John 14:31: Understanding the Enigma

The Farewell Discourse (FD heron) is popularly known as being 13:31 – 14:31 of John’s Gospel. D.A. Carson concludes[1] that the discussion concerning the FD encompasses a portion of scripture that has been both a “favorite passage for Christians” for “study and meditation” as well as “considerable debate.” As F.F. Bruce points out,[2] the debate has arisen from certain textual arrangements made by earlier translators of the texts, one being James Moffatt. His unique arrangements are found in his translation of the NT and possibly his commentaries on the Gospel of John. Moffatt held that chapters 15 and 16 were to be placed in the middle of 13:31.

The major challenge in textual structure relates then to the closing remarks of Christ in 14:31, “Arise, let us go from here” (NKJV). These words have proven to be enigmatic for many (hereon this phrase will be referenced as the “Enigma”). Determining the textual relevance or relationship of the data before and after that break is what remains pertinent to the minds of students. “The common response throughout the church’s history has been that the first two chapters, John 13-14, are set in the upper room, while chapters 15-17 continue the dialogue along the road to the Mount of Olives, culminating in the prayer of John 17.”[3]

Many interpret the Enigma in a way that it only has spiritual meaning; possibly akin to “arise, let us march to meet the prince of this world” (See Carson here). I do not hold this view and therefore do not see the Enigma phrase as being a pure theological statement. It is plausible “to regard the remainder of the discourse as taking place in the open air, although in 18:1 Jesus is said to have ‘left’ with his disciples, and it would be necessary to suppose that chs. 15–17 were uttered on the way to the Kidron Valley… Some have supposed that ch. 14 should follow ch. 17, but there is no evidence for such rearrangement. The only other alternative is to suppose that 14:31 implied an intention which was fulfilled some time later. On the whole the first suggestion is fraught with the least difficulties.”[4]

After uttering the Enigma it is also plausible that Jesus simply stood up (the disciples may or may not have stood with him) to finish the discourse before finally departing (in John 18:1), but the disciples lingered and conversation continued. Leon Morris “suggests it is possible that the group probably was slow in making its departure and so Jesus continued to teach them in the room. But he prefers the proposal of Lightfoot that it is a “stage in the teaching.”192I believe it plausible but unlikely that Christ was uttering a spiritual command to get up and prepare “to meet the enemy who is on the way already in the person of Judas and the soldiers with him.”[5]

Borchert states that the “view of speaking en route offers a difficulty that a walking band is hardly a conducive setting for communicating major segments of teaching.” He goes on to advocate that, “total rearrangement theories make the contemporary restructuring person wiser than the original writer and means that the present order is a purposeless collection of writings. However one seeks to solve the problem, I refuse to accept any theory that proposes that the logic of this tightly knit argument is to be disturbed by rearrangement.”[6]

My conclusion seems to be shared, at least in part, gree with that of Carson when he states, “it is possible that Jesus and his disciples did not in fact leave until after John 17. Anyone who has frequently invited home ten to twenty graduate students knows how common it is, after someone has announced it is time to go, for another half hour to slip past before anyone makes a serious move to leave.”

Good reason for this delay could stem from Christ’s earlier statements. Consider:

“before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1 NKJV)


[1] Carson, D.A. Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John. © 1991 Eerdman Publishing pg. 476

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983, reprint 2004) pg. 292

[3] Carson, D.A. Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John. © 1991 Eerdman Publishing pg. 477

[4]Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (Jn 14:1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

[5] THE NET BIBLE®, New English Translation Bible Notes, John 14:31

[6]Borchert, G. L. (2002). Vol. 25B: John 12-21. The new American commentary, New International Version (136). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

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