This is the audio from a 2014 talk that John gave at UAH (to CRU) on the opening of the book of John “In the beginning was the [Logos]…”.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 (ESV)
Note from John: My study notes, typos and all, are pasted here. These are still DRAFT, but I will keep updating it a little at a time until the text below is useful – it is NOT a transcript of the audio, just my notes from preparing for the talk. Enjoy!
There is some literary evidence that the opening of John may be a creed or hymn that pre-dated the writing of John based unique words and poetic style (referring to the “stair-step” method).
We study John to build a defense of our faith to others, but more importantly to build our own foundation of faith (John 20:30-31)
I) God and His Purpose are inseparable
2) Our meaning or reason in life drives our response to life
3) We will ultimately answer the question, “What was your reason for living?”
There are three distinct thoughts in John 1:1-5:
1.1) In the beginning was the Word (ref Gen 1:1, not AFTER the beginning, but preexistent)
1.2) The Word was with God (not created, but with, together and distinct)
1.3) The Word was God (unified in the way that what we consider to be one fails to grasp)
What does John mean by “The Word”? It must be more than language. Frege said the thought is immaterial until it wraps itself in a sentence to be perceived, and in this way we can also understand God who is unseen wraps Himself in the word to become visible to us.
This particular triad centers on one very unique and loaded Greek term, Logos. So unique was this term that when the Bible was translated into Latin, they really didn’t have a term for it, so it got translated into something that basically means “word” and the English followed that tradition. But it means much more. It is the root word of Logic, it implies reason and purpose. I hope to show that it is vital for us to get that this is not just a statement of language.
Re-read John 1:1 with Reason; Purpose; Meaning; Logic; Message
In the beginning was the Reason…
In the beginning was the Meaning….
We recently talked at length about the deception of making God disappear from the equation, leaving some scientists with a bent to comment on religion and philosophy, speculating that life itself is devoid of all meaning and left only to the present tense enjoyment (albeit meaningless and temporary) of our perception of joy and beauty, which is, of course, meaningless.
But this is certainly not a modern argument, one has only to look at Eccl 1:1 to realize that modern nihilist philosophers are just plagiarizing an ancient dilemma. This is tremendously important, however, because if there is authority, then there is no line on which anything can be declared either good or bad. What is bad if there is not a definition of good? What is evil if there is no rational explanation of utopia (a place without evil); we can’t even imagine such a place, and yet we can clearly identify many aspects of life and human brokenness as wrong, unjust, evil, and bad.
During that recent talk, I mentioned that people who have removed God as Creator will tend to glorify death as the author of life. In other words, giving blond chance and the drive of a driverless natural selection makes life and intelligence the unintended byproduct of massive numbers of unplanned experiments in mutation by the unseen force (which the same folks will then say is not actually any kind of force because that would imply intent, which implies persona). Listen to this quote by Steve Jobs:
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”
Quite true? Has truly no one ever escaped death, and how would he know for certain? We have statistics on the side of that! The atheistic worldview glorifies death as the author of life, thus life has no purpose. Yet, devoid of a reason and meaning in life other than the work of our hands that will, according to atheistic thoughts, simply disappear in the vast expanse of eventual destruction of the universe. Steve’s closing remarks were to quote a photograph caption, “Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.”
In other words, be driven by passion and not by dogma because there is no point anyway, just be hungry and foolish because, ultimately, you die and it doesn’t really matter. This causes the foolishness and hunger to be the drive, but what of the consequences on yourself and others? Are we simply the “random colocation of atoms?” Well, it must not matter!
Sidebar: I assume that Steve Job actually meant, speaking to intellectuals, that we should be hungry and foolish with good intentions, don’t you think? He certainly would not have said the same thing to warlords in the third world, would he? To them one might say, “be disciplined, stop letting your selfish hunger drive you, and act with purpose that avoids foolishness!” But I can’t ask what he might have said to a different group of hungry foolish people.
If life really has no meaning, then the quest for answers that everyone is on is just as meaningless – the answers will end up empty and useless for filling the void of the question that is really driving us. If there is no Logos (Meaning, Reason) for life, then there is no such thing as “human rights” because “wrong” cannot be qualified as actually wrong. The reason this is such an important thing to consider, the reason that philosophers wrestle with the idea, is summed up by C.S. Lewis:
“You may still in the lowest sense, have a ‘good time’, but just in so far as it becomes very good, just in so far as it ever threatens to push you on from cold sensuality to real warmth and enthusiasm and joy, so far you will be forced to feel the hopeless disharmony between your emotions and the universe in which you think you really live.”
We can escape the discomfort of realizing there is no beauty, love, or hope because everything is dust; by not thinking about the real meaning in life we can avoid the depth of loss associated with real connection, we can ignore the gloomy feeling that death will simply wipe us away, with all our hopes and joys and fears and loves. But John says that there was meaning, even before there was life, and that meaning itself was not just preexistent, but it was with God, and it was a person, and He is God himself. To John, the message he passes on to us, is that meaning is not just some abstract thing we find in Christ but it is Christ Himself!
That’s all well and good – but how does one practically appropriate Christ as the reason into every day life? Some will just relegate it to a separate spiritual dimension (all this will pass away, leaving only the spiritual). But that is an escape, avoiding the reality that God became flesh in a world that He created. The purely spiritual world of pantheism (god is a concept that is in everything and everything is just an illusion, a common theme in Eastern religion) has no problem with meaninglessness in the physical world because it is just an illusion. C.S. Lewis (in “Mere Christianity”) puts it this way:
“Confronted with a cancer or a slum, the pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.’ The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’ For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world … But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.”
Lewis uses the term “damned nonsense” on purpose, describing the state of the world as damned and clarifying the very reason Christ had to come. Ignoring it will not make the cancer or the slum go away. This is a vain attempt to wish the slum away. Saying “there is no slum” is just nonsense, yet we do exactly that.
If the Logos is more than language (e.g. written and spoken words) then the implications are profound on our every choice. This is why grasping the term Logos is so very important, because when we make it just “word”, written expressions of thoughts, then we loose the depth of what John is saying, and I will argue what the whole of Scripture is about – expressing God’s divine purpose – not simply communicating information.
First use of the term Logos in the NT is Mat 5:32, which is quite instructive because there it takes the Greek meaning of “reason” that is lost in the English translation. It can also mean “intent” or “purpose”, such as in Acts 10:29, Peter asks, “for what logos [purpose, reason] was I sent for?”
Consider that Heb 4:12-13 implies that the Logos is a person! This was likely written before John and likely implies that Christ being called the Logos may have been understood by some prior to John’s definitive statement. If that is the case, then Christ knowing that when He spoke in Mat 13:19 means not just the sayings of God were planted, but that He himself was the seed, buried in the Earth and growing up to new life. John is saying that creation was not just about making stuff, but the reason for life itself is more than just the thing created.
Compare Gen 1:1-3 to 2 Pet 3:5 and Ps 33:6 (logos in LXX)
This personification of the Word of God is present in the Old Testament as well, such as in 2 Sam 22:31; Ps 18:30; Ps 147:15 or especially Prov 8 as Wisdom, understanding take voice in the personification of a full picture of the Creator as more than just will and power.
This lines up with the interpretation that John was speaking to the Greek Platonist, Epicurean, and Stoic use of the term, the debating philosophers who were wondering if there was any meaning [logos] to life. Tim Keller (in his book “The Reason for God”) modernizes this a bit,
“…the Epicureans and the Stoics, as different as they looked … the Stoics were real moral types, and the Epicureans were real wild types … the one thing they agreed on is the way to deal with the fact that there are no answers: don’t think about it.”
Keller goes on to use the example of a poet, who all the students can comment on the meaning of the poem and not be wrong – until the author speaks and says what the intent is, and then no one can dispute the author.
However, in the LXX, the term is regularly used as well, such as in Deuteronomy 32:45-47, where it would seem to imply that the early Christians who read the Greek LXX likely saw the Logos all throughout the OT! The term “davar” or “dabar” [H1697] is translated in the LXX often as Logos. There is another Hebrew term as well translated word, [H565], “imrah”, which refs specifically to the Torah often but generally means speech. Both terms are used extensively in Ps 119.
imrah [Ps 119:11; Ps 119:82; Ps 119:41; Ps 119:50; Ps 119:103; Ps 119:123; etc]
davar [Ps 119:9, Ps 119:17, Ps 119:25, Ps 119:28, Ps 119:42, Ps 119:57, Ps 119:81, Ps 119:101, etc]
Read carefully Ps 119:9-16, from the Hebrew Alphabet poem!
Read Ps 138:2 – One example of “imrah” that is profound in significance is seen here. God has exalted His Word even above His Name?! When one considers how seriously God takes His name throughout scripture (see the Second Commandment) this is HUGE in significance!
In fact, several decades before Christ was preaching, the Hellenistic Jew Philo was equating the Logos with the Angel of The Lord in the LXX (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logos) and Philo himself “regards the Bible as the source not only of religious revelation, but also of philosophic truth; for, according to him, the Greek philosophers also have borrowed from the Bible” (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12116-philo-judaeus#anchor8). My supposition then is John is primarily contrasting Hellenistic Jewish thought, not simply Greek Hellenistic thought, by emphasis on the literally preexistence of the Logos, John is saying that the Genesis 1 account of creation is literally true.
The reason, purpose, cause of anything is its logos, its word. It is quite a fun exercise to read scripture replacing the term “word” with “reason”, and quite reveling about how casually we have tossed around words. For example, John 8:51, do we keep the “words” of Christ, or do we go deeper and keep the reason of Christ? The term is sometimes also cast as “saying”, so replace that with “reason” in John 19:8 and see a real reason to tremble. When you overlay that onto verses like Acts 12:24, it was the purpose and intent of God that grew and multiplied, not just the words.
Luke 1:2 and Acts 1:1 also use the term, thus John is not the only book that opens that way!
Throughout all of the NT over 300 times, often as the “Word of God”.
An odd use of the term is found in Acts 14:12, where Barnabas and Paul are considered to be the gods Zeus and Hermes, the chief “logos” (speaker) of Zeus. So then, if it was common for the Greek minds to think of a logos in relationship this way, the speaker of God, then John’s rendering was highly intentional as often cited by commentators, and yet John goes further to say that this Logos was in fact there with God in the beginning and in fact was God himself and in fact made everything, the Logos is not just the reason and purpose for everything that exists, but the Creator Himself! If Christ is your Logos, then he speaks for God into your life – as we read Scripture, do we really accept the idea that Christ is actively speaking the reason and meaning of God’s plan for you directly into your life?
So let’s consider that in light of the namesake verse of Bereans, Acts 17:11, who received the Logos with all readiness of mind and then searched the Graphe (Scriptures) to see if these things were true. They received Christ, then found Him in the Scriptures. This is not about Bible study, that comes as a response to an encounter with the Logos! We receive the Logos, and then we search the Graphe!
In fact, each of us will give a logos regarding our own life, the term is rendered “account” in Rom 14:12 – does the purpose of our life align with the Logos of Christ? (also 1 Pet 4:5) Do people know the reason of God, His purpose, by looking at us? 1 Cor 1:18 says that the logos of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, not just the word of it or the preaching of it, but the very reason of it! In fact, 2 Cor 5:19 says that we are given the logos of reconciliation!
We give a reason (a logos) for the hope that is in us, 1 Pet 3:15. We must have an active purpose driving our lives, we plunge into the slum with every intent to transform it! Can someone else look at your life and determine you purpose, your reason?
I cannot help but wonder if this is why so much of scripture is also about our tongues being such a view into our hearts. Consider the expression, “to keep your word”. Do we believe God will keep His Word? Do we always keep ours? I for one am humbled particularly by God’s patience with me on this count. The scripture has much to say about the use of our tongues.
Christ says that words have much more significance than we realize: Mat 12:34-36. Now this statement in 36 is not what we might expect, for what he says is that for every idle term (rhema) we will give an account (logos) – it is the words that we give a reason for. This is also seen in the verse we looked at earlier, Heb 4:12-13, we give an “account” (logos) to God in the end. Then the words on Earth that we speak with our mouths that do not find a reason in the true Logos have been drawn from a source in our hearts that is some other logos, some false reason, some idol that was not the Creator. Going one step further, Matthew says that by your own logos [reason] (not rhema) we are justified or condemned (Mat 12:37).
Your Logos is the meaning of your life, your very purpose. What you make your Logos makes all the difference.