Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Creating Jesus 21: What about the Gospel of John?

So far I have discussed the earliest paradigms: The Jerusalem Paradigm where we find a possession christology and a behavioral soteriology; The Antiochean Paradigm where we have an embodiment christology and a sacrificial soteriology. The Jerusalem paradigm survived in the eastern formations of Christianity and is still prominent in the traditions of the Syrian and Assyrian orthodox churches. The Antiochean paradigm is most familiar to westerners because it survived most prominently in the Roman Catholic tradition which also means that it survives in the Protestant reform movements.

The third paradigm is most prominent in Alexandrian traditions and our earliest source for it is the Gospel of John. It is also known in some eastern Syrian literature because there was an ancient road that connected Alexandria with Edessa and news and ideas spread quickly across this route. I do not have an answer to the question of John's birthplace, but I have been leaning lately toward Alexandria for a host of reasons that are too involved to comment on here.

This paradigm knows the other two, and represents the height of retrospective teaching about Jesus. Jesus is not a great Angel or a spirit who descends and embodies a human being at baptism or in the womb. His pre-existence is moved a step back, to a time before creation. He is God's reason or logos. The Logos IS God, the text says. He is God's mind that becomes flesh.

Although scholars have opted in the past to explain this by noting parallels with sophia traditions - traditions about God's wisdom - these parallels have never been able to explain the identification of the Logos with God existing from the beginning. Sophia is never God from the beginning.

How is this to be explained? More on this in my next post.


David Hillman said...

Wisdom existed before time, before this world. Wisdom the beloved daughter of God, experimenting and playing before his throne, when none of the depths and marvels of this world yet existed. Proverbs 8:22-30 The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him...

April DeConick said...

yes but she is not God.

Liam Madden said...
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Liam Madden said...

Dear April,
I wish you would comment on your ideas about John, his identity, the circumstances of his gospel's writing, and your perceptions about the layers in the material.

For this reader, the seemingly rather disparate elements in John--the Lazarus material, Philonic flourishes, and gnostic/anti-gnostic concerns that you've alluded to in earlier postings--have only deepened the conundrum of John.

Memra said...

I don't think we have to stand on the KJV and related translations of John 1:1.

Since at least the time of Philip B. Harner's JBL dissertation (1973), biblical Greek scholars have tended to see the construction of John 1:1c as qualitative, not definite.

Thus, rather than "the Word was God," a better translation would be along the lines of professor William Barclay's (d. 1978): "The Word was with God, and the nature of the Word was the same as the nature of God." (The New Testament, A Translation by William Barclay) said...

"these parallels have never been able to explain the identification of the Logos with God existing from the beginning."

But Hebrews 1:2,3 comes quite close.

Leon said...

I think there is too much nitpicking involved in trying to decide when something is or is not identified with God. The Logos is just another way of reformulating Jewish beliefs about Torah. For the Pharisees and rabbis, Torah existed before the creation of the world. The ongoing existence of the world depends on Torah. If not for Torah, the world would sink back into chaos and darkness. The opening lines of John (except for one) are a perfect expression of rabbinic wisdom about Torah. Just substitute "Torah" for "the Word", and everything said here by John is equally well said by the rabbis, except that the rabbis would never say Torah was God. But that is a slight difference. The basic idea of there being some basic things (like Torah or the Word or Sophia) at the creation is already there in rabbinic beliefs.

In other places, John also shows a familiarity with rabbinic ideas. Once ripped from their original context, it is not surprising that some different developments would take place. Not only not surprising, it is to be expected that things would take a slightly diferent direction. But the roots are clearly in this world of Pharisaic/rabbinic thinking.

So the rabbis were not averse to seeing a multitude of possibilities for what helps God to create and maintain the world. But I think it is also true that they resisted divinizing every one of these things. They would keep God one and make everything else subservient to him. I think they did not want to multiply what should be worshiped. "Keep your eyes on the prize", was their motto, and do not overdo it. You can make things like Torah glorious and inspiring without making it divine. They saw freedom and justice in one God, and tyranny and injustice in many gods. I am not saying this is the only way to see things. I am just explaining it was their way.

Leon Zitzer said...

Which just shows that the Gospel of John is late. If rabbinic beliefs were that important, why didn't the rabbis write them down pre the Jewish 'revolt'? It seems that the developments by
Christians and Jews were parallel. So who did borrow from whom?

Unknown said...

A question and a comment:

Can one really equate the words logos and sophia? Did they mean the same thing in the first and second centuries or not? Why would John choose logos instead of sophia?

Also as to John 1 a literal translation of ho logos ein theos would be the Word (or wisdom, etc) was God. I'm not sure I see the difference between saying that and the nature of the Word was the same as the nature of God. When one reaches the Arian/Athanasian debates isn't one nature or one being the key to the debate? Isn't that what homoousious means?

Memra said...

Well, Pastor Bob, here's what the translator I quoted, professor William Barclay, had to say about the difference:

"When a Greek noun has not got the article in front of it, it becomes rather a description than an identification, and has the character of an adjective rather than of a noun....If John had said ho theos en ho logos, using a definite article in front of both nouns, then he would definitely have identified the logos with God, but because he has no definite article in front of theos it becomes a description, and more of an adjective than a noun. The translation then becomes, to put it rather clumsily, 'The Word was in the same class as God, belonged to the same order of being as God.'...John is not here identifying the Word with God. To put it very simply, he does not say that Jesus was God." -- Many Witnesses, One Lord, by William Barclay, pp. 23, 24

Unknown said...


First I would like to hear from all readers and posters about the difference, if any, between logos and sophia in the 1st century. That actually was what I originally began to say. Then I went to messin.

As to what the good Dr. Barclay says, sometimes that is true that a noun without "the" in front of it serves as an adjective and sometimes it doesn't But in any case I still think we are in the Arius/Athanasius controversy. Or at least the roots of it. What does it mean to have the same being as God but to not be God? Or maybe a better question is, if Barclay is correct what does the word being mean in this theological context? And what does John mean that is different from Arius (homoiousious) or Athanasious (homoousious? And how does Greek philosophy affect the later theologians in ways that they did not affect John?

And as April points out the are other sub texts here. To what extent does this reflect a controversy with the Gnostics or agreement with the Gnostics?

I'm anxious to hear Dr. DeConick say more on the subject.

lightseeker said...

I'm not a scholar, but I get the gist of memra's point.

The Logos/Word can be in the same likeness or form of God, e.g., a non-material, "angelic" sort of nature, existing eternally prior to the creation of the physical world, perhaps even shining with the same "glory" or "Light" as God's own countenance, but that does not necessarily make them equivalent.

God is the apex, the singularity, so to speak, in terms of consciousness. On that relative scale, the Logos/Word is further down the totem pole, yet much higher than human consciousness (and perhaps a bit higher than even the angels).

So the Logos/Word can be of the same nature and appearance (image?) of God, and yet not be the equivalent of or one and the same as God.

Peace and Light to all.

pearl said...
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pearl said...

Pastor Bob,

You might find interesting this article by Leo D. Lefebure:

The wisdom of God: Sophia and Christian theology

The middle section of the article directly relates to this conversation.

Unknown said...


Thanks for the info about the article. I may do my own research. Now that I know where to look I can check the early church fathers.

pearl said...

You’re welcome, Pastor Bob. Yes, the Sophia (Wisdom) subject is huge, and the linked article does have plenty of references.

Regarding Gnostic concerns you and Liam brought up, in addition to any comments Dr. DeConick might want to offer, I highly recommend Elaine Pagels’ book I’m rereading now (which I might have mentioned in past conversation), The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis: Heracleon’s Commentary on John. As far as the prologue of John, in Chapter 1 she discusses Jn 1.1-4 in Naassene, Peratae, and Valentinian exegeses, as well as the theological basis of Valentinian hermeneutics. Chapter 2 covers Clement’s and Irenaeus’ attacks on Valentinian exegesis, as well as Heracleon’s views on interpretation of the prologue.

Frank McCoy said...

Dear Pastor Bob:
What Philo (c. 20BCE-50CE) states regarding the Logos and Sophia is informative.
He thinks that each is the Image of God. He also alternatively speaks of God creating the Cosmos through Sophia and through the Logos.
But he also made distinctions between them. Only the Logos has the titles of God, Lord and Son, while only Sophia has the titles of Virtue (Arete), (Holy) Spirit (Pneuma) and Knowledge (Episteme rather than Gnosis!). Too, one is reborn in mind through Sophia as the Spirit, while it is the Logos who provides us with the Sophia as the Spirit through which this rebirth is accomplished.
In his thought, there is a divine family in that God is the Father of the Logos, while Sophia is the Mother of the Logos, making the Logos their Son.
In both Jn and Th, Jesus is the Logos-figure and the Spirit is the Sophia-figure. One needs to be reborn through the Spirit, but not as mind (nous) but, rather, as spirit. So, one needs to be born twice--first as flesh and then as spirit: which rebirth as spirit is necessary for one to enter into the Kingdom (Jn 3:3,6-7 and Th 22). In Th alone, though, do we have the divine family of God the Father, Spirit the Mother and Jesus the Son. So, Jesus has two sets of parents--one human and the other divine (Th 101). Again, in one's rebirth as spirit, one becomes a likeness of the Sprit, the Mother, so your rebirth is, in some sense, you becoming the mother of the Son, i.e., Jesus. This means, since the the Spirit and the Jesus as the Son, are each the Image of God, that, when you become a spirit, you also become a son--which makes you, in some sense, a brother of Jesus the Son. As a result, since you must be reborn as spirit to enter the Kingdom, this means that you enter the Kingdom as both the mother and a brother of Jesus (Th 99). Once you enter the Kingdom, then you will see the two Images of God, and this scene will be hard for you to bear (Th 84).
A final point: Philo, while calling the Logos "God", made a clear distinction between him and *the* God (Som I, 229).