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John 17:19, (DRB):

And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

John 17:19, Latin Vulgate:

  1. et pro eis ego sanctifico me ipsum ut sint et ipsi sanctificati in veritate

What is the meaning of "I sanctify myself"?

Isn't Jesus already Holy?

Is "I sanctify myself"="I make myself Holy"="I perfect my holiness"?

Look:

  • Romans 8:3.
  • 2 Corinthians 7:1.
  • Hebrews 5:9.
  • Hebrews 7:26.
  • Hebrews 7:28.
  • Hebrews 12:14.
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In John 17:19, the Greek word (correctly) translated "sanctify" is ἁγιάζω (hagiazó). BDAG defines this word as primarily to, "set aside something, or make it suitable for ritual purpose, consecrate, dedicate".

Thus, Jesus was simply saying that He was dedicating Himself to the task that lay ahead of Him - His high priestly ministry and kingly duties on our behalf. That is, "I sanctify myself" means to set one's self apart for a special purpose. By extension, that which is "holy" has been set aside for a special purpose.

Ellicott observes:

And for their sakes I sanctify myself.--Comp. Note on John 17:17. The consecration here thought of is that to the work which was immediately before Him--the offering Himself as a sacrifice. The word was in frequent use in the special sense of an offering or sacrifice set apart to God. As a New Testament example of this, comp. Romans 15:16. By this consecration of Himself--which in a wider sense is for all men, but in the special sense is "for their sakes"--He will, as both Priest and Sacrifice, enter into the Holy of Holies of the heavenly temple, and will send the Holy Ghost, who will consecrate them.

The other texts listed in the OP question are of varying interest.

  • Rom 8:3 does not mention holiness
  • 2 Cor 7:1 talks about "perfecting holiness" - again this simply means that as Christians serving Christ, we imitate Him by dedicating ourselves to the work we are called to do as listed Matt 28:19, 20 - discipling others for Jesus' service.
  • Heb 5:9 does not mention holiness
  • Heb 7:26 describes Jesus as pure blameless, holy which is the same as set apart. A similar message as in John above.
  • Heb 7:28 discusses perfection not holiness
  • Heb 12:14 - we must be holy - that is dedicated to the task we have been given.

This is all summarised in as: Be holy as Jesus is holy. Lev 11:44, 45, 1 Peter 1:15, 16. Because Jesus was holy, so must we be holy - set apart or consecrated to the task we have been given of service to Christ. Thus we have the title, "Christian" - one who imitates Christ.

Thus, the NT consistently calls Christians, "saints" - people consecrated and dedicated to the service of Jesus. Acts 9:13, 32, 41, 20:32, 26:10, etc.

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"Holy" is an adjective while "sanctify" is a verb of action. As a general attribute, Jesus was holy. He sanctified or consecrated himself specifically by dying on the cross for our sanctification sake, not so that He could become more holy but that we could become holy, i.e., we could be set apart to be used by Father. Now, we are santified and on our way to holiness becasuse of this act of Jesus' santification.

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The question is the same as to ask: "When Lord teaches His disciples to say in the main prayer, 'Our Father, may your name be sanctified" (ἁγιασθήτω, sanctificetur), what does He mean? Is not God-Father's name already sanctified?" But it is and is not at the same time. In itself God's name - that is to say, His essence and reality, for "God's Name" denotes not any humanly audible or readable name, but the very reality of God - is not only sanctified but holy in a principal way, that is to say, not even holy, but beyond and supra holy, for everything acclaimed as holy receives holiness from Him. However, for us, humans, His name is to be sanctified, because we do not understand God as He must be understood; we search not for Him, but for things that He may give us; we are not yet like St Thomas Aquinas, who, according to his hagiography, being asked by Jesus "What you want that I may give you" answered by but one pronoun - "You". Thus, for us and in us God's name is to be continuously sanctified as we grow to a greater and deeper understanding of Him, and we should cleanse this name from all alloys of our egotistic and earthly understandings and conceptions.

The same with Jesus who is not somebody to be sanctified, but, together with the Father, the very Principle of sanctification, being Himself beyond and supra holy, for the angelic three-holy praise eternally befits also to Him along with the Father and the H.Ghost (Isaiah 6:3). But He sanctifies Himself in us, for we do not understand Him as He should be understood. Even His disciples, even the 12 chosen of them, and even two of the four most distinguished from the 12 chosen, Jacob and John, and even few days before His Crucifixion and glorious Resurrection, saw in Him just a political King, searching to become chief ministers in His earthly, political kingdom (Mark 10:37).

Thus, Jesus is present in His disciples' hearts and minds, but not in the way He aught to be present, thus He has to sanctify His presence in them, cleanse this presence from all earthly and limited apperceptions, and thus free place in their hearts for the unlimited and infinite, for God's cognition is infinite and awesome, His greatness always uncircumscribable by human intellect (Psalm 145:3), and thus marvel, worship and awe is the only correct attitude of human to God; and this is that "God's name is sanctified" or that "Jesus sanctifies Himself in us", i.e. cleansing us from our idolatrous reductions of Him.

But it also can be understood differently: in the given passage of John the principle of the cleansing, sanctification is "truth", ἀλήθεια, for Jesus asks Father to sanctify His disciples by truth, and truth is His, Father's word (John 17:17), but for Himself Jesus does not ask Father that Father may sanctify Him by His, Father's word, but says that He Himself sanctifies Himself, meaning that in difference from the disciples He does not need a principle of sanctification, the truth and the Father's word, from outside Himself, for Himself is the very fountainhead of truth and of the Father's word, to the effect that neither Father can sanctify anybody but through Jesus. But what then is that Jesus "sanctifies Himself through the principle of sanctification, i.e. truth/the Father's [and His] word"? It means that He manifests the divine word/the truth in His human nature and life, for He cannot but be a perfect human, because He is Person of Logos incarnated in human nature, and since infinite perfect Person of Logos cannot but drive His human nature to perfection, this driving, this gradual manifestation of this nature's perfection in time and history, in the concrete life-drama of Jesus, can be called also "sanctification".

In this sense, yes, Jesus sanctifies Himself, to manifest human nature's perfection, which was not manifested in the history of mankind before, for neither Isaiah, nor Jeremiah, nor Plato, nor Buddha reached perfection of human nature before Jesus' advent. By becoming thus the unique example of human nature's perfection, He enables also His followers to become perfect but only through Him, for we can follow His example only by Him working and acting within us (cf. Col. 1:29). That's why He says that He "sanctifies Himself for them (ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν)", that is to say for all His followers (John 17:19).

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  • This is a rather (theologically) complex but helpful answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jan 11 at 11:05
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    @Dottard Thanks indeed for your patience of reading my rather longish answer with two alternative, yet not contradicting, interpretations. I take St Augustine's advice stated in his "De doctrina christiana": "you can venture any interpretation that is within sound doctrine and helps to build up double love towards God and neighbour", for he says also that Holy Spirit allows for multiple interpretations. Jan 11 at 12:12
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I believe the answer is in the context. I agree with the above, “sanctify” Is a verb; an action of purification, cleanliness, and setting apart. We have to look at the verses before and after.

  • John 17:7, Jesus says sanctify them through thy truth: Thy Word is Truth. So His Word is what sanctifies us and Jesus.

  • John 15:3 Jesus says: Now ye are clean through the Word I have spoken unto you”. Why does He need to sanctify himself, isn’t He already Holy?

Now that we understand that His Word is what sanctifies, but Isn’t Jesus the Word? Jesus always emphasised that whatever that He speaks doesn’t come from Him but from the Father.

Let’s look at John 7:16-18: Jesus emphasised that the doctrine that He speaks is not from Him but from he One that sent Him and further on in verse 18 He shows us why it has to be that way. So in the fulfilment of righteousness, Jesus had to continuously be sanctified by receiving The Word from the Father. And for as long as we are in the world, in that same manner, we receive The Word, righteousness is fulfilled and we are kept from evil.

He was praying in the context that He was leaving and praying for the ones that He is leaving behind but even more so, he was saying these things for our sakes, that we may have His Joy fulfilled in us. It was a way of showing and instructing us on how it will be after He is gone.

John‬ ‭17:14-19‬ ‭KJV

I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

John‬ ‭6:63‬ ‭KJV

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

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  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your excellent contribution. Please remember to take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works.
    – Dottard
    Jan 11 at 21:59
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I always took 'death' to mean spiritual death not physical. The wages of sin is death and Jesus took away that debt. But, most of us will die as in fall asleep. But the saved in Christ shall live as in spiritually. I am thinking that Jesus prayed to the Father so that the Father could help Him overcome temptation. That application in my live has been useful.

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  • Hello George - welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your answer. Please take the tour 9link below) to better understand how this site works. Please supply some references or evidence to support your assertions.
    – Dottard
    Jan 10 at 4:35

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