dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label Christology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christology. Show all posts

Friday 5 January 2024

Jesus Christ as True God in 1 John 5:20

1. Introduction
2. Syntactical Considerations
3. Contextual Considerations
 3.1. The True God in Scripture
 3.2. Jesus as "true," "life," and "God" in Johannine Literature
 3.3. The Unity of Father and Son in Johannine Literature
4. Conclusion

1. Introduction 

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

So reads 1 John 5:20-21 (NRSV). The final sentence of v. 20, however, immediately raises a question in the reader's mind: who is the true God and eternal life? The answer to this question is disputed among New Testament scholars. However, the majority view is that this statement is about Jesus. As Hills explains,
Considerations of grammar suggest that the οὗτος in 5:20f refers back to its immediate antecedent, i.e., to "Jesus Christ" in v 20e, and on this and other grounds the majority of modern scholars with more or less confidence holds that the statement "this is the true God and eternal life" is a christological affirmation.1
What are the considerations that lead most scholars to conclude that this statement is about Jesus? In this article we will look at the syntax of the verse and situate it against the broader context of 1 John and the other Johannine literature.

In Greek, following the NA28 critical text, 1 John 5:20 reads (with clause f in bold, and transliteration beneath),
οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἥκει καὶ δέδωκεν ἡμῖν διάνοιαν, ἵνα γινώσκωμεν τὸν ἀληθινόν, καὶ ἐσμὲν ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ, ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ. οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος. 
oidamen de hoti ho huios tou theou hēkei kai dedōken hēmin dianoian, hina ginōskōmen ton alēthinon, kai esmen en tō alēthinō, en tō huiō autou Iēsou Christō. houtos estin ho alēthinos theos kai zōē aiōnios.
The one significant textual variant is in 1 John 5:20c, where some manuscripts read hina ginōskōmen ton alēthinon theon ("so that we may know the true God" instead of "so that we may know the true one").

The question we seek to answer in this article boils down to identifying the referent of οὗτός (houtos). This is the proximal demonstrative pronoun, equivalent to "this" in English. It can be contrasted with ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos), the distal demonstrative pronoun, equivalent to "that" in English. "This" (like οὗτός) points out something proximal (close to the speaker), while "that" (like ἐκεῖνος) points out something distal (away from the speaker).

Greek demonstrative pronouns contain more information than English ones. οὗτός has a case (nominative) and gender (masculine) that provide clues to its meaning. The nominative case indicates that οὗτός is the subject of the sentence. The masculine gender indicates that the referent is either a male person ("this one") or a masculine noun (which, in Greek, could denote an impersonal thing, such as κόσμος [kosmos, "world"]). There are no impersonal masculine nouns that occur explicitly in the immediate context to which οὗτός could plausibly refer, which leaves us with three possibilities: either οὗτός refers to "the true one" (NRSV: "him who is true"), or it refers to "his Son Jesus Christ," or it refers to some unspecified thing ("this"), in which case οὗτός is masculine so that it agrees in gender with ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς.2 The third option is highly unlikely for two reasons: (i) it is unlikely that a monotheistic writer would be comfortable saying that any abstraction "is the true God," even if this is meant metaphorically (e.g., knowing the true one and his Son "is the true God"). (ii) Unlike the comparable statement in John 17:3, there is no explicit statement giving content to "this." Hence, we will limit our attention to the first two possibilities: that the subject of 1 John 5:20f is the Father or the Son.

It must be stressed either of these referents is possible, and therefore we have before us a syntactic ambiguity, which may have been deliberate or accidental on the author's part. That οὗτός is a proximal demonstrative supports the referent being the nearest antecedent, "his Son Jesus Christ" (as emphasised by Hills above). However, while the nearest antecedent of οὗτός is usually the referent (including in the Johannine writings), there are counterexamples. For instance, in John 4:47 ("This one, having heard that Jesus had come from Judea..."), οὗτός refers to a royal official, but its nearest antecedent is actually the official's ill son. 2 John 7 is another commonly cited counterexample.3 It should be noted that, in such counterexamples, the referent is generally made clear in the context.

In 1 John 5:20, "The Son of God" is also the subject of the preceding sentence ("And we know that the Son of God has come...") So the Son is more "proximal" with respect to the writer's use of οὗτός in two respects: he is the subject of the preceding sentence and he is the nearest antecedent noun.

Concerning the usage of οὗτός in Johannine literature, Greek grammarian Daniel B. Wallace points out,
The demonstrative pronoun οὗτός, in the Gospel and Epistles of John seems to be used in a theologically rich manner. Specifically, of the approximately seventy instances in which οὗτός has a personal referent, as many as forty-four of them (almost two thirds of the instances) refer to the Son. Of the remainder, most imply some sort of positive connection with the Son. What is most significant is that never is the Father the referent.4
It may be worth noting that, while God (the Father) is nowhere else referred to as "this one" (οὗτός) in the Gospel and Epistles of John, which Jesus commonly is, God is referred to several times using the distal demonstrative pronoun ἐκεῖνος ("that one": John 1:33; 5:19; 5:37; 5:38; 6:29; 8:42).5 This suggests that, due to the Father's transcendence, the writer may not be comfortable referring to the Father using a proximal demonstrative pronoun like οὗτός.

All biblical references to a "true God" (including 1 John 5:20-21) set this God in explicit or implicit contrast with idols or false gods. There are three such passages in the Greek Old Testament (2 Chronicles 15:3 cp. 15:8;6 Isaiah 65:15-16 LXX cp. 65:11;7 Wisdom of Solomon 12:27 cp. 12:24).8 This usage continues in the New Testament. Paul the Apostle commends the Thessalonian church, writing,
For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God (θεῷ ζῶντι καὶ ἀληθινῷ), and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 NRSV)
Coming to the Johannine literature, in Jesus' "high-priestly prayer" in the Gospel of John, he addresses the Father as "the only true God":
And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God (τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν), and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NRSV)
That Jesus refers to himself here in the third person as "Jesus Christ" (which is without parallel in the Gospels) may indicate that this statement reflects an confessional or liturgical formula used in the Johannine community.9 There is no explicit mention of idols or false gods in the context, but the word "only" (μόνος, monos) is an implicit polemic against any other claimants to deity. The adjective ἀληθινός (alēthinos) is also implicitly polemical; in the above passages, it probably means "genuine" or "real,"10 standing in contrast to other claimants to deity who are not genuine gods but counterfeits. The implicit polemic is similar to that in the more common biblical expression "living God."

Turning to the christological implications of the phrase "true God," both 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and John 17:3 name Jesus alongside the true God as one distinct from him. However, the statement of John 17:3 also equates eternal life with knowing both the only true God and Jesus Christ, which is remarkable. Would it be contradictory or complementary for the Johannine writer to call Jesus "the true God and eternal life" in 1 John 5:20, given what is written in John 17:3? Answering this question requires a review of Johannine christology, focusing on the terms "true," "life," and "God."

Jesus is referred to repeatedly using the adjective ἀληθινός in the Gospel of John. He is "the true light" (1:9); "the true bread from heaven" (6:32); "the true vine" (15:1). In the Book of Revelation—which, admittedly, most NT scholars attribute to a different author than the Gospel and Epistles of John—Jesus refers to himself as "the true one" (ὁ ἀληθινός, ho alēthinos) in 3:7 and is later identified in a vision as one called "Faithful and True" (πιστὸς καὶ ἀληθινός, pistos kai alēthinos) in 19:11.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is personally "the way and the truth and the life" (14:6) and "the resurrection and the life" (11:25). God is the ultimate source of life, but gave the Son to have life in himself and to give life to whomever he wishes (5:21; 5:26; 6:57). Jesus is the bread of life (6:48) and the living bread (6:51). In Revelation 1:18, Jesus identifies himself as "the living one" (ὁ ζῶν, ho zōn). Within 1 John, Jesus seems to be equated with "eternal life" in the somewhat oblique opening paragraph, which—in language reminiscent of John 1—says, "this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us" (1 John 1:2 NRSV).11 The Son is also identified with "life" in a kind of synonymous parallelism in 1 John 5:12: "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (NRSV).

Finally, Jesus is repeatedly called "God" (θεός, theos) in the Gospel of John. The Word—who is to be identified as Christ throughout the Prologue—is called θεός in the Gospel's opening verse: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1 NRSV). While θεός lacks the article here, its occurrence at the beginning of the clause (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, theos hēn ho logos) means that it should be understood emphatically (since word order in Greek is used for emphasis). The Word is God-with-God. The Word-Son is almost certainly called "God" again in John 1:18 (though there is a shadow of doubt on text-critical grounds). Jesus uses the stand-alone formula ἐγὼ εἰμί (egō eimi, "I am he") seven times in the Gospel (4:26; 6:20; 8:24; 8:28; 8:58; 13:19; 18:5-8). In light of the Isaianic background against which John frames these sayings (especially those in chapters 8 and 13), its meaning is tantamount to "I am God." This is because Jesus' use of this formula is modeled after God's use thereof in Isaiah 40-55 LXX, where God says "I am he" (ἐγὼ εἰμί) and "I am God" (ἐγὼ [εἰμί] ὁ θεὸς) interchangeably.12

Then, at the Gospel's climax, Thomas addresses the risen Jesus as "my Lord and my God" (John 20:28). This is probably meant to form an inclusio with the use of theos for the Word in John 1:1,13 so that the Gospel calls Christ "God" at the beginning and end of the Gospel.14 If so, the use of theos for Jesus in the Johannine literature is not incidental but a central theological claim. 

The magnitude of Thomas' confession is sometimes dulled in one of two ways: (i) it is claimed that theos is used here in an attenuated sense, or (ii) it is claimed that Thomas' words are not really addressed to Jesus as such but are a recognition that God is at work in him (cf. John 14:9-11).15 In favour of (i), it is pointed out that men are called "god/s" in Old Testament texts such as Exodus 7:1 and Psalm 82:6, the latter of which is cited by Jesus in this Gospel when defending himself against the charge of "making himself theos" (John 10:33-36). However, Jesus' argument in 10:34-36 is an a fortiori—if even mere men can be called "gods," how much more the Son of God—and thus does not imply an attenuation of theos as applied to Jesus. Furthermore, in these Old Testament texts it is God who assumes the prerogative to address men as "god/s." This is very different from a monotheistic Jew, Thomas, who knows that the Shema declares "the Lord our God, the Lord is one," addressing another man as "my God" (ὁ θεὸς μου, ho theos mou): literally, "the God of me." Interpretation (ii) is no more persuasive. Unlike John 14:9-11, where the declaration "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" is immediately qualified in terms of mutual indwelling, the Gospel does not qualify Thomas' confession in any way. Moreover, Jesus has been referred to as "Lord" five times already in the resurrection narrative, including once as "my Lord" (John 20:2, 13, 18, 20, 25), so it is improbable that "my Lord" is now directed to the Father. The idea that "my Lord" is addressed to the Son and "my God" to the Father-in-the-Son is untenable once one recognises that "my Lord and my God" is a liturgical formula of the form "my X and my Y" used repeatedly in the psalms, where both nouns X and Y always address the same person, God.16

To summarise, Jesus is called theos multiple times in the Gospel of John, and a close examination of John 20:28 reveals that he is personally addressed here as ho theos in the fullest sense of that term. To describe Jesus as "the true God and eternal life" in 1 John 5:20, therefore, would be consonant with, and not at all at odds with, the theology of the Fourth Gospel. As I. Howard Marshall writes, "it is fitting that at the climax of the Epistle, as at the beginning and climax of the Gospel (Jn. 1:1; 20:28), full deity should be ascribed to Jesus."17

By comparison, to describe the Father as "the true God" in 1 John 5:20 would of course also be consonant with Johannine theology (since the Father is called "the only true God" in John 17:3), but would also be somewhat redundant given that the Father has been called "the true one" twice already in this verse.18 To identify the Father as "eternal life" would be theologically appropriate, but less in keeping with Johannine parlance than to identify the Son with "eternal life." The Father is the ultimate source of life, to be sure, but only the Son is explicitly called "life" elsewhere in the Johannine corpus.

Before concluding, it is necessary to comment on a conundrum that arises if we accept the conclusion to which the syntactical and contextual evidence is pointing us, namely that 1 John 5:20f calls Jesus "the true God." How is it that the Father is "the only true God" and yet the Son is also "the true God"?

Of course, providing a definitive, philosophically precise answer to this question would take the Church more than three centuries. This is not our purpose here; we seek only to determine whether there are any proto-Trinitarian hints in the Johannine writings whereby the Father and the Son are identified as in one sense indistinct (and thus one) and in another sense distinct (and thus two).

Firstly, concerning the Gospel of John, there is the famous saying in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one,"19 which prompts Jesus' opponents to want to stone him for blasphemy, specifically for "making himself theos" (10:33). Multiple recent studies have emphasised the literary relationship between the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) and John 10:30.20 Lori A. Baron writes,
The significance of this declaration can hardly be overstated: the author invokes the word 'one' (ἕν [hen]) a key word in the Shema, explicitly locating Jesus's identity within the divine אחד [echad]... A potential objection to the idea that John has the Shema in mind here is that Deut 6:4 LXX uses the masculine εἷς [heis] to translate אחד [echad], whereas John employs the neuter ἕν [hen]. But this change is necessitated by grammatical considerations: in the Shema, εἷς [heis] is masculine singular as a predicate nominative of κύριος [kyrios]. εἷς [heis] would be awkward with a compound subject such as ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ [egō kai ho patēr], whereas ἕν [hen] is not awkward...The Evangelist...uses the neuter ἕν [hen], which expresses the idea of one entity. John 10:30 would thus be better translated: 'I and the Father are one thing,' a unity.21
She concludes that
While 'the Jews' understand Jesus’ words as a violation of the divine unity, which is embodied in the Shema, the Evangelist frames his Christology in a way that places Jesus within that unity.22
This notion that the Father and the Son, while distinct persons, are a unity—one God—explains why Jesus is repeatedly called "God" in the Gospel of John, but always in a way that distinguishes him from the Father and acknowledges the deity of the latter. The Word both was with God and was God (John 1:1). Jesus is the only-begotten God in the bosom of the Father (1:18). Thomas calls Jesus "my God" (20:28), but shortly before that, Jesus has described the Father to Mary Magdalene as "my God and your God" (20:17).

Coming to 1 John, scholars have identified a curious phenomenon whereby the author frequently uses verbs and pronouns that are either carelessly or deliberately ambiguous as to whether they are speaking about the Father or the Son.23 This likely means that, for the author, while the Father and the glorified Son remain distinct, they are "one" to such an extent that it is not important to clarify which one is in view at every turn.24 For Georg Strecker, "the Johannine idea of the unity of the Son with the Father" posited in John 10:30 "can be seen in 1 John in the interchangeability of the personal pronouns":25

For example, when the author says that "your sins are forgiven on account of his name" (1 John 2:12), is he referring to the name of God (last mentioned in v. 5) or that of Jesus Christ (last mentioned in v. 1)?26 Again, several pronouns in 3:1-6 and 3:16 seem to refer to Christ; however, Christ has not been mentioned explicitly since 2:24, while God is mentioned thrice in 3:1-2. Finally, in 1 John 5:14, the readers are instructed, "And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us" (NRSV). This "he" who answers prayer and gives life (as described further in vv. 15-16) seems to be the Son of God, who was the subject of v. 13. On the other hand, it would be more in line with biblical tradition to identify God as the addressee of prayer.

The vagueness seen in references to the Father and the Son in 1 John seems to be a putting into practice of the close unity declared in John 10:30: "Jesus is not saying that he and the Father are a single person, but that together they are one God."27 This would explain how the Johannine literature is seemingly comfortable with calling Jesus "the true God" despite his Father being "the only true God."

In view of the foregoing syntactical and contextual considerations, and the wider Johannine theme of the Father and the Son being a unity, we can conclude with Brian J. Wright that 1 John 5:20 is one of the few New Testament texts that, with a "High Degree of Probability," calls Jesus theos.28

If we are not convinced by the evidence and instead adopt the minority position that ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς refers to the Father, we must still concede that this verse contains a very significant instance of the epistle's famous ambiguous personal pronouns. This, in a letter that has christological heresy as a central concern (1 John 2:22-24; 4:1-3), suggests that the author is not concerned that his readers would fall into heresy if they identified Jesus as "the true God."

At the very least, the epistle declines to "walk back" the divine claims about Jesus that had been made in the Gospel of John. More likely, the letter has "doubled down" on the Gospel's divine christology by applying to Jesus the very term used to circumscribe the Father's unique deity in John 17:3, and has thus anticipated the formulation "true God from true God" that would later be used to express the orthodox position.

  • 1 Julian Hills, "'Little Children, Keep Yourselves from Idols: 1 John 5:21 Reconsidered," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 51 (1989): 301. This assessment of the communis opinio is now a bit dated, but none of the scholarship that I've consulted since then suggests that this is no longer the majority view.
  • 2 Compare αὕτη (hautē) in John 17:3, which is an impersonal proximal demonstrative pronoun that agrees in feminine gender with the noun ζωὴ (zoē): "This is eternal life."
  • 3 Here, οὗτός refers to deceivers who deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, but "Jesus Christ" is the nearest antecedent of οὗτός.
  • 4 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 327.
  • 5 ἐκεῖνος is also used of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Johannine literature.
  • 6 "And for many days it has been for Israel without a true god and without a teaching priest and without law. And he will return to the Lord, God of Israel, and he will be found to them... And when he heard these words and the prophecy of Adad the prophet, he was both encouraged and he removed the abominations from all the land of Ioudas and Beniamin and from the cities he had gained possession of in Mount Ephraim, and he renewed the Lord’s altar that was in front of the Lord’s shrine." (2 Chronicles 15:3-4, 8 NETS)
  • 7 But to those who are subject to him, a new name shall be called, which shall be blessed on the earth; for they shall bless the true God (τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἀληθινόν), and those who swear on the earth shall swear by the true God, for they shall forget their first affliction, and it shall not come up into their heart. (Isaiah 65:15cd-16 NETS)
  • 8 For they went astray on the paths of error, taking as gods the most despised and loathsome of animals... For through those animals at which in their suffering they became incensed, which they had thought to be gods, being punished by means of them, they saw and recognized as the true God (θεὸν ἀληθῆ) the one whom before they denied knowing; therefore the utmost condemnation came upon them. (Wisdom of Solomon 12:24ab, 27 NETS)
  • 9 "Although John has Jesus speak of himself in the third person, for example, as 'the Son,' it is anomalous that Jesus should call himself 'Jesus Christ.' Elsewhere in the Gospel the name occurs in the Prologue (i 17), a Christian hymn. This verse [John 17:3] is clearly an insertion into the text of Jesus' prayer, an insertion probably reflecting a confessional or liturgical formula of the Johannine church" (Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John XIII-XXI [New York: Doubleday, 1970], 741) .
  • 10 "Of God in contrast to other deities, who are not real" (BDAG, 43).
  • 11 The opening verses of 1 John are a notorious crux interpretum, since their main subject is referred to with neuter relative pronouns, which cannot refer either to a person or to nouns that feature prominently such as logos (masculine) or zōē (feminine). It is clear that the Christ-event is being described, in some way. Raymond E. Brown describes the syntactical problem and concludes, "Overall, the explanation that best fits the evidence is that the 'what' is to be equated with no specific noun in the Prologue, but refers to the whole career of Jesus, with the neuter functioning comprehensively to cover the person, the words, and the works" (The Epistles of John [New York: Doubleday, 1982], 154).
  • 12 Compare Isaiah 43:10 to 43:11, 45:18-19 to 45:21-22; 46:4 to 46:9.
  • 13 Raymond E. Brown defends the translation "The Word was God" for John 1:1c, stating, "This reading is reinforced when one remembers that in the Gospel as it now stands, the affirmation of i 1 is almost certainly meant to form an inclusion with xx 28, where at the end of the Gospel Thomas confesses Jesus as "My God" (ho theos mou) (The Gospel according to John I-XII (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 5).
  • 14 Bear in mind that the epilogue in chapter 21 was probably added in a later edition of the Gospel.
  • 15 The latter interpretation seems to have support from Ernst Haenchen: "the Father is visible in Jesus for those who believe" (John 2: A Commentary on the Gospel of John Chapters 7-21 [trans. Robert W. Funk; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 211).
  • 16 See "my God and my Lord" (Psalm 35:23); "my King and my God" (Psalm 5:2; 44:4; 84:3); "my God and my Saviour" (Psalm 61:3, 7 LXX).
  • 17 The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 254 n. 47.)
  • 18 Raymond E. Brown agrees with Schnackenburg's earlier argument that "the second sentence of 5:20 has meaning only if it refers to Jesus; it would be tautological if it referred to God the Father" ("Does the New Testament Call Jesus God?", Theological Studies 26 [1965]: 558. The view that οὗτος refers to "the true One" "makes the text rather tautologous: 'we are in him who is true...He is the true God'" (Marshall, The Epistles of John, 254 n. 47.
  • 19 The NRSV has, "The Father and I are one," but the translation given here is truer to the Greek, which has ἐγὼ in the emphatic first position.
  • 20 Lori A. Baron, The Shema in John’s Gospel Against its Backgrounds in Second Temple Judaism (PhD Dissertation, Duke University, 2015), subsequently published as The Shema in John's Gospel (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2022); Brury Eko Saputra, The Shema and John 10: The Importance of the Shema Framework in Understanding the Oneness Language in John 10 (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2019).
  • 21 The Shema in John's Gospel, 349-50.
  • 22 The Shema in John's Gospel, 360.
  • 23 Brown, commenting on the specific case of 1 John 2:25, asks, "Does the 'he' (autos) who makes the promise refer to God or to Christ, or even (by intentional vagueness) to both? ... In a previous instance of ambiguity (2:3a) I opted for God, but each case must be decided on its own merits" (The Epistles of John, 358). Judith M. Lieu speaks of "the frequent ambiguity as to whether 'he' (autos) refers to God or to Jesus" (I, II & III John: A Commentary [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008], 215). Terry Griffith notes that "the use of pronouns in 1 John is often so ambiguous that commentators are frequently divided as to whether Jesus or God is the referent" (Keep Yourselves from Idols: A New Look at 1 John [London: Sheffield Academic, 2002], 75). According to D. Moody Smith, "in 1 John there is often a question of which, the Father or the Son, is the antecedent. This is a perennial and difficult problem" ("The Historical Figure of Jesus in 1 John," in J. Ross Wagner, C. Kavin Rowe & A. Katherine Grieb, eds., The Word leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hays [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008], 313).
  • 24 "It is quite clear that for John the Father and Son are distinct beings, although they belong so closely together that on occasion, as we have seen, it is not clear to which of them he is referring." (Marshall, The Epistles of John, 255 n. 48).
  • 25 (The Johannine Letters: A Commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John [trans. Linda M. Maloney; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996], 193 n. 44). He gives as examples 1 John 1:5, 6, 7, 10; 2:3-6, 25, 27-28; 3:24; 4:13, 19, 21; 5:6, 14, 15, 20. In similar fashion, he writes, "the author leaves the readers in a state of unclarity about the application of personal pronouns and words of attribution, because he cannot admit any alternative between christology and theology: God is in Christ!" (The Johannine Letters, 82).
  • 26 The notion that God will act mercifully for his name's sake is common in the Jewish Scriptures (e.g., 1 Kingdoms 12:22 LXX; Psalm 22:3 LXX; 105:8 LXX; Ezekiel 36:21-22); yet in the NT it is primarily the name of Jesus by which salvation occurs. Moreover, while "God" is the nearest antecedent that was named explicitly, Jesus seems to be in view in 2:6 ("whoever says, 'I abide in him,' ought to walk just as he walked.")
  • 27 Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 104.
  • 28 Brian J. Wright, "Jesus as ΘΕΟΣ: A Textual Examination," in Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament Manuscripts, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence, ed. Daniel B. Wallace (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 266.

Sunday 24 September 2023

Early Jewish-Christian Christology in the Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus

The Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus (DJP) is a little-known early Christian text that describes a theological dialogue between Jason (a Jewish Christian) and Papiscus (a non-Christian Jew). It does not survive except for a few fragments and summaries preserved by later authors, but is believed by scholars to have been used as a source by later Christian-Jewish dialogue texts, starting with Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho (c. 160 C.E.).1 The earliest mention of DJP is in Origen's Against Celsus 4.52-53 (written 249 C.E.). The exact title Origen gives to the work is "A Controversy between Jason and Papiscus about Christ".2 Origen reports that Celsus had attacked this work in his ante-Christian polemic, which scholars date to c. 176-180 C.E.3

John of Scythopolis (6th century) ascribes the work to Aristo(n) of Pella (an attribution widely accepted by modern scholars), while noting that Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd century) had attributed the work to St. Luke the Evangelist.4 Eusebius of Caesarea names Aristo of Pella as a source for his knowledge of the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 C.E.),5 for which reason scholars typically date DJP to c. 140 C.E. (later than the Bar Kochba Revolt, but early enough to have influenced Justin Martyr and Celsus).6

Scholarly knowledge of DJP has grown significantly since the discovery and publication in the early 21st century of a fragment of the text preserved in its original language, Greek.7 Known as the Sinaiticus Fragment (due to its discovery at St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai desert), it is contained in a sermon delivered by Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, on 1 January 635, who names the "Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus" before quoting from it at length. Sophronius' sermon asserts that St. Luke the Evangelist wrote DJP. Celsus Africanus (not Origen's opponent) referred to the author of DJP as a Hebrew Christian,8 which modern scholars such as Lawrence Lahey accept.9 

That the Jewish Christian author of DJP held a high Christology (i.e., affirmed Christ's preexistence and divinity) is evident from the Sinaiticus Fragment and other surviving fragments. The Sinaiticus Fragment includes the following passage:
Papiscus said, “I would like to learn for what cause you honor the first day after the Sabbath.” Jason answered, “In this way, God commanded this through Moses, saying: ‘Behold! I am making the last things just as the first!’ The last [day of the week] is the Sabbath, but day one after the Sabbath is first, for on it, by the word of God, the beginning of the entire universe took place, as also the scripture of Moses declares, just as God spoke, ‘let there be light and there was light.’ The Logos which came forth from God and made the light was Christ, the son of God through whom all things came to be.10
Thus, DJP evidently held a Logos Christology similar to that found in the prologue of the Gospel of John. Writing at the end of the fourth century, St. Jerome, in his Hebrew Questions on Genesis , reports that DJP offered a reading of the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 that begins with "In the Son" rather than "In the beginning":
'In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.' The majority believe, as it is written in The Dispute Between Jason and Papiscus, and as Tertullian in his book Against Praxeas contends, and as Hilary also asserts in the exposition of a certain psalm, that in the Hebrew it is '[i]n the son, God made heaven and earth.' The fact of the matter proves that this is a mistake.11
Although St. Jerome is rightly dismissive of this rendition of the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1, the point is that it shows that DJP held a pre-existence Christology in which the Son was present at creation. 

Finally, Lawrence Lahey observes that multiple Christian-Jewish dialogues from the fifth and sixth centuries (the Acts of Sylvester and the Dialogue of Timothy the Christian and Aquila the Jew) contain a similar passage in which a Jew offers objections to Christ's divinity on the grounds that the frailties of corporeal existence are unbefitting of God. Lahey notes the resemblance of this passage to material in Anastasius the Sinaite's Hodegos 14 (c. 685 C.E.), who attributes the objections to Philo of Alexandria in a disputation with "Mnason", a disciple of the apostles. Noting that "Mnason" and "Jason" are variant forms of the same name in Greek NT manuscripts of Acts 21:16, that Papiscus is called an Alexandrian Jew (like Philo) by Celsus Africanus, and that Anastasius was probably working from memory in the Sinai desert without access to books, Lahey argues that Anastasius "likely quotes a Jewish reply from [DJP]".12 The parallel passage in the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila 5.12-17 reads thus:13
(Aquila said:) For concerning this Jesus, just as his memoirs contain, in those you call Gospels, we find from where he is, and his parents with him, and how is this one God? But is God suckled or does he grow and become strong? And I will say that which Luke says concerning him. For the point now is  concerning this one who also fled when John was beheaded by Herod, and then was handed over by his own disciple, and bound, and mocked, and scourged, and spat upon, and was crucified, and was buried, but even first also hungered, and thirsted, and was tempted by Satan. Does God submit to these things done by men? But who can see God? Let me not say that he was also handled, and suffered so many things which indeed it is impossible for God to suffer these things; but also sour wine was drunk, and he was fed gall, and was struck on his head with a rod, and was crowned with thorns, and finally was sentenced to death, and was crucified with thieves. I am astonished. How are you not ashamed saying that God himself entered a womb of a woman and was born? For if he was born, he did not then exist before eternity, but also presently where is he?"14
If Lahey is correct that the above paraphrases an objection from Papiscus originally found in DJP, the substance of the objection implies that the Hebrew Christian apologist Jason was defending a Christology of divine incarnation.

To conclude, then, the surviving fragments of and references to the Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus provide evidence that a Jewish Christian apologist, writing within living memory of the time of the apostles, defended a divine preexistence Christology. It adds an additional nail in the coffin of the idea, popular among unitarian apologists today, that incarnational Christology was a product of Gentile imaginations such as that of Justin Martyr.

  • 1 Oskar Skarsaune argues at length for Justin's dependence on DJP (The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition [Leiden: Brill, 1987], 234-42).
  • 2 Henry Chadwick, trans. Contra Celsum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 227.
  • 3 François Bovon and John M. Duffy, "A New Greek Fragment from Ariston of Pella's Dialogue of Justin and Papiscus", Harvard Theological Review 105 (2012): 457-65.
  • 4 See discussion in Harry Tolley, "The Jewish–Christian Dialogue Jason and Papiscus in Light of the Sinaiticus Fragment", Harvard Theological Review 114 (2021): 1-26.
  • 5 Church History 4.6.3.
  • 6 Lawrence Lahey, "Evidence for Jewish Believers in Christian-Jewish Dialogues through the Sixth Century (excluding Justin", in Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik (eds.), Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), 581-639.
  • 7 See Bovon and Duffy, "New Greek Fragment"; Tolley, "Jewish-Christian Dialogue".
  • 8 "That noble, memorable, and glorious Dispute occurred between Jason, a Hebrew Christian and Papiscus an Alexandrian Jew; the obstinate heart of the Jew was softened by the admonition and gentle chiding of the Hebrew, and the teaching of Jason on the giving of the Holy Spirit was victorious in the heart of Papiscus." (Celsus Africanus, Ad Vigilium Episcopum de Iudaica Incredulitate, trans. Tolley, "Jewish-Christian Dialogue", 23.)
  • 9 "It was written by a Jewish believer, for in contrast to all known dialogues through the sixth century, the Christian participant (Jason), is said to be a Hebrew Christian... If JP had survived, it would be an important source of Jewish Christian theology and of its view of and arguments towards other non-believing Jews" ("Evidence for Jewish Believers", 585-86).
  • 10 trans. Tolley, "Jewish-Christian Dialogue", 25.
  • 11 trans. Tolley, "Jewish-Christian Dialogue", 22.
  • 12 "Evidence for Jewish Believers, 589-91, 601-603. Lahey makes the argument at greater length in another work to which I do not have access ("Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Genuine Jewish-Christian Debate in The Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila", Journal of Jewish Studies 51 (2000): 281-96.
  • 13 I could not find an English translation of the relevant portion of Anastasius' Hodegos 14, and don't trust myself to try and translate 7th-century Greek. The Greek text and a Latin translation can be viewed at Patrologia Graecae 89.244-48. The substance of the passage is basically the same, consisting of objections to the notion that God became incarnate and thus subjected himself to human weaknesses such as hunger, thirst, bleeding, and death.
  • 14 trans. Lahey, "Evidence for Jewish Believers", 602 n. 100.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

The Crucified Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8): A Pauline Image of God Incarnate

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-8, Paul writes:
Now wisdom is what we speak to the mature, wisdom not of this age nor of the rulers of this age who are perishing, but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age understood; for, had they understood it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. (author's translation)
My past interest in this text mainly concerned the term "the rulers of this age," the identity of whom (transcendent, human, or both) is disputed.1 However, as I was recently reading R. B. Jamieson's excellent article on the Christological implications of 1 Corinthians 15:28,2 I was struck by his observations about the paradoxical nature of this verse. It is one of the few places in the New Testament where Christ's divinity and Christ's crucifiability are juxtaposed, and in that respect, it is perhaps the biblical text that comes closest to speaking of God dying for us. As Jamieson puts it, 1 Corinthians 2:8 speaks of "a single agent, one 'who', who has a twofold manner of existence, two 'whats'. One 'what' warrants Christ’s identification as the one true God; the other renders him crucifiable."3

The crucifiability aspect is obvious enough, but no doubt some readers will take issue with the contention that this passage identifies Christ as the one true God. Jamieson is making this inference on the basis of the full picture of Christ that emerges from 1 Corinthians, such as Paul's partitioning of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4)—and partitioning of roles in creation—between the Father and Christ in 1 Corinthians 8:6, and his ascription of scriptural statements about the divine Lord to Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 10:26. However, the term "the Lord of glory" (τὸν κύριον τῆς δόξης) in 1 Corinthians 2:8 deserves special attention.

This exact phrase occurs nowhere in the Septuagint; nor is it a translation of a phrase from the Hebrew Bible. However, if we ask the question, "What is a learned Jew like Paul likely to have meant by 'the Lord of glory'?" a conclusive answer emerges.

Firstly, two psalms refer to God as "the King of glory" (LXX, ὁ βασιλεὺς τῆς δόξης) and "the God of glory" (LXX, ὁ θεὸς τῆς δόξης), respectively, and both of these psalms also refer to God as "Lord" (κύριος). Of course, "Lord" (κύριος) and "King" (βασιλεύς) are similar in meaning, with both titles denoting one having dominion and rulership. The title "King of glory" occurs five times in Psalm 23:7-10 LXX (24:7-10 MT):

      7 Raise the gates, O rulers of yours! 
         And be raised up, O perpetual gates! 
         And the King of glory shall enter. 
      8 Who is this King of glory? 
         The Lord, strong and powerful, 
         the Lord, powerful in battle. 
      9 Raise the gates, O rulers of yours! 
         And be raised up, O perpetual gates! 
         And the King of glory shall enter. 
      10 Who is this King of glory? 
         The Lord of hosts, 
         he is the King of glory. (New English Translation of the Septuagint)

What makes Psalm 23(24) particularly relevant to Paul's phrase "the Lord of glory" in 1 Corinthians 2:8, however, is that Paul quotes Psalm 23:1 LXX ("the earth and its fullness are the Lord's") later in the letter, in 10:26, where he almost certainly understands this "Lord" to be Christ.4

Psalm 28:1-4 LXX reads,

      1 Bring to the Lord, O divine sons, 
         bring to the Lord glory and honor. 
      2 Bring to the Lord glory for his name; 
         do obeisance to the Lord in his holy court. 
      3 The Lord’s voice is over the waters; 
         the God of glory thundered, 
         the Lord, over many waters, 
      4 the Lord’s voice in strength, 
         the Lord’s voice in magnificence. (NETS)

The divine title "the Lord of glory" is commensurate with the language of both of these two psalms, even if the exact phrase does not occur. And, of course, the broader association of glory with God (including the phrase "the glory of the Lord") is ubiquitous in the Jewish Scriptures.

Besides this, the Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic text 1 Enoch—a composite text containing materials dating from several centuries B.C. to the first century A.D.—refers to God as "the Lord of glory" repeatedly, showing that the use of this phrase as a divine title was established and current among Paul's Jewish contemporaries. The translations below are from the Hermeneia translation of Nickelsburg and VanderKam.5 
Then I blessed the Lord of glory and said, 'Blessed is the judgment of righteousness and blessed are you, O Lord of majesty and righteousness, who are Lord of eternity.' (1 Enoch 22.14)

And he answered me and said, 'This high mountain that you saw, whose peak is like the throne of God, is the seat where the Great Holy One, the Lord of glory, the King of eternity, will sit, when he descends to visit the earth in goodness... Then I blessed the God of glory, the King of eternity, who has prepared such things for people (who are) righteous, and has created them and promised to give (them) to them. (1 Enoch 25.3, 7)

Here the godless will bless the Lord of glory, the King of eternity... Then I blessed the Lord of glory, and his glory I made known and praised magnificently. (1 Enoch 27.3, 5)

And when I saw, I blessed—and I shall always bless—the Lord of glory, who has wrought great and glorious wonders, to show his great deeds to his angels and to the spirits of human beings, so that they might see the work of his might and glorify the deeds of his hands and bless him forever. (1 Enoch 36.4)
The Codex Panopolitanus Greek manuscript of 1 Enoch has τὸν κύριον τῆς δόξης—the exact phrase used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:8—in 22.14, 27.3, and 27.5.6

The above quotations are all from the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36). Two other distinct compositions within 1 Enoch refer to God as the Lord of glory—the Book of Parables (cf. 1 Enoch 40.3, 63.2) and the Dream Visions (cf. 1 Enoch 83.8)—while the Book of the Luminaries uses the phrase "the Lord of eternal glory" (1 Enoch 75.3) and "the great Lord, the king of glory" (1 Enoch 81.3).

That the phrase "the Lord of glory" is used in 1 Enoch in close association with references to God's kingship and the phrase "the God of glory" (1 Enoch 25.7) suggests that the title "the Lord of glory" is adapted from Psalms 24 and/or 29.

Thus, we have evidence that Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic texts called God "the Lord of glory," drawing on Psalm 24 and/or 29, and we have evidence that Paul understood Christ as the "Lord" of Psalm 24 (23 LXX). Thus, the most reasonable interpretation is that when Paul called Christ "the Lord of glory" in an apocalyptic context in 1 Corinthians 2:8, he meant to refer to Christ as the divine Lord of these psalms.

The juxtaposition of divine Lord and crucified one is Christologically significant, not only because of its inherent paradox, but also because it demonstrates that Paul understood Christ to have been the divine Lord prior to his resurrection and exaltation. This is important, because some interpreters of Pauline texts such as Philippians 2:5-11 assert that Jesus became "Lord" (in the sense of bearer of the divine Name and its prerogatives) only after his resurrection, as a reward from God for his faithfulness unto death. In light of 1 Corinthians 2:8, this reading of Paul's Christology is untenable: Christ was already the Lord of glory when he was crucified. "God highly exalted him and graciously granted him the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:9) does not refer to a quasi-divinisation of a hitherto non-divine Jesus, but to a reversal of the downward trajectory outlined in vv. 6-8. God publicly vindicates the man Jesus and orders the world to worship him as YHWH (Phil. 2:10-11 cp. Isaiah 45:22-23). Similar reasoning applies to Romans 1:3-4, which some might interpret to mean that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection, though we know from other Pauline texts that this was not Paul's view.7

In conclusion, in writing in 1 Corinthians 2:8 that the rulers of this age "crucified the Lord of glory," Paul expresses and brings together Christ's humanity and divinity in a bold and striking manner. The notion of the divine Lord dying, on a cross no less, is a paradox that Paul understood would be regarded as offensive or foolish to many in his day, as it is to many in ours.

  • 1 "Opinions differ on the precise identity of these rulers. Are these rulers the unseen demonic forces of this world, or simply the worldly rulers, who put Jesus to death? Is there a dual reference, both to earthly rulers and to the demonic forces that inspire them? Whatever the identity of the rulers, the outcome remains the same." (Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture [Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2014], 88); "scholars are undecided as to whether he is referring to spiritual rulers or earthly rulers" (Adam G. White, Where is the Wise Man? Graeco-Roman Education as a Background to the Divisions in 1 Corinthians 1-4 [PhD Dissertation, Macquarie University, 2013], 153).
  • 2 R. B. Jamieson, "1 Corinthians 15.28 and the Grammar of Paul's Christology," New Testament Studies 66 (2020): 187-207.
  • 3 "1 Corinthians 15.28," 198.
  • 4 Jamieson writes, "This ‘Lord’ is the same Lord whom Paul warns the Corinthians not to provoke in 10.22, in language about YHWH borrowed from Deut 32.21. How might they provoke him? By partaking of the cup and table ‘of the Lord’, and also the cup and table of demons (10.21). Why are these two commensalities incommensurable? Because the Lord’s cup and table enact communal participation in the blood and body of Christ (10.16). The ‘Lord’ in view throughout is Christ. The Lord at whose table the Corinthians feast is the Lord who owns all things because he created all things (cf. 8.6). In 1 Cor 10.26, Paul identifies Christ as the Lord whom Ps 24.1 praises as possessor of all because he is the creator of all" (Jamieson, "1 Corinthians 15.28," 195-96).
  • 5 George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam, 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012).
  • 6 The Book of the Watchers was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, but was translated into Greek in antiquity. At 25.3, this manuscript has ὁ μέγας κύριος, ὁ ἅγιος τῆς δόξης ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῦ αἰῶνος ("the Great Lord, the Holy One of Glory, the King of eternity"), and at 25.7, τὸν θεὸν τῆς δόξης, τὸν βασιλέα τοῦ αἰῶνος ("the God of glory, the King of eternity").
  • 7 E.g., "I live by faith in [or, the faithfulness of] the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20); "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law..." (Gal. 4:4). Matthew W. Bates writes concerning the theological implications of Romans 1:3-4, "the resurrection event was the occasion at which the Son of God, who was in fact already deemed the preexistent Son of God before the resurrection event, was appointed to a new office that was able to be described by the phrase Son-of-God-in-Power" ("A Christology of Incarnation and Enthronement: Romans 1:3-4 as Unified, Nonadoptionist, and Nonconciliatory," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 77 [2015]: 125-26.

Saturday 4 June 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (5): "I too am a witness...and the Child whom I have chosen" (Isaiah 43:10)

As we continue our series looking at Christological interpretation of Isaiah in the early Church, we move back into the part of the book (chs. 40-55) known to biblical scholars as Second Isaiah, which mentions Cyrus by name and was therefore written long after the death of the eighth-century prophet Isaiah.1 The passage that concerns us here is part of a speech addressed by Yahweh to Israel (Isaiah 43:1-13).
10 You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. 12 I am the one who declared and saved and proclaimed, not some strange god among you; you are my witnesses, says the Lord, and I am God. 13 Indeed, since that day I am he; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can hinder it? (Isaiah 43:10-13 NRSV)
The translation above from the Masoretic Text (MT) conveys one of the Hebrew Bible's most emphatic biblical declarations of God's unique divinity vis-à-vis all other reality. The addressees, Israel, are named as God's witnesses to his divine identity and saving acts. However, in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures that was predominantly the Bible of the early Church, things take a different turn:
10 Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I am God, and besides me there is none who saves. I declared and saved; I reproached, and there was no stranger among you. 12 You are my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God. 13 Even from the beginning there is also no one who rescues from my hands; I will do it, and who will turn it back? (Isaiah 43:10-13 NETS)2
Notice that, unlike in the MT, in the LXX God declares himself to be a witness in vv. 10, 12. The change from "You are my witnesses...and the servant whom I have chosen" to "I too am a witness... and the servant whom I have chosen" introduces ambiguity over who this "servant" is. And this only adds one more to a series of references to an ambiguous "servant" in Second Isaiah.

References to Yahweh's "servant" (Heb. עבד, ʿęḇęḏ) abound in Second Isaiah. Over the past two centuries, biblical scholars have noted four passages that single out an anonymous individual "servant" who is celebrated for his sacrificial life that brings redemption to others.3 Scholars distinguish these four "Servant Songs" (Isa. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) from other Second Isaiah references to God's servant—including Isaiah 43:10 MT.4 While the latter seem obviously to refer to Israel/Jacob corporately, scholars have reached many different conclusions about the identity of the servant of the Servant Songs. It has even been called an "insoluble" problem.5

Christian interpreters of Isaiah, have, from the earliest times, interpreted most of the references to a singular "servant" in Isaiah—both inside and outside of the Servant Songs—to refer to Christ. Matthew 12:15-21, for instance, quotes the first Servant Song (Isaiah 42:1-4) and applies it to Jesus.6 And the fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is a key text that the NT writers use to understand the significance of Jesus' death.

An interesting feature of Second Isaiah LXX is that it consistently renders references to the ʿęḇęḏ into Greek as pais. This word has a broad semantic range that includes the meaning "servant" but also "child," either with a focus on prepubescent age or on the person's status as someone's offspring (hence "son"/"daughter").7 The LXX translator obviously intended pais to mean "servant," corresponding to ʿęḇęḏ, but once Christian interpreters had applied the word to Christ, whom they understood to be God's Son, the sense "child" or "son" would have come into mind. Indeed, this move would have been aided by the Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 9:5 LXX—the text discussed in my previous article—where "child" translates paidion, a diminutive of pais that always means "child," not "servant."8 Where the Book of Acts refers to Jesus as God's pais (3:13; 3:26; 4:27; 4:30), with obvious dependence on Second Isaiah, it is not clear whether the sense "servant" or "child/son" is in view; English translations differ. However, given that David is also called God's pais in 4:25, "servant" is more likely.9 The qualification "whom I have chosen" (hon exelexamēn) might seem incongruous with "son," since one does not choose one's "son" except with adoption. However, in Luke's Transfiguration account, the heavenly voice declares Jesus to be "my chosen Son" (ho huios mou ho eklelegmenos), and Luke clearly does not regard Jesus as God's adopted son.10

The statement ʾanî hûʾ ("I [am] he"), which occurs in vv. 10, 13 MT (along with a few other passages, mostly in Isaiah),11 is a succinct declaration of Yahweh's absolute deity that is typically translated in the LXX as egō eimi, "I am [he]". Such is the case here, in 43:10 LXX.12 The absolute declaration ἐγώ εἰμι is famously used seven times by Jesus in the Gospel of John, and New Testament scholars widely agree that it is intended to echo God's use of egō eimi in Isaiah LXX.13 But one can go further and argue that two of Jesus' egō eimi sayings in John are specifically intended to echo Isaiah 43:10. I have written about this literary dependency in greater detail elsewhere;14 for our purposes here, it suffices to point out the close parallel between the following:
so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he (hina gnōste kai pisteusēte kai sunēte hoti egō eimi, Isaiah 43:10 LXX)


...for unless you believe that I am he (ean gar mē piseusēte hoti egō eimi), you will die in your sins (John 8:24)

I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe that I am he. (hina pisteusēte hotan genētai hoti egō eimi) (John 13:19)
While we lack any quotation of Isaiah 43:10-13 in the New Testament, John's allusions to it in the egō eimi sayings of Jesus show that he wants us to identify Jesus with God. The mysterious wording of Isaiah 43:10 LXX facilitates this. The line before the hina-clause just quoted reads, kagō martus, legei kyrios ho theos, kai ho pais, hon exelexamēn. An early Christian reader would probably have read thus:
I also am a witness, says the Lord God, and [so is] the Son, whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he.
The following rendering is, however, also syntactically possible:
I also am a witness, says the Lord God, and [I am] the Son, whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he.15
We cannot know which of these two readings John followed, but since he places on Jesus' lips a saying formed from the last clause of this verse, it seems clear that he has understood the full statement as applicable to the Son and not only the Father. That is, it is not just that the Son joins the Father as a witness to the Father's deity, but that the Son joins the Father as a witness to their joint deity.

Of course, we cannot be certain of John's interpretation of Isaiah 43:10, since we only have his allusions to it. However, further evidence that this interpretation had currency in the early Church can be found in early patristic writings.

The Ascension of Isaiah is a Jewish Christian apocalypse that scholars regard as a two-part work, with chapters 6-11 dating from the late first century, and chapters 1-5 from the early second century16—roughly contemporaneous, that is, with the date range usually assigned to the Gospel of John. Ascension of Isaiah 4 foretells the coming of an Antichrist figure named Beliar and states the following about him:
And he will do whatever he wants in the world; he will do and speak like the Beloved, and he will say, 'I am the Lord, and there was no one before me.' And all the people in the world will believe in him. And they shall sacrifice to him and serve him, when they shall say: This is the Lord, and besides him there is no other. (Ascension of Isaiah 4.6-8).17
The Beloved is Ascension of Isaiah's usual term for Christ. Thus, the apocalypse describes Beliar as speaking like the Beloved, but the words that it attributes to Beliar (and then to his followers as they worship him) appear to be a paraphrase of Isaiah 43:10-11 LXX:18
I am the Lord, and there was no one before me... This is the Lord, and besides him there is no other (Ascension of Isaiah 4.6, 8) 
...I am he. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me. I am God, and besides me there is none who saves. (Isaiah 43:10-11 NETS)
It would appear to follow that, if Beliar "speaks like the Beloved" when he arrogates to himself the words of Isaiah 43:10-11, the Beloved rightfully speaks the words of Isaiah 43:10-11 about himself. Thus, it seems that the author of Ascension of Isaiah agrees with the Gospel of John—again, only implicitly through allusions—that God's declaration of his deity in Isaiah 43:10 also applies to Christ.

Irenaeus of Lyons quotes from Isaiah 43:10 in his famous five-volume work Against Heresies. In Book 3 he writes,
Therefore neither the Lord nor the Holy Spirit nor the apostles ever called God, in the proper sense of the word, anyone who was not the true God; neither have they called Lord, in an absolute way, anyone other than God the Father, who rules over all things, and his Son, who has received from his Father sovereignty over all creation. (Adv. Haer. 3.6.1)19
Having quoted several OT passages to substantiate this, he continues:
So no one else, as I have just said, is called God or Lord, except He who is God and Lord of all things—he who said to Moses, 'I am who I am', and: 'Thus shall you speak to the children of Israel: He who is has sent me to you'—and his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who makes children of God those who believe in his name. It is still the same when the Son said to Moses: 'I came down to deliver this people.' It is indeed he, in fact, who descended and ascended for the salvation of men. So then, through the Son, who is in the Father and has the Father in him, the God "who is" manifested himself, the Father bearing witness to the Son and the Son announcing the Father, according to what Isaiah also says: 'I am a witness, says the Lord God, as well as the Child20 whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe and understand that I am.' (Adv. Haer. 3.6.2)
Irenaeus quotes from Isaiah 43:10 again in 4.5.1 and 4.20.8, but these passages add little to what is already evident from the above about how he understood the text. For Irenaeus, Isaiah 43:10 is a proof text about the absolutely unique deity of the Father and the Son.

This great third-century theologian refers to our text in four separate passages, of which we will discuss three.21 In his Commentary on John, as well as in his Exhortation to Martyrdom, Origen interprets Isaiah 43:10 to mean that the Father is a witness, and so is the Son:
For we have noticed that God confesses that he is a witness, and declares the same thing about the Christ, exhorting all to become imitators of himself and the Christ, insofar as they witness to the things to which it is necessary to witness. For he says, ‘Become my witnesses; I, too, am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant22 whom I choose.’ (Commentary on John 2.209)23 
And in Isaiah the One who exhorts us to martyrdom joins in bearing witness to this with His Son. The passage reads, ‘You are my witnesses, and I am a witness, says the Lord God, and the Son whom I have chosen’. (Exhortation to Martyrdom 34)24 
Origen quotes the passage in a more technical theological context in the Dialogue with Heraclides, which requires some background. This text was only discovered in 1941 and "consists of the minutes of a discussion held at a synod of bishops summoned to discuss the opinions of a certain Bishop Heraclides whose orthodoxy has been called in question".25 After Bishop Heraclides opens with a credal statement, Origen begins his "cross-examination, which is designed to elicit from Heraclides a confession of the pre-existence and independent existence of the Son."26 The crux of it is thus:
Origen: Is the Father God?
Heraclides: Assuredly.
Origen: Is the Son distinct from the Father?
Heraclides: Of course. How can he be Son if he is also Father?
Origen: While being distinct from the Father is the Son himself also God? Heraclides: He himself is also God.
Origen: And do two Gods become a unity?
Heraclides: Yes.
Origen: Do we confess two Gods?
Heraclides: Yes. The power is one.
Origen: But as our brethren take offence at the statement that there are two Gods, we must formulate the doctrine carefully, and show in what sense they are two and in what sense the two are one God. Also the holy Scriptures have taught that several things which are two are one… 
Origen goes on to discuss Genesis 2:24, which says that a man and his wife become one flesh, and 1 Corinthians 6:17, which says that "anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." He continues:
The appropriate word when human beings are joined to one another is flesh. The appropriate word when a righteous man is joined to Christ is spirit. But the word when Christ is united to the Father is not flesh, nor spirit, but more honourable than these—God. That is why we understand in this sense ‘I and the Father are one.’
After condemning those who abolish the distinction between Father and Son and those who deny the deity of Christ, Origen asks:
What then do the divine Scriptures mean when they say: ‘Beside me there is no other God, and there shall be none after me,’ and ‘I am and there is no God but me’? In these utterances we are not to think that the unity applies to the God of the universe… in separation from Christ, and certainly not to Christ in separation from God. Let us rather say that the sense is the same as that of Jesus’ saying, ‘I and my Father are one.’ (Origen, Dialogue with Heraclides 4)27
The passages quoted are Isaiah 43:10 and Deuteronomy 32:39. Origen anticipates an objection to the binitarian theology he has just outlined, namely that if these scriptural texts apply only to the Father, the Son is excluded from being God. Hence, Origen argues that these statements are made by the Father and the Son as a unity. Had Origen elaborated on this interpretation, he probably would have noted—as he did in his other writings—that both the Father and his pais are named as witnesses in the former text.28

Eusebius' work Eclogae Propheticae ("Prophetic Extracts"), written in the early fourth century (before the Council of Nicaea) has not been translated into English. It makes a passing reference to our text, and my attempt at a translation is as follows:
‘Be my witnesses, I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the child29 whom I have chosen.’ And who might be the child whom the Lord God has chosen, whom also he reckons with himself that he will be a witness with him when they testify, or the one about whom also it had earlier been said, ‘Jacob is my child, I will lay hold of him’ [cf. Isa. 42:1], and the rest? Which things have clearly been prophesied about our Saviour and Lord Jesus. (Eclogae Propheticae 4.21)30
Eusebius does not comment on the Christological significance of the text here, merely echoing the widely held Christian viewpoint that the pais in this passage (and others in Second Isaiah) is Christ. Later, in his Commentary on Isaiah, he offers a more detailed comment, showing that he understands the Lord God to be identifying himself with his divine Servant (as per the second rendering suggested in section 2 above).
Let the witnesses of these events come, and let those who have testified be justified, since even I God will be their witness, and the servant whom I have chosen, concerning whom he said above: 'Behold, my servant whom I have appointed, my chosen one, my soul receives him favorably'. Therefore, God himself is even this servant, my chosen one, as the Savior made clear in the Gospels when he said: 'Whoever acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven.' I will serve as a witness for my witnesses, so that you may know and believe and understand that I am. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be after me... For if one is from the beginning, this one must be divine, as the theology concerning his one and only Son counsels. Continuing on with delivering his instruction, the Word says: I am God, and besides me there is none who saves. And he affirmed this when he proclaimed above: Even I, the Lord God, am the servant whom I have chosen, and so he does not fail to connect the present passage with the theological discussion above concerning the servant, whom he has chosen. I am God, and besides me there is none who saves, and I am the servant whom I have chosen. For he said that he was a witness, and the servant whom he has chosen, and so we conclude that this God who saves is also the servant, whom he has chosen. And although the text says: Besides me there is none who saves, it is not denying that the servant whom he has chosen is indeed a Savior. (Commentary on Isaiah 278-79)31
Although Eusebius is often said to have had Arian sympathies, his Christological reading of Isaiah 43:10 is actually bolder than those of Irenaeus and Origen, in that he has the Lord God saying, "I...am the pais whom I have chosen."

We have seen that the Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah 43:10 introduced ambiguity into the identity of the Hebrew's text's "servant" (ʿęḇęḏ) in two ways. First, it changed the subject from second-person to first-person, so that God says "Be my witnesses. I too am a witness," rather than "You are my witnesses," which leaves the ensuing "and the servant whom I have chosen" unidentified. Second, it translated ʿęḇęḏ with the Greek word pais, which can mean "servant" but also "child" or "son." This—in the context of the wider Christological interpretation of the Servant in Isaiah 40-55—enabled early Christian exegetes to read Isaiah 43:10 as a statement about the Father and the Son:
I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the Son whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me. I am God, and besides me there is none who saves.
Significantly, early Christian exegetes understood both witnesses, Father and Son, to be testifying in their own person "that I am he. Before me there was no other god," etc. This exegetical move is evident already in the late first and early second century in the Gospel of John and the Ascension of Isaiah, and continues in the second- and third-century Fathers Irenaeus of Lyons and Origen of Alexandria.
  • 1 See Isaiah 44:28, 45:1, 13.
  • 2 Moisés Silva, "Isaiah," in Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (eds.), A New English Translation of the Septuagint (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 857.
  • 3 James M. Ward, "The Servant Songs in Isaiah," Review & Expositor 65 (1968): 433-446.
  • 4 See also Isaiah 41:8, 9; 42:19; 44:1, 2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 50:10.
  • 5 Leland Edward Wilshire, "The Servant-City: A New Interpretation of the 'Servant of the Lord' in the Servant Songs of Deutero-Isaiah," Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (1975): 356.
  • 6 Interestingly, Matthew translates the Hebrew text, whereas the Septuagint actually disambiguates the "servant" of the first Servant Song by identifying him as Jacob and Israel: "Iakob is my servant...Israel is my chosen" (Isa. 42:1 NETS). This would still not have stopped early Christian interpreters from identifying the servant with Christ, however, since Christ was regarded as the true Israel (cf. the interpretation of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:14).
  • 7 See BDAG 750
  • 8 See BDAG 749. A diminutive is a suffix added to a word to show affection or emphasise smallness; for instance, "piglet" is a diminutive of "pig."
  • 9 The same is true in Didache 9.2-3, 10.2-3, where both David and Jesus are called God's παῖς. Cf. also 1 Clement 59.2-4; Diognetus 8.9-9.1; Martyrdom of Polycarp 14.1-3; 20.2. In the latter, παῖς almost certainly means "son": "God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed [παῖς] Jesus Christ"; "bring us all...into his heavenly kingdom through his only-begotten [pais], Jesus Christ".
  • 10 See Luke 1:35, for instance, which interprets the virgin birth as a proof (though not necessarily the cause) of Jesus' divine Sonship.
  • 11 See, e.g., Deut. 32:39, Isa. 41:4; 43:25; 46:4; 48:12; 51:12; 52:6.
  • 12 The ʾanî hûʾ in 43:13 is not preserved in the LXX translation.
  • 13 "An analysis of the application of ἐγώ εἰμι in its bipartite form in the Fourth Gospel leads one to conclude that the key to a proper understanding of these Johannine declarations is the distinctive use of this succinct expression in LXX Isaiah as a rendering for
    אני הוא ... Indeed, the interpretative process encountered in connection with Jesus' absolute ἐγώ ἐιμι statements can be described as an important witness to the fourth evangelist's familiarity with, and indebtedness to, Isaianic traditions, clearly extending far beyond the four direct citations taken from this prophetic book" (Catrin H. Williams, I Am He: The Interpretation of ʾAnî Hûʾ in Jewish and Early Christian Literature [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000], 299); "The Gospel of John...places on the lips of Jesus during his ministry another of the characteristically Deutero-Isaianic declarations of unique divine identity. The Johannine choice is the concise statement 'I am he', in Hebrew ʾanî hûʾ, usually translated in the Septuagint Greek as egō eimi ('I am'), the form in which it appears in John's Gospel... It is certainly not accidental that, whereas in the Hebrew Bible there are seven occurrences of ʾanî hûʾ and two of the emphatic variation ānokî ānokî hûʾ (Isa. 43:25; 51:12), in John there are seven absolute 'I am' sayings, with the seventh repeated twice (18:5, 6, 8) for the sake of an emphatic climax (thus seven or nine in both cases). The series of sayings thus comprehensively identifies Jesus with the God of Israel who sums up his identity in the declaration 'I am he'. More than that, they identify Jesus as the eschatological revelation of the unique identity of God, predicted by Deutero-Isaiah" (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008], 39-40).
  • 14 See also here.
  • 15 Because the verb "to be" is elliptical in God's initial statement, it could also be understood as elliptical in the statement about ho pais. Notably, in the Hebrew (where the subject is "you" rather than "I"), the syntax works this way: "You are my witnesses... and [you are] my servant, whom I have chosen..." However, this reading is rather unnatural, as it seems to conflate the speaker (God) with his pais. It would likely have been seen as risky after the rise of the Sabellian heresy in the early third century; yet we will see below that Eusebius follows it in the early fourth century.
  • 16 "the date of the apocalypse is now agreed within relatively close parameters... The dominant view is that the apocalypse contains some first-century material, and that this first-century element is given by the substance of chs. 6-11. It is disputed whether the material in chs. 1-5 comes from the first or the second century CE, the greater weight of scholarship preferring the second century." (Jonathan Knight, "The Christology of the Ascension of Isaiah: Docetic or Polymorphic?", in Jonathan Knight and Kevin Sullivan (eds.), The Open Mind: Essays in Honour of Christopher Rowland [London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015], 155).
  • 17 This is my translation from the Latin synopsis in Paolo Bettiolo, Alda Giambelluca Kossova, Claudio Leonardi, Enrico Norelli, and Lorenzo Perrone, Ascensio Isaiae: Textus (Turnhout: Brepols, 1995), 375, which in turn is translated from the Ethiopic in which alone this part of the book is preserved.
  • 18 Unfortunately a comparison cannot be made in Greek, since Ascension of Isaiah 4.6-8 survives only in an Ethiopic version. God makes similar statements in Isaiah 44:6, 45:5-6, 45:21, and 46:9 to the effect that "I am God, and there is no other beside me." Jonathan M. Knight describes Beliar's claim as "words which are parodied from Isa. 45.18, that 'I am the LORD, and before me there was no one'" (Disciples of the Beloved One: The Christology, Social Setting and Theological Context of the Ascension of Isaiah [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1996], 50). Enrico Norelli states in his commentary (in Italian) that the language appears to from Isaiah 47:8-10, where the daughter of Babylon is said to declare blasphemously, "I am and there is no other". However, he goes on to argue that the language is drawn from that of the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20:2-3 and Deuteronomy 5:7 (Ascensio Isaiae: Commentarius [Turnhout: Brepols, 1995], 251-52). However, it remains true that Isaiah 43:10 corresponds more closely to Beliar's words than any other biblical text. In no other Isaianic text does God say that there is no other before him, and the Decalogue statements are phrased in the second person. Of course, the Christological implications remain the same, no matter which definitive biblical statement of unique deity is being implicitly applied to Christ.
  • 19 Translations are based on the French translation of Adeline Rousseau, Irénée de Lyon: Contre les hérésies (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1984), based on his Sources chrétiennes critical text.
  • 20 Of course, as with the Book of Acts and other references in Greek literature to Jesus as God's παῖς, we cannot be certain whether Irenaeus understood the word in the sense "child/son" or "servant." That Irenaeus regards Isaiah 43:10 as a proof text concerning the Son's relationship with the Father suggests the reading "child/son," however.
  • 21 The fourth is Contra Celsum 2.9. Origen does not directly link our text to Christology, but discusses it in a Christological context: "To this we will reply that not even we suppose that the body of Jesus, which could then be seen and perceived by the senses, was God. And why do I say the body? For not even his soul was God; for he said of it: ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.’ However, according to the doctrine of the Jews it is believed to be God who says: ‘I am the Lord, the God of all flesh.’ And, ‘Before me there was no other God, and after me there will be none.’ He was using the soul and body of a prophet as an instrument. According to the Greeks, it is believed to be a god who is speaking and being heard through the Pythian priestess, who says ‘But I know the number of the sand and the measure of the sea, And I understand the dumb and I hear him that speaketh not.’ Similarly in our opinion it was the divine Logos and Son of the God of the universe that spoke in Jesus, saying: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, and ‘I am the door’, and ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven’, and any other such saying. Therefore, we bring the charge against the Jews that they have not believed in Jesus as God, because he had been everywhere witnessed by the prophets as being a great power and a God like the God and Father of the universe. We say that it was to him that the Father gave the command in the Mosaic story of creation, when He said, ‘Let there be light’, and ‘Let there be a firmament’, and all the other things which God commanded to come into being. To him also He said, ‘Let us make man according to our image and likeness.’ And when the Logos was commanded, he made everything that the Father enjoined him." (trans. Henry Chadwick, Origen: Contra Celsum [London: Cambridge University Press, 1953], 73).
  • 22 Again, it is the translator's decision whether to render the Greek παῖς as "servant," "child" or "son."
  • 23 trans. Ronald E. Heine, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Books 1-10 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989), 151.
  • 24 trans. Rowan A. Greer, Origen: An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, and Selected Works (New York: Paulist, 1979), 66. The Greek word translated "Son" by Greer is again παῖς.
  • 25 John Ernest Leonard Oulton and Henry Chadwick, "Dialogue with Heraclides," in The Library of Christian Classics, Volume II: Alexandrian Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 430).
  • 26 Oulton and Chadwick, "Dialogue with Heraclides," 433.
  • 27 trans. Oulton and Chadwick, "Dialogue with Heraclides," 438-40.
  • 28 With regard to the latter text, he might have pointed out that God is spoken of in the first person in Deuteronomy 32:39-42 and in the third person in 32:43, with the latter text being applied to Christ in Hebrews 1:6.
  • 29 Again, "child" translates pais, and could also be rendered "servant."
  • 30 Greek text in Thomas Gaisford, Eusebii Pamphili, Episcopi Caesariensis: Eclogae Propheticae [Oxonii: E Typographeo Academico, 1842], 202.
  • 31 Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Isaiah, trans. Jonathan J. Armstrong, ed. Joel C. Elowsky (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013), 217-18. It should be noted that Eusebius' Commentary on Isaiah is usually dated to after the Council of Nicaea, unlike the other works of Eusebius cited in this series. Armstrong suggests that the comments on Isaiah 60 allude to Constantine's baptism in 337, which would imply that the commentary was finished between that date and Eusebius' death in 339.