A Greek intertextual pun in John 1:18?
- I have found what I think is a biblical allusion in the form of a
pun in John 1:18 that I don't believe has been commented on before.
Do others agree this is an intentional intertextual wordplay?
Here's the context:
16. For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace.
17. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came
through Jesus Christ.
18. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is
in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him].
19. And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent unto him
from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him, Who art thou?
[This is the ASV translation because "bosom of the Father" in v. 18
literally translates "kolpon tou patros," and because I have a
problem with later translations that read "theos" instead of "huios"
in v. 18, yielding "only begotten God" instead of "only begotten
Verse 18 seems obviously out of place. Verse 16 speaks of receiving
grace, and verse 17 segues smoothly, juxtaposing "law" with "grace
and truth." After verse 18, the beginning of verse 19 signals the
transition to a new subject, John the Baptist's recognition of Jesus
as Son of God. But verse 18, saying that no one has ever seen God,
appears to have no connection to what comes before or after it.
This is either very bad writing/editing or a signal to look more
Why is the author concerned with not seeing God here? If Jesus
is "the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father," where
does he declare/explain (exeigeisato) this? According to John,
doesn't Jesus actually contradict this, in saying that seeing him is
seeing the Father?
Note also that this is the first appearance of the epithet, "only
begotten Son." Although the reader assumes this refers to Jesus,
why is this not explicit? And why is Jesus named for the first time
only in the preceding verse, where he is not identified as either
the Word," the "Word made flesh," or the "only-begotten Son," but as
the one through whom came "grace and truth"?
I believe the author at this point intended readers familiar with
the Torah to recall Exodus 33:18-23 (NRSV translation):
18. Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray."
19. And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and
will proclaim before you the name, 'The LORD'; and I will be
gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I
will show mercy.
20. But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me
21. And the LORD continued, "See, there is a place by me where you
shall stand on the rock;
22. and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the
rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by;
23. then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but
my face shall not be seen."
And herein lies the pun: the cleft in the rock is the bosom of the
Father. "Rock" is "petra," genitive "petras"; "Father" is "pater,"
genitive "patros." "Bosom" is "kolpon," which by analogy to the
cleavage between the breasts, can mean an inpouching. The
Septuagint uses "opein," not "kolpon," for the cleft in the rock
where Moses stood, but "opein teis petras" is certainly close enough
to "kolpon tou patros" that a careful reader accustomed to could be
expected to catch the allusion.
But does it make any sense if Moses is "the only begotten
son"? "Monogenes" need not mean "only begotten," but can mean
merely "unique." Moses as well as Jesus can be "unique," even if
Jesus is greater than he. I believe Moses can be called a "son of
God" in the ambiguous sense John's Gospel uses the term, but in any
event, "of God" is presumed; it isn't in the text, and Moses is
certainly a "son."
If Moses is "the unique son [of God] in the cleft of the rock who
explains" that no man has ever seen God, I understand the author to
be implying that Jesus was a manifestation of God's "glory," God's
humanly visible presence and effects, that which Moses was allowed
to see. Jesus is not God himself, as proved by the fact that men
saw his face and survived, and does not differ in essence from
Moses. This hidden allusion explains why the object
of "exeigeisato" was omitted. If the author had told what had been
explained, this esoteric meaning would be esoteric no longer.
If this was the author's belief, why would he hide it in this way?
(I have found other ambiguities in the prologue I won't go into
here.) I take the author at his word, that the Fourth Gospel was
written so that people would believe in Jesus as Son of God.
Assuming that John was the last of the canonical Gospels to be
written, by that time many people had come to believe in Jesus
through different accounts and explanations. If belief in Jesus as
Son of God is the key to eternal life, as the author clearly
believed, why stir up controversy and doubt?
My strong suspicion is that the author was writing for Christian
believers and prospective believers of Jewish or Samaritan
background, and sought to give an account explaining Jesus's power
and authority while avoiding the notion that he was the son of a
virgin by the Holy Spirit, something repugnant to Jewish (and I
presume Samaritan) sensibilities. It is surely intentional that the
author avoids saying anything directly about Jesus's ancestry, birth
or childhood. By expressing his understanding of who and what Jesus
was esoterically, the author maintained his commitment to truth --
and "truth" is certainly a leitmotif (or light-motif) in John --
while maintaining his concern for others' salvation uppermost.
Your comments, please?