Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 14.1-14
Fifth Sunday after Easter - Year A

Other texts: 

Note that the Gospel for next week, 6 Easter A (John 14:15-21), continues this reading.


An outline of this section from Gail O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible):

Thus our texts for this week and next come from the "Farewell Discourse". The text for the following week -- 7 Easter A (John 17:1-11) -- comes from the "Farewell Prayer".

Discourses by Jesus are found throughout the Gospel of John. However, this one has a significant difference. Whereas the others are usually given to interpret and explain a preceding event (e.g., chs. 5, 6, & 9); this one is given in preparation, that is, before for the coming events of his death, resurrection, and ascension.

However, our liturgical use of the texts come after the events of Good Friday and Easter. Within the narrative, what Jesus is preparing is disciples for, we have experienced (at least within the church year calendar).


Jesus' farewell discourse contains most of the elements of other farewell or last testament speeches in the Mediterranean world. O'Day says the following about this:

In addition to identifying the formal characteristics of the farewell speech in general, the most instructive comparison may be between the Johannine Farewell Discourse and the farewell speeches of Moses in Deuteronomy. Through the literary device of the farewell speech in Deuteronomy, the traditions of Sinai and Moab are given a fresh hearing, a "re-presentation," in a new setting, because they are presented as being spoken in this moment for this people (cf. Dt 5:1-3; 8:1; 30:1-20). Deuteronomy was not written for a people about to enter the promised land, however, but was written centuries after Moses for a people who had long lived in the land. The farewell speeches in Deuteronomy invite the readers of eighth- and seventh-century BCE Israel to see themselves as if they were the people on the plains of Moab. Moreover, by using this narrative strategy, the author(s) of Deuteronomy give Mosaic sanction to their interpretive work. [p. 738]

Jesus' words in the Farewell speech, on one level, are addressed to the disciples in the upper room. On another level, they are addressed to disciples living on the other side of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Among other issues, it answers the question, "Why did Jesus leave?" Why couldn't Jesus have stayed around after the resurrection and continued the ministry he started before his death? This isn't a question the disciples in the upper room would have asked, but it is a concern for the believers who came later.


V. 1: The command "Don't let your hearts be troubled," is one that not even Jesus fulfilled. The same word is used of Jesus in 11:33; 12:27; and 13:21. If at times Jesus had a troubled "soul" or "spirit," how would we expect not to have troubled hearts? What troubled Jesus in these three instances was the power of death. We, who live on the other side of the resurrection, should not fear the power of death.

This command is difficult to put in English. The verb is a third person singular imperative passive. We don't have such a mood in English. The command is addressed to our heart. (It's also a bit confusing because "your" is plural, but "heart" is singular, even if NRSV has "hearts" -- a corporate heart?) The passive verb implies that there is something that could trouble our heart, i.e., "Do not let your heart be troubled by _______." The present tense implies continuous or repeated actions, "Don't let your hearts continue to be troubled by _______."

pisteuete can be either an indicative or an imperative present tense verb. As an indicative, it could give the reason why one should not be troubled: "You are believing in God and you are believing in Jesus." Belief (or trust) is something the people already have.

As an imperative, it continues the mood from the first verb: "Believe in God and believe in Jesus." Stated this way, it seems that one doesn't have faith and is commanded to get it. However, as a present tense imperative, it could be translated: "Continue to believe" or "Keep on believing." One already has faith, and is encouraged to keep it through difficult times.

Malina & Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John) note: "John's peculiar way of phrasing it -- believing 'into' Jesus -- connotes being completely embedded in the group of which he is the central personage" [p. 230].

Earlier, (commenting on 6:28-29,) they had written more about this concept:

Believing "into" is a characteristic Johannine idiom. Many commentators have pointed out that this construction implies trust rather than simple intellectual assent. Given the collectivist character of the relationships in ancient Mediterranean societies, however, even more is implied. Collectivist persons become embedded in one another. A unity and loyalty is involved that is extremely deep. Since personal identity in collectivist cultures is always the result of the groups in which one is embedded, that too is involved. John's peculiar idiom (the Greek tense used connotes ongoing or continuous action) suggests exactly this kind of long-term solidarity with Jesus. [p. 130]

As I will point out later, I think that this section is primarily about relationships -- and that begins with John's idiomatic phrase "believing into".

What might cause hearts to be troubled? What might cause the people to stop believing? On one level it would be Jesus' upcoming death. On another level it would be the persecution of Christians that perhaps John's community was suffering. (Note the connection of "troubled" and "afraid" in 14:27.) On a third level, we need to determine what those "faith-threatening" things are in our lives and repeat Jesus' commands: "Don't be troubled! Keep on believing!"

About this time six years ago, there had been the tragic killing of 14 youth and one adult in Littleton, CO. Anyone whose heart was not troubled by such a senseless killing probably has no heart. Children continue to be murdered in our country. We should be troubled.

We have experienced the destruction of thousands in the Twin Towers attack. Shouldn't we be troubled by that – and a continuing threat of terrorism? There are victims in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are times, I believe, that our hearts should be troubled, but it should not be about our own future lives.

V. 2 also has some translation difficulties.

Should oikia be translated "house" -- a physical structure (as in 11:31 & 12:3) or "household" -- a community of people (as in 4:53 & 8:35)?

In 2:16, the temple is called "My Father's house (oikos)". Jesus declares that he will replace the structure with himself!

The same ambiguity exists with mone. It means a "place where one may remain or dwell," It can mean a physical structure, but its only other use in the NT, John 14:23, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them," seems to imply an abiding relationship between people and God. This noun is related to the verb meno -- "to remain, to abide," a word that occurs often in the Farewell Discourse (14:10, 17, 25; 15:4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 16) -- often referring to the relationship between God and Jesus or God and us.

Another reference with this meaning of meno is 8:35 (where oikia also occurs): "The slave does not remain in the house (or household/family) forever, the son remains forever." Do the words "remain" and "house" refer to a physical place or to a relational state? My sons remain my sons forever, even though they may not be living in our house. The relationship remains. The physical presence may not.

From Brown (The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible):

This special house or household where the son has a permanent dwelling place suggests a union with the Father reserved for Jesus the Son and for all those who are begotten as God's children by the Spirit that Jesus gives. Thus there would be some precedent for reinterpreting "many dwelling places in my Father's house" parabolically as possibilities for permanent union (mone/meno) with the Father in and through Jesus. (Gundry, has independently proposed a similar interpretation: ". . . not mansions in the sky, but spiritual positions in Christ.") [p. 627]

From O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible):

Jewish traditions that identify the 'Father's house' with a heavenly dwelling place clearly lie behind the imagery of v. 2a (e.g., Pss 2:4; 66:1; 113:5-6; 123:1; Is 66:1), but it is critical to the interpretation of Jesus' words here that the reference to 'my Father's house" not be taken as a synonym for heaven. Instead, this reference to the Father's house needs to be read first in the context of the mutual indwelling of God and Jesus, a form of 'residence' that has been repeatedly stressed from the opening verses of the Gospel (e.g., 1:1, 18). Throughout the Gospel, location has consistently been a symbol for relationship. ... to know where Jesus is from is to know his relationship with God. [p. 740]

She goes on to state: "Jesus uses the domestic imagery to say, 'My return to God will make it possible for you to join in the relationship that the Father and I share' (cf. 20:18)." [p. 741]

Given this understanding, "the place" Jesus is preparing is not a spot in a physical dwelling, but a "place" in God's family -- a "place" where one can be related to and remain with the Father as closely as Jesus, the Son, does.

The hoti in v. 2 creates some translation difficulties -- see footnotes in NRSV and compare the NRSV with NIV. In either case, it answers the question, "Why did Jesus have to leave?" He goes to prepare a place for us.

V. 3 supports the "relational" interpretation better than the "house-in-the-sky" understanding. Jesus says: "I will take you to myself, so that where I am you also might be." As I mentioned earlier, in ch. 2, Jesus had redefined the temple to be his body. Would "entering the temple" then mean "coming to Jesus" = "being in relationship with Jesus" = "believing into Jesus"?

Where is Jesus? The issue of "where" is an important one in John. Pilate asks, "Where do you come from?" On one level the answer is Nazareth. On another level the answer is "from God." The "where" can be a place or it can be the intimate relationship Jesus has with God.

Numerous times Jesus indicated that where he is or where he is going, others can't come (7:34, 36; 8:21, 22; 13:33, 36). In the first four references, Jesus is speaking to Jews. The last two he is speaking to his disciples. The last reference, Jesus says that the disciples can't come now, but they will later.

In contrast to these, Jesus says in 12:26: "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor."

If the "where" is the intimate relationship between Jesus and the Father, Jesus' going away and the sending of the Spirit opens up the possibility that "where Jesus is, we might also be" -- that is, in this intimate relationship with the Father.

There is a shift in v. 4 from the "destination" to the "way".

In typical Johannine fashion, this word (hodos) has levels of meaning. It can be a geographical road or path. It can be a non-geographical means of getting somewhere. In John's gospel, "knowing the way" means "knowing Jesus". As v. 6 indicates, Jesus is the way. Like Thomas indicates, if one doesn't know where Jesus is going, one can't know the way.

If the "where" is the unity with the Father, the way to that place is Jesus.

Vv. 6-11 stress the connection between Jesus and "the Father". Ten times in these verses pater is used.

Two quotes from O'Day on this section:

This is the heart of the good news for the Fourth Evangelist, that in Jesus, the incarnate word, the Son of God, one can see and know God in a manner never before possible. [p. 743]

In many ways, John 14:6 is both truism and tautology, because, following John 1:18, it is indeed only through the incarnation that the identity of God as Father is revealed. John 14:6 is not a general metaphysical statement about 'God'; Jesus does not say 'No one comes to God except through me,' but 'No one comes to the Father except through me,' and the specificity of that theological nomenclature needs to be taken seriously. John 14:6 is the very concrete and specific affirmation of a faith community about the God who is known to them because of the incarnation. . . . 'God' is not a generic deity here; God is the One whom the disciples come to recognize in the life and death of Jesus. When Jesus says 'no one,' he means 'none of you.' In John 14:6, then, Jesus defines God for his disciples; the Fourth Evangelist defines God for the members of his faith community. [p.744]

Vv. 10-11 shifts the focus from Jesus as revelation of God to the disciples acceptance of it through faith.

The section begins with a question from Philip (v. 8). (Similarly, Thomas had asked a question in v. 5, and Judas (not Iscariot) will ask one in v. 22.) The "yous" in Jesus' answer jump back and forth between plural (y'all) and singular (you).

"For such a long time I have been with y'all
and you have not known me, Philip?
The one having seen me has seen the father.
How are you saying, 'Show us the father?'
Do you not believe that I am in the father and the father is in me?
The words which I am saying to y'all I am not speaking from myself,
but the father dwelling in me is doing his works.
[Y'all] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me;
but if not, [y'all] believe through the works themselves."

The imperatives to believe in Jesus' words, or at least his works (from the Father dwelling in him) is addressed to all believers.

Given the fact that Jesus repeatedly stated that he did not come to judge (krino) (3:17; 8:15; 12:47) -- and in the instance when the adulteress deserved condemnation (katakrino) Jesus refused to condemn her (8:10-11), why have so many used 14:1-11 as a tool of judgment? Is there another way to understand these verses that isn't so judgmental towards those who do not see Jesus as the way and yet remains honest with this text?

I like O'Day's approach to this issue: "The particularism of John 14:6-7 does de facto establish boundaries; it says, 'This is who we are. We are the people who believe in the God who has been revealed to us decisively in Jesus Christ.'" [p. 744]

Rather than using it as a means of condemning others, it should be seen as a doxological statement of who we are as children of the Father through Jesus.

Vv. 12-14 have a new emphasis that parallels what went before. As Jesus' work was God's work, so the works of the believers is Jesus' work. We share in the revealing work of Jesus to point to the Father.

How are our works greater than Jesus'? Ours come after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Ours come within the new, eschatological age ushered in by Jesus' "hour" of glory.

However, vv. 13-14 indicate that our works, are really Jesus actions in response to our asking. Perhaps two limiting factors to our asking. (1) Our requests are "in Jesus' name," meaning asking for what Jesus would want -- which may not be the same as we would want. (2) Our requests are answered with Jesus' promise: "I will do it" -- I doubt that what Jesus "will do" will be any different from what he "did do" during his earthly ministry. While Jesus performed signs and miracles, Jesus' glorification of the Father also led him to suffering and the cross. I'm not sure that I am willing to ask Jesus: "Would you do through me whatever it costs to glorify the Father?" I want to limit the "whatever" to "the miraculous" and the "costs" to "not too much". Jesus' doing included the suffering that cost him his life.

Jesus has promised greater works, I'm not sure we are ready to pay the price.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901