Saturday, June 19, 2010

John 1:1c

"and the Word was God"

Observation 1: Here is the completion of the triad of statements about Jesus, the Word. Vital is to follow the progression of thought and expectations, esp. Jewish expectations. First, "in the beginning" set up the expectation that "God" (Yahweh) was this Word. Then the Word being "with God" suddenly clarified that this "Word" was not the same person as "God", yet he was "in the beginning" with God. Only God was "in the beginning", so what does this mean? Two gods? But this third statement answers all the questions (and raises many others!). This Word "was/ is" God. Here is the theologically difficult concept that there is One God who exists in More Than One Person. In this text, we see Two Persons, One God, what has been called a "binitarian" formulation and conceptual subset of the later Trinitarian formulation. After all, in the course of Jesus' ministry, the main issue was the Father-Son relationship. Only later did the Third person, the Spirit, enter the scene.

Observation 2: In the Greek, the construction reads "kai theos ein ho logos". There has been much controversy over how to read the anarthrous (no article) predicate nominative. Usually, the absence of the article serves to indicate the subject when there are two nouns. When the predicate is an adjective, the absence of the article is consistent with the nature of the adjective as not-equivalent to the subject but an attribute of it. This has led some to conclude that this can be the function of some anarthrous nouns as well. And there is ample evidence that this is true. Whether it can be parlayed into a full blown "Rule" or not is debatable. That such a function exists in the Greek is very plausible. Certainly in this case it not only makes sense but is nearly required–not given a preconceived theology but given the narrative anticipation set up by vv. 1a & 1b. Because 1b has made a clear distinction between "God" and the "Word", setting up a construction that would read: "And the Word was the God", putting the article with "God" would be at the least confusing, as it would seem to reassert an equivocation between "God" and "Word" and thus contradict 1b. Theologically, it might introduce a kind of confusing modalism. Simply put, it's far easier and consistent with the theological set up to retain "theos" as anarthrous. It accomplishes 3 things: (1) clearly distinguishes subject from predicate (since both are nouns); (2) retains the person distinction between "theos" and "logos" by NOT equivicating the two; (3) puts the predicate in a position and function similar to a predicate adjective; hence the "Word" is NOT the same person as Yahweh (the Father) but yet is still fully and completely God-by-nature.

Observation 3: Many have said that there is no trinitarian formulation in the Bible and certainly there isn't one that exists in the wording and form of later Councils. But that there is a clear "threeness & oneness" of God theology in the NT is clear. And John 1:1 presents the clearest formulation of distinction between persons (1b) yet with a simultaneous unity of nature (1c).

Observation 4: Attempts to make the anarthrous "theos" the theological equivalent of "a god" fall short for several reasons: (1) It fails to acknowledge that in Koiné Greek, the absence of the article does NOT function as it does in English. It does not necessarily or usually indicate indefiniteness (though it can on some occasions where the context demands it). It is common to see anarthrous Greek words which any competent translator would translate it into English as with the article (as definiteness is intended). And there are words that have the article (like most proper names) but are not translated into English with "the". (E.g., "The Paul", "The Jesus") Nor does their absence make the person's name indefinite (E.g., "a Jesus", "a Peter"). The most salient example in John's case is 1:6 where it reads, "And there was a man sent from God...." Here even the JW Bible translates it "God" but there is no article (anarthrous)! Why not translate it: "And there was a man sent from a god" if we want to be consistent? That's because it's bad translation and a failure to understand the function of the article in Greek. (And one cannot argue that words are anarthrous in prepositional phrases, b/c they're not. And both 1:6 and 1:1c are prespositional phrases. Either render them both as "a.." or neither. Neither.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

John 1:1b

"and the Word was with God"

Observation 1: As a conceptually complementary clause following "In the beginning was the Word", the clause "and the Word was with God" would present a sudden shift in expectations for the traditional 1st century Israelite. For (s)he would have assumed that "the Word" in v. 1a was "God" (Adonai). But now John distinguishes "the Word" from "God". In Israelite theology only "God" was "in the beginning", before the heavens and earth. So is this another deity? Is this polytheism? Statement 3 (forthcoming) will clarify these issues.

Observation 2: The Greek phrase translated "with God" is pros ton theon. Commonly, pros + accusative is rendered "toward" something. But with used with persons it can easily be understood as "with" without any necessary sense of "direction toward". What I find interesting is how this might, however, play into the ancient view of the Trinity, particularly the Father-Son relationship known as the doctrine of the "Eternal Generation of the Son". In short, this idea is an attempt to reconcile how Jesus can be "begotten" (1:18) yet uncreated. Many Church Fathers concluded that Jesus is "eternally generated" from the Father. Hence, he can be described as "begotten" as he proceeds from the Father yet there was never a time when he was not being generated from the Father, hence he is eternal and uncreated. (You don't see (m)any people holding to this view today. Most have simply concluded that texts that were formerly translated "begotten", like 1:18's "only begotten" ought to be just rendered "only" without any sense of begotten-ness.) I find it fascinating, that John 1:1b may represent the only text that describes the "direction" of the relationship between Father and Son. Again, I don't believe that pros ton theon MUST indicate directionality though it often does. Yet if there is any directionality to be found, even in mere possibility, 1:1b has it. And its directional relationship between Father and Son is not the Son being generated "from" the Father (which would be "ek") or at least movement "away from" the Father ("apo"), which would support the "generation" idea. Instead pros, if it has ANY direction, is TOWARD the Father not eternally spawned "from" him.

Observation 3: In any case, what matters is that pros ton theon expresses a relationship between these two distinct persons. This is not modalism though it could be polytheism if the sentence ended here. (But it doesn't.) The writer is careful to show these two persons as distinct yet in a relationship. One could, knowing what was expressed in the 3 synoptic Gospels written prior to John's, invest all of the intimacy already described about the Father-Son relationship.

Observation 4: There is a simple grammatical chiasm here:

prepositional phrase + "was" + the Word (1a)

the Word + "was" + prepositional phrase (1b)

As aforementioned, 1a is syntactically arranged to recall Genesis 1:1. The 1b phrase is likely a natural follow-up, probably unintentionally chiastic. It is noteworthy that a "normal" sentence would not have repeated "and the Word was". Instead it would've been 1 sentence that would've read: "In the beginning was the Word who was with God" or something like that. But there are separate clauses here both to highlight the parallel wording of 1:1a with Genesis 1:1 and to reinforce the importance of all 3 phrases in 1:1 as they are individually understood.

Monday, June 7, 2010

John 1:1a

"In the beginning was the Word"

Observation 1: There is a no-mistaking reference to Creation here. Whereas the genealogies of Matthew and Luke trace back to the OT, John's "genealogy" goes back to eternity! The preexistence of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, is presented without apology. John wants to insure that we do not miss the deity of the Word. Grammatically, the sentence should be translated: "The Word was in the beginning". But here is where contextual syntax comes into play. Because of the clear parallel with Genesis 1:1, the prepositional phrase gets fronted to match the reference.

Observation 2: If we were reading it for the first time, we would assume that this "Word" was Yahweh God. It is the progression of the three phrases in verse 1 that completes the picture and alters our expectations of what is true of the nature of God and Christ.

Observation 3: "Word" has been variously assumed to be sourced in non-Christian, Greco-Roman literature, philosophy, or religion. There is widespread reference to some deified Being as the "Word" in the Greek writings. Rudolf Bultmann is one of the strongest proponents of this idea. But more recent scholarship has found plenty of references and theological uses of "Word" as designating God in the Jewish literature. In other words, "Word" is comfortably Jewish by the time the 1st century has rolled in. What is likely the case, however, is a both-and situation. Theologically, John surely couches "Word" in the Judeo-Christian world. The benefit of using "Word" is that it does have a natural segue into the Greco-Roman mind regarding the divine. Thus, it is a thought-bridge between Jewish and Greek worlds. Naturally, the Gentile would bring all of his (false) assumptions into the hearing of "Word". But John does more than make use of the word "Word". He defines it, tells us who this Word really is. And his concept is entirely Judeo-Christian.

Observation 4: In the Greek, this phrase "en arche ein ho logos", could be read fabulously as "There was a treasure in the midst of the leadership". (Those who know Greek know this.) Here is a good example of how words can be "played" with to mean whatever one wants, even nonsensical things. This does not lead us to interpretive or translation despair. Rather, this is where context matters. No "sensible" person could translate it that way. Anyone who thinks that the spoken and unspoken rules that govern all languages actually matters (and they do) have to pay attention to how words are used and could not render it as a reference to a "treasure"!