December 15: John 1:3

John 1:3-5

The first section of the “Christ hymn” in the Johannine Prologue (vv. 1-2) emphasizes how the relationship between the Logos and God existed “in the beginning” —that is, prior to the creation of the universe (cf. the discussion in the previous note). This is clearly indicated by the allusion to Genesis 1:1, and by the fact that the section which follows (vv. 3-5) refers specifically to the creation. However, the theme of a pre-creation existence of the Logos, and its relationship (indicated by the preposition pro/$, “toward,” in vv. 1-2) to God, is also implied by the use of the term lo/go$ (lógos) itself.

In a prior note (on v. 1b), I discussed the meaning and background of the noun lo/go$, and the special philosophical/theological use of the term, going back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraklitos in the 6th/5th century B.C. The meaning of the Logos-concept, in this context, may be summarized as: a manifestation of God, a rational intelligence that gives order to all things in creation. Philo of Alexandria is perhaps the best example of a Jewish philosopher who utilized the Logos-concept, applying it to Old Testament religious and theological tradition. He also happens to be a contemporary (fl. 20-50 A.D.) of the first-generation of Christians (and the earliest New Testament writings), so his application of a Logos-theology is especially pertinent to the similar development that we see here in the Johannine Prologue.

Philo uses the noun lo/go$ more than 1400 times in his writings, and often in the specialized philosophical/theological sense noted above. What is particularly significant, is the way that he has blended the Greek Logos-concept with Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition. According to this line of tradition, Wisdom (Grk sofi/a) was considered to be the image (ei)kw/n) of God (Wisd 7:26), by which the world (and human beings) were created (2:23). The thought goes back, primarily, to the famous passage in Proverbs 8:22-31, in which Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*), personified as a pre-existent divine being, it is said, acted to bring about God’s work of Creation. Philo similarly speaks of the Logos (lo/go$) as the image of God; the created universe, in turn, is the visible image of the Logos of God, like a personal stamp upon a coin (On the Creation §25; On Dreams 2.45; On the Special Laws I.81). This idiom is not limited to Jewish tradition, as it can be seen in other strands of philosophy, such as in Platonic thought, going back to Plato’s concept of the visible world as the perceptible image (ei)kw/n) of an intelligible Deity (Timaeus 92c).

The Logos (like the divine Wisdom) plays a central role in God’s creation of the universe, and it continues to function as the governing power of God by which all things in the universe are “held together” (sune/sthke). The Logos is similarly described as a “bond”, the binding force, that holds the cosmos together (Philo, Who Is the Heir §23, cf. On Flight and Finding §112). In Wisdom 1:7, the Wisdom of God is likewise said to be that which holds all things together (sune/xon ta\ pa/nta); while in Sirach 43:26, it is stated that all things lay (bound) together (su/geitai ta\ pa/nta) in the Word (Lo/go$) of God. This language clearly relates to the the thought-world of the Johannine Prologue, as also of the other New Testament “Christ hymns” we have studied (cf. especially Col 1:17 and Heb 1:3, and note also the wording in 2 Peter 3:5). For more on the place of the Logos (Lo/go$), the personified Word/Wisdom of God, and its role in creation, in the writings of Philo, see On the Creation §146; Who Is the Heir? §§7, 130ff; On the Special Laws I.80-81; III.83, 207; IV.123b; On the Migration of Abraham §6; On the Cherubim §125f; On Flight and Finding §§12, 95; On the Work of Planting §§18, 50; The Worse Attacks the Better §§83, 86; On Dreams 1.72, 215 (Attridge, p. 40ff). The influence of this Wisdom/Logos tradition on the Johannine prologue is obvious, but, as I previously discussed, the authors of Hebrews and the Colossians hymn (whether Paul or another) almost certainly drew upon it as well. For comparable references to the divine Wisdom in Hellenistic Jewish tradition, cf. Wisdom 7:22-8:1; 9:2ff; 10:1ff; Sirach 1:3-10; chap. 24; 33:7-8ff; 42:21; Baruch 3:15ff, etc.

It is in Proverbs 8:22-31 that we find the origin of the Jewish concept, and, especially, the idea of the close relationship between Wisdom and the Creator God. In verse 30, the personified Wisdom declares “I was near (lx#a@) Him”; the Greek LXX renders Hebrew lx#a@ with the preposition para/ (“alongside”). Even though the Johannine Prologue (vv. 1-2) uses a different preposition (pro/$, “toward”), the same basic idea is being expressed. The Logos was with God, in close proximity to him, at the time when the universe was created.

Verse 3

The first line of verse 3 states the role of the Logos in the creation of the universe quite clearly and simply:

pa/nta di’ au)tou= e)ge/neto
“all (thing)s came to be through him”

Let us briefly examine each of the three components in this statement.

pa/nta (“all [thing]s”)—The comprehensive adjective pa=$ (“all”) occurs here in a substantive plural form, as the subject of the clause. “All things” = everything in the universe. In our study of the Colossians hymn (1:15-20), we saw how the adjective pa=$ was used repeatedly (7 times in the hymn) to give special emphasis to the exalted position of Jesus over “all” creation; his exalted position is due, in part, to the role that he (as the pre-existent Son) played in the process of creation itself. In that hymn, a predicate use of the substantive plural (ta\ pa/nta, “all things”) occurs several times (vv. 16-17 [twice in each verse], 20), as it also does in Hebrews 1:3, which in many ways is closer to the thought expressed here in the Prologue:

“…and bearing [i.e. carrying] all (thing)s by the utterance [i.e. word] of his power”

In that statement, the noun r(h=ma (“utterance”) is used rather than lo/go$, but the meaning is comparable, and almost certainly reflects the same Logos/Wisdom theology summarized above.

di’ au)tou= (“through him”)—The Logos is the means, the instrument, through which God created the universe. This is fully in accordance with the Logos/Wisdom theology (cf. above), and is similarly applied to the (pre-existent) person of Jesus elsewhere in the Christ hymns. Note, in particular, Hebrews 1:2b (“through whom He [i.e., God the Father] made the Ages”); cf. also Colossians 1:16b (“all things have been founded [i.e. created] through him…”).

e)ge/neto (“came to be”)—The use of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) in the Prologue is significant, since it provides a clear distinction (and contrast) with the verb of being (ei)mi). The verb of being, used in vv. 1-2, refers specifically to the being of God (i.e., Divine being), while the verb of becoming (beginning here in v. 3) refers to created beings (esp. human beings). The verb gi/nomai can mean “coming to be born,” referring to the birth of a human being, though the related verb genna/w expresses this more precisely. The important distinction between ei)mi and gi/nomai will be discussed further as we proceed through the Prologue.

The emphasis on “all things” (note the emphatic [first] position of pa/nta in the line) is reinforced by the statement that follows in v. 3:

“and apart (from) him not even one (thing) came to be”

Again, the meaning of statement is quite clear: God created everything through the Logos. However, it is at this point in the section that considerable difficulties of interpretation arise. We will attempt a clear and succinct discussion of these in the next daily note.


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