Friday, 18 May 2018

Why was Jesus The Word? The answer tells us the reason for his incarnation

"In the beginning was the Word" - we know that the word was Jesus, before he incarnated - but until just-now, I never understood why he was The Word (that is I never found the explanations adequate, nor did I comprehend what 'word' was here supposed to mean).

From reading Owen Barfield, I realise that to understand words we need to understand concepts; and that concepts change through history. The concept of The Word, as it is used in the King James Bible and the Fourth Gospel, needs to be understood by its usage. So, I did a word search for 'word' and read all the usages in the Fourth Gospel.

From that I realised something of the scope of the term, and that 'word' in the Fourth Gospel meant (in part) something more like knowledge - but an objective knowledge that was permanent.

And from my reading and brooding on Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom (1894); I knew what kind of knowledge that needed to be.

The Fourth Gospel tells us that we need to acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God, sent by the Father. Why did the Father need to send him? The answer is that Jesus was The Word, and he became The Word incarnate; that is, The Word in This World.

Until Jesus was incarnated, Man did not have direct access to The Word - but only by indirect communications; however, by incarnating Jesus gave Man access to The Word - directly, objectively, permanently; if Men recognised Jesus as the Son of God.

Jesus would not have been much use if he was 'a teacher' merely, because a teacher needs to be listened to, heard, understood... and even when correct the understanding may be forgotten or distorted.

What was/ is needed is direct and permanent knowing; and this entails that when two people know something, they must know it direct and unmediated, and it must be exactly the same thing that they know. They must know the true-concept, not merely a copy or version of it...

We might picture this (as a simplified model) in the form that knowledge is located in a realm we can all access, and when someone thinks an objective thought he 'borrows' a thought from this realm, while he is thinking it - after which it returns to the realm to be available for anybody else to think.

This model is merely meant to emphasise that objective knowledge cannot depend on communication, or copying. Objective implies it is shared, public, identical between individuals. It is also necessarily true - which is another meaning of objective.

So, why do we need to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God?  Because he is the only source of direct knowledge; it was incarnated with him - he is the source from-which we may know directly.

It is knowing that Jesus is the Son of God that 'points us at' the source of direct knowledge. (Because Jesus is The Word, we know that The Word is real, we know its location, we know what to do to find it.)

If we do Not acknowledge that Jesus is The Word, then we will 'die in our sins'. This is not meant as a threat, but as a simple fact. Jesus brings us immortality by resurrection; but unless we know and follow Jesus, that resurrection will merely be of our-selves as we-are here-and-now; that is, 'in' our corruption and sins (mixed in with purity and love - the mixture will vary between people).

Our 'heaven' will then be our-selves in a place with similar people to our-selves. Qualitatively, this heaven will be the same kind of place as this earth - but eternally.

But what about Hell? Jesus brought Hell into the world - as many have noticed.

Well, when knowledge is understood as objective and permanent and dwelling-in the soul (this being an implied property of The Word, in the Fourth Gospel); this means that once a person has known Jesus, has known him as the Son of God, this is permanent.

To know Jesus is to be 'born again' as Jesus describes it to Nicodemus. It is permanently to be transformed. We cannot ever be the same as we were before, because (as I said) The Word is objective - it does not depend on memory or attention, it cannot be eroded by disease or death. We cannot un-know that which we know.

This may clarify: To believe 'in' Jesus is to know he is the Son of God; to believe 'on' Jesus is to love, trust and follow him.

Both believing-in and believing-on are choices, they cannot be compelled upon anyone but must be freely chosen. However they are knowledge, as well as choices; and objective knowledge is permanent and cannot be undone.

Furthermore, objective knowledge is public - and our belief in and on Jesus is itself objectively-knowable; it is not private - God knows what we each know.

(Men do not know what other men know, and can indeed lie to themselves about what they themselves know; but the knowledge is objective, permanent. We must learn to distinguish objective knowing from our 'current psychological states'.)

Hell is when somebody knows that Jesus is the Son of God; but does not love him, does not trust him, will not follow him.

More exactly, Hell is an active rejection of what Jesus offered - it is to know and hate Jesus, to regard his promises as lies, to regard his heaven as a Hell...

It is to know and invert the scale of Good and Evil established by the Father and endorsed by the Son. And thus to prefer a life in company with those who think likewise - which is Hell.

In sum; Jesus was The Word - which is approximately objective knowledge.

By being born Jesus brought objective knowledge into this world - and Jesus's primary teaching was simply to 'point at himself', and who he was; and invite us to love him and have faith in him, because he loved us and would die for us.

By bringing objective knowledge into this world, Jesus made it possible to become Sons of God, like himself - on a par with himself. Because such a Son of God must know - merely doing is insufficient. A 'god' must know the truth; and know it explicitly.

But The Word/ objective knowledge - while real and permanent in this world - is a possibility; it is not compelled nor is it coerced. The Word must first be recognised, then embraced - if it is fully to be believed and to be effectual.

The 'system' was established between Jesus and his disciples - in Chapters 13-17 of 'John's' Gospel we can see Jesus describing how this has worked. The disciples have first done what others can now do - they believed in and on Jesus.

From that point, and the coming fo the Holy Ghost; direct and objective knowledge has been available to all - as it never was before that moment; that is available to all if they want it, and when they choose to believe what they find.

But all this is conditional upon having the necessary concepts - the necessary metaophysical understandings and assumptions. Because the wrong ones will block the possibility of knowing.

Modern people absolutely-need to know that knowledge can be direct, objective and permanent - utterly independent of the contingencies of communication, perception, comprehension, brains, biology, age and illness... and indeed independent of death.

Note added: The purpose of a satisfactory explanation of Jesus's incarnation, death and resurrection needs to include both objective and voluntary aspects. There needs to be some understanding of how these events changed objective reality in a permanent fashion (regardless of human knowledge), and also an understanding of how human freedom interacts with that reality. 


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I know you don't like to consider the original language, but "Word" is the untranslatable Logos, with all the meanings it had acquired in pre-Christian Stoic philosophy. The Chinese Bible translates it with the equally untranslatable "Tao."

Bruce Charlton said...

@William, yes, even I am aware of that one! But as you say, Logos is a word/ concept that is apparently only understandable by someone saturated in and empathically identified with ancient Greek culture/ philosophy.

Because I regard the KJB as divinely inspired, I assume that the English authors were able to know how to deal with the concept for that language and culture.

The appropriate context would seem to be the Fourth Gospel itself - I don't know whether other usages of the word/ concept could be assumed to be equivalent - and the gospel works by developing several key word/ concepts by use in several contexts; so we can know what all the essential terms mean using internal evidence.

Kindle's search facility is very useful for this - I have found the approach helpful for several different words or phrases.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Yes, of course this is a case where the original Greek is common knowledge. I wasn't trying to be patronizing. What I mean is that, while I understand your emphasis on the KJV as a text every bit as inspired as the original, it seems almost perverse to rely solely on the English even when your focus is on the meaning of this famously untranslatable word.

(Actually, I think you should still give priority to the original text, no matter how inspired any translation may be. After all, your position is that, while the whole Bible is inspired, the Fourth Gospel has special authority because it was written by the Beloved Disciple. In the same way, however inspired the Vulgate or KJV may be, the Greek text should have special authority because it alone was written by the Beloved Disciple.)

I'm not sure how Greek-specific the "Logos" concept is. While no English translation is adequate, I find the Chinese "Tao" to be an astonishingly perfect translation, showing that two vastly different cultures had converged on virtually the same idea. The version of Marcus Aurelius that I usually read leaves logos untranslated, and in many cases replacing it with "word" renders his meaning unintelligible; tao, on the other hand, always fits perfectly.

I know you have little sympathy with pagan philosophy, but the fact remains that the Fourth Gospel was written in Greek for Hellenized readers, employing a vocabulary that they would understand, and with an awareness of the philosophical baggage various words would have for them. Internal evidence is great, but I do think the established meaning of the word has to be taken into account as well, at least as a starting point.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - The main insight this post was trying to get across is one that was, as a matter of fact, not helped at all by what I know of Logos or Tao - both of which I find un-understandable, in different ways.

Indeed, I regard the Tao concept as Very different from The Word - part of a diffuse, unconscious, immersive, 'pantheistic' concpet of reality that is what Jesus is moving-on-from.

Part of my understanding is that Jesus was an incision in history, and understanding this means that (aside from some genral foreshadowings or distorted echoes) philosophers and writers are Not going to capture the essense of 'waht happened' - how could they if they do not recognise the reality of Jesus as Son of God?

There is a double-meaning, that The Word enables understanding of The Word; only by 'believeing' Jesus can we know what he did.

For me, this isn't about words or translations. This is about my understanding of what Jesus did and why he was necessary; and this understanding was blocked by incompatible elements in Christian metaphysics (i.e. the omni-God, who by definition could do *anything*) and by the focus on original sin and Jesus's incarnation/ death/ resurrection being primarily about dealing-with-it (reality cannot be reduced to morality, and original sin is neither in the Gospels not in my intuition)...

While I accept fully that *all* explicit explanations are distorted over-simplifications; these ideas are not even on the right lines. There needs to be a deep but comprehensible *reason* why the Father needed the Son, and of what the Son did that the Father could not do - and I feel that Christians have *never* been good (or even adequate) at explaining this necessity (hence the rise of Islam, and the return to 'pure' monotheism).

For me, this idea of Jesus as The Word - with The Word having this meaning something like permanent-direct-objective knowledge, seems like the correct answer; although I have not yet found the words clearly to explain it to others.