Sunday, April 25, 2021

Remaining, Requiring, Receiving

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding John 15:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for the 5thSunday of Easter in Year B.  

1 Ἐγώ εἰμιἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινή, καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ γεωργός ἐστιν
I am the true vine, and my father is the gardener. 
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 

2πᾶν κλῆμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μὴ φέρονκαρπόν, αἴρειαὐτό, καὶ πᾶν τὸ καρπὸνφέρονκαθαίρειαὐτὸ ἵνα καρπὸν πλείονα φέρῃ
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he removes, and every one that does bear fruit he prunes in order that it may bear more fruit. 
φέρον: PAPart asn, φέρω, 1) to carry …   3c) to bear i.e. bring forth, produce; 
αἴρει: PAI 3s, αἴρω 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up … 3a) to move from its place  3b) to take off or away what is attached to anything  3c) to remove  
φέρον: PAPart asn, φέρω, 1) to carry …   3c) to bear i.e. bring forth, produce; 
καθαίρει: PAI 3s, καθαίρω 1) to cleanse, of filth impurity, etc 1a) to prune trees and vines from useless shoots  
φέρῃ: PASubj 3s, φέρω, 1) to carry …   3c) to bear i.e. bring forth, produce 
1. The verb καθαίρω and its companion noun καθαροί will pose a challenge, not so much to the meaning of this verse and the next, but to the consistency of the metaphor. Every metaphor tends to break down eventually, but I am choosing to keep this one as close to the vineyard as possible. In this verse, καθαίρω could be “cleanse” (as it is often elsewhere), but I am using “prune,” since that is the gardener’s way of dressing a vine and enabling it to produce more. Young’s Literal Translation admirably tries to keep both the metaphor and the common use of the word with “cleanse by pruning.” In the next verse, then, I am going to try to keep the consistency, but will have to differ from most other translations. 

3ἤδη ὑμεῖς καθαροί ἐστεδιὰ τὸν λόγον ὃν λελάληκαὑμῖν: 
You are already pruned through the word which I have spoken to you. 
ἐστε: PAI 2p, εἰμί 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
λελάληκα: PerfAI 1s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak 
1. The pronoun “you” and the adjective  “pruned” are both nominative, because the verb εἰμί takes a predicate nominative.  
3. Again, most translations have “cleansed” for καθαροί here, but I am trying to keep with the metaphor surrounding this word, so I am using “pruned.” Because of that, I moved the word already so that “are … pruned” would not appear to be a linking verb/verb construction.  
4. The word “word” is singular, which I take to be composite of all the teachings that Jesus has given the disciples. In v.7 below the plural “words” will have a singular verb “abide,” reinforcing the idea that this is a collective term. 
5. It seems powerfully suggestive to me to consider that “the word” of Jesus prunes us. Later, the Spirit will be that which convicts and convinces, but this metaphor of pruning seems very promising for preaching and teaching. 

4μείνατεἐν ἐμοί, κἀγὼ ἐν ὑμῖν. καθὼς τὸ κλῆμα οὐ δύναταικαρπὸν φέρεινἀφ' ἑαυτοῦ ἐὰν μὴ μένῃἐν τῇ ἀμπέλῳ, οὕτως οὐδὲ ὑμεῖς ἐὰν μὴ ἐν ἐμοὶ μένητε
Abide in me, and I in you. Just as the branch is not able to bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither are you able unless you abide in me. 
μείνατε: AAImpv 2p, μένω,  1) to remain, abide
δύναται: PPI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources
φέρειν: PAInf, φέρω, 1) to carry …   3c) to bear i.e. bring forth, produce
μένῃ: PASubj, 3s, μένω,  1) to remain, abide
μένητε: PASubj 2p, μένω,  1) to remain, abide 
1. The word “abide” seems to be a word that I only hear in this verse and some songs, including Thelonius Monk’s marvelous recording, using the sax section of his septet, of “Abide with Me.” Listen to it here and rejoice:http://www.allmusic.com/album/monks-music-mw0000192245
2. And yet, the imperative form of “abide” (or “remain”) seems to be the point where the metaphor breaks down, since branches don’t really have the choice of either remaining or departing from the vine. If a branch departs, it would be because of its own decay, a pest, or because the gardener has pruned it off. 
3. Still, the metaphor is powerful because of the literary location of this conversation. This pericope is part of a long discourse that begins with the act of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the supper in c.13, with the teaching itself beginning with c.14. John introduces c.13 with these words: “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” The discourse ends with Jesus’ prayer in c.17, which ends with these words: “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” My point is that “abiding” is a consistent them throughout the whole act, discourse, and prayer, from beginning to end.

5ἐγώ εἰμιἡ ἄμπελος, ὑμεῖς τὰ κλήματα. ὁ μένωνἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ οὗτος φέρεικαρπὸν πολύν, ὅτι χωρὶς ἐμοῦ οὐ δύνασθεποιεῖνοὐδέν. 
I am the vine, you the branches. The one who abides in me just as I in him is the one who will bear much fruit, because apart from me you are not able to produce anything. 
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
μένων: PAPart nsm, μένω,  1) to remain, abide
φέρει: PAI 3s, φέρω, 1) to carry …   3c) to bear i.e. bring forth, produce
δύνασθε: PPI 2p, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources
ποιεῖν: PAInf, ποιέω 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
1. It is common to translate ποιέω as “do,” but in keeping with the metaphor I think “produce” is the better choice for this verse. 

6ἐὰν μή τις μένῃἐν ἐμοί, ἐβλήθηἔξω ὡς τὸ κλῆμα καὶ ἐξηράνθη, καὶ συνάγουσιναὐτὰ καὶ εἰς τὸ πῦρ βάλλουσινκαὶ καίεται
If one does not abide in me, that one has been thrown out as a branch and has withered, and they gather them and throw into the fire and it is burned. 
μένῃ: PASubj, 3s, μένω,  1) to remain, abide
ἐβλήθη: API 3s, βάλλω 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls  1a) to scatter, to throw, cast into
ἐξηράνθη: API 3s, ξηραίνω 1) to make dry, dry up, wither  2) to become dry, to be dry, be withered 
συνάγουσιν: PAI 3p, συνάγω 1) to gather together, to gather 
βάλλουσιν: PAI 3p βάλλω 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls  1a) to scatter, to throw, cast into
καίεται: PPI 3s, καίω 1) to set on fire, light, burning  2) to burn, consume with fire

7ἐὰν μείνητεἐν ἐμοὶ καὶ τὰ ῥήματά μου ἐν ὑμῖν μείνῃ, ὃ ἐὰν θέλητεαἰτήσασθεκαὶ γενήσεταιὑμῖν.
If you all abide in me and my words abide in you all, whatever you may resolve, require and it will come into being for you all. 
μείνητε: AASubj 2p, μένω,  1) to remain, abide
μείνῃ: AASubj 3s μένω,  1) to remain, abide
θέλητε: PASubj 2p, θέλω 1) to will, have in mind, intend 1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose  
αἰτήσασθε: AMImpv 2p, αἰτέω, 1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require 
γενήσεται: FMI 3s, γίνομαι 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. I am going to push the envelope on this one, looking at some of the possibilities of translating the verbs, in order to try to hear this verse freshly. I worry that too often this verse has become a magic formula, akin to a genie’s offer to grant three wishes if only you say the right words. Honestly, I think people of privilege are most inclined to see this verse as “If I am good and study my Bible, God will have to answer my prayer requests.” I believe that kind of approach completely ignores the context of both this pericope itself and the larger context in which it is situated (see v.6 n.3 above). Here are the explanations of my word choices. 
a. “You all”: The “you”s at the beginning, middle, and end of this verse are all plural. This is not a private prayer formula, but a promise to the community that has remained in Christ and in whom Christ’s word remains.
b. “Resolve”: The word θέλω is a word of intention, not quite captured with “wish,” as it is often translated. “Resolve” shows deliberation and intention, better even than “want,” in my opinion. ‘Wishing’ and ‘wanting’ too often seem to be capricious desires, different from a deliberate resolution that comes from those who remain in Christ and in whom Christ’s word remains. 
c. “Require”: This word choice may not work, because the verb is in the imperative mood and we do not think of “requiring” as a command to which one can respond. However, the fact that αἰτέω can be translated as “require” shows that it means more than “if you just ask, I will do it.” It would be more like a child asking for an egg than someone asking for a job promotion, because the ask is about something essential, not flippant, extravagant, or personally advantageous. 
d. “Will come into being”: The verb γίνομαι is always a bit of a challenge because it seems to have an implied agency and one assumes that the agency is God. There is the possibility of joyous circularity here where the ones who abide in Christ and in whom Christ’s words abide are the ones whose resolve and requirements are what God is doing. 

8ἐν τούτῳ ἐδοξάσθηὁ πατήρ μου, ἵνα καρπὸν πολὺν φέρητεκαὶ γένησθεἐμοὶ μαθηταί.
In this my father is glorified, in order that you may bear much fruit and my disciples may come into being. 
ἐδοξάσθη: API 3s, δοξάζω 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion … 4) to make glorious, adorn with luster, clothe with splendor 4a) to impart glory to something
φέρητε: PASubj 2p, φέρω, 1) to carry …   3c) to bear i.e. bring forth, produce
γένησθε: AMSubj 2p, γίνομαι 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. I suppose my rendering of the last verb construction will come as a surprise, so here is my explanation.
a. The verb, γίνομαι, like we observed regarding εἰμί in v.3 n.2, can take a predicate in the nominative case. So, as most translations choose, the subject of the last clause could be “you” and “my disciples” could be the predicate. 
b. However, I’ve noticed something in John’s gospel. The narrator of John uses the word “disciple” (or the plural) a lot, to denote followers of Jesus (not limited to the apostles). But, Jesus only uses the word 3 times in John’s gospel that I have seen (relying only on the cross-references of thebible.org, which may not be exhaustive): 8:31, 13:35, and here. In each case, Jesus uses the conditional subjunctive mood. In 8:31, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” In 13:35, “In this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” My point is that when Jesus is speaking, the disciples are disciples conditionally. When John uses the term (for Judas and Nicodemus, by the way), he uses it as a matter of fact. 
c. Because of that, I am translating the last clause as if the “coming into being” of the disciples is still conditional. John may be able to look back, post-resurrection, and say that indeed these are disciples (in fact, he may be arguing with Mark over this matter). But, when Jesus is speaking, it may still be a question of whether they will, in fact, remain in him. 


17 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for your work. My congregation and I are getting much smarter thanks to you. Seriously!

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    1. It's my joy to study the Scriptures and only a small step of work to make it public through this blog. Thank you for such an affirmative statement! It makes that small step of work all the more worthwhile.
      Blessings to you and your congregation, whoever you are. I seem to have a lot of friends named Anonymous.

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  2. I'm grateful for your treatment of verse 7! Too often I've relied on the qualification that if you ask for something, in an abiding, God-centered, Godly-result way, THEN you may be certain of a positive outcome. Your choices in Resolve and Require give pause for us to be qualifying and measuring, giving thought and reflection. It adds a gravity to any request that I
    think conveys the state of mind we should possess when we come to the Lord. Well done! -Jeff

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  3. Thanks Jeff! I always need reminding that Jesus was about much more serious work than giving us magic formulas to repeat.

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  4. I will be pondering the conditionality of our discipleship for a while. Thank you!

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    1. We're pondering together. Thanks for the note.

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  5. I'm getting γένησθε as future indicative, not subjunctive; seems to say that abiding (v.7) leads to bearing fruit and the coming into being of disciples?

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    1. Bill, Here's my delayed-by-three-years response. Both greekbible.com and thebible.org have it as subjunctive, which is what I thought it was. Hmm.. if nothing else your comment has alerted me that I've become way more dependent on these resources than I once was. Discerning between the future imperative and the subjunctive have often posed a challenge for me.
      Sorry for the delay. Usually this time of year I end up preaching from Acts or doing a series that takes me away from the gospel lections.

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  6. I am a big fan of your work! Thank you so much for your past "posts" on Textweek as well as your current updates.

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    1. Thanks, my friend. I often find myself not preaching from the gospel text, so I need to limit the amount of time and energy I put toward it for the sake of the text I am preaching on. Still, it is nice to go back to these texts every 3 years and to look at the work with fresh eyes.

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  7. As I was reading your comments about "abide" I kept hearing "align", mostly as our part of it. Align seems to lift up our responsibility to stay in alignment with the logon - to stay tuned to the frequency. Is there anything there or am I being fanciful? Anyway, thank you for being my weekly sermon starting place.

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    1. That sounds like a promising way of hearing 'abide' to me. I think I need a term that speaks to both a state of being (such as abide) and resultant activity (which I hear in align.) I suspect μένω may carry more than just one dimension of meaning.
      Thanks for this helpful suggestion,
      MD

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  8. αiρει: in v2 you have as also meaning to raise or luft up. We had a discussion at church about a possible alternative reading of this verse if the gardener supports rather than removes the fruitless branches. That seems at odds with v6 if we're trying to get a consistent reading.
    Do you have an opinion on this?

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    1. You have great discussions at your church, Bruce. That's nice to hear.
      I would yield to vine growers to say whether trellising a fruitless branch would stimulate growth. Most of my experience these days is with succulents. I do get the impression that v. 2 has a contrast between fruitless and fruitful, so I've always assumed that the contrast would push us toward the secondary definition of αἴρει, of cutting away, as opposed pruning, which is different kind of pruning.
      Again, a vine grower might show that, indeed, a fruitless, unsupported branch may become fruitful if properly supported, but I am familiar enough with the process. IF that turns out to be the case, I will modify my translation and drop a note.

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    2. Thanks Mark. I agree. Im a horticulturalist and while its a nice idea i can't see its logic in the real world. ...

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    3. Say Bruce,
      I have a friend who was the Executive Director of the Sonoma Valley Grape Growers' Association, so I sent him our question about whether we should interpret this word as separation or propping up. Here is his response.

      "Grape vine fruitfulness is actually set the season before. That means you want sun into the canopy so that fruitful buds are formed. Managing the canopy through pruning and trellising are tools to increase fruitfulness the coming season. And of course that must continue annually to maintain fruitful vines. Weather at bud differentiation also plays an important role. Cold and cloudy weather when bud differentiation is occurring can reduce fruitfulness as well. Typically today at least, each cane (each bud creates a cane) will have 2 clusters. If 0 is it a blank shoot. Sometimes you get 1 cluster or 3, again depending on the weather the previous spring.

      So I am not sure what the grape vine management might have been in the passage, but it good well reflect practices of managing the vine with pruning (thinning shoots from the previous crop) or some sort of canopy management like we call trellising today. I will leave it up to you to decide on the proper translation, but you are likely onto something."

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