Last week I wrote a post on John 1:18ff. discussing the juxtaposition between Jesus and Moses as regards “seeing” God the Father. One of the questions I asked was the following: “…the author(s) says that Moses gave the Law, but Jesus the Messiah brought grace (ἡ χάρις) and truth (ἡ ἀλήθεια). Does this mean Moses did not bring grace and truth? Is the first part of that combination in need of emphasis, i.e., Moses did bring truth, but not grace?” Another approach might be that Moses brought a different type of grace than Jesus? This thought was first inspired by a tweet from Jon Jordan a few weeks ago. He asked:
In 1:16 the author does say that the community has received “the fullness” (τοῦ πληρώματος) in Christ. Is this fullness the completion of something started by Moses? When it says, χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος, should we read this as “a grace upon grace” (NASB); “one gracious gift after another” (NET); “a grace instead of/in place of a grace”; or something else?
That little phrase in 1.16 has long mystified me. I think Jon’s suggestion has strong merit and fits with emphasis on Jesus as fulfillment of good things in OT in John (not pitted against them!), or as you put it, “the completion of something started by Moses”…
I agree. I think Jesus remains exalted over Moses, but not in a way that says Moses is bad, but rather that Jesus is the fulfillment of what was begun through Moses.
Towards the end of your post, you started towards the direction that seems most reasonable when you said “Is this fullness the completion of something started by Moses?”
Moses and his actions were a type of proto-Christ. Solomon and his Wisdom were also a type of proto-Christ. David and Job also were proto-Christs, sign posts forward to qualities, attributes, roles and missions fulfilled completely in Christ [Luke 24:44].
People treat the law as somehow opposite to Christ. And while the Pharisaic/Sadducean demonstration of it might have been (opposite to Christ), what did Christ say about it?
The Law is Spiritual [Rom 7:14]
The Law is good [Rom 7:16][1 Tim 1:8]
The Law is holy, just, and good [Rom 7:12]
Therefore, the law is at the heart of the New Covenant having been written on our hearts [Heb 8:10]
But what does that mean with respect to Christ? Christ, as the word of God said he was the fulfilment of the Law which is another way of saying the Law perfectly demonstrated, or the Law personified [Rom 3:31]
It is only by mistaking what the Pharisees demonstrated as being the Law, rather than what Christ demonstrated that this question between Moses and Jesus becomes an ‘exclusive OR’ (Moses OR Jesus). In fact it is an ‘inclusive OR’. The law Moses provided exhibits Grace because it provided a knowledge of sin [Rom 3:20], however because it is limited by weak flesh, this Grace is partial.
Jesus, as the perfect demonstration of the Law (the Word), restores to full measure this Grace because his resurrection illustrates complete escape from this condemnation that was present (pascal lamb) but not evident under the Law. In otherwords though the Law is Spirital, Christ has equipped his Israelites to see this now plainly.
I go with “grace beyond grace.” Moses and Jesus are both mediators; Moses of the Law and Jesus of grace and truth. Moses must entreat the Lord for grace; Jesus, however, possesses grace (1:14) and thus gives it directly to those who are the children of God. That’s what I think is being compared here in this Moses-Jesus contrast. It’s as though it’s highlighting the abundance found in the Son against the limit of Moses.
Aware, perhaps with regret, that my comment here is devoid of any scholarly merit, but somehow I hope still worthy of merit, I recall years ago discovering a connection that is perhaps too simplistic, and yet profound. As a child and youth, over 40 years ago, KJV was considered the only valid translation (except for German, of course). So deep in my memory are these words from Psalm 85: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” In my unencumbered perspective, the four key words were all synonyms for “grace” and “truth”. They met, they kissed, they became romantically attached, and in Jesus, they became mystically one, just as a couple, or as Christ and the church become one. The fullness of grace is the result of that unity. Do I still ascribe to that perhaps naive perspective, at least in my romantic heart, I do.
Do you read this text as attributing any grace to Moses? Is this a “Jesus is full of grace while Moses is limited or absent of grace” view you propose or “Moses had some, but Jesus has far more” view?
I hadn’t thought of that Psalm, but there do seem to be some conceptual connections. The Psalms is about the return from exile/forgiveness of sins (something seen as parallel concepts, i.e., freedom from exile/oppression is a physical manifestation of forgiveness of sins). In vv. 4-6 the prayer is for this forgiveness. The answer to the prayer is God speaking to his people, preventing them from falling back into their old ways, promising salvation and restoration to the land (again, return from exile and forgiveness of sins being connected) as exemplified by the “glory” being back in the land (likely a Shekinah in Temple reference). Then after the part to which you allude passes there is a statement about Righteousness personified looking down from Heaven and then going before YHWH. With John’s language about Jesus being the word tabernacles in our midst it is possible that the Evangelist may have made a connection with the psalm. As a reader of Scripture I don’t find any fault in what you see present.
So you find John connecting the Logos (Word) of God with the Nomos (Law) of God? Is there anywhere else in the Fourth Gospel where this connection is made, or are you reading the text canonically?
@Brian: I think the reference to the first grace in χαρις αντι χαριτος is a reference to Moses’ entreatment to יהוה for grace/mercy. Moses had something to do with that but he is primarily known as the mediator of the Siniatic Law. I think there is something to the New Perspective’s view that the Mosaic Law was a means of grace toward Israel and I think that there is a grace implied in Moses being the mediator of the Law. The Fourth Gospel’s point is that Jesus doesn’t entreat the Father for grace but instead is the direct mediator of it because grace and truth are of his fullness.
@Jonathan: I think you’re quite right that in Psalm 85:10 [84:11 Masoretic Text] they are synonyms for grace and truth (at least the first part of the verse is explicit), particularly when you look at the Septuagint. The Fourth Gospel would take it a step further in that they not only meet in Christ but he possesses them and they are given by him to all who believe in him.
Brian, I’m not inclined to see a difference between the ‘word’ and the ‘law’ because that does the least violence to the hermeneutic because Hebrew thought was concrete, not abstract (like the Greek). I wouldn’t blame John for that, and I wouldn’t say I read it into John either. It just seems a ‘natural’ concrete Hebrew way of seeing both the Law and Christ (without distinction). Nevertheless, you ask a good question; does John differentiate or not?
Looking at verses [John 7:19] where Jesus asks “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of your keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The subtext seems to be “You don’t care about the law, why do you care about me?”. This is only a theological question if the ‘Nomos’ and the ‘Logos’ are without distinction (so ONE). Of course this is Jesus speaking, but as recorded by John, so it suggests a certain sympathy by John.
Similarly, [John 7:49] has a Pharisee saying ‘But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.’ John records this – but John’s irony here is that ‘this crowd that does not know the Logos is accursed!’. Again, John’s point seems clear enough of Nomos and Logos are seen to be the same.
According to John, Jesus was the fulfilment of the Law, yet the only way to read [John 15:25] is to see the tension between desiring to see ‘the word written in their Law fulfilled’ yet hating Jesus without cause by implicitly seeing the Nomos realized as the same as beholding the Logos (again, same thing).
This irony re-emerges: It is against our law to put anyone to death, yet Jesus is put to death (if Logos=Nomos, the death of Jesus= the death of Nomos).
If John does differentiate between Nomos and Logos, it changes the whole tenure of the Gospel, and how we read John (but I’d argue we don’t read John that way). Such as reading seems more ‘Greek’ than ‘Hebrew’ and would rob the Gospel of much of its poignancy. So though I wouldn’t credit John with this, would certainly see it in his work.
(WRT to your last question, having never purposefully studied theology or theologians, I’m probably least qualified to recognize when I read text canonically, or not)
@JohnDave: Thanks! I once used your perspective as a counselor accompanying a student in a very conservative “biblical” highschool who was going to be suspended for some minor (from my perspective) infraction of the school “law.” It worked!
That is a helpful juxtaposition.
I think this should be read from creation (grace) to Law (torah), and I think the interpretive precedent for this is set by John’s reinterpretation or allusion to Genesis 1.1 with John 1.1. In other words, Genesis 1.1 is an act of grace, God created and provided “truth” or Torah for His people; so we have God’s covenant of grace as the ground (necessary reality) of his truth (Torah) for his people. So I simply see Jesus as the anti-type of Moses (and his literary placement in the Pentateuch) as the fulfillment and substance of the prefigural reality already set in motion in the OT–and I see John picking up on this theological/literary reality.
Do I understand you correctly that you read χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος as the first grace (χάριν) is creation and the second grace (χάριτος) is Torah?
Would it be fair to say that the grace Moses brought was contingent upon obedience to the law?
That depends on who you are asking. If asking Paul, no, he doesn’t seem to understand fidelity to the Law to be the central means of grace or identity within the Abrahamic family (according to Romans 4 where he argues that we enter into the Abrahamic family like Abraham–by faith prior to covenant markers like circumcision–or like King David). If you were to ask Jews at Qumran, yes, and Law obedience specifically as interpreted through the Teacher (of Righteousness). I am trying to think through whether or not the Gospel of John tries to address this subject though (whether Law obedience was a means of grace prior to the advent of Christ).
Any thoughts JohnDave?
Jacob, such an interpretation and of Moses and the Law might be advocated by a Pharasee, or Saduccee – but as Christ showed us they hardly understood Moses and the Law. We shouldn’t see this Law that Moses brought through the eyes of a Pharasee, rather we should see it through the eye of Christ.
What did Christ say, but “IF you Love me keep my commandments [John 14;15]”. What is this but a concise summary of how Moses understood it too [Exo 24:7].
This is a fascinating conversation, thanks for getting this started, Brian.
My original tweet came during a time of finishing a course paper on the interpretation of Jn. 1:16. Throughout my research, I was most fascinated by the history of interpretation. I explored that area briefly in the paper, but would love to explore it more in the near future. I have provided a link here to the original paper—one I hope to develop, polish, and expand—for those who are curious.
Let me think about how to rephrase what I’m saying and I’ll get back.
@Brian and @Jacob: The Fourth Gospel doesn’t seem to address the topic of obedience to the Law of Moses as a condition for receiving the grace that Moses brought. The Fourth Gospel’s presentation of the Law is that it points to Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is the grace that Moses brought: that there would be a prophet-like-him who is to come and who would speak God’s words directly to the people (Deut 18:15-22). Not only is this coming prophet to speak God’s words but he is God’s very own Word.
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