Theological Anthropology in John’s Prologue

Theological Anthropology in John’s Prologue
Ian Walter Payne
Thesis: Because Jesus is the true human, John 1:1–18 not only illuminates God’s love for the world, but also how humans should respond to God’s love and therefore what humans are. John shows Jesus’ humanity is exemplary in terms that relate to our ontology, epistemology, soteriology and ecclesiology. [I am taking as a premise the claim from Marc Cortez, Resourcing Theological Anthropology, Zondervan, 2017, pp. 35ff, that Jesus is the true human.]

Introduction: The heart of the Prologue is the Word became flesh. The Word became a human being, became Jesus of Nazareth.

1. God the True Lover
Firstly, the Word reveals God as the one who truly loves the world. Carefully constructed, the Prologue is composed of four stanzas, vv. 1–5, 6–9, 10–13, 14–18. [See G. Beasley-Murray, John, pp. 4–5]. Each depict the coming of the Word, describing the story of the incarnation, the purpose of and response to the coming of God’s Word.

a. God’s Gracious Word Shining from Above (vv. 1–5)
b. God’s Historical Word Confirmed from Below (vv. 6–9)
c. God’s Patient Word Open to the World (vv. 10–13)
d. God’s Loving Word Received by the Church (vv. 14–18)

2. Jesus the True Human
Secondly, the Word also teaches us how we are to respond to God’s love. Assuming Cortez is correct that Jesus is the true human, because of who Jesus, John 1:1-18 should contain insights for theological anthropology. Cortez points out the creational motif of the first few verses continues through the gospel. It climaxes with the irony of Pilate’s mocking statement, ‘Behold the man’. Cortez suggests that is an echo of what God says in Genesis 3:22 after the fall, and a hint that Jesus is parallel with Adam.
What do we mean when we claim Jesus is the true human? Building on Mark Cortez’s argument, I show John’s Prologue points to Jesus’ example as descriptive even normative of true human response to God. I argue that appreciating Jesus as the true human, crucial for our being truly human, enriches our understanding of the flow of thought in John’s Prologue. The Word’s exemplary response also shows what humans are like if they would be truly human. In exploring how to respond to God’s love, Jesus turns out to be crucial.
Drawing from the Prologue’s four stanzas, I explore this in four complementary ways.

a. Humans should accept our creaturely limitations (~ontology)
b. Humans should believe the evidence of history (~epistemology)
c. Humans should believe in Jesus in order to belong (~justification/soteriology)
d. Humans should grow mature in community through grace (~sanctification/ecclesiology)

This is how to be truly human.

In conclusion, the Prologue powerfully illuminates how ‘the story the prologue tells is … the story of the whole gospel in miniature’ [N.T Wright and M. Bird, The New Testament in its World, Zondervan, 2019, p. 665]. The gospel centers on the Word who reveals God’s love for humans and models true human response.
My contribution to theological anthropology is to confirm from John’s Prologue the premise of Cortez’ view of Jesus as the true human and illustrate how it enriches understanding of the passage.

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