John 1:18, continued
monogenh\$ ui(o/$ o( w*n ei)$ to\ ko/lpon tou= patro\$ e)kei=no$ e)chgh/sato
“(the) only Son, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, that (one has) brought Him out (to us)”
If the first half of verse 18 refers to the Old Covenant (cf. the discussion in the previous note), the second half (18b) epitomizes the New Covenant. This continues the contrast in verse 17—of Moses vs. Jesus, the Law vs. the Favor and Truth of God. The focus in verse 18 is on the idea of seeing God, drawing upon the Sinai theophany (Exod 19-20) that marked the establishment and ratification of God’s covenant with Israel.
As I pointed out, within the context of the Johannine theology, “seeing” has the special sense of knowing, playing upon the interchangeability of the Greek verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see”), along with verbs such as o(ra/w (used here in v. 18) denoting sight/vision. In this context, knowledge means trust in Jesus—in his identity as the only Son of God. The person who “sees” Jesus in this sense also sees the God the Father.
This is expressed through three distinct phrases in verse 18b; let us examine each of them in turn.
monogenh\$ ui(o/$ (“[the] only Son”)
I have discussed the textual question regarding this phrase at some length in a prior note. In my view, the reading ui(o/$ (“son”) is to be preferred (narrowly) over qeo/$ (“God”), as being more in keeping with the Johannine usage and the context here in the Prologue (see v. 14). The contrast with 18a is not specified grammatically, and would have read into the text here:
“No one has ever yet seen God, (but the) only Son…”
Jesus, as the incarnation of the pre-existent Son (and Logos) of God, is the only one who has truly seen God. This may explain the use of the preposition pro/$ in verse 1. It literally means “toward”, and perhaps should be understood in the sense of “facing toward”; in which case, this would imply that the Logos (= the Son) is seeing God face-to-face.
Also significant is the idea of Jesus as the only Son, which is what the adjective monogenh/$ fundamentally signifies. While the Johannine writings frequently refer to believers as children of God, the word used is always te/knon (pl. te/kna), “offspring”. The term ui(o/$ is reserved for the person of Jesus, who is the only one properly called “Son of God”.
o( w*n ei)$ to\ ko/lpon tou= patro\$ (“the [one] being in the lap of the Father”)
The use of the verb of being ei)mi is surely significant here, and is not accidental. Throughout the Prologue, the verb of being is reserved for God alone, while the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used for created beings. The verb gi/nomai is applied to the person of Jesus (in vv. 14, 17) only in the special sense of incarnation—the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God “coming to be” flesh, being born on earth as a human being.
Previously, the verb ei)mi was always expressed in the imperfect active indicative form (h@n, “he was”), but here it as a present active participle (w&n), a substantive verbal noun (with definite article) that characterizes Jesus as the Son: “the (one) being”, i.e. “the one who is…”. In so doing, the final line of the Prologue is connected back with the first line (v. 1), emphasizing again Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Logos of God. The relationship between God and the Logos, implied in verse 1, is here clarified—as the relationship between Father and Son.
The preposition pro/$ (“toward”) in verse 1 is perhaps best understood in the sense of “facing toward” (cf. above); however, it could also mean “moving toward”, suggesting a more active, dynamic relationship. The same could be said for the preposition ei)$ here in v. 18b. In this context, it is usually translated as “in”, giving us the picture of the Son sitting or resting in his Father’s lap. However, the proper meaning of ei)$ is “into”, which would tend to suggest movement. Perhaps the image of an embrace is intended, which would capture both the static and dynamic aspects of the preposition ei)$.
It is possible that this imagery is echoed in 13:23, part of the ‘Last Supper’ scene (13:1-30) that precedes the great Last Discourse of Jesus (13:31-16:33). The entire scene prepares the groundwork for the departure of the Son (Jesus) back to the Father. An association with the Prologue would be entirely appropriate, in terms of the Johannine theology. The ‘beloved disciple’, representative of all believers (as the offspring of God), rests “in the lap” (e)n tw=| ko/lpw|) of Jesus, even as Jesus (the Son of God) is “in the lap” (ei)$ to\n ko/lpon) of God the Father. The Son is preparing to go back into (ei)$) the eternal embrace with His Father. The picture speaks to the promise of the same sort of unifying embrace for believers, since they/we too are God’s children.
e)kei=no$ e)chgh/sato (“that [one has] brought [Him] out”)
The demonstrative pronoun (e)kei=no$, “that [one]”) refers to the Son (Jesus), in an emphatic sense (i.e., that one). Such use of the demonstrative pronoun (ou!to$ [“this”], along with e)kei=no$ [“that”]) is relatively common in the New Testament, as a specific way of referring to Jesus. The pronoun ou!to$ was used this way earlier in the Prologue (vv. 2, 15), but also in reference to John the Baptist (v. 7), establishing a point of contrast with Jesus—i.e., this one [John] came only as a witness to the Light [Jesus]; he was not the Light himself. The pronoun e)kei=no$ was used of John in verse 8, in this negative sense: “that one [i.e. John] was not the Light”.
The verb here is e)chge/omai, a compound verb which literally means “lead [hgeomai] out [e)k]”, but often in the active (transitive) sense of “bring out”. It can be used figuratively for bringing out information—i.e., reporting, explaining, making something known to others. That is the basic meaning on the other rare occasions when the verb is used in the New Testament (Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19). Here, however, the emphasis is on seeing God; therefore, the verb in context must refer to ‘bringing out’ God, so He can be seen. Given the interchangeability of the concepts of “seeing” and “knowing” in the Gospel of John, when the Son “brings out” the Father, it is so that He can be known.
This aspect of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son) is expressed three different ways in the Gospel, and, in turn, three distinct theological (and Christological) points are made:
- Jesus (the Son) is the only one who has seen/known the Father. As the Prologue makes clear, this is due to the eternal place the Son has in the presence of the Father.
- The Son makes the Father known to human beings (believers) on earth. Jesus does this primarily by doing and saying what he has seen/heard the Father doing/saying. However, since Jesus is also the incarnate Logos (and Son) of God, the Father is present in the person of Jesus.
- By seeing/knowing the Son—which means trusting in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God—believers see and know the Father. This is true vision, manifest through the presence of Jesus, realized through our union with him in the Spirit.
For the pertinent references dealing with these themes, outside of the Prologue, cf. 1:34; 3:3, 11, 31ff; 5:19-23ff, 36ff; 6:35-40, 46; 7:16-17ff; 8:14-19, 25-29, 38-39, 54-55; 9:37-41; 10:14-18, 37-38; 11:9, 40; 12:44-50; 14:6-11, 18-24, 31; 15:9-11, 15, 23-24; 16:10ff, 16ff; 17:3, 6-8ff, 20-26.