The apostle John is the most poetic of the Gospel storytellers, but what is he really communicating with his beautiful, imagery-laden language? Join Tim, Jon, and Carissa for a closer look at John 1 and discover how John incorporates elements of the Genesis and Exodus narratives to form a portrait of how God responds to rebellious people.
Jesus is not only the embodiment of the tabernacle and the glory, he’s the embodiment of the character of Yahweh revealed to Moses when he forgave the Israelites for the golden calf. [Similarly,] many of his own reject him—not many receive him. So God’s response even to his own rebellious people is to keep giving gifts. The ultimate gift is the generosity through Jesus Messiah, sent even to people who didn’t recognize him.
John’s prologue is unique from the other Gospel accounts, riffing on multiple creation narrative themes, hyperlinking back to Genesis and Exodus, and projecting forward to what’s to follow in John’s Gospel. In fact, John is strongly connecting those elements, as if to say that in order to understand Jesus’ story, we have to go all the way back to the beginning. Jesus is not just the fulfillment of the story of Scripture but the reality to which the Hebrew Bible points.
The first 18 verses of John 1 are arranged in two narrative panels, John 1:1-13 and John 1:14-18. In the first panel, John depicts Jesus’ incarnation using language from Genesis 1-2, and in the second panel, he restates the reality of Jesus’ incarnation with imagery of the tabernacle in Exodus.
In part two (13:15-24:45), Tim, Jon, and Carissa break down the literary structure of John 1. The two narrative panels mentioned in part one can be further divided into three corresponding sub-panels as follows.
Repetition in a passage of Scripture is usually an indicator that the author has crafted a literary structure that communicates meaning beyond just the linear sequence of the words themselves.
For instance, the duplicate mentions of John the Baptist in John 1 are a tip-off to the parallel structure the author wants us to notice. Additionally, the structure of John 1 mimics the structure of Genesis 1, in which John outlines six literary movements (the six days of creation) that culminate in the finished work of Jesus on the cross later in the book (the seventh day that echoes the finished creation of Genesis 2:1-2).
In part three (24:45-37:30), the team discusses the concluding verse of the prologue, John 1:18.
No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him.
John is echoing a core claim of the biblical authors: humans can’t see God. (Think of Exodus 33, when Moses asks God to show himself. God only allows Moses to see his back, and he reveals his glory to him.) This is John’s way of saying that while no one can ultimately see God, there is one who is God, who we can see, and who will also reveal the Father to us.
In Greek, the last line is an incomplete sentence. Jesus has explained or made known (Greek: exēgeo), but John supplies no object to that verb. (English translations supply the object “him.”) The point is you have to keep reading to find out what or whom Jesus has made known.
In part four (37:30-48:00), Tim, Jon, and Carissa explore other key biblical characters to which John is hyperlinking the text of the prologue.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…he was with God in the beginning.
In the beginning, Elohim created the skies and the land…the Spirit/breath of Elohim was hovering over the waters, and Elohim said…
Yahweh possessed me [wisdom] at the beginning of his way, before his works of old. From ancient times I was established, from the beginning…
There I was beside him, as a master workman.
By means of the word of Yahweh the skies were made, and by the Spirit/breath of his mouth all their host.
In each of these depictions of creation, the biblical picture of how God created takes on another layer: the Word of God, the wisdom of God (Lady Wisdom), and the Spirit of God are all interconnected in the biblical imagination. Authors of Jewish literature from the same time period as John’s Gospel concluded from these texts that Yahweh’s identity was complex and unified, and that Yahweh’s Word and Spirit could be considered distinct divine agents who were part of the divine identity.
In part five (48:00-54:00), the group explores the role of John the Baptist in John 1.
While John the Baptist might seem out of place in this poetic prologue, all four Gospel accounts place John the Baptist first in the narrative. His story anchors the cosmic battle Jesus is born into in real time-and-place events in history. His story also pays homage to the centrality of eyewitness testimonies in the Gospel accounts.
In part six (54:00-1:01:17), Tim, Jon, and Carissa conclude by taking a look at John 1:16-18 and the striking comparison of Moses and Jesus.
For of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
At first glance, John may appear to be contrasting Moses and Jesus, but he is actually describing a progression of gifts given by God. First, God gave the Torah as a gift to Israel to reveal his will. Then, he gave the gift of his own self-revelation through Jesus. Both are gifts of God’s grace. (This is why John calls this “grace upon grace.”)
God revealed his glory and character to Moses right after Israel rebelled by worshiping the golden calf, and similarly, Jesus gave himself to a people who “did not receive him” (John 1:11). God’s response to his rebellious people is to keep giving them gifts.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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