“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 2

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology, continued

This final division of our study (on John 1:14) is presented in three parts:

    • 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]

We turn now to Part 2:

The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology

In the earlier exegesis of John 1:14, we examined how the Gospel Prologue, and its underlying Logos-poem, draws heavily on Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition. The main Scriptural passage is Proverbs 8:22-31, in which Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*) is personified as a Divine entity that was present with God (YHWH) at the beginning of Creation (vv. 22-26), and who worked alongside Him in the creation process (vv. 27-30). The passage concludes with a reference (v. 31) implying Wisdom’s desire to dwell among human beings on earth.

The line of Wisdom-tradition expressed in this famous Scripture passage was developed by subsequent generations of Jewish authors and expositors. Most notable, from a New Testament standpoint, are certain key Hellenistic Jewish authors, writing in Greek, who expressed this Wisdom-theology in the language and idiom of Greek philosophy. The deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom is a prime example, as are the writings of Philo of Alexandria (a contemporary of early Christians in the mid-first century). Philo, in particular, subsumes the Hellenistic Jewish concept of Divine Wisdom (sofi/a) under the philosophical-theological use of the term lo/go$. On Philo’s use of lo/go$, and its parallels with the Johannine Prologue, cf. my recent article (in the “Ancient Parallels” feature).

As I have discussed, there is wide agreement, among commentators on the Johannine writings, that the Gospel Prologue draws upon Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition, under the term lo/go$, much in the manner that Philo does. The emphasis, in the Genesis Creation account, on God creating through the spoken word (1:3ff), also greatly facilitated this development. It is attested by Philo, and also is found in the Book of Wisdom—note, for example, the close (synonymous) parallel, between creation through the Divine Word (lo/go$) and Wisdom (so/fia) in 9:1-2. Thus the Logos/Wisdom connection with creation, expressed in the Prologue (vv. 1-5), was well-established when the Gospel (and the Logos-poem of the Prologue) was composed.

At least as important for the Prologue was the idea of the Divine Wisdom seeking to find a dwelling place among human beings (and especially God’s people Israel) on earth. The key references—esp. Prov 8:31; Wisd 7:27-28; 9:10; Sirach 24:7-8ff; 1 Enoch 42:1-2—have been discussed. In particular, the emphasis in 1 Enoch 42:2, on the failure of Wisdom to find a welcome place among human beings, is close to what we find in vv. 10-11 of the Prologue. The rejection of God’s Wisdom by the majority of people is a familiar motif in Wisdom tradition (cf. Sirach 15:7; Baruch 3:12, etc).

Thus, from the standpoint of the theology of the Prologue, Jesus is to be identified with the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God—indeed, this Word/Wisdom (Logos) became incarnate in the person of Jesus (1:14), so as to dwell among human beings in an entirely new (and unprecedented) way.

While this Wisdom background of the Johannine Prologue (and Gospel) has long been recognized by commentators, there has come to be an increasing awareness, among New Testament scholars in recent decades, of a similar, and more general, Wisdom influence on early Christology. Here we will examine briefly the evidence for this, to see how the Johannine Christology, identifying Jesus with the pre-existent Wisdom of God, relates to the wider Christology of the New Testament. Our study will focus on two areas: (1) the Synoptic Tradition, particularly the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and (2) the Pauline Letters, especially the references in 1 Corinthians 1-3 and Colossians 1:15-20.

1. The Synoptic Tradition (Matthew-Luke)

It was widely recognized, by the first believers and those who heard Jesus speak, that he possessed great wisdom (sofi/a). This is specifically emphasized in one tradition—the episode in the synagogue at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6 par)—where the people react with wonder at Jesus’ teaching: “From where (did) these (thing)s (come) to this (man)? and what (is) th(is) wisdom given to this (man)?” (6:2 [par Matt 13:54]; cp. 1:22 par). The implication is that Jesus has been gifted by a special wisdom from God.

The Lukan Infancy narrative also emphasizes the wisdom possessed by Jesus, referencing it, more generally, in the summary narrative statements of 2:40 and 52. Elsewhere in Luke-Acts, wisdom is specifically associated with the Spirit of God, indicating its Divine origin and inspired character (Lk 21:15; Acts 6:3, 10).

Particularly notable are several references in Matthew and Luke (part of the so-called “Q” material). First, at the close of the section Lk 7:18-35 (par Matt 11:1-19), we have the declaration by Jesus:

“And (yet) Wisdom is proven to be right from her offspring.” (v. 35)

The Matthean version (11:19c) differs in reading “her works,” instead of “her offspring”. Verse 35 may represent a separate wisdom-saying by Jesus; however, in the context of vv. 18-35 (esp. vv. 31-34), emphasizing the rejection of both Jesus and John the Baptist by the majority of people, the saying implies that Jesus and the Baptist are both “offspring” of Wisdom—that is, of Divine Wisdom personified (as in Prov 8:22-31, cf. above). The Matthean version implies, specifically, that they are doing the “works” of Wisdom—especially, viz., in their teaching/preaching. The rejection of Wisdom’s “offspring” (Jesus) should be viewed as part of the rejection of Divine Wisdom itself. The motif of the “offspring” of Wisdom relates to the feminine personification of Wisdom (the Hebrew word hm*k=j* and Greek sofi/a both being grammatically feminine)—Wisdom is like a woman who gives birth to children.

This begins to resemble the idea in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:35), of Jesus coming to be born as a result of the coming of the Spirit of God upon Mary, his mother. In a somewhat similar manner, Jesus is identified as God’s Son when the Spirit comes down upon him at the Baptism (3:21 par; cf. the discussion in Part 1). The Messianic motif of the coming of the Spirit upon the anointed/chosen one of God (Isa 42:1; 61:1), the “child” of God (pai=$, Isa 42:1 LXX), is a vital traditional source for the Baptism scene in the Gospels. In Isa 11:1-2ff, a similar Messianic passage, wisdom and the Spirit of God are closely connected (v. 2), so that one can fairly assume that Jesus, in the Gospel portrait, was fully endued with the wisdom of God when the Spirit came upon him.

Wisdom 7:27-28 suggests the possibility that this Gospel Christology involves, in at least a rudimentary way, the idea that the pre-existent Wisdom of God (vv. 25-26) came to dwell in the person of Jesus. He and John the Baptist both could be identified as among the holy ones, the chosen prophets and “friends of God”, in whom Wisdom came to reside (v. 27f) and work.

A second Q-passage is Luke 11:49-51 (par Matt 23:34-36), which begins:

“For this (reason), the Wisdom of God said: ‘I will send forth to them foretellers [i.e. prophets] and (those) sent forth from (me), and (some) of them they will kill off and pursue…'” (v. 49)

The context of this saying is the lament in vv. 46-48ff, condemning the religious teachers/leaders of the time, identifying them with those in past generations who persecuted and killed the representatives of God, the prophets. The implication is that Jesus is one of these messengers of God, a true teacher who proclaims the word of God to the people. Here, in the Lukan version, which probably reflects the ‘original’ version of the Q tradition, the inspired prophets are “sent forth” by the Wisdom of God—the Divine Wisdom being again personified. Interestingly, in the Matthean version (23:34), by omitting the Wisdom reference, the Gospel writer effectively makes Jesus the speaker of the statement spoken by Wisdom: “For this reason, see, I send forth to you…”. The implication may well be that Jesus himself represents the Divine Wisdom.

In a third Q tradition (Lk 11:29-32, par Matt 12:38-42), Jesus is identified as possessing wisdom far greater than that of Solomon (v. 31), just as his preaching is greater than that of Jonah (v. 32). This Wisdom-reference is connected with a Son of Man saying; in various ways, the title “Son of Man”, as applied by Jesus (to himself) in the Gospel Tradition, identifies Jesus with the exalted/heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14. In the Gospel of John, as we have seen, the Son of Man sayings are understood in the special Johannine theological sense of the pre-existent Son’s heavenly origin. Some scholars would see a similar theological significance in the Synoptic Son of Man sayings, but I find little or no evidence for this: some of the Synoptic sayings relate to the exaltation of Jesus, and of the (subsequent) end-time appearance of this exalted figure, but do not particularly indicate pre-existence.

It has been argued that the Gospel of Matthew evinces a Wisdom Christology that identifies Jesus as both the Wisdom and Word (i.e. the Torah) of God, in an incarnate manner that resembles, in certain respects, the view of Jesus in the Gospel of John. I find this line of argument to be overstated, but there are several Matthean passages that are worth mentioning. First, there is 11:25-30, which contains Q material (vv. 25-27, par Lk 10:21-22), to which was added the sayings in vv. 28-30. These verses have a strong Wisdom orientation, utilizing wording that suggests Jesus may be identified himself with the Wisdom of God (personified); note, for example the similar motifs and parallels of wording in Sirach 51:23-26ff. The call for people to come and learn from him resembles the call of Wisdom in, e.g., Prov 1:20ff; 8:1ff, etc.

The citation of Psalm 78:2 by Jesus in Matt 13:35 could be taken as implying that he is to be identified with the pre-existent Wisdom of Prov 8:22-31. See, similarly in this context, the statements in vv. 11 and 16-17; these verses represent traditional material (Synoptic/Markan and “Q”), but the Matthean presentation suggests a theological (and Christological) development of the tradition.

In the Matthean “Sermon on the Mount”, rooted at least partly in Q-material, there is a similar kind of theological development, in which Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah carries an authority which matches that of the Torah itself—cf. the sayings in 5:17-20, and throughout the Antitheses of vv. 21-48. For more on these passages, see the notes and articles in the series “Jesus and the Law”. The implication is (or may be) that Jesus, in his person, embodies the very Word (and Wisdom) of God.

2. The Pauline Letters

Paul refers to wisdom, using the word sofi/a, more often than any other New Testament author. However, these references tend to be concentrated in two main sections: (a) 1 Corinthians 1-3, and (b) in and around the ‘Christ-hymn’ of Colossians 1:15-20.

I have discussed these passages extensively in prior notes and articles (cf. the notes on 1 Cor 1:17-2:16, and the article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, along with the notes on Col 1:15-20), so I will deal with them in only a summary fashion here. The Colossians Christ-hymn will also be touched upon in Part 3.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, Paul, in expounding the main proposition of 1:17, develops the theme of the fundamental contrast between human/worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God. The Gospel, however foolish it may seem (in its emphasis on the cross), represents the Divine Wisdom, in contrast with the wisdom prized and valued by the world. The statement in verse 24 goes beyond this thought, seemingly identifying Jesus himself with the Divine Wisdom; this, however, can be misleading, since the context of v. 23 clearly indicates that the focus remains on the crucifixion of Jesus:

“But we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) having been put to the stake [i.e. crucified]—for (the) Yehudeans something (that) trips (them) up, and for (the) nations something foolish, but for the (one)s (who are) called, both Yehudeans and Greeks, (it is the) Anointed (One), (the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God” (vv. 23-24)

The further statement in v. 30 seems even to echo the Johannine idea of the incarnation of the pre-existent Wisdom:

“Out of [i.e. from] Him you are in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who was made to become [e)genh/qh] wisdom for us from God, and (also for us) righteousness, (the ability to) be made holy, and (the) loosing from (bondage)”

The same verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used here as in Jn 1:14, yet the orientation is different: in Jn 1:14, the pre-existent Wisdom becomes a human being (in the person of Jesus), while here it is Jesus who becomes (lit. is made to become) the Wisdom of God. He “becomes” the Divine Wisdom through his death—painful and humiliating—on the cross. Certainly the resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus is also understood here, though the exaltation does not occur without first the experience of the low point of death. This is the profound paradox of Christian faith—exaltation through shameful suffering and death—in which the Wisdom of God is manifest.

Paul’s line of argument shifts in 2:6, as he begins to speak of wisdom that is discussed among those who are “complete”. The precise nature of this wisdom continues to be debated among commentators. Does it refer to something other than (or beyond) the Gospel of the cross of Christ? I have discussed the subject in the aforementioned article (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), focusing on verses 10-15. This Wisdom is clearly related to the presence and activity of the Spirit. Note the relative lack of reference to the Spirit in 1:18-2:5ff (only in 2:4), compared to density of references in vv. 10-16. Believers receive the Spirit through trust in Jesus, and come to participate (spiritually) in the death and resurrection of Jesus, becoming united with him. The Wisdom manifest in his death thus becomes open to us, and, through the Spirit, we are able to delve the depths of the Divine Wisdom.

In my view, this Wisdom emphasis in 1 Corinthians is far removed from the Wisdom Christology of the Gospel of John. Much closer to the Johannine Christology are the references in Colossians, which demonstrate that such a Wisdom Christology was not foreign to Paul. The key reference is in 2:2-3, where we find the identification of Jesus himself with the “secret [musth/rion] of God” —

“in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden away.” (v. 3)

This statement goes beyond what we find in 1 Corinthians 1-3; the emphasis is not on the death of Jesus, but on his very person. The ‘Christ-hymn’ earlier in 1:15-20 is most significant in this regard (cf. my earlier series of notes), beginning with the opening declaration in verse 15, in which it is stated that the Son of God (Jesus) is the one—

“who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of the unseen God…”

This philosophical-theological use of the term ei)kw/n occurs also in 2 Cor 3:18 and 4:4; the wording in these indisputably Pauline verses is almost certainly influenced by Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition, such as we find in Philo and the Book of Wisdom—note, in particular, the wording of Wisd 7:26:

“For she is a shining forth [a)pau/gasma, i.e. reflection] of eternal light,
a looking-glass [e&soptron, i.e. mirror] of the spotless working of God,
and (the) image [ei)kw/n] of His goodness.”

The phrase in Col 1:15b is clearly drawn from the tradition of the (personified) pre-existent Wisdom (of Prov 8:22-31, etc). What follows in 1:16-20 is a pre-existence Christology that resembles, in many ways that of the Johannine Gospel Prologue. Note the following parallels:

This passage will be discussed a bit further, in connection with the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11, in Part 3.

 

 

 

“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 1

John 1:14 in the context of the Johannine Gospel

Having examined John 1:14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue (the first division of our study), we shall now consider the verse in relation to the Gospel of John as a whole. It is actually the overall Johannine context that we will be considering, including the Johannine Letters (esp. 1 John) in addition to the Gospel.

“And the Word became flesh and set up (his) tent among us, and we looked on his splendor, (the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth.”

We begin, as in the first division of our study, with the key words in the first main phrase (v. 14a):

“the word became flesh”
o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

There are three components to this statement: (1) the articular noun lo/go$ (o( lo/go$), (2) the noun sa/rc, and (3) the verb of becoming (gi/nomai). We must examine the Johannine usage of these terms outside of the Gospel Prologue.

1. lo/go$

Outside of the four occurrences in the Prologue (3 in v. 1, and once in v. 14), the noun lo/go$ occurs 37 times in the Gospel of John. As lo/go$ is a common word with a wide range of meaning, this relatively extensive usage is not unusual, nor does it necessarily tell us anything about the relation of the Prologue to the rest of the Gospel. By comparison, the word occurs nearly as often in the Gospels of Matthew (33) and Luke (32).

In the Gospel of John, the noun lo/go$ is used predominantly in reference to the words spoken by Jesus (to his disciples, etc) during his earthly ministry. In this regard, lo/go$ is synonymous in meaning with r(h=ma (“utterance”). Indeed, when occurring in the plural (lo/goi), it is virtually identical with r(h/mata—both essentially meaning “words” (i.e., things said). The plural occurs in 7:40; 10:19; 14:24; cf. also 19:13.

The singular of lo/go$ tends to be used in much the same way, referring to Jesus’ words in a general or collective sense; occasionally a specific (individual) saying is being referenced (e.g., 2:22; 4:50; 7:36). The Gospel writer gives to this use of lo/go$ a very distinctive theological (and Christological) meaning. Frequently, it is used in the context of trusting (vb pisteu/w) in Jesus; this means, principally, trusting in the message (i.e., the word[s]) about who Jesus is. We see this connection, between lo/go$ and pisteu/w, clearly enough (for example) in 2:22; 4:39, 41, 50; 5:24. However, we find this lo/go$-theme developed most extensively in the great Discourses of chapters 5-10, and again in chapters 14-17. We must examine this usage, in at least a summary fashion, comparing it with the usage in the Prologue.

With regard to this Johannine theological usage of lo/go$, the fundamental idea is that of the “word” of Jesus being in a person. The concept is expressed a number of ways, such as by the use of the verb e&xw (“hold”), in 5:38. The believer “holds” Jesus’ word, meaning that the one who does not hold his word is not a believer; indeed, those who do not (or will not) trust, have no space (i.e., room) for Jesus’ word in them (8:37).

This relationship, between a person and Jesus’ word (lo/go$), defines the true believer. The Gospel expresses this two ways: (a) through the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), and (b) with the verb thre/w (“keep watch [over]”). Jesus’ word remains in the true believer (8:31; cf. also 15:7; 1 Jn 2:15), and that person guards it, keeping watch over it (8:51-52, 55; 14:23-24; 15:10, 20; 17:6; 1 Jn 2:5).

But what is this word? One could understand lo/go$ here as referring to Jesus’ teaching. Certainly, a disciple will possess and hold firmly to the teachings of his/her master. However, in the Johannine context, the emphasis is particularly on the message regarding who Jesus is. Throughout the Gospel Discourses, Jesus’ teaching relates primarily to his identity as the Son (of God) sent from heaven (by God the Father). The true believer remains in this message, keeping watch over it.

The author of 1 John certainly has this Christological emphasis in mind; and, it is just here that the Johannine use of the term lo/go$ (in the Gospel and in 1 John) most closely approaches the use of it in the Prologue. In 1 John, the noun lo/go$ occurs six times—1:1, 10; 2:5, 7, 14; 3:18—and in these references we find an interesting alternation, between an emphasis on the words of Jesus, and on the person of Jesus himself. The author, however, defines this largely in terms of the word of God—which is manifest in and through Jesus His Son.

In 1:10 and 2:5, 7, it is the word (lo/go$) of God, as communicated through the teaching of Jesus, that is in view—in particular, the great command/duty to show love to fellow believers (cf. also 3:18). However, in 2:14, “the word [o( lo/go$]” would seem to refer to the person of Jesus (the Son), in a way that echoes the Gospel Prologue (Jn 1:1):

“I have written to you, fathers,
(in) that you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$];
I have written to you, young men,
(in) that you are strong, and the Word [o( lo/go$] of God remains in you…”

1 John 1:1f also seems, rather clearly, to echo the Gospel Prologue, including in its use of the term lo/go$:

“That which was [h@n] from (the) beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$], which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked at and (which) our hands touched, about the word of Life [o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$]—and th(is) Life was made to shine forth, and we have seen (it)…”

There definitely appears to be a double-meaning to this use of lo/go$. One the one hand, it refers to the message about [peri/] Jesus (“the Life”); but, on the other hand, it refers to Jesus himself, who is “the Word (of Life)”. The disciples, the first believers, were able to see and touch this Word, much as the Prologue declares in Jn 1:14ff. This is an important point of emphasis for the author of 1 John, who is combating a view of Jesus which, from his standpoint, has departed from the historical tradition and witness (preserved from the first believers), and yet would claim to be an inspired account of the truth.

For the author of 1 John, then, the use of the verb me/nw (“remain”) has a special significance. The true believer remains in the truth, and does not depart from it. This truth comes from the Spirit, but does not (and cannot) contradict the witness of the Gospel tradition. This usage in 1 John generally corresponds with that of the Gospel Discourses, whereby the true believer, by “remaining” in Jesus’ word (lo/go$) also “remains” in Jesus himself (cf. the 10 occurrences of me/nw in 15:4-10). The believer remains in the Son, just as the Son remains in the Father (14:10); and the Son remains in the believer (and the believer in the Son) through the Spirit (14:17; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13). For the author of 1 John, this use of me/nw defines the true believer in Christ, as one who has “come to be (born) of God”; cf. the key references in 2:6, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 9, 14ff, 24; 4:12-16; also 2 Jn 2, 9.

In particular, the wording in 2:14 and 24 makes clear that there is fundamentally no real difference between the idea of the Son’s word (lo/go$), and the Son himself (who is the Lo/go$), remaining in believers. The things said by Jesus (his word[s]) represent one main component of his abiding presence in the believer. How this is represented in the Gospel, with regard to the use of the verb me/nw, I have illustrated by the following diagram:

This study demonstrates, I think, that, even if the Johannine writings, apart from the Gospel Prologue, do not contain anything quite like the Logos-doctrine of Jn 1:14, they still evince an understanding of the term lo/go$ that is fundamentally Christological in nature, and which relates primarily to an understanding of who Jesus is—the eternal Son and Word of God, who was with the Father “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$).

In the next part of this article, we will examine the two remaining components—the noun sa/rc and the verb gi/nomai—of v. 14a.

 

 

 

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Prologue, part 6

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

The final phrase of John 1:14 further modifies the third main phrase (“and we looked upon his splendor”), building upon the prior modifying phrase qualifying the “splendor” (do/ca) of the Logos, discussed in part 5: “(the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father”. This final phrase clarifies the nature of this do/ca, as being “full of favor and truth”.

The adjective plh/rh$ means “full, filled”. Here, it is in the masculine gender, which suggests that it does not directly modify do/ca (which is feminine)*, but either the original subject-noun lo/go$ or the substantive adjective monogenh/$ (“only[-born]”). The form plh/rh$ can be read either as being in the nominative or genitive case; the latter would agree with the case of monogenh/$ (monogenou=$). Thus, it is not merely the “splendor” of the Logos that is filled, but the Logos itself, in its character as an only Son of God.

* It has been noted (Blass-Debrunner-Funk [BDF] §1371) that this adjective can be treated as indeclinable, so it conceivably could be understood as modifying do/ca; cf. Brown, p. 14.

But with what is the Logos said to be “filled”? This is explained by a pair of nouns in the genitive (“of…”), indicating what the Logos, as God’s Son, is full of. The first noun is xa/ri$, which is often translated “grace”, but properly means “favor”. In the context of the image of the Logos as God’s Son, this certainly refers to favor shown to him by the Father, just as a human father tends to show great favor to an only (and much beloved, cf. 3:16) son.

In earlier portions of this study, it was discussed how the “splendor” (do/ca) of the Logos relates to its Divine nature and position in the presence of God. In vv. 1-2, this nearness to God is expressed by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), while here in v. 14 the preposition para/ (“alongside”) is used. In verse 18, a more colorful idiom is used, referring to the Logos as an only Son (again, the adjective monogenh/$) who resides “in the lap [or ‘bosom’]” (ei)$ to\n ko/lpon) of the Father; cp. the same basic image of intimacy in 13:23.

Thus, the Logos shares God’s own splendor, having possessed it “in the beginning” (v. 1); cf. the same idea in 17:5. Yet the relationship between God and the Logos, compared to that between a Father and an only/beloved Son, also contains the idea that God the Father gives from Himself (and His own) to the Logos/Son, an idea that is developed throughout the Gospel (and which we will examine in the next division of our study); cf. especially 3:34-35. This giving by the Father, to the Son (the Logos), is covered here by the noun xa/ri$ (“favor”).

The fullness of the Logos, and the nature of his splendor, is also defined by the second noun of the pair—a)lh/qeia (“truth”). This is a major Johannine keyword; the noun, along with the related adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$, occurs with great frequency in the Gospel and Letters of John (the noun itself occurs 25 times in the Gospel), and is of considerable theological importance. It is a fundamental attribute of God, one which ties back to the use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue, emphasizing the ultimate being and reality of God (the adjective a)lhqino/$ can be translated “real”).

There is also a religious-ethical aspect to God’s truth (a)lh/qeia), as it applies to human beings. The ontological and religious-ethical aspects of truth can be combined in the motif of light (fw=$), introduced earlier in the Prologue (vv. 4-5ff). Light is a sign (and source) of life, but it also represents the truth—in its clarity and purity, etc—especially the truth of God which is conveyed to human beings by the light of revelation.

That which God (the Father) gives to the Logos (the Son), is meant to be given, in turn, to human beings. This intermediary role of the Logos was established earlier in the Prologue, with the reference to the Logos’ role in Creation (vv. 3ff), but particularly its role as the source of life and light (enlightenment) for humankind (vv. 4-5, 9). The closing words of the Prologue’s underlying Logos-poem emphasize again the role of the Logos in communicating the Divine light, etc, to human beings:

“…and of his fullness [plh/rwma] we all (have) received, even favor upon favor.” (v. 16)

The noun plh/rwma means “fullness”, and is obviously related to the adjective plh/rh$ in v. 14. Earlier in the Prologue, the first person plural (“we / us”) carried multiple levels of meaning: all rational human beings, the people of Israel, and believers in Christ. However, following the reference to the incarnation of the Logos in v. 14, this “we” now refers unquestionably to believers. All people who encountered the incarnate Logos (in the person of Jesus) “looked on” his splendor, but only the believers truly saw it and comprehended its significance. This also means that they truly “received” his splendor, and, in so doing (through trust in Jesus), they also received from his fullness—that fullness of favor (xa/ri$) which God gave to the Logos, like a Father to His only Son.

The precise meaning of the expression xa/ri$ a)nti\ xa/rito$, in v. 16, is not immediately clear. The preposition a)nti/ means “against”, but sometimes in the sense of “in place of, instead of”, and so it has been explained here by some commentators. Anticipating the contrast in vv. 17-18, the expression has been interpreted as referring to the xa/ri$ of Christ (in the New Covenant) replacing the xa/ri$ of Moses (i.e., the Torah of the Old Covenant). Commentators uncomfortable with a replacement emphasis may prefer to explain a)nti/ in the sense of “added to” —i.e., the grace that comes through Christ being in addition to the grace that came through the Torah, etc.

The sense of “addition” for the preposition a)nti/ in v. 16 is doubtless correct, though the more concrete translation “upon” better preserves the fundamental meaning (“against”)—i.e., one thing laid against another, as we might image objects being piled up upon one another. This is almost certainly the proper meaning of the expression in v. 16—viz., a ‘piling up’ of favor, following along the motif of fullness. Believers receive an abundance of favor (from God) through the Logos (the Son, Jesus).

Verses 17-18 continue this theme; it is here that the contrast, between Jesus and Moses, is specifically introduced. Recognizing the likelihood that vv. 17-18 represent expository comments (by the Gospel writer), added to the end of the adapted Logos-poem (and commenting specifically upon v. 16), we can see the Moses theme—which the author develops throughout the Gospel—being introduced here.

However, there were earlier allusions to this theme in the Prologue (and the Logos-poem). Most notably, as was discussed in previous portions of our study, the motif of seeing God—and, specifically, of “looking upon” His glory (do/ca)—likely draw upon the Moses traditions in Exodus 19-20ff, 33-34 (see esp. Moses’ famous request in 33:18). The Gospel writer doubtless recognized this, and was inspired by it to include the expository comments of vv. 17-18. The contrast in v. 17, in particular, builds upon the wording of our phrase in v. 14:

“(For it is) that the law was given through Moshe, but the favor and the truth came to be through Yeshua the Anointed.”

The same pair of nouns—favor (xa/ri$) and truth (a)lh/qeia)—is used, being juxtaposed (in contrast) to the law (no/mo$, i.e., the Torah, or Law of Moses). Another key point of the contrast involves the two verbs that are used:

    • di/dwmi (“give”)—the law was given (e)do/qh) through Moses
    • gi/nomai (“come to be”)—the favor and truth came to be (e)ge/neto) through Jesus

The use of the same aorist form (e)ge/neto) of the verb of becoming as that in v. 14 almost certainly entails an allusion to the incarnation of the Logos (“came to be flesh”), being now explicitly identified with the person of Jesus. Moses and Jesus are both mediators, through (dia/) whom God’s revelatory truth and presence is communicated. But they are very different in kind, with Jesus far surpassing (and replacing) Moses as a mediator for God’s people (and all humankind).

Jesus is the incarnate Logos, the only/beloved Son of God, himself sharing in God’s glory, possessing the fullness of Divine favor and truth. As the Son of God, he manifests not only God’s splendor (do/ca), but God Himself. This is clear from the climactic words of the Prologue in v. 18:

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

Having examined verse 14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue, it is now time to consider it in the wider context of the Johannine Gospel itself. This we will do, beginning with Part 1 of the next (second) division of our study. Within this context, we will be looking again at each word and phrase in the verse, but also the central idea of the incarnation of the Logos, to see how this specific Christological concept (of the underlying Logos-poem) relates to the overall theology of the Gospel.

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 Prologue, part 5

“…(the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father”
do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$

This phrase modifies the third of the three main phrases of verse 14, “and we looked on his splendor” (discussed in part 4). In particular, it modifies the expression “his splendor”, and the noun do/ca (“splendor, glory”). The modifying phrase, w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$ introduces the idea of sonship, and of Jesus as the Son of God. This is of tremendous significance for the relationship of the Prologue to the Gospel as a whole (a point that will be discussed in the second division of this study). The identification of Jesus with the Logos of God is largely absent from the remainder of the Gospel, being (at best) only alluded to at several points by the use of the word lo/go$; in particular, the idea of the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, the central point of verse 14, is not to be found. This is one of the strongest arguments in favor of the view that the Prologue has adapted earlier material (a ‘Logos-poem’). By contrast, throughout the Gospel we see Jesus repeatedly identified as the Son of God.

A bit of caution needs to be taken in reading the Sonship theme of the Gospel here in verse 14, since the specific term ui(o/$ (“son”) does not occur until verse 18, and even there its presence is questionable (as a large number of witnesses read qeo/$ [“God”] rather than ui(o/$). Still, the use of the adjective monogenh/$ would seem to imply a reference to the Logos as a son. Moreover, a Son is obviously implied by the reference to God as “Father” (path/r).

There are three points of difficulty in this phrase which complicate any interpretation regarding its theological (and Christological) force. First we have the use of the comparative particle w($ (“as”), which means that the Logos is being compared to a son (qualitatively), rather than being directly equated to the son. The second difficulty involves the precise meaning here of the adjective monogenh/$ (to be discussed below). Third, we have the meaning of the prepositional expression para\ patro/$ (“alongside [the] Father”). Let us deal with the second of these first.

The adjective monogenh/$ is derived from two components: the adjective mo/no$ (“only, alone”) and the noun ge/no$, the latter being derived from gi/nomai, the very verb of becoming used here in v. 14 (and elsewhere in the Prologue). The neuter noun ge/no$ properly denotes something that comes to be, in a general or even abstract sense. It can be applied to a family-line, ethnic group, or people/nation, or even (in the case of animals and plants more broadly) to a species. When used more abstractly, it can mean “kind, sort, order, group,” or the like. The question, then, is whether the ge/no$ element (-genh$) of the adjective monogenh/$ is being used in a concrete or abstract sense. That is, does the substantive use of monogenh/$ here mean “only one (who has) come to be” or “only one of (its) kind”?

Apart from the five occurrences in the Johannine writings, in the rest of the New Testament the adjective clearly means “only child” —that is, the only child (son or daughter) of a parent. In Luke 7:12 and 8:42, a specifying noun ui(o/$ (or quga/thr, “daughter”) is included; however, in Lk 9:38 and Heb 11:17, the same meaning applies to the use of the adjective alone. The Johannine usage is identical: in Jn 3:16, 18 and (probably) also 1:18, the adjective is used with the noun ui(o/$, while in 1 Jn 4:19 the adjective has same meaning when used alone. A comparison with the general usage in Greek confirms that monogenh/$ often carries the general meaning “only, unique”. In the LXX, the general/abstract meaning applies in Psalm 22:20 [21:21], 25:15 [24:16], 35[34]:17, and also in Wisdom 7:22; while the regular meaning of “only child” occurs in Judg 11:34 and also Tobit 3:15; 6:11 [BA], 15 [S], and Baruch 4:16 [v.l.].

Even so, the fact that monogenh/$ typically refers to an only child clearly preserves the idea of coming to be born, and thus maintaining, however implicitly, the association with the verb of becoming (gi/nomai, cp. genna/w which more properly connotes being born). Here in verse 14, the Logos is being compared to an only son.

What of the prepositional expression para\ patro/$? The preposition para/ means “alongside”, but sometimes it can indicate origin—in terms of source, place, or position, i.e., “(from) alongside”. This is how the preposition is used in verse 6 of the Prologue, as well as at certain other points in the Gospel (e.g., 10:18). More commonly, it indicates a nearness of place/position—that is, “alongside,” in a spatial or relational sense. This usage in 17:5 is particularly relevant to our verse, and will be discussed further in the second division of our study.

The idea of the Son being sent from God the Father is certainly prominent in the Gospel, but the Prologue seems very much to be emphasizing his eternal (pre-existing) position in proximity/relation to the Father. In this case, the usage in 17:5 would seem to provide a close parallel, capturing the sense of what the author has in mind here—viz., the Divine splendor/glory (do/ca) which the Logos shared with God in the beginning.

If this particular phrase, or the specific use of the comparative particle w($, represents part of the Gospel writer’s adaptation of the Logos-poem, then the intention may be to avoid confusing the Divine Logos with the Son. They are not identical or equivalent concepts, but how they are understood in relation to one another would have important implications for Johannine Christology. For example, is it only after the incarnation that one can properly speak of Jesus as the Son, or does this Sonship apply equally to the eternal/pre-existent Logos? This will be discussed at a later point in our study.

How does this phrase in v. 14 fit within the context of the Prologue (and its underlying Logos-poem) as a whole? Three points need to be discussed:

    • The relation of the Logos to God described in verse 1
    • The concept of the Word/Wisdom (i.e., Logos) of God as the offspring (Son) of God, as attested at several points in the writings of Philo of Alexandria
    • The conclusion of the Prologue in vv. 16-18 (esp. verse 18)

As previously discussed, in verse 1 there is a triad of predicative statements regarding the Logos:

    • “In the beginning, the Word was [h@n]”
    • “the Word was [h@n] toward God”
    • “the Word was [h@n] God”

The Divine nature of the Logos is indicated by the very use of the verb of being (imperfect tense, h@n), but this essential deity is emphasized particularly in the first and third statements. However, in the second statement a distinction is maintained, between God and the Logos of God. The Logos is not identical with God; this is also indicated (it would seem) by the syntax of the third statement, with the use of qeo/$ without the definite article. Here, in the second statement, the Logos is said to be toward (pro/$) God. As I have discussed, this could either mean facing toward God or moving toward Him; the parallel with the use of para/ in v. 14 and 17:5 suggests that the spatial-relational aspect is intended, at least primarily.

In any case, the implication is that there is a close relationship between God and the Logos, a kind of intimate nearness and proximity that is being expressed, much like that between a parent and a child (cf. below on verse 18).

If the author of the Gospel (and/or the Logos-poem) was at all aware of Philo of Alexandria’s writings, then he may have known of Philo’s references to the Logos as the “firstborn” (prwto/gono$) Son of God (On Dreams I.215). Indeed, in On the Confusion of Tongues §§146-7, Philo actually uses the expression “firstborn word” (prwto/gono$ lo/go$). Such language certainly could have led a Johannine Christian author unreservedly to make the connection between the Logos and Jesus as the Son of God. For more of Philo’s use of the term lo/go$ and the philosophical-theological Logos concept, cf. the recent supplemental article.

Given the importance of the Sonship theme in the remainder of the Gospel, it would be natural, that, having introduced it in the Prologue here at verse 14, the author would develop or reiterate it in the concluding verses (vv. 16-18). For many commentators, verse 16 marks the end of the Logos-poem, with verses 17-18 representing expository comments by the Gospel writer.

Almost certainly, verse 15 (like the earlier vv. 6-8) represents an added comment by the author. Thus, presumably, verse 16 would have followed upon v. 14 in the original Logos-poem. With regard to verse 14 and the Logos-poem, I think it possible that the phrase do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$ may also represent an addition by the author, in his adaptation of the material. Omission this phrase does seem to yield a clearer poetic unit for vv. 14 + 16:

“And the Word became flesh and set (his) tent among us,
and we looked on his splendor, full of favor and truth;
and of his fullness we all received, and favor upon favor.”

If the phrase “splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father” is part of the Gospel writer’s adaptation of the poem, then the concluding verses 17-18 are even more clearly expository—expounding, in particular, the phrase “and favor upon favor” (kai\ xa/rin a)nti\ xa/rito$). This will be discussed in part 6. We are focusing here on how the idea of the “splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father” is expounded in vv. 17-18.

First, v. 17 makes clear that it is through the incarnate Logos that the Divine favor (xa/ri$) and truth (a)lh/qeia), coming from God, is communicated (dia/, “through”) to human beings. For the first time in the Prologue, the Logos—that is, the incarnate Logos—is explicitly identified with the person of Jesus. Thus, the do/ca of God is manifest in and through the person of Jesus Christ; this is a fundamental theme that is developed throughout the Gospel.

Secondly, in vv. 17-18, the mention of Moses, along with the reiteration of the motif of seeing God, alludes to the Exodus traditions regarding the theophany at Sinai (Exod 19-20ff, 24), and of Moses’ encounter with YHWH (chaps. 33-34) following the Golden Calf incident. God’s manifestation to Moses is in response to his request in 33:18: “Let me, I ask, see your dobK*!”. The word dobK* is roughly the Hebrew equivalent of Greek do/ca; in reference to God, both terms may be translated “splendor, glory”. In the LXX, the request is translated, “May you show to me your (own) splendor [do/ca]!”.

Along with this tradition, the Gospel writer alludes to Deut 4:11-15, and to the fact that no one (not even God’s people Israel) has ever seen God (with their eyes). Moses beheld God’s do/ca, but even there God Himself could be seen only in a partial and indirect way; as for the people at large, they could only observe this glory as reflected on Moses’ face (Exod 34:29-35; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-18).

In contrasting Moses with Jesus, the Gospel writer is emphasizing that all people are now able to look upon God’s glory in the person of the incarnate Logos (Jesus); moreover, they/we are able to see God Himself, in a more complete and direct way, in the person of his Son. The final words of verse 18 do, I think, indicate that it is not only God’s glory, but God Himself, that is manifest in Jesus:

“…(but the) only-born [monogenh/$] Son, the (one) being [w&n] in the lap of the Father, that (one) has led (Him) out (to us)”

Whether or not the adjective monogenh/$ was present in v. 14 in the original Logos-poem, its use here in v. 18 unquestionably represents a further explication of it by the Gospel writer. In particular, this verse explains how the Divine glory can be manifest through the Logos. The reason is that the Logos has the character of an only Son (monogenh\$ ui(o/$), one who possesses, both naturally and by right of birth, everything that belongs to the Father. Since the Son is an image/reflection of the Father, when one looks at the Son, one also sees the Father (14:9).

In the use of the adjective monogenh/$ in verse 18, the component mo/no$ (mono-) means “only” (i.e., God’s only Son), but it also connotes “beloved, most loved”; this is clear both from the imagery and wording of the verse, but also by the parallel in 3:16. There is also a parallel in 13:23, where the ‘beloved disciple’ (“the [one] whom Yeshua loved”) is reclining on the lap (ko/lpo$) of Jesus, just as the Son is said to reside in the lap (ko/lpo$) of the Father here in v. 18. It is an image of intimacy and love. The Son is able to show (lit. “lead out”) the Father to us. The specific verb is e)chge/omai (“lead out, bring out”), which clearly indicates an act of revealing, but also suggests the use of speech (i.e., declaring), which brings us back to the idea of Jesus as the incarnate Word (lo/go$) of God. In his words (lo/goi), but also by his actions (and specifically his death/exaltation), Jesus makes God the Father known to us.

In the next part (6) of this study, we will examine the final phrase of verse 14: “full of favor and truth” (plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$).

Textual Note: In discussing John 1:18 above, I adopt the reading monogenh/$ ui(o/$ (“only[-born] Son”), rather than monogenh/$ qe/o$ (“only[-bon] God”). The evidence is rather evenly divided between these two readings, but being a bit stronger in favor of the latter, which many commentators accept by virtue of it being, clearly, the more difficult reading. In spite of this textual evidence, I believe that the reading with ui(o/$ (“son”) is unquestionably correct, and should be accepted as original (though by a narrow margin) in light of the overall evidence. For more on this topic, see my earlier detailed note on verse 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philo and the Logos of John 1:1ff

Philo and the Logos of John 1:1ff

This article is supplemental to the current study on John 1:14 (and the Johannine Gospel Prologue, 1:1-18), cf. part 4. In that study, I have mentioned how the writings of Philo of Alexandria (c. B.C. 20-c. 50 A.D.) provide the closest parallels to the use of the word lo/go$ in the Prologue. In order to demonstrate this, I will present and discuss a number of relevant passages from Philo’s writings. Unless otherwise indicated, the translations of Philo are taken from the edition by C. D. Yonge, which is less elegant and readable than the LOEB translation, but in many ways more literal and accurate.

With regard to the use of the word lo/go$, see the discussion in part 2 of the aforementioned study on John 1:14. Given the range of meaning of the word, it is not surprising that lo/go$ came to be used in specialized philosophical and theological contexts. It is most often associated with Stoic philosophy, but this usage goes back at least as far as the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraklitos (c. 540-480 B.C.). In a number of surviving fragments, quoted by later authors, Heraklitos uses the term lo/go$ to refer to the divine power/presence that binds the universe together, giving it order and holding its different components and aspects in balance. In fragment 1 (Sextus Empiricus VII.132), he states that “all things (are) coming to be according to the lo/go$” (ginome/nwn pa/ntwn kata\ to\n lo/gon). The same author (VII.129) quotes Heraklitos as referring to this “divine lo/go$” (o( qei=o$ lo/go$). The logos is thus divine, a manifestation of God, a rational intelligence that gives order to all things in creation, providing a balanced arrangement that holds and binds the universe together. This generally corresponds with the later Stoic use of the term for the mind of God that penetrates creation, ordering and controlling all things.

Hellenistic Jewish philosophers—of whom Philo of Alexandria is the most notable example—blended this Logos-concept together with a line of Old Testament Wisdom tradition that reaches back to the famous passage in Proverbs 8:22-31. Wisdom (Hebrew hm*k=j*), personified as a divine or heavenly being, was with God at the beginning of creation, and functioned as the means/instrument through which YHWH created the universe. Later Jewish tradition expanded upon this idea, developing the concept of the divine Wisdom (Grk Sofi/a) that created, pervades, and sustains the universe (Wisdom 7:22-8:1; 9:2ff; 10:1ff; Sirach 1:3-10; chap. 24; 33:7-8ff; 42:21; Baruch 3:15ff, etc).

As I have mentioned, Philo subsumed this Wisdom tradition under the Logos concept. Philo’s discussion in On the Sacrifices of Abel and Cain §§64-68 is a good example of this. The Wisdom of God, which allows a person to depart from the passions and to cultivate virtue (63), is identified with God’s Word (lo/go$)—the same Word which He spoke to create the universe (65). The Divine nature and pre-existence of this Word is stated in §67, by way of an allegorical interpretation of Exod 17:6; the statement that the Word “stood before any created being” would seem to allude to Prov 8:23.

In On Flight and Finding §§108-112, this role of Wisdom in creation is described as that of a mother, drawing upon the feminine gender of the word sofi/a (as also the Hebrew hm*k=j*). The companionship of God and Wisdom in Prov 8:22-31 is thus framed as that of man and wife, father and mother, who together bring forth creation (and, in particular, the human soul). This same imagery is used in On Allegorical Interpretation II.49ff, and also On Drunkenness §30-31, where Prov 8:22-23 is specifically quoted.

In §§110-112, the term lo/go$ takes the place of sofi/a, as Philo utilizes the Stoic concept of the Logos, with its roots going back to the pre-Socratic Heraklitos (cf. above), referring to the Logos as “the word of the living God” which “being the bond of every thing…holds all things together, and binds all the parts”. The Word of God has clothed itself with the created world, like a garment. Similarly, a created soul is clothed with a body; and, at a higher level, the purified mind of the wise person (the one guided and inspired by the Logos) is clothed with the virtues, garments that can never be taken off.

Philo often deals with sort of macro-/micro-cosm parallel; indeed, it is fundamental to much of his allegorical interpretation of Scripture. The role of the Logos in relation to God, and in the broader creation, has its parallel at the level of the human soul/mind. In On Dreams II.237ff, a four-fold correspondence is established: (1) God, (2) the living Word/Wisdom, (3) the wise man, and (4) the person who beginning to advance toward perfection. This relationship is described as emanating, one to the other, using the image of a flowing river (by way of an allegorical interpretation of Gen 2:10 [explaining the name Eden as meaning “delight”], combined with Psalm 37:4 [“Delight yourself in the LORD…”]). Wisdom is the delight of God, flowing forth from Him; and the Word flows from Wisdom like an irrigating spring, communicating the four virtues to the human mind/soul. In this imagery, sofi/a and lo/go$ would seem to be distinct, and yet (at the same time) they clearly represent a single Divine stream. There is a cosmic aspect to this activity of the living Word—

“the continual stream of the divine word, being borne on incessantly with rapidity and regularity, is diffused universally over everything, giving joy to all. And in one sense he calls the world the city of God, as having received the whole cup of the divine draught” (247-8)

but there is also a parallel (and connected) activity in the human soul (especially the purified soul of the wise person):

“But in another sense he applies this title to the soul of the wise man, in which God is said also to walk, as if in a city, “For,” says God, “I will walk in you, and I will be your God in You.” (Lev 26:12) And who can pour over the happy soul which proffers its own reason as the most sacred cup, the holy goblets of true joy, except the cup-bearer of God, the master of the feast, the word? not differing from the draught itself, but being itself in an unmixed state, the pure delight and sweetness, and pouring forth, and joy, and ambrosial medicine of pleasure and happiness” (248-9)

Philo seems to envision the Logos as carrying or communicating the Wisdom of God to the world (and to the human soul). In Who Is the Heir of Divine Things? §§201-8, the image of that of a runner, rather than a flowing stream, carrying the wisdom (cf. §199f). This wisdom enables the enlightened soul to separate from the dead passions and the things of this world, advancing toward the Divine life of holiness and virtue (cf. Philo’s allegorical use here of Num 16:48). The Divine nature of the Logos, as a heavenly (and uncreated) entity, and yet distinct from YHWH, is clear from 205-6:

“And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race. And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, “And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You;” (Num 16:48) neither being uncreate as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties…”

Again the influence of the Prov 8:22-31 is clear, and it is easy to see why this conception of the Logos would have been attractive to early Christians as a way of expressing their view of Christ as the Son of God.

In a number of passages, Philo refers to the Logos as the “image” (ei)kw/n) of God. In Allegorical Interpretation III.95ff, we find a line of interpretation that is heavily indebted to Platonic thought, as Philo draws upon the Scriptural account of the designing and building of the Tabernacle. At 95ff, he works from Exod 31:2, which refers to the wisdom and knowledge that God gave to Bezalel, allowing him to build the Tabernacle. Philo treats Bezalel as a symbol for the Logos, explaining the name as meaning “God in His shadow”, and declaring:

“the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things” (96)

The Word is thus the image of God, but also serves as the image and pattern for the created world—an aspect of the philosophical use of lo/go$ that goes back to the time of Heraklitos (cf. above). In particular, the Logos is the image/pattern for the human soul, according to Gen 1:26; commenting on that famous verse, Philo states: “the image was modelled according to God, and as man was modelled according to the image, which thus received the power and character of the model”. It is thus by and through the Logos that humankind can be said to be made “in the image of God”. The same thought and line of imagery occurs in On the Creation §§24-25.

This represents another point at which the Logos concept ties back to Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition. A notable example comes from the Book Wisdom, and the praise of Wisdom in 7:22-8:1; in particular, the wording of verse 26 is worth noting:

“For she is a shining forth of eternal light,
a spotless looking(-glass) of (the) working of God,
and an image [ei)kw/n] of His goodness.”

The idea of the Logos as the image of God, and as an emanating emission (like a stream of water) from Him, might naturally bring to mind the concept of a child (or son) born/begotten from the Father. Since the son tends to resemble the father, and thus serves (to some extent) as an image of him, the metaphor is appropriate. This certainly applies to the Johannine Prologue (vv. 14, 18); and, as it happens, there is a parallel in Philo’s writings as well. In On the Confusion of Tongues §§146-7, we read:

“And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born word [prwto/gono$ lo/go$], the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called the authority, and the name of God, and the Word, and man according to God’s image, and he who sees Israel.” (cf. also On Dreams I.215)

The wise person, the purified soul who is guided and inspired by the Logos, can also, having been formed according to that image, be called a child of God:

“For even if we are not yet suitable to be called the sons of God, still we may deserve to be called the children of his eternal image, of his most sacred word; for the image of God is his most ancient word.” (147)

This offers another parallel to the Johannine Prologue (vv. 12-13). And we might also note the idea expressed in v. 1, of the Logos being in the presence of God, in intimate relationship to Him (“toward [pro/$] God”), which is comparable to what Philo says of the Logos in On Flight and Finding §101:

“the divine word…is itself an image of God, the most ancient of all the objects of intellect in the whole world, and that which is placed in the closest proximity to the only truly existing God, without any partition or distance being interposed between them”

In the same passage, Philo draws upon the image of God’s manifest presence between the two cherubim of the ark (Exod 25:22), where He speaks to Moses. This allows Philo to interpret the verse in terms of the presence of the Logos, with Moses representing the ideal (and archetype) of the purified soul that has been made perfect in wisdom and virtue. The two cherubim are explained using the tried-and-true philosophical motif of the reigns for the two horses of the chariot, by which the charioteer guides them. The Word/Wisdom of God thus functions as the charioteer guiding the enlightened soul: “the word is, as it were, the charioteer of the powers, and he who utters it is the rider, who directs the charioteer how to proceed with a view to the proper guidance of the universe”.

The Logos for Philo functions as a mediator between God and man. As discussed above, the Logos is the image of God, but also the pattern for that image in the soul/mind of human beings. To the extent that the soul is purified and enlightened, advancing in holiness and virtue, it more completely reflects the Divine image. For the wise, then, those who are guided by the Word/Wisdom of God, the Logos is present within (microcosm) even as it is present in the universe without (macrocosm), binding all things together. One may thus speak of two men—with the Logos, as the Divine archetype and guiding presence within the soul, being the true man. For a selection of passages where one finds these ideas expressed, cf. Who Is the Heir of Divine Things? §§230ff; On Dreams I.215; On Flight and Finding §§71ff; On the Creation §69; Questions and Answers on Genesis II.62;  On Noah’s Work as a Planter §§18-20ff; The Worse Attacks the Better §§22-23; On the Giants §34

Elsewhere, Philo also identifies the Logos with the Divine Spirit (pneu=ma), which is another aspect of the Logos-concept that is of significance of the Johannine writings, if not particularly the Prologue. It is noteworthy that, in addition to the identification being essential to the Divine nature of the Logos, it also reflects the traditional Scriptural view of the Spirit as representing God’s inspired guidance of his people (the chosen ones). So also the purified soul of the wise person is inspired and guided by the Logos. For some passages containing statements along these lines, cf. Allegorical Interpretation I.33-38ff; On Noah’s Work as a Planter §§ 18-20ff; On Dreams I.30-34ff; On the Special Laws IV.123ff; Who Is the Heir of Divine Things? §56.

For assisting me in (more quickly) locating some of the most relevant passages in Philo, I must give credit to the work by J. Jervell, Imago Dei, Gen. 1:26ff in Spätjudentum, in der Gnosis und in den paulinischen Briefen, F.R.L.A.N.T. 76 (Göttingen, 1960), pp. 49-70, 130-6, as cited by 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 no. 21 (Cambridge University Press: 1973).

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

“…and set up (his) tent among us”
kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n h(mi=n

In considering the place of verse 14 in the Gospel Prologue, we turn now to the phrase kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n h(mi=n (“and he set up [his] tent among us”). In part 2 of this article, I expressed my view that the three main phrases of verse 14 refer to three distinct stages in the life of Jesus (as the incarnate Logos):

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

However, some commentators would prefer to see the verbs e)ge/neto and e)skh/nwsen as parallel, in which case the verb of becoming (e)ge/neto, “he/it came to be”) would refer more generally to the life and existence of the Logos as a human being, rather than specifically to his birth. This possibility will be discussed further at a later point in our study.

As indicated by the literal translation above, the verb skhno/w, which is rooted in the word skh=no$/skhnh/ (“tent”), fundamentally means “set up [i.e. pitch] a tent”, or to dwell in such a tent. The verb occurs 4 times in the LXX, where it is used both for setting up a tent (Gen 13:12), and for dwelling/living in a tent (Judg 8:11 B). Both aspects of meaning also occur in the New Testament, in the 4 other instances where the verb is used. In Rev 7:15, we find the specific image of God spreading out His tent; however, in Rev 12:12, 13:6, and 21:3, it is the idea of dwelling (in a tent) that is emphasized. Indeed, skhno/w can be used as a term that simply means, more generally, “dwell”, without necessarily preserving the etymological component of a “tent” per se.

Here in verse 14, the general idea of “dwelling” certainly is intended, but also (I believe) the specific aspect of establishing a dwelling—that is, of “setting up” (or pitching) one’s “tent”. However, it is also likely that the particular image of a tent, preserving the etymological/root component skhnh/, is being emphasized. There are two main reasons for thinking so: (1) the reference to Moses at the end of the Prologue (a theme that runs through the entire Gospel) brings to mind the Exodus traditions and the Tent-shrine which functioned as YHWH’s ‘dwelling-place’ (/K*v=m!) during Israel’s wilderness journeys (Exod 40, etc); and (2) the likelihood that the Prologue draws upon Jewish Wisdom-tradition (cf. below) means that the verb here may be alluding to Sirach 24:8 (or a comparable reference):

“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.'”
NRSV

In any case, the principal reference is to the Logos, having “become” flesh (i.e., a human being), beginning to dwell on earth among other humans. In this regard, verse 14 builds upon the idea(s) expressed in vv. 10-11. Before exploring this further, it is worth discussing briefly critical theory regarding the composition of the Prologue.

Many commentators view the Prologue as representing an adaptation (by the Gospel writer, or subsequent editor) of an existing hymn. Whether the Prologue, in any form, was ever used as an actual hymn may be debated; however, the poetic character of the Prologue—much of it, at least—seems relatively clear. It is best treated, both in presentation and translation, in verse form, recognizing poetic lines and units.

Scholars do, however, differ regarding the precise constitution of the original poem, its provenance, and how/when it was adapted and integrated into the Gospel. For example, Rudolf Schnackenburg, in his now-classic and highly influential commentary, proposes that the original “Logos-hymn” was comprised of vv. 1, 3-4, 9-11, 14, 16 (Vol. 1, pp. 224-9 [ET]), the other portions representing Johannine editorial additions. For a different reconstruction and analysis, see, e.g., that of U. C. von Wahlde from his commentary on the Gospel and Letters (Vol. 2, pp. 17-24).

I am inclined to accept the theory that a core “Logos-poem” was inherited and adapted by the Gospel writer. The large number of words and phrases not found elsewhere in the Gospel, or which are rare in the Johannine writings, increases the likelihood that existing material was imported. At the same time, even in the verses typically viewed as (likely) being part of the original poem—viz., vv. 1-5, 9-11, 14, 16ff—one finds Johannine vocabulary and terminology. The best explanation for both these lines of evidence would seem to be that the Gospel writer has adapted existing material. For lists of the words/phrases in the Prologue that are both foreign and common to the Gospel (and/or the Johannine writings), consult the critical commentaries, such as that of von Wahlde (Vol. 2, p. 18).

My own working hypothesis is that the Gospel writer (not a later editor/redactor) inherited existing poetic material (dealing with Jesus as the incarnation of the Word/Wisdom of God), and cast it into the distinctive Johannine theological idiom; at the same time, he also added several expository/interpretative statements that serve to integrate the material with the Gospel—both in its narrative and its theological outlook. I would identify verses 6-8, 12-13 [certainly v. 13], and 15 as Johannine expository statements.

If verse (12-)13 does indeed represent an integrative comment by the author, then the natural conclusion is that verse 14 essentially follows vv. 10-11(f) in the original (adapted) poetic material. Let us consider how these two portions relate, beginning from vv. 10-11:

“He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, and (yet) the world did not know him. He came unto (his) own (thing)s, and (yet his) own (people) did not take him along.”

In parts 1 and 2, I discussed the likelihood that the Prologue draws upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions, including the tradition that the personified Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*, Grk sofi/a) of God came to dwell among human beings (Prov 8:31; Sirach 24:8ff; Wisd 9:10), but could find no welcome (1 Enoch 42; cf. also Sirach 15:7; Baruch 3:12). The Enoch reference is particularly worth citing:

“Wisdom could not find a place in which she could dwell;
but a place was found (for her) in the heavens.
Then Wisdom went out to dwell with the children of the people,
but she found no dwelling place.”
(42:1-2a, translation E. Isaac, OTP)

As in the Gospel Prologue, Wisdom first has a dwelling (with God) in heaven; then she seeks a dwelling on earth among humans, but finds no place for her there. It seems highly probable that the ‘Logos-poem’ of the Prologue and 1 Enoch 42 are drawing upon a common line of tradition.

While some commentators would hold that vv. 10-11 refer specifically to the incarnate Logos (i.e., the life of Jesus), I do not believe that this is correct. The primary point of reference is the presence of the Word/Wisdom of God among human beings throughout their history. This refers to all human beings, but particularly to the people of Israel. The more general aspect of the Logos dwelling among humankind seems to be expressed in v. 10, with the phrase “he was in the world”. The use of the verb of being (imperfect tense, h@n, as in vv. 1-2, 4, 9) emphasizes again the Divine nature of the Logos—it is the Word/Wisdom of God. At the same time, being “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|), refers to the manifest presence of the Logos in creation—in the universe generally, but in/among human beings specifically.

This identification narrows further in verse 11. The idea of being among “his own” may be understood on two levels: (1) the rational aspect of human beings means that, in a sense, they are like the Logos and belong to it, having been illuminated by the light of wisdom and reason (v. 4); but also (2) it refers specifically to the people of Israel as God’s people (and thus also belonging to the Divine Logos). Verse 11 further distinguishes between “his own”, using the neuter plural of the adjective i&dio$ (“[his] own [thing]s”), and using the masculine plural (“[his] own [people]”). The Logos comes unto/into the domain of God’s people (i.e., the land of Israel and Israelite society), to be received by the people themselves. But the Logos is not received by Israel (“[his] own [people] did not take/receive him alongside”) anymore that he was received by humankind at large (“the world did not know [i.e. recognize/acknowledge] him”).

While vv. 10-11 refer primarily to the presence of the Word/Wisdom among humans (and among God’s people), in the context of the Prologue it also alludes to the presence of the incarnate Logos (Jesus) on earth. Yet, I would maintain that verse 14 is meant to introduce a new stage in the historical drama. From this standpoint, the initial kai/ of v. 14 could be translated “And so…” —that is, “And so, the Logos, (having received no welcome previously,) came to be flesh…”. There is now a difference: the Word/Wisdom of God has become a flesh-and-blood human being, and dwells (as a human being) among other humans.

The “tent” in which the incarnate Logos dwells is a temporary, not a permanent, dwelling. It is set down, and then, after a time, is pulled up. The Gospel of John is particularly aware of the temporary character of this dwelling. The true dwelling of the Logos is with God in heaven. He “stepped down” (vb katabai/nw) to earth for a time, and then “stepped up” (vb a)nabai/nw) again, back to God. The Prologue only alludes faintly to this theological perspective, in part by making use of the tent-idiom with the verb skhno/w.

In the next part (4) of this article, we will examine the next phrase in v. 14: “…and we looked upon his splendor” (kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n do/can au)tou=).

    • Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to John, Volume 1 (Crossroad Publishing: 1990), translation by Kevin Smyth; original edition: Das Johannesevangelium, Part I, Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament IV/I (Herder: 1965).
    • Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John: Volume 2, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (Eerdmans: 2010).
    • OTP = The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, edited by James H. Charlesworth, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1983).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Prologue, part 2

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

In considering the relation of John 1:14 to the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18), the close parallel between v. 14 and the opening unit (vv. 1-2) was mentioned (cf. part 1 of this article). Two contrasting, but related, statements regarding the Logos are made:

    • “the Word was [h@n] God”
    • “the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”

These are made with two points of contrast: (1) the verb of being (ei)mi) vs. the verb of becoming (gi/nomai), and (2) a comparable difference in the predicate nominative, “God” (qeo/$) vs. “flesh” (sa/rc). The distinction between the verbs is significant, both in the Prologue, and throughout the Johannine writings. Created beings (esp. human beings) come to be, but God is. In this regard, the term sa/rc (“flesh”) refers to the life and existence of a human being, a point that is supported by the use of sa/rc elsewhere in the Gospel and Letters of John.

In the predicative statements of vv. 1 and 14, the Logos is the (Divine) subject. It is worth examining briefly the meaning and background of the noun lo/go$ as it is used here in the Prologue; in this, I am re-visiting the discussion from an earlier note.

On the word lo/go$

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

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

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

Hellenistic Jewish philosophers—of whom Philo of Alexandria is the most notable example—blended this Logos-concept together with a line of Old Testament Wisdom tradition that reaches back to the famous passage in Proverbs 8:22-31. Wisdom (Hebrew hm*k=j*), personified as a divine or heavenly being, was with God at the beginning of creation, and functioned as the means/instrument through which YHWH created the universe. Later Jewish tradition expanded upon this idea, developing the concept of the divine Wisdom (Grk Sofi/a) that created, pervades, and sustains the universe (Wisdom 7:22-8:1; 9:2ff; 10:1ff; Sirach 1:3-10; chap. 24; 33:7-8ff; 42:21; Baruch 3:15ff, etc).

Philo of Alexandria subsumed this Wisdom tradition under the concept of the Logos, and the Prologue of John appears to have done much the same. Indeed, Philo’s writings provide by far the closest known parallels to this usage of the term. It would seem fair to say that the Johannine Prologue, like the New Testament “Christ hymns” in Philippians, Colossians, and Hebrews, drew upon a common line of Hellenistic Jewish Logos/Wisdom tradition. The Logos/Wisdom concept was adopted by early Christians and applied to the person of Jesus. The overall use of the noun lo/go$ in the Gospel and Letters of John will be discussed in the second major division of this study. Here we are focusing strictly on the Gospel Prologue.

John 1:1

I mentioned the predicative statement regarding the Logos in verse 1; however the verse is actually comprised of a chain of three such statements (lettered a-c):

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

Each of these is an example of essential predication, as the grammatical (and philosophical) phenomenon is utilized in the Gospel of John. The components of this simple syntax are: (a) subject, (b) verb of being, and (c) predicate nominative (sometimes in the form of a qualifying expression or phrase). Normally, the verb of being is in the present indicative form (“is, am”), but here (and in vv. 2, 4, 8-10, 15) an imperfect form (h@n, “was”) is used. The imperfect tense is necessary, given the unique circumstances being narrated at this point in the Prologue. A time past is indicated (indeed, prior to the Creation itself); however, the aorist is not used, since we are not dealing with a single point in time, but rather a regular/continual situation. This timeless quality of the eternal life of God, when oriented in reference to the past events of Creation, is best approximated by the imperfect tense. By contrast, the “coming to be” of created beings, at a specific point in time, is expressed by the aorist (e)ge/neto, “it/he came to be”).

As I discussed in part 1 of this article, the Prologue (esp. verses 1-5) may be characterized as a Jewish Christian interpretive exposition of the Genesis creation account (Gen 1:1ff). In this regard, it has much in common with earlier and contemporary Hellenistic Jewish treatments of the Scriptural account of creation, interpreting the Genesis account through the lens of Greek philosophical terminology and thought. As mentioned above, the closest parallels are in the philosophical commentaries on the Scriptures by Philo of Alexandria. This will be discussed in more detail as we continue in our study.

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

The existence of the Logos in eternity (prior to the Creation) is indicated by the first predicative statement in verse 1: “In (the) beginning was the Word”, or “In (the) beginning the Word was” (cf. my earlier note on v. 1a). The third predicative statement emphasizes the deity of the Logos: “and the Word was God” (cf. the note on v. 1c). But the second (middle) predicative statement also points out that there is a distinction between God and the Logos, to be understood in relational terms. This is expressed by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”):

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

The preposition pro/$ literally, and primarily, means “toward”, and so I have translated it above. This can be understood either in terms of (a) facing toward, or (b) moving toward. Whether the positional or dynamic aspect is being emphasized is difficult to say. The main point is that the Logos is present with God “in the beginning”, and has a close/intimate relationship with Him. There is almost certainly an intentional parallel in the closing verse of the Prologue (v. 18), which will be discussed at an upcoming point in this study. For more on v. 1b, cf. my earlier note.

Certainly, by qeo/$ here is meant El-Yahweh, the Creator and one true God, according to the traditional monotheistic belief held in common by Israelites, Jews and early Christians. In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the divine Wisdom (personified) was the first of God’s creation, and was with Him at the beginning, when the universe was created (Prov 8:22-31). In Prov 8:30, Wisdom declares that, in the beginning, he/she was “near” (lx#a@) YHWH, which is expressed in the LXX by the preposition para/ (“alongside”). As noted above, this personification of Wisdom (Heb. hm*k=j*, Grk sofi/a) was blended with the Greek philosophical-theological concept of the Divine Logos, both by Philo and here in the Johannine Gospel Prologue. It is under the term lo/go$ that this Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition was applied to the person of Jesus.

We should emphasize again the parallel between vv. 1 and 14. While the Logos was in the Beginning, being identified as God and as a distinct entity in relation to God, within the creation he came to be flesh—that is, he became a human being, on earth in time and space. The creation “came to be” (e)ge/neto), and so also the Logos “came to be” (e)ge/neto) a human being (“flesh”). That this occurred at a particular point in time is indicated by the aorist tense of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai).

In the first part of this article, I discussed how the context and use of gi/nomai here strongly suggests that it is meant to refer to the birth of a human being. It is important to emphasize this because some commentators have sought to explain the verb of becoming—and, indeed, the incarnation of the Logos itself—somewhat differently. We will examine these differing views when we come to consider the place of verse 14 in the Gospel of John as a whole. For now, I would draw attention to the structure of verse 14 for a measure of confirmation of the idea that gi/nomai here refers to birth. The verse is comprised of three distinct statements:

    • “the Word became flesh”
    • “he set up his tent among us”
    • “we looked upon his splendor”

I would explain these statements as referring to three stages in the life of Jesus:

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

In part 3 of this article, I wish to focus on the phrase “and he set up his tent among us” (kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n h(mi=n), looking at it in the context of the Prologue, especially vv. 9-11.

 

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Prologue, part 1

The Context of the Johannine Prologue

The first part of this series on John 1:14 focuses on the place of the verse within the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18). I have previously presented a detailed exegesis of this section, and will not repeat all of that analysis here. The emphasis will be on the relation of verse 14 to the Prologue, from a linguistic, literary, and theological standpoint. This study will proceed along two main lines: (1) an examination of the individual words, expressions, and phrases of verse 14; and (2) how these elements fit within the plan and structure of the Prologue.

Let us begin with the verse on its own:

“And the Word came to be flesh and set up his tent among us, and we looked upon his splendor, (the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth.”

The initial phrase in the Greek is:

kai\ o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

The connective (copulative) conjunction kai/ (“and”) shows that verse 14 relates to what has come before in the Prologue. But in what manner? A surface reading suggests that, following the application-verses 12-13, the author is picking up the main thread of his poetic narrative from verse 11. This raises the question of whether verses 10-11 refer to the life of Jesus Christ on earth (ahead of the incarnation-reference in v. 14), or whether they describe the presence of the Logos among human beings, prior to the birth/life of Jesus.

Many commentators adopt the latter view, based on the theory that the Prologue, and the Gospel as a whole, has been influenced by Jewish Wisdom traditions. According to this view, a personification of the pre-existent Wisdom of God (Prov 1:20-33; chaps. 8-9; Sirach 24; Wisd 7:22-8:1; 9:9ff; Baruch 3:9ff, etc) has been blended together with the concept of the pre-existent Word (Logos) of God, and that Jesus has been identified with both. In this regard, the poetic tradition of Wisdom dwelling (or seeking to dwell) on earth among human beings (Prov 8:31; Wisd 9:10; Sirach 24:8ff, etc) may well underlie vv. 10-11 of the Prologue. In particular, we may note the references to Wisdom being rejected, and not able to find a welcome place among humankind, not even among God’s people Israel (cf. 1 Enoch 42:2; Sirach 15:7; Baruch 3:12).

This view of Jesus as the incarnation of the pre-existent Wisdom (= Logos) will be discussed further as we proceed in our study.

Another interpretative approach relates verse 14 back to the very beginning of the Prologue, and the initial unit of vv. 1-2. In a noteworthy article written more than fifty years ago*, P. Borgen sought to demonstrate that there was a parallelistic (chiastic) structure to the Prologue, which would line up as follows:

    • Vv. 1-2—The Logos with God before creation
      • V. 3—The Logos creates in primordial time
        • Vv. 4-5—Light and darkness in creation
        • Vv. 6-9—Light comes in the person of Jesus
      • Vv. 10-13—The Logos enters creation (as Jesus) to claim it as its possession
    • Vv. 14-18—The manifestation of the Logos in creation in the person of Jesus

* “Logos was the True Light: Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John,” Novum Testamentum 14 (1972), pp. 115-130. This article, based on a lecture given in 1970, was later reprinted in the volume Logos was the True Light, and Other Essays on the Gospel of John, Publications edited by the Department of Religious Studies University of Trondheim, No. 9 (1983).

According to Borgen’s view, the Prologue essentially represents a Jewish Christian exposition, in a midrashic or targumic style, of Genesis 1:1ff. It does indeed seem, particularly in vv. 1-5, that we have an interpretive Hellenistic-Jewish exposition of the Genesis Creation account, which then has been applied, in an early Christian context, to the person of Jesus. This will be discussed further during our study.

The words that follow the initial conjunction in verse 14 are: lo/go$ (with the definite article), sa/rc, and the verb form e)ge/neto. Leaving aside, for the moment, the noun sa/rc (“flesh”), I wish to focus on the word pair lo/go$e)ge/neto (“the Word became…”). There is, indeed, an important parallel between vv. 1-2 and v. 14 (cf. above), one which emphasizes the vital distinction between the verb of being (ei)mi) and the verb of becoming (gi/nomai).

As will be discussed, throughout the Gospel (but especially in the Prologue), there is a key distinction between these two common verbs: the verb of being is predicated of God (or a Divine subject), while the verb of becoming is predicated of a created (i.e., human) being. In other words, creation comes to be, but God is. In verses 1-2, the verb of being is used throughout, in the imperfect tense (h@n, “was”), while, with the first mention of creation (in v. 3), the verb of becoming begins to be used (“all things came to be [e)ge/neto] through him”). The same verb of becoming is used in v. 14; note the parallel with v. 1:

    • “the Word was God”
      qeo\$ h@n o( lo/go$
    • “the Word became flesh”
      o( lo/go$ sa/rc e)ge/neto

In verse 1, the deity of the Logos is emphasized, while in verse 14 it is his created humanity. There is thus an implicit contrast between the nouns qeo/$ (“God”) and sa/rc (“flesh”). As we shall see, in the Johannine writings, the noun sa/rc is a key term designating the life and existence of a human being.

One might have expected the contrast to have been between qeo/$ (“God”) and a&nqrwpo$ (“man”). After all, it is the noun a&nqrwpo$ that is used in vv. 4-9; indeed, of John the Baptist, in v. 6, it is said “there came to be [e)ge/neto] a man…”. This first reference to John introduces a theme, contrasting the Baptist with Jesus, that runs throughout chapters 1-3. The specific wording in the Prologue, leading into verse 14, may be intended to emphasize that Jesus was not simply a man like John the Baptist, even one who was Divinely-chosen and “sent forth from God”. Rather, Jesus is to be identified as the incarnate Logos of God.

Throughout the Prologue, the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) essentially refers to the coming into existence of a created being (vv. 3, 6, 10). For a human being (see v. 6), this implies a biological birth. The only exception to this is found in verse 12, where gi/nomai is used of a human being “coming to be” the offspring of God. Yet the idiom of birth is clearly being emphasized, as the parallel use of genna/w, which more precisely denotes “coming to be (born)”, in v. 13 definitely shows. This reflects the thoroughly Johannine theological idiom of believers in Christ defined as those who have “come to be (born) [vb genna/w] out of [e)k] God”.

Given this emphasis, the implication is very strong that gi/nomai in v. 14 also refers to birth—in this case, the birth of the Logos as a human being. This would seem to be confirmed by the declaration by the Baptist that follows in v. 15 (and essentially repeated in v. 30):

“…the (one) coming in back of me has come to be in front of me, (in) that first of me he was”

A careful distinction is made between the use of three common verbs, each with a special theological (and Christological) significance in the Johannine writings:

    • e&rxomai (“come”)—e)rxo/meno$ (“coming,” i.e., he came)
    • gi/nomai (“come to be”)—ge/gonen (“he has come to be”)
    • ei)mi (verb of being)—h@n (“he was”)

The first verb (e&rxomai) refers to the earthly ministry (and public career) of Jesus; the second verb (gi/nomai) refers to birth and (incarnate) existence of the Logos (in Jesus); while the third verb (ei)mi) refers to the Divine/eternal existence of the the Logos, as in vv. 1-2. The contextual use of gi/nomai, along with the specific wording, means that it cannot simply refer to Jesus’ human life, but refers primarily to his coming into existence (i.e., his birth) as a human being.

This will be discussed further in the next segment of this study, as we turn to examine the next words of v. 14, as well as begin to consider the meaning and significance of the noun lo/go$ as it is used here by the Gospel writer.