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Thursday, November 13. 2008
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
That's the powerfully poetic way John's Gospel begins, echoing Genesis.
(I am fairly certain I awoke this morning with those lines from John 1:1 in my head because I had been thinking, in my amateurish way, about Bird Dog's post on Monday about Important things that don't exist, virtual reality, and the power of abstract nouns.)
We do not know who this "John" was, or whether the prologue (which scholars believe to be an early Christian hymn) was added some time after the Gospel was written around 90 AD. It's probably the most powerful beginning of anything in the Bible (after Genesis.) The NAD has the first verses thus:
John draws a parallel between Christ's relationship to God (God in a human form) to Creation itself (God's idea, made real and tangible). In doing so, he uses the untranslatable Greek term "logos," which we translated in English to the humdrum "word." While being no student of epistemology, it was clear to me that the author was introducing a note of Platonic Idealism (the basis of all modern mathematics, and lots of other stuff too) to the early followers of Christ. (Here's the Wiki on Christ the Logos.)
"Logos" aside, whenever I wonder what words are all about I tend to go back to Roger Brown's classic Words and Things. Epistemolologic altitudes just make a practical fellow like me dizzily short on oxygen in the same way that contemplating the cosmos does: it makes me want to split some firewood, practice my drives, clean out some stalls, or have a Scotch.
Well, I will leave Logos and Platonic Idealism to the experts and scholars and our better-informed commenters. My preferred image of Christ is William Holman Hunt's "The Light of the World," (image) where I have seen it hanging in St. Paul's Cathedral right down from Bread Street (where John Milton grew up, and where the Mermaid Tavern used to be). That image of the offer of illumination, with Christ knocking at the cottage door, works best for me.
As does Psalm 131, David's song of ascent to prayer:
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If you can you should hear John 1.1 spoken in the original Greek.
! My father did that recently and I was amazed at how awesome it sounded.
Good post, thanks. I love that picture also. And read Platro before the Bible in a family of classics scholars, so John is my fave gospel.
But I always snicker at that final Scripture. A recently weaned child (speaking as onre who nursed exclusively for 2.5 yeara for each kid), howls with rage and frustration and misery initially, then becomes depressed, then fidgetty then discovers the world beyond Mama with a vengeance "Deprive me, will yoi, see if I even look back at you firsat day of nuraery school!". Not a great metaphor for a peaceful worshipper in my experience. But maybe my babies and i were unusually difficult and bolshie! Perhaps what the Psalmist referred to was just a toddler, more brave and daring about exploring,less emotionally greedy, more self aware, and the greater occasional calm of a weaned infant: no longer ceaselessly needing, pawing and sucking on mom, belly full longer with heavy cows' milk curds so able to think of something besides mom and food for longer stretches of time.
That's enough. Maggie's Farm cannot morph into a neo-feudal redneck theocracy poisoned by the intellectual seepage of verbal leakage. Make it stop.
Platro is my fave.
Touche, Meta! Blackberry typos (monitored workplace even lunch hour)
Touche? Um.... Yeah. It was about the suckage in your comment. How about keeping the curds and whey off posts where the poster has his spirit on his sleeve about his God?
A God who speaks His world into existence infuses every molecule of it, Meta. You are full of the milk of humankindness today!
Just join a church, any church, and let other sinful human beings love you despite your fangs and claws,. It will teach you all you need to know about the love of God.
There is no separation between God and His creatures. A God who was suckled by blessed Mary, was fed by those curds and whey you find alienating.
A childless person may be repulsed if I choose to explore the aptness of the Psalmist"s metaphor in this context. Tant pis. Many of us are struck by side issues, reading a post.
I read your comments on John with interest, and have no wish to attack anyone else's views. Some civility would be more appropriate, please.
"I read your comments on John with interest..."
No you didn't. I made no comments on John. I made a comment to you to keep the comments appropriate and civil to Barrister's post. It's a shame you missed that and unfortunate that you used my admonition as an excuse to allude that I am sinful and in need of church. "Fangs and claws"? Sinners at church will help me with my fangs and claws and help me to understand that Mary suckled God like you suckled yours? Nice how you turned that all around to crack the whip over this sinner. Pick another metaphor, please. Mary suckling God as opportunity for you to tell us about your seven-year odyssey breast feeding is quite the stretch. Now clean up your act and quit giving religion a bad name.
Your rump-fed runyon.... Meta.
In Lampe's Patristic Greek Lexicon, the entry for "logos" occupies eight whole columns: in summary form, omitting Greek and Latin quotations and other matter, the definitions are as follows:
I. in general;
A. spoken expression; 1. word; 2 statement, sentence; proverb; 3. command, of divine authority; contained in scripture; and eucharistic consecration; of decalogue; 4. promise; 5. story, conversation, discourse; 6. report, tale; 7. treatise; 8. sermon, homily; 9. passage of scripture; plur., of collection of texts; of scriptures in general; sing., of scripture as a whole; 10 form of words, manner of speaking; 11. in opposition to mere phonê [voice]; 12. substance of what is said, teaching, opinion, knowledge, esp. of doctrine; a. of philos. schools; b. of Christian gospel or 'the Faith'; hence. plur., learning, education; 14. speech, language;
B. immanent rationality; 1. reason, understanding; 2. ground, reason, motive; 3. explanation; 4. definition, description; 5. principle; a. ground of cosmic order; b. formative and regulative law of being, essential disposition; c. principle or rule embodying the result;
C. reckoning; 1. computation; 2. account; 3. financial account; 4. eis logon on account of, for the sake of; 5. logôi c genit., for, on behalf of
D. matter, fact
E. regard, esteem
F. concern, interest
H. manner, arrangement
I. condition, limitation
II. theol., of the second Person of the Trinity;
A. associations and significance of the term; 1. with emphasis on idea of revelation; 2. on idea of reason; 3. on idea of will or fiat; 4. with various connotations
B. ref. unity of Godhead; 1. in general; 2. distinction between logos endiathetos (immanent reason) and logos prophorikos (uttered word) used to illustrate unity of Father and Logos and distinction between them (from standpoint of finite observer) through act of Creation and redemption in which Logos is the expression of infinite Father; 3. subordinationist tendency in Logos speculation; 4. refutation of theories that Logos is only immanent in nature, or is an impersonal attribute of God; 5. Gnosticism; a. pagan antecedents; as rational cosmic principle controlling fate of men, in poems of Aratus as allegorized by Gnostics; identified with Dog-star; b. Gnost. theories; Logos as fifth aeon in Valentinian system; 6. in credal formulations; 7. in doxologies
C. 1. logos applied without qualification to Christ incarnate; in eucharistic context; 2. of divine person of Christ in relation to humanity; 3. doctrine that Logos occupied place of human soul in Christ
D. as source of man's rationality and of his communion with God
""Logos" aside, whenever I wonder what words are all about..."
Words were metaphors before they were words.
As for "logos", here's a simple way to look it in terms of persuasion - which is what words are for:
Aristotle - The 3 means of effective persuasion:
Logos - Logic
Pathos - Emotion
Ethos - Character
If I'm trying to persuade someone, I go for the pathos first because passion more than logic leads to change. And a combination, balanced, of the two makes for good character.
In Aristotelian terms, therefore, one might argue that Obama is the anti-Logos.
We neo-feudal redneck theocracts just hate our curds & whey being poisoned by anything, especially anything resembling intellectual seepage around our tuffits.
FWIW my copy of the NIV states that the author is the apostle John.
I love that painting.
"The light of the world"
I often visited the chapel of Keble college, in Oxford England, where I used to live.
That is where the original is hanging, hiding in a dark corner with a little button to press to reveal it's beauty for a few minutes only, before the light dims again, to hide it's awesome beauty from the light.
One would think that the light, shining from that painting should be able to light up a room by itself.
It is really a beautiful painting.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
John's Gospel is radically different from the three others; to such an extent indeed that Father Roguet in his book Initiation to the Gospel (Initiation à l'Evangile), having commented on the other three, immediately evokes a startling image for the fourth. He calls it , different world'. It is indeed a unique book; different in the arrangement and choice of subject, description and speech; different in its style, geography, chronology; there are even differences in theological outlook (O. Culmann). Jesus's words are therefore differently recorded by John from the other evangelists: Father Roguet notes on this that whereas the synoptics record Jesus's words in a style that is "striking, much nearer to the oral style", in John all is meditation; to such an extent indeed that "one sometimes wonders if Jesus is still speaking or whether His ideas have not imperceptibly been extended by the Evangelist's own thoughts".
Who was the author? This is a highly debated question and extremely varying opinions have been expressed on this subject.
A. Tricot and Father Roguet belong to a camp that does not have the slightest misgivings: John's Gospel is the work of an eyewitness, its author is John, son of Zebedee and brother of James. Many details are known about this apostle and are set out in works for mass publication. Popular iconography puts him near Jesus, as in the Last Supper prior to the Passion. Who could imagine that John's Gospel was not the work of John the Apostle whose figure is so familiar?
The fact that the fourth Gospel was written so late is not a serious argument against this opinion. The definitive version was probably written around the end of the First century A.D. To situate the time it was written at sixty years after Jesus would be in keeping with an apostle who was very young at the time of Jesus and who lived to be almost a hundred.
Father Kannengiesser, in his study on the Resurrection, arrives at the conclusion that none of the New Testament authors, save Paul, can claim to have been eyewitnesses to Jesus's Resurrection. John nevertheless related the appearance to a number of the assembled apostles, of which he was probably a member, in the absence of Thomas (20,19-24), then eight days later to the full group of apostles (20,25-29).
O. Culmann in his work The New Testament does not subscribe to this view.
The Ecumenical Translation of the Bible states that the majority of critics do not accept the hypothesis that the Gospel was written by John, although this possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. Everything points however towards the fact that the text we know today had several authors: "It is probable that the Gospel as it stands today was put into circulation by the author's disciples who added chapter 21 and very likely several annotations (i.e. 4,2 and perhaps 4,1; 4,44; 7,37b; 11,2; 19,35). With regard to the story of the adulterous woman (7,53-8,11), everyone agrees that it is a fragment of unknown origin inserted later (but nevertheless belonging to canonic Scripture)". Passage 19,35 appears as a 'signature' of an 'eyewitness' (O. Culmann), the only explicit signature in the whole of John's Gospel; but commentators believe that it was probably added later.
O. Culmann thinks that latter additions are obvious in this Gospel; such as chapter 21 which is probably the work of a "disciple who may well have made slight alterations to the main body of the Gospel".
It is not necessary to mention all the hypotheses suggested by experts in exegesis. The remarks recorded here made by the most eminent Christian writers on the questions of the authorship of the fourth Gospel are sufficient to show the extent of the confusion reigning on the subject of its authorship.
The historical value of John's stories has been contested to a great extent. The discrepancy between them and the other three Gospels is quite blatant. O. Culman offers an explanation for this; he sees in John a different theological point of view from the other evangelists. This aim "directs the choice of stories from the Logia [ Words.] recorded, as well as the way in which they are reproduced . . . Thus the author often prolongs the lines and makes the historical Jesus say what the Holy Spirit Itself revealed to Him". This, for the exegete in question, is the reason for the discrepancies.
It is of course quite conceivable that John, who was writing after the other evangelists, should have chosen certain stories suitable for illustrating his own theories. One should not be surprised by the fact that certain descriptions contained in the other Gospels are missing in John. The Ecumenical Translation picks out a certain number of such instances (page 282). Certain gaps hardly seem credible however, like the fact that the Institution of the Eucharist is not described. It is unthinkable that an episode so basic to Christianity, one indeed that was to be the mainstay of its liturgy, i.e. the mass, should not be mentioned by John, the most pre-eminently meditative evangelist. The fact is, he limits himself, in the narrative of the supper prior to the Passion, to simply describing the washing of the disciples' feet, the prediction of Judas's betrayal and Peter's denial.
In contrast to this, there are stories which are unique to John and not present in the other three. The Ecumenical Translation mentions these (page 283). Here again, one could infer that the three authors did not see the importance in these episodes that John saw in them. It is difficult however not to be taken aback when one finds in John a description of the appearance of Jesus raised from the dead to his disciples beside the Sea of Tiberias (John 21,1-14). The description is nothing less than the reproduction (with numerous added details) of the miracle catch of fish which Luke (5,1-11) presents as an episode that occurred during Jesus's life. In his description Luke alludes to the presence of the Apostle John who, as tradition has it, was the evangelist, Since this description in John's Gospel forms part of chapter 21, agreed to be a later addition, one can easily imagine that the reference to John's name in Luke could have led to its artificial inclusion in the fourth Gospel. The necessity of transforming a description from Jesus's life to a posthumous description in no way prevented the evangelical text from being manipulated.
Another important point on which John's Gospel differs from the other three is in the duration of Jesus's mission. Mark, Matthew and Luke place it over a period of one year. John spreads it over two years. O. Culmann notes this fact. On this subject the Ecumenical Translation expresses the following .
"The synoptics describe a long period in Galilee followed by a march that was more or less prolonged towards Judea, and finally a brief stay in Jerusalem. John, on the other hand, describes frequent journeys from one area to another and mentions a long stay in Judea, especially in Jerusalem (1,19-51; 2,13-3,36; 5,1-47; 14,20-31). He mentions several Passover celebrations (2,13; 5,1; 6,4; 11,55) and thus suggests a ministry that lasted more than two years".
Which one of them should one believe-Mark, Matthew, Luke or John?
Richard Bauckham, in 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses', argues that the fourth gospel is written by a disciple.
I'd tend to agree - only because nobody who didn't actually know Jesus would have the confidence to be so creative in their theology.
That's very interesting - your last line. How do you account for the 'creativity' of the 205 Christian church doctrines in the world today? As to your statement as it is, how about Thomas, who actually had the curiosity to doubt and question? Which is more valid - creativity or curiosity and questioning?
Just a thought...
Well... some very large issues there, and this isn't really the place to explore them all, but
- saying "205" church doctrines is at best misleading (not least because where did the 205 figure come from?) Mainstream churches (representing the great majority of Christian believers) accept the Nicene Creed, so there are some clear boundaries for the creativity. Virtually all the dissenting denominations are fringe Protestant groups, where the principle of private judgement has run amok;
- which Thomas are you referring to? the character in the gospel is clearly playing a distinct role, as his testimony ('my lord and my God') is the effective climax of the entire story. Or are you talking about the author of the gnostic text?
I have the 205 number in my notes from a class I took, but I just Googled it to give you a more specific number and link. Nothing close but did find this:
"Note: This is not a complete list, but aims to provide a comprehensible overview of the diversity among denominations of Christianity. As there are reported to be over 38,000 Christian denominations,  many of which cannot be verified to be significant, only those denominations with Wikipedia articles will be listed in order to ensure that all entries on this list are notable and verifiable."
There were 1,290,000 links for: Christian denominations.
Thomas the disciple. Have you read "Beyond Belief" by Elaine Pagels? It is about the scrolls that define Thomas' role much more clearly than previous writings would have us believe. Pagels studies the library of pre-Christian and Christian era scrolls at Harvard, and she has several books published on her extensive work. I'll take the evidence from the scrolls any day over the words of those at the Council of Nicea.
Here is a very NON-traditional look at Jesus as logos that might be of interest: