04 August, 2008

A Study of John 1 - Part 4

Moving on through the Johannine prologue, we arrive at verse 14:
The Word was made [ginomai] flesh and dwelt among us.
Here we must take care to read the text properly. We have been told that it was the logos which was made flesh - not God Himself. But what does this mean?

I refer once again to Dunn’s analysis:

But if we translated "logos" as "God's utterance" instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the "logos" in verses 1-13 to be thought of as a personal divine being. In other words the revolutionary significance of verse 14 may well be that it marks . . . the transition from impersonal personification to actual person. [3]Indeed, it certainly does! Just as the spoken logos of God had once brought forth light, it now resulted in a living entity – Jesus of Nazareth; the promised Messiah.

Notice also John's use of ginomai, denoting a change of the logos from what it already was, to something that it had not previously been.

Once again, Scripture is our guide.

In Matthew 4:3 and Luke 4:3 we read
...command that these stones become [ginomai] bread.
And again, in John 2:9 -
the water... was made [ginomai] wine.
Examples could be multiplied.

The logos (God's plan and purpose, originally residing in His divine mind and later spoken in an act of creation) was now embodied in a new creation: the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of the virgin Mary.

John's use of metonymy (in which the part is taken for the whole) employs "flesh" as synonymous with "person" or "human being." He is telling us that the logos did not simply become a piece of abstract flesh; it became a literal person; it became Jesus of Nazareth.

Centuries of Misinterpretation - the History of the Trinitarian Logos

The astute reader of early Christian history will discover that it is possible to follow the evolution of the logos as a Jewish theological concept into the logos as a Hellenic philosophical concept - and, ultimately, a stepping-stone to Trinitarianism. It all began with the work of a man called Philo.

Philo (a well-educated Hellenic Jew from Alexandria) had a considerable influence on Christian leaders of the "Alexandrian School", such as Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr. His allegorical method for interpreting Scripture also influenced Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, and others.

Philo attempted to interpret Scripture in terms of Greek philosophy. His approach was innovative and eclectic. Philo taught that human beings can know God, whether directly from divine revelation, or indirectly through human reason. Various forms of proof for God included Plato's argument for a Demiurgos in Timaeus and Aristotle's cosmological argument for an Unmoved Mover.

Interacting freely with Greek philosophy, Philo borrowed certain Platonic concepts to express his own theistic views. His concept of the logos is a case in point.

In De Opificio he describes the logos as a cosmological principle, saying:
God assuming, as God would assume, that a beautiful copy could never come into existence without a beautiful model...when He willed to create this visible world, first blocked out the intelligible world, in order that using an incorporeal and godlike model he might make the corporeal world a younger image of the older. [4]Philo's philosophy was the original source of what later became the logos theology of mainstream Christianity. [5]

Philo himself had been influenced by Plato’s Timaeus, in which he called the logos “the image of God”, and “the second God”. Many Trinitarians today are emphatic in their insistence that John's gospel deliberately makes use of the term "logos" because (according to them) he was fully aware of its Philonic meaning, and expected his readers to understand this! Some Trinitarians even go so far as to say that John himself was responsible for using the term in a new and especifically religious way.

But, as we have already seen, Robinson dismisses both claims with a common-sense reply:

John is a typical representative of the New Testament, not the anomalous exception, with one foot in the world of Greek philosophy, that he is so often presented. [6]

Of course, there is no disputing the fact that the term logos was widely used in the Greco-Roman culture (and also in Judaism), but not until the writings of Philo does the logos eventually become personified beyond personification and regarded as a, personal literal entity.

In the LXX, the term logos (Hebrew: dabar) was used frequently to describe God's utterances, and the messages of prophets - by means of which God communicated His will to His people. Logos occurs in both the major and minor prophetical books, as a figure of speech designating God's activity or action.

The Greek, metaphysical concept of logos is in sharp contrast to the concept of a personal God described in anthropomorphic terms typical of Hebrew thought. Thus when Hebrew mythical thought encountered Greek philosophical thought, it was only natural that some would try to develop speculative and philosophical justification for Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy.

Philo (who was, we must remember, a Hellenized Jew) produced a synthesis of both traditions developing concepts for the future Hellenistic interpretation of Messianic Hebrew thought. His theology was drawn not just from his traditional Jewish background, but also from the philosophical ideas of the Greek culture in which he found himself.

One of his more creative ideas was the suggestion that Plato had borrowed his own conception of the logos from the writings of Moses! Consequently, Philo’s logos is not entirely foreign to the Jewish or Hellenic schools of thought - but at the same time not entirely compatible with either of them.


This Logos, which according to the Stoics is the bond between the different parts of the world, and according to the Heracliteans the source of the cosmic oppositions, is regarded by Philo as the Divine word which reveals God to the soul and calms the passions (see LOGOS).

It is finally from this point of view of the interior life that Philo transforms the moral conception of the Greeks which he knew mainly in the most popular forms (cynical diatribes); he discovers in them the idea of the moral conscience accepted though but slightly developed by philosophers up to that time.

A very interesting point of view is the consideration of the various moral systems of the Greeks, not simply as true or false, but as so many indications of the soul's progress or recoil at different stages. [7]

Many elements of his philosophy made an impact on later Christian thinking, including his use of proofs for God's existence, his logos doctrine, his views about the unknowability of God, his negative language about God, his position on ex nihilo creation, and his interpretation of Divine providence.

[3] Dunn, James D. G. (1980), Christology in the Making.

[4] As quoted by Norman L. Geisler (2000) in his Baker Encyclopaedia of Christian Apologetics.

[5] This argument is comprehensively articulated (and defended) by a number of classical historians. For additional reading on the evolution of early Christian theology and practice (with particular reference to the infiltration of Hellenism), see Jaeger’s Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (1961), Engels’ Die Neue Zeit, Vol. 1 (1894-95), Werner’s The Formation of Christian Dogma, An Historical Study of its Problems (1957), and Reynolds’ The Christian Religious Tradition (1977).

[6] Robinson, J.A.T. (1984), Twelve More New Testament Studies. Robinson (now deceased) was a former Bishop of the Anglican Church in Woolwich during the 1960s.

[7] The Catholic Encyclopaedia (1908).

Labels: , ,