The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 4 (Heb 1:5; 5:5; 9:14)

In the previous section of Part 4, we considered the role of Psalm 2:7 in the development of Christology in the first century. We saw how the Scripture was applied in the context of Jesus’ resurrection (and exaltation to heaven), as a way of understanding his identity as the Son of God (cf. Acts 13:33ff). It also could be used in the context of Jesus’ baptism, as in the variant ‘Western’ reading of Luke 3:22b, in which the Heavenly Voice quotes Psalm 2:7, rather than the allusion to Isa 42:1 in the majority text (and the other Synoptics). As a reference to Jesus’ Messianic identity, the use of Ps 2:7 in the baptism scene would most likely be intended to identify Jesus more precisely as the royal/Davidic Messiah (drawing upon the ancient Near Eastern tradition of the king as God’s ‘son’, in a figurative and symbolic sense).

Gradually, however, early Christians came to realize that Jesus must have been God’s Son, in terms of a Divine/exalted status, even prior to his resurrection—that is to say, during the time of his life and ministry on earth. Since the Gospel Tradition marks the beginning of Jesus’ career with his baptism, it was natural for Christians to interpret the declaration of the Heavenly Voice (at the baptism) in a deeper theological sense. In other words, Jesus was truly the Son of God, possessing a Divine/exalted position (and nature), from the beginning of his ministry.

Eventually, this idea of Jesus’ Divine Sonship was extended further back, to a time even before he was born—a point attested clearly enough by the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives. The Infancy narratives themselves do not indicate a belief in the Divine pre-existence of Jesus, but we know that such a belief—representing a further stage of Christological development—is attested by at least the mid-50s A.D., since Paul alludes to it at several points in his letters. The earliest definite evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is the ‘Christ hymn’ in Philippians 2:6-11, which Paul either composed himself (c. 60 A.D.), or incorporated (and adapted) from older traditional material.

The ‘Christ hymns’ in the New Testament appear to have served as a locus for Christological development. I have discussed all of these passages, in considerable detail, in an earlier series of notes. One such ‘Christ hymn’ occurs in the introduction (exordium) of Hebrews (1:1-4). This passage is especially significant for our study here, since it leads into a chain (catena) of Scriptures, imbued with Christological meaning, that begins with a quotation of Psalm 2:7 (v. 5). Therefore it is worth examining briefly these introductory verses which establish the theological (and Christological) context for the application of Ps 2:7.

Hebrews 1:1-5

Verses 1-2 deal specifically with the idea of God’s revelation, beginning with “God spoke”, and indicating a contrast:

V. 1: God (has) been speaking [lalh/sa$] V. 2: (God) spoke [e)la/lhsen]
    • (in) many parts and many ways
    • (in) old (times) [pa/lai]
    • to the Fathers [toi=$ patra/sin]
    • in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] [e)n toi=$ profh/tai$]
    • in one new way (implied)
    • in these last days [e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn]
    • to us [h(mi=n]
    • in (the) Son [e)n ui(w=|]

The new revelation (to us) is marked primarily by two elements or characteristics: (1) it is eschatological, set in the “last days”, (2) it takes place in the person of the Son. The Greek e)n ui(w=| does not have the definite article, so it is possible to translate “in a Son”, but it is clear from the context that God’s Son—the Son—is meant. Verse 2b presents the nature of this Son, with a pair of relative clauses:

    • whom [o^n] He has set (as the) one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] of all (thing)s
    • through whom [di’ ou!] He made the Ages

The first of these draws on the idea of Christ being exalted to heaven following the resurrection, in common with the earliest Christian tradition; the second expresses Christ’s role in creation, implying some sort of divine pre-existence (cf. above). These two Christological approaches were shared by several strands of early tradition (e.g. Paul, the Gospel of John), and were not deemed to be contradictory in any way. The author of Hebrews will present the two views side-by-side at a number of points in the letter (cf. below).

In verses 3-4, the Son is described in greater detail; four elements are stressed in v. 3:

    • Reflection/manifestation of God’s glory and nature (3a)
    • Role in creating/sustaining the universe— “by the utterance of his power” (3b)
    • Salvific work—priestly cleansing of sin (by way of sacrifice, i.e. his death) (3c)
    • Exaltation to the right hand of God (3d)

The outer elements (first and last) indicate the Son’s divine/heavenly status, the inner elements (second and third) parallel creation and incarnation (Christ’s work in both). This is the sort of chiastic conceptual framework—

    • pre-existence
    • exaltation

which the author of Hebrews makes use of elsewhere (2:8-13, cf. also the famous Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11). In verse 4, Christ’s divine/heavenly status is emphasized—that it is greater than that of other heavenly beings (“angels”). This superiority is understood in terms of the name that he has inherited (cf. Phil 2:9ff), which, though not specified here, is best identified with ku/rio$ (“Lord”), the conventional rendering of the divine name YHWH. For more on the ‘Christ-hymn’ in vv. 3-4, see my earlier series of notes.

There can be little doubt that Sonship (i.e. Son of God) here is defined in the context of divine pre-existence—a blending of the Davidic “Messiah” with the concept of a heavenly Redeemer-figure which is also known from Jewish tradition at roughly the same time as the (later) New Testament, such as in the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra (2/4 Esdras). In Hebrews, this is indicated by the citations of Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14—both passages given Messianic interpretation—in verse 5. Recall that in Acts 13:32-33ff, Psalm 2:7 is cited in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (cf. above)—i.e., the Son is “born” following the resurrection. Verse 6, however, shows that the author of Hebrews has a view of Christ that is comparable to the prologue of the Gospel of John (esp. Jn 1:1ff, 9, 14, etc; cf. also Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:6ff):

    • Christ is already God’s “firstborn” (prwto/tokon)
    • God leads him into the inhabited-world (oi)koume/nh, possibly the heavenly realm of angels in addition to the world of human beings)
      ei)$ th\n oi)koume/nhn as parallel to the Johannine ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”)

As indicated above, the author presents two different Christological portraits, and continues this in vv. 8-12 (citing Scripture):

    • vv. 8-9—in more traditional language of exaltation (citing Psalm 45:6-7)
    • vv. 10-12—of Jesus’ divine status and existence encompassing the beginning and end of creation (citing Psalm 102:25-27, cf. also verse 2b above)

Jesus as God’s Son is an important theological identification throughout the New Testament; let us consider the thematic development and presentation here in Hebrews. In addition to 1:2, 8 we have (context indicated):

    • Heb 3:6—role as heir/master of the household, emphasizing his faithfulness
    • Heb 4:14; 5:5, 8; 7:3, 28—role as (exalted) High Priest, indicating his sacrificial work (cf. below); 5:5 cites Ps 2:7 [as in 1:5], cf. below; 7:3 has spec. title “Son of God”
    • Heb 5:8—his suffering (incarnation and death) and obedience (to the Father)
    • Heb 6:6—his death on the cross (spec. title “Son of God” is used)
    • Heb 10:29—his holy/sacrificial work, i.e. his death (“blood of the covenant”)

As the above summary indicates, there is a special emphasis in Hebrews on Jesus’ Sonship in terms of his sacrificial death.

Hebrews 5:5; 9:14

The theme of the Son’s superiority over the prophets and mediators (Moses, Aaron, etc) of the old covenant was established in the introduction (1:1-4, cf. above). In 4:14-5:10 the comparison is narrowed to the specific motif of Jesus as a new (and superior) kind of High Priest. This Priesthood of Jesus is defined in terms of his death and resurrection. In this regard, the citation of Psalm 2:7 (again) here in 5:5 draws upon the early tradition associating that particular Scripture with the resurrection (and exaltation to heaven) of Jesus. The opening words in 4:14 make clear that the exaltation is primarily in view, identifying Jesus as a great high priest “…having gone through the heavens”.

We saw, however, that the earlier citation of Psalm 2:7 (in 1:5, cf. above) was applied equally to the pre-existence of Jesus. In light of this developed Christology, the reference to Jesus as the “Son of God” here in 4:14 has a deeper significance. Even though he was already God’s Son, he humbled himself so as to take on the role of High Priest through his life on earth, with its suffering (5:7-8). Jesus’ obedience in enduring this suffering (v. 8) resulted in a greater completion (and perfection) of his Sonship (v. 9). The same basic paradigm is found in the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11:

    • Pre-existence (alongside God)
      • Incarnation/earthly life (lowering himself)
        • Suffering/death (obedient humbling of himself)
      • Exaltation by God
    • Heavenly position (at God’s right hand)

The Priesthood that Jesus took upon himself in his earthly life (and death) was translated into a heavenly Priesthood. In this regard, Hebrews uniquely blends together Psalm 2:7 and 110:1 (5:5-6). Both of these Scriptures were treated as Messianic passages, applied to Jesus, at a very early stage of Christian tradition. They hold the same kerygmatic position, respectively, in Peter’s Pentecost speech and Paul’s Antioch speech (2:34-35; 13:33); in each instance, as we have discussed, they were interpreted in the context of the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus. Hebrews, however, focuses on the figure of Melchizedek in Psalm 110, drawing upon an entirely different line of Messianic tradition, identifying the exalted Jesus with a Divine/Heavenly Savior figure (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed,” along with the supplemental study on Hebrews in that series).

The synthesis of Christological beliefs and traditions in Hebrews is rich and complex. To this, we may add a very distinctive reference to the Spirit in 9:14. Comparing the sacrifice of Jesus (as High Priest) with the sacrificial offerings of the old covenant, the author concludes as follows:

“…how much more the blood of the Anointed (One), who through (the) Spirit of the Ages brought himself without blemish toward God, shall cleanse our conscience from dead works to give service to (the) living God.”

The blood of the material sacrificial offerings (goats and calves, etc) of the old covenant are contrasted with the spiritual offering of Christ himself. He who is the High Priest offers himself as a sacrifice to God. This is done in an entirely spiritual way. The expression used is “through (the) Spirit of the Ages” (dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou), i.e., “through (the) eternal Spirit”. This draws upon the basic early Christian belief that Jesus’ resurrection took place through the Spirit of God, but extends the role of the Spirit to his sacrificial death as well. Moreover, the sacrifice itself takes place “through the Spirit” since Jesus himself, as the pre-existent Son of God (cf. above), from the beginning shared in the Divine Spirit.

Once the Divine pre-existence of Jesus was recognized, the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to him took on an entirely new and deeper Christological significance. The older traditions had to be reworked and reinterpreted. We can see this process at work in Hebrews, and it is even more prominent in the Johannine writings, to which we will turn in Part 5.

January 9: John 1:18 (continued)

John 1:18, continued
Verse 18b

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.

January 6: John 1:18 (continued)

John 1:18, continued

Having looked at verse 18 in the context of the Prologue hymn, and examining the difficult text-critical question in some detail (cf. the previous note), it now remains to provide an exegetical study of the verse as a whole.

There are two parts to the verse: (1) an initial statement, reflecting traditional Israel/Jewish religious belief (18a), and (2) a related clause in response (18b), which itself is comprised of two components—(a) Johannine Christological formulation, and (b) a Gospel-proclamation that applies the formulation to believers.

The two parts may be said to represent the Old and New Covenant, respectively, continuing the contrastive parallel from verse 17—i.e., Moses vs. Jesus, Law vs. Favor (cf. the discussion in the previous note).

Verse 18a

qeo\n ou)dei=$ e(w/raken pw/pote
“no one has yet seen God”

This represents a theological formulation of the Old Covenant, embodied by the Sinai theophany, the role of Moses as the mediator of God’s Presence, the sacrificial ratification of the Covenant, and the giving of the Torah (through Moses) to the people. The statement summarizes several different strands of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition. The main line of tradition centers on the Sinai theophany (Exodus 19-20), which was the setting for the ratification of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and Israel (chap. 24), along with the Torah regulations (i.e., the Ten Commandments, and other Instruction) which serve as the terms of the covenant. The glorious presence of YHWH was concealed within the dark cloud, but the people heard His voice (like thunder) speaking from the cloud (Exod 19:9-19). The tradition that God was only heard, but not seen, is emphasized in the book of Deuteronomy (4:12, 15; 5:23-27).

Another line of tradition involves YHWH’s revelation to Moses, in connection with the Golden Calf incident that resulted in the termination of the covenant, and a break in the relationship between YHWH and the people. This is covered through a complex narrative (Exodus 32-34) which itself weaves together a number of different historical traditions. Through the intervention of Moses, a partial restoration of the covenant is achieved, and Israel is once again acknowledged as God’s people, but only in a qualified sense—through Moses as their intermediary. At the heart of this narrative is YHWH’s revelation to Moses (33:17-34:8), during which time a second version of the Torah is declared to him.

The special character of this revelation is indicated by the statement in 33:20, where YHWH emphasizes that no human being can see Him and still live. As a special and unique favor granted to Moses, marking his central role in the restored covenant, he is allowed a partial vision of God. The idea that it was not possible for human beings to see God (with their eyes) continued to have a place in Israelite tradition, and is reiterated in one of the key manifestations of YHWH to His prophets (Isa 6:1-6, cf. verse 5).

The Gospel of John alludes to the Sinai theophany at several points, as well as this specific tradition that it is impossible for a human being to see God. In addition to the reference here in the Prologue, cf. 5:37-38ff; 12:28-29ff. Jesus takes the tradition a step further in 5:37, when he states that, not only have the people never seen God directly, they have never really heard His voice either (cp. Deut 5:23ff). What they heard with their ears was essentially unintelligible, sounding to them like thunder (12:28-29; Exod 19:16ff; 20:18).

The Gospel gives special meaning to these traditional motifs of seeing and hearing God, but especially seeing, playing on the fundamental meaning (and interchangeability) of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see”). In addition, there is frequent use of a series of similar verbs denoting sight/vision: ble/pw, o(ra/w, qea/omai, qewre/w. Here in verse 18, the verb o(ra/w is used; this verb occurs 20 times in the Gospel and 7 times in the letters—nearly half of all New Testament occurrences (55).

This special theological sense of seeing leads to three key points, or principles, in the Johannine Gospel, all of which are closely related:

    • Jesus is the only one who has truly seen and heard God
    • It is only in the person of Jesus that one is able to see and hear God directly, and
    • When one truly sees (and hears) Jesus, that person has seen (and heard) God

These points will be addressed in the next daily note as we examine the second part of the verse (18b).


January 5: John 1:18

John 1:18

This is the final, climactic verse of the Prologue, and, in many ways, is the most difficult to interpret. The difficulty lies primarily in the thorny textual question that continues to be debated by New Testament scholars and commentators. First, let us view verse 18 in the immediate context of verse 17 and the final strophe of the hymn (verses 14, 16 [with v. 15 temporarily omitted]):  

“And the Word came to be flesh
and put down (his) tent among us,
and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as an only (Son) alongside (the) Father,
full of (His) favor and truth—
and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
and favor in place of favor.”

“(For it is) that the Law was given through Moshe, but the Favor and Truth (of God) came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed. No one has ever yet seen God; but the only <Son>, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, that (one) has brought Him out (to us).”

The angle brackets in verse 18 above indicate the disputed textual unit. Here is essentially the same rendering of the verse, with a placeholder for the word in question:

“No one has ever yet seen God; (but) the only <..> (who has) come to be—the (one) being in the lap of the Father—that (one) has brought Him out (to us).”

There are three versions of this textual unit (in italics above):

    • monogenh\$ qeo/$ (monogen¢s theos)
    • monogenh\$ ui(o/$ (monogen¢s huios)
    • monogenh/$ (monogen¢s)

All three versions contain the word monogenh/$, the meaning of which was discussed in the earlier note on verse 14. The manuscript evidence for the first two readings should be considered in more detail. It is rather evenly divided, as the following diagram illustrates:

Clearly, o( monogenh$ ui(o$ is the majority reading, supported by an impressive range of early and diverse witnesses; this normally would be sufficient to confirm it as the original text. On the other hand, the “earliest and best” (Alexandrian) Greek MSS, along with other strong/diverse witnesses, read monogenh$ qeo$ (with or without the definite article). As noted above, few manuscripts also read simply o( monogenh$.

The reading with qeo$ (“God”) would seem to be the more difficult, and, on the principle of difficilior lectio potior, perhaps is to be preferred. Scribes may have altered it to the more familiar ui(o$ (“Son”). On the other hand, there was a marked tendency for scribes, consciously or unconsciously, to modify the text in favor of a stronger Christological emphasis. There can be no doubt that the reading [o(] monogenh$ qeo$ became a key text in support of the Deity of Christ. Even today, many theological and apologetic writings cite John 1:18 for this purpose—however, to do so, without any indication of the divided textual evidence, is really quite irresponsible.

If we begin with the reading that contains only the adjective monogenh/$, as a substantive (with the definite article), it would literally mean something like “(the) only one (who has) come to be”. Sometimes this specifically refers to a person coming to be born (i.e. a child or son); but often it means simply “only one, unique, one-of-a-kind”, or the like. The second reading (monogenh\$ ui(o/$) is the most straightforward, as it essentially means “only son”, i.e. the only son born (to a mother/parent). This is presumably also the meaning where monogenh/$ is used alone— “only (son)”, as it was used in verse 14.

The reading monogenh\$ qeo/$ is more difficult, and has been translated three different ways:

    • monogenh\$ qeo/$ (monogen¢s theos) =
      • “(the) only/unique God”
      • “(the) only-born [or only-begotten] God”
      • “God the only(-born) Son”

Which reading more likely represents the original text? And is there any significant difference between them? Let us address the first question, considering the arguments in favor of each reading, in reverse order from how they are listed above.

    • monogenh/$— “only (one) [born]” There is essentially no Greek manuscript support for this reading; it is attested in the writings of several early Church Fathers (commentators/theologians such as Origen, Epiphanius, and Cyril of Alexandria). However, it is attractive as a way to explain the other two readings (with “God” or “Son”). If the text originally read just monogenh/$, scribes (copyists) and commentators would have been inclined to explain it, expanding the text, more likely (and often) by adding “Son” as the natural meaning in context (“[the] only Son [born]”).
    • monogenh\$ ui(o/$— “only Son [born]” This is the most common and widespread reading (cf. the diagram above), including that of some important early manuscripts (such Codex Alexandrinus [A]). It also happens to make the most sense. Jesus refers to himself (or is referred to) as “(the) Son [ui(o/$]” quite often in the Gospel of John, and almost always in relation to (God) the Father. As already noted, the word monogenh/$ is used in this context earlier in the prologue (verse 14); moreover, elsewhere in the New Testament it is almost always used in combination with “son” (or “daughter”)—see Luke 7:12; 8:42; John 3:16, 18; Heb 11:17; 1 John 4:9.
    • monogenh\$ qeo/$— “only God [born]” or “God the only [born Son?]” This is the reading of some of “the earliest and best” manuscripts, including the early (Bodmer) papyri 66 and 75, Codex Vaticanus [B] and the original copyist of Codex Sinaiticus [a]. It must also be considered the most difficult reading—what exactly does the expression “only (born) God [qeo/$]” mean? An important principle in textual criticism follows the saying difficilior lectio potior (“the more difficult reading is preferred”). The idea is that copyists would be more likely to change the text (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to a reading that was easier to understand or which made more sense. As noted above, “only (born) Son” is a much more natural expression.

Is it possible to determine the original reading based on scribal tendencies—that is to say, which reading was more likely to be altered during the course of copying? In terms of transcriptional probability, the evidence is far from decisive, though, I think, slightly in favor of ui(o$ as the original reading. In the early (Alexandrian) scribal tradition, both readings would be represented by nomina sacra (“sacred names”)—a convention of using marked abbreviations to represent various names and titles of God (and Christ). In these manuscripts, it is easy to see how ui(o$ (+u+s) and qeo$ (+q+s) might be confused. +u+s would have been much less common as a sacred name, and more likely to have been (accidentally?) modified to +q+s.

Moreover, I have already mentioned the tendency for scribes to enhance the Christology of a passage, rather than to detract from it. While the reading “Son” (ui(o$) still supports a high Christology, in terms of the Deity of Christ, it is not as striking or explicit as “God” (qeo/$). The latter reading would be fully in accordance with the orthodox Christology of subsequent generations. The expression [o(] monogenh$ qeo$ could easily be understood in terms of later credal formulations (whether Nicene, Chalcedonian, or from the Westminster standards), but one should be extremely cautious about reading these back into the first-century text. Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, Christ is identified (or identifies himself) with the Father, but perhaps never so explicitly as this variant would indicate (especially if the definite article is original). The wording of John 1:1 (kai qeo$ h@n o( lo/go$, “and the Logos was God”, discussed in an earlier note) is most precise (and, one might almost say, cautious)—note the anarthrous form (without the definite article), and the specific word order.

By a narrow margin, I favor the reading monogenh\$ ui(o/$ as original. It is more in keeping with the Johannine usage (cf. especially Jn 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), and the emphasis on Jesus as the Son. It also reflects the regular meaning of the adjective monogenh/$ as it is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and fits the context of its occurrence in verse 14 of the Prologue. Given that earlier usage in the hymn, it is quite appropriate for the Gospel writer to present us with the full expression here—monogenh\$ ui(o/$—referring to Jesus, the incarnate Logos, as the only Son of God.

Having dealt with the textual question in some detail here, it remains to examine the meaning of the verse as a whole, which we will do in the next daily note.

January 4: John 1:17

John 1:17-18

Verses 17-18 represent the final portion of the Johannine Prologue, and our study of them will bring these notes on the Christ-hymn in the Prologue to a close. As with the other two ‘additions’ to the hymn, in vv. 6-9 and 12b-13, verses 17-18 follow one of the three main poetic units (or strophes), interpreting the lines and applying them in the unique context of the Johannine theology.

There are two statements, in verses 17 and 18 respectively; and, while they are connected, they are also distinct, and we will examine them each in turn.

Verse 17

“(For it is) that the Law was given through Moshe, but the favor and truth (of God) came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

For commentators who prefer to see vv. 17-18 as a continuation of the poetry of the Prologue-hymn, they can be read as a couplet with antithetic parallelism, i.e.—

“(It is) that the Law was given through Moshe,
but Favor and Truth came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

There certainly is a strong antithetic parallelism at work in verse 17, involving three points of contrast:

    • Subject: Law | Favor and Truth
    • Means: through Moses | through Jesus
    • Action: “was given” | “came to be”

We will examine each of these points in turn.

1. “Law” vs. “Favor and Truth”

By “law” (no/mo$) is meant the written collection of regulations and requirements, etc, recorded in the books of Exodus-Deuteronomy, and customarily referred to as the “Instruction” (Torah)—given by God to His people Israel. The Greek word no/mo$ fundamentally signifies something that is “allotted” or “assigned” to a person, and, as such, has a relatively broad and comprehensive range of meaning. It can refer to any kind of accepted or authoritative custom, tradition, social or religious norm, etc. In the New Testament, it almost always refers to the Old Testament Torah, as an authoritative law-code—i.e., the “Law of Moses”.

The word no/mo$ is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, never occurring at all in the Letters. However it does occur 15 times in the Gospel, more than in any of the other Gospels (compare with 9 in Luke, 8 in Matthew, and none in Mark). The most substantial usage of the word occurs in the Sukkot (Tabernacles) discourses of chapters 7-8. The main section is 7:14-24, set midway during the feast, as Jesus is teaching in the Temple precincts. He is in conflict with the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, a dispute which appears to be a continuation from the discourse in chapter 5. The implication of the discourse is that Jesus himself is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, and, if the Jewish leaders claim to accept the Torah, then they should accept Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s Torah. This point is reflected in Jesus’ famous rebuke to the religious leaders in 5:39.

The noun xa/ri$ means “favor” (i.e. the favor shown by God to His people), though it is typically (and less accurately) translated as “grace”. This contrast between the Law and “grace” is reminiscent of Paul’s line of argument in Galatians and Romans. His main concern is religious, and he argues vigorously that believers in Christ—Gentile believers, especially—are no longer required, as a religious obligation, to observe the regulations of the Torah. The basis of the Christian religious identity is trust in Jesus, and it is the guiding presence of the Spirit that takes the place of the Torah in the New Covenant. All that remains of the Old Covenant is the “love command”, as defined by the teaching and example of Jesus.

This summary of the Pauline theology is generally in accordance with the viewpoint of the Johannine congregations, as expressed through the theology of the Gospel and First Letter. However, there is a somewhat different point of emphasis at work. Paul’s argument repeatedly stressed that the New Covenant in Christ means the end of the Old Covenant (for more on this, cf. the detailed discussion in the articles of my series “Paul’s View of the Law”).

The Johannine portrait, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the person and work of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Covenant. Throughout the Gospel, in various ways, Jesus effectively fulfills many types and figures of the Old Testament religion—the Temple, the Festivals and their symbols, the Passover sacrifice, and so forth. This is discussed and documented in some detail in the articles on the Gospel of John in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

The pairing of “favor and truth” was used earlier in verse 14, in reference to the Divine do/ca of the Logos. The final strophe of the hymn makes the point that the incarnate Logos (Jesus) possesses the very honor/splendor (do/ca) of God, much as a son possesses the do/ca of his father. God the Father has filled the Son with His “favor and truth”. As I discussed previously, in the context of the Johannine theology, this “favor and truth” essentially means the Spirit of God. I.e., the Father fills the Son with His own Spirit, so that the Son (Jesus) is able to give it, in turn, to those who trust in him.

2. “through Moses” vs. “through Jesus”

The point of contrast here involves the means by which the Covenant was established for the people of God. The Old Covenant, governed by the Torah, was established “through Moses”, while the New Covenant (of the Spirit) was established “through Jesus”. The preposition in each instance is dia/ (“through”). The parallelism is thus precise: Moses vs. Jesus.

Moses is mentioned a number of times in the Gospel, usually in terms of his close association with the Torah (and the Scriptures which contain the Torah). In verse 45, reference is made to Moses having “written” down the Torah, and the Torah as part of the authoritative Writing (i.e. Scripture) is very much in view in this contrast between the Law and Favor (xa/ri$). Both in Jesus’ dispute with the religious leaders in 7:14-24 (see above), and in the earlier discourse of chapter 5 (esp. the climactic verses 39-46), Jesus portrays himself as the true fulfillment of the Torah. If the Jewish leaders actually believe what Moses wrote, then they will trust in who Jesus is.

The Jesus/Moses parallel is motif that runs throughout the Gospel, as the following points will illustrate:

For a similar contrast between Old and New Covenant (written Torah vs. Spirit), drawing upon Moses traditions, see Paul’s famous line of argument in 2 Corinthians 3.

3. “given” vs “came to be”

The final point of contrast involves the verb that is used. The Law was given (vb di/dwmi) through Moses, but the Favor and Truth of God came to be (vb gi/nomai) through Jesus. As we have seen, throughout the Prologue the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) refers to created beings (in contrast to God, who is). However, in the case of the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, it has the special meaning of incarnation—the Logos “came to be flesh” (v. 14), i.e., came to be born on earth as a human being.

This context makes it absolutely clear that Jesus is to be seen as the fulfillment of the Torah in his own person. This human life and existence of the Logos included the mortality of flesh and blood, even to the point of suffering and death (i.e., shedding of blood). On the importance of the idea that Jesus (as the incarnate Son of God) endured a real death and shed real blood, see both the historical detail in 19:34 and the discussion in 1 Jn 5:6-12. The ‘Eucharistic’ references in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:50-59) should be understood in this light as well. It was the sacrificial death of Jesus that allowed the Spirit to flow out to believers, symbolized by the figure of “water and blood” (19:30; 20:22; 1 Jn 5:6-8; cf. also 7:37-39).

Moses was an intermediary in the communication of the Torah to the people of God. However, the ancient Sinai tradition itself suggests that the original intention and ideal was for YHWH to speak directly to the people, without an intermediary. This is fulfilled for believers under the New Covenant, through the abiding presence of the Spirit, as Paul beautifully and powerfully expresses in 2 Corinthians 3. The Johannine Discourses develop the same idea in various ways, a theological development that reaches its climax in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33) and the great Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17.

January 3: John 1:15 (continued)

John 1:15, continued

Today’s note focuses on the last of the three phrases of the Baptist-saying in verse 15. As I have previously pointed out, these three phrases are parallel and related to one another, each containing a key verb form (of special theological significance) and relational expression:

    • “the one coming [e)rxome/no$] in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

The second phrase was discussed in the previous note, while the first was examined in the note prior.

Phrase 3:

o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n
“(in) that he was first (over) me”

The verb in this phrase is the verb of being (ei)mi).

ei)mi is the primary (existential) verb of being. In the prologue it occurs 10 times (outside of v. 15), all of which have been discussed earlier in these notes:

    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 All things came to be [e)ge/neto] through him
The Logos was toward [pro/$] God Apart from him came to be [e)ge/neto] not even one (thing)
God was the Logos
(given in the literal word order, i.e. the Logos was God)
{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 now see how the elements of the phrase fit together:

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

o%ti (“[in] that [i.e. because]”)—the particle o%ti establishes reason why Jesus is “in front of” John. It is thus epexegetical, commenting on (and explaining) the second phrase.

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 (imperfect indicative) 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 (Logos) of God. As the pre-existent Logos incarnate, Jesus has the exalted place alongside God, and is thus “first” and “foremost” (i.e., at the top) over all things.

The position of verse 15 in the Prologue

Having examined the phrases of the saying in verse 15, it remains to consider why this statement was inserted into the Prologue-hymn at just this particular location, interrupting as it does the poetry of vv. 14, 16. My humble solution to this difficult question involves two propositions:

    • Verse 15 was inserted by a subsequent editor/redactor, rather than by the Gospel writer, and
    • It was done for the purpose of explaining the saying as it occurs in the Gospel proper (v. 30)

I have already noted how verse 15 differs from the other ‘additions’ to the Prologue-hymn—verses 6-9, 12b-13, and 17-18. I attribute all of those to the Gospel writer, who includes them as interpretive comments on each of the three strophes of the hymn. Those statements flow naturally out of the hymn-poetry and are an integral part of the Prologue. It is quite otherwise with the statement in verse 15, which interrupts the poetry and seems quite awkward in context.

Why, then, would an editor (or secondary author) have inserted verse 15 into the poetry of the hymn in this way? I can find only one reason that seems to me even remotely plausible. It is based on the observation that the statement in v. 15 is nearly identical to the Baptist saying in verse 30. This raises the possibility that it was inserted ‘back’ into the Prologue as a kind of gloss, for the purpose of offering an explanation, of sorts, for what otherwise might have seemed like an obscure and enigmatic saying to many readers.

Adding an editorial comment somewhere following verse 30 itself might have been a more sensible approach. We find a number of other such comments throughout the Gospel, that were either added by the Gospel writer or a subsequent editor (e.g., 2:21f; 3:24; 4:2, 44; [5:4]; 6:64b; 7:38-39, etc). Perhaps the editor involved did not feel at liberty to do so, or felt that there was no appropriate opportunity to add the necessary explanation at that point in the text. Instead, the saying in v. 30 was essentially copied into the location following v. 14, almost like a marginal gloss or footnote to the text.

What was the point of this? It could only be that the context of verse 14 provided the explanation for the saying. This makes perfect sense when we consider that the main emphasis in verse 14 is on the incarnation of the Logos, that the pre-existent Logos became flesh in the person of Jesus. The second point in v. 14 is how people (esp. the first believers) began to witness this Divine presence and power in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. By tying the saying of v. 30 into this context, the editor is providing an implicit commentary (and theological exposition) that runs in two directions:

    • The statement in v. 30—this means the identification of Jesus as the incarnate Logos of God (v. 14)
    • The statement in v. 14—this is a reference to the person of Jesus, his existence of earth as a human being, as first witnessed and attested to by John the Baptist (v. 30)

There is thus a strong theological (and exegetical) reason for including verse 15 in that particular location, even if it is problematic from a literary and artistic standpoint.


January 2: John 1:15 (continued)

John 1:15, continued

In the previous note, I discussed some of the difficulties and critical issues surrounding verse 15, and examined the first of the three phrases in the Baptist-saying. It is important to keep these three phrases in view as we proceed, paying attention especially to the key verbs and prepositional/relational expressions they each contain:

    • “the one coming [e)rxome/no$] in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

The verbs, in particular, are part of a distinctive Johannine theological vocabulary, and are used with great care throughout the Gospel (and especially here in the Prologue).

Today’s note focuses on the second (middle) phrase:

Phrase 2:

e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen
“(he) has come to be in front of me”

The verb in this phrase is gi/nomai, the verb of becoming. It has the primary meaning “come to be, become”. Like e&rxomai, it is common in narration and descrption, but it, too, is often has a 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).

As we have seen, gi/nomai occurs frequently in the Prologue (outside of v. 15)—8 times in all:

    1. For the things which came-to-be [e)ge/neto/ge/gonen] through the Word (v. 3 [x 3], 10)—i.e., created beings
    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. “Favor 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 15 (and 30) creates a difficulty in interpretation (discussed below), however it would seem to relate specifically to the aorist form [e)ge/neto] in v. 14 (“the Word became flesh”).

The relational expression in the second phrase is e&mprosqe/n mou (“in front of me”). This is clearly intended as 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 in 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).

On the verb form 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 (of the Logos) is primarily in view. In other words, Jesus has come to be “in front of” John because he is the eternal Word (Logos) that became flesh. In the context of the first phrase, the elliptical manner of expression appropriately reflects the mystery (and paradox) of the Incarnation.

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. The perfect tense often signifies a past action (or condition) that continues into the present. There are two ways this could be understood: (1) in a ritual or sacramental sense, or (2) in terms of its presence through the Spirit. The Bread of Life Discourse in chapter 6 (vv. 22-71) is the main Johannine passage that deals with both of these aspects.

The version of this phrase in v. 30 differs in that it includes a relative pronoun (o%$): o^$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen (“who has come to be in front of me”). Syntactically, this is due to the occurrence of the noun a)nh/r (“[a] man”) at the end of the first phrase. The saying in v. 30 thus reads: “In back of me comes a man who came to be in front of me…”.

On the Christological significance of the relative pronoun, especially as it is used to open the New Testament Christ-hymns, cf. the earlier note on Phil 2:6.

January 1: John 1:15

John 1:15

In the previous notes on vv. 14, 16, I mentioned how verse 15 appears intrusive, interrupting the flow of the poetic strophe. On the theory that the Prologue is based on an existing Christ-hymn, verse 15 unquestionably represents a secondary addition. Even if the Prologue-hymn were composed by the Gospel writer, one should still regard v. 15 as secondary, presumably (in that instance) added by an editor or redactor. In my view, there are good reasons for considering verse 15 as qualitatively different from the prose ‘additions’ in vv. 6-9, 12b-13, and 17-18. I regard those additions as the work of the Gospel writer, who is expounding and applying the lines of each section of the hymn.

Verse 15 appears quite different. As already mentioned, it interrupts the poetry of the hymn. It is difficult to understand (or explain) why an author or editor would have chosen to do so. There are, in fact, two major issues to address in our study on v. 15, in the context of the Prologue. First, the nature and meaning of the statement itself; and, second, why it was included/inserted at just this point in the hymn. We will begin examining the first issue in today’s note.

The statement in verse 15:

“Yohanan witnesses about him and has cried (out), saying: ‘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’.”

The initial point to note is that this statement is virtually identical with the saying by the Baptist in verse 30. It may be helpful to see this in its immediate context by citing verses 29-31 (with v. 30 highlighted in bold):

On the (day) 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. This is (the one) over whom I said, ‘(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’. And I had not seen [i.e. known] him, but (so) that he should be made to shine (forth) to Yisrael, I (have) come dunking [i.e. baptizing] in water.”

There is every reason to think that the saying in v. 15/30 represents a distinctly Johannine version of the Gospel tradition in Mark 1:7 par. Combining v. 30 with the earlier saying in vv. 27-28 yields a statement that is very close in substance with Mk 1:7 par. That tradition is discussed at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

It would seem that verse 15 is a reference back to the saying in verse 30, even though v. 15 comes at an earlier point in the finished Gospel. In the work as it stands, it looks forward to the Baptist narrative in vv. 19-28ff. The opening words of v. 15 also echo the ‘addition’ to the first strophe of hymn (vv. 3-5) in verses 6-9. There it was stated that John “gave witness” (vb marture/w) to the Light—that is, to the pre-existent Logos and Son, identified with the person of Jesus. Similarly, here in v. 15, we read how John “gives witness about” (marturei= peri/) the Son. The added words “and has cried (out)” (kai\ ke/kragen) may be an allusion to Isa 40:3 and the identification of John with the herald of the Isaian oracle (see v. 23, and compare Mk 1:3 par).

There are three phrases in this saying (in v. 15/30), each of which is governed by a specific verb (and form), as well as a prepositional/relational expression which emphasizes the relationship between John and Jesus. The wording is most significant to observe (the distinctions being generally obscured in translation):

    • “the one coming [e)rxome/no$] in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

These three verbs are used with great care in the Gospel, when applied to Jesus, and especially in the ‘Prologue’. They are part of a distinctive Johannine theological vocabulary, and the way that they mark the phrasing here strongly suggests that we are dealing with an adaptation and interpretation of a simpler tradition (such as in Mk 1:7 par, cf. above).

The wording in these three phrases is such that it is necessary to provide a detailed exegesis. I have done this, to varying degrees, in earlier notes; here, in order to keep the discussion focused and streamlined within the setting of a daily note, I will be devoting a note to each phrase.

Phrase 1:

o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$
“the (one) coming (in) back of me”

The verb in this phrase is e&rxomai, in the form of a substantive verbal noun—a present participle with the definite article.

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 Christ (as the incarnate Logos) coming into the world
    3. The Logos (Christ) came [h@lqen] to his own… (v. 11)

These references all relate to the appearance/presence of a human being in the world (i.e. among people). The present participle in v. 15 is matched by the participle in v. 9. In terms of the incarnate Logos (i.e., the Word/Wisdom of God), this is a reference to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, as was discussed in the earlier notes on verse 10-11 and 14. At the point where v. 15 is introduced (or inserted), the focus has already shifted from the Logos to the Son—both Divine figures being identified with Jesus.

o)pi/sw mou (“[in] back of me”)—this is the prepositional expression, and it 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.

There is, however, unquestionably an apologetic in the Gospel of John, emphasizing the superiority of Jesus in relation to John. Verse 15/30 gives a focused theological expression to the point, but it can be seen throughout chapters 1-3, and is a significant aspect of the ‘additions’ to the Prologue hymn. Indeed, this apologetic emphasis is part of the wider Gospel tradition, built into the core Synoptic narrative (of the Baptism scene, etc); it is also central to the structure of the Lukan Infancy narrative. For a more detailed discussion, I would direct interested readers to the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

The wording in verse 30, differs slightly: “(in) back of me comes [e&rxetai] a man [a)nh/r]”. The verb is a present indicative form, but one close in meaning to the present participle in v. 15. The noun a)nh/r (“man”) emphasizes the reality of Jesus’ life and existence as a human being. On the Messianic significance of the expression “the (one) coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$), cf. my special note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

December 31: John 1:16 (continued)

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).

December 30: John 1:16 (continued)

John 1:16, continued

h(mei=$ pa/nte$ e)la/bomen
“we all (have) received”

This is the second of the three phrases in verse 16 (on the first phrase, cf. the previous note):

“and out of his fullness
we all (have) received

The preposition e)k in the first line indicates the source, since it literally means “out of”. What we, as believers, receive comes out of the fullness of the Son.

There are three words to the phrase here in the second line, and it is worth examining each of them in some detail.

h(mei=$ (“we”)—the pronoun is specified and emphatic, occurring in the first position: i.e., “we have received”. This is significant, as it makes a crucial theological point of emphasis: that we, created human beings, are able to share in all that God possesses (and which He has given to the Son). This is the fullness (plh/rwma) of the Son, referring to everything that God has given to His Son. In particular, He has filled the Son with His favor and truth, but these descriptive attributes, in the Gospel of John, function as an allusion to the Spirit of God.

The first person plural “we” is a collective reference to believers in Christ. It encompasses both the first generation of believers—those who trusted in Jesus during his ministry on earth—and all who have come to believe since (cf. 17:20ff). Compare the references here in vv. 14, 16 with the opening of 1 John 1:1-4ff.

pa/nte$ (“all”)—this is the same adjective (pa=$, “all”) that was used earlier in the Prologue (vv. 3, 7, 9). The first reference was cosmological, i.e., “all things” (pa/nta) in the universe. The next two references have been narrowed to all human beings—and, in particular, all those elect/chosen ones who respond to the Light of God (i.e., His Word and Wisdom) and who come to trust in Jesus. Thus the cosmic scope of the adjective properly refers, as a comprehensive term, to all believers, everywhere in the world.

The comprehensive, universal aspect of the adjective also carries with it a great promise in the Gospel: everyone who trusts in Jesus will be united with him (and God the Father) through the Spirit, and will come to possess the eternal Life of God. Tied to this point is a strong sense of election/predestination in the Johannine Gospel—believers come to trust in Jesus because they/we already belong to God. On the key references, where the adjective pa=$ occurs, cf. 3:8, 15-16; 4:13; 6:37-40; 10:29; 11:26; 12:46; 15:2; 17:2; 18:37. There are also important references in 1 John, where the sonship of believers (i.e., as the “offspring” of God [cp. vv. 12-13 in the Prologue]) is emphasized—2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18.

la/bomen (“we received”)—this verb occurred earlier in the Prologue (vv. 12-13), under the traditional motif of the righteous receiving the Wisdom of God, i.e., giving it a welcome and a place to dwell. In the Johannine context, of course, this applies to trust in Jesus, who is the incarnate Wisdom (Logos). Now the situation is reversed, and believers receive from Jesus in turn. This aspect of an exchange is emphasized in the final line of verse 16, and will be discussed in the next note.

The verb lamba/nw occurs frequently in the Gospel of John, and often with this same specialized theological meaning. We may say that all of the references expressing a promise for believers were essentially fulfilled at the end of the Gospel, when the resurrected Jesus gives to his disciples the Spirit, with the words “receive [la/bete] (the) holy Spirit” (20:22). I have noted on several occasions in the prior notes how the “fullness” (plh/rwma) of the Son, the favor and truth of God, with which he is filled, essentially refers to the Spirit of God. And it is through the Spirit that believers are united with God and have access to his life-giving Power and Presence—the same Divine Presence that fills the Son.