Was, With, And Worked: Audio

UPDATE: Here is the audio from Thursday’s chapel message on John 1:1-3.


One of the things I learned from reading Ned Stonehouse was to ask the question: what does this narrative/passage/text say? In our defense of the essential unity of Holy Scripture it is tempting to blend texts together in a harmony and thereby to lose the particular contribution of this text to the greater story. Stonehouse’s work on the synoptics (The Witness of Mathew and Mark to Christ and The Witness Luke to Christ—which I have as two volumes) is a great illustration of this approach. He is less worried about “how am I going to explain this to the critics?” than he is to answer the question, “What is the point the Spirit-inspired author is trying to make?” The critics can go pound sand. It’s not that we shouldn’t answer them but at a certain point we do have to give ourselves over to paying attention to what the text actually says.

I write this because I’m devoting on the prologue to John’s gospel this morning in chapel and it struck me how far away John’s gospel is from so much of the nonsense that passes for explanation. What hath Bultmann to do with John’s conceptual world and intent? Read in its historical and canonical contexts, John is not much concerned with the questions that troubled Bultmann.

In its canonical context, I noticed for the first time that Matthew begins with a genealogy, Mark begins with the ministry of John, Luke begins with a preface to Theophilus, and John begins with eternity. This is no breakthrough for most gospel readers but I’m not most gospel readers. This is, of course, why St John is sometimes called “the divine” or “the theologian.” Of course, we learned from Stonehouse that all the gospel writers were theologians in their own way but perhaps John is more overtly theological in his account of Christ.

John begins with the verb “to be” (was). The Logos was. The implication is that there was when we were not. John turns Arius on his head. It’s not that there was when the Son was not but there was when we (and all creation) were not. John takes us back to a point, as it were, before time, to the beginning (arche). There was when there was Word. The Word was. He existed. We did not. Think about that. This one was in the beginning.

More than simply existing, the Word existed as God. Rationalists suggest that John says that he was divine. Not at all. John is much bolder than that. John’s Logos is God, he is consubstantial with God. Whatever it is that makes God to be what he is, that is what John’s Logos is. We aren’t left to speculate about the God of John 1. He is the God who was in the beginning and who spoke all things into being by his powerful, creative word but John’s Logos as we will see, is no creature. He is the Creator.

Who was the Logos? John is apparently unconcerned about fact that he employed a word that had been used by Stoics since the 4th century BC and by Philo more recently. Some scholars discuss Gnosticism here but since, by all available evidence, it was a second-century heretical reaction to Christianity to discuss it here is sheer anachronism. The Logos of the Stoics wasn’t personal. It’s an abstract universal rational principle. John’s Logos isn’t abstract, as we shall see. John’s Logos is “this one.” He isn’t a universal principle. Further, John’s Logos isn’t Philo’s Logos. He is not an ideal or an ideal existence. He is concrete. He is particular. John seizes a term that had been loaded with pagan philosophical content. He tips it up, as it were, and dumps out all the previous content and redefines it. John is remarkably unafraid.

The story continues to unfold. The Word was God. He was and he was with  (possibly toward; pros) God. The Word was not alone. In the beginning there was communion among divine persons. Communion is not a second blessing. It is part of the original order of things, even among the divine persons. John’s Logos is a person. He is with another person, with whom he shares the same essence. There is Theos and the Word and the Word is Theos but the Word is personally distinct from Theos. He interacts with Theos and Theos interact with him. John’s Logos relates. He knows and is known by another, distinct but co-eternal (“in the beginning”) person: God. Theos is. The Logos is and they are together from eternity but they are not the same persons.

Finally, John’s Logos is active. He does more than relate to the Father (as if that would not be enough) he creates. He was present at the beginning and he was an actively creative agent. He isn’t a creature because he was already before creation. He isn’t a demiurge. He isn’t a Gnostic aeon. Just as he is co-eternal with Theos, as he is co-personal with Theos, he is co-Creator with Theos. John is insistent about this. Everything that happened occurred through him and nothing that happened occurred without him. He isn’t a universal rational principle. He isn’t an abstract ideal. He is the Creator God who made the physical world that you and I inhabit. John is not a Middle Platonist. He isn’t suspicious of the physical world. It is not inherently defective or evil or inherently corrupting. It comes through and from the power, through agency of the co-eternal, consubstantial, co-personal God the Word. All that was made reflected the goodness, righteousness, and holiness of the God who was in the beginning.

John is foreshadowing something. This is prologue. Whatever the Logos does next, however the Logos interacts with what is made it will not be a question of inherently evil matter corrupting the immaterial. However he relates to the creation it will be as Creator. However he relates to creation it will be as a co-eternal person consubstantial with the Theos who spoke into nothing in the beginning.

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  1. I appreciated this devotion. Preaching through my second Gospel (1st Mk., now Lk.) I have tried each time to convey the thought of this writer, this witness to the Christ. There have been times when I’ve found it helpful to compare one writer with another. Like medicos, I feel like I’m just “practicing” mostly.

    Hopefully, someone will reprint Stonehouse’ books. I’d buy.

    Whatever appropriation of the Greeks John made, in his use of the term logos, I think the OT emphasis on verbal-revelation, including the creative power of the divine speech, is the real content of the container.

  2. Yes, an adjectival noun like Theos, placed without article at the beginning of the clause, is so much more than a mere adjective. It means that to translate the clause properly into a language like English you need the Nicene Creed’s “very God of very God”. We find a less loaded adjectival noun in 1 Timothy 6:10. You couldn’t translate “theos hn ho logos” as “God was the Word” because “God”, being a proper name and not needing a definite article in English, would justifiably been taken as the subject of the clause. But you CAN accurately translate 1 Timothy 6:10 as “Root of all evil is the love of money” – It means much more than “a root of all evil”, but doesn’t have the exclusive meaning that “the root of all evil” has. Similarly theos hn ho logos means that the Word was God without excluding the Father and the Holy Spirit from also being God.

    The doctrine of the Trinity is that the Deity is three persons in/as one God, but our minds insist on twisting it into three persons in/as one person. But God is NOT three persons in/as one person. He is one God, not one person. The word for “one” in 1 John 5:7, as in “I and my Father are one” is neuter, not masculine, as it would have been if 1 John 5:7 had been of mere human invention (to prove the doctrine of the Trinity).

    • Actually there’s another adjectival noun closer to hand at the beginning of John 4:24. One could almost have translated it “Spirit is God”, but it doesn’t make as much sense as “God is spirit”. The AV/KJV is in general the best English version, but I think this verse is one of the rare occasions where some modern translations are better. I have problems with the idea of the entire Trinity being A single spirit.

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