When the Word Became Flesh

When the Word Became Flesh May 18, 2018

I was very interested to learn that John and Philosophy: A New Reading of the Fourth Gospel by Troels Engberg-Pedersen (p.69) advocates for identifying two key moments in the Gospel of John as one and the same, or two sides of the same coin. When the Gospel of John says that the Spirit descended upon Jesus and remained on him, there is no fundamental difference in meaning to what is said in the prologue, namely that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is a view that I myself have advocated for in the past – see “Prologue as Legitimation” (pp.117-118), “Johannine Christianity – Jewish Christianity?” (pp.4-7), as well as John’s Apologetic Christology (p.140 n.37). I brought up this possibility in Sunday school last week, towards the end of the class, and will be interested to see whether anyone is interested in talking about the possibility further – whether because they find it persuasive or because they want to push back against it. I hope at some point to write a book that explores in detail what the implications might be of adopting (pun intended) this view of who Jesus is, and how that relates to God as Father, Spirit, and Word. Several authors have explored this possibility, but to my knowledge no one has made the case for it and explored the implications for our understanding of the Fourth Gospel in a book-length monograph dedicated specifically to that subject in its own right.

A number of other items online are worth drawing attention to as they relate to this subject. Dale Tuggy recently discussed whether references to the Spirit of God in the Bible envisage a distinct person from God, or refer to the self of the one God as understood in ancient Israel’s monotheistic viewpoint. David Litwa shared a very helpful article that he wrote recently, about what the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas have in common and what separates them, when it comes to sharing in divinity. There have also been several other blog posts by Dale Tuggy that are of related interest, including the following:

losing patience with the hint-hunters

podcast 226 – Biblical Words for God and for his Son Part 3 – post-biblical uses of biblical words, and new words


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  • John MacDonald

    Maybe the “word becoming flesh” in John means God spoke Jesus into existence, like God spoke things into existence during the seven day creation, and so Jesus didn’t have a human father.

    • John MacDonald

      Maybe this was to emphasize the goodness of Jesus who He had created, like the goodness of the creations in Genesis (“And God was pleased with what he saw”).

      • John MacDonald

        I did some research

        Michuta points out that God’s word becomes a more and more fully developed concept as scripture evolves. John begins his Gospel with the exact same words that begin the book of Genesis. John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 both begin with the words, “In the beginning…” John’s prologue also contains elements found in the first chapter of Genesis, such as light, darkness, and life. John seems to go beyond what is said of the Word in Genesis. In Genesis, the Word seems impersonal and veiled. Unlike John, it isn’t singled out in the narrative being reference indirectly as “God said.” But as the Scripture unfolds, more light is revealed about God’s Word. For example, in Psalm 33:6, God’s Word is singled out and it becomes the focus of God’s creative action: “By the LORD’S word the heavens were made; by the breath of his mouth all their host.” In Isaiah 55:11, God’s Word is sent as an agent to accomplish His will before returning back to Him. By the time we get to the last Old Testament books to be written, God’s Word is described, not as an impersonal utterance as in Genesis 1, but as God’s Wisdom personified as in Sirach 24:3, where Sirach speaks in the person of the Word saying, “From the mouth of the Most High I came forth, and mistlike covered the earth. In the highest heavens did I dwell, my throne on a pillar of cloud.” Sirach echoes Genesis 1, but that the Word is not an impersonal utterance, but personified Wisdom that is distinct from the Most High, yet enthroned with the Most High in heaven.

        The Book of Wisdom likewise sees God’s Word is nothing other than His Wisdom (cf. Wisdom 9:1-2, 1 Corinthians 1:24). In Wisdom 7:23-24, God’s Wisdom is described using terms that are exclusive to God alone. Wisdom is called “all-powerful,” “unique” (or “only-begotten”), “all-seeing,” and “pervading all things.” In other words, God’s Wisdom / Word is wholly unique, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, attributes possessed by God alone.

        Non-biblical Jewish writings composed around the time of Christ likewise brings out the mystery that God’s Word is both God and yet in some way not the same as the Creator. The Targums (Aramaic translations of the Scripture) depict God’s Word (Aramaic, memra) as living, active, and speaking, sometimes even using it as a substitute for the divine name. Philo of Alexandria seems to have understood the Word to be a kind of divine mediator between the infinite God and humanity.

    • John’s Gospel doesn’t explicitly show any awareness of the idea that Jesus was virginally conceived.

      • John MacDonald

        I know. I’m just trying to think through what it would mean for a pre-existent being to be made flesh as the author of John describes. Are there other examples of pre-existent beings coming to earth and having human fathers?

        • That seems to be the view held by Jewish Christians such as the Ebionites. Jesus was a human being descended from David on his father’s side, upon whom the pre-existent Son descended at his baptism.

          • John MacDonald

            That sort of sounds like Paul’s view where Jesus:

            (A) Existed in a god-form before appearing in human likeness (Phil 2.5); is the cosmic agent ‘through whom are all things and through whom we are’ (1 Cor 8.6); etc.


            (B) Paul nevertheless unambiguously identifies this heavenly Jesus as also an “anthropos,” ‘human’ (1 Cor 15.47), of the line of David.

          • John Thomas

            Yeah, Ebionites believed Jesus was son of Joseph and Mary. I am inclined to think that it is true. In NT, only Joseph is said to be from house of David. Nowhere in NT does it mention Mary to be from house of David (correct me if I am wrong). Only later Catholic tradition makes Mary also from the house of David which seems to be post-hoc rationalization in lieu of virgin birth. If any clue could be gleaned from NT, Mary most likely could be from some priestly tribe as she is said to be related to Elizabeth who with her husband is said to be from a priestly class. So if we take NT information alone as the earliest reliable source about Jesus and if Jesus was indeed a descendant of David, Joseph need to be seen as biological father of Jesus, as far as I see it. That is one of the few reasons that I think virgin birth understanding about Jesus’ origin could be wrong.

  • Mike K.

    Hey James, I actually blogged about this not too long ago (https://jesusmemoirs.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/when-did-the-word-become-flesh/). I still lean towards the incarnational reading of John 1:14 and see John 1:32 as repeating the traditional view from Mark that the Spirit descends on Jesus to anoint him for his messianic office, but there is clearly ancient precedent (e.g. Nag Hammadi) for your reading and it could explain the much later accusation recorded by the fourth century heresiologist Epiphanius that some falsely attributed the Gospel to Cerinthus. I would be interested if you wrote a full length monograph on the subject.

    • It means I’m King of Kings – God’s Son. A mortal elevated to godhood.


    • Sorry for not responding to this comment sooner, not only to thank you for your thoughts and for mentioning my own very early article on the subject on your blog, but also because it drew to my attention that your blog feed had somehow dropped from my feed reader and so I was missing what you were blogging about!