January 9: John 1:18 (continued)

John 1:18, continued
Verse 18b

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

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

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

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

monogenh\$ ui(o/$ (“[the] only Son”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 28: John 1:14 (continued)

John 1:14, continued

Today’s note will focus specifically on the use of the adjective monogenh/$ in the second couplet of verse 14 (cf. the previous note):

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of a monogenh/$

Since this adjective describes the nature of the do/ca (honor/splendor/glory) possessed by the Logos, and its relation to the do/ca of God Himself, it is important to define its meaning here as precisely as possible. I have left the word untranslated above, pending the study that follows below.

The adjective monogenh/$ is a compound, of the adjective mo/no$ (“one, single, alone, only”) and the noun ge/no$. The latter word is derived from the verb of becoming (gi/nomai, “come to be”), used a number of times in the Prologue, including here in verse 14: “the Word came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh”. As previously noted, the verb gi/nomai can connote a birth (i.e., coming to be born), though often the intended meaning is more general; the related verb genna/w is more precise in meaning “come to be born”.

A literal translation of monogenh/$ would be somthing like “(the) only (one who) comes to be”. It is often used to refer to an “only child“, emphasizing the birth aspect (cf. above). That is the meaning, for example, in the other New Testament occurrences (outside of the Gospel and Letters of John)—Lk 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb 11:17; cf. also Judg 11:34 in the LXX (where it occurs 14 times). However, it can also carry the more general meaning of “only (one of its) kind”, “one of a kind”, i.e., unique.

Since, in the other Johannine occurrences (1:18 [v.l.]; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9), monogenh/$ always modifies the noun “son” (ui(o/$), we can be fairly certain of the same point of reference here—that is, the adjective serves as a shorthand for “only Son” (monogenh\$ ui(o/$). With this context in mind, we may thus translate accordingly:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son)

The idea of Sonship is still only implied, since the specific word ui(o/$ (“son”) does not occur until verse 18 (and even there the text is disputed). However, it is clear that the emphasis in the Prologue is shifting from the concept of the Logos (the Word/Wisdom) of God to that of the Son.

Let us now add to this portrait the remainder of verse 14:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son)
(from) alongside the Father,
full of (His) favor and truth.”

In terms of the rhythm of the Greek, it may be better to include the words para\ patro/$ (“alongside [the] Father”) with the prior line:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father,
full of (His) favor and truth.”
kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n doca/n au)tou=
do/can w($ monogenh\$ para\ patro/$
plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

The Logos is thus depicted as the “only Son” of God, who is present “alongside” (para/) the Father. In verse 1, this sense of closeness to God (and the Divine Presence) was expressed by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”); however, elsewhere in the Gospel of John, para/ is used (by Jesus) for this purpose (6:46; 7:29; 8:26, 38, 40; 10:18; 15:15). In those references, para/ also carries the specific meaning of coming from God (15:26; 16:27-28, etc).

Most notably, we have the majestic statement of Jesus in 17:5, where his exaltation (following his death and resurrection) is anticipated, an exaltation (vb doca/zw, “give honor”) that involves the Son’s return to the exalted place he held at God’s side in the beginning. This honor/splendor (do/ca) is specifically said to be “alongside” (para/) God. We find comparable wording in 5:44.

Thus the pre-existent Son of God has an exalted place alongside God the Father, and shares in the do/ca of God. This is the same place held by the pre-existent Logos (vv. 1-2), the Son and Logos essentially referring to the same Divine figure. Ultimately, the dual designation is identified with the person of Jesus—as the incarnate Son and Logos. The participation of the Son in the splendor of God is further explained by the concluding line of verse 14:

plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$
“full of (His) favor and truth”

The Greek reads simply “full of favor and truth”; however, the clear implication is that it is God’s favor, and the Divine truth (the truth of God) that is in view. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, we may safely interpret the line as a reference to the Spirit of God—that is, His own life-giving Spirit that the Father gives to the Son (3:34-35), thus showing favor (xa/ri$) to him. On the identification of the Spirit with the truth (a)lh/qeia) of God, cf. 4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6, and (especially) 5:6: “the Spirit is the Truth”. Because the Son is filled with the Spirit, he is able to communicate and give it to others (1:33; 6:63; 7:37-39; 15:26, etc; 19:30; 20:22).

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.


December 9: John 1:1b

John 1:1, continued

The central word in the first verse of the Prologue, and the subject of each of the three clauses in v. 1 (cf. the previous note) is the noun lo/go$ (logos), which can be difficult to translate due to its rather wide semantic range. Because the word is so important for establishing the meaning and the theology of the Prologue, it is worth discussing the matter here in some detail.

On the word lo/go$

The noun lo/go$ is derived from the verb le/gw, which has the fundamental meaning of “gather”, but also came to be used in range of related senses: (a) “lay out”, i.e., arrange the things gathered; (b) “count”, both in the concrete sense of enumerating things gathered, but also in the more abstract sense of a mental gathering (i.e., reckon, consider, recall [from memory], etc); (c) “give an account”, then in the more general sense of “narrate”; and, finally, (d) “speak, say”, generalizing the idea of giving a spoken (oral) account of something. The common signification of “speak/say” for le/gw can again take on various nuances of meaning, when used in different contexts involving speech, narration, etc.

The noun lo/go$ (“gathering, collection”) itself covers much the same semantic range as the verbal root le/gw (cf. above). Basically, this range of meaning can be divided into: (i) a mental gathering (“reckoning, calculation, plan, reason”), and (ii) a more concrete accounting, either as a written/notational account, or a spoken (oral) account (“speech”). The basic meaning of “account” for lo/go$ is perhaps the closest to the mark, but the mental and spoken aspects can be generalized as “thought” and “word”, or even in a more abstract generalization as “thing” (i.e., something thought or spoken of).

Given this wide range of meaning, with an emphasis on thought and reason, etc, it is not surprising that lo/go$ came to be used in specialized philosophical and theological contexts. It is most often associated with Stoic philosophy, but this usage goes back at least as far as the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraklitos (c. 540-480 B.C.). In a number of surviving fragments, quoted by later authors, Heraklitos uses the term lo/go$ to refer to the divine power/presence that binds the universe together, giving it order and holding its different components and aspects in balance. In fragment 1 (Sextus Empiricus VII.132), he states that “all things (are) coming to be according to the lo/go$” (ginome/nwn pa/ntwn kata\ to\n lo/gon). The same author (VII.129) quotes Heraklitos as referring to this “divine lo/go$” (o( qei=o$ lo/go$). The logos is thus divine, a manifestation of God, a rational intelligence that gives order to all things in creation, providing a balanced arrangement that holds and binds the universe together. This generally corresponds with the later Stoic use of the term for the mind of God that penetrates creation, ordering and controlling all things.

Hellenistic Jewish philosophers—of whom Philo of Alexandria is the most notable example—blended this Logos-concept together with a line of Old Testament Wisdom tradition that reaches back to the famous passage in Proverbs 8:22-31. Wisdom (Hebrew hm*k=j*), personified as a divine or heavenly being, was with God at the beginning of creation, and functioned as the means/instrument through which YHWH created the universe. Later Jewish tradition expanded upon this idea, developing the concept of the divine Wisdom (Grk Sofi/a) that created, pervades, and sustains the universe (Wisdom 7:22-8:1; 9:2ff; 10:1ff; Sirach 1:3-10; chap. 24; 33:7-8ff; 42:21; Baruch 3:15ff, etc). Philo of Alexandria subsumed this Wisdom tradition under the concept of the Logos, and the Prologue of John appears to have done much the same. It is probably more accurate to say that the Johannine Prologue, like the New Testament “Christ hymns” in Philippians, Colossians, and Hebrews, drew upon a common line of Hellenistic Jewish Logos/Wisdom tradition. The Logos/Wisdom concept was adopted by early Christians and applied to the person of Jesus. This will be discussed further as we proceed through the Prologue.

Verse 1b

“In (the) beginning was the Lo/go$, (1a)
and the Lo/go$ was toward God, (1b)
and the Lo/go$ was God.” (1c)

The first clause (1a) was introduced in the previous note. Today, we will focus on the second clause (1b), while keeping the first in view.

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

kai/ (“and”)—the three component clauses of v. 1 are joined by the conjunctive particle kai/. Here the conjunction indicates that the statements are unified, in terms of referring to the Logos as divine, but that the statements also complement (or supplement) each other, emphasizing different aspects of a single theological declaration. In this case, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

o( lo/go$ (“the word”)—on the meaning and background of the noun lo/go$, cf. the discussion above. Translation of this noun is notoriously difficult, as has been indicated, all the more so when the term used in the specialized philosophical and theological sense—whether by Heraklitos, Philo of Alexandria, or here in the Johannine Prologue. The basic idea involves a rational (divine) intelligence that gives order to all things in creation. However, Old Testament and Jewish tradition added to this philosophical concept the important aspect of God (YHWH) creating the universe—which He does through His Wisdom (Prov 8:22-31), but also through His Word (Gen 1:1ff). The term lo/go$ is especially useful because it captures this aspect of speech (the spoken word), in addition to the mental aspect (thought, plan, reason). It has become customary to translate lo/go$ in Jn 1:1 and 14 as “word”, and, in context, this is as good a translation as any, though it certainly does not encompass the entire meaning.

h@n (“was”)—in each of the three clauses of v. 1, the verbal element is an imperfect active indicative form of the common verb of being (ei)mi). As mentioned in the previous note, this verb form has special theological significance in the Gospel of John (and the Johannine Prologue, in particular). In each of the clauses, it is used to signify the deity of the Logos. However, this is done in different ways. The first clause has no proper predicate, but simply states that the Logos was—with the implication being that it had existence “in the beginning”, that is, a divine pre-existence. Here, in the second clause, the force of the verb is somewhat different, because of the predicate expression that follows, establishing an important point of reference regarding the relationship between the Logos and God.

pro/$ (“toward”)—the preposition pro/$ literally, and primarily, means “toward”, and so I have translated it above. This can be understood either in terms of (a) facing toward, or (b) moving toward. Whether the positional or dynamic aspect is being emphasized is difficult to say. The main point is that the Logos is present with God “in the beginning”, and has a close/intimate relationship with Him. There is almost certainly an intentional parallel in the closing verse of the Prologue (v. 18), when it speaks of the Son (par. Logos) being “in” (lit. “into”, ei)$) the lap of the Father.

o( qeo/$ (“God”)—as noted above, the predicate of the clause is a prepositional phrase that establishes the relationship of the Logos with God. Certainly, by qeo/$ here is meant El-Yahweh, the Creator and one true God, according to the traditional monotheistic belief held in common by Israelites, Jews and early Christians. In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the divine Wisdom (personified) was the first of God’s creation, and was with Him at the beginning, when the universe was created (Prov 8:22-31). In Prov 8:30, Wisdom declares that, in the beginning, he/she was “near” (lx#a@) YHWH, which is expressed in the LXX by the preposition para/ (“alongside”).

While early Christians drew upon this line of tradition, they gave to it a new dimension when it was applied to the person of Jesus. The Wisdom motif had to be incorporated within the established parameters of the early Christology, centered around three primary titles— “Anointed One” (Messiah), “Son of God”, and “Lord” —and the central Gospel message of the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus. The aspect of YHWH as God the Father must be understood here, in the context of the Johannine theology, even though the theme of Jesus’ Sonship has not yet been introduced in the Prologue. The central relationship (indicated by the preposition pro/$) between the God and the Logos is very much akin to that of Father and Son (note again the parallel between vv. 1 and 18).

Notes on Prayer: John 14:13-14, etc

John 14:13-14, continued

Last week, we began a study on the references to prayer in the Last Discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:31-16:33). The first such references are the twin sayings of 14:13-14. There are two aspects of these sayings which need to be examined further: (1) the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son), and (2) the precise meaning and significance of prayer “in Jesus’ name”.

Before embarking on a study of these aspects, it is worth surveying the basic outline and focus of these sayings, as they fit a basic pattern. Similar sayings occur elsewhere in the Last Discourse; we shall examine these in turn, but let us begin by citing them here (alongside the dual-saying in 14:13-14):

“any(thing) that you would request in my name, this I will do…
if you would request any(thing of) me in my name, I will do (it)” [14:13-14]

“any(thing) that you would request (of) the Father in my name, he shall give to you” (15:16)
“any(thing) that you would request (of) the Father in my name, he will give (it) to you” (16:23)
(cf. also 14:26)

There are two formal components to these sayings: (a) the promise that the request made by Jesus’ disciples will be answered, and (b) that the request is made “in Jesus’ name”. Each of these components is attested elsewhere in the Gospel Tradition, and in themselves are not unique to the Gospel of John; it is the specific combination that is distinctive of the sayings in the Last Discourse.

The first component (a)—the promise of answered prayer—is found in simple form in 15:7 and 16:24:

    • “whatever you would wish (for), request (it) and it shall come to be (so) for you” (15:7)
    • “(make a) request, and you will receive” (16:24)

There is a Synoptic parallel for the latter, which has an extremely simple, proverbial character, typical of many of Jesus’ sayings:

“(make a) request, and it will be given to you…
every(one mak)ing a request receives (it)” (Matt 7:7-8, par Lk 11:9-10)

There is also a general similarity to the longer Johannine form (15:7) in Matt 21:22 (cf. also Mark 11:24):

“and all (thing)s, whatever you would request in speaking out toward (God) [i.e. in prayer], (if you are) trusting, you will receive.”

In Matt 18:19, there is a different saying which also relates to the Johannine sayings (above):

“if two of you should give voice together [i.e., speak in agreement] upon earth about any deed, that which they would request, it will come to be (so) for them (from) alongside my Father in the heavens.”

The second component (b) of the saying-form (noted above) also has Synoptic parallels. Note, in particular, the saying in Matt 18:20, and its conjunction with the earlier prayer-saying in v. 19:

“For (the place in) which two or three have been brought together in my name, there I am in the middle of them.”

There are other references to Jesus’ disciples speaking and acting “in his name” —Mk 9:37-39 par; Matt 7:22; Lk 6:22; cf. also Mk 13:6 par, and the commissioning-traditions in Lk 24:47; Matt 28:19; [Mk 16:17]. In the Gospel of John, outside of the Last Discourse, the emphasis is on Jesus (the Son) acting in the name of the Father; however, cf. the confessional statements in 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 20:31 which record the principal early Christian (and Johannine) understanding of trust in Jesus defined as being “in his name”.

Turning again to the twin sayings in Jn 14:13-14, there is an interesting point of difference when compared with the sayings in 15:16 and 16:23. In Jn 14:13-14, prayer is apparently being made to Jesus, and it is he who acts in response to the request; by contrast, in the other two sayings, prayer is directed to the Father, who is the one answering. This seeming inconsistency has troubled commentators at times, and doubtless explains why some manuscripts of 14:13 specify “the Father” as the one to whom the request should be made. However, the interchangeability of roles is of fundamental importance to the Johannine theology, with its unique emphasis on the relationship between Father and Son—especially the key theme that the Son (Jesus) follows the example (and instruction) of his Father, in all that he says and does. Put another way, as the Son, Jesus possesses the same authority and divine/creative power that belongs to the Father; thus, he is able to fill the Father’s role, for example, as the one who hears and responds to prayer.

The same interchangeability is seen in the passages of the Last Discourse that refer to the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete; these will be discussed in an upcoming study. Moreover, this tendency is not limited to the Johannine tradition, but, instead, reflects the early Christology, as it developed among the first generation(s) of believers. As a simple example, the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), as a divine title, could be applied equally to God the Father (YHWH) and to Jesus; we see evidence of this all throughout the New Testament. Similarly, in the Pauline letters, the (Holy) Spirit can be called the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of [Jesus] Christ”, interchangeably; this is very much like the situation in the Johannine writings, and can be seen elsewhere in the New Testament as well.

The context of 14:13-14, in which Jesus (the Son) is the one who hears and answers prayer, implies the exaltation of Jesus, and his place alongside God the Father in heaven. And, indeed, it is the departure of the Son, back to the Father, that is the central theme of the discourse-segment of 14:1-14 (cf. the previous study). From his place at the “right hand” of God, the Son acts in the Father’s place, with His authority. In certain lines of early Christian tradition, we find the specific idea of Jesus making intercession for believers to the Father (e.g., Rom 8:34; Heb 9:24; 1 John 2:1). This relates to the motif of Jesus as a high priest (cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), and assumes his place in heaven, i.e., the heavenly sanctuary, in the presence of God Himself. In any case, the prayer saying in Jn 14:26 alludes to intercession, and includes the role of both Father and Son in responding to believers’ prayer.

In next week’s study, we will look in detail at the second main aspect noted above—that is, the precise meaning and significance of the prayer-request being made in Jesus’ name.


Notes on Prayer: John 14:13-14

John 14:13-14

Some of the most important references to prayer in the New Testament are found in the great Last Discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The Johannine writings never use the common Greek terms for prayer (proseuxh/, vb proseu/xomai); instead, the idea of prayer is expressed by the verb ai)te/w, emphasizing making a request of God.

There are significant critical issues surrounding the origin and composition of the Johannine discourses. On the one hand, they are unlike anything we see in the Synoptic Gospels; in addition, they evince a language and style that is distinctly Johannine, and very close, for example, to that of First John. At the same time, there are Synoptic parallels for certain sayings and traditions in the Gospel of John, and there is clear evidence that the discourses, at the very least, are rooted in authentic historical tradition. Thus, the arguments regarding the Discourses—whether they are primarily Johannine compositions, or accurate reflections of Jesus’ own words throughout—run both ways. And, indeed, both aspects must be kept in mind with any study of the Gospel of John.

The great “Last Discourse”, set (in the narrative) on the eve of Jesus’ arrest, actually represents a complex of inter-related discourses, spanning more than three chapters (13:31-16:33). It may be outlined as follows:

    • 13:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The first Discourse/division (14:1-31), the first of two on the primary theme of Jesus’ departure, may be outlined in further detail:

    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
        • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
        • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
        • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
        • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
        • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
        • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
        • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
          —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
          —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
          —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
          —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
        • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
          —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
          —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
        • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)

The first sayings on prayer are in 14:13-14, which forms the conclusion of the first section, on the relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14). The basic Johannine discourse format is clear: Jesus makes an initial statement (vv. 1-4) which his audience (here, his close disciples) fails to understand (v. 5); Jesus responds in turn with an exposition of the true and deeper meaning of his words (vv. 6ff). Sometimes this discourse-format is expanded to include multiple exchanges between Jesus and his audience, and, indeed, we see this at several points in the Last Discourse. Even within this first section, there are two questions by the disciples, which lead to two different “I Am” sayings by Jesus in response (vv. 6-7, 9-11).

The substantive message of the first section involves the idea of Jesus leading the way for believers to the Father. As his exposition makes clear, this is not to be understood in traditional religious terms, nor in the special sense of a metaphysical translation to heaven (though that will take place in the future). Rather, the “way” to the Father comes through trust in Jesus and through union with him. Trust leads to union, and this essential union is realized through the presence of the Spirit, which is the Spirit of both Father and Son, and represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. Through this union with Jesus, believers already are in the presence of God the Father, and have access to Him.

This theological and Christological outlook, which is hardly unique to the Last Discourse, but is woven throughout the entire Johannine Gospel, informs the sayings on prayer. There are two sayings on prayer in vv. 13-14, virtually identical in form and meaning, and separated by a key phrase re-emphasizing the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son). I give the translation as a chiasm, to outline this structure:

    • “and any(thing) that you should request in my name, this I will do,
      • (so) that the Father should be given honor in the Son;
    • if you request any(thing of) me in my name, I will do (it).”

The granting of the request has, at its heart, the purpose of giving honor to the Father. The verb doca/zw is an important part of the Johannine vocabulary, occurring 23 times in the Gospel, and 13 times in the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse (13:31-16:33 and chap. 17). The Passion-focus of this usage begins to take on prominence in 12:28, and continues through the Last Discourse. By fulfilling the duty and mission placed on him (e)ntolh/) by God the Father, through his sacrificial death and resurrection, the Son (Jesus) gives honor and esteem to the Father. According to the narrative setting of the Last Discourse, the moment of Jesus’ death is drawing near, and so the moment of the Son bringing do/ca (“esteem, honor, glory”) to the Father is also at hand.

But the specific setting here within the discourse is of Jesus’ departure, the return of the Son back to the Father, which implies a post-resurrection context. It is perhaps worth asking how granting the requests of his disciples gives honor to the Father. The answer, I believe, is two-fold. First, it is predicated upon the special relationship between Father and Son; as a dutiful and faithful son, everything Jesus does is to the honor of his father. This is a principal Johannine theme, and is central to the Christology of the Gospel. Secondly, it involves the significance of the request being made in Jesus’ name (“in my name”, e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ mou). As we shall see, this is no superficial designation, as though we were simply to tack on the phrase “in Jesus’ name” to our prayers. Instead, the phrase cuts to the very heart of our identity as believers in Christ, and of our relationship to the Father through him. This will be discussed further in the following studies, as we proceed through all the key references in the Last Discourse.

As these studies will appear on Mondays during the weeks of Advent and Christmas, and will focus on the idea of Jesus’ name, you may wish to explore my earlier Christmas series “You Shall Call His Name…”, which deals with the significance of names and naming in the ancient Near East, and the importance of this within the Gospel Infancy narratives (Matt 1-2; Luke 1-2).


October 29: Philippians 2:11 (conclusion)

Philippians 2:11 (conclusion)

ei)$ do/can qeou= patro/$
“…unto (the) honor of God (the) Father”

These closing words are perhaps the most neglected of the entire hymn. Given the tendency to focus on the Christological issues, involving the person of Christhis deity and humanity, and the relationship between the twoit is perhaps not surprising that this final phrase is treated by readers and commentators almost as an afterthought. However, the phrase represents the climax of the entire hymn, and declares the ultimate purpose of the exaltation of Jesusit is not to give honor to Jesus, but to God the Father. This is clear from the preposition (ei)$, “into, unto”) that governs the phrase. In its own way, this climactic phrase has at least as much Christological significance as the other, more-often discussed portions of the hymn. It raises the fundamental question of the relationship between Jesus and God the Father, which was perhaps the most important question addressed by the early Christology.

Let us consider again the overall scenario of verses 9-11 (the second half of the hymn). It describes the exaltation of Jesus following his deathhis resurrection and elevation to a position “at the right hand” of God in heaven. All of this is fully in accord with the earliest Gospel preaching (kerygma) and the earliest Christology (of the period c. 35-60 A.D.). Early Christian tradition also proclaimed the exalted Jesus’ divine status as “Lord” (ku/rio$), recognizing that he shared the same position of rule and authority in heaven as God Himself. From this exalted position, Jesus would soon come again to earth, as God’s heavenly representative, to usher in the end-time Judgment. This traditional Christology informs the overall scenario in vv. 9-11 of the hymn; what is especially unique is the way that the hymn portrays the Judgment-scene, depicting all created beings submitting to the authority and rule of the exalted Jesus. This submission involves both gesture (‘bending the knee’) and speech (confessing with the “tongue”), by which homage and worship is given to Jesus.

How is it, then, that this homage/worship given to the exalted Jesus is “unto the honor of God the Father”? There are a number of ways this may be understood; I highlight here four particular lines of interpretation:

    1. Christocentric—God is to be honored because he has honored Jesus; the honor given to Jesus reflects the character and nature of God.
    2. The “right hand” motif—The traditional idea of Jesus standing at the “right hand” of God implies that the exalted Jesus shares the ruling position with God on His throne in heaven. This means that any honor given to Jesus goes to God the Father as well, since the two share the same divine/heavenly position (and the title “Lord”, etc).
    3. Divine hierarchy—This may be summarized simply as: Jesus receives honor, and, in turn, gives it to God the Father.
    4. Eschatological/Messianic—According to eschatological tradition, Jesus the Anointed One (Messiah), serves as the heavenly/divine representative of God the Father in the end-time Judgment, which he oversees, functioning as Judge and Ruler. As God’s representative, the honor given to Jesus, in actuality, goes to God.

There is merit in each of these lines of interpretation; however, if we are to consider both the hymn itself, and the Pauline use of it (whether or not Paul composed it himself), options 2 and 3 would seem to be the most relevant. Paul gives us a clear and succinct example of the hierarchical view (#3) in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28: following his resurrection/exaltation, Jesus receives the Kingdom (its rule and authority), and then ultimately gives it over to God. This passages contains the same idea, found in the hymn, of “all things” submitting to Jesus’ authority, even wicked beings and those otherwise hostile to God. Given this parallelism of thought, it seems likely that Paul has a similar scenario in view here in vv. 9-11 of the hymn.

On the other hand, the joint-rule option (#2) is a better fit within the hymn overall. The emphasis is on the position that the exalted Jesus has alongside God, both in his existence prior to his earthly life (v. 6) and following the resurrection (vv. 10-11). Traditionally, this position of shared or joint rule was expressed through the motif of Jesus standing “at the right hand” of God in heaven. That motif is not present in the hymn, at least not directly. Instead, we find a more sophisticated (and poetic) description of the exalted Jesus sharing God’s place in the divine/heavenly realm. There are four expressions and idioms which serve this descriptiontwo of which relate to Jesus’ pre-existence (v. 6), and two which relate to his exaltation after his death and resurrection; there is a certain conceptual symmetry to these, which may be presented chiastically:

    • “the form [morfh/] of God” (6a)
      • “the being equal [ei@nai i&sa] with God” (6b)
      • “the name th(at is) over every name”, i.e., the name/title of God (“Lord, ku/rio$)
    • “the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God”

According to this line of interpretation, the expressions morfh\ qeou= (“form of God”) and do/ca qeou= (“honor/splendor of God”) are parallel. As I pointed out in the earlier note on verse 6a, the noun morfh/ denotes the visible form or appearance of something. Thus, here the expression “morfh/ of God” does not refer to the ‘nature’ of God as such, but to a visible distinction of the Divine, best understood in terms of the traditional splendor that surrounds God when He appears (in visions and theophanies) to human beings. The Greek noun do/ca properly designates how someone (or something) is regarded, particularly in terms of the honor and esteem in which that person (or thing) is held. In a religious and theological context, when applied to God, do/ca can connote that which makes the Divine worthy of honor and esteemi.e., the nature and character of God that is distinct and separate from other (created) beings. In this specialized sense, the noun is often translated as “splendor, glory”; the same applies to the corresponding Hebrew noun dobK*, which has a somewhat different fundamental meaning (“weight, worth, value”), closer to the word timh/ in Greek.

In any case, the phrase e)n morfh=| qeou= (“in [the] form of God”), as it is used in context, implies that Jesus shared the divine gloryi.e., he was in the same visible splendor which marks God as distinct and separate from all created beings (and thus worthy of their honor). The same applies to the situation after the resurrection. Jesus is exalted to a divine position where he shares the splendor and honor (do/ca) of God, even as he shares the same name (ku/rio$, “Lord”). As previously discussed, this “name” given to the exalted Jesus indicates an “equality” that Jesus shares the same position of rule and authority as God Himself, and is thus worthy of the same honor. The very thing that he was willing to give up (v. 6b) is given to Jesus following his death on the cross. This image of equality, of the joint rule of God the Father and Jesus, and the honor/worship that is given to them (equally), is a central feature of the visions in the book of Revelation, especially the throne-visions in chapters 4-5 (cf. also 6:16; 7:9-17; 12:5; 14:1-3; 22:1-5).

We should consider the possibility of a broader formal parallelism between the phrase “in (the) form of God” and “into (the) honor/splendor of God”, as between the two prepositions e)n (“en”) and ei)$ (“into, unto”). The first prepositional phrase refers to the situation at the beginning (vb u(pa/rxw), while the second has in view the end goal and purpose. It is surely no coincidence that the two prepositional phrases, following the initial relative pronoun, represent the first and last words of the hymn, respectively. They bracket the hymn precisely, and establish the theological boundary points. Does the final preposition ei)$ indicate simply a return to glory, to the situation that prevailed in the beginning, or does it imply something even greater? The careful, if ambiguous, way the phrase “being equal with God” is handled in v. 6b, compared with the climactic treatment of Jesus being given the “name that is over every name” (vv. 9-10), suggests that the final exaltation of Jesus transcends, in some way, his divine position the beginning; however, we can only speculate as to how this might best be explained (cp. 1 Cor 15:24-28).

The use of the expression “God (the) Father” here in verse 11 would seem to imply the status of the exalted Jesus as God’s Son, even though the specific title “Son of God” is not used in the hymn. Early Christians would have recognized a good deal of conceptual overlap between the idea of Jesus as “Lord” and as the “Son of God”. For Paul, the two titles appear to have been of equal importance, and there are more than a dozen passages in his letters where he refers to Jesus as God’s “Son”. For the most part, he follows the early Christology that understood this Sonship in terms of the resurrection/exaltation (cf. 1 Thess 1:10; Rom 1:3-4; 1 Cor 15:28); however, in several places (Gal 4:4; Rom 5:10; 8:3, 32), Paul seems to have a rudimentary pre-existence Christology in view, though he does not express the matter clearly. The references in Galatians and Romans were likely written only a few years (at most) before the Christ hymn of Philippians, and may reflect the same essential Christology.

The Sonship and eternal pre-existence of Jesus are much more prominent in the Gospel of John, both in the prologue and the Discourses, where Jesus frequently makes use of descent/ascent imagery to express the same kind of lowering/elevating juxtaposition we see here in the hymn. In the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), he makes repeated mention of how he (the Son) is about to return to the Father; and, in the great Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17, he specifically states that he is returning to the same splendor/glory (do/ca) he held with the Father in his eternal pre-existence (v. 5). As in the Philippians hymn, the return to glory involves Jesus’ faithful completion of his mission on earth, his sacrificial death (vv. 1-4). In addition, we find the emphasis on Jesus’ special connection to the “name” of God (vv. 6ff, 12ff, 26). There is thus an important combination of themes in the Prayer-Discourse that are common to the Christ hymn.

In the next daily note, I will begin exploring Colossians 1:15-20, which is recognized as another ‘Christ hymn’, and one which may be said to represent an even more highly developed expression of Christology within the New Testament.

October 26: Philippians 2:9b

Philippians 2:9b

The clause in v. 9b is subordinate to the main clause (9a), expounding and qualifying it; that is to say, it explains what is meant, primarily, to say that God “made (Jesus) high over (all)”. The two parts of the verse should be read as a poetic couplet, with synthetic parallelism:

“And therefore God made him high over (all),
and favored him (with) the name th(at is) over every name”

Before proceeding with an exegesis of v. 9b, I feel it is important to emphasize again the context established by the main clause of v. 9a (discussed in the previous note). In particular, let us give further consideration to the following two parts of the clause:

1. dio\ kai/This dual conjunction, governed by the inferential conjunction dio/ (“therefore”), provides the transition between vv. 6-8 and vv. 9-11. In the immediate context, it indicates the reason for God’s action in “making Jesus high over all”. As the syntax makes clear, God’s action is in response to Jesus “emptying himself” and “lowering himself”. In this regard, it is worth keeping in mind the way that the hymn as a whole is governed by four primary aorist verbs:

    • e)ke/nwsen [Jesus] “he emptied (himself)”
    • e)tapei/nwsen [Jesus] “he lowered (himself)”
    • u(peru/ywsen [God] “he made (him) high over (all)”
    • e)xari/sato [God] “he showed (him) favor”

Jesus’ willingness to give up his exalted position (with God in heaven), and to take on the lowest position (as a human slave), prompts God to “show him favor”, exalting him to the highest position. This paradoxthat lowering oneself leads to exaltationis fundamental to the New Testament message, rooted in Jesus’ own example and epitomized in his famous saying of Matt 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14. In particular, Jesus’ willingness to submit himself (like a slave) to human authority, leading to his suffering and death (in the manner of a criminal slave), results in his being given a position of rule over all humankind (and all creation).

2. u(peru/ywsen (“he showed favor”)The verb encapsulates the entirety of the earliest Christology (during the period c. 35-60 A.D.). As I have repeatedly noted, this was an exaltation Christology, meaning that Jesus’ divine status and identity as the Son of God was understood primarily (if not exclusively) through the resurrection. After being raised from the dead, Jesus was further exalted to a position “at the right hand” of God in heaven. This was a fundamental belief, widespread among the earliest believers, as the New Testament record makes clear (cf. Mk 12:36; 14:62 pars; [16:19]; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). The implication is that the  exalted Jesus now stands alongside God on His throne, and thus shares in that ruling position. The developing pre-existence Christology (reflected in the first half of the hymn) is essentially patterned after the exaltation portraitthat is to say, Jesus held a similar position, alongside God the Father in heaven, prior to his life and mission on earth.

Now, turning to the clause that follows in v. 9b:

kai\ e)xari/sato au)tw=| to\ o&noma to\ u(pe\r pa=n o&noma
“and He favored him (with) the name th(at is) over every name”

e)xari/sato (“he showed favor”)The two main aorist verbs in the second half of the hymn are treated as a pair: u(peru/ywsen kai\ e)xari/sato (“He made [him] high over [all] and favored [him]”). The two actions thus go hand-in-hand, and should be treated as two components (or aspects) of the same exaltation of Jesus by God the Father.

The middle deponent verb xari/zomai means “give a favor, show (someone a) favor”, and is rather frequent in the Pauline letters (16 of the 23 NT occurrences, including 2 in Ephesians). The usage is closely tied to Paul’s key theme of God showing “favor” (xa/ri$) to us through the work (his sacrificial death) of Jesus; indeed, the verb is almost always used in this context, and it is quite rare to see it applied to Jesus himself (i.e., God showing favor to him).

au)tw=| (“to him”)The unusual use of the verb xari/zomai (applied to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus), noted above, is significant, though its importance is easily glossed over by commentators eager to assert that Jesus maintained his exalted (heavenly) position even throughout his earthly life. The “emptying” (kenosis) of Jesus here in the hymn is stripped of its essential meaning if one attempts to force into the passage the Christological idea that Jesus maintained his exalted position all throughout his life as a human being. Because Jesus truly did empty and lower himself, it was necessary and fitting that God should raise him (back) to a position of glory. This was something that God did to him, through His own eternal power and glorythe exaltation to God’s right hand, even as He also raised him from the dead.

to\ o&noma to\ u(pe\r pa=n o&noma (“the name th(at is) over every name”)This phrase has proven to be rather problematic, and source of debate among commentators. It is the direct object of the verb xari/zomaithat is to say, it represents the special favor granted by God to Jesus. But just what is this “name th(at is) over every name”? In my view, readers of the passage (including many commentators) have been tripped up here by the corresponding expression “the name of Jesus” in v. 10. A careless reading might lead one to think that the “name of Jesus”, and thus also the “name over every name”, is simply the name Jesus (Yeshua). Almost certainly, this is not correct, though the importance of the point requires a more detailed discussion, which will be provided in the next note (on v. 10).

The phrase “the name th(at is) over [u(pe/r] every name” is clearly parallel with the idea of God making Jesus high over [u(per-] all (v. 9a). The parallelism of this wordplay is often lost (or ignored) in translation, but I have preserved it precisely in the literal translation  above. Indeed, the name is central to the exaltation itself, and serves to explain what it means for God to “make him high over (all)”. This will be discussed in the next note.

It is vital here that one recognize the significance of the name (o&noma), from the standpoint of ancient Near Eastern religious thought and cultural tradition. A person’s name was seen as embodying his/her essential nature and character; this means that, to know a person’s name, in this sense, is to know the person. This was equally true in a religious contextto know the name of a deity is to know the deity. For this reason, it is easy to see how namesespecially the names and titles of God—could come to possess a kind of magical quality. To invoke or “call” the name of God was the same as connecting, in a real way, with the personal power and presence of the Divine. For more on the subject, cf. the introduction to my earlier series “And you shall call his name…”.

Given this ancient understanding and use of the name, one can readily see how Jesus‘ name would take on special importance among early believers. In fact, there are three areas of early Christian belief which must be kept in view, in order to achieve a correct interpretation of vv. 9-10:

    • The importance of Jesus’ name for believers
    • The use of the (divine) title “Lord” (ku/rio$) applied to Jesus, and
    • The idea that Jesus has special access to God’s own name

Each of these will be discussed as we proceed with our study of verse 10.

September 10: Deuteronomy 32:4-6

In the previous note, we looked at the opening verses (vv. 1-3) of Deuteronomy 32 (the “Song of Moses”). Today we will proceed to the next section of the poem (vv. 4-18), based on the following outline which I am using in this study:

    • 1-3: Opening (exordium)—Call to Creation (heaven and earth)
    • 4-18: God’s covenant with His people Israel, and their violation of the covenant
      —The Creator God (YHWH) as their Father (vv. 4-6)

      —His choice of Israel as His people, becoming their God (vv. 7-9)
      —His protection and guidance during the Exodus and wilderness travels (vv. 10-14)
      —His people turned away from Him, worshiping foreign gods (vv. 15-18)
    • 19-42: God’s punishment of His people, and their subsequent deliverance
      —Punishment for violation of the covenant (vv. 19-25)

      —Concern for how this will be perceived by Israel’s enemies (vv. 26-31)
      —Plans to bring punishment on Israel’s enemies in turn (vv. 32-35)
      —Ultimate justice/deliverance for His people, and judgment on His enemies (vv. 36-41)
    • 43: Conclusion—Call to the Nations

The first portion (vv. 4-6) establishes the principal theme of the Creator God (YHWH) as the Father of the people Israel.

Deuteronomy 32:4-6

4The Rock—His work(s are) complete,
indeed, all His ways (are with) justice,
a Mighty (One) firm with no deviation—
He (is the One ever) true and straight!
5(Yet) His sons <ruined their loyalty to Him>,
a circle (now) crooked and (all) twisted!
6Would you deal this (way) with YHWH,
(as) a foolish people (with) no wisdom?
Is He not your Father who created you?
(Didn’t) He make you and cause you to be?

After the exordium (vv. 1-3), these lines establish the fundamental theme of the poem. However one views the origin and composition of the Song itself, it must be read in the context of its position in the book of Deuteronomy. The entire thrust of the historical narration, presented as a speech (or speeches) by Moses, is as an exhortation (and warning) to the people to follow the terms of the binding agreement (covenant) established by YHWH. In the initial sections of the Epilogue (chapter 31), it is foretold that Israel would, in large measure, violate the covenant (vv. 16-18, 20-22) in the years to come. For critical scholars, who view the book of Deuteronomy as a product of the kingdom period (e.g. the reign of Josiah, and thereafter), the actual historical situation has been retrojected and presented as ex eventu prophecy (i.e. prophecy written after the fact). Many traditional-conservative commentators, of course, accept the book as recording Moses’ actual words, at least in substance, in which case it represents authentic prophecy announced by God. Either way, its purpose (and power) as a warning to Israel, to remain faithful to the covenant and its Torah, comes through loud and clear. We see this especially in verses 26-29:

26Take this account of the Instruction {Torah}, and you shall set it alongside the box of [i.e. containing] the binding (agreement) of YHWH your Mighty (One) {Elohim}, and it shall be there among you for a witness (always). 27For (indeed) I know your defiance and the hard (back of) your neck! see—in my (be)ing yet alive with you th(is) day, you have been (act)ing defiant with YHWH, and so (then) how (much more will you) following my death! 28Gather to me all the elders of your staffs [i.e. tribes] and (the one)s administering (for you), and I will speak these words in their ears, and I will make [i.e. call on] heaven and earth (to) give witness a(gainst) them. 29For I know that, following my death, you will go (completely) to ruin, and you will turn (aside) from the path which I have charged you (to walk), and the evil shall meet you in the days following, (in) that [i.e. because] you did the (thing that is) evil in the eyes of YHWH, and provoked Him with the (thing)s your hands (have) done.”

There is a strong parallelism at work in these verses:

    • Instruction/exhortation as a witness (of the covenant)—written, i.e. the book of Deuteronomy itself as a record of Moses’ words (v. 26)
      • Prophecy of future disobedience: “For I know (that)…” (v. 27)
    • Instruction/exhortation as a witness (of the covenant)—oral, Moses’ words given directly to the leaders of Israel (v. 28)
      • Prophecy of future disobedience: “For I know (that)…” (v. 29)

All of this sets the stage for Moses’ reciting the poem of chap. 32 (the Song) to the entire assembly of the Israelite people (v. 30). Thus, central to the poem is the idea of the binding agreement (tyr!B=, ‘covenant’) God made with Israel, and their need to remain faithful to it. There is a strong echo of the covenant-treaty formula in the opening words of the Song, as discussed in the prior note. Now, in the first main section (vv. 4-18) the basis of the covenant is established and confirmed, through poetic narrative. The relationship between the two parties—YHWH and Israel—begins with YHWH’s position as Creator (of all humankind), and special role as Father of Israel. As such, verses 4-6 are fundamentally theological—presenting and describing the character and attributes of YHWH; and the primary characteristic is the faithfulness and loyalty He possesses, which informs His side of the binding agreement. This is expressed several ways in the first lines (2 bicola) of verse 4 (a-d):

    • V. 4a (1): The word rWx (ƒûr, “rock”) as a title (Haƒƒûr, “The Rock”), used repeatedly in the Song (vv. 15, 18, 30-31, 37); a rock by nature is strong and sure, while a hill or cliff is a natural position of refuge and protection; thus, the title indicates the reliability, security, and protection which God provides.
    • V. 4a (2-3): It is further said that His actions (lu^P) pl., root lu^P*) are complete (<ym!T*)—that is, there is nothing lacking or amiss in anything He does; for His part, He is utterly faithful and reliable. The call for the people of Israel, likewise, to be complete (<ym!T*) in 18:13 is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matt 5:48: “Then [i.e. if you follow my teachings] you will be complete, as your heavenly Father is complete”.
    • V. 4b: Similarly, it is declared that “all His ways/paths” (wyk*r*D=-l*K) are “justice”. Here, the noun fP*v=m! may be used in an adjectival sense (“just, right”); however, one can also understand it in a predicate sense—i.e., “all His paths (are in/with) justice”. Everywhere that YHWH walks and acts, there is justice, and nothing that is not just or right; clearly the thought in this half line (colon) is parallel to the one previous.
    • V. 4c: Here His faithfulness and loyalty is stated more directly, with two declarations:
      (i) He is a firm Mighty One (“God”)—that is, He is firm and true in everything He does, using the noun hn*Wma$ (°§mûnâ), parallel to the noun fP*v=m! (mišp¹‰, “justice”) in the previous line. He is also the only true Mighty One (°E~l, “God”); all other supposed “Mighty Ones” (whether “gods” or Rulers) are false and unreliable. This lays the groundwork for the contrast between YHWH and the deities of the surrounding nations later in the poem.
      (ii) There is no deviation (or corruption) in what He does; it is specifically stated that “there is no (/ya@) deviation (lw#u*)”; moreover, such “deviation” is characteristic of idolatry, and likewise introduces the dualistic theme than runs through the remainder of the poem.
    • V. 4d: YHWH (“He”, aWh) is characterized by two fundamental attributes:
      (i) qyd!x^ (ƒadîq), often translated “faithful”, but, in the context of the covenant-setting, perhaps better understood as “true”, “loyal”; it is parallel with the noun hn`Wma$ in the prior half-line.
      (ii) rv*y` (y¹š¹r), “straight”, clearly parallel with “there is no deviation”.

If YHWH is a completely faithful and reliable partner in the covenant, the same can not be said of the people (Israel). Their lack of faithfulness (to the covenant) is described in vivid, even difficult, terms, reflecting both past (i.e. the Golden Calf incident) and future violations. Despite the harsh language used, it does not necessarily mean that Israel was responsible for flagrant immorality, and the like; any violation of the covenant, however slight, could be described in this manner. It is just here, in the bicolon of verse 5, that the force of the language used gives way to a significant textual difficulty (see below). Many commentators suggest that the text in the first half line, as it has come down to us in the Masoretic text, requires emendation. For the purposes of this study, I have tentatively adopted a reading along the lines of “His sons ruined their loyalty to Him” (see the translation above). The verb tj^v* (“[go to] ruin, destroy, corrupt”) was used earlier in the section preceding the poem (31:29, see above), in Moses’ foretelling the people’s violation of the covenant. This lack of loyalty—to be understood primarily in terms of “idolatry”, as in the Golden Calf episode—characterizes an entire Age or generation of the people. The Hebrew term (Heb. roD) fundamentally means “circle, cycle”, but is frequently used in the sense of a “life-cycle” (i.e. life-span), or period of time in which a particular generation of people lives. In the second half-line of verse 5, this generation is characterized as: “crooked and (all) twisted (up)”. This crooked/twisted character of the people is in marked contrast with the “straightness” of YHWH.

In the two lines of verse 6, the contrast—between YHWH and Israel—is developed further, with a pair of questions (each beginning with the interrogative particle –h&); the question in the first line is:

“Would you deal this (way) with YHWH, (as) a foolish people (with) no wisdom?”

In Torah scrolls, the initial h& particle is especially large, perhaps to emphasize the enormity of the question, i.e. “Would you really treat YHWH this way?”. The contrast between one who is foolish (lb*n`) and wise (<k*j*) is an essential element of Hebrew Wisdom literature, with ancient roots. The second question builds upon the first, and continues the contrast between YHWH and the people:

    • Character of the People:
      “Would you deal this (way) with YHWH, (as) a foolish people (with) no wisdom?”
    • Character of YHWH:
      “Is He not your Father who created you? (Didn’t) He make you and cause you to be?”

If the people acts as faithless, defiant sons (v. 4), YHWH, by contrast remains a faithful/loyal Father to them. His role as Father begins with his more primary function as Creator of all things (and of humankind). Three verbs are used which mark YHWH-El as Creator God:

    • hn`q*—a primitive root with the basic meaning “create”, sometimes confused/conflated with a similar root with the meaning “buy, purchase, acquire”. Its ancient Semitic religious use is attested in the famous formula of Gen 14:19, 22.
    • hc*u*—a common verb indicating basic action or work, “make, do”.
    • A causative form of a primitive /k (kn) root (kûn, k¹nâ, k¹nan), with the basic meaning here of “cause to be” (see the parallel in Psalm 119:73)

This vital contrast in vv. 4-6 prepares the way for the narration in vv. 7-18, in which the contrast in played out through a colorful description of Israel’s early history.

Textual Note on Deut 32:5

The first line (colon) in verse 5 appears to make very little sense as it has come down to us:

<m*Wm wn`B* aý ol tj@v!
Šiµ¢¾ lô lœ° b¹n¹w mûm¹m
literally: “he made ruin to/for him his sons their blemish”

If you go to this verse in your English Bible, you will likely see a footnote indicating that the Hebrew is obscure or uncertain. Unfortunately, this is frequently the case in Old Testament poetry. There are hundreds of verses or lines where we simply do not know for certain what the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text (MT) means, or how to translate and interpret it, or whether the apparent confusion is the result of textual corruption. The Rabbis noted the difficult syntax of this verse and sought variously to explain the MT, without any emendation. For example, Nahmanides explains it along the lines of: “their blemish caused them [i.e. the Israelites] to act corruptly toward Him” so that, as a result, “they are not His sons”.

Many critical commentators believe that the verse, as it has come down to us, is corrupt. One suggestion (cf. J. Tigay, Deuteronomy: JPS Torah Commentary [1996], p. 301) is that originally the line read something like—

/m%a@ wn`B* ol Wtj&v!
šiµ¦¾û lô b¹n¹w °¢m¥n
“His sons ruined (their) firmness [i.e. loyalty] to Him”

or, possibly:

/m%a@ wn`B*-aý Wtj&v!
šiµ¦¾û lœ°-b¹n¹w °¢m¥n
“(the ones who are) not-His-sons ruined (their) firmness [i.e. loyalty] to Him”

Admittedly, this would make a better fit with the second half of the line, but it remains quite speculative.

The Greek version (Septuagint, LXX) is somewhat confusing as well:

h(ma/rtosan ou)k au)tw=| te/kna mwmhta/
h¢mártosan ouk autœ¡ tékna mœm¢tá
perhaps: “they sinned, children (of) blame (who are) not to him [i.e. not his]”

Unfortunately, verse 5 is not present among the manuscript fragments of Deuteronomy preserved at Qumran, so there is no help from that side in elucidating the Hebrew syntax. One must always be cautious in emending the text that has come down to us (i.e. the Masoretic text), especially when there is no clear manuscript support for such emendation. On the other hand, it is equally wrong to accept the MT blindly, ignoring places where the received text is difficult or unintelligible. Here textual criticism reaches it finest, and most challenging, point.

June 7: Luke 11:2, 9-13

Luke 11:2, 9-13

In our study of how the traditions regarding the Spirit of God developed in the New Testament, among early Christians, we have been considering the evidence from the historical traditions preserved in the Synoptic Gospels. As we move from the core Synoptic Tradition to its (later) developments in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we find an increasing number of references to the Spirit—most notably in the Lukan Gospel. This has already been discussed in a previous note (on Lk 4:1, 14ff)—the way that the references to the Spirit at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry have been developed and adapted, with an eye toward the role of the Spirit in the larger narrative of Luke-Acts.

A similar sort of example can be found in chapter 11 (vv. 1-13), where the author has brought together several different traditions—sayings and parables—on the subject of prayer. This is typical of the thematic and “catchword” bonding by which Gospel traditions often came to be combined together. In the Lukan Gospel, the journey to Jerusalem provides the literary framework within which a large amount of material has been included, as though it were simply a record of all that Jesus taught along the way. The fact that much of this material is found in different narrative locations in the other Gospels makes clear that the Lukan arrangement is literary, rather than historical and chronological. In 11:1-13, the unifying theme is prayer; at least three different tradition-units make up this pericope:

    • A version of the “Lord’s Prayer” (vv. 2-4), following the narrative introduction in verse 1
    • The Parable of the man who calls on his friend in the middle of the night (vv. 5-8), and
    • A short block of sayings—at least two distinct traditions (vv. 9-10, 11-13)—part of the so-called “Q” material, also found in Matthew (7:7-11)

The emphasis in vv. 5-13 is on the assurance that God, as the “heavenly Father”, will answer the prayers of His children, and that they should not be afraid to petition God in their time of need. In particular, let us examine the sayings in vv. 9-13—the first of which is virtually identical with the Matthean version:

And I say to you: you must ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up to you; for every (one) asking receives, the (one) seeking finds, and to the (one) knocking it is [or, it will be] opened up.” (vv. 9-10)

Luke has apparently made no change to the “Q” tradition, other than perhaps the inclusion of the introductory phrase (in italics). The situation is different with regard to the tradition in vv. 11-13; it is instructive to compare the Lukan and the Matthean (7:9-11) versions phrase by phrase:

    • “Or, what man is (there) out of [i.e. among] you” (Matt)
      “And for what father out of [i.e. among] you” (Lk)
      It is possible that Luke has glossed “man” as “father” to make the immediate context of the illustration more clear, but it would also be appropriate to the overall context of vv. 1-13, which is framed by references to God as the heavenly Father (vv. 2, 13). It also establishes a precise contrast between an earthly father and God the Father, which is very much to the point of the illustration. The Lukan syntax would seem to confirm its character as a gloss—i.e., “what (man) among you, as a father…”.
    • “whom, (when) his son will ask (for) bread, he will (surely) not give over to him a stone(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “the son will ask (for) a fish and, in exchange (for) a fish, will he give over to him a snake (instead)?” (Lk)
      The Lukan syntax is simpler, emphasizing that the harmful item (snake) is given in place of (a)nti/) the beneficial thing requested by the son (a fish). The initial pairing in Matthew is bread/stone, rather than fish/snake, but it similarly establishes the pattern for the illustration.
    • “or even will ask (for) a fish, he will not give over to him a snake(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “or even will ask (for) an egg, will he give over to him a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?” (Lk)
      Matthew’s second pairing is the first in the Lukan illustration; in place of it, the Lukan version juxtaposes egg/scorpion, which makes for a more extreme (and ridiculous) contrast.
    • “So (then), if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Matt)
      “So (then), if you, beginning (now) as evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Lk)
      The two versions are nearly identical here; the use of the verb u(pa/rxw (lit. “begin under”), instead of the simple verb of being (ei)mi), would seem to be an indication of Lukan style. Of the 46 occurrences of the verb u(pa/rxw, 31 are found in Luke-Acts, and it is not used in any of the other Gospels.
    • “how much more will your Father, the (One) in the heavens, give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him?” (Matt)
      “how much more will your Father out of heaven give (the) holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him?” (Lk)
      Again the two versions are quite close here, the most notable difference being that Luke reads “holy Spirit” in place of “good (thing)s”. Assuming that we are dealing with a common saying, which certainly seems to be the case, the two versions here cannot both be an accurate representation of the original. Almost certainly, Matthew preserves the original saying (or close to it), which Luke has adapted in light of the special emphasis on the role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (cf. above). Several manuscripts (Ë45 L, etc) read “(a) good spirit” instead of “holy Spirit”, most likely in an attempt to harmonize the two versions.

The Lukan reference to the holy Spirit as the “good thing(s)” that God will give to His offspring effectively centers the saying within an early Christian context, anticipating the “gift” of the Spirit that will come upon Jesus’ disciples in Acts 2:1-4ff. It serves as the climax to Jesus’ teaching on prayer in this passage, implying that it is the Holy Spirit that will truly be the answer to his disciples’ prayer. In this regard, it is interesting to note a fascinating variant reading within the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, found in a small number of witnesses. The majority text of the second petition (in v. 2) reads “may your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), just as in the Matthean version, though Codex Bezae (D) adds e)f’ h(ma=$ (“upon us”). However, in two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) and in the writings of at least two Church Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus Confessor), we find a very different petition which substantially reads:

“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$

Some commentators have suggested that this is a gloss interpreting the coming of God’s “Kingdom” as a reference to the coming of the Spirit, and that it may have originated as a liturgical adaption of the Prayer in a baptismal setting. Interestingly, an identification of God’s Kingdom with the Spirit, within the narrative of Luke-Acts, may be justified on the basis of Jesus’ answer to the question posed by his disciples in Acts 1:6-8. A more precise Christian identification is made by Paul in Romans 14:17. If we go back to the sayings and words of Jesus, a similar association, between Kingdom and Spirit, can be found in the Matthean version of the saying at Matt 12:28 / Lk 11:20 (cf. the prior note); the Lukan version of this saying, which uses “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God” occurs just shortly after the section on prayer in chap. 11. We may also note the association made by Jesus in the Johannine discourse of chap. 3 (v. 5).

Though this variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer is certainly secondary (and not original), it provides an intriguing enhancement to a genuine Lukan theme in this passage. It offers a parallel, at the beginning of the section (v. 2), to the reference to the Spirit at the conclusion (v. 13), thus framing the entire pericope, and emphasizing all the more the point that the coming of the Spirit represents the ultimate goal and answer to the prayer of believers. There is a similar connection between prayer and the Spirit running through the Johannine Last Discourse—cf. 14:13-17, 25-26; 15:7ff, 26; 16:7ff, 23-24.

The variant reading itself represents a distinctly Christian adaptation of an established Old Testament/Jewish tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age. Drawing upon the natural association between God’s (holy) Spirit and cleansing, the sixth century Prophets, as part of their overall message regarding the restoration of Israel (and return from exile), emphasize the role of the Spirit that God will “pour out” upon His people, cleansing them and giving to them a “new heart” and a new spirit which will allow them to remain obedient to the Covenant. The Qumran Community further developed this idea, applying it to their own religious identity as the faithful ones of the end-time. The Qumran Community viewed itself as a “community of holiness”, made up completely of “men of holiness”, led by a “council of holiness”, and established by God’s own “spirit of holiness” (1QS 8:20-9:3). The water-ritual for entrants into the Community symbolized the cleansing of the person’s spirit by the “spirit of [God’s] holiness”, so that the individual’s own spirit was made entirely holy (1QS 3:5-9), allowing him to become part of the holy Community. The parallel with early Christian baptism is clear enough, and the variant reading of Luke 11:2, if it indeed stems from a baptismal setting, would indicate that early Christians used similar traditional language, regarding the cleansing role of the Spirit in the Community.

Before proceeding further to consider how this Lukan emphasis on the Spirit reflects the historical traditions surrounding the earliest believers (in Luke-Acts), it will be worth examining one additional Gospel tradition where the Lukan version, apparently, makes reference to the Holy Spirit. In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the saying in Lk 10:21-22 (par Matt 11:25-27).