“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 3

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology, continued

We now turn to the final part of this final division of our study (on John 1:14):

    • 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]

The Divine Pre-existence of Jesus Christ

Nearly all commentators recognize that the Gospel of John contains a strong pre-existence Christology—identifying Jesus Christ as the pre-existent Son of God. In the Prologue, he is identified as the incarnate Logos; however, in vv. 14-18, the Gospel writer transitions from the Logos concept to the Son concept that dominates the remainder of the Gospel.

In Part 1, I discussed the exaltation Christology that tended to define the Sonship of Jesus in the early Christian Tradition. By the year 60 A.D., a pre-existence Christology had begun to take hold in Christian thought, developing in a number of ways. Believers came to understand that Jesus must have been God’s Son even prior to his earthly life and ministry. However, in my view, there is very little clear evidence for such a pre-existence Christology much before 60 A.D. It is virtually absent from the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts, and notably absent from the early Gospel preaching recorded in Acts. Some commentators would see a pre-existence Christology in the Synoptic Son of Man sayings (cf. Hamerton-Kelly, pp. 22-102), but this is questionable at best.

1. The Pauline Letters

By all accounts, the earliest evidence for the idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus is found in Paul’s letters, but it is far from a dominant or prominent theme. Perhaps the earliest Pauline reference where this idea of pre-existence is indicated is 1 Corinthians 8:6:

“…one God, the Father, out of whom all (thing)s (came to be), and we unto Him; and one Lord, Yeshua (the) Anointed, through [dia/] whom all (thing)s (came to be), and we through him.”

A role is assigned to Jesus Christ in creation—both the original creation (of “all things”), and the new creation (of “we” as believers). There is no verb specified, but it would seem appropriate to fill in the verb of becoming (gi/nomai), which would make this statement by Paul nearly identical with the Johannine Gospel Prologue (1:3): “all (thing)s came to be [e)ge/neto] through [di/a] him”.

Like the Johannine Prologue, Paul may be drawing here upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition, which assigned to the Divine Wisdom (personified) a pre-existent place and involvement in the Creation (Prov 8:22-31). In some Hellenistic Jewish circles, the idea of God creating the universe by his word (Gen 1:3ff) was interpreted in light of the philosophical implications of the term lo/go$. Philo of Alexandria blended together the Wisdom and Logos (Word) conceptions (cf. the earlier supplemental article), as did the Hellenistic-Jewish Book of Wisdom, and it would seem that the author of the Johannine Prologue did much the same, identifying the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God with the person of Jesus. Given the Wisdom-emphasis in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, and the specific wording by Paul in 1:24, he may have similarly identified Jesus with the pre-existent Wisdom.

Also of interest is Paul’s interpretation of the Exodus traditions (spec. Exod 17:1-6 and Num 20:7-11 [cf. Psalm 78:15-16]) in 1 Cor 10:1-10. In verse 4, Paul identifies Jesus Christ as the Rock from which water flowed, and which (according to tradition) followed the Israelites all during their journeys: “and the Rock was [h@n] the Anointed (One)”. If Paul understands this in a literal-historical sense, rather than an allegorical-typological sense, then it would clearly attest to a belief in Jesus’ (Divine) pre-existence. Again, Paul may be influenced by Jewish Wisdom tradition in this regard; in On Allegorical Interpretation II.86, Philo interprets the Rock as representing both the Wisdom and the Word (Logos) of God (cf. also III.162, and The Worse Attacks the Better §§115, 118; Hamerton-Kelly, p. 132).

Occasionally, Paul makes a statement such as in 1 Cor 15:47, which could imply a heavenly origin for Christ (“the second man [i.e. Christ] is out of heaven”), much as in the Johannine Gospel; however, it could just as easily be understood in terms of an exaltation Christology—indeed, the context of Jesus’ resurrection in chap. 15 suggests that this is the case (see esp. verse 45, i.e., the exalted Jesus “became” a live-giving Spirit). Much clearer as evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is the wording in 2 Corinthians 4:4, where Jesus Christ is declared to be “the image [ei)kw/n] of God”. This also could be understood from the standpoint of an exaltation Christology; however, the parallel statement in Col 1:15 makes it all but certain that Paul has Divine pre-existence in mind. This is confirmed by the evidence of further influence of Wisdom-theology in shaping Paul’s manner of expression; compare, for example, the wording in Col 1:15 and 2 Cor 3:18 with Wisdom 7:26.

In Galatians 4:4, and again in Romans 8:3, Paul refers to God “sending His Son”, using language which resembles that of John 3:16-17. Now, in the Johannine Gospel it is clearly understood that God the Father has sent His Son from heaven, and that the Son has Divine pre-existence. It is not as clear, in these references, that Paul holds the same view. However, it is probably the best way to understand his view of Jesus’ Sonship. Particularly in Gal 4:4, the wording seems to indicate that Jesus was God’s Son prior to his human birth (compare Rom 1:3).

Probably the most famous Pauline passage evincing a belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is the ‘Christ-hymn’ of Philippians 2:6-11. I have discussed this passage at length in an earlier series of notes. There I addressed the possibility that Paul may have adapted an earlier hymn, incorporating it into his letter. If so, then the hymn, with its balancing of pre-existence (vv. 6-8) and exaltation (vv. 9-11) Christologies, would have been written some time earlier than Philippians itself (i.e., before c. 60 A.D.). It is conceivable that this Christ-hymn predates the Pauline references in Corinthians and Galatians (mid/late-50s). Even if Paul did not compose the hymn proper, he certainly affirmed the Christology it contains; this is confirmed by the references already mentioned above, but also, it would seem, by 2 Cor 8:9, which probably alludes to something like the ‘kenosis’ idea of Phil 2:6-8:

“…for you [i.e. your sake], (though) being rich, he became poor”

Almost certainly, Paul is not speaking here in socio-economic terms; rather, “rich” and “poor” are to be understood figuratively, for Jesus’ Divine status and his incarnate human state (after he “emptied” himself), respectively.

The Pauline authorship of Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters remains disputed. Even if one regards any (or all) of these letters as pseudonymous, they unquestionably reflect Pauline thought and tradition. While there is a strong predestination emphasis in Ephesians, I do not find any clear references which would require a belief in Jesus’ pre-existence, and could not be explained just as well in terms of an exaltation Christology; but cf. the references discussed by Hamerton-Kelly, pp. 178-187. Much the same holds true for the Pastoral Letters (cf. the predestination emphasis in 2 Tim 1:9-10; Titus 1:2). However, the ‘Christ-hymn’ in 1 Tim 3:16 (treated in earlier notes) may, like Phil 2:6-11 and the other Pauline references discussed above, assume the incarnation of a pre-existent Christ; at the very least, the implication is that something Divine (from God) was made to “shine forth” (i.e., appear, made manifest) in human flesh, in the person of Jesus.

2. The Remainder of the New Testament

I do not find any references to the pre-existence of Christ in the letters of James, 2 Peter, or Jude, although mention should be made of Jude 5. If one excepts the majority text reading, then the author is attributing the Exodus of Israel to the guidance of Jesus (presumably, a reference to the pre-existent Christ’s presence in earlier history, cp. 1 Cor 10:4 [see above]); however, a strong argument can be made for the minority reading “[the] Lord”, with God/YHWH as the likely referent.

1 Peter 1:20 is an interesting case study. It clearly refers to Jesus as having been “known beforehand” (vb proginw/skw) by God, even before the creation of the cosmos. But does this refer to Divine pre-existence, in the way we typically understand it? After all, the verb proginw/skw is just as easily applied to believers (Rom 8:29)—being known by God beforehand, even before the creation (cf. Eph 1:4; Rev 13:8; 17:8). It is certainly possible that Peter (or the author) held a belief in Jesus’ pre-existence, but this is not clearly expressed in the letter; however, cf. the references discussed by Hamerton-Kelly, pp. 258-62.

The situation surrounding 1 Peter 1:20 seems to apply to many different references in the book of Revelation. The exalted and Divine status of Jesus is expressed throughout the book, to the point where titles of God (the Father) can be applied equally, without qualification, to Christ (the Son). For example, the declarative “I am” title “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8; 21:6) is spoken by Jesus in 22:13. The title certainly implies Divine pre-existence, as the qualifying existential phrase-title “the (One) being, and the (One who) was, and the (One) coming” (cf. also 1:4; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5) indicates. Jesus qualifies his Divine title differently in 22:13: “…the beginning and the end”, without applying the three-fold existential title (unless Jesus is also identified as the speaker in 1:8).

The author of the book of Revelation (and/or John as the seer) probably held a belief in the Divine pre-existence of Jesus; yet, on the whole, this is not emphasized in the book. There is, however, a strong pre-existence aspect to the entire range of eschatological symbolism and imagery of the visions. By this I mean that one may identify heavenly archetypes which are manifested (on earth) at the end time. One notes the many references to things or persons “coming down” from heaven, which echoes the Christological language of the Johannine Gospel (esp. the repeated use of the verb katabai/nw, “step down”), referring to Son’s heavenly origin. If the book of Revelation is regarded as a product of the same Johannine churches which produced the Gospel and Letters, then it is all but certain that the author and readers would have held a definite pre-existence Christology.

The Letter to the Hebrews

The introduction (exordium) of Hebrews (1:1-4) clearly evinces a pre-existence Christology, to match that of the Gospel of John and the ‘Christ-hymns’ of Phil 2:6-11 and Col 1:15-20 (see above). Indeed, it would appear that the author is utilizing a comparable ‘Christ-hymn’ in his prologue; at the very least, vv. 2b-4 possess a verse-structure and elements consonant with the other Christ-hymns found in the New Testament. The Divine pre-existence of the Son (Jesus) is indicated in vv. 2b-3a, to be balanced with an expression of the older exaltation Christology in vv. 3b-4. For more on this passage, see my earlier set of notes, along with the recent note on 2:10ff.

This pairing of pre-existence and exaltation corresponds with the thematic structure of Phil 2:6-8, 9-11. Yet chapter 1 of Hebrews definitely is emphasizing Jesus’ Divine pre-existence, as the author’s use of the Scripture chain (catena) in vv. 5-14 indicates. In particular, the quotation of Psalm 102:25-27 in vv. 10-12 is meant to allude to the Son’s role in the Creation (cp. verse 2). Psalm 2:7 [also 2 Sam 7:14] and 110:1 (vv. 5, 13) are references which had previously been given a Messianic interpretation, and then applied to Jesus by early Christians. However, originally Psalm 2:7 and 110:1 were applied in the context of the resurrection (see the discussion in Part 1), whereas here in Hebrews they seem to be understood in terms of the Son’s Divine pre-existence (however, note the exaltation-context of Ps 2:7 & 110:1ff in 5:5-6).

Interestingly, though there is a strong pre-existence emphasis in chapter 1, this aspect of the author’s Christology does not appear to be particularly prominent in the remainder of his work. The superiority of the Son continues to be argued and demonstrated, drawing upon a range of Old Testament traditions, yet the focus tends to be on Jesus’ earthly mission—especially his sacrificial death. This is particularly so for the central line of argument, whereby Jesus fulfills the sacrificial apparatus of the old covenant, which had been administered by the priestly officials. Indeed, Jesus is identified as the great High Priest, who fulfills the sacrifices of the old covenant and ushers in the new covenant. This is the great theme of chapters 5-10. But, of particular interest for us here is the author’s use of the figure of Melchizedek in chapter 7 (introduced in 5:6ff, and again in 6:19-20).

The main significance of Melchizedek (cf. the original historical tradition in Gen 14:18ff) for the author of Hebrews, as it is for the author of Psalm 110, is that it demonstrates a person can be a (high) priest of God without being a descendant of Aaron and the Levites. This is the point of the summary in vv. 1-10. Yet, as the argument continues in vv. 11-26, it would seem that the author imbues the figure of Melchizedek with a deeper significance. There is an indication that Melchizedek possessed a certain Divine power and perfection (v. 16, 26ff). Moreover, the implication is that Melchizedek has an eternal existence (already suggested in verse 3), which makes him the ideal archetype for the Priesthood of the Son of God.

There is some contemporary Jewish precedent for such an exalted view of Melchizedek. For example, Philo treats Melchizedek as a symbol of the Divine Logos in On Allegorical Interpretation III.82. However, it is more likely the author of Hebrews has something like the view of the Qumran text 11QMelchizedek in mind. In this fragmentary text, Melchizedek is identified as a heavenly Redeemer-figure who will appear at the end-time, to rescue God’s people and defeat the forces of wickedness. Possibly he is to be equated with the angel Michael; but, in any case, this text provides evidence that, at least in some Jewish circles, Melchizedek was treated as a heavenly/angelic figure. Probably the author of Hebrew shared this general view, which made the application of the figure (and the reference in Psalm 110:4) to the person of Jesus all the more appropriate. As the pre-existent Son of God, Jesus is a heavenly being much like Melchizedek, though, as the Son, he is far superior.

In spite of these aspects of the figure of Melchizedek, it should be noted that the idea of Jesus’ pre-existence is not particularly emphasized by the author in chapter 7. Rather, it is the exaltation of Jesus, following his sacrificial death (and resurrection), that is primarily in view. For more on the Messianic and Christological aspects of the author’s use of Melchizedek, cf. the supplemental article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

References above marked “Hamerton-Kelly” are to R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man: A Study of the Idea of Pre-Existence in the New Testament, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series, vol. 21 (Cambridge: 1973).

“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.

“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.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 5

“…the splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth”
do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$ plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

We now turn to an examination of the final two phrases of 1:14 in the light of the Johannine Gospel (and First Letter) as a whole, just as was done for the three main phrases (in parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). These last two phrases qualify the third main phrase: “and we looked upon his splendor” (discussed in part 4), describing the nature of this Divine splendor (do/ca) that is manifest in the person of the incarnate Logos (Jesus). I wish to examine briefly three aspects of these two phrases, in the context of the Johannine theology:

    • The identity of Jesus as the “only Son” of God
    • His relation to God the Father, and
    • The (Divine) attributes and characteristics that are manifested in him
1. Jesus as the “only Son” of God

In verse 14, this identification is made using the adjective monogenh/$, which literally means something like “(the) only one who has come to be”, preserving the full etymological force of the components mo/no$ (“only, alone, sole”) and ge/no$, the latter derived from the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”). This verb of becoming can refer specifically to birth (i.e., coming to be born), and, in this regard, the noun ge/no$ typically has a familial aspect to its meaning—viz., referring to a person’s offspring, a family or ethnic line, etc.

Sometimes this idea of a “family” can be understood in a more general or abstract sense—as a group with common members (class, kind, sort, etc). Thus, monogenh/$ can simply mean “only one of its kind” (i.e., unique); however, in the New Testament, the adjective is always used in the context of someone who has been born—that is, an “only child”. Outside of the Johannine writings, monogenh/$ refers generally to an “only” child, either adding the specification of a “son” (Luke 7:12; 9:38), “daughter” (Lk 8:42), or using the adjective by itself to designate an “only son” (Heb 11:17). Only in the Johannine writings, is the adjective applied to Jesus, in a theological sense, identifying him as the “only Son” of God: 1:18; 3:16-18; 1 Jn 4:9.

The Divine Sonship of Jesus is, of course, a central tenet of early Christian belief, whether expressed by the specific title “(the) Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=), the shorter “(the) Son” ([o(] ui(o/$), or indirectly. In the Synoptic Gospels, the title “(the) Son”, when spoken by Jesus himself, can also represent an abbreviated version of the title “(the) Son of Man”. The Gospel of John follows the early Christian usage, employing all three of these titles: “Son,” “Son of God,” and “Son of Man”.

The full title “Son of God” is relatively infrequent in the Johannine Gospel, at least within the traditional material itself (1:49; 19:7); it occurs four times in the Discourses, spoken by Jesus (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4). Elsewhere, it functions as part of Johannine confessional statements (1:34 [also v. 49]; 11:27; 20:31)—a point that becomes even clearer when we consider the usage in 1 John (3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-13, 20). Central to the Johannine tradition was the confession of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (though, as the Letters attest, Johannine Christians could be in disagreement over precisely what this entailed).

More commonly, in the Gospel Discourses, Jesus refers to himself either as “(the) Son of Man”, or (more frequently) “(the) Son”. The title “Son of Man” tends to be reserved for statements dealing with either the heavenly origin of the Son, or, more fully, the idea of the Son’s descent from heaven (and his ascent back to heaven [beginning with his death on the cross])—1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:34; 13:31. When referring to his relationship to God the Father, Jesus refers to himself simply as “(the) Son”, a usage that pervades the Discourses—3:16-17f, 35-36; 5:19-27; 6:40; 8:35-36; 14:13; 17:1. Even when the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) is not explicitly used, and Jesus speaks of God as (his) Father, the same relationship is clearly intended.

It is noteworthy that, while the idea of believers as the children of God is central to the Johannine theology, the noun ui(o/$ is never used in this context. The relationship between believers and God (as their/our Father) is expressed through the plural of the noun te/knon (te/kna, “offspring”). By contrast, the noun ui(o/$ is consciously reserved for Jesus (as the Son). This differs, for example, from Paul’s usage, since he is willing to apply the sonship motif to believers, calling them “sons [ui(oi/] of God” (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26); though he is careful to frame such references either in terms of adoption (ui(oqesi/a, “placement as a son”, Rom 8:15, 23; Gal 4:5), or in relation to the Sonship of Jesus (e.g., Rom 8:29; cf. Eph 1:5). Within the Johannine theology, however, Jesus is quite literally the only Son.

2. The Son’s relation to God the Father

In 1:14, the glory of the incarnate Logos (Jesus) is said to be that of an only Son “alongside [para/]” the Father. Early Christians were quite clear on the Divine status/position of Jesus as God’s Son. Within the early exaltation Christology, after the resurrection, Jesus was exalted to heaven, where he (now) stands at the “right hand” of God the Father (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the subsequent pre-existence Christology that developed, this same relational idea was applied to the Son’s pre-existence—viz., even in the beginning, he stood alongside the Father, sharing in His glory and splendor.

Though this theological view is only suggested or indicated briefly elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Phil 2:6; Heb 1:2-3), it stated more fully and directly in the Gospel of John. The heavenly origin of the Son (implying Divine pre-existence) is repeatedly mentioned throughout the Gospel (see the “Son” and “Son of Man” references, above), along with the idea of his impending return (back to the Father). Outside of the Prologue, an emphasis on the pre-existent glory (do/ca), which the Son shares with the Father, is most clear in chapter 17 (see esp. verses 5, 22, 24).

At least as important, for the Johannine theology, is the Son’s relationship to the Father, which is expressed in various ways; two themes are particularly notable: (1) the Father gives all things (that are His) to the Son, and (2) like a dutiful Son, Jesus follows his Father’s example and instruction, saying and doing all that he hears and sees his Father saying/doing. For the first theme, the key references are: 3:34-35; 5:21-22ff, 26-27, 36; 6:32-33, 37ff, 57; 10:28-29; 17:2, 8-12, 22-24; what the Father gives to the Son, the Son, in turn, gives to believers. For the second theme, cf. 5:19-20, 30, 36; 6:46; 8:26, 28-29, 38ff; 12:49-50; 15:15; 17:8, 14.

3. The Divine attributes and characteristics manifested in the Son

The incarnate Logos, and God’s “only Son”, with his splendor/glory (do/ca), is said to be “full of favor and truth”. There are three terms contained in this qualifying phrase; let us briefly consider each of them.

a. plh/rh$ (“full, filled”)

The adjective plh/rh$ occurs only here in the Gospel of John, nor does it tend to be used in a theological context, the way it is here, elsewhere in the New Testament. It is most commonly used in Luke-Acts, occasionally in the context of believers being filled with the Spirit (Acts 6:3ff; 7:55; 11:24); in Lk 4:1, the same is said of Jesus himself. It is possible that a similar association, between Jesus and the Spirit of God, is intended here. One is reminded of the statements in 3:34-35:

    • V. 34—Jesus receives the fullness of the Spirit (“it is not out of a measure that He [i.e. the Father] gives the Spirit”)
    • V. 35— “The Father loves the Son and has given all (thing)s into his hand.”
b. xa/ri$ (“favor”)

One of the things, of which the incarnate Logos’ splendor is “full”, is xa/ri$, “favor” —that is, the favor given/shown by God. The noun xa/ri$ is by no means a Johannine term; outside of the Prologue (vv. 16-17), it does not occur in the rest of the Gospel, and only once in the Letters (2 John 3). This may be compared, by contrast, with the extensive use of the word in Luke-Acts and the Pauline writings.

Translated into the Johannine idiom, xa/ri$ should probably be understood here in terms of the love (a)ga/ph) that the Father has for the Son, expressed principally by what the Father gives to him (3:35, etc, cf. above). It has been suggested (cf. Brown, p. 14) that xa/ri$ is related here to the Hebrew ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”), specifically in the latter’s connotation of faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. In this regard, xa/ri$ is, indeed, an important aspect of the Son’s do/ca—that is, the honor shown/given to him by the Father. The following term a)lh/qeia (cf. below) could similarly be associated with Hebrew tm#a# (rel. hn`Wma$), which connotes faithfulness (lit. “firmness”).

c. a)lh/qeia (“truth”)

Unlike xa/ri$, which virtually is never used elsewhere in the Johannine writings, the noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) is an important Johannine keyword. It occurs 25 times in the Gospel (compared with 7 in the Synoptic combined) and 20 more times in the Letters (9 in 1 Jn, 5 in 2 Jn, 6 in 3 Jn). The related adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$ (“true”) also occur rather frequently. In the Johannine theological idiom, “truth” (a)lh/qeia) is a fundamental Divine attribute which the Son possesses (from the Father), and which he communicates to believers in the world. In so doing, the Son makes the Father known (in His fundamental nature as Truth). This Divine truth is specifically associated with the Spirit (4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6).

A comparative study of the use of xa/ri$ and a)lh/qeia, along with the usage of the adjective plh/rh$ elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke-Acts), strongly suggests that this final phrase of v. 14 refers to the incarnate Logos’ possession of the Spirit of God, and of the Father’s giving the Spirit to him. The following verses of the Prologue (vv. 16-18) emphasize how this “favor and truth” is given by the Son, in turn, to believers; again, in the context of the Gospel (and the Johannine theology), this would be understood primarily in terms of his giving the Spirit to believers, by which they/we come to be born as the children of God.

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

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 4

“…and set up (his) tent among us, and we looked upon his splendor”
kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n h(mi=n kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n do/can au)tou=

Having examined the main statement of 1:14 in the light of the Johannine Gospel (and First Letter) as a whole (parts 1, 2, 3), we will now proceed to do the same with the remaining phrases.

The use of the verb skhno/w is distinctive to the context of the Prologue, and does not occur elsewhere in the Gospel or Letters. The verb, derived from skh/no$ (also skhnh/), “tent”, means either “set up a tent” or “live/dwell in a tent”; these two meanings are attested in the LXX, though the verb occurs only rarely (cf. Gen 13:12; Judg 5:17 B; 8:11). In the New Testament, outside of our verse, skhno/w occurs only in the book of Revelation (which could be considered Johannine), 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3. This usage in Revelation is significant, since it refers exclusively to the dwelling place of God. The verb can be applied with the general meaning of “dwell”, and, indeed, in Revelation, only the first occurrence (7:15) specifically preserves the idea of dwelling in a tent. However, we can assume that the underlying imagery is of a glorious, heavenly Tent-dwelling.

Almost certainly, both the Prologue and the book of Revelation have the tradition of the Tent-shrine (or ‘Tabernacle’) in mind, drawing upon the Moses/Exodus traditions, in which the Tent-shrine is specifically called by the term /K*v=m! (literally, “dwelling place”). Thus, the Tent is the place where God, and His glory, resides, in the midst of His people. The use of the noun do/ca, along with the references to Moses and the related traditions (vv. 17-18), indicates rather clearly that the Gospel writer had these associations in mind.

As for the noun do/ca and the verb qea/omai, these are more common Johannine terms. The noun do/ca (“recognition, esteem, honor,” and, when used of God, “splendor, glory”) is particularly important for the theology of the Gospel, occurring 19 times, while the related verb doca/zw occurs 23 times; somewhat surprisingly, neither the noun nor verb occurs in the Letters. As for the verb qea/omai (“look with wonder [at]”), it occurs 6 times in the Gospel and 3 times in 1 John (1:1; 4:12, 14); however, it has even greater prominence when considered as one among a group of verbs used to express the idea of sight/seeing in the Johannine writings.

In studying these two phrases of verse 14 (14bc), there are three aspects which need to be examined:

    • The do/ca possessed by the incarnate Logos (Jesus)
    • The idea of the Divine do/ca dwelling/abiding among human beings
    • The idea of seeing the Divine do/ca in the person of Jesus.

All three of these represent key themes in the Gospel, and are established here in the Prologue, expressed in terms of certain Moses/Exodus traditions—two in particular: (1) the Tent-shrine as God’s dwelling-place among His people (Exod 40), and (2) the theophany episodes of Exod 19-20, 24 and 33-34.

1. The do/ca of the incarnate Logos (Jesus)

The frequent use of the noun do/ca and verb doca/zw in the Gospel shows that the author is purposefully emphasizing the belief that Jesus possesses the Divine splendor, and is worthy of the honor accorded to God (YHWH). However, elsewhere in the Gospel, this Christological view is expressed, not in terms of Jesus as the incarnate Logos of God, but as the Son, sent to earth (from heaven) by God the Father. The transition of usage, from lo/go$ (“word”) to ui(o/$ (“son”), was established in the final verses of the Prologue (vv. 14-18).

There are two main ways that do/ca is used, in this theological/Christological sense, in the Gospel: (1) the Son (Jesus) manifests the Divine do/ca in the things that he does and says, during his earthly mission; and (2) by completing his mission, for which he was sent by the Father, he is given do/ca.

The second thematic emphasis is expressed more properly by the verb doca/zw (“show/give honor”), and occurs frequently in this context: 8:54; 11:4, etc. The usage of the verb is focused on the culmination of Jesus’ mission, in his sacrificial death; by this, the Son gives honor to the Father, and the Father, in turn, gives honor to the Son. The bulk of references occur in chapters 13-17 (13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10) and in the preceding passages (12:23, 28). The Gospel writer uses the same verb to reference the Son’s exaltation—entailing his death, resurrection, and return to the Father (cf. 7:39; 12:16).

In the earlier chapters, the noun do/ca plays an important role in the narration of the “signs” performed by Jesus, and throughout the accompanying discourses. Both in the miracles and the discourse-teachings, Jesus manifests his do/ca—his identity as the Son sent from heaven by the Father. Cf. the varying usage in 2:11; 5:41, 44; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 9:24; 11:4, 40; 12:41, 43. The three occurrences of do/ca in chapter 17 provide perhaps the closest parallel to the context of the Prologue, since Jesus, in verses 5 and 24—statements that frame the the chapter—refers to the do/ca which he possessed alongside the Father before the creation of the world. Divine pre-existence is clearly indicated, even if Jesus does not refer to himself here as the Logos. This same do/ca is manifested to human beings (believers), and is communicated to them (vv. 22, 24)—a theme that is also found in the Prologue (vv. 14-18, also implicit in vv. 12-13).

2. The dwelling of the Divine do/ca among God’s people

This theme from the Prologue (and the underlying Logos-poem) is expressed more subtly and indirectly elsewhere in the Gospel. There is, for example, in connection with the Temple-saying by Jesus (2:19ff), the Christological idea that the meaning and importance of the Temple is transferred to, and fulfilled in, the person of Jesus. If the Temple, like the earlier Tent-shrine, represented the dwelling place of God, then this is now fulfilled in the person of Jesus—with the implication that God is dwelling in him. This could further be interpreted in relation to the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus at the baptism, in light of the application of the Temple-motif by Paul (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; cf. also Eph 2:21), whereby God dwells in the ‘Temple’ of the believer through the presence of the Spirit.

This dwelling-theme is expressed in the Johannine writings principally through use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”). This verb is one of the most distinctive and prominent Johannine keywords; it occurs more frequently in the Johannine writings (67) than in the rest of the New Testament combined (51). It occurs in the Gospel of John 40 times, compared with just 12 in the Synoptic combined; and, for good measure, the verb occurs 24 times in the five short chapters of 1 John (and 3 more times in 2 John).

In virtually every occurrence of me/nw, the author(s) of the Gospel and Letters use this verb in a special theological (and Christological) sense. It refers to the abiding union which the believer has with God, and God with the believer. This union with God the Father is realized through the Son (Jesus), and, in turn, the union with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit (cf. 14:17; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13). While the verb is used throughout the Gospel, it is especially emphasized in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), as Jesus instructs his disciples on the importance of “remaining in him”. This is the principal theme of the Vine-illustration section (15:1-17), in which me/nw occurs 11 times (in vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). The key Christological statement, utilizing me/nw, is in 14:10:

“Do you not trust that I (am) in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words which I say to you, I do not speak from myself; but the Father, (who is) remaining [me/nwn] in me, does His works.”

This statement, that the Father is abiding in the Son (Jesus), is central to the Johannine theology. The specific imagery of a dwelling-place (such as a house or tent, cf. above) is only implied by this language; however, at several points in the gospel, the motif becomes more explicit, such as in 8:35 (cf. the context of vv. 31-38). Even more notable, is the use of the noun monh/ (“abode,” related to me/nw) in 14:2-3, where the image of a great house with dwelling-units is utilized by Jesus. The same noun occurs in 14:23 (these are the only occurrences in the New Testament), where it used in an important summary of the Johannine theology and spirituality:

“If one should love me, he will keep watch (over) my word; and my Father will love him, and we [i.e. Father and Son] will come to him and will make our abode [monh/] alongside him.”

This statement functions almost as an expository interpretation of the phrase in 1:14.

3. Seeing the Divine do/ca (in the person of Jesus)

Perhaps even more prominent in the Johannine writings, as a Christological theme, is the idea of seeing God in the person of Jesus (i.e., in the Son). The specific verb qea/omai occurs five other times in the Gospel (1:32, 38; 4:35; 6:5; 11:45), and three times in 1 John (1:1; 4:12, 14). However, as mentioned above, it is just one of a group of verbs (ei&dw, ble/pw, o(ra/w, etc) which, in some way, express the idea of sight/seeing.

As with the verb me/nw (discussed above), these sight-verbs have special theological significance in the Gospel, and can take on a double-meaning in the narratives and discourses. For example, in the episode of the healing of the blind man (chap. 9), at the beginning of the episode (vv. 1-7ff), ordinary physical sight (with the eyes) is being referenced; however, by the end of the episode (vv. 35-41), sight (and blindness) refer, in the theological sense, to trust in Jesus—that is, recognizing and acknowledging his identity as the Son sent from heaven by the Father.

Indeed, this theological meaning dominates the sight/seeing language throughout the Gospel. There are two primary aspects to this theological usage: (1) trust—by “seeing” Jesus, one trusts in him; and (2) revelation—when one sees the Son, one sees the Father. Both of these aspects can be found all through the Gospel, as a survey of the relevant sight/seeing references will attest; cf. my earlier article on “Knowledge and Revelation” in the Johannine writings. The specific verb qea/omai means “look with wonder”, but it can be used with a range of related or more general meanings—such as: look closely at (something), consider (carefully), contemplate.

In several references, the emphasis is on witnessing the events surrounding the Son’s earthly mission, those which manifest his Divine identity (and glory), and which will lead to trust for those (elect/believers) who belong to God—cf. 1:32, 38; 11:45; 1 Jn 4:14. This is the principal aspect of meaning in 1:14 as well; the usage in 1 Jn 1:1 almost certainly is an intentional echo of the Gospel Prologue (and/or the underlying Logos-poem). The author of 1 John also seems to draws upon verse 18 of the Prologue in 4:12, with the declaration that:

“no one has looked on [teqe/atai] God at any time…”
(Jn 1:18a is virtually identical, except for the use of the seeing-verb o(ra/w instead of qea/omai)

This theological principle, drawn from the Moses/Exodus traditions in Exod 33-34 (esp. 33:20, 23; cf. Deut 4:12, 15), related to the theophany in chaps. 19-20, was clearly of important to the Gospel writer, since it is referenced several other times in the Gospel—5:37; 6:46, and a probable allusion in 3:3. No human being has ever seen God (the Father), nor is it even possible for a mortal creature to see Him directly, in all of His splendor (do/ca); He can only be seen in the person of His Son (Jesus). This is a fundamental component of the Johannine theology, shared by the Gospel writer and the author of 1 John (5:37ff; 11:40; 12:45; 14:6-7, 9ff; 1 Jn 1:1ff; 4:12ff).

In the final part (5) of this article, we will look at the remaining phrases of verse 14, in relation to the wider Johannine context.




“The Word Became Flesh…”: Supplemental note on Jn 1:14 and 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6

On John 1:14 and 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6

This note is supplemental to Part 3 of the current study article on John 1:14, looking, in particular, at the use of the verb gi/nomai in the statement “the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”, within the overall context of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters). Two references will specifically be examined here: the saying by the Baptist in John 1:15, and the Christological confession in 1 John 4:2 par.

Beginning with the Baptist’s declaration in Jn 1:15 (par 30), it is clear that the verb e&rxomai (“come”) refers to the earthly career and ministry of the incarnate Logos; in English idiom, we might say, “when he came upon the scene”. The phrase is “the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] in back of me [o)pi/sw mou]”.

Only in terms of his public ministry, can Jesus (as the Logos) be said to come “in back of” (i.e. after, following) John the Baptist. At the time of his first appearance (the baptism), Jesus was virtually unknown, while the Baptist had already been on the scene for some time and had developed a reputation. Conceivably, Jesus may have been (for a time) a disciple of the Baptist; commentators are far from being in agreement on this point, but, if it were historically accurate, then it would provide a clearer meaning for the expression “in back of me” (cp. the use of o)pi/sw in Mk 1:17, 20 par, etc). John 1:15/30 likely represents a Johannine version of an historical tradition, otherwise preserved in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:7 par). On the background and Messianic significance of this saying, cf. my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

But, if e&rxomai in 1:15 refers to Jesus’ public ministry, what of the verb gi/nomai? There would seem to be two possibilities: (a) it refers to the human life of Jesus generally, or (b) it refers specifically to his birth. If we build out the statement in v. 15, it reads:

“the (one) coming in back of me, has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me [e&mprosqe/n mou]”

In what sense has Jesus come to be “in front of” the Baptist? In light of verse 14, the answer can only be: it is because he is the Logos who became a human being. The connection with verse 14 (and the prior vv. 12-13) provides, in my view, conclusive evidence that gi/nomai here refers to primarily (if not exclusively) to Jesus’ birth—that is, the birth of the Logos as a human being.

This brings us to the confessional statement in 1 John 4:2. The author essentially asserts that every true believer will acknowledge and affirm that Jesus Christ has come “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/). The actual wording is “Yeshua (the) Anointed having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh”, utilizing the verb e&rxomai (“come”). There is a formal similarity with Jn 1:14, involving the conjunction of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) and sa/rc (“flesh”).

In the Baptist’s declaration of Jn 1:15 (cf. above), the verbs e&rxomai and gi/nomai are connected. As I have interpreted this verse, e&rxomai refers to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (i.e., his “coming” on the scene), while gi/nomai, in light of the prior v. 14 (and vv. 12-13), refers to Jesus’ birth (i.e., the birth of the Logos as a human being). But how does 1 Jn 4:2 (par 2 Jn 7) understand the verb e&rxomai? Elsewhere in 1 John (2:18; 4:3), the verb, used of the figure/spirit of “antichrist”, has the basic meaning of “coming on the scene” here on earth, i.e., being present and active among human beings. This generally parallels the references in Jn 1:7, 11, 27, 29-31, referring to the public appearance (and ministry) of John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively.

On the other hand, Jn 1:9 has the wider revelatory context of the Divine Logos (the Word/Wisdom of God) being manifest in Creation (and on earth). In certain respects, this would parallel the usage in 1 John of “antichrist” as an evil spirit, that is opposed to God (and His Spirit), and gives a false/deceiving revelation. In this regard, the use of the verb e&rxomai is closer in meaning to how gi/nomai is used in the Prologue, since the incarnation of the Logos represents the climactic manifestation of it within Creation. Other references in the Gospel support this cosmic orientation, utilizing e&rxomai to refer to the Son coming to earth from heaven, and then, having completed his mission, going back to his heavenly origin (i.e., coming [back] to the Father)—cf. 3:19, 31; 5:43; 7:28; 8:14, 21f, 42, etc.

We may thus isolate three Christological uses of the verb e&rxomai:

    • A person appearing, coming on the scene, to begin his public ministry/career
    • The coming to earth (from heaven) of a Divine/heavenly being
      to which a third, intermediate usage may be added:
    • The (eschatological) appearance of the Messiah (cf. 1:27; 4:25; 7:31, 41-42, and also my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

These differing emphases in the Johannine use of e&rxomai are of significance for determining the opponents’ view of Christ, in light of the confessional statements in 1 Jn 4:2 par and 5:6. The two statements are clearly related:

    • “…having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/]” (4:2)
    • “…(hav)ing come [e)lqw/n] in the water and the blood” (5:6)

In the latter statement, there are two forms of the phrase in bold: (a) “through [dia/] water and blood”, (b) “in [e)n] the water and in [e)n] the blood”. I have essentially combined these in the quotation above, in order to bring out more clearly the parallel. Given this parallel, almost certainly the phrase “in the water and (in) the blood” is an elucidation of what is meant by “in (the) flesh”. To say that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh” means (according to the author) that he came “in the water” and “in the blood”.

If “in the flesh” refers to Jesus’ life and existence as a human being, then the expressions “in the water” and “in the blood” must relate to this. Most commentators understand “in/through the water” as a reference to the baptism of Jesus, while “in/through the blood” certainly refers to his death. By this interpretation, the two expressions would designate, respectively, the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is also possible that “in the water” refers to the birth of Jesus, given the use of the water-motif in John 3:3-8, in relation to the idea of believers coming to be born as offspring of God (an idea very prevalent in 1 John). The pair of expressions, then, would designate the beginning and end of Jesus’ human life—that is, the boundaries and the span of it.

The author’s argument in 5:6, as it is worded, suggests that the opponents accepted that Jesus came “in/through the water”, but not “in/through the blood”. This would mean that they accepted the reality and/or significance of either—his human birth, or his baptism. If it is the latter, then this would strengthen the hypothesis that the opponents held an early “separationist” view of Jesus, akin to that which is attributed to Cerinthus (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.1). In a “separationist” Christology, it is held that the Divine Christ (= Son) came upon the man Jesus during the baptism, the two joining, only to separate again at the moment of Jesus’ death. A simpler version, drawn from the Johannine Gospel narrative, would affirm that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at the baptism, and then departed from him at his death (19:30). The opponents would have affirmed the importance of the baptism, since that was when Jesus received the Spirit, but not his death (since that is when the Spirit departed).

If “in/through the water” refers to the birth of Jesus, then the opponents would have affirmed the reality of Jesus human life, and its importance. What they denied was the death of the Son (Jesus). If their main objection was to the idea that the incarnate Son/Logos could die, then they would have something in common with those who held an early docetic view of Christ (such as that of the opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters). Alternately, they may have denied the importance or significance of Jesus’ death.

Commentators remain divided on the precise nature of the opponents’ Christology; I have discussed the matter in more historical and exegetical detail in earlier notes and studies.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 3

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

There are three components to this statement in Jn 1:14a; the first of these (the noun lo/go$) was discussed in part 1, and the second (sa/rc, “flesh”) in part 2. We now turn to the final component.

3. gi/nomai

The verb gi/nomai is the main verb of becoming (“come to be, become”) in Greek. In the first division of our study, in which we examined 1:14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue, we saw the way that the verb of becoming was purposefully contrasted with the verb of being (ei)mi). Created beings (spec. human beings) come to be (vv. 3, 6, 10), but only God is (vv. 1-2, 4, 8-10). However, both verbs are applied to the Logos. Being God (v. 1c), the Logos is (imperfect tense, h@n, “was”), and yet he also became (e)ge/neto) a human being.

This theological use of the verb of being continues throughout the Gospel of John, and also in the Letters of John. In particular, we may note the essential predication that is utilized extensively in the Johannine writings. These simple predicative statements, which give essential information about a  subject (i.e., what it is), are comprised of three components: (1) subject, (2) verb of being, and (3) predicate nominative, the latter sometimes expanded (with modifying elements) into an expression or phrase. Implicit in this formulation, used as part of the Johannine theological idiom, is that the predicative statements involve a Divine subject—most commonly, God (the Father) or Jesus (the Son). The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) sayings by Jesus in the Gospel are the most notable group of such statements.

The use of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is less distinctive. Indeed, the theological use of this verb is rather limited, especially as applied to the person of Jesus (the Son). The most significant such occurrences are those in the Gospel Prologue (vv. 14, 15, 17). In the saying by the Baptist in v. 15, gi/nomai refers (most probably) to the birth of the Logos as a human being (expounding v. 14), while ei)mi refers to the eternal pre-existence of the Logos (vv. 1-2). This declaration by the Baptist is more or less repeated in v. 30, and will be discussed further in a separate note.

The use of gi/nomai in verse 17 should be considered in relation to both v. 12 and 14. The main phrase is:

“…the favor and truth (of God) came to be [e)ge/neto] through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

On the one hand, this clearly alludes to the statement of the incarnation in v. 14—viz., the manifestation of Divine favor and truth, perceivable to human beings, in the person of the incarnate Logos. However, at the same time, the context also indicates that this “favor and truth” is communicated (to other human beings) by the incarnate Logos. This brings us to vv. 12-13, immediately preceding the Logos-declaration of v. 14. These two verses probably represent interpretive comments by the Gospel writer, rather than part of the original (underlying) Logos-poem; this is almost certainly true of vv. 12b-13, while v. 12a could well have been part of the Logos-poem. Verse 12 applies gi/nomai to human beings, but in a special theological sense:

“But, as (many) as received him [i.e. the Logos], he gave to them (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring [te/kna] of God”

Thus, while the Logos became a human being (“flesh”), he also makes it possible for those human beings who trust in him to become the “offspring of God”. Previously, I have noted that the use of gi/nomai in v. 14 (and vv. 15/30) refers specifically to the birth of the Logos as a human being (Jesus). The parallel use of the verb here in v. 12 seems to confirm this—for the Gospel writer, if not for the author(s) of a separate Logos-poem. Indeed, the verb gi/nomai can mean “come to be born”, though this nuance of meaning is more explicit in the related verb genna/w, which is the verb used in the following v. 13, referring to believers as:

“…the (one)s who—not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of Godcame to be (born) [e)ggenh/qhsan].”

Here in vv. 12-13, gi/nomai, when referring to the Divine birth of believers, can be used interchangeably with genna/w. It is, however, the verb genna/w that is used for this purpose throughout the Johannine writings. It occurs 8 times in 3:3-8, but with the ultimate point of affirming that those who trust in the Son (Jesus) come to be born “out of” (i.e. from) God’s Spirit (vv. 5-6, 8). The expression “out of God” (e)k qeou=), used in 1:13, is more common, and occurs repeatedly in 1 John—the author uses it as a descriptive identification for the true believer, viz., as one who “has come to be (born) of God” (3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The expression “offspring [i.e. children] of God” (te/kna qeou=) carries the same fundamental meaning (3:1-2, 10; 5:2; Jn 1:2, cf. also 11:52).

The verb genna/w is more or less reserved for believers, being used in this special theological sense. It is applied to the person of Jesus only in Jn 18:37, where it seems to be synonymous with gi/nomai in 1:14, referring to his birth as a human being. Possibly the second occurrence of genna/w in 1 Jn 5:18 also refers to the Son (Jesus), rather than the believer, though commentators remain divided on this point (cf. my earlier notes). If it does refer to Jesus, then the significance of the verb in the phrase (o( gennhqei/$ e)k tou= qeou=, “the [one hav]ing come to be [born] of God”) still is not entirely clear. Does it refer to his eternal Sonship, or to his specific life (and birth) as a human being? The Johannine usage elsewhere (Jn 1:14; 18:37) would suggest the latter.

Interestingly, the Johannine letters almost never use the verb gi/nomai; it occurs just three times, and only twice (1 Jn 2:18; 3 Jn 8) could it have any theological significance at all.

The remainder of this discussion will focus on two points related to the use of gi/nomai. The first involves the relationship between gi/nomai and the verb e&rxomai in the Baptist saying of Jn 1:15/30; the second explores the relation between the same two verbs, comparatively, in the respective phrases “came to be flesh” (1:14) and “(hav)ing come in (the) flesh” (1 Jn 4:2 par). To allow space for proper treatment, these will be dealt with in a supplemental note.

In the next part (4) of this study, we will turn to the remainder of verse 14 examining the key terms and phrasing in the context of the Johannine Gospel.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 2

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

There are three components to this statement in Jn 1:14a; the first of these (the noun lo/go$) was discussed in part 1. We now turn to the next two components.

2. sa/rc

The noun sa/rc (“flesh”) occurs rather more frequently in the Gospel of John (13 times) than in the Synoptics (11 times, combined); these occurrences are distributed over seven references (1:13, 14; 3:6; 6:51ff, 63; 8:15; 17:2). In addition, the noun occurs twice in 1 John (2:16; 4:2 [par 2 Jn 7]).

For the most part, in the Gospel, sa/rc is used in the context of a contrast, between that which is physical/material and that which is spiritual. However, this contrast is not defined as sharply as it is in Paul’s writings, with the fundamental ethical-religious dualism between Spirit (pneu=ma) and flesh (sa/rc)—cf. Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17ff; 6:8; Rom 8:4-9ff; Phil 3:3. Only in 1 John 2:16 do we find anything like the negative ethical connotation that Paul attaches to sa/rc. The Johannine and Pauline usage of sa/rc is, though, comparable in the way that the term stands for the natural life and existence of a human being. It connotes, in particular, the mortality of the human condition, and its limitations (in relation to God).

This concept of “flesh” is not negative, per se, in the Johannine writings. The flesh cannot give birth to what is spiritual (or born of God); but this is simply because a human being (“flesh”) can only give birth to another human being (“flesh”). Only the Divine Spirit can give birth to something that is of the Spirit. That is the point Jesus makes in 3:6, and it is also emphasized by the Gospel writer in the Prologue (1:13).

There is a bit more denigration of “the flesh” in 6:63, where, again, the contrast is with the Spirit. As Jesus puts it in this famous saying, “the Spirit is the (thing) making alive [i.e. giving life], the flesh is not useful (for) anything”. This saying comes in the context of the Bread of Life Discourse of chap. 6, and, especially, the closing verses 51-58 with their apparent eucharistic language. Jesus refers to the importance of eating his “flesh” (and drinking his “blood”), which communicates life to the one eating it (vv. 53ff). And yet, in light of v. 63, it seems clear that Jesus is not referring to his physical flesh, per se, but to his life and existence as a human being. In particular, the reference is clearly to his death, by which he gives up his own life, sacrificially, for the good of humankind.

This is in accordance with Johannine usage, whereby sa/rc refers to the life of a human being, especially in its mortality and limitations. The term, in 8:15 and 17:2, connotes the human condition more generally; and, yet, mortality and limitation is clearly being emphasized (in comparison with God). The reference in 17:2 is particularly significant in the way that humankind (“flesh”) is related to the person of Jesus (the Son), with two key points of emphasis:

    • Jesus’ authority over human beings, with the idea that certain human beings (believers) have been given to him, suggests a strong point of connection and affinity between the Son and human believers.
    • The eternal life possessed by God is not normally accessible to human beings (who are mortal); it can only be communicated to humans through the person of Jesus, which again suggests a point of contact (that would make such communication possible).

Whether or not this Johannine theological orientation applied to the (original) Logos-poem of the Gospel Prologue, it is definitely present in the full Prologue. We can see this by the way that verse 14 is juxtaposed with vv. 12-13. The rather clear implication is that the Logos “coming to be” (vb gi/nomai) a human being (“flesh”) took place so that human beings could “come to be (born)” (vb genna/w) as God’s offspring. The Gospel writer likely would have had in mind that this communication of eternal life, from the Logos/Son to human believers, could only take place because the Logos/Son had himself become a human being.

The reference in 1 John 4:2 (par 2 Jn 7) emphasizes the theological—and, I think, soteriological—importance of the Son becoming “flesh”. The author was combating Christians, (former) members of the Johannine Community, who (from his standpoint) held a false view of Jesus Christ, and thus were false believers. In two passages (2:18-27; 4:1-6), he calls these false believers “antichrists”, and provides confessional statements meant flatly to oppose their view of Jesus. In 4:2, the statement is:

“By this, you may know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses/acknowledges Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) having come in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] is of God.”

The implication, clearly, is that any would-be believer, supposedly speaking from the Spirit, who does not confess/acknowledge (vb o(mologe/w) Jesus Christ as having come “in the flesh”, is not of God. Such a person speaks from another spirit—a spirit of the world that is opposed to God, a spirit of “antichrist”, a false and lying spirit. Note how this is stated in 2 John 7:

“(It is) that many who lead (people) astray [pla/noi] have gone out into the world, the (one)s not confessing/acknowledging Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this [i.e. such a person] is the (one) leading (people) astray [pla/no$] and the (one) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$]!”

Scholars continue to debate the precise nature of the opponents’ view of Jesus, with the following three lines of interpretation being the most plausible:

    • The opponents held an early (or rudimentary) docetic view of Jesus—viz., that the Son of God only seemed to be a human being, but was neither really (or fully) so.
    • They accepted his human incarnation, but denied that the Son actually suffered and died like an ordinary mortal.
    • They accepted the reality of his human life (and death), but denied (and/or downplayed) the importance and significance of it (for salvation, etc).

I have discussed the matter at length in earlier studies (see, most recently, the discussion in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), and will not repeat any of that here. The author’s emphasis on Jesus’ death (“blood”) in 5:6ff, with the expression “having come…in water and blood” seeming to qualify the earlier expression “having come in (the) flesh”, all suggests that the opponents denied, in some fashion, the reality of Jesus’ death.

In any case, the author’s polemic in 1 John provides evidence that there were early Christians—even those within the Johannine congregations—who struggled to understand and to explain the nature (and consequences) of the incarnation of Christ. It is likely that the author of 1 John, his opponents, and many of his intended readers, were all familiar with the Gospel Prologue—and especially Jn 1:14—and sought to interpret it in various ways.

In Part 3, we will examine the use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) in the wider Johannine context. Along with this analysis, we will consider what differences or nuances of meaning there might be between the idiom of “coming to be” flesh (Jn 1:14) and “coming” in the flesh (1 Jn 4:2 par).



“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 1

John 1:14 in the context of the Johannine Gospel

Having examined John 1:14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue (the first division of our study), we shall now consider the verse in relation to the Gospel of John as a whole. It is actually the overall Johannine context that we will be considering, including the Johannine Letters (esp. 1 John) in addition to the Gospel.

“And the Word became flesh and set up (his) tent among us, and we looked on his splendor, (the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth.”

We begin, as in the first division of our study, with the key words in the first main phrase (v. 14a):

“the word became flesh”
o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

There are three components to this statement: (1) the articular noun lo/go$ (o( lo/go$), (2) the noun sa/rc, and (3) the verb of becoming (gi/nomai). We must examine the Johannine usage of these terms outside of the Gospel Prologue.

1. lo/go$

Outside of the four occurrences in the Prologue (3 in v. 1, and once in v. 14), the noun lo/go$ occurs 37 times in the Gospel of John. As lo/go$ is a common word with a wide range of meaning, this relatively extensive usage is not unusual, nor does it necessarily tell us anything about the relation of the Prologue to the rest of the Gospel. By comparison, the word occurs nearly as often in the Gospels of Matthew (33) and Luke (32).

In the Gospel of John, the noun lo/go$ is used predominantly in reference to the words spoken by Jesus (to his disciples, etc) during his earthly ministry. In this regard, lo/go$ is synonymous in meaning with r(h=ma (“utterance”). Indeed, when occurring in the plural (lo/goi), it is virtually identical with r(h/mata—both essentially meaning “words” (i.e., things said). The plural occurs in 7:40; 10:19; 14:24; cf. also 19:13.

The singular of lo/go$ tends to be used in much the same way, referring to Jesus’ words in a general or collective sense; occasionally a specific (individual) saying is being referenced (e.g., 2:22; 4:50; 7:36). The Gospel writer gives to this use of lo/go$ a very distinctive theological (and Christological) meaning. Frequently, it is used in the context of trusting (vb pisteu/w) in Jesus; this means, principally, trusting in the message (i.e., the word[s]) about who Jesus is. We see this connection, between lo/go$ and pisteu/w, clearly enough (for example) in 2:22; 4:39, 41, 50; 5:24. However, we find this lo/go$-theme developed most extensively in the great Discourses of chapters 5-10, and again in chapters 14-17. We must examine this usage, in at least a summary fashion, comparing it with the usage in the Prologue.

With regard to this Johannine theological usage of lo/go$, the fundamental idea is that of the “word” of Jesus being in a person. The concept is expressed a number of ways, such as by the use of the verb e&xw (“hold”), in 5:38. The believer “holds” Jesus’ word, meaning that the one who does not hold his word is not a believer; indeed, those who do not (or will not) trust, have no space (i.e., room) for Jesus’ word in them (8:37).

This relationship, between a person and Jesus’ word (lo/go$), defines the true believer. The Gospel expresses this two ways: (a) through the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), and (b) with the verb thre/w (“keep watch [over]”). Jesus’ word remains in the true believer (8:31; cf. also 15:7; 1 Jn 2:15), and that person guards it, keeping watch over it (8:51-52, 55; 14:23-24; 15:10, 20; 17:6; 1 Jn 2:5).

But what is this word? One could understand lo/go$ here as referring to Jesus’ teaching. Certainly, a disciple will possess and hold firmly to the teachings of his/her master. However, in the Johannine context, the emphasis is particularly on the message regarding who Jesus is. Throughout the Gospel Discourses, Jesus’ teaching relates primarily to his identity as the Son (of God) sent from heaven (by God the Father). The true believer remains in this message, keeping watch over it.

The author of 1 John certainly has this Christological emphasis in mind; and, it is just here that the Johannine use of the term lo/go$ (in the Gospel and in 1 John) most closely approaches the use of it in the Prologue. In 1 John, the noun lo/go$ occurs six times—1:1, 10; 2:5, 7, 14; 3:18—and in these references we find an interesting alternation, between an emphasis on the words of Jesus, and on the person of Jesus himself. The author, however, defines this largely in terms of the word of God—which is manifest in and through Jesus His Son.

In 1:10 and 2:5, 7, it is the word (lo/go$) of God, as communicated through the teaching of Jesus, that is in view—in particular, the great command/duty to show love to fellow believers (cf. also 3:18). However, in 2:14, “the word [o( lo/go$]” would seem to refer to the person of Jesus (the Son), in a way that echoes the Gospel Prologue (Jn 1:1):

“I have written to you, fathers,
(in) that you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$];
I have written to you, young men,
(in) that you are strong, and the Word [o( lo/go$] of God remains in you…”

1 John 1:1f also seems, rather clearly, to echo the Gospel Prologue, including in its use of the term lo/go$:

“That which was [h@n] from (the) beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$], which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked at and (which) our hands touched, about the word of Life [o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$]—and th(is) Life was made to shine forth, and we have seen (it)…”

There definitely appears to be a double-meaning to this use of lo/go$. One the one hand, it refers to the message about [peri/] Jesus (“the Life”); but, on the other hand, it refers to Jesus himself, who is “the Word (of Life)”. The disciples, the first believers, were able to see and touch this Word, much as the Prologue declares in Jn 1:14ff. This is an important point of emphasis for the author of 1 John, who is combating a view of Jesus which, from his standpoint, has departed from the historical tradition and witness (preserved from the first believers), and yet would claim to be an inspired account of the truth.

For the author of 1 John, then, the use of the verb me/nw (“remain”) has a special significance. The true believer remains in the truth, and does not depart from it. This truth comes from the Spirit, but does not (and cannot) contradict the witness of the Gospel tradition. This usage in 1 John generally corresponds with that of the Gospel Discourses, whereby the true believer, by “remaining” in Jesus’ word (lo/go$) also “remains” in Jesus himself (cf. the 10 occurrences of me/nw in 15:4-10). The believer remains in the Son, just as the Son remains in the Father (14:10); and the Son remains in the believer (and the believer in the Son) through the Spirit (14:17; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13). For the author of 1 John, this use of me/nw defines the true believer in Christ, as one who has “come to be (born) of God”; cf. the key references in 2:6, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 9, 14ff, 24; 4:12-16; also 2 Jn 2, 9.

In particular, the wording in 2:14 and 24 makes clear that there is fundamentally no real difference between the idea of the Son’s word (lo/go$), and the Son himself (who is the Lo/go$), remaining in believers. The things said by Jesus (his word[s]) represent one main component of his abiding presence in the believer. How this is represented in the Gospel, with regard to the use of the verb me/nw, I have illustrated by the following diagram:

This study demonstrates, I think, that, even if the Johannine writings, apart from the Gospel Prologue, do not contain anything quite like the Logos-doctrine of Jn 1:14, they still evince an understanding of the term lo/go$ that is fundamentally Christological in nature, and which relates primarily to an understanding of who Jesus is—the eternal Son and Word of God, who was with the Father “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$).

In the next part of this article, we will examine the two remaining components—the noun sa/rc and the verb gi/nomai—of v. 14a.