Understanding "The Word" of John's Gospel

In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word (Logos) was with God, 
and the Word (Logos) was God. 
- John 1:1

And the Word (Logos) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
- John 1:14

The following excerpt is taken from:
William Barclay, "Bible Commentaries William Barclay's Daily Study Bible: John 1," https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-1.html, (accessed, August 11, 2019)

The Jewish Background

In the Jewish background four strands contributed something to the idea of the Word.

(i) To the Jew a word was far more than a mere sound; it was something which had an independent existence and which actually did things. As Professor John Paterson has put it: "The spoken word to the Hebrew was fearfully alive.... It was a unit of energy charged with power. It flies like a bullet to its billet." For that very reason the Hebrew was sparing of words. Hebrew speech has fewer than 10,000; Greek speech has 200,000.

. . .

(ii) Of that general idea of the power of words, the Old Testament is full. . . .The word of God is the creating power. Again and again we get this idea of the creative, acting, dynamic word of God. "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made" (Psalms 33:6). "He sent forth his word and healed them" (Psalms 107:20). "He sent forth his commands to the earth; his word runs swiftly" (Psalms 147:15). "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). . . . 

(iv) At this stage we must look more fully at something we already began to look at in the introduction. The Greek term for word is Logos (Greek #3056); but Logos (Greek #3056) does not only mean word; it also means reason. For John, and for all the great thinkers who made use of this idea, these two meanings were always closely intertwined. Whenever they used Logos (Greek #3056) the twin ideas of the Word of God and the Reason of God were in their minds.

. . .

We remember that Logos (Greek #3056) means Word and also means Reason. We have already seen how the Jews thought of the powerful and creative word of God. Here we see the other side beginning to emerge. Wisdom is God's agent in enlightenment and in creation; and Wisdom and Reason are very much the same thing.  We have seen how important Logos (Greek #3056) was in the sense of Word; now we see it beginning to be important in the sense of Wisdom or Reason.

. . .

So when John was searching for a way in which he could commend Christianity he found in his own faith and in the record of his own people the idea of the Word, the ordinary word which is in itself not merely a sound, but a dynamic thing, the word of God by which God created the world, the word of the Targums which expressed the very idea of the action of God, the wisdom of the Wisdom Literature which was the eternal creative and illuminating power of God. So John said: 
"If you wish to see that word of God, if you wish to see the creative power of God, if you wish to see that word which brought the world into existence and which gives light and life to every man, look at Jesus Christ. In him the word of God came among you."

The Greek Background

We began by seeing that John's problem was not that of presenting Christianity to the Jewish world, but of presenting it to the Greek world. How then did this idea of the word fit into Greek thought? It was already there waiting to be used. In Greek thought the idea of the Word began away back about 560 B.C., and, strangely enough, in Ephesus where the Fourth Gospel was written.

In 560 B.C. there was an Ephesian philosopher called Heraclitus whose basic idea was that everything is in a state of flux. Everything was changing from day to day and from moment to moment. His famous illustration was that it was impossible to step twice into the same river. You step into a river; you step out; you step in again; but you do not step into the same river, for the water has flowed on and it is a different river. To Heraclitus everything was like that, everything was in a constantly changing state of flux. But if that be so, why was life not complete chaos? How can there be any sense in a world where there was constant flux and change?

The answer of Heraclitus was: all this change and flux was not haphazard; it was controlled and ordered, following a continuous pattern all the time; and that which controlled the pattern was the Logos (Greek #3056), the word, the reason of God. To Heraclitus, the Logos (Greek #3056) was the principle of order under which the universe continued to exist. Heraclitus went further. He held that not only was there a pattern in the physical world; there was also a pattern in the world of events. He held that nothing moved with aimless feet; in all life and in all the events of life there was a purpose, a plan and a design. And what was it that controlled events? Once again, the answer was Logos (Greek #3056).

Heraclitus took the matter even nearer home. What was it that in us individually told us the difference between right and wrong? What made us able to think and to reason? What enabled us to choose aright and to recognize the truth when we saw it? Once again Heraclitus gave the same answer. What gave a man reason and knowledge of the truth and the ability to judge between right and wrong was the Logos (Greek #3056) of God dwelling within him. Heraclitus held that in the world of nature and events "all things happen according to the Logos (Greek #3056)," and that in the individual man "the Logos (Greek #3056) is the judge of truth." The Logos (Greek #3056) was nothing less than the mind of God controlling the world and every man in it.

Once the Greeks had discovered this idea they never let it go. It fascinated them, especially the Stoics. The Stoics were always left in wondering amazement at the order of the world. Order always implies a mind. The Stoics asked: "What keeps the stars in their courses? What makes the tides ebb and flow? What makes day and night come in unalterable order? What brings the seasons round at their appointed times?" And they answered; "All things are controlled by the Logos (Greek #3056) of God." The Logos (Greek #3056) is the power which puts sense into the world, the power which makes the world an order instead of a chaos, the power which set the world going and keeps it going in its perfect order. "The Logos (Greek #3056)," said the Stoics, "pervades all things."

There is still another name in the Greek world at which we must look. In Alexandria there was a Jew called Philo who had made it the business of his life to study the wisdom of two worlds, the Jewish and the Greek. No man ever knew the Jewish scriptures as he knew them; and no Jew ever knew the greatness of Greek thought as he knew it. He too knew and used and loved this idea of the Logos (Greek #3056), the word, the reason of God. He held that the Logos (Greek #3056) was the oldest thing in the world and the instrument through which God had made the world. He said that the Logos (Greek #3056) was the thought of God stamped upon the universe; he talked about the Logos (Greek #3056) by which God made the world and all things; he said that God, the pilot of the universe, held the Logos (Greek #3056) as a tiller and with it steered all things. He said that man's mind was stamped also with the Logos (Greek #3056), that the Logos (Greek #3056) was what gave a man reason, the power to think and the power to know. He said that the Logos (Greek #3056) was the intermediary between the world and God and that the Logos (Greek #3056) was the priest who set the soul before God.

Greek thought knew all about the Logos (Greek #3056); it saw in the Logos (Greek #3056) the creating and guiding and directing power of God, the power which made the universe and kept it going. So John came to the Greeks and said: "For centuries you have been thinking and writing and dreaming about the Logos (Greek #3056), the power which made the world, the power which keeps the order of the world, the power by which men think and reason and know, the power by which men come into contact with God. Jesus is that Logos (Greek #3056) come down to earth." "The word," said John, "became flesh." We could put it another way--"The Mind of God became a person."

Both Jew And Greek

Slowly the Jews and Greeks had thought their way to the conception of the Logos (Greek #3056), the Mind of God which made the world and makes sense of it. So John went out to Jews and Greeks to tell them that in Jesus Christ this creating, illuminating, controlling, sustaining mind of God had come to earth. He came to tell them that men need no longer guess and grope; all that they had to do was to look at Jesus and see the Mind of God.

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