Yesterday in our Advent Daily Office we left behind the first set of readings and stepped into the second set. Of the accompanying Old Testament passages in the first set, I actually had one person comment with recognition that I had used Everett Fox’s translation — it’s a little obscure, but I quite like it, and the recognition was a good thing. So with our mind filled with the thoughts of the eternal Word (Logos) one with the Father from before the beginning and the background of eternal Wisdom personified and the revelation of God’s name, we step into the next pair of texts from John’s prologue: verses 3 and 17. Together with the Old Testament texts, we find a description of the things established by the Word and a message for those who wait. The readings for the second half of this week are these:
John 1:3 (NET)
All things were created by him,
and apart from him
not one thing was created
that has been created.
OT: Psalm 8 (David’s Commentary on Genesis 1)
John 1:17 (NIV)
For the law was given through Moses;
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
OT: Isaiah 54:1-10 (God’s covenant endures)
Most explanations of John 1 will naturally connect verse 17 with verse 16, but as you recall, we’re breaking the pattern intentionally as we peel back the layers of the passage. Here, I’ve related the two verses together as descriptions of what has come to be through the Word. Both are revelation — it may take a bit of theological reflection, but muse over the concepts of creation, revelation, establishment, and relationship and you’ll begin to see all of them in both verses.
Again, both verses have a lyrical characteristic, and I’ve selected translations that helped show this, though it is evident in most renderings of the text. You can easily see the progression in verse 3 and the contrast in verse 17. Actually, let’s pause. Although these two phrases are taken as a contrast, the word “but” is not in the Greek text, despite it’s use in several translations. Although the word “but” doesn’t need to imply an opposite, our brains tend to push it there unless we have a clear cue to understand it differently, so I prefer a translation that leaves it out — these are just two related ideas. On that basis, I want to suggest that this is not a sharp contrast, rather that grace and truth through Jesus Christ is an extension or fulfillment of law given through Moses. We’ll unpack that a bit more next week when we look at verse 16, and in fact, our understanding of verse 16 will be greatly aided by our consideration of verse 17. Think about it.
As usual, our Old Testament texts help fill in our understanding of these verses. Lest we forget, God is speaking of Torah, of “the Law” that came through Moses when he spoke through Isaiah:
For the mountains may move
and the hills disappear,
but even then my faithful love for you will remain.
My covenant of blessing will never be broken,”
says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
It is not good for us to think of “grace and truth” being in contrast to the “Law of Moses,” for God does not speak of it this way, and neither does the Bible. Mark this point with great care.
Isaiah 54 also reminds me of the canticle in this week’s compline, Jenny Moore’s song, “I Am Coming for You” (in the book I refer to it as “O Woman”). Although she is a young woman, Jenny’s lyrics tend to make you think she’s drawing them from a deep well of wisdom that only the aged can readily access. Reading the lyrics may not quite do it justice, but the song is available through iTunes (along with 2 others used in the book; if you buy all my favorites you may as well buy the album). Young or old isn’t the point… the point is we are not forgotten. The cry in the chorus strikes me as particularly Advent-appropriate: “I am coming for you — you will see me in this town someday.” What could we long to hear more than this?
As for verse 3, we find the role of the Eternal Word in creation, and come to understand that all that is, is because of him. We dig up David’s words in Psalm 8, which begin and end with glory and majesty enclosing the whole: “O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!” Psalm 8 is generally considered a commentary on the opening narrative in Genesis, and in this fashion, we may consider it an ode to the Creator, the Eternal Word, filled with wonder at the creation itself. It strikes the Psalmist as a little out of place that God should be “mindful” of humanity (to use the NIV/ESV word). Why would he think of us at all? And yet…
This post is part of the Johannine Advent Project — other participating bloggers include:
More Posts: Advent Blogging with John’s Gospel
- Brother Maynard
- Lainie Petersen
- Peggy Brown
- Adam Copeland
- John the Shepherd
- Rob Robinson
- Christine Sine
- Lori Bjerkander
- Glenn Jordan
- Julie Clawson
- Cindy Bryan
- Robin Dugall
- Lyn Hallewell
- J. Michael Matkin
- Eric G.
- (Formerly Emerging) Grace
- Matt Stone
- Milton Brasher-Cunningham
Not everyone listed is blogging on the same days, but together I imagine we’ll cover each day through Advent.