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. Breno

    John 17 3. Only the father is God. There is also a lot of passages that indicate that only the God of the Jews is God. Jesus can’t be the logos of John 1 1 because he had no part in the creation. Isaiah 44 24. I don’t see pre existence of the messiah in a clear form in the gospels.

  2. Ester Blomerus

    I am now, for the first time, looking at Robinson’s very interesting treatise on John’s Gospel, His sharp observations – his day and age definitely considered! – indeed call for indepth probing. It would surely be worthwhile scratching deeper so that his audience, the Jews – generally referred to as a collective and seemingly applied as such up until 150 AD, i.e without proper distinction between Jew and Jew – can be properly defined. The outstanding academic work of this author has indeed opened channels that can help us understand, what I would like to call, the dilemma that had then faced the first-century Church and when this apostle was used as God’s anointed instrument, i.e to stand against apostasies that were gradually falling in place among especially the Jewish believers.
    Proper dating of this Gospel is therefore crucial as this dating is essential with this type of study. It is often the insignificant that is of greater importance than obvious conclusions. Any suggestions for a “proper” dating of this Gospel?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I do not know when the Gospel written. I think that it is reacting to Mathew’s anti-Samaritanism, however.

      1. Ester Blomerus

        Thanks Dr Eli, I will keep this in mind.

  3. Sheila

    Hi Dr. Eli,

    I’ve recently started reading, “Two Powers in Heaven…” by Alan Segal. While arguing for the heresy of two powers and what then became known as “Christianity” he inadvertently shows that the two powers idea was indeed present before 1st century Judaism! Interesting.

    Thanks for your detailed writings!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Sheila, look at the first article featured here – http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/featured-articles/

  4. Ester Blomerus

    Shalom Fred, thanks for your comment and well-meant advice. But as I have previously said, let’s agree to disagree as for me reasoning God’s existence and His revelation in and through His Son, is indeed a matter of interpretation of the Scriptures and, yes, always keeping in mind the development of doctrinal stances against the backdrop of so much more than what is often taken for granted . What we believe therefore depends, not only on what is generally believed, but rather on our personal vantage points – whether we are prepared to accept what has been delivered to us carte blanche, or question it. Besides, God never instructed any of us to believe in a Trinitarian God, in other words, dogmatically worded as such and as we have been instructed to do since Nicaea (325) – I don’t find this doctrine per se in the Scriptures (written/recorded in the Scriptures).

    Christological issues were of course debated and conclusions were drawn, based on a majority vote. Yet, as you will know, the successful ruling arrived at Nicaea did not mean consent by one and all – and it is still the case! Therefore as the debate on the Trinity has never subsided, I think it is good to, for the sake of unity in the Body of Jesus, make room for more than just that one-and-only “infallible” stance that had caused so much misery for many believers, both Jews and Gentiles throughout the ages.

    If you and I should enter in debating “proofs”, “interpretations” , and “inferences”, we would just be keeping ourselves busy trying to convince each other all the time. Believe me, I have made a thorough, well-grounded study of this issue. So I am not just trying to be on the other side of the fence. I want to be there! But I will not drown you or barbecue you if you should label me a “heretic”! By the way, I too believe in one Almighty God revealed in and through His Son, Jesus our Precious and only Lord and Saviour, who had a pre-existence with the Father and who also gave us the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.33). And with this I am ending my commenting on this issue as I don’t think I, or anybody else, will ever succeed in bringing closure to this age-old debate! God bless you my brother in Christ!

  5. Fred Aguelo

    Dear Ester Blomerus,

    It is always good to search for more knowledge as I search for it myself and this journey is never-ending. I always appreciate that our G-D is all powerful and all knowing and always present and He created all things by His incomparable and great knowledge. In our search to understand the Trinity and reality of YHWH, it would help a lot if we remember that the very foundation of all Truth and knowledge for that matter is Scripture itself and not the writings of mere men, no matter how highly we may regard them.

    It is only the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who will enlighten us with regard to spiritual matters and not the opinions of philosophers. That’s not to say that we disregard wise counsel from anointed men but even they we must discern to be ‘anointed’. The Tanach is replete with references to the reality of the Trinity but these can only be gleaned with utmost care by the Holy Spirit who guided the prophets to record it faithfully. So, a personal investigation with the guidance of the Holy Spirit will yield understanding. But you must open your heart and believe in the Holy Spirit. Unbelief in the Holy Spirit will mean exception from the knowledge of the holy.

    All discussion of all theological subjects and our understanding of it hinges on the guidance of the Paraclete. Since He prodeeds from the Father and the Son, believers ignore the Holy Spirit at their peril.

    YHWH bless you!

    Fred

    1. Rafael

      Fred, I do not intend to belittle your knowledge. But if God thought that it was important for us to recognize the Holy Spirit as a person, He would have made it unmistakably clear. And if He thought it was important to believe in the trinity, he would have left little room to debate it. I happen to believe in the trinity myself. I was taught that from an early age. But I also confirmed it when I later found that it is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, the trinity, as well a the personage of the Holy Spirit, they are mysteries that cannot be gleaned merely by a superficial reading. And I believe that only the things that are clear from a superficial reading are essential for salvation. Furthermore, I don’t agree with you that it is necessary to believe in the person of the Holy Spirit in order for the Holy Spirit to guide your quest for truth. It is only necessary that you seek the truth sincerely. God honors all who sincerely seek the truth, even if they’ve never even heard of the scriptures. There are remote tribes who were expecting the missionaries who came, because God gave them visions of the visit due to their desire to know the true God.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        good points, Rafael.

  6. Ester Blomerus

    Concerning the Trinity, I am prepared to agree to disagree as the debate on the Trinity has never subsided and it will always be with us.

    Concerning Calvin, I steer away from the traditional, Calvinistic viewpoint, giving Calvin a totally clean slate. Calvin most certainly had enough authority in Geneve to have intervened for Servetus had he indeed wanted to. He called Servetus derogatory names (his famous Institutions…. ) confirm this, proving hatred and definitely entailing hate speech. I think all is not always told about this unhappy event in the history of the Reformation as there are indicators that Servetus was his superior at varsity. If I must carry on, I will have to need more space so I’ll leave this tacky issue at this. Calvin’s so-called “blue laws of Geneve” portrays a man of extreme rigidity and is yet another proof of the impatience of the Trinitarians, he clearly had placed on a pedestal, e.g. Chrysostom, and even Athanasius, against all but their own kind. According to one of the earlier sources Calvin kept Miguel Servero in goal in Geneve for quite a couple of months before his death in Champal, visiting him regularly and debating with him on Christological issues. It is said that Servero, when he realized his pending fate, begged Calvin to rather have him killed by the sword. I don’t think we always hear the full truth. Sorry, but I am not trying to be difficult but the so-called confession is just, for me, not acceptable as it is also said that he was holding his MS in his hand whilst dying on a “slow” fire – wet wood! – singing until his voice was silenced by the fumes. Besides, he was named the “jewel of the Anabaptists” and he was clearly a man of high principles and faith in God (i.e. now apart from his type of belief in Jesus – he did not believe in Christ’s pre-existence as far as I know and there are of course divers types of Nazarene viewpoints on Jesus).

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Ester, thank you for your comment. I do not feel that I know enough to debate or affirm some of the things you pointed out here. Thank you for making this comment and welcome to our group!

  7. Ester Blomerus

    I know that the Trinity is deeply embedded in Christian Theology. I also know all too well that it will always be the vantage point from which the majority of theologians will reason. Scripture is on the whole always applied with the Trinitarian perspective in mind. I like your reasoning but I also think we must remain objective, in other words, always keeping in mind that the Trinitarian theology developed over a period of time, and what I therefore would like to call here, modern-day “applied theology” – if one should be bold rejecting the traditional stance, one would immediately be acclaimed a heretic ( I for instance heard this morning on a Sunday radio talk, i.e. that Servetus, whilst burning at the stake, was pleading for mercy, as though he was asking forgiveness for his rejection of Calvin’s Trinity!. Who can say for sure what Servetus had on his mind? But it is just taken carte blanche that he was confessing his gross dogmatic “error” to Calvin! It is then just assumed that Servetus was playing in the hand of Calvin, who of course had assigned him to the stake so that the heretic could repent! It is then just assumed that the Trinitarian theology is what we have received from the apostles and I think this is a misconception and therefore there were two protagonists at Nicaea although the one’s opinions were clearly favoured. In your opinion, what exactly is Christ’s pre-existence? Was He mere Thought/ Logos//Reason/Mind or was He a Being that could also be manifested as alive among God’s People? ? For it, surely, is the way we visualize the pre-existence of the Son of God (or the way we declare it) that will determine how we will approach our understanding of the New Testament, not so? And therefore the so-called ëver-green” Trinity will always be accepted as the only authentic Scriptural Truth for it is reasoned to be such and definitely in accordance with Trinitarian theology. And as you know, there are MANY believers in Jesus who cannot accept the Trinity as sole Biblical Truth. I would love to see an out and out objective approach, stripped of preconceived Trinitarian perspectives, in other words, just dealing with the text and stating diverse perspectives thereof. And especially with this type of Hebrew Online “educational/reconciliatory tool” in mind. I love your input, don’t take me wrong. I also highly respect it. I do think you succeed in remaining objective to a very large extent, but who was Christ in His pre-existence? Surely we cannot just keep on making Him a mere Thought or Reason just to keep the traditional Trinitarian perspective well in place. I am putting my foot into it here, as honestly, I cannot and will never accept the Trinity as I think it is the cause of so much confusion when it comes to approaching the Scriptures that were meant to uplift, not to confuse. And then I just want to add, there were indeed, and we cannot deny this any longer, external (pagan) influence on pre-Christian Jewish thought as well. We cannot reason, e.g. Babylonian et al influence away as though it is a myth. I also think that one must see the pastoral letters of John, and especially 2 and 3 as a backdrop to the Gospel of John. There were clearly influences at work that were paving the way for post-apostolic thought, and which perspectives have been handed down to us throughout the ages as the full Truth.

    What I would very much like to see is discussions on the Samaritans – I like your perspective on the Gospel of John and the Samaritans – the Samaritan influence on the Gospel of John, early Essene thought, and then of course the Greek text in comparison with the Aramaic – which is, as you know, currently hotly in demand – and which would naturally bring us to Aramaic thought over against Greek thought. It seems it is the Aramaic text that has paved the way for equality in the Godhead, and that one God in three persons are propagated to this day – it seems that Stoic thought had a bearing on the threefold personification of the one God of the Shema.

    I think there is sense in what I have said here as there are many traditional Jews who just accept that the Trinity is revered by all Christians and I know that, e.g., Rabbi Singer is totally against the Trinity and, surely, one cannot just accept that he is 100% wrong in his criticism thereof.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Dr. Blomerus,

      thank you for writing. Please, see my responses under each of your point. In the future please make your valuable comments shorter for everyone’s reading convenience.

      I know that the Trinity is deeply embedded in Christian Theology. I also know all too well that it will always be the vantage point from which the majority of theologians will reason. Scripture is on the whole always applied with the Trinitarian perspective in mind. I like your reasoning but I also think we must remain objective, in other words, always keeping in mind that the Trinitarian theology developed over a period of time, and what I therefore would like to call here, modern-day “applied theology” – if one should be bold rejecting the traditional stance, one would immediately be acclaimed a heretic ( I for instance heard this morning on a Sunday radio talk, i.e. that Servetus, whilst burning at the stake, was pleading for mercy, as though he was asking forgiveness for his rejection of Calvin’s Trinity!

      A.: I agree that Trinitarian perspective is deeply embedded one and it is not even possible to do Christian theology without it. Having said that I do not think it is problematical :-), I think that one should simply be aware of it and watch the dangers of reading in meanings when they are not really there. We all have perspectives that guide our trajectory’s of thought? (by the way where is your phd from, mine is from Stellenbosch). About Trinity and Calvin, I think there is a lot misconceptions about Calvin’s role and status in Geneva.

      Calvin was not granted citizenship in Geneva for a very long time. He received it just few years before his death not being nearly as politically powerful as his critics and lovers think. Trinity also was hardly Calvin’s :-). Calvin lived way too late in history for it to be “his” Trinity. He was trinitarian of course, but I don’t think either trinity or Calvin deserve to be linked in such a way :-).

      Who can say for sure what Servetus had on his mind? But it is just taken carte blanche that he was confessing his gross dogmatic “error” to Calvin! It is then just assumed that Servetus was playing in the hand of Calvin, who of course had assigned him to the stake so that the heretic could repent!

      A.: This a mistake. The city counsel was in those turbulent times charged with these decisions. Calvin actually interceded with them on behalf of Servetus (though he surely thought that the man was a heretic) and in the last moments he went pleading with Sarvetus to his jail cell as well. I think we must be careful anachronistically look back in time. Those were strange and dangerous times when Calvins missionary European disciples were dawning in the blood of Catholic counter-reformation.

      It is then just assumed that the Trinitarian theology is what we have received from the apostles and I think this is a misconception and therefore there were two protagonists at Nicaea although the one’s opinions were clearly favoured.

      A.: I do not think that Apostles believed in Trinity. However, if they were different men living at a later time (I THINK) they would have probably agreed with it! 🙂

      The quotation from Westminster Assembly that was authored to unite Ireland, England and Scotland, but failed to do so is good description of the Christian doctrine of Trinity:

      I. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

      II. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone foundation of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest; his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature; so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.

      III. In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

      In your opinion, what exactly is Christ’s pre-existence? Was He mere Thought/ Logos//Reason/Mind or was He a Being that could also be manifested as alive among God’s People? ? For it, surely, is the way we visualize the pre-existence of the Son of God (or the way we declare it) that will determine how we will approach our understanding of the New Testament, not so? And therefore the so-called ëver-green” Trinity will always be accepted as the only authentic Scriptural Truth for it is reasoned to be such and definitely in accordance with Trinitarian theology. And as you know, there are MANY believers in Jesus who cannot accept the Trinity as sole Biblical Truth. I would love to see an out and out objective approach, stripped of preconceived Trinitarian perspectives, in other words, just dealing with the text and stating diverse perspectives thereof. And especially with this type of Hebrew Online “educational/reconciliatory tool” in mind. I love your input, don’t take me wrong. I also highly respect it. I do think you succeed in remaining objective to a very large extent, but who was Christ in His pre-existence? Surely we cannot just keep on making Him a mere Thought or Reason just to keep the traditional Trinitarian perspective well in place.

      A.: I lost you a bit here: Sorry. I do believe that Logos of God was always with God and was always God. How? I have no idea 🙂

      I am putting my foot into it here, as honestly, I cannot and will never accept the Trinity as I think it is the cause of so much confusion when it comes to approaching the Scriptures that were meant to uplift, not to confuse.

      A.: It is wise not to ever say never, I think. But once again… I think it is NOT heretical to have a difficulty with how exactly the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in power and glory and how it all works. If one does not accept “the Trinity” on this ground, I do not have a problem with that at all.

      And then I just want to add, there were indeed, and we cannot deny this any longer, external (pagan) influence on pre-Christian Jewish thought as well.

      A.: Pagan is anachronistic term. So it is better not to use it here. But non-Israelite influences are common in Israelite literature. I think it is an established fact. The question is not whether or not there were influences, but to what degree they influenced the Hebrew texts, how and what it all means 🙂

      We cannot reason, e.g. Babylonian et al influence away as though it is a myth. I also think that one must see the pastoral letters of John, and especially 2 and 3 as a backdrop to the Gospel of John.

      A.: Perhaps.

      There were clearly influences at work that were paving the way for post-apostolic thought, and which perspectives have been handed down to us throughout the ages as the full Truth.

      What I would very much like to see is discussions on the Samaritans – I like your perspective on the Gospel of John and the Samaritans – the Samaritan influence on the Gospel of John, early Essene thought, and then of course the Greek text in comparison with the Aramaic – which is, as you know, currently hotly in demand – and which would naturally bring us to Aramaic thought over against Greek thought.

      A.: Your last point is problematic, largely because Greek language spoken by Jews (in Aramaic or even more probably in Hebrew for that mater) does not make a text Greek in thought :-). In other words when I as a Jew think in Russian (my first language) I still think and write Jewishly :-). By the way it is not the origional semitic text that may be under the Greek Gospels, but simply this that it was Semits (Jews) writing in Greek retaining therefore many paters of thought characteristic thereof.

      It seems it is the Aramaic text that has paved the way for equality in the Godhead, and that one God in three persons are propagated to this day – it seems that Stoic thought had a bearing on the threefold personification of the one God of the Shema.

      A.: I don’t know enough about this to say yes or no.

      I think there is sense in what I have said here as there are many traditional Jews who just accept that the Trinity is revered by all Christians and I know that, e.g., Rabbi Singer is totally against the Trinity and, surely, one cannot just accept that he is 100% wrong in his criticism thereof.

      A.: What opinion of Rabbi Singer has to do with the truth or falsehood of Trinity I am not at all sure. Rabbi Singer is mistaken about all kinds of things about Jesus, so what? It is has opinion. He is entitled to it as do you and I 🙂

      Note: Once again if you continue make your comments make shorter please and I will respond (it will be easier on the readers this way). Thank you very much for writin and I hope you are ok with my honest answers. Dr. Eli

      1. Rafael

        Dr Eli, thank you for replying to such large posts. And I appreciate that you quote portions of the long post for context. But I have one criticism and request regarding that. It is easy for me to see where each of your responses begins. What confuses me is that it is not easy to see where your responses ere and your quoting the other person resumes. It’s disconcerting. At times, it seems like you have reversed your own position. Only then do I realize that I’m probably reading quoted material. Please make it more obvious when quoting continues. Your responses in this case always begin with “A.:”, which is great. But could you begin quoted portions with “Q.:”, or anything that makes the transition clear? Thank you.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          I will try to do this. Thanks. I was under impression that the comment system clearly states what comment belong to whom. Can you do a print screen and send it to me via email? Eli.Lizorkin@eteachergroup.com

          1. RamonAntonio

            Seems some of us are starting to write in tongues in this blog. Think we will need an interpreter of one’s own writing and of some others if we are to understand each other.
            Is this a “good” sign? That the Spirit is indeed talking through us and we need to discern? Or is this simply a Late 2013 Edition of the Tower of Babel story? 🙂 🙂
            Thanks God Almighty that there were no Ipads or tablets in Babel. Just imagine everyone talking to Siri at the same time trying to understand each other…

  8. Bill Martinez

    Dr. Dr. Eli:

    My understanding is that the definition of the Greek word “Logos” is the “sayings of God” and that these sayings of God embody an idea or plan, and so, John 1 communicates to humanity that when God began to create he had a plan for his creation, and it is through His Word or Logos God’s character is made manifest to humanity, John 1c, and “the Word was God”.

    His plan for humanity would be fulfilled through Jesus, and so, John 1 pertains to Jesus but is not him as sentient person. And so, all things were made by him and without him was nothing made that was made..

    And the Word was made flesh. The scriptures tell us that he was conceived of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary.

    Love in Christ,
    Marty

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The Logos of God is probably to great to be precisely defined by us, but what you described here I agree with of course.