June 15: 1 John 3:1

1 John 3:1

“See what sort of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called (the) offspring [te/kna] of God—and (so) we are. Through [i.e. because of] this, the world does not know us, (in) that it did not know Him.” (3:1)

The important Johannine theme of the ‘birth’ of believers as the “offspring” (te/kna) of God, introduced in 2:28-29 (see the previous note), continues here. This identity as God’s children (“offspring”) reflects the love God has for us. He is willing to call us His offspring, and, in fact we are His offspring. This juxtaposition between the verb kale/w (“call”) and the verb of being (ei)mi) has important theological implications, which can easily be lost in translation. The identity of believers, as the sons/children of God, is not merely symbolic or figurative, but real. This differs markedly from the use of the sonship motif in the Old Testament Scriptures, applied to the people of Israel as a whole (or limited to the righteous), or to the king, where the usage is figurative. YHWH might call Israel His “son(s)”, from an ethical-religious standpoint, and reflecting the covenant relationship His has with them; but the people are not His offspring in nature and essence.

In the Johannine writings, there is a special theological significance to the verb of being, which tends to be applied to a Divine subject. This is certainly the case for the many instances of essential predication that occur in the Gospel and Letters. These simple predicative statements, which provide essential information regarding the subject, follow a basic pattern: (i) [Divine] subject, (ii) verb of being, (iii) predicate noun (or phrase). The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) statements by Jesus in the Gospel are the most famous examples of Johannine essential predication.

Usually these predicative statements have the Son (Jesus) or God the Father as the subject; but, occasionally, the formula can be applied to believers, as it is, to some extent, here. The phrase “that we should be called (the) offspring of God” is followed by the short statement “and we are”, which functions as an example of essential predication. The statement consists of the verb of being, with the subject implied on the basis of context and the form of the verb—e)sme/n (“we are”). The predicate noun/phrase is also implied, referring back to “(the) offspring of God”; thus the predicative statement here can be filled out as: “we [i.e. believers] are the offspring of God”. Because believers are the children of God, it is possible for them/us to be treated as the Divine subject of the essential predication, much as the Son of God (Jesus) is elsewhere in the Johannine writings.

The noun ui(o/$ (“son”) is reserved for Jesus (the Son), but believers are still genuinely the offspring of God. The birth as His offspring is not merely symbolic, but real (as noted above). Believers come to be born (vb genna/w) out of (e)k, “from”) God Himself. The birth is real, though it is spiritual, not physical (see Jn 3:3-8). As believers, we are born from God’s Spirit, and are His offspring through the Spirit.

Another important Johannine theme is introduced at 3:1b—that of the contrast between believers and the world (o( ko/smo$). This lays the groundwork for the development of the principal theme of 1 John, here in the central division (2:28-3:24) of the author’s work, which is: the contrast between the true and false believer. This theme is part of the broader contrast between believers and the world (with false believers belonging to the world). Throughout the Johannine writings, the noun ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”), tends to be used in a categorically negative sense, as part of a dualistic mode of thinking and expression. The “world” represents the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God, being located and manifested principally on earth (‘below’), among human beings. This use of ko/smo$ occurs throughout the Gospel, but is most prominent in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33, where the noun occurs 20 times), and the subsequent Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17 (where it is even more frequent: 18 times, in vv. 5-6, 9, 11, 13-16, 18, 21, 23-25). Jesus prepares his disciples—and, by extension, all believers—for the hostility and opposition that they will face from the world during the course of their mission.

The contrast between God and the world was established in 2:15-17, just prior to the first section dealing directly with the ‘antichrist’ opponents (2:18-27). The contrast is then restated, in relation to the opponents, in the second ‘antichrist’ section (4:1-6), making it clear that, from the author’s standpoint, the opponents are false believers who belong to the world, not to God.

The same contrast is developed here in chapter 3, but from the more positive standpoint of what it means to be a true believer—since what is true can be distinguished from what is false, just as what is right (dikaiosu/nh, see the previous note on 2:29) can be seen in contrast to what is sin.

Because believers are the offspring of God, the world does not (and cannot) know them. There is a double meaning to the use of the verb ginw/skw (“know”) here. On the one hand, from the world’s standpoint, the world does not recognize the true believer as belonging to it, as one of its own. At the same time, from the standpoint of the truth, the statement in 3:1b means that the world cannot recognize that believers belong to God. It is precisely because (dia\ tou=to) believers are God’s own offspring that the world does not know them. Since the world does not know God Himself, they cannot know His offspring either.

Textual Note on 3:1

It should be pointed out that the short phrase “and (so) we are” (kai\ e)sme/n) is absent from a number of Greek manuscripts (K L), including most minuscules (which tend to be of later date), and the reading without the words was followed by the ‘Textus Receptus’, thus leading to the absence of the words from the King James Version (and other older English versions). However, the words are almost certainly original, being attested in an extremely wide range of manuscripts and other witnesses (Ë74 vid a A B C 33 81 614 1739 ith, 65 vg al). Possibly the words were omitted by accident, since, in the uncial writing, they would have resembled the previous word (klhqw=men); note the similarity—klhqwmen | kaiesmen. Cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition (1994), p. 642.

June 14: 1 John 2:29

1 John 2:29

As discussed in the previous daily note, the Johannine theme of the ‘birth’ of believers as the “offspring” (te/kna) of God was introduced in 1 John at the beginning the central division of the work (2:28-3:24), as the author addresses his audience tekni/a, “(my) dear offspring…”, or “little children…”. It is in the central division that the author most clearly expounds his primary theme—that of the contrast between true and false believers.

The author’s message also has a strong eschatological orientation, as is clear from the references in 2:28 to Jesus’ being “made to shine forth” (vb fanero/w), and his “(com)ing to be alongside” (parousi/a). Both of these terms are part of the early Christian eschatological vocabulary, referring to the end-time (second) coming of Jesus. Like virtually all first-century Christians, the author of 1 John held an imminent eschatology, as is clear from the wording throughout—particularly in 2:18: “Little children, this is the last hour…”. The author believed that he and his audience were living at the end of the current Age, a period which traditionally was thought to represent a time of great distress (qli/yi$, Dan 12:1 LXX, Mark 13:19, 24 par; 2 Thess 1:4, 6; Rev 1:9; 7:14), when the forces of darkness and evil were particularly active and intense. This evil activity includes the presence of false prophets (and false messiahs) who would lead humankind astray (Mk 13:22 par; Matt 24:11; cf. 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1); even believers are not completely safe from their deceptions. The opponents, whose views and teachings are the focus of the author’s warnings, are called “antichrists” (2:18ff; 4:3; 2 Jn 7) and are regarded as false prophets of the end-time (4:1-6), capable of leading other Christians astray.

The exhortations and warnings in 2:28-3:24 have the same eschatological context. The emphasis on remaining in Christ—and in the truth of the Gospel regarding who Jesus is (and what he did)—is particularly urgent, given the malevolent influence of the “antichrist” opponents. The opponents have departed from the truth, holding false views regarding Jesus Christ, and are thus false believers (and also false prophets). The author encourages his audience to remain in the truth; if they do, then they will not be led astray, and will show themselves to be true believers—those who have been ‘born’ of God as His offspring.

This birth/offspring imagery is particularly emphasized in the first section (2:28-3:10), where the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna) and the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”, + e)k “out of”) occur multiple times. Following the use of the diminutive tekni/a in verse 28, the term te/kna (the first occurrence in 1 John) follows in 3:1, being preceded by the genna/w + e)k idiom in v. 29:

“If you have seen [i.e. known] that he is right(eous) [di/kaio$], (then) you know that also every(one) doing (what is) right [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of [e)k] Him.”

This is the first instance in 1 John where believers in Christ—that is, true believers—are defined as those “having come to be (born) out of God”. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle), with the definite article, reflects a typical Johannine manner of expression. It is a way of describing a person (or group) according to a characteristic attribute or behavior—viz., “the one(s) doing/being {such}…”. When the verb is genna/w, it is typically used in the perfect tense: “the (one[s]) having coming to be (born)”. The perfect tense usually indicates a past action (or state), the effect/results of which continue into the present. This aspect of continuing is reinforced, in the Johannine theological idiom, by use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”).

Two points are made regarding believers as the offspring of God here in v. 29. The first point is expressed by the first phrase: “If you have seen that he is right(eous)…”. The subject of the verb e)stin (“he is”) is ambiguous, but, given the point of reference in v. 28, it can only refer to Jesus Christ (the Son). Moreover, Jesus was specifically identified by the same adjective (as a substantive title) in 2:1, “(the) Right(eous one)”, an appellation which appears to have been a traditional designation for Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. Lk 23:47). The true believer sees/knows who Jesus is—namely, that, as the Messiah and Son of God, he is the Righteous One, acting in accordance with what is right (dikaiosu/nh). This is part of what it means to have a genuine trust in Jesus.

If the first phrase sets the condition (protasis, “if…”), the remainder of the verse states the apodosis (“then…”): “then you know that every(one) doing (what is) right…”. The second point thus is: the true believer, following the example of Jesus himself (see v. 6), does what is right. If the Son does what is right, then believers, as the offspring/children of God, will also do what is right.

The noun dikaiosu/nh, with the definite article, denotes “the right (thing)”, or “th(at which) is right”, “what is right”; it should be understood in a collective or comprehensive sense (“right-ness”), rather than referring to a specific right deed. Again, the use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) indicates behavior that is characteristic of the believer: “the (one) doing…” (o( poiw=n). It is characteristic of the true believer that he/she “does what is right”. The author does not here indicate to his readers precisely what it means, in a practical sense, to “do what is right”. Doing right certainly would include the range of traditional religious-ethical conduct (cf. the context of 1:5-2:2ff), but the Johannine writings tend to express this, for believers, in a very particular way. The ethic of the believer in Christ is realized (and expressed) in terms of the Johannine theology—something that the author develops, in particular, throughout 2:28-3:24.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study on the birth/offspring theme in 2:28-3:10, examining 3:1.

 

June 13: 1 John 2:28

1 John 2:28-3:10

When we examine the Johannine birth/sonship theme as it appears in First John, we notice that there are two main sections where the theme is most prominent—2:28-3:10 and 4:20-5:4a. As we have seen, in the Johannine writings, there are two principal idioms for expressing the idea of believers being ‘born’ as the children of God: (1) the use of the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna, “offspring”), and (2) the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), often used together with the preposition e)k (“out of, from”). Both of these Johannine idioms occur in 2:28-3:10—the noun te/knon, in the expression te/kna [tou=] qeou= (“offspring of God”), is used four times (3:1-2, 10 [twice]); and the verb genna/w (+ e)k) occurs three times (2:29; 3:9 [twice]). Clearly, the theme of believers as the offspring/children of God is fundamental to the message of this section.

The section 2:28-3:10 represents the first portion of the central division (2:28-3:24) of 1 John. In this division, the author most clearly and directly expounds the central theme of his work—namely, the contrast between true and false believers. The true believer is a child born of God, while the false believer is not; indeed, the false believer has a very different parentage (cf. the prior note on John 8:39-47).

Verse 28

“And now, (my) dear offspring [tekni/a, i.e. little children], you must remain [me/nete] in him, (so) that, when he should be made to shine forth, we may hold outspokenness, and not be shamed (away) from him in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a].” (v. 28)

Throughout the work, the author repeatedly addresses his audience as “little children”, using either the plural noun paidi/a (2:13, 18) or tekni/a (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). It is a term of endearment, by which the author also presents himself a parental ‘father-figure’ to the Johannine Christians whom he is addressing. This reflects a certain apostolic mind-set of the author, rather similar, it would seem, to that of Paul, who viewed himself as parent to the congregations he helped to found (1 Cor 4:15; Gal 4:19; 1 Thess 2:7, 11; cf. 2 Tim 1:2; 2:1). The noun tekni/on is a diminutive of te/knon, meaning “little offspring” (i.e., “little child”); Jesus uses it, in a manner similar to the author of 1 John, in addressing his disciples at the beginning of the Last Discourse (13:33).

Given the theological significance of te/knon in the Johannine writings, it is fair to assume that there is an echo of this in the use of tekni/on as well. The author is addressing his readers/hearers, not simply with a term of endearment (“[my] little children”), but as true believers in Christ (tekni/a = te/kna). This is part of the author’s rhetorical strategy. By treating them as true believers, this establishes the expectation that they will behave as true believers, and will reject the false teaching and example of the ‘antichrist’ opponents (cf. the flanking sections 2:18-27 and 4:1-6).

At the beginning of the section (see the translation of verse 28 above), the author addresses his audience as tekni/a, implying that they are (and should be) true believers. However, even if they are, currently, believers in Christ, they must remain in him. The verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) is one of the great Johannine keywords, carrying fundamental theological significance. It has already been used numerous times earlier in 1 John (2:6, 10, 14, 17), but particularly in the prior section (2:18-27) that deals directly with the “antichrist” opponents (vv. 19, 24 [3 times], 27 [twice]). The use here in v. 28 picks up from the climactic occurrence at the end of v. 27:

“…as his anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and is not false, and just as it (has) taught you, (so) you remain in him.”

The Spirit remains in the believer, through which the believer is in union with Jesus the Son (and God the Father), and teaches the believer the truth. Yet it is necessary for the believer to remain in this union, which can only happen if he/she remains in the truth. This is the thrust of the author’s exhortation here in verse 28, repeating the exhortation (and warning) at the end of the prior section.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study on the birth/offspring theme in 2:28-3:10, looking at verse 29 and the eschatological context of the author’s message.

 

 

 

June 12: John 11:52

John 11:52

The Johannine keyword te/knon (plur. te/kna, “offspring”), used in reference to the believers as the children of God, occurs with some frequency in the Letters (nine times, five in 1 John), but only three times in the Gospel. We have already discussed two of the occurrences, in 1:12 (note) and 8:39 (see the previous note). The third is in 11:52; interestingly, however, it is not spoken by Jesus, but by Caiaphas—as an opponent of Jesus. This is an example of the irony that we find in a number of places throughout the Gospel. An opponent of Jesus unwittingly speaks using Johannine theological terminology—regarding Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and believers as the children of God.

We saw something similar in the Discourse-section 8:31-47 of the Sukkot Discourse (chaps. 7-8), discussed in the previous note. In verses 33 and 39a, some in the audience make the claim of being children of Abraham, to which Jesus responds, in v. 39b, using the noun te/kna (“offspring”). His point is, that they cannot truly be the te/kna of Abraham, since they are opposed to him, and even wish to see him put to death—something which Abraham never would do. The implication is that they are actually children of the Devil. To this, Jesus’ opponents respond further by claiming to have God as their Father—drawing upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition that defined the relationship between YHWH and Israel (and especially the righteous ones of Israel) as that of a Father to his son. In doing so, they unwittingly use the Johannine theological idiom genna/w + e)k (“come to be [born] of”), implying that they are the offspring (te/kna) of God. This, of course, is not possible, since they do not trust in Jesus as the Son of God, a point made clear by Jesus in the exposition of vv. 40-47.

The episode in 11:45-53 also involves opponents of Jesus. It follows the great Lazarus episode of chapter 11 (vv. 1-44), which is at the center of the entire Gospel narrative (cf. the central confessional statement in verse 27). Largely in reaction to the raising of Lazarus, the religious authorities in Jerusalem—that is, the high Council, or Sanhedrin—gather together, in order to determine what action they should take. Eventually, they decided that Jesus must be put to death, and made plans to achieve that goal (v. 53). As presented in the narrative, key to that decision was the advice given by the high priest Caiaphas (vv. 49-50), advising that “…it bears together (well) for us, that one man should die off over [u(pe/r, i.e. for the sake of] the people, and that the entire nation should not perish”.

Here Caiaphas unwittingly describes the salvific character of Jesus’ death, using terminology found elsewhere in the Gospel. For example, the preposition u(pe/r (“over”, in the sense of “on behalf of, for the sake of”) occurs on a number of occasions in reference to the sacrificial, atoning nature of Jesus’ death—6:51 (cp. Mark 14:24 par); 10:11, 15; 17:19; cf. also 13:37-38; 15:13. Also, the idea that the entire nation “should not perish” echoes the wording in 3:16 (cf. 6:39; 10:28; 17:12).

According to the information provided by the Gospel writer, Caiaphas’ advice is in line with a prophecy he had apparently spoken some time earlier, in which he predicted that:

“…Yeshua was about to die off over [i.e. for the sake of] the nation—and not over the nation only, but (so) that also the offspring [te/kna] of God, having been scattered throughout, might be gathered together into one.” (vv. 51b-52)

This is perhaps the supreme example of Johannine irony, and also of the lack of understanding by Jesus’ opponents (presented so frequently in the Discourses). Here, Jesus’ opponents do not even understand the true meaning of their own words. Caiaphas’ prophecy is an unwitting prophecy of the effect of Jesus’ mission (and his sacrificial death)—that it would unite together all of the “offspring of God”. Caiaphas meant this expression in the manner of Jesus’ opponents in 8:39 (see above), as a reference to the Israelite/Jewish people; however, from the Johannine standpoint, it refers to believers in Christ.

The theme of unity, expressed by Caiaphas’ final words (ei)$ e%n, “into one”), also has an important place in the Johannine theology. It is most prominent in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, where the adjective ei!$ (neut. e%n), “one”, occurs five times (vv. 11, 21, 22 [twice], 23). There is also an important occurrence in 10:16, where Jesus similarly uses it in the context of the unity of believers. Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the proclamation of the Gospel message—the Christian mission—will result in uniting together all the “offspring of God”. Every one who belongs to God will respond to the Gospel, and through trust in Jesus, will come to be born (1:12-13; 3:3-8) as the offspring/children of God. Through the Spirit, all of these believers are united as one—in union with God the Father and Jesus the Son, but also with each other.

June 11: John 8:39-46

John 8:39-46

In examining the Johannine theme of the spiritual birth of believers, it is worth noting that the idiom of the verb genna/w + the preposition e)k (“come to be [born] out of”) can be applied not only to believers (see the previous notes on 3:3-8 and 1:12-13), but also to their opposite—to non-believers and those who are hostile/opposed to Christ. This reflects a starkly dualistic outlook (and mode of expression) that pervades the Johannine writings. All human beings belong to one of two categories, presented as dualistic opposites—light vs. darkness, above vs. below, believers vs. the world, God and Christ vs. the “chief of this world” (i.e., the Satan/Devil). By this manner of expression, if one is not of God (and His Spirit), then that person must be of the Devil.

This dualistic contrast, of children of God vs. children of the Devil, features prominently in the Sukkot-Discourse complex of chapters 7-8. The theme is developed gradually, throughout the Discourse-sections of 8:12-59. The Johannine message of Jesus as the Son, sent from heaven by God the Father, is expounded in vv. 12-30, with particular emphasis on the word spoken by Jesus, bearing witness to his identity as the Son. The true disciple is one who trusts in this word (see v. 30), but then also remains in it (vv. 31-32).

At this point in the Discourse, some of Jesus’ hearers unwittingly introduce the birth/sonship motif, by referring to themselves (Israelites/Jews) as the “seed of Abraham” (v. 33). Jesus plays upon this self-identification, pointing out that, because they oppose him (and even seek to kill him), they cannot truly be Abraham’s children—since Abraham would not act in such away (vv. 37, 39-40, 56). This logic follows an important Johannine theme—viz., that the Son (Jesus), as a dutiful son, follows the example of his Father, faithfully doing what he sees the Father doing, and saying what he hears the Father saying (v. 38). In this regard, the speech and conduct of a person reveals who his/her father is. By opposing God’s Son, and seeking to have Jesus put to death, these people reveal that the Devil is their true father (vv. 38, 41ff).

Prior to verse 39, the expression “seed [spe/rma] of Abraham” is used; however, now the important Johannine word te/knon (plur. te/kna, “offspring”) is introduced. This shift enables the contrast, between children of God and children of the Devil, to be established and expounded in vv. 39-47. The response of these people to the Son (Jesus) sent by God the Father, and to his words (which are God’s words), shows that they cannot be true offspring (te/kna) of Abraham (v. 40).

In verse 41, there is a further conceptual shift, from being the offspring of Abraham to being the offspring of God. Again, it is Jesus’ opponents who unwittingly introduce the theme, ironically using Johannine theological terminology:

“We have not come to be (born) [gegennh/meqa] out of [e)k] prostitution [i.e. sexual immorality], but we have one Father, God!”

The Johannine idiom of genna/w + e)k is here utilized; in a roundabout way, these people are claiming to be the “offspring [te/kna] of God”, even though they are clearly not believers in Christ. In the remainder of this section (vv. 42-47), the verb genna/w is not used, but the preposition e)k does occur repeatedly. In the Johannine terminology, the preposition alone can stand for genna/w + e)k, as a reference to the birth (of believers) as the offspring of God. Actually, the preposition has a range of theological meaning, with three specific semantic layers or aspects that are in play here:

    • Indicating origin (“from”), specifically of Jesus (the Son) coming from (lit. “out of”) God the Father
    • The idea of birth—of (believers) being born of God
    • The more general idea of “belonging to”, viz., of believers being of God

The first aspect occurs in verse 42, as Jesus affirms his heavenly origin, with the preposition e)k doubled: “for I came out [vb e)ce/rxomai] out of [e)k, i.e. from] God”. By contrast, Jesus’ opponents have their origin (or source, their ‘birth’) from the Devil: “You are out of [e)k] (your) father the Dia/bolo$” (v. 44). As children of the Devil, they think and act and speak as their ‘father’ does. God is the source of truth (a)lh/qeia), while the Devil is the source of that which is false (to\ yeu=do$), vv. 44b-46. The essential contrast is stated concisely, in the climactic verse 47:

“The (one) being of [e)k] God hears the utterances [i.e. words] of God; for this (reason), you do not hear, (in) that [i.e. because] you are not of [e)k] God.”

All three layers of meaning for the preposition e)k (see above) can be applied here:

    • Jesus as the Son who comes from God, and who hears God the Father speaking
    • Believers as those who are ‘born’ of God, and thus are able to hear the words of God (i.e., trusting in them)
    • Moreover, believers are truly of God, belonging to Him as His offspring

There are numerous parallels to this wording in the Johannine writings, most notably the statement by Jesus in Jn 18:37.

While the illustration of unbelievers as ‘children’ of the Devil may be useful, it should not be pressed too far. Unbelievers do not “come to be (born)” (vb genna/w) of the Devil in the manner that believers “come to be (born)” of God. The phrasing here in verse 47 is more proper, from a Johannine theological standpoint: a non-believer (or unbeliever) is, by definition, not born of God. This negation is fundamental to the distinction between a believer and a non-believer.

 

June 10: John 3:3-8

John 3:3-8

In the Johannine writings, the theme of believers as the sons/children of God is especially prominent, and is expressed primarily in two ways: (1) through the use of the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna), “offspring”; and (2) by the verb genna/w + the preposition e)k. The statement in 1:12b-13, discussed in the previous note, uses both of these elements.

The principal passage in the Gospel for this theme is the first section (vv. 3-8) of the Nicodemus Discourse in chapter 3. In these verses, the verb genna/w occurs eight times, four of which also use the preposition e)k (“out of”).

The verb genna/w is a verb of becoming, related to the more common gi/nomai, and with a comparable meaning. Both verbs can be used in the context of birth (i.e., coming to be born); however, this aspect of meaning is more regularly expressed by genna/w. The verb is relatively rare in the Synoptic Gospels, outside of the Matthean genealogy (1:1-16, where it occurs 40 times). It occurs primarily in the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives, in reference to the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:20; 2:1, 4; Luke 1:35), but also to the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13, 57). Otherwise, it is used only rarely, in the context of an ordinary human birth (Mark 14:21; Matt 19:12; 26:24; Lk 23:29). The idiom of genna/w + e)k (i.e., “come to be born out of”) occurs only in Matt 1:20, in reference to the conception/birth of Jesus from the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere in the New Testament, outside of the Johannine writings, genna/w + e)k occurs only in Galatians 4:23 (cf. the earlier note on Gal 4:21-31).

As mentioned above, the verb genna/w occurs eight times in 3:3-8, the first section of the Nicodemus Discourse, in which the theme of birth is emphasized. Following the narrative introduction (vv. 1-2), the central statement by Jesus in verse 3 begins the Discourse:

“If one does not come to be (born) [e)ggenhqh=|] from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.”

The Johannine Discourses of Jesus follow a basic pattern, which is outlined below (applied to the chap. 3 Discourse):

    • Statement by Jesus (v. 3)
    • Response by his hearer(s), reflecting a lack of understanding (v. 4)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true meaning of his words (vv. 5-8)
    • A second response by his hearer(s), again demonstrating a lack of understanding (v. 9)
    • Further exposition by Jesus (here, in two parts: vv. 10-15, 16-21)

In the initial exposition (vv. 5-8), Jesus explains the meaning of his statement in v. 3. Nicodemus, in his initial response (v. 4), has difficulty understanding Jesus’ use of the expression “come to be (born) from above [a&nwqen]”. He understands the adverb a&nwqen in the figurative/temporal sense of “again”, specifically in the context of a person coming to be born “a second time”, repeating his/her physical birth (from the mother’s womb). Jesus, however, explains that the ‘birth’ of which he speaks is a Divine birth, coming from God (“from above”). Since God Himself is Spirit (a point to be made in 4:24), a birth from God must be a spiritual, not a physical, birth. Jesus rephrases his initial statement in verse 5:

“If one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God.”

Being born “from above” is explained as being born “out of [e)k] water and (the) Spirit”, while “seeing” the Kingdom of God is explained in terms of “entering” (“coming into”) the Kingdom. In verses 6-8, the explanation of “from above” (a&nwqen) is further narrowed to “out of the Spirit”, without any mention of water. This has led commentators to debate the significance of “out of water” (e)c u%dato$) in verse 5. There are three lines of interpretation:

    • “water” and “Spirit” are essentially synonymous, perhaps in anticipation of the water-motif in the chapter 4 Discourse (vv. 10, 13-14; cf. vv. 23-24; 7:37-39)
    • “water” and “Spirit” are supplemental, referring (most likely) to the baptism ritual and its symbolism; “Spirit” is primary (vv. 6, 8), but “water” (i.e., baptism) is still essential for the believer (in order to “enter” the Kingdom)
    • the conjunction kai/ (“and”) signifies that in addition to being born out of water (i.e., one’s physical/biological), it is necessary specifically to be born “of the Spirit”.

I am very much inclined toward the third approach, which seems to be more in keeping with the context of vv. 3-4, and the exposition by Jesus in verses 6ff. There is a clear contrast between an ordinary human birth (from the mother’s womb), and a Divine/heavenly birth from the Spirit of God. In this regard, “out of (the) flesh” (v. 6) seems to be parallel with “out of water” in v. 5. Moreover, I would maintain that this line of interpretation is in accord with the Jesus-John contrast that runs through chapters 1-3; in particular, John’s baptism with water is contrasted with Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit (1:26, 31, 33; cf. 3:22-23ff). This thematic contrast is undercut if the wording in verse 5 refers to the (physical) water of the baptism ritual.

The irony is that Nicodemus was not entirely incorrect in his understanding of a&nwqen as connoting “again, a second time”, because a second birth is indeed required.

In his initial exposition, Jesus does not explain how it is that one comes to be born “from above”, that is, “from the Spirit”. This is only expounded subsequently, in vv. 10-21. The final portion (vv. 16-21), in particular, implicitly declares that this spiritual birth takes place only when a person trusts in Jesus as the Son sent to earth by God the Father. The theological (and Christological) basis for this is established in the prior section (vv. 10-15), by way of the Johannine descent-ascent schema. The Son has descended (lit. “stepped down”) to earth from heaven (v. 13), and, when his mission on earth is completed (culminating with his death), he will ascend (“step up”) back to heaven (vv. 13a, 14). Both aspects (descent and ascent of the Son) are necessary for one’s trust in Jesus to be genuine (and full), enabling that person to both see and enter the Kingdom of God.

In comparison with his teaching in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus says very little about the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of John. In fact, there are only two passages where the Kingdom-theme is dealt with to any extent—here in 3:3-8, and the dialogue with Pilate in 18:33-38. Throughout the rest of the Gospel, it is not the Messianic kingship of Jesus that is emphasized, but, rather, his identity as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. Similarly, in place of the Kingdom as an eschatological concept, we find the twin Johannine themes of judgment (kri/si$, vb kri/nw) and life (zwh/). And, indeed, these are the two key themes introduced and expounded in the conclusion of the Discourse (vv. 16-21). The one who trusts in Jesus, possesses life, having already passed through the Judgment, while the one who does not trust, has already been judged.

This aspect of what it means to be a believer in Jesus is stated succinctly in verse 15, in relation to the descent-ascent of the Son:

“…(so) that every(one) trusting in him would hold (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]”

The parallel between the idiom of “entering the Kingdom” and “entering life”, whereby the two can be regarded as largely synonymous, is reasonably well established in the Gospel Tradition, within the teaching of Jesus (Mark 9:43, 45, 47 par; 10:15, 17 par; Matt 19:17, 23-24 par; cf. also Matt 7:14, 21).

June 7: John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13

The theme of the sonship of believers is most prominent in the Johannine writings. Indeed, it is a key component of the Johannine theology, as expressed throughout the Gospel and Letters of John. In the Gospel, the theme is introduced within the Prologue (1:1-18), at verses 12-13.

As discussed in my recent study, and in an earlier set of notes, one theory regarding the composition of the Prologue, which has gained wide acceptance among commentators, is that the Gospel writer has adapted an existing Christ-hymn—presumably one which had been in use among the Johannine churches. There have been a number of plausible reconstructions, attempting to isolate the core hymn. While there remain differences of opinion regarding the portions that derive from an original hymn, there is general agreement that verses 6-8, 12-13, and 15 represent expository comments by the Gospel writer. These comments serve to integrate the hymn more fully into the Gospel narrative; in particular, the references to John the Baptist (vv. 6-8, 15) establish the important Jesus-John contrast that runs through chapters 1-3.

Far more essential to the message of the Gospel—and the Johannine theology—as a whole are the comments in vv. 12-13. Some commentators see verse 12a as part of the original hymn. Indeed, it does follow verses 9-11 quite naturally, and seems to provide a necessary climax for this portion of the hymn:

“He came unto his own,
and (yet) his own did not receive him;
but as (many) as did receive him,
to them he gave authority to become offspring of God”
(vv. 11-12a)

In my view, verses 9-11 refer primarily to the presence/activity of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God throughout history—particularly the history of the Israelite/Jewish people. While this section anticipates the incarnation of the Logos (in the person of Jesus), that is not the principal point of reference in these verses. To everyone who receives (i.e., accepts) the Word/Wisdom of God, the Divine Word/Wisdom enables that person to become a child of God. This is a theme of Wisdom literature (e.g., Wisd 2:13, 16-18; Sirach 4:10)—viz., that it is specifically the righteous person who is the true son/child of God.

Even if verse 12a is part of the original hymn, and refers primarily to the presence/activity of the Divine Wisdom generally, what follows in vv. 12b-13 definitely represents a Christological application of this tradition by the Gospel writer. Ahead of the actual reference to the incarnation of Christ (v. 14), the author introduces a key theme regarding believers in Christ—namely, that they/we are to be identified as the children (lit. “offspring,” te/kna) of God, on the basis of our trust in Jesus. The Johannine writings always use the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna) for believers, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) being reserved for Jesus (as the Son); believers are never referred to as the “sons [ui(oi/] of God” (cp. Gal 3:26; Rom 8:14, 19).

The continuation of verse 12 (including v. 13) reads:

“but as (many) as did receive him,
to them he gave authority to become offspring of God,
to the (one)s trusting in his name—
those who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out (the) will of man, but out of God have come to be (born).”

The qualifying phrase “to the (one)s trusting in his name” makes clear that the Gospel writer is interpreting vv. 9-12a specifically in terms of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word/Wisdom of God (v. 14).

An equally important point of interpretation for the Gospel writer is that this ‘birth’ of believers is in no way an ordinary physical/biological birth. This is emphasized by the three-fold denial in v. 13:

    • “not out of blood” —that is, not the result of the biological/chemical processes involving blood; the plural of the noun ai!ma (lit. “bloods”) could be meant to include the contributions from both the father and mother.
    • “not out of (the) will of (the) flesh” —that is, the biological-sexual drive for intercourse and procreation.
    • “not out of (the) will of man” —that is, the human desire and intention (by both father and mother) to have children.

Instead, the birth of a believer is entirely spiritual, coming from God Himself.

There is an interesting (minor) variant reading in v. 13, which is notable for its Christological implications. Instead of the plural (“those who…have come to be be born” [oi^e)gennh/qhsan]), a few textual witnesses read the singular (i.e., “the [one] who…came to be born” [o^e)gennh/qh]). This reading occurs in no surviving Greek manuscript, but is found in one Old Latin manuscript (b), and is attested by several early Christian writings of the 2nd-3rd centuries—the Epistle of the Apostles §3; Irenaeus Against Heresies III.16.2, 19.2; and Tertullian On the Flesh of Christ §§19, 24. The singular reading, doubtless influenced by the preceding pronoun (“his [name]”) at the end of v. 12, makes the ‘birth’ in v. 13 that of Jesus himself—i.e., the incarnation, or, more specifically, his virginal conception and birth. There have been a few commentators, going back to Harnack and Schmid (cf. also Zahn, Blass, Loissey, Boismard, and others; for a thorough treatment, see Vellanickal, pp. 112-32), who have argued that the singular reading is original; however, the vast majority of scholars accept the overwhelming external evidence for the plural. On the significance of the singular reading in the context of the Christological debates of the 2nd-3rd centuries, see the discussion by Ehrman (pp. 26-27, 59).

The plural is certainly more in keeping with the Johannine theological idiom. And, indeed, the language in vv. 12b-13 is thoroughly Johannine—particularly the use of the substantive participle (with definite article), as a way of referring to believers, and the specific idiom of the preposition e)k (“out of”) + the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”). Apart from the second occurrence (possibly) of the verb in 1 John 5:18, this theological use of genna/w always refers to believers. The verb is used of Jesus in Jn 18:37, but in reference to his human birth, not a Divine birth from God.

Verse 13 contains the first occurrence of this important genna/w + e)k (“come to be born out of”) idiom, referring to the spiritual birth of believers (and to the opposite, for unbelievers). It occurs nine more times in the Gospel (eight of which are in 3:3-8), and ten times in 1 John. The idiom is distinctively Johannine, reflecting the Johannine theology, and is virtually non-existent in the rest of the New Testament. In the next daily note, we will examine how this idiom is used to express the sonship-theme in 3:3-8.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993).
“Vellanickal” refers to Matthew Vellanickal, The Divine Sonship of Christians in the Johannine Writings (Rome: Biblical Institute Press: 1977).

 

June 6: Hebrews 12:5ff

Hebrews 12:5ff

In the closing chapters of Hebrews, the author provides a general exhortation to believers, rooted in a call to remain faithful to Christ even in the face of suffering and persecution. As is typical in early Christian writings of the period, this exhortation includes ethical-religious instruction, though presented here in a generalized way. The most notable section of ethical-religious instruction is 12:3-17, framing the matter in terms of believers’ “struggle against sin”, using the verb a)ntagwni/zomai (“struggle against”).

Such struggle, which, as most believers can attest, is often difficult (and even painful), is compared by the author to the forceful kind of chastising discipline that a parent must, at times, employ when raising a child. The noun typically translated as “discipline” is paidei/a, from the verb paideu/w, which basically means “raise a child [pai=$]”, but often refers specifically to the instruction and training that a parent gives to a child. Drawing upon this idiomatic language, the author has introduced the traditional motif of God’s people as His children.

In the prior notes dealing with this theme—viz., believers as the sons (or children) of God—we have explored the Scriptural background of the motif, along with important examples in the Pauline letters, and elsewhere in the New Testament. The most recent note covered the sonship-theme as it was introduced earlier in Hebrews (2:10ff). In that passage, the emphasis was primarily Christological, while here, in 12:5ff, the focus is ethical-religious. However, the Christological aspect is still present, as vv. 1-3 make clear; the exhortation for believers is based upon the example we have in Jesus Christ, who himself suffered in the flesh just as we do, enduring both temptation (toward sin) and persecution by hostile forces.

The sonship-theme is reintroduced in verse 5, in the context of the “struggle against sin” being understood in terms of the discipline a child receives from his/her parents. The author presents this by way of a quotation from Scripture, introduced as follows:

“Indeed, have you forgotten about the calling alongside [para/klhsi$] which speaks through to you…?”

The noun para/klhsi$ comes from the verb parakale/w (“call alongside”); a person calls one alongside (or is called alongside), usually for the purpose of offering help of some kind. This help or assistance can take the form of emotional-spiritual comfort or exhortation, as is the case here. The verb diale/gomai means “gather through”, usually in the specific sense of “say/speak through”, according to a regular meaning of the verb le/gw. The preposition dia/ (“through”), in this context, can imply a conversation or discussion that is thorough, going ‘back and forth’. Certainly, this aspect of instruction and training (discipline) is very much in view here.

The Scriptural citation in vv. 5b-6 comes from Proverbs 3:11-12. In that passage, the Wisdom instruction is framed as teaching given by a father to his son (Prov 3:1ff). This is a common feature of ancient Wisdom literature; however, in vv. 11-12, the pattern is applied to the traditional religious theme of God (YHWH) as Father, and His people (esp. the righteous) as his children (or “sons”), cf. above. The human father continues to address his son, but emphasizes that it is also YHWH who acts to bring training (and discipline) to the child. By quoting these verses, the author of Hebrews takes on the role of the speaker/protagonist of Proverbs 3:

“My son, do not have little regard (for) [i.e. do not disregard] (the) child-rearing [paidei/a] of (the) Lord, and do not loosen out [i.e. become lax/weak] under His admonishing; for the (one) whom (the) Lord loves, He trains as a child [paideu/ei], and He flogs every son whom He receives alongside.”

The training/rearing of a child may include corporal discipline (here ‘flogging’, vb mastigo/w), which, though increasingly less common (or accepted) in modern times (especially in Western countries), was very much part of the ancient Near Eastern cultural milieu. Yet it is this more ‘painful’ aspect of discipline that the author wishes to emphasize here—indeed, it is central to his exhortation. The struggle against sin may be painful, but God allows His faithful ones (i.e., believers) to experience the impulse (and temptation) toward sin, along with opposition coming from the sinful world, as part of His parental discipline. It is part of being raised as a son/child of God, and every believer must accept the struggle as part of his/her identity as God’s child. This is the point made in vv. 7-8, urging believers to endure (lit. “remain under”, vb u(pome/nw) the discipline given to us by God.

If one remains faithful, even in the midst of our struggle against sin, then the discipline will produce its natural and proper result. We will come to be raised and trained as true children of God, reflecting His very nature and character. This is how the author concludes this part of his exhortation, in vv. 9-11. By willingly submitting to the child-rearing discipline of “the Father of spirits”, we shall live (v. 9)—that is, shall obtain eternal life. Another result is that we will come to share in the holiness of God (v. 10). Finally, this training will also bring forth the “fruit of righteousness” (v. 11), terminology which brings to mind Paul’s famous discussion of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:16-24 (vv. 22-23).

Saturday Series: 1 John 5:16-18 (continued)

1 John 5:16-18, continued

In the study last week, I noted the close parallel between 1 John 5:18 and 3:9. This strongly suggests that two verses are closely related, and that the later reference (in 5:18) may be used to explain further the meaning and force of the sin-reference in 3:9 (discussed at length in prior studies). The formal parallelism in wording, between the two statements, is readily apparent—the main clause being nearly identical in each:

    • “every (one) having come to be (born) of God…
      pás ho gegenn¢ménos ek toú Theoú

      • …does not do sin” (3:9a)
        hamartían ou poieí
      • …does not sin” (5:18)
        ouk hamartánei

Based on this close similarity, as noted above, it is fair to assume that the explanatory clauses which follow, in each reference, are also related. The hóti-clause in 3:9b is, again:

“…(in) that [hóti] His seed remains [ménei] in him”

This is the stated reason why the one having been born of God (i.e., the true believer) “does not sin”. It is because [hóti] God’s seed “remains” in the believer. The significance of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) in this context, within the Johannine theology, has been discussed extensively throughout these studies. Indeed, it is this distinctive use of the verb which serves as the basis for one of my proposals toward addressing the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John (see last week’s study and the one prior).

Now let us turn to the explanation provided by the author in 5:18:

“…but [allá] the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”

There is an ambiguity here of subject and (pronoun) object, much as there also is in 3:9b. However, the ambiguity in that earlier reference is much easier to decipher. Literally, the clause in 3:9b reads “his seed remains in him”. But, based on the context, and Johannine language, it is clear that this means “His [i.e. God’s] seed remains in him [i.e. the believer]”. The situation is not so straightforward in the case of 5:18, as nearly all commentators recognize. There are two main ways to explain the Greek syntax:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the Son, Jesus] keeps watch (over) him [i.e. the believer]
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the believer] keeps watch (over) himself

Some manuscripts read the reflexive pronoun heautón (“himself”), rather than the ordinary pronoun autón (“him”). Such a reading would provide confirmation for the second interpretation (above). However, even if the reading autón is regarded as original, the second interpretation is still possible, since the ordinary pronoun (i.e., autós, etc) can be used reflexively.

The parallel with 3:9 strongly favors the first option—namely, that Jesus, the Son (i.e., the one born of God), protects the believer. God’s “seed”, in the Johannine theological context, is best understood as the living Word (Logos) of God, who is the Son, abiding in the believer. God’s eternal Word is manifest, primarily, through the person of His Son. Alternatively, the “seed” may be understood as the Spirit of God; but this would differ little, in terms of the Johannine theology, since the believer’s abiding union with the Son (and the Father) is realized through the Spirit (3:24; 4:13). Moreover, since God Himself is Spirit (Jn 4:24), then also His Word is Spirit, and is experienced through the Spirit (cf. Jesus’ statement in Jn 6:63).

The problem with this interpretation of 5:18 is that the idiom “the one coming to be born of God”, using the substantive verbal noun (participle), of the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”), followed by the preposition ek (“[out] of”, in the expression “of God” or “of the Spirit”), always refers to believers, not to Christ. The verb gennᜠis applied to Jesus in John 18:37, but in the context of his human birth, not to a Divine/spiritual birth as God’s Son. Moreover, the idea of believers guarding themselves from sin/evil, keeping themselves pure, etc, is not at all out of place in the context of 3:4-9, as the exhortation in 2:28-29 and 3:3 makes clear.

As it turns out, both lines of interpretation are quite valid—both in terms of the Johannine theology and the literary context of 1 John. Overall, the theological focus, along with the immediate parallel in 3:9, favors the first interpretation (i.e., the Son protects the believer), while Johannine usage (vocabulary and syntax) tends to favor the second interpretation (i.e., the believer guards him/herself). A third option is available, by way of a minority reading for the clause in 5:18

“…but the coming to be (born) [i.e., birth, génn¢sis] keeps watch (over) him”

that is to say, it is the very spiritual birth, the coming to be born (as God’s offspring), which protects the believer from sin. In some ways, this provides the closest parallel with 3:9b, since the idea of God’s “seed” being present, in the believer, generally corresponds to the idea of the believer’s birth (as His offspring). However, the textual (manuscript) evidence argues firmly against this reading, and it is adopted by few, if any, commentators today.

Possibly in favor of the first interpretation (that it is the Son who protects the believer) is the use of the aorist tense (for the participle), genn¢theís, rather than the perfect tense (i.e., gegenn¢ménos), which is typically used when referring to the birth of believers as God’s offspring. It has been suggested that the difference in tense here is meant to convey a certain distinction—viz., between the Son and believers. However, though this would make an attractive solution, it is precarious to based one’s interpretation on such slight evidence as the supposed distinction between tenses.

Even so, I am inclined to favor (slightly) the interpretation that understands the second participial expression as a reference to Jesus the Son (“the one born of God”), whose abiding presence protects the believer (“the one born of God” [first participle]) from sin and evil.

Continuing the comparison between 3:9 and 5:18, there is a comparable parallel between 3:9c and the final clause of 5:18. In each instance, the implications of the Divine protection, provided to the believer, are stated boldly. In 3:9c, we have (again) the difficult declaration (discussed previously):

“…and he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) of God”

Essentially, this restates the declaration of v. 9a, giving a chiastic structure to the verse (cf. the outline in the earlier study). However, what is to be most noted is the absolute character of the declaration—that the true believer, the one “born of God”, is not able to sin. This compares with the corresponding clause in 5:18:

“…and the evil does not touch him”

Indeed, the statement that evil does not (or cannot) touch the believer is comparable to the statement that he/she is not able to sin. One should perhaps understand the substantive adjective (with the definite article) ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) as a personification or personal reference— “the evil one” (compare 2:13-14; 3:12; Jn 17:15), i.e., the Satan/Devil (see 3:8, 10), elsewhere called, in the Johannine writings, “the chief (ruler) [árchœn] of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Whether understood more abstractly, or as a person, this evil fundamentally characterizes “the world” (ho kósmos)—that is, the present world-order (especially at the end of the current Age), which is opposed to God, and is dominated by sin and darkness. The “antichrist” false believers (2:18-27; 4:1-6), the opponents whose views the author combats throughout 1 John, are part of this evil world. The thoroughness of this negative portrait of “the world” is made clear in verse 19, by way of a typical dualistic Johannine contrast:

“We have seen that we are of God [ek tou Theou], and (that) the whole world lies outstretched in the evil.”

Again “the evil”, as in v. 18, can be understood as “the evil one”. The expression “of God” is a shorthand for “having been born of God”, but it also implies, more generally, the idea that believers belong to God. In any case, “the world” is so thoroughly dominated by sin and darkness, that only through the abiding presence of God—His Spirit, Son, and Word—can we, as believers, be protected, so that the evil of the world “does not touch” us. It was as a result of the Son’s fulfillment of his mission, for which the Father sent him to earth, that the power of the world (with its sin and evil) has been overcome (Jn 12:31; 16:33; cf. 1 Jn 3:5, 8). Now believers are, and can be, victorious over the world, through the life and truth that the Son, through the Spirit, provides. This is an important emphasis in 1 John and a key part of the author’s exhortation (2:13-14, 15-17; 3:1; 4:4ff; 5:4-5). The contrast between believers and the world is a fundamental theme that runs through the Johannine writings.

Next week, we will bring this series of studies, on the Johannine view of sin, to a close. As part of this conclusion, some final comments on the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John will be offered, along with a review of the pair of approaches to the problem which I have proposed.

 

 

March 22: Hebrews 2:10-18 (continued)

Hebrews 2:10-18, continued

An important aspect of the sonship-of-believers theme in the New Testament is the idea that the sonship of believers is contingent upon on the unique Sonship of Jesus Christ. This is expressed in a number of different ways. Notably, in the Pauline letters, as we have seen (cf. esp. Rom 6:3-10; 8:9-11, 17ff), the identity of believers as the sons/children of God is closely tied to the participation of believers in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is a vital component of our union with Christ, as believers. Realized through the presence of the Spirit, and symbolized by the baptism ritual, this participation in Jesus’ death (and his subsequent resurrection), enables us to become God’s offspring.

The letter to the Hebrews contains a similar emphasis on the death of Jesus, along with the effect of this sacrificial death for us, as believers. The connection between Jesus’ death and our identity as sons/children of God is less clearly developed, compared with Paul’s theological exposition (in Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans), yet it is certainly established in Hebrews 2:10-18, a passage which we began examining in the previous note.

Interestingly, in certain ways, the author of Hebrews, in developing this sonship-theme, is more closely rooted to the Gospel Tradition than Paul. It is significant, for example, the way that he alludes to the distinctive identification of Jesus with the expression “(the) son of man” —an expression applied by Jesus (to himself) throughout the Gospels. It occurs virtually nowhere else in the New Testament (or comparable early Christian writings), outside of this Tradition. The use of the expression here in 2:5-7ff, quoting from Psalm 8:4-6, captures its range of meaning, as used by Jesus, within the Gospel Tradition.

I will be discussing this expression, “(the) son of man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), in an upcoming exegetical series for Holy Week. Two important aspects of meaning, as applied to Jesus, are present here in the author’s use of Psalm 8:4-6:

    • An emphasis on the human condition, particularly with regard to human suffering, weakness, and mortality.
    • The idea of the exaltation of the human being, which, as applied to Jesus (i.e., the exaltation of Christ) in the Gospel Tradition, is enhanced by the connection with the Son of Man figure (“one like a son of man”) from Daniel 7:13-14.

These two aspects generally correspond with the death (suffering) and resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus; and this correspondence is definitely brought out by the author of Hebrews. Note how the Psalm passage is interpreted and applied, in verse 9:

“But (as) the one having been made less, (for a) short (time), compared with (the) Messengers, we see Yeshua, through the suffering and the death (he endured), having been crowned (now) with splendor and honor, so that, by (the) favor of God, he might taste death over [i.e. on behalf of] every (one).”

Paul’s emphasis, on our participation in Jesus’ death (see above), is here reversed—viz., the focus is on Jesus’ sharing in our experience of death. As a human being (“son of man”), Jesus experienced the same kind of suffering and death that is common to all human beings. The result of this participation, by Jesus in the human condition, is made clear in verse 10:

“It was suitable for Him—for [dia/] whom and through [dia/] whom all (thing)s (come to be)—(in hav)ing led many sons into splendor [do/ca], to make complete through sufferings the chief leader of their salvation.”

It is through the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of His Son that God leads (vb a&gw) “many sons” (i.e., believers) into honor/splendor. As part of this process, the Son himself is “made complete” (vb teleio/w) through the sufferings he experienced. The Son is called the “chief leader” (a)rxhgo/$) of our salvation, implying that he is the one, working at God’s behest, who leads us to salvation. This can be understood in the sense that he leads the way for us, through his death and resurrection. Our future resurrection to glory is patterned after Jesus’ own, and is made possible by our participation in his resurrection.

At least as important is the recognition that we all—Jesus and we as believers—alike are God’s offspring, His sons. Thus, in leading us to salvation, the Son (Jesus) understands his kinship to us, and the importance of our being brought to the same honor/splendor which he possesses alongside God the Father:

“For both the (one) making holy and the (one)s being made holy (are) out of One—for which reason he is not ashamed to call them (his) brothers” (v. 11)

The expression e)c e(no/$ (“out of one”), in light of this sonship-emphasis, is best understood as a reference to God as our common Father. The Johannine writings make extensive use of the preposition e)k (“out of”) in this context of the birth of believers from God, as His offspring. Also part of the Johannine theology is the idea that the Son (Jesus) makes known the Father’s name to believers (cf. especially in John 17). The author of Hebrews brings out this same emphasis through a quotation of Psalm 22:22:

“…saying, ‘I will give forth (the) message (of) your name to my brothers; in (the) midst of (the) assembly called out [e)kklhsi/a], I will sing (praise) to you.'” (v. 12)

In this context, the motif of making known the Father’s name—that is, making known the Father Himself—must relate to the realization by believers of their/our identity as God’s children. This, indeed, is the point brought out in verse 13, with the quotation from Isaiah 8:17b-18:

“…I will be (one) persuaded [i.e. having trusted] upon Him…see, I and the children which God has given to me.”

This suggests another Johannine theme: namely, the idea that God the Father has given believers to the Son (Jesus). In this context, giving children to a person does not mean that the person gives birth to the children (as his/her own); rather, they are already children (born of God), given over to the Son’s care as his brothers (and sisters). The close kinship, between the Son and his fellow brothers, is developed in vv. 14-18:

“On (the basis), then, (that) the children share in common blood and flesh, (so) also he (him)self held along fully with (us) the same (thing)s, (so) that, through the (experience of) death, he might make the (one) holding the force of death cease operating…” (v. 14)

The Son was able to vanquish the power of death by experiencing death himself, by fully possessing the flesh and blood of human beings (and thus the mortality of the human condition, cf. above). This thematic emphasis on freeing human beings from the power of death—Death personified as an enslaving tyrant (and identified with the Devil)—very much resembles Paul’s emphasis (esp. in Romans, cf. chapters 5-7). Even the use of the verb katarge/w (“make [to be] without work [i.e. stop working]”) is thoroughly Pauline—this is one of just two NT occurrences [27] outside of the Pauline corpus (assuming Hebrews was not written by Paul). The apparent Pauline language continues in verse 15:

“…and (that) he might bring them forth (to a) different (place), those who, in fear of death, through all (the time) of their living were (be)ing held in slavery.”

The identification of believers as the “seed of Abraham” (v. 16), in the context of this sonship-theme, is also reflective of Pauline theology (see the earlier note on Gal 3:26).

Ultimately, at the close of this passage (vv. 17-18), the author departs from the sonship-theme, to introduce the theme which will dominate the rest of the main body of Hebrews—namely, Jesus’ role as the great High Priest, whose sacrificial offering removes the effects of sin from the Community. Even so, the author frames this thematic introduction in terms of the sonship of believers, in v. 17a (“…to be made like his brothers in all [thing]s”), through a reiteration of the kinship motif in v. 18, and again at the beginning of chapter 3 (“holy brothers…”, v. 1).

In the next daily note, we will examine one further sonship-passage in Hebrews—the ethical exhortation in 12:5-11ff.