The Nature Of God - A Divine Earthly Experience
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I should myself say that they the Cherubim are allegorically representations of the two most August and highest potencies dynameis of Him that is, the creative and the kingly. His creative potency is called God Theos , because through it He placed and made and ordered this universe, and the kingly is called Lord Kyrios , being that with which He governs what has come into being and rules it steadfastly with justice Mos.
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The Rabbis likewise associated the two powers with God's two names, although for them the creative power was linked with the tetragrammaton and judgment with Elohim. Is this true in John? In the gospel prologue, where Jesus is credited with creative power, he is called Theos Chapter 5 also deals with Jesus' creative "working," in which context Jesus is alleged to be "equal to God" ison t the, Theos , then, is the appropriate name for Jesus when he exercises creative power. Kyrios , however, is much more difficult to deal with; for while Jesus is often acclaimed Kyrios in John, this title is constantly open to the minimalist interpretation of "sir" or "master.
Surely at this point Kyrios should be treated as a cultic title, its full force acclaiming Jesus as a divine figure. Is his exercise of a certain power implied and acknowledged? Creative power is not only claimed but demonstrated ; , and so Jesus is rightly called Theos. Eschatological power is initially only claimed in , , and its demonstration remains the task of the rest of the gospel, especially the next several chapters.
As is characteristic of the Fourth Gospel, a sentence or statement is frequently made which serves as the text, topic or agenda of subsequent discussion. What was claimed in , then, is formally discussed and even demonstrated, the greatest demonstration surely being Jesus' self-resurrection, his proof that he "has life in himself. First, the LXX interpreted the name of God in Exod to mean "the Existent One," already understanding that name in reference to a divine mode of being:.
Secondly, Philo repeats the LXX interpretation of "I AM" as " the Existent One ," always drawing a distinction between God's genuine existence and that of creatures which exist in semblance only. I, II and Neof. A cursory examination of these texts suggests two lines of interpretation. All of the targums undestand "I AM" to refer to a special quality of God's being, viz.
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And they all link the special name with God's actions or powers: creation in the past and eschatological new creation in the future. And so, the "I AM" of Exod was popularly understood to contain remarks about God's two powers as well as God's eternity both past and future. Stepping aside from Jewish sources, considerable light can be shed on this material from comparable discussions about the nature of a true deity in Graeco-Roman literature.
For example, Sextus Empiricus records the popular idea about god as "eternal aidion and imperishable aphtharton and perfect in happiness. Examples of this discussion may be found in Plutarch, 32 although the clearest illustration of this topos comes from Diodosus of Sicily:.
As regards the gods, men of ancient times have handed down to later generations two different conceptions: Certain of the gods, they say, are eternal and imperishable aidious kai aphthartous. But the other gods, we are told, were terrestrial beings who attained immortal honors and fame because of their benefactions to mankind, such as Heracles, Dionysus, Aristaeus, and the others who were like them.
From this rapid survey of Graeco-Roman god talk, certain patterns emerge: 1 a true deity must be genuinely eternal, without beginning aidios or end aphthartos ; 2 a true deity, then, becomes responsible for creation, 3 but will survive the necessary corruption of all finite creation. There are definite points of contact between the notion of God in the targums to Exod and popular discussions of true deity in Graeco-Roman literature.
True deity must be: a eternal in past aidios and imperishable in the future aphthartos ; and b uncreated creator who is different in being from created, perishable beings. This is what it means to be a true deity for Jew and Greek alike. This range of material, I am suggesting, has a direct bearing on the meaning of "I AM" in John , 28 and And in , "I AM" is linked both with eternal existence in the past and with imperishable existence in the future. Concerning the latter focus, a contrast is made between Jesus and Abraham, a point that has occupied the discussion in First, it is asked if Jesus is "greater than our father Abraham who died " , a remark in response to Jesus' claim that those who keep his word "never die.
Second, Jesus goes on to describe how, in fact, he is greater than Abraham, indicating that he existed already prior to Abraham and that his mode of being is different from that of Abraham, for he is eimi whereas Abraham came into being ginesthai. It hints that Jesus is uncreated eimi in contrast to beings who are created ginesthai. Together, the "I AM" statements in and 58 reflect the content given to God's name in the Jewish understandings of Exod , as well as the substance of the discussions about true deity in Hellenistic literature, i.
This discussion of the content of "I AM" correlates with other aspects of the high christology in the Fourth Gospel. Inasmuch as Jesus is proclaimed as having appeared to patriarchs and prophets, he was also truly functioning as "I AM. Inasmuch as he "was" in the beginning, 34 he was not created but is the creator of all in virtue of God's creative power.
The Dual Nature of Man
He is truly eternal-in-the-past. And inasmuch as he has "life in himself" ; , he is imperishable in virtue of the fullness of eschatological power which he enjoys. He is truly eternal-in-the-future. The content of "I AM" in John 8, then, meshes integrally with the other aspects of Jesus' "equality with God" according to the exposition of the Fourth Gospel. This exalted confession was indisputably controversial, which probably led the community to explain it in more apologetic terms.
Jesus himself would seem to be endorsing monotheism, echoing the Shema Deut , when he addresses Israel's deity, "This is eternal life, that they know Thee, the only true God. Yet the Johannine community is also calling Jesus "god. All that he says and does is done in obedience to the will of Him who sent see ; ; ; He was face to face with God in the beginning, before anything was created.
About the Foundation
Although in glory, he was continuously active in Israel's salvation history: he created the cosmos, and he gave theophanies to Israel's patriarchs. The exalted confession of Jesus, then, was born in controversy and came to maturity as a point of conflict. It was never a neutral dogma, but served continually as a formal boundary line distinguishing elite, Johannine christians from synagogue members and certain apostolic christians as well see The quest for the content of the high christological confession has been done thus far in an a-historical mode, without regard for the history, culture and social location of the community which so formulated it.
It is the purpose of this second part of the essay to sketch the Sitz im Leben of the author and investigate how this confession functioned for him as an ideology. In an essay which marked his entry into the world of social science analysis of the New Testament, Wayne Meeks argued that the high christology contained an ideology which reflects a state of alienation from both the synagogue and from certain Christian groups as well.
He looks back nostalgically to the glory which he had with God before the creation of the world, a glory he is eager to reassume , The high christology, then, comes to express the identity of the alien one who is truly of heaven, from above and of another world. These two studies urge us to reconsider the Johannine group which confesses Jesus as "Lord and God" as a group excommunicated from the synagogue and in revolt against certain apostolic churches. In the sweeping statement is made: "The spirit gives life, the flesh is of no avail.
They found his bread "stale," and dropped out of his group. Jesus responds to this defection with a remark that describes him primarily as a heavenly, not earthly figure: "What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? He goes on to make an unqualified value assertion which has a bearing on the christology of the gospel: "The spirit gives life; the flesh is of no avail" Whatever is of this world earth, flesh, matter is " of no avail. All value is found in "spirit," the heavenly world where Jesus originally was, whereas "flesh," the place of exile of Jesus and his followers, is completely valueless, " of no avail.
As has been shown, this "word" is none other than the christological confession of the Johannine church, in particular the view in of Jesus as a uniquely heavenly figure. Christology reflects cosmology. In , christology is again linked with cosmology. Like , is addressed to followers of Jesus, at least seeming followers see In the context, Jesus establishes a new criterion for determining who is a genuine follower. We noted, moreover, that "I AM" is a coded phrase containing the high christological confession of Jesus both as appearing deity and as eternal, imperishable deity.
According to , this spiritual confession alone is lifegiving. This confession-criterion, moreover, is articulated vis-a-vis a cosmology similar to that expressed in Christology replicates cosmology: as "I AM," Jesus is not of this world, nor is he "from below. Both are addressed to would-be or pseudo disciples, who have inadequate faith.
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Both emphasize that Jesus is primarily, even exclusively, a heavenly figure who is of another world, definitely " not of this world. Both function as new criteria for authentic membership, criteria which radically surpass all other requirement, especially material rites see ,5; Value is found only on the side of heaven, spirit, and "from above"; what is "from below, fleshly and earthly is absolutely valueless, "of no avail. Only what is spirit, heavenly, "from above" and " not of this world" has any value; the flesh and all that is earthly, material, "from below" and "of this world" is "of no avail.
Although they have always been part of the community's way of contrasting true with false, "in" with "out," holy with sinful, that is, functioning as boundary markers between the Johannine community and all others, they did not always deny value to things fleshly, earthly and material. For example, Christian rites and cultic objects are superior to those of the synagogue; only those who practice Christian initiation rites can truly enter God's kingdom ,5.
But does this new, radical perspective extend to the christological confession of the group as well? The pattern of redundant dichotomies is no mere literary nicety but a value statement, an ideology. As such, it functions as a clue to the posture of revolt against synagogue and apostolic churches by some of the Johannine christians, a revolt which is so comprehensive in its scope that much of what formerly characterized the Johannine group is now " of no avail," which includes attitudes to the cross, leadership, sacraments etc. As such, it affects the way everything in the cosmos comes to be perceived and evaluated, a process we shall briefly observe in regard to only four topics, but which extends across the board to other elements and topics discussed by this group e.