2) John 1:1–2: The opening section of the book of John reflects why the ancient church depicted this gospel as a soaring eagle, for the apostle skillfully interwove foundational Christian concepts such as Jesus’s divinity and preexistence with his humanity and sacrifice for our sins. In fact, the early church may have used this passage as a hymn.[1]

The first words of this gospel deliberately reflect Gen 1:1. Since the opening word or two of a book in the Hebrew Bible forms the title, the Hebrew name for Genesis is “In the Beginning of” (bereshith).[2]

By his choice of introductory words, John took his readers back to the creation of the heavens and the earth.[3] While Genesis discussed the old creation, John expounded upon the new one.[4]

He wrote, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. He, in the beginning, was with God.”

John’s assertion that the Word was “in the beginning” refers to Jesus’s existence before anything else was created, as well as to his role in originating creation (Isa 43:10–13).[5]

What is true of God is also true of the Word.[6] Everything in the universe depends upon Christ for its existence.[7]

Unfortunately, the Greco-Roman concept of the “Word” (Logos) has no parallel in modern cultures,[8] making its meaning difficult for us to grasp.

The 6th century BC philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “This Logos is eternally valid, yet men are unable to understand it…all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos.[9]

Heraclitus viewed the Word as the impersonal, omnipresent wisdom steering all that exists, detached from all emotion,[10] the creative energy behind the rationality of the universe.[11]

Stoic philosophers extended the concept to include the rational soul.[12] They considered the Logos a force which inaugurates and permeates and superintends all.[13]

The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who lived at the time of Christ, expanded these Greco-Roman concepts of the word.

For example, he wrote, “The shadow of God is his word [logos], which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow…is the archetype of other things.”[14]

Philo reckoned the logos as “divine reason, which is the helmsman and governor of the universe,”[15]filling all things with its essence. And the word, which connects together and fastens everything, is peculiarly full of itself, having no need whatever of anything beyond.”[16]

In On Husbandry, Philo called the logos, “his first born son… the lieutenant of the great king.”[17]

Therefore, when John cited Jesus as the Logos, he employed a term well-known to his contemporaries.[18]

In the language of his era, “the word” conveyed “a communicated utterance,”  “a formal account of one’s actions,” “a reflection,” or “the reason or cause of something.”[19]

However, building upon the OT (Ps 33:6–11),[20] John added his own twist so that the Logos referred to “the independent personified expression of God.”[21]

This represented a major shift from the Greco-Roman idea that the Logos remained detached from human concerns. John amply demonstrated Christ’s passionate involvement in people’s lives. Indeed, Jesus identified with us so fully that he suffered and died to secure our salvation (John 1:9–14, 18).[22]

“The Word was near God,” meaning it was in his presence.[23] The same construction occurs in Mark 6:3,[24] where this preposition is usually translated “with.” Given the difficulty of the Greek, “The Word was with God” best expresses John’s meaning, as “with” can express both spatial closeness and relationship.[25]

Not only was the Word with God, “the Word was God” (theos ēn ho logos). Some sects hold that the lack of a definite article “the” (ho) before “God” (theos) means that “the Word was a god.” However, in Greek grammar, nouns without “the” (ho) occurring before “to be” verbs (ēn) express the nature or character of the subject.[26]

The logos perfectly reveals God to us (Cf. Phil 2:5–11). In other words, “The Word had the same nature as God.”[27]

This grammatical form also appears in Matt 27:54.

If John had written “The Word was the God” (ho logos ēn ho theos), he would have meant that God and the Word were the same being. However, that contradicts “the Word was with God.”[28]

Therefore, this specific construction says that Jesus is truly God without being the same person as the Father (John 1:18; John 20:28).[29] John considered the preexistence of Christ so important that he repeated the idea in verse two.[30]

A Jewish monotheist making such an assertion must have staggered his readers.[31]

By building this passage upon the opening line of Genesis (Cf. Gen 1:1–2), John pointed his readers to the involvement of the entire Trinity in creation.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

a) Read John 1:1–2. How did John adapt the Greco-Roman and Jewish concepts of the Logos to write about Jesus? Why was it necessary for the apostle to use a definite article (“the”) to capture the nature of Jesus’s relationship with God? How have you experienced Christ’s passionate involvement in your life?

 

 

 

 

Go to The Light Shines in Darkness

[Related posts include The Light Shines in Darkness (John 1:3–5); In the Beginning of God’s Creating (Gen 1:1–2); Conversion of an Executioner (Matt 27:54); Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6); A Summary of Trinitarian Creeds (Appendix to Phil 2:5–6); Taking the Form of a Slave (Phil 2:7); Obedient to the Point of Death (Phil 2:8); The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11); The Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father: Orthodoxy or Heresy?; and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: God Establishes His Cosmic Temple through Creation (Genesis 1:1–13)]

 

[1]Gary M. Burge, John (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 51–2.

[2]Karl Elliger and Wilhelm Rudolph, eds., Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) (Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblegesellschaft, 1983), 1.

[3]D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 114.

[4]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 75.

[5]Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich., “ἀρχη” (archē) in Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), 3rd. Ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 138–9.

[6]Burge, John, 54–5.

[7]Morris, The Gospel According to John, 65.

[8]George R. Beasley-Murray, John, 2nd Ed. (WBC; Dallas: Word, 2002), 10.

[9]Heraclitus, “Fragment 1,” in Heraclitus (trans. Philip Wheelwright; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), 19, http://web.engr.oregonstate.edu/~funkk/Personal/logos.html#Her1.

[10]Beasley-Murray, John, 6.

[11]Morris, The Gospel According to John, 102.

[12]Carson, The Gospel According to John, 114.

[13]Morris, The Gospel According to John, 103.

[14]Philo, Allegorical Interpretation, in The Works of Philo, vol. 1 (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 3.31.96, 133, https://archive.org/stream/worksphilojudaeu01philuoft#page/132/mode/2up.

[15]Philo, On the Cherubim, in The Works of Philo, vol. 1 (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 1.11.36, 184, https://archive.org/stream/worksphilojudaeu01philuoft#page/184/mode/2up.

[16]Philo, Who is the Heir of Divine Things? in The Works of Philo, vol. 2 (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 38.188, 130, https://archive.org/stream/worksphilojudaeu02philuoft#page/130/mode/2up.

[17]Philo, On Husbandry (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1930), 12.51, http://web.engr.oregonstate.edu/~funkk/Personal/logos.html#PhiloHusbXII45.

[18]Morris, The Gospel According to John, 103.

[19]Danker, et al., “λογος” (logos), BDAG, 598–601.

[20]Carson, The Gospel According to John, 115.

[21]Danker, et al., “λογος” (logos), BDAG, 601.

[22]Morris, The Gospel According to John, 103–4.

[23]Danker, et al., “προς” (pros), BDAG, 875.

[24]Beasley-Murray, John, 10.

[25]Morris, The Gospel According to John, 67.

[26]Philip B. Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” JBL 92, no. 1 (3 January 1973): 75–87, 75, http://digilander.libero.it/domingo7/Harner2.htm.

[27]Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” 87, http://digilander.libero.it/domingo7/Harner2.htm.

[28]Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” 84–5. http://digilander.libero.it/domingo7/Harner2.htm.

[29]Beasley-Murray, John, 10.

[30]Morris, The Gospel According to John, 67.

[31]Morris, The Gospel According to John, 69.