We are so familiar with the beautiful words of Scripture – a familiarity that needs to be revived from time to time to infuse new life and understanding into old concepts. We know the phrase: the Word became flesh, so well, that we do not give it another thought. Maybe we could use our imagination in an extreme exercise of visualizing our words in human form.
How would those angry words in the car, hurled towards other motorists look? Do they look like big, burly bouncers set to seriously spread harm. The words of gossip behind the back of a friend, might look like a dark, cloaked figure with a bloody dagger in hand, ready to strike again and again as the words are released into the invisible realm around us. It sounds overly dramatic; still I think it is not gruesome enough. Our words inflict serious injury, even death. (Proverbs 18:21)
How would our words of encouragement and love look? Can you imagine words that look like a strong arm helping somebody up who has fallen? Our words of love are like a big hug giving shelter and acceptance where life strikes out cruelly. Our words of prayer mobilize the heavenly armies to assist in difficulty and redeem lives.
Then there was this Man – logos – the Word.
The first chapter of the Fourth Gospel is one of the greatest adventures of religious thought ever achieved by the mind of man.
[William Barclay, Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow]
By the time John writes his Gospel, he lives in Ephesus. It is the time after the Jewish war of 66-70 AD. Jerusalem is destroyed and the church dispersed and underground.
The church has grown from the roots of Judaism to something much bigger. By 60 AD the estimates were a 100 000 Greeks for every one Jew that was a Christian. The Gospel found its way out of Jewish thought and knowledge to a much wider application. Jewish ideas were completely strange to the Greeks. They had, for instance, no Messianic expectation. How should Jesus be presented to the Greek world?
In both cultures the concept of the word was central to their understanding of wisdom.
For the Jews a word is far more than mere sound. It was something which has an independent existence and which actually did things – a unit of energy charged with power. Hebrew was sparing with words and in ancient times consisted of fewer than 10 000 words. Greek was using more than 200 000 words at the time.
The Jews had a type of literature called The Wisdom Literature, which was not speculative and philosophical, but practical wisdom for the living and management of life. In the Old Testament the great example of wisdom literature is Proverbs. In certain passages wisdom (Greek word for wisdom is sophia) is given a mysterious life-giving and eternal power. In these passages wisdom has been, personified, and is thought of as the eternal agent and co-worker of God. (Proverbs 3 and 8)
At the same time that Ecclesiastes was written, a book with the name: Wisdom of Solomon was written in Alexandria, Egypt. The writer does more than talk about wisdom; he equates wisdom and the word.
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.”
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 BC, 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. But if that were 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 that all this change and flux was not random; it was controlled and ordered, following a continuous pattern. That which controlled the pattern was the Logos – the word, the reason of God.
He wrote that in all life and in all events of life there was a purpose and a design. He held that Logos controlled the events. Heraclitus took the matter even further and reasoned that what made us able to think and to reason and enabled us to choose right from wrong, was the Logos.
Once the Greeks had discovered this idea they never let it go. It fascinated them, especially the Stoics (school of thought). The Stoics were always left in wondering amazement at the order of the world. Order always implies a mind. They attributed all cosmological order to Logos.
Plato, one of the most well-known Greek philosophers (428-348BC), considered LOGOS as the basic fact in all life, because he believed there was a pre-existent something between the logos of the thinking soul and the logos of things.
Logos is the Greek term meaning “the Word.” Greek philosophers like Plato used Logos not only of the spoken word but also of the unspoken word, the word still in the mind — the reason. When applied to the universe, Greeks were speaking to the rational principle that governs all things.
John promulgated the Logos in a radically new way. Suddenly, man is not only capable, but also deserved from the beginning of time, to accept the Logos, the Word, the Christ.
So John came to the Greeks and said: “For centuries you have been thinking and writing and dreaming about the Logos, 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 come down to earth.” “The word,” said John, “became flesh.” Put another way: the mind of God became a person.”
The mind of God became as person to show us how to live here on earth if we were all little Christs… which we are. We are Christians.
We are reborn to become the person with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Where does this leave our words in our walk with Christ? Christ-words, springing from the fountain of Life to change the world.
Shall we speak with the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, to utter the character of our Lord Jesus, the Logos – the Word?
Let us pray Psalm 19:14:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
These are the words in my mouth;
these are what I chew on and pray.
Accept them when I place them
on the morning altar,
O God, my Altar-Rock,
God, Priest-of-My-Altar. (The Message)
As you all know William Barclay, a professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow, who died in 1978 is one of my New Testament mentors. He was a prolific writer with a loving and inspired insight in the Bible. He was a man of vast knowledge of the history, mythology, archaeology and geology of New Testament times and reading his commentary is like reading the New Testament in cinemascope and technicolour.
If I say, “my mentor” then it is that very presumptuous side of me who “adopts” spiritual grandfathers. I have quite a few “chosen” mentors whom I have kept close over many years. A few examples beside Barclay, are Jack Hayford, alive and well, over 80 years old and still active, Watchman Nee, who died in a communist prison in 1974 in China, John Lennox, retired Oxford Mathematician and a master of Apologetics and Andrew Murray, a Scottish minister serving South Africa in the nineteenth century.
In this discussion of John I have followed the commentary of Barclay as the main structural guide. I have also included the very informative footnotes, word wealth and kingdom dynamics in the Spirit Filled Life Bible with Jack Hayford as editor. Further, the commentaries available on Biblehub.com are very informative and the history and factual confirmation on the wider world wide web are just overwhelming. I am a researcher at heart and the most difficult is to steer away from too much information, when I can lose myself in the background and ancient history of the Biblical stories.