Monday 4 December 2023

"In the beginning was the Word"; but "the Word" does not mean Jesus (plus Note Added)

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

[2] The same was in the beginning with God. 

[3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 

[4] In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 

[5] And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 

Since this beautiful passage from Chapter One at the beginning of John's Gospel (especially in the Authorized Version translation) is a part of nearly every Christmas carol service I have ever attended; it seems like an opportunity to remind anyone interested of my alternative understanding of what this great poetry really means.

(Derived from my belief in the primacy of the IV Gospel.)  

And to re-emphasize that "the Word" does not refer to Jesus - as so many have claimed. 


Note added (5th December 2023):

I had always loved this passage at the beginning of John, from long before I became a Christian in my late forties. 

I got a fair bit of Christian teaching as a child, because I was educated at a rural Church of England school aged 5-11 - the local Rector was Chairman of Governors, and we would quite often attend services - the church was just a few yards away. I began to become very interested in Christianity from my middle twenties (reading many books of theology and apologetics, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. I even subscribed to the UK Dominican friar's "Blackfriars" magazine for a year in my late twenties!). What I never encountered was detailed, line-by-line and word-by-word Biblical exegesis. 

Anyway; my point is that - despite such a lot of Christian exposure, and multiple readings and listenings-to John's early verses, and indeed the whole Gospel - it never crossed my mind that "the Word" was supposed to mean Jesus! 

When I came across this idea (in a Protestant, Evangelical, context) I was flabbergasted! For a while I passively accepted that this "must be" true, because so many textual expositors were saying it; but I never felt "comfortable" with the equation - my conscience pricked - it always seemed forced and "bogus". 

I was pleased eventually to arrive at an explanation that fitted with the rest of the Gospel. The key is the poetic parallelism - which I (somehow!) hadn't noticed; probably due to viewing the passage through spectacles that insisted it was dogmatic metaphysical philosophy, to be taken literally...

For instance; when I read "the Word was with God, and the Word was God" I assumed that this slight difference in wording must mean we were being taught a subtle and vital theological distinction - rather than its being a poetic form

So, what exactly the Word/ Logos means in this passage, is not possible to make explicit since human consciousness, hence language, has changed (see Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction). Then words had multiple simultaneous references incorporating spiritual realities; but now our words are narrowly precise and 'objective' - so that no number of our words can mean what a single word meant to the ancients. Now they  - we can only talk around it with a paraphrase. 

But I think we can consider "the Word"/ Logos to be God... but God with an emphasis on His creative nature; his attributes as The Creator. 


Mark Docherty said...

On what authority do you assert this claim? Can you cite any Church Father to support this (pre-7th Century)?

Joel said...

You aren't the first person to divide 1:1-5 off from the rest of the prologue. Bultmann discusses 6-13 and 15 forwards being an interpolation, but I think it would be much more consistent to doubt 14 as well, as you do, if someone takes that approach. Which leaves, as you say, no connection between Logos and Christ.

On the other hand, there is the pre-Gospel idea of the mythological Logos God-Man mediator in Philo and the Corpus Hermeticum, and it's hard for me to imagine the idea not having influence on John 1:1-5 and its use of the term.

A good resource with plenty of references is Wilhelm Bousset's Kyrios Christos, chapter 9, which discusses the Philo and Hermes connection beginning pg. 390. Bultmann's "Gospel of John, A Commentary" has the discussion that I mentioned at the top of the post.

My personal view is that "Logos", for the Evangelist, is the conceptual God, as distinct from the unconceivable, ineffable God. For me, this naturally fits in with the idea of God the Father and God the Son who explains him. But that is just my own personal musing.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MD - You seem to be under the impression that I care about convincing other people to believe the same as I do? - If so, you are mistaken. This blog is a forum for people who (for whatever reason) want to read my take on things. If that is not of interest to you, then look elsewhere - there is plenty of choice!

Kristor said...

MD, Bruce does not accept any of the rest of the NT as authoritative, but only John. Why then would the Fathers natter to him, given that the Apostles - and even John 1, where it is inconsistent with his interpretation - do not?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor - That was unworthy - if it wasn't from you, I would not have published it.

Your tone makes the whole process sound arbitrary and a product of indifference; yet you know I have set out my prior assumptions, and why; and that I have described the coherence of what is derived.

There! You've elicited from me an attempt to "convince"... always a mistake! Stet.

Lucas said...

As far as I know, which isn't that far, no one has a creation story that Jesus would fit into, do they? And this part of John is the only place anyone has been able to include Jesus in.

Also, Tolkein didn't do it, neither do the Valar seem to know about Jesus, and there's obvious reasons for that, but still it's an intersting question. Where was Jesus, at the creation?

Bruce Charlton said...

@L "As far as I know, which isn't that far, no one has a creation story that Jesus would fit into, do they?"

I don't find that aspect satisfactory in traditional theology. That is what I have tried to remedy with the Second Creation idea.

HomeStadter said...

Jospeh Smith interpreted 'word' here to mean gospel. If so, I can't help but think it's a pointed rejoinder to the gospel of Mark - This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, (John the Baptist). No, that isn't the beginning, it really started before the creation.

Tony said...

How much does it matter what "the Word" means? Cannot the rest of the fourth gospel stand without it?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Tony "Cannot the rest of the fourth gospel stand without it?"

Which is, indeed, exactly my point!

Kristor said...

Bruce, I did not intend snark, and regret that my comment came across that way. I honestly and simply thought that in fact you don't put much faith in the writings of anyone in the early Church other than John in his Gospel - *but not in all of it.* For, only by treating verses 6 through 18 of the first chapter of that Gospel as false can it be argued that John did not identify Jesus as the Logos in the Prologue to his Gospel.

So, in writing my comment, I meant only to emphasize to commenter MD that what the Fathers - or John himself - wrote about the identity of Jesus and the Logos would be irrelevant, so far as you were concerned, in rather the way that Apocrypha were irrelevant so far as Luther was concerned.

If I've misunderstood you on that score, it has been an honest error.