Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In the Beginning was the Word (not Jesus?)

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God". Jump down to verse 14 (don't have a bible out so forgive me if the reference or quote is wrong)... "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

What this does not say is that "in the beginning was Jesus." It was the Word of God that through all things were made which became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. John is calling his reader back to the creation poem with phrases such as "In the beginning" and the "Word". ("And God said, 'Let there be...'".)

The Idea that Jesus was in the beginning with God comes by viewing the text through the lens of the trinity doctrine which wasn't around until the fourth century. It is also through the doctrine of the trinity that one would take on a literal understanding of the father/son relationship between God and Jesus.

This, however, is not what John was getting at when writing about the Word. It is much more likely that the writers of the gospels, along with Paul, were using metaphors rather than literal language.

As Marcus Borg points out in, "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time", you could just as well substitute Sophia (as it refers to the Wisdom of God) in place of the word Logos (Word). See Proverbs 1, and Proverbs 8 to get a little bit of an understanding of this.

Borg points out that "the Sophia of God was in the beginning, active in creation, and is present in the created world". And then the sophia of God became flesh and dwelt among us. "Jesus is the incarnation of the divine Sophia, and the Sophia became flesh." (pg108).

8 comments:

JustinGaynor said...

If that which was in the beginning and was with God, and was God and became manifest...pitching his tent amongst us...how does that mean he wasn't that which was in the beginning? Are you referring to the person of Jesus in the strictly literal sense? AKA the 'tent' as opposed to the person?

Another question...is John referring to the Old Creation or the newly inaugurated one? Since he is giving us a New Creation narrative in his gospel?

Is the Father/Son relationship literal only set apart from what we understand of Father/Son relationships? The Jewish people that that meant by the flesh...Paul corrected this...not diminishing the Father/Son relationship, but taking it to a higher level.

Jkub said...

I'm simlpy pointing out that "Son of God" was one among many metaphors us to describe jesus' relationship with the father. Others would include, Sophia (wisdom) of God' and logos (word) of God.

Also, the "Son of God" title has been made the definitive in Christianity today, but had not been doctrinalized in the 1st century. So what we consider to be a literal description of Jesus' relationship to God, it's quite possible that the writers of the gospel as well as paul did not. The language was used to describe the interment relationship which Jesus had with God... So interment that he could be referred to as the Son of God or the child of Sophia.

And I think it could be said that John is setting up his narrative of old verses new creation. The terms he uses gives a call back to the first week (7days) of creation, but then John always includes the "plus 1". So yes, I would say John is referring to old creation in order to introduce the New which came through Jesus, the Son of God. ;)

Jared said...

Very interesting take on this- good points

Anonymous said...

On what basis are you making these claims?

Jkub said...

Hello anonymous,

Which claims are you referring to? I didn't really make that many claims but rather questions.

I gave scripture references andI even cited a book and provided a page number. I'm not sure where i was unclear on my "basis".

But mostly I would say the text itself is my basis for making such claims.

Also, hi jared. And thanks. Do i know you?

Anonymous said...

This is Ben in Scotland. Your blog would not let me post via the gmail option for some reason. Sorry. I should have clarified who I was.

Anyway, you make the claim that the "Son of God" title had not been doctrinalized in the 1st century.

By way of speaking on the trinitarian interpretative move related to 'Jesus existing in the beginning with God' you make the claim that the doctrine of the trinity is the produce of the 4th Century. I assume you mean the doctrine as existing in it a systematized form. If not, then how do you respond to the development of the trinity doctrine that finds its starting point in the time that is being recorded within the NT as well as allusions to this doctrine within prophetic narrative(s) found in OT and Sapiential Literature that definitely influenced and informed the development of the accepted doctrine? I only raise these particulars, generally, as a means to point to pre-4th Century sources that 'seemingly' inform and influence and potentially naturally necessitated a 'Jesus was in the beginning/Jesus was the Logos enfleshed' reading of John 1.

Also, I agree that John is calling attention to the creation narratives in Genesis, but I personally think you could make a more convincing argument connecting this by way of discussing Pauline grammar concerning Col 1:15-20; 2 Cor. 5:17-21 and passages like it that call attention to the firstborn of all creation as the means of creative agency and then pair this with the theology of 'out of the firstborn/from the firstborn' and/or even the notion of Christ as being the 'head' and how the Hebrew in the creation narrative, 'be-re-SHIYT ba-RA eh-lo-HIYM' can be translated as 'from the head' etc.

Final thoughts:
1) You should look into St. Basil, and other Cappadocian Fathers and other Patristic writers of the 3rd and 4th Century b/c they too read logos in relation to sophia.

2) Surely, Jesus was the divine sophia and logos, right? If so, then was all this grammar really just metaphor?

3) Put that crack pipe down in your blog photo.

4) Grace & Peace (all in love)

JustinGaynor said...

Thank you for clarifying what you were pointing out. I think that is a wise observation as long as it is does not diminish the real manifestation.

'Son of God' is a title....got it.

Do you think the revelation of the superior importance of the metaphor of the Father/Son relationship does not make itself clear in the teachings of Jesus and canonical thought/philosophy/wisdom? In such places as say Hebrews 1?

It's interesting Hebrews begins with Son of God, where as John and works his way up to it...this is due the audience over against the philosophy students that John and Paul are catering to. It's interesting that, more than not, the canonical writers seem to think this 'heaven and earth' metaphor of 'Son of God' is the most accurate to present what God has done and is doing in Jesus, over against the disembodied concepts of 'wisdom' and 'logos'(Not that they are invalid).

It's interesting that John starts his gospel 'in the clouds' if you will and then as he proceeds throughout the gospel to bring the hearers down the real, concrete reality of the Jesus/YHWY relationship...stating pretty unambiguously 'these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.' 'Son of God' was apparently central to John's doctrine...to point of his whole gospel really.

Most Greeks and pagans had no idea what this whole Jewish 'Messiah' thing was really all about...God's redemption of the good Creation, but they understood Plato...The question then becomes, how can we use what we know they know to bring them to Messiah and the Living God?

Just realized, this is quite literally a 'Your will be done on earth as in heaven' conversation we are having. :-)

John shows us with his gospel, as Paul does by referencing Greek literature/philosophy that sometimes we need to meet people where they are at, but we certainly don't leave them there (as you've pointed out before).

Rather it is our hope to see Christ manifest, or as Paul says to bring about the obedience of faith.

"And I think it could be said that John is setting up his narrative of old verses new creation. The terms he uses gives a call back to the first week (7days) of creation, but then John always includes the "plus 1". So yes, I would say John is referring to old creation in order to introduce the New which came through Jesus, the Son of God. ;)" - WELL SAID!

Jkub said...

Wow, good conversation, which is the whole point.

First of all, Ben, PHD students or people living in scotland aren't allowed to comment on the blog sorry. (kidding of course).

And yes, in this forum I am referring to the systematic understanding of the trinity doctrinalized around the 4th century through the Nicene Creed. The only reason i brought that up was to make a point about the literal interpretation, and the definite/normative understanding of the title, "Son of God." I am not denying the evidence from whence the doctrine emerged from. Merely pointing out that John would not have recognized such doctrine.

Hope you are doing well, and i appreciate the crack pipe comment.

Grace and Peace to you as well.