but if it would die, it bears much fruit.
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πεσὼν: AAPart nsm, πίπτω, 1) to descend from a higher place to a lower 1a) to fall (either from or upon) 1a1) to be thrust down
ἀποθάνῃ: AASubj 3s, ἀποθνήσκω to die out, expire, become dead. θνήσκω with ἀπό prefixed, rendering the verb more vivid and intense, and representing the action of the simple verb.
μένει: PAI 3s, μένω, 1) to remain, abide 1a) in reference to place
ἀποθάνῃ: AASubj 3s, ἀποθνήσκω to die out, expire, become dead.
φέρει: PAI 3s, φέρω, 1) to carry 1a) to carry some burden
1. In a less literal translation, I would make this, “If a grain of wheat that has fallen into the ground does not die, it remains alone. But, if it does die, it bears much fruit.” ἐὰν and μὴ are literally “if” and “not” taken separately. Together they are a subjunctive way of setting up a negative possibility. Hence, “Unless” (NRSV) or “except” (KJV).
2. This may be the best way of understanding what the verb “glorify” means. Jesus dies, not to appease God’s anger over human sinfulness, but because a death like his can be the means for bearing much fruit. I know that Archbishop Oscar Romero found great consolation in this verse when his own life was threatened and, in fact, his words have reverberated ever more strongly since his assassination. Tertullian captured it well in the phrase, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
25 ὁ φιλῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπολλύει αὐτήν, καὶ ὁ μισῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον φυλάξει αὐτήν.
The one who loves one’s psyche loses it, and the one who hates his psyche in this world into ‘eternal now living’ keeps it.
φιλῶν: PAPart nsm, φιλέω, 1) to love 1a) to approve of 1b) to like
ἀπολλύει: PAI 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy 1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin 1b) render useless 1c) to kill … 2a) to lose
μισῶν: PAPart nsm, μισέω, 1) to hate, pursue with hatred, detest
φυλάξει: PAI 3s, φυλάσσω, 1) to guard 1a) to watch, keep watch …. 1c3) to keep from being snatched away, preserve safe and unimpaired
1. It is incredibly important to point out that EVERY verb and participle of this verse is in the present tense. There is a parallel pattern here, where loving leads to losing; while hating leads to keeping, but note: losing and keeping are not in the future tense. It’s not ‘love or hate’ now; ‘lose or keep’ later, at least not insofar as the verb tenses go.
2. The key, then, is the term αἰώνιον, which is typically translated “eternal life.” αἰώνιον has as its root the word αἰών, means most basically “age”, like the transliterated English ‘eon.’ Kittle’s TDNT has pages and pages on αἰών, noting that it is incredibly ambiguous and its translation is quite dependent on context - particularly the question would be whether αἰών points to this-worldly age or next-worldly age. The adjective αἰώνιος can be translated ‘eternal,’ ‘lifelong,’ ‘enduring,’ ‘everlasting,’ ‘ancient,’ or ‘long past,’ or ‘of old.’ In the NT, it is used of God, divine possessions, or with an eschatological sense.
3. It is important to remember that this is a prepositional phrase: εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον. The εἰς means ‘into’ and takes the accusative as its object. ζωὴν (‘life’ noun) and αἰώνιον (‘age-long’ adjective) together are the object of the preposition, both accusative singular feminine. (I know that the pronoun αὐτήν is also accusative singular feminine, but that corresponds with the singular feminine antecedent, ψυχὴν.)
4. Young’s Literal Translation translates αἰώνιον as “age-during,” which – I think – is very suggestive that the adjectival form of this word means something other than just ‘eternal.’ Of course, I don’t know if John intended ‘eternal’ or ‘life-during’ (whatever that means). I just think that we fall too easily into thinking that everything is mortgaged in this life for the next life.
5. The other translation issue here is the word ψυχὴν, which I am transliterating as psyche. It is often translated ‘soul,’ (KJV) or ‘life’ (NRSV). But, I worry that ‘soul’ sounds like a ‘religious’ part of our being or an eternal part of our being, such as in the Greek (and not biblical) doctrine of the immortality of the soul. And ‘life’ is problematic here because ζωὴν is typically translated as a ‘life’ word. "Self" is probably the best choice, but, I’m leaving it a ‘psyche’ so the original term is clearer.
26 ἐὰν ἐμοί τις διακονῇ, ἐμοὶ ἀκολουθείτω, καὶ ὅπου εἰμὶ ἐγὼ ἐκεῖ καὶ ὁ διάκονος ὁ ἐμὸς ἔσται: ἐάν τις ἐμοὶ διακονῇ τιμήσει αὐτὸν ὁ πατήρ.
If one would serve me, one must follow me, and where I am, there the servant of mine will be also; if one would serve me, the father will honor that one.
διακονῇ: PASubj, διακονέω, 1)) to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon
ἀκολουθείτω: PAImpv 3s, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant, accompany him
εἰμὶ: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
διακονῇ: PASubj, διακονέω, 1)) to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon
τιμήσει: FAI 3s, τιμάω, 1) to estimate, fix the value 1a) for the value of something belonging to one's self 2) to honor, to have in honor, to revere, venerate
27 Νῦν ἡ ψυχή μου τετάρακται. καὶ τί εἴπω; Πάτερ, σῶσόν με ἐκ τῆς ὥρας ταύτης; ἀλλὰ διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον εἰς τὴν ὥραν ταύτην.
Now my psyche is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, rescue me out of this hour?’ But for this reason I came into this hour.
τετάρακται: PPI 3s, ταράσσω, 1) to agitate, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro) 1a) to cause one inward commotion, take away his calmness of mind, disturb his equanimity
εἴπω: λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
σῶσόν: AAOptative 2s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction 1a) one (from injury or peril) 1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
ἦλθον: AAI 1s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
1. I think this verse and the next ought to have been divided differently. The phrase, “Father, glorify your name” is the obvious retort to “Father, save me from this hour.” So, I think this is another parallel structure that could be something like: What shall I say, “Father save me?” No, I came precisely to say this, “Father glorify your name.”
2. For “Save me” the verb is in the ‘optative’ mood. It’s fairly rare but signifies a wish or a hope. In the parallel prayer, “Father, glorify your name,” the verb is in the imperative mood. I think that indicates that Jesus’ prayer is not a hope, but a determination that God be glorified.
3. Jesus words here have a different tenor than the prayer in the garden in Mark’s gospel, where Jesus prays for God to “let this cup pass from me.” In Mark, Jesus gets to “Not my will, but yours” eventually. In John, he seems to be on that latter side of that journey already.
28 πάτερ, δόξασόν σου τὸ ὄνομα. ἦλθεν οὖν φωνὴ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, Καὶ ἐδόξασα καὶ πάλιν δοξάσω.
‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came out of the heaven, “Indeed I have glorified and will glorify again.”
δόξασόν: AAImpv 2s, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion 2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
ἐδόξασα: AAI 1s, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion 2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate
δοξάσω: FAI 1s, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion 2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate
1.The ongoing paradox of John’s gospel is that this one who is glorified is, at the same time and in this very way, the one who is “lifted up” in death. But, if God had already “glorified” his name through Jesus, then it is not only death that glorifies God. Jesus has glorified God with his living as well.
29 ὁ οὖν ὄχλος ὁ ἑστὼς καὶ ἀκούσας ἔλεγεν βροντὴν γεγονέναι: ἄλλοι ἔλεγον, Ἄγγελος αὐτῷ λελάληκεν.
Then the crowd who are standing there also having heard were saying there has been thunder; others said, “Angels had been speaking to him.”
ἑστὼς: PAPart nsm, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set
ἀκούσας: AAPart nsm, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf 2) to hear
ἔλεγεν: λέγω IAI 3s, 1) to say, to speak
γεγονέναι: PerfAInf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἔλεγον: λέγω IAI 3p, 1) to say, to speak
λελάληκεν: PerfAI 3p, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound 2) to speak
1. The voice, clear to the narrator and ostensibly clear to Jesus, was not as clear to the crowd. BTW, John does not have Jesus hearing “You are my son …” at his baptism.
30 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν, Οὐ δι' ἐμὲ ἡ φωνὴ αὕτη γέγονεν ἀλλὰ δι' ὑμᾶς.
Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not been for me, but for you.
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γέγονεν: PerfAI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
1. It is a little curious that the voice has spoken “for you,” but the crowd has not discerned it. The narrator – or the narrator’s resources – heard it clearly enough. Perhaps the “for you” is for the disciples who heard the voice clearly and “the crowd” are the others gathered there who did not.
31 νῦν κρίσις ἐστὶν τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, νῦν ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἐκβληθήσεται ἔξω:
Now is a judgment of this world, now the ruler of this world will be cast out.
ἐστὶν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐκβληθήσεται: FPI 3s, ἐκβάλλω, 1) to cast out, drive out, to send out 1a) with notion of violence 1a1) to drive out (cast out) 1a2) to cast out 1a2a) of the world, i.e. be deprived of the power and influence he exercises in the world 1a2b) a thing: excrement from the belly into the sink 1a3) to expel a person from a society: to banish from a family 1a4) to compel one to depart; to bid one depart, in stern though not violent language
1. There is an insistence on ‘now.’ Now is judgment; and now … the ruler of this world “will be” cast out. But, the second now has a curious future tense tied to it.
2. The “ruler of this world”: At the last supper, Jesus says to his disciples, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (14:30-31). And later, about the paraclete, Jesus says, “he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
3. Note the use of “now” in v.27 and here, as well as “the hour has come” in v.23.
32 κἀγὼ ἐὰν ὑψωθῶ ἐκ τῆς γῆς, πάντας ἑλκύσω πρὸς ἐμαυτόν.
And I if I would be lifted up out of the earth, I will draw all to me.
ὑψωθῶ: APS 1s, ὑψόω, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt 2) metaph. 2a) to raise to the very summit of opulence and prosperity 2b) to exalt, to raise to dignity, honour and happiness
ἑλκύσω: FAI 1s, ἑλκύω 1. unsheath, a person forcibly and against his will, drag, drag off, 2. metaph. to draw by inward power, lead, impel:
1. The word κἀγὼ means “and I” and the verb ὑψωθῶ is in the first person voice, hence the “And I if I.”
2. The language of Jesus being “lifted up” ὑψόω is part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (Jn 3:14) and in 8:28 Jesus says to ‘the Jews,’ “When you have lifted up the son of man, then you will realize that I am he …”
33 τοῦτο δὲ ἔλεγεν σημαίνων ποίῳ θανάτῳ ἤμελλεν ἀποθνῄσκειν.
Yet he was saying this signifying what kind of death he was about to die.
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
σημαίνων: PAPart nsm, σημαίνω, 1) to give a sign, to signify, indicate 2) to make known
ἤμελλεν: IAI 3s, μέλλω, 1) to be about 1a) to be on the point of doing or suffering something 1b) to intend, have in mind, think to
ἀποθνῄσκειν: PAInf, ἀποθνήσκω to die out, expire, become dead. θνήσκω with ἀπό prefixed, rendering the verb more vivid and intense, and representing the action of the simple verb.
1. “What kind of death” seems to be pointing to the cross, since Jesus being “lifted up” had already been likened to Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness (c.3).
2. The present active participle “signifying” is intriguing, since one distinctive feature of John’s gospel is his use of the word “sign” instead of “miracle.” Here, it is not a miraculous act, but words, that signify.