Appendices To My ‘Prologue Of The Gospel Of John’

Appendix 1 –  In The Beginning

As stated in my article on the prologue I see ‘the beginning’ to be referring back to the call of Abraham, which can be deduced to be the beginning of redemptive history. With the call of Abraham began the long history of God’s unfolding of his redemption plan, reaching down to John’s own day with the appearance first of John the Baptizer and then of Jesus of Nazareth. Verses 1-5 are a poetic summary of that history prior to the author’s day. Verse three speaks of the unfolding of each successive link in the redemption chain, from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah to David, all things coming to pass on the basis of the ‘word’ i.e. God’s declared purpose to redeem. Evidence for the validity of this interpretation can be found in the evangelistic messages in the book of Acts. If we assume John’s purpose in writing is evangelistic {20:31} then it is not improbable that he followed a similar pattern.

In Acts 7 Stephen begins his message to the Sanhedrin by recounting the call of Abraham {v. 2}, then mentions Isaac and Jacob {v. 8}, then moves on to the period of Egyptian bondage {vv. 17-19} and the raising up of Moses {vv. 20-34}. Next he speaks of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their receiving the law {vv.35-38}. He eventually moves to David and Solomon and the building of the temple {45-47}. We can assume that had his message not been cut short by the Jews’ attack on him he would have culminated by showing Jesus to be the fulfillment of Israel’s hope.

In Acts 13 we have Paul’s message to the Jews in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. He follows a similar pattern as Stephen, though his history of Israel is greatly truncated. He begins by reminding them of how God chose their fathers i.e. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob {v.17a}. He moves to a brief recounting of Israel’s stay in Egypt, their deliverance out of Egypt, a their 40 yr. desert wandering and their settlement in the promised land, and the period of the judges {vv. 17b-20}. He then speaks of God’s giving them Saul as their first king and then of David {vv. 21-22}. Then he said:

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior, Jesus, as he promised.”

He then speaks of how John had preceded Jesus and gave testimony of him. He then gives a brief account of how Jesus was rejected and put to death but that God had raised him from the dead {vv. 27-31}. In v. 32 we read:

“We tell you the good news. What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”

One more example, in Acts 3, which is pertinent to this point. After Peter heals a crippled man a crowd gathers and he addresses them. He starts by identifying Jesus as the servant of “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” {v. 13}. He then speaks of Jesus’ death and resurrection and calls the people to repentance {vv. 13-23}. He concludes his message like this:

“Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ “

These passages not only show how the first gospel preachers would bring their Jewish hearers back to ‘the beginning’, to the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also how the events of their own day had come to pass on the basis of God’s declared purpose, i.e. the word.

Regarding the interpretation that takes ‘the beginning’ to be the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the ‘word’ to be the man Jesus, I want to say that I respect my unitarian brothers who hold this position but that I cannot agree with them.  If John was writing to Jews in the dispersion to present Jesus of Nazareth to them as the Messiah, and I think he was, then I don’t see that he would have begun his gospel announcing Jesus as the ‘word’ right from the start, without some kind of build up. In my interpretation John builds up to Jesus who is introduced in the 14th verse and named explicitly in verse 17. He begins by establishing that what he is about to present concerning the public ministry of this extraordinary fellow Jew is rooted and grounded in the very promises of God i.e. the word, and that the events which had recently played out in Galilee and Judea were the continuation of the long history of the working out of God’s redemptive purpose. I think that the idea of a build up in the prologue, from a Jew to Jews, really makes sense.

Appendix 2 – The Memra

Many recent expositors and apologists have asserted that John’s use of Logos in the prologue to his gospel is to find it’s parallel in the Memra of the Targums. The Targums are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, most of which were composed between the 1st and 7th century CE. There were some targums found at Qumran but they were of a different nature than the later authoritative targums such as Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan. The targums at Qumran did not employ the use of  Memra. If John was influenced by any targums he could only have been influenced by those found at Qumran, but there is no evidence that these targums were authoritative or that they were used in the synagogues. But even if they were they do not contain any mention of  Memra, so John could not have derived his Logos from these targums. Targums Onkelos and Jonathan could have been composed in the first century though most scholars date them to the early 2nd century CE. But even if they were composed originally in the 1st century they did not become authoritative and hence used in the synagogues until much later. So even though these targums do employ Memra as a buffer word, John probably would have never even heard of them. We should also consider that the extant manuscripts for these targums are very late and scholars agree that they have undergone redaction. There is no way to know if the originals contained the use of  Memra or if the use of  Memra is the result of later redaction. Since Memra is used in the targums as a means of providing a level of separation between God and his creation in passages where God is said to interact with men on a personal level, it is not unlikely that the originals did not contain this use of Memra. The idea of God being too transcendent to personally interact with men does not appear to be a 1st century concern with Jews. This did become a concern for Jews in later centuries through the influence of Greek philosophical ideas of God, and so Memra could have been redacted into the text at that time. At any rate, I do not see how John could have been influenced by the Memra of the Targums when he most likely had never seen one or even heard of one because he lived and wrote too early for such contact to have occurred. And if these Targums were written in the late 1st or early 2nd century it is just not possible that they were being read in the synagogues of the dispersion when John wrote his gospel.

Many apologists and a few scholars (Daniel Boyarin and Micheal Heiser for ex.) continuously make the claim that the Memra is being presented in the Targums as an actual personal entity, at once identified with God but distinct from Him. This is not the consensus opinion of targumic scholars, which opinion is that Memra is employed as a buffer for divine transcendence. For further study on this important subject see this article: Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2) 

Appendix 3  –  Two Powers and Justin’s Dialogue

Trinitarian apologists today assert that John’s logos is drawn from the Jewish belief in ‘two powers‘ which is supposed to have been a common belief among the Jews in the first century. Certain Jewish apocalyptic works written prior to the first century have a form of ‘two powers’ belief, but the ‘second power’ is always a created being, either angel or man, who is exalted by God to a co-ruling position under him. In these writings there is no eternally existing second power in heaven. If ‘two powers in heaven‘ denotes two equal powers, then these Jewish writings may not even qualify as teaching the ‘two powers’ belief. Philo is the first to present a ‘second god’ who is neither unbegotten, like God, nor created, like man. Many Philo scholars are still uncertain as to whether Philo’s logos is to be understood as an actual distinct hypostasis within God or if it is just a personification of an attribute of God. Now Justin’s logos is clearly a ‘second god’ who is portrayed as being numerically distinct from and in subjection to the God and Maker of all things and the minister of His will. It seems apparent to me that Justin’s logos is not drawn from John’s prologue but rather from Philo’s logos (and/or Plato’s logos), which he then develops and adapts to a Christian framework and reads back into John’s prologue, as if this is what John intended when he wrote.

Dr. Michael Heiser and the apologists who follow his lead, when they speak about the ‘two powers’ idea, make it sound like this belief was common and widespread among first century Jews. Yet when I read Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (c. 160 CE) I don’t get the impression that Trypho and his cohorts believed in this idea of two powers in heaven. From chapter 55 to the end of the Dialogue Justin is trying to convince Trypho and the other Jews with him that there is another power in heaven who was begotten from the God and is numerically distinct from him and is, in the Hebrew Scriptures, called god and lord and angel, and that this is the Christ whom the Jews were waiting for. As Justin begins to present his arguments using OT passages to convince them, Trypho and his friends are portrayed as pushing back on the idea that there is another god and lord who appeared in patriarchal times; they explicitly deny that there is a second power. In chapter 56 Justin attempts to persuade his Jewish interlocutors that this second god was one of the three men who appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18. After quoting the passage we read of the Jews reply:

They said that they indeed understood, but that the words quoted contributed nothing to prove that any other god or lord exists or is spoken of by the Holy Spirit beside the Maker of the universe.

Justin then says in response:

Seeing then that you have understood these passages of scripture, I will endeavor to persuade you of what I say, that there both exists and is mentioned in scripture a god and lord other than, and less than the Maker of all things, who is also called angel, because he announces to men whatever the Maker of all things, above whom there is no other God, desires to announce to them.

Justin then asks Trypho if he thinks God appeared to Abraham under the oak of Mamre, and he answers yes. Justin then asks him if he thinks God was one of the three men, to which he replies “No.” Trypho then explains to Justin the Jewish belief regarding the passage:

God appeared to him before he saw the three. Those three then whom the word terms men were angels, two of them sent for the destruction of Sodom, and one bringing the good news to Sarah that she was to have a child, for which reason he had been sent forth, and when he had accomplished his task went his way.

Justin then further attempts to persuade them that one of the three men was this second god but the Jews are not convinced. Then Justin says this:

If therefore I could not prove to you from the scriptures that one of those three is the god in question, and yet is called an angel, because, as I said already, he announces the messages of God the Maker of all things, to whomsoever God desires; and that he who appeared on earth in the form of a man, and who appeared to Abraham (as was also the case with the two angels who came with him), was this god who also existed before the creation of the world, it were reasonable for you to hold the same opinion as that of all your nation.

Here we see Justin admitting that the belief of the nation of the Jews was not that a second god, distinct from the God, was he who appeared to Abraham and the other patriarchs, but that it was simply an angel. So what does this say about the apologists claim that the belief in two powers just was the common Jewish belief? Now someone might want to argue that the belief in two powers was a Jewish tenet prior to Justin’s time which then fell out of favor when the rabbis began to denounce it as heresy. But nowhere in the Dialogue is Justin ever depicted as pointing out to Trypho and his fellow Jews that his own belief was once a common belief among the Jews.  Not only that but Alan Segal shows in his book Two Powers In Heaven that the rabbinic polemic was contemporaneous with Justin and even that some of the rabbis’ attacks may have been against Justin’s own teaching.

Appendix 4  –  The Logos, It or Him

Trinitarians think that because the pronouns in the first four verses of the prologue of John’s gospel are masculine it is therefore definitive that the logos is speaking of a personal being, who they believe is the son of God. But this is just not the case. While it is technically true that the pronouns are masculine, it is not necessary to translate them so on a practical level, if the noun to which they refer is not a person. For example, the word autos in vv. 3-4 is used in the following verses – Matt. 5:29; 13:20, 46; 18:9; 21:33; Mark 11:4, 7, 17; Lk. 19:33; 20:9;  John 6:50, 60; 7:7; 12:24; Acts 13:46. In each of these occurrences the masculine pronoun is translated by the word ‘it‘, because the nouns to which it refers are not persons but things. Of special interest are Matt. 13:20, John 6:60 and Acts 13:46 where autos refers to the noun logos, as in John 1:3-4.

Therefore it is not necessary to translate autos as ‘he’ in the prologue of John, if one takes the logos to be impersonal. Of course one can take logos as impersonal but understand John to be using the literary devise of personification, in which case it would be proper to translate autos as ‘he’. A fact that many may not be aware of is that seven early English versions, prior to the 1611 KJV, all translate the pronouns in vv. 2-4 as neuter, i.e. as ‘it’. These versions are the Tyndale Bible, Coverdale Bible, Geneva Bible, Bishop’s Bible, Matthew’s Bible, Taverner’s Bible and the Great Bible. All of these can be found and read on-line.

Appendix 5  –  Light and Hope

Probably the weakest component of my interpretation of the prologue is understanding the ‘light’ in vv. 4-9 as ‘hope.’ I say this because I could not find any explicit OT precedence for using ‘light’ as a metaphor for hope. The counterpart of  ‘light’ which is ‘darkness’ does seem in some passages to denote despair and hopelessness. For instance, Isaiah 9:2 :

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned.”

To my mind this sounds like a condition of hopelessness. To live in the ‘shadow of death‘ would mean to live with death looming over one’s life. The ‘great light‘ would speak of the source of a renewed hope in the midst of this darkness. This very passage is applied to the ministry of Jesus in Galilee by Matthew in 4:12-16.

Appendix 5  –  John the Baptizer

The inclusion of John in the prologue reminds me of  Paul’s message to the Jews in Acts 13, where after chronicling God’s working through history (vv.17-22), from Abraham to David, and speaking of Jesus as being the promised descendant of David who would be Israel’s savior (v.23), he then tells how John came first to carry out his mission. He makes it clear that John was not the promised one by quoting John’s own denial (vv.24-25), which is also recorded by John later in chapter one of his gospel (v.27).

Appendix 6  –  The Word Came

In verse 11 John says that the ‘word’ came to that which was it’s own, meaning the nation of the Jews. This language of God’s word coming to the people of Israel is not new with John’s gospel but has precedence in Scripture. For example, Is. 9:8 states:

“The Lord has sent a word in Jacob; it has settled in Israel.” 

Here the word that came to Israel was one of impending judgment, while in the prologue it is the word of promise. All throughout the Hebrew scriptures the word comes to Israel through the prophets; both the word of judgment and the word of the promised redemption. Throughout Israel’s history only a remnant of the nation ever received the word which came to it. Verse 11 is most likely referring to the most recent coming of the word to Israel, through John the Baptizer. This word was once again rejected by the Jewish leadership and aristocracy, but many of the common people accepted it, at least initially. Those who confessed their sins and were baptized, repenting of their sins, received forgiveness and were privileged to be the ones whom the Father would draw to Jesus to become His children {see Mk. 1:5; Lk. 3:3; Jn. 6:37-40, 43-45}.

Appendix 7  –  Those Believing In His Name

Verse 12 is traditionally understood to be referring to Jesus, i.e. “all who received [Jesus], to those who believed in [Jesus’] name . . .”  But this interpretation is simply the result of the presupposition that the ‘word’ is synonymous with Jesus. If we take the ‘he’ here, which is referring back to the ‘word’ (logos), as I have suggested i.e. the word of promise proclaimed by the prophets, then the passage is referring to those who received the word, as noted in the previous appendix. A few modern  English translations obscure this possible meaning by placing the phrase “to those believing in his name” prior to the mention of ‘God.’ This makes it appear that the ‘his’ in “his name” refers to the ‘logos.’ In the Greek the phrase follows immediately after the mention of ‘God’ and the ‘his’ in “his name” should refer back to ‘God.’ Thus the receiving of the ‘word’ and believing upon God’s name are synonymous. When one receives the word of God one is in effect counting God both faithful and able to bring it to pass. These are the ones who are given the right to become God’s children.

Appendix 8  –  Verse 14

Some biblical unitarians interpret “the word became flesh” to be a reference to Jesus’ resurrection and “we have seen his glory” to mean the glory of his resurrected state. But this seems untenable to me for the following reasons:

  1. “The word became flesh” just seems like an odd way to refer to Jesus’ resurrection. If the ‘word’ is Jesus all along, isn’t he flesh even before the resurrection? And why would John be unveiling the resurrection so early in his gospel account?
  2. What would “he made his dwelling among us” mean in relation to the resurrection. After the resurrection Jesus remained with the disciples only a short time before being taken out of this world, which would hardly fit with making his dwelling among us. If they want to take it spiritually i.e. since Jesus has resurrected he is now ‘spiritual’ {see 1 Cor. 15:45-46} and now dwells in us, then I would say that the prologue seems like a strange place to have Jesus already resurrected and dwelling in people. Plus the tense of the word skenoo (to dwell) is aorist indicative which expresses past time action, i.e. dwelt. This is not referring to Jesus presently dwelling in believers but to an action that was already in the past when John wrote his gospel.
  3. The ‘glory’ which the apostles beheld does not have to refer to his resurrection glory. As I stated in my original article, the glory here can refer to that which made Jesus praiseworthy to his disciples, even before the resurrection. We can see this idea of glory in 2:11 after Jesus turns the water into wine. John says that “he thus revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.”

Another point I want to make concerning this verse is the faulty translation of almost every modern English version. These versions almost universally render this verse as if John was referring to “the only-begotten Son from the Father.” This translation is based purely on the so called ‘orthodox’ christology of a later period. It makes it appear that John, a first century Jew, is writing to other Jews about a concept of a divine eternally begotten Son who was with God in heaven before appearing on earth, as if this is what Jews were expecting to happen at some time. This interpretational translation is then bolstered by capitalizing the words son and father. Instead the passage should read “an only-begotten son of a father.” This more accurate translation can be found in the Berean Literal Bible, the Darby Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, the Emphatic Diaglott, the Apostolic Bible Polyglot English Text, the Roth emphasized Bible, Noyes 1869 Translation and The Scriptures (ISR 1998).

The point of the passage is that Jesus displayed a special relationship to God like that of an only son of a father, dearly loved and favored. He was the only Jew who went about speaking of God as being his own Father and not just the Father of the nation. This special relationship with God was manifested in the way that God did miraculous things in and through him. This was part of the glory that the disciples beheld in him.

I see two ways to read the last phrase “full of grace and truth” 1.) as pertaining to “a father” i.e. ” . . . a father full of grace and truth.” 2.) as pertaining to “an only-begotten son” i.e. “an only-begotten son . . . full of grace and truth.”  Grace (Gr. charis) and truth (Gr. aletheia) are most likely John’s way of saying in Greek what the Hebrew Bible calls chesed (lovingkindness, mercy) and emeth (faithfulness, reliability, truth). These two are coupled together often in Scripture, and are said to be qualities of both God and men.  Verses that use these terms of God include Ex. 34:6; Ps. 26:3; 40:10-11; 89:14; 115:1. Verses which use these terms of men include Gen 24:49; 47:29; Josh. 2:12-14; Prov. 3:3; 20:28. The two terms, when used together seem to denote a loyalty and faithfulness in showing  kindness to those with whom one is in covenant. God shows chesed and emeth to those he is in covenant with; men show the same to God because of the covenant; and men show other men the same because of being together in the same covenant with God. Now whether we take the phrase in v. 14 to apply to either the ‘son’ or the ‘father’ is inconsequential because the point seems to be that an only-begotten son who is sent by a father as his agent is going to exhibit the character of his father, i.e. if his father is full of grace and truth then so will he be.

Appendix 9  –  From His Fullness

In verse 16 we are told that “out of his fullness we have all received grace.” The word for fullness is pleroma which can denote the reaching of a desired end, hence the fulfillment or completion of a thing. This sense can be seen in these verses: Rom. 11:12; 13:10; Eph. 1:10. Because Jesus reached his goal and completed the work the Father gave him to do {Jn. 17:4}, we, as believers in him, have reaped the benefits.

Appendix 10  –  Verse 17

Because this verse is not pertinent to the debate over Jesus’ true nature I did not address it in my first article, but I will touch on it here.  The grace and truth (chesed and emeth) mentioned here is specifically that which God promised the fathers i.e. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob {see Micah 7:14-20}. This includes the bringing to completion of all of the original promises made to them,  and most certainly implies the necessity of the resurrection so that they may physically enter into the promises. Included in this chesed and emeth is the national forgiveness of Israel’s sins and transgressions and restoration of the nation to their inheritance once again. God’s means of accomplishing this is through Jesus the Messiah, the final descendant of David who will sit on the throne of God’s kingdom. What John is saying is that this promised chesed and emeth was never to be arrived at by the law, which came through Moses, but rather through the Messiah. This is expressed in a number of passages in the NT: Lk. 1:54-55, 68-75; Rom. 15:8-9. These verses use the Greek word eleos rather than John’s charis to express the idea of chesed.

 

 

 

 

Author: Troy Salinger

I am 55 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 32 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 36 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

2 thoughts on “Appendices To My ‘Prologue Of The Gospel Of John’”

  1. I read this post a few times this afternoon and I must admit, your arguments are well put. I had currently settled on the “in the beginning” as relating to the start of the ministry of Jesus, but I can see your point. Certainly, I agree that the start of God’s redemptive plan commenced with the calling forth of Abraham, which of course, many people do not see this as the start of creation, but Peter clearly identified this at 2Pet3:3-7. Many seem to forget this, rather conveniently and I would say even when reading Rom1:18-32….,believing this applies to non-Israelites…and take v20 “from the creation of the world”, back prior to Abraham.

    I will think about verses 1-5 differently. I already differentiated Word apart from Jesusa, seeing that The Word is how The One True God speaks to his creation (his covenant people), but when Jesus was called to go into the world (the start of his ministry to the chosen nation), then God was speaking His Word through a Son (Heb1:1-2). Of course, after Jesus’ glorification, having been made a life-quickening spirit, the Word of God is mediated to us by the Son when we receive the Spirit of Truth.

    I will take a look at the rest of your blog, after this intriguing post.

    God bless

    Like

  2. Thanks for your comments on the Memra and the so-called Two Powers theory. Right on.

    I think part of the appeal of both these ideas is that for the people that propose them, the think they’ve found some deep clever insight. But especially for the people that hear them, it’s “oh, here is a scholar talking about Memra and Two Powers. Sounds so scholarly, so insightful. He must really know what he’s talking about”.

    But your examinations really pull the curtain back on the wizardry.

    I think it ironic that “deity of Christ” proponents jump on these theories because in Judaism, the “two powers in heaven” are never equal, never two persons of the same substance or something like that. There are never two God persons/powers.
    Guess what, the New Testament is a “two powers in heaven” document. One power is Almighty God. The other power is the human Messiah, Jesus, who died and was raised from the dead by God to a position at God’s right hand in heaven. The human Messiah has been granted authority by the Almighty God to rule.

    The other irony is that as soon as one “proves” two powers, it shows that the Trinitarian concept is a later development.

    The appeal to things like Memra and Two Powers to show the “deity of Christ” is really a sign of desperation, because one has to go outside the Scripture to find some little scrap of evidence that supposedly proves the theory.

    On your idea about the logos being the promise of God given to Abraham. I agree, and disagree. Like with the allusions to Genesis 1 in John 1, I also see allusions in John 1 to the Abraham “events”. The most obvious one is “unique son” and “lamb of God” (John 1:14, 1:18, 1:36, Genesis 22:2, 8).

    But yes, the word of God is involved in the promise to Abraham. Here’s a quote commenting on the Abraham account(s) that I ran across lately that I think is right: “The new history begins as history always begins, in a word spoken. ‘Yahweh said to Abram’” (from a book by Walter Brueggemann called “The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith”, p. 16.
    The parallel I see of course, is with Jesus, to and through whom God speaks. The human Jesus, his life and words and deeds, everything about him, is God speaking to humankind.

    As I’ve mentioned in other places, the grammatical and literary features of John’s prologue (e.g., “beginning” in the Gospel and Johannine literature relates to Jesus’ life, this one was not the light, but this one was the light, John came to testify about the light) and connections between the prologue and other statements in the Gospel “I am the light”, are evidences that the one being presented even in the first 13 verses of John’s Gospel, is the man Jesus the Messiah.

    Yes, God spoke in many and various ways to our fathers in past times, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a son.

    Thanks again, Troy, for doing the research on this “stuff”.

    Like

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