“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).

March 14: Hebrews 2:10-18

Hebrews 2:10-18

“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.” (Heb 2:10)

Hebrews 2:10-18 is one of the few New Testament passages, apart from the Johannine and Pauline writings, to deal with the sonship-of-believers theme. It indicates that the author shares, with both Johannine and Pauline thought, the close connection of the sonship of believers with Jesus’ own (unique) identity as God’s Son.

This key Christological point is established in the prologue (exordium) of the letter (1:1-4), being buttressed by a chain (catena) of Scripture quotations (vv. 5-14) which prove the unique Divine Sonship of Jesus. This Christology is then expounded by the author, drawing similarly upon a range of Old Testament traditions, throughout the remainder of the letter. At the close of the introduction (v. 14), the idea of believers as co-heirs (i.e., as sons) with Jesus is alluded to. Just as the heavenly beings (angels) serve the Son, so they are also sent to serve “th(ose) being about to receive as (their) lot [i.e. as sons/heirs] salvation”.

An important element of the Sonship-Christology of Hebrews is also introduced in the prologue—namely, the idea of the do/ca which the Son possesses, the very do/ca belonging to God (the Father) Himself. The noun do/ca, though quite common in the New Testament (and LXX), is actually a bit difficult to translate. Properly, it denotes what a person thinks about something (or someone), how one regards it, etc. The word is frequently used in a positive, honorific sense, which is best translated as “esteem”, though, in this context, “honor” is perhaps a more suitable match in English.

However, when applied to God, in a religious context, do/ca often connotes that which, intrinsically, makes God worthy of honor—i.e., His Divine majesty, greatness, holiness, etc. It typically is used to translate the Hebrew noun dobK*, meaning “weight”, but often in the sense of “worth, value”, and thus, in a figurative religious sense, of the honor which God deserves, and of which He is worthy. The dobK*/do/ca of God is so closely connected with His nature and fundamental attributes that it, too, can be treated as a characteristic attribute—a reference to the awesome splendor or glory which He possesses.

In 1:3, in what may represent an adaptation (by the author) of an early ‘Christ-hymn’, the Son (Jesus) is said to possess the Divine do/ca, understood in the traditional theophanic sense of a brilliant light, a radiant aura which surrounds God. Christ obtained this “glory/splendor” when he was exalted, after his resurrection, but it is also something which he possessed even prior to his earthly life and mission. Hebrews balances an exaltation Christology with a pre-existence Christology, such as we see, for example, in the ‘Christ-hymn’ of Philippians 2:6-11. Jesus was the Son of God from the beginning. Note the wording in 1:2-3:

“…upon (the) last of these days He spoke to us in (His) Son,
whom He set (as one) receiving the lot [i.e. heir] (of) all (thing)s,
through whom also He made the Ages,
who,
being a shining forth of (His) splendor [do/ca], and (the) imprint of His underlying (essence),
and carrying all (thing)s by the utterance of His power…”

The hymnic character of vv. 2b-3 is indicated both by the verse-structure and the distinctive use of the relative pronoun (o%$, “who”) to introduce the principal verses/lines. Such use of the relative pronoun seems to be typical of early Christ-hymns, such as those which we find preserved in the New Testament (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; 1 Tim 3:16). For more on this aspect of vv. 2b-4, and for a detailed exegesis, see my earlier set of notes on the passage.

Even from the beginning, the Son possessed the Divine attributes, power, and splendor/glory (do/ca). Yet the pre-existence emphasis in vv. 2b-3a is balanced by the exaltation emphasis that follows in vv. 3b-4. This same emphasis occurs at 2:5-9, just prior to our reference to the sonship of believers in 2:10. With his incarnation, as a mortal human being, and following his subsequent death and resurrection, the Son (Jesus) was “crowned” with splendor (do/ca) and honor (timh/). The author prepares for the ‘transfer’ of this honor/glory to believers in Christ by emphasizing the way that the incarnate Son shared (with us) the common human condition. This enables us, as believers, also to share in the Divine glory which he possesses (and has inherited).

In the next daily note, we will explore this association further, with a detailed analysis of how the author expounds his theme in vv. 10-18.

 

“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.

 

 

 

The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 4 (Heb 1:5; 5:5; 9:14)

In the previous section of Part 4, we considered the role of Psalm 2:7 in the development of Christology in the first century. We saw how the Scripture was applied in the context of Jesus’ resurrection (and exaltation to heaven), as a way of understanding his identity as the Son of God (cf. Acts 13:33ff). It also could be used in the context of Jesus’ baptism, as in the variant ‘Western’ reading of Luke 3:22b, in which the Heavenly Voice quotes Psalm 2:7, rather than the allusion to Isa 42:1 in the majority text (and the other Synoptics). As a reference to Jesus’ Messianic identity, the use of Ps 2:7 in the baptism scene would most likely be intended to identify Jesus more precisely as the royal/Davidic Messiah (drawing upon the ancient Near Eastern tradition of the king as God’s ‘son’, in a figurative and symbolic sense).

Gradually, however, early Christians came to realize that Jesus must have been God’s Son, in terms of a Divine/exalted status, even prior to his resurrection—that is to say, during the time of his life and ministry on earth. Since the Gospel Tradition marks the beginning of Jesus’ career with his baptism, it was natural for Christians to interpret the declaration of the Heavenly Voice (at the baptism) in a deeper theological sense. In other words, Jesus was truly the Son of God, possessing a Divine/exalted position (and nature), from the beginning of his ministry.

Eventually, this idea of Jesus’ Divine Sonship was extended further back, to a time even before he was born—a point attested clearly enough by the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives. The Infancy narratives themselves do not indicate a belief in the Divine pre-existence of Jesus, but we know that such a belief—representing a further stage of Christological development—is attested by at least the mid-50s A.D., since Paul alludes to it at several points in his letters. The earliest definite evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is the ‘Christ hymn’ in Philippians 2:6-11, which Paul either composed himself (c. 60 A.D.), or incorporated (and adapted) from older traditional material.

The ‘Christ hymns’ in the New Testament appear to have served as a locus for Christological development. I have discussed all of these passages, in considerable detail, in an earlier series of notes. One such ‘Christ hymn’ occurs in the introduction (exordium) of Hebrews (1:1-4). This passage is especially significant for our study here, since it leads into a chain (catena) of Scriptures, imbued with Christological meaning, that begins with a quotation of Psalm 2:7 (v. 5). Therefore it is worth examining briefly these introductory verses which establish the theological (and Christological) context for the application of Ps 2:7.

Hebrews 1:1-5

Verses 1-2 deal specifically with the idea of God’s revelation, beginning with “God spoke”, and indicating a contrast:

V. 1: God (has) been speaking [lalh/sa$] V. 2: (God) spoke [e)la/lhsen]
    • (in) many parts and many ways
    • (in) old (times) [pa/lai]
    • to the Fathers [toi=$ patra/sin]
    • in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] [e)n toi=$ profh/tai$]
 
    • in one new way (implied)
    • in these last days [e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn]
    • to us [h(mi=n]
    • in (the) Son [e)n ui(w=|]
 

The new revelation (to us) is marked primarily by two elements or characteristics: (1) it is eschatological, set in the “last days”, (2) it takes place in the person of the Son. The Greek e)n ui(w=| does not have the definite article, so it is possible to translate “in a Son”, but it is clear from the context that God’s Son—the Son—is meant. Verse 2b presents the nature of this Son, with a pair of relative clauses:

    • whom [o^n] He has set (as the) one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] of all (thing)s
    • through whom [di’ ou!] He made the Ages

The first of these draws on the idea of Christ being exalted to heaven following the resurrection, in common with the earliest Christian tradition; the second expresses Christ’s role in creation, implying some sort of divine pre-existence (cf. above). These two Christological approaches were shared by several strands of early tradition (e.g. Paul, the Gospel of John), and were not deemed to be contradictory in any way. The author of Hebrews will present the two views side-by-side at a number of points in the letter (cf. below).

In verses 3-4, the Son is described in greater detail; four elements are stressed in v. 3:

    • Reflection/manifestation of God’s glory and nature (3a)
    • Role in creating/sustaining the universe— “by the utterance of his power” (3b)
    • Salvific work—priestly cleansing of sin (by way of sacrifice, i.e. his death) (3c)
    • Exaltation to the right hand of God (3d)

The outer elements (first and last) indicate the Son’s divine/heavenly status, the inner elements (second and third) parallel creation and incarnation (Christ’s work in both). This is the sort of chiastic conceptual framework—

    • pre-existence
      —incarnation
    • exaltation

which the author of Hebrews makes use of elsewhere (2:8-13, cf. also the famous Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11). In verse 4, Christ’s divine/heavenly status is emphasized—that it is greater than that of other heavenly beings (“angels”). This superiority is understood in terms of the name that he has inherited (cf. Phil 2:9ff), which, though not specified here, is best identified with ku/rio$ (“Lord”), the conventional rendering of the divine name YHWH. For more on the ‘Christ-hymn’ in vv. 3-4, see my earlier series of notes.

There can be little doubt that Sonship (i.e. Son of God) here is defined in the context of divine pre-existence—a blending of the Davidic “Messiah” with the concept of a heavenly Redeemer-figure which is also known from Jewish tradition at roughly the same time as the (later) New Testament, such as in the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra (2/4 Esdras). In Hebrews, this is indicated by the citations of Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14—both passages given Messianic interpretation—in verse 5. Recall that in Acts 13:32-33ff, Psalm 2:7 is cited in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (cf. above)—i.e., the Son is “born” following the resurrection. Verse 6, however, shows that the author of Hebrews has a view of Christ that is comparable to the prologue of the Gospel of John (esp. Jn 1:1ff, 9, 14, etc; cf. also Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:6ff):

    • Christ is already God’s “firstborn” (prwto/tokon)
    • God leads him into the inhabited-world (oi)koume/nh, possibly the heavenly realm of angels in addition to the world of human beings)
      ei)$ th\n oi)koume/nhn as parallel to the Johannine ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”)

As indicated above, the author presents two different Christological portraits, and continues this in vv. 8-12 (citing Scripture):

    • vv. 8-9—in more traditional language of exaltation (citing Psalm 45:6-7)
    • vv. 10-12—of Jesus’ divine status and existence encompassing the beginning and end of creation (citing Psalm 102:25-27, cf. also verse 2b above)

Jesus as God’s Son is an important theological identification throughout the New Testament; let us consider the thematic development and presentation here in Hebrews. In addition to 1:2, 8 we have (context indicated):

    • Heb 3:6—role as heir/master of the household, emphasizing his faithfulness
    • Heb 4:14; 5:5, 8; 7:3, 28—role as (exalted) High Priest, indicating his sacrificial work (cf. below); 5:5 cites Ps 2:7 [as in 1:5], cf. below; 7:3 has spec. title “Son of God”
    • Heb 5:8—his suffering (incarnation and death) and obedience (to the Father)
    • Heb 6:6—his death on the cross (spec. title “Son of God” is used)
    • Heb 10:29—his holy/sacrificial work, i.e. his death (“blood of the covenant”)

As the above summary indicates, there is a special emphasis in Hebrews on Jesus’ Sonship in terms of his sacrificial death.

Hebrews 5:5; 9:14

The theme of the Son’s superiority over the prophets and mediators (Moses, Aaron, etc) of the old covenant was established in the introduction (1:1-4, cf. above). In 4:14-5:10 the comparison is narrowed to the specific motif of Jesus as a new (and superior) kind of High Priest. This Priesthood of Jesus is defined in terms of his death and resurrection. In this regard, the citation of Psalm 2:7 (again) here in 5:5 draws upon the early tradition associating that particular Scripture with the resurrection (and exaltation to heaven) of Jesus. The opening words in 4:14 make clear that the exaltation is primarily in view, identifying Jesus as a great high priest “…having gone through the heavens”.

We saw, however, that the earlier citation of Psalm 2:7 (in 1:5, cf. above) was applied equally to the pre-existence of Jesus. In light of this developed Christology, the reference to Jesus as the “Son of God” here in 4:14 has a deeper significance. Even though he was already God’s Son, he humbled himself so as to take on the role of High Priest through his life on earth, with its suffering (5:7-8). Jesus’ obedience in enduring this suffering (v. 8) resulted in a greater completion (and perfection) of his Sonship (v. 9). The same basic paradigm is found in the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11:

    • Pre-existence (alongside God)
      • Incarnation/earthly life (lowering himself)
        • Suffering/death (obedient humbling of himself)
      • Exaltation by God
    • Heavenly position (at God’s right hand)

The Priesthood that Jesus took upon himself in his earthly life (and death) was translated into a heavenly Priesthood. In this regard, Hebrews uniquely blends together Psalm 2:7 and 110:1 (5:5-6). Both of these Scriptures were treated as Messianic passages, applied to Jesus, at a very early stage of Christian tradition. They hold the same kerygmatic position, respectively, in Peter’s Pentecost speech and Paul’s Antioch speech (2:34-35; 13:33); in each instance, as we have discussed, they were interpreted in the context of the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus. Hebrews, however, focuses on the figure of Melchizedek in Psalm 110, drawing upon an entirely different line of Messianic tradition, identifying the exalted Jesus with a Divine/Heavenly Savior figure (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed,” along with the supplemental study on Hebrews in that series).

The synthesis of Christological beliefs and traditions in Hebrews is rich and complex. To this, we may add a very distinctive reference to the Spirit in 9:14. Comparing the sacrifice of Jesus (as High Priest) with the sacrificial offerings of the old covenant, the author concludes as follows:

“…how much more the blood of the Anointed (One), who through (the) Spirit of the Ages brought himself without blemish toward God, shall cleanse our conscience from dead works to give service to (the) living God.”

The blood of the material sacrificial offerings (goats and calves, etc) of the old covenant are contrasted with the spiritual offering of Christ himself. He who is the High Priest offers himself as a sacrifice to God. This is done in an entirely spiritual way. The expression used is “through (the) Spirit of the Ages” (dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou), i.e., “through (the) eternal Spirit”. This draws upon the basic early Christian belief that Jesus’ resurrection took place through the Spirit of God, but extends the role of the Spirit to his sacrificial death as well. Moreover, the sacrifice itself takes place “through the Spirit” since Jesus himself, as the pre-existent Son of God (cf. above), from the beginning shared in the Divine Spirit.

Once the Divine pre-existence of Jesus was recognized, the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to him took on an entirely new and deeper Christological significance. The older traditions had to be reworked and reinterpreted. We can see this process at work in Hebrews, and it is even more prominent in the Johannine writings, to which we will turn in Part 5.

January 9: John 1:18 (continued)

John 1:18, continued
Verse 18b

monogenh\$ ui(o/$ o( w*n ei)$ to\ ko/lpon tou= patro\$ e)kei=no$ e)chgh/sato
“(the) only Son, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, that (one has) brought Him out (to us)”

If the first half of verse 18 refers to the Old Covenant (cf. the discussion in the previous note), the second half (18b) epitomizes the New Covenant. This continues the contrast in verse 17—of Moses vs. Jesus, the Law vs. the Favor and Truth of God. The focus in verse 18 is on the idea of seeing God, drawing upon the Sinai theophany (Exod 19-20) that marked the establishment and ratification of God’s covenant with Israel.

As I pointed out, within the context of the Johannine theology, “seeing” has the special sense of knowing, playing upon the interchangeability of the Greek verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see”), along with verbs such as o(ra/w (used here in v. 18) denoting sight/vision. In this context, knowledge means trust in Jesus—in his identity as the only Son of God. The person who “sees” Jesus in this sense also sees the God the Father.

This is expressed through three distinct phrases in verse 18b; let us examine each of them in turn.

monogenh\$ ui(o/$ (“[the] only Son”)

I have discussed the textual question regarding this phrase at some length in a prior note. In my view, the reading ui(o/$ (“son”) is to be preferred (narrowly) over qeo/$ (“God”), as being more in keeping with the Johannine usage and the context here in the Prologue (see v. 14). The contrast with 18a is not specified grammatically, and would have read into the text here:

“No one has ever yet seen God, (but the) only Son…”

Jesus, as the incarnation of the pre-existent Son (and Logos) of God, is the only one who has truly seen God. This may explain the use of the preposition pro/$ in verse 1. It literally means “toward”, and perhaps should be understood in the sense of “facing toward”; in which case, this would imply that the Logos (= the Son) is seeing God face-to-face.

Also significant is the idea of Jesus as the only Son, which is what the adjective monogenh/$ fundamentally signifies. While the Johannine writings frequently refer to believers as children of God, the word used is always te/knon (pl. te/kna), “offspring”. The term ui(o/$ is reserved for the person of Jesus, who is the only one properly called “Son of God”.

o( w*n ei)$ to\ ko/lpon tou= patro\$ (“the [one] being in the lap of the Father”)

The use of the verb of being ei)mi is surely significant here, and is not accidental. Throughout the Prologue, the verb of being is reserved for God alone, while the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used for created beings. The verb gi/nomai is applied to the person of Jesus (in vv. 14, 17) only in the special sense of incarnation—the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God “coming to be” flesh, being born on earth as a human being.

Previously, the verb ei)mi was always expressed in the imperfect active indicative form (h@n, “he was”), but here it as a present active participle (w&n), a substantive verbal noun (with definite article) that characterizes Jesus as the Son: “the (one) being”, i.e. “the one who is…”. In so doing, the final line of the Prologue is connected back with the first line (v. 1), emphasizing again Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Logos of God. The relationship between God and the Logos, implied in verse 1, is here clarified—as the relationship between Father and Son.

The preposition pro/$ (“toward”) in verse 1 is perhaps best understood in the sense of “facing toward” (cf. above); however, it could also mean “moving toward”, suggesting a more active, dynamic relationship. The same could be said for the preposition ei)$ here in v. 18b. In this context, it is usually translated as “in”, giving us the picture of the Son sitting or resting in his Father’s lap. However, the proper meaning of ei)$ is “into”, which would tend to suggest movement. Perhaps the image of an embrace is intended, which would capture both the static and dynamic aspects of the preposition ei)$.

It is possible that this imagery is echoed in 13:23, part of the ‘Last Supper’ scene (13:1-30) that precedes the great Last Discourse of Jesus (13:31-16:33). The entire scene prepares the groundwork for the departure of the Son (Jesus) back to the Father. An association with the Prologue would be entirely appropriate, in terms of the Johannine theology. The ‘beloved disciple’, representative of all believers (as the offspring of God), rests “in the lap” (e)n tw=| ko/lpw|) of Jesus, even as Jesus (the Son of God) is “in the lap” (ei)$ to\n ko/lpon) of God the Father. The Son is preparing to go back into (ei)$) the eternal embrace with His Father. The picture speaks to the promise of the same sort of unifying embrace for believers, since they/we too are God’s children.

e)kei=no$ e)chgh/sato (“that [one has] brought [Him] out”)

The demonstrative pronoun (e)kei=no$, “that [one]”) refers to the Son (Jesus), in an emphatic sense (i.e., that one). Such use of the demonstrative pronoun (ou!to$ [“this”], along with e)kei=no$ [“that”]) is relatively common in the New Testament, as a specific way of referring to Jesus. The pronoun ou!to$ was used this way earlier in the Prologue (vv. 2, 15), but also in reference to John the Baptist (v. 7), establishing a point of contrast with Jesus—i.e., this one [John] came only as a witness to the Light [Jesus]; he was not the Light himself. The pronoun e)kei=no$ was used of John in verse 8, in this negative sense: “that one [i.e. John] was not the Light”.

The verb here is e)chge/omai, a compound verb which literally means “lead [hgeomai] out [e)k]”, but often in the active (transitive) sense of “bring out”. It can be used figuratively for bringing out information—i.e., reporting, explaining, making something known to others. That is the basic meaning on the other rare occasions when the verb is used in the New Testament (Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19). Here, however, the emphasis is on seeing God; therefore, the verb in context must refer to ‘bringing out’ God, so He can be seen. Given the interchangeability of the concepts of “seeing” and “knowing” in the Gospel of John, when the Son “brings out” the Father, it is so that He can be known.

This aspect of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son) is expressed three different ways in the Gospel, and, in turn, three distinct theological (and Christological) points are made:

    • Jesus (the Son) is the only one who has seen/known the Father. As the Prologue makes clear, this is due to the eternal place the Son has in the presence of the Father.
    • The Son makes the Father known to human beings (believers) on earth. Jesus does this primarily by doing and saying what he has seen/heard the Father doing/saying. However, since Jesus is also the incarnate Logos (and Son) of God, the Father is present in the person of Jesus.
    • By seeing/knowing the Son—which means trusting in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God—believers see and know the Father. This is true vision, manifest through the presence of Jesus, realized through our union with him in the Spirit.

For the pertinent references dealing with these themes, outside of the Prologue, cf. 1:34; 3:3, 11, 31ff; 5:19-23ff, 36ff; 6:35-40, 46; 7:16-17ff; 8:14-19, 25-29, 38-39, 54-55; 9:37-41; 10:14-18, 37-38; 11:9, 40; 12:44-50; 14:6-11, 18-24, 31; 15:9-11, 15, 23-24; 16:10ff, 16ff; 17:3, 6-8ff, 20-26.

January 6: John 1:18 (continued)

John 1:18, continued

Having looked at verse 18 in the context of the Prologue hymn, and examining the difficult text-critical question in some detail (cf. the previous note), it now remains to provide an exegetical study of the verse as a whole.

There are two parts to the verse: (1) an initial statement, reflecting traditional Israel/Jewish religious belief (18a), and (2) a related clause in response (18b), which itself is comprised of two components—(a) Johannine Christological formulation, and (b) a Gospel-proclamation that applies the formulation to believers.

The two parts may be said to represent the Old and New Covenant, respectively, continuing the contrastive parallel from verse 17—i.e., Moses vs. Jesus, Law vs. Favor (cf. the discussion in the previous note).

Verse 18a

qeo\n ou)dei=$ e(w/raken pw/pote
“no one has yet seen God”

This represents a theological formulation of the Old Covenant, embodied by the Sinai theophany, the role of Moses as the mediator of God’s Presence, the sacrificial ratification of the Covenant, and the giving of the Torah (through Moses) to the people. The statement summarizes several different strands of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition. The main line of tradition centers on the Sinai theophany (Exodus 19-20), which was the setting for the ratification of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and Israel (chap. 24), along with the Torah regulations (i.e., the Ten Commandments, and other Instruction) which serve as the terms of the covenant. The glorious presence of YHWH was concealed within the dark cloud, but the people heard His voice (like thunder) speaking from the cloud (Exod 19:9-19). The tradition that God was only heard, but not seen, is emphasized in the book of Deuteronomy (4:12, 15; 5:23-27).

Another line of tradition involves YHWH’s revelation to Moses, in connection with the Golden Calf incident that resulted in the termination of the covenant, and a break in the relationship between YHWH and the people. This is covered through a complex narrative (Exodus 32-34) which itself weaves together a number of different historical traditions. Through the intervention of Moses, a partial restoration of the covenant is achieved, and Israel is once again acknowledged as God’s people, but only in a qualified sense—through Moses as their intermediary. At the heart of this narrative is YHWH’s revelation to Moses (33:17-34:8), during which time a second version of the Torah is declared to him.

The special character of this revelation is indicated by the statement in 33:20, where YHWH emphasizes that no human being can see Him and still live. As a special and unique favor granted to Moses, marking his central role in the restored covenant, he is allowed a partial vision of God. The idea that it was not possible for human beings to see God (with their eyes) continued to have a place in Israelite tradition, and is reiterated in one of the key manifestations of YHWH to His prophets (Isa 6:1-6, cf. verse 5).

The Gospel of John alludes to the Sinai theophany at several points, as well as this specific tradition that it is impossible for a human being to see God. In addition to the reference here in the Prologue, cf. 5:37-38ff; 12:28-29ff. Jesus takes the tradition a step further in 5:37, when he states that, not only have the people never seen God directly, they have never really heard His voice either (cp. Deut 5:23ff). What they heard with their ears was essentially unintelligible, sounding to them like thunder (12:28-29; Exod 19:16ff; 20:18).

The Gospel gives special meaning to these traditional motifs of seeing and hearing God, but especially seeing, playing on the fundamental meaning (and interchangeability) of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see”). In addition, there is frequent use of a series of similar verbs denoting sight/vision: ble/pw, o(ra/w, qea/omai, qewre/w. Here in verse 18, the verb o(ra/w is used; this verb occurs 20 times in the Gospel and 7 times in the letters—nearly half of all New Testament occurrences (55).

This special theological sense of seeing leads to three key points, or principles, in the Johannine Gospel, all of which are closely related:

    • Jesus is the only one who has truly seen and heard God
    • It is only in the person of Jesus that one is able to see and hear God directly, and
    • When one truly sees (and hears) Jesus, that person has seen (and heard) God

These points will be addressed in the next daily note as we examine the second part of the verse (18b).

 

January 5: John 1:18

John 1:18

This is the final, climactic verse of the Prologue, and, in many ways, is the most difficult to interpret. The difficulty lies primarily in the thorny textual question that continues to be debated by New Testament scholars and commentators. First, let us view verse 18 in the immediate context of verse 17 and the final strophe of the hymn (verses 14, 16 [with v. 15 temporarily omitted]):  

Strophe:
“And the Word came to be flesh
and put down (his) tent among us,
and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as an only (Son) alongside (the) Father,
full of (His) favor and truth—
and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
and favor in place of favor.”

Comment:
“(For it is) that the Law was given through Moshe, but the Favor and Truth (of God) came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed. No one has ever yet seen God; but the only <Son>, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, that (one) has brought Him out (to us).”

The angle brackets in verse 18 above indicate the disputed textual unit. Here is essentially the same rendering of the verse, with a placeholder for the word in question:

“No one has ever yet seen God; (but) the only <..> (who has) come to be—the (one) being in the lap of the Father—that (one) has brought Him out (to us).”

There are three versions of this textual unit (in italics above):

    • monogenh\$ qeo/$ (monogen¢s theos)
    • monogenh\$ ui(o/$ (monogen¢s huios)
    • monogenh/$ (monogen¢s)

All three versions contain the word monogenh/$, the meaning of which was discussed in the earlier note on verse 14. The manuscript evidence for the first two readings should be considered in more detail. It is rather evenly divided, as the following diagram illustrates:

Clearly, o( monogenh$ ui(o$ is the majority reading, supported by an impressive range of early and diverse witnesses; this normally would be sufficient to confirm it as the original text. On the other hand, the “earliest and best” (Alexandrian) Greek MSS, along with other strong/diverse witnesses, read monogenh$ qeo$ (with or without the definite article). As noted above, few manuscripts also read simply o( monogenh$.

The reading with qeo$ (“God”) would seem to be the more difficult, and, on the principle of difficilior lectio potior, perhaps is to be preferred. Scribes may have altered it to the more familiar ui(o$ (“Son”). On the other hand, there was a marked tendency for scribes, consciously or unconsciously, to modify the text in favor of a stronger Christological emphasis. There can be no doubt that the reading [o(] monogenh$ qeo$ became a key text in support of the Deity of Christ. Even today, many theological and apologetic writings cite John 1:18 for this purpose—however, to do so, without any indication of the divided textual evidence, is really quite irresponsible.

If we begin with the reading that contains only the adjective monogenh/$, as a substantive (with the definite article), it would literally mean something like “(the) only one (who has) come to be”. Sometimes this specifically refers to a person coming to be born (i.e. a child or son); but often it means simply “only one, unique, one-of-a-kind”, or the like. The second reading (monogenh\$ ui(o/$) is the most straightforward, as it essentially means “only son”, i.e. the only son born (to a mother/parent). This is presumably also the meaning where monogenh/$ is used alone— “only (son)”, as it was used in verse 14.

The reading monogenh\$ qeo/$ is more difficult, and has been translated three different ways:

    • monogenh\$ qeo/$ (monogen¢s theos) =
      • “(the) only/unique God”
      • “(the) only-born [or only-begotten] God”
      • “God the only(-born) Son”

Which reading more likely represents the original text? And is there any significant difference between them? Let us address the first question, considering the arguments in favor of each reading, in reverse order from how they are listed above.

    • monogenh/$— “only (one) [born]” There is essentially no Greek manuscript support for this reading; it is attested in the writings of several early Church Fathers (commentators/theologians such as Origen, Epiphanius, and Cyril of Alexandria). However, it is attractive as a way to explain the other two readings (with “God” or “Son”). If the text originally read just monogenh/$, scribes (copyists) and commentators would have been inclined to explain it, expanding the text, more likely (and often) by adding “Son” as the natural meaning in context (“[the] only Son [born]”).
    • monogenh\$ ui(o/$— “only Son [born]” This is the most common and widespread reading (cf. the diagram above), including that of some important early manuscripts (such Codex Alexandrinus [A]). It also happens to make the most sense. Jesus refers to himself (or is referred to) as “(the) Son [ui(o/$]” quite often in the Gospel of John, and almost always in relation to (God) the Father. As already noted, the word monogenh/$ is used in this context earlier in the prologue (verse 14); moreover, elsewhere in the New Testament it is almost always used in combination with “son” (or “daughter”)—see Luke 7:12; 8:42; John 3:16, 18; Heb 11:17; 1 John 4:9.
    • monogenh\$ qeo/$— “only God [born]” or “God the only [born Son?]” This is the reading of some of “the earliest and best” manuscripts, including the early (Bodmer) papyri 66 and 75, Codex Vaticanus [B] and the original copyist of Codex Sinaiticus [a]. It must also be considered the most difficult reading—what exactly does the expression “only (born) God [qeo/$]” mean? An important principle in textual criticism follows the saying difficilior lectio potior (“the more difficult reading is preferred”). The idea is that copyists would be more likely to change the text (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to a reading that was easier to understand or which made more sense. As noted above, “only (born) Son” is a much more natural expression.

Is it possible to determine the original reading based on scribal tendencies—that is to say, which reading was more likely to be altered during the course of copying? In terms of transcriptional probability, the evidence is far from decisive, though, I think, slightly in favor of ui(o$ as the original reading. In the early (Alexandrian) scribal tradition, both readings would be represented by nomina sacra (“sacred names”)—a convention of using marked abbreviations to represent various names and titles of God (and Christ). In these manuscripts, it is easy to see how ui(o$ (+u+s) and qeo$ (+q+s) might be confused. +u+s would have been much less common as a sacred name, and more likely to have been (accidentally?) modified to +q+s.

Moreover, I have already mentioned the tendency for scribes to enhance the Christology of a passage, rather than to detract from it. While the reading “Son” (ui(o$) still supports a high Christology, in terms of the Deity of Christ, it is not as striking or explicit as “God” (qeo/$). The latter reading would be fully in accordance with the orthodox Christology of subsequent generations. The expression [o(] monogenh$ qeo$ could easily be understood in terms of later credal formulations (whether Nicene, Chalcedonian, or from the Westminster standards), but one should be extremely cautious about reading these back into the first-century text. Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, Christ is identified (or identifies himself) with the Father, but perhaps never so explicitly as this variant would indicate (especially if the definite article is original). The wording of John 1:1 (kai qeo$ h@n o( lo/go$, “and the Logos was God”, discussed in an earlier note) is most precise (and, one might almost say, cautious)—note the anarthrous form (without the definite article), and the specific word order.

By a narrow margin, I favor the reading monogenh\$ ui(o/$ as original. It is more in keeping with the Johannine usage (cf. especially Jn 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), and the emphasis on Jesus as the Son. It also reflects the regular meaning of the adjective monogenh/$ as it is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and fits the context of its occurrence in verse 14 of the Prologue. Given that earlier usage in the hymn, it is quite appropriate for the Gospel writer to present us with the full expression here—monogenh\$ ui(o/$—referring to Jesus, the incarnate Logos, as the only Son of God.

Having dealt with the textual question in some detail here, it remains to examine the meaning of the verse as a whole, which we will do in the next daily note.

January 4: John 1:17

John 1:17-18

Verses 17-18 represent the final portion of the Johannine Prologue, and our study of them will bring these notes on the Christ-hymn in the Prologue to a close. As with the other two ‘additions’ to the hymn, in vv. 6-9 and 12b-13, verses 17-18 follow one of the three main poetic units (or strophes), interpreting the lines and applying them in the unique context of the Johannine theology.

There are two statements, in verses 17 and 18 respectively; and, while they are connected, they are also distinct, and we will examine them each in turn.

Verse 17

“(For it is) that the Law was given through Moshe, but the favor and truth (of God) came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

For commentators who prefer to see vv. 17-18 as a continuation of the poetry of the Prologue-hymn, they can be read as a couplet with antithetic parallelism, i.e.—

“(It is) that the Law was given through Moshe,
but Favor and Truth came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

There certainly is a strong antithetic parallelism at work in verse 17, involving three points of contrast:

    • Subject: Law | Favor and Truth
    • Means: through Moses | through Jesus
    • Action: “was given” | “came to be”

We will examine each of these points in turn.

1. “Law” vs. “Favor and Truth”

By “law” (no/mo$) is meant the written collection of regulations and requirements, etc, recorded in the books of Exodus-Deuteronomy, and customarily referred to as the “Instruction” (Torah)—given by God to His people Israel. The Greek word no/mo$ fundamentally signifies something that is “allotted” or “assigned” to a person, and, as such, has a relatively broad and comprehensive range of meaning. It can refer to any kind of accepted or authoritative custom, tradition, social or religious norm, etc. In the New Testament, it almost always refers to the Old Testament Torah, as an authoritative law-code—i.e., the “Law of Moses”.

The word no/mo$ is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, never occurring at all in the Letters. However it does occur 15 times in the Gospel, more than in any of the other Gospels (compare with 9 in Luke, 8 in Matthew, and none in Mark). The most substantial usage of the word occurs in the Sukkot (Tabernacles) discourses of chapters 7-8. The main section is 7:14-24, set midway during the feast, as Jesus is teaching in the Temple precincts. He is in conflict with the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, a dispute which appears to be a continuation from the discourse in chapter 5. The implication of the discourse is that Jesus himself is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, and, if the Jewish leaders claim to accept the Torah, then they should accept Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s Torah. This point is reflected in Jesus’ famous rebuke to the religious leaders in 5:39.

The noun xa/ri$ means “favor” (i.e. the favor shown by God to His people), though it is typically (and less accurately) translated as “grace”. This contrast between the Law and “grace” is reminiscent of Paul’s line of argument in Galatians and Romans. His main concern is religious, and he argues vigorously that believers in Christ—Gentile believers, especially—are no longer required, as a religious obligation, to observe the regulations of the Torah. The basis of the Christian religious identity is trust in Jesus, and it is the guiding presence of the Spirit that takes the place of the Torah in the New Covenant. All that remains of the Old Covenant is the “love command”, as defined by the teaching and example of Jesus.

This summary of the Pauline theology is generally in accordance with the viewpoint of the Johannine congregations, as expressed through the theology of the Gospel and First Letter. However, there is a somewhat different point of emphasis at work. Paul’s argument repeatedly stressed that the New Covenant in Christ means the end of the Old Covenant (for more on this, cf. the detailed discussion in the articles of my series “Paul’s View of the Law”).

The Johannine portrait, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the person and work of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Covenant. Throughout the Gospel, in various ways, Jesus effectively fulfills many types and figures of the Old Testament religion—the Temple, the Festivals and their symbols, the Passover sacrifice, and so forth. This is discussed and documented in some detail in the articles on the Gospel of John in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

The pairing of “favor and truth” was used earlier in verse 14, in reference to the Divine do/ca of the Logos. The final strophe of the hymn makes the point that the incarnate Logos (Jesus) possesses the very honor/splendor (do/ca) of God, much as a son possesses the do/ca of his father. God the Father has filled the Son with His “favor and truth”. As I discussed previously, in the context of the Johannine theology, this “favor and truth” essentially means the Spirit of God. I.e., the Father fills the Son with His own Spirit, so that the Son (Jesus) is able to give it, in turn, to those who trust in him.

2. “through Moses” vs. “through Jesus”

The point of contrast here involves the means by which the Covenant was established for the people of God. The Old Covenant, governed by the Torah, was established “through Moses”, while the New Covenant (of the Spirit) was established “through Jesus”. The preposition in each instance is dia/ (“through”). The parallelism is thus precise: Moses vs. Jesus.

Moses is mentioned a number of times in the Gospel, usually in terms of his close association with the Torah (and the Scriptures which contain the Torah). In verse 45, reference is made to Moses having “written” down the Torah, and the Torah as part of the authoritative Writing (i.e. Scripture) is very much in view in this contrast between the Law and Favor (xa/ri$). Both in Jesus’ dispute with the religious leaders in 7:14-24 (see above), and in the earlier discourse of chapter 5 (esp. the climactic verses 39-46), Jesus portrays himself as the true fulfillment of the Torah. If the Jewish leaders actually believe what Moses wrote, then they will trust in who Jesus is.

The Jesus/Moses parallel is motif that runs throughout the Gospel, as the following points will illustrate:

For a similar contrast between Old and New Covenant (written Torah vs. Spirit), drawing upon Moses traditions, see Paul’s famous line of argument in 2 Corinthians 3.

3. “given” vs “came to be”

The final point of contrast involves the verb that is used. The Law was given (vb di/dwmi) through Moses, but the Favor and Truth of God came to be (vb gi/nomai) through Jesus. As we have seen, throughout the Prologue the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) refers to created beings (in contrast to God, who is). However, in the case of the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, it has the special meaning of incarnation—the Logos “came to be flesh” (v. 14), i.e., came to be born on earth as a human being.

This context makes it absolutely clear that Jesus is to be seen as the fulfillment of the Torah in his own person. This human life and existence of the Logos included the mortality of flesh and blood, even to the point of suffering and death (i.e., shedding of blood). On the importance of the idea that Jesus (as the incarnate Son of God) endured a real death and shed real blood, see both the historical detail in 19:34 and the discussion in 1 Jn 5:6-12. The ‘Eucharistic’ references in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:50-59) should be understood in this light as well. It was the sacrificial death of Jesus that allowed the Spirit to flow out to believers, symbolized by the figure of “water and blood” (19:30; 20:22; 1 Jn 5:6-8; cf. also 7:37-39).

Moses was an intermediary in the communication of the Torah to the people of God. However, the ancient Sinai tradition itself suggests that the original intention and ideal was for YHWH to speak directly to the people, without an intermediary. This is fulfilled for believers under the New Covenant, through the abiding presence of the Spirit, as Paul beautifully and powerfully expresses in 2 Corinthians 3. The Johannine Discourses develop the same idea in various ways, a theological development that reaches its climax in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33) and the great Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17.

January 3: John 1:15 (continued)

John 1:15, continued

Today’s note focuses on the last of the three phrases of the Baptist-saying in verse 15. As I have previously pointed out, these three phrases are parallel and related to one another, each containing a key verb form (of special theological significance) and relational expression:

    • “the one coming [e)rxome/no$] in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

The second phrase was discussed in the previous note, while the first was examined in the note prior.

Phrase 3:

o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n
“(in) that he was first (over) me”

The verb in this phrase is the verb of being (ei)mi).

ei)mi is the primary (existential) verb of being. In the prologue it occurs 10 times (outside of v. 15), all of which have been discussed earlier in these notes:

    1. Three times in v. 1: the Logos was [h@n] (on this, see below); and in v. 2.
    2. Twice in v. 4: In him (the Word) was [h@n] life, and the life was [h@n] the light…; and in v. 9 “the true light was [h@n]…”
    3. John was [h@n] not the (true) light (v. 8)
    4. The Word (Christ) was [h@n] in the world (v. 10)

The three occurrences of h@n in verse 1 form a definite contrast to the three forms of gi/nomai in verse 3:

In the beginning the Logos was All things came to be [e)ge/neto] through him
The Logos was toward [pro/$] God Apart from him came to be [e)ge/neto] not even one (thing)
God was the Logos
(given in the literal word order, i.e. the Logos was God)
{one (thing)} which has come to be [ge/gonen]

In other words, the things in creation come to be (gi/nomai), but God is (ei)mi). For a similar contrast, see John 8:58: pri\n  )Abraa\m gene/sqai e)gw\ ei)mi/ (“before Abraham came to be, I am“). So the use of ei)mi in verse 30 in context clearly refers to the Divine existence of Jesus.

Let us now see how the elements of the phrase fit together:

o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n (“[in] that he was first/foremost [over] me”):

o%ti (“[in] that [i.e. because]”)—the particle o%ti establishes reason why Jesus is “in front of” John. It is thus epexegetical, commenting on (and explaining) the second phrase.

prw=to/$ mou (“first/foremost [over] me”)—the superlative adjective prw=to$ is the climax of a step-parallelism (a favorite Johannine technique) with the earlier prepositions o)pi/sw (“[in] back of”) and e&mprosqen (“in front of”). Not only is Jesus “in front of” John, but he is “first (of all)” or “foremost” over him; indeed, this is the reason for his being “in front”. It is a dense and powerful symbolic chain of argument.

h@n (“was”)—this is the same (imperfect indicative) form of ei)mi used throughout the Prologue (esp. vv. 1-2), and serves to identify Jesus, in no uncertain terms, with the Divine (and pre-existent) Word (Logos) of God. As the pre-existent Logos incarnate, Jesus has the exalted place alongside God, and is thus “first” and “foremost” (i.e., at the top) over all things.

The position of verse 15 in the Prologue

Having examined the phrases of the saying in verse 15, it remains to consider why this statement was inserted into the Prologue-hymn at just this particular location, interrupting as it does the poetry of vv. 14, 16. My humble solution to this difficult question involves two propositions:

    • Verse 15 was inserted by a subsequent editor/redactor, rather than by the Gospel writer, and
    • It was done for the purpose of explaining the saying as it occurs in the Gospel proper (v. 30)

I have already noted how verse 15 differs from the other ‘additions’ to the Prologue-hymn—verses 6-9, 12b-13, and 17-18. I attribute all of those to the Gospel writer, who includes them as interpretive comments on each of the three strophes of the hymn. Those statements flow naturally out of the hymn-poetry and are an integral part of the Prologue. It is quite otherwise with the statement in verse 15, which interrupts the poetry and seems quite awkward in context.

Why, then, would an editor (or secondary author) have inserted verse 15 into the poetry of the hymn in this way? I can find only one reason that seems to me even remotely plausible. It is based on the observation that the statement in v. 15 is nearly identical to the Baptist saying in verse 30. This raises the possibility that it was inserted ‘back’ into the Prologue as a kind of gloss, for the purpose of offering an explanation, of sorts, for what otherwise might have seemed like an obscure and enigmatic saying to many readers.

Adding an editorial comment somewhere following verse 30 itself might have been a more sensible approach. We find a number of other such comments throughout the Gospel, that were either added by the Gospel writer or a subsequent editor (e.g., 2:21f; 3:24; 4:2, 44; [5:4]; 6:64b; 7:38-39, etc). Perhaps the editor involved did not feel at liberty to do so, or felt that there was no appropriate opportunity to add the necessary explanation at that point in the text. Instead, the saying in v. 30 was essentially copied into the location following v. 14, almost like a marginal gloss or footnote to the text.

What was the point of this? It could only be that the context of verse 14 provided the explanation for the saying. This makes perfect sense when we consider that the main emphasis in verse 14 is on the incarnation of the Logos, that the pre-existent Logos became flesh in the person of Jesus. The second point in v. 14 is how people (esp. the first believers) began to witness this Divine presence and power in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. By tying the saying of v. 30 into this context, the editor is providing an implicit commentary (and theological exposition) that runs in two directions:

    • The statement in v. 30—this means the identification of Jesus as the incarnate Logos of God (v. 14)
    • The statement in v. 14—this is a reference to the person of Jesus, his existence of earth as a human being, as first witnessed and attested to by John the Baptist (v. 30)

There is thus a strong theological (and exegetical) reason for including verse 15 in that particular location, even if it is problematic from a literary and artistic standpoint.

 

January 2: John 1:15 (continued)

John 1:15, continued

In the previous note, I discussed some of the difficulties and critical issues surrounding verse 15, and examined the first of the three phrases in the Baptist-saying. It is important to keep these three phrases in view as we proceed, paying attention especially to the key verbs and prepositional/relational expressions they each contain:

    • “the one coming [e)rxome/no$] in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

The verbs, in particular, are part of a distinctive Johannine theological vocabulary, and are used with great care throughout the Gospel (and especially here in the Prologue).

Today’s note focuses on the second (middle) phrase:

Phrase 2:

e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen
“(he) has come to be in front of me”

The verb in this phrase is gi/nomai, the verb of becoming. It has the primary meaning “come to be, become”. Like e&rxomai, it is common in narration and descrption, but it, too, is often has a special significance in the Gospel of John. It can carry the nuance of “come to be born“, and, as such, is very close to the related verb genna/w. This latter verb is used in John for the spiritual “birth” of believers (Jn 1:13; 3:3-8) and gi/nomai also is used frequently to describe coming to faith (i.e. “becoming” believers, Jn 12:36; 13:19; 14:29; 15:8, etc).

As we have seen, gi/nomai occurs frequently in the Prologue (outside of v. 15)—8 times in all:

    1. For the things which came-to-be [e)ge/neto/ge/gonen] through the Word (v. 3 [x 3], 10)—i.e., created beings
    2. A man (John) came-to-be (born) [e)ge/neto] (v. 6)
    3. The Word came-to-be [e)ge/neto] flesh… (v. 14)
    4. “Favor and truth” came-to-be [e)ge/neto] through Christ (v. 17)—contrast with “the Law was given” through Moses.
    5. Those who received (Christ) are given authority to become [gene/sqai] sons of God (v. 12)

The perfect form [ge/gonen] in verse 15 (and 30) creates a difficulty in interpretation (discussed below), however it would seem to relate specifically to the aorist form [e)ge/neto] in v. 14 (“the Word became flesh”).

The relational expression in the second phrase is e&mprosqe/n mou (“in front of me”). This is clearly intended as a contrast with o)pi/sw mou (“[in] back of me”), but in what sense? Much depends on the interpretation of ge/gonen, but I see in this a typical bit of Johannine wordplay, whereby the immediate (apparent) sense is overshadowed (and may even be contrary) to the deeper (true) meaning. One might think that the Baptist (or the Gospel writer) here is simply saying that Jesus, who was younger than John and relatively unknown, is now coming into greater prominence. The immediate context would certainly suggest this—those who were following John now follow Christ (vv. 35ff, cf. also 3:27-30).

On the verb form ge/gonen (“has come to be”). The usage of gi/nomai in the Prologue (see above), and especially in verse 14 (“the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”), strongly suggests that the Incarnation (of the Logos) is primarily in view. In other words, Jesus has come to be “in front of” John because he is the eternal Word (Logos) that became flesh. In the context of the first phrase, the elliptical manner of expression appropriately reflects the mystery (and paradox) of the Incarnation.

The perfect form here (ge/gonen, parallel to the occurrence in v. 3) may be meant to indicate that something which took place in the (eternal) past, is presently true. The perfect tense often signifies a past action (or condition) that continues into the present. There are two ways this could be understood: (1) in a ritual or sacramental sense, or (2) in terms of its presence through the Spirit. The Bread of Life Discourse in chapter 6 (vv. 22-71) is the main Johannine passage that deals with both of these aspects.

The version of this phrase in v. 30 differs in that it includes a relative pronoun (o%$): o^$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen (“who has come to be in front of me”). Syntactically, this is due to the occurrence of the noun a)nh/r (“[a] man”) at the end of the first phrase. The saying in v. 30 thus reads: “In back of me comes a man who came to be in front of me…”.

On the Christological significance of the relative pronoun, especially as it is used to open the New Testament Christ-hymns, cf. the earlier note on Phil 2:6.