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Note of the Day – November 9 (John 1:12, 16-17)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

John 1:12, 16-17

These next two daily notes—on John 1:12-13, 16-17—relate to articles and areas of study in the current series Gnosis and the New Testament: the article on “Knowledge and Revelation in John” and Part 5 (on Election). Today’s note deals with the first area, especially the motif of revelation in terms of giving and receiving. These twin aspects are expressed by the verbs di/dwmi (“give”) and lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”), both of which occur frequently in the Gospel of John and are found here in the Prologue as well. First, in verse 12:

“but as (many) as received him, he gave to them (the) authority to become (the) offspring of God, to the (one)s trusting in his name”

There is a simple and precise parallelism at work:

  • they received [e&labon] him
  • he gave [e&dwken] to them

Verse 11, the first half of the sentence, places this in context: “he came into/unto his own (thing)s, and his own (people) did not receive him alongside (them)”. This specifies what was already stated in verse 10, that the Word/Logos (i.e. the Son) “was in the world, but the world did not know him”. From the more abstract expression “the world” (o( ko/smo$) we move to the neuter plural “his own (thing)s” [i.e. the things of humankind, in a particular place, etc], then to the more specific plural “his own (people)” [i.e. the Israelite/Jewish people]. The word translated “receive” in v. 11 is the compound form paralamba/nw (“take/receive along[side]”). While it is not always necessary (or possible) to translate the prepositional (prefixed) component of such verbs, here it is probably best to preserve the specific meaning of para/ (“along[side]”), which conveys a sense of nearness and intimacy. This preposition is often used with definite (theological) significance in the Gospel of John, especially when describing the relationship of the Son to the Father—i.e., as coming “(from) alongside [para/]” the Father, cf. verse 14. The same aspect of nearness should be assumed in the use of the simple lamba/nw in v. 12 as well—i.e., those who receive the Son (the Word and Light) alongside them. The Gospel narrative shows this at work; in verse 39, when the first disciples choose to follow Jesus, they went “and remained alongside [para/] him that day” (cf. also 4:40; 14:25, etc). The verb here is me/nw (“remain, abide”) which, later in the Gospel, comes to have immense spiritual and theological significance: for Christ (and his word[s]) remaining in [e)n] the believer, and the believer remaining in Christ (6:56; 8:31; 15:4-10; and frequently in 1 John). There are thus two aspects to the idea of receiving as expressed by the verb lamba/nw:

  • Receiving the Son (Christ) alongside [para/], close by, so as to remain/abide with him
  • Receiving the Son (Christ) in [e)n]—i.e. remaining/abiding within the believer, and among believers

That the second aspect follows upon (and completes) the first may be seen from the saying of Jesus in 8:31 (discussed in an earlier note), when Jesus declares to those who have just recently come to trust in him: “if you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples”.

The second verb in the tandem is di/dwmi (“give”), which occurs quite often in John. The associated meanings are interrelated, in at least two ways; first—

  • The Father gives to the Son, and
    • The Son, in turn, gives to his disciples (believers); to which we may add
      • The Spirit also gives to believers, and
      • {Believers give to others}

and, secondly—

  • The Father gives the chosen ones (disciples/believers) to the Son
    —The Son keep/guards them in the Father’s name; so also
    —The Father keeps/guards them in His name (through the Spirit)
  • The Son returns to give (bring/lead) believers back with him to the Father

Here, in verse 12, it is the comprehensive sense of this dynamic—and, especially, the inner aspect—which must be understood by the use of di/dwmi. It is stated that the Son (Word and Light) “gave to them [i.e. believers] the authority to become offspring of God”. This idea of becoming children of God will be discussed in the next note; here, it is important to emphasize the aspect of giving that is expressed—what the Son gives to those who receive him is the ability to be transformed, born anew (from above) through a spiritual birth (cf. 3:3-8).

When we turn to verses 16-17, the emphasis has shifted to the person of Jesus as the Son (of God). Verse 16 picks up from v. 14 (15 being parenthetical), which declares, in rather exalted language, the appearance (i.e. incarnation) of the Son on earth:

“And the Logos came to be flesh and set up tent [i.e. camped/dwelt] among [e)n] us, and we looked with wonder (at) his splendor [do/ca], (the) splendor as of (the) only (one who has) come to be [i.e. only son] (from) alongside [para/] the Father, full of (His) favor and truth”

Verses 16 and 17 are subordinate statements, each beginning with the (connecting) particle o%ti, which I leave untranslated here:

  • V. 16: “out of his fullness we all received [e&labon] even favor a)nti favor”
  • V. 17: “the Law was given [e)do/qh] through Moshe, and favor and truth came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

There is some difficulty in interpreting verse 16 because of the ambiguity surrounding the preposition a)nti/, “against, opposite”, which has a wide range of figurative meanings (“in place of, in exchange for, on behalf of”, etc). Unfortunately, this is the only occurrence of the separate preposition in the Johannine writings, so we cannot compare it with any other instance in the Gospel. In all likelihood, it is meant to express a contrast, which is developed in v. 17—Moses/Jesus, Law/Favor. This suggests a)nti should be understood here in the sense of “in place of”—in place of the favor (xa/ri$) Israel received through the Law, believers have received favor and truth through Christ. The expression “favor and truth” (xa/ri$ kai\ a)lh/qeia) should perhaps be viewed as a hendiadys (two words expressing a single concept)—i.e. true favor. By this interpretation, we need not see Christ as replacing the Law of Moses, though this idea is found at times in the New Testament, both in the Pauline and Johannine writings. A better way of saying it is that the favor of God manifest in Christ is full and complete, while the Torah is only partial, pointing the way to the person of Jesus (cf. Jn 5:39-40). It is out of [e)k] this fullness that all believers (“we all”) receive this (full) favor. If we compare verse 16 in light of v. 12 (cf. above), then this favor (xa/ri$) may be identified with the “authority” (e)cousi/a) that we have been given to become children of God. A careful reading of verse 17 reveals the connection between the verbs di/dwmi (“give”) and gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)—what believers were given is the ability to become. This will be explored in greater detail when verses 12-13 are examined in the next daily note.