Criswell Theological Review 3.1 (1988) 31-48.

       Copyright © 1988 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission.    




                THE INCARNATIONAL




                                       JAMES PARKER

                         Criswell College, Dallas, TX 75201



John leaves no doubt as to the purpose of writing his Gospel. He

states it explicitly in John 20:31: " . . . these have been written that you

may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing

you may have life in His name" (NASB). John seeks to support and

defend this purpose by the selections, (more material was available

than John utilized, according to 20:30) arrangement, and exposition of

the material in his Gospel, From the beginning of the Prologue where

the Word is said to have become flesh in Jesus to Thomas' majestic

conclusion "My Lord and my God" (20:28) , the reader is constantly

reminded that Jesus is much more than a mere man representing a

deity, He is very God of very God come in the flesh. Jesus' work of

salvation ("believing you may have life in His name") is dependent

upon the nature of His person ("the Christ, the Son of God").


                                    I. The Prologue (John 1:1-18)


            The clearest and most explicit statement in the NT concerning

the Incarnation is in the Prologue of John. The Prologue applies the

term Logos or Word to Christ in describing the person of Christ and

particularly His relationship with God.l In using the term Logos, the

author is using a word which had currency and a range of meanings in

both the Hellenistic and Hebrew world.


            1 Scholars have debated whether the Prologue was "elevated prose" (L. Morris,

The Gospel According to John [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971],72) or poetry

(C. F. Burney, Aramaic Origin, 40-41; G. R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical

Commentary,'3). Beasley-Murray observes (John, 4): "If indeed 14-18 are to be viewed

as elements of the Church's confession of faith, like 3:16, this would underscore what in




Logos in the Hellenistic World

            In ca. 500 B.C. Heraclitus first made use of the Logos concept. In a

world of constant flux Heraclitus sought to find some abiding princi-

ple. He called this Logos. J. Adams writes, "He seems to conceive it

as the rational principle, power, or being which speaks to men both

from without and from within--the universal word which for those

who have ears to hear is audible both in nature and in their own

hearts, the voice, in short, of the divine."2 Furthermore, "In Heraclitus

the three conceptions, Logis, Fire and God, are fundamentally the

same. Regarded as the Logos, God is the omnipresent Wisdom by

which all things are steered."3 Since this Logos permeated everything,

there was no transcendence.

            Heraclitus' successors--to the extent they understood fire as the

primordial source of all things--were the Stoics. This creative fire was

called the logos spermatikos (i.e., Seminal Reason). E. Bevan asserted

that "the orderly working of nature was its operation: organic beings

grew according to regular types, because the Divine Reason was in

them as a lo<goj spermatiko<j, a formula of life developing from a

germ."4 This, in turn, led the Stoics into a warm "theoretical panthe-

ism," as seen in the Hymn to Zeus of Cleanthes of Epictetus' Dis-

courses.5 The Stoic logos is not parallel to the Logos of John, as Bevan

observes: "It is sometimes said that the Stoic spermatiko>j lo<goj; was

parallel to the cosmic Logos of Philo or the Fourth Gospel, but in the

fragments of the old Stoic books the word is habitually used in the

plural, spermatikoi> lo<goi, for the multitude of specific types repro-

duced by propagation. Stoicism knew of no cosmic Logos distinct

from God or the Divine fire: where they speak of the lo<goj of the

world in the singular they generally mean the 'scheme' of the world."6


any case is implied in the postulate of a hymn at the base of the prologue, that the

theology of the Logos incarnate was not the product of a single theological genius, as

the Church has generally viewed the Evangelist, but a fundamental tenet of a church

(or group of churches) of which the Evangelist was a prominent leader, whose gospel is

its definitive exposition." Furthermore, the commonly regarded Christological hymns

Phil 2:6-11 and Col. 1:15-20 are theologically very closely related to the Prologue. The

literature on John is massive. The student is referred to the extensive bibliographical

information in Beasley-Murray for further study; for bibliography on the Prologue, see

Beasley-Murray, John, 1.

            2 The Religious Teachers of Greece, 222, quoted in W. F. Howard, Christianity.

According to St. John (London: Duckworth) 34-35.

            3 Ibid.

            4 Stoics and Sceptics, 43, quoted in W. F. Howard, Christianity, 35.

            5 W. F. Howard, Christianity, 35.

            6 Late Greek Religion, XV, quoted in W. F. Howard, Christianity, 36.



            The Hellenistic Jew Philo of Alexandria also developed a lo-

gos doctrine.7 Through the hermeneutical method of allegory, Philo

attempted to trace Greek ideas to a Hebrew origin. With Plato he

believed the logos to belong to the world of ideas; however, he went

further than Plato and linked logos with the expression of the idea as

well. D. Guthrie8 summarizes five points distinctive of Philo's logos


     (i) The logos has no distinct personality. It is described as 'the image of

            God. . . through whom the whole universe was framed.'9 But since it is

            also described in terms of a rudder to guide all things in their course, or

            as God's instrument (organon) for fashioning the world,10 it seems clear

            that Philo did not think of logos in personal terms.

     (ii) Philo speaks of the logos as God's first-born son (protogonos huios),"11

            which implies pre-existence. The logos is certainly regarded as eternal.

            Other descriptions of the logos as God's ambassador (presbeutes), as

            man's advocate (parakletos) and as high priest (archiereus), although

            offering interesting parallels with Jesus Christ, do not, however, require


    (iii) The logos is not linked with light and life in Philo's doctrine as it is

            John’s, and combination cannot have been derived from him, although it

            would have been congenial to him.

    (iv) There is no suggestion that the logos could become incarnate. This

            would have been alien to Greek thought, because of the belief in the evil

            of matter.

    (v) The logos definitely had a mediatorial function to bridge the gap be-

            tween the transcendent God and the world. It can be regarded as a

            personification of an effective intermediary, although it was never per-

            sonalized.12 Philo's logos has, therefore, both parallels and differences

            from John’s logos. . . “13


            Appeals have been made to two other sources as a background to

explain John's logos doctrine: the Hermetic literature,14 speculative


            7 For an extensive discussion of Philo's logos doctrine, see W. F. Howard, 36ff.;

C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 66f.; 276ff..

            8 New Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1981) 322-23.

            9 Cf. Philo, De Somm. 11.45.

            10 Cf. Philo. De migr. Abr. 6.

            11 Cf. PhIlo. De agr. 51.

            12 Cf. Howard, Christianity, 38, who sums up Philo's logos in the following way.

"Philo uses the form Logos to express the conception of a mediator between the

transcendent God and the universe, an immanent power active in creation and revela-

tion, but though the Logos is often personified, it is never truly personalized."

            13 For a useful survey of views, Guthrie (New Testament Theology, 323) directs

the reader to E. M. Sidebottom's The Christ of the Fourth Gospel (1961) 26ff.

            14 On the Hermetic literature, cf. C. H. Dodd The Interpretation of the Fourth

Gospel (Cambridge: University Press) 10-53.



philosophical writings of the second and third centuries A.D. and the

Mandarean liturgies, dated even later,15 and for that reason held to be

insignificant as related to John.16

            Even though the logos idea is used, frequently in the tractate

Poimandres (a tract that speculates on Genesis' cosmogony), there is

no evidence of literary dependency. C. H. Dodd says that the parallels

seen can be attributed to "the result of minds working under the same

general influences."17


Logos in the Hebraic World

            In recent years the attention of scholars has turned form Greek to

Jewish sources as a background for John in general and the logos

concept in particular. Several major Jewish sources have been sug-

gested:18 the OT, non-cannonical wisdom literature, rabbinic idea of

Torah, and Qumran literature.

            First, the divinely spoken "word" (dabar) of God in the OT

communicates the creative power of God (cf. Gen 1:3ff.; Ps 33:6;

107:20). Sometimes dabar is translated as "deed,"19 thus indicating the


            15 R. Bultmann (The Gospel of John [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971] 8) claims

that John is dependent on the gnostic Odes of Solomon. This thesis has been under-

mined by recent research on gnosticism. It appears there is no evidence (or full-blown

pre-Christian gnosticism. Cf. E. Yamauchi, Pre-Christian Gnosticism: A Survey of the

Proposed Evidences (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983).

            16 Dodd thinks that, "The Compilation of the Mandaean Canon. . . cannot be

dated much, if at all, before A.D. 700" (Interpretation, 115). Therefore if there is any

literary conceptual dependence it is in the direction from John to the Mandaeans. As

R. M. Grant tersely observes: "The most obvious explanation of the origin of the

Gnostic redeemer is that he was modeled after the Christian conception of Jesus. It

seems significant that we know of no redeemer before Jesus, while we encounter other

redeemers (Simon Magus, Menander) immediately after his time" (Gnosticism,

London 1961, 18).

            17 C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 247.

            18 Another source suggested, memra (the Aramaic term for "word") in the Tar-

gums has been called "a blind alley in the study of biblical background of John's Logos

doctrine." Cf. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, (SPCK, 1962) 128. The

Memra Yahweh, according to the results of the exhaustive studies of Strack-Billerbeck,

Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, II (C. H. Beck, 1961),

302-33 and Vinzenz Hamp, Der Begriff 'Wort' in den aramaeischen Bibeluebersetzun-

gen (Neuer Fiber-Verlag, 1938), 193, fails to account for the Johannine personalization.

The targums never translate such phrases as "the word of God" or "the word (dabar) of

the Lord." Cf. G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The

Age of the Tannaim, I (Harvard, 1962) 417. The Memra Yahweh and Logos of John

have no relationship and no bearing upon one another. Memra refers neither to divine

revelation nor to a divine mediator of God.

            19 Eero Repo, Der Begriff 'Rhema' im Biblisch-Griechischen: I, 'Rhema' in der

Septuaginta (1951), 59-62.



"dynamic" coloring of the word. God's word is His creative act, His

powerful agent. God's dabar, in its creative faculty, possesses the

power of self-realization (Isa 55:10, 11): it will accomplish what it


            Another group of dabar passages is used to indicate divine revela-

tion through the prophets to the people Israel (Amos 3:1, 8; Isa 9:8; Jer

1:4, 20:8; Ezek 33:7). To some degree the term is identified with the

Torah, and in Ps 119:9, 105, the whole message of God to humanity.

Not found in the OT is the idea of God's word as a distinctive "entity"

existing alongside God. While Ps 33:6; 107:20; 147:15 and Isa 55:10f.

may approach a personification of the word, one does not find a


            Wisdom is another OT concept that has significance for the logos

idea.20 Wisdom is not the product of creation21 but is initiated from

God; it is a gift of God. In Proverbs 8, a personified wisdom is spoken

of as having been present at the world's creation (8:27ff.). However,

the fact of it also speaking of its own creation in 8:22 must qualify the

understanding given to its pre-existence.22

            In other Judaistic thought and the intertestamental literature which

preceded it one finds the concept of a mediating divine hypostasis

more closely aligned to John, but even here it does not parallel it in

equal force, originality or content. In the apocryphal Wisdom of

Solomon the Logos ("thine all powerful word") "leaped from heaven

down from the royal throne, a stern warrior, into the midst of the

doomed land" (Wis 18:15). Wisdom is furthermore spoken of as a

"semi-divine" figure whose source is the Deity and whose works

include the following: the creation and preservation of the world and

the purification and inspiration of men (7:22-8:3; 9:4, 9-11).23 In this

literature one finds that while wisdom is personified it is not person-

alized (i.e., it is spoken of in personal terms without being regarded as

a person).

            A third Jewish source is the rabbinic idea of Torah. The parallels

between this and John's Logos are as follows:24 "First, the Torah was


            20 See. A van Roon, "The Relation between Christ and the Wisdom of God

according to Paul," NovT 16 (1974) 207-19 for the OT and intertestamental evidence of

the wisdom concept.

            21 Job 28:12-19.

            22 F. M. Braun, "Jean Ie Theologieu: 2. Les glandes traditions d'Israel," Etudes

bibliques (1964) 137-150 and R.. E. Brown John (Garden City: Doubleday 1966) 520ff.

            23 By the time of the Gospels, this later concept was widespread both in the OT

and apocryphal literature: Provs 8:1-9:18; Job 28:12-28; 4 Ezra 5:10; 1 Bar 3:9-4:4; Sir

1:1-10,14-20; 24:1-22; 51:13-30; 1 Enoch 42; 2 Enoch 30:8.

            24 Guthrie, New Testament Theology, 325.




believed to have been created before the foundation of the world; in

other words, its pre-existence is asserted. Secondly, the Torah lay on

God's bosom. Thirdly, 'my daughter, she is the Torah.' Fourthly,

through the first born, God created the heaven and the earth, and the

first-born is no other than the Torah. Fifthly, the words of the Torah

are life for the world." John, however, asserts the superiority of Jesus

Christ to Moses the Torah-giver (John 1:17). Moses gave the Law,

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John far surpasses the

affirmation of the rabbis by offering and producing much more than

the pre-existent Torah could.

            The Qumran literature, while not contributing directly to the issue

at hand does lessen the significance of Hellenistic claims by providing

a contemporary Jewish dualistic background that "approximates more

closely. . . John's background in his Logos doctrine than does the gnos-

tic dualism which Bultmann stresses so strongly. Indeed, the Qumran

dualism, like John's, is monotheistic, ethical and eschatological."25

            The question still remains, in view of the Hellenistic and Jewish

backgrounds, why John preferred to call Jesus the Logos--and what

he meant by it. The answer lies close at hand. Christ Himself is the

source for the content of the idea. The meaning of the Logos comes

out clearly in an exegesis of the Prologue passage itself. It will be seen

to include His pre-existence, His Deity, His creative agency, His

incarnation, His person as the source of light and life, and the revela-

tional and soteriological aspects of His earthly ministry. To what

purpose and for what profit are we invited to investigate Hellenists

and Hebraic understandings of logos, if not as sources of John's

concept? We investigate these systems for the overtones and implica-

tions they provide to the Prologue and which John nuanced in employ-

ing this unique expression of Jesus' person. V. Hamp says that "the

Johannine prologue with its Logos reveals something new in terms of

content; by it a hellenistic term is Christianized, and the Word of

creation is clearly made known. The doctrine of truth of the OT is

worked into the speculation."26

            Taken from this perspective, according to J. Boice, the parallels

are striking.

            To the Greeks especially, but also to the Jews, the description of Christ

            as Logos points emphatically to His pre-existent state as Son of God and

            mediator of the creation. In John's thought, however, the conception

            rises far above that of a mere Son of God, a figure who partakes in some


            25 Ibid., 326.

            26 V. Hamp, Der Begriff, 193, quoted in James M. Boice, Witness and Revelation

in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970) 163.




measure of God's nature, to describe the Son par excellence--eternally

existing with God, partaking in its fullness of the divine nature, and

acting with God in the creation (v. 3) and the preservation of the world

(v. 4). To the Jew the 'word' recalls creative action, action which is at

once a revelation of God's person and of His inscrutable will. John adds,

however, that the revelation in Christ, God's perfect Word, reveals as no

other the fullness of God's glory in its aspects of grace and truth (v. 14)

and is that which above all else summons men to repentance and to the

acceptance of light and life through Him.

            The Logos terminology rises to new heights in John in expressing a

two-fold significance of Jesus Christ--the significance of His person in

its pre-existent and incarnate states and the significance of His ministry

as an act of revelation and reconciliation. All this John does without in

the least distracting from the importance of the historical Jesus as the

focal point of the divine disclosure. For whatever may have been the

teachings about the Logos in the first Christian century, it is John's first

and distinctive teaching that Jesus, not another, is the divine hypostasis

who had been with God from all eternity, who was God, and who took

on human form by incarnation, appearing on earth for the saving revela-

tion of the Father, and that the Logos, in spite of contemporary teaching

and the philosophical speculations attaching to it, is only to be found in

this historical personage and at this moment in history in which He made

His per.son known.27

            We now turn to defend and substantiate the conclusion just

described by a careful examination of the usage of Logos in John.


Logos in John

            The Logos idea in John's Prologue makes certain affirmations

which simultaneously eliminate certain alternative ways of interpreting

Jesus of Nazareth. The belief of Christ as God incarnate is presup-

posed by the idea of creation. Vv 1-3 of John read thusly: (NASB) "In

the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the

Word was God; He was in the beginning with God. All things come

into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that

has come into being." The Word was with God (pros ton theon)

describes the pre-creation state, a formula similar to Gen 1:1. The

deity of the Word is explicitly affirmed, without obscuring distinction

between the Word and God. Some have erroneously concluded that

the absence of an article before theos meant that "the Word was a

God" (or divine). Theos is a predicate, so that interpretation is with-

out defense.28 It is absolutely clear to the reader of John that the


            27 Boice, John, 163.

            28 E. C. Colwell, JBL 52 (1933) 20.




Word shared in the nature of Deity. He did not mean, however, that

the Word and God were simply interchangeable words. While the

Word is fully Deity, the concept of God embraces more than the

Word. John does not explain it further.

            The relationship between the Word and the world is clearly

articulated: "all things were made through him, and without him was

not anything made that was made." The Word is God's agent in the

creation of the universe, a thought not dissimilar from that of Paul in

Col 1:15. The Word is clearly distinct from the creation in kind, not

merely in degree. Creation ex nihilo is both presupposed by and

demanded for the Incarnation. H. P. Owen correctly observes: "Those

who do not base their Christology on the concept of creation ex nihilo

inevitably exhibit Christ as one who differs in degree, but not in kind,

from other men. Thus according to Hegelianism Christ can be no

more than the supreme expression of God's universal presence in

humanity. Again, for Whitehead Christ can be no more than the

moment of greatest significance in the cosmic process whereby God

and the world create each other. By contrast those who follow the

teaching of the councils are obligated to hold that although no man is

divine God in Christ totally transcended his normal relation to creatures

by hypostatically uniting a human nature to his own. It is only if we

place Christ in the context of the creator-creature relationship that we

can regard him as being absolutely unique and intrinsically unsurpass-

able."29 The Logos is distinct from creation. A different verb is used

for the creation ("to become") and the Logos ("to be").

            V 14 asserts that this eternally pre-existent Word became flesh in

Christ. Flesh signifies in this context human nature, the full and real

manhood of the incarnate Logos. Thus certain conclusions follow.

First, adoptionism is ruled out. From the beginning of his life Jesus

was God Incarnate. Second, Jesus was the Incarnation of the eternal

pre-existent Word. His place is firmly fixed in the divine Trinity. It

was the Son, not the Spirit or Father, that became a man in Jesus of

Nazareth. Thus, the idea that Jesus as the Son is inferior to God the

Father in His being and status (subordinationism) is ruled out. John

did not say the Word was theios (divine) but rather theos (God).

Owen explains the implications of this distinction. "To say that the

Word was divine could leave room for subordinationism which can

be excluded only by affirming an identity of being between him and

God. Of course the Son is subordinate to the Father in the sense that

he is derived from the Father, but if. . . he receives the Father's


            29 H. P. Owen, Christian Theism (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1984) 24.



whole nature, he and the Father are co-equal."30 This emphasis of the

full Deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ simultaneously disavows

both docetism and (later) Arianism.


                                                II. Son of God


            John states that his purpose (20:31) is to convince his readers that

Jesus is the Son of God. He accomplishes this purpose by the selection

and arrangement of his material. While the title itself occurs several

times, the description of the unique absolute qualitative Father-Son

relationship throughout the gospel establishes the concept even more

firmly than the mere usage of the title. Jesus was conscious of being

the unique Son of the Father and we find Jesus referring to God as his

Father more than a hundred times. On four occasions John describes

Jesus as the "only (monogenes) son" (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). While

exegetes differ as to its meaning, it appears most likely that monogenes

means something like "alone of its kind"--the only one of that genus.

It would therefore be used to heighten Jesus' Unique "one of a kind"

qualitatively different sonship. Jesus' sonship differs from ours in kind,

not in degree. Jesus makes this distinction in John 20:17 where he

refers to "my Father and your father" and "my God and your God."

            On several occasions in John, Jesus was recognized as Son of

God: John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), and Martha (11:27). In

John 10:36 Jesus' critics charged Him with blasphemy. In this discus-

sion Jesus particularly claimed to be the Son of God--thus emptying

charge of substance. His works were evidence that He did the works

of His Father. The incident of the raising of Lazarus was "so that the

Son of God may be glorified by means of it." The charge was made

before Pilate that Jesus called himself the Son of God (19:7).

            Guthrie delineates eight special characteristics of Jesus as the Son

of God in John.31 (1) "The Son is sent by the Father" (3:34; 5:36, 38;

7:29; 11:42). The pre-existence of Jesus is implied in these passages.

The incarnation is a continuation of the relationship the Father and

Son had in eternity, even as is demonstrated by the Logos doctrine.

(2) "The love of the Father for the Son" (3:35, "all things given into

the Son's hand"; 5:20, the Father "shows the Son all that he is doing";

10:17, "the Father's love is intensified by the Son's voluntary laying


            30 Ibid., 28. G. W. H. Lampe (Christ, Faith and History [ed.S. W. Sykes and J. P.

Clayton: Cambridge, 1972] 124) says that the ancient church adopted a Logos-Son

Christology rather than a Spirit-possession Christology in order to establish belief in

Jesus' absolute uniqueness as God incarnate.

            31 Guthrie, New Testament Theology, 313-16.




down of His life"; 17:24, the Father's love for the Son "existed before

the foundation of the world.") (3) "the dependence of the Son on the

Father." John 5:19 says: "The Son can do nothing of his own accord,

but only what he sees the Father doing." The Son is perfectly obedient

to the will of the Father. "The dependence of the Son on the will and

power of the Father demonstrates, not the inferiority of the Son, but

the identify of purpose between the Father and the Son (cf. 14:20).

The absolute unity of Father and Son (10:30, 17:11; cf. 14:11, 20) is as

important as the dependence of the Son on the Father. Those two

concepts are different facets of one truth and neither can be separated

from the other. John, in recording them, evidently saw no contradic-

tion between them."32 (4) "Son prays to the Father." Jesus prays at

Lazarus' tomb (11:41): "Father, I thank thee that thou has heard me."

Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 11 represents the height of intimacy

between Jesus and His Father (He refers to God as His Father six

times: 11:1, 15, 11, 21, 24, 25). (5) "Jesus as Son makes claim to be the

exclusive revelation of the Father." Jesus alone has been in the pres-

ence of God the Father (6:46). "As the Father knows me and I know

the Father" (10:15) shows the transparency between Father and Son.

Jesus reveals the nature of God (8:19; 14:8-9). (6) "The Son speaks the

words of the Father." Jesus said, " . . . for all that I have heard from

my Father I have made known to you" (15:15). Jesus speaks on the

authority of God His Father who has "given me commandment what

to say and what to speak" (12:49f). "The word which you hear is not

mine but the Father's who sent me" (14:24). (7) "The Father has given

all things into the Son's hand." (13:3ff). Jesus said, "All that the Father

has is mine" (16:15). The Son also shares with God the Father in

judgment (8:16). (8) "Jesus speaks of returning to the Father, especially

in the farewell discourses. .." (14:12, 14:28; 16:10, 16:16ff.; 16:28;

20:11). The triumphant ascension of Jesus demonstrates the consum-

mation of the work of the exalted Son.


                                                III. Son of Man


            The expression "Son of Man" is used 13 times in John's Gospel.33

In the usage of this expression one finds first of all fundamental

agreement with the understanding of "Son of Man" as found in the

synoptics, and secondly further explicit development of meaning.34


            32 Ibid., 314.

            33 John 1:51, 3:13; 3:14; 5:27; 6:27; 6:53; 6:62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23; 12:34; 13:31.

            34 While the point of this article is not to review or establish the source(s) of the

Son of Man sayings, this author concurs with the conclusion of scholars that hold that




The Son of man in John is similar to the Synoptics in that this figure is

associated with the theme of vindication after suffering.35 Most of the

Johannine Son of Man sayings combine the two ideas of humiliation

and honor into one expression. An example of this would be when

Jesus speaks of being "glorified" (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:34; 12:23; 13:31).

A difference in John is the lack of the Synoptic emphasis on the

vindication of the Son of Man in the eschaton.

            From an examination of the Son of Man passages certain character-

istics emerge of the meaning and usage of Son of Man in John. First,

several statements assert the authority of the Son of Man. For ex-

ample, in John 6:27 the activities of the Son of Man are parallel to

those activities of God. The implication is clear: There is no difference

between God's and the Son of Man's authority. The Son of Man can

give eternal life (3:14, 15; 6:27) and has the authority to execute

judgment (5:26f.). Not only does the Son of Man's mission involve

salvation, but ultimately judgment and condemnation in the future as

well. Second, the pre-existence and destiny of the Son of Man is

identified. John 1:51 and 3:13 emphasize the "descent and ascent" of

the Son of Man. "Descent" primarily reveals Jesus' awareness of being

sent from God, while "ascent" indicates the truth that the real home of

the Son of Man is heaven in the presence of the Father, and thence He

shall return to God. The idea of pre-existence (John 6:62: "Then what

if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?")

dove-tails with the Logos doctrine of the Prologue. The historical

Jesus of Nazareth is to be seen from the perspective of his eternal

pre-existence. The Son of Man is glorified in 12:23 and 13:31.36

Thirdly, some Son of Man sayings are in the context of being crucified-

"lifted up."37 Two implications are derived from this usage: 1) the

heavenly Son of Man, as in the Synoptics, is related to the death,

humiliation and passion but nevertheless 2) continue to embrace the

idea of the future exaltation after the death (which ties in with the

previous discussion of the glorification concept). In summation,

the Son of Man in John's Gospel is the pre-existent Logos who enters

into the world incarnate in Jesus, suffers, dies, is exalted and glorified


the Son of Man logia stems from authentic primitive tradition about and from Jesus and

consequently belongs to the earliest theological stratum of John's Gospel. See I. H.

Marshall, "The Synoptic Son of Man Sayings in Recent Discussion," NTS 12 (1965-66)

327-51 and also S. S. Smalley, "The Johannine Son of Man Sayings," NTS 15 (1968-69)


            35 This theme appears in Daniel, 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras.

            36 See also 2:11; 5:41ff.; 7:18; 8:50f.; 11:4; 12:41; 17:1f.; 17:22,24.

            37 The three passages are 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34.




and is given God's authority to execute judgment on the earth and in



                                                IV. Signs


            John speaks of Christ's miracles as signs (semeia). However,

semeia does not always refer to a miracle; it can refer to Christ's non-

miraculous "works." A sign is a "token" or "distinguishing mark" (like

circumcision is a token or sign of the covenant in Gen 17:11). A sign is

a symbol which points to something beyond itself. A miracle may be

a sign by pointing to the presence of a divine person or authenticating

a prophet who has been authorized by God. John makes clear the role

of signs in his volume: "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of

the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written

that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that

believing you may have life in his name" (20:30, 31). The point of the

signs is to draw attention to Jesus and exemplify some aspect of his

Person. Selected examples would be as follows: (1) the miraculous

transformation of water into wine at Can a (2:1-11) had a two-fold

result: it manifested Jesus Christ's glory immediately which awakened

faith in His disciples, and it showed the unity between Jesus the Son

and God the Father in creative power, (2) the second sign, healing the

nobleman's son (4:46-54), demonstrated Jesus' power over sickness,

(3) the healing of the impotent man (5:1-18) demonstrates Jesus'

power over sickness again and shows the life-saving power of the

Incarnate Word, (4) the multiplication of the loaves and fish (6:1-14)

shows both Christ's creative power over nature as well as demon-

strates the point that Christ Himself is the Bread of life, (5) Christ's

walking on the water (6:16-21) demonstrates His power over nature,

(6) the healing of the man blind from birth (9:1-41) shows Christ's

power to heal both physically and spiritually, (7) apart from His own

resurrection, the resuscitation of Lazarus from the grave (11:1-46) is

the greatest demonstration of Christ's triumph over nature, sin, sick-

ness and death itself. In the discourse material connected with this

story Jesus makes the claim to be "the resurrection and the life." The

meaning of this miracle is summarized succinctly by Dodd: "first, that

eternal life may be enjoyed here and now by those who respond to

the word of Christ, and secondly, that the same power which assures

eternal life to believers during their earthly existence will, after the

death of the body, raise the dead to renewed existence in a world

beyond."38 The signs have as their overriding motivation and object


            38 C. H. Dodd, Interpretation, 364.



the revelation of Jesus' glory. Jesus demonstrates signs to demonstrate

His divine nature and miraculous power, with the consequence of

arousing faith in those who witness His "signs and wonders." The

signs, particularly the latter ones, are often accompanied by a propo-

sitional and authoritative discourse, which itself becomes a part of the

divine revelation.


                                                V. The Discourses


            The discourse of Jesus in John 3:1-21 with Nicodemus explains in

detail the nature of spiritual regeneration. The idea of Jesus' inaugurat-

ing a new era had been intimated in the two earlier signs: Jesus

turning the water into wine and the cleansing of the temple (2:13-22).

In John 4 Jesus is recorded as healing an official's son. A discourse of

Jesus on the water of life (4:7-26) introduces the pericope; in the

context it looks backward to new birth (3:5) and forward to the

healing of the official's son.

            Jesus heals the man at the Bethesda pool (John 5) which issues in

Jesus' defense of His nature as Son of God and giver of life (5:26-29,

40). The feeding of the five thousand in John 6 is explicated by a

discussion on Jesus' being the bread of life (6:25-65). The man's sight

restored in John 9 is preceded by a conflict between the Jews and

Jesus (8:12-59) which begins with Jesus assertion "I am the light of

the world" and concludes with the absolute use of ego eimi ("before

Abraham was I am"). The raising of Lazarus introduces the sixth

discourse (John 10:1-18) where Jesus identifies Himself as Israel's true

shepherd who gives His life for others (vv 11, 15, 17, f.). The last

discourse (chaps 14-16) is introduced by the catch of fish (John 21).

Jesus declares Himself to be "the way, the truth and the life" (14:6).


                                    VI. The "I Am" Sayings


            The "I Am" statements of Jesus are significant in establishing the

Christology of John. One of the reasons for this is that the sentence "I

Am" is used in the OT as a self-designated name of God. God says "I

am that I am" in Exod 3:14. Upon examination one finds seven "I Am"

sayings of Jesus, each one demonstrating some work of Jesus: bread--

sustenance (6:35); light--illumination (8:12); door--admission (10:7);

shepherd--nuturing and protection (10:11); resurrection and life--

quickening (11:25); way, truth, life--leading (14:6); vine--making

fruitful (15:1). The unparalleled audacity of such a statement as "I am

the light of the world becomes credible, rather than demonstrating

insanity, only from the mouth of one who was indeed and in fact




God's sole agent in the universe's creation. In the Prologue the work

of the Logos is in the abstract; in the "I Am" sayings it takes on flesh

and becomes personal.

            While some may argue that the "I Am" sayings really mean no

more than an emphatic first person self-identification, the usage of "I

Am" in John 8:58 demands more. Jesus answered in reply to a question

from the Jews about whether he had seen Abraham, "Before Abraham

was (en), I am (ego eimi)." This writer concurs with Guthrie's analysis

of this staggering passage:39

            The force of the absolute use of 'I am' here must be gauged against the

            absolute use of the phrase in John 8:24 and 13:19. This usage cannot be

            explained by parallels in the synoptic gospels (e.g., Mk. 6:50; Mt. 14:26)

            where the phrase represents a simple affirmative. John 6:20 seems to be a

            parallel Johannine example of this. Another occurrence which is probably

            of the same type is John 18:5, although some have seen it as evidence of

            a divine claim because of the dramatic action of those who had come to

            arrest Jesus. Yet the contrast between the en (was) applied to Abraham

            and the ego eimi here must be seen as linked with the name for Yahweh

            revealed in Exodus 3 and with the absolute use of 'I am' (‘ani hu) in

            Isaiah 46:4. It must be noted that when the form of words used in this

            latter passage occurs elsewhere in the OT (Dt. 32:39; Is. 43:10), it is

            attributed to God as speaker, followed by words which express his

            uniqueness. There seems little doubt, therefore, that the statement of

            8:58 is intended to convey in an extraordinary way such exclusively

            divine qualities as changelessness and pre-existence. The divine implica-

            tion of the words would alone account for the extraordinary anger and

            opposition which the claim immediately arouse.


            The implications of such a statement were not lost on G. K.


            Right in the middle of all these things stands up an enormous exception

            . . . It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of

            the world has visited his world in person. It declares that really and even

            recently, or right in the middle of historic times, there did walk into the

            world this original invisible being; about whom the thinkers make theories

            and the mythologists hand down myths; the Man Who Made the World.

            That such a higher personality exists behind all things had indeed always

            been implied by the best thinkers, as well as by all the most beautiful

            legends. But nothing of this sort had ever been implied in any of them. It

            is simply false to say that the other sagas and heroes had claimed to be

            the mysterious master and maker, of whom the world had dreamed and

            disputed. Not one of them had ever claimed to be anything of the sort.


            39 Guthrie, New Testament Theology, 332.

            40 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908) 93.




The most that any religious prophet had said was that he was the true

servant of such a being. The most that any primitive myth had ever

suggested was that the Creator was present at the Creation. But that the

Creator was present. . . in the daily life of the Roman Empire--that is

something utterly unlike anything else in nature. It is the one great

startling statement that man has made since he spoke his first articulate

word, instead of barking like a dog. make nothing but dust and

nonsense of comparative religion.


                                                VII. Miscellaneous



            John makes it clear that the Logos took on real flesh--true hu-

manity. He wearied physically on trips (4:6), thirsted (4:7; 19:28),

wept (11:33-35), prepared fish (21:9) and died on the cross. There is

no docetism in John's gospel. He affirms that Jesus Christ was fully

God and fully man. While He was fully man He was nevertheless

sinless. "Which of you convicts me of sin?" Jesus remonstrated (8:44).

If Jesus were not sinless, claims such as "I am the light of the world"

would not only provide evidence for His emotional imbalance but

would betray a megalomanic arrogance indescribable. Jesus said he

reflected the will of God in His person and work (10:37f; 14:10-11;

14:31; 15:10; 17:4). If He was a sinner, how could He have truthfully

claimed to be one with the Father (10:30, 17:22)?



            The title God is used of Jesus Christ in two places: The Prologue

(John 1:1 and 1:18 which have already been discussed) and John 20:28

where Thomas exclaims: "My Lord and my God!" The Gospel that

begins with the affirmation Jesus is God ends with the same ringing




            An examination of the sparse usage of Lord (Kyrios) in John

reveals a non-theological usage before the resurrection (4:1; 6:23; 11:2)

and a theological usage afterwards (chaps 20 and 21). In the latter

case, Thomas' confession, it is significantly linked with God.



            The background for John's use of Messiah is intensely Hebraic. In

John 1:41 and 4:25 both the original Aramaic form and the Greek

translation are given. Another occasion for its use is Andrew's declara-

tion to Peter, "We have found the Messiah" (1:41). Then Philip de-

clares to Nathanael, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law




and also the prophets wrote." Here again Messiahship was understood

against an OT background. In the confession of Martha in 11:27,

Messiah is coupled with the formula "Son of God" (one finds it again

in 20:31). The Messiahship John presents is qualified in such a way

that would exclude a political understanding. On another occasion

Jesus explicitly rejected such an understanding (6:15 when the people

wanted to make Jesus an earthly king). John corrected some popular

views of Messiahship (7:27 that he had a secret origin and 7:34, that he

would continue forever without death at all), but squarely asserted

that He was a kingly (but not political) Messiah.41 The basic teaching

of John's gospel is that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. He corrected

current false understandings and interpretations of messianic expecta-

tions and replaced them with a new higher spiritual sense which is

understandable only in the context of Incarnate Logos and Father/Son

filial relationship.




            From the time of John to this present hour the high doctrine of

the Incarnation has been under attack. The Ebionites and docetists

attempted to supplant it in the 2nd century. In the 4th century Arius

argued that there was a time when the Logos was not, that the Second

Person of the Godhead was a created being. In the decision of the

Council of Nicea, the church universal affirmed the Incarnation. In

A.D. 318 in his brilliant, historic and still relevant treatise, De Incar-

natione Verbi Dei (On the Incarnation of the Word of God), the

nineteen year old Egyptian deacon Athanasius emphasized that the

love of God was manifested in the Incarnate Logos' supreme sacrifice.

He argued correctly that if the Son is a creature, he would need

redemption Himself. Only God could bring salvation. At one time it

looked as if the doctrine of the Incarnation would be jettisoned in the

interest of maintaining peace within Christendom. "The world is

against you," they shouted at Athanasius. He retorted flashing his

black eyes, "If the world is against Athanasius, then Athanasius is

against the world." Five times he was banished from the empire for

holding firm to this doctrine of the Incarnation. His heritage to the


            41 See Nathanael's confession of Jesus being "King of the Jews" in 1:49; the

triumphal entry in 12:13 more than anything emphasizes the kingly nature of Jesus'

messiahship. The onlookers hailed Him as "king of Israel." Standing before Pilate at His

trial provides another clear opportunity to assert the kingship theme in connection with

the concept of Messiah. For a good discussion on why there appears to be no "Messianic

secret” in John, see S. Smalley, John: Evangelist & Interpreter (Greenwood, S.C.: Attic,

1978) 217f.; and Guthrie, New Testament Theology, 243f.




church universal was to pass on to subsequent generations the doctrine

of the Incarnation intact. Chesterton captures the high drama and

theological implications of this issue.42

            There had arisen in that hour of history, defiant above the democratic

            tumult of the Councils of the Church, Athanasius against the world. We

            may pause upon the point at issue; because it is relevant to the whole of

            this religious history, and the modern world seems to miss the whole

            point of it. We might put it this way. If there is one question which the

            enlightened and liberal have the habit of deriding and holding up as a

            dreadful example of barren dogma and senseless sectarian strife, it is this

            Athanasian question of the Co-Eternity of the Divine Son. On the other

            hand, if there is one thing that the same liberals always offer us as a piece

            of pure and simple Christianity, untroubled by doctrinal disputes, it is

            the single sentence, "God is love."

                 Yet the two statements are almost identical; at least one is very

            nearly nonsense without the other. The barren dogma is the only logical

            way of stating the beautiful sentiment. For if there be a being without

            beginning, existing before all things, was He loving when there was

            nothing to be loved? H through the unthinkable eternity He is lonely,

            what is the meaning of saying He is love? The only justification of such a

            mystery is the mystical conception that in His own nature there was

            something analogous to self-expression; something of what begets and

            beholds what it has begotten. Without some such idea, it is really illogical

            to complicate the ultimate essence of deity with an idea like love. If the

            moderns really want a simple religion of love, they must look for it in the

            Athanasian Creed. The truth is that the trumpet of true Christianity, the

            challenge of the charities and simplicities of Bethlehem or Christmas

            day, never rang out more arrestingly and unmistakably than in the

            defiance of Athanasius to the cold compromise of the Arians. It was

            emphatically he who really was fighting for a God of love against a God

            of colourless and remote cosmic control; the God of the stoics and the

            agnostics. It was emphatically he who was fighting for the Holy Child

            against the grey deity of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He was

            fighting for that very balance of beautiful interdependence and intimacy,

            in the very Trinity of the Divine Nature, that draws out hearts to the

            Trinity of the Holy Family, His dogma, if the phrase be not misunder-

            stood, turns even God into a Holy Family.


            During the Reformation, Socianism attempted to repeat the old

christological heresies. In the present day there are clear indications

that the christological battle of the ancient church needs to be fought

all over again. Major theologians and ecclesiastical leaders have made

a concerted drive to route the doctrine of the Incarnation from Chris-

tendom. Klaas Runia in his book The Present-Day Christological


            42 G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 232-33.



Debate chronicles this attack on the Incarnation.43 A removal of the

doctrine of the Incarnation destroys the doctrine of the Trinity and

ultimately affects all other major doctrines. J. Macquarrie in his review

of The Myth of God Incarnate, the volume that began the most recent

vigorous attack on the Incarnation, said: "Christian doctrines are so

closely interrelated that if you take away one, several others tend to

collapse. After incarnation is thrown out, is the doctrine of the Trinity

bound to go? What kind of doctrine of atonement remains possible?"44

            The absolute uniqueness of Jesus is dependent upon His Incarna-

tion. H. P. Owen observes that "if he (Jesus) was God incarnate and if

the Incarnation was unrepeatable he must have been absolutely

unique. Similarly the only absolutely unique element in Christianity--

the only thing that distinguishes it wholly from all other religion--is

the belief that the Creator became man in one figure of history. This

point has been well made thus by J. A. Baker:45

            The one totally new thing which Christianity brought into the world was

            the belief, hammered out over the first four-and-a-half centuries of its

            existence, that in Jesus of Nazareth God had been living a genuine

            human life. Other religions had gods walk the earth incognito, or had

            proclaimed the divinization of some hero or sage. Christianity alone took

            a historical person and said, "Here in this human personality, with all the

            limitations and suffering of our human condition, was the eternal God,

            the Cause and Origin of all that is". As defined in all its classical rigour

            this is the unique feature of the Christian religion, its only valid claim to

            separate existence. A God of goodness, a Creator who cares, it shares

            with Judaism, and philosophical theism. A man who truly reflects the

            nature of the divine is no new thing to the Hindu or the Baha'i. A

            divinely inspired prophet, even one miraculously born, is acceptable to

            Islam. The Spirit of God indwelling man and guiding and strengthening

            their lives is a religious commonplace. Divine food received in a sacra-

            mental meal is Zoroastrian; ritual washings and initiation rites are found

            universally. Islam holds fast to judgment, heaven and hell; Judaism to

            repentance, amendment, and God's merciful pardon. At every point

            accommodation is possible save at this one: this unique claim about Jesus,

            with its undergirding in the doctrine of the Holy Blessed and Undivided

            Trinity. If this goes then the end of Christianity as an independent entity

            cannot be indefinitely delayed. No Incarnation, no Christianity.


            43 K. Runia, The Present-Day Christological Debate (Downers Grove: InterVar-

sity, 1984).

            44 Green, Michael, ed., The Truth of God Incarnate (Hodder, 1977), 144.

            45 The quote from Bishop John Baker is from a speech made at King's College,

London, in 1974 and quoted in Owen, Christian Theism, 49.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College; 

4010 Gaston Ave.  Dallas, TX   75246


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: