Someone asked me for some information about John's Gospel and the pre-existence of Jesus. I gave them some material and then read an article by Robert Jenson which I had found the other day and wanted to read through in any case about the 'logos asarkos' - I'll explain more in a bit.The basics are Jesus was born in Palestine somewhere around 6-4BCE to a teenage mum called Mary. Not many people would query that, I suppose. But is that the start of the story? For the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark n Luke), it seems so - although note that Gathercole's excellent book suggests a good 'Pre-Existence Theology' even in the Synoptics.
But John is much more explicit and begins his Gospel with a prologue in which the Logos ('word' is the most common translation) is with God in the beginning - in other words exists before Jesus - pre-exists Jesus. So some people want to see Logos as Jesus before Jesus. Although since the Logos is not used as a title in this way ever again and it is Jesus who rise from the dead and ascends to the Father, presumably the Logos merges with Jesus somehow? But this is really difficult because how then was the Logos Jesus before Jesus if the Logos is added to Jesus to become Jesus?
But if the Logos isn't Jesus before Jesus - what is 'it'? It is enfleshed ('sarx egeneto' - becomes sarx, ensarkos) in 1:14 as Jesus (1:17) and so could be seen as logos asarkos (logos without sarx) before 1:14? Is it an idea or characteristic which is enfleshed? God's communication which is enfleshed? Wisdom - probably the most likely? and so before Jesus was born there was only a binity - the Father and the Spirit - or the Trinity of Father, Spirit and Wisdom became the Christian Trinity of Father, Spirit and Son? (Argh, heresy!) But what about Jesus telling those people on the Emmaus Road of all the times he is in the Hebrew Bible or of Abraham seeing him (John 8) - before Abraham was I am. Seems pretty clear that the Johannine Jesus believes he was Jesus before Jesus and Gathercole thinks the Synoptic Jesus thought the same (obviously!).
I'd agree with this. My own study of the Prologue argued that there is no such thing as a Logos Christology because the Logos is just a literary device to delay the naming of Jesus. So when John uses the device at the beginning of the Gospel, he simply means Jesus was in the beginning with God. Jimmy Dunn wouldn't agree but you can't have everything. Since Logos never appears again and throughout the Gospel, Jesus makes a strong case for his own eternal existence, then we can be sure that what we have in John is an eternally existent Son Christology not a Logos Christology. I think John assumes that who we know as Jesus was known in Judaism as Wisdom or Shekinah or King of Righteousness (Melchizedek) and that enfleshment made this hypostasis/identity known in a new way and so a new name - Jesus.
But that's very divine and we could easily lose the humanity of Jesus in all of that - as lots of people accuse John of doing. What about the baby - was the baby a member of the Trinity and a full human being? How? How was the baby fully human and fully divine? Where did the fertilised egg come from? Did that give Jesus his humanity - Mary as egg donor to God rather than just as God's test-tube? What does Theotokos (Mary's title as 'god-bearer') mean? Where did the divinity come from? Does God have sperm? (sorry that was crude and probably heretical) But how do we square the circle between Jesus being unique creature, enfleshed (ensarkos) logos, baby in a manger and Jesus being Jesus before Jesus?
Jenson argues that this is just silly. He states three points from his Systematics:
- Romans 1:3-4 argues Jesus is 'determined as the powerful Son of God according to the Holy Spirit by reason of the resurrection from the dead'. Spirit is the purpose/telos, Father is the source/arche. But it's not about pre-existence.
- Jesus active presence in old Israel (Jenson's term) is best seen as Shekinah - manifestation of God's Glory. But that doesn't need a specific entity - it is a characteristic of the godhood.
- A divine hypostasis is a subsisting relation not a specific entity. (WHAT??? I really wish theologians would write in simple English for a change!) In other words, God is God only in relation to Spirit and Son. God's relation with the Son precedes Mary's pregnancy. The Son's relations to the Father and the Spirit precede his birth, life, death, resurrection in that that relationality is eternal.
Jenson feels pretty chuffed with this outcome and argues that any further conversation about the existence of the Logos before John 1:14 is just a Vorstellung in futile search of a Begriff. Again more poncy theological jargon (sorry betraying my annoyance - I, of course, never use poncy theologischedummkopfsprache) - means 'an idea in futile search of a term'.
Back to Gathercole for me because I just don't think Jenson has got it right here!
What do you think?
p.s. I just know someone will say I just need to believe/pray harder/think less and everything will be alright...http://pmphillips.posterous.com/was-jesus-jesus-before-jesus-theologyheadache