December 14: John 1:2

John 1:2

ou!to$ h@n e)n arxh=| pro\$ to\n qeo/n
“This (one) was in (the) beginning toward God.”

The statement in verse 2 would seem to repeat verse 1, offering nothing new to the thought expressed in the opening lines of the Prologue (cf. the previous notes on v. 1a, b, and c). While it is true that the vocabulary is essentially the same, with no real difference in meaning, there is genuine significance to this statement which should not be overlooked.

First, there is the structure of vv. 1-2, which comprise a distinct unit of the Prologue (and the Christ-hymn); indeed, some commentators (cf. Brown, pp. 3ff) would regard verses 1-2 as the first strophe of the hymn. It is perhaps better to see verse 2 as the introduction to the hymn, taking the place of the relative pronoun (o%$) that typically opens the New Testament Christ-hymn (cf. the earlier note on Phil 2:6). The relative pronoun refers back to Jesus as the subject, serving as the basis for the confessional character of the hymn-formula—i.e., as a statement on who he is, who we believe him to be. Here, the demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this [one]”) functions much the same way. Without an earlier reference to Jesus, a relative pronoun would be out of place; instead, the hymn-writer (and/or the Gospel writer) makes use of a common early Christian convention, referring emphatically to the person of Jesus by way of a demonstrative pronoun (cf. Acts 1:11; 2:36; 6:14; 7:35ff, etc). The same usage occurs elsewhere in the Gospel of John as well (e.g., 1:34).

Let us consider the structure of vv. 1-2 as a whole; together, the lines read:

“In (the) beginning was the Word,
and the Word was toward God,
and the Word was God.
This (one) was in (the) beginning toward God.”

In terms of a thematic structure, we may outline it as follows:

    • The Word (Logos)
      • was in the beginning
        • was toward God
          • was God
    • “This one” (i.e., Jesus, the Son)
      • was in the beginning
        • toward God

The implication is that Jesus (“this one”) is to be identified with the divine (and pre-existent) Logos, comparable to the divine/pre-existent Wisdom of Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Prov 8:22-31, etc). Only the first two statements of verse 1 are summarized here in v. 2; the third statement (“the Word was God) is left out, possibly for poetic reasons, since attempting to include all three clauses in abbreviated form would make for an unwieldy line. There can be no doubt that the statement identifying the Logos with the Creator God (cf. the discussion in the previous note) is meant to apply to Jesus Christ as well.

The second principal point has to do with the way that the three statements in verse 1 are governed by the prepositional expression “in (the) beginning” (e)n a)rxh=|); on which, cf. the earlier note. The chain of confessional statements (the first two, at least) is repeated in verse 2, giving double emphasis to this important allusion—to a time, an existence, prior to the creation of the universe (cf. Gen 1:1 LXX). It is perhaps the clearest declaration in the New Testament of the divine/eternal pre-existence of Jesus; not only was the Logos/Wisdom with God at the beginning of creation, but so also was “this one” (Jesus), who, in fact, is to be identified with the divine Logos. The entire theme of pre-existence (“in the beginning”) defines vv. 1-2 as a unit, a distinction that is important in reference to the lines that follow (vv. 3-5), which refer to the creation of the world.

Third, it is also Jesus’ special relationship with God, defined by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), that is emphasized twice (on the use of this preposition, cf. the prior note on v. 1b). Again, it is the relationship between the divine Logos/Wisdom and God (YHWH) that is applied to the person of Jesus through the declaration in verse 2. Because of the importance of this point, it is worth discussing in greater detail; this I will do as part of the next daily note (on verse 3).

Notes on Prayer: John 14:13-14, etc (continued)

John 14:13-14, continued

A major aspect of the references to prayer in the Last Discourse involves the expression “in Jesus’ name” and what this signifies in the Johannine context. This context is related to the wider early Christian tradition, but the Johannine Gospel give to the tradition a distinctive theological emphasis, along with a new and deeper meaning. The early tradition may be summarized according to three points: (1) disciples of Jesus acting and gathering “in his name”, i.e., as his representatives (Mk 9:37-39 par; Matt 7:22; 18:20; Lk 24:47; Acts 3:6ff; 9:15, etc); (2) speaking/praying “in Jesus’ name” as an extension of the apostolic witness (Acts 4:17-18; 8:12; 15:17; 2 Thess 1:12; Col 3:17; James 5:10-14, etc); and (3) the ritual dimension of being baptized “in(to) Jesus’ name”, that is, into the (religious) identity of being believers in Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 1 Cor 1:13ff; 5:4, etc).

The Johannine development of the early tradition is significant, and must be studied carefully. I offer here an exposition, according to a number of key points.

1. To begin with, references to the name of Jesus in the Gospel of John are primarily related to trust (pi/sti$, vb pisteu/w) in Jesus. This can be seen most clearly in the confessional statements presented (and/or composed) by the Gospel writer—1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 20:31 (cf. also 1 John 3:23; 5:13). Jn 3:18 is part of a discourse by Jesus, but corresponds precisely (and is formulated according to) the Johannine theology. Trust in Jesus is defined by the expression “in his name”, using either the preposition ei)$ (“into”) or the more conventional e)n (“in”). This very much follows the early tradition (Acts 2:21; 4:12ff; Rom 10:13, etc), but with a more precise definition.

2. According to the ancient Near Eastern worldview, the name of a person represents and embodies the nature and character of the person. Thus, to trust in Jesus’ name fundamentally means to trust in the person of Jesus. There is nothing specifically Johannine about this, except insofar as the theology of the Johannine writings presents a distinctive portrait of who Jesus is. For more on the ancient background of names and naming, as it relates to the Gospel and early Christianity, cf. my prior series “You Shall Call His Name…”.

3. The Johannine Gospel and Letters, perhaps more than any other writings in the New Testament, emphasize trust in Jesus in terms of his special (and unique) identity, represented by the two titles “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) and “Son of God”. These titles are joined together in the key confessional statements of 11:27 and 20:31 (cf. also 1:34 [v.l.] and 1 Jn 3:23; 5:20), and it is clear that the identity of the (true) believer in Christ depends on the proper (Christological) view of what it means to call Jesus by these titles (cf. especially the discussion running through 1 John).

4. It is the title Son of God that is most pertinent for the Johannine theology and the portrait of Jesus in the Gospel. Throughout the Gospel Discourses, Jesus refers to himself as “the Son” —primarily in the discourses of chapters 5 and 6, but also in the opening sections of the Last Discourse (14:13, cf. also 13:31), and the great Prayer-Discourse (17:1). The statements in 3:16-18, while part of the Nicodemus discourse (of Jesus), are also formulated in accordance with the (Johannine) theology of the Gospel writer.

5. Central to the Johannine Christology, in this regard, is the special relationship between Jesus (the Son) and God the Father. The Father-Son relationship runs through the Gospel Discourses, and is established from the beginning, in the Prologue (1:1, 14, 18). Key statements occur within the chapter 3 discourse-episodes (vv. 16-18, 35-36), and are central to the Discourses of chapter 5 (vv. 17-27, 36-37) and 6 (vv. 27, 37ff, 57). Again this theological theme dominates portions of the Sukkot-discourses (8:16-19, 27-59; 10:15-18, 29-38), and features in the transitional episodes leading into the Passion narrative (and the Last Discourse)—12:26-28, 49-50; 13:1ff.

6. The theological dimension of the Father-Son relationship, within the Johannine Discourses, is based upon two lines of illustration. First, a son naturally imitates the behavior of his father; a dutiful son, in particular, consciously follows his father’s example, which often extends to a period of apprenticeship in his occupation. A number of times in the Discourses, Jesus refers specifically to how he, the Son, does and says what he sees/hears the Father doing/saying (5:19, 36; 8:28, 38ff; 10:37; 12:50; 14:10ff; 15:15). In this regard, the Son (Jesus) speaks and acts in His Father’s name (5:43; 10:25).

Second, is the image of a father providing for his son, giving to him, both in terms of instruction/guidance, but also covering the aspect of inheritance—the son as heir to the father. The Discourses also build upon this idea, emphasizing how the Father gives “all things” to the Son (3:34-35; 16:15). This includes the duty that the Father has given to him, to complete in his time on earth (5:36; 10:18; 17:4ff), and also the power to complete the work–specifically, the life-giving power that belongs to God (5:19-21ff; 6:27ff, 57; 14:10; 17:2). Jesus’ own disciples, those who come to trust in him, were also given to him by the Father (6:37, 44ff, 65; 10:29; 17:2, 6-19ff). All of this can be summarized, in the concluding Prayer-Discourse, by the key references to the name of the Father—which was given to Jesus (the Son), and who, in turn, has given it (i.e., made it known) to believers; note the important statements in 17:6, 11-12, 26.

7. According to the ancient significance of names and naming (cf. above), for Jesus to make known the name of the Father is essentially the same as making known the Father Himself. This is possible, again, because Jesus himself is the Son of the Father, the Son of God. The Son manifests the Father in his own person, because he represents the Father, speaking and acting just as the Father does (with the Father’s authority). He also shares in the Father’s own nature and character, possessing the same power and ability, indicated especially by (a) his life-giving power, and (b) the presence of God’s Spirit. The last point will be discussed further in the upcoming studies.

8. Jesus’ possession of a Divine name is a theme found in the Christ-hymns of Philippians (2:6-11) and Hebrews (1:2b-4), discussed in recent daily notes. In these passages, the “name” of Jesus in not simply “Jesus (Yeshua)”, but a name belonging to God Himself. The context in Hebrews suggests that the “name” is the specific title “Son (of God)”, in the developed Christological sense of the title that is evident throughout both Hebrews and the Johannine writings (cf. above). In the Philippians hymn, the “name” appears to be the divine name YHWH, as represented by the title “Lord” (ku/rio$). A similar dynamic occurs in the Gospel of John, where Jesus possesses the Divine name of God the Father.

Significantly, in Philippians and Hebrews, this Divine naming is associated with the exaltation of Jesus, following his death and resurrection. This reflects the exaltation-Christology of the earliest believers, to which a pre-existence Christology is balanced in the hymns (cf. also Col 1:15-20). What is distinctive in the Johannine Discourses, is the fact that Jesus is clearly identified as the Son of God, and possesses the Divine name, prior to his resurrection—that is, during the time of his earthly ministry, and even stretching back to his pre-existence, before the very creation of the world. In my view, this demonstrates an even more developed Christology within the Johannine writings that goes beyond what is expressed in the other Christ hymns.

9. Finally, along these same lines, we must note one aspect that is truly distinctive—if not unique—to the portrait of Jesus in the Johannine Discourses. It is evinced by the famous “I am” sayings of Jesus that occur throughout the Discourses—6:35ff; 8:12 (also 9:5); 10:7-9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5, cf. also 6:20; 18:5. As nearly all commentators recognize, this “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) usage intentionally alludes to ancient religious tradition, associated with the self-revelation of God—and, specifically, to the tradition involving the interpretation of the Divine name YHWH in Exodus 3:14 (LXX). In the Discourses, Jesus is identifying himself with God, even as the Son identifies himself with the Father, and the Logos is identified with the Creator God in the Prologue (1:1ff). Moreover, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, trust and belief in Jesus (= in Jesus’ name) entails a recognition of Jesus as the Divine “I am”. This is expressed rather clearly by the sayings in 8:24, 28 and 13:19 (cf. also 8:58). As is typically the case, the Gospel of John presents early Christian tradition—here, the idea of Jesus possessing the Divine name—with greater theological precision and depth of meaning.

This study, it is to be hoped, will aid greatly in our understanding of the key lines of Johannine thought, regarding the “name of Jesus”, as we continue through the remaining references to prayer in the Last Discourse.