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Incarnation and Covenant in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1-18)

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Wilson Paroschi

This study deals with the structural and exegetical relationship between pre-existence and incarnation in the dynamics of John‘s Prologue (John 1:1-18). It discusses the point in the narrative at which the shift from the pre-existent Logos to the incarnate Christ takes place and, therefore, the perspective from which the individual parts of the passage (vss. 1-5; vss. 6-13; vss. 14-18) should be interpreted. By making a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the text and evaluating all contrasting views on the subject, the book shows the essential chronological order of the narrative, whose climax (vss. 14-18) is not the announcement of the incarnation proper, but rather a profound theological reflection on the significance of that event based on the covenantal traditions of the exodus story and later prophetic expectations.

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1 Introduction

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The Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, as John 1:1-18 is usually called,' is one of the best known passages in the New Testament. Behind its simplicity of lan- guage lies a density of thought that has attracted the attention of a host of Bible students and exerted a considerable influence on Christian theology. 2 The Pro- logue, with its specific character and function, introduces the book of John. 3 It is not merely a rhetorical introduction such as Heb 1:1-4, or a literary preface like Luke 1:1-4, explaining how the author came to write his book. In John, the ex- planation for the writing of the Gospel is left to the end (20:30-31). As has been said, the Prologue is "a curtain-raiser for the Gospel, like the overture of an op- era,"4 in the sense that it introduces the major themes which are explored I There are exceptions. L. Paul Trudinger argues that the Prologue originally included 3:13-21, 31-36, but not 1:6-8, 15 ("The Prologue of John's Gospel: Its Extent, Content, and Intent," RTR 33 (1974): 11-17. Stephen S. Smalley, though considering John 1:1-18 as a liter- ary unit, refers to the entire chap. 1 as "the Prologue" (John: Evangelist and Interpreter, 2d ed., NTP [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998], 135-137). For Ben Witherington III, the Pro- logue consists only of vss. 1-14 (John's Wisdom: A Commentaty on the Fourth Gospel [Lou- isville: Westminster John Knox, 1995], 47-59). In the early church,...

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