Logos Theology In Pre-christian Judaism (john 1:1-3)

“1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being…”

It is absolutely true that this Gospel’s original author, in his midrashic [1] prologue to the rest of the book, states that there is an entity referred to as “God,” as well as an entity referred to as the “Word of God.” Both God and his Word, in the Evangelist’s mind are divine and existed eternally. Whether one’s theology allows for such interpretation or not, is in some way irrelevant. This is after all theology of the Gospel of John and this is how the author sees God. Take it or leave it.

Some people would say that the rhetoric of “difference and equality” between God and His Word begins with Christian Literature; and particularly in these first verses of John’s Gospel, while others may object to this since this is the language used in creation in Genesis. He created everything by the power of His Word. Both ideas are inadequate, however. It is true, that God spoke (or worded) everything into being, but nowhere (at least not in Genesis) does it imply that God and the Word he spoke were “distinct and yet equal” in their nature, and therefore power and glory. So, while Genesis 1 does not contradict this idea, neither does it prove it.

The Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible [2] were not the only books people of ancient times were reading and hearing at their religious communal readings. They were also exposed to a wide variety of Jewish texts that people thought of as spiritually profitable and many times also sacred. (Remember during this time the Canon (both Jewish and Christian) was not yet firmly established, the rough idea of what would become the Canon was already emerging).

In the Jewish treatises of Philo and others, authored in Greek, a very similar, if not the same, concept is also present. It is referred to by the use of the Greek word Logos just as in the Gospels(Heir 205-6), while in the Aramaic/Syriaic/Hebrew Jewish materials the same (or a very similar) idea is very often, though not always, is signified by the word Memra (Targum Neofiti in Gen.3.13). Once a student of history of religion begins surveying Jewish pre-Christian ideas about the Word of God in para-biblical literature, pre-dating or contemporary with John’s Gospel, that student is quickly beginning to realize that up to this point (John 1:3) the author of the Gospel has not yet introduced any new ideas (and surely nothing foreign) to the Jewish first century thought-world as it existed at the time.

This will change sharply with vs. 14, with the introduction of the almost totally unexpected idea of the Word of God coming in the form of human flesh and eternally joining its divine nature to frail humanity of which he himself, in Christian tradition, was the creator.[3]

© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

 


[1] Midrash is a way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple meaning. It fill in gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at in the text itself.

[2] Jews call it Tanach – an acronym for Torah (Five Books of Moses), Neviim (Prophets) and Kituvim (Writings), while in the Christian tradition it is customary to refer to the same set of Scriptures as the Old Testament.

[3] For a more detailed explanation of logos theology in pre-Christian Judaisms, please, see Prof. Daniel Boyarin’s essay “Logos, A Jewish Word: John’s Prologue as Midrash” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, pg. 546-549.

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  1. Charlotte Mecklenburg

    I also believe that Proverbs 8:22-30 gives us a picture of how G-d took on the work of creating everything. Wisdom was first and had the plan for everything.If one thinks about what has been discovered in science and words being spoken to bring things into being, we begin to get an idea of how God made us in his image, because I believe Wisdom is that image (blue print). Another reason we must be born from above.

    1. Drs. Charles van den Berg

      All things that exist are brought into being trough the Word, the visible and the invisible. By to be born from above, we are in both worlds by the word.

  2. Ann Marie

    Dear Eli,[ My thought’s.] There was a body prepared for the Devine wisdom of God to enter into.A fulfillment of Adonia’s plan from the foundation of the world. It seem as if messiah is one of us;The first one of us. Messiah has been exalted, made perfect ;that would be unnessary if he were a second member of a Godhead, which he cannot be since he states he can do nothing of himself but what the Father shows him,[in vision;im sure]; [that he can do.] He is told by God to declare his [God’s] name.In Is.9:5-6. For unto us a son is given {for the purpose of,]setting up a Government,a kingdom of justice and peace. As an agent of God,doing the will of God. Declaring to the world that God does exist.The messiah is given God’s name to wear on his forehead and on his thigh when he come and I would think that the new name he will be given would be something like,”THE MIGHTY GOD HAS ACCOMPLISHED VICTORY”.

  3. […] Sabbath observance, but with his person, words and deeds. It is not that his claims to be the Son of Man/Logos of God did not have a place in Judaisms of the time, but simply that Jesus was not allowed to take that […]

  4. Fred Aguelo

    Thank you, Professor. Your teachings have been very enlightening to me. Shalom!

    Fred Aguelo

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Fred.

  5. Gary Westgeest

    Very good blog indeed. I’d like to find out more on the extent of Hellenization in the time of Jesus. Am reading Paul Johnson’s History of the Jews, and it would seem that the Maccabees certainly did their part in the diminishment of that tendency among the Jews. I’m surprised that there would be a pool dedicated to Asclepius.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The study of material culture is of enormous importance. From the written sources we get one type of info, from the archeological another. Written sources of the ancient times (just as modern) carry within ideological band and therefore often times they write about not what was there in their time (because they are not trying to record history), but what they think needs to be!

  6. […] as the author of the Gospel continues to show Jesus as the incarnated divine Logos/Memra of Israel’s God, we see the real tension of the story: Who has the power to heal, the Greek god Asclepius, or the […]

  7. Darin

    Dr. Eli,

    What would be your response to those who claim John is referring to “Logos” in a Hebrew/Jewish mindset and would have never believed Jesus was Divine?

    They say the “Logos” is God only in that it’s the mind of God etc… thanks!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Of course John is referring to “logos/memra” concept fitting the world though of the 1st century Jews, but that IS the point that many Jews of that time believed that it was divine. That is why John could write his prologue and expect to be understood and believed. Ancient Jewish readings of Memra/Logos support Jesus’ divinity and not argue against it. Read “Jewish Gospels” by Daniel Boyarin. You will enjoy it.

      1. Cheryl

        Dr. Eli,

        Can you show how the Hebrew/Jewish worldview and the Greek worldview differ in their idea of “logos/memra”. It seems there is confusion between the noun logos (what something is) and the verb logos (the action inherent in the word).

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          The following is from the Jewish encyclopedia on MEMRA:

          The Logos (section on logos)

          It is difficult to say how far the rabbinical concept of the Memra, which is used now as a parallel to the divine Wisdom and again as a parallel to the Shekinah, had come under the influence of the Greek term “Logos,” which denotes both word and reason, and, perhaps owing to Egyptian mythological notions, assumed in the philosophical system of Heraclitos, of Plato, and of the Stoa the metaphysical meaning of world-constructive and world-permeating intelligence (see Reizenstein, “Zwei Religionsgeschichtliche Fragen,” 1901, pp. 83-111; comp. Aall, “Der Logos,” and the Logos literature given by Schürer, “Gesch.” i. 3, 542-544). The Memra as a cosmic power furnished Philo the corner-stone upon which he built his peculiar semi-Jewish philosophy. Philo’s “divine thought,” “the image” and “first-born son” of God, “the archpriest,” “intercessor,” and “paraclete” of humanity, the “arch type of man” (see Philo), paved the way for the Christian conceptions of the Incarnation (“the Word become flesh”) and the Trinity. The Word which “the unoriginated Father created in His own likeness as a manifestation of His own power” appears in the Gnostic system of Marcus (Irenæus, “Adversus Hæreses,” i. 14). In the ancient Church liturgy, adopted from the Synagogue, it is especially interesting to notice how often the term “Logos,” in the sense of “the Word by which God made the world, or made His Law or Himself known to man,” was changed into “Christ” (see “Apostolic Constitutions,” vii. 25-26, 34-38, et al.). Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of the Targum literature, made little use of the term “Memra.”

          1. Cheryl Durham

            But there is a great difference between the Greek static ideas of things such as all the ones listed above with the article in front of them, and the manifest action of divine wisdom or the action of cosmic power through the actions of Yeshua. If I read John’s use of logos (which he uses to replace YHWH, and which alludes to the beginning of the Tanakh, as the manifestation of God’s action, then Yeshua is not a “thing” but rather is the manifestation of God’s action. Hence we “see” God’s action. It is a logical step in Greek to make both God and Yeshua actors, because Greek is concerned with objects, definitions and concepts. However Hebrew is all about the action not the nouns, which changes the object and subject of the sentence. I don’t think that they are the same at all.

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            Interesting. Although I must admit from the scholarly point of view the theory that says that Greek and Jewish “minds” are so different in approaches has fallen out of fasion as of late. The reason being is because we see a lot of Hellenization within Jewish sources and vice versa.

          3. Cheryl Durham

            I am not saying that Jewish ‘minds” are so different in approach to language, I am saying that the understanding or the meaning (while using the same words or concepts) translates differently. And while it may be out of fashion today, it seems to have been a rather prominent issue between Justin and the Rabbis.

          4. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            This is an interesting topic of course. So, please clarify do you mean Justine Martyr and rabbis? How so? Share for the benefit of everyone.

  8. Paul Cohen

    Dear Dr Eli,
    Thank you, for you monumental work, I’m looking forwards to reading more, on the Jewish view on the Gospel of John. Regarding the Logos, I tend to see a strong connection as McNamara does in his various studies in the Targumim on the Memra, and as summarised by Prof Boyarin.
    Thank you
    Paul

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Paul, thank you for your kindness. I do think that my work is groundbreaking; whether or not it will become monumental this will be for readers to judge. Thanks once again. Make sure to sign up for updates!

  9. Eric Rodríguez

    The word אחד(English Pron. ‘Echad, Spanish: ‘ejad)is used in Bible like a undefined pronoun (a, an, one, someone) and like a numerator (One, “one day”, “one Sheep”) but in these cases, is possible to sour some sense like “unique”, “one alone” (see Gn 11:6) So, the phrase ‘Adonay ‘echad/’Adonay ‘ejad, seems to refer more to The uniqueness- lonliness-isolation of God cause there are not other divinity or power outside him, but is not concentrated in issues like the “members” of that uniqueness, ’cause in other faiths, each divinity has a diferent power and field of action. God is one! God is Unique!

    1. Eric Rodríguez

      P.D. Note also the Verse Zech 14:9
      בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה יְהוָה אֶחָד–וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד.
      In that day, will be ‘Adonay ‘echad, and his name ‘echad… for won’t be other hosts, divinity, “god” or name of some power anymore

      1. Eric Rodríguez

        This means, invocated by mankind… Not only won’t exist, because only ‘Adonay is God, eternal, but won’t be memory of them in the mouth of peole, when the host of the devil will be destroyed and erased

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I agree with what I think you are saying. I can’t figure out why you are saying it. Can you clarify, please?

      1. Eric Rodríguez

        BS”D

        Thank you very much sir. First place, I know that people use to have a mind conflict when the word “One” is found concerning to God and after appears the word “son” like in Prov. 30:4 Are there two deities/divinities? The answer is no! They are one, an unique God, for both has the same nature, the son isn’t independient from the father, outside the father, the son is nothing; in Messiah, The First-fruit of God (his Son, non-created), inhabits the fullness of the atributes of the Father. So this Uniqueness is sufficiently succesful for all things so that, is Almighty. In the future, there won’t be memory of any name, only that of the unique and real and true God.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          well put.

          1. John Thornton

            Interesting comment from BS”D and ‘supported’ by Dr Eli. I’m afraid I must break ranks and partially disagree on one aspect: “outside the father, the son is nothing”.

            Now I know we start to get into the ‘hypothetical’ here, since the Son is never ‘outside [or apart from] the Father’ (except for a short time on the cross). Just “as the Father has life in Himself, the Father has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:26) as an ‘independent’, eternal, self-sustaining Being (through the resurrection). One implied meaning of YHWH, (i.e. the One who became Christ), is ‘the eternal self-existent One’ (Was-Am-Will Be). This concept is repeated in Revelation 1:8 (cf. Isa 44:6 where He is identified as the God/King of Israel). Jesus in His final prayer to the Father said “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). Thus in every sense He is again co-equal with the Father, albeit His nature is such that He always defers to the Father’s will — and I suspect when we meet the Father we will see Another who behaves exactly the same way. Both, despite their awesome power are the embodiment of humility and graciousness — and poles part from the adversary in that regard.

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            This is like an old joke.

            Rabbi: Moshe you are right. Chaim and you are right.

            Shlomi: “But they can’t both be right!”

            Rabbi: Shlomi and you also right. 🙂

            John, I have no objection to your comment what so ever.

      2. Eric Rodríguez

        BS”D
        Indeed, if we are talking about the Word (first fruit/Son) of God, flesh-dressed, it’s necessary to know He, the son, pre-existed with God in uniqueness, and then, voluntarily, He abandoned, took off his Eternal attributes for becoming a human thruough ”חיסור” as was writen Psalm 8: ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים, וכבוד והדר תעטרהו, תמשילהו במעשה ידיך, כל שת תחת רגליו
        So, Messiah, when he came, was not created but a reduced expression of the Eternal First fruit of God, the eternal Father!

  10. mirian

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