Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 4 – Reading on the Son of God in the Fourth Gospel

One of the most distinct differences between the Synoptics and John is the different role Jesus’ sonship to God plays. In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus is reticent to speak of his sonship and God’s Fatherhood. Pater is used by Jesus of God in Mark four times, Q eight or nine, Matthew some twenty-three times. In the Synoptics this form of speech is confined to the latter half of his ministry, and is used by Jesus only when speaking to his disciples. However, Jesus speaks of God as Father 106 times in John, and the usage is not restricted to any period of his ministry or to any group of hearers. He speaks of “my Father” twenty four times in John, eighteen in Matthew, six in Mark, three in Luke. It is obvious that Jesus’ sonship is the central christological idea in John, and that he writes his Gospel to make explicit what was implich in the Synoptics. The Gospel is written that people may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but more than Messiah; he is the Son of God (John 20:31)…

The relationship between the Father and the Son is interwoven throughout the entire fabric of the Gospel. This is reflected above all else in Jesus’ claim to have been sent by the Father. Frequently God is spoken of simply as the one who sent Jesus. His whole ministry and activity is dominated by a consciousness that he has been divinely commissioned.’

The Son is the special object of the divine love. “For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:20). “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again” (John 10:17). Jesus’ whole mission is carried out in the love of the Father. In turn, Jesus shares this love with his disciples (John 15:9).

Because he is sent by God, his works are divine works – the works of God himself When Jesus said, “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17), the Jews understood him to be making himself equal with God (John 5:18). Jesus added, “Whatever he [the Father] does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Jesus’ works came from the Father (John 10:32); indeed, it is the Father dwelling in Jesus who does the works (John 14:10).

Not only the works but also the words of Jesus are the words of God. Jesus declares to the world what he has heard from the Father (John 8:26); he speaks only what the Father has taught him (John 8:28). The truth that he utters he has heard from God (John 8:40). Jesus’ word is not his own but the word of the Father who sent him (John 14:24).

As the Son, Jesus claims to possess an exclusive knowledge of the Father. No one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father (John 6:47). As the Father knows the Son, so the Son knows the Father (John 10:15). Here, as in Matthew 11:27, the knowledge the Son has of the Father is the same direct, unmediated knowledge the Father has of the Son. The knowledge the Son has of the Father stands in contrast to the ignorance of others (John 17:25).

Because the Father loves the Son and has sent him into the world to fulfill the divine will, he has given all things into the Son’s hand (John 3:35). Therefore Jesus the Son claims equal honor with God from humankind (John 5:23). Jesus has the right to demand this because he and the Father are one (John 10:30). This oneness seems to be more than oneness of purpose and intent; in some way, incomprehensible to human beings, the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father (John 10:38; see also John 14:10, 11).

The Mission of the Son [Omitted]

The Divine Son
As the Son of God, Jesus is more than a chosen, dedicated man; he partakes of deity. John attests to his deity in his first sentence, “The Word was God” (John 1:1), and again, according to the best-attested reading, he refers to Jesus as “the only God, who is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18).” Jesus’ consciousness of deity is expressed both in sayings about his unity with the Father, already considered, but especially in the “I am” sayings. These appear in two forms: “I am” with a predicate, and in an absolute form. “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6); “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). In addition to such sayings are several where Jesus designates himself simply by the words “I am” (ego eimi; cf. John 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8). This phrase is almost impossible to translate literally; in most contexts, the simple “I am” is not meaningful in English. But in John 8:58, the RSV translates “Before Abraham was, I am.” The language is much stronger in Greek than in English. “Before Abraham was born (genesthai), 1 am (ego eimi).” “This is the only passage in the New Testament where we have the contrast between einai and genesthai.” The Jews picked up stones to throw at him because of this seemingly blasphemous statement, but he escaped them. In John’s Gospel, the hostility and opposition of the Jews was incurred because the implicit claims of Jesus’ language made him equal with God (John 5:18) — indeed, of claiming to be God (John 10:33). Jesus in no way refuted these charges.

Background for these “I am” sayings, especially those used absolutely, is not to be found in the Hellenistic world but in the Old Testament. God revealed himself to Moses as “I am who I am” (Exod. 3:14), and in Isaiah God is to be known as “I am” (Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4, etc.). Stauffer has argued that this expression is “the most authentic, the most audacious, and the most profound affirmation of Jesus of who he was.” By this idiom Jesus lifted himself far above all contemporary messianic hopes and claimed that in his life the historical epiphany of God was taking place. “God himself had become man, more human than any other man in the wide expanse of history.” Most scholars think that Stauffer defends an extreme position, but it seems beyond question that in the use of the absolute ego eimi, Jesus is in some real sense identifying himself with the God of the Old Testament. In the Johannine narrative, this comes to full expression after the resurrection in the confession of Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

However, this identification is not complete, for Jesus constantly distinguishes between himself and the Father The Son has been sent by the Father; he obeys the Father’s commandments (John 15:10); he can do nothing of his own accord (John 5:19-20); his words are the Father’s words (John 14:10,24; 17:8); the Father is greater than the Son (John 14:28). Davey has worked out this dependence motif in detail.

“Thus more explicitly and more emphatically than the other New Testament writers does St. John declare the divinity of Jesus Christ as eternal Son of God and at the same time the distinction between the Son and the Father.”

The Humanity of Jesus
Not only is Jesus as the Son utterly dependent on the Father; he is also portrayed in thoroughly human terms. He is pictured as a normal man enjoying usual family relations. He attends a wedding with his mother and brothers, apparently within the circle of friends or relatives. He stays for a dme in the family circle at Capernaum (John 2:12). He is thirsty and tired on the journey through Samaria (John 4:6-7). His brothers undertake to lecture him about his conduct (John 7:3-8). On the cross he displays a deep filial concern for the care of his mother (John 19:25-26). He experienced the human emotion of sorrow at the bereavement of close friends and wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:33, 35). He was troubled in soul at the thought of death (John 12:27). He even shows a momentary indecision as to whether he should pray to be delivered from his hour. In John 8:40 he actually calls himself a man. His sufferings on the cross are focused in the cry, “I thirst” (John 19:28).

The words of Pilate, “Here is the man!” (John 19:5), are not easy to interpret with any certainty. Jesus was beaten and bloody from the scourging, his head torn by jagged thorns; he was arrayed in a purple robe in the mock regalia of royalty. Pilate’s words may have been meant as a rough jest** or as an exclamation of pity and contempt. All this illustrates one of the main themes of John: the Word became flesh.

Some scholars have questioned the reality of the humanity of the Johannine Jesus, arguing that he was only human in appearance, not in reality. His tears for Mary and Martha are said to be not tears of human emotion but the tears of divine love. This is contradicted by John 11:5: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” This is certainly not the love of God for the world but the love of a human personality for special friends. The same denial of Jesus’ real humanity has been recently stated by Kasemann: “In what sense is he flesh . . . who at the well of Samaria is tired and desires a drink, yet has no need of drink and has food different from that which his disciples seek?” This says far more than the text says. “The woman left her water jar” (John 4:28), and it is natural to suppose that Jesus refreshed himself from the water she had drawn from the well. It is no more likely that John understands Jesus’ words, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (John 4:33), to mean that Jesus no longer needed physical food than to understand Jesus’ words to the woman that whoever drinks of the water he has to give will never thirst because he will have an inner spring of water (John 4:14) to mean that spiritual water will satisfy physical thirst. The entire incident is an acted parable to point out the primacy of spiritual things. The Synoptic Jesus said that it would profit nothing to gain the whole world but forifeit one’s life (Mk. 8:36).

We may conclude that John portrays Jesus in a twofold light without reflection or speculation. He is equal to God; he is indeed God in the flesh; yet he is fully human. John provides some of the most important biblical materials for the later doctrine of the dual nature of Jesus, but John is not interested in such speculations. He reports a sound memory of the impact Jesus made without indulging in speculative questions.

It is no longer possible to hold that the Synoptics present a human, “historical” Jesus while John presents a radically reinterpreted, “deified” picture of Jesus. It is a commonplace that the Synoptics portray Jesus as the Son of God, essentially no less than does John. Rather than offering an eccentric picture, John “enables us precisely to see the Synoptic Christ in depth.”

Source. “The Fourth Gospel – Christology” in George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 2 ed. (Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 283-289.

Next Post:
Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 5. The Son from Pre-existence to the Consummation of Creation.

Related Posts:
Historical Origin of Divine Christology. Part 1 – Apostolic Christology vs Mythological Christology
Historical Origin of Divine Christology. Part 2 – Exaltation Christology in Luke-Acts
Historical Origin of Divine Christology. Part 3 – The Origin of Paul’s Divine Christology