The Gospel of John: The Word ‎

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			‎‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He ‎was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not ‎one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light ‎of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’ Those ‎are the first five verses of the Gospel of John, the fourth Gospel of the New Testament and ‎the one that differs significantly from the other three both in content and in style. Those ‎words are among the most famous ever written, possibly rivaling even the parallel verse in the ‎Old Testament, ‘In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.’ ‎
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To answer the question every Jew out there is asking, the Gospels, with the possible exception ‎of Luke, were written by Jewish Christians. Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or ‎not, the Gospels are part of Jewish history. The story of Jesus and the religious beliefs that ‎sprung from his life and teachings, is an offshoot of Judaism. During Jesus’ lifetime it was ‎nothing more than the Jewish ethical and spiritual teachings of a relative unknown from the ‎Galilee. His preaching/teaching career may have spanned a few years. The more famous ‎events in his life may have spanned a few months. By the time he died, the number of his ‎followers couldn’t have been more than a few thousand. His entire ‘religion’ could have ‎easily died with him. ‎
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But it didn’t. The religious belief that was resurrected with the resurrection and the theology ‎that emerged from it was what set Christianity apart from Judaism. However, this divergence ‎took some time.  It is likely that at least one, and possibly three, of the Gospels, were written ‎by members of this Jewish Christian sect. It was only in the course of several decades of ‎living as despised competitors in the midst of Jewish communities in Israel that the Jewish ‎Christians severed relations with the Jews. ‎
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John, widely considered to be the last of the Gospels, is one of those three. In fact, there is no ‎strong reason to doubt that it is Jewish in origin. The opening verses quoted above, come ‎straight out of the philosophy of Philo. They are remarkable in their straightforward ‎declaration of the core of Christian theology. ‎

John’s gospel continues: ‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; ‎yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not ‎accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become ‎children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, ‎but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the ‎glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:10-14). This is gradually ‎becoming less and less Jewish and more and more Christian. It is a fascinating transition from ‎one to the other. ‎

Analysis ‎

These final five verses, along with the first five verses, formed a core element of Christian ‎theology. Jesus, according to this belief, was not a man. He was not even the foretold ‘Son of ‎Man’ who makes his appearance in Ezekiel and several of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was not ‎merely the messiah. He was not even a creation. He was, in some sense, the Creator, through ‎whom the world came into being. ‎

To understand how such a belief could have come from Jewish roots should rightly be the ‎subject of an entire book. Our goal here is to describe this belief in only a few paragraphs and ‎to give as brief an explanation as possible of how it evolved from Judaism. We are looking for ‎Jewish images of God. The image that comes out of the Gospel of John can no longer be ‎considered Jewish in any way, shape, or form, even if sprang from Jewish soil. Nevertheless, ‎since it has Jewish roots, we believe it should be included in a survey of Jewish images of ‎God. ‎

‎‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.’ The ‎‎‘word’, of course, is nothing other than the Logos from Philo. Of this there is no dispute. The ‎original word for ‘word’ was ‘Logos’. As we know from Philo, the Logos was the creative ‎force that God used in creating the world. The Logos itself was not a creation, though it was ‎not exactly identical with God. It had its feet in both worlds – the creative dimension of God ‎and the created world of the creation. It was a bridge between the two. ‎

It appears from the opening verse that John is stepping right in the middle of that mystery. ‎The ‘word’ was the first thing. It was ‘with’ God. But also it ‘was’ God (accurate translation ‎of this phrase is extremely critical and much debated). How could something be ‘with’ God ‎and ‘be’ God? The answer to this question takes us right into the heart of Trinitarian ‎Christianity. The only way both of these statements could be true and in mutual agreement is ‎if the two together are God. This effectively would be saying that the Logos is both with (i.e. ‎not identical to) God and yet is another aspect of God. ‎

‎‘He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him ‎not one thing came into being.’ This seems to repeat that same idea. The Logos was there ‎from the beginning. It wasn’t a creation. On the contrary, all creation happened through the ‎Logos. This goes from every single thing. There isn’t one thing, whether physical or spiritual, ‎angelic or demonic or human, that didn’t come into being through the Logos. ‎

‎‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not ‎know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.’ Part of ‎this seems again like the same idea, with the added element that the Logos was in the world. ‎It wasn’t some outside creative force that looks down upon creation and watches it happen. ‎He was in the world itself. This already sounds more Christian, but it could still be from ‎Philo. The lack of acknowledgment and acceptance of the Logos is surprising. This sounds ‎like it is veering from Philo. Why people didn’t recognize the Logos or accept it is left totally ‎unclear. Perhaps people weren’t ready for it, or simply were unable to deal with their own ‎creator being right in their midst. ‎

‎‘But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of ‎God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of ‎God.’ This already, is Christian and not Philo. The Logos is no longer some creative force, ‎whether part of God or not. It is something to be believed in, and belief in it granted spiritual ‎power. Believers received the power to become ‘children of God’ and to no longer be mere ‎flesh and blood human beings. To be children of God was to be ‘born of God’. ‎

‎‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of ‎a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’ This is full blown Christianity, though it is still ‎missing the name Jesus. But the Logos has become flesh and human and lives right among ‎people. He was visible for all to see in all his glory. Although all people could become ‘born ‎of God’, he was the ‘only Son’ of the father. All human beings could be children of God, but ‎only one was God’s son. ‎

In these several verses, John took the image of God from the standard ‘Philoic’ Logos to the ‎new and radical Christian Trinity (or at least two thirds of it). The transformation is so smooth ‎that it almost seems like a natural progression. The Logos was there from the beginning. It ‎was God’s creative impulse and thought. It created everything. It was part of the world. The ‎world didn’t quite understand it but it was there. Those who accepted it received spiritual ‎insight and became different human beings. This Logos is Jesus. He is God. He is close to the ‎Father but nobody has seen the Father. But they have seen Jesus, so through him they know ‎God. ‎

How’s that for simple. In this effortless progression, Jewish Christianity, which was rapidly ‎losing the Jewish part and equally rapidly gaining the Christian part, transformed the Logos ‎from a divine creative force into a divine person. If anything, this whole theological sequence ‎should tell us something interesting about images of God. They do not remain stationary. An ‎ancient image that started off in a certain direction will become a modernized image that may ‎be heretical by ancient standards. Or that ancient image may split into two or more ‎modernized versions, each of which vehemently anathematizes the others. This is what ‎happened here. The palpable image went through various phases in Biblical and second ‎temple Judaism. Eventually it reached a crossroads. When it combined with an intellectual ‎image of wisdom and the Logos, it had to make a decision. Was it going to remain nothing ‎more than a theological idea or was it going to become real as in a person. These were the ‎twin paths of Judaism and Christianity. ‎

Perceiving the Image ‎

Obviously, this image hit home in a big way with human spiritual needs. Christianity became ‎popular to a degree that Judaism could never approach. Shortly before the destruction of the ‎temple it is estimated that about one tenth of the population of the Roman Empire was either ‎Jewish or ‘God fearers’ – gentiles who accepted Jewish theology without fully converting ‎into the Jewish religion. Most of those ‘God fearers’ and likely many of those Jews became ‎Christian within a few decades. Within a few centuries, Judaism was a persecuted religion on ‎the run while Christianity was the official religion of the Empire. Within a millennium Jews ‎lived as a hated but begrudgingly tolerated minority within a world that was split between ‎Christians and Moslems. Something about the Christian image clicked in the human soul that ‎no Jewish image could ever hope to match. ‎

What are Jews supposed to do with this image, other than to reject it? Most Jews would ‎answer that question with an emphatic, ‘Nothing’. Just leave the image alone and let them ‎have it. But maybe there is more that Jews can take from an image that is an offshoot of one ‎or more of their own images. Maybe the image of the Logos being both Creator and within ‎the creation needs to be brought back into Judaism. Jews rejected it, both because the religion ‎took a more legal and philosophical turn and because they had to deny anything Christian. ‎We’re past that stage now. We are no longer encumbered by forming our dogmas based on ‎them not being Christian. We no longer need to restrict ourselves to medieval philosophy or ‎antiquated legalisms. Perhaps this Logos idea needs to be brought back in. Perhaps there ‎needs to be a halfway meeting ground between God and the world. If God is allowed to ‎float out of the universe and out of our lives, we will be left with just the world and no God. ‎

Reflections ‎

This is a little daring, perhaps even crazy. The knee-jerk reaction to anything along these lines ‎is to reject it outright. But who says that Judaism doesn’t need an injection of spirituality? ‎Who says that an ancient and ultimately Jewish idea cannot provide that spirituality? Is Logos ‎kosher? ‎



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