“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”
Today I want to talk about the word, “Word,” which is our translation of the Greek word Logos and I want to do that in order to get at what it means. It is important that we understand what the word, “Word” means so that we may grasp why it is given so great preeminence in the first sentence of the Gospel of John. And you well know that prominence is not only in the first sentence. It is obvious to anyone who reads the first fourteen verses, the Prologue, that the Word is the subject of the whole discourse and we rightly understand that means all that follows in the Gospel of John is all about the mission of the interior Word of the Father made flesh.
The first verse is entirely outside of what we call space and time. It is not until we come to John the Baptist that human history enters into the picture and then it is evident that history, our history, is the field, the ground upon which a second act of creation has occurred. That second act of creation is the assumption of our full human nature into the God’s life, an act of creation that made human nature a permanent part of God’s being so that it is perfectly correct to refer to “God’s human flesh.” But let’s stay with our topic which is that we may understand the meaning of the word, “Word.” This requires that we clear up some misreadings and false impressions that have developed over the years concerning the Logos.
So I begin by saying that John’s Gospel is a throughly Jewish document and it would have been readily understood from beginning to end by any Jew of that day reasonably educated in his religious tradition. Which is to say that the word, Word, Logos, was not, as some have said, meant to interpret the Christian religion to the Gentile world by using Greek philosophical ideas. For years scholars in the West assumed this imaginary Greek influence and that is understandable since the word Logos was indeed a universal and highly meaningful idea among the philosophical classes in antiquity. Even St. Augustine says that he first learned of existence of the Logos not through John’s Gospel, but through the Platonists. But even before the Platonists, Heraclitus the philosopher famous for the statement, “You never step into the same river twice,” because he believed the world to be always in flux, wrote that the Logos was “the omnipresent Wisdom by which all things are steered.” And well after Heraclitus the Stoics systematically developed an understanding of Logos as the presiding reality by which the structure and unity of the universe may be understood. The whole universe which include we human beings and our history, according to the Stoics, is permeated by one operative principle: divine Wisdom, the Logos, which was for them equivalent to God as they understood God. It is easy to see how looking back thousands of years to that hothouse of ideas contemporary scholars could easily add 2 + 2 and come up with 5.
But I want to make it clear that even though Stoics thought Logos was equivalent to God, the Stoic’s god was absolutely not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why am I telling you all this? Am I trying to turn you all into philosophers? We yes, all Christians should be philosophers because the word philosophy means “the love of wisdom” and since Jesus is Holy Wisdom incarnate to love Jesus is the true philosophy. But the practical reason I am telling you this is because if you or your children open up a history book today or if you go on line and look up Stoicism or the word Logos you will frequently read that the word Logos was borrowed from Stoicism by early Christians as a way to explain who Jesus was to the Greeks. Now I am not saying that would be a bad thing in itself, and in fact in the years of the ecumenical councils Christians theologians did borrow from the philosophical lexicon of the academy in order to speak concisely and clearly about Jesus the Messiah. What I am saying is not that it would be troubling or somehow bad for John the Apostle to have borrowed the word Logos from the Platonists or the Stoics, I am saying that it simply is not accurate.
There are very good Jewish words that translate to the Greek Logos and the Jewish words have a definite meaning and usage in the Old Testament and in the life of Israel that owe nothing to Greek philosophy. Israel already understood the meaning of the words Wisdom and Word and they had that understanding because God Almighty chose to speak to Abraham their father, making the gift of his spoken Word Israel’s particular, exclusive endowment.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”
Therefore please understand that the whole business about the Word that John is referring to belonged to Israel exclusively from the beginning, although — and this is very important — Israel did not have the whole story about the Logos. Furthermore there is nothing in the Gospel of John that would lead one to think that it was written to recommend the Christian religion to Greeks. John’s Gospel is written to Jews and their proselytes who would have grasped what would have been for them the unutterable claims of Jesus the Messiah — namely that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the flesh.
John the Apostle once again highlights the Jewishness immediately and incisively after the Prologue when he writes:
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time (not even Moses); the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” John 1: 17-18
But there is another side to the Jewish grasp of the Word which is the mystery that shrouded Israel’s understanding of the Word of God. Hold on to that word mystery. The Old Testament is full of phrases like “(God) sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgements unto Israel,” and though the Word of God was taken as a description of the action of God as well as the manifestation of his divine glory, and even as a reverential and poetic way of referring to God, the Word is never used in the Old Testament in the way in which it is used in the Prologue of the Gospel of John. Remember this, John is not knocking of a piece of creative writing, he is telling us concisely and clearly what Jesus taught his Apostles about himself. He is Holy Wisdom, the Word of the Father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He came from the Father and his natural home is the bosom, the interior life of the Father. He is not a lyrical personification of an abstract idea — he is a Person, the only Son of the Father. The Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, was a mystery hidden that was not revealed until the Word was made flesh and disclosed it himself.
This is precisely what St. Paul teaches as the very core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and he uses language almost exactly like that of the Beloved Disciple. In his letter to the Colossians Paul writes that he longs for the Christians in Colossae with whom he and all other Christians are “knit together in love” as they struggle to understand the mystery of God,
“which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…”
Colossians 2: 2-3
The point is that Paul cites two mysteries in Colossians and other letters and those mysteries have been solved. Actually not solved but opened up and revealed. The word mystery refers to God’s interior life, the holy unknown, that was revealed and made known in the Christian revelation. Just as your interior life is unknown to anyone but yourself (and God) unless you chose to speak about it, so God’s interior life is the mystery of mysteries and as we know he has chosen to speak about it in his Word. But what are the mysteries? The first mystery is that God has all along included the Gentiles in the New Covenant. The second mystery, indeed the greatest mystery of God, is Jesus Christ is the Wisdom of God, the Word of the Father. He is not a poetic way of speaking about God, but in fact a Person, not the Person of the Father, but the Person of the Son. In chapter one of Colossians Paul elaborates on the mystery that has been hidden from all ages and generations, but has now been unveiled to the Saints, namely “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ, he says,
“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.” Colossians 1: 15-20
Is it not abundantly clear that St. Paul is saying pretty much exactly what St. John says in the Prologue:
“(Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning…”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Israel had the revelation of the Word, its glory and its association with the God who revealed himself in a word to Abraham, the father of us all. And Abraham’s God revealed himself to Moses once again in his spoken Word of the Law. But it was not till the Blessed Virgin Mary spoke the word of human faith, “Let it be unto me according to thy Word,” that we knew the interior Word of the Father to be the second Person of the Blessed Trinity and Mary’s little baby boy. John again wrote of this very thing in very similar words in the opening sentence of his First Epistle:
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be fulfilled.” I John 1: 1-4
What gratitude, what liberty, what great hope, what great joy, what great completion, what great finality it is to be a Christian; to have the sure and sweet Word of God, the Son of Mary, abiding our temples of human flesh.