"That they may all be one": John 17:21-23 and a Plotinian application of unity

Laura Ann Weber, Marquette University


John 17:21-23, Jesus' prayer for the unity of all believers, has been interpreted frequently as a petition for the healing of institutional division among followers of Jesus. The history of research provided in chapter one shows that this "institutional" interpretation gained ascendancy largely after Rudolf Bultmann's landmark commentary on the Gospel of John. Bultmann decried what he perceived as the "sacramentalizing" of unity by some of the early Church Fathers, who conceived the notion of ontological unity in respect to sacramental Eucharist. This study pursues an "ontological" approach, which suggests that all believers may be ontologically united with Jesus and the Father. In chapter two, the pericope's repetitive structure is examined, a grammatical and lexical analysis is given, and several diagrammatic attempts to understand the notion of indwelling are offered to explain the meaning of unity proposed by the passage. Chapter three undertakes a compositional analysis of the theme of unity in the entire Gospel to show how unity is portrayed among believers, Jesus, and the Father. Although Jesus and the Father's relationship is portrayed as a unity which maintains distinction, the proposed ontological unity of all believers based on the unity of Jesus and the Father remains impervious to the insights yielded by utilizing these traditional tools of biblical exegesis. This suggests that an alternative tool which lends itself to an ontological approach to the notion of unity is required for exegetical assistance. In chapter four, the third-century Neoplatonist, Plotinus, contributes a unique perspective to the topic of unity which is central to this passage. Although later than the Fourth Gospel, and so not influential as a source, Plotinus' henology philosophy about the One) provides excellent insight into the "problem of the One and the many," and lends itself to a fuller understanding of the meaning of John 17:21-23. Chapter five concludes that the unity of all believers may be conceived as a participation by believers in the unity of being which is shared by the Father and the Son as one God.

Recommended Citation

Weber, Laura Ann, ""That they may all be one": John 17:21-23 and a Plotinian application of unity" (1996). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9634107.