September 6: Revelation 1:1-2

This is the first in a series of daily notes on the Book of Revelation, which is to run concurrent with the Study Series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”. Each note will focus on a short section or pericope, examining individual words, phrases and images carefully. The focus is critical and exegetical, but will, as necessary, also address wider theological issues and questions of interpretation. As a point of method, I should state up front that I do not assume any particular (traditional) approach to the book, nor any specific system of eschatology. My goal is to elucidate the text itself and the historical background of the language and imagery that the author/visionary uses. Such an approach should, at the very least, eliminate the more implausible and far-fetched interpretations which have been proposed over the years. At the same time, it should also have the positive effect of giving greater clarity as to what the images and symbols likely would have meant to the author and his original audience at the time.

Questions of authorship and dating for the book will be addressed at various points in the series. For a survey, you may consult any reputable critical commentary; one of the more thorough modern works is the volume (38A) by Craig R. Koester in the Anchor Bible commentary set (Yale: 2014). I have found this volume most helpful, especially for locating passages from Greco-Roman literature which are relevant for explaining the background of the text. References marked “Koester” in the notes are to this work.

Revelation 1:1-3

The book of Revelation is usually regarded as having characteristics of a mixed genre. While it certainly shares many features of “Apocalyptic” literature (which will be discussed), it also follows an epistolary format. Indeed, the overall framework of the book may fairly be described as that of a letter, or epistle. Indeed, the first six verses serve as the epistolary prescript. Verses 1-3 are the superscription, establishing the author’s place and identity, while verses 4-6 are the author’s greeting to his audience. It is important to keep this framework in mind while studying the book.

Verses 1-2

“(An) uncovering of [i.e. by] Yeshua (the) Anointed which God gave to him, to show to his slaves the (thing)s which are necessary to come to be in (all) speed [i.e. swiftly], and he signified (this) sending it forth through his Messenger to his slave Yohanan, who gave witness of the word of God and the witness of Yeshua (the) Anointed—as many (thing)s as he saw.”

a)poka/luyi$ (“uncovering”)—The verb a)pokalu/ptw literally means “take the cover (away) from”, i.e. “uncover”, often in the figurative sense of “reveal”—making known something which has previously been hidden. The verb occurs 26 times in the New Testament, primarily in the Pauline writings (Rom 1:17-18; 8:18; 1 Cor 2:10; 3:13; 14:30; Gal 1:16, et al). The noun occurs 18 times, again mainly in Paul (Rom 2:5; 8:19; 16:25; 1 Cor 1:7; 14:6, 26; 2 Cor 12:1, 7; Gal 1:12; 2:2; 2 Thess 1:7; also Eph 1:17; 3:3; and, elsewhere, in Luke 2:32 [vb. 2:35]; 1 Pet 1:7, 13; 4:13). The noun is largely absent from the Greek Old Testament (LXX), but the verb is used more than 100 times; its occurrence in Daniel ([Theodotion] 2:19, 22, 28, 30, 47; 10:1) is surely significant for the book of Revelation.

 )Ihsou= Xristou= (“of Yeshua [the] Anointed”)—This should be understood as a subjective genitive, i.e. Jesus Christ is the one doing the uncovering (cf. further below). The centrality of Jesus (here the title “Anointed” functions as a second name) in the visions which follow is made clear in the very first words of the book. On the title “Anointed (One)”, consult my series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

h^n e&dwken au)tw=| o( qeo/$ (“which God gave to him”)—That is, God the Father gives the revelation to Jesus (the Son), who, in turn, gives it to the visionary (John). This chain of relation is fundamental to most early Christian thought, and certainly features prominently in the Johannine writings. In the Gospel, especially, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes that what he gives to believers was given to him by the Father (3:34-35; 5:26, etc); moreover, as a faithful and dutiful Son, he says and does only what he hears/sees the Father saying and doing.

dei=cai toi=$ dou/loi$ au)tou= (“to show to his slaves”)—The word dou=lo$ properly means a “slave”, though this can be somewhat misleading in terms of modern ideas and perceptions of slavery, which often imply oppression and lack of human dignity. The word, as applied figuratively among Christians, emphasizes the idea of belonging to a master. Christians are referred to as “slaves” of God/Christ numerous times in the New Testament (Acts 4:29; 16:17; 1 Cor 7:22; 1 Pet 2:16, etc); Paul and other ministers specifically refer to themselves this way (Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 4:5; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; Col 4:12; 2 Tim 2:24; Tit 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1; Jude 1). Both positive and negative aspects (cf. Rom 6:16-20) of the word are utilized in the book of Revelation.

a^ dei= gene/sqai (“the [thing]s which are necessary to come to be”)—The plural pronoun (“the [thing]s which”) functions as a collective subject in the phrase “it [sg.] is necessary” (dei=); frequently in the New Testament, this verb refers to the will and/or command of God, as expressed in the Scriptures, or by way of prophetic revelation, etc. In the Gospel tradition, Jesus applies it to his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31 par; Luke 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44). Here it specifically relates to the foretelling of future events. The verb of being/becoming, gi/nomai, emphasizes that the things made known in these visions will truly come to pass.

e)n ta/xei (“in [all] speed”)—The word ta/xo$, along with the related noun taxu/[$], is used a number of times in the book (2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6-7, 12, 20), stressing two aspects or characteristics of the visions: (1) the events will happen soon, and (2) their appearance/fulfillment will be sudden and abrupt. In the New Testament, ta/xo$ (“speed, swift[ness]”) only appears in the expression e)n ta/xei, which means “in [i.e. with] (all) speed”, i.e., quickly, right away (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; Rom 16:20, etc). This expresses the early Christian belief that the end of the current Age, accompanied by Jesus’ return and God’s Judgment upon the world, was imminent. For more on this, see the next daily note (on verse 3).

kai\ e)sh/manen (“and he signified”)—This verbal expression is parallel to the earlier “God gave…”, and reinforced the chain of relationship mentioned above. As God gives the revelation to Jesus, so Jesus, in turn, communicates it to the prophet. The verb (shmai/nw) is related to the word sh=ma, “mark, sign”, and indicates that the message is communicated by way of signs—both language and images (on other occurrences of the verb in this sense, cf. Dan 2:45 LXX; John 12:33; 18:32; Acts 11:28). This stresses the symbolic character of the book, which has proven so difficult for interpreters over the centuries, but which also is the source of its enduring beauty and power.

a)postei/la$ dia\ tou= a)gge/lou au)tou= (“sending [it] forth through his Messenger”)—Jesus communicates the revelation through a heavenly Messenger (‘Angel’); cf. the wording in Malachi 1:1. Frequently in Apocalyptic writings, the message or vision comes by way of an Angel (Ezek 40:3-4; Zech 1:7-6:5; Dan 7:16; 8:15; 1 Enoch 21:5; 22:3; 2 Baruch 55:3, etc; Koester, p. 212). Though the initial vision (vv. 10-18) comes directly from the risen Christ, the remainder of the visions in the book are conveyed by heavenly Messengers; the transition from Jesus to the Messengers occurs in vv. 19-20 and continues throughout the “letters” of chapters 2-3. The verb a)poste/llw conveys the concrete sense of something (or someone, i.e. a messenger) being sent (“set [forth]”) from (a)po/) another—i.e. the revelation comes from Jesus, and is conveyed by his representative.

tw=| dou/lw| au)tou=  )Iwa/nnh| (“to his slave Yohanan”)—On the figurative use of dou=lo$ (“slave”), and its use as a self-designation by early Christian ministers, cf. above. For the name Yohanan (‘John’), cf. the note in my earlier Advent/Christmas series “And you shall call his name…”. The identity of this “John” will be discussed in the notes on verses 4 and 9.

o^$ e)martu/rhsen (“who gave witness [of]”)—The verb marture/w, along with the related nouns marturi/a and martu/$, is used frequently in the New Testament, and conveys the important concept of giving witness. The apostles and early missionaries acted as witnesses of Jesus and his resurrection, and this idea was carried out more generally to the Gospel message and Christian life as whole. Jesus himself was a witness of God the Father, making the Father known to believers; this is a key theme in the Gospel and Letters of John (Jn 3:11; 5:31ff; 8:14ff; 10:25; 18:37, etc), and continues as a (Johannine) theme in the book of Revelation.

to\n lo/gon tou= qeou= (“the word/account of God”)—The object of John’s witness is expressed here by two parallel expressions. The first is “the lo/go$ of God”. The Greek noun lo/go$, as I have noted before, is extremely difficult to translate, consistently, in English. Properly, it is best rendered as “account”, and this is appropriate when it refers to the Gospel message, etc, as it frequently does in the New Testament (Acts 4:31; 6:2; 8:14; 1 Thess 2:13, etc). However, when it refers specifically to communication by God (to a prophet, etc), then it is generally better to use the conventional translation “word”. Both here, and in the next expression, the genitive (“of God”, “of Yeshua”) should be understood as subjective (i.e. the word comes from God) rather than objective (a message about God). It is a standard expression in Prophetic and visionary writings (Isa 1:10; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jer 1:2; Ezek 1:3, etc).

kai\ th\n marturi/an  )Ihsou= Xristou= (“and the witness of Yeshua [the] Anointed”)—An objective genitive here would mean that it is a witness about Jesus, i.e. the believer is acting as a witness of Christ. This idea certainly features prominently in the book; however, the overall context of these verses argues strongly in favor of a subjective genitive. Again, the chain of relationship, so familiar in the Johannine writings, is emphasized:

    • God speaks, giving the message to Jesus
      • Jesus bears witness to this message, communicating it to believers
        • The believer (here, a chosen prophet), in turn, bears witness of the message to others

o%sa ei@den (“as many [thing]s as he saw”)—This expression qualifies John’s witness, defining and explaining it in terms of the visions recorded in the book. The message is primarily conveyed visually, through images, which the seer (and/or author of the book) translate into written language. This relates back to the verb shmai/nw, “signify”, i.e. make known by signs.

Because of the distinctive (beatitude) form of verse 3, it will be given separate treatment, in the next daily note.

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 4: Religious Identity and Tradition

Closely tied to a gnostic understanding of salvation (cf. Part 2) is the sense of religious identity being defined in terms of knowledge. This was discussed to some extent in Part 3, but it requires further elaboration and examination of some of the key New Testament passages. According to the gnostic (and Gnostic) viewpoint, the (elect) believer comes to know, that is, to become aware, of his/her true identity in relation to God (or the Divine). Among certain Gnostic groups we find the idea that a spark or seed of the Divine has been ‘trapped’ within the fallen material world or sin and darkness. Knowledge of salvation comes—proclaimed and revealed by the Savior (and/or his messengers)—to believers trapped so as to have been ignorant of their true identity as offspring (sons/children) of God. There is, indeed, something of this religious worldview reflected in the New Testament Scriptures, but not quite in the manner expressed by many Gnostics. It is in the Pauline and Johannine writings that we find the closest parallels. A number of the most relevant passages are summarized here:

The Pauline letters

1 Cor 2:6-16—I have discussed the entire section 1:18-2:16 in an earlier series of notes. The logic of Paul’s theology can be described this way:

    • The Gospel contains the secret, hidden wisdom of God
    • This is conveyed to the apostles and preachers of the Gospel through the Spirit
    • Those who receive/accept the Gospel receive the Spirit which is at work in them, allowing them to understand
    • The Spirit instructs and guides believers so they can discern the wisdom of God—we thus have “the mind of Christ”

From a theological standpoint, there is some question as to what extent God—specifically the Spirit—is present and at work in believers prior to hearing the Gospel and coming to faith. Given Paul’s statement in verse 11, how do people respond in faith the Gospel without the work of the Spirit? Paul typically employs the language and image of a favor (xa/ri$) or gift—i.e., the Spirit as a gift given, presumably at the time one receives the Gospel, though it may also be connected with the moment of baptism. However, the quotation in verse 9, apparently citing loosely and adapting Isa 64:4, adds an interesting dimension to this; consider the last portion of the quotation:

“…the (thing)s God prepared for the (one)s loving him”

In the context of 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, these “things” are the hidden things of God, the wisdom of God, which, according to Paul’s way of understanding it is: (1) manifest in the person of Christ, (2) revealed in the Gospel, and (3) made available to believers through the Spirit. Yet these things were prepared or made ready by God ahead of time (in the past), for those in the present who are already loving Him. This same idea is suggested in 1 Cor 8:3—”if any (one) loves God, this (person) has been known under [i.e. by] Him”. Here the sense of predestination is stronger: God has known the believer ahead of time, the perfect tense indicating past action which continues into the present. Cf. also 1 Cor 13:12.

Rom 7:7-25—Paul frequently uses language and imagery expressing the idea that God, through Christ, has delivered humankind from bondage to the power of sin (cf. above for this same idea from a Gnostic standpoint). It is described in almost cosmic terms in Rom 5:12-21, while here in 7:7-25, we see it presented from the vantage-point of the individual believer. Paul sets himself, rhetorically, in place of this representative human being, using the first person (“I”). This person could be identified with those who are “loving God” (prior to receiving the Gospel), desiring (in his spirit) to fulfill the Law of God, but unable to do so because of the power of sin residing in the “flesh” and controlling it. Uniquely Pauline is the idea that revelation—in the Law (Torah), prior to encountering the Gospel—brings a kind of preliminary saving knowledge, in that it brings knowledge (i.e. recognition, awareness) of sin. But Paul’s understanding in this regard is two-fold: (1) the Law brings (saving) knowledge, but at the same time (2) through the Law God has imprisoned all human beings (including believers) under sin (Gal 3:22-24; Rom 11:32). For more on Paul’s teaching on the Law, cf. the articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Rom 8:19-25—Here we find the cosmic image of creation groaning and suffering in bondage. Again, we have the idea that God is the one who has set it under bondage (to sin and death). Admittedly, the reference in verse 20 is somewhat ambiguous, where it states that the thing formed (creation, collectively) was set under the order of (i.e. subjected to) sin and death “not willingly, but through the (one) putting it under (this) order”. Commentators debate just who “the (one)” is, but, in my view, based on the context in Romans, and other passages in Paul’s letters, it should be understood as referring to God the Father (the Creator). In certain Gnostic systems, the Creator—that is, the one who fashioned the fallen and sinful material condition—was a kind of inferior divine Being (a Demiurge). This is foreign to Paul’s thought, but the idea of God setting Creation (and humankind) under bondage to the power of sin has certain points in common with Gnostic theology. The eschatological theme in Rom 8:19-25 involves the eventual deliverance of creation from this condition of bondage, and is tied directly to the presence (and identity) of the elect believers (the “sons/offspring of God”). Indeed, this is specifically described in terms of revelation—the earnest expectation and hope of creation is to receive (from God, or from heaven) “the uncovering (a)poka/luyi$) [i.e. revelation] of the sons of God”. This could be understood in the sense that the sons of God (believers) are already present in creation, but that creation is unaware of their true identity. In verse 21, the future hope for creation is defined as being “set free from the slavery of decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor of the offspring of God”. The implication is that all of creation will be renewed in the same way that believers in Christ are renewed—in particular, Paul has the end-time resurrection in mind (v. 23).

Col 1:12-13—As part of the great declaration in vv. 9-20, describing the person and work of Christ, the author (Paul) states that God the Father is the one

“who (has) made us able (to come) into the portion of the lot [i.e. the inheritance] of the holy ones in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the authority of darkness and made us stand together (away from there) into the kingdom of the Son of his love”

There is, in this description, language and imagery that is similar to gnostic modes of expression—the dualism of light and darkness, the idea of being rescued out of a realm of darkness, believers as “sons of light”, believers as heirs of God, the kingdom of the Son, etc. Of course, these can be found at various points throughout the New Testament, but their combination here, within two short verses, is what gives the passage a “gnostic” ring. The deliverance out of darkness is tied directly to the work of God through the person of Christ; elsewhere in Paul’s writings, it is connected more properly with the proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:4-6). The idea of believers being called out of darkness is found in 1 Pet 2:9, and goes back to Old Testament imagery, preserved within the early Gospel tradition—Matt 4:16; Lk 1:78-79, etc, and cf. 2 Pet 1:19.

Eph 5:13-14—Here, in connection with the same light/darkness dualism we find the additional idea of the soul “awaking” to its true nature. This is expressed in the quotation (possibly from an early hymn) in verse 14:

“Rise, (you) the (one) going down to sleep, and stand up out of the dead, and the Anointed (One) will shine (light) upon you!”

This line itself suggests the initial conversion of a believer—i.e., of responding to the Gospel and coming to faith. It may originally have been associated with the ritual of Baptism. However, here Paul (or the author) cites it as part of ethical instruction (exhortation) directed to believers. The context clearly has to do with abandoning sinful behavior and associations, and walking according our true nature, that is, as “offspring (i.e. children) of light”. The image of the soul waking to its true nature and identity is a common gnostic motif, though here the orientation is ethical rather than soteriological. The exhortation “walk according to the light, as you are in the light” is stated in a similar context in Galatians 5:16-25, but in terms of the Spirit: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we should also step in line (i.e. walk) in/by the Spirit”.

Other passages could be added to these mentioned here, but those above give a suitable number of representative examples from the Pauline writings.

Johannine writings

These will be discussed further in the supplemental article on knowledge and revelation in the Gospel and letters of John. Here I will simply list some of the more notable references:

In the Gospel1:9-13; 3:5-8, 18-21; 5:37-43; 6:44-47; 7:17, 28-29; 8:12, 31-38ff; 10:3-9, 14-16, 27ff; 11:25-26; 12:35-36; 14:21-24; 15:3ff, 15-16, 19; 17:6-26; 18:37

In the Letters1 John 1:5-7; 2:5-6, 19-20ff; 2:29-3:2; 3:10, 19; 4:2-6, 9-10; 5:1ff, 10-12, 18-19; 3 John 11

The strong dualism running through the Gospel and letters of John will be discussed in the last part (Part 6) of this series.

Other aspects of Christian Identity

There are other important aspects of Christian identity—that is, of the believer’s religious identity in Christ—which serve to counteract or counterbalance any gnostic tendencies, such as could be drawn from the language used in the passages cited above. Again, we are best informed about early Christian tradition and instruction in this regard from the Pauline letters. Here are some of the more notable aspects:

    • Paul’s use of the expression “in Christ” (e)n xristw=|), and the related idea of belonging to Christ, which can be called mystical and spiritual(istic), rather than gnostic. That is to say, we are united with Christ, both symbolically, and through the presence of the Spirit, and participate in the power of his death and resurrection. The expression is so common in Paul’s writings that it functions virtually as a title for believers, a religious identification. Of the many references, cf. 1 Cor 1:30; 15:18-23; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:4; 3:26-28; Rom 3:24; 6:11; 8:1f; 12:5; Phil 2:5; 3:8-12; Col 1:28; 3:1-4; Eph 2:6ff. It is rare in the New Testament outside of Paul (1 Pet 3:16; 5:10, 14, and note Heb 3:14).
    • The idea of believers as a “new creation”, may seem, on the surface, to have a gnostic tinge to it, but it can just as easily be understood in the opposite sense—believers in Christ come to be completely different than they were before. The main passages utilizing this expression, or varying forms of it, are: 2 Cor 5:16-21; Gal 6:15; Col 3:9-11ff; and Eph 2:14-18. The Johannine idea of the “new birth”, of believers born out of God, is perhaps closer to gnostic patterns of thought.
    • The symbolism of the rite of Baptism was important for Paul, in that it symbolized the believer’s identification and union with Christ, specifically in the sense of participating in his death and resurrection—cf. 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; Rom 6:3-4ff; Col 2:11-12; 3:9-11. Paul inherited the ritual motif of “putting off” the old, sinful way of life, and “putting on” the new life in Christ. The various Gnostic Christian groups seem to have retained Baptism, along with other rituals, though certainly giving to it a somewhat different meaning and significance, even as Paul may have done. He perhaps was the first to connect baptism specifically to the idea of believers sharing in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
    • The emphasis on the real, physical death (the crucifixion) of Jesus as central to the Gospel message, would separate Paul from many of the Gnostic groups known in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Gnostics, with their strong (metaphysical) dualism, especially when assuming the evil of the material condition, appear to have struggled greatly with the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross, and attempted to explain or interpret it in various ways (some less plausible than others). In 1 and 2 Corinthians, where he may be combating certain gnostic tendencies, Paul sets the message of the cross in direct contrast to the (supposed) wisdom and knowledge of the world. Cf. especially 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 and my earlier notes on this passage.
    • Likewise Paul’s teaching on the presence and role of the Spirit in (and among) believers also distinguishes his understanding of Christian identity from that of the later Gnostics. While most Gnostics emphasized the invisible and eternal world of the Divine (against the evil physical/material world), they, for the most part, do not seem to have been Spiritualists—that is, they do not define and understand their religious identity and experience predominantly in terms of the (Holy) Spirit. For Paul, on the other hand, the Spirit was fundamental to his thinking and teaching; even when referring to knowledge and revelation, he almost always qualifies and connects it in relation to the Spirit. Of the many relevant passages, cf. 1 Cor 6:19-20; 12:13ff; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 3:17-18; 5:5; 11:4; Gal 3:2-3; 5:16-26; Rom 5:5; 8:9-12; Eph 4:30.
    • In his emphasis on Christian love, Paul draws on early Gospel tradition going back to Jesus’ own words. The so-called “love command (or principle)” was fundamental to Paul, especially in his ethical teaching—cf. Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 8:1ff; 12:31-14:1; 16:14; Gal 5:6, 13-14; 1 Thess 4:9; Col 3:14. In 1 Corinthians, Paul sets love against (spiritual) knowledge, arguing that love is far superior and necessary for governing all aspects of Christian behavior, especially for our relationships to others in the Community of believers.
    • Paul repeatedly mentions the suffering of believers—their endurance of hardship and persecution, etc—as an important mark of Christian identity. For Paul, it was closely tied to the idea of our participation in the death of Jesus (cf. above). The experience and endurance of suffering also served as a example to other believers, and as a witness to the Gospel. Cf. 1 Thess 2:14ff; 2 Cor 1:6f; 2:14-17; 4:7-12; 6:3-10; Gal 4:19; Phil 1:12-14ff; Col 1:24, etc. Gnostic groups also experienced persecution—including, sadly, at the hands of other “orthodox” Christians—but they would not have ascribed much importance to (physical) suffering in this life.

Some of these points can be found elsewhere in the New Testament, including the Johannine writings. However, there are several other aspects of Christian identity expressed in the Gospel, and especially, the letters of John, which are worth noting briefly:

    • The overwhelming primacy of the person of Christ. In Paul’s writings, the Christological emphasis is usually put forward in connection with: (a) the message of the Gospel, (b) the believer’s union with Christ, and/or (c) the ecclesiastical aspect of the Community of believers as the “body of Christ”, etc. In the First letter of John, on the other hand, following along the lines of the great discourses of Jesus in the Gospel, Christian identity tends to be aligned more directly with the person of the Son (Christ) himself. Ultimately, this extends to what may be properly called orthodoxy—i.e. correct belief about Christ; on this, cf. below.
    • Love in the Gospel and letters of John takes on a somewhat different sense; while continuing the tradition of the “love command/principle”, it is given a centrality to the identity of believers that is really not found anywhere else in the New Testament (Paul’s great chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians being the closest). In 1 John, the presence of love in the believer is virtually synonymous with the presence of Christ, and indicates that the believer is “out of (i.e. from) God” and has been born from Him. Cf. 1 Jn 2:5, 10, 15; 3:1, 10-18, 23; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:1-3; 2 Jn 5-6.
    • Compared with Paul’s use of baptism symbolism, in the Gospel of John there is a different kind of imagery used to described the believers union with Christ and participation in his death, etc. It is found in the drinking/eating and water/bread symbolism in the great discourses of Jesus—Jn 4:7-24, 34; 6:22-59; 7:37-38f. If baptism is implied in the water imagery of 3:5ff, it has a different sense than in Paul. Jn 19:23 and 1 Jn 5:6-8 have water (and blood) connected more closely with the death of Christ.

One unique feature of the Gospel and letters of John is the way it establishes a correct belief about Jesus—who he is, where he came from, etc—as essential to the Christian identity. This is indicated in the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel (3:18; 8:23-24; 14:10-11; 17:3, 20-21; cf. also 20:28, 31), and takes on greater significance in the letters, where incorrect belief regarding Christ marks those who have separated from the Community and also the “spirit of antichrist”—cf. 1 Jn 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:1-5, 6-12ff; 2 Jn 7ff. For more on the Johannine writings, cf. the supplemental article in this series.

Revelation and Christian Tradition

One other topic which needs to be addressed here is the early Christian understanding of revelation in terms of tradition—that is, of (apostolic) teaching and instruction, going back to the words of Jesus, which has been preserved and transmitted to believers. Paul frequently refers to his own apostolic authority as a minister who proclaims the Gospel (as revelation) and gives instruction for the congregations under his charge. At several points, he ties his own commission and ministry to specific revelations he received from Jesus (Gal 1:12, 16; 2:2, etc; cf. also Eph 3:1-6ff). By the time of the Pastoral letters (whether or not one regards these as authentically Pauline), as also in the letters of Jude and 2 Peter, in particular, there had developed a strong sense of a collected body of Gospel witness and (apostolic) teaching which was being threatening by false and aberrant Christian ‘leaders’, and which had to be safeguarded by the faithful minister. Jude summarizes this as “the trust [i.e. faith] given along at one (time) [i.e. once] to the holy ones” (v. 3); it was to be “fought/struggled over”, i.e. the minister should contend and fight to preserve it. The clear context of 2 Pet 1:16-21 is that this tradition (lit. that which is given along, passed down) goes back to the apostles, the eye-witnesses of Jesus, including Peter himself. It is no coincidence that the Transfiguration scene is mentioned, as it is a powerful example of divine revelation—God manifesting his presence and glory in the person of Jesus.

Interestingly, this same aspect of revelation—the words of Jesus and the Divine Truth manifest therein—passed on to the apostles, etc., was an important element of Gnosticism in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Many of the (apparently) Gnostic writings, such as those preserved in the texts from Nag Hammadi, are couched as pseudepigraphic “Gospels”—that is, as teaching by Jesus, usually set after the resurrection, given to select disciples. The Gnostic texts frequently suggest that this teaching reflects special revelation to which other Christians are not privy. Clearly, it was a way to ensure that the distinctively Gnostic approach to the Gospel and interpretation of the Christian message, had apostolic authority, being connected to the eye-witnesses of Jesus, just as we see in Lk 1:2; 2 Pet 1:16ff. Other (proto-)orthodox Gospels and writings use the same (literary) method of pseudepigraphy and pseudonymity. Many critical scholars would claim that at least several of the New Testament writings (e.g., the Pastoral letters, Ephesians, 2 Peter) are also pseudonymous; the weight and quality of the evidence for these claims varies, and, in any event, remain controversial in more traditional-conservative circles. Admittedly, the emphasis on tradition is strongest in the later writings (those likely written after 60 A.D.)—the Pastorals, 2 Peter, Jude, the Lukan prologue, etc. Two verbs tend to be used to express the idea of revelation passed down from the apostles, from the first generation(s) of believers down to the next:

    • paradi/dwmi (paradídœmi, “give along”), with the derived noun para/dosi$ (parádosis). More commonly used in reference to the betrayal of Jesus (in the sense “give/hand over”), it also carries the figurative meaning of passing along teaching, instruction, etc. from parents to children, and from one generation to the next, including within a religious setting (cf. Mk 7:13; Acts 6:14). A specialized sense of this latter meaning was used in early Christianity—for use of the verb, cf. Luke 1:2; Acts 16:4; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Rom 6:17; 2 Pet 2:21; Jude 3; for the noun, 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6, and note the negative sense in Col 2:8. It continues to be used in early Christian writings (cf. 1 Clement 7:2; Diognetus 11:6; Irenaeus 3.3.3).
    • parati/qhmi (paratíth¢mi, “set/put along[side]”), with the derived noun paraqh/kh (parath¢¡k¢), used in the concrete sense of placing an object (food, etc) before someone, often in the sense of providing help or assistance; figuratively, it can used with the meaning of entrusting something (or someone) into the care of another. A specialized sense of this latter meaning developed in early Christianity. These are the words used in the Pastoral letters—1 Tim 1:18; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12, 14; 2:2; they do not occur in the undisputed letters of Paul, certainly not in this sense (cf. 1 Cor 10:27). Cf. the separate note on 1 Tim 6:20-21.

By the later part of the 2nd century, Gnostic groups and teachings had become widespread and influential enough that Irenaeus felt the need to write his five-volume work Against Heresies, to defend his (proto-Orthodox) position as representing the true Apostolic Tradition. The interpretation and application of Scripture was employed more regularly to demonstrate this, since both “sides” could lay claim to the Apostolic heritage. However, many Gnostics proved to be quite adept and incisive as commentators of Scripture (cf. Ptolemy’s letter to Flora, preserved by Epiphanius). Since various passages in the New Testament could, conceivably, be interpreted various ways, and plausibly so, depending upon one’s expectations and presuppositions, it was difficult, at times, to rely on the Scripture itself to provide decisive proof. Origin’s massive (and unfinished) commentary on the Gospel of John was begun, in large part, as a response to the Gnostic Heracleon’s own commentary (the earliest such NT commentary known to us). The main problem, of course, was that Gnostics worked from a religious/theological worldview which was markedly different, in certain respects, from that of the proto-Orthodox; as a result, they were bound to see the same passage of Scripture in a somewhat different light.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Knowledge and Revelation in John

Because of the very distinctive—and extensive—use of terms related to knowledge and revelation in the Johannine writings, it has been necessary to devote a separate supplemental article to this topic. The vocabulary, language and imagery used in the discourses of Jesus in Gospel are so close, at many points, to that in the letters, that most scholars ascribe them to a single Christian community or “school” of authorship. Tradition establishes the apostle John as the author of the Gospel and letters both, though, strictly speaking, they are all anonymous works. Regardless of how one theorizes the actual authorship of the writings, there is strong evidence that, in the discourses of Jesus, the actual words of Jesus—i.e. the historical sayings/teachings—have been edited and given an added interpretative layer within a literary dialogue (and homiletic) format.

I have previously discussed the specific vocabulary related to knowledge and revelation (cf. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series). The extent to which they occur in the Gospel and letters of John is striking:

    • The verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ, “know”) occurs 56 times in the Gospel, and 26 in the letters—more than a third of all occurrences in the NT (222). Interestingly, the related noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”), is not used (on this, cf. the following special note).
    • The verb ei&dw (oi@da) (“see”), which is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw in Greek at the time of the New Testament, occurs 85 times in the Gospel, and another 16 in the letters—again, more than a third of all occurrences in the NT.
    • Other verbs for seeing are used frequently in the Gospel and letters:
      o(ra/w (“see, perceive”, 31/8); ble/pw (“look [at], see”, 17/1); qewre/w and qea/omai (“look with wonder, look [carefully] at, behold”, 24/1 & 6/3)
    • The noun fw=$ (“light”), 23 times in the Gospel, 6 in the letters (29 out of 73 in the NT); in addition, we have the related verbs for giving/shining light: fai/nw (3), emfani/zw (2), fanero/w (15).

Knowing and Seeing (& Hearing)

Fundamentally, the references involving knowing and seeing (taken together) can be divided into several categories:

    1. Jesus (the Son) knows the Father, and makes Him (his word, his truth, etc) known to his disciples
    2. Disciples/believers know him (the Son), and the Father through him; by contrast, the “world” does not know
    3. Jesus knows his disciples (believers), who are also known by the Father

1. The Son knows/sees the Father

The main passages expressing this knowledge of the Father are: Jn 5:32; 7:29; 8:14, 19, 55; 10:15; 12:50; 13:3; 15:15; 17:25. Frequent in the discourses of Jesus is the idea that the Son has seen and heard the Father, and does/says what he sees/hears the Father doing/saying. This is expressed in Jn 3:32; 5:19ff; 6:46; 8:26, 38, 40; 12:49-50; 15:15 (cf. also 10:18, 37; 14:10; 17:6-8). The basic image derives from daily life—the dutiful son, as a pupil or apprentice, imitates his father, following the pattern and example of behavior. In 16:13, it is extended to the Spirit, who, like the Son (and as the abiding presence of the Son in the believer), will speak (only) the things he hears from the Father.

In turn, the Son makes known the Father to humankind, especially to his followers (believers). It is for this purpose that he was sent into the world by the Father (cf. below). The specific verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) occurs in Jn 15:15:

“…all the (thing)s that I heard (from) alongside my Father I (have) made known [e)gnw/risa] to you”

It is also found (twice) in the prayer-discourse of Jesus in chapter 17 (v. 26):

“and I made known [e)gnw/risa] to them Your name, and will make (it) known [gnwri/sw], (so) that the love with which you loved me might be in them, and I (also) in them”

An interesting example is Jn 1:18, where the verb e)chge/omai (“lead/bring out”) is used. The statement (by the author) emphasizes that no one has ever seen God, but that Jesus, the unique Son (of God) “…the (one) being [i.e. who is/dwells] in the lap of the Father, this (one) has brought (Him) out”—i.e. brought God out in the sense of declaring and making Him known.

More common is the verb fanero/w (“make/cause [to] shine [forth]”), where it refers to Jesus making God known (17:6)—especially His work and power (through miracles, etc), as in 2:11; 9:3; the same is expressed by the verb deiknu/w in 10:32; 14:8. It is also used in reference to Jesus’ appearing to his disciples—1:31; 14:21f; cf. also 7:4. In 1 John, it occurs in the more traditional sense of Jesus’ appearance (and future appearance) on earth (1:2; 2:28; 3:2, 5, 8, also 4:9).

Closely related is the key motif of Jesus as light (fw=$)—Jn 1:5-9; 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:35-36, 46; and cf. also 1 Jn 1:5-7; 2:8-11. John the Baptist is also a light (5:35) , but only insofar as he reflects and reveals the true light (1:5ff). The verb fai/nw (“shine light”) occurs in 1:5; 5:35; 1 John 2:8; while e)mfani/zw (“make [light] shine in”) is used in Jn 14:21-22 associated with the personal (abiding) presence of Jesus in the believer.

2. Believers know/see the Son

It is specifically Jesus’ disciples (believers) who come to know him (the Son). The main references are Jn 6:69; 8:28; 10:4-5, 14-15, 27, 38; 14:9, 17, 20; 17:3, 7-8, 23; cf. also 3:11; 18:21. People see the signs (miracles, etc) which Jesus does (2:23; 4:19, 48; 6:2, 14, 26; 11:45), and also come to see him (on this narrative motif, cf. below). They also hear his voice—cf. 3:29; 5:25, 28, 37; 12:29f; 18:37, and note 4:42; 11:43f; 20:16. Through the Son, believers see and hear the Father—this motif is frequent (cf. above), but emphasized particularly in Jn 14:7-8ff; 17:3.

By contrast, the “world”—that is, unbelievers—do not know him. Even Jesus’ own disciples have difficulty understanding, and are unable to know completely. This is a theme which runs throughout the narrative; of the many references, cf. 1:10, 26, 31, 33; 4:32; 7:27-28; 8:14, 19, 55; 9:29; 12:35; 14:9, 17; 15:15, 21; 16:3; 17:25; 20:14. The contrast is part of the dualism in the Johannine writings (to be discussed in Part 6). It is also expressed through the contrast of seeing vs. not-seeing (i.e. blindness)—chapter 9; 12:40; 1 Jn 2:11.

In the letters of John, knowing Christ essentially functions as a central point of religious identification, marked especially by the presence and manifestation of Christian love—cf. 1 Jn 2:3ff, 13-14; 4:2, 6-8, 16; 5:19-20; it also includes the same dualistic contrast found in the Gospel (1 Jn 2:11; 3:1, 6, etc). Likewise, the twin motif of seeing/hearing occurs (1 Jn 1:1-3; 3:11; 4:14; 2 Jn 6), as well as the specific idea of knowing the Father by way of the Son (4:8ff, 12, 14; cf. also 2:23; 5:9; 2 Jn 9).

3. Believers known by Jesus (and the Father)

Jesus’ knowledge of his disciples (believers), as those chosen and given to him by God (cf. below), is emphasized in Jn 2:25; 6:64; 10:14, 27; 13:11, 18. Within the narrative, the various references of Jesus coming to his disciples (cf. below) and, specifically, seeing them (1:42, 48; 11:33; 19:26, etc), take on added meaning. A reciprocal relationship is expressed—Jesus sees (and comes to) believers, who also see (and come to) him. Ultimately, these passages are tied to an overriding sense of Christian identity, for believers as those who come from (or out of) God, just as Jesus himself comes from God. This motif will be discussed next.

Other concepts and expressions

The rich treasury of Johannine language and imagery can only be surveyed partially here. I will endeavor to point out a few of the most relevant ideas and expressions used in the Gospel and letters.

Coming from God

This often involves the specific preposition e)k (lit. “out of”). Frequently Jesus speaks of himself (the Son) as coming from, or “out of”, God—Jn 7:17; 8:42; 16:28ff, and cf. also 1:14; 3:2; 17:5; 1 Jn 1:2. More or less synonymous is the idea of his coming out of heaven (or “above”), as in Jn 3:13, 27, 31; 6:32-33ff; 8:23. The (spatial) dualism of above/below, heaven/earth, etc., is related to the conceptual dualism of Jesus “stepping down” and “stepping (back) up”, using the related verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw. As Jesus came down out of heaven (from God), so he will be returning back into heaven (to the Father). At the same time, those who believe in him, are also said to be “(out) of God”, especially under the image of being born from Him—Jn 1:12-13; 3:3ff; 8:47; 18:37. This will be discussed further in Part 5 (on Election/Predestination). Being “of God” is important in the Johannine letters as signifying Christian identity—cf. 2:16, 29; 3:9-10, 19; 4:2-3ff; 5:1, 4, 18-19; 3 Jn 11.

Coming into the world

Related to the concept of Jesus coming from God, out of heaven, is the specific motif of his coming into the world. This is expressed most clearly in Jn 1:9, 11; 3:31; 5:43; 8:14; 9:39; 11:27; 12:46-47; 18:37. For the closely connected use of the verb fanero/w (“make to shine, make manifest, cause to appear”) to describe this appearance of Jesus on earth, cf. above. Coming into the world also means coming to the people—to human beings generally, but also to the people Israel, and, more specifically, to the people (believers) chosen by God.

Coming to the disciples / Disciples coming to Jesus

This twin motif occurs frequently in the Gospel narrative, but the “coming” carries a deeper significance in John, due to the previously mentioned concepts, as well as to the added motif of seeing. The references here which include the element of sight/seeing are marked with an asterisk:

Two other, related, concepts should be mentioned:

Sending

In the Gospel, Jesus is identified as (the Son) who was sent by God the Father, using both verbs a)poste/llw and pe/mpw: the references are too numerous to mention them all—3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36ff; 6:38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, et al. The Spirit is also sent by the Father (and the Son) to believers, 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; and Jesus sends forth his disciples (believers), just as the Father sent him (4:38; 17:18; 20:21).

Abiding/remaining in

As in the Pauline letters, the Johannine writings frequently refer to believers being “in” (e)n) Christ, just as Christ is “in” the believer. Sometimes this is specified in terms of truth, love, or the word(s) (logo$, r(hma) of Jesus. Most frequently, it involves the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), which becomes a distinctly Johannine theme and unique for an understanding of both revelation and the believer’s religious identity (in Christ). For more on this latter point, cf. the discussion in Part 4.

The frequency with which both aspects are mentioned together, side-by-side, is striking.

Giving & Receiving

One other way revelation is expressed in the Gospel of John is with the verbs di/dwmi (“give”) and lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”). These two verbs occur together at the beginning of the Gospel, in 1:12, 16-17 (cf. the note on these), and again at several points throughout. God the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to his followers (believers). At the same time, believers themselves are among the things given by God to Christ (17:2ff). Those who trust in Christ and come to him also receive him. In 17:8, the verbs lamba/nw and di/dwmi are used together, along with ginw/skw (“know”); I discuss this verse in a separate daily note. For more on the prayer-discourse of chapter 17, cf. my earlier note on 17:3.

Glory/Splendor

Finally, we should mention the numerous occurrences of the term do/ca (“esteem, honor”, i.e. “glory, splendor”, esp. when used of God), along with the related verb doca/zw. While do/ca is related to the idea of divine revelation throughout the New Testament, it carries special significance in the Gospel of John, as it is distinctly tied to the person of Christ, and his identity with God the Father. This glory/splendor is at the center of the two-sided presentation of Christ in the Gospel—his descent (stepping down) from God the Father, and his ascent (stepping up) back to the Father. The death and resurrection/exaltation of Jesus stands between these two points, much as the vision described in Jn 1:51, which is offered as a vision of glory of God/Christ promised to believers (cf. also 3:3, 36). For the key passages referring to do/ca, cf. Jn 1:14; 2:11; 5:44; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4; 12:23, 28, 41, 43; 13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1ff, 22ff. These cover virtually the entire range of meaning connected with the idea of revelation in John.

Gnosis and the New Testament, supplement: Luke 2:29-32

Luke 2:29-32

An interesting passage which connects salvation with knowledge and revelation is the “Song of Simeon” in Luke 2:29-32. Like the hymn of Zechariah (the Benedictus, Lk 1:67-79), it functions in the narrative as a prophetic oracle. There are actually two oracles uttered by Simeon, the other being addressed to Mary in vv. 34-35. All of the canticles, or hymns, in the Lukan Infancy narrative, draw heavily upon the Old Testament Scriptures, quoting or alluding to various passages in nearly every line. The very poetry, and the underlying mode of expression, has assimilated the language of the Old Testament Songs, Psalms and poetic oracles of the Prophets. The Song of Simeon is comprised of four lines. In the first line (v. 29), Simeon addresses himself to God:

“Now you (can) loose your slave from (his bonds), O Master, according to your utterance, in peace”

The second line (v. 30), in the context of the narrative, relates to Simeon’s revelatory experience of seeing the child Jesus:

“(in) that [i.e. because] my eyes saw your salvation”

The third line (v. 31) connects this revelation back to the prophecies and promises in the Old Testament, the (old) covenant between God and his people:

“which you made ready down upon the face [i.e. in the presence] of all the people”

The fourth line (v. 32) indicates the goal and purpose of this revelation:

“a light unto the uncovering of the nations, and (the) honor/splendor of your people Yisrael”

The theme of salvation is emphasized in the first two lines:

“Now you (can) loose your slave from (his bonds), O Master, according to your utterance, in peace,
(in) that [i.e. because] my eyes saw your salvation [swthri/a]”

The narrative context would associate the words a)polu/w (“loose from [bondage]”) and dou=lo$ (“slave”) with Simeon’s earthly life, lived in service to God (YHWH) as his Lord/Master (despo/th$), that is, the lord/master of the house who is the owner of the slave. However, the hymn itself can (and should) also be read more generally in terms of salvation from slavery to sin, etc, which is otherwise associated with the birth of Jesus in Lk 1:77, and more directly in Matt 1:21. The mention of peace [ei)rh/nh] also well fits the idea of salvation.

In the last two lines the theme of revelation is emphasized:

“which you made ready down upon the face [i.e. in the presence] of all the people:
a light unto the uncovering of the nations, and (the) honor/splendor of your people Yisrael”

This is already suggested by the use of ei&dw (“see”) and o)fqalmoi/ (“eyes”) in v. 30; the verb ei&dw (oi@da) in Greek is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw (“know”) and often indicates knowing as well as seeing. The expression kata\ pro/swpon (“down on the face”, “against the face”, i.e. “before the face”) also suggests something that is seen; the word translated “face” (pro/swpon) literally means “toward the eye”, i.e. before one’s eyes, facing, and so the face or “appearance” of a person, etc. For the words fw=$ (“light”) and a)poka/luyi$ (“taking the cover from”, “uncovering”) used for revelation, cf. Part 2 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. The noun do/ca refers to the esteem or honor which a person receives, or which is due to that person (especially God), often described in terms of visual splendor (light-imagery, etc); it is frequently associated with divine revelation in the New Testament. For more on the connection between salvation and revelation, cf. Part 3 in “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

I discuss the Song of Simeon elsewhere, examining each verse (each line) in considerable detail.

As my translation above is an extremely literal (glossed) rendering, the rhythm and feel of the poetry has been obscured; here below, in closing, is a more poetic rendering:

“Now, Master, you can release your slave, according to your word, in peace,
(now) that my eyes have seen your salvation
which you prepared before the face of all (the) people—
a light to uncover (for) the nations,
and (the) splendor of your people Israel.”

“Gnosis” in the NT: Col 2:2-3 (continued)

Colossians 2:2-3 (continued)

In the previous study, I explored the context and setting of Col 2:2-3 in the letter, examining the structure, language and imagery being employed. Today, I will look more closely at these specific verses.

“…being lifted [i.e. brought/joined] together in love and into all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind), into the (full) knowledge about the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One), in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away.”

As I discussed previously, the language used here echoes and repeats that of the exordium (introduction), especially in the first sentence (spanning vv. 9-20), which is sometimes referred to as the “Christ hymn” of Colossians. Let us begin by comparing 2:2-3 with 1:9.

Col 1:9 opens with an expression of Paul’s wish (and prayer) for the Colossians, and similarly in 2:1:

    • “Through this [i.e. for this reason] we…do not cease speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]…over you” (1:9)
    • “For I wish you (could) have seen [i.e. could know]…” (2:1)

His wish is expressed through the subjunctive, involving the word “fill, fullness”:

    • “that [i%na] you might be filled [plhrwqh=te]…” (1:9)
    • “that [i%na] their [i.e. your] hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted]…into…the full [plhro-]…” (2:2)

In 2:2, he uses the word plhrofori/a, which is somewhat difficult to translate. Literally, it indicates something which is carried or brought out fully, often in the sense of something being demonstrated convincingly; it thus connotes the idea of confidence or assurance i.e., that something is true or will be accomplished, etc. This “fullness” Paul wishes for the Colossians is defined and qualified with prepositional phrases and genitive chains using the key words gnw=si$/e)pi/gnwsi$ (“knowledge”), su/nesi$ (‘comprehension’) and sofi/a (“wisdom”).

    • “{filled} (with) the knowledge [e)pi/gnwsi$] of His will in all wisdom [sofi/a] and spiritual comprehension [su/nesi$]” (1:9)
    • “{into…full} understanding [su/nesi$], into knowledge [e)pi/gwsi$] of the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One)” (2:2)
      “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom [sofi/a] and knowledge [gnw=si$] hidden away” (2:3)

The word su/nesi$, which I here translate as “comprehension” and “understanding”, literally means the putting together of things, i.e. in the mind. In 2:2 the use of this noun together with plhrofori/a (cf. above), functions as a kind of hendiadys (two words for a single concept). They form a genitive chain modifying the noun plou=to$ (“rich[ness], riches, wealth”)—plou=to$ th=$ plhrofori/a$ th=$ sune/sew$. My attempt to capture something of the literal meaning (cf. the translation at the top of this note) is:

“(the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”

As always, the parentheses indicate glosses which make the translation more readable. From the standpoint of the Greek syntax, a better rendering would be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full conviction and understanding (given to us)”

In terms of hendiadys, the translation might be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full understanding (we have)”

I would suggest that each of these translations captures aspects of what the author (Paul) is genuinely saying. Another important point of syntax in 2:2 is the use of parallel prepositional phrases governed by ei)$ (“into/unto”), indicating the goal for believers as they are “lifted/joined together in love”:

    • “into [ei)$] all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”
    • “into [ei)$] (true/complete) knowledge of the secret of God”

These two phrases are parallel and apposite (placed side-by-side), the second explaining the first—that which is fully brought together in the mind of believers is the knowledge of the secret of God. This begins with the hearing of the Gospel, but continues through the Christian life, through the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned here in 2:2-3, but it may be inferred from the wording of 1:9 where the comprehension/understanding (su/nesi$) is characterized as pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual, of the Spirit”). In 2:2 (as in 1:9-10) the word translated “knowledge” is e)pi/gnwsi$ rather than the simpler gnw=si$ (which is used in 2:3). The compound form often signifies a more thorough, complete, or intimate knowledge about something (or someone). It can also carry the sense of recognition or acknowledgment. The distinction and range of meaning can be difficult to translate effectively in English without losing the etymological connection.

Of special importance is the expression “secret [musth/rion] of God”. Often in Paul’s letters this secret is identified with the Gospel; here, however, it is more properly identified with Christ himself. The syntax and word order caused some difficulty for scribes copying Colossians, as there are a number of variant readings at this point among the manuscripts, which attempt to clarify the (presumed) meaning. Along with most commentators and textual critics, I assume the reading of Ë46 B as original. The words “God” and “Christ” follow after each other, both in the genitive case (qeou= xristou=). There being no punctuation in the earliest manuscripts, the syntax was somewhat ambiguous; we can approximate this in English translation as “the secret of God of Christ”. The word xristou= (“of [the] Anointed”, “of Christ”) is best understood as being apposite the expression “of the secret of God”, with “Christ” related to “the secret” rather than “God”. In other words, Christ is the secret, hidden away from the ages and generations past, but now revealed through the proclamation of the Gospel (1:26-27). Verse 3 provides an interesting parallel use of the verb a)pokrup/tw (“hide [away] from”)—while Christ is the secret hidden away, at the same time, God has hidden away in him “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. The parallel expressions in vv. 2 and 3 are clear enough:

    • “all [pa=$] the riches [sing.]…of understanding…knowledge of the secret” (v. 2)
    • “all [pa/nte$] the treasures [plur.] of wisdom and knowledge hidden away” (v. 3)

For another parallel to the syntax of verse 3, we must turn again to the exordium (introduction), to 1:14, where the Son (Christ) is described with the following phrase: “…in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release of sins”. Note the formal similarity:

    • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold [e&xomen]…” (1:14)
    • “in whom [e)n w!|] are [ei)sin]…” (2:3)

If we press the parallel further, it is possible to tie the verses together conceptually. In other words, the things that are in Christ are those things which we have/hold in him (and vice versa). This would mean that the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” can, and perhaps should, be identified with the saving work of Christ referenced in 1:14, which is again described by two phrases set in tandem:

    • “loosing from (bondage)” (a)polu/trwsi$)
    • “release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins” (a&fesi$ tw=n a(martiw=n)

This association would tend to negate any sort of markedly gnostic interpretation of the Christian message, by connecting knowledge with the sacrificial death of Christ. Though this particular soteriological aspect is not brought out in Colossians until the main portion of the letter (see vv. 8-15), it is central to Paul’s own understanding of the Gospel. One need only consult the discussion and line of argument in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 to find this expressed most vividly—that it is in the Gospel as the “word of the cross” that God’s wisdom is most perfectly conveyed, destroying the empty and inferior “wisdom” and “knowledge” of the world.

“Gnosis” in the NT: Colossians 2:2-3

Colossians 2:2-3

“…being lifted [i.e. brought/joined] together in love and into all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind), into the (full) knowledge about the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One), in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away.”

Col 2:1-3 concludes with a powerful Christological statement that uses both the noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) and the compound e)pi/gnwsi$ (epígnœsis, “knowledge upon/about”); as such, it is an important reference related to the idea of knowledge in the New Testament. It also contains the words musth/rion (“secret”) and the adjective a)po/krufo$ (from a)pokru/ptw, “hide [away] from”), which connotes the aspect of revelation tied to the verb a)pokalu/ptw (“take the cover [away] from”, “uncover”). All of this is centered in the person of Christ, making it one of the strongest Christological statements regarding knowledge and revelation in the New Testament. For more on these points, cf. Part 3 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

In order to understand better the context of this reference, it will help to summarize the structure of Colossians, from a rhetorical and epistolary standpoint. After the opening prescript (greeting) in 1:1-2, and the exordium (introduction) of 1:3-23, we have the narratio (narration) in which the author (Paul) presents a personal, autobiographical address to his readers, emphasizing his labor and concern as a minister of the Gospel. It may be divided into two parts—a statement of his work (1:24-29), and its application for the believers of Colosse (2:1-5); the statement of 2:1-3 belongs to this latter portion. The central proposition (propositio) of the letter occurs in 2:6-7, followed by the main probatio (2:8-3:4), utilizing three arguments or illustrations meant to convince and encourage his readers. Then comes the exhortatio (3:5-4:6), with ethical and practical instruction, presented in three parts, and the final conclusion or postscript (4:7-18).

Let us consider the narratio more closely. The first part (1:24-29), describes the work of Paul as minister of the Gospel, written as a single sentence in Greek. Two themes or aspects of the Gospel ministry are brought forward:

    • Paul’s suffering for the sake of the church—”I rejoice in the sufferings over you…over his [i.e. Christ’s] body…” (vv. 24-25); the goal and purpose of this suffering and labor is two-fold:
      (1) to “fill up” (i.e. complete) the affliction which Christ experienced in the flesh (i.e. in his body), and
      (2) to “(ful)fill” the account (lo/go$) of God (i.e. the Gospel) which was given to him as a servant of Christ and of Christ’s “body” (the Church)
    • The Gospel of Christ as a secret (musth/rion) which is now being revealed by ministers such as Paul (vv. 26-29)

Note the important wording in vv. 25-27:

“…to fulfill the account of God, the secret th(at) has been hidden away from the Ages and from the (generation)s coming-to-be, but now is made to shine (forth) [e)fanerw/qh] to His holy (one)s, to whom God wished to make known [gnwri/sai] among the nations what (is) the rich(ness) of the splendor of this secret, which is—(the) Anointed in you, the (very) hope of splendor…”
On the verbs fanero/w and gnwri/zw, and the two different aspects of revelation conveyed by them, cf. Part 3 of “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

There is considerable similarity of vocabulary and phrasing here with 2:2-3, which is understandable, since in the second part of the narratio (2:1-5), Paul’s work as minister of the Gospel is applied to the believers he addresses. Here is how this portion begins:

“For I wish you (could) have seen (what a) big struggle/fight I hold over you, and (over) the (one)s in Laodicea, and as (many) as have not looked (on) my face in the flesh, (so) that their hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted], being lifted together in love…” (2:1-2a)

Paul’s labor and suffering (i.e. his struggle) is related specifically to the believers in Colosse, Laodicea, and elsewhere in Asia Minor. Before examining 2:2-3 again a bit more closely, it will be helpful to consider the structure of the preceding exordium (1:3-23), since it establishes the key themes of the letter, and leads into the narration (cf. especially the transitus [transition] in v. 23). After the thanksgiving in vv. 3-8, the remainder of the introduction functions as a statement (and exposition) of the causa, or reason/purpose of the letter (vv. 9-23). It is comprised of two sentences in Greek, the first of which is extremely long and developed, spanning 12 verses (vv. 9-20). The theme of knowledge again is central to the purpose of the letter: “…that you might be filled (with) the (true) knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension” (v. 9b). This first sentence emphasizes the person of Christ, as the chain of (relative) pronouns and prepositional phrases makes clear in impressive fashion. This complex syntax is generally lost in translation, but it is important to be aware of how it functions. The knowledge (e)pi/gnwsi$) mentioned in verse 9 is clarified in v. 10 as “the knowledge of God“, that is, of an intimate knowledge and awareness of Him. In verse 12, the character and work of God is applied more closely to believers with the use of the term “Father”, which is the reference point for the syntactical chain that follows in vv. 13ff:

  • “…to the Father…”
    • who [o%$] rescued us out of the authority of darkness and making us stand together (away from there and) into the kingdom of the Son of His love”
      • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”
      • who [o%$] is the image of the invisible God…”

This chain continues on, emphasizing: (a) the Son as head/first of all creation [vv. 15b-17], (b) the head of the Church [v. 18], and finally (c) embodying the fullness of all [v. 19]. Verse 20 summarizes the saving work of Christ, which is the theme of the second sentence (vv. 21-23). When looking at the specific wording and structure of 2:2-3, there are two verses from the first sentence of the exordium which ought to be examined especially for comparison—v. 9 and 14. This I will do in the next study.

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 3: Revelation

According to the basic outlines of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought, because human beings are trapped within the evil (material) world of sin and darkness, it is necessary for a divinely appointed savior-figure to bring knowledge of salvation. In customary theological language, we would refer to this as divine revelation—that is, something made known specially to believers by God Himself. In the New Testament, there are a number of specific words and concepts which refer to revelation, of which I list the three most important here:

    • gnwri/zw (gnœrízœ), “make known”—this verb is derived from ginw/skw (“know)”, on which see Part 1 of this series.
    • fai/nw (phaínœ) and fanero/w (phaneróœ), “shine, make (to) shine (forth)”, specifically of light, but often figuratively in the sense of “appear, be/make visible, (make) manifest/apparent”—this includes a variety of compound and derived words.
    • a)pokalu/ptw (apokaly¡ptœ), “take (the) cover from, uncover”.

Each of these carries a different image or nuance, and will be discussed in turn. Following this, I will discuss two distinctly Christian aspects of revelation which are vital for a proper understanding of the relationship between knowledge and salvation (cf. Part 2): (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the person of Christ.

gnwri/zw (“make known”)

This verb occurs 25 times in the New Testament, primarily in the Pauline Letters (18 times). It refers to the aspect of revelation which is directly connected with knowledge. Before one can know something, it first has to be made known by some means, all the more so when dealing with divine and heavenly matters. The verb is rare in the Gospels and Acts, but it occurs in two important contexts which are seminal to the Gospel message, and which specifically frame the (Lukan) narrative:

    • The Birth of Jesus:
      Lk 2:15—God makes it known to the shepherds through an Angelic announcement
      Lk 2:17—The shepherds, in turn, make the news known to others
    • The Resurrection of Jesus:
      In Acts 2:28, Psalm 16:11 is applied to Jesus—”you have made known to me the ways of life

Elsewhere, in Paul’s letters, the verb is used more precisely in reference to the proclamation of the Gospel; two key passages in Romans express this in slightly different ways:

    • Romans 9:22-23—God has worked to make known: his power (v. 22), and the riches of his glory/mercy (v. 23). The eschatological (Judgment) setting here reflects a two-fold aspect of the Gospel which Paul expresses more directly in 1 Cor 1:18ff and 2 Cor 2:14-4:6—the Gospel for those perishing and for those being saved.
    • Romans 16:26—the secret hidden by God is uncovered (cf. below) and made known, through the Scriptures (Prophets), and, by implication, the proclamation of the Gospel (in which the Scriptures are interpreted).

In Col 1:27 and also Eph 1:9, the verb is again used in a similar context. Paul himself, as an appointed, authoritative minister of the Gospel, is said to make known this “secret” of the Gospel—cf. Eph 3:3, 5, 10; 6:19. The verb becomes part of Paul’s rhetorical and didactic approach in his letters:

Similarly, in 2 Peter 1:16, the apostles are described as eye-witnesses making known the power and presence of Christ. In the Gospel of John (15:15; 17:26), it is Jesus (the Son) who has made God the Father known to his followers (cf. the recent notes on Jn 8:32 and 17:3), who (like the Lukan shepherds) will do so in turn for others.

fai/nw, fanero/w, etc (“shine [forth]”)

The verbs fai/nw and fanero/w are related to the word fw=$ (“light”), and are often used (figuratively) to refer to revelation under the image of shining forth light. This motif goes back to Old Testament tradition, including the creation narrative (Gen 1:3ff), the Exodus narrative (Exod 10:23; 13:21), the priestly blessing (Num 6:25), and frequently of God in the Psalms, Wisdom literature, and Prophets. God’s word is described as light in Psalm 119:105, 130, and light is associated with God’s salvation for his people in Ps 27:1; Isa 9:2; 49:6; 60:1ff; Mic 7:8-9, etc. This Old Testament imagery was applied to Jesus in the Gospel tradition—cf. Luke 1:79; 2:30-32 (Isa 49:6; 52:10); and Matt 4:16 (Isa 9:2). Christ is the light (or sun) shining on those in darkness; by implication, the message of Christ (the Gospel) is also to be understood as light shining in the same way. Light is an especially important motif in the Gospel of John, where Christ (the Son and living Word) is identified with the divine, eternal light, and where there is a strong (dualistic) contrast between light and darkness—Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 5:35; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, etc.

fai/nw, e)pifai/nw, e)pifanei/a

Here we have the straightforward image of light (or the sun, etc) shining; the compound forms with e)pi specifically refer to light shining upon someone or something. In its more concrete sense, fai/nw is used in the Gospel for the appearance of a heavenly being (Angel), especially in the context of the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:20; 2:7ff) and at the resurrection (Mark 16:9). Similarly, it is used of the end-time heavenly appearance of the “Son of Man” (Matt 24:27, 30), while the compound a)nafai/nw refers to the eschatological appearance of the Kingdom of God in Luke 19:11. For the appearance of a wondrous, miraculous event in general, cf. Matt 9:33. Throughout the New Testament, these words tend to be used in a metaphorical, figurative sense in several primary ways:

In Rom 7:13, the verb is used (uniquely) in the sense of gaining knowledge and awareness of sin; while in Titus 2:11 and 3:4, the compound e)pifai/nw refers more abstractly (in Pauline language) to salvation coming through the appearance of the grace and love of God, the person and work of Christ being understood. The related noun e)pifanei/a came to be used specifically for Christ’s future appearance on earth (i.e. his return)—2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Tit 2:13. Eventually, it was used in early Christianity as a technical term for the incarnation of Christ (i.e. his first appearance), suggested already in 2 Tim 1:10.

fanero/w, etc

The verb fanero/w more properly means “make (light) to shine forth”, i.e. “make visible, cause to appear, make manifest”. It is frequently used in a revelatory sense in the New Testament—that is, of something coming to be made visible, or made known, by God. For the general sense of making known something secret or hidden, cf. Mark 4:22 par; Eph 5:13-14; in the Gospel tradition, there are the notable reference to the so-called “Messianic secret”, whereby Jesus wishes to keep his identity (as Anointed One and Son of God) from being made known publicly, until after the resurrection (Mk 3:12; Matt 12:16; cf. also Jn 7:10). For the verb fanero/w, and the related words fanero/$ and fane/rwsi$, we can isolate the same three ways it is applied in the New Testament as mentioned above for fai/nw, etc:

Somewhat unique is the idea of natural revelation expressed in Rom 1:19—that is, of the knowledge of God which is evident in creation, but which humankind, in bondage to sin, cannot truly recognize.

Other words

There are a number of other similar verbs and terms which describe revelation in terms of light, vision, seeing, etc. The most significant will be mentioned briefly here:

    • fwti/zw (“give light”) and la/mpw (“give a beam [of light]”), which are related to the words fw=$ and lampa/$ (cf. also lu/xno$) respectively [to distinguish between these, verses with la/mpw or its compound forms are marked by an asterisk (*)]. These words can refer:
      • To the heavenly appearance of God, Christ and Angels (Lk 2:9*; Acts 12:7*; Rev 18:1; 21:23; 22:5); with which we should include the transfiguration scene (Matt 17:2*), and the future appearance of the Son of Man in Lk 17:24*.
      • Figuratively, in a theological/christological sense, to Jesus as light (Jn 1:9); for other light-references in John, cf. above.
      • To the revelation of God/Christ in the Gospel, with its proclamation (Eph 3:9; 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 10:32); cf. especially 2 Cor 4:4-6 (which uses both verbs) and my earlier note.
      • To the heart, etc., being enlightened by God (1 Cor 4:5; Eph 1:18; Heb 6:4)
      • To the shining forth of believers (and their works), cf. Matt 5:15-16*; 13:43*
    • e)mfani/zw (“shine forth in”)—there are two important references to this compound verb which are relevant here:
      • John 14:21-22—of Christ’s manifestation in/to the believer
      • Heb 9:24—of Christ’s appearance in heaven before God
    • o)pta/nomai (lit. “look with, use the eyes”, “perceive, see”)—the (aorist) passive of this verb is used frequently for something that comes to be seen, i.e. made visible to the eye, especially in the case of a divine/heavenly being, such as an Angel or the resurrected Christ. Of the many references, cf. Mk 9:24 par; Lk 1:11; 24:34; Acts 9:17; 13:31; 1 Cor 15:5-8; 1 Tim 3:16. The future form can also be used in the context of a promise to see the heavenly/divine (cf. Jn 11:40), and several occurrences are significant in connection with the Gospel message (Matt 28:7, 10; Lk 3:6). Note also the important use of the verb in John 3:36 and Rom 15:21.

a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover”)

This verb literally means “take the cover (away) from”, and represents the third aspect of revelation to be discussed in this article—that of uncovering something hidden or secret. I have dealt with the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament in an earlier series of notes, which ought to be consulted, since the passages are relevant to the idea being discussed here. For the verb and the related noun (a)poka/luyi$), we may isolate the way they are used in the New Testament as follows (passages with the noun are marked by an asterisk):

The Gospel and Christian Identity

Careful study of the references cited above, will show, as I have demonstrated in several places, that there are three main aspects or strands which relate to the idea of revelation, and which may be labeled as follows:

    1. The proclamation of the Gospel
    2. The person of Christ, and
    3. The religious identity of believers in Christ

The last of these is closest to a gnostic point of view—that is, of our religious (Christian) identity being defined in terms of knowledge and revelation. However, it is in the first two aspects that any aberrant or exaggerated gnostic tendency is checked. These two points require a bit more explanation:

(a) The proclamation of the Gospel

A large percentage of the passages listed above are connected to some degree with knowledge and revelation that is expressed and determined by the proclamation of the Gospel. This especially the case in the Pauline letters, where salvation is directly connected to the Gospel message (and its proclamation)—cf. 2 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 1:21; 9:14-23; 15:2; Gal 1:6-9; Rom 1:16-17; 10:14-21; 15:18-20. I have discussed the important passages 1 Cor 1:18ff and 2 Cor 2:14-4:6 in earlier notes. Paul had a very definite sense of what the Gospel was, and what it was not (cf. Gal 1:7-9ff), and, especially, how it could be distorted or rendered ineffective in its proclamation (1 Cor 1:17; 2:1-5). For early Christians, it was unquestionably the death of Christ (and his subsequent resurrection/exaltation) which was the central element of the proclamation (Acts 2:23; 3:13-15; 4:10, 26-28; 5:30, etc). In Paul’s letters, one may say that the crucifixion (the cross) of Christ receives even greater prominence. In 1 Cor 1:18 the Gospel message is referred to specifically as “the account [i.e. word] of the cross”. It is just at this point—the death and crucifixion of Christ—that many Gnostics struggled with the Gospel, as Paul surely would have predicted. He understood well the difficulty of this message, for Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) alike (cf. Gal 3:10-13; 5:11; 6:12, etc). In 1 Cor 1:18ff, he sets up a direct contrast between the cross (as an expression of the wisdom of God) and the wisdom of the world—that is, of human wisdom, which includes religious knowledge and wisdom, apart from Christ. Moreover, in several places, Paul centers the (Christian) religious identity of believers squarely on the death and crucifixion of Christ. This is expressed most powerfully in Gal 2:19-20; 6:14-15, and also in the baptismal symbolism of Rom 6:3-11, as well as in other key passages (cf. Rom 8:3-4; Col 2:11-15).

(b) The person of Christ

The centrality of Christ in the New Testament and early Christian thought scarcely requires comment. However, believers often struggled (and continue to struggle) with exactly how one is to understand: (1) the special (divine) nature of Christ, and (2) the believer’s relationship to him. We may look to the Pauline and Johannine writings for powerful and distinctive teaching on both counts. Interestingly, both branches of early theology (and Christology) have a number of key points in common.

    • The parallel concept of believers being “in Christ” and Christ being in the believer
    • Both express the idea of believers in Christ as reflecting a “new birth” or “new creation”, including the expression “sons/children of God”, “sons of light”, etc
    • Both give strong emphasis to the role of the Spirit as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers, and the point of union with God in Christ
    • Christ is seen as manifesting and embodying the character and nature of God—his love, truth, righteousness, power, etc.

This will be discussed further in Part 4 of this series, as well as in a separate article discussing knowledge and revelation in the Gospel of John.

August 24: 1 Corinthians 2:10

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:6]

1 Corinthians 2:10

“And (yet) to us God has uncovered (this) through the Spirit—for the Spirit searches out all (thing)s, and (even) the deep(est thing)s of God.”

The statement in verse 10 is the culmination of the line of argument in vv. 6ff. It may be helpful to outline the thematic (and logical) development:

  • There is a wisdom spoken to the believers who are “complete”—it is different from the wisdom of this Age and its rulers/leaders (who have no effect for believers and will be without power in the Age to Come) [v. 6]
    • instead (“but/rather”, a)lla), this wisdom (of God) is spoken in a secret hidden away from the world [v. 7a]
      • which [h%n] God established (“marked out”) before the beginning of this Age, for the honor/glory of believers [v. 7b], and
      • which [h%n] none of the rulers/leaders of this Age knew (or understood) [v. 8]
        —demonstrated by the fact that they put Jesus Christ (“the Lord of honor/glory”) to death
        • instead (“but/rather”, a)lla), this secret was prepared beforehand, only to be revealed for “those who love God” [v. 9, citing Scripture]
          • and (de) God has revealed this to us (believers) through the Spirit [v. 10]

The thrust of this argument is clear: the wisdom of God has been kept secret, hidden away from the world, and is only revealed now to believers through the Spirit. The emphasis on the Spirit (of God) here is vital to Paul’s discussion. With regard to a correct interpretation of verse 6a (cf. the previous note), it is possible to make at least one firm conclusion—the wisdom spoken to the “complete” comes by way of the Spirit. No other source of “wisdom” is possible. Based on the context of vv. 6ff, we may assume that apostles and ministers (such as Paul), are the immediate (proximate) source, as chosen/inspired preachers and teachers, to communicate this wisdom. The wording in v. 6 (“we speak…”) is slightly ambiguous—it could refer to (a) Paul primarily, (b) Paul and his fellow ministers, or (c) believers generally. Probably the first person plural should be understood as inclusive of all three points of reference, in the order given here: Paul (founding Apostle)–Ministers–Believers.

It is significant that the work of the Spirit essentially reverses the process established by God—the (secret) wisdom is, first:

    • hidden from [a)pokekrumme/nhn] the world [v. 7], and then
    • the cover is removed from [a)peka/luyen] it [v. 10], revealing it to believers

The first verb (a)pokru/ptw, “hide [away] from”) is a passive perfect (participle) form, indicating action which began at a point (in time) and the force or effect of which continues into the present. It is an example of the “divine passive”, with God as the one performing the action (unstated). As a participle it modifies the noun “wisdom” (sofi/a), emphasizing its character as hidden/secret wisdom; this is especially clear from the precise Greek syntax and word order:

    • wisdom of God
      —in (a) secret
    • hidden from (the world)

The second verb (a)pokalu/ptw, “take/remove the cover from”, i.e. “uncover”) is a simple aorist indicative form with God as the subject. The aorist would suggest a past action performed by God (through the Spirit); there are several possibilities for a specific point of reference here:

    • The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus
    • The preaching/communication of the Gospel
    • The receipt of the Spirit by believers (associated with the baptism ritual)
    • Post-conversion work/manifestation of the Spirit to believers

The second of these—the proclamation of the Gospel (by Paul and his fellow ministers)—best fits the context. This allows us to draw a second conclusion regarding the interpretation of v. 6a: the revelation of the (secret) wisdom of God is fundamentally tied to the proclamation of the Gospel. However, I believe we will gain additional insight by a careful consideration of the last half of verse 10, which describes more generally the work of the Spirit:

“…for the Spirit searches out all (thing)s, and (even) the deep(est thing)s of God”

Two phrases are combined, the second of which builds on the first:

    • “for the Spirit searches out [e)rauna=|] all things [pa/nta]
      • even the deep things [ta\ ba/qh] of God

The essential activity of the Spirit is described by the verb e)reuna/w, which means to search out (or after) something. The searching of God’s Spirit is all-powerful and all-inclusive—it searches out all things. The second phrase narrows this to “the deep things” of God. The idea is that the Spirit, in its searching, travels (steps) all the way to the “depths” of God himself, in a manner (somewhat) similar to the functioning of the human “spirit” (v. 11). By inference, we may draw a third conclusion in relation to verse 6a: the hidden wisdom of God relates to the very depths (the deepest parts) of God’s own being. It is an extraordinary thought (and claim) that the Spirit might communicate to believers the deepest wisdom of God himself. Perhaps this suggests something of what Paul means when he states that such wisdom is spoken to “the ones (who are) complete” (in this regard, see esp. the famous words of Jesus in Matt 5:48). For a more immediate exposition (and explanation), in the context of this passage, we now turn to verse 12, to be discussed in the next daily note.

Commentators have had difficulty identifying the Scripture Paul cites in verse 9. The citation formula (“as it has been written”) clearly indicates that he regards it as coming from the Scriptures, yet it does not quite correspond with anything in the books of the Old Testament as they have come down to us. There are two possibilities:

  1. He freely quotes or alludes to parts of a number of passages, combining them in a creative fashion. Perhaps the most likely passages would be Isa 52:15; 64:4; 65:17; Jer 3:16; Sirach 1:10. New Testament authors frequently cite or allude to the Scriptures very loosely, adapting them freely—either from memory, or intentionally in order to fit the circumstances in which they are writing.
  2. Paul is quoting from a book otherwise unknown or lost to us today. Origen (Commentary on Matthew 5:29) states that it comes from an “Apocalypse of Elijah”, but it is impossible to verify this one way or the other. It is also found in the Ascension of Isaiah 8:11, but that work has been heavily Christianized and probably is simply citing 1 Cor 2:9.

The first option is much more likely; probably Isaiah 64:4 is most directly in Paul’s mind.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:6-8

John 17:6-8

The current Monday Notes on Prayer feature is examining what is perhaps the second most famous prayer in the New Testament—the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. The first two studies focused on verses 1-5; today I will be discussing verses 6-8. These verses follow upon Jesus’ parallel statements in vv. 2 and 4, emphasizing his completion of the mission given to him by the Father, which is the means by which he (as the Son) gives honor (vb. doca/zw) to God the Father.

In discussing verses 4 and 5 last week, I noted that the use of the verb teleio/w (“complete”) must be understood in the context of the Passion setting. The sacrificial death of Jesus represents the climax and culmination of his work on earth, as indicated clearly in his final word on the cross in 19:30 (tete/lestai, “it is completed”). However, it must be stressed again that, in spite of this, the death of Jesus is not what is primarily in view in chapter 17 (nor in the Last Discourse, 13:31-16:33 as a whole). Rather, the main point is the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to God the Father, and how the Son’s mission has been to make the Father known to people (believers) on earth. This aspect of his work is stressed and expounded in verses 6-8, a passage which may be viewed thematically as two parallel statements, each made up of three parts or components:

    • Jesus’ work involving that which God has given to him (vb. di/dwmi, “you gave” [e&dwka$])
      • Believers accepted the word[s] Jesus gave to them, as a witness to the Father, and, as a result
        • They now know (vb. ginw/skw) that Jesus has come from the Father

The first such statement following this pattern is in verses 6-7:

    • “I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave [e&dwka$] to me out of the world” (v. 6a)
      • “They were (belonging) to you and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch (over) your Word [lo/go$]” (v. 6b)
        • “Now they have known [e&gnwkan] that all (thing)s as (many) as you have given to me are (from) alongside of you” (v. 7)

The vocabulary throughout is thoroughly Johannine, and is distinctive, both of the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel, and the fabric of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters) as a whole. A striking example is the first word, a form of the verb fanero/w, “shine forth”. It occurs only once in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 4:22), but is used 9 times in the Gospel of John (1:31; 2:11; 3:21; 7:4; 9:3; here in 17:6, and again in the ‘appendix’, 21:1 [twice], 14). In all 6 occurrences in the Gospel proper, the verb has definite theological (and Christological) significance, as it also does in 1 John where it occurs another 9 times (1:2 [twice]; 2:19, 28; 3:2 [twice], 5, 8; 4:9). It is a key term which refers to both Jesus’ identity (in relation to the Father), and, in turn, the identity of the believer (in relation to both Father and Son). Here the verb summarizes the purpose and result of the Son’s mission on earth—to reveal the Father, defined in terms of making known the Father’s name. This involves much more than simple knowledge of the name Yahweh (the tetragrammaton hwhy, YHWH). According to the ancient Near Eastern mindset, a person’s name represents and embodies (in a quasi-magical way) the character and essence of the person. Thus, to reveal God’s name (lit. to make it “shine forth”) means revealing the person of God Himself. This point, which is fundamental to the Johannine theology (and Christology), is discussed in greater detail in the Christmas series “And you shall call His Name…” (especially the articles on the Names of God).

The name of God and the name of Jesus, together, are fundamental to the thought-world of early Christians, and take on an even deeper significance in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John. References become more frequent in the second half of the book, beginning with 12:28 (note the parallel with 17:1ff), and continuing on through the Last Discourse sequence (14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-24, 26) and the Prayer Discourse of chap. 17 (vv. 6, 11-12, 26). Jesus’ final statement in verse 26 repeats that of v. 6:

“and I made known to them your name, and I will make (it) known…”

The Father’s name plays an important role in vv. 11-12, which will be discussed in turn. Other examples of key Johannine vocabulary in vv. 6-7 are:

    • The verb di/dwmi (“give”) as a way of expressing the close hierarchical and reciprocal relationship between Father and Son—the Father gives to the Son who, in turn, gives to believers, and then, in turn, gives/returns back to the Father. Cf. 3:27, 34-35; 5:22, 26-27, 36; 6:27, 31-39; 10:28-29; 12:49; 13:34; 14:16, 27; 15:16; 16:23; and especially in chapter 17, where it occurs 17 times.
    • The word ko/smo$, “(world) order, world”, which occurs 78 times in the Gospel, and another 24 in the Letters (23 in 1 John, and once in 2 John), more than half of all the occurrences in the New Testament (186). In nearly every such instance in the Gospel and Letters, ko/smo$ is used in a negative, dualistic sense—i.e. the current world-order as opposed to God, governed and controlled by darkness and wickedness. Especially important is the contrast between the “world” and Christ, who came into the world, but does not belong to it. Likewise, believers, in their true identity, do not belong to the world, expressed by the preposition e)k (“out of, from”), as here in v. 6—they come from God, not the world. Again, ko/smo$ is especially frequent in the Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17, occurring 18 times.
    • The noun lo/go$, “account, word, etc” likewise has a special meaning in the Gospel of John, as is clear from its important use in the Prologue (1:1 [3 times], 14). Overall, it occurs 40 times, and 6 more times in the First Letter. In most of these instances there is a layered significance. On the one hand, it is used in the customary sense of “words, speech, thing[s] said”, more or less synonymous with r(h=ma (“utterance, word”); but on the other hand, it expresses the relationship between Father and Son—the Son speaks what he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. Thus the “word” (lo/go$) Jesus gives to his disciples goes beyond any specific teachings; it refers to the revelation of the Father Himself in the person and work of the Son.
    • The verb thre/w (“watch, keep watch over, guard”) is another important Johannine term, occurring 18 times in the Gospel and 7 times in the First Letter. A superficial reading of its use by Jesus might suggest that he is simply referring to a person “keeping” (i.e. following, obeying) his teaching; but clearly there is much more to it than that. The “word” or “command” which one keeps and guards, like the “name”, reflects the very presence of the person himself. This becomes especially apparent throughout the Last Discourse, as the discussion shifts to the promise of the Holy Spirit (the one “called alongside”). The verb thre/w occurs 12 times in the Last Discourse and the Prayer of chap. 17.
    • The verb ginw/skw (“know”, interchangable with ei&dw, “see, know”, etc) occurs 57 times in the Gospel and another 26 in the Letters (about a third of all NT occurrences). In nearly every instance, something more than ordinary knowledge is involved—the emphasis is on recognition of Jesus’ true identity (as Messiah and Son of God) and his relationship to the Father. The verb is used by Jesus 7 times in chapter 17 and another 12 times in the Last Discourse itself.
    • The use of the preposition para/ (“alongside”) in the specific sense of Jesus being (and coming from) alongside of the Father (cf. the prior discussion on v. 5).
    • The verb of being (ei)mi) is used explicitly (and emphatically) quite often in the Gospel of John, as here at the end of v. 7. It frequently carries the specific meaning of true Being and Life which belongs to (and comes from) God the Father.

When we turn to the second statement by Jesus (v. 8), the same three-part conceptual pattern holds, as was outlined above:

    • “the utterances [i.e. words] which you gave [e&dwka$] to me I have given [de/dwka] to them”
      • “and they received (them) [i.e. my words]”
        • “and they knew [e&gnwsan] truly that I came out (from) alongside you,
          and they trusted [e)pi/steusan] that you se(n)t me (forth) from (you)”

The twin statements that close verse 8 emphasize the point made above: knowing (vb. ginw/skw) in the Gospel of John does not involve ordinary knowledge, but is synonymous with trust in Jesus. This verse also makes clear that the verb thre/w does not refer primarily to legal obedience (of Jesus’ commands, etc), but to trust and acceptance of who he is: the Son come from the Father. Receiving his words is essentially the same thing as receiving him (1:12, etc).

This second statement in verse 8 may be viewed as epexegetical, further explaining and building upon that in vv. 6-7. The joining point is the (subordinating) conjunctive particle (o%ti) at the start of v. 8, which is best understood as causal—”in that”, i.e. “because”, “for”, providing the reason for the conclusion in v. 7. The disciples have come to know the truth about Jesus’ relationship to the Father because they have received what Jesus (the Son) received from the Father. The chain of giving is: Father => Son => Believers. Each point in this chain is a point of revelation (‘shining forth’, v. 6a), by which God the Father is ultimately made known to human beings (believers).

In verse 9, Jesus begins a new direction in his prayer, speaking to the Father on behalf of his disciples (believers). We will begin examining this next section (vv. 9-12) in next week’s notes.

Birth of the Son of God: Hebrews 1:1-4

Today’s note, on the Christmas theme of the “Birth of the Son of God” will look at the ‘birth’ of the Son in terms of divine revelation. I begin with the introduction (exordium) of the Letter to the Hebrews.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Verses 1-2 deal specifically with the idea of God’s revelation, beginning with “God spoke”, and indicating a contrast:

V. 1: God (has) been speaking [lalh/sa$]

V. 2: (God) spoke [e)la/lhsen]

    • (in) many parts and many ways
    • (in) old (times) [pa/lai]
    • to the Fathers [toi=$ patra/sin]
    • in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] [e)n toi=$ profh/tai$]

 

    • in one new way (implied)
    • in these last days [e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn]
    • to us [h(mi=n]
    • in (the) Son [e)n ui(w=|]

 

The new revelation (to us) is marked primarily by two elements or characteristics: (1) it is eschatological, set in the “last days”, (2) it takes place in the person of the Son. The Greek e)n ui(w=| does not have the definite article, so it is possible to translate “in a Son”, but it is clear from the context that God’s Son—the Son—is meant. Verse 2b presents the nature of this Son, with a pair of relative clauses:

    • whom [o^n] He has set (as the) one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] of all (thing)s
    • through whom [di’ ou!] He made the Ages

The first of these draws on the idea of Christ being exalted to heaven following the resurrection, in common with the earliest Christian tradition; the second expresses Christ’s role in creation, implying some sort of divine pre-existence. These two Christological approaches were shared by several strands of early tradition (e.g. Paul, the Gospel of John), and were not deemed to be contradictory in any way. The author of Hebrews will present the two views side-by-side at a number of points in the letter (cf. below).

In verses 3-4, the Son is described in greater detail; four elements are stressed in v. 3:

  • Reflection/manifestation of God’s glory and nature (3a)
  • Role in creating/sustaining the universe—”by the utterance of his power” (3b)
  • Salvific work—priestly cleansing of sin (by way of sacrifice, i.e. his death) (3c)
  • Exaltation to the right hand of God (3d)

The outer elements (first and last) indicate the Son’s divine/heavenly status, the inner elements (second and third) parallel creation and incarnation (Christ’s work in both). This is the sort of chiastic conceptual framework—

    • pre-existence
      —incarnation
    • exaltation

which the author of Hebrews makes use of elsewhere (2:8-13, cf. also the famous Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11). In verse 4, Christ’s divine/heavenly status is emphasized—that it is greater than that of other heavenly beings (“angels”). This superiority is understood in terms of the name that he has inherited (cf. Phil 2:9ff), which, though not specified here, is best identified with ku/rio$ (“Lord”), the conventional rendering of the divine name YHWH.

There can be little doubt that Sonship (i.e. Son of God) here is defined in the context of divine pre-existence—a blending of the Davidic “Messiah” with the concept of a heavenly Redeemer-figure which is also known from Jewish tradition at roughly the same time as the (later) New Testament, such in the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra (2/4 Esdras). In Hebrews, this is indicated by the citations of Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14—both passages given Messianic interpretation—in verse 5. Recall that in Acts 13:32-33ff, Psalm 2:7 is cited in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation—i.e., the Son is “born” following the resurrection. Verse 6, however, shows that the author of Hebrews has a view of Christ that is comparable to the prologue of the Gospel of John (esp. Jn 1:1ff, 9, 14, etc; cf. also Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:6ff):

  • Christ is already God’s “firstborn” (prwto/tokon)
  • God leads him into the inhabited-world (oi)koume/nh, possibly the heavenly realm of angels in addition to the world of human beings)—ei)$ th\n oi)koume/nhn as parallel to the Johannine ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”)

As indicated above, the author presents two different Christological portraits, and continues this in vv. 8-12 (citing Scripture):

  • vv. 8-9—in more traditional language of exaltation (citing Psalm 45:6-7)
  • vv. 10-12—of Jesus’ divine status and existence encompassing the beginning and end of creation (citing Psalm 102:25-27, cf. also verse 2b above)

As I have already pointed out, there are a number of similarities with the basic Christology of the author and that presented in the Gospel of John; for more on Jesus as “the Son” in relation to God the Father, see the previous Christmas season note. Elsewhere in the New Testament writings, Jesus as God’s Son is an important theological identification, especially in: (1) Paul’s letters, (2) the first letter of John (par. with the Gospel of John), and (3) here in Hebrews.

  1. Paul’s letters—in the context of
    a) God’s work through Christ, esp. his sacrificial and atoning death: Romans 1:3-4; 5:10; 8:3, 32; Gal 1:16; 2:20; 4:4; 1 Thess 1:10; Col 1:13.
    b) specific association with the Gospel message: Rom 1:9; Gal 1:6
    c) the unity and bond of believers (with Christ, the Spirit): Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 4:6; Col 1:13, and also Eph 4:13
    Note also 1 Cor 15:28
  2. The letters of John—similarly, along with the Gospel of John:
    a) the union of believers with God and Christ: 1 Jn 1:3; 2:23-24; 3:23; 4:9b, 15; 5:12-13
    b) Christ’s redemptive work: 1 Jn 1:7; 3:8; 4:9-10, 14; 5:11
    c) the identity of Christ: 1 Jn 2:22-23; 4:15a; 5:5, 9-10, 20
  3. Hebrews—in addition to 1:2, 8 we have (context indicated):
    Heb 3:6—role as heir/master of the household, emphasizing his faithfulness
    Heb 4:14; 5:5, 8; 7:3, 28—role as (exalted) High Priest, indicating his sacrificial work; 5:5 cites Ps 2:7 [as in 1:5]; 7:3 has spec. title “Son of God”
    Heb 5:8—his suffering (incarnation and death) and obedience (to the Father)
    Heb 6:6—his death on the cross (spec. title “Son of God” is used)
    Heb 10:29—his holy/sacrificial work, i.e. his death (“blood of the covenant”)
  4. Other passages:
    2 Peter 1:7 (referring to the Transfiguration scene [Mark 9:7 par])
    Revelation 2:18—the message (to Thyatira): “the Son of God relates these (thing)s…”

This last reference to the Son of God speaking brings us back to the first verses of Hebrews—”God spoke…in (the) Son”. How did God speak? We do not find much mention in Hebrews of the things Jesus actually said; the emphasis is rather on: (1) who he is, and (2) what he has done—in classic theological terms, this means the person and work of Christ. God speaks first through the person of Christ, i.e. his (pre-existent) divine status and/or nature as Son, and then through his work—in creation, his sacrificial (and atoning) death, his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Here New Testament Christology reaches perhaps its fullest and most rounded expression—of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.