Of Minor Prophets And Their Prostitute Wives

Once again this blog title is the same as that of a song by David Bazan, from his ‘band’ Pedro The Lion.

All the time you were burning my letters
You were only acting the part
You think without me you’ll get on much better
But you don’t even know your own heart

Come home, darlin’
Come home quickly
Come home, darlin’
All is forgiven, so come home quickly

I treated you as if you were a princess
You treated me like a cop
I gave you boundaries to save you from certain death
Dangling from the end of the rope

Come home, darlin’
Come home quickly
Come home, darlin’
All is forgiven, so come home quickly

But you’re still playin’ for a love you’ll never find
Outside these arms of mine

The whole town is one step behind you
With the hang man on call
They’ve got the judge and you’re convicted without a plea
But darlin’, they will listen to me
Darlin’, they will listen to me
Darlin’, they will listen to me

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Secret of the Easy Yoke

The title of this blog post mirrors the title of its subject, namely a song by David Bazan, as performed by his ‘band’ Pedro The Lion. The lyrics are below, and you can hear it here:

I could hear the church bells ringing
They pealed aloud Your praise
The member’s faces were smiling
With their hands outstretched to shake
It’s true they did not move me
My heart was hard and tired
Their perfect fire annoyed me
I could not find You anywhere

Could someone please tell me the story
Of sinners ransomed from the fall
I still have never seen You
And some days I don’t love You at all

The devoted were wearing bracelets
To remind them why they came
Some concrete motivation
When the abstract could not do the same
But if all that’s left is duty
I’m falling on my sword
At least then I would not serve
An unseen, distant Lord

Could someone please tell me the story
Of sinners ransomed from the fall
I still have never seen You
And some days I don’t love You at all

If this is only a test
I hope that I’m passing
‘Cause I’m losing steam
But I still want to trust You

Peace, be still
Peace, be still
Peace, be still

 

Fishers of Persons

Now as He was walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers—Simon (the one called Peter) and his brother Andrew—casting nets into the lake, for they were fishers. And He said to them, “Come follow Me, and I will make you fishers of persons1” (Matthew 4:18-19).

Our subject verses, Matthew 4:18-19, along with the parallels Mark 1:16-17 and Luke 5:1-11 (cf. John 1:35-42), are among the number of New Testament (NT) references to fishing. Most Christians (and non-Christians) in the West are aware of the fish symbol used to signify Christianity. Nowadays it can be found on cars, various kinds of jewelry, etc. But what does the “Jesus fish”, the ichthys (or ichthus) symbolize exactly? Why and when was it first used?

fish_plain

credit: Wikimedia Commons

Possible OT and Jewish Background

While Jesus may have seized the opportunity to use the “fishers of persons” comparison simply because Simon Peter and Andrew were fishermen, it seems probable that this metaphor was also chosen to counter contemporary negative Jewish fishing metaphors. If so, the effect would have been to contrast those metaphors of God’s judgment with these fishers who will “pluck human beings out of the net of Satan and transfer them securely into the net of God”2 (cf. Matthew 13:47-48).

The Old Testament (OT) provides a number of metaphorical references to fishing, the majority relating to judgment:

  • The LORD (YHWH) sending ‘fishermen’ to catch the wicked Israelites (Jeremiah 16:16)
  • YHWH using the Babylonians to capture wayward Israel by ‘hook’ and ‘net’ (Hab. 1:14-15)
  • God threatening to take away the unrighteous of Israel via ‘fishhook’ (Amos 4:2)
  • YHWH equating Pharaoh and his people to fish who will be hooked (Ezek. 29:3-5; cf. 38:4)
  • Various peoples being caught by ‘fishnet’, symbolizing God’s judgment (Ps. 66:11; Ezek. 32:3).

Closer to the time of Christ, the Qumran community, via the Dead Sea Scrolls, provided commentary (pesher) on Isaiah 24:17, illustrating how YHWH judges the disobedient by sending Belial (Satan) to ensnare them:

Belial will be sent against Israel, as God has said by means of the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, saying: ‘Panic, pit and net against you earth-dwellers’. Its explanation: They are Belial’s three nets about which Levi, son of Jacob spoke, in which he catches Israel and makes them appear before them like three types of justice. The first is fornication; the second, wealth; the third, defilement of the Temple. He who eludes one is caught in another and he who is freed from that is caught in another (Damascus Document [CD IV:13-19]).3

Yet, amidst all the negative fishing imagery in the OT, Ezekiel 47:9-10 speaks of a new Temple (cf. Rev. 22:1-5), one with a river which will provide abundant life to fish (and all other creatures, vegetation, and trees receiving sustenance from it—Ezek. 47:11-12):

9 And it will come to be that every living creature that swarms wherever the river flows will live; and there will be a great multitude of fish, because this water will flow there, healing the seawater—making it freshwater. Everything will live where this water flows. 10 And it will come to be that fishers will stand on its banks: from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places to spread the nets. There will be many species of fish, just like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea—a multitude of many kinds of fish.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah, came “to preach the good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom to the captives, renewed sight for the blind, and to relieve the oppressed” (Luke 4:18), in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1!

NT usage of ICHTHYS, Fish

The Greek word for “fish” is ιχθυς, which is transliterated—exchanging each Greek letter for corresponding English letters—ichthys or ichthus. The Greek letters in the previous sentence are in miniscule minuscule, like our lower case letters. In majuscule, akin to our capital letters, the word is ΙΧΘΥΣ—as in the figure below—or, transliterated, ICHTHYS. The earliest Greek NT manuscripts are in majuscule; the miniscule would develop later. ΙΧΘΥΣ is found twenty times in the NT. (The word for “fisher” is the unrelated ἁλιεύς, halieus.)

Since the English transliteration has seven characters to the Greek five, further explanation seems necessary. The second and third Greek letters are digraphs in English—two letters representing one sound—whereas they are indicated by one symbol in the Greek. Here are the Greek-to-English correlations:

I, ι (iota) = I, i
X, χ (chi) = CH, ch
Θ,θ (theta) = TH, th
Υ, υ (upsilon) = Y, u/y
Σ/C, σ/ς (sigma) = S, s

fish_ichthus

credit: Wikimedia Commons

While Mark 1:16-17 is nearly identical to our subject verses Matthew 4:18-19, the good doctor Luke expands the incident considerably. Luke’s Gospel records the first great catch of fish, chronologically, in the NT (Luke 5:1-10). Simon Peter, after fishing all night and coming up empty, is instructed by Jesus to go back out into the deep water. After expressing a bit of reluctance initially, Simon relents, catching so many fish that he needed another boat to help retrieve them all!

Apparently feeling ashamed for his lack of faith, Peter fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Away from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Sensing the feelings of awe within Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus tells them to not be afraid, for they were now to catch people. Certainly, this first great catch of fish must be symbolically linked to their future great catches as “fishers of persons”.

The remaining NT passages containing ΙΧΘΥΣ are:

  • “…if he asks for a fish, will you give him a snake?” (Matthew 7:10; Luke 11:11)
  • The miraculous feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-22; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13
  • The miraculous feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:32-29; Mark 8:1-10)
  • Paying the “Temple tax”, via the first fish Peter was to catch, in which would be a silver coin (statēr) worth four drachmae (Matthew 17:27)
  • The broiled fish that was given to the risen Jesus (Luke 24:42)
  • The account of the risen Jesus instructing the disciples to again throw out their net, a near recapitulation of the first great haul of fish, excepting their lack of hesitation this time (John 21:6-14)
  • The Apostle Paul comparing the flesh of humans with the different flesh of animals, birds, and fish as he discusses the new spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:39)

There is one more Scripture relevant here—though it does not contain ichthys, it does contain the Greek word for “dragnet”. It is the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50), which is a mixture of the negative OT judgment metaphor and a different take on the NT ‘fishers of persons’ analogy, in the form of eschatological (end times) judgment/salvation (cf. Matthew 13:30, 40-42; Revelation 14:14-20)

Use of ΙΧΘΥΣ in early Christianity

In the first century AD, many Christian converts met in private homes.4 After the Christian faith gained wider acceptance, buildings were erected specifically for worship.5 These early places of worship were unadorned and plain, for Christians were concerned about possibly falling prey to idolatry.6

In these early days, one would not find drawings or sculptures of Christ; however, eventually, symbols representing our Lord and our faith would be made.7 Rather than fashioning a likeness of Jesus’ human form, “they made a figure of a shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulders, to signify the Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep”8 (John 10:11). The Messiah was also represented symbolically as a lamb.9 Other Christian symbols used were: a dove to represent the Holy Spirit; a ship, to signify the Church, the ark of salvation, sailing towards heaven; a lyre, to represent joy; an anchor, to symbolize hope; and, “a fish, which was meant to remind them of their having been born again in the water at their baptism”.10

These symbols began to be used on everyday items at home, such as lamps, vases, rings, bowls, wall-hangings and the like.11 Fish symbols were also found in the Roman catacombs in pictures with bread and wine—in some the fish is swimming in the water with a plate of bread and a cup of wine on its back, evidently alluding to the Last Supper or Eucharist.12 The oldest known ΙΧΘΥΣ-monument, the Cœmeterium Domitillae (cemetery of Flavia Domitilla) in the catacombs, is dated perhaps as early as the late first century, to the middle of the second.13 This one depicts three persons with three loaves of bread and one fish,14 a likely reference to the miraculous feedings.

It is unknown when, but someone ingeniously invented an acrostic (backronym) based on the letters of ΙΧΘΥΣ: ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ (IĒSOUS CHRISTOS THEOU YIOS SŌTĒR), which translates to JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR.

ΙHΣΟΥΣ  = IĒSOUS = JESUS
ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ = CHRISTOS = CHRIST
ΘΕΟY = THEOU = GOD’S
ΥΙΟΣ = YIOS = SON
ΣΩΤΗΡ = SŌTĒR = SAVIOR

fish_table

Legend has it that during the early stages of Christianity and its attendant persecution, a Christ-follower, upon meeting someone whom they thought could be a fellow Christian, would seemingly nonchalantly draw one arc of the ΙΧΘΥΣ in the sand.

fishhalf

One arc of ΙΧΘΥΣ

 

If the other individual responded by drawing the intersecting arc, thereby completing the fish symbol, they would each know the other was a fellow sojourner in the faith.

fishhalf2

Completed ΙΧΘΥΣ

 

Conversely, if the other individual was not a Christ-follower, the gesture would be viewed as mere doodling and not reveal the faith-belief of the original drawer.15

According to Schaff, the ICHTHYS was the symbol most used.16 “It was the double symbol of the Redeemer and the redeemed”.17 Tertullian (ca. 155-225 AD), in his De Baptismo (On Baptism), makes this connection explicitly:

Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed (in the faith), but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith…But we, little fishes (pisciculi [ED: Latin]), after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water…18

In the following, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150—215 AD) instructs fellow believers to steer away from idols, as he delineates these from the symbols described earlier. Note that he alludes to the ‘fishers of persons’ analogy:

And let our seals be either a dove, or a fish, or a ship scudding before the wind, or a musical lyre, which Polycrates used, or a ship’s anchor, which Seleucus got engraved as a device; and if there be one fishing, he will remember the apostle, and the children drawn out of the water. For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleave to them; nor a sword, nor a bow, following as we do, peace; nor drinking-cups, being temperate.19

In a somewhat convoluted mixing of metaphors linguistic devices, Origen (ca. 185-254) takes the miracle of the fish with the coin to pay the Temple tax and turns this into an allegory of Peter as fisher of persons:

As then, having the form of that slave, He pays toll and tribute not different from that which was paid by His disciple; for the same statēr sufficed, even the one coin which was paid for Jesus and His disciple. But this coin was not in the house of Jesus, but it was in the sea, and in the mouth of a fish of the sea which, in my judgment, was benefited when it came up and was caught in the net of Peter, who became a fisher of men, in which net was that which is figuratively called a fish, in order also that the coin with the image of Caesar might be taken from it, and that it might take its place among those which were caught by them who have learned to become fishers of men…20

The following comes from an early Christian novel (ca. 3rd to 4th century AD) Acts of Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca (part of what is known as New Testament Apocrypha). Note the reference to ‘fishers of persons’, and the possible allusion to the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-52):

Thou hast sought me [Xanthippe], lowly one, having the sun of righteousness in my heart. Now the poison is stayed, when I have seen thy [Paul’s] precious face. Now he that troubled me is flown away, when thy most beautiful counsel has appeared to me. Now I shall be considered worthy of repentance, when I have received the seal of the preacher of the Lord. Before now I have deemed many happy who met with you, but I say boldly that from this time forth I myself shall be called happy by others, because I have touched thy hem, because I have received thy prayers, because I have enjoyed thy sweet and honeyed teaching. Thou hast not hesitated to come to us, thou that fishest the dry land in thy course, and gatherest the fish that fall in thy way into the net of the kingdom of heaven.21

Below is an ΙΧΘΥΣ inscription found in Ephesus (modern-day Turkey). Note the 8-spoked wheel. This is made by taking the letters, one at a time, superimposing each one over the other(s). The top and bottom of the iota must be suitably curved in order to fashion the wheel.

fish_ephesus

Early Christian inscription with the Greek letters “ΙΧΘΥΣ” carved into marble in the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus at Turkey

 

In the Sibylline Oracles, Book 8, verses 284-330 (Greek text 217-250)–dated ca. 3rd to 5th century AD–an acrostic is formed from the first letter of the first word in each line, resulting in (in English): JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR, CROSS (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΕΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ ΣΤΑΥΡΟΣ [IĒSOUS CHRIESTOS THEOU YIOS SŌTĒR STAUROS]). Similarly, Augustine, in his de Civitate Dei (xviii, 123) forms an acrostic in the same manner, but without “Cross”—spelling out the ΙΧΘΥΣ (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ).

Evidence seems to indicate that the ΙΧΘΥΣ-symbol fell into disuse prior to the middle of the fourth century.22 It was apparently revived on or just before 1970, during the “Jesus movement”. The ICHTHUS is quite prevalent today, at least in the West.

—————————

1 “Persons” translates the Greek ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos), here in the plural, the word from which we get anthropology, the study of humankind.  My translation “persons”, as opposed to “people”, goes against current norms, for the term is usually confined to formal or legal contexts, such as “missing persons” or “persons of interest”. However, this is precisely, why I chose the term! Who are we to ‘fish’ for? According to Paul’s list in First Corinthians 6:9-10, we are to fish for thieves, swindlers, adulterers (yes, adultery is still on the books as a crime in some states, and it is certainly contrary to Mosaic Law), slanderers, etc., aka “persons of interest”, until they are ‘convicted’. And these were among those converted in the 1st century. Yet, I do not wish to limit the meaning in such a manner, as this term is simply a lesser used plural of “person”. Thus, consider my usage here as a synonym to “people”, but with the added underlying sense of individuals with less-than-optimum character. And who—besides Jesus—does not fit that description anyway? In the sense that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:12; cf. 3:20; Psalm 14:1-3), we are all “persons of interest”! All such persons need to be ‘caught’. Moreover, the Day of the Lord will only come when all “missing persons” are ‘found’ (2 Peter 3:8-10).

2 Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 184.

3 Florentino Garci̒a Marti̒nez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, 2nd ed., transl. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Netherlands: Brill, Leiden/Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), p 35. Cf. 1QH 3:26

4 James C. Robertson, Sketches of Church History: From A.D. 33 to the Reformation, Accordance electronic ed. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1912), p 86; Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), p 3.

5 Robertson, Sketches, p 86.

6 Ibid.; Philip Schaff, Apostolic Christianity, History of the Christian Church 1; Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), paragraph 799  / (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), p 168; Philip Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, History Of The Christian Church 2; Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), paragraph 6357 / (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), p 267. Hereafter, references to Schaff will be dual credited as the Accordance paragraph / the Hendrickson page(s).

7 Robertson, Sketches, pp 86-87; Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6358-91 / pp 267-68.

8 Robertson, Sketches, pp 86-87.

9 Schaff, Apostolic Christianity, para. 799  / p 168.

10 Robertson, Sketches, p 87.

11 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6358-59 / p 268; Cf. Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, pp 267-281, 867-868; Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria, Ante-Nicene Fathers, ANF II; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 12131 [Elucidations on Clement of Alexandria’s “The Instructor (Paedagogus)” Book II, Chapter III: On Costly Vessels].

12 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6403, 9210 / pp 279, 280 (in footnote 2).

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 “Fish Symbol”, ReligionFacts.com, 18 May, 2017, Web, as accessed 25 Aug, 2018. <www.religionfacts.com/fish>

16 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6403 / p 279.

17 Ibid.

18 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ANF III; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 28175 [Tertullian “On Baptism” Chapter I. Introduction: Origin of the Treatise].

19 Roberts, Donaldson, & Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century, ANF II, para. 11707 [Clement of Alexandria “The Instructor (Paedagogus)” Book III, Chapter XI: A Compendious View of the Christian Life].

20 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgin and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement, Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I–x, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, Ii, and X–xiv, ANF IX; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 79992 [Origen “From the Second Book of the Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew”, Book XIII.10].

21 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgin and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement, Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I–x, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, Ii, and X–xiv, ANF IX; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 77323 [“Life and Conduct of the Holy Women Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca”].

22 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6404 / p 280.

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…

——————————————–

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.

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, and 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 superscripted cursive a 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.

——————————————————–

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. Therefore, 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, the majority of the Memra of Adonai occurrences are instead circumlocutions 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; 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 minuscule 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).