Backgrounds for the Logos Concept of the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel
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Critically evaluate the suggested backgrounds for the Logos concept of the prologue of the Fourth Gospel, and assess their importance for its meaning, and its significance for the thought of the Gospel as a whole
The Johannine prologue is one of the most discussed New Testament passages. For many, it is a composition prior to the Gospel itself. Fundamentally, the prologue is an introduction to the gospel of John, but an introduction that already appears as a synthesis of everything that will be discussed throughout Johannine writing. The figure of Jesus stands out as the revelation of the Father. The Logos is the main character and his real sense is discussed among the other hypotheses, whether it be a creation of John or the logos of Heraclitus, the Stoics. It is necessary to develop the Christological dimension of the Logos, its diffusion in Hellenism and Judaism, to perhaps have a concrete and definite meaning.
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Since John wrote “and the Word [Logos / Word] was God” (John 1: 1), there have been many who have risen in protest throughout church history. The Christological Controversies of the first centuries emphasize the weight of this affirmation, which is further emphasized when allied with the evangelist’s statement that this Word / God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) in the person of Jesus. Thus, the shocking doctrine of the God/man Jesus Christ presented by John has now been attacked on the one hand by groups that seek to weaken or deny the full humanity of the Word (established in the incarnation), as in the cases of Docetism, Apollinarianism, and of Monophysitism; and on the other hand it has been attacked on its other side, by groups that seek to minimize or suppress the full deity of the Word (“and the Word was God”), as in the cases of Ebionism, Adoptionism, and Arianism. Although the Creed coined at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) appears as the official postulate of the Christian church, thus closing the frontiers of orthodoxy, factions continued to arise throughout all ages, whether to reverberate the cry of Arius – condemned as a heretic in Nicene (AD 325) and Constantinople (AD 381) for denying the full deity of the Logos Jesus, stating that there was a time when the Word was not (did not exist)- as it did in the sixteenth century, Servetus(Book VII) and still do today the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect.
For Heraclitus of Ephesus, nothing remains in the same way. However, order and pattern can be perceived amidst the eternal and incessant flow and ebb of things in the Logos – the eternal principle of order in the universe. In other words, the Logos the would be a law or principle, which does not change, a rational and good agent, whose activity seems like order in Nature (Harris, 1994, p.197).
For Stoicism, the doctrine of the Logos conceived as the imprinted reason in the structure of the universe and as the energy source of all things. In this sense, the Logos is the supreme law of the world, which governs the universe and which, at the same time, is present in human reason. It was this idea of the Logos that the Stoics used to provide the basis for a moral and rational life. This concept of Logos arose from the confrontation with the common dualism of the Greeks, concerning God and the world, and emphasizes that in order to solve the problem of duality; the concept of the Logos was used as a unitary idea (Ladd, 1993, p.275). The conclusion of the Stoics was that the wise man is one who adjusts his life to the natural order that exists in the universe, suppressing his passions, abandoning unruliness and obeying the natural law that exists in the world and which is imprinted on the being of each person.
According to the notions of Middle-Platonism (1st century BC – II AD), God was conceived as absolutely transcendent and impassible. This God maintained a connection with the sensible world through the Logos, the universal reason. In this sense, one can see the figure of a more real being in the sense of Platonic idealism.
In Judaism, Greek philosophy eventually influenced the conception of the logos, especially in later Judaism. However, in the most remote Judaism, Genesis 1 for example, the Logos is easily identified with the very Word of God. This distinction is conceptual and does not appear clearly in later Jewish texts. Also in the Gospel of John, the two realities will be present. In this way, we do not have enough elements to affirm that in the prologue we find a pure tradition that refers us to the divine or the “pagan.” It is against this probable aporia that the following question arises: what are the traditions of the old testament that help us to understand the vision of the Logos in Judaism? The book of Genesis 1 and 2 presents the entire account of creation that has as its starting point the Word of God, a word that is action, a verb, capable of creating all things. We see the same reality in Psalm 33: 6. As a mediator, the word is that which heals (Ps 107, 20). The personification of the Word as a warrior, as Wisdom (Pr 8,22-27). The Wisdom that sets off hatred on the part of the world (Pr 1.28; Eccl 24,7).
With so many backgrounds for the same word it is important to point out that although the gospel refers to the Logos as Jesus, such terminology brings with it important applications for the work of Christ.
“In the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1: 1) .The prologue of John, right at the beginning, evidences the eternity of the Logos. This is presented out of time, before all creation.14 He is an infinite, eternal being and revealed in the Scriptures as a being beyond time or out of time. Thus, the Logos does not have a substance, as it has the things created in the world; He is consubstantial with the Father. In saying that the Logos was in the beginning, John means that He exists eternally and infinitely before creating the finite universe. He is before all creation, in heaven and on earth, and is above and independent of it. It is important to note that Jesus, in the last week of his ministry, declares to his disciples, his eternity (Jn 17: 5). Jesus expresses his deep desire to return to the glory of the Father in full communion with him. In other passages of the Scripture, the eternity of Jesus is verified in affirming his existence even before Abraham (Jn 8:58). The Logos precedes all existence, even before the prophets.
“And the Word was with God” (Jn 1: 1). The prologue now evidences his relationship with the Father: the communion. This communion extended for all the earthly ministry of Jesus as can be seen in his prayers and his sayings (Jn 6:38). It is not about quality (communion) added to the man Jesus, but of a total and real entity, in this sense, it can be affirmed that Jesus is God. However, although they live in communion, the verb enjoys an identity of its own. In the Gospels, what most signals or expresses the communion of these two people is prayer, for example in Luke 3: 21-22.
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“And the Word was God” (Jn 1: 1). This proposition demonstrates, substantially, that the logos is God himself, equal to the Father in his nature, as mentioned in the interior paragraph. The Gospel of John highlights the divinity of the verb in many moments: through signs, testimony, statements (I am!), Resurrection. In the divinity of the verb, Christ is seen as a faithful witness of the Father. In John, two statements make explicit the divinity of Jesus. The first is in reference to Nathanael’s response (Jn 1:49). This statement by Nathanael points out that he has observed in Christ something different, like a person of unparalleled nature. The second statement is found in Thomas (Jn 20-28).In this expression lies the centre of every idea and concept of the divinity of Jesus in the Johannine gospel. Jesus himself, in Jn 4: 25-26, claims to be the Messiah himself, and therefore, from a theological hermeneutics, of the divine nature of his Father, this becomes explicit in other passages too (Jn 6:35, Jn 8: 58, Jn 11: 25, Jn 14: 6).
“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18). The Logos here is presented as the Revelator, in fullness, of the Father to humankind. He is the way to know the Father: revelation of love (John 3:16), of the will (Jn 3:16-18), of truth (John 8:32, 14:6), of light (Jn 8:12), of life (Jn 3:17-18), and of salvation of humanity (Jn 17:21). At the same time that Christ reveals the
Father, he reveals himself as God: in revealing, he is revealed; he is the God who speaks and the God of whom he speaks. Essentially, it is necessary to point out that, as a revelator of the Father, the logos made visible the love of God to humankind (Jn 3:16), declared the sovereign will of the Father, the salvation of humankind (Jn 3:17-18) the liberating truth to humankind (Jn 8:32).
“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (Jn 1:3). Here the logos appear as the cause of all created things, whether visible or invisible. In the text of Colossians 1: 16-17, this relationship of the logos with creation is also observed, in this passage the Logos is the center. In Hebrews 1: 1-2 Christ is presented as the heir of all that exists, through him alone, were created. Therefore, the Logos is the governor of all things created from the beginning.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). John demonstrates the eternity of the Logos and its insertion into history as a man. Christ became truly man, full of
all human nature, except in sin. The “becoming flesh” (which comes from the Hebrew bassar) comprises man in its totality. He, the Christ Jesus, was born of a woman, passed through the stages of childhood and youth and adulthood. As a man, he grew up according to human nature: he felt hunger, he drank, faced fatigue and pain, sorrow, temptations, indignation. As a man, he also prayed, went to the temple and faced the death of the cross, fulfilled with God, being God himself, grew in stature and wisdom. Moreover, because Jesus is man and God, he becomes the mediator, par excellence between humanity and the Father, as Paul states in 1 Timothy 2: 5.
It is clear that the use of the terminology Logos to Christ is specific to the Johannine school and even though in the Gospel the title is only used in the prologue, John makes use of it in one of his letters (1 John 1: 1- “Word of life”) and in Revelation 19:13. John intends to present Jesus from all eternity, surpassing even the book of Genesis, since it does not include Jesus as a work created by God, but rather as a co-author on the side of the Father in all the work of creation. On the other hand, we know that Logos means Word, and in this sense, to affirm that Jesus is the Logos allows us to affirm that Jesus is the Word. Such reasoning is analogous to that which leads us to affirm that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Consequently, it cannot easily be said that the Logos has not been dealt with in other New Testament writings. In saying that Jesus is the Word indirectly, we are affirming that Jesus is the Logos, and in this sense, the New Testament presents Jesus as the living Word of God at various points in his writings. In the Gospel of John, therefore, the meanings of the following words: “Word” and “Word” deserve special mention. Now, as the “Word of God,” the Logos means the content of revelation and creation. It is a sign that expresses God’s will and strength, his wisdom and action. The Logos is the divine verb itself, which gives meaning to all things (Col. 1:17). It can be said then that the gospel of John has an intention: to draw a direct line between the human life of Jesus as the center of the full revelation of divine truth.
- Astore, R. 2017. The Value of Reason in the Stoic Philosophies of Epictetus and Aurelius. INQUIRIES Journal. [Online]. 9(3), 1-2. [14 December 2018]. Available from: http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1547/the-value-of-reason-in-the-stoic-philosophies-of-epictetus-and-aurelius
- Harris, Elizabeth, Prologue and Gospel: The Theology of the Fourth Evangelist (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994).
- Hughes, R.D. 2001. On The Errors Of The Trinity by Michael Servetus Book VII. [Online]. [14 December 2018]. Available from: http://godglorified.com/book_vii.htm
Ladd, G.E (1993). A Theology of the New Testament. (Revised Edition ed.). Michigan: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co.
NRSV. c2018. Biblegatewaycom. [Online]. [13 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.biblegateway.com/
- Piper, J. 2008. In the Beginning Was the Word. [Online]. [14 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/in-the-beginning-was-the-word
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