March 30: John 3:35

John 3:35

Our examination of verse 34 (cf. the previous note) raises several important interpretive questions, both Christological nature and related to the Johannine understanding of the Spirit. A careful study of the passage is thus vital toward establishing a clear sense of Johannine spiritualism.

First, it is necessary to consider verse 34 in relation to the following v. 35:

34For the (one) whom God sent forth speaks the utterances of God, for (it is) not out of a measure (that) He gives the Spirit. 35The Father loves the Son and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

When the two verses are read in tandem, it becomes clear that vv. 34-35 is an expression of the distinctive Johannine theology, emphasizing the chain of relationship whereby the Father gives to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives the same to believers. This giving is essential to the Father-Son relationship, and is the result of Father’s love for His Son (v. 16; cf. also 5:20; 15:9ff; 17:23-26). This is the first of the two statements in v. 35, the second being the consequence of the first:

    • “The Father loves the Son…
    • …and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand”

The Spirit certainly is to be included among “all things” (pa/nta) that the Father gives to Jesus; indeed, it is the principal and foremost thing the Father gives him.

In verse 35, the perfect tense is used (de/dwken, “has given”), while in v. 34 it is the present tense (di/dwsin, “gives”). When referring to the Father’s action toward Jesus, the Gospel writer tends to use the perfect or aorist tense (cf. Brown, p. 158); this has led commentators to view Jesus as the principal subject of v. 34b. I.e., God the Father has given the Spirit to Jesus, and Jesus now gives it to believers. This theological construct is certainly implicit within vv. 31-36—as, indeed, it is present virtually throughout the entire Gospel; however, the main point here in vv. 34-35, I believe, is on what God the Father gives to Jesus.

Given the strong pre-existence aspect to Johannine Christology, it is rather strange that there little specific indication of how Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit ought to be understood in light of the Son’s pre-existence. As I noted previously, the Gospel of John presents the Spirit-references within the traditional Gospel-framework that begins with the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism. Yet, surely, the pre-existent Son would have had access to the Spirit of God even before his appearance on earth. Nowhere in the Johannine writings—nor anywhere else in the New Testament, for that matter—is this Christological issue discussed or mentioned with any clarity. It is only by inference that we may assume the Gospel writer would have understood that the Son, in his Divine pre-existence, was given the Spirit.

For example, by combining vv. 34-35 here with the later statement by Jesus in the Great Prayer-Discourse (17:24), the chain of logic can be established:

    • The Father loved the Son before the foundation (creation) of the world {and}
      • His love for the Son entails giving him the Spirit {therefore} =>
        • The Son was given the Spirit before the foundation of the world

A second question we may ask is: do believers also receive the Spirit “without measure” (from Jesus), or is it only the Son (Jesus) who receives the Spirit “without measure” from the Father? The answer to this question goes beyond the scope of these notes on vv. 31-36. However, in terms of the Johannine theological framework, I would say that the prevailing idea is that the Son (Jesus) gives to believers precisely what the Father has given to him. This does not necessarily mean that Jesus gives to believers everything (“all things”) that he received from the Father, but what he does give is the same that he received from the Father. This would mean that believers do, in fact, receive the Spirit, from Jesus, “without measure”. It is possible to define this theological-spiritual principle more precisely, but it will require a thorough examination of the remaining Johannine Spirit-passages.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the final verse (v. 36) of our current passage.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

March 29: John 3:34

John 3:34

“For the (one) whom God sent forth speaks the utterances of God, for (it is) not out of a measure (that) he gives the Spirit.”

Verses 31-33 dealt with the theme of Jesus as the one ‘coming from heaven’, with the result that he is a witness of heavenly things. This corresponds to the theme of vv. 11-13 in the exposition of the Nicodemus Discourse. Now in vv. 34-35 we find an echo of vv. 16-17, with the identification of Jesus as the Son sent by God the Father. The same verb a)poste/llw, “set forth/away from,” i.e., “send forth”, is used in v. 17 and here in v. 34. It occurs with some frequency in the Gospel of John, often in relation to the specific idea that Jesus (the Son) was sent by God the Father, as His representative, to fulfill a specific mission. Only in a secondary sense, does a)poste/llw refer to the corresponding sending of the disciples by Jesus (see esp. 20:21).

Here, the mission for which the Father sent the Son involves speaking (vb lale/w), a continuation of the thought in vv. 31ff, and following the key word-witness theme that runs through the entire Gospel (and the Johannine writings as a whole). Jesus is a witness of God the Father in heaven (vv. 31c-33), testifying to what he sees and hears the Father saying and doing. In the previous note, I mentioned the other places in the Gospel where this seminal theological-Christological principle is expressed—they are, again, 1:18; 5:19-20ff, 30-31ff; 6:46; 7:16-18; 8:26, 38, 40ff, 47; 17:8ff. The first clause of v. 34 expresses this as well:

“the (one) whom God sent forth speaks the utterances [r(hmata] of God”

The noun r(h=ma, derived from the verb r(e/w, denotes something spoken, i.e. a spoken word or saying. It is a theological keyword in the Gospel of John, used along with lo/go$ (“word, account”), but always in the plural, and always in the specific context of things said by Jesus. The implication is that Jesus’ words, spoken by him to his disciples (and to other people), are not ordinary human words—they are Divine/heavenly in nature, and communicate the very word[s] of God.

Nor, in this regard, can the “words” spoken by Jesus be delimited by the actual (human) discourse—that is, the literal words as spoken and transmitted. Rather, they communicate the reality of God Himself. This helps to explain the sudden reference to the Spirit that follows in v. 34b, by which speaking the “words of God” is set parallel with giving the Spirit:

“for (it is) not out of a measure (that) he gives the Spirit”

The same words-Spirit association is found in the famous saying in 6:63, which we will examine in an upcoming note.

There are two key interpretive questions regarding the clause in v. 34b. First, who is that gives the Spirit in this specific context—Jesus or God the Father? Second, what is the meaning and significance of the expression “not out of a measure”? Let us deal with the second question first.

The noun me/tron (“measure”) is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring just 14 times. Elsewhere in the Synoptic Gospels, it is used in several sayings/teachings of Jesus, in a religious-ethical context, referring to the just reward (or punishment) that people will receive (from God) based on their conduct (Mk 4:24; Matt 7:2; 23:32; Lk 6:38 [2]). The prepositional expressions e)n me/trw| (“with/by a measure”) or ei)$ me/tron (“unto a [certain] measure”) would seem to be more common. However, here in v. 34, e)k me/trou (“out of a measure”) is used, governed by the negative particle ou). Literally, the expression is “not out of a measure” (ou) e)k me/trou), which is quite awkward in English (and is also peculiar Greek); most translations render this “without measure”, suggesting something that has no limit.

In terms of the idea of giving the Spirit “without measure,” it is worth pointing out an interesting Rabbinic parallel, a statement attributed to Rabbi Aµa in the Great Midrash (Midrash Rabbah) on Lev 15:2: “The Holy Spirit rested on the prophets by measure” (Brown, p. 158 [his translation]). The point may be that the situation with Jesus is categorically different from that of the Prophets: they received the Spirit only partially, by a certain measure, while Jesus receives it fully and completely, without measure.

This also suggests an answer to the first question, confirmed by the context of vv. 34-35. The clause in v. 34b is best understood as providing an explanation for the statement in v. 34a—explaining how it is that Jesus, having been sent to earth from the Father (in heaven), is able to speak the “words of God”. The answer: it is because he is given the Spirit without measure. That God the Father is the subject of the clause ought to be indicated in the translation (using “He” instead of “he”):

“…for (it is) not out of a measure (that) He gives the Spirit”

Though not stated here, the Johannine Christological outlook would imply that this receiving of the Spirit is a fundamental and intrinsic feature of the Divine Sonship of Jesus. This will be considered further in the next daily note, as our discussion is extended to include verse 35.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

March 28: John 3:31-33

John 3:31c-33

“The (one) coming out of heaven [is up above all]; what he has seen and heard, (to) this he gives witness, and (yet) his witness no one receives. The (one) receiving his witness (has) sealed that God is true.”

Regardless of whether the words in square brackets are original (cf. the discussion in the previous note), verse 31c syntactically belongs with v. 32f, rather than with v. 31ab. Indeed, the statements in v. 31a & c are parallel and essentially identical:

    • The (one) coming from above is up above all
    • The (one) coming out of heaven [is up above all]

The expression “out of heaven” (e)k tou= ou)ranou=) has the same meaning as the adverb “from above” (a&nwqen). The prepositional expression, however, forms a more precise contrastive parallel with “out of the earth” (e)k th=$ gh=$) in v. 31b.

There is a contrast between the two figures in v. 31ab, whereas in vv. 31c-32 the parallelism is synthetic—that is, the second statement builds upon the first. The same person “coming from heaven” (v. 31c) is described in v. 32f. The point of contrast, rather, is between the descriptions of the one “out of the earth” (31b) and the one “out of heaven” (v. 32). In particular, the contrast involves the way that they speak. The one who is “of the earth” simply speaks (vb lale/w) out of his/her earthly nature (“out of the earth”). By contrast, the one coming “out of heaven” speaks in a heavenly manner, and speaks of heavenly things (cf. verse 12).

This idea of ‘heavenly speaking’ is expressed through the Johannine motif of witness (ma/rtu$/marturi/a). Jesus, as the one coming from heaven, bears witness to the heavenly reality. This is understood primarily in relation to God the Father. Jesus, as the dutiful Son, pays close attention to the Father’s example—everything that he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. This is a fundamental component of the Johannine Christology and portrait of Jesus. The point is made a number of times throughout the Gospel—cf. 1:18; 5:19-20ff, 30-31ff; 6:46; 7:16-18; 8:26, 38, 40ff, 47; 17:8ff.

It is quite likely that the wording in v. 32 continues the thematic contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist (cf. the discussion in the previous note). John and Jesus both bear witness to the Divine truth, testifying to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father. John, however, makes this witness in an “earthly” manner, based on the visionary experience of what he has actually seen and heard through his senses (1:32-34). By contrast, Jesus, having come from the Father in heaven, is a direct witness of God, and his witness is thus heavenly and spiritual in nature. As previously noted, John the Baptist as a witness is a key theme of chapters 1-3, beginning with the prologue (1:6-8).

Jesus gives witness (vb marture/w) to “that which he has seen and heard” (o^ e(w/raken kai\ h&kousen). The wording of this phrase, utilizing the relative (neuter) pronoun, very much reflects the Johannine style and theological idiom. This is clearly illustrated by the opening words of 1 John:

“That which [o^] was from the beginning, which we have seen [o^ a)khko/amen], which we have heard [o^ e(wra/kamen]…about the word [lo/go$] of life” (1:1)

The (Gospel) message, about who Jesus is, is a truthful witness that reflects what Jesus himself manifested to us on earth through his own incarnate person.

The idea that “no one” (ou)dei/$) receives Jesus’ witness is general and categorical, reflecting the basic theme that the “world” (ko/smo$), as a whole, is dominated by darkness and evil, and is unable/unwilling to accept the Divine truth and revelation that Jesus brings from heaven. As is clear from verse 11 earlier in the Discourse, and echoing the foundational statement in the Gospel prologue (1:11), even the most learned and religiously devout among his own people (e.g., Nicodemus) are unable to receive this witness. Indeed, it is not possible to receive it, to “see” the kingdom of God (v. 3), unless one is first “born from above” —that is, born of the Spirit.

The statements here in vv. 32-33 are indeed similar to those in 1:11-12 of the Prologue:

    • “and his witness no one receives [vb lamba/nw]” (v. 32b)
      “and his own (people) did not receive [vb paralamba/nw] him” (v. 11b)
    • “the (one) receiving his witness…” (v. 33a)
      “but as (many) as received him…” (v. 12a)

No one belonging to the world receives his witness, only those belonging to God. Every one belonging to God, who is drawn to the truth (by His Spirit), receives the witness of Jesus (through trust); then, having been born “from above” (i.e., of the Spirit), such a person is able to hear and understand the heavenly witness of Jesus. This recognition by the believer essentially seals the truth (and truthfulness) of God (v. 33b).

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 34, which contains the important Spirit-reference.

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.

December 28: John 1:14 (continued)

John 1:14, continued

Today’s note will focus specifically on the use of the adjective monogenh/$ in the second couplet of verse 14 (cf. the previous note):

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of a monogenh/$

Since this adjective describes the nature of the do/ca (honor/splendor/glory) possessed by the Logos, and its relation to the do/ca of God Himself, it is important to define its meaning here as precisely as possible. I have left the word untranslated above, pending the study that follows below.

The adjective monogenh/$ is a compound, of the adjective mo/no$ (“one, single, alone, only”) and the noun ge/no$. The latter word is derived from the verb of becoming (gi/nomai, “come to be”), used a number of times in the Prologue, including here in verse 14: “the Word came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh”. As previously noted, the verb gi/nomai can connote a birth (i.e., coming to be born), though often the intended meaning is more general; the related verb genna/w is more precise in meaning “come to be born”.

A literal translation of monogenh/$ would be somthing like “(the) only (one who) comes to be”. It is often used to refer to an “only child“, emphasizing the birth aspect (cf. above). That is the meaning, for example, in the other New Testament occurrences (outside of the Gospel and Letters of John)—Lk 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb 11:17; cf. also Judg 11:34 in the LXX (where it occurs 14 times). However, it can also carry the more general meaning of “only (one of its) kind”, “one of a kind”, i.e., unique.

Since, in the other Johannine occurrences (1:18 [v.l.]; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9), monogenh/$ always modifies the noun “son” (ui(o/$), we can be fairly certain of the same point of reference here—that is, the adjective serves as a shorthand for “only Son” (monogenh\$ ui(o/$). With this context in mind, we may thus translate accordingly:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son)

The idea of Sonship is still only implied, since the specific word ui(o/$ (“son”) does not occur until verse 18 (and even there the text is disputed). However, it is clear that the emphasis in the Prologue is shifting from the concept of the Logos (the Word/Wisdom) of God to that of the Son.

Let us now add to this portrait the remainder of verse 14:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son)
(from) alongside the Father,
full of (His) favor and truth.”

In terms of the rhythm of the Greek, it may be better to include the words para\ patro/$ (“alongside [the] Father”) with the prior line:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father,
full of (His) favor and truth.”
kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n doca/n au)tou=
do/can w($ monogenh\$ para\ patro/$
plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

The Logos is thus depicted as the “only Son” of God, who is present “alongside” (para/) the Father. In verse 1, this sense of closeness to God (and the Divine Presence) was expressed by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”); however, elsewhere in the Gospel of John, para/ is used (by Jesus) for this purpose (6:46; 7:29; 8:26, 38, 40; 10:18; 15:15). In those references, para/ also carries the specific meaning of coming from God (15:26; 16:27-28, etc).

Most notably, we have the majestic statement of Jesus in 17:5, where his exaltation (following his death and resurrection) is anticipated, an exaltation (vb doca/zw, “give honor”) that involves the Son’s return to the exalted place he held at God’s side in the beginning. This honor/splendor (do/ca) is specifically said to be “alongside” (para/) God. We find comparable wording in 5:44.

Thus the pre-existent Son of God has an exalted place alongside God the Father, and shares in the do/ca of God. This is the same place held by the pre-existent Logos (vv. 1-2), the Son and Logos essentially referring to the same Divine figure. Ultimately, the dual designation is identified with the person of Jesus—as the incarnate Son and Logos. The participation of the Son in the splendor of God is further explained by the concluding line of verse 14:

plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$
“full of (His) favor and truth”

The Greek reads simply “full of favor and truth”; however, the clear implication is that it is God’s favor, and the Divine truth (the truth of God) that is in view. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, we may safely interpret the line as a reference to the Spirit of God—that is, His own life-giving Spirit that the Father gives to the Son (3:34-35), thus showing favor (xa/ri$) to him. On the identification of the Spirit with the truth (a)lh/qeia) of God, cf. 4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6, and (especially) 5:6: “the Spirit is the Truth”. Because the Son is filled with the Spirit, he is able to communicate and give it to others (1:33; 6:63; 7:37-39; 15:26, etc; 19:30; 20:22).

December 10: John 1:1c

John 1:1c

kai\ qeo\$ h@n o( lo/go$
“and the Word was God”

This is the third of the three clauses in verse 1; cf. the previous note (on 1b), and the note prior (on 1a). Each of these clauses uses an imperfect form of the verb of being (h@n, “was”) to make an important theological statement regarding the Logos. The first statement (1a) establishes the divine existence of the Logos; like the divine Wisdom of Old Testament and Jewish tradition (cf. Prov 8:22ff, etc), the Logos was, being with God “in the beginning” (i.e., at the beginning of creation). The second statement (1b) establishes the relationship between the Logos and God (the Creator El-Yahweh). The Logos was “toward” God, either in the sense of facing Him, or in the dynamic aspect of moving toward Him. Though the Father-Son relationship is not yet introduced at this point in the Prologue, there is a clear parallel to be noted with the closing verse (18).

The final h@n-statement (1c) is perhaps the most difficult, both in terms of its distinctive word order and the precise theological message it conveys.

To begin with the word order, an ultra-literal translation would render the line as “and God was the Word”, indicating that God (and not the Logos) is the subject. A more accurate rendering, that wished to preserve the word order as much as possible, would read: “and God the Word was”, but this also is misleading. The pre-positioning of the noun qeo/$ (“God”) is most likely simply a matter of emphasis: i.e., “and the Word was God.” Commentators have long discussed and debated how this is to be best understood, noting, in particular, the lack of a definite article for qeo/$ (compare with the clause in 1b). This can be summarized by way of three main explanations:

    • The Logos is divine, but not God per se; in this case, the anarthrous noun qeo/$ would be equivalent (more or less) to the adjective qei=o$ (“God-like, divine”)
    • It is an allusion to the Logos as God the Son, related to, but not equal with (and thus subordinate to), God the Father
    • It implies a concept of God that is broader than the specific person of God the Father (El-Yahweh)

I would maintain that the meaning of the clause is both simpler and more direct: it identifies the Logos with God (the Father). In this instance, identification should not be mistaken for metaphysical identity. Rather, identity here should be understood in terms of a fundamental signification. The Father-Son relationship is especially apt; the son may well (and rightly) point to his father and say “that is who I am,” without meaning he is exactly the same person as his father. One need not read later Trinitarian theology into the passage here, though certainly the Johannine Prologue had a profound influence on Nicene orthodoxy and Trinitarian thought. The Johannine Gospel throughout provides ample evidence for a simple (and rather straightforward) identification of Jesus with God the Father, based on the Father-Son thematic matrix.

If the relationship was established in the second clause (1b), then the aspect being emphasized in the third clause truly is identity. A comparison with the other “Christ hymn” passages we have examined suggests here the motif of the image of God, which is emphasized strongly in the opening of both the Philippians and Colossians hymns. In Phil 2:6, the pre-existent Jesus is referred to as being in the “form/shape” (morfh/) of God, while the Son (Jesus) in Col 1:15 is explicitly said to be the “image” (ei)kw/n) of God. The image is an imprint, or reflection, of another; it looks exactly like the original, and we may identify it as the original, though it is not the actual object (or person) as such. This is truly a powerful motif, when applied in relation to God, as many theologians and mystics have realized, since it allows for both unity and distinction, and incorporates both into the same illustration.

In Hebrews 1:3, a similar idea of image/reflection is expressed through the noun a)pau/gasma (“beam [shining] forth”), bringing along with an added dimension of light-imagery. The same noun is used in Wisdom 7:26, applied to the personification of divine Wisdom, and Hebrews is almost certainly drawing on the same tradition when speaking of the pre-existent Son of God. The ray of light comes from the same source of light, but is not the source itself. There is an obvious parallel between emanation of light and filiation—i.e., the son coming forth from the father, like the ray(s) of light from the sun, etc. The Johannine Prologue makes use of both of these motifs, introducing the light-motif in v. 4, and the sonship-motif in v. 14 (or earlier in vv. 12-13). The same verse 14, conveys the idea of the Son as an image/reflection of God the Father. We will discuss all of these verses in more detail when we come to them in the course of these notes.


December 9: John 1:1b

John 1:1, continued

The central word in the first verse of the Prologue, and the subject of each of the three clauses in v. 1 (cf. the previous note) is the noun lo/go$ (logos), which can be difficult to translate due to its rather wide semantic range. Because the word is so important for establishing the meaning and the theology of the Prologue, it is worth discussing the matter here in some detail.

On the word lo/go$

The noun lo/go$ is derived from the verb le/gw, which has the fundamental meaning of “gather”, but also came to be used in range of related senses: (a) “lay out”, i.e., arrange the things gathered; (b) “count”, both in the concrete sense of enumerating things gathered, but also in the more abstract sense of a mental gathering (i.e., reckon, consider, recall [from memory], etc); (c) “give an account”, then in the more general sense of “narrate”; and, finally, (d) “speak, say”, generalizing the idea of giving a spoken (oral) account of something. The common signification of “speak/say” for le/gw can again take on various nuances of meaning, when used in different contexts involving speech, narration, etc.

The noun lo/go$ (“gathering, collection”) itself covers much the same semantic range as the verbal root le/gw (cf. above). Basically, this range of meaning can be divided into: (i) a mental gathering (“reckoning, calculation, plan, reason”), and (ii) a more concrete accounting, either as a written/notational account, or a spoken (oral) account (“speech”). The basic meaning of “account” for lo/go$ is perhaps the closest to the mark, but the mental and spoken aspects can be generalized as “thought” and “word”, or even in a more abstract generalization as “thing” (i.e., something thought or spoken of).

Given this wide range of meaning, with an emphasis on thought and reason, etc, it is not surprising that lo/go$ came to be used in specialized philosophical and theological contexts. It is most often associated with Stoic philosophy, but this usage goes back at least as far as the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraklitos (c. 540-480 B.C.). In a number of surviving fragments, quoted by later authors, Heraklitos uses the term lo/go$ to refer to the divine power/presence that binds the universe together, giving it order and holding its different components and aspects in balance. In fragment 1 (Sextus Empiricus VII.132), he states that “all things (are) coming to be according to the lo/go$” (ginome/nwn pa/ntwn kata\ to\n lo/gon). The same author (VII.129) quotes Heraklitos as referring to this “divine lo/go$” (o( qei=o$ lo/go$). The logos is thus divine, a manifestation of God, a rational intelligence that gives order to all things in creation, providing a balanced arrangement that holds and binds the universe together. This generally corresponds with the later Stoic use of the term for the mind of God that penetrates creation, ordering and controlling all things.

Hellenistic Jewish philosophers—of whom Philo of Alexandria is the most notable example—blended this Logos-concept together with a line of Old Testament Wisdom tradition that reaches back to the famous passage in Proverbs 8:22-31. Wisdom (Hebrew hm*k=j*), personified as a divine or heavenly being, was with God at the beginning of creation, and functioned as the means/instrument through which YHWH created the universe. Later Jewish tradition expanded upon this idea, developing the concept of the divine Wisdom (Grk Sofi/a) that created, pervades, and sustains the universe (Wisdom 7:22-8:1; 9:2ff; 10:1ff; Sirach 1:3-10; chap. 24; 33:7-8ff; 42:21; Baruch 3:15ff, etc). Philo of Alexandria subsumed this Wisdom tradition under the concept of the Logos, and the Prologue of John appears to have done much the same. It is probably more accurate to say that the Johannine Prologue, like the New Testament “Christ hymns” in Philippians, Colossians, and Hebrews, drew upon a common line of Hellenistic Jewish Logos/Wisdom tradition. The Logos/Wisdom concept was adopted by early Christians and applied to the person of Jesus. This will be discussed further as we proceed through the Prologue.

Verse 1b

“In (the) beginning was the Lo/go$, (1a)
and the Lo/go$ was toward God, (1b)
and the Lo/go$ was God.” (1c)

The first clause (1a) was introduced in the previous note. Today, we will focus on the second clause (1b), while keeping the first in view.

kai\ o( lo/go$ h@n pro\$ to\n qeo/n
“and the Word was toward God”

kai/ (“and”)—the three component clauses of v. 1 are joined by the conjunctive particle kai/. Here the conjunction indicates that the statements are unified, in terms of referring to the Logos as divine, but that the statements also complement (or supplement) each other, emphasizing different aspects of a single theological declaration. In this case, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

o( lo/go$ (“the word”)—on the meaning and background of the noun lo/go$, cf. the discussion above. Translation of this noun is notoriously difficult, as has been indicated, all the more so when the term used in the specialized philosophical and theological sense—whether by Heraklitos, Philo of Alexandria, or here in the Johannine Prologue. The basic idea involves a rational (divine) intelligence that gives order to all things in creation. However, Old Testament and Jewish tradition added to this philosophical concept the important aspect of God (YHWH) creating the universe—which He does through His Wisdom (Prov 8:22-31), but also through His Word (Gen 1:1ff). The term lo/go$ is especially useful because it captures this aspect of speech (the spoken word), in addition to the mental aspect (thought, plan, reason). It has become customary to translate lo/go$ in Jn 1:1 and 14 as “word”, and, in context, this is as good a translation as any, though it certainly does not encompass the entire meaning.

h@n (“was”)—in each of the three clauses of v. 1, the verbal element is an imperfect active indicative form of the common verb of being (ei)mi). As mentioned in the previous note, this verb form has special theological significance in the Gospel of John (and the Johannine Prologue, in particular). In each of the clauses, it is used to signify the deity of the Logos. However, this is done in different ways. The first clause has no proper predicate, but simply states that the Logos was—with the implication being that it had existence “in the beginning”, that is, a divine pre-existence. Here, in the second clause, the force of the verb is somewhat different, because of the predicate expression that follows, establishing an important point of reference regarding the relationship between the Logos and God.

pro/$ (“toward”)—the preposition pro/$ literally, and primarily, means “toward”, and so I have translated it above. This can be understood either in terms of (a) facing toward, or (b) moving toward. Whether the positional or dynamic aspect is being emphasized is difficult to say. The main point is that the Logos is present with God “in the beginning”, and has a close/intimate relationship with Him. There is almost certainly an intentional parallel in the closing verse of the Prologue (v. 18), when it speaks of the Son (par. Logos) being “in” (lit. “into”, ei)$) the lap of the Father.

o( qeo/$ (“God”)—as noted above, the predicate of the clause is a prepositional phrase that establishes the relationship of the Logos with God. Certainly, by qeo/$ here is meant El-Yahweh, the Creator and one true God, according to the traditional monotheistic belief held in common by Israelites, Jews and early Christians. In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the divine Wisdom (personified) was the first of God’s creation, and was with Him at the beginning, when the universe was created (Prov 8:22-31). In Prov 8:30, Wisdom declares that, in the beginning, he/she was “near” (lx#a@) YHWH, which is expressed in the LXX by the preposition para/ (“alongside”).

While early Christians drew upon this line of tradition, they gave to it a new dimension when it was applied to the person of Jesus. The Wisdom motif had to be incorporated within the established parameters of the early Christology, centered around three primary titles— “Anointed One” (Messiah), “Son of God”, and “Lord” —and the central Gospel message of the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus. The aspect of YHWH as God the Father must be understood here, in the context of the Johannine theology, even though the theme of Jesus’ Sonship has not yet been introduced in the Prologue. The central relationship (indicated by the preposition pro/$) between the God and the Logos is very much akin to that of Father and Son (note again the parallel between vv. 1 and 18).

Notes on Prayer: John 14:13-14, etc

John 14:13-14, continued

Last week, we began a study on the references to prayer in the Last Discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:31-16:33). The first such references are the twin sayings of 14:13-14. There are two aspects of these sayings which need to be examined further: (1) the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son), and (2) the precise meaning and significance of prayer “in Jesus’ name”.

Before embarking on a study of these aspects, it is worth surveying the basic outline and focus of these sayings, as they fit a basic pattern. Similar sayings occur elsewhere in the Last Discourse; we shall examine these in turn, but let us begin by citing them here (alongside the dual-saying in 14:13-14):

“any(thing) that you would request in my name, this I will do…
if you would request any(thing of) me in my name, I will do (it)” [14:13-14]

“any(thing) that you would request (of) the Father in my name, he shall give to you” (15:16)
“any(thing) that you would request (of) the Father in my name, he will give (it) to you” (16:23)
(cf. also 14:26)

There are two formal components to these sayings: (a) the promise that the request made by Jesus’ disciples will be answered, and (b) that the request is made “in Jesus’ name”. Each of these components is attested elsewhere in the Gospel Tradition, and in themselves are not unique to the Gospel of John; it is the specific combination that is distinctive of the sayings in the Last Discourse.

The first component (a)—the promise of answered prayer—is found in simple form in 15:7 and 16:24:

    • “whatever you would wish (for), request (it) and it shall come to be (so) for you” (15:7)
    • “(make a) request, and you will receive” (16:24)

There is a Synoptic parallel for the latter, which has an extremely simple, proverbial character, typical of many of Jesus’ sayings:

“(make a) request, and it will be given to you…
every(one mak)ing a request receives (it)” (Matt 7:7-8, par Lk 11:9-10)

There is also a general similarity to the longer Johannine form (15:7) in Matt 21:22 (cf. also Mark 11:24):

“and all (thing)s, whatever you would request in speaking out toward (God) [i.e. in prayer], (if you are) trusting, you will receive.”

In Matt 18:19, there is a different saying which also relates to the Johannine sayings (above):

“if two of you should give voice together [i.e., speak in agreement] upon earth about any deed, that which they would request, it will come to be (so) for them (from) alongside my Father in the heavens.”

The second component (b) of the saying-form (noted above) also has Synoptic parallels. Note, in particular, the saying in Matt 18:20, and its conjunction with the earlier prayer-saying in v. 19:

“For (the place in) which two or three have been brought together in my name, there I am in the middle of them.”

There are other references to Jesus’ disciples speaking and acting “in his name” —Mk 9:37-39 par; Matt 7:22; Lk 6:22; cf. also Mk 13:6 par, and the commissioning-traditions in Lk 24:47; Matt 28:19; [Mk 16:17]. In the Gospel of John, outside of the Last Discourse, the emphasis is on Jesus (the Son) acting in the name of the Father; however, cf. the confessional statements in 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 20:31 which record the principal early Christian (and Johannine) understanding of trust in Jesus defined as being “in his name”.

Turning again to the twin sayings in Jn 14:13-14, there is an interesting point of difference when compared with the sayings in 15:16 and 16:23. In Jn 14:13-14, prayer is apparently being made to Jesus, and it is he who acts in response to the request; by contrast, in the other two sayings, prayer is directed to the Father, who is the one answering. This seeming inconsistency has troubled commentators at times, and doubtless explains why some manuscripts of 14:13 specify “the Father” as the one to whom the request should be made. However, the interchangeability of roles is of fundamental importance to the Johannine theology, with its unique emphasis on the relationship between Father and Son—especially the key theme that the Son (Jesus) follows the example (and instruction) of his Father, in all that he says and does. Put another way, as the Son, Jesus possesses the same authority and divine/creative power that belongs to the Father; thus, he is able to fill the Father’s role, for example, as the one who hears and responds to prayer.

The same interchangeability is seen in the passages of the Last Discourse that refer to the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete; these will be discussed in an upcoming study. Moreover, this tendency is not limited to the Johannine tradition, but, instead, reflects the early Christology, as it developed among the first generation(s) of believers. As a simple example, the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), as a divine title, could be applied equally to God the Father (YHWH) and to Jesus; we see evidence of this all throughout the New Testament. Similarly, in the Pauline letters, the (Holy) Spirit can be called the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of [Jesus] Christ”, interchangeably; this is very much like the situation in the Johannine writings, and can be seen elsewhere in the New Testament as well.

The context of 14:13-14, in which Jesus (the Son) is the one who hears and answers prayer, implies the exaltation of Jesus, and his place alongside God the Father in heaven. And, indeed, it is the departure of the Son, back to the Father, that is the central theme of the discourse-segment of 14:1-14 (cf. the previous study). From his place at the “right hand” of God, the Son acts in the Father’s place, with His authority. In certain lines of early Christian tradition, we find the specific idea of Jesus making intercession for believers to the Father (e.g., Rom 8:34; Heb 9:24; 1 John 2:1). This relates to the motif of Jesus as a high priest (cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), and assumes his place in heaven, i.e., the heavenly sanctuary, in the presence of God Himself. In any case, the prayer saying in Jn 14:26 alludes to intercession, and includes the role of both Father and Son in responding to believers’ prayer.

In next week’s study, we will look in detail at the second main aspect noted above—that is, the precise meaning and significance of the prayer-request being made in Jesus’ name.


Notes on Prayer: John 14:13-14

John 14:13-14

Some of the most important references to prayer in the New Testament are found in the great Last Discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The Johannine writings never use the common Greek terms for prayer (proseuxh/, vb proseu/xomai); instead, the idea of prayer is expressed by the verb ai)te/w, emphasizing making a request of God.

There are significant critical issues surrounding the origin and composition of the Johannine discourses. On the one hand, they are unlike anything we see in the Synoptic Gospels; in addition, they evince a language and style that is distinctly Johannine, and very close, for example, to that of First John. At the same time, there are Synoptic parallels for certain sayings and traditions in the Gospel of John, and there is clear evidence that the discourses, at the very least, are rooted in authentic historical tradition. Thus, the arguments regarding the Discourses—whether they are primarily Johannine compositions, or accurate reflections of Jesus’ own words throughout—run both ways. And, indeed, both aspects must be kept in mind with any study of the Gospel of John.

The great “Last Discourse”, set (in the narrative) on the eve of Jesus’ arrest, actually represents a complex of inter-related discourses, spanning more than three chapters (13:31-16:33). It may be outlined as follows:

    • 13:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The first Discourse/division (14:1-31), the first of two on the primary theme of Jesus’ departure, may be outlined in further detail:

    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
        • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
        • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
        • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
        • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
        • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
        • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
        • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
          —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
          —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
          —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
          —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
        • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
          —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
          —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
        • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)

The first sayings on prayer are in 14:13-14, which forms the conclusion of the first section, on the relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14). The basic Johannine discourse format is clear: Jesus makes an initial statement (vv. 1-4) which his audience (here, his close disciples) fails to understand (v. 5); Jesus responds in turn with an exposition of the true and deeper meaning of his words (vv. 6ff). Sometimes this discourse-format is expanded to include multiple exchanges between Jesus and his audience, and, indeed, we see this at several points in the Last Discourse. Even within this first section, there are two questions by the disciples, which lead to two different “I Am” sayings by Jesus in response (vv. 6-7, 9-11).

The substantive message of the first section involves the idea of Jesus leading the way for believers to the Father. As his exposition makes clear, this is not to be understood in traditional religious terms, nor in the special sense of a metaphysical translation to heaven (though that will take place in the future). Rather, the “way” to the Father comes through trust in Jesus and through union with him. Trust leads to union, and this essential union is realized through the presence of the Spirit, which is the Spirit of both Father and Son, and represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. Through this union with Jesus, believers already are in the presence of God the Father, and have access to Him.

This theological and Christological outlook, which is hardly unique to the Last Discourse, but is woven throughout the entire Johannine Gospel, informs the sayings on prayer. There are two sayings on prayer in vv. 13-14, virtually identical in form and meaning, and separated by a key phrase re-emphasizing the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son). I give the translation as a chiasm, to outline this structure:

    • “and any(thing) that you should request in my name, this I will do,
      • (so) that the Father should be given honor in the Son;
    • if you request any(thing of) me in my name, I will do (it).”

The granting of the request has, at its heart, the purpose of giving honor to the Father. The verb doca/zw is an important part of the Johannine vocabulary, occurring 23 times in the Gospel, and 13 times in the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse (13:31-16:33 and chap. 17). The Passion-focus of this usage begins to take on prominence in 12:28, and continues through the Last Discourse. By fulfilling the duty and mission placed on him (e)ntolh/) by God the Father, through his sacrificial death and resurrection, the Son (Jesus) gives honor and esteem to the Father. According to the narrative setting of the Last Discourse, the moment of Jesus’ death is drawing near, and so the moment of the Son bringing do/ca (“esteem, honor, glory”) to the Father is also at hand.

But the specific setting here within the discourse is of Jesus’ departure, the return of the Son back to the Father, which implies a post-resurrection context. It is perhaps worth asking how granting the requests of his disciples gives honor to the Father. The answer, I believe, is two-fold. First, it is predicated upon the special relationship between Father and Son; as a dutiful and faithful son, everything Jesus does is to the honor of his father. This is a principal Johannine theme, and is central to the Christology of the Gospel. Secondly, it involves the significance of the request being made in Jesus’ name (“in my name”, e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ mou). As we shall see, this is no superficial designation, as though we were simply to tack on the phrase “in Jesus’ name” to our prayers. Instead, the phrase cuts to the very heart of our identity as believers in Christ, and of our relationship to the Father through him. This will be discussed further in the following studies, as we proceed through all the key references in the Last Discourse.

As these studies will appear on Mondays during the weeks of Advent and Christmas, and will focus on the idea of Jesus’ name, you may wish to explore my earlier Christmas series “You Shall Call His Name…”, which deals with the significance of names and naming in the ancient Near East, and the importance of this within the Gospel Infancy narratives (Matt 1-2; Luke 1-2).


October 29: Philippians 2:11 (conclusion)

Philippians 2:11 (conclusion)

ei)$ do/can qeou= patro/$
“…unto (the) honor of God (the) Father”

These closing words are perhaps the most neglected of the entire hymn. Given the tendency to focus on the Christological issues, involving the person of Christhis deity and humanity, and the relationship between the twoit is perhaps not surprising that this final phrase is treated by readers and commentators almost as an afterthought. However, the phrase represents the climax of the entire hymn, and declares the ultimate purpose of the exaltation of Jesusit is not to give honor to Jesus, but to God the Father. This is clear from the preposition (ei)$, “into, unto”) that governs the phrase. In its own way, this climactic phrase has at least as much Christological significance as the other, more-often discussed portions of the hymn. It raises the fundamental question of the relationship between Jesus and God the Father, which was perhaps the most important question addressed by the early Christology.

Let us consider again the overall scenario of verses 9-11 (the second half of the hymn). It describes the exaltation of Jesus following his deathhis resurrection and elevation to a position “at the right hand” of God in heaven. All of this is fully in accord with the earliest Gospel preaching (kerygma) and the earliest Christology (of the period c. 35-60 A.D.). Early Christian tradition also proclaimed the exalted Jesus’ divine status as “Lord” (ku/rio$), recognizing that he shared the same position of rule and authority in heaven as God Himself. From this exalted position, Jesus would soon come again to earth, as God’s heavenly representative, to usher in the end-time Judgment. This traditional Christology informs the overall scenario in vv. 9-11 of the hymn; what is especially unique is the way that the hymn portrays the Judgment-scene, depicting all created beings submitting to the authority and rule of the exalted Jesus. This submission involves both gesture (‘bending the knee’) and speech (confessing with the “tongue”), by which homage and worship is given to Jesus.

How is it, then, that this homage/worship given to the exalted Jesus is “unto the honor of God the Father”? There are a number of ways this may be understood; I highlight here four particular lines of interpretation:

    1. Christocentric—God is to be honored because he has honored Jesus; the honor given to Jesus reflects the character and nature of God.
    2. The “right hand” motif—The traditional idea of Jesus standing at the “right hand” of God implies that the exalted Jesus shares the ruling position with God on His throne in heaven. This means that any honor given to Jesus goes to God the Father as well, since the two share the same divine/heavenly position (and the title “Lord”, etc).
    3. Divine hierarchy—This may be summarized simply as: Jesus receives honor, and, in turn, gives it to God the Father.
    4. Eschatological/Messianic—According to eschatological tradition, Jesus the Anointed One (Messiah), serves as the heavenly/divine representative of God the Father in the end-time Judgment, which he oversees, functioning as Judge and Ruler. As God’s representative, the honor given to Jesus, in actuality, goes to God.

There is merit in each of these lines of interpretation; however, if we are to consider both the hymn itself, and the Pauline use of it (whether or not Paul composed it himself), options 2 and 3 would seem to be the most relevant. Paul gives us a clear and succinct example of the hierarchical view (#3) in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28: following his resurrection/exaltation, Jesus receives the Kingdom (its rule and authority), and then ultimately gives it over to God. This passages contains the same idea, found in the hymn, of “all things” submitting to Jesus’ authority, even wicked beings and those otherwise hostile to God. Given this parallelism of thought, it seems likely that Paul has a similar scenario in view here in vv. 9-11 of the hymn.

On the other hand, the joint-rule option (#2) is a better fit within the hymn overall. The emphasis is on the position that the exalted Jesus has alongside God, both in his existence prior to his earthly life (v. 6) and following the resurrection (vv. 10-11). Traditionally, this position of shared or joint rule was expressed through the motif of Jesus standing “at the right hand” of God in heaven. That motif is not present in the hymn, at least not directly. Instead, we find a more sophisticated (and poetic) description of the exalted Jesus sharing God’s place in the divine/heavenly realm. There are four expressions and idioms which serve this descriptiontwo of which relate to Jesus’ pre-existence (v. 6), and two which relate to his exaltation after his death and resurrection; there is a certain conceptual symmetry to these, which may be presented chiastically:

    • “the form [morfh/] of God” (6a)
      • “the being equal [ei@nai i&sa] with God” (6b)
      • “the name th(at is) over every name”, i.e., the name/title of God (“Lord, ku/rio$)
    • “the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God”

According to this line of interpretation, the expressions morfh\ qeou= (“form of God”) and do/ca qeou= (“honor/splendor of God”) are parallel. As I pointed out in the earlier note on verse 6a, the noun morfh/ denotes the visible form or appearance of something. Thus, here the expression “morfh/ of God” does not refer to the ‘nature’ of God as such, but to a visible distinction of the Divine, best understood in terms of the traditional splendor that surrounds God when He appears (in visions and theophanies) to human beings. The Greek noun do/ca properly designates how someone (or something) is regarded, particularly in terms of the honor and esteem in which that person (or thing) is held. In a religious and theological context, when applied to God, do/ca can connote that which makes the Divine worthy of honor and esteemi.e., the nature and character of God that is distinct and separate from other (created) beings. In this specialized sense, the noun is often translated as “splendor, glory”; the same applies to the corresponding Hebrew noun dobK*, which has a somewhat different fundamental meaning (“weight, worth, value”), closer to the word timh/ in Greek.

In any case, the phrase e)n morfh=| qeou= (“in [the] form of God”), as it is used in context, implies that Jesus shared the divine gloryi.e., he was in the same visible splendor which marks God as distinct and separate from all created beings (and thus worthy of their honor). The same applies to the situation after the resurrection. Jesus is exalted to a divine position where he shares the splendor and honor (do/ca) of God, even as he shares the same name (ku/rio$, “Lord”). As previously discussed, this “name” given to the exalted Jesus indicates an “equality” that Jesus shares the same position of rule and authority as God Himself, and is thus worthy of the same honor. The very thing that he was willing to give up (v. 6b) is given to Jesus following his death on the cross. This image of equality, of the joint rule of God the Father and Jesus, and the honor/worship that is given to them (equally), is a central feature of the visions in the book of Revelation, especially the throne-visions in chapters 4-5 (cf. also 6:16; 7:9-17; 12:5; 14:1-3; 22:1-5).

We should consider the possibility of a broader formal parallelism between the phrase “in (the) form of God” and “into (the) honor/splendor of God”, as between the two prepositions e)n (“en”) and ei)$ (“into, unto”). The first prepositional phrase refers to the situation at the beginning (vb u(pa/rxw), while the second has in view the end goal and purpose. It is surely no coincidence that the two prepositional phrases, following the initial relative pronoun, represent the first and last words of the hymn, respectively. They bracket the hymn precisely, and establish the theological boundary points. Does the final preposition ei)$ indicate simply a return to glory, to the situation that prevailed in the beginning, or does it imply something even greater? The careful, if ambiguous, way the phrase “being equal with God” is handled in v. 6b, compared with the climactic treatment of Jesus being given the “name that is over every name” (vv. 9-10), suggests that the final exaltation of Jesus transcends, in some way, his divine position the beginning; however, we can only speculate as to how this might best be explained (cp. 1 Cor 15:24-28).

The use of the expression “God (the) Father” here in verse 11 would seem to imply the status of the exalted Jesus as God’s Son, even though the specific title “Son of God” is not used in the hymn. Early Christians would have recognized a good deal of conceptual overlap between the idea of Jesus as “Lord” and as the “Son of God”. For Paul, the two titles appear to have been of equal importance, and there are more than a dozen passages in his letters where he refers to Jesus as God’s “Son”. For the most part, he follows the early Christology that understood this Sonship in terms of the resurrection/exaltation (cf. 1 Thess 1:10; Rom 1:3-4; 1 Cor 15:28); however, in several places (Gal 4:4; Rom 5:10; 8:3, 32), Paul seems to have a rudimentary pre-existence Christology in view, though he does not express the matter clearly. The references in Galatians and Romans were likely written only a few years (at most) before the Christ hymn of Philippians, and may reflect the same essential Christology.

The Sonship and eternal pre-existence of Jesus are much more prominent in the Gospel of John, both in the prologue and the Discourses, where Jesus frequently makes use of descent/ascent imagery to express the same kind of lowering/elevating juxtaposition we see here in the hymn. In the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), he makes repeated mention of how he (the Son) is about to return to the Father; and, in the great Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17, he specifically states that he is returning to the same splendor/glory (do/ca) he held with the Father in his eternal pre-existence (v. 5). As in the Philippians hymn, the return to glory involves Jesus’ faithful completion of his mission on earth, his sacrificial death (vv. 1-4). In addition, we find the emphasis on Jesus’ special connection to the “name” of God (vv. 6ff, 12ff, 26). There is thus an important combination of themes in the Prayer-Discourse that are common to the Christ hymn.

In the next daily note, I will begin exploring Colossians 1:15-20, which is recognized as another ‘Christ hymn’, and one which may be said to represent an even more highly developed expression of Christology within the New Testament.