In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The Logos was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the Logos, and without the Logos not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Logos was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. And the Logos became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the Logos glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:1-4, 14 – From the New Revised Standard Version, except that pronouns relating to the Logos have been replaced by Logos for effect.)
In this essay we will explore the theme of ‘The Word (Logos) Of YHWH’ and consider the background into which John introduced the theme, before moving on to consider the special nature of the Logos about which the apostle wrote. We will then look at what YHWH reveals in and through the Logos before moving to a conclusion about the theme of Logos in John’s gospel and beyond.
COME THE LOGOS
There is a wonderful poetic quality about the Prologue, and it has been suggested that it was originally:
- A POEM
This idea is explored by George R Beasley-Murray and Carson. Howard explores the possibility of it being a poem that was adapted from a previously composed poem.
- A HYMN
The thought of the Prologue being an Aramaic hymn is explored by George R Beasley-Murray. MacGregor and Howard explore the possible origins of such a hymn.
- A DRAMA
McConnachie suggests that the Gospel of John “unfolds with the majestic simplicity of a Greek drama”, while Stanton says that the Prologue “functions rather like the chorus at the opening of a Greek drama”.
- RHYTHMICAL PROSE.
This idea is put forward by Bruce. Brown explores the possibility that the Prologue is a commentary-like adaptation of an earlier Logos-hymn.
Likened to an overture at an opera by Carson, the Prologue is “a foyer to the rest of the Fourth Gospel” and Stanton declares that it is the lens through which the whole gospel should be seen.
According to McConnachie, the Prologue will “Furnish the reader with a key to the sanctuary of this Gospel” and whet the appetite of the readers and hearers, in order to prepare them for the artistic work that is to come. McConnachie declares that “John is not only a great theologian, but a great artist.” Howard disagrees, and says that the Logos does not provide the interpretation to the gospel. Whatever the individual view may be, the Prologue begins with Jesus – the Word (Logos) of YHWH – and the whole book ends with Jesus – the things that the Logos did.
In pointing out the relationships between the Prologue and Hellenic and Hellenistic traditions, some have suggested that the author deliberately used culturally familiar language and style that would have therefore captured the attention of a wide group of people. Barclay suggests that the use of Logos would have spoken with equal effectiveness to both Jews and Greeks. He further debates the common use of Memra in the Targums to mean ‘word’, and says that this would have laid the foundation for John to write of the Logos Word.
This may certainly be true of Logos, since the term was familiar in Greek philosophical schools where it denoted “the principle of reason or order immanent in the universe”. The possible meanings of Logos are explored by Carson. See also the comparison of the Prologue with Philo by Dodd. Brown explores at length the significance of the word Logos in the secular Greek world, and traces the Hebrew origins.
The concept of Logos may be partly rooted in a deliberate contrast by John between pagan heroes who were seen as half-divine and half-human, and the Logos who is fully divine and fully human. Arguments abound over whether the Logos is central to John’s Christology and, because Logos as a title is only found in the Prologue, what relation the Prologue has to the rest of the book.
IN THE LOGOS
Like the book of Genesis, the Prologue of the book of John begins by looking back to creation, and contrasting the themes of light and dark before moving on to consider the incarnation. However Ashton says that, ‘The Prologue offers a vision of eternity, stretching back before the creation of the world and forward until after its end.” The opening word of the Prologue ‘Beginning’ recalls the first word of the Hebrew Bible, and ‘Beginning’ was the Jewish name for Genesis. The creation in Genesis is the new creation in John.
Here in the Prologue the author compares the word that created the world in Genesis with the Word incarnate – Jesus – and peoples throughout the ancient Orient would have understood that ‘word’ was not so much a verbal expression of thought as it was an action. “This delineation of the creative power of the word of God is observable in much of the literature of the ancient near Orient” according to Beasley-Murray. Indeed, Brown says that the divine word was believed to possess “Dynamic power and creative potency in Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia.”
Dodd declares that, for the Hebrew, “The word once spoken has a kind of substantive existence of its own,” while Barclay says that, for the Jew, a word not only said things, it did things. This theme is found here as the Logos has life in himself – “The ultimate reality revealed” according to Dodd, and the incarnation of “Absolute otherness” according to Bultmann. The Logos expression “Preserves the distance between God and man” says Dodd. And that is a distinction that was blurred in much Hellenistic thought.
Bruce says that “When the universe was brought into existence, the divine Logos by which it was brought into existence was already there” and the Logos was “In the closest association with God and partaking of the essence of God.” Now was the Logos of God himself coming into the world and interacting with that world in a dynamic way – “God in action” according to Bruce – and Stanton declares that “The sending of Jesus into the world was no afterthought: in the beginning was the Word.”
In the beginning of Genesis was the Word who was YHWH and who was with YHWH. The Word was God in nature, as truly YHWH as the one with whom he was. John therefore has the highest Christology, and sets out his highest Christology in the beginning of his book. YHWH who reveals himself has done so supremely through Jesus, the Logos of YHWH, and Ellis declares that “This is the headline under which the entire gospel is to be understood.”