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

John 5:27

The next “son of man” reference in the Gospel of John is at 5:27, within the lengthy Discourse of chapter 5. The Johannine Discourses of Jesus are all carefully structured and arranged. For example, the first four Discourses are arranged in two pairs. The Discourses in the first pair (3:1-21; 4:1-42) are based upon encounters between Jesus and a particular individual—Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, respectively—characters who are vividly portrayed in the narrative. The Discourses of the second pair (chaps. 5 and 6) are each rooted in a different kind of historical tradition—namely, a miracle episode, similar to those we find narrated in the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, the miraculous feeding episode in chap. 6 (vv. 1-14f) so closely resembles the Synoptic episode(s) (Mk 6:30-44 par; 8:1-10 par), that most commentators would consider both versions to be derived from a single (common) historical tradition.

As for the miracle episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-16), it bears a certain resemblance to Mark 3:1-6 par, with the healing framed as a Sabbath controversy episode. Actually, in the Johannine narrative, the healing (vv. 1-9) and Sabbath-controversy (vv. 10-16) portions appear to reflect separate traditions, which the Gospel writer (or the underlying Johannine Tradition) has combined into a single narrative. In this regard, we might a comparison with the healing miracle (of a paralyzed man) in Mk 2:1-12 par, in its contextual position preceding the Sabbath controversy episodes of 2:23-3:6. As it happens, in both the episodes of 2:1-12 and 23-28, the expression “the son of man” plays a prominent role (vv. 10, 28).

The Johannine combination of traditional elements—healing miracle and Sabbath controversy—provides the narrative background for the main saying of Jesus (v. 17) that initiates the Discourse proper: “My Father works (even) until now, and I (also) work.” In the sections of the Discourse that follow, Jesus expounds the meaning of this saying.

In all of the Johannine Discourses, there is a reaction to the initial saying of Jesus by his hearers, and this reaction leads to an expository response by Jesus. The hostile reaction, by at least some of the populace (“the Yehudeans”) who heard him, is presented indirectly, in summary fashion by the Gospel writer, in verse 18. The people objected both to his healing act which (in their view) violated the Sabbath law, and to his statement, by which they recognized that “he was making himself equal to God”.

Typically, the audience reactions to Jesus’ statements in the Discourses involve a misunderstanding of (the true meaning of) his words. Here, the emphasis is not so much on misunderstanding, as it is on opposition to Jesus. Given the Synoptic parallels (see above), and also the certain parallels with the healing episode in chapter 9, it would seem likely that “the Yehudeans [i.e., Jews]” of verses 10-18 should be identified with the kinds of Jewish religious authorities (‘Scribes and Pharisees’) who typically feature as Jesus’ adversaries/opponents in the Gospel Tradition (cf. 9:13-16ff).

Jesus’ exposition that follows may be divided into two main portions—vv. 19-30 and vv. 31-47. The “son of man” reference occurs toward the end of first division. The principal theme of the Discourse is two-fold: (1) Jesus’ identity as the unique Son of God the Father, and (2) the fact that, as the Son, he does the work of his Father.

Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example in his working—a principle that almost certainly reflects the practical situation of a son apprenticing in the same work/trade as his father. As Jesus states at the opening of his exposition:

“The Son is not able to do anything from himself, if not [i.e. but only] what he should see the Father doing; for the (thing)s which that (One) would do, the Son also does.” (v. 19)

The Father, like a human father instructing his son, shows the Son what to do and how to work (v. 20).

To illustrate the nature of the Father’s work, Jesus cites two examples, both of which have an eschatological orientation: (i) giving life to the dead (v. 21), and (ii) acting as Judge over humankind (v. 22). The first theme is loosely related to the healing miracle of vv. 1-16, though it would, of course, be more appropriate to the Lazarus episode of chap. 11. The ability to heal illness reflects the life-giving power of God. However, the exposition focuses specifically on giving life to the dead (i.e., resurrection), with the end-time resurrection primarily in view. This resurrection, according to traditional eschatological expectation, is connected with the end-time Judgment.

These twin themes are woven through verses 19-30, being developed in various ways, and (most importantly) given a Johannine Christological interpretation. Structurally, the exposition here is given in two parallel sections—vv. 21-24 and vv. 25-29. Three key points are made in each section:

    • The authority/ability both to give life and to judge is given by the Father to the Son (vv. 21-22f, 26-27)
    • Giving life: the one who hears the voice of the Son will receive life and be raised from the dead (v. 24a, 25ff)
    • Judging: those who hear the Son’s voice will face the Judgment (v. 24b, 28-29)

The emphasis in the second section (vv. 25-29) is on what we may call the traditional future eschatology, held by Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D. In the first section (vv. 21-24), however, the focus is on the realized eschatology that is so distinctive of the Johannine Gospel. The two eschatological strands are joined together here by the phrase in v. 25a: “(the) hour comes, and is now (here)”.

From the standpoint of the Johannine ‘realized’ eschatology—that is, where traditional future events (i.e., resurrection, the Judgment) are realized for human beings already in the present—the eschatological events of the resurrection and the Judgment are understood in terms of trust in Jesus. This is stated quite clearly in verse 24:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me holds (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over [metabe/bhken], out of death and into life.”

The use of the perfect tense of the verb metabai/nw, in particular, makes clear that the person trusting in Jesus (as the Son sent by the Father) has already (in the present) received the resurrection-life, and has passed through the Judgment into eternal life. Much the same idea was expressed earlier in 3:16-21, and can be found at other points in the Gospel as well.

Yet this ‘realized’ eschatology does not exclude the traditional (future) understanding of the end-time resurrection and Judgment. This is clear from the second section (vv. 25-29), though some commentators would view the future eschatology in these verses as the product of a later (redacted/edited) edition of the Gospel, and not the work of the original author. As noted above, verse 25a serves to join together the two different eschatological viewpoints. More than this, there is a certain inclusio to the section which could be interpreted as presenting the theme of Jesus’ life-giving (resurrection) power according to both eschatological aspects:

    • Realized eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes and is now (here)
      when the dead
      shall hear the voice of the Son of God,
      and the (one)s hearing shall live” (v. 25)
    • Future eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes
      in which all the (one)s in the memorials [i.e. tombs]
      shall hear his voice,
      and they shall travel out…(some) unto life…and (others) unto judgment” (vv. 28-29)

In both instances, human beings hear the voice of the Son (Jesus). This “hearing” has a double meaning, but the second (deeper) meaning applies only to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine theology. For this reason, the verb a)kou/w (“hear”) is used twice in verse 25:

    • “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God”
      viz., at the resurrection, when humankind is raised from the dead
    • “and the (one)s (hav)ing heard shall live”
      viz., believers, those trusting in Jesus, shall enter into eternal life

At the same time, the entire verse echoes the realized eschatology of vv. 21-24, and anticipates the Lazarus episode, in which “the dead hearing the voice of the Son” is applied to the present, not simply to the future.

With this analysis in place, we can now turn to the “son of man” reference in verse 27. It is important, first, to examine the reference within the unit of vv. 26-27. As noted above, in this unit, we find the theme of the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. In the first section, this theme was 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”

It is similarly expressed, though with quite different wording/phrasing, 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 thus 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. With regard to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” here, there are three interpretive issues that need to be addressed:

    1. The relation between the (parallel) terminology “the Son” (v. 22) and “(the) son of man” (v. 27)
    2. In what ways (if any) does the power to give life and to judge differ, particularly as expressed in vv. 26-27, and (how) does this effect the use of the expression “son of man”?
    3. How is the judgment to be understood, comparing the matter in light of both sections (vv. 21-24, 25-29), and in the broader context of the Johannine theology? And how does the expression “(the) son of man” relate to this understanding of the judgment?

In addition, some consideration must be given to the distinctive anarthrous form of the expression (i.e., without the definite article[s]) here in verse 27.

These points will be discussed in the continuation of this study.

 

November 17: John 15:16 (4)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“and (that you) should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain”
kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte kai\ o( karpo\$ u(mw=n me/nh|

Picking up on our discussion from the previous note, the idiom of bearing fruit (vb fe/rw + obj karpo/$), as it applies to the disciple of Jesus, refers principally to the fulfilling of the mission given to the disciple. As I discussed, in the Gospel context, this means the continuation (and extension) of Jesus’ own mission—the mission of the Son, for which the Father sent him from heaven (to earth). Within the framework of the Johannine theology, this mission is rooted in the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that Jesus has given to disciples/believers, which itself follows the duty that the Father gave to the Son. The two-fold duty is: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus (“remain in my word”, 8:31; 15:7), and (2) to show love to one another, following the example of Jesus (“remain in my love”, 15:9-10).

In the qualifying phrase that follows, here in v. 16, Jesus adds the purpose that the fruit the disciple ‘bears’ should remain (vb me/nw). This important Johannine keyword has been discussed repeatedly in prior notes; it is especially prominent in the Vine-passage (15:1-17), where it occurs 11 times (vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). It defines the believer’s fundamental identity, as belonging to the Son (Jesus), and of being/staying in union with him. The verb, with its basic meaning “remain, abide, stay”, carries both the sense of residing and of enduring.

The Johannine use of the verb entails both sides of the believer’s relationship with the Son: the believer remains in the Son, and the Son remains in the believer. This aspect of reciprocity is very much emphasized in the Vine illustration—see esp. the formulations in vv. 4 and 7:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you” (v. 4)
    • “If you should remain in me, and my words remain in you” (v. 7)

But what does it mean for the believer’s fruit to remain? There are two references elsewhere in the Gospel that may shed some light on this question. The first is the statement by Jesus in 4:36:

“The (one) harvesting receives a wage, and gathers together fruit unto (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life], (so) that the (one) sowing and the (one) harvesting might rejoice as one.”

This verse was examined in an earlier note, where I pointed out the eschatological background and orientation of these harvest illustrations in the New Testament. The time of harvesting, indeed, serves as a natural image for the end of the current Age. The expression “into/unto the Age” refers to this eschatological perspective (viz., the ushering in of the coming New Age), while the related expression “(the) life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh/) refers to the Divine/blessed life that the righteous will experience in the Age to Come.

The Gospel of John retains this eschatological point of reference, but gives to it a deeper theological and spiritual meaning. Now, the “life of the Age”, or simply the shorthand term “life” (zwh/), refers to the life (and life-giving power) that God Himself possesses, and which is communicated to believers through the Son (Jesus). The Son possesses the same life that belongs to God the Father, it being given to him by the Father (cf. 3:34f; 5:26; 6:57); the Son, in turn, is able to give the life to believers. This happens even in the present, prior to the end-time Judgment—the one who trusts in Jesus has already passed through the Judgment, and now holds eternal life (see esp. 5:24).

The passage 4:31-38 shares with 15:16 (and with the Last Discourse as a whole) the theme of the disciples (believers) sharing in the mission of Jesus, and continuing it. Through the proclamation of the Gospel message, and by following the teaching and example of Jesus, believers serve as a witness to who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent by God the Father, who makes the Father known. The Gospel is rooted in Jesus’ own words (in the Discourses, etc) regarding his identity, and by the witness of the earliest disciples (and subsequently, by other believers) that confirms his word. Believers who are faithful to this witness thus “remain in his word”. It is a message—the word of Jesus—that leads to eternal life for those who trust in it.

The second reference of note is the opening declaration of the Bread of Life Discourse (chap. 6):

“You must not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food th(at is) remaining [me/nousan] unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man shall give to you” (v. 27)

The motif of ‘food that remains’ is clearly parallel to that of ‘fruit that remains’. Thus, there is good reason to conclude that this abiding fruit, like the abiding food, refers to the eternal life that the Son (Jesus) gives to believers. This life is possessed (“held”) by believers even in the present, but only if one remains in the Son will this life remain.

It is possible, I think, to isolate three distinct strands of meaning that inform the motif of bearing “fruit that remains” in v. 16:

    • It is an extension of the broader concept of the believer remaining in Jesus, and Jesus in the believer. Through this abiding union with the Son, believers are also united with the Father, realizing their/our identity as His offspring (1:12-13, etc).
    • In particular, it refers to the eternal life from the Father that is granted to believers through the Son, being communicated by the Spirit.
    • It also relates to the discipleship-theme of believers’ role in continuing the ministry of Jesus—witnessing to the message (the words and example) of Jesus that leads to eternal life for all who trust in him.

August 10: John 6:68

John 6:68

Having discussed in detail the saying by Jesus in Jn 6:63 (over a set of eight daily notes), let us turn briefly to consider the confessional statement by Peter in v. 68, which essentially affirms, as a statement of faith, what Jesus has said in v. 63.

The difficulty posed by the teaching in the Discourse (see v. 60) proved to be a test and turning point for those following Jesus; at that time, apparently, many turned away and ceased following him (v. 66). Jesus had already made clear that some of those following him where not true disciples (i.e., believers): “But there are some of you that do not trust” (v. 64). The group of disciples was reduced considerably; the implication in the narrative is that only the Twelve remained. To them Jesus asks: “You do not also wish to go away(, do you)?” (v. 67).

This sets the stage for the confession by Peter, which, in certain respects, holds a similar place in the Gospel of John as that of the more famous Synoptic confession in Mark 8:29 par. Indeed, it has been suggest that the Johannine and Synoptic traditions, at this point, are drawing upon the same underlying historical tradition. Before considering that critical question, here is Peter’s initial response in verse 68:

“Lord, toward whom shall we go away? You hold the utterances [r(h/mata] of (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]”

The question is rhetorical and hypothetical: even if we were to go away from [a)po/] you, toward [pro/$] whom else could we go? The question assumes a negative response: there is no one else we can go to, in place of you. Peter, speaking for the Twelve (that is, the eleven true disciples, vv. 64, 70-71), recognizes that there is something truly unique and special about Jesus; he may not yet understand completely Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), but he recognizes that the words have a special Divine inspiration.

Peter uses the same plural r(h/mata (“things uttered, utterances”) that Jesus does in v. 63. In an earlier note, I discussed how, in the Gospel of John, plural r(h/mata and singular lo/go$ can be used almost interchangeably (see v. 60)—referring to specific sayings or teachings by Jesus. Thus Peter essentially affirms the connection between Jesus’ sayings/teachings (“words”) and life (zwh/), very much as in verse 63. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, the noun zwh/ in the Johannine writings virtually always refers to the Divine/eternal life possessed by God—and to His life-giving power. Peter affirms the life-character of Jesus’ words through a genitival expression:

“(the) utterances [r(h/mata] of (the) life [zwh=$] eternal [ai)wni/ou]”

Above, I translated ai)wni/ou as “of the Age(s)”; however, it is an adjective, which here modifies the genitive noun zwh=$ (“of life”); therefore, to avoid complicating the genitive relationship, I have rendered it here as “eternal”.

Syntactically, the expression could be read either as a subjective or objective genitive. In the first instance, “eternal life” would be an attribute or characteristic of Jesus’ words; in the second instance, it would most likely refer to what Jesus’ words give or bring about. Both aspects are appropriate to the Johannine theology, in context; indeed, Jesus mentions both in v. 63:

    • Subjective: His words are life
    • Objective: His words (as Spirit) make live (vb zwopoei/w, i.e. give life)

Whatever Peter may have understood, precisely, at the historical level, in the literary context of the Gospel his confession combines together both of these theological aspects. It thus serves as a suitable conclusion to the entire Discourse-narrative of chapter 6. Anticipating the fuller understanding (for believers) that would come after Jesus’ exaltation (cf. the allusion to this in v. 62), Peter’s confession affirms two important theological points—points which are developed further (and more fully) elsewhere in the Gospel:

    • The Divine/eternal character of Jesus’ words (r(h/mata), since he himself (as the eternal Son of God) is the Divine Word (lo/go$) incarnate (1:14).
    • His words give eternal life. Since God is Spirit (4:24), His word possesses the life-giving power of His Spirit, clearly indicated by role of His Word in creation (1:3-4). The Son shares the same Divine Spirit, receiving it from the Father (3:34-35); his words thus have the same life-giving power, communicating (through the Spirit) the Divine/eternal life of God. As the Living Word, the Son’s words naturally bring life.

In the next daily note, we will look at the continuation of Peter’s confession in verse 69.

August 9: John 6:63 (8)

John 6:63, concluded

“…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.” (v. 63b)

In this final note on Jn 6:63, we will examine the second part of the verse (b) in terms of the second Christological difficulty (related to the Bread of Life Discourse, cf. the disciples’ reaction in v. 60) outlined in the prior notes—namely, the idea that is necessary to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). The first Christological difficulty—viz., Jesus’ claim of having come down from heaven (i.e., his heavenly origin)—in relation to v. 63b, was discussed in the previous note.

(2) The need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”)

This aspect of the Discourse (see vv. 27, 32f, 35, 48ff, 50, 51ff) has been discussed in the prior notes, including its specific relation to the statement in v. 63a. Now, we will be looking at v. 63b: “…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

In applying this statement to the idea of eating Jesus, the most obvious implication is that Jesus’ words in the Discourse to that effect must be understood (and interpreted) in a spiritual manner. If his words (r(h/mata) are Spirit, then they can only be understood correctly in a spiritual way. From the Discourse itself, it is clear that “eating” Jesus means trusting (vb pisteu/w) in him (i.e., as the one sent by God the Father from heaven). This is indicated clearly in vv. 29, 35f, 40, 47; even so, Jesus’ hearers at the time (including his disciples) would have found it difficult to understand the connection. His words became particularly “harsh” (v. 60) once Jesus began to explain this eating in terms of eating his flesh (v. 51). Some of those who heard him naturally asked, “How is this (man) able to give us [his] flesh to eat?” (v. 52).

Modern commentators continue to be “tripped up” (v. 61) over this point, but for a different reason—as many take more or less for granted that the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58 refers to a physical eating of the (sacramental) bread (i.e., in the Lord’s Supper ritual). Against this understanding, verse 63 suggests that a spiritual interpretation of the Supper is intended.

The shift from the motif of “bread” to “flesh” represents a narrowing of focus—from the Son’s incarnate “stepping down” (to earth as a human being) to the fulfillment of his mission through his death (as a human being). While the idiom of eating is the same in both instances, the emphasis of the “bread” motif is on Jesus’ heavenly origin (“bread from heaven”), while that of “flesh” (and “blood”) is on his sacrificial death. In both instances, “eating” refers to trust in Jesus (cf. above)—i.e., trust in his heavenly origin (“bread [from heaven]”) and trust in his sacrificial death (“flesh [and blood]”).

Trust results in receiving the Spirit, which the Son gives/sends to believers, having himself received it from the Father (3:34f). Only when the believer has come to be born “from above” (3:3-8)—that is, from the Spirit—is he/she able to recognize the heavenly origin and spiritual nature of Jesus’ words (cf. 3:31ff), and to begin to grasp their true meaning. Spiritual words can only be understood in a spiritual way (cp. 1 Cor 2:13ff).

In 4:10-15, the very idiom of eating/drinking is applied to the idea of believers receiving the Spirit, as the parallel in 7:37-39 makes clear. It is fair to assume that the “living bread” in chap. 6 (vv. 51) has a correspondingly similar meaning as “living water” in 4:10f; 7:38. In both instances the living (zw=n) nourishment is given by Jesus (4:10, 14; 6:27, 33, 51), just as he gives the Spirit (1:33; 16:7b; 20:22; cf. also 3:34f). Elsewhere in the Gospel, it is life (zwh/) that the Son (Jesus) gives (5:21, 26; 6:33, 57; 10:28; 17:2, etc). There is certainly a very close connection between Life and the Spirit, as stated here in v. 63.

Thus, what the believer takes in (i.e., ‘eats’ or ‘drinks’) is the Spirit, which is also living (zw=n)—which refers to the Divine/eternal life (zwh/) that God possesses. The Son gives life, but so does the Spirit (according to v. 63a); the implication is that the Son gives life through the Spirit. However, in the Bread of Life Discourse, the “living” bread is not just given by the Son, it is identified with the person of the incarnate Son (Jesus) himself. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, this is best understood by the principle that the Son (Jesus) is present in the believer through the Spirit. Thus, one “eats” Jesus by trusting in him, and thus receiving the Spirit, which gives eternal life that the believer possesses (“holds”) within; the eternal Son (Jesus), who is life (1:4; 14:6), is also personally present through the indwelling Spirit. In so doing, one also eats/drinks the “flesh/blood” of Jesus, meaning that the life-giving (and cleansing) power of his death is communicated to believers, through the Spirit (cf. the earlier note on 1 Jn 1:7ff).

But what relation does this have to the specific words (r(h/mata) uttered by Jesus? In a sense, the believer also ‘eats’ these words, though in the Johannine idiom this is expressed more properly through the idea of the word(s) abiding within the believer, utilizing the key-verb me/nw (“remain, abide”). As discussed in the previous note, the singular noun lo/go$ can refer both to (1) a specific saying or teaching by Jesus, and (2) to the living/eternal Word of God (of the Johannine Prologue, 1:1-2, 14) with whom Jesus (the Son) is personally identified. In 1 John 1:1, these two aspects are blended together with the traditional use of lo/go$ to refer to the “account” of Jesus (i.e., the Gospel). The words abide through the presence of the abiding Word, though the repeated exhortations (in the Gospel and First Letter) indicate the importance of believers holding firm to the teachings (and example) of Jesus which they received. For the key Johannine references in this regard, using the verb me/nw, cf. 5:38; 6:27, 56; 8:31; 14:17; 15:4-10; 1 Jn 2:14, 24, 27-28; 3:9, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16; 2 Jn 2, 9. The words give life because the abiding Word gives life; both are Spirit, and must be understood and recognized according to the Spirit.

In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the confessional statement by Peter in verse 68.

 

August 8: John 6:63 (7)

John 6:63, continued

“…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.” (v. 63b)

Having conducted an examination of the first part of verse 63(a) from a Christological standpoint (cf. the previous note, and the note prior), we now shall do the same for the second part of the verse (b). The Christological examination has proceeded according to the two main points of difficulty that Jesus’ disciples would have had with the teaching in the Bread of Life Discourse (see v. 60): (1) the claim by Jesus that he has come down from heaven (i.e., his heavenly origin), and (2) the idea that people need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). Let us now consider verse 63b from the standpoint of each of these Christological aspects.

(1) Jesus’ heavenly origin

The idea expressed by Jesus in v. 62 is that, once the disciples observe his exaltation (“stepping [back] up” to the Father in heaven), then they will realize that he, indeed, has “stepped down” to earth from heaven. It is this heavenly origin of Jesus (as the eternal Son of God) that underlies the type-image of the manna as “bread from heaven”; Jesus fulfills the figure-type in his own person, showing himself to be the true and living bread that has “come down from heaven”.

From a Christological standpoint, Jesus’ identity as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God means that he, like God the Father, possesses the fullness of the Spirit, along with the Father’s life-giving power. If God the Father is Himself Spirit (4:24), then so also is the Son, having received the full measure of the Spirit from his Father (3:34f). The creative, life-giving power of God is also possessed by the Son, being intrinsic to his identity; the Son receives everything that belongs to the Father, including His life-giving power—on this important theme in the Gospel, see esp. 1:4ff; 5:26; 6:57; 14:19.

These attributes of Spirit (pneu=ma) and Life (zwh/) are things which the Son (Jesus) possesses, and which he, in turn, is able to give to believers. He communicates them directly to believers by his presence in/with them through the Spirit. And a principal idiom of this communication is that of the word, of speaking. As the Paraclete-sayings, in particular, make clear, Jesus speaks to believers through the Spirit (see esp. 16:12-15).

From a theological standpoint, if the Son shares in the Divine Spirit (as God, 1:1; 4:24; 10:30), having received the fullness of God’s Spirit (3:34f), then also his words are Spirit; Jesus says as much here: “the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit”. This can be understood several ways, according to several specific implications of the theological premise:

    • The Son’s words have a spiritual source. The Divine/heavenly origin of Jesus’ words is expressed quite clearly in 3:31ff, and in v. 34 the connection between the Son’s speaking and the Spirit is explicit:
      “For the (one) whom God (has) sent forth speaks the utterances of God, for not out of a measure does He give the Spirit.” (cp. 8:47)
      Elsewhere in the Gospel we find the repeated theme of the Son saying what he has heard from the Father (7:17; 8:26, 28, 38, 40; 12:49; 14:10, 24; 15:15), implying that his words ultimately come from God the Father (who is Spirit, 4:24).
    • The Son’s words have a spiritual nature. This is explained best in terms of the association between the Spirit and life; in the Gospel of John, the noun zwh/ almost always refers to the Divine/eternal life possessed by God, but this can also be related to the physical motif of resurrection-life (as in chaps. 5 and 11). The life-giving (i.e., Divine/Spiritual) power of the Son’s words is most clearly expressed in 5:21, 24-29, but the implication is also present in 5:39-40; 8:31-32; 10:10, 16; 12:50; 17:2-3, 14, and elsewhere.
    • The Son’s words must be received and understood in a spiritual manner. This principle is implicit throughout the Gospel Discourses, in which Jesus’ words always have a true and deeper meaning that goes beyond the apparent meaning. The audience typically misunderstands the key sayings or statements of Jesus, which utilize images and motifs from tradition or the natural world; this provokes questions which lead to further explanation/exposition by Jesus. The exposition, which points to the true (spiritual) meaning of the sayings, is of a Christological nature, focusing on Jesus’ self-identity as the (eternal) Son and his relationship to the Father (including the mission for which the Father sent him to earth from heaven). Only a person who has been “born from above”, from the Spirit, is able to see/know the true meaning of the Son’s words (3:3-8; cf. also the Paraclete-sayings 14:26; 15:26; 16:7ff, 13-15).

Along with these points, there is the fundamental theological theme of the Prologue, identifying Jesus, the eternal Son, also as the eternal Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God (1:1-2, 14). The close connection between the Divine Word (lo/go$) and the Divine Life (zwh/) is also a central theme of the Prologue (v. 4), assuming the theological tradition of the role of God’s Word (and Wisdom) in creating life (v. 3).

In 6:63 (also v. 68), the plural r(h/mata (sing. r(h=ma) is used; often translated “words”, r(h=ma properly refers to something spoken or uttered (i.e., “utterance”). In the Gospel of John, r(h=ma is always used in the plural, referring to specific things said by Jesus (the incarnate Son) during his time on earth. However, there can be no real doubt about the relationship between these “words” (r(h/mata) and the eternal Word (lo/go$) of the Prologue. The noun lo/go$ has a broad semantic range that resists easy or consistent translation in English. It can refer to a specific saying or teaching, as by Jesus, cf. 2:22; 4:41; 7:36, etc. This is how it is used by the disciples here in their complaint: “This word [lo/go$] is hard…” (v. 60).

At times, lo/go$ in reference to the saying(s)/teaching of Jesus, hints at the deeper theological meaning of lo/go$ in the Prologue. Of particular importance in this regard is the statement in 5:24:

“the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$], and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]” (cp. 17:3)

Another Johannine theme is of the Son’s word (lo/go$) abiding/remaining in the believer, being kept/held within—8:31, 37, 51ff; 12:48; 14:23-24; 17:6, 14ff; on the theme in 1 John, cf. 1:10; 2:5ff, 14. It is hard to separate this from the related idea of God’s eternal Word, identified with the person of the Son (Jesus), abiding within (and among) believers; cf. this important theological use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) in the Gospel and Letters of John. Particularly in 1 John, the twin ideas of God’s word (identified with the Gospel and teaching [of Jesus]) and of God Himself (through the Son) abiding in the believer can scarcely be separated; cp. the use of lo/go$ in 1:1 with the me/nw-passages in 2:14, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 9, 14-15, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16.

It is understandable that the disciples, unable to discern the true meaning of Jesus’ words, or recognize their spiritual nature, or comprehend their Christological significance, would complain of their difficulty (6:60). Moreover, in the context of the Johannine theology, it is quite appropriate that they would declare “this word [lo/go$] is hard!”

In the next daily note, the last of this series, we will examine v. 63b in the light of the second Christological point of difficulty (cf. above). At the same time, in conclusion, we will consider v. 63 in relation to the confessional statement by Peter in v. 68.

 

 

August 4: John 6:63 (4)

John 6:63, continued

The Christological emphasis of the question by Jesus in v. 62 was discussed in the previous note. In the narrative context, the question serves as a challenge to Jesus’ disciples in the moment—as to whether they would continue to trust in him—but also is a promise of what they would see (and come to understand) in the future (much like the earlier Son of Man saying in 1:51). The difficulty surrounding Jesus’ words in the Discourse primarily involves his claim of a heavenly origin—i.e., that he has come down (lit. “stepped down”, vb katabai/nw) from heaven. Fundamentally, then, verse 62 entails a Christological point—viz., the disciples can trust that the Son (Jesus) came down from heaven, because they will see him going back up (vb a)nabai/nw, “step up”) to heaven.

Before proceeding, it is worth mentioning briefly the specific wording used in v. 62. The expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) and the verb a)nabai/nw (“step up”), used in the special Johannine theological sense, have already been discussed. The verb qewre/w is one of several sight/seeing verbs used by the Gospel writer—again in the special theological/Christological sense of seeing = knowing = trust in Jesus that leads to knowledge/vision of God. The specific verb qewre/w denotes looking closely at something (vb qea/omai)—i.e., being an observer or spectator (qewro/$). The idea, then, is that the disciples will observe the “stepping up” of the Son of Man (i.e., Jesus), much like the promise of vision in the Son of Man saying of 1:51. The verb occurs 24 times in the Gospel (out of 58 NT occurrences), making it something of a Johannine keyword; for other instances with a clear theological/Christological significance, cf. 6:40; 12:45; 14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-17ff; 17:24.

What is that they will observe? The verb a)nabai/nw, in the special Johannine theological sense (and usage), refers to the exaltation of the Son (by God the Father); elsewhere in the Gospel, this is expressed by the verb u(yo/w (“lift high”), where it is specifically used in Son of Man sayings with a comparable meaning and significance to that of 6:62—cf. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. The “stepping up” by the Son is thus a result of his being “raised/lifted high” by the Father. This ascent, within the context of the Johannine narrative, involves a process—viz., of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The disciples of Jesus will, in different ways, observe this process. And, when they see him “stepping up” to God the Father, then they will truly understand and know that he has “stepped down” to earth from heaven.

The heavenly origin of the Son is also indicated here by the phrase “(the place) where [o%pou] he was [h@n] at the first [to\ pro/teron]”. The imperfect form of the verb of being (h@n, “he was”) has special significance in the Gospel of John, due to its repeated use in the Prologue (1:1-2, 4, 8-10, 15 [par 30]), where it refers to the eternal pre-existence of the Son (and Logos). Particularly in 1:1-2, the Son’s presence with the Father in heaven is clearly indicated. Jesus’ return to the Father’s presence (in heaven) is alluded to at a number of points in the Gospel (esp. in the Last Discourse), being stated most clearly in 14:28; 16:10, 28, and 17:5, 11, 13, 24. The expression to\ pro/teron (“the first”) is comparable to the use of a)rxh/ (“first, beginning”) in 1:1-2; 8:25; 1 Jn 1:1; 2:13-14; cf. also prw=to$ in 1:15, 30. Again, these terms have Christological significance, in reference to the pre-existence and deity of Jesus (as the Son of God).

Jesus’ statement in v. 63 follows after the Son of Man saying (question) in v. 62, and thus should be understood in light of the Christological emphasis of v. 62. But how, exactly, does v. 63 relate to v. 62? If the question, as both a promise and a challenge, involves seeing the exaltation (“stepping up”) of Jesus (the Son of Man), then it would stand to reason that the statement in v. 63 should be read in this immediate context:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

The initial contrast, between the Spirit and the flesh (sa/rc), would then relate to the seeing of the exalted Son of Man—that is, one sees it through the Spirit, not through the ordinary eyes of the flesh. But how does one “see” through the Spirit? This is indicated by Jesus in the earlier Nicodemus Discourse:

“if one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able to see [i)dei=n] the kingdom of God” (3:3)

As is clear from what follows in vv. 5-8, birth “from above” (which is also a new/second birth, via the dual-meaning of a&nwqen) means the same as birth “out of the Spirit” (e)c pneu/mato$). Elsewhere in the Johannine writings (esp. 1 John), the idiom is “coming to be (born) out of God [e)k qeou=]” (1:13, etc); but since God is Spirit (4:24), the two expressions are essentially equivalent—i.e., “out of God” = “out of the Spirit”. Once a person is born of the Spirit, he/she is able to see God and the things of God (“kingdom of God”); but it is spiritual, rather than physical, sight. Cf. the symbolism of the chapter 9 healing miracle, with the thematic motif of Jesus Christ as light (by which one sees, 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5ff; 2:8ff).

The emphasis in 6:63 is on the Spirit giving life; however, in the Gospel of John, light and life are closely connected—with the light of Jesus Christ leading to eternal life for those who trust in him (1:4; 3:19ff [in the context of vv. 15-17]; 8:12; 11:9-10 [in the narrative context of resurrection/life]). Similarly, in the Bread of Life Discourse, those who “eat” Jesus (meaning trusting in him) will have eternal life (6:27, 33, 40, 47, 51-54, 58); this is the significance of the expression “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48) and “living bread” (v. 51). The Father gives this Divine/eternal Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives it to believers (v. 57; cf. also 5:25-26; 14:19).

The development of these Christological themes in the Bread of Life Discourse is complex, and vv. 62-63 represent the climax of this development. In the next daily note, we will continue with the current discussion, looking at some of the Christological aspects of verse 63 in more detail.

March 17: Romans 8:10

This note on Romans 8:10, is supplemental to the discussion on Rom 8:1-17ff in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. It largely reproduces an earlier note included in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”.

Romans 8:10

Verse 10 cannot be separated from the context of verses 9-11, which form the culmination of the exhortation in 8:1-11, regarding the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. The announcement of freedom from the Law in vv. 1-4 means that the believer must rely upon the Spirit for guidance—Paul characterizes believers as “the ones walking about according to the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 25). Deliverance from sin also means that believers are no longer under its enslaving power, and now have the freedom and ability to follow the will of God; however, the flesh remains as a source of struggle and conflict.

This is the emphasis in verses 5-11, which correspond in many ways to the exhortation in Gal 5:16-25. According to Paul’s anthropology, the flesh itself remains opposed to the “Law of God” (vv. 7-8). The main argument in verses 9-11 is that believers are, and should be, guided and influenced by the Spirit, and not the flesh:

“But you are not in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] but in (the) Spirit [e)n pneu/mati]…”

The preposition e)n here has the specific sense of “in the power of” —in a manner similar to the expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|). However, this is only one aspect of union with Christ and the Spirit; in the rest of vv. 9-11, the focus shifts from believers “in the Spirit” to the Spirit “in believers”. In other words, the power which guides and controls believers is based on the presence of the Spirit in them. Living, thinking, and walking “according to the flesh” is not, and should not be, characteristic of believers. This is reflected in the conditional clause which follows in v. 9a:

“…if indeed [ei&per] the Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

The particle ei&per is somewhat difficult to translate; literally, it would be something like “if (indeed) about (this)”, with the sense that “if (indeed) it is so that…”. It indicates a condition, but one that is generally assumed to be true: “if it is so (as indeed it is!)”, i.e. “since (it is so that)”. For true believers in Christ, the condition would be true: the Spirit dwells in them. A series of sentences follow in vv. 9b-11, each beginning with the conditional particle ei) (“if”) and the coordinating particle de/:

V. 9b: “But if [ei) de\] any (one) does not hold the Spirit of God, that (one) is not of him.”
V. 10: “But if [ei) de\] (the) Anointed is in you…”
V. 11: “But if [ei) de\] the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you…”

The first (9b) is a negative condition: “if any one does not have [lit. hold] the Spirit of God”. Most likely the genitive au)tou= (“of him”) means “of Christ”, belonging to Christ—i.e. a true Christian has the Spirit of God. The last two sentences have positive conditions, and the two are closely related, connecting Christ with the Spirit of God:

    • V. 10— “the Anointed is in you [e)n u(mi=n]”
    • V. 11— “the Spirit of (God)… dwells in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

In each instance, the apodosis, indicating the fulfillment or result of the condition (“then…”), involves the theme of life vs. death. I begin with the last verse (v. 11):

    • “If the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then)…
      • …the (one) raising (the) Anointed out of the dead also will make alive your dying [i.e. mortal] bodies through his Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in you”

The reference here is to the bodily resurrection of the end-time, which represents the culmination and completion of salvation for believers, according to early Christian thought. Note the repetitive symmetry to this sentence:

the Spirit of the one raising Jesus from the dead dwells in you
——will make alive your dying bodies
the one raising Christ from the dead…through his Spirit dwelling in you

This brings us to verse 10:

    • “If (the) Anointed (is) in you, (then)…
      • …the body (is) dead through sin, but the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness”

Here the apodosis is expressed by way of a me\nde/ construction:

    • me\n (on the one hand)—the body is dead through sin
    • de\ (on the other hand)—the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness

If verse 11 referred to bodily resurrection at the end, verse 10 refers to a dynamic that is already realized in believers presently. It still involves life and death, but not one following the other (as in the resurrection); rather, the two exist at the same time, side by side—the body is dead, the Spirit is life. This anthropological dualism is typical of Paul’s thought; however, it is interesting to note that he has here shifted away slightly from the flesh/Spirit conflict emphasized in vv. 1-8. The “flesh” (sa/rc) relates to the impulse toward sin, the “body” (sw=ma) to death itself. It may be helpful to consider the anthropological terms Paul makes use of in Romans:

    • sw=ma (“body”)—that is, the physical (human) body, which is subject to death (“dying/mortal”, Rom 6:12; 8:11), according to the primeval judgment narrated in Gen 3:3-4, 19, 22-23. In Rom 7:24, Paul refers to it as “the body of death” (cf. also Rom 4:19). For believers, the redemption of the body, i.e. the loosing it from the bondage of death, is the final, culminating event of salvation—the resurrection (Rom 8:23).
    • ta\ me/lh (“the [bodily] parts”)—the different components (limbs, organs, etc) of the physical body, which should be understood two ways: (1) the sensory/sensual aspect of the body, which is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin, and (2) the means by which human beings act and work in the body. The first of these is expressed in Rom 7:5ff, 23—it is specifically in the bodily members that sin dwells and works. The second is indicated in Rom 6:13ff, as well perhaps by expression “the practices/deeds of the body” in Rom 8:13.
    • sa/rc (“flesh”)—a wide-ranging word and concept in Paul’s thought, it refers principally to the physical/material aspect of human nature (the body and its parts), but also within the specific context of sin. The “flesh” indicates human nature as enslaved under the power of sin (throughout Rom 7:7-25 and 8:1-11ff [cf. above]). Believers in Christ are freed from the enslaving power of sin, but can still be affected, in various ways, by the flesh and the impulse to sin which resides in it (Rom 8:1-11, and see esp. Gal 5:16-25).
    • nou=$ (“mind”)—according to Rom 7:13-25 (esp. vv. 23-25), the mind, representing intellectual, volitional and ethical aspects of human nature, is not enslaved by the power of sin the same way that the flesh is. Though it can come to be dominated entirely by wickedness (cf. Rom 1:28), in Rom 7 (where Paul likely is speaking for devout Jews and Gentiles), the mind is torn, wanting to obey the will (or Law) of God, but ultimately overcome by the power of sin in the flesh. For believers, the “mind” is to be renewed (Rom 12:2), through “walking in the Spirit” (not according to the flesh or the things of the world), so that we may be transformed more and more into the likeness of God in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).
    • o( e&sw a&nqrwpo$ (“the inner man”)—Paul uses this expression in Rom 7:22, contrasting it with the “(bodily) parts”; it is best, I think, to understand it as representing a human being in the exercise of the mind, as opposed to following the (sinful) impulse of the flesh. That it is largely synonymous with the “mind” (nou=$) for Paul is indicated by his use of the expression in 2 Cor 4:16, compared with Rom 12:2. For believers, it reflects that aspect of the person which recognizes the will of God and experiences the work of the Spirit (cf. Eph 3:16).
    • pneu=ma (“spirit”)—it should be noted that Paul rarely applies this word to ordinary human nature; it is reserved for believers in Christ, and there it refers, not to the human “spirit”, but to the Spirit (of God and Christ), i.e. the Holy Spirit. However, at the inmost “spiritual” level, believers are united with the Spirit (cf. above) and it becomes the guiding power and aspect of the person.

With regard to Rom 8:10, it is interesting to observe that, after the phrase “the body is dead”, Paul does not say “the Spirit is alive”, but rather, “the Spirit is life“, using the noun zw/h. This is because it is not a precise parallel—as indicated, above, pneu=ma is not the human “spirit” but the Spirit of God (and Christ); as such, it is not alive, it is Life itself. What then, does it mean that the Spirit is life “through justice/righteousness”? Here again, it is not an exact formal parallel:

    • dia\ a(marti/an (“through sin”)—the power and work of sin results in death for the body
    • dia\ dikaiosu/nh (“through justice/righteousness”)—the power and work of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ) results in the believer experiencing the life that the Spirit brings

Some commentators would say that Paul does mean pneu=ma in v. 10 as the human “spirit”. I disagree completely. While this, admittedly, would allow for a more natural parallel, it contrasts entirely with Paul’s use of the word throughout Romans. The whole emphasis in 8:1ff is on the Spirit of God (and Christ), not the human “spirit”.

December 18: John 1:4-5

John 1:4-5

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

Life (zwh/), verse 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light (fw=$), verse 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 1:3-4, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 16: John 1:3-4

John 1:3-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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