Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I sorta know what that means, but not really!

I’ve started reading F.F. Bruce’s commentary on John. It is awesome. I already appreciated and benefited from Bruce’s amazing clarity and breadth of knowledge on matters of church history. He brings that same, oh so rare, simplicity-powered-by-intellect to his analysis of John. (And presumably his other commentaries as well.)

I thought I would try to paraphrase his discussion of the word logos. I won’t do it justice, but keep in my any benefit you may derive from this discussion is entirely credited to F. F. Bruce.

We are talking about a single verse, John 1:1

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

As I’m sure everyone knows, the Greek word logos is translated as Word. This has always troubled me, because the "Word" is also scripture—so I would get this weird juxtaposition in my head of Jesus and the bible morphed together. It's unsettling. Bruce clarifies this.

He starts by pointing out  that John starts out exactly the same as Genesis. In the beginning. In Genesis it refers to the old creation, and in John the new—and in both cases the creative agent is the Word of God. Then he goes into a discussion of the word logos, with the helpful admission:

No doubt the English term ‘Word’ is an inadequate rendering of the Greek logos, but it would be difficult to find one less inadequate. (Bruce, p. 29)

Helpful because I no longer feel bad that I can't wrap my head around that word (Word). Logos has a meaning that conveys more that words (a message) but also the personal aspect of a messenger. He relates but does not endorse how another scholar translated the verse as "At the beginning, God expressed himself." And he tells us what I forgot or missed in the Cliff Notes, that in Goethe's Faust, Faust himself attempts a translation and comes up with a decent one: "In the beginning was the deed, the action."

Then he says something to me the made me think of the providence of God. He writes that some philosophical schools in Greece were familiar with the term logos, where it meant ""the principle of reason or order in the universe." This is not the meaning that John intended, but Bruce writes:

Because of [the usage in Greek philosophy] logos constituted a bridge-word by which people brought up in Greek philosophy, like Justin Martyr in the second century, found their way into Johannine Christianity. (Bruce p. 29)

Providence of God.

Bruce argues, more than convincingly, that it is not to Greek Philosophy we turn to grasp logos, but to the Old Testament, where "word" is used to denote a personal creation, revelation and deliverance.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, (Ps. 33:6)

Here is a perfect example of word not meaning letters strung together, but a personal agent or messenger. Thus in Isaiah we read "The Lord said to Isaiah" (Isa. 7:3)  and also "The word of the Lord came to Isiah" (Isa 38:4). They mean the same, but the latter conveys the personal action of a messenger.

Another Old Testament example (there are many):

He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
(Ps. 107:20)

Indeed. So back to John 1:1.

So in the beginning when the universe was created, the Word , the creative and personal agent, was already present.

An notice, that the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

How beautifully this divine agent is expressed as being with God (and therefore distinct) and also was God (of the same essence). Less careful wording would have either left us with the Word and God being identical (bad), or the Word not possessing deity (also bad).

This one verse captures the eternity, the distinctiveness, and also the sameness of the Word.

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