Friday, February 10, 2012

The Priority Argument in John's Prologue

This is another installment of what I've been working on in my thesis. Today I'm discussing John's use of the priority argument (PA) in his presentation of Christ. Remember, these are only VERY rough drafts.

What has been observed thus far is that priority arguments are employed to function as trump cards in an argument for authority. Whatever institution of God precedes a certain practice or source of authority has more authority than what follows it. In the case of the Mosaic law code, Paul’s argument from Abraham (whether in Galatians or Romans) stems from this idea that the covenant made with Abraham precedes the covenant handed down through Moses, and therefore, the covenant made with Abraham is the more authoritative grid through which Jewish believers ought to interpret the gospel. Abraham is the beginning of God’s covenant with His people, not Moses.[1]
What is significant about this, as I have noted in the previous chapter, is that Paul is at odds with Judaism at this point, which makes the argument that the Torah precedes even the creation of the world. Here, Paul’s argument takes only the biblical material into account, and follows that timeline, rather than the speculative timeline concerning the Torah in contemporary Jewish interpretation.
However, addressing the issue of a pre-cosmic Torah is something John takes up in his Gospel; but to provide some background to the discussion it is important to first look at what Judaism taught concerning the pre-existence of the Torah.

Preexisting Wisdom

In its effort to find precedence for the observances of the law over the Hellenistic practices that were being forced upon it, Second Temple Judaism looked to a very interesting statement about wisdom found in Proverbs:

"The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old.
"From everlasting I was established,[2]
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
"When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
"Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth; 
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world. 
"When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary,
So that the water should not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, [as] a master workman;
And I was daily [His] delight,
Rejoicing always before Him, 
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And [having] my delight in the sons of men. (8:22–31)

Whatever this wisdom was, it already existed with God before the cosmos was made,[3] and hence, it did not take long for Jewish interpreters, perhaps based upon texts such as Jeremiah 10:12–13,[4] to see wisdom as the means through which God made the world, i.e., His spoken words in Genesis 1, which are also apart of the Torah.
Hence, in Wisdom of Solomon, wisdom is said to coexist with God and function as an “associate in His works” (Wisd 8:3–4 NRA). The word for “associate” here is  ai(reti_j, which denotes one who is a decision maker in the process of selection.[5]
Hence, wisdom, which preceded all things, began to be seen as the means through which God made the world.

In Hymn to the Creator (11QPSa), its says that God established the world through His wisdom. In Second Enoch, we are told that God commanded His wisdom to create mankind (30:8), which displays both the association but also the distinction of wisdom here from God.[6]
Distinction is also seen in the statement found in Wisdom of Solomon:

"O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy,  who have made all things by your word,  and by your wisdom have formed humankind  to have dominion over the creatures you have made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness,  and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by your throne,  and do not reject me from among your servants.” (9:1–4)

Here, wisdom is both the means by which God creates the world and is something that “sits by” His throne.
In the mind of Second Temple Jewish interpreters, who find every detail of Scripture to be significant, such an idea can even be traced back to the Book of Proverbs itself: “YHWH, through wisdom, founded the earth, by understanding, He established the heavens” (3:19). If YHWH founds the earth through wisdom, so they reasoned, then wisdom is not merely identified with God, but also something distinct from Him. Anyone reading the Targums of Genesis 1 would also see a direct link:

With wisdom, God did create and perfect the earth (Gen 1:1, Fragment Targum)

In the beginning, with wisdom, God did create . . . (Gen 1:1, Targum Neophyti)

Hence, with Scripture interpreting Scripture, the Targums reflect a deeply rooted understanding of this concept within Judaism. This idea of wisdom existing as the pre-existing means through which God made the cosmos was no mere tangential identification made by certain sects, but seems almost universal by the time one encounters first century Judaism. This also allowed Jewish interpreters to see the references to the second person plural “Us” statements that seem to refer to God. The question became, To whom does the “us” refer? Of course, if wisdom is seen as both identification with and in distinction from God, the first person plural is justified. Hence, there are specific references to wisdom forming man specifically, as that is where God uses the first person plural in the first creation pericope.[7]

So wisdom became the associate of God in creation that joined Him in His work. Judaism then looked for any indication of this in the creation account, and found the presence of wisdom in God’s spoken word. Hence, Philo associates the Logos as divine wisdom that accompanied God.
As Barrett noted, “no consistent doctrine of the Logos can be drawn from his [Philo’s] writings,”[8] however, it is clear that “Philo’s Logos, broadly speaking, takes the place that Sophia had occupied in earlier Hellenistic Judaism, and in particular exercises a cosmological function.”[9] Barrett also notes that Judaism’s normal trajectory was to identify Sophia as Torah, although such an observation seems to be based on documents from later Judaism. Even though this concept is only found in later literature, it is possible that these later documents reflect an earlier tradition. Here, Sophia is Logos, which has the idea of an ideal or prototypical entity from which copies on earth are made but never quite capture in and of themselves.[10]
What is important here is to note that a divergent stream of tradition existed between the identification of preexisting Sophia as the Logos and the identification of Sophia as the Torah. This becomes an important observation in John’s use of the PA.

Judaism’s Identification of Sophia as Torah

Judaism’s quest to create a PA that bolstered the authority of the Torah over Hellenistic ideas eventually blossomed into the idea that it was created, not only before other pagan systems of thought, but even before the world.

Seven things were created before the world, and these are they: the Torah, repentance, the garden of Eden, Gehenna, the heavenly throne, the temple, and the name of the messiah. (b. Pesah9im 54a)

They were given the precious instrument by which the world was created, as it is said, “For I have given you good teaching, do not abandon my Torah.” (m. Abot 3:14)

These things, along with the Torah, preceded the world by two thousand years. (Ps 90:3 in Midrash on Psalms)

This idea is reflected later in Genesis Rabba, where wisdom is once again identified as the “beginning” of God’s creation. Hence, Torah is the beginning.

Then I was beside Him as an artisan . . .” The Torah is thus saying, “I was the instrument of God’s workmanship.” When a king wishes to build a palace, he usually does not himself design it, but relies on a builder, and even the builder does not simply build it on his own, but he has blueprints and diagrams in order to know how he will make the chambers and little doors. Just so did God look into the Torah and create the world. So the Torah says, “In the beginning  God created . . .” for the word “beginning” means the Torah, as it says, “God created me, the beginning of His work.” (1:1)

One may notice, however, that the works in which this idea is present are quite late. This move by Judaism, from seeing Torah as created at the beginning of the world and first given to Jacob (Jub 2:17–20;[11] Bar 3:32–4:1), may be in response to, rather than precede, the Christian identification of Christ as the divine Sophia.[12] However, those later texts may, in fact, preserve a divergent stream of thought found within earlier Judaism.

The Nature of the Logos in John’s Prologue and the Use of the Priority Argument

Both in John 1:1–2 and in 17:5, the Son is portrayed in terms of existing before the world was, and as the instrument through which God made the cosmos.

In order to identify the nature of the Logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel, one must take the entire Gospel into account. Throughout the Gospel, the Son is identified as the truth, who reveals the glory of the Father, who has words of eternal life, who gives commandments, etc.; but his body is called the tabernacle or temple. He also calls himself the true manna, compares Himself to the serpent who is lifted up, is presented to us as the Passover lamb, and tells the Jews that Moses testified of Him. All of these point directly to the Sinai covenant.
It seems then that Jesus is presented in the Gospel of John as the incarnation of God’s prototypical wisdom, who co-created the cosmos, was displayed within the events at Sinai, and was reflected in the law. The statement within the prologue, found in verse 14, then, is not a contrast between Jesus and the law, but an understanding that Jesus is the truth through which favor is revealed. Hence, the law does reflect the Logos, it is a shadow and only serves an inferior role to Jesus, who is the truth Himself who brings salvation and grace. The law given to Moses was a revelation of God through the Logos, but it will always be inferior to the Logos Himself, since it is merely a manifestation and testimony to the Logos, whereas, now, the Logos, i.e., truth, Himself has been manifested in the flesh.
Hence, the argument that John is making is a priority argument that says that Jesus, as the Logos, predates the Torah, as the Torah is simply a witness to the Logos, but not the Logos Himself. The Torah was given through Moses, but the Logos, identified as God’s Sophia, is prototypical to all of Scripture, including the Torah. As such, Jesus can identify Himself both as the Word that dwelt in the form of Torah in the temple, and the one to whom the Torah testifies, as a shadow that testifies of the object that casts it. Hence, since Jesus precedes the covenants of the Old Testament, whether that of the Torah or the covenant made with Abraham and Jacob,[13] truth is purely manifested in Him as the prototype of these covenants, and His interpretation of them is not only superior to all others, but is also pure and unfiltered. Only the Father would have greater authority, and we are told throughout John’s Gospel that the Father is in full agreement with the Son, sent Him into the world, and speaks, teaches, and saves through Him.
Hence, Brooke’s observation that Jesus as “grace and truth” and the law delivered through Moses are not set in antithesis to one another, but instead, as Pilgaard puts it, “one of supersedence: not until now has the true content of the law been revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the Law’s personification.”[14] However, this can only be the case, as John has argued, because the Law itself was only a shadow of the divine Logos who preceded and gave form to the Torah. Now that the Logos Himself has come down from heaven, the shadow, i.e., the inferior testimony to God, must be interpreted in light of the truth itself, i.e., the superior testimony to God.[15] Again, therefore, the use of the PA helps one interpret whether John is merely saying that Jesus is a subsequent personification of Torah, or Torah is an inferior revelation of God than that of Jesus, precisely because Jesus is Himself the Logos incarnate. The PA indicates that John is arguing the latter, and as such, His revelation of God must interpret all lesser revelations that still exist as testimonies to God the Son, but could never reveal Him better than He is able to do so Himself.

[1] This may be the reason why discussions of Abraham and faith are brought up by James as well. First Peter also uses Sarah and Abraham as prototypical in his argument concerning the respectful conduct of women in relation to their husbands.
[2] This statement is echoed in Sir 24:9.
[3] Philo, On the Virtues 62: “Wisdom is older than the creation . . . of the whole universe.
[4] “[It is] He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens. When He utters His voice, [there is] a tumult of waters in the heavens . . .” Both wisdom as the means through which the earth was established and its association with what God speaks in order to work with the material cosmos can be seen in later Judaism’s understanding that wisdom and divine word are one and the same. See also Ps 104:24.
[5] LS 41; LEH 12.
[6] This may be an indication that the work is a product of the Christian identification of Christ as wisdom in the first century C.E.; however, cf. F. I. Andersen, “2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch, a new Translation and Introduction” in ed. James Charlesworth The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1 (1983), 94, who argues that it is a Jewish work.
[7] Wisd 9:1–2; 2 Enoch 30:8. cf. Apostolic Constitutions 7.34.6.
[8] C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to Saint John. 2d ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1978), 153.
[9] Ibid., 154.
[10] Ibid.
[11] The rationale of the author of Jubilees may be that some, or all, of the Torah was created at the making of the world because the Sabbath law is also created at that time. Hence, the Sabbath observance is a heavenly observance founded at creation. It may be, therefore, that the author saw the whole of Torah created at that time, for he notes that all godly men since that time have followed the Sabbath law.
[12] Cf. the many earlier New Testament examples that identify the Son as the Logos or Beginning or Sophia (John 1:1–18; 1 Cor 1:30; Col 1:18; Heb 1:8–10; Rev 3:14; 21:6; 22:13 ) as well as those found in Patristic sources (cf., for instance, Origen, On John 1:22). Kugel (Traditions of the Bible, 66, fn. 20) remarks that “with the development of the Trinity, Christians soon found a reference to it in the Genesis account as well: the Father was represented in the references to God, the Son in the word ‘beginning’ (that is, Wisdom), and the Holy Spirit in the ‘Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters’ (Gen. 1:2).”  Kugel (Ibid., 69) also cites a similar sounding passage to that found in Genesis Rabba in Philo, but it is clear that Philo is simply referring to the Platonic pattern of the world, not necessarily the Torah, as he never refers to the pattern as being “torah,” but rather identifies the ordering pattern of the world as the divine Logos (Philo, On the Creation 16–20).
[13] Aage Pilgaard, The Qumran Scrolls and John’s Gospel, 133–34.
[14] Ibid., 133.
[15] This is likely what is transpiring in John 5:39–40: 39  "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that  testify  about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” In other words, the way in which the Scriptures testify of Christ is that they are embodiments of Him, the divine Wisdom of God, the mind of the Son, who is equal to the Father (5:18), rather than this meaning that a bunch of messianic prophecies here and there in Scripture, but little else, gives testimony to Christ. Hence, John does not quote the Hebrew Bible nearly as much as the Synoptics, since it is in echoing the Scripture, especially the great themes of the Old Testament that embodies the truth of the Logos that he can display the way that the Scriptures all point to Christ as the Son of God/God the Son.

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