John 1:16, continued
kai\ xa/rin a)nti\ xa/rito$
“and favor in place of favor”
This is the last of the three phrases in verse 16:
“and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
and favor in place of favor“
It modifies and supplements the first two lines, and is thus epexegetical. The explanatory force of the line rather depends on how the initial conjunction kai/ is to be understood. There are two possibilities:
- In addition to receiving from the fullness of the Son, believers receive the “favor a)nti/ favor” expressed in the third line
- The expression “favor a)nti/ favor” further defines what it is that we we receive from the fullness of the Son
The second option is to be preferred; in this light, the conjunction kai/ could also be translated as “even”:
“and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
even favor in place of favor”
There are two other components to the line: (1) the noun xa/ri$, and (2) the preposition a)nti/. We will examine each of these, and then see how they function in their combination.
The noun xa/ri$ essentially means “favor” —that is, the favor that one person shows to another. Frequently in the New Testament, it refers to the favor that God shows to His people—particularly, to believers, in saving them from sin and Judgment. It is a common early Christian term, but, rather surprisingly, hardly occurs at all in the Johannine writings. Apart from the occurrences here in the Prologue (4 times in vv. 14, 16, 17), the only other instance is in 2 John 3, where it is used as part of a greeting. Thus, unlike many of the featured words in the Prologue, xa/ri$ is not a distinctly Johannine term.
It is thus necessary to consider carefully how the word is used here in the Prologue. The word describes the do/ca (“honor, splendor, glory”) of the pre-existent Logos (and Son) of God, and refers to the filling of the Son by the Father. Both this aspect of “filling” (adj. plh/rh$, noun plh/rwma), and the pairing of xa/ri$ with “truth” (a)lh/qeia), suggests strongly that it is the Spirit of God that is primarily in view. A careful examination of the Johannine theology and the context in the Prologue would seem to confirm this point (cf. also the discussion in the previous notes, on vv. 14, 16). God the Father shows favor to the Son by giving to him His own Spirit. An identification with the Spirit also fits the idea in the first two lines of v. 16—namely, that we, as believers, share this same fullness. We are united, through the Spirit, with both the Father and Son (cf. below).
The other occurrence of xa/ri$ is in the following verse 17, which will be discussed in turn; however, it is worth at least giving some consideration to it here, in terms of the meaning of the term xa/ri$. The point being made is a contrast between the Torah of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant realized (for believers) through the person of Jesus Christ. It thus represents a special kind of favor, whereby the Covenant relationship, between God and His people, is no longer established through sacrificial offerings, nor governed through the regulations of the Torah. Instead, it was established through the sacrificial death of Jesus, and is now governed through the presence and power of the Spirit.
Paul expresses this point in more traditional religious and theological terminology, in his letters, compared with the Johannine writings. However, the idea is certainly present in the Johannine Gospel (the Discourses). At a number of points, Jesus identifies himself with a particular aspect of the religious ritual and tradition. From an Israelite and Jewish standpoint, such tradition had largely been defined within the parameters of the Old Testament Torah. For more on this subject, cf. my earlier articles in the series “Jesus and the Law”.
The fundamental meaning of this preposition is “against”. While this meaning may be understood in the negative sense of opposition, there are many other instances where we have the more general idea of two people (or objects) facing each other. A face-to-face position may indicate antagonism or opposition, but can just as well signify a friendly encounter or exchange. The idea of an exchange is frequent with a)nti/, either in the sense of replacement, or as indicating a mutual relationship.
Let us now consider the meaning of the expression “favor a)nti/ favor”. Two questions must be asked. First, what are the two favors? and, second, how are they related (through the preposition a)nti/)? These questions are interconnected, and cannot be addressed separately. In the analysis that follows here, they will be discussed together.
To begin with, the identity of the two “favors” depends on the force of the preposition a)nti/ (“against”); and there are three options (cf. Brown, p. 16): (a) replacement, (b) exchange, or (c) accumulation. Unfortunately, the preposition only rarely occurs elsewhere in the Johannine writings, and never in its independent, unprefixed form, so there is little opportunity for comparison.
Some commentators (e.g., Brown, pp. 16, 33-35) take their cue from the verse that follows (17), understanding in this line a similar contrast between the Old and New Covenants. In which case, the preposition a)nti/ would have the sense of replacement—i.e., the New Covenant in Christ (and the Spirit) taking the place of the Old Covenant and the Torah. Two factors lead me to consider this interpretation to be incorrect. First, there seems little basis for applying the word xa/ri$ (“favor”) to the Old Covenant. That would tend to contradict the regular use of xa/ri$ among early Christians, as seen throughout the New Testament. But, more importantly, it is invalidated by the very contrast made in verse 17; there, the word xa/ri$ is decidedly not used in reference to the Old Covenant, but only to the New.
The idea of accumulation—i.e., a)nti/ in the sense of one thing stacked up against another—also seems to require an identification of the first xa/ri$ with the Old Covenant (i.e., in addition to the first covenant, we now have the greater New Covenant). If so, I would have to consider that line of interpretation to be incorrect as well. However, it may be that what is being expressed is the idea that, for believers, life in Christ, in the Spirit, is defined as the experience of one blessing after another. That would be more tenable as an explanation, though, in my view, still off the mark.
I would maintain that only the sense of an exchange properly captures the meaning of a)nti/ in context. The only question is whether it is a mutual exchange, or signifies a chain of transmission. Both are possible, but the latter option seems better to fit the Johannine context. There is a strong hierarchical emphasis in the Gospel: the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to believers (3:34-35; 5:20-21ff, 26ff; 6:27ff, 57; 12:49-50; 14:6-10ff, 21ff; 15:9, 15, 26; 16:15; 17:2, 7ff, 12, 14, 18, 22-23ff; 20:21).
According to this pattern, the favor the Father gives to the Son, the Son, in turn, gives to believers. It is the same favor, essentially identified with the Spirit of God (cf. above), and the exchange proceeds from Father to Son to believers. However, there is also an aspect of mutuality that is tied with the idea of union through the presence of the Spirit. Through the Spirit, we, as believers, are united with both the Father and the Son. I like to illustrate this with the following simple diagram:
Nowhere in the Gospel of John are the two aspects of hierarchy and mutuality more beautifully combined than in the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17, especially the closing section (vv. 20-26):
“That they all should be one, even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you—that they also should be in us… And the honor/splendor [do/ca] that you have given to me, I have given to them, so that they should be one, even as we (are) one—I in them and you in me, (so) that they should be (one)s having been made complete(ly) into one…” (vv. 21-23a)
References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (I-XII), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 29 (1966).