Thursday, October 6, 2011

Theos En Ho Logos

The Risen Christ

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1: 1-5).

I studied this passage a lot when I was in confirmation class because Jehovah’s Witnesses used to come over to my grandfather’s house. They would come by nearly every week and we would debate doctrine and the Bible – way before I had any real understanding of either. The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is “the first and greatest of all of Jehovah God’s creations,” but he is not God. This introductory passage of John’s Gospel puts the lie to that statement.

Theos en ho logos – God was the Word. There is no way around the meaning of that Greek sentence. It means that the Word – whom John identifies as Jesus (v. 17) – was God. Not “a god” as the Watchtower translators wrongly interpret the passage in their New World Translation (an impossible rendering of the passage, according to renowned Greek scholar Dr. Julius Mantey). Jesus is not God’s first and greatest creation (v.2). He is God, the Son, second person of the Trinity, in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). He is Immanuel, God with us.

Logos – Logos is the Greek word for “Word”. It is also the root of our modern English word “logic”. Greek philosophers, such as Plato, used the term not only to mean the spoken word but also the unspoken word still in the mind - the human power of reason. When they applied that term to larger concepts, like the Universe, “Logos” meant the rational principle governing all things. Not really God as we, or the Jews at that time, understand Him, but more like a logical set of rules that govern the how the universe, and all in it, works. Today, we might compare this Greek philosophical idea of “Logos” to the laws of physics. The Jewish teachers, on the other hand, with whom we will become better acquainted as we make our way through John’s Gospel, used the term “Logos” to refer to God. This is significant, because by its use in Scripture (this is the term used for “word” in the Septuagint) it implies that God is actively involved in the world, rather than having simply created the universe, wound it up like a big clock and let it run on its own without his involvement. John is basically saying to his readers in the first chapter of his gospel that everything the rabbis taught about the word, which God had given them in the Old Testament, was fulfilled in Jesus. To the educated Greeks – and to us “rational” Gentiles today – John is saying that Jesus is God Almighty; the rational governing force behind all things in the universe, upholding everything by his mighty word.

The phrase “word of the Lord” is used over 100 times in the Old Testament, mostly in the books of the prophets. The word is the means by which God communicates with us. John applies this title to Jesus and, by so doing, John is telling us that God’s will and words are personified in Jesus. The implication of that is that Jesus reveals the truth of God to us.

“…we cannot know God without Christ, the Word…If you want to see God, look to Jesus. If you want to come close to God, come close to Jesus. If you want to live according to God’s will, live with Jesus,” (People’s Bible Commentary – John, p. 8).

In his study, "The Gospels from a Jewish Perspective," evangelist Bob Warren describes how Jewish theologians had developed a theology concerning “Logos.” In his study Warren lists some key elements of this theology. First, the Word was a person possessing a mind, emotions, and will. The Word could be sent to accomplish a mission (PS. 147:15; Is. 9:8; 45:23; 55:10-11). The Word brought about salvation (Hosea 1:7). The Word was the agent of revelation (Gen. 15:1; Ezra 1:3). The Word was the agent of creation (Ps. 33:4-6). The Word was the avenue through which God sealed covenants (Gen. 15:1). The Word was the agent of the Old Testament theophanies - appearances of the Christ (Gen. 18). The Word was the same as God, and at other times distinct from God.

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18).

The phrase translated “the only God” in this verse comes from the Greek word “monogenes”. This, in the NIV and KJV is rendered as the more familiar “only-begotten”. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,” (John 1:18, KJV). We say that phrase every week in the creeds, but I never thought about what it was actually declaring until I began interacting with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

To say that you were “begotten” is much different than to say that you were “created”. It is one of those wonderfully old-fashioned words which has a precise meaning, but has fallen out of regular use among the common folk. As a result, that precise meaning has become somewhat fuzzy to us. C. S. Lewis explains this in his work Mere Christianity:
We don't use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set-or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive. Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God. (Mere Christianity – Lewis, Chapter 23 “Making and Begetting”).

To paraphrase Lewis, to create something is to do what a sculptor does with hammer, chisel, and stone. He carves out a thing that looks like a man, but is not. It is created out of a different material, and has an altogether different existence. This is what God the Father, through “the Word” (v.3), did with us. We are created beings, as different in nature from God as the marble sculpture is in nature from the artist who created it.

To beget, however, is to call something into existence; to father something; to produce something. Remember all those “begets” in the beginning pages of the Bible? That’s what they were doing. You are of the same substance as your father; you were not created as a sculptor makes a stature out of stone. You were produced “through the will of man” (your parents) “through the will of the flesh” (sexual intercourse). So, for John to call Jesus “the only-begotten”, is a profound thing. To be clear, I don’t’ believe John is saying that the Son was produced as a result of sexual intercourse, but that the Son was produced of the same substance as the Father – both divine, almighty God. The Son is begotten of the Father – the only being who so exists. He was also, by virtue of the fact that He is deity, “with God in the beginning.” The point is that He was not a created being like we human beings. Jesus, as John tells us in v. 14, assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There, in the virgin’s womb, the divine and human natures were inseparably joined in one person, Jesus, the God-man (AC III 1-2).

St. Paul expands on this in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2: 5-10).

What does this all mean to us?

John introduces us to Jesus, the God-man, in the first sentences of his Gospel, and in doing so, shows us a shadow of the triune nature of God. In a handful of sentences, John tells Jew and Gentile, in the beginning of his gospel, the Word came, but many, especially the Jews, rejected Him because they did not recognize Him. Jesus says of the Pharisees “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). Not only did Jesus fulfill the Old Testament messianic prophecies, which we will see as we study the Gospel of John, but he was also doing the things the Pharisees expected the Messiah to do when he came, yet they rejected Him.

Who do we say that Jesus is? Jesus asked this question of Peter and he rightly answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). It was on the rock of Peter’s confession that Jesus built His Church. Peter, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, could see what the Pharisees had hardened their hearts against, even though he didn’t have a full understanding of all the implications. Jesus was not a political “savior,” come to restore Israel, as the elite Jewish Pharisees and Teachers of the Law expected. He was not simply a virtuous man or good teacher. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ – the Son of God – who fulfilled all the prophecies of scripture and, by His death and resurrection, atoned for the sin of mankind and purchased us from death and the devil by his blood on the cross.