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.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Perhaps a similar way to consider it is, the Father is God conceived; the Logos is God perceived. While we can conceive of an infinite, eternal, invisible God, we can't perceive Him (e.g., Exod. 33:20). The Logos is God perceived--perceived by effect, as it were, in creation itself (Rom. 1:20), which is an expression of God, but perceived fully in the Son, Who is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).

Steven Coxhead said...

Your conceived versus perceived distinction is nice. The idea of the Logos as being God’s self-expression by which we can perceive him makes sense once humanity is part of the picture. This idea is harder to conceive though on the level of eternity “before” the universe was created, i.e., when there was no one around (apart from God) to perceive God. It is intriguing to consider the question of whom God would be expressing himself to “before” the act of creation.

In the end it seems to me that we are simply talking here about the nature of God. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Built into God’s character is the idea of eternal self-expression. And on the level of eternity it is ultimately a matter of God’s self-expression to himself! The act of creating the world (being a means of and a form of God’s self-revelation) is, therefore, consistent with God’s eternal character, and a consequence of the type of god that God is. A corollary of this is that, if the Logos and the Spirit did not exist, a universe could never have been created. So the very existence of the universe reveals that God is a plural-unity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Steven, this is a useful way of puting it. The idea of plurality 'within' God is indeed evident from the God's self dialogue in Genesis 1 'let us make man in our image...' - I was reading an intersting booklet 'The Great Mystery: how can three be one' by Rabbi Tzvi Nassi showing that this thought is consistent with a revelation of the one true God.

Deanna said...

Thank you Steven! I've been reading different things on the "logos" and "the Word" recently, and your post really helped all the info I gathered to make better sense lol!

I also liked the comparison of conceiving and perceiving.

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, Deanna! Glad you found it helpful.

God bless!