Sola Scriptura: Romans 16:25; Hebrews 1:1-2

Sola Scriptura

In our studies thus far, we have seen how the Scriptures (that is, the Old Testament) continued to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a secondary (and supplemental) sense. The primary source of authority was what we may broadly call the Apostolic Tradition. This may seem to contradict the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura; however, to make such an unqualified conclusion would be quite misleading. In point of fact, the Apostolic Tradition was the basis for the development of the inspired writings of the New Testament—and the greater revelation that was contained in those writings, ultimately to be regarded as sacred Scripture by every Christian.

With the passing of the first generation (or two) of apostles, by the end of the 1st century (and into the 2nd), the authoritative Apostolic Tradition had come to be preserved in written form (i.e., the New Testament Scriptures), gradually taking the place of the communication of that Tradition in the person of the apostles themselves (and their representatives). It seems clear, for example, that the publication of the Gospel of John was stimulated by the death of the ‘Beloved Disciple’, the leading apostolic figure of the Johannine Community (Jn 21:20-24). The authority of the apostles was based on their personal connection to Jesus himself.

The very word a)po/stolo$ (apostolos) derives its significance from the fundamental meaning of the verb a)poste/llw (“set [out] from, send forth”). An apostle is someone “sent forth from” Jesus, as his representative, an idea rooted in the early Gospel tradition and the ministry-work of Jesus in Galilee (Mark 3:14-15ff par; 6:7-13 par; Luke 10:1ff). Commissioned and sent out by Jesus, they were given (and possessed) his own divine (and inspired) authority, to preach (the Gospel) and work healing miracles. This formed the pattern for the broader apostolic mission of early Christians (Acts 1:8, 21-22, etc). The earliest congregations were founded by missionary work that was an extension of this apostolic mission, and thus the principal source of religious authority for these 1st-century congregations was the authority of the Apostolic Tradition.

The Apostolic Tradition has three fundamental components:

    1. The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel
    2. The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—along with his example (of what he said and did), preserved and transmitted by the apostles to the early congregations (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-4)
    3. The authoritative teaching by the apostles

A study will be devoted to each of these components; we begin with the first of these.

1. The Proclamation (Kerygma) of the Gospel

The “good message” (or “good news”), the eu)agge/lion, or Gospel, has its origins in the preaching of Jesus (Mark 1:14-15 par, et al), being carried on, even during his lifetime, by his disciples, acting as his representatives (i.e., as apostles) (Luke 9:6, etc). However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, the “good message” gradually came to take on a distinctive form—as a thumbnail narrative of Jesus’ life and work. The sermon-speeches in Acts preserve examples of this early Gospel proclamation (kerygma). In these speeches, the Gospel narrative is extremely simple, focusing on the death and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, and only slowly incorporating certain details or aspects of his earthly ministry. Noteworthy examples, representative of the earliest preaching, are: Acts 2:22-24, 29ff, 36; 3:13-15; 4:27ff; 5:30-32; 10:37-42; 13:26-32. It is easy to see how these simple narrative statements, over time (c. 35-60 A.D.), would develop into the larger narratives of the Gospels.

It must be emphasized that, from the very beginning, this Gospel proclamation held primary authority for early Christians, taking precedence over the Old Testament Scriptures. This can be seen already in the way that the Scriptures supplement (and support) the kerygma in the sermon-speeches (on this, cf. the earlier study, and throughout the series “The Speeches of Acts”). The revelation of the inspired Old Testament Scriptures (i.e., of the old covenant) are thus subordinate to the Gospel; they continue to hold authority for Christians, primarily, insofar as they point the way to the greater revelation of Christ (in the new covenant).

There are a number of New Testament passages, many of which were written when the composition and development of Gospels was still in its very early stages, which indicate that the proclamation of the Gospel (with its seminal narrative) was being compared with the Scriptures—being on a par with them, and even altogether surpassing them in many important ways. I wish to examine a couple of these passages briefly.

Romans 16:25-26

“And to Him having the power to set you firm(ly), according to my good message [eu)agge/lion] and the proclamation [kh/rugma] of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of (the) secret [musth/rion] having been kept silent in (the) times (of) ages (past), but now (hav)ing been made to shine (forth) even through (the) writings of (the) Foretellers, according to (the) arrangement of (the) God of the Ages, unto hearing under trust, unto all the nations, having been made known…”

The authenticity of the doxology in Rom 16:25-27 continues to be debated, with many commentators convinced that it was neither originally part of Romans, nor written by Paul. Even if this were granted, the wording reflects genuine Pauline thought (and style), as well as the thought-world of Christians in the mid-to-late 1st century. Three key nouns are used which are largely synonymous in context: (1) eu)agge/lion (“good message,” i.e., Gospel), (2) kh/rugma (“proclamation,” transliterated as a technical term, kerygma), and (3) musth/rion (“secret,” i.e., mystery). All three are important early Christian terms, and they all refer to the seminal message (and narrative) of the Gospel. The expressions and phrases that contain these words are also closely related:

    • “my good message” —i.e., the good news of Christ that is preached by apostles like Paul
    • “the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed” —the genitive can be understood in either a subjective sense (Jesus’ preaching) or objective sense (preaching about Jesus), or both.
    • “the uncovering of the secret kept silent…” —the noun a)poka/luyi$ (“removal of the cover from, uncovering”) emphasizes that the Gospel is a divine (and inspired) revelation, akin to the prophetic revelations (by God) during the time of the old covenant (cf. below).

The use of the term musth/rion (“secret”) in this respect is authentically Pauline (1 Cor 2:1, 7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51; cf. also 2 Thess 2:7), though it is perhaps more prominent in the disputed letters of Colossians (1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3) and Ephesians (1:9; 3:3-4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). For more on the meaning, background, and use of the term, see my earlier word study. Indeed, of the three terms, musth/rion has the greatest theological significance. Here, it relates to a distinction between the two ages or dispensations—the old and new covenants, respectively—that is fundamental to early Christian thought:

    • Old Covenant (periods of time/ages past): the Gospel-secret has been “kept silent/hidden” (verb siga/w)
    • New Covenant (“now”): it has been “made to shine forth” (vb fanero/w), i.e., has been made manifest, revealed, and has at last “been made known” (vb gnwri/zw).

The Gospel proclamation is expounded out of the Old Testament Scriptures (“writings of the Prophets”), which is fully in accord with the earliest Christian preaching and teaching, even going back to the teaching of Jesus himself. The Scriptures (especially the Psalms and the books of the Prophets) contained, in a secret and hidden way, the seeds of the Gospel (e.g., Gal 3:8); but it required the new inspired revelation of the apostles in order to “uncover” and make known this secret. On this basis alone, the Gospel represents a superior kind of revelation, however it is rooted in the Scriptures and supported by them. Indeed, without the New Covenant revelation, people remain blind to the true meaning of the Scriptures (2 Cor 3:14-16, etc).

Hebrews 1:1-2

“(In) many parts and many ways (in times) of old, God (was) speaking to the Fathers by the Foretellers, (but) upon (the) end of these days He spoke to us by a Son, whom He set (as one) to receive the lot of all (thing)s, through whom also He made the Ages…”

The same dispensational contrast—between the old and new covenants—serves as a key theme that runs throughout Hebrews, and it is established at the very beginning of the introduction (exordium, 1:1-4). It marks the current time—i.e., of the first generation(s) of believers—as a turning point, marking the beginning of a New Age (= new covenant), and presenting  a clear dividing line between the time now and all that has gone before:

    • Old Covenant: “(in times) of old [pa/lai]” —God spoke through the Prophets
    • New Covenant: “at the end [e)p’ e)sxa/tou] of these days,” that is, in the eschatological present time—God has spoken through His Son

There is a clear contrastive parallel here between the Prophets and Jesus (the Son of God), as the source of divine-inspired revelation (communicating the word of God) in each dispensation (and covenant), respectively. The superiority of the revelation in the person of Jesus is obvious, and the author develops the point systematically throughout his work. Here, this superiority is expressed by contrasting the singular revelation in Jesus with the multifaceted way that God spoke through the many different Prophets. For Jews and Christians in the first-century, of course, the revelation through the Prophets (in the old covenant) was known only through its preservation in the Scriptures (the Prophetic writings, including the Psalms). The Torah (Pentateuch) doubtless would also be included, but emphasis is given on the Prophetic oracles as the vehicle for God’s revelation.

The comparison between Jesus and the Prophets, as well as the idea of God speaking (vb lale/w), might suggest that it is the words of Jesus that are primarily in view here. The preserved words and teachings of Jesus are certainly a key component of the authoritative Apostolic Tradition (cf. above), and will be discussed in the next study; however, I believe that a much more comprehensive and holistic view of the Tradition is being expressed here. This can be affirmed by what follows in vv. 2-4, beginning with the statement that God “set” (vb ti/qhmi) Jesus (His Son) to be the “heir of all things”. This phrase reflects the fundamental Gospel tenet of the exaltation of Jesus (to the right hand of God in heaven) following his resurrection (Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56 [cf. Mk 14:62 par]; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1, etc). The earliest Christology was unquestionably an exaltation-Christology, focusing almost entirely on Jesus’ deity, and identity as the Son of God, in terms of his resurrection (and exaltation) by God the Father. However, by the time Hebrews was written (c. 70 A.D.?), early Christians had begun to evince a pre-existence-Christology as well, and Hebrews combines both of these Christologies (e.g., the ‘Christ-hymn’ in vv. 2-4, on which cf. my earlier study; cp. also the study on Philippians 2:6-11.

In any case, the point is that the declaration in v. 2b is a key component of the Gospel kerygma; thus, the contrast between the Prophets and Jesus can also be understood as a contrast between the Prophets and the Gospel. And, from the standpoint of our study, it is important to note that the written record of the Gospel (taking shape during the years c. 35-90 A.D.) forms a close parallel to the written record of the Prophets (in the Old Testament Scriptures).

Statements such as those in Rom 16:25-26 and Heb 1:2 thus are seminal (and foundational) for establishing the authority of the New Testament Scriptures. And, the authority of these new Scriptures (of the new covenant), while being on a par with the old Scriptures—in terms of their divine/prophetic inspiration and revelatory content—far surpasses that of the old. This is a vital principle that must be maintained—for believers, the new covenant in Christ (manifest through the presence of the Spirit) has entirely eclipsed the authority of the old covenant (cf. 2 Corinthians 3).

January 19: John 1:34 (continued)

John 1:34, continued

In order to gain a better understanding of the declaration by John the Baptist in verse 34 (and the important text-critical question in the verse, cf. the previous note), it is necessary to examine the narrative context of vv. 19-51. As previously discussed, verses 29-34 make up one of four sections in the narrative, which are joined together using the literary device of setting the four episodes on four successive days. This may be outlined, again, as follows:

    • Day 1—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity (1:19-28)
    • Day 2—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus (1:29-34)
    • Day 3—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness (1:35-42)
    • Day 4—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness (1:43-51)

The first “Day” involves the question of John the Baptist’s identity. He specifically denies any identification with three figures or titles— “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), “Elijah”, and “the Prophet”. The last two relate to a Messianic Prophet figure-type, drawn from the Old Testament figures of Elijah and Moses (Deut 18:15-20); this subject is discussed further in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Part 3). It is not entirely clear whether “the Anointed One” refers to a Messiah generally, a Messianic Prophet, or the traditional Messianic ruler from the line of David; based on the overall context of vv. 29-51, the latter is more likely.

The second and third “Days” follow a similar pattern; each begin with John the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (vv. 29, 36). Each ends with a distinct declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. The declaration of the second day is that of verse 34; that of the third day again involves the title Messiah— “We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41), where the Hebrew word j^yv!m* is transliterated as Messi/a$ (before being translated, “Anointed One” [Xristo/$]).

This common Messianic theme, running through the narrative episodes, would perhaps suggest that the reading “Chosen/Elect One” is to be preferred, since this title (presumably derived from Isa 42:1) is more directly Messianic than is “Son of God”. This is certainly the case with its use in Lk 9:35 and 23:35, the only other occurrences in the New Testament where the title is applied to Jesus.

However, a careful examination of the fourth “Day” (vv. 43-51) points in the opposite direction. Here the declaration regarding Jesus’ identity, made by Nathanael (v. 49), is two-fold:

“You are the the Son of God, you are the King of Israel

The thematic and narrative structure suggests that these two titles are parallel to those in the declarations of the 2nd and 3rd days:

    • “Son of God” = “<Chosen | Son> of God” (v. 34)
    • “King of Israel” = “Messiah” (v. 41)

The parallelism would tend to favor “Son” in v. 34, if only slightly. This, along with the overwhelming external manuscript evidence (in favor of “Son”), makes it the preferred reading. Still, the matter is far from decisive, and it is worth keeping the variant “Elect/Chosen One” well in mind whenever you read this passage. Consider how the two titles (and concepts) are closely intertwined in Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene, in which the voice from Heaven declares (according to the best manuscripts):

“This is my Son, the Elect/Chosen One [o( e)klelegme/no$]…” (9:35)

The title “Elect/Chosen (One)” here takes the form of a substantive (perfect) participle of the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”), from which the adjective e)klekto/$ is derived. Literally, it would be translated “the (one) having been gathered out” (o( e)klelegme/no$), but it is essentially identical in meaning to o( e)klekto/$. The latter occurs as a title of Jesus, albeit delivered mockingly to him, in Lk 23:35, and is clearly used in a Messianic sense (“the Anointed [One], the Elect/Chosen [One] of God”). There can be no real doubt that the same significance is to be found in its usage in the Lukan Transfiguration scene.

The Transfiguration scene, of course, parallels the earlier Baptism scene in the Synoptic Gospels, in which the voice from Heaven makes a similar declaration (in Matthew they are identical). Now, the Gospel of John only narrates the Baptism indirectly (vv. 29-34), through the testimony of John the Baptist, who witnesses the visionary phenomena. His declaration is in the same climactic position as the Divine/Heavenly voice in the Synoptics:

Yet consider, too, a comparison with the variant reading from John—

    • “You are My Son…” / “This is My Son…”
    • “This is the Chosen One of God” (Jn 1:34 v.l.)

which matches the words of the heavenly voice in Lk 9:35:

“You are my Son, the Chosen One”

This declaration, in turn, is an echo of Isaiah 42:1, where God speaks of “My Servant [db#u#]…my Chosen (One) [ryj!B^]…”. In Greek, db#u# is translated by pai=$, which can also mean “child” — “my Child” is obviously close in meaning to “my Son“. At the same time, ryj!B^ is translated by  e)klekto/$, the same word used in Jn 1:34 v.l. (and related to that in Lk 9:35).

It may be helpful at this point to summarize three important aspects of the Johannine tradition in vv. 19-51:

    • The narrative, despite its adapation of the early Gospel tradition into the Johannine idiom, preserves authentic historical tradition. For more on this, cf. the articles dealing with Jn 1:19-51 in my earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (The Baptism of Jesus).
    • This early tradition specifically relates to the identity of Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah), and particularly so in terms of the Messianic Prophet figure-type(s). It is the Anointed herald of the (Deutero-)Isaian oracles (e.g., 42:1ff; 61:1ff) that is most clearly in view, and is the figure with which Jesus was identified in the earliest strands of the Tradition. Cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.
    • Again, in the earliest tradition, the title “Son of God” was fundamentally Messianic in significance. Even though the Gospel of John clearly understands the title in terms of a pre-existence Christology, it still retains the older, traditional meaning as well.

None of this is sufficient to decide the text-critical question of which title— “Son of God” or “Elect/Chosen One of God” —was the original reading. Both titles are appropriate to the Messianic context of vv. 19-51, and, in a sense, can be seen as interchangeable (or, at least, complementary). As noted above, the overwhelming manuscript support, as well as the Johannine usage, favors the reading “Son of God” (o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=), and I am inclined to adopt it, by a narrow margin. The Baptist’s declaration would then read:

“And I have seen and have witnessed that this (one) is the Son of God

In so doing, John is the first to give witness to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. In the context of the Gospel Prologue, this refers to his identity as the pre-existent Son; however, in the immediate context of the narrative (vv. 19-51), and in terms of the early Gospel tradition, the title is to be understood in a Messianic sense (i.e., “Anointed One” = “Elect/Chosen One”). Both aspects are fundamental to the Johannine theology, and must be taken into account when summarizing the Christological portrait in the Gospel. No better summary can be found than the confessional statement by Martha in 11:27:

“I have trusted that you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God…”

This confession holds roughly the same place in the Gospel of John as Peter’s confession does in the Synoptics (Mk 8:29 par). It also is close in form and sense to the Baptist’s declaration in 1:34, especially if we were to combine the two variant readings:

“I have seen…that this (one) is the Elect/Chosen (One), the Son of God”

An even more precise confessional formula is used by the author in his conclusion to the Gospel:

“I have written these (thing)s (so) that you would trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God…” (20:31)

The uniqueness of the Johannine Gospel lies in the way that the earlier Gospel tradition, which understood the title “Son (of God)” primarily in a Messianic sense, has been adapted and developed to give a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning to the traditional manner of expression. Jesus is still the Anointed One, exalted by God the Father through his death and resurrection; but he is also something more: the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, who was, even in the very beginning, the Son resting together with God the Father in the bond of His eternal love and power.

January 18: John 1:34

John 1:34

The Johannine account of the Baptism of Jesus concludes with a revelatory declaration by John the Baptist regarding the true identity of Jesus:

“And I have seen and have given witness that this (man) is the <…> of God

The use of the verbs o(ra/w (“see”) and marture/w (“[give] witness”) frame the declaration by the Baptist in decidedly Johannine theological terms. Both verbs have a special significance in the Gospel of John, as do the concepts of seeing (sight/vision) and witnessing. In the Johannine theological context, these verbs carry a deeper meaning than might otherwise be suggested by their use in the narrative. This meaning refers primarily to a recognition of who Jesus is—viz., his identity as the Messiah and Son of God. On the theological aspect of John the Baptist’s witness of the Baptism event here in vv. 31-33, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

The use of the perfect tense (as in the case of both verbs here) typically indicates a past action or condition that continues into the present. John the Baptist’s revelation regarding the identity of Jesus continues to have abiding force—both when the Gospel was written, and for all those who have read the record of his witness in the centuries since.

The portion of verse 34 in bold above represents the unit where an important textual variation occurs, with the point of variance marked by angle brackets. There are two main variant readings for this unit:

    1. “…the (one) gathered out of [i.e. by] God” (o( e)klekto\$ tou= qeou=)—that is, “the Elect/Chosen (one) of God”
    2. “…the Son of God” (o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=)

The conflated reading “…the Elect/Chosen Son of God”, found in a few witnesses, is clearly secondary and can be disregarded; however, it does show that both readings above were familiar to certain copyists.

These two variants are of true significance, since they cut to the heart of the Baptist’s declaration of who Jesus is. The majority reading has “Son” (ui(o/$); however, in a number of manuscripts and versions (Ë5vid a* 77 218 b e ff2* and Old Syriac versions) it is “elect/chosen (one)” (e)klekto/$ lit. “gathered out”)—i.e. “the Son of God” vs. “the Elect (One) of God”. The reading with ui(o/$ (“son”) is found nearly every Greek manuscript, and, normally, such overwhelming external evidence would decide the question. Moreover, this reading is fully in accordance with the Gospel usage throughout, and the Johannine theology, with the repeated emphasis on Jesus as the Son. This same emphasis is found in the Prologue (see esp. vv. 14, 18), and given the related Prologue references to John the Baptist as a witness (vv. 6-9, 15), it would be most appropriate for the Baptist here to bear witness that Jesus is the “Son of God”.

On the other hand, the reading with e)klekto/$ (“gathered out,” i.e., elect/chosen) is unquestionably more difficult. Based on the principle of difficilior lectio potior (“the more difficult reading is preferred”), and the fact that the minority reading is found in a relative wide range of witnesses, might well lead one to regard it as original. Indeed, as a number of commentators have noted, it is extremely hard to explain how (or why) ui(o/$ would ever have been changed to e)klekto/$, while the reverse would be rather easy to explain, given that:

    • The tendency of copyists was to enhance, rather than reduce, the Christological significance of a passage; and “Son of God” is unquestionably the more exalted title, especially as it came to be understood by Christians in the following centuries.
    • “Son of God” is also by far the more familiar title; even among first-century Christians, to judge by the New Testament evidence, “Elect/Chosen One” was quite rare by comparison.
    • The title “Son” is also fully in keeping with the regular Johannine usage, whereas neither the work e)klekto/$ nor the basic concept of “chosen (one)” is ever applied to Jesus in the Johannine writings.

The evidence thus is evenly divided, making it extremely difficult to decide the textual question. A more detailed consideration of vocabulary and style may give further clarification:

As noted above, the adjective e)klekto/$ does not occur elsewhere in the Gospel of John, but the related verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out,” i.e., “choose”) is used five times, all by Jesus, and always in reference to the disciples, i.e. as those chosen by him (6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19). Indeed, throughout the New Testament, both the adjective (as a noun) and the verb are typically used of believers (Matt 13:20; 22:14; Lk 6:13; 18:7; Acts 1:2; Rom 8:33; 1 Cor 1:27-28; Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:1, etc), and only rarely of Jesus (Lk 9:35; 23:35; cf. below). By contrast, Jesus refers to himself as “the Son” many times in the Gospel of John. The title “Son of God” is less frequent, but still occurs 8 times, declared by others (Jn 1:49; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31) as often as by Jesus himself (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4). It is also relative common (7 times) in 1 John (3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10-13, 20). A consideration of style and vocabulary would thus tend to favor the reading “Son of God” in Jn 1:34.

The context of the Gospel Prologue also favors this reading, as mentioned above. However, if one considers the narrative in 1:19-51 on its own, apart from the Prologue, then we find a rather different thematic emphasis, and one which could be said to favor the reading “Elect/Chosen One”. This involves several aspects of the Johannine narrative that are sometimes overlooked by scholars: (1) the distinct manner in which the Gospel preserves authentic tradition, (2) the strong Messianic context of the early Gospel tradition, and (3) the emphasis on Jesus as the Messiah, in relation to his identity as the “Son of God”.

We will examine these points, together, in the next daily note.

 

January 16: John 1:32

John 1:32

In verse 31 (cf. the previous note), the Baptist states that “I had not known him [that is, Jesus].” On the surface, this would simply mean that John was unfamiliar with Jesus, and did not known him personally, prior to his coming forward to be baptized. However, as I have discussed, the terminology of seeing/knowing (here represented by the verb ei&dw, “see”), in the Johannine writings, has special theological meaning. From the standpoint of the Johaninne theology, the Baptist’s statement means that he had not recognized Jesus’ true identity (as the Son of God) before this moment. This Christological awareness applies even more to the context of verse 26, when the Baptist says, of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, that they “have not seen [i.e. known]” who Jesus is: “in your midst has stood (one) whom you have not seen”. The irony in this statement runs deep, since, as repeatedly documented in the Gospel narrative, the Jewish religious leaders refused (or were unable) to acknowledge who Jesus was—the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God. Chapter 9 deals extensively with this special sense of “seeing”.

The tense of the verb in v. 31 is the pluperfect (“I had seen,” h&|dein), used only rarely in the New Testament. The implication is that John had not understood who Jesus was until the present moment. Now he does realize the truth of Jesus’ identity, for it has been revealed to him by God. This is indicated in the remainder of verse 31: “…but (so) that he should be made to shine forth to Israel, through this [i.e. for this purpose] I came dunking in water”. Apparently, John now realizes the purpose of his baptizing ministry: it was to make known the person of Jesus—his identity as the Messiah and Son of God.

In the Gospel Tradition, the baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry. The core Tradition says virtually nothing of Jesus’ life prior to the baptism. According to the Synoptic narrative, Jesus’ ministry begins almost immediately after his baptism (Mk 1:9-11 par)—following a short period of time spent in the desert (Mk 1:12-13 par). Being filled with the Spirit of God (cf. Lk 4:1, 14, 18), Jesus begins to teach and perform healing miracles.

The Johannine account of the Baptism is unusual in that it is presented indirectly, as a narration by the Baptist. Whether this difference is intrinsic to the Johannine tradition, or represents a literary development by the Gospel writer, is difficult to say. For more discussion on such critical questions, consult the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (the Johannine version of the Baptism is treated most extensively in Part 3).

Here is the summary of the Johannine account in verse 32:

“And Yohanan gave witness [e)martu/rhsen], saying that ‘I have looked at [teqe/amai] the Spirit stepping down [katabai=non] as a dove out of heaven, and it remained [e&meinen] upon him’.”

This generally corresponds with the Synoptic narrative, and we can be fairly certain that the Johannine tradition preserved an account of the Baptism that more or less resembled the statement in Mark 1:10 par:

“And, straightaway, stepping up [a)nabai/nwn] out of the water, he saw the heavens being split, and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [katabai=non] <upon> him.”
[The Markan version reads “into/unto [ei)$] him”, while Matthew [3:16] has “upon [e)pi] him”, as in the Johannine account]

The two main differences in John’s version are: (a) the event is reported as witnessed by the Baptist, and (b) the verbs, reflecting the distinctive Johannine (theological) vocabulary, that are used in the narration.

(a) The Baptism witnessed by John the Baptist

While this may be part of the underlying Johannine tradition, and rooted in historical tradition, it takes on added meaning in the Gospel context. Its significance is informed by the references to John the Baptist in the Prologue, where the Baptist is described specifically as a witness (marturi/a, vb marture/w) to the Light (vv. 6-9), by which is meant a witness to Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Son of God (v. 15). John the Baptist is the first such witness to Jesus’ true identity, an identity that was revealed to John during the Baptism-event. In the Markan account, it is Jesus who sees and hears the Divine phenomena (descent of the Spirit, voice from Heaven), while Matthew seems to present the phenomena as observable by the wider audience.

The Johannine version certainly departs from the Matthean portrait—the public did not see or hear the heavenly phenomena (a point reinforced by the scene at the close of Jesus’ ministry, in 12:27-30ff). The presence of the Spirit and the voice of God from heaven were witnessed only by John, and it is he who reports them (as a witness) to others. This is of vital importance to the thematic structure of the narrative in 1:19-51.

(b) The Johannine Vocabulary

Four verbs are used in v. 32, and they all have special significance as part of the Johannine theological vocabulary:

1. marture/w (“[give] witness”)—John the Baptist as a witness was emphasized above (cf. verses 6-9, 15 of the Prologue); however, these references are only the first of a considerable number throughout the Gospel. The verb marture/w occurs 33 times in the Gospel of John (compared with just 2 in the Synoptic Gospels combined). In addition, it is used 10 times in the Letters of John, and another 4 in the book of Revelation (1:2; 22:16, 18, 20). In comparison with these 47 Johannine occurrences, the verb occurs just 29 times in the remainder of the New Testament.

The theological meaning of the “witness” is three-fold:

    • Jesus gives witness about himself—i.e., who he is, as Son of God the Father—both through his words and deeds
    • People (believers) give witness about Jesus through their trust in him; others, by contrast, give witness that they are not believers
    • The Spirit will bear witness, continuing the witness of Jesus himself, and will continue working in believers (i.e., their trust and love)

2. qea/omai (“look [closely] at”)—this is one of a number of verbs, used in the Gospel, denoting sight/vision, the others being ei&dw, ble/pw, o(ra/w, and qeore/w. To “see” Jesus, in the theological sense, is to trust in him, recognizing his identity as the Son of God. The verb qea/omai occurs first in the Prologue (v. 14), where this meaning is implied. The context of the Prologue-hymn is the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, by which is meant the birth and life of Jesus on earth. The beginning of his life and ministry is suggested in v. 14, and is certainly indicated in the Baptism scene (cf. above). The verb qea/omai may also allude to the beginning of awareness and understanding (cf. 4:35; 11:45). The full force of the verb, in the context of the Johannine theology, can be seen in 1 Jn 1:1; 4:12, 14.

3. katabai/nw (“step down”)—This is the first occurrence of the verb in the Gospel, which, along with the corresponding a)nabai/nw (“step up”), will be used repeatedly, and almost always with special Christological significance. The verb pair is used in the Synoptic account of the Baptism of Jesus (cf. above), and this important traditional context may well have influenced the Johannine usage. The verbs are used together in 1:51, and then variously, at a number of key points in the Discourses (3:13; 6:33-58, 62, etc). Even when they seem to be used in a simple narrative setting (e.g., of Jesus “going up” to Jerusalem), the theological meaning is doubtless present, at a deeper level, as well. The fundamental significance involves the “descent” (katabai/nw) of the Son from the Father (in heaven), and to his eventual “ascent” (a)nabai/nw) back to Him (20:17).

4. me/nw (“remain”)—The importance of this key verb in the Johannine Gospel can scarcely be overemphasized. It occurs 40 times in the Gospel, and another 27 in the Letters of John—more than half of all NT occurrences (118). It carries a powerful theological meaning, referring at once to the union between God the Father and Jesus (the Son), and between Jesus and believers. Through our trust, we come to “remain” in Jesus, and he “remains” in us—the bond of union being effected (and maintained) through the abiding presence of the Spirit. This idea is expounded by Jesus throughout the Last Discourse, with the verb me/nw occurring 14 times between 14:10 and 15:16, and being especially prominent as part of the Vine illustration in 15:1-3ff.

Here in v. 32, however, there is a difficulty in understanding the precise force of me/nw in the context of the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, since the significance of the core Gospel tradition in this regard seems to be at odds with the Christological portrait in the Johannine Gospel. This will be discussed further, along with verse 33, in the next daily note.

 

 

 

January 12: John 1:30

John 1:30

These verses build upon the statement in v. 29: “See, the Lamb of God, the (one) taking up the sins of the world”. V. 30 begins “This is (the one) over whom I said…” —then follows the difficult saying:

o)pi/sw mou e&rxetai a)nh\r o^$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n “(in) back of me comes a man who has come to be in front of me (in) that [i.e. because] he was first/foremost (over) me”

This is nearly identical to verse 15, which begins “Yoµanan {John} witnessed about him and cried out, relating/saying, ‘This was (the one of) whom I said…”

o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen o%ti prw=to/$ mou h@n “the (one) coming (in) back of me has come to be in front of me (in) that [i.e. because] he was first/foremost (over) me”

I recently discussed verse 15 as part of an earlier set of notes on the Gospel Prologue (vv. 1-18). There I mentioned the curious position of the v. 15 saying, which interrupts the poetry of the strophe in vv. 14, 16, and fits rather awkwardly within the Prologue as a whole. I offered a tentative explanation: that the placement of the v. 15 saying, in context, was done with the express intention of explaining the difficult saying of the Baptist in v. 30. In particular, with regard to the second and third phrases of the saying (see below), verse 14 of the Prologue-hymn provides clarification for what otherwise might seem obscure to readers—a reference to the incarnation of the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God in the person of Jesus. This will be discussed further in the exegesis below. There are three phrases in this saying (in v. 30), each of which is governed by a specific verb (and form) which is most significant to observe (the distinctions being generally obscured in translation):

    • “a man comes [e&rxetai]  in back of [o)pi/sw] me”
    • “who has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of [e&mprosqe/n] me”
    • “(he) was [h@n] first/foremost [prw=to/$] (over) me”

These three verbs are used with great care in the Gospel, when applied to Jesus, and especially in the ‘Prologue’ (Jn 1:1-18). Let us consider them in turn (references to verses in the Prologue exclude v. 15 which is largely identical to v. 30):

e&rxomai is a basic verb in narration and description which fundamentally means “come, go”. It is used frequently in the Gospel of John, often with a deeper theological or spiritual nuance than ordinary coming/going—in particular Jesus speaks of coming from the Father and going (back) to the Father; believers also come to Jesus (and to the Father). In the Prologue, the verb occurs three times (outside of v. 15):

    1. John came [h@lqen] as a witness to the (true) Light (v. 7)
    2. The reference is to someone coming [e)rxo/menon] into the world (v. 9). It is not entirely clear whether this relates to “every man” or “the true Light”; the latter is to be preferred, making it a reference to the Word (Christ) coming into the world
    3. The Word (Christ) came [h@lqen] to his own… (v. 11)
  1.  

These references (discussed in recent notes on the Prologue-hymn) all relate to the appearance/presence of a human being in the world (i.e. among people). The present indicative form [e&rxetai] in verse 30 is closest to the present participle in v. 9 (and 15). In terms of Christ (the incarnate Word), we might speak here of the “historical Jesus” —that is, the man who was born, lived, and ministered in the world, among his own (the people of Israel).

gi/nomai has the primary meaning “come to be, become”, again common in narration and description, and, like e&rxomai, is often used with 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). Gi/nomai occurs 8 times in the Prologue (outside of v. 15):

    1. For the things which came-to-be [e)ge/neto/ge/gonen] through the Word (v. 3 [x 3], 10)
    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. “Grace 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 30 (and 15) creates a difficulty in interpretation (discussed below), however it would seem to relate to the aorist form [e)ge/neto] in v. 14 (“the Word became flesh”).

ei)mi is the primary (existential) verb of being. In the prologue it occurs 10 times (outside of v. 15):

    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
  • The Logos was toward [pro/$] God
  • God was the Logos (given in the literal word order, i.e. the Logos was God)
    • All things came to be [e)ge/neto] through him
    • Apart from him came to be [e)ge/neto] not even one (thing)
    • {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 explore a little further how these three verbs—e&rxomai, gi/nomai and ei)mi—may relate here by glossing the terms in each phrase:

1. o)pi/sw mou e&rxetai a)nh\r (“[in] back of me comes a man”):

o)pi/sw mou (“[in] back of me”)—this can mean: (a) Jesus is younger, and has appeared publicly later than, John; or (b) Jesus is/was a follower of John; or even (c) Jesus was unknown or less well known than John. Many critical scholars accept (b) as an authentic historical detail, which can be debated. In terms of Gospel tradition as it has come down to us, and the overall presentation in the Gospel of John here, probably little more than (a), or some combination of (a) and (c), is intended.

e&rxetai (“comes”)—that is, the immediate (historical) presence/appearance of the man Jesus, publicly, in the midst of the people (see above on e&rxomai in 1:7, 9, 11).

a)nh\r (“a man”)—i.e., the “historical Jesus”, a real human being, a man like all the other people around John.

2. o^$ e&mprosqe/n mou ge/gonen (“who has come to be in front of me”):

o^$ (“who/which”)—relative particle qualifying a)nh\r and serving to join the first and second phrases.

e&mprosqe/n mou (“in front of me”)—this is clearly 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 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).

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 be understood here. In other words, Jesus has come to be “in front of” John because he is the eternal Word (Lo/go$) that became flesh. 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.

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

o%ti (“[in] that [i.e. because]”)—the reason why Jesus is “in front of” John.

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 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 (Lo/go$) of God.

Many critical scholars have expressed doubts that this remarkable saying could have come from the historical John; it seems rather more like a theological-christological declaration by the Gospel writer. The point certainly can be debated; however, even if it does not preserve the ipsissima verba of the Baptist, the words very likely stem from a genuine saying. Other traditions, more objectively verifiable, are recorded, in all four Gospels, whereby John confesses the (far) greater status of Jesus (Mark 1:7-8 par.; Matt 3:14-15; John 3:27-30). Some of these critical questions will be addressed, along with a discussion of verse 31, in the next daily note.

January 9: John 1:18 (continued)

John 1:18, continued
Verse 18b

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

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

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

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

monogenh\$ ui(o/$ (“[the] only Son”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 5: John 1:18

John 1:18

This is the final, climactic verse of the Prologue, and, in many ways, is the most difficult to interpret. The difficulty lies primarily in the thorny textual question that continues to be debated by New Testament scholars and commentators. First, let us view verse 18 in the immediate context of verse 17 and the final strophe of the hymn (verses 14, 16 [with v. 15 temporarily omitted]):  

Strophe:
“And the Word came to be flesh
and put down (his) tent among us,
and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as an only (Son) alongside (the) Father,
full of (His) favor and truth—
and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
and favor in place of favor.”

Comment:
“(For it is) that the Law was given through Moshe, but the Favor and Truth (of God) came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed. No one has ever yet seen God; but the only <Son>, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, that (one) has brought Him out (to us).”

The angle brackets in verse 18 above indicate the disputed textual unit. Here is essentially the same rendering of the verse, with a placeholder for the word in question:

“No one has ever yet seen God; (but) the only <..> (who has) come to be—the (one) being in the lap of the Father—that (one) has brought Him out (to us).”

There are three versions of this textual unit (in italics above):

    • monogenh\$ qeo/$ (monogen¢s theos)
    • monogenh\$ ui(o/$ (monogen¢s huios)
    • monogenh/$ (monogen¢s)

All three versions contain the word monogenh/$, the meaning of which was discussed in the earlier note on verse 14. The manuscript evidence for the first two readings should be considered in more detail. It is rather evenly divided, as the following diagram illustrates:

Clearly, o( monogenh$ ui(o$ is the majority reading, supported by an impressive range of early and diverse witnesses; this normally would be sufficient to confirm it as the original text. On the other hand, the “earliest and best” (Alexandrian) Greek MSS, along with other strong/diverse witnesses, read monogenh$ qeo$ (with or without the definite article). As noted above, few manuscripts also read simply o( monogenh$.

The reading with qeo$ (“God”) would seem to be the more difficult, and, on the principle of difficilior lectio potior, perhaps is to be preferred. Scribes may have altered it to the more familiar ui(o$ (“Son”). On the other hand, there was a marked tendency for scribes, consciously or unconsciously, to modify the text in favor of a stronger Christological emphasis. There can be no doubt that the reading [o(] monogenh$ qeo$ became a key text in support of the Deity of Christ. Even today, many theological and apologetic writings cite John 1:18 for this purpose—however, to do so, without any indication of the divided textual evidence, is really quite irresponsible.

If we begin with the reading that contains only the adjective monogenh/$, as a substantive (with the definite article), it would literally mean something like “(the) only one (who has) come to be”. Sometimes this specifically refers to a person coming to be born (i.e. a child or son); but often it means simply “only one, unique, one-of-a-kind”, or the like. The second reading (monogenh\$ ui(o/$) is the most straightforward, as it essentially means “only son”, i.e. the only son born (to a mother/parent). This is presumably also the meaning where monogenh/$ is used alone— “only (son)”, as it was used in verse 14.

The reading monogenh\$ qeo/$ is more difficult, and has been translated three different ways:

    • monogenh\$ qeo/$ (monogen¢s theos) =
      • “(the) only/unique God”
      • “(the) only-born [or only-begotten] God”
      • “God the only(-born) Son”

Which reading more likely represents the original text? And is there any significant difference between them? Let us address the first question, considering the arguments in favor of each reading, in reverse order from how they are listed above.

    • monogenh/$— “only (one) [born]” There is essentially no Greek manuscript support for this reading; it is attested in the writings of several early Church Fathers (commentators/theologians such as Origen, Epiphanius, and Cyril of Alexandria). However, it is attractive as a way to explain the other two readings (with “God” or “Son”). If the text originally read just monogenh/$, scribes (copyists) and commentators would have been inclined to explain it, expanding the text, more likely (and often) by adding “Son” as the natural meaning in context (“[the] only Son [born]”).
    • monogenh\$ ui(o/$— “only Son [born]” This is the most common and widespread reading (cf. the diagram above), including that of some important early manuscripts (such Codex Alexandrinus [A]). It also happens to make the most sense. Jesus refers to himself (or is referred to) as “(the) Son [ui(o/$]” quite often in the Gospel of John, and almost always in relation to (God) the Father. As already noted, the word monogenh/$ is used in this context earlier in the prologue (verse 14); moreover, elsewhere in the New Testament it is almost always used in combination with “son” (or “daughter”)—see Luke 7:12; 8:42; John 3:16, 18; Heb 11:17; 1 John 4:9.
    • monogenh\$ qeo/$— “only God [born]” or “God the only [born Son?]” This is the reading of some of “the earliest and best” manuscripts, including the early (Bodmer) papyri 66 and 75, Codex Vaticanus [B] and the original copyist of Codex Sinaiticus [a]. It must also be considered the most difficult reading—what exactly does the expression “only (born) God [qeo/$]” mean? An important principle in textual criticism follows the saying difficilior lectio potior (“the more difficult reading is preferred”). The idea is that copyists would be more likely to change the text (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to a reading that was easier to understand or which made more sense. As noted above, “only (born) Son” is a much more natural expression.

Is it possible to determine the original reading based on scribal tendencies—that is to say, which reading was more likely to be altered during the course of copying? In terms of transcriptional probability, the evidence is far from decisive, though, I think, slightly in favor of ui(o$ as the original reading. In the early (Alexandrian) scribal tradition, both readings would be represented by nomina sacra (“sacred names”)—a convention of using marked abbreviations to represent various names and titles of God (and Christ). In these manuscripts, it is easy to see how ui(o$ (+u+s) and qeo$ (+q+s) might be confused. +u+s would have been much less common as a sacred name, and more likely to have been (accidentally?) modified to +q+s.

Moreover, I have already mentioned the tendency for scribes to enhance the Christology of a passage, rather than to detract from it. While the reading “Son” (ui(o$) still supports a high Christology, in terms of the Deity of Christ, it is not as striking or explicit as “God” (qeo/$). The latter reading would be fully in accordance with the orthodox Christology of subsequent generations. The expression [o(] monogenh$ qeo$ could easily be understood in terms of later credal formulations (whether Nicene, Chalcedonian, or from the Westminster standards), but one should be extremely cautious about reading these back into the first-century text. Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, Christ is identified (or identifies himself) with the Father, but perhaps never so explicitly as this variant would indicate (especially if the definite article is original). The wording of John 1:1 (kai qeo$ h@n o( lo/go$, “and the Logos was God”, discussed in an earlier note) is most precise (and, one might almost say, cautious)—note the anarthrous form (without the definite article), and the specific word order.

By a narrow margin, I favor the reading monogenh\$ ui(o/$ as original. It is more in keeping with the Johannine usage (cf. especially Jn 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), and the emphasis on Jesus as the Son. It also reflects the regular meaning of the adjective monogenh/$ as it is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and fits the context of its occurrence in verse 14 of the Prologue. Given that earlier usage in the hymn, it is quite appropriate for the Gospel writer to present us with the full expression here—monogenh\$ ui(o/$—referring to Jesus, the incarnate Logos, as the only Son of God.

Having dealt with the textual question in some detail here, it remains to examine the meaning of the verse as a whole, which we will do in the next daily note.

January 4: John 1:17

John 1:17-18

Verses 17-18 represent the final portion of the Johannine Prologue, and our study of them will bring these notes on the Christ-hymn in the Prologue to a close. As with the other two ‘additions’ to the hymn, in vv. 6-9 and 12b-13, verses 17-18 follow one of the three main poetic units (or strophes), interpreting the lines and applying them in the unique context of the Johannine theology.

There are two statements, in verses 17 and 18 respectively; and, while they are connected, they are also distinct, and we will examine them each in turn.

Verse 17

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

For commentators who prefer to see vv. 17-18 as a continuation of the poetry of the Prologue-hymn, they can be read as a couplet with antithetic parallelism, i.e.—

“(It is) that the Law was given through Moshe,
but Favor and Truth came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

There certainly is a strong antithetic parallelism at work in verse 17, involving three points of contrast:

    • Subject: Law | Favor and Truth
    • Means: through Moses | through Jesus
    • Action: “was given” | “came to be”

We will examine each of these points in turn.

1. “Law” vs. “Favor and Truth”

By “law” (no/mo$) is meant the written collection of regulations and requirements, etc, recorded in the books of Exodus-Deuteronomy, and customarily referred to as the “Instruction” (Torah)—given by God to His people Israel. The Greek word no/mo$ fundamentally signifies something that is “allotted” or “assigned” to a person, and, as such, has a relatively broad and comprehensive range of meaning. It can refer to any kind of accepted or authoritative custom, tradition, social or religious norm, etc. In the New Testament, it almost always refers to the Old Testament Torah, as an authoritative law-code—i.e., the “Law of Moses”.

The word no/mo$ is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, never occurring at all in the Letters. However it does occur 15 times in the Gospel, more than in any of the other Gospels (compare with 9 in Luke, 8 in Matthew, and none in Mark). The most substantial usage of the word occurs in the Sukkot (Tabernacles) discourses of chapters 7-8. The main section is 7:14-24, set midway during the feast, as Jesus is teaching in the Temple precincts. He is in conflict with the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, a dispute which appears to be a continuation from the discourse in chapter 5. The implication of the discourse is that Jesus himself is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, and, if the Jewish leaders claim to accept the Torah, then they should accept Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s Torah. This point is reflected in Jesus’ famous rebuke to the religious leaders in 5:39.

The noun xa/ri$ means “favor” (i.e. the favor shown by God to His people), though it is typically (and less accurately) translated as “grace”. This contrast between the Law and “grace” is reminiscent of Paul’s line of argument in Galatians and Romans. His main concern is religious, and he argues vigorously that believers in Christ—Gentile believers, especially—are no longer required, as a religious obligation, to observe the regulations of the Torah. The basis of the Christian religious identity is trust in Jesus, and it is the guiding presence of the Spirit that takes the place of the Torah in the New Covenant. All that remains of the Old Covenant is the “love command”, as defined by the teaching and example of Jesus.

This summary of the Pauline theology is generally in accordance with the viewpoint of the Johannine congregations, as expressed through the theology of the Gospel and First Letter. However, there is a somewhat different point of emphasis at work. Paul’s argument repeatedly stressed that the New Covenant in Christ means the end of the Old Covenant (for more on this, cf. the detailed discussion in the articles of my series “Paul’s View of the Law”).

The Johannine portrait, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the person and work of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Covenant. Throughout the Gospel, in various ways, Jesus effectively fulfills many types and figures of the Old Testament religion—the Temple, the Festivals and their symbols, the Passover sacrifice, and so forth. This is discussed and documented in some detail in the articles on the Gospel of John in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

The pairing of “favor and truth” was used earlier in verse 14, in reference to the Divine do/ca of the Logos. The final strophe of the hymn makes the point that the incarnate Logos (Jesus) possesses the very honor/splendor (do/ca) of God, much as a son possesses the do/ca of his father. God the Father has filled the Son with His “favor and truth”. As I discussed previously, in the context of the Johannine theology, this “favor and truth” essentially means the Spirit of God. I.e., the Father fills the Son with His own Spirit, so that the Son (Jesus) is able to give it, in turn, to those who trust in him.

2. “through Moses” vs. “through Jesus”

The point of contrast here involves the means by which the Covenant was established for the people of God. The Old Covenant, governed by the Torah, was established “through Moses”, while the New Covenant (of the Spirit) was established “through Jesus”. The preposition in each instance is dia/ (“through”). The parallelism is thus precise: Moses vs. Jesus.

Moses is mentioned a number of times in the Gospel, usually in terms of his close association with the Torah (and the Scriptures which contain the Torah). In verse 45, reference is made to Moses having “written” down the Torah, and the Torah as part of the authoritative Writing (i.e. Scripture) is very much in view in this contrast between the Law and Favor (xa/ri$). Both in Jesus’ dispute with the religious leaders in 7:14-24 (see above), and in the earlier discourse of chapter 5 (esp. the climactic verses 39-46), Jesus portrays himself as the true fulfillment of the Torah. If the Jewish leaders actually believe what Moses wrote, then they will trust in who Jesus is.

The Jesus/Moses parallel is motif that runs throughout the Gospel, as the following points will illustrate:

For a similar contrast between Old and New Covenant (written Torah vs. Spirit), drawing upon Moses traditions, see Paul’s famous line of argument in 2 Corinthians 3.

3. “given” vs “came to be”

The final point of contrast involves the verb that is used. The Law was given (vb di/dwmi) through Moses, but the Favor and Truth of God came to be (vb gi/nomai) through Jesus. As we have seen, throughout the Prologue the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) refers to created beings (in contrast to God, who is). However, in the case of the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, it has the special meaning of incarnation—the Logos “came to be flesh” (v. 14), i.e., came to be born on earth as a human being.

This context makes it absolutely clear that Jesus is to be seen as the fulfillment of the Torah in his own person. This human life and existence of the Logos included the mortality of flesh and blood, even to the point of suffering and death (i.e., shedding of blood). On the importance of the idea that Jesus (as the incarnate Son of God) endured a real death and shed real blood, see both the historical detail in 19:34 and the discussion in 1 Jn 5:6-12. The ‘Eucharistic’ references in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:50-59) should be understood in this light as well. It was the sacrificial death of Jesus that allowed the Spirit to flow out to believers, symbolized by the figure of “water and blood” (19:30; 20:22; 1 Jn 5:6-8; cf. also 7:37-39).

Moses was an intermediary in the communication of the Torah to the people of God. However, the ancient Sinai tradition itself suggests that the original intention and ideal was for YHWH to speak directly to the people, without an intermediary. This is fulfilled for believers under the New Covenant, through the abiding presence of the Spirit, as Paul beautifully and powerfully expresses in 2 Corinthians 3. The Johannine Discourses develop the same idea in various ways, a theological development that reaches its climax in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33) and the great Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17.

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.

 

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.