May 23: 1 John 1:2

1 John 1:2

Much of the syntactical awkwardness of the 1 John prologue (1:1-4) is due to the parenthetical clauses in verse 2. As indicated in the previous note, verse 3 picks up the main line of syntax from verse 1, with its repeated relative phrases (modifying the initial phrase). As a parenthesis, verse 2 is expository, expounding the significance of the expression “the word of life” (o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$) at the close of verse 1. The subject of verse 2 is “the life” (h( zwh/):

“and th(is) life was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh], and we have seen and give witness and give forth as a message to you th(is) life of the age(s) [i.e. eternal life], which was toward the Father, and was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh] to us”

The parallel use of the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”) brackets the statement. This verb is something of a Johannine keyword, occurring nine times each in the Gospel and First Letter. As applied to Jesus, it refers to his public appearance on earth, alluding both to the incarnation of the Logos (1:14ff, cf. verse 31) and to Jesus’ earthly ministry with his disciples. One may understand the passive voice in these instances as an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. In the Johannine theological idiom, this is otherwise expressed by the idea of God the Father sending the Son (Jesus) to earth.

The Logos was made to shine forth (on earth), but also specifically “to us” —that is, to believers, beginning with the first disciples (the implied eyewitnesses in verse 1). The same implication is repeated here in verse 2: “we have seen” (e(wra/kamen). In the Johannine Gospel, the motif of seeing has Christological significance—it signifies recognizing who Jesus is (i.e., the Son sent by the Father) and trusting in him.

Believers, from the first disciples to the present (when the author is writing), both “give witness” (vb marture/w) to Jesus and declare the message (vb a)pagge/llw) of who he is (and of what he has said and done, cf. verse 5ff). These two verbs are also part of the Johannine idiom, playing an important role in the Paraclete-sayings of the Last Discourse. The Spirit as a witness is specifically emphasized in the third saying (15:26-27), and is indicated again in the final saying(s) (16:7b-11ff). The only other Johannine use of a)pagge/llw (“give forth a message”) occurs in 16:25, where the reference is to Jesus (the Son) communicating the truth to believers “about the Father”; however, the parallel verb a)nagge/llw, which has nearly identical meaning, features prominently in the final Paraclete-saying (16:13-15), and is also used here in 1 Jn 1:5.

The implication of this vocabulary analysis is that the terminology, which applies here to the witness of believers to the truth of Jesus’ identity, is closely tied to the Johannine view of the Spirit’s witness. Indeed, in the third Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the Spirit and the disciples (believers) work together as a witness—the Spirit bears witness to believers, who, in turn, give witness of the truth to others in the world (see esp. 17:18-21).

For this reason, I believe it is proper to find here in the prologue to 1 John a certain indirect allusion to the Spirit. This is confirmed, I think, by the use of the expression “the word of life,” when understood within the Johannine theological idiom—especially as expressed in the Gospel Discourses. An important component of this theology is the idea that Jesus (the Son) is said to give the Spirit to believers, and also to give life to them. On the specific motif of giving life (zwh/, which means Divine/Eternal Life), cf. 5:21ff; 6:27ff, 57; 10:28; 17:2-3, with many other clear allusions, tied to trusting/following Jesus (3:15-16, 36; 5:39-40; 8:12; 10:10ff; 11:25), including the important theological statement in the Prologue (1:4; cp. 14:6). Jesus’ giving of the Spirit brackets (and informs) the entire Gospel narrative (1:33; 19:30/20:22), is implied in 3:34, and features prominently in the Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7bff). The two motifs of life and Spirit are combined in the image of the “living water” that Jesus gives (4:10-15; 7:37-39).

The wording of Jesus’ famous saying in Jn 6:63 seems especially relevant in this regard (cf. the earlier study on this verse):

“The Spirit is the (thing) making alive [vb zwopoie/w], the flesh is not useful (for) anything; the words [r(h/mata] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life [zwh/].”

The close association of the Spirit with both word and life makes an allusion to the Spirit in 1 Jn 1:1-2 all the more likely. The plural r(h/mata (lit. “utterances”) is used in Jesus’ saying, rather than the singular lo/go$, which means that the reference is to the message (words/teaching) that Jesus speaks to believers, rather than to his own person (as the Logos). Even so, this is one of the three aspects of the meaning of lo/go$ here in 1:1, as I explained in the previous note; the point is confirmed by the context of what immediately follows the prologue in verse 5.

By communicating the Spirit to believers, Jesus gives life to them/us—and, indeed, gives the Divine source of that (eternal) life, since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). According to the Gospel tradition and narrative (20:22), the first disciples received the Spirit through the (meta)physical presence of the resurrected Jesus; for all other believers, this same takes place as a result of our trust, having received and accepted the Gospel witness, beginning with the witness of the first disciples (17:20-21, etc; see esp. the important closing statement in 20:29).

It is worth emphasizing again the close relation between the prologue of 1 John and the Gospel Prologue. Of particular theological importance is the essential predication, whereby Jesus is identified with the (pre-existent) Word (lo/go$) and Life (zwh/) of God; if we add to this the attribute of Light (fw=$), introduced in verse 5ff, then all three key Divine attributes from the Prologue (1:1-5ff)—Word, Light, Life—are similarly represented here in 1 John. Jesus is specifically identified with the Word and Life of God, while in verse 5 it is God the Father who is identified as Light; however, there can be no doubt of the Christological significance of the light-motif, with an understanding of Jesus (the Son) manifesting the “true light” (2:8ff), just as we see throughout the Gospel.

Why was the parenthetical statement in verse 2 included with such bold emphasis, so as to contribute to such a noticeably awkward syntax in the prologue? I have to wonder if the emphasis may be tied specifically to the rhetorical purpose and strategy of the author. He seems to out of his way to position both elements of the expression “the word of the life” —the Word and the Life—within a dual-meaning context. As outlined in the previous notes, the two aspects of meaning are: (1) Christological (the person of Jesus), and (2) Evangelistic (the message/traditions about Jesus). This is significant if, as I believe to be the case, the crisis (and the opponents) addressed by the author in 1 John relate to the spiritualism of the Johannine churches. One theory regarding the nature of this crisis is that it involved a tendency to localize the Word and Life of God in the abiding presence of the Spirit, in a way that devalued the importance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. This topic will be discussed in the upcoming articles (on 1 John) in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will conclude our discussion on the prologue, looking specifically at verses 3-4.

May 22: 1 John 1:1 (continued)

1 John 1:1, continued

First John begins with the phrase:

o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$
“That which was from (the) beginning…”

This phrase clearly reflects the language of the opening lines of the Gospel Prologue (1:1), and suggests that an edition of the Gospel had been written and was in circulation at the time that 1 John was composed. The various points of similarity between the prologue of 1 John (1:1-4) and the Gospel Prologue (esp. 1:1-5, 14ff) have been noted and charted by many commentators (see, e.g., in Brown, pp. 175-80).

In the previous note, I discussed the significance of the opening (neuter) relative pronoun (o%) and the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$. For all 10 occurrences of the noun a)rxh/ (“beginning”) in the Johannine letters, the prepositional expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) is used: the other instances are in 2:7, 13-14, 24 (twice); 3:8, 11, and 2 John 5-6. I noted how there is a clear dual-meaning to the expression, referring to (a) the cosmological context of the beginning of Creation (2:13-14; 3:8), or (b) the beginning of the Christian witness that goes back to the first disciples and the earthly life of Jesus (2:7; 3:11). The references here in 1:1 and in 2:24 encompass both aspects of meaning.

However, the parallel with the Gospel Prologue strongly indicates that the cosmological (and Christological) aspect is primary. This would seem to be confirmed by the repeated use of the relative pronoun throughout vv. 1-3. Note, in this regard, the syntactical structure of verse 1, the main line of which is picked up at verse 3 (with verse 2 being parenthetical):

    • “That which [o%] was from (the) beginning,
      • which [o%] we have heard,
      • which [o%] we have seen with our eyes,
      • which [o%] we looked at
        and (which) our hands felt,

        • about the word [lo/go$] of life—
      • that which [o%] we have seen and heard,
        • we give forth also as a message to you…”

It is quite clear that the neuter pronoun refers, principally, not to a message about Jesus, but to the person of Jesus himself. Specifically, it refers to the physical presence of Jesus during his earthly life and ministry (cf. the emphasis in vv. 14ff of the Gospel Prologue). This, indeed, is the emphasis denoted by the second-level syntax of the repeated relative phrases (using the relative pronoun o%) which qualify the initial phrase. In terms of the Gospel Prologue, these lines refer to the incarnation of the Lo/go$: “the Word [lo/go$] came to be flesh and put down (his) tent [i.e. dwelt] among us”. The disciples heard, saw, and touched the incarnate Word (Jesus) during his earthly life and ministry.

At the third level of syntax, the focus shifts from the person of Jesus to the witness about Jesus, with the syntagmatic parallel phrases:

    • “about the word of life”
      peri\ tou= lo/gou th=$ zwh=$
    • “we give forth also as a message to you”
      a)pagge/llomen kai\ u(mi=n

The use of the preposition peri/ (“about”) clearly shows the reference is to a message, a witness, about Jesus; cp. the use of peri/ in the Gospel Paraclete-sayings (15:26; 16:8-11), discussed in recent notes. The verb a)pagge/llw in verse 3 makes this quite explicit; this verb, or the parallel a)nagge/llw, also features in the Paraclete-sayings (16:13-15, cf. also v. 25).

Just as there is a dual-meaning to the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”), so there also is here with the use of the keyword lo/go$, in the expression o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$ (“the word of life”). Actually, one might delineate three distinct layers of meaning:

    • Jesus himself as the (incarnate) Word of God; this is confirmed by the parallel with the use of lo/go$ in the Gospel Prologue (1:1, 14).
    • In reference to the word(s) which Jesus speaks—that which he gives and communicates (from God the Father) to believers; in relation to the specific expression “word of life,” cf. John 6:63, also 5:24.
    • According to the basic meaning of lo/go$ as an “account” —i.e., as an account or message about Jesus and the life that he brings; in other words, a reference to the early Christian (Gospel) witness.

It is not immediately apparent that the second meaning above would apply here; however, this aspect becomes quite evident once the reader proceeds to verse 5, where the reference is to the message (i.e., the lo/go$) that Jesus (the incarnate Lo/go$) gives to believers.

In the next daily note, we will give further consideration to the expression “word of life”, and how it is expounded in the parenthetical verse 2.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 30 (1982).

Supplemental Note on James 1:25 (“The Law of Freedom”)

This note is supplemental to the article on the Law in the letter of James (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”). There are two primary references to the Law (o( no/mo$) in James, involving two particular expressions, which will be discussed in turn.

1. “The Law of freedom” (no/mo$ [th=$] e)leuqeri/a$)—James 1:25; 2:12

In James 1:25, the expression is actually “the complete Law of freedom”, including the adjective te/leio$ (“complete, finished”):

“but the (one) bending alongside (to look) into the complete Law th(at is) of freedom and remaining alongside…this (one) will be happy/blessed in his doing”

As discussed in the recent article, the context of verse 25 identifies the Law with the account (or “word”, lo/go$) which is planted in (e&mfuto$) believers. I take lo/go$ (lógos) here in a comprehensive sense, as the Gospel message and the teachings of Jesus, as well as (authoritative) Christian instruction generally. However, the author may also be drawing upon Hellenistic Jewish language and imagery (influenced by Greek philosophy) in the use of lo/go$ (cf. below). For the idea of Jesus’ word(s) as a seed, or involving other planting images, see the previous article. There are a number of references in Scripture to God’s word being within a person (i.e. in the heart), cf. Deut 30:14; Psalm 119:11, and especially in the New Testament (Matt 13:19 par; John 5:38; 8:37; 1 Thess 2:13; Col 3:16; 1 John 1:10; 2:14, etc), where the “word of God” is virtually interchangeable with the “word(s) of Christ”.

In what sense is this Law the “Law of freedom” (no/mo$ th=$ e)leuqeri/a$)? There are three possibilities:

    • Following the Law leads to freedom—This is attested for the Torah in Jewish tradition (e.g., m. Abot 3:5; 6:2; Baba Kamma 8:6; b. Baba Metzia 85b, cf. Davids, p. 99*); in other words, the Law gives freedom to those who faithfully observe its commands. Paul, of course, says virtually the opposite, often declaring that in Christ believers are freed from bondage under the Law (Gal 2:16; 3:10-14, 19-26; 4:4-5, 21-31; 5:1-6; Rom 3:20; 5:20-21; 7:1-6, 7ff; 8:2ff; 1 Cor 9:19; 2 Cor 3:17; note also Acts 13:38-39). Jesus in the Gospel of John promises freedom to his followers, those who hear (and keep) his word (Jn 8:32-36).
    • We follow the Law freely, not out of obligation or compulsion—As I have discussed previously, Paul appears to have held such a view for Jewish believers (himself included) with regard to the Torah: they may continue to observe its commands and regulations voluntarily, on the basis of the freedom they now have in Christ, no longer as a binding requirement. With regard to the Gospel and the teachings of Christ, the so-called letter of Barnabas (2:6) expresses the point clearly: “the new Law of our Lord Jesus Christ, being without the yoke of necessity [a&neu zugou= a)na/gkh$]”. Jesus himself refers to the “yoke” of his teaching (and example) as easy and light (Matt 11:29-30), while criticizing the ‘burdensome’ teaching and tradition of the Pharisees (Matt 23:2ff). The Old Testament Law is described as a burdensome yoke in Acts 15:10, and by Paul as a “yoke of slavery” in Gal 5:1.
    • The Law is a product of the freedom we have in Christ—According to Paul, believers are guided principally by the Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ (and God) and represents the freedom we have in him (2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1, 13ff; Rom 8:2ff, 21); by way of this guidance, we naturally fulfill the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21), which is no longer the commands of the Torah per se. Note the general similarity between James 2:8-12 and Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10.

The first interpretation best characterizes the expression here in James, especially when one considers the additional adjective te/leio$ (“the complete Law of freedom”). In Jewish tradition, the Law would have been regarded, generally speaking, as “perfect” and complete (Psalm 19:7, cf. also the Epistle of Aristeas §31, etc). In the New Testament, however, the adjective te/leio$ is used more precisely of the will (and character) of God, and of believers who conform themselves to it (Matt 5:48; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 14:20; Col 4:12). In Matt 19:21 it is specifically tied to following Jesus—his teaching and example—as also in Phil 3:15 (and Eph 4:13); while in Col 1:28 believers are complete in terms of their union with Christ. All of this reinforces the view, expressed above, that the Law (no/mo$) here is not simply the Old Testament Law (Torah), but the Gospel and teaching of Jesus as transmitted to believers through Christian instruction and tradition. That this teaching still relates to the fundamental ethical commands of the Torah, is clear from the second use of the expression “Law of freedom” in James 2:12 (to be discussed further in the next note).

Even though the letter of James says nothing directly about the Spirit, it is possible that the “implanted word” (o( e&mfuto$ lo/go$) indicates something deeper and more abiding than simply the content of the Gospel message and teaching of Jesus which believers have received and assimilated. Within Hellenistic Judaism, under the influence of Greek (especially Stoic) philosophical terminology and concepts, the lo/go$ (logos) was used in reference to the indwelling reason, which the wise and just person followed, as a guiding principle or Law. Following the “law” of reason—the same Reason/Lo/go$ which orders and governs the universe—brings both freedom and completion/perfection to the wise person (cf. Epictetus Diss. 4.1; M. Aurelius 7.9; 10.33, etc). Seneca (On the blessed life 15.7) even states this principle in theological terms that nearly echo Judeo-Christian teaching (deo parere libertas est, “to obey God is freedom”). Philo of Alexandria, whose writings are roughly contemporary with the letter of James, brings Stoic teaching into line with Old Testament/Jewish tradition—of many references, cf. On the Creation of the World §3, The Life of Moses II.48-52, On the Decalogue §1ff [throughout], and, especially the treatise Every Good Man Is Free (e.g. §45) [cf. Dibelius/Greeven, pp. 116-118*].

In this regard, it may be instructive to look at the other places where lo/go$ is used in the letter:

    • James 1:18, where the expression is “the account/word of truth” (lo/go$ a)lhqei/a$)—here it is stated that “willing (it), he [i.e. God] was swollen with us [i.e. was pregnant/gave birth to us] in/by the word of truth“. The lo/go$ then is the power (or means) by which believers are given birth as the offspring of God. The word a)parxh/ (“beginning from [i.e. of the harvest]”, often rendered “first fruits”), is used by Paul in a similar sense, both of believers (Rom 8:23; 11:16; 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15; 2 Thess 2:13) and of Christ himself (1 Cor 15:20, 23).
    • James 1:21-22, part of the current passage (rel. to the reference in v. 25)—the author makes a distinction between simply hearing the word and doing the word as well. The lo/go$ then clearly represents something which a person does, similar to the way in which one does (that is observes/fulfills) the Law.
    • James 3:2—here lo/go$ is used in the simple, conventional sense of the word[s] a person says or speaks; interestingly, James also uses the adjective te/leio$ (“complete”) together with lo/go$ in this verse:
      “If any (person) does not trip/fall in (giving) account [i.e. in word/speech], this (person) is a complete man…”

The second expression involving the Law (“the royal Law” no/mo$ basiliko/$, James 2:8) will be discussed in the next note.

* References marked “Dibelius/Greeven” above are to Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James (Hermeneia, rev. Heinrich Greeven, transl. Michael A. Williams; Fortress Press [1975]); those marked “Davids” are to Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James (New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC], Eerdmans / Paternoster Press [1982]).

January 3: John 1:15 (continued)

John 1:15, continued

Today’s note focuses on the last of the three phrases of the Baptist-saying in verse 15. As I have previously pointed out, these three phrases are parallel and related to one another, each containing a key verb form (of special theological significance) and relational expression:

    • “the one coming [e)rxome/no$] in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

The second phrase was discussed in the previous note, while the first was examined in the note prior.

Phrase 3:

o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n
“(in) that he was first (over) me”

The verb in this phrase is the verb of being (ei)mi).

ei)mi is the primary (existential) verb of being. In the prologue it occurs 10 times (outside of v. 15), all of which have been discussed earlier in these notes:

    1. Three times in v. 1: the Logos was [h@n] (on this, see below); and in v. 2.
    2. Twice in v. 4: In him (the Word) was [h@n] life, and the life was [h@n] the light…; and in v. 9 “the true light was [h@n]…”
    3. John was [h@n] not the (true) light (v. 8)
    4. The Word (Christ) was [h@n] in the world (v. 10)

The three occurrences of h@n in verse 1 form a definite contrast to the three forms of gi/nomai in verse 3:

In the beginning the Logos was All things came to be [e)ge/neto] through him
The Logos was toward [pro/$] God Apart from him came to be [e)ge/neto] not even one (thing)
God was the Logos
(given in the literal word order, i.e. the Logos was God)
{one (thing)} which has come to be [ge/gonen]

In other words, the things in creation come to be (gi/nomai), but God is (ei)mi). For a similar contrast, see John 8:58: pri\n  )Abraa\m gene/sqai e)gw\ ei)mi/ (“before Abraham came to be, I am“). So the use of ei)mi in verse 30 in context clearly refers to the Divine existence of Jesus.

Let us now see how the elements of the phrase fit together:

o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n (“[in] that he was first/foremost [over] me”):

o%ti (“[in] that [i.e. because]”)—the particle o%ti establishes reason why Jesus is “in front of” John. It is thus epexegetical, commenting on (and explaining) the second phrase.

prw=to/$ mou (“first/foremost [over] me”)—the superlative adjective prw=to$ is the climax of a step-parallelism (a favorite Johannine technique) with the earlier prepositions o)pi/sw (“[in] back of”) and e&mprosqen (“in front of”). Not only is Jesus “in front of” John, but he is “first (of all)” or “foremost” over him; indeed, this is the reason for his being “in front”. It is a dense and powerful symbolic chain of argument.

h@n (“was”)—this is the same (imperfect indicative) form of ei)mi used throughout the Prologue (esp. vv. 1-2), and serves to identify Jesus, in no uncertain terms, with the Divine (and pre-existent) Word (Logos) of God. As the pre-existent Logos incarnate, Jesus has the exalted place alongside God, and is thus “first” and “foremost” (i.e., at the top) over all things.

The position of verse 15 in the Prologue

Having examined the phrases of the saying in verse 15, it remains to consider why this statement was inserted into the Prologue-hymn at just this particular location, interrupting as it does the poetry of vv. 14, 16. My humble solution to this difficult question involves two propositions:

    • Verse 15 was inserted by a subsequent editor/redactor, rather than by the Gospel writer, and
    • It was done for the purpose of explaining the saying as it occurs in the Gospel proper (v. 30)

I have already noted how verse 15 differs from the other ‘additions’ to the Prologue-hymn—verses 6-9, 12b-13, and 17-18. I attribute all of those to the Gospel writer, who includes them as interpretive comments on each of the three strophes of the hymn. Those statements flow naturally out of the hymn-poetry and are an integral part of the Prologue. It is quite otherwise with the statement in verse 15, which interrupts the poetry and seems quite awkward in context.

Why, then, would an editor (or secondary author) have inserted verse 15 into the poetry of the hymn in this way? I can find only one reason that seems to me even remotely plausible. It is based on the observation that the statement in v. 15 is nearly identical to the Baptist saying in verse 30. This raises the possibility that it was inserted ‘back’ into the Prologue as a kind of gloss, for the purpose of offering an explanation, of sorts, for what otherwise might have seemed like an obscure and enigmatic saying to many readers.

Adding an editorial comment somewhere following verse 30 itself might have been a more sensible approach. We find a number of other such comments throughout the Gospel, that were either added by the Gospel writer or a subsequent editor (e.g., 2:21f; 3:24; 4:2, 44; [5:4]; 6:64b; 7:38-39, etc). Perhaps the editor involved did not feel at liberty to do so, or felt that there was no appropriate opportunity to add the necessary explanation at that point in the text. Instead, the saying in v. 30 was essentially copied into the location following v. 14, almost like a marginal gloss or footnote to the text.

What was the point of this? It could only be that the context of verse 14 provided the explanation for the saying. This makes perfect sense when we consider that the main emphasis in verse 14 is on the incarnation of the Logos, that the pre-existent Logos became flesh in the person of Jesus. The second point in v. 14 is how people (esp. the first believers) began to witness this Divine presence and power in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. By tying the saying of v. 30 into this context, the editor is providing an implicit commentary (and theological exposition) that runs in two directions:

    • The statement in v. 30—this means the identification of Jesus as the incarnate Logos of God (v. 14)
    • The statement in v. 14—this is a reference to the person of Jesus, his existence of earth as a human being, as first witnessed and attested to by John the Baptist (v. 30)

There is thus a strong theological (and exegetical) reason for including verse 15 in that particular location, even if it is problematic from a literary and artistic standpoint.


January 2: John 1:15 (continued)

John 1:15, continued

In the previous note, I discussed some of the difficulties and critical issues surrounding verse 15, and examined the first of the three phrases in the Baptist-saying. It is important to keep these three phrases in view as we proceed, paying attention especially to the key verbs and prepositional/relational expressions they each contain:

    • “the one coming [e)rxome/no$] in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

The verbs, in particular, are part of a distinctive Johannine theological vocabulary, and are used with great care throughout the Gospel (and especially here in the Prologue).

Today’s note focuses on the second (middle) phrase:

Phrase 2:

e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen
“(he) has come to be in front of me”

The verb in this phrase is gi/nomai, the verb of becoming. It has the primary meaning “come to be, become”. Like e&rxomai, it is common in narration and descrption, but it, too, is often has a special significance in the Gospel of John. It can carry the nuance of “come to be born“, and, as such, is very close to the related verb genna/w. This latter verb is used in John for the spiritual “birth” of believers (Jn 1:13; 3:3-8) and gi/nomai also is used frequently to describe coming to faith (i.e. “becoming” believers, Jn 12:36; 13:19; 14:29; 15:8, etc).

As we have seen, gi/nomai occurs frequently in the Prologue (outside of v. 15)—8 times in all:

    1. For the things which came-to-be [e)ge/neto/ge/gonen] through the Word (v. 3 [x 3], 10)—i.e., created beings
    2. A man (John) came-to-be (born) [e)ge/neto] (v. 6)
    3. The Word came-to-be [e)ge/neto] flesh… (v. 14)
    4. “Favor and truth” came-to-be [e)ge/neto] through Christ (v. 17)—contrast with “the Law was given” through Moses.
    5. Those who received (Christ) are given authority to become [gene/sqai] sons of God (v. 12)

The perfect form [ge/gonen] in verse 15 (and 30) creates a difficulty in interpretation (discussed below), however it would seem to relate specifically to the aorist form [e)ge/neto] in v. 14 (“the Word became flesh”).

The relational expression in the second phrase is e&mprosqe/n mou (“in front of me”). This is clearly intended as a contrast with o)pi/sw mou (“[in] back of me”), but in what sense? Much depends on the interpretation of ge/gonen, but I see in this a typical bit of Johannine wordplay, whereby the immediate (apparent) sense is overshadowed (and may even be contrary) to the deeper (true) meaning. One might think that the Baptist (or the Gospel writer) here is simply saying that Jesus, who was younger than John and relatively unknown, is now coming into greater prominence. The immediate context would certainly suggest this—those who were following John now follow Christ (vv. 35ff, cf. also 3:27-30).

On the verb form ge/gonen (“has come to be”). The usage of gi/nomai in the Prologue (see above), and especially in verse 14 (“the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”), strongly suggests that the Incarnation (of the Logos) is primarily in view. In other words, Jesus has come to be “in front of” John because he is the eternal Word (Logos) that became flesh. In the context of the first phrase, the elliptical manner of expression appropriately reflects the mystery (and paradox) of the Incarnation.

The perfect form here (ge/gonen, parallel to the occurrence in v. 3) may be meant to indicate that something which took place in the (eternal) past, is presently true. The perfect tense often signifies a past action (or condition) that continues into the present. There are two ways this could be understood: (1) in a ritual or sacramental sense, or (2) in terms of its presence through the Spirit. The Bread of Life Discourse in chapter 6 (vv. 22-71) is the main Johannine passage that deals with both of these aspects.

The version of this phrase in v. 30 differs in that it includes a relative pronoun (o%$): o^$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen (“who has come to be in front of me”). Syntactically, this is due to the occurrence of the noun a)nh/r (“[a] man”) at the end of the first phrase. The saying in v. 30 thus reads: “In back of me comes a man who came to be in front of me…”.

On the Christological significance of the relative pronoun, especially as it is used to open the New Testament Christ-hymns, cf. the earlier note on Phil 2:6.

December 26: John 1:14 (continued)

John 1:14, continued

“And the Word came to be flesh
and put down (his) tent among us,
and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of a monogenh/$
alongside the Father,
full of (His) favor and truth.”

In the previous note, we examined the first two lines of verse 14 (and the final unit of the hymn). The Old Testament and Wisdom tradition, depicting God (and His Wisdom) dwelling among His people, i.e., abiding in a tent-dwelling, is applied to the person of Jesus. In his earthly life, Jesus fulfills the type pattern of the Divine Wisdom (and Word) of God, but in a new way: the Logos of God “comes to be flesh”, and so lives and dwells among the people as a flesh-and-blood human being. In theological terms, this is referred to as the Incarnation, and it relates specifically to the birth of Jesus (his “coming to be”, vb. gi/nomai, cf. the related noun ge/nesi$ in Matt 1:18, etc).

kai\ qeasa/meqa th/n do/ca au)tou=
“and we looked at his splendor”

The next two lines describe the people’s response to Jesus, as they “look at” him (vb qea/omai). This verb is one of a several keywords denoting “sight, vision, perception”; it occurs 6 times in the Gospel of John, and another 3 in the Letters (9 out of 22 NT occurrences). It can mean, specifically, looking closely at something, observing it carefully and intently, sometimes implying that one looks with discernment, or gazes with a sense of wonderment (cf. the related noun qau=ma, “wonder”). All of these aspects of meaning apply to the Johannine usage—especially as it relates to how believers view Jesus.

Several of these references are particularly significant. In Jn 1:32, we have the Baptist’s testimony (cf. verses 6-9, 15 of the Prologue): “I looked at [teqe/amai] the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven, and remaining upon him”. John observes closely the Divine Presence that is upon Jesus, and his seeing is combined with his hearing the voice of God from heaven (verse 33). John the Baptist is the first person who recognizes the truth of who Jesus is (v. 34): “and I have seen and have given witness that this is the Son of God”. This makes John the first of the believers in Christ, part of the “we” subject in verse 14.

In the previous note, I mentioned how the “us” of v. 14 (“…put down his tent among us”) has several different layers of meaning; however, the primary (and ultimate) point of reference, in the Johannine context, is to believers. And that is certainly the primary significance in these couplets as well: “and we looked at…”. The opening words of 1 John (1:1) identify the collective “we” even more precisely with the first generation of believers in Christ:

“Th(at) which was from the beginning–th(at) which we have heard, th(at) which we have seen with our eyes, th(at) which have looked upon [e)qeasa/meqa], and (which) our hands have felt–about the Word [lo/go$] of Life…”

The parallels in thought and wording with the Gospel Prologue are obvious. The uniqueness of the manifestation of God in the incarnate, flesh-and-blood person of Jesus is also emphasized in 1 Jn 4:12-14:

“No one has looked at [teqe/atai] God at any (time); (but) if we love each other, (then) God remains [i.e. dwells/abides in us…
In this we know that we remain in Him, and he in us…
And we have looked at [teqea/meqa] (him) and give witness that the Father has se(n)t forth His Son, (as the) Savior of the world.”

We see the God the Father through the person of Jesus  the Son, when we trust in him.

In the statement here in verse 14, it is made clear that what we “see” as believers is the do/ca of God. The noun do/ca (dóxa) can be rather difficult to translate in English. It essentially refers to what we think about something (or someone), how we consider or regard it. When applied to persons, it often denotes the esteem we have for them—i.e., the “(high) regard”, such as the case may be. When dealing with superiors or important persons, in particular, the meaning of the word is heightened, carrying the sense of “honor, respect,” etc.

In a religious context, this sense is taken even further when applied to God, being extended specifically to cover that which makes Him worthy of our honor and esteem—His divine nature and character, His holiness, power, majesty, etc. When speaking of God, the word do/ca can serve as a shorthand, summary term for everything that distinguishes God from created (human) beings. In such a context, do/ca is typically translated as “glory”, though I have rendered it as “splendor” above. It is often conceived visually through light imagery (cf. verses 4-9).

The main point is that the Logos—specifically, the incarnate Word/Wisdom of God—possesses the do/ca (the honor, splendor, glory) of God Himself (cf. on 1 Jn 4:12-14 above). When believers “look at” the incarnate Logos (Jesus) with the eyes of faith, we see and recognize that he is the very Son, the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

December 25: John 1:14

John 1:14, 16

Verse 14

“And the Word came to be flesh
and put down (his) tent among us”

These words open the fourth (and final) strophe, or poetic unit, of the Christ hymn in the Prologue of John. The first three units represent a definite sequence of development: (1) pre-existence (before the creation), (2) the creation of the world, and (3) a transition from the creation to the earthly life of Jesus. It is the latter that is emphasized here in the fourth unit, defined by the traditional theological term incarnation, a term which derives its meaning in large part from the phrase in v. 14, “came to be flesh” (sa\rc e)ge/neto).

It the Logos of God—that is, the eternal Wisdom and Word of God (personified)—who is the subject of this strophe, even as it was the subject of the first three strophes. Though we may be accustomed simply to equate Jesus for the Logos in vv. 1-13, it is important to maintain the conceptual sequence of the Prologue, following closely the development of thought.

In the third strophe (vv. 10-12a), the Logos comes into the world, reflecting the Wisdom tradition whereby the Wisdom of God seeks to find a dwelling-place among human beings on earth (cf. Sirach 24:8ff; 1 Enoch 42, and the discussion in the prior note). This pattern, or paradigm, is significant, since it establishes clearly the identification of Jesus with the Wisdom and Word (i.e., the Logos) of God. Jesus comes into the world, living among human beings, just as the Divine Wisdom sought to make a home among the people.

The conceptual pattern in the Prologue is finally realized in verse 14, with the majestic declaration that the Logos “came to be flesh and put down (his) tent among us”. The presence of God, through His Word and Wisdom, is now embodied through the presence of a real flesh-and-blood human being. There are two parts to this declaration in v. 14a; let us examine each of them in turn.

o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto
“the Word came to be flesh”

The noun sa/rc (“flesh”) was used in verse 13 (cf. the previous note), as a shorthand reference for the sexual (and physiological-biological) process of human childbirth. Here, too, the birth of a child is certainly in view. The use of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) confirms this, since it frequently connotes a human being coming to be born (cf. also the related verb genna/w, v. 13). Though this verb has been used repeatedly in the Prologue, always in reference to created beings, it is now used of the Logos, which would seem to be incongruous and inappropriate. It does, however, rightly refer to the birth of a human being. Thus, the statement implies that the Logos came to be born as a human being.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find such a clear (theological) declaration, to the effect that God—or, more precisely, the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (or Son) of God—came to be born as a human being. The references to the virginal conception of Jesus in the Infancy narratives do not go nearly so far, however much the Divine Presence (through His Spirit, etc) is implied (Matt 1:18, 20, 23; Lk 1:35). Paul, on two rare occasions, alludes to Jesus’ birth and suggests, through his wording, at least a rudimentary belief in Jesus as the pre-existent Son of God (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4, cf. also the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:6ff). The Johannine Prologue, however, has a much clearer and developed sense of Jesus’ divine pre-existence. Even so, the specific idea of incarnation is not limited to the Gospel of John, for we find comparable expressions in Phil 2:7, and again by Paul in Rom 8:3:

“…he emptied himself, taking (the) form of a slave, coming to be in (the) likeness of men” (Phil 2:7)
“…God (did), sending His Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin…” (Rom 8:3)

The statement in v. 14 does not have the negative context of sin and slavery present in those passages, but the darkness of the world, into which the incarnate Logos was entering, was clearly established in verses 5ff, and that dualistic motif (i.e., light vs. darkness) certainly entails the idea of sin and bondage (cf. 1:29; 8:34-35; 16:8-9),

R. E. Brown, in his commentary (p. 30), suggests a conscious parallel in the Prologue between verse 1 and 14 (marking the first and fourth units of the hymn). These are the only verses which specifically mention the Logos by name, and properly reflect the beginning- and end-points of the hymn (pre-existence and incarnation). Note the conceptual parallelism:

The Word was (h@n) [v. 1]
(Divine Existence)
The Word came to be (e)ge/neto) [v. 14]
(Existence as a human being)
The Word with (pro/$) God [v. 1] The Word among (e)n) human beings [v. 14]
The Word was God (The Word came to be flesh [i.e. a human being])

These dual-aspects of the Logos—Divine existence with an existence as a human being—come together in the image of the incarnate Logos (i.e., the Wisdom of God) making its dwelling among human beings.

kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n u(mi=n
“and put down (his) tent among us”

The verb skhno/w is often translated blandly as “dwell”, however it literally refers to putting down (pitching) a tent (skh/nh). In Old Testament tradition, YHWH is described as dwelling among the people Israel, primarily through the portable Tent-shrine (Tabernacle), which later took a more fixed form in the Jerusalem Temple structure. But the original (and fundamental) idea was of God having his tent-dwelling, among the tents of his people. This “tent” had both a symbolic and ritual aspect, as well as a more numinous (and mystical) aspect, being the place where chosen ones—priests and prophets—encountered the Divine Presence.

Within this conceptual religious pattern, two distinct lines of Jewish tradition influenced the use of the tent-dwelling motif here in the Prologue:

    • The idea of the Wisdom of God seeking to find a dwelling on earth, among human beings (and the people of Israel)—Prov 8:31; Sirach 24:8ff; 1 Enoch 42; cf. the prior discussion on verses 10ff.
    • The convention of referring to the Word (Aramaic ar*m=ym@, Mêmr¹°) of God, as a pious substitution, in place of YHWH Himself. Thus, the idea that YHWH would dwell among His people, was expressed in terms of His Memra (Word) dwelling among them.

This same imagery is applied to Jesus as the incarnate Wisdom/Word of God—dwelling among His people in a new and different way.

The preposition e)n can mean “among”, especially when dealing with a group of people, etc. However, a more literal rendering of the phrase would be “and put down (his) tent in us”. This would reflect the Johannine theology in its more developed form within the Gospel narrative. By the point of the Last Discourse, set at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, we find most clearly the idea that God the Father, along with Jesus the Son, would take up His dwelling in (e)n) believers, through the presence of the Spirit (14:16-17, 20, 23; 15:4-5; 17:21-26). Again, this can be understood in terms of God dwelling among believers (collectively) or within each one (individually)—both are entirely valid ways of understanding the situation.

So also, the pronoun “us” (“in/among us,” e)n u(mi=n) has several layers of meaning, when considered within the full context of the Johannine Gospel:

    • Historical:
      “us” = the people of Israel, those living in Galilee and Judea, etc, who encountered Jesus during his earthly life
    • Traditional/Theological:
      “us” = the people of God, especially the righteous/faithful ones who accept the Wisdom and Word of God
    • Johannine/Christological:
      “us” = believers in Christ, those who accept Jesus as the Son of God, in accordance with the Christology of the Johannine Gospel (including the Prologue)

This Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us never lose sight of the profound mystery of the incarnation, a mystery that we will continue to explore through our study of the Johannine Prologue. The initial statement of verse 14, discussed here in this note, is just the beginning of the climactic strophe of the Prologue-hymn. Six marvelous lines remain, and we will proceed on our journey through them in the next daily note.

December 23: John 1:11-12a

John 1:11

“He came unto (his) own (thing)s,
and his own (people) did not take him along.”

This couplet follows the tricolon of verse 10 (discussed in the previous note). It continues the framework of that triad: “he was in the world…the world did not know him”, but with the concept of the “world” (ko/smo$) now narrowed to the land and people of Israel. Let us consider the parallel:

    • “he was in the world” (v. 10)
      e)n tw=| ko/smw| h@n
    • “he came unto (his) own” (v. 11)
      ei)$ ta\ i&dia h@lqen

The structure of each statement is identical: a locative prepositional phrase followed by the verb. The prepositional expressions are comparable in meaning, and suggest a development, a narrowing of focus: being “in the world” => coming “into his own (place)”. The use of the personal adjective i&dio$, pertaining to self, has a dual meaning in context: (1) it refers to the place of God’s own people (i.e., Israel as the people of God), and (2) it refers to the place of Jesus’ people (i.e., the place where he lived and worked). The plural adjective is neuter (ta\ i&dia), lit. “(his) own (thing)s”; however, as a reference to a person’s belongings, the expression can signify a “household” or “home” —i.e., the place/area where a person lives. This same sort of wording occurs in the famous saying of the boy Jesus in Luke 2:49, referring to “the (thing)s of my Father” (i.e., God’s household, the things belonging to Him).

In the next line, the adjective is repeated, but as a masculine plural, indicating that it refers to “men” (i.e. people)—oi( i&dioi, “(his) own (one)s,” “(his) own (people)”. Again, there is a sense of progression: the Logos come into his own place (homeland), and proceeds to encounter his own people (those who live there). On the motif of the divine Wisdom seeking to find a dwelling place on earth among human beings (and the people Israel), cf. the discussion in the previous note. 1 Enoch 42:2 describes how Wisdom failed to find a suitable dwelling among the people, reflecting the traditional idea of humankind (the majority of the population) rejecting the Wisdom of God. The verb used here in v. 11 is paralamba/nw, “take/receive along(side)”, in the sense of welcoming a traveler or neighbor, involving the traditional custom and ideal of hospitality. In the Gospel context, of course, this has the deeper meaning of accepting Jesus, and trusting in him as the Son of God. The progression in vv. 10-11 is leading toward the specific idea of the Logos coming to be born as a human being (v. 14).

John 1:12a

“But, as many (people) as did receive him,
he gave them (the) ability to become (the) offspring of God.”

This couplet builds upon the one prior (v. 11), and probably should be read as a related compound clause in the poetic context:

“He came unto (his) own (thing)s,
and his own (people) did not take him along;
but, as many (people) as did take him (along),
he gave them (the) ability to become (the) offspring of God.”

Clearly, the idea of Israel as the people of God is implicit here, including the specific motif of being “sons [i.e. children] of God”. Of the Old Testament passages referring (or alluding) to Israel as God’s “son”, cf. Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; 11:1; Isa 43:6; Jer 31:9. In Wisdom literature, this is given a more pronounced ethical and religious emphasis, referring to the righteous, i.e., those who are wise and embrace the Wisdom of God, as being His true children (cf. Wisd 2:16-18; Sirach 4:10, etc). This provides further confirmation for the influence of Wisdom tradition on the Prologue-hymn, especially the Hellenistic Jewish line of tradition that has blended the personified Wisdom with the Logos-concept from Greek philosophy and theology. Those in Israel who accept the Logos are those very same people who accept the Divine Wisdom. Needless to say, from the early Christian perspective, this also means that they would come to trust in Jesus, accepting his identity as the Son and Word/Wisdom of God. It is likely that the Gospel writer would consider anyone who refused to accept Jesus as having rejected Wisdom, in the true sense, as well.

The verb lamba/nw (“take, receive”) is the same root verb as in the compound paralamba/nw (“take/receive alongside,” v. 11), and has precisely the same meaning in context—i.e., it refers to the people who did take/receive the Logos alongside. The correlative pronoun o%so$ confirms the point made in v. 11, that many people refused/rejected the Logos; however, the promise that follows in v. 12 applies to everyone who did accept him. The basic meaning of the pronoun is “as (many) as”, i.e., “every(one) who…” . And the promise refers to that which is described in the developed Wisdom tradition (cf. above)—viz., that they will be regarded as the children of God.

The specific expression here in the Prologue is “(the) offspring of God” (te/kna qeou=), with the noun te/kna being a plural of the neuter te/knon, which signifies something that is produced or “brought forth” (vb ti/ktw). It is often used specifically for the birth of a child (i.e., “brought forth” from the mother’s womb). Interestingly, the Johannine writings always use te/knon when speaking of believers (as children of God), reserving the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) for the person of Jesus; by comparison, other New Testament writings occasionally refer to believers as “sons [ui(oi/] of God”.

Because of the importance of this concept within the Johannine theology, we shall devote a more detailed discussion for the next daily note (Christmas Eve), where v. 12a will be studied in the context of the expository statement that follows in vv. 12b-13.

December 22: John 1:10

John 1:10-12a

Verse 10 marks the beginning of the third poetic unit (or strophe) in the Christ-hymn of the Johannine Prologue. The four units expound a Christological development from pre-existence (strophe 1) to incarnation (strophe 4). This third strophe provides the transition between the creation of the universe by the Logos (vv. 3-5) and the incarnation of the Logos in the life of Jesus (vv. 14-16).

Verse 10

“He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
and (yet) the world did not know him.”

These lines form a triad, a poetic triplet/tricolon, with three statements, each involving the relationship between the Logos and the “world” (ko/smo$). The noun ko/smo$ can refer to what we call the universe (cosmos), but it more properly signifies the arrangement of things in the universe, the order of creation; the translation “world-order” is generally accurate, if cumbersome. I have followed the customary rendering of ko/smo$ as “world”, since the English word has a comparable sort of semantic range.

The noun ko/smo$ is an especially distinctive part of the Johannine vocabulary. It occurs 78 times in the Gospel, and another 24 in the Letters—more than half of all the New Testament occurrences (185). Occasionally the word is used in the neutral sense of the universe, or, more precisely, the inhabited world (of human society). However, in the majority of instances, it has a decidedly negative meaning—referring to the world, in the current Age, as it is dominated by the forces of darkness and evil. There is a striking dualism that runs through the Johannine writings, contrasting the “world” (of darkness and evil) with the realm of God and the Spirit (of light and truth). Early Christians in the first century generally shared this worldview, often expressed within an eschatological framework—i.e., the current Age is becoming increasingly wicked, as the end draws near. Paul evinces a similar sort of dualism, emphasizing how the world in the current Age is in bondage to the power of sin. Even so, the specific Johannine dualism that depicts the “world” (ko/smo$) as fundamentally in opposition to God (and, by extension, to His Son Jesus and those who trust in him), defined largely as a contrast of “light vs darkness”, is distinctive.

Let us examine each of the statements of the contrast here in the Prologue, between the “world” and the Logos:

e)n tw=| ko/smw| h@n
“he was in the world”

This simple statement contains two components: the verb (a form of the verb of being) and a predicate prepositional expression (in emphatic [first] position). As previously noted, the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue is reserved for God, and is only used of God the Father and the Logos (= Jesus the Son). Here it is the same imperfect active indicative form (h@n, “was”) that is used elsewhere in the Prologue. Thus the deceptively simple statement “he was in the world” implicitly contains a deeper theological meaning: the pre-existent Wisdom/Word of God was in the world. While this alludes to the earthly life of Jesus, it cannot be limited to that aspect (cf. below).

To say that the Logos was “in” (e)n) the world, is parallel with the idea that the divine/eternal Life was “in” (e)n) him (v. 4a). This Life is communicated to human beings (i.e., those in the world), v. 4b. The Life, under the image of light (i.e., the Light of God), is thus “in” (e)n) the world, under the negative aspect of the ko/smo$ (cf. above)—that is, in the midst of the darkness of the world (e)n th=| skoti/a|, v. 5). This personal presence of the Logos was foreshadowed in the closing words of verse 9, where the Logos is referred to as the “true Light” that is “coming into [ei)$] the world”.

kai\ o( ko/smo$ di’ au)tou= e)ge/neto
“and the world came to be through him”

According to the vocabulary of the Prologue, the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used for created beings (in contrast to the verb of being, used only of God). This re-states the declaration in verse 3: “all (thing)s came to be through him [di’ au)tou=]” —God created all things in the universe through the Logos (His Word/Wisdom). As applied to the person of Jesus, this same Wisdom tradition was utilized in the context of other Christ hymns (cf. Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2b-3). The point is emphasized here in order to make a stark contrast with the statement that follows:

kai\ o( ko/smo$ au)to\n ou)k e&gnw
“and the world did not know him”

In light of the prior statement, this is a powerful declaration: human beings (in the world) did not recognize the one who created them. To say that they did not recognize the Logos (the Word/Wisdom) of God essentially means that they did not recognize God Himself. This aspect of recognition is expressed through the verb ginw/skw (“know”)—a common verb, but one which takes on special (theological) meaning in the Johannine writings. It occurs 56 times in the Gospel, and another 26 in the Letters (more than a third of all NT occurrences), where it is used parallel with the verb ei&dw [oi@da] (“see”). The verbs ei&dw and ginw/skw are partially interchangeable in Greek, due the close relationship between “seeing” and “knowing”. The Johannine writings make considerable use of this dual-meaning, which ties in naturally with the light-motif (and its light/darkness dualism). In addition to ei&dw (85 times in the Gospel, 16 in the Letters), the Johannine writings make significant use of the verbs ble/pw, qea/omai, qewre/w, and o(ra/w—all denoting sight/observation/perception (= discernment/understanding).

Based on this Johannine usage, to “know” Jesus means to trust and accept him, recognizing that he is the Son of God. From the standpoint of the Prologue, this also means realizing the identification, established in the Christ hymn, of Jesus with the Word and Wisdom (i.e., the Logos) of God. For this reason, it would be a mistake to interpret the statement here as referring simply to the rejection of Jesus by the population during his earthly life and ministry. While the earthly life of Jesus is certainly in view, it is his identification with the Logos, in particular, that is being emphasized.

The influence of Wisdom tradition is very much present here, as it also is in the “Christ hymns” of Colossians (1:15-20) and Hebrews (1:2b-4). On the combination of Jewish Wisdom tradition with the Logos-concept in Greek philosophy, cf. the earlier note on verse 1. The term lo/go$ was especially useful in this regard, encompassing as it does the idea of both the Wisdom and Word of God. In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, we find the motif of the divine Wisdom dwelling among human beings. This is part of a broader tradition, in which God (YHWH) is said to make His dwelling (Heb. /k*v=m!) among the people Israel (symbolically, in the Tent-shrine or Temple sanctuary, etc). Sirach 24:8ff describes how the Divine Wisdom similarly set up his Tent-dwelling among the people (cf. also the more general reference in Prov 8:31).

The same idea can be expressed in terms of the personified Word of God. In particular, we may note the line of Jewish tradition, represented in the Aramaic Targums, in which the term ar*m=ym@ (mêmr¹°, “the saying, the word”) came to be used as a conceptual intermediary when speaking of the person of God. It developed as a pious circumlocution, a way to avoid attributing to YHWH Himself specific human (i.e., anthropomorphic) characteristics or actions. According to this line of tradition, when God says “I will be with you” (Exod 3:12), it is rendered/interpreted as “My Mêmr¹° will be your support”. Similarly, the concept of YHWH dwelling among His people would be explained in terms of His Word (Mêmr¹°) dwelling among them. Cf. Brown, p. 523-4.

An important part of the Wisdom tradition involves the specific exhortation for God’s people (the righteous) to pursue wisdom, with the understanding that many people (even in Israel) will reject it. Thus, the motif of Wisdom seeking to dwell among the people, when combined with the idea of many people rejecting Wisdom, leads to the natural image of Wisdom failing to find a suitable dwelling-place on earth. In 1 Enoch 42, the story is told of Wisdom finding a home among the angels in heaven; the brief narrative involves an unsuccessful attempt to find a dwelling on earth among human beings:

“Then Wisdom went out to dwell with the children of the people, but she found no dwelling place” (v. 2, translation E. Isaac in Charlesworth, OTP).

Almost certainly, the Christ hymn here in the Prologue draws upon the same basic line of Wisdom tradition.

December 21: John 1:9

John 1:9

“He was the true Light, that which gives light (to) all men, coming into the world.”

The opinion of critical commentators is divided as to whether verse 9 of the Prologue should be considered as part of the excursus in vv. 6-8 (discussed in the previous note), or as an integral part of the underlying hymn. In my view, the former it to be preferred. I would include v. 9 as the climactic point of the statement in vv. 6ff, perhaps best rendered as an epexegetical clause rather than an independent sentence:

“There came to be a man, having been se(n)t forth from alongside God, (and the) name (given) to him (was) Yohanan. This (one) came unto [i.e. to be] a witness, (so) that he should give witness about the Light, (so) that all might trust through him. That (one) was not the Light, but (came so) that he might give witness about the Light—(he who) was the true Light, which gives light (to) every man, coming into the world.”

It is possible to read to\ fw=$ (“the light”) in v. 9 as the true subject, but I think it preferable to treat it as a nominative predicate (which still functions as the subject = the Logos). There are three component phrases to the statement in verse 9, and each of these should be examined.

1. h@n to\ fw=$ to\ a)lhqino/n (“[he who] was the true light”)

As I interpret this phrase, the subject is implicit, related to the clause in v. 8 and its final words to\ fw=$ (“the light”). As part of the comparison between John the Baptist and Jesus, built into vv. 6-9, it is clearly stated that John was not (ou)k h@n) the Light—which means that Jesus was (h@n) the Light. This continues the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue, where it is reserved for God. By definition, a human being (“man”) like John the Baptist cannot be in the way that God (or the Logos) is. Here, of course, the Prologue assumes the Gospel narrative, regarding the way that John the Baptist gave witness to Jesus (1:19ff, 29-34, 35ff; 3:22-30[ff]). Early Christians would understand vv. 6-8 as alluding to this, and so the rather abrupt syntactical transition, between verse 8 and 9, causes no real problem for the development of the thought. John gave witness to Jesus, the light, who was, indeed, the true Light (of God).

The adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”) is very much a Johannine keyword, along with the related adjective a)lhqh/$ and noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”). The noun a)lh/qeia occurs 25 times in the Gospel and another 20 in the Letters of John; the adjective a)lhqh/$ occurs 14 times in the Gospel and 3 in the Letters, while a)lhqino/$ is used 9 times in the Gospel and 4 in the Letters. Taken together, these three words occur 85 times in the Gospel and Letters (more than half of all NT occurrences [163]). The adjective a)lhqino/$ is even more distinctively Johannine; apart from the 23 occurrences in the Gospel and Letters, it occurs 10 times in the book of Revelation (often considered a Johannine writing), and just 5 times elsewhere in the New Testament.

As an adjective, a)lhqino/$ is used as a divine characteristic, as the statements in 17:3 and 1 Jn 5:20 make clear. Thus, when used in an illustrative context—e.g., “true light”, “true bread” (6:32), “true vine” (15:1)—the illustrations are meant to convey a sense of the divine substance that underlies the metaphor. Such an expository purpose is central to the form and function of the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, whereby Jesus, through the discourse process, explains the true/deeper meaning of his words. The specific light-metaphor occurs several more times in the Gospel, at key points in the narrative—3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5ff; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46—including at least one “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement by Jesus (8:12; 9:5). In all of these passages, Jesus clearly identifies himself as the “true light”, the Light of God. The expression “the true light” occurs again in 1 John 2:8, echoing the language and thought of the Prologue: “…the darkness leads (the way) along [i.e. passes by], and the true Light now shines”.

2. o^ fwti/zei pa/nta a&qrwpon (“which gives light [to] every man”)

This phrase essentially restates the thought expressed in verse 4b, where it was declared that the life (i.e., the Divine Life) in the Logos also “was the Light of men” (h@n to\ fw=$ tw=n a)nqrw/pwn). The only real difference here is that humankind is treated individually (“every man”) rather than collectively (“[all] men”). As previously discussed, this “light” is not the natural light of reason or intelligence, but the Light of God Himself. The pre-existent Logos possesses this same Divine Light, and it is through the Logos that God gives this Light to human beings. The verb fwti/zw is an active (transitive) verb derived from the root word fw=$ (“light”); the principal meaning is thus “give light”. Both noun and verb are fundamental to the Johannine theological vocabulary, and so their introduction here in the Prologue, as I indicated previously, is of some significance.

3. e)rxo/menon ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“coming into the world”)

It is not entirely clear whether the participle e)rxo/menon (“coming”) refers to the effective subject fw=$ (“light” = the Logos) or the object in the preceding phrase (“man”). Grammatically, the participle could be parsed as either nominative or accusative. If it modifies the object “man”, then the verse would read “…every man coming into the world”. However, in my view, the context overwhelmingly favors reading e)rxo/menon in the nominative case, referring back to “the true light”. It is thus the Light, represented by the Logos of God, that is “coming into the world”. This statement foreshadows what follows in verses 10-11ff, which we will begin discussing in the next daily note.

As a concluding thought, it is worth pointing out the traditional Messianic association with light. In particular, there are several passages in the book of Isaiah, which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense, where the motif of light is prominent—cf. especially, 9:2ff; 42:6; and 60:1-2ff. The Deutero-Isaian passages seem to have influenced the hymns in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:78-79; 2:32), where the light-motif is applied to Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew similarly cites Isa 9:2 to mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (4:14-16).