"In the Beginning was the Word”
A Study of the Logos Doctrine
The gospel of John begins with a series of declarations about Jesus’ deity and eternal nature. The apostle, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, expresses this making use of an expression that was well known in the ancient world but unknown in Scripture (in exactly the same way) prior to this. John speaks of Jesus as “the Word,” who was “with God” and “was God” (1:1). John then tells us:1. “all things were made through Him” (1:3a); 2. “without Him nothing was made that was made” (1:3b); 3. “in Him was life” (1:4). This “Word,” John continues: “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14); “He came to His own” (1:11a) yet, “His own did not receive Him” (1:11b). Sometime later, to refute false teaching which denied that Jesus came in the flesh, in his first epistle, John begins by referring to Jesus simply as “the Word of life” (I John 1:1).
The Greek word which is translated “Word” in this text is the word logos . Five hundred years before Christ came into the world, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus used the word to describe what he envisioned as a universal force of reason which governed the universe. He felt that “all things happen according to this Logos” (Fr. 50, from Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heriesies, IX, 9, 1). Later, the philosophical school known as the Stoics expanded and popularized this idea in the ancient world.
Among Greek-speaking Jews the Logos came to be viewed as a force sent from God. In the Apocryphal book called the Wisdom of Solomon, the Hellenistic Jewish writer describes the death of the firstborn in Egypt saying - “thine Almighty word (logos) leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction” (18:15, KJV). The first century A.D. Alexandrian Jew Philo blended Greek and Jewish ideas together. In writing about the creation of the universe, Philo compared God’s creation to the building of a great city. The orderly arrangement of this great city, Philo attributed to “the Logos of God” (On the Creation, 24).
As early as the first century A.D. interpretations (or paraphrases) of religious passages known as Targums, began to be written down in Aramaic for Jews who no longer spoke Hebrew. In the Targums the Jews used the Aramaic word memra meaning “word” as a personal manifestation of the presence of God. When Exodus 19:17 tells us that - “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God” the Targums interpret this to mean that he brought them - “to meet the Word (memra) of the Lord.” When Psalm 2:4 declares - “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh” the Targums interpret it to mean -“And the Word (memra) of the Lord shall laugh them to scorn.”
What the apostle John appears to do in the use of this common term is much the same thing that Paul did in speaking to the Greeks in Athens. As he speaks to the wise men of the Areopagus he declares -“... I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). Paul was not sanctioning all that they taught or practiced in their worship of the “UNKNOWN GOD,” instead he was teaching them the truth, using their own misconception as a starting point.
The apostle John does the same thing in His reference to Jesus as the Logos of God. Unlike the Greek notion of the Logos as an impersonal ordering force, John declares that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Throughout his gospel he goes on to explain that this One who is the Logos of God was a personal entity who lived and taught among His creation. While the Jews perhaps were closer in their concepts of the Logos, John also clarifies their misconceptions. The Word of God was not simply a personified manifestation of God, John tells us that the Logos was the creative force of God, which was with God but was God Himself (John 1:1). Most often in Scripture, the phrase “word of God” refers simply to what God declares, John uses Logos at the beginnings of the gospel and his first epistle in a special way to teach both Jews and Greeks the truth about who Jesus is.
By Kyle Pope
From Expository Files 13.5; May 2006