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

“…and we looked upon his splendor”
kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n do/can au)tou=

This is the third of the three main phrases in Jn 1:14, which, as I have discussed, are best understood as referring to three stages in the human life of the Logos (in the person of Jesus):

    • “became flesh” —his birth, coming into existence as a human being
    • “set up his tent among us” —a summary expression for his life among other human beings, emphasizing the establishment of it
    • “we looked upon his splendor” —refers to the period of the public ministry of Jesus, his words and deeds, and the response of people (particular believers) to them.

The verb qea/omai is the key element of this phrase, corresponding to the verb of becoming (gi/nomai), and the verb skhno/w (indicating dwelling), in the previous two phrases. Only, instead of the Logos being the subject of the verb, here an otherwise unidentified “we” is the subject: “we looked upon” (e)qeasa/meqa), alluding back to the indirect object of the second phrase, in the prepositional expression “among us” (e)n h(mi=n). To whom does this “we/us” refer? I believe that it has three levels of meaning, which must be recognized within the context of the Prologue:

    • human beings and humankind generally
    • the people of Israel—that is, Israelites and Jews, esp. those dwelling in Israel/Judea
    • believers in Christ—the disciples of Jesus and early believers in the first century

The first two aspects relate back to vv. 10-11 (and v. 12), with the idea that the Logos—the personified Word/Wisdom of God—had dwelt in/among human beings. This refers to human beings generally (v. 10, cf. also in v. 4), but also, and more specifically, to God’s people Israel throughout their history (v. 11, “[his] own”). Neither amongst humankind at large, nor among God’s own people, could the Logos find welcome or acceptance. Only a precious few were able/willing to receive God’s Word/Wisdom (v. 12a).

However, an important point is that, throughout the earlier history, the Divine Word/Wisdom (Logos), while present, could not be seen. Something truly new and revelatory occurs now, at v. 14, with the incarnation of the Logos, when it “came to be flesh” —that is, present on earth as a flesh-and-blood human being (Jesus). Now human beings could truly see the Logos of God. As will be discussed in the next division of this study, the Gospel of John strongly emphasizes this idiom of sight/seeing, utilizing a range of verbs and other terms to express it. One of these verbs is qea/omai, which basically means “look/gaze with wonder [qau=ma]”, closely related to qa/omai (“[to] wonder”). The verb can be used for seeing more generally, but typically connotes at least a sense of careful observation, contemplation, admiration, etc. Sometimes there is a sense of vividness or spectacle that is implied (our word “theater” is a transliteration of the noun qe/atron, which is derived from qea/omai).

The use of qea/omai here thus implies that something quite special and wonderful is being seen. Moreover, within the Johannine theological idiom (as we will discuss), the language of sight/seeing has a double meaning—the ordinary sense of physical sight (with the eyes), but also the theological sense of recognizing and acknowledging who Jesus is (that is, trusting in him). Both aspects of meaning are present here. Trust in Jesus is certainly implied, but it is also being emphasized that human beings could, for the first time, see the Divine Logos with their eyes.

How does this phrase relate to the structure of the Prologue? The relation of verse 14 to vv. 10-12a has been discussed above; but the focus can be widened to include the remainder of the Prologue (and its underlying ‘Logos-poem’). The key term in this regard is the noun do/ca. Unfortunately, this noun is difficult to translate in English. Its fundamental meaning, derived from the verb doke/w (“think, suppose, consider”), is “thought” —that is, what a person thinks about something (or someone), an opinion or estimation, etc. It came to be used often in the sense of a favorable thought/opinion, from which derived the secondary meaning of a favorable reputation of a person (i.e., how he/she is thought of), including accompanying praise, honor, etc. These aspects of meaning for do/ca are probably best captured in English by the words “estimation” or “esteem”.

In the LXX, do/ca typically translates Hebrew dobK*, which literally means “weight”, but often in the sense of “worth, value”, and thus, more abstractly, “honor,” and the like. It is often appropriate to translate do/ca as “honor”. However, when dobK*/do/ca is applied to God (or the Divine), in a religious context, often something more is being expressed. The terminology refers to that which makes God worthy of such great honor and esteem, something which is intrinsic to God’s own nature and character, and which is manifest by the wondrous things that He has done (as Creator, etc). In such a context, do/ca often takes on the meaning “splendor” or “glory”, as a way of capturing (in a general way) all that makes God worthy of honor and praise.

This enhanced religious-theological meaning of do/ca certainly applies to the figure of the Divine Logos in the Prologue, especially here in the expression “his do/ca,” which implies something which the Logos possesses, or which characterizes him. This is best understood as reflecting the Divine nature/character of the Logos—that is, he is the Word/Wisdom of God, and thus possesses the do/ca (“splendor, glory”) of God. The noun do/ca, along with the related verb doca/zw, has this special theological meaning throughout the Gospel of John, and is introduced here in the Prologue.

Particularly important is the visible aspect of this “splendor” (do/ca). The do/ca (or dobK*) of God is often conceived of (and/or described) as a brilliant aura of light that surrounds Him, as when He is observed manifest to human beings in a theophany or a revelatory vision. This connotation of light-imagery unquestionably alludes back to verses 4-9 of the Prologue. Verses 4-5, at least, would seem to be part of the original Logos-poem, and provide a clear point of connection (and transition) between the role of the Logos in creation and his presence in/among human beings during their history. These two aspects are represented by vv. 4 and 5, respectively:

“In him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men;
and the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not take it down [kate/laben]”
Note: the verb katalamba/nw (“take down”) can either mean “defeat, overcome”, or “comprehend”; quite possibly both aspects of meaning are intended.

The Logos is that which gives both life (zwh/) and light (fw=$) to human beings. The Johannine writings use both of these terms in a special theological sense; this meaning is present here, but also a naturalistic meaning applies, related to the creation of the world. Here, the terms thus would seem to have a double meaning:

    • zwh/—(i) the physical life of human beings, but also (ii) the eternal life of God that becomes available (through the Logos) to humans
    • fw=$—(i) the natural light of reason and wisdom given to all human beings, but also (ii) the light of the eternal truth, knowledge, and wisdom of God that is available (through the Logos) to humans

As a number of commentators have pointed out, the Logos-poem of the Prologue, especially in vv. 1-5, seems to represent an exposition of the Genesis Creation account (Gen 1:1-5), influenced by Hellenistic Jewish expository traditions, such as we find in the writings of Philo of Alexandria. Central to such an exposition is the identification of the Logos with the light introduced by God at the very beginning of creation. Verse 4 would seem to relate to Gen 1:3, while verse 5 (with its contrastive juxtaposition of light/darkness) relates to Gen 1:4f.

There have been two particularly fine studies on this subject—by Peder Borgen, “Logos was the True Light” (originally published in Novum Testamentum 14 [1972], pp. 115-30), and George H. van Kooten, “The ‘True Light Which Enlightens Everyone’ (John 1:9): John, Genesis, the Platonic Notion of the ‘True, Noetic Light,’ and the Allegory of the Cave in Plato’s Republic” (in The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-Interpretations of Genesis 1 in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics, ed. George H. van Kooten [Brill: 2005]). Such analysis provides convincing evidence that both Philo and the Logos-poem of the Johannine Prologue draw upon Hellenistic-Jewish interpretation of the Creation account, a line of interpretation which casts the Genesis account in Greek philosophical (and theological) terms. The use of the word lo/go$ is an important component of this re-casting. Three different aspects of lo/go$ are involved:

    • Lo/go$ as word/speech, which obviously relates to God’s fundamental activity in the Creation, by which He creates through the spoken word (“And God said…”, Gen 1:3ff).
    • The identification of the Logos with the personification of God’s Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*), which, according to the Prov 8:22-31 tradition, was present with God at the beginning of Creation and took part in the creating process.
    • The Greek philosophical (and metaphysical) use of lo/go$, going back to at least the pre-Socratic Heraklitos, whereby Logos refer to the divine power/presence that binds the universe together, giving it order and holding its different components and aspects in balance; in the later Stoic metaphysics, the Logos is understood as representing the mind of God that penetrates creation, ordering and controlling all things. Cf. the earlier discussion in part 2 of this article.

Philo of Alexandria, in particular, combines these three aspects of lo/go$ in his writings; because his use of lo/go$ provides the closest parallel to that of the Johannine Prologue, it is worth examining the matter in more detail. This is provided in a supplemental article (part of the Ancient Parallels feature).

The manifest presence of the Logos on earth, in and among human beings, is framed in terms of the identification with light, in verse 9, immediately prior to vv. 10-11:

“He was [h@n] the true Light, which gives light (to) every man, coming into the world.”

In verse 5, the Light was said to shine (vb fai/nw) “in the darkness”; the parallel here in verse 9 is “in the world”, foreshadowing the regular Johannine use of the noun ko/smo$ as expressing the concept of the “world” as the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God. It may be debated whether, or to what extent, verse 9 was part of the original Logos-poem. Certainly, in the full context of the Prologue, it relates to vv. 6-8, verses best understood as expository comments (along with v. 15) by the Gospel writer, serving to integrate the Prologue with the narrative in chapters 1-3. In this context, verse 9 is meant to contrast the incarnate Logos (Jesus) with John the Baptist: John was not the Light (v. 8), since only Jesus is the Light, the true light.

The incarnation of the Logos is indicated here, prior to the explicit reference in v. 14, through the framing syntax “He was…coming into the world”. The use of the verb of being (imperfect tense, h@n) indicates the Divine nature of the Logos (as in vv. 1-2, 4), while the verb e&rxomai (“come”) alludes to the human life of Jesus. Some commentators would explain the participle e)rxo/menon as modifying “every man”, but this is unlikely, both on grammatical and theological grounds. The phrase “which gives light to every man” should be viewed as subordinate and parenthetical; the main clause is “he was the true light…coming into the world”.

Human beings are able to see the light and glory/splendor (do/ca) of God in the person of the incarnate Logos. This is true of all people, insofar as when someone sees Jesus (during his human life), he/she sees the Logos. However, it is especially so with regard to believers—those who trust in Jesus—for it is only they who truly see the Logos, in the full sense of the Johannine theological idiom (of sight/seeing). The Prologue concludes with a further emphasis on this ability of human beings (esp. believers) to see the light and splendor/glory of God in the Logos:

“No one has looked at God (with their eyes) at any time; (but the) only-born Son, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, this (one) has led (Him) out (to us)!” (v. 18)

This verse will be discussed further in an upcoming part of this study, but we will be preparing for it in next part (5) of the current article, as we examine the qualifying phrase (modifying the third main phrase), “(the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside the Father” (do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$). It is here that the concept of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God blends with the far more typical Johannine concept of Jesus as the Son of God.

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 5:30-40

1QH 5, continued

(Unless otherwise noted, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

In lines 24-30 of the Column V hymn, discussed in the previous note, the author describes the role that the principal spirits of holiness, wisdom, etc, played in the Creation, having themselves been established by God before anything else in the universe had been created (cf. Proverbs 8:22-31). These spirits, reflecting the fundamental attributes of God, thus have knowledge of the deepest plans and “mysteries” of God. This is to be compared with the situation of human beings, who are unable to possess true wisdom or understanding unless God Himself, through His spirits, enables the person. Without this ‘special revelation’, human beings simply cannot obtain to the Divine wisdom. The author expresses this, quite clearly, with his rhetorical question in lines 30-31:

“[But how i]s a spirit of flesh (able) to gain understanding of all these (thing)s, and to have discernment of[…] great […]?”

As in 4:37 and 5:15 (possibly also in line 14), the distinctive expression “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr) is used, in reference to the nature of a human being. It refers to the created/limited character of this nature, but also to the corruption of it, so that a person is, by nature, influenced and dominated by sin and by evil/harmful spirits. Here, the principal point of reference is to the human being as a created being, with the weaknesses and limitations that this implies:

“And what (is one) born of a woman among all your [gre]at (and) fearsome (work)s?” (line 31b)

The expression “born of a woman” is clearly parallel with “spirit of flesh”. Yet, as the following lines indicate, this created nature is also corrupt, having been perverted and dominated by sin:

“Indeed, he (is but) built of dust and kneaded (with) water. G[uilt and s]in (are) his foundation, (the) nakedness of shame and a so[urce of im]purity; and a spirit of crookedness rules over him.” (ll. 31-33)

The existence of a human being is established (lit. founded, vb ds^y`) on guilt (hm*v=a*) and sin (ha*F*j^), implying that a person is trapped in an existence dominated and influenced by sin from birth. The expression “nakedness of shame/disgrace” probably alludes to the tradition in Gen 2:25; 3:7, 10-11. This natural inclination to sin is further described as a “source of impurity”.

Beyond this, the author/protagonist recognizes that there is also a “spirit” that rules (vb lv^m*) over the human being. This is described specifically as “a spirit of crookedness” (hw@u&n~ j^Wr). The noun hw@u&n~ is verbal, being a participle from the root hwu (I), “bend, twist”; thus hw@u&n~ indicates the action of this spirit—twisting, bending, i.e., perverting, in a negative ethical-religious sense. As discussed in a prior note, lines 12-20 of the Column IV hymn refer to the harmful actions of various “spirits” on human beings. Humans are largely helpless against this influence, unless it is counteracted by other good spirits specifically given by to the individual by God (lines 29ff). Much the same idea is expressed here: the perverting spirit is counteracted by the holy/righteous spirit that God gives to His chosen ones (such as the hymnist/protagonist):

“Only by your goodness can a man be righteous, and by (the) abundance of [your] compas[sion…].
And I, your servant, have knowledge by (the) spirit that you gave [i.e. placed] in me […] and all of your works are righteous” (lines 33b-34a, 35b-36)

The emphasis on the action/effect of this God-given spirit is knowledge (i.e. wisdom and understanding). The protagonist is able to understand the nature of these spirits, and their dynamic (interaction with human beings, etc) in the context of the eternal plans and mysteries of God (see the fragmentary lines 37-40). He says nothing here directly about the cleansing/purifying effect of the spirit, though this is implied in lines 33-34ff. However, in column VI, there is at least one reference to the “spirit of (God’s) holiness” —the principal spirit given to the chosen ones. Indeed, there are parallel references in column VI to the “spirit of holiness” (line 24) and the “spirit of knowledge” (line 36), indicating the important relationship between righteousness/purity and wisdom. This will be discussed further in the next note.

May 3: Romans 8:21-23

Romans 8:21-23

Towards the end of chapter 8 (cf. the previous note on Rom 8:10-11), Paul brings in a strong eschatological emphasis. Many Christians today do not fully appreciate the importance of eschatology in early Christian thought. I have discussed the subject at length in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (cf. the Part 2 of the article on Romans). For first-century Christians, their eschatology was imminent, expecting  that the end would come very soon, probably within the lifetime of most believers. Salvation was understood primarily in terms of being saved from the coming Judgment.

Following the Judgment, a New Age would be inaugurated for humankind; the eschatological expectation of many Jews and Christians of the time included the idea of a complete transformation of all creation—drawing upon the prophetic tradition of a “new heavens and new earth” (Isa 65:17ff; 66:22; cf. Revelation 21:1-2; 2 Peter 3:13). Paul is expressing a similar idea here in Rom 8:18-23, working from the premise, shared by most Christians at the time, that the New Age had already been ushered in, but was only realized (in the present) for believers. This way of thinking is typically referred to as “realized eschatology” —the promise of salvation, eternal life, the resurrection of the body, and so forth—all of this is experienced by believers in Christ, in a preliminary way, through the presence of the Spirit.

Thus, as Paul expounds the matter in vv. 18-23, believers represent the ‘first-fruits’, a)parxh/, literally the beginning (of the ingathering) from (the harvest)—the harvest being a natural motif for the end of the Age. The good grain/fruit is brought in, while the bad/useless chaff is discarded (and burnt up)—cf. Mark 4:29; Matt 3:12 par; 13:30, 38ff; Rev 14:15-20; also Matt 9:37-38 par; John 4:35; cp. Jer 51:33; Joel 3:13, etc). From an eschatological standpoint, this signifies a temporal priority—i.e., the initial transformation of believers, through our possession of the Spirit, marks the beginning of the New Age.

For believers in Christ, the end time, in spite of the suffering (like that of a woman in labor) that takes place, ultimately provides a reason for great hope. Indeed, Paul declares that the present (eschatological) suffering cannot compare to the honor/splendor (do/ca) which we are about to experience (v. 18). In his words, the sufferings of “the time (right) now” are not comparable to the do/ca “being about to be uncovered [i.e. revealed] unto us” (note the imminence of this expectation). The prepositional expression ei)$ h(ma=$ could also be translated “in us”.

This hope for believers also gives hope to the rest of creation (as a whole). Paul refers to this in verse 19 as the “a)pokaradoki/a of the foundation”. The compound noun a)pokaradoki/a is almost impossible to translate; it essentially refers to the act of stretching out one’s head (and neck) with the hopes of seeing/perceiving something. The noun kti/si$, which I translate as “foundation,” properly refers to something that is founded or formed (vb kti/zw), cf. Rom 1:25. It is best understood here in a comprehensive/collective sense, referring to all of creation (cp. the use in Rom 1:20). Creation is looking out, hoping to receive (i.e. experience) the end-time manifestation of “the sons of God” (i.e. believers). Currently, this identity of believers is hidden, realized only internally, through the presence of the Spirit; eventually, the honor/splendor (do/ca) of this status will shine forth for all to see.

In verses 20-22, Paul strikingly attributes to all of creation, the same bondage (doulei/a, lit. slavery) which human beings suffered, prior to the coming of Christ. Just as all of humankind was in bondage to the power of sin and death, so all of creation is similarly enslaved. The primary manifestation of this is the fact that all of creation is subject to death and decay (fqora/). Creation has been put in (submissive) order under the authority of sin/death; this idea is expressed by the verb u(pota/ssw. However, the subject of the participle u(pota/canta in v. 20, referring to the person who put creation under this bondage, is not entirely clear. The best explanation is that Paul identifies God as the ultimate cause—He subjected creation to this bondage, allowing it to be so enslaved, with the final hope in mind: that eventually all of creation would be set free from this bondage.

Currently, this freedom is only experienced by believers in Christ, and only through the internal presence of the Spirit. But the time will (soon) come when the same freedom will be realized by all of creation:

“…even the foundation [i.e. creation] itself will be set free from the slavery of th(is) decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the offspring of God.” (v. 21)

All of creation collectively suffers (v. 22), groaning and being in pain (like a woman in labor), but this suffering will lead to a new birth—the manifestation of the sons/children of God. Here in chap. 8, Paul utilizes both the noun ui(o/$ (ui(oi/, “sons”), and the more generic te/knon (pl. te/kna), “offspring”, with no real difference in meaning. By contrast, in the Johannine writings, believers are always referred to as “offspring [te/kna] of God”, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) reserved for Jesus. Paul’s use of ui(oi/ in vv. 14, 19 is perhaps influenced by the adoption motif in chapter 8 (esp. verses 14-17). The noun ui(oqesi/a literally means “placement as a son” (cf. also Gal 4:5 in context). Paul does, however, share with the Johannine writings the belief that Divine sonship is realized exclusively through our relationship to Jesus, the unique Son (vv. 29ff).

The climax of this exposition comes in verse 23, where Paul (finally) makes reference again to the Spirit. He makes clear that the transformation of creation will occur just as it does for believers—through the life-giving power of the Spirit:

“And not only (this), but (we our)selves, holding the beginning from (the harvest) of the Spirit, we also groan in ourselves, (look)ing out to receive placement as son(s), the loosing from (bondage) of our bodies.”

The occurrence of the noun ui(oqesi/a again here in v. 23 (indicated in light gray text) is problematic, and some commentators would omit it. Indeed, it is not present in a number of manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). Its inclusion would imply that believers do not already have “placement as (God’s) sons,” quite contrary to what Paul indicated earlier in vv. 14-17. By contrast, what we are currently still awaiting is the full realization of this identity—which will take place at the end-time resurrection, when our bodies will at last be set free from bondage to death. In this regard, we have the same groaning expectation as the rest of creation, even though we have already been set free from bondage within, through the presence of the Spirit.

Though Paul does not state this here, the transforming power of the Spirit, communicating the live-giving power of God (over death), is specifically related to our participation in the death of Jesus. This is to be inferred based on what was said earlier in vv. 10-11 (as also in 6:1-11)—on which, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

December 18: John 1:4-5

John 1:4-5

Verses 4 and 5 are interrelated, combining in their lines the themes of life (zwh/) and light (fw=$). Both of these themes, apart from their value each as a natural religious (and theological) metaphor, are specifically associated with the divine Wisdom in Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Verse 4 emphasizes life, while verse 5 focuses on the theme of light.

Life (zwh/), verse 4

“In him was life,
and th(is) life was the light of men”

There are many references to life in the Wisdom literature, associated with the Wisdom of God. These tend to emphasize natural life (i.e., long life) as much as the divine/eternal life, but there is a clear association between Wisdom and the life-giving power of God. Of the many verses that could be cited, see Prov 3:16, 18; 4:13, 22-23; 8:32-35; 13:14; 15:24; 16:22; Sirach 4:12f; Wisdom 6:18-19; Baruch 3:14; 4:1.

The term lo/go$, and the Logos-concept, blends the idea of Wisdom together with the Word of God. YHWH spoke the universe into existence through His life-giving Word (Gen 1:1ff), the same Word which spoke the Torah to Moses, the oracles to the Prophets, and wisdom for the righteous. The term “instruction” similarly encompasses both aspects—word and wisdom—and, indeed, the Instruction (Torah) came to be personified in Jewish tradition, much like the Word and Wisdom of God. The Old Testament basis for this, associating the Torah with the life-giving Word of YHWH, can be seen in passages such as the Song of Moses (Deut 32:47), the great Psalm 119 (vv. 17, 25, 107), and other references as well. Baruch 4:1 is a good example of how closely the personified Torah and Wisdom were connected in Jewish thought.

Here in the Prologue, eternal life, the life of God is said to be “in” (e)n) the Logos. This goes well beyond the idea that God created all things through the Logos (thus giving them life), as expressed in verse 3. In verse 4, the focus is on the life that God Himself possesses, and which the Logos shares. This is the special (theological) meaning of the noun zwh/ as it is used throughout the Johannine writings. The noun occurs 36 times in the Gospel and 13 more in the Letters; if we add in the 17 occurrences in the book of Revelation (counting it as a Johannine work), that comes to nearly half of all the New Testament occurrences of the word (66 out of 135). Clearly “life” is an important keyword in the Johannine writings, and the way it is introduced here in the Prologue is significant indeed.

The second line of the verse (“and the life was the light of men”) is a bit more difficult to explain. Again, it would be easy to interpret this in a natural sense—i.e., the wisdom of God that enlightens human beings (esp. the righteous). This is certainly a fundamental theme of Wisdom literature, as there are many passages which associate Wisdom (and, similarly the Word and Torah of God) with light—cf. Psalm 36:9; 119:105, 130; Prov 4:18; 6:23; Eccl 2:13; Wisdom 7:10, 26ff; 18:4; Sirach 32:16; Baruch 3:14; 4:1-2.

However, it must be emphasized here that, just as zwh/ refers to the life of God (i.e., divine/eternal Life), so also fw=$ in the Gospel of John refers to divine Light—the light of God that is manifest in the person of Jesus (the Son). It is another way that Jesus is identified with the Logos—the Word and Wisdom of God—in the Prologue (cf. the prior note on v. 2).

Light (fw=$), verse 5

“and the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not take it down.”

While the term “light” (fw=$) was introduced in verse 4, it is featured here in v. 5, establishing the important dualistic contrast between light and darkness (skoti/a). This light-vs-darkness contrast is natural, and occurs quite frequently as a religious and ethical motif in many traditions worldwide. It is used by a number of New Testament authors (and speakers), but is particularly prominent in the Johannine writings, being featured at several important points in the discourses: at the climax of the Nicodemus discourse (3:19), as part of the Light-theme in the Tabernacles discourses (8:12), the entire chapter 9 episode (healing the blind man, see v. 4), and at the conclusion of the first half of the Gospel (the ‘Book of Signs’, 12:35, 46; cp. 11:10). There also several key allusions within the traditional narrative, which take on added meaning in a Johannine context (cf. 3:2; 6:17; 13:30; 19:39; 20:1; 21:3). The “world” (ko/smo$) is dominated by darkness, while light belongs to the domain of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and those who trust in him.

The verbs used here in verse 5 are worth noting. The first, fai/nw, means “shine”. It is, of course, a natural verb to use in reference to light; however, like the related noun fw=$, it has special meaning as part of the Johannine vocabulary. Admittedly, the verb fai/nw occurs just three times (here, and in 5:35; 1 Jn 2:8); but when we combine these with the 29 occurrences of fw=$ (23 in the Gospel, 6 in the Letters), along with the related verb fanero/w (“make [to] shine forth”), an extensive thematic portrait emerges. Jesus, the Son and Logos of God, possesses the divine Light of God, and, in his own person and work, makes this Light “shine forth” to others.

The second verb, in the second line of v. 5, is katalamba/nw, which literally means “take down”. It can be understood in a negative, positive, or neutral sense; the parallel in 12:35 strongly suggests a negative meaning here—i.e., of a person who attempts to take someone down, with hostile or evil intent. The opposition of darkness to light means that darkness will attempt to “take down” (i.e., bring down, cover over, extinguish) the light. This dualism is fundamental to the Johannine theology and Christian worldview, as noted above. The world is opposed to God the Father—and thus also is hostile to Jesus the Son, and to the believers who trust in him. This thematic emphasis runs through all the Discourses, and is developed in a number of important ways.

Elsewhere, in the Johannine Letters, the same dualism is present. Jesus is the “true light” of God that has shone forth in the darkness of the world (cf. 1 Jn 1:5-7ff; 2:8-11). Light and darkness are fundamentally opposed and cannot co-exist. Ultimately, the light of God dispels the darkness completely.

In concluding our study on this part of the Prologue, it is worth presenting again verses 3-5 as a poetic unit:

“All (thing)s came to be through him,
and apart (from) him came to be
not even one (thing) that has come to be.
In him was life,
and th(is) life was the light of men;
and the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not take it down.”

A pair of 3-line (tricolon) sub-units surround the central declaration “in him was life”. The first three lines (v. 3) refer to the original creation of the world, while the last three lines (in v. 4) describe the origins of the new creation that is introduced through the person and work of Jesus (identified with the Logos). Like the eternal Wisdom and Word of God, the Son brings life and light to all things. In particular, it is to the chosen ones (believers), who are able to experience the divine Life and Light in a way that the world simply cannot. Since the world has come to be dominated by darkness, it is only the believers, currently living in the world, who are able to embrace the light.

December 17: John 1:3-4 (continued)

John 1:3-4, continued

In the previous note, we looked at the two different ways of dividing verses 3-4, involving the words o^ ge/gonen (“[that] which has come to be”). These words come at the end of v. 3 (according to the traditional verse-division), but many commentators consider them to belong with verse 4, providing the opening words for that verse:

“(That) which came to be [o^ ge/gonen] in him was life”

To do so, however, creates certain difficulties for interpretation. What, exactly does this statement mean? In the previous note, I offered a possible explanation, or line of interpretation, suggesting that it is a reference to the new creation (i.e., believers in Christ), in contrast to the first/original creation referenced in v. 3. While such an explanation would be consonant with Johannine theology (cf. vv. 12-13; 3:3-8), the actual syntax of the clause in v. 4 seems to argue against it. Life is the subject (not believers), and so, based on the Johannine understanding of the noun zwh/, it is the divine/eternal life itself that “came to be” in the Logos.

There are several passages in the Gospel where it is stated that the Father gave life to the Son (who, in turn, gives it to believers). We see this most notably in the chapter 5 discourse (vv. 21ff, 26), but it is implied elsewhere in the discourses (cf. 3:34-36; 6:27ff; 10:28; 12:49-50; 17:2-3). While this idea is very much part of the Johannine theology, it does not seem to fit to context here in v. 4. There is a relatively sharp distinction between the use of the verb of being (ei)mi) and the verb of becoming (gi/nomai). In the Prologue, the verb of being is used of God (i.e., divine being), while the verb of becoming is used for created beings. Thus, by reading the words o^ ge/gonen as part of v. 4, the verse is apparently made to say that the divine life which the Logos (and Jesus, the Son) possesses has “come to be” (that is, was created by God). One can well understand why those who held an Arian view of Jesus, would cite the verse (read in this way) in support of their Christology, since it would seem to suggest that the pre-existent Son was created.

Keeping the words o^ ge/gonen as part of verse 3 removes this complication, and preserves a clear distinction between the eternal being of God (vv. 1-2, 4) and created being (v. 3). For this reason, among the others cited in the previous note, I would argue strongly for the traditional verse division, and will thus assume it as the correct approach for the remainder of these notes. Following the traditional division, we can render vv. 3-4 as:

“All (thing)s came to be through him,
and apart (from) him came to be
not even one (thing) that has come to be.
In him was life,
and th(is) life was the light of men.”

The poetry may appear to be rather uneven in this arrangement; however, the structure becomes more properly balanced, both rhythmically and thematically, when one includes v. 5.

Verse 3 refers to creation—specifically to created beings—which all came into existence, by God, through the Logos. Verse 4, by contrast, refers to the divine being, the creative power, which the Logos possesses. Creation takes place through (dia/) the Logos, but eternal life is experienced in (e)n) the Logos.  Verse 4 is comprised of two distinct, but related, statements:

    • “In him was life” (e)n au)tw=| zwh\ h@n)
    • “the life was the light of men” (h( zwh\ h@n to\ fw=$ tw=n a)nqrw/pwn)

The use of the verb of being (ei)mi) echoes the wording of vv. 1-2, with the same imperfect form (h@n, “he/it was“); it thus refers to the divine being and existence of the Logos, and the relation of the Logos to God. As previously noted, the noun zwh/ (“life”) occurs frequently in the Gospel of John (36 times, more than a quarter of all NT occurrences), and always refers to the life that God possesses—that is, to the divine and eternal life. The Logos possesses this same life, and is thus able to give it to others; since Jesus the Son is identified with the Logos of God (v. 2), the life (and life-giving power) belongs to him (3:34-36; 5:21ff; 10:28; 11:25; 14:6, etc).

We will examine this thematic keyword, zwh/ (“life”), in a bit more detail in the next daily note, as we include verse 5 as part of our study.

December 16: John 1:3-4

John 1:3-4

The two clauses of verse 3 are clear and straightforward, both in terms of form and meaning. As discussed in the previous note, together they provide an emphatic declaration regard the role of the Logos in God’s creation of the universe:

“All (thing)s came to be through him,
and apart (from) him not even one thing came to be”

Difficulties arise, however, when we come to the last two words of verse 3 (as it is traditionally divided): o^ ge/gonen (“that which has come to be”)—a neuter relative pronoun followed by a perfect form of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai). Do these words belong with what precedes them (in v. 3), or with what follows (in v. 4)? Scholarly opinion is rather evenly divided on the matter, with some commentators (e.g., Metzger, pp. 167-8) preferring the former, and others (e.g., Brown, pp. 6-7) opting for the latter.

There are two principal arguments adduced in favor of reading o^ ge/gonen as part of v. 4:

    • It establishes a clearer (poetic) rhythm to the lines, and also preserves the so-called “staircase” parallelism that is said to be typical of Johannine style.
    • It seems to have been the view of the pre-Nicene Christian writers (who discuss the verse); a shift in favor of reading the words with v. 3, it is said, was prompted by a reaction against an Arian interpretation of the passage (when the words are read as part of v. 4).

I find the opposing arguments to be rather stronger (cf. Metzger, p. 168):

    • The Johannine predilection for beginning a sentence or clause with the preposition e)n + a demonstrative pronoun (e.g., Jn 13:35; 15:8; 16:26; 1 Jn 2:3-5; 3:10, 16, 19, 24; 4:2)
    • The theological parallels in 5:26, 39; 6:53, etc
    • The precise meaning of v. 4, when the words o^ ge/gonen are included, is, in the view of many commentators, rather obscure; on the other hand, the meaning of the verse, when the words are kept as part of the prior v. 3, seems quite clear, and requires no special pleading.

To illustrate the situation, let us compare the two approaches to handling vv. 3-4, in translation:

    • First—according to the traditional division (the words as part of v. 3):
      “All (thing)s came to be through him,
      and apart (from) him came to be
      not even one (thing) that has come to be.
      In him was life,
      and th(is) life was the light of men.”
    • Second—reading the words as part of v.4:
      “All (thing)s came to be through him,
      and apart (from) him not even one (thing) came to be.
      (That) which has come to be in him was life,
      and th(is) life was the light of men.”

Admittedly, there is a certain poetic consistency in the second option that the first lacks. However, this is a rather subjective assessment, and it presumes that the author—whether of the Prologue or an underlying hymn (or both)—intended such a consistency. Moreover, it ignores a different sort of balance that is achieved, with the first approach, when all three verses of the section (vv. 3-5) are included:

“All (thing)s came to be through him,
and apart (from) him came to be
not even one (thing) that has come to be.
In him was life,
and th(is) life was the light of men;
and the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not take it down.”

Note here how two triplets (three-line structures) surround a central declaration, balancing natural life (i.e., created existence) and eternal life.

But, perhaps most decisive against reading the words o^ ge/gonen as part of verse 4 is establishing exactly what the verse would then mean. For the sake of the argument, let us consider the possibility that this is the correct approach; verse 4 would then read:

“(That) which has come to be in him was life”
o^ ge/gonen e)n au)tw=| zwh\ h@n

At first glance, in the context of creation, we might assume that this statement means that the Logos gave (and still gives) life (i.e., existence) to all things. However, in the Johannine writings, the noun zwh/ essentially never refers to life in the ordinary (natural) sense, but, rather, to the life that God possesses—i.e., eternal life. Given this emphasis, the clause would have to be understood rather differently—as a contrast with ordinary creation. In other words, verse 3 refers to the role of the Logos in the creation of the universe (i.e., the first creation), while verse 4 focuses on the new creation of believers in Christ. According to this view, the phrase “that which has come to be in him” means those (believers) who are “in Christ”, those who were born into him “from above” (3:3-8, and cp. with vv. 12-13 in the Prologue), by the Spirit, as a ‘new creation’.

While this explanation certainly would concur with the Johannine theology, we must ask if it appropriate at this point in the Gospel Prologue. More to the point, does the wording of the statement, as given above, accurately and truly express this theology? We shall attempt to examine the matter in more detail in the next daily note.

References marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).
Those marked “Metzger” are to Bruce M. Metzger in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies: 1971, 1994).

December 15: John 1:3

John 1:3-5

The first section of the “Christ hymn” in the Johannine Prologue (vv. 1-2) emphasizes how the relationship between the Logos and God existed “in the beginning” —that is, prior to the creation of the universe (cf. the discussion in the previous note). This is clearly indicated by the allusion to Genesis 1:1, and by the fact that the section which follows (vv. 3-5) refers specifically to the creation. However, the theme of a pre-creation existence of the Logos, and its relationship (indicated by the preposition pro/$, “toward,” in vv. 1-2) to God, is also implied by the use of the term lo/go$ (lógos) itself.

In a prior note (on v. 1b), I discussed the meaning and background of the noun lo/go$, and the special philosophical/theological use of the term, going back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraklitos in the 6th/5th century B.C. The meaning of the Logos-concept, in this context, may be summarized as: a manifestation of God, a rational intelligence that gives order to all things in creation. Philo of Alexandria is perhaps the best example of a Jewish philosopher who utilized the Logos-concept, applying it to Old Testament religious and theological tradition. He also happens to be a contemporary (fl. 20-50 A.D.) of the first-generation of Christians (and the earliest New Testament writings), so his application of a Logos-theology is especially pertinent to the similar development that we see here in the Johannine Prologue.

Philo uses the noun lo/go$ more than 1400 times in his writings, and often in the specialized philosophical/theological sense noted above. What is particularly significant, is the way that he has blended the Greek Logos-concept with Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition. According to this line of tradition, Wisdom (Grk sofi/a) was considered to be the image (ei)kw/n) of God (Wisd 7:26), by which the world (and human beings) were created (2:23). The thought goes back, primarily, to the famous passage in Proverbs 8:22-31, in which Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*), personified as a pre-existent divine being, it is said, acted to bring about God’s work of Creation. Philo similarly speaks of the Logos (lo/go$) as the image of God; the created universe, in turn, is the visible image of the Logos of God, like a personal stamp upon a coin (On the Creation §25; On Dreams 2.45; On the Special Laws I.81). This idiom is not limited to Jewish tradition, as it can be seen in other strands of philosophy, such as in Platonic thought, going back to Plato’s concept of the visible world as the perceptible image (ei)kw/n) of an intelligible Deity (Timaeus 92c).

The Logos (like the divine Wisdom) plays a central role in God’s creation of the universe, and it continues to function as the governing power of God by which all things in the universe are “held together” (sune/sthke). The Logos is similarly described as a “bond”, the binding force, that holds the cosmos together (Philo, Who Is the Heir §23, cf. On Flight and Finding §112). In Wisdom 1:7, the Wisdom of God is likewise said to be that which holds all things together (sune/xon ta\ pa/nta); while in Sirach 43:26, it is stated that all things lay (bound) together (su/geitai ta\ pa/nta) in the Word (Lo/go$) of God. This language clearly relates to the the thought-world of the Johannine Prologue, as also of the other New Testament “Christ hymns” we have studied (cf. especially Col 1:17 and Heb 1:3, and note also the wording in 2 Peter 3:5). For more on the place of the Logos (Lo/go$), the personified Word/Wisdom of God, and its role in creation, in the writings of Philo, see On the Creation §146; Who Is the Heir? §§7, 130ff; On the Special Laws I.80-81; III.83, 207; IV.123b; On the Migration of Abraham §6; On the Cherubim §125f; On Flight and Finding §§12, 95; On the Work of Planting §§18, 50; The Worse Attacks the Better §§83, 86; On Dreams 1.72, 215 (Attridge, p. 40ff). The influence of this Wisdom/Logos tradition on the Johannine prologue is obvious, but, as I previously discussed, the authors of Hebrews and the Colossians hymn (whether Paul or another) almost certainly drew upon it as well. For comparable references to the divine Wisdom in Hellenistic Jewish tradition, cf. Wisdom 7:22-8:1; 9:2ff; 10:1ff; Sirach 1:3-10; chap. 24; 33:7-8ff; 42:21; Baruch 3:15ff, etc.

It is in Proverbs 8:22-31 that we find the origin of the Jewish concept, and, especially, the idea of the close relationship between Wisdom and the Creator God. In verse 30, the personified Wisdom declares “I was near (lx#a@) Him”; the Greek LXX renders Hebrew lx#a@ with the preposition para/ (“alongside”). Even though the Johannine Prologue (vv. 1-2) uses a different preposition (pro/$, “toward”), the same basic idea is being expressed. The Logos was with God, in close proximity to him, at the time when the universe was created.

Verse 3

The first line of verse 3 states the role of the Logos in the creation of the universe quite clearly and simply:

pa/nta di’ au)tou= e)ge/neto
“all (thing)s came to be through him”

Let us briefly examine each of the three components in this statement.

pa/nta (“all [thing]s”)—The comprehensive adjective pa=$ (“all”) occurs here in a substantive plural form, as the subject of the clause. “All things” = everything in the universe. In our study of the Colossians hymn (1:15-20), we saw how the adjective pa=$ was used repeatedly (7 times in the hymn) to give special emphasis to the exalted position of Jesus over “all” creation; his exalted position is due, in part, to the role that he (as the pre-existent Son) played in the process of creation itself. In that hymn, a predicate use of the substantive plural (ta\ pa/nta, “all things”) occurs several times (vv. 16-17 [twice in each verse], 20), as it also does in Hebrews 1:3, which in many ways is closer to the thought expressed here in the Prologue:

“…and bearing [i.e. carrying] all (thing)s by the utterance [i.e. word] of his power”

In that statement, the noun r(h=ma (“utterance”) is used rather than lo/go$, but the meaning is comparable, and almost certainly reflects the same Logos/Wisdom theology summarized above.

di’ au)tou= (“through him”)—The Logos is the means, the instrument, through which God created the universe. This is fully in accordance with the Logos/Wisdom theology (cf. above), and is similarly applied to the (pre-existent) person of Jesus elsewhere in the Christ hymns. Note, in particular, Hebrews 1:2b (“through whom He [i.e., God the Father] made the Ages”); cf. also Colossians 1:16b (“all things have been founded [i.e. created] through him…”).

e)ge/neto (“came to be”)—The use of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) in the Prologue is significant, since it provides a clear distinction (and contrast) with the verb of being (ei)mi). The verb of being, used in vv. 1-2, refers specifically to the being of God (i.e., Divine being), while the verb of becoming (beginning here in v. 3) refers to created beings (esp. human beings). The verb gi/nomai can mean “coming to be born,” referring to the birth of a human being, though the related verb genna/w expresses this more precisely. The important distinction between ei)mi and gi/nomai will be discussed further as we proceed through the Prologue.

The emphasis on “all things” (note the emphatic [first] position of pa/nta in the line) is reinforced by the statement that follows in v. 3:

“and apart (from) him not even one (thing) came to be”

Again, the meaning of statement is quite clear: God created everything through the Logos. However, it is at this point in the section that considerable difficulties of interpretation arise. We will attempt a clear and succinct discussion of these in the next daily note.


December 3: Hebrews 1:3 (3b)

Hebrews 1:3, continued

Verse 3b

fe/rwn te ta\ pa/nta tw=| r(h/mati th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=
“and bearing all (thing)s by the word of his power”

This is the second of the two participial clauses in verse 3ab, each of which illustrate different aspects of the pre-existence Christology that came into prominence during the period c. 60-90 A.D. It is helpful to keep in mind the syntactical structure:

    • (the Son) “who” (o%$)
      • being…” (w&n) [3a]
        • “…a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God)”
          a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$
        • “…an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him”
          xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=
      • “and bearing all (thing)s by the word of His power” (fe/rwn te ta\ pa/nta tw=| r(h/mati th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=) [3b]

Both of the key participles (w&n, fe/rwn) are present-tense forms, and, as such, may be intended to establish characteristics of Jesus the Son of God that are eternal (i.e., ever-present); or, at least, that they have fundamental meaning and significant in the present, rather than simply referring to events or conditions in the past. The first participle (cf. the discussion in the previous note) is a form of the verb of being (ei)mi), and thus the clause functions as a declaration of who Jesus is. The second participle is of an active/transitive verb (fe/rw), meaning “bear, carry”, and refers to what Jesus (the Son) does.

The doing of Jesus involves the act of creation—that is, of God creating the universe. This is a central aspect of the early pre-existence Christology, and it is influenced by Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom/Logos tradition, being originally derived (primarily, if not exclusively) from the ancient Wisdom-tradition in Proverbs 8:22-31. For the basic details on this line of tradition, cf. the discussion in the previous note, as well as the earlier notes on the Colossians hymn (1:15-20).

However, while the Colossians hymn, like the Johannine prologue, refers to Jesus’ role in creation in terms of “making, establishing, forming” (kti/zw, ti/ktw), here in v. 3b the emphasis seems to be on sustaining the universe, maintaining its unifying bond of existence. Let us see how this is expressed by examining the two component phrases of the clause.

fe/rwn ta\ pa/nta

As noted above, the participle is the verb fe/rw (“bear, carry”), and it expresses how the Son’s divine character is manifest in the world—he carries all things, meaning that he supports and sustains all of Creation. Particularly important to this line of Christology is the substantive use of the adjective pa=$ (“all”), in the plural, as a comprehensive (and emphatic) reference to everything in the universe (“all things,” ta/ pa/nta). The adjective is used repeatedly (7 times) in the Colossians hymn (ta\ pa/nta in vv. 16-17, 20). While this coincides with Pauline usage, the same emphatic term here in Hebrews demonstrates that the language in Col 1:15-20 could just as easily be derived from an earlier (non-Pauline) hymn or confessional statement.

tw=| r(h/mati th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=

This sustaining of creation is done “by the utterance [r(h=ma] of his power”, which blends the Wisdom/Creation traditions (cf. above) with the fundamental religious/cosmological idea of God creating the universe by His speaking a word. Both of these ideas are established more clearly in the Johannine Prologue (1:1-3ff), but they are certainly present here as well, and relate to the divine pre-existence of Jesus as the Son. The same divine power that brought the world into existence now providentially sustains it.

The noun r(h=ma is used, rather than lo/go$ (as in the Johannine prologue), but the same basic idea of the spoken word is involved. Admittedly, lo/go$ is more closely rooted to the underlying Wisdom tradtion, since it connotes the Divine thought and reason that brings shape and order to the universe. This all-pervasive sustaining and ordering of creation is attributed, famously, to the Divine Wisdom in Wis 7:24ff. In the writings of Philo of Alexandria, this is expressed in terms of the Logos (Lo/go$), as the means by which God sustains the cosmos (On the Migration of Abraham §6, cp. Who Is the Heir? §7, On Dreams 1.241. In certain passages, the Logos is referred to as a “pillar” that supports the universe, and to the “bond” (desmo/$) that holds all things together (On the Work of Planting §8; On Flight and Finding §112; cf. Attridge, p. 45).

“His power,” of course, refers to the power of God, and indicates that the creative (and world-sustaining) power of the Son (like the Logos) is that of the Father Himself. The pre-existent Jesus thus shares the same Spirit (i.e. Power) of God, affirming a central point of the developing Christology, common to the great hymns in Philippians and Colossians, as well as other key Christological passages of the New Testament.