The Avarice, Cupidity, and Egoism of Black Friday

When Black Friday comes I’m gonna stake my claim.1

Ah, it’s that time yet again. Time when most all merchants are opening up their stores earlier and earlier in their efforts to reach further and further into your wallet and purse (avarice). A time when the collective values of US consumers are aptly illustrated by the no-holds-barred means by which the desire for and purchase of ever more things is fulfilled (cupidity). A time of self-centeredness under the guise of gift-giving, in which one must be sure to out-gift the next gift-giver, or in the buying for self in order to get the ‘best deal’ right now (egoism). A time when cupidinous shoppers succumb to the avarice of sellers to the point that they don’t consider that going to the local brick and mortar store on a day such as Thanksgiving impacts those who are reluctantly working that day (egoism).

If consumers collectively said “NO!” to shopping on a day like Thanksgiving, then the retailers would be forced to remain closed, and those formerly reluctant workers could enjoy a whole day off. I bet those workers would be thankful for that.

“To everything there is a season,” wrote Koheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes. “And a time for every purchase under heaven.” No, wait, that’s not how it goes…

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1 “Black Friday”, written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, published by American Broadcasting Music, Inc. (ASCAP) © 1975, from the band Steely Dan’s album Katy Lied, ABCD-846, © 1975 ABC Records. Admittedly, I’ve taken this quote out of context, for the lyrics seem to be describing an impending ‘Black Friday’ akin to the one that occurred on Sept. 24, 1869, in which the US stock market ‘crashed’ after rampant speculation, with the subject of this song one who knows it’s coming and is hedging his bets accordingly. However, I think the song applies tangentially to the ‘spirit of the season’, with such other lyrics as “gonna strike all the big red words from my little black book” (retailers go into the black—i.e., become profitable—from the red, i.e., deficit). More directly, I think it is quite apropos given the likelihood, as I see it, of a real impending crash due to the US economy being consumer driven—and with the concomitant mounting consumer debt—rather than production driven. The US is a net importer of goods, whereas we should be a net exporter.

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Probing the Prologue in the Gospel According to John: John 1:3-5

[See Introduction; John 1:1-2]

The earliest New Testament Greek manuscripts were written with no spaces between words and no punctuation. This could pose challenges for readers and interpreters, especially in places where it may be difficult to determine if a given word or words were meant to close one thought or, alternatively, to open another. One such issue presents itself in vs. 3-4. Does “that has been made/that which had come to be” remain with v. 3, or does it begin the thought in v. 4? While most modern English versions adopt the former, evidence from earliest church writings illustrates most preferred the latter.14 Which is correct? My opinion is that John was being purposely ambiguous, thereby allowing both to be correct.15 With this in mind, I will exegete both ways, beginning with the punctuation used in most English translations.

All Things Came into Being through the Word

In 1:3 John uses the same verb (γίνομαι, ginomai) three different times. This verb has various nuances, most under the same basic meaning of come-to-be or become. The Gospel writer will use this verb quite often, playing on its nuances as a way to self-reference previous and future uses of this same verb, and juxtaposing one nuance with another:

πάντα δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν
panta di’ autou egeneto, kai chōris autou egeneto oude hen ho gegonen
all through him came-to-be, and without him came-to-be not even one that/which has come-to-be
Through Him all things came to be, and without him not even one thing came to be that has come to be

The first clause states it positively, the second negatively to emphasize the point. The pronoun “Him” must refer to the logos, “the Word”. All things came into existence through the Word, and not one thing has come into existence apart from the Word. Panta (without the article) means all things individually in a distributive sense—animate, inanimate, the invisible realm—rather than all things collectively (which would be ta panta, itself akin to ho kosmos [see v. 10], the universe/world).16  The verb in both the first and the second clause is in the same tense-form (aorist), conveying the same meaning. The final ho gegonen is in the perfect form.  The primary meaning of the perfect here is resultative: all things that had come into being are as a result of the mediating work of the Word.

Taken together, 1:1-3 illustrates the Word’s precreation existence. The Word was, while all things (creation) came to be through the Word, thus creation ex nihilo is being described. As the mediate Agent of the creation event (not an intermediary between God and creation),17 logically, the Word’s “beginning” (1:1-2) predates creation. Also, since all things came into existence through the Word, this clearly establishes His pre-temporality, His eternality. Furthermore, that He was “in the beginning with God” establishes that the Word is co-eternal with God.

While “Wisdom” is undoubtedly a backdrop here, the description of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-30 indicates that it is not an exact parallel. In other words, “the Word” is not just another name for “Wisdom”. Proverbs 8:22 specifies that Wisdom is a created ‘being’18—the first of created things (cf. Prov. 3:19), but created nonetheless. Since the Word is uncreated, and is Agent of creation, Wisdom apparently was the Word’s first creation. However, one must keep in mind that the associated Wisdom literature in general is metaphorical, and even allegorical, so it would be precarious to take it too literally. Should we be just as cautious with “the Word” here? In other words, have we been taking an intended metaphor or allegory too far, in asserting a literal, personal “Word” alongside God (the Father)? The answer will come as we progress.

Jesus Christ, the Son also Agent of Creation?

There are other NT Scriptures which speak of an agent in creation. Since most scholars are of the opinion that John’s Gospel was written late in the first century (I agree with this assessment), it would seem reasonable to assume that the Gospel writer was aware of at least some of these texts. Moreover, if The Gospel According to John is part of sacred Scripture—and it is, of course—then we should take it as Holy Spirit inspired, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). That is, the Holy Spirit would have superintended John’s writing and likely have led him to associated Scripture to allude or refer to.

With this in mind, in First Corinthians 8:6 we find God the Father and Jesus Christ in a context about creation: “for us there is but one God, the Father, from Whom are all things [ta panta] and for Whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things [ta panta] and through Whom we exist.” Similarly, in Colossians 1:16 we find of Jesus Christ, the Son: “For in Him all things [ta panta] were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible—whether thrones or dominions, rulers or authorities—through Him and for Him all things have been created and stand created.”19 Finally, in Hebrews 1:2 it is said of the Father that “through” the Son He “made the ages”.  Obviously, there is some sort of overlap between “the Word” and Jesus Christ, the Son, for both cannot be the sole agent of creation.

But there are even more Scriptures in this vein. In John 17:5 Jesus is recorded making a request to the Father to return to the glory they shared “before the world existed”, and in 17:24 Jesus states that the Father loved Him “before the world’s foundation”.  In Revelation 3:14, John records the glorified Jesus referring to Himself as ἡ ἀρχὴ τῆς κτίσεως τοῦ θεοῦ, hē archē tēs ktiseōs tou theou, the Beginning of the creation of God, or, in better English, the Beginning of God’s creation. It could even be understood the Originator,20 or, the Ruler of God’s creation. Since Jesus of Nazareth, Christ Jesus, is verifiably a historical person, we are assured that these Scriptures just referenced are not mere allegory. Moreover, “the Word” and Jesus Christ seem in some way to be the same person; and, given this, apparently “the Word” is not allegorical.  But does this indicate Jesus Christ was and is a precreation Being? That answer will become evident a bit later in the prologue.

In Him was Life, the Light of Humanity

Continuing to v. 4:

ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων
en autō̧ zōē ēn, kai hē zōē ēn to phōs tōn anthrōpōn
in Him/it life was, and the life was the light of (the) men
In Him was life, and that life was the light of humanity

This is fairly straightforward. Like 1:1a, the initial clause places the predicate en autō̧ (dative case, indirect object) first, which means that “life” is the subject here. Thus, we could rearrange it Life was in Him.

But there are two different ways of interpreting v. 4. First, it could be understood In the Word was life, and that life, which came to exist as a result of His mediatorial work in the creation event, was the light of humankind—an allusion to Genesis 2:7. The second way it could be construed is In the Word was life, and that life was the light of humankind—light to those who come to renewed life as a result of believing in Him/His name (1:7, 12; 20:31). The verb used throughout 1:3 (γίνομαι, ginomai) is also found in 1:12, yet in the latter it means not come-to-be, as in from nothing to something, but become, as in from ‘this’ to ‘that’ (cf. 5:24—from death to life).

If one had to choose between the first or second interpretation, perhaps the latter would be a better fit, given the larger context. However, I submit that the Gospel writer fully intended both meanings. A newcomer to John’s Gospel—though one well-versed in the Tanakh (OT)—on first reading would see Genesis 1-2 here, the initial creation event, and nothing more. But a subsequent reading would reveal the deeper meaning.

Given the presence of the article before each of the nominatives (hē and to, respectively) in the second part of this statement, kai hē zōē ēn to phōs tōn anthrōpōn, it is fully convertible, in which the subject “the life” and the predicate “the light of humanity” are interchangeable (A = B / B = A). Accordingly, in the Word is “the life”, and in the Word is “the light of humanity”. As we noted earlier, Word is masculine in gender, however, life is feminine, while light is neuter. These gender distinctions will prove to be important.

While “life” is mentioned only here in the prologue—and only in 1:4 and 8:12 in conjunction with “light”—this term is a central aspect of John’s Gospel. The referent in the prologue is the Word, yet in the rest of The Gospel According to John it is most often in relation to Jesus Christ, and the majority of these instances are in regard to eternal life. Somewhat ironically and somewhat paradoxically, the One who lays down His ‘life’ (psychē) (10:11-18; 15:13) is the One who provides eternal life (zōē aiōnios)—as the Son of Man (3:14-15), the Son of God (3:16; 5:21, 24, 29, 39-40; 10:28; 12:25, 50), or as both (6:27-68)—to those who believe in His name (1:12; cf. 20:31). This eternal life is also known as “living water” (4:10-14), provided by Jesus Christ, the Messiah (4:25-26). Thus, we have another direct connection between the eternal Word and the temporal Jesus.

Somewhat similar to the way in which First (Ethiopic) Enoch is directly referenced in Jude (Jude 1:14-15 > 1 Enoch 1:9) or alluded to (Jude 1:6 > 1 Enoch 10:4, 12),21 “life” finds points of contact with extra-Biblical Wisdom literature here.22 In some of these works both Wisdom (cf. Prov. 3:18; 13:14) and Torah (cf. Deut. 4:1; 8:1) provide or personify life.23 An example of the former is in Sirach 4:12: Whoever loves [Wisdom] loves life, and those who arise early for her will be filled with joy. An example of the latter is in Sirach 17:11: [The Lord] grants them knowledge and the Law of life is distributed to them.

Baruch (aka 1 Baruch) has a self-contained Wisdom poem in 3:9—4:424 (3:12: fountain of Wisdom), in which Wisdom is to be found in the Torah, the Law that exists forever (ὁ νόμος ὁ ὑπάρχων εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ho nomos ho hyparchōn eis ton aiōna), and those embracing it will receive life (4:1). Conversely, those who forsake the Wisdom found in the Torah will die (4:1).

But are these exact parallels, or do they function as background? Or do they provide the means by which to a make a qal vachomer argument—an argument from the lesser to the greater? This will be revealed later in the prologue.

That Which Had Come to Be in Him was Life

As mentioned earlier, the grammar is ambiguous in 1:3-4 to the extent that it is possible to pair ho gegonen at the end of v. 3 with the first clause of v. 4. This is the way it was interpreted in the writings of the ante-Nicene age (before the Council of Nicea in 325 AD) and in the earliest punctuated Greek manuscripts25 (which include C and D—the earlier P66, P75, ℵ, A, and B do not contain any punctuation; the image of P75 in the Introduction is an illustration of this). An example of this interpretation is found in Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 367):

“That which was made in him was life.” That which was in him was certainly not made without him, for that which was made in him was also made through him. All things were created in him and through him . . . None of the things that were created in him was made without him, for he is the life that made their creation possible.26

Hilary seems to be emphasizing that not only were all things made through the Word, but all was made in Him (cf. first clause of Col. 1:16 [en autō̧], and last clause of Col. 1:16 [di’ autou]); that is, the Word was not an intermediary, not a mere conduit of God (cf. Col 1:16 [eis auton]).

Some specifics in the grammar of 1:3-4 need to be explained in order to engage with other possible interpretations. The relative pronoun (ho) governing gegonen is a neuter singular nominative. The pronoun in en autō̧ is a 3rd person singular masculine/neuter; in other words, the dative (indirect object) form of the personal pronoun is the same for masculine or neuter referents. Also, all finite verbs encode number and person (but not gender)—in the case of ēn (“was”) here, it is 3rd person singular. This means that in finite verbs the subject is automatically implied, though the reader must look to the context, since gender is not expressed in the verb.27 Thus, the grammar yields two additional possibilities, though the meaning is essentially the same:

That which had come to be, in Him [the Logos as dative of cause] was the life (for it).
That which had come to be, in it He [the Logos as implied subject for the verb ēn] was the life.28

Rearranging the twisted syntax into perhaps better English:

That which had come to be, (its) life was in Him.
That which had come to be, He [the Logos] was the life in it.

This interpretation understands logos as life source. Also, implied in the above, the Word is the ever-continuing cohering and sustaining power of all that exists—a parallel to Colossians 1:17 and Hebrews 1:3. Keener cites one writer who begins with kai in v. 3, taking that in conjunction with the first clause of v. 4, making this into one sentence: [and] nothing came into being without him that exists in him; he was life.29

Another variation in this vein is to understand ho gegonen is a reference to the new creation “in Him”—a narrowing down of all creation to include only those who believe in His name—such that That which had come-to-be-in-Him was life.30

One of the reasons for conjoining ho gegonen with en autō̧ zōē ēn is based, in part, on ‘staircase parallelism’. In this literary device, the predicate of the first line becomes the subject of the next, and so forth. The Gospel writer does seem to employ this device in the first five verses, thus providing evidence for taking ho gegonen with what follows it.

Early Non-Christian Interpretations

But it appears that at least some fourth and fifth century (and later) interpreters who changed to (or preferred) the punctuation which is now found in most modern translations were responding to heretics claiming it was the Holy Spirit described as “that which had been created”.31 This is possible grammatically, given the neuter singular relative pronoun preceding gegonen. Thus, one could interpret this sentence as That which had come to be [aka The Spirit], in Him [the Word] was the life (for it).  Assuming the post-Nicene punctuation was to counter this claim, this need not have been, as neither the immediate nor the larger context has the Holy Spirit in view at all, thereby rendering such an interpretation a clear example of eisegesis which is easily refutable on that basis.

However, some fourth century Arians interpreted it yet another way, by understanding that it was the Word’s “life” that had come-to-be, which would indicate that the Word had undergone a change, and thus could not be equal to the Father. But, what about that neuter relative pronoun preceding gegonen?32 This clearly refers to what is described by the verbal action earlier in v. 3 (egeneto, “came-to-be”), all things which had come through the Word. But the Arian interpretation was apparently such that egeneto meant “become” in the sense of from ‘this’ to ‘that’. With this in mind, “all things” must have been in some form prior to the Word’s creative action. Thus, through the Word’s own creative action, all things were transformed, which would include the Word Himself, who was transformed such that the result was “life in Him”. In short, when the Word was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2), the Word existed in one form; and subsequent to that, the Word underwent some sort of metamorphosis when all things came-to-be through Him, such that His form had fundamentally changed.

But just like the above in which the Holy Spirit is interpreted as the referent, one must question whether this interpretation is valid contextually. Although the Word is certainly in the immediate context, construing the Word as undergoing change seems a bit forced. For the moment, for the sake of discussion, we will grant the Arian position that v. 3 is describing a metamorphosis of what could be described as pre-creation matter (rather than creation ex nihilo). According to this view then, all things became transformed through the Word and not even one thing became transformed apart from the Word. But it seems a bit odd to think that the Agent of this metamorphosis of creation would Himself be affected by the transformation He effected. Are we to think the Word is a created entity? Is the Word really Wisdom after all—the first created thing? In 1:1-2 is the beginning referring to a pre-creation period, understood to be the foundation, which would subsequently undergo a metamorphosis in v. 3?

This all sounds very plausible until we dig a bit further. While John 17:24 records Jesus describing the love the Father had for Him before the world’s foundation, John 17:5 records Jesus request to the Father that He regain the glory they shared before the world existed. If this should fail to persuade the reader, Colossians 1:16 specifically uses κτίζω, ktizō—which means create, build—in reference to the Son’s activity in relation to “all things”. Therefore, the Word cannot be understood to be a created entity, and it stands to reason that 1:3 refers to creation ex nihilo. So, once again, if the post-Nicene punctuation arose in response to this Arian interpretation, it seems an unnecessary change.33

Modern Day Interpretations

Despite the fact that the ante-Nicene punctuation is found in the Critical Text (CT, currently the NA28/UBS5)—the Greek text upon which the modern English translations are largely based (see period/full stop after ἕν here)—the newer versions overwhelmingly depart from the CT here, placing the stop after ho gegonen, rather than before it. Below is a page showing John 1:1-5 from the 1961 The Greek New Testament specifically used for the New English Bible (NEB) translation, a version that failed to gain wide acceptance, which preferred the ante-Nicene punctuation.34

NEB John 1

Greek text for John 1:1-5 in NEB 1961

The cursive a footnote just before ἕν (hen) in v. 3 points to a footnote reference illustrating the option of putting the stop after ἕν (hen) instead—an option the NEB 1961 rejected. Here is the corresponding page in the English version:35

NEB 1961 John (2)

John 1:1-5 in NEB 1961. Photocopy courtesy Tricia Tillin at http://www.birthpangs.org

Similarly, the New Revised Standard Version uses the ante-Nicene punctuation.

But it may not be necessary to choose one over against the other. As stated above, my position is that John the Gospel writer intended ambiguity such that more than one meaning is to be derived—as opposed to can be derived. Assuming this is correct, this would be an example of intentional amphiboly, in which this section of the prologue is intentionally multi-syntactic, syntactically ambiguous. That is, given the syntax, there is more than one correct way to punctuate, yielding multiple meanings in context. In addition, the writer intended it to be poly-semantic, as in “life” here refers to all creation in a global sense, and, alongside this, “life” refers only to the new creation. Stated another way, ho gegonen is meant both to complete the thought in v. 3 (put a period after ho gegonen, as shown in this 1904 Greek text) and to begin the phrase of the first clause of v. 4 (put a full stop before ho gegonen) such that the reader can and should take it both ways, yielding more than one interpretation.36 And the staircase parallelism remains intact in the Greek—no matter how one reads or punctuates the English.37

This amphiboly provides an apt segue into the latter part of v. 4, in which the light of humanity can be understood broadly (cosmologically), as in sunlight (light for humanity), or as a narrowing down (soteriologically) to include only those who believe in His name. This then sets up the next verse.

The Light Not Mastered by the Darkness

καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
kai to phōs en tȩ̄ skotia̧ phainei, kai hē skotia auto ou katelaben.
And the light in the darkness shines, and the darkness not overcome/understand
The light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not apprehend it.

Carson calls 1:5 “a masterpiece of planned ambiguity”.38 Once again, a newcomer to John’s Gospel would likely only see the creation event of Genesis 1-2 here. But, of course, the Gospel writer intends much more than that.39

The final verb is a compound word consisting of the preposition kata and the verb lambanō. The former means down, the latter take or receive, but as with many words prefixed with a preposition, the resulting word acquires intensification and an additional nuance. Its basic definition is grasp, as in either hostile (seize) or non-hostile (secure), though, alternatively, it can carry the idea of mental grasping (perceive).40 Danker asserts that the writer in this context intends the combined “sense of grasp as seize and comprehend.”41 The translation “apprehend” above is an attempt to capture this perceived polysemy.

The tense-form of the verb translated “shines” (present active indicative) conveys ongoing activity (imperfective aspect).42 Comparatively, the tense-form of the final verb “apprehend” (aorist active indicative) describes the action as a simple bounded whole, without regard for any ongoing activity (perfective aspect).43 This is also purposed for John’s overall conception, though it becomes more obvious on subsequent readings.

On first reading, one could understand all of 1:1-5 cosmologically, such that the darkness of Genesis 1:2 would not overcome the light of Genesis 1:3. But after having read through John’s Gospel, a subsequent reading of the prologue may prompt the reader to see an allusion to Genesis 3.44 More likely, the light/darkness dichotomy exhibited throughout the Gospel will bring the reader to perceive a connection between v. 5 and vs. 10-11.45 While the Light continued and continues to shine (imperfective aspect) in order to illuminate the darkness (8:12; 9:5), the darkness chose to remain in darkness (3:19-21), failing to comprehend the true nature of the Light (11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46).46 This failure of darkness encompasses the entire temporal sphere—for all time. Those in darkness can be brought to the Light through the continuous shining of the Light, but the darkness itself remains.

In both Jewish and Greek milieus antithesis was a common rhetorical device.47 This fact likely accounts for the Gospel writer’s use of the light/darkness motif (and other dichotomies). While the writer would cease from using life in the prologue, he would continue to use the Light as a substitute for the Word.

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14 See Westcott, St. John, para 1512-1537 [ADDITIONAL NOTES on Chap. 1:3-4.]; cf. Brown, John I-XII, pp 6-7.

15 While I could not initially find confirmation for this hypothesis in any of the commentaries I consulted, I was delighted to see the following expressed in Comfort, Text and Translation Commentary: “[S]ince the prologue is poetic, it is possible that John intended ambiguity; thus, it is not a question of which reading is correct . . . ancient readers could read it either way and still make sense of it” (p 252). Amen!

16 See Harris, John, EGGNT, p 22.

17 In Revelation 4:11 the ultimate Creator of all things is the One Who sits on the Throne: ὅτι σὺ ἔκτισας τὰ πάντα, καὶ διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου ἦσαν καὶ ἐκτίσθησαν, hoti sy ektisas ta panta, kai dia to thelēma sou ēsan kai ektisthēsan, “. . . for You created all things—because of Your Will they came to exist, they were created” (my own translation, as is all Scripture throughout). Cf. Rev. 10:6; Acts 14:16.

18 The Hebrew in Proverbs 8:22 is the verb qānānı̂, which means possess, buy, or create, while the LXX (aka, Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT by Jewish scholars ca. 200BC) uses ktizō, which means create, build, found (as in “foundation”).  The word being here is in quotes because the language appears to be allegorical, not literal, with Wisdom personified (cf. Prov. 3:15-18) though not an actual person. Though some English versions apparently translate from the Hebrew (rather than the LXX), translating the verb as possess, this indicates an interpretative choice that does not necessarily mean God did not ‘acquire’ Wisdom at some point. Yet 8:23 reads (LXX): πρὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐθεμελίωσέν με ἐν ἀρχῇ, pro tou aiōnos ethemeliōsen me en archȩ̄, “before the ages I was established—in the beginning”. But the verb here means either found or establish, and in either case, the connotation is some sort of generative event (the verb in 8:25 [LXX] is “beget”). Both Keener (Gospel of John, pp 1.367-369) and Brown (John I-XII, p 522) assert that Wisdom here is a creation.

19 In Him I take as locative, rather than instrumental. See Constantine R. Campbell, Colossians and Philemon, BHGNT (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2013), p 11; cf. Murray J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon, EGGNT (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2013): “[A] . . . local sense is to be preferred. ‘All things in heaven and on earth’ were created in God’s beloved Son (v. 13), not in the sense that he was the preexistent or ideal archetype of creation but in the sense that creation occurred . . . ‘within the person of’ Christ. In his person resided the creative energy that produced all of creation . . . “(p 40). This, I think, is to be compared and contrasted with dia and eis used at the end of this verse, which clearly refer to the Son as both agent of creation and the one for whom all things were created, respectively. That is, though a human person as part of creation could not possibly have been agent of creation (thus, in Him), in some sense the Son was the agent of creation. Within the Son resided the creative power used in the creation event, yet all things have been created and stand created through Him, though also for the Son (see Harris, Colossians and Philemon, p 41). A paradox.

20 Keener, Gospel of John, specifically calls ἡ ἀρχή here, “a divine title signifying the originator of creation” (p 1.366, nt 14).

21 Thanks to Steve Delamarter’s handy A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), p 47, for providing quick reference.

22 See Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.300-301, 350-363, 367-369, 386; cf. Brown, John I-XII, pp 519-522.

23 Keener, Gospel of John, p 1.386.

24 David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), pp 198-199.

25 Westcott, St. John, paragraph 1516 [notes at end of chapter 1]. Westcott did not have P66 and P75 at the time, for these papyri were not discovered until the 1950s. While Westcott claims that A includes punctuation, both Comfort (Text and Translation Commentary, p 252) and Metzger (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/German Bible Society, 1994], p 167) claim it does not.

26 “On the Trinity 2.20,” in Joel C. Elowsky, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, IVa: John 1-10, Thomas Oden, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), p 23; emphasis in original.

27 This means that a finite verb can function as a complete sentence by itself.

28 See Bultmann, Gospel of John, pp 38-40. The verb ἦν here should be understood as inceptive.

29 Keener, Gospel of John, 1.382. Here Keener refers to an article by Peter Van Minnen: “The Punctuation of John 1:3—4”, Filologia neotestamentaria 7, no. 13 (1994): 33-41.

30 See Brown, John I-XII, p 7.

31 See Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Gospel of John, 5-1-2”, in Elowsky, p 23; cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, p 167.

32 On the surface, another possibility emerges in the grammar. Given that the earliest manuscripts did not contain any punctuation, the lone omicron (Ο, transliterated ho) could be construed as a masculine definite article (instead of a neuter relative pronoun), making the Word its antecedent. But this would be a grammatical anomaly, and highly unlikely; see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 237, 62-64.

33 While Brown, John I-XII, does not offer an opinion on this change in punctuation, both sides are briefly discussed (p 6); cf. Comfort Text and Translation Commentary, p 252. Comfort, Text and Translation Commentary, also notes that P66 does not include the en before autō̧, either by accident (ΟΓΕΓΟΝΕΝΕΝΑΥΤΩ becomes ΟΓΕΓΟΝΕΝΑΥΤΩ through homoeoteleuton—omission because a series of letters are duplicated, causing the less than careful copyist to miss the second set), or on purpose to make the text less likely to be interpreted as per the Arians. In any case, the resultant text would more clearly be understood That which has come to be by Him was life.

34 R. V. G. Tasker, ed., The Greek New Testament: Being the Text Translated in The New English Bible 1961, Edited with Introduction, Textual Notes, and Appendix (Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford UP and  Cambridge UP, 1964), p 140. Importantly, neither P66 nor P75 were available to the translation committee.

35 C. H. Dodd, ed., The New English Bible: New Testament (Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford UP and Cambridge UP, 1961). Though the NEB, in its germination stage, was initially intended to be a revision of the English Revised Version (1885—translation committee included both B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort), the committee instead decided on making a completely new Greek text from the now more widely available Greek manuscripts (and other language versions). In 1970, an update included the Apocrypha: C. H. Dodd, ed., The New English Bible with the Apocrypha (Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1970). Below is John 1:1-5, including the footnote on the division regarding the syntactical variation of 3-4:

NEB 1970 John (2)

John 1:1-5 in NEB 1970. Photocopy courtesy Tricia Tillin at http://www.birthpangs.org

36 Along with Comfort’s amenability to this stance (see note 15 above), Köstenberger (John, BECNT, p 30 nt 32) cites T. L. Brodie, The Gospel according to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary (New York: Oxford UP, 1993), as confirming the position adopted here, understanding this text “as inherently ambiguous and as being ‘part of a careful literary strategy’ designed to focus on ‘the continuity between creation and the incarnation, between creation and redemption’” (p 138). I will agree with Brodie here, except his understanding that the Incarnation is part of this context. Note that Köstenberger himself sides with most modern commentaries and most modern versions.

37 Although the majority of the committee in Metzger’s Textual Commentary preferred the ante-Nicene punctuation, Metzger himself strongly opposed it. Those of the committee in favor of the rendering explain: “[It] is in accord with what a majority regarded as the rhythmical balance of the opening verses of the Prologue, where the climactic or ‘staircase’ parallelism seems to demand that the end of one line should match the beginning of the next” (p 167). In his bracketed response, Metzger rejects staircase parallelism here as “present in only a portion of the Prologue, and may not necessarily involve ὃ γέγονεν” (pp 167-168). While Metzger is correct that this particular parallelism is not in use for the entire prologue, it does seem to be a feature of the first five verses. To further support his stance, Metzger notes that the post-Nicene punctuation which results in v. 4 beginning with ἐν αὐτῷ is characteristically Johannine, while, in a footnote, he characterizes exegesis for the ante-Nicene punctuation as exhibiting “valiant attempts . . . to bring sense out of the passage” that are yet still “intolerably clumsy and opaque” (p 168). There is also a multi-witness textual variant replacing the first ἦν (“was”) in v. 4 with ἐστίν (“is”)—universally rejected (and rightly so, I opine) by the committee (p 168)—apparently in an attempt to smooth out a perceived difficulty in the ante-Nicene rendering. However, I think that understanding ἦν as inceptive alongside its inherent imperfective aspect (ongoing activity) would work just fine (while concomitantly construing the perfect ὃ γέγονεν as both conveying entry into the resultant state of what had-come-to-be, and the resultant state itself), thereby rendering unnecessary this change in verb tense. If this verbal interpretation is viable, this would provide a counter to those amenable to Metzger’s position. Nevertheless, if John were employing amphiboly intentionally—as I contend he is—most of these sorts of discussions would be rendered moot. Certainly, it is not unusual for a poem to begin a thought at the end of one line and continue it to the next; therefore, such attempts to try to fit the punctuation (or not) to the staircase parallelism seem unnecessary.

38 Carson, Gospel, p 119.

39 Carson, Gospel, states, “it is quite possible that John, subtle writer that he is, wants his readers to see in the Word both the light of creation and the light of the redemption the Word brings in his incarnation” (p 120).

40 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 191.

41 Ibid. Emphasis in original. Cf. Keener, Gospel of John, p 1.387. Contra, e.g., Köstenberger, Encountering John, p 55, in which the author opines that “overcome” is the primary meaning, though “understand” may be ‘latent’ (my word) in the verse “in preparation of 1:10-11”.

42 See, e.g., Rodney J. Decker, Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014), pp 224-225. An example: John was writing his Gospel. This indicates a process: John’s (then) ongoing activity of writing.

43 Ibid. Example: John wrote his Gospel. While this is past time, perfective aspect can be used for present or future—any temporal sphere. A good illustration for a long period of time is Romans 5:14: Death reigned from Adam to Moses. The example in our text can be interpreted a number of ways, to include what is called gnomic, in which the time period covers all of temporal existence.

44 See Brown, John I-XII, p 8. This understanding would indicate the aorist κατέλαβεν is reflecting a one-time past event.

45 See Barrett, St. John, p 158.

46 See Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.382-387 for fuller discussion of light, including light as Wisdom and Torah; cf. Brown, John I-XII, pp 519-522.

47 Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.386-387.

 

Probing the Prologue in The Gospel According to John: John 1:1-2

[See Introduction; John 1:3-5]

As mentioned in the Introduction, we are embarking on a journey through John’s prologue. The importance of a proper understanding of these first eighteen verses of The Gospel According to John is well-reflected in the words of this writer: “The most puzzling Johannine discourse is immediately illuminated by a re-reading of the Prologue”.1

Throughout the prologue, the Gospel writer makes plentiful use of imageries. We must be careful not to press them too sharply. For example, generally, analogies are often used to help explain abstract concepts, but the intention is strictly educational, rather than to provide exact parallels. Similarly, allusions are meant to illustrate a point of contact with other passages or works—to use them as literary backdrops—not as a way of stating ‘this is that’. As Rabbi Samuel Sandmel cautioned, we must be wary of “parallelomania”:

It would seem to me to follow that, in dealing with similarities we can sometimes discover exact parallels, some with and some devoid of significance; seeming parallels which are so only imperfectly; and statements which can be called parallels only by taking them out of context.2

In addition, we must be careful not to literalize metaphors or, conversely, take something intended in a literal sense and construe it as metaphorical. For example, if I were to say that I ‘broke my back’ in doing yardwork, you’d surely not take it literally. Correctly interpreting these literary devices is not always easy, however. Moreover, sometimes the writer is purposely ambiguous, thereby intending multiple meanings.

Beginning with “In the Beginning was the Word…”

Most Christians know the first verse in John’s Gospel, probably by rote: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. However, in the New Living Translation (NLT) the first section reads a bit differently: In the beginning the Word already existed. This rendition beautifully conveys the meaning in context.

For now, let’s attempt to take a fresh look at the text without imposing any meaning upon it. No worries—I’m not setting out to challenge the historically orthodox Christian understanding. My intent is both explanatory and apologetic. There are others interpreting this verse and the entire prologue (and of course Scripture in general) a bit differently, toward different ends. Are any of these other interpretations linguistically legitimate in any way? We’ll briefly test a few as we go.

For this series we will use the following pattern for exegesis. Each section will begin with the Greek text, which will be followed by its transliteration into English (Greek letter to English letter equivalents), then a very basic ‘word-for-word’ translation (to the extent possible), and, finally, a working translation. For John 1:1, we will identify each section as 1a, 1b, and 1c. Beginning with 1a:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος3
En archȩ̄ ēn ho logos
In beginning was the logos
In the beginning was the Word

For apparent poetic purposes, the Gospel writer switched the subject (ho logos, nominative case) and the indirect object (En archȩ̄, dative case). In English this could be rendered The Word was in the beginning, which would not change the meaning one iota. But it wouldn’t be as poetic. We could even take the NLT translational idea and make this The Word existed in the beginning. However, in keeping with the poetic nature of the prologue, it seems best to retain the original order (though word order in Greek is much more flexible than English, which will be illustrated as we progress): In the beginning existed the Word. In better English: In the beginning the Word existed. This is what John’s Gospel is conveying.

Importantly, the verb used is ēn, as opposed to egeneto, “became”, “came into being” (as the Gospel writer will use in verse 3). In this “beginning” the Word already was existing. “The Word” didn’t come to be, the Word simply was. The Word existed. But what is “beginning” in reference to? The language certainly evokes the first verse in Genesis. And who or what is “the Word”? Some have suggested that “the Word” is an utterance of God. Is this position possible by the context? We’ll find out as we go further in the text.

Before going further, a few technical points need to be explained. As you can see above, logos is preceded by ὁ, ho. This is called the article. In some contexts it is roughly equal to the English definite article, “the”. Of course, English also has the indefinite article “a” or “an”. NT Greek only has one article. In Greek, nouns that are definite will many times be preceded by the article (matching the case and gender of the noun). Indefinite nouns do not have the article. Armed with this information a perceptive reader may ask, “Then why doesn’t archȩ̄ (“beginning”) have the article here”? Excellent question! It’s not uncommon for the article to be absent in prepositional phrases for definite nouns.

One other point: you may notice that one letter, ὁ, is transliterated by two—ho. This is because above the omicron (ο) is what is called the rough breathing mark. It resembles a backwards apostrophe. This indicates that the speaker should use an “h” sound before the vowel.

And the Word was with God

The writer uses the same verb (ēn) in all three sections, but with a different nuance in each. Let’s examine 1b:

καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν
kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon
and the logos was with the God
and the Word was with [the] God

With the existence of the Word established as “in the beginning” (yet to be defined ‘when’), we now find that this same entity known as “the Word” was “with God”. Here, the verb “was” (ēn) is used to indicate relationship. Of course “God” here is the same as “God” in the Old Testament (Tanakh), i.e., YHWH. Some think “God” in this context means the Trinity, though many others claim it means “God the Father”.4 Judging by the larger context and overall usage in John, and by the fact that “God” is prefaced by the article (ton) here, Harris asserts that it “could not refer to the divine essence or to the trinitarian God or to the Spirit”.5 It seems best to understand the referent as God the Father.

The word pros, a preposition, spatially illustrates “towards”, as in coming towards something or someone (see chart here). In other words, this definition applies in dynamic contexts (those indicating motion); however, the context of 1b seems best understood as static. In static contexts, when used with a direct object (ton theon, accusative case), pros carries the sense of the subject (ho logos) being positioned face-to-face toward something or someone.6 Yet when two or more persons are involved, some claim it implies communion, “in converse with”.7 In this context Danker defines it simply as a “marker of association, or relationship”, but this does not necessarily deny the implication of personal interaction of some sort.8 Importantly, this should not be pressed too far, as this specific grammatical construction does not imply reciprocity—that God is (also) ‘towards’ the Logos. Thus, and the Word was with God is the best translation. Thus, so far we have:

In the beginning the Word existed, and the Word was with God the Father

As noted earlier, some are of the opinion that, with the use of “the Word”, the Gospel writer had the idea of an ‘utterance’ by God, or, more specifically, that the ‘word of the Lord’ is in mind here—that the context of John 1:1-3 implies God ‘speaking’ in an anthropomorphic sense9 (using human language to describe functions of God, for, of course, God does not have a mouth!). But this is not viable grammatically, as the context clearly indicates two separate, distinct entities.10 A tweaking of the text could make this admissible. Adhering closely to the poetic style, it would instead need to read something like “and the logos was out of/from God” (καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν ἐκ/ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ, kai ho logos ēn ek/apo tou theou).11 But there are no such textual variants here; in fact, there are no variants whatsoever, in any extant manuscripts, for the first two verses of John’s prologue.

That’s not to say that ‘word of the Lord’ from OT usage is not necessarily part of the background. It undoubtedly is. However, the usage here is not parallel, so we cannot claim that this is the sole source, a perfect analogy, for the Gospel’s logos. A better analogy would be Wisdom (see Proverbs 8, for example). As we progress further in the prologue we will try to determine if a direct parallel for Wisdom is found.

And the Word was _________

Moving to 1c:

καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
kai theos ēn ho logos
and God was the logos
and the Word was God

This will take a bit of explaining. First, notice that ho logos is in the nominative case (subject), as it is in each preceding section, and that it is also placed after the verb, just as it is in the very first section. Next, observe that theos, “God”, is also in the nominative case, yet the article (ho) is absent. (Ho is the article in the nominative case for masculine singular nouns, while ton is the article in the accusative.) If the article had been there, this statement would be a fully convertible A = B / B= A proposition, which would mean that the logos would be the same entity as ton theon in the previous part (such that ‘and God [the Father] was the Logos’ / ‘and the Logos was God [the Father]’). This, of course, would make nonsense out of the context.

In grammatical structures such as this one, the subject nominative is differentiated from the predicate nominative (the portion to the right of the verb in English sentences similar to this one; e.g., John is the President) by the presence of the article in the one and the absence of it in the other. Since logos has the article, it is the subject nominative. Thus: and the Word was God. Since we’re certain that “the Word” is not ton theon (God [the Father]) from the previous section, then what does “God” mean here in relation to “the Word” in 1c?

The New World Translation renders it “a god”, which is grammatically admissible; however, of course, this is not theologically congruent with Scripture as a whole. We’ll discuss this more below.

Westcott provides the most succinct explanation:

The predicate (God) stands emphatically first, as in John 4:24. It is necessarily without the article (θεός not ὁ θεός) inasmuch as it describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person . . . No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word.12

To unpack Westcott’s words, first, he notes that the predicate, “God”, is emphasized by its placement at the beginning. This is also true of 1a, in which “In the beginning” is placed first. Westcott’s comparison with John 4:24 leads to his second point. In 4:24 the Greek reads πνεῦμα ὁ θεός, pneuma ho theos, spirit (the) God, God (is) spirit. The clause is verbless—not uncommon in Scripture—so, it is supplied in translation. With the presence of the article, we know “theos” is the subject, while “pneuma”, which lacks the article, is the predicate. Also, we can determine very quickly that both “a spirit” and “the spirit” are not valid translations. Simply, God is spirit; that is, God’s mode of Being is as spirit. God is a spirit Being. Similarly, “the Word” is not “a god” or “‘the’ God”—the Word’s essence, the Word’s nature, is as God, Deity.13 This is reiterated in Westcott’s last sentence.

One may contend that this should be understood as “divine” instead: and the Word was divine. While this captures the apparent qualitative emphasis the Gospel writer was aiming for, it’s too weak. The word used, theos, is a noun, while “divine” would more accurately be conveyed by the adjective theios. Thus, and the Word was (by nature) God.

So far, we have: In the beginning the Word existed, and the Word was with God the Father, and the Word was (by nature) God.

And the Word was the Agent of God?

Some strict monotheists would disagree with this, denying that “the Word” is actual Deity on par with YHWH, thus rendering 1c “and the Word was a god”, claiming this is a reference to OT usage in which the term “god” was a designation for kings or rulers acting as God’s agents. Psalm 82:6 is one example. This idea of agency, found in the Hebrew transliterated shaliaḥ (“agent”; sometimes sheliaḥ or shaliach), is analogous to a legal power of attorney (POA). The first shaliaḥ mentioned in the written Torah is Eliezer, who was sent by Abraham, though his role was limited to finding a wife for Isaac. This principle is also found in Moses, whose role was comparatively more expansive, as YHWH’s shaliaḥ. The shaliaḥ can act in place of the principal, as if s/he were the principal—in our present case “the Word” acting for God. As we will discover, this is not untrue; but, is this the entire truth?

According to those espousing this view, “the Word” is agent par excellence and can act wholly in place of God—even though He wasn’t God—to the point of having the ability to claim names associated solely with God, YHWH. Yet, in agency relationships the agent functions on behalf of the principal, and, for example, when signing documents using POA does so as agent. In other words, the agent cannot sign as the principal—the agent cannot sign the name or claim the same name as the principal, as if s/he really IS the principal. Certainly, Moses never claimed to be YHWH. However, could this be different for the Word as YHWH’s agent par excellence?

There is no precedent for this in any associated literature; and, moreover, why would one think that a mere man can act as agent for God to the extent of claiming to be God when inherently not God? In other words, how can the intrinsically not-God be God? Scripture implicitly and explicitly refuting this position will be found later, as we continue our investigation. Consequently, we’ll agree that the Word was the agent of God, yet at the same, the Word was Himself Deity, God.

Reiterating for Emphasis and Clarification

John 1:2 rephrases 1:1, but the intention is not merely to restate:

οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν
houtos ēn en archȩ̄ pros ton theon
this/he was/existed in beginning with (the) God
He was/existed in the beginning with [the] God

The astute student will quickly discern that all but the very first word have just been used in 1:1, to the extent that even the case endings are the same. But this verse is assembled a bit differently. With this rephrasing we are now assured that the “beginning” of 1a refers to the existence of the Word such that the Word existed along with God. Stated another way, this relationship between the Word (who was theos) and God existed in the beginning. That is, we are now certain that the three individual complete sentences making up the first verse are wholly integrated rather than disjointed in any way. In other words, it cannot be that in some “beginning” God existed and in another subsequent “beginning” the Word existed, whereby the Word’s existence came after God’s. No; the Word existed in the beginning with God.

Yet we still don’t have a solid reference point for “beginning”. However, that will become evident in verse (v.) 3.

In using the demonstrative pronoun (houtos, this one/He) in v. 2, any possible misunderstanding of 1c is lessened. The description of “the Word” just stated in 1c, referenced here by this pronoun—the one who was identified as theos in 1c—this one/He existed in the beginning with God. This further cements the Deity of “the Word”. Moreover, if one re-reads 1b through this clarification in v. 2, the equality between the Word and God is more clearly established: Both “the Word” and “God” were in existence during the same “beginning”.

The Word was an “it”?

Nonetheless, there are some who would still insist that the pronoun should be understood as “it”, rather than a separate personal Being. This position is such that “the Word” is merely a personification of God—despite the syntactical evidence presented above. Putting this linguistic evidence aside for the moment, it is possible to construe “the Word” as an “it” here; however, as we move forward, this position will be shown to be untenable, though this requires some grammatical explanation.

As noted earlier, the article must match the case and number of the noun it references. The same holds true for pronouns. In Greek, nouns are masculine, neuter, or feminine. The names for males are always masculine, and, similarly, the names for females are always feminine. Other nouns, however, are assigned any one of the three, irrespective of how we might think they should be gendered. The word for “spirit” (pneuma) is neuter; but, of course, Christians identify the Holy Spirit as masculine. The term for “world”, “universe” (kosmos) is masculine, while “earth”, “land” (gē) is feminine, though in English we understand each one as neuter. As we’ve found above, logos is masculine, but when the context is simply an utterance, English speakers would understand it as neuter.

With all this in mind, while associated pronouns for “the Word” must be masculine to match the gender of the noun, this does not necessarily mean the context illustrates the referent is actually masculine. That is, if ho logos or its pronouns refer to merely a word spoken or written, then we recognize it as neuter. But, if the context clearly indicates a masculine entity, then we recognize it as masculine. By carefully going through the prologue, the linguistic evidence already provided, along with additional linguistic evidence yet to be uncovered, as well as contextual factors and parallel passages, this contention for a neuter “Word” in the prologue will be refuted.

[Go to John 1:3-5]

——————————————-

1 Hooker, “John’s Prologue and the Messianic Secret,” p 45. The author consistently capitalizes “Prologue” throughout.

2 “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 81 (1962): 1-13, p 7.

3 Greek text and transliterations courtesy Accordance / OakTree Software (version 11.2.5, 2017) using Novum Testamentum Graece (New Testament in Greek), Nestle-Aland 28th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012).

4 This was covered in a footnote reference in previous CrossWise article “The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 6, Conclusion”.

5 Harris, Prepositions, p 190.

6 Porter, Stanley, E., Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. Biblical Languages: Greek 2 (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1994), pp 170, 171.

7 Harris, Prepositions, pp 190-192. Cf. Robertson, A. T., A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1934 [1914]), who claims that “John…conceives the fellowship [as face-to-face] between the Logos and God” (p 625).

8 Danker, F. W., The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009), p 301 (1.d). Cf. Abbott-Smith, G., A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1981) which defines the term here as simply referring to “of close proximity, at, by, with”, comparing this context with Matthew 13:56 [“sisters with us”] and Mark 6:3 [“sisters here with us”] (p 383).

9 E.g., Eric H. H. Chang, The Only True God: A Study of Biblical Monotheism (self-published: Xlibris, 2009), who asserts that the Aramaic Memra as used in the Targums (commentary on Scripture) is the source for logos. In these Targums, while there may be a few instances in which their use is anthropomorphic, in the majority the Memra of Adonai is instead a circumlocution for the Divine Name—a way of speaking about YHWH without using His Name (see Keener, Gospel of John, 1.349-350.). Thus, instead of stating “YHWH did…” the Targums substitute, “the Memra of Adonai did…” This, of course, means that essentially Memra of Adonai = YHWH. While neither of these represents a personification (anthropomorphisms are just shy of personifications—an example of the latter is found in Paul’s description of creation in Romans 8:18-22), there are a few Targumic texts that could possibly be construed this way, but we should question whether these few—to the extent they are personifications–represent enough to make this motif known to John’s audience.

10 Therefore, the context doesn’t allow for any of the Memra of Adonai circumlocutions for YHWH (see note 9).  Moreover, there is a lack of historical evidence to indicate that the Targums used Memra as personification in the first century (Keener, Gospel of John, 1.350) ; cf. Barrett, St. John, who calls this a “blind alley” (p 153). As we move along through the prologue other issues with Chang’s position will emerge by inference.

11 Using either of these prepositions mandates that “God” be in the genitive (hence, the different endings on the article and theos), rather than the accusative. This alternative reading, when viewed in the larger context, could also explicitly support the ‘eternal generation’ of the logos; but, as it is in Scripture—this particular context—filiation (eternal generation) is merely implicitly supportable (in other words, it isn’t refutable in this context).

12 Westcott, St. John, para 1113 [commentary on 1:1] (bold added).

13 This same construction is prevalent throughout John’s Gospel, and most times it is construed to indicate that the predicate is qualitative, as opposed to strictly definite or indefinite. Given this, and that the final clause of 5:27 contains this same predicate nominative-verb-subject nominative structure, a previous CrossWise article argued that the author’s intention was “son of man” (i.e., ‘human’) rather than “the Son of Man” in John 5:27.

Probing the Prologue in The Gospel According to John: Introduction

[Go to John 1:1-2; John 1:3-5]

At the Beginning is the Prologue

For years I’ve had a fascination with John’s Gospel. As someone who is self-learning NT (Koine) Greek, I find it helpful that the Gospel writer uses rather simple language. However, while the Greek text itself is not difficult, The Gospel According to John is resplendent in literary devices, resulting in a multi-layered document. Some of these nuances in the Greek are not self-evident in translation.

The first eighteen verses in The Gospel According to John are particularly rich in meaning and poetry. Most call John 1:1-18 the prologue, this prologue serving as an overture for what is to be found in subsequent sections of the Gospel. A brief sketch provided in this overture is later amplified in the symphony of the main text. Thus, a full comprehension of the prologue is paramount to apprehending John’s Gospel. With this in mind, I will be doing a series on these all-important first eighteen verses which begin the wonderful journey into The Gospel According to John, focusing on the Greek text and its English translation.

Before the Beginning

Like the three Synoptic Gospels, John’s Gospel has an inscription preceding the Gospel proper. Since the original NT writers did not usually include titles, these inscriptions were not necessarily part of the original text but became part of scribal tradition. In the newest Critical Text—the NT text recognized as most likely original (UBS5/NA28)—is the word ΚΑΤΑ (in majuscule [akin to capital letters], as found in the earliest manuscripts; in miniscule as κατα in later manuscripts) followed by the name associated with the Gospel: ΚΑΤΑ __________. This means simply, “According to __________”. However, this rendering has been based on the evidence found in only two early manuscripts, while there are quite a few later manuscripts that provide a fuller inscriptio—using John’s Gospel as an example, ευαγγελιον κατα Ιωαννην, euangeliov kata Iōannēn, Gospel According to John. Overall, I might be inclined to agree to exclude “Gospel”, except for the fact that in the 1950s two important manuscripts were unearthed (P66, P75), both containing portions of John, with each one including the longer inscription. Thus, I shall call John’s Gospel The Gospel According to John. Throughout this series, however, I will substitute the longer inscription for “John’s Gospel”, “the Gospel”, John, or other such designations.

Below is a page from P75, illustrating the longer inscription. As a side note, this is also unique in that The Gospel According to John begins on the same page that Luke’s Gospel ends. Notice how Luke ends with the same verbiage in its subscription (except name, of course) as John:

ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ
ΚΑΤΑ
ΛΟΥΚΑΝ

P75 inscriptio

P75: First page of the Gospel According to John

Goal for this Series

Quite simply, my intention is to help the reader more fully comprehend the text, while at the same time provide an apologetic against some contrary interpretations. On the way, I’m certain I myself will gain a better understanding, for I always learn as I write. In some instances I will have to be technical, but the goal is to do so only in service of better comprehension, not merely to explain some technicality of no consequence or interest.

Greek is a highly inflected language, which means, for example, that words are spelled differently to match case and number. Using the Greek article as a specific example (which can be loosely understood as “the”, though not always translated into English), the article changes spelling depending on its use in relation to the subject, direct object, indirect object, or genitive (possessive). In addition, the singular is different than the plural. The reader need not learn these spellings, but just having a basic knowledge that this is how the Greek language functions will help to alleviate confusion.

Since points of grammar will need to be discussed, those readers who are a bit rusty with English grammar may find some of the material a helpful review.

In this introduction to the series I will provide a bibliography of works that have helped to broaden my understanding of John’s Gospel, though particularly the prologue. Since this will serve as the reference page for this entire series (footnotes will be used as necessary throughout when quoting from or paraphrasing specific portions of these works), I will likely add more to this list as I go. (This is not to say that I agree with all the authors below at every point, as, for example, Bultmann’s work is largely at odds with much of historic Christianity; however, material like this has helped to refine both my theology and my apologetics.)

Continue to John 1:1-2

General Bibliography:

Barrett, C. K., The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978).

Bauckham, Richard J., Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015)

Bauckham, Richard J., Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008).

Bauckham R., and C. Mosser, eds., The Gospel of John and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

Bauer, W., F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000), aka BDAG.

Beasley-Murray, George R., John, Word Biblical Commentary, D. Hubbard, G. Barker, gen. eds. (Waco, TX: Word, 1987).

Blomberg, Craig L., The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001)

Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John I-XII, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).

Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).

Bruce, F. F., The Gospel & Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983)

Bultmann, Rudolf, The Gospel of John, transl. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed., R. W. N. Hoare & J. K. Riches (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971)

Carson, D. A., The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991)

Comfort, Philip W., New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008).

Crisp, Oliver D., Divinity and Humanity (New York: Cambridge UP, 2007).

Crisp, Oliver D., God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology (London: T&T Clark, 2009).

Edwards, Ruth, Discovering John (London: SPCK, 2003).

Harner, Philip B., “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1” Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 75-87.

Harris, Murray J., John, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Andreas J. Köstenberger & Robert W. Yarbrough, gen. eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015).

Harris, Murray J., Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012).

Hooker, Morna D., (1974) “The Johannine Prologue and the Messianic Secret,” New Testament Studies, 21, pp 40-58 doi: 10.1017/S00286888500008766

Hurtado, Larry W., Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003).

Keener, Craig S., The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, [2003] 2010 [1st softcover ed.]).

Keener, Craig S., The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume Two (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, [2003] 2010 [1st softcover ed.]).

Koester, Craig, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995).

Köstenberger, Andreas J., Encountering John, Encountering Biblical Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999).

Köstenberger, Andreas J., John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).

Leung, Mavis M., The Kingship-Cross Interplay in the Gospel of John: Jesus’ Death as Corroboration of His Royal Messiahship, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011).

Lincoln, Andrew T., Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000).

Malina, Bruce J., Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998).

Martyn, J. Louis, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

Morris, Thomas V., The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1986).

Rainbow, Paul A., Johannine Theology: The Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014).

Ridderbos, Herman, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, transl. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1987] 1997).

Schnelle, Udo, Antidocetic Christology in the Gospel of John transl. Linda M. Maloney (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992; translated from the German Antidoketische Christologie im Johannesevangelium, copyright © Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1987).

Smith, D. Moody, Johannine Christology: Essays on its Setting, Sources, and Theology (Columbia, SC: USC Press, 1984).

Thompson, Marianne Meye, John: A Commentary, New Testament Library, C. Clifton Black, et al eds. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015).

Thompson, Marianne Meye, The God of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001).

Weiss, Harold, Meditations on According to John: Exercises in Biblical Theology (Gonzalez, FL: Energion, 2014).

Westcott, B. F., The Gospel According to St. John, Westcott’s Commentaries on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John; Accordance electronic ed. version 1.5 (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006).

Corrections and Amendments on “It is Perfectly Finished”

Thanks to interaction with commenter “Jim”, and upon my own further reflection, some changes were made to both part I (one only) and part II of the blog post titled “It is Perfectly Finished”, indicated by strikethroughs and/or red text. These amendments do not affect the overall thrust of the article, but they can open up more interpretive options. When writing (or reading) one must be careful not to read into the text, as that would be eisegesis rather than exegesis—placing one’s own thoughts into the text as opposed to extracting meaning from the text—though some interpretation in translation is inevitable. The bolded portions of these two words, eisegesis and exegesis, reflect the Greek prepositions eis (into) and ex (out of, from)—the latter the same as ek, as defined in the last paragraph of part II’s ‘Which Pneuma?’ section. [Ek is placed in front of consonants, ex in front of vowels.]

One of the changes is in the translation of the subject verses themselves, specifically the last two words of verse 30 (to be really specific, just the penultimate word). The Greek reads τὸ πνεῦμα, to pneuma, most literally, the spirit. “His” spirit is interpretative—though of course it is, in a sense, His pneuma—however, the question is still: Which S/spirit? The evidence is not conclusive. It could be the Holy Spirit, His human spirit, or it could be the “Breath of Life” which was initially imparted to Jesus, as it is to all humans (see Gen. 2:7).

The major change was in footnote 46. It was contracted, expanded, and, hopefully, clarified.

It is Perfectly Finished, part II

[On 05/08/17 an addendum was appended (9:25pm). See part I]

28 After this, knowing that now everything was completed, Jesus said—so that Scripture might be perfected—“I’m thirsty.” 29 A container was lying there full of wine vinegar; so, affixing a sponge soaked with the wine vinegar to some hyssop, they brought it to His mouth. 30 After Jesus received the wine vinegar He said, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit (John 19:28-30)

He Handed Over His Spirit

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh’s Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John has some relevant insights into Jesus’ final human act:

Simultaneous with these words [“It is finished”], Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit . . . literally “he handed over the spirit” . . . Yet for those who believe in Jesus, something quite other happened. When human beings die, while struggling for life to the end, they stop breathing and then their head drops. But here Jesus first bows his head, and only then does he give up his spirit. As a king who was lifted up, he “gives the nod.” The act of sanctioning by a king was indicated by movement of the head; approbation is declared by a sign of the god’s head . . . “Zeus gave a sign with his head and ratified his wish” (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 222).

After thus ratifying that his purpose has been fully accomplished, Jesus hands over his spirit to those around the cross—the community of those who believe in him their leader, the beloved disciple and the witnessing women.33

In order to fully analyze their words, a few points of grammar need to be addressed. First, it can be argued that “It is finished” precedes the bowing of His head. The Greek word in between the two—kai—is a conjunction, a connective, with a host of meanings such as and, also, but, and yet, then, even, among others. It seems more likely that Jesus would utter His final words using the remaining strength He possessed before He’d breathe no longer, bowing His head in death—though this is, admittedly, only one possible interpretation.

The verb for bowed, is a participle (aorist active), which is part of a dependent clause (bowed His head), the main clause on which it depends being He handed over His the spirit.34 In Greek, the participle is known as a ‘verbal adjective’, with characteristics of both a verb and an adjective. Like a finite verb, it encodes tense and voice (active, passive, or middle-passive). Like an adjective, it encodes gender, number, and case. Unlike the Greek finite verb, however, the participle does not denote mood or person—these are to be found in the main verb in the clause on which it relies. The Greek participle may function in a variety of ways; it is more diverse than the English participle.35

In the present instance, the participial phrase is acting adverbially.36 While the verbal action of the participial clause (bowed His head) could (a) antecede the final sentence (He handed over His the spirit), the action may well (b) coincide with it. The sense of the two options would be: (a) After bowing His head, He handed over His the spirit; or, (b) Bowing His head, He [simultaneously] handed over His the spirit. Statistically, when a participle precedes the main verb, as it does here, its relative time is more likely to antecede that of the main clause;37 however, “like any verb form in Greek, [time] must be determined by the larger context”.38 And since the context here provides no explicit cues, it may be one or the other.

Recent work in Discourse Analysis may be of assistance here, as, recognizing that all participles rely on the main verb with which they are associated, this subservient nature of the participle typically “has the effect of backgrounding the action of the participle, indicating that it is less important than the main verbal action”.39 In other words ‘handing over His spirit’ is more important than ‘bowing His head’. But this still does not provide a definitive answer; the translator must make an exegetical decision, or leave it sufficiently ambiguous for the interpreter (such as bowing His head, He handed over His the Spirit, or He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit).

In any case, if we accept the Malina-Rohrbaugh sequence—“It is finished” [at the same time as] He bowed His head [and after that] He handed over His the spirit—then their insight of a kingly/godly act depicted here is plausible. And it is certainly possible that the Gospel writer had contemporaneous Greco-Roman literature in mind as a background here—not to appeal to as authoritative literature, of course, but to provide yet another backdrop—assuming, perhaps, that the audience might understand this connection. This motif could also provide a point of connection with John 10:34-38.

While I agree with their translation ‘handed over his spirit’ “handed over the spirit” (the verb is in the active rather than passive voice),40 the question of who Jesus hands it over to must be addressed. However, before that can be adequately answered, “spirit”, pneuma, must be identified. In this context, is it Jesus’ human spirit, or is it the Holy Spirit, as the authors imply above?41

Brown finds it plausible that “Jesus handed over the (Holy) Spirit to those at the foot of the cross” as “a symbolic reference to the giving of the Spirit” understood proleptically, that is, prefiguring 20:22 and Pentecost (Acts 2).42 However, against Brown and Malina-Rohrbaugh, it may be best to simply understand the recipient of the pneuma as the Father (as in the Synoptic parallel in Luke 23:46), to whom the Son willingly obeyed, ‘laying down His life’ (10:17), and to whom the Son hands over His human spirit. But how does one decide which is correct?

Which Pneuma?

Comfort notes that an early Greek manuscript (P66, ca. late 2nd to 3rd  century) expresses pneuma in 19:30 as a nomen sacrum—a contraction of the word using its first, second, and last letters, with an overline atop all three (Π͞Ν͞Α)—usually a method to signify the Holy Spirit.43 Nomina sacra (plural of nomen sacrum) were also used for God, Son of God, Son of Man, Christ, Jesus, etc. in apparent reverence, this practice having begun in early antiquity.44 This indicates that the scribe either copied the nomen sacrum directly from his exemplar (the copy from which he was copying), or that he made a conscious exegetical choice to amend his document, “perhaps denoting that he considered Jesus to have been handing over the divine Spirit.”45 However, even if this particular scribe made an editorial decision to change the text, we cannot presuppose his theological motivation. Even still, this is merely one extant manuscript with this designation.

A Scriptural examination of the Gospel’s use of pneuma may be instructive.46 The term is used twenty-four times in John’s Gospel, with the overwhelming majority (17 times) in reference to the Holy Spirit (1:32, 1:33{x2}, 3:5, 3:6{contrasted with human spirit spirit in a general sense}, 3:8{x2—first occurrence a double entendre of wind/Spirit}, 3:34, 6:63{x2}, 7:39{x2}, 14:17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:13, 20:22). Excluding 19:30, the remainder represent: the human spirit in a general sense (3:6—contrasted with the Holy Spirit), Jesus’ human spirit (11:33, 13:21) being unsettled (tarassō), God’s identity/ontology (4:23—pneuma ho theos, “God is spirit”), and the manner in which God is to be worshiped (4:23, 4:24—“in spirit and truth”). It is possible, though, that the first instance in 3:6 could be “spirit” in a general sense, as in: ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, spirit gives birth to spirit’.

One may be inclined to align with the statistical evidence such that, since the referent is most often the Holy Spirit, the referent in 19:30 must be, or is most likely to be, the Holy Spirit—just as one might wish to choose (a) in the previous section in regard to the participle—but this would fall prey to a logical fallacy. In 19:30 the choice is between either the (Holy) Spirit or Jesus’ (human) spirit. Hence, the choice is one out of two, and this is irrespective of the number of other occurrences of one against the other. Essentially, the analysis of pneuma above serves to illustrate that there are two possibilities (the others clearly do not apply). This means we are back to the context—though we will find out below that this exercise was not in vain.

Intertextual clues may be of assistance. Parallel passages seem to suggest that pneuma could be construed as Jesus’ human spirit. Matthew 27:50 contains language similar to John here, using a synonymous verb, also in the active voice: “He gave up His pneuma.” However, note that the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53:12 (LXX) uses psychē (soul)—rather than pneuma—though with the same verb as John’s Gospel (paradidōmi, “handed over”) but in the passive voice: “His psychē was handed over to death.” Could this be harmonized such that when Jesus, of His own volition (10:18: “No one takes it [psychē] from Me”), handed over His pneuma this necessarily corresponded with His psychē being handed over to death?

A quick investigation of psychē in John’s Gospel seems to confirm this. Psychē is found ten times, with four in reference to Jesus laying down His life (10:11, 10:15, 10:17, 15:13), two referring to Peter’s claim that he’d lay down his life for Jesus (13:37, 13:38), two refer to life in a general sense (12:25{x2}), one for the Jews’ plea to Jesus to make His Messianic identity known (10:24), and the final one references Jesus’ psychē being unsettled (12:27). This last instance uses the same verb (tarassō) as employed in combination with pneuma in 11:33 and 13:21, thus providing a direct connection. In other words, John records Jesus’ use of psychē in 12:27 in perfect synonymous parallel with pneuma in 11:33 and 13:21. Stated yet another way, pneuma and psychē are interchangeable when referring to Jesus’ humanity, His spirit/soul (at least when used in combination with the verb tarassō), in John’s Gospel.

With this point of connection between pneuma and psychē established, compare 19:30 to Gen. 2:7 (LXX), in which God breathed the “pnoē of life”, “breath of life” (pnoē being a cognate of pneuma), into Adam, after which he became a “living psychē.” In other words, taking all this together, in 19:30 when Jesus volitionally handed over His pneuma (the pnoē of life) this coincided with His psychē being handed over to death, His psychē now devoid of the pnoē of life. This would be in harmony with Jesus’ words in 10:17: “I lay down my psychē”. In other words, handing over His pneuma is tantamount to laying down His psychē.

See also Mark 15:37 and Luke 23:46 in which the verb ekpneō (“breathe out”) is used in the active voice. Ekpneō is a compound word, with the verb pneō (breathe) prefixed by the preposition ek, (out of, from), the word meaning breathe one’s last, expire.47 Pneō is the verb form of the noun pnoē, both cognates of pneuma. Thus, in the Markan and Lukan parallels, if this analysis is correct, the authors depict Gen. 2:7 ‘in reverse’, so to speak, being more direct than John or Matthew. That is, Mark’s and Luke’s ekpneō more pointedly express that Jesus was now devoid of the pnoē of life, having “breathed out” God’s “breath of life” which had been bestowed at conception.48 This verb is only found three times in the entire NT, the remaining instance in the immediate context of Mark’s account (15:39).

Excursus on Psychē in John 10:24

A brief excursus is in order regarding the use of psychē in 10:24. Here John likely employs a play on words, in using a rather humorous idiomatic phrase, not found anywhere else in Scripture. The words rendered in most translations “How long will you keep us in suspense?” are more literally How long will you take up the psychē? (heōs pote tēn psychēn hēmōn aireis?).49 The verb here (airō) has a range of meanings, such as take away, lift up, carry away, remove, withdraw, depart.50 While the idiom is clearly not meant to be taken literally, Brown opines that the biblical author may intend a double meaning in that, though Jesus lays down His psychē for His followers, He brings judgment against His foes, ironically taking away the psychē of those rejecting Him.51 To clarify, the biblical author had just used this same verb in 10:18 in the context of Jesus’ statement that “no one takes (airō) it [psychē] from Me”, so the astute reader could make the connection.

My own opinion—a variation on the above—is that John is being quite purposeful here: though the Jews (hoi Ioudaioi) are using a metaphorical expression, at the same time their literal intent is to take away (airō) Jesus’ psychē, but Jesus himself ironically takes that goal away from them by ‘laying down His own psychē’ (10:17), because “no one takes (airō) it [psychē] from Me” (10:18). Furthermore (in agreement with Brown, though rephrasing a bit), subsequently, their own psychēs will be taken away from them in their eschatological judgment as a result of their unbelief in Jesus, in the aftermath of His death and resurrection.

Addendum

In some philosophical circles of the time the Greek word nous, which means mind, thought, etc., is a part of the psychē, soul. In Scripture nous is used mostly by Paul, it is found once in Luke’s Gospel (24:45), while John the Revelator employs it twice (Rev. 13:18; 17:9). John’s Gospel does not utilize the term; however, nous could be conceived as subsumed under psychē in both 12:27 and in the idiom in 10:24. Would this change the analyses?

As regards 10:24, this would strengthen the word play, making it more overtly a pun. That is, the idiom would be understood “How long will you ‘take up’ the psychē [mind]?” which would then be juxtaposed with Jesus’ words “I lay down my psychē [life]…no one takes it from Me”. This would constitute an instance of paronomasia—a linguistic device the Gospel writer employs somewhat frequently—in which the quote by “the Jews” can be construed as either mind, or life, the latter in view of its meaning in 10:17-18. Not explicitly stated earlier, it is also possible that the verb airō in the idiomatic phrase intends something different than the meaning of the same verb in 10:17-18; if that is the case, it would further strengthen the paronomasia.

The understanding of psychē, as mind appears to have no effect on 12:27. For this understanding to go against the analysis above, one would have to argue that “mind” is not as all-encompassing as psychē, and from this contend that the context of 12:27 indicates a less intensive ‘troubling’ than the respective contexts of 11:33 and 13:21, the latter two verses referring to the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus’ human spirit. In assessing the contexts, that argument would be difficult to sustain, for 11:33 is most likely referring to Jesus’ human emotions, not the Holy Spirit, as He subsequently weeps. More damaging—though the analysis above did not explicate this—the contexts of 12:27 and 13:21 both refer to Jesus’ ‘troubling’ regarding His impending death. Could one relate to Jesus’ human seat of emotions with the other to the move of the Spirit? That is possible, though improbable, as it would appear difficult to explain why this would be so.

____________________________________________

33 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), p 271. The bracketed editorial note “It is finished” is in place of the authors’ questionable translation “has been fully accomplished” (as seen in the second paragraph of the quotation). More on this below.

34 This is stated as somewhat of a concession to English, as the Greek participle should not be viewed as a dependent clause per se; see Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. ((Biblical Languages: Greek 2), Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1994), pp 190-191.

35 See Porter, Idioms, pp 181-193.

36 But it also functions adjectivally, as it modifies the subject encoded in the main verb paradidōmi and implied by the context (Jesus).

37 Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), p 110. This generality only applies to adverbial participles, as in the present example.

38 Ibid. Decker recognizes this (Rodney J. Decker, Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014], p 397), though he stresses that one should “[t]ake all such claims [regarding word order] with caution”, for “context is a more reliable guide than any rule” (p 397).

39 Stephen E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, © 2010 Logos Bible Software), p 249; cf. pp 249-268.

40 The passive voice of this same verb (paradidōmi) is used in describing the death of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:12: “His soul [psychē] was handed over to death . . . .” See Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), p 551 nt 60.

41 Malina-Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary, p 271) do not capitalize “spirit”; however, the context makes it plain that the authors intend the Holy Spirit.

42 Brown, John XIII-XXI, p 931.

43 Comfort, New Testament Text, pp 319-320. Though most date this manuscript late 2nd to 3rd century, Brent Nongbri suggests a later date, based on his own findings (“The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P.Bodmer II [P66],” Museum Helveticum 71 [2014], p 1-35.)

44 This practice may be in imitation of the use of YHWH (the tetragrammaton) for the Divine Name in the OT, though there are notable differences between the Jewish and Christian traditions. See Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2016), pp 138-141 (and related footnotes).

45 Comfort, New Testament Text, p 320.

46 The impetus to perform this particular investigation came from Jaime Clark-Soles’ essay “‘I Will Raise [Whom?] Up on the Last Day’: Anthropology as a Feature of Johannine Eschatology” in New Currents through John: A Global Perspective, eds. Francisco Lozada, Jr. & Tom Thatcher (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), pp 29-53. However, I depart from some of the author’s conclusions. E.g., she asserts that pneuma is “[c]learly . . .  not a natural, normal part of a person’s constitution” (p 36) in John’s Gospel, but I’m not so sure can one make such a definitive claim. Moreover, the author doesn’t expand on the interrelationship of 11:33 and 13:21 and their relationship with 12:27 (see below).

In 3:6 I see the two instances of pneuma as possibly distinct from one another: the first could be the Holy Spirit, while the second could be either the human spirit or spirit in a general sense. Of course, the Holy Spirit clearly does not beget Holy Spirit offspring! The Johannine Jesus employs word play here. The point of the statement in 3:6 is to define what it means to be born anōthen (3:3; 3:7), this latter term possessing the dual meaning of “from above” and/or “again”—in other words a spiritual rebirth for humans (3:5; 3:8). With this in mind, I understand 3:6 to possibly mean ‘the Spirit “gennaō” (“begets”) spirit’ in a figurative sense (cf. 1:13). But what does that entail? Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit will be (figuratively?) deposited (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14; cf. Ezek. 36:2627). Ezekiel 36:26-27 does not necessarily imply that the existing human spirit is to be supplanted. Applying this to John’s Gospel, does this potentially indicate a relationship between the Holy Spirit and one’s human spirit—if there is a literal human spirit separate from the body in John’s Gospel?  Assuming humans do possess a human spirit, this does not mean I would see a sharp dichotomy (a la Gnosticism) between flesh (sarx, this term used wholistically yet non-specifically in John at times—cf. 1:14; 3:6; 17:2) and spirit. It is plausible that John portrays Jesus’ spirit as an integral though ultimately ‘detachable’ ‘part’ of his flesh (though see analysis below). In this Gospel sōma only refers to Jesus, specifically to His dead body (19:31, 19:38, 19:40, 20:12) or to His body generally (2:21). Hence, if one interprets that Jesus has ‘detachable pneuma’, and that this spirit was ‘handed over’ in 19:30, one could state this mathematically (In John’s Gospel) as: sarxpneuma = sōma. Consequently, assuming this implicitly applies equally to all humans, then it could follow that the Holy Spirit ‘unites’ with the human spirit upon belief, i.e., being born anōthen.

Comfort, NT Text and Translation, notes that the P66 scribe differentiated between the two instances in John 3:6 by use of the nomen sacrum in the first instance (in English translation) but not the second (p 263).

47 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 119.

48 One must be cautious not to read too much into this in one’s philosophical musings.

49 Barrett (According to St. John), notes a similarity to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex 914 and Euripedes’ Hecuba 69f. (p 380).

50 BDAG, p 29.

51 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 403.

It is Perfectly Finished, part I

[See part II]

28 After this, knowing that now everything was completed, Jesus said—so that Scripture might be perfected—“I’m thirsty.” 29 A container was lying there full of wine vinegar; so, affixing a sponge soaked with the wine vinegar to some hyssop, they brought it to His mouth. 30 After Jesus received the wine vinegar He said, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit (John 19:28-30).1

John records Jesus’ last word on the cross as tetelestai, “It is finished,”2 choosing to narrate Jesus’ handing over of His spirit rather than quoting His words as Luke prefers (23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit”), thus highlighting tetelestai Here. This article will discuss the significance of this one-word statement—including the implication of the perfect tense-form—and, along the way, comment on some other aspects of these three verses.

Jesus’ Last Testament

The two words beginning this selection, after this, refer back to 19:2627 (“Here is your son”, “here is your mother”), as does knowing that now everything was completed. This indicates that Jesus’ words to Mary and John (19:26-17) completes the work He came to do in this regard. The implication in this exchange here is that Joseph is deceased, and Jesus’ desire is for His earthly mother to be cared for—as He Himself had apparently been doing.

Evidence suggests that Jewish custom allowed “a dying man . . . to settle the legal status of the women for whom  he was responsible.”3 This appears to be what Jesus is doing in 19:26-27—legally appointing John to His former position as the person responsible for His mother, a widow.4 Common practice required that Jesus would ensure that His mother Mary be “adequately cared for by a male head of household in the patriarchal culture of first-century Israel.”5 Apparently, in doing so, Jesus proclaimed what would be akin to His last will and testament.6 Importantly, rather than a sibling, Jesus entrusts a disciple to the care of His mother, in accordance with the Jewish custom of “the believing community [being] stronger than natural familial bonds,”7 for not even His own brothers believed in Him (John 7.5).  “When Jesus entrusted His mother to the Beloved Disciple, He established a new household centered on a common relationship with Jesus”8

Christ’s earthly ministry to others had come to a close:9 “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

Which Scripture “Perfected”?

There is some ambiguity in the grammar of verse 28: (a) does the clause so that Scripture might be perfected refer to knowing that now everything was completed, in turn referring to Jesus’ words to Mary and John (19:26-27); or, alternatively, (b) does so that Scripture might be perfected point to Jesus’ thirst and, ultimately, His final words “It is finished”?10 The former (a) seems unlikely, for one would have to account for Jesus expressing his thirst, and this would seem better suited to the context if the “perfected” clause refers to what follows it.  However, another option to consider is that one could assume (a), but look even further back to 19:24, in which Psalm 22:18 (“They divided my garments among them . . .”) had just been quoted, and apply “I’m thirsty” to verse 15 of the same Psalm. In this scenario, Jesus is reminded again of Psalm 22 and, recalling “my tongue cleaves . . .” of verse 15, in His humanity, He realizes that He is thirsty.11

Nonetheless, given the three-fold use of wine vinegar (oxos) here and Jesus’ final words “It is finished” upon receiving it, (b) appears most likely to be the author’s intent.12 If so, any or all of the following events must perfect Scripture in some way: Jesus’ statement of thirst, His subsequent receiving of the wine vinegar, His final statement, the handing over of His spirit.

Assuming the translation and the interpretation above are correct—option (b) above—to which Scripture does so that Scripture might be perfected refer? The two best candidates are Psalm 69:21 (LXX 68:22) and Psalm 22:15 (LXX 21:16). Each, however, has its own problems as a contender. On the former, the wine vinegar is offered with apparent malicious intent, while here in verse 29 it appears to be given without malice.13 On the latter (22:15), there’s no mention of a drink being offered. On the other hand, Psalm 69:21 specifically mentions oxos, wine vinegar, like here in our subject verses, and the noun form of the verb used here for thirst (dipsaō) is in this psalm as well, while Psalm 22:15 specifically mentions both extreme thirst and death. It should be noted that John’s Gospel elsewhere references Psalm 69 (2:17; 15:25) and Psalm 22 (19:24—right in the Passion narrative, as noted just above). Carson’s concise yet complete manner of describing one interpretation is worth quoting:

If we grant that Jesus knew he was fulfilling this Scripture [Ps. 69:21], presumably he knew that by verbally confessing his thirst he would precipitate the soldiers’ effort to give him some wine vinegar. In that case, the fulfillment clause could be rendered: ‘Jesus, knowing that all things had been accomplished, in order to fulfil [the] Scripture [which says “They . . . gave me vinegar for my thirst”] said “I thirst”’.14

But, could the clause refer and/or allude to both?15 Though graphē, “Scripture”, is in the singular here, this does not necessarily restrict its reference to only one Scripture. For comparison, even though graphē in John 20:9 is in the singular, it very likely refers to more than one single referent or section of Scripture.16 The same could apply here.

More investigation is needed.

The Fullness of Perfection

Notably, the common word used in reference to the fulfilling of Scripture, the verb plēroō (see Matthew 1:22; 5:17, etc.), is not used in 19:28, but rather teleioō—here specifically as teleiōthȩ̄ (an aorist passive subjunctive)—which is a cognate of teleō, the root of tetelestai. In other words, teleioō, the lexical form (dictionary word) of teleiōthȩ̄, is directly related to teleō, the lexical form of tetelestai. While some claim that plēroō and teleioō are perfectly synonymous,17 others assert that each has a slightly different connotation.18 Westcott makes a strong statement, perceiving a distinction between the two:

The word used (τελειωθῇ [teleiōthȩ̄] . . . for which some [manuscripts] substitute the usual word πληρωθῇ [plērōthȩ̄]) is very remarkable. It appears to mark not the isolated fulfilling of a particular trait in the scriptural picture, but the perfect completion of the whole prophetic image. This utterance of physical suffering was the last thing required that Messiah might be “made perfect” (Heb. 2:10, 5:7ff.), and so the ideal of prophecy “made perfect” in Him. Or, to express the same thought otherwise, that “work” which Christ came to “make perfect” (John 4:34, 17:4) was written in Scripture, and by the realisation of the work the Scripture was “perfected.” Thus under different aspects of this word [teleioō and teleō] and of that which it implies, prophecy, the earthly work of Christ, and Christ Himself were “made perfect.”19

Stated another way, Westcott sees a deliberate connection between John’s usage of teleioō in 19:28 and his use of teleō in 19:30, believing the Gospel writer chose teleioō over plēroō for an express theological purpose.20 It may be significant that plēroō is employed in 19:24 (as plērōthȩ̄, an aorist passive subjunctive—the same verbal form in 19:28), just a few verses prior to the use of teleioō (teleiōthȩ̄) in 19:28.

Bultmann opposes this view: “This [use of teleiōthȩ̄ instead of plērōthȩ̄] is repeatedly understood . . . as if it were intended to signify the conclusive fulfillment of the entire Scriptures. Nevertheless it seems, as in 13:18, that the fulfillment of a particular passage is meant.”21 So, who’s correct? Does the use of this verb (teleiōthȩ̄) over the other (plērōthȩ̄) indicate a fulfillment of all Scripture, or does it simply express the fulfillment of one specific passage?

An investigation finds John using teleioō a scant four times in his Gospel—three in reference to the Father’s work (4:34; 5:36; 17:4) and one in relation to the “perfecting” of believers into one (17:23).22 Comparatively, John’s Gospel employs plēroō fifteen times, five of which refer to the fulfillment of a particular passage (12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 19:24; 19:36),23 another three the fulfillment of words of Jesus in John’s Gospel (17:12; 18:9; 18:32), with the others in reference to either joy (3:29; 15:11; 16:24; 17:13), time (7:8), fragrance of perfume (12:3), or grief (16:6).24 Thus, as we can see, plēroō has a range of uses, but, when used of Scripture, it references either a specific OT verse or a particular prophecy of Jesus; whereas, teleioō is utilized much more sparingly, with the majority in reference to the Father’s work that Jesus was to “perfect.”

The evidence supports Westcott. Adopting this view, so that Scripture might be perfected prefigures the events following up to and including Jesus’ climactic words and handing over of His spirit, resulting in the  “perfecting” of all Scriptures related to the ‘work’ of the Father.25

As mentioned earlier, given that the singular graphē in John 20:9 most likely refers to more than one Scripture, the same may well prevail in 19:28. Accepting this is the case, we’ll assume that 19:28 fulfills both Psa. 69:21 and Psa. 22:15. In this way,  the former’s oxos (wine vinegar) and dipsaō (noun form of the verb here for “I’m thirsty”) are fulfilled, while the latter’s extreme thirst and death are fulfilled as well. However, more broadly, when a portion of Scripture is quoted, those Jews in the audience would mentally fill in the remainder of the book from which the quote was taken (though this does not mean they necessarily understood the significance). For example, in both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 the very first verse of Psa. 22 is quoted (“why have you forsaken me!”), yet the entire psalm should be understood as in mind. In light of this, Blomberg observes, “The view that Jesus’ quotation of Psa. 22 anticipates the vindication found in the larger context of the psalm stresses what does not appear in the text at the expense of what does.”26 In other words, Jesus’ quotation of Psa. 22:1 is intended to refer to the entire psalm, thus prefiguring His resurrection (Psa. 22:22-24).

More on teleioō will be forthcoming.

Wine Vinegar, a Sponge, and Hyssop

The physical elements of 19:29 and their interrelationships are variously understood. The wine vinegar, oxos, is not to be confused with the wine mixed with myrrh (oinos) offered but refused by Jesus in Mark 15:23.  It was most likely a common drink of the Roman soldiers to quench thirst, called posca, which would have been readily available at the scene.27 This would mean “they” here refers to members of the Roman army.

There is some question as to whether hyssop, hyssōpos, was the actual implement that the wine vinegar-soaked sponge was affixed to. A branch of hyssop would be too flimsy to support the weight of the sponge, and so various theories have been proffered.28 F. F. Bruce opines:

A sprig of hyssop seems an unsuitable instrument for the purpose, but John’s wording may be influenced by the symbolic use of hyssop in the Old Testament (Num. 19:6; Ps. 51:7). The death of Jesus is the true Passover and the effective means of inward cleansing. Another possibility is that the sponge soaked in sour vinegar, with some hyssop thrust into it, was stretched to Jesus’ mouth on the end of a reed or the like, in order that the cooling effect of the hyssop leaves might enhance the refreshing property of the sour wine.29

The latter possibility could explain the passage, harmonizing it with Mark 15:36. However it seems that the connection between the use of hyssop for ritual cleansing, and King David’s use of it as a metonymy for the cleansing of sin, as compared to its use here seems a bit tenuous, though Comfort opines that the “hyssop in the crucifixion scene reminds readers of their need for spiritual cleansing.”30 But Brown, after mentioning that hyssop was used to sprinkle the paschal lamb’s blood on the doorposts at the original Passover (Ex. 12.22), helpfully, offers additional insight:

Of course, there is a difference between using hyssop to sprinkle blood and using hyssop to support a sponge full of wine, but John shows considerable imagination in the adaptation of symbols. (In a way it is just as imaginative to see a reference to the paschal lamb in the fact that Jesus’ bones were not broken, but John 19:36 does not hesitate to make the connection.) It is difficult to apply rigorous logic to symbolism.31

Keener adds, “The very implausibility of the literal portrait reinforces the probability that John intended his audience to envision the symbolic allusion to Passover”32 (cf. John 1:29; Heb. 9:19ff). If this explains the significance of the hyssop in the Passion narrative—and it well may—this would be akin to the remez (deep meaning), or the sod (hidden meaning) in the Jewish midrashic approach to Scripture interpretation. Of course, in Paul’s writings especially, the Apostle describes Christ as the mystery, mystērion, now revealed (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:9; Col. 1:26).

part II
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1 My own translation in which I try to strike a balance between formal equivalency (“literal”, or ‘wooden’) and functional (dynamic) equivalency.  As a self-studying layman, I’ve relied on Accordance / OakTree Software (Version 11.2.4.0) using the NA28 text, various grammars, lexicons—including the BDAG (W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000) and F. W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009)—and, as a final check, English translations. As an example of my methodology, for dipsō a formal equivalency would be I thirst, but of course this is not idiomatic English, which would instead be I am thirsty; however, considering the context, it would be improbable that Jesus would be even that ‘formal’, as He’d be more likely to speak colloquially, therefore, I’m thirsty is a more realistic functional equivalent. After arriving at this tentative conclusion, I checked some English versions finding a few with this rendering (ISV, Holman, GOD’s WORD).

2 Greek finite verbs encode person and number, and in this case it’s in the 3rd person singular, “it”, forming the complete sentence “It is finished.”

3 Craig Keener, The Gospel of John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), p 1144.

4 See Keener, John, pp 1144-1145; cf. Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), p 252.

5 Blomberg, Historical Reliability, p 252.

6 See George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), p 349; Keener, John, p 1144.

7 Keener, John, p 1145. The phraseology used by Jesus in 19:26-27 is reminiscent of adoption language: See Beasley-Murray, John, p 349; cf. Craig Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995), pp 214-216.

8 Koester, Symbolism, p 254; cf. pp 215-216.

9 See B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Westcott’s Commentaries on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John; Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 5364-5 (John 19:28); cf. 4080 (13:1): Compare verse 28’s εἰδὼς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι with 13:1. Westcott’s commentary was originally written ca. late 1800s.

10 See Roger L. Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 2006), p 209.

11 While not enumerated as a plausible understanding within his work, this possibility came to me while reading D. A. Carson’s The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p 619.

12 Given perceived theological importance concerning so that Scripture might be perfected, the translation here employs em dashes before and after the clause, in order to draw more attention to it, as compared to using parentheses, which tend to make parenthetical content more subdued.

13 Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015) states that the oxos here is “probably the drink known in Latin as posca . . . a common drink of the Roman army”, which “served to slake thirst, not exacerbate it” (p 401). Cf. Keener, John, p 1147.

14 Carson, According to John, p 619 (brackets in original, except “Ps. 69:21”).

15 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1978) asserts: “There can be little doubt that [Ps. 69.21 (LXX 68:22)] is the γραφή [graphē] in mind” (p 553).

16 See, e.g., Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), pp 987-988.

17 E.g., Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John, transl. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed., R. W. N. Hoare & J. K. Riches (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971), p 674.

18 E.g., Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, transl. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), p 616.

19 Westcott, According to St. John, paragraph 5369; bracketed statements added. An editorial decision was made here in the last sentence of this quote. In its original form it reads: Thus under different aspects of this word and of that which it implies, prophecy, and the earthly work of Christ, and Christ Himself, were “made perfect.” The “and” preceding the earthly work of Christ was stricken, and the comma following Christ Himself was deleted for the sake of readability. This is not to slight Westcott, his editor(s), or the publisher—with modern word processors, it is much easier to edit today.

20 In the Westcott quote just above, the author notes that some manuscripts substitute plērōthȩ̄. While there are more than just a few ( Ds Θ ƒ1.13 (565) it), the evidence is decisively against its originality.

21 Bultmann, John, p 674; cf. Beasley-Murray, John, p 351.

22 John also uses the term four times in his first epistle, each time related to God’s love “perfecting” the believer (2:5, 4:12, 4:17; 4:18).

23 Respectively, Isa. 53:1; Ps. 41:9; Ps. 69:4 (cf. 35:19; 109.3); Ps. 22:18; Ps. 34:20.

24 There is also a reference to joy in John’s first epistle (1:4), another in 2 John (12); and, there are two additional references in Revelation: deeds (3:2) and number killed (6:11).

25 Not Bultmann’s “conclusive fulfillment of the entire Scriptures”, though the author may have meant to limit his statement to those referencing the cross. Relatedly, Luke (3:32) records Jesus’ words, “On the third day I will be ‘perfected’.”

26 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary 22; Gen. Ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1992), p 419.

27 See note 13 above. Cf. Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, p 909.

28 See Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, pp 909-910; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p 373; Carson, John, pp 620-621.

29 Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, p 373.

30 Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008), p 319

31 Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, p 930.

32 Keener, John, p 1147.