Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Pentateuchal Framework and Christology of the Fourth Gospel

The interesting thing about the Gospel of John is that it presents Jesus as YHWH of the Pentateuch. It does not present Him as a different God, a kindlier, more accommodating God, than that of the Pentateuch, but rather the God of the Pentateuch, along with the Father and the Spirit.

Hence, it begins with the same words with which the Pentateuch begins: Ἐν ἀρχῇ "in the beginning" (both in Genesis and in John there is no article on ἀρχῇ).

We are then told that the Son is the one through whom all things were made, and that nothing was made apart from Him.

John uses a priority argument to say that the Son is the preexistent Logos upon which the Law is based, and so the Word of the Law is based upon the Word of God, the Son. The Law was revealed through Moses, but grace and truth, and the Father Himself, is revealed more fully through the Son. It is not that the text is contrasting the Law and the Word, therefore, but Moses and the Word, and the necessity of the Son, as YHWH, to put the Law in the context of what He now reveals.

We then see a discussion that presents John the Baptist,a prophet of prophets, and Elijah come again, as far below Christ.

In Chapter 2, Jesus turns water into wine as God turned the waters of Egypt into blood. Wine represents blood in the Gospel.

We then see Him on a mountain arguing for the Sinai Theology of the Pentateuch (a theology that runs throughout the Gospel of John) that it is not through a physical image, or in this case, place through which God is worshiped, but through Spirit and truth. Hence, God must be worshiped through His Word, and this is why Jesus is called the "Word" and His body is referred to as the temple back in Chapter 2. The tabernacle in the Pentateuch houses the 10 Commandments, the Law, i.e., that which represents in Second Temple Judaism the whole of the Word of God. Hence, as the tabernacle/moveable temple housed the word, the Son becoming flesh is referred to in Chapter 1 as the Word "tabernacling" among men.

We are told that He is like the serpent that is lifted up in the wilderness to heal those afflicted.

Christ then tells us that He has come to set the slaves free, but whoever the Son sets free will be absolutely free, not just in the physical sense, as were the slaves in Egypt.

He then tells us that He is the manna from heaven. And, unlike the manna that fell from heaven that only nourished people for a moment, He is the eternal manna.

He then tells the Jews that Moses would have believed in Him because he spoke of Him, a reference likely to all of the Pentateuch, not just a couple prophecies therein.

After this, Christ reveals Himself to have seen Abraham, the primary patriarch for Israel in the Pentateuch, and refers to Himself with the phrase, I AM, indicating, again, that He is YHWH of the Pentateuch, who spoke to Moses in the Wilderness.

The commandment to love one another, a commandment given in the Pentateuch, is emphasized as the great commandment Christ leaves His people, and one that must be obeyed by adhering to His words. By His words abiding in us, He abides in us. Hence, it is the words He speaks that are spirit and life, His words are eternal life, His words are the words of the Father and the Father's Word is truth that cleanses, the Spirit is the Spirit of truth and will speak and convict the world of Christ's words, etc. Hence, Pentateuchal theology and motifs are used to show that the Son is YHWH and He must be known through what He speaks, as YHWH must be worshiped through what He spoke in the Law.

So while Jesus reveals more to us, He does so for us to understand what He has already revealed, not as a way to negate what came before. He is YHWH of the Pentateuch, not a different religion. He is the Word that creates and gives life. The Father, who is God, testifies of Him and the Spirit, who is God, witnesses to Him. From before creation, in the beginning, to the miracles of Egypt, from the setting of the people free to the mountain and wilderness, and finally to the revealing of God through the Law, Jesus is YHWH come in the flesh, and unless we believe that He is I AM, we will die in our sins. But he who eats of this manna will never go hungry again.


  1. Just out of interest, how historical (in the 'real-time' sense of the word) do you take Jesus' speeches in John's gospel to be?

  2. I would take them all as historical, simply because I don't have any reason to say that they are not. It isn't necessary, of course, to believe they are historical in the sense that Jesus said them on earth, simply because the presentation of Christ is from the Spirit of Christ, and is therefore, an anthology of Christ's witness to Himself anyway. But I would take what is said therein as historical, covering teachings or emphases that the Synoptic witness either doesn't cover or moves over quickly.

    I'll give you an example. John records the conversation about Christ speaking of His body as the temple that He will raise up in three days. That conversation is nowhere to be found in the Synoptics, so one might think John just filled that in, according to ancient practice, to present Jesus as the Word who is tabernacled among men.
    However, in Matthew 26:61 // Mark 14:58, the Jewish leaders allude to the conversation.
    Now, it could be that John just incorporates this tradition into his Gospel, but it's ironic that it happens to fit into the entire theology and framework with which John is arguing. It is also interesting that he doesn't change the terminology from temple to tabernacle to fit his Pentateuchal theme better. There are quite a few instances like this that would give me pause in suggesting that John's presentation of Christ is not actually from the mouth of Christ in His earthly ministry; but, again, it isn't necessary to see the text as truly the words of Christ that paint a self portrait of Christ as YHWH of the Pentateuch.

    1. Okay. So take the 'I am' sayings - are you basically saying that you don't see it as a problem if they are examples of post-resurrection theologizing, but you see no reason to be believe Jesus actually said them?

    2. *not to believe Jesus actually said them?

  3. I think the Christology of John is taught in the other Gospels, so Christ's presentation of Himself as YHWH is clearly what He taught in His earthly ministry. However, whether the I AM sayings are a part of the Spirit's framing of that teaching in that way through John, or is a part what Christ literally said would make little difference to me in terms of what is true concerning Christ's witness to Himself.
    However, it seems very clear that one of the reasons Christ is crucified and hated by the Jewish leaders is His claim to be the divine Messiah, so the picture in John is historical, even if not literal.
    But as I said before, I would have no reason to believe it wasn't also literally what Christ said in His earthly ministry.