“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 6:27)

John 6:27, 53, 62

There are three occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the great ‘Bread of Life’ Discourse of chapter 6. Like the chapter 5 Discourse (see the previous study), the Bread of Life Discourse is built upon the historical tradition of a miracle episode—the Miraculous Feeding episode (6:1-14ff), known also from the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10 pars). In many ways, the chapter 6 Discourse is better integrated with the miracle episode than is the chap. 5 Discourse. The manna-theme of “bread from heaven”, featuring in the Exposition sections of the Discourse, provides a natural fit to the feeding miracle (with its multiplication of the bread-loaves).

The Discourse proper (vv. 22-59) may be divided into three parts, each of which further expounds the previous section:

    • Introduction to the Discourse (vv. 22-24)
    • Part 1—The Bread from Heaven [Passover/Manna theme] (vv. 25-34)
      • Encounter scene—Question from the crowd (vv. 25-26)
      • Saying of Jesus (v. 27)
      • Initial reaction by the people (v. 28)
      • Exposition (second saying) by Jesus (v. 29)
      • Reaction by the people (vv. 30-31)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 32-33)
      • Concluding/transitional response by the people (v. 34)
    • Part 2—The Bread of Life [exposition of Bread from Heaven theme] (vv. 35-50)
      • Saying of Jesus (v. 35), with exposition (vv. 36-40)
      • Reaction by the people (vv. 41-42)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 43-50)
    • Part 3—The Living Bread [exposition of Bread of Life theme] (vv. 51-58)
      • Saying of Jesus (v. 51)
      • Reaction by the people (v. 52)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 53-58)
    • Narrative Conclusion (v. 59)
John 6:27

The principal saying/statement by Jesus that opens the Discourse is in verse 27:

“Do not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food th(at is) remaining into (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of man will give to you…”

Jesus adds the following statement regarding “the son of man”:

“…for (on) this (one) God the Father (has) set (His) seal.”

There are thus three main points made by Jesus in this saying:

    • There is food, different from ordinary physical food, that remains (vb me/nw) into the (eternal) life to come.
    • The “son of man” gives people this food.
    • God the Father has His seal on this “son of man”

In turn, these points reflect key Johannine theological themes or principles:

    • Use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) to express the Divine (eternal) nature and character of the union between God and the believer, in parallel here with the equally important motif of life (zwh/, i.e. eternal life).
    • The Son (Jesus) gives life to the world, to those who trust in him (i.e., to believers).
    • Jesus (the Son) is the authoritative representative of God the Father, having been sent by Him, and carrying His message.
      The seal-motif, however, is not typically Johannine (cf. 3:33), though it does occur repeatedly (in a different context) in the book of Revelation.

How are we to understand the use of the expression “the son of man” here in verse 27? At the historical level, as a saying of Jesus, apart from the Johannine literary context, it would be most natural to regard it primarily as a self-reference by Jesus, such as in many of the examples we looked at in the Synoptic Gospels. The most natural parallel would be the saying in Mark 10:45 par, which also relates to the three Passion-predictions (8:31; 9:31; 10:33 pars). Though the initial saying in verse 27 is not clearly connected with Jesus’ death, that association will be developed over the course of the Exposition sections that follow (cf. the next part of this study).

Thus, as a self-reference, the phrase “…which the son of man will give” is essentially equivalent to “…which I will give”. And, indeed, Jesus later uses this formulation with the first person, in verse 51: “…and the bread, indeed, which I [e)gw/] will give”. This is very much in keeping with the distinctive usage of the expression by Jesus, which could perhaps be effectively translated as “th(is) son of man” —i.e., this human being, this person, namely Jesus himself.

However, there can be little doubt that the Gospel writer intended the expression to be understood in light of the earlier occurrences—in 1:51, 3:13-14, and 5:27. Three thematic aspects of that earlier usage would seem to be relevant here:

    • 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

All three of these explithemes are developed by Jesus (and the Gospel writer) throughout the Discourse. The themes are summarized concisely in the initial exposition by Jesus in verse 29, which reads like a Johannine confessional statement; he defines the “work of God” (v. 28) as: “…that you should trust in the (one) whom that (One) sent forth”. Jesus is the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father, and thus possesses the authority of the Father, to speak and act. In the second exposition (vv. 32-33) of this first portion of the Discourse, Jesus utilizes the Scriptural tradition of the manna as “the bread from heaven”(Exod 16:14; Psalm 105:40; Neh 9:15), introduced by his audience in v. 31. Through this motif, Jesus identifies himself as the “bread from [e)k] heaven”, though he does not make the identification explicit right away, but instead prepares the groundwork for it through an exposition of the Scripture:

“…(it was) not Moshe (who) has given to you ‘the bread out of heaven’, but (rather) my Father gives to you the true ‘bread out of heaven’; for, the bread of God is the (one) stepping down [katabai/nwn] out of heaven and giving life to the world.”

The perceptive reader/hearer of the Gospel would immediately recognize the Christological use here of the verb katabai/nw, as referring to the descent of the Son of God from heaven, and his incarnation on earth in the person of Jesus. The expression “the son of man” was used in this context in 3:13 (note), and was alluded to earlier in 1:51 (note).

In the next part of this study, we will look at how the Johannine themes, associated with “the son of man”, are developed in the second part (vv. 35-50) of the Discourse, as well as their unique application in the third part (vv. 51-58), including the apparent eucharistic context of the “son of man” saying in verse 53.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27, cont.)

John 5:27, continued

In the first part of this study, we examined the context of the “son of man” reference in verse 27. As part of this analysis, we noted the parallelism between vv. 21-24 and 25-29 in the first expository section of the chap. 5 Discourse. We may narrow the focus to the parallel units of vv. 21-22 and 26-27, in which the thematic emphasis is on the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. Here, again, is how this is expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

And, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind.

Throughout the first division of the Discourse, vv. 19-30, the principal theme is how Jesus, as the Son (of God), does the work of God his Father. The broader thematic focus is on the relationship between the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. Because of this central theme that runs through the entire Gospel, Jesus regularly refers to himself (in the Discourses) as “the Son” (o( ui(o/$), by which is meant “God’s Son” (i.e., “the Son of God”). This is typical of the Johannine Gospel, compared with the relatively rare use of the unqualified expression “the Son” in the Synoptics. And, not surprisingly, given the thematic emphasis in 5:19-30, the expression “the Son” occurs quite often (9 times) in these verses. This makes the singular use of the expression “(the) son of man” in v. 27 quite significant.

Why does Jesus (and the Gospel writer) use “(the) son of man” in verse 27 (and only there)? The precise wording of the phrase containing the expression is important: “(in) that [i.e. because] he is (the) Son of man” (o%ti ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou e)stin). This explicative use of the o%ti-clause offers the reason why God the Father has given the Son (Jesus) authority to judge humankind: it is because he is “(the) son of man”.

From a syntactical standpoint, the statement “he is (the) son of man” is an example of the sort of essential predication that occurs throughout the Gospel (and Letters) of John. These simple predicative statements contain three elements: (1) Divine subject, (2) verb of being, and (3) predicate noun or phrase. The statements give essential information about who the subject is. The formulation is basically limited to a Divine subject—usually Jesus Christ (the Son), but occasionally God the Father, while, in at least one instance (1 Jn 5:6), the Spirit is the subject. In a secondary application, the formula can also be applied to believers in Christ (viz., believers, the children/offspring of God, as the divine subject).

The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) declarations by Jesus are the most famous examples of Johannine essential predication. Indeed, when Jesus, as both Divine subject and speaker, makes such statements, it is most natural that he would use a first person pronoun to express the subject. Here, however, he speaks in the third person (“he is”), as he typically does whenever he uses the expression “the son of man”, using it as a self-reference. The pronoun is not present in the Greek, but only implied (based on the form of the verb). The specific formulation is unusual (and unprecedented): Jesus uses one self-reference (“the Son”, i.e., “he”) to identify himself with another self-reference (“the son of man”). That is, “the Son is the Son of man”.

How is this essential information to be understood? There are two main lines of interpretation that commentators tend to follow. The first line of interpretation understands the expression “(the) son of man” here as a title, referring (principally) to the heavenly figure (“[one] like a son of man”) in Daniel 7:13-14. Thus, Jesus would be identifying himself (“the Son”) with this heavenly figure. The most relevant parallel, and perhaps the strongest argument in favor of this line of interpretation, is the fact that, in Dan 7:13-14, God gives to the “(one) like a son of man” a ruling authority over humankind:

“…and to him was given dominion [/f*l=v*] and glory [rq*y+] and kingship [Wkl=m^], and all the peoples, nations, and tongues shall give (diligent) service to him” (v. 14)
While Theodotion translates all three Hebrew terms, the LXX renders them under the single word e)cousi/a, as in Jn 5:27:
“…and authority [e)cousi/a] was given to him”

It is not specifically stated that the heavenly figure was given authority to judge; however, this would certainly be part of the ruling authority given to him, and the eschatological judgment (of the nations) certainly features in the passage (vv. 10ff, 22, 26-27). Moreover, in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, called by the title “th(e) Son of Man”, is more directly associated with the Judgment (46:2-4ff; chap. 62; 63:11; 69:27ff), the Danielic figure having been blended together with the figure of the Davidic Messiah. For more on the Jewish eschatological/Messianic background of this “Son of Man” figure, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The second line of interpretation understands the expression in a qualitative sense—that is, “son of man” (without the definite article [see below]) means a human being. In other words, Jesus (the Son) is given the authority to judge humankind because he himself is a human being. In the Johannine theological context, this would refer specifically to the incarnation of the Son (1:14ff). It is as the incarnate Son that Jesus has the authority to act as judge over humankind and to render judgment.

On the whole, this second line of interpretation is to be preferred, particularly in the overall context of the Johannine Gospel (and its theology). Before developing this further, a word should be said about the lack of definite articles for the expression here (i.e., uio\$ a)nqrw/pou instead of o( uio\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou)—the only such anarthrous occurrence of the expression in the Gospels. In spite of the lack of the definite article, the expression can still be definite. Indeed, in the case of the word order here, on purely syntactical grounds, a predicate nominative (noun) that precedes the verb should probably be understood in a definite sense*.
* On this point, see the study by E. C. Colwell back in 1933 (Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 52, pp. 12-31; Jn 5:27 is discussed on on p. 14); cf. Moloney, pp. 82ff.
At the same time, anarthrous predicate nouns often carry a qualitative sense (cf. the article by P. B. Harner in Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 92 [1973], pp. 75-87). If both of these aspects of the predicate noun are present here in v. 27, then it would mean that the expression is particularly emphasizing that the Son is the human being with the authority to exercise judgment over humankind (cp. the expression in Mk 2:10 par, also 2:28 par). In terms of the Johannine theology, as noted above, this would refer to the incarnation of the Son—viz., the pre-existent (heavenly) Son who has come to earth as a human being. We have seen how the twin Johannine themes of the heavenly origin of the Son, and of his descent to earth, featured prominently in the prior “son of man” sayings (1:51 [study]; 3:13-14 [study]).

Of particular importance is how the thematic motif of judgment (kri/si$, vb kri/nw) is presented in the Gospel of John. Most relevant for consideration is the statement in 3:19, coming as it does in the expository section (of that earlier Discourse), vv. 16-21, immediate following the “son of man” references (vv. 13-14). The end-time Judgment is explained in terms of the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Gospel (see the discussion in the first part of this study). That is to say, the Judgment occurs now, in the present; and, specifically, those would fail or refuse to trust in Jesus are already judged:

“The (one) trusting in him is not judged; but the (one) not trusting has already [h&dh] been judged, (in) that he has not trusted in the name of the only [monogenh/$] Son of God.” (v. 18)

The nature of the Judgment, in this regard, is further explained in verse 19:

“And this is the judgment: that the Light has come into the world, and (yet) men loved the darkness more than the Light, for their deeds are evil.”

This corresponds to what Jesus says about the Judgment here in verse 24, and clearly relates to the idea that this judgment has been given to the Son (v. 22). Interestingly, in 3:17, Jesus seems to say the opposite—viz., that he has not come (as the incarnate Son) to render judgment:

“For God did not send forth the Son into the world (so) that he should judge the world, but (rather) that the world might be saved through him.” (cp. 8:15-16; 12:47)

The locus of the Judgment is whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the incarnate Son). In that sense, the incarnate Son (Jesus) does not fill the role of end-time Judge as it might traditionally be understood. Instead, the Judgment occurs based on how a person responds to the message of the incarnate Son—the truth of who he is and what he has done. Compare the Judgment-references in 9:39 and 12:47-48. Later on in the Gospel, this aspect of the Judgment is tied more directly to the Son’s fulfillment of his earthly mission—that is, his exaltation (“being lifted up”), beginning with his sacrificial death (see the previous study on the saying in 3:14). This thematic development is expressed by the declaration in 12:31:

Now is the judgment of this world; now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast outside!”

The implication is that Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death) initiates the Judgment of the world; this Judgment involves the punishment (expulsion) of the “ruler of this world” (i.e., the Satan/Devil). Much the same is stated in 16:11 (see my earlier study on the Paraclete saying[s] in 16:8-11ff). Again, this Judgment is tied to the world’s failure/refusal to trust in Jesus, defined (in Johannine terms) as the great sin (vv. 8-9).

How does all of this relate to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” in verse 27? Though there are definite allusions to Daniel 7:13-14 (see above) here in the passage, it would seem that Jesus (and the Gospel writer) has reinterpreted the traditional Judgment-association in light of the Johannine theology (and Christology). In particular, the whole theme of judgment has been radically interpreted in the Johannine writings. The Judgment is now defined primarily in terms of trust in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. The one who trusts has already passed through the Judgment (v. 24), while the one who does not trust has already been judged (3:18-19, etc). The trust in Jesus specifically relates to his death (viz., the beginning of his exaltation), the fulfillment of the mission for which the Father sent the Son (from heaven to earth).

We may expand our understanding of the Johannine “son of man” references, based on the sayings we have examined thus far, to include the following points:

    • The heavenly origin of the Son (Jesus)
    • His descent to earth—entailing his incarnation as a human being (“son of man”)
    • The promise of his ascent (back to heaven), following the completion of his mission
    • This ascent (exaltation, “lifting up”) begins with his sacrificial death (3:14)—whereby the use of the expression “the son of man” has definite parallels to the Synoptic Passion predictions (and similar sayings)
    • The end-time Judgment, traditionally associated with the “son of man” (Dan 7:13-14; Mk 13:26 par, etc), is defined primarily in terms of how one responds to this Christological message of the Son’s descent/ascent.

In the next study, we shall turn to the “son of man” references in the chapter 6 (Bread of Life) Discourse.

References above (and throughout these studies) marked “Moloney” are to Francis J. Moloney SDB, The Johannine Son of Man, Second Edition (Wipf and Stock: 1978/2007).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 3:13-14)

John 3:13 and 14

The next two Johannine occurrences of the expression “the son of man” occur together, at the center of the ‘Nicodemus’ Discourse in chapter 3. These two sayings (vv. 13 and 14) may have originally circulated separately, even within the Johannine Tradition; however, they are currently integral to the Discourse, and clearly represent an important expository component within the literary structure of the Discourse.

All of the Johannine Discourses have an historical-traditional episode as their basis. In this instance, it is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus (vv. 1-8ff). However, Nicodemus effectively disappears midway through the discourse, and is not mentioned again after verses 9-10. The sayings in verses 13-14f represent the transition point in the discourse, leading to the exposition by Jesus that follows in vv. 16-21. This is significant from the standpoint of the theological framework of the discourse, since it explains how being “born from above” and “born of the Spirit” (the dual-theme in vv. 1-8) are to be understood—viz., in terms of trusting in Jesus as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father (vv. 16-21). This Christological exposition also informs the “son of man” sayings in vv. 13-14 (as is clear from v. 15).

John 3:13

“no one has stepped up [a)nabe/bhken] into heaven, if not the (one hav)ing stepped down [kataba/$] out of heaven, the son of man.”

This statement by Jesus fits somewhat uneasily in the immediate context of vv. 9-12. Indeed, it is not entirely clear how it relates to the preceding vv. 11-12, and it certainly could have existed as a separate saying by Jesus (in some form). In the context of the Discourse, the statement affirms Jesus’ ability (and authority) to speak of “heavenly (thing)s” (e)poura/nia, lit. “[thing]s above the heaven[s]”)—such as the Divine/spiritual teaching in vv. 3-8, along with the exposition that follows in vv. 16-21. Only someone who comes from heaven is able to speak of heavenly things.

Verse 13 begins with the conjunction kai/, which could be translated conjunctively as “and”, or emphatically as “indeed”. In either case, the conjunction connects the saying with the prior vv. 11-12.

The saying itself uses the same verb pair as in 1:51 (see the previous study): a)nabai/nw (“step up”, i.e., go/come up) and katabai/nw (“step down”, i.e., go/come down). In our discussion on 1:51, the special theological significance of these verbs, in the Gospel of John, was noted. More to the point, they carry Christological importance. Though the immediate subject of the verbs in 1:51 was the angels (“Messengers of God”), the “son of man” (Jesus) is clearly the focus of that vision; and, indeed, throughout the remainder of the Gospel, these verbs are applied to the person of the Son (Jesus). This Johannine usage makes it absolutely clear, if there were any doubt, that the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) refers to Jesus, and is thus used here by Jesus as a self-reference.

There are three component-phrases to this saying, and we shall examine them each in turn.

(a) “no one has stepped up into heaven”

In a strictly literal sense, this would mean that no one (i.e., no human being) has ever gone up (ascended) into heaven. It is possible that the Gospel writer intends us to understand the statement in just this way; however, if so, then the author (and Jesus as the speaker) would be rejecting well-established traditions regarding figures such as Enoch (cf. Gen 5:24), Moses, and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1, 11f). It is, I think, better to view the verb a)nabai/nw here in its special (Johannine) Christological meaning. That is to say, no other person has ever “stepped up” to heaven, being exalted by God in the manner that Jesus was.

In the immediate context of vv. 11-12, the idea of someone ascending to heaven relates to that person’s ability/authority to speak of heavenly things (see above). A human being (such as Elijah) who went up to heaven could presumably speak, in a certain way, about “heavenly things”, but not in the manner of the Son (Jesus); on this point, see below.

(b) “if not the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven”

The compound negative particle ei) mh/ (“if not”) is conditional, and usually is meant in an exceptive sense (i.e., “except [for]”)—that is, no one has ever “stepped up” into heaven except for… . The only person who has ever “stepped up” into heaven is the person who has (first) “stepped down” from heaven. This person is designated by the substantive verbal noun (participle) kataba/$ with the definite article—o( kataba/$ (“the [one hav]ing stepped down”). Such use of the articular substantive participle is typical of Johannine style, and there are many examples occurring throughout the Gospel and Letters (too many to cite here). The syntax allows the author/speaker to express an essential or definitive characteristic of a person (or group). The qualifying prepositional expression “out of heaven” (e)k tou= ou)ranou=) fills out the characterizing phrase: “the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven”.

This is a vital element of the Johannine Christology—viz., declaring and affirming Jesus’ heavenly origin, and his identity as the Son sent (down) from heaven by God the Father. For more on this, see section (c) below.

A word should be said about the tenses of the two verbs. The verb a)nabai/nw is in the perfect tense, while the participle of katabai/nw is in the aorist tense; in English, both would essentially need to be translated “has stepped up/down”, but note the distinction (indicated by parentheses) in the translation above.

If the author (and/or Jesus as the speaker) intends a meaningful distinction here between the two tenses, and it is not simply a stylistic difference, what would this be? The aorist is generally used as the past tense, typically referring to an event which took place at a specific point in the past. In this case, it would refer to the Son (Jesus) “stepping down” out of heaven at some point in the past—specifically, we may assume, from the Gospel standpoint, that this refers to the incarnation described in 1:14ff. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is identified as the pre-existent Son (or Word [Logos], in the Prologue), who was sent to earth (from heaven) by God the Father. The “stepping down”, then, would refer to Jesus’ appearance on earth as a human being (see below).

The perfect tense of a)nabai/nw is more problematic. A perfect tense is typically used for a past action (or condition) the results/effects of which continue into the present. The sense may be that no one has ever (in the past) “stepped up” into heaven, a fact that continues to be true up to the present moment. This would give greater emphasis to the idea that Jesus (the present speaker) is the only one to do so.

(c) “the son of man”

Some manuscripts and versional (Syriac, Latin) witnesses include the qualifying phrase o( w&n e)n tw=| ou)ranw=| (“the [one] being in heaven”). The expression “the son of man” appears here so abruptly, without further explanation, that it would have been natural for scribes to add an explaining phrase such as this. On the other hand, copyists might just as well have deleted the phrase as being redundant or superfluous. The shorter reading is, I think, much to be preferred, though the matter is far from decisive; however, I would point out that the expression “in heaven” (with the preposition e)n) is not at all typical of Johannine usage, and occurs nowhere else in the Gospel (or Letters).

The expression “the son of man” is apposite to the phrase “the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven”, identifying the son of man (i.e., Jesus himself) as this person. That is, Jesus is the one who has “stepped down” out of heaven. In the context of the Johannine Christology, as noted above, the verb katabai/nw refers to Jesus’ heavenly origin, and to his identity as the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father.

Does this usage imply that “the son of man” should here be understood as the title of a heavenly figure, with whom Jesus is identified? Many scholars believe so (or would assume so), and yet the evidence is highly questionable, when examined in detail. If it is intended as a title, then the heavenly figure called “the son of man” must refer to the one “like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14. As we have seen, at least two of the Synoptic sayings (Mark 13:26; 14:62 pars) allude to Dan 7:13f, and it is possible that other eschatological sayings assume the same traditional background. On this, see Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings. The question of the influence of Dan 7:13f on the occurrences of the expression will be discussed more extensively at a later point in this series.

Other commentators would emphasize the incarnation of the Son here, in the use of the expression “the son of man”. Since “son of man”, as a Semitic idiom, denotes a human being, it would be natural that it signify here the incarnation. Indeed, such an interpretation would very much fit the sense of the statement in v. 13: the Son “stepped down” from heaven to earth, and became a human being, viz., Jesus as “th(is) son of man”.

In the continuation of this study, we will examine the following “son of man” saying in verse 14.

“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).

John 1:14 and the Baptism of Jesus

John 1:14 and the Baptism of Jesus

(This note is supplemental to the article on Jn 1:14 and New Testament Christology [see Part 1].)

“And the Word became flesh…”
kai\ o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

In the exegesis and critical analysis of Jn 1:14, presented thus far in this series, I have discussed how, in my view, the phrase sa\rc e)ge/neto (“came to be flesh”) refers to the birth of the Logos as a human being. Whether this emphasis on a human birth was present in the underlying ‘Logos-poem’ of the Prologue, it would seem be in view for the Gospel writer, particularly given the birth-motif that is in focus in the prior vv. 12-13. Even many commentators who might downplay the birth-aspect of the wording in verse 14, would still include a human birth as part of the incarnation of the Logos—that is, his life and existence as a human being (in the person of Jesus).

However, it should be pointed out, that not all scholars accept this traditional incarnational understanding of the Johannine Christology. While it remains a minority view, there have been, since the beginning of the 20th century (and the Le Quatrième Évangile of A. Loisy, first edition 1903), a small number of commentators and theologians who would maintain that 1:14 refers to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus during the Baptism event (vv. 29-34). Francis Watson offers a clear, if rather brief, survey of the main lines of evidence in support of this view, in his article “Is John’s Christology Adoptionistic?” (in The Glory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology in Memory of George Bradford Caird, eds. L. D. Hurst and N. T. Wright [Clarendon Press: 1987], pp. 113-24).

Certainly, the references to John the Baptist in the Prologue (vv. 6-8, 15), surrounding as they do vv. 9-12a, 14, would tend to support an association between the manifestation of the Logos on earth (in the person of Jesus) and the Baptism scene. The addition of these Baptist-verses to the Logos-poem places the Logos Christology of the poem more clearly within the context of the Gospel (chaps. 1-3). With the preceding verses 6-8 in view, verses 9-12a can be read as referring to (or at least foreshadowing) the appearance of the Logos in the person of Jesus:

“The true Light, which gives light to every man, was coming [e)rxo/menon] into the world.” (v. 9)
“He was [h@n] in the world…” (v. 10)
“the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh and set up tent among us…” (v. 14)

The three verbs emphasized in these verses are the same three featured in the Baptist-saying of verse 15; the repetition of this saying in v. 30 clearly positions it as part of the Baptism scene. The implication could then be that the manifestation of the Logos, in the person of Jesus, occurred at the Baptism—this was the moment when the Logos “came to be flesh”, viz., was manifest as a human being.

Perhaps the strongest evidence in favor of this view of the Baptism is the use of the verb katabai/nw (“step down,” i.e., come down, descend) in vv. 32-33. The use of this verb is part of the broader Gospel tradition regarding the Baptism scene, since it also occurs in the Synoptic account(s):

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he [i.e. Jesus] saw the heavens splitting (open), and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [katabai=non] unto him.” (Mk 1:10 par)

This traditional account contains both the verb katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up,” i.e., go up, ascend). These are common verbs, used frequently in narrative; however, in the Gospel of John, they have special theological (and Christological) significance. Within the theological idiom of the Gospel, the verb a)nabai/nw refers to the exaltation of the Son (Jesus)—a process that entails his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The verb katabai/nw, correspondingly, refers to the coming of the Son to earth (from heaven), in order to fulfill the mission for which he was sent by God the Father.

These verbs feature in the Discourses of chapters 3 and 6, in connection with the Johannine “Son of Man” sayings by Jesus. The first of these sayings is in 1:51, where the descent-ascent motif in the visionary scene effectively summarizes the entire Johannine theology (and Gospel narrative). The verb-pair occurs again in the Son of Man saying in 3:13:

“…no one has stepped up [a)nabe/bhken] into the heaven, if not [i.e. except] the (one hav)ing stepped down [kataba/$], the Son of Man.”

The heavenly origin of the Son (Jesus) is thus quite clearly implied, as well a foreshadowing of his exaltation (and heavenly return), cf. verse 14. Similarly, in the chapter 6 Bread of Life Discourse, there are repeated references and allusions to Jesus’ (i.e., the Son’s) heavenly origin, having “come down” to earth, using the verb katabai/nw (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 51, 58); the Father/Son relationship is emphasized throughout the Discourse, while the expression “Son of Man” also occurs in vv. 27 and 53. The corresponding verb a)nabai/nw is used in another Son of Man saying, outside of the Discourse proper (but still clearly related to it in the narrative context), in verse 62. The verb a)nabai/nw is one of several Johannine verbs (e.g., u(yo/w, “lift up high”, doca/zw, “[give] honor to, glorify”) used to express the idea of the Son’s exaltation (and return to the Father)—cf. the Son of Man sayings in 8:28; 12:23 [and 34]; 13:31; and note the further use of a)nabai/nw in 20:17.

Given this important Christological usage of the verb katabai/nw, where the verb specifically refers to the descent of the Son from heaven, it would be plausible to suggest that the same meaning is implied in the Baptism scene as well. That is to say, the use of the verb in 1:32-33, where the Spirit of God is described as coming down upon Jesus, is another way of referring to the Son’s descent. Now, in the Prologue, it is the pre-existent Logos that is manifest as a human being; however, throughout the Gospel, the emphasis is on the manifestation of the pre-existent Son, and, in vv. 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer clearly transitions from the Logos concept to that of Son. Thus the Gospel writer could affirm that it was the pre-existent Son of God who was manifest in the person of Jesus.

The Son could be seen as coming down upon Jesus, through the presence of the Spirit, at the Baptism, and thus being manifest in the person of Jesus throughout the time of his ministry. This would be in keeping with the wider Gospel tradition, since, even in the Synoptics, the identification of Jesus as God’s Son is connected prominently with the Baptism scene (Mark 1:11 par; cp. Jn 1:34 [MT]). Cf. also the discussion in Part 1 of the main article.

Given the references/allusions to the departure of the Spirit in 19:30, 34, and the Johannine idea of Jesus’ death on the cross as marking the beginning of the Son’s departure (back to the Father), it would also be plausible to infer that the Son departed from Jesus, even in the manner that He came upon him, through the ‘ascending’ of the Divine Spirit. In traditional Christological terminology, such a view of Christ is referred to as a “separationist” Christology. That is to say, the Divine Christ (i.e., the Son) and the man Jesus are regarded two separate entities, who were joined together at the Baptism, and then separated at the moment of Jesus’ death.

Apart from the Prologue, it would be conceivable to read the Johannine Gospel narrative as reflecting a “separationist” Christology—viz., the Son, through the Spirit, descends upon the man Jesus, remaining with him throughout his ministry, then ascends/departs from him at the moment of his death. Regardless of whether the Gospel writer could have had anything like this in mind, there is a strong possibility that at least some Johannine Christians did hold such a view of Jesus. Indeed, it may well be represented by the Christological view of the opponents in 1 and 2 John. A rudimentary separationist Christology is attributed to Cerinthus by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1.26.1); and Cerinthus was connected, according to tradition, with the apostle John (and thus the early Johannine Community [in Ephesus]). In prior notes and articles, I have discussed the possibility that the opponents in 1-2 John held a similar separationist Christology.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 1

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology

Our final area of study in this series is the relation of John 1:14 to the wider view of Christ, held by early believers, and as expressed in the New Testament. To what extent does the Johannine Christology of the Prologue (and its underlying Logos-poem) reflect the beliefs and thought of first-century Christians? In what ways does this Christology represent a natural development of the early Gospel traditions, or should it be characterized more as a distinctly Johannine creative expression?

Due to the scope of the study, which involves much of the New Testament, I will not be going into the kind of exegetical detail that I did in the first two divisions. Rather, the study will proceed as a survey, looking at the more salient points and citing certain references and phrasing when appropriate. This study will build upon the results from the prior articles, framed in terms of the Johannine Christology found in the Prologue (and particularly verse 14). It is to be divided into three parts, focusing on:

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts)
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ

Here, in Part 1, we begin with the first of these topics.

The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels

John 1:14 speaks of the incarnation (“became flesh”) of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, even though, throughout the remainder of the Gospel (and in the Letters), the principal identification is of Jesus as the Son of God. The word lo/go$ has considerable theological importance in the Johannine writings, but, outside of the Gospel Prologue, the profound Christological use of the term is, at best, only indirectly alluded to or implied. By contrast, the Gospel repeatedly refers to Jesus as the Son (ui(o/$) who was sent (by God the Father) from heaven to earth. This theology implies the idea of the Son’s pre-existence; Jesus’ words in 8:58 and 17:5, 24 state the Christological point even more directly.

In the Prologue, the Gospel writer appears to have taken an existing ‘Logos-poem’, developing and applying it to the context of the Gospel he was composing (or had composed). The Logos-poem itself draws upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition, involving the personification of Divine Wisdom (cf. Prov 8:22-31), but expressed through the philosophical/theological use of the term lo/go$, rather than utilizing the term sofi/a (“wisdom”) itself. This usage of the word lo/go$ in the Johannine Logos-poem has much in common with the way the term is used, for example, in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, as we have discussed.

In verses 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer makes the transition from the term lo/go$ (i.e., the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God) to the term ui(o/$ (i.e., the Son of God). This transition is enabled through the use of the adjective monogenh/$ (“only [Son]”) in v. 14 (cf. also v. 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9). The idea of Jesus as the incarnate Logos is absent from the Synoptic Gospels; nor does the term monogenh/$ occur (in this theological/Christological sense). However, the idea that Jesus is the unique Son of God is found at various points in the wider Gospel Tradition, going back to the early historical tradition and the earliest expressions of Christian belief.

In this article, we will examine the outlines of this belief in the Divine Sonship of Jesus, considering how it may relate to the Johannine Christology (of the Prologue, etc). I wish to focus on three areas:

    • The early exaltation Christology—viz., the Sonship of Jesus defined by his resurrection and exaltation (to God’s right hand in heaven)
    • The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism
    • The birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives
1. The early exaltation Christology

By all accounts, the earliest Christology can be characterized as an exaltation Christology—that is, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was defined primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. This exaltation resulted in his obtaining a status and position at the “right hand” of God in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The early Gospel proclamation (kerygma), as we find it preserved in the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts (and elsewhere in the New Testament), tends to define the Sonship of Jesus primarily in terms of this exaltation—see, for example, the declaration in Acts 2:36, the citations of Ps 110:1 and 2:7 (in the specific context of the resurrection) in Acts 2:34-35 and 13:33 (cp. Heb 1:5; 5:5), and Paul’s statements in 1 Thes 1:10 and Rom 1:3-4 (the latter perhaps quoting from an early credal statement).

Within the Gospel Tradition itself, the identification of Jesus as the exalted Son tends to be framed by way of the title “(the) Son of Man” (cf. Mk 13:26, 32; 14:61-62 par; Matt 16:27-28; 19:28; 24:36ff pars; 25:1). This Gospel usage of the expression “(the) Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), which unquestionably derives from authentic historical tradition (and Jesus’ own usage), is a complex matter. Four aspects of its use must be recognized:

    • As a self-reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”, so that, when Jesus speaks of “the son of man”, he is simply referring to himself
    • The Son of Man sayings, where Jesus uses the expression to identify with the suffering and mortality of the human condition
    • The Passion statements and predictions, where the human mortality of Jesus (the Son of Man) refers specifically to his own impending death (and resurrection)
    • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, in which Jesus seems to identify himself with a heavenly figure who will appear on earth and usher in the end-time Judgment

All four of these aspects are combined in the famous declaration by Jesus in Mk 14:62 par, which is clearly influenced by Daniel 7:13-14, and thus refers indirectly to the idea of Jesus’ exaltation. For more on the Gospel use of the title “Son of Man”, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with my series on the Son of Man sayings; see also my note on Dan 7:13-14.

The Gospel of John preserves this exaltation Christology, but adds to it a highly developed pre-existence Christology. The two aspects of Jesus’ Sonship are thus balanced, much as we see, for example, in the ‘Christ hymn’ of Phil 2:6-11. In the Johannine theological idiom, the exalted status which Jesus receives (following his death and resurrection) is understood as a return—that is, to the glory which he, the Son, possessed in the beginning (17:5). The “Son of Man” references in the Gospel of John are instructive in this regard (1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31). They refer not only to the exaltation (“lifting high”) of the Son of Man, but to his coming down to earth (from heaven)—i.e., during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The pairing of the related verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”) highlight this dual-aspect. In the Johannine Gospel, the emphasis is squarely on the Son’s heavenly origin.

The Son’s heavenly origin is clearly the focus in the Gospel Prologue as well. The emphasis on his pre-existent glory (do/ca) balances the traditional idea of Jesus’ post-resurrection exaltation, as does the specific image of the Logos/Son possessing this glory “alongside” (para/) the Father. One is immediately reminded of the traditional idiom of the exalted Jesus standing “at the right hand” (i.e., alongside) God in heaven (cf. above).

2. The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism

The Gospel Tradition also expresses the idea of Jesus’ Divine Sonship through the specific tradition(s) surrounding his baptism. In particular, the heavenly voice at the baptism declares, quite unequivocally, that Jesus is God’s Son (Mk 1:11; par Matt 3:17; Lk 3:22), a declaration that is essentially repeated in the Synoptic Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:7 par Matt 17:5 [where the declarations are identical]; Lk 9:35).

In my view, this idea of Jesus’ Sonship should be understood in a Messianic sense. This seems particularly clear by the Lukan version of the declaration in the Transfiguration scene:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e., chosen]…”

The use of the participle e)klelegme/no$ (from the verb e)kle/gomai) unquestionably has Messianic significance, referring to Jesus as the “Chosen (One)”. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) has this in mind, given the occurrence of the related adjective e)klekto/$ in 23:35: “…the Anointed [xristo/$] of God, the Chosen (One)”. Interestingly, in some manuscripts, the Johannine version of the heavenly declaration at the baptism (Jn 1:34) also uses the substantive adjective e)klekto/$ rather than the noun ui(o/$ (“Son”):

    • “This is the Son [ui(o/$] of God”
      [Majority Text]
    • “This is the Chosen (One) [e)klekto/$] of God”
      [the reading of Ë5vid a* and other versional witnesses]
    • “This is the Chosen Son of God”
      [a conflation of the two readings attested in a number of versional witnesses]

The original Gospel tradition almost certainly alludes to Isaiah 42:1, Jesus’ baptism (marking the beginning of his time of ministry) being seen as a fulfillment of this prophetic passage—the heavenly declaration corresponding to v. 1a, and the descent of the Spirit to v. 1b. For more on this connection, cf. my earlier study in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. Jesus is thus identified with the Deutero-Isaian Servant figure, and as a Messianic Prophet, chosen by God and anointed by His Spirit. Again, it is Luke’s Gospel that brings out this Messianic identification most clearly, identifying Jesus, in particular, with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff (4:18-19, cf. also 7:22 par). Cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

By the time the Gospels were completed, Jesus’ Messianic identity as the royal/Davidic figure type (cf. Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”) had completely eclipsed that of the Prophet figure-types. It is thus not surprising that the Sonship emphasized in the baptism scene would come to be understood in terms of the royal/Davidic type as well. The textual tradition of the Lukan version of the heavenly declaration (3:22) contains a variant reading to this effect, whereby the heavenly voice quotes Psalm 2:7. Certainly, in the Lukan and Matthean Infancy Narratives (cf. below), Jesus is identified exclusively as the Davidic Messiah, with his Sonship defined on those terms.

The place of the baptism of Jesus (and the heavenly declaration) within the Johannine Christology is problematic and remains debated by scholars. The main event at the baptism (in all four Gospel accounts) is the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (Jn 1:32-33). In the Synoptics, the clear implication is that the presence of the Spirit is tied to Jesus’ Messianic identity (Isa 42:1; 61:1), empowering him to fulfill his ministry, working miracles as a Spirit-anointed Messianic Prophet (according to figure-types of Elijah and Moses). Luke’s Gospel particularly emphasizes this role of the Spirit, in relation to Jesus’ identity as a Messianic Prophet (4:1ff, 14, 18-19ff, 24ff [note the Elijah/Elisha references in vv. 25-27]).

However, in the Gospel of John, both Jesus’ Sonship and the role of the Spirit are described very differently, and the traditional material preserved in the baptism scene thus needs to be interpreted and explained accordingly. I am devoting an extensive supplemental note to this subject.

3. The Birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives

In the detailed exegesis of Jn 1:14 given previously, in the articles of the first two divisions of our study, I discussed the evidence in support of the expression “became flesh” (sa/rc e)ge/neto) as referring to a human birth—viz., of the birth of the Logos as a human being. For many Christians, this would simply be taken for granted, given the tendency to harmonize 1:14 with the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives—thus assuming that 1:14 refers to Jesus’ birth.

There is, however, no real indication that the Gospel of John, in any way, has been influenced by the Matthean and/or Lukan narrative (or any of their underlying traditions). The Gospel writer certainly was aware of the expectation that the royal/Davidic Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (7:42), but there is no evidence that he understood Jesus to have been born there—indeed, the author’s handling of the matter in 7:41-43 could be taken as suggesting the opposite.

More seriously, there are two ways in which the Gospel of John differs markedly from the Infancy Narratives: (1) the lack of emphasis on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, and (2) the Johannine emphasis on Jesus’ birth as an incarnation. As we conclude Part 1 of this article, let us briefly consider each of these points.

The identification of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$), that is, the Messiah, is central to the Johannine theology—as, indeed, it was for virtually all early Christians. However, as I have discussed (particularly in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), there were a number of different Messianic figure-types present in Judaism during the first centuries B.C./A.D., and these should not be reduced to the single (royal/Davidic) type that subsequently came to dominate eschatological and Messianic thought. In 7:40-43 (discussed above), there is a distinction made between “the Prophet” (that is, a Messianic Prophet, patterned after Moses) and “the Anointed One” (the Davidic Messiah). Similar distinctions are made in 1:20-25.

It is not clear whether the title o( xristo/$, throughout the Gospel, refers strictly to Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, or whether it has broader or more general Messianic significance. In any case, Johannine Christians would have identified Jesus with all relevant Messianic figure-types, both “the Prophet” (esp. patterned after Moses) and the Davidic Messiah. The Gospel explicitly identifies Jesus as “the King of Israel” (1:49), and, like the Synoptic tradition, beginning with the ‘triumphal entry’ and throughout the Passion narrative, gives certain emphasis to the theme of Jesus’ kingship (12:13, 15; 18:33ff, 39; 19:3, 12-21). In my view, the title o( xristo/$, in the Gospel of John, entails both Prophet (Moses) and Kingly (Davidic) aspects; overall, however, it is the association with Moses that is specifically established in the Prologue, and which is more dominant which the thematic structure and theology of the Gospel.

This is to be contrasted with the Infancy Narratives, where the Davidic Messiahship of Jesus is unquestionably given emphasis, and which is tied directly to Jesus’ birth—Matt 1:1ff, 20; 2:1-6ff (citing Mic 5:2), 15; Luke 1:27ff, 69; 2:1-4ff, 10-11ff. In the Lukan narrative, the Sonship of Jesus is defined by this particular Messianic paradigm, as the statements in 1:32-33 and 35 make abundantly clear. There is no real sense, in either narrative, that Jesus’ birth represents the incarnation of a pre-existent Divine being; to be sure, the Lukan and Matthean accounts are typically read that way, but this largely under the harmonizing influence of Jn 1:14.

The Johannine confessional statements (cf. especially in 11:27 and 20:31) effectively summarize the Johannine theology: Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and the Son of God. He is, indeed, the Messiah (both Prophet and King), but also something more—the eternal and pre-existent Son of God. In Parts 2 and 3, we will consider the New Testament parallels to this pre-existence Christology, focusing (in Part 2) on the influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and evidence for this outside of the Johannine writings.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 5

“…the splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth”
do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$ plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

We now turn to an examination of the final two phrases of 1:14 in the light of the Johannine Gospel (and First Letter) as a whole, just as was done for the three main phrases (in parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). These last two phrases qualify the third main phrase: “and we looked upon his splendor” (discussed in part 4), describing the nature of this Divine splendor (do/ca) that is manifest in the person of the incarnate Logos (Jesus). I wish to examine briefly three aspects of these two phrases, in the context of the Johannine theology:

    • The identity of Jesus as the “only Son” of God
    • His relation to God the Father, and
    • The (Divine) attributes and characteristics that are manifested in him
1. Jesus as the “only Son” of God

In verse 14, this identification is made using the adjective monogenh/$, which literally means something like “(the) only one who has come to be”, preserving the full etymological force of the components mo/no$ (“only, alone, sole”) and ge/no$, the latter derived from the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”). This verb of becoming can refer specifically to birth (i.e., coming to be born), and, in this regard, the noun ge/no$ typically has a familial aspect to its meaning—viz., referring to a person’s offspring, a family or ethnic line, etc.

Sometimes this idea of a “family” can be understood in a more general or abstract sense—as a group with common members (class, kind, sort, etc). Thus, monogenh/$ can simply mean “only one of its kind” (i.e., unique); however, in the New Testament, the adjective is always used in the context of someone who has been born—that is, an “only child”. Outside of the Johannine writings, monogenh/$ refers generally to an “only” child, either adding the specification of a “son” (Luke 7:12; 9:38), “daughter” (Lk 8:42), or using the adjective by itself to designate an “only son” (Heb 11:17). Only in the Johannine writings, is the adjective applied to Jesus, in a theological sense, identifying him as the “only Son” of God: 1:18; 3:16-18; 1 Jn 4:9.

The Divine Sonship of Jesus is, of course, a central tenet of early Christian belief, whether expressed by the specific title “(the) Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=), the shorter “(the) Son” ([o(] ui(o/$), or indirectly. In the Synoptic Gospels, the title “(the) Son”, when spoken by Jesus himself, can also represent an abbreviated version of the title “(the) Son of Man”. The Gospel of John follows the early Christian usage, employing all three of these titles: “Son,” “Son of God,” and “Son of Man”.

The full title “Son of God” is relatively infrequent in the Johannine Gospel, at least within the traditional material itself (1:49; 19:7); it occurs four times in the Discourses, spoken by Jesus (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4). Elsewhere, it functions as part of Johannine confessional statements (1:34 [also v. 49]; 11:27; 20:31)—a point that becomes even clearer when we consider the usage in 1 John (3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-13, 20). Central to the Johannine tradition was the confession of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (though, as the Letters attest, Johannine Christians could be in disagreement over precisely what this entailed).

More commonly, in the Gospel Discourses, Jesus refers to himself either as “(the) Son of Man”, or (more frequently) “(the) Son”. The title “Son of Man” tends to be reserved for statements dealing with either the heavenly origin of the Son, or, more fully, the idea of the Son’s descent from heaven (and his ascent back to heaven [beginning with his death on the cross])—1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:34; 13:31. When referring to his relationship to God the Father, Jesus refers to himself simply as “(the) Son”, a usage that pervades the Discourses—3:16-17f, 35-36; 5:19-27; 6:40; 8:35-36; 14:13; 17:1. Even when the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) is not explicitly used, and Jesus speaks of God as (his) Father, the same relationship is clearly intended.

It is noteworthy that, while the idea of believers as the children of God is central to the Johannine theology, the noun ui(o/$ is never used in this context. The relationship between believers and God (as their/our Father) is expressed through the plural of the noun te/knon (te/kna, “offspring”). By contrast, the noun ui(o/$ is consciously reserved for Jesus (as the Son). This differs, for example, from Paul’s usage, since he is willing to apply the sonship motif to believers, calling them “sons [ui(oi/] of God” (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26); though he is careful to frame such references either in terms of adoption (ui(oqesi/a, “placement as a son”, Rom 8:15, 23; Gal 4:5), or in relation to the Sonship of Jesus (e.g., Rom 8:29; cf. Eph 1:5). Within the Johannine theology, however, Jesus is quite literally the only Son.

2. The Son’s relation to God the Father

In 1:14, the glory of the incarnate Logos (Jesus) is said to be that of an only Son “alongside [para/]” the Father. Early Christians were quite clear on the Divine status/position of Jesus as God’s Son. Within the early exaltation Christology, after the resurrection, Jesus was exalted to heaven, where he (now) stands at the “right hand” of God the Father (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the subsequent pre-existence Christology that developed, this same relational idea was applied to the Son’s pre-existence—viz., even in the beginning, he stood alongside the Father, sharing in His glory and splendor.

Though this theological view is only suggested or indicated briefly elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Phil 2:6; Heb 1:2-3), it stated more fully and directly in the Gospel of John. The heavenly origin of the Son (implying Divine pre-existence) is repeatedly mentioned throughout the Gospel (see the “Son” and “Son of Man” references, above), along with the idea of his impending return (back to the Father). Outside of the Prologue, an emphasis on the pre-existent glory (do/ca), which the Son shares with the Father, is most clear in chapter 17 (see esp. verses 5, 22, 24).

At least as important, for the Johannine theology, is the Son’s relationship to the Father, which is expressed in various ways; two themes are particularly notable: (1) the Father gives all things (that are His) to the Son, and (2) like a dutiful Son, Jesus follows his Father’s example and instruction, saying and doing all that he hears and sees his Father saying/doing. For the first theme, the key references are: 3:34-35; 5:21-22ff, 26-27, 36; 6:32-33, 37ff, 57; 10:28-29; 17:2, 8-12, 22-24; what the Father gives to the Son, the Son, in turn, gives to believers. For the second theme, cf. 5:19-20, 30, 36; 6:46; 8:26, 28-29, 38ff; 12:49-50; 15:15; 17:8, 14.

3. The Divine attributes and characteristics manifested in the Son

The incarnate Logos, and God’s “only Son”, with his splendor/glory (do/ca), is said to be “full of favor and truth”. There are three terms contained in this qualifying phrase; let us briefly consider each of them.

a. plh/rh$ (“full, filled”)

The adjective plh/rh$ occurs only here in the Gospel of John, nor does it tend to be used in a theological context, the way it is here, elsewhere in the New Testament. It is most commonly used in Luke-Acts, occasionally in the context of believers being filled with the Spirit (Acts 6:3ff; 7:55; 11:24); in Lk 4:1, the same is said of Jesus himself. It is possible that a similar association, between Jesus and the Spirit of God, is intended here. One is reminded of the statements in 3:34-35:

    • V. 34—Jesus receives the fullness of the Spirit (“it is not out of a measure that He [i.e. the Father] gives the Spirit”)
    • V. 35— “The Father loves the Son and has given all (thing)s into his hand.”
b. xa/ri$ (“favor”)

One of the things, of which the incarnate Logos’ splendor is “full”, is xa/ri$, “favor” —that is, the favor given/shown by God. The noun xa/ri$ is by no means a Johannine term; outside of the Prologue (vv. 16-17), it does not occur in the rest of the Gospel, and only once in the Letters (2 John 3). This may be compared, by contrast, with the extensive use of the word in Luke-Acts and the Pauline writings.

Translated into the Johannine idiom, xa/ri$ should probably be understood here in terms of the love (a)ga/ph) that the Father has for the Son, expressed principally by what the Father gives to him (3:35, etc, cf. above). It has been suggested (cf. Brown, p. 14) that xa/ri$ is related here to the Hebrew ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”), specifically in the latter’s connotation of faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. In this regard, xa/ri$ is, indeed, an important aspect of the Son’s do/ca—that is, the honor shown/given to him by the Father. The following term a)lh/qeia (cf. below) could similarly be associated with Hebrew tm#a# (rel. hn`Wma$), which connotes faithfulness (lit. “firmness”).

c. a)lh/qeia (“truth”)

Unlike xa/ri$, which virtually is never used elsewhere in the Johannine writings, the noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) is an important Johannine keyword. It occurs 25 times in the Gospel (compared with 7 in the Synoptic combined) and 20 more times in the Letters (9 in 1 Jn, 5 in 2 Jn, 6 in 3 Jn). The related adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$ (“true”) also occur rather frequently. In the Johannine theological idiom, “truth” (a)lh/qeia) is a fundamental Divine attribute which the Son possesses (from the Father), and which he communicates to believers in the world. In so doing, the Son makes the Father known (in His fundamental nature as Truth). This Divine truth is specifically associated with the Spirit (4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6).

A comparative study of the use of xa/ri$ and a)lh/qeia, along with the usage of the adjective plh/rh$ elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke-Acts), strongly suggests that this final phrase of v. 14 refers to the incarnate Logos’ possession of the Spirit of God, and of the Father’s giving the Spirit to him. The following verses of the Prologue (vv. 16-18) emphasize how this “favor and truth” is given by the Son, in turn, to believers; again, in the context of the Gospel (and the Johannine theology), this would be understood primarily in terms of his giving the Spirit to believers, by which they/we come to be born as the children of God.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

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

“…and set up (his) tent among us, and we looked upon his splendor”
kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n h(mi=n kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n do/can au)tou=

Having examined the main statement of 1:14 in the light of the Johannine Gospel (and First Letter) as a whole (parts 1, 2, 3), we will now proceed to do the same with the remaining phrases.

The use of the verb skhno/w is distinctive to the context of the Prologue, and does not occur elsewhere in the Gospel or Letters. The verb, derived from skh/no$ (also skhnh/), “tent”, means either “set up a tent” or “live/dwell in a tent”; these two meanings are attested in the LXX, though the verb occurs only rarely (cf. Gen 13:12; Judg 5:17 B; 8:11). In the New Testament, outside of our verse, skhno/w occurs only in the book of Revelation (which could be considered Johannine), 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3. This usage in Revelation is significant, since it refers exclusively to the dwelling place of God. The verb can be applied with the general meaning of “dwell”, and, indeed, in Revelation, only the first occurrence (7:15) specifically preserves the idea of dwelling in a tent. However, we can assume that the underlying imagery is of a glorious, heavenly Tent-dwelling.

Almost certainly, both the Prologue and the book of Revelation have the tradition of the Tent-shrine (or ‘Tabernacle’) in mind, drawing upon the Moses/Exodus traditions, in which the Tent-shrine is specifically called by the term /K*v=m! (literally, “dwelling place”). Thus, the Tent is the place where God, and His glory, resides, in the midst of His people. The use of the noun do/ca, along with the references to Moses and the related traditions (vv. 17-18), indicates rather clearly that the Gospel writer had these associations in mind.

As for the noun do/ca and the verb qea/omai, these are more common Johannine terms. The noun do/ca (“recognition, esteem, honor,” and, when used of God, “splendor, glory”) is particularly important for the theology of the Gospel, occurring 19 times, while the related verb doca/zw occurs 23 times; somewhat surprisingly, neither the noun nor verb occurs in the Letters. As for the verb qea/omai (“look with wonder [at]”), it occurs 6 times in the Gospel and 3 times in 1 John (1:1; 4:12, 14); however, it has even greater prominence when considered as one among a group of verbs used to express the idea of sight/seeing in the Johannine writings.

In studying these two phrases of verse 14 (14bc), there are three aspects which need to be examined:

    • The do/ca possessed by the incarnate Logos (Jesus)
    • The idea of the Divine do/ca dwelling/abiding among human beings
    • The idea of seeing the Divine do/ca in the person of Jesus.

All three of these represent key themes in the Gospel, and are established here in the Prologue, expressed in terms of certain Moses/Exodus traditions—two in particular: (1) the Tent-shrine as God’s dwelling-place among His people (Exod 40), and (2) the theophany episodes of Exod 19-20, 24 and 33-34.

1. The do/ca of the incarnate Logos (Jesus)

The frequent use of the noun do/ca and verb doca/zw in the Gospel shows that the author is purposefully emphasizing the belief that Jesus possesses the Divine splendor, and is worthy of the honor accorded to God (YHWH). However, elsewhere in the Gospel, this Christological view is expressed, not in terms of Jesus as the incarnate Logos of God, but as the Son, sent to earth (from heaven) by God the Father. The transition of usage, from lo/go$ (“word”) to ui(o/$ (“son”), was established in the final verses of the Prologue (vv. 14-18).

There are two main ways that do/ca is used, in this theological/Christological sense, in the Gospel: (1) the Son (Jesus) manifests the Divine do/ca in the things that he does and says, during his earthly mission; and (2) by completing his mission, for which he was sent by the Father, he is given do/ca.

The second thematic emphasis is expressed more properly by the verb doca/zw (“show/give honor”), and occurs frequently in this context: 8:54; 11:4, etc. The usage of the verb is focused on the culmination of Jesus’ mission, in his sacrificial death; by this, the Son gives honor to the Father, and the Father, in turn, gives honor to the Son. The bulk of references occur in chapters 13-17 (13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10) and in the preceding passages (12:23, 28). The Gospel writer uses the same verb to reference the Son’s exaltation—entailing his death, resurrection, and return to the Father (cf. 7:39; 12:16).

In the earlier chapters, the noun do/ca plays an important role in the narration of the “signs” performed by Jesus, and throughout the accompanying discourses. Both in the miracles and the discourse-teachings, Jesus manifests his do/ca—his identity as the Son sent from heaven by the Father. Cf. the varying usage in 2:11; 5:41, 44; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 9:24; 11:4, 40; 12:41, 43. The three occurrences of do/ca in chapter 17 provide perhaps the closest parallel to the context of the Prologue, since Jesus, in verses 5 and 24—statements that frame the the chapter—refers to the do/ca which he possessed alongside the Father before the creation of the world. Divine pre-existence is clearly indicated, even if Jesus does not refer to himself here as the Logos. This same do/ca is manifested to human beings (believers), and is communicated to them (vv. 22, 24)—a theme that is also found in the Prologue (vv. 14-18, also implicit in vv. 12-13).

2. The dwelling of the Divine do/ca among God’s people

This theme from the Prologue (and the underlying Logos-poem) is expressed more subtly and indirectly elsewhere in the Gospel. There is, for example, in connection with the Temple-saying by Jesus (2:19ff), the Christological idea that the meaning and importance of the Temple is transferred to, and fulfilled in, the person of Jesus. If the Temple, like the earlier Tent-shrine, represented the dwelling place of God, then this is now fulfilled in the person of Jesus—with the implication that God is dwelling in him. This could further be interpreted in relation to the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus at the baptism, in light of the application of the Temple-motif by Paul (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; cf. also Eph 2:21), whereby God dwells in the ‘Temple’ of the believer through the presence of the Spirit.

This dwelling-theme is expressed in the Johannine writings principally through use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”). This verb is one of the most distinctive and prominent Johannine keywords; it occurs more frequently in the Johannine writings (67) than in the rest of the New Testament combined (51). It occurs in the Gospel of John 40 times, compared with just 12 in the Synoptic combined; and, for good measure, the verb occurs 24 times in the five short chapters of 1 John (and 3 more times in 2 John).

In virtually every occurrence of me/nw, the author(s) of the Gospel and Letters use this verb in a special theological (and Christological) sense. It refers to the abiding union which the believer has with God, and God with the believer. This union with God the Father is realized through the Son (Jesus), and, in turn, the union with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit (cf. 14:17; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13). While the verb is used throughout the Gospel, it is especially emphasized in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), as Jesus instructs his disciples on the importance of “remaining in him”. This is the principal theme of the Vine-illustration section (15:1-17), in which me/nw occurs 11 times (in vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). The key Christological statement, utilizing me/nw, is in 14:10:

“Do you not trust that I (am) in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words which I say to you, I do not speak from myself; but the Father, (who is) remaining [me/nwn] in me, does His works.”

This statement, that the Father is abiding in the Son (Jesus), is central to the Johannine theology. The specific imagery of a dwelling-place (such as a house or tent, cf. above) is only implied by this language; however, at several points in the gospel, the motif becomes more explicit, such as in 8:35 (cf. the context of vv. 31-38). Even more notable, is the use of the noun monh/ (“abode,” related to me/nw) in 14:2-3, where the image of a great house with dwelling-units is utilized by Jesus. The same noun occurs in 14:23 (these are the only occurrences in the New Testament), where it used in an important summary of the Johannine theology and spirituality:

“If one should love me, he will keep watch (over) my word; and my Father will love him, and we [i.e. Father and Son] will come to him and will make our abode [monh/] alongside him.”

This statement functions almost as an expository interpretation of the phrase in 1:14.

3. Seeing the Divine do/ca (in the person of Jesus)

Perhaps even more prominent in the Johannine writings, as a Christological theme, is the idea of seeing God in the person of Jesus (i.e., in the Son). The specific verb qea/omai occurs five other times in the Gospel (1:32, 38; 4:35; 6:5; 11:45), and three times in 1 John (1:1; 4:12, 14). However, as mentioned above, it is just one of a group of verbs (ei&dw, ble/pw, o(ra/w, etc) which, in some way, express the idea of sight/seeing.

As with the verb me/nw (discussed above), these sight-verbs have special theological significance in the Gospel, and can take on a double-meaning in the narratives and discourses. For example, in the episode of the healing of the blind man (chap. 9), at the beginning of the episode (vv. 1-7ff), ordinary physical sight (with the eyes) is being referenced; however, by the end of the episode (vv. 35-41), sight (and blindness) refer, in the theological sense, to trust in Jesus—that is, recognizing and acknowledging his identity as the Son sent from heaven by the Father.

Indeed, this theological meaning dominates the sight/seeing language throughout the Gospel. There are two primary aspects to this theological usage: (1) trust—by “seeing” Jesus, one trusts in him; and (2) revelation—when one sees the Son, one sees the Father. Both of these aspects can be found all through the Gospel, as a survey of the relevant sight/seeing references will attest; cf. my earlier article on “Knowledge and Revelation” in the Johannine writings. The specific verb qea/omai means “look with wonder”, but it can be used with a range of related or more general meanings—such as: look closely at (something), consider (carefully), contemplate.

In several references, the emphasis is on witnessing the events surrounding the Son’s earthly mission, those which manifest his Divine identity (and glory), and which will lead to trust for those (elect/believers) who belong to God—cf. 1:32, 38; 11:45; 1 Jn 4:14. This is the principal aspect of meaning in 1:14 as well; the usage in 1 Jn 1:1 almost certainly is an intentional echo of the Gospel Prologue (and/or the underlying Logos-poem). The author of 1 John also seems to draws upon verse 18 of the Prologue in 4:12, with the declaration that:

“no one has looked on [teqe/atai] God at any time…”
(Jn 1:18a is virtually identical, except for the use of the seeing-verb o(ra/w instead of qea/omai)

This theological principle, drawn from the Moses/Exodus traditions in Exod 33-34 (esp. 33:20, 23; cf. Deut 4:12, 15), related to the theophany in chaps. 19-20, was clearly of important to the Gospel writer, since it is referenced several other times in the Gospel—5:37; 6:46, and a probable allusion in 3:3. No human being has ever seen God (the Father), nor is it even possible for a mortal creature to see Him directly, in all of His splendor (do/ca); He can only be seen in the person of His Son (Jesus). This is a fundamental component of the Johannine theology, shared by the Gospel writer and the author of 1 John (5:37ff; 11:40; 12:45; 14:6-7, 9ff; 1 Jn 1:1ff; 4:12ff).

In the final part (5) of this article, we will look at the remaining phrases of verse 14, in relation to the wider Johannine context.

 

 

 

“The Word Became Flesh…”: Supplemental note on Jn 1:14 and 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6

On John 1:14 and 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6

This note is supplemental to Part 3 of the current study article on John 1:14, looking, in particular, at the use of the verb gi/nomai in the statement “the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”, within the overall context of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters). Two references will specifically be examined here: the saying by the Baptist in John 1:15, and the Christological confession in 1 John 4:2 par.

Beginning with the Baptist’s declaration in Jn 1:15 (par 30), it is clear that the verb e&rxomai (“come”) refers to the earthly career and ministry of the incarnate Logos; in English idiom, we might say, “when he came upon the scene”. The phrase is “the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] in back of me [o)pi/sw mou]”.

Only in terms of his public ministry, can Jesus (as the Logos) be said to come “in back of” (i.e. after, following) John the Baptist. At the time of his first appearance (the baptism), Jesus was virtually unknown, while the Baptist had already been on the scene for some time and had developed a reputation. Conceivably, Jesus may have been (for a time) a disciple of the Baptist; commentators are far from being in agreement on this point, but, if it were historically accurate, then it would provide a clearer meaning for the expression “in back of me” (cp. the use of o)pi/sw in Mk 1:17, 20 par, etc). John 1:15/30 likely represents a Johannine version of an historical tradition, otherwise preserved in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:7 par). On the background and Messianic significance of this saying, cf. my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

But, if e&rxomai in 1:15 refers to Jesus’ public ministry, what of the verb gi/nomai? There would seem to be two possibilities: (a) it refers to the human life of Jesus generally, or (b) it refers specifically to his birth. If we build out the statement in v. 15, it reads:

“the (one) coming in back of me, has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me [e&mprosqe/n mou]”

In what sense has Jesus come to be “in front of” the Baptist? In light of verse 14, the answer can only be: it is because he is the Logos who became a human being. The connection with verse 14 (and the prior vv. 12-13) provides, in my view, conclusive evidence that gi/nomai here refers to primarily (if not exclusively) to Jesus’ birth—that is, the birth of the Logos as a human being.

This brings us to the confessional statement in 1 John 4:2. The author essentially asserts that every true believer will acknowledge and affirm that Jesus Christ has come “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/). The actual wording is “Yeshua (the) Anointed having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh”, utilizing the verb e&rxomai (“come”). There is a formal similarity with Jn 1:14, involving the conjunction of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) and sa/rc (“flesh”).

In the Baptist’s declaration of Jn 1:15 (cf. above), the verbs e&rxomai and gi/nomai are connected. As I have interpreted this verse, e&rxomai refers to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (i.e., his “coming” on the scene), while gi/nomai, in light of the prior v. 14 (and vv. 12-13), refers to Jesus’ birth (i.e., the birth of the Logos as a human being). But how does 1 Jn 4:2 (par 2 Jn 7) understand the verb e&rxomai? Elsewhere in 1 John (2:18; 4:3), the verb, used of the figure/spirit of “antichrist”, has the basic meaning of “coming on the scene” here on earth, i.e., being present and active among human beings. This generally parallels the references in Jn 1:7, 11, 27, 29-31, referring to the public appearance (and ministry) of John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively.

On the other hand, Jn 1:9 has the wider revelatory context of the Divine Logos (the Word/Wisdom of God) being manifest in Creation (and on earth). In certain respects, this would parallel the usage in 1 John of “antichrist” as an evil spirit, that is opposed to God (and His Spirit), and gives a false/deceiving revelation. In this regard, the use of the verb e&rxomai is closer in meaning to how gi/nomai is used in the Prologue, since the incarnation of the Logos represents the climactic manifestation of it within Creation. Other references in the Gospel support this cosmic orientation, utilizing e&rxomai to refer to the Son coming to earth from heaven, and then, having completed his mission, going back to his heavenly origin (i.e., coming [back] to the Father)—cf. 3:19, 31; 5:43; 7:28; 8:14, 21f, 42, etc.

We may thus isolate three Christological uses of the verb e&rxomai:

    • A person appearing, coming on the scene, to begin his public ministry/career
    • The coming to earth (from heaven) of a Divine/heavenly being
      to which a third, intermediate usage may be added:
    • The (eschatological) appearance of the Messiah (cf. 1:27; 4:25; 7:31, 41-42, and also my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

These differing emphases in the Johannine use of e&rxomai are of significance for determining the opponents’ view of Christ, in light of the confessional statements in 1 Jn 4:2 par and 5:6. The two statements are clearly related:

    • “…having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/]” (4:2)
    • “…(hav)ing come [e)lqw/n] in the water and the blood” (5:6)

In the latter statement, there are two forms of the phrase in bold: (a) “through [dia/] water and blood”, (b) “in [e)n] the water and in [e)n] the blood”. I have essentially combined these in the quotation above, in order to bring out more clearly the parallel. Given this parallel, almost certainly the phrase “in the water and (in) the blood” is an elucidation of what is meant by “in (the) flesh”. To say that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh” means (according to the author) that he came “in the water” and “in the blood”.

If “in the flesh” refers to Jesus’ life and existence as a human being, then the expressions “in the water” and “in the blood” must relate to this. Most commentators understand “in/through the water” as a reference to the baptism of Jesus, while “in/through the blood” certainly refers to his death. By this interpretation, the two expressions would designate, respectively, the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is also possible that “in the water” refers to the birth of Jesus, given the use of the water-motif in John 3:3-8, in relation to the idea of believers coming to be born as offspring of God (an idea very prevalent in 1 John). The pair of expressions, then, would designate the beginning and end of Jesus’ human life—that is, the boundaries and the span of it.

The author’s argument in 5:6, as it is worded, suggests that the opponents accepted that Jesus came “in/through the water”, but not “in/through the blood”. This would mean that they accepted the reality and/or significance of either—his human birth, or his baptism. If it is the latter, then this would strengthen the hypothesis that the opponents held an early “separationist” view of Jesus, akin to that which is attributed to Cerinthus (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.1). In a “separationist” Christology, it is held that the Divine Christ (= Son) came upon the man Jesus during the baptism, the two joining, only to separate again at the moment of Jesus’ death. A simpler version, drawn from the Johannine Gospel narrative, would affirm that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at the baptism, and then departed from him at his death (19:30). The opponents would have affirmed the importance of the baptism, since that was when Jesus received the Spirit, but not his death (since that is when the Spirit departed).

If “in/through the water” refers to the birth of Jesus, then the opponents would have affirmed the reality of Jesus human life, and its importance. What they denied was the death of the Son (Jesus). If their main objection was to the idea that the incarnate Son/Logos could die, then they would have something in common with those who held an early docetic view of Christ (such as that of the opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters). Alternately, they may have denied the importance or significance of Jesus’ death.

Commentators remain divided on the precise nature of the opponents’ Christology; I have discussed the matter in more historical and exegetical detail in earlier notes and studies.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 3

“And the Word became flesh…”
kai\ o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

There are three components to this statement in Jn 1:14a; the first of these (the noun lo/go$) was discussed in part 1, and the second (sa/rc, “flesh”) in part 2. We now turn to the final component.

3. gi/nomai

The verb gi/nomai is the main verb of becoming (“come to be, become”) in Greek. In the first division of our study, in which we examined 1:14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue, we saw the way that the verb of becoming was purposefully contrasted with the verb of being (ei)mi). Created beings (spec. human beings) come to be (vv. 3, 6, 10), but only God is (vv. 1-2, 4, 8-10). However, both verbs are applied to the Logos. Being God (v. 1c), the Logos is (imperfect tense, h@n, “was”), and yet he also became (e)ge/neto) a human being.

This theological use of the verb of being continues throughout the Gospel of John, and also in the Letters of John. In particular, we may note the essential predication that is utilized extensively in the Johannine writings. These simple predicative statements, which give essential information about a  subject (i.e., what it is), are comprised of three components: (1) subject, (2) verb of being, and (3) predicate nominative, the latter sometimes expanded (with modifying elements) into an expression or phrase. Implicit in this formulation, used as part of the Johannine theological idiom, is that the predicative statements involve a Divine subject—most commonly, God (the Father) or Jesus (the Son). The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) sayings by Jesus in the Gospel are the most notable group of such statements.

The use of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is less distinctive. Indeed, the theological use of this verb is rather limited, especially as applied to the person of Jesus (the Son). The most significant such occurrences are those in the Gospel Prologue (vv. 14, 15, 17). In the saying by the Baptist in v. 15, gi/nomai refers (most probably) to the birth of the Logos as a human being (expounding v. 14), while ei)mi refers to the eternal pre-existence of the Logos (vv. 1-2). This declaration by the Baptist is more or less repeated in v. 30, and will be discussed further in a separate note.

The use of gi/nomai in verse 17 should be considered in relation to both v. 12 and 14. The main phrase is:

“…the favor and truth (of God) came to be [e)ge/neto] through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

On the one hand, this clearly alludes to the statement of the incarnation in v. 14—viz., the manifestation of Divine favor and truth, perceivable to human beings, in the person of the incarnate Logos. However, at the same time, the context also indicates that this “favor and truth” is communicated (to other human beings) by the incarnate Logos. This brings us to vv. 12-13, immediately preceding the Logos-declaration of v. 14. These two verses probably represent interpretive comments by the Gospel writer, rather than part of the original (underlying) Logos-poem; this is almost certainly true of vv. 12b-13, while v. 12a could well have been part of the Logos-poem. Verse 12 applies gi/nomai to human beings, but in a special theological sense:

“But, as (many) as received him [i.e. the Logos], he gave to them (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring [te/kna] of God”

Thus, while the Logos became a human being (“flesh”), he also makes it possible for those human beings who trust in him to become the “offspring of God”. Previously, I have noted that the use of gi/nomai in v. 14 (and vv. 15/30) refers specifically to the birth of the Logos as a human being (Jesus). The parallel use of the verb here in v. 12 seems to confirm this—for the Gospel writer, if not for the author(s) of a separate Logos-poem. Indeed, the verb gi/nomai can mean “come to be born”, though this nuance of meaning is more explicit in the related verb genna/w, which is the verb used in the following v. 13, referring to believers as:

“…the (one)s who—not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of Godcame to be (born) [e)ggenh/qhsan].”

Here in vv. 12-13, gi/nomai, when referring to the Divine birth of believers, can be used interchangeably with genna/w. It is, however, the verb genna/w that is used for this purpose throughout the Johannine writings. It occurs 8 times in 3:3-8, but with the ultimate point of affirming that those who trust in the Son (Jesus) come to be born “out of” (i.e. from) God’s Spirit (vv. 5-6, 8). The expression “out of God” (e)k qeou=), used in 1:13, is more common, and occurs repeatedly in 1 John—the author uses it as a descriptive identification for the true believer, viz., as one who “has come to be (born) of God” (3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The expression “offspring [i.e. children] of God” (te/kna qeou=) carries the same fundamental meaning (3:1-2, 10; 5:2; Jn 1:2, cf. also 11:52).

The verb genna/w is more or less reserved for believers, being used in this special theological sense. It is applied to the person of Jesus only in Jn 18:37, where it seems to be synonymous with gi/nomai in 1:14, referring to his birth as a human being. Possibly the second occurrence of genna/w in 1 Jn 5:18 also refers to the Son (Jesus), rather than the believer, though commentators remain divided on this point (cf. my earlier notes). If it does refer to Jesus, then the significance of the verb in the phrase (o( gennhqei/$ e)k tou= qeou=, “the [one hav]ing come to be [born] of God”) still is not entirely clear. Does it refer to his eternal Sonship, or to his specific life (and birth) as a human being? The Johannine usage elsewhere (Jn 1:14; 18:37) would suggest the latter.

Interestingly, the Johannine letters almost never use the verb gi/nomai; it occurs just three times, and only twice (1 Jn 2:18; 3 Jn 8) could it have any theological significance at all.

The remainder of this discussion will focus on two points related to the use of gi/nomai. The first involves the relationship between gi/nomai and the verb e&rxomai in the Baptist saying of Jn 1:15/30; the second explores the relation between the same two verbs, comparatively, in the respective phrases “came to be flesh” (1:14) and “(hav)ing come in (the) flesh” (1 Jn 4:2 par). To allow space for proper treatment, these will be dealt with in a supplemental note.

In the next part (4) of this study, we will turn to the remainder of verse 14 examining the key terms and phrasing in the context of the Johannine Gospel.