by Giuseppe Guarino
from the book Hebrew Language and Culture in the New Testament
The Word: Eternal, Personal, God
The gospel of John begins with
In the beginning was the Word
In the original Greek it reads
᾿Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος
The beginning of this Gospel recalls Genesis 1:1, which in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, reads
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς
The Hebrew translation of the New Testament, made available in the e-sword software is the following in John 1:1.
בראשית היה הדבר
The Hebrew original of Genesis 1:1 reads
בראשׁית ברא אלהים
In the beginning God created
Ἐν ἀρχῇ (En arché) of John 1:1 is the same time reference and a direct quotation of בראשׁית (Beresheet) we find in Genesis 1:1, first word of the Bible.
The beginning, the moment when God’s creation took place, was also the first ticking of the clock of time. That is the farthest place in time our minds can hope to travel to. Beyond that, the unknown and the unconceivable. Eternity is a word, it expresses a concept that we can try to imagine, but we cannot fully understand, since no man ever experienced it.
“In the beginning was the Word.”
We can expand this verse in the following manner: “In the first moment of time, the Word was, it already existed.”
The apostle John is very careful here. He shows the open contrast between the being of the Word and the becoming of the creation. He wants us to have a full understanding of the eternity of the uncreated Word. He did not come to existence, in the beginning He was.
καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν
and the Word was with God
Please notice how the original has the article (declined according to the Greek grammar rules) before Logos (Word) and (Theos). It implies identity. Using today’s Trinitarian terminology, we can say that the Word was a Person, and God was a Person. In fact, they are two of the three Persons (hypostasis, Greek ὑπόστασις) of the Trinity.
So, the Word was with God when the creation process began.
The Word, Logos, of John is usually thought to depend on the logos of Greek philosophy. But the ideas recalled by the apostles were not Greek, but purely Jewish.
If we take even a quick look at the book of Genesis we realize how God created everything.
“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
(Genesis 1:3 – ASV)
Reading the following verses of the Creation account, Gen. 1:6, 9, 14, etc., we realize how God spoke things into existence, He actually, literally created everything through His Word.
This is why John 1:2-3 makes it clear,
The same (Word, Logos) was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.”
It’s true, the Greeks had developed philosophical speculations on a cosmic logos. But John’s reflection is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In Genesis 1:26 we read,
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”
This expression has been explained in many ways. But the truth is we find the key to understand it only in light of the words of the apostle John. The two persons involved in the Creation were the Father and the Son. And of course, the Holy Spirit – but discussing that will take us off the subject.
In order to fully understand the meaning of Scriptures, we have to keep in mind that the author of the book of Genesis is the same of the other books of the Bible down to Revelation. Every one of the sixty-six books has to be read, keeping in mind the content of the other sixty-five.
Every decent writer starts his work knowing what he wants to write, having clear the whole picture of the story is telling or the subject he is treating. Slowly, he will introduce people or facts as he writes his story, developing everything gradually till everything unfolds and is explained in the end.
The Bible is not a mystery book. But it is evident that when writing the first page, the Holy Spirit knew what He would write in the last. So, He wisely dealt with the contents of each book, unfolding a measure of Truth, gradually, in due time.
The partial revelation of God’s Person and purposes found in the Old Testament culminates in the ultimate, personal revelation in the New: the very Person of Jesus of Nazareth, Word incarnated and Son of God.
Concerning the Word, after making it clear that He is a Person, Has an identity, John gives more light saying,
“and the Word was God.”
The original Greek of this passage is quite significant.
καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος
This time the Greek word for “God” has no article, since it describes quality and not identity. The Word is not the Father (identified as ho Theos) but is God (Theos with no article).
The Word in Judaism
John’s teaching about Jesus, is that before the incarnation, He was the eternal Word of the Father, God and Creator with Him. This Truth is based on the Old Testament. John’s prologue was perfectly in line with the Jewish thought of his time.
A quick reference to Judaism is found in the Jewish Enclyclopedia online. This is what it says about the Memra, which is the Aramaic term corresponding to the English “Word.”
“The Word,” in the sense of the creative or directive word or speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for “the Lord” when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided. […]
In the Targum the Memra figures constantly as the manifestation of the divine power, or as God’s messenger in place of God Himself, wherever the predicate is not in conformity with the dignity or the spirituality of the Deity.
Instead of the Scriptural “You have not believed in the Lord,” Targ. Deut. i. 32 has “You have not believed in the word of the Lord”; instead of “I shall require it [vengeance] from him,” Targ. Deut. xviii. 19 has “My word shall require it.” “The Memra,” instead of “the Lord,” is “the consuming fire” (Targ. Deut. ix. 3; comp. Targ. Isa. xxx. 27). […]
“The voice of the Memra,” instead of “God,” is heard (Gen. iii. 8; Deut. iv. 33, 36; v. 21; Isa. vi. 8; et al.). Where Moses says, “I stood between the Lord and you” (Deut. v. 5), the Targum has, “between the Memra of the Lord and you”; and the “sign between Me and you” becomes a “sign between My Memra and you” (Ex. xxxi. 13, 17; comp. Lev. xxvi. 46; Gen. ix. 12; xvii. 2, 7, 10; Ezek. xx. 12). Instead of God, the Memra comes to Abimelek (Gen. xx. 3), and to Balaam (Num. xxiii. 4). His Memra aids and accompanies Israel, performing wonders for them (Targ. Num. xxiii. 21; Deut. i. 30, xxxiii. 3; Targ. Isa. lxiii. 14; Jer. xxxi. 1; Hos. ix. 10 [comp. xi. 3, “the messenger-angel”]).
The conclusion of the above article is pretty sad. It says: “Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of the Targum literature, made little use of the term “Memra.”
The Targum is now available online too. The above mentioned biblical passages can be found at http://www.targum.info/targumic-texts/
The Word in the writings of Philo
Philo is a Jewish “philosopher” who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, between 20 BC and 50 AD.
He was the author of many books where he introduced the Jewish faith and defended its authority before the sophisticated Greek minds of the time.
Philo maintains that the Torah of Moses has influenced the best Greek philosophy and not vice versa, since the Jewish writings are older. I like his ideas, the way he writes, his excitement for the Jewish religious culture.
Philo has left a significant number of statements concerning the Logos, which are so amazingly close to the Christian doctrine, that some supposed that there might be some kind of dependence from his thought in the apostolic writings. But it doesn’t have to be necessarily so.
John, Paul, Philo lived in the same period of time, between 50 BC and 50 AD. It is reasonable that they all simply embraced the same Jewish interpretation of the Revelation of the Person of God. Of course, Philo kept a Jewish perspective. On the other hand, John and Paul explained that those interpretations of the facts of the Old Testament must be seen in light of the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, whom they proclaimed to be the long waited Jewish Messiah.
Let us consider some expressions found in Philo’s “De Opificio Mundi”, “On the Creation.”
“ἢ θεοῦ λόγον ἤδη κοσμοποιοῦντος”, (VI.24), this interesting statement is translated by C.D. Yonge as follows: “… the reason of God, already occupied in the creation of the world…”.
Logos in Greek means more than “word” in English. It indicates “thought,” “reason.”
Here Philo uses a terminology that recalls the Hebrew Memra presenting it to the Greek mind. Of course he knew that though he spoke of the contents of the Torah, his Greek readers would recall the logos doctrine which was more familiar to them.
In the same writing (VI.25) he speaks of “ὁ θεοῦ λόγος”, “word of God”, which is a terminology practically identical to that of John.
I am not saying here that Philo was a Christian or that he speaks of the Word like later the New Testament will do. But, his writings are enough evidence that the Apostolic doctrine was deeply rooted in the Jewish (correct) interpretation of the Old Testament and not appealing to Greek philosophy. As I said earlier, and it applies to a certain extent to Philo too, the language of the New Testament was Greek, but everything else was Hebrew.
The Word in the Fathers of the Church
Justin is a Christian apologetic writer who lived in the second century and died a martyr. He became a Christian, but had been raised a heathen, like many of the Gentiles converts of the time.
In his writings he strives to explain the faith, arguing at length with Jews and Gentiles on the doctrine of the Logos, the Word, which was, for all practical purposes, common to both cultures.
This is just a what Justin wrote on the topic.
“ … and I confess that I both boast and with all my strength strive to be found a Christian … […] … next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became a man for our sakes, becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing.”
(The Second Apology of Justin, Chapter XIII)
“… wherever God says, ‘God went up from Abraham,’ or, ‘The Lord spoke to Moses,’ and ‘The Lord came down to behold the tower which the sons of men had built,’ or when ‘God shut Noah into the ark,’ you must not imagine that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from any place. […]
… Therefore neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor any other man, saw the Father and ineffable Lord of all, and also of Christ, but [saw] Him who was according to His will His Son, being God, and the Angel because he ministered to His will; whom also it pleased Him to be born man by the Virgin; who also was fire when He conversed with Moses from the bush.”
(Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter CXXVII)
Irenaeus [AD 120-202] wrote five books against the gnostic heresies. We could quote extensive, beautiful and meaningful passages from his work. For the sake of conciseness, I will simply bring to the readers’ attention two statements from his fourth book, which show how he aligns with what we read in Justin’s works.
“There is therefore one God, who by the Word and Wisdom created and arranged all things […]
Now this is His Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in the last times was made a man among men, that He might join the end to the beginning, that is, man to God. Wherefore the prophets, receiving the prophetic gift from the same Word, announced His advent according to the flesh …”
Theophilus of Antioch [AD 115-181] wrote:
“The God and Father, indeed, of all cannot be contained, and is not found in a place, for there is no place of His rest; but His Word, through whom He made all things, being His power and His wisdom, assuming the person of the Father and Lord of all, went to the garden in the person of God, and conversed with Adam. For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice. But what else is this voice but the Word of God, who is also His Son? […]
And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing men, one of whom, John, says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,’ showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. Then he says, ‘The Word was God; all things came into existence through Him; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence.’ The Word, then, being God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place.”
(To Autolycus, Chapter XXII)
We could continue to quote from the writings of the early Church.
The Jewish thought was behind the New Testament doctrine of the Word, the Logos. The Greek language just let the early Gentile Christians present their faith effectively, both to Jews and Gentiles.
The Word Creator
As we read in John 1:1, the Word is eternal: he was already when time was set in motion. The Word is distinct from the Father. He was with God, the Father, being himself God.
Having this clear in mind, we can continue to consider the words of the beloved. Verse 2 reads,
He was in the beginning with God
οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν Θεόν
This is clearly a step back. The apostle wants our attention being focused on the Creation of the world.
All things were made through him,
and without him nothing was made that was made.
Following a Semitic frame of mind, John states here the same thing in a positive sentence, immediately followed by a negative sentence, both clarifying the same concept: All was created through the Word.
Also, the idea that if he had not been, nothing would have been created introduces us to a wonderful reflection that we find in the epistles of Paul too. Not only our Lord Jesus was the Creator. He was also the reason why the world came into existence.
“For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.
All things were created through Him and for Him.
And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist”
(Colossians 1:16-17 – NKJV)
The incarnation of the Word
“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 1:4-5 – NKJV)
Now it’s all set in motion, and thoughts move from eternity to the physical, historical manifestation of the Word.
In the Word was life. Not only he had never been created, but he himself was life. This is such a deep statement.
This is how the same apostle John describes the incarnation of the Word.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” (1 John 1:1-2 – NKJV)
Later in the gospel of John, Jesus will declare,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 – NKJV)
Incarnation is preceeded by an important witness.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” (John 1:6-8 – NKJV)
The Jewish Torah set the principle of witnesses to prove the truth of facts and events. This same principle is alive and well today in our legislation.
“That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” (John 1:9-10 – NKJV)
The “light” spoken of here is the sum of all the divine attributes that irradiate from the Person of God, which are all visible in His Son. All the Goodness, the Grace, the Love, and all the awesome qualities of our God – source of every good thing – are incarnated and visible through His Son Jesus.
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5 – NKJV)
John has spoken of the Word, which was an idea familiar to the Jewish mind. He has made it clear that it was a Person and that he was God. Now he goes on and explains how that eternal Word was the same man Jesus, of whom he was called to be an apostle.
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13 – NKJV)
The world did not know him. His people did not receive Him, when the nation of Israel failed to recognize the Messiah. Humanity collectively was not interested in the message of God. So the invitation of God is now for every individual, for every man who is willing to receive Him personally.
The Bible here gives no credit to those who think that the door of salvation is shut before them. The word used here is intentionally so strong: man has the right to become a child of God when receiving Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. Such a thing is possible in force of this decree, since when God speaks He will always honor his word and act accordingly. This passage gives us full assurance that, if we go to God we will not be disappointed. We also understand that God has done all that He had to do and now it all depends on us.
God knocks at our door. We open. He has the gift in His hands. We have the right to take it, it’s got our name and address on it. Now, it’s only up to us.
Some might ask: is it that simple?
Did we not read it? Yes, it is that simple. Isn’t our God an awesome God? Yes, He is.
Now, one of the most beautiful statements found in the Word of God.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 – NKJV)
What John said so far is only a prelude to this wonderful statement. This is the great news: the Word, the eternal being who was with the Father when the world was created, and through whom all was created, became a man, Jesus, the Christ.
The word that the New King James translates “beheld” is in the original Greek “ἐθεασάμεθα” (etheasametha). As it can be seen, this word contains the root of the English word “theater.” This is quite significant. John wants to give his readers the idea that the apostles had a full understanding of what had happened and who Jesus was.
John confirms in his first epistle,
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness… ” (1 John 1:1-2)
The whole building of the Christian faith rests on the witness of the holy apostles.
John explains in every possible way that he knows exactly firsthand what he speaks about. He heard, saw, looked upon, even touched: he had a full intelligence of the person of Jesus and his mission.
Are Those who discard the apostles’ witness so convinced of their ideas to be ready to give up their own lives, like they actually did? And, while scholars sell books that try to discredit the Word of God, the holy men of God made no money, nor fame or fortune because of their witness. On the contrary, the world thanked them for their testimony to the Truth killing them as soon as they had a chance to.
Peter was another witness of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)
Another witness was that of John the Baptist.
“John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:15-17 – NKJV)
The words of this Gospel are clear. With the incarnation of the Word, a new era begins. The Law was given through Moses. Now it’s time for something better: Grace and Truth. Both were revealed to mankind through Jesus, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.
Historical manifestation of God through the Word
John ends the introduction to his gospel with a significant statement that recollects all he has said so far.
No one has seen God at any time.
The only begotten Son,
who is in the bosom of the Father,
He has declared Him.
The words of John echo in those of Paul,
“I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:13-16 NKJV)
John says that the Son has declared the person of God, because, being also His Word, he has so revealed the invisible God.
Through words the invisible thought becomes visible, declared, though remaining invisible. So is God, who becomes visible through the Eternal Word, His Only Begotten Son, showing us what we can grasp of His immense being.
John adds in verse 18 that the Word, incarnated in Jesus Christ, is also the Only Begotten Son. This is a Messianic title, that describes the intimate relationship existing between Him and the Father. It is also because of this that the Son is the visible manifestation of the Father. Jesus himself said to his disciples,
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
“Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?” (John 14:8-10 – NKJV)
Since John wrote that no one has ever seen God, what did the Old Testament mean when it spoke of people seeing God?
“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:30 – NKJV)
“When the Angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!” (Judges 13:21-22 – NKJV)
On many occasions God appears in the Old Testament Scriptures and is seen. The text confirms it, sometimes plainly, other times implicitly. We have said that the Targum and the early Christian writers supported this view. In light of John 1:18, we can confirm that the Father has been never seen by anyone and that it was God the Son, the Word, that appeared to the Patriarchs, and to the Old Testament saints.
In light of the New Testament we now understand that The Only Begotten Son is also God, Word, Angel, Way, Truth, Life, Good Sheperd, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, First and Last, Creator, Savior, Man, Messiah, Christ, Son of Man, Master, Prince of Peace, etc.
For all purposes and in all ages, Jesus has always been as he is God “manifested in the Flesh.” (1Timothy 3:16).
Future Revelation of the Word
Today Jesus is proclaimed as the Savior. The Good News, the Gospel, is that he became a man and died on the cross to save us. On the third day, He rose giving us the hope of eternal life in Him.
The revelation of God is gradual.
Through His Word, God was in the garden with Adam. He appeared to Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He revealed Himself as Creator and Legislator.
Now there is one manifestation still reserved for the future, and of which we read in the book of Revelation.
“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.
His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.
He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.”
(Revelation 19:11-13 – NKJV)
The one riding the white horse is Jesus. He is also called the Word of God, confirming that Revelation speaks here of the same Divine Person of John 1:1.
The word “Revelation” is the common translation of the Greek original term “Ἀποκάλυψις”, “apocalipsis,” which, in other Bible passages, is openly used in reference to the Lord’s return in glory.
“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation (Greek: ἀποκαλύψει ) of Jesus Christ;” (1Peter 1:13 – NKJV)
“but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed (ἀποκαλύψει), you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1Peter 4:13 – NKJV)
The Old Testament was not without a testimony to this future glorious event.
“I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14 – NKJV)
The Son of Man is revealed in the New Testament as another title of the Lord Jesus.
We read in the book of Acts that he will come back one day.
“Now when He (Jesus) had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11 – NKJV)
The return of the Lord will be one event that will involve all humankind. No one will wake up the day after wondering if the Messiah of the Jewish Christian faith has come back or not. All will know for sure who Jesus is.
“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7 – NKJV)
For the believers the return of the Lord Jesus, his final Revelation is expected and desired.
“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 – NKJV)
Next to Jesus’ statement at the end of the Bible, the Church praying for the Lord’s return.
“… denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:12-13 – NKJV)
As sure as the Eternal Word of the Father, appeared in the Old Testament times and became a man about two thousand years ago, soon he will appear again as perfect and final judge of man’s actions.
God did not leave humanity without a revelation of His person and his will. If any man wants to receive Him, His Name is Jesus Christ.
 I am quoting from the “Ante-Nicene Fathers,” Vol. 1, edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, USA First printing 1994.