John 17:2, Authority for Eternal Life

John 17:2 (KJV, literal) John 17:2 (Greek, transliteration)
As thou hast given him
power
over all flesh,
that to as many as thou hast given him
he should give eternal life
xo0c¸ rocxo¸ o¡:cˆ◊
r˙co¡oiov
roon¸ oooxo¸.
ivo ro◊v o orocxo¸ o¡:cˆ◊
ocon o¡:oi√¸ ¸cnv oi˙cviov.
Inasmuch as you have given him
authority
over all flesh
so that to all [those] you have given to him
he might give to them life eternal
kathōs edōkas autō
eksousian
pasēs sarkos
hina pan ho dedōkas autō
dōsē autois zōēn aiōnion
For this reason you have given him authority over all flesh: so that he might give
life eternal to all those you have given him.
For this reason you have given him authority over all flesh: so that he might give
life eternal to all those you have given him.
17:2a, For this reason you have given him.
Kathos here means literally “just as,” but here it serves as a conjunction with hina in
17:2c (HALOT 439). The basic idea is that the Father has gives authority to the Son “hina/so
that” the Son can give eternal life to the Disciples. In other words, eternal life cannot be given
without authority from the Father. This verse also introduces the key concept giving; throughout
John 17 numerous things are given: words, blessings, name, teachings, authority, knowledge etc.
Variations on the concept of giving are found in verses 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 22, 24, and
implied in several other verses. The fundamental paradigm of John 17 is that the Father gives to
the Son, who then gives to the Disciples, who then give to the Believers. The basic pattern is:
Father → Son → Disciples → Believers.
Hamblin, John 17:2 1 Nov 16, 2010
Further details of the concept of giving, and its corollary sending in John 17 will be discussed in
the commentary on verse 17:8.
17:2b, authority.
The Greek term eksousia (r˙co¡oio), which I translate here as authority, is rendered
power in the King James translation. In Greek eksousia means “right, capability, might, power,
or authority.”
1
The term is not widely used in the Septuagint, and in the few times it does occur
is it generally associated with royal authority and power. It is thus essentially a new concept
among New Testament writers, not reflecting a clear Old Testament conceptual matrix.
Unfortunately the term eksousia is not rendered consistently in the King James
translation; sometimes it is translated power, and sometimes authority. In one sense this is
legitimate, since its range of meanings overlaps with those two English words. However, this
can create confusion when trying to carefully analyze these New Testament concepts from the
King James English alone. There is another New Testament term, dunamis (o¡voµi¸), meaning
“power, might, strength, force, capability, and ability,” which thus more closely corresponds to
our modern concept of power.
2
While dunamis concerns the power or ability to do something,
eksousia implies both the ability and the authorization to do something. In other words, it
implies that someone has received authorization to do something. Dunamis occurs 375 times in
the New Testament, but is not found in John. In the King James version this term is generally
Hamblin, John 17:2 2 Nov 16, 2010
1
BDAG 352-353; TDNT 2:560-575.
2
BDAG 262-263; TDNT 2:284-317. In the Septuagint, Israelites are commanded to love God
with all their dunamis “might” (Dt 6:5). Obviously, loving God with all your authority doesn’t
make sense in English. This highlights the Greek distinction between dunamis as capability and
eksousia as authority.
translated as “power, might, or mighty works,” and is frequently used in the New Testament to
describe Jesus’ miracles. That is to say, Jesus’ miracles are acts of power/dunamis. Although the
concepts are clearly overlapping, this subtle distinction of emphasis is important, and I believe
this distinction should be borne in mind when trying to understand John 17.
In John, the idea of eksousia is very specific and limited. John never speaks of Christ’s
power/dunamis, but only of his authority/eksousia. In John, Christ’s eksousia encompasses four
very specific elements:
• Christ gives Believers the eksousia to become “sons of God” (Jn 1:12).
• Christ has the eksousia to judge Mankind (Jn 5:27).
• Christ has the eksousia to lay down and take up his life (Jn 10:18).
• Christ has the eksousia to give eternal life to the Disciples (Jn 17:2).
Reflection upon these four references shows that they all relate to one idea: eternal life.
As I shall argue in the commentary to verses 21 and 22, being a “son of God” means having
eternal life. Christ can judge Mankind, thereby deciding who receives or does not receive eternal
life. Christ can “take up” his life, meaning, he can be resurrected into eternal life. And Christ
can give eternal life to the Disciples. This is confirmed by the fifth instance of eksousia in John.
When Pilate boasts that he has the eksousia (from the Roman emperor) to crucify Christ, Jesus
replies that Pilate would have no eksousia if it hadn’t been given to him “from above” (Jn 19:10),
that is, from God. Thus, in John, all references to eksousia are to divine eksousia, and all
eksousia is related to the authority to giving or obtaining eternal life. The Father has given the
Son eksousia to give eternal life, and the Son gives the Disciples the eksousia to become sons of
God and obtain that eternal life.
Hamblin, John 17:2 3 Nov 16, 2010
17:2c, over all flesh.
Technically the term “all flesh” means “all living things” (e.g. Num 18:15; 1 Cor 15:39),
that is to say, creatures with bodies of flesh, be they human or animal. However, in the New
Testament the phrase seems to have the more limited meaning of “all Mankind.” While it is a
common Hebrew idiom,
3
it is rare in the Greek New Testament. It occurs only five times, and, in
all but one case, in quotations from the Old Testament.
4
It is found twice in quotations from Isa
40:5-6,
5
and once quoting Joel 2:28 (Acts 2:17).
The final New Testament use of “all flesh” is here in John 17:2. A careful examination
shows that it, too, is an allusion to Isaiah 40:5. Isaiah reads: “And the glory of YHWH shall be
revealed, and all flesh shall see it.” John 17:1 talks about the “glorification,” or the revelation of
the glory of the Father and the Son, while 17:2 alludes to “all flesh.” Thus, John 17:1-2--and, in
a broader sense, all of John 17--is a pesher on Isaiah 40:5.
6
John is saying that the fulfillment of
Isaiah 40:5--when the glory of YHWH is be revealed to all flesh--occurs in Jesus’ “hour.” For
Hamblin, John 17:2 4 Nov 16, 2010
3
Hebrew kāl bāšār (rDcD;b_lD;k) occurs 36 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is found most frequently
in the story of Noah and the Flood (Gen 6-9), where “all flesh” is destroyed by the Flood.
4
The exception is 1 Cor 15:39.
5
Lk 3:6 = Isa 40:5; 1Pet 1:24 = Isa 40:6.
6
Pesher is a term of exegesis from the Dead Sea Scrolls meaning “interpretation” or “solution,”
referring to the explication of the hidden, esoteric, or deeper meaning of an Old Testament text
(EDSS 2:644-7). Although a technical term for a style of exegesis among the Essenes, I use it
here in a broader sense of an ancient method of interpreting the Old Testament similar to that
widely used by New Testament authors.
John, Christ resurrected is the ultimate revelation of YHWH’s glory. Isaiah 49:26 summarizes the
idea reflected John’s theology: “then all flesh shall know that I am YHWH your Savior.”
Allusions to Isaiah 40:5 in John 17:1-2 helps us better contextualize John’s overall
message here. Isaiah 40 was one of the most important messianic chapters in New Testament
interpretation.
7
Verbal allusions to Isaiah 40 are found throughout John 17. In the following
chart, allusions to Isaiah 40 in John as a whole are in normal type; allusions in John 17 have
references in bold type, while allusions in other New Testament writings are in italics.
Isaiah Concept Reflections in John
Isa 40:2 “iniquity is pardoned” “takes away the sin of the world” 1:29
Isa 40:3
“voice of one crying in the
wilderness”
“voice of one crying out in the
wilderness” 1:23
Isa 40:5a “the glory of YHWH shall be revealed” 17:1, 4, 5, 10
Isa 40:5b
“all flesh shall see the salvation of
God”
“authority over all flesh, so that he
should give eternal life” 17:2
Isa 40:8
“the word of our God will stand
forever”
17:6, 14; “my words shall not pass
away” Mt 24:35
Isa 40:9a “get you up to a high mountain”
Transfiguration is on “high
mountain” Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2; Rev
21:10
Isa 40:9b “bring good tidings to Jerusalem” angels bring “good tidings” Lk 2:10
Isa 40:9c
“say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold
your God’”
“behold the lamb of God” Jn 1:29, 36
Isa 40:10
“his reward is with him” “they might have my joy fulfilled in
themselves” 17:14; cf. 17:22-23
Isa 40:11
“he will tend his flock like a
shepherd”
“I am the good shepherd” Jn 10:11,
14.
Hamblin, John 17:2 5 Nov 16, 2010
7
Isaiah 40 is cited or paraphrased in the following: Isa 40:3 = Mt 3:3, Mk 1:3, Jn 1:23; Isa
40:3-5 = Lk 3:4-6; Isa 40:6-8 = 1 Pet 1:24-25; Isa 40:13 = Rom 11:34, 1 Cor 2:16.
Isaiah Concept Reflections in John
Isa 40:12-14
Isaiah asks: Who was with God at
creation?
Christ was with God “before the
world was” Jn 17:5
Isa 40:21
“Have you not heard from the
foundations of the earth?”
Christ was loved by God “before the
foundation of the world” Jn 17:24
Isa 40:25
“To whom then will you compare
me ... that I should be like him? says
the Holy One”
Christ is “one” with the Father; Jn
17:21-22; Jn 10:30; “he who has seen
me has seen the Father” Jn 14:9
Isa 40:26a “Lift up your eyes on high” Christ “lifted up his eyes” Jn 17:1
Isa 40:26b
“He brings out their host by number ...
not one is missing”
“and none of them [the Disciples] is
lost” Jn 17:12
Isa 40:28a
“YHWH is the everlasting/eternal
(‘ôlām) God” (cf. Isa 9:6)
“this is life eternal, that they might
know thee the only true God,” 17:3
Isa 40:28b
“his understanding is
unsearchable” (ʼên ḥēqer li-tĕbûtātô)
“Life eternal” is to “know God” Jn
17:3; “I have known thee” Jn 17:25;
“You search the Scriptures because
you think that in them you have
eternal life” Jn 5:39
Broadly speaking, I believe Isaiah 40 is an oracle about the return of YHWH to his temple
(on the “high mountain” of “Zion” 40:9-10, 40:3-5) and the forgiveness of the sins of Israel
through the Day of Atonement (“iniquity is expiated” 40:2b). If so, then John’s extensive use of
allusions to this oracle probably indicates that Christ’s prayer should be seen as the High Priest’s
Day of Atonement blessing. I will discuss this more fully later.
A variation on this idea of Christ’s cosmic authority over all flesh can be found in Mt
28:18, where Jesus, in a post-resurrection manifestation to the Apostles, says, “all authority
(eksousia) in heaven and earth has been given to me.”
8
Note this distinction, however. In John,
Hamblin, John 17:2 6 Nov 16, 2010
8
Greek = edothē moi pasa eksousia en ouranō kai epi tēs gēs = r˙oo0n µoi ro◊oo r˙co¡oio r˙v
o¡oovcˆ◊ xoi r˙ri |:n¸] vn¸.
Christ has eksousia over “all flesh,” while in Matthew, Christ has eksousia over “heaven and
earth,” which is a Hebrew idiom for all of creation.
9
The two concepts are, of course,
complimentary. Christ’s eksousia over all flesh allows him to give new, eternal life to all
Mankind, while Christ’s eksousia over heaven and earth allows him to create “a new heaven and
a new earth” (Rev 21:1).
10
Thus Christ’s atonement is truly cosmic in nature. It involves both
the regeneration of Mankind, transforming them into Sons of God with eternal life, and the
regeneration of the entire created order through the new heavens and new earth. As we shall see
in the commentary on 17:5, John saw Christ as the primordial creator of the first creation, and
thus he could be the creator of the final, eschatological new creation.
17:2d, so that he might give life eternal.
Christ is given authority from the Father so that he might give the Disciples eternal life,
in Greek zōē aiōnios (¸cn oi˙cvio¸). At its most basic level, eternal life simply means living
forever, or eternally. Aiōnios in Greek means, “a long time, enduring, without end, or eternal,”
11

and translates the Hebrew‘ôlām, which has the same basic meaning: “a long time, forever,
endless.”
12
The explicit phrase “eternal life” is found only once in the Hebrew Bible, in the
description of the resurrection in Dan 12:2. There the phrase is ḥayyēy ‘ôlām (MDlwøo yE¥yAj),
Hamblin, John 17:2 7 Nov 16, 2010
9
Gen 1:1, 14:19, 22; Ex 31:17; Dt 3:24, 4:26; 2 Kgs 19:15; 1 Chr 29:11; Neh 9:6, etc.
10
In Mt 24:35, Christ notes that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass
away,” perhaps alluding to the creation of the new heaven and earth in which the old heaven and
earth will pass away.
11
BDAG 1:33.
12
HALOT 1:798.
translated as zōē aiōnios in the Septuagint.
13
More details on the idea of “eternal life” will be
discussed in the commentary for 17:3.
17:2d, to all those you have given him.
The idea that God has given the disciples to Jesus is an important idea in John. Details
of this concept will be discussed in the commentary on verse 17:9.
Hamblin, John 17:2 8 Nov 16, 2010
13
The phrase zōē aiōnios is also found in the Psalms of Solomon 3:12, where the righteous will
have zōē aiōnios in the “light of the Lord.” See ABD 5:684-691, for general background and a
survey of non-biblical sources on ancient Jewish concepts of a resurrection and blessed afterlife.

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