In the Beginning was the Word

The Gospel of John does not include the story of the nativity. Instead John goes right to the beginning, the beginning of the world.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:1-18)

Raphael's "School of Athens"

Here they all are.

The Word mentioned in the first verse is a translation of the Greek word λογος (logos). Logos means word in Greek, but it also means reason or thought. Logos is the root of the English word “logic” and the suffix “-ology”, as in biology, geology,astrology. In Greek philosophy logos came to mean the rational principle of the universe. The Greek philosophers taught that the universe is a rational, orderly world that functions according to rational laws rather than by the arbitrary whims of changeable deities. Because the universe itself is rational, its laws and structure may be learned through the use of reason.The Greek philosophers, especially the Stoics who tended to be pantheists, tended to identify this rational principle, or logos, with God, although their conception of God was rather impersonal.

During the Hellenistic Era, Jewish philosophers sought to synthesize Greek philosophy with the Hebrew scriptures and thought. The leading proponent of this effort was Philo of Alexandria who lived from around 20 BC to AD 50. He identified the logos with God’s spoken Word which created the Heavens and the Earth.

Philo of Alexandria

Philo of Alexandria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Gen 1:1-5)

He also identified the logos with God’s wisdom, by which God created the world.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalms 33:4-9)

and

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind. (Proverbs 8:22-31)

In  identifying the logos with divine Wisdom and the divine creative force, Philo seemed to regard the logos almost as a being distinct from God, or perhaps as an separate aspect of God. In this way he seems to have anticipated Christian thinking on the logos. Consider Paul’s statement in Colossians.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:15-20)

John identified Jesus with the logos and Paul with the Wisdom that was present at the creation. In both cases they clearly indicated that Jesus is divine. This then, is the true meaning of Christmas. ( I was getting to that.) Linus was correct to quote Luke to explain the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown, but his explanation was a little incomplete. Jesus was not just a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. Jesus was and is the everlasting God who created the Heavens and the Earth. The true meaning of Christmas is that this God humbled Himself and sent His Son to suffer and die for our salvation.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8)

This seems to have become more of an Easter post than a Christmas one, but I did want to include the Gospel of John. John does not mention the birth of Jesus but I thought it worth mentioning that the birth in Bethlehem is not really the beginning of the story, but the climax, the culmination of God’s intervention in Human history.

 

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2 Responses to “In the Beginning was the Word”

  1. bography Says:

    Thank you David. Well put together. One point:

    I don’t see how the words I’ve capitalised sync with the Collossians passage and the next few lines.

    “In  identifying the logos with divine Wisdom and the divine creative force, Philo seemed to regard the logos almost as a being DISTINCT from God, or perhaps as an SEPARATE ASPECT OF GOD. In this way he seems to have anticipated Christian thinking on the logos. Consider Paul’s statement in Colossians.

    15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:15-20)

    John identified Jesus with the logos and Paul with the Wisdom that was present at the creation. In both cases they clearly indicated that Jesus is divine… Jesus was and is the everlasting God who created the Heavens and the Earth. The true meaning of Christmas is that this God humbled Himself and sent His Son to suffer and die for our salvation.”

    • David Hoffman Says:

      I ought not to have mixed up Philo with the New Testament in the way I did, but I was trying to be brief. According to the Bible encyclopedia I consulted, Philo wavered somewhat in his conception of just what the logos is. Sometimes he seemed to view it as an aspect of God, sometimes as a being separate from God. He also wavered between considered whether the logos was impersonal as the Stoics believed or personal. The point that I wanted to make with him is that the Christian concept of the trinity seems to have been foreshadowed by philosophers like Philo and others. The statement in Colossians and the beginning of John seems to make use of these sorts of concepts to identify Jesus as being divine, Jesus as the Logos, or Jesus as Wisdom.
      Thank you for your comment.

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