18 April 2013

Stumbling Block... Foolishess

I was privileged to teach the Open Door Class at  Southwest Central Church of Christ last Sunday. This blog summarizes some of my preparation and most of what we discussed in class.

Beginning just after Thanksgiving and continuing through Easter, the class explored some of the writings of the early church fathers.  http://readthefathers.org/  Our current study of the the Gospel of John was selected because class members noted the frequency with which these writers cited the gospel of John.

The Prologue of John 1:1-18.


The Gospel was written near the end of John's life which tradition dates at 97 or 98 A.D. Fragments of John's gospel are the oldest extant New Testament text and date from 120 - 150 A.D. 
     John     circa   6 - 100 A.D.
Polycarp        65 - 155 A.D.  
 Irenaeus      125 -202 A.D .      

Since Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was said to be  a disciple of the Apostle John and since he was also the teacher of Irenaeus, it is not surprising that John's Gospel was frequently quoted by these early Christian writers.  At the end of the First Century, John in his gospel was already as concerned with refuting heresy as Irenaeus would be almost 100 years later.  John's gospel has more in common with the Pauline epistles and the Second Century writings of the church fathers than with the other three biblical (synoptic) gospels. How is John's gospel different?  The Gospel of John:

  •  is not focused on "the kingdom of God" but on the person of Jesus Christ
  • does not include parables but instead focuses on the "signs" of Jesus' creative power
  • is not a chronological narrative of Jesus' life but a highly structured presentation of Jesus' assertions of "I am"
  • is not a biography of Jesus but a theological/Christological argument supporting his divinity and eternal existence
  • proclaims "Christ crucified" and addresses the objections of both Jew and Greek
1 Corinthians 1:23
  "...Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness..."
The book is written in very simple Greek, the common language of the First Century world. Although the language is simple, the structure of the book is complex. The structure of the Prologue which provides a key to understanding that of the book is a regular chiastic structure.

In fact, the entire book of John is organized as a chiasmus with the first half offering seven signs of the divinity of Christ and his work on earth (a New Creation) in chapters 2-12:6:15. The chiastic center is 6:16-21 which addresses Exodus themes, and the center of that section is Jesus' statement:
"do not be afraid, it is I AM" who brings the disciples to safety.
The second half of the book again offers seven points presenting events surrounding Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, the renewal of life, glory.
[At Southwest Central, a couple of decades ago,  Michael Tucker was teaching the book of John as chiasmus, based on a wonderful book:
Peter F. Ellis: The Genius of John. A Composition-Critical Commentary on the Fourth Gospel. His notes for that study are an important resource for our current study.
At the same time, in my study of Hebrew poetics, I came across references to "ring" and "nesting" and "chiastic" structures in the Pauline letters just as David and I were preparing to teach Ephesians. We taught Ephesians exactly like Michael taught John. We started at the beginning and the end and worked toward the middle. The illustration we used to explain the structure was Russian nesting dolls. Minus the prologue, John and Ephesians share an almost identical structure. Coincidence? I think not. John has strong ties to Ephesus.]

Key words in John's Gospel:
word (logos), life, light,
believe [40 times!],
world, children of God, flesh,
truth, grace,
                                                     glory [35 times of the 185 times in the N.T.]

Logos   Logos   Logos   Logos

                            In the beginning
 was the Word                                                       [logos]
and the Word                                                        [logos]
                     was with God,                                               [theos]
and the Word                                                        [logos]
                           was fully God.                                         [theos]
The Word                                                              [logos]
                    was with God                                              [theos]
                       in the beginning.

Here in the first verses (John 1:1-2) the writer announces his theme with three key words: beginning, logos, and theos. John writes theos - logos e.g. theology. These verses also reflect a poetic structure: ABBCBCBCA. This structure emphasizes "the Word" "in the beginning" and proclaims the eternal, pre-Creation (addressed in the the third verse) existence of Logos. The phrase "with God" is literally "towards" "face-to-face" and speaks to personal relationship, intimacy, communication and "highlights the eternal unity" [Dizon] between God (theos) and Logos. This idea of intimate relationship is echoed in the last verse of the prologue:
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,
who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Logos  is found frequently in Hellenistic literature and was used by  Heraclitus,  who has been called "the philosopher of Ephesus," [Ephesus!] around 500 B.C.E. The Stoics used Heraclitian physics as the basis for their own.
[I first came across the name in the title of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, That Nature is a Heraclitian Fire and the Comfort of the Resurrection in which the poet follows John's example of rejecting death and darkness through the person of Jesus.]

The Stoic school of philosophy used logos as a technical term for immanent reason, the principle by which  all things came into existence, "the divine Fire which permeates reality"  and the "spark" which enabled human reason and enlightened human ethics. Note that this use of logos is predicated on a principle or philosophy. It is profoundly impersonal.

[Although Plato and Philo did not form part of our discussion, the class did note that the extension of this philosophy gave rise to many of the heresies against which Irenaeus argued. The class noted that these Greek philosophic arguments are foundational to Modern and Post-Modern atheists.]

When Hellenistic Jews translated Hebrew scripture into Greek, they sought a word for  the creative power of God's speech, "the word of God."  Not surprisingly, they chose  logos.
"In the beginning... God said, "Let there be..." and John's prologue opens in purposeful imitation of that "In the beginning...."
John asserts and Hebrew scripture agrees that The Word is not created; The Word creates. Through The Word all things come into existence. To the Jews, God speaks the "Ten Words" upon which the ethical foundation of Israel rests. God speaks Torah and enlightened Israel proclaims, "Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." In Jewish thought, Torah is the Light of the World.  However, this speaking God, who may be heard in Torah and by the Prophets, cannot be seen. Logos in the writings of Hebrew Scripture is not a person.

[Jesus will claim that title: "I AM the Light of the World." The incarnational Jesus supercedes Torah.]

[The class did not explore these scriptures but citations of Hebrew Scripture relevant for the study of John's Prologue include:
Genesis 1; Genesis 2:7-9; Genesis 3:22; Exodus 32:18; Exodus 33; Exodus 40:34;Deuteronomy 14:1; II Samuel 5:2; I Kings 8:11; Psalm 13:3: Psalm 27:1; Psalm 56:13; Psalm 89:15; Psalm 33:9, 12; Psalm 82:6; Psalm 86: 15, Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Proverbs 8:22-31; Proverbs 29-30; Isaiah 1:3; Isaiah 6:5; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 40:1-2; Isaiah 42:6;Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 37:37; Ezekiel 43:7;  Ezekiel 44:4; Hosea 1:10; Hosea 11:1; Joel 2:13; Joel 3:17; Zechariah 2:10]

In the glorious prologue to the gospel of John and in the unpacking and repacking of the chiastic structure of the book, the writer takes this word logos spoken by all the philosophers in the market places and by all the rabbis in the synagogues and makes Logos--the creating and revealing Word of both Greek and Jew--profoundly personal. Like the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians, John argues that in Jesus is "all the fullness of Deity" and that Jesus, "the One and Only," is the source of Life and Light, "the true light that enlightens everyone," both Jew and Greek.

[I dare to hope that my eyes, that our eyes, that all eyes be enlightened by "the true light" of John's gospel and come to know, as Paul said to the church at Ephesus, "the multifaceted wisdom of God."]

The Word not only creates and reveals but John demonstrates the The Word also saves. The center of chiastic of the prologue, the writer's main point is:
The Word became flesh (incarnation) bringing life and light and "to all who received him...  to all who believed in his name... he gave the right to become children of God. "

I love word clouds. The one at the top of this post was made using:

Here is a link to another word cloud that I made:


Resources not previously cited:
by Richard Van Egmond
McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 
Saeculum Undergraduate Academic Journal, Vol.7,  No. 1 (2011)