Last week, we touched on the fact that the Gospel of John and the Book of Genesis both open with the words ‘In the beginning’. Today, we’re going to go a little further and look at something intriguing.
Three words further, to be exact. Today we’re going to spend some time with the word ‘word’.
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ – John 1:1
We Christians apply a lot of names, nicknames and descriptions to Jesus (Emmanuel, Lamb of God, Son of Man, Son of God, the Good Shepherd, Redeemer, Messiah, Christ, etc.), but Word has to be the most mysterious for me. Especially when I look at the word ‘word’ in the context of the Nicene Creed.
How can Jesus be very God of very God, begotten not made, and also be the word of God? When we use words, we make them – whether we ‘coin’ them or not. They are clearly subservient to us, as language is nothing more or less than a crucial tool we use to communicate.
And just how literally should we take this? If through Him all things were made, and Jesus is the Word, does that mean the actual words God used to create in Genesis – ‘Let there be light’ and so on – were Jesus, in some paradigm-obliterating sense of the concept?
Mmm, not necessarily, it turns out.
According to GotQuestions.org, John used the Greek word ‘logos’, which literally means ‘word’, because both Jews and Gentiles at the time understood one of the connotations of this term to mean ‘bridge’. John was trying to establish Jesus’ role in the Trinity, from Day 1, as the bridge between transcendent God and material universe.
Building on that concept, The Voice, a relatively new Bible translation, doesn’t even use the word ‘word’ in John 1:1. Instead, it uses the word ‘voice’, and re-imagines the opening passages of John 1 as a poem:
Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.
The Voice was and is God.
This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.
(Based on the above, I’m not sure I’d advocate using The Voice as your only Bible, and I’d be tempted to put it more in the category of ‘commentary’ or ‘companion’ than ‘translation’, but it provides an interesting take on John 1:1-5.)
I’m glad I looked that up, because that ‘In the beginning was the Word’ concept always gave me a bit of a headache.
Now, though, I understand that John wasn’t trying to ‘blow our minds’ in the first six words of his Gospel, but merely to use metaphor and allusion to accelerate readers’ comprehension of a concept that’s central and fundamental, not only to the rest of the book, but also to Christian theology itself.
But while my head is satisfied that this is what the author of John’s Gospel meant when he used ‘logos’ here, my heart tells me we shouldn’t be quick to assume that God isn’t using the Johnesis 1 Intersection to hint at a deeper truth about the word ‘word’ – maybe there’s more, in the Biblical context, to the word ‘word’ than the sum of its denotative and connotative meanings.
Here’s what I mean:
Every week, Anglican lay readers (and probably their counterparts in other denominations) conclude Scripture readings with the phrase, ‘(This is) the word of the Lord,’ to which the congregation replies, ‘Thanks be to God.’
We say it so often, we probably don’t give it much thought. But in this phrase, we’re declaring that we believe God is ultimately the author of the Bible – that’s a pretty weighty concept, so it probably deserves more attention than we give it.
When I remember to meditate a bit on that reality, I have a tough time keeping the John 1 sense of the word ‘word’ from permeating my understanding of this routine piece of our liturgy, and that makes me wonder if the word ‘author’ does justice to God’s relationship with the Bible.
You see, if you read a book written by John Grisham, you’ll gain insight into his views of the legal profession, but you won’t get to know John Grisham. Even if you read Agatha Christie’s autobiography, you’ll come away with more knowledge about her, but you wouldn’t claim to know her. But as we read the Bible, we come don’t merely come to know more about God, we come to know God more.
I think that’s because the Bible isn’t merely words about God, from God or by God, it’s the Word of God – and this of-ness isn’t that different from the way that we’re called to be in the world, but not of the world.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the the Bible is somehow part of God and should therefore be worshiped in its own right: I’m quite confident the Good Book was made, not begotten. But I do sometimes wonder if, in some sense, the Word was indeed ‘with God in the beginning’, and merely revealed by humans.
And that’s about as far into this line of supposedly deep thoughts as I get. I try to be a philosopher, but when it gets too difficult, abstract or ethereal, my inner Norm Peterson takes over and asks, ‘Is this going to affect the price of beer? No? Then whaddawecare?’
And Norm definitely has a point. Whether the Bible was divinely inspired and every letter of every word is precisely the way God had in mind from Day 1, or He chose to pour Himself into, and thereby redeem, a flawed work of human craftsmanship, God is in the Word, and that is the point.
We’re invited to ponder and be wowed by that miracle; to marvel at the picture Scripture paints of our CreatorRedeemerInspirer and to enjoy the enlightening and sometimes baffling poetry and prose contained about Him in His Word.
But while responding to the invitation of the Bible is good, we mustn’t forget to respond to its instruction, too.
‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.’ – James 2:26
‘And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ – Micah 6:8b
Peace be with you.
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