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Gospel of John--High Christology

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The Word


The introduction to John's Gospel is one of the most striking passages in the New Testament, a beautiful example of rhetorical prose. It is also, in many ways, one of the most mystifying passages. Prevalent in this is John's use of "Word," or logos in the original Greek. Obviously, John uses logos to refer to Jesus; but what was John's intent in using this particular word? What did John mean when he wrote, "In the beginning was the logos?"


While the standard Greek translation of logos is "word," the meaning John brings to the passage is unclear. This is compounded by two factors: first, that John does not ever return to the logos concept as expressed in the prologue; second, that there were different contemporary meanings behind logos in John's day.


Stoic philosophers used logos to express the rational principle by which everything exists. The Stoic's were founded by Zeno in the early 3rd century B.C. In many ways Zeno was a materialist (only matter (the tangible world) exists), yet he also believed that all matter was infused with a "world-soul," which was reason, or the logos. The Stoic belief in god(s) was largely pantheistic (God is everywhere); indeed, to the Stoic, all gods were expressed within the logos. It is easy to see the similarities between the Stoic use of logos and what John is trying to suggest; however, John was not a Stoic, nor does his Gospel suggest he was writing primarily to a Stoic audience.


Philo, a 1st century Jewish philosopher, made attempts to reconcile biblical religion with Greek philosophy, and so posited that the logos referred to the ideal world, of which the material world was merely a copy; or, that the logos was the creative principle that brought order to the world. Philo, however, believed that God was entirely transcendent (separated from the world), and so this would not have entirely suited John's purposes either--though perhaps served as an inspiration.


Notable in John's Gospel are the parallels with Genesis: "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1), compared with "In the beginning God created" (Genesis 1:1). This parallel is found again in verses 3 and 10, in which John notes that the world was created through the logos. Many scholars posit, then, that John's logos is a reference to God's creative power: in Genesis, God speaks, and creation happens by God's spoken command/word; Psalm 33:6 reinforces the suggested connection by saying, "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made…"


At the end of the day, though, we must admit that we cannot be entirely sure to what John was referring with his use of logos. While it is certain that no one philosophical use of the word as noted above was John's sole intent, perhaps he used it as a point of common reference, designed to catch the attention of the different logos philosophers. Or perhaps, given the parallels with Genesis, John meant it to draw up comparisons with God's creative power as demonstrated through His speaking word. Or, perhaps John intended it to be a bit of a mystery.


What is clear, though, is the Christology behind the passage: in the beginning was Jesus; He was with God, and He was God. Rarely do we find as strong a statement about Christ's divine nature, and His unique connection to God. This Christology is affirmed elsewhere--and especially in John's Gospel--but it is here, in John's prologue, that we find perhaps its strongest attestation.


Having discussed what logos may (or may not) mean, next week we look at the prologue as a whole.


See you then!


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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Last modified date:
January 1, 2018