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 http://www.birthpangs.org

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

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

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

The Light Not Mastered by the Darkness

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

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

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

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

On first reading, one could understand all of 1:1-5 cosmologically, such that the darkness of Genesis 1:2 would not overcome the light of Genesis 1:3. But after having read through John’s Gospel, a subsequent reading of the prologue may prompt the reader to see an allusion to Genesis 3.44 More likely, the light/darkness dichotomy exhibited throughout the Gospel will bring the reader to perceive a connection between v. 5 and 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 a substitute for the Word.

[Go to John 1:6-8.]

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

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

16 See Harris, John, EGGNT, p 22.

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 Keener, Gospel of John, p 1.386.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEB 1970 John (2)

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

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

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

38 Carson, Gospel, p 119.

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

40 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 191.

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

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

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

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

45 See Barrett, St. John, p 158.

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

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

 

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The Kingdom of God is at Hand, part I

[see part II here.]

Jesus Himself stated, “The kingdom of God is at hand” in Mark 1:15 [NIV]; however, it is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew that He also said “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matthew 4:17, 10:7 NIV] A quick examination of Scripture leads to the conclusion that the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonymous. So, is the kingdom of God NOW?

Most first century Jews, according to their understanding of Scripture, were looking for a Messiah who would provide theocratic rule thus delivering them from Roman oppression and immediately establishing the Kingdom of God – the Age to Come. The then-current age – “Satan’s Time” – was one of sin, sickness, demonic possession, and evil in which evil men were triumphant.[1]

Consequently, even though Jesus Christ healed the sick, drove out demons and even claimed to have forgiven sins, the majority of religious leaders did not recognize Him as the Messiah in part because He did not try to overthrow Rome. Since many of the Pharisees – one of the religious parties of the day – did not believe Jesus’ claim as the “I Am” [John 8:58] they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy!

Historical background

Writings of the Intertestamental Era

400 years had already elapsed between the writing of Malachi, the last Old Testament book to be recorded, and the era of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In the intertestamental period (the time between the Old and New Testaments), the Jews were not a free people most of the time instead subjected to the rulership of various empires. There were no prophets providing correction or guidance; and, consequently, it was a rather unhappy time. As a result, it was a period marked by a surge in the production of literary works, the most important of which were the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Tanakh – what Christians know as the Old Testament (abbreviated LXX)[2], the Apocryphal & Pseudepigraphic writings (some of the Apocrypha were translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic and included as part of the LXX)[3], and the Dead Sea Scrolls.[4]

The word Apocrypha, from Greek derivation, means “hidden” which has a view of the works being either esoteric and only to be understood by the initiated or, “hidden” in that the nature of the writings are questionable or heretical[5]. The term Pseudepigrapha is usually applied to Jewish (and Jewish-Christian) writings from 200BC to AD200 and comes also from Greek etymology meaning the writings were attributed to fictitious authors[6] although some have authorship ascribed[7]. From both groups of works the subject of eschatology has a significant role. Taken all together, this literature appeared to have a profound effect on the pre-Christian and the immediate post-Resurrection era[8] up through the destruction of the Second Temple in AD70[9]. [Note: for the purposes of this article the “New Testament Apocrypha” including the so-called “Lost Gospels, ” Acts of Andrews, Epistles of the Apostles, etc. are not considered.]

…These and other writings emerged during the long silence that fell between the death of the last OT prophet, Malachi (about 400 B.C.), and the appearance of John the Baptist. To some extent these writings attempted to discern what God was saying to a nation that, though it had repudiated idolatry, still suffered under the dominion of a succession of pagan powers… [10]

At the Council of Jamnia in AD90 Jewish rabbis rejected the Apocrypha (of which parts were included in the Septuagint) as canonical[11]. Yet, some of the Apocrypha are included in the Catholic New American Bible as Deuterocanonical (meaning later added to the canon) books[12]. Some of the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine such as purgatory, masses for the dead, and obtaining the merit of God through good works come from these Apocryphal works[13].

The OT canon accepted by Protestants today was “very likely established by the dawn of the second century,” some time after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in AD70. However, the Apocrypha was still in common use by most Christians until the Protestant Reformation[14].

Societal Developments of the Period

Even though the Second Temple was in operation from 516 BC[15] until AD70[16,17] geographical constraints and oppressive regimes prevented easy travel for the typical Jew. Thus the synagogue was born. Synagogues can be likened to our modern day church buildings as they provided a convenient way to gather socially and to worship. Jesus Himself visited local synagogues [Luke 4:14-21; Matthew 12:9; Mark 1:21]; and, the Apostles [Acts 9:20, 13:5-43] and early Christian missionaries preached in them as well[18].

The Sanhedrin was a committee of Jews with recognized executive, legislative, and judicial power over Jewish faith and lifestyle during the Seleucid Empire (196 – 167BC), the Maccabean revolt (168 – 143BC) and within the limits imposed by Julius Caesar, Herod the Great, and Roman procurators during the Roman Empire (44BC – AD66).[19,20] Subordinate to the Sanhedrin were the religious parties or sects known as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and the Qumran community[21]. Since the Sanhedrin had authority over these sects and ultimate authority over capital cases (yet subordinate to Rome during Roman occupation), Jesus’ trial is seen as being conducted illegally[22].

Beliefs of the Sects

Not much is known about the separative and isolationistic Essene group except that they were very legalistic living both frugally and communally while limiting contact outside their sect. While they did not condemn marriage in principle it was avoided and celibacy was celebrated. Their sect was continued on by the adoption of children. There was an expectation of an impending apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Evidence of a soon to emerge Messiah is in their writings also[23].

Even less was known of the Qumran community until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) which were first unearthed in 1947. The Qumranians are likely a sect that broke from the Essenes. This extremely sectarian group rejected the Jewish leadership referring to them as “sons of darkness” and “men of the pit” while referring to themselves as “sons of light” and “sons of truth.” They firmly believed they were living in the end times[24].

From the DSS it is evident that the Qumranians were highly legalistic with a commitment to study the Torah. The Qumran group believed they were living in the end times and accepted the guidance of a certain teacher of righteousness [ed: probably based at least in part on Malachi 4:5] who was presumably preparing them for the Messiah. Their own writings about this “righteous teacher” are too sketchy to determine the exact role of this figure; however, it is apparent that the community accepted his interpretations of the prophetic OT books regarding eschatology. Since the Qumran believed in a resurrection of the dead, it may be assumed in studying portions of the DSS that they expected the “teacher of righteousness to be martyred and eventually raised up[25]. Their Messiah figure, on the other hand, was more of a human son of David concept rather than a divine apocalyptic Son of man[26]. Some scholars construe that the Qumran belief system supports two or three Messianic figures[27,28].

As supernaturalists, the Pharisees believed in angels, demons, bodily resurrection [Acts 23:8], and immortality with reward for the righteous dead[29] in contrast with retribution for the unrighteous[30]. They were legalistic to the point of going beyond the Scriptures in attempting to adhere to the Torah; and, to this end added their own oral tradition to keep various points of the law. A good example of this is their view of the Sabbath [Mark 2:23-28]. The Pharisees “neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness” [Matthew 23:23 NIV] creating a more works-based religion than one with a personal God.

The Pharisees believed both in man’s free will and the sovereignty of God yet thought neither would cancel out the other. Ethics such as human equality were emphasized in their teachings but not necessarily from a theological standpoint[31]. They expected the Messiah to restore Jewish freedom[32].

One credible source stated outright that the Pharisees believed in reincarnation[33]; yet, the general consensus among Christian scholars is that Pharisaical belief regarding immortality adhered to orthodoxy instead. However, in the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic literature there are references to reincarnation[34]. In some camps, the Kabbalah was thought to be in use as early as the time of Moses as part of an oral tradition and reincarnation is one of the tenets of Kabbalistic doctrine[35]. While there are certainly some Jewish sects who currently espouse reincarnation[36], it is not clear when this doctrine first came about. The Apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, or Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach[37], contains a warning against such esotericism [Sirach 3:20-22].[38]

The common people were predominantly middle class and identified mostly with the Pharisees in part because this party was of the same class[39]. It should be noted that not all Pharisees were of the same ilk as those represented in the NT. Some contemporaries within their own party recognized their hypocrisy and rebuked them for it[40]. Gamaliel appeared to try to honor a personal God with his words [Acts 5:33-41]. Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, would, of course, become the Apostle Paul.

The Sadducees, more than any of these groups, had an interest in Temple ceremonies and sought a literal interpretation of the Torah. They appeared to reject extra-canonical sources for doctrine. As the most affluent of the religious groups, the Sadducees wielded political clout disproportionate to their relative size[41]. It is assumed that they held a large percentage of seats on the Sanhedrin.

The Sadducean view of eschatology was quite simplistic and widely divergent from the other sects as they did not believe in a resurrection [Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27] or an afterlife and even denied the existence of a spiritual world altogether [Acts 23:8] attributing everything to free will[42].

Eschatological Views of the Pre-Christian and Immediate Post-Resurrection Era

With the exception of the Sadducean view, the predominant Jewish belief of the pre-Christian era included the imminent arrival of a Messianic figure (or figures assuming one of the viewpoints regarding the Qumran group) to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and immediately establish the Kingdom of God. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart, in their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, describe the Jewish eschaton (view of the end of time) as the belief that the Messiah’s coming would usher in the “Age to Come” to be “characterized by the presence of the Spirit, righteousness, health, and peace.”[43]

Since Jesus Christ’s disciples/followers came directly from Jewish heritage or were familiar with Jewish eschatological beliefs, they were also expecting Him to soon usher in the Kingdom and overthrow Rome[44] while He was still on the earth. Consequently, Jesus’ arrest and subsequent death on the Cross was met with immense disillusionment among His disciples in part because of this assumption [Luke 22:61-62; 23:27, 48-49; 24:17-21]. However, their sorrow turned to joy with His Resurrection and Ascension!

Yet it was apparent that the end of the age had not come in full:

“Very early, beginning with Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, the early Christians came to realize that Jesus had not come to usher in the ‘final’ end, but the ‘beginning’ of the end, as it were. Thus they came to see that with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and with the coming of the Spirit, the blessings and benefits of the future had already come. In a sense, therefore, the end had already come. But, in another sense the end had not yet fully come. Thus it was already but not yet. [45] [emphasis in original]

First century Christians had to adjust their eschatological thinking to fit the events of the Resurrection and Ascension. However, apparently some were expecting the imminent return of Jesus Christ prompting the Apostle Paul to write the two Thessalonian letters to provide markers of what first must take place before His return. They still had a “kingdom now” mindset. This expectation of imminency with regard to Christ’s return continues in the mindset of most Christians today.

This “tension” between the already but not yet is an important hermeneutical tool in interpreting the New Testament[46]. Passages such as Colossians 3:1-2 illustrate this quite well:

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [NIV]

We are already raised up with Christ, yet we are still physically here on earth. However, since we have the future expectation of being raised with Christ, we are to already set our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Similarly, when Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” He was using this same principle. The Kingdom era has already begun; but, the consummation is yet to be fulfilled.

There are those today who are attempting to hasten Jesus Christ’s return by taking the not yet into their own hands. It is the doctrines of some of these which will be compared to the doctrines of the groups above in the second part of this article.

See Part II here.

Endnotes:

[1] Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stewart “The Gospels: One Story, Many Dimensions.” How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. second edition, 1993; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; p 131

[2] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 164-174. This section features Bruce M. Metzger as contributor.

[3] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “Between the Testaments.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 179-192. This section features Harold W. Hoehner as contributor.

[4] Barker, Kenneth; Burdick, Stek, et. al. “The Time between the Testaments” NIV Study Bible. copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 1424-1425

[5] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 161 Metzger

[6] ibid. pp 162, 170

[7] Marshall, I. Howard; Millard, Packer “Pseudepigrapha” New Bible Dictionary. third edition, 1996; Intervarsity, Downers Grove, IL; p 985

[8] Gaebelein, Op.cit. pp 173-174 Hoehner

[9] Richards, Lawrence O. “Apocrypha” Richards Complete Bible Dictionary. 2002; World Bible Publishers, Iowa Falls, IO; p 76

[10] ibid.

[11] Marshall, Op.cit.

[12] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 162

[13] Richards, Op.cit.

[14] Barker, Op.cit. p 1425

[15] Richards, Lawrence O. “Ezra” Richards’ Complete Bible Handbook. 1987; Word, Inc., Dallas, TX; pp 233-234

[16] Wikipedia The Second Temple <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Temple> para 1; as accessed 10/17/10

[17] Richards, Op.cit. “The Second Temple” Bible Dictionary p 967

[18] ibid. “synagogue” pp 957-958

[19] ibid. “Sanhedrin” pp 894-895

[20] Gaebelein, Op.cit. pp 184, 189-191 Hoehner

[21] ibid. pp 192-193

[22] Richards, Op.cit. p 895

[23] ibid. “Essenes” pp 346-347

[24] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 395-398. This section features William Sanford LaSor as contributor.

[25] ibid. pp 399-401

[26] ibid. pp 400-403 [The bulk of this information on the Qumran is from the work of William S. LaSor titled The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972]

[27] Barker, Op.cit. p 1427

[28] Hanson, Kenneth “The Wicked Priest” Dead Sea Scrolls: the Untold Story. 1997; Council Oaks Books, Tulsa, OK; p 82

[29] Richards, Op.cit. “Pharisees” p 782

[30] Barker, Op.cit. “Jewish Sects” p 1473

[31] ibid.

[32] Richards, Op.cit.

[33] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 192 Hoehner

[34] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 165 Metzger

[35] Wikipedia “Primary Texts” Kabbalah. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabbalah> para 2, also “History: Origin of Terms” para 1; as accessed 10/17/10

[36] Rich, Tracey R. “Resurrection and Reincarnation” Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife. <http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm>  Copyright 5759-5760 (1999); Tracey R. Rich; para 4; as accessed 10/17/10

[37] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 166

[38] Confraternity of Christian Doctrine “Sirach” New American Bible. <http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/sirach/sirach3.htm> 2002; Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC; Sirach 3:20-22; as accessed 10/17/10

[39] Richards, Op.cit. “The Common People” Bible Handbook p 443

[40] ibid. “The Pharisees” p 442

[41] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 192 Hoehner

[42] Richards, Op.cit. “Sadducees” p 885

[43] Fee, Op.cit. p 132

[44] ibid.

[45] ibid. pp 132-133

[46] ibid. p 133