“And God Was the Logos”Posted: April 12, 2015
The following is a preview excerpted from Chapter 2, entitled, “. . . Was the Logos,” of the upcoming book, The Fullness That Fills: The Unifying Principle of Biblical Revelation by Paul A. Hughes, M.Div.
In his Gospel, John uses the common Greek concept of the Logos (λόγος), “Word,” to introduce aspects of the Messiah concept to Hellenistic readers.
It is no coincidence that John’s Gospel begins with the same words that initiate Genesis, “In the beginning.” The God who spoke forth the creative Word by which the worlds were made expresses himself not only in Creation but also in his eternal Plan. At the center of this Plan God placed a self-generating and self-determining (“free-will”) creature, i.e., Man, who represents the height of God’s Creation. Man, as the height of God’s self-expressive acts of creation flowing out of his very nature, further presupposes redemption of such a creature who seems predisposed to fall. Connecting the dots, the instrument of redemption from this fall, from the beginning, is a Savior not only commissioned for the task but possessing the divine potency and status to redeem God’s creation. Who would possess status on the level of God’s stature except a participant in, indeed an associate member of the Godhead? John is saying to the Greeks and Hellenistic Jews that this Logos for whom they have been looking, and to whom in their philosophy they have perhaps already related the Messiah, is none other than the one immediately preceded by John the Baptist, preached by him, and by whom was baptized—and who now has become Savior of the world.
Here, this preview omits the following headings:
- “The Personification of Wisdom”
- “‘Son of Man” and ‘Son of God'”
- “‘Firstborn’ and ‘Only-Begotten'”
- “Hellenistic and Rabbinic Speculations”
- “The Logos and the Prologue of John”
“And God Was the Logos“
Therefore, approaching the Prologue of John without a “doubtful mind” toward its origins, let us examine its content in regard to its overall contribution and application to the present study, meanwhile attempting to dispel any misapprehensions or myths.
The Prologue begins as a transparently intentional reflection of Genesis 1. Its first words, en archē, are identical with the Septuagint rendering, along with other verbal correspondences, including its simple modes of verbal expression. The correspondence to the Hebrew original, b’reshith, “in the beginning,” is no less striking. Robinson further notes in detail the verbal correspondences between John 1:1 and 1 John 1:1 f.1 The latter begins with ho ēn ap’ archēs, “that which was from the beginning,” referring not directly to “the Word of Life” (seemingly a personification of Eternal Life in the form of Christ, its giver), but indirectly, by way of that which had been observed of him by the Apostles during his Incarnation. That the Word was (existed) in the beginning obviously signifies preexistence, but by itself neither justifies nor denies the Arian view that Christ was created along with the rest of Creation, or was created, chronologically, first. The Imperfect Tense of the verb “was” does not simply express past action but carries about as much of a continuous sense as is typical of the Present Tense, or at least expresses duration. It is not punctiliar (the opposite of durative), as is the Aorist Tense, expressing action that occurred then ceased at a point in time; nor does it, as in the Perfect Tense, emphasize the action as completed. B. F. Westcott writes, “The ‘being’ of the Word is thus necessarily carried beyond the limits of time, though the pre-existence of the Word is not definitely stated”; hence “was” describes “a continuous state. The imperfect tense suggests in this relation, as far as human language can do so, the notion of absolute, supra-temporal, existence.”2 According to Johnston, “In the beginning the Logos already was, and then at a point of time all things came into being through Him. Thus eternal existence seems to be implied, though not directly asserted.”3 “The former is a ‘being,’ the latter a ‘becoming.'”4 Stevens agrees,
The Word was at the beginning; he existed before the world came into being. It is true that John does not employ the words eternal or eternity in the connection, but we hold that this idea is involved in the logical relation between the terms was and in the beginning. When John speaks of that which comes into existence he uses both a different word and a different tense [panta di’ auton egeneto, etc., 1:8]. All things came into being, but at the beginning of all things, he was.5
More provocative, if only by way of implication, is Christ’s statement of John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Oepke purports that in John, “ideas of pre-existence develop almost imperceptibly from the underlying general conception.”6 Let it suffice for now to presume that if Christ is, in his person, the self-expression of God, there was no conceivable time in the past, ad infinitum, that God did not in some way express himself. John Calvin objects to those who “reduce Christ to the common order of the world,” by accounting him to be a created being, giving “insult not only to the Son of God, but to his eternal Father, whom they deprive of his wisdom,” and follows Augustine of Hippo in deprecating “those who conceive of any point of time when he went before his Wisdom,” who thus “deprive him of his glory.”7
Both verses 1 and 2 state that the Logos was pros ton theon, most often translated “with God.” However, pros in this construction overwhelmingly means “toward.”8 T. K. Abbott prefers “with a view to,” perhaps “looking to,” either of which carries much the same thought as “toward.”9 Coupled with the example of pros ton patera (“toward the Father”) in 1 John 1:2, and in contrast to meta tou patros . . . (“with/after the Father,” etc.) in the following verse, Meyer is on solid ground to infer from our passage “the existence of the Logos in God in respect of intercourse.”10 A. T. Robertson states that “The idea seems to be ‘facing,'” comparing pros to German gegen, and suggesting the meaning in John 1:1, “face to face with God.”11 The fact that it is Logos who is the subject and God the object of the preposition seems significant: one conceives the Logos being disposed toward, attentive to, even beholden toward God, whereas God is the focus of that concern. Stevens explains that the choice of the preposition pros over para “emphasizes a direction or tendency of life. The moral movement of his life is centred in God, and ever goes out toward God.” John’s purpose was “to show how the Son is fitted to reveal God to mankind, and it is his essential and eternal relation to the Father which would constitute the ground of that fitness.”12
The phrase commonly translated, “the Word was God,” represents perhaps the stickiest exegetical problem of all, bearing as it does on the fundamental nature of the Godhead in regard to the Trinity. Its meaning hinges upon a deceptively simple but rigid syntactic and semantic construction, including the internal order of its words, such that the depth of its meaning lies beyond the competence of “armchair” interpreters. (Indeed, it has suffered at the hands of many purported “scholars.”) The phrase does not read, “the Word was the God” (ho logos ēn ho theos), which would seem to particularize and equate both God and the Word, but “God was the Word” (theos ēn ho logos). To equate the person of God with the person of the Logos, Meyer notes, is contradicted by pros ton theon in verses 1 and 2, which already distinguishes two persons. Theos “can only be the predicate, not the subject,” so that “The predicate is placed before the subject emphatically (comp. iv. 24 [pneuma ho theos), so that] the progress of the thought [is], ‘He was with God, and (not at all a Person of an inferior nature, but) possessed of a divine nature . . . .'” Thus “John neither desires to indicate, on the one hand, identity of Person with the Father; nor yet, on the other, any lower nature than that which God Himself possesses,” even though the subordination of the Son to the Father is maintained.13 Calvin concurs:
We have already said that the Son of God is thus placed above the world and above all the creatures, and is declared to have existed before all ages. But at the same time this mode of expression attributes to him a distinct personality from the Father; for it would have been absurd in the Evangelist to say that the Speech was always with God, if he had not some kind of subsistence peculiar to himself in God.14
Johnston moreover notes that John uses theos and not ho theos, such that “the thought is rather of the nature of the Logos than of His personality.”15 By virtue of this very strict grammatical construction, John maintains the distinction between God and the Logos and, at the same time, “an identity of essence.”16
From his exalted position beside God, the Logos participated in the creation of all things. As the Word, by which God spoke forth, “Let there be light,” etc., the Logos was not just the personification of a divine faculty, as was Wisdom, but the instrument by which God’s purpose was accomplished. “God is the Creator in the absolute sense, but the Logos is the co-efficient agent of God in creating, sustaining, and governing the world,” wrote Stevens; “All things were created by (dia) him, and for (eis) him,” (Col. 1:16, see also Heb. 1:2).17 (Literally, John 1:3 begins, “All things through (dia) him became,” etc.) That there was nothing done without the presence or instrumentality of the Logos speaks not only of his presence throughout, but his own exclusive status as firstborn and only-begotten. It must also be suggested that this statement further supports his preexistence to Creation since, were he part of “all things,” he could hardly be said to have created himself.
Moreover, John writes panta and not ta panta, the latter suggesting “in a mass” or in “totality”; rather, “each separate thing is the handiwork of the Divine Logos.”18 As shall become clear during the course of this study, original Creation was just the precursor, foundation, or firstfruit of the fullness which is ever bestowed by God on his created beings, and ultimately through Christ on his Church. “And of his fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16).19
“In Him Life Was”
“In him life was,” en autō zōē ēn, “and the life was the light of men,” kai hē zōē ēn to phōs tōn anthropōn. John uses the same Imperfect Tense verb, “was,” used in verses 1 and 2, to express not only a durative state of being full of life, but also in terms of Christ constantly bestowing, through his life, light upon Mankind (and through his light, in turn, life upon Mankind). Robertson describes the sense of the Imperfect as “a sort of moving panorama, a ‘moving-picture show.'”20 Add to this the Present (and durative) sense of “shines” in the following verse, and one may presume that to John, the past endowment of life invested in the Logos endured and was still shining in his own time and beyond.21 Bernard exclaims, “Jn. does not say ‘the Light SHONE,’ but ‘the Light SHINES.'”22
The equation Life = the Light of Men in verse 4 may be explained in terms of John 8:12: Christ as Light of the World conveys the light of the truth of the Gospel, able to bring life to those who follow him (see also 9:5). In 3:14 ff., Christ has provided for Eternal Life, but those who choose evil hate and reject the light. Those who fail to walk in the light stumble (11:9 f.), hence should do their walking while they have the light (12:35 f.). Since Christ lights the world, Men need not walk in darkness (12:46). Eternal Life stems from knowing God and Christ (17:3, et al.). “Life was that which existed in Him, of which He was full,” writes Meyer.23
Men should walk in the light because God is light (1 Jn. 1:5 ff.). Not only does Life = the Light of Men, but John maintains a strict dichotomy (or dualism) between darkness = sin, versus light = goodness and truth. “Light and darkness in the prologue, and in the Gospel elsewhere, are not abstract metaphysical conceptions, but ethical conceptions,” concludes Stevens. “Darkness is sin, and light is goodness.”24
In verses 7 and 8, Light is personified, obviously as a metaphor for the One who gives light, in terms of spiritual, arguably even intellectual enlightenment (“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” Jn. 8:31 f.). John the Baptist had only represented God’s light in a metaphorical sense (Jn. 5:35) as one who conveyed the “light” of Gospel truth consciously and intellectually (i.e., the message); but in doing so, he refers to the One and Only who is himself the personification of that truth (Jn. 1:6 ff., see also 1:15, 26 ff.), as well as of the Eternal Life which that truth conveys. Just as “In the beginning,” echoes Genesis 1:1, references to Jesus as “that Light” in John 1:4 ff. echo the creation of light in Genesis 1:3.25
The next few verses proceed in logical, not chronological order. (Some interpreters delay consideration of the Incarnation until verse 14, whereas verses 10 and 11, “He was in the world,” etc., obviously refer to Christ’s Incarnation, as well.) John’s point is the acceptance or rejection by “his own” versus “as many as”—those believing and accepting him—being granted the gift of “power” (exousia, “authority,” “right,” “ability,” not dunamis, “power,” “might,” “ability”)26 to acquire sonship through believing.
Both the concepts light and sonship through new birth (“born of God,” Jn. 1:13) are paralleled by Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3 as he marvels that a “teacher of Israel” could remain ignorant of spiritual rebirth. Christ speaks of the things “which we know” and “which we have seen,” amounting to the light of the Gospel which has been received, and equivalent to those “heavenly things” which cannot be understood except by way of faith in the Son of Man, who “came down from heaven” (3:10, 12 f.).27 Yet the choice is Man’s, to “hate the light” and avoid it in an attempt to evade conviction, or to “do truth” and “come to the light” to display works of God wrought through faith (3:20 f.). The “light” has nevertheless been provided if Man will accept it. Johnston considers that “every man” refers to “Not all men in the mass, but every individual receives his own share of the Logos-light.”28 “But the Light, while it is the prerogative of men, is the possession of all men. If it is limited to men, it is not limited to any one section of humanity. The Light is diffused everywhere. It shineth in the darkness.”29 Johnston concludes,
The separation of the world from God is not the result of any inherent law of the universe, but the result of sin, the moral choice of human free will. The divine order of the universe is that in which the Logos-life and the Logos-light should everywhere be present and potent. But it is in the power of man’s free will, as we shall see in vv. 10, ii, to violate and oppose this divine order. The activity of the Logos is thwarted, though it is not defeated, by the sinfulness and selfishness of man. Sin is a deliberate shutting out of the Logos-light, and a remaining in the darkness and isolation of self.30
The above thoughts perhaps help interpret “the light of men” (Jn. 1:4) and “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (1:9). Everyone has been provided with a measure of light, but not all receive it, and not all light is “true light.” As Jesus said,
The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light (Lk. 11:34–36).
For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth (Jn. 9:39–41).
“And the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt (“tabernacled”) among us” (Jn. 1:13).
“Tabernacle” (skēnē or skēnōma) literally means “tent” or similar structure, the implication being that of a temporary, short-term, or perhaps unsubstantial dwelling. The word is used in the Septuagint to describe the original “tent of witness/testimony” (as Ex. 38:21) or “tent of the congregation” (as Ex. 39:32), but was sometimes applied later to the temples that replaced it, even a future heavenly one. Still “tabernacle” is differentiated from a temple referred to as a “house” (as 1 Chr. 6:32), and God declared his intention, up till the establishment of David’s kingdom under Solomon, to have no permanent dwelling place (1 Chr. 17:3 ff.), further implying the transitory nature of tabernacles. At the Transfiguration, Peter suggested that they erect tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, respectively (Mt. 17:4 and parallels), probably thinking more in terms of temporary resting places, by way of hospitality, than shrines (for which substantiality would seem more appropriate, but which would also be problematic in terms of Jewish religious prohibitions against idolatry and competition with the Jerusalem Temple). The idea of a tabernacle became a metaphor for the mortal body, with emphasis on the transient nature of human existence and a preference for future immortality (2 Cor. 5:1 ff., 2 Peter 1:13 f.). Meyer notes that the tabernacle was the place where God’s shekinah was revealed, which in his mind is reflected in John’s statement, “we beheld his glory” (Jn. 1:14).31
After another use of the Imperfect Tense (“He was in the world,” 1:10), the last segment of the Prologue now presents us with a spate of Aorist Tense verbs. Zerwick and Grosvenor account “tabernacled” in verse 14 to be either an inceptive (also called ingressive) use of the aorist, i.e., he “took up his abode (incarnation)”; or a constative (global) use, i.e., he “dwelt among us (earthly life).”32 Robertson classes the same verb a constative aorist, which carries the basic connotation of the Aorist Tense, that of expressing action simply taking place at a point in time (hence, “punctiliar”). “The ‘constative’ aorist,” he explains, “just treats the act as a single whole entirely irrespective of the parts or time involved.” He assigns diverse usages to the other verbs in the passage. “Know” in verse 10, “received” in verse 12, and “became” in verse 14, are ingressive aorist, emphasizing the beginning of the action. Robertson describes “beheld” in verse 14 and “received” in verse 16 as examples of the effective (or resultative) use of the Aorist, in which the conclusion of the action is emphasized.33
Regardless, John’s choice of tense in this passage makes it clear that in his mind, all the action that he describes is accomplished—”done, and done”: hence, by the Word the world became (accomplished). The world did not know him (accomplished). He came unto his own (accomplished), but his own did not receive him (accomplished). But all who received him (accomplished), he gave power (accomplished) to become sons of God (accomplished). From God, those who believe in him were born (accomplished). The Word became flesh (accomplished) and dwelt among us (accomplished). We beheld his glory (accomplished). From his fullness we have all received (accomplished). The Law, Moses gave (accomplished), but grace and truth through Jesus Christ became (accomplished). No one has seen God, but the only-begotten Son declared him (accomplished). Thus John sees Christ’s work, in terms of a new Creation through his Incarnation, to be finished. In Christ’s own words,
My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work (Jn 4:34).
But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape (Jn. 5:36 f.).
I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do (Jn. 17:4).
It is finished (Jn. 19:30).
With the words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2 and parallels), the Baptist had launched the New Testament Gospel; and by baptizing Jesus, inaugurated the Church Age, the Age of the Indwelling Spirit. “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17, see also Mk. 1:14 f.). In Christ’s revelation of himself as the Logos, moreover, he has revealed God’s unfathomable grace toward Man. The age is to be that of “grace and truth,” drawing upon the fullness of the risen Christ, and the worship to be “in Spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23 f.), according to his example and his commandments. For these purposes, God through Christ provided the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, as the resource for spiritual enablement and the continuing bestowal of grace. Hence Paul applies the term charismata (“graces,” “grace things”) to miraculous, spiritual manifestations of grace.
“We became sharers, in the plenitude of divine blessing which came to the world in Christ, and, in consequence, one gift of grace has succeeded another,” Stevens summarizes, with reference to “grace upon grace” (charis anti charitos) in Jn 1:16.34 Contrary to popular conception, the preposition anti does not usually mean “against.” Often it carries the connotation of substitution or exchange, perhaps “equivalence.”35 Compare “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” (Mt. 5:38), and “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17). According to Robertson, its “etymological picture” is “face to face,” suggesting the image of two men carrying a log while facing each other.36 In regard to its use in John 1:16, Zerwick and Grosvenor suggest the “idea of succession rather than substitution, one grace after another, grace upon grace.”37 Robertson does not disagree: “As the days come and go a new supply takes the place of the grace already bestowed as wave follows wave upon the shore. Grace answers (α̉ντὶ) to grace.”38
1 John A. T. Robinson, “The Relation of the Prologue to the Gospel of St John,” New Testament Studies 9 (January 1963):123 f.
2 Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes, vol. I (London: John Murray, 1908), p. 5.
3 J. S. Johnston, The Philosophy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study of the Logos-Doctrine: Its Sources and Its Significance (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1909), p. 21.
4 Johnston, p. 27.
5 George B. Stevens, The Johannine Theology: A Study of the Doctrinal Contents of the Gospel and Epistles of the Apostle John (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1894), p. 89.
6 Oepke, “Eis,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 423. See further on preexistence, F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 60 ff.
7 John Calvin, Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John, vol. I, trans. William Pringle, The Calvin New Translations, Instituted A. D. 1843 for the Publication of the Works of John Calvin in English (Edinburgh: Printed for the Calvin Translation Society, 1847), pp. 27 f.
8 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934), pp. 622 ff.
9 T. K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1916) p. 276 f.
10 Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of John, Vol. I, 2d ed., trans. William Urwick, trans. rev. and ed. Frederick Crombie, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Part II, ed. William P. Dickson and Frederick Crombie (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1883), p. 67; see also Johnston, p. 23.
11 Robertson, p. 623. The Centenary Translation of the New Testament, trans. Helen Barrett Montgomery (The American Baptist Publication Society, 1924), concurs with “face to face with God.”
12 Stevens, p. 90.
13 Meyer, pp. 67 f.
14 Calvin, p. 28.
15 Johnston, p. 25.
16 Stevens, p. 91.
17 Stevens, p. 93. Dia, “by” or “through,” instead of the locative en, “in,” or the instrumental en, “by.” Eis, normatively translated “into” or “unto,” often conveys purpose or result, e.g., “for the purpose of.”
18 Johnston, p. 28.
19 See Stevens, p. 96.
20 Robertson, p. 883. He notes, pp. 882 f., that the aorist form for “was” (ēn) is identical, but a punctiliar sense hardly fits the passage at hand.
21 Aorist “comprehended” is, in relation to present-tense “shines,” perhaps an example of a “timeless Aorist.” This accords well with Westcott’s earlier description of a “supra-temporal” sense; nevertheless, its normative action would be punctiliar, though sometimes translatable as Present Indicative, see Robertson, pp. 842 f.
22 J. H. Bernard, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, The International Critical Commentary, ed. A. H. McNeile, vol. I (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), p. 5.
23 Meyer, p. 71.
24 Stevens, p. 100.
25 See Peder Borgen, “Logos Was the True Light: Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John,” Novum Testamentum 14 (April 1972):124.
26 See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed., trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, rev. and aug. by F. Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979), under exousia and dunamis, respectively.
27 Verses 11–13 probably refer to Dt. 30:11-14, in which Moses declared that the Hebrews need not wonder about God’s will, and imagine that they need to send a prophet to fetch and inquire into it, since it has already been delivered to them in the Law, if only they believe and obey. To this text Paul refers, Rom. 10:6 ff., specifically in reference to acquiring the righteousness which is by faith—which lately had been declared in the Gospel, but ought to have been understood already from the examples of Abraham and the intent of Moses’ Law. Christ, after this reference, proceeds immediately to cite the example of the brazen serpent of Numbers 21, which demonstrated salvation by faith in response to obedience to God’s command.
28 Johnston, p. 35.
29 Johnston, p. 29.
30 Johnston, p. 32.
31 Meyer, John, p. 89.
32 Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, rev. (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981), commentary to the verse cited. On ingressive aorist, see Robertson, p. 829.
33 Robertson, pp. 829, 832, 834.
34 Stevens, p. 96.
35 Robertson, pp. 573 f.
36 Robertson, p. 573.
37 Zerwick and Grosvenor, commentary to the verse cited.
38 Robertson, p. 574.
Copyright ©2015 by Paul A. Hughes