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Note of the Day – May 9 (John 11:27)

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John 11:27

Verse 27 is the climax to the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, and it is her response to the question by Jesus in v. 26b—”do you trust this?” (cf. the prior note). As I discussed, the demonstrative pronoun “this” (tou=to) refers to Jesus’ statement in vv. 25-26a, which begins with the “I am” declaration (v. 25a). Thus Jesus is asking her about his identity—not only that she trusts in his word, but in who he is. In this regard, as I pointed out in the previous note, there is a basic similarity between the question to Martha, and that posed to Peter (and the other disciples) in Mark 8:29 par. In the Synoptic scene, the question is more direct in relation to Jesus’ identity—”But who do you consider me to be?”. The question of Jesus’ identity in the Johannine episode is framed differently, but, in many ways, remains quite the same—i.e. “do you trust what I have said (about who I am)?” Before proceeding to a detailed examination of verse 27, it is worth continuing the comparison with Peter’s confession. The beginning of both statements is identical:

su\ ei@ o( xristo/$
“You are the Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah]…”

The Matthean version of Peter’s confession is closest to Martha’s:

“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of…God” (Matt 16:16)
“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God…” (John 11:27)

In some ways, Martha’s declaration takes a central place in the Gospel of John, much as Peter’s confession does in the Synoptics. The Fourth Gospel has nothing corresponding to the scene in Mark 8:27-30 par, though there is a rough parallel, with certain points of similarity, in Jn 6:66-71 (compare v. 69 with Mk 8:29 par). With Peter and Martha, here we have disciples, through an expression (confession) of faith, making a fundamental declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. Both passages are also positioned at a similar point in the Gospel narrative—the conclusion of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry and the start of his (final) period in Jerusalem.

If we turn specifically to Martha’s statement in verse 27, we see that there are three components to it, each of which involves a particular title applied to Jesus:

  • “You are
    • the Anointed One [o( xristo/$]
    • the Son of God [o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]
    • the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] into the world”

Each of these important titles will be discussed in turn.

o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”)

This, of course, is the title applied to Jesus by early Christians, so thoroughly that it came to function virtually as a second name—”Yeshua (the) Anointed”, i.e. Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1:17; 17:3). I have discussed the significance and background of this title at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed“. It occurs less frequently in the Gospels than elsewhere in the New Testament, for obvious reasons. The historical tradition underlying the Gospel narratives reflects the fact that the title was applied to Jesus during the time of his ministry only on certain occasions, taking on greater prominence during the final period in Jerusalem. The title occurs 19 times in the Gospel of John, almost always on the lips of other people, not Jesus himself. The issue in these passages is whether Jesus might be the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), a matter discussed and questioned by the people who saw and heard (about) him. A brief survey may be useful:

  • In 1:20 (also v. 25 and 3:28), John the Baptist declares that he is not the Anointed One
    By contrast, in v. 41, John’s followers (now disciples of Jesus) identity Jesus as this figure.
  • In 4:25, 29, the Samaritan woman refers to the expectation of the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah, Samaritan Taheb), and raises the possibility to her fellow villagers that it might be Jesus.
  • In 7:25-31, and again in vv. 40-44, people wonder, question and debate whether Jesus might be the Anointed One.
  • In 10:24 people want Jesus to tell them whether he truly claims to be the Anointed One.
  • In 12:34, again there are questions surrounding Jesus as the Anointed One, here connected with the title “Son of Man” so often used by Jesus in reference to himself.

There is some uncertainty as to the precise meaning of the title “Anointed One” in these passages, as there are a number of different Messianic figure-types to which it may refer. The type which came to be most prominent, that of the end-time Ruler from the line of David, is clearly in view only in 7:40-42, where “Anointed One” is contrasted with a Messianic Prophet figure. However, in 4:25ff and 7:25-31, the title seems to refer to an end-time Prophet. The references in chapter 1, in connection with John the Baptist, are harder to determine. As a result, we cannot be certain, at the historical level, just how Martha might have understood the title.

The remaining two titles, along with an interpretation of the verse as a whole, will be examined in the next daily note.

Saturday Series: John 1:15, 30; 3:28

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Last week, we looked at John 3:1-21 in the context of the prior chapter 2 (especially 2:13-25). Today, we will be looking ahead to the next section, 3:22-36. I do not intend to provide a similarly detailed comparison with 3:1-21, only to note the general correspondence. There is indeed a similarity between the discourse involving John the Baptist (vv. 25ff) and the earlier one between Jesus and Nicodemus. In particular, the language and thought of vv. 31-36 has much in common with Jesus’ exposition in vv. 11-21. According to the context of the narrative, John the Baptist is the one speaking in vv. 31ff (there is no certain indication of a change in speaker), and the similarity of expression between Jesus and the Baptist is very much part of the overall theme of the Gospel. This was established in chapter 1, going back to the Prologue (vv. 1-18). John the Baptist is one sent from God to bear witness to Jesus. As 1:7-8 describes, John is not the light, but gives witness to it—so well indeed, that he and Jesus use much the same language. They are essentially witnessing to the same thing—Jesus’ own person and identity. Only, after chapter 3, John the Baptist disappears from the scene, and from that point on in the Gospel, it is Jesus’ words and works alone which bear witness.

The discourse in 3:22-36 reflects the narrative in chapter 1 even more closely. This is part of the Johannine blending of details and elements from the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry, as we saw in the case of 1:51 and the episodes of chapter 2. The main dialogue in vv. 25-30 is parallel to 1:19-34. The clearest reference is found in verse 28, where the Baptist says to those with him:

“You (your)selves (can) witness for me, that I said [that] ‘I am not the Anointed One, but that I am (one) having been se(n)t forth in front of that (one)’.”

If we look back at chapter 1, there are several statements which, if taken together, are similar to the saying here in v. 28b:

  • “I am not the Anointed One [i.e. Messiah]” (1:20b)
  • “the (One) sending me…” (v. 33; see also verse 6)
  • “the (one) coming behind me…” (v. 27, compare with the Synoptic saying in Mark 1:7 par)
  • the saying in verse 15 and 30 (discussed below)

The idea that Jesus is the Anointed One (on this title, see my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“), and that he comes after (or behind) John the Baptist, is a basic historical tradition found in all four Gospels (and the book of Acts). Yet it is clear from Jn 3:27-30ff that there is a deeper theological significance to the statement in v. 28. This comes out most vividly when we examine the saying of the Baptist in 1:15 and 30. Let us look at the form in verse 30, given in a literal translation:

“Behind me comes a man who has come to be in front of me, (in) that he was the first of [i.e. for, before] me”

The significance of this saying, as recorded in the Gospel of John is rather obscured by most translations; consider the NIV rendering as typical:

“A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me”

The basic idea of Jesus’ superior rank and (divine) pre-existence comes through well enough, but the powerful sequence of verbs (marked by italics above), and the profound theological (and Christological) statement contained within it, is impossible to capture in conventional English. Here is an instance where something truly is lost if one does not (or is not able to) study carefully the actual Greek words that are used. The saying is made up of three phrases, each of which contains a key verb:

  • “A man comes [erchetai] in back of [i.e. behind] me”
  • “who has come to be [gegonen] in front of me”
  • “he was [¢n] first of [i.e. for, before] me”

These three phrases (and verbs) essentially refer to an aspect of Jesus’ identity, which can best be understood by consulting the Prologue (vv. 1-18). Indeed, this same saying appeared earlier in the Prologue (v. 15), in a slightly different form, stated more succinctly:

“the one coming [erchomenos] in back of me has come to be [gegonen] in front of me (in) that he was [¢n] first of [i.e. for, before] me”

Let us see how each of these verbs is used in the Prologue:

1. comes/coming (vv. 7, 9, 11)—the verb erchomai (e&rxomai), which refers to human beings (and Jesus as a human being) coming into the world. This covers a person’s birth, but also extends to the place in which he lives, his community, his work and career, etc. It is frequently used in the Gospel of John in the context of Jesus coming into the world, to those who will believe in him (his disciples, believers)—a comprehensive idea spanning his human life, ministry, witness, and sacrificial death. His baptism, where he appears on the scene after (behind) John the Baptist, marks the beginning of his ministry, and the moment in which he first comes into public view.

2. has come to be (vv. 3, 6, 10, 12, 14, 17)—this is the verb ginomai (gi/nomai), an existential verb meaning “come to be, become”. It occurs frequently in the New Testament, usually in a common, ordinary sense; but, in the Gospel of John, it often has special theological significance, due to its overlapping meaning with the related verb gennaœ (genna/w). This latter verb regularly means “come to be born“, and ginomai can carry this meaning as well. It is used several different ways in the Prologue: (1) for creatures (and the world) coming into existence (vv. 3 [three times], 10), (2) for a human being coming to be born (v. 6), and similarly (3) of believers coming to be born (spiritually) (v. 12), and finally (4) of Jesus (the Word/Light) coming to be born as a human being (v. 14). It is this latter sense that is in view in verse 15—the incarnation, Jesus’ birth and his coming into the world as a human being. There is also a reference to the incarnation in verse 18, but with the added connotation of the revelation of God the Father in the person of Jesus (the Son). We should understand the phrase in verse 15/30 in this light. This second phrase works backward from the first: from Jesus coming into the world (into his life and ministry, etc) to his coming to be born as a human being. It is this—the incarnation itself —which, paradoxically, puts Jesus “in front of” John the Baptist. The perfect form of the verb (gegonen, “has come to be”) often indicates a past action, condition, event, etc, which continues into the present.

3. was (vv. 1-2, 4, 8-10)—this is the primary verb of being (eimi, ei)mi), in the third person imperfect form ¢n (h@n, “he was”). As such it occurs 10 times in the Prologue, including three times in verse 1. In this context, it refers to Divine Being—that is the being of God, and expresses something of the manner in which Jesus (the Word/Light/Son) shares in it. It reflects more than pre-existence—rather, eternal, divine existence which the Son (Jesus) shares with the Father. This informs the climactic third phrase of the saying in verse 15/30, taking yet another step back: from the incarnation (the birth of the Son as a human being) to the eternal life and being shared between the Father and the Son. In this light, we may better understand the somewhat ambiguous wording of the phrase “he was first of me”. The word prœtos (“first”) here is something more than a comparative (i.e. “superior to me”), but ought to be understood in a fundamental sense—Jesus is first of all things (including John the Baptist), sharing with God the Father both the eternal Life and the work of Creation. In a sense, prœtos is synonymous with the words that begin the Gospel—en arch¢ (“in the beginning”).

Returning to 3:28, and with this study of 1:15, 30 in mind, I would encourage you to read verses 22-36 of chapter 3 most carefully. Even if you do not read Greek, or do not have access to the Greek text, you can probably notice some important words, ideas, and themes which have occurred throughout the first three chapters of the Gospel. If you read Greek, or are using Greek study tools (such as those available in PC Study Bible), try to pay attention to any recurring words and phrases. In the Gospel of John, these often have special significance. How do verses 27-30 relate to what follows in vv. 31-36? Look especially at the words translated “eternal life” in verse 36, and consider how they relate to this discourse (and chapter 3 as a whole). We will be discussing the Johannine theme of “eternal life” in several upcoming studies, so it will be good for you to be thinking and meditating upon its meaning in the Gospel.

Continue in your reading and study of the Scripture…and I will see you next Saturday.

Saturday Series: John 3:16

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John 3:16

This week I would like to address again the importance of studying a verse or passage in context. I turn to John 3:16, one of the most famous verses in all the New Testament. Countless Christians (and non-Christians as well) are familiar with it, yet I wonder how many have ever really read or studied it in its context within the Gospel of John.

It is part of Jn 3:1-21, one of the great Discourses of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. These Discourses, which are really unlike anything in the other (Synoptic) Gospels, present the historical traditions—that is, Jesus’ words and actions—within a very distinctive literary setting, utilizing a dialogue format. Generally, they follow a common structure:

  • Narrative introduction, which establishes the setting and action of the historical episode, often a miracle or encounter episode.
  • A central saying or statement by Jesus
  • The reaction of those who see/hear him, reflecting some measure of misunderstanding
  • An explanation by Jesus of the true, deeper meaning of his words

Sometimes there are multiple exchanges between Jesus and his audience, so that the discourse preserves a more extensive dialogue. The outline of John 3:1-21 should be examined according to this pattern:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 1-2)—an encounter episode, between Jesus and Nicodemus (a member of the Jewish Council [Sanhedrin]), presumably in Jerusalem (see 2:13-25). Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night (secretly?), and addresses him (verse 2).
  • Central saying/statement by Jesus (v. 3).
  • Reaction by Nicodemus who has not understood the true meaning of Jesus’ words (v. 4)
  • Explanation by Jesus (vv. 5-8)
  • Second reaction (question) by Nicodemus (v. 9)
  • Explanation/exposition by Jesus (vv. 10-21)

The central saying by Jesus is in verse 3:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God”

This statement is apparently in response to Nicodemus’ address in verse 2, in which he recognizes that Jesus is “a teaching (who) has come from God”, yet does not fully realize Jesus’ identity. The implication is that only the person who has been “born from above” can see and recognize Jesus truly. The recognition of Jesus is described in more conventional religious terms, drawn from Old Testament and Jewish thought, as seeing “the kingdom of God”.

From verse 4, it is clear that Nicodemus has misunderstood Jesus. This is based on a bit of wordplay in Greek. The adverb anœthen literally means “from above”, but can also have the sense of “from the beginning, again”. This is how Nicodemus takes it, thinking that Jesus is referring to a second physical birth from the mother’s womb. Jesus’ explanation, touching on the true meaning of his words, begins with a statement parallel to that of verse 3:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God” (v. 5)

Clearly, being born “from above” is essentially the same as being born “out of water and (the) Spirit”. The exact relationship between water and the Spirit in this statement continues to be debated by commentators. Some take it as a reference to the need for (Christian) Baptism, but this likely would not have been Jesus primary meaning, if we accept the substance of the saying as genuine. A simpler interpretation, in accord with that of verse 3 (and the discourse as a whole), would be that, without a spiritual birth (from above), in addition to one’s natural human birth (out of water), one cannot see/enter the Kingdom. Nicodemus is still thinking and experiencing things from the ordinary human standpoint. In verse 8, Jesus identifies the birth “from above” specifically with being born “out of [i.e. from] the Spirit“.

A second question from Nicodemus (“How are these things able to come to be?”, v. 9) introduces the exposition (by Jesus) which makes up the remainder of the discourse. This exposition can be divided into two parts:

  1. Jesus as the Son of Man who has come down from Heaven (vv. 10-15), and
  2. Jesus as the Son (of God) who brings light and life into the world (vv. 16-21)

At first glance, it may not seem obvious how these sections relate to the exchange with Nicodemus in vv. 1-9. But I believe that the key lies in a narrative technique found in the Gospel of John sometimes referred to as “step-parallelism”, in which a word or idea from a prior passage is taken up to start the next. Remember that the central idea in Jesus’ exchange with Nicodemus was that of being born “from above” (anœthen, verse 3). It is this motif that Jesus expounds in response to Nicodemus’ question. There are two components to the first part of Jesus’ explanation (vv. 11-15): (a) the heavenly source of Jesus’ words (his testimony), vv. 11-12, and (b) the heavenly origin of Jesus (the “Son of Man”), vv. 13-15. Consider how these two aspects relate, centered on the motif of heaven (i.e. from above):

  • Earthly things (v. 12a)
    —Heavenly things (v. 12b)
    —Ascent to Heaven (v. 13a)
  • Descent from Heaven [to earth] (v. 13b)

In verse 13-15 Jesus picks up and further expounds this motif of ascent/descent (using the verbs anabainœ and katabainœ, literally “step up” and “step down”, see last week’s study on John 1:51). According the Johannine view of Jesus, as expressed (by Jesus) in the other discourses, this ascent/descent concept is one of several in the Gospel which serves as a comprehensive symbol or image of both the death and exaltation of Jesus. Another such concept involves the verb hypsoœ (“lift high”) which Jesus uses in vv. 14-15:

“And even as Moshe lifted (up) high the snake in the desert, so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every one trusting [in him] may have [lit. hold] (the) Life of the Age [i.e. Eternal Life].”

The primary emphasis here has shifted to Jesus’ sacrificial death (on the cross) which will bring (eternal) life to every one who trusts in him. This now becomes the transition to the second half of Jesus’ exposition (vv. 16-21), which begins with the famous verse 16 (note the points of similarity with vv. 14-15):

“For God loved the world this (way), so (that) he even gave his only (born) [monogen¢s] Son, so that every one trusting into him will not be destroyed, but might have/hold (the) Life of the Age [i.e. Eternal Life].”

The joining word which introduces vv. 16-21 is the adverb houtœ[s], related to the demonstrative pronoun houtos (“this”). The idea seems to be that God loved the world “this way”, referring to what precedes—i.e. the “lifting up” of the Son of Man in the manner of the snake upon the pole (Numbers 21:9). This connection also serves to identify Jesus the “Son of Man” as the “only Son” of God (see the earlier study on John 1:18). Once again, by way of step-parallelism, Jesus takes up this motif and continues it for the remainder of the exposition:

  • God sent forth his Son into the world, so that the world might be saved through him (v. 17)
  • Salvation comes through trusting (vb. pisteuœ) in [lit. “into”, eis] God’s Son (v. 18)

Two important Johannine motifs are blending into verse 18: (1) the adjective monogen¢s (“only [born]”), i.e. God’s only Son, and (2) the identification of the person (Jesus) with his name. According to ancient Near Eastern thought, the essence of a person was seen has being bound up, in a quasi-magical sort of way, with his/her name. This took on special significance for Israelites and Jews with regard to the name of God (YHWH), and early Christians developed a similar reverence for the name of Yeshua/Jesus. In the Gospel of John, we find the important idea that Jesus (the Son) reveals God (the Father) by making known his name (i.e., who He truly is)—see 5:43; 10:25; 12:26; 17:6-26. At the same time, the Father acts on behalf of believers in the Son’s name (14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-26). This inter-relationship of Father and Son is typical of John’s theology and Christology, and is found all throughout the Discourses of Jesus.

In verse 17-21 there is an interesting shift, from the theme of life (vv. 17-18) to that of light (19-21). Both are central to the Gospel of John and feature prominently in the Prologue (1:4-9ff). After the reference to Jesus’ death in verse 14, it seems that it is the incarnation of the Son (Jesus) which is more clearly in view in vv. 17-21. Jesus, in his very person, brings life and light into the world. The reference to light in verse 19 also introduces an aspect of dualism into the discourse—light vs. darkness. This takes us back to the original saying in verse 3. The word “from above” reflects a similar sort of dualism—above vs. below, heavenly vs. earthly. Only those who belong to the light, etc, are able to come to it (i.e. trust in Jesus). Trust is not a matter of human will-power, nor even of repentance and sacrifice, but of belonging to God. This is perhaps best expressed by Jesus words (to Pilate) in John 18:37:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] I have come to be (born) and unto this I have come into the world, that I should give witness to the truth—every one being out of [i.e. who is from/of] the truth hears my voice.”

And consider also the words of Jn 1:12-13:

“(for) as many as received him, he gave to them authority to come to be offspring of God, to the ones trusting in his name—the (one)s which, not out of blood, and not out of the will of the flesh, and not out of the will of man, but out of God, came to be (born)”

This concludes our study of John 3:16 in the context of the discourse (vv. 1-21). Often it is useful, and even necessary, to consider the wider context of the book as well. I would thus encourage you to go back and read again the first two chapters of John, paying especially close attention to chapter two and episode(s) of verses 13-25. As you read these verses, keep in mind your study of 3:1-21.

And I will see you again next Saturday.

Saturday Series: John 1:51 (continued)

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John 1:51 (continued)

Last week we looked at the enigmatic statement by Jesus in John 1:51:

“Amen, amen, I say to you (that) you [pl.] will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man.”

A proper study of such difficult passages requires a careful two-step approach: (1) analysis of the Greek words/phrases and how they are used, and (2) the context of the passage within the book. Last week we dealt with the first of these, today we will explore the second—that is, the context of the verse within the Gospel of John. Much of the difficulty surrounding this saying has been in trying to identify it with an actual event which the disciples experienced (or would experience). I mentioned three possibilities: (a) an otherwise unrecorded event during Jesus’ ministry, such as the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic Gospels; (b) a post-resurrection vision or encounter; or (c) an eschatological vision. None of these really seem to fit the narrative setting of this saying—at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, just after the Baptism and the call of the first disciples. It seems more likely that it is meant by the author (trad. John the Apostle) as a symbolic picture, and that its fundamental meaning is Christological. I believe that a study of the Greek (last Saturday) already points rather clearly in this direction. But let us examine things a bit further.

1. The Location of the Saying

After the hymnic prologue of Jn 1:1-18, the first main section of the Gospel is Jn 1:19-51, which has, as its primary theme, the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus. The section is divided into four “days”, and with each “day” the witness of Jesus’ identity is developed:

  • vv. 19-28—the Baptist’s testimony regarding himself (“I am not…”)
  • vv. 29-34—the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus
    • account of the Baptism (vv. 31-33)
  • vv. 35-42—disciples respond to the Baptist’s testimony and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Peter)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 41-42)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 42)
  • vv. 43-51—disciples respond to the testimony of other (disciple)s and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Nathanael)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47-51)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 51)

Each of the last three days follows a basic pattern, which includes a pair of declarations regarding Jesus, using a range of significant titles or descriptions:

  • Day 2: “Lamb of God” (v. 29) / “Son of God” (or “Elect/Chosen One of God”) (v. 34)
  • Day 3: “Lamb of God” (v. 36) / “Messiah” (“Anointed One [Christ]”) (v. 41)
  • Day 4: “the one of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote” (v. 45) /
    “Son of God” | “King of Israel” (v. 49)

The saying in Jn 1:51 thus concludes this opening section of the Gospel, which fundamentally has a Christological orientation, in two respects:

  1. The focus moves from John the Baptist to Jesus (see vv. 8, 15, 30; 3:28-30)
  2. John and the disciples witness (see) Jesus—that is, they begin to recognize who he is, and testify as to his identity.

The account of Jesus’ Baptism (vv. 31-34) is central to this section. Moreover, its close proximity to verse 51 makes it extremely likely that some sort of allusion to it is intended. Last week I mentioned several words in verse 51 which echo the baptism:

  • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabainœ) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition epi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people.
  • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is anoigœ (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

The Baptism is not narrated as something that people observe directly—it is only “seen” through the verbal account (or word) of the Baptist. Similarly, throughout this section “seeing” Jesus is intimately connected with hearing and responding to the message of the Baptist and the first disciples (vv. 34, 36, 39, 46). In Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47ff), he also “sees” based on what Jesus says to him; note, in particular, the wording:

“Jesus responded and said to him, ‘(In) that [i.e. because] I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig-tree, you trust (in me)? (Thing)s greater than these you will see!” (v. 50)

This interplay between “seeing” and “saying” should caution us against the simple assumption that a concrete visible event is intended in v. 51.

Consider also that, while the saying in v. 51 concludes the first section (1:19-51), it also marks the beginning of the next—that is to say, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In terms of the Gospel of John, this means the core narrative of the Gospel spanning chapters 2-20. Commentators typically divide this into two main parts:

  1. Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”, in which the narrative alternates between accounts of miracles and teaching (discourses) by Jesus—the miracle (sign) often serving as the basis and starting point for the discourse which follows (see especially in chapters 5, 6, and 9). All but the first and last of the Son of Man sayings are found in these chapters.
  2. Chapters 13-20, which narrate the Passion (and Resurrection) of Jesus—chapter 13 (a Last Supper scene similar to that in the Synoptic tradition) leads into the great Discourses in 13:31-16:33, concluding with the remarkable Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17.

The last Son of Man saying in John (13:31) opens the Discourses which are set at the beginning of the last major section of the Gospel (chs 13-20). It seems likely that the first Son of Man saying (1:51) is meant to have a similar transitional role in the structure of the Gospel narrative.

2. The other Son of Man Sayings

For a survey of the other Son of Man sayings in John, see my earlier note on the subject. As mentioned above, all but the first and last sayings occur in chapters 2-12, which is significant for two reasons:

  • They are part of the Discourses of Jesus in these chapters, marked by a unique style of teaching. A statement or action by Jesus is misunderstood by the audience, leading to a pointed question, and the subsequent response (and exposition) by Jesus, answering the question at a deeper level of meaning. This process of redirection and reformulation always involves Jesus’ identity—his Person and Teaching—the Son in relation to God the Father. Where they occur, the Son of Man sayings (esp. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 32, 34) are central to the Discourse.
  • They point toward the death and exaltation (resurrection, return to the Father) of Jesus described in chapters 13-20. Indeed, the principal sayings all have a dual-meaning, centered on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The sayings which refer to the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) or being “glorified” (Jn 12:23; also 13:31) have both aspects in mind.

The dualism of these sayings is best demonstrated by the use of the verbs katabainœ and anabainœ (“step down”, “step up”), as in Jn 1:51. The saying in 3:13 is followed by that of v. 14 (which speaks of the Son of Man “lifted high”); the sayings in Jn 6:27, 53, 62 have a more complex reference matrix, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse (6:25-66). In schematic form, we might outline the dualism as follows:

According to this outline, the last Son of Man saying (Jn 13:31) reflects the central, inner dynamic of the Father-Son relationship and identity, governed by the verb doxazœ (“give honor/esteem/glory”, i.e. “glorify”). If this is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the first of the Son of Man sayings (Jn 1:51) is parallel to this in some way, and may reflect the outer dynamic—the ascent/descent. Again, this would seem to be correct considering the use of the verbs katabainœ and anabainœ in 1:51. However, in that first saying, it is not the Son of Man descending/ascending, but rather of Angels (“Messengers of God”) ascending/descending on the Son of Man.

3. An allusion to Genesis 28:12

As mentioned last week, in Jesus’ saying there is almost certainly an allusion to Genesis 28:12. In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the Greek Version (Septuagint) “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (anabainœ and katabainœ) as Jn 1:51. Note also:

  • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (Jacob). In one reference (Genesis Rabbah 68:12) Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven.
  • The Targums (Aramaic translations) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
  • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In ancient and traditional religious thinking, the Temple served as the meeting place between God and human beings, a point of contact between Heaven and Earth. Moreover, in John 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

4. A Comprehensive Symbol?

Returning to the specific context of John’s Gospel, there is still more evidence to suggest that the saying of Jesus John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

  • The clear parallels with the Baptism (see above, and the discussion last week), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation). Again, the location of Jn 1:51 strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
  • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
  • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (especially in the Synoptic Gospels, Mk 13:26; Matt 16:27-28, etc). However, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (that is, divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent.
  • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel. This expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involve parallel confessions:
    • Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
    • Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
      It is possible that these confessions themselves as bracketing the entire narrative of chapters 2-20:

      • “Son of God” (in a Messianic context)
        —”King of Israel” (i.e. Anointed Davidic Ruler)
        —”My Lord” (Jesus as Messiah/Lord, cf. Ps 110:1)
      • “My God” (Deity)
    • Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
  • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (opsesthe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—as the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. This, of course, is also related to “seeing” the Son in terms of being with him, in his presence, as other instances of the verb optanomai, optomai/opsomai would indicate (Jn 16:16-17, 19, 22).
  • As a concluding observation that “seeing” in Jn 1:51 signifies something more than a concrete vision, note the parallel with 20:29:
    • “because I said to you that I saw [eidon] you… you trust?
      you will see [opsesthe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
    • “because you have seen [heœrakas] me you trust?
      Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [idontes] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

In both Jn 1:51 and 20:29, the eventual seeing by the believer is contrasted with the disciple believing on the basis of an extraordinary or miraculous experience. Even the concrete evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (in the case of Thomas) should not be relied upon as the basis for faith and trust in Christ, but rather the word that bears witness to him and the Spirit that draws us to him.

It is a great wonder that, wherever you turn in the Gospel of John, there appears to be an almost limitless depth to the passage. Even a careful, objective treatment of individual words inevitably leads down into a wide expanse of meaning and spiritual significance. I hope that I have been able to offer some help in demonstrating how a study of both the words and context of the passage can serve as a reliable guide to exploration. For next week, I would exhort you to continue on in a similar manner, reading and studying the next two chapters of the Gospel as carefully and thoughtfully as you are able. It will prepare you for a discussion on one of the most familiar verses in all the New Testament, but one which is often cited without much consideration for its context in the Gospel. As you may have guessed, this is the world-famous John 3:16—and we will be looking at its context most carefully…next Saturday.

Note of the Day – March 28 (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 8:38; 12:23, etc)

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Having discussed the various Son of Man sayings and references in the Synoptic Gospels in the previous notes, today I will survey the sayings in the Gospel of John. None of the Synoptic sayings occur, as such, in John; as in most cases, the Fourth Gospel draws upon a separate line of tradition. However, there are some interesting parallels. As in the Synoptics, the Son of Man sayings have undergone relatively little development in John. Any adaptation that has taken place has primarily been to emphasize particular words or concepts which are common to the Gospel’s unique mode of expression. There are twelve distinct Son of Man sayings, the first of which is perhaps the most difficult.

John 1:51

“Amen, amen, I say to you (that) you will see [o&yesqe] the heavens opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon the Son of Man”

I have discussed this enigmatic verse in some detail in an earlier note, and will deal with it again this Saturday (as part of the running “Saturday Series”). Here I summarize the results of the study previously published.

I am very much inclined to the view that the saying of John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

  • The clear parallels with the Baptism (cf. the earlier note), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation); the location of Jn 1:51 also strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
  • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
  • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (esp. in the Synoptic tradition); however, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (i.e. divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent (cf. above).
  • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel, expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involving parallel confessions:
    Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
    Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
    Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
  • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (o&yesqe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. Note the parallel with 20:29:
    • “because I said to you that I saw [ei@don] you… you trust?
      you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
    • “because you have seen [e(w/raka$] me you trust?
      Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [i)do/nte$] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

The comprehensive nature of the Son of Man reference in 1:51 is paralleled by two key sayings toward the end of the ministry period (in John, the so-called “Book of Signs” chaps 2-12), which also serve to introduce the great Last Discourse (chs. 13-17) and Passion Narrative. Both of these sayings use the verb doca/zw (doxázœ), “give (or regard with) esteem, honor”, etc, i.e. “glorify”, related to the noun do/ca (dóxa, usually translated “glory”).

John 12:23; 13:31

  • John 12:23: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be honored/glorified [docasqh=]”—the primary context in this passage is to Jesus’ upcoming death (cf. below).
  • John 13:31: “Now the Son of Man is honored/glorified [e)doca/sqh], and the Father is honored/glorified in him”—this saying effectively begins the great Discourses of chapters 13-17, and is tied throughout to the idea that Son is about to go away: a dual-layered reference to his death and his return to the Father.

For additional occurrences of the verb doca/zw in reference to Jesus (or the Son) being glorified, cf. John 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10. This “glory” covers both aspects of Jesus’ Passion—his death and his resurrection. In classic Christian theology this duality is often referred to as the two “states” of Christ—his humiliation and exaltation. However, in Johannine terminology, it is better understood as a descent to earth (i.e. the incarnation) leading all the way to death, followed by an ascent to heaven (including the resurrection), back to the Father.

This two-fold process of Jesus’ glorification is expressed in two distinct groups of Son of Man sayings. The first group involves the verb u(yo/w (hypsóœ, “make/place high”, i.e. “raise, lift up”); the second uses the related pair of verbs a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw (“step up” and “step down”, i.e. “ascend”, “descend”).

John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34: “lift (up) high”

  • John 3:14: “so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”—the comparison is with the ‘fiery’ copper/bronze serpent lifted by Moses (on a pole) which brought healing (from the burning snakebite) to all who looked at it (Num 21:9); the reference is primarily to Jesus’ death (on the stake/cross), but almost certainly has his resurrection and exaltation in mind as well (cf. below). This is described in terms of salvation: “…so that every one trusting in him might have (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”.
  • John 8:28: “when you (have) lifted high [u(yw/shte] the Son of Man…”—the formulation here (“when you…”) indicates more precisely Jesus being put to death (on the stake/cross), but again the subsequent exaltation is also in view. Throughout the discourse(s) of chapters 7-8, Jesus has been expressing, in various ways, his relationship to (and identification with) God the Father; here specifically Jesus states that when they have lifted up the Son of Man “…then you will know that I am, and I do nothing from myself, but just as the Father taught me, (so) I speak these things”. In verse 26, this is also described in terms of judgment, which is associated with the eschatological Son of Man figure of many of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptics.
  • John 12:32: “and if I am lifted high [u(ywqw=] I will drag all (people/things) toward me”—this is related to the previous sayings (especially 3:14), as well as to the Son of Man saying in 12:23 (cf. above). The context is specifically that of Jesus’ impending death (and resurrection), again relating to the promise of salvation and eternal life (vv. 24-25, 27-28, 33, 36).
  • John 12:34: “you say that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high…”—this is part of a question to Jesus from the crowd, referring (in context) to verse 32, but more properly it cites the saying in 3:14 (above). There is a clear connection with the “Anointed (One)”, and expresses some confusion on the part of the people in the crowd as to just what Jesus means by the expression Son of Man—”…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

These are the only instances of the verb in John; for similar usage elsewhere, cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31.

John 3:13; 6:62 (with 6:27, 53): “descend / ascend”

  • John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”—on this saying, cf. above.
  • John 3:13: “no one has stepped up into heaven if not the one stepping down out of heaven, the Son of Man”—this saying is obviously related to that of verse 14 (cf. above); it identifies/contrasts a person being raised/exalted to heavenly status with one who has (first) come down out of heaven. The implication is that Jesus is not simply a human being who has been (or will be) raised to a heavenly/divine position, but was previously in heaven (with God) before coming to earth. This, of course, is stated clearly in the Prologue of John (1:1ff) and indicated throughout the Gospel by Jesus; in precise theological terms, it refers to the (divine) pre-existence of Jesus. This is made even more definite in the manuscripts which read “…the Son of Man, the (one) being in Heaven”.
  • John 6:62: “then (what) if you should behold the Son of Man stepping up [a)nabai/nonta] (to) where he was (at) the first?”
    This saying is part of the great Bread of Life discourse in John 6:27-71, which I have discussed in considerable detail in prior articles. Especially noteworthy are the references to the bread that has come down (lit “stepped down”) from Heaven (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58), which in context clearly symbolizes Jesus (the Son of Man) who has stepped down from Heaven (i.e. the incarnation), and who will soon step back up into Heaven (back to the Father) from whence he came (v. 62). As in 3:13 (above), this indicates a pre-existent, heavenly status in relationship to God, and must be understood in light of the many references throughout the Gospel—especially in the discourses of chapters 13-17—where Jesus speaks of the Son coming from and going (back) to the Father. There is, of course, eucharistic symbolism in the bread—broken down into the dual image of eating his body and drinking his blood. This is expressed in the Son of Man sayings in vv. 27, 53, associated specifically with Jesus’ sacrificial death:

    • John 6:27: “work…for the food th(at) remains in the Life of Ages [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man will give to you”
    • John 6:53: “if you do not consume the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not hold Life in yourself”

All of these sayings which speak of Jesus’ glorification through the dualistic imagery of death and resurrection, descent and ascent, along with the two-fold meaning of being “lifted (up) high”, as they run through the Gospel narrative, have a general parallel with the Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (cf. the earlier note). In those declarations, reference to the suffering and death of the Son of Man is followed by the announcement of his resurrection. In a similar way, the death of Jesus, indicated by his “trial” before the Sanhedrin, prefigures his exaltation (cf. Mk 14:62 par). The Synoptic Gospels use these three Passion predictions (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par) as a framing device for the narrative. However, in the Gospel of John, the Son of Man sayings serve rather a different purpose, which is primarily theological and Christological. However, there are two Son of Many sayings in John which draw more clearly upon the traditional imagery found in the Synoptics.

John 5:27; 9:35

  • John 5:26-27: “For (even) as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave the Son to hold life in himself; and he [i.e. the Father] gave him authority [e)cousi/a] to make judgment, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the Son of Man”
  • John 9:35: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (other manuscripts read “…in the Son of God“)

The first saying (5:27) identifies the Son of Man with the end-time Judgment, as we see in many of the Synoptic sayings (cf. the previous two notes). Yet consider the way Jesus expounds this traditional association in the Johannine discourse. The statement in v. 27 essentially identifies Jesus with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure-type (Dan 7:13, etc), much as we find in the Synoptics:

  • V. 27—”He [i.e. God the Father] gave him [i.e. Jesus] authority to make judgment, because he [i.e. Jesus] is the Son of Man

At the same time, the statement in v. 26 brings out the distinctly Johannine idea of Jesus as the divine/eternal Son (of God), in his unique relation to (God) the Father:

  • V. 26—”Just as the Father holds Life in himself, so also he gave (it) to the Son to hold Life in himself”

The saying in 9:35 is rather different; Jesus addresses the man whose sight was restored: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?”. As noted above, some manuscripts read “Son of God” instead of “Son of Man”, perhaps reflecting a point in time when copyists no longer understood the expression “Son of Man” and wished to stress the deity of Christ as the point of belief. However, as we have seen, Jesus often used the expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference, as if to say, in this instance, “Do you trust in me?” Yet, even people at the time seem to have had difficulty understanding Jesus’ use of the expression “Son of Man”, if we accept the authenticity of the crowd’s response in 12:34, and the question of the healed man here in v. 36: “Who is he, (my) lord, that I may trust in him?” Jesus’ immediate answer (v. 37) perfectly encapsulates the Johannine theology which associates belief (and salvation) with seeing Jesus—that is, coming to recognize just who Jesus is, his true identity.

It is worth noting that each of these last two sayings are set in the context of traditional healing miracle episodes, and thus are perhaps closer to the Son of Man sayings which occur in the Synoptics (from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative) during the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. With these sayings we bring this portion of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, dealing with the Galilean Period, to a close. It may serve as yet another reminder of the many rich and powerful ways that the traditions were developed—a fact, and a theme, that we will continue to explore as we enter into the next major portion of this series: the Passion Narrative.

Saturday Series: John 1:18 (continued)

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Last week I looked at John 1:18, and the three textual variants (or variant readings) in the verse: monogen¢s theos, monogen¢s huios, and monogen¢s . A consideration of these different readings is essential for a correct understanding of this key verse, which is the climactic declaration of the Prologue of John, 1:1-18. But which reading is most likely to be the original? We can probably eliminate monogen¢s alone as a candidate. While attractive as an explanation for the rise of the other two readings, the lack of manuscript support makes it difficult to accept as original. This would leave the readings which include theos (“God”) or huios (“Son”). As I indicated last week, there is strong evidence for each of these.

In textual criticism, there are two aspects which must be considered: (1) the external evidence for a reading, and (2) the internal evidence. By “external evidence” is meant the actual documents in which the particular reading appears (especially the earliest Greek manuscripts). By “internal evidence” we mean all of the various factors which make a particular reading more or less likely to be original. There are three main factors to be considered: (a) transcriptional probability (that is, the tendencies of copyists), (b) the overall style of the author, and (c) the context of the particular passage. The external evidence for these two readings is fairly evenly divided:

  • monogen¢s huios (“only Son“) is read by the majority of manuscripts and versions, etc, spanning a wide (geographic) range by the 3rd century A.D., and including several of the major (early) manuscripts.
  • monogen¢s theos (“only God [born?]”) is the reading of some the “earliest and best” Greek manuscripts, including the Bodmer Papyri (66 and 75).

So, we turn to the three main kinds of internal evidence:

a. Transcriptional probability. When considering the tendencies of copyists, the question must be asked whether a change from one form of the text to another—i.e. from “God” to “Son” or vice versa—occurred by accident or was intentional. For those interested, I have posted a special note discussing the possibility of an accidental change. However, if the change was conscious and/or intentional, we must ask in which direction this most likely occurred. Here, too, the evidence is divided:

  • On the one hand, copyists were more likely to “correct” the text from the rare/difficult reading to one which is more familiar or easier to understand. Here, the choice is obvious: monogen¢s huios (i.e. “only son”) is by far the more natural and straightforward expression, while monogen¢s theos (“only [born?] God”) is quite unusual and rather difficult to interpret.
  • On the other hand, Christian scribes were always much more likely to alter the text to present a more exalted view of Christ, rather than the other way around. From this standpoint, a change from “Son” to “God” is more probable than from “God” to “Son”.

b. The Author’s style and usage. The word monogen¢s, “only (one born)” occurs three other times in the Gospel of John; twice in the discourse of chapter 3:

  • “For God loved the world this (way): so (that) he (even) gave his only Son…” (Jn 3:16)
  • “…the one not trusting has already been judged, (in) that [i.e. because] he has not trusted in the name of the only Son of God” (3:18)

In these two references, monogen¢s is used together with huios (“son”), in order to refer to Jesus as the “only Son” of God (i.e. God’s only Son). The other occurrence also comes from the Prologue (1:14):

“And the Word [Logos] came to be flesh and put down a tent [i.e. dwelt] among us, and we looked/gazed (upon) his splendor—(the) splendor as of (the) only (born Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth”

Here monogen¢s is used alone, as a kind of substantive—”the only (one)”, “the only (son)”. The reference to “a father” (or “the Father”), would seem to indicate that the word “Son” is implied in context. If there were better manuscript support for monogen¢s alone in verse 18 (see above), it might be confirmed by this usage in v. 14.

We should also note 1 John 4:9, similar in thought and wording to Jn 3:16, which uses huios (“son”) with monogen¢s. Elsewhere in the New Testament, monogen¢s likewise occurs with “son” (or “daughter”)—Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38.

From this standpoint, the internal evidence would overwhelmingly favor monogen¢s huios (“only Son”) in 1:18.

c. The context of Jn 1:1-18. Finally, we must consider carefully the context of the Prologue as a whole. Its basic theme is theological and Christological—identifying Jesus as the eternal, pre-existent Word (Logos) of God (v. 1) who comes to be flesh (v. 14), that is to say, he is born as a human being. The basic structure of the Prologue may be outlined as follows:

  • Vv. 1-4—Christ as the divine, eternal Word and Light; the symmetry of this section may summarized:
    • The Word (v. 1)
      —the life-giving creative power [of God] (vv. 2-3)
    • The Light (v. 4)
  • Vv. 9-13—The Light comes into the World, among his own (people)
  • Vv. 14-17—The Word comes to be (born) as flesh (a human being), dwelling among his people
  • V. 18—Christ as the only Son who reveals the Father

Verses 2-17 certainly describe a process—of revelation (and incarnation)—which becomes increasingly more specific. This is indicated by the distinctive use of three verbs:

  • The divine Word/Light is (eimi [verb of being])—vv. 1-4
  • He comes (erchomai) into the world—vv. 9-13
  • He comes to be [born] (ginomai) as a human being—vv. 14-17
    (Note the same three verbs used in sequence in vv. 15, 30)

The word monogen¢s is first used in v. 14, which clearly refers to Christ (the Word) coming to be born (as a human being). But what is the precise sense of monogen¢s here? There would seem to be two options:

  1. The emphasis is on God being born, i.e. as a Son. This would assume that the fundamental etymology of monogen¢s—as the only one (who has) come to be (born)—is in view.
  2. What is emphasized is Jesus as the only/unique (Son) of God. This is the more natural/common meaning of monogen¢s.

The second is to be preferred. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as “the Son”, in relation to the Father. It is an essential relationship, which is not necessarily determined by his time on earth (as a human being). We can fairly assume that the same meaning of monogen¢s is in view in verse 18. However, first consider the way verses 14-17 are framed (note the words in italics):

  • “The Word came to be flesh…and we looked upon his splendor [i.e. like Moses looked upon God], the splendor as of an only (Son) of the Father, full of favor and truth” (v. 14)
  • “…we have received out of his fullness…for the Law was given through Moses [i.e. who looked upon God’s splendor], but favor and truth came to be through Jesus Christ” (v. 17)

This is a powerful dual-statement regarding how the glory and truth of God have been manifest (revealed) in the incarnate person of Jesus Christ. So now we come to the concluding declaration of verse 18, which I take to be parallel with verses 1-4. I we may discern a certain kind of relationship with verse 1 in particular:

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with [literally, toward] God, and the Word was God” (v. 1)
  • “…the only [Son/God]—the one being in [literally, into] the lap of the Father—that (one) brought him out to us” (v. 18)

The first portion of verse 18 (“No one has ever seen God”) connects immediately back to vv. 16-17 and the motifs of Moses and the possibility of seeing/beholding the glory of God. The remainder of v. 18 may be intended to mirror v. 1; I suggest the possible parallels:

  • The Word was in the beginning (with God)
    —The Word was facing/looking toward God
    ——The Word was God
    ——The Only Son (of God), i.e. the reflection of the Father
    —The Son is facing[?] into the lap of the Father (i.e. essential Sonship)
  • The Son brings out (reveals) the Father to us.

There is no way to decide with absolute certainty, but, all factors considered, I would give a slight edge to monogen¢s huios (“Only Son“) as the original reading of verse 18. It is possible that monogen¢s theos (“Only God“) may have been introduced as an attempt to explain (ho) monogen¢s huios in context, much like the conflated reading ho monogen¢s huios theos (“God [who is] the Only Son”). However, one cannot be dogmatic about such things. Indeed, I suggest it is important to keep both readings in mind when you study this extraordinary passage. It is almost as if the declaration in verse 18 is too momentous and powerful to be contained by a single form of the text. The Gospel (and Prologue) of John expresses clearly that Jesus is both God and the Son (of God). Can these two truths ever really be separated from one another?

I would ask that you continue to study and meditate upon this passage, and at the same time, begin to consider the next verse—also from the first chapter of John—which we will be studying in this Series. It is the declaration by the Baptist in Jn 1:34, and, again, an important variant reading is involved:

  • “and I have seen and have given witness that this (man) is…”
    • “…the Son of God” (ho huios tou theou)
    • “…the Elect/Chosen (One) of God” (ho eklektos tou theou)

I recommend you continue reading carefully, from the Prologue all the way through to 1:34… and I will see you next Saturday.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Part 6 – Dualism

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In this final part of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, I will be discussing the aspect of Gnosticism that is perhaps best known to people generally—their dualistic worldview and mode of expression. In an earlier article defining and explaining the term (cf. also the main article on “Gnosticism“), I outlined the four main kinds or types of dualism:

  1. Cosmological—There are two opposing principles which control and govern the world.
  2. Metaphysical—There two contrasting (and opposing) principles which make up the structure of the universe.
  3. Anthropological—The human being is made up of two contrasting principles.
  4. Ethical—The human being chooses (and must choose) between two contrasting/opposing principles.

When we turn to the dualism that exists in early Christian thought, and in the writings of the New Testament, it is the first and last of these types which are most common and widespread. For the most part, such early Christian dualism was simply inherited from the language and imagery of the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish writings—especially from the (later) Prophets and Wisdom tradition. In the Gospels, and the earliest strands of Christian tradition, we can isolate two areas of dualistic thought and expression:

  • The conflict between God and the Devil (Satan), which can be understood as a kind of partial or qualified cosmic (cosmological) dualism. There is a sense in which the current (fallen) order of creation has come under the control or dominion of the Devil—cf. Matt 4:1-11 (esp. verse 8); Mk 3:26ff; 4:15; Lk 13:16 etc, and pars, along with the overall context of the many healing (exorcism) miracles narrated in the Gospel (and Acts). This means that the world is controlled by evil and darkness, and is generally in conflict with, and opposed to, the ways and things of God (Mark 8:33 par). Jesus’ presence on earth reflects this sense of conflict against the forces of sin and evil, etc (cf. Lk 10:18; Heb 2:14), a struggle which is continued in the lives of believers (James 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8, etc).
  • More common is the ethical dualism such as we see in the sayings and teachings of Jesus, expressed in language and images largely inherited from Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Sayings such as Matt 6:24; 7:13-14, 17-20, 24-27 par, or the Lukan form of the Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26), as well as the contrasting figures and settings in a number of the parables (e.g., Matt 13:24-30, 36-43; 21:28-32 par; chap 25; Lk 16:19-31; 18:9-14), present two different (opposite) “paths” or examples a person may follow. Under the direct influence of Jesus’ teaching, this developed into the so-called “Two Ways” conceptual framework in early Christianity, preserved within several different lines of tradition (cf. Didache 1-16; Epistle of Barnabas 18-21). The earliest Christians, like the Qumran Community, understood their identity in light of Isa 40:3ff and apparently referred to themselves as “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). On the expressions “way of truth”, “way of God”, etc, see Acts 16:17; 18:26; 2 Pet 2:2, 15, 21. The ethical instruction in the letter of James is almost entirely dependent on the teaching of Jesus as found in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul draws upon this as well, though he also expresses the “two ways” in the traditional language of the “virtue and vice” lists from Greco-Roman (and Jewish) tradition.

Both of these aspects—cosmological and ethical—are found blended together in Jewish writings roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus, especially in the Qumran texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Community represented in these texts had a strongly dualistic worldview, best expressed in the so-called Community Rule (1QS) 3:13-4:26, a section often referred to as the “treatise of the Two Spirits”. There are two Spirits at work in the world—one of Truth and one of Falsehood, of light and darkness, God and Belial. Human beings are characterized by one of these two “worlds”, ultimately choosing the follow the path of one or the other. The Elect or faithful ones, the true believers, are the “sons of light”, while those who refuse (or are unable) to join the Community remain among the “sons of darkness”. Needless to say, as has been amply documented, in spite of many differences, there is a good deal in common between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts.

The most pronounced dualism in the New Testament is found in the letters of Paul and the Johannine writings, respectively. As we shall see, the dualism expressed in the latter is closer both to that of the Qumran texts, and to gnostic modes of expression.

Pauline Dualism

In Paul’s letters, we see very distinctive forms of both cosmological and ethical dualism (on these in the New Testament generally, cf. above).

Cosmological

Paul has more or less inherited the Christian worldview outlined above—that there is a fundamental conflict between God and the Devil, with the current condition/order of the world being under the dominion of sin and evil. Paul’s direct references to Satan or the Devil are relatively rare; indeed, the term dia/bolo$ (i.e. devil) does not occur in the undisputed letters (only in Eph 4:27; 6:11; 1 Tim 3:6-7; 2 Tim 2:26). The transliterated Semitic title Satan[a$] (/f*C*h^, ha´´¹‰¹n, “the adversary, accuser”) is the term Paul regularly uses (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9; also 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15). Though he does not often state it directly, there can be no doubt that Paul believed that the current age or “world” was wicked and corrupt, under the effective control of evil (2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4, also Eph 2:2; 3:10; 6:12), characterized by a definite (cosmological) structure and hierarchy (Gal 4:3, 9 [Col 2:8, 20]; Col 1:16; 2:15). For more on Paul’s understanding and use of the term “world” (ko/smo$), cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 3:19; 6:2; 7:31; Gal 6:14; Rom 12:2, etc. The most distinctive Pauline teaching is that the world—and, in particular, humankind—is under the dominion of sin, in bondage to it. This theme is most prominent in Romans (3:9, 19-20; 5:12-21; 7:7-24; 8:18-22; 11:32) and Galatians (3:19-24; 4:1-3, 21ff, etc); for the relation between sin and the Law in Paul’s thought, cf. my earlier articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”. God, through Christ, has freed us from this bondage; occasionally this is expressed in terms of being delivered out of the world of sin and darkness (Col 1:13; 1 Thess 5:4-5, and note Eph 5:8). However, it is only at the end of this current Age that God will finally destroy the power of evil (Rom 16:20).

Ethical

As noted above, Paul occasionally draws upon the “two ways” tradition, usually expressing it in the “virtue/vice list” format known from Greco-Roman philosophy and also found frequently in other early Christian writings—cf. Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-23, etc. Paul’s unique contribution is in his frequent contrast between “flesh” and “(the) Spirit”. Read carelessly, in a superficial manner, one might think that Paul is espousing a kind of metaphysical dualism, such as is known from certain Gnostic writings and teachings, whereby the good spiritual realm is contrasted with the evil material world. He is, perhaps, somewhat closer in thought to the anthropological dualism in some version of Greek ascetic philosophy. The key to Paul’s Spirit/Flesh contrast is found in a careful reading of Romans 5-7. The “flesh” (sa/rc) represents the aspect of the human soul (i.e. the human being or person) that is under bondage to the power of sin. Even after the believer in Christ is freed from this power, he/she is still prone to the old, habitual patterns of thought and behavior (i.e. the “flesh”, or the ‘impulse[s]’ of the flesh). Thus the believer must consciously allow him/herself to be guided by the (Holy) Spirit, rather than by the impulses of the flesh. In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul applies this Spirit/Flesh contrast to the “two ways” ethical tradition, describing the “works” (or “fruit”) of the flesh and the Spirit, respectively. His ethical instruction is summed up in verse 25: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we must also walk [lit. step in line] in/by the Spirit”. The Johannine idiom (cf. below) would be “walk in the light”, but it has much the same meaning.

Rather more difficult is Paul’s contrast between the Law and the Gospel, letter vs. Spirit, etc., which is perhaps best described as a kind of religious dualism, whereby the religious identity of believers in Christ (the new covenant) is contrasted with the old ethnic-religious identity of Israelites and Jews (the old covenant). Much of Paul’s writing and teaching on this point is rooted in the specific historical circumstances and background of the early Christian missionary work, but remains important for us to consider and study today. I have dealt with it extensively in the articles on Paul’s view of the Law in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Perhaps the most dualistic portion of ethical teaching in the Pauline corpus is 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which has many points of contact with the language and imagery of the Qumran texts. The precise relationship of this section with the surrounding material in 2 Corinthians remains a matter of considerable discussion and debate among commentators. It appears suddenly, and seems very much to interrupt the train of thought. Many scholars consider it to be an interpolation, or part of a composite document (i.e. portions of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence collected together). However, there has never been any convincing explanation as to how such a fragment came to be inserted between 2 Cor 6:13 and 7:2; nor, for that matter, as to just why Paul (as the author) would have ‘interrupted’ his address to include it as he does. It remains one of unexplained ‘mysteries’ of New Testament and Pauline studies.

Johannine Dualism

There are three main themes or motifs by which a dualistic contrast is expressed in the Gospel and letters of John. So distinctive was the dualism of the Johannine writings that an earlier generation of scholars (prior to the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls) could theorize that these writings were influenced by a primitive form of Gnosticism, or by way of similar dualistic tendencies in Greco-Roman religion and philosophy. The Qumran texts have since made abundantly clear that commentators need not look further afield for the background of this dualism than to the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish tradition (on this, cf. above). However, in at least two of three themes discussed here, very distinctive theological (and Christological) elements have been incorporated into the mode of expression. As in the Qumran texts, there is a blending of cosmological and ethical dualism.

Light/Darkness

The first theme is the contrast between light (fw=$) and darkness (skoti/a). It is a natural contrastive pairing, and can be found in many religious and philosophical traditions, including the Old Testament Scriptures—of the numerous passages, cf. Gen 1:4ff; Job 17:12; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; Psalm 18:28; 112:4; 139:12; Eccl 2:13; Isa 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 58:10; Mic 7:8; Dan 2:22; Matt 4:16; Lk 1:79. This dualistic motif is quite prominent at several points in the Gospel and Letters of John, and carries a theological (and Christological) meaning. In the Prologue of the Gospel (1:4-9), the pre-existent Christ (the Word) is the Light which shines into the darkness of the world (cf. below). Jesus applies the image to himself in the discourses—he is the light, and those who come to him are in the light, while those who do not remain in darkness (3:19-21; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46). Since he is the true, eternal light which shines in the darkness of the world, Jesus identifies himself as “the light of the world” (11:10), including in two famous “I am” declarations (8:12; 9:4-5). This is related to the Johannine motif of seeing (and not seeing, i.e. blindness, cf. chap. 9), along with the idea of revelation as bringing light, causing to shine, etc. On this, see the article “Knowledge and Revelation in the Gospel of John”.

An interesting detail in the Gospel narrative is the night-time setting of the Passion scene (the Last Supper and arrest/trial of Jesus). After Satan enters Judas and he departs from the disciples, the author states simply “…and it was night” (13:30). A similar description of Peter warming himself in the cold darkness occurs in 18:18. Again, when the women come to the tomb the morning after Jesus’ death (20:1), the setting is described as “it being still dark [skoti/a]”. These are basic narrative details of the Gospel, but in the Johannine context they almost certainly carry a deeper symbolism as well.

In the First Letter, this same light/darkness contrast occurs in two key passages—1:5-7 and 2:8-11. If we count the book of Revelation among the same Johannine writings, then we may have the motif in the vision of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21, where the very glory/splendor of God and the Lamb (Christ) gives continual light and “there will not be (any) night there” (vv. 23-25).

According to a common Gnostic way of understanding, Jesus brings knowledge and awareness to believers of their (true) identity as offspring of the Divine, eternal Light. This is similar to the teaching in John, only in the Gospel the emphasis is squarely on Christ as the light—believers come to the light, walk in the light, and come to be “sons/children of light”.

Above/Below

The second dualistic theme is spatial, drawing upon the ancient cosmological pairing of heaven and earth—heaven above, earth below. This conceptual framework had already been given a theological interpretation in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, which early Christians inherited; but in the Johannine discourses of Jesus, it has an even more distinctive Christological emphasis. The fundamental dualism is: God above, the World below. Christ comes from God, from above (a&nwqen), while the world is in darkness below (ka/tw). He has come down into the world, as light shining in the darkness (cf. above), one sent by God, come to show people (believers) the way out of darkness, back to the Father. The main passages illustrating this spatial dualism are: 3:13f, 31; 6:33, 38, 50-51, 58, 62; 8:23, (28); 10:17f; (12:32ff); 20:17. Those (believers) who come to Jesus and trust in him, are also born a&nwqen (“from above”, cf. 3:3ff), and thus are, or come to be, from above, just as he is; on the other hand, those who refuse to trust in him remain below (8:23, etc).

Closely related to the spatial motif is the specific idea of Jesus descending from the Father, and ascending back to Him. This is expressed through the use of the verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”). This ascent/descent theme is introduced in the description of the Baptism scene (1:32-33) and again with the vision of the Son of Man promised by Jesus in 1:51. In the discourses, these verbs are used in 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58, 62; 10:1; 20:17. The verb a)nabai/nw is common in narration, used for a person “going up” (to Jerusalem, etc), but because of the special meaning elsewhere in John, it is possible that the references to Jesus “stepping up” to Jerusalem may carry a deeper significance (cf. especially in 7:8ff). In the great Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), Jesus expresses the idea of his going away (back to the Father), and then coming again to his disciples—cf. throughout ch. 14, 16 and again in the prayer-discourse of chap. 17. His reason for coming to his disciples is to bring them with him back to the Father (14:1-4; 17:24, etc); at the same time, in Jesus’ absence, the Spirit comes to reside in and among believers—a ‘realized’ union with God the Father, prior to the (final) ascent with Jesus at the end-time.

The World

The term ko/smo$ (kósmos), usually translated “world”, refers to the visible universe, in the sense that it is “decorated”, but also in its apparent and structured “order”. Often, in the New Testament, it would be fair to render ko/smo$ as “world order“—i.e., how things are ordered and arranged. This can have a decidedly negative connotation, as a (dualistic) term set in contrast with God (his will, ways, Kingdom, etc). On this cosmological dualism, cf. above.

In the Gospel of John, ko/smo$ (“world”) occurs 78 times, with another 24 in the Letters—the 102 combined representing more than half of all occurrences in the NT (186). There are two main aspects to its usage in the Gospel: (a) in reference to Jesus coming into the world (i.e. the Incarnation, etc), and (b) as the domain of darkness, etc, which is hostile and opposed to the Light. Both of these aspects can be seen already in the Prologue:

  • “the light shines in the darkness
    …and the darkness did not take down (hold of) it” (1:5)
  • “he was the true light coming into [ei)$] the world…he was in [e)n] the world…
    …and the world did not know him” (1:9-10)

For the specific connection between the world (ko/smo$) and the light/darkness motif, cf. 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46. This aspect of opposition is found throughout the Gospel, though occasionally the word is used in the more general (neutral) sense, for humankind (and, specifically, believers), cf. 3:16-17; 6:33, etc. The “world” is associated with sin in 1:29 (cf. also 16:8, etc), but more commonly we find a direct contrast between Christ and the world. Jesus comes into the world bringing judgment and to testify against it (3:19; 7:7; 8:26; 9:39; 12:31, etc., but see also 3:17; 12:47); and, because he (the Light) shines into the darkness, the world, which loves the darkness, hates him (3:19; 7:7). Even more fundamental is the idea that the “world” can have no part of Christ, since he is not “of the world” (8:23ff).

As the death of Jesus approaches in the Gospel narrative, the motif of opposition and conflict with the world becomes more prominent, even drawing upon the more traditional dualism of God vs. Satan (the “ruler” of the world). This begins with the declaration in 12:31, and runs through the Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), in which the word ko/smo$ occurs no less than 38 times. Jesus’ closing declaration in 16:33 provides a suitable parallel to that in 12:31:

  • “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast out” (12:31)
  • “…have courage! I have been victorious (over) the world!” (16:33)

This harkens back to 1:5 in the Prologue and the ambiguity of the verb katalamba/nw, which means literally “take down”, but which, however, can be understood in several possible ways, in the sense of: (a) “bring down, overtake, overcome”, (b) “take down, grasp [with one’s mind]”, i.e. “understand, comprehend”, or (c) with kata/ as an intensive, “take/receive fully, eagerly”, etc. The statement in 1:5 thus can mean: (a) “the darkness did not overcome it”, (b) “the darkness did not understand/recognize it”, or (c) “the darkness did not receive it”. The immediate context of the passage suggests some combination of (b) and (c), but the theme of opposition which runs through the Gospel also makes (a) a possibility.

What is true of the conflict between Christ and the world, also applies to the Spirit, and to those who follow Christ (believers). These two points are important themes in the Last Discourse—cf. 14:17; 15:18ff; 16:8, 11, 20, 33. Especially significant is the emphasis on Christian identity—that believers, like Jesus, are not “of the world”. The preposition involved is e)k, literally “out of”, which can indicate one’s origin (being from), but also that to which one belongs (being of). The birth motif (3:3ff, and frequently in 1 John) uses the concrete sense of the preposition—i.e. born out of another. This specific theme is introduced in 15:19 and then becomes a major point of emphasis in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. I have discussed this in earlier notes, as well as in Part 5 of this series.

Jesus’ final reference to the “world”, in the dialogue with Pilate, brings together both the dualistic contrast, as well as the theme of the believer’s identity as being “of God” (and not the world):

  • 18:36: “My kingdom is not of [e)k] this world…”
  • 18:37: “…I have come into the world that I might bear witness to the truth; everyone being [i.e. who is] of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”

In Gnostic thought, there is a similar negative sense of the “world”, but typically with a more pronounced metaphysical dualism (cf. above). In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls believers “out of” the world, in a manner similar to the role of Jesus as Savior in certain Gnostic systems. There can be no mistaking, however, the Christological emphasis in John—it is not that believers are “not of the world” because they are offspring of the divine Light, but because they belong to Christ.

Note of the Day – November 12 (John 20:31)

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John 20:31

In the closing words of the Gospel of John—that is, the Gospel narrative proper—the author gives his reason for writing:

“I have written these (things) that you might/should trust that Yeshua {Jesus} is the Anointed (One), the Son of God, and that, trusting (him), you would hold life in his name.”

The two key points of doctrine are central to the Gospel and early Christian tradition—that Jesus is (1) the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), and (2) the Son of God. On the centrality of this two-fold statement of belief, see e.g., Mark 1:1 v.l. and the Matthean version of Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16, cp. Lk 9:20). There can be little doubt as to the author’s own belief, though the specific expression “Son of God” may reflect the unique understanding of the relationship between the Son (Jesus) and God the Father as presented in the Gospel of John. That a specific and definite Christology is intended, would seem clear from corresponding statements in 1 John (1:1-4; 2:22-24; 3:23; 4:1-6, 15; 5:1-5, 6-11, 13, 20, etc), assuming that the letter stems from the same author and/or community as the Gospel. What is perhaps of greater interest for the commentator is the specific verb forms used in the verse. The four verbs reflect a step-parallel structure used at a number of points in the Gospel:

  • I have written [ge/graptai]…that you might/should trust
    • and that trusting…you should hold [e&xete] life…

In this “step” format, the first element of the line or phrase, picks up from the last element of one prior. In this instance, we have two forms of the verb pisteu/w (“trust”, i.e. “have faith [in], believe”), which occurs frequently in the Johannine writings—98 times in the Gospel, 9 in the letters (nearly half of all NT occurrences). The first form is a subjunctive, indicating an intended purpose (and/or result)—”so that, in order that”. The second form is a present participle, suggesting a continual (present) action or condition—believers are trusting, ones who trust. There is an interesting variant with regard to the first (subjunctive) form, which is significant and relevant, in terms of the author’s purpose:

  • Aorist subjunctive (pisteu/sete)—which here is generally taken to mean that the author is writing so that people will come to trust in Christ; in other words, it is aimed primarily at non-believers, or those who are not yet Christian.
  • Present subjunctive (pisteu/ete)—in this case, the present tense would perhaps best be understood as “you would continue to trust”; that is, the purpose being to strengthen the (current) faith of believers.

In modern language, we might say that the first reading indicates an evangelistic purpose, the second a spiritual purpose. The textual evidence is fairly divided, with the majority supporting the first (aorist subjunctive), including a2 A C D L W Y f1,13 33; on the other hand, a number of key early manuscripts (Ë66vid a* B Q) read the present subjunctive. The same variants occur in 19:35 as well, and it is possible that both verses were changed together. In my view, internal considerations tilt things slightly in favor of the latter reading (present subjunctive). The entire thrust of the Gospel, especially in the discourses of Jesus, appears aimed at presenting (to believers) the deeper, true meaning of Jesus’ words. The very pattern of the discourses utilizes the motif of misunderstanding—Jesus’ hearers (including his own disciples) typically fail to understand the real import of his words, latching onto the apparent or superficial meaning. The question or response of his audience (based on this misunderstanding) prompts Jesus to present a more in-depth explanation and exposition of his initial saying. In this light, I am inclined to interpret 20:31 as follows:

“I have written these (thing)s, (so) that you would (truly) trust that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of God, and that, trusting (in him), you would (indeed) hold life in his name.”

This interpretation would seem to be confirmed by the parallel statement in 1 John 5:13:

“I have written to you (so) that you would have seen [i.e. known] that you hold life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life], to the ones trusting in the name of the Son of God.”

Here there is no doubt that the author is writing to believers; his purpose is indicated by the used of a perfect subjunctive (a past condition continuing into the present)—i.e., believers have seen/known, but he wishes that they will continue to know, and know more fully. It is almost as though he is writing specifically to those believers addressed in Jn 20:31, but that his purpose now is for an even deeper level of (spiritual) awareness. Again, this awareness is Christological—tied to the correct understanding of the person and work of Jesus (the Son). More importantly, the author is concerned that his audience recognize their real identity as believers in Christ, and to think and act more consistently (and faithfully) in this light. From the standpoint of the Christian Community, this is expressed primarily in terms of the principle of love for one another (i.e. the “love command”) in Christ. Another important aspect of Johannine thought (and theology) is the believer’s identity as being of/from [lit. “out of”] God—that is, belonging to Him, coming from or being born of Him. I have discussed this a number of times in recent notes and articles (cf. especially Part 5 of the current series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, on the theme of Election/Predestination). It is possible that something of this understanding is expressed in 1 Jn 5:13, and also in John 20:31, especially if the reading with present subjunctive is correct (cf. above). From the standpoint of predestination, there is a sense in which believers, over the course of their lifetime, gradually gain a deeper understanding of just who we are—and, indeed, who we have always been—in Christ. I think that the specific expression in John of the believer “holding” (eternal) life, along with the image of “remaining/abiding” in Christ (and Christ in the believer), expresses this profound aspect of our Christian identity. It is not simply a question of gaining or finding life through faith in Christ, but of “holding” it—i.e., truly having it in and with oneself. According to the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, God gave the disciples (believers) to Jesus beforehand, into his care, and so we remain through the presence of the Spirit.

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

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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.

Note of the Day – November 6 (John 14:4-7)

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John 14:4-7 (continued, v. 6)

In response to the disciples’ question in verse 5 regarding where Jesus is going (v. 4, cf. the previous day’s note), he answers with the declaration of verse 6, one of the most famous statements in the New Testament:

“Yeshua says [le/gei] to him {Thomas}, ‘I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the way, and the truth and the life—no one comes toward the Father if not [i.e. except] through me.”

Both the statement in v. 4, and the question of v. 5, use the word o(do/$ (“way”) with an adverb/particle (of place) derived from the pronoun po/$ (“who/what/which”):

  • “the (place) which/where [o%pou] I am going…you have seen/known the way [o(do/$]” (v. 4)
  • “we have not seen/known what(ever place where) [pou=] you are going…how can we see/know the way [o(do/$]?” (v. 5)

It seems to suggest a specific location with a distinct path that leads to it (cf. Jesus’ illustration in Matt 7:13-14 par). However, Jesus’ response in verse 6 makes clear that he himself (emphatic pronoun e)gw/, “I”) is the path or way (o(do/$). This point of emphasis is all the more solemn in its use of the pronoun + verb of being (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”), with its Johannine connotation of identifying Jesus with God the Father (YHWH). For other “I am” sayings of Jesus in John, cf. 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 24; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 13:19; 15:1, 5; 18:5; and note also the foreshadowing of the expression in 1:20ff; 3:28, and the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in 1:1-15. Especially worth noting, is the parallel with 14:4-5 in 7:33ff, where Jesus says:

“(It is only) a little time yet (that) I am [ei)mi] with you, and I go away [u(pa/gw] toward the (one who) sent me. You will seek (for) me and you will not find [me], and the (place) where [o%pou] I am [ei)mi] you are not able to come (there).” (vv. 33-34)

There is an interesting parallelism within this saying:

  • ei)mi (“I am”)—Jesus’ presence with the people (i.e. his disciples)
    u(pa/gw (“I go under/away”)—his departure back to the Father
    o%pou (“the [place] where”)—where he is, with the Father
  • ei)mi (“I am”)—His presence with God the Father (1:1ff)

The statement that Jesus goes “toward” (pro/$) the Father is important, and the basic expression occurs numerous times in Gospel of John. In the prologue, the orientation of the eternal Word (Lo/go$) is toward (pro/$) God the Father (1:1-2), and the Son ultimately goes back toward Him (13:1, and throughout the Last Discourse). Similarly, the preposition is used for people (believers) who come to Jesus—toward him, toward the light, etc., as in 3:20-21; 5:40; 6:35, 37, 44-45, et al. It is only in coming toward the Son (Jesus), that is, by believing/trusting in him, that one is able to come toward the Father. This dynamic is not spelled out in detail, but the basic image in the Last Discourse is that Jesus will return (future eschatology) to bring believers with him to the Father (14:3; 17:24, etc). However, at the same time, in a different sense (‘realized’ eschatology), the Father (with the Son) is already present with believers, residing in them (14:23, etc). Both aspects are found in chapter 14, and both should be understood as relating to the idea of Jesus as the way to the Father. That he is the only way was expressed already in the parable/illustration of the shepherd and sheep-fold in chapter 10 (vv. 1-5)—Jesus is both the door leading into the sheepfold (vv. 7-9) and the shepherd who guides the sheep into the fold (vv. 11-16). Something of the same image of the door is certainly implied in 14:6, since Jesus speaks of believers as coming to the Father through (dia/) him.

The motif of the way (o(do/$) was extremely important in the earliest Christian tradition, though, without the book of Acts, this fact would have been almost completely lost to us. One of the earliest names or labels for Christians and Christianity was, collectively, “the Way” (o( o(do/$)—cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22. This is perhaps the most distinctive and precise parallel between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), since both referred to themselves this way. Both traditions would seem to derive from an interpretation of (and identification with) Isaiah 40:3ff, which, in combination with Mal 3:1ff, would be associated with the early Gospel traditions regarding John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—cf. Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4; Jn 1:23. For Isa 40:3 and the religious identity of the Qumran Community, cf. especially the ‘Community Rule’ [1QS] 8:12-16.

Jesus’ declaration in Jn 14:6 expands upon the identification of Jesus with “the way”:

“I am the way, and the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the life [zwh/]…”

Both words are important and occur frequently in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John. Probably here they are best understood as epexegetical, qualifying and characterizing Jesus as the Way—i.e., the “way of truth“, “way of life“—though certainly they can also be viewed as separate (related) “I am” declarations. For the idea of a way leading to life, see Gen 3:24; Psalm 16:11; Prov 6:23; 15:24; 16:17, as well as Jer 21:8 (also Ezek 3:18; 13:22) which prefigures Matt 7:14 and the “Two Ways” religious-ethical tradition that developed in early Christianity (Didache 1-6; Barnabas 18-21). Similarly, the “way of truth” has its background in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—cf. Psalm 86:11; 119:30; Tob 1:3; Wisdom 5:6; 1QS 4:15-16, etc.; the expression is found in 2 Pet 2:2 (cf. also v. 15). The Gospel message is called the “way of salvation” in Acts 16:17; cf. also 18:25-26. There is an echo of Jn 14:6 in the Gnostic text known as the Gospel of Truth (mid-2nd century?):

“This is the gospel of the one who is searched for, which was revealed to the ones who are perfect through the mercies of the Father—the hidden mystery, Jesus, the Christ. Through it he enlightened those who were in darkness. Out of oblivion he enlightened them, he showed (them) a way. And the way is the truth which he taught them.” (translation G. W. MacRae in the Nag Hammadi Library [NHL], ed. James M. Robinson)

Here we see one of the clearest differences between the Gospel of John and the Gnosticism of the 2nd century A.D. In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus himself (i.e. the person of Christ, the Son) is the way. By contrast, in the ‘Gospel of Truth’, the way is the gospel (message), the revelation of truth which Jesus brings to the Elect (believers). This is a seemingly small, but very significant difference, and it thoroughly colors how one understands “knowledge” (gnw=si$) from a Christian (and Christological standpoint). The emphasis on knowledge will be addressed in relation to the final verse (14:7) to be discussed here, in the next day’s note.