Original Research - Special Collection: A.G.van Aarde Festschrift

Does John 17:11b, 21−23 refer to church unity?

Gert J. Malan
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 67, No 1 | a857 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v67i1.857 | © 2011 Gert J. Malan | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 May 2010 | Published: 11 April 2011

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Gert J. Malan, Department of New Testament Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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In ecumenical circles, John 17:11b, 21–23 has been understood as Jesus’ prayer for church unity, be it confessional or structural. This article questioned such readings and conclusions from historical, literary and sosio-cultural viewpoints. The Fourth Gospel’s language is identified as ’antilanguage’ typical of an ’antisociety’, like that of the Hermetic, Mandean and Qumran sects. Such a society is a separate entity within society at large, but opposes it. Read as a text of an antisociety, John 17:11b, 21–23 legitimises the unity of the separatist Johannine community, which could have comprised several such communities. This community opposed the Judean religion, Gnosticism, the followers of John the Baptist and three major groups in early Christianity. As text from the canon, this Johannine text legitimates tolerance of diversity rather than the confessional or structural unity of the church.


Church unity; John 17; socio-cultural; historical


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