The writer of the book of John opens his gospel with some very well-known words. These words have been used by theologians as evidence that Jesus has existed eternally, alongside God the Father and God the Holy Spirit:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
(John 1:1-5 NKJV)
I have found this to be a difficult passage to fully comprehend, and I think many Christians would agree that it’s somewhat mysterious. When I think about Jesus, I picture in my mind a human form, and I’m not easily able to equate that human form with the ‘Word’ of John’s Gospel. What exactly is this ‘Word’ that was with God in the beginning, and how can that Word possibly be the same thing as the embodied Christ who lived in human form?
I came across an interesting passage today in a book I’m reading which has helped me to understand this mystery a little more clearly. I will quote the passage below, and then make a few brief comments to round off the post. Please note that the word ‘Logos’ is the original Greek term that has been translated into our Bibles as ‘Word’ in John 1.
A little history will help explain why John chose to call Jesus the Logos. This concept had particular meaning in Ephesus, where John was writing. Six hundred years before there lived in Ephesus a man called Heraclitus, acknowledged as the founder of science. He believed in the necessity of scientific enquiry, probing the natural world, asking how and why things were the way they were. Was it merely chance? Were we in a chaotic universe or was there an order?
He looked for patterns or ‘laws’ to see if he could deduce some logic behind the operations of the natural world. He used the word logos to stand for ‘the reason why’, the purpose behind what took place. When he looked at life (bios) he looked for the logos; when he studied the weather (meteor) he sought the logos. This concept now appears in our words for the study of different areas of science: biology, meteorology, geology, psychology, sociology, etc.
So Heraclitus said that the logos is ‘the reason why’. Every branch of science is looking for the logos, the reason why things are as they are. John, realizing that Jesus is the ultimate reason ‘why’ everything happened, took up this idea and called Jesus the logos, ‘the Word’. The whole universe was made for him. He was the Logos before there was anyone else to communicate with. That is the reason why we are here. It is all going to be summed up with him. He is the ‘Reason Why’.
‘Unlocking the Bible’ by David Pawson (William Collins 2015, p902)
It may be the case that it’s impossible for human beings to envisage what an eternal Jesus looks like, but this passage certainly provides an explanation which makes the concept a little easier to understand. Pawson takes the focus off Jesus’ embodied form, and onto what could be described as an abstract concept.
If you found Pawson’s elucidations helpful, I will be continuing with this theme in my next blog post, so please consider subscribing if you’d like to follow the discussion.
You can read the follow-up blog post here.