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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 5 (John 14:4-7)

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John 14:4-7

The brief exchange in Jn 14:4-7, especially the statement by Jesus in v. 7, is part of the block of material spanning chapters 13-17, a major section of the Gospel of John often referred to as the Last (or, Upper Room) Discourse. It actually represents a series of discourses, joined together in a literary framework, and which may not have been delivered by Jesus all on a single occasion. Jn 13:31-14:31 forms a distinct unit, made up of three parts, each of which follows the basic pattern for the discourses of Jesus in John. I would divine this section as follows:

  • 13:31-38—First Part (Introduction)
    Statement by Jesus, vv. 31-35
    Disciples’ question (Peter), v. 36a
    Jesus’ Response, vv. 36b-38
  • 14:1-14—Second Part
    Statement by Jesus, vv. 1-4
    Disciples’ first question (Thomas), v. 5
    Jesus’ Response, vv. 6-7
    Disciples’ second question (Philip), v. 8
    Jesus’ Response, vv. 9-14
  • 14:15-17Promise of the Spirit
  • 14:18-24—Third Part
    Statement by Jesus, vv. 18-21
    Disciples’ question (Judas), v. 22
    Jesus’ Response, vv. 23-24
  • 14:25-26Promise of the Spirit
  • 14:27-31—Closing Statement

The first section 13:31-38 also serves as an introduction to the Last Discourse as a whole; Jesus’ statement contains three parts, or themes, which run through the discourse(s):

  • Glorification of the Son—his death and resurrection/exaltation (vv. 31-32)
  • His departure from the disciples—death and return to the Father (v. 33)
  • What he leaves for the disciples—the Love command (vv. 34-35)

Chapter 14 deals primarily with the second theme (Jesus’ departure), which forms the basis for the statements by Jesus in vv. 1-4 and 18-21, along with the disciples’ questions. In verses 1-4, Jesus states that he is traveling (poreu/omai) to the Father to make ready (e(toima/sai) a place (to/po$, i.e. rooms) for believers to stay. His statement concludes with the promise in verse 4:

“And where(ever) I (am) go(ing) under [i.e. away], you have seen [i.e. known] the way (there)”

The Greek is more concise than indicated by the translation:

kai\ o%pou [e)gw\] u(pa/gw oi&date th\n o(do/n

There is also a wonderful bit of alliteration which is lost in translation:

hopou egœ hupagœ oidate t¢n hodon

The verb u(pa/gw literally means “lead under”, i.e. to lead/take oneself away, out of sight. It often is used in the general sense of “go away, depart”, but here it is preferable to retain as much of the literal meaning as possible, since it suggests two important themes in context: (a) that Jesus is going to disappear and no longer be seen, and (b) he also shows or leads (a&gw) the way for his followers. The verb ei&dw, as indicated above, has a dual meaning—see/know. The disciples both see the way and know it, that is, to the place where Jesus is going. The verb is a perfect form, oi&date (“you have seen/known”), by which Jesus may imply that they have known from the beginning—in the sense that they have been with Jesus, following him all along. Nevertheless, the disciples’ question (by Thomas) in verse 5, shows that they do not yet fully understand Jesus’ words. This is a common element in the discourses of Jesus—the misunderstanding of those who hear him, prompting a question, such as we see in v. 5:

“Lord, we have not seen/heard where (it is) you (are) go(ing) under [i.e. away]; (so) how are we able to see/know the way (there)?”

As is common in the Johannine discourses, Jesus’ audience takes his words in their apparent sense, unaware of the deeper meaning. In the earlier parallel of 7:33-36, the people are thinking of an actual geographic location, and that may be in the disciples’ mind here as well. At any rate, Thomas’ question assumes a specific way or direction one may follow. The pronoun po$ used as an adverb or particle indicating place (o%pou, pou=), i.e. somewhere, what/which place, suggests a distinct location. The use of the noun o(do/$ (“way, path, road,” etc) is especially significant here in its (figurative) religious and ethical meaning. This will be explained further in the discussion of verses 6-7 which continues in the next daily note.

Special Note: On the noun “knowledge” in John

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As part of my analysis of knowledge and revelation in the Johannine writings (cf. the current article), I pointed out that, while the verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ, “know”) is found quite often, the noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) does not occur at all. Compare this with the relatively frequent use of the noun in Paul’s letters (esp. 1 and 2 Corinthians). Some commentators have theorized that the Christian communities which produced (and used) the Johannine Gospel and letters were combating an early form of Gnosticism (with a docetic Christology, cf. 1 Jn 4:1-6, etc). The persons or groups referred to in 1 John may be related in some way to those mentioned by Ignatius of Antioch (Smyrneans 2-5, Trallians 9-10) in the early 2nd century (c. 110 A.D.). There is a good discussion of this topic, for example, in R. E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (Paulist Press: 1979), especially pp. 103-23. According to this basic theory, the author(s) of the Gospel and letters may have intentionally avoided use of the noun gnw=si$. For a possible similar phenomenon in the Pastoral letters, cf. my recent note on 1 Tim 6:20-21. However, there are several other explanations which do not require any relationship to Gnosticism or anti-gnostic tendencies:

  1. The Gospel and Letters of John have a much simpler vocabulary than, for example, the letters of Paul. Related to this is a marked tendency, in many instances, to prefer the use of verbs rather than nouns to govern the basic mode of expression. Just about anything that one might say about “knowledge” could easily be expressed through use of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see, know”). This dependence on the verb also tends to emphasize Jesus Christ as the means and instrument of knowledge, rather than the knowledge per se. This differs in certain respects from Paul, who frequently emphasizes the message (the Gospel) itself.
  2. The Gospel (and Letters) also seem to rely upon a relatively small set of descriptive nouns to refer to the revelation which comes in the person of Jesus; these include—light (fw=$), truth (a)lh/qeia), life (zwh/), word (lo/go$, r(h=ma), way (o(do/$), splendor/glory (do/ca), and so forth. A number of these convey in the popular mind a more immediate and dynamic sense of the divine presence and activity than would the word gnw=si$. That these can be seen as interchangeable with gnw=si$, to some extent, is indicated by the statement in Jn 1:17: “…the favor [i.e. grace] and truth (of God) came to be through Jesus Christ”. Paul, on the other hand, could say much the same thing using the word “knowledge”—”in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away” (Col 2:3), “…the light of the knowledge of the splendor of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6), etc.
  3. As noted above, while Paul has a strong sense of knowledge in terms of the message about Christ (i.e. the Gospel), which could effectively be summarized by the noun gnw=si$, the Gospel and Letters of John emphasize a different aspect of revelation—the person of Christ, the Son of God. This would be natural enough within the Gospel narrative, since it deals primarily with the words and actions of Jesus, along with the people’s response to them; but the same emphasis continues in 1 John as well. Indeed, the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”, i.e. Gospel) does not occur at all in the Johannine writings (unless one includes Rev 14:6), an omission almost unthinkable for Paul in his letters. Instead, the emphasis is decidedly on having seen and heard Jesus himself (1 Jn 1:1-3)—his words, etc.—and, in particular, the great commandment to love one another. For a full list of the relevant passages, see the current article. Within early Christian thought, the Gospel message is, of course, directly related to the person of Christ; it is really a question of which aspect of the Christian faith one seeks to emphasize.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Knowledge and Revelation in John

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Because of the very distinctive—and extensive—use of terms related to knowledge and revelation in the Johannine writings, it has been necessary to devote a separate supplemental article to this topic. The vocabulary, language and imagery used in the discourses of Jesus in Gospel are so close, at many points, to that in the letters, that most scholars ascribe them to a single Christian community or “school” of authorship. Tradition establishes the apostle John as the author of the Gospel and letters both, though, strictly speaking, they are all anonymous works. Regardless of how one theorizes the actual authorship of the writings, there is strong evidence that, in the discourses of Jesus, the actual words of Jesus—i.e. the historical sayings/teachings—have been edited and given an added interpretative layer within a literary dialogue (and homiletic) format.

I have previously discussed the specific vocabulary related to knowledge and revelation (cf. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series). The extent to which they occur in the Gospel and letters of John is striking:

  • The verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ, “know”) occurs 56 times in the Gospel, and 26 in the letters—more than a third of all occurrences in the NT (222). Interestingly, the related noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”), is not used (on this, cf. the following special note).
  • The verb ei&dw (oi@da) (“see”), which is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw in Greek at the time of the New Testament, occurs 85 times in the Gospel, and another 16 in the letters—again, more than a third of all occurrences in the NT.
  • Other verbs for seeing are used frequently in the Gospel and letters:
    o(ra/w (“see, perceive”, 31/8); ble/pw (“look [at], see”, 17/1); qewre/w and qea/omai (“look with wonder, look [carefully] at, behold”, 24/1 & 6/3)
  • The noun fw=$ (“light”), 23 times in the Gospel, 6 in the letters (29 out of 73 in the NT); in addition, we have the related verbs for giving/shining light: fai/nw (3), emfani/zw (2), fanero/w (15).

Knowing and Seeing (& Hearing)

Fundamentally, the references involving knowing and seeing (taken together) can be divided into several categories:

  1. Jesus (the Son) knows the Father, and makes Him (his word, his truth, etc) known to his disciples
  2. Disciples/believers know him (the Son), and the Father through him; by contrast, the “world” does not know
  3. Jesus knows his disciples (believers), who are also known by the Father

1. The Son knows/sees the Father

The main passages expressing this knowledge of the Father are: Jn 5:32; 7:29; 8:14, 19, 55; 10:15; 12:50; 13:3; 15:15; 17:25. Frequent in the discourses of Jesus is the idea that the Son has seen and heard the Father, and does/says what he sees/hears the Father doing/saying. This is expressed in Jn 3:32; 5:19ff; 6:46; 8:26, 38, 40; 12:49-50; 15:15 (cf. also 10:18, 37; 14:10; 17:6-8). The basic image derives from daily life—the dutiful son, as a pupil or apprentice, imitates his father, following the pattern and example of behavior. In 16:13, it is extended to the Spirit, who, like the Son (and as the abiding presence of the Son in the believer), will speak (only) the things he hears from the Father.

In turn, the Son makes known the Father to humankind, especially to his followers (believers). It is for this purpose that he was sent into the world by the Father (cf. below). The specific verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) occurs in Jn 15:15:

“…all the (thing)s that I heard (from) alongside my Father I (have) made known [e)gnw/risa] to you”

It is also found (twice) in the prayer-discourse of Jesus in chapter 17 (v. 26):

“and I made known [e)gnw/risa] to them Your name, and will make (it) known [gnwri/sw], (so) that the love with which you loved me might be in them, and I (also) in them”

An interesting example is Jn 1:18, where the verb e)chge/omai (“lead/bring out”) is used. The statement (by the author) emphasizes that no one has ever seen God, but that Jesus, the unique Son (of God) “…the (one) being [i.e. who is/dwells] in the lap of the Father, this (one) has brought (Him) out”—i.e. brought God out in the sense of declaring and making Him known.

More common is the verb fanero/w (“make/cause [to] shine [forth]”), where it refers to Jesus making God known (17:6)—especially His work and power (through miracles, etc), as in 2:11; 9:3; the same is expressed by the verb deiknu/w in 10:32; 14:8. It is also used in reference to Jesus’ appearing to his disciples—1:31; 14:21f; cf. also 7:4. In 1 John, it occurs in the more traditional sense of Jesus’ appearance (and future appearance) on earth (1:2; 2:28; 3:2, 5, 8, also 4:9).

Closely related is the key motif of Jesus as light (fw=$)—Jn 1:5-9; 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:35-36, 46; and cf. also 1 Jn 1:5-7; 2:8-11. John the Baptist is also a light (5:35) , but only insofar as he reflects and reveals the true light (1:5ff). The verb fai/nw (“shine light”) occurs in 1:5; 5:35; 1 John 2:8; while e)mfani/zw (“make [light] shine in”) is used in Jn 14:21-22 associated with the personal (abiding) presence of Jesus in the believer.

2. Believers know/see the Son

It is specifically Jesus’ disciples (believers) who come to know him (the Son). The main references are Jn 6:69; 8:28; 10:4-5, 14-15, 27, 38; 14:9, 17, 20; 17:3, 7-8, 23; cf. also 3:11; 18:21. People see the signs (miracles, etc) which Jesus does (2:23; 4:19, 48; 6:2, 14, 26; 11:45), and also come to see him (on this narrative motif, cf. below). They also hear his voice—cf. 3:29; 5:25, 28, 37; 12:29f; 18:37, and note 4:42; 11:43f; 20:16. Through the Son, believers see and hear the Father—this motif is frequent (cf. above), but emphasized particularly in Jn 14:7-8ff; 17:3.

By contrast, the “world”—that is, unbelievers—do not know him. Even Jesus’ own disciples have difficulty understanding, and are unable to know completely. This is a theme which runs throughout the narrative; of the many references, cf. 1:10, 26, 31, 33; 4:32; 7:27-28; 8:14, 19, 55; 9:29; 12:35; 14:9, 17; 15:15, 21; 16:3; 17:25; 20:14. The contrast is part of the dualism in the Johannine writings (to be discussed in Part 6). It is also expressed through the contrast of seeing vs. not-seeing (i.e. blindness)—chapter 9; 12:40; 1 Jn 2:11.

In the letters of John, knowing Christ essentially functions as a central point of religious identification, marked especially by the presence and manifestation of Christian love—cf. 1 Jn 2:3ff, 13-14; 4:2, 6-8, 16; 5:19-20; it also includes the same dualistic contrast found in the Gospel (1 Jn 2:11; 3:1, 6, etc). Likewise, the twin motif of seeing/hearing occurs (1 Jn 1:1-3; 3:11; 4:14; 2 Jn 6), as well as the specific idea of knowing the Father by way of the Son (4:8ff, 12, 14; cf. also 2:23; 5:9; 2 Jn 9).

3. Believers known by Jesus (and the Father)

Jesus’ knowledge of his disciples (believers), as those chosen and given to him by God (cf. below), is emphasized in Jn 2:25; 6:64; 10:14, 27; 13:11, 18. Within the narrative, the various references of Jesus coming to his disciples (cf. below) and, specifically, seeing them (1:42, 48; 11:33; 19:26, etc), take on added meaning. A reciprocal relationship is expressed—Jesus sees (and comes to) believers, who also see (and come to) him. Ultimately, these passages are tied to an overriding sense of Christian identity, for believers as those who come from (or out of) God, just as Jesus himself comes from God. This motif will be discussed next.

Other concepts and expressions

The rich treasury of Johannine language and imagery can only be surveyed partially here. I will endeavor to point out a few of the most relevant ideas and expressions used in the Gospel and letters.

Coming from God

This often involves the specific preposition e)k (lit. “out of”). Frequently Jesus speaks of himself (the Son) as coming from, or “out of”, God—Jn 7:17; 8:42; 16:28ff, and cf. also 1:14; 3:2; 17:5; 1 Jn 1:2. More or less synonymous is the idea of his coming out of heaven (or “above”), as in Jn 3:13, 27, 31; 6:32-33ff; 8:23. The (spatial) dualism of above/below, heaven/earth, etc., is related to the conceptual dualism of Jesus “stepping down” and “stepping (back) up”, using the related verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw. As Jesus came down out of heaven (from God), so he will be returning back into heaven (to the Father). At the same time, those who believe in him, are also said to be “(out) of God”, especially under the image of being born from Him—Jn 1:12-13; 3:3ff; 8:47; 18:37. This will be discussed further in Part 5 (on Election/Predestination). Being “of God” is important in the Johannine letters as signifying Christian identity—cf. 2:16, 29; 3:9-10, 19; 4:2-3ff; 5:1, 4, 18-19; 3 Jn 11.

Coming into the world

Related to the concept of Jesus coming from God, out of heaven, is the specific motif of his coming into the world. This is expressed most clearly in Jn 1:9, 11; 3:31; 5:43; 8:14; 9:39; 11:27; 12:46-47; 18:37. For the closely connected use of the verb fanero/w (“make to shine, make manifest, cause to appear”) to describe this appearance of Jesus on earth, cf. above. Coming into the world also means coming to the people—to human beings generally, but also to the people Israel, and, more specifically, to the people (believers) chosen by God.

Coming to the disciples / Disciples coming to Jesus

This twin motif occurs frequently in the Gospel narrative, but the “coming” carries a deeper significance in John, due to the previously mentioned concepts, as well as to the added motif of seeing. The references here which include the element of sight/seeing are marked with an asterisk:

Two other, related, concepts should be mentioned:

Sending

In the Gospel, Jesus is identified as (the Son) who was sent by God the Father, using both verbs a)poste/llw and pe/mpw: the references are too numerous to mention them all—3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36ff; 6:38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, et al. The Spirit is also sent by the Father (and the Son) to believers, 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; and Jesus sends forth his disciples (believers), just as the Father sent him (4:38; 17:18; 20:21).

Abiding/remaining in

As in the Pauline letters, the Johannine writings frequently refer to believers being “in” (e)n) Christ, just as Christ is “in” the believer. Sometimes this is specified in terms of truth, love, or the word(s) (logo$, r(hma) of Jesus. Most frequently, it involves the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), which becomes a distinctly Johannine theme and unique for an understanding of both revelation and the believer’s religious identity (in Christ). For more on this latter point, cf. the discussion in Part 4.

The frequency with which both aspects are mentioned together, side-by-side, is striking.

Giving & Receiving

One other way revelation is expressed in the Gospel of John is with the verbs di/dwmi (“give”) and lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”). These two verbs occur together at the beginning of the Gospel, in 1:12, 16-17 (cf. the note on these), and again at several points throughout. God the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to his followers (believers). At the same time, believers themselves are among the things given by God to Christ (17:2ff). Those who trust in Christ and come to him also receive him. In 17:8, the verbs lamba/nw and di/dwmi are used together, along with ginw/skw (“know”); I discuss this verse in a separate daily note. For more on the prayer-discourse of chapter 17, cf. my earlier note on 17:3.

Glory/Splendor

Finally, we should mention the numerous occurrences of the term do/ca (“esteem, honor”, i.e. “glory, splendor”, esp. when used of God), along with the related verb doca/zw. While do/ca is related to the idea of divine revelation throughout the New Testament, it carries special significance in the Gospel of John, as it is distinctly tied to the person of Christ, and his identity with God the Father. This glory/splendor is at the center of the two-sided presentation of Christ in the Gospel—his descent (stepping down) from God the Father, and his ascent (stepping up) back to the Father. The death and resurrection/exaltation of Jesus stands between these two points, much as the vision described in Jn 1:51, which is offered as a vision of glory of God/Christ promised to believers (cf. also 3:3, 36). For the key passages referring to do/ca, cf. Jn 1:14; 2:11; 5:44; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4; 12:23, 28, 41, 43; 13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1ff, 22ff. These cover virtually the entire range of meaning connected with the idea of revelation in John.

Note of the Day – November 3 (1 Tim 6:20-21)

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1 Timothy 6:20-21

“O Precious-to-God {Timothy}, you must keep watch (over) th(at which is) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] (you), turning out of (the way) the free [be/bhlo$] (and) empty voices, and the (thing)s set against (it) from the falsely-named ‘knowledge’ [gnw=si$], which some (person)s, giving a message upon (themselves) about the (Christian) faith, [pi/sti$] were without (true) aim.”

This is perhaps the only passage in the New Testament which can truly be called anti-gnostic—i.e., opposed to gnostic teaching. Whether the author of 1 Timothy (whether Paul or pseudonymous) is addressing an early form of the Gnosticism known from the 2nd century A.D. is a separate question. If the letter is Pauline and/or relatively early (c. 60-65 A.D.), then this is highly unlikely. However, things have clearly moved a step or two beyond Paul’s concern to check the Corinthians’ emphasis on spiritual knowledge (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:16ff; 8:1-3ff). There is conceivably a connection with the Jewish Christianity represented by the opponents Paul addresses in 2 Cor 10-13, but this could only be called “gnostic” in a very loose sense. It can be no coincidence that 1 Tim 6:20 is the only occurrence of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in the letter—indeed, within the Pastoral letters as a whole—while it is relatively frequent in the undisputed letters (21 times, including 16 in 1 & 2 Corinthians), often in a positive sense. Here, it is entirely negative, marked by the qualifying adjective yeudw/numo$ (“falsely-named”), to distiguish it from true religious knowledge. At the very least, the author is referring to Christians who claim to have a certain knowledge, and, presumably, rely upon the use of that word—which would explain why the author does not otherwise use it himself. The noun is also absent entirely from the Johannine writings, even though the related verb ginw/skw (“know”) is used quite often (82 times). Some commentators have thought that the Christians who produced these writings were combating an incipient form of Gnosticism (cf. 1 John 4:1-6, etc).

Especially significant is the use of the word paraqh/kh, derived from the verb parati/qhmi (“set/put along[side]”), and which I discussed briefly in the last section of the recently-posted Part 4 in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. In the Pastoral epistles the verb and noun are both used in the special (figurative) sense of the collected body of Christian teaching—of Gospel and Apostolic traditions—which have been passed down (from Paul and the first Apostles) and put into the care of trustworthy ministers (such as Timothy). It is this “trust”, this carefully preserved Tradition, which is set against the so-called “knowledge”. Actually, there appear to be two forces against which the minister must contend; he is to “turn out of [the way]” (i.e. “turn aside”, the verb e)ktre/pw):

  • “the free/loose ’empty voices'” and
  • “(thing)s…of the falsely-named ‘knowledge'”

Possibly these are a hendiadys, two expressions for a single concept, or two labels referring to a single group. The first phrase makes use of two words. The first (a) is be/bhlo$, “free”, in the sense of “freely accessible”, and, in a religious context, often indicating something that is “profane”; it is certainly used in a pejorative sense here, perhaps with the connotation of “loose-lipped”, i.e. freely and carelessly uttered. The second (b) is kenofwni/a, “empty voice”, i.e. empty or hollow sounding, but probably best taken literally here—the voices of the people who say these things are “empty”, void of anything true or real. This same expression, using both words, also occurs in 2 Tim 2:16:

“But stand about [i.e. away from] the free (and) empty voices, for (more) upon more they cut (the way) toward a lack of reverence (for God)”

It follows directly after the expression “the account of truth” in v. 15, with which it is set in contrast. The adjective be/bhlo$ also occurs in 1 Tim 1:9 and 4:7.

The second phrase includes two elements: (a) the noun a)nti/qesi$, derived from the same verb as the base of parati/qhmi, only instead of something put alongside (into one’s care), it signifies the opposite, something set against it (in opposition to it); and (b) the expression “falsely-named knowledge”, with the adjective yeudw/numo$. Those who are characterized by these descriptions, and who oppose or threaten the true faith and tradition, are defined further in 1 Tim 6:21:

  • tine$ (“certain, some”)—that is, some Christians
  • e)paggello/menoi (“giving a message upon [themselves]”)—middle voice (reflexive) participle of the verb e)pagge/llw; these people announce (lit. give a message) concerning themselves
  • peri\ th\n pi/stin (“about the faith”)—the word pi/sti$ usually means specifically trust (or faith/belief) in Christ, but here it would seem to signify more properly the Christian faith (religion); however, it may also indicate the profession of faith in Christ by these persons
  • h)sto/xhsan (“they were without [true] aim”)—the verb a)stoxe/w is derived from the adjective a&stoxo$ (“without aim”), i.e. a bad shot, missing the mark

In other words, these people claim to be Christians, professing Christ and speaking about the faith, but are actually in error and ‘miss the mark’. From the standpoint of the author (Paul), it is a matter of the entire Christian faith being at stake, and an urgent need to preserve the true faith and (apostolic) tradition. The comprehensiveness of this understanding is indicated by an brief examination of the other occurrences of the verb parati/qhmi and noun paraqh/kh:

  • 1 Tim 1:18:
    “This message given along (to me) I place alongside (for) you, dear offspring [i.e. child] Timothy, according to the (thing)s foretold [i.e. prophecies] brought out before(hand) upon you, that you might fight as a soldier in them, (doing) the fine work of a soldier”
  • 2 Tim 1:12, continuing on from v. 11, speaking of the “good message”, i.e. the Gospel (“unto which I was set” as a preacher, apostle and teacher…)
    “…through which cause I also suffer these (thing)s—but (yet) I do not have (any) shame brought upon me, for I have seen [i.e. known] the (one) in whom I have trusted and have been persuaded that he is powerful (enough) [i.e. able] to keep/guard the (thing) set alongside (for) me unto [i.e. until] that day”
  • 2 Tim 1:14 (note the connection between the paraqh/kh and the Spirit):
    “you (too) must keep/guard th(is) fine (thing which has been) set alongside (us), through the holy Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in us”
  • 2 Tim 2:2:
    “and the (thing)s which you have heard alongside me through many witnesses, these you must place alongside trust(worthy) men who will be capable/qualified to teach others also”

The chain of transmission is clear: to Paul, then to Timothy, and then, in turn, to other trustworthy ministers. Timothy himself has received the tradition not only from Paul (“the whole/healthy accounts which you heard [from] alongside me”, 2 Tim 1:13), but from “many witnesses” (2:2). This emphasizes that the tradition has been transmitted within the Community of believers as a whole (on the motif of witnesses to the Gospel, cf. Lk 1:2; 24:48; Acts 1:8, 22; 5:32; 10:39ff; 13:31, etc., and note Heb 12:1).

Gnosis and the New Testament: Part 4 – Religious Identity and Tradition

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Closely tied to a gnostic understanding of salvation (cf. Part 2) is the sense of religious identity being defined in terms of knowledge. This was discussed to some extent in Part 3, but it requires further elaboration and examination of some of the key New Testament passages. According to the gnostic (and Gnostic) viewpoint, the (elect) believer comes to know, that is, to become aware, of his/her true identity in relation to God (or the Divine). Among certain Gnostic groups we find the idea that a spark or seed of the Divine has been ‘trapped’ within the fallen material world or sin and darkness. Knowledge of salvation comes—proclaimed and revealed by the Savior (and/or his messengers)—to believers trapped so as to have been ignorant of their true identity as offspring (sons/children) of God. There is, indeed, something of this religious worldview reflected in the New Testament Scriptures, but not quite in the manner expressed by many Gnostics. It is in the Pauline and Johannine writings that we find the closest parallels. A number of the most relevant passages are summarized here:

The Pauline letters

1 Cor 2:6-16—I have discussed the entire section 1:18-2:16 in an earlier series of notes. The logic of Paul’s theology can be described this way:

  • The Gospel contains the secret, hidden wisdom of God
  • This is conveyed to the apostles and preachers of the Gospel through the Spirit
  • Those who receive/accept the Gospel receive the Spirit which is at work in them, allowing them to understand
  • The Spirit instructs and guides believers so they can discern the wisdom of God—we thus have “the mind of Christ”

From a theological standpoint, there is some question as to what extent God—specifically the Spirit—is present and at work in believers prior to hearing the Gospel and coming to faith. Given Paul’s statement in verse 11, how do people respond in faith the Gospel without the work of the Spirit? Paul typically employs the language and image of a favor (xa/ri$) or gift—i.e., the Spirit as a gift given, presumably at the time one receives the Gospel, though it may also be connected with the moment of baptism. However, the quotation in verse 9, apparently citing loosely and adapting Isa 64:4, adds an interesting dimension to this; consider the last portion of the quotation:

“…the (thing)s God prepared for the (one)s loving him”

In the context of 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, these “things” are the hidden things of God, the wisdom of God, which, according to Paul’s way of understanding it is: (1) manifest in the person of Christ, (2) revealed in the Gospel, and (3) made available to believers through the Spirit. Yet these things were prepared or made ready by God ahead of time (in the past), for those in the present who are already loving Him. This same idea is suggested in 1 Cor 8:3—”if any (one) loves God, this (person) has been known under [i.e. by] Him”. Here the sense of predestination is stronger: God has known the believer ahead of time, the perfect tense indicating past action which continues into the present. Cf. also 1 Cor 13:12.

Rom 7:7-25—Paul frequently uses language and imagery expressing the idea that God, through Christ, has delivered humankind from bondage to the power of sin (cf. above for this same idea from a Gnostic standpoint). It is described in almost cosmic terms in Rom 5:12-21, while here in 7:7-25, we see it presented from the vantage-point of the individual believer. Paul sets himself, rhetorically, in place of this representative human being, using the first person (“I”). This person could be identified with those who are “loving God” (prior to receiving the Gospel), desiring (in his spirit) to fulfill the Law of God, but unable to do so because of the power of sin residing in the “flesh” and controlling it. Uniquely Pauline is the idea that revelation—in the Law (Torah), prior to encountering the Gospel—brings a kind of preliminary saving knowledge, in that it brings knowledge (i.e. recognition, awareness) of sin. But Paul’s understanding in this regard is two-fold: (1) the Law brings (saving) knowledge, but at the same time (2) through the Law God has imprisoned all human beings (including believers) under sin (Gal 3:22-24; Rom 11:32). For more on Paul’s teaching on the Law, cf. the articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Rom 8:19-25—Here we find the cosmic image of creation groaning and suffering in bondage. Again, we have the idea that God is the one who has set it under bondage (to sin and death). Admittedly, the reference in verse 20 is somewhat ambiguous, where it states that the thing formed (creation, collectively) was set under the order of (i.e. subjected to) sin and death “not willingly, but through the (one) putting it under (this) order”. Commentators debate just who “the (one)” is, but, in my view, based on the context in Romans, and other passages in Paul’s letters, it should be understood as referring to God the Father (the Creator). In certain Gnostic systems, the Creator—that is, the one who fashioned the fallen and sinful material condition—was a kind of inferior divine Being (a Demiurge). This is foreign to Paul’s thought, but the idea of God setting Creation (and humankind) under bondage to the power of sin has certain points in common with Gnostic theology. The eschatological theme in Rom 8:19-25 involves the eventual deliverance of creation from this condition of bondage, and is tied directly to the presence (and identity) of the elect believers (the “sons/offspring of God”). Indeed, this is specifically described in terms of revelation—the earnest expectation and hope of creation is to receive (from God, or from heaven) “the uncovering (a)poka/luyi$) [i.e. revelation] of the sons of God”. This could be understood in the sense that the sons of God (believers) are already present in creation, but that creation is unaware of their true identity. In verse 21, the future hope for creation is defined as being “set free from the slavery of decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor of the offspring of God”. The implication is that all of creation will be renewed in the same way that believers in Christ are renewed—in particular, Paul has the end-time resurrection in mind (v. 23).

Col 1:12-13—As part of the great declaration in vv. 9-20, describing the person and work of Christ, the author (Paul) states that God the Father is the one

“who (has) made us able (to come) into the portion of the lot [i.e. the inheritance] of the holy ones in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the authority of darkness and made us stand together (away from there) into the kingdom of the Son of his love”

There is, in this description, language and imagery that is similar to gnostic modes of expression—the dualism of light and darkness, the idea of being rescued out of a realm of darkness, believers as “sons of light”, believers as heirs of God, the kingdom of the Son, etc. Of course, these can be found at various points throughout the New Testament, but their combination here, within two short verses, is what gives the passage a “gnostic” ring. The deliverance out of darkness is tied directly to the work of God through the person of Christ; elsewhere in Paul’s writings, it is connected more properly with the proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:4-6). The idea of believers being called out of darkness is found in 1 Pet 2:9, and goes back to Old Testament imagery, preserved within the early Gospel tradition—Matt 4:16; Lk 1:78-79, etc, and cf. 2 Pet 1:19.

Eph 5:13-14—Here, in connection with the same light/darkness dualism we find the additional idea of the soul “awaking” to its true nature. This is expressed in the quotation (possibly from an early hymn) in verse 14:

“Rise, (you) the (one) going down to sleep, and stand up out of the dead, and the Anointed (One) will shine (light) upon you!”

This line itself suggests the initial conversion of a believer—i.e., of responding to the Gospel and coming to faith. It may originally have been associated with the ritual of Baptism. However, here Paul (or the author) cites it as part of ethical instruction (exhortation) directed to believers. The context clearly has to do with abandoning sinful behavior and associations, and walking according our true nature, that is, as “offspring (i.e. children) of light”. The image of the soul waking to its true nature and identity is a common gnostic motif, though here the orientation is ethical rather than soteriological. The exhortation “walk according to the light, as you are in the light” is stated in a similar context in Galatians 5:16-25, but in terms of the Spirit: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we should also step in line (i.e. walk) in/by the Spirit”.

Other passages could be added to these mentioned here, but those above give a suitable number of representative examples from the Pauline writings.

Johannine writings

These will be discussed further in the supplemental article on knowledge and revelation in the Gospel and letters of John. Here I will simply list some of the more notable references:

In the Gospel1:9-13; 3:5-8, 18-21; 5:37-43; 6:44-47; 7:17, 28-29; 8:12, 31-38ff; 10:3-9, 14-16, 27ff; 11:25-26; 12:35-36; 14:21-24; 15:3ff, 15-16, 19; 17:6-26; 18:37

In the Letters1 John 1:5-7; 2:5-6, 19-20ff; 2:29-3:2; 3:10, 19; 4:2-6, 9-10; 5:1ff, 10-12, 18-19; 3 John 11

The strong dualism running through the Gospel and letters of John will be discussed in the last part (Part 6) of this series.

Other aspects of Christian Identity

There are other important aspects of Christian identity—that is, of the believer’s religious identity in Christ—which serve to counteract or counterbalance any gnostic tendencies, such as could be drawn from the language used in the passages cited above. Again, we are best informed about early Christian tradition and instruction in this regard from the Pauline letters. Here are some of the more notable aspects:

  • Paul’s use of the expression “in Christ” (e)n xristw=|), and the related idea of belonging to Christ, which can be called mystical and spiritual(istic), rather than gnostic. That is to say, we are united with Christ, both symbolically, and through the presence of the Spirit, and participate in the power of his death and resurrection. The expression is so common in Paul’s writings that it functions virtually as a title for believers, a religious identification. Of the many references, cf. 1 Cor 1:30; 15:18-23; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:4; 3:26-28; Rom 3:24; 6:11; 8:1f; 12:5; Phil 2:5; 3:8-12; Col 1:28; 3:1-4; Eph 2:6ff. It is rare in the New Testament outside of Paul (1 Pet 3:16; 5:10, 14, and note Heb 3:14).
  • The idea of believers as a “new creation”, may seem, on the surface, to have a gnostic tinge to it, but it can just as easily be understood in the opposite sense—believers in Christ come to be completely different than they were before. The main passages utilizing this expression, or varying forms of it, are: 2 Cor 5:16-21; Gal 6:15; Col 3:9-11ff; and Eph 2:14-18. The Johannine idea of the “new birth”, of believers born out of God, is perhaps closer to gnostic patterns of thought.
  • The symbolism of the rite of Baptism was important for Paul, in that it symbolized the believer’s identification and union with Christ, specifically in the sense of participating in his death and resurrection—cf. 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; Rom 6:3-4ff; Col 2:11-12; 3:9-11. Paul inherited the ritual motif of “putting off” the old, sinful way of life, and “putting on” the new life in Christ. The various Gnostic Christian groups seem to have retained Baptism, along with other rituals, though certainly giving to it a somewhat different meaning and significance, even as Paul may have done. He perhaps was the first to connect baptism specifically to the idea of believers sharing in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
  • The emphasis on the real, physical death (the crucifixion) of Jesus as central to the Gospel message, would separate Paul from many of the Gnostic groups known in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Gnostics, with their strong (metaphysical) dualism, especially when assuming the evil of the material condition, appear to have struggled greatly with the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross, and attempted to explain or interpret it in various ways (some less plausible than others). In 1 and 2 Corinthians, where he may be combating certain gnostic tendencies, Paul sets the message of the cross in direct contrast to the (supposed) wisdom and knowledge of the world. Cf. especially 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 and my earlier notes on this passage.
  • Likewise Paul’s teaching on the presence and role of the Spirit in (and among) believers also distinguishes his understanding of Christian identity from that of the later Gnostics. While most Gnostics emphasized the invisible and eternal world of the Divine (against the evil physical/material world), they, for the most part, do not seem to have been Spiritualists—that is, they do not define and understand their religious identity and experience predominantly in terms of the (Holy) Spirit. For Paul, on the other hand, the Spirit was fundamental to his thinking and teaching; even when referring to knowledge and revelation, he almost always qualifies and connects it in relation to the Spirit. Of the many relevant passages, cf. 1 Cor 6:19-20; 12:13ff; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 3:17-18; 5:5; 11:4; Gal 3:2-3; 5:16-26; Rom 5:5; 8:9-12; Eph 4:30.
  • In his emphasis on Christian love, Paul draws on early Gospel tradition going back to Jesus’ own words. The so-called “love command (or principle)” was fundamental to Paul, especially in his ethical teaching—cf. Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 8:1ff; 12:31-14:1; 16:14; Gal 5:6, 13-14; 1 Thess 4:9; Col 3:14. In 1 Corinthians, Paul sets love against (spiritual) knowledge, arguing that love is far superior and necessary for governing all aspects of Christian behavior, especially for our relationships to others in the Community of believers.
  • Paul repeatedly mentions the suffering of believers—their endurance of hardship and persecution, etc—as an important mark of Christian identity. For Paul, it was closely tied to the idea of our participation in the death of Jesus (cf. above). The experience and endurance of suffering also served as a example to other believers, and as a witness to the Gospel. Cf. 1 Thess 2:14ff; 2 Cor 1:6f; 2:14-17; 4:7-12; 6:3-10; Gal 4:19; Phil 1:12-14ff; Col 1:24, etc. Gnostic groups also experienced persecution—including, sadly, at the hands of other “orthodox” Christians—but they would not have ascribed much importance to (physical) suffering in this life.

Some of these points can be found elsewhere in the New Testament, including the Johannine writings. However, there are several other aspects of Christian identity expressed in the Gospel, and especially, the letters of John, which are worth noting briefly:

  • The overwhelming primacy of the person of Christ. In Paul’s writings, the Christological emphasis is usually put forward in connection with: (a) the message of the Gospel, (b) the believer’s union with Christ, and/or (c) the ecclesiastical aspect of the Community of believers as the “body of Christ”, etc. In the First letter of John, on the other hand, following along the lines of the great discourses of Jesus in the Gospel, Christian identity tends to be aligned more directly with the person of the Son (Christ) himself. Ultimately, this extends to what may be properly called orthodoxy—i.e. correct belief about Christ; on this, cf. below.
  • Love in the Gospel and letters of John takes on a somewhat different sense; while continuing the tradition of the “love command/principle”, it is given a centrality to the identity of believers that is really not found anywhere else in the New Testament (Paul’s great chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians being the closest). In 1 John, the presence of love in the believer is virtually synonymous with the presence of Christ, and indicates that the believer is “out of (i.e. from) God” and has been born from Him. Cf. 1 Jn 2:5, 10, 15; 3:1, 10-18, 23; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:1-3; 2 Jn 5-6.
  • Compared with Paul’s use of baptism symbolism, in the Gospel of John there is a different kind of imagery used to described the believers union with Christ and participation in his death, etc. It is found in the drinking/eating and water/bread symbolism in the great discourses of Jesus—Jn 4:7-24, 34; 6:22-59; 7:37-38f. If baptism is implied in the water imagery of 3:5ff, it has a different sense than in Paul. Jn 19:23 and 1 Jn 5:6-8 have water (and blood) connected more closely with the death of Christ.

One unique feature of the Gospel and letters of John is the way it establishes a correct belief about Jesus—who he is, where he came from, etc—as essential to the Christian identity. This is indicated in the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel (3:18; 8:23-24; 14:10-11; 17:3, 20-21; cf. also 20:28, 31), and takes on greater significance in the letters, where incorrect belief regarding Christ marks those who have separated from the Community and also the “spirit of antichrist”—cf. 1 Jn 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:1-5, 6-12ff; 2 Jn 7ff. For more on the Johannine writings, cf. the supplemental article in this series.

Revelation and Christian Tradition

One other topic which needs to be addressed here is the early Christian understanding of revelation in terms of tradition—that is, of (apostolic) teaching and instruction, going back to the words of Jesus, which has been preserved and transmitted to believers. Paul frequently refers to his own apostolic authority as a minister who proclaims the Gospel (as revelation) and gives instruction for the congregations under his charge. At several points, he ties his own commission and ministry to specific revelations he received from Jesus (Gal 1:12, 16; 2:2, etc; cf. also Eph 3:1-6ff). By the time of the Pastoral letters (whether or not one regards these as authentically Pauline), as also in the letters of Jude and 2 Peter, in particular, there had developed a strong sense of a collected body of Gospel witness and (apostolic) teaching which was being threatening by false and aberrant Christian ‘leaders’, and which had to be safeguarded by the faithful minister. Jude summarizes this as “the trust [i.e. faith] given along at one (time) [i.e. once] to the holy ones” (v. 3); it was to be “fought/struggled over”, i.e. the minister should contend and fight to preserve it. The clear context of 2 Pet 1:16-21 is that this tradition (lit. that which is given along, passed down) goes back to the apostles, the eye-witnesses of Jesus, including Peter himself. It is no coincidence that the Transfiguration scene is mentioned, as it is a powerful example of divine revelation—God manifesting his presence and glory in the person of Jesus.

Interestingly, this same aspect of revelation—the words of Jesus and the Divine Truth manifest therein—passed on to the apostles, etc., was an important element of Gnosticism in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Many of the (apparently) Gnostic writings, such as those preserved in the texts from Nag Hammadi, are couched as pseudepigraphic “Gospels”—that is, as teaching by Jesus, usually set after the resurrection, given to select disciples. The Gnostic texts frequently suggest that this teaching reflects special revelation to which other Christians are not privy. Clearly, it was a way to ensure that the distinctively Gnostic approach to the Gospel and interpretation of the Christian message, had apostolic authority, being connected to the eye-witnesses of Jesus, just as we see in Lk 1:2; 2 Pet 1:16ff. Other (proto-)orthodox Gospels and writings use the same (literary) method of pseudepigraphy and pseudonymity. Many critical scholars would claim that at least several of the New Testament writings (e.g., the Pastoral letters, Ephesians, 2 Peter) are also pseudonymous; the weight and quality of the evidence for these claims varies, and, in any event, remain controversial in more traditional-conservative circles. Admittedly, the emphasis on tradition is strongest in the later writings (those likely written after 60 A.D.)—the Pastorals, 2 Peter, Jude, the Lukan prologue, etc. Two verbs tend to be used to express the idea of revelation passed down from the apostles, from the first generation(s) of believers down to the next:

  • paradi/dwmi (paradídœmi, “give along”), with the derived noun para/dosi$ (parádosis). More commonly used in reference to the betrayal of Jesus (in the sense “give/hand over”), it also carries the figurative meaning of passing along teaching, instruction, etc. from parents to children, and from one generation to the next, including within a religious setting (cf. Mk 7:13; Acts 6:14). A specialized sense of this latter meaning was used in early Christianity—for use of the verb, cf. Luke 1:2; Acts 16:4; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Rom 6:17; 2 Pet 2:21; Jude 3; for the noun, 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6, and note the negative sense in Col 2:8. It continues to be used in early Christian writings (cf. 1 Clement 7:2; Diognetus 11:6; Irenaeus 3.3.3).
  • parati/qhmi (paratíth¢mi, “set/put along[side]”), with the derived noun paraqh/kh (parath¢¡k¢), used in the concrete sense of placing an object (food, etc) before someone, often in the sense of providing help or assistance; figuratively, it can used with the meaning of entrusting something (or someone) into the care of another. A specialized sense of this latter meaning developed in early Christianity. These are the words used in the Pastoral letters—1 Tim 1:18; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12, 14; 2:2; they do not occur in the undisputed letters of Paul, certainly not in this sense (cf. 1 Cor 10:27). Cf. the separate note on 1 Tim 6:20-21.

By the later part of the 2nd century, Gnostic groups and teachings had become widespread and influential enough that Irenaeus felt the need to write his five-volume work Against Heresies, to defend his (proto-Orthodox) position as representing the true Apostolic Tradition. The interpretation and application of Scripture was employed more regularly to demonstrate this, since both “sides” could lay claim to the Apostolic heritage. However, many Gnostics proved to be quite adept and incisive as commentators of Scripture (cf. Ptolemy’s letter to Flora, preserved by Epiphanius). Since various passages in the New Testament could, conceivably, be interpreted various ways, and plausibly so, depending upon one’s expectations and presuppositions, it was difficult, at times, to rely on the Scripture itself to provide decisive proof. Origin’s massive (and unfinished) commentary on the Gospel of John was begun, in large part, as a response to the Gnostic Heracleon’s own commentary (the earliest such NT commentary known to us). The main problem, of course, was that Gnostics worked from a religious/theological worldview which was markedly different, in certain respects, from that of the proto-Orthodox; as a result, they were bound to see the same passage of Scripture in a somewhat different light.

Note of the Day – October 31 (Col 2:2-3)

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Colossians 2:2-3 (continued)

In the previous daily note, I explored the context and setting of Col 2:2-3 in the letter, examining the structure, language and imagery being employed. Today, I will look more closely at these specific verses.

“…being lifted [i.e. brought/joined] together in love and into all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind), into the (full) knowledge about the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One), in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away.”

As I discussed previously, the language used here echoes and repeats that of the exordium (introduction), especially in the first sentence (spanning vv. 9-20), which is sometimes referred to as the “Christ hymn” of Colossians. Let us begin by comparing 2:2-3 with 1:9.

Col 1:9 opens with an expression of Paul’s wish (and prayer) for the Colossians, and similarly in 2:1:

  • “Through this [i.e. for this reason] we…do not cease speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]…over you” (1:9)
  • “For I wish you (could) have seen [i.e. could know]…” (2:1)

His wish is expressed through the subjunctive, involving the word “fill, fullness”:

  • “that [i%na] you might be filled [plhrwqh=te]…” (1:9)
  • “that [i%na] their [i.e. your] hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted]…into…the full [plhro-]…” (2:2)

In 2:2, he uses the word plhrofori/a, which is somewhat difficult to translate. Literally, it indicates something which is carried or brought out fully, often in the sense of something being demonstrated convincingly; it thus connotes the idea of confidence or assurance i.e., that something is true or will be accomplished, etc. This “fullness” Paul wishes for the Colossians is defined and qualified with prepositional phrases and genitive chains using the key words gnw=si$/e)pi/gnwsi$ (“knowledge”), su/nesi$ (‘comprehension’) and sofi/a (“wisdom”).

  • “{filled} (with) the knowledge [e)pi/gnwsi$] of His will in all wisdom [sofi/a] and spiritual comprehension [su/nesi$]” (1:9)
  • “{into…full} understanding [su/nesi$], into knowledge [e)pi/gwsi$] of the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One)” (2:2)
    “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom [sofi/a] and knowledge [gnw=si$] hidden away” (2:3)

The word su/nesi$, which I here translate as “comprehension” and “understanding”, literally means the putting together of things, i.e. in the mind. In 2:2 the use of this noun together with plhrofori/a (cf. above), functions as a kind of hendiadys (two words for a single concept). They form a genitive chain modifying the noun plou=to$ (“rich[ness], riches, wealth”)—plou=to$ th=$ plhrofori/a$ th=$ sune/sew$. My attempt to capture something of the literal meaning (cf. the translation at the top of this note) is:

“(the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”

As always, the parentheses indicate glosses which make the translation more readable. From the standpoint of the Greek syntax, a better rendering would be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full conviction and understanding (given to us)”

In terms of hendiadys, the translation might be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full understanding (we have)”

I would suggest that each of these translations captures aspects of what the author (Paul) is genuinely saying. Another important point of syntax in 2:2 is the use of parallel prepositional phrases governed by ei)$ (“into/unto”), indicating the goal for believers as they are “lifted/joined together in love”:

  • “into [ei)$] all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”
  • “into [ei)$] (true/complete) knowledge of the secret of God”

These two phrases are parallel and apposite (placed side-by-side), the second explaining the first—that which is fully brought together in the mind of believers is the knowledge of the secret of God. This begins with the hearing of the Gospel, but continues through the Christian life, through the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned here in 2:2-3, but it may be inferred from the wording of 1:9 where the comprehension/understanding (su/nesi$) is characterized as pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual, of the Spirit”). In 2:2 (as in 1:9-10) the word translated “knowledge” is e)pi/gnwsi$ rather than the simpler gnw=si$ (which is used in 2:3). The compound form often signifies a more thorough, complete, or intimate knowledge about something (or someone). It can also carry the sense of recognition or acknowledgment. The distinction and range of meaning can be difficult to translate effectively in English without losing the etymological connection.

Of special importance is the expression “secret [musth/rion] of God”. Often in Paul’s letters this secret is identified with the Gospel; here, however, it is more properly identified with Christ himself. The syntax and word order caused some difficulty for scribes copying Colossians, as there are a number of variant readings at this point among the manuscripts, which attempt to clarify the (presumed) meaning. Along with most commentators and textual critics, I assume the reading of Ë46 B as original. The words “God” and “Christ” follow after each other, both in the genitive case (qeou= xristou=). There being no punctuation in the earliest manuscripts, the syntax was somewhat ambiguous; we can approximate this in English translation as “the secret of God of Christ”. The word xristou= (“of [the] Anointed”, “of Christ”) is best understood as being apposite the expression “of the secret of God”, with “Christ” related to “the secret” rather than “God”. In other words, Christ is the secret, hidden away from the ages and generations past, but now revealed through the proclamation of the Gospel (1:26-27). Verse 3 provides an interesting parallel use of the verb a)pokrup/tw (“hide [away] from”)—while Christ is the secret hidden away, at the same time, God has hidden away in him “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. The parallel expressions in vv. 2 and 3 are clear enough:

  • “all [pa=$] the riches [sing.]…of understanding…knowledge of the secret” (v. 2)
  • “all [pa/nte$] the treasures [plur.] of wisdom and knowledge hidden away” (v. 3)

For another parallel to the syntax of verse 3, we must turn again to the exordium (introduction), to 1:14, where the Son (Christ) is described with the following phrase: “…in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release of sins”. Note the formal similarity:

  • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold [e&xomen]…” (1:14)
  • “in whom [e)n w!|] are [ei)sin]…” (2:3)

If we press the parallel further, it is possible to tie the verses together conceptually. In other words, the things that are in Christ are those things which we have/hold in him (and vice versa). This would mean that the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” can, and perhaps should, be identified with the saving work of Christ referenced in 1:14, which is again described by two phrases set in tandem:

  • “loosing from (bondage)” (a)polu/trwsi$)
  • “release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins” (a&fesi$ tw=n a(martiw=n)

This association would tend to negate any sort of markedly gnostic interpretation of the Christian message, by connecting knowledge with the sacrificial death of Christ. Though this particular soteriological aspect is not brought out in Colossians until the main portion of the letter (see vv. 8-15), it is central to Paul’s own understanding of the Gospel. One need only consult the discussion and line of argument in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 to find this expressed most vividly—that it is in the Gospel as the “word of the cross” that God’s wisdom is most perfectly conveyed, destroying the empty and inferior “wisdom” and “knowledge” of the world.

Note of the Day – October 30 (Col 2:2-3)

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Colossians 2:2-3

“…being lifted [i.e. brought/joined] together in love and into all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind), into the (full) knowledge about the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One), in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away.”

Col 2:1-3 concludes with a powerful Christological statement that uses both the noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) and the compound e)pi/gnwsi$ (epígnœsis, “knowledge upon/about”); as such, it is an important reference related to the idea of knowledge in the New Testament. It also contains the words musth/rion (“secret”) and the adjective a)po/krufo$ (from a)pokru/ptw, “hide [away] from”), which connotes the aspect of revelation tied to the verb a)pokalu/ptw (“take the cover [away] from”, “uncover”). All of this is centered in the person of Christ, making it one of the strongest Christological statements regarding knowledge and revelation in the New Testament. For more on these points, cf. Part 3 of my current series “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

In order to understand better the context of this reference, it will help to summarize the structure of Colossians, from a rhetorical and epistolary standpoint. After the opening prescript (greeting) in 1:1-2, and the exordium (introduction) of 1:3-23, we have the narratio (narration) in which the author (Paul) presents a personal, autobiographical address to his readers, emphasizing his labor and concern as a minister of the Gospel. It may be divided into two parts—a statement of his work (1:24-29), and its application for the believers of Colosse (2:1-5); the statement of 2:1-3 belongs to this latter portion. The central proposition (propositio) of the letter occurs in 2:6-7, followed by the main probatio (2:8-3:4), utilizing three arguments or illustrations meant to convince and encourage his readers. Then comes the exhortatio (3:5-4:6), with ethical and practical instruction, presented in three parts, and the final conclusion or postscript (4:7-18).

Let us consider the narratio more closely. The first part (1:24-29), describes the work of Paul as minister of the Gospel, written as a single sentence in Greek. Two themes or aspects of the Gospel ministry are brought forward:

  • Paul’s suffering for the sake of the church—”I rejoice in the sufferings over you…over his [i.e. Christ’s] body…” (vv. 24-25); the goal and purpose of this suffering and labor is two-fold:
    (1) to “fill up” (i.e. complete) the affliction which Christ experienced in the flesh (i.e. in his body), and
    (2) to “(ful)fill” the account (lo/go$) of God (i.e. the Gospel) which was given to him as a servant of Christ and of Christ’s “body” (the Church)
  • The Gospel of Christ as a secret (musth/rion) which is now being revealed by ministers such as Paul (vv. 26-29)

Note the important wording in vv. 25-27:

“…to fulfill the account of God, the secret th(at) has been hidden away from the Ages and from the (generation)s coming-to-be, but now is made to shine (forth) [e)fanerw/qh] to His holy (one)s, to whom God wished to make known [gnwri/sai] among the nations what (is) the rich(ness) of the splendor of this secret, which is—(the) Anointed in you, the (very) hope of splendor…”
On the verbs fanero/w and gnwri/zw, and the two different aspects of revelation conveyed by them, cf. Part 3 of “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

There is considerable similarity of vocabulary and phrasing here with 2:2-3, which is understandable, since in the second part of the narratio (2:1-5), Paul’s work as minister of the Gospel is applied to the believers he addresses. Here is how this portion begins:

“For I wish you (could) have seen (what a) big struggle/fight I hold over you, and (over) the (one)s in Laodicea, and as (many) as have not looked (on) my face in the flesh, (so) that their hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted], being lifted together in love…” (2:1-2a)

Paul’s labor and suffering (i.e. his struggle) is related specifically to the believers in Colosse, Laodicea, and elsewhere in Asia Minor. Before examining 2:2-3 again a bit more closely, it will be helpful to consider the structure of the preceding exordium (1:3-23), since it establishes the key themes of the letter, and leads into the narration (cf. especially the transitus [transition] in v. 23). After the thanksgiving in vv. 3-8, the remainder of the introduction functions as a statement (and exposition) of the causa, or reason/purpose of the letter (vv. 9-23). It is comprised of two sentences in Greek, the first of which is extremely long and developed, spanning 12 verses (vv. 9-20). The theme of knowledge again is central to the purpose of the letter: “…that you might be filled (with) the (true) knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension” (v. 9b). This first sentence emphasizes the person of Christ, as the chain of (relative) pronouns and prepositional phrases makes clear in impressive fashion. This complex syntax is generally lost in translation, but it is important to be aware of how it functions. The knowledge (e)pi/gwsi$) mentioned in verse 9 is clarified in v. 10 as “the knowledge of God“, that is, of an intimate knowledge and awareness of Him. In verse 12, the character and work of God is applied more closely to believers with the use of the term “Father”, which is the reference point for the syntactical chain that follows in vv. 13ff:

  • “…to the Father…”
    • who [o%$] rescued us out of the authority of darkness and making us stand together (away from there and) into the kingdom of the Son of His love”
      • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”
      • who [o%$] is the image of the invisible God…”

This chain continues on, emphasizing: (a) the Son as head/first of all creation [vv. 15b-17], (b) the head of the Church [v. 18], and finally (c) embodying the fullness of all [v. 19]. Verse 20 summarizes the saving work of Christ, which is the theme of the second sentence (vv. 21-23). When looking at the specific wording and structure of 2:2-3, there are two verses from the first sentence of the exordium which ought to be examined especially for comparison—v. 9 and 14. This I will do in the next daily note.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Part 3 – Revelation

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According to the basic outlines of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought, because human beings are trapped within the evil (material) world of sin and darkness, it is necessary for a divinely appointed savior-figure to bring knowledge of salvation. In customary theological language, we would refer to this as divine revelation—that is, something made known specially to believers by God Himself. In the New Testament, there are a number of specific words and concepts which refer to revelation, of which I list the three most important here:

  • gnwri/zw (gnœrízœ), “make known”—this verb is derived from ginw/skw (“know)”, on which see Part 1 of this series.
  • fai/nw (phaínœ) and fanero/w (phaneróœ), “shine, make (to) shine (forth)”, specifically of light, but often figuratively in the sense of “appear, be/make visible, (make) manifest/apparent”—this includes a variety of compound and derived words.
  • a)pokalu/ptw (apokaly¡ptœ), “take (the) cover from, uncover”.

Each of these carries a different image or nuance, and will be discussed in turn. Following this, I will discuss two distinctly Christian aspects of revelation which are vital for a proper understanding of the relationship between knowledge and salvation (cf. Part 2): (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the person of Christ.

gnwri/zw (“make known”)

This verb occurs 25 times in the New Testament, primarily in the Pauline Letters (18 times). It refers to the aspect of revelation which is directly connected with knowledge. Before one can know something, it first has to be made known by some means, all the more so when dealing with divine and heavenly matters. The verb is rare in the Gospels and Acts, but it occurs in two important contexts which are seminal to the Gospel message, and which specifically frame the (Lukan) narrative:

  • The Birth of Jesus:
    Lk 2:15—God makes it known to the shepherds through an Angelic announcement
    Lk 2:17—The shepherds, in turn, make the news known to others
  • The Resurrection of Jesus:
    In Acts 2:28, Psalm 16:11 is applied to Jesus—”you have made known to me the ways of life

Elsewhere, in Paul’s letters, the verb is used more precisely in reference to the proclamation of the Gospel; two key passages in Romans express this in slightly different ways:

  • Romans 9:22-23—God has worked to make known: his power (v. 22), and the riches of his glory/mercy (v. 23). The eschatological (Judgment) setting here reflects a two-fold aspect of the Gospel which Paul expresses more directly in 1 Cor 1:18ff and 2 Cor 2:14-4:6—the Gospel for those perishing and for those being saved.
  • Romans 16:26—the secret hidden by God is uncovered (cf. below) and made known, through the Scriptures (Prophets), and, by implication, the proclamation of the Gospel (in which the Scriptures are interpreted).

In Col 1:27 and also Eph 1:9, the verb is again used in a similar context. Paul himself, as an appointed, authoritative minister of the Gospel, is said to make known this “secret” of the Gospel—cf. Eph 3:3, 5, 10; 6:19. The verb becomes part of Paul’s rhetorical and didactic approach in his letters:

Similarly, in 2 Peter 1:16, the apostles are described as eye-witnesses making known the power and presence of Christ. In the Gospel of John (15:15; 17:26), it is Jesus (the Son) who has made God the Father known to his followers (cf. the recent notes on Jn 8:32 and 17:3), who (like the Lukan shepherds) will do so in turn for others.

fai/nw, fanero/w, etc (“shine [forth]”)

The verbs fai/nw and fanero/w are related to the word fw=$ (“light”), and are often used (figuratively) to refer to revelation under the image of shining forth light. This motif goes back to Old Testament tradition, including the creation narrative (Gen 1:3ff), the Exodus narrative (Exod 10:23; 13:21), the priestly blessing (Num 6:25), and frequently of God in the Psalms, Wisdom literature, and Prophets. God’s word is described as light in Psalm 119:105, 130, and light is associated with God’s salvation for his people in Ps 27:1; Isa 9:2; 49:6; 60:1ff; Mic 7:8-9, etc. This Old Testament imagery was applied to Jesus in the Gospel tradition—cf. Luke 1:79; 2:30-32 (Isa 49:6; 52:10); and Matt 4:16 (Isa 9:2). Christ is the light (or sun) shining on those in darkness; by implication, the message of Christ (the Gospel) is also to be understood as light shining in the same way. Light is an especially important motif in the Gospel of John, where Christ (the Son and living Word) is identified with the divine, eternal light, and where there is a strong (dualistic) contrast between light and darkness—Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 5:35; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, etc.

fai/nw, e)pifai/nw, e)pifanei/a

Here we have the straightforward image of light (or the sun, etc) shining; the compound forms with e)pi specifically refer to light shining upon someone or something. In its more concrete sense, fai/nw is used in the Gospel for the appearance of a heavenly being (Angel), especially in the context of the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:20; 2:7ff) and at the resurrection (Mark 16:9). Similarly, it is used of the end-time heavenly appearance of the “Son of Man” (Matt 24:27, 30), while the compound a)nafai/nw refers to the eschatological appearance of the Kingdom of God in Luke 19:11. For the appearance of a wondrous, miraculous event in general, cf. Matt 9:33. Throughout the New Testament, these words tend to be used in a metaphorical, figurative sense in several primary ways:

In Rom 7:13, the verb is used (uniquely) in the sense of gaining knowledge and awareness of sin; while in Titus 2:11 and 3:4, the compound e)pifai/nw refers more abstractly (in Pauline language) to salvation coming through the appearance of the grace and love of God, the person and work of Christ being understood. The related noun e)pifanei/a came to be used specifically for Christ’s future appearance on earth (i.e. his return)—2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Tit 2:13. Eventually, it was used in early Christianity as a technical term for the incarnation of Christ (i.e. his first appearance), suggested already in 2 Tim 1:10.

fanero/w, etc

The verb fanero/w more properly means “make (light) to shine forth”, i.e. “make visible, cause to appear, make manifest”. It is frequently used in a revelatory sense in the New Testament—that is, of something coming to be made visible, or made known, by God. For the general sense of making known something secret or hidden, cf. Mark 4:22 par; Eph 5:13-14; in the Gospel tradition, there are the notable reference to the so-called “Messianic secret”, whereby Jesus wishes to keep his identity (as Anointed One and Son of God) from being made known publicly, until after the resurrection (Mk 3:12; Matt 12:16; cf. also Jn 7:10). For the verb fanero/w, and the related words fanero/$ and fane/rwsi$, we can isolate the same three ways it is applied in the New Testament as mentioned above for fai/nw, etc:

Somewhat unique is the idea of natural revelation expressed in Rom 1:19—that is, of the knowledge of God which is evident in creation, but which humankind, in bondage to sin, cannot truly recognize.

Other words

There are a number of other similar verbs and terms which describe revelation in terms of light, vision, seeing, etc. The most significant will be mentioned briefly here:

  • fwti/zw (“give light”) and la/mpw (“give a beam [of light]”), which are related to the words fw=$ and lampa/$ (cf. also lu/xno$) respectively [to distinguish between these, verses with la/mpw or its compound forms are marked by an asterisk (*)]. These words can refer:
    • To the heavenly appearance of God, Christ and Angels (Lk 2:9*; Acts 12:7*; Rev 18:1; 21:23; 22:5); with which we should include the transfiguration scene (Matt 17:2*), and the future appearance of the Son of Man in Lk 17:24*.
    • Figuratively, in a theological/christological sense, to Jesus as light (Jn 1:9); for other light-references in John, cf. above.
    • To the revelation of God/Christ in the Gospel, with its proclamation (Eph 3:9; 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 10:32); cf. especially 2 Cor 4:4-6 (which uses both verbs) and my earlier note.
    • To the heart, etc., being enlightened by God (1 Cor 4:5; Eph 1:18; Heb 6:4)
    • To the shining forth of believers (and their works), cf. Matt 5:15-16*; 13:43*
  • e)mfani/zw (“shine forth in”)—there are two important references to this compound verb which are relevant here:
    • John 14:21-22—of Christ’s manifestation in/to the believer
    • Heb 9:24—of Christ’s appearance in heaven before God
  • o)pta/nomai (lit. “look with, use the eyes”, “perceive, see”)—the (aorist) passive of this verb is used frequently for something that comes to be seen, i.e. made visible to the eye, especially in the case of a divine/heavenly being, such as an Angel or the resurrected Christ. Of the many references, cf. Mk 9:24 par; Lk 1:11; 24:34; Acts 9:17; 13:31; 1 Cor 15:5-8; 1 Tim 3:16. The future form can also be used in the context of a promise to see the heavenly/divine (cf. Jn 11:40), and several occurrences are significant in connection with the Gospel message (Matt 28:7, 10; Lk 3:6). Note also the important use of the verb in John 3:36 and Rom 15:21.

a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover”)

This verb literally means “take the cover (away) from”, and represents the third aspect of revelation to be discussed in this article—that of uncovering something hidden or secret. I have dealt with the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament in an earlier series of notes, which ought to be consulted, since the passages are relevant to the idea being discussed here. For the verb and the related noun (a)poka/luyi$), we may isolate the way they are used in the New Testament as follows (passages with the noun are marked by an asterisk):

The Gospel and Christian Identity

Careful study of the references cited above, will show, as I have demonstrated in several places, that there are three main aspects or strands which relate to the idea of revelation, and which may be labeled as follows:

  1. The proclamation of the Gospel
  2. The person of Christ, and
  3. The religious identity of believers in Christ

The last of these is closest to a gnostic point of view—that is, of our religious (Christian) identity being defined in terms of knowledge and revelation. However, it is in the first two aspects that any aberrant or exaggerated gnostic tendency is checked. These two points require a bit more explanation:

(a) The proclamation of the Gospel

A large percentage of the passages listed above are connected to some degree with knowledge and revelation that is expressed and determined by the proclamation of the Gospel. This especially the case in the Pauline letters, where salvation is directly connected to the Gospel message (and its proclamation)—cf. 2 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 1:21; 9:14-23; 15:2; Gal 1:6-9; Rom 1:16-17; 10:14-21; 15:18-20. I have discussed the important passages 1 Cor 1:18ff and 2 Cor 2:14-4:6 in earlier notes. Paul had a very definite sense of what the Gospel was, and what it was not (cf. Gal 1:7-9ff), and, especially, how it could be distorted or rendered ineffective in its proclamation (1 Cor 1:17; 2:1-5). For early Christians, it was unquestionably the death of Christ (and his subsequent resurrection/exaltation) which was the central element of the proclamation (Acts 2:23; 3:13-15; 4:10, 26-28; 5:30, etc). In Paul’s letters, one may say that the crucifixion (the cross) of Christ receives even greater prominence. In 1 Cor 1:18 the Gospel message is referred to specifically as “the account [i.e. word] of the cross”. It is just at this point—the death and crucifixion of Christ—that many Gnostics struggled with the Gospel, as Paul surely would have predicted. He understood well the difficulty of this message, for Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) alike (cf. Gal 3:10-13; 5:11; 6:12, etc). In 1 Cor 1:18ff, he sets up a direct contrast between the cross (as an expression of the wisdom of God) and the wisdom of the world—that is, of human wisdom, which includes religious knowledge and wisdom, apart from Christ. Moreover, in several places, Paul centers the (Christian) religious identity of believers squarely on the death and crucifixion of Christ. This is expressed most powerfully in Gal 2:19-20; 6:14-15, and also in the baptismal symbolism of Rom 6:3-11, as well as in other key passages (cf. Rom 8:3-4; Col 2:11-15).

(b) The person of Christ

The centrality of Christ in the New Testament and early Christian thought scarcely requires comment. However, believers often struggled (and continue to struggle) with exactly how one is to understand: (1) the special (divine) nature of Christ, and (2) the believer’s relationship to him. We may look to the Pauline and Johannine writings for powerful and distinctive teaching on both counts. Interestingly, both branches of early theology (and Christology) have a number of key points in common.

  • The parallel concept of believers being “in Christ” and Christ being in the believer
  • Both express the idea of believers in Christ as reflecting a “new birth” or “new creation”, including the expression “sons/children of God”, “sons of light”, etc
  • Both give strong emphasis to the role of the Spirit as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers, and the point of union with God in Christ
  • Christ is seen as manifesting and embodying the character and nature of God—his love, truth, righteousness, power, etc.

This will be discussed further in Part 4 of this series, as well as in a separate article discussing knowledge and revelation in the Gospel of John.

Note of the Day – October 29 (John 17:3)

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John 17:3 (continued)

In the previous daily note, I looked at the statement of John 17:3 in the context of the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. Today, I will be examining the statement itself in a bit more detail.

“And this is the Life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life]—that they should know you the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

This is clearly connected with Jesus’ words in verse 2, though the precise relationship is not absolutely certain (cf. the discussion in the prior note):

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

Verse 3 explains and defines what this “eternal life” is. The word zwh/ (“life”) appears frequently in the Gospel of John, and usually denotes eternal life—that is, the divine or spiritual life which God the Father possesses (with the Son) and which is, and will be, granted to faithful believers in Christ. The specific expression “life of the Age[s]” makes the meaning clear (Jn 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50); the very expression has a definite eschatological orientation—the life believers will enter/inherit at the end, in the “Age to Come”. Life (zwh/) appears most frequently, as a key-word, in the discourse of 5:17-47 (esp. vv. 24-29, 39-40) and in the “Bread of Life” discourse of chapter 6 (11 times). In the language of the Johannine discourses, to have or receive life is a primary idiom for salvation, since the specific words “save, saving, salvation” (sw|/zw and related words) are not commonly used in the Gospel and letters of John. This means that there is a definite soteriological significance to Jn 17:3. Eternal life—i.e. salvation—is defined specifically in terms of knowledge: “that they should know [ginw/skwsin]…”

While knowledge and salvation are often connected in various ways in the New Testament, as I have discussed in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, such a direct and explicit association is extremely rare. It sounds extremely “gnostic” in orientation—salvation in terms of knowledge (gnw=si$). Let us first consider the precise object of this knowledge in verse 3, which is two-fold:

  • “you”, i.e. God the Father—YHWH the Creator, according to the Old Testament Scriptures and Israelite religious tradition, specifically that He is:
    —”the on(ly) [mo/no$] true [a)lhqino/$] God”, which is, of course, a central tenet of Yahwist/Israelite monotheism (cf. Exod 34:6; Isa 37:20, etc)
  • “Yeshua (the) Anointed”—that is, Jesus identified by the title “Anointed (One)” (Messiah, Christ); for more on this title as applied to Jesus, cf. the articles of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“. Here, too, something specific is involved:
    —”the (one) whom you se(n)t forth”; the verb a)poste/llw (“set forth from”) appears frequently in John, used of Jesus, including 7 times within chapter 17

Thus, in addition to (correct) knowledge of the true God of (Israelite) monotheism, believers are given knowledge of Jesus as the Anointed One who has come from God. While there is certainly a tinge of orthodoxy to this statement, it should not be limited to that sense. Indeed, in terms of the actual words (and thrust) of Jesus’ prayer, we are better informed by the terminology of vv. 6, 11-12, 26, where there are four important references to the name (o&noma) of God the Father; there is a clear symmetry present in the passage:

  • “I have shone forth [e)fane/rwsa] your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world” (v. 6)
    —”keep/guard them in your name which you have given to me” (v. 11)
    ——”that they might be one, even as we (are)”
    —”I kept/guarded them in your name which you have given to me” (v. 12)
  • “I made known [gnwri/zw] your name to them…” (v. 26)

(On the use of these two verbs fanero/w and gnwri/zw to signify divine revelation, cf. Part 3 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”)

Now, the name of God in the Old Testament and Israelite religion, strictly speaking, is the name represented by the four letters (tetragrammaton) hwhy [YHWH], originally vocalized something like Yahweh. However, Jesus is not referring here to giving his followers the simple factual information about this name, such as one might read in a Semitics textbook, or even as presented in Exod 3:13-14. In the ancient world, a person’s name was thought to reflect and encapsulate the essence, nature and character of that person, in a manner quite foreign to our way of thinking today. To “know” a person’s name meant effectively the same thing as knowing the person. There was a quasi-magical aspect to the name—speaking it allowed one to access the reality and the person behind the name. In Old Testament/Israelite religious tradition, this underlies the expression of “calling” on the name of YHWH (cf. Acts 2:21 & Rom 10:13, citing Joel 2:32). In order to speak a name, one must first know it, and what it represents. Jesus makes known to his followers the name (o&noma) of God the Father, which means making the Father (Himself) known to them. In Gospel tradition, Jesus is associated with Psalm 118:26 as the one who comes to the people “in the name of the Lord (YHWH)” (cf. John 12:13 par)—from the standpoint of Jesus in the Gospel of John, this means one who comes from the Father, the “Son” who reflects the character of his Father and who reproduces His words and actions. In early Christian tradition, the “name of the Lord (YHWH)” merged and became transformed into “the name of the Lord (Jesus)”; the declaration in Joel 2:32 thus carries a double-meaning (cf. Acts 8:16; 9:28; 19:5; 1 Cor 5:4; 6:11; Col 3:17; James 5:14, etc).

In John 17:11-12, this name is described by Jesus as “the name which you have given to me”. This can be understood two ways—first, in the sense that God the Father has given it to him (as the word/lo/go$) so that Jesus can make it known to his followers. However, as part of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven following the resurrection—expressed in Gospel tradition in terms of his coming to be seated at the “right hand” of God—Jesus himself was identified as the Lord, as indicated above. In Philippians 2:9, we have the famous declaration (a kind of credal statement):

“Therefore God even/also lifted him high over (all) and granted to him the name (that is) over every name…”

Almost certainly this name given to Jesus is not “Jesus” but the very name of God (YHWH), probably understood and expressed by the title Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) which was often used to render hwhy (YHWH) in Greek. This is significant due to the close relationship, and unity, between Father and Son presented in the Gospel of John—a theme which runs through all of chapter 17. The Son kept watch over his followers, the believers, guarding them in the name which the Father gave to him (v. 12). Now, as Jesus is about to depart from earth (and return to the Father), he asks the Father Himself to guard believers in that name. According to the Johannine context of chapters 14-16, this should be understood in terms of the (coming) presence of the Spirit. This idea of keeping close watch reflects the sense of intimacy and unity which is unquestionably an aspect of “knowledge” in the Gospel of John.