TRANSLATION AND COMMENTARY ON JOHN’S GOSPEL
JOHN 15: 18
(Jesus said) If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to world, but I chose you from the world, for that reason the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, that a slave is not greater than his master. If they have harassed me, they will also harass you; if they have held fast to my teaching, they will also hold fast to yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken with them, they would have had no sin; but as it is, they have no pretext for their sin. The one who hates me also hates my father. If I had not done amongst them miracles that no one else has done, they would have had no sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated me, and my father too. This has happened so that the word written in their Law may be fulfilled, “They hated me for nothing.”
But when the Defender comes, whom I will send from the father, the spirit of reality who goes out from the father, he will testify about me. And you will also testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
I have noted already in this commentary the author’s use of the Greek kosmos = world to indicate a split in reality, namely the power of human rebellion against the creator. But it is a dangerous use of this word which Greek scientists and philosophers had used to represent the ordered universe, and Jewish teachers to represent the created universe. The Gospel can be seen as defining the material world as evil in itself, which would be a denial of the creation faith expressed in its opening verses. I do not see it as going that far, but there is a dangerous weakening of the Genesis faith that “God saw it, that it was good.”
There is another issue in this passage namely its blunt assertion that hatred of Jesus is hatred of the father. Mark in his Gospel distinguishes between antagonism to Jesus himself and antagonism to the Holy Spirit evident in his healings. Only the latter is said to be unforgivable. Given that all the gospels re-write Jesus’ words for their own generation, we may ask at whom this author is aiming these words. It seems likely that the are intended for the “Judeans”, the orthodox Jews who had expelled from the synagogues those who held Jesus to be the Messiah. If so, he is interpreting a doctrinal difference as “hatred” of Jesus and of the father. Perhaps the Judeans had partly earned this terminology by their own intolerance, but we must note the teaching here as perilously close to a sectarian certainty that “we are saved and everyone else is damned.” Another symptom of this attitude is the description of the Bible as “their Law” rather than simply “scripture.”
The other Gospels also report Jesus as foreseeing division and argument amongst Jewish people as a result of his ministry, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword of division.” His warnings are presented by them as a means of strengthening his followers. In John however, such divisions of faith have become aspects of “kosmic” opposition to God, and as such profoundly sinful.
The spirit who is again called “Defender” or “Advocate” represents “reality” or “unveiled truth”. Perhaps the spirit spoke through the prophets of the Assemblies of Jesus, who dared to speak in Jesus’ name. At the same time the memory of Jesus handed on by those “who had been with him from the beginning” remained important.
The notion that hatred of Jesus was for nothing is of course unhistorical if taken literally. Jesus was deliberately challenging the religious authorities of his people. He must have known his behaviour was provocative. On the other hand, what he challenged most of all was their prejudice, their ingrained conviction that Israel was specially favoured by God. Indeed in religious or secular form this conviction still underlies the ideology of the modern Israeli state. But lurking under all explanations for hatred is the readiness of human beings to hate other human beings. This “hatred for nothing” is a disturbing mystery.
Oh dear, why can’t we just read the Gospel simply as God’s Word? Well, I protest that’s exactly what I’m doing. If you want to read it as the magic book which belongs to Christians, you can accept it without question, and act upon it, as the Church did down the ages in justifying its persecution of the Jews, who hated Jesus and God. But if you want to treat it as the Word of God, of the One Creator and Saviour, then the book itself must be seen as human rather than divine, an instrument through which God speaks, if we study it with the help of the Defender Spirit, the voice of reality.