Amateur Exegesis – Episode 2: Origin Stories, part 1

Texts discussed: Mark 1:9-11, John 1:1-18.

Recommended reading: 

  • Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (Yale University Press, 1988), 19-26, 44-52.
  • Jon D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion: An Entry Into the Jewish Bible (HarperOne,1985), 154-156.
  • Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8, Anchor Yale Bible (Doubleday, 2000), 158-167.
  • John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (Doubleday, 1991), 1:214-216.

18 thoughts on “Amateur Exegesis – Episode 2: Origin Stories, part 1

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  1. AE
    While I appreciate your observation that the author of John did not seem to know about Bethelhem though you did not take it quite that far and also that the author of Mark saw sonship at the baptism (I might add Paul seems to see it at the resurrection), I am challenged by the notion of a divine being being seen in John when we have a clear sense from the same author that Jesus was crucified from before the foundation of the world….

    In addition we never see logos/dvr being attributed to a person… Thus, I find that exegesis, while traditional, to be fanciful at best.

    But I do appreciate your ever to break things down with the text to the extent that you did.

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    1. Thanks for commenting.

      I think the logic of the Johannine prologue makes it clear that the divine Logos of 1:1 becomes human in v. 14. To me, it seems completely reasonable to think that Jesus is that Logos, a divine entity of some kind, although what his divinity means isn’t always apparent in John’s Gospel. Also, the author of John’s Gospel never claims Jesus was crucified from before the foundation of the world. That comes from a different John, the author of the Apocalypse.

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      1. AE,

        Thanks for the follow-up!

        May I submit this is a key area – since such an exegesis would be completely askance of the entire protestant canon – and would render Jesus as some kind of bizarre figure – whereas he specifically claimed to be a man – as well as his apostles and Paul.

        Can you provide a single reference where the Logos/DVR is a person anywhere in the received canon – in the mind of this linguistic/theological culture?

        re Author of Revelation
        Do you see any connection between Revelation and the Gospel of John?

        re Salvation/Grace Manifested
        When we see such conceptions as Salvation and Grace manifested – does this mean Salvation and Grace are persons?? cf Titus

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      2. Regarding the Logos as a person, in both the epistle of 1 John and in the book of Revelation, the Logos is cast as a person. So, in 1 John 1:1 the authors speak of “the word of life” and in Revelation 19:13 the rider on the white horse, most assuredly Jesus, is “the Word of God.”

        As for the authorship of Revelation, while there is certainly a connection between the book of Revelation and the Gospel of John, these are two different works written by two different people.

        On salvation and grace, I’m not sure what your point is. I’m not sure how you would deal with John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his [i.e. the Word’s] glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The author of the Johannine Gospel seems to pretty clearly think that the Logos is Jesus and that he had some kind of preexistence prior to his life on earth. If your hangup is that this makes Jesus *more* than human, I think you’re missing some historical context since in both ancient Greek mythology and in ancient Judaism humanity and divinity could exist along a gradient. That Jesus is thought of as divine in the Johannine gospel doesn’t mean he wasn’t in some sense human also.

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      3. AE

        Thanks for the follow-up – and your YT videos which I have quite appreciated (a few minor comments – but I would appreciate titles for them).

        Lots of stuff above…:-). How about I pick just one… You stated, “In Revelation 19:13 the rider on the white horse, most assuredly Jesus, is “the Word of God.”

        Would you be kind of to provide the actual text – it appears to be markedly different….

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      4. So, in Rev. 19:13 the author writes about the rider on a white horse (cf. vv. 11-12), “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God [ho logos tou theou]” (NRSV). It is almost certainly meant to be taken as Jesus given his description (e.g. his eyes as flame of fire – v. 12, cf. 1:14). So, this is Jesus being described as God’s Logos, just as he had been in the Johannine Gospel.

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      5. AE

        Thanks for the follow-up.

        Agreed – absolutely Jesus. My point in pressing on the detail was that was NOT Jesus who is the word of God – but his NAME that is the word of God. Interestingly, his NAME is also “Faithful” and “True”… lots of names…:-).

        I am providing the following bit of somewhat inchoate writing – but I did not want to delay any longer. I am sure I can make it much more concise – but I expect you will understand my understanding of the author’s intent of this text. In summary – there is nothing ontological about the naming someone the Word of God – it simply demonstrates what this person represents. Ideally, you and I could be likewise named – “the Word of God” (Ok, maybe you…but life has indicated that I will have a hard time stepping up to that level …:-))

        A somewhat common use of the naming of someone seems to be referencing that person as a REPRESENTATION (or, description) of a larger reality – a reality that is somehow being manifested in or through that person’s presence or actions. Such a reality could be described in a narrative or didactic sense (example below) or via the use of a literary device in a poetic/metaphoric form, that is, an assigned name. Specifically, the work of God manifest or being accomplished in a person could result in his receiving a name expressing that reality. Elijah – God is Yah (vs God is Ba-al) is the name of this man which expresses his entire ministry – calling and life work. The work God is doing in him is expressed via the name that is given him We can find that life work described in experiences, e.g. hacking the prophets of Ba-al to pieces, etc or described in a narrative sense (example below) or in the literary device of a poetic/metaphoric form, e.g. his name. This latter use seems to best capture the intent of the author of Revelation when he states that “his name has been called “the Word of God”. Jesus is the manifestation of that very precious reality that came to Israel through the prophets – the very Word of God.

        Peter seems to express the exact same reality about Jesus but in a narrative form in Acts 10.36

        τὸν λόγον ὃν ἀπέστειλεν τοῖς υἱοῖς Ἰσραὴλ εὐαγγελιζόμενος εἰρήνην διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ· οὗτός ἐστιν πάντων Κύριος

        Peter in fact says that God is the one preaching…. But of course as in the case of Jesus baptizing – this agent is the mediate actor. But Jesus was manifesting τὸν λόγον ὃν ἀπέστειλεν. Jesus is NOT τὸν λόγον but mediates this word as God’s agent.

        A text that seems to be a specific example is

        and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”).

        Jesus was to be called “God with us” – though he never physically called this name BUT his presence REPRESENTS or manifests the reality of God being with his people Israel in particular and ultimately all mankind. Therefore as a literary device we may use the poetic expression to call Jesus “God with us”. The presence of Jesus REPRESENTS the reality that God is with Israel thus we can say his name is “God with us”…. Though that specific name is never used – but is representative of the reality of the presence of Jesus – we know that God is with us by Him providing our brother and mediator.

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      6. Regarding Rev. 19:13, you seem to be suggesting that “his name is called the Word of God” doesn’t mean that this is Jesus’ name as such but that his name “Jesus” is “the Word of God.” I don’t find this convincing in the least. But I have no desire to get in the weeds over what the writer of the Apocalypse meant since the original issue was over the Gospel of John. Undoubtedly, the Johannine Gospel desires to portray Jesus as human. But whereas the Synoptic authors give Jesus a very human origin and no sense that he is divine, the author of the Fourth Gospel gives Jesus a divine origin, drawing on traditions found in so-called apocryphal literature (e.g. Sirach 24:3). But, as I stated before, divine does not mean John thought Jesus was to be equated with the god of Israel. A divine man? Certainly.

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      7. In light of your focus on exegesis, I am happy to follow-up on the other texts. However, I would like to take a bit of a detour – as I am under the impression that quality exegesis should lead to a quality systematic.

        My challenge with the exegesis identifying the logos itself as person is that it inexorably seems to drive us to the anhypostasis of the human nature of Christ. I am assuming that you are familiar with this foundational element of the hypostatic union. I find myself profoundly challenged by the depersonalizing of the human nature of Christ – and simply inserting a divine person into have whatever an impersonal human nature might be construed as to, thus, as it were, have it “flop around” and do the divine person’s bidding…. Regardless of the manifest unappealing sight of this, I find the New Testament documents to be rigorous in demanding a genuine man – identical to you and I – fully capable of willfully functioning without dependence on a divine entity providing the horsepower. I won’t bore you with providing the ten or so texts which explicitly and formally state and demand this ontology.

        The bottom line is that an exegesis that leads to such great conflict with so many clear texts would seem to be inherently suspect – and cause us to push our analysis further (conceptually at least that seems like a valid hermeneutic…:-) ).

        Best,

        Greg

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      8. AE

        I have to tell you, it is really refreshing to hear someone deal with the texts themselves – and break through chains of the evangelical cult. Your statement below is exemplary!

        “I don’t think all of the NT writers thought this. In fact, I think if Mark had the opportunity to read John’s Gospel he might have been appalled. For him, Jesus was a human who only came into existence at his (unexplained) birth.”

        I would go further and see the author of John as NOT having any sense of a Bethlehem narrative – and certainly no “virgin birth” conception (sorry…:-) ). Nor did any other authors of the NT have a “virgin birth” conception in mind about “Jesus of Nazareth” a MAN attested to by GOD…”, etc. But somewhere around adoptionism was the initial view – as evidenced not only in the Pauline texts but the shreds remaining of earliest post-apostolic Christianity – the Ebionites and Nazarenes (all pretty much closed in epistemic impoverishment).

        Admittedly it too me a LONG time to come to this place – as those chains peeled back slowly – to a point of simply being honest with the obvious contradictions/errors in the text – that simply need to be admitted. Thankfully, my faith has never been bound up in the Bible – nor, overmuch, my conceptions of God (though that is a little more of a challenging area).

        Okay, back to John when I have a chance…:-)…. just wanted to share my appreciation of your realistic and honest – if not scholarly – approach to the text.

        Should add one more thing – I have sound such a literary approach massively breaking me free from a sort of “shallow univision” of the Bible – to a grand universe – far richer and more meaningful – seeing not on Yahweh – not one Jesus – but many Yahwehs and Jesus – just as I sit in a pew at any given evangelical church and realize that there is probably not just one Jesus per pew warmer – but if parsed it out, each person has many Jesus’ that circulate through both their thinking and sentiment.

        Greg

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      1. AE

        Thanks for the fix!

        Admittedly, I am not sure I understand your statement – “Regarding Rev. 19:13, you seem to be suggesting that “his name is called the Word of God” doesn’t mean that this is Jesus’ name as such but that his name “Jesus” is “the Word of God.””

        In brief – what I was responding to was your earlier statement –

        “Regarding the Logos as a person, in both the epistle of 1 John and in the book of Revelation, the Logos is cast as a person. So, in 1 John 1:1 the authors speak of “the word of life” and in Revelation 19:13 the rider on the white horse, most assuredly Jesus, is “the Word of God.”””

        My most basic point is that Jesus himself was not called the Logos in Rev19.13 – but His NAME is the Word of God. I then attempted an provide a basis for an exegesis for what it means for Jesus to have the NAME of the logos of God. Jesus is NOT the logos of God as seen in Gen 1.1 or Ps33.6 or 2Pet3.5 – or the 10,000 other instances that the Word of Yahweh/Elohim came to the prophets, etc. Rather, the Word of God is the Word of God. Rather Jesus is described, via a poetic/metaphoric style literary device, as “the word become flesh”. Jesus is NOT the Logos itself. To try to provide clarity – I noted that it would be great if you and I would likewise step up to being “the Word made flesh” – using the same poetic/metaphoric type of literary device. Game to try…:-)??

        Just to round it out – the exegesis of 1Jn is challenging as Alford points out – and I am sure you know. Perhaps the below will help clarify what I think the author of 1Jn was driving at especially seen in a) the neuter pronouns AND b) the preposition περι.

        You can see a very similar or exact type of poetic/metaphoric style literary device here in Tit2.11

        11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,

        Who appeared? Who brought salvation? JESUS!!! So is Jesus the grace of God? No – the grace of God is manifested in and through Jesus. We might say the name of Jesus is “the Grace of God” as in Rev19.13.

        Likewise, the goodness and lovingkindness of God was “manifested” in Tit3.4

        4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,

        Jesus is the manifestation of the goodness and lovingkindness of God – he is NOT himself the goodness of God.

        Likewise, Jesus is the manifestation of the Word of God – He Himself is NOT the Word of God.

        I suspect this sort of linguistic device is a little challenging us modern English speakers because we either do not frequently use such a literary device in modern English – or at least not in such an overt and formal manner – OR because we are so accustomed to our analog that we simply do not recognize it (I have not thought through for examples so I will tend to the former explanation at present).

        I hope this helps why I think it is an incorrect exegesis and, ultimately, a severely disoriented exegesis resulting in a systematic that denies the man Christ Jesus (that should be a clue as I noted…:-) to identify the logos in Jn1.1-3 as a person. It simply is not. When the logos becomes flesh in v14 – that IS a person – Jesus.

        I hope this helps.

        I remain intrigued by your interaction with the systematic issue of the anhypostasis.

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      2. I’m clearly in the opposite camp. I think the Johannine Gospel (and other so-called Johannine literature) draws upon earlier traditions in which abstract ideas like Wisdom are personified and viewed as participating in creation or judgment. Jesus is then seen as some kind of pre-existent divine being in such traditions. I don’t think all of the NT writers thought this. In fact, I think if Mark had the opportunity to read John’s Gospel he might have been appalled. For him, Jesus was a human who only came into existence at his (unexplained) birth. John’s Jesus is certainly human, but the Prologue describes as being with God, being the one through whom all things were created, etc.

        That’s my $.02.

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