In my last post I looked at an interesting way of understanding what it means for the person of Jesus to have been the ‘Word’ or ‘Logos’ from eternity past, as is indicated in the opening of the Gospel according to John. Today, I want to expand upon the same topic, and will again be quoting David Pawson and his excellent Bible commentary.
We saw in yesterday’s post that the word ‘logos’ can be translated as ‘the reason why’. So in John’s gospel, when the author says ‘In the beginning was the Word [logos]’ he was saying ‘In the beginning was the reason why’. So Jesus is ‘the reason why’ God created the universe.
This turns the eternal Jesus into a kind of abstract concept. But Christians talk about Jesus as being an eternal person. While seeing the eternal Jesus as ‘the reason why’ seems helpful and easy to understand, the phrase doesn’t actually encapsulate the personhood of Christ.
So how are we to understand the personhood of Jesus prior to the Incarnation?
Let’s see what Pawson has to say in respect of this problem:
The word [logos] has another phase in its history too, this time across the Mediterranean Sea from Ephesus in Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria had a school which combined Greek and Hebrew thinking, in part because there were many dispersed Jews living in the city. This school, or university, was the location for the translation of the Old Testament into Greek by 70 scholars known as the ‘Septuagint’ or ‘LXX’. One of the Jews involved was a professor called Philo. In seeking to interpret Hebrew thinking into Greek, Professor Philo seized on the word Logos and said that the Logos was not to be spoken of as ‘it’ but as ‘he’. He was ‘personifying’ the Logos, rather in the way that in Proverbs wisdom is personified as a woman.
‘Unlocking the Bible’ by David Pawson (William Collins 2015, p903)
So we see from this snippet of history the origins of the personification of the logos. It seems that when Philo used the term ‘he’ to refer to the pre-incarnate Jesus, this is a figure of speech, rather than pointing to a physical embodied person. The analogy of wisdom personified in the book of Hebrews is helpful, as surely wisdom in reality doesn’t have a physical form.
So we might conclude that the pre-incarnate Jesus was a person, but only figuratively so.
Perhaps you have something to add which might help illuminate the difficult concept of Jesus existing as an eternal person? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.