January 31: 1 Thessalonians 5:5 (continued)

1 Thessalonians 5:5, continued

Continuing from the previous note, on 1 Thess 5:5, it will be useful to examine Paul’s declaration in context, in order to see more clearly how the designation of believers as “sons of light” is understood. The declaration is at the heart of the instruction in vv. 1-11, which has a decidedly eschatological emphasis. An eschatological issue was dealt with in the preceding section (4:13-18), and eschatology also dominates the discussion in 2 Thessalonians (which was conceivably written prior to 1 Thessalonians). Like virtually every first-century Christian (including the New Testament authors), Paul held an imminent eschatology—a point clearly in evidence by a careful reading of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In particular, this orientation (of eschatological imminence) informs both the instruction in 4:13-18 and the ethical exhortation of 5:1-11.

This imminent expectation of the end means that the “day of the Lord” could come suddenly, at any moment. In vv. 2-4 this is expressed by the illustration of a thief who comes in the middle of the night (“thief in the night,” kle/pth$ e)n nukti/, v. 2). This image plays on the day-night motif (a variation of the light-darkness motif), discussed in the previous note. Here “night” (nu/c) represents, symbolically, a period of time characterized by darkness—where “darkness” (sko/to$) is used in the ethical-religious sense of that which is apart from, and even in opposition to, the light of God (His Word and Truth, etc). The period of time in question is the ‘present Age’ —and, in particular, the ‘last days’, in which first-century believers (such as Paul) saw themselves living. The ‘end of the Age’ was near, soon to arrive; and, according contemporary eschatological beliefs and tradition, it was expected that things on earth would become increasingly ‘dark’, dominated by wickedness and sin, evil and false deception—a time of great “distress” (qli/yi$), for all humankind, but particularly for believers, who will face persecution and testing. From the standpoint of the illustration, people on earth are in the middle of a dark night, during which disaster (i.e., the thief) will come.

Verse 3 utilizes a different image to illustrate the sudden arrival of distress: that of the labor pains that come suddenly upon a pregnant woman—the expression literally is “the pain [w)di/n] to/for the (woman) holding (a child) in (her) belly”. The arrival of labor pains was a natural image for the idea of a period of distress (involving pain and suffering) that comes upon (vb e)fi/sthmi, “stand upon, set upon”) a person. It is used in the Old Testament Scriptures, typically in the context of the coming of Divine judgment upon human beings—and thus is quite appropriate in reference to the end-time judgment. Indeed, in Isaiah 13:8, the motif is clearly connected with the expression “the day of YHWH” (v. 6), just as it is here in our passage. For other examples, cf. Isa 26:16-18; Jer 6:24; 22:23; 50:43; Micah 4:9-10; and, subsequently in Jewish tradition, e.g., 1 Enoch 62:4f.

Jesus utilized both the thief and woman-in-labor illustrations in his eschatological teaching, as preserved variously in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 13:8 par; Matt 24:43 par). The same thief-image also occurs in 2 Pet 3:10 and Rev 3:3; 16:15 (Jesus speaking). As for the woman-in-labor motif, note the eschatological significance of Jn 16:21f; Rom 8:22, and Rev 12:2. It is possible that Paul’s use of the motifs, together, here in 1 Thess 5:2-4, derive from the Gospel Tradition and the preserved teachings of Jesus; at the very least, he was almost certainly influenced by that Tradition.

In verse 4, Paul comes to the point of his illustration:

“But you, brothers, are not in (the) darkness, (so) that the day should not take you down as a thief (would)…”

Even though the Thessalonian believers were living in the darkness of the end-time, they are not truly in (e)n) the darkness—that is, they are not dominated by it, thoroughly influenced by the forces of sin and wickedness. For this reason, the Day of the Lord, when it comes (suddenly), will not take them down. The verb katalamba/nw could also be rendered “overtake”, but I prefer to keep to its fundamental meaning (“take down”), in the negative sense of defeating, overcoming, etc. The “day” certainly refers to the “day of the Lord,” the time/moment of the end-time Judgment, when all evil and wickedness will be brought to light and judged. This is another way of referring to a basic early Christian principle regarding salvation—viz., that believers in Christ, who remain faithful, will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. For believers in the first century, their understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological in nature.

This leads to the central declaration in verse 5:

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night, nor of darkness.”

Believers belong to the light, and thus are not in the darkness—rather, they/we are fundamentally separate from it, just as light was separated from darkness (Gen 1:4-5) and the two remain forever separate. Paul states this bluntly in v. 5b, including himself (and his fellow ministers) along with the Thessalonian believers: “we are not of (the) night, nor of darkness”. The noun ui(oi/ (“sons”) is omitted in v. 5b; this simply affirms the use of the idiom “sons of” as essentially meaning “belonging to” (on this use of the Hebrew yn@B=, cf. the previous note). The pairs light-day and darkness-night are parallel and antithetic; their occurrence in the phrasing of v. 5 is chiastic, suggesting an inverse-mirrored relationship:

light / day // night / darkness

The eschatological thrust of this religious identity for believers is expressed clearly in v. 9f:

“(So it is) that God did not set us unto (His) anger, but unto (the) bringing about of salvation, through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, who died off over [i.e. for] us”

In the Judgment, we, as believers, are not destined to face God’s anger (o)rgh/), but instead will experience salvation (swthri/a). The noun peripoi/hsi$ is derived from the verb peripoie/w, “make [i.e. bring] over/about”, with a range of meaning that is difficult to translate into English. A basic meaning would be something like “make secure”, or (more literally), make (i.e. cause) something to remain. It can refer generally to effecting a particular situation or circumstance, or, more specifically, to obtaining a result, gaining possession of something, etc. The verb can occasionally connote the idea of keeping something (or someone) safe, i.e., preserving, saving. I have translated the noun here in terms of the “bringing over” (or “bringing about”) of a situation—namely, salvation from the Judgment (and from God’s anger). This situation is ‘brought about’ through the death of Jesus Christ.

In vv. 6-10, Paul moves from the day-night motif to the related motif of awake-asleep (part of the traditional eschatological imagery, cf. Mk 13:33-37 par). The person who is in (i.e. belonging to) the darkness of night is asleep, overcome by the power of night/darkness, and unaware of what is going on. Believers, who belong to the light, are not like this, and must not behave in such a way—which is the thrust of Paul’s exhortation. Even while living in the darkness of the end-time, believers in Christ belong to the day/light, and thus are like those who are wide awake. Remaining awake is particularly important because of the wickedness that is prevalent in the end-time period of darkness; in addition to being watchful and guarding oneself against this wickedness, believers have certain protections, provided by God, which Paul depicts as pieces of military equipment (armor)—namely, a breastplate (faith and love) and a helmet (the hope of salvation). The helmet, in particular, reflects the eschatological context of vv. 1-11, with the expression “hope of salvation” —i.e., salvation from the coming Judgment (cf. above).

Much of this language and imagery is repeated in Romans 13:11-14, where the believer’s protective armor is referred to, more generally, as “the weapons of light” (ta\ o%pla tou= fwto/$), v. 12. Referring to them as “light” indicates their Divine origin and source, but also keeps the imagery firmly rooted in the ethical dualism of the light-darkness contrast: “Therefore, we should cast away the works of the darkness, and should sink into [i.e. put on] the weapons [i.e. armor] of light”. This military imagery of weapons/armor is developed more extensively (and famously) in Eph 6:10-18f.

As discussed in the previous note, the designation of believers as “sons of light” is conceptually related to the designation as “sons of God”. Belonging to the light (of God) means belonging to God Himself. This identity has eschatological and soteriological significance. There remains also a fundamental ethical consequence: believers who belong to God and are “of the light” cannot—and should not—allow themselves to be immersed in darkness or to be overcome by it. Here, by “darkness” is meant, primarily, the sin and wickedness that characterizes the world during the end-time. It should not characterize the life and conduct of believers. The end-time period of darkness—which is a time of distress for believers—represents a moment of testing: will we remain faithful to our identity (as believers in Christ), and thus be assured of salvation from the coming Judgment?

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next Pauline reference featured in our study: Galatians 3:26. In exploring this reference, we will also be examining a series of arguments, developed by Paul, in chapters 3-4 of that letter.

January 30: 1 Thessalonians 5:5

1 Thessalonians 5:5

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night nor of darkness.”

In this series of notes on the theme of believers in Christ as “children of God” (cf. the initial note on John 1:12-13), we turn to the earliest reference in the Pauline letters—Paul’s declaration in 1 Thess 5:5 that believers are “sons of light” (ui(oi\ fwto/$) and “sons of (the) day” (ui(oi\ h(me/ra$). Neither of the expressions “sons of God” or “children of God” occur in this verse (nor anywhere else in the Thessalonian letters); however, the designation “sons of light” is related conceptually, even it is drawn from an entirely different line of tradition.

The significance of the expression (as a designation for believers) is rooted in the contrastive distinction between light and darkness. The contrast is a natural and obvious one, and can be found in many cultures and religious traditions. Paul’s usage, however, is derived primarily from a light-darkness contrast found in the Old Testament Scriptures, where the opposing motifs of “light” and “darkness” are utilized in an ethical-religious sense. Apart from the idea of the separation of light and darkness that is part of the natural order (as described in the Creation account, Gen 1:4-5, 18), the juxtaposition of light and darkness, in an ethical-religious sense, occurs most frequently in the Wisdom literature (esp. the book of Job, e.g., 3:4; 10:22; 12:22; 17:12; 18:18; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; cf. also Eccl 2:13), the Psalms (18:28; 112:4; 139:11-12, etc), and the book of Isaiah (cf. 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 45:7; 50:10; 58:10; 59:9). Light is associated with the Divine, as an attribute of God Himself, but more particularly characteristic of His Word, Wisdom, and Instruction (Torah). It comes from God, serving as a blessing for humankind (Num 6:25; Psalm 89:15, etc), and even as a symbol of life itself (Psalm 49:9; 56:13, etc). Those who follow God’s Instruction receive illumination from the Divine light (Psalm 36:9; 43:3; 119:105, 130; Prov 6:23, etc).

Based on this ethical-religious usage, particularly as expressed within the Wisdom literature, the righteous—that is, those who are faithful to God and who follow His Instruction—are characterized as belonging to the light, possessing the light (a reflection or portion of the Divine light) as an attribute (cf. Psalm 37:6; 97:11; Prov 4:18; 13:9; Isa 2:5, etc). In the first centuries B.C./A.D., the Community of the Qumran texts developed this line of tradition. A number of texts feature this light-darkness contrast, but expressed from a more pronounced dualistic worldview. Indeed, the Qumran texts even make use of the specific expression “sons of light” (roa yn@B=) as a designation for the righteous ones of Israel—that is, members of the Community—while all others (i.e., the wicked) belong to the “sons of darkness” (Ev#oj yn@B=); see the key references in the Community Rule document (1QS) 1:9-10; 3:13, 24-25 and the War Scroll (1QM) 1:1, 3. Thus, the faithful members of the Qumran Community are designated as “sons of light”, much as believers in Christ (i.e., faithful members of the Christian Community) are by Paul (here), and elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 16:8; John 12:36).

The idiom “sons of” also reflects Hebrew usage (going back to the Scriptures). The noun /B@ (“son”) is often used in a general (and more abstract) sense, indicating a person who belongs to a particular group, and, as such, possesses (or exhibits) a certain set of attributes or characteristics. Thus, the expression “son of light”, refers to someone who belongs to the light—that is, light as a Divine characteristic. Such a person exhibits an affinity for the Divine light, particularly by showing devotion to God’s Instruction (Torah)—he/she is faithful to God and to his Word and Wisdom (cf. the Scriptural references above). Belonging to the light essentially means that the person belongs to God; thus, a “son of light” is also a “son of God”.

A comparable light-darkness contrast occurs in a number of New Testament texts; it features most prominently in the Johannine writings, but is found as an important idiom in the Pauline letters as well. Paul’s use of the contrast is similar to the Johannine, though without the pronounced and pervasive dualistic orientation that characterizes much of the Johannine writings. Paul uses the light-darkness motif two primary ways: (1) in terms of the Divine illumination that comes through the Gospel (e.g., 2 Cor 4:4-6; cf. 2 Tim 1:10; Eph 3:9), and (2) as an ethical paradigm. The latter emphasis is found here in 1 Thess 5:5, and similarly in 2 Cor 6:14; Rom 13:12 (cf. also Eph 5:8-9ff).

In Rom 13:12, as perhaps also in Eph 5:8ff, we find a similar eschatological orientation to Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation. Eschatology certainly dominates the two Thessalonian letters, and provides the immediate context for the declaration here in 5:5. The reason for this emphasis is that Paul, like virtually every first-century Christian, held an imminent eschatology, expecting the end to come very soon (presumably within the lifetime of he and his readers). There is thus a special urgency to his exhortation: the “day of the Lord” surely will come very soon, and could arrive at any moment (vv. 2-3). Paul makes use of a play on the word “day” (h(me/ra)—referring at once to both the coming “day of the Lord” and the ethical-religious “light”-motif.

In the next daily note, we will continue this examination of verse 5, with a brief exegetical analysis of the surrounding passage (vv. 1-11).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 91 (Part 2)

Psalm 91, continued

Verses 9-10

“Indeed, (if) you (make) YHWH (your) place of refuge,
(if) you set (the) Highest (as your) place of cover,
(then) evil shall not make an approach to you,
and (its) touch shall not come near your tent.”

Verses 9-13 form a companion unit to vv. 3-8 (discussed in the previous study), with both comprising the main body of the Psalm. Each unit begins with the particle yK! followed by a pronoun, with both elements used emphatically— “Indeed, He…”, “Indeed, you…”. It seems best to treat verse 9 as a conditional statement, parallel to the affirmation in v. 3. YHWH will protect the one who trusts in Him; and, conversely, if one trusts in YHWH, seeking refuge in Him, then He will give protection. The speaker of vv. 1-2 makes just such a statement of trust in YHWH, effectively fulfilling the condition established here. For a different way of understanding verse 9, in relation to v. 10, cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 426f.

In the Masoretic Text, vv. 9-10 stand as a pair of 3-beat (3+3) couplets; however, the Qumran manuscript 11QApPs (11QPsApa) has a shorter text, with vv. 9-10 comprising a 3-beat tricolon. The meaning of the single line of v. 9 in this manuscript is unclear, and its text may well be corrupt. The Hebrew of v. 9, partially reconstructed (note the brackets), is wdmjm t[ is]jm ta[rq. The line, apparently, means “You have called (as) your place of refuge His delight [?]”. The locative noun dm^j=m^ means “source of delight”, indicating something desirable and precious, etc. If the text of this manuscript stands as intended, then the tricolon could be rendered:

“If you call on His delight (as) your place of refuge,
(then) you will not see [vb ha*r*] (any) evil,
and a touch (of plague) will not touch your tents.”

The MT of vv. 9-10 is much to be preferred, with the couplet of v. 9 providing parallel lines. The noun hs#j=m^ means “place of refuge” or “place of shelter”, parallel with /oum* (“place of cover, covered place”) in the second line. Both locative nouns refer to YHWH as a source of protection for the righteous. The noun hs#j=m^ occurred earlier in v. 2, and the root verb hs*j* in v. 4; both words occur frequently in the Psalms, in the context of this theme of Divine protection. Dahood’s suggestion (II, p. 333), that the form ysjm represents an archaic spelling (preserving a final y– instead of h-), seems preferable to following the MT vocalization (reading y– as a first person suffix, “my place of refuge”).

Verse 10, again with parallel lines, describes the effect of this protection. For the faithful one, who is under YHWH’s protection, evil (hu*r*) will not come near to him. The verbs hn*a* and br^q* have a similar meaning (“approach, come near”), with the former verb also connoting the idea of something (i.e., some misfortune) happening to a person. The noun hu*r* probably has here a similar general meaning—i.e., something bad that happens to a person. The parallel noun ug^n# denotes something that touches (or strikes) a person, usually in a negative sense (i.e., a harmful blow), and often with the specific meaning of “disease, plague”. Thus, ug^n# here matches the pairing of the nouns rb#D# and bf#q# in verse 6, both being terms for disease. Probably the idea in the second line is that disease will not come near one’s tent; however, the preposition B= prefixed to the noun lh#a) (“tent”) could also mean specifically that the disease will not come into the tent to strike the person.

Verses 11-12

“For He will order His Messengers to you,
to guard you in all (the place)s you tread;
upon their palms they will carry you,
lest you strike your foot on a stone.”

The Divine protection here involves the use (by YHWH) of subordinate Divine/heavenly beings, as “messengers” who carry out His business; typically, this use of the noun Ea*l=m^ is rendered as “angel”. The verb hw`x* (Piel, “command, order, charge”), used with the preposition l= (“to, for”), could mean that YHWH orders His messengers to go to the person under His protection, or, alternatively, He may be ordering them to act on behalf of (i.e., “for”) this individual. The noun Er#D#, denoting a trodden (or well-tread) pathway, often is used to designate a person’s daily life and activity, and frequently with an ethical-religious emphasis. The Divine messengers will guard (vb rm^v*) the protected person in all the pathways and places on which he treads. When needed, they will even lift/carry him, so that he will not harm himself by inadvertently striking his foot against a stone. These verses were famously quoted (by the Devil) in the Synoptic (Q) Temptation episode (Matt 4:6; Lk 4:10-11).

Verse 13

“(Yet) upon lion and poison-snake you may tread,
and can (even) trample (the) young lion and dragon!”

While YHWH’s messengers might act to keep the righteous person from hurting himself by hitting a stone with his foot, yet the Divine protection also means that the person may safely step on a dangerous animal—such as a lion or a snake/serpent—without being harmed. The verb Er^D* (“tread”) is related to the noun Er#D# used in v. 11 (cf. above), and is here parallel with sm^r* (“trample,” a more aggressive, violent action). The nouns lj^v^ and rypK= are parallel terms referring to a lion—the latter specifically designating a powerful young (and hungry) lion. Similarly, /t#P# and /yN]T^ are terms for a snake or serpent—the former denoting a poisonous snake, and the latter suggesting a larger deadly creature (dragon or [sea-]serpent) with allusions to cosmological myth (cf. my earlier article on “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”).

Verse 14

“Because he has joined with me,
so I will rescue him, will set him up high,
because he has known my name!”

In the closing verses 14-16, it is YHWH who speaks; thus the Psalm, at this point, functions as a prophetic oracle. YHWH is here effectively answering the declaration of trust by the protagonist at the opening of the Psalm (vv. 1-2).

Metrically, verse 14 is best viewed as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, with the first and third lines clearly parallel, in a formal way. The idiom “join with me”, utilizing the verb qv^j*, is parallel with “know my name”. Both expressions characterize the person who is faithful and devoted to YHWH, being loyal to the covenant-bond between God and His people. Indeed, the verb qv^j* (“join, attach [to]”) suggests the covenant bond, though the verb is not typically used in such a context.

The central line, consisting of a pair of verb forms, describes YHWH’s action on behalf of His faithful one. Different aspects of the Divine protection are indicated: God will rescue (vb fl^P*, Piel) the individual out of danger, and then will set him up high, in a protected place; this latter action is covered by the verb bg~c* (Piel), which is rather difficult to translate concisely in English. Both of these verbs occur with some frequency in the Psalms—fl^P* 17 times (out of 25 OT occurrences), and bg~c* six other times (out of 20 OT occurrences), cf. 20:2[1]; 59:2[1]; 69:30[29], where the context is comparable.

Verse 15

“He will call to me, and I will answer him;
with him I (will be) in (his) distress—
I will draw him out and give him weight.”

YHWH’s protection is continual, as long as one continues to remain faithful to Him. This verse (another 2-beat tricolon) presents this protective action and response as a promise. Any time the faithful one calls to YHWH for help in time of distress (hr*x*), He will respond. The pair of verbs in the final line are comparable to those in the central line of v. 14 (cf. above). The verb Jl^j* (Piel) means “draw out”, i.e., bring out of danger, similar in meaning to fl^P* (“rescue, provide escape”). The second verb, db^K* (also Piel), fundamentally means “make heavy, give weight [to]”; it implies both an act of strengthening, but also of giving honor to a person (i.e., “weight” in the sense of worth, value, honor). This act of bestowing “weight” compares with the use of the verb bg~c* in v. 14; by placing the person ‘up high’, YHWH puts him in a safe/protected position, but this ‘high place’, next to YHWH Himself, is also a place of great honor.

The terse expression in the middle line, yk!n)a*-oMu! (“with him I [am]”), is reminiscent of the name la@ WnM*u! (“with us [is] God”) in Isa 7:14; 8:8, 10 (cf. also 2 Kings 18:7). This parallel may be cited as evidence that the protagonist of the Psalm is a royal figure (cf. the note below).

Verse 16

“(With) length of days I will give him (his) fill,
and I will give him to drink of my salvation.”

This final couplet builds upon the idea of the faithful one being given an honored place ‘up high’. The protection provided by YHWH is related to the goodness and blessing that He gives—both being part of His covenant-obligation (as Sovereign) to those who are loyal and devoted to Him. An honored place at His table is implied, where the faithful one may eat and drink his fill. This blessing includes both the present time (in this life) and the Age to come, with allusions also to the blessed afterlife (with God in heaven). The expression “length of days” (i.e., a long life) is flexible enough to cover all these aspects. If the protagonist is viewed as a royal figure (cf. below), then a long reign may also be implied.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 334; also I, pp. 206, 310f) in relating the verb form Wha@r=a^ here to the root hwr (Hiphil), “give drink, water [fully]” (cf. HALOT, p. 1195f), which provides a more suitable parallel to the verb ub^c* (Hiphil, “fill up, satisfy”) in line 1. The more customary (and straightforward) interpretation is to relate the verb form to ha*r* (“see”), so that the final line reads, “and I will make/let him see my salvation”.

The Qumran manuscript 11QApPs has a shorter text for vv. 14-16 that differs considerably from the MT (as well as the LXX). This shorter text, however, in its fragmentary condition, remains uncertain and requires significant reconstruction to be intelligible. Here is an approximate translation:

“[Because] you have joined with YHWH,
He will rescue you and will set you up high,
and He will make you see His salvation.”

As with vv. 9-10 in this manuscript, which also differ significantly from the MT (cf. above), vv. 14-16 comprise a single tricolon. The first two lines generally match the first two lines of v. 14, except that the address is in the second (rather than third) person. The final line matches the last line of v. 16; in this tricolon, the verb form can be derived quite fittingly from the root har (“see”), as being more appropriate to the context (cf. the discussion above).

Closing note:

In closing, it may be worth mentioning the interpretive approach that views the protagonist of the Psalm as a royal figure (king), and thus treats Ps 91 as one of the royal Psalms (cf. the earlier study on Ps 45, for example). It has been discussed, on repeated occasions, how many Psalms do evince a royal background, suggesting that a good number of the compositions (at least in their original form) date to the kingdom-period. At the same time, various traditions and stylistic conventions, drawing upon this royal background, likely continued to be utilized by later authors, as part of an Israelite (and Jewish) poetic idiom. Many of the major themes in the Psalms, such as we find here in Psalm 91—covenant loyalty, Divine protection, salvation and rescue, the threat of attacking/plotting adversaries, the promise of long life, and so forth—are probably derived, in some measure, from a royal background. Dahood (II, p. 329), drawing upon earlier scholarship, decidedly characterizes Ps 91 as a “royal psalm…composed by a court poet who recites it here before the king”. This seems to be taking the evidence rather too far.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

Saturday Series: 1 John 3:4-9

1 John 3:4-9

After a hiatus for the Christmas season, the Saturday Series returns, with a continuation of the studies on sin in the Gospel and Letters of John. In the most recent studies, we examined the sin references in 1 John 1:5-2:2. In that passage, the author of 1 John combats the idea that believers are completely without sin. In three different units, the author presents three different false claims or ideas about sin (in relation to the believer)—1:6a, 8a, 10a—and, in each instance, refutes the claim (v. 6b, 8b, 10b), and then presents the true view regarding sin and the believer (vv. 7, 9; 2:1-2). It has been thought that the false claims regarding sin represent positions held by the opponents which the author otherwise combats in 1 and 2 John. These opponents, who are discussed most directly in 2:18-27 and 4:1-6 (also 2 Jn 7ff), are described principally in terms of their Christology (that is, their view of Jesus Christ); however, it is certainly possible that they also held views regarding the nature of sin—and of the relationship of sin to the believer in Christ—which the author found objectionable.

An interesting aspect of 1 John, in this regard, is that the author, while combating the idea (in 1:5-2:2) that believers are without sin, makes several statements, elsewhere in the letter, to the effect that believers do not (and, indeed, can not) sin. These seemingly incongruous—even contradictory—statements have long proved a challenge for commentators on the Johannine writings. We may refer to this as the “sin problem” in 1 John. Does the author contradict himself in these sin references? There have been numerous attempts to harmonize the references, or to explain them in various ways. These explanations, on the whole, are far from convincing. But they raise another, in some ways more interesting question: why does the author use language and wording which, on the surface, seems so similar to the very ideas that he condemns (in 1:5-2:2)? If the ‘false’ claims regarding sin in that earlier passage do, indeed, represent the views of the opponents—people whom he takes great pains to oppose (and warn his readers against)—why does the author risk confusing the matter by putting forward his own (apparent) claims of sinlessness in 3:4-9 (repeated in 5:18)?

There is no simple solution to the “sin problem” in 1 John. In the course of this study, mention will be made of several proposed solutions, none of which I find particularly satisfying or convincing. I have made certain proposals of my own—of interpretive approaches, rather than a definitive solution—and will present these again here, after the references in 3:4-9 (and 5:18) have been examined.

Let us begin with the structural context of our passage. The unit 3:4-9 is part of a larger section (2:28-3:10) which also comprises the central division of 1 John—2:28-3:24. There are two sections to this division: (1) 2:28-3:10, and (2) 3:11-24. The central division is flanked by the two “antichrist” passages, 2:18-27 and 4:1-6, in which the author deals most directly with the opponents, referring to them as antíchristoi—that is, those who are “against the Anointed”, “against (Jesus) Christ”. This refers primarily to their Christology, which the author regards as false. Their view of Christ is false, and thus they are false believers; even worse, by promoting their false view, they act as ‘false prophets’, inspired by a false and deceiving spirit (and not the holy Spirit of God), which threatens to lead astray even many genuine believers. The central theme of 1 John is the contrast between the true believer and the false believer. In the “antichrist” sections of 2:18-27 and 4:1-6, the focus is on defining the false believer, while in the central section of 2:28-3:24 the emphasis is on the true believer.

Significantly, the section begins with an urgent exhortation (and warning) to the author’s readers (whom he treats as true believers), in light of this threat posed by the opponents, and the danger of being led astray by their false teachings. The exhortation features the Johannine key verb ménœ (“remain”):

“And now, (my dear) offspring [i.e., children], you must remain [ménete] in him…” (2:28a)

In the Johannine writings, this common verb (“remain, stay, abide”) has special theological meaning, referring to the abiding union which the believer has, with God the Father, through Jesus Christ (the Son). This union comes through trust in Jesus, and is realized through the presence of the Spirit. The previous section closed with an emphatic usage of the verb (vv. 24 [3x], 27 [2x]), and its usage frames the central section, occurring here and at the close (3:24 [2x]), while also being used throughout the line of argument (vv. 6, 9, 14-15, 17). The idea of remaining in Christ, expressed by the verb ménœ, is thus central to this section, and defines what it means to be a true believer.

The exhortation to remain is is framed in eschatological terms, by which the author (like nearly all first-century Christians) has in mind an imminent eschatologythat is, he and his readers are living in the ‘last days’, with the end being very near. The presence of the “antichrist” false believers is a sign that the end is near (2:18), and the true believer must remain firmly rooted in the truth, and must be guided by the true Spirit of God. Here is how the author states the eschatological urgency in v. 28b:

“… (so) that, when he should be made to shine forth [i.e. appears], we might hold an outspokenness, and not move (away) from him with shame, in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousía] (of us).”

That is to say, if we remain in Christ, as true believers, then we can face the end, when he appears, boldly and with confidence. The eschatological emphasis continues in 2:29-3:3, as the author develops this aspect of his exhortation. The closing of the exhortation is significant for its ethical orientation, providing an important transitional link to the sin-references that follow:

“And every (one) holding this hope, upon him, makes himself holy, even as that (one) is holy.” (3:3)

The verb hagnízœ (“make holy”), used reflexively with the pronoun h(e)autos (“himself, oneself”), is best rendered in English as “purify oneself, make oneself pure”. This idea of purity is obviously significant in relation to the the question of sin and the believer (and the possibility of sinlessness). Indeed, in verses 4-9, this matter of sin becomes the author’s main concern. He begins with something of a definition regarding sin (hamartía):

“Every (one) doing the sin also does the lawless (thing); indeed, the sin is the lawless (thing).” (v. 4)

The author explains that sin (hamartía), by definition, means that which is “without law” (anomía, adj. ánomos), i.e., lawlessness. The noun anomía occurs only here in the Johannine writings. It is not a Johannine term, which suggests that the author has a particular purpose in introducing it here. The a– prefix of the noun is privative, indicating a lack, or being without something; specifically, it refers to being without any law (nómos). The early Christian use of the noun anomía generally follows the Jewish usage. There are two main contextual aspects to its use in the New Testament: (1) religious-ethical, and (2) eschatological. As regards the first aspect, the meaning can be general—i.e., violating or ignoring what is moral and right—or can specifically refer to violating/ignoring the commands, etc, of the Torah. According to either sense, the one “without law” acts in a manner that disregards the Law of God. The noun, as such, occurs in the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (7:23; 13:41; 23:28; 24:12), and also occurs in the Pauline Letters, where it is specifically juxtaposed with the idea of purity (Rom 4:7; 2 Cor 6:14; Titus 2:14), much as we see here in 1 John (v. 3, see above).

The other context where anomía is used is eschatological; “lawlessness”, or being “without (any) law”, involving a disregard of the Law of God, is a basic characteristic of the end time. Indeed, just before the end, it was expected that things on earth would increasingly grow worse and worse, with evil and wickedness becoming ever more prevalent among human beings. First-century believers understood themselves to be living during this period of time right before the end. The noun is used with this significance in the Matthean version of Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse (24:12), and is also implied in 13:41. Paul’s use of the term in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 7 is closer to the eschatological context of 1 John, with its emphasis on the opponents as demonically-inspired “antichrists” of the end-time. The “man of lawlessness” or “lawless (one)” (vv. 3, 8) may well draw upon the same early form of the Antichrist tradition to which our author seems to allude in 2:18.

It is quite likely that the author of 1 John intends both of these aspects of meaning: sin is both a violation/disregard of God’s Law and also represents the wickedness (characteristic of “antichrist”) prevalent at the end-time.

In our previous studies, I have discussed how, in the Johannine writings (and certainly in the Gospel of John) there is a dual-aspect to the idea of sin (utilizing the noun hamartía and verb hamartánœ). On the one hand, there is the conventional religious-ethical meaning (i.e., sin as wrong-doing or a failure to do what is right); on the other hand, there is the special theological (and Christological) aspect of sin as a failure (and/or refusal) to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. This second aspect is primary in the Gospel of John: the sin of unbelief is the great sin.

But how is this terminology intended here in 1 John? In 1:5-2:2, sin was understood in the general (ethical-religious) sense of wrongs and misdeeds, etc, done by human beings. Is that how the terms are being used here? The author’s statement that follows in verse 5 would suggest so:

“And we have seen [i.e. we know] that that (one) [i.e. Jesus] was made to shine forth [i.e. appeared] (so) that he might take (away) the sin, and there is not (any) sin in him.”

This wording seems to echo the Lamb of God declaration in the Gospel (1:29), using the verb aírœ (“take up”) in a similar sense: the effect of Jesus’ sacrificial death was to take away (i.e. remove) sin for those who trust in him; for more on this, see the earlier studies on Jn 1:29. Here, the noun hamartía, with or without the definite article, refers to sin in a general (and comprehensive) sense, in two ways: (i) all the sin that a human being does, and (ii) sin (and sinfulness) as a personal attribute or characteristic. Jesus’ death removes sin from the believer, and he (Jesus) himself was without sin (“there is not sin in him”). These two aspects of the sin-reference in v. 5 are important for the author’s understanding of the believer’s relationship to sin. The implications are clear: sin is removed from the believer; and, at the same time, since Jesus is without sin, the one who remains in Jesus partakes in that same sinlessness. This would suggest that the true believer, the one who remains in Jesus, is free of all sin (i.e., is sinless). The author states as much in verse 6:

“Every (one) remaining in him does not sin” (6a)

The converse is stated, with similar bluntness, in 6b:

“every (one) sinning has not seen him and has not known him.”

The implication of the author’s statements seems clear: the believer who remains in Jesus does not sin, while the one who does sin (“the [one] sinning”) cannot be a true believer.

How does this square with the teaching in 1:5-2:2, where the author seems to argue rather the opposite point?—viz., that believers do, in fact, sin (see above). Is he contradicting himself? This is a key interpretive question, and will be discussed next week, in our continuation of this study on 1 Jn 3:4-9.

January 24: John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13

For the remainder of January (and into February), the daily notes will feature a series on the theme of believers as the children of God. The starting point for this series is John 1:12-13, which provides a thematic corollary to the verse that follows (14). In John 1:14, the focus of our recent exegetical study series, we find reference to the idea that the Divine Word (Logos) came to be born as a human being. The same birth-motif prevails in vv. 12-13—believers in Christ, through trust in the incarnate Logos, are able to be born as the children (“offspring”) of God. The parallelism is clear: the Son of God is born as a human being, and human beings (believers) are then born as children of God.

Verses 12-13 are an integral part of the Johannine Gospel Prologue (vv. 1-18). The vocabulary, phrasing, and theological emphasis clearly are in accordance with the Gospel (and the Johannine writings) as a whole. However, as was discussed in the series on verse 14, many commentators are convinced that the Gospel writer has made use of an existing ‘Logos-poem’, adapting it for use in the Gospel, particularly within the context of chapters 13. This theory, on the whole, would seem to be correct; evidence in support of it was presented in the articles of the aforementioned series.

The main question, with regard to verses 12-13, is whether v. 12, in whole or part, should be included as part of the underlying Logos-poem. Verse 12a would seem to represent a natural continuation of the poem in vv. 9-11; note, in particular, how v. 12a flows naturally from v. 11:

“Unto his own (thing)s he came, and (yet) his own (people) did not receive him alongside. But as (many) as did receive him, to them he gave (the) e)cousi/a to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring of God”

In the context of the Logos-poem up to this point (esp. in vv. 4-5, 9-11), the focus has been on the presence and activity of the Word/Wisdom of God among human beings, throughout human history (esp. the history of Israel). All through history, most people have rejected the Word and Wisdom of God; however, there have always been some who were willing (and able) to receive and accept it. Beginning in verse 14, the Word/Wisdom is manifest among human beings in an entirely new way—as a flesh-and-blood human being, in the person of Jesus. Believers who receive and accept Jesus—trusting in him (as the incarnate Word of God)—are akin to those individuals who accepted the Word in prior periods of human history.

In the context of vv. 14ff, the statement in v. 12a refers specifically to trust in Jesus as the Son (and Word) of God. Verses 12b-13, which likely represent expository comments by the Gospel writer (added to the Logos-poem), make this quite clear:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name” (12b)

The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) to characterize a group—and believers, specifically—is very much typical of Johannine style. Believers are defined as “the (one)s trusting” (oi( pisteu/ousin), or, in the singular, “the (one) trusting” (o( pisteu/wn)—3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47, 64; 7:38-39; 8:31; 11:25-26; 12:44, 46; 14:12; 17:20; 1 Jn 5:1, 5, 10, 13. There is a strong confessional aspect to these references. In First John, in particular, the author’s primary focus is on defining the true believer, in contrast to the false believer, and the nature of one’s confession of Jesus is at the heart of this definition.

Also fundamental to the Johannine theology is the use of the birth-motif, applied to believers, which we find here in verse 12b. The verb of becoming (gi/nomai, or, more commonly, the related genna/w) is used to express this, often including the qualifying prepositional expression e)k qeou= (“out of God”)—viz., one is born of, or from, God, as His offspring. The plural noun te/kna is occasionally used to express the same idea, as it is here—though it occurs more often in the Letters (e.g., 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2) than in the Gospel. A te/knon denotes something that is “produced” or “brought forth”, the noun being derived from the verb ti/ktw—such as, for example, a child being produced (brought forth) from its mother.

Verses 12b-13 introduce this theological birth-motif, which the Gospel (and the Letters) further develop. It is expounded initially, by the Gospel writer, in verse 13:

“…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 (rather) out of God—have come to be (born) [e)gennh/qhsan].”

In v. 12b, the verb gi/nomai was used, while, here in v. 13, it is the related genna/w. Both verbs essentially mean “come to be, become”, and can refer to a birth (i.e., coming to be born); however, the use of genna/w more properly, and clearly, indicates a birth. The believer’s birth “out of God” —that is, a Divine birth—is contrasted with three similar prepositional phrases, each of which represents a particular aspect of the ordinary birth-process for human beings:

    • “out of blood” (e)c ai(ma/twn)—the noun is plural and literally reads “out of bloods”, with the plural possibly alluding to the male (father) and female (mother) contributions to the embryo; in any case, the biological and physiological aspect of childbirth would seem to be emphasized here.
    • “out of (the) will of (the) flesh” (e)k qelh/mato$ sarko/$)—throughout the Gospel of John, as in much of the New Testament, the noun sa/rc (“flesh”) refers to human life and existence, in a general or comprehensive way; here the expression probably refers, in a roundabout way, to the sexual drive, and/or to other natural impulses which prompt human beings toward childbirth.
    • “out of (the) will of man” (e)k qelh/mato$ a)ndro/$)—that is, the wish and/or decision of the individual (principally, the man, or would-be father) to produce a child.

None of these natural aspects, related to human childbirth, are involved in the birth of believers as the offspring of God. That is to say, it is not an ordinary human birth at all, since the person is born from God.

Before we proceed to examine other such birth-references in the Johannine writings, the next notes in this series will focus instead on such motifs—the birth of believers, as children/offspring of God, the Divine sonship of believers, etc—as they occur in the rest of the New Testament. We will begin, roughly in chronological order, with the relevant occurrences in the Pauline Letters.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 91 (Part 1)

Psalm 91

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsApa (vv. 1-14, 16); 4QPsb (vv. 5-8, 12-15)

This famous Psalm develops an important theme that is found repeatedly in the Psalms—the protection that YHWH provides, for those who are faithful to Him, and the trust which the faithful/righteous ones may have in this protection. The Psalm is didactic and exhortational, with the Psalmist providing a voice of assurance for the faithful.

In terms of the structure of Psalm 91, there is a two-part division to the main body (vv. 3-8, 9-13), in which the Psalmist provides instruction/exhortation for the faithful, expounding the theme of Divine protection. Each of the two parts is marked by an opening emphatic yK! particle, followed by a pronoun: “Indeed, He…” (v. 3), “Indeed, you…” (v. 9). Cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 426-8.

In the introductory vv. 1-2, the faithful person, the one who seeks (and finds) protection in YHWH, is presented, with a declaration of his trust in YHWH. In the closing vv. 14-16, it is YHWH who speaks, affirming that He will protect the one who trusts in Him.

The text of Psalm 91 deserves a brief comment, in light of the two Qumran manuscripts—4QPsb and 11QPsApa (or 11QApPs)—in which it is extensively preserved. The manuscript 11QApPs (ApPs being short for “Apocryphal Psalms”) is particularly interesting, as it represents a set of four Psalms to be used in exorcism against demons. The first three of these Psalms are otherwise unknown, but the fourth is Psalm 91. While the surviving text of 4QPsb closely matches the MT of Psalm 91, that of 11QApPs contains many differences and variant readings, which will be noted at the relevant points.

The meter of this Psalm is irregular, though a 3-beat couplet (3+3) or tricolon (3+3+3) pattern tends to be followed.

There is no superscription/heading in the Masoretic Text, but 11QApPs has the designation dywdl (“belonging to David”), attributing it to David, as is the case with many other Psalms.

Verses 1-2

“(The one) sitting in (the) hiding (place) of (the) Most High,
in (the) shadow of (the) Mountain will stay the night—
(So) I will say:
‘O YHWH, my place of refuge and my stronghold,
my Mighty (One), in whom I seek protection!'”

The opening verses of the Psalm confront us with a significant textual problem, one which is critical for an interpretation of the overall scenario of the Psalm. For the first word of verse 2, a form of the verb rm^a* (“say”), the MT has a first-person singular imperfect form (rm^a)), “I will say…”. The Qumran manuscript 11QApPs, however, reads instead a participle (with definite article), rmwah, “the (one) saying…”, a reading apparently supported by some manuscripts of the LXX. Overall, the LXX indicates a third-person singular imperfect form (“he will say…”). Dahood (II, p. 330) offers yet another option, by vocalizing rma as an imperative (rm)a=, “say…!”, “let him say…”).

This leaves with four different ways—all viable—of understanding the situation in vv. 1-2. I have tentatively opted for the MT, as the lectio difficilior—i.e., the more difficult reading, and the one which best explains the rise of all the others. The likelihood is that the other readings represent attempts to smooth over the sudden shift in person (third person in v. 1, first person in v. 2). Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 427) also maintains the MT, but translates with a slightly different syntactical emphasis.

It is possible that, in the original text, there was no rma-verb at the beginning of v. 2. Indeed, it would seem to be extraneous to the 3+3 meter of vv. 1-2; I indicate this in the translation above.

The best way of interpreting vv. 1-2 would seem to be that the speaker of v. 2 represents one of the faithful, who is able to make his/her declaration of trust in YHWH, because he/she knows the truth of what is stated in v. 1: viz., the person under YHWH’s protection will be able make it through the night (of danger) safe and secure. There is a clear synonymous parallelism in verse 1, bracketed, in terms of the word order, as a semi-chiasm:

    • “(The one) sitting
      • in (the) hiding (place) of (the) Most High
      • in (the) shadow of (the) Mountain
    • will stay (through) the night.”

The terms rt#s@ (“hiding [place]”) and lx@ (“shadow, shade”) are parallel, both indicating a place of shelter and protection. The Divine titles /oyl=u# and yD^v^ are also parallel, referring to YHWH as a place of shelter/protection. Both are Divine names, used as titles and epithets for YHWH in Israelite and Old Testament tradition. The title /oylu# (±Elyôn) essentially means “Highest” or “Most High”. The meaning and derivation of yD^v^ (Šadday) is more difficult to determine; most likely it is related to Akkadian šadû[m] (“mountain, mountain-range”) and the adjective šadd¹°û (also the substantive šaddû°a), “mountain-dwelling” (or “-dweller”). It would thus mean something like “He of the Mountain” or “(the) Mountainous One”. The emphasis is not so much on a mountain as YHWH’s dwelling, but on He Himself being mountain-like. Cf. the discussion (s.v.) in HALOT, p. 1421.

YHWH provides a secure place ‘up high’ (since He Himself is the “Most High”), such as one might find high in the mountains, for shelter and protection. The faithful one, having sought (and found) such protection in YHWH, is able to make the declaration of trust in v. 2, with its emphasis on God as a place of protection. This is a familiar theme which we have encountered numerous times in the Psalms. Indeed, the verbs hs*j* and jf^B*, both of which denote seeking/finding protection, occur frequently in the Psalms. For example, jf^B* (here in line 2) occurs 46 times in the Psalms (out of 120 OT occurrences); the root hsj occurs here (line 1) in the form of the locative noun hs#j&m^ (“place of refuge”), one of 12 occurrences (out of 20 in the OT) in the Psalms. The noun dWxm* (feminine hd*Wxm=), paired with hsj&m^, more specifically refers to a fortified location (in the mountains). In 11QApPs, the verb form of jf^B* here is preceded by a cognate noun (jtbm) from the same root, further amplifying the idea of YHWH as the righteous one’s source of protection.

Verse 3

“Indeed, He will snatch you
from (the) snare-layer’s trap,
(from the) downfalling sting.”

In the main body of the Psalm, the Psalmist speaks with a voice that gives assurance to the faithful (vv. 1-2). There is thus a certain Wisdom-character to Psalm 91, giving it a didactic orientation—viz., of providing instruction and exhortation for the righteous. There is a rhythmic shift here, moving from the 3-beat couplet format of vv. 1-2 to a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. There are also tricola in verse 4 and 7 (cf. below).

The imagery also changes in v. 3, with the Divine protection now being described in terms of rescuing the faithful from danger. The verb used is lx^n` (Hiphil stem), which means “snatch (away)” (i.e., out of danger). This danger is depicted as metal trap (jP^) used in hunting/fowling to snare (vWq) birds, etc. An animal caught in such a trap experiences the painful sting (rb#D# II) of disaster (lit. “downfall”, hW`h*). There is a bit of foreshadowing wordplay with rb#D# I (“plague”), used later in the Psalm.

Verse 4

“With His feathers He will give cover to you,
and under His wings you will find protection—
a shield and surrounding wall (is) His arm.”

A different image of protection is given here in the longer (3-beat) tricolon of v. 4—that of the feathered wings of a bird that surround its young, giving it protective cover (vb Ek^s*). The verb hs*j* is used for the idea of (the righteous) finding protection in YHWH (cf. on verse 2 above). In 11QApPs, the verb in line 2 is /kv (“dwell”) rather than hs*j*, though the meaning is presumably the same (i.e., dwell secure).

The surrounding wings of lines 1-2 are transformed into the military imagery of shield (hN`x!) and protective wall (hr*j@s)) in line 3. As for the final word, I follow Dahood (II, p. 331) in vocalizing otma as otM*a^, “His arm [hM*a^]”, which makes a much more suitable parallel to the wings of lines 1-2. Interestingly, 11QApPs has a longer text, which suggests that line 3 in the MT is actually part of a couplet:

His devotion [dsj] over you (is) a shield,
and a protective wall his faithfulness [tma].”

If this text is original, then it would confirm that the MT vocalization oTm!a& (“His faithfulness”) is correct.

Verses 5-6

“You need not have fear from (the) terror of night,
(nor) from (the) arrow (that) flies during the day,
from (the) plague (that) walks in the darkness,
(or) from (the) scourge (that) strikes (in the) double-light.”

Because of the protection YHWH provides to the faithful, they do not need to be afraid of any danger that might come near them. The two couplets of vv. 5-6 are parallel in juxtaposing the dangers at night (in the dark) with those during the day (in the bright light of noon-time). The motifs of terror and violence in verse 5 are most obviously associated with warfare, as indicated by the image of arrows flying. However, such imagery can symbolize other kinds of threats, such as the suffering and death that comes from disease. The parallel terms rb#D# and bf#q# in v. 6 both refer to disease or plague; in Deut 32:24, bf#q# is paired with [v#r#, a term similarly meaning ‘plague’, but which can also indicate a demon-spirit that brings disease. See above on the exorcism context of Psalm 91 in the Qumran manuscript 11QApPs.

11QApPs has the lines of v. 6 in reverse order from that of the MT.

Verse 7

“A thousand may fall at your side,
and a multitude at your right hand,
but to you it shall not come near.”

The death that comes, whether from warfare or disease (vv. 5-6), will not “come near” (vb vg^n`) the righteous one who is under YHWH’s protection; 11QApPs has the verb ugn (“touch”, used frequently in the context of disease) rather than vgn. This irregular (3+2+3) tricolon is perhaps the most beautiful and memorable of the Psalm.

Verse 8

“Yet with your eyes you will look at (it),
and will see (the) completion of the wicked!”

The initial qr^ of line 1 in the MT, if correct, is apparently meant to draw a contrast with the situation in v. 7. That is, the righteous will not be touched by the death that afflicts the rest of the population, yet they will be able to look at and witness it. In so doing, they will see the punishment that comes to the wicked. The root <lv (“be full, complete”), in this context, can connote the idea of retribution, or of a person receiving the proper punishment ‘paid back’, in compensation for one’s (wicked) deeds. The idea of ‘paying back’ is a development of the basic meaning of the verb <l^v* in the transitive, “complete, fulfill”. The noun hm*L%v!, used here, also captures this idea of “payback”.

Dahood (II, p. 332f) would divide the text of the first two words differently from MT, reading ;yn#yu@ bq*r* instead of ;n#yu@B= qr^. This would yield, for the first line: “(With) your eyes you will see decay [bq*r*]”.

The remainder of Psalm 91 will be discussed in next week’s study (Part 2).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 2

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology, continued

This final division of our study (on John 1:14) is presented in three parts:

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts) [Part 1]
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology [Part 2]
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ [Part 3]

We turn now to Part 2:

The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology

In the earlier exegesis of John 1:14, we examined how the Gospel Prologue, and its underlying Logos-poem, draws heavily on Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition. The main Scriptural passage is Proverbs 8:22-31, in which Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*) is personified as a Divine entity that was present with God (YHWH) at the beginning of Creation (vv. 22-26), and who worked alongside Him in the creation process (vv. 27-30). The passage concludes with a reference (v. 31) implying Wisdom’s desire to dwell among human beings on earth.

The line of Wisdom-tradition expressed in this famous Scripture passage was developed by subsequent generations of Jewish authors and expositors. Most notable, from a New Testament standpoint, are certain key Hellenistic Jewish authors, writing in Greek, who expressed this Wisdom-theology in the language and idiom of Greek philosophy. The deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom is a prime example, as are the writings of Philo of Alexandria (a contemporary of early Christians in the mid-first century). Philo, in particular, subsumes the Hellenistic Jewish concept of Divine Wisdom (sofi/a) under the philosophical-theological use of the term lo/go$. On Philo’s use of lo/go$, and its parallels with the Johannine Prologue, cf. my recent article (in the “Ancient Parallels” feature).

As I have discussed, there is wide agreement, among commentators on the Johannine writings, that the Gospel Prologue draws upon Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition, under the term lo/go$, much in the manner that Philo does. The emphasis, in the Genesis Creation account, on God creating through the spoken word (1:3ff), also greatly facilitated this development. It is attested by Philo, and also is found in the Book of Wisdom—note, for example, the close (synonymous) parallel, between creation through the Divine Word (lo/go$) and Wisdom (so/fia) in 9:1-2. Thus the Logos/Wisdom connection with creation, expressed in the Prologue (vv. 1-5), was well-established when the Gospel (and the Logos-poem of the Prologue) was composed.

At least as important for the Prologue was the idea of the Divine Wisdom seeking to find a dwelling place among human beings (and especially God’s people Israel) on earth. The key references—esp. Prov 8:31; Wisd 7:27-28; 9:10; Sirach 24:7-8ff; 1 Enoch 42:1-2—have been discussed. In particular, the emphasis in 1 Enoch 42:2, on the failure of Wisdom to find a welcome place among human beings, is close to what we find in vv. 10-11 of the Prologue. The rejection of God’s Wisdom by the majority of people is a familiar motif in Wisdom tradition (cf. Sirach 15:7; Baruch 3:12, etc).

Thus, from the standpoint of the theology of the Prologue, Jesus is to be identified with the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God—indeed, this Word/Wisdom (Logos) became incarnate in the person of Jesus (1:14), so as to dwell among human beings in an entirely new (and unprecedented) way.

While this Wisdom background of the Johannine Prologue (and Gospel) has long been recognized by commentators, there has come to be an increasing awareness, among New Testament scholars in recent decades, of a similar, and more general, Wisdom influence on early Christology. Here we will examine briefly the evidence for this, to see how the Johannine Christology, identifying Jesus with the pre-existent Wisdom of God, relates to the wider Christology of the New Testament. Our study will focus on two areas: (1) the Synoptic Tradition, particularly the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and (2) the Pauline Letters, especially the references in 1 Corinthians 1-3 and Colossians 1:15-20.

1. The Synoptic Tradition (Matthew-Luke)

It was widely recognized, by the first believers and those who heard Jesus speak, that he possessed great wisdom (sofi/a). This is specifically emphasized in one tradition—the episode in the synagogue at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6 par)—where the people react with wonder at Jesus’ teaching: “From where (did) these (thing)s (come) to this (man)? and what (is) th(is) wisdom given to this (man)?” (6:2 [par Matt 13:54]; cp. 1:22 par). The implication is that Jesus has been gifted by a special wisdom from God.

The Lukan Infancy narrative also emphasizes the wisdom possessed by Jesus, referencing it, more generally, in the summary narrative statements of 2:40 and 52. Elsewhere in Luke-Acts, wisdom is specifically associated with the Spirit of God, indicating its Divine origin and inspired character (Lk 21:15; Acts 6:3, 10).

Particularly notable are several references in Matthew and Luke (part of the so-called “Q” material). First, at the close of the section Lk 7:18-35 (par Matt 11:1-19), we have the declaration by Jesus:

“And (yet) Wisdom is proven to be right from her offspring.” (v. 35)

The Matthean version (11:19c) differs in reading “her works,” instead of “her offspring”. Verse 35 may represent a separate wisdom-saying by Jesus; however, in the context of vv. 18-35 (esp. vv. 31-34), emphasizing the rejection of both Jesus and John the Baptist by the majority of people, the saying implies that Jesus and the Baptist are both “offspring” of Wisdom—that is, of Divine Wisdom personified (as in Prov 8:22-31, cf. above). The Matthean version implies, specifically, that they are doing the “works” of Wisdom—especially, viz., in their teaching/preaching. The rejection of Wisdom’s “offspring” (Jesus) should be viewed as part of the rejection of Divine Wisdom itself. The motif of the “offspring” of Wisdom relates to the feminine personification of Wisdom (the Hebrew word hm*k=j* and Greek sofi/a both being grammatically feminine)—Wisdom is like a woman who gives birth to children.

This begins to resemble the idea in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:35), of Jesus coming to be born as a result of the coming of the Spirit of God upon Mary, his mother. In a somewhat similar manner, Jesus is identified as God’s Son when the Spirit comes down upon him at the Baptism (3:21 par; cf. the discussion in Part 1). The Messianic motif of the coming of the Spirit upon the anointed/chosen one of God (Isa 42:1; 61:1), the “child” of God (pai=$, Isa 42:1 LXX), is a vital traditional source for the Baptism scene in the Gospels. In Isa 11:1-2ff, a similar Messianic passage, wisdom and the Spirit of God are closely connected (v. 2), so that one can fairly assume that Jesus, in the Gospel portrait, was fully endued with the wisdom of God when the Spirit came upon him.

Wisdom 7:27-28 suggests the possibility that this Gospel Christology involves, in at least a rudimentary way, the idea that the pre-existent Wisdom of God (vv. 25-26) came to dwell in the person of Jesus. He and John the Baptist both could be identified as among the holy ones, the chosen prophets and “friends of God”, in whom Wisdom came to reside (v. 27f) and work.

A second Q-passage is Luke 11:49-51 (par Matt 23:34-36), which begins:

“For this (reason), the Wisdom of God said: ‘I will send forth to them foretellers [i.e. prophets] and (those) sent forth from (me), and (some) of them they will kill off and pursue…'” (v. 49)

The context of this saying is the lament in vv. 46-48ff, condemning the religious teachers/leaders of the time, identifying them with those in past generations who persecuted and killed the representatives of God, the prophets. The implication is that Jesus is one of these messengers of God, a true teacher who proclaims the word of God to the people. Here, in the Lukan version, which probably reflects the ‘original’ version of the Q tradition, the inspired prophets are “sent forth” by the Wisdom of God—the Divine Wisdom being again personified. Interestingly, in the Matthean version (23:34), by omitting the Wisdom reference, the Gospel writer effectively makes Jesus the speaker of the statement spoken by Wisdom: “For this reason, see, I send forth to you…”. The implication may well be that Jesus himself represents the Divine Wisdom.

In a third Q tradition (Lk 11:29-32, par Matt 12:38-42), Jesus is identified as possessing wisdom far greater than that of Solomon (v. 31), just as his preaching is greater than that of Jonah (v. 32). This Wisdom-reference is connected with a Son of Man saying; in various ways, the title “Son of Man”, as applied by Jesus (to himself) in the Gospel Tradition, identifies Jesus with the exalted/heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14. In the Gospel of John, as we have seen, the Son of Man sayings are understood in the special Johannine theological sense of the pre-existent Son’s heavenly origin. Some scholars would see a similar theological significance in the Synoptic Son of Man sayings, but I find little or no evidence for this: some of the Synoptic sayings relate to the exaltation of Jesus, and of the (subsequent) end-time appearance of this exalted figure, but do not particularly indicate pre-existence.

It has been argued that the Gospel of Matthew evinces a Wisdom Christology that identifies Jesus as both the Wisdom and Word (i.e. the Torah) of God, in an incarnate manner that resembles, in certain respects, the view of Jesus in the Gospel of John. I find this line of argument to be overstated, but there are several Matthean passages that are worth mentioning. First, there is 11:25-30, which contains Q material (vv. 25-27, par Lk 10:21-22), to which was added the sayings in vv. 28-30. These verses have a strong Wisdom orientation, utilizing wording that suggests Jesus may be identified himself with the Wisdom of God (personified); note, for example the similar motifs and parallels of wording in Sirach 51:23-26ff. The call for people to come and learn from him resembles the call of Wisdom in, e.g., Prov 1:20ff; 8:1ff, etc.

The citation of Psalm 78:2 by Jesus in Matt 13:35 could be taken as implying that he is to be identified with the pre-existent Wisdom of Prov 8:22-31. See, similarly in this context, the statements in vv. 11 and 16-17; these verses represent traditional material (Synoptic/Markan and “Q”), but the Matthean presentation suggests a theological (and Christological) development of the tradition.

In the Matthean “Sermon on the Mount”, rooted at least partly in Q-material, there is a similar kind of theological development, in which Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah carries an authority which matches that of the Torah itself—cf. the sayings in 5:17-20, and throughout the Antitheses of vv. 21-48. For more on these passages, see the notes and articles in the series “Jesus and the Law”. The implication is (or may be) that Jesus, in his person, embodies the very Word (and Wisdom) of God.

2. The Pauline Letters

Paul refers to wisdom, using the word sofi/a, more often than any other New Testament author. However, these references tend to be concentrated in two main sections: (a) 1 Corinthians 1-3, and (b) in and around the ‘Christ-hymn’ of Colossians 1:15-20.

I have discussed these passages extensively in prior notes and articles (cf. the notes on 1 Cor 1:17-2:16, and the article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, along with the notes on Col 1:15-20), so I will deal with them in only a summary fashion here. The Colossians Christ-hymn will also be touched upon in Part 3.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, Paul, in expounding the main proposition of 1:17, develops the theme of the fundamental contrast between human/worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God. The Gospel, however foolish it may seem (in its emphasis on the cross), represents the Divine Wisdom, in contrast with the wisdom prized and valued by the world. The statement in verse 24 goes beyond this thought, seemingly identifying Jesus himself with the Divine Wisdom; this, however, can be misleading, since the context of v. 23 clearly indicates that the focus remains on the crucifixion of Jesus:

“But we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) having been put to the stake [i.e. crucified]—for (the) Yehudeans something (that) trips (them) up, and for (the) nations something foolish, but for the (one)s (who are) called, both Yehudeans and Greeks, (it is the) Anointed (One), (the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God” (vv. 23-24)

The further statement in v. 30 seems even to echo the Johannine idea of the incarnation of the pre-existent Wisdom:

“Out of [i.e. from] Him you are in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who was made to become [e)genh/qh] wisdom for us from God, and (also for us) righteousness, (the ability to) be made holy, and (the) loosing from (bondage)”

The same verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used here as in Jn 1:14, yet the orientation is different: in Jn 1:14, the pre-existent Wisdom becomes a human being (in the person of Jesus), while here it is Jesus who becomes (lit. is made to become) the Wisdom of God. He “becomes” the Divine Wisdom through his death—painful and humiliating—on the cross. Certainly the resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus is also understood here, though the exaltation does not occur without first the experience of the low point of death. This is the profound paradox of Christian faith—exaltation through shameful suffering and death—in which the Wisdom of God is manifest.

Paul’s line of argument shifts in 2:6, as he begins to speak of wisdom that is discussed among those who are “complete”. The precise nature of this wisdom continues to be debated among commentators. Does it refer to something other than (or beyond) the Gospel of the cross of Christ? I have discussed the subject in the aforementioned article (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), focusing on verses 10-15. This Wisdom is clearly related to the presence and activity of the Spirit. Note the relative lack of reference to the Spirit in 1:18-2:5ff (only in 2:4), compared to density of references in vv. 10-16. Believers receive the Spirit through trust in Jesus, and come to participate (spiritually) in the death and resurrection of Jesus, becoming united with him. The Wisdom manifest in his death thus becomes open to us, and, through the Spirit, we are able to delve the depths of the Divine Wisdom.

In my view, this Wisdom emphasis in 1 Corinthians is far removed from the Wisdom Christology of the Gospel of John. Much closer to the Johannine Christology are the references in Colossians, which demonstrate that such a Wisdom Christology was not foreign to Paul. The key reference is in 2:2-3, where we find the identification of Jesus himself with the “secret [musth/rion] of God” —

“in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden away.” (v. 3)

This statement goes beyond what we find in 1 Corinthians 1-3; the emphasis is not on the death of Jesus, but on his very person. The ‘Christ-hymn’ earlier in 1:15-20 is most significant in this regard (cf. my earlier series of notes), beginning with the opening declaration in verse 15, in which it is stated that the Son of God (Jesus) is the one—

“who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of the unseen God…”

This philosophical-theological use of the term ei)kw/n occurs also in 2 Cor 3:18 and 4:4; the wording in these indisputably Pauline verses is almost certainly influenced by Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition, such as we find in Philo and the Book of Wisdom—note, in particular, the wording of Wisd 7:26:

“For she is a shining forth [a)pau/gasma, i.e. reflection] of eternal light,
a looking-glass [e&soptron, i.e. mirror] of the spotless working of God,
and (the) image [ei)kw/n] of His goodness.”

The phrase in Col 1:15b is clearly drawn from the tradition of the (personified) pre-existent Wisdom (of Prov 8:22-31, etc). What follows in 1:16-20 is a pre-existence Christology that resembles, in many ways that of the Johannine Gospel Prologue. Note the following parallels:

This passage will be discussed a bit further, in connection with the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11, in Part 3.

 

 

 

John 1:14 and the Baptism of Jesus

John 1:14 and the Baptism of Jesus

(This note is supplemental to the article on Jn 1:14 and New Testament Christology [see Part 1].)

“And the Word became flesh…”
kai\ o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

In the exegesis and critical analysis of Jn 1:14, presented thus far in this series, I have discussed how, in my view, the phrase sa\rc e)ge/neto (“came to be flesh”) refers to the birth of the Logos as a human being. Whether this emphasis on a human birth was present in the underlying ‘Logos-poem’ of the Prologue, it would seem be in view for the Gospel writer, particularly given the birth-motif that is in focus in the prior vv. 12-13. Even many commentators who might downplay the birth-aspect of the wording in verse 14, would still include a human birth as part of the incarnation of the Logos—that is, his life and existence as a human being (in the person of Jesus).

However, it should be pointed out, that not all scholars accept this traditional incarnational understanding of the Johannine Christology. While it remains a minority view, there have been, since the beginning of the 20th century (and the Le Quatrième Évangile of A. Loisy, first edition 1903), a small number of commentators and theologians who would maintain that 1:14 refers to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus during the Baptism event (vv. 29-34). Francis Watson offers a clear, if rather brief, survey of the main lines of evidence in support of this view, in his article “Is John’s Christology Adoptionistic?” (in The Glory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology in Memory of George Bradford Caird, eds. L. D. Hurst and N. T. Wright [Clarendon Press: 1987], pp. 113-24).

Certainly, the references to John the Baptist in the Prologue (vv. 6-8, 15), surrounding as they do vv. 9-12a, 14, would tend to support an association between the manifestation of the Logos on earth (in the person of Jesus) and the Baptism scene. The addition of these Baptist-verses to the Logos-poem places the Logos Christology of the poem more clearly within the context of the Gospel (chaps. 1-3). With the preceding verses 6-8 in view, verses 9-12a can be read as referring to (or at least foreshadowing) the appearance of the Logos in the person of Jesus:

“The true Light, which gives light to every man, was coming [e)rxo/menon] into the world.” (v. 9)
“He was [h@n] in the world…” (v. 10)
“the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh and set up tent among us…” (v. 14)

The three verbs emphasized in these verses are the same three featured in the Baptist-saying of verse 15; the repetition of this saying in v. 30 clearly positions it as part of the Baptism scene. The implication could then be that the manifestation of the Logos, in the person of Jesus, occurred at the Baptism—this was the moment when the Logos “came to be flesh”, viz., was manifest as a human being.

Perhaps the strongest evidence in favor of this view of the Baptism is the use of the verb katabai/nw (“step down,” i.e., come down, descend) in vv. 32-33. The use of this verb is part of the broader Gospel tradition regarding the Baptism scene, since it also occurs in the Synoptic account(s):

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he [i.e. Jesus] saw the heavens splitting (open), and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [katabai=non] unto him.” (Mk 1:10 par)

This traditional account contains both the verb katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up,” i.e., go up, ascend). These are common verbs, used frequently in narrative; however, in the Gospel of John, they have special theological (and Christological) significance. Within the theological idiom of the Gospel, the verb a)nabai/nw refers to the exaltation of the Son (Jesus)—a process that entails his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The verb katabai/nw, correspondingly, refers to the coming of the Son to earth (from heaven), in order to fulfill the mission for which he was sent by God the Father.

These verbs feature in the Discourses of chapters 3 and 6, in connection with the Johannine “Son of Man” sayings by Jesus. The first of these sayings is in 1:51, where the descent-ascent motif in the visionary scene effectively summarizes the entire Johannine theology (and Gospel narrative). The verb-pair occurs again in the Son of Man saying in 3:13:

“…no one has stepped up [a)nabe/bhken] into the heaven, if not [i.e. except] the (one hav)ing stepped down [kataba/$], the Son of Man.”

The heavenly origin of the Son (Jesus) is thus quite clearly implied, as well a foreshadowing of his exaltation (and heavenly return), cf. verse 14. Similarly, in the chapter 6 Bread of Life Discourse, there are repeated references and allusions to Jesus’ (i.e., the Son’s) heavenly origin, having “come down” to earth, using the verb katabai/nw (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 51, 58); the Father/Son relationship is emphasized throughout the Discourse, while the expression “Son of Man” also occurs in vv. 27 and 53. The corresponding verb a)nabai/nw is used in another Son of Man saying, outside of the Discourse proper (but still clearly related to it in the narrative context), in verse 62. The verb a)nabai/nw is one of several Johannine verbs (e.g., u(yo/w, “lift up high”, doca/zw, “[give] honor to, glorify”) used to express the idea of the Son’s exaltation (and return to the Father)—cf. the Son of Man sayings in 8:28; 12:23 [and 34]; 13:31; and note the further use of a)nabai/nw in 20:17.

Given this important Christological usage of the verb katabai/nw, where the verb specifically refers to the descent of the Son from heaven, it would be plausible to suggest that the same meaning is implied in the Baptism scene as well. That is to say, the use of the verb in 1:32-33, where the Spirit of God is described as coming down upon Jesus, is another way of referring to the Son’s descent. Now, in the Prologue, it is the pre-existent Logos that is manifest as a human being; however, throughout the Gospel, the emphasis is on the manifestation of the pre-existent Son, and, in vv. 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer clearly transitions from the Logos concept to that of Son. Thus the Gospel writer could affirm that it was the pre-existent Son of God who was manifest in the person of Jesus.

The Son could be seen as coming down upon Jesus, through the presence of the Spirit, at the Baptism, and thus being manifest in the person of Jesus throughout the time of his ministry. This would be in keeping with the wider Gospel tradition, since, even in the Synoptics, the identification of Jesus as God’s Son is connected prominently with the Baptism scene (Mark 1:11 par; cp. Jn 1:34 [MT]). Cf. also the discussion in Part 1 of the main article.

Given the references/allusions to the departure of the Spirit in 19:30, 34, and the Johannine idea of Jesus’ death on the cross as marking the beginning of the Son’s departure (back to the Father), it would also be plausible to infer that the Son departed from Jesus, even in the manner that He came upon him, through the ‘ascending’ of the Divine Spirit. In traditional Christological terminology, such a view of Christ is referred to as a “separationist” Christology. That is to say, the Divine Christ (i.e., the Son) and the man Jesus are regarded two separate entities, who were joined together at the Baptism, and then separated at the moment of Jesus’ death.

Apart from the Prologue, it would be conceivable to read the Johannine Gospel narrative as reflecting a “separationist” Christology—viz., the Son, through the Spirit, descends upon the man Jesus, remaining with him throughout his ministry, then ascends/departs from him at the moment of his death. Regardless of whether the Gospel writer could have had anything like this in mind, there is a strong possibility that at least some Johannine Christians did hold such a view of Jesus. Indeed, it may well be represented by the Christological view of the opponents in 1 and 2 John. A rudimentary separationist Christology is attributed to Cerinthus by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1.26.1); and Cerinthus was connected, according to tradition, with the apostle John (and thus the early Johannine Community [in Ephesus]). In prior notes and articles, I have discussed the possibility that the opponents in 1-2 John held a similar separationist Christology.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 90 (Part 2)

Psalm 90, continued

Prayer: Verses 11-16

Verse 11

“Who knows (the) might of your (burning) anger,
and <who> sees (the) center of your boiling (rage)?

The second part of the Psalm (vv. 11-16) constitutes a prayer, following the lament in the first part (vv. 3-10, discussed in the previous study). The Wisdom orientation of the lament continues in this initial unit (vv. 11-12), which can be viewed as transitional to the prayer proper (in vv. 13-16).

The MT of this verse is problematic. The meter is irregular (3+2), and the first word of the second line creates an awkward reading and syntax— “and according to your fear your boiling (rage)”. A parallelism of the lines would indicate that “and according to your fear” (;t=a*r=y]k=W) should match “who (is the one) knowing (the) might of…?” (zu) u^d@oy ym!) in the first line. It has been suggested (cf. Kraus, p. 214, following Gunkel; HALOT, p. 1730) that the MT should be emended slightly—from itaryk to itarym—and redivided and vocalized as Et) ha#r) ym!. This emendation finds support in the LXX, which translates beginning with a)po (“from…”), assuming a preposition /m! (prefixed –m).

While the LXX translator may have understood a prefixed preposition (-m), it is more likely that an interrogative particle (ym!) was present in the original, being repeated from the first line to create a double rhetorical question. The parallelism would then be formal:

    • Who (is) | knowing | (the) might of | your anger?
    • Who (is) | seeing | (the) center of | your rage?

The verb ha*r* (“see”) in this case would have the sense of “perceive, recognize, understand”, bringing out the parallel with ud^y` (“know”). The word ET) (defective for EoT) is understood as the substantive (meaning “midst, middle, inside”) derived from the root Ew#T*; for concision, I translate it above as “center,” though “heart” would make a better poetic rendering. As a parallel with zu), (“strength, might, power”), the sense is probably something like “substance, essence, force”. The noun hr*b=u# denotes something “crossing over”; when used of the anger of YHWH (as earlier in v. 9), the sense is of an ‘overflowing’ rage that bursts forth (or, in the idiom I am using here, “boils over”).

Verse 12

“(How) to number our days, so may you help us know,
that we might bring (in) a heart of wisdom.”

The implication of the double question in v. 11 is that no human being is able to understand fully the reasons for God’s anger—and, in particular, why it should last as long as it does. The length of YHWH’s anger is tied to the related theme of the shortness of human life; this was a key Wisdom-theme in the lament (cf. the exegesis in Part 1), and it continues here. The wise person knows how to “number” (vb hn`m*) his/her days; the point is not simply to know the length of one’s life, but to make the most of it. This is achieved through YHWH’s instruction (vb ud^y` Hiphil, “make know, bring knowledge”); the person who knows (v. 11) receives the teaching provided by God.

The corresponding Hiphil of the verb aoB in line 2, “make come” (i.e., “bring”), should be understood in the sense of “bring in”, with the contextual connotation of acquiring something and bringing it into one’s possession. In this instance, the possession to be desired is a “heart of wisdom” (i.e., a wise heart).

Verse 13

“Turn back, O YHWH—until when?—
and ease (your anger) over your servants!”

As noted above, the prayer properly begins here in verse 13. The Psalmist pleads for YHWH to “turn back” from His anger (v. 11, and in vv. 7-9). The verb bWv (“turn back”) can also be understood here in the sense of YHWH returning to His people, so as to give them blessing and protection once again. However, the idea of God refraining from His punishing anger would seem to be the dominant aspect of meaning. The verb <j^n` in the second line can be difficult to translate; when used in the Niphal (passive-reflexive) stem, as it is here, it typically refers to a person finding relief, with the easing of strong emotions (such as anger or grief). Here, the verb, as applied to YHWH, clearly refers to an easing of His anger, to the point where it eventually subsides.

The expression “your servants”, as it is used here in the Psalms (and elsewhere in Scripture), specifically designates the faithful ones among God’s people. Even though they have been loyal to YHWH (and to the covenant), they still have endured, along with the rest of the people, the punishing anger of God. The Psalmist typically identifies himself with these faithful/loyal ones.

The temporal expression yt*m*-du^, “until when…?” (i.e., “how long…?”), echoes the tone of lament from Part 1 (vv. 3-10). It occurs with some frequency in the Psalms, and can be used in the context of both a personal and national lament—cf. 6:4 [3]; 74:10; 80:5 [4]; 94:3; for the comparable expressions hm*-du^ and hn`a*-du^, cf. 13:1; 74:9; 79:5; 89:47[46]; note also 35:17.

Verse 14

“May you fill us in the break (of day) (with) your goodness,
that we may sing out and be glad in all our days!”

The Psalmist here draws upon the language from the lament, utilizing the day-motif (also in v. 12, cf. above)—both in the temporal sense of the passing of a day (and the “days” of a person’s life), and in the symbolic sense of the daylight that marks the end of the darkness of night. On the interplay of these two aspects of meaning, cf. the notes on vv. 4-9 in Part 1. The noun rq#B) specifically denotes the “break (of day), daybreak”, and was used in vv. 4-5. Here, it represents the moment when the ‘night-time’ of YHWH’s anger against His people comes to an end, the darkness being dispelled by rays of light—symbolizing the blessing and favor that God once again shows to His people.

This idea of blessing/favor is expressed two ways in the first line: (a) by the verb ub^c* which generally means “be filled (up)”, to the point of abundance, overflowing, etc; and (b) by the familiar noun ds#j#, meaning “goodness, kindness”, though often in the covenantal sense of “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. With regard to ds#j#, here the idea of YHWH’s loyalty to the covenant is certainly present, however it is the primary aspect of goodness (i.e., blessing and favor) that is being emphasized.

The blessing that comes at daybreak will allow the righteous to rejoice (singing/ringing out, vb /n~r*) and to be glad (vb jm^c*) all of their days.

Verse 15

“Let us be glad, according to (the number of) days you pressed us,
(according to the) years (that) we have seen evil.”

The Psalmist asks that he (and the other faithful ones of his people) be allowed to experience gladness (vb jm^c*, repeated from v. 14) for a length of time commensurate with their experience of suffering. This suffering occurred when the people were “pressed down” (vb hn`u*) by YHWH, afflicted by His punishing anger. The period of this punishment seems to have been quite long, indicated by the mention here of “years”, as well as the temporal expression yt*m*-du^ (“until when…?”) in verse 13. This suggests that the Exile is in view, with a corresponding exilic (or post-exilic) dating for the Psalm; however, the reference here is brief and general enough that other periods in Israel’s history could also provide the relevant background.

The feminine plural form tomy+ (“days”), rather than the masculine <ym!y`, is a bit odd, and may simply be used for poetic assonance with the following tonv= (“years”). The same pair of word-forms occurs in Deut 32:7, and it is likely that there is an intentional allusion to that verse here; cf. Dahood, II, p. 326.

Verse 16

“Let your act be visible to your servants,
and your (very) splendor upon their sons!”

The Psalmist’s short prayer (vv. 13-16) concludes with this request a manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people. The implication is that God, in His anger, has turned away from His people; but now, according the Psalmist’s petition (v. 13), it is hoped that He will return. The Niphal (passive) of the verb ha*r* (“see”) means “be seen”, i.e., be visible, be manifest/apparent. YHWH’s action (lu^P)), that which He does (and will do) on behalf of His people, will be seen. This probably is an allusion to the historical traditions of the mighty deeds performed by YHWH in the past, which, in their miraculous nature, would be looked upon with wonder by all people.

In manifesting Himself, His very splendor (rd*j*) will be revealed to future generations, even as it was to those in the past. There may be a veiled reference here to Moses’ request to see YHWH’s glory (Exod 33:18), though the noun rd*h* (relatively common in the Psalms) is used instead of dobK*. More broadly, the various theophanies of the Moses/Exodus traditions (e.g., Exod 19-20, 24, 33-34f, 40) are likely in view, being alluded to by the Psalmist in his prayer.

Benediction: VERSE 17

“And let (the) favor of our Lord (the) Mightiest be upon us,
and may He make firm (the) work of our hands for us,
and (also) make firm for Him (the) work of our hands!”

The Psalm concludes with this benediction, an irregular tricolon that is rather awkward in both rhythm and phrasing. It may have been added subsequently by an editor; the repeated use of the verb (/WK, “make firm”) reminds one of the “firmness” theme that runs throughout the prior Psalm 89.

I have translated the noun <u^n) in the first line as “favor”. This noun has a relatively wide semantic range (“loveliness, pleasantness, beauty, kindness”), but it is best understood here in connection with the idea of blessing and favor from YHWH returning to His people. In this context, <u^n) would carry the primary sense of “kindness”, being close in meaning to ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”), used in v. 14. The favor shown by YHWH reflects His loyal devotion to the covenant; He will show favor to those who are faithful to Him.

The final two lines of this tricolon each express the same basic wish—viz., that YHWH would “make firm” (vb /WK, Polel) the “work” of His people’s hands. However, this is stated oddly, with slight variation in each of the two lines. In the first line, the prepositional expression Wnyl@u* (“upon us”) is added. Since this same word occurs at the end of the first line, it is possible that it was repeated here by scribal error, and should perhaps, then, be omitted. Eliminating it has the advantage of producing a clean 3-beat (3+3) meter for the two lines. If Wnyl@u* is original, then it would seem to be specifying that the “making firm” of the people’s work is for their benefit; in this case, the prepositional expression (“upon us”, “over us”) could be rendered, more simply, “for us”.

In the final line, the MT apparently includes, for the imperative, a third person singular suffix (Wh-). One is inclined to alter this to match the suffix on the verb in the prior line (paragogic h-). If this were done, along with eliminating the prepositional expression at the end of line 2 (in the MT), then the two closing lines would be identical, each reading:

hn`n+oK Wnyd@y` hc@u&m^W
“and (the) work of our hands may you make firm”

If the MT is correct, then the third person suffix on the verb in the final line may be intended as a datival suffix (a dative of advantage), as Dahood (II, p. 327) suggests. It would then serve a purpose comparable to the prepositional expression in the prior line. That is to say, it expresses who the action (i.e., the making firm) benefits; in line 2, the action is done for the people (“over us,” i.e., for us), while in line 3 it is done for God’s own sake (his honor, etc).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 1

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology

Our final area of study in this series is the relation of John 1:14 to the wider view of Christ, held by early believers, and as expressed in the New Testament. To what extent does the Johannine Christology of the Prologue (and its underlying Logos-poem) reflect the beliefs and thought of first-century Christians? In what ways does this Christology represent a natural development of the early Gospel traditions, or should it be characterized more as a distinctly Johannine creative expression?

Due to the scope of the study, which involves much of the New Testament, I will not be going into the kind of exegetical detail that I did in the first two divisions. Rather, the study will proceed as a survey, looking at the more salient points and citing certain references and phrasing when appropriate. This study will build upon the results from the prior articles, framed in terms of the Johannine Christology found in the Prologue (and particularly verse 14). It is to be divided into three parts, focusing on:

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts)
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ

Here, in Part 1, we begin with the first of these topics.

The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels

John 1:14 speaks of the incarnation (“became flesh”) of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, even though, throughout the remainder of the Gospel (and in the Letters), the principal identification is of Jesus as the Son of God. The word lo/go$ has considerable theological importance in the Johannine writings, but, outside of the Gospel Prologue, the profound Christological use of the term is, at best, only indirectly alluded to or implied. By contrast, the Gospel repeatedly refers to Jesus as the Son (ui(o/$) who was sent (by God the Father) from heaven to earth. This theology implies the idea of the Son’s pre-existence; Jesus’ words in 8:58 and 17:5, 24 state the Christological point even more directly.

In the Prologue, the Gospel writer appears to have taken an existing ‘Logos-poem’, developing and applying it to the context of the Gospel he was composing (or had composed). The Logos-poem itself draws upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition, involving the personification of Divine Wisdom (cf. Prov 8:22-31), but expressed through the philosophical/theological use of the term lo/go$, rather than utilizing the term sofi/a (“wisdom”) itself. This usage of the word lo/go$ in the Johannine Logos-poem has much in common with the way the term is used, for example, in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, as we have discussed.

In verses 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer makes the transition from the term lo/go$ (i.e., the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God) to the term ui(o/$ (i.e., the Son of God). This transition is enabled through the use of the adjective monogenh/$ (“only [Son]”) in v. 14 (cf. also v. 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9). The idea of Jesus as the incarnate Logos is absent from the Synoptic Gospels; nor does the term monogenh/$ occur (in this theological/Christological sense). However, the idea that Jesus is the unique Son of God is found at various points in the wider Gospel Tradition, going back to the early historical tradition and the earliest expressions of Christian belief.

In this article, we will examine the outlines of this belief in the Divine Sonship of Jesus, considering how it may relate to the Johannine Christology (of the Prologue, etc). I wish to focus on three areas:

    • The early exaltation Christology—viz., the Sonship of Jesus defined by his resurrection and exaltation (to God’s right hand in heaven)
    • The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism
    • The birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives
1. The early exaltation Christology

By all accounts, the earliest Christology can be characterized as an exaltation Christology—that is, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was defined primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. This exaltation resulted in his obtaining a status and position at the “right hand” of God in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The early Gospel proclamation (kerygma), as we find it preserved in the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts (and elsewhere in the New Testament), tends to define the Sonship of Jesus primarily in terms of this exaltation—see, for example, the declaration in Acts 2:36, the citations of Ps 110:1 and 2:7 (in the specific context of the resurrection) in Acts 2:34-35 and 13:33 (cp. Heb 1:5; 5:5), and Paul’s statements in 1 Thes 1:10 and Rom 1:3-4 (the latter perhaps quoting from an early credal statement).

Within the Gospel Tradition itself, the identification of Jesus as the exalted Son tends to be framed by way of the title “(the) Son of Man” (cf. Mk 13:26, 32; 14:61-62 par; Matt 16:27-28; 19:28; 24:36ff pars; 25:1). This Gospel usage of the expression “(the) Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), which unquestionably derives from authentic historical tradition (and Jesus’ own usage), is a complex matter. Four aspects of its use must be recognized:

    • As a self-reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”, so that, when Jesus speaks of “the son of man”, he is simply referring to himself
    • The Son of Man sayings, where Jesus uses the expression to identify with the suffering and mortality of the human condition
    • The Passion statements and predictions, where the human mortality of Jesus (the Son of Man) refers specifically to his own impending death (and resurrection)
    • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, in which Jesus seems to identify himself with a heavenly figure who will appear on earth and usher in the end-time Judgment

All four of these aspects are combined in the famous declaration by Jesus in Mk 14:62 par, which is clearly influenced by Daniel 7:13-14, and thus refers indirectly to the idea of Jesus’ exaltation. For more on the Gospel use of the title “Son of Man”, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with my series on the Son of Man sayings; see also my note on Dan 7:13-14.

The Gospel of John preserves this exaltation Christology, but adds to it a highly developed pre-existence Christology. The two aspects of Jesus’ Sonship are thus balanced, much as we see, for example, in the ‘Christ hymn’ of Phil 2:6-11. In the Johannine theological idiom, the exalted status which Jesus receives (following his death and resurrection) is understood as a return—that is, to the glory which he, the Son, possessed in the beginning (17:5). The “Son of Man” references in the Gospel of John are instructive in this regard (1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31). They refer not only to the exaltation (“lifting high”) of the Son of Man, but to his coming down to earth (from heaven)—i.e., during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The pairing of the related verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”) highlight this dual-aspect. In the Johannine Gospel, the emphasis is squarely on the Son’s heavenly origin.

The Son’s heavenly origin is clearly the focus in the Gospel Prologue as well. The emphasis on his pre-existent glory (do/ca) balances the traditional idea of Jesus’ post-resurrection exaltation, as does the specific image of the Logos/Son possessing this glory “alongside” (para/) the Father. One is immediately reminded of the traditional idiom of the exalted Jesus standing “at the right hand” (i.e., alongside) God in heaven (cf. above).

2. The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism

The Gospel Tradition also expresses the idea of Jesus’ Divine Sonship through the specific tradition(s) surrounding his baptism. In particular, the heavenly voice at the baptism declares, quite unequivocally, that Jesus is God’s Son (Mk 1:11; par Matt 3:17; Lk 3:22), a declaration that is essentially repeated in the Synoptic Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:7 par Matt 17:5 [where the declarations are identical]; Lk 9:35).

In my view, this idea of Jesus’ Sonship should be understood in a Messianic sense. This seems particularly clear by the Lukan version of the declaration in the Transfiguration scene:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e., chosen]…”

The use of the participle e)klelegme/no$ (from the verb e)kle/gomai) unquestionably has Messianic significance, referring to Jesus as the “Chosen (One)”. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) has this in mind, given the occurrence of the related adjective e)klekto/$ in 23:35: “…the Anointed [xristo/$] of God, the Chosen (One)”. Interestingly, in some manuscripts, the Johannine version of the heavenly declaration at the baptism (Jn 1:34) also uses the substantive adjective e)klekto/$ rather than the noun ui(o/$ (“Son”):

    • “This is the Son [ui(o/$] of God”
      [Majority Text]
    • “This is the Chosen (One) [e)klekto/$] of God”
      [the reading of Ë5vid a* and other versional witnesses]
    • “This is the Chosen Son of God”
      [a conflation of the two readings attested in a number of versional witnesses]

The original Gospel tradition almost certainly alludes to Isaiah 42:1, Jesus’ baptism (marking the beginning of his time of ministry) being seen as a fulfillment of this prophetic passage—the heavenly declaration corresponding to v. 1a, and the descent of the Spirit to v. 1b. For more on this connection, cf. my earlier study in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. Jesus is thus identified with the Deutero-Isaian Servant figure, and as a Messianic Prophet, chosen by God and anointed by His Spirit. Again, it is Luke’s Gospel that brings out this Messianic identification most clearly, identifying Jesus, in particular, with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff (4:18-19, cf. also 7:22 par). Cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

By the time the Gospels were completed, Jesus’ Messianic identity as the royal/Davidic figure type (cf. Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”) had completely eclipsed that of the Prophet figure-types. It is thus not surprising that the Sonship emphasized in the baptism scene would come to be understood in terms of the royal/Davidic type as well. The textual tradition of the Lukan version of the heavenly declaration (3:22) contains a variant reading to this effect, whereby the heavenly voice quotes Psalm 2:7. Certainly, in the Lukan and Matthean Infancy Narratives (cf. below), Jesus is identified exclusively as the Davidic Messiah, with his Sonship defined on those terms.

The place of the baptism of Jesus (and the heavenly declaration) within the Johannine Christology is problematic and remains debated by scholars. The main event at the baptism (in all four Gospel accounts) is the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (Jn 1:32-33). In the Synoptics, the clear implication is that the presence of the Spirit is tied to Jesus’ Messianic identity (Isa 42:1; 61:1), empowering him to fulfill his ministry, working miracles as a Spirit-anointed Messianic Prophet (according to figure-types of Elijah and Moses). Luke’s Gospel particularly emphasizes this role of the Spirit, in relation to Jesus’ identity as a Messianic Prophet (4:1ff, 14, 18-19ff, 24ff [note the Elijah/Elisha references in vv. 25-27]).

However, in the Gospel of John, both Jesus’ Sonship and the role of the Spirit are described very differently, and the traditional material preserved in the baptism scene thus needs to be interpreted and explained accordingly. I am devoting an extensive supplemental note to this subject.

3. The Birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives

In the detailed exegesis of Jn 1:14 given previously, in the articles of the first two divisions of our study, I discussed the evidence in support of the expression “became flesh” (sa/rc e)ge/neto) as referring to a human birth—viz., of the birth of the Logos as a human being. For many Christians, this would simply be taken for granted, given the tendency to harmonize 1:14 with the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives—thus assuming that 1:14 refers to Jesus’ birth.

There is, however, no real indication that the Gospel of John, in any way, has been influenced by the Matthean and/or Lukan narrative (or any of their underlying traditions). The Gospel writer certainly was aware of the expectation that the royal/Davidic Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (7:42), but there is no evidence that he understood Jesus to have been born there—indeed, the author’s handling of the matter in 7:41-43 could be taken as suggesting the opposite.

More seriously, there are two ways in which the Gospel of John differs markedly from the Infancy Narratives: (1) the lack of emphasis on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, and (2) the Johannine emphasis on Jesus’ birth as an incarnation. As we conclude Part 1 of this article, let us briefly consider each of these points.

The identification of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$), that is, the Messiah, is central to the Johannine theology—as, indeed, it was for virtually all early Christians. However, as I have discussed (particularly in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), there were a number of different Messianic figure-types present in Judaism during the first centuries B.C./A.D., and these should not be reduced to the single (royal/Davidic) type that subsequently came to dominate eschatological and Messianic thought. In 7:40-43 (discussed above), there is a distinction made between “the Prophet” (that is, a Messianic Prophet, patterned after Moses) and “the Anointed One” (the Davidic Messiah). Similar distinctions are made in 1:20-25.

It is not clear whether the title o( xristo/$, throughout the Gospel, refers strictly to Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, or whether it has broader or more general Messianic significance. In any case, Johannine Christians would have identified Jesus with all relevant Messianic figure-types, both “the Prophet” (esp. patterned after Moses) and the Davidic Messiah. The Gospel explicitly identifies Jesus as “the King of Israel” (1:49), and, like the Synoptic tradition, beginning with the ‘triumphal entry’ and throughout the Passion narrative, gives certain emphasis to the theme of Jesus’ kingship (12:13, 15; 18:33ff, 39; 19:3, 12-21). In my view, the title o( xristo/$, in the Gospel of John, entails both Prophet (Moses) and Kingly (Davidic) aspects; overall, however, it is the association with Moses that is specifically established in the Prologue, and which is more dominant which the thematic structure and theology of the Gospel.

This is to be contrasted with the Infancy Narratives, where the Davidic Messiahship of Jesus is unquestionably given emphasis, and which is tied directly to Jesus’ birth—Matt 1:1ff, 20; 2:1-6ff (citing Mic 5:2), 15; Luke 1:27ff, 69; 2:1-4ff, 10-11ff. In the Lukan narrative, the Sonship of Jesus is defined by this particular Messianic paradigm, as the statements in 1:32-33 and 35 make abundantly clear. There is no real sense, in either narrative, that Jesus’ birth represents the incarnation of a pre-existent Divine being; to be sure, the Lukan and Matthean accounts are typically read that way, but this largely under the harmonizing influence of Jn 1:14.

The Johannine confessional statements (cf. especially in 11:27 and 20:31) effectively summarize the Johannine theology: Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and the Son of God. He is, indeed, the Messiah (both Prophet and King), but also something more—the eternal and pre-existent Son of God. In Parts 2 and 3, we will consider the New Testament parallels to this pre-existence Christology, focusing (in Part 2) on the influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and evidence for this outside of the Johannine writings.