John’s Gospel, Part Three
The Eternal Word
John 1:1-5, 14-18
This appears to be a hymn to Christ, and serves in this location as an introduction to the biography, declaring origins, ‘hymning’ praise, setting forth mission, and so on. This was typical of Hymns to the Emperor prior to a drama. John uses this structure to set out from the beginning of his narrative the identity of the Person he is summoning us to believe in so we can navigate through the story knowing all along what the people in the story don’t know.
Strophe 1 - v.1-2
Strophe 2 - v.3-5
Strophe 3 - v.10-12a
Strophe 4 - v.14-15
(as noted by BW)
That a Hymn to Christ as God was sung is hardly surprising! Note First Apology of Justin Martyr c.125. There are others as well, especially Philippians 2.
The material about John the Baptist is central to the introductory section too, demonstrating his large - and largely forgotten! - place in early Christian faith. We will take up the witness of John in three weeks time. It is not, however, part of the Christ Hymn as originally composed and so appears here as an insertion.
This structure presents the Word as God AND as Man, as the Author and Agency of creation, and as one who enters into that creation, adding it to his eternal being. We will take these up in successive weeks, noting about the Incarnation John Donne’s magnificent words, “Twas much that man was made like God before/ But that God should be made like man, much more!”
I. The Word - Logos Background
A. Greek Thought -
1. Heraclitus (600 BCE) - ‘Thought’ guiding the universe, the divine cause
2. Stoics - founded by Zeno: the universal law (natural law, common law). The passive principle of the universe is matter while the active principle is the Logos
3. Under Plutarch’s influence, the Divine Mind and Creator
* These however are pantheistic notions, one with the world through permeation, and impersonal abstract principle rather than a Person.
B. Jewish Thought - Philo
1. Logos is personal, bridging the gap between human reason and the Divine Mind
2. Logos is below God and above the Powers through which God rules his creation
3. God’s archangel, eldest offspring, ambassador to humanity. Philo seeks a middle Platonism, combining ancient and competing Greek schools with Jewish monotheism. Logos governs the World as Law governs a city.
4. Divine Wisdom - Proverbs 8:22-31; note creation via the agency of the word - Genesis 1:3; Psalm 33:6
* Also note the Wisdom of Solomon ch 8-9.
II. The Word in John 1
A. Overall View - The Pre-existent Word who is God
1. Not simply a Mediator between God and creation and/or man but is identified as ‘with God’ and as ‘God’.
2. Emphasis away from reason to revelation
3. Emphasis on reconciliation with an estranged humanity
4. Historical Human Person and Eternal Divine Person who is one with the Father and yet distinguishable from the Father.
B. John’s Logos as Torah Made Manifest (‘Instruction’ more than ‘Law’ - Nomos - in the legislative and penal sense). He is God’s Word transcending the Law of Moses (v.17).
C. He is the Creator and Agency of Creation
D. Emphatically God -
In the beginning
and the word
In the beginning with God
The “X” marks the spot.
E. The Divinity of the Logos as Christ
1. God speaking to God: Psalm 110
2. God speaking of the Son as God: Hebrews 1
3. The Apostles speaking of Christ as God: Philippians 2 and Romans 14:10-12 (Isaiah 45:23ff); Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:8 (bridging in one statement the whole John’s prologue!); 1 Timothy 3:16; and of course, John 1:18. Many other such passages could be brought forward as witnesses.
F. In Relationship With God
1. With: “Face to Face”
2. Agency of Creation - Life (Zoe)--> Light (Phos)
* Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1
* The darkness (Scotia) cannot ‘seize and overpower’ (katalambano, see also Mark 9:18) the Light that comes from God because this Light is from the very Life of God. The Light of God is invincible because the Life of God is indestructible.
3. Revealer of God
* “The Word was God”, not “the Word was the God”, for that would mean the Word was all there was to God. “God” includes the “Word” but the “Word” does not exhaust who God is.
In summary, the Word is with God and is God. All things exist through him and from him - he is involved in the whole act of creation. He is also the Word made flesh, involved in the whole work of redemption - nothing is restored without him. It is to this aspect of his Person which we will turn next - God the Word made flesh. What does the Incarnation mean and what does it accomplish?