Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’33They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’
34 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Translation: Then Jesus said to the Judeans, the ones who had faithed in him, "If you abide in my word, truly you are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are seeds of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to anyone. How do you say, 'You will become free people?'"
Jesus answered them, "Truly, Truly, I say to you, anyone doing a sin is a slave of sin. But the slave does not abide in the house forever. The son abides forever. If, then, the son makes you free, you will be free in reality."
The fourth gospel is essentially an argument not between Christians and Jews, as has been so often assumed, but rather an argument between Jews and Jews--more specifically, Judean Jews, those oriented toward Jerusalem and Temple, and Galilean Jews, those who followed Jesus.
The designation is partly geographic, but not completely. In chapter six, there are "Judeans" in Galilee. They could have come up from Judea, but, more likely, are Galileans who are expressing a "Judean" point of view. In the fourth gospel, sticking with the Judean establishment--the Temple--makes one a "Judean" even though that person may actually live in Galilee or somewhere else outside of Judea proper.
"Seeds of Abraham": Wes Howard-Brook considers the phrase "the Judeans who faithed in him" to be an oxymoron. There really weren't any Judeans who trusted in Jesus, a judgment which is supported by the chiastic structure of verses 31-37:
a: 31: if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples
b: 32: the truth shall make you free
c: 33: we are "seeds of Abraham"
b': 34-36: the Son makes you free
a': 37: my word finds no place in you.
The fulcrum of the chiasm, the point around which it turns, is the phrase "we are seeds of Abraham." The Word "finds no place" in them.
"Seeds of Abraham" or "children of Abraham" should be contrasted with "children of God." The opening prologue had asserted: "...to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God." (1:12) "Children of God" are made through reception and trust. They are opposed by the idea of a Chosen People based on ancestry, the "seeds of Abraham."
The New Community of Jesus is most definitely not about inherited national pride. It is about "mutual indwelling" between Christ and his community (15:4). The New Community is accessed through rebirth (3:3) and Spirit (3:5-6), and not through mere genetics. This is why the prologue asserts: "...not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man" (1:13). Water and spirit make "children of God," not genetics and ancestry.
The Judean assertion that "we are seeds of Abraham and have never been enslaved by anyone" is, of course, laughable on its face. The "seeds of Abraham" had been conquered by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, not to mention being their own worst enemy about half the time.
Their ideology has deluded them. Despite their checkered past, their self-understanding as "seed of Abraham," and therefore Chosen People, means that, contrary to actual reality, they buy into their supposed "superiority" over others, such as the Samaritans, for example.
Yet, in chapter four, in response to the testimony of the woman at the well, the Samaritans had asked Jesus to stay--menein--with them, which he did, and "many believed because of his word" (4:41). Here, addressing these "seeds of Abraham," Jesus says, "if you abide--menein, again--in my word, you are truly my disciples."
Soon after (8:37), however, Jesus says his word "has no place" in them. The Samaritans, on the other hand, had hailed Jesus as "the Savior of the world" (4:42). In other words, "his word" found a place among the heretic half-breed Samaritans but not among the supposedly better-informed pure-blooded "seeds of Abraham."
Knowing the truth: In the fourth gospel, "truth"--aletheion--is defined as the person of Jesus. John 1:14: "the word became flesh...full of grace and truth." Later (14:6), Jesus will say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." As Jesus the Truth stands before Pilate, Pilate will (cluelessly) ask, "What is truth?" (18:38)
Further, "you will know the truth" (8:32). The word is the future form of ginosko, which refers to knowledge of a deep and interior kind. It means knowledge obtained through personal and intimate experience. This kind of knowledge is not a head trip, in other words, but something more along the lines of "mystical knowing."
This inter-twining of Christ and his followers is a major theme of the fourth gospel. It is represented in the frequent occurrence of the Greek word menein--to dwell with, abide, remain. Christ abides with them, and they with him. They know him, and he knows them. Knowledge of truth is a function of present intimacy with Jesus.
The truth makes you free: The word is eleutheria, which means "set at liberty." Martin Luther liked the word so much that he changed his last name from "Luder" to "Luther" because it sounded like eleutheria.
In the view of some people, the Christian faith speaks to the Superego. The Superego is the repository of the culture's rules, mores, expected behaviors, and conventional wisdom. Internalizing these rules, and trying to follow all of them, constitutes being a good Christian in the minds of many.
Actually, however, the Christian faith speaks to the ego, not the Superego. The ego is the creative center of the person. It attempts to navigate reality between the Scylla of the conventional rules and the Carybdis of one's shadow and passions. Both seek to dominate. The ego must steer between them to chart its own course and, in the process, become fully-functioning.
The Judeans, with their assertion that being "seeds of Abraham" was something special, were speaking out of convention and received tradition. It should not be surprising that their response is characterized by inflexibility and defensiveness. (Domination by the Superego is characteristically shallow and wooden.)
The formation of the ego is an exceptionally difficult task. The voice of the Superego is strong, and the passions of the id are fierce! Nevertheless, there is a part of us--the ego, the true self--that seeks to discern its own path through this dilemma. In fact, the ego is largely formed through this process.
The ego needs outside help. We face hundreds of competing claims each and every day, many from our internal selves, and many from our society at large. How can we sort them out? The fourth gospel uses the metaphor of "sheep" for that part of us that seeks to hear the True Voice of our True Shepherd. The True Voice cuts through the clutter. His sheep hear his voice (10:27).
The Voice calls a person to freedom, but freedom is not easily won. Freedom may mean following an unconventional path. This will be opposed by the Superego which distrusts anything that is not conventional. Or, the id may try to hijack the ego and demand that the ego use its freedom to satisfy the primal desires of the id.
The ego acknowledges the risks, yet is willing to take them. The ego acts in the world on the basis of its own discernment and guidance from the True Voice. It takes responsibility for itself. As the ego expresses itself in the world--or, one might say, as the ego acts in freedom--it becomes more fully formed and "larger." Freedom begets even more freedom.
Thus, Christ speaks to our True Self, engaging us in life, giving knowledge of God, leading us to spiritual maturity and, hence, freedom. It's not for nothing that Paul writes: "For freedom, Christ has set us free" (Gal 5:1) or that Carl Jung once wrote, "The real Christ is the God of freedom."
Incidentally, the assertion that "the truth shall make you free" would appear to be a teaching new with Jesus. There is nothing in the Old Testament about the truth making anyone free. The Qumran community comes closer: "And then God will purge by his truth all the deeds of men..."
Slavery and freedom: "Truly, truly, I say to you," Jesus says, "anyone doing a sin is a slave of sin. But the slave does not abide in the house forever. The son abides forever. If, then, the son makes you free, you will be free in reality."
The "slave" is a mere functional unit. When the slave's job is completed, there is no further use for that slave. A "son," however, remains because of the deeper unity of the family. In effect, Jesus turns the Judeans' "seeds of Abraham" argument against them. They are not truly free "seeds of Abraham." They are "slaves to sin."
"If the son makes you free, you will be free in reality (ontos)." Ontos is where we get our word "ontological," meaning "the very essence."
The freedom of Christ has nothing to do with ancestry or national pride. The freedom of Christ constitutes the ontos--the essence--of freedom. "If the Son makes you free, you are in essence free"--not existentially free, in other words, not free in your own perception, but essentially free, free as part of your very nature.
This is a sweeping statement, underlined by the fact that this is the only use of the word ontos in the fourth gospel.