Supplemental Note on James 2:8 (“The Royal Law”)

The previous note examined the expression “the Law of freedom” in James 1:25; 2:12; today I will be looking at a second key expression involving the Law— “the royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$) in James 2:8.

2. “The royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$)—James 2:8

In the recent article (on the Law in the letter of James), I outlined the basic context of this passage (2:1-13); it may be divided into two parts—(a) a prohibition against showing partiality/favoritism to the rich and prominent in the world (vv. 1-7), and (b) a warning that such partiality is a sin and violation of the Law (vv. 8-13). The expression under examination here comes from the opening statement of the second section:

“If indeed you complete (the) royal Law according to the Writing— ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ —you do well…”

Verses 8-9 together form a me/n…de/ construction (here me/ntoide/), i.e., “on the one hand… but on the other hand…”:

    • if, indeed (on the one hand [me/ntoi]), you fulfill the royal Law…you do well
    • but if (on the other hand [de/]) you take/receive the face [i.e. show partiality], (then) you work sin

Showing partiality/favoritism to the rich and powerful is declared to be a violation of the “royal Law”, and those who so transgress are “(themselves) being condemned under the Law [u(po\ no/mon] as (one)s stepping alongside [i.e. over the bounds of the Law and the right path]”. How should we understand the Law (no/mo$) here? In discussing the use of the word in James 1:25 (cf. the previous note), I argued that it carries a comprehensive meaning involving: (a) the Gospel message, (b) the teachings of Jesus, and (c) authoritative Christian instruction as a whole. Here in 2:8ff, however, specific commands seem to be intended—in particular, Lev 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”). Of course, this command, along with Deut 6:4-5, makes up the twin “greatest commandment” in Jesus’ teaching (Mark 12:28-34 par), and came to represent for early Christians a virtual epitome of the Law and of essential ethical instruction for believers (cf. Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10). Elsewhere in early tradition, the “love command” is nearly synonymous with the command(s) of God and Christ (Gal 6:2; John 13:34-35; 14:15ff; 15:9-17; 1 John 3:10ff; 4:7-20; 5:2-3; also 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Cor 13; 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; 1 Tim 1:5; Jude 21).

What of the specific designation basiliko/$ (“of the king, kingly, royal”). There are several ways this might be interpreted:

    • As the chief, ruling (or leading) Law—i.e., the “great commandment” of Lev 19:18
    • As an honorific adjective emphasizing the nobility/greatness of the Law as a whole (the Torah and/or the teaching of Jesus)
    • Indicating that the Law (whether Lev 19:18 or the “Law” as a whole) has been given specifically by the King—God as King and/or Jesus Christ as Lord
    • It is the Law that the King (and those of the Kingdom) follow
    • It pertains generally to the King and the Kingdom (of God)

Before attempting a more definite interpretation, it is important to note the line of logic that stems from the expression “the royal Law”:

    • It is first identified with a specific commandment: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18) (v. 8)
    • The one who violates this command (by showing favoritism to the rich) is condemned under the Law as a transgressor (v. 9)
    • One who fails to keep the Law at just one point (i.e. a single command) is guilty of violating the entire Law (v. 10-11, cf. Gal 5:2)—more precisely, in its original (ancient) context, this means that the agreement (the covenant) between God and his people is broken, as the Law represents the effective terms of the covenant (see esp. Deut 27-28, and Paul’s reference to the curse that results from violating the covenant in Gal 3:10ff).
    • Believers must speak and act in a similar manner (v. 12a)—cf. the exhortation in James 1:21ff, where believers are called to be people who do the Word (lo/go$), just as Israelites and Jews were obligated to do the Law
    • Just as Israelites and Jews are judged under the Law (the Torah), so believers are, in a sense, judged under “the Law of freedom” (v. 12b)

From this we may conclude that “the royal Law” has a two-fold denotation in this passage:

    1. It is identified with a specific command—Jesus’ “great command” (Lev 19:18), as taught and exemplified by him
    2. It is also parallel with the expression “the Law of freedom”, representing the entire Law for believers—the Gospel and teaching of Jesus, and the Christian (ethical) instruction which derives from it, i.e. the Word/Logos of 1:21-25

This Law is described as kingly/royal (basiliko/$) likewise in a two-fold sense:

    • It expresses the will of God (as King) and of Christ (as Lord)
    • It is the Law followed by the King and those of the Kingdom

In the previous note, I explored the way that the expression “the Law of freedom” and the use of lo/go$ (in 1:21ff) may draw in part from Greek philosophical language, as preserved and transmitted in Judaism. This appears to be confirmed by the parallel use here of “the royal Law”. For example, note several key references in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, such as On the Life of Moses II.4: “(on the one hand) the king is an ensouled [i.e. living] Law, and (on the other hand) the Law is (also) a just king”. Reason (lo/go$) is the “royal road” which the wise and just person follows (On the Special Laws IV.168, On the Posterity and Exile of Cain §101, On the Giants §64). One should also consider 4 Maccabees 14:2, where reason (lo/go$) is associated with both royalty and freedom, as here in James. This sort of language and imagery continued on in the writings of early Christians, such as Clement of Alexandria, who were likewise influenced by Greek philosophical expression (cf. Stromateis 6.162.2, 7.73.5). [On these and other references, see esp. M. Dibelius’ commentary on James in the Hermeneia series, Fortress Press (1975), pp. 142-144.]

One should also note here the profound identification of the Law (“the royal Law”) with mercy (e&leo$), as the concluding statement in verse 13 makes clear. Actually this emphasis on mercy runs throughout the passage—the warning against showing favoritism to the rich and powerful in the world derives fundamentally from the concern and care one ought to show toward the poor and lowly. James emphasizes this at several points, especially in 1:27 where care for orphans and widows is defined as an essential component of true religious behavior and worship before God. It is also an important theme throughout Jesus’ teaching. In the Christmas season (soon approaching this year), which, at its finest moments, beautifully reflects this same exhortation to show love and care for the poor, and to be at peace with our neighbors, careful study and reflection on James 2:1-13 is altogether appropriate and worthwhile.

Supplemental Note on James 1:25 (“The Law of Freedom”)

This note is supplemental to the article on the Law in the letter of James (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”). There are two primary references to the Law (o( no/mo$) in James, involving two particular expressions, which will be discussed in turn.

1. “The Law of freedom” (no/mo$ [th=$] e)leuqeri/a$)—James 1:25; 2:12

In James 1:25, the expression is actually “the complete Law of freedom”, including the adjective te/leio$ (“complete, finished”):

“but the (one) bending alongside (to look) into the complete Law th(at is) of freedom and remaining alongside…this (one) will be happy/blessed in his doing”

As discussed in the recent article, the context of verse 25 identifies the Law with the account (or “word”, lo/go$) which is planted in (e&mfuto$) believers. I take lo/go$ (lógos) here in a comprehensive sense, as the Gospel message and the teachings of Jesus, as well as (authoritative) Christian instruction generally. However, the author may also be drawing upon Hellenistic Jewish language and imagery (influenced by Greek philosophy) in the use of lo/go$ (cf. below). For the idea of Jesus’ word(s) as a seed, or involving other planting images, see the previous article. There are a number of references in Scripture to God’s word being within a person (i.e. in the heart), cf. Deut 30:14; Psalm 119:11, and especially in the New Testament (Matt 13:19 par; John 5:38; 8:37; 1 Thess 2:13; Col 3:16; 1 John 1:10; 2:14, etc), where the “word of God” is virtually interchangeable with the “word(s) of Christ”.

In what sense is this Law the “Law of freedom” (no/mo$ th=$ e)leuqeri/a$)? There are three possibilities:

    • Following the Law leads to freedom—This is attested for the Torah in Jewish tradition (e.g., m. Abot 3:5; 6:2; Baba Kamma 8:6; b. Baba Metzia 85b, cf. Davids, p. 99*); in other words, the Law gives freedom to those who faithfully observe its commands. Paul, of course, says virtually the opposite, often declaring that in Christ believers are freed from bondage under the Law (Gal 2:16; 3:10-14, 19-26; 4:4-5, 21-31; 5:1-6; Rom 3:20; 5:20-21; 7:1-6, 7ff; 8:2ff; 1 Cor 9:19; 2 Cor 3:17; note also Acts 13:38-39). Jesus in the Gospel of John promises freedom to his followers, those who hear (and keep) his word (Jn 8:32-36).
    • We follow the Law freely, not out of obligation or compulsion—As I have discussed previously, Paul appears to have held such a view for Jewish believers (himself included) with regard to the Torah: they may continue to observe its commands and regulations voluntarily, on the basis of the freedom they now have in Christ, no longer as a binding requirement. With regard to the Gospel and the teachings of Christ, the so-called letter of Barnabas (2:6) expresses the point clearly: “the new Law of our Lord Jesus Christ, being without the yoke of necessity [a&neu zugou= a)na/gkh$]”. Jesus himself refers to the “yoke” of his teaching (and example) as easy and light (Matt 11:29-30), while criticizing the ‘burdensome’ teaching and tradition of the Pharisees (Matt 23:2ff). The Old Testament Law is described as a burdensome yoke in Acts 15:10, and by Paul as a “yoke of slavery” in Gal 5:1.
    • The Law is a product of the freedom we have in Christ—According to Paul, believers are guided principally by the Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ (and God) and represents the freedom we have in him (2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1, 13ff; Rom 8:2ff, 21); by way of this guidance, we naturally fulfill the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21), which is no longer the commands of the Torah per se. Note the general similarity between James 2:8-12 and Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10.

The first interpretation best characterizes the expression here in James, especially when one considers the additional adjective te/leio$ (“the complete Law of freedom”). In Jewish tradition, the Law would have been regarded, generally speaking, as “perfect” and complete (Psalm 19:7, cf. also the Epistle of Aristeas §31, etc). In the New Testament, however, the adjective te/leio$ is used more precisely of the will (and character) of God, and of believers who conform themselves to it (Matt 5:48; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 14:20; Col 4:12). In Matt 19:21 it is specifically tied to following Jesus—his teaching and example—as also in Phil 3:15 (and Eph 4:13); while in Col 1:28 believers are complete in terms of their union with Christ. All of this reinforces the view, expressed above, that the Law (no/mo$) here is not simply the Old Testament Law (Torah), but the Gospel and teaching of Jesus as transmitted to believers through Christian instruction and tradition. That this teaching still relates to the fundamental ethical commands of the Torah, is clear from the second use of the expression “Law of freedom” in James 2:12 (to be discussed further in the next note).

Even though the letter of James says nothing directly about the Spirit, it is possible that the “implanted word” (o( e&mfuto$ lo/go$) indicates something deeper and more abiding than simply the content of the Gospel message and teaching of Jesus which believers have received and assimilated. Within Hellenistic Judaism, under the influence of Greek (especially Stoic) philosophical terminology and concepts, the lo/go$ (logos) was used in reference to the indwelling reason, which the wise and just person followed, as a guiding principle or Law. Following the “law” of reason—the same Reason/Lo/go$ which orders and governs the universe—brings both freedom and completion/perfection to the wise person (cf. Epictetus Diss. 4.1; M. Aurelius 7.9; 10.33, etc). Seneca (On the blessed life 15.7) even states this principle in theological terms that nearly echo Judeo-Christian teaching (deo parere libertas est, “to obey God is freedom”). Philo of Alexandria, whose writings are roughly contemporary with the letter of James, brings Stoic teaching into line with Old Testament/Jewish tradition—of many references, cf. On the Creation of the World §3, The Life of Moses II.48-52, On the Decalogue §1ff [throughout], and, especially the treatise Every Good Man Is Free (e.g. §45) [cf. Dibelius/Greeven, pp. 116-118*].

In this regard, it may be instructive to look at the other places where lo/go$ is used in the letter:

    • James 1:18, where the expression is “the account/word of truth” (lo/go$ a)lhqei/a$)—here it is stated that “willing (it), he [i.e. God] was swollen with us [i.e. was pregnant/gave birth to us] in/by the word of truth“. The lo/go$ then is the power (or means) by which believers are given birth as the offspring of God. The word a)parxh/ (“beginning from [i.e. of the harvest]”, often rendered “first fruits”), is used by Paul in a similar sense, both of believers (Rom 8:23; 11:16; 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15; 2 Thess 2:13) and of Christ himself (1 Cor 15:20, 23).
    • James 1:21-22, part of the current passage (rel. to the reference in v. 25)—the author makes a distinction between simply hearing the word and doing the word as well. The lo/go$ then clearly represents something which a person does, similar to the way in which one does (that is observes/fulfills) the Law.
    • James 3:2—here lo/go$ is used in the simple, conventional sense of the word[s] a person says or speaks; interestingly, James also uses the adjective te/leio$ (“complete”) together with lo/go$ in this verse:
      “If any (person) does not trip/fall in (giving) account [i.e. in word/speech], this (person) is a complete man…”

The second expression involving the Law (“the royal Law” no/mo$ basiliko/$, James 2:8) will be discussed in the next note.

* References marked “Dibelius/Greeven” above are to Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James (Hermeneia, rev. Heinrich Greeven, transl. Michael A. Williams; Fortress Press [1975]); those marked “Davids” are to Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James (New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC], Eerdmans / Paternoster Press [1982]).

January 19: John 1:34 (continued)

John 1:34, continued

In order to gain a better understanding of the declaration by John the Baptist in verse 34 (and the important text-critical question in the verse, cf. the previous note), it is necessary to examine the narrative context of vv. 19-51. As previously discussed, verses 29-34 make up one of four sections in the narrative, which are joined together using the literary device of setting the four episodes on four successive days. This may be outlined, again, as follows:

    • Day 1—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity (1:19-28)
    • Day 2—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus (1:29-34)
    • Day 3—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness (1:35-42)
    • Day 4—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness (1:43-51)

The first “Day” involves the question of John the Baptist’s identity. He specifically denies any identification with three figures or titles— “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), “Elijah”, and “the Prophet”. The last two relate to a Messianic Prophet figure-type, drawn from the Old Testament figures of Elijah and Moses (Deut 18:15-20); this subject is discussed further in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Part 3). It is not entirely clear whether “the Anointed One” refers to a Messiah generally, a Messianic Prophet, or the traditional Messianic ruler from the line of David; based on the overall context of vv. 29-51, the latter is more likely.

The second and third “Days” follow a similar pattern; each begin with John the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (vv. 29, 36). Each ends with a distinct declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. The declaration of the second day is that of verse 34; that of the third day again involves the title Messiah— “We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41), where the Hebrew word j^yv!m* is transliterated as Messi/a$ (before being translated, “Anointed One” [Xristo/$]).

This common Messianic theme, running through the narrative episodes, would perhaps suggest that the reading “Chosen/Elect One” is to be preferred, since this title (presumably derived from Isa 42:1) is more directly Messianic than is “Son of God”. This is certainly the case with its use in Lk 9:35 and 23:35, the only other occurrences in the New Testament where the title is applied to Jesus.

However, a careful examination of the fourth “Day” (vv. 43-51) points in the opposite direction. Here the declaration regarding Jesus’ identity, made by Nathanael (v. 49), is two-fold:

“You are the the Son of God, you are the King of Israel

The thematic and narrative structure suggests that these two titles are parallel to those in the declarations of the 2nd and 3rd days:

    • “Son of God” = “<Chosen | Son> of God” (v. 34)
    • “King of Israel” = “Messiah” (v. 41)

The parallelism would tend to favor “Son” in v. 34, if only slightly. This, along with the overwhelming external manuscript evidence (in favor of “Son”), makes it the preferred reading. Still, the matter is far from decisive, and it is worth keeping the variant “Elect/Chosen One” well in mind whenever you read this passage. Consider how the two titles (and concepts) are closely intertwined in Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene, in which the voice from Heaven declares (according to the best manuscripts):

“This is my Son, the Elect/Chosen One [o( e)klelegme/no$]…” (9:35)

The title “Elect/Chosen (One)” here takes the form of a substantive (perfect) participle of the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”), from which the adjective e)klekto/$ is derived. Literally, it would be translated “the (one) having been gathered out” (o( e)klelegme/no$), but it is essentially identical in meaning to o( e)klekto/$. The latter occurs as a title of Jesus, albeit delivered mockingly to him, in Lk 23:35, and is clearly used in a Messianic sense (“the Anointed [One], the Elect/Chosen [One] of God”). There can be no real doubt that the same significance is to be found in its usage in the Lukan Transfiguration scene.

The Transfiguration scene, of course, parallels the earlier Baptism scene in the Synoptic Gospels, in which the voice from Heaven makes a similar declaration (in Matthew they are identical). Now, the Gospel of John only narrates the Baptism indirectly (vv. 29-34), through the testimony of John the Baptist, who witnesses the visionary phenomena. His declaration is in the same climactic position as the Divine/Heavenly voice in the Synoptics:

Yet consider, too, a comparison with the variant reading from John—

    • “You are My Son…” / “This is My Son…”
    • “This is the Chosen One of God” (Jn 1:34 v.l.)

which matches the words of the heavenly voice in Lk 9:35:

“You are my Son, the Chosen One”

This declaration, in turn, is an echo of Isaiah 42:1, where God speaks of “My Servant [db#u#]…my Chosen (One) [ryj!B^]…”. In Greek, db#u# is translated by pai=$, which can also mean “child” — “my Child” is obviously close in meaning to “my Son“. At the same time, ryj!B^ is translated by  e)klekto/$, the same word used in Jn 1:34 v.l. (and related to that in Lk 9:35).

It may be helpful at this point to summarize three important aspects of the Johannine tradition in vv. 19-51:

    • The narrative, despite its adapation of the early Gospel tradition into the Johannine idiom, preserves authentic historical tradition. For more on this, cf. the articles dealing with Jn 1:19-51 in my earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (The Baptism of Jesus).
    • This early tradition specifically relates to the identity of Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah), and particularly so in terms of the Messianic Prophet figure-type(s). It is the Anointed herald of the (Deutero-)Isaian oracles (e.g., 42:1ff; 61:1ff) that is most clearly in view, and is the figure with which Jesus was identified in the earliest strands of the Tradition. Cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.
    • Again, in the earliest tradition, the title “Son of God” was fundamentally Messianic in significance. Even though the Gospel of John clearly understands the title in terms of a pre-existence Christology, it still retains the older, traditional meaning as well.

None of this is sufficient to decide the text-critical question of which title— “Son of God” or “Elect/Chosen One of God” —was the original reading. Both titles are appropriate to the Messianic context of vv. 19-51, and, in a sense, can be seen as interchangeable (or, at least, complementary). As noted above, the overwhelming manuscript support, as well as the Johannine usage, favors the reading “Son of God” (o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=), and I am inclined to adopt it, by a narrow margin. The Baptist’s declaration would then read:

“And I have seen and have witnessed that this (one) is the Son of God

In so doing, John is the first to give witness to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. In the context of the Gospel Prologue, this refers to his identity as the pre-existent Son; however, in the immediate context of the narrative (vv. 19-51), and in terms of the early Gospel tradition, the title is to be understood in a Messianic sense (i.e., “Anointed One” = “Elect/Chosen One”). Both aspects are fundamental to the Johannine theology, and must be taken into account when summarizing the Christological portrait in the Gospel. No better summary can be found than the confessional statement by Martha in 11:27:

“I have trusted that you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God…”

This confession holds roughly the same place in the Gospel of John as Peter’s confession does in the Synoptics (Mk 8:29 par). It also is close in form and sense to the Baptist’s declaration in 1:34, especially if we were to combine the two variant readings:

“I have seen…that this (one) is the Elect/Chosen (One), the Son of God”

An even more precise confessional formula is used by the author in his conclusion to the Gospel:

“I have written these (thing)s (so) that you would trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God…” (20:31)

The uniqueness of the Johannine Gospel lies in the way that the earlier Gospel tradition, which understood the title “Son (of God)” primarily in a Messianic sense, has been adapted and developed to give a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning to the traditional manner of expression. Jesus is still the Anointed One, exalted by God the Father through his death and resurrection; but he is also something more: the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, who was, even in the very beginning, the Son resting together with God the Father in the bond of His eternal love and power.

January 18: John 1:34

John 1:34

The Johannine account of the Baptism of Jesus concludes with a revelatory declaration by John the Baptist regarding the true identity of Jesus:

“And I have seen and have given witness that this (man) is the <…> of God

The use of the verbs o(ra/w (“see”) and marture/w (“[give] witness”) frame the declaration by the Baptist in decidedly Johannine theological terms. Both verbs have a special significance in the Gospel of John, as do the concepts of seeing (sight/vision) and witnessing. In the Johannine theological context, these verbs carry a deeper meaning than might otherwise be suggested by their use in the narrative. This meaning refers primarily to a recognition of who Jesus is—viz., his identity as the Messiah and Son of God. On the theological aspect of John the Baptist’s witness of the Baptism event here in vv. 31-33, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

The use of the perfect tense (as in the case of both verbs here) typically indicates a past action or condition that continues into the present. John the Baptist’s revelation regarding the identity of Jesus continues to have abiding force—both when the Gospel was written, and for all those who have read the record of his witness in the centuries since.

The portion of verse 34 in bold above represents the unit where an important textual variation occurs, with the point of variance marked by angle brackets. There are two main variant readings for this unit:

    1. “…the (one) gathered out of [i.e. by] God” (o( e)klekto\$ tou= qeou=)—that is, “the Elect/Chosen (one) of God”
    2. “…the Son of God” (o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=)

The conflated reading “…the Elect/Chosen Son of God”, found in a few witnesses, is clearly secondary and can be disregarded; however, it does show that both readings above were familiar to certain copyists.

These two variants are of true significance, since they cut to the heart of the Baptist’s declaration of who Jesus is. The majority reading has “Son” (ui(o/$); however, in a number of manuscripts and versions (Ë5vid a* 77 218 b e ff2* and Old Syriac versions) it is “elect/chosen (one)” (e)klekto/$ lit. “gathered out”)—i.e. “the Son of God” vs. “the Elect (One) of God”. The reading with ui(o/$ (“son”) is found nearly every Greek manuscript, and, normally, such overwhelming external evidence would decide the question. Moreover, this reading is fully in accordance with the Gospel usage throughout, and the Johannine theology, with the repeated emphasis on Jesus as the Son. This same emphasis is found in the Prologue (see esp. vv. 14, 18), and given the related Prologue references to John the Baptist as a witness (vv. 6-9, 15), it would be most appropriate for the Baptist here to bear witness that Jesus is the “Son of God”.

On the other hand, the reading with e)klekto/$ (“gathered out,” i.e., elect/chosen) is unquestionably more difficult. Based on the principle of difficilior lectio potior (“the more difficult reading is preferred”), and the fact that the minority reading is found in a relative wide range of witnesses, might well lead one to regard it as original. Indeed, as a number of commentators have noted, it is extremely hard to explain how (or why) ui(o/$ would ever have been changed to e)klekto/$, while the reverse would be rather easy to explain, given that:

    • The tendency of copyists was to enhance, rather than reduce, the Christological significance of a passage; and “Son of God” is unquestionably the more exalted title, especially as it came to be understood by Christians in the following centuries.
    • “Son of God” is also by far the more familiar title; even among first-century Christians, to judge by the New Testament evidence, “Elect/Chosen One” was quite rare by comparison.
    • The title “Son” is also fully in keeping with the regular Johannine usage, whereas neither the work e)klekto/$ nor the basic concept of “chosen (one)” is ever applied to Jesus in the Johannine writings.

The evidence thus is evenly divided, making it extremely difficult to decide the textual question. A more detailed consideration of vocabulary and style may give further clarification:

As noted above, the adjective e)klekto/$ does not occur elsewhere in the Gospel of John, but the related verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out,” i.e., “choose”) is used five times, all by Jesus, and always in reference to the disciples, i.e. as those chosen by him (6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19). Indeed, throughout the New Testament, both the adjective (as a noun) and the verb are typically used of believers (Matt 13:20; 22:14; Lk 6:13; 18:7; Acts 1:2; Rom 8:33; 1 Cor 1:27-28; Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:1, etc), and only rarely of Jesus (Lk 9:35; 23:35; cf. below). By contrast, Jesus refers to himself as “the Son” many times in the Gospel of John. The title “Son of God” is less frequent, but still occurs 8 times, declared by others (Jn 1:49; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31) as often as by Jesus himself (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4). It is also relative common (7 times) in 1 John (3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10-13, 20). A consideration of style and vocabulary would thus tend to favor the reading “Son of God” in Jn 1:34.

The context of the Gospel Prologue also favors this reading, as mentioned above. However, if one considers the narrative in 1:19-51 on its own, apart from the Prologue, then we find a rather different thematic emphasis, and one which could be said to favor the reading “Elect/Chosen One”. This involves several aspects of the Johannine narrative that are sometimes overlooked by scholars: (1) the distinct manner in which the Gospel preserves authentic tradition, (2) the strong Messianic context of the early Gospel tradition, and (3) the emphasis on Jesus as the Messiah, in relation to his identity as the “Son of God”.

We will examine these points, together, in the next daily note.

 

January 17: John 1:33

John 1:33

Verse 33 is curious in that it essentially repeats the information from verses 31-32 (discussed in the previous notes). It is one of several repetitions and ‘doublets’ in this section, which commentators have sought to explain in a variety of ways. Actually, such repetition/doublets seem to be part of the Johannine literary style, and many examples could be cited from throughout the Discourses. One way to explain this, as a mode of composition by the Gospel writer, is that parallel but distinct source-traditions have been creatively combined together into a single narrative. However, in this case it is perhaps better to view the matter as a combination of different interpretive approaches by the Gospel writer to a common tradition.

It may be useful to compare verses 31-32 and 33 in context here:

Vv. 31-32
John: “And I had not seen [i.e. known] him, but (so) that he should be made to shine forth to Yisrael, through this [i.e. for this reason] I came dunking in water.”
Narration: “And Yohanan gave witness, saying that ‘I looked at the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him’.”

V. 33
John: “And I had not seen [i.e. known] him, but the (One) sending me to dunk in water—that (One) said to me”
Heavenly voice: “The (one) upon whom you should see the Spirit stepping down and remaining upon him”
Trad. saying (adapted): “this is the (one) dunking in (the) holy Spirit”

There is clear parallelism at work, but, as is often the case in the Gospel of John, the apparent repetitiveness is actually a sign of careful composition and a purposeful literary structure. The reasonably precise parallelism serves to highly the differences between the two versions, and these differences are more significant than might appear at first glance. We may summarize it this way:

    • Vv. 31-32 record John’s witness as to what he saw
    • V. 33 records John’s witness as to what God revealed to him

These are both important, and complementary, aspects, from the standpoint of the Johannine theology. It also demonstrates the special and unique way that the Gospel writer adapted the established tradition. Recall that there are two fundamental components to the Baptism tradition: (a) visual (descent of the Spirit), and (b) aural (voice from heaven). These correspond to the two ‘versions’ of the Johannine account: (a) what John saw (vv. 31-32), and (b) what he heard God say to him (v. 33).

Moreover, there is a reverse progression in vv. 31-33; that is to say, verses 31-32 depend on v. 33, even though verse 33 comes after vv. 31-32 in the narrative. John would not be able to give the witness that he does in vv. 31-32, if God had not first revealed the information to him in vv. 33. In this way, the Gospel writer, through his carefully constructed narrative, takes the reader back to the revelatory point experienced by John himself. In effect, the reader, through the inspired narrative, experiences the same revelation. On the importance of John as a source of revelation regarding the person of Jesus, cf. also 3:26-30ff; 5:33-35.

Some comment must be made regarding one particular adaptation of the Baptism tradition: the use of the verb me/nw (“remain”), an important Johannine keyword, which occurs here in both verse 32 and 33. The common tradition is followed in stating that the Spirit “stepped down” (vb katabai/nw) out of heaven as a dove, coming “upon” (e)pi/) Jesus. However, the phrasing in the Johannine version involves the Spirit stepping down and remaining on Jesus. Given the importance of the verb me/nw for the Johannine theology, this is surely significant. Even though the idea of the Spirit resting upon Jesus, may be part of the traditional (Messianic) imagery, based on the wording, for example, in Isa 11:2 (cp. Testament of Judah 24:1ff; Testament of Levi 18:7), the specific Johannine use of me/nw gives to the scene an even deeper meaning.

It is at just this point, however, that the Johannine Christological portrait seems to be somewhat at odds with the Baptism tradition. In the context of the core Gospel narrative, it is only after the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism that he is empowered to proclaim the Kingdom, teach/preach the Divine message, and work healing miracles. There is not the slightest suggestion in the Synoptic Gospels of the divine pre-existence of Jesus. Fundamentally, his identity as the Son of God begins at the Baptism (Mk 1:10-11 par), marked by the coming of the Spirit upon him.

The Gospel of John, however, evinces a strong pre-existence Christology, identifying Jesus as the Son of God even prior to his life/existence on earth. This is declared (and affirmed), not only in the Prologue, but throughout the Gospel Discourses as well. It may be that the Gospel writer, here in vv. 29-34, has simply retained the core Gospel (and historical) tradition, without altering it substantially to fit the Johannine Christology. Even so, we must ask what significance the theologically charged verb me/nw has in this context.

Throughout the Johannine Discourses, this verb is used to express the abiding relationship (and union) between God the Father and Jesus (the Son). By extension, this same sense of union applies to the relationship between Jesus and believers. In the Last Discourse, in particular, Jesus repeatedly refers to his disciples “remaining” in him, and he in them. The Vine illustration (and its exposition) in 15:1-16 alone contains 11 occurrences of the verb me/nw. This abiding union is realized through the presence of the Spirit, which comes upon believers and dwells in and among them.

Based on the Johannine Christology, expressed most clearly in the Last Discourse, the Spirit also represents the bond of unity shared by God the Father and Jesus the Son. And yet, this fact renders somewhat problematic the traditional Baptism scene recorded in vv. 29-34, where the Spirit comes upon Jesus much as it does upon his disciples (believers). If Jesus is the pre-existent Son of God, sharing the Divine Life and existence with God the Father, would he not already possess the Spirit in full measure? In that case, what is the purpose of the Spirit’s descent at the Baptism?

The question might be answered by way of the kenosis-theory (based on Phil 2:6-8), whereby Jesus “emptied” (vb keno/w) himself of his Divine position and status when he came to be born and live on earth as a human being. According to the kenotic theology, the emptied human Jesus was dependent upon the special presence of the Spirit, which came and empowered him at the Baptism—an empowerment that lasted throughout the time of his life on earth. The validity of this kenotic theology, in whole or in part, continues to be debated by theologians; in any event, it is not at all clear whether (or to what extent) the Gospel writer held such a view of Jesus.

Perhaps the most serious objection to the kenotic hypothesis is that it is predicated upon a developed (post-Nicene) mode of Christological thinking, and it is highly questionable whether such a mode of thinking can (or should) be read back into the first-century context of the New Testament writings. I suspect that the Gospel writer is simply making use of the Baptism tradition without giving any real thought to all of the potential theological implications. The Johannine Christology required that there be some mention of the abiding presence of the Spirit with Jesus during his time on earth as the incarnate Word and Son of God. The Baptism tradition, with its record of the Spirit’s descent upon Jesus, was the best vehicle for establishing the fundamental connection between Jesus and the Spirit. From a literary standpoint, once this connection was established, the Gospel writer could then freely reference the incarnate Son’s possession of the Spirit—the same Spirit which God the Father possesses, and which the Father gave to the Son (3:34-35, etc)

One key point that the Johannine theology shares with the wider Gospel tradition is that Jesus’ empowerment by the Spirit’s presence was permanent, and, as such, differed fundamentally from the temporary inspiration of religious leaders and prophets (such as John the Baptist). The verb me/nw certainly captures this idea of permanence: the Spirit “remained” (e&meinen) upon Jesus. This theme also applies to our union (as believers) with Jesus—we remain in him through the abiding presence of the Spirit, and this presence is permanent.

January 16: John 1:32

John 1:32

In verse 31 (cf. the previous note), the Baptist states that “I had not known him [that is, Jesus].” On the surface, this would simply mean that John was unfamiliar with Jesus, and did not known him personally, prior to his coming forward to be baptized. However, as I have discussed, the terminology of seeing/knowing (here represented by the verb ei&dw, “see”), in the Johannine writings, has special theological meaning. From the standpoint of the Johaninne theology, the Baptist’s statement means that he had not recognized Jesus’ true identity (as the Son of God) before this moment. This Christological awareness applies even more to the context of verse 26, when the Baptist says, of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, that they “have not seen [i.e. known]” who Jesus is: “in your midst has stood (one) whom you have not seen”. The irony in this statement runs deep, since, as repeatedly documented in the Gospel narrative, the Jewish religious leaders refused (or were unable) to acknowledge who Jesus was—the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God. Chapter 9 deals extensively with this special sense of “seeing”.

The tense of the verb in v. 31 is the pluperfect (“I had seen,” h&|dein), used only rarely in the New Testament. The implication is that John had not understood who Jesus was until the present moment. Now he does realize the truth of Jesus’ identity, for it has been revealed to him by God. This is indicated in the remainder of verse 31: “…but (so) that he should be made to shine forth to Israel, through this [i.e. for this purpose] I came dunking in water”. Apparently, John now realizes the purpose of his baptizing ministry: it was to make known the person of Jesus—his identity as the Messiah and Son of God.

In the Gospel Tradition, the baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry. The core Tradition says virtually nothing of Jesus’ life prior to the baptism. According to the Synoptic narrative, Jesus’ ministry begins almost immediately after his baptism (Mk 1:9-11 par)—following a short period of time spent in the desert (Mk 1:12-13 par). Being filled with the Spirit of God (cf. Lk 4:1, 14, 18), Jesus begins to teach and perform healing miracles.

The Johannine account of the Baptism is unusual in that it is presented indirectly, as a narration by the Baptist. Whether this difference is intrinsic to the Johannine tradition, or represents a literary development by the Gospel writer, is difficult to say. For more discussion on such critical questions, consult the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (the Johannine version of the Baptism is treated most extensively in Part 3).

Here is the summary of the Johannine account in verse 32:

“And Yohanan gave witness [e)martu/rhsen], saying that ‘I have looked at [teqe/amai] the Spirit stepping down [katabai=non] as a dove out of heaven, and it remained [e&meinen] upon him’.”

This generally corresponds with the Synoptic narrative, and we can be fairly certain that the Johannine tradition preserved an account of the Baptism that more or less resembled the statement in Mark 1:10 par:

“And, straightaway, stepping up [a)nabai/nwn] out of the water, he saw the heavens being split, and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [katabai=non] <upon> him.”
[The Markan version reads “into/unto [ei)$] him”, while Matthew [3:16] has “upon [e)pi] him”, as in the Johannine account]

The two main differences in John’s version are: (a) the event is reported as witnessed by the Baptist, and (b) the verbs, reflecting the distinctive Johannine (theological) vocabulary, that are used in the narration.

(a) The Baptism witnessed by John the Baptist

While this may be part of the underlying Johannine tradition, and rooted in historical tradition, it takes on added meaning in the Gospel context. Its significance is informed by the references to John the Baptist in the Prologue, where the Baptist is described specifically as a witness (marturi/a, vb marture/w) to the Light (vv. 6-9), by which is meant a witness to Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Son of God (v. 15). John the Baptist is the first such witness to Jesus’ true identity, an identity that was revealed to John during the Baptism-event. In the Markan account, it is Jesus who sees and hears the Divine phenomena (descent of the Spirit, voice from Heaven), while Matthew seems to present the phenomena as observable by the wider audience.

The Johannine version certainly departs from the Matthean portrait—the public did not see or hear the heavenly phenomena (a point reinforced by the scene at the close of Jesus’ ministry, in 12:27-30ff). The presence of the Spirit and the voice of God from heaven were witnessed only by John, and it is he who reports them (as a witness) to others. This is of vital importance to the thematic structure of the narrative in 1:19-51.

(b) The Johannine Vocabulary

Four verbs are used in v. 32, and they all have special significance as part of the Johannine theological vocabulary:

1. marture/w (“[give] witness”)—John the Baptist as a witness was emphasized above (cf. verses 6-9, 15 of the Prologue); however, these references are only the first of a considerable number throughout the Gospel. The verb marture/w occurs 33 times in the Gospel of John (compared with just 2 in the Synoptic Gospels combined). In addition, it is used 10 times in the Letters of John, and another 4 in the book of Revelation (1:2; 22:16, 18, 20). In comparison with these 47 Johannine occurrences, the verb occurs just 29 times in the remainder of the New Testament.

The theological meaning of the “witness” is three-fold:

    • Jesus gives witness about himself—i.e., who he is, as Son of God the Father—both through his words and deeds
    • People (believers) give witness about Jesus through their trust in him; others, by contrast, give witness that they are not believers
    • The Spirit will bear witness, continuing the witness of Jesus himself, and will continue working in believers (i.e., their trust and love)

2. qea/omai (“look [closely] at”)—this is one of a number of verbs, used in the Gospel, denoting sight/vision, the others being ei&dw, ble/pw, o(ra/w, and qeore/w. To “see” Jesus, in the theological sense, is to trust in him, recognizing his identity as the Son of God. The verb qea/omai occurs first in the Prologue (v. 14), where this meaning is implied. The context of the Prologue-hymn is the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, by which is meant the birth and life of Jesus on earth. The beginning of his life and ministry is suggested in v. 14, and is certainly indicated in the Baptism scene (cf. above). The verb qea/omai may also allude to the beginning of awareness and understanding (cf. 4:35; 11:45). The full force of the verb, in the context of the Johannine theology, can be seen in 1 Jn 1:1; 4:12, 14.

3. katabai/nw (“step down”)—This is the first occurrence of the verb in the Gospel, which, along with the corresponding a)nabai/nw (“step up”), will be used repeatedly, and almost always with special Christological significance. The verb pair is used in the Synoptic account of the Baptism of Jesus (cf. above), and this important traditional context may well have influenced the Johannine usage. The verbs are used together in 1:51, and then variously, at a number of key points in the Discourses (3:13; 6:33-58, 62, etc). Even when they seem to be used in a simple narrative setting (e.g., of Jesus “going up” to Jerusalem), the theological meaning is doubtless present, at a deeper level, as well. The fundamental significance involves the “descent” (katabai/nw) of the Son from the Father (in heaven), and to his eventual “ascent” (a)nabai/nw) back to Him (20:17).

4. me/nw (“remain”)—The importance of this key verb in the Johannine Gospel can scarcely be overemphasized. It occurs 40 times in the Gospel, and another 27 in the Letters of John—more than half of all NT occurrences (118). It carries a powerful theological meaning, referring at once to the union between God the Father and Jesus (the Son), and between Jesus and believers. Through our trust, we come to “remain” in Jesus, and he “remains” in us—the bond of union being effected (and maintained) through the abiding presence of the Spirit. This idea is expounded by Jesus throughout the Last Discourse, with the verb me/nw occurring 14 times between 14:10 and 15:16, and being especially prominent as part of the Vine illustration in 15:1-3ff.

Here in v. 32, however, there is a difficulty in understanding the precise force of me/nw in the context of the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, since the significance of the core Gospel tradition in this regard seems to be at odds with the Christological portrait in the Johannine Gospel. This will be discussed further, along with verse 33, in the next daily note.

 

 

 

January 15: John 1:31

John 1:31

Verse 31 goes hand-in-hand with the saying by the Baptist in verse 30 (examined in the previous note). One of the critical aspects of these verses involves the intriguing Johannine repetitions and ‘doublets’ that we see here in the narrative. There are two different sets of repetitions: one that occurs within vv. 29-31, and another which relates to the earlier episode in vv. 19-28. This has led critical commentators to posit a number of theories regarding the composition of these two scenes, and the distinct source material that might have been used in the process.

Let us consider, first, the parallel between vv. 26-27 and 30-31. Note the similarities—in each pair of verses there is:

    • A comparative saying by the Baptist regarding the superiority of Jesus
    • A statement on how Jesus has not been seen/known (i.e. recognized) as the Messiah
    • A reference by John to his baptizing people in water

These elements occur in a different order, in vv. 26-27 and 30-31 respectively; I present them here together as a chiasm:

    • Reference to baptizing in water (v. 26)
      • Statement on not having known/recognized Jesus (v. 26)
        • Saying by the Baptist on the superiority of Jesus (v. 27)
        • Saying by the Baptist on the superiority of Jesus (v. 30)
      • Statement on not having known/recognized Jesus (v. 31a)
    • Reference to baptizing in water (v. 31b)

This cannot be coincidental. Consider the ‘outer’ parallel—the mention by John of his baptizing in water:

    • “I dunk [i.e. baptize] in water [e)n u%dati]…” (v. 26)
    • “…I came dunking in water [e)n u%dati]” (v. 31)

The reference to baptizing in water is certainly to be understood as part of the comparison, between John and Jesus, in vv. 27/30. Though implicit here, the point of contrast is specified in the Synoptic tradition (Mark 1:7 par):

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit”

The phrase in v. 26 (above) reads like an abbreviated version of this saying. Instead of the contrastive point “but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit,” here the Baptist completes the statement with the curious declaration: “(but) in your midst has stood (one) whom you have not seen [i.e. known]”. Instead of the idea of Jesus (“the one coming,” i.e., the Prophetic Messiah) baptizing people with the Holy Spirit, we have what some commentators have called the concept of a “hidden Messiah” —that is, an Anointed One who remains unknown until the moment he is revealed (by God) on earth.

Here is the phrase in v. 26, along with the parallel in v. 31 (cf. the chiastic arrangement above):

    • “…in your midst has stood (one) whom you have not seen [i.e. known]” (v. 26)
    • “…and I had not seen [i.e. known] him, but (so) that he should be made to shine forth to Yisrael…” (v. 31)

On the concept of the Messiah’s hiddenness, this is a theme attested, to some degree, in a number of passages in Jewish writings from the first centuries B.C. through the early Rabbinic period. Trypho, in Justin’s Dialogue (8.4; 110.1), written in mid-2nd century A.D., expresses what would seem to be a common or accepted Jewish position: “the Messiah, even if he be born and actually exist somewhere, is unknown” (cf. Brown, p. 53). On the Rabbinic references to this basic tradition we may note, e.g., Sanh. 97a; b. Pes. 54a; b. Ned. 39a; Midrash Rabbah on Exod. 25:16. It is possible that an early form of this tradition underlies, to some extent, the so-called “Messianic Secret” passages in the Synoptic Gospels, most notably in the Gospel of Mark (1:43; 4:11-12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9).

If the Johannine Gospel here is referencing a tradition regarding the “hiddenness” of the Messiah, it is possible the author is alluding to the specific idea of the Messiah having dwelt in heaven prior to his appearance on earth. This would certainly fit the pre-existence Christology of the Gospel (esp. in the Prologue), but suggests a Messianic ‘heavenly deliverer’ figure-type (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), rather than the Prophetic or Davidic Messiah. The Johannine Christological portrait of Jesus (as the pre-existent Son of God) may be compared with the heavenly “Son of Man” in 1 Enoch (cf. 46:1-3; 62:7-9, etc). By the Rabbinic period, a heavenly dwelling (or pre-existence) may have been attributed more generally to the Messiah—as one who was “hidden in the clouds” until the time came for him to appear on earth.

Turning to the central parallel in vv. 26-27 and 30-31—the saying by the Baptist on the superiority of Jesus—the statement in v. 27 corresponds more or less with the Synoptic saying in Mark 1:7 par, and clearly derives from a common historical tradition. Here is the Markan version of the Synoptic tradition:

the (one) stronger than me comes in back of me, of whom I am not fit, (hav)ing bent (down), to loosen the straps of (the thong)s bound under his (feet)

Interestingly, the two parts, indicated by bold and italics, respectively, have been separated out in the Johannine tradition. On the other hand, it may be that the Synoptic version represents a conflation of two originally distinct sayings, and that John’s Gospel accurately presents these as separate statements by the Baptist. In any case, the saying in v. 27 corresponds to the italicized part of Mk 1:7 par:

“…of whom I am not worthy that I should loosen the straps of (the thong)s bound under his (feet)”
“…of whom I am not fit…to loosen the straps of (the thong)s bound under his (feet)” [Mk 1:7]

These statements are quite close. John uses the adjective a&cio$, instead of i(kano/$ in Mark, but the basic meaning and emphasis is the same.

The saying in v. 30 corresponds with the bold portion of Mk 1:7 (above). The Matthean and Lukan versions each differ slightly from Mark. In Luke 3:16, the wording is identical, except for the omission of the expression “in back of me” (o)pi/sw mou). Matthew’s version (3:11), which uses the participle e)rxo/meno$ (“coming”) instead of the indicative e&rxetai (“comes”), is actually closer in form to the Johannine version of the saying in verse 15:

the (one) coming in back of me is greater than me” [Matthew]
the (one) coming in back of me has come to be in front of me…” [John, v. 15]

The saying in v. 30 is compares better with the Markan version of the Synoptic saying:

“the (one) stronger than me comes in back of me” [Mark]
“a man comes in back of me who has come to be in front of me…” [John, v. 30]

The main difference between the Johannine and Synoptic versions is that, instead of the straightforward comparison “stronger than me”, John has the rather awkward “has come to be in front of me”. We may rightly ask whether the Johannine version represents a modification of the Synoptic version, or reflects a separate Gospel tradition. The distinctive Johannine theological vocabulary present in v. 15/30 (cf. the previous note) suggests the former. However, one cannot rule out the possibility that both versions represent variations of the original historical tradition. This would be explained in terms of the Aramaic of the original saying of Jesus having been translated two different ways. Black (Aramaic Approach, pp. 107-8) suggests an original Aramaic of awh ymdq, which could be understood as “he is superior to me”, but also “he was before me”.

This discussion will be continued in the next daily note (on v. 32).

References marked “Brown” above are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (I-XII), Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).
References marked “Black” are to Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, Second Edition (Oxford: 1946, 1954).

January 12: John 1:30

John 1:30

These verses build upon the statement in v. 29: “See, the Lamb of God, the (one) taking up the sins of the world”. V. 30 begins “This is (the one) over whom I said…” —then follows the difficult saying:

o)pi/sw mou e&rxetai a)nh\r o^$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n “(in) back of me comes a man who has come to be in front of me (in) that [i.e. because] he was first/foremost (over) me”

This is nearly identical to verse 15, which begins “Yoµanan {John} witnessed about him and cried out, relating/saying, ‘This was (the one of) whom I said…”

o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n “the (one) coming (in) back of me has come to be in front of me (in) that [i.e. because] he was first/foremost (over) me”

I recently discussed verse 15 as part of an earlier set of notes on the Gospel Prologue (vv. 1-18). There I mentioned the curious position of the v. 15 saying, which interrupts the poetry of the strophe in vv. 14, 16, and fits rather awkwardly within the Prologue as a whole. I offered a tentative explanation: that the placement of the v. 15 saying, in context, was done with the express intention of explaining the difficult saying of the Baptist in v. 30. In particular, with regard to the second and third phrases of the saying (see below), verse 14 of the Prologue-hymn provides clarification for what otherwise might seem obscure to readers—a reference to the incarnation of the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God in the person of Jesus. This will be discussed further in the exegesis below. There are three phrases in this saying (in v. 30), each of which is governed by a specific verb (and form) which is most significant to observe (the distinctions being generally obscured in translation):

    • “a man comes [e&rxetai]  in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “who has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

These three verbs are used with great care in the Gospel, when applied to Jesus, and especially in the ‘Prologue’ (Jn 1:1-18). Let us consider them in turn (references to verses in the Prologue exclude v. 15 which is largely identical to v. 30):

e&rxomai is a basic verb in narration and description which fundamentally means “come, go”. It is used frequently in the Gospel of John, often with a deeper theological or spiritual nuance than ordinary coming/going—in particular Jesus speaks of coming from the Father and going (back) to the Father; believers also come to Jesus (and to the Father). In the Prologue, the verb occurs three times (outside of v. 15):

    1. John came [h@lqen] as a witness to the (true) Light (v. 7)
    2. The reference is to someone coming [e)rxo/menon] into the world (v. 9). It is not entirely clear whether this relates to “every man” or “the true Light”; the latter is to be preferred, making it a reference to the Word (Christ) coming into the world
    3. The Word (Christ) came [h@lqen] to his own… (v. 11)
  1.  

These references (discussed in recent notes on the Prologue-hymn) all relate to the appearance/presence of a human being in the world (i.e. among people). The present indicative form [e&rxetai] in verse 30 is closest to the present participle in v. 9 (and 15). In terms of Christ (the incarnate Word), we might speak here of the “historical Jesus” —that is, the man who was born, lived, and ministered in the world, among his own (the people of Israel).

gi/nomai has the primary meaning “come to be, become”, again common in narration and description, and, like e&rxomai, is often used with special significance in the Gospel of John. It can carry the nuance of “come to be born”, and, as such, is very close to the related verb genna/w. This latter verb is used in John for the spiritual “birth” of believers (Jn 1:13; 3:3-8) and gi/nomai also is used frequently to describe coming to faith (i.e. “becoming” believers, Jn 12:36; 13:19; 14:29; 15:8, etc). Gi/nomai occurs 8 times in the Prologue (outside of v. 15):

    1. For the things which came-to-be [e)ge/neto/ge/gonen] through the Word (v. 3 [x 3], 10)
    2. A man (John) came-to-be (born) [e)ge/neto] (v. 6)
    3. The Word came-to-be [e)ge/neto] flesh… (v. 14)
    4. “Grace and truth” came-to-be [e)ge/neto] through Christ (v. 17)—contrast with “the Law was given” through Moses.
    5. Those who received (Christ) are given authority to become [gene/sqai] sons of God (v. 12)

The perfect form [ge/gonen] in verse 30 (and 15) creates a difficulty in interpretation (discussed below), however it would seem to relate to the aorist form [e)ge/neto] in v. 14 (“the Word became flesh”).

ei)mi is the primary (existential) verb of being. In the prologue it occurs 10 times (outside of v. 15):

    1. Three times in v. 1: the Logos was [h@n] (on this, see below); and in v. 2.
    2. Twice in v. 4: In him (the Word) was [h@n] life, and the life was [h@n] the light…; and in v. 9 “the true light was [h@n]…”
    3. John was [h@n] not the (true) light (v. 8)
    4. The Word (Christ) was [h@n] in the world (v. 10)

The three occurrences of h@n in verse 1 form a definite contrast to the three forms of gi/nomai in verse 3:

  • In the beginning the Logos was
  • The Logos was toward [pro/$] God
  • God was the Logos (given in the literal word order, i.e. the Logos was God)
    • All things came to be [e)ge/neto] through him
    • Apart from him came to be [e)ge/neto] not even one (thing)
    • {one (thing)} which has come to be [ge/gonen]

In other words, the things in creation come to be (gi/nomai), but God is (ei)mi). For a similar contrast, see John 8:58: pri\n  )Abraa\m gene/sqai e)gw\ ei)mi/ (“before Abraham came to be, I am“). So the use of ei)mi in verse 30 in context clearly refers to the Divine existence of Jesus. Let us explore a little further how these three verbs—e&rxomai, gi/nomai and ei)mi—may relate here by glossing the terms in each phrase:

1. o)pi/sw mou e&rxetai a)nh\r (“[in] back of me comes a man”):

o)pi/sw mou (“[in] back of me”)—this can mean: (a) Jesus is younger, and has appeared publicly later than, John; or (b) Jesus is/was a follower of John; or even (c) Jesus was unknown or less well known than John. Many critical scholars accept (b) as an authentic historical detail, which can be debated. In terms of Gospel tradition as it has come down to us, and the overall presentation in the Gospel of John here, probably little more than (a), or some combination of (a) and (c), is intended.

e&rxetai (“comes”)—that is, the immediate (historical) presence/appearance of the man Jesus, publicly, in the midst of the people (see above on e&rxomai in 1:7, 9, 11).

a)nh\r (“a man”)—i.e., the “historical Jesus”, a real human being, a man like all the other people around John.

2. o^$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen (“who has come to be in front of me”):

o^$ (“who/which”)—relative particle qualifying a)nh\r and serving to join the first and second phrases.

e&mprosqe/n mou (“in front of me”)—this is clearly a contrast with o)pi/sw mou (“[in] back of me”), but in what sense? Much depends on the interpretation of ge/gonen, but I see this a typical bit of Johannine wordplay, whereby the immediate (apparent) sense is overshadowed (and may even be contrary) to the deeper (true) meaning. One might think that the Baptist (or the Gospel writer) here is simply saying that Jesus, who was younger than John and relatively unknown, is now coming into greater prominence. The immediate context would certainly suggest this—those who were following John now follow Christ (vv. 35ff, cf. also 3:27-30).

ge/gonen (“has come to be”)—the usage of gi/nomai in the Prologue (see above), and especially in verse 14 (“the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”), strongly suggests that the Incarnation be understood here. In other words, Jesus has come to be “in front of” John because he is the eternal Word (Lo/go$) that became flesh. The perfect form here (ge/gonen, parallel to the occurrence in v. 3) may be meant to indicate that something which took place in the (eternal) past, is presently true.

3. o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n (“[in] that he was first/foremost [over] me”):

o%ti (“[in] that [i.e. because]”)—the reason why Jesus is “in front of” John.

prw=to/$ mou (“first/foremost [over] me”)—the superlative adjective prw=to$ is the climax of a step-parallelism (a favorite Johannine technique) with the earlier prepositions o)pi/sw (“[in] back of”) and e&mprosqen (“in front of”). Not only is Jesus “in front of” John, but he is “first (of all)” or “foremost” over him; indeed, this is the reason for his being “in front”. It is a dense and powerful symbolic chain of argument.

h@n (“was”)—this is the same form of ei)mi used throughout the Prologue (esp. vv. 1-2), and serves to identify Jesus, in no uncertain terms, with the Divine (and pre-existent) Word (Lo/go$) of God.

Many critical scholars have expressed doubts that this remarkable saying could have come from the historical John; it seems rather more like a theological-christological declaration by the Gospel writer. The point certainly can be debated; however, even if it does not preserve the ipsissima verba of the Baptist, the words very likely stem from a genuine saying. Other traditions, more objectively verifiable, are recorded, in all four Gospels, whereby John confesses the (far) greater status of Jesus (Mark 1:7-8 par.; Matt 3:14-15; John 3:27-30). Some of these critical questions will be addressed, along with a discussion of verse 31, in the next daily note.

January 11: John 1:29 (continued)

John 1:29, continued

“Upon the morrow he looks (at) Yeshua coming toward him and says: ‘See—the lamb of God, the (one) taking up the sins of the world!'”

The first part of this verse was discussed in the previous note. It remains to examine the declaration by the Baptist in 29b:

i&de o( a)mno\$ tou= qeou= o( ai&rwn th\n a(marti/an tou= ko/smou
“See—the lamb of God, the (one) taking up the sins of the world!

The interpretation of this saying involves determining the meaning and context for two expressions:

    • “the lamb of God” (o( a)mno\$ tou= qeou=)
    • ” the (one) taking up the sins of the world” (o( ai&rwn th\n a(marti/an tou= ko/smou)

The first expression “Lamb of God” is so familiar as a Christian title for Jesus, it may be surprising to learn that it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament outside of the parallel references in John 1:29, 36. Elsewhere, the idea of Jesus as a lamb only appears in 1 Peter 1:19 and in the book of Revelation (29 times), although there the word a)rni/on (diminutive of a)rh/n) is used. a)mno/$ occurs only twice in the New Testament outside of John 1:29, 36 (in Acts 8:32 [quoting Isa 53:7], and 1 Peter 1:19). There are three primary images associated with the Lamb (a)mno/$) relevant to the context here:

1. The Lamb as a symbol of innocence and meekness (in the face of suffering). This actually reflects two themes: (a) the gentleness/innocence of the lamb, often contrasted with the wolf (Isa 11:6; 65:25); and (b) the helplessness of the lamb (Isa 40:11; Luke 10:3, etc), especially as one led for slaughter (Isa 53:7; Jer 51:40). The use of a)mno/$ in Isa 53:7, would especially come to mind for early Christians, for it was a passage applied to the suffering and death of Christ from the earliest time—it is read/quoted in Acts 8:32, and note the silence of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Pilate in the Passion accounts (Mark 14:61; 15:5, and par.).

2. The Sacrificial (Passover) Lamb. a)rni/on (or a)rh/n) is used in the LXX for the burnt offering (Lev 1:10) and for the Passover lamb in Ex 12:5; whereas a)mno/$ is used for the daily offering (Ex 29:38-39) and for ‘guilt’ / purification offerings in (Lev 14:10; Num 6:12). So, a)mno/$ here would better fit the idea of sacrifice for ‘sin’ or sacrifice in general. However, the Gospel of John makes frequent use of Passover motifs and symbols, including an explicit identification of Jesus with the Passover lamb in Jn 19:14, 31-36. The Passover Lamb also seems to be in mind with the use of a)mno/$ in 1 Pet 1:19.

3. The Conquering Lamb (of Judgment). This is an important theme in the book of Revelation (from the same author and/or community as the Gospel): Jesus is not only the “lamb that was slain” (Rev 5:12; 13:8, “blood of the lamb” in 7:14; 12:11), but also is exalted/worshiped as the Lamb in Heaven (Rev 5:6-12; 7:9-10, 17; 14:1ff, etc.); included within this motif is the Lamb as a conquering figure in the eschatological Judgment (6:1, 16; 17:14, etc). The book of Revelation uses a)rni/on instead of a)mno/$, but, as seen above, these words are relatively interchangeable.

Now the theme of (eschatological) Judgment was central in John the Baptist’s preaching, much more than Christians today may wish to admit (cf. Matt 3:7-12; Luke 3:7-9, 17; and the central citation of Isa 40:3/Mal 3:1 in Mark 1:2-3 par.). It is certainly possible that he (perhaps moreso than the Gospel writer) has this association in mind—as a possible parallel, cf. the Testament of Joseph 19:8 (which may however be a Christian interpolation).

In my view the second image above (that of the Sacrificial Lamb) is most directly applicable in Jn 1:29. However what of the other expression “the (one) taking up the sins of the world”?

“The sins of the world” (th\n a(marti/an tou= ko/smou) is fairly straightforward, as it reflects closely the idea that Jesus acts on the behalf of the sins of (many) people (cf. Matt 1:21; 13:41; 26:28; Mark 2:10; 3:28; Lk 11:4; 24:47; Jn 8:24; 15:22, 24; 16:8-9; 20:23, etc. and all pars.). In the Gospel of John there also is a frequent association of “the world” (o( ko/smo$) with darkness, evil, and sin (Jn 1:10; 3:17-19; 7:7; 8:23; 9:39; 12:31; 14:17, 19, 30; 15:18-19; 16:8, 11, 20, et al.), which may be responsible for the unique expression as it stands here. The more difficult point of interpretation is in the use of the verb ai&rw, which has the primary meaning “take up” —here o( ai&rwn (“the [one] taking up…”). This can be understood in one of three ways:

    • “taking up” as in lifting, bearing, carrying—the emphasis would be that the Lamb takes up or carries the (burden of) the world’s sins. Language involving “lifting” or “raising” occurs often in the Gospel of John, including use of the verb ai&rw; see for example in context of the Good Shepherd parable(s), Jn 10:18, 24. This motif would better apply to the Day of Atonement than Passover, but it could be understood from the standpoint of vicarious sacrifice in general. Jesus is “lifted up” on the cross as the slain Passover lamb in Jn 19:14, 31-36 (cf. also Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34).
    • “taking up” in the sense of taking away—i.e., forgiveness. This is no doubt the most common understanding of the expression here; however, “forgiveness of sin” as such is normally expressed with the verb a)fi/hmi (“send [away] from” or “let [go] from”) or the noun a&fesi$ (“release”)—cf. Mark 1:4; 2:9; 3:28; 6:12, 14-15; Matt 9:2, 5-6; 12:31-32; 26:28; Lk 24:47; John 20:23; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43, etc.
    • “taking up” as taking away, but in the sense of removing or destroying sins—i.e. esp. in the (eschatological) Judgment. For something of this idea, see Matthew 13:41, which is reasonably close to the scene of Judgment in John’s preaching (Matt 3:12; Lk 3:9, 17); that the Baptist himself understood this in terms of an (imminent) eschatological Judgment seems clear enough from Lk 3:7. See also in this regard the ethical saying of Jesus to “cut off” the cause of sin (Mk 9:42-47 par., again in the context of the Judgment). In other words, the Johannine image of Jesus as savior of the world (John 3:16-17; 4:42; 6:33; 12:47, etc) involves not just forgiveness, but destruction of sin. This is the two-fold aspect of (the coming) Judgment (and wrath of God): salvation and destruction—see Jn 3:17, 19; 7:7; 9:39; 12:46-47; 16:8-11.

Perhaps the soundest guide to interpretation of the expressions in Jn 1:29 come from the closest parallel, namely 1 John 3:5:

“and know that this one [i.e. Jesus] was made to shine forth [i.e. appear] so that he might take up/away [a&rh|] sins; and in him there is no sin”

for which there is a parallel, explanatory statement in 1 John 3:8b:

“and unto this the Son of God was made to shine forth [i.e. appear] so that he might loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] the works of the Accuser [i.e. Devil]”

In other words, “taking away sins” is connected with “dissolving the works of the Devil”. In 1 Jn 3:5 we also have mention of Jesus’ sinlessness, which can be understood as a parallel to the (Passover) Lamb without spot or blemish (cf. 1 Peter 1:19 [a)mno/$]).

For several references and observations in these note on John 1:29-34, I am indebted to the discussion in R. E. Brown’s classic Commentary (John 1-12, Anchor Bible vol. 29, 1966, pp. 58-67).

January 10: John 1:29

In celebration of the Baptism of Jesus, traditionally commemorated in the Eastern Churches on Jan. 6, and in the West on Jan. 13, I will be presenting a series of daily notes this week on John 1:29-34.

John 1:29-34

This is the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of John. It differs significantly from the Synoptic narrative (Mk 1:9-11 par), and yet clearly draws upon a common historical tradition. I have discussed the matter at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (the articles on the Baptism of Jesus).

The Fourth Gospel deals with the relationship between John and Jesus in a unique way, as can be seen by the curious references to the Baptist in the Prologue (cf. my recent notes on vv. 6-9 and 15). When the narrative of the Gospel proper begins, John the Baptist features prominently in each of the first three episodes—vv. 19-28, 29-34, and 35ff.

To review the structure of the Gospel, chapter 1 is made up of five sections—(1) the Prologue (vv. 1-18), and (2) a sequence of four episodes, narrated as four “days”, during which the focus shifts from John the Baptist to Jesus (cf. Jn 3:30):

    • 1:19-28—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
    • 1:29-34—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
    • 1:35-42—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
    • 1:43-51—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness

This structure is discerned from the wording used to demarcate the three sections of vv. 29-51, each of which begins with the phrase th=| e)pau/rion, “upon the (morning) air” (i.e. “upon the morrow”, in conventional English, “the next day, next morning”). Here is the precise wording in verse 29:

“Upon the (morning) air [th=| e)pau/rion], he [i.e. John] looks [ble/pei] (at) Yeshua coming toward him, and says…”

Before proceeding with a detailed exegesis, it may be useful to outline this ‘day’ covered by vv. 29-34. Structurally and thematically, this is best represented as a chiasmus, in which statements by the Baptist, regarding the true identity of Jesus, are enclosed by a pair of declarations given in more traditional (and symbolic) language:

    • Witness of John the Baptist—Jesus coming toward [e)rxo/menon pro/$] him (“See, the Lamb of God…”), v. 29
      • Statement of John the Baptist concerning the true nature and superiority of Jesus (v. 30); his baptizing reveals Jesus to Israel (v. 31)
      • Statement of John the Baptist (v. 32); Jesus’ true nature (and superiority) revealed in John’s baptizing (v. 33)—descent of the Spirit & Divine announcement (baptism of Jesus implied)
    • Witness of John the Baptist—”This (one) is the Son of God”, v. 34

This outline can be expanded with a bit more detail, in terms of the action of the scene:

    • Declaration 1— “See! the Lamb of God…” (v. 29)
      • Jesus coming toward John (vv. 29-30)
      • John came to baptize (Jesus) (vv. 31, 33)
        [The Baptism of Jesus, as described by John]
      • The Spirit stepping down (i.e. coming down) and remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33)
      • Before this, John had not seen/known Jesus (i.e. recognized his identity) (vv. 31, 33)
    • Declaration 2— “This is the Son of God” (v. 34)
      [Note: Some MSS read “this is the Elect/Chosen (One) of God”]

John 1:29

“Upon the morrow he looks (at) Yeshua coming toward him and says: ‘See—the lamb of God, the (one) taking up the sins of the world!'”

Let us begin with the first part of this verse (29a), leading up to the Baptist’s declaration:

th=| e)pau/rion ble/pei to\n Ihsou=n e)rxo/menon pro/$ au)to/n kai\ le/gei
“Upon the (morning) air, he looks (at) Yeshua coming toward him, and says…”

th=| e)pau/rion—literally, “upon the (morning) air,” i.e., “upon the morrow” = “in the morning”, “the next morning”. This expression serves to demarcate the sections of 1:19-51 into four “days”, with vv. 29-51 covering a sequence of three days. Cf. the outlines above.

ble/pei (“he looks [at]”)—John the Baptist, the central figure of the prior episode in vv. 19-28, continues as the speaker in this scene. The verb ble/pw (“look [at], see”), a common Greek verb used frequently in narrative, and often with no particular significance, takes on special meaning in the Johannine writings. It is one of a series of verbs—along with ei&dw, o(ra/w, qea/omai, and qewre/w—denoting sight/vision. Playing on the related concepts of seeing and knowing, rooted (in part) in the interchangeability of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see”) in Greek, the Gospel of John gives a distinctive theological (and Christological) nuance to this terminology. To “see” Jesus means to “know” him, which, in the context of the Johannine theology, means trusting in Jesus, recognizing his true nature and identity as the Son of God.

The verb ble/pw occurs 17 times in the Gospel, and is used in this special theological sense in 5:19; 9:39-41; 11:9. The episode in chapter 9 (the healing of the blind man) serves as the historical tradition that informs the theological message of vv. 35-41. The occurrences in the resurrection narratives (20:1, 5, also 21:9, 20) almost certainly allude to the same point of theology.

On the historical and narrative level, the verb here simply refers to John noticing Jesus as he comes forward to be baptized (cp. Mk 1:9; Matt 3:13ff; Lk 3:21). However, based on the overall Johannine context, it also carries a deeper meaning, implicitly signifying Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God.

to\n Ihsou=n (“Yeshua”)—the noun (proper name) is definite and accusative, functioning as the direct object in the phrase. John “looks at Jesus;” as noted above, this alludes to trust in Jesus, and a recognition of his identity as the Messiah and Son of God. The specific use of ble/pw (“look [at]”) could possibly suggest that John is just beginning to see Jesus, i.e., to understand who he is.

e)rxo/menon (“coming”)—e&rxomai (“come, go”) is another common verb, used frequently in ordinary narrative, which takes on special theological significance in the Gospel of John. It refers primarily to the incarnation—that is, to Jesus as the incarnate Son (and Word/Logos) of God, coming to earth as a human being. The verb is used earlier in the Prologue in just this sense (vv. 9, 11, 15). In addition to vv. 9 and 15, the present participle (e)rxo/meno$, “coming”) also occurs in v. 27 (and again in v. 30, repeating the saying of v. 15). These latter references represent a Johannine version of a core Gospel tradition, regarding a saying by the Baptist that is recorded in the Synoptics (Mk 1:7f; Matt 3:11; Lk 3:16); I discuss this saying at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. On the Messianic significance of the substantive verbal noun o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”), cf. my article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

pro\$ au)to/n (“toward him”)—the idea of Jesus coming to (or toward) a person, or of that person coming to Jesus, represents another apparently incidental narrative detail that can have special theological meaning in the Gospel of John.

kai\ le/gei (“and he says”)—this indicates John’s role as a witness (the first such witness) who testifies to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Son of God. Indeed, this represents the substance of the entire episode of vv. 29-34. It reflects the unique role attributed to the Baptist in vv. 6-9 and 15 of the Prologue. Moreover, the witness by the Baptist leads to the first of Jesus’ disciples beginning to trust, becoming his followers (believers), and then witnessing to others in turn (cf. the following episodes of vv. 35-42, 43-51).

The declaration by the Baptist in v. 29b, the first of the two key declarations in the passage, will be examined in the next daily note.