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).

May 19: 1 John 1:1

The next few daily notes are prefatory to the upcoming articles (on 1 John) in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The Johannine view of the Spirit—and the Johannine spiritualism—is perhaps most evident in the work known as the First Letter of John. It is in 1 John that we gain a sense of how the spiritual beliefs and ideas, expressed in the Gospel, were understood and applied within the wider Community.

1 John 1:1-4

It is appropriate to begin this study of 1 John with the prologue (1:1-4), even though it makes no reference or allusion to the Spirit. The author’s rhetorical strategy is established in the prologue, and, as I shall demonstrate, the spiritualism of the Johannine congregations is central to the crisis (within the Community) that informs the entire work.

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

Verses 1-3 of the prologue constitute a single long and complex (and gramatically awkward) sentence in Greek. It begins with a neuter relative pronoun (in the accusative), o% (“that which”). It is not uncommon for a statement or clause to begin this way in the Johannine writings; indeed, it is rather typical of the Johannine literary style—in the Gospel, see for example 2:5; 13:7, 27; 14:17, 26; 15:7; 17:24.

The use of the noun a)rxh/ (“beginning”) together with the verb of being (in the imperfect tense), h@n, “he was”, immediately brings to mind the opening lines of the Gospel Prologue (1:1ff), with their allusion to the Genesis Creation account (Gen 1:1 LXX). Nearly all commentators would agree that the prologue of 1 John relates to the Gospel Prologue; most likely, 1 Jn 1:1-3 was written with the Gospel Prologue hymn (or some form of it) in mind. This would mean (most probably) that 1 John was composed after an edition of the Johannine Gospel had been published and in circulation among the congregations.

There is a dual-meaning to the noun a)rxh/ here in 1 John. One the one hand, the allusion to the Gospel Prologue suggests that the beginning of Creation is in view, with the Christological implication of the Son’s (Jesus’) existence alongside God the Father prior to the Creation. Often overlooked in this regard is the similarity between the opening words of 1 John and Jesus’ statement in Jn 8:25. In response to a question regarding his true identity (“who are you?” su\ ti$ ei@;), Jesus declares: th\n a)rxh\n o% ti kai\ lalw= u(mi=n. This rather enigmatic statement has been explained (and translated) a number of different ways. Most commonly, it is rendered as an exclamation, in a sense corresponding to a literal reading of the words: “What I have been saying to you (from) the beginning!” —perhaps reflecting a certain frustration on Jesus’ part.

While this may be correct, almost certainly there is here another example of Johannine double-meaning, along with the misunderstanding-motif that features so frequently in the Discourses—Jesus’ audience hears his words only on the level of their apparent meaning, unable to grasp the true and deeper significance of what he is saying. In this case, the true meaning of his statement is Christological, and does, indeed, answer the question as to his real identity: “that which is from the beginning” (cf. Jn 1:1). The formal parallel with 1 Jn 1:1 is noteworthy:

    • Jn 8:25:
      th\n a)rxh\n o%
      “that which (is from) the beginning”
    • 1 Jn 1:1:
      o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$
      “that which was from (the) beginning”

In spite of the clear Christological parallel between the opening words of the First Letter and those of the Gospel, it is important to note that, elsewhere in 1 John, in a number of instances, the noun a)rxh/ (and the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$) refers to the beginning of the Christian witness. In the context of the prologue here, this witness goes back to the time of the first disciples, who were physically present with Jesus during his earthly ministry. In this regard, the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) does, indeed, have a dual meaning:

    • Theological/Christological:
      • “you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning” (2:13, 14)
      • “…from (the) beginning the {Devil} sins” (i.e., the dual opposite of God and Christ, 3:8)
    • Evangelistic (Gospel/Christian witness)
      • “…an old e)ntolh/ which you hold from (the) beginning” (2:7)
      • “this is the message which you heard from (the) beginning” (3:11)

The use of the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ in 1:1, and again (twice) in 2:24, I believe, encompasses both aspects of meaning. That is to say, a)p’ a)rxh=$ refers to Jesus Christ as the one (i.e., the Son) who is from the beginning, and also to the Gospel witness about Jesus which has been proclaimed from the beginning (i.e., his earthly ministry, alongside the first disciples). While both aspects are present in 1:1, I believe that the Christological aspect is primary. This can be seen by the way that the neuter relative pronoun (o%) is repeated throughout the verse. I will further explain and demonstrate this point 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 6: John 1:18 (continued)

John 1:18, continued

Having looked at verse 18 in the context of the Prologue hymn, and examining the difficult text-critical question in some detail (cf. the previous note), it now remains to provide an exegetical study of the verse as a whole.

There are two parts to the verse: (1) an initial statement, reflecting traditional Israel/Jewish religious belief (18a), and (2) a related clause in response (18b), which itself is comprised of two components—(a) Johannine Christological formulation, and (b) a Gospel-proclamation that applies the formulation to believers.

The two parts may be said to represent the Old and New Covenant, respectively, continuing the contrastive parallel from verse 17—i.e., Moses vs. Jesus, Law vs. Favor (cf. the discussion in the previous note).

Verse 18a

qeo\n ou)dei=$ e(w/raken pw/pote
“no one has yet seen God”

This represents a theological formulation of the Old Covenant, embodied by the Sinai theophany, the role of Moses as the mediator of God’s Presence, the sacrificial ratification of the Covenant, and the giving of the Torah (through Moses) to the people. The statement summarizes several different strands of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition. The main line of tradition centers on the Sinai theophany (Exodus 19-20), which was the setting for the ratification of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and Israel (chap. 24), along with the Torah regulations (i.e., the Ten Commandments, and other Instruction) which serve as the terms of the covenant. The glorious presence of YHWH was concealed within the dark cloud, but the people heard His voice (like thunder) speaking from the cloud (Exod 19:9-19). The tradition that God was only heard, but not seen, is emphasized in the book of Deuteronomy (4:12, 15; 5:23-27).

Another line of tradition involves YHWH’s revelation to Moses, in connection with the Golden Calf incident that resulted in the termination of the covenant, and a break in the relationship between YHWH and the people. This is covered through a complex narrative (Exodus 32-34) which itself weaves together a number of different historical traditions. Through the intervention of Moses, a partial restoration of the covenant is achieved, and Israel is once again acknowledged as God’s people, but only in a qualified sense—through Moses as their intermediary. At the heart of this narrative is YHWH’s revelation to Moses (33:17-34:8), during which time a second version of the Torah is declared to him.

The special character of this revelation is indicated by the statement in 33:20, where YHWH emphasizes that no human being can see Him and still live. As a special and unique favor granted to Moses, marking his central role in the restored covenant, he is allowed a partial vision of God. The idea that it was not possible for human beings to see God (with their eyes) continued to have a place in Israelite tradition, and is reiterated in one of the key manifestations of YHWH to His prophets (Isa 6:1-6, cf. verse 5).

The Gospel of John alludes to the Sinai theophany at several points, as well as this specific tradition that it is impossible for a human being to see God. In addition to the reference here in the Prologue, cf. 5:37-38ff; 12:28-29ff. Jesus takes the tradition a step further in 5:37, when he states that, not only have the people never seen God directly, they have never really heard His voice either (cp. Deut 5:23ff). What they heard with their ears was essentially unintelligible, sounding to them like thunder (12:28-29; Exod 19:16ff; 20:18).

The Gospel gives special meaning to these traditional motifs of seeing and hearing God, but especially seeing, playing on the fundamental meaning (and interchangeability) of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see”). In addition, there is frequent use of a series of similar verbs denoting sight/vision: ble/pw, o(ra/w, qea/omai, qewre/w. Here in verse 18, the verb o(ra/w is used; this verb occurs 20 times in the Gospel and 7 times in the letters—nearly half of all New Testament occurrences (55).

This special theological sense of seeing leads to three key points, or principles, in the Johannine Gospel, all of which are closely related:

    • Jesus is the only one who has truly seen and heard God
    • It is only in the person of Jesus that one is able to see and hear God directly, and
    • When one truly sees (and hears) Jesus, that person has seen (and heard) God

These points will be addressed in the next daily note as we examine the second part of the verse (18b).


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]):  

“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.”

“(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.


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.

January 1: John 1:15

John 1:15

In the previous notes on vv. 14, 16, I mentioned how verse 15 appears intrusive, interrupting the flow of the poetic strophe. On the theory that the Prologue is based on an existing Christ-hymn, verse 15 unquestionably represents a secondary addition. Even if the Prologue-hymn were composed by the Gospel writer, one should still regard v. 15 as secondary, presumably (in that instance) added by an editor or redactor. In my view, there are good reasons for considering verse 15 as qualitatively different from the prose ‘additions’ in vv. 6-9, 12b-13, and 17-18. I regard those additions as the work of the Gospel writer, who is expounding and applying the lines of each section of the hymn.

Verse 15 appears quite different. As already mentioned, it interrupts the poetry of the hymn. It is difficult to understand (or explain) why an author or editor would have chosen to do so. There are, in fact, two major issues to address in our study on v. 15, in the context of the Prologue. First, the nature and meaning of the statement itself; and, second, why it was included/inserted at just this point in the hymn. We will begin examining the first issue in today’s note.

The statement in verse 15:

“Yohanan witnesses about him and has cried (out), saying: ‘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’.”

The initial point to note is that this statement is virtually identical with the saying by the Baptist in verse 30. It may be helpful to see this in its immediate context by citing verses 29-31 (with v. 30 highlighted in bold):

On the (day) upon the morrow, he looks at Yeshua coming toward him and says: “See, the Lamb of God, the (one) taking up the sins of the world. This is (the one) over whom I said, ‘(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’. And I had not seen [i.e. known] him, but (so) that he should be made to shine (forth) to Yisrael, I (have) come dunking [i.e. baptizing] in water.”

There is every reason to think that the saying in v. 15/30 represents a distinctly Johannine version of the Gospel tradition in Mark 1:7 par. Combining v. 30 with the earlier saying in vv. 27-28 yields a statement that is very close in substance with Mk 1:7 par. That tradition is discussed at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

It would seem that verse 15 is a reference back to the saying in verse 30, even though v. 15 comes at an earlier point in the finished Gospel. In the work as it stands, it looks forward to the Baptist narrative in vv. 19-28ff. The opening words of v. 15 also echo the ‘addition’ to the first strophe of hymn (vv. 3-5) in verses 6-9. There it was stated that John “gave witness” (vb marture/w) to the Light—that is, to the pre-existent Logos and Son, identified with the person of Jesus. Similarly, here in v. 15, we read how John “gives witness about” (marturei= peri/) the Son. The added words “and has cried (out)” (kai\ ke/kragen) may be an allusion to Isa 40:3 and the identification of John with the herald of the Isaian oracle (see v. 23, and compare Mk 1:3 par).

There are three phrases in this saying (in v. 15/30), each of which is governed by a specific verb (and form), as well as a prepositional/relational expression which emphasizes the relationship between John and Jesus. The wording is most significant to observe (the distinctions being generally obscured in translation):

    • “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”

These three verbs are used with great care in the Gospel, when applied to Jesus, and especially in the ‘Prologue’. They are part of a distinctive Johannine theological vocabulary, and the way that they mark the phrasing here strongly suggests that we are dealing with an adaptation and interpretation of a simpler tradition (such as in Mk 1:7 par, cf. above).

The wording in these three phrases is such that it is necessary to provide a detailed exegesis. I have done this, to varying degrees, in earlier notes; here, in order to keep the discussion focused and streamlined within the setting of a daily note, I will be devoting a note to each phrase.

Phrase 1:

o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$
“the (one) coming (in) back of me”

The verb in this phrase is e&rxomai, in the form of a substantive verbal noun—a present participle with the definite article.

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 Christ (as the incarnate Logos) coming into the world
    3. The Logos (Christ) came [h@lqen] to his own… (v. 11)

These references all relate to the appearance/presence of a human being in the world (i.e. among people). The present participle in v. 15 is matched by the participle in v. 9. In terms of the incarnate Logos (i.e., the Word/Wisdom of God), this is a reference to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, as was discussed in the earlier notes on verse 10-11 and 14. At the point where v. 15 is introduced (or inserted), the focus has already shifted from the Logos to the Son—both Divine figures being identified with Jesus.

o)pi/sw mou (“[in] back of me”)—this is the prepositional expression, and it 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.

There is, however, unquestionably an apologetic in the Gospel of John, emphasizing the superiority of Jesus in relation to John. Verse 15/30 gives a focused theological expression to the point, but it can be seen throughout chapters 1-3, and is a significant aspect of the ‘additions’ to the Prologue hymn. Indeed, this apologetic emphasis is part of the wider Gospel tradition, built into the core Synoptic narrative (of the Baptism scene, etc); it is also central to the structure of the Lukan Infancy narrative. For a more detailed discussion, I would direct interested readers to the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

The wording in verse 30, differs slightly: “(in) back of me comes [e&rxetai] a man [a)nh/r]”. The verb is a present indicative form, but one close in meaning to the present participle in v. 15. The noun a)nh/r (“man”) emphasizes the reality of Jesus’ life and existence as a human being. On the Messianic significance of the expression “the (one) coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$), cf. my special note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.