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Budapest, 2018
Serge Ruzer

Did New Testament Authors Aspire to

Make Their Compositions Part of Scripture?
The Case of the Johannine Prologue

It is reasonable to suppose that during first phases of its history, the Jewish messianic
movement of Jesus’ followers embraced attitudes toward and notions of Scripture
current in contemporaneous Jewry. Though the exact perceptions of the borders
of sacred literature in various Jewish circles could differ,1 all seemingly shared
a canonical outlook of sorts with the notion of the Torah of Moses as the center
of scriptural heritage, while the prominence ascribed to additional prophetic and
wisdom writings fluctuate from one group to another.2 Christian writers of the
second century, even when promoting a self-identification of a new „religion of the
peoples,” distinct from that of the Jews, firmly established the standing of Jewish
Holy Writ as a foundational part of their Scripture. The interpretation of the
Hebrew Bible in its Septuagint’s garb in accordance with the Christian teaching in 347
making allowed those authors to reject Marcion’s claim for the unbridgeable divide
between the „two covenants” and uphold the Bible-centered continuity.3 In parallel
to the struggle for the status of Jewish Scripture, the process of evaluating, collecting
and censoring new texts composed within the Jesus movement was underway
in second-century Christianity – inter alia, in response to Marcion’s minimalist
selection of approved traditions and in aspiration for uniformity of message. Though
important details of that process remain unclear, there are strong indications that
by the end of the second century a whole set of such new compositions would

For example, for perceptions characterizing the community of Qumran, see Craig A. Evans, „The
Dead Sea Scrolls and the Canon of Scripture in the Time of Jesus,” in Peter W. Flint (ed.), The Bible at
Qumran: Text, Shape and Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), pp. 67–79; George J. Brooke,
„Scripture and Scriptural Tradition in Transmission: Light from the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in George J.
Brooke, Daniel K. Falk, Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar and Molly M. Zahn (eds.), The Scrolls and Biblical
Traditions (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 1–17; idem, „Authority and the Authoritativeness of Scripture:
Some Clues from the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Revue de Qumran 25.4 (2012), pp. 507–523.
For a broader inclusive notion of the canon, see Josephus Flavius, Against Apion 1.37–42.
See discussion in Guy G. Stroumsa, „The Body of Truth and Its Measures: New Testament
Canonization in Context,” in idem, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian
Mysticism (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005), pp. 79–91.
Did New Testament Authors Aspire to Make Their Compositions Part of Scripture?

acquire among Christians a halo of sanctity perceived – under the title „New
Testament” – as a foundational second component of the Holy Writ.4
First generations of authors belonging to the Jesus movement, however, could
not know that much later their own works would become part of a new expanded
biblical canon. How then did they view their literary activity? In order to try to
approximate answering the question, we should first ask how compilers of other
Jewish religious compositions of the time perceived the relation between them and
ancient texts already sanctified by tradition.
This is not the place to discuss at length the variegated patterns of literary
activity among the late Second Temple Jewry; a few general – and admittedly
schematic – observations will suffice for our purposes. The period from the second
– even, possibly, late third – century BCE until the end of the first century CE can
be viewed as characterized by a more or less developed canonical outlook to which
I already related above.5 Moreover, a complementary notion became prominent –
namely, that the prophecy, which had distinguished the ancient history of Israel
and engendered its Scripture, was now unavailable,6 though it will return in the
days of eschatological redemption. This idea both reflected the aspiration for closing
the canon and provided for it a legitimization.
Against this backdrop, two strategies of literary activity relevant for our topic
stand out. First, there appeared compositions, which related to ancient sacred texts
348 as already completed corpus: It is in its light that they tried to comprehend the new
religious-historical experience, with a clear self-awareness of the secondary character
of such interpretation-centered writing vis-à-vis the biblical matrix. Numerous
exegetical works of Philo of Alexandria and his Life of Moses, as well as Josephus
Flavius’ Jewish Antiquities or Qumranic pesharim that apply biblical prophecies to
the life of the Teacher of Righteousness and that of the community as a whole, all
are examples of such a tendency. As has been demonstrated, later layers of biblical
literature also addressed earlier ones by means of the (re-)interpretation-flavored
intertextuality.7 However, the explicit exegetical format, employing actual quotes,
seems to be an innovation.

Stroumsa, „The Body of Truth,” pp. 80–88.
See Menahem Haran, The Biblical Collection: Its Consolidation to the End of the Second Temple Times
and Changes of Form to the End of the Middle Ages (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute and Magnes Press, 1996)
(in Hebrew); Shemaryahu Talmon, „The Crystallization of the ‘Canon of Hebrew Scriptures’ in the
Light of Biblical Scrolls from Qumran,” in Edward D. Herbert and Emanuel Tov (eds.), The Bible as
Book: the Hebrew Bible and the Judaean Desert Discoveries (London: British Library, 2002), pp. 5–20.
See Josephus Flavius, ibid.
See discussion in Yair Zakovitch, „Inner-Biblical Interpretation,” in Ronald Hendel (ed.), Reading
Genesis: Ten Methods (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 92–118; idem, „Inner-Biblical
Interpretation,” in Matthias Henze (ed.), A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), pp. 27–63.
Serge Ruzer

Another strategy was exemplified by the compositions that, as it were, disagreed

with the closure of the canon, aspiring to become part of it. On the one hand, in
such cases a strong emphasis was put on a claim for prophetic, revelational, character
of the writing – thus on its belonging to the „biblical category.”8 On the other, as
a concession to the dominant notion of the end of prophecy, the pseudepigraphic
ascription of the revelation to a figure from the biblical past, when according to the
same dominant notion God had still spoken to the chosen recipients of his word,
was evoked. Thus, the Book of Jubilees presents itself as a collection of additional
revelations given to Moses and not included in the Pentateuch; the Enoch literature
is supposed to record revelations received by Enoch in antediluvian times, and the
protagonist of the Book of Daniel is granted his revelations during the Persian
period, namely, in the days of later prophets.
The very drive to create additional religious texts vying for canonical status
seems to point to a dissatisfaction with the existing sacred library viewed as lacking
certain elements central to the outlook of the new times. What were those ideas,
which the pseudepigraphic writings – in the case of Jubilees, Enoch and Daniel
we are dealing with the period from mid-second century BCE to first century CE
– were eager to propagate, trying for that end to acquire canonicity (in the final
account, it is only Daniel that accomplished that)?9 Let me highlight here two of
them. One notes a developed angelology that had been mostly subdued in the books
of the established Jewish scriptural tradition – with angels as intermediaries of 349
God’s revelations, the heavenly realm as that of angels, etc.10 Some pseudepigraphic
writings also emphatically publicize eschatological notions, expectation of the end
of days, including the idea of messianic redemption.11 In this line, characteristic
is 1 Enoch’s tendency to wrap together the whole history of revelation from the
early days till the times of eschatological salvation. Whereas in 1 Enoch 1, Sinai
is featured as an intermediary phase in the revelatory chain, no such stopover
is addressed in a later layer of the composition (1 Enoch 48), where Messiah is
presented as eternal keeper of God’s primordial wisdom to be revealed in the
In addition to this pseudepigraphic tendency, there were two other types of
strategies possibly aiming to „join the canon.” One pertains to an earlier, late biblical
period, when the notion of the end of prophecy had not yet crystallized. It seems

See discussion in Z. Talshir, “Several Canon-Related Concepts Originating in Chronicles,”
Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 113 (2001), pp. 386–403.
See David Flusser, „Daniel and the Book of Daniel,” in idem, Judaism of the Second Temple Period:
The Jewish Sages and Their Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), pp. 1–5.
Michael Mach, Entwicklungsstadien des jüdischen Engelglaubens in vorrabinischer Zeit (Tübingen:
Mohr, 1992).
For an extensive survey, see David Flusser, „Judaism in the Second Temple Period,” in Judaism of
the Second Temple Period: The Jewish Sages and Their Literature, pp. 6–43.
Did New Testament Authors Aspire to Make Their Compositions Part of Scripture?

that in such context there was no urgent need to claim for a revelatory character of
new writing, and the „biblical ambition” found other avenues. Thus, the author of
1 Chronicles, aiming at presenting an amended version of the historical narrative
in the books of Kings, opens his version with a long genealogy leading from Adam
up to Saul and other 1 Chronicles’ own protagonists (1 Chronicles 1–9). This
genealogy, clearly mimicking the style of Genesis, is tailored to fill the lacuna in the
Kings historical narrative, providing the royal dynasty with an ancient and most
respectable pedigree. This generates a justification for the inclusion of 1 Chronicles
into the biblical collection, and as we know, that the strategy did succeed. To this
type seems to belong also the genealogy outlined at the end of the Book of Ruth
(4:18–22), filling the genealogical gap in already established scriptural tradition
with regard to the House of David. One may suppose that it is also thanks to this
insertion that the touching story of Ruth the Moabite, polemically responding to
the ideas of Israel as a society close to outsiders, characteristic to Ezra-Nehemiah
cluster of traditions, would become part of the Bible.12
Another non-pseudepigraphic avenue of expansion of the canon is to be found
in the context of eschatological outlook claiming for continuation – or renewal –
of the prophecy (sometimes defined as the gift of the Spirit) in the current times
perceived as more or less immediately preceding the end of days. Such an outlook is
attested, inter alia, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where the members of the community
350 are described as the „anointed of the holy Spirit.”13 It has been argued that not
only the Book of Jubilees, of which Hebrew fragments were found at Qumran, but
also some texts composed by members of the community, whose authorship was
known to all, enjoyed there a biblical authority of sorts.14 If this claim is accepted,
we may view this Qumranic daring as derived, inter alia, from their belief in the
pre-eschatological outpouring of the spirit of prophecy.

See Yair Zakovitch, Ruth (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1990) (in Hebrew).
4Q 266 ii 2.12 (=CD-A 6); 4Q270 ii 2.12,14, cf. 4Q266 iii 2.9; 4Q267 2, 6; 4Q269 iv 1.2). See Serge
Ruzer, „The New Covenant, the Reinterpretation of Scripture and Collective Messiahship,” in idem,
Mapping the New Testament: Early Christian Writings as a Witness for Jewish Biblical Exegesis (Leiden:
Brill, 2007), pp. 217–218.
See discussion in Hartmut Stegemann, „Is the Temple Scroll a Sixth Book of the Torah, Lost for
2500 years?” Biblical Archaeology Review 13.6 (1987), pp. 28–35; George J. Brooke, „‘Canon’ in the
Light of the Qumran Scrolls,” in Philip S. Alexander and Jean-Daniel Kaestli (eds.), The Canon of
Scripture in Jewish and Christian Tradition (Prahins: Editions du Zebre, 2007), pp. 81–98; Florentino
García Martínez, „Revelación, autoridad y canon en Qumran,” in Fernando Milán (ed.), Revelación,
escritura, interpretación: estudios en honor del Prof. Gonzalo Aranda Pérez (Pamplona: EUNSA, 2014), pp.
87–108; Philip S. Alexander, „Textual Authority and the Problem of the Biblical Canon at Qumran,”
in Ariel Feldman, Maria Cioată, and Charlotte Hempel (eds.), Is There a Text in this Cave? Studies in
the Textuality of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Honour of George J. Brooke (Leiden: Brill, 2017), pp. 42–68.
But cf. Cana Werman,”The Canonization of the Hebrew Bible in Light of Second Temple Literature,”
in Cana Werman (ed.) From Author to Copyist: Essays on the Composition, Redaction, and Transmission
of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of Zipi Talshir (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2015), pp. 337–365.
Serge Ruzer

Nascent Christian Authors and Their Canon-Related

With the above backdrop in mind, we can now try to fathom to which parts of
the spectrum of contemporaneous canon-related strategies belonged various New
Testament texts. We thus return to the question asked in the beginning: To what
extent the authors from the Jesus movement in the first decades of its history, who,
again, had no idea of the future fate of their compositions as parts of the New
Testament canon, designed them with a „biblical perspective” in mind. In other
words, did they consciously aim at those compositions’ reception – at least by
Jesus’ followers themselves – as an additional layer of the existing Jewish Scripture?
New Testament texts actually exemplify here a variety of strategies. For example,
the Book of Revelation presents the reader with apocalyptic visions given by an
angel to John and mediated by Jesus the Messiah. The composition is full of
biblical allusions and references to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other prophets
with a prominent place allotted to Daniel, so on the one hand the secondary post-
biblical texture of the book is explicit. On the other hand, however, the claim
for an apocalyptic revelation seems to put it in the category of Second Temple
apocalypses and thus indicate an aspiration for the first hand revelatory status.
Yet, unlike Second Temple period pseudepigraphical works, the author did not
ascribe his revelation to some figure from the ancient Israeli history; it seems that 351
he shared the outlook of early Jesus’ adepts, according to which in their messianic
times the gift of prophecy returned to the elect remnant of the chosen people.15
Thus, in spite of the strong exegetical character of Revelation, both the apocalyptic
format and the claim for a new prophecy point to the intention to position the
composition as being in the right place in the „sacred library.”16
In my opinion, the authentic epistles of Paul exemplify a completely different
stance. Though, according to Paul’s own witness, he experienced a revelatory
encounter with resurrected Jesus that would become foundational for the apostle’s
later life,17 what he communicates to his addressees is mostly not the retelling
of that event but rather his own thoughts and passionate responses to current
problems within the movement. In a characteristic passage from 1 Corinthians
(7:25–40), Paul states unambiguously that with regard to the hot issue under
discussion, that of marriage and celibate, he does not have any direct „command

For the centrality of the notion of the gift of prophecy/spirit among early Jesus’ followers,
as intrinsically connected to the New Covenant outlook, see Ruzer, „The New Covenant, the
Reinterpretation of Scripture and Collective Messiahship,” pp. 222–237.
The issue of the Greek of Revelation versus its possible Semitic substratum and therefore what exactly
version of sacred library we should presuppose cannot be tackled here; it warrants separate discussion.
Gal 1:15–16, cf. Acts 9:3–7, 15–16.
Did New Testament Authors Aspire to Make Their Compositions Part of Scripture?

of the Lord.”18 Nevertheless, Paul believes that his advice is worthy of attention
since he once did receive the Spirit and, as he hopes even today stands in God’s
mercy. Paul is definitely aware of the early Jesus adepts’ outlook, according to
which the prophetic spirit has returned and is now active in their midst. He must
have shared this opinion, though seemingly with certain reservations concerning
some phenomena it has engendered – ecstatic and otherwise.19 Paul indeed presents
himself as a servant of God and his Messiah;20 however, Paul letters’ opening and
closing passages betray epistolary rather than prophetic genre. Moreover, as already
noted, the epistles do not provide any indications that their author views their
contents as God’s direct revelatory word. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose
that he designed his epistles with intention to make them part of the existing sacred
Jewish library (in its Greek Septuagintal form),21 to various texts and themes of
which he frequently refers.22
The issue of compositions’ opening formulas is crucial for our topic. Whereas
Revelation is introduced with the description of apocalyptic scenery and revelation
delivered by angel through Jesus, Paul’s letters begin with epistolary or sermon-like
addresses to various communities. Switching to the Gospel of Mark, we discover
there an introductory statement defining the composition as Jesus’ messianic
biography: He is the expected Messiah, the Anointed one and the son of God
(Mark 1:1). The meaning of both designations is clarified in Mark 1:10–11: The
352 anointment meant here is that of the Spirit, while „son of God” in this context
clearly stands for „God’s chosen one.”23 There is no doubt that from the author’s
point of view, his text is of an utmost importance: It defines Jesus’ messianic mission
as grounded in the gift of the Spirit heralding the renewal of the long suspended
biblical prophecy, to which the Gospel explicitly establishes an intrinsic link (Mark
1:2–3). It can be also shown that Mark 1:1–11 converses with some current Jewish
messianic ideas.24 However, with regard to the presentation of the Messiah’s entry,

Whether he means here God or Jesus is an open question, but see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of
the Apostles: A New Translation, with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1998), ad
See, for example, 1 Corinthians 12–13, 2 Cor 12:1–9.
See various versions of the introductory formula appearing in Paul’s authentic epoistles.
For a different appraisal, see Roland Deines, „Revelatory Experiences as the Beginning of Scripture:
Paul’s Letters and the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible,” in From Author to Copyist, pp. 303–335.
On Paul’s use of Scripture, see, for instance, Sze-Kar Wan, „Charismatic Exegesis: Philo and Paul
Compared,” in David T. Runia (ed.), Studia Philonica Annual; Studies in Hellenistic Judaism, vol. 4
(Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1994), pp. 54–82.
See discussion in Serge Ruzer, „Jesus’ Messianic Biography as Response to Second Temple Jewish
Beliefs,” in Zemanim 120 (2012), pp. 40–51 (in Hebrew). Cf. David Flusser, „Jewish Messianism
Reflected in the Early Church” in idem Judaism of the Second Temple Period: Sages and Their Literature
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), pp. 258–288.
See discussion in Serge Ruzer, „Mark 1:1: ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ’: In Search
of the Jewish Literary Backdrop to Mark 1:1–11; between ‘the Rule of the Community’ and Rabbinic
Serge Ruzer

no efforts can be discerned to supply the text with a „biblical aura.” The Gospel
is not presented as the result of God’s revelation – either ancient or new; and the
prologue, while referring to ancient prophecies and even mentioning Isaiah by name
(Mark 1:2–3), contains no elements that would allow viewing it as a continuation
of some earlier biblical narrative.
Unlike Mark, Matthew starts his Gospel with a genealogy that goes back to
Abraham, but clearly focuses on the figure of David – with Jesus presented as
David’s descendant. The author therefore not only emphasizes the kingly aspect
of Jesus’ messiahship – in addition to the prophetic one reflected in the immersion
in the Jordan scene ending with the anointment of the Spirit25 – but also forcefully
links the Messiah’s life-story to the biblical history of Israel, while copying the
genealogical style of Genesis. In this sense, Matthew follows in the steps of the
authors of 1 Chronicles and, in part, Ruth, who, as noted, employed „genealogical
strategy,” vying for inclusion into the biblical literature. With due caution we
may suppose a similar aspiration with the author of Matthew, who could aim
at propagating his account of Messiah’s life and mission – at least in the minds
of Jesus’ adepts – as potential addition to still not finally defined margins of
Jewish scriptural canon.26 The picture, however, remains somewhat ambiguous as
Matthew is distinguished by the constant reference to Old Testament proof texts,
including the use of the fulfillment type interpretation of Scripture with the so-
called explicit formula-quotations.27 This strategy, similar to that of Qumranic 353
thematic pesher, can be viewed as a distinguishing mark of post-biblical secondary
exegetical literature.28
It is telling that Jesus’ genealogy appearing in Luke – divergent in many details
from that in Matthew and built according to the ascending order – is given not
in the programmatic prologue, but in connection to Jesus’ immersion in the

Sources,” in Steven R. Notley and Jeff rey P. García (eds.), The Gospels in First-Century Judaea (Leiden:
Brill, 2015), pp. 76–87.
On the three-fold pattern of Second Temple messianic expectations, see studies mentioned in note 23
above. For Qumranic evidence, see Lawrence Schiff man, „Messianic Figures and Ideas in the Qumran
Scrolls,” in James Charlesworth (ed.), The Messiah; Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity,
pp. 116–129; John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star; The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other
Ancient Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1995), pp. 75–77; Peter Schäfer, „Diversity and Interactions:
Messiahs in Early Judaism,” in Peter Schäfer and Mark Cohen (eds.), Toward the Millennium: Messianic
Expectations from the Bible to Waco (Leiden: Brill, 1998), pp. 15–35.
But see Werman,”The Canonization of the Hebrew Bible in Light of Second Temple Literature,”
who views the situation with the canon as less fluid.
See discussion in Krister Stendahl, Th e School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament
(Uppsala: C.W.K. Gleerup, Lund, 1954).
On pesher and Matthew, see, for example, James E. Patrick, „Matthew’s ‘Pesher’ Structured around
Ten Citations of Isaiah,” Journal of Theological Studies 61.1 (2010), pp. 43–81; Mogens Mü ller, „Pesher
Commentary and Its Afterlife in the New Testament,” in George J. Brook and Jasper Høgenhaven
(eds.), The Mermaid and the Partridge (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 279–287.
Did New Testament Authors Aspire to Make Their Compositions Part of Scripture?

Jordan River (Luke 3:23–38). No less telling is the fact that though it does – as
a side effect – integrate the Messiah within the biblical history, its main objective
is different: It is tailored to explain a potentially misleading designation „son of
God” applied to Jesus. In contradistinction to the explanation provided in Mark’s
opening passage, here the reader is supposed to understand the appellation as
pointing to Jesus’ being the chosen descendant of Adam, who was literally son of
God – namely, created directly by God.29
As for the opening statement itself (Luke 1:1–4), it is completely devoid of
any „biblical elements.” Instead, the author reports here about the method of his
historical quest, most prominently about scrutinizing available sources – what is
supposed to guarantee the exactness of his version of the events, for which he was
not an eye-witness. The author thus positions himself as a diligent and attentive
historian, aiming to create a reliable chronicle not only of Jesus’ own life, but
also – judging by the Book of Acts likewise penned by him – of the early history
of the Jesus followers’ movement. There is no doubt that Luke views his double
composition as a most important treatise, where Jesus’ messianic standing and
the return of the gift of the prophetic Spirit within the movement is repeatedly
emphasized.30 However, the programmatic openings of both Luke and Acts are of
explicitly historiographic character not indicating any „biblical ambitions” of the
author. Appropriate seems to be a comparison with the roughly contemporaneous
354 works of Josephus Flavius, who also reports evens of utmost importance without
claiming for his text a biblical status. Difficult to guess what were the intentions
of the authors of 1 and 2 Maccabees about two centuries earlier, when the borders
of the canon might have been even more fluid. In any case, their too present-day
historicity might have been among the reasons that eventually prevented their
inclusion into the Jewish canon.

The Gospel of John

Also the preamble to the Fourth Gospel, what is usually called the Johannine
Prologue, may contain indications to the possible stance of the author (or a later
editor, who appended the Prologue to the rest of the Gospel),31 regarding the

See discussion in Serge Ruzer, „Son of God as Son of David: Luke’s Attempt to Biblicize a Problematic
Notion,” in Leonid Kogan, Natalia Koslova, Sergey Loesov and Sergey Tishchenko (eds.), Babel und
Bibel 3 (Vinona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2007) pp. 321–352.
Acts 1:5–8, 2:1–21, 8:14–17, 10:44–48, 15:6:8.
Roland E. Brown, Th e Gospel according to John (i-xii), The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY:
Doubleday, 1966), pp. 18–21.
Serge Ruzer

relation between his treatise and the existing Jewish biblical tradition.32 Let us note
first the passage in John 1:12–13: „But to all who received him, who believed in
his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood
nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This is how the
author sees the true birth of the recipients of the light of God’s revelation. In view
of that, we should not be surprised that John does not adopt Matthew’s solution
for integrating Jesus life-story into biblical narrative with the help of genealogy.
It, however, does not mean at all that he gives up on the attempt to supply Jesus’
messianic biography with a biblical savor. Yet he achieves the objective via a link not
to David or Abraham, but rather to the very beginning of creation accomplished
through God’s word, most prominently to the revelation of God’s light, the light
of the life-giving truth on the very first day of creation (John 1:1–5):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God. 2He was in the beginning with God; 3all things were made through
him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4In him was
life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and
the darkness has not overcome it.

The mighty ἐν ἀρχῇ („in the beginning,” Hebrew: ‫ )בראשית‬that opens the Prologue,
and reappears in John 1:2 is complemented here by recurrent mention of God 355
(θεὸς), the notable use of ἐγένετο / ὃ γέγονεν („came into being,” Hebrew: ‫ויהי‬,
‫ )היה‬in John 1:3, and the light-darkness imagery in John 1:4–5. Whatever the
additional channels of influence might have been, the combined evidence of these
features points to the opening section of the Torah creation narrative (Gen 1:1,
2–5) – with its emphasis on the necessity of dividing between light and darkness
– as the passage’s focus of reference.33

The following suggestions derive largely from the discussions in Serge Ruzer and Yair Zakovitch,
In the Beginning Was the Word: Eight Conversations on the Fourth Gospel (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2014). I
am grateful to Yair but, naturally, I am alone responsible for what is put forward here.
For alternative interpretations of the Prologue in terms of a hymn to Wisdom – either rooted in
or detached from the Jewish matrix – see Charles H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel
(Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1953), p. 275. Rudolph Bultmann (The Gospel of John: A Commentary
[Oxford: Blackwell, 1971]) has argued that the Prologue functioned originally as a  pre-Christian
Aramaic poetic discourse having as its ultimate source an Oriental Gnosticism. Other scholars saw in
the Prologue a reflection of an originally Christian myth. See, for example, Ernst Käsemann, „Aufbau
und Auliegen des johanneischen Prologs,” in Libertas Christiana: F. Delekat Festschrift (Mü nchen:
Kaiser, 1957), p. 86; Ernst Haenchen, „Probleme des johanneischen ‘Prologs’,” ZTK 60 (1963), pp.
306–307. For a review of hymn-related perceptions of the Prologue, see Peder Borgen, „Observations
on the Targumic Character of the Prologue of John,” New Testament Studies 16 (1969/70), pp. 288–299.
For a possible Aramaic Forlage, see Charles F. Burney, The Aramaic Origins of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1922); Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (Oxford: Clarendon,
1967). For a Gnostic pastiche (without claiming a direct literary connection), see Edwin, M. Yamauchi,
Did New Testament Authors Aspire to Make Their Compositions Part of Scripture?

It was noted already long time ago that when John powerfully turns the „word”
into a kind of separate hypostatic entity, he follows the pattern that featured
prominently in both biblical and post-biblical Jewish tradition. In this context
Proverbs 8:22–31 is usually mentioned, where it is Wisdom that portrayed as such
a hypostatic go-between of creation. Likewise the tradition of the Aramaic Targum,
unhappy with anthropomorphisms, preferred, starting from Genesis 1:3 where
the creation of the light through God saying „let there be light” is described, to
translate such phrases as „and there was a word (‫ מימרא‬,‫ )ממרא‬from God.”34 Finally,
God’s word, logos, was presented as the agent of the creation of the world by Philo
of Alexandria, and was consequently given by Philo the appellation „second God”
(δεύτερος θεὸς).35 According to Philo, the first act of creation – the creation of light
– was also the first one accomplished through God’s word; the light of revelation
is, thus, in a sense, identical with logos. For Philo, this is that „image and likeness”
of the Creator, which we are capable of apprehending – seemingly because our
intellect, our „inner man” is, in turn, created as secondary image and likeness of
that first one.36 It also deserves notice that a somewhat awkward phrase in John
1:3 („all things were made through him/it, and without him/it was not anything
made that was made”) may reflect a stock formula of contemporaneous religious
discourse. Indeed, a close parallel is found in the Qumranic Rule of the Community
11.11, where the agent of creation and/or predestination is called alternatively „God’s
356 intention” (‫ )דעתו‬or „God’s thought” (‫)מחשבתו‬. It seems therefore that the author
grounds the Prologue not only in the very beginning of the biblical narrative but
also in the long chain of its interpretation and reinterpretation in Jewish tradition
up to his own times.
John, however, does not stop there; his overarching strategy is to establish an
intrinsic link between God’s word/light revealed at creation and the revelation
given at the end of times through the Messiah, the bearer – or in John’s phraseology
the (final) embodiment – of that word-light (John 1:14–18). In the context of the
Fourth Gospel this cardinal idea, connecting the beginning with the end, might

„Jewish Gnosticism? The Prologue of John, Mandaean Parallels, and the Trimorphic Protennoia,” in R.
Van den Broek and M. J. Vremaseren (eds.), Studies in Gnosticism and Hellenistic Religions (Leiden: Brill,
1981), pp. 467–497; Michel Waldstein, „The Providence Monologue in the Apiocryphon of John and The
Johannine Prologue,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 3.4 (1995), pp. 369–402; James H. Charlseworth,
„Lady Wisdom and Johannine Christology,” in James H. Charlseworth and Michael A. Daise (eds.),
Light in a Spotless Mirror: Reflections on Wisdom Traditions in Judaism and Early Christianity (Faith and
Scholarship Colloquies; Harrisburg: Eisenbrauns, 2003), pp. 92–133; Peter M. Phillips, The Prologue
of the Fourth Gospel (JSNT Suppl. 294; London: T & T Clark, 2006), pp. 110, 127, 137–139.
Cf. Gary Anderson, „The Interpretation of Genesis 1:1 in the Targums,” Th e Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 52, 1 (1990), pp. 21–29. For arguments for a Semitic Vorlage of the Prologue, see, for example,
Charles F. Burney, The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922).
Philo, Questions and Answers in Genesis 2.62.
Philo, Questions and Answers to Genesis 2:62, 9:6; On the Creation 31, 33–34.
Serge Ruzer

have allowed the author to view his text not only as a candidate for joining the
Scriptures but actually as the completion of the Holy Writ – namely, as the last
sacred composition destined to fill the existing lacuna of the messianic theme.
If so, we may be dealing here with a competition with some earlier messianic
biographies of Jesus (cf. John 21:25), e.g. the Gospel of Matthew related to above.37
This polemical element of finality, an aspiration to rethink everything starting
from the act of creation in light of Messiah’s biography, clearly distinguishes the
Johannine Prologue from the Bible-centered strategies of Matthew 1.
It should be emphasized that in contradistinction to Proverbs 8 and, to some
extent, Philo, the Prologue focuses not on the creation of the visible world as
a whole, but exclusively on the creation of the light on the first day. This light is
understood – along the lines of the well-attested Jewish interpretation in Second
Temple times and later on38 – as the light of the revealed truth. It is therefore in
connection to revelation as part of creation, that the Prologue presents the Messiah
as the bearer/embodiment of God’s light/logos. If so, the author could not possibly
escape taking into account the fact that it is the Torah, the book and the sacred
core of the biblical tradition that had long been perceived as God’s word – Torah’s
text itself provides numerous examples of God’s direct speech introduced with the
phrase „And God said.” Moreover, the light of God’s truth, shining already at the
first day of creation, was time and againg identified with the revelations given to
Israel throughout its later history – first and foremost with revealing the Torah 357
through Moses at Sinai. Indication of such an identification we find already in
the biblical tradition itself – for example, in Prov 6:23 („For the commandment is
a lamp and the Torah a light”) or in Isaiah 2–5, where Torah is repeatedly equated
with light.39 The similarity between the word or (Hebrew: light) and oraita, the
Aramaic term for Torah, might have also contributed to the identification.
In fact, already Ben Sira (ch. 24) equates the wisdom from Proverbs 8,
functioning as God’s partner in creation, with Torah. Later, this idea would
feature prominently in the rabbinic midrash, where in Torah becomes the heavenly
blueprint of the world conceived by the Creator.40 In addition, via its identification
with God’s Wisdom, Torah was identified with the Tree – or the source – of life.41
I suggest, therefore, that, aspiring to portray Jesus as the bearer of that initial word/
light, John had to relate to the fact that the function of the „bearer of the logos”
had been already routinely ascribed to the existing canonical Scripture, the Torah

On John’s critical reassessment of the Synoptic tradition, see Ruzer and Zakovitch, Eight
Conversations, pp. 137–177, but cf. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (i–xii) (Garden
City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), p. xxviii–xxviv.
See, for example, the passage from the Rule of the Community addressed above.
For instance, in Isa 2:3, 5.
Genesis Rabbah 1.1.
Prov 3:18.
Did New Testament Authors Aspire to Make Their Compositions Part of Scripture?

of Moses. In what follows I offer some considerations about how John tackles the
issue, focusing on the two main strategies employed.
First, he builds a parallelism between earlier phases in the history of God’s logos/
light revelation, and the final one in the Messiah. The parallelism is achieved, inter
alia, through the famous ambiguity of John 1:9–11: „The true light that enlightens
every man was coming into the world.10 He/it was in the world, and the world
was made through him/it, yet the world knew him/it not.11 He/it came to his/its
own home, his/its own people received him/it not.” Who rejected the light? The
people of Israel?42 The motif of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God’s word revealed to
them at Sinai is, of course, a leitmotif of the Torah narrative itself and of repeated
prophetic reproaches. Or rather Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries who rejected God’s
word delivered by the Messiah? The initial meaning of this passage may remain
obscure, but its inclusion into the Prologue, precisely because of its ambiguity,
points to another biblical feature in logos’ revelation through the Messiah. As with
Sinai and other earlier exposures of the primordial light, the messianic revelatory
success is also limited: Though the light is not totally subdued by the darkness,
the darkness lingers, unable to comprehend and accept the light.
This parallelism in the Prologue, that can contribute to the Fourth Gospel’
scriptural aspirations, is complemented by another narrative strategy, employed
elsewhere in the narrative, where John emphatically portrays Jesus as new Moses.
358 Thus unlike the Synoptics, John depicts Jesus’ miracles as an upgraded replay of
signs and wonders shown through Moses at the time of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt
(see, e.g., John 6). The Fourth Gospel here is an early witness to the idea widely
attested in later rabbinic sources, according to which the last redeemer, the Messiah,
will be like the first one, Moses.43
As noted, the intention to expand the canon usually contains an element of
discontent. It does not have to surprise us if John, who, as well as his community, is
in polemic with some Jewish circles, wishes to establish the superiority of the end-
of-days logos-light revelation to the Messiah’s elected adepts over Israel’s „general
revelation.”44 I have already mentioned in passing that Jesus’ miracles are portrayed
as an upgraded version of those performed by Moses; here is one telling example:
Whereas Moses turned the waters of the Nile into blood, Jesus turns – during the
marriage feast at Cana – into (red) wine (John 2:1–11). However, it is the finale of
the Prologue itself that is tailored to unambiguously proclaim Jesus’ superiority
over Moses, that generally acclaimed bearer of God’s logos (John 1:17–18):

See Daniel Boyarin, “The Intertextual Birth of the Logos: The Prologue to John as A Jewish Midrash,“
in idem, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania,
2004), pp. 98–101.
Eccl. Rabbah 1.1; Ruth Rabbah 5.6; Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana 5.1; Numbers Rabbah 11.2. See discussion
in Ruzer and Zakovitch, Eight Conversations on the Fourth Gospel, pp. 21–44.
Brown, John, pp. lxx–lxxiii.
Serge Ruzer

For the Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus
the Messiah. 18No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom
of the Father (logos?), he has made him known.

The Prologue here clearly refers to Exod 32:1–34:7, where Moses, having destroyed,
following the golden calf affair, the first tablets, receives the second tablets of the
covenant. Moses asks God’s assurance that in spite of their grave transgression he
will not abandon the people of Israel, and as a sign of confirmation, he wants to be
shown God’s glory (Exod 33:13–18). God agrees to make his glory „pass before”
Moses, but states that Moses will not be able to see his „face itself” (Exod 33:19–23)
– the motif, with which John 1:18 („No one has ever seen God”) converses.
The dialogue with the Sinai revelation continues: Establishing Jesus’ credentials
as one through whom a new logos has now been revealed, is accomplished in the
Prologue by means of a balancing act, characteristic of the polemical reworking
of foundational biblical narrative patterns. It is thus repeatedly emphasized (John
1:14 and 17) that the true core of the Torah, revealed through Jesus, is „grace/
mercy and truth” (ἡ χάρις καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια), which turn out to be the same ultimate
attributes of God that were announced at the crucial moment of the Sinai revelation.
The author of the Prologue clearly quotes here from Exod 34:6, which reads: „The
LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, God merciful
and gracious (‫)רחום וחנון‬, slow to anger (‫)ארך אפים‬, and abounding in mercy (‫)דסח‬ 359
and truth/faithfulness (‫’)אמת‬.”45
By highlighting „truth (faithfulness) and mercy” the Prologue defines the
character of Jesus’ revealing mission as that of second Moses – more exactly, as
finally realizing what had been already promised to Moses.46 A suggestion has
been made that the verb ἐξηγήσατο from John 1:18 („has made known” in RSV
translation) actually stands for „expounding”– with Jesus as a kind of the ultimate
doresh/interpreter.47 If accepted, it may give additional strength to the claim that
Prologue’s intention here is to ground firmly the new logos revealed by the Messiah
in the Torah of Moses. One wonders whether the author understood the inability
to see God’s face as the lack of a proper understanding of the nature of „grace and
truth.” Whatever the case, in a characteristic balancing act, the Fourth Gospel

Cf. LXX: πολυέλεος καὶ ἀληθινός. Moreover, the attributes of grace and mercy featuring here – and
in the Prologue – seem to have been singled out by early Jewish tradition as the foundational ones for
describing God’s dealing with Israel – see Joel 2:12–13. Like John, Joel also ignored the „measure of
judgement” in the second part of the Exod 34:7 passage: „…but who will by no means clear the guilty,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the
fourth generation.”
Cf. Brown, John, p. 36.
Personal communication by Paul Mandel, based on his earlier study analyzing the Jewish koine
usages of the verb („Scriptural Exegesis and the Pharisees in Josephus,” Journal of Jewish Studies 58.1
[2007], pp. 19–32).
Did New Testament Authors Aspire to Make Their Compositions Part of Scripture?

presents the new Torah/God’s Word delivered by Jesus as highlighting core elements
of that of Moses – thus performing supersession through retaining the intrinsic link
between the two. Another instructive example of this strategy may be discerned
in Jesus’ words in John 13:34–35:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have
loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all men will know that you
are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus’ directive here is arguably nothing, but an elaboration on Lev 19:18 – the
commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, which had become one of
the core tenets of late Second Temple Judaism.48 Now, however, supplied with
Jesus’ interpretation and authority, it is characteristically branded the „new
commandment.” Similarly, to the Synoptics, the Fourth Gospel also appeals to
interpretation of Jewish Scripture; however, it is only in John that we find such
attempts to present certain core elements of that Scripture as actually belonging
to the logos revealed through Jesus.

The discussion of various New Testament authors’ possible aspirations to turn their
compositions into a part of Jewish Scripture – even if only for their own sectarian
milieu – generated mainly mixed results. With the notable exception of the Book of
Revelation, even when the renewal of the gift of the Spirit among Jesus’ followers is
described, no claims for the prophetic/revelatory essence of the texts themselves are
discerned. And where, as in Matthew, the opening genealogy do seem to indicate
an attempt – following certain late biblical patterns – to present the Gospel as the
natural continuation of the biblical history, the heavy use of biblical quotations
and exegesis constitute a clear indication of secondary, post-biblical, writing. We
have also noted that both Luke-Acts and Pauline epistles do not seem to betray
clear-cut „biblical inspirations.”
The case of John turns out to be of a mixed character too – he still explicitly
quotes and refers to existing canonical scriptures with a special predilection for the
Torah. However, in my opinion, the Fourth Gospel presents itself as making one
additional step along the path of „biblical aspirations.” Following patterns similar to
those employed in various parts of 1 Enoch, John links the eschatological messianic
revelation with, on the one hand, the primordial light of truth, and, on the other,
the revelation at Sinai, which presents his Gospel as the final wrapping up of the
history of revelation and thus as the final text of Scripture. Presenting Jesus in

See Flusser, Jesus, pp. 81–92; Ruzer, Mapping the New Testament, pp. 35–99.
Serge Ruzer

the Prologue as the ultimate bearer of God’s eternal logos also implicitly imbues
his teaching throughout the Gospel – possibly, in a more immediate fashion that
Jesus’ reception of the Spirit at his immersion in the Jordan River – with scriptural
aura. John’s tendency to appropriate some core elements of the general religious
inheritance of Israel as belonging to the logos delivered through Jesus, may point
in the same direction. On the other hand, this very insistence on Jesus’ logos being
grounded in Torah foundational statements indicates that even in John we are
dealing with rather hesitant moves.
A comparison with the strategies employed in the mid-second century Coptic
Gospel of Thomas is instructive for our discussion. The motif of primordial light (a
clear parallel to the Prologue), as well as the call to return to that light, are central
to the Gospel of Thomas (GT). However, unlike the Fourth Gospel’s conservative
stance, with the Prologue relating also to the consecutive, „halfway,” phases of
God light’s revelation, most prominently that in the Torah, the author of GT
shares with the readers his rejection of all previous revelatory stages. This rejection,
characteristically ascribed to Jesus himself, is found in one of Jesus’ dialogues with
his disciples (Thomas 52): „His disciples said to him: ‘Twenty-four prophets spoke
in Israel, and they all spoke concerning you.’ He said them: ‘You have neglected
him who is alive before you, and have spoken about the dead’.”
It seems that the author of Thomas inherited the notion of twenty-four books
constituting the Holy Writ from earlier Jewish tradition (see, for example, 4 Ezra 361
14). Unlike John, however, he subscribes to what may be branded as Gnostic
rejection of the existing Scripture for the sake of the absolute innovation of the
revelation given through Jesus. Similarly to roughly contemporaneous Marcion,
the GT does not feel necessary to uphold the link to what Jewish tradition views
as representing the ancient revelation of God’s light. Moreover, what that tradition
perceives as the Tree of Life, the Gospel of Thomas defines as belonging to the dead.
John’s strategy is utterly different. His balancing act seems to respond to the
author’s religious-cultural and social situation, characterized by the dominant
presence of the „biblical outlook.” Namely, the recognition of the outstanding
authority of the ancient texts sacred to Jewish tradition especially that of the Torah
of Moses (Pentateuch), perceived both by Jewry at large and by the members of
John’s own marginalized community as God’s revealed word and the light of God’s
truth. Though an adept of a peculiar, sectarian, messianic belief and involved in
a heated polemic with those who do not accept this belief, our author remains
committed to the biblical outlook. Far from denying its validity, he employs it to
build his Gospel’s case – at least among the members of his own movement – as
the concluding chapter of Jewish Scripture.
It should not surprise us that later on a new Christian interpretation, developed
in a completely different situation when John was already part of the Christian
canon, would ignore that conservative aspect of the Prologue – and thus possible
inspirations to become part of Jewish Scripture – focusing instead exclusively on
the motif of superiority of the Jesus-centered messianic revelation.