Saturday, January 06, 2007

Religion: (About) 100 Words on Disciple IV – The Gospel of John: Incarnation

The holidays are mercifully over. While a great lover of Luke's account of the birth of Jesus, I am not feeling the hope and possiblity that infuses that Scripture. Since the deaths of my parents several years ago, I have never quite recovered my original love for the holiday season. That failing is completely mine. I love the first days of Fall, when college football awakens and the leaves begins to turn and the temperature begins to dip below that of Hell's vestibule. Halloween and Thanksgiving are bearable, but Christmas, with its requisite shopping, cooking, tree decorating, and whatnot is completely overwhelming. This year has been the worst.

But, thankfully, that is all behind us for 11 months and I can look forward to studying the New Testament in Disciple IV, specifically the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist and the Revelation of John the Revalator. It is safe to say that these are the most unique books in Scripture. Pure poetry and metaphor, John and Revelation burn with a white heat of creativity and message. It is not hard to see why these books were imbraced by the Gnostics as they defy systematic theologic categorization. Where Mark's Gospel ostensibly arose from the Roman-Jewish conflict and Matthew's Gospel is an appeal to the more orthodox Jewish sensibility, and Luke to the Greek, John is universal. It is written in code, one that is open to interpretation. An example of this interpretation is Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which made the American religous right swoon from the heady display of religiousity blasting out of the rear end of Hollywood.

In a bit of late recliner quarterbacking, accepting John's account of the last hours of Christ is naive. Jesus would not have lived through the scourging to make it to the cross. The account is an allegory of suffering and its ultimate reward, deliverance. The Passion of the Christ is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. But, I am finding I am way ahead of myself here.

This week's study focused on the dense prologue to John, Chapter 1, verses 1 through 18, in Jerome's translation:

1: in principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum
hoc erat in principio apud Deum
omnia per ipsum facta sunt et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est
in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum
et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt
fuit homo missus a Deo cui nomen erat Iohannes
hic venit in testimonium ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine ut omnes crederent per illum
non erat ille lux sed ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine
erat lux vera quae inluminat omnem hominem venientem in mundum
in mundo erat et mundus per ipsum factus est et mundus eum non cognovit
in propria venit et sui eum non receperunt
quotquot autem receperunt eum dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri his qui credunt in nomine eius
qui non ex sanguinibus neque ex voluntate carnis neque ex voluntate viri sed ex Deo nati sunt
et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis et vidimus gloriam eius gloriam quasi unigeniti a Patre plenum gratiae et veritatis
Iohannes testimonium perhibet de ipso et clamat dicens hic erat quem dixi vobis qui post me venturus est ante me factus est quia prior me erat
et de plenitudine eius nos omnes accepimus et gratiam pro gratia
quia lex per Mosen data est gratia et veritas per Iesum Christum facta est
Deum nemo vidit umquam unigenitus Filius qui est in sinu Patris ipse enarravit

And in our own Revised Standard Version:

1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2: He was in the beginning with God;
3: all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
4: In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

5: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7: He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.
8: He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
9: The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
10: He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
11: He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.
12: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;
13: who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
15: (John bore witness to him, and cried, "This was he of whom I said, `He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'")
16: And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.
17: For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18: No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

I would opine that John the Evangelist was a bit of a dreamer. These first 18 verses are densely mystical and veiled, far afield of the Synoptic Gospels. Here is pure poetry:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The key operative is Word. From the original Greek, logos. In the pre-Socratic thought of Heraclitus logos applied to the inherent order in the universe and the knowledge men derived from each other in early Greek society.

By the time of the Big Three (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) logos came to represent human reason, with Aristotle extrapolating the term's meaning into logic. That is a far cry from the King James Translation. Hellenistic as it is, the reader cannot deny that the interpretation of the word logos as narrowly as has been custom in Christianity is at least problematic and at most misleading.

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007