God In His Creation

The Hubble Extreme Deep Field,

Gospel of John 1:1-5

In studying this Gospel over the next months, I want to give John a chance to respond to critics, both then and now. He did not write this masterpiece in a vacuum; it came as a specific response to what was happening as the last eyewitnesses were dying.

Many details about this Gospel are unknown or lightly explained, including the date he wrote. Consensus puts the date in the decade of the 90s CE. Some put it in the late 80s, and some after 100 CE. Written records place it in wide usage by the middle of the Second Century CE. Ignatius, Papias, and Justin commented on the Gospel.

In the last couple of centuries, scholars have suggested other possible authors. I haven’t seen any argument that I believe can overturn the weight of the early records that uniformly credit John the Apostle. True, his name does not appear anywhere in the manuscripts, but then, as we will see, he names only a few of the Apostles (and he does not call them Apostles).

I, like most Christians, have imagined the followers of Jesus to be about his age, but a little more thought will show that to be unlikely. If Jesus were 30 when he started calling his Apostles, he would almost certainly have called young men, as rabbis practiced in the day. Possibly Peter was the spokesman in part because he was well into his 20s while the rest were younger, some perhaps teenagers. This is speculation on my part.

Peter is the only one we know—from the Bible—who was married. The fourth century church historian Eusebius wrote that Phillip was also married, and he was able to attend the weddings of two of his daughters while the other two remained single. Bishop Clement wrote in the early Third Century that both Peter and Philip were married. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:5, Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? NIV

Irenaeus, a second century leader, wrote of John: The church at Ephesus was founded by Paul, and John remained there till Trajan’s time; so she is the true witness of what the apostles taughtAgainst Heresies Trajan died in the year 98 by our calendar. That would place John’s death in or near that year.

I have no evidence for this, but I believe that when Jesus chose his Apostles, John was a teenager, and his brother James was older, possibly 20. If we say (for example) that John was 18 when he answered the call; his birth would have been in the year 12, making him 86 when he died. That was very, very old. I also think the younger ages of the Twelve could help explain why they acted like children so often. Again, I have no proof.

We do know that the upstart religion was going through tough times by the writing of this Gospel. Jewish leaders had hounded them for decades; thousands of them were either killed or forced to flee when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE; and Gnosticism began attacking the true faith with its lack of understanding of who Jesus was. With all this in mind, John decides to add his memories to that of the Synoptic Gospels. They wrote a generation before John, so they did not stress the themes needed to right the ship of faith.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. NET

What a way for John to begin. For anyone who believes that Jesus was just another human, this one sentence tells us that Jesus was God. For those who think Jesus never existed, the Word existed before Creation. For those who believe the universe is a collection of gradual changes depending on pure chance, God controls those ‘chances.’ All of Creation is ‘spoken’ into existence. Yet, all that depends on faith, as John will tell us over and over.

Notice key words begin and end sections: beginning—Word, Word—God, God—Word. This is one form of poetry found in this chapter.

In the beginning, takes me right back to Genesis 1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. ESV For John to use that phrase was no accident. He demands throughout his Gospel that we never throw out the ancient Scriptures—the First Testament. He fills his Gospel with Scripture references that we will note along the way.

God created the world by using His mind, by thinking of the building blocks—both atoms and their smaller parts. That is why John chose the Greek word, logos, to represent both the planning and the execution of Creation. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.ESV

Psalm 33:6 reads, By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,their starry host by the breath of his mouth. NIV Other passages have similar expressions, so the idea of the Word of God being a person was common in Jewish thinking by the time of Jesus.

Isaiah 55:10-11 adds an image of the coming Messiah as the Word. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. NIV

As we know, Jews in Jesus’ time spoke Aramaic. Few could speak any Hebrew, though most could recite key passages of Scripture. Well before the first century, as synagogues developed, the reading of the Scripture in Hebrew would be followed by an Aramaic translation given from memory. As time passed, people added more Aramaic phrases to clarify the Hebrew. In the second century CE, all the Aramaic was written as the Targums.

Without getting into many translation details, the Aramaic word, Dibbera, translated the phrase, the Word of the Lord. That gives us this reading in Numbers 7:89, From there the Dibbera used to speak with Moses. It was a short leap always to associate the Word of the Lord with nearly everything God did because Dibbera included Word.

Starting in the nineteenth century, Christian scholars began to read the Targums, realizing they were the words that Jesus and the disciples heard and used. They understood the Scripture in Aramaic.

By the time John wrote his Gospel, most Christians were Greek some thirty years after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He knew that Greeks had little background to understand the Messiah of Scripture, so he turned to logos. Jews easily connected logos to Creation, and Greeks associated logos with the Greek Stoic philosophy that humans can see and touch God. John tells the Greeks there is only one God.

Nearly all English translations of Genesis open with ‘Beginning,’ based on the Hebrew word be-re’shit. But, as the word is used in Genesis, it should be translated ‘When.’ I find in The Jewish Study Bible, The Hebrew Bible by Robert Alter, and the JPS Torah Commentary that they all translated When God began…. Further, they all treat verses 1-3 as one sentence, with verse 2 describing the state of matter when God started His work.

The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. NET

Of this, Chrysostom wrote about 380 CE; While all the other Evangelists begin with the incarnation…John, passing by everything else—his conception, his birth, his education, and his growth—speaks immediately of his eternal generationACCS

A few years earlier, Hilary of Poitiers wrote, I will not endure to hear that Christ was born of Mary unless I also hear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” ACCS

A technique used here by John is repeating contrasting ideas: All things were created—not one thing was created.

The Creation described by John suggests Genesis 1:26, Let us make man in our image. John stated for all to know that God is One but manifested in multiple forms. One form introduced here is the Son of God—the Jewish Yeshua. That image gives us God the Father and God the Son.

But I jump ahead. Here John gives us the Word, Mind, Thought, Expression of God’s Being, and through that Expression, all the physical universe came to exist. It is not for us to know just how God spoke all this into reality. It is enough to know that God alone did it; and that the Spoken Word or uttered thought also entered the body of Miryam, and she gave birth to the New Adam—Yeshua—who remained perfect while on earth.

That Spoken Word, that Son of God, created all we see and touch. Moreover…

In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it. NET

John will make so much of this imagery of light throughout the Gospel. In Genesis, we read that God’s Word created light—verse 3—yet the Creation of the sun and moon comes in verses 14-18, even after the Creation of plants. That again is because the creation story is written in poetry. Day 1 is paired with day 4, day 2 with day 5, and day 3 with day 6. If you read it that way, light occurs in 1 and 4.

Is it true that the light of humanity is Yeshua? The sun in the sky is a weak allegory for the true Light of the world. A quick look at the use of light in the OT besides the Creation; there is the pillar of flame, the call of Israel to be the light to the nations, and the light of God’s presence with his people in Isaiah 9:2. Now, the traveling Tabernacle which housed the Presence of God had become the traveling Yeshua, the human God. This is a paraphrase from a post by Ian Paul in Psephizo.

In God’s creation, Light always defeats darkness. As Psalm 27:1 has it; The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? NIV Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. NIV Isaiah 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. God’s Word is the only light we need. NIV

One more point. John is trying to stop developing ideas that Jesus may have been a creation of God. Here, John boldly states that the Son of God existed before Creation, in fact, he assisted in the Creation.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Luke Writes History

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Micah 5:2-5a

Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55

As we know, only Matthew and Luke include what we have come to call the Christmas Story. Matthew includes nothing of the birth of the Baptizer, introducing him as a full-fledged baptizer and preacher; ‘Repent!’

That leaves Luke to give us today’s brief memory in which Zechariah and Elizabeth play key roles.

First, a little history lesson. As I’ve mentioned before, I am an historian. When I enrolled in the History of Greece and Rome, I had to learn that historians of those days saw their role very differently from today’s breed. They only published good things about the—invariably—men they liked and bad things about those they disliked. Today’s historians are far less likely to take such an approach.

After President Kennedy was murdered, dozens of books came out praising his leadership and abilities and playing down his weaknesses. One of the earliest was A Thousand Days by one of his closest advisors, Arthur M. Schlesinger. Yes, Schlesinger praised JFK, but he did not fabricate anything. He chose to leave out some less pleasant details but did not lie otherwise.

That is the standard of the profession today. In ancient times, creating details was accepted as the norm. Besides, they could not travel enough to interview everyone who had information. So, they wrote what they thought he might have done.

Why do I bring this up? Non-Christians believe the Gospels are myths. Even if there really was a person named Yeshua, he could not have done even half of what is described; the Gospel writer made it us to sell their religion. You can find them on You-Tube and in books.

Without taking on the other three, let me point out this Gospel writer as fitting more into our modern style and less into his own century’s style. Here is his opening.

1-4 Dear Theophilus Many people have already written an account of the events which have happened among us, basing their work on the evidence of those whom we know were eye-witnesses as well as teachers of the message. I have therefore decided, since I have traced the course of these happenings carefully from the beginning, to set them down for you myself in their proper order, so that you may have reliable information about the matters in which you have already had instructionPhillips

At the time Luke wrote, Mark and Matthew had been in circulation long enough for Luke to read and make use of them as source material. If I decided to write about JFK, I would read Schlesinger’s book, and as many others as possible.

Also note the word, many. It seems likely that many of the early followers repeated their stories to those who could write. One story from one person, two from another, would be strung together and saved. Mark and Matthew, as well as Luke read as many of those scraps as possible.

We should never forget that people until the recent times were forced to learn by listening—they could not read. Their brains were well trained to remember what they saw and what they heard. Far from myth, these scraps were honest memories. Luke added that he used only evidence from reliable eyewitnesses.

Only Theophilus is named, so how do we know Luke wrote this account? The author of this Gospel also wrote what we call Acts of the Apostles. Luke is mentioned by name as traveling with Paul. More importantly, all second-generation writers credit Luke—Mark, Matthew, and John as well. One final point; Luke was kind of a hanger-on. Why give credit to someone—especially a Greek—who is little known? Unless he actually wrote it.

Today’s reading skips over the account of Zechariah in the Temple when he had a visit from an angel regarding his son; and the visit by an angel six months later to Mary to say she would give birth to the Son of God.

Matthew gives us Joseph’s visit by an angel. Luke leaves him out and has Mary travel, apparently alone, to visit her much older cousin. I must say as a historian, that sounds a little hinky. Alone? Likely some man went along.

This, to me, is the key verse. 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joyNIV

How would Luke have such a detail? John, of course, was dead and certainly both Zechariah and Elizabeth. If Mary was alive, she would have been close to 80-85. While people did live that long then, not many. But if anyone, Mary was blessed.

As a Greek who spent his time with Paul in Greek territory, Luke does not seem likely to have ever visited with Mary—possible but not likely. More likely, one of those scraps. Mark and Matthew may have seen it but chose not to include it. Luke saw it and included it.

John, a six month fetus, recognized his Master and Lord.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence