Logos

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(John 1:1-4, 14 – From the New Revised Standard Version, except that pronouns relating to the Logos have been replaced by Logos for effect.)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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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”.

  1. 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.

FOCUS

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.”

THROUGH THE LOGOS

The Logos is the communication of the heart, mind and will of YHWH – what Phillips calls his “Personal expression” and his revelation; all of YHWH in all of man. Logos has 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 in the Old Covenant, and the mysterious feminine figure of Wisdom found in Proverbs appears in John’s Gospel as the masculine 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, those Dodd explores in depth.

The Logos was YHWH, “which is the translation demanded by the Greek structure theos en ho logos” according to Carson, who discusses the Greek structure in detail and sees no other possible translation, while Brown also explores this. The Logos is the pre-existent Christ who created everything, and that is a common New Testament theme.

The Logos was with YHWH, 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” says Carson, while MacGregor describes 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 place, so Beasley-Murray declares 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 explores this issue in depth.

The Logos gives authority (not power, according to Dodd) to those who receive him to become YHWH’s children, which speaks of adoption and regeneration. To become YHWH’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, grace after grace. While not a feature by language in John’s gospel, the theme of grace permeates his book as the Logos of YHWH 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 asks to see the glory of YHWH. The glory revealed to Moses is 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) when Jesus says, “Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” What comes into being through the Logos has life and it is the Logos who gives life.

Verse four cause some difficulty in translation, for the aorist egeneto shifts to a perfect gegonen, and ‘what came to be’ becomes ‘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. See Brown for further discussion.

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 YHWH’s external actions including salvation history, “because the Fourth Gospel in 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, he “pitched his tent” (Beasley-Murray) he “tabernacled” (Carson) – in our midst; and we have seen through the “penetrating vision of enlightened faith” (MacGregor) this “real, human person” who revealed YHWH’s glory. Beasley-Murray would have us compare shekinah which has the same consonants as the Greek noun.

The Logos is concerned with the personal revelation of YHWH, and the Word of YHWH is not just 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 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 YHWH made known.

What was incredible, was that this Logos should die, and die the way he did. Yet the author writes 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.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

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)