Three times in the first verse of John’s gospel, the beloved disciple speaks of the Word, “the Logos.” It is quickly seen that this name or title describes Jesus. John 1:14 unmistakably unites the eternal Word with the babe born in the manger. But why does John use this term? What does Logos or the “Word” mean? Today, we will examine this term in brief to help us better understand the son born of Mary, who was eternally the Son of God.
The Word (Logos)
John uses a word that would have been familiar to his hearers. Interpreters of John have pointed to all kinds of influences: Greek philosophy (Stoicism), Jewish theology (Philo), or mystery religions (Gnosticism). However, it is speculative that he depended upon any of these other views. While the idea of the Logos was “trending” in John’s day, it is unlikely that the apostles derived such terms from extra-biblical sources.
Jesus followers were men of the Hebrew Scriptures, who were taught by Jesus how to read the Old Testament (Luke 24), and who were moved by the Spirit (John 14:26). They were not students of culture, they were not writing for peer-reviewed journals, nor were they attempting anything novel. They were simply writing for the edification of the saints and proclamation of the gospel. Thus, the content of their words was the person and work of Christ and its earlier explanation in what we call he Old Testament. So we should ask, what does the Old Testament say about “the Logos”?
In the Old Testament, the word is a central feature because God does everything by his word. John Frame, says: “God’s word . . . is involved in everything he does—in his decrees, creation, providence, redemption, and judgment, not only in revelation narrowly defined. He performs all his acts by his speech” (The Doctrine of God, 472-74).
The quickest glance at just a few verses show this is true. Some of things that the Word does include the following:
God spoke the world into existence. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host (Ps 33:6)
God’s word effected salvation. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction (Ps 107:20)
God’s word governs and energizes all of creation. He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow. He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel (Ps 147:18-20).
All together, “the word of God enlivens and kills; it sustains the world humans live in; it never fails in its purpose” (Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 256). Thus, two things emerge in Old Testament that inform John’s theology.
First, the Word is presented as divine. In the Old Testament, we that the word does a number of divine things—it creates, it kills, and it saves. More than that, it is given divine attributes: eternal (Ps 119:89, 160), perfect (Ps 19:7-11), omnipotent (Gen 18:14; Isa 55:11), life-giving. Nearly 300 times it is called God’s word. In many ways it is one with God.
Second, the Word is distinct from God. In the Old Testament, the Word does not fully describe all that God is. Rather, it is an instrument by which God works (cf. Prov 8:22ff). It is used by God, and sent out by God, and thus is not one and the same with God. Even as there is unity between God and his word, there is difference.
But this should not come as a surprise. God’s inscripturated Word is unified. The Old anticipates the New, and the New depends (i.e. quotes, alludes, echoes, and builds) upon the Old. Thus, John’s trinitarian theology of the Word in John 1:1 is not a new invention that comes from outside the Scriptures, but comes from the very Scriptures that the eternal Word inspired as he sent the Spirit to the prophets who wrote of his coming.
In the end, John 1:1 is one more evidence of how God’s progressive revelation prepares the way for Jesus Christ. And how the eternal Word is the incarnate Word is the written Word.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss