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2.1 John -- The Birth of Jesus

Jn 1:1-18. In contrast to Matthew and Luke, John gives no genealogy of Jesus which would link him with his Jewish past. In contrast with Mark, who has no birth narrative at all, John describes the origins of the cosmic Christ by recapitulating Gen 1:1:

         In the beginning God created...
         In the beginning was the Word...

         This divine Word (logos) was with God and participated in the creation of all things. He then entered into his own creation, took on human form, "dwelt among us," and made known to us the unseen Father.


What has become of the patriarchs, the Exodus, the entire sacred history of Israel? There is one dismissive reference:

        For the law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (Jn 1:17).


        Even the first mention of John the Baptist is shorn of all context: he was merely "a man sent from God" "to bear witness." In this Introduction to his Gospel, John is harking back to the first 10 chapters of Genesis, before the Bible changed its focus from all humanity to one family, the descendants of Abraham. This is a radical change in the language of Scripture: John used terms that were familiar to the non-Jewish contemporary thoughtworld. For example, compare John 1 with this passage from his near contemporary, Philo of Alexandria:

        "For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns" (de Confusione Linguarum ("The Confusion of Tongues", 16.63).

John does not define his terms for his audience, his book is not a philosophical exposition, like the works of Philo or the later Plotinus. It is an interpretative biography: the divine wisdom of the philosophers is HERE, among us, he has taken on flesh -- not just human form (a disguise), but real flesh and blood. This the philosophers would never have allowed -- nature and spirit were opposed to one another. John takes the language of the philosophers and changes their meanings. The Word is also the true light and the life. He is full of grace and truth, and reveals his glory to men. His fullness bestows grace upon us. To the Greeks these terms pointed to an ideal, transcendent, unseen universe; for John, they corresponded to tangible realities: "We have seen his glory." It is a mistake to think that John was promoting a form of Platonism or mental mysticism, comparable to the rival Gnostics. This was not John's purpose at all, rather the opposite: he was undercutting the mystery religions and their false absolutes. The purpose of his gospel is to present Jesus as the fulfilment not just of the Jewish traditional hopes, but of those of the Gentiles as well. His intent was that the reader would become "a child of God" through a revelation of the living Word:

        To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (Jn 1:12).

This reworking of the Jewish redemption story into Greek-Roman concepts tore down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. The holy things of Judaism were no longer hidden away behind a language barrier.


Moreover, this "true light" "enlightens every man" Jn 1:9. There it is, right at the start of the book. There is no drama of "will the Jews accept Jesus as Messiah or not? Will the Gospel be preached to Gentiles?" Bam -- John settles it: the Jews rejected the true light -- "his own did not receive him." But ALL who receive him can become God's children. From the very start of the book, the Way is wide open for Gentiles. John 1:12 is the Emancipation Proclamation of the NT.

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