August 2, 2011

λόγος III: Jewish Roots

John’s Audience

It is probable that John’s primary audience was both Jews and Gentiles. This fact likely dictated the writing style of Johns Gospel. It is clear he would need to streamline and combine two disparate tracks of philosophical and theological thought. This would obviously not be an easy feat. What would help aid John was the surrounding society and culture itself. Much of Jewish society had absorbed Hellenization into their everyday lives along with traditional Jewish religiosity (Wiersbe 284). I suppose it is not that odd then that God would pick this point in time (the fullness of time) to enter creation as a man to save both Jew and Gentile since the secular world has already merged them into the Hellenized mindset as is evident from the near ubiquitous use of Greek language in the Roman controlled areas.

Logos/ λογος : Jewish Roots

There appears to be a direct link back to Genesis and the Creation where God speaks Creation into existence ex-nihilo (Evans 41, Morris 73, Petko 21). When John introduces Jesus here as λογος there is a distinct flavor of Jewish/Hebrew thought that believed the word/Word of God performed creative actions.

The Jews in John’s time had taken on Greek or Hellenistic culture but they were still firmly rooted in Jewish religious thought and the idea of personified wisdom that I will dwell on more in the “Philosophical Thought” section (Elwell 645, Evans 41). The Old Testament had seen God’s revelation come as the Word (or other ways) in the New Testament we would see it come in the form of His Son.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. Hebrews 1:1-2

There are other theological ideas that can be added into this thinking that of God/Jesus being “the Word” and the Word being a creative force. Other than creation or creative force we can see life-giving ability both immediate and eternal is another purpose and this is later seen in other passages of John. Jesus is the life, (v.1:4) “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men…” (v14:6) “…the way and the truth and the life”, etc. Ironically, when John says in verse 4 that, “in Him was life” and this is supported elsewhere in Scripture but nowhere more clearly than in Hebrews.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Hebrews 1:3

When we begin to view things along these parallels we begin to see things more clearly. If Jesus was the Word and He (Him) gives life, then the Word itself is capable of imparting life and sustaining it…if it is obeyed. Furthermore there is an interesting and eloquent quote from W. Wiersbe in his commentary that hints at this impartation of life through God’s self-revelation when he states the following:
By Christ revealing Himself in the flesh He is imparting life to those that believe. The Scripture itself had the ability to impart life but its ability to do so is because it all points to the centrality of Jesus being crucified and resurrected from the grave.
“...our words reveal to others our hearts and minds, so Jesus Christ is God's "Word" to reveal His heart and mind to us. "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9). A word is composed of letters, and Jesus Christ is "Alpha and Omega" (Rev. 1:11), the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet According to Hebrews 1:1-3, Jesus Christ is God's last Word to mankind, for He is the climax of divine revelation. Jesus Christ is the eternal Word " (Wiersbe 284)
Looking More Closely at Jewish Philosophical / Theological Thought

As stated before the term used in Greek for word/Word was “λογος” and it was also used by many philosophers in John’s time. It was synonymous with reason or the “force” which structured the universe. Philo the 1st century philosopher had combined this idea with Jewish ideas of “word” into the immanent power of God at work in the world (Evans 41, Keener 264). Both had personified word in some form and Judaism had combined them to essentially be the same: personified wisdom, the Word and the Law or the Torah (Elwell 645). To the Jew a word was not just an abstract word symbol but a dynamic entity with an independent existence that did things (Barclay 27).

So…John called Jesus “the Word”. What is he saying about Jesus that corresponds to these Judaic and Hellenized views? John clear is trying to differentiate something here for reasons of clarity. What John is saying is that Jesus is the exact embodiment of the all of God’s revelation or exposure to man through the Bible or Scripture. They are the same. If you accept the Old Testament Scripture you need to accept Jesus and if you accept Jesus you have accepted the Scriptures (Law and all) (Wiersbe 264). This thereby draws in the theology of the Jews from the Old Testament. It then is not surprising to hear Jesus say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…” in Matthew 5:17 since Jesus does indeed fulfill Scripture both through prophecy and literal embodiment of it. In other words: To accept Jesus is to fulfill or meet the Law head-on. On the other hand, although John is not saying that all possible revelation from God would have to come exclusively from Jesus the Son, it is clear that Jesus is being identified directly with the Scripture or Word of God in this portion of Scripture. This is rooted in Jewish thought that wisdom from God itself is divine but distinct from God the Father (Keener 264).

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