The Cost of Freedom

Here in the USA as we celebrate the independence we enjoy, let us also consider the efforts of our forefathers and the ultimate price some paid for it.

May we also reflect on those in shackles—literal or figurative—in various ways, whether this is by unjust or even just jailing, through oppressive regimes or ideologies, etc. Let us remember and pray for all not yet free.

As Christians, let us also rejoice in the freedom we have—through God’s grace—in Christ. Let us remember and pray for those who have yet to experience their own freedom in Christ.

Let us never forget that freedom isn’t free. Let us never take for granted the price paid for eternal salvation. The price paid for all.


From the hands it came down
From the side it came down
From the feet it came down
And ran to the ground
Between heaven and hell
A teardrop fell
In the deep crimson dew
The tree of life grew

And the blood gave life
To the branches of the tree
And the blood was the price
That set the captives free
And the numbers that came
Through the fire and the flood
Clung to the tree
And were redeemed by the blood

From the tree streamed a light
That started the fight
‘Round the tree grew a vine
On whose fruit I could dine
My old friend Lucifer came
Fought to keep me in chains
But I saw through the tricks
Of six-sixty-six

And the blood gave life
To the branches of the tree
And the blood was the price
That set the captives free
And the numbers that came
Through the fire and the flood
Clung to the tree
And were redeemed by the blood

From his hands it came down
From his side it came down
From the feet it came down
And ran to the ground
And a small inner voice
Said you do have a choice
The vine engrafted me
And I clung to the tree


Written by John R. Cash
Published by Song of Cash, Inc. (ASCAP)
© 1994 American Recordings /℗ 1994 American Recordings. 2100 Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404


Giving Thanks

This one is for me. Is this for you, too? || By: Alistair Begg — (Ephesians 5:20). Many view gratitude as an admirable and important quality. The Apostle Paul, however, had much more to say regarding thankfulness, and in his letter to the church in Ephesus, he directed believers to give thanks “always and for everything.” Alistair Begg helps us to understand that for the Christian, thankfulness is rooted in who God is and what He has done. As we trust in God’s fatherly, providential care, we can respond with thanksgiving through all circumstances and for all things.

Today in the City of David an Eternal Present was Unveiled

Today is the day we celebrate the birth1 of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,2 Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.3

A bit over two millennia ago, the eternal Word4 became the eternal-temporal Theanthrōpos,5 the God-man.6 God loved the world so much that He provided His one, unique Son7 as a sacrifice for us all, by ‘lifting Him up’ on the cross,8 so that everyone who believes in Him would not  perish, but would gain eternal life,9 adopted as God’s children.10 This entrance into eternality begins the very moment of initial belief11 and remains for those enduring until the end.12

This day we should, in reverential awe, commemorate this glorious, eternally present,13 eternal gift.14 We should remember this selfless, sacrificial gift15 every day—but especially today. Those temporal gifts we give and receive—largely in celebrations overshadowing the true meaning of this season, this day—those temporal gifts we exchange, some by compulsion, will perish. But not this gift. This gift, available to all, has already been given—at such cost!16 The Giver of this gift is Himself the Gift,17 Who seemingly perished forevermore after being crucified.18 Yet He rose again!19 And He lives yet still.20

But this gift is more of an exchange—though a very one-sided one at that. To receive the gift of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement21—in which He has already paid the due penalty for all mankind’s sins past, present, and future22—the recipient must repent,23 turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior,24 and then ‘take up one’s cross daily’.25 This means obeying Jesus’ commandments26 and following His path, to the point of physical death, if necessary.27 However, even if following Christ directly results in temporal death (which is an inevitable eventuality whether following Him or not) one receives the much more valuable eternal life. Yet, even more, as part of this exchange one receives God’s indwelling Spirit28—the Holy Spirit, the paraklētos,29 the Spirit of Truth30—in Whom one possesses both the compass to navigate and the strength to endure His pathway.

Yet Jesus’ requirements are not burdensome.31 When the Christ-follower inevitably sins32—and one easily does so when living by one’s own strength rather than by and in the Spirit33—He is quick to forgive the penitent.34

To those who believe in and follow the Messiah, His Resurrection guarantees this eternal present;35 but, it was the conception36 and subsequent birth37 of the Eternal-temporal38 providing the necessary precursor. As Christians, as Christ-followers, let us remember this day for the momentous and joyous occasion it was and is: the arrival of the Gospel in the Gift wrapped in strips of cloth lying in a manger.39 To those with opened eyes He was unveiled.40 To the blind He remained veiled, but to those blind subsequently receiving sight He was revealed.41

Let us not be side-tracked by the temporality of contemporary glitz and glamour. Let us not take this day for granted. Let us take it to heart. Let us take its inherent message to the outer extremities.42 Let us be God’s instruments through which this Gift is unveiled, blind eyes opened.

The world awaits.43


1 It is very unlikely, though, that December 25 is the actual day Jesus was born.
2 Luke 2:10-11.
3 John 1:41; 4:25.
4 John 1:1.
5 From Theos = God, anthrōpos = man.
6 John 1:14.
7 John 1:14; 3:16.
8 John 3:14 (cf. Numbers 21:8-9); John 12:32-33.
9 John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4; 1John 4:9-10.
10 John 1:12.
11 John 5:24-25.
12 Matthew 24:13; Revelation 14:12.
13 John 1:1-2; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2-3.
14 Revelation 13:8; cf. Revelation 17:8. There is ambiguity in the syntax of the Greek in 13:8. Is it that the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world (KJV, NIV, e.g.), or is it that certain names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (ESV, NASB, e.g.)? One could harmonize this with the words whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world from 17:8 to resolve this, yet it seems difficult to have a book of life without the Life Giver’s substitutionary atonement (Hebrews 2:17) having been provided first. So maybe both are true? Resolution is not even found in John the Baptizer’s words regarding the “Lamb of God” in John 1:29, for the verb airōn, takes away, is a present active participle, which grammatically indicates durative action, but the temporal reference is unclear. Is it yet-future from the Baptizer’s words, or is John stating that it is already in effect? Tangentially, this verb airō can connote being taken ‘up’ simultaneously with taken away, which can provide a bit of—likely intended—double entendre. In other words, sins are taken up/away as He is taken up/away. This double meaning likely applies—unknowingly by the speakers and in ironical fashion with the benefit of hindsight—in John 19:15 when “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi) responded to Pilate’s statement “Here is your king!” with aron aron, staurōson auton, “Take up/away, take up/away; crucify him!” Their command resulted in Him being glorified (John 12:23; 13:31-32; 17:1) and thereby receiving the name above every name (Philippians 2:9-11).
15 Philippians 2:5-8.
16 Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15. Each and every one of us—at and beyond the age of accountability, at the least—has played his/her part in lifting Him up on that cross.
17 John 11:25; 14:6.
18 Matthew 27:48-50; Mark 15:36-37; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30.
19 Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-8[20]; Luke 24:1-49; John 2:19-22; 10:17-18; 20:1-31; 1Corinthians 15:1-4.
20 Revelation 1:18.
21 Hebrews 2:14-18.
22 Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 9:11-15, 26-28; 10:12, 19-24.
23 Matthew 4:17; Luke 3:8-14; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Romans 2:4.
24 But this cannot be done in one’s own strength; see the words of Jesus in John 6:44: No one is able to come to Me unless the Father, the One Who sent Me, draws him[/her]. See also John 6:65.
25 Matthew 10:38-39; 16:24-26; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23-24; 14:27; John 12:25-26.
26 Matthew 4:17; 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; John 8:31-32; 13:34/15:12; 15:10; James 2:8-11; 1John 5:3.
27 See What did Jesus mean when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me”?
28 John 3:3-8; 14:17; Romans 8:15-17; 1Corinthians 2:12; 3:16; 6:19; 2Corinthians 6:16.
29 John 14:15-16:15; Acts 1:8; 2:1-39; 1John 4:1-6. See also Who is the Holy Spirit?
30 John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1John 4:6; 5:6.
31 Matthew 11:28-30; 1John 5:3.
32 1John 1:8-10.
33 Galatians 5:16-26; 1John 1:6-8.
34 Hebrews 10:22-23; 1John 1:9-2:2.
35 1Corinthians 15:20-23.
36 Luke 1:34-35.
37 Luke 2:1-7.
38 John 1:1, 14.
39 Luke 2:10-12.
40 Luke 2:8-20.
41 John 9:1-41; 2Corinthians 3:14-18.
42 Matthew 28:19-20.
43 John 3:16-21, 31-36; Romans 8:18-27.

A Proper Understanding of the New Testament Text

What the authors of Myths and Mistakes insist on is that it is neither necessary nor even possible to demonstrate that we can recover the exact wording of the New Testament. But what we have is good enough.

The above words by Daniel B. Wallace are the final sentences in his Foreword to the new multi-author volume Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, eds. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019], pp xix-xx). I received a copy a few days ago, and I may provide a more comprehensive review of it at some point (beyond what I’ve written here), once I’ve read through all its contents.

I think all Christians, most especially those involved in any sort of apologetics, should at least be somewhat acquainted with the topic of New Testament (NT) textual criticism. This is the discipline of attempting to determine the original Greek text (aka the autographs) of the NT, from which we translate to English and other languages. And it’s important that claims regarding the authenticity of the NT text are not exaggerated, for this will only serve to damage the cause of Christian apologetics and Christianity at large. Some who are openly hostile to the Christian faith well-know there are extant Greek NT texts that do not agree with each other, and attempts to quell this fact will only lead to charges of a lack of integrity and/or intelligence among Christians.

The cult-like fervor of King James Version-onlyists (KJVO) is particularly damaging to the Christian faith. These KJVOs stubbornly cling to either a claim of the supremacy of the Greek text underlying the KJV (the so-called Textus Receptus [TR]) and/or the supposed superiority of the King James English contained in the KJV over against all modern English (and other language) versions.1 Adherents appear to be sincere in their desire to believe that God has preserved His words in a particular manner, but in their zeal and shortsightedness they take things too far.

Such an extreme view can be misconstrued as not unlike what we would find in the ‘automatic’ writings of occult works, such as those by Alice A. Bailey, in which she openly states she was the conduit by which an entity identifying himself as Djwal Khul (aka Djwhal Khul, The Tibetan, Master D. K.) channeled his words. Hopefully, no one in Christianity/Christendom believes God provided His words in such a manner. According to the Apostle Paul, “all Scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos: from theos = God; pneustos = breath, breathe)” (2 Tim 3:16);2 moreover, according to Simon Peter, “men, borne by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21) and even Paul’s epistles are identified as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). That is, Scripture is understood to be written by men under inspiration from God, as opposed to God dictating His words to these men verbatim. In other words, these men were active participants in the writing of the Christian Holy Scriptures, as opposed to passive recipients, mere conduits. Thus, it is not imperative that we have the exact words of the NT in order to understand what God had conveyed via His messengers.

In Hixson and Gurry’s Introduction is a salient point regarding the reliability of the Greek text we do have:

…Simply put, we believe the textual evidence we have is sufficient to reconstruct, in most cases, what the authors of the New Testament wrote. We cannot do this with equal certainty, of course, and the following chapters will discuss places where doubt remains significant…Nevertheless, we do think that even the most textually corrupted of our manuscripts and editions still convey the central truths of the Christian faith with clarity and power. In every age, God has given his people a text that is more than reliable enough to know the saving work he has accomplished through Jesus Christ.3

To that I can only add, “Amen!”


1 The Achilles’ heel of the KJVO stance is the Johannine Comma (Latin Comma Johanneum)—interpolated verbiage found in the TR of 1 John 5:7-8 and in the corresponding English of the KJV/NKJV. See Daniel B. Wallace’s refutation of this as inspired Scripture here and here.

2 For an in-depth analysis on this one-time occurrence of this word (hapax legomenon), see George W. Knight III’s Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), pp 444-450.

3 Hixson & Gurry, Myths and Mistakes, p 20. The accompanying footnote to this passage is worth presenting here (in part): In this we agree with influential English reformer William Whitaker, who could readily concede to his Roman Catholic opponents that “the fundamental points of the faith are preserved intact in this Latin edition, if not everywhere, yet in very many places.” This despite his opponents’ claims that the Latin text had final authority, a claim Whitaker vigorously opposed.

Probing the Prologue in the Gospel According to John: John 1:6-8

[See Introduction; John 1:1-2; John 1:3-5]

Some believe the prologue was initially a Christian hymn, repurposed by the Gospel writer.48 At least a few with this perspective construe 1:6-8 as an interpolation, an addition to the original hymn.49 Yet even if the prologue had its genesis as a hymn, with the Gospel writer adapting it, inserting these verses for his own aims, one should hardly view 6-8 as merely parenthetical, as if almost superfluous. On the contrary, these three verses are integral to the overall purpose.50 They serve to shift the light in 1:4-5 from some ambiguous post-creation period to the public sphere at a particular time—thus revealing the apparent polysemy in v. 5—via the witness of a man named John.51

This man, John, is ‘sent from God’ (v. 6). Within the prologue (and the Gospel) he is never identified as “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer”, however the writer consistently records him elsewhere in terms of this function by using various forms of the verb baptize (βαπτίζω, baptizō: 1:25, 26, 28, 31, 33; 3:26; 10:40). Accordingly, he shall be called “the Baptizer” here, in order to differentiate him from the Gospel writer.

The Baptizer will be mentioned yet again in the prologue (v. 15).

A Man Sent from God

 Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ,52 ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης
Egeneto anthrōpos, apestalmenos para theou, onoma autō̧ Iōannēs
Came (a) person,53 having-been-sent from God, name to him John
There was a man, sent from God, named John.

This verse begins with the same verb used throughout v. 3—ginomai (here in the aorist form, egeneto). However, it serves a different purpose in this context, taking on a slightly different nuance. The verb here functions as a discourse marker, signaling a transition, introducing a new character54 (cf. Mark 1:4).

Yet there may be an additional implication in this context. Though the aorist egeneto can be used to signify a ‘coming into being’ at a point in time (cf. 8:58: “Before Abraham came into existence/was born”), it can also indicate a time period, such as an entire lifetime. When considered in conjunction with the perfect participle apestalmenos, as well as the final clause (cf. Luke 1:13: “Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you shall call him John” [to onoma autou Iōannēn]), this interpretation gains plausibility.55 In other words, when the initial (principle) verb is taken in its full sentential context, the Baptizer’s entire existence, beginning from his birth (as foretold in Luke 1:11-20 by Gabriel, who announced both his purpose and the Nazarite restrictions to be placed upon his entire life), is likely authorial intent.

The introduction of the Baptizer in the prologue, his ‘coming’ (egeneto), is contrasted with the introduction of the Word (vv. 1-2), aka the Light (vv. 7-9ff), as ‘being’ (ēn).56 While the Baptizer came (egeneto), as one sent from God within the course of human history, the Word (the Light) existed (ēn) with God in the beginning, pre-history.57 Moreover, the Baptizer was a man (anthrōpos), while the Word (the Light) is identified as God (theos).58

The participle apestalmenos, from apostellō (its noun form apostolos, “apostle”; apostolē is “apostleship, assignment”), means more than merely “sent” here.59 It connotes being commissioned or consigned for a particular purpose. The Baptizer was consigned by God.

The Baptizer Testifies about “the Light”

οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός,
houtos ēlthen eis martyrian hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos,
This-one came for testimony so-that he-might-testify concerning the Light,
This man came as a witness, to testify about the Light,

The writer proceeds from the general of v. 6 to the more specific in 7. In contrast to egeneto in v. 6, ēlthen (the aorist of erchomai) here is best defined “of making an appearance: come before the public, appear”.60 It focuses on the Baptizer’s ministry.

Strictly speaking, a subject pronoun (houtos here) is redundant—all finite verbs encode person and number (though not gender)—so the presence of the demonstrative pronoun provides some measure of emphasis.61 The sense is this particular man (as opposed to another).

The Baptizer was commissioned to bear witness to the Light—not unlike Moses before him, who was commissioned (LXX: apostellō) by the LORD, YHWH to go to Pharaoh, to lead the sons of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10-15).62 The Light is picked up from verse 5, thus firmly situating ‘it’ in the first century via the Baptizer. And, as Hurtado asserts, this ‘Light’ “can only be Jesus, as the succeeding narrative goes on to explain in 1:19-34”.63 Verse 1:31 provides the most succinct statement of his commissioning: “…I came baptizing in water so that He [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel”. This serves as further evidence towards negating the position that “the Word” was an ‘it’—an utterance, or merely a personification of God (see The Word was an “it”? section in 1:1-2).

The clause hina martyrēsȩ̄ is epexegetical, that is, it serves to further explain the preceding eis martyrian.64 The Baptizer came as a witness, but for what purpose specifically? He came as a witness, to testify about the Light.

While the Baptizer’s testimony places the Light into the specific historical setting ca. 30 AD, from the undefined period (and ambiguous function) of vv. 1:4-5,65 one should not think to limit his witness to his first century ministry. The Baptizer continues to testify via this Gospel’s written record (and other New Testament writings) as each new reader imbibes its elixir of life.

Jesus, in speaking with the Pharisees (John 8:12), claims to be “the Light of the world” (to phōs tou kosmou), and those who follow Him will not walk in darkness, but will have “the Light of life” (to phōs tēs zōēs)—certainly a reference to 1:4-5. In v. 4, however, the narrator states that life (zōē) was in the Logos and that this life was “the Light of humanity” (to phōs tōn anthrōpōn).

Jesus explicitly or implicitly refers to Himself as “the Light” a number of times in John’s Gospel (3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36; 12:46).

ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν δι᾿ αὐτοῦ.
hina pantes pisteusōsin di’ autou.
that all might-believe through him.
so that all might come to believe through him.

Since the genitive form (autou) of the Greek personal pronoun autos could represent either a masculine or neuter noun, there is initial ambiguity as to its referent: belief through whom? Is it the Light or the Baptizer? The ambiguity quickly vanishes when the larger context is considered. The subject is the Baptizer, and the emphasis is on his testimony about the Light; thus, the Baptizer is the intended referent. Belief in the Light is to be effected through the Baptizer. The next verse reinforces this. John the Baptizer’s ultimate goal is to bring all to belief in the Light through his testimony—a lofty objective, indeed.

Pantes pisteusōsin di’ autou (“all might believe through him”) here should be compared to v. 3’s panta di’ autou (“all through Him”). In v. 3 panta (“all”) is neuter, denoting the entirety of creation; comparatively, pantes (“all”) in v. 7 is obviously limited to humans (anthrōpos) and is, accordingly, understood to be masculine. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that v. 7’s pantes refers back to the humanity (anthrōpōn) of “the Light of humanity” (to phōs tōn anthrōpōn) in v. 4. The life in the Word is the Light of humanity, and John’s aim is that all men and women believe in this Light.

The use of “believe” here is the very first in John’s Gospel. It forms the initial bookend of an inclusio, with “believe” in 20:31 the other bookend. The Baptizer is one witness among quite a few in this Gospel (the Father, the disciples, etc.), another one being the recording of Jesus’ signs “so that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).66

The aorist subjunctive pisteusōsin, “might believe” is likely ingressive, signifying initial coming to faith (“might come to believe”).67 Yet the temporal sphere of the verb’s action should be understood as encompassing both the Baptizer’s entire earthly ministry and his continuing legacy via the Gospel. All might come to believe by the Baptizer’s words as he spoke them in the first century, and all might come to believe via the record of the Baptizer’s testimony in John’s Gospel in the ensuing centuries on up to the present day.

The Baptizer was Not the Light

οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνος τὸ φῶς, ἀλλ᾿ ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός.
ouk ēn ekeinos to phōs, all’ hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos.
not was that-one the Light, but so that he-might-testify about the Light.
He was not the Light, but ˻he came˼ to testify about the Light.

Once again we find a demonstrative pronoun (ekeinos) used for the Baptizer. In this context, especially given its placement after the verb, it is emphatic, referring back to the demonstrative houtos at the beginning of v. 7.68 The italicized He in the translation illustrates this emphasis.69

Excepting the adversative conjunction alla (the final a elided here), “but”, the last two clauses (hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos) mirror two clauses found in the middle of v. 7. As the phrase is elliptical, with the verb omitted, a verb must be supplied from either v. 7 (ēlthen) or v. 6 (egeneto, or a form of apostellō).70 Most popular English versions insert “he came” (ēlthen)—as rendered here. This seems best, for this is the nearest anteceding principle verb.71

Some believe the emphatic He was not the Light may have been stated in response to a group of individuals who viewed the Baptizer as the Light/Christ (Messiah) or some other lauded figure.72 Possible Biblical evidence for this may be inferred from John 1:19-25 (cf. 3:22-36) and Acts 18:25-19:7. However, some caution must be exercised here, for the Baptizer is highly regarded in this Gospel (and elsewhere), so to see this strictly as a polemic against a presumed John the Baptizer sect is likely overstating the case.73 Rather, this emphatic statement more likely provides a transition to v. 9.74 Moreover, Jesus identifies the Baptizer as “the lamp” (ὁ λύχνος, ho lychnos) in John 5:35. The lamp came not to self-illuminate, he came to shed light on the Light.


48 Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.334-337; cf. Edwards, Discovering John, pp 84-97.

49 See, e.g., Bultmann, Gospel of John, pp 15-18, 48-49; cf. Bruce (F. F. Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John), who supposes, “It may have been originally a separate composition which has been integrated with the Gospel by having two preliminary sections of narrative dovetailed into it—verses 6-8 and verse 15…” (p 28; cf. p 34). Martin Hengel (“The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth” in Bauckham/Mosser, John and Christian Theology) is “convinced that this hymn corresponds to the text of the Prologue and that only the two passages about John the Baptist in vv. 6-8 and 15—written in the same style as the hymn—have been inserted to clamp it to the Gospel” (p 268).

50 See Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 41; Barrett, St. John, p 159.

51 See Carson, Gospel, pp 119-120; Lincoln, Truth on Trial, p 58.

52 There is no article preceding θεοῦ here, though it is true that the article is lacking before “God”, “Father”, and other ‘concrete’ nouns in prepositional phrases at times throughout Scripture—and as noted earlier in the comments to 1:1a of the non-concrete “beginning”. In John’s Gospel it is lacking after παρα̒ (“from/by”) only a few times (John 1:6 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; 1:14 [παρὰ πατρο̒ς]; 9:16 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; 9:33 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; and maybe 16:27 [split in the manuscripts between παρὰ θεοῦ, παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, and παρὰ {τοῦ} πατρο̒ς]); however, note the presence of the article in a dozen others (John 5:44 [παρὰ τοῦ μόνου θεοῦ]; 6:45 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 6:46 [παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]; 8:38 [παρὰ τῷ πατρι̒, παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 8:40 [παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]; 10:18 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου]; John 15:15 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 15:26 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς, παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 16:28 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; and, John 19:25 [παρὰ τῷ σταυρῷ])—two to three times as many with the article, depending on how one interprets the text critical data in 16:27. Perhaps it’s significant that every time the article is present before “God” and “Father” after παρα̒ Jesus (Word-made-flesh) is speaking, while the times the article is lacking occurs in narrative (1:6; 1:14) or when others are speaking (9:16; 9:33)—excluding verse 16:27 from this analysis. More work needs to be done—that is, analyzing the other prepositional phrases in John—before coming to any conclusions. Of course, we already covered πρὸς τὸν θεόν in both 1:1b and 1:2, but the presence of the article in these may be understood to be a method of differentiating the anarthrous θεός in 1:1c (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος) from ὁ θεός in 1:1b and 1:2, while simultaneously providing some commonality yet distinction between ὁ λόγος as θεός in 1:1c and ὁ θεός of 1:1b and 1:2. In other words, the arthrous θεός in the prepositional phrases of 1:1b and 1:2 may have a separate discourse function.

53 Ανθρωπος is considered gender neutral, generally (e.g. John 1:9; 2:25), yet in the cultural milieu of the first century, the a priori assumption would have been male (see 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 33-34). So, even though “man” (as opposed to “woman”) would be assumed, on first reading one should think gender neutrally. Of course, here in 1:6 the gender is made clear by both the masculine participle and the masculine name in the final clause. Note that in John 4 the Samaritan woman is consistently referenced as γυνή, even when she self-references (“being a γυναικὸς Σαμαρίτιδος” [4:9]).

54 Johannes P. Louw & Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1989), Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.1, “γίνομαι,” p 811 (§ 91.5); cf. Beasley-Murray, John, p 12; Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26. Bultmann (Gospel of John, pp 48-49, n 3) sees Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος as a Hebraism, comparing with wayᵉhı̂ ʾı̂š ʾeḥāḏ in Judges 13:2, 19:1 from the same book, and 1 Samuel 1:1, thus, to his mind, providing evidence that (a) this section (vv. 6-8) is not part of the original hymn, but the narrator’s own comments, and (b) that the narrator writes in a Jewish flavor as of one from the area of Syria (p 6). Bultmann finds other commonalities with the Hebrew, as well (p 49, n 3); cf. Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 41. Contra Hengel (“The Prologue”, pp 276-277), who views the verb as punctiliar, paralleling it with ἐγένετο in v. 14.

55 The perfect verbal form can be defined in shorthand as ‘past action with present results’ (see, e.g., H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York: MacMillan, 1927], pp 200-205); however, importantly, the time element, including duration, must be determined by context. In the overall context of vv. 6-8, and even the larger context of the entire Gospel, the participle ἀπεσταλμένος here could be viewed as strictly covering his ministry as the Baptizer. Yet, with the initial aorist ἐγένετο and the final clause which seems to allude to Luke 1, it can be viewed as encompassing his earthly existence in its entirety. The aorist ἐγένετο by itself can be understood as either a past action at a particular point in time (“came-to-be”, i.e. birth) or as encompassing a long time period (the aorist is perfective in aspect—see here for explanation), to include even the Baptizer’s whole life. If the participle was also an aorist (or if ἐγένετο was absent, and “sent” was the principle verb and in the aorist), we might be inclined to understand the entire verbal action as strictly punctiliar. But in view of the perfect participle here, ἐγένετο may be better perceived in a constative sense, to include not only the Baptizer’s public ministry (which is not mentioned until the next verse), but his entire ‘coming’, i.e., his earthly life in its totality. In other words, the past action of the perfect would be God’s initial sending (at conception or birth) and the ‘present results’ would consist of his entire earthly life. When comparing the future tense of Luke 1:13’s “you shall call the name of him John” (a then-prophecy) with “Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος…name to him John” (a general truth post-prophetic fulfillment), and given the evidence provided just above, it seems reasonable to see v. 6 as referring to the entire life of the Baptizer. Moreover, comparing ἐγένετο here to ἦλθεν in v. 7, and the specified function stated for the Baptizer there (see below), it seems the Gospel writer intended to start from the general in v. 6 and move to the more specific in v. 7.

56 See Westcott, St. John, para 1146. This writer, though, calls the referent in v. 9 “the Word”.

57 Brown (John I-XII, p 8) observes that ἐγένετο here is, of course, the same verb used in v. 3 and compares with the use of ἦν in vv. 1-2, noting that the former is used of creation, seemingly concluding from this that the Gospel writer used ἐγένετο as a way of identifying the Baptizer as a creature. Leon Morris (Gospel According to John, p 89) is more explicit, acknowledging that, while ἐγένετο here places “no particular emphasis on creation”, the usage in this context “must be held to point a contrast between Jesus and John”.

58 Köstenberger, John, BECNT, p 32.

59 Morris (Leon Morris, Gospel According to John, p 89, n 48) notes that the passive ἀποστέλλω here (cf. 3:28) contrasts with the active voice when this verb is used for Jesus being sent from the Father.

60 BDAG, “ἔρχομαι” (1.b.), p 394.

61 Cf. οὗτος in 1:2.

62 See Barrett, St. John, p 159.

63 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 365.

64 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26; Barrett, St. John, p 159. Lincoln (Truth on Trial, pp 21, 58-60ff, 146) asserts John the Baptizer’s witness is part of a larger “lawsuit motif” in John’s Gospel.

65 See Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, p 34; cf. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p 129.

66 The bracketed “come to” signifies a text critical issue in 20:31, in which manuscripts are divided between the aorist and the present tense-form. See Harris, John, EGGNT, p 5 for a somewhat detailed discussion.

67 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26.

68 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26.

69 The KJV renders it “He was not that Light”, likely in an effort to retain, as closely as possible, the original word order in translation.

70 See Harris, John, EGGNT, pp 26-27.

71 This yields ἀλλὰ ἦλθεν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός. While some English versions pick up “sent” from v. 6, this seems dubious. It requires making a periphrastic construction (adding ἦν [from the first clause of v. 8?] to ἀπεσταλμένος) or changing the participle to an aorist (or perfect?) indicative. Louw and Nida (L&N), noting that ἵνα clauses can be “markers of purpose for events and states (sometimes occurring in highly elliptical contexts)”, take ἐγένετο from v. 6 (cf. Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26), rendering this phrase but (this happened) in order that he could witness concerning the light (p 785 [§ 89.59]). But if we apply L&N here we would have two near-consecutive parallel ἵνα clauses (in v. 7 and v. 8) with different meanings, the second one taking the principle verb from the verse preceding the first one (v. 6). Applying Occam’s razor seems prudent here: supplying the principle verb found in the sentence from which this phrase is sourced (v. 7; ἦλθεν) is the simplest solution. While we certainly cannot impose English upon the Greek, this resembles the solution in the following: He went to the convenience store to pick up some milk. He didn’t go grocery shopping, but to the convenience store. We would understand the ellipsis as “he went”, that is: He didn’t go grocery shopping, but [on the contrary] he went to the convenience store (to pick up some milk).

72 See Brown, John I-XII, pp LXVII-LXX; Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.388-391.

73 See Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 42.

74 Barrett, St. John, p 160; Carson, Gospel, p 121.

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

[See Introduction; John 1:1-2; John 1:6-8]

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 vv. 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

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, in a sense, 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 vv. 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 an apparent substitute for the Word.

[Go to John 1:6-8.]


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

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; John 1:6-8]

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

[See John 1:1-2; John 1:3-5; John 1:6-8]

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 “John’s Gospel”, “the Gospel”, John, or other such designations  for the longer inscription.

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:


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:

Ashton, John, ed. The Interpretation of John, Issues in Religion and Theology 9 (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1986).

Ashton, John, Understanding the Fourth Gospel, 2nd ed. (Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2007).

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, Leon, The Gospel According to John, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971).

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

Perschbacher, Wesley J., The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1990).

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).

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

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 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.

Enriching Life

I want to challenge readers to step outside the box a bit – outside your comfort zone. You’ll never know what lies beyond your safe little bubble, until you do. Whatever that may mean for you, as it is likely different for everyone. I say this for my benefit too.

I’m not suggesting engaging in really risky things, necessarily. It could be something as simple as stepping outside your musical box, trying out some different music. Music is the universal language! It can build bridges.

I have a lot of music that I’ve acquired over the years. A LOT. Since my childhood, I’d try out different types of music – some I’d like right away, others would grow on me fairly quickly, and yet others would take years to appreciate, if at all. Yesterday evening, as it was cold here – too cold for me to want to venture out anywhere – I pulled out a cd I’d not listened to in a while. I knew I liked it, but, as I recalled, it wasn’t on my top tier. Well, I had a very delightful listening session! My opinion – or my recollection of my opinion – changed.

It was a disc by Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, titled Infância, which, in Portuguese means “childhood”. As I heard it afresh, and as I perceive the artist’s conception for the album, the music was intended to evoke the emotions of childhood and adolescence.

In any case, I was struck by a poem in the accompanying notes. I bought this particular album before my journey as a Christian began, so the poem would have meant little to me at that time; the message would have gone over my head. Not this time. It’s quite powerful poetry.

Appropriately, the poem was originally written in Portuguese, as that’s the primary language of Brazil. There’s an accompanying English translation; however, with my theological background and my rudimentary (very rudimentary) knowledge of Spanish, I had a feeling the translation didn’t quite capture the author’s intent. So, along with the aforementioned, as well as the limited help of Google Translate and other online sources, I translated the poem to English. If there are any readers who are well-versed in Portuguese, or who knows someone who is, I’d appreciate any correction or improvement (OK, I know of at least one reader who belongs in one or both these categories).

Without further ado, here is the poem in Portuguese and English:

Mensagem The Message
(by Fernando Pessoa)
O mytho é o nada que é tudo The myth is the nothing that is everything.
O mesmo sol que abre os céus The very Sun that opens the heavens
É um mytho brilhante e mudo – Is a myth brilliant yet muted –
O corpo morto de Deus, The dead body of God,
Vivo e desnudo. Alive and yet bare.
Este, que aqui aportou, He, who transmigrated here,
Foi por na͂o ser existindo, For He was – having not existed.
Sem existir nos bastou. His not existing was sufficient for us,
Por na͂o ter vindo foi vindo For having not yet come, He had come
E nos creou. And created us.
Assim a lenda se escorre Thus the legend descends,
A entrar na realidade, To enter into reality
E a fecundal-a decorre. And to duly enrich it.
Em baixo, a vida, metade The life below – half
De nada, morre. Is nothing, is dead.
Todo começo é  involuntario, Every beginning is involuntary,
Deus é o agente. God is the cause.
O heroe a si assiste, vario The Hero Himself witnesses, various types
E inconsciente Unaware
A espada em tuas ma͂os achada To the sword in your hands –
Teu olhar desce. Your gaze falls to it.
˵Que farei eu com esta espada?˶ What shall I do with this sword?
Ergueste-a, e fez-se You raised it, and it was done.
As naço͂es todas sa͂o mysterios. The nations are all mysteries.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 6, Conclusion

[This is part 6 of a multi-part article. See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.]

Comparison with John 1:1c and 1:14a

Comparing 5:27b with other theologically similar anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John’s Gospel, specifically 1:1c and 1:14a, may reinforce the stance adopted here.

In the verse which begins John’s Gospel the author describes the same subject – ὁ λόγος (ho logos), the Word – using the same verb in the same tense-form (ἦν, ēn; was, existed) in three separate clauses with three different nuances: existence, association, and essence, respectively.123  This threefold repetition of subject-verb exemplifies merely one portrayal of John’s predilection for poetic expression.  While it’s the third clause with the same syntactical construction as 5:27b, it will prove helpful to briefly investigate the first two as well.

The first clause (1:1a), Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, translates In the beginning was the Word or, better, In the beginning the Word existed.  In its immediate context, taking into consideration verses 2-3, this declares the Word’s pre-existence with respect to creation, i.e., the Word’s eternality.  The second clause (1:1b), καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, is best rendered and the Word was with God.  This second clause, when taken in conjunction with the first, describes the eternal relationship between the Word and (the) God, logically indicating that (the) God is other than, and in distinction from, the Word.  While the direct object τὸν θεόν, (the) God, could be understood as the Trinitarian Godhead, for our purposes here we assume the referent is God the Father.124

This brings us to the third clause, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, which is an anarthrous PN-CV-SN construction.  Most English translations render it and the Word was God.  While the PN could be deemed either definite or qualitative, an indefinite rendering (a god) is rejected from the outset for rather obvious exegetical and theological reasons.125

Colwell deems the usage in 1:1c definite by asserting the converse of his own rule; i.e., he presupposes definiteness unless “the context demands” indefiniteness or qualitativeness:

The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb, it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it.  The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John, for this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas (20:28).126

Moreover, Colwell wishes to impose definiteness on 1:1c because of the definite, articular use of theos in another context (20:28)127 – precisely the same reasoning he used in 5:27b.  But, as we noted earlier, definite usage in one context does not necessitate definiteness in another.  In fact, if definiteness is pressed too hard, taking 1:1b in conjunction with 1:1c, modalism may obtain; i.e., the Word was God the Father.128

A better solution is to view the PN in 1:1c as (primarily) qualitative.129  Westcott understands 1:1c as qualitative, describing the divine nature of the Word, with 5:27b its converse, depicting the Word’s human nature:

The predicate (θεός) stands emphatically first . . . 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.  Compare for the converse statement of the true humanity of Christ 5:27.130

Harner, Dixon and Wallace view 1:1c as qualitative, as well.131  In addition, Barrett understands theos in 1c as describing the nature of the Word, hence, qualitativeness.132  Beasley-Murray seems to imply qualitative-definiteness in this context.133  Bruce also seems to imply qualitative-definiteness in 1c.134

The predominant English rendering and the Word was God seems fine, as long as the reader understands that it describes the essence of the Word.  Harner thinks it could be translated and the Word has the same nature as God.135  We prefer And the Word was by nature God.

Next we’ll discuss John 1:14a: Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο.  Here we have the subject nominative (ὁ λόγος) preceding the anarthrous PN-CV construction (σὰρξ ἐγένετο, sarx egeneto; “flesh became”).  This is probably best rendered [And] the Word became flesh.

The analysis of the anarthrous PN-CV construction in 1:14a is more straightforward than either 1:1c or 5:27b.  It is clearly not indefinite, as we wouldn’t say the Word became a flesh.136  In a similar way, it would be difficult to state that the Word became the flesh, as this would mean that the Word took on a particular flesh, in which case a form of adoptionism would be implied: the divine Word ‘adopted’ a particular person, Jesus.137  No; the Word assumed another nature (human) when He became flesh, not another person, and this assumption of human nature resulted in the divine-human Person of Christ Jesus.  Hence, a qualitative understanding is the only possibility: [And] the Word became flesh – flesh consistent with that of every other human.

Wallace states that many commentaries prior to Colwell’s ‘rule’ noted a parallel between 1:1c and 1:14a because of the common anarthrous PN-CV constructions, with both clauses construed as qualitative.138  Westcott is but one example.139  In addition, as noted above, Westcott sees 5:27b as the converse of 1:1c.  Hence, these three qualitative PN-CV constructions can be viewed as forming a triad.  The Word was by nature God (1:1c).  Then, the divine Word became flesh, assuming flesh common to all humanity (1:14a), thus becoming the divine-human Person of Jesus.  This Jesus, the divine Son of God the Father (5:19-26), declared that the reason He was given authority to judge is because He is (also) human (5:27b).  In other words, though maintaining all the attributes of Deity (1:1c), the enfleshed Word is also human (1:14a), concurrently possessing all the qualities and characteristics consistent with being human, and it is the fact that the Word possesses human nature, in conjunction with His intrinsic divine nature, that enables Him to be Judge of all humankind (5:27b).

His incarnational humanity would remain a part of His Person – even after His “glorification,” which commenced at His death on the cross – as He, the divine yet human God-man, will be the future eschatological Judge of all humankind (5:28-30).  So, to reiterate, since the eternal Word is by nature God (1:1c), He possesses the divine capacity to judge humanity; however, it is only because He became flesh (1:14c) and is, hence, human that He cannot be seen as anything but a fair judge of humanity (5:27b) both during His earthly ministry (5:24-25) and at the eschaton (5:28-30).  For, like humankind, He suffered in His temptations (Heb 2:17-18; cf. Heb 5:2) and was tempted in all ways (Heb 4:15a-b); yet, unlike humanity, He remained unblemished, without sin (Heb 4:15c).

A contrarian may argue that John the Gospel writer could simply have used the adjectival forms (θεῖος, theios = divine; ἀνθρώπινος, anthrōpinos = human) instead of the nominal to make his intention clear in 1:1c and 5:27b.  However, using adjectives would have lessened the explanatory force, making these passages a bit ambiguous.  Was the Word simply another god, i.e. possessing the quality of divinity (1:1c), alongside God the Father?  Was Jesus merely human (5:27b)?  Moreover, these forms are infrequently used in the NT generally and, more importantly, completely absent in the Johannine corpus.140  Furthermore, it seems that the anarthrous PN-CV construction lends itself well to accentuating a particular quality of the subject nominative.  First, this is via the non-use of the article in the predicate nominative, which allows for a qualitative understanding, yet with an underlying definiteness.  Secondly, by placing the PN ahead of the CV – a linguistic device called fronting – the PN is necessarily emphasized.141  And the Gospel writer seems to have specifically intended this dual function in these contexts, just as he does predominately in the rest of his Gospel.


We have argued that John the Gospel writer, in making son of man anarthrous in 5:27b, wished to provide a distinction between this context and all other occurrences of the arthrous the Son of Man, while yet alluding to the latter.

It was shown that in the LXX the son of man idiom is always anarthrous, with the intended meaning mankind/humanity, or, human.  In the NT, the arthrous form is apparently a term specifically coined by Jesus, though it is used predominantly as a third person reference by Him.  Following Hurtado, we find that the articular ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου does not characterize or define “the Son of Man;” instead the individual contexts refer to the Person of Jesus Christ.  Moreover, “the Son of Man” does not refer solely to Jesus’ human nature, and, therefore, the term cannot be said to denote His humanity as opposed to His divinity.

A point of connection was found in the context of the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in John 5:27b, specifically in regards to judgment, with both Rev 1:13 and 14:14, each of these verses in the Apocalypse alluding to the figure like a son of man in Daniel 7:13.  It was argued that in John 5:27b the Gospel writer also intended an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, by both the use of the anarthrous huios anthrōpou and the larger context (which also points to Daniel 12:1-2).  This point of contact is argued as specifically evocative of the eschatological human-like figure in Daniel, making it clear that Jesus is the one spoken of by the Prophet.

Colwell’s ‘rule’ was found to be largely unhelpful in exegeting 5:27b.  However, the specific syntactical construction Colwell investigated, with the anarthrous predicate nominative preceding its copulative verb – which Wallace helpfully terms “Colwell’s Construction” – was shown to be primarily qualitative in the Gospel According to John.  John 5:27b was argued as having a qualitative force and an underlying definiteness.

This same construction is found in 1:1c and 1:14a, and along with 5:27b, these verses form a sort of triad.  In 1:1c the eternal Word was (ἦν, en) {by nature} God. In 1:14a the divine Word became (ἐγένετο, egeneto) flesh, taking on human nature; in 5:27b the Son of God is (ἐστίν) human, the abiding result of the former: the preexistent, eternal divine Son dwells in human form among humankind.  Jesus fully participates in humanity because He is fully human; however, He is not merely human, as He’s the Son of God.  His incarnational humanity remains into the eschaton where He will be eschatological judge (5:28-30).  For it is because the eternal Word is by nature God (1:1c) that He possesses the divine capacity to judge mankind; however, it is only because He became flesh (1:14c) and is, hence, human (5:27b) that he cannot be seen as anything but a fair judge of humanity.

It is the Word’s pre-incarnational, eternal intrinsic divinity (1:1c) coupled with his incarnational humanity (1:14a) that makes Him the perfect Judge (5:27b) for humankind (5:24-25; 5:28-30):

And he (the Father) has given Him (Jesus, the Son of God) authority to judge because He is (also) human.

In this view, the reason that the Son of God is given authority to judge is because He is also human.  This provides the basis for which He can be a fair judge of all, saved and unsaved, at the eschaton.


123 See Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 2; cf. Brown, John I-XXI, p 4.

124 Thompson, God of Gospel of John, p 57, observes that there are 108 occurrences of θεός (God) in the fourth Gospel, as compared to “Father” which appears 120 times. God is first explicitly referenced as the Father of the μονογενὴς (monogenēs) Son in 1:14 (μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός), when considered in its full context to include 1:18 (μονογενὴς θεός/υἱός).  The large majority of times in John’s Gospel “Father” is in a context of relationship with Jesus as his Son, and what the Father does through the Son (pp 57-58, 69-72).  This leaves open the possibility that θεός in 1b refers to the entire Godhead rather than merely the Father.

David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me, p 79, understands the Trinity as the referent, more clearly differentiating the Trinitarian Godhead from the Logos as God (1c) in its micro-context by paraphrasing the verse: In the beginning the Word existed, and the Word was with the Deity [τὸν θεόν], and the Word was Deity [θεός] (emphasis in original).  (Here Black seems to construe the PN of 1:1c as qualitative-definite (pp 77, 79).)  Carson, Gospel According to John, pp 116-118, also asserts 1b as a referent to the Trinitarian Godhead.

On the other hand, Brown, John I-XXI, notes that in contexts in which at least two members of the Trinity are expressed ho theos is “frequently used for God the Father” (p 5).  Moreover, in 57 of 58 appearances of ὁ θεός in John the referent is God the Father (See Dixon, p 36).  While Thompson, God of Gospel of John, observes that “God” is not used as a referent for the incarnate Word in the Gospel according to John, but that “God” is used for the preincarnate Word (1:1c) as well as the glorified Jesus (20:28), the author, though not explicit, strongly implies that τὸν θεόν in 1:1b denotes the Father (pp 233, 234).

Many modern commentaries assert the referent as the Father, e.g., Brown, John I-XXI, p 5, 24; Keener, Gospel of John: One, pp 369-374; Kostenberger, John, pp 27-29.  Ridderbos, Gospel of John, implies 1b as a referent to the Father, as he states that 1:1 “is explained, at the deepest level, by the absoluteness of the historic self-disclosure of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God” (p 35).  Martin Hengel, “The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth” (in Bauckham, Mosser, Gospel of John and Christian Theology) sees John 1:1 as corresponding with 10:30: “I and the Father are one” (pp 272-273); cf. Paul N. Anderson, “On Guessing Points and Naming Stars” (in Bauckham, Mosser, Gospel of John and Christian Theology) who, similarly, equates 1:1 with 10:30 (p 314).  In addition, one may infer that Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 156, understands 1b as a reference to God the Father; Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, pp 30-31, also appears to imply the Father as the referent for 1b.

Moreover, a sampling of Patristic literature indicates a strong belief that τὸν θεόν in 1b is in reference to the Father: Elowsky, Ancient Christian Commentary: John 1-10, pp 8, 9, 10, 11, 12-15.  This includes Hilary of Poitiers, Origen, Augustine, Tertullian, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Methodius.

125 See Wallace, Grammar, pp 266-267.  Also, as noted earlier, an indefinite rendering of an anarthrous PN-CV is “the most poorly attested” of the three choices (Wallace, Grammar, p 267).

126 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 21.  Emphasis added.

127 In the lone use of ho theos as a reference to the Son (20:28), this is in conjunction with a possessive pronoun, which may well make the presence of the article insignificant (see Wallace, Grammar, p 239), though this does not negate the fact that the usage here is definite.

128 See Wallace, Grammar, p 268.

129 Wallace, Grammar, notes that commentators before Colwell viewed the usage here as qualitative (p 268 n30).

130 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 6; bold added for emphasis.  See quote at note 119 above for Westcott on 5:27b.

131 Harner, pp 84-87; Dixon, pp 35-40; Wallace, Grammar, p 269.

132 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 156.

133 Beasley-Murray, John, pp 10-11.

134 Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, pp 30-31.

135 Harner, p 87.

136 See Wallace, Grammar, p 264.

137 See Oliver D. Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp 34-71.

138 See Wallace, Grammar, p 264.

139 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 19.

140 Θεῖος is only used in Acts 17:29; 2 Pet 1:3, 1:4 (Titus 1:9 in a variant), ἀνθρώπινος in Acts 17:25; Rom 6:19; 1 Cor 2:13, 4:13, 10:13; James 3:7; 1 Pet 2:13.

141 In Koine Greek, most usually, the verb is placed first in a sentence, and by placing the PN in front of the verb the PN is emphasized.  For fronting see Martin M. Culy, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, Martin M. Culy, gen. ed. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2004)), “Placing a constituent earlier in the sentence than its default order, most commonly in a pre-verbal position” (p 170).  Cf. Wallace, Grammar, p 269, nt 32.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 5

[This is part 5 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 6, conclusion.]

Grammatical-Syntactical Analysis of John 5:27b

We now turn specifically to the anarthrous PN-CV construction in 5:27b:

ὅτι υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν
ὅτι [PN:] υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου [CV:] ἐστίν
hoti [PN:] huios anthrōpou [CV:] estin
because huios anthrōpou He [the Son of God] is

It will be necessary to begin the discussion with a ‘rule’ put forth by E. C. Colwell, since it tends to be misapplied, even partly by Colwell himself in the establishment of his own rule.87 Knowing Colwell’s methodology will prove helpful in determining how to properly implement his findings.

Colwell surveyed NT syntactical constructions in which the predicate nominative is without the article and precedes its copulative verb (anarthrous PN-CV constructions) in which the PN was, by his estimation, “indubitably definite.”88 Importantly, Colwell did not consider either indefinite or qualitative PNs as part of his final analysis. In his study, he barely mentions indefinite PN-CVs at all; however, he specifically excludes all qualitative PNs because they are “not definite” and declares that the total amount in the NT is “small” anyway.89 Yet, as noted above, definite and indefinite nouns can sometimes be simultaneously qualitative.

Colwell also considered anarthrous CV-PN constructions. Of the 123 total “indubitably definite” anarthrous PNs he counted in the NT,90 97 were PN-CV (79%), while 26 were CV-PN (21%).91 What we do not know via Colwell is: (a) how many total anarthrous PN-CV constructions there are in the NT;92 (b) of this total how many were determined to be (primarily) qualitative or indefinite as opposed to definite; and, (c) the relative distribution of the three compared to each other.

Colwell also noted that there are incidences of arthrous PN-CV constructions. Recall that all arthrous nouns are definite, no matter the context. Colwell added these 15 arthrous PN-CV constructions to his 97 “indubitably definite” anarthrous PN-CVs, concluding that 87% of the time a definite PN does not have the article when it precedes the CV,93 thus resulting in his general rule: A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb, it does not have the article when it precedes the verb.94 Of course, this percentage is only valid to the extent of Colwell’s accuracy in predetermining definite anarthrous PN-CV constructions. He concedes this point, though he explains that he endeavored “to exclude all nouns as to whose definiteness there could be any doubt.”95 From his analysis Colwell claims that, with respect to translation and interpretation, he has

show[n] that a predicate nominative which precedes the verb cannot be translated as an indefinite or a “qualitative” noun solely because of the absence of the article if the context suggests that the predicate is definite, it should be translated as a definite noun in spite of the absence of the article.96

This statement is not untrue considering his important conditional clause “if the context suggests that the predicate is definite.” Yet, in building his case for the incidences of definite anarthrous PN-CV constructions, he compared the arthrous – and hence, definite – the Son of Man (ho huios tou anthrōpou) in the CV-PN construction of Matthew 13:37 to the anarthrous PN-CV huios anthrōpou of John 5:27b, ‘proving’ that John 5:27b is definite.97 This exemplifies at least one methodological error. Colwell assumed that the definite usage of a PN in one context necessarily renders that same PN definite in another, in this case partially upon his presumption that the expression in both texts is a “title.”98 Moreover, it may be that he presupposed definiteness because of the anarthrous PN-CV construction (and perhaps because of the myriad instances of the Son of Man in the Gospels). That is, he may not have adequately assessed the context, merely imposing his hypothesis upon the text, for, on the surface, it does not appear he could declare John 5:27b “indubitably definite.” If true, he would have been assuming the converse of his own rule in determining definiteness, a practice found elsewhere in his work.99 Many others have done this very thing, citing Colwell and erroneously presuming that ‘an anarthrous PN is definite when it precedes the CV’100 – even though Colwell did not examine all such NT constructions. But, as Dixon points out, this is demonstrably false:

[T]he converse of Colwell’s rule . . . is not a valid inference . . . From the statement “Articular nouns are definite,” it is not valid to infer “Definite nouns are articular.” Likewise, from the statement “Definite predicate nominatives preceding the verb are anarthrous,” it is not valid to infer “Anarthrous predicate nominatives preceding the verb are definite.”101

To rephrase, as we noted above, sometimes definite nouns lack the article, so it would be fallacious to state ‘definite nouns are arthrous.’ Similarly, sometimes when a PN precedes its CV the noun is other than definite. The point here is that Colwell’s findings merely allow the possibility that an anarthrous PN-CV construction be definite. ‘Colwell’s rule’ states “nothing about the probability of definiteness.”102 Hence, context must be the first consideration. If the context suggests definiteness, then it is grammatically permissible to render it definite, per a proper interpretation of Colwell’s work.

Yet, according to the analysis of Harner and Dixon, in the Gospel according to John, an anarthrous PN is most times qualitative when it precedes its CV.103 Specifically, Harner interprets these constructions as primarily qualitative, and this qualitativeness “may be more important than the question whether the predicate noun itself should be regarded as definite or indefinite.”104 In his article he concludes:

. . . [A]narthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force yet may also have some connotation of definiteness. The categories of qualitativeness and definiteness, that is, are not mutually exclusive, and frequently it is a delicate exegetical issue for the interpreter to decide which emphasis a Greek writer had in mind.105

In fact, of the 53 occurrences of anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John’s Gospel, Harner found 40 primarily qualitative in force.106 Dixon, on the other hand, deemed 45 of the 53 to be with a qualitative emphasis,107 with another five “probably qualitative.”108 While Harner does not count John 5:27b as qualitative,109 this clause is specifically identified by Dixon as “probably qualitative, but could be definite.”110 Assessing the work of Harner and Dixon along with his own analysis, Wallace states a general rule, thus revising Colwell: “An anarthrous pre-verbal PN is normally qualitative, sometimes definite, and only rarely indefinite.”111

Given the exegetical findings of the previous section in conjunction with syntactical probabilities, the position taken here is that υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in John 5:27b is primarily qualitative and secondarily definite, revealing the μονογενὴς (monogenēs, unique, one-of-a-kind; 1:14, 18) Son of God’s incarnational status. Rather than making a one-to-one correspondence (because He [the Son of God] is the Son of Man), the focus in this verse is upon His incarnational humanity over against His deity.112 Thus, it should be interpreted: because the Son of God is son of man, i.e. because the Son of God is human. In other words, this clause should be understood: ‘because the Son of God (also) possesses all the qualities and characteristics consistent with being human.’ This seems the best way to understand John 5:27b in view of its immediate context, its contrast with yet connection to ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου throughout John’s Gospel as illustrated in the previous sections above, its agreement with parts of the larger Johannine corpus (Revelation 1:13 and 14:14), and its allusions and references to the OT (especially in relation to Daniel 7:13-14, 7:26, 12:1c-2, but also to include general usage of υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in the LXX113).

Some commentators perceive the qualitative force in John 5:27b. Barrett, e.g., recognizes the qualitative emphasis here, with an underlying definiteness,114 quoting Schlatter in agreement in this regard:

It is unnecessary here to use the articles because ‘in this context his uniqueness is perfectly clear. It arises out of the uniqueness of his status as Son of God . . . But here the emphasis lies upon the fact that he belongs to humanity as he who took the measure of life appointed to men.’115

Hare, also, seems to affirm a qualitative-definite force noting, importantly, that while the anarthrous form is “not identical” to the arthrous, he sees the expression in 5:27 as combining both:

[H]uios anthrōpou does not serve as a name but expresses a quality or status, yet its connotative force appears to be the same as that of the fuller appellative. Both forms of the phrase can refer to the humanity of the Word that became flesh for our salvation.116

Aune, following Hare, also asserts that the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in 5:27 “expresses a quality or status, i.e., the incarnate status of the Son.”117 Additionally, Augustine affirms the view adopted here, as “[h]e is the one who will come and it is in the form [of man] that he will come [to judge].”118 As well, Westcott construes a qualitative-definite rendering, with the understanding that this is due to Christ’s role as Judge:

The prerogative of judgement is connected with the true humanity of Christ (Son of man), and not with the fact that He is the representative of humanity (the Son of man). The Judge, even as the Advocate (Heb. 2:18), must share the nature of those who are brought before Him. The omission of the article concentrates attention upon the nature and not upon the personality of Christ.119

Similarly, Godet recognizes that it’s necessarily from Christ’s humanity that He judges mankind, asserting a qualitative priority in John 5:27b:

It emphasizes the relation between the character of judge and that of Son of man. What is this relation? . . . The term, Son of man, without the article sets forth simply the quality of man which He shares with all other men . . . The quality of man is made prominent here for the purpose of explaining, not the dignity of Saviour, but that of judge. The judgment of humanity is a homage rendered to the holiness of God; but this homage, in order really to make reparation for the outrage committed, must proceed from the [human] race itself which has committed the offense. Judgment, in this view, is exactly on the same line with expiation, of which it serves as the complement. Expiation is the reparation freely offered believing humanity; judgment is the satisfaction which God takes from humanity which has refused Him this reparation. In the one, as in the other, of these acts, a man must preside.120

As evidenced by the foregoing, our position that John 5:27b should be understood as qualitative-definite finds theological and contextual validity, syntactical grounding, and support from some commentators. Strict definiteness, while viable, seems outweighed by contextual and theological considerations. Moreover, if the Gospel writer wished to make it clear that his intention in 5:27b was to indicate definiteness he could simply have utilized both articles and/or placed an arthrous PN after the CV – the latter construction used 66 times in his Gospel.121 Indefiniteness, though grammatically possible, is “the most poorly attested” of the three options involving a PN-CV construction,122 and seems unlikely in this context, for it could imply that a mere man is qualified to be eschatological judge.

Go to part 6, conclusion.


87 E. C. Colwell, “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 52 (1933): 12-21. See Wallace, Grammar, on how Colwell himself erroneously applied his own ‘rule’ (pp 258-259; cf. 259-262).

88 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17. As Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” observes: “Thus, what is to be asserted is not definiteness, but articularity” (p 13). Cf. Wallace, Grammar, p 262.

89 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

90 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17. Colwell also specifically excludes relative clauses (pp 16-17). He states that this 123 total is not necessarily 100% accurate – he may have missed a few – and this fact does not necessarily materially affect his results (“Definite Rule,” p 16 nt 10). I’ll agree that if the total were actually, say, 125 as opposed to his 123 that this would not detract from his analysis on this particular point. It’s what he concludes with this data that is problematic, as we will see.

91 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

92 Philip B. Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1” (Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 75-87) counts 53 such constructions in John’s Gospel alone, with another eight in Mark (p 82). However, Harner construed most of these as emphasizing a qualitative force. More on this below.

93 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

94 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 13. Emphasis added.

95 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

96 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 20. Emphasis added

97 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 14.

98 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 14. Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” identifies this sort of error (pp 19-22). Moreover, as Hare, Son of Man, illustrates, Matthew 13:37 is the only CV-PN construction of the expression in the entire NT, and the context is within a parable, which, given its allegorical nature, necessitates this form, in his opinion; cf. Gal 4:24f (p 151).

99 See Colwell’s (“Definite Rule”) exegesis of John 1:1c (p 21), which is discussed specifically below (see note 126 and corresponding text). Wallace (Grammar) recounts how he learned that Colwell considered the converse of his rule as valid as the rule itself (p 259, esp. ftnt 11).

100 As but one example, in an effort to refute the Arianism inherent in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation rendering of John 1:1c (“and the Word was a god”), Walter Martin [The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject, Revised, Updated, and Expanded Edition, gen. ed. R. Zacharias (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003)] misapplied Colwell’s Rule, which, ironically, resulted in his implied support of Sabellianism (modalism) – a heresy he had staunchly opposed. Citing Colwell, Martin dogmatically declared: “the Greek grammatical construction leaves no doubt whatsoever that this [and the Word was God] is the only possible rendering . . . Colwell formulated a rule that clearly states that a definite predicate nominative (in this case theos – God) never takes an article when it precedes the verb (was), as we find in John 1:1[c] . . . [T]herefore . . . no article is needed . . . and to translate it ‘a god’ is both incorrect grammar and poor Greek” (p 108). The reason this can support Sabellianism is that in John 1:1b (and the Word was with [the] God {ho theos}) God (ho theos) can be understood contextually as the Father, and by claiming that the PN is definite in which “no article is needed” Martin affirmed – whether intentional or not – a fully convertible A = B / B = A proposition: the Word = God (the Father) and God (the Father) = the Word. See A. T. Robertson, [A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1934 (1914)), pp 767-768] who references this very clause, adding: “[W]hen the article occurs with the subject . . . and predicate, both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable” (p 768). Cf. Wallace, Grammar, pp 258, 268. [More on John 1:1c in the next section.]

Martin went further astray in his statement that a definite noun in a PN-CV construction “never takes an article,” for, per Colwell, 15 out of 112 are arthrous (Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17). Hence, not only did Martin erroneously affirm the converse of Colwell’s rule, he mistakenly asserted that there can never be an articular PN-CV construction.

101 Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” (hereafter simply “Dixon”) pp 11-12.

102 Dixon, p 18.

103 Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns,” pp 75-87 (hereafter simply “Harner”); Dixon, pp 1-61.

104 Harner, p 75.

105 Harner, p 87. Emphasis added.

106 Harner, pp 82-83.

107 Dixon, p 32.

108 Dixon, p 34. These are identified as 1:49, 5:27, 9:5, 17:17, and 19:21.

109 This verse is not enumerated in his list of 40 in which “the qualitative force of the predicate is more prominent than its definiteness or indefiniteness” (Harner, pp 83, 83 nt 20). While Harner specifically engages some anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John, 5:27b is not one of them, and no specific reason was given for the non-inclusion of this verse in his list of 40. However, he does state: “Some degree of subjectivity is unavoidable . . . and the interpretation of some examples is uncertain” (p 83). Perhaps this means John 5:27b is, in his opinion, one of those that are “uncertain.”

110 Dixon, p 33; cf. 56.

111 Wallace, Grammar, p 262. Italics in original, bold added.

112 It is the surrounding context that is expressing Jesus’ deity via His divine functioning, not the Son of God idiom itself, as discussed above.

113 To include especially Psalm 8:4, 80:17, and 144:3 in their larger contexts. Leung, Kingship-Cross Interplay, states that “Son of Man” in Psalms 8:4, 80:17, and 144:3 are referenced in the post-NT Targums as “evidently messianic” (p 70). Yet the author includes John 5:27 among these “son of man” references, assuming it is definite along with all 12 other particularized usages of the term in John’s Gospel. This illustrates (a) the very point we’ve been making here that the understanding of a messianic the Son of Man only came after the NT had been written; and, (b) that this author, like many others, imposes particularity and definiteness upon 5:27b.

114 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 262. The commentator also states: “Everywhere else in John both articles are used . . . because the phrase is here anarthrous it has been suggested that its meaning is not ‘the Son of man’; Jesus is qualified and authorized to judge because he has shared the experiences of men as one of themselves” (p 262).

115 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 262 (emphasis added), who cites Adolf Schlatter, Der Evangelist Johannes, wie er spricht denkt und glaubt: Ein Kommentar zum vierten Evangelium (Stuttgart: Calwer, (1930) 1958), p 152. [Translation: John the Evangelist, As He Speaks, Thinks, and Believes: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel.]

116 Hare, Son of Man, p 96; cf. pp 90-96.

117 Aune, Revelation 1-5, p 90.

118 Augustine of Hippo, “Sermon 127.10,” 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 199. Brackets in original.

119 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, 1, p 194; parentheses in original.

120 Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Vol. 1, pp 477-478; italics in original.

121 For this quantity, see Harner (p 82) and Dixon (p 24). Delbert R. Burkett [The Son of the Man in the Gospel of John, (JSNTSup, 56; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991)], who claims the usage here is indefinite (p 43), asserts that there are two other syntactical choices the Gospel writer could have used to mark the appellative as definite – though he also calls it a title – structures the biblical author utilized elsewhere in the Gospel, as “[t]he second article in [PN-CV] constructions is regularly retained . . .” (p 42). These two options are: (a) employing an anarthrous υἱός before the CV and τοῦ ἀνθρώπου after; (b) placing υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου before the CV (p 42). For (a) he appeals to 1:49, 9:5, 10:2, 12:31, and 19:21; for (b) he compares to 8:39 and 10:36. Regarding Burkett’s supporting texts for (b), both Dixon (p 56) and Harner (p 83 ftnt 20), in contrast to Burkett, find the two to be primarily qualitative. I’m inclined to agree.

As to the supporting verses for (a), Harner explicitly agrees with the position taken by Burkett regarding 1:49 and 9:5 (pp 83-84) and implicitly agrees regarding 19:21 (p 83); however, Dixon finds these three verses “probably qualitative, but, possibly definite” (pp 19-22, cf. 41-44). 10:2 is determined to be qualitative by both Dixon (p 56) and Harner (p 83 ftnt 20). 12:31 does not appear to fit the pattern and is not assessed by either Harner or Dixon. Regarding 10:2, we concur with Harner and Dixon. On the other three verses we remain ambivalent: we can see the argument of Harner, and we can sympathize with the position of Dixon.

While it may be true that the Gospel writer would retain the second article in such constructions, given the evidence, to include sample size, I’m not so sure we can make any definitive conclusions as to the biblical author’s intentions regarding in/definiteness or qualitativeness, contra Burkett. In fact, it seems likely that Burkett deems these constructions definite on their face merely because he presupposes they are all titles.

122 Wallace, Grammar, p 267.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 4

[This is part 4 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 5 and part 6, conclusion.]

Immediate and Larger Context of John 5:27b

Chapter 5 of John’s Gospel begins with Jesus healing the man at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus’ Jewish adversaries took exception to His healing on the Sabbath, and then commanding the now-healed man to ‘work’ – as per their much exaggerated extrapolation of Mosaic Law – in His instruction to the man to pick up his mat and walk (8-15).60 Verse 16 begins Jesus’ interaction with His interlocutors (16-18), and His monologue in response to them follows (19-47).

Jesus’ reaction to their concern of Him doing “these things” on the Sabbath (16) was to explain that He always works, along with His Father (17). His antagonists were even more zealous to kill Him, as they understood that He was making Himself equal with God (18). This was two-fold: (a) Jesus claimed to always work, to include the Sabbath and, (b) Jesus called God His own Father (ὁ πατήρ μου, ho Patēr Mou – My Father). On the former (a) Brown notes the following, pertaining to rabbinic understanding of God as related to the Sabbath:

In particular, as regards men, divine activity was visible in two ways: men were born and men died on the Sabbath. Since only God could give life (2 Kings 5:7; 2 Macc 7:22–23) and only God could deal with the fate of the dead in judgment, this meant God was active on the Sabbath . . . God has kept in His hand three keys that He entrusts to no agent: the key of the rain, the key of birth (Gen 30:22), and the key of the resurrection of the dead (Ezek 37:13). And it was obvious to the rabbis that God used these keys even on the Sabbath.61

Death itself was seen as “judgment.” Further explaining Jewish understanding regarding the Sabbath, Pryor observes that inherent in the Jews’ anger against Jesus was “the rabbinic awareness that since people are born and die on the Sabbath, God cannot be said to be idle on any day, for the gift of life and the work of judgment are divine prerogatives.”62 Thus, in the minds of Jesus’ antagonists, His claim of working as His Father works on the Sabbath strongly implied equality with God, with this ‘work’ understood potentially as ‘giving life’ (births) and ‘judgment’ (death). In response to His adversaries’ outward intent to take His life, Jesus commences to further confirm their suspicions by making explicit claims of possessing the ability to give life and exercise judgment (18-29), as we will see.63

After Jesus identifies Himself as the Son in relation to “My Father” (17), He continues this theme throughout His monologue, being more specific later that He indeed is the Son of God (25). This implies that all other mentions of ὁ υἱός (ho huios), the Son (19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 26), in this pericope are references to Jesus as the Son of God. Given this, we may identify the pronouns in 5:27 thusly: And he [the Father] has given Him [the Son of God] authority to judge because He [the Son of God] is υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου.

The Son of God makes various claims of sharing in divine functions with the Father: The Son indicates that His works are performed through His dependence on the Father,64 as He “sees” His Father,65 and “whatever the Father does the Son does also” (19). This implies a unity between Father and Son.66 The Father shows the Son “even greater works” (20), to include the ability to raise the dead and give life (21). The Son of God has been entrusted with judgment (22), to include salvation unto eternal life for those who “hear” His words (24-25), both contemporaneous with his interlocutors (24-25) and in the future, eschatological resurrection-judgment (28-29). That is, Jesus’ words are describing both inaugurated eschatology (24-25)67 and consummated eschatology (28-29).68 The former centers on earthly belief or non-belief in Jesus in response to His words, the latter the eternal consequences – positive or negative – of this temporal choice (cf. 3:15, 17-18, 12:47-48).69 In the Gospel according to John “Christology is the root of eschatology; eschatology is the outworking of the Christology of the Son of the Father.”70

An important question to answer en route to exegeting 5:27b is this: What does the initial independent clause of verse 28 – Do not be amazed at this – refer to? Specifically, does this correspond to the words preceding it or those following? Certainly, the entire pericope proved ‘amazing’ to the perturbed Jews here, as they “were trying even harder to kill Him” even before Jesus began His monologue. Given that Jesus had already stated that hearing His words would bring about eternal life in the here and now, why would the statement following about the future resurrection be ‘amazing,’ especially in view of the rabbinic understanding of the reality of future eschatological judgment (Daniel 12:2)? Does this mean we should understand this in 28a as pertaining to Jesus’ previous words to the exclusion of the words that follow?

Yet it is conceivable that this in 5:28a (Do not be amazed at this) refers, in some way, to the description of eschatological judgment that follows. Moreover, it is plausible that this in context refers to both that which precedes it and that which follows. Commentaries are somewhat divided on this issue. Some opine that this refers solely to the preceding.71 Others posit that it pertains to what follows.72 Many others construe the meaning as referring to Jesus’ words both before and after this.73 The position adopted here – which we’ll unpack as we move along – comports with the latter, though the analysis is grounded in a particular understanding of the meaning and function of huios anthrōpou in 5:27b.

More specifically, the stance here is such that Jesus is telling His interlocutors to not be amazed that the basis upon which the Son of God is granted authority to judge is that He is huios anthrōpou. The Son of God, as huios anthrōpou, not only has been given authority for the present granting of life (24-25), He will also have future authority to judge at the eschatological resurrection-judgment, as it will be His (human) voice heard by both those who have “done good” (28-29a), and those who have “done evil” (28, 29b).74 Those who have “done good” are those who believed in Him during their earthly life, and they will hear the voice of the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου and will “rise to live,” thus fulfilling the Son of Man’s promise to “raise him up on the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). Those who have “done evil” are those who rejected the Son of God and His words, and hence rejected the Father who sent Him (3:18b [cf. 3:17a], 12:47-49; cf. 3:19b-20, 5:23), and they will hear the voice of the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου and then “rise to be condemned,” thus fulfilling the promise that “the very word I [the Son of God] spoke will condemn him at the last day” (12:48).75

A linguistic device used by the Gospel writer in this pericope may lend credence to our position. The verb in verse 28a – (θαυμάζετε, thaumadzete) be amazed, marvel – is the same as the one in v 20, though in a slightly different form (θαυμάζητε, thaumadzēte; may be amazed, may marvel). Taken together, these function akin to an inclusio,76 with each referring to the Son providing “greater works” in the form of judgment (positively and negatively), as illustrated by the intervening context, as well as 28b-29. Given our position here, θαυμάζετε in 28a (Do not be amazed at this) primarily refers to the just-stated fact (27b) that it is, and will be, the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου functioning as the vehicle by which these “greater works” are (24-25) and will be (28-29) effected.77 Similarly, the noun “works” (ἔργα, erga) in v 20 is a rephrasing of, and thus an allusion to, both uses of its verbal form “is/am working” in 17 (ἐργάζομαι, ergadzomai and ἐργάζεται, ergadzetai), with Jesus indicating that not only is He “working” on the Sabbath, along with His Father (17), He is and will be doing even “greater works” (20).

The subsequent use of “works” and “marvel” has the effect of not only linking each one with its previous usage, but of providing a cumulative, intensifying force as well. Jesus, the Son of God, not only is working (along with His Father) on the Sabbath, thereby alluding that He is possibly functioning divinely as contemporaneous Life Giver and Judge in earthly births and deaths, respectively (17), He does greater works in the form of explicitly providing eternal life (20-25). While His antagonists will marvel about these “greater works” of the Son of God in inaugurating eternal life in the present (20-25), even more marvelous is the fact that He, as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου, will be the voice which will be heard at the consummation of salvation and the ultimate condemnation at the eschatological resurrection-judgment (27-30).78

That the voice (…because a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice…) of a ‘mere’ huios anthrōpou, son of man, would be the impetus for the final, resurrection-judgment would indeed be cause for his antagonists to marvel! That this Jesus – by all appearances to His interlocutors a mere man – would claim filial relationship to God (as the Son of God) as one who provides eternal life to those who hear His voice in the then-present age would surely be scandalous; but, for this Jesus to pronounce that the authority granted Him for all judgment, to include the final judgment, is because He is (also) huios anthrōpou would be quite another matter. To His antagonists, this would indicate, among other things, that this man Jesus not only claims direct familial relationship with God but is also claiming He would be alive as the final resurrection-judgment commences; and that it would be His (human) voice heard by all those in their graves, who would then arise to face judgment for either life or condemnation at the eschaton.79 Additionally, His adversaries may think that Jesus is implicitly stating that He would never see death, perhaps as per Enoch (Gen 5:23) or Elijah (2 Kings 2:11)

Quite plausibly, Jesus’ referring to Himself as the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in the context of yet-future resurrection-judgment as described in 5:27-29 may prompt His hearers to recall the figure ὡς υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (like a son of man) in Daniel 7:13-14, as well as the description of final judgment in Daniel 12:2.80 In fact, the similar phraseology of he has given Him authority (ἐξουσίαν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ) in 5:27 (inaugurated eschatology) and to him was given authority (ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ἐξουσία) in Daniel 7:14 (yet-future prophetic reference) may provide further cause for his antagonists to connect the two. In addition, His audience could be inclined to recall the court scene depicted in Daniel 7:26-27, perhaps with the understanding that Jesus was implying He’d be presiding Judge. All this may account for why Jesus’ words in 5:27b were not the arthrous ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου but, rather, the anarthrous form of the idiom; i.e. the intent was to specifically evoke the eschatological human-like figure in Daniel. In other words, since Daniel 7:13 does not refer to the figure coming with the clouds as one ‘like the Son of Man,’ but instead one like a son of man, like a human, the articles may have been purposely omitted in 5:27b.81 If so, the use of the anarthrous construction (υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου) in 5:27b in this context functioned to illustrate that the Prophet Daniel’s words were about Him. This is the stance taken here.

This position is bolstered by John’s use of similar language in the similarly-themed material in Revelation 1:13 and 14:14, as noted earlier.82 In fact, it may well be that the hyper-anthropic (super-human) description of Jesus in His post-earthly appearance in Revelation 1:7-18 (especially 14-16) and the depiction of Him as the eschatological reaper of 14:14-16 provides the very reason for the use of one like a huios anthrōpou in the Apocalypse, in contradistinction to the not-yet-glorified huios anthrōpou in John 5:27b. Stated another way, the appearance of the post-earthly Jesus is described as ὅμοιος υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (homoios huios anthrōpou),83 like a son of man, in Rev 1:13 and 14:14 specifically because of His hyper-anthropic features, in order to distinguish it from, while yet retaining a connection to, his former earthly ministerial appearance as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (huios anthrōpou), son of man, human, in John 5:27b.84

Perhaps also of significance, as illustrated above, John the Gospel writer nowhere else uses the arthrous ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho huios tou anthrōpou) in a context of eschatological condemnation-judgment as found in John 5:29b. However, as noted above, Hurtado seems to be right in that the articular the Son of Man idiom functions only to refer to Jesus, not to define Him. But, then again, all contexts reflecting the negative aspect of judgment specify that it’s the individual’s rejection of Jesus in their earthly life that condemns them, not Jesus’ active condemnation of them, and these do not directly reference the eschaton. John 5:29b is, then, the only context of eschatological condemnation-judgment in the Gospel, and this includes the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου of 5:27b as part of its larger context.

The overarching point we are driving at here is that the Biblical author in John 5:27b seems to be emphasizing qualitativeness: And the Father has given the Son of God authority to judge because He is human. In other words, the function of the expression here appears best understood as taking on a strong adjectival force. The reason the divine Son of God has been granted authority to judge is due to His incarnational status of being fully human, sharing humanity with all humankind. If the Gospel writer intended an allusion or even a more direct reference to Daniel 7:13, as we’ve argued above, then it seems logical that the author would use the same non-particularized form of the term that the Prophet used, which, as we argued earlier, is best understood like a human. That is, the Daniel verse and the two in the Apocalypse which allude to Daniel are best construed as qualitative-indefinite, while John 5:27b seems best understood as emphasizing qualitativeness over definiteness. Assuming so, John 5:27 powerfully proclaims the hypostatic union – the unity of divinity and humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ.

The definiteness included in the qualitative-definite assessment of 5:27b should be understood as providing an implicit link to the other arthrous sayings of the idiom, as it’s, e.g., the Son of Man who will ‘raise up’ believers “at the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). However, this does not mean that the articular form of the idiom should be understood as strictly indicating Jesus’ humanity, as illustrated above. Thompson, agreeing with this position, also notes that both the Son of Man and the Son of God refer to Jesus as the Word-become-flesh in the Gospel of John:

In spite of the fact that in biblical usage “son of man” connotes humankind, it is too neat, even misleading, to say that [the] “Son of Man” refers to Jesus in his humanity, while “Son of God” denotes his divinity . . . [A]ll three designations – Son, Son of Man, and Son of God – refer to the same person, Jesus of Nazareth, who is Word-made-flesh. From his identity as the Word who was with God and who was God, who became flesh, and who in his vocation as the Messiah gives his flesh for the life of the world – from that identity these diverse filial forms derive their meaning.85

Accepting Thompson’s position, and given that in Jesus’ monologue here (5:19ff) He identifies Himself specifically as the Son of God (5:25), would it not seem superfluous for Jesus to state that the reason He, the Son of God, was granted authority to judge was because He, the Son of God, is the Son of Man? In addition, if we were to assume for the moment that the Gospel writer intended a definite understanding (the Son of Man) for the anarthrous huios anthrōpou here, this would be the only occurrence of a direct correspondence between the two idioms in Johannine literature.

With all the preceding in mind, for contextual and theological reasons we will tentatively reject a strictly definite (when at the expense of a qualitative) the Son of Man as the authorial intention for John 5:27b. Assuredly, had the Gospel writer wished, he could have simply added both articles to the expression in order to make certain his intention for definiteness, rather than leaving it (seemingly) ambiguous. However, we will withhold a final conclusion on this until the grammatical-syntactical argument is engaged.

While we have been contending for a qualitative-definite authorial intent, we have not specifically investigated indefiniteness, which, on the surface, seems to be a viable option.86 This possibility will be explored briefly in our grammatical investigation below.

[Go to part 5.]


60 For some detail on the violations to the Mishna see Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 2nd ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966), p 208.

61 Brown, John I-XXI, p 217. Emphasis added. The archaic rendering of Scripture (e.g. “Gen xxx 22”) has been changed to common usage. This practice continues throughout.

62 John W. Pryor, John, Evangelist of the Covenant People (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), pp 26-27, as cited in Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), p 111. Emphasis added.

63 See Blomberg, Historical Reliability, pp 110-111, 114-115.

64 See brief discussion in Marianne Meye Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), p 234.

65 Note that no one can see God (John 1:18; cf. 5:37, 6:46) and live (Ex 33:20), a point that would not have been lost on Jesus’ Jewish antagonists.

66 See Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John, pp 231-235.

67 Jesus’ words in verse 25 that “a time is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” should be understood as contemporaneous (νῦν ἐστιν, now is), with the dead understood as the spiritually dead.   That is, the ζωὴν αἰώνιον, eternal life, of v 24 should be seen as inaugurated eschatology and not consummated eschatology. This is known usually as the already but not yet. Eternal life is secured in the temporal life through belief in Christ, yet its consummation comes at the eschaton.

68 For a lengthy discussion on the contrast between inaugurated eschatology and consummated eschatology, with respect to eternal life here in John’s Gospel, see Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John, pp 80-87, though Thompson uses “realized eschatology” rather than “inaugurated eschatology.”

69 Miroslav Volf, “Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism” [in The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, R. Bauckham and C. Mosser, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008)], delineates the difference between the two judgments well: “The theme of divine judgment is present. Jesus spoke of God’s wrath against unbelievers (3:36) and understood himself as the executioner of that judgment in the endtime (5:27-29). But he stated repeatedly and emphatically that he has not come into the world to judge it but to save it (3:17; 12:47). True, his coming in the world effected judgment, depending on how people responded to it (3:17-21). But that is precisely the point: He does not actively judge, his words and actions judge, depending on how people respond to them . . .” (p 43; italics in original).

70 George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, D. Hubbard, G. Barker, gen. eds. (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), p 80.

71 E.g., D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p 258; Andreas J. Kostenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), p 189, though the author thinks it possible that it could refer to both the preceding and the following.

72 E. g., Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, (2003) 2010 (1st softcover ed.)), p 651.

73 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), p 263; Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, trans. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, (1987) 1997), pp 200-201; Beasley-Murray, John, p 77; B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1908), p 192 [;view=1up;seq=210;size=125].  Brown, John I-XXI, opines that the author may have “the whole complex of ideas” in view (p 215).

74 If the Gospel of John is in any way polemical against a proto-Gnosticism, our interpretation of this statement may be seen as negating a supposed spirit/matter dualism in Jesus – i.e., that Jesus is a mere man with a divine spark/seed relying on external ‘gnosis’ for guidance (some Gnostics charged that John’s Gospel was promoting Gnosticism). In other words, since Jesus is making the claim that He is the Son of God, working in dependence on the Father – as opposed to some sort of external ‘gnosis’ – to effect judgment/salvation for humanity, and that He, as huios anthrōpou (according to the understanding adopted here), is that Judge, then Jesus is, in effect, affirming the unity of His divine-human Person, a position incongruent with Gnosticism.

75 See note 47 above.

76 For an example of the multitude use of this device in Philippians see Black, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, pp 181-188.

77 Cf. Westcott, Gospel According to John, V. 1, p 192.

78 The ISBE notes that it was thought that it would be God who would judge: “As a general rule, the intertestamental literature considers God rather than the Messiah the one who ushers in the cosmic transformation;” however, one notable exception is in Psalms of Solomon (18:4-9), which “installs the Messiah as the ideal judge and ruler” (O. A. Piper, “Messiah,” in G. W. Bromiley, gen. ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988, p 3.333). The point is that, in a general sense, there was not an expectation that the Messiah would be the earthly Judge, let alone the eschatological Judge; and, hence, Jesus’ claims – even if the antagonists were to briefly consider Him a contender for Messiahship – may prove to be too ‘amazing.’

79 Godet [Frederick L. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Vol. 1, trans. Timothy Dwight (London/Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886)] comes to a similar conclusion: “There is great force in the words: shall hear His voice. ‘This voice which sounds in your ears at this moment, will be the one that shall awake you from the sleep of death and cause you to come forth from the tomb. Marvel not, therefore, that I claim to possess both the authority to judge and the power to raise from the dead spiritually.’ Thus the last convulsion of the physical world, the universal resurrection, will be the work of that same human will which shall have renewed the moral world—that of the Son of Man. ‘Since death came by man,’ says St. Paul with precisely the same meaning, ‘the resurrection of the dead comes also by man’ (1 Cor. 15:21)” (p 479). We cannot help but note, however, that Godet, following Gess, advocated an ontological kenosis so extreme as to involve the complete metamorphosis of the Logos upon becoming flesh, such that the Word was effectively transformed from Deity into man [see L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), p 380]. This absolute depotentiation of the Logos was somewhat amusingly referred to as “incarnation by divine suicide” by La Touche [Everard Digges La Touche, “The Unity of Person,” in The Person of Christ in Modern Thought, p 355].

80 See Brown, John I-XXI, p 220.

81 Bauckham, Gospel of Glory, asserts that the Gospel writer purposefully alludes to Daniel 7:13 here: “Only in one instance in John is there an allusion to Dan. 7:13, and in that case (5:27) John indicates this by using the anarthrous form of the expression (huios anthrōpou), which is not his usage in the twelve other occurrences of ‘the Son of Man’ in the Gospel but which corresponds literally to Dan. 7:13” (p 178).

82 See notes 57 and 58 and corresponding text. Also note the words of 5:29 indicating that both the saved (those who have done good) and the unsaved (those who have done evil) will experience ἀνάστασις, resurrection, the former to “life,” the latter to “condemnation.” Certainly, as observed just above, 5:28-29 seems likely intended to evoke Daniel 12:2 (note the similar ἀνίστημι, here as the future middle verb ἀναστήσονται, will awaken); cf. Rev 20:5, 6 (ἀνάστασις). 5:29 is clearly a reference to the ‘white throne judgment,’ which includes the opening of ‘the book of life’ (Rev 20:11-15; cf. Daniel 12:1-2).

83 See note 56 above for a possible reason for John’s slightly different rendering than the LXX of Daniel 7:13.

84 We must bear in mind that, though the Incarnation began when the Word ‘became flesh,’ it continues on as the Word’s new mode of existence. In other words, the Second Person of the Trinity remains a divine-human entity.

85 Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary, New Testament Library, C. Clifton Black, et al eds. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015), p 58. It must be noted, however, that Thompson construes 5:27b as the definite the Son of Man (pp 56, 58, 131).

86 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, opines that υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου “should probably” be rendered a son of man (i.e. indefinite) here, specifically over against the definite (p 291 ftnt 78). Hurtado’s rejection of a definite understanding of the term is due, rightly, to: (a) his demonstration that the expression was not an established title at the time (as noted above), and (b) the fact that the form here is expressly anarthrous, and thereby not in keeping with the usual NT pattern. However, Hurtado seems not to have investigated the possibility of a qualitative force here.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 3

[This is part 3 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 4, part 5 and part 6, conclusion.]

NT Usage of ‘(the) Son of Man’

In the NT the idiom is most often arthrous, with only four instances of anarthrous constructions, with John 5:27b included in the latter. We’ll briefly discuss the use of the articular form of the expression in the Synoptic Gospels, and then we’ll go into a bit more detail on the usage in John’s Gospel given our subject verse, John 5:27,32 before examining the remaining uses of the expression in the NT.

As implied above, regarding the arthrous, particularized the Son of Man ( υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ho huios tou anthrōpou), Jesus Himself appears to have coined this self-referential term as part of his own idiolect, His own “style” of speaking.33 Predominately, this expression is on Jesus’ lips, and as He used it, it was as an implied reference to Himself in the third person.34 Moreover, the Son of Man “is never used as a confessional title for Jesus,” i.e. “the phrase never functions itself to express an honorific claim made about Jesus.”35 In other words, no one else referred to Jesus as the Son of Man as if it were some sort of recognized title perhaps of christological significance, such as, for example, the Son of God (John 1:49, 11:27).36 This does not mean that the way in which Jesus used this self-reference was not in messianic contexts. This merely indicates that His audience did not recognize the articular expression as having any sort of prehistory or significance beyond Jesus’ own self-usage – though the anarthrous form of the expression would likely have been understood by both Jesus’ protagonists and antagonists, given OT usage. Suffice to say that it is recorded as Jesus’ favorite self-designation, especially in the Synoptic Gospels in which the arthrous form of the idiom is used 69 times.37

There are myriad uses of the Son of Man in the Synoptics – some of divine functions or messianic themes, others more mundane. He has the authority to forgive sins (Mt 9:6; Mk 2:5; Lk 5:24), and He is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8; Mk 2:28; Lk 6:5). Yet Jesus uses this term as a self-reference in His accusation of being a glutton and a drunkard (Mt 11:19; Lk 7:34). The Son of Man foretells his resurrection (Mt 17:9; Mk 9:9), and He provides salvation (Lk 19:9-10) as the One “who gives His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45). He is “the one who sows the good seed” (Mt 13:37).38 He will “suffer many things” (Mk 9:12; Lk 9:22), and He will be delivered up in death (Mt 17:22; Mk 9:31; Lk 9:44, etc.).  The Son of Man is the subject of the OT prophets (Lk 18:31). He mentions His return (Mt 16:28, 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; Mk 13:26; Lk 18:8, 21:27, etc.) and how the Son of Man will be coming in full glory (Mt 24:31, 25:31; Mk 14:62; Lk 21:27) at the eschatological judgment (Mt 25:31ff; Mk 13:26), gathering His “elect” (Mt 24:31, 25:31-33; Mk 13:27); however, the actual judging He will do as “King,” both in a positive sense (Mt 25:31-40, 46b) and a negative sense (Mt 25:31-33, 41-46a).

This definite form of the expression, the Son of Man, the doubly arthrous υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho huios tou anthrōpou),39 is found another dozen times in the Gospel according to John and possibly one other as the truncated the Son, given its immediate context (6:40).40 However, the functions of these statements are somewhat different and somewhat more narrowly focused in comparison with Synoptic usage. In the following the specific verses containing the Son of Man are bolded, while the others, which consist of implied references within contexts containing and immediately surrounding the term, are not.

The first occurs in 1:51 in reference to an ‘opened heaven’, with angels descending and ascending upon Him. This is clearly a reference to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, but scholars are divided on how to interpret it.41 The next reference is in 3:13 in which He is the one who descended from heaven.42 This motif is also found in 6:27 (and following) as “the food that endures,” i.e. the “true bread from heaven” (6:32), “the bread of life” (6:48, 51, 58; cf. 6:53), which is found in “He who comes down from heaven” (6:33, 46, 50-51; cf. 6:27) in order “to do the will of the Father” (6:38; 6:40the Son43). This “bread” is identified as His “flesh” (σάρξ, sarx: 6:51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56), which is linked to His “blood” (6:53, 54, 55, 56), with both bringing eternal life (6:51, 53-54; cf. 6:27, 6:40) to those who believe in Him (6:47; cf. 3:15, 6:29, 35, 40), and it is these believers whom He will raise up “at the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). He will also “ascend to where He was before” (6:62; cf. 3:13). In another context, there is the account of Jesus asking the formerly-blind-but-now-healed man if he believes in the Son of Man, with the larger context about ‘spiritual blindness’ and then-present judgment/salvation (9:35; cf. 6:40).

Overall, the main theme in John’s Gospel is Christ’s glorification (δοξάζω, doxadz), and the Son of Man is found in some of these contexts (12:23, 28, 13:31-32 [cf. 7:39, 8:54, 11:4, 12:16, 14:13, 17:4, 10]). He is ‘glorified’ through being “lifted up” (8:28, 12:32), with the metaphor of Moses’ bronze snake of Numbers 21:8-9 underlying (3:14-15). Verse 12:31, which points to the Cross itself as judgment, is contained in the larger context of the Son of Man’s glorification in 12:23.

The final two appearances, both in 12:34, also refer to Jesus’ being “lifted up;” however, the context is unique in the Gospel according to John in that these words are not on Jesus’ own lips. The first is the crowd paraphrasing Jesus (conflating 12:23 and 12:32), while the second is the crowd then asking Jesus, “Who is this ‘ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου’?” This passage, in context, indicates that they thought Jesus was, or could be the Christ/Messiah, yet they were confounded by His statement that He, as the Son of Man, would be “lifted up” – i.e. He was to die – for they understood that the Christ would “remain forever.” This illustrates that the crowd did not associate the Son of Man directly as a messianic title, but as Jesus’ own self-designation, whatever its meaning. Hare explains by paraphrasing the questions posed by the crowd, If we have been mistaken in regarding you as the Messiah, what then are you? What are you telling us when you call yourself ‘the Son of Man’?”44

Assessing the usage of the articular form of the expression in John’s Gospel it becomes apparent that it is only in the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry, most often for His ‘lifting up,’ or ‘glorification,’ and in contemporaneous salvation-judgment, as well as the implied future salvation for those who will ‘eat His flesh and drink His blood,’ i.e. those believing in Him,45 whom He will ‘raise up’ “at the last day.” Conspicuously absent, however, is any use of the Son of Man in reference to His eschatological return, in contrast to the Synoptics. In fact, the Gospel according to John barely mentions Jesus’ return at all, and even then the context is ambiguous with regard to timing (21:22-23). Yet, like the Synoptics, the Son of Man is found in references regarding the eschatological consummation of salvation, though John prefers ‘raising on the last day’ as compared to the ‘gathering’ of His “elect” in the Synoptics.46 However, while Matthew utilizes ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου specifically in reference to the negative aspect of eschatological judgment, i.e. final condemnation-judgment, John does not.47 This latter point will be considered in our contextual analysis of 5:27b.

As noted, the final clause in John 5:27 is the only incidence of an anarthrous son of man (υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου) in the Gospel of John – and the one and only time the idiom lacks the articles in the four canonical Gospels. Recall from above, however, that an anarthrous noun is not necessarily indefinite. We will return to this below.

Another thing becomes evident in our brief survey of the Son of Man: The expression does not point exclusively to Christ’s humanity. In the Synoptics, for example, the Son of Man is the one “who gives his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45), implying a salvific function, which is made explicit elsewhere (Lk 19:9-10) – a power reserved for deity, not a mere human. Similarly, but more convincingly, in John 9:35 a soteriological function of the Son of Man is surely implied by Jesus’ direct question to the man formerly blind: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The larger context clearly indicates inaugurated eschatology in the form of then-present judgment/salvation (9:36-41).48 Most likely, the textual variant replacing the Son of Man with the Son of God in 9:35 is attributable to copyists’ assumptions that the Son of Man was too strong here.49 Furthermore, In John 3:13 the Son of Man is described as the one who descended from heaven – a proclamation of His pre-earthly existence, thus implying His divinity.50

Hurtado asserts that “the Son of Man” has no inherent meaning in and of itself. Each individual statement says something about Jesus but does not actually define the Son of Man: “[T]he expression’s primary linguistic function is to refer, not to characterize . . . [I]t is the sentence/saying that conveys the intended claim or statement, not ‘the son of man’ expression itself”.51 Hurtado seems convincing here, given the evidence.

Outside the Gospels the occurrences of the son of man idiom are all anarthrous except Acts 7:56. The Acts verse describing Stephen’s vision of the heavenly, glorified Jesus in which Stephen, under the power of the Holy Spirit (7:55), states that he sees “the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this, the murderous throng was so incensed that individuals covered their ears, yelling as loudly as they could – in part, perhaps, to drown out Stephen’s words – and began to stone him (7:57). The reason the crowd was so infuriated at His statement is, as La Touche notes,

because it was recognized as an assertion that the crucified Galilean Carpenter was standing in the Messiah’s place. Hence the phrase [the Son of Man] (which does not seem to have been a Messianic title) must have been recognized by the Sanhedrin as a Self-applied title of the Lord Jesus Christ.52

That is, while the Sanhedrin understood Jesus as the Son of Man, they did not recognize the expression as messianic or Jesus as the Messiah.

Hebrews 2:6 is a direct quote of Psalm 8:4 (see previous section). Koester remarks, “The context of Ps 8 suggests that ‘man’ (anthrōpos) is a collective noun referring to humankind, but since the noun is singular, it can be applied to the man Jesus . . .”53 Though the expression is not particularized as the Son of Man, O’Brien observes that “the words of the psalm would have struck [early Christians] with a force that went beyond their original setting.”54

The final two appearances of the anarthrous use of the idiom are found in Revelation (1:13, 14:14), and each time there are obvious allusions to Daniel 7:13 in their respective contexts.55 Significantly, neither verse in the Apocalypse definitize the term by employing the articles, for in both contexts – using remarkably similar terminology as that found in Daniel 7:13 – one like υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου is described.56 The contexts are depicting, respectively, eschatological return with impending condemnation-judgment (1:7-18),57 and eschatological salvation-judgment (14:14-16).58 There is little doubt the figure described here is the glorified Jesus Christ at the Second Coming (cf. Dan 7:13 in previous section). Assuming John the Revelator is the same author as John’s Gospel – a position affirmed here – it is notable that the arthrous the Son of Man ( υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) is not used. Is there a correlation between the anarthrous like a son of man in these verses in the Apocalypse and the Gospel’s anarthrous construction in John 5:27b? Applying a bit of discourse analysis and linguistics should prove insightful.59

[Go to part 4.]


32 Though all Scripture is θεόπνευστος, “God-breathed,” (from theos = God; pneō ≈ blow, breathe out, wind, spirit), inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), the Holy Spirit worked through each human writer, resulting in vocabulary usage sometimes peculiar to the individual author. This underscores the importance of assessing each biblical book on its own, while considering the larger corpus of the biblical author, with a view towards the whole of Scripture.

33 For discussion on and definition of idiolect, see Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 292. Idiolect also refers to the characteristic way in which each Biblical author writes; see Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), pp 134-135.

34 See Douglas R. A. Hare, The Son of Man Tradition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1990), p 1. That is, Jesus never states something to the effect of, “I am the Son of Man.”

35 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 293; italics in original. Continuing Hurtado’s thoughts: “Even within the Gospels no one ever addresses Jesus as ‘the son of man,’ proclaims him to be such, or contests his own use of the expression; and it never functions with the several other appellations bandied about as possible categories for Jesus . . .” (p 293). Cf. Hare, Son of Man, p 1.

36 It is certainly noteworthy that in both Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16; cf. John 1:41) and Nathanael’s confession (John 1:49) we find “the Son of (the living) God,” with Peter also using “Christ,” while Nathanael concomitantly affirms Jesus as “King of Israel,” yet neither call Him the Son of Man. Similarly, Martha’s confession affirms Jesus as “the Son of God” and “the Christ” (John 11:27). This underscores the likelihood that the Son of Man was not understood by 1st century hearers as messianic. Cf. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, pp 292-295.

37 For various interpretations of the arthrous form of the expression throughout history see Delbert R. Burkett, The Son of Man Debate: A History and Evaluation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

38 See Hare, Son of Man, pp 150-151 for some particulars on this specific passage.

39 For the use, and lack, of articles preceding each word of a genitive phrase (head noun + genitive noun) see Wallace, Grammar, for Apollonius’ Canon and Apollonius’ Corollary, pp 239-240, 250-252, 254; cf. 91.

40 In this verse the Son is used amidst other occurrences of the Son of Man (6:27, 53, 62) and Jesus’ alternating the expression with first and third person pronouns throughout this pericope. In addition, nowhere in the micro context does Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of God. On the other hand, in 6:40 Jesus speaks of “the Son” in relation to “My Father;” but, then again, compare to the Son of Man in 6:27 in which it is used as a third-person reference alongside “God the Father.”

41 See Hare, Son of Man, pp 82-85. Kirk (“Heaven Opened”) argues that the Johannine ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου in John 1:51 is illustrating a Jesus-Jacob nexus, with Jesus the new Jacob, i.e. the New Israel (Gen 35:10), which in turn helps identify the promised “greater things” []; Contra Mavis M. Leung, The Kingship-Cross Interplay in the Gospel of John: Jesus’ Death as Corroboration of His Royal Messiahship, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), pp 66; cf. 64-67. More convincing is Richard J. Bauckham, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015), pp 166-180, in which Nathanael is one example of the “renewed Israel,” while the Son of Man symbolically represents the ladder of Jacob’s dream, providing the link to heaven and earth via His being “lifted up” on the Cross.

42 And perhaps simultaneously “the one who is in heaven.” See David Alan Black, “The Text of John 3:13,” Grace Theological Journal 6.1 (1985): 49-66, in which the author argues for the originality of this final clause, a textual variant which is footnoted in most modern Bible versions.

43 See note 40 above.

44 Hare, Son of Man, pp 108-109.

45 See Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, pp 116-117.

46 Though the Son of Man specifies in 6:53 that ‘unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood’ you have “no life,” it is only s/he who ‘eats His flesh and drinks His blood’ that He will ‘raise up on the last day’ (cf. 5:29a). That is, He does not speak of the resurrection of the condemned for judgment in this context (though cf. 5:29b).

47 The context of John 3:16-21, which includes the words “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (v 18), seems to be referring to the Son as ‘the Son of God’ – the Son in relation to the Father (especially considering τὸν μονογενῆ in v 16 and τοῦ μονογενοῦς in 18; cf. 1:14, 18) – rather than ‘the Son of Man.’ With this in mind, it may be best to understand the similar passage at 12:44-50 (“the one who rejects Me . . . that very word I spoke will condemn him at the last day” in v 48) as ‘the Son of God’ as well. While there is certainly some overlap between the usage of the Son of Man and the Son of God in John’s Gospel, nevertheless, the context of both passages indicates it’s the individual’s rejection of Jesus Christ causing his own eventual self-condemnation rather than Christ’s active condemnation of him.

48 See, e.g., J. Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003), pp 133-134.

49 See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/German Bible Society, 1994), p 194; cf. Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 118; Hurtado, “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 165.

50 See, e.g., Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, pp 107-108.  Also see note 42 above.

51 “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 167, emphasis in original; cf. pp 165-168.

52 Everard Digges La Touche, “The Person of Christ as Revealed in History,” in The Person of Christ in Modern Thought (London: James Clarke, 1912), p 259; italics and capitalization as per original, bold added, bracketed phrase mine, added for clarity. This work is a compilation of a series of lectures. []

53 Craig R. Koester, Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p 215, parenthesis in original. See earlier discussion on Psalm 8:4 above.

54 Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), p 95. Koester, Hebrews, further notes, regarding the anarthrous son of man, “This expression has two levels of meaning, referring both to human beings and to Christ . . . Hebrews does not refer to Jesus as ‘son of man’ outside this quotation, even though one might expect it to if it were a christological designation” (p 215).

55 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, rightly notes that both “are simply echoes of the phrasing of Dan. 7:13, referring to a figure in a vision having a humanlike appearance” (p 293 note 83).

56 The Greek is slightly different in that the Apocalypse uses ὅμοιος (like) as compared to Daniel’s ὡς. This could have been for stylistic reasons, as John may have preferred to use a bit of alliteration and assonance (τῶν λυχνιῶν ὅμοιον υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου, tōn luchniōn homoion huion anthrōpou; καθήμενον ὅμοιον υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου, kathēmenon homoion huion anthrōpou).

57 The people will “mourn because of Him” (v 7) at the eschatological judgment, for He is “coming with the clouds” (v 7; cf. Dan 7:13; Matt 16:27, 24:30-32), and “out of His mouth proceeds a sharp double-edged sword” (v 16) with which to judge (Rev 19:15, 21; cf. Heb 4:12) , as He holds “the keys of death and Hades” (v 18; cf. 20:13-14). On the latter, see discussion in David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 [Word Biblical Commentary, B. M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997)], pp 103-105.

58 Here John the Revelator uses the exact same verbiage as the LXX of Daniel 7:13 in the prepositional phrase ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν, upon/with the clouds, as compared to 1:7’s μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν, with the clouds, which, according to Aune [David E. Aune, Revelation 6-16, Word Biblical Commentary, B. M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998)], “suggests familiarity with the Theodotianic version of Daniel” (p 840). Clearly Rev 14:14-16 centers on eschatological salvation-judgment, in contradistinction to the condemnation-judgment in the remainder of the chapter (vv 17-20). The figure depicted here, “one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head” and holding a sharp sickle, is differentiated from the other figure with a sickle (v 17), identified specifically as an angel, who is not wearing a crown or sitting upon the clouds. That the first figure, along with the one described in Rev 1:13, is the same as the one of Daniel 7:13 can hardly be in doubt. And certainly this is the glorified Jesus Christ pictured in eschatological judgment. Contra Aune, Revelation 6-16, who thinks that, rather than Christ, the first reaper in 14:14 is an angel like the second one in 14:17 (pp 800-803).   Then again, see Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), who affirms the figure as Christ, while specifically disagreeing with the position that the reaper in question is an angel (pp 218-219); cf. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation [Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002)], who takes the same position as Thomas on this point (pp 550-553). Perhaps the most convincing refutation comes from Paul A. Rainbow, Johannine Theology: The Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014), who notes that Christ is described here “in terms reminiscent of Old Testament accounts of angelophanies,” but “by adapting stock [OT] imagery for manifestations of celestial beings, John indicated Christ’s appearances in the visions, not his nature” (p 158; emphasis added).

59 See, e.g., Peter Cotterell & Max Turner, Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989); Stephen H. Levinsohn, Discourse Features of New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on the Information Structure of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2000); David Alan Black, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995); Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament, pp 148-191; Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010).

Joyfully Giving in Service to the Saints and the Lord Jesus Christ

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else (2 Corinthians 9:12-13, NIV 1984).

In his second letter written to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul lays out the ideals for New Testament giving. Paul commended the Macedonians for providing aid to other needy saints out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-5), yet he advocated a balance in giving, towards equality among the saints:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15, NIV 1984; with Paul quoting Exodus 16:18).

Currently a brother and sister in Christ (husband and wife) are in need of assistance – and prayer.  Without going into too much detail, they left a secure job many years ago in obedience to the call of Christ, and after 15 years of service the husband fell ill to what has been diagnosed as congestive heart failure. Two years ago their ministry was forced to close down due to financial difficulties, leaving a rather substantial debt. Most of this debt has been satisfied, due in large part to generous donations from their brothers and sisters in Christ.   Approximately $10,000 (including legal fees) is currently outstanding, and this balance must be paid in full by September 17th or serious legal consequences will result. They are working as hard as possible but cannot possibly meet this financial need on their income alone.

Will you, dear readers, assist your brother and sister in Christ? The CrossWise blog currently has 290 subscribers. If we average about $30 per donation, the need will be met. But, no amount is too small, and we needn’t limit this to blog subscribers. Will you pass this on to other saints you know?

When Jesus returns in His full, Kingly glory, He will separate the sheep from the goats. Of the sheep He will say:

. . . I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me’ (Matthew 25:35-36, NIV).

Then the sheep will, in turn, ask Jesus Christ the King:

‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?’ (Matthew 25:37-39, NIV)

In reply, the King will say, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

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