October 14: Philippians 2:6b

Philippians 2:6b

The first clause of verse 6, the opening line of the hymn, was discussed in the previous note; it reads as follows:

o^$ e)n morfh=| qeou= u(pa/rxwn
“who, in beginning under in (the) form of God”

The translation above is extremely literal; however, a more precise rendering which properly captures the full sense of the line is difficult (cf. the detailed exegesis in the prior note). The morfh/ (“[visible] shape, form”), as applied to God, is perhaps best understood in terms of the kind of visible “splendor” (do/ca) manifest when human beings, traditionally, behold God in a vision or theophany. As a visual mark, or designation, it serves to set the divine apart and distinct from human beings. The present participle u(pa/rxwn indicates that Jesus exists in that condition, an exalted status and position alongside God in heaven—and he possessed that same position even prior to his earthly life (and resurrection). A more nuanced (interpretive) translation might be:

“who, being present (there) in the visible (glory) of God…”

This first clause, as weighty as it might be, actually serves to set the stage for the second line, the Greek of which reads:

ou)x a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|

I will again refrain from any initial translation, allowing it to be established through exegesis of each word and phrase. The clause begins with a negative particle (ou)[x]); this particle directly precedes the noun a(rpagmo/$, but actually governs the entire clause, negating it.

The key noun is a(rpagmo/$, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (nor in the Greek Old Testament [LXX]); the related noun a(rpagh/ occurs several times, along with the verb a(rpa/zw (14 times, 3 by Paul [2 Cor 12:2, 4; 1 Thess 4:17]). The noun a(rpagma/, close in meaning to a(rpagmo/$, while not used in the New Testament, occurs 18 times in the LXX. The fundamental meaning of the verb a(rpa/zw  is “seize, take by force”; the noun a(rpagmo$ can be used in an active (verbal) sense (“[act of] seizing”), or in a passive sense (“something seized”), which is similar in meaning to a(rpagma/, i.e. something that is “seized” —a prize gained in contest, plunder in battle, etc.

The verb that follows is h(ge/omai, a middle deponent verb related to a&gw, meaning “lead”, especially the sense of functioning as a leader, one who leads the way, etc. It can be used figuratively for leading something out before one’s mind—i.e., to think, consider, regard. The verb occurs 28 times in the New Testament, including 11 times in the Pauline letters; of the 9 (or 11) instances where Paul uses it, six are here in Philippians. It was used earlier in 2:3, in referring to how believers conduct themselves, giving attention and priority to the needs of others, rather than one’s own interests (cf. the recent note on 2:1-4). This provides the context for the hymn in vv. 6-11, and Paul’s use of h(ge/omai in v. 6 very much needs to be understood in light of v. 3—in terms of a way of thinking and acting.

How then shall we understand the expression a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato taken together? Literally, it would mean “he led a seizing” or “he led himself to seizing”, which, in terms of our understanding of the verb as indicating a way of thinking and acting, would then seem to connote an inclination or tendency toward seizing something. The ‘something’ is represented by the cognate object phrase to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|, a phrase which has proven most difficult to interpret. Literally, it means “the being equal to God” (or “…equal with God”), which we should perhaps gloss as “the (position/condition of) being equal to God”. From the standpoint of orthodox theology, “equal to God” is a loaded expression, but we must be careful not to read the developed Christology of later times into this first-century passage.

The modifying adjective/adverb i&so$, which can be used in a qualitative or quantitative sense, occurs just 8 times in the New Testament. It is not a Pauline term, as it only occurs here in all the letters. Let us briefly survey the other instances where it is used:

    • Mark 14:56, 59—in reference to the testimony of the ‘false’ witnesses during the Sanhedrin interrogation of Jesus, to the effect that the witnesses were not in agreement (i.e. their testimony differed, and was not the same).
    • Matthew 20:12—in Jesus’ parable, all the workers are given equal pay (i.e. the same amount, regardless of how long they worked)
    • Luke 6:34—likewise in this proverbial teaching, a more or less equal amount of money is involved
    • Acts 11:17—again the idea is of a gift that is essentially the same, regardless of who receives it
    • Revelation 21:16—the reference is to (precisely) equal distances

Of special interest is John 5:18, where, as part of the reaction to Jesus’ provocative saying (v. 17), and his healing miracle performed on the Sabbath, it is narrated that some of the people wished to kill him, both for his violation of the Sabbath, but even more importantly because

“…he counted God (as his) own Father, making himself equal [i&son] to God”

The episode itself, rather than abstract theological considerations, must define what i&so$ signifies here; the answer is twofold:

    • Jesus identified himself God’s Son, possessing a special relationship to God (YHWH) as his Father; so close are they that they say and do very much the same things.
    • Jesus claims to do the same kind of work as God the Father, which includes miracles that manifest the life-giving creative power of God

I would argue that the significance of i&so$ here in Philippians is comparable, but defined by way of the exaltation of Jesus, rather than the miracles performed during his earthly ministry. Through the resurrection, Jesus was raised to a position at God’s “right hand”, which entails a ruling position that is essentially equal to God’s own. He stands alongside God the Father, sharing the same exalted (divine) position and status. The pre-existence aspect of Phil 2:6ff attributes to Jesus the same sort of exalted position even prior to his earthly life. The motif of sonship is not prominent here in the hymn, unlike in the Gospel of John (where it is pervasive); however, in the early Christology, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was very much tied to his exaltation. As this Christology further developed, the same sense of divine Sonship was recognized as part of his eternal pre-existence as well (Heb 1:2-3, etc).

Bringing the words of verse 6b together, we have:

a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|

An attempt at a literal, glossed translation would be:

“he led himself (to regard) the being equal to God (as) seizing (something)”
or, reading a(rpagmo/$ in a passive, concrete sense:
“he led himself (to regard) the being equal to God (as something) to be seized”

The negative particle governing the clause (cf. above), of course, says that this is just what Jesus did not do. But exactly what did he not do? Here the views and opinions of commentators have differed considerably. It depends largely on the precise meaning of “seizing” (a(rpagmo/$, vb a(rpa/zw) in context. There are several possible lines of interpretation:

    • Though Jesus had an exalted position alongside God, he was not equal to God in all respects; he might have been inclined to seek this greater status, this equality, but he chose not to grasp after it. Some commentators see here a contrastive parallel between Jesus and Adam, who was tempted by the promise of becoming just like God.
    • Jesus did possess this equality with God, but not as something which one grasps hold of in an ambitious way, or to protect one’s position; he was willing to let go any attachment to his divine status for the sake of his redemptive mission on earth.
    • The exalted position of Jesus alongside God, by which he shares equal rule with the Father, is not characterized by a grasping after power, such as ambitious human rulers do; rather, it is characterized by a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of those over whom one rules.

Most other interpretations I have seen tend to reflect some variation on the three views given above. Before we can narrow down a more definite interpretation, it will be necessary first to examine the remainder of verses 7-8. In the next daily note, we will beginning grappling with arguably the most problematic and controversial lines of the hymn, in verse 7.

There have been a number of detailed modern studies on the meaning and background of the word a(rpagmo/$ (see above), among the most notable of which are:

        • R. W. Hoover, “The HARPAGMOS Enigma: A Philological Solution”, Harvard Theological Review [HTR] 64 (1971), pp. 95-119.
        • N. T. Wright, “a(rpagmo/$ and the Meaning of Philippians 2:5-11″, Journal of Theological Studies [JTS] 37 (1986), pp. 321-52.

For a good summary of the evidence, cf. Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC] (Eerdmans: 1991), pp. 211-16. Any reputable (critical) commentary will provide a bibliographic list of the relevant resources related to the passage.

Saturday Series: Mark 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:16

When dealing with New Testament criticism—textual criticism, in particular—an important area of study involves those passages with a strong Christological orientation. After all, since the Christian message is centered on the Gospel proclamation of who Jesus was and what he did, it stands to reason that a critical study of early Christian writings is at its most significant just where those aspects are being emphasized. With regard to the study of textual variants (variant readings), which lie at the heart of New Testament textual criticism, we may apply the principle that variants in a theologically significant passage are theologically significant. And there are perhaps no passages more theologically significant than those which are Christological in nature.

These Saturday Series studies this Fall will be taking a critical approach to a number of key New Testament passages, demonstrating especially how criticism relates to a sound interpretation of a passage, helping us to root our doctrine and theology in an accurate understanding of the text of Scripture. As noted above, such a critical study is arguably most important where the New Testament Scriptures are Christological in focus. It can also be a sensitive matter, dealing, for example, with variant readings when a vital point regarding the person of Christ is being made in the text. Here, textual criticism is at its finest, yet also, in many instances, its most controversial as well.

And, it must be said, Christological textual variants are more common than one may think (or wish to acknowledge)—indeed, there is a whole range of variants which came into existence precisely because of Christological concerns among early believers (including those who wrote and copied the Scriptures). By way of introduction, let us consider two relatively simple examples, in Mark 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:16. As it happens, both of these verses appear to evince a certain tension between the early strands of Christian tradition and later, more clearly developed Christological concerns.

Mark 1:1

Arch¢¡ tou euangelíou I¢soú Christoú huioú Theoú
“(The) beginning of the good message of Yeshua (the) Anointed, (the) Son of God”

This is the opening statement in the Markan Gospel, most likely the earliest of our surviving Gospels, according to the majority text—that is, the reading of the majority of manuscripts and witnesses. It is straightforward enough, functioning as the title of the work. However, in a number of key manuscripts and witnesses the text is shorter, reading simply:

Arch¢¡ tou euangelíou I¢soú Christoú
“(The) beginning of the good message of Yeshua (the) Anointed”

Here the words huioú theoú (ui(ou= qeou=, “Son of God”) are not present. This shorter text is the reading of the uncial manuscripts a* (Codex Sinaiticus) and Q, the minuscule manuscripts 28c and 1555, the Greek text underlying the Peshitta Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian versions; it is also attested by Origen, writing in the early-mid 3rd century (Commentary on John 1.13; 6.24; Against Celsus 2.4). When a minority reading is found in such a wide and diverse range of (early) witnesses, it must be taken seriously.

Is the shorter text original? It must be noted that the tendency among copyists was to add detail which enhanced the Christological portrait, and, in such instances, the longer text often must be regarded as secondary, following the general principle lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferred”). The shorter text here is sometimes explained as due to a copying error, where the eye skips over huioú theoú due the similarity of endings in the sacred names (nomina sacra). Mistakes of this kind were frequent, made easier because of the use of shorthand abbreviations for the nomina sacra. For example, Christoú (Xristou=) would appear in the manuscript as ++x+u, and similarly Theoú (Qeou=) as +q+u. However, in this case, a scribal mistake is unlikely, with the verse occurring as it does at the beginning of the book, prominently as a title; it is hard to see a copyist making such a blunder at the very start of a book. Moreover, the wide range of witnesses to the shorter text would seem to require that multiple copyists all made the same mistake at this point, independently of each other, which is not very likely.

If the shorter reading is original, as seems probable, it should not itself be taken as evidence of a ‘lesser’ Christology in Mark, as though the Gospel writer would eschew the title “Son of God” for Jesus. He clearly accepted the title (3:11; 5:7; 15:39); its relative rarity (compared with the other Gospels) and the way it is used in the narrative simply reflects an older/earlier stage of the (Synoptic) Gospel Tradition, which was developed considerably at many points in Matthew and Luke (for example, compare Mk 8:29 with Lk 9:20 and Matt 16:16). What it finally demonstrates was the power of early Christological belief, which made it so natural for scribes to add in titles such as “Lord” (Kýrios) and “Son of God” to the name Jesus. Such textual enhancement occurs throughout the manuscript tradition, and where better (and more appropriate) for it to occur than in the title of the Gospel? All believers at the time would have readily accepted and used “Son of God” as a title for Jesus, even if its precise meaning could be disputed (1 John 2:22-23; 4:2-3, 15, etc).

1 Timothy 3:16

Whatever one’s view regarding the authorship of the Pastoral Letters (and 1 Timothy in particular), commentators are generally in agreement that 1 Timothy 3:16 preserves an early creedal formula, marked by its terse, abbreviated syntax, with a series of parallel lines consisting of a verb + prepositional expression using en (“in”):

“…made to shine forth in (the) flesh,
made right in [i.e. through] (the) Spirit,
seen (among) (the) Messengers,
proclaimed in [i.e. among] (the) nations,
trusted in the world,
taken up in honor/glory”

Paul (or the author) made use of this formula as a way of summarizing what he calls the “secret of (our) good reverence (toward God)” (to t¢s eusebeías myst¢¡rion). It is at the point of the transition between the noun myst¢¡rion and the introduction of the creedal formula that there is a notable variant reading in the text, with some witnesses reading the noun theós (qeo/$, “God”), while others read the relative pronoun hós (o%$, “who, which”).

The manuscript evidence is rather evenly divided, though the earlier and better witnesses tend to support the relative pronoun. It is the original reading of the major uncial manuscripts a A C, the minuscules 33 365 442 2127, important segments of the Syriac tradition, as well as a number of Church Fathers writing in the 3rd-5th centuries (e.g., Origen, Jerome, Cyril, Epiphanius). The reading with the noun theós is found throughout the Byzantine manuscript tradition, a range of important uncials and minuscules (614 1739 al), and most of the later Fathers, from which it came to be the “Textus Receptus” reading. It is worth noting, however, that no uncial (in the first) hand prior to the 8th or 9th century has this reading, nor is it found in any Church Father prior to the late 4th century; the occurrence of theós in the MSS a A C D is a ‘correction’ coming from a second scribal hand (Metzger, p. 574). Support for the relative pronoun (hós) is increased when one considers the manuscripts (D* etc) which read the neuter form (o%), presumably as a grammatical ‘correction’ of the masculine hós (to agree with the noun myst¢¡rion, which is neuter).

Two factors make it all but certain that the reading with the (masculine) relative pronoun is original. The first involves what we call “transcriptional probability”; that is, which reading was more likely to be changed, giving rise to the others. Here we note how the uncial form of the relative pronoun os could be mistaken for the sacred-name abbreviation (nomina sacra) of the word theos (qs). Given the way the nomina sacra are rendered, with special demarcation (+q+s), it is highly unlikely that a similar change would have taken place in the opposite direction.

The second factor involves the poetic syntax of the creedal formula itself, in which the lines all depend on an initial relative pronoun. Examples are readily to be found, in Philippians 2:6 and Colossians 1:15 (both thought to introduce early Christological creed/hymns), which likewise begin with the relative pronoun hós (o%$). For additional detail, see J. Sanders, The New Testament Christological Hymns (Cambridge: 1971), pp. 15-17 (cited by Ehrman, pp. 77, 111).

How or why was the relative pronoun changed to the noun theos? Was it simply the result of a copying mistake (see above), or was it intentional? Whether or not intentional, the change is certainly purposeful, in that it serves a Christological purpose—namely, identifying and affirming Jesus Christ as the incarnation of deity, the (pre-existent) Son of God who came to earth in human flesh. As in the case of Mark 1:1 (discussed above), such a change was a natural addition for devout scribes to make to the text, since it reflected unquestionably the sort of pre-existence Christology that been developing throughout the late-first and early-second centuries. Such explicit identification of the pre-existent deity of Christ was especially useful in combating those segments of early Christianity which denied such a Christology, or held alternate, heterodox views.

In many instances, such Christological variants can be recognized as clearly secondary additions or alterations to the text. The situation is not always so simple, as the case of John 1:18 demonstrates, where commentators and textual critics continue to debate whether monogen¢¡s theós or monogen¢¡s huiós is the most likely original reading (I discuss this passage in detail in an earlier study). Whatever else one may say about them, such textual variants are far from trivial; they are imbued with the utmost theological and doctrinal significance, and cannot be ignored.

We shall encounter more of these fascinating Christological variants as we proceed through our weekly studies this Fall. You may also wish to follow along on a series of daily notes I am beginning this week, to run through the remainder of October, in which I will be presenting a detailed critical and exegetical study on the two “Christ hymns” noted above—Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993).
Those marked “Metzger” are to the UBS/Metzger A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: 1994).

 

July 2: Galatians 4:1-7; Romans 8:12-17

Galatians 4:1-7; Romans 8:12-17

In the previous notes, we looked at how Paul developed the early Christian idea that the coming of the Spirit upon believers in Christ represented the fulfillment of the Prophetic tradition, regarding the role of the Spirit of God in the restoration of Israel in the New Age. Paul sharpened this concept of a “new covenant” in the Spirit, drawing a clear contrast between the old covenant (of Moses and the Torah) that has now passed away, and the new covenant (of the Gospel and the Spirit) that remains in its place. The experience of believers being “filled” with the Spirit—and of the holy Spirit of God dwelling in them—was compared in terms of God writing with his “finger” (= “Spirit”) upon the hearts of His people.

While these covenantal associations are unmistakable, and fully in accord with the Prophetic traditions regarding the Spirit, for ministers like Paul this role of the Spirit was thoroughly Christian, in the sense of being rooted in the message (the Gospel) of Jesus Christ. It was not merely a matter of the spiritualization of the Old Covenant; the presence and activity of the Spirit was tied directly to the believer’s trust in Jesus, and the salvation brought about by his death and resurrection. Indeed, from the earliest moments of Christianity, the coming of the Spirit was related to a confession of trust in the Gospel message of Christ. This traditionally took place (publicly) in connection with the baptism ritual.

Paul says relatively little in his letters regarding baptism directly; he clearly follows the early Christian tradition, and yet, as he makes use of this tradition, he embues the ritual form and imagery with new theological (and Christological) depth. In these notes on Paul’s understanding of the Spirit, we must examine this baptismal aspect; it can be seen, strikingly, in a pair of passages in Galatians and Romans, which express a similar line of thought.

Galatians 4:1-7

These verses continue the arguments of chapter 3 on behalf of the central proposition (propositio, 2:15-21) that believers in Christ are freed from the binding obligation to observe the Torah. To illustrate this, in 4:1ff Paul uses the example of the son who is heir to his father’s estate. Though he has a legal right to everything the father possesses, while he is still a minor (or, until a specific time established by the father), the child is under the restrictive guidance of household servants. Though free, the child, during this time, has a practical status very much like a servant or slave (3:23-25; 4:1-2).

This illustration refers to the believer, in the period prior to coming to faith—or, viewed in terms of salvation history, to the time prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This period of guardianship is the current Age where humankind is in bondage to the power of sin, and also in bondage under the regulations of the Law (Torah)—Paul views the two aspects together. Through a clever bit of argument, Paul puts non-Jews (Gentiles) under the Law just as much as Jews and Israelites, even though they may be unfamiliar with the specific regulations of the Torah (vv. 3, 8ff, and cf. his more extensive discussion in Romans 2:12-3:20).

The illustration is followed by a Christological statement in vv. 4-5, which may be pre-Pauline in origin—that is, Paul may derive it, in part, from earlier Christian tradition (cp. Rom 1:3-4). Verse 5 more clearly expresses the Pauline application: Christ came to earth to free humankind from bondage under the Law. To this, he adds the emphasis on the identity of believers as “sons” (ui(oi/) of God. The context of the climactic declarations in verses 6-7 is thus profoundly Christological, and involves three key points which Paul develops from early Christian tradition:

    1. The identity of Jesus as the Son of God.
      This is not to be understood from the standpoint of the developed Christology (and trinitarian theology) of later generations, but, rather, in terms of the early Christian belief that located the divine Sonship of Jesus ostensibly at the time of his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. While Paul may evince belief in a rudimentary doctrine of Jesus’ divine pre-existence (Phil 2:6ff, cf. also Col 1:15-17), it does not feature prominently in his letters.
    2. Jesus as the “seed” of Abraham, the son who inherits the divine promise to Abraham. This is the focus of Paul’s argument in 3:6-14ff (cp. Romans 4), using an over-literal reading of the singular “seed” to identify Jesus as the seed, the only son of the promise (i.e. the Spirit), vv. 14, 16-18.
    3. Believers are united with Jesus—this is realized at the time of baptism (3:26-27ff), when they/we receive the Spirit.

All three points run through the arguments of chapters 3-4, and, indeed, are central to them; however, they are generally emphasized in the reverse order given above, which also accords with the logic of Christian experience and revelatory insight:

    1. The Galatian believers are united with Jesus and experience the Spirit, as symbolized by the baptism ritual—3:2ff, 26-27ff
    2. This union with Jesus means that they share in the sonship of Jesus as the promised “seed” of Abraham, and receive the promised blessing (of the Spirit)—3:6-9, 16-18, 29
    3. The union of sonship further means that believers share in Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and are likewise sons (i.e. children) of God, through the presence of the Spirit—4:4-7

The language whereby this is expressed in 4:6-7 is most significant for an understanding of Paul’s view of the Spirit. Following the Christological statement, identifying Jesus as God’s Son, and drawing upon the traditional idea of our union with Jesus (symbolized in the baptism ritual), and the identity of believers as sons/children of God, Paul states in verse 6:

“And (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God se(n)t out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

The coming (or pouring) of the Spirit into the hearts of believers is a traditional image, adapted by early Christians (Rom 5:5, cf. 2 Cor 3:3; Rom 2:29), part of the wider idea of being “filled” by the Spirit. Normally, however, this is understood as the Spirit of God, but here Paul’s uses the unique expression “Spirit of His Son” (pneu=ma tou= ui(ou= au)tou=). This would identify the holy Spirit (of God) as also being the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, Paul appears to use the expression “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably, though the latter is admittedly rare (Rom 8:9, and “Spirit of Jesus Christ” in Phil 1:19). The theological basis for this is Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, as understood through the early Christological belief regarding Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). It was through the resurrection/exaltation that Jesus’ spirit and person was transformed by God’s own Spirit—forever united as one life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 6:17; 15:45). This Christology would eventually develop to include a belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus as the Son of God, however, the exaltational aspect remains at its core in the New Testament (cp. both sides of the portrait in Phil 2:6-11).

Thus, the coming of God’s Spirit upon believers, means that it is also Christ’s Spirit that fills us and empowers us, and through the Spirit we are united with the exalted Jesus, our spirits uniting with his and being similarly transformed (cf. again 1 Cor 6:17; 15:45ff). This means that, as believers, we share in his divine Sonship, receiving all that he does, as co-heirs to God:

“And so (then), not any (more) are you a slave, but a son; and if a son, (then) also (one) receiving the lot [i.e. an heir] through God.” (v. 7)

Romans 8:12-17

Paul largely repeats this argument in Romans 8:12-17, developing it, however, in several respects—one of which is the strong ethical emphasis on believers being guided by the Spirit, otherwise found in Galatians in a later section (5:1-6:10). This ethical aspect, utilizing the flesh/Spirit contrast, is clearly present in the Sonship statements of Romans 8:12-17. Note the strong contrast in verse 13:

“for if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die off; but if, in the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Many of the themes and much wording from the instruction in Galatians are present here, and could have been lifted out of the earlier letter:

“For as (many) as are led by (the) Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again, unto fear, but you received (the) Spirit of placement as a son [ui(oqesi/a], in which we cry ‘Abba, Father’.” (vv. 14-15)

The noun ui(oqesi/a is typically translated as “adoption”, but literally means something like “placement (as) a son”. It refers to a person’s legal status as a son, though one may not be a son by birth. In the New Testament, the word occurs only in the Pauline letters—here further in verse 23, and also 9:4; Gal 4:5, and Eph 1:5. The context of its use in Gal 4:5 is virtually identical (cf. above).

In verses 16-17, Paul expands on the thought in Gal 4:6-7, giving more detail on how he understands the Spirit “crying” out in us, as well as what it means to be a co-heir of God with Jesus:

“The Spirit it(self) gives witness together with our spirit that we are  (the) offspring [te/kna] of God. And, if (His) offspring, (then) also (one)s receiving the lot [i.e. heirs]—(on the one hand, one)s receiving the lot of God, but (on the other hand, one)s receiving the lot together (with) (the) Anointed, if indeed we suffer together with him, (so) that also we will be given honor together with (him).”

The Greek syntax makes repeated use of verb and noun forms prefixed with the preposition su/n (“[together] with”), which serves as a powerful emphasis of the believer’s union with Jesus (the Son):

    • The Spirit gives witness together with (vb summarture/w) our spirit. The idea is that our own spirit responds to the presence and action of God’s Spirit, and we become aware of our identity as sons (or children) of God. Here Paul uses the term te/kna (“offspring”) which is more common, referring to believers as ‘children’ of God, in the Johannine writings.
    • Being united with Jesus (the Son and heir) we also understand our identity as co-heirs (sugklhrono/moi) of God. Literally the compound noun means “(one) receiving/sharing the lot together with (another)”.
    • At the heart of our union with Jesus is a pair of verbs:
      • “suffer together with” (sumpa/sxw)—i.e. we suffer together with him
      • “are honored together with” (sundoca/zw)—we receive honor/glory together with him

This latter point, with its pair of verbs, reflects a uniquely Pauline emphasis, which may be referred to as believers “dying and rising with Christ”. Central to the baptism ritual, as it symbolizes our union with Jesus, is the idea of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is through the Spirit that the power of both Jesus’ death and resurrection is communicated to us, so that we are able to participate in it. This will be discussed further in the next note.

April 21: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

o%ti h)ga/phsa$ me pro\ katabolh=$ ko/smou
“(in) that [i.e. because] you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. foundation] of the world”

This is the last of the three i%na/o%ti-clauses in verse 24. Following the first two (i%na) clauses (discussed in the two previous notes), this o%ti clause builds upon the prior clause—especially the phrase “my honor/splendor [do/ca] that you have given to me”. Both conjunctive particles (i%na and o%ti) can be translated generally as “that”, but o%ti often indicates specifically the reason that something is— “(in) that…”, i.e. “for, because”. In particular, this clause states the reason for God the Father having given do/ca (honor/splendor) to Jesus the Son. The verb de/dwka$ (“you have given”) is a perfect form, while h)ga/phsa$ (“you loved”) is an aorist. In context, this difference is perhaps best understood as indicating the priority of the act of love—i.e., the love (past action) precedes the gift (action/condition continuing into the present). In 3:35, a similar point is made, using the present tense of a)gapa/w (indicating the love as it is generally, and regularly, demonstrated):

“The Father loves [a)gapa=|] the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

This “all” certainly includes the do/ca of the Father. As discussed in the previous note, the word do/ca, which properly means something like “esteem, honor”, as applied to God, refers essentially to the nature and character of His person that makes him worthy of our honor/esteem. As the Son, Jesus receives this same do/ca from the Father, possessing it as his own (1:14; 17:5), just as a child carries within him/her, in various ways, the nature and character of the parent. The Son then reveals this do/ca to his disciples (believers) in the world (2:11; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4, 40). This is his mission on earth,  the duty (e)ntolh/) given to him by the Father, and the reason why he was sent into the world; it was completed with his sacrificial death (and resurrection), which “gives honor” (related vb doca/zw) to Father and Son both (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:1, etc).

The phrase “before the casting-down [katabolh/] of the world” refers to the creation of the universe (the current world-order, ko/smo$), utilizing the image of a craftsman or builder laying down a foundation. The same expression occurs 10 other times elsewhere in the New Testament, including twice (as here) with the preposition pro/ (“before”)—Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20. These latter passages evince a belief in what we would call the “pre-existence” of Jesus—that is to say, he existed as the divine/eternal Son of God prior to his life on earth, indeed, prior to the very creation of the world. The Gospel of John clearly presents such a Christological view as well (1:1-2, etc), though, in the Discourses of Jesus, it is nowhere stated so clearly as here in the Prayer-Discourse (also in v. 5). It merely confirms the idea, expressed throughout the Gospel, that, as the Son of God, Jesus shares the same (divine/eternal) nature and character of the Father.

However, the main point here is that believers are able to see this do/ca, and to share in it as well (as the offspring/children of God). By being with (meta/) Jesus, in union with him, we can see his do/ca—that is, to see the Father—and will be able to look upon it (vb qeore/w) even more closely when we are with him in heaven. As I noted, this same idea is expressed in 1 John 3:2-3, and Paul promises something similar in his famous declaration in 2 Cor 3:18:

“And we all, with a face having been uncovered, (look)ing against (the glass) at the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord [i.e. as looking at it in a mirror], we are (chang)ed over in (the) shape (of) th(at same) image, from splendor into splendor, even as from (the) Lord, (the) Spirit.”

The phrase “from do/ca into do/ca” is probably best understood as a transformation from what we are now as believers (in the Spirit), into what we are destined to be in the end. This latter splendor also comes from the Spirit—which is both the Spirit of God (the Father) and of Christ (they share the same Spirit, 1 Cor 6:17; 15:45, etc). This basic idea would certainly be worded differently in a Johannine context, but as a fundamental promise for believers, and as a theological statement, it is much the same.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study, by turning to the next verse (25), the second to last of the Prayer-Discourse, as Jesus circles around to another theme of the Discourses, building on the common key-word and theme of the “world” (ko/smo$).

April 13: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 2: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

Following the i%na-clause in line 1 (cf. the previous note), in each of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 there is an explanatory kaqw/$-clause. The comparative particle kaqw/$ (kata/ + w($) is a bit difficult to translate literally and concisely, but it means something like “just as”. It is used rather frequently in the Johannine writings—31 times in the Gospel (almost always in the Discourses), and 13 in the Letters (9 in 1 John), making up about a quarter of all New Testament occurrences.

Keeping in mind that the clause is epexegetical—that is, it explains the meaning of the initial statement in line 1—here is how it reads in each stanza:

    • “just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you” (v. 21b)
      kaqw\$ su/ pa/ter e)n e)moi/ ka)gw\ e)n soi/
    • “just as we are one, I in them and you in me” (v. 22c-23a)
      kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n: e)gw\ e)n au)toi=$ kai\ su\ e)n e)moi/

The point being made is that the unity of believers, which Jesus requests in line 1, is to be explained in terms of the unity between Jesus (the Son) and God the Father. For many orthodox or otherwise pious-minded Christians, this is something of an uncomfortable comparison. Indeed, I would argue that the force of the clause is more than comparative—the unity of believer is not just similar to that between Father and Son, but is the same kind of unity. There is a tendency to soften the implications of this, popularized by the theological distinction between the “natural” sonship of Jesus and the more general (or “adopted”) sonship of believers. However, such a distinction, while made out of a genuinely pious intention, is facile and artificial, and more or less unsupported by the New Testament evidence.

For one thing, the distinction is meaningless in terms of legitimate sonship—the ‘adopted’ son has the same legal rights, status and privileges, as the naturally-born. Moreover, while Paul does make use of the idea of ‘adoption’ (lit. placement as a son, ui(oqesi/a), it is foreign to the Johannine writings, where believers are repeatedly described, in biologic-existential terminology, as ones who have “come to be (born) out of [e)k] God” (1:13, cf. also 3:3-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The only clear distinction in these writings is that the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) tends to be reserved for Jesus, while believers are almost always referred to as tekna/ (“offspring, children”). This use of the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) is applied to believers, rather than to Jesus; however, in 1 John 5:18, the textually difficult verse is best understood as referring both to Jesus and to believers, using the same sort of terminology:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God [i.e. believer] does not sin, but (that) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] keeps watch (over) him, and the evil {or, the Evil [One]} does not attach itself to him.”

Thus, we must take seriously that the unity of believers is to be understood in terms of the relationship between Father and Son. Let us consider the kaqw/$-line of the first stanza, where this is established.

Verse 21b

“just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you”

Throughout the Gospel of John, this relationship is described (by Jesus himself, in the Discourses) using the ordinary human imagery of the relationship between parent and child (father/son). This is basic to the Gospel and early Christian tradition; however, the first generation of believers understood this Sonship of Jesus almost entirely in terms of the resurrection—his exaltation to a divine status and position at the right hand of God the Father. The situation is rather different in the Gospel of John, which reflects considerable Christological development; the emphasis is on an ontological (and eternal) relationship that Father and Son have shared from the beginning. In classic theological terms, we would refer to this as an emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus. In the Discourses, this is perhaps expressed most clearly here in the Prayer-Discourse, both in the opening (v. 5) and closing sections (v. 24, right after the passage under discussion).

How is the Father “in” (e)n) the Son, and the Son “in” the Father? Working from the human metaphor, this could be understood using the biological correspondence—the ‘seed’ of the offspring is contained in the parent, while, correspondingly, the genetic nature and makeup of the parent is contained in the child. Or, we could utilize the simple image of an embrace—where interlocking parent and child form a single entity, and each is contained “in” the other. This would be close to the Johannine understanding, with the repeated emphasis on love (a)ga/ph). We are reminded, for example, of the image of the Son resting in the lap (or at the bosom/breast) of the Father (1:18), even as the Son’s beloved disciple rests close to him (13:23, 25). We should also not ignore the aspect of motion that characterizes this relationship, with the Son coming toward (pro/$) the Father (1:1-2, etc), and ultimately returning to Him. Communication takes place along this chain of relationship, with words being sent, and, indeed, the life-giving Spirit being sent as well (the divine Word and Spirit being essentially the same, 6:63). The unifying character of the Spirit is discussed further below.

Verse 22c-23a

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The kaqw/$-clause in the second stanza is more complex, folding believers into this unity between Father and Son (“we are one”). This demonstrates that it is not simply a comparison; rather, the very unity of believers is dependent on the unity between Father and Son. In the first stanza, the Father-Son unity was reciprocal, now it is part of a triadic chain of relationship. This is fundamental to the Johannine Discourses, where Jesus repeatedly indicates that he is giving to his disciples (believers) what the Father has given to him. This will be discussed in more detail when we come to line 5 (vv. 22a, 23d). By reversing the phrases in v. 23a we can illustrate this chain of relationship:

    • You => in me
      • I => in them

In speaking of unity (or oneness), it is worth considering a key passage where the same neuter numeral (e%n) is used—10:30, which happens to be the only other such passage in the Gospel which refers to the Father and Son together:

“I and the Father are one [e%n].”

This climactic declaration lies at the heart of the discourse in 10:22-39. The discourse centers on the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to the Father, with similarities to the long and complex discourses in chapter 5 and 7-8. It may be divided into two portions, the second of which builds upon the first. There are two exposition-sections by Jesus (vv. 25-30, 34-38), each of which concludes with a powerful declaration of the unity of Father and Son; the corresponding declaration in v. 38 is:

“the Father (is) in me and I (am) in the Father”

This is exactly the language Jesus uses in 17:21b (cf. above), and the parallel clause in 22c-23a confirms that the unity (e%n) of believers is based on the unity (e%n) of Father and Son. We will explore this point further in the next daily note, on line 3 (21c, 23b).

Before concluding today, it is worth mentioning again a point made in a prior note, regarding the resurrection of Jesus. As discussed above, the earliest Gospel preaching and teaching tied the divine Sonship of Jesus to the resurrection (and his exaltation to the Father). Paul, in his letters, tended to follow this Christological understanding, though on occasion he evinces an awareness of the idea of Jesus’ pre-existent deity (e.g., Phil 2:6ff) as well. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul makes the striking statement that, with his resurrection, Jesus came to be (e)ge/neto) a “life-making Spirit”. This must be understood in terms of the Spirit of God, in light of how the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” could be used interchangeably (by Paul and others) to refer to the (Holy) Spirit. The same interchangeability is found in the Johannine Last Discourse, where the Spirit is said to come from the Father, from Jesus, or (in essence) from both together (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In 1 Cor 15:45, the idea seems to be that the spirit of Jesus was transformed into the Spirit of God, in accord with the early Christology that located his divine Sonship with the resurrection/exaltation. Paul’s words in 6:17 are suggestive of this dynamic:

“the (one) being joined (together) with the Lord is one Spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]”

This can be understood of Jesus’ union with God the Father, as well as equally (and properly here) of the believer’s union with Christ, and, through him, with the Father. The same neuter numeral e%n (“one”) is used in 1 Cor 6:17, and tends to confirm what the Johannine context of the Prayer-Discourse already makes clear—that the unity of believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This triadic unity of Father, Son, and believers, may be illustrated by a simple diagram, which will be expounded in some measure in the following notes:

March 27: John 12:35-36

John 12:35-36

“Then Yeshua said to them: ‘Yet a little time the light is among you. You must walk about as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; and the (one) walking about in darkness has not seen [i.e. known] where he leads (himself) under. As you hold the light, you must trust in the light, (so) that you would come to be sons of (the) light.’ Yeshua spoke these (thing)s, and (then), going away from (there), he hid (himself) from them.”

From the literary standpoint of the discourse, Jesus’ words in vv. 35-36 represent his response to the misunderstanding (and question) of the crowd in v. 34 (cf. the previous note). Yet it is not at all clear how this response answer’s the crowd’s question, or relates to their misunderstanding. Possibly, vv. 35-36 was originally an independent tradition, uttered by Jesus on a separate occasion; however, even if this were so, we still have to deal with these verses in their current literary context. In terms of the discourse format, Jesus’ statement in vv. 35-36 is part of the exposition—the explanation of the true and deeper meaning of his initial saying (in v. 23); each exchange with his audience serves to build and develop this exposition.

The initial words in verse 23 refer to the hour in which the Son of Man will be given honor; much the same is said in verse 32, only Jesus there uses the pronoun “I” instead of the title “Son of Man” (cp. 3:14; 8:28). Clearly the crowd around him, including his followers and other interested hearers, has difficulty understanding this self-use of the expression “Son of Man”, and they ultimately ask the question in v. 34: “Who is this Son of Man?” How does Jesus’ response address this question? Fundamentally it is a Christological question, regarding the identity of Jesus, and his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God.

If we consider the three prior references to the expression “Son of Man” in the Gospel, two essentially restate the Son of Man saying cited by the crowd in verse 34—8:28 and 12:23. The third occurs at the climax of the healing episode in chapter 9, when Jesus asks the former blind man “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (v. 35). Some manuscripts read “…Son of God” but this likely is a correction to the more conventional title among early Christians, being more appropriate to a confession of faith (cf. 20:31, etc). Almost certainly, “Son of Man” is the correct original reading. The theme of the episode is that of seeing, with the establishment of sight tied to the idea of Jesus as light (fw=$)—the true light of God—even as he declares in 9:5, “I am the light of the world” (repeated from 8:12), an identification that is found again in 11:9f:

“…if any (one) should walk about in the day, he does not strike (his foot) against (anything) [i.e. does not trip/stumble], (in) that [i.e. because] he looks (by) the light of this world…”

An ordinary illustration is infused with theological meaning, and this infused imagery is recaptured here in 12:35-36—Jesus, the Son of God, is the light that shines in this world, so that people (believers) may see it and walk by it. The expression “this world” is the current world-order, the current Age of darkness and evil—darkness in which the light of God shines. This light/darkness motif is part of the theological vocabulary of the Johannine Gospel, going back to the Prologue (1:4-9), in which the Son (Jesus) is described as the “true light” (v. 9), the eternal life of God that gives light to people in the world (vv. 4, 9); the wording in verse 5 of the Prologue is especially significant here:

“…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not take it down [kate/laben]”

The same verb katalamba/nw is used here in 12:35, and, literally, it means “take down”, but can be understood in a positive, neutral, or negative sense; the latter is primarily intended in both passages, but certainly so in the saying here—emphasizing the danger of the person being “taken down” (or “overtaken”) by the darkness of the world. The dualistic light/darkness imagery also occurs in the chapter 3 discourse (vv. 19-20).

Thus, even if Jesus’ response might be obscure, from the standpoint of the audience (the crowd) in the discourse, it would be understandable for readers of the Gospel, who would recognize the earlier motifs. Who is this Messianic “Son of Man”? It is the Son of God, the true/eternal Light that shines in the darkness of this world. Here, the Gospel may well be redirecting traditional Messianic expectations of the time toward the unique Johannine Christology—revealing the true, deeper meaning of these titles and expressions as applied to Jesus. Like the healed blind man of chapter 9, believers see Jesus and come to him, responding with a declaration of trust. This refers specifically to the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth (in the world), a brief period of time (xro/no$) that is now coming to an end. The Light is “among” the people, and, as such, they “hold” it—but only believers will truly see and walk (“walk about”) by it (cp. 1 John 1:7).

The imperatives in verse 35 are a call for believers to come to him, and those who belong to God will respond in trust: “you must walk about as you hold the light…as you hold the light you must trust in the light”. Here the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) captures the discipleship-theme from earlier in the discourse—the believer comes toward Jesus and follows him, i.e. walks about with him; this, in turn, leads to trust (pi/sti$) and the believer remains with Jesus. This remaining involves union with Jesus (the Son) and with God the Father, and means that the believer has the same divine/eternal character as Father and Son. Thus, believers in Christ can properly be called “sons [i.e. children] of Light”, a title more or less synonymous with being called “children [lit. offspring] of God” (cf. 1:12; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2). The expression “sons of light” is traditional, being used, for example, by the Community of the Qumran texts, and comparable usage is found elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8); however, it has a deeper significance in the Johannine context, corresponding with the Christological light-imagery of the Gospel (cf. above).

The message of vv. 35-36 provides a suitable conclusion to the discourse, and to Jesus’ teaching in the first half of the Gospel; it completes the idea foreshadowed in the opening of the discourse—the Greeks (i.e. believers from the nations) who wish to come and see Jesus. In its own way, this is entirely a Messianic theme, prefigured, for example, in the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah (e.g., 42:6; 49:5-6; 52:10; 60:3). Early Christians would apply such (Messianic) imagery to the first-century mission to the Gentiles. The Johannine outlook in this regard is somewhat broader—the universal ideal of all believers in Christ, united together through the Spirit (see esp. Jn 17:20-26).

Verse 36 brings the narrative of the “Book of Signs” (chaps. 2-12) to a close, with the notice that Jesus went away and “hid himself” from the people. The same is stated in 8:59, at the end of the great chap. 7-8 Discourse (cf. also 10:40); apart from historical concerns, it is essentially a literary device, closing the curtain on a particular narrative (episode), and preparing readers for the next (the Last Supper scene and the Passion Narrative). Even so, chapter 12 only reaches it final close with two additional summary sections, in vv. 37-43 and 44-50. The last of these provides a kind of summary of all Jesus’ teaching from the great Discourses in chaps. 2-12, emphasizing, in particular, his relationship (as the Son) to God the Father. The light theme (of vv. 35-36, etc) is reprised here as well, in verse 46:

“I have come (as) light into the world, (so) that every (one) trusting in me should not remain in the darkness.”

This is the last occurrence of the noun fw=$ (“light”) in the Gospel, after serving as a key-word in the first half (23 times in chaps. 1-12). Implicit in this shift may be the idea of a time of darkness surrounding the Passion of Christ (cp. Lk 22:53 and Mk 15:33 par, and note Jn 13:30, “And it was night”), along with the promise that the light, even in the midst of the darkness, cannot be overcome (1:5).

Birth of the Messiah: Qumran and Pseudepigrapha

This series on the theme of the Birth of the Messiah concludes with a pair of articles. The first will examine (in more detail) the passages in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. referring in some way to the Messiah’s “birth” as God’s Son. The second will deal with the early Christian evidence, outside of the Matthean/Lukan Infancy narratives, insofar as it may relate to the wider (Jewish) traditions regarding the Messiah. I begin here with the Jewish writings—passages in both the Qumran texts and several other writings of the period. Some of these have been touched upon in the previous articles, but is worth given them a more extensive treatment. The Qumran texts will serve as the starting point.

1Q28a [1QSa]

The text 1QSa [28a] is one of the key Rule documents for the Qumran Community, and should be studied in connection with the more famous Community Rule (1QS). It is referred to as the “Rule of the Congregation”, and also sometimes as the “Messianic Rule”, in light of the passage that is to be discussed here. What survives of this text is comprised of a lengthy fragment in two columns. It is clearly eschatological in orientation, with column 1 beginning “This is the rule of all the congregation of Israel in the final days…”. As such, it is certainly Messianic in significance as well, and not simply because of the wording in 2.11-12 (cf. below). The Community of the Qumran texts saw itself as the true Israel and people of God, the faithful remnant of the last days, and their Messianic expectations were centered around their own Community life and organization. The regulations in 1QSa reflect the organization of the Community, in its ideal form, in preparation for the end-time action by God, to be realized through the mediation and leadership of several different Messianic figures. I discuss these figure-types in the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”; they include an Anointed Priest in addition to the more familiar Anointed Ruler/Prince from the line of David.

The Qumran Community appear to have expected that it would be joined (and led) by these two Anointed figures (Messiahs), sometimes specified in the Rule texts as “the Anointed (Ones) of Aaron and Israel” (1QS 9:11; CD/QD 12:23-13:1; 14:19; 19:11; 20:1; 1QS 9:11). This is the case in 1QSa as well, though only one figure called “Anointed” (jyvm) is named as such—the “Anointed of Israel”, i.e. the Davidic Ruler. He is mentioned in lines 11-21 of column 2, beginning as follows:

“In a s[it]ting of (the) men of the name, (the) [ones called] (to the) appointed (meeting) for (the) council of the Community, when [God] gives birth to the Anointed (One) with them, the head Priest of all the congregation of Yisra’el will come…” (lines 11-12)

The italicized words in Hebrew are generally recognized as jyvmh [t]a [la] d[yl]wy; however, the reading of the verb form dylwy (“he causes to be born, he gives birth”) has been disputed by some scholars, due to the fragmentary (and faded) condition of the manuscript. Some prefer the restoration iylwy (“he brings/leads”), while dyuwy (something like, “he makes [them] meet at the appointed [place]”) has also been suggested. Probably the majority of commentators, especially those who have (re)examined the original photographs (when the leather was in better condition), today accept the reading dylwy. But what does it mean to say that God “causes the Anointed (One) to be born”?

Certainly, the context does not suggest anything like an actual human birth, such as is described of Jesus in the Gospel Infancy narratives. Instead, the “birth” must be understood in a more symbolic sense, and the best guide for this is Psalm 2:7 (discussed in an earlier article), where the verb dl^y` is similarly used of the “Anointed One” (j^yv!m*, v. 2). In the original context of Psalm 2, this “birth” refers to the inauguration (coronation and/or enthronement) of the Israelite/Judean king. In the Messianic setting of the Qumran texts, this has to be translated in terms of the Anointed One beginning his period of rule (i.e. over the Community). Here, the Messiah (“the Anointed One of Israel“) has a subordinate position to the “head Priest” (2.13-14, 40), which suggests that this is a priestly Messiah (i.e., “the Anointed One of Aaron“). By all accounts, both Messianic figures were human beings (not supernatural/Angelic beings), who were specially appointed by God to serve in those end-time roles of leadership. Their positions reflect a two-fold division of the Community, at least in terms of their end-time assemblies—(1) the “men of the name”, led by the Priest, and (2) the “thousands of Israel”, led by the Davidic ruler, the Anointed One of Israel.

This sense of the Messiah’s “birth”, with its allusion to Psalm 2:7, provides an interesting parallel with the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition. Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his earthly ministry, just as here the “birth” of the Messiah signifies the beginning of his period of rule over the Community. The divine voice from heaven (Mark 1:11 par) at the baptism alludes to Psalm 2:7, and, indeed, in some manuscripts and versions of Luke 3:22 it is a direct quotation (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be born”).

4Q246

I have discussed the remarkable Aramaic text in earlier studies (including an article in the “Dead Sea Scrolls Spotlight” feature). According to the scenario in the two columns of the extensive surviving fragment, a king is troubled by a vision he has experienced, and a seer approaches the throne and offers to provide an interpretation similar to that of the vision in Daniel 7 (7:15-18ff): great distress upon the earth, with nations fighting each other, etc. The climactic portion of column I reads:

7 [Then shall arise a king, and he shall be] great upon the earth.
8 [All peoples sh]all make [peace with him]; they shall all serve
9 [him. Son of the gr]eat [king] he shall be called, and by his name he shall be designated
Reconstruction & translation from Fitzmyer (1993/2000) and Zimmerman (1998) [see below]

Column II then begins:

1 Son of God he will be hailed, and Son of the Most High they will call him. …

A major point of dispute among commentators is whether the figure called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” is a positive (Messianic) figure, or a negative figure, i.e. a ruler who takes/accepts these divine titles wickedly for himself. The majority of scholarly opinion today favors the Messianic interpretation. Scholars have found very little Jewish evidence (particularly in the pre-Christian period) for titles such as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” being used of enemy kings (such as Alexander Balas, Antiochus IV, Roman emperors, etc [cf. Jos. War II.184]), whereas the anointed (Davidic) king is already referred to as God’s “son” in the Old Testament (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14). It is in early Christianity, with the development of the “antichrist” concept (partly in reaction to the Roman Imperial cult), that divine names and honors are shown being appropriated or claimed falsely by evil/satanic figures (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4; Rev 13, 17; and esp. Didache 16:4). Therefore, it is most likely that a ‘Messianic’, divinely favored (or appointed) figure is meant in I.9-II.2ff. The correlation between “Son of God” and “People of God” may be drawing specifically upon the parallel in Daniel 7, where one “like a Son of Man” comes to receive an everlasting rule and kingdom (7:13-14) and the “people of the Most High” receive the sovereignty and kingdom of God (7:27). By the mid-late 1st century A.D., “Son of God” and “Son of Man” are both titles which come to be applied to heavenly Messiah-figures of the end-time who will judge/defeat the nations and restore/deliver Israel (cf. below, and Part 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

A Messianic interpretation would also seem to be confirmed by the extraordinary parallels with the Annunciation scene in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:32, 35):

aura lu hwhl br[ ] “[he will be] great upon the earth” (I.7)
rmaty la yd hlb “Son of God he will be hailed” (II.1)
hnwrqy /wylu rbw “and Son of the Highest he will be called”
<lu twklm htwklm “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (II.5)
ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ “this (one) will be great” (Luke 1:32)
klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou= “he will be called | Son of God”
kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai “and Son of the Highest he will be called” (1:35)
kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$ “and of his kingdom there will not be an end” (1:33)

The application of the title “Son of God” to this Messianic figure likely reflects the same general influence of the royal theology (in Psalm 2:7) discussed above; only in this sense can we speak of the Messiah’s “birth” in this text.

4Q369

This highly fragmentary text is almost certainly another apocalyptic work, with similarities to other Jewish pseudepigrapha of the period. An ancient ancestor of Israel (Enosh has been suggested) prophecies the Israelite history, from the earliest period down to the end-time (i.e. the current time of the author/audience). Thus, like all such apocalyptic works, the emphasis is eschatological, presenting the future hopes and expectations (including Messianic expectation) of people as the sure fulfillment of ancient prophecy. The context of the work is established in column 1 of fragment 1, including a genealogy of the ancestors through Enoch. In column 2, it would seem that there is a prophecy of the establishment of the Israelite kingdom (at Jerusalem) and the Davidic line; the language used reflects Judean royal theology, and almost certainly has Messianic significance in such a context:

“…your Name. You allotted his portion to cause your Name to dwell there […] It is the glory of your earthly land. And on it dw[ell your people …] your eye is on it, and your glory will be seen there fo[rever …] to his seed for their generations an eternal possession. And al[l …] and you have made clear to him your good judgments […] in eternal light. And you made him a first-bo[rn] son to you […] like him for a prince and ruler in all your earthly land [… …the] cr[own of the] heavens and the glory of the clouds [you] have set [on him … …] and the angel of your peace among his assembly. And h[e … gave] to him righteous statutes, as a father to [his s]on [… …] his love your soul cleaves to for[ever. …] because by them [you established] your glory […]”
Translation by Craig A. Evans, Qumran-Messianism, p. 147.

It is noteworthy how heavenly/Angelic attributes are combined with the royal/Davidic motifs and traditions, very much suggesting that a Messianic figure is in view. The idea of the Messiah as God’s “first-born son” (rwkb /b) would be a development of the tradition of the faithful (Davidic) king as God’s son in Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14. The images of “eternal light” and the “glory of the clouds” are vaguely reminiscent of the scene of Jesus’ baptism, as also of his exaltation to heaven; in both contexts Psalm 2:7 was applied to Jesus, identifying him as both the Anointed One (Messiah) and God’s Son. Possibly, the Messianic/ruler figure in 4Q369 1 col. 2 is similarly understood to be “born” as God’s son through a dramatic heavenly manifestation that confirms his kingship.

The remaining fragments of the text (2-4), while tantalizing, are too small for much meaningful interpretation or reconstruction of the work as a whole.

4Q534

Another fascinating (and, unfortunately, highly fragmentary) text is 4Q534, an Aramaic word sometimes called the “Elect of God” text, due to the striking description in lines 8-11 of column 1 of the surviving fragment:

“…he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples. And he will know the secrets of all living things. [And al]l their plans against him will come to nothing, although the opposition of all living things will be great. […] his [p]lans. Because he is the elect of God, his birth and the spirit of his breath […] his [p]lans shall be forever.” (Translation Martinez-Tigchelaar, p. 1071)

It has been suggested that, in the literary context of the work, this is a prophecy of Noah’s birth (the Flood is apparently mentioned in column 2, line 14). The language certainly indicates a special figure, with a status and place in the world that has been established by God. These are characteristics that could apply just as well to a Messianic figure, and it is possible that such an association is intended. The expression “the spirit of his breath” may allude to Isa 11:4, a popular passage that influenced the Messianic Davidic ruler figure-type in Jewish writings of the period. There is a gap in the text presumably where something would have been stated regarding the birth of this person, and conceivably could have read “his birth and the spirit of his breath [are of God]”, or something similar (Evans, Qumran-Messianism, p. 145 [citing J. A. Fitzmyer]). If more of the text had survived, we might be able to determine if there is genuinely Messianic significance to this passage, or if the similarities are coincidental.

There are even fewer references to the Messiah’s “birth” as God’s Son in other Jewish writings in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Indeed, I am only aware of two passages which can reasonably be cited, and neither refers to the Messiah’s birth per se.

Psalms of Solomon 17-18

The 17th and 18th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon represent the earliest depiction of the Messiah (that is, the Davidic rule figure-type) in any detail. These hymns are usually dated to the mid-1st century B.C. (sometime after 63 B.C.). There is no specific mention of the Davidic Messiah as God’s Son, but there are several references, in close proximity, which illustrate how such traditional birth/sonship motifs could come together and be applied within the same Messianic context.

In 17:21, God is called on to “raise up” this king, whose Davidic origins are clear in the reference to him as “the son of David”; he is to be revealed to the world, and to God’s people, in the time known only to God. This manifestation of the Messiah, could, in similar contexts, be referred to as his “birth” (cf. above, on 1QSa 2.11-12). Moreover, an allusion to Psalm 2 follows in verse 23, which suggests that Ps 2:7 (and the Messiah’s “birth”) may also be in mind when referring to his end-time appearance. The Messiah’s unique relationship to God’s people at the end-time is also emphasized in vv. 26ff, with the traditional identification of the faithful ones of God’s people as His “sons” or “children”; this association is made in v. 27b:

“For he [i.e. the Messiah] shall know them, that they all are (the) sons of their God.”

If the faithful ones who obey the Messiah are sons/children of God, then it certainly follows that he is God’s “son” as well. The close (filial) relationship between the Anointed king (Messiah) and God is developed in vv. 31b-34: he is righteous, will be taught by God, will be called Lord and Anointed One (Lord Messiah), and God (the Lord) Himself is the Messiah’s own king.

Psalm 2 is again in view in Ps Sol 18, where the people will be shepherded under the rod of the Messiah (v. 6). This “rod” is also expressed in terms of the discipline shown by a father (God) to his son (Israel); indeed, in v. 4, Israel is described as a “firstborn son, an only child”. Again, if the people can be called God’s (firstborn) son, then surely this applies to their king Messiah as well (cf. above on 4Q369).

2/4 Esdras 13

The writing known as 2 (or 4) Esdras, like many of the surviving Jewish pseudepigrapha, was preserved and edited by Christians, but is ultimately based on Jewish materials. Indeed, the core of this work (chapters 3-14), the portion typically referred to as “4 Ezra”, is thoroughly Jewish and dates from the latter part of the 1st century A.D.—thus making it contemporary with much of the New Testament. The work is apocalyptic, presented as a prophecy of things which are to occur at the end-time. As an eschatological Jewish writing, it thus evinces a strong Messianic orientation, especially of the Davidic ruler figure-type who will appear to deliver God’s people and usher in the Judgment on the nations. In chapter 13, there is a vision of a man arising out of the sea (vv. 5ff); in the explanation of this vision that follows in vv. 25-38, a divine/heavenly voice tells the seer (Ezra) about the coming deliverance. Prior to the coming of the Messiah, there will be a period of intense suffering and distress, including wars among the nations (vv. 30-31); then it is related that:

“when these things come to pass and the signs occur which I showed you before, then my Son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea.” (v. 32)

According to the Messianic traditions studied above, based primarily on Psalm 2:7, this revealing of God’s Son, his rising up “out of the sea”, could properly be referred to as his “birth”, though that particular wording is not used here. The conflict with the nations and their Judgment certainly corresponds to the traditional Messianic interpretation of Psalm 2. In verses 33-34 it is describes how the nations ultimately gather together with the intent of conquering the Son, but the result is that

“he will stand on the top of Mount Zion. And Zion will come and be made manifest to all people… And he, my Son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness…and will reproach them to their face with their evil thoughts…and he will destroy them without effort by the law (which was symbolized by the fire)” (vv. 35-37, ellipses mine)

Again the revelation of God’s Son is mentioned in verse 52: “no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day”.

Translations and references above marked “Martínez-Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8.
Those marked “Qumran-Messiasm” are to Qumran-Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998). “Zimmerman” is the article by Johannes Zimmermann, “Observations on 4Q246 – The ‘Son of God’, pp. 175-190; the article by Craig A. Evans is “Are the ‘Son’ Texts at Qumran ‘Messianic’? Reflections on 4Q369 and Related Scrolls”, pp. 135-153.
“Fitzmyer” refers to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins (Eerdmans: 2000).
The translation of 2/4 Esdras is that of Bruce M. Metzger in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1983).

January 6: Galatians 3:27; 1 John 3:2

Believers as the “sons of God”, continued

In this short study on the “birth” of Believers as the sons/children of God, I have presented this in terms of Christian experience, as a process made up of four ‘stages’. The first two were discussed in the previous note, each with a representative Scripture verse; the last two will be examined today.

    1. Pre-existent sonship (predestination/election as sons)
    2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus
    3. Sonship recognized/symbolized in the ritual of Baptism
    4. Sonship realized through resurrection/exaltation
3. Sonship symbolized in Baptism (Galatians 3:26-27ff)

In the conceptual framework I have adopted, the baptism of believers corresponds, appropriately enough, with the baptism of Jesus (cf. the chiastic outline in the previous note). As Jesus was declared God’s Son at the Baptism, so the sonship of believers is recognized (and symbolized) in the ritual of baptism.

References to baptism are surprisingly rare in the New Testament, outside of the Gospels and Acts. Indeed, Paul is the only author to deal with subject (apart from 1 Peter 3:21), and he appears to have developed a distinctive interpretation of the ritual. Drawing upon a common early tradition, he has infused baptism with a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning. There were two factors which led to the association between baptism and the identity of believers as sons of God. The first of these, as noted above, is the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ own baptism. All four Gospels include the tradition of the heavenly voice (of God) declaring Jesus to be his Son. While there is some textual uncertainty regarding this declaration in John (1:34, v.l.), the Synoptic tradition is relatively fixed (Mark 1:11 par). As discussed in an earlier note, the heavenly declaration almost certainly alludes to Psalm 2:7 (in Luke 3:22 v.l. it is a direct citation), and, as such, has definite Messianic significance, though, as we have seen, Christians also came to understand the title “Son of God” (and the statement in Psalm 2:7 itself) in a deeper sense, in terms of the pre-existent deity of Christ.

The second factor involves the significance of the ritual act, as it developed among the earliest believers. From the original idea of cleansing (from sin), baptism came to represent the essential identity of the believer in Christ. This was patterned along the lines of the Lord’s Supper, as presented in the early (Gospel) tradition—as a participation in the death of Jesus, symbolically imitating his own sacrificial act. By going into the water, one dies (symbolically), participating in Jesus’ death; and, in emerging again from the water, our new life in Christ is symbolized—a “rebirth” effected by the same divine power (the Spirit) that raised Jesus from the dead. No one emphasized or expressed this participatory aspect more than Paul. It is clearly and powerfully stated in Romans 6:3-5:

“…are you without knowledge that we, as (many of us) as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death? Then we were buried together with him through th(is) dunking into the death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of the dead through the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Father, (so) also we should walk about in newness of life. For if we have come to be planted together in the likeness of his death, (then) also will we be (in the likeness) of (his) standing up (out of the dead)…”

The same idea is expressed, more concisely, in Colossians 2:12, which better captures the essence of the ritual act:

“…(hav)ing been buried together with him in the dunking [i.e. baptism], in which also you rose together, through the trust (you have) of God’s working in (it), the (One hav)ing raised him out of the dead”

In Galatians, this participatory language also occurs at several points, not always in the context of baptism (see especially 2:19-21). The theme of baptism is introduced at 3:27, directly following the declaration in verse 26 regarding the identity of believers as sons of God (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The entirety of chapter 3 (indeed, all of chaps. 3-4) deals with this question of Christian identity—i.e., believers in Christ as the people of God, heirs to the covenantal promises originally given to Abraham (and Israel). The true identity of humankind as the sons of God comes through trust in Jesus, along with the presence of the Spirit—both of which are represented in the baptism ritual. Here is how Paul concludes his discussion in chapter 3:

“For all of you are sons of God through the trust (you have) in (the) Anointed Yeshua, for as (many) of you as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed, you sunk yourselves into (the) Anointed (as a garment). (And) there is in (him) no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek, there is in (him) no slave and no free (person), there is in (him) no male and female—for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua! And if you are of the Anointed (One), then you are the seed of Abraham, (the one)s receiving (his) lot, according to (the) message [i.e. promise] (of God) upon (it).” (vv. 26-29)

This same sort of ritual language and imagery is used by Paul in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:10-11 (cp. Eph 4:24). His use of the image of ‘putting on a garment’, with the verb e)ndu/w (literally “sink in”, i.e. into the garment), is even more widespread. It is typically used in the middle voice, that is, of believers reflexively putting on Christ (as a garment). The ‘garment’ signifies the participatory union we have with Jesus (the Son), but also the new life (and new way of life) that this union brings. It is the baptism ritual that symbolizes this new life, but it still must be realized by believers, in the present, each day. Thus, Paul uses the idiom in an ethical context, urging believers to live and walk in this newness of life, which means walking according to the guidance of the Spirit. For the verb e)ndu/w in this context, cf. 1 Thess 5:8; Romans 13:12-14; Col 3:9-12 (cp. 2:11-12); Eph 6:11, 14; and, for similar instruction specifically referring to the Spirit’s guidance, note Rom 8:4-5ff; Gal 5:16-18, 25; 6:8. That the baptismal ‘garment’ is essentially to be identified with the Spirit is clear from 1 Cor 12:13.

In 1 Cor 15:53f and 2 Cor 5:3 the verb e)ndu/w and image of putting on the (new) garment is used in an eschatological context, referring to the resurrection and future glory of believers. It is this (final) aspect of the sonship of believers that I discuss briefly below.

4. Sonship realized through Resurrection/Exaltation (1 John 3:2)

It is in Romans 8:18-25 that Paul addresses the identity of believers as the “sons of God”, as it is finally realized at the end-time, in the resurrection. I have discussed this passage earlier, as part of the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and will not repeat that study here. Instead, I turn to 1 John 3:1-3, for an expression of this eschatological aspect.

The principal thrust of First John has to do with the identity of those who are true believers in Christ. This is defined by the great dual-command of (a) trust in Jesus and (b) love for one’s fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example (3:23-24). For the author of the letter, sin is understood primarily as violating the dual-command. The section 2:28-3:10 deals with the relationship between sin and the believer; no true believer can sin in the sense of transgressing the dual-command, only false believers will sin this way. He warns of the false believers who do not have a proper trust or belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and also do not show love (since they have separated from the Community of believers). And, in common with the Johannine theology, the true believers are identified as children of God, using the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), i.e. “the ones having come to be born out of God”. This is the language used in 2:29 (also 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18), while the plural noun te/kna (“offspring, children”) occurs in 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; in the Gospel, note 1:12-13; 3:3-8. In the Johannine writings, te/kna is preferred over ui(oi/ (“sons”, except Jn 12:36 “sons of light”), with the noun ui(o/$ reserved for Jesus as the only “Son”.

The section 2:28-3:10 is given an eschatological setting, referring to the end-time coming of Jesus, in 2:28. The author clearly believed that he and his readers were living in the last days (“last hour”, 2:18), and would likely live to see the return of Jesus. The false view of Jesus is called antichrist (a)nti/xristo$, “against the Anointed”) and is a sure indication that the end is near. Thus, in 3:1-3, the identity of believers as sons/children of God has both a present and future aspect, with the future soon to be realized:

“You must see what (sort of) love the Father has given to us, that we would be called (the) offspring of God [te/kna qeou=], and (so) we are. Through [i.e. because of] this, the world does not know us, (in) that [i.e. because] it did not know Him. Loved (one)s, we are now (the) offspring of God, and yet it has not been made to shine forth what we will be. We have seen that, when it should (indeed) be made to shine forth, we will be like Him, (in) that we will look with (open) eyes (seeing) Him even as He is. And (so) every (one) holding this hope upon him makes himself pure, even as that (one) is pure.”

The key eschatological statement is verse 2 (in bold). There are four different dimensions to the believers’ identity as the “offspring of God”, and they generally correspond with the four ‘stages’ outlined in this study:

    • “we would be called” —the love and intention God has for us [Election/Predestination]
    • “we are” —our essential identity and reality as believers [Trust in Jesus]
    • “we are now” —our identity in the present, realized in the Christian life [Symbolized by Baptism, etc]
    • “we will be” —our identity fulfilled at the end-time coming of Jesus [Resurrection/Exaltation]

The syntax of vv. 1-3 poses certain problems, as the referent for the 3rd person singular verbal subject and pronoun is not always clear. Does “he/him” refer to God the Father (the immediate subject in v. 1) or to Jesus (his return, the subject in 2:28). Moreover, the verb fanerwqh=| is unclear—is the subject “what we will be”, or does it refer to the appearance of Jesus? The former is to be preferred as more natural to the syntax, and also to the point the author is making; it should be read “when it should be made to shine forth…”. As to the identity of “he/him”, in my view, it is God the Father in vv. 1-2, but then switches (back) to Jesus in v. 3. The hope of believers is “upon him”, that is, upon the return of Jesus (2:28), and the demonstrative pronoun e)kei=no$ (“that one”) refers back to Jesus. In between, 2:29-3:2, the focus is on God the Father, and our (believers’) relation to Him as His offspring. Admittedly, the syntax is a bit confusing; it requires careful attention to the nuance of the author’s line of argument.

This eschatological dimension of sonship is not that unusual; it relates to the traditional Jewish idea of the righteous as “sons of God”, an identity that will only be fully realized in the blessed afterlife, after having passed through the Judgment—e.g., Wisdom 5:5; Philo On the Confusion of Tongues §147; cp. Matt 5:9; 2 Cor 6:18. We also have the eschatological image of the faithful ones being gathered together, at the end-time, as “sons of God” (Psalms of Solomon 17:28-30; cp. John 11:52). The blessed future life for the righteous involves the vision of God, i.e. seeing God Himself, and it is this experience which fully transforms the righteous (believers) into sons/children of God who resemble their Father (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor 3:18; in Jewish tradition, e.g., Philo On Abraham §§57-59; Pesiqta Rabbati 46b [11.7]; Midrash on Psalm 149 [270a]). Cf. R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982), p. 425, and the discussion throughout pp. 378-435.

Ultimately, however, for believers, this transformation is based on our union with Jesus (the Son), through the Spirit. This builds on the familiar idea that our identity as God’s sons/children stems from Jesus’ own Sonship. Paul recognizes this throughout his discussions on the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23ff, 45-49; 2 Cor 4:14; Phil 3:20-21, etc), but most notably in Romans 8:18-25ff, and the climactic statement in verse 29:

“…that the (one)s whom He knew before(hand) He also marked out before(hand) together in (the) shape of the image of His Son, unto his being (the) first-produced [i.e. firstborn] among many brothers

Thus, we are to become truly God’s sons, brothers to Jesus as His Son. Much the same idea is to be found in Hebrews 2:10:

“For it was fitting for Him, through whom all (thing)s (have their purpose), and through whom all (thing)s (came to be), (in) leading many sons into honor/splendor [do/ca], (was) to make complete the chief leader of their salvation through sufferings.”

In 1 John 3:1-3, this relationship is indicated by the outer references to Jesus (2:28, 3:3) which frame the inner references to God the Father. Our sonship derives from Jesus’ own sonship, and our exaltation is similarly based on Jesus’ own exaltation. When he returns, this final aspect of our identity as sons of God will be realized.

January 5: Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 3:26

Believers as the “Sons of God”

Having examined the development of the early Christian belief regarding Jesus as the Son of God (and his “birth” as the Son), it is now time, in these Christmas season notes, to consider the second part of the paradigm—the identity of believers as the sons (or children) of God. If the first part was studied in terms of the Gospel message, the second part will be explored in terms of Christian experience. That is to say, how do we, as believers, come to experience our identity as children of God? Even as the Christology of the New Testament developed, progressively, through revelation and contemplation, so the experience of the believer in Christ is also a process. This process may be defined in four ‘stages’, which mirror those of the Christological development:

    • Jesus as the Son of God through his resurrection and exaltation
      • Recognized as Son from the point of his Baptism
        • Called the Son of God from the very time of his Birth
          • His pre-existent deity as the eternal Son
          • Our predestination/election as Sons of God
        • Our spiritual birth as God’s Children, through trust in Jesus
      • The symbolic recognition of this Sonship in the Baptism ritual
    • The final realization as Sons of God in our resurrection (and exaltation)

It is in the Johannine Writings (the Gospel and 1 John) that the central themes (the innermost pair above) of Jesus’ pre-existent deity and the pre-existent election of believers is most prominent. This was already discussed in the previous note, in considering John 1:12-14, where both themes are combined, using the same image of birth/sonship. However, in the Johannine writings, only Jesus is ever called “Son” (ui(o/$); for believers, the plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used instead—1:12; 11:52; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2. The plural ui(oi/ (“sons”) is used in Jn 12:36, in the specific expression “sons of light” (ui(oi\ fwto/$, also Lk 16:8, and by Paul in 1 Thess 5:5). That particular expression draws on the earlier ethical-religious idea of the righteous—i.e., the faithful ones of Israel—as God’s sons. This language is part of Israelite and Jewish wisdom traditions (e.g., Wisdom 2:13, 18; 5:5; Sirach 4:10), and is used by Jesus in his teaching (Matt 5:9, 45 [par Lk 6:35]; 13:38; Luke 16:8, etc).

Outside of the Johannine writings, it is Paul who makes most use of the birth/sonship theme, applying it to believers on numerous occasions. He also is influenced by Old Testament tradition, for example, in the way he cites Hosea 1:10 in Rom 9:26, i.e., of faithful Israelites as “sons of the living God” —he applies this specifically to the “remnant” of Israel that has trusted in Jesus (v. 27). Thus, the divine sonship of believers is tied directly to faith in Jesus (the Son). This is very much the emphasis in the Gospel and letters of John as well—believers are called the “children” (te/kna) of God, and are identified as ones “having come to be born” (perfect participle of genna/w) out of God, because they/we trust in Jesus as God’s Son. This will be discussed further below.

If we keep in mind the four ‘stages’ indicated above, the first two will be dealt with in this note, focusing on two representative verses:

    1. Pre-existent sonship (predestination/election as sons)
    2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus
    3. Sonship recognized/symbolized in the ritual of Baptism
    4. Sonship realized through resurrection/exaltation
1. Pre-existent Sonship (Ephesians 1:5)

The idea of believers’ pre-existent sonship—that is, of our election/predestination as the sons/children of God—is most clearly stated in Ephesians 1:4-5:

“…even as He gathered us out in him [i.e. in Christ] before the casting down [i.e. founding] of the world, (for) us to be holy and without flaw (there) in His sight, in love, (hav)ing marked us out before(hand) unto (our) placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], through Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto Him, according to the good consideration of His will.”

Many critical commentators would question or dispute the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, but this passage very much reflects Paul’s genuine thought. In particular, he utilizes the key word ui(oqesi/a, meaning the placing (from the verb ti/qhmi) of someone as a son (ui(o/$); indeed, he is the only New Testament author to use this noun (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal 4:5). In English, it is typically translated “adoption”, but this obscures the important etymological tie with the word son (ui(o/$). A comparison with Romans 8:14-16 is instructive:

“For as (many) as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God [ui(oi\ qeou=]. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again, into fear, but (rather) you received the Spirit of placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], in which we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ For the Spirit it(self) gives witness together with our spirit that we are children of God [te/kna qeou=].”

Paul’s syntax here indicates that he has in mind the sonship of believers primarily in terms of our receiving the Spirit, and that this occurred at the point when we came to trust in Jesus (cf. below). However, as he makes clear in vv. 29-30, this is part of a process which begins with the election/predestination of believers:

“(For it is) that the (ones) whom He knew before(hand), He also marked out before(hand) (in the) shape together of the image of His Son, unto his [i.e. Jesus’] being the first-formed among many brothers…”

Thus, clearly, believers are predestined by God to be His sons, though this is defined entirely in terms of Jesus’ own Sonship. On the application of the verbs proginw/skw (“know before[hand]”) and proori/zw (“mark out before[hand]”) to believers, cf. also 1 Cor 2:7; Rom 11:2; Eph 1:5, 11.

The language and imagery Paul uses in Gal 4:4-6 is similar to that of Rom 8:14-16:

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent out from (Him) His Son…(so) that he would purchase out the (one)s under the Law, (so) that we would receive from (Him) the placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a]. And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

It is by the Spirit that we receive sonship, and yet, even before this, believers already have the identity as sons (“because we are sons…”). This confirms again that, for Paul, the sonship of believers is comprehensive, and part of a process that is prior even to our coming to faith.

2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus (Gal 3:26)

It hardly needs to be pointed out the centrality of trust in Jesus for the identity of believers (as sons/children of God). This is clear enough from the passages we have already considered (above), but it is worth noting several verses where this association is made explicit. I begin with Galatians 3:26:

“For you all are sons of God through the trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

It is hard to imagine a more concise and direct statement. One might, however, clarify something of the context for this statement—it has to do, again, with the traditional idea of Israel (esp. the faithful Israelites) as the sons/children of God. Fundamentally, this is based on the ancient covenant concept, as applied within the Israelite religious setting. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul radically re-interprets the covenant idea; actually this reflects a process of interpretation that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching, but Paul develops it in a unique way, making the religious identity of God’s people depend entirely on trust in Jesus. This necessitated a complete break from the earlier covenant, introduced in the time of Abraham, and for which the Law (Torah) represented the binding terms. Through Jesus there is a new agreement, and the Torah is no longer binding for believers; instead, it is trust in Jesus, along with the presence of the Spirit, which binds people to God (as His sons/children).

This explains the parallel between Gal 3:26 and the earlier statement in verse 7: “Therefore you must know that the (one)s (who are born) out of trust [i.e. in Jesus], these are the sons of Abraham”. I have filled in the expression oi( e)k pi/stew$ (“the [one]s out of trust”) with the idea of being born, as this relates to being a “son”. The proper point of reference is verse 2, where the focus is on receiving the Spirit—Paul asks the Galatians whether they received it “out of works of the Law” (i.e., by observing the Torah) or “out of the hearing of trust” (i.e., trusting in the Gospel message they heard). These two themes—receiving the Spirit and being born (as sons)—are combined most effectively in the Gospel of John, especially in the famous discourse with Nicodemus, 3:3-8. That coming to be born “out of the Spirit” is also defined in terms of trust in Jesus is clear enough from what follows in vv. 11-15ff. It is also expressed definitively in the prologue (1:12-13), as we saw in the previous note. It is worth comparing Jn 1:12 with Rom 8:14 (cf. above):

“But as (many) as received him, to them, to the (one)s trusting in his name, he gave the ability to become the children of God” (Jn 1:12)
“For as (many) as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14)

January 3: John 1:12-13, 14

John 1:12-13, 14

The prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) is probably the most famous and distinctive exposition of the divine pre-existence of Jesus, and of his identity as the Son of God, anywhere in the New Testament. This familiarity belies the complexity of the passage, both from a literary and theological standpoint. Most commentators have note the poetic, hymnic character of the prologue (most of it), and many consider it to have been a Jewish-Christian hymn which the author adapted. If so, then the substance of the prologue pre-dates the Johannine Gospel itself, which is generally regarded as the latest of the four Gospels (c. 90 A.D.), though containing many earlier traditions.

The prologue differs from the Gospel proper in a number of ways, with the poetic verses (and strophes) distinguished from the several prose statements (by the Gospel writer). The main additions by the author would seem to be the two statements regarding John the Baptist (vv. 6-9, 15), which function as comments, likely in response to adherents of the Baptist who viewed him as the Messiah, etc, instead of Jesus. Nowhere in the Gospel tradition is there such a pronounced contrast between John and Jesus (1:19-34; 3:22-30ff), with the Gospel declaring the superiority of Jesus in no uncertain terms.

Verses 13 and 17-18 are probably also explanatory statements by the Gospel writer that have been added to the earlier hymn; these statements enhance the theological and Christological dimension of the poem. If, indeed, the bulk of the prologue represents a pre-existing hymn, or poem, it would seem to reflect Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions that have been applied to the person of Jesus Christ. In this regard, it is similar in style and tone with two other Christological ‘hymns’ in the New Testament—Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4 (cf. the previous note)—and may have been written at about the same time (c. 60-70). In his now-classic Commentary on the Gospel of John, Raymond E. Brown, following the work of earlier scholars, divides the poetic prologue into four parts or strophes (pp. 3-4), which I have further annotated here:

    • Strophe 1 (vv. 1-2)—Pre-existence: The Son (as the Word) with God in eternity
    • Strophe 2 (vv. 3-5)—Creation by the Word of God, which is also the Light
    • Strophe 3 (vv. 10-12a)—Response of humankind to the Word/Light
    • Strophe 4 (vv. 14, 16)—The presence of the incarnate Word with humankind (believers)

According to this sequence, the third strophe (vv. 10-12a) describes the entry of the Word (lo/go$) into the world (ko/smo$). While this alludes to the incarnation of Christ, it is not limited to that historical phenomenon. Rather, the orientation is wider, reflecting traditions regarding the presence of God’s Wisdom in the world; in particular, verses 10-11 draw upon the theme of Wisdom seeking a place among human beings on earth and finding none (cf. 1 Enoch 42:2). Since Jesus is the eternal Word/Wisdom of God, this traditional language and imagery is entirely appropriate:

“He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, and (yet) the world did not know him. Unto his own (thing)s he came, and his own (people) did not receive him alongside.” (vv. 10-11)

Only a few (the wise) accept Wisdom, even as only the righteous few accept the Word of God. Within the Johannine writings, this is understood in terms of what we would call election—that is, there are those who belong to God, chosen by Him, and it is they who are able to accept the Truth. Those who belong to God the Father, and who accept His truth, will be drawn to Jesus the Son, and will accept him (cf. 3:20-21; 18:37, etc). This theology underlies the statement in v. 12a:

“But as (many) as received him, he gave to them the e)cousi/a to become offspring of God”

The Word gives to the elect (i.e. those who receive him) the ability to become the offspring, or children, of God. Again, this is only realized within the Gospel context of the ministry of Jesus and the presence/work of the Spirit. The noun e)cousi/a, difficult to translate in English, refers (literally) to something which comes out of a person’s being, i.e., something one is able to do. To give e)cousi/a thus means giving someone the ability to do something, often in the sense of authority given by a superior to one who is subordinate. Verse 12b-13, which may represent an explanatory comment by the Gospel writer, expounds the idea of believers as the children (or offspring, te/kna, lit. those produced) of God:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of God, came to be (born).”

This is a uniquely Johannine way of describing believers (“the ones trusting”), using the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”). In the First Letter, the verb occurs 10 times, always (with just one exception) in the special sense of believers being born out of God; especially important is the articular (perfect) participle, used to define the identity of the believer— “the (one) having come to be born out of God” (3:9; 5:1, 4, 18). Only with the aorist participle in 5:1 is it used of Jesus, as the one born out of God (i.e., the Son); that peculiar usage is presumably meant to emphasize Jesus’ Sonship as the basis for our own (as children of God). The main Gospel passage expressing this is Jn 3:3-8, where the verb occurs 8 times. Here, coming to be born “out of God” (e)k tou= qeou=) is defined two-fold as being born “from above” (a&nwqen, v. 3) and “out of the Spirit” (e)k tou= pneu/mato$, vv. 6, 8). Being born “out of the Spirit” is contrasted with an ordinary human birth (“out of water”); there is a similar (three-fold) contrast with being born “out of God” in 1:13:

    • “not out of blood [pl. bloods]” —in the Semitic idiom, the plural usually refers to “acts of blood(shed)”, but here it may indicate the more general physiological idea of “actions involving (the) blood” (i.e., menstruation, etc)
    • “not out of the will of the flesh” —the will of the flesh signifies primarily the sexual drive
    • “not out of the will of man” —i.e., the intention and activity of the parent(s)

These three, taken together, refer to the ordinary (physical/biological) birth of human beings; this is very different from the spiritual birth of believers as sons/children of God. Interestingly, the only time in the Gospel when the verb genna/w is used of Jesus (in 18:37) it generally refers to his birth as human being; this is also the sense of what follows in 1:14 (using the related verb gi/nomai):

“And the Word came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh and put down (his) tent among us, and we looked (closely) at his splendor—(the) splendor as (the) only (one) coming to be [monogenh/$] (from) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth.”

This is the climactic moment of the Prologue (the poem), describing the incarnation of the eternal Word, i.e. his birth as a human being. This birth is implied by the specific wording, especially the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), from which also the compound adjective monogenh/$ is essentially derived. The adjective is notoriously difficult to translate in English; literally, it means “only (one) coming to be”, and, while it can refer to an only child, it more properly denotes something like “one of a kind”. Here, it refers to the incarnate Word (Jesus) as the unique Son (ui(o/$) of God. Indeed, in the Johannine writings, ui(o/$ is never used of believers; it is reserved for the one Son (Jesus), and, instead, the plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used when referring to believers as the sons/children of God.

The Johannine Prologue, especially with the concluding verses 14-18, represents the pinnacle of the expression of early Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God, blending the doctrines of divine pre-existence and incarnation together in the most powerful way, within the matrix of Jewish Wisdom tradition (cp. 1:14 with Sirach 24:8ff). It is also most remarkable how the Gospel writer, in developing and expounding his traditional material, combines the idea of believers as the sons/children of God with that of Jesus as the unique Son. This is very much a Johannine emphasis (in both the Gospel and Letters), but one also shared by Paul (in his Letters), indicating that it was a part of a natural development in early Christian thought. It is this that we will explore further in the next note—how early Christians understood believers in Christ to be born as “sons of God”.

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The reference to the birth of believers in 1:12-13 was apparently confusing, and/or problematic, for many readers and copyists. Some early witnesses (primarily Latin) read the singular in v. 13 instead of the plural, beginning with the relative pronoun (o%$) and including the form of the verb genna/w; thus vv. 12b-13 would be translated as follows:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one) who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of God, came to be (born).”

The entire relative clause would then refer back to the subject of “his name”, rather than to “the ones trusting”, that is, to the birth of Jesus, rather than the spiritual birth of believers. The distinction was not lost on Tertullian, who accepted the singular as original, and accused Gnostics of altering the text to eliminate the idea of Jesus’ miraculous birth, replacing it with their own ‘spiritual’ birth (as gnostics), cf. On the Flesh of Christ 19. Tertullian, however, is almost certainly mistaken on this textual point, the reading with the singular being instead an example of an “orthodox corruption” (cf. B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture [Oxford: 1993], pp. 26-27). To be sure, it is understandable how the variant reading might come to be reasonably well-establish, offering as it does support for the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, and perhaps, at the same time, reflecting a certain unease among the orthodox regarding the identification of believers as the sons/children of God. I have discussed this in more detail in earlier notes.