Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

John’s Prologue – John 1:1-18

Gospel of John Bible Study Notes, Week 2

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.  John 1:1-3 (NIV 2011)

The Word (Logos) as Creator

When the Apostle John introduced Jesus as the “Word” in his gospel, he was using a term that both his Jewish and Greek readers would have readily understood, as the concept of the “Word” already existed in both Jewish and Greek thought. There is a wealth of meaning to this term, however, that is lost on most modern readers. So, in the following few paragraphs I provide a brief explanation about the significance of the word Logos.[1]

The Jewish Understanding of “Word”

For the ancient Israelites and Jews, the Word represents God’s creative power. It was by means of God’s spoken word that the heavens and the earth were created (Gen. 1:3-26). Jewish people even regard their own spoken words as dynamic, as having an inherent power. This is why many Jews are careful with their words. They are careful in pronouncing blessings and curses, and in choosing meaningful, significant names for people and places.[2] They also believe that the Word represents the “Wisdom” of God which is intrinsically creative. (See Proverbs 3:18-20 and 8:22-30.)

The expression “the Word of God” can even refer to God himself. Out of reverence for God, whenever he was mentioned in the Scriptures as having human feelings and actions, some people (particularly the authors of the Targumim)[3] substituted the name of God with the phrase “the Word of God” to avoid anthropomorphism. This overscrupulous paraphrasing, however, overlooked the fact that sometimes God does indeed act personally with humankind in ways that we, as humans, can identify with both emotionally and practically.

The Greek Understanding of Logos

Certain strands of Greek philosophy held that the world was created by a mediator called the Word or Logos. The Greeks considered that all matter was evil and so a transcendent, spiritual God could never have been in contact with evil, base matter, let alone create it. However the Greeks also recognised the beauty, order, and rhythm of the universe, and saw it as the work of a divine creator. Greek philosophers came up with the idea that the supreme God created the universe through an agent: the Word or Logos.[4]

This Greek idea, that the world was created by the Word, interestingly enough, originated in Ephesus, where John wrote his Gospel. It was the Ephesian philosopher Heraclitus in 560 BC who came up with the idea of the Word as, not only the agent of creation, but also as the sustainer and controller of the universe (cf. Heb. 1:2-3).[5]

Heraclitus also saw the Word as the Judge of Truth, and the mind, or Reason, of God. His philosophy spread and became established in many branches of Greek philosophy. The Greeks saw the Word, or Logos, as the creating, guiding, and directing power of the supreme God, so John cleverly used this Greek concept to introduce Jesus to his Greek readers.

John 1:1-3 was written to assert the divinity and deity of Jesus Christ and his role as the agent of creation. In the first verse, John declares the pre-existence of the Word before time and creation, and he states that the Word was with God.[6]  Not only was the Word with God,[7] he was God.[8]  John 1:3 states clearly that not one thing was made without the Word.[9]  [scroll down]

John's Prologue - John 1:1-18

 Light and Darkness

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. John 1:4-8 (NIV 2011)

In verse 4 of chapter 1 we are introduced to two of John’s main themes: life and light. In John’s Gospel, life and light seem to be almost synonymous at times. But what does light really mean? What are its real implications?

Light had special significance to the Neoplatonist Greek philosophers. (More on this later.) Light is the opposite of darkness. Darkness represents nothingness, chaos, evil, being lost, ignorance, doubt, and even death.[10] For Neoplatonists, “light” could eventually be dimmed by darkness, but John writes that darkness cannot overpower (katalambanō) or extinguish the light of Jesus. Nor can darkness apprehend (katalambanō) or understand the light of Jesus. (The meaning of the Greek word katalambanō can have either meaning: “overpower” or “understand”.)

Unbelieving, sinful people love the dark (John 3:19-20), but we are called to be children of light. As followers of the light we are to display the fruit of light: “all goodness, righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:8-9). Jesus declared himself to be “the light of the World” and added “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life!” (John 8:12; see also John 12:35-36a, 46.) Light and life often seem to be synonymous.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  John 1:9-13 (NIV 2011)

Jesus came to give light — spiritual illumination and vitality — to every person in the world. He came to the world which he made. But tragically the people of the world did not recognise him. He came as a Jew to those of his own race — to Jews who were expecting their deliverer, the Messiah — but they refused to receive him as their Messiah. But to as many as did receive and accept Jesus, to those believing in his Name, he gave to them the authority, right, freedom, privilege and power (Greek: exousia) to become children of God . . . born of God (John 1:12-13).

The Word made Flesh

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.

(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.’ ”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  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 1:15-18  (NIV 2011)

Jesus, the eternal Word, took on human flesh and came and lived with mankind. The Greek verb translated as “made his dwelling” (NIV) or “tabernacled” (KJV) implies an impermanent dwelling. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-4, Paul uses the noun of this word, “tent”, to describe the limitations and impermanence of our earthly body in comparison with our future resurrected body from heaven. Jesus, who was in heaven and who created everything, willingly took on a limiting body of flesh as an important part of God’s salvation plan, and he lived temporarily on earth as a human being. Jesus becoming a human being is known as the incarnation.[11]

John's Prologue - John 1:1-18

Jesus became fully human while remaining fully God. John tells us that Jesus’ divine glory was still evident while on earth — the glory of the only child of God, full of grace and truth.[12]  And from the fullness of his grace, we have all received abundant grace, or as the NIV (1984)  puts it, “one blessing after another” (John 1:16).


Endnotes

[1] Logos is found in a range of English words such as: logistics, logical, logarithms, dialogue, analogue, biology, logo, log books, weblog, etc. In the Greek logos has a broad range of common meanings also.

[2] The Israelites and Jews were particular in naming their children, as names had real meaning and significance. If the name became no longer applicable it would be changed (e.g. Gen. 17:5 & 15; 35:18; Ruth 1:20, John 1:42; etc.)

[3] Targumim are Aramaic paraphrases of Hebrew Scriptures written by various authors. These authors are known for disdaining anthropomorphism in favour of allegorical interpretations.

[4] The Gnostics also shared these beliefs. In Gnosticism, this agent of creation is far removed from God by a complicated series of “emanations”. Gnosticism was a blend of Greek philosophy and Jewish and Christian beliefs. It was a religion which promoted mystery and secret knowledge and it was a major threat to genuine Christianity for several hundreds of years.

[5] Compare this with 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:2-3a.

[6] The agent of creation was not a distant “eon” or “emanation” as supposed by the Gnostics.

[7] The closeness of the Word – Jesus, with God the Father is portrayed beautifully in John 1:18 where John describes Jesus as (literally) being in the bosom of the Father.

[8] In the Greek text, the word for God is placed first, at the front of this phrase, to emphasise its importance. Jesus the Word was, and is, God!

[9] Other New Testament authors also teach that Jesus was the agent of creation. See endnote 5.

[10] If darkness represent these negative qualities than it seems that light must represent order, goodness, being found, knowing the way, knowledge, faith, and life.

[11] Incarnation literally means to be endowed with flesh.

[12] What is not clear is whether Jesus’ divine glory was always discernable or only discernable at certain times, such as at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1ff; Mark 9:2ff; Luke 9:28ff).

<<< An Introduction to John’s Gospel

>>> John the Baptist’s Testimony – John 1:19-34


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Posted August 1st, 2009 . Categories/Tags: Bible Study Notes, Christology, The Gospel of John: Chapters 1-10, , , , , , , , , ,

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