Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Significance of the Incarnate Logos Dwelling among Us in John 1:14

John 1:14 is significant in containing the first note in a symphony of references in John’s Gospel to the temple theme. In the first two clauses in John 1:14, it is written that “the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.” Most modern translations talk about the Logos dwelling among us, but this reasonable idiomatic translation effectively masks for today’s reader the important allusion that John was making at this point. A literal translation of the second clause of John 1:14 would be: “and he pitched [his] tent among us.”

The word translated as dwelt or made a dwelling (ἐσκήνωσεν) is related to the word tent (σκηνή). A reader familiar with the original Greek would easily see this connection. Jesus set up tent among us! In addition, a reader familiar with the LXX translation of the Hebrew Bible would also see a clear connection between the verb ἐσκήνωσεν and the idea of the tabernacle, given that σκηνή was the usual word in the LXX for denoting the tabernacle. Thus it is also possible to translate the second clause of John 1:14 as: “and he tabernacled among us.”

The word tent or tabernacle conveys to minds familiar with the Hebrew Bible an idea rich in theological significance. The tabernacle was a portable temple. It was a sacred tent that could be packed up and carried around until the day when Israel had rest. When Israel achieved rest, then the portable temple would become permanent, i.e., the tabernacle would become a temple (Deut 12:10–11). The tabernacle/temple was the supreme symbol of God’s presence among his people. The tabernacle/temple was considered to be God’s dwelling place among Israel. This is clear from the Hebrew word underlying σκηνή in the LXX, namely, משכן, which is based on the Hebrew root שכן, which conveys the idea of dwelling.

By saying that the Logos had tabernacled among us, John was clearly asserting the idea (controversial in its day) that Jesus is the ultimate temple, which is the same as saying that Jesus is the supreme instance of God dwelling among us. Jesus is the Emmanuel, the with-us-God. The tabernacle/temple was the place where human beings could obtain the forgiveness of their sins in order that they might then be able to enter into the presence of God, and experience blessing in his presence. Therefore, by saying that the incarnate Logos had dwelt among us, John was claiming that Jesus is the new and ultimate temple, the locus of divine forgiveness and fellowship.

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