Monday, June 25, 2012

The Divine Metaphor of the Logos in John 1:1, 14

The concept of the logos in John 1:1, 14 is a key idea for understanding the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. John’s depiction of the second person of the Trinity as the Logos is in reality a metaphor. But what is the deeper significance of this metaphor? In what sense is the second person of the Trinity the Logos, and what does this imply about God the Father?

Father, Son, Spirit, Word: all of these are metaphors. The description of the Trinity in the Bible is dominated by metaphor. When applied to God, metaphors operate by taking something in common human experience as a kind of analogy to describe a particular attribute or set of attributes in God.

The idea of the second person of the Trinity as the Logos or Word, in combination with the common biblical depiction of the third person of the Trinity as the Spirit or רוח, a word which also means breath, is particularly illuminating. In the field of phonetics, it is obvious that there is a close connection between the spoken word and breath. Speaking words involves the modification of the flow of air from the lungs through the vocal tract. This physical linkage in human speech between breath and word strongly suggests that the conceptual framework underlying the divine metaphors of Word and Spirit is that of human linguistics. This also suggests that God the Father in the context of this conceptual framework is analogous to the concept of mind or cognition. This is based on the idea that words reveal thoughts hidden in the mind.

The logos or word metaphor implies, therefore, that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is like the relationship of the mind to its verbal expression. God the Father is like the mind or thought. A thought is hidden unless it reveals itself. How can I know what is in a person’s mind unless that person expresses his or her thoughts through some kind of communication? Given that the primary form of human communication is verbal, it is common human experience that we get to know a person and his or her thoughts through the words that that person speaks.

In saying “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), the author of John’s Gospel implies that the divine Father and Son are as close to each other as thought and word. The Father is the source of divine cognitive activity, and the Son is the expression of this divine activity. When it is understood that words reveal the person, it makes perfect sense for John to assert that the Word is God. The Son is the self-expression of the Father just as words give expression to one’s thoughts. The Son is simply the eternal self-expression of the Father. For this reason, the Logos is divine and can rightly be called God. The Son of God, in his capacity as the Word of God, is God as he reveals himself; and clearly God as he reveals himself is none other than … God! At its heart the concept of the Trinity makes sense. It is logical. God’s self-revelation is none other than God as he has chosen to reveal himself. Jesus, as the Word of God incarnate, is the Father’s self-revelation in human form. Being the Father’s self-revelation incarnate, Jesus is God. This is a key element of orthodox Christian faith.

The logos or word metaphor also implies that God the Father is unknowable unless he expresses himself. The Apostle Paul captures this thought by saying that “the Son is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). God the Father, God in his essential nature, is invisible and unknowable; but God the Father is a God who eternally expresses himself. The Father’s eternal self-expression is the Logos, the Word. This means that, without the Word, knowledge of God would actually be impossible. If the Logos did not exist, then we would not be able to know anything about God. In fact, without the Logos, without God’s creative self-expression, no universe would exist, nor would be able to exist. We can only know God as he reveals himself, and God both beyond and within space and time eternally reveals himself through his Word. By saying that Jesus is the incarnation of the Logos, John’s Gospel asserts that Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal self-revelation of God in human form.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Doctrine of the Trinity Is Logical

The Trinity is a unique and important Christian concept, but some people have expressed the opinion that this concept is illogical. It is interesting in this regard that the English word logical is derived from the Greek adjective λογικός, which is related to the word λόγος (usually translated as word) that is used in John’s Gospel to refer to the second person of the Trinity (see John 1:1, 14).

According to Liddell and Scott, the word λόγος denotes “the word by which the inward thought is expressed,” and additionally “the inward thought or reason itself” (Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon [Oxford: Oxford University, 1983], 416). The adjective λογικός also reflects this basic dual semantic potential of the word λόγος. Thus, λογικός can mean “belonging to speech or speaking,” or “belonging to reason, rational” (ibid.).

From the point of view of the Greek language used in the prologue of John’s Gospel (i.e., John 1:1–18), we have to say that the concept of the Word is λογικός. The Logos expresses the rationality or thought of God the Father that the latter has chosen to express (John 1:18).

Extrapolating from John’s depiction of the second person of the Trinity as ὁ λόγος, we can say that the totality of the concept of the Trinity is itself distinctly logical. The logic involved is the logic of the Father expressing himself through the Son and the Spirit. Being the self-expression of the Father, the Son and the Spirit possess the same divinity as their eternal source, God the Father.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jesus: The Supreme Revelation of God the Father

The Greek word λόγος that lies behind the English translation the Word in John 1:1, 14 was used by some Greek Stoic philosophers to designate reason, which was thought of as being the basic principle which gives structure to the universe. But to understand the significance of logos in John 1, the concept of word needs to be placed primarily within a Jewish framework rather than a Greek one. In a Jewish context in which the Hebrew Bible is greatly influential, this concept would be linked in the first instance to the concept of the word of God. The word of God is the primary vehicle of divine revelation in the Old Testament. The obvious thematic connections between John 1 and Gen 1 (e.g., the phrase in the beginning, and the concepts of creation, life, light, darkness) also suggest that the concept of logos in John 1 should be understood in a manner consistent with the concept of word in Gen 1. Ten times the expression and God said occurs in Gen 1. The concept of word back in the beginning, as recorded in Gen 1, is the word of God, the word of divine fiat. The primary function of the word of God is revelation, the communication of God’s thoughts.

The Logos, therefore, is the Word in the sense that he uniquely reveals God. But with what are we to identify this Word? The key to identity of the Word is found in John 1:14, where John says: “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” It is obvious that John understood that the Word became incarnate in Jesus at a particular point in human history. The Word in more technical theological terminology is the second person of the Trinity, who is understood in John 1:14 to have become incarnate in the person of Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the incarnation of the Logos, who is the eternal self-revelation of God.

The revelatory function of the Logos is confirmed by the way in which the prologue in John 1 concludes: “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 Logos makes known (i.e., reveals) the Father. The Logos becoming incarnate in Jesus makes Jesus the supreme revelation of God the Father. The implication stemming from this is that a person cannot truly know God without knowing Jesus.