“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be as one, as we are one.” (John 17:11)
What is the gospel writer doing there? What is John telling us in Jesus’s reference to God’s name, both here and throughout the book?
“The rest of the new testament, apart from Revelation, really shows very little interest in God’s name as a category on its own,” explains Dr. Joshua Coutts, Associate Professor of New Testament at Providence Theological Seminary. “In the synoptic gospels and in Paul’s writing there’s already a shift towards Jesus’s name as a functional divine name.”
In his book, The Divine Name in the Gospel of John (Mohr Siebeck, 2017), Dr. Coutts examines the bringing together of God’s name—a category that is at the heart of the Israelites’ faith and practice in the Old Testament—and the New Testament emphasis on Jesus’s name.
The gospel of John, he points out, is deeply embedded in scripture, evoking Exodus, where so much is tied to God’s name, as well as Isaiah, where God’s name is especially prominent.
“John ties that in with what God is doing in Jesus,” he says. “It’s a kind of fusion of profound scriptural exegesis and the early Christians’ experience of Jesus that left them with no choice but to somehow put these two things together.”
This gospel, he adds, was written near the end of the 1st century, when tensions were mounting between early Christians and the Jewish establishment. Christians were being socially ostracized—no longer allowed to worship with their Jewish families, in large part because of their perceived blaspheming of God’s name by worshiping Jesus as God.
“I think what God is doing is demonstrating that God’s name is bound up in Jesus,” says Dr. Coutts. “When John is grasping for language to try and explain the phenomenon that is Jesus, he’s reaching for the top shelf in Jewish scripture.”
Dr. Coutts, in his first year at Providence after lecturing at both Regent College and Edinburgh Theological Seminary, is a previous recipient of the Edinburgh Divinity School Scholarship and Regent’s New Testament Prize. He and his wife Mary make their home in Niverville.
PODCAST: Listen to Dr. Joshua Coutts discuss his book with New Books Network.