My question is about the Lord’s prayer for unity in John 17. We generally view that as being unity of doctrine but what in that passage determines that? Could the prayer for unity be for unity between the Jews and Gentiles and of heart and spirit (Acts 4:32) –compare John 10:16? "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
This seems to be a much better fit with the context and the time. It would seem a stretch for the first century Christians to have read this to mean unity of doctrine. And if that be the case have we overused and maybe abused this passage in making it mean something Jesus never meant?
Jesus said in vs 23 in our unity the world would know that God has sent Him and in John 13:35 Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples by our love for each other. It just seems like a much better fit and interpretation (unity of Jew and Gentile) than the traditional one.
I would like your honest thoughts. I am trying to figure this out I hope you will help.
You are seeking to narrow the definition of what Jesus meant by being united by selecting only some passages on unity. Yes, God wanted the Jews and Gentiles to be united in His church. "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh--who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands-- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:11-22). But this isn't all that is discussed on the topic of unity, so limiting it would not be a fair treatment of the subject.
In the prayer, Jesus' emphasis was on what he taught.
- "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me" (John 17:6-8).
- "Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17).
- "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:19-21).
The separation of Jew and Gentile is not mentioned in this prayer, even though it is an important topic. Jesus' emphasis was on the fact that he taught the truth from God and that the disciples would in turn teach others that truth so that all will be one. The idea of being in God is expanded on by John, "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:3-6). You cannot have unity without unity of doctrine. Love is the keeping of God's commands. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous" (I John 5:2-3). You referenced John 13:35, but in that same conversation Jesus also said, "If you love me, keep my commandments. ... One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him. .... If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. He who doesn't love me doesn't keep my words. The word which you hear isn't mine, but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:15, 21, 23-24).
"Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10).
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:1-6).