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Gospel of John

Note of the Day – February 18 (John 1:35-51)

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Yesterday’s note explored the tradition(s) related to the call of Peter and the first Disciples, in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:16-20 par). Today I will be looking at the very different line of tradition preserved in the Gospel of John. While it is not entirely impossible to harmonize the Synoptic and Johannine accounts (for those who wish to do so), it should be noted that there is scarcely a single detail in common between them, other than the presence of the brothers Andrew and Simon, and the introduction of the name “Peter” for the latter.

John 1:35-51

As discussed in earlier notes, these verses are part of the larger narrative block of 1:19-51—a sequence of four episodes, set as occurring on four consecutive “days” (a literary device, as much as historical). Verses 35-51 make up the last two “days”. Here again is an outline of vv. 19-51, indicating how deftly the author has blended together traditions regarding the baptism of Jesus and the call of the first disciples, into a single narrative:

  • 1:19-28—Day “1”: The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
  • 1:29-34—Day “2”: The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
  • 1:35-42—Day “3”: Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
  • 1:43-51—Day “4”: Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness
Day “3” (John 1:35-42)

Verses 35-36 essentially repeat the opening from the previous “day” (v. 29f), in which the Baptist sees Jesus (coming) and declares, “This is the lamb of God!”. What follows in the earlier episode (vv. 30-34) is the Baptist’s narration of Jesus’ baptism and his witness as to Jesus’ true identity as the “Son of God” (v. 34 [some MSS read “Elect/Chosen One of God”]). This is treated as a public declaration, for all people to hear. In verses 35-36, on the other hand, it is (only) heard by John’s immediate followers (disciples), two of whom, upon hearing it, leave the Baptist to follow Jesus (v. 37). Compare this with the Synoptic tradition (in Mark):

  • “Jesus said to them, ‘Come (here) behind me…’ [Mk 1:17] and straightaway, releasing th(eir) nets, they followed him” [v. 18]
  • “…looking on Jesus, John says, ‘See! the lamb of God’ [Jn 1:36] and the two…heard him speaking and followed Jesus” [v. 37]

There is a general similarity, but the details differ considerably. It is interesting that, in both traditions, two disciples are involved, and one of them is Andrew (Mk 1:16; Jn 1:40). This cannot be mere coincidence; rather, on entirely objective grounds, it almost certainly reflects authentic (historical) tradition. It is likely that the original Johannine tradition, in its simpler form, continued from verse 37 on (directly) to vv. 40-41:

37…they heard him speaking and followed Jesus. 40Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two…following (Jesus)… 41He finds his own brother Simon and says to him…”

This tradition follows the Synoptic by recording Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter) as the first two disciples (known by name) who follow Jesus. However, the entire setting in John appears to be quite different from that of the Synoptics. There is no mention of fishing; indeed, Andrew appears not to be engaged in fishing at all, but has been a disciple of the Baptist. Nor does Jesus take the initiative, speaking first to Andrew and Peter both, but a very different process and order of events seems to be involved. Moreover, this distinct Johannine tradition has been further adapted by the Gospel writer in light of the overall narrative in chapter 1. This has been done through the inclusion of a number of details:

  • The emphasis on the disciples responding to the witness of John the Baptist regarding Jesus (cf. verses 7-8, 15, 19, 31-32, 34). This is made all the more emphatic by the repetition of verse 29 in vv. 35-36.
  • This begins a chain of witness from John to the disciples in turn (cf. 17:20; 20:31, etc), as narrated in vv. 40-42 and 43-46.
  • The central encounter with Jesus in vv. 38-39, told with distinctly Johannine language, including the special use of the verbs e&rxomai (“come”), me/nw (“remain”) and the motif of seeing/knowing.
  • The declaration of Jesus as “the Messiah” (i.e. Anointed One, Christ); cf. the parallel declaration in v. 49 (also in v. 45), whereby the first disciples bear witness to the identity of Jesus (20:31).

This particular episode also concludes with the naming of Peter (as “[the] Rock”, pe/tro$), by Jesus. This is associated with a different point of the Gospel narrative in the Synoptics (Mk 3:16 par; Matt 16:18). The naming of Peter will be discussed in a subsequent note.

Day “4” (John 1:43-51)

Much that has been said of the prior episode applies to the fourth “day” as well. One main difference is that the disciples are shown responding to Jesus’ call directly, rather than the testimony of John the Baptist (compare vv. 35-37 and 43). Indeed, verse 43 is similar to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 1:16-20 par, though a different disciple (Philip) is involved; yet the basic motif is very close, as Jesus says to the person:

  • “Come (here) in back of me…!”
    Deu=te o)pi/sw mou (Mk 1:17 par)
  • “Follow me!”
    Akolou/qei moi (Jn 1:43)

Again, as in the Synoptics, we are dealing with a second pair of disciples who come to follow Jesus—Philip and Nathanael (instead of the brothers James and John). That this reflects an authentic (historical) tradition, however different from the Synoptic, would seem to be confirmed by the presence of disciples (Philip and, especially, Nathanael) who otherwise play little role in the Gospel narrative. A Christian tradition from a later period would almost certainly have involved better known figures. It is interesting, again, how it is said of Philip (in v. 44) that he was from the same town (Bethsaida) as Andrew and Peter; similarly, in the Synoptics, Andrew/Peter and James/John are, it would seem, from the same area (Capernaum).

From the standpoint of the Johannine narrative (and theological) context, note how in this episode we find the same keywords and motifs as in the prior one—e&rxomai (“come”), me/nw (“remain”), and seeing/knowing (vv. 46-48, 50). All of these common words are given a special meaning and significance in the Gospel of John, involving the relation of the believer to Christ:

  • Jesus comes into the world from the Father, and also comes to those who will believe. Believers, in turn, come to Jesus
  • Believers remain/abide in/with Jesus, and Jesus in/with them

This same dynamic is defined in terms of seeing/knowing—Jesus sees/knows from the Father, and sees/knows those who will believe; then believers also come to see/know Jesus (the Son).

The saying/statement of Jesus in the closing verse 51—a suitable climax to the entire section (and, indeed, chapter 1 as a whole)—draws together all of these motifs, as well as the entire Baptism scene, in the vision promised to the disciples (believers). This remarkable verse has been discussed in considerable detail in an earlier note.

Note of the Day – February 14 (John 1:19-27, etc)

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Today’s note will examine what is perhaps the final stage of development regarding the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition—the theme of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (and Son of God) in the Gospel of John. I have already discussed this to some extent in the earlier notes, but here I will be highlighting how this particular theme, or aspect, of the Tradition has been developed. To review the structure of the Gospel, chapter 1 is made up of five sections—(1) the Prologue (vv. 1-18), and (2) a sequence of four episodes, narrated as four “days”, during which the focus shifts from John the Baptist to Jesus (cf. Jn 3:30):

  • 1:19-28—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
  • 1:29-34—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
  • 1:35-42—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
  • 1:43-51—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness

I begin with the two references to John the Baptist in the Prologue:

Jn 1:6-9

Here in the Prologue the lo/go$ (Logos, “Word”) of God is referred to as the “true Light” (to\ fw=$ to\ a)lhqino/n, vv. 5, 9), which, in the context of the Fourth Gospel, clearly refers to the divine nature and origin of Jesus, and to the primary purpose of his appearance (incarnation) on earth (vv. 5, 12, 14, 18, etc)—to reveal (make known, “shine forth”) God the Father to humankind (the elect/believers). In vv. 6-8 the statement is made specifically that John (the Baptist) was not the Light, but only came to be a witness to the Light. It is sometimes thought by commentators that this reference, taken together with the remainder of the narrative in chapter 1, as well as the episode in 3:22-23ff, indicates that there were followers of the Baptist who believed strongly that he was the Messiah (cf. Lk 3:15).

Jn 1:15, 30

Here in verse 15 (and repeated in v. 30) we have the saying by the Baptist (cp. Mk 1:7 par [cf. the earlier note]), which, it would seem, has been given a unique Christological interpretation in its context in the Gospel of John. This interpretation is based on a distinctly Johannine use of the three verbs appearing in sequence—e)rxomai (“come”), gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), and ei)mi (vb. of being, “am/is/was”, etc). It clearly points to Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Son of God (vv. 14, 18, 34). For a detailed exposition, cf. the discussion in my earlier note (previously referenced).

When we turn to the next four sections (or “days”), the first “day” is the most significant in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah), in comparison with John.

Jn 1:19-27

The narrative structure of this episode consists of an exchange (dialogue form) between the Baptist and a deputation of religious leaders (Scribes, Levites, Pharisees), from Jerusalem, who have come to ask him “Who are you?” (v. 19). This question specifically relates to three eschatological/Messianic figures:

  • “The Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, v. 20)—It is worth noting that this is not asked of John, but, apparently, the statement comes from the Baptist’s initiative (perhaps anticipating the purpose of their question):
    “And he gave account as one [i.e. confessed], and did not deny (it)—indeed he gave account as one (saying) that ‘I am not the Anointed (One)’.”
  • “Elijah” (Eliyyah[û], Gk. Hli/a$, v. 21a)
  • “The Prophet” (o( profh/th$, v. 21b)—most likely a reference to the “Prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15-20) who, in Jewish (eschatological) tradition, was expected to appear at/before the end-time.

John denies being each of these last two (Prophetic) figures, in response to the question, “What then? Are you…?” It is significant that John denies being “Elijah”, since this identification came to be so well-established among early Christians and, as we have seen, is attested in the Gospel (Synoptic) tradition. According to Mark 9:13 par (and Matt 11:14), it would seem that Jesus himself identified John as the “Elijah (who is) to come”. While, in the Fourth Gospel at least, John the Baptist denies being any of these Messianic figures, he does identify himself as the herald (the “voice”) of Isaiah 40:3ff, which, of course, is also the primary Scripture associated with him in the Gospel Tradition (Mk 1:3 par).

It is worth considering just what is meant here in this passage by o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”, i.e. Messiah). For many early Christians, at least at the time the Gospels were written (c. 60-90 A.D.), the primary association would be with the traditional figure of the coming Ruler, from the line of David, who would judge/subdue the nations and bring about the deliverance/restoration of Israel. Yet, it is hard to see how the Baptist could have been viewed in this light, if we accept the historical portrait of him in the Gospels (and Josephus). There are two other possibilities:

  1. The “Anointed One” here refers to a different Prophetic figure, possibly the one anointed by God in Isa 61:1ff, or the Messenger of the Lord in Mal 3:1ff. Both roles seem to have been applied to Jesus, either at the historical level (during his ministry), or in the earliest strands of Gospel tradition. In this case, there would still be three Messianic figures mentioned in the passage.
  2. It refers to a Messianic end-time (Prophet) figure more generally, whether the type of Elijah, Moses, or something else. According to this view, the figures of “Elijah” and “The Prophet” would only represent two specific Messianic figure types, while John denies being this Messiah in any sense.

If we accept the historicity of the scene, then it seems to me that the latter option is perhaps more likely; while, at the same time, the Gospel writer (and/or his readers) may have understood it as referring to three distinct figures, among which “the Anointed One” could have still meant the traditional Davidic Ruler type. It is also interesting that these Messianic figures are connected, in the mind of the questioners, with John’s baptizing ministry (v. 25). At first glance, this may appear somewhat strange, until we realize that John himself seems to have cast his ministry in eschatological and prophetic terms (as discussed in the prior notes). A version of the Baptist’s traditional sayings (cp. Mk 1:7-8 par) are included here, in the context of the narrative, at this point (vv. 26-27). One unique detail in the Johannine version should be pointed out—the following phrase from v. 26:

“…in your midst stands one whom you do not see [i.e. know]”

Here the historical tradition is given added significance from the standpoint of Johannine theology—that of people (believers) seeing/knowing Christ (as the [true] Light, etc).

Jn 1:29-51

The next three “days” each contain important declarations regarding Jesus’ identity, as well as a central narrative episode in which people encounter Jesus—the narrative being marked by a distinctive (Johannine) use of the verbs e&rxomai (“come”) and me/nw (“remain”), as well the motif of seeing/knowing:

Day 1 (1:29-34):

Declaration 1—”See! the Lamb of God…” (v. 29)

  • Jesus coming toward John (vv. 29-30)
  • John came to baptize (Jesus) (vv. 31, 33)

[The Baptism of Jesus, as described by John]

  • The Spirit stepping down (i.e. coming down) and remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33)
  • Before this, John had not seen/known Jesus (i.e. recognized his identity) (vv. 31, 33)

Declaration 2—”This is the Son of God” (v. 34)
[Note: Some MSS read “this is the Elect/Chosen (One) of God”; on this, cf. the next daily note]

Day 2 (1:35-42):

Declaration 1—See! the Lamb of God!” (v. 36, repeating v. 29)

  • Jesus passing by—two of John’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus (v. 37)

[Disciples/Believers encountering Jesus]

  • Disciples ask Jesus: “Where do you remain/abide?” (v. 38)
  • Jesus responds to them: “Come and see” (v. 39)
    —They came and saw and remained with him

Declaration 2—”We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41)

Day 3 (1:43-51):

Declaration 1—”We have found the one of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote!” (v. 45, step-parallel with v. 41)

  • Disciples encourage others to follow Jesus (vv. 44-45), according to Jesus’ own example (v. 43)
  • Come and see” (v. 46)

[Disciples/Believers encountering Jesus]

  • Disciple asks Jesus: “From where do you know me?” (v. 48a)
  • Jesus responds to him: “I saw you…before he called you” (v. 48b)

Declaration 2—”You are the Son of God…the King of Israel!” (v. 49)

The declaration by Nathanael shows that, at the level of the early traditional material, we still find the identification of Jesus as the Anointed One or Messiah (“King of Israel”, i.e. the Davidic Ruler figure-type) and Son of God (in a Messianic sense). However, elsewhere in the narrative, it is clear that the identification has moved beyond this, to a deeper Christological interpretation—of Jesus as the One sent by God, of divine origin, even the pre-existent Son of God. This, of course, is the portrait we find in the Fourth Gospel, from the Prologue all the way to its very end (20:31).

Mention should also be made here of the concluding visionary statement (a declaration by Jesus) in verse 51: “You will see…”. I have discussed this verse at some length in an earlier study, but it is worth pointing out several clear parallels with the Baptism scene from Gospel tradition:

  • The heaven opening up [vb. a)noi/gw, compare Mk 1:10 par]
  • The descent of a heavenly/divine presence—Messengers (i.e. Angels) of God, vs. the (holy) Spirit of God (cf. verses 32-33 and the Synoptic par)
  • The use of the verb katabai/nw (“step down”, i.e. “come down”)
  • The Messengers/Spirit coming down upon [e)pi/] Jesus [Mk uses ei)$ “unto”]
  • Jesus is identified as a Messianic and/or Divine figure (“Son of God”)—these are effectively blended together in the figure “Son of Man”, as found in the sayings of Jesus throughout the Gospel tradition

 

Note of the Day – February 10 (John 1; 3:22-30ff)

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The note today will explore the theme of John the Baptist’s relationship to Jesus, as developed in the Fourth Gospel. Yesterday’s note did the same for the Gospel of Luke. The way this theme is handled in the Gospel of John is extremely complex, and shows a highly advanced mode of adapting traditional material. This, indeed, is quite typical of the Fourth Gospel, where, as I have argued in detail elsewhere, sayings and teachings of Jesus have been shaped into highly precise (and complex) dialogue forms which evince a layer of interpretation added to the historical traditions. Much of this style and method of interpretation can be seen clearly in the ‘Prologue’ of the Gospel (1:1-18), where we begin.

Jesus and John in the Prologue (Jn 1:6-8, 15)

Many commentators consider that the references to the Baptist (“John”) in vv. 6-8 and 15 are authorial/editorial insertions into an otherwise self-contained hymn—one which the author may have adapted. Certainly vv. 6-8 and 15 seem to interrupt the flow of the poetry; note especially how verse 16 picks up right away from v. 14, and also, to a lesser extent, verse 9 from v. 5. This is easier to explain than it might appear at first. The essential Gospel tradition begins with the introduction of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus (cf. Mark), and so here with verses 19ff. The hymnic Prologue has been added to this core, just like the Infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. It makes sense that some effort to relate vv. 1-18 with 19ff would be made. But there is also a theological reason which underlies the insertions, and it relates to the way that the entire Baptist/Baptism tradition has been developed in the first chapter. This is essentially summarized in vv. 6-8:

“There came to be a man, se(n)t forth from alongside [i.e. by] God, (and) the name for him (was) Yohanan—this (man) came unto a witness, that he should witness about the light, (so) that all (people) might trust through him. That (man) was not the light, but (he came) that he might witness about the light.”

As I have already mentioned in an earlier note, this is a very different description of John’s role and purpose in ministry than we see in the Synoptic Gospels, where the emphasis is on preaching to bring people to repentance and the forgiveness of sin by God, in preparation for the coming Judgment. It is also more directly related to the person of Jesus, and to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (cf. below).

If vv. 6-8 present a different introduction to John’s ministry (cp. Mark 1:2-6), the insertion in v. 15 would appear to give a very distinct interpretation to the saying of the Baptist in Mk 1:7 par (or something similar to it):

“John witnesses about him, and has cried (out) saying: ‘This was he of whom I said, “The one coming (in) back of me has come to be in front of me, (in) that he was first/foremost o(ver) me“‘.”

The importance of the words in italics, which certainly express powerfully the relationship between John and Jesus, is seen by the fact that it is stated again (almost verbatim) in the narrative which follows (v. 30).

The Johannine Baptism Narrative (Jn 1:19-51)

Of all the Gospel treatments of the Baptism of Jesus, that in the Gospel of John is by far the most complex. It also is highly instructive within the context of this study series, since, in my view, it both (a) preserves early historical tradition, and (b) gives to it a pronounced Christian (and Christological) interpretation beyond anything we see in the Synoptics. This is done both by creative (literary) arrangement of material and use of a distinct set of (Johannine) vocabulary and imagery. To begin with, note the structure of the narrative, which is divided into four parts:

  • 1:19-28—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
  • 1:29-34—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
  • 1:35-42—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
  • 1:43-51—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness

The way the author has deftly blended the Baptism narrative with traditions regarding the call of the first disciples is impressive indeed. This is done with considerable literary skill, as can be seen by the simple device of having each episode occur on a separate “day” (four in sequence). Following vv. 19-28, each of the three sections begins with the expression th=| e)pau/rion, something like “upon the morrow”, i.e. “the next morning”, “(on) the next day” (vv. 19, 35, 43). This repetition creates a strophic rhythm to the scenes which is most appealing (and effective). A glimpse at the outline above shows how, little by little, John disappears from the scene and Jesus takes center stage (cp. Jn 3:30). These episodes will be discussed in more detail in the next portion of our study (on Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One, cf. the upcoming daily notes), but it is worth pointing out several details and features here:

Section 1 (Jn 1:19-28)

The dialogue format of vv. 19-27 is unique to the Fourth Gospel, and doubtless is literary as much as historical; but there can be no doubt that authentic (historical) traditions are recorded here, including:

  • The citation of Isa 40:3, which is actually spoken by John himself in the context here (v. 23)
  • The sayings corresponding to Mk 1:7 (partial) and 1:8 in vv. 26-27 (cp. Acts 13:25)
  • The reference to John’s baptizing activity, otherwise of little significance to the narrative here, including the peculiar detail of the location “Bethany across the Jordan” (v. 28)

To this may be added the confrontation involving the religious leaders (Pharisees, etc, vv. 19, 24), which is attested in Matthew (3:7). More significant is the setting regarding John’s possible identity as the Messiah (vv. 20ff), which is also found in Luke 3:15, and likewise precedes the sayings corresponding to Mk 1:7-8.

Section 2 (Jn 1:29-34)

This section effectively narrates the Baptism of Jesus, but in an usual manner—indirectly, as described by John, in terms of his own experience. This emphasizes all the more vividly John’s relationship to Jesus, according to the theme in the Fourth Gospel—of John as one who acts as a witness to Jesus’ identity. The unique treatment of the Baptism in this section can be outlined as follows:

  • V. 29—John’s declaration upon seeing Jesus coming toward him: “See! the Lamb of God: the (one) taking (up) the sin of the world!” Unlike in the Synoptic tradition, here Jesus is not coming toward John (cf. Matt 3:13) in order to be baptized; the baptism presumably had already taken place some time before. The significance of Jesus’ coming (e)rxo/menon) is found in the saying/statement which follows in v. 30. This witness to Jesus as the one taking up/away sin replaces the Synoptic emphasis regarding the purpose of John’s baptizing (i.e., for the release/forgiveness of sins).
  • V. 30—the important saying, repeated from v. 15, is related in some way to the traditional saying which corresponds to Mark 1:7 par, marked by basic formula, using the verb e&rxomai (“come”) and the preposition o)pi/sw (“in back of, behind”). It was dealt with in detail as part of an earlier study, and will be discussed again in upcoming notes.
  • V. 31—John’s admission that he had not seen Jesus (that is, did not recognize who he truly was) prior to the Baptism. It is possible that this draws upon a tradition that John did not know Jesus at all before his baptism, but that is not what the Gospel is emphasizing.
  • This same verse records John stating the purpose for his baptizing ministry, as given to him by God—that this “one (who is) coming” should be revealed to Israel.
  • Vv. 32-33 have John narrating the Baptism scene, more or less as it is depicted in the Synoptic tradition. Verse 33 is unique in its repetition of the themes from v. 31. John witnessed the visual/visionary descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism, and thus knew (only then) that Jesus was the “one coming”. John states here that his entire baptizing ministry was for this one purpose—to see/know who this person was, and to make his identity known to the world.
  • V. 34—Here John essentially takes the place of the voice from heaven in the Synoptic tradition, by declaring that Jesus (“this [man]”) is the Son of God (some MSS read “Elect/Chosen One of God”).
Section 3 (Jn 1:35-42)

This episode begins just as the prior one did, with John seeing Jesus and declaring “See! the Lamb of God!” (v. 36). Only here his witness is not to people at large, but specifically to his own disciples, who hear him utter the statement. Two of these men (including Andrew, of the traditional Twelve), decide to follow Jesus. This detail establishes the important information, otherwise unattested in the Gospels, that at least two of Jesus’ followers had previously been disciples of John the Baptist. That they leave John to follow Jesus is an implicit affirmation of the latter’s superior status. This same motif appears in 3:22-23ff (cf. below). What is especially significant, in the context of the Johannine narrative, is that the men follow Jesus on the basis of the Baptist’s witness. This process continues as the disciples proceed to witness to others regarding Jesus’ identity (vv. 41, 45). Indeed, John serves as a type or figure for the purpose of the Fourth Gospel itself, as stated in 20:31.

John 3:22-36

Here again, this section, unrelated to the Baptism of Jesus, shows how the Fourth Gospel begins with historical tradition and develops it, expounding the details and fundamental points to form a rich and complex narrative. Note the structure:

  • The historical tradition regarding the disciples of John and Jesus, working almost side by side, with a similar baptizing ministry, but also with a sense of possible conflict or rivalry developing (3:22-26)
  • The testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus (3:27-30)
  • A Johannine statement/exposition regarding the identity of Jesus as the Son of God (3:31-36)

The thematic similarities with 1:19-42 are obvious. It is not clear whether vv. 31-36 here are meant to be taken as a continuation of the Baptist’s words, or a statement by the author (or by Jesus?). This very ambiguity is part of the artistic and spiritual power of the discourses in the Gospel of John. For the purposes of this study, it is the central testimony of John the Baptist in vv. 27-30 that is most relevant, as it clearly expresses his relationship with Jesus:

  • John’s words in v. 27 hint at the heavenly/divine nature of Jesus, especially in the immediate context of the Gospel (cf. vv. 13, 31ff)
  • He is not the Anointed One, but only the one sent (by God) to appear in front of (i.e. before, ahead of) him (v. 28)
  • A parable/illustration that John is not the “bridegroom”, but only the friend who attends to him and hears his voice (v. 29)
  • The climactic statement which summarizes the relationship (v. 30):
    “It is necessary for that (one) to grow (greater), but (for) me to become smaller”

That declaration has the ring of authenticity about it, and generally corresponds with the thought expressed in the better-established traditional sayings of Mark 1:7-8 par.

Note of the Day – February 5 (John 1:6, 19ff, etc)

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John 1:6-7, 19ff; 3:23ff

When we turn to examine how John the Baptist’s ministry has been handled in the Fourth Gospel, we see that, despite the extensive (theological and literary) development, important pieces of early Gospel (historical) tradition have been preserved. These vestiges appear throughout the early chapters, and will be discussed here in turn.

John 1:6-7

There are two references to John the Baptist in the Prologue (vv. 6-7 and 15). The first of these serves as the initial introduction to the Baptist, and establishes the specific emphasis on John’s role as a witness to Jesus.

“There came to be a man, se(n)t forth from God, (and the) name for him was Yohanan [i.e. John]; this (man) came unto a witness, that he should witness about the light…”

There is no real mention of John’s preaching and the emphasis on repentance which we see in the Synoptic tradition. Likewise the colorful ascetic details and desert/wilderness setting have largely disappeared. There is a definite shift in thematic focus which will develop further in the narrative of chapter 1 which follows, and, indeed, throughout the remainder of the Gospel.

John 1:19ff

As in the Synoptics, we see narrated people coming from Jerusalem to see John. However, they are not coming to be baptized, but to find out more information about the Baptist himself. There is a loose parallel to Matthew’s version of the Q episode, which has religious leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) coming to John (Matt 3:7). The episode in Jn 1:19-27 also is similar to the Lukan tradition recorded in Lk 3:15 (to be discussed). More significant is the fact that, embedded in vv. 19-27 are two bits of early tradition:

  • The citation of Isaiah 40:3, here spoken by John himself (v. 23), and
  • The saying(s) of the Baptist, corresponding with Mark 1:7-8 par (vv. 26-27)

The way these have been incorporated into the dialogue format—a common feature in the Fourth Gospel—indicates a level of adaptation and reworking. This is confirmed by two details:

  • The ‘splitting’ of the saying corresponding to Mk 1:8 par:
    “I dunk (you) in water(, but…)” (1:26a, cf. also v. 33)
    “(…he) is the one dunking in the holy Spirit” (1:33b)
  • The way that the first portion of the saying corr. to Mk 1:7 (or a similar saying) is given an important theological (and Christological) interpretation at several points in John 1 (vv. 15, 30):
    “the one coming behind [o)pi/sw] me…”

The carefully constructed (literary) design of 1:19-51 will be discussed in an upcoming note.

John 1:28

The actual reference to John’s baptizing activity is clearly of secondary importance in the context here, and is provided almost as an afterthought. Even so, the unique detail of the location—”Bethany…across the Jordan” (presumably Transjordan, to the east)—has the ring of authenticity. It is not the sort of thing which a Christian writer would have introduced, thus causing confusion with the more familiar Bethany to the west. Commentators ancient and modern have had difficulty locating this site with any degree of certainty.

John 1:35

Here we see mention of John’s disciples, which, in the Gospel context is more important in terms of defining John’s relationship to Jesus (the subject of the next section to be studied). However, it confirms the vitality and success of John’s ministry.

John 3:23ff

In 3:23-30, the Fourth Gospel preserves a unique historical tradition, and one which most critical commentators regard as authentic (on objective grounds). It is the only instance in the Gospels where we read of Jesus and his disciples engaging in the same sort of baptizing activity as John. The difficulty of this scenario for subsequent Christians is perhaps indicated by the author’s comment in 4:2. It also suggests some sort of conflict, or even rivalry, between the followers of John and Jesus (as also in 4:1-3). While this has often been claimed by commentators on the basis of later Christian tradition, and various speculative theories, here in Jn 3:23-4:3 is the only real evidence for it in the New Testament (cf. also Acts 18:25-19:7). The historical background for the “Q” episode in Matt 11:2ff par is more difficult to determine.

What is more significant for our purposes is the way that this tradition has been expanded and adapted, in typical Johannine style; note the structure:

  • Vv. 22-26—The historical setting, showing John and Jesus (with their respective disciples), working almost side by side, with indication of possible conflict.
  • Vv. 27-30—The words/sayings of John, in his specific role (in the Fourth Gospel) as a witness to Jesus.
  • Vv. 31-35—A Johannine exposition/interpretation which builds on the Baptist’s words with such literary skill that it is difficult to determine whether it is the Baptist or the author who is supposed to be speaking in these verses.

As in the Gospel of Luke (cf. the previous note), this creative reworking of traditional material results in a separation between John and Jesus—compare John’s words (vv. 27-30, esp. verse 30) with the exposition which follows, emphasizing the identity of Jesus as God’s Son. The separation is acted out (and made complete) in the transitional narration of 4:1-3. At this point in the Gospel, John the Baptist disappears from view, and only Jesus remains.

Special Note: “Truth” in the Writings of John

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As an appendix to the just-concluded series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, in which I gave special attention to the Gospel (and Letters) of John, I felt it worth added a note on the Johannine use of the term truth. This is expressed by three related Greek words:

  • a)lh/qeia (al¢¡theia, “truth”)—25 times in the Gospel, 20 in the letters (out of 109 in the NT)
  • a)lhqh/$ (al¢th¢¡s, “true”)—14 times in the Gospel, 3 in the letters (out of 26 in the NT)
  • a)lhqino/$ (al¢thinós, “true, truthful”)—9 times in the Gospel, 4 in the letters + 10 in Revelation (out of 28 in the NT)

While the Johannine concept of “truth” is not, strictly speaking, part of a contrasting pair (i.e. truth vs. falsehood), it is very much part of the dualistic language and imagery which we find in the Gospel (including the discourses of Jesus) and First Letter—on this topic, cf. Part 6 of this series. In particular, I would point to the basic contrast between God (or Christ) and the world (ko/smo$). The world is characterized by darkness, but also in the way that its thinking and acting is limited by that which is apparent, i.e. immediately visible or available to touch, etc. On the other hand, Jesus, as the one who comes from God, the Son sent by the Father, makes manifest what is eternal and Divine. That which comes from God is the Spirit and truth, just as He Himself is Spirit and Truth (4:23-24; 7:28; 8:26); indeed, the Spirit is referred to by Jesus as “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). When Jesus declares that he is the truth (14:6), this is essentially the same as declaring his (Divine) identity with God the Father (as Son). He has already stated that he speaks the truth from the Father (5:31-32; 8:14ff, 40-46). This truthfulness is, I think, also implicit in the frequent use of the double a)mh\n a)mh\n (am¢n am¢n) which transliterates the Hebrew /m@a*, a word derived from the root /ma, and which essentially refers to something which is firm, reliable, sure, etc. The Semitic idiom, preserved in Greek, and as used by Jesus in the Johannine discourses, emphasizes the truthfulness of Jesus’ words.

Another aspect of the “amen, amen” formula, is that it is often used to introduce specific teachings or sayings by Jesus regarding his own identity, especially of his relationship to the Father and the revelation (of the Father) which he brings—cf. 1:51; 5:19, 24ff; 6:26ff; 8:51, 58; 10:1ff; 13:16, 20, etc. This applies as well to his use of the adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$. The first of these tends to be used in reference to the truth (and truthfulness) of Jesus’ words and testimony regarding the Father (5:31-32; 7:18; 8:13-14, etc), as well as to others (believers) who testify regarding Jesus (3:33; 10:41; 19:35; 21:24). The second (a)lhqino/$) has much the same meaning, but also carries the connotation of something that is genuine or real. This particular aspect has important Christological significance in the discourses, where Jesus draws upon images from ordinary human (earthly) experience and applies them to himself; for example—

  • the true bread (from heaven, i.e. manna) (6:32); similarly expressed with a)lhqh/$ in 6:55:
  • “my flesh is true food, and blood is true drink”
  • the true vine (15:1)

The same could be understood as implicit in all the “I am” declarations of Jesus—”I am the (true) light… shepherd… door…” etc. The Gospel writer had already made the first association explicit in 1:9, and it is also stated in 1 Jn 2:8:

“…the darkness passes along and the true light already shines (forth)”

This adjective is applied directly to God (the Father), as part of key Christological statements, in John 17:3 (cf. my earlier note on this verse) and 1 Jn 5:20; this latter verse, in particular, encapsulates a powerful summary of Johannine theology:

“And we have seen [i.e. known] that the Son of God comes (here) and has given us (understand)ing through (our) mind, (so) that we should know the true (One), and we are in the true (One), in His Son Yeshua (the Anointed). This One is the true God and (the) Life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The word truth (a)lh/qeia) is also important in terms of the believer’s identity in Christ. On this, cf. especially 3:21; 8:31-32 (and my note on v. 32), 44ff; 14:6; 16:13; 17:8, 17ff. I have already discussed Jesus’ declaration in 18:36-37 on several occasions (cf. Part 5 and the note on 8:32). In the letters of John, this aspect of the believer’s identity is expressed through several different idioms used by Jesus in the Gospel:

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.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Part 5 – Election/Predestination

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An important aspect of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought is the idea that believers come to know their true identity—that is, what they already are in truth, but of which they have lost awareness through ignorance in the world of sin and darkness. In many Gnostic texts, this (the believer’s identity, or “soul”) is expressed as a divine spark (of light) or seed that has become trapped in the (fallen) material world. The saving knowledge Christ brings is of the believer’s true nature and identity (the light), which leads to the way out of darkness. The New Testament writings share certain soteriological elements in common with the Gnostic viewpoint, though, in many ways, the fundamental differences of outlook (and expression) are even greater. One common element is a belief in what we would call Election—that believers (i.e. the ones who will come to believe and know the truth) belong to God even before they actually come to faith and awareness in their lifetime. However, on the whole, early Christian belief is more closely rooted to the traditional religious understanding of election, as found in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Election—The Terminology (“choose, call,” etc)

The two main aspects of this view may be summed up by the verbs choose (Hebr. rjb) and call (arq, etc). In the New Testament, the first aspect is expressed through several different verbs:

  • e)kle/gw (eklégœ, “gather out”), along with the derived adjective e)klekto/$ (eklektós) and noun e)klogh/ (eklog¢¡)
  • ai(re/w (hairéœ, “take [up]”) and the related ai(reti/zw (hairetízœ), which relates more properly to the decision to take or choose, along with the reasons involved. This latter verb occurs only in Matt 12:18.

The second aspect is represented almost entirely by the verb kale/w (“call [out/aloud]”), and its compound forms—e)kkale/w (“call out [of]”), proskale/w (“call toward”), and e)pikale/w (“call on”). The verb e)kkale/w is represented in the New Testament only through the related noun e)kklhsi/a (ekkl¢sía), which early on came to be used in the technical sense of a congregation or assembly of believers, i.e. those called out (of their homes, etc) to assemble together. It often carried a (theological) connotation similar to e)klekto/$—believers as the ones “called/gathered out” from the rest of humankind. The noun klh=si$ (“call[ing]”) and adjective klh=to$ (“called”), were both applied to believers as important religious terms, derived from the verb kale/w. Several other verbs and related terms are worth noting:

  • ti/qhmi (“set, place, put”) and i(sth/mi (“make stand”), both of which can be used in the sense of “appoint”.
  • ta/ssw (“arrange, put in order”), sometimes meaning “appoint”, i.e., put things (or a person) in a certain arrangement.
  • o(ri/zw (“mark [out]”), in the sense of appointing or determining something; cf. below on Predestination
  • xeirotone/w, which refers to making a choice, etc (i.e. voting), by stretching/raising the hand; cf. also on Predestination below.

The Scriptural Concept of Election

In the Old Testament, the primary idea was God’s call/selection of Israel as his chosen people. This is found frequently in the Scriptures, especially as a Deuteronomic theme (Deut 4:19-24; 7:6-11; 10:14-22; 14:2; 26:18-19) and a key motif in the Prophets (Isa 41:8-9; 44:1-2; 45:5, etc). Israel would remain God’s chosen people as long as they were faithful in observing the covenant agreement God established with them (reflected in the Torah). The tragedy of the conquest and exile meant that this idea of election had to be given a new and distinctive interpretation; and, in the Prophets, we regularly find the motif of the remnant—i.e. the chosen ones were those who remained faithful and obedient to God (cf. Isa 4:2-4; 6:13; 10:20-23; 65:9ff; Mic 2:12; Amos 9:11-15; Zeph 3:12-13; Ezek 11:16-21; Zech 13:9, etc.). The Community of the Qumran texts and the early Christian Community both drew upon this remnant-motif to express their own religious identity as the elect/chosen people of God.

Occasionally, the Scriptures refer to Israel as the “son” of God, in a symbolic or religious/spiritual sense (e.g., Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9), and the faithful Israelites as “sons” (cf. especially in Wisdom tradition, Wis 2:16-18; Sir 4:10, etc). It is appropriate to refer to this as a kind of “adoption”, that is, God chose Israel to be his son. The same relationship is found in Israelite royal theology, which draws upon Ancient Near Eastern tradition; the king is God’s “Son”, the one chosen to represent God for the people (cf. Psalm 2:7; 89:27-29; 2 Sam 7:14; Isa 9:6). Both of these concepts—the people Israel and the king as God’s chosen “son”—were fundamental to the Messianic thought and expression which developed in Judaism, as seen both in early Christianity (applied to Jesus) and in the Qumran texts. For more on this, cf. the articles in my series “Yeshua the Anointed“. The idea of one chosen and anointed by God could be understood of king, priest, and prophet alike—three Messianic roles and “offices” ascribed to Jesus. In addition, we find the tradition of the “Son of Man” (cf. Daniel 7:13-14), a heavenly/divine being (identified with Jesus) who is appointed by God to oversee the end-time Judgment and the deliverance of his people.

When we consider the various verbs and terms related to the idea of election in the New Testament (cf. above), these can be divided between: (a) Jesus as the Elect One, and (b) Believers as the Elect Ones.

Jesus as the Elect One

The verb e)kle/gw (e)kle/gomai), and the derived noun e)klekto/$, are applied to Jesus in a number of passages, marking him as one who is specially “gathered out” (i.e. chosen) by God—Luke 9:35 v.l.; 23:35; 1 Pet 2:4, 6 (citing Isa 28:16); cf. also Matt 12:18 (Isa 42:1ff), where a different verb (ai(teri/zw) is used. These verses certainly are dependent upon Messianic tradition and imagery which have been applied to Jesus. In the Gospels and early Christian thought, they cannot be separated from the idea of Jesus as God’s Son, which likewise has a strong Messianic context—especially Ps 2:7, suggested by the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism/transfiguration (esp. Lk 3:22 v.l.), and cf. Acts 4:25-26; 13:33; Heb 2:5; 5:5. The Lukan version of the Transfiguration scene is particularly significant, since here (in the more probable original reading) the divine/heavenly voice refers to Jesus as “the one gathered out [e)klelgme/no$]”, i.e. “Elect/Chosen one”, parallel to “my Son”. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find the idea of Jesus being set/appointed/marked beforehand as God’s Chosen One; these references apply different verbs (cf. above) to Jesus:

Occasionally, the specific idea of foreknowledge—that is, God knowing/appointing Jesus beforehand, before his appearance on earth (indeed, even before creation)—is emphasized, as in 1 Peter 1:20, using the verb proginw/skw (“know before[hand]”). Cf. below on Predestination.

Believers as the Elect

More commonly in the New Testament, it is believers (Christians) who are said to be chosen or called by God. Quite often, this implies foreknowledge and/or predestination (cf. below), but more significant is the emphasis on the choice being made by God. I divide the most relevant passages according to the two aspects—called/chosen; for an interesting combination of both aspects, cf. Matt 22:1-14 (v. 14).

CalledActs 2:39; 15:17 (Amos 9:12); Rom 1:6-7; 8:28-30; 9:11, 24ff; 11:29; 1 Cor 1:2, 9, 24, 26; 7:15-24; Gal 1:6, 15; 5:8, 13; 1 Thess 2:12; 4:7; 5:24; 2 Thess 1:11; 2:14; Phil 3:14; Col 3:15; Eph 1:18; 4:1, 4; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 1:9; Heb 3:1; 9:15; James 2:7; 1 Pet 1:15; 2:9, 21; 3:9; 5:10; 2 Pet 1:3, 10; Jude 1; Rev 17:14. To these may be added instances of God calling believers to specific ministry, to preach the Gospel, and so forth (Acts 13:2; 16:10; Rom 1:1, etc).

In the Gospel of John, we find the distinct motif of Jesus calling believers. This, of course, reflects the historical facts and setting of the Gospel narrative (Mark 1:20; 3:13 par, et al), but it takes on special significance in John. Note, in particular, Jn 10:3—this is connected with the related motif of hearing the voice of Jesus (3:29; 4:42; 5:25ff, 37; 11:43ff; 12:29f; 18:37; 20:16). Important also is the close association of calling with the name—for the intimate personal knowledge and relationship which is implicit in knowing and calling/hearing the name, cf. the recent note on this motif in John. In 1 Jn 3:1, calling is also related to believers’ identity as “children of God” (on this, cf. the recent daily note on Jn 1:12-13).

Chosen—Here we should consider first the references using the verb e)kle/gw (“gather out [of]”) and related words:

This choice of persons by God is depicted dramatically in the Gospel narrative through Jesus’ choosing of the disciples to follow him (Luke 6:13, and pars; Acts 1:2). He also ‘appointed’ them to be his special representatives (apostles)—this designation (Mark 3:14ff; Lk 10:1, etc) becomes the pattern and paradigm for Christians being appointed to positions of ministry, using the verbs ti/qhmi (“set, place, put”) and i%sthmi (“[make] stand”), etc (Acts 6:3; 1 Cor 12:28, etc). Jesus’ choosing of his disciples is given special theological significance in the Gospel of John (cf. below). For the use of the compound verb kaqi/sthmi (cf. above) in a soteriological context, see Rom 5:19, and note also Matt 25:21ff; Lk 12:42ff.

Predestination

I will not deal here with the complex and longstanding theological and philosophical issues which have surrounded this topic for centuries, except to point out that the main problem for (modern) Western Christians—how the Divine determination and control of events and human decisions conflicts with the ideal of individual freedom—does not seem to have been a significant issue for ancient Christians (nor, indeed, for devout Jews and Greco-Roman pagans of the period). The New Testament authors, and other early believers, like the Jews in the Community of the Qumran texts, were perfectly able to hold up the principles of Divine control and human responsibility side-by-side; and, much to the surprise of many modern scholars, they scarcely felt the need even to note a possible contradiction (Rom 9:19ff is one of the few exceptions, but even here Paul does not devote much attention to it). That God (or the Gods, in a polytheistic context) exercised sovereign control over the world and human affairs, determining their course and destinies, was a basic and well-established religious belief in the ancient world, and required no real explanation or proof. The specific aspect of predestination—of God determining things beforehand—is expressed at numerous points throughout the New Testament writings, usually through verbs which contain the prepositional element pro/ (“before[hand]”). Romans 8:28-30 uses several of these in a sequential chain, with a definite soteriological context:

  • proti/qhmi (“set before[hand]”)—this verb does not always indicate action beforehand, since the preposition pro/ can simply imply something “before” (i.e. in front of) a person, etc. The derived noun pro/qesi$ (used here in Rom 8:28) can refer to a person’s plan or purpose (to do something), and is used, in a theological sense, for the plan of God. Here, believers are referred to as “the (one)s called according to His purpose [lit. the thing set before{hand}]”. We see the same context in Rom 9:11; Eph 1:9-11; 3:11; 2 Tim 1:9. Cf. also the adjective proqe/smio$ in Gal 4:2.
  • proginw/skw (“know beforehand”)—that is, foreknowledge, properly speaking; it also occurs in Rom 11:2 and in 1 Pet 1:20 (applied to God’s foreknowledge of Jesus).
  • proori/zw (“mark [out] beforehand”)—on the use of the simple o(ri/zw to indicate God appointing, designating, etc., Jesus as the Anointed One, cf. above; the compound form also occurs in Acts 4:28; 1 Cor 2:7, and Eph 1:5, 11. These two pro- verbs are followed in v. 30 by:
  • kale/w (“call”)—for the calling of persons to be (and become) believers, cf. above
    dikaio/w (“make right/just”)—this verb has special meaning in Paul’s letters, referring to salvation in terms of being “made right” with God; it carries a strong legal sense in his thought
    doca/zw (“give honor/esteem”)—that is, believers are glorified, made to share in the honor and splendor (do/ca) of the Father and Christ the Son; primarily, Paul has the end-time resurrection in mind (vv. 18-23)

Several other pro- verbs are used to express the idea of foreknowledge and predestination—proetoima/zw (“make ready beforehand”, Rom 9:23; Eph 2:10), proxeiri/zw (“take in hand before, hand forth”, Acts 22:14), proei/dw (“see before, foresee”, Acts 2:31; Gal 3:8, of the inspired Prophets [in Scripture]); proble/pw (“look/see before”, i.e. look ahead, Heb 11:40).

The main Predestination passages in the New Testament (the Pauline letters) are Romans 9-11 (along with 8:28-30, cf. above); Gal 1:15; Eph 1:3-14; 2 Thess 2:13, though certainly many of the other verses cited above should be consulted as well. Of special significance is the way the idea is expressed—theologically, and in Christological terms—in the Gospel of John.

The Johannine Discourses

In the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, we find a sense of election and predestination, which, in certain respects, comes close to the gnostic understanding. A number of the key passages have already been discussed in the notes and articles of this series (cf. the note on Jn 1:12-13, etc), but it will be helpful to summarize and outline them here.

In three passages, Jesus refers to his choosing the disciples (using the verb e)kle/gomai, “gather out”, cf. above)—Jn 6:70; 13:18, and 15:16, 19. In 13:18, the choosing is related to his knowing them (“I have seen/known [oi@da] any [i.e. all] of [the ones] I gathered out”); moreover, the selection comes from Jesus’ initiative—it is not the disciples’ decision (15:16, cf. also 5:21). The aspect of foreknowledge and predestination in this choice is demonstrated and prefigured in the narrative, cf. 1:48—”I saw you…before his calling you”. Throughout the discourses, this sense of the believers’ identity (in Christ) is expressed in two primary ways:

1. God the Father has given believers to the Son (Jesus), who, in turn, keeps them safe and guarded (from evil) during his time on earth. We find this idea in 6:39ff and, more prominently, in the great prayer-discourse of chapter 17 (vv. 6-8, 11ff, 24). It is connected with the motif of the believer remaining/abiding (the verb me/nw) in Christ, and Christ in the believer. From a temporal standpoint, in the context of the Gospel narrative, believers first come to Jesus (and he comes to them), and, receiving him, they remain with him (and he with them). However, from the eternal standpoint, this aspect of remaining takes on a slightly different sense—believers are already in Christ, since they have been given to him by the Father, but must continue to remain in him (cf. 8:31-32; 15:1-11, etc). After Jesus’ departure (back to the Father), this situation will continue through the presence of the Spirit (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:7ff); indeed, 14:17 suggests that the Spirit is already with the disciples, but will come to be in them after Jesus’ departure. That all of this takes place under the Father’s full control and direction is clear from the statement by Jesus in 6:44: “No one is able to come toward me, if the Father…does not draw [lit. drag] him”.

2. Believers belong to God, come from Him, are born out of Him, etc, even before they actually come to faith in Christ. In fact, in a number of places, Jesus makes it clear that the reason people are able to come to him is that they (first) come from God. I summarize here the most relevant passages:

  • 3:3-8—one cannot see or enter the Kingdom of God, unless first having been born “from above [a&nwqen]” and “out of [e)k] the Spirit”. Traditionally, this birth is thought to take place following one’s acceptance of Jesus (and baptism, etc); however, in the Johannine idiom, to see almost always means seeing Jesus (the Son), that is, coming to know him, to have faith in him. It is thus possible to understand this saying in the sense of spiritual birth preceding the believer’s recognition of Christ.
  • 3:19-21—In verse 21, Jesus states that “the (person) doing the truth comes toward the light”. On the surface, this suggests that a person who is living a good, righteous life will recognize Jesus and come to trust in him; indeed, this would be the conventional religious understanding. However, in the Gospel of John, “doing the truth” essentially means trusting and believing in Christ (who is the truth), as stated clearly in 6:29. In other words, a person is, in a sense, a believer even before actually coming to faith in Christ. Much the same is indicated in 7:17; for a more precise formulation, cf. 18:37 (below).
  • 8:47—”the one being [i.e. who is] out of [e)k] God hears the words of God; through this [i.e. for this reason] you do not hear, in that [i.e. because] you are not out of God”. Along with 18:37, this is the clearest theological statement to the effect that only those who are from [e)k, “out of”] God can hear/recognize the word of God, and thus come to Jesus.
  • 10:3-5ff—The idea of believers hearing the voice of the Son (Jesus) who speaks with the words and voice of his Father is an important theme in the Gospel of John. In the parable of chapter 10, the sheep hear (i.e., know, recognize) the voice of the shepherd because they (already) belong to him (he knows them), vv. 14, 26-29.
  • 15:19—Here Jesus tells his disciples “you are not out of the world, but I gathered you out of the world”, playing on the double meaning of the idiom “out of [e)k] the world”. On the one hand, Jesus chose them “out of the world” (that is, from the rest of the people); on the other hand, the disciples are “not of the world” since they come from God and do not belong to it. The statement in 17:16 is even more striking: “they [i.e. the believers] are not out of [e)k] the world, even as I am not out of the world”.
  • 18:37—”…I have come 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”. Only the person (already) belonging to the truth, that is, to God, is able to hear the voice of Jesus and come to faith in him.

On the textual variant in 20:31, the closing words of the Gospel proper, and a possible way to interpret it, cf. the separate note.

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 9 (John 1:12, 16-17)

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John 1:12, 16-17

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

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

There is a simple and precise parallelism at work:

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

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

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

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

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

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

and, secondly—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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