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Examine the idea of ‘Glory’ in John’s gospel.  How does it contrast with ideas of glory in our society?

The word glory, together with its related parts of speech, is referenced 310 times in the Concise Concordance to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.  Of these entries, 128 refer to the Old Testament and 182 to the New Testament.  33 of the latter are in John’s gospel.  A full analysis can be found in Appendix 1.

In the NRSV, the word glory, itself an Anglicisation of the Latin word gloria, is most often a translation of the Greek word doxa which occurs in the original Greek of the New Testament and in Greek translations of the Old Testament.   The literal meaning of doxa is opinion, estimation, distinction, esteem, or repute but its use in the Bible includes the concepts of divine brightness, splendour, sovereignty and righteousness.

In the Old Testament the word glory is most often a translation of the Hebrew word kabod which is usually translated as honour when applied to man, but as glory when applied to God.  In literal translation, kabod means to be heavy or weighty.  Another Hebrew word, shekhinah which, according to the Oxford Dictionary of the Bible denotes ‘God’s accessibility to humanity without impairing his transcendence’ is also rendered as doxa in Greek translations of the Old Testament.  The original meaning of kabod as weighty still has echoes today when we refer to someone who is revered for their knowledge as being ‘a heavyweight’ in their field.

In some of the references in John, glory is used to describe a quality or characteristic possessed by God or by Jesus irrespective of whether or not it is recognised or revered by man.  For example:

1:14   And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

2:11   Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

11:40   Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’

This use of the word speaks of a quality or set of qualities possessed by both God and Jesus that sets them apart from humans.  In ascribing the quality of glory to Jesus, John is making it clear that Jesus and God are but one, for none other than God could posses this particular set of characteristics.  Glory in this sense is often depicted by artists as a circle of light surrounding God or Jesus thus setting them apart from mortals who do not posses such qualities. 

Elsewhere in John the word glory (or glorify) is used to describe an act in which some form of accolade is bestowed upon one being by another.  For example:

5:41-44   I do not accept glory from human beings.  But I know that you do not have the love of God in you.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him.   How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?

8:50-54   Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”.

This sense of glory being an accolade or status bestowed upon one being by another is taken one stage further by John in numerous references to the status of Jesus as the Son of God as revealed to the world through his death and resurrection.  We receive a first hint of this use of the word glory here:

7:39   Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

This is a clear reference to some specific act of glorification yet to occur, though exactly what is not made clear at this time.  Further references to this forthcoming act of glorification can be found here:

12:16   His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

12: 23-26   Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

17:1-5   After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.  So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

Although these three uses of the word glory in the gospel of John differ in emphasis, they can be looked upon as a single concept.  Glory is that set of qualities possessed by God that sets him apart from and above man.  Glorification is an acknowledgement and reverence of those qualities.  The death and resurrection of Jesus was the supreme act of glorification through which He was revealed as the Son of God.

In our society the word glory is commonly used in two senses.  In the first we often use the adjective glorious to describe something that is either literally or metaphorically bright or shining.  Thus we may talk about a glorious sunrise or a glorious day, the latter being one that shines out from the mundane as something special.  This use of the word retains more than a little of its spiritual value as used in the Bible and, though those who use it in this sense may not recognise it, is still alluding to the special set of qualities possessed by God.

During the first half of the twentieth century which was dominated by two world wars it was still common to use the word glorious to refer to victory in battle.  Many who used the word in this sense no doubt felt that it was a proper biblical use of the word for they believed that they were fighting a just war with ‘God on their side.’  I would not wish to challenge that view though it must be recognised that both sides of many a war over the ages have believed such to be true.

In more recent years the most common use of the word has been in reference to sporting achievement.  We talk of the winner of a race or match as the one who ‘gets the glory.’  This transfer of the accolade of glory from God to man is symptomatic of the secularisation of much of the western world that took place through the twentieth century.  Subscribing to the Christian doctrine of doing all that we do ‘for the glory of God’ has always been a difficult goal to achieve, but sadly, in today’s Britain, there are few who even aspire to it.  All too often man considers that he possesses the ultimate knowledge and power and ascribes all glory to himself.  His squandering of the earth’s resources and destruction of his environment both stem from an arrogance that denies the glory of God. 

To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.