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 (John 1:1-4, 14 from the New Revised Standard Version, except that all pronouns relating to the Logos have been replaced by Logos to show the power of the original text.)
In this paper I will explore the theme of ‘The Word (Logos) Of God’ and consider the background into which John introduced the theme, before moving on to explore the special nature of the Logos about which the apostle wrote. I will then look at what YHWH revealed 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 there have been a number of suggestions about what it was originally. These are:
- A POEM
This idea was explored by George R Beasley-Murray and Carson. Howard explored the possibility of it being a poem that was adapted from a previously composed poem.
- A HYMN
Brown explored the possibility that the Prologue is a commentary-like adaptation of an earlier Logos-hymn. The thought of the Prologue being an Aramaic hymn was explored by George R Beasley-Murray. MacGregor and Howard explored the possible origins of such a hymn.
- A DRAMA
McConnachie suggested that the Gospel of John ‘unfolds with the majestic simplicity of a Greek drama’, while Stanton said that the Prologue ‘functions rather like the chorus at the opening of a Greek drama’.
- RHYTHMICAL PROSE.
This idea was explored by Bruce.
Likened to an overture at an opera by Carson, the Prologue is ‘a foyer to the rest of the Fourth Gospel’ and Stanton declared that it wais the lens through which the whole gospel should be seen.
According to McConnachie, the Prologue would “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 declared that John is not only a great theologian, but a great artist.”
Howard disagrees, and said that the Logos did not provide the interpretation to the gospel. Whatever the individual view may be, the Prologue begins with Jesus – the Word (Logos) of God – 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. Thus, Barclay suggested that the use of Logos would have spoken with equal effectiveness to both Jews and Greeks. He further debated 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 were explored by Carson. See also the comparison of the Prologue with Philo by Dodd. Brown explored at length the significance of the word Logos in the secular Greek world, and traced 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 continue to 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 that literally reads “Beginning Elohim”, the Prologue of the book of John reads “Beginning Logos” and John’s Prologue also looked back to creation. The opening word of the Prologue ‘Beginning’ recalls the first word of the Hebrew Scriptures, and ‘Beginning’ was the Jewish name for Genesis. The creation in Genesis is the new creation in John.
John then contrasted the themes of light and dark before moving on to consider the incarnation. However, said Ashton, “The Prologue offers a vision of eternity, stretching back before the creation of the world and forward until after its end.”
Here in the Prologue the author compared 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 an expression of thought as 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 said that the divine word was believed to possess “Dynamic power and creative potency in Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia.”
Dodd declared that, for the Hebrew, “The word once spoken has a kind of substantive existence of its own,” while Barclay saids 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 said 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.” For John, the Logos of YHWH himself came into the world and interacted with that world in a dynamic way – “God in action” according to Bruce – and Stanton declared 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 God and who was with God. The Word was God in nature, as truly God as the one with whom he was. John therefore had the highest Christology, and set out that highest Christology in the beginning of his book. The God who reveals himself has done so supremely through Jesus, the Logos of God, and Ellis declared that “This is the headline under which the entire gospel is to be understood.”
THROUGH THE LOGOS
The Logos is the communication of the heart, mind, and the will of YHWH, what Phillips called his “Personal expression” and his revelation; all of God in all of man. Logos has its roots in the old covenant, where the personification of the Word can be seen, for example in Psalm 107:19, 20: “Then they cried to YHWH in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.” Compare further: Genesis 1:3ff, Psalm 33:6, Jeremiah 1:4, Isaiah 9:8, Ezekiel 33:7, Amos 3:1,8 and many others.
The Logos is the wisdom of YHWH as highly personified throughout the old covenant, and appears in John’s Gospel as the Logos according to Ashton. The connection between Wisdom and Logos is traced by Ashton through the Wisdom and Solomon, and he asserts that this is the true background of the Prologue and that it is a mistake to see to regard it as a creation hymn. There are remarkable similarities in theme between the Prologue and passages in the Wisdom literature, that Dodd explores in depth.
‘The Logos was God’, “is the translation demanded by the Greek structure theos en ho logos” according to Carson, who discussed the Greek structure in detail and saw no other possible translation, while Brown also explored this. The Logos is the pre-existent Christ who created everything, and that is a common new covenaent theme.
The Logos was with God, and the Greek word translated as ‘with’ is pros which means ‘to’ or ‘toward’, but may carry the sense of face-to-face intimacy “like lovers perpetually running toward each other in a beach scene from a sentimental film” said Carson, while MacGregor described a “nearness combined with the sense of movement towards God’.
The Logos is the Light of the World. As the word of the Lord in Genesis created light and separated darkness to its proper place, so Beasley-Murray declared that “The authentic Light is affirmed to be the Word who illumines the existence” of every person. Apart from the Logos, the world is shrouded in darkness; the Logos is not a source of light, but the source of light, which the darkness has not overcome. Does John refer to a specific attempt of the darkness to overcome the light? Or is it about sin? The Greek verb katalambanein is hard to translate according to Brown, and he explored this issue in depth.
The Logos gives authority (not power, says Dodd) to those who receive him to become God’s children, which speaks of adoption and regeneration. To become God’s children is wholly a work of YHWH through the authority of the Logos and the work of the Spirit.
The Logos was full of grace and truth, and we have shared in his fullness of grace after grace. While not a feature by language in John’s gospel, the theme of grace permeates his book as the Logos of God reveals the heart of YHWH’s grace to a people who had forgotten what grace was like. The salvation brought by the Logos is “Defined in terms of inexhaustible grace” as made known through Jesus, according to Beasley-Murray.
In verse fourteen, which is the climax of the Prologue, John writes ‘and we have seen his glory’ and he was possibly directing his readers back to Exodus (33-34) where Moses asked to see the glory of God. The glory revealed to Moses was the same glory that was revealed in and through the Logos. Where John uses ‘grace and truth’ he may well be recalling the Hebrew words hesed and emet (Steadfast covenant love and faithful truth) and thereby summing up in the Logos the same ideas.
The Logos gives life, and this is made clear a little later in the Gospel (John 5:19-29) What comes into being through the Logos has life and it is the Logos who gives life.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
John 1:4 caused some difficulty in translation, for the aorist egeneto shifts to a perfect gegonen, and what came into being becomes what has come into being. Brown considers that the author had in mind a subtle difference in meaning, from meaning not all of creation, but only living creatures, or even only people.
The Logos is the Mediator of creation, not an intermediary according to Beasley-Murray, though Bultmann argues at length over this point. The Logos is not only mediator in the act of creation, but also in its maintenance.
Brown argues that being mediator should be widened to include all of God’s external actions including salvation history, “because the Fourth Gospel is not interested in cosmology.” Bultmann argues that everything “without exception” has been made by the Logos for the Logos brings light and life just as the word in Genesis brought light and life.
The Logos became flesh. The Logos came into the “sphere of time, history, tangibility” according to Carson. The Logos entered the new condition of flesh and blood where he “pitched his tent” (Beasley-Murray) the “tabernacle” (Carson) – in our midst; and we have seen through the “penetrating vision of enlightened faith” (MacGregor) this “real, human person” who revealed God’s glory. Beasley-Murray would have us compare shekinah which has the same consonants as the Greek noun.
The Logos is concerned with the revelation of God, and the Word of God is not language to be heard, but a person to be received. YHWH’s revelation took flesh and lived among the people, and in a community of which John himself was part.
LOGOS WITHOUT END
It is clear that John held the Logos as supreme in his writings (not just in his gospel, but his first epistle also features what many regard as a Prologue) and that the Logos who loved him in a special way was the highest revelation of YHWH known to humanity. The Logos is the ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ of YHWH, the Logos is the Alpha and Omega; in the Logos we live and move and have our being. The Logos is God made known.
What was incredible was that this Logos should die, and die the way he did. Yet John wrote declaring the victorious Logos, the one who rose from the dead and is at the right hand of YHWH.
The Logos is Truth, and so he speaks the word of truth. The Logos is life, and so he gives life. The Logos is grace, and so he gives grace. The Logos is light, and so he sheds light. The Logos always was, always is, and always will be.
General Editor: Colin Brown, Dictionary of New Testament Theology, (Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1976)
John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991)
William Barclay, Jesus As They Saw Him, (London, SCM Press, 1962)
George R Beasley-Murray, John, (Waco, Word Books, 1987)
Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John, (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1971)
F F Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans, 1983)
Raymond E Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, (New York, Doubleday, 1966)
D A Carson, The Gospel According to John, (Leicester, Apollos, 1991)
C H Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1953)
E Earle Ellis, The World of St John, (London, Lutterworth Press, 1965)
W F Howard, Christianity According to St John, (London, Duckworth, 1943)
John McConnachie, The Gospel of Life, (Edinburgh, Church of Scotland, 1957)
G H C MacGregor, The Gospel of John, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1928)
Graham N Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989)