January 24: John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13

For the remainder of January (and into February), the daily notes will feature a series on the theme of believers as the children of God. The starting point for this series is John 1:12-13, which provides a thematic corollary to the verse that follows (14). In John 1:14, the focus of our recent exegetical study series, we find reference to the idea that the Divine Word (Logos) came to be born as a human being. The same birth-motif prevails in vv. 12-13—believers in Christ, through trust in the incarnate Logos, are able to be born as the children (“offspring”) of God. The parallelism is clear: the Son of God is born as a human being, and human beings (believers) are then born as children of God.

Verses 12-13 are an integral part of the Johannine Gospel Prologue (vv. 1-18). The vocabulary, phrasing, and theological emphasis clearly are in accordance with the Gospel (and the Johannine writings) as a whole. However, as was discussed in the series on verse 14, many commentators are convinced that the Gospel writer has made use of an existing ‘Logos-poem’, adapting it for use in the Gospel, particularly within the context of chapters 13. This theory, on the whole, would seem to be correct; evidence in support of it was presented in the articles of the aforementioned series.

The main question, with regard to verses 12-13, is whether v. 12, in whole or part, should be included as part of the underlying Logos-poem. Verse 12a would seem to represent a natural continuation of the poem in vv. 9-11; note, in particular, how v. 12a flows naturally from v. 11:

“Unto his own (thing)s he came, and (yet) his own (people) did not receive him alongside. But as (many) as did receive him, to them he gave (the) e)cousi/a to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring of God”

In the context of the Logos-poem up to this point (esp. in vv. 4-5, 9-11), the focus has been on the presence and activity of the Word/Wisdom of God among human beings, throughout human history (esp. the history of Israel). All through history, most people have rejected the Word and Wisdom of God; however, there have always been some who were willing (and able) to receive and accept it. Beginning in verse 14, the Word/Wisdom is manifest among human beings in an entirely new way—as a flesh-and-blood human being, in the person of Jesus. Believers who receive and accept Jesus—trusting in him (as the incarnate Word of God)—are akin to those individuals who accepted the Word in prior periods of human history.

In the context of vv. 14ff, the statement in v. 12a refers specifically to trust in Jesus as the Son (and Word) of God. Verses 12b-13, which likely represent expository comments by the Gospel writer (added to the Logos-poem), make this quite clear:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name” (12b)

The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) to characterize a group—and believers, specifically—is very much typical of Johannine style. Believers are defined as “the (one)s trusting” (oi( pisteu/ousin), or, in the singular, “the (one) trusting” (o( pisteu/wn)—3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47, 64; 7:38-39; 8:31; 11:25-26; 12:44, 46; 14:12; 17:20; 1 Jn 5:1, 5, 10, 13. There is a strong confessional aspect to these references. In First John, in particular, the author’s primary focus is on defining the true believer, in contrast to the false believer, and the nature of one’s confession of Jesus is at the heart of this definition.

Also fundamental to the Johannine theology is the use of the birth-motif, applied to believers, which we find here in verse 12b. The verb of becoming (gi/nomai, or, more commonly, the related genna/w) is used to express this, often including the qualifying prepositional expression e)k qeou= (“out of God”)—viz., one is born of, or from, God, as His offspring. The plural noun te/kna is occasionally used to express the same idea, as it is here—though it occurs more often in the Letters (e.g., 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2) than in the Gospel. A te/knon denotes something that is “produced” or “brought forth”, the noun being derived from the verb ti/ktw—such as, for example, a child being produced (brought forth) from its mother.

Verses 12b-13 introduce this theological birth-motif, which the Gospel (and the Letters) further develop. It is expounded initially, by the Gospel writer, in verse 13:

“…the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man—but (rather) out of God—have come to be (born) [e)gennh/qhsan].”

In v. 12b, the verb gi/nomai was used, while, here in v. 13, it is the related genna/w. Both verbs essentially mean “come to be, become”, and can refer to a birth (i.e., coming to be born); however, the use of genna/w more properly, and clearly, indicates a birth. The believer’s birth “out of God” —that is, a Divine birth—is contrasted with three similar prepositional phrases, each of which represents a particular aspect of the ordinary birth-process for human beings:

    • “out of blood” (e)c ai(ma/twn)—the noun is plural and literally reads “out of bloods”, with the plural possibly alluding to the male (father) and female (mother) contributions to the embryo; in any case, the biological and physiological aspect of childbirth would seem to be emphasized here.
    • “out of (the) will of (the) flesh” (e)k qelh/mato$ sarko/$)—throughout the Gospel of John, as in much of the New Testament, the noun sa/rc (“flesh”) refers to human life and existence, in a general or comprehensive way; here the expression probably refers, in a roundabout way, to the sexual drive, and/or to other natural impulses which prompt human beings toward childbirth.
    • “out of (the) will of man” (e)k qelh/mato$ a)ndro/$)—that is, the wish and/or decision of the individual (principally, the man, or would-be father) to produce a child.

None of these natural aspects, related to human childbirth, are involved in the birth of believers as the offspring of God. That is to say, it is not an ordinary human birth at all, since the person is born from God.

Before we proceed to examine other such birth-references in the Johannine writings, the next notes in this series will focus instead on such motifs—the birth of believers, as children/offspring of God, the Divine sonship of believers, etc—as they occur in the rest of the New Testament. We will begin, roughly in chronological order, with the relevant occurrences in the Pauline Letters.

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

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology, continued

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

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts) [Part 1]
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology [Part 2]
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ [Part 3]

We turn now to Part 2:

The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Synoptic Tradition (Matthew-Luke)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Pauline Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

John 1:14 and the Baptism of Jesus

John 1:14 and the Baptism of Jesus

(This note is supplemental to the article on Jn 1:14 and New Testament Christology [see Part 1].)

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

In the exegesis and critical analysis of Jn 1:14, presented thus far in this series, I have discussed how, in my view, the phrase sa\rc e)ge/neto (“came to be flesh”) refers to the birth of the Logos as a human being. Whether this emphasis on a human birth was present in the underlying ‘Logos-poem’ of the Prologue, it would seem be in view for the Gospel writer, particularly given the birth-motif that is in focus in the prior vv. 12-13. Even many commentators who might downplay the birth-aspect of the wording in verse 14, would still include a human birth as part of the incarnation of the Logos—that is, his life and existence as a human being (in the person of Jesus).

However, it should be pointed out, that not all scholars accept this traditional incarnational understanding of the Johannine Christology. While it remains a minority view, there have been, since the beginning of the 20th century (and the Le Quatrième Évangile of A. Loisy, first edition 1903), a small number of commentators and theologians who would maintain that 1:14 refers to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus during the Baptism event (vv. 29-34). Francis Watson offers a clear, if rather brief, survey of the main lines of evidence in support of this view, in his article “Is John’s Christology Adoptionistic?” (in The Glory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology in Memory of George Bradford Caird, eds. L. D. Hurst and N. T. Wright [Clarendon Press: 1987], pp. 113-24).

Certainly, the references to John the Baptist in the Prologue (vv. 6-8, 15), surrounding as they do vv. 9-12a, 14, would tend to support an association between the manifestation of the Logos on earth (in the person of Jesus) and the Baptism scene. The addition of these Baptist-verses to the Logos-poem places the Logos Christology of the poem more clearly within the context of the Gospel (chaps. 1-3). With the preceding verses 6-8 in view, verses 9-12a can be read as referring to (or at least foreshadowing) the appearance of the Logos in the person of Jesus:

“The true Light, which gives light to every man, was coming [e)rxo/menon] into the world.” (v. 9)
“He was [h@n] in the world…” (v. 10)
“the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh and set up tent among us…” (v. 14)

The three verbs emphasized in these verses are the same three featured in the Baptist-saying of verse 15; the repetition of this saying in v. 30 clearly positions it as part of the Baptism scene. The implication could then be that the manifestation of the Logos, in the person of Jesus, occurred at the Baptism—this was the moment when the Logos “came to be flesh”, viz., was manifest as a human being.

Perhaps the strongest evidence in favor of this view of the Baptism is the use of the verb katabai/nw (“step down,” i.e., come down, descend) in vv. 32-33. The use of this verb is part of the broader Gospel tradition regarding the Baptism scene, since it also occurs in the Synoptic account(s):

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he [i.e. Jesus] saw the heavens splitting (open), and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [katabai=non] unto him.” (Mk 1:10 par)

This traditional account contains both the verb katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up,” i.e., go up, ascend). These are common verbs, used frequently in narrative; however, in the Gospel of John, they have special theological (and Christological) significance. Within the theological idiom of the Gospel, the verb a)nabai/nw refers to the exaltation of the Son (Jesus)—a process that entails his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The verb katabai/nw, correspondingly, refers to the coming of the Son to earth (from heaven), in order to fulfill the mission for which he was sent by God the Father.

These verbs feature in the Discourses of chapters 3 and 6, in connection with the Johannine “Son of Man” sayings by Jesus. The first of these sayings is in 1:51, where the descent-ascent motif in the visionary scene effectively summarizes the entire Johannine theology (and Gospel narrative). The verb-pair occurs again in the Son of Man saying in 3:13:

“…no one has stepped up [a)nabe/bhken] into the heaven, if not [i.e. except] the (one hav)ing stepped down [kataba/$], the Son of Man.”

The heavenly origin of the Son (Jesus) is thus quite clearly implied, as well a foreshadowing of his exaltation (and heavenly return), cf. verse 14. Similarly, in the chapter 6 Bread of Life Discourse, there are repeated references and allusions to Jesus’ (i.e., the Son’s) heavenly origin, having “come down” to earth, using the verb katabai/nw (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 51, 58); the Father/Son relationship is emphasized throughout the Discourse, while the expression “Son of Man” also occurs in vv. 27 and 53. The corresponding verb a)nabai/nw is used in another Son of Man saying, outside of the Discourse proper (but still clearly related to it in the narrative context), in verse 62. The verb a)nabai/nw is one of several Johannine verbs (e.g., u(yo/w, “lift up high”, doca/zw, “[give] honor to, glorify”) used to express the idea of the Son’s exaltation (and return to the Father)—cf. the Son of Man sayings in 8:28; 12:23 [and 34]; 13:31; and note the further use of a)nabai/nw in 20:17.

Given this important Christological usage of the verb katabai/nw, where the verb specifically refers to the descent of the Son from heaven, it would be plausible to suggest that the same meaning is implied in the Baptism scene as well. That is to say, the use of the verb in 1:32-33, where the Spirit of God is described as coming down upon Jesus, is another way of referring to the Son’s descent. Now, in the Prologue, it is the pre-existent Logos that is manifest as a human being; however, throughout the Gospel, the emphasis is on the manifestation of the pre-existent Son, and, in vv. 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer clearly transitions from the Logos concept to that of Son. Thus the Gospel writer could affirm that it was the pre-existent Son of God who was manifest in the person of Jesus.

The Son could be seen as coming down upon Jesus, through the presence of the Spirit, at the Baptism, and thus being manifest in the person of Jesus throughout the time of his ministry. This would be in keeping with the wider Gospel tradition, since, even in the Synoptics, the identification of Jesus as God’s Son is connected prominently with the Baptism scene (Mark 1:11 par; cp. Jn 1:34 [MT]). Cf. also the discussion in Part 1 of the main article.

Given the references/allusions to the departure of the Spirit in 19:30, 34, and the Johannine idea of Jesus’ death on the cross as marking the beginning of the Son’s departure (back to the Father), it would also be plausible to infer that the Son departed from Jesus, even in the manner that He came upon him, through the ‘ascending’ of the Divine Spirit. In traditional Christological terminology, such a view of Christ is referred to as a “separationist” Christology. That is to say, the Divine Christ (i.e., the Son) and the man Jesus are regarded two separate entities, who were joined together at the Baptism, and then separated at the moment of Jesus’ death.

Apart from the Prologue, it would be conceivable to read the Johannine Gospel narrative as reflecting a “separationist” Christology—viz., the Son, through the Spirit, descends upon the man Jesus, remaining with him throughout his ministry, then ascends/departs from him at the moment of his death. Regardless of whether the Gospel writer could have had anything like this in mind, there is a strong possibility that at least some Johannine Christians did hold such a view of Jesus. Indeed, it may well be represented by the Christological view of the opponents in 1 and 2 John. A rudimentary separationist Christology is attributed to Cerinthus by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1.26.1); and Cerinthus was connected, according to tradition, with the apostle John (and thus the early Johannine Community [in Ephesus]). In prior notes and articles, I have discussed the possibility that the opponents in 1-2 John held a similar separationist Christology.

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

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

There are three components to this statement in Jn 1:14a; the first of these (the noun lo/go$) was discussed in part 1, and the second (sa/rc, “flesh”) in part 2. We now turn to the final component.

3. gi/nomai

The verb gi/nomai is the main verb of becoming (“come to be, become”) in Greek. In the first division of our study, in which we examined 1:14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue, we saw the way that the verb of becoming was purposefully contrasted with the verb of being (ei)mi). Created beings (spec. human beings) come to be (vv. 3, 6, 10), but only God is (vv. 1-2, 4, 8-10). However, both verbs are applied to the Logos. Being God (v. 1c), the Logos is (imperfect tense, h@n, “was”), and yet he also became (e)ge/neto) a human being.

This theological use of the verb of being continues throughout the Gospel of John, and also in the Letters of John. In particular, we may note the essential predication that is utilized extensively in the Johannine writings. These simple predicative statements, which give essential information about a  subject (i.e., what it is), are comprised of three components: (1) subject, (2) verb of being, and (3) predicate nominative, the latter sometimes expanded (with modifying elements) into an expression or phrase. Implicit in this formulation, used as part of the Johannine theological idiom, is that the predicative statements involve a Divine subject—most commonly, God (the Father) or Jesus (the Son). The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) sayings by Jesus in the Gospel are the most notable group of such statements.

The use of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is less distinctive. Indeed, the theological use of this verb is rather limited, especially as applied to the person of Jesus (the Son). The most significant such occurrences are those in the Gospel Prologue (vv. 14, 15, 17). In the saying by the Baptist in v. 15, gi/nomai refers (most probably) to the birth of the Logos as a human being (expounding v. 14), while ei)mi refers to the eternal pre-existence of the Logos (vv. 1-2). This declaration by the Baptist is more or less repeated in v. 30, and will be discussed further in a separate note.

The use of gi/nomai in verse 17 should be considered in relation to both v. 12 and 14. The main phrase is:

“…the favor and truth (of God) came to be [e)ge/neto] through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

On the one hand, this clearly alludes to the statement of the incarnation in v. 14—viz., the manifestation of Divine favor and truth, perceivable to human beings, in the person of the incarnate Logos. However, at the same time, the context also indicates that this “favor and truth” is communicated (to other human beings) by the incarnate Logos. This brings us to vv. 12-13, immediately preceding the Logos-declaration of v. 14. These two verses probably represent interpretive comments by the Gospel writer, rather than part of the original (underlying) Logos-poem; this is almost certainly true of vv. 12b-13, while v. 12a could well have been part of the Logos-poem. Verse 12 applies gi/nomai to human beings, but in a special theological sense:

“But, as (many) as received him [i.e. the Logos], he gave to them (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring [te/kna] of God”

Thus, while the Logos became a human being (“flesh”), he also makes it possible for those human beings who trust in him to become the “offspring of God”. Previously, I have noted that the use of gi/nomai in v. 14 (and vv. 15/30) refers specifically to the birth of the Logos as a human being (Jesus). The parallel use of the verb here in v. 12 seems to confirm this—for the Gospel writer, if not for the author(s) of a separate Logos-poem. Indeed, the verb gi/nomai can mean “come to be born”, though this nuance of meaning is more explicit in the related verb genna/w, which is the verb used in the following v. 13, referring to believers as:

“…the (one)s who—not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of Godcame to be (born) [e)ggenh/qhsan].”

Here in vv. 12-13, gi/nomai, when referring to the Divine birth of believers, can be used interchangeably with genna/w. It is, however, the verb genna/w that is used for this purpose throughout the Johannine writings. It occurs 8 times in 3:3-8, but with the ultimate point of affirming that those who trust in the Son (Jesus) come to be born “out of” (i.e. from) God’s Spirit (vv. 5-6, 8). The expression “out of God” (e)k qeou=), used in 1:13, is more common, and occurs repeatedly in 1 John—the author uses it as a descriptive identification for the true believer, viz., as one who “has come to be (born) of God” (3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The expression “offspring [i.e. children] of God” (te/kna qeou=) carries the same fundamental meaning (3:1-2, 10; 5:2; Jn 1:2, cf. also 11:52).

The verb genna/w is more or less reserved for believers, being used in this special theological sense. It is applied to the person of Jesus only in Jn 18:37, where it seems to be synonymous with gi/nomai in 1:14, referring to his birth as a human being. Possibly the second occurrence of genna/w in 1 Jn 5:18 also refers to the Son (Jesus), rather than the believer, though commentators remain divided on this point (cf. my earlier notes). If it does refer to Jesus, then the significance of the verb in the phrase (o( gennhqei/$ e)k tou= qeou=, “the [one hav]ing come to be [born] of God”) still is not entirely clear. Does it refer to his eternal Sonship, or to his specific life (and birth) as a human being? The Johannine usage elsewhere (Jn 1:14; 18:37) would suggest the latter.

Interestingly, the Johannine letters almost never use the verb gi/nomai; it occurs just three times, and only twice (1 Jn 2:18; 3 Jn 8) could it have any theological significance at all.

The remainder of this discussion will focus on two points related to the use of gi/nomai. The first involves the relationship between gi/nomai and the verb e&rxomai in the Baptist saying of Jn 1:15/30; the second explores the relation between the same two verbs, comparatively, in the respective phrases “came to be flesh” (1:14) and “(hav)ing come in (the) flesh” (1 Jn 4:2 par). To allow space for proper treatment, these will be dealt with in a supplemental note.

In the next part (4) of this study, we will turn to the remainder of verse 14 examining the key terms and phrasing in the context of the Johannine Gospel.

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

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

There are three components to this statement in Jn 1:14a; the first of these (the noun lo/go$) was discussed in part 1. We now turn to the next two components.

2. sa/rc

The noun sa/rc (“flesh”) occurs rather more frequently in the Gospel of John (13 times) than in the Synoptics (11 times, combined); these occurrences are distributed over seven references (1:13, 14; 3:6; 6:51ff, 63; 8:15; 17:2). In addition, the noun occurs twice in 1 John (2:16; 4:2 [par 2 Jn 7]).

For the most part, in the Gospel, sa/rc is used in the context of a contrast, between that which is physical/material and that which is spiritual. However, this contrast is not defined as sharply as it is in Paul’s writings, with the fundamental ethical-religious dualism between Spirit (pneu=ma) and flesh (sa/rc)—cf. Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17ff; 6:8; Rom 8:4-9ff; Phil 3:3. Only in 1 John 2:16 do we find anything like the negative ethical connotation that Paul attaches to sa/rc. The Johannine and Pauline usage of sa/rc is, though, comparable in the way that the term stands for the natural life and existence of a human being. It connotes, in particular, the mortality of the human condition, and its limitations (in relation to God).

This concept of “flesh” is not negative, per se, in the Johannine writings. The flesh cannot give birth to what is spiritual (or born of God); but this is simply because a human being (“flesh”) can only give birth to another human being (“flesh”). Only the Divine Spirit can give birth to something that is of the Spirit. That is the point Jesus makes in 3:6, and it is also emphasized by the Gospel writer in the Prologue (1:13).

There is a bit more denigration of “the flesh” in 6:63, where, again, the contrast is with the Spirit. As Jesus puts it in this famous saying, “the Spirit is the (thing) making alive [i.e. giving life], the flesh is not useful (for) anything”. This saying comes in the context of the Bread of Life Discourse of chap. 6, and, especially, the closing verses 51-58 with their apparent eucharistic language. Jesus refers to the importance of eating his “flesh” (and drinking his “blood”), which communicates life to the one eating it (vv. 53ff). And yet, in light of v. 63, it seems clear that Jesus is not referring to his physical flesh, per se, but to his life and existence as a human being. In particular, the reference is clearly to his death, by which he gives up his own life, sacrificially, for the good of humankind.

This is in accordance with Johannine usage, whereby sa/rc refers to the life of a human being, especially in its mortality and limitations. The term, in 8:15 and 17:2, connotes the human condition more generally; and, yet, mortality and limitation is clearly being emphasized (in comparison with God). The reference in 17:2 is particularly significant in the way that humankind (“flesh”) is related to the person of Jesus (the Son), with two key points of emphasis:

    • Jesus’ authority over human beings, with the idea that certain human beings (believers) have been given to him, suggests a strong point of connection and affinity between the Son and human believers.
    • The eternal life possessed by God is not normally accessible to human beings (who are mortal); it can only be communicated to humans through the person of Jesus, which again suggests a point of contact (that would make such communication possible).

Whether or not this Johannine theological orientation applied to the (original) Logos-poem of the Gospel Prologue, it is definitely present in the full Prologue. We can see this by the way that verse 14 is juxtaposed with vv. 12-13. The rather clear implication is that the Logos “coming to be” (vb gi/nomai) a human being (“flesh”) took place so that human beings could “come to be (born)” (vb genna/w) as God’s offspring. The Gospel writer likely would have had in mind that this communication of eternal life, from the Logos/Son to human believers, could only take place because the Logos/Son had himself become a human being.

The reference in 1 John 4:2 (par 2 Jn 7) emphasizes the theological—and, I think, soteriological—importance of the Son becoming “flesh”. The author was combating Christians, (former) members of the Johannine Community, who (from his standpoint) held a false view of Jesus Christ, and thus were false believers. In two passages (2:18-27; 4:1-6), he calls these false believers “antichrists”, and provides confessional statements meant flatly to oppose their view of Jesus. In 4:2, the statement is:

“By this, you may know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses/acknowledges Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) having come in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] is of God.”

The implication, clearly, is that any would-be believer, supposedly speaking from the Spirit, who does not confess/acknowledge (vb o(mologe/w) Jesus Christ as having come “in the flesh”, is not of God. Such a person speaks from another spirit—a spirit of the world that is opposed to God, a spirit of “antichrist”, a false and lying spirit. Note how this is stated in 2 John 7:

“(It is) that many who lead (people) astray [pla/noi] have gone out into the world, the (one)s not confessing/acknowledging Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this [i.e. such a person] is the (one) leading (people) astray [pla/no$] and the (one) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$]!”

Scholars continue to debate the precise nature of the opponents’ view of Jesus, with the following three lines of interpretation being the most plausible:

    • The opponents held an early (or rudimentary) docetic view of Jesus—viz., that the Son of God only seemed to be a human being, but was neither really (or fully) so.
    • They accepted his human incarnation, but denied that the Son actually suffered and died like an ordinary mortal.
    • They accepted the reality of his human life (and death), but denied (and/or downplayed) the importance and significance of it (for salvation, etc).

I have discussed the matter at length in earlier studies (see, most recently, the discussion in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), and will not repeat any of that here. The author’s emphasis on Jesus’ death (“blood”) in 5:6ff, with the expression “having come…in water and blood” seeming to qualify the earlier expression “having come in (the) flesh”, all suggests that the opponents denied, in some fashion, the reality of Jesus’ death.

In any case, the author’s polemic in 1 John provides evidence that there were early Christians—even those within the Johannine congregations—who struggled to understand and to explain the nature (and consequences) of the incarnation of Christ. It is likely that the author of 1 John, his opponents, and many of his intended readers, were all familiar with the Gospel Prologue—and especially Jn 1:14—and sought to interpret it in various ways.

In Part 3, we will examine the use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) in the wider Johannine context. Along with this analysis, we will consider what differences or nuances of meaning there might be between the idiom of “coming to be” flesh (Jn 1:14) and “coming” in the flesh (1 Jn 4:2 par).

 

 

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

John 1:14 in the context of the Johannine Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

1. lo/go$

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Prologue, part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philo and the Logos of John 1:1ff

Philo and the Logos of John 1:1ff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For assisting me in (more quickly) locating some of the most relevant passages in Philo, I must give credit to the work by J. Jervell, Imago Dei, Gen. 1:26ff in Spätjudentum, in der Gnosis und in den paulinischen Briefen, F.R.L.A.N.T. 76 (Göttingen, 1960), pp. 49-70, 130-6, as cited by R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man: A Study of the Idea of Pre-Existence in the New Testament, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series no. 21 (Cambridge University Press: 1973).