“And Wisdom Became Flesh” – How the Gospel of John depicts Jesus as the incarnation of Lady Wisdom

Having already noted the theology in both Proverbs and Sirach which depicts the personified Lady Wisdom as embodied in human figures (i.e., the ideal wife and Simon the High Priest), I have observed the same trend within the Gospel of John. In fact, the connections between Jewish literature describing Lady Wisdom and Jesus within John are far greater in number than the connections in Proverbs and Sirach (and I might not have even found all of them).

The primary conclusion of this evidence suggests that if the Gospel of John repeatedly depicted Jesus Christ as the embodiment and incarnation of Lady Wisdom, which itself is a personification rather than a literal person alongside Yahweh, then this is a strong indicator that the Fourth Gospel is not thinking in terms of Jesus consciously existing prior to his birth. Furthermore, if Logos and Wisdom were understood as synonymous terms (as Wis 9:1-2 suggests), then the theology of Jesus as the incarnation of Lady Wisdom needs to be read in conjunction with the prologue (John 1:1-18).

Incarnational Theology within the Book of Sirach (i.e., How Lady Wisdom Became Flesh in the High Priest Simon)

As a follow up to last week’s video on the Incarnation of Lady Wisdom in the Ideal Woman of Proverbs 31, I have set forth data which I feel points to the conclusion that the Book of Sirach also depicts a human being as the embodiment of God’s personified wise interaction with creation. In short, Sirach 24 offers a picture of Lady Wisdom in rich poetry, and that poetry is used later in the same book to describe the historical High Priest Simon, using the same Greek words in the process! Furthermore, I note how the language of Sirach was picked up by the Prologue of John in order to depict Jesus in the same terms and theology. Since Lady Wisdom is a clear personification (rather than a actual person alongside Yahweh), then this example in Sirach sheds some much needed light on how John 1:1-14 should be responsibly interpreted.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.



Book Review (part 19: The Christology of the Gospel of John) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

John-AugustIt cannot go without saying that the apostle John’s lasting influence for the development of Christianity was utterly significant, despite his seemingly minor role depicted within the Gospel narratives. In this nineteenth post of my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will sketch out the argument which depicts what many feel is the most controversial christology in the New Testament Gospels and how it affected the developing Jesus traditions within the second century CE (sections 49.1-3). Indeed, Dunn admits that the role of ‘John’ proved to be one of the most powerful influences in the making of Christianity, particularly when compared to James, Paul, and Peter.

The discussion begins by noting that the Gospel of John can surely be traced back to Jesus’ mission, notably to eyewitness and ear-witness testimony. John was able to draw upon personal knowledge of such features as the initial mission of John the Baptist, the early recruitment of the Baptist’s disciples, and the Judaean mission. These are traditions which possess a high degree of historicity which the Synoptics evangelists, who understandably wanted to mark the distinction between the Baptist and Jesus rather than the overlap, chose not to employ. For Dunn, the Gospel of John utilizes traditions which were authentic rather than legendary in character.

Mislabeling-the-Word-of-GodThe ‘Jewishness’ of John is subsequently argued at length. Dunn notes that the claim in John 20:31, “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,” is central to the claim of John’s Gospel. Jesus’ messiahship was rooted in the Jewish expectation of the messiah and built upon distinctive Jewish themes. The title ‘Son of God’ culminated from the typical commissioning of a prophet and the ‘Son of Man’ was reminiscent of Jewish reflections of the human figure in Dan. 7:13-14. Furthermore, the portrayal of Jesus in terms of Wisdom and Word was used with language which would resonate meaningfully and favorably in Jewish ears. On this point Dunn cites John Ashton who observes that Jesus’ claims “are made from within the Jewish tradition and cannot be explained in any other way.” All of these points indicate that there exists within the Gospel of John a sustained strategy to present Jesus as the one who fulfilled Israel’s hopes which surpassed the alternatives like Moses, the Torah, and the prophet.

Unfortunately, John’s evangelistic strategy was not very successful in winning his fellow Jews. Many of the Jewish authorities in his region had put believers in Jesus out of the synagogues. John had hoped that there would be persons similar to Nicodemus (John 3) and the blind man (John 9) who believed secretly and needed to step out in faith and confess their belief. Dunn rightly points out that the dispute between John’s use of Logos theology and Judaism is a dispute, in effect, is still not finally resolved. However, since John was firmly rooted in the Judaism of his time, he “would have denied that he was ignoring or breaching the boundaries which defined Israel’s heritage” (p. 762).

John is to be viewed, in a sense, as a distinctive contributor. The methodological reminder to ‘Let John be John’ is stated from the beginning as a reminder to approach John on his own terms (despite the evidence that it intends to be in continuity with Jewish theology). Four particular subheadings are given: The Incarnate Word, The Son Sent and the Son of Man Descended, The Revealer, and John’s Christology in Gnostic Perspective.


1. The Incarnate Word

Dunn begins this section by declaring that it is not enough to point out the Wisdom and Logos language upon which John drew. What needs to be insisted upon is that the Logos/Wisdom had ‘become flesh.’ In order to drive home his point, Dunn contrasts this assertion from what he regards are less-qualified answers to the significance of John 1:14. For the Logos/Wisdom was not:

  • simply manifest in poetic metaphor to describe divine action;
  • as symbolized in the character of Israel’s heroes and heroines (as in Philo);
  • just as a casual visitor like an angelic character in human appearance.

Rather, the Logos/Wisdom became flesh, i.e., a human being who had lived a full life from birth to death. Although John regards the Logos as having been with God from the beginning and which was God (John 1:1) he did not attempt to downplay what the Logos had become: “that which is born of flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). The ‘Logos becoming flesh’ is not predicated upon the  extrabiblical Prayer of Joseph, a work which Dunn notes is describing a way of glorifying Israel in the person of its eponymous patriarch (p. 765 n.29). While the later Gnostics attempted to explain the gap between the creator and the creation with a lengthy series of aeons John instead chose to bridge the gap with the single step of the ‘Word becoming flesh.’


2. The Son Sent and the Son of Man Descended

The incarnate Logos had become the Son of God, a son who is the Father’s only begotten son (1:14). John 1:18 furthermore indicates that this only-begotten one, who is in the Father’s close embrace, has made him known. This, for Dunn, indicates that the incarnate Word is a revelatory figure of the Father. In other words, ‘Son of God’ in John is not simply a person who is favored by God, but is the one who acted as the Father’s plenipotentiary in the fullest sense. For Dunn, the repeated assertion that the Son has descended from heaven is an indicator of a commissioning (cf. John the Baptist being sent from God – John 1:6). Therefore, the verses describing ‘descending’ and ‘ascending’ (3:13; 6:62) seems to be directed against the characterization of the patriarch and prophets as those who in effect ascended into heaven to hear what God said. The opening of heavenly reality gives an opportunity for Jesus to communicate to those on earth who are ready to receive it.


3. The Revealer

Dunn notes that which had already been observed by Bultman that in John’s Gospel Jesus is the revealer, “but all that he reveals is that he is the revealer!” For John Jesus has revealed God, the Son has revealed the Father, and the uttered Word has revealed the one who uttered the word. In all of this, Dunn rightly reminds us that,

Jesus as the incarnate Word and Wisdom fulfills that role previously filled in Second Temple reflection on Word and Wisdom — not least their role as revealers (p. 768).

The Fourth Gospel presents the theme that Jesus is the closely-related revealer of the Father (in the fullest sense of the words):

  • No one has seen God, but Jesus has made God known (1:18);
  • “Whoever sees me seed him who sent me” (12:45)
  • “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9)
  • Jesus and the Father are one (10:30)

Dunn note the corollaries with the statuses of such figures as Moses and Mohammed, but insists that Jesus as the one who fully reveals God is at the heart of John’s Gospel. Along the same lines, Dunn makes sure that his readers are still ‘Letting John be John’ by remarking that,

it should not be assumed that in his talk of the Son’s dependence of the Father (as in 5.19), John was already caught up in the later debates about the relationships of the two persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Son (p. 768).

This insistence was a needed stress in light of many readers of John reading post-biblical ideas back into the Fourth Gospel’s distinctively Jewish presentation of Jesus as the revelatory expression of God’s Logos/Wisdom.


4. John’s Christology in Gnostic Perspective

In a stroke of bad luck, the presentation of Jesus as the Son sent from the Father had striking parallels with the later Gnostic Redeemer myth. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls helped scholars in the twentieth century to observe that the dualism of light and darkness in the Gospel of John possessed contemporary Jewish parallels rather than owing its origin to a so-called pre-Christian Gnostic Redeemer myth. Nevertheless, John was well on its way to being portrayed in Gnostic terms, as confirmed by its popularity with the Valentinians. Many of the Nag Hammadi documents were strongly influenced by John’s Gospel (and its distinctive prologue).

However, Dunn rightly points out that the Valentinian exegesis of John, expressed by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Hippolytus, recoils from taking seriously the Logos ‘becoming flesh.’ “Rather they bring to their reading of the prologue the assumption that the divine realm is much more complex than Jewish monotheism allowed…” After citing many of the specific examples of Gnostic interpretations, Dunn concludes that Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria were right to claim that the Gnostics abused John’s Gospel.


cross_mosaicIn his concluding thoughts Dunn traces the trajectory of the Johannine writings on into the second century, noting that its christology provided “the basis for the Logos christology which the Apologists took up in their own philosophical way” (p. 799). Two of the big take-aways from Dunn’s sustained argument are that: (1) John needs to be properly situated in its Jewish context (with all the attached messianic expectations), and (2) the christology of John began to be abused and confused from an early period in the second century. It is not altogether surprising how these two points are related to each other.

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Book Review (part 17: How the Gospel of John Contributed to the Parting of the Ways) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

In the seventeenth post regarding my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek  I will draw out a particularly fascinating discussion on how the Fourth Gospel contributed (and in what sense) to the ‘Parting of the Ways’ between Judaism and Christianity (section 46).

The-Breakup_0Dunn outlines this chapter by first discussing how the terms ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity are unhelpful terms because they are not defined and distinguished entities during this period of inquiry. He moves on to note some of the early strains between the followers of Jesus and their Jewish counterparts, such as the death of the Messiah, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, and the lynching of Stephen in Acts 7. Furthermore, Rome’s involvement certainly caused ripples between the two groups with the destruction of the temple (70 CE), the fiscus Judaicus, and the revolts in 115-117 and 132-135 CE. During this time Judaism was being refined with the slow emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and the fading away of other sects (Essenes, Sadducees, etc.).  Four NT documents (Matthew, Acts, John, and Hebrews) are likewise examined to see in what sense do they depict the conflicts between Jews and early Christians. Finally, Dunn notes the writings of the second century Apologists, Church Fathers, and others to observe how the tone has changed during their time periods. This entire chapter is a gold mine of excellent historical data and should be required reading for Church History students (who rarely get exposed to the developments between the first and second centuries CE).

I will now move to interacting with Dunn’s section on how the Gospel of John contributed to the ‘Parting of the Ways’ between what eventually came to be known as Judaism and Christianity. The section (46.5c) notes how the GJohn apparently goes out of its way to argue how traditional Jewish icons are now passé in light of the coming of Christ (temple to body, purification water into wine, Jacob’s well into living water, manna from heaven to bread of life, etc.). These themes seem to indicate that GJohn invites its readers (especially the Jews of its time) to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and visions.

It is in GJohn that ‘the Jews’ are the designated antagonists, regularly hostile to Jesus. In John 8:39-44 Jesus defines them as “children of the devil” rather than children of Abraham. This sharply distinguishes ‘the Jews’ from Jesus and his followers (who are also Jewish). It seems, after a closer examination, that ‘the Jews’ most likely refers to the Jewish authorities, in contrast to even the neutral crowds and common folk observing the dialogues of Jesus and his opponents.

IMG_1352Of particular interest is the phrase coined by GJohn aposynagogos, “expelled from the synagogue.” In John 9:22 the parents of the blind man refuse to stand up for their own son in fear of ‘the Jews’ who threatened to put out of the synagogue anyone who confessed Jesus as Messiah. The next reference is in 12:42 where many of the rulers believed in Jesus, but did not publicly confess him for fear of the Pharisees, lest they be put out of the synagogue. The third and final reference is in 16:2 where Jesus warns that his disciples should expect to be kicked out of the synagogue. It has been common in Gospel of John scholarship to suggest that the blessing against the heretics (known as the birat ha-minim) had already been pronounced by the post-70 rabbinical authorities and that this pronouncement in synagogues explains the social situation exhibited in John 9:22; 12:42; and 16:2. Dunn argues that this suggestion is problematic and unable to be sustained historically principally because the reference to the Christians within this blessing  was likely a later addition. Dunn concludes, nevertheless, that the three references to synagogue-expulsion indicate that the pressures towards the parting of the ways was instigated on the side of Judaism rather than Christians.

The other relevant feature in GJohn is the objection on the side of Judaism that claims being made of Jesus by his followers were a threat to God’s unity. Dunn cites John 5:18 (‘the Jews’ seek to kill Jesus because he was calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God) and 10:30-31 (‘the Jews’ pick up stones to stone Jesus in response to the statement, “I and the Father are one”). In the Synoptic Gospels there appears to be no fierce reaction from the Jewish authorities quite like John 5:18 and 10:31. Dunn notes that the question of why these claims about Jesus were not made prior to the year 70 CE has not been sufficiently asked. The solution seems to be that John’s understanding of Jesus is best explained through the lens of God sending an authorized agent who bears the name and privileges of God himself.  Or, in the words of Dunn,

…much of John’s christology can be best seen in the context of late Second Temple Jewish reflection on divine epiphanies and divine agency.

Dunn goes on to note some of the particular christological points in GJohn. Of interest are these bullet points:

  • The Wisdom/Logos christology of John 1:1-18 is essentially a part of the Wisdom theology of Lady Wisdom traditions exhibited in Prov. 8; Sirach 24; and Baruch 3-4. Philo’s Logos theology is also influential;
  • John 3:13 seems to be a direct rebuttal of other Jewish claims to heavenly journeys and apocalyptic visions (only Jesus is the designated revealer of God);
  • The Son of Man ascending/descending in 3:13 and 6:62 is an extension of reflection on Dan. 7:13-14, a reflection in which 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra also were taking part;
  • The motif of Jesus as the one whom God “sent” sounds like the theme of God sending a prophet, but transcends both the prophet and the kingly figures;
  • The “I am” statements and other claims like John 8:58 “would not ring oddly to anyone familiar with the ‘I’ claims of Wisdom.”

John’s christology was not foreign to the Judaism of the period, argues Dunn. It seems that it was the claim that Jesus was God’s authorized agent, likened to God’s Wisdom, which was the factor provoking the post-70 CE rabbis to regard these Christ-followers as heretics (the minim). Dunn notes that the Gospel of John did not finalize this split, pointing to the second-century christological controversies which continued to bring definition to Christianity and Judaism which were both attempting to define each other over and against the other.

In sum, the Gospel of John indicates that the rabbis expelling Christians from the synagogue in a disagreement as to whether Jesus really was God’s authorized and empowered Messiah, and that the Johannine community indicates that this schism was well under way at the end of the first century CE.

What do you think of Dunn’s reconstruction? Be sure to ‘like,’ share, and subscribe for further updates!


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.

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Book Review (part 8: The Apologists as Sources) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

earlychurchThis post is a continuation of my recap/summary of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek. In chapter 40 Dunn is outlining the sources regarding the second century data, an important period for the development of early Christianity. In this section (40.2) the Apologists are identified, many of whom I was not introduced to in my undergraduate and graduate history courses. An ‘apologist’ was someone attempting to give a reasoned defense of their faith (although Dunn is correct to note that Christians were not the first apologists, pointing correctly to the works of Philo). I will attempt to summarize Dunn’s outline of these various sources.



-Quadratus is regarded as the first Christian to write an apology

-Eusebius writes that Quadratus addressed a treatise to the emperor Hadrian around 125 CE

-Only part of this document was cited by Eusebius (HE 4.3.2)

-The quote notes how some of the beneficiaries of Jesus’ miracles, particularly his healings and resurrections, have survived to Quadratus’ time



-Aristides likewise penned an apology to the emperor Hadrian (according to Eusebius HE 4.3.3)

-However, a Syriac translation of Aristides was uncovered in 1889, noting that the apology was written to Caesar Titus Hadrianus Antonius (the adopted son of the former Hadrian)

-Some scholars think that the Syrian translation possibly revised the apology to Antonius from the former recipient, Hadrian

-The document notes how Christians are regarding themselves as a distinct species or genus within the Mediterranean world


The Kerygma Petrou

-Preserved in a few fragments by Clement of Alexandria

-Promotes the oneness of God

-Dated to the first three decades of the second century CE

-Clement thought it was an authentic writing of Peter, but it was questioned (rightly) by Origen


The Epistle to Diognetus

-No one is really sure who the author is, but this did not stop the early Christians from guessing

-A very polished piece of literature, written with a high standard of rhetoric

-The dating is unsure, but somewhere in the second century is as far as as Dunn is willing to venture a guess


Justin Martyr (someone should start a blog with a pun of this guy here)

-The most significant of the second-century apologists

-Justin is from Samaria

-Enjoyed the writings of Plato

-Justin functioned as a philosopher first and as a Christian second

-There are conflicting reports of Justin’s death

-Wrote two apologies, the first around the year 155 and the second around 161

-Wrote a mock dialogue with a fictional Jew names Trypho, although the material for the document certainly represents some of the attitudes between Jews and Christians during that time

-Parts of Justin’s writings include what scholars now identify as spurious letters reportedly written by Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius



-A disciple of Justin (converted in Rome)

-Irenaeus, however, calls Tatian a false teacher (adv. Haer. 1.28.1)

-Wrote his Address to the Greeks  between 155-165

-Tatian further develops the ‘Logos theology’ which he inherited from Justin

-His Diatessaron was a harmony of the four Gospels into one document

-This document was the standard Gospel text in Syriac-speaking churches till the fifth century



-Bishop of Hierapolis

-Wrote his apology around 176, addressed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius

-Eusebius remarks that Apollinarius battled against the Montanists

-None of Apollinarius’ writings have survived, unfortunately



-Wrote his Plea for the Christians to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus around 176-177maxresdefault

-His writings demonstrate the nature of persecution suffered by Christians in his time

-Also wrote an extensive treatise On the Resurrection, arguing against the perspectives of Greek thoughts on immortality

-Eusebius, interestingly, does not mention Athenagoras


Theophilus of Antioch

-Bishop of Antioch

-Served from 170 to the early 180s

-Eusebius notes that Theophilus wrote against Marcion, but it is his apology to Autolycus which survives to this day

-The first Christian to use the word ‘trinity’ in his writings, but he defines is as God, his Word, and his Wisdom (something modern Trinitarians would dispute)


Melito of Sardis

-Bishop of Sardis

-Wrote his Peri Pascha around the third quarter of the second century

-Wrote that Christ ‘is by nature both God and man’

-Regards Christ as the one who cared for Israel in the wilderness

-Possessed no discernible ‘Logos’ theology

-Some scholars regard Melito as a naive docetic.



What do you guys think? Anything interesting about the various apologists of the second century CE? I know I learned a thing or two about the various expressions of Christianity during this period, and have even become acquainted with some new faces.

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Review of Bart Ehrman’s book ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 10 – Johannine Prologue)

In today’s review of Ehrman’s new book on christology, I will examine his arguments regarding the Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18). One of Ehrman’s primary theses is that the Synoptic Gospels have a low christology while the Fourth Gospel as, in his words, “an extremely high Christology.” One gets the sense that Ehrman is trying to push the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel in mutually exclusive directions based on how it (key word) might be interpreted. He shoots off a catena of proof texts from the Fourth Gospel in order to make his point. This may have the affect of overwhelming the unsuspecting reader, but I will attempt in this post to look closely at his arguments, in particular, regarding John 1:1-18.

Logos-is-the-greek-word-for-reason-or-for-wordOn page 273 Ehrman claims that the Johannine Prologue describes Christ as “a preexistent divine being–the Word–who has become human.” He goes on to remark that the “Logos in Greek–was sometimes understood to be a divine hypostasis, as aspect of God that came to be thought as its own distinct being…separate and distinct.” I will come right out and state that I think that this is a gross misreading of the evidence, particularly, the Jewish background regarding the Logos/Wisdom of God. One only has to look at the texts which almost certainly influenced the writer of the Fourth Gospel in order to get a sense of what he means when he uses the Logos in his Prologue. Consider the following passages:

 Yet these things You have concealed in Your heart; I know that this is with You. (Job 10:13)

For He performs what is appointed for me, And many such decrees are with Him. (Job 23:14)

What is with the Almighty I will not conceal. (Job 27:11)

We note here that in the book of Job, one of the more poetic parts of the Hebrew Bible, God’s decrees are “with Him.” This is very similar to John 1:1 where the Word was with God. Job is best understood as saying that, when God’s decrees are “with Him”, that his plans are in his mind and a part of his divine purpose. Other passages say a similar thing:

My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you. (Prov. 2:1)

Proverbs, another highly poetic book in the Hebrew Bible, likewise speaks of words being within a person. They are decrees and commandments which are treasured within someone. Certainly this language is not to be taken literally, as if words literally exist inside of a person’s body.

And Wisdom is with you, who knows your works (Wisd. of Sol. 9:9)

All wisdom is from the Lord and is with Him forever. (Sirach 1:1)

The intertestamental literature, which are both full of poetry, follow the lead of the wisdom material located in the Hebrew Bible by describing God’s wisdom as being with God. This is not saying that wisdom, although highly personified, is an actual female figure alongside God. Rather, this is a metaphorical way of expression God’s wise intentions and interactions with His people, i.e., God acting wisely with creation.

So when we get to John 1:1 where the Logos was with God, I contend that these parallel passages should be given more weight in the interpretive process. The Logos, which is certainly personified in the fullest extent in the Prologue, was with God in the same way that God’s plans, decrees, and wisdom were with Him.  This suggests that the Logos is not a separate person alongside God, but rather a way of talking about God’s utterance which is certainly involved in creation. Consider the following passages and ask yourself whether they speak of a separate entity alongside God or not:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. (Ps. 33:6)

To Him who made the heavens with understanding. (Ps. 136:5)

The LORD by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the deeps were broken up. (Prov. 3:19-20 cf. 24:3-4)

By his knowledge everything shall come into existence, and all that does not exist he establishes with his calculations and nothing is done outside of him. (1 QS 11:11, tr. Garcia Martinez)

By the knowledge of the Lord they were distinguished, and he appointed the different seasons and festivals. (Sirach. 33:8, my translation)

O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word. (Wisd. of Sol. 9:1)

Worship the God of heaven, who causes the rain and the dew to descend on the earth and does everything upon the earth, and has created everything by his word. (Jubilees 12:4)

Wisdom being his mother, through whom the universe arrived at creation. (Philo, Fug. 109)

Wisdom, by means of which the universe was brought to completion. (Philo, Det. Pot. 54)

In these passages, all from within poetical wisdom literature. God creates things with his word/wisdom. This is a way of portraying God has having a powerful word, a word which speaks things into creation. It also portrays God as acting wisely within his creation, using his own wisdom in the ordering of the cosmos. James D. G. Dunn’s assessment of the evidence is striking:

“Prior to v.14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of Wisdom and Logos, the same language and ideas that we find in the Wisdom tradition and in Philo, where, as we have seen, we are dealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than individual divine beings as such. The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine Logos as ‘he’ throughout the poem. But if we   translated logos as ‘God’s utterance’ instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the Logos in vv.1-13 to be thought of as a personal being. In other words, the revolutionary significance of v.14 may well be that it marks not only the transition in the thought of the poem from preexistence to incarnation, but also the transition from impersonal personification to actual person.” –Christology in the Making, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 243, emphasis his.

What must be stated here, with emphasis, is that the word (Logos) and wisdom in these passages are not separate divine beings or hypostases alongside God. That would be to take the poetical writings and read them too literally and woodenly. And this, I contend, is what Ehrman (among others) has done with John 1. He sees the Logos and argues, implicitly, that this must be read literally rather than within the discourse of poetic wisdom literature wherein God’s word and wisdom is personified in acts of creation. A personification is not the same things as a distinct person. When Psalm 85:10-11 personifies righteousness and peace, are we to think that the psalmist is regarding them as hypostates or distinct persons? Or when the arm of YHWH is personified in Isa. 51:9 and described in feminine terms, is that arm now a distinct person alongside YHWH? Or maybe when repentance is personified in Jos. and Asenath 15:7-8 we should add him to the divine court of beings. Not likely, I suggest.

John 1 is best read as the personified Logos, which is active in creation and fully expressive of God, eventually becomes embodied in the human Jesus. Therefore Jesus speaks the very words of God (one of the primary motifs in the Fourth Gospel). He is God’s mouthpiece. If the Logos is properly understood in light of all the wisdom literature cited above, then John 1:1-18 does not indicate that Jesus literally existed as a preexistent being, as Ehrman argues.

An Interview with James McGrath (part 4)

This is the fourth installment of my recent interview with James McGrath.


Dustin: We have textual variants which we, honestly, do not know for certain which goes back to the original pen of the author, such as John 1:18. Now I learned Greek with a modern pronunciation, so when I say μονογενὴς θεὸς I hope you can understand what I am trying to convey. Anyway, this verse has the well-known variant which seems to either be μονογενὴς θεὸς, “uniquely begotten God,” or μονογενὴς υἱὸς, “uniquely begotten son.” We are all taught in textual criticism to go for the more difficult reading. I am thinking here, however, if it originally was μονογενὴς υἱὸς, like the other characteristic Johannine constructions in John 3:16, 18, etc., then I could see a reason why scribes would want to tamper with the noun ‘son’ and change it to a more exalted title ‘God.’ I can certainly see that as a possibility. I can also make an argument that μονογενὴς θεὸς was the more difficult reading and scribes had a tendency to make the difficult things conform to the more traditional lines, such as in John 3:16. Yet some of the manuscripts with the ‘God’ variant are focused in a particular geographical area, suggesting a localized change, perhaps. I do wonder what in the world “the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father” actually means. If that was the real reading, what is John trying to convey to his original readers? That is the closest thing to two gods that you could get. I also wonder if in the word μονογενὴς, “only begotten.” has a sense of the act of creation, perhaps the uniquely-created God/son. Is this a distant acknowledgement to the virgin birth tradition which is independently attested in Matthew and Luke? 

JM: I have seen a strong linguistic case and of course there is a blurring of the distinction in modern English because ancients were not always consistent in their spelling. So the same is true with ancient Greek. They way it is spelled, it does seem to not come from ‘genao’ but from ‘genos,’ “one of a kind, unique” rather than “only begotten.” Although the term has resonances with the Abraham story [Gen. 22] but there too only begotten doesn’t fit Isaac. “Unique, special, or one of a kind” works better there.

Even so, “one of a kind God who is the bosom of the Father” would be very puzzling. I think a bigger question is, who is being referred to in that way? Can we figure out why the terminology is being used? What would it have meant? My own view, which may or may not be right, is that there is this parallel between the opening and the closing of the prologue.

Dustin: I know you can build a chiasm with the eighteen verses there.

JM: Yes. Is there entire thing about the human being Jesus? Is there a transition from the preexistent word to the human person Jesus, and if so, where? Is it chronological or do things jump around. If it is telling a story in a way that flows with a chronology, them presumably the ending is the Jesus exalted and at the Father’s right hand. And so, the author may be using this parallel to justify that, answering how can Jesus have that status. It is because he is the incarnation of the word.

But what does it mean to call Jesus “God?” There is this whole history with Philo calling Moses “God to Pharaoh.” There was certainly a broader use of calling people “god” in the ancient world.

Dustin: Absolutely.

JM: So whether it is “only begotten” or “one of a kind” or “one of a kind God” or even “one of a kind (comma) God,” it is not clear that we can sort those out grammatically. It really comes down to what we think the author meant. And to answer those questions we need to dive into the whole thing and attempt to situate the prologue into that. Either way, the author is basically tracing the story that leads up the exaltation of Jesus by connecting it with the pivotal moment of the prologue when the word became flesh. We do need to reflect more on the relationship between the preexistent word with the human being Jesus.

Dustin: I would again like to take a stab at that, if you don’t mind. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the prologue over the years. You have “in the beginning was the word” with its resonances with the Septuagint of Gen. 1:1. This evokes images of God speaking, vayomer elohim, and bring creation into being with his creative speech. John takes this up with the personified Logos, which is translated as a “him.” It could be translated “it” but if the Logos is a personified noun then perhaps John intended it to be a personified “him” in the same way that we have traditions with personified Sophia/wisdom as a “she” in Proverbs 8 and Wisdom of Solomon 6. In Sirach 24 we see that God’s Torah comes and tabernacles among the people. John is arguably drawing upon all of these strands within the cultural milieu, which unfortunately people who pick up the Gospel of John today aren’t aware of.

JM: Yeah.

Dustin: Unfortunately, the ignorance at this point on the part of modern readers, whether willingly or unwillingly, means that we aren’t quite in the same mindset that John was. So God’s personified speech creates things, it has life, etc. Now when I speak, my heart is coming across to you. So when God speaks, his words are a reflection of his inner being, his own self. So when John 1:1c says kai theos en o logos, it is not exactly equating 1:1 God and the Logos. Emphatically, it is kai theos.

JM: Yes.

Dustin: At this point, theos without the article can be adjectival. Some translations use “divine,” or “what God was, the word was.” So God’s Logos is fully expressive of God. That is my best translation at this point.

JM: [nods] Mmmhmm.   

Dustin: And then God’s creative word gets embodied in the human Jesus. Now some people think that this is the first time this has even been said in literature. However, Philo has two instances where he describes Moses as the “en-soul-ment” of Torah. Well then John goes on to say that the Law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus. If Moses is the embodiment of the law then Jesus is the embodiment of God’s creative utterance. And the rest of the Gospel has Jesus saying pretty much nothing but “the words that I speak, they are eternal life, they aren’t my own words, but rather they came from God himself, I’m not speaking of myself, I’m only speaking of what God says.” That is basically the summary of John’s Gospel.

JM: Yeah. Another really important study is C. K. Barrett’s piece which asks if John is christo-centric of theo-centric. He has this great memorable line which really gets at something that is easy to miss. Before I get to that, let me come and respond. You made a really good point that we don’t have the first century Jewish context. There is a sense in which we have, at the same time, assumptions which we are lacking from the first century as well as assumptions we bring to the text from a whole history of debates about christology which first century people didn’t have! So we might both have ignorance and extra baggage! This is worth mentioning. We lack some things that the author assumes and we have assumptions from a history of christological debates which the author wouldn’t assume.

Now coming back to Barrett, he says something along the lines of:

“it is simply intolerable to have Jesus saying ‘I am Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, and as such I do as I’m told.'”          

An Interview with James McGrath on Christology (part 1)

I was fortunate enough to meet up with Dr. James McGrath at Butler University for an interview last week. I have been a fan of his blog, Exploring Our Matrix, for many years now. His contributions to the subject of christology are John’s Apologetic Christology in the SNTSMS (2001) and The Only True God (2009). Both of these are fantastic and academically stimulating works. James worked on his doctorate under James Dunn, arguably the foremost contributor to the subject of christology alive today.

jamesOur interview was quite extensive, so I will be releasing the transcript in sections. This post is the first of many. I hope you find our exchange exciting.

Dustin: Thanks for meeting with me Dr. McGrath. Most people see the Gospel of John as something quite different than the Synoptics, suggesting that John’s christology is far elevated above Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Sometimes even scholars have argued that John’s christology is something completely different and detached from the various expressions of first century Jewish monotheism. The impression I get, with how you see the evidence therein, is that you want to encourage interpreters to look more closely at first century Jewish monotheism because John indeed fits very well within that context. You also seem to indicate that when the interpreter honestly places the Fourth Gospel within this historical context, it doesn’t quite say what many of the later Christian creeds say. A lot of these topics are fresh on my mind because we are aware that Bart Ehrman is going to release his new book describing his reconstruction of how Jesus became God (later this month). Bart has gone on record in many other publications and said that the Synoptics reveal a human Jesus while John’s Gospel promotes a different, divine Jesus. Now “divine” is such a flexible, slippery term, and I am not exactly sure everyone agrees with its meaning when it is used. I wish that it would be fleshed out further in writings, no pun intended with the “John, flesh” motif.

JM: That was a good pun, perhaps intended. I like puns, so never apologize when you make them.

Dustin: (laughs) Anyway, so in light of that introduction, would you like to speak in reference to all of that, or to where you see the current scholarly discussions going?

JM:  Yeah, and it will be interesting to see where the Bart book goes. You are probably aware that the same publisher is releasing his book and a counter book around the same time, so it will be interesting. They are getting the best of both markets, presumably. There is background to some of the scholarly conclusions I came to which might be worth fleshing out. (I should also mention that there will be a panel at SBL on Bart’s book and that I was invited to be on it. It should be interesting, but it is worth mentioning here.) I have been influenced on my christology by James Dunn. In fact, that was the reason I wanted to study with him as my doctoral supervisor at the University of Durham for my work on John’s christology. I was also influenced by John A.T. Robinson, who is a very interesting person, who on one hand makes the argument that John could have had access to an eye witness and therefore could be early. Yet he understands the christology of that Gospel in The Priority of John.

Dustin: Yeah, I remember that book has an entire chapter dedicated to the subject of christology.

JM: In addition to Dunn’s Christology in the Making, which I wanted to fight against during my undergraduate work because of influences and my previous background which I had when reading that, I was finding that Dunn manages to persuade me on a lot of things, despite my instinct to reject and fight. But Dunn also wrote a smaller piece, which I think is less-widely read, called ‘Let John be John.’ This essay was all about not letting John be so easily blended into the Synoptics while at the same time not being blended into the later creeds. Rather, this is a work that is somewhere in between the two.

But really for me, a key shift happened in my thinking while I was a doctoral student. I had gone into my approach into the study of the Gospel of John thinking that the issue which was part of the controversy between the character of Jesus and “the Jews” was monotheism (and whether or not monotheism had been compromised). I went to a conference about chistology (I think it was called The Myriad of Christ) and Frances Young gave a presentation in which she argued that the early Christian apologists, such as Justin Martyr, were not arguing about monotheism with their Jewish contemporaries. They were arguing over whether Jesus was the Messiah, and whether certain things can be said about this man who was crucified, and things like that. But we don’t find monotheism as the topic. For me, the proverbial light came down from the sky and I suddenly said, “Maybe monotheism is not the issue in John. Maybe that is not what the fight is about.” That actually really did shape the core of my study from then on of the actual conclusions I drew in the book that I wrote on John’s Apologetic Christology. In that book I essentially argued that John is doing some creative things with christology. For instance, when Jesus says, “What if you see the Son of Man return to where he was before?” (John 6:62), or “Glorify me with the glory which I had with you…” (John 17:5), those kinds of things. Who is the “I” there? Who is speaking? Does the preexistent Word have an I? Is this the “I” of God or something separate? Is this the preexistent Son of Man? Does John think that the Son of Man is the same as the preexistent Logos? John is developing Son of Man traditions. He is developing Word/Wisdom/Spirit traditions. He is developing Jesus traditions. So when Jesus says things like that (John 6:62; 17:5) should we really understand him to be thinking “I personally preexisted”  at that point? Because certainly within later Judaism there was room for the preexisting Messiah without having the Messiah on earth remembering all kinds of things. It may be that what John is doing there is, “Well those Jews say that they have a better revealer of God in Moses, but we’ll show them because our revealer knows more than Moses.” There are multiple ways that these texts can be understood. Is this the preexistent Messiah preexisting that the Son of Man in heaven? But that raises the question of how that related to the Word, which is the personification of God’s own self, rather than a separate person.  

It is not surprising that in the time after John writes, we get every possible answer to those questions. You get everything from adoptionist readings of John to docetic readings of John. But this is a human person who is somehow united with this divine…reality. I stopped myself from saying several possible words there which would not be appropriate: ‘person,’ ‘hypostasis,’ or even ‘identity.’ I think this is the interesting thing that John A.T. Robinson points out when Jesus says that he is “a man who is telling you what he heard and saw from God.” This seems to put Jesus as a genuinely human agent who has received information and is talking about it. But then we have the Word became flesh. How do these strands fit together? I still haven’t figured that out. Does John have things in there that reflect his multifaceted Jewish heritage which he hasn’t synthesized into a coherent whole? If we want something that has no loose ends, we will have to cut some stuff out or add some stuff onto John in order to make that work.    

Stay tuned for further installments of this interview.       

Jesus as the embodiment of the Logos (John 1:14)

John 1.14 is one of the climactic exclamation points within the prologue. It is at this juncture that the personified Wisdom/logos becomes flesh and ‘tabernacles’ among humanity (Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν). Consider the following parallels with Moses and the Torah:

He (Moses) became the embodiment of the Law and also the logical divine foreknowledge. (Philo, De Moses 1.162 [αὐτὸς ἐγίνετο νόμος ἔμψυχός τε καὶ λογικὸς θεία προνοίᾳ])


So at once the king (Moses) is indeed the Law’s embodiment. (Philo, De Moses 2.4 [ὡς εὐθὺς εἶναι τὸν μὲν βασιλέα νόμον ἔμψυχον])

Important quote by James D. G. Dunn:

“Prior to v.14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of Wisdom and Logos, the same language and ideas that we find in the Wisdom tradition and in Philo, where, as we have seen, we are dealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than individual divine beings as such. The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine Logos as ‘he’ throughout the poem. But if we translated logos as ‘God’s utterance’ instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the Logos in vv.1-13 to be thought of as a personal being. In other   words, the revolutionary significance of v.14 may well be that it marks not only the transition in the thought of the poem from preexistence to incarnation, but also the transition from impersonal personification to actual person.” –Christology in the Making, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 243, emphasis his.

The Logos, Targums, “…and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Many have been confused how, in John 1:1, the Word can be with God (1:1b) and the Word can be God (1:1c). I have argued in a previous post my interpretation of John 1:1b, where I give an abundance of evidence indicating that that clause has nothing to do with Jesus being with the Father prior to his birth. In regard to John 1:1c (…and the Word was God), I suggest that a fresh look at the Jewish Targums associated with the “word” (Hebrew: ‘davar’, Aramaic: ‘memra’) helps clarify this obscure passage at the beginning of John’s Gospel. For those who are not familiar with what a targum is, see the helpful (I can’t believe I am about to give this link) article on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targum).


Now for the Targum evidence relating to John 1:1c:

Gen. 1:3 – “Let there be light, and there was light”

“…there was light according to the decree of the Word.” Targum Neofiti


Gen. 1:7, 9, 11, 15, 24, 30 – “…and it was so.”

“…and it was so according to his Word.” Targum Neofiti


Gen. 3:1 – “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.”

“….which the Word of the LORD had made.” Targum Neofiti margin


Gen. 3:8 – “And they heard the sound of the LORD God…”

“….And they heard the sound of the Word (memra)…” Palestinian Targum


Gen. 3:10 – “He said, I heard the sound of You….”

“…the sound of the Word” Targum Neofiti


Gen. 14:19 – “…Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.”

“…who by his Word created the heaven and earth.” Targum Neofiti


Gen 15:6 – “Then he believed in the LORD and it was reckoned…”

“He believed in the Word of the LORD.” Targum Onqelos

“He had faith in the Word of the LORD.” Tagrum Pseudo Jonathan

 “Abram believed in the name of the Word of the LORD.” Targum Neofiti


Exod. 6:7 – “Then I will take you for My people and I will be your God…”

“…I will be to them my Word, a redeemer God…” Targum Neofiti


Exod. 19:17 – “And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God…”

“…to meet the Word of God.” Targum Onqelos


Exod. 20:11 – “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth…”

“the Word of the LORD perfected” Targum Neofiti marginal gloss, similar comment found in Exod. 31:17


Exod. 25:22 – “There I will meet with you…”

“There I will appoint my Word…” Targum Neofiti, Pseudo Jonathan, and Onqelos


Exod. 29:45 – “I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God.”

“…and I will be to them, in my Word, a redeemer God.” Targum Neofiti


Exod. 33:22 – “…and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.”

“…I will shield you with my Word…” Targum Onqelos


Lev. 1:1 – “Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him…”

“The Word of the LORD called to Moses and the Word of the LORD spoke to him…” Targum Pseudo Jonathan



Lev. 11:45 – “…from the land of Egypt to be your God…”

“to be, in my Word, your redeemer God.” Targum Neofiti margin


Lev. 22:33 – “…from the land of Egypt to be your God…”

“to be, in my Word, your redeemer God.” Targum Neofiti


Lev. 25:38 – “I am the LORD your God…”

“I am, in my Word, the LORD your God” Targum Neofiti


Lev. 26:12 – “I will also walk among you and be your God…”

“…and be, in my Word, your God.” Targum Neofiti


Lev. 26:45 – “…in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God.”

“I might be, in my Word, their God.” Targum Neofiti


Num. 6:27 – “So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel…”

“So they shall put my name, my Word, upon the sons of Israel.” Targum Neofiti


Num. 7:89 – “…between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him.”

“…the Word spoke to him.” Targum Neofiti and Pseudo Jonathan


Num. 14:22 – “…and have not listened to My voice,”

“and have not received my Word.” Targum Onqelos and Pseudo Jonathan


Num. 15:41 – “I am the LORD your God…”

“I am, in my Word, the LORD your God.” Targum Neofiti margin


Num. 17:4 – “…in front of the testimony, where I meet with you.”

“The Word meets you.” Targum Neofiti, Pseudo Jonathan, and Onqelos


Deut. 4:24 – “the LORD your God is a consuming fire…”

“the LORD your God, his Word, is a consuming fire.” Targum Onqelos


Deut.  26:17 – “You have today declared the LORD to be your God…”

“…declared the LORD to be, in my Word, your God.” Targum Neofiti


Deut. 32:15 – “But Jeshrun grew fat and kicked, You are grown fat, thick and sleek, Then he forsook God who made him…”

“…forsook the Word of God who/which made him” Targum Neofiti


Deut. 32:18 – “…and forgot the God who gave you birth.”

“and forgot the Word of God who/which made them.” Targum Neofiti


Psalm 106:25 – “…they did not listen to the voice of the LORD.”

“they did not receive the Word of the LORD.” Targum on the Psalms


Isa. 44:24 – “…I, the LORD, am maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself…”

“I stretched out the heavens through my Word” Targum on Isaiah



Isa. 45:12 – “It is I who made the earth…”

“I, by my Word, made the earth” Targum on Isaiah


Isa. 48:13 – “Surely My hand founded the earth…”

“By my Word I founded the earth.” Targum on Isaiah


Isa. 63:5 – “…So My own arm brought salvation to Me, and My wrath upheld Me.”

“…by the Word of my pleasure I helped them.” Targum on Isaiah


Jer. 27:5 – “I have made the earth…”

“I, by my Word, made the earth” Targum on Jeremiah


In short, God’s creative word (logos) is a reflection of himself, which became embodied in the human Jesus (John 1:14). One can properly speak of the preexistence of God’s creative word, but not of the son of God. Jesus began to exist in the womb of Mary, where he was begotten (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35; John 3:16; Gal. 4:4; 1 John 5:18).

“and the Logos was with God” (John 1:1b)


John 1:1b states that “the Logos was with God.” Since the Logos is best understood as God’s creative utterance, one needs to attempt to get at what the author was trying to convey with this statement which places this very word with the one God. I have attempted to demonstrate in my previous post (see below) that the Johannine Prologue needs to be understood within its poetic framework, thereby taking seriously the metaphoric themes, such as the personification of God’s attributes. Consider the following parallels with John 1:1b,

Yet these things You have concealed in Your heart; I know that this is within You. (Job   10:13, not in the NIV)


For He performs what is appointed for me, And many such decrees are with Him. (Job 23:14, also not in the NIV)


My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you. (Prov. 2:1)


But if they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them, let them now entreat the LORD of hosts (Jer. 27:18)


And Wisdom is with you, who knows your works (Wisd. of Sol. 9:9)


All wisdom is from the Lord and is with Him forever. (Ecclus. 1:1)

It seems, therefore, that to indicate in a poetic context that one’s word is with God has nothing to do with a separate pre-existent person being in the presence of God. Rather, it more likely suggests that God’s creative utterance is near to him, in his midst, or close by. Stay tuned for further installments on the Johannine Prologue. 



Structural Analysis of John 1:1-18

There seem to be a lot of confusing attempts to get at what the author of the Fourth Gospel intended to be understood by his Prologue. Some wish to focus on the first three verses while adding v. 14 on top like the icing on the cake. Others lock horns in wrangling over what the original reading is in v.18 (god or son). 


I always impress upon my students the need to recognize what kind of document are you reading before engaging in exegesis. Based upon the structure below, it seems that the Prologue is strategically arranged in a poetic chiasm. This should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with other depictions of the personified Wisdom, such as in Prov. 8 and Wis. of Sol. 9, where poetry and metaphor abound. Consider the following:


A  The word was with God – vv. 1-2

            B  Creation through word – v. 3

                        C  Received life – v. 4-5

                                    D  John the Baptist – vv. 6-8

                                                E  Response to incarnation – vv. 9-10

                                                            F  His own, i.e. Israel – v. 11

                                                                        G  accept the Logos – v. 12a

                                                                                    H  become children of God – v. 12b

                                                                        G1  believe the Logos – v. 12c

                                                            F1  His own, i.e. believers – v. 13

                                                E1  Response to incarnation – v. 14

                                    D1  John the Baptist – v. 15

                        C1  Received grace – v. 16

            B1  Grace and truth through Jesus – v. 17

A1  Only begotten god/son with God – v. 18


It is interesting that the center of the chiasm is not v.14 (“and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us”), but rather the statement of how humans might become children of God in 1:12b.

In my view, two important conclusions can be drawn from such analysis. First, since the passage is arranged in both poetic style and chiasmic structure, the reader should avoid woodenly literal readings of the Prologue’s contents. Rather, a more nuanced and poetic interpretation might better get at what the author was attempting to convey to his readers. One should not be surprised when the Logos, God’s creative utterance, is personified with masculine pronouns, just as readers are not shocked when chokmah (Wisdom) is poetically given feminine pronouns in Prov. 8. 

Secondly, the climax of the Prologue seems to be on 1:12b, where the two segments of the chiasm come together. Since the focus seems to be on how humans might become God’s children, the reader should be alerted to this theme in further readings of the Gospel (and where the Father and Son fit in this process).   

Part 6 – Did the Early Christians Worship Jesus? book review

Dunn’s final chapter contains his concluding thoughts on his study of early Christian worship. I will take the time here to discuss his conclusions and comment with my own.

Potential dangers and problems with a too-narrowly defined worship of Jesus: Dunn is quite nice and diplomatic when he writes this critique, but anyone familiar with American Christianity will soon realize what he is trying to get across. Many Churches, Christian songs, media, and books are worthy of the critique which Dunn calls “Jesus-olatry”- which is the giving of worship to Jesus which falls short of the worship due to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dunn compares this to idolatry, where the idol (in whatever shape or form) takes the place of the one true God. Then he comes out and says it: Jesus has been substituted for God.

This is a rather stunning critique indeed, but upon further reflection (a week after finishing the book) I think that it is well founded. Too many Christians think that Christianity is all about Jesus. Two examples will hopefully get my point across. I overheard a conversation between a young Christian and Jew who were about to eat lunch. The Jew asked the Christian to make the mealtime prayer “non-specific.” The young Christian was puzzled and asked his friend, “Well, I have always prayed to Jesus, who else is there to pray to?” His Jewish friend replied. “You can pray to the Father.” The Christian responded that he has never prayed to the Father, only to Jesus. I personally wonder if this Christian has ever read the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus commanded prayers to be directed to the Father who is in heaven. Dunn makes a similar point that the Father has almost been forgotten by citing another book which makes the same point. My second example comes from a Christian song called ‘One Way’ which I believe is still on the radio. Here is a Youtube link to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lP8fHN53t0 . The chorus lyrics go like this: “One way, Jesus, You’re the only one that I could live for.” These examples, I hope, show that Dunn’s critique is very real and should be heard by all professing Christians.

Dunn’s second point deals with monotheism and the unity involved therein. He states that the evidence is fair enough to remind readers that God’s oneness is not a mathematical unity. God has revealed himself in the past through his Wisdom, Spirit, angels, and his Word, without detracting from him being the one and only God. Dunn does not say that this divides that God into something other than one (like two or three) but his point is that the one God of the Shema is that he has revealed himself in many ways, expressed his purpose and mission in different outlets and opportunities. As John 1:18 states, it was Jesus Christ who ultimately exegetes the Father to the world. Early Christians in the first century never worshipped the Holy Spirit, as he points out in a footnote.

I think I am persuaded by Dunn’s logic here, even though I agreed with his reasoning prior to reading the book. I just never came to the wording of the conclusion he has on my own. I do still see God as one, but understand his way of revealing himself in the terms of agency. Perhaps I need to nuance that and say that when God sends his angel, messenger, Spirit, prophet, king, or even Messiah out on a mission that God not only invests his authority in this agent but also his presence and identity. I think that too often Christians have confused the invested authority and titles given to these agents with the one who sent them. Nobody really thinks that Steve at your front door delivering Papa John’s Pizza really is Papa John. Steve is the agent delivering on behalf of Papa John’s. It is true in some sense to say that, “Papa John’s is at the door.” But we understand that Steve is only representing the business that sent him. Since the Ancient Near Eastern culture was fully a functionally agentival readers of the Bible need to take this area of context seriously.

This realm of agency (if that is the best way to define the concept) is used in Dunn’s closing thoughts. He states that “The only one to be worshipped is the one God.” Yet he goes on to say that hymns and petitions should still be offered to Jesus, but to the glory of God the Father. This is why Christians pray “in Jesus’ name” because prayer is offered to the heavenly Father but through Jesus Christ.

Here the direction is seems to be a vertical one, going up from the congregation to Jesus (as mediator) and then on up to the Father, God. This is not a horizontal rendering.

As for the answer to the question which brings about the title of the book, Dunn admits that it is less relevant, less important, and misleading. I agree. On the whole, early Christians reserved worship for the Father and expressed it in terms of point #3 above.

Of course, what we think of the meaning of the word ‘worship’ is much narrower that it is used in the Scriptures. The point must always be kept in mind when pursuing these topics.

Part 4: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

 In the 3rd chapter, Dunn puts away the toys and brings out the big guns, err, the theological big guns. It is by far the most complex and important chapter up to this point. Since the end of the previous chapter the driving question was forced to be revised. Therefore, Dunn seeks the consideration of the following points:

  1. Generally, what did Israel’s monotheism entail?
  2. How did the mediation of angels small and great reflect the one true God of Israel?
  3. How were God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word understood by Israel?
  4.  In what sense were select human beings spoken in terms of apotheosis?

Monotheism is summarized in the first section. Dunn reminds his readers that the Shema denoted the oneness of Israel’s God. This is similar to what we read in the first of the Ten Commandments. Dunn cites both Philo and Josephus who both report in their writings that Jews understand God to be one, even amidst their pagan neighbors. Only one God was deemed worthy of worship: the God of Israel.

That being said, Dunn points out that the noun ‘god’ does not carry only one meaning within the pages of the Hebrew Bible. Moses, acting as God’s agent, was called ‘god’ in the book of Exodus. The Davidic king (probably Solomon) who ruled on God’s behalf was called ‘god’ in Psalm 45. Even human judges, who judge in place of God, are given the title ‘god’ on a few occasions. Dunn concludes this section that even though the Shema was of central and crucial importance for Jews it was not something which restricted the use of the title ‘god’ in metaphoric or poetic fashion.

The next section deals with angels/messengers who bear messages on God’s behalf. Within the Hebrew Bible there are various accounts of these messengers not only bringing forth the word from the LORD but also carrying his name and very presence. Sometimes the narrator of these accounts seemingly switches back and forth between the voice of the messenger and the LORD himself. Dunn argues that the best way to understand these accounts is to recognize that the angel was not God as such but could be said to be God in his self-revelation. The Hebrew concept of the ‘agent bearing the authority of the one who sent him/her’ seems to be the best piece of context in bringing the meaning of these passages to light. Dunn cites Exodus, various pseudopigraphal texts, and the Dead Sea Scrolls which identify the messenger as ‘the angel of the presence’. The Apocalypse of Abraham bears an account where the angel Yahoel is spoken of having God’s very name in him. Yahoel itself seems to be a combination of YHWH and el, the divine name and the Hebrew word for ‘god’. The level of the divine presence represented by this angelic messenger is at one of the highest levels possible.

Dunn turns next to the complicated subjects of defining God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word within the Hebrew Bible, apocrypha, and pseudopigrapha. These terms were used to express God’s interaction and intervention within his creation. The Spirit of God is defined by Dunn as “a way of characterizing God’s presence and power.” It also is used as a synonym for ‘breath’, God’s ‘presence’, and God’s ‘hand’. In the 2nd Temple literature the Spirit of God seems to have taken the role of a semi-independent divine agent. Various passages in the Psalms, Proverbs, Book of Wisdom, Judith, and even 2 Baruch depict the Spirit in ways which are more poetic and independent from God. The evidence, according to Dunn, seems to be describing how the unseen and invisible God can interact in revelation, salvation, and inspiration to his creation. Also, Dunn points out that worship is never ascribed to his Spirit in any text. He concludes from this fact that Israel never understood this poetic way of describing God’s action as something “semi-independent of God.” God reveals himself and is active by means of his personal and powerful Spirit/breath.

The pursuit of wise and honorable living came to be expressed by the personification of divine Wisdom within the literature of the Jews. In the Book of Proverbs Wisdom is depicted as a lady sought after by young men. She is also seen as God’s personal companion in the poetic reconstructions of creation. This same theme is picked up in Sirach as well as the Book of Wisdom. Dunn summarizes the available evidence to argue that Wisdom should be understood as metaphorical and poetic in nature, not as an independent being from God. In both Sirach and Baruch it is ‘Torah’ which is the ultimate interpretation of Wisdom.

God’s word is the general way of depicting God in his communication and speech with his creation. The various days in the Genesis creation are opened by with God speaking them into existence. Dunn points out that over 90 percent of the occurrences of ‘the word of the LORD’ refer to inspired prophecy. God’s word also seems to at times take on a personality of its own, such as when God establishes his word, or when the word gets praised, gets trusted in, and even hoped in. Many of the poetic sections of the Bible and the post-biblical literature speak of God’s word being the means of God’s creation, such as Psalm 33:6 where the word is used synonymously with his ‘breath’. Dunn argues that these passages hardly constitute the designation of a semi-independent or hypostatic status to the word itself. He cites Philo who in his most extended discussion of God’s creative activity likens it to an architect who plans the city he is building in a blueprint. For Philo, the Logos (word) is “the archetypal idea, the overall plan that comes to material expression in creation.” In similar fashion to God’s Spirit, the divine Word/Logos of God was never worshipped, even in Philo’s writings.

What might be the most surprising part of this chapter to readers unfamiliar with the subjects and literature would be the next section Dunn tackles: that of the exaltation of select human beings within Israel’s understanding. He points out that “we need to be alert to the fact that the concept of a human person being divinized was not unfamiliar in the world as Jesus’ time.” He cites evidence of Moses, Elijah, and Enoch all being exalted into the heavens. Other literature suggests that even Adam was thought of having been exalted to a heavenly throne. Dunn states that this evidence raises the possibility within monotheistic Judaism of a great human figure being exalted to heaven as permissible.

Dunn’s next chapter will seek to take all the evidence surveyed up to this point and place the New Testament rightly within this very context. As for my own comments, these are my thoughts at the moment:

-It is interesting that within a strict monotheistic religion that human beings appointed by God can rightly be called ‘god’. What is even more interesting is that when the book of Hebrews wishes to call Jesus ‘God/god’ that it cites one of these looser passages (Heb. 1:8-9/Psalm 45:6-7).

-Angels/messengers seem to unambiguously carry the divine presence and even God’s very name in the way which can only intelligently be understood under the principle of agency.

-I’m not sure what to think of the thought of exalted human beings, but it seems that figures of importance within the Israelite religion surely were honored with exaltation and even worship at times.

-Dunn’s assessment of Wisdom, Spirit, and Word need to be taken seriously by anyone looking at this subject in relation to Christology or multiple persons of the Trinity.

-Philo in particular should be read by anyone who wishes to make any definitive statements about the interpretation of John 1:1-18, especially his De Opificio Mundi 16-44.