December 23: John 1:11-12a

John 1:11

“He came unto (his) own (thing)s,
and his own (people) did not take him along.”

This couplet follows the tricolon of verse 10 (discussed in the previous note). It continues the framework of that triad: “he was in the world…the world did not know him”, but with the concept of the “world” (ko/smo$) now narrowed to the land and people of Israel. Let us consider the parallel:

    • “he was in the world” (v. 10)
      e)n tw=| ko/smw| h@n
    • “he came unto (his) own” (v. 11)
      ei)$ ta\ i&dia h@lqen

The structure of each statement is identical: a locative prepositional phrase followed by the verb. The prepositional expressions are comparable in meaning, and suggest a development, a narrowing of focus: being “in the world” => coming “into his own (place)”. The use of the personal adjective i&dio$, pertaining to self, has a dual meaning in context: (1) it refers to the place of God’s own people (i.e., Israel as the people of God), and (2) it refers to the place of Jesus’ people (i.e., the place where he lived and worked). The plural adjective is neuter (ta\ i&dia), lit. “(his) own (thing)s”; however, as a reference to a person’s belongings, the expression can signify a “household” or “home” —i.e., the place/area where a person lives. This same sort of wording occurs in the famous saying of the boy Jesus in Luke 2:49, referring to “the (thing)s of my Father” (i.e., God’s household, the things belonging to Him).

In the next line, the adjective is repeated, but as a masculine plural, indicating that it refers to “men” (i.e. people)—oi( i&dioi, “(his) own (one)s,” “(his) own (people)”. Again, there is a sense of progression: the Logos come into his own place (homeland), and proceeds to encounter his own people (those who live there). On the motif of the divine Wisdom seeking to find a dwelling place on earth among human beings (and the people Israel), cf. the discussion in the previous note. 1 Enoch 42:2 describes how Wisdom failed to find a suitable dwelling among the people, reflecting the traditional idea of humankind (the majority of the population) rejecting the Wisdom of God. The verb used here in v. 11 is paralamba/nw, “take/receive along(side)”, in the sense of welcoming a traveler or neighbor, involving the traditional custom and ideal of hospitality. In the Gospel context, of course, this has the deeper meaning of accepting Jesus, and trusting in him as the Son of God. The progression in vv. 10-11 is leading toward the specific idea of the Logos coming to be born as a human being (v. 14).

John 1:12a

“But, as many (people) as did receive him,
he gave them (the) ability to become (the) offspring of God.”

This couplet builds upon the one prior (v. 11), and probably should be read as a related compound clause in the poetic context:

“He came unto (his) own (thing)s,
and his own (people) did not take him along;
but, as many (people) as did take him (along),
he gave them (the) ability to become (the) offspring of God.”

Clearly, the idea of Israel as the people of God is implicit here, including the specific motif of being “sons [i.e. children] of God”. Of the Old Testament passages referring (or alluding) to Israel as God’s “son”, cf. Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; 11:1; Isa 43:6; Jer 31:9. In Wisdom literature, this is given a more pronounced ethical and religious emphasis, referring to the righteous, i.e., those who are wise and embrace the Wisdom of God, as being His true children (cf. Wisd 2:16-18; Sirach 4:10, etc). This provides further confirmation for the influence of Wisdom tradition on the Prologue-hymn, especially the Hellenistic Jewish line of tradition that has blended the personified Wisdom with the Logos-concept from Greek philosophy and theology. Those in Israel who accept the Logos are those very same people who accept the Divine Wisdom. Needless to say, from the early Christian perspective, this also means that they would come to trust in Jesus, accepting his identity as the Son and Word/Wisdom of God. It is likely that the Gospel writer would consider anyone who refused to accept Jesus as having rejected Wisdom, in the true sense, as well.

The verb lamba/nw (“take, receive”) is the same root verb as in the compound paralamba/nw (“take/receive alongside,” v. 11), and has precisely the same meaning in context—i.e., it refers to the people who did take/receive the Logos alongside. The correlative pronoun o%so$ confirms the point made in v. 11, that many people refused/rejected the Logos; however, the promise that follows in v. 12 applies to everyone who did accept him. The basic meaning of the pronoun is “as (many) as”, i.e., “every(one) who…” . And the promise refers to that which is described in the developed Wisdom tradition (cf. above)—viz., that they will be regarded as the children of God.

The specific expression here in the Prologue is “(the) offspring of God” (te/kna qeou=), with the noun te/kna being a plural of the neuter te/knon, which signifies something that is produced or “brought forth” (vb ti/ktw). It is often used specifically for the birth of a child (i.e., “brought forth” from the mother’s womb). Interestingly, the Johannine writings always use te/knon when speaking of believers (as children of God), reserving the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) for the person of Jesus; by comparison, other New Testament writings occasionally refer to believers as “sons [ui(oi/] of God”.

Because of the importance of this concept within the Johannine theology, we shall devote a more detailed discussion for the next daily note (Christmas Eve), where v. 12a will be studied in the context of the expository statement that follows in vv. 12b-13.

December 22: John 1:10

John 1:10-12a

Verse 10 marks the beginning of the third poetic unit (or strophe) in the Christ-hymn of the Johannine Prologue. The four units expound a Christological development from pre-existence (strophe 1) to incarnation (strophe 4). This third strophe provides the transition between the creation of the universe by the Logos (vv. 3-5) and the incarnation of the Logos in the life of Jesus (vv. 14-16).

Verse 10

“He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
and (yet) the world did not know him.”

These lines form a triad, a poetic triplet/tricolon, with three statements, each involving the relationship between the Logos and the “world” (ko/smo$). The noun ko/smo$ can refer to what we call the universe (cosmos), but it more properly signifies the arrangement of things in the universe, the order of creation; the translation “world-order” is generally accurate, if cumbersome. I have followed the customary rendering of ko/smo$ as “world”, since the English word has a comparable sort of semantic range.

The noun ko/smo$ is an especially distinctive part of the Johannine vocabulary. It occurs 78 times in the Gospel, and another 24 in the Letters—more than half of all the New Testament occurrences (185). Occasionally the word is used in the neutral sense of the universe, or, more precisely, the inhabited world (of human society). However, in the majority of instances, it has a decidedly negative meaning—referring to the world, in the current Age, as it is dominated by the forces of darkness and evil. There is a striking dualism that runs through the Johannine writings, contrasting the “world” (of darkness and evil) with the realm of God and the Spirit (of light and truth). Early Christians in the first century generally shared this worldview, often expressed within an eschatological framework—i.e., the current Age is becoming increasingly wicked, as the end draws near. Paul evinces a similar sort of dualism, emphasizing how the world in the current Age is in bondage to the power of sin. Even so, the specific Johannine dualism that depicts the “world” (ko/smo$) as fundamentally in opposition to God (and, by extension, to His Son Jesus and those who trust in him), defined largely as a contrast of “light vs darkness”, is distinctive.

Let us examine each of the statements of the contrast here in the Prologue, between the “world” and the Logos:

e)n tw=| ko/smw| h@n
“he was in the world”

This simple statement contains two components: the verb (a form of the verb of being) and a predicate prepositional expression (in emphatic [first] position). As previously noted, the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue is reserved for God, and is only used of God the Father and the Logos (= Jesus the Son). Here it is the same imperfect active indicative form (h@n, “was”) that is used elsewhere in the Prologue. Thus the deceptively simple statement “he was in the world” implicitly contains a deeper theological meaning: the pre-existent Wisdom/Word of God was in the world. While this alludes to the earthly life of Jesus, it cannot be limited to that aspect (cf. below).

To say that the Logos was “in” (e)n) the world, is parallel with the idea that the divine/eternal Life was “in” (e)n) him (v. 4a). This Life is communicated to human beings (i.e., those in the world), v. 4b. The Life, under the image of light (i.e., the Light of God), is thus “in” (e)n) the world, under the negative aspect of the ko/smo$ (cf. above)—that is, in the midst of the darkness of the world (e)n th=| skoti/a|, v. 5). This personal presence of the Logos was foreshadowed in the closing words of verse 9, where the Logos is referred to as the “true Light” that is “coming into [ei)$] the world”.

kai\ o( ko/smo$ di’ au)tou= e)ge/neto
“and the world came to be through him”

According to the vocabulary of the Prologue, the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used for created beings (in contrast to the verb of being, used only of God). This re-states the declaration in verse 3: “all (thing)s came to be through him [di’ au)tou=]” —God created all things in the universe through the Logos (His Word/Wisdom). As applied to the person of Jesus, this same Wisdom tradition was utilized in the context of other Christ hymns (cf. Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2b-3). The point is emphasized here in order to make a stark contrast with the statement that follows:

kai\ o( ko/smo$ au)to\n ou)k e&gnw
“and the world did not know him”

In light of the prior statement, this is a powerful declaration: human beings (in the world) did not recognize the one who created them. To say that they did not recognize the Logos (the Word/Wisdom) of God essentially means that they did not recognize God Himself. This aspect of recognition is expressed through the verb ginw/skw (“know”)—a common verb, but one which takes on special (theological) meaning in the Johannine writings. It occurs 56 times in the Gospel, and another 26 in the Letters (more than a third of all NT occurrences), where it is used parallel with the verb ei&dw [oi@da] (“see”). The verbs ei&dw and ginw/skw are partially interchangeable in Greek, due the close relationship between “seeing” and “knowing”. The Johannine writings make considerable use of this dual-meaning, which ties in naturally with the light-motif (and its light/darkness dualism). In addition to ei&dw (85 times in the Gospel, 16 in the Letters), the Johannine writings make significant use of the verbs ble/pw, qea/omai, qewre/w, and o(ra/w—all denoting sight/observation/perception (= discernment/understanding).

Based on this Johannine usage, to “know” Jesus means to trust and accept him, recognizing that he is the Son of God. From the standpoint of the Prologue, this also means realizing the identification, established in the Christ hymn, of Jesus with the Word and Wisdom (i.e., the Logos) of God. For this reason, it would be a mistake to interpret the statement here as referring simply to the rejection of Jesus by the population during his earthly life and ministry. While the earthly life of Jesus is certainly in view, it is his identification with the Logos, in particular, that is being emphasized.

The influence of Wisdom tradition is very much present here, as it also is in the “Christ hymns” of Colossians (1:15-20) and Hebrews (1:2b-4). On the combination of Jewish Wisdom tradition with the Logos-concept in Greek philosophy, cf. the earlier note on verse 1. The term lo/go$ was especially useful in this regard, encompassing as it does the idea of both the Wisdom and Word of God. In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, we find the motif of the divine Wisdom dwelling among human beings. This is part of a broader tradition, in which God (YHWH) is said to make His dwelling (Heb. /k*v=m!) among the people Israel (symbolically, in the Tent-shrine or Temple sanctuary, etc). Sirach 24:8ff describes how the Divine Wisdom similarly set up his Tent-dwelling among the people (cf. also the more general reference in Prov 8:31).

The same idea can be expressed in terms of the personified Word of God. In particular, we may note the line of Jewish tradition, represented in the Aramaic Targums, in which the term ar*m=ym@ (mêmr¹°, “the saying, the word”) came to be used as a conceptual intermediary when speaking of the person of God. It developed as a pious circumlocution, a way to avoid attributing to YHWH Himself specific human (i.e., anthropomorphic) characteristics or actions. According to this line of tradition, when God says “I will be with you” (Exod 3:12), it is rendered/interpreted as “My Mêmr¹° will be your support”. Similarly, the concept of YHWH dwelling among His people would be explained in terms of His Word (Mêmr¹°) dwelling among them. Cf. Brown, p. 523-4.

An important part of the Wisdom tradition involves the specific exhortation for God’s people (the righteous) to pursue wisdom, with the understanding that many people (even in Israel) will reject it. Thus, the motif of Wisdom seeking to dwell among the people, when combined with the idea of many people rejecting Wisdom, leads to the natural image of Wisdom failing to find a suitable dwelling-place on earth. In 1 Enoch 42, the story is told of Wisdom finding a home among the angels in heaven; the brief narrative involves an unsuccessful attempt to find a dwelling on earth among human beings:

“Then Wisdom went out to dwell with the children of the people, but she found no dwelling place” (v. 2, translation E. Isaac in Charlesworth, OTP).

Almost certainly, the Christ hymn here in the Prologue draws upon the same basic line of Wisdom tradition.