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. […] Law. After all Mosaic Law is Jesus’ law, both because Jesus was the eternal Logos of God (read here and here) and, therefore, was its original giver. Moreover, because in his humanity he was a Jew, as […]

  2. Urbanos

    nice post and great dialogue in the thread. thank you everyone for playing nice! one thing is we all love his word! halleluyah

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      This first looks like a spam post :-), but then it did not. 🙂 Welcome to the study group, Urbanos! Dr. Eli

  3. […] authorities can simply accept or reject. He is Israel’s King, the one anointed by Israel’s God. He is God’s Logos/Memra, who has come from heaven to the Ancient Israelites to meet all their needs and unite them in the […]

  4. RamonAntonio

    In order for us to even consider this kind of direct re- reading of the Gospels as a personal portrait of Jesus speaking of Himself written by the apostles, we must “FRAME OURSELVES” (and this is a critical self definition) within our own epistemological situation. That is, we must abandon as much as possible our anthropocentric cultural cues and embrace to the utmost extent a supra natural discourse of reality. In so doing, we have to start from the premise that we are trying to read the Gospels as the presentation by the apostles to the posterity of Christendom the Person of Jesus, a supernatural being that incarnated Himself as part of humanity, (which is precisely word by word what John says in his introduction to his Gospel) who came to teach humanity that He Himself has been the Existing One (Yahweh, the thetragrammatron, the persisten existence) and that only by believing in His existence as the personal God of each one of us we can achieve Salvation by God the Father.
    To believe in that REFRAME OF MIND is what he calls to have Faith which is akin as He Himself says, to believe in Him, in His being a reality as God and not another prophet. And that is precisely what I read in Dr Van der berg comments previously and what sparked this proposition. That we must read the written past texts as if being present statements of a living One who is with us right now at our side.
    That is why I propose that the Prodigal Son is an anthropomorphic image of Jesus spoke by Himself to us in order for us to grasp a little the immense sacrifice that He made in order to achieve salvation for us.

  5. RamonAntonio

    Inspired by the Logos framework that Dr Eli suggests: Let’s make a re reading of Lk. 15: 11-32, the famous Prodigal Son Parable, also known as the Loving Father and/or the Immense Joy Parable as we are suggesting that all the time Jesus spoke of Himself. First of all only Luke has this parable so we have to determine its origin in Luke sources.

    The parable opens with a man with two sons, a trinity. There is no mother and the three are same gender, male. One of them asks for his share and the father gives his share to one of them who then goes to “another place” and dispenses his share to the point of losing everything and having to resort to the lowest condition possible in a strange realm which is not that of him properly. So the son becomes one of the lowest of the ones in the strange land, possibly the lowest one.

    Then, realizing his condition of rejection of His Father, the dispensing son decides to repent and ask for forgiveness to His Father and starts the long journey home. It is significant to note that right now, by returning to home, the dispensing son is subject to judgement in the land of the father because of the sin of rejecting him in the first place. But the all loving father is at the daily lookout for the son to return, vigilant and always expecting the return. Upon seeing the returning son, the father, although being old, runs with might and comes to the returning son embracing him with love. And as soon as the son starts his repentance prayer to the father, the father interrupts him, kisses him, puts his robe around him and his ring. The father re positions the dispensing son in his original place despite his original sin.

    The other son rebukes, but the Father simply says that everything he owns is owned by the other because the other is always with him and he can do whatever he wants with everything he has at his disposal which is everything the father has.
    Now, my dear friends, just capitalize where I wrote of the Father, the Son and the Other as Jesus initially calls the Holy Spirit when he first speaks of Him to the disciples. Doesn’t this parable story reminds us all the journey of the Son of God to a strange realm, a created reality in which He inserts Himself as one of the created ones, dispenses all His wealth of love and finally is rejected to the lowest position and then returns in repentance to His Father who despite the immensity of the sin of rejection an dispensing of wealth, pardons, protects and restores the Son to his proper place.

    Isn’t that the personal story of Jesus Himself as Savior? Wasn’t Jesus in fact then, speaking of Himself?
    Thanks for the possibility of rereading the Gospels this way. Only from the perspective of the rich Jewish heritage such a re reading is possible. But that is something for another post.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Very interesting, Ramon. I have to give it a thought. It could very well be. By the way, one of my favorite books is Henry Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”. If you are not familiar (I doubt that this is the case), I provide here a link to the google books version – http://books.google.co.il/books?id=V_CxcdUw1uMC&pg=PA2&dq=return+of+the+prodigal+son+henry&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UxeiUYr-KoW9ObX3gIAJ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=return%20of%20the%20prodigal%20son%20henry&f=false

  6. RamonAntonio

    In 1981, Philip J. Davies and Reuben Hersh published a landmark book: The Mathematical Experience. I have been fascinated by it since then. Part 8 and the last three articles in it devote their attention to mathematical reality and mathematical intuition.
    Roughly generalizing the point they establish is that there are things (entities?) that have to be considered that exist in dimensions out of our ordinary sensory 3 we have. The existence of this entities a s a fact, can be demonstrated mathematically, they can be measured, their volume calculated and their existence subjet to a mathematical theorem. However, no one can “see”, describe or “experience” them a they are. The most we can is experience an approximation (a revelation?) of them into our realm of senses.
    Now to the Logos, to Elohim, to Adonai or whatever term we choose appropriate to “name” an entity that usually reveals itself in a non-burning burning bush, in three separate “angels” of His presence or angel of the Lord, “floating” above two cherubim above wheels that have four “faces” and move at the same time to wherever they move, in the figure of “the ancient of times” hovering over the clouds and someone who is not that ancient sits at his side and receives glory. Etc.
    Why we doubt that the authors of the ancient texts were faced with the same dilemma that our present mathematicians face when trying to describe a complex exponential wave function or a hypercube which mathematically exists but can’t be adequately described and only recently some of the most advanced computers have enough processing power to calculate in real time (our time) an image that we can observe in a computer monitor which is akin to nowhere in fact.
    I take God for granted and then continue my journey of discovery of Him guided by His Hand.
    A cup of wine or a rum martini helps to visualize…

  7. Ramonantonio

    Dr. Van der berg has opened a very interesting line of thought. In fact one that is very appealing to me for it follows closely, extremely closely, the “gravitas” if I may say that we can observe in the person of Jesus along the Gospels, specially in John.
    In fact, Dr. Van der berg focus in John and Proverbs and his insight that possibly John was making references to Proverbs as he wrote or guided his Gospel is a very specific observation that reminisces Jesus frequent comments on scripture in relation to Him.
    This provokes me a single question:
    May we read the Gospels in a more direct and personal way as the apostles homage to Jesus when after witnessing the Resurrection et al, they finally understood that Jesus was in fact all the way, all the time and at all moments speaking of Himself as the center of Scripture and that by doing so, He was not a lunatic as even some family members feared, but the Truthful Son of God right in front of them? If we just for a moment think this way, as Dr V suggests, all the Gospels take a significant new light and we, as Dr Eli says, begin to realize that the whole truth has been all the time in front of us, in our face.
    Not only the Gospels but all Scripture is about Jesus and He Himself was the only capable of explaining that to men of all ages. Through His living Word we are with Him at our side, walking down to Emaus while hearing Him explaining how Scripture was in fact, His Own Story among us from then to now and forever.
    For this insight, thanks to both!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Ramon,

      I drink from the deep fountain of blessings and grace when I read you comments. Thank you for taking part.

    2. Drs. Charles van den Berg

      Dear Ramon,

      I thank you for this beautiful addition.

  8. […] this curious occurrence is actually very important because it shows that when the God-Man (Logos of God) Jesus is in the boat with the disciples, the boat is able to disappear at once place on the map […]

  9. Ann Marie

    The word is the spoken word of God ,does not become a person until verse 14, of Jn.1,also the word sent;[ the prophets were sent, the angel of the LORD was sent and Jesus sent the Apostles into the world. Jesus was not “morphed, [incarnated], I believe Luke when he told Mary; “The power of the Most High shall overshadow you therefore the child to be born will be called holy: [for this reason, ]he will be called Son of GOD.” All good gifts come from above where GOD is; It is HIS plan. I don’t dimminish Jesus importance, GOD has made him to be salvation for us; but GOD is the True Savior of all humanity. Jesus is called GOD’s glory, His grace ;GOD is so powerful if HE came Himself to earth we would be incinerated. He sent This man to tell us of the kingdom; to be the last lamb sacrifice ever to be needed. Jesus is so many things for us ; a high priest, the coming king, to be inaugurated into office,GOD’S representative and so many other titles are his. Our GOD is incomparable to any one.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Ann Marie, I understand your position, respect it, but disagree with it. Be well. Dr. Eli

  10. […] cited from Daniel are then merged with the idea of the Royal Son of God from Psalm 2. (See also Logos Theology in pre-Christian Jewish Tradition and ReReading John 3.:16). We read in Psalm 2 the words that were once likely sang in Jerusalem […]