John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 1:32, The Logos (Part V of V)

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him”.

//Over the last few days, we’ve discussed two major religious themes: One, the Hellenistic idea of a Logos someday being sent from God to mankind, who would “reveal mysteries and make everything plain.” And two, a dream held by the Jews of a day when God Himself would step down from heaven and take an active part in governing the world, inaugurating the messianic age.

What we haven’t yet discussed is that the messianic age implies a Messiah. This Messiah was the expected hope of Israel, a man who would be anointed by God and who would overcome the world, leading to the age of God’s rule.

Enter John’s Gospel, and his ingenious prologue, which makes an astounding claim: Jesus is not merely the Messiah. Jesus is also the return of God. And Jesus is the dreamed-of Logos/Spirit. How can this be?

Answer: incarnation. We have a habit, today, of overlaying John’s story of incarnation atop the birth stories of Matthew and Luke, and assuming that incarnation occurred at birth or conception. But this is not the story John tells. Rather, John describes how God came down, in the form of a dove, and chose a host as a “tabernacle.” See today’s verse. Though John does not write about the baptism of Jesus, this appears to happen as Jesus comes up out of the water from being baptized (see the other three Gospels). On that day, God came to earth, anointed a Messiah, and sent the Logos; three in one.

As John’s Gospel made inroads into Christianity in the second century, this three-in-one being through incarnation would merge with the baptismal formula of the other Gospels, where baptism was performed in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” God, Jesus, and Logos/Spirit. The Trinity was born.

1 Corinthians 1:30, The Logos (Part IV of V)

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God

//Before wrapping up this discussion tomorrow, a little more information about the Logos is in order. What is this mysterious, cosmic Reason that coexisted with God since the creation?

John’s Logos Christology poetically parallels the structure of Wisdom texts throughout Jewish tradition. It is not a new idea. These texts, both inside and outside the Bible, personify Wisdom’s relation to God, her preexistence and role in creation, her place beside the throne of God, her dispatch to earth to dwell among God’s people, and the benefits of seeking her. This Wisdom tradition reflects Jewish-Hellenistic thinking and writing long before Christ arrived. Virtually everything John says about the Logos, Jewish literature first said about Wisdom. But while Wisdom (Sophia) is a feminine name, John needed a more masculine name: he chose Reason (Logos).

Other ancient writers also linked Reason and Wisdom, Sophia and Logos. The two, personified, cooperate to create the universe in Shepherd of Hermas. (In Genesis, it is the “spirit” or “wind” of God that accomplishes this task.)

Nor was John the first to compare Wisdom to Jesus. Paul, hoping to relate to both Jew and Gentile, explained that Christ arrived as the wisdom of God. See today’s verse. John merely carried Paul’s analogy farther, introducing to Christianity the theology of descent from above.

Thus we have Wisdom = Spirit, and Word = Logos, and a merging of these two lines of thought. With the Logos, the companion of God during creation, entrenched in Jewish thinking as the Spirit, we approach the conclusion tomorrow of what John was trying to tell us with the fascinating prologue to his Gospel.

Ezekiel 37:27, the Logos (Part III of V)

My dwelling place will be with them: I will be their God, and they will be my people.

//We continue our theme about the Logos, as described in the prologue to John’s Gospel. John has just made a profound claim, that the Logos has finally arrived as promised, and that it came in the form of a flesh-and-blood person! The wording of John’s Gospel is not coincidental; it refers back to the book of Ezekiel—a favorite of the Johannine writings, in particular Revelation—including today’s verse.

Devout Jews looked forward to a future age, an era of righteous reign, when God himself would come back to earth, set up his messianic kingdom, and “tabernacle” among his people. The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, which is an integral part of John’s theology in his Gospel, anticipates this great day. And now, it has finally arrived! In the opening verses of John’s Gospel, he is telling us about the very day God came down to earth.

Ezekiel and the prophets spoke truly! The promise is fulfilled! God did come back down from heaven, as promised! How can this be?

More tomorrow.

John 1:14, the Logos (Part II of V)

And the Logos became flesh,

and dwelt among us,

and we saw his glory

//Yesterday, I repeated a statement attributed to the philosopher Plato, long before Jesus lived, suggesting that one day God might send forth a Logos, who would reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.

Hundreds of years later, John wrote about this Logos in his Gospel. But before John wrote, Philo of Alexandria (a Hellenized Jew) also used the term Logos to reconcile Stoicism and Judaism. Philo spoke of the knowledge of God as eternal life, and identified the Logos as the firstborn Son of God—a phrase which, until New Testament times, had always been understood metaphorically. Philo never pictured the Logos as a personal being.

But John, in his Gospel, turned this line of thought on its head. In an astounding claim, John alleges that this Logos has arrived … and that it came in the flesh! Literally, as written in Greek, John’s opening verses tell how God came and “tabernacled” with mortals, choosing a temporary dwelling place among his people. This language evokes an image of the portable tabernacle of the Hebrew nation as they traveled through the wilderness.

Until verse 14 (today’s verse), John’s Hellenistic audience would have never imagined he was speaking about a historical character, or describing the events of a historical life. His readers already knew all about the Logos, but now John drops a bombshell: he is writing about the glory of the Jewish Messiah, a flesh-and-blood person!

Where is this line of philosophical thought leading us? More tomorrow.

John 1:1, the Logos (Part I of V)

In the beginning was the Logos.

//John’s Gospel is a fascinating and complex theological work, painting Christianity (which was itself an offshoot of Judaism) with a Hellenistic brush. I thought it might be enlightening to discuss the Logos, John’s word for the pre-existing Christ. In most all Bible versions, the Greek word Logos has been translated to Word.

But what is a Logos? Why does John use this word to describe Christ?

Logos is the mind of God controlling this world, the force changing it from chaos to order, and for hundreds of years before Jesus came, it portrayed a philosophical line of thought known well by all learned men in the Hellenistic world, much as scholars today might discuss evolution or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Plato (remember him?) reportedly once said to his followers, “It may be that someday there will come forth from God a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” The idea of the Logos, or Word, began back in the sixth century BCE among the Greeks, in the very city in which John’s Gospel was supposedly written (Ephesus). Its roots go deep into Stoicism, where it is perceived as a sort of cosmic reason, giving order and structure to the universe. In Stoic thought, Logos was Reason, the impersonal, rational principle governing the universe. This principle was thought to pervade the entire universe and was indeed the only god recognized by the Stoics.

If Plato really uttered these words, it turns out he was right. This Logos, says John, is what came from God to visit us on earth in the first century.

In the beginning was the Logos,

and the Logos was with God,

and the Logos was God.

Continued tomorrow.