August 6, 2011

λόγος VI: Hellenization and Greek Thought

We must remember that Greek culture or Hellenization had pretty much pervaded the area that the Gospel had been spread by the time of Johns writing. This had merged into the thinking of society that John was either writing to or for. Like today there would’ve probably been and unhealthy combination of religion and culture. In Johns time would’ve been Jewish religious thought and Greek culture mixed together forming a bastardized from of syncretism or an understanding of God that was half Jewish/half Greek. This is what I have been referring to as Hellenistic Judaism. Those that had this understanding of God, the Word, and/or philosophy had a corrupted understanding and it is here that John enters the fray to explain exactly who and what Jesus is in relation to the Word. Up to this point when discussing the idea of the Word being God, we are treading on somewhat safe ground when dealing with Hellenized culture. Had it stayed this way things would be fine but Jesus didn’t come as a Spirit or an apparition. He came for real and in bodily form. Jesus was real man that came in real time to do real works. If we move ahead in the prologue to verse 14-18 and we see the Word became flesh - Jesus comes into the world. It is at this very point hellenized philosophical thought gets knocked off-kilter. It is the same reason Jews would stumble and Gentiles scoff and consider it foolish that Paul and other Christians would preach Christ crucified in 1 Corinthians 1:23.

Herein lies the crux of the problem for John’s jewish and Hellenized readers. John’s description of Jesus’ is a physical manifestation of “the Word”. Jesus came as flesh and Hellenized beliefs equated flesh or matter with corruption…not perfection. This idea becomes reprehensible to Hellenized or Greek people. In the Greek mind the separation of the divine spirit and the flesh (Gk: sarx) was imperative. In Greek thought, the divine was not to come in contact directly with matter. What would’ve been even more repulsive to the Greeks is the thought that being in the flesh was to God’s glory (Gk: doxa) (Evans 42). If we take this idea all the way to the crucifixion and the idea that glory for God came though the crucifixion and suffering of God’s Son through a physical body…it is no wonder that the Greeks and people that thought like them viewed it as absolutely absurd. They were probably laughing was they walked away shaking their heads in disbelief. Hellenized philosophy could never have bridged the connection of how Jesus could be glorified in this manner; it was too far outside the realm of their thought processes. They were too much of the world system (in this way it is strangely akin to modern thought). As we also know from Paul, it is this exact reason that those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For Christians Jesus needed to come in the flesh to be subject to the same weakness and frailties of all humans and thereby fulfill the law and obey it perfectly to be a suitable sacrifice for our sin (Wiersbe 285). Jesus was not merely some idealized abstraction but reality. John tells his Jewish and Gentile readers that the “reason” of the Greek philosophy and the creating “Word” of Judaism came and “dwelt among us” or tabernacled with man (Gk: εσκηνωσεν) which is another reference and interplay with the Old Testament or Torah (Barclay 64). Jesus fulfilled the Law because, although the Law could show you your sin, only Jesus was capable of removing it if one just believed in the work He did on the cross.

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