Christianity is Christ. A Christian is someone who has faith in Christ. He has come to see the glory of Christ and to be enthralled. The glory of Christ is all he is and all he has accomplished. There are many facets to this glory and Scripture uses many images or better, concepts, to describe it but perhaps none is richer than that employed by John in the prologue to his gospel; for John, Jesus is ‘the Word’, the logos, the Word of God.
Many have commented on John’s genius in employing this image. It was a word familiar to the Greek world of that time, particularly the world of philosophy and religious concepts. The use of logos gives John a point of contact with this world, a concept bridge to more easily convey the gospel into another culture. That being said, John’s source for logos is not Greek but Hebrew; like the other NT writers his conceptual and semantic source, as far as truth is concerned is the OT Scripture. Revelation not human reason is his authority.
To understand the gospel meaning of logos we must begin with OT revelation for that is where John begins. Or rather, where the Spirit begins, for the genius in revelation does not lie with John but with the Spirit who inspired both John and the OT writers before him, the same Spirit who providentially ensured that logos was a concept in the cultures surrounding, corrupted of course, and awaiting the light of the gospel to imbue it with its true meaning and glory.
John, in unpacking what he means by ‘the Word’, begins as far back as revelation reaches; he begins in Genesis One. There we learn the Word is…
a divine word
Speech is the expression of who we are. Our speech, even in deceitful folks like us, reveals our hearts. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34; 15:18). What we say is profoundly who we are. In God, who cannot lie, his speech is the perfect expression of who he is. God’s heart and his word are one; what he says, he is. It is this indivisible union between God and his word that John employs to express the deity of Jesus.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.
We should be in no doubt what John is saying in this climax building statement: he is saying as plainly as he possibly can what he goes on to confirm in a variety of ways throughout his gospel that Jesus is a divine person (though actually John avoids the normal Greek word for divine, theios, because apparently it may be used for something less than God and uses only the definite word for God, theos), he is God: the word was, the word was with God, the word was God. Some of the building blocks of a full-blown doctrine of the trinity are being laid here and John traces the revelation to the opening words of Scripture, to Genesis.
In Genesis one, when all things were created, we read, ‘and God said…’. Here, in this ‘said‘, John finds ‘the Word who will become flesh’.
Greek ideas apparently suggested that a word, a principle of reason, or created knowledge was involved in the basis of the universe. But whatever vague ideas concerning origins may have been permitted by God to develop John is clear that the creative word is divine. From Genesis onward nothing is more closely associated with God than his Word. It is who he is. In Proverbs, wisdom is personified as he which was with God in the beginning (Proverbs 8). No doubt OT references to God’s word and wisdom inform this first primary assertion of John, that Jesus is the divine word. He can fully reveal God for he is God.
In various ways this will find echoes throughout the gospel. He is the unique Son displaying the glory of an only Son of a Father (1:14). No one has seen God at any time but the Son who dwells in the Father’s side has made him known (1:17). He is the Son who does what he sees his Father do (Jn 5:19), the Father whose divine glory he shared before the world began (Jn 17:5).
Again, John’s sentence at the beginning of the gospel makes it clear and cannot be improved on: in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.
the creative word
In creation ‘God said… and it was so‘ (Gen 1:3,6,9). God creates, of this there is no doubt. Yet, to be precise, it is God’s word that creates. But this is not contradiction for God and his Word though distinct are clearly one. Everything God does he does by speaking, by a word, by his Word. Autocratic kings of the East spoke and their word carried absolute authority. Here is kingly authority and power on another scale altogether. God is the autocratic King of all things. His word is fiat in all of creation. It does exactly what he intends. His word is never empty but always energetic and effective (Isa 55:11). God’s word is limitlessly powerful. It is powerfully active (Ps 29:3-8). It is completely authoritative. By his word the worlds were framed and that which had no existence came into being (Hebs 11:1; Roms 4:17). He spoke and it was done. He commanded and it stood fast (Psalm 33:9). God’s word always succeeds because God himself watches over it to perform it (Jer 1:12). He is jealous for the honour and glory of his word. Indeed, such is the value and esteem God places on his Word that he magnifies it above all his name (Psalm 138:2). There is about God’s word, an authority and majesty that makes it sure and settled; it is invincibly established (Psalm 119:89). The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of the Lord stands, endures, forever (Isaiah 40:8). Why? Because God himself endures forever.
Given language like this it is not hard to see the profound biblicity of John’s statement: the word was with God and the word was God. God and his speech are distinct but indivisible. And Christ is this limitlessly powerful creative Word. He is God’s agent in creation. God created the world of this there is no doubt. Yet it is Christ, the Word, that creates. All things are made by him (Col 1:16; Hebs 1:3). God plans, his word performs.
But does this not mean he is a created being who made everything after he himself was previously made by God? The Genesis ‘and God said’ should sufficiently guard against this. God’s breath (the Spirit) and his creative word (the Son) are not created things separate from God but part of who God is, integral to him. Yet, John further guards against the misconception that the word is created, by adding, ‘without him was not anything made that was made’. He is not created, rather he creates all things with no exceptions. Thus in Christ, the Word of God, is all the fullness of God. He dwells in the bosom of the Father (God’s word is precious to him) and has told him out. It is the Father’s intention that the Son (the word) be honoured and glorified and in this God is himself glorified (Jn 17:1). He is the one who does all that the Father does and is all that the Father is (Jn 5, 14). Father and Son are one. God and his Word are one.
God’s word in the beginning is manifestly good; it creates the fecundity of life. In the creation week life burgeoned in every realm of the earth by the Word: God said and it was so. It seems that the first expressed word of God in Genesis is, ‘ light, let there be’. Life and light those great and good gifts of the Creator come through his Word. Of that same Word, now revealed in Jesus, John says, ‘in him was life and that life was the light of men‘. Now, however, the emphasis will be on spiritual life and spiritual light. Jesus comes as the light of the world through whom, though a man walk in darkness he shall receive the light of life. The Word who has life in himself will give life to whomsoever he will. He comes full of grace and truth and of his grace we have received grace upon grace. He is the one who will not fail (it is folly, as we have seen, to speak of God’s Word failing). He is the divine Word who is established and watched over by God himself, who will endure forever. Biblical images or better, realities, intersect, morph and mould as they seek to do justice to the one whose glory is the glory of the only son of the Father. Jesus is the unified, true, perfect and complete expression of the Father.
the incarnate word
All the above discussion presupposes the Word, though God, is distinct within God and has distinct personality. In fact, since John’s Word is a man on earth, Jesus, we know it goes much further. Thus we confront John’s brave, bold and unambiguous language, ‘the word became flesh and lived (tabernacled) among us‘. The Word who was God and was with God in the beginning became human.
Here is a concept utterly repugnant to fashionable sophisticated thinking. Greek thinking saw matter, the material universe, as something essentially base. God could have nothing to do with it. He is pure spirit and could not contaminate himself with grubby matter. If he created he must have done so through secondary intermediary created forces (demi-urges). But John will have none of this. The Word was God and the Word became flesh. By using the word ‘flesh’ John was deliberately choosing a word that conveyed the stark uncompromising reality of the incarnation. God became the very thing all tasteful cultured educated people found inferior and gross and hoped one day to escape, unpalatable flesh; the spiritual became material. The logos was not some impersonal creative force but a divine person who became a human person. Even the Jewish theologians do not seem to have anticipated this. Whenever, I hear folks say we must adapt the gospel to make it palatable to our current generation or it will die out I think of just how essentially counter cultural so many aspects of the gospel was at its inception: God manifest in flesh is one huge example. The ‘truth’, was not tied up in philosophy and clever human reasoning; it was found in a man who was the perfect expression of all wisdom and knowledge, of God himself, for he was God.
The Word became flesh. The Son became human. The glory seen to the eye of faith was the glory of an only Son of a Father. But that, perhaps, is a topic for a future post.