John 17:3, Knowledge and Eternal Life

John 17:3 (KJV, literal) John 17:3 (Greek, transliteration
And this is life eternal,
that they might know thee
the only true God,
and Jesus Christ,
whom thou hast sent.
o¡:n or r˙o:iv n oi˙cvio¸ ¸cn
ivo vivcoxcoiv or
:ov µovov oin0ivov 0rov
xoi ov orro:riio¸
ΔInoo¡v Xoio:ov.
For this is the endless life
that they might come to know you
the one true God
and the [one] you have sent
Jesus Christ
hautē de estin hē aiōnios zōē
hina ginōskōsin se
ton monon alēthinon theon
kai hon apesteilas
Iēsouv Christon
For this is eternal life: that they might know you, the one true God, and the one
you have sent, Jesus Christ.
For this is eternal life: that they might know you, the one true God, and the one
you have sent, Jesus Christ.
17:3a, For this is eternal life
Although the concept of eternal life is found in all of the Gospels, it is most highly
developed in John and the Johannine writings.
Furthermore, on several occasions when John
uses the word “life” (zōē) alone he seems to also be referring to “eternal life” (Jn 1:4; 11.25-26).
For John, the concepts of “life” and “eternal life” seem to reflect a single idea, which is not
simply to live forever, but to live forever in the presence of God. The importance of eternal life
Hamblin, John 17:3 1 Nov 28, 2010
Three times in Matthew (Mt 19:16, 29, 25:46), twice in Mark (10:17, 10:30), three times in
Luke (Lk 10:25, 18:18, 18:30); all but one of these passages (Mt 25:46) involves the story of the
lawyer who asks what he must do to obtain eternal life. On the other hand, the phrase occurs
sixteen times in John, and five times in 1 John (1 Jn 1:2, 2:25, 3:15, 5:11-13, 20). C. Dodd, The
Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, (1955), 144-150. Of course, there are other allusions to the
concept of eternal life in the New Testament using different language. See also Psalms of
Solomon 14.6; 2 Maccabees 7.9,14.
with Christ will be discussed in the commentary to 17.24. Here we will examine the John’s two
basic metaphors for obtaining eternal life: nutrition and knowledge.

Throughout John a number of nutrition metaphors are used for gaining eternal life:
drinking the “living waters” Christ gives,
gathering fruit (4.36), and eating food (6.27). Most
prominent in this regard is the Bread of Life discourse in John 6.
Likewise to have life we must
have the Spirit (pveuma, rvr¡µo ) (6.63)--which in Greek and Hebrew is simply another word
for life-breath.
Thus all the requirements for ordinary human life--food, drink, and breath/
spirit--are used as metaphors for the spiritual requirements for eternal life. These nutrition
metaphors culminate in descriptions of eating Christ’s flesh, and drinking Christ’s blood
(6.51-58)--allusions to the Last Supper.
It is not just that we must eat and drink and breathe to
have eternal life, we must consume and fully absorb the ultimate source of life, Christ himself.
Just as failure to eat, drink and breathe will case physical death, failure to eat, drink and breathe
Christ will bring spiritual death. Our relationship with Christ must be as intimate and constant as
our instincts for eating and breathing.
Hamblin, John 17:3 2 Nov 28, 2010
Eternal life is described as the opposite of perishing, condemnation (3.15-28, 5.24), wrath
Jn 7.38, 4.14; Rev 22.17.
Jn 6.33, 6.35, 6.48, 6.51.
See also Rom 8.2, 8.10-11; 2 Cor 3.6; Gal 6.8. The Hebrew rûaḥ (¬…·¬)--generally translated as
pneuma/spirit in the Septuagint--likewise means breath, spirit and wind in Hebrew. HALOT
3:1195-7. In one sense the Spirit/breath of God, or the Holy Spirit/breath is simply God’s breath,
and when we inhale it, we are infused with the life-force of God.
Mt 26.26-9; Mk 14.22-25; Lk 22.15-20; 1 Cor 11.23-25.
On the one hand, eternal life is associated with a number of knowledge metaphors.
Eternal life comes from believing in the Son,
and honoring him (5.23). Likewise, receiving
Christ’s words or commandments brings eternal life (6.63, 68, 12:50). Knowing the scriptures
leads to eternal life because they testify of Christ (Jn 5.39), and thus bring us to believe in Christ.
Christ is sent from the Father, and to obtain eternal life we must receive Christ (Jn 1.12). This
concept is further developed in John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he
authority (eksousia) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” In
17:2, Christ is given authority/eksousia from the Father to give the disciples eternal life, while in
1:12 Christ gives the believers the eksousia to become “sons of God.” Assuming--as I shall
argue later--that the concepts of “eternal life” and “sons of God” are different ways of describing
the same state, it is interesting to note that the Father gives the Son eksousia to give eternal life,
while the Son gives the Disciples the eksousia to become sons of God by receiving Christ.
However, the Disciples don’t have the eksousia to give eternal life. This authority/eksousia rests
with the Son alone.
To obtain eternal life means receiving, believing, honoring, obeying, knowing, loving and
becoming one with Christ. As we explore these concepts further we will see that they are all
interlocking and interdependent. The crucial concepts of love and oneness as the essence of
eternal life will be discussed in the commentary on 17.21-23 and 17.26. I will now briefly
examine the importance of knowing the Son and the Father.
Hamblin, John 17:3 3 Nov 28, 2010
Jn 3.15-18; 3.36, 5.24, 6.40, 6.47.
17:3b, that they might know you,
The Greek verb “to know” (ginōskō, vivcoxc), is the standard Greek word meaning
“know, know about, learn, find out, understand, comprehend, notice, realize, or
recognize” (BADG 199-201). Its nominal form is gnōsis (vvc◊oi¸), which is a basic Indo-
European root for the concept of knowledge, with cognates in a number of languages.
what, precisely, does it mean to “know God?”
Here in John 17, however, Jesus is explicitly proclaiming that he is fulfilling the
prophecy in Jeremiah 31.31-34.
31 Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made
with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land
of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares YHWH. 33
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,
declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their
hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall
each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ for they shall
all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will
forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Here Jeremiah is prophesying a number of interrelated events of the New Covenant that God will
establish in the future.
Hamblin, John 17:3 4 Nov 28, 2010
English “know” derives from the same Indo-European root as the Greek gnō. Likewise, the
Sanskrit jñana. Our English terms recognize, cognition, prognosis and diagnosis obviously
derive from the same Indo-European root as the Greek gnōsis.
This connection between Jesus that this passage in Jeremiah is made explicitly in Heb 8.8-12.
The King James terms Old Testament and New Testament are better translated into modern
English as Old Covenant and New Covenant. That is, the Hebrew Bible describes the Old
Covenant of God with Israel, while the New Testament describes God’s New Covenant with the
followers of Christ.
• YHWH will make a New Covenant (Jer 31.31), or New Testament. Christ at the last
supper established the “New Covenant” with his blood, the atonement being the sacrifice
that seals the New Covenant.
In all these passage the Greek term “new testament” is
kainos diathēkē, which could be better translated into modern English as “new covenant.”
This Greek phrase is also used in the Septuagint of Jeremiah 31.31, where it translates the
Hebrew bĕrît ḥădāšāh. In Jeremiah, YHWH “cuts” (kārat :¬:) the covenant, an allusion
to the Israelite practice of offering/cutting sacrifices as tokens of covenant making.
Christ’s Last Supper and Atonement are this sacrificial cutting of the New Covenant.
• The Law will be written in their hearts (31.33). This idea is further emphasized by
Jeremiah: “I will give them a heart to know that I am YHWH, and they shall be my
people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jer
24.7). For ancient Hebrews, the heart, not the brain, was the center of cognition. People
“know” with their hearts.
• Those who know YHWH will become his people (31.33). This is a key concept in John
17.21-24, where Christ explains how his disciples will become the people of God.
• All Israel will “know” YHWH (31.34), just as Christ says the believers will know the
Father and the Son.
• YHWH will forgive the iniquities of Israel (31.34), which is also one of the results of the
atonement of Christ (Jn 1.29).
Thus the prophetic background of John 17 is that Christ is fulfilling Jeremiah 31.31-34. This
likewise harks back to the fulfillment of Habakuk 2.14, “For the earth will be filled with the
Hamblin, John 17:3 5 Nov 28, 2010
Mt 26.28; Mk 14.24; Lk 22.20; 1 Cor 11.25; 2 Cor 3.6; Heb 8.8, 8.13, 9.15, 12.24.
knowledge of the glory of YHWH as the waters cover the sea.”
By revealing the Father, thus
allowing us to know him, Christ is filling the world with the knowledge of God, and thus
offering eternal life.
There are several other passages which form additional background to Christ’s prayer.

One particularly important passage is Hosea 6.6: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” As we shall see, love and knowledge are the
key themes in John 17, with Christ’s atonement replacing the ancient sacrifices and offerings
with love and knowledge. Jesus is possibly also alluding to a passage in the Apocrypha.
Wisdom 15.3 states: “to know [God] is perfect righteousness, and to recognized [God’s] power
is the root of immortality.”
Searching the scriptures can also lead to eternal life because they can bring one to a
knowledge of Christ (5.39). Thus, in a sense, one can come to know God through the scriptures.
However, this type of knowledge is not the only type of knowledge John is talking about. John
says explicitly that his Gospel was “written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God, and that believing you might have life through his name” (20.31).
Although the scriptures testify of Christ, it is Christ himself who reveals the Father, and
thus allows the Disciples to know the Father and obtain eternal life. Jesus proclaims:
Hamblin, John 17:3 6 Nov 28, 2010
Note, too, that according to Num 14.21, the “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of
YHWH.” This implies a connection between the knowledge of God and seeing the glory of God,
as will be discussed in the commentary to 17.24.
See also 1 Chr 28.9; Prov 2.5, 3.6; Ezek 13.9; 1QS 9.3-4; The Jewish Platonic philosopher
Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, reflected the same concept: “The end of wisdom’s way is
‘knowledge and understanding of God,’” Philo, “On the Unchangeableness of God” 132.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except
the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son
chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27; Lk 10.22).
The disciples can only know the Father if the Son reveals him to them; Christ thus holds the keys
to eternal life because he alone can reveal the Father. In his first letter John explains this concept
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we
may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He
is the true God and eternal life (1 Jn 5:20).

Thus, Christ has been given the authority (17.2) to reveal the Father, so we might know the
Father (17.3), and thereby have eternal life.
If knowing the Son and the Father leads to eternal life, the question naturally arises: how
can we come to know the Son and the Father? And of what does this knowledge consist? John
expands on the concept of knowing God in his first letter:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall
be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall
see him as he is. (1 Jn 3.2)
Here John teaches that to see God as he really is—that is, presumably to know him—we must be
like him. Eternal life comes not just from knowing God in an abstract theological sense, but from
knowing God in such a way that we become like him. Paul taught a similar concept: “And we
all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same
image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3.18). Here, when we behold the glory of
God we are thereby transformed into the image of God; in other words, we become God-like.
This concept will be further discussed in the commentary on 17.22-24.
Hamblin, John 17:3 7 Nov 28, 2010
Jesus’ statement that knowledge of God brings god-like eternal life raises the seeming
paradox related to the Tree of Knowledge in the creation narratives in Genesis. Christ is offering
the Disciples the eternal life promised to those who partake of the fruit of the Edenic Tree of
Life--the probable origin of the nutrition metaphor discussed above.
And yet that eternal life
comes through knowledge. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil was forbidden
to Adam and Eve in Eden (Gen 2.9, 17). In Eden it was knowledge of good and evil--not
knowledge of God--that was forbidden to Adam and Eve. Yet the result of partaking from that
tree was to become god-like. “Then YHWH God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of
us in knowing good and evil” (Gen 3.5, 3.22). The paradox is that in Eden Adam and Eve were
expelled from the Garden and forbidden to partake of the Tree of Life, lest they become like
God, yet Christ offers precisely the same eternal life through gaining knowledge of God. Christ
has thus reversed the curse and opened the path to both the Tree of Life and the Tree of
Is there a distinction between faith and knowledge as the foundation for eternal life? A
number of passages in John claim that eternal life comes through believing that Jesus is the
On the other hand, other passages in John’s writings emphasize that knowledge of
God brings eternal life.
The relationship of faith and knowledge will be discussed in the
commentary to John 17.18-20. For now, we can anticipate that discussion by noting that belief
seems to be the beginning of the Way to eternal life, while knowledge brings us to the end of that
Hamblin, John 17:3 8 Nov 28, 2010
Gen 3.22; Rev 2.7, 22.2, 22.14.
Jn 3.15-26, 3.36, 5.24, 6.35, 6.40, 6.47, 11.25, 20.31.
Jn 17.3, 1 Jn 5.20; see also 1 Pet 1.3.
This focus on knowledge and eternal life raises one other issue. The term gnōsis is one of
the most widely discussed and misunderstood in early Christianity. This is because of the rise of
the second-third century Christian movements that came to be known as the Gnostics--the
The gnosis-language in John’s Gospel made it a prime source for later Gnostic
Gnosticism is a branch of early Christianity that developed in the second century.
Their fundamental belief--that man gained salvation by obtaining special revelatory knowledge
of the nature of God--is the key idea here in John. However, Gnostics ultimately added all sorts
of concepts to John’s insight, syncretisticly merging Greek philosophy, magical theory,
mythology, etc., eventually creating a unique denomination, with a unique understanding of
Christian Gnosis. It is a serious methodological error to retroject late second and third century
Gnostic syncretistic ideology onto John and other books of the the New Testament.

17:3c, the one true God,
The Greek here--monos alēthinos theos--can be translated either as the “only true God,”
or the “one true God.” The phrase “one true God” is unique to John, reflecting the biblical idea
that God is the only God, and that he is the true God; the other so-called pagan gods being false
gods. A number of Old Testament passages reflect this concept. Most notably, the Shema
(šĕma‘) proclaims: “YHWH is our God, YHWH is [the] One” (Dt 6.4). This theme is reiterated in
Hamblin, John 17:3 9 Nov 28, 2010
Primary sources: M. Meyer and J. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, (2007); W.
Foerster, Gnosis: A Selection of Gnostic Texts, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1972). Introductions: B. Pearson,
Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature, (2007); K. Rudolph, Gnosis, (1987); G. Filoramo,
A History of Gnosticism (1990).
E. Pagels, The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis, (1989).
P. Perkins, Gnosticism and the New Testament, (1993).
throughout the Hebrew Bible; Isaiah concurs that YHWH is the “one God” (theos monos) (Isa
The phrase “true God” (alēthinos theos) is also found in the Greek Old Testament.

That the Father is the “one God” (theos monos) is also widely stated in the New Testament.

Likewise, Christians worship the “living and true God” instead of the false gods of
John, however, takes this ancient Israelite concept one step further. Whereas the Father is
the “One/Only God,” Christ is the “One/Only Son.” John is the only New Testament writer to
give Jesus the title of “Only Begotten,” in Greek monogenēs (µovovrvn¸).
The King James
Version translates monogenēs as “only begotten,” but it is sometimes rendered in contemporary
translations as “one, only, or unique”: thus the “only begotten” Son is, more simply, the “only
Son.” Thus, while the Father is the “One God,” (monos theos) Christ is his “One
Son” (monogenēs = a contraction of monos genos). For John the two ideas are parallel and
complimentary: Christ is saying that to have eternal life the disciple must know both the Father,
the “One/Only God,” and Christ, the “One/Only Son.”
Hamblin, John 17:3 10 Nov 28, 2010
I include here the Septuagint Greek to demonstrate John’s verbal allusions to these passages.
See especially the monotheistic discourses in Isaiah 40-44.
2 Chr 15.3; Jer 10.10.
Jn 5.44; 1 Cor 3.7; 1 Tim 1.17; Jude 25.
1 Thes 1.9; see also 1 Jn 5.20, Rev 6.10.
Jn 1.14, 1.18; 3.16, 3.18, 1 Jn 4.9; see BDAG 658.
17:3d, and the one you have sent,
The Son has been sent by the Father; in Greek the word apesteilas (orro:riio¸) = “one
who has been sent.” This is a verbal form of the noun Apostle (apostolos, oroo:oio¸),
meaning “a sent one.” This concept will be discussed in the commentary on John 17.18.
17:3e, Jesus Christ.
The “name” Jesus Christ is not, in fact, a name. Our English name Jesus drives from a
Jewish-Hebrew personal name, Yĕhôšûa‘ (::·¬◊·), which, when used in the King James Bible is
rendered Joshua, meaning “YHWH saves.” Thus, when the angel instructs Joseph to call the new
baby Yĕhôšûa‘ because “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1.21) this would have made
perfect sense to Joseph, since the name means “YHWH saves.” In the time of Jesus the Aramaic
version of the name might have been pronounced Yēšûa‘ or even Yēšû‘ in ordinary speech. In
the Greek Septuagint, the Hebrew Yĕhôšûa‘ was rendered into Greek as Iēsous (ΔInoo¡¸). The
transformation of Yĕhôšûa‘ into Iēsous is due to a number of peculiarities of the Greek alphabet,
and to certain letters and sounds in Hebrew that cannot be duplicated in Greek. The Greek
Iēsous would have been trying to duplicated the sounds Ye-s(sh)o-us, but quickly became
pronounced Ye-sous by non-Hebrew or Aramaic speakers.
The Greek letter I-iota was
transliterated into medieval Latin as J (though originally pronounced in Latin as Y), and hence
Iēsous was Latinized as Iesus/Jesus (originally pronounced Ye-sus), which was finally anglicized
Hamblin, John 17:3 11 Nov 28, 2010
Note that the final S at the ending of the Greek Iēsous is the nominal case ending, and does not
reflect a transliteration of a Hebrew letter. This is reflected in the archaic English name Jesu for
as Jesus. Likewise, the Hebrew YHWH was rendered into Latin as I/JeHoVaH = Jehovah (with
the Latin V being originally pronounced as the modern English W).
The relationship between the Hebrew name Joshua and the Anglicized Greek Jesus can be
seen in the King James translation of Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, both of which are talking about
Joshua in the Old Testament, but with the name rendered “Jesus” in English, following the Greek
transliteration Iēsous for Joshua/Yĕhôšûa‘. In ordinary life, Jesus would have been known as
“Jesus the son of Joseph” (Lk 4:22, Jn 1:45, 6:42), following usual Jewish naming customs.
Christ, on the other hand, is a title, an anglicized transliteration of the Greek word
christos. In Greek, christos means “anointed,” “one who has been anointed,” or “the anointed
one.” In the Septuagint christos (and its verbal variants) generally translates the Hebrew māšîaḥ
(¬·::), which also means one who has been anointed with olive oil.
In the Hebrew Bible,
priests, kings and sometimes prophets were anointed as part of a ritual of consecration.
“anointed/māšîaḥ” thus generally had reference to either a king or priest in ancient Israel. This is
most striking in Isaiah 45:1, where YHWH calls the Persian king Cyrus his “anointed” or māšîaḥ/
christos. For John, Christ uniquely and simultaneously fulfills all these three of these roles--
prophet, priest and king--and thus is the ultimate “Anointed One.”
John himself makes this linguistic connection between Messiah and Christ clear in John
1:41: “‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed)”--the word “anointed” in
Greek being christos. In 4:25, John likewise transliterates the Hebrew māšîaḥ into Greek as
Hamblin, John 17:3 12 Nov 28, 2010
For surveys of the issues, see ABD 1:914-21, and ABD 4:777-87.
Kings: 1 Sam 10.1, 15.7, 16.3; 1 Kgs 1.39, 45, etc; the phrase “YHWH’s anointed” generally
has reference to the king. Priests: Ex 29.7, 30:30; Lev 4.3, 5, 16; Num 35.25. Prophets: 1 Kgs
19:16. On the other hand, offerings could also be anointed (Lev 7.12; Num 6.15), as well as
objects such as the Tabernacle and its furnishings (Lev 8.10-12; Num 7.1).
messias (Mrooio¸), which he says means christos.
Thus John is consciously using the Greek
word christos to translate the Hebrew māšîaḥ. In English Messiah is a transliteration of the
Hebrew māšîaḥ/anointed one, while Christ is the English transliteration of of the Greek christos/
anointed one. Christos itself is also the Greek translation of the Hebrew māšîaḥ.
All three
words are found in English--Messiah, Christ and Anointed One--but it should be remembered
they are thus three different words for precisely the same ancient concept.
The name Jesus
Christ in English should be understood as “Jesus the Messiah” or “Jesus the Anointed One.”
It is important to note that, for John, the Christ/Messiah is the equivalent of Son of God.
In John 11.27, Martha testifies, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Concluding
his Gospel, John tells us his overall purpose in writing: “these things are written so that you may
believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his
name” (Jn 20.31). In both of these verses, to be the Messiah is to be the Son of God.

Hamblin, John 17:3 13 Nov 28, 2010
The ancient Latin and Greek alphabets did not have letters for the Hebrew sh-sound.
Generally, they used double-s to write this sound. Thus, anciently, in Greek or Latin, messia
would have been pronounced properly as Meshia. Pronouncing the “ss” as “sh” has faded in
English, and hence we now mispronounce meshiah as messiah. The final “h” in Messiah is the
Hebrew letter ḥêt (¬), the hard “h” as in loch, not the “ch” as in church. In Hebrew, messiah
would be pronounced me-shee-akh.
Translation is rendering the meaning of a foreign word into another language, while
transliteration is rendering the sounds of a foreign word into another alphabet. Thus Christ is a
transliteration of the Greek word christos, while “Anointed One” is the translation of the Greek
word christos.
Detailed studies of the concept of the Messiah can be found in: J. Fitzmeyer, The One Who Is
to Come (2007); J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star, (1995).
For background on this concept, see A. Collins and J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of
God, (2008); for Messiah as Son of God in John, see pp. 175-203. See also Mt 16.16, 26.63, Mk
1.1, Lk 4.41.

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