Full Essay Title: Choose any one title attributed to Jesus in any one of the four gospels. What is the significance of this title today either to an enquirer or to a new Christian? (1000 words).
Unlike the synoptic gospels, which begin with an historical Jesus, John goes back to the very beginning. ‘The opening words of this gospel bear a striking parallel with the opening words of Genesis. John’s own particular contribution is to show that the Word existed before creation’ (Guthrie 2004, 1025).
To this end, he reveals Jesus as being with God and yet God (1:1). In 1:18 there is a variety of manuscript readings, all indicating the same proposition, that Jesus is God yet distinct from the Father, e.g. ‘God the only Son’ (NRSV), ‘the only God, who is at the Father’s side’ (ESV). “John’s view of Jesus undoubtedly colours his whole gospel, although the title “Logos” does not occur after 1:14’ (White 1988, 2161). For example, John clearly shows that the Jews understood that the title ‘Son of God’, given to Jesus in 1:18, and who became flesh (1:14), was a title which denotes deity (5:18).
It is therefore very important to examine this title, ‘the Word’ (Gk: logos). To do so, this essay will look at it under the headings (taken from Burge 2005, 41-42):
- The Logos and God
- The Logos and Creation
- The Logos and Incarnation
1. The Logos and God
White explains: ‘John uses the term “logos”, familiar in Greek philosophy for the abstract principle of reason exhibited by an orderly universe, itself the source of the reason innate in man’ (White 1988, 2160).
He further says that this concept was insufficient for Judaism, which ‘had been working slowly towards the idea of a personal mediator….between the transcendent God and the created world….And in the Targums as in rabbinic writings, a new term emerged, “Memra” (Aramaic for “Word”) to indicate an intermediate agent between God and man (White 1988, 2161).
This divine Memra is expressed in the Old Testament as the theophanies appearing to various people, such as Abraham, Moses, Jacob, etc. Philo tried to identify the Greek and Jewish ideas of memra and logos, even speaking of them as divine, but he stopped short of attributing actual deity and oneness, divine essence and nature, with the Father. For example, Burge (2005, 41) says, ‘In the NT period it was personified (Wis. Sol. 7:24; 18:15-16) and known by some as the immanent power of God creatively at work in the world (Philo)’.
And so it fell to John to state explicitly who the Word really was, revealing the One who was one in essence and nature with God. In so few words, and with the backdrop of Genesis chapter 1, John draws a clear picture of the Word who ‘was with God’ and who ‘was God’ (1:1). With this foundation, the gospel then develops the idea, selecting specific images to illustrate the person and work of the Word so that ’believing you might have life in his name’ (20:30-31 cf 1:12-13).
2. The Logos and Creation
It is here that the backdrop of Genesis with which John introduces the logos is of such consequence. Concerning verse 3, ‘it is significant that the verb used three times in this v. is different from that used in the previous two vv. In vv. 1-2 the verb is the imperfect of “eimi”…..which is a verb describing a state of being. In v. 3, however, the verb “ginomai”….is used, which has the force of “coming into being”. This then is another assertion of the deity of the Word. Through him all things came into being….(egeneto), but he always was (en)’(Tenney 1981, 30). And, further to this, ‘Therefore John stresses not merely that who God is, the Logos is, but that what God does, the Logos does….what Jesus will do is divine activity….this is God at work’ (Burge 2005, 41).
3. The Logos and Incarnation
The logos in Greek was an abstract principle – reason. In Judaism the memra, ‘hardly more than a reverent substitution for the divine name, is not sufficiently substantial a concept’ (Walls 1984, 646). But John’s logos “became flesh” and is the historical person of Jesus Christ (1:14). ‘This is the basic statement of the Incarnation, for Christ entered into a new dimension of existence through the gateway of human birth and took up his residence among men (Tenney 1981, 33).
Also significant is the statement ‘lived among us’ (1:14), which is literally ‘tabernacled among us, the tabernacle being Jesus’ body, alluding to the ‘shekinah’ or visible glory of God which dwelt in the temple of Jerusalem in the Old Testament (cf 2 Chron 7:1-13 & Jn 1:19-22) – adapted from Dummelow 1036, 775.
Harrison says ‘Before faith could bring about new birth, it had to have an object on which to rest, even the incarnation of the Word, the Son of God’ (1990, 1073). To an enquirer therefore, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, is offered as the solution to the problem of sin and separation from God. The gospel writer links the Word (1:14) with the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:15, 29). ‘Thus, not only does the deity of Jesus receive emphasis….([1:1] and many times throughout the gospel), so also his humanity’ (Gundry 2003, 261).
John says that ‘all who received him….he gave power to become sons of God’ (1:12), and in 5:24 he says they have eternal life and have passed from death to life. The effect of putting one’s trust in Christ is immediate, and Gundry calls this ‘inaugurated eschatology’ because the blessing of salvation is immediate, but ‘full enjoyment awaits in the future’ (2003, 261).
John testified that he had seen Christ’s glory (1:14), and brings in John the Baptist as a witness as well (1:15, 29-34). And in 21:24 he testifies to the truth of the Resurrection. John says that his purpose in writing his gospel was that people might have life through believing that ‘Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God’ – who is also the Word of God who is God, and who became flesh and lived among us (1:1, 14).
Burge, G.M. 2005, John, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: John’s Gospel, Hebrews-Revelation, Cook Communications Ministries, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 40-43.
Dummelow, J.R. (ed.) 1936, ‘John’, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, MacMillan, New York, N.Y. 775.
Gundry, R.H. 2003, A Survey of the New Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Guthrie, D. 1994, ‘John’, New Bible Commentary, ed. D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Motyer, & G. Wenham, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 1025).
Tenney, M.C. 1981, The Gospel of John, EBC, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 30-33.
Walls, A.F. 1985, ‘Logos’ in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. W.A. Elwell, Marshall Morgan and Scott Publications, Basingstoke, Hants, England, 646.
White, R.E.O. 1988, ‘The Word of God’ in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, ed. W.A. Elwell, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2160-2161.
“The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright, 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”