This weeks Torah Portion, Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) sees the restarting of the reading of the Torah after the great Simchat Torah (Joy of Torah) celebration that has just finished.
I would like to touch on a couple of interesting Hebraic perspectives to lead into our next podcast on the Hebraic Mindset.
Firstly, the ‘fiats’ of God:
When the Almighty speaks, that is when He gives His word, it is certain that what He speaks will come to pass at some time in the future. It may not be immediately, in may not even be in the next few thousand years, but it will eventually and ultimately come to pass. Remember that God created time at the beginning as well as space. Thus, He is not confined by His own creation in that He lives both outside of, and inside His creation. For the Almighty, in viewing His creation from with-out, He can see the overview, the totally of how His plans and His fiats fall into place and bring about His purposes.
In Psalm 33:6,9 we read: “By the word of YHWH were the heavens made, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts… For He spoke and it was done, He commanded and it stood firm”.
Psalm 148:5 reads: “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.”
Also in Hebrews 11:3 we read: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which were visible.”and in 2 Peter 3.5 “…by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water”.
God speaks and it must happen. It appears that from God’s point of view (which is very different from ours), creation was virtually completed as soon as he had spoken His Word, or uttered his infallible fiats.
The importance of this profound fact cannot be overemphasized.
In accordance with this principle, the Apostle Paul was able to say that God ‘chose us in him before the foundation of the world’ (Eph 1.4), even though, in literal fact we, and the Messiah, did not then exist.
In a similar vein, Revelation 13.8 speaks of our names being ‘written in the book of life from the foundation of the world’ and of ‘the Lamb of God being slain from the foundation of the world’.
Not only did God have the crucifixion and resurrection in mind before, or when He created this Universe; he also had each of us in His Plan! Again, God told the prophet Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.‘ (Jeremiah 1.5)
It is vital to appreciate that when God declares something it will come to pass; it may takes days or years or thousands, millions or even billions of years but it is as good as done the moment God gives the Word.
It is also important to distinguish these ‘word(s) of God’, these fiats or proclamations from fiats or ‘pronunciations of intent‘ uttered by a human being or ruler. We may state or promise something and not always fulfil or live up to our promises but God’s declarations are absolutely certain.
Thus God and His inspired Scripture can speak about future events (at the time of writing) as if they are past because to God they are already a reality. There is therefore, a sense in which everything thing has ‘pre-existed’ in the mind of God because all creation has appeared as a direct result of God’s thought and proclamation of it.
Mediate on this! Consider the awesomeness of our Creator and King of the Universe. His plans cannot be thwarted, His Creation will ultimately become the place of His perfect reign; the place of perfect love, peace and joy that He has always planned it will be.
Consider also then, the prologue of John’s Gospel. Obviously, Trinitarians see John’s prologue as strongly inferring some preexistence of the Messiah and some sort of inference of his deity.
The classic mistake though that most Christians make is to start with the NT, and especially to start with John’s Gospel, as if this NT stands on it’s own and the context of a Jewish disciple writing about the Messiah Yeshua around 65 CE, is a context with no prior history.
This very serious and very prevalent error is so overwhelmingly common amongst Christians.
This is not where Yeshua started; this is not where the Apostle Paul started. They both relied on the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh. Both Yeshua when he repeatedly said ‘It is written …’ and the Apostle Paul when he said “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16) were referring to the Tanakh.
Thus to understand anything in the NT and to appreciate the intent of the NT authors such as John, we need to look first into the Tanakh to understand their perspective and biblical reality, but we also need to look to documents from the inter-testamental time, to appreciate common Jewish thinking, understanding and terminology.
In this respect even sectarian works from this period can be relevant. That is, John’s Gospel was not written in a vacuum. As a follower of Yeshua, a member of this sect of the proto-Judaism (to use David Flusser’s term) of his time, the Apostle John was a Hebraist and essentially Pharisaic in biblical orientation.
So with this appreciation, it is worth asking if the concepts and ideas presented in John’s prologue were already existent or even prevalent in the Tanakh and in Jewish thought of his time.
What we find is that John’s prologue, for example John 1:3 “through ‘it’ (the Word) everything came to be: no single thing was created without it” was a Jewish ‘commonplace’. That is, it was already part of Jewish writings prior to John.
For example in the Book of Jubilees, and also in the Wisdom of Solomon (9:1) we read that God “has created everything by His word” (12:4).
Even more similar to John’s prologue is the wording of two sentences in the Dead Sea Scrolls: “By His (God’s) knowledge everything came to be, and everything which is happening — He establishes it by his design and without Him [nothing] is done” (1QS XI: 11).
And “By the wisdom of Thy knowledge Thou didst establish their destiny ere they came into being, and according [Thy will] everything came to be, and without Thee [nothing] is done” (1QH 1:19-20).
These two kindred sentences in the Scrolls stress the Jewish sectarian doctrine of predestination and not the Christian ‘hypostatic’ aspect of knowledge and wisdom, by which everything came to be (‘hypostatic’ meaning ‘essence’ – a term used to imply a separate personality or second person of God).
These purely sectarian Scrolls had no interest in a hypostatic point of view and so any later hypostatic interpretation by Christianity would appear to be a seriously flawed and mistaken understanding.
The idea that God created the world through his ‘word’ is very much a Jewish concept, and imbedded in the Tankah as I have already outlined.
Interestingly, the Hellenistic Jewish authorPhilo (20 BCE – 50 CE) wrote that the Word (as a Greek speaker, he used ‘Logos’) ‘was God’s “blueprint for the world”, a governing plan.’
So, when we consider the context and historical background and influences that existed in John’s worldview, we should see that any ‘hypostatic’ consideration was far from his mind and intentions. In fact, as many have pointed out, John himself makes this abundantly clear when he states in John 20:31 “… but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Remember that the words that God speaks have the power to create and that it is through His very words that the Almighty does this creation:
“By the word of YHWH were the heavens made, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts… For He spoke and it was done, He commanded and it stood firm”. Psalm 33:6,9
“Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.” Psalm 148:5
So we can see that the following translations of John 1:1 get closer to this sense than most:
“In the beginning there was the divine word and wisdom. The divine wisdom and word was there with God and it was what God was.” – The Complete Gospels – Ed Miller, Annotated Scholars Version, revised, Harper, 1994
“In the beginning was the Word (the Logos, the expressed concept, here personified). (The Authentic New Testament” – by Hugh Schonfield
And so, I believe Anthony Buzzard’s paraphrasing of the prologue gives a much better sense with respect to the understanding of John and his fellow Jews during the first century:
“In the beginning there was a divine word and it was stored in God’s heart and was his own creative self-expression. All things came into being through that divine word and without it nothing was made that was made…” – see http://www.focusonthekingdom.org/articles/john1.htm#_ftn10
Next: Using this ‘fiat’ understanding to re-punctuate Genesis …
And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written in the book of life of the Lamb that has been slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:8)