Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Divine Logos as Eschatological Torah in John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This is a famous verse, but what does John mean by describing Jesus as the Word? Most commentators point out that the Greek word λόγος was used by some Greek philosophers to designate reason, which was thought of as being the law which structured the universe. While John’s use of λόγος here would be significant in a Greek context, the fact that the argument and concerns of John’s Gospel are fundamentally Jewish suggests that the significance of logos is best understood in Jewish terms.

What does the concept word convey in Jewish circles? The Old Testament is the most natural place to look for the answer. Indeed, the language of the prologue of John’s Gospel (i.e., John 1:1–18) points us in that direction. When the concept word is thought of in the context of concepts such as in the beginning (vv. 1–2), creation (v. 3, 10), life (v. 4), light (vv. 4–5, 7–9), and darkness (v. 5), what are we meant to think of? We are meant to think immediately of Gen 1. And the word that occurs in Gen 1 is the word of God.

When first-century orthodox Jews thought of word, they thought supremely of the word of God. But what is the function of the word of God in the Old Testament? The primary function is that of revelation. The most common way in which God revealed himself in the Old Testament was by way of his word spoken by the prophets on his behalf. God’s word reveals his character and will. It seems, therefore, that John has used the concept of the logos to assert that Jesus is the supreme revelation of God.

And this is confirmed by the way in which the prologue ends: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (v. 18). God the Father is unknowable unless he reveals himself. Just as a person’s words reveal the character of the person, the word of God reveals the character of God. Jesus is the supreme revelation of God. He makes God the Father known.

To say that Jesus is the Word is the same as saying that Jesus is the supreme expression of torah. In other words, Jesus is eschatological Torah! Being the supreme revelation of the God the Father, the Word is divine. The Son of God, in his capacity as the Word of God, is God as he has deigned to reveal himself. God as he reveals himself is none other than ... God! “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”


jeff miller said...

Love it. great stuff in line with your "eschatalogical torah" posts. If you get a chance could you look at my "Progress in Acts and You" in which I try to highlight the dynamic use of "Word of God" in Acts.

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, Jeff. The only thing that I would add is that the newness of the gospel was “known” beforehand (to some extent) in the sense that it was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. But the word theme in Acts is very interesting, as you have pointed out. I’ll do a post on the relationship between Isa 2:1-4 and Luke’s understanding of the gospel some time soon. Hopefully you will find that helpful in relation to this theme.

Jeff Miller said...

Thanks Steven,
I am looking forward to the upcoming posts. I like your added point about "known" aspect of the coming eschatalogical torah. -the Newness is both foreshadowed and foretold in the Law and Prophets. Your point reminds me of Jesus' piercing question to Nicodemus, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?"

Anonymous said...

This idea of Jesus being the revelation of the father in te sense of the eschatological Torah is held by some in the Messianic Jewish congregations. I am not sure though what Torah exactly refers to, God's revelation in the first five books / or the whole instruction/law in the Old Testament?

Steven Coxhead said...

Torah is basically the word of God, i.e., whatever God reveals. The Hebrew Bible contains prophecies that there would be an internationally-applicable eschatological torah revealed by and in the Messiah at the time of the restoration of Israel (see Deut 15:18; Isa 2:1–4; 42:4; 51:4–5). This is the torah of the new covenant, which is the fulfillment of old covenant torah, as per Jer 31:31–33. Jesus is Torah, therefore, in the sense that he is the new and supreme revelation from God.

Anonymous said...

thank you for the explanation Steven, makes a whole lot of sense. God bless