Book Review (part 13: The Christology of John’s Prologue) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

the-born-of-jesus-christ-art-2We have finally arrived to what many readers have been eagerly expecting. In this post I will summarize Dunn’s reading of John’s Prologue in regard to its christological contribution (as argued in his newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek). I figured today is as good a day as any to discuss logos theology. Much of what Dunn articulates in this section (ch. 43.1) is an expansion of his explanation in his Christology in the MakingI was pleased that he was able to gather further evidence to clarify and expand upon his initial argument.

Dunn begins by noting that ‘the word of God’ within the minds of religious Jews would have called to mind a variety of nuances. It would have drawn attention to the creative word used in the Genesis creation (Gen. 1:3, 6-7, etc.). The Psalmist picks this up and expressed it in Ps. 33:6. This very word also accomplishes all that God purposes according to Isa. 55:11. In the mind of Greeks the logos denotes the divine reasons permeating the created order. It also was an achievable measure of ‘reason’ to which each person could assent. With this in mind, Dunn correctly notes how both Jews and Greeks would have initially understood the first few verses of John 1:

when John continued, ‘The logos was with God and was God, both sets of listeners would find this unexceptional. For the logos was God’s own thought and utterance. And John’s further claim that ‘All things came into being through (the logos)’ would similarly accord with the presuppositions of most of his audiences.

For Dunn, the logos is not a preexistent Son of God, but rather the very utterance of God with all of its creative and reasonable echoes.

When it comes to John 1:18 Dunn argues that the theme that ‘Jesus reveals the God whom no one has seen’ is further observed in the Father-Son statements like, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9; cf. 8:19 and 12:45). In other words,

Jesus is the self-expression of God.

Additionally, the disputed textual part of John 1:18 regarding the “unique God/Son” is given a lengthy footnote where C.K. Barrett stated in his commentary on John that although monogenes means ‘only of its kind’ when paired with the relationship of the Father then it can hardly mean anything other than only begotten son (and one who is begotten is one who has come into existence).

Dunn’s argument continues by insisting that the Johannine prologue could be more accurately described as Wisdom christology. He cites these parallels and echoes upon which the prologue drew:

  • 1:1 – Wisd. 9:9; Prov. 8:23, 27, 30
  • 1:3 – Prov. 3:19
  • 1:4 – Prov. 8:35; Bar. 4:2
  • 1:5 –  Wisd. 7:29-30
  • 1:11 – Wisd. 9:10; Bar. 3:37; 1 Enoch 42:2
  • 1:14 – Sir. 24:8

To further demonstrate the link between the poetic word and wisdom, Dunn cites Wisd. 9:1-2, “O God…who made all things by your word and by your wisdom you founded humankind.” Furthermore, it is noted that in Jesus,

the creative, revelatory, redemptive Word had come to humankind, that the divine Wisdom had made God known…

The depiction of Jesus as the embodiment of wisdom is not limited to the prologue, as Dunn notes the links between poetic passages describing lady Wisdom (in Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Proverbs, and Job) and many other passages in John’s Gospel. In particular, he sees Jesus as the fulfillment of a variety of wisdom sayings in John 1:38-39; 2:6-10; 3:13; 3:16-17; 4:10, 14; 6:30-58; 7:25-36; 8:12-30; 8:58; 10:1-18; 11:17-44; 12:44-50.

Finally, Dunn takes a swipe at those who read the christology of John through the lens of Nicea. This quote deserves to be cited in full,

It is only when the early church’s Logos christology is supplanted by the Son christology of Nicaea, and the Son christology becomes detached from the Logos christology that the issue of personal relationships within the Godhead arises and talk of ‘subordination’ becomes necessary to maintain balance within the by then much-refined monotheism of the Fathers.

Let me know what you think of Dunn’s view of the christology exhibited in John’s Gospel. Subscribe for further updates.



29 thoughts on “Book Review (part 13: The Christology of John’s Prologue) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

  1. With Ps33:6 irregardless of Gen1, seems pretty straight-forward. Not sure I would mix the wisdom metaphors into the Logos – seems different – though not unintelligible.

    1. I have continued to reflect on Dustin’s use of Wisdom in creation in conjunction with Jesus and creation. Initially I understood that Dustin was more or less seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Wisdom in Creation – which is what I objected to. However, it may be that Dustin is simply noting that there were figures of speech/ways of looking at the big picture which allowed “other entities” so to speak to be involved in creation – and just as a picture of Wisdom might be seen in reference to creation – so Jesus Himself might be seen in reference to creation. In this sense, I find the analogy to be somewhat attractive and possibly productive.

  2. Does Dunn not re-affirm his other conclusion from Christology in the Making (?), i.e. that:

    “…in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is presented as fully conscious of enjoying a relation of sonship to God prior to his existence on earth — of having pre-existed as the divine Son of God from eternity…”

    While Dunn is no Simon Gathercole, he doesn’t deny that John teaches real (as opposed to ideal) preexistence.

    ~Sean Garrigan

    1. Geez – a personal pre-incarnate state? Really???

      That is pretty weak – I would have a hard time taking anyone seriously who used John as a basis for such an strange conception.

      1. Sean – well as to my respect – and after observing what is “of the making of books there is no end” by this guy I find that admittedly like so many “scholars” he is simply muttering about idle speculations with endless genealogies and seemingly has what we might say of intestinal disorders of “the mouth”.. I want to say “Jesus Christ” followed by “Have mercy on us”.

        Regardless – there may be a tid-bit here or there for the unlearned. And despite that – compared to the garbage that comes out of the pit of American evangelicalism, well… God has called me to think upon that which is pure so I won’t continue.

      2. @Greg Logan: Well, as I say, you’re welcome to your opinion about Dunn. From my perspective he is one of the most interesting scholars out there, whose arguments often inspire deep reflection followed sometimes by inner conflict and rejection and sometimes by extreme satisfaction and alacritous assent.

        Ironically, it was Dunn, who, although himself a Trinitarian, helped me realize that the popular trinitarian understanding of various texts is historically impossible. You can get a snippet of what I mean, here:

  3. Does Dunn have anything to say about Philo’s Logos theology in relation the the prologue of John? (I haven’t read the book myself :(, hopefully will soon though).

      1. Interesting, I wonder why that is, it seems to me that the language of the prologue, and seems to resemble Philo’s logos schema more that the whole personifies wisdom theology, although that might certainly be part of the background to both. I don’t know why Philo is somehow less Jewish, yes he is influenced by Plato, but Judaism was always influenced or shaped by outside cultures, even if it was in an explicit rejection of those cultures.

      2. Philo deliberately set out to interpret Torah through the lens of Hellenism. It was his conscious agenda. I think the overlap of ‘word’ and ‘wisdom’ personifications is exhibited in the citation of Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-2 (where the two themes are offered I’m synonymous parallelism).

      3. I think the starting point should be what association would the original intended reader presumably make, not what association is closer to some authentic Judaism. I just think the similarity of language between Philo and John would have been noticed by anyone familiar with Philo’s thinking (or that style of theology) and so should be taken more seriously.

    1. @Roman,

      I think Michael Marlowe put it well:

      “My own opinion is that the contemporary Hellenistic understanding of logos in theological contexts (esp. in Philo) should not be discounted by those who wish to understand John’s meaning. The contrasts between Philo and John, which the scholars here want to emphasize, should not obscure the fact that John is using a word which was already full of meaning for Jewish readers in his day. When he asserts that the logos became flesh he is indeed saying something that was never dreamt of by Philo or the Greek philosophers; but in all other respects it is their logos — the cosmic Mediator between God and the world, who is the personification of God’s Truth and Wisdom — that John is referring to when he asserts that Christ is its incarnation.”


      1. It is certainly poetic, but to what extent such poetic language is mere metaphor seems quite open to speculation. Much of it seems to line up with popular understandings of Christ. For example, the Logos being pantodynamos lines up with those who see Revelation 1:8 as referring to Christ as pantokrator. The Logos coming off the throne lines up with the belief that the Son, too, can sit on the throne of God. The Logos coming from heaven to earth, as a man, lines up with beliefs about the Incarnation. The Logos standing on earth while touching heaven has an almost dyophysite ring to it (a la the view held by some that Colossians 1:16-17 implies that even while the Son was cradled in His mother’s arms, He was creating and sustaining stars at the far reaches of the universe). The command which is a sharp sword reads like Hebrews 4:12.

    1. Rev 1:8 definitely does not refer to Jesus – in fact it is kind of a goofy vs sitting there all by its lonesome. Regardless it is clear who it is referring to by the previous vs – I think v4 – obviously Jehovah.

      1. col1:16-17 does not refer to the genesis creation, it refers to the second creation the kingdom of god. you would to show the thrones or rulerships or principalities or authorities that were created in genesis when there was only Adam and Eve. also how was the genesis creation and the created IN him. as for preexistence you would have to discard all the promises Yahweh made to David and that the throne would be given to the lineage of solomon.

      2. JP – I am at loss as to how your response relates to the comment of mine that you are referencing. My comment relates to Rev1 – your response relates to Col1:15, 16, etc.

  4. One of the things that occurs to me while reading gospel of John is that it seems to me there is at least two sources for it. One an original source (similar to synoptics) which begins with baptism of Jesus where Jesus is portrayed as if he is the Messiah and has events similar to the synoptics. Then a second source (probably one of ‘logos’ theologians) adding on to it the Prologue and interpolating in between the original work, events where Jesus is having extensive interactions with his interlocutors speaking as if he is Word incarnate. Just like in Proverbs, it is written what wisdom would say if she could speak as a person. Maybe I am wrong.

  5. Dustin,
    I enjoy your blog. I am just beginning to do some reading on Dunn and the concept of pre-existence. Didn’t he say somewhere that the Gospel of John does express the notion of the Logos as a pre-existent divine being, not as notional or ideal pre-existence? is he back-tracking here? Thanks for considering my question! Peace!

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