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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jesus Christ, Creation and Chaos -- part 4

John 1:1 Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.  2 οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.  3 πάντα δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν  4 ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων·

Now picking up where we left off:

Martin Hengel [1] on Jn 1:3b states “The next clause ‘and without the Word nothing came into being’ excludes any kind of dualism in principle — as, for example, found in Zoroastrianism or the widespread Greek idea of the chaos of uncreated matter.” Henry Alford in his Greek NT notes makes the same claim.

H. A. W. Meyer (1884) appears to disagree with Henry Alford, M. Hengel and many others. “This negative reference does not exclude … the doctrine of a ὕλη[1] having an extra-temporal existence (Philo, l.c.) because ἐγένετο and γέγονεν describe that which exists only since the creation, as having come into existence, and therefore ὕλη would not be included in the conception. John neither holds of opposes the idea of the ὕλη; the antithesis has no polemical design — not even of an anti-gnostic kind …”

While Meyer’s comments from the late 1800s are aimed at Greek cosmology they seem to cast some light on the question of John’s framework. The notion of Gnostic interference with early Christian theology has a long history in biblical studies. Meyer sweeps it aside as irrelevant and states that John’s assertions in Jn 1:3b do not address the question of an ὕλη, leaving it an open question. While an ὕλη is not the same as Chaos in Gen 1:2, it shares one key semantic feature; the notion of preexisting material. The Chaos of Gen 1:2 is culturally situated within the Ancient Near East (ANE) with a long history of combat myths between anti-creation monsters and the hero gods who defeat them. 

[1]   ὕλη [ῡ], ἡ, Lat. sylva , a wood, forest, woodland,  Hom., Hdt., etc.; τὰ δένδρα καὶ ὕλη fruit-trees and forest trees,  Thuc.: copse, brushwood,  opp. to timber-trees, Xen.
    II. wood cut down, firewood, fuel,  Hom., etc.
    III. like Lat. materia, stuff of which a thing is made, the raw material, wood, timber,  Od., Hdt.
        2. in Philosophy, matter,  Arist.
        3. subject matter,  Id.

Liddell & Scott An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon
founded upon The Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon.  Oxford, At the Clarendon Press, 1889.


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