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Exegesis of Principal Passages

The Prologue of John (1:1-18) is unique in Biblical literature. It is clear that the main point of John is not the person of God. His emphasis is the identity of the Word. The Logos is the central figure of the work, and the teaching of the passage is that the Logos is intricately involved with the creation of the universe. The pre-existence of the Logos is clearly stated and assumed throughout the prologue.

Much has been said concerning the origin of the term logos. Philo66G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, (London:SPCK, 1952), pp. 124, 141. Ralph Martin, "Colossians and Philemon" in The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1973) pg. 58. used the term, yet the logos of Philo is simply an impersonal manifestation of the Wisdom of God. John's usage of the term may indeed borrow from Philo (especially if John wrote the Gospel while in Ephesus, as the Greeks would be able to understand the term), but he goes far beyond anything Philo dreamed of. Rather than a pantheistic, impersonal divine emanation, the Logos of John is a personal, eternal being who is not simply a part of creation, but is rather the Creator himself. The first verse itself must be examined to be understood. Transliterated into Greek the verse reads: En arche en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en ho logos. The verse breaks down into three clauses, each being vital to the whole. The first thing to notice is the fact that the imperfect form of eimi is used throughout the prologue in reference to the Logos. This tense, attached to the phrase "en arche" is timeless - i.e, as far back as one wishes to push the "beginning" the Word is already in existence. This is seen, for example, in the translation of the New English Bible which renders it, "When all things began, the Word already was." Today's English Version puts it, "Before the world was created, the Word already existed..." Hence, the first phrase clearly presents the eternality of the Word and hence his pre-existence.

The second phrase presents the inter-personal relationship of the Logos and God. The Greek phrase pros, translated "with," refers to the existence of communication and fellowship between the Logos and theos.77A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934) pp. 625f. See discussion in A. T. Robertson, The Divinity of Christ in the Gospel of John (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1976) pp. 34-46. The word was used to describe being "face to face" with another. Now, unless John had added the final phrase ("and the Word was God") there would have been a problem here, as the first phrase clearly presents the Logos as eternal, while the second demonstrates his distinct personality. This would create polytheism without the final phrase's emendation. At the same time, this second clause ends any chance of Sabellianism's success.

The final phrase, kai theos en ho logos, presents a syntactical arrangement in which the term theos is emphasized. At the same time, the sentence is copulative, and the presence of the article with logos simply sets it out as the subject of the sentence. Much has been said concerning the lack of the article with theos88See F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1983) p. 31, or Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1971) pg. 77 for a discussion of some of the issues involved in the translation of this phrase. Most noteably, the New World Translation of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society mistranslates the phrase as "the Word was a god." but that discussion is beyond the scope of this paper. Basically, the construction 1) avoids modalism (i.e., the Word is not said to be completely co-extensive with theos) and 2) teaches that the Word has the same nature as God (a point that Paul will reiterate in Philippians). Verse 3 links the eternality of the Word with creatorship. "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." John here is intent on separating the Logos from the realm of the created - he started in the very first phrase by asserting his timeless existence and continues here by attributing to the Logos all of creation, an item that will reappear in Colossians. The only possible way to interpret these verses is to see the Logos as an eternal being who created all things.

The prologue continues by identifying the Logos with the person of Jesus Christ in 1:14. It is interesting to note that John very carefully differentiates between the Word in his absolute nature and all other things. When the eternal Word is in view, John uses en. When created things are being discussed (such as John in 1:6), the aorist egeneto is found. However, when we come to the time event of 1:14 (i.e., the incarnation), John switches from the timeless en to the aorist egeneto - the Word became flesh at a point in time in history. Finally, in 1:18,99On the text of John 1:18 and the superiority of the reading theos over huios, see Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1975) p. 198, A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 5:17. For citation of manuscripts, see the UBS text, 3rd ed. corrected, p. 322. John seals the case by calling Jesus the "only-begotten God," or, more accurately, the "unique God"1010For the true meaning of monogenes see J.H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1935) pp. 416-417. who reveals the Father, who "exegetes"1111Greek: exegesato, to lead out, bring forth, make known, explain. God to man. These verses with which John begins his gospel are meant, in my opinion, to form an "interpretive window" through which the reader is meant to look at the words that follow. One must constantly keep the Logos in the back of the mind when interpreting the words and actions of Jesus.1212For an interesting discussion of the relationship of the Prologue to the rest of John, see John A. T. Robinson, Twelve More New Testament Studies (London: SCM Press, 1984) pp. 65-76. Much of what Christ says must be understood in this light to even make much sense! His unique relationship with the Father is intelligible only in the light of his eternal pre-existence with him. Equally significant are Jesus' own "I am" sayings found in John 8:24, 8:58, 13:19 and 18:5-6. Though there is some discussion concerning the use of the phrase ego eimi in this absolute sense,1313Philip B. Harner, The I Am Sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John, (Fortress Press, 1970). these passages clearly show an intentional aspect to Christ's words relevant to his identity. In both 8:58 and 18:5-6, John takes pains to make sure the reader understands the impact of Christ's words on his hearers. In 13:19 we find an extremely close parallel to the LXX rendering of Isaiah 43:10, here applied to Christ by himself. One can hardly escape the significance of the Hebrew term ani hu as used by Isaiah, and its Greek translation as ego eimi. Since Christ purposefully utilized these phrases of himself, it is safe to say that he was claiming for himself the title of the "I Am" - the eternal one, YHWH. The other two texts fall outside of the realm of the Gospels, though they must reflect very early teaching of the Church, and therefore are just as important as the Johanine passages in determining the Scriptural basis of the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ. Both Pauline passages are vital, and both come from very different contexts. The first to be examined (Colossians 1:15-17) comes from a book that seems to contain within it a polemic against gnosticism (or, possibly, "proto-gnosticism"), while the second (Philippians 2:5-7) comes from a book that is conspicuous for its lack of polemic. Colossians 1:15-17 is considered by some to be an early Christian hymn.1414Ralph Martin, "Colossians and Philemon" pp. 55-57; F. F. Bruce, Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free pp. 418ff. For further information on the passage as well as exegesis, see John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries vol. 21:151-152. Its structure most definitely resembles the poetic style of a song, and one can find it easy to see how Paul would utilize song to teach doctrine in the churches. The principal verses relevant to our discussion of pre-existence form the first half of this passage - the second discusses the pre-eminence of Christ in redemption and in the Church.

In vs. 15 the pre-existent Christ is styled the "eikon tou theou tou aoratou" - the express image of the invisible God. One can easily see the parallel between this and John's description of Christ as the unique God who "exegetes" the Father (1:18). In Christ the invisible God became visible to man. Attendant to this, Paul describes Christ as the prototokos - the firstborn.1515See Wilhelm Michaelis, "Prototokos" in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1982) vol. 6:872ff. The main meaning of "firstborn" is the one who has pre-eminence, and indeed, the Hebrew term which prototokos translates in the LXX (bekhor) is not connected with either the ideas of protos or tokos.1616See M. Tsevat, "Bekhor" in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1975) vol. 2:121ff. On prototokos see entry in Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature edited by Gingrich and Danker, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) p. 726. Hence, the pre-eminence of Christ is the point of prototokos, and, as the following verses will make very clear, there is no temporal idea of generation or creation found in this passage relevant to Christ.

Verses 16 and 17 exhaust the Greek mind in their rush to include all of creation in the realm of the power of Christ. Nothing is left out by Paul at this point. His use of the phrase ta panta is absolute, and to make sure that everyone realizes this, he lists the elements that make up the panta. J. B. Lightfoot1717J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959) pp. 150-151. See also pp. 151-153 on the extent of ta panta. well comments:

"All the laws and purposes which guide the creation and government of the Universe reside in Him, the Eternal Word, as their meeting-point. The Apostolic doctrine of the Logos teaches us to regard the Eternal Word as holding the same relation to the Universe which the Incarnate Christ holds to the Church. He is the source of its life, the centre of all its developments, the mainspring of all its motions...The Judeo-Alexandrian teachers represented the Logos, which in their view was nothing more than the Divine mind energizing, as the topos where the eternal ideas...have their abode...The Apostolic teaching is an enlargement of this conception, inasmuch as the Logos is no longer a philosophical abstraction but a Divine Person..."

In this divine person all things "hold together" or consist. This divine person is said to be "before ta panta - all things." There is no clearer passage in the Bible concerning the fact that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, created all things. There is no room here for the gnostic pleroma in which Christ is but a part - no, here Christ is seen as the Creator Himself who holds the universe together by his own power. The pre- existent Christ shines brightly in Paul's mind, and forms the basis for his teaching of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Note also the harmony between Paul and John on this point.1818For other views and discussion on Colossians 1:15-17 in a theological setting, see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Inter-Varsity Press: USA, 1981) pp. 344-352; George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1974) pp. 419-421. The third passage to be examined comes from Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. It, too, is hymnic in structure, and is set off as such by the New International Version. The major section comprises what is actually a sermon illustration of Paul's in reference to his admonition to the Philippians to act in humility of mind toward one another. To support this point, Paul points to the person of Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of this attitude. Indeed, it is vital to understand the immediately preceding context when some phrases within the passage are encountered, as we shall see. The first phrase of verse 6 sets the tone for the theological discussion to follow. Paul says that Christ was "existing" (huparchon) in the "form of God" (morphe tou theou). What does this mean? The participle huparchon is again "timeless" in that it does not point to any moment when Jesus "started" to exist in the form of God - Christ has always been in the form of God. And what is the morphe? It is that quality or characteristic which makes something what it is rather than what it is not. God is known by his morphe, and no other being has his form. The NIV picks this up by translating the phrase, "who being in very nature God..."

Paul is here looking back before the incarnation to the pre-existent state of the Lord, and says that in that state the Lord Jesus shared with the Father the form of God. Not only this, but he goes on to say that the Lord had "equality with God" and yet did not regard that equality something to be "grasped." Much has been written on just how to take the term harpagmon.1919Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology pp. 342-352; George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament pp. 419-421; Henry Alford, New Testament for English Readers, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983) pp. 1262-1264; Kenneth Wuest, "Philippians" in Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1981) pp. 62-65; J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953) p. 137. After plowing through a large portion of the material representing various views, the interpretation given by Chrysostom2020See discussion under patristic interpretation. and followed by Lightfoot2121Ibid. seems to be the only logical outcome and is the one that best fits the context of the passage. Basically, this view sees the word harpagmon referring to the fact that Christ, though already equal with the Father, did not regard that equality something to be held on to at all cost, but, as the ultimate example of humility, laid his privileges aside for our sakes and "made himself nothing." This fits the context of the passage, that of walking in "humility of mind" for how can it be an example of humility for Christ to not desire equality with God if he did not already have it? Not trying to become equal with God is not humility - it is simply not committing blasphemy.2222Both the Authorized Version and the New International Version see that the term kenosis is always used metaphorically by Paul - hence, the translation "to make of no repute" or to "make himself nothing." It is never used by Paul of a literal "emptying."

We have now seen three passages that clearly present the Lord Jesus as having had a personal, distinct existence before his incarnation and earthly life. This existence is seen to be personal, and to be connected with distinctive acts such as creation and intimate fellowship with the Father. His pre-incarnation life is also seen to have been eternal, and not temporal as that of a creation. Given this fact, how did the early Christian Fathers view this doctrine? To this we now turn.


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