In the beginning was the Word…(John 1:1).
The introduction to John’s gospel is unusual, unique, maybe even strange.
At the start of his gospel biography of the life of Christ, John places Jesus not in a human historical context like Matthew and Luke with events before and surrounding His birth.
Nor does he initiate the story with the ministry of John the Baptist followed by the baptism of Jesus, as does Mark.
Rather John, writing near the end of the 1st century, the oldest living –and possibly the only remaining – apostle of Christ, places Jesus in metaphysical pre-history: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).
And although the Greek term logos (translated Word in most English Bibles) was used over 300 times by the New Testament writers, John alone appears to use it as a title for Christ.
And something of an enigma to me, John only uses the logos title in 3 chapters of the 50 NT chapters he is credited as writing:
- four times in John 1;
- in the first verse of his first epistle – That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched— this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (1John 1:1);
- and where John envisions the future Rider on the White Horse: He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God (Revelation 19:13).
So what did logos mean?
Theologian Matthew Henry, who died early in the 18th century, believed John’s use of logos as a name for Christ was designed to magnify Jesus’ mission in coming to earth to reveal the mind of the Father.
However, something broader is understood by examining the Greek term itself.
Logos is the etymological basis for the English term logic. In fact, the opening chapter of John’s gospel has been rendered as follows: “In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God, and the Logic was God.”*
But much of the deeper thinking has focused on the use of the term in ancient Greek culture, where logos was a term pregnant with meaning:
- in communication it could be an unspoken idea or concept;
- in commerce it had to do with the reconciling of accounts (like we might reconcile our bank-book or charge-card statement).
- in math it related to proportionality.
But by far its most interesting usage and application was in the realm of philosophy.
And in this way, John – the “unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13) fisherman from the sea of Galilee – is ranked with the significant thinkers of the Greco-Roman world.
In Greek philosophy, logos was an abstract principle of cosmic law dating back to the time of the philosopher Heraclitus, 500 years before Christ.
Logos was the fixed point of reference in the universe, bringing uniformity out of confusion, harmony out of cacophony, and order out of chaos.
With that background, we understand that John’s opening sentences were more profound in their impact on Greek metaphysical thinking than we can imagine, a bombshell on the playground of philosophical thought of that – and every – era.
John was declaring 3 significant, eternal truths about Jesus of Nazareth:
- the Logos is Incarnate: Greek thinkers had understood the Logos to be immaterial, ethereal, and otherworldly. John points to the physical Jesus as being the embodiment of logos.
- the Logos is Personal, not simply an abstract force, dynamic, or power. That’s the emphasis of John’s second sentence: He was with God in the beginning (John 1:2). That phrase adds no material meaning to his opening sentence (v.1), except that the pronoun “He” demonstrates personhood.
- the Logos is God. The apostle demonstrates that the Logos/Word is distinguished from God, but is identified with God, and as God.
Takeaway: Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe made this declarative assertion about the importance of understanding who Jesus is with precision, and biblical accuracy: “If anyone is wrong about Jesus Christ, he is wrong about God, because Jesus Christ is the final and complete revelation of God to men”.
May our understanding, and continued thinking of the Lord Jesus as the eternal Logos aid in our life-long, passionate, and relentless pursuit of knowing Christ.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
*translation by 20th century philosopher, professor, theologian Gordon H. Clark.