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Note of the Day – November 10 (John 1:12-13)

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

John 1:12-13

This is the second of two daily notes on John 1:12-13, 16-17. Yesterday’s note looked at vv. 12 and 16-17 in the use of the verbs di/dwmi and lamba/nw—”give” and “receive”—to express the divine revelation granted to believers in the person of Jesus (the Son). Today I will be focusing on verse 12-13 for the description of what is given to believers, utilizing the image of birth and sonship. In part, this discussion is related to the article (Part 5) on Election in the current series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. I have already discussed these verses in prior notes, and will refer to these at several points.

Verses 12-13 follow the statements in vv. 10-11, of the Son (the Word [lo/go$] and Light [fw=$]) coming into the world (v. 9):

  • “He was in the world…and the world did not know him” (v. 10)
  • “He came to his own, and his own (people) did not receive him alongside” (v. 11)

Here are vv. 12-13 in translation:

” But as (many) as received [i.e. did receive] him, he gave to them (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to become (the) offspring of God—to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of the will of man, but out of God have come to be (born).”

I have tried to retain the Greek syntax here, as far as possible, to illustrate the important structure of the first half of the sentence (v. 12) in particular. There are two parallels at work, which can be shown in outline form:

  • They received him
    —he gave to them…
    —to become the offspring of God
  • The ones trusting in his name

According to the outer pairing, to “receive” the Son (Jesus) means to “trust” (i.e. believe, have faith) in his name. I discussed this identification in the previous note; for the significance of the name, cf. the recent note on the “name of the Father”. The second, inner pairing connects Jesus’ giving with the believers’ becoming. This same association (using the verbs di/dwmi and gi/nomai) is found in vv. 16-17, as I also discuss in yesterday’s note; consider:

“The Law was given [e)do/qh] through Moses, but favor and truth came to be [e)ge/neto] through Jesus Christ”

The contrast here is one of fullness and completeness—Moses/Christ, the “favor” shown by God in the Law compared with the “favor and truth” manifest in the person of Christ. The common verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) has special theological (and Christological) significance in the Gospel of John, and is used very carefully, both in the Prologue and throughout, along with the verb of being (ei)mi) and the verb e&rxomai (“come”), etc. Note the precise way these are used together in the Baptist’s declaration (1:15, 30). Within the prologue, the verb gi/nomai refers literally to creation—coming into existence, coming to be (vv. 3, 10), especially of a human being born into the world (v. 6). It is thus of great moment when it is used of the pre-existent Word and Light: “and the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh and camped/dwelt among us…”. There can be little doubt that this same sense of incarnation is meant in both verse 15 and here in v. 17. It thus also informs the use in v. 12 as well; note the formal parallelism:

  • God gave favor (the Law) through Moses
    • Favor came to be through Christ (i.e. the Word coming to be flesh)
  • Christ gave believers this favor (authority)
    • Believers come to be children of God

The Word “came to be flesh” means came to be born, i.e. as a human being. It is something of the reverse process for believers—human beings are born as sons/children of God. I have discussed this aspect of vv. 12-13 in a note from a series last Christmas season. On the textual issue and variants in verse 13, these are also addressed in an earlier note. Jesus refers to this spiritual birth (i.e. born from above, born again) in the famous discourse with Nicodemus (3:3-8), and the image of believers as “born of God” is found often in 1 John (2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). In these passages, it is the related verb genna/w, referring more precisely to one coming to be born, which is used. Literally, believers are born “out of” (e)k) God, and this idiom informs the shorter expression, frequent in the Gospel and First Letter, of being (or coming) e)k tou= qeou=, “out of [i.e. from] God”. Cf. especially 1 Jn 3:10, where being “out of God” (e)k tou= qeou=) is synonymous with being “offspring/children of God” (te/kna tou= qeou=). The word te/kna is more or less interchangeable with ui(oi/ (“sons”) and “sons of God” has essentially the same meaning as “offspring of God”. Both expressions are found in the New Testament—for “sons of God”, cf. Matt 5:9; Luke 20:36; Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26 (cf. also Matt 5:45; Lk 6:35; Rom 9:26); “children of God” is the typical expression in John (11:52; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2), but also occurs in Paul (Rom 9:8; Phil 2:15), being equivalent to “sons of God” (Rom 8:16, 21, cp. verses 14, 19). The expression “sons/children of light” has a similar meaning, being applied to believers, usually in an ethical context (cf. Lk 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8). The noun te/kna is more appropriate for the Johannine idea of being born from or “out of” God, since its fundamental meaning is something “brought forth, produced” (cf. the verb ti/ktw).

What Christ gives to the believer, according to verse 12, is the e)cousi/a (exousía) to become the offspring of God. This word is difficult to translate in English; derived from the verb e&cestin (e)k + the verb of being ei)mi), it has the basic meaning of something which comes from (lit. out of) a person, and, as such, is in the control or ability of a person to handle or accomplish. It may properly convey the sense of ability/capability, but also of permission—that is, something permitted, or over which permission is granted. The noun e)cousi/a is usually translated as “power” or “authority”. In the Gospel of John, it refers primarily to what God the Father has given to Jesus (the Son)—i.e., placed in his charge and control (5:27; 17:2), including control over his own life and death (10:18). This latter point is especially emphasized in the brief dialogue with Pilate (19:10-11). To understand the precise significance of the word here in 1:12, it is important to look at the use in 17:2:

“…even as you [i.e. the Father] gave to him [i.e. the Son] e)cousi/a o(ver) all flesh, (so) that, (for) every (one) that you have given to him, you should give to them (the) life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life]”

The verb di/dwmi (“give”) occurs three times in this verse:

  • The Father gives (aorist indicative, “gave”) to the Son power/control over all human beings (“all flesh”)
  • The Father gives (perfect, “have given”) specific human beings (the elect, believers) to the Son
  • The Father gives (aorist subjunctive, “should give”) them (believers) eternal life

Believers (the Elect) are in the care/control of the Son; the eternal life which we receive is given only in that context—i.e., our relationship/connection with the Son. For a good description of the dynamic that is involved, we should compare Jesus’ statements in 5:26 and 6:57:

“For, just as the Father holds life in Himself, so also He gave the Son life to hold in himself”
“Even as the living Father sent me forth, and I live through the Father, (so) also…that one [i.e. the believer] will live through me”

The theological chain is clear and straightforward:

  • The Father gives the Son life to hold in himself (through the Father)
  • The Son gives believers life to have in themselves (through the Son)

This is the sense of the power/control/authority with believers now have, to become children (“sons”) of God through Christ (the Son). This giving and becoming occurs in connection with our trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, which we first experience at a particular moment in time—that is, when we come to him, come to faith. However, there is also a sense in which believers are already (born) of God, even before coming to faith. Consider Jesus’ words to Pilate in Jn 18:37, where he states that he was born and came into the world

“…that I should (bear) witness to the truth—every (one) being [i.e. who is] out of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”

That is to say, only the person who comes (i.e. is ‘born’) out of the truth, will be able to hear the voice of truth. I would suggest that the same idea is present in vv. 12-13 as well. I point again to the Greek syntax preserved in translation (cf. above):

  • Believers receive Christ (i.e. trust in him)
    —He gives to them authority/ability to become children of God (i.e. born of God)
  • The ones trusting in his name (i.e. believers) are those who
    —were born out of God (i.e. are children of God)

Verse 13 also clearly expresses the point, given threefold emphasis, that this birth—and, indeed, our very receiving Christ—is not the result of our own (human) will and choice, but comes directly from God. This represents a somewhat different aspect of our Christian identity which we are not accustomed to recognizing or considering. It is also the point at which the early Christian (Johannine) sense of religious identity corresponds most closely with gnostic thought. It will be addressed further in the article (Part 5) on Election.