We now move from Paul’s Christology that *combined* an incarnational view with an exaltation view, to a Christology that is incarnational through and through — still in the New Testament, in the final Gospel to be written (possibly 30 years or so after Paul’s death?)
In it we find what is arguably the best known and most influential passage dealing with Christology in the New Testament: the Prologue of the Gospel of John, 1:1-18. It is also probably the most studied and discussed passage – even more than the Christ poem in Philippians 2:6-11. The first eighteen verses of John are typically called the “Prologue” because they are clearly set apart from the rest of the Gospel as a kind of celebration of the main character of the book; these verses are written in a different writing style from the rest of the Gospel (lofty poetry), they contain key concepts not found in the rest of the Gospel (Christ as “the Word” made flesh), and yet they introduce well some of the most important views of the Gospel (the high view of Christ generally). And so it is widely thought that the author of the Fourth Gospel appended these verses as a Prologue, possibly after the rest of the book was written. It is widely thought, in fact, that the Gospel went through multiple editions, so that 1:1-18 is a later addition and the final chapter, ch. 21, is an even later addition. Whether the same author was responsible for all the editions is a matter of dispute.
The prologue presents an unusually exalted view of Christ, and one that is highly complex and nuanced. I won’t be able to give a complete exegesis on the blog – that would take a book. But I will point out a few of the main points, first here in this post and then in one or two more.
mepr-show rules=”674″] The first thing to stress is that we are not dealing with a prose narrative here, but with something that looks like a poem. Whether the author of the rest of the Gospel composed the poem, or if someone else in his community did, is hard to say. There are good arguments on both sides. But I tend to think it was someone else, for one main reason: the major theological term that is the focus of the prologue never occurs elsewhere in John (Jesus as the “Word”).
But as I said, the first thing to stress is that this seems to be a poem. One of its most interesting features is how it uses a technique that you might call “staircase parallelism,” where each line builds on the one that precedes it, and does so in some of its key lines by repeating the last word of the preceding line as the first word of its own. You can see this better in the Greek. Literally translated, the opening goes like this (notice the repeated words at the end and beginning of lines, here underlined):
In the beginning was the word;
And the word was with God;
And God was the word….
In him was life;
And the life was the light of humans
And the light shines in the darkness
And the darkness has not over come it.
The dominant theme of the poem is a being known as the “word” – which in Greek is the term “logos.” The word “logos” is highly complex and nuanced. In brief terms, it means something like “word” or “reason.” It was a term that was widely used in philosophical discourse to mean very deep and important things. Stoic philosophers thought that the Logos was the “reason” that infuses all of reality, the divine “reason” that is what makes the world make sense. All of us have Logos inside of us – reason – and when we live in accordance with the Logos (for these philosophers) we live in concord with the world, which is infused with this divine Logos. That’s a good thing to do.
In Platonic circles it was thought that the Logos was a kind of mediator between the divine realm and the human, that it was the way humans have access to the divine because of a divine bestowal of logos (divine reason) within humans.
And of course the term “Logos” had deep resonances with Jews, as the philosophical connotations widely held also could be transposed into a biblical key. This is seen nowhere more than in the philosophical speculations of the great Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who thought that Logos was a divine being, a god, who mediates between God and humans.
The Prologue to John has been thought to be invested in all of these views, by one scholar or another. It is important to recognize what is said about the Logos in these eighteen verses:
- The Logos was in the beginning with God
- The Logos was therefore a separate being from God
- And yet the Logos was God.
- The Logos created the entire universe (“all things came into being through him, and apart from him nothing came into being that came into being – v. 3) (you should be thinking Genesis at this point. Recall how “God” created the world: “And God SAID ‘Let there be light’” — in other words, he created by speaking his WORD)
- The Logos came to his own (world) but his own (people) rejected him (vv. 10-11)
- Those who acted with the Logos, though, were made children of God (v. 12)
- And most important: the Logos “became flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14)
- In other words, the Logos became a human being, a glorious one.
- And it was the human who was predicted by John the Baptist (v. 15)
- And in fact, that human that the Logos became was Jesus Christ (v. 17)
- He is the one who explains who God really is, as his unique Son (v. 18)
It is important to realize how this Prologue is imagining Christ. It is not saying that Jesus pre-existed and then was born of a virgin. Not at all. Not only is there no virgin birth here (explicit or implicit): for this author Jesus did not even exist until the Logos became flesh. When and only when the Logos became flesh is when Jesus came into existence. But Jesus was the fleshly being that the Logos became. This Logos that became Jesus was in the very beginning with God. And this Logos was God. And the Logos became a human, Jesus. Jesus then is the incarnation (literally, the “enfleshment”) of the divine Logos.
This is a very high Christology indeed. Unlike the Philippians Christ-poem, Jesus is not made equal with God at the exaltation that came at the resurrection. Jesus was the incarnated Logos that was equal with God in the beginning, before the universe existed; he was the one who created the universe. And that one became a human. It’s an amazing poem. I’ll say more about it in subsequent posts.[/mepr-show]