Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Emmanuel, God with Us, in The Gospel of John

Everyone who has heard the Christmas story knows that one of the titles given to the child, Jesus, is Ἐμμανουήλ, Emmanuel, which according to The Gospel of Matthew means “God with us” (1:23), in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. The apostle John's version of “God with us,” however, is not as well known perhaps because John does not point it out as Matthew does but also because our English translations tend to obscure John's “God with us.”

Two passages in the apostle John's writings present “God with us.” Both passages present God as “dwelling among us” in a tent or tabernacle. The first is the familiar verse of John 1:14—“And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we looked upon his glory, glory as of the one of a kind with the Father, full of grace and truth.” Familiar English translations translate the aorist verb, ἐσκήνωσεν, as “dwelt,” a legitimate translation. However, because John could have used a variety of other Greek words for “dwell,” it seems apparent that John means something more than simply “lived among us.” Because he uses a verb (σκηνόω) that has the same root derivation as the noun “tent,” John is making a strong allusion to both the “tent of meeting” (Ex. 33:7-11) and the “tabernacle” where the Lord revealed his presence among the Israelites of old.

So, what is John 1:14 telling us when he says, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacle among us”? The apostle means that the Lord no longer reveals himself in a tabernacle constructed in the wilderness or the temple built in Jerusalem but in flesh, in the man Christ Jesus. Thus, Jesus announces his riddle, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Likewise, Jesus declares to the woman of Samaria, “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such as these who will worship him” (John 4:21-23).

Certainly, much more could be said, but brevity calls for a short note on John’s use of the same imagery in Revelation 21:3. Here John uses both the noun, “tent” or “tabernacle” (ἡ σκηνὴ), and the verb, “will pitch a tent” or “will take up residence” (σκηνώσει). The loud voice from God’s throne announces, “Look! God’s tabernacle is with humans, and he makes his tabernacle with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God” (21:3). Thus, in Christ Jesus, God fulfills his promise of long ago, not just through the prophet Isaiah, but also when he said through Moses, “I will set my sanctuary in their midst forever, and my place of lodging will be among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ex. 37:26-27).

Emmanuel (Ἐμμανουήλ), God with us, is what John means when he tells us, Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν—“And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”

(This is a piece that I wrote as part of a package for the promotion of studying Koiné Greek at our college. I’ve not completely abandoned this blog. I’ve just become excessively occupied with off-line writing, editing, etc.)


  1. Woh, this is terrific. Especially the word studies. I'm so glad you are back. Please crank up the blog posts for us, even if they are only a paragraph or two. (We know that you are busy!). You are my favorite Bible blogger. Thanks so much.
    Tom Schuessler Mayville,WI

  2. Thanks for your encouragement, Tom. I will return to blog here as much as my schedule permits. What I post will continue to do double-duty, here and elsewhere.

  3. We are completing a study of the Gospel of John in our adult Sunday School and it is amazing how many times we come back to the key passages: John 1:1, 1:14, 1:47-51, 2:19, 4:21-23. These all describe a period after the temple has been destroyed and Christ is depicted as the new center of worship for the Christian church. Jesus is the creator, He was with God, He was God. He came down and "dwelt" or "set up his tent" among his own people. He lived among them, but He is Jacob's ladder, that connects heaven and earth. He is the temple that will be destroyed, and He will raise it up again in three days. When his day has fully come, they will no longer worship on Mount Moriah, the temple mount or in Samaria, but they will now worship in Spirit and in Truth.

  4. Is Exodus 37:26-27 the correct reference for this quote of Moses? The ESV reads,

    26 He overlaid it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And he made a molding of gold around it, 27 and made two rings of gold on it under its molding, on two opposite sides of it, as holders for the poles with which to carry it.

    I think you had a different verse in mind.

  5. Instead of Exodus 37:26-27, did you mean Ezekiel 37:26-27?

    1. Yes, Todd. My typo. Sorry about that. I'll change it when I have an opportunity.


Because comments are moderated, posting of them will be delayed.