July 15: 1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

In the recent daily notes this summer we have been exploring the early Christian view of the Spirit, and the way that it developed, over the course of time, from the Old Testament, Jewish, and Gospel traditions. It remains to examine the references to the Spirit in the New Testament Writings not yet studied, such as the letters of 1 Peter and Jude, which contain key passages. These will be presented in a survey format, rather than with a detailed exegesis of each passage. The evidence from the Pauline letters, in particular, will be used as a point of reference (and comparison).

1 Peter 1:2

In the opening greeting, the author of the letter (Peter) refers to believers (his audience) as “the (one)s gathered out” (i.e. elect/chosen ones), and that this choosing by God took place “in (the) holiness of (the) Spirit”. The noun a(giasmo/$ more properly signifies something being made holy (vb a(gia/zw); though less accurate syntactically, we might translate the phrase as “in the Spirit making (you) holy”. Clearly this is a reference to baptism (cf. 3:21-22), as the parallel motif of “sprinkling” (r(antismo/$) would confirm. The Spirit played a central role in the early Christian baptism ritual, as we have discussed at various points throughout these notes. The association involved the fundamental idea of cleansing (from sin/impurity), which is certainly present here, as well as the following ideas that are more uniquely Christian in orientation:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks a new Age, and a new covenant with God, for believers in Christ. While this draws upon earlier Prophetic traditions, the Christocentric focus among early believers represented a radical new development, quite apart from Messianic traditions in Judaism at the time.
    • The ritual came to symbolize the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the believer’s participation in it. This goes quite beyond the earlier association of baptism with cleansing from sin, etc, being in some ways closer to certain rituals in contemporary mystery religions. Paul was most influential in developing this idea, drawing out the deeper theological and christological meaning.

The phrase “(the) sprinkling of (the) blood of Yeshua (the) Anointed” encompasses both of the aspects highlighted above. It alludes to the covenant ritual in Exodus 24:4-8, understood as a new covenant in terms of Jesus’ sacrificial death (Mark 14:24 par; cp. 1 Pet 1:19). Baptism thus symbolizes believers’ cleansing by the Spirit of God, as well their new  covenant identity as God’s people through union with Christ (including participation in his death and resurrection). The simple way that these ideas are combined in v. 2 suggests that they were well-established and ingrained in Christian thought at the time.

1 Peter 1:11-12

The references to the Spirit in verses 11-12 merely express the widespread early Christian belief, inherited from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, that the Prophets of old were uniquely inspired by the Spirit of God, and spoke/wrote under its influence. The wording here, however, also evinces several uniquely Christian points of emphasis. Most importantly, we note how the expression “(the) Spirit of (the) Anointed” (pneu=ma Xristou=) is used in v. 11, being essentially synonymous with “(the) holy Spirit” in v. 12. Admittedly, the expression “Spirit of Christ” is rare in the New Testament, but we have seen how, for Paul at least, it was interchangeable with “Spirit of God” —indicating that the (Holy) Spirit was both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God.

The use of “Spirit of (the) Anointed” in verse 11 was likely influenced by the idea that the Old Testament prophecies foretold “the (thing)s (related) to (the) Anointed” —i.e., Messianic prophecies, of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even so, the fact that “Spirit of Christ” could be used so readily as a substitute for the “Spirit (of God)”, without any need for further comment, shows how well-established the identification of the Spirit with both God the Father and Jesus Christ was among early Christians at the time. Moreover, it is likely that, in the case of 1 Peter, this also reflects a belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus (cf. 1:20), rather than—or in addition to—the earlier exaltation Christology that associated his divine Sonship primarily with his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. Such pre-existence Christology,  even in a rudimentary form, would make it easier to envision how the Spirit of Christ could be inspiring the Old Testament Prophets. The Spirit was the active Spirit of both God the Father and Christ the Son, even prior to Jesus’ life on earth. If 1 Peter was genuinely written by the apostle Peter, then it probably dates from the early 60’s A.D., making it one of the earliest documents expressing this belief in Jesus’ pre-existence (cp. Phil 2:6ff).

1 Peter 2:5

As part of the exhortation and ethical instruction in 2:1-12, the letter makes use of the same motif we saw in Ephesians 2:18-22 (cf. the earlier note)—of believers, collectively, as a house (that is, the “house of God”, or Temple sanctuary). The Pauline character of the Ephesians passage tends to be confirmed by use of similar house/Temple metaphors elsewhere in the undisputed letters (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1; 6:16), but the same sort of imagery here in 1 Peter indicates that it was even more widespread. This is rather to be expected, given the importance of the Temple, and the practical need for Christians to reinterpret (and ‘spiritualize’) its significance, turning it into a symbol of believers—individually and collectively—as the dwelling place for God. In particular, it is the place where God’s Spirit dwells.

Ephesians takes this a step further, emphasizing the Spirit as that which unites believers together, with the further implication that the ‘house’ itself is spiritual, built of/by the Spirit. Much the same is indicated in 1 Pet 2:5:

“and (also you your)selves, as living stones, are built as a house of the Spirit [i.e. spiritual house]”

This imagery is expounded through an application of several different Scripture passages (Isa 28:16; Psalm 118:26; Isa 8:4), identifying Jesus as the “foundation stone” (or cornerstone) of the Temple. This identification goes back to early Gospel tradition (Mark 12:10-11 par) and Jesus’ own teaching/sayings regarding the Temple. As Jesus Christ is the “living stone” (v. 4), so also believers, through union with him, are also made into “living stones”. As we have seen, to be “in Christ” is the same as being “in the Spirit”, a point that doubtless 1 Peter would affirm along with Paul, as indicated by the wording here in vv. 4-5.

Verses 5ff continue the spiritual reinterpretation of the Temple and its ritual (i.e. the priesthood and sacrificial offerings), identifying believers as representing the holy sacred office (priesthood), but one which now brings near to God sacrificial offerings “of the Spirit” (i.e. that are spiritual, pneumatiko/$). The old material offerings of slaughtered animals (qusi/ai), etc, have passed away completely for the people of God in the new covenant (vv. 9-10).

The remaining passages in 1 Peter and Jude will be discussed in the next daily note.

 

April 13: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 2: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

Following the i%na-clause in line 1 (cf. the previous note), in each of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 there is an explanatory kaqw/$-clause. The comparative particle kaqw/$ (kata/ + w($) is a bit difficult to translate literally and concisely, but it means something like “just as”. It is used rather frequently in the Johannine writings—31 times in the Gospel (almost always in the Discourses), and 13 in the Letters (9 in 1 John), making up about a quarter of all New Testament occurrences.

Keeping in mind that the clause is epexegetical—that is, it explains the meaning of the initial statement in line 1—here is how it reads in each stanza:

    • “just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you” (v. 21b)
      kaqw\$ su/ pa/ter e)n e)moi/ ka)gw\ e)n soi/
    • “just as we are one, I in them and you in me” (v. 22c-23a)
      kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n: e)gw\ e)n au)toi=$ kai\ su\ e)n e)moi/

The point being made is that the unity of believers, which Jesus requests in line 1, is to be explained in terms of the unity between Jesus (the Son) and God the Father. For many orthodox or otherwise pious-minded Christians, this is something of an uncomfortable comparison. Indeed, I would argue that the force of the clause is more than comparative—the unity of believer is not just similar to that between Father and Son, but is the same kind of unity. There is a tendency to soften the implications of this, popularized by the theological distinction between the “natural” sonship of Jesus and the more general (or “adopted”) sonship of believers. However, such a distinction, while made out of a genuinely pious intention, is facile and artificial, and more or less unsupported by the New Testament evidence.

For one thing, the distinction is meaningless in terms of legitimate sonship—the ‘adopted’ son has the same legal rights, status and privileges, as the naturally-born. Moreover, while Paul does make use of the idea of ‘adoption’ (lit. placement as a son, ui(oqesi/a), it is foreign to the Johannine writings, where believers are repeatedly described, in biologic-existential terminology, as ones who have “come to be (born) out of [e)k] God” (1:13, cf. also 3:3-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The only clear distinction in these writings is that the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) tends to be reserved for Jesus, while believers are almost always referred to as tekna/ (“offspring, children”). This use of the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) is applied to believers, rather than to Jesus; however, in 1 John 5:18, the textually difficult verse is best understood as referring both to Jesus and to believers, using the same sort of terminology:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God [i.e. believer] does not sin, but (that) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] keeps watch (over) him, and the evil {or, the Evil [One]} does not attach itself to him.”

Thus, we must take seriously that the unity of believers is to be understood in terms of the relationship between Father and Son. Let us consider the kaqw/$-line of the first stanza, where this is established.

Verse 21b

“just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you”

Throughout the Gospel of John, this relationship is described (by Jesus himself, in the Discourses) using the ordinary human imagery of the relationship between parent and child (father/son). This is basic to the Gospel and early Christian tradition; however, the first generation of believers understood this Sonship of Jesus almost entirely in terms of the resurrection—his exaltation to a divine status and position at the right hand of God the Father. The situation is rather different in the Gospel of John, which reflects considerable Christological development; the emphasis is on an ontological (and eternal) relationship that Father and Son have shared from the beginning. In classic theological terms, we would refer to this as an emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus. In the Discourses, this is perhaps expressed most clearly here in the Prayer-Discourse, both in the opening (v. 5) and closing sections (v. 24, right after the passage under discussion).

How is the Father “in” (e)n) the Son, and the Son “in” the Father? Working from the human metaphor, this could be understood using the biological correspondence—the ‘seed’ of the offspring is contained in the parent, while, correspondingly, the genetic nature and makeup of the parent is contained in the child. Or, we could utilize the simple image of an embrace—where interlocking parent and child form a single entity, and each is contained “in” the other. This would be close to the Johannine understanding, with the repeated emphasis on love (a)ga/ph). We are reminded, for example, of the image of the Son resting in the lap (or at the bosom/breast) of the Father (1:18), even as the Son’s beloved disciple rests close to him (13:23, 25). We should also not ignore the aspect of motion that characterizes this relationship, with the Son coming toward (pro/$) the Father (1:1-2, etc), and ultimately returning to Him. Communication takes place along this chain of relationship, with words being sent, and, indeed, the life-giving Spirit being sent as well (the divine Word and Spirit being essentially the same, 6:63). The unifying character of the Spirit is discussed further below.

Verse 22c-23a

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The kaqw/$-clause in the second stanza is more complex, folding believers into this unity between Father and Son (“we are one”). This demonstrates that it is not simply a comparison; rather, the very unity of believers is dependent on the unity between Father and Son. In the first stanza, the Father-Son unity was reciprocal, now it is part of a triadic chain of relationship. This is fundamental to the Johannine Discourses, where Jesus repeatedly indicates that he is giving to his disciples (believers) what the Father has given to him. This will be discussed in more detail when we come to line 5 (vv. 22a, 23d). By reversing the phrases in v. 23a we can illustrate this chain of relationship:

    • You => in me
      • I => in them

In speaking of unity (or oneness), it is worth considering a key passage where the same neuter numeral (e%n) is used—10:30, which happens to be the only other such passage in the Gospel which refers to the Father and Son together:

“I and the Father are one [e%n].”

This climactic declaration lies at the heart of the discourse in 10:22-39. The discourse centers on the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to the Father, with similarities to the long and complex discourses in chapter 5 and 7-8. It may be divided into two portions, the second of which builds upon the first. There are two exposition-sections by Jesus (vv. 25-30, 34-38), each of which concludes with a powerful declaration of the unity of Father and Son; the corresponding declaration in v. 38 is:

“the Father (is) in me and I (am) in the Father”

This is exactly the language Jesus uses in 17:21b (cf. above), and the parallel clause in 22c-23a confirms that the unity (e%n) of believers is based on the unity (e%n) of Father and Son. We will explore this point further in the next daily note, on line 3 (21c, 23b).

Before concluding today, it is worth mentioning again a point made in a prior note, regarding the resurrection of Jesus. As discussed above, the earliest Gospel preaching and teaching tied the divine Sonship of Jesus to the resurrection (and his exaltation to the Father). Paul, in his letters, tended to follow this Christological understanding, though on occasion he evinces an awareness of the idea of Jesus’ pre-existent deity (e.g., Phil 2:6ff) as well. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul makes the striking statement that, with his resurrection, Jesus came to be (e)ge/neto) a “life-making Spirit”. This must be understood in terms of the Spirit of God, in light of how the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” could be used interchangeably (by Paul and others) to refer to the (Holy) Spirit. The same interchangeability is found in the Johannine Last Discourse, where the Spirit is said to come from the Father, from Jesus, or (in essence) from both together (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In 1 Cor 15:45, the idea seems to be that the spirit of Jesus was transformed into the Spirit of God, in accord with the early Christology that located his divine Sonship with the resurrection/exaltation. Paul’s words in 6:17 are suggestive of this dynamic:

“the (one) being joined (together) with the Lord is one Spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]”

This can be understood of Jesus’ union with God the Father, as well as equally (and properly here) of the believer’s union with Christ, and, through him, with the Father. The same neuter numeral e%n (“one”) is used in 1 Cor 6:17, and tends to confirm what the Johannine context of the Prayer-Discourse already makes clear—that the unity of believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This triadic unity of Father, Son, and believers, may be illustrated by a simple diagram, which will be expounded in some measure in the following notes:

January 3: John 1:12-13, 14

John 1:12-13, 14

The prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) is probably the most famous and distinctive exposition of the divine pre-existence of Jesus, and of his identity as the Son of God, anywhere in the New Testament. This familiarity belies the complexity of the passage, both from a literary and theological standpoint. Most commentators have note the poetic, hymnic character of the prologue (most of it), and many consider it to have been a Jewish-Christian hymn which the author adapted. If so, then the substance of the prologue pre-dates the Johannine Gospel itself, which is generally regarded as the latest of the four Gospels (c. 90 A.D.), though containing many earlier traditions.

The prologue differs from the Gospel proper in a number of ways, with the poetic verses (and strophes) distinguished from the several prose statements (by the Gospel writer). The main additions by the author would seem to be the two statements regarding John the Baptist (vv. 6-9, 15), which function as comments, likely in response to adherents of the Baptist who viewed him as the Messiah, etc, instead of Jesus. Nowhere in the Gospel tradition is there such a pronounced contrast between John and Jesus (1:19-34; 3:22-30ff), with the Gospel declaring the superiority of Jesus in no uncertain terms.

Verses 13 and 17-18 are probably also explanatory statements by the Gospel writer that have been added to the earlier hymn; these statements enhance the theological and Christological dimension of the poem. If, indeed, the bulk of the prologue represents a pre-existing hymn, or poem, it would seem to reflect Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions that have been applied to the person of Jesus Christ. In this regard, it is similar in style and tone with two other Christological ‘hymns’ in the New Testament—Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4 (cf. the previous note)—and may have been written at about the same time (c. 60-70). In his now-classic Commentary on the Gospel of John, Raymond E. Brown, following the work of earlier scholars, divides the poetic prologue into four parts or strophes (pp. 3-4), which I have further annotated here:

    • Strophe 1 (vv. 1-2)—Pre-existence: The Son (as the Word) with God in eternity
    • Strophe 2 (vv. 3-5)—Creation by the Word of God, which is also the Light
    • Strophe 3 (vv. 10-12a)—Response of humankind to the Word/Light
    • Strophe 4 (vv. 14, 16)—The presence of the incarnate Word with humankind (believers)

According to this sequence, the third strophe (vv. 10-12a) describes the entry of the Word (lo/go$) into the world (ko/smo$). While this alludes to the incarnation of Christ, it is not limited to that historical phenomenon. Rather, the orientation is wider, reflecting traditions regarding the presence of God’s Wisdom in the world; in particular, verses 10-11 draw upon the theme of Wisdom seeking a place among human beings on earth and finding none (cf. 1 Enoch 42:2). Since Jesus is the eternal Word/Wisdom of God, this traditional language and imagery is entirely appropriate:

“He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, and (yet) the world did not know him. Unto his own (thing)s he came, and his own (people) did not receive him alongside.” (vv. 10-11)

Only a few (the wise) accept Wisdom, even as only the righteous few accept the Word of God. Within the Johannine writings, this is understood in terms of what we would call election—that is, there are those who belong to God, chosen by Him, and it is they who are able to accept the Truth. Those who belong to God the Father, and who accept His truth, will be drawn to Jesus the Son, and will accept him (cf. 3:20-21; 18:37, etc). This theology underlies the statement in v. 12a:

“But as (many) as received him, he gave to them the e)cousi/a to become offspring of God”

The Word gives to the elect (i.e. those who receive him) the ability to become the offspring, or children, of God. Again, this is only realized within the Gospel context of the ministry of Jesus and the presence/work of the Spirit. The noun e)cousi/a, difficult to translate in English, refers (literally) to something which comes out of a person’s being, i.e., something one is able to do. To give e)cousi/a thus means giving someone the ability to do something, often in the sense of authority given by a superior to one who is subordinate. Verse 12b-13, which may represent an explanatory comment by the Gospel writer, expounds the idea of believers as the children (or offspring, te/kna, lit. those produced) of God:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of God, came to be (born).”

This is a uniquely Johannine way of describing believers (“the ones trusting”), using the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”). In the First Letter, the verb occurs 10 times, always (with just one exception) in the special sense of believers being born out of God; especially important is the articular (perfect) participle, used to define the identity of the believer— “the (one) having come to be born out of God” (3:9; 5:1, 4, 18). Only with the aorist participle in 5:1 is it used of Jesus, as the one born out of God (i.e., the Son); that peculiar usage is presumably meant to emphasize Jesus’ Sonship as the basis for our own (as children of God). The main Gospel passage expressing this is Jn 3:3-8, where the verb occurs 8 times. Here, coming to be born “out of God” (e)k tou= qeou=) is defined two-fold as being born “from above” (a&nwqen, v. 3) and “out of the Spirit” (e)k tou= pneu/mato$, vv. 6, 8). Being born “out of the Spirit” is contrasted with an ordinary human birth (“out of water”); there is a similar (three-fold) contrast with being born “out of God” in 1:13:

    • “not out of blood [pl. bloods]” —in the Semitic idiom, the plural usually refers to “acts of blood(shed)”, but here it may indicate the more general physiological idea of “actions involving (the) blood” (i.e., menstruation, etc)
    • “not out of the will of the flesh” —the will of the flesh signifies primarily the sexual drive
    • “not out of the will of man” —i.e., the intention and activity of the parent(s)

These three, taken together, refer to the ordinary (physical/biological) birth of human beings; this is very different from the spiritual birth of believers as sons/children of God. Interestingly, the only time in the Gospel when the verb genna/w is used of Jesus (in 18:37) it generally refers to his birth as human being; this is also the sense of what follows in 1:14 (using the related verb gi/nomai):

“And the Word came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh and put down (his) tent among us, and we looked (closely) at his splendor—(the) splendor as (the) only (one) coming to be [monogenh/$] (from) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth.”

This is the climactic moment of the Prologue (the poem), describing the incarnation of the eternal Word, i.e. his birth as a human being. This birth is implied by the specific wording, especially the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), from which also the compound adjective monogenh/$ is essentially derived. The adjective is notoriously difficult to translate in English; literally, it means “only (one) coming to be”, and, while it can refer to an only child, it more properly denotes something like “one of a kind”. Here, it refers to the incarnate Word (Jesus) as the unique Son (ui(o/$) of God. Indeed, in the Johannine writings, ui(o/$ is never used of believers; it is reserved for the one Son (Jesus), and, instead, the plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used when referring to believers as the sons/children of God.

The Johannine Prologue, especially with the concluding verses 14-18, represents the pinnacle of the expression of early Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God, blending the doctrines of divine pre-existence and incarnation together in the most powerful way, within the matrix of Jewish Wisdom tradition (cp. 1:14 with Sirach 24:8ff). It is also most remarkable how the Gospel writer, in developing and expounding his traditional material, combines the idea of believers as the sons/children of God with that of Jesus as the unique Son. This is very much a Johannine emphasis (in both the Gospel and Letters), but one also shared by Paul (in his Letters), indicating that it was a part of a natural development in early Christian thought. It is this that we will explore further in the next note—how early Christians understood believers in Christ to be born as “sons of God”.

* * * * * * *

The reference to the birth of believers in 1:12-13 was apparently confusing, and/or problematic, for many readers and copyists. Some early witnesses (primarily Latin) read the singular in v. 13 instead of the plural, beginning with the relative pronoun (o%$) and including the form of the verb genna/w; thus vv. 12b-13 would be translated as follows:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one) who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of God, came to be (born).”

The entire relative clause would then refer back to the subject of “his name”, rather than to “the ones trusting”, that is, to the birth of Jesus, rather than the spiritual birth of believers. The distinction was not lost on Tertullian, who accepted the singular as original, and accused Gnostics of altering the text to eliminate the idea of Jesus’ miraculous birth, replacing it with their own ‘spiritual’ birth (as gnostics), cf. On the Flesh of Christ 19. Tertullian, however, is almost certainly mistaken on this textual point, the reading with the singular being instead an example of an “orthodox corruption” (cf. B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture [Oxford: 1993], pp. 26-27). To be sure, it is understandable how the variant reading might come to be reasonably well-establish, offering as it does support for the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, and perhaps, at the same time, reflecting a certain unease among the orthodox regarding the identification of believers as the sons/children of God. I have discussed this in more detail in earlier notes.

January 2: Hebrews 1:1-5

Jesus as the Son of God: The Pre-existent and Eternal Son

In these notes, we have been examining the development of the early Christian awareness of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. In the earliest Gospel preaching, it was the resurrection of Jesus (and his exaltation to heaven) that marked his “birth” as God’s Son. This Christological awareness then came to extend back into Jesus’ earthly life and ministry—all the way to his baptism (marking the beginning of his ministry), and even to his very birth as a human being. Eventually, many believers came to realize that Jesus must have had an existence with God the Father even prior to his birth. Essentially this is the doctrine of the divine pre-existence of Jesus, tied to specific beliefs regarding his deity (or divine nature). There are different ways, or degrees, by which Jesus’ pre-existence may be understood, the nuances of which, I believe, tend to reflect the development of early Christology in the second half of the first century A.D. (c. 60-100).

Belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus is hardly to be found in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (in particular, it is absent from the early Gospel preaching preserved in the book of Acts). Paul gives evidence of a such a belief, to some extent, in his letters (late-50s and early 60s). It is expressed primarily in terms of Jesus’ role in creation, drawing upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions (Prov 8:27; Sirach 24:1ff; Wisdom 7:12, 21; 8:4; 1 Enoch 42; cf. Attridge, p. 40), in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Romans 11:36 (cp. John 1:3, 10). Several of Paul’s references to Jesus as the Son (of God) seem to presume a heavenly existence prior to his human birth and life (Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3, and note the opening words of Rom 1:3). This is of significance for the study being undertaken in these Christmas-season notes, exploring how early believers understood Jesus’ “birth” as the Son of God.

Of special interest is the “Christ-hymn” in Philippians 2:6-11, which joins together the idea of divine/heavenly pre-existence with the older tradition of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation to God’s right hand. The same may be said of the hymnic section in Colossians 1:15-18, which, if genuinely Pauline, was probably written at about the same time. In neither passage is the Sonship of Jesus related to the idea of his pre-existence; however, elsewhere in the New Testament—in the letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of John—those Christological elements are combined.

The dating of Hebrews is problematic, though it was likely written sometime between 70 and 100 A.D. Many commentators would view it as contemporary with the Gospel of John (c. 90?), though I tend to think that it may have been written somewhat earlier. In terms of its place within the development of early Christology, Hebrews seems to stand midway between Paul and the Gospel of John. Its Christology is clearly expressed in the opening (exordium) of the letter, 1:1-4.

Hebrews 1:1-4

The first four verses of Hebrews represent a single long sentence, regarded by many commentators as perhaps the finest such opening in the New Testament (from a literary and rhetorical standpoint). Here are the verses in translation:

“(With) God (hav)ing spoken (in) former (time)s to the Fathers, (in) many parts and many ways, in the Foretellers, upon these last days He spoke to us in a Son, whom He set (as the one) receiving the lot of all (thing)s, (and) through whom indeed He made (all) the Ages, (and) who, being a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God), and an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him, and (himself) bearing all (thing)s by the utterance of his power, (hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness, in (the) high (place)s, (hav)ing come to be so much mightier than the Messengers, (even) as he has received as (his) lot a name (that) bears through (beyond what is) alongside of them.”

Not only is this masterful and majestic sentence a summary of the key themes that will be developed in the letter, it also effectively summarizes the Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ at the time the letter was written. The initial contrast is between the Old and New Covenants—between God speaking to His people (Israel) through the Prophets, and to His people (believers) through His Son (vv. 1-2a). Out of this initial statement, a complex Christological declaration is developed (vv. 2b-4). It generally follows a paradigm comparable to that in Phil 2:6-11, moving from the Son’s divine pre-existence to his exaltation (as Son) following his death and resurrection; this paradigm may be summarized:

    • Divine pre-existence as the Son
      • Incarnation (human life)
        • Sacrificial Death
      • Resurrection (restoration to life)
    • Exaltation as the Son to God’s right hand

The pre-existence (pre-incarnation) side is presented in vv. 2b-3a with a series of clauses that modify the word “Son” (ui(o/$). Each of these relates to that noun with a relative pronoun (o%$):

    • “…in a Son” (e)n ui(w=|)
      • whom He set as heir of all things”
        o^n e&qhken klhrono/mon pa/ntwn
      • through whom He even made (all) the Ages”
        di’ ou! kai\ e)poi/hsen tou\$ ai)w=na$
      • who, being…carrying…”
        o^$ w*n…fe/rwn…

The first two clauses deal with the Son’s authority over creation, both in terms of its end (“heir of all things”) and its beginning (“made the Ages”). The latter draws upon the ancient Wisdom traditions (cf. above), whereby God made the universe using Divine Wisdom (personified) as the intermediary. The Son, as the living Word (Lo/go$) and Wisdom of God, performs this same creative role. This idea is expressed famously in the Johannine prologue (1:3, 10), but Paul alludes to the same basic belief at several points in his letters (1 Cor 8:6; Rom 11:36; also Col 1:16f). The citation of Psalm 102:25-27 in vv. 10-12 repeats this (pre-existent) aspect of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (cf. below).

The third relative clause is compound, made up of two participial phrases, each expressing the unique deity of Jesus (as the Son):

    • (the Son) “who” (o%$)
      • being…” (w&n)
        • “…a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God)”
          a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$
        • “…an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him”
          xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=
      • “and bearing all (thing)s by the word of his power” (fe/rwn te ta\ pa/nta tw=| r(h/mati th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=)

The first participle is the verb of being (ei)mi, “being” [w&n]), indicating what the Son truly is. Again this breaks down into a further pair of genitival phrases:

    • a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$—The noun a)pau/gasma (occurring only here in the New Testament) literally refers to a beam or ray (of light) coming out from a source. Here is another indication that the author is drawing upon Wisdom traditions, since in Wis 7:26 the Divine Wisdom (Sofi/a) is said to be an a)pau/gasma “of the splendor of the All-mighty” (cf. also Philo, On the Creation §146). As is typically the case, the word do/ca (“esteem”), when used of God, refers to that which makes Him worthy of our esteem and honor, expressed in a visual manner as an overriding greatness or splendor. It can also refer to the divine/heavenly state, in which God Himself dwells. To say that the Son is an a)pau/gasma means that he (himself) is a manifestation of the very glory of God, and that the ray of light he possesses, or embodies, comes from the same Divine source.
    • xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=—The noun xarakth/r, here parallel with a)pau/gasma, literally means “engraving” or “imprint”, something cut or stamped into a surface. Sometimes the related motif of a seal (sfra/gi$) is employed, to express the idea of a Divine image (ei)kw/n) being imprinted. Again, this reflects Wisdom traditions, and Philo uses this imagery a number of times (On the Creation §25; The Worse Attacks the Better §§83, 86; On Flight and Finding §12; The Work of Planting §18), i.e. for the imprinting of the Divine image upon the mind. Like a)pau/gasma, the noun xarakth/r occurs only here in the New Testament; however, Paul uses the common noun ei)kw/n (“image”), in a similar Christological sense, in 2 Cor 4:4 and Col 1:15, the latter being closer to the thought and wording of Hebrews. The noun u(po/stasi$ (occurring 5 times in the New Testament, including 3 in Hebrews [3:14; 11:1]) literally means that which “stands under”, and is a technical philosophical and scientific term for the “substance” or “essence” of something, or that which underlies a particular phenomenon. Thus, the Son is an imprint of God’s essential nature and identity, which is very much built into the idea of the Son as reflection of the Father. Cf. Attridge, pp. 42-5.

The second participle is the verb fe/rw (“bear, carry”), and it expresses how the Son’s divine character is manifest in the world—he carries all things, meaning that he supports and sustains all of Creation. This is done “by the utterance [r(h=ma] of his power”, which blends the Wisdom/Creation traditions (cf. above) with the fundamental religious/cosmological idea of God creating the universe by His speaking a word. Both of these ideas are established more clearly in the Johannine Prologue (1:1-3ff), but they are certainly present here as well, and relate to the divine pre-existence of Jesus as the Son. The same divine power that brought the world into existence now providentially sustains it.

The remainder of vv. 3-4 more properly follows the older conception of Jesus as the Son–that is, in terms of his death, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Verse 3b summarizes this concisely:

“(hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness in high (place)s”

Interestingly, the actual death and resurrection of Jesus, so central to the early Gospel preaching, is not even stated, but simply taken for granted. The author moves from the atoning/saving aspect of Jesus’ work straight to his exaltation. In some ways, this reflects the unique theological emphasis in the letter, focusing on the work of Jesus as a fulfillment of the priestly office. The closing lines in verse 4 build upon the idea of the Son’s superiority (over the Angels), again expressed in terms of his exaltation after his death. The language and thought, in this respect, is quite similar to that of the Christ-hymn in Philippians (2:9-11).

It is at this point that the author introduces the citation of Psalm 2:7 (along with 2 Sam 7:14):

“For to who among the Messengers did He ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)’, and again: ‘I will be unto a Father for him, and he will be unto a Son for me’?” (v. 5)

In inclusion of 2 Sam 7:14 confirms the Messianic context of the birth/sonship motif in Psalm 2:7. As we have seen, this originally applied to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, and, in particular, his death and resurrection. In this he was to be recognized as God’s Son, but still in the figurative sense that the Messianic interpretation would have entailed. Now, however, a deeper Christological meaning has been given to it, since Jesus is now seen as God’s Son from before the beginning of Creation. This also gives to all the birth and sonship images a new depth, as the author continues in verse 6:

“And, again, when He brought His first-formed (child) into the inhabited (world), He says: ‘And all the Messengers of God must kiss toward [i.e. worship] him’.”

The citation presumably comes from Deut 32:43 LXX, but it is the wording used to frame the citation that is especially significant. It refers to the Son’s incarnation, or coming into the world of human beings (cp. John 1:9ff, 14). But here the context makes quite clear two important points about Jesus as God’s Son: (1) he is God’s “firstborn” child prior to the incarnation, and (2) the citation of Psalm 2:7 (and 2 Sam 7:14) also applies to his sonship prior to the incarnation. This represents a genuine development in early Christian belief regarding the “birth” and sonship of Jesus, one quite similar with what we find in the Gospel of John. This will be examined in the next daily note (on John 1:12-13 and 14); here, it remains to consider again how the author of Hebrews frames this dual aspect of Jesus’ sonship—the ‘older’ aspect of his resurrection/exaltation, and the ‘newer’ aspect of his pre-existent deity. Chapter 1 closes with a pair of Scripture quotations (from the Psalms) applied to Jesus as the Son. It is part of the running comparison between the Son and the other heavenly beings (Angels):

“And toward the Messengers He says (v. 7)… But toward the Son (He says, v. 8)…”

The first passage, from Psalm 45:6-7, alludes to the exaltation of Jesus, of his being raised (as Son) to the throne of God; the second passage (Psalm 102:25-27), by contrast, implies the Son’s pre-existence, with its Creation-setting: “You, Lord, down at (the) beginning, set (the foundation for) the earth, and the heavens (are) the works of your hands”. In the original Psalm, of course, the “Lord” (ku/rio$) is YHWH, but here it is meant to apply more properly to Jesus, based on the common dual-use of ku/rio$ among early Christians. The final citation of Psalm 110:1 (v. 13), a Messianic passage at least as important as Psalm 2:7 (compare Acts 2:34-35 with 13:32-33), demonstrates again how the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Son of God has been transformed in the light of the growing Christological awareness. In Acts 2, this Scripture is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation, while here in Hebrews it has an altogether new and deeper meaning—one which combines the exaltation motif with divine pre-existence.

References above marked “Attridge” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1989).

December 29: Galatians 4:4

Jesus as the Son of God: His Human Birth

In the previous notes, we saw how the earliest Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God was related directly to his resurrection (and exaltation to heaven), as the moment when he was “born” as God’s Son (cf. Acts 13:33, citing Psalm 2:7; cp. Heb 5:5). With the development of the early Gospel tradition, Christians were able to give expression to the growing awareness that Jesus must have been God’s Son even before the resurrection—that is, all during the period of his earthly ministry, beginning with his baptism (Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22 par, again drawing upon Psalm 2:7). It followed naturally that this belief would be extended to the entire period of Jesus’ earthly life, beginning with his physical/biological birth as a human being. The tradition of the supernatural (virginal) conception, recorded clearly enough in the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives (Matt 1-2, Luke 1-2), effectively testifies to Jesus’ character as the Son of God. The Infancy narratives, while drawing on earlier historical traditions, etc, were almost certainly the last portion of the Gospel narrative to be developed. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the birth of Jesus is scarcely mentioned at all anywhere else in the New Testament. There are two allusions in Paul’s letters, both of which are earlier in time than the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (and their Infancy narratives).

Galatians 4:4

The clearest Pauline reference is in Galatians 4:4:

“…but when the fullness of time came, God set (forth) out from (Himself) [i.e. sent out] His Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under (the) Law”

The key phrase in italics is geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$, “coming to be out of a woman”; it is similar to the phrase in Rom 1:3 (cf. the prior note on v. 4):

“…the (one) coming to be out of (the) seed of David according to (the) flesh”

The participial phrase “coming to be out of the seed of David” is generally equivalent with “coming to be out of a woman”. In some manuscripts (and ancient versions) of both passages, it is the participle gennw/menon (from genna/w) instead of geno/menon (from gi/nomai). The verbs gi/nomai and genna/w are related, and both essentially mean “come to be, become”; each can also mean specifically “come to be born“, but this is more commonly denoted by genna/w rather than gi/nomai. The participle gennw/menon thus may be intended to make more clear that it is the birth of Jesus (a real human birth) that is being referenced.

Both in Rom 1:3 and here in Gal 4:4, Paul’s wording suggests that Jesus was God’s Son prior to his birth. Even if Rom 1:3-4 represents an older Christological formula adopted by Paul (as many commentators think), the opening words of v. 3, leading into the formula, likely are Paul’s own: “about His Son…”. In Galatians 4:4, the theological orientation is more clearly expressed: “God sent out His Son…”; a more literal rendering of the verb e)cape/steilen would be “set (forth) out from”, i.e. out from Himself, or out from where He is. At the very least, this suggests a heavenly origin for Jesus as God’s Son, much as we see in the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. The same sort of wording occurs in Romans 8:3:

“For the (thing that it was) without power for the Law (to do), in which it was without strength through the flesh, God (did by) sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and, about [i.e. regarding] sin, He brought down judgment on sin in the flesh.”

A different verb is used—the more common pe/mpw (“send”)—but the idea is essentially the same: God sent His Son to be born as a human being. If we combine the key phrasing of Rom 1:3, Gal 4:4, and Rom 8:3 together, it results in a snapshot of Pauline theology (and Christology):

    • “coming to be out of the seed of David” (Rom 1:3)—Jesus as the Messiah
    • “coming to be out of a woman” (Gal 4:4)—the human birth of Jesus
    • “coming to be under the Law” (Gal 4:4)—joining with humankind under bondage to the Law
    • “…in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3)—sharing in humankind’s bondage under the power of sin

The last point is potentially problematic for orthodox Christology; Paul was no doubt aware of this (in his own way), and he states he matter carefully (compare with 2 Cor 5:21). His emphasis is not on Jesus’ relation to sin as a human being, but on the fact that, as a result of his life and work on earth (as a human being), the ruling power of sin in the flesh is condemned. The verb katakri/nw literally means “bring down judgment” or “judge against”, a legal term indicating the passing of a sentence against crime, etc, including the idea of punishment and of rendering a person unable to pursue evil. The influence of sin in the “flesh” is not entirely removed for human beings (believers), but its ruling power is ended.

Galatians 4:4ff and Romans 8:3ff also share the important theme that Jesus’ Sonship, and his saving work as a human being, is the basis for the sonship of believers—our own identity as sons/children of God. In particular, Rom 8:12-17 is very close in thought to Gal 4:4-7; this will be touched on further in an upcoming note in this Christmas series.

The many similarities in subject matter and thought, between Galatians and Romans, suggests that they were written at roughly the same time, perhaps no more than a few years apart—according to the best estimates, during a period c. 54-58 A.D. Indeed, these allusions to Jesus’ birth would seem to derive from an earlier time than that of the Infancy narratives (c. 70-80?). To judge from the surviving material, there was little interest in the details of Jesus’ birth in the earliest period (c. 30-60 A.D.); indeed, his human birth and childhood does not appear to have been part of the early Gospel preaching at all (compared with his baptism, ministry, death and resurrection). This is also confirmed by the way the Gospel narratives themselves developed, with no Infancy narrative in either the core Synoptic Tradition (as represented by Mark) or the Johannine.

Eventually, however, historical and literary traditions regarding Jesus’ birth were included as part of the Gospel. By at least 80 A.D. (if not earlier) the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives had been composed. The major differences between these narratives, along with the fact that they share certain core (historical) traditions, suggests that a period of development in the tradition was involved, spanning a number of years (c. 50-70 A.D.?). It is also worth noting that nearly all of the themes from the earlier Gospel tradition are present, in some form, in the Infancy narratives, including the fundamental belief in Jesus as the Son of God. It is important to consider how this is expressed in the Matthean and Lukan narratives; this we will do in the next daily note.

December 27: Romans 1:4

In the previous note, we saw how, in the earliest Christian preaching, the deity of Jesus—and, in particular, his identity as the Son of God—was understood primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. The birth/sonship motif was introduced by way of Psalm 2:7, applied to Jesus (as the Messiah). This featured in the kerygma of Paul’s Antioch speech in Acts 13 (vv. 32-33), but it is also representative of the wider preaching done by the first missionaries, reflecting a seminal Christology. Long before the Infancy narratives had been written—and even years before any Gospel was written at all—there was a core story of Jesus’ birth, of how he can to be “born” as the Son of God.

If the book of Acts preserves Gospel preaching (in substance, at least) from the early years c. 30-45 A.D., then the Pauline letters represent the next stage of development, documents recording early Christian theology in written form, during the years c. 45-60. And, in those letters, the title “Son of God”, and references to Jesus as God’s Son, occur more frequently than they do in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. The few passages which mention God sending his Son (Rom 8:3, 32; Gal 4:4ff) may allude to a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity (cp. with Phil 2:6-11)—at any rate, they certainly point in that direction. However, most of Paul’s references do not evince a Christology that goes much beyond what we see in the book of Acts. Two of the earliest such references to Jesus as God’s Son, like those by Paul in the Acts speeches, etc, are still very much defined in relation to the resurrection.

1 and 2 Thessalonians are likely are the earliest of Paul’s surviving letters, dating perhaps from 49-50 A.D. They contain just one reference to Jesus as God’s Son—the eschatological notice in 1 Thess 1:10:

“…how you turned back toward God, away from the images, to be a slave for the living and true God, and to remain up (waiting for) His Son (from) out of the heavens, whom He raised out of the dead—Yeshua, the (one hav)ing rescued us out of the coming anger (of God)”.

Here, again, Jesus’ status as God’s Son appears to be tied to his resurrection. This is more or less assumed by Paul in the subsequent letters, but never again stated so clearly in terms of the traditional belief. Within just a few years, apparently, Paul’s Christological understanding had deepened; certainly, by the time he wrote 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, in the mid-late 50s, he refers to Jesus as God’s Son somewhat differently, with new points of emphasis. Romans, in many ways, represents the pinnacle of his theology; however, it begins with a doctrinal formulation (1:3-4) that many commentators regard as much earlier, a creedal statement that Paul inherited and adapted. This critical hypothesis is probably correct, given the atypical language, phrasing and theological emphases that occur in these two verses. If it does indeed represent an older, established creedal formula, then it may have been in existence any number of years prior to being incorporated by Paul in the opening of Romans. It may well reflect the Christological understanding of believers c. 45-50 A.D.

Romans 1:4

Here is the statement in Rom 1:3-4, given in literal translation:

“…about His Son, the (one hav)ing come to be out of the seed of David according to the flesh, the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God, in power, according to the spirit of holiness, out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead—Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord”

Two participial phrases are set in parallel:

    • “coming to be out of the seed of David
      • according to the flesh”
    • “being marked out (as) Son of God…
      • according to the spirit of holiness”

The modifying prepositional phrases (with kata/, “according to”) are also parallel. The first clearly refers to Jesus’ human birth, while the second, properly, to his “birth” as the Son of God. Both aspects of Jesus’ person and identity are fundamentally Messianic. The first phrase indicates that he was the Davidic (royal) Messiah from the time of his birth, and apparently, assumes the tradition of a Davidic geneaology (cp. Matt 1:1-17). The second phrase, most likely builds on the early Christological statements in Acts 13:32-33, etc (cf. the previous note), which applies Psalm 2:7 to Jesus, in the context of the resurrection, and so defines his identity as the “Son of God”. This basic qualification of the title would seem to be confirmed by the wording in verse 4, especially the modifying expression “in power” and the specific phrase “out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead”.

The expression “in power” (e)n duna/mei) refers to God’s power (duna/mi$) that raised Jesus from the dead, as seems clear from Paul’s wording in 1 Cor 6:14:

“And God raised the Lord [i.e. Jesus] and will (also) raise us through His power [dia\ th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=]”

The power that raised Jesus also established him as God’s Son, in a position at God the Father’s right hand in heaven. The modifying phrase “according to the spirit of holiness” is a bit more ambiguous. Despite the similarity in wording, and the familiar Pauline contrast between flesh (sa/rc) and Spirit (pneu=ma), the expression “spirit of holiness” probably should not be taken as equivalent to “the Holy Spirit”; it is better understood here in the sense of the transformation of Jesus’ person and human body (“flesh”) which occurred in the resurrection. In 1 Cor 15:45, Paul states that Jesus (the “last Adam”) came to be (transformed) “into a life-giving spirit”. Elsewhere, Paul essentially identifies the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of Jesus that is at work in and among believers, so there is clearly some conceptual overlap and blending of these ideas. The exalted person of Jesus comes to be closely identified with the Holy Spirit, especially when understood in relation to believers.

We must keep in mind that the parallel with Jesus’ physical/biological human birth in verse 3 confirms that v. 4 refers to Jesus’ “birth” as the Son of God. This is understood, in line with the earliest Christian belief, in terms of the resurrection, however problematic this might be for subsequent Christology. That some were indeed troubled by the wording here is suggested by the common Latin rendering that developed (praedestinatus), which would presuppose the reading proorisqe/nto$ (“marking out before[hand]”) instead of o(risqe/nto$ (“marking out”). The verb o(ri/zw literally means “mark out”, as of a boundary, setting the limits to something, etc. It can be used figuratively (of people) in the sense of appointing or designating someone, in a position or role, etc. The use of the verb here of Jesus (cp. Acts 17:31; 10:42) suggests that he was appointed to the position/status of God’s Son only at the resurrection; while the prefixed proori/zw is more amenable to a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity.

Paul’s initial words in verse 3 allow for the possibility of the pre-existent Sonship of Jesus—i.e. that he was God’s Son even prior to his birth. This would seem to be confirmed by the language used in 8:3, 29, 32 (cp. Gal 4:4ff). In all likelihood, Paul would have affirmed (in Romans and Galatians) the Christological understanding evinced in the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11, expressed in terms of God sending His Son to humankind. While this is not so forceful a view of pre-existent Sonship as we find in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), it seems clear enough. The apparent contrast with the Christology of Rom 1:3-4 can be explained by the critical theory, that those verses preserve an older/earlier mode of expression, a creedal formula which Paul has adopted.

Before proceeding to consider Jesus’ identity as the Son of God in Rom 8:3ff and Gal 4:4-7, and how this relates to the birth/sonship motif, it is necessary to turn first to the early Gospel tradition, and how this motif was applied to Jesus’ Baptism and the period of his earthly ministry. This we will do in the next note.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:24-26

John 17:24-26

With verses 24-26 we come to the end of our study of the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. These verses conclude the exposition section that makes up the body of the Prayer (in relation to the Discourse-format), as well as the Prayer itself. It contains most of the key words and ideas found throughout the chapter, serving as a summary of the theology expressed therein. It also forms an inclusio with the first portion of the Prayer, with the dual address to God the Father; note the parallel:

    • “Father” / “Holy Father” (vv. 1, 11)
    • “Father” / “Just/Righteous Father” (vv. 24-25)

In particular, the address in verse 11b (“Holy Father… [pa/ter a%gie]”) marks the beginning of the exposition, which is bracketed here in vv. 24ff. There is a formal parallel between v. 11b and verse 24 (note the italicized portion):

“Holy Father, may you keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, that they would be one just as we (are).” (v. 11b)

Father, (that) which you have given to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me…” (v. 24a)

A principal theme in the Prayer is the idea that God the Father has given (vb. di/dwmi, in the perfect). This verbal expression has two points of reference, and there is a play between them:

    • The Father has given his (own Divine) name, glory, etc, to the Son
    • The Father has given the disciples (i.e. believers, the Elect) to the Son

Verse 24 again contains both aspects:

“Father, (that) which you have given [de/dwka$] to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me, (so) that they would look (upon) my honor which you have given [de/dwka$] to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down of the world.”

The parallel is precise, differing only in the gender of the relative pronoun:

    • “which [neut.] you have given to me” (o^ de/dwka/$ moi)
    • “which [fem.] you have given to me” (h^n de/dwka/$ moi)

The use of the neuter pronoun seems to have caused some difficulty for early copyists, as it was widely changed to the masculine plural ou%$, so as to agree with the subject “they” (i.e. disciples/believers). The neuter actually refers back to the beginning of the Prayer, in verse 2:

“…just as you gave him [i.e. the Son] authority over all flesh, (so) that, (for) all which you have given to him, he would give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”

Compare the italicized phrase with that in v. 24:

    • “all which you have given to him” (pa=n o^ de/dwka/$ au)tw=|)
    • “which you have given to me” (o^ de/dwka/$ au)tw=|)

Clearly, the neuter pronoun refers to neuter substantive pa=n (“all”)—that is, the disciples (believers) considered as a collective whole, or unity; given the emphasis in vv. 20-23 (cf. the previous study), this is unquestionably the focus here as well. The following phrases in vv. 2 and 24 also match, and are more or less synonymous:

    • “(that) he [i.e. the Son] would give to them (the) Life of the Age”
    • “that where I am, they also would be with me”

In other words, to be with Jesus (the Son) is the same as possessing eternal life. More to the point, this is expressed in verse 24 by a subjunctive form (w@sin) of the verb of being (ei)mi); this is obscured somewhat in English translation, but is clear and vivid if we examine the conditional clause in the Greek:

i%na o%pou ei)mi e)gw\ ka)kei=noi w@sin met’ e)mou=
“that where I am, they also would be with me”

Note the structure, presented as concentric pairs:

    • o%pou (“where [I am]”)
      • ei)mi (“I am”)
        • e)gw/ (“I”)
        • ka)kei=noi (“they also”)
      • w@sin (“they would be”)
    • met’ e)mou= (“with me”)

The indicative statement by Jesus (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”) has special significance in the Gospel of John, being used (by Jesus) repeatedly to express his identity (as the Son) and relationship to God (the Father). Here, in the closing portions of the Prayer, Jesus’ desire is that all believers would share in the same divine identity/relationship which he has with the Father; this is the very point made throughout vv. 20-23 (and again in vv. 25-26, cf. below), and gives equal significance to the subjunctive w@sin (“they would be”, used also in vv. 19, 21-23): that believers “would be” what Jesus “is”. In this regard, a point should be made on the coordinating particle o%pou, which itself functions as a relative pronoun; though difficult to render exactly in English, it is something like “a certain (place) in which”, and may be translated fairly as “where” or “wherever”. It is an ordinary enough word, but it comes to have a special theological (and Christological) meaning in the Gospel of John, taking on this significance in the second half of the book. This “where” or “place in which” refers consistently to Jesus’ return back to the Father, and, as such, effectively confirms his identity as the (pre-existent) Son of God. The first occurrence of this usage is in the great Sukkoth discourse of chapters 7-8, where it appears in two related declarations by Jesus (each of which is repeated):

    • where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\], you are not able to come (there)” (7:34, 36)
    • where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you are not able to come (there)” (8:21-22)

These statements are given to the public at large (and to Jesus’ opponents), but in the Last Discourse, he essentially re-states them for his disciples:

    • where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you are not able to come (there)” (13:33, 36)

Jesus’ departure (vb. u(pa/gw, “lead/go under”, i.e. go away, withdraw, go back) encompasses both his death and final return to the Father. In 13:33, 36, the former is in view, while it is the latter in 14:3-4:

    • “…that where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\], you also may be.
      And where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you see [i.e. know] the way (there).”

Before the Last Discourse, the disciples (represented by Peter, 13:36ff) are unable to come to the place where Jesus is (with the Father), but the promise is that they will be able to, and much of the Last Discourse is centered on this revelatory point. The declaration in 14:4, that the disciples “see/know the way (there)”, leads to the revelation that Jesus himself is the way (o(do/$) to the Father (v. 6). In this light, let us compare three key statements where the particle o%pou is used:

    • 12:26: “If any (one) would serve me, he must follow me, and (then) where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] my servant also will be.”
    • 14:3: “If I travel (away) and make ready a place for you, I will…take you along toward me (myself), (so) that where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] you also may be.”
    • 17:24: “Father…I wish [i.e. it is my will] that, where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] they also would be with me”

The statements are similar, both in form and meaning, but they reflect a development of thought within the (narrative) context of the Gospel:

    • 12:26—Believers (the Elect) coming to be disciples of Jesus
    • 14:3—The Departure of Jesus (the Son), which allows his disciples (believers) to come along (with him) to the Father
    • 17:24—The essential identity (and unity) of Believers (all Believers), that they/we will ultimately be with Jesus, together with the Father

We move from (1) being/becoming disciples, to (2) the eschatological promise of our presence (with Jesus) in heaven, and finally (3) of our fundamental union with Christ. The purpose of our being with Jesus is expressed in the second half of verse 24:

“…that they would look (upon) [qewrw=sin] my honor [do/ca] which you have given to me”

The verb qewre/w, which can have the sense of “look with wonder (at), behold” (sometimes in a religious setting), is relatively frequent in the Gospel of John, occurring 24 times, and often in the context of believers trusting in Jesus and coming to knowledge of the truth (6:40, 62; 12:45), which involves a recognition of who Jesus truly is. It is especially important in the Last Discourse (14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-17, 19), where it expresses two themes of contrast:

    • The disciples soon will not see Jesus any more (on earth), but will soon see him again; this theme has two primary aspects:
      (1) they will see him again after his death (resurrection appearances)
      (2) they will see him again after his departure to the Father (presence of the Spirit/Paraclete)
    • The disciples can see/recognize Jesus, but the world cannot

Both of these themes continue on, in various ways, within the chapter 17 Prayer-Discourse, especially the contrast between believers and the world. The ability to “see” or “look upon” Jesus, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, means to recognize (and trust in) his identity as Son of God, as the one sent by the Father. This identity includes the idea of divine pre-existence, indicated earlier in verse 5, and again here. Evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is actually quite rare in the New Testament, in spite of its importance for orthodox Christology. The belief, however, is clear and unmistakable in the Gospel of John, being affirmed (in majestic terms) in the Prologue (1:1ff), and again at various points throughout the Gospel. Jesus’ departure means a return to the Father, back the place where he was in the beginning, before the world was created. Note this point made, at both the start and end of the Prayer, in terms of (1) the do/ca (“honor, splendor”) Jesus shares with the Father, and (2) in relation to the world (ko/smo$):

    • “the honor/splendor which I held alongside of you before the (com)ing to be of the world” (v. 5)
    • “my honor/splendor which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down [katabolh=$, i.e. founding] of the world” (v. 24)

The (dualistic) contrast between Jesus and the world is fundamentally based on his pre-existence, his eternal identity as God’s Son—he comes from above, sent by the Father to the world below. It is for this reason that the world is unable to see (recognize) or hear (accept) him; only the Elect/Chosen ones (believers) are able to see and hear. They recognize his identity as Son (and thus see the Father), but remain unable to perceive this divine honor/splendor in its fullness; it will only become manifest when they/we are finally with Jesus (in heaven) with God the Father.

Verses 25-26, even more than v. 24, bring together all of themes and motifs of the Prayer—and, indeed, the Discourses of Jesus as a whole—and deserve an extended discussion in their own right. I will be posting this, as a supplement, later this week.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:1-5 (continued)

John 17:1-5, continued

Last week, I began a discussion on the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17, looking at verse 1 in some detail. Today I wish to continue on with an examination of the remainder of verses 1-5.

Of particular importance is the use of the verb doca/zw, both in verse 1 and again in vv. 4-5 (and v. 10); the related noun do/ca also occurs several times in the chapter (at the beginning and end, vv. 5, 22, 24). Both words are an important part of the vocabulary of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, especially the verb which is used 23 times (out of 61 total in the New Testament)—7:39; 8:54 (2); 11:4; 12:16, 23, 28 (3); 13:31 (2), 32 (3); 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1 (2), 4, 5, 10; 21:19. There are also 19 occurrences of the noun do/ca1:14 (2); 2:11; 5:41, 44 (2); 7:18 (2); 8:50, 54; 9:24; 11:4, 40; 12:41, 43 (2); 17:5, 22, 24. Unfortunately, it is not easy to give a (consistent) literal translation in English for either verb or noun, as they can differ in meaning and nuance depending on the context, and, in particular, whether the subject/object involves human beings or God (or Christ). While do/ca is typically translated “glory”, in many instances a much better rendering is “esteem”, which more closely captures the fundamental meaning of the word. When used in a religious context, the predominant idea tends to be that human beings are to give to God the esteem and honor which He is due. However, when applied as a divine attribute or characteristic it is better understood in terms of the “splendor” which God possesses, and which surrounds him. In order to capture both aspects, in the special way that the words are used in the Gospel of John, I prefer to translate the verb doca/zw as “give honor (to)”.

There are several key Johannine passages (in the Discourses of Jesus) where the verb is used, sometimes together with the noun, and these need to be considered in order to gain a proper understanding of their usage in chapter 17.

1. Jn 8:50ff. The words are part of the conceptual vocabulary that frames the great Discourse of chapters 7-8 set during the Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) festival in Jerusalem. Thematically, there is a clear symmetric (and chiastic) structure to the discourse-sequence, with the concluding discourse (8:31-59) serving as a parallel to the opening episode (7:14-24). In particular, we may note how the exchange in 8:48-51ff refers back to Jesus’ declaration in 7:18:

“The (one) speaking from himself seeks his own honor/esteem [do/ca]; but the (one) seeking the honor/esteem [do/ca] of the (One) having sent him, this (one) is true and there is not (any) injustice in him.”

The long and increasingly hostile exchange in 8:31-59, sharpens and comes to a climax as Jesus makes the following statement in verse 49, in response to the attack from his opponents that he “has [lit. holds] a daimon“:

“I do not hold a(ny) daimon, but (rather) I honor [timw=] my Father and you treat me without honor [a)tima/zete/ me]!”

This use of the verbs tima/w & a)tima/zw demonstrate how close in meaning the noun timh/ (“value, worth”, often in the sense of “honor”) is to do/ca (“esteem/honor”), especially in this context. Jesus follows in verse 50 with the language of 7:18, using the noun do/ca:

“And I do not seek my own esteem/honor [do/ca]—(but) there is there is the (One) seeking (it)…”

Here we find the same reciprocity (between Father and Son) as we have in 17:1ff—Jesus (the Son) seeks the honor of God the Father, and the Father seeks the Son’s honor. This raises an interesting point regarding the syntax of verses 1-5 and the use of the particle i%na (discussed below).

2. Jn 11:4, 40. In the Lazarus scene, the entire episode—the death of Lazarus and his subsequent resurrection—is for the declared purpose of giving honor/esteem (do/ca) to Jesus; and this, not simply due to the fact that he works a great miracle, but for what it indicates (as a sign) regarding Jesus’ true identity. The purpose is stated by Jesus, to his disciples (and to the readers as well) in the opening portion of the narrative (verse 4):

“This lack of strength [i.e. weakness/illness] is not toward death, but (instead it is) under the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God, so (that) the Son of God might be given honor [docasqh=|] through it.”

In other words, the illness (and death) of Lazarus is under the control of the do/ca of God and serves that divine purpose. The association of do/ca/doca/zw with resurrection here emphasizes again the difference between Jesus’ prayer in 17:1ff and the similar prayer-language used during the Synoptic garden scene (discussed in last week’s study). The “hour” in 17:1 is not that of Jesus’ Passion (his suffering and death) alone, but instead points more directly toward his subsequent resurrection and return to the Father, just as Lazarus’ moment of suffering does not point toward physical death alone, but to the resurrection power possessed by Jesus as God’s Son. The moment of Lazarus’ own resurrection confirms the point (11:40): “Yeshua says to her [i.e. Martha], ‘Did I not say to you that, if you would trust, you will see the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God?'”.

3. Jn 12:23, 28, 41, 43. The portion of the Gospel of John spanning chapters 2-12 forms a clear division in the narrative (sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”), covering the period of Jesus’ public ministry, and comprised of a combination of miracles by Jesus (and other “signs”) and related discourses in which the signs (together with their true meaning) are explained. The words do/ca/doca/zw feature prominently in the concluding scenes of the “Book of Signs” in chapter 12. We already looked at verses 23 and 28 in last week’s study, as they fit so closely with the language used by Jesus in 17:1ff. To these may be added the important, but often neglected, words of the Gospel writer in verses 41-43. As in the Synoptics, Isaiah 6:10 is cited to explain why many of Jesus’ contemporaries were unwilling (or unable) to accept him as the Messiah. The Gospel writer further states that Isaiah “saw his honor/splendor [do/ca]”, by which the original context (the do/ca of YHWH) is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ divine status as God’s Son. There is a clear echo of 8:56-58 in these words (cf. above on the use of do/ca in 8:50, 54). The failure of people to recognize Jesus’ divine do/ca, is further explained, through a bit of ironic wordplay, by the author in verse 43:

“For they loved the honor/esteem [do/ca] of men more than the honor/esteem [do/ca] of God.”

We must keep this Johannine usage of do/ca & doca/zw in mind as we return to examine 17:1-5. The reciprocal language used by Jesus, indicating the intimate relationship between Father and Son, creates certain ambiguities and tensions in the fabric of the text. This is part of the immense beauty and power of the Johannine discourses of Jesus, but it also creates points of difficulty for the commentator. One example is the use of the conjunctive particle i%na to join together the phrases and clauses of vv. 1-2 into a structure and chain of relation. There are actually three connective particles; let us consider them and how the phrases fit together:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousi/a over all flesh
          • (so) that [i%na] (for) all which you have given to him, he might give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

There are two i%na-clauses, both of which are best understood as indicating a purpose or result (i.e. “so that…”). However, the precise relationship between them is not entirely certain. It is possible to view them in more parallel terms, as representing two related results of the Father giving honor to the Son; one might even view this as a chiastic structure:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousia over all flesh
      • (so) that [i%na] for all that you have given to him
    • he might give to them—(the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The sense of reciprocity is perhaps better illustrated in the second (chiastic) structure, and is to be developed by Jesus throughout the Prayer-Discourse. A powerful inter-relationship is established: Father—Son—Believers. As indicated above, the particle i%na in verse 1 is best understood as indicating purpose or result—the Son giving honor to the Father is the result (and end purpose or goal) of the Father giving honor to the Son. However, it is interesting to note that, in the parallel verses 4-5, we find the opposite—that the Father honors the Son as the result of the Son’s work which give honor to the Father. This would allow for the reading of the i%na clause in verse 1 in a causal sense (“in that…”, i.e., “because”). I would maintain that it is, indeed, better to keep to the more natural grammatical sense of i%na indicating purpose/result in verse 1, and to see verses 4-5 as reflecting a reciprocal parallelism with vv. 1-2. This fits with the overall chiastic structure of vv. 1-5, as I noted already last week:

    • The Father gives honor to the Son
      • (so that) the Son may give honor to the Father (v. 1)
        • through the (work) given him by the Father (to complete) (v. 2)
        • the Son has completed the work by him by the Father (v. 4)
      • (and so) the Son has given honor to the Father
    • (thus) the Father will give honor to the Son (v. 5)

It is in vv. 4-5 that we have a clearer indication of the coming death of Jesus, with the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”). Earlier in the Gospel (4:34; 5:36) the verb seems to refer more generally to Jesus’ ministry work (teaching, healing miracles, etc); but here, in the Johannine context, there can be no doubt that the verb, when used by Jesus in the Discourses, must be understood in a comprehensive sense—Jesus’ work on earth (as the Son), culminating in his sacrificial death. This is confirmed by Jesus’ dying words on the cross (19:28), actually a single word in the Greek: tete/lestai (“it is completed”). The verb takes on a somewhat deeper significance later in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 23), when Jesus uses it to refer to the unity that his work achieves for believers, uniting them/us together with Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit. This will be discussed later in these notes on John 17.

Looking at verses 1-5 as a whole, again, it  must be stated that the death of Jesus is not what is primarily in view, despite the general Passion setting and the use of the verb teleio/w in verse 4 (see above). His sacrificial death certainly represents the climax and completion of his work on earth; however, it is this work, taken as a whole, and as a reflection of the relationship between Father and Son, which is the main emphasis in chapter 17 (and, one may say, in the Last Discourse itself). If there were any doubt on this point, we would simply turn to the declaration in verse 3, which stands at the heart of verses 1-5. Many commentators regard this statement, not as the words of Jesus, but as an explanatory aside (comment) by the Gospel writer. This seems likely given the particular formulation, which sounds very much like an early Christian creedal formula, and, indeed, is similar in many ways to the concluding declaration in 20:31. While the objective statement in verse 3 may be, theologically speaking, a bit too precise to fit the historical context of the narrative, it is vital for what it reveals about the identity of Jesus. I discuss this verse in considerable detail in a separate series on the use of the words “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/) in the Gospel of John (soon to be posted on this site), and will not reproduce that here. The expression “life of the Age” (here h( ai)w/nio$ zwh/), typically translated as “eternal life”, is a key Johannine term, appearing many times in the Discourses of Jesus, but also elsewhere in the Gospel and Letters. Here it is given a precise definition:

“And this is the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—that they would know you the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

If verse 3 is indeed an explanatory statement by the author, it was triggered by the use of the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ at the end of verse 2. The parallel with verse 4 makes clear that the “work” which the Son (Jesus) completes may be understood as the giving of (eternal) Life to all those (believers) whom God the Father has given to him. This point will be discussed in more detail in next week’s study (on verses 6-10).

Finally, it is worth noting the temporal-keyed statement that concludes verse 5; it should be understood as parallel to the initial declaration of v. 1: “the hour has come”. Again, we must make clear that here, in contrast to the Passion-context of the similar Synoptic saying (cf. last week’s study), this “hour” goes beyond the moment of Jesus’ impending suffering and death, to the completion of the Son’s work on earth, which includes his resurrection and return to the Father. This is confirmed by the statement in v. 5b which further describes the honor/splendor (do/ca) the Son is to receive from the Father: “…the honor [do/ca] which I held alongside you before the (coming) to be of the world”. Note again the parallelism:

    • The hour has come
      • May you give honor the Son (v. 1)
      • Now may you give honor to me, Father… (v. 5a)
    • (in the time) before the world (came) to be (v. 5b)

This coming “hour” marks a return to the beginning (1:1ff)—the Son’s return to the Father in Heaven. As Christians, we are so accustomed to thinking, in orthodox terms, of Jesus’ divine pre-existence, that it is easy to forget (or ignore) how rare this idea actually is in the New Testament. It is not to be found at all in the Synoptic Gospels, nor in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts; it is also quite rare in the Pauline letters (though Paul himself accepted some basic version of the idea), and in the other New Testament letters as well (with the exception of Hebrews). The first generation of Christians appears to have come to a realization of this belief only gradually. While the idea that Jesus, after the resurrection, was exalted to a divine position and status at the right hand of God in Heaven, was widespread, there does not seem to be clear evidence for a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent Deity prior to about 60 A.D. The ‘Christ hymn’ in Philippians 2:6-11 has a descent/ascent conceptual formulation which is generally similar to what we find throughout the Gospel of John. The traditions underlying the Johannine Prologue (1:1-18), and reflected all through the Gospel, probably date from around the same time as the ‘Christ hymn’. One may surmise that it was during the period c. 50-60 A.D. that a distinct belief in Jesus’ pre-existence began to take shape. If it were more widespread by or before this time we would expect to see greater evidence for it throughout the New Testament. In any event, there is no doubt of this belief in the Gospel of John; the pre-existent deity of Jesus is expressed in unmistakable terms, including by Jesus himself in the Discourses. However, the idea is, perhaps, not stated so precisely by Jesus as we find it here in the Prayer-Discourse. The wording in v. 5b seems to hearken back to the opening words of the Gospel (1:1ff). What is unique about the setting in the Prayer-Discourse is the added dimension, developed by Jesus during the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), involving the promise that believers will share in this same glory (do/ca) that the Son has alongside the Father. This will be discussed further in the coming weeks’ studies.

Birth of the Son of God: Hebrews 1:1-4

Today’s note, on the Christmas theme of the “Birth of the Son of God” will look at the ‘birth’ of the Son in terms of divine revelation. I begin with the introduction (exordium) of the Letter to the Hebrews.

Hebrews 1:1-4

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. 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
      —incarnation
    • 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.

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 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—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)

As I have already pointed out, there are a number of similarities with the basic Christology of the author and that presented in the Gospel of John; for more on Jesus as “the Son” in relation to God the Father, see the previous Christmas season note. Elsewhere in the New Testament writings, Jesus as God’s Son is an important theological identification, especially in: (1) Paul’s letters, (2) the first letter of John (par. with the Gospel of John), and (3) here in Hebrews.

  1. Paul’s letters—in the context of
    a) God’s work through Christ, esp. his sacrificial and atoning death: Romans 1:3-4; 5:10; 8:3, 32; Gal 1:16; 2:20; 4:4; 1 Thess 1:10; Col 1:13.
    b) specific association with the Gospel message: Rom 1:9; Gal 1:6
    c) the unity and bond of believers (with Christ, the Spirit): Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 4:6; Col 1:13, and also Eph 4:13
    Note also 1 Cor 15:28
  2. The letters of John—similarly, along with the Gospel of John:
    a) the union of believers with God and Christ: 1 Jn 1:3; 2:23-24; 3:23; 4:9b, 15; 5:12-13
    b) Christ’s redemptive work: 1 Jn 1:7; 3:8; 4:9-10, 14; 5:11
    c) the identity of Christ: 1 Jn 2:22-23; 4:15a; 5:5, 9-10, 20
  3. 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; 5:5 cites Ps 2:7 [as in 1:5]; 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”)
  4. Other passages:
    2 Peter 1:7 (referring to the Transfiguration scene [Mark 9:7 par])
    Revelation 2:18—the message (to Thyatira): “the Son of God relates these (thing)s…”

This last reference to the Son of God speaking brings us back to the first verses of Hebrews—”God spoke…in (the) Son”. How did God speak? We do not find much mention in Hebrews of the things Jesus actually said; the emphasis is rather on: (1) who he is, and (2) what he has done—in classic theological terms, this means the person and work of Christ. God speaks first through the person of Christ, i.e. his (pre-existent) divine status and/or nature as Son, and then through his work—in creation, his sacrificial (and atoning) death, his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Here New Testament Christology reaches perhaps its fullest and most rounded expression—of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.