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Showing posts with label Gospel of John. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gospel of John. 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.

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.

Sunday 17 April 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (1): "The Lord has sent me and his Spirit" (Isaiah 48:16)

This is the first part of a series of posts in which I hope to explore the Christological significance of certain passages in Isaiah.1 Early Christians drew extensively on the Jewish Scriptures to form their understanding of the person and mission of Jesus Christ, and few books influenced them more in this respect than Isaiah. Some of this influence is attested through direct quotations of Isaiah in the New Testament. For example, all four Gospels quote from Isaiah 40:3 to explicate John the Baptist's role in the divine purpose.2 However, the New Testament (NT) does not contain a verse-by-verse commentary on the Old Testament (OT); indeed, the NT only provides us with an Christological interpretation for a relatively small number of OT texts.

Should we conclude that only those OT texts that are explicitly quoted in the NT are legitimate Messianic texts? Or when we read that Jesus "interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures" (Luke 24:27) and that Apollos "powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus" (Acts 18:28), should we suppose that these Scriptures are strictly those cited elsewhere in the NT? Of course not. The OT, when read with the light of Christ, is saturated with Christological significance, and explicit NT quotations only scratch the surface of this.

In this article, we will examine Isaiah 48:16, an OT text that is never quoted in the NT but that (it will be argued) has enormous Christological significance. But before we turn to this passage, we need to ask a question: how can we know that an OT text is Messianic if the NT doesn't say it is? Are we not then merely imposing our own subjective opinions onto the text? Well, not quite. There are at least three lines of evidence by which such a claim can be evaluated objectively

These are: (i) mysterious or enigmatic features in the text; (ii) literary or conceptual echoes of the text in the NT; (iii) the witness of early Christian writers. First, the text may contain enigmas that point the reader toward some deeper significance. An NT example of this phenomenon can be seen in Acts 8:26ff. The Ethiopian eunuch is puzzled about the identity of the Servant figure as he reads Isaiah 53. The mysterious character of the text becomes an opening for the Spirit, speaking through Philip, to reveal the text's Christological significance. Second, even if a text is not explicitly quoted in the NT, there may be allusions or faint echoes that suggest that it had influenced the NT writer's ideas about Christ. Third, early post-apostolic Christian literature testify to how the early Church interpreted OT texts, and in some instances these writers are likely reporting traditional interpretations handed down to them from previous generations of believers. Thus, the temporal and linguistic proximity of these writers to the NT make their witness far more weighty than your or my private opinion.

One last thing needs to be said before we turn to Isaiah 48:16. To assert that a particular OT passage has a Messianic application is not to assert that this is its only meaning. Au contraire, there are arguably very few texts in the Jewish Scriptures that refer at the grammatical-historical level of meaning to the eschatological Messiah—and arguably none that refer to Jesus of Nazareth!3 Rather, Christological meaning, if present, operates as sensus plenior—a subtler spiritual, moral, or eschatological sense that may have been lost on the human author but was intended by the Divine Author. This distinction between grammatical-historical and theological interpretation must be borne in mind or misunderstandings are inevitable.4 One cannot accept the NT as Sacred Scripture and yet insist that the grammatical-historical sense is the only valid meaning of the text, because this is not how the NT writers interpret the OT.5

Isaiah 48:16 occurs in the middle of an oracle in which Yahweh addresses Israel concerning the people's disobedience and his divine mercy and redemptive purpose. It is clear that Yahweh is speaking in the first person:
12 Listen to me, O Jacob, 
      and Israel, whom I called:
     I am He; I am the first,
     and I am the last. 
13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
    and my right hand spread out the heavens; 
    when I summon them, 
    they stand at attention.6
The first-person address continues in v. 15: "I, even I, have spoken and called him..." and again v. 17 opens with "Thus says Yahweh..." But in v. 16 we have this:
Draw near to me, hear this!
From the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
from the time it came to be I have been there.
And now the Lord Yahweh has sent me and his spirit.
Considering only the first three lines, there is nothing to suggest that the speaker is other than Yahweh, who has been speaking throughout this oracle. Yahweh has been making calls to "Hear" and "See" throughout the oracle (vv. 1, 6, 12, 14). Yahweh emphasises throughout this and other oracles in Isaiah 40-55 that he has existed and declared things from the beginning (vv. 3, 5, 12-14),7 and has not spoken in secret (45:19). Yet the speaker of the last line is obviously distinct from Yahweh, as he says he has been sent by Yahweh.

Who then is the speaker? Even according to the grammatical-historical sense, this question has proven puzzling for biblical scholars; there is no consensus as to its answer. John N. Oswalt summarises the problem and the scholarly positions:
The first three cola of the verse are clear enough, as has just been explained; but the last two constitute a problem that, in turn, raises problems about the first three. The difficulty is in identifying the speaker. It clearly cannot be God, yet there is no indication of a change. Does this mean that the speaker in the first part of the verse is, despite initial impressions, not God? Four basic positions have been taken. (1) The subject of the entire verse is the prophet... (2) the subject of the first three cola is God, and the subject of the last bicolon is the prophet... (3) the subject of the last bicolon is the Messiah... (4) the last bicolon is disarranged from some other place, either accidentally or on purpose...8
According to Claus Westermann, "Editors are unanimous" that the words of v. 16c ("But now, the Lord Yahweh has sent me and his spirit") "cannot possibly be explained in their present context"; he concludes that this fragment is a late addition to the text.9

The Septuagint (LXX) Greek translation of Isaiah, which dates to perhaps the second century B.C.,10 follows the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) closely.11 A translation of the Septuagint Greek is:
Draw near to me, and hear these things! 
From the beginning I have not spoken in secret; 
when it happened I was there, 
and now the Lord has sent me and his spirit.12
The Septuagint text proves that, if the last line of Isaiah 48:16 MT is due to a textual disturbance, this disturbance was established by the second century B.C. and was thus almost certainly part of the Scriptures as known to Jesus and the earliest Christians. If it is a corruption, it is a canonical corruption and thus its significance for Christian theology cannot be dismissed.

One question that arises from the last line of Isaiah 48:16 is whether the Spirit is the subject or object: is it "the Lord and his Spirit sent me" or "the Lord sent me and his Spirit"? It happens that the syntax is ambiguous in both the Hebrew and the Greek, but as Oswalt notes, "While the former is grammatically possible, it is unlikely, both syntactically and theologically. See 11:2; 32:15; 44:3; 59:21; 61:1, where in all cases the Spirit is the one sent."13

Thus, to summarise, both the Hebrew and Greek versions of Isaiah 48:16, as they were known at the time of Jesus, contain an enigmatic line in the midst of speech by God where an unidentified speaker said that he and the Spirit have been sent by the Lord.

We have already mentioned that Isaiah 48:16 is never quoted directly in the NT. However, in this section I will argue that echoes of Isaiah 48:16 can be heard in the Gospel of John, and that these echoes indicate that this Evangelist interpreted the unidentified speaker—not only of the last line but of the entire verse—to be the preexistent Logos, the divine Son.

We will observe that there are echoes in John of all four lines of Isaiah 48:16.

Draw near to me and hear these things.

Just as the speaker of Isaiah 48:16 calls on Israel to "Draw near to me" (pros me in LXX), so Jesus in John calls on people to "come to me" (pros me, John 5:40; 6:35, 37, 44, 45, 65; 7:37). Likewise, just as the speaker of Isaiah 48:16 calls on Israel to "Hear this,"14 so in John it is by "hearing" Jesus that people may have eternal life (John 5:24, 25; 10:3, 16, 27; 18:37). Now someone may object that there is no striking parallel here since coming near to and hearing are generic, commonplace ideas. But let us go on.

From the beginning I have not spoken in secret.

The speaker of Isaiah 48:16 declares that he has spoken from the beginning and not in secret (ouk ap' archēs en kryphē elalēsa). At his trial, according to John, Jesus tells the high priest that "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret (kai en kryptō elalēsa ouden)" (John 18:20). Moreover, Jesus in John is one who has spoken from the beginning: he is the Word who was in the beginning (John 1:1), and when asked, "Who are you?" he gives the enigmatic reply, "What I have told you from the beginning" (John 8:25).15 Jesus also tells his disciples that he did not tell them something from the beginning (John 16:4), which implies that he did tell them other things.

When it happened I was there.

The speaker of Isaiah 48:16 declares, "At the time when it happened (or, came into existence), there I was."16 This statement very closely parallels the language about the Logos in John 1:1-3, though it is only apparent from the Greek. In Isaiah 48:16 LXX, the line is hēnika egeneto, ekei ēmēn. The verb egeneto is an aorist of ginomai, which has a broad range of meaning including "come into existence" and "happen."17 Notably, egeneto is used frequently in Genesis 1 LXX to describe the happenings of the creation story.

The verb ēmēn, meanwhile, is an imperfect of eimi, meaning "be." Now here is the fascinating bit: just as in Isaiah 48:16 the aorist egeneto is juxtaposed with an imperfect of eimi, so also in John 1:1-3. Here we read that the Word "was" (ēn, third-person imperfect of eimi) in the beginning with God and that all things "came to be" (egeneto) through him. The shift in verb and tense implies a contrast: while everything else came into existence or happened, the Word simply was. The same contrast is found in Isaiah 48:16: when it came into existence or happened, there I was. The imperfect probably has a durative sense in both cases: things happened, but the Logos/I was there throughout.18

There are other Johannine texts similar to this line from Isaiah 48:16 in John 1:15, 30,19 John 8:58,20 and John 17:5,21 all of which contrast Jesus' primeval and continuous existence with the coming into being of some finite reality.

And now the Lord has sent me and his Spirit.

The theme of Jesus as the one sent by the Father is mentioned many times in the Gospel of John, and significantly, Jesus draws a parallel between the Father's sending of him and the sending of the Holy Spirit:
...the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me... the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:24, 26) 

But now I am going to him who sent me... Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:5, 7)
Isaiah 48:16 is, in fact, the only text in the entire OT that speaks of God sending two figures, one of whom is his Spirit. The order is also striking. In other texts, God sends his Spirit upon people, who then prophesy;22 but here the speaker is sent before the Spirit, just as the Son is in John.

To summarise, then, all four lines of Isaiah 48:16 are closely paralleled in the Fourth Gospel's depiction of Jesus. He is the one who calls people to come to him and hear him. He is the one who has not spoken in secret from the beginning. He is the one who "was" there when things "came to be." He is the one who is sent before God's Spirit. It is not a stretch to say that Isaiah 48:16 functions as a program statement for John's Christology, and has influenced John's view that Christ is both God and distinct from God (John 1:1, 18).

The earliest extant quotations from Isaiah 48:16 in Christian literature are found in the writings of Origen. In his work Contra Celsum, the great Alexandrian exegete writes:
Since, however, it is a Jew who raises difficulties in the story of the Holy Spirit's descent in the form of a dove to Jesus, I would say to him: My good man, who is the speaker in Isaiah that says 'And now the Lord sent me and his spirit'? In this text although it is doubtful whether it means that the Father and the Holy Spirit sent Jesus or that the Father sent Christ and the Holy Spirit, it is the second interpretation which is right. After the Saviour had been sent, then the Holy Spirit was sent, in order that the prophet's saying might be fulfilled (1.46).23 
In a briefer comment in his Commentary on Matthew (13.32), Origen follows the same interpretation (the Father sent the Son and the Spirit). In his Commentary on John, however, he takes the opposite view on the "doubtful" issue mentioned above:
How is the Spirit honored, as it were, above the Christ in some Scriptures? In Isaias, Christ admits that he has not been sent by the Father alone, but also by the Holy Spirit (for he says, 'And now the Lord has sent me, and his Spirit')... And if our Lord says, according to Isaias, that he has been sent by the Father and the Spirit, it is possible even there to allege of the Spirit which sent the Christ, that he does not excel him in nature, but that the Savior was made less than him because of the plan of the incarnation of the Son of God which was taking place. (2.79, 81)24
For Origen, therefore, it is clear that the speaker of Isaiah 48:16 is Christ. A few decades later, the same interpretation is attested in the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea, who comments on the passage both in his Eclogae Propheticae ("Prophetic Extracts") and in his Proof of the Gospel, both of which are ante-Nicene works.25 Some of Eusebius' statements sound very Arian, and he would in fact defend Arius during the Arian controversy but ultimately accepted the creedal formula and anathemas of the Council of Nicaea.26

No English-language translation of the Eclogae Propheticae has yet been published, but—with some assistance from Dr. Logan Williams, for which I am most grateful—I have attempted a translation of the relevant passage below:
‘Draw near to me, and hear these things: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; when it came to be, I was there. And now the Lord, the Lord has sent me and his spirit.’27 Seeing as the person who is speaking these things is one, now who else might be the Lord ‘who created heaven and established it, and made the earth firm,’28 who says, ‘I am the first, and I am forever,’29 and sets things in order, according to all those having interpreted the divine Scripture, ‘and now the Lord God has sent me, and his spirit,’ or [might it be] the sacred Word of God, the first God named after the uncreated beginning of all created things, about whom also it is written elsewhere, ‘he sent his word and healed them,’30 for he is the one ‘through whom all things came into being,’31 even ‘things in heaven and things on earth, whether visible or invisible,’32 whom also the Lord God the Father sent—and with him also the Holy Spirit—so that he will steward the salvation of men? 
But it may be that what is stated is adapted toward the Jews, teaching that the other is the Lord who crafted all things with the God of all, by whom he confesses to having been sent, saying, ‘And now the Lord has sent me,’ and it may be he by whom the Father commanded nature, [saying] ‘Let there be light,’33 at the creation of the world, and ‘Let there be some things and other things,’ and, ‘Let us make man according to our image,’34 for this also in Psalms is inscribed, ‘He spoke and they came into being, he commanded and they were created.’35 For it is evident that the one commanding and saying something commands and orders another besides himself. Indeed really, to examine each word of the passage does not belong to the present undertaking. (Eclogae Propheticae 4.23)36
Eusebius later offers a similar interpretation in his Proof of the Gospel,37 and still later in his Commentary on Isaiah (which post-dates the Council of Nicaea).38

Thus, both extant Christian interpretations of Isaiah 48:16 from the ante-Nicene period hold that the speaker of this scriptural text is Christ, the pre-existent Word. One might object that two witnesses does not constitute overwhelming evidence. Perhaps not, but on the other hand there is zero evidence for any non-Christological interpretation of this text in the early Church.

We have seen that there are three lines of evidence supporting a Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 48:16: (i) the enigmatic character of this text in the original Hebrew; (ii) the echoes of this text in the Gospel of John; and (iii) the testimony of two early Church Fathers, namely Origen of Alexandria and Eusebius of Caesarea. If we accept that Christ is the speaker in the sensus plenior of this passage, what are the Christological implications? Firstly, the text implies Christ's pre-existence, not only because he is able to speak through the words of an OT prophet who prophesied long before his birth, but also because he expressly declares that he has been speaking from the beginning—meaning, in the Isaianic context, the beginning of creation. Secondly, the text implies Christ's divinity, because—apart from the last line about being sent—the speaker of this text claims prerogatives that deutero-Isaiah elsewhere says are exclusively God's. Thirdly, Christ does not make himself God in a Sabellian sense (as though he is the Father himself), but distinguishes himself from God and his Spirit. Just as the Gospel of John says, he is God but also sent by God. In fact, what we have here is an explicit mention of all three Trinitarian persons together, in the Old Testament!
  • 1 See my previous article on Isaiah in John for some background on the Book of Isaiah and "deutero-Isaiah" in particular.
  • 2 Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23.
  • 3 By grammatical-historical meaning, I mean the sense that the human author of the text intended to convey to his contemporary readers.
  • 4 See the Introduction to my article on Genesis 1:26 for a case in point.
  • 5 For two obvious examples, see Matthew's interpretation of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 and Paul's interpretation of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10.
  • 6 Bible quotations are from the NRSV unless otherwise indicated, with the exception that "LORD" is substituted with Yahweh for linguistic clarity.
  • 7 Cf. similar statements in Isaiah 40:21, 41:4, 41:26-27, 43:10-13, 45:18-19, 45:21, 46:9-10.
  • 8 The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 278. Oswalt's own view is that the oddity results from "the close identity between God and the prophet"; the prophet switches temporarily from speaking Yahweh's words to speaking in his own person.
  • 9 Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1969), 202-203.
  • 10 Rodrigo F. De Sousa observes that the translator understands "Tarshish" in Isaiah 23 to refer to Carthage. This may indicate that the destruction of Carthage by the Romans in 146 B.C. was regarded as a fulfilment of this prophecy, in which case the translation must be no earlier than 146 ("Isaiah," in The Oxford Handbook of the Septuagint, ed. Alison Salvesen and Michael Timothy Law [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021], 249).
  • 11 One difference is that, while אדני and יהוה are each usually rendered by kyrios in the Septuagint, אדני יהוה is here translated with a single kyrios rather than κύριος κύριος. Interestingly, the Greek text known to Eusebius of Caesarea (discussed below) does have a double kyrios, and Eusebius sees great theological significance in this, as highlighting the superiority of the Father's Lordship to the Word's: "And yet though the Word of God is Himself proclaimed divine by the word ‘Lord,’ He still calls One Higher and Greater His Father and Lord, using with beautiful reverence the word Lord twice in speaking of Him, so as to differentiate His title. For He says here, ‘The Lord, the Lord has sent me,’ as if the Almighty God were in a special sense first and true Lord both of His Only-begotten Word and of all begotten things after Him, in relation to which the Word of God has received dominion and power from the Father, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and therefore Himself holds the title of Lord in a secondary sense" (Proof of the Gospel 5.6, trans. W. J. Ferrar, The Proof of the Gospel, Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Caesarea [2 vols.; London: SPCK, 1920], 1:251).
  • 12 Moisés Silva, "Esaias," in New English Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 861-62. The Greek text is as follows: προσαγάγετε πρός με καὶ ἀκούσατε ταῦτα· οὐκ ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς ἐν κρυφῇ ἐλάλησα· ἡνίκα ἐγένετο, ἐκεῖ ἤμην, καὶ νῦν κύριος ἀπέσταλκέ με καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ. (Septuaginta, ed. Joseph Ziegler [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983], vol. 14.)
  • 13 Book of Isaiah, 274 n. 61.
  • 14 In the MT the verb is שמע, used famously in Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema.
  • 15 This translation occurs in a footnote in the NRSV; the main translation is, "Why do I speak to you at all?" The Greek of Jesus' reply, tēn archēn ho ti kai lalō humin, is notoriously difficult; see my comments here, where I argued that "What I told you at the beginning" is a plausible translation.
  • 16 The adverb hēnika has the sense "at the time when" (BDAG 439).
  • 17 Here, it translates a form of היה, the Hebrew verb meaning "be" (but which, like ginomai, can also mean "happen"). Incidentally, the divine name Yahweh is etymologically related to the verb היה, as is evident from Exodus 3:14.
  • 18 The Greek imperfect conveys the incompleteness of the action, and often indicates duration over time. For instance, in Job 29:5 LXX, Job reminisces about former days "when I was (ēmēn) very much a person of substance and my children were around me" (NETS).
  • 19 Here, John the Baptist—who is first introduced in the Gospel with the verb egeneto in 1:6 (literally, "there came into existence a man")—says that the one coming after him has surpassed him, because "he was (ēn, imperfect) before me."
  • 20 Here, Jesus declares, "Before Abraham was (genesthai, aorist infinitive), I am (eimi, present tense)." I have commented in more detail on this text here.
  • 21 Here, Jesus petitions the Father to glorify him "with the glory that I had (eichon, imperfect) in your presence before the world existed (einai, present infinitive)."
  • 22 See, e.g., Num. 11:29; 3 Kgdms 10:6; 2 Chr. 20:14-15; Isa. 59:21.
  • 23 Trans. Henry Chadwick, Contra Celsum: Translated with an Introduction and Notes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 42.
  • 24 Trans. Ronald E. Heine, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Books 1-10 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989), 114-15.
  • 25 According to Aaron P. Johnson, the former work (which is the surviving part of Eusebius' General Elementary Introduction) was written before Eusebius became Bishop of Caesarea in 313, while the Proof of the Gospel was written during the period 314-324 ("Narrating the Council: Eusebius on Nicaea," in The Cambridge Companion to the Council of Nicaea, ed. Young Kim [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021], 203). W. J. Ferrar dates the Proof of the Gospel to 314-318, reasoning that some of theological language is too "unguarded" to have been written after the Arian controversy erupted c. 319 (The Proof of the Gospel, 1:xiii).
  • 26 Eusebius has sometimes been accused of selling out on his theological convictions at the Council of Nicaea, but Johnson ("Narrating the Council") argues that the Council's language was in fact compatible with Eusebius' theology.
  • 27 Isaiah 48:16. Eusebius actually quotes Isaiah 48:12-16 but for sake of brevity my translation begins from v. 16.
  • 28 Isaiah 42:5.
  • 29 Isaiah 48:12.
  • 30 Psalm 106:20 LXX.
  • 31 Cf. John 1:3, 10.
  • 32 Colossians 1:16.
  • 33 Genesis 1:3.
  • 34 Genesis 1:26.
  • 35 Psalm 32:9; 148:5 LXX.
  • 36 Greek text in Thomas Gaisford, Eusebii Pamphili, Episcopi Caesariensis: Eclogae Propheticae [Oxonii: E Typographeo Academico, 1842], 205-206.
  • 37 "See now how He that says, ‘I am the first, and I am the last. He that established the earth and the heaven,’ clearly confesses that He was sent by ‘the Lord, the Lord,’ calling the Father Lord twice, and you will have undeniable evidence of what we seek. And He says that He is first among beings begotten in all reverence since He allots Being, original, unbegotten, and beyond the first, to the Father. For the customary meaning of first in the sense of ‘first of a greater number,’ superior in honour and order, would not be applicable to the Father. For the Almighty God of course is not the first of created things, since the idea of Him does not admit of a beginning. He must be beyond and above the first, as Himself generating and establishing the First, and the Divine Word alone is to be called the First of all begotten things. So if we ask with reference to the words, ‘He spake and they were made, he commanded and they were created,’ to which of the begotten beings He gave the command to create, we see now clearly that it was given to Him, Who said, ‘My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand has made the heaven strong’: Who also confesses that He was sent by One greater than Himself, when He says: ‘Now the Lord, the Lord has sent me, and his Spirit.’ And it must be the Word of God Who said also, ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made firm,’ if we compare the Psalm. And yet though the Word of God is Himself proclaimed divine by the word ‘Lord,’ He still calls One Higher and Greater His Father and Lord, using with beautiful reverence the word Lord twice in speaking of Him, so as to differentiate His title. For He says here, ‘The Lord, the Lord has sent me,’ as if the Almighty God were in a special sense first and true Lord both of His Only-begotten Word and of all begotten things after Him, in relation to which the Word of God has received dominion and power from the Father, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and therefore Himself holds the title of Lord in a secondary sense" (Proof of the Gospel 5.6.1-7, trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 1:250-51); "You have here the Lord sent and the Lord sending, that is to say the Father and God of the Universe, entitled Lord twice as was usual" (Proof of the Gospel 6.22, trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 2:43-44).
  • 38 Eusebius indicates that it is "the Word" who is speaking in this passage, and comments, "For when the Father planned these things, I was with him, and now the Lord himself, who is God over all, sent me his Spirit of holiness in order that I might accomplish once and for all the things that he has ordained." (Eusebius, Commentary on Isaiah 305-306, trans. Jonathan J. Armstrong, Eusebius of Caesarea: Commentary on Isaiah [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013], 239).