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

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Jesus Christ in the Prologue of John: The Word Per Se, or the Word Made Flesh Only?

100-Word Summary

(Realizing that not everyone is prepared to read a 3000+-word blog article, I've decided to start providing a 100-word summary of each article for those who like their reading 'to go.')

Christadelphians frequently refer to Jesus as 'the Word made flesh,' a qualification meant to exclude that Jesus is the Word per se. However, considerable evidence supports identifying the Word with the person of Christ throughout John 1:1-18. These include that (i) 'the Word' per se is the referent of pronouns throughout John 1:14-16, some of which clearly denote a person; (ii) 'the Light' (another impersonal noun) clearly denotes the person of Christ in John 1:7-12; and (iii) links between John 1:1-3 and 1:7-18 show that 'the Word' in 1:1-3 has the same referent as 'the Light' and 'the Word' thereafter.

1. 'The Word Made Flesh' in Christadelphian Discourse
2. The Word as the Referent throughout John 1:14-16  
3. The Personal 'Light' in John 1:7-12
4. Linking Back to John 1:1-4
 4.1. 'All things came into being through the Word'
 4.2. 'In the beginning was the Word'
 4.3. 'The Word was with God, and the Word was God'
5. Conclusion  

In Christadelphian discourse, a common way of referring to Jesus Christ is, 'the Word made flesh.' A Google search for this exact phrase and the term 'Christadelphian' yields easily dozens of uses of this expression for Christ, including as the title of articles and talks.1 The source of the expression is John 1:14, quoted below in the KJV (which strongly influenced early Christadelphian tradition) and NABRE:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 KJV) 
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NABRE)
The term 'the Word made flesh' is not intrinsically problematic. If the Word became flesh, and this refers to the event through which Jesus came into the world, then Jesus truly is 'the Word made flesh.' The problem is that Christadelphians use this term specifically to emphasise that Jesus Christ cannot be identified with the pre-incarnate Word, i.e. the Word as described in John 1:1-4. In such contexts, the statement 'Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh' is intended to avoid the divinity and personal pre-existence of Christ. For instance, in his Christadelphian catechetical manual Bible Basics, Duncan Heaster writes,
it cannot be over-emphasized that Christ in person was not "the word"; it was God's plan of salvation through Christ which was "the word". 'Logos' ("the Word") is very often used concerning the Gospel about Christ - e.g. "the word of Christ" (Col. 3:16; cp. Matt. 13:19; John 5:24; Acts 19:10; 1 Thess. 1:8 etc.). Notice that the 'logos' is about Christ, rather than him personally. When Christ was born, this "word" was turned into a flesh and blood form - "the word was made flesh" (John 1:14). Jesus personally was 'the word made flesh' rather than "the word"; he personally became "the word" through his birth of Mary, rather than at any time previously. (emphasis added)
Similarly, the well-known Christadelphian apologetics work Wrested Scriptures states, 'Christ was the result of the word made flesh, not the originator of the divine plan.'2 Again, an article by Matt Davies seeking to answer Trinitarians' questions states of John 1:14, 'If you read this verse carefully you will note that the word was with God from the beginning. Jesus was not the word. He was “the word made flesh” in v14.' A Belgian Christadelphian blogger writes emphatically, 'Jesus is not an idea thought, spoken or written down – he is a man. He is the word made flesh, not the word!'

Christadelphians do not understand 'the Word' to be a divine person who became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth. The logos is understood as an idea or purpose that became actualised and personified in the man Jesus,3 who is also 'the Word made flesh' inasmuch as his character perfectly revealed the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures.4

The typical Christadelphian interpretation of John 1:14a described can be summarised thus: Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh because he, a human being, embodies the plan, purpose and law of God. I say typical, and not unanimous, because there has been one noteworthy dissenting voice: that of Harry Whittaker. In his book Studies in the Gospels, Whittaker describes the usual interpretation of the Word in John 1 as the eternal Divine Purpose in Christ. He rings off seven difficulties with this interpretation and thus rejects it, concluding instead that 'the Word' in John 1 refers to 'Jesus the Man, and not Jesus the Idea or Purpose.' This might appear to point toward orthodox Christological inferences (the pre-existence and divinity of Christ), but Whittaker insists that 'the beginning' described in John 1:1 is the beginning of the new creation inaugurated by Jesus' ministry, not the beginning of all creation, and that the absence of the definite article from theos in 'the Word was God' 'weakens the meaning' of this phrase.5

The phrase 'the Word made flesh' does not occur in Scripture, but is adapted from John 1:14, which states that 'the Word became (KJV: 'was made') flesh...' However, what is often overlooked is that this is merely the first of several statements that are made about 'the Word' in John 1:14-16.

The transliterated Greek of John 1:14 reads thus,6 with my clause-by-clause literal translation. In my translation I replace pronouns with their referent to avoid having to choose between personal ('his') vs. impersonal ('its') pronouns, which could bias the reader for or against interpreting the referent as a person.7

kai ho logos sarx egeneto kai eskēnōsen en hēmin
And the Word became flesh and settled (lit. 'tented' or 'tabernacled') among us,
 kai etheasametha tēn doxan autou
and we beheld [the Word's] glory,
 doxan hōs monogenous para patros
glory as of the only Son from the Father,
 plērēs charitos kai alētheias
full of grace and truth. 

It is important to observe that ho logos is the subject of both verbs in John 1:14a. The Word became flesh and the Word settled among us, not, the Word became flesh and the resulting entity (Word-made-flesh) settled among us. Moreover, the Word is the unambiguous referent of several pronouns in vv. 14-16:
and we beheld [the Word's] glory (tēn doxan autou)... John testified about [the Word] (peri autou) and cried out, saying, 'This [Word] was the one of which/whom (houtos ēn hon) I said, "The one (ho) coming after me ranks ahead of me because he/it existed before me."' From [the Word's] fullness (tou plērōmatos autou) we have all received, and grace upon grace.
From this syntactical observation (that 'the Word' per se is in view throughout vv. 14-16) follows the exegetical conclusion that 'the Word' per se is Jesus Christ personally. If the reader harbours any doubt about this, consider the following. (i) The Word per se settled among us. (ii) The Word's glory is equated with the glory of the only Son from the Father.8 (iii) John the Baptist makes a remark about the Word (John 1:15) that is repeated almost verbatim when he sees Jesus of Nazareth approaching (John 1:30). Thus, the narrator construes John the Baptist's remark about Jesus as a remark about the Word. (iv) Finally, the Evangelist in v. 16 describes having received grace from the Word's fullness, but v. 17 states that grace came through Jesus Christ. In summary, it could not be much clearer that, throughout John 1:14-17, Jesus Christ is the Word per se,  not merely 'the Word made flesh' in some figurative sense (e.g., a human being who fulfills the Scriptures like no other). The Word, according to John 1:14-17, is personally the Son of God.

One of the main arguments that unitarians make against interpreting 'the Word' in the Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18) as the Son of God personally is that ho logos, 'the Word,' is an impersonal noun (and used as such through the Old Testament). Hence, it is proposed that a literary technique such as personification is in use here, and we are not to see in 'the Word' an actual person. A serious flaw in this argument emerges from the very text of the Prologue, where 'the Light' (to phōs)—an equally impersonal noun—clearly refers to the person Jesus Christ in John 1:7-12, a portion of the Prologue that falls between the two paragraphs about 'the Word.'

'The light' is first mentioned in John 1:4-5 in connection with the Word, but here 'the light' seems to be an abstract noun opposite 'the darkness.' Only from v. 7 onward does it become evident that the author is (perhaps inspired by his language in 1:4-5) using 'the Light' in a more specialised sense to refer to the person that is Jesus Christ.

John 1:6 introduces John [the Baptist] as 'a man sent from God.'9 As in 1:15, John's function is to testify about (peri) another. The topic of John's testimony is, in 1:7, the Light; in 1:15, the Word; in 1:29-34 and 3:26-30, Jesus Christ the Son of God. This is already a clear indication that the Word = the Light = the Son of God. John testifies about the Light 'so that all might believe di' autou (through him/it).' The final pronoun autou refers to the Light rather than John, and anticipates numerous statements later in the Gospel about all/everyone believing in Jesus (e.g., John 3:15-16, 6:40, 11:48, 12:46). One hardly needs to mention that Jesus explicitly identifies himself as 'the Light' later in the Gospel (8:12; 9:5; 12:46)!10

Only in v. 8 does it become completely obvious that the narrator is using the term 'the Light' for a person. He offers a clarification concerning John the Baptist—'He was not the Light'—that would be superfluous if 'the Light' were not, like John, a person. Once again, this statement anticipates later material in the Gospel narrative in which John admits that he is 'not the Christ' (1:20; 3:28). This reinforces the identification of 'the Light' as Jesus Christ. V. 9 speaks of 'the true light' 'coming into the world.' Both of these ideas—Jesus as definitively 'true' (John 1:17; 14:6) and as having 'come into the world' as light (3:17-19; 12:46) recur later in the Gospel.11

The Prologue does not explicitly mention 'the Light' after v. 9, but vv. 10-12 contain five pronouns of which 'the Light' is the only plausible referent. Moreover, there is not the slightest doubt that a person is in view here. I will again replace pronouns with their referent to avoid biasing the reader through the gender of the translated pronouns:
[The Light] was in the world, and the world through [the Light] (di' autou) came into being, and the world did not know [the Light] (auton). Unto [the Light's] own [the Light] came, and [the Light's] own did not receive [the Light] (auton). As for those who did receive [the Light] (auton), [the Light] gave them power to become children of God, those who believed in [the Light's] name (to onoma autou)
Once again, these statements about the Light anticipate statements about Jesus later in the Gospel. The contrast between things that 'came into being' (egeneto, middle aorist of ginomai) and the Light through which/whom they came into being anticipates Jesus' contrast between Abraham, who 'came into being' (genesthai, middle aorist of ginomai) and Jesus himself who simply 'is' (John 8:58).12 That the Light was not received by the Light's 'own' (v. 11) anticipates the Fourth Gospel's emphasis on Jesus' rejection by 'the Jews.' Note, in particular, Pilate's words at the trial: 'I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me' (John 18:35). Similarly, speaking with 'the Jews' about the Scriptures: 'I came in the name of my Father, but you do not receive me' (John 5:43). The contrast between those that did not receive the Light and those that did anticipates John 3:32-33, and the statement about the Light's 'name' anticipates the Gospel's emphasis on belief in Jesus' name (John 2:23; 3:18; 20:31) and the life-giving power thereof (14:14; 14:26; 16:23-24).

Until now we have said little about the much-controverted opening statements about the Word in John 1:1-4. We have identified clear evidence that 'the Word' is a person, Jesus Christ, in John 1:14-17, and that 'the Light' is a person, Jesus Christ, in John 1:7-12. This provides us with a strong circumstantial case that 'the Word' is a person, Jesus Christ, in John 1:1-4. However, not content to rest our case, we will briefly observe how the statements about the Word in these opening lines are repeated and reinforced in the rest of the Gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [The Word] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through [the Word], and without [the Word] nothing came into being. In [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)
Of course, the most obvious link between John 1:1-4 and the rest of the Prologue is the term 'the Word' (ho logos). Barring the implausible event that the writer had two different 'Words' in mind within the Prologue, 'the Word' of John 1:14-16—who is clearly personal, as already seen—is 'the Word' of John 1:1-4.

We begin with v. 3 because it is crucial to establishing the temporal setting of the passage. We are 'in the beginning' (v. 1) when 'all things came into being.' This sounds like an obvious allusion to the Genesis creation, but some unitarians such as Harry Whittaker insist that 'the beginning' here is the beginning of Jesus' ministry, which inaugurated the new creation. True, the Johannine Jesus does use the word archē ('beginning') a few times of the start of his ministry (John 6:64, 8:25, 15:27, 16:4). However, none of these texts use the term en archē ('In the beginning'), which is borrowed from Gen. 1:1 LXX.13 The key observation here is the link between v. 3 and v. 10:
All things came into being through [the Word] (panta di' autou egeneto)
The world came into being through [the Light] (ho kosmos di' autou egeneto)
These statements clearly equate 'the Light' of v. 10 (which, as we have already seen, is the Son of God personally) with 'the Word' of vv. 1-3. Not only so, but they equate 'all things' in v. 3 with 'the world' in v. 10. Now, given the consistently negative connotation of 'the world' in the Fourth Gospel,14 there is simply no chance that the author would use 'the world' as shorthand for 'the new creation inaugurated by Jesus' ministry.' John's Gospel depicts Jesus as entering into the world to save it, not as entering the world and then creating the world!

From the above, it follows that the 'beginning' of John 1:1-2 is the primeval beginning, not the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry. The notion that the Word 'was' (ēn, imperfect verb) in the beginning anticipates the John the Baptist's testimony in vv. 15, 30 (concerning the Word and then concerning Jesus) that 'he was (ēn, imperfect) before me.' Since John the Baptist's testimony is unmistakably about Jesus personally, the link to vv. 1-2 shows that 'the Word' that 'was in the beginning' also denotes the same person. 

The sublime statement of John 1:1b-c contains an obvious paradox: the Word was with God, which would ordinarily imply that the Word was not God, and yet indeed the Word was God. The observation that the first theos has the definite article while the second theos lacks it is not a persuasive argument for weakening the sense of the second theos.15 That theos carries its fullest sense in 1:1b and 1:1c is supported by the way the ideas of 1:1 are restated in 1:14 and 1:18. Both of these latter texts offer statements of the Word's/Son's divinity precisely in the context of an intimate relationship with God.

The word skenoō in John 1:14 ('the Word...settled among us') is a verbal form of the Greek word for tent (skēnē). This is probably not coincidental but is an intended allusion to the Old Testament tabernacle, or tent,16 where God dwelt from the time of Moses until Solomon's Temple was built. God had promised, 'I will set my tent among you' (Lev. 26:11). The people saw God's glory when a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled it 'in the sight of the whole house of Israel' (Ex. 40:34-38). That John intended to allude to this background in 1:14 is implied both by the explicit Moses/Jesus comparison in 1:17, as well as the similar imagery used in 2:19-22, where Jesus' body is described as a temple (paralleling the notion of 1:14 that his flesh was a tabernacle).

In the Old Testament, it is consistently God's glory that the people behold,17 whereas in John 1:14 the glory that is beheld is that of the Word. By describing the glory in terms of the Father-Son relationship, John shows that his intention in ascribing divine glory to the Word is not to displace God the Father—just as in 1:1, where the Word 'was God' but also 'was with God.' The statement that 'we beheld [the Word's] glory' anticipates two other editorial comments in the Gospel of John that refer to 'his glory' (tēn doxan autou) being revealed or seen. In both of these cases, 'his' is Jesus Christ! In the first statement, the narrator describes Jesus' sign at Cana thus: 'Jesus...so revealed his glory' (John 2:11). This text alludes to Isa. 40:5,which foretells that the glory of Yahweh would be revealed.18 Again, in John 12:41, after explaining unbelief in Jesus in terms of oracles from Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 6, the Evangelist offers the editorial comment, 'Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.' The 'his' and 'him' can only refer to Jesus,19 yet John is referring to a vision in which Isaiah saw Yahweh's glory in the temple (Isa. 6:1-3)! 

Thus, the statements about the Word in John 1:14 draw on Old Testament statements about God's presence and glory and thus clearly convey the Word's divinity (as in 1:1c), in the context of an intimate Father-Son relationship with God (as in 1:1b). In the Old Testament we frequently read of 'the word of the Lord' and of 'the glory of the Lord,' but here in John we read of 'the glory of the Word'!

The Father-Son relationship between God and the Word is conveyed most strikingly in the adjective monogenēs ('only', 'only-begotten'), which is used in both 1:14 and 1:18. However, whereas in 1:14 monogenēs does not explicitly modify a noun (so that one implicitly reads the noun 'Son'),20 it appears in 1:18 that monogenēs modifies the noun theos; thus, 'the only-begotten God.' There is a text-critical problem here, as the earliest manuscripts have monogenēs theos but others have monogenēs huios ('only-begotten Son'). I have discussed the text-critical problem in more detail elsewhere, but if the NA28 critical edition of the Greek New Testament is correct that monogenēs theos is the original reading, then John 1:18, the closing verse of the prologue, combines with John 1:1, the opening verse of the prologue, to form an inclusio. Just as 1:1 states that the Word was with God and yet was God, so 1:18 states that the only-begotten is God and yet is in the bosom of the Father.

When studying the Prologue of John, as with any other Scripture, there is always the risk of reading one's preconceived theological ideas into the text. One remedy for this is to closely study the syntax (the way the words fit together to form clauses and sentences) and the local context (the way the author weaves the Prologue into a coherent whole that anticipates the narrative that follows). When we do this, I believe we can arrive at something approaching certainty that the author of the Fourth Gospel used the terms 'the Word' and 'the Light' in the Prologue to refer to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, personally. Jesus is the Word made flesh, but before he became flesh he was already the Word in the beginning, the Word that was with God and was God, the Word through whom all things came into being.


  • 1 See, e.g., the online archive of talks from the Eastern Christadelphian Bible School in 1999; and the 2014 edition of Christadelphian magazine Glad Tidings.
  • 2 Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures: A Christadelphian handbook of Suggested Explanations to Difficult Passages (Pasadena: Geddes, n.d.), 194; emphasis original.
  • 3 'He was so powerfully and completely the word made flesh... all the ideas inherent in God and in His word were expressed seamlessly in Jesus' (from Christadelphian Advancement Trust); 'God’s plan and purpose which had previously been expressed in the words that He had communicated to the patriarchs and through prophets, had now been embodied in human form' (John Carter, 'The Word Made Flesh,' Glad Tidings, 1567 [2014]: 15); '[Q:] Did the Lord Jesus pre-exist before his miraculous birth that was the result of the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary? [A:] He existed only in the mind, plan and purpose of Yahweh and this is the reason why in the opening chapter of the gospel of John he is described as “the word made flesh”' (Christadelphian Baptismal Review Book, p. 30); 'Because God instructed His Son and placed His words in his mouth, Jesus was also called “the Word made flesh”' (Christadelphian Bible Mission, Lesson 18, p. 4).
  • 4 'Christ’s character and his whole way of life were formed by God’s word. So complete was its effect on his mind that he is described as the “word made flesh” (John 1:14)' (Rick O'Connor, The Things of the Kingdom and the Things of the Name); 'So if the word was a declaration of God and His plan, how could this be made flesh? ... the first aspect of Jesus being the word made flesh is the actual realisation of God’s declaration foretelling the birth of His Son through the seed of a woman... The second aspect of God’s word being manifest in the flesh was down to the life followed by the sacrifice of Jesus... As Jesus was a man who never once gave in to the lusts of human flesh common to all humanity and who was always totally obedient to his Father’s will, this demonstrated that he was indeed the ‘word made flesh’: a perfect manifestation of his Father’s character, will and purpose in everything he said and did' (Chris Maddocks, God's Word/Logos; Maddocks goes on to describe two other aspects related to Jesus' atoning sacrifice and resurrection).
  • 5 Harry Whittaker, 'The Word (John 1:1-5),' Study 13 in Studies in the Gospels (n.d.).
  • 6 Following NA28 critical text. There are no significant text-critical problems pertaining to this verse.
  • 7 The Greek pronouns used are all masculine, but this is basically necessitated by the masculine gender of the noun logos. Gender does not play the same role in Greek syntax as in English, so the gender of the pronouns does not help us to determine whether or not the author regards this logos is a person.
  • 8 The conjunction hōs ('as') need not be understood as comparing the Word's glory to the glory of another, the only Son—this would make little sense. Rather, hōs functions as a marker pointing to the nature of the thing described. BDAG lexicon regards John 1:14 as an instance in which hōs functions as a 'marker introducing the perspective from which a person, thing, or activity is viewed or understood as to character, function, or role' (p. 1104). For similar instances, see 1 Peter 4:15a ('Let no one... suffer as a murderer': not like a murderer but actually being a murderer), 1 Thess. 2:7 ('we were able to impose our weight as apostles of Christ'; not like apostles of Christ but actually being apostles of Christ), Col. 3:12 ('Put on then, as God's chosen ones...': not like God's chosen ones but actually being God's chosen ones), and Heb. 12:27 ('That phrase, "once more," points to removal of shaken things, as of created things': not like created things but actually being created things. Basically, the sense is: 'we beheld the Word's glory—glory, that is, of the only Son of the Father.
  • 9 This expression is sometimes used by unitarians as evidence that the abundant language in John's Gospel about Jesus being 'sent from God,' 'coming from God,' 'coming down from heaven,' etc. does not imply pre-existence. However, John the Baptist's own words in John 1:15 and 1:30 undercut this interpretation by contrasting his own origin with that of Jesus Christ.
  • 10 Particularly striking is the parallel between John 1:7-9 and 12:46: 'that all might believe through [the Light]... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.' 'I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.'
  • 11 On Jesus having come into the world, see also John 6:14; 10:36; 11:27; 16:28; 17:18; 18:37.
  • 12 Of course, John 8:58 also draws on God's great 'I am he' statements in Isaiah 40-55 (Isa. 41:4; 43:10-13; 43:25; 45:18; 45:19; 46:4; 48:12; 51:12; 52:6), and ultimately on the divine name in Exodus 3:14, and also parallels the psalmist's declaration about God in Psalm 89(90):2 LXX, 'Before the mountains came into being... you are.'
  • 13 See John 8:44 for another use of archē in a primeval sense.
  • 14 E.g., John 1:29, 3:16-19, 7:7, 8:23, 12:31, 14:17, 14:27, 15:18-19, 16:8-11, 17:9, 17:14-16, 18:36.
  • 15 To translate John 1:1c 'and the Word was a god' is syntactically legitimate, since theos lacks the article, unlike in 1:1b and 1:2. However, the word order of the clause (kai theos ēn ho logos) reverses the pattern of 1:1b and 1:2, in which the subject ho logos precedes the verb, and instead puts theos first. In Greek, word order does not affect syntactical sense but instead conveys emphasis. Thus theos is the most emphatic word in John 1:1c, which does not square with the theory that the writer intends theos to have a weaker sense than in 1:1b. The absence of the article in 1:1c can be explained as the author's way of clarifying that the Word is not a separate God from ho theos of 1:1b. The statement conveys the divinity of the Word, rather than positing a second, lesser god.
  • 16 In the Septuagint Greek translation of the Torah, the tabernacle is referred to as hē skēnē, 'the tent.'
  • 17 Thus, for example: 'Moses said, "Please let me see your glory!"' (Ex. 33:18); 'Yahweh, our God, has indeed let us see his glory and his greatness' (Deut. 5:24); 'I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory' (Ps. 63:3); 'The heavens proclaim his justice; all peoples see his glory' (Ps. 97:4); 'Then the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together' (Isa. 40:5); 'I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; they shall come and see my glory' (Isa. 66:18).
  • 18 John, like the other Evangelists, has already interpreted this oracle from Isaiah 40 as being fulfilled in Jesus' ministry, by having John the Baptist identify himself as the one who makes straight the way of the Lord (John 1:23).
  • 19 See the autos of v. 37.
  • 20 As is explicit in John 3:16, 18.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Greek philosophy and early Gentile Christianity

I have been listening to some teaching material delivered recently by Christadelphian teacher Dave Burke, apparently at a series of youth weekends in Australia and subsequently posted to his blog. One of my reasons for listening was that Dave and I have interacted for years over the internet on discussion forums and more recently on Facebook, but have never met face to face. Unfortunately we have disagreed more often than we have agreed. One of my personal goals is to behave more nobly in religious dialogue, even when there is disagreement, and particularly when the dialogue takes place on the Internet. It helps when one is able to perceive his dialogue partner as a real human being as opposed to a cyber-theologian. Listening to Dave's disarming Aussie accent and dry sense of humour certainly helped in this regard.

From what I've heard so far, the series of talks Dave delivered entitled, The Servants of the Lord was very impressive. In what amounted to an introduction to biblical scholarship, the sheer volume of material that Dave has able to cover is staggering. I doubt there are many attendees of Christian youth camps who walk away so well equipped with background and tools for biblical exegesis.

Taken in the context of that overall assessment, I hope Dave won't mind if I offer some criticism. When it comes to his comments on early Gentile Christianity, and Justin Martyr in particular, his tendency to view church history through a Christadelphian lens clouds the facts.

Gentile Christianity

In a subsection of his series entitled 'Gentile Christianity', Dave gives following account:
We're going to move into the second century now. The second century takes us into the realm of Gentile Christianity. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, the Jews dispersed far and wide and so did the Christians. And Christianity had already spread into Gentile lands by the 50s and 60s, but now Christians who originally had been quite happy to remain in places like Jerusalem were forced out and had to go much further afield. Some of them went to Antioch, a lot of them went even further. And this actually had the effect of spreading the Christian message to places which had not heard it before. But unfortunately it also had a side effect and this was that increasingly now there were more Gentile converts than Jewish converts. Jerusalem was no longer the headquarters, the nexus, of the Christian community. The Spirit-guided leadership which they had once relied on had passed away for the most part. And now Christians were finding that as Gentiles were converted, they brought their own worldview, some of their own preconceptions and assumptions and philosophies and theologies with them. And they didn't always leave those ideas behind. Some of them sought to amalgamate Christianity with their pre-existing ideas.1
Now, it may be that Dave just made a poor choice of words here. However, as it stands, he has described the fact that Gentile converts came to outnumber Jewish converts in the early second century as an unfortunate side effect of the dispersion of Christians throughout the Empire!

When Jesus commanded his disciples, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19; cf. Acts 13:47), did he envisage Jewish disciples remaining in the majority? Given that Gentiles outnumbered Jews by about 9 to 1 in the first century Roman Empire,2 would it not be a natural and desirable consequence of the Great Commission for Gentile converts to outnumber Jewish converts?

When Jerusalem ceased to be the headquarters of the church, and Christians were dispersed throughout the Empire following the destruction of the temple, was this 'unfortunate' from a divine point of view? How could it be, when this dispersion of Christians had the effect of advancing the gospel to a great number of Gentiles (as in Acts 11:19-21)? Note also that the Lord Jesus himself had foretold the destruction of the temple as an act of divine judgment (Matthew 23:34-24:2). Yes, in one sense it was unfortunate inasmuch as judgment brings sorrow to God (Ezekiel 33:11), but was it not also part of God's plan for the growth of the church which was itself God's temple (2 Corinthians 6:16)?

Dave paints a very bleak picture of the early second century church. We won't contend in detail here with his assumption that the leadership of the church was no longer Spirit-guided; but if true, this cessation of Spirit activity must have been God's will. Thus, the set of circumstances in which the church found itself in the early second century (no more temple; dispersion leading to many Gentile conversions; [allegedly] no Spirit guidance) can all be linked back to the will of God. Bear in mind as well that Jesus himself had promised to be personally present in the church's growth until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). In what sense then can these developments be deemed 'unfortunate' for the church? And what does Dave think ought to have happened?

Dave highlights that Gentile converts brought their own ideas with them when they came to Christianity, which replaced the Jewish worldview that had previously dominated the church:
as we go through the second century A.D., we will see Gentiles misinterpreting Scripture because of the preconceptions they bring to it, and their failure to understand the cultural and historical context of these writings.3
Now Dave is able to produce some excellent second-century examples in which the confluence of Greek ideas and a low view of the Old Testament (and, in particular, its God) did result in apostasy, such as Marcion and Valentinus. However, he doesn't seem to see much of a qualitative difference between these writings and others such as the Epistle of Barnabas and the works of Justin Martyr. These latter writings are critical of Judaism but show great valuation and esteem for the Old Testament and familiarity with Jewish methods of exegesis.

The Epistle of Barnabas

There is no disputing that the Epistle of Barnabas contains some strange ideas, particularly concerning the Law of Moses and the covenant with the Jews. However, these are not necessarily the result of Gentile failure to interpret Jewish texts. In fact, Paget, arguably the pre-eminent scholarly authority on this document in our generation, emphasizes the "Jewish character" of the work and describes it as a "Jewish-Christian epistle."4 Paget regards it as unclear whether the author was a Jew or a Gentile (leaning guardedly toward the Gentile view), but emphasizes the author's "knowledge and use of Jewish exegetical methods."5

Dave takes issue with the Epistle of Barnabas' Christological interpretation of Genesis 1:26 (Barnabas 5:5), pointing out that such an interpretation has no precedent in Judaism and is also not regarded as plausible by modern scholars. However, this is again not simply a case of Gentiles misunderstanding a Jewish text, but of the early church reading Scripture Christologically; a hermeneutic also found in the New Testament. There are numerous Old Testament texts which the New Testament writers interpreted Christologically in a way unprecedented in ancient Judaism and which modern critical scholarship does not regard as the original meaning of the text (e.g. Isaiah 7:14, Hosea 11:1 or Psalm 102:25-27). Arguably in Barnabas 5:5 a similar Jewish hermeneutic is at work. While Paul does not go as far as the Epistle of Barnabas and suggest that God's words in Genesis were originally spoken to Christ, he does use "christocentric language reminiscent of Genesis 1:26-27" in Romans 8:29.6 7 It is thus not as non-Jewish as Dave might think for the writer of the Epistle of Barnabas to see a Christological sensus plenior in Genesis 1:26-27.

With regard to the issue of authorship of this work, Dave rightly notes that no scholars today attribute the Epistle of Barnabas to Paul's companion of that name. Dave cynically states that it got its name because that is what people did in those days when they wanted to gain credibility for something they had written five minutes earlier. However, the body of the Epistle of Barnabas nowhere mentions Barnabas by name. Some scholars have suggested that the ascription to Barnabas was secondary, i.e. not something the author himself claimed.8 Thus, this is not necessarily a pseudonymous work.9

It should be added that an unfortunate feature of Dave's dialogue at this point is his disregard of the later church consensus regarding which writings from this period were good and which were bad. He moves through Marcion, the Epistle of Barnabas, Valentinus and Justin Martyr. Further along, Dave refers to the Shepherd of Hermas and 2 Clement in a list of no particular order which also includes the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of Basilides. While Dave does emphasize that Marcion was rejected by the church, he does not for the most part distinguish between those writings which were rejected as Gnostic heresy (e.g. Gospel of the Egyptians, Gospel of Basilides) and those which ultimately gained acceptance among the 'Apostolic Fathers' (Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Clement). Dave appears to paint most of these writings with the same brush (i.e. as reflecting the corruption of the church by Gentile thought), without exploring the reasons why some came to be accepted by the church and others came to be rejected.

Justin Martyr the Philosopher

Commenting on Justin's background in Greek philosophy, Dave comments:
Justin Martyr, however, brought his pagan Greek preconceptions and philosophical preconceptions to the gospel message, and when he read the New Testament he interpreted it through a pagan Hellenic filter.10
He goes on to criticize Justin for retaining his philosopher's robe after converting to Christianity:
Justin continued to wear his philosopher's robe even after converting Christianity. This is a huge contrast to the men of Ephesus, who when they were converted, scooped up all their magical and philosophical scrolls and burned them, and put that behind them. But Justin Martyr retained many of his former ideas, and he still considered himself a philosopher, and he considered Christianity the highest form of philosophy.11
In the first place, the passage about the men of Ephesus to which Dave is referring (Acts 19:18-19) makes no mention of philosophical writings but only of magical writings. Indeed, the whole pericope has nothing at all to do with philosophy. And when Paul does interact with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:16-34), he engages them on their own terms, even quoting from their writings. As Sterling explains, the author of Acts
sets the scene for Paul’s Aereopagetica by presenting him in debate with certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who charge the Christian missionary with the crime for which Socrates was executed (Acts 17:18, 20; Xenophon, Mem. 1:1:1; cf. also Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 5:3; 2 Apol. 10:5). This is not the first time in Acts that a disciple or group of disciples appears in a role reminiscent of Socrates (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29; and Plato, Apol. 29d). The speech which follows is an argument that Greek philosophy is a forerunner to Christianity. The author even cites a line from Aratus of Soli who learned his Stoicism from Zeno, the founder of the Stoa (Acts 17:28; Aratus, Phaen. 5).12
The use of Hellenistic philosophy was not an innovation of second century Gentile Christianity. To the contrary, it can be found in pre-Christian Jewish writings, and there are also elements of it in the New Testament (as we saw in Acts 17). So Sterling tells us, "Jewish authors such as Aristobulus, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, and Philo used Hellenistic philosophy to restate their own understandings of the divine"13 and, "For those who attempt to bring the human experience of God to articulation through critical reflection, philosophy is a natural resource; at least a number of New Testament writers thought so."14 There appear to have been different views in the early church concerning Greek philosophy. For instance, Tertullian in the Latin West did not regard Greek philosophy as being of any use to the church (De praescriptione haereticorum, ch. 7).

As to Justin Martyr himself, while he obviously knew and used Hellenistic philosophy, the way he used it was not as simple as combining Hellenistic philosophical preconceptions with Christianity:
While it is true that he grants a certain legitimacy to some of the opinions of the philosophers, it would be wrong to assume that Justin’s main intention is to reconcile Christianity to Greek philosophy...On the contrary, the similarities Justin enumerates clearly are intended to prove the superiority of Christianity.15
Justin's appeal to philosophical sources can be explained as a rhetorical device, like Paul's in Athens.
Both Apologies and Dialogue operate on a common strategy, of justifying Christianity by appealing to texts, Jewish or Gentile, which the intended reader will grant to carry authority.16
The idea that Justin interpreted the New Testament through a pagan Hellenic filter is even less credible. Dave here fails to recognize the very low esteem Justin had for pagan religion:
Notoriously, Justin’s thrust is directed towards splitting apart religion and philosophy. Towards pagan cult and myth he is vehemently negative: They are crude, superstitious, and immoral both in content and in practical influence.17
We should also be wary of exaggerating the influence that philosophy had on Justin's theology. For instance, in Edwards' study of the background to Justin's Logos concept, he argues that Justin's notion of the Logos is rooted in the biblical tradition and not in Stoic or Platonic philosophy as earlier scholars had generally supposed.18 In a similar vein, Price writes,
The easy and frequent use of "Logos" as a title of the Son came to Justin not from Greek philosophy but from the constant mention of the "word of God" in the Old Testament, as transmitted to him in the Greek of the Septuagint and developed by such Jewish biblical commentators as Philo.19
Furthermore, before censuring Justin for trying to develop a synthesis between Christian and Greek philosophy, Dave needs to ask himself whether he does not, in effect, do the same. A recent article in a publication edited by Dave, commenting on the difficulties that the fossil record presents for a traditional interpretation of early Genesis, expresses the need for "a resolution to this problem that respects both the scientific and Biblical evidence."20 In other words, the writer advocates seeking a synthesis between Scripture and modern science. Indeed, physical sciences aside, the exegetical methods which are used by scholars today in their study of Scripture are fundamentally scientific. Now, "the English word 'science' refers to a practice that to a large extent can be traced back to the early Greek philosophers."21 It was by "revitalizing Greek thought" that medieval philosophers were able to set in motion forces that would ultimately overturn the medieval worldview and create modern Western thought.22

Similarly, Christadelphian apologists like Dave are well known for use of logical arguments in the form of syllogisms in theological deliberations. Whom do they have to thank for this? "The first explicit theory of propositional connectives was developed by a collection of thinkers known as the Stoics" and "The Stoic definition of argument is strikingly modern."23

So Dave faults Justin for practicing Greek philosophy while he himself is quite content to appeal to modern science and logic, both of which have Greek philosophy as their ancestor. The major difference between Justin and ourselves is that human knowledge is far more advanced today than it was in the second century. But to fault Justin on this basis amounts to mere chronocentrism. In fact, those of us who value the role of science and logic in the church today should probably be grateful that Justin and other early Christian intellectuals didn't burn their philosophy books as Dave implies they should have done.

In summary, Dave's criticism of Justin Martyr for using Hellenistic philosophy is unfair on three counts: (1) this was not an innovation of second-century Gentile Christianity; instead he was following precedents set by pre-Christian Hellenistic Jews and, at least to some extent, the New Testament writers. (2) The idea that Justin interpreted the New Testament through a pagan Hellenic filter not only exaggerates the influence of Greek philosophy on his theology, but also ignores Justin's very negative view of paganism. (3) Justin Martyr's attempt at a synthesis of Christian beliefs with Greek philosophy is not fundamentally different from contemporary attempts at a synthesis of Christian beliefs with modern science and logic - methodologies which themselves developed from Greek philosophy and which Dave endorses and uses.

In a follow-up post we will look more specifically at Dave's claims regarding Justin Martyr's theological positions.

1 Burke, D. (Producer). (2014). Servants of the Lord NSW 2014, Session 8 [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.milktomeat.org. Emphasis added.
2 Pasachoff, N.E. and Littman, R.J. (2005). A Concise History of the Jewish People. Rowman & Littlefield, p. 120.
3 Burke, op. cit.
4 Paget, J.C. (1996). Paul and the Epistle of Barnabas. Novum Testamentum 38(4): 359-381. pp. 378-379.
5 Paget, J.C. (2006). The Epistle of Barnabas. Expository Times 117(11): 441-446. p. 442.
6 Grenz, S.J. (2006). The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Theology of the Imago Dei in the Postmodern Context. In R. Lints et al (Eds.), Personal Identity in Theological Perspective (70-94). Eerdmans, p. 82.
7 See also Beale, G.K. (2007). Colossians. In G.K. Beale & D.A. Carson (Eds.), Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (841-919). Baker Academic, p. 852)
8 Paget, J.C. (1994). The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background. Mohr Siebeck, p. 7.
9 The same is true of 2 Clement. This work does not claim to have been written by Clement (in fact, neither does 1 Clement). Far from being a pseudepigraph, Tuckett suggests that the anonymity of 2 Clement's author is "a reflection perhaps of his somewhat self-effacing modesty" (Tuckett, C. (2012). 2 Clement: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. Oxford University Press, p. 17.)
10 Burke, op. cit.
11 Burke, op. cit.
12 Sterling, G.E. (1997). Hellenistic Philosophy and the New Testament. In S.E. Porter (Ed.), A Handbook to the Exegesis of the New Testament. BRILL, p. 313, emphasis added.
13 Sterling, op. cit., p. 314.
14 Sterling, op. cit., p. 342.
15 Droge, A.J. (1987). Justin Martyr and the Restoration of Philosophy. Church History 56(3): 303-319. pp. 306-307.
16 Chadwick, H. (1993). The Gospel a Republication of Natural Religion in Justin Martyr. Illinois Classical Studies 18: 237-247. p. 247.
17 Chadwick, op. cit., p. 238.
18 Edwards, M.J. (1995). Justin's Logos and the Word of God. Journal of Early Christian Studies 3(3): 261-280. p. 261.
19 Price, R.M. (1988). 'Hellenization' and Logos Doctrine in Justin Martyr. Vigiliae Christianae 42(1): 18-23. p. 20.
20 Gilmore, K. (2014). The Bible is not a science textbook. Defence and Confirmation, Vol. 1. Retrieved from https://app.box.com/s/9ym4rw6c2le092pco7u0. p. 16.
21 Preus, A. (2007). Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Philosophy. Scarecrow Press, p. 233.
22 Perry, M. et al. (2012). Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society, Volume I: To 1789. Cengage Learning, p. 260.
23 Bonevac, D. and Dever, J. (2012). A Short History of the Connectives. In D.M. Gabbay, F.J. Pelletier and J. Woods (Eds)., Logic: A History of its Central Concepts (175-234). Newnes, p. 177.