Saturday, November 16, 2013

Does John 1:14 Allude to the Shekinah?

I contend it's less than self-evident that John is referring to the Shekinah glory or some other manifestation of divine glory in the Fourth Gospel's Prologue (specifically, 1:14). While some commentators have tried to demonstrate an allusion to the Shekinah in the Johannine Prologue by relying on the Greek word ἐσκήνωσεν, BDAG Greek-English Lexicon simply notes that there may possibly be an allusion to the Shekinah in John 1:14.

However one chooses to understand the apostolic words in John's famed Prologue, the theme of Messiah's glory is admittedly a prominent one throughout the Fourth Gospel: "This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him"(John 2:11 WEB).

There is no doubt that Jesus displayed glory during his earthly existence, but this glory was derived as John 1:14 makes clear: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth" (ASV).

Irenaeus of Lyons correspondingly writes: "But what John really does say is this: '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.'" (See AH 1.8.5)

In fact, even prior to the Logos becoming flesh, he subsisted in a position of glory alongside the Father; but John does not necessarily say that the glory of the Son WAS the glory of the Father or vice versa.

Regarding the glory of the Messiah, the book Insight on the Scriptures (Published by the WTBTS) states: "Concerning Jesus' first miracle, the Bible says that 'he made his glory manifest.' (John 2:11) Glory here refers to an impressive evidence of miraculous power identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah. (Compare Joh 11:40-44.)"

As for John 17:5, Insight makes the following observation: "Jesus used the term [glory] to refer to the exalted state that he enjoyed in heaven before coming to earth" (Cf. Insight, 1:964).

The Insight book teaches us that the term glory must be defined in harmony with its literary context. It obviously does not mean the same thing in all contexts.

A number of commentators want to see allusions to the Shekinah glory in John 1:14. From this concept, it's often inferred that Christ is equal (consubstantial) with the Father. For example, Clarke's Commentary makes the following claim:

"And dwelt among us - Και εσκηνωσεν εν ἡμιν, And tabernacled among us: the human nature which he took of the virgin, being as the shrine, house, or temple, in which his immaculate Deity condescended to dwell. The word is probably an allusion to the Divine Shechinah in the Jewish temple; and as God has represented the whole Gospel dispensation by the types and ceremonies of the old covenant, so the Shechinah in the tabernacle and temple pointed out this manifestation of God in the flesh. The word is thus used by the Jewish writers: it signifies with them a manifestation of the Divine Shechinah."

But there might be other ways to explain a Shekinah allusion.

A) One could view John 1:14 as an implicative account that points to the prophet greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). Such an interpretation can be substantiated by considering the apostolic words recorded at John 1:17. Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; Acts 3:19-26.

B1) Another OT text that may be pertinent here is Exodus 23:20-26. It could point to Christ serving as the Angel (MAL'AK) of YHWH, that personal agent who carries out duties as the Leader of God's people through the spirit of YHWH. Personally, I do not believe that the Angel of YHWH is identical with YHWH since Zechariah 1:12, 13 makes a distinction between God and His angel. In that fateful passage, the angel poses a question to YHWH and God replies with comforting words. While one could argue that the angel simply functions as a mediating agent in this account (with no ontological implications), I do not think that this explanation tells the whole story. David L. Petersen (in his commentary on Zechariah) points out that the angel's words have a penetrating quality to them: "How long will you be without mercy for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that have felt your anger these seventy years?"

B2)The text indicates that the Angel really is perplexed over the current state of Judah. He does not know what YHWH knows and so poses the aforesaid question to Him. The angel sees that seventy years have passed by and the whole earth is tranquil while God's people still appear to be experiencing the heat of divine anger. "How long," he wonders. By uttering these words, God's angel sounds forth a lamenting request that has been echoed by God's people throughout human history. If he is the preexistent Christ, then the biblical evidence would suggest that the Lord Jesus Christ is perhaps not consubstantial with the Father.


Ivan said...

I find it more likely that John 1:14 alludes to John's temple theology. Just 1 chapter later Jesus' physical body is said to be the "temple." There's many newer studies which find John referencing the temple in many direct and indirect ways in his Gospel.

Edgar Foster said...

We disagree over whether John identifies Jesus' physical body as the temple. That's certainly a possibility, but the language is too cryptic to says for sure. The temple of Christ's body could be the congregation of the living God. It isn't necessarily a reference to Jesus' physical body.

As we've discussed before, I don't deny that John references the temple in his Gospel. However, the imputation of temple theology in 1:14 largely seems to be tendentious.

Ivan said...

Perhaps you could further elaborate how this reference can be anything other than Jesus' physical body?

'Destroy this temple and in 3 days I will raise it up.'

What other "temple" was "Destroyed" if not his physical body?

Edgar Foster said...


I've long wondered why John just did not come out and say Christ was referring to his body. No, but he refers to the "temple" of Christ's body that would be torn down and subsequently raised. One ancient interpretation of the verse is that Jesus spoke (from one perspective) about the figurative temple-body structure built upon him (i.e. the Christian ecclesia). I still consider that interpretation to be a live or viable option.

Secondly, the Gospel of John is known for operating on two levels. Furthermore, it has been called the "spiritual Gospel." We cannot take much of what the Apostle writes at face value. Many of Jesus' listeners misunderstand him in this Gospel. Could John 2:19-22 also be easily understood if we read the passage on a surface level only?

ivan said...

I'm not sure how that interpretation solves the problem. The temple that is destroyed is the same that is raised. When was the church destroyed?

Edgar Foster said...

On the interpretation I'm suggesting, the ecclesia was destroyed (as it were) when Christ died since the body of Christ (his bride) is en Christos. The resurrection of Messiah also means that his bride now possibly rises too. It prevails against the gates of Hades.

Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that the body which was destroyed was the same body God resurrected from the dead. The Lord was put to death in the flesh, but raised in the spirit (1 Pet 3:18). Paul confirms this point in 1 Cor 15:45.

Origen of Alexandria writes concerning John 2:19-22: "Now, both of these two things, the temple and the body of Jesus, appear to me, in one interpretation at least, to be types of the Church, and to signify that it is built of living stones, a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the head corner-stone; and it is, therefore, called a temple" (Comm John X.20).

Cf. Comm John X.21-23.

ivan said...

That interpretation seems problematic since it wasn't three days until the church was founded. Most would agree he is referring to his actual body, not using such term metaphorically. His body was destroyed and 3 days later it was raised.

With respect to his resurrection body, John 2 does seems to teach it is the same body. Indeed, it is "this" body, not some other one.

If Christ's body wasn't raised albeit transformed, why was there an empty tomb Easter Sunday? Why the empty tomb and why was the clothes moved as per John's account?

Edgar Foster said...

It's possible that the ecclesia already was existent in Christ. How was the body of Christ destroyed? Prophecy foretold that his flesh would not see corruption. In what sense was the fleshly body of Christ destroyed?

There are many reasons to believe it was not the same body at all. I'm sure you know the explanations that have been given about the resurrected Christ before. If Jesus was raised in the same body, why did his disciples fail to recognize him more than once? How could it be the same body if his new body was a glorious one, described as spiritual? Christ also possibly had a new form (morphe) after he was raised from the dead.

Why the empty tomb? Because God may have disposed of Christ's body just as he did with Moses' corpus.