A Man Called John

Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash

Gospel of John 1:6-18

6-8 A man called John was sent by God as a witness to the light, so that any man who heard his testimony might believe in the light. This man was not himself the light: he was sent simply as a personal witness to that light. Phillips

A man’ is the translation for the Greek Anthropos, but the word actually refers to a person as opposed to aner which does mean man. Anthropos can be used for man when it is known that a man is the subject, as it is here. Why did GJohn use the word? I suspect because he wants us to understand our role is just as important as that of the Baptizer. He was a witness to Jesus as we all are expected to be, even if we are doing it centuries later.

That man was sent by God. GJohn will use sent, send, sending, etc., fifty-seven times. God intends for us to be visited by many witnesses. In that same vein, GJohn always refers to the Twelve as disciples, never Apostles. He seems to emphasize that all who follow Jesus are equal and expected to witness as the Baptizer did.

There are two Greek words, martureo (noun) and marturia (verb) occurring forty-seven times; they always mean witness, yet many English translations use testimony or testify. The purpose of witnesses is to convince people that Jesus is the Messiah. GJohn uses the word pisteuo one-hundred times. It means to believe.

Isaiah 40:3-5. A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert a road for the Lord! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God! Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain. The Presence of the Lord shall appear, and all flesh, as one, shall behold—for the Lord Himself has spoken.” JSP

Here, John first uses the Greek martureo—witness. We will see it thirty-seven times in his Gospel. Words, actions, and people all witness to the Messiah, including Jesus himself. In John’s Gospel, one witness is not enough; a dozen is not enough. All of us are witnesses to the reality of a human who was God; or a God who was human.

Yet, given Let us make man in our image…, why should we be surprised when God walks the earth looking like us?

The Baptizer, son of Elizabeth, a cousin to Mary, was only a prophet, not the Messiah. But he was a prophet regarding the Messiah, he who Isiah promised. Baptizer’s message was clear; turn to the true light now, for the Messiah is coming (GJohn does not use the word repent). He never claimed to be anything other than the promised witness for the long-promised Messiah.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. NIV

Standing in the running waters of the River Jordan, the Baptizer shouted to all who would listen, ‘he is coming.’ He spoke of the Promised One of God who would bring the Light of God into the dark world. The Word that created light became a human to bring us the Light created before the creation of the sun and moon.

10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. NET

The world we live in is not the perfect creation we read of in Genesis 1. This world, the one Jesus came to, is broken by sin, but we must live here until we can believe in God instead of ourselves. The Hebrew Yeshua, Jesus, lived a perfect life in this imperfect world so that we can see how God wants us to live. Jesus is a witness to God the Father.

We humans, Hebrew and Gentile alike, have a long history of not believing in God or ignoring Him. Many who claim to believe have very warped ideas of what that involves. Some followers of Jesus did not believe he was a person. John wrote his Gospel because of such beliefs to steer us back to the Truth. Jesus is the Son of God, but also the son of Joseph and Mary.

Tens of millions of people today are atheists who reject all religions and any concept of a god. That was not a problem John had to tackle. Nearly everyone in the world in 90 CE, not just the Roman world—Africa, China, the Americas—believed in gods. John had to convince his readers that there is one and only one God. Jesus the Messiah created the entire physical universe, and He created humans to be his companions. [Since few people could read until modern times, reading the Gospels and Letters aloud in churches was the norm.]

John works to counter the arguments put forth by atheists. God does not exist; ‘wrong, Jesus did exist, I walked with him for three years; I saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah; I saw him drive out demons and heal the sick; I saw his empty tomb.’

12 But to as Many as did receive him, to those who put their trust in his person and power, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 not because of bloodline, physical impulse or human intention, but because of God. CJB

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, writing about 350 CE, penned the following. For the Word perceived that death was the only way that the corruption of people could be undone—thus the flood. However, it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal and Son of the Father. Therefore, he takes to himself a body capable of death, so that such a body, by partaking of the Word who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word that had come to dwell in it, remain incorruptibleACCS

Note the phrase, takes to himself a body, means that God created a body just like the first Adam had before sin changed it. God placed that body on earth to live a human existence. Athanasius was not speaking as a Gnostic; he argued against the Gnostic position.

By 350 CE, the Gnostics had to hide after two centuries of success. At their peak, they controlled about half of all churches throughout the empire. The Greek word, Gnostic, refers to knowledge, especially secret knowledge. Many of the Gnostic cults required initiation ceremonies, memorizing of secret texts, and proof of loyalty before being allowed into the inner circle of the enlightened few. Jesus’ Good News is for all who accept it in faith.

There were—and still are—many variations on the theme that God’s Son could not have died, so the disciples faked the death. Most Gnostics did like what Jesus taught, but they could not accept the possibility that he was God in the flesh. The two basic Gnostic ideas were: 1) God took over a man named Yeshua and used him as His puppet for three years, saying all the things God wanted us to hear; or 2) God appeared on earth looking like a human without being human and when it was time to ‘die,’ God let some loser die for Him.

John had to be sickened to see these ideas starting to weaken the church. John remembered the murders of his brother James, and Jesus’ brother James, and all the other Apostles who insisted that Jesus was both God and man.

We modern Christians are often fond of saying that Jesus took on our sins, but read what Augustine had to say about 400 CE. It is not right to say that any part was lacking in that human nature he put on, except that it was a human nature altogether free from any bond of sinACCS

Basil the Great, writing about the time of the Nicaean Doctrine in 325 had this to say. How can the Godhead be in the Flesh? In the same way as fire can be in iron: not by moving from place to place but by the one imparting to the other its own properties…. The fire is not diminished, and yet it completely fills whatever shares in its nature. So it is also with the Word. He did not relinquish his own nature, and yet “he dwelt among us.” ACCS Basil spoke against the ideas of Arius and Arianism. They held that Jesus was created by God, so was only human.

To those who put their trust in his person and power, he gave the right to become children of God.

Following Jesus is not rocket science, and trust is the only requirement. The atheist says Jesus does not exist; I say, ‘I trust he does exist.’ I say that because John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, James, Jude, and millions of others have said it and have held to the trust through the ages.

14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” NET

Because we do not have words to describe God, we resort to using human terms. He speaks, and things happen. Really? As far as human knowledge goes, yes, God speaks. He said the Word that placed a perfect human egg in Mary’s womb, guarded by angels, so that the one perfect human could become the long-promised Messiah, the man we call Jesus. We Saw his Glory. John means he and thousands of others saw Jesus and witnessed to having seen him.

Even before the Twelve, Jesus’ cousin preached about the Messiah and pointed him out to others as Jesus came to be baptized, a way to identify with John’s ministry. John even said that Jesus existed with God before arriving as a human.

All of this was easier in some ways for First Century people, especially Greeks and Romans, because speaking of gods becoming human and walking among us was everyday stuff. They were already religious, they just needed direction to the one true God.

16 Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received—one gift replacing another, 17 for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. NJB

Jesus came to us with a gift from God the Father. The gift is Grace, and only by grace can any of us enter the Courts of God’s Kingdom in the New Jerusalem. God the Father gave that gift to His Son, and Jesus freely gives it to anyone who believes in him.

In 1943, C. S. Lewis published a book entitled, Mere Christianity. On page 43 in my small paperback version, he writes: If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in Arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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