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

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology, continued

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

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

We turn now to Part 2:

The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Synoptic Tradition (Matthew-Luke)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Pauline Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 90 (Part 2)

Psalm 90, continued

Prayer: Verses 11-16

Verse 11

“Who knows (the) might of your (burning) anger,
and <who> sees (the) center of your boiling (rage)?

The second part of the Psalm (vv. 11-16) constitutes a prayer, following the lament in the first part (vv. 3-10, discussed in the previous study). The Wisdom orientation of the lament continues in this initial unit (vv. 11-12), which can be viewed as transitional to the prayer proper (in vv. 13-16).

The MT of this verse is problematic. The meter is irregular (3+2), and the first word of the second line creates an awkward reading and syntax— “and according to your fear your boiling (rage)”. A parallelism of the lines would indicate that “and according to your fear” (;t=a*r=y]k=W) should match “who (is the one) knowing (the) might of…?” (zu) u^d@oy ym!) in the first line. It has been suggested (cf. Kraus, p. 214, following Gunkel; HALOT, p. 1730) that the MT should be emended slightly—from itaryk to itarym—and redivided and vocalized as Et) ha#r) ym!. This emendation finds support in the LXX, which translates beginning with a)po (“from…”), assuming a preposition /m! (prefixed –m).

While the LXX translator may have understood a prefixed preposition (-m), it is more likely that an interrogative particle (ym!) was present in the original, being repeated from the first line to create a double rhetorical question. The parallelism would then be formal:

    • Who (is) | knowing | (the) might of | your anger?
    • Who (is) | seeing | (the) center of | your rage?

The verb ha*r* (“see”) in this case would have the sense of “perceive, recognize, understand”, bringing out the parallel with ud^y` (“know”). The word ET) (defective for EoT) is understood as the substantive (meaning “midst, middle, inside”) derived from the root Ew#T*; for concision, I translate it above as “center,” though “heart” would make a better poetic rendering. As a parallel with zu), (“strength, might, power”), the sense is probably something like “substance, essence, force”. The noun hr*b=u# denotes something “crossing over”; when used of the anger of YHWH (as earlier in v. 9), the sense is of an ‘overflowing’ rage that bursts forth (or, in the idiom I am using here, “boils over”).

Verse 12

“(How) to number our days, so may you help us know,
that we might bring (in) a heart of wisdom.”

The implication of the double question in v. 11 is that no human being is able to understand fully the reasons for God’s anger—and, in particular, why it should last as long as it does. The length of YHWH’s anger is tied to the related theme of the shortness of human life; this was a key Wisdom-theme in the lament (cf. the exegesis in Part 1), and it continues here. The wise person knows how to “number” (vb hn`m*) his/her days; the point is not simply to know the length of one’s life, but to make the most of it. This is achieved through YHWH’s instruction (vb ud^y` Hiphil, “make know, bring knowledge”); the person who knows (v. 11) receives the teaching provided by God.

The corresponding Hiphil of the verb aoB in line 2, “make come” (i.e., “bring”), should be understood in the sense of “bring in”, with the contextual connotation of acquiring something and bringing it into one’s possession. In this instance, the possession to be desired is a “heart of wisdom” (i.e., a wise heart).

Verse 13

“Turn back, O YHWH—until when?—
and ease (your anger) over your servants!”

As noted above, the prayer properly begins here in verse 13. The Psalmist pleads for YHWH to “turn back” from His anger (v. 11, and in vv. 7-9). The verb bWv (“turn back”) can also be understood here in the sense of YHWH returning to His people, so as to give them blessing and protection once again. However, the idea of God refraining from His punishing anger would seem to be the dominant aspect of meaning. The verb <j^n` in the second line can be difficult to translate; when used in the Niphal (passive-reflexive) stem, as it is here, it typically refers to a person finding relief, with the easing of strong emotions (such as anger or grief). Here, the verb, as applied to YHWH, clearly refers to an easing of His anger, to the point where it eventually subsides.

The expression “your servants”, as it is used here in the Psalms (and elsewhere in Scripture), specifically designates the faithful ones among God’s people. Even though they have been loyal to YHWH (and to the covenant), they still have endured, along with the rest of the people, the punishing anger of God. The Psalmist typically identifies himself with these faithful/loyal ones.

The temporal expression yt*m*-du^, “until when…?” (i.e., “how long…?”), echoes the tone of lament from Part 1 (vv. 3-10). It occurs with some frequency in the Psalms, and can be used in the context of both a personal and national lament—cf. 6:4 [3]; 74:10; 80:5 [4]; 94:3; for the comparable expressions hm*-du^ and hn`a*-du^, cf. 13:1; 74:9; 79:5; 89:47[46]; note also 35:17.

Verse 14

“May you fill us in the break (of day) (with) your goodness,
that we may sing out and be glad in all our days!”

The Psalmist here draws upon the language from the lament, utilizing the day-motif (also in v. 12, cf. above)—both in the temporal sense of the passing of a day (and the “days” of a person’s life), and in the symbolic sense of the daylight that marks the end of the darkness of night. On the interplay of these two aspects of meaning, cf. the notes on vv. 4-9 in Part 1. The noun rq#B) specifically denotes the “break (of day), daybreak”, and was used in vv. 4-5. Here, it represents the moment when the ‘night-time’ of YHWH’s anger against His people comes to an end, the darkness being dispelled by rays of light—symbolizing the blessing and favor that God once again shows to His people.

This idea of blessing/favor is expressed two ways in the first line: (a) by the verb ub^c* which generally means “be filled (up)”, to the point of abundance, overflowing, etc; and (b) by the familiar noun ds#j#, meaning “goodness, kindness”, though often in the covenantal sense of “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. With regard to ds#j#, here the idea of YHWH’s loyalty to the covenant is certainly present, however it is the primary aspect of goodness (i.e., blessing and favor) that is being emphasized.

The blessing that comes at daybreak will allow the righteous to rejoice (singing/ringing out, vb /n~r*) and to be glad (vb jm^c*) all of their days.

Verse 15

“Let us be glad, according to (the number of) days you pressed us,
(according to the) years (that) we have seen evil.”

The Psalmist asks that he (and the other faithful ones of his people) be allowed to experience gladness (vb jm^c*, repeated from v. 14) for a length of time commensurate with their experience of suffering. This suffering occurred when the people were “pressed down” (vb hn`u*) by YHWH, afflicted by His punishing anger. The period of this punishment seems to have been quite long, indicated by the mention here of “years”, as well as the temporal expression yt*m*-du^ (“until when…?”) in verse 13. This suggests that the Exile is in view, with a corresponding exilic (or post-exilic) dating for the Psalm; however, the reference here is brief and general enough that other periods in Israel’s history could also provide the relevant background.

The feminine plural form tomy+ (“days”), rather than the masculine <ym!y`, is a bit odd, and may simply be used for poetic assonance with the following tonv= (“years”). The same pair of word-forms occurs in Deut 32:7, and it is likely that there is an intentional allusion to that verse here; cf. Dahood, II, p. 326.

Verse 16

“Let your act be visible to your servants,
and your (very) splendor upon their sons!”

The Psalmist’s short prayer (vv. 13-16) concludes with this request a manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people. The implication is that God, in His anger, has turned away from His people; but now, according the Psalmist’s petition (v. 13), it is hoped that He will return. The Niphal (passive) of the verb ha*r* (“see”) means “be seen”, i.e., be visible, be manifest/apparent. YHWH’s action (lu^P)), that which He does (and will do) on behalf of His people, will be seen. This probably is an allusion to the historical traditions of the mighty deeds performed by YHWH in the past, which, in their miraculous nature, would be looked upon with wonder by all people.

In manifesting Himself, His very splendor (rd*j*) will be revealed to future generations, even as it was to those in the past. There may be a veiled reference here to Moses’ request to see YHWH’s glory (Exod 33:18), though the noun rd*h* (relatively common in the Psalms) is used instead of dobK*. More broadly, the various theophanies of the Moses/Exodus traditions (e.g., Exod 19-20, 24, 33-34f, 40) are likely in view, being alluded to by the Psalmist in his prayer.

Benediction: VERSE 17

“And let (the) favor of our Lord (the) Mightiest be upon us,
and may He make firm (the) work of our hands for us,
and (also) make firm for Him (the) work of our hands!”

The Psalm concludes with this benediction, an irregular tricolon that is rather awkward in both rhythm and phrasing. It may have been added subsequently by an editor; the repeated use of the verb (/WK, “make firm”) reminds one of the “firmness” theme that runs throughout the prior Psalm 89.

I have translated the noun <u^n) in the first line as “favor”. This noun has a relatively wide semantic range (“loveliness, pleasantness, beauty, kindness”), but it is best understood here in connection with the idea of blessing and favor from YHWH returning to His people. In this context, <u^n) would carry the primary sense of “kindness”, being close in meaning to ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”), used in v. 14. The favor shown by YHWH reflects His loyal devotion to the covenant; He will show favor to those who are faithful to Him.

The final two lines of this tricolon each express the same basic wish—viz., that YHWH would “make firm” (vb /WK, Polel) the “work” of His people’s hands. However, this is stated oddly, with slight variation in each of the two lines. In the first line, the prepositional expression Wnyl@u* (“upon us”) is added. Since this same word occurs at the end of the first line, it is possible that it was repeated here by scribal error, and should perhaps, then, be omitted. Eliminating it has the advantage of producing a clean 3-beat (3+3) meter for the two lines. If Wnyl@u* is original, then it would seem to be specifying that the “making firm” of the people’s work is for their benefit; in this case, the prepositional expression (“upon us”, “over us”) could be rendered, more simply, “for us”.

In the final line, the MT apparently includes, for the imperative, a third person singular suffix (Wh-). One is inclined to alter this to match the suffix on the verb in the prior line (paragogic h-). If this were done, along with eliminating the prepositional expression at the end of line 2 (in the MT), then the two closing lines would be identical, each reading:

hn`n+oK Wnyd@y` hc@u&m^W
“and (the) work of our hands may you make firm”

If the MT is correct, then the third person suffix on the verb in the final line may be intended as a datival suffix (a dative of advantage), as Dahood (II, p. 327) suggests. It would then serve a purpose comparable to the prepositional expression in the prior line. That is to say, it expresses who the action (i.e., the making firm) benefits; in line 2, the action is done for the people (“over us,” i.e., for us), while in line 3 it is done for God’s own sake (his honor, etc).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 90 (Part 1)

Psalm 90

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This vigorous and highly creative Psalm contains a lament, but also a prayer to YHWH for deliverance (indeed, it is designated a hL*p!T=). On this basis, it may be divided into two main parts—the lament (vv. 3-10), and the prayer (vv. 11-16). The lament is preceded by a hymnic invocation to YHWH (vv. 1-2), and the prayer is concluded by a benediction (v. 17).

The lament draws heavily upon Wisdom tradition, dealing particularly with theme of the shortness of human life, a theme that continues into the beginning (vv. 11-12) of the prayer section. In this regard, Psalm 90 resembles the lament portion of the prior Psalm 89 (vv. 39-52), with its strong Wisdom-emphasis in vv. 47-49 (see the earlier note on these verses).

For a discussion of the possible dating of this Psalm, and its relation to the formation of the Psalter (and the fourth book), cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 418-21. Dahood (II, p. 322), noting the parallels with Deuteronomy 32, and certain archaic aspects of the language, suggests a much older dating for this composition, possibly in the 9th century.

Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses in the superscription: “A prayer of Moshe, the man of (the) Mightiest [i.e. man of God]”. This attribution is likely due to certain allusions to the Song of Moses (Deut 32), and also the Blessing of Moses (Deut 33), found in the Psalm. These will be noted at relevant points in the exegesis. The Psalm is called a hL*p!T=, that is a prayer—emphasizing its aspect as plea or supplication made to YHWH. This properly characterizes verses 13-16, but can apply to the entire composition. The same term designates Pss 17, 86, and 102.

The meter of this Psalm is irregular, but it tends (more often than not) to follow a 3+3 couplet format.

Invocation: Verses 1b-2

Verse 1b

“My Lord, a source of help
you have been for us,
(even) from cycle to cycle!”

The meter of this initial verse is problematic, parsed as an irregular 2+3+2 tricolon. One might be inclined to eliminate the pronoun hT*a^ (“you”) in the second line, and thus obtain a cleaner 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. In any case, the verse functions as an invocation to YHWH (“my Lord”, yn`d)a&) by the Psalmist. YHWH is declared to have been a /oum*, a locative noun which most translators and commentators derive from /Wu, “cover”, i.e., a place of cover, where one dwells protected. This would certainly fit the traditional motif of YHWH as a “place of refuge” (hs#j&m^), occurring frequently in the Psalms. However, the thematic emphasis seems to favor deriving /oum* from a separate root /wu denoting “(give) help”, cognate with Arabic ±wn; /oum* would then mean “source of help” (or, generally, “help, assistance”), and would correspond to Arabic ma±¥nat. Cf. HALOT, pp. 610, 799; Dahood, II, p. 322.

YHWH has been a source of help for His people “in cycle and cycle”, better expressed in English as “from cycle to cycle”. The noun roD has the basic meaning “circle”, usually in the temporal sense of a cycle of time, but sometimes also in specific reference to the people living turning a particular period (i.e., a “generation”). In English idiom, we would say, “from age to age”, or “from generation to generation”. The reference is primarily to the periods/generations of Israel’s history.

Overall, the language of this verse seems to echo Deut 33:27; cf. also (possibly) 32:7a, with the use of the expression rodw` roD.

Verse 2

“Before (the) mountains were given birth,
and you writhed (bearing) earth and land,
even from distant (past) unto distant (future),
you (are the) Mighty (One)!”

This second part of the invocation has a hymnic quality. The focus has shifted from Israel’s history to the entire cosmos, and YHWH’s role as Creator of the universe. In the first couplet, God’s act of creation is described in female terms—viz., of giving birth. The passive form of dl^y` (“give birth”) is used in the first line, while a Polal (MT Polel) form of the verb lWj (lyj!) is used in the second line, in the familiar sense of  (a woman) “writhing” (in labor). It is somewhat unusual to apply such imagery to YHWH, but the same pair of verbs occurs in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:18), a verse that is almost certainly being echoed here (cf. above).

At first, it is the “mountains” that are mentioned, as a dramatic point of reference for YHWH’s act of creation—i.e., before even the mighty and enduring mountains were produced. In the second line, the pair of terms Jr#a# and lb@T@ are used, widening the scope of the creation. The noun Jr#a# (“earth”) refers to the lower half of the cosmos (containing the flat earth-disc and all that is below), while lb@T refers to the productive land that is cultivated and inhabited by humans.

YHWH’s pre-existence (i.e. prior to creation) is implied in the first couplet; however, in the second couplet, His eternal existence is declared, with the temporal expression <l*ou-du^ <l*oum@, “from (the) distant (past) unto (the) distant (future)”. This expression is parallel with rd)w` rd)B= in verse 1 (cf. above). Here, we are not dealing with the cycles (or periods) of time, but of the entire scope and extent of time itself. The final line could alternately be translated “you, (the) Mighty (One), are!”, further emphasizing YHWH’s eternal existence.

Metrically, verse 2 is comprised of a 3-beat (3+3) couplet, followed by a 2-beat (2+2) couplet.

Lament: Verses 3-10

Verse 3

“You make humanity return unto powder,
and say, ‘Return, O sons of mankind!'”

The two aspects of the invocation—YHWH’s relation to His people (v. 1b) and to all Creation (v. 2)—are here combined in the Wisdom-lament of vv. 3-10. All human beings (including Israelites) ultimately die and “return” (vb bWv) to the dust of the earth, a process that is controlled by the sovereign authority of YHWH (as Creator).

This statement introduces the familiar wisdom-theme of the brevity of human life, and of lamenting that fact. The idea of human beings ‘returning to the dust’ is, of course, ancient and traditional (Gen 3:19; Psalm 104:29), and is found in the Wisdom literature (Job 10:9; 34:15; Eccl 3:20); however, here the rare noun aK*D^ (“powder”) is used, rather than rp*u* (“dust”). Since aK*D^ denotes something that is “crushed” (i.e., pulverized), the emphasis would seem to be on YHWH’s creative act (by the spoken word, Gen 1:3ff) that reduces human beings to powder.

Verse 4

“For a thousand years, in your eyes,
like a day, yesterday, so they pass by,
even (as) a watch in the night.”

The blending of the human and cosmic aspects of creation continue here, as the brevity of human life (v. 3) is related to the brevity even of the vast life-cycles of the cosmos, when compared with YHWH’s eternal existence. As YHWH looks on (“in your eyes”), as Creator and Sovereign of the universe, a thousand years “pass by” (vb rb^u*) like they were merely a single day. The thought expressed in this verse was utilized, famously, in 2 Peter 3:8.

Verse 5

“You put a stop to them (in) sleep—
they come to be, with the break (of day),
like (the) grass (that) moves along.”

The thoughts expressed in vv. 3-4 are condensed here, with a new image in verse 5. The death of human beings is framed in the context of a day that “passes by”. Death is described by the traditional idiom of “sleep” (hn`v#), which also entails wordplay with the noun “year” (hn#v*) in v. 4. The first line is ambiguous: it could mean that death comes ‘like sleep’, or that it comes during the night while a person is asleep; probably both aspects of meaning are intended. The verb <r^z` I take as deriving from a root (meaning “halt, stop”, cf. Arabic zarama, zarima) separate from <rz II (denoting “storm, thunder, pour rain”).

The end of the short human life comes like sleep (or in/with sleep), after which, at daybreak (rq#B)), the person’s life/existence simply “moves along” (vb [l^j*), i.e., “passes away”. It is compared with the grass (ryx!j*), an image that continues into the next verse.

Verse 6

“With the break (of day), it flowers and moves along,
(then) at the evening it is withered and dries up.”

The imagery from verse 5 continues here, but with a slight shift of emphasis. Instead of death coming during the night, putting an end to a person’s life, here the span of person’s life seems to identified with the brief time of morning (during the day)—i.e., it “flowers” (vb Jyx!) briefly, and then “moves along” (same verb, [l^j*, as in v. 5). By the evening, the dead (cut?) grass has withered (vb ll^m* I) and become dried up (vb vb^y`).

Verse 7

“So we are finished (off) by your anger,
and (how) your burning horrifies us!”

Death can be seen as a natural product (and result) of God’s judgment and anger. Here, the emphasis of the lament shifts from the language of Wisdom tradition (vv. 3-6) to the judgment idiom that is so common in both Scriptural narrative and poetry (including in the Psalms). The noun [a^ denotes the nostril(s), but frequently is used to express the idea of anger more abstractly, this sense presumably being derived from the colorful image of an angry, snorting bull, etc. Another frequent idiom for anger is that of something hot and burning (hm*j@). God’s anger is so powerful as to completely “finish off” (vb hl*K*) a mere human being. Humans should rightly be “horrified” (vb lh^B*, Niphal) by such a fate.

Verse 8

“You set our crooked (deed)s right in front of you,
our hidden (sin) before (the) light of your face.”

YHWH’s anger and judgment are the result of sin and “crooked (deed)s” (/ou*, plural). As Creator and Sovereign of the universe, YHWH also functions as all-seeing Judge (cf. an allusion to this motif in v. 4, “in your eyes”). The sin of all human beings is right there “in front of” (dg#n#) God, both the blatant misdeeds and other less obvious (“hidden”, <lu) sin. Even that which hidden is exposed before the light of God’s face.

Verse 9

“So have all our days turned, in your crossing (rage),
(and) we finish (up) our years like a moan.”

This tricky couplet is rife with wordplay, echoing the wording in several of the prior verses. To begin with, there is a continuation of the “day” (<oy) motif from vv. 4-6 (cf. above), but here it is further informed by the immediate reference to light in v. 8b. The “days” of a human being have turned (vb hn`P*, playing on the related <yn]P*, “face”, at the end of v. 8); this could mean “turned away” (i.e. passed [away]), or “turned dark (i.e. to night)”, the latter being somewhat more likely, given the night-motifs in vv. 4-5 and the reference to light in v. 8.

The noun hr*b=u# here is difficult to translate. Literally, it means a “crossing (or passing) over”; but often it is used in the sense of a ‘boiling over’ of anger, i.e., an outburst or ‘overflowing’ rage, especially in the context of the anger of YHWH. Here it reflects the thought expressed in verse 7 (cf. above), but there is also a wordplay-echo from the verb rb^u* in verse 4—referring to the years that “pass by” so quickly (like a single day) in God’s eyes. This obviously relates to the theme of human death (and brevity of life) that comes as the result of YHWH’s all-seeing judgment.

The phrase “we finish [vb hl*K*] our years” similarly echoes the wording from earlier verses (vv. 4f, 7). The end comes “like a moan [hg#h#]”, capturing a sense of suffering, frustration, and emptiness.

Verse 10

“(The) days of our years—
in them (are) seventy year(s),
and if in (full) strength, eighty year(s),
yet (the) pride of them (is) toil and trouble—
how quickly it is cut off, and we fly away!”

The lament closes with a more prosaic (and practical) assessment of the brevity of a human life (“[the] days of our years”). At most it will last seventy years; on rare occasions, a person in the fullness of strength (hr*WbG=, intensive plural) may live eighty years, but almost never any longer. Regardless of how many years a person lives, the “pride” (bh^r)) of them—i.e., even the prime years of a person’s life—consist largely of toil (lm*u*, i.e. wearisome labor) and trouble (/w#a*), the latter term often connoting pain, sorrow, grief, etc.

I take the initial yK! particle of the final line to be emphatic, marking an exclamatory declaration (“How…!”). The rather bitter sounding, yet poignant exclamation makes a fitting end to the lament, dominated as it is by the Wisdom-theme of the shortness of human life.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

January 4: Psalm 89:47-49

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:47-49 [46-48]
Verse 47 [46]

“Until when, YHWH, will you hide yourself?
Will it burn to the (very) end,
like fire, your hot (anger)?”

It is proper to view vv. 47-49 as a distinct poetic unit within the division vv. 39-52. The Selah (hl*s#) pause-markers, after vv. 46 and 49, confirm this point. These verses follow the main strophe of vv. 39-46 (discussed in the previous two notes), and are parallel with the subsequent vv. 50-52. Indeed, one may treat vv. 47-49 and 50-52 as two short strophes, or as two units within a single strophe.

The distinctiveness of this unit is indicated by the metrical shift at v. 47. I parse this verse as an irregular (3+2+2) tricolon. It functions as a response to the situation described in vv. 39-46, where YHWH has (apparently) renounced His covenant with David, allowing the kingship (and the kingdom) to come to a destructive and shameful end. Clearly, the conquest of Judah is in view, and the Psalm (certainly the third division of it) is written from the standpoint of the Exile (or the post-Exilic period), when the kingdom (and thus also the Davidic line of kings) has ceased.

The Psalmist asks the plaintive question hm*-du^ (“Until when…?”, i.e., “How long [will this last]?”), which also occurs, equally painfully, in Ps 79:5 (cf. also 74:9). He describes the current situation of exile (and/or post-exilic poverty), which apparently has lasted now for a considerable time, in traditional terms—viz., of YHWH “hiding Himself” (vb rt^s*, Niphal stem) from His people. Dahood (II, p. 320) would parse the verb form as deriving from the root rWs (“turn aside/away”), but the meaning is much the same, in either case. For similar usage of rt^s* in the Psalms, cf. 13:1; 27:9; 44:24; the motif of God hiding His face signifies a situation where He is seemingly not responding to prayer (e.g., 55:1; 69:17; 88:14; 102:2; 143:7), and thus not giving help to His people in their time of distress.

In the second and third lines, the present suffering of God’s people is expressed in the traditional judgment-language of the “burning” (hm*j@, vb ru^B*) of His anger. As long as YHWH’s hot anger burns, the shame and ruin of the current situation will continue.

Verse 48 [47]

“Remember my trouble, (and) how short (is) life!
For what emptiness did you create (the) sons of man?”

This couplet, clearly drawing upon Wisdom tradition, seems to have been inspired by the reference in verse 46 (cf. the previous note), to the king’s “days of youth” having been “cut short”. The focus now shifts to the individual circumstances of the author-protagonist, much as we see in the majority of the lament-Psalms. The first line highlights two points frequently emphasized in the Wisdom texts—viz., (1) that a person’s life is (often) all too brief, and (2) is typically filled with toil and trouble.

I follow the suggestion of Dahood (II, p. 320) that MT yn]a* (“I”) in the first line should be revocalized as yn]a) (= yn]oa, “my trouble,” or “my sorrow”). The noun dl#j# is difficult to translate, though the basic meaning, as it is used here, seems clear enough—viz., a reference to the short/fleeting duration of a person’s life (Ps 39:6; cf. also 17:14; 49:2; Job 11:17; Isa 38:11). The “emptiness” (aw+v*) of life, particularly in terms of human pursuits and ambition, is also a frequent theme in Wisdom literature, though not typically expressed by the noun aw+v* which tends to have the more harshly negative connotation of wicked falsehood, deceit, idolatry, etc (but see its use in Job 7:3).

Verse 49 [48]

“Who (is the) strong (one who) lives
and does not see death?
Can he (truly) rescue his soul
from (the) hand of Še’ôl?”
Selah

Metrically, I parse this verse as a pair of short 2+2 couplets, patterned after the second and third lines of v. 47 (cf. above). It continues the Wisdom-orientation of v. 48, with the emphasis on the shortness of human life, in its mortality, and the inevitability of death as the common fate. Is there any human being, in the strength and vigor (rbg) of his youth, who can somehow avoid (“does not see”) death? The answer to this rhetorical question is an obvious “no”. No human being is able to rescue his soul—that is, enable it (somehow) to escape (vb fl^m*, Piel)—from the power (“hand”) of Death.

On loav= as a poetic term for death (and the realm of death), cf. my earlier note.

Comments for Christmas

The Wisdom-emphasis of these verses is generally absent from the Gospel Infancy Narratives; however, the idea of human mortality is present, to some extent. I would note two passages, in particular. The first is the narrative arc in Matthew 2, in which Herod, troubled by the prospect of losing his kingship (a theme relevant to vv. 39-46 of the Psalm), seeks to kill off the true king, the Messiah, born in Bethlehem. The Gospel’s poignant treatment of the death of the infants (vv. 16-18), with its citation of Jer 31:15, provides a powerful illustration of the brevity of human life (the infants truly had “the days of their youth cut short”, v. 46 of the Psalm).

The second passage to mention is the episode involving Simeon in Luke 2:25-35. The aged Simeon was keenly aware that his life was reaching its end, but the time of his death was related to his seeing the Messiah—the one who will fulfill the promise of the Davidic covenant, and thus bring about the restoration for God’s people (vv. 25-26). The encounter, with the aged Simeon holding the infant Jesus, is one of the most beautiful of the portraits in the Lukan Gospel, graced as it is by the canticle (“Nunc dimittis”) in vv. 29-32, which begins with a memorable statement regarding the acceptance of death (and human mortality) by a faithful believer:

“Now, may you loose your slave from (his service), O Master, according to your word, in peace…”

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

Philo and the Logos of John 1:1ff

Philo and the Logos of John 1:1ff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…and set up (his) tent among us”
kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n h(mi=n

In considering the place of verse 14 in the Gospel Prologue, we turn now to the phrase kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n h(mi=n (“and he set up [his] tent among us”). In part 2 of this article, I expressed my view that the three main phrases of verse 14 refer to three distinct stages in the life of Jesus (as the incarnate Logos):

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

However, some commentators would prefer to see the verbs e)ge/neto and e)skh/nwsen as parallel, in which case the verb of becoming (e)ge/neto, “he/it came to be”) would refer more generally to the life and existence of the Logos as a human being, rather than specifically to his birth. This possibility will be discussed further at a later point in our study.

As indicated by the literal translation above, the verb skhno/w, which is rooted in the word skh=no$/skhnh/ (“tent”), fundamentally means “set up [i.e. pitch] a tent”, or to dwell in such a tent. The verb occurs 4 times in the LXX, where it is used both for setting up a tent (Gen 13:12), and for dwelling/living in a tent (Judg 8:11 B). Both aspects of meaning also occur in the New Testament, in the 4 other instances where the verb is used. In Rev 7:15, we find the specific image of God spreading out His tent; however, in Rev 12:12, 13:6, and 21:3, it is the idea of dwelling (in a tent) that is emphasized. Indeed, skhno/w can be used as a term that simply means, more generally, “dwell”, without necessarily preserving the etymological component of a “tent” per se.

Here in verse 14, the general idea of “dwelling” certainly is intended, but also (I believe) the specific aspect of establishing a dwelling—that is, of “setting up” (or pitching) one’s “tent”. However, it is also likely that the particular image of a tent, preserving the etymological/root component skhnh/, is being emphasized. There are two main reasons for thinking so: (1) the reference to Moses at the end of the Prologue (a theme that runs through the entire Gospel) brings to mind the Exodus traditions and the Tent-shrine which functioned as YHWH’s ‘dwelling-place’ (/K*v=m!) during Israel’s wilderness journeys (Exod 40, etc); and (2) the likelihood that the Prologue draws upon Jewish Wisdom-tradition (cf. below) means that the verb here may be alluding to Sirach 24:8 (or a comparable reference):

“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.'”
NRSV

In any case, the principal reference is to the Logos, having “become” flesh (i.e., a human being), beginning to dwell on earth among other humans. In this regard, verse 14 builds upon the idea(s) expressed in vv. 10-11. Before exploring this further, it is worth discussing briefly critical theory regarding the composition of the Prologue.

Many commentators view the Prologue as representing an adaptation (by the Gospel writer, or subsequent editor) of an existing hymn. Whether the Prologue, in any form, was ever used as an actual hymn may be debated; however, the poetic character of the Prologue—much of it, at least—seems relatively clear. It is best treated, both in presentation and translation, in verse form, recognizing poetic lines and units.

Scholars do, however, differ regarding the precise constitution of the original poem, its provenance, and how/when it was adapted and integrated into the Gospel. For example, Rudolf Schnackenburg, in his now-classic and highly influential commentary, proposes that the original “Logos-hymn” was comprised of vv. 1, 3-4, 9-11, 14, 16 (Vol. 1, pp. 224-9 [ET]), the other portions representing Johannine editorial additions. For a different reconstruction and analysis, see, e.g., that of U. C. von Wahlde from his commentary on the Gospel and Letters (Vol. 2, pp. 17-24).

I am inclined to accept the theory that a core “Logos-poem” was inherited and adapted by the Gospel writer. The large number of words and phrases not found elsewhere in the Gospel, or which are rare in the Johannine writings, increases the likelihood that existing material was imported. At the same time, even in the verses typically viewed as (likely) being part of the original poem—viz., vv. 1-5, 9-11, 14, 16ff—one finds Johannine vocabulary and terminology. The best explanation for both these lines of evidence would seem to be that the Gospel writer has adapted existing material. For lists of the words/phrases in the Prologue that are both foreign and common to the Gospel (and/or the Johannine writings), consult the critical commentaries, such as that of von Wahlde (Vol. 2, p. 18).

My own working hypothesis is that the Gospel writer (not a later editor/redactor) inherited existing poetic material (dealing with Jesus as the incarnation of the Word/Wisdom of God), and cast it into the distinctive Johannine theological idiom; at the same time, he also added several expository/interpretative statements that serve to integrate the material with the Gospel—both in its narrative and its theological outlook. I would identify verses 6-8, 12-13 [certainly v. 13], and 15 as Johannine expository statements.

If verse (12-)13 does indeed represent an integrative comment by the author, then the natural conclusion is that verse 14 essentially follows vv. 10-11(f) in the original (adapted) poetic material. Let us consider how these two portions relate, beginning from vv. 10-11:

“He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, and (yet) the world did not know him. He came unto (his) own (thing)s, and (yet his) own (people) did not take him along.”

In parts 1 and 2, I discussed the likelihood that the Prologue draws upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions, including the tradition that the personified Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*, Grk sofi/a) of God came to dwell among human beings (Prov 8:31; Sirach 24:8ff; Wisd 9:10), but could find no welcome (1 Enoch 42; cf. also Sirach 15:7; Baruch 3:12). The Enoch reference is particularly worth citing:

“Wisdom could not find a place in which she could dwell;
but a place was found (for her) in the heavens.
Then Wisdom went out to dwell with the children of the people,
but she found no dwelling place.”
(42:1-2a, translation E. Isaac, OTP)

As in the Gospel Prologue, Wisdom first has a dwelling (with God) in heaven; then she seeks a dwelling on earth among humans, but finds no place for her there. It seems highly probable that the ‘Logos-poem’ of the Prologue and 1 Enoch 42 are drawing upon a common line of tradition.

While some commentators would hold that vv. 10-11 refer specifically to the incarnate Logos (i.e., the life of Jesus), I do not believe that this is correct. The primary point of reference is the presence of the Word/Wisdom of God among human beings throughout their history. This refers to all human beings, but particularly to the people of Israel. The more general aspect of the Logos dwelling among humankind seems to be expressed in v. 10, with the phrase “he was in the world”. The use of the verb of being (imperfect tense, h@n, as in vv. 1-2, 4, 9) emphasizes again the Divine nature of the Logos—it is the Word/Wisdom of God. At the same time, being “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|), refers to the manifest presence of the Logos in creation—in the universe generally, but in/among human beings specifically.

This identification narrows further in verse 11. The idea of being among “his own” may be understood on two levels: (1) the rational aspect of human beings means that, in a sense, they are like the Logos and belong to it, having been illuminated by the light of wisdom and reason (v. 4); but also (2) it refers specifically to the people of Israel as God’s people (and thus also belonging to the Divine Logos). Verse 11 further distinguishes between “his own”, using the neuter plural of the adjective i&dio$ (“[his] own [thing]s”), and using the masculine plural (“[his] own [people]”). The Logos comes unto/into the domain of God’s people (i.e., the land of Israel and Israelite society), to be received by the people themselves. But the Logos is not received by Israel (“[his] own [people] did not take/receive him alongside”) anymore that he was received by humankind at large (“the world did not know [i.e. recognize/acknowledge] him”).

While vv. 10-11 refer primarily to the presence of the Word/Wisdom among humans (and among God’s people), in the context of the Prologue it also alludes to the presence of the incarnate Logos (Jesus) on earth. Yet, I would maintain that verse 14 is meant to introduce a new stage in the historical drama. From this standpoint, the initial kai/ of v. 14 could be translated “And so…” —that is, “And so, the Logos, (having received no welcome previously,) came to be flesh…”. There is now a difference: the Word/Wisdom of God has become a flesh-and-blood human being, and dwells (as a human being) among other humans.

The “tent” in which the incarnate Logos dwells is a temporary, not a permanent, dwelling. It is set down, and then, after a time, is pulled up. The Gospel of John is particularly aware of the temporary character of this dwelling. The true dwelling of the Logos is with God in heaven. He “stepped down” (vb katabai/nw) to earth for a time, and then “stepped up” (vb a)nabai/nw) again, back to God. The Prologue only alludes faintly to this theological perspective, in part by making use of the tent-idiom with the verb skhno/w.

In the next part (4) of this article, we will examine the next phrase in v. 14: “…and we looked upon his splendor” (kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n do/can au)tou=).

    • Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to John, Volume 1 (Crossroad Publishing: 1990), translation by Kevin Smyth; original edition: Das Johannesevangelium, Part I, Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament IV/I (Herder: 1965).
    • Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John: Volume 2, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (Eerdmans: 2010).
    • OTP = The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, edited by James H. Charlesworth, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1983).

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

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

In considering the relation of John 1:14 to the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18), the close parallel between v. 14 and the opening unit (vv. 1-2) was mentioned (cf. part 1 of this article). Two contrasting, but related, statements regarding the Logos are made:

    • “the Word was [h@n] God”
    • “the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”

These are made with two points of contrast: (1) the verb of being (ei)mi) vs. the verb of becoming (gi/nomai), and (2) a comparable difference in the predicate nominative, “God” (qeo/$) vs. “flesh” (sa/rc). The distinction between the verbs is significant, both in the Prologue, and throughout the Johannine writings. Created beings (esp. human beings) come to be, but God is. In this regard, the term sa/rc (“flesh”) refers to the life and existence of a human being, a point that is supported by the use of sa/rc elsewhere in the Gospel and Letters of John.

In the predicative statements of vv. 1 and 14, the Logos is the (Divine) subject. It is worth examining briefly the meaning and background of the noun lo/go$ as it is used here in the Prologue; in this, I am re-visiting the discussion from an earlier note.

On the word lo/go$

The noun lo/go$ is derived from the verb le/gw, which has the fundamental meaning of “gather”, but also came to be used in range of related senses: (a) “lay out”, i.e., arrange the things gathered; (b) “count”, both in the concrete sense of enumerating things gathered, but also in the more abstract sense of a mental gathering (i.e., reckon, consider, recall [from memory], etc); (c) “give an account”, then in the more general sense of “narrate”; and, finally, (d) “speak, say”, generalizing the idea of giving a spoken (oral) account of something. The common signification of “speak/say” for le/gw can again take on various nuances of meaning, when used in different contexts involving speech, narration, etc.

The noun lo/go$ (“gathering, collection”) itself covers much the same semantic range as the verbal root le/gw (cf. above). Basically, this range of meaning can be divided into: (i) a mental gathering (“reckoning, calculation, plan, reason”), and (ii) a more concrete accounting, either as a written/notational account, or a spoken (oral) account (“speech”). The basic meaning of “account” for lo/go$ is perhaps the closest to the mark, but the mental and spoken aspects can be generalized as “thought” and “word”, or even in a more abstract generalization as “thing” (i.e., something thought or spoken of).

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

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

Philo of Alexandria subsumed this Wisdom tradition under the concept of the Logos, and the Prologue of John appears to have done much the same. Indeed, Philo’s writings provide by far the closest known parallels to this usage of the term. It would seem fair to say that the Johannine Prologue, like the New Testament “Christ hymns” in Philippians, Colossians, and Hebrews, drew upon a common line of Hellenistic Jewish Logos/Wisdom tradition. The Logos/Wisdom concept was adopted by early Christians and applied to the person of Jesus. The overall use of the noun lo/go$ in the Gospel and Letters of John will be discussed in the second major division of this study. Here we are focusing strictly on the Gospel Prologue.

John 1:1

I mentioned the predicative statement regarding the Logos in verse 1; however the verse is actually comprised of a chain of three such statements (lettered a-c):

“In (the) beginning was the Lo/go$, (1a)
and the Lo/go$ was toward God, (1b)
and the Lo/go$ was God.” (1c)

Each of these is an example of essential predication, as the grammatical (and philosophical) phenomenon is utilized in the Gospel of John. The components of this simple syntax are: (a) subject, (b) verb of being, and (c) predicate nominative (sometimes in the form of a qualifying expression or phrase). Normally, the verb of being is in the present indicative form (“is, am”), but here (and in vv. 2, 4, 8-10, 15) an imperfect form (h@n, “was”) is used. The imperfect tense is necessary, given the unique circumstances being narrated at this point in the Prologue. A time past is indicated (indeed, prior to the Creation itself); however, the aorist is not used, since we are not dealing with a single point in time, but rather a regular/continual situation. This timeless quality of the eternal life of God, when oriented in reference to the past events of Creation, is best approximated by the imperfect tense. By contrast, the “coming to be” of created beings, at a specific point in time, is expressed by the aorist (e)ge/neto, “it/he came to be”).

As I discussed in part 1 of this article, the Prologue (esp. verses 1-5) may be characterized as a Jewish Christian interpretive exposition of the Genesis creation account (Gen 1:1ff). In this regard, it has much in common with earlier and contemporary Hellenistic Jewish treatments of the Scriptural account of creation, interpreting the Genesis account through the lens of Greek philosophical terminology and thought. As mentioned above, the closest parallels are in the philosophical commentaries on the Scriptures by Philo of Alexandria. This will be discussed in more detail as we continue in our study.

Some of the interpretive questions may be indicated by the very problems in translating the noun lo/go$. As discussed above, translation of this noun is notoriously difficult, all the more so when the term used in the specialized philosophical and theological sense—whether by Heraklitos, Philo of Alexandria, or here in the Johannine Prologue. The basic idea involves a rational (divine) intelligence that gives order to all things in creation. However, Old Testament and Jewish tradition added to this philosophical concept the important aspect of God (YHWH) creating the universe—which He does through His Wisdom (Prov 8:22-31), but also through His Word (Gen 1:1ff). The term lo/go$ is especially useful because it captures this aspect of speech (the spoken word), in addition to the mental aspect (thought, plan, reason). It has become customary to translate lo/go$ in Jn 1:1 and 14 as “word”, and, in context, this is as good a translation as any, though it certainly does not encompass the entire meaning.

The existence of the Logos in eternity (prior to the Creation) is indicated by the first predicative statement in verse 1: “In (the) beginning was the Word”, or “In (the) beginning the Word was” (cf. my earlier note on v. 1a). The third predicative statement emphasizes the deity of the Logos: “and the Word was God” (cf. the note on v. 1c). But the second (middle) predicative statement also points out that there is a distinction between God and the Logos, to be understood in relational terms. This is expressed by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”):

“and the Word was toward God”
kai\ o( lo/go$ h@n pro\$ to\n qeo/n

The preposition pro/$ literally, and primarily, means “toward”, and so I have translated it above. This can be understood either in terms of (a) facing toward, or (b) moving toward. Whether the positional or dynamic aspect is being emphasized is difficult to say. The main point is that the Logos is present with God “in the beginning”, and has a close/intimate relationship with Him. There is almost certainly an intentional parallel in the closing verse of the Prologue (v. 18), which will be discussed at an upcoming point in this study. For more on v. 1b, cf. my earlier note.

Certainly, by qeo/$ here is meant El-Yahweh, the Creator and one true God, according to the traditional monotheistic belief held in common by Israelites, Jews and early Christians. In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the divine Wisdom (personified) was the first of God’s creation, and was with Him at the beginning, when the universe was created (Prov 8:22-31). In Prov 8:30, Wisdom declares that, in the beginning, he/she was “near” (lx#a@) YHWH, which is expressed in the LXX by the preposition para/ (“alongside”). As noted above, this personification of Wisdom (Heb. hm*k=j*, Grk sofi/a) was blended with the Greek philosophical-theological concept of the Divine Logos, both by Philo and here in the Johannine Gospel Prologue. It is under the term lo/go$ that this Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition was applied to the person of Jesus.

We should emphasize again the parallel between vv. 1 and 14. While the Logos was in the Beginning, being identified as God and as a distinct entity in relation to God, within the creation he came to be flesh—that is, he became a human being, on earth in time and space. The creation “came to be” (e)ge/neto), and so also the Logos “came to be” (e)ge/neto) a human being (“flesh”). That this occurred at a particular point in time is indicated by the aorist tense of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai).

In the first part of this article, I discussed how the context and use of gi/nomai here strongly suggests that it is meant to refer to the birth of a human being. It is important to emphasize this because some commentators have sought to explain the verb of becoming—and, indeed, the incarnation of the Logos itself—somewhat differently. We will examine these differing views when we come to consider the place of verse 14 in the Gospel of John as a whole. For now, I would draw attention to the structure of verse 14 for a measure of confirmation of the idea that gi/nomai here refers to birth. The verse is comprised of three distinct statements:

    • “the Word became flesh”
    • “he set up his tent among us”
    • “we looked upon his splendor”

I would explain these statements as referring to three stages in the life of Jesus:

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

In part 3 of this article, I wish to focus on the phrase “and he set up his tent among us” (kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n h(mi=n), looking at it in the context of the Prologue, especially vv. 9-11.

 

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

The Context of the Johannine Prologue

The first part of this series on John 1:14 focuses on the place of the verse within the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18). I have previously presented a detailed exegesis of this section, and will not repeat all of that analysis here. The emphasis will be on the relation of verse 14 to the Prologue, from a linguistic, literary, and theological standpoint. This study will proceed along two main lines: (1) an examination of the individual words, expressions, and phrases of verse 14; and (2) how these elements fit within the plan and structure of the Prologue.

Let us begin with the verse on its own:

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

The initial phrase in the Greek is:

kai\ o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

The connective (copulative) conjunction kai/ (“and”) shows that verse 14 relates to what has come before in the Prologue. But in what manner? A surface reading suggests that, following the application-verses 12-13, the author is picking up the main thread of his poetic narrative from verse 11. This raises the question of whether verses 10-11 refer to the life of Jesus Christ on earth (ahead of the incarnation-reference in v. 14), or whether they describe the presence of the Logos among human beings, prior to the birth/life of Jesus.

Many commentators adopt the latter view, based on the theory that the Prologue, and the Gospel as a whole, has been influenced by Jewish Wisdom traditions. According to this view, a personification of the pre-existent Wisdom of God (Prov 1:20-33; chaps. 8-9; Sirach 24; Wisd 7:22-8:1; 9:9ff; Baruch 3:9ff, etc) has been blended together with the concept of the pre-existent Word (Logos) of God, and that Jesus has been identified with both. In this regard, the poetic tradition of Wisdom dwelling (or seeking to dwell) on earth among human beings (Prov 8:31; Wisd 9:10; Sirach 24:8ff, etc) may well underlie vv. 10-11 of the Prologue. In particular, we may note the references to Wisdom being rejected, and not able to find a welcome place among humankind, not even among God’s people Israel (cf. 1 Enoch 42:2; Sirach 15:7; Baruch 3:12).

This view of Jesus as the incarnation of the pre-existent Wisdom (= Logos) will be discussed further as we proceed in our study.

Another interpretative approach relates verse 14 back to the very beginning of the Prologue, and the initial unit of vv. 1-2. In a noteworthy article written more than fifty years ago*, P. Borgen sought to demonstrate that there was a parallelistic (chiastic) structure to the Prologue, which would line up as follows:

    • Vv. 1-2—The Logos with God before creation
      • V. 3—The Logos creates in primordial time
        • Vv. 4-5—Light and darkness in creation
        • Vv. 6-9—Light comes in the person of Jesus
      • Vv. 10-13—The Logos enters creation (as Jesus) to claim it as its possession
    • Vv. 14-18—The manifestation of the Logos in creation in the person of Jesus

* “Logos was the True Light: Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John,” Novum Testamentum 14 (1972), pp. 115-130. This article, based on a lecture given in 1970, was later reprinted in the volume Logos was the True Light, and Other Essays on the Gospel of John, Publications edited by the Department of Religious Studies University of Trondheim, No. 9 (1983).

According to Borgen’s view, the Prologue essentially represents a Jewish Christian exposition, in a midrashic or targumic style, of Genesis 1:1ff. It does indeed seem, particularly in vv. 1-5, that we have an interpretive Hellenistic-Jewish exposition of the Genesis Creation account, which then has been applied, in an early Christian context, to the person of Jesus. This will be discussed further during our study.

The words that follow the initial conjunction in verse 14 are: lo/go$ (with the definite article), sa/rc, and the verb form e)ge/neto. Leaving aside, for the moment, the noun sa/rc (“flesh”), I wish to focus on the word pair lo/go$e)ge/neto (“the Word became…”). There is, indeed, an important parallel between vv. 1-2 and v. 14 (cf. above), one which emphasizes the vital distinction between the verb of being (ei)mi) and the verb of becoming (gi/nomai).

As will be discussed, throughout the Gospel (but especially in the Prologue), there is a key distinction between these two common verbs: the verb of being is predicated of God (or a Divine subject), while the verb of becoming is predicated of a created (i.e., human) being. In other words, creation comes to be, but God is. In verses 1-2, the verb of being is used throughout, in the imperfect tense (h@n, “was”), while, with the first mention of creation (in v. 3), the verb of becoming begins to be used (“all things came to be [e)ge/neto] through him”). The same verb of becoming is used in v. 14; note the parallel with v. 1:

    • “the Word was God”
      qeo\$ h@n o( lo/go$
    • “the Word became flesh”
      o( lo/go$ sa/rc e)ge/neto

In verse 1, the deity of the Logos is emphasized, while in verse 14 it is his created humanity. There is thus an implicit contrast between the nouns qeo/$ (“God”) and sa/rc (“flesh”). As we shall see, in the Johannine writings, the noun sa/rc is a key term designating the life and existence of a human being.

One might have expected the contrast to have been between qeo/$ (“God”) and a&nqrwpo$ (“man”). After all, it is the noun a&nqrwpo$ that is used in vv. 4-9; indeed, of John the Baptist, in v. 6, it is said “there came to be [e)ge/neto] a man…”. This first reference to John introduces a theme, contrasting the Baptist with Jesus, that runs throughout chapters 1-3. The specific wording in the Prologue, leading into verse 14, may be intended to emphasize that Jesus was not simply a man like John the Baptist, even one who was Divinely-chosen and “sent forth from God”. Rather, Jesus is to be identified as the incarnate Logos of God.

Throughout the Prologue, the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) essentially refers to the coming into existence of a created being (vv. 3, 6, 10). For a human being (see v. 6), this implies a biological birth. The only exception to this is found in verse 12, where gi/nomai is used of a human being “coming to be” the offspring of God. Yet the idiom of birth is clearly being emphasized, as the parallel use of genna/w, which more precisely denotes “coming to be (born)”, in v. 13 definitely shows. This reflects the thoroughly Johannine theological idiom of believers in Christ defined as those who have “come to be (born) [vb genna/w] out of [e)k] God”.

Given this emphasis, the implication is very strong that gi/nomai in v. 14 also refers to birth—in this case, the birth of the Logos as a human being. This would seem to be confirmed by the declaration by the Baptist that follows in v. 15 (and essentially repeated in v. 30):

“…the (one) coming in back of me has come to be in front of me, (in) that first of me he was”

A careful distinction is made between the use of three common verbs, each with a special theological (and Christological) significance in the Johannine writings:

    • e&rxomai (“come”)—e)rxo/meno$ (“coming,” i.e., he came)
    • gi/nomai (“come to be”)—ge/gonen (“he has come to be”)
    • ei)mi (verb of being)—h@n (“he was”)

The first verb (e&rxomai) refers to the earthly ministry (and public career) of Jesus; the second verb (gi/nomai) refers to birth and (incarnate) existence of the Logos (in Jesus); while the third verb (ei)mi) refers to the Divine/eternal existence of the the Logos, as in vv. 1-2. The contextual use of gi/nomai, along with the specific wording, means that it cannot simply refer to Jesus’ human life, but refers primarily to his coming into existence (i.e., his birth) as a human being.

This will be discussed further in the next segment of this study, as we turn to examine the next words of v. 14, as well as begin to consider the meaning and significance of the noun lo/go$ as it is used here by the Gospel writer.

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 6:34-41

(After a short hiatus, I am picking up again with my series of period notes on the subject of the spirit [specifically, the use of the word jwr] in the Qumran texts.)

1QH 6, continued

(Unless otherwise noted, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

Lines 12-33 of column VI were discussed in the previous note. Most commentators recognize a new hymn beginning at line 34, and restore the initial word as i[dwa] (;d=oa), “I give you thanks/praise”, lit. “I throw you (thanks/praise)”, to reflect this. Even if this division is correct, it is still difficult to know if (or how far) the hymn extends beyond line 41. It may well have continued on into the missing lines (1-10f) of column VII; the DJD editors (p. 99) suggest that the hymn concludes with VII.20.

As for the certain portion we have (VI.34-41), it begins with lines of thanksgiving and praise to YHWH:

“[I throw] you (praise), my Lord,
according to (the) great(ness) of your strength
and (the) abundance of your wonders,
from (the) distant (past) even to (the) distan[t (future)—
abundant in (act)s of lov]e and great in [(deed)s of kind]ness,
granting forgiveness to (those) turning back (from) a breach (of trust),
yet dealing with (the) crookedness of (the) wicked
[…]
in (the) willingness of their [heart].
But you hate crookedness unto (the) end!” (ll. 34-36a)

In the next portion, the hymnist reflects on how YHWH has dealt with him personally, identifying himself as a faithful servant (dbu) of God, much in the manner that we have seen in the prior hymns:

“And I [i.e. as for me], your servant, you have favored me with the spirit of knowledge, (so as) to [choose fir]mness [and right]ness, and to abhor every way of crookedness [i.e. crooked way]” (ll. 36b-37a)

This repeats a typical theme of the Hymns—namely, a recognition (by the author/protagonist) that one’s ability to remain faithful to YHWH is due to a favor (root /nj) granted to the individual by God Himself. This favor comes in the form of a spirit (j^Wr) given by God. It is thus a Divine spirit, in that it comes from God and reflects His own nature and character. We have seen this use of the noun j^Wr in the previous hymns we have examined.

Also, according to the prior usage, j^Wr occurs in a construct expression (i.e., “spirit of…”), where the qualifying term (noun or adjectival substantive) defines the particular Divine attribute or characteristic in focus. Here the term is tu^D^, “knowledge”, emphasizing that it is Divine knowledge that the spirit brings to the protagonist. This was stated earlier in 5:36:

“And I, your servant, know by the spirit that you have given me…”

It is Divine knowledge, which allows the individual to discern the will and purpose of YHWH, and so to choose (vb rh^B*) the right path and to reject (lit. “abhor,” vb bu^T*) the wrong. The right path fundamentally means faithfulness to YHWH. This is expressed by a traditional pair of terms—tm#a# and qd#x#.

The noun tm#a#, which is often translated flatly as “truth”, actually has a much wider range of meaning. It derives from the root /ma, which denotes being firm; thus tm#a# fundamentally means “firmness”, often in the sense of being sound, secure, trustworthy. The parallel root qdx denotes what is “straight” or “right”. The derived noun qd#x# is typically translated “justice” in the social-ethical sphere, and “righteousness” in the religious-moral sphere; I tend to render it more fundamentally as “right(ness)”. The contrast with what is “firm” and “straight/right” is, naturally enough, lw#u*, meaning “crookedness” —i.e., bending or deviating from the right norm.

The use of the construct expression “spirit of knowledge” here may be inspired by its occurrence in Isa 11:2, along with the related constructs “spirit of wisdom” and “spirit of understanding”, which also appear in the Qumran texts. There is a strong noetic and sapiential emphasis to the use of j^Wr in the Qumran writings, as there is, indeed, in the New Testament Scriptures. As we proceed in these notes, certain more precise parallels will be mentioned. Other occurrences of the expression “spirit of knowledge” (tud jwr) are found throughout the texts (e.g., 1QS 4:4; 1QSb 5:25; 4Q161 8-10 12), and will be looked at in turn.

The idiom of God favoring someone with a spirit, using a collocation of the verb /n~j* (with suffix) with the noun j^Wr, also occurs in other texts—1QSb 2:24; 1QHa 8:27; 4Q504 4 5; 11Q5 19:14. The ability of the chosen individual, so favored by God, to hate crookedness, as a result of his portion in firmness (truth) and rightness, is emphasized (in comparable terms) in 1QS 4:24. Cf. Tigchelaar, p. 190.

In line 37b, the hymnist goes on to express his love for YHWH, recognizing (again) that his ability to remain faithful (and choose to follow the right path), is because of the way that the Creator God has shown him favor, in His gracious mercy and love. Another important theme that we have encountered in these hymns is an emphasis on the weakness and mortality of the created being, which requires a special gift from God in order to know and understand the truth. This is expressed in lines 38-39f, though the final two fragmentary lines (40-41) are a bit difficult to interpret.

As we turn to column VII, the first 11 lines are almost completely missing, so it is impossible to know for certain whether the hymn of 6:34-41 continues into the next column (or how far it might extend). A new hymn certainly begins at line 21, but the status of the prior lines 12-20 is less clear. Line 12 may begin a new section, and the DJD editors (cf. also Schuller/Newsom) interpret it this way, restoring the opening words of the line (according to my translation) as: “Blessed are you, Mighty (One) Most High who by…”.

Whether or not 7:12-20 belongs to the same hymn as 6:34-41, there is a continuation of theme, as the hymnist praises God again for the knowledge and understanding He has given. The specific term used here in line 12 lkc (vb lk^c*, Hiphil), denoting a practical kind of wisdom or understanding, often translated (in ethical terms) as “prudence”, or noetically as “insight”. The nouns lk#c# and tu^D^ are paired in line 15. The noun “spirit” does not occur here, but it may perhaps be inferred from the expression “spring/fountain of your strength”, water-imagery being traditionally applied to the Spirit of God in Old Testament and Jewish tradition.

People who have not been so chosen (and favored) by God, are not able to understand the wondrous things that He has done (lines 14ff). But the chosen ones, recognizing what God has given to them, are quite aware, and feel compelled to praise Him fully (thus these Hodayot hymns).

In lines 17-20, the protagonist positions himself as belonging to a community of the faithful. These elect/chosen ones are identified as those having knowledge (lit. “knowing [one]s,” <yudy), and who are instructed by God. Almost certainly, the Community of the Qumran texts is in view, with the hymnist/protagonist likely identifying himself as a lyk!c=m^ for the Community (cf. line 21)—viz., one who is specially gifted by God to instruct and guide the other members in the way of God’s wisdom. The reference in line 18, to the Community “recounting together the knowledge of God”, may allude to the communal worship setting of these very hymns.

Like the chosen individuals, the Community of such persons is to be distinguished from the rest of humankind. Only they are able to understand and to walk in the knowledge of God. This is expressed in line 19:

“…in the assembly of[…] and our offspring you have made to understand…in the midst of the sons of man”

Schuller/Newsom = Eileen M. Schuller and Carol A. Newsom, The Hodayot (Thanksgiving Psalms): A Study Edition of 1QHa, Early Judaism and Its Literature Number 36 (Society of Biblical Literature: 2012)
DJD XL = Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. XL: 1QHodayota, with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f, by Hartmut Stegemann with Eileen Schuller, translations of texts by Carol Newsom (Clarendon Press: 2009).
Tigchelaar = Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, “Historical Origins of the Early Christian Concept of the Holy Spirit: Perspectives from the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Holy Spirit, Inspiration, and the Cultures of Antiquity, Ekstasis series, eds. Jörg Frey and John R. Levison (De Gruyter: 2014)

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 6:19-33

1QH 6

(Unless otherwise noted, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

It is possible that the hymn beginning at line 12 of column V (cf. the previous notes) continues on into column VI. It has been suggested that the hymn extends through 6:18, or even through line 33 (cf. the discussion by the editors in DJD XL, pp. 77-8, 88-90); however, it may be better to treat 6:19-33 as a separate hymn. In any case, many of the themes in column V continue in column VI; the poems certainly share a number of features and aspects in common.

The difficulty in determining the division of the hymns stems, in large part, from the missing lines (1-11) at the beginning of column VI. Lines 12-18 emphasize once again that those righteous persons, who are able to obtain wisdom and understanding, do so through the mercy and favor of God. There is a strong predestinarian orientation to the Qumran Community, which is expressed here in the Hodayot, in a number of the hymns.

Those who receive the inspired revelation from God are described as “men of truth and the chosen (one)s of righteousness” (line 13); they are characterized by virtues that reflect the fundamental attributes of God Himself, being enabled to pursue wisdom and understanding by God’s spirits: “[(those) searching for insight and seeking understanding […] (the one)s loving compassion and (those) lowly [i.e. humble] of spirit…” (lines 13-14). Through God’s favor—His guidance and protection, given through His spirits—the chosen ones are able to remain faithful to the end, even in the face of affliction and persecution (lines 15-18).

The section (or separate hymn, cf. above) that begins at line 19, opens with a blessing (to God) which makes clear, again, that the ability possessed by the righteous/faithful ones is given to them by God:

“[Blessed are you,] my Lord, the (One) giving [i.e. placing] understanding in (the) heart of your servant, (for him) to gain insight in(to) all these (thing)s, and to have under[standing of…], and to hold himself (firm) against (wicked) deeds, and to bless with rightness all (those) choosing (what is) pleasing to you, [to choose all th]at you love and to abhor all that [you hate]…” (lines 19-21f)

As we have seen, elsewhere in these hymns the same wording from line 9 is used with a Divine spirit (j^Wr) as the object of God’s giving (4:29; 5:36) . The virtue or attribute (here “understanding”, hn`yB!), defined abstractly, can also be personified dynamically as an active spirit. The hymnist could just as well have used the expression “spirit of understanding” (cp. “spirit of knowledge” in line 36). It is thus a gift from God that enables the chosen one to have wisdom and understanding, and to resist the evil influences that lead humans to wickedness. Human begins must choose (vb rh^B*) between what is pleasing to God and what He despises/abhors, but only through the favor and guidance of God is one able to make the right choice (on a regular basis).

The deterministic emphasis, in this regard, is expressed quite clearly in line 22f:

“You have given your servant insight in(to) [… (the) lo]ts of humankind, for (according) to (the) mouth of (the) spirits you made (the lot) fall for them between good and evil, [and] you have established…”

In the expression “mouth of (the) spirits” (twjwr yp), the noun hP# (“mouth”) is presumably used in the abstract sense of “measure, portion”. The idea seems to be that the spirits have been measured/portioned out to different people (cp. the similar wording, applied to Jesus, in John 3:34), so that they will incline toward either the good or the evil. As we have seen, according to the thought-world of the Qumran hymns, there are both good and evil spirits that influence human beings, with people being trapped between the two forces. By nature, the spirit/nature of a human being (“spirit of flesh”) is corrupt, being ruled by a perverting spirit (“spirit of crookedness”). It requires a special gift/favor by God in order to enable a human being to be faithful and righteous. The protagonist of the hymn describes this very dynamic:

“And I (indeed) know, from your understanding, that through your favor to a m[a]n you make [abundant his inheritance] in (the) spirit of your holiness, and so you bring him near to your understanding…” (lines 23b-24)

Here, again, we find the expression “spirit of (God’s) holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr), as representing the principal spirit that God gives to His chosen one, reflecting the fundamental Divine attribute of holiness. God gives His holy spirit to all of His chosen ones, but gives to some a greater portion (i.e., a more abundant “inheritance” [hl*j&n~]). This spirit draws the person toward God’s understanding, bringing him/her near to it (vb vg~n`). Significantly, the protagonist states that it is from God’s own understanding, gifted to him by God’s spirit, that he has obtained his knowledge.

The possession of this spirit, and the inspired wisdom/understanding that it brings, enables a person to remain faithful and righteous in all things. This ethical-religious principle is developed in lines 25-33. It is according to the measure/portion of the person’s “nearness” (being near, brwq) to God’s understanding, that he/she will be faithful. The same expression as in line 22, with the noun hP# (“mouth”) in the abstract sense of “measure/portion”, is used. A person will act righteously, and remain faithful to God, to the extent that God’s holy spirit is present, drawing the person ever closer to God’s own wisdom and understanding.

The final line (32-33) makes clear that this faithfulness is defined in traditional terms, according to loyalty to the covenant (i.e., observance of the Torah precepts and regulations): “I will not bring into the council of [your] tr[uth any] (one) turning (away) [from] your [b]inding agreement [tyr!B=, i.e. covenant]”. It was expected that every member of the Community would be meticulously loyal and devoted to the Torah.

In the next note, we will at the remaining lines (34-41) of column VI.

DJD XL = Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. XL: 1QHodayota, with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f, by Hartmut Stegemann with Eileen Schuller, translations of texts by Carol Newsom (Clarendon Press: 2009).