“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 8:28)

John 8:28

The next Johannine “son of man” saying is found in 8:28. The depth and complexity of the great Sukkot-Discourse (chapters 7-8 [excluding 7:53-8:11]) creates many challenges for commentators. As in the case of the Last (Farewell) Discourse (13:31-16:33), the Sukkot-Discourse is properly a Discourse-complex, comprised of a number of shorter, interconnected Discourse-sections. For each such section, the typical pattern for the Johannine Discourses is generally followed:

    • Principal statement/saying by Jesus
    • Response by his hearers, reflecting a misunderstanding of the true meaning of his words
    • Exposition by Jesus

The Discourse-section containing the “son of man” saying is 8:21-30. The principal saying by Jesus occurs in verse 21:

“I lead (myself) under—and you will seek (for) me, but you will die away in your sin!
(The place) where I lead (myself) under, you are not able to come (there).”

The verb u(pa/gw means “lead under”, i.e., go under cover, put (oneself) out of sight, be hidden, etc. It can be used in the very general sense of “go away”, but it would be rather misleading to translate it so here; it is important to preserve the aspect of being “under cover”, i.e., not able to be seen. The verb is used with frequency in the Gospel of John, and often in the special Christological sense of the Son’s departure back to God the Father (in heaven). That is how the verb is being used here in the Sukkot-Discourse (8:21-22, cf. earlier in 7:33; 8:14), anticipating a similar usage in the Last Discourse (13:3, 33, 36; 14:4-5, 28; 16:5, 10, 16).

Those who hear Jesus’ words without trusting in him—or, even worse, in hostile opposition to him—will not be able to follow him to God the Father in heaven. Indeed, they will die off in their sin, and will have no experience of the Divine (eternal) life that comes through trust in Jesus.

This is the thrust of Jesus’ saying. In the remainder of the Discourse-section, the pattern of Response/Exposition is repeated, producing a dialogue exchange. The first response by Jesus’ hearers is in verse 22; clearly they have not understood the meaning of his words, which he then restates, expounding the saying with greater Christological clarity:

“You are of the (thing)s below, (but) I am of the (thing)s above; you are of this world, (but) I am not of this world. So I said to you that you will die away in your sins—for, if you would not trust that I am [e)gw/ ei)mi], (then) you shall die away in your sins.” (vv. 23-24)

Jesus’ hearers cannot follow him to the Father (in heaven) because they do not belong to the Divine/heavenly things (“the [thing]s above [a&nw]”), but belong, rather, to the things below [ka/tw], in “this world”. This above/below contrast is part of the Johannine dualistic manner of thought and expression. Believers are “from above” (3:3ff), having come to be born from above, from the Spirit of God. On the contrast between believers and “the world” (o( ko/smo$), cf. throughout the Last Discourse, and also the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (where the noun ko/smo$ occurs 18 times); the theme also features prominently in 1 John (2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1-5, 17; 5:4-5, 19).

Verse 24 contains an “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) saying by Jesus, an example of the essential predication that occurs throughout the Gospel (and Letters) of John. This, however, is one of the few instances where a predicate nominative is omitted, leaving only the Divine subject (Jesus, “I”) and verb of being (ei)mi). There are three such occurrences in the Sukkot-Discourse—here in v. 24, again in verse 28 (see below), and finally, at the conclusion, in verse 58: “Before Abraham’s coming to be [gene/sqai], I am [e)gw/ ei)mi]”. The lack of a predicate nominative places the emphasis squarely on the verb of being, which, here in verse 58, is contrasted with the verb of becoming (gi/nomai). This is an important theological distinction, reflecting the way that the Johannine writings tend to distinguish the verb of being from that of becoming. The verb of being tends to be applied to God (or to a Divine subject), as is reflected by the essential predication formula. By contrast, the verb of becoming properly applies to created (human) beings. Humans come to be, but only God is. The distinction between ei)mi and gi/nomai is most notable in the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18). The other absolute “I am” saying is found in 13:19.

Thus, for Jesus to say simply “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi), it represents the ultimate attribution of Deity (on the Old Testament background for this Divine self-predication, see, e.g., Exod 3:14; 6:7; 7:5; Isa 43:25; 45:18; 51:12; 52:6; Hos 13:4; Joel 2:27; cf. the summary in Brown, pp. 533-8)—a point that Jesus’ opponents clearly recognized, based on their response (v. 59, compare 5:18). It is therefore strange that so many commentators are unwilling (or reluctant) to read the simple e)gw/ ei)mi here in v. 24 (and 28) the same way. This will be discussed further on verse 28, below.

Another exchange, between Jesus and his hearers, occurs in vv. 25-26. Jesus’ claim that he belongs to “the (thing)s above”, and that he is “not of this world”, leads them to ask “who are you? [su\ ti/$ ei@]”. Again, the use of the verb of being here is significant, even if the speakers do not understand its significance (in the Johannine context). The question represents the very essence of the Johannine Gospel—the identity of Jesus, who he is. As direct as the question might be, Jesus will not give to them a direct answer—at least, not in wording that they would clearly understand. Indeed, the Greek phrasing Jesus employs is suitably ambiguous; in answer to the question “who are you”, he replies:

“The beginning, that which even I speak to you.”
th\n a)rxh\n o% ti kai\ lalw= u(mi=n

For a concise summary of the various ways this line has been interpreted, see Brown, pp. 347-8; von Wahlde, p. 382. The most plausible explanation is (to paraphrase): “What I have been saying to you from the beginning”. However, it is possible to read it in an even more banal way, as an expression of frustration by Jesus: “Why do I even speak to you at all?”. Whatever the intended surface meaning to be conveyed by Jesus, there can be no real doubt that the statement contains a much deeper theological meaning—one which echoes the opening words of the Prologue—identifying Jesus as “the beginning”, i.e., as the Word/Wisdom (and Son) of God who was with the Father “in the beginning”. On this theological use of a)rxh/, couched in the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”), cf. 1 John 1:1 and 2:13-14 (cp. 2:7, 24; 3:8, 11; 2 Jn 5-6).

The message regarding his identity is central to his mission, the purpose for which God the Father sent Jesus (the Son) to earth. Having come from God the Father, having been with Him from the beginning, Jesus naturally speaks the very words of God (v. 26):

“I hold many (thing)s about you to speak and to judge, but the (One hav)ing sent me is true, and I speak to the world the (thing)s that I (have) heard alongside Him.”

Not surprisingly, Jesus’ ambiguous and provocative answer leads to another response by his hearers (v. 27), presented by the Gospel writer as a simple summary, to the effect that “they did not know that he said (this) to them (about God) the Father”. This expression of their lack of understanding prompts Jesus to offer a further exposition of his words:

“When you would lift up high [u(ywshte] the son of man, then you will know that I am [e)gw/ ei)mi], and (that) from myself I do nothing—but (rather), just as the Father taught me, (so) I speak these (thing)s.” (v. 28)

The initial statement of verse 28 is a “son of man” saying that resembles (and echoes) the earlier one in 3:14:

“And, just as Moshe lifted high [u%ywmen] the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the son of man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai].”

This saying informs the use of the expression “the son of man” here, and so the earlier study (on 3:14) must be consulted.

As noted above, commentators have been strangely unwilling to recognize the ‘absolute’ use of “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) here in verse 28 (and in v. 24, cf. above), in spite of its clear use in v. 58. Many translators render e)gw/ ei)mi here as “I am he”, either as a reference to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, or as “the Son of Man”. According to this line of interpretation, Jesus is using the expression “the son of man” here as a Divine (or Messianic) title, referring to the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14. The translation of the first part of the verse, then would be:

“When you lift up high the Son of Man, (then) you will know that I am he…”

In my view, such a reading is wholly incorrect and thoroughly distorts the Johannine theological (and Christological) message here in the Gospel. The expression “the son of man” is, principally, a self-reference by Jesus, as if he were to say: “When you lift me up high, (then) you will know that I am…” —that is, you will know that I am the Son of God, who was with the Father (in heaven) from the beginning. The remainder of the verse clearly confirms that Jesus’ identity as the Son is being emphasized, essentially reiterating the point made in v. 26 (cf. above).
The possible influence of Dan 7:13f on the use of the expression “the son of man” (by Jesus) in the Gospel Tradition has been discussed in the earlier studies on the Synoptic sayings (esp. Mk 13:26; 14:62 par). It will be treated in more detail as this series comes to a close.

While the expression “the son of man” is principally used as a self-reference by Jesus here in v. 28, it certainly carries with it the Johannine theological associations we have discerned from the prior studies:

    • The heavenly origin of the son of man
    • The descent (vb katabai/nw, “step down”) of the son man
    • The authority of the son of man, given to him by God the Father, which includes the authority to give life to those who believe
    • The incarnation of the Son, whose mission on earth culminates in his sacrificial death, which serves to confer life to those who believe

On the latter point, in particular, I think that one may admit an allusion to the incarnation (and Jesus’ impending death) in the concluding verse 29:

“And the (One hav)ing sent me is with me; He did not set me forth alone, (in) that I do the (thing)s pleasing to Him at all times.”

The “sending” (vb pe/mpw) and “setting forth” (or “sending away”, a)fi/hmi) of the Son certainly involves his incarnation (1:14) in the person of Jesus. But the incarnate mission of the Son on earth is not done alone, apart from God the Father; rather, the Father remains with (meta/) him. This may allude to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism (1:32-33), suggesting that the Father’s presence is realized for Jesus through the Spirit. However, the Johannine writings say surprisingly little about how the Son’s relation to the Father was realized, in the incarnate ‘state,’ during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

In any case, the Son’s earthly mission culminates in the death of Jesus, and his death is certainly to be included as a principal component of the “lifting up high” (vb u(yo/w) of the Son. The verb u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”) is a principal Johannine verb for the exaltation of Jesus. This exaltation encompasses his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. It does, however, begin with Jesus’ death, and that is the primary point of reference both in 3:14 and here in 8:28. In this regard, the verb u(yo/w is specifically associated with the expression “the son of man”, occurring also in 12:32, 34 (to be discussed). This is not surprising, since, in the wider Gospel Tradition, the expression was frequently used in the context of Jesus’ suffering and death, as we saw in our study on the Synoptic Sayings (esp. the three Passion predictions, Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par). The formulation using the verbal particle dei= (“it is necessary [for]…”) is very much reminiscent of the Synoptic Passion predictions.

In 3:14 and 12:32, 34, the verb u(yo/w occurs in a passive form, but here in 8:28, it is active (“when you lift up high…”). It indicates the people’s role in putting Jesus to death. The passive form, by contrast, could be read as an example of the so-called Divine passive (passivum divinum), with God the Father as the implied actor. This would tend to emphasize the aspect of giving honor to the Son, parallel to the use of the verb doca/zw for the exaltation of Jesus.

The Discourse-section 8:21-30 concludes with the narrative summary in v. 30: “(With) his speaking these (thing)s, many (people) trusted in him”. This concurrence of the use of the expression “the son of man” with an emphasis on trusting in Jesus is significant, both in relation to the earlier use of the expression in the Bread of Life Discourse (cf. parts 1, 2, and 3 of the previous study), and to the next occurrence, in 9:35. It is this reference which will be examined in our next study.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 29 (1966).
Those marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John. Volume 2: Commentary on the Gospel of John, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).

 

“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.

 

August 5: John 6:63 (5)

John 6:63, continued

The transitional, connecting point between the Bread of Life Discourse (vv. 22-59), and the sayings/teaching of Jesus in vv. 60-71, is the response by the disciples in v. 60, in which they complain of the harshness (and difficulty) of their master’s words. In the literary and theological context of the Discourse, there are, as I have noted, two main sources of difficulty: (1) the claim by Jesus that he has come down from heaven (indicating his heavenly origin), and (2) the idea that people need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). Both of these are significant in terms of the Johannine Christology that is expressed in the Gospel, and both Christological themes certainly relate to Jesus’ statement in v. 63.

Let us begin with the first theme—that of Jesus’ heavenly origin. This aspect of verse 63 was discussed in the previous note, particularly in relation to the question in v. 62, and the idea of the disciples seeing the exaltation (“stepping up”, vb a)nabai/nw) of Jesus. Now we turn to the Christological point proper—viz., that Jesus, as the Divine Son sent by God the Father, has come down (“stepped down”, vb katabai/nw) to earth from heaven. In the theological setting of the Gospel (expressed most clearly in the Prologue), this implies Jesus’ eternal pre-existence as the Son/Logos of God.

How does this Christology relate specifically to verse 63? Let us look again at the Spirit/flesh contrast in v. 63a:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything!”

In the Johannine Gospel (as also in 1 John), the term sa/rc (“flesh”) refers specifically to one’s life and existence as a human being. In 3:6 (cf. also 1:13), an ordinary human (physical/biological) birth is in view, while in 8:15; 17:2 sa/rc denotes the human condition (on earth) more generally. Only in 1 Jn 2:16 is the word used in the kind of negative religious-ethical sense so familiar from Paul’s letters. The overall Johannine usage strongly indicates that the Spirit/flesh contrast is not religious-ethical, but metaphysical and existential. It refers to the distinction between the Divine and the human.

Of particular importance is the Christological use of sa/rc in the Gospel prologue (1:14), followed by the confessional statement in the Letters (1 Jn 4:2 [par 2 Jn 7]):

“And the Word [lo/go$] came to be flesh and set up tent [i.e. dwelt] among us, and we looked at [vb qea/omai] his splendor, splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father…”
“…every spirit that gives account as one (of) [i.e. acknowledges/confesses] Yeshua (the) Anointed having come in (the) flesh is out of [i.e. from] God”

From a Christological standpoint, sa/rc here in 6:63 would refer to the (incarnate) existence of the Son as a human being (“in [the] flesh”, e)n sarki/). The Spirit (pneu=ma), by contrast, refers to the Divine nature and status of the Son, in relation to God the Father. Since God is Spirit (4:24), so is His Son. Elsewhere in the Gospel, the Son receives the Spirit from the Father—so stated in 3:34-35, and implied in other passages (cf. 5:26; 6:57; 14:16, 19-20, 26; 15:26; 16:7b, 14-15; 17:5). Given the theology of the Prologue, the reference in 3:34, to the Father giving (the Son) the fullness of the Spirit, cannot simply reflect the traditional motif of the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism. The traditional (Messianic) Christology of the Baptism-scene is maintained, with no real attempt being made by the Gospel writer to harmonize this with the implications of the pre-existence Christology of the Prologue.

The Divine nature of the Spirit in 6:63 is especially clear by its characterization as “making (a)live” (vb zwopoei/w)—emphasizing the life-giving power of God’s Spirit. In the traditional exaltation-Christology among first-century believers, this Spirit-power was associated particularly with the resurrection of Jesus, mentioned most directly in the Pauline letters (cf. Rom 1:4; 8:11; 1 Cor 15:45; 1 Tim 3:16). From his exalted place at God’s right hand in heaven, Jesus shares in the Divine Spirit (1 Cor 15:45; cp. 6:17) and is able to communicate the Spirit to believers.

The Gospel of John gives special prominence to this idea of Jesus giving the Spirit to believers, enhancing the traditional Messianic and exaltational Christology with a distinctive pre-existence Christology. From this Christological viewpoint, Jesus possession of the Spirit is part of his essential identity as God’s eternal Son. This is why Jesus can speak as he does in verse 63, even prior to his “stepping (back) up” to the Father.

How, then, should the declaration in v. 63a be understood, in terms of the Johannine Christology? Even though the Son is present in the flesh (as a human being), it is still the Divine Spirit entirely that possesses the power to give life. The flesh, even the human flesh of Jesus—simply as flesh—can do nothing without the presence of the Spirit. The Johannine Gospel expresses this Spiritual presence at two different levels, which, as I noted above, are never completely harmonized within the narrative. This can be represented chiastically:

    • Jesus’ eternal nature and identity as God’s Son
      • The Son’s incarnate existence on earth as a human being
    • The exalted Son’s return to God the Father

The Gospel narrative, from Baptism to Exaltation (death/resurrection), with its framing Spirit-references (1:32-34; 19:30/20:22), covers the central (temporal/incarnational) phase, while continually alluding to the eternal dimension (of pre-existence and return).

After the Miraculous Feeding episode (vv. 1-14), it would be natural for people to respond to Jesus, in the flesh, as a special human wonder-worker. And so they did, according to verse 14, even recognizing him as a Messianic Prophet (on which, cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Jesus himself, however, eschewed the socio-political (human) aspect of this identification, and would not allow them to exalt him in a worldly/fleshly manner (v. 15). The same contrastive theme (implying a flesh vs. Spirit / world vs. God contrast) dominates his dialogue with Pilate (18:33-38). When the crowd meets up again with Jesus (v. 25), he discerns that their attraction to him is primarily the result of his providing them with physical food to eat (v. 26)—i.e., to satisfy their flesh. Instead, as the ensuing Discourse makes clear, the primary purpose of the physical food is as a symbol of the spiritual food that he offers to humankind.

In the next daily note, we will examine v. 63a in light of this second Christological aspect.

August 3: John 6:63 (3)

John 6:63, continued

Having considered, in the previous note, the parallels between the Son of Man sayings in 3:13ff and 6:62, we may now examine the enigmatic and provocative question posed by Jesus:

“(And) if, then, you should observe the Son of Man stepping up (to) where he was at first…?” (v. 62)

This question is in response to the grumbling complaint by his disciples (some of them, at least), to the effect that his teaching in the Bread of Life Discourse (“this word”, o( lo/go$ ou!to$) is “harsh” (or “hard”, sklhro/$), v. 60. Jesus’ initial response is to ask “Does this trip you up?” (v. 61); then he continues with the question in v. 62.

Most commentators regard this as an elliptical question, consisting only of its conditional protasis, and thus left hanging—with its apodosis omitted or unspoken. Many translators take the simplest approach and fill out the question “…what then?” —i.e., “And if you were to see the Son of Man stepping up (to) where he was at first, what then?” But this does not really explain the thrust of Jesus’ question—does it imply the possibility of greater understanding, or does it offer a rebuke to the disciples, or both?

If the difficulty of Jesus’ teaching for his disciples involved the idea that he had “stepped down” (vb katabai/nw) from heaven (implying his heavenly origin), then surely his “stepping (back) up” (vb a)nabai/nw) would demonstrate the truth of his words. The a)nabai/nw/katabai/nw verb pair was used in both of the prior Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John (1:51; 3:13ff), as discussed in the previous note. Particularly in 3:13, the emphasis is on the heavenly origin of the “Son of Man”; in the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus indicates his own heavenly origin (vv. 35, 38, 41-42, 50f, 57-58), making it clear that he is identifying himself with the Son of Man figure (for more on this figure-type, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The thrust of the question in v. 62, then, would seem to be:

“If you should see me going back up to the place where I was at first [i.e. with God the Father in heaven], then would you believe that I have come down from heaven?”

In the (theological) context of the Johannine narrative, the “stepping up” of the Son—i.e., his exaltation (vb u(yo/w, “lift high” [cf. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34], par. to a)nabai/nw)—refers to the process of his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The circle of Jesus’ close disciples are witnesses to this process; thus, in a real sense, the question in v. 62 entails a promise to the disciples (i.e., of what they will see), much like the Son of Man saying in 1:51.

At the same time, it presents a challenge to Jesus’ followers in the moment—a moment of decision: will they continue to trust in him, despite the difficulty of his words, or will they turn away? According to v. 66, many of his followers turned away; verse 67 suggests that only the Twelve remained (of whom only eleven were true disciples, vv. 70-71). In any case, the clear implication is that the group of Jesus’ devoted followers was greatly reduced to a much smaller circle, and that his teaching (in the Bread of Life Discourse) played a role in this development.

The Christological focus of the challenge is perhaps to be implied by the use of the term lo/go$ in v. 60: “This word [lo/go$] is hard—who is able to hear it?” If the fundamental difficulty for the disciples involved Jesus’ claim of a heavenly origin, then an allusion to the Gospel Prologue, with its important use of lo/go$ (1:1ff, 14), is likely intended by the Gospel writer. This is only one aspect of the difficulty surrounding Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), but it is the primary focus of v. 62.

In the chapter 6 narrative, there is a subtle and implied narrowing of the audience for Jesus’ words—from a large public crowd (vv. 22-25ff), to a smaller group of Jews in the synagogue (vv. 41ff, 52ff, cf. verse 59), to Jesus’ own disciples (vv. 60ff). Some commentators would attribute this to a complex authoring/editorial process, involving different layers and stages of composition for the Gospel. According to at least one theory (by U. C. van Wahlde in his 3-volume commentary [Eerdmans Critical Commentary series, 2010]), Jesus’ question here in vv. 61c-62 belongs to the third edition of the Gospel, along with the eucharistic verses 51-58 (V2: pp. 319-22, 330-2). According to his reconstruction, in the second edition of the Gospel, the Discourse concluded with vv. 47-50 (and the notice in v. 59), after which came the disciples’ grumbling response in v. 60; Jesus then responds (v. 61ab) with the Spirit-statement of v. 63, without any reference to the Son of Man question in v. 62.

While such theories are intriguing, they remain highly speculative. In any case, the last author/editor of the Gospel (i.e., van Wahlde’s third edition) certainly intended to emphasize the Christological aspect of the narrative, by adding/including the Son of Man question in v. 62. It is therefore necessary for us to consider the verse in its present context. And, in the present context, the Spirit-saying in v. 63, follows the Son of Man question in v. 62. The Spirit-saying thus relates specifically to the Christological emphasis that is brought to bear by the question in v. 62. We must keep this in mind, as we turn now to examine verse 63, which we will begin to do in the next daily note.

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.

December 29: John 1:16

John 1:16

I tend to agree with commentators who view verse 15 as a secondary addition to the Prologue hymn. It interrupts the flow of verses 14, 16 (cf. below), and is rather awkward in context. For this reason, and because of the difficulties in explaining why it was inserted at this particular location in the hymn, I am holding off on a discussion of verse 15 until our study of the hymn, properly speaking, has been completed.

As a confirmation of the point made above, regarding the intrusiveness of v. 15, note how vv. 14 and 16 flow together (as a poetic unit, or strophe) when 15 is removed:

“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.”

We will examine each of the phrases in verse 16, beginning with the first phrase:

o%ti e)k tou= plhrw/mato$ au)tou=
“(and it is) that out of his fullness”

There are four elements to this phrase that need to be examined in turn.

The conjunctive particle o%ti is problematic. This is evidenced by the manuscript tradition, which is divided between o%ti and the conjunction kai/ (“and”). The particle o%ti is the reading in many of the “oldest and best” manuscripts (Ë66 Ë75 B a C* D L 33 579), but kai/ has more widespread support. Admittedly, o%ti is the more difficult reading, and is perhaps to be preferred on that basis.

The presence of the intervening verse 15 complicates the situation, since o%ti may have been introduced, whether by the author/editor or a copyist, to facilitate the return to the hymn after v. 15. If we accept the theory that an existing hymn was adapted in the Prologue, then we have to ask whether o%ti was the reading in the original hymn. If so, then we must consider further the force of this particle in context.

One possibility is that it indicates purpose or result—that is, the Son was filled (by the Father) so that we (believers) would come to share in the same fullness. Another option is that the clause in verse 16 is epexegetical, introducing a new thought that supplements or explains the prior line(s). The sense would then be: the Son was filled (by the Father), and now it is that we (as believers) also receive from this fullness. I have generally adopted the latter option, translating o%ti with the sense of “(and it is) that”. From the standpoint of the poetry of the hymn, however, I have shortened this to “and”, which is equivalent to the simple conjunction kai/. Copyists may have made a similar substitution, to clarify the line.

The preposition e)k (lit. “out of”) is an important element of the Johannine vocabulary, in two respects: (a) it refers to the source or origin of the Son (Jesus), and reflects the true origin of believers as well—being from God; and (b) it draws upon the birth language and imagery that runs through the Johannine writings, referring to Jesus as the Son and believers as the children (“offspring”) of God. The connection between believers and God the Father is established through Jesus the Son. He is the intermediary, and the divine/eternal Life we experience comes through (or “out of”) him. Ultimately, this is realized through the Spirit that proceeds out of Jesus and into us (7:37-39; 20:22, etc). There is a concrete illustration of this in the Johannine Passion narrative, when the “blood and water” comes out of Jesus’ side (19:34); on the association of the Spirit with this “blood and water”, cf. the allusion in 19:30, and especially the discussion in 1 John 5:6-8.

The noun plh/rwma (“fullness”) occurs only here in the Johannine writings. It is relatively rare in the New Testament as a whole (17 times), occurring most frequently in the Pauline letters—cf. Gal 4:4; Rom 11:12, 25; 13:10; 15:29; and 1 Cor 10:26 (citing Ps 24:1). However, the only real theological use of the word, comparable to the context here in the Prologue-hymn, is found in Colossians and Ephesians. Most notably, it is used in the Colossians Christ-hymn, at 1:19 (with an expository parallel in 2:9):

“…He [i.e. God] considered (it) good (for) all the fullness [plh/rwma] to put down house [i.e. dwell] in him” (1:19)
“…all the fullness [plh/rwma] of the Deity put down house [i.e. dwelt] in him” (2:9)

Clearly, in the context of this Christ-hymn, plh/rwma refers to the fullness of God. Everything that characterizes God, and that distinguishes him from created beings, is present in the Son. Ephesians 1:23 makes much the same point regarding the person of Jesus, but with greater emphasis on believers as the body of Christ. The implication is that, much like in v. 16 of the Prologue-hymn, believers share in the fullness of Christ (cp. Eph 3:19; 4:13).

In v. 16, the “fullness” (plh/rwma) is defined in terms of God the Father filling the Son (adj. plh/rh$). Specifically, he is filled with the “favor” (xa/ri$) and “truth” (a)lh/qeia) of God (v. 14). As I noted, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, that pair of terms essentially refers to the Spirit of God. The Son is filled with the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35), even as Jesus, during his earthly ministry, is said to be “full of the Spirit” (Lk 4:1, see also vv. 14, 18, and the context of the Baptism [3:22]). And we, as believers united with Jesus, share in the fullness of his Spirit.

The final word in the phrase is the genitive pronoun au)tou= (“of him, his”). This emphasizes that the fullness belongs to the Son—it is his, and he truly possesses it. That which is of God (the Father) belongs to Jesus (the Son). At several points in the Gospel, the point is made that the Father gives “all things” to the Son, so that, as the Son, he possesses everything that belongs to the Father (3:35; 5:20, 22; 6:37-39; 16:15; 17:7, 10).

 

 

December 14: John 1:2

John 1:2

ou!to$ h@n e)n arxh=| pro\$ to\n qeo/n
“This (one) was in (the) beginning toward God.”

The statement in verse 2 would seem to repeat verse 1, offering nothing new to the thought expressed in the opening lines of the Prologue (cf. the previous notes on v. 1a, b, and c). While it is true that the vocabulary is essentially the same, with no real difference in meaning, there is genuine significance to this statement which should not be overlooked.

First, there is the structure of vv. 1-2, which comprise a distinct unit of the Prologue (and the Christ-hymn); indeed, some commentators (cf. Brown, pp. 3ff) would regard verses 1-2 as the first strophe of the hymn. It is perhaps better to see verse 2 as the introduction to the hymn, taking the place of the relative pronoun (o%$) that typically opens the New Testament Christ-hymn (cf. the earlier note on Phil 2:6). The relative pronoun refers back to Jesus as the subject, serving as the basis for the confessional character of the hymn-formula—i.e., as a statement on who he is, who we believe him to be. Here, the demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this [one]”) functions much the same way. Without an earlier reference to Jesus, a relative pronoun would be out of place; instead, the hymn-writer (and/or the Gospel writer) makes use of a common early Christian convention, referring emphatically to the person of Jesus by way of a demonstrative pronoun (cf. Acts 1:11; 2:36; 6:14; 7:35ff, etc). The same usage occurs elsewhere in the Gospel of John as well (e.g., 1:34).

Let us consider the structure of vv. 1-2 as a whole; together, the lines read:

“In (the) beginning was the Word,
and the Word was toward God,
and the Word was God.
This (one) was in (the) beginning toward God.”

In terms of a thematic structure, we may outline it as follows:

    • The Word (Logos)
      • was in the beginning
        • was toward God
          • was God
    • “This one” (i.e., Jesus, the Son)
      • was in the beginning
        • toward God

The implication is that Jesus (“this one”) is to be identified with the divine (and pre-existent) Logos, comparable to the divine/pre-existent Wisdom of Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Prov 8:22-31, etc). Only the first two statements of verse 1 are summarized here in v. 2; the third statement (“the Word was God) is left out, possibly for poetic reasons, since attempting to include all three clauses in abbreviated form would make for an unwieldy line. There can be no doubt that the statement identifying the Logos with the Creator God (cf. the discussion in the previous note) is meant to apply to Jesus Christ as well.

The second principal point has to do with the way that the three statements in verse 1 are governed by the prepositional expression “in (the) beginning” (e)n a)rxh=|); on which, cf. the earlier note. The chain of confessional statements (the first two, at least) is repeated in verse 2, giving double emphasis to this important allusion—to a time, an existence, prior to the creation of the universe (cf. Gen 1:1 LXX). It is perhaps the clearest declaration in the New Testament of the divine/eternal pre-existence of Jesus; not only was the Logos/Wisdom with God at the beginning of creation, but so also was “this one” (Jesus), who, in fact, is to be identified with the divine Logos. The entire theme of pre-existence (“in the beginning”) defines vv. 1-2 as a unit, a distinction that is important in reference to the lines that follow (vv. 3-5), which refer to the creation of the world.

Third, it is also Jesus’ special relationship with God, defined by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), that is emphasized twice (on the use of this preposition, cf. the prior note on v. 1b). Again, it is the relationship between the divine Logos/Wisdom and God (YHWH) that is applied to the person of Jesus through the declaration in verse 2. Because of the importance of this point, it is worth discussing in greater detail; this I will do as part of the next daily note (on verse 3).

Notes on Prayer: John 14:13-14, etc (continued)

John 14:13-14, continued

A major aspect of the references to prayer in the Last Discourse involves the expression “in Jesus’ name” and what this signifies in the Johannine context. This context is related to the wider early Christian tradition, but the Johannine Gospel give to the tradition a distinctive theological emphasis, along with a new and deeper meaning. The early tradition may be summarized according to three points: (1) disciples of Jesus acting and gathering “in his name”, i.e., as his representatives (Mk 9:37-39 par; Matt 7:22; 18:20; Lk 24:47; Acts 3:6ff; 9:15, etc); (2) speaking/praying “in Jesus’ name” as an extension of the apostolic witness (Acts 4:17-18; 8:12; 15:17; 2 Thess 1:12; Col 3:17; James 5:10-14, etc); and (3) the ritual dimension of being baptized “in(to) Jesus’ name”, that is, into the (religious) identity of being believers in Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 1 Cor 1:13ff; 5:4, etc).

The Johannine development of the early tradition is significant, and must be studied carefully. I offer here an exposition, according to a number of key points.

1. To begin with, references to the name of Jesus in the Gospel of John are primarily related to trust (pi/sti$, vb pisteu/w) in Jesus. This can be seen most clearly in the confessional statements presented (and/or composed) by the Gospel writer—1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 20:31 (cf. also 1 John 3:23; 5:13). Jn 3:18 is part of a discourse by Jesus, but corresponds precisely (and is formulated according to) the Johannine theology. Trust in Jesus is defined by the expression “in his name”, using either the preposition ei)$ (“into”) or the more conventional e)n (“in”). This very much follows the early tradition (Acts 2:21; 4:12ff; Rom 10:13, etc), but with a more precise definition.

2. According to the ancient Near Eastern worldview, the name of a person represents and embodies the nature and character of the person. Thus, to trust in Jesus’ name fundamentally means to trust in the person of Jesus. There is nothing specifically Johannine about this, except insofar as the theology of the Johannine writings presents a distinctive portrait of who Jesus is. For more on the ancient background of names and naming, as it relates to the Gospel and early Christianity, cf. my prior series “You Shall Call His Name…”.

3. The Johannine Gospel and Letters, perhaps more than any other writings in the New Testament, emphasize trust in Jesus in terms of his special (and unique) identity, represented by the two titles “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) and “Son of God”. These titles are joined together in the key confessional statements of 11:27 and 20:31 (cf. also 1:34 [v.l.] and 1 Jn 3:23; 5:20), and it is clear that the identity of the (true) believer in Christ depends on the proper (Christological) view of what it means to call Jesus by these titles (cf. especially the discussion running through 1 John).

4. It is the title Son of God that is most pertinent for the Johannine theology and the portrait of Jesus in the Gospel. Throughout the Gospel Discourses, Jesus refers to himself as “the Son” —primarily in the discourses of chapters 5 and 6, but also in the opening sections of the Last Discourse (14:13, cf. also 13:31), and the great Prayer-Discourse (17:1). The statements in 3:16-18, while part of the Nicodemus discourse (of Jesus), are also formulated in accordance with the (Johannine) theology of the Gospel writer.

5. Central to the Johannine Christology, in this regard, is the special relationship between Jesus (the Son) and God the Father. The Father-Son relationship runs through the Gospel Discourses, and is established from the beginning, in the Prologue (1:1, 14, 18). Key statements occur within the chapter 3 discourse-episodes (vv. 16-18, 35-36), and are central to the Discourses of chapter 5 (vv. 17-27, 36-37) and 6 (vv. 27, 37ff, 57). Again this theological theme dominates portions of the Sukkot-discourses (8:16-19, 27-59; 10:15-18, 29-38), and features in the transitional episodes leading into the Passion narrative (and the Last Discourse)—12:26-28, 49-50; 13:1ff.

6. The theological dimension of the Father-Son relationship, within the Johannine Discourses, is based upon two lines of illustration. First, a son naturally imitates the behavior of his father; a dutiful son, in particular, consciously follows his father’s example, which often extends to a period of apprenticeship in his occupation. A number of times in the Discourses, Jesus refers specifically to how he, the Son, does and says what he sees/hears the Father doing/saying (5:19, 36; 8:28, 38ff; 10:37; 12:50; 14:10ff; 15:15). In this regard, the Son (Jesus) speaks and acts in His Father’s name (5:43; 10:25).

Second, is the image of a father providing for his son, giving to him, both in terms of instruction/guidance, but also covering the aspect of inheritance—the son as heir to the father. The Discourses also build upon this idea, emphasizing how the Father gives “all things” to the Son (3:34-35; 16:15). This includes the duty that the Father has given to him, to complete in his time on earth (5:36; 10:18; 17:4ff), and also the power to complete the work–specifically, the life-giving power that belongs to God (5:19-21ff; 6:27ff, 57; 14:10; 17:2). Jesus’ own disciples, those who come to trust in him, were also given to him by the Father (6:37, 44ff, 65; 10:29; 17:2, 6-19ff). All of this can be summarized, in the concluding Prayer-Discourse, by the key references to the name of the Father—which was given to Jesus (the Son), and who, in turn, has given it (i.e., made it known) to believers; note the important statements in 17:6, 11-12, 26.

7. According to the ancient significance of names and naming (cf. above), for Jesus to make known the name of the Father is essentially the same as making known the Father Himself. This is possible, again, because Jesus himself is the Son of the Father, the Son of God. The Son manifests the Father in his own person, because he represents the Father, speaking and acting just as the Father does (with the Father’s authority). He also shares in the Father’s own nature and character, possessing the same power and ability, indicated especially by (a) his life-giving power, and (b) the presence of God’s Spirit. The last point will be discussed further in the upcoming studies.

8. Jesus’ possession of a Divine name is a theme found in the Christ-hymns of Philippians (2:6-11) and Hebrews (1:2b-4), discussed in recent daily notes. In these passages, the “name” of Jesus in not simply “Jesus (Yeshua)”, but a name belonging to God Himself. The context in Hebrews suggests that the “name” is the specific title “Son (of God)”, in the developed Christological sense of the title that is evident throughout both Hebrews and the Johannine writings (cf. above). In the Philippians hymn, the “name” appears to be the divine name YHWH, as represented by the title “Lord” (ku/rio$). A similar dynamic occurs in the Gospel of John, where Jesus possesses the Divine name of God the Father.

Significantly, in Philippians and Hebrews, this Divine naming is associated with the exaltation of Jesus, following his death and resurrection. This reflects the exaltation-Christology of the earliest believers, to which a pre-existence Christology is balanced in the hymns (cf. also Col 1:15-20). What is distinctive in the Johannine Discourses, is the fact that Jesus is clearly identified as the Son of God, and possesses the Divine name, prior to his resurrection—that is, during the time of his earthly ministry, and even stretching back to his pre-existence, before the very creation of the world. In my view, this demonstrates an even more developed Christology within the Johannine writings that goes beyond what is expressed in the other Christ hymns.

9. Finally, along these same lines, we must note one aspect that is truly distinctive—if not unique—to the portrait of Jesus in the Johannine Discourses. It is evinced by the famous “I am” sayings of Jesus that occur throughout the Discourses—6:35ff; 8:12 (also 9:5); 10:7-9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5, cf. also 6:20; 18:5. As nearly all commentators recognize, this “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) usage intentionally alludes to ancient religious tradition, associated with the self-revelation of God—and, specifically, to the tradition involving the interpretation of the Divine name YHWH in Exodus 3:14 (LXX). In the Discourses, Jesus is identifying himself with God, even as the Son identifies himself with the Father, and the Logos is identified with the Creator God in the Prologue (1:1ff). Moreover, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, trust and belief in Jesus (= in Jesus’ name) entails a recognition of Jesus as the Divine “I am”. This is expressed rather clearly by the sayings in 8:24, 28 and 13:19 (cf. also 8:58). As is typically the case, the Gospel of John presents early Christian tradition—here, the idea of Jesus possessing the Divine name—with greater theological precision and depth of meaning.

This study, it is to be hoped, will aid greatly in our understanding of the key lines of Johannine thought, regarding the “name of Jesus”, as we continue through the remaining references to prayer in the Last Discourse.

 

December 10: John 1:1c

John 1:1c

kai\ qeo\$ h@n o( lo/go$
“and the Word was God”

This is the third of the three clauses in verse 1; cf. the previous note (on 1b), and the note prior (on 1a). Each of these clauses uses an imperfect form of the verb of being (h@n, “was”) to make an important theological statement regarding the Logos. The first statement (1a) establishes the divine existence of the Logos; like the divine Wisdom of Old Testament and Jewish tradition (cf. Prov 8:22ff, etc), the Logos was, being with God “in the beginning” (i.e., at the beginning of creation). The second statement (1b) establishes the relationship between the Logos and God (the Creator El-Yahweh). The Logos was “toward” God, either in the sense of facing Him, or in the dynamic aspect of moving toward Him. Though the Father-Son relationship is not yet introduced at this point in the Prologue, there is a clear parallel to be noted with the closing verse (18).

The final h@n-statement (1c) is perhaps the most difficult, both in terms of its distinctive word order and the precise theological message it conveys.

To begin with the word order, an ultra-literal translation would render the line as “and God was the Word”, indicating that God (and not the Logos) is the subject. A more accurate rendering, that wished to preserve the word order as much as possible, would read: “and God the Word was”, but this also is misleading. The pre-positioning of the noun qeo/$ (“God”) is most likely simply a matter of emphasis: i.e., “and the Word was God.” Commentators have long discussed and debated how this is to be best understood, noting, in particular, the lack of a definite article for qeo/$ (compare with the clause in 1b). This can be summarized by way of three main explanations:

    • The Logos is divine, but not God per se; in this case, the anarthrous noun qeo/$ would be equivalent (more or less) to the adjective qei=o$ (“God-like, divine”)
    • It is an allusion to the Logos as God the Son, related to, but not equal with (and thus subordinate to), God the Father
    • It implies a concept of God that is broader than the specific person of God the Father (El-Yahweh)

I would maintain that the meaning of the clause is both simpler and more direct: it identifies the Logos with God (the Father). In this instance, identification should not be mistaken for metaphysical identity. Rather, identity here should be understood in terms of a fundamental signification. The Father-Son relationship is especially apt; the son may well (and rightly) point to his father and say “that is who I am,” without meaning he is exactly the same person as his father. One need not read later Trinitarian theology into the passage here, though certainly the Johannine Prologue had a profound influence on Nicene orthodoxy and Trinitarian thought. The Johannine Gospel throughout provides ample evidence for a simple (and rather straightforward) identification of Jesus with God the Father, based on the Father-Son thematic matrix.

If the relationship was established in the second clause (1b), then the aspect being emphasized in the third clause truly is identity. A comparison with the other “Christ hymn” passages we have examined suggests here the motif of the image of God, which is emphasized strongly in the opening of both the Philippians and Colossians hymns. In Phil 2:6, the pre-existent Jesus is referred to as being in the “form/shape” (morfh/) of God, while the Son (Jesus) in Col 1:15 is explicitly said to be the “image” (ei)kw/n) of God. The image is an imprint, or reflection, of another; it looks exactly like the original, and we may identify it as the original, though it is not the actual object (or person) as such. This is truly a powerful motif, when applied in relation to God, as many theologians and mystics have realized, since it allows for both unity and distinction, and incorporates both into the same illustration.

In Hebrews 1:3, a similar idea of image/reflection is expressed through the noun a)pau/gasma (“beam [shining] forth”), bringing along with an added dimension of light-imagery. The same noun is used in Wisdom 7:26, applied to the personification of divine Wisdom, and Hebrews is almost certainly drawing on the same tradition when speaking of the pre-existent Son of God. The ray of light comes from the same source of light, but is not the source itself. There is an obvious parallel between emanation of light and filiation—i.e., the son coming forth from the father, like the ray(s) of light from the sun, etc. The Johannine Prologue makes use of both of these motifs, introducing the light-motif in v. 4, and the sonship-motif in v. 14 (or earlier in vv. 12-13). The same verse 14, conveys the idea of the Son as an image/reflection of God the Father. We will discuss all of these verses in more detail when we come to them in the course of these notes.