One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith]
John 1:1–3 (KJV)
(1) In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(2) The same was in the beginning with God.
(3) All things were made by [dia] him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
Without a doubt, misunderstanding these verses at the beginning of the gospel of John has done more to further the cause of Trinitarian orthodoxy than misunderstanding any other section of Scripture. Whenever we challenge the traditional understanding of God and Christ, the first three verses of John’s prologue are invariably and almost immediately brought to the forefront of the discussion. Thus, it behooves us as workmen of God’s Word to thoroughly consider them. We trust you will see that they harmonize beautifully with the rest of the gospel of John and the whole of Scripture.
The first 18 verses of the gospel of John are commonly called “the prologue,” and are a powerful introduction to the rest of the book. Just as the introduction of Matthew starts with a kingly genealogy, Mark very quickly shows Jesus in the service of the Lord and Luke starts with material about Jesus’ human relationships and his genealogy from the first man, Adam, so John introduces us to Jesus as the Plan and Wisdom of God, and His only begotten Son. The prologue introduces and supports the theme of the gospel of John, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We addressed that in the previous chapter, but now need to look at it again:,
John 20:30 and 31
(30) Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
(31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The purpose of John’s gospel is clearly stated, and therefore the prologue introducing this gospel must also support the theme that Jesus is the Son of God, which it does magnificently. We will see that the prologue establishes right at the beginning of the gospel the proleptic view of Christ that we examined in the last chapter. We will also look at both the Greek and Hebrew concepts of “word,” and see that John’s use of logos is a magnificent blend of Greek and Hebrew thought.
Truly this gospel has universal appeal to humanity because it presents a view of Jesus Christ perfectly consistent with the body of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Once understood, the prologue of the gospel of John also harmonizes with the Synoptic Gospels and the testimony of the remainder of the New Testament. Finally, we will address the relationship of the gospel of John to the developing Gnosticism of the late first century. In doing so, we will see that John uses some of the language and concepts of Gnosticism itself for the purpose of opposing it (See the beginning of Chapter 16 for a definition of Gnosticism).
We will now go through the prologue of John, highlighting and commenting on the key phrases. The gospel of John begins with the phrase “In the beginning was the Word (Greek = logos),” which powerfully brings the reader’s mind back to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God…” Before we can examine the idea of the “beginning,” however, we must have an understanding of what the logos is, which was “in the beginning.”
The Meaning of Logos in Greek
It is a challenge for the modern translator to even translate the word logos into a single English word.1 Logos is derived from lego, “to say or speak,” and its root, leg, means “to gather or arrange.” For the Greeks, to speak is to utter the arrangement or gathering of one’s thoughts. This is reflected in English, as in “I gather that you are not coming this morning.” This meaning then developed into “speak, reckon, think” then into “word” and finally into “reason.”
The logos is God’s expression, His communication of Himself, just as a spoken word is the expression of the inner and unseen thoughts of a person. Thus, logos includes the idea of “plan,” “purpose,” “wisdom” and even “power.” Logos is the term that God uses to represent His purpose for this new creation, which was eventually realized in the person of Jesus. The translation of logos as “word” is a good one-word translation of its meaning, but it falls short of illuminating the richness of “logos” in its Greek usage, a richness that sheds light on both the purpose of God and the person of Jesus.
Logos expressed the essential unity of language and thought, both of which consist, in their most advanced forms, of words. When we think, we are talking to ourselves; when we talk, we are thinking out loud. English words such as “dialogue” and “monologue” signify the connection of logos with language, while words like “logic” and “logistics” signify its connection with thought. Logos, in its earliest usage, did not have to do with words per se, but rather with words that made sense out of and gave meaning to human existence and experience.
In addition to its connection to language and thought, logos was also associated with the reality of things. To think and speak, in other words, is to think and speak about something. To have and give a logos was, in ancient Greece, to have and give a rational account, a reasonable explanation, of something in the world of human experience, whether an object (of nature or human nature) or an event (an act of God or man). The English suffix “‑ology” signifies the connection of logos with the world of things, things that have become the objects of human interest and study, e.g., biology, physiology, sociology, psychology and theology.
Another defining point of logos was its practical connection to human life. Every logos, or reasonable explanation of a human experience, was intended to lead to a wise course of action, a rational approach to handling similar experiences in the future. Logos, in other words, implied a purposefulness to life based on a reasonable explanation and a rational understanding of human existence.
Logos, then, in its original Greek usage, encompassed human language and thought in its relation to the things of human experience and the purpose of human existence. The biblical usage of logos runs parallel to this concept in that “the Word” is God’s purpose or plan, His reasonable explanation of, and His rationale for, His creation of all things before they became corrupted in human experience. His rationale constitutes wisdom, that is, a rational understanding of and approach to human life. Sir Anthony Buzzard waxes eloquent:
Recent commentaries on John admit that despite the long-standing tradition to the contrary, the term “word” in the famous prologue of John need not refer to the Son of God before he was born. Our translations imply belief in the traditional doctrine of incarnation by capitalizing “Word.” But what was it that became flesh in John 1:14? Was it a pre-existing person? Or was it the self-expressive activity of God, the Father, His eternal plan? A plan may take flesh, for example, when the design in the architect’s mind finally takes shape as a house. What pre-existed the visible bricks and mortar was the intention in the mind of the architect. Thus, it is quite in order to read John 1:1–3a: “In the beginning was the creative purpose of God. It was with God and was fully expressive of God [just as wisdom was with God before creation]. All things came into being through it.” This rendering suits the Old Testament use of “word” admirably: “So shall My word be that goes forth out of My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”2
We are now in a better position to see why Jesus is known as “the word (logos) in the flesh.” Jesus was the ultimate expression of God. God’s plan, wisdom and purpose was the logos, and when we speak of the Bible, it is called “the Word” because it also is God’s expression of Himself. When we speak of a prophecy, we say, it is “the Word of the Lord,” both because it is in the form of words and because it is God’s expression of Himself. Jesus was the logos in the most complete sense. He was the ultimate expression of God and the essence of His plan and purpose. Thus, it is quite correct to say that Jesus was the logos, but he was not all of the logos. “Jesus” does not equal “the logos,” he was part of and the ultimate expression of the logos. If we see Jesus, we see the Father, but it is also true that if we study the Bible, God’s Word, God’s expression of Himself in writing, we will see the Father. More dimly, to be sure, because the written Word is not the clear and ultimate expression of God that the Living Word is, but it is the logos just the same.
The Hebrew Word for “Word”
As is true with all genuine study of the Bible, the real question is not what we today think of these words in John’s prologue, but how the readers in the first century would have understood them, especially those who had a Semitic understanding.3 One scholar made the following insightful comment about the Hebrew view of “word” not emphasizing the rationale or the plan of God, but His power to bring His will to pass upon the earth:
All over the ancient Orient, in Assyria and Babylon as well as in Egypt, the word, especially the Word of God, was not only nor even primarily an expression of thought; it was a mighty and dynamic force. The Hebrew conception of “the divine word” had an express dynamic character and possessed a tremendous power.”4
The Hebrew conception of “word” (dabhar) was more dynamic than the Greek conception, which is characteristic of the language as a whole. One basic meaning of the root of dabhar is “to be behind” and thus be able to drive forward from behind. This is consistent with the Semitic idea expressed by Jesus in Luke 6:45 that “…out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” In other words, what is in the heart drives the mind, then the mouth and finally the actions. Thus, the meaning of dabhar developed along a line defined by three points: “speak,” “word” and finally “deed.”5 Boman shows that in the Hebrew mind, words were equivalent to deeds, and this fact is integrated into the very construction of the language itself:
Dabhar means not only “word,” but also “deed.” Abraham’s servant recounted to Isaac all the ‘words’ that he had done (Gen. 24:66) [seen in the literal Hebrew rendering of this verse]. The word is the highest and noblest function of man and is, for that reason, identical with his action. “Word” and “deed” are thus not two different meanings of dabhar, but the “deed” is the consequence of the basic meaning inhering in dabhar. Our term ‘word’ is thus a poor translation for the Hebrew dabhar, because for us, ‘word’ never includes the deed within it. The commentators understand as a contrived witticism Goethe’s translation of John 1:1… “In the beginning was the deed.”6 Actually, Goethe is on solid linguistic ground because he goes back to the Hebrew (Aramaic) original and translates its deepest meaning; for if dabhar forms a unity of word and deed, in our thinking the deed is the higher concept in the unity.7
F. F. Bruce is another scholar who recognizes that the key to understanding the significance of the concept of “logos” is by tracing its Old Testament roots:
The true background to John’s thought and language is found not in Greek philosophy but in Hebrew revelation. The “Word of God” in the Old Testament denotes God in action, especially in creation, revelation and deliverance.8
The Word of God is repeatedly portrayed in the Old Testament as the agent of God’s creative power, as the following verses show:
Psalm 33:6a (NASB)
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made….
Psalms 107:20 (KJV)
He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.
In Isaiah, the “word” of God is spoken of as an agent independent of, but fully in the service of, God:
Isaiah 55:11 (NRSV)
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
This is reminiscent of the personification of wisdom in Proverbs, where “she” is portrayed as God’s helper in creation:
Proverbs 8:22, 23, and 30
(22) The LORD brought me [wisdom] forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;
(23) I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.
(30) Then I was his craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence,
Broughton and Southgate argue that “Word,” “Spirit” and “Wisdom” are all personified because they are intimately connected to how God has related to the world as its Creator, and that John’s use of logos is consistent with this biblical usage.
We can see how John draws on all the Old Testament teaching…Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 8 as saying that she was in the beginning, that she was with God, and that she was His instrument in creation. The Word of God created the heavens (Ps. 33:6), and so did the Spirit as described in Job 26:13 (KJV) [and Gen. 1:2]. The language clearly is of figure and metaphor, of personification, not actual personality. And John is saying exactly the same of the logos or Word. No Jewish reader brought up on the writings of the prophets would have deduced from John’s introduction that he was alluding to a person who had existed with God from all time. They would see it instead as a continuation of the imagery by which the Word or Wisdom or the Spirit—those manifestations of God which are inseparable from Him—are described as putting God’s intentions into effect.9
Barclay, a respected Greek scholar, also recognizes that the logos is intimately connected to both power and wisdom.
First, God’s Word is not only speech; it is power. Second, it is impossible to separate the ideas of Word and Wisdom; and it was God’s Wisdom, which created and permeated the world, which God made.10
There is still more evidence for connecting the Semitic understanding of logos with “power.” The Targums are Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew text, and they are well known for describing the wisdom and action of God as His “Word.” This is especially important to note because Aramaic was the spoken language of many Jews at the time of Christ, including Christ himself, and thus the people at the time of Christ would have been very familiar with them. Remembering that a Targum is usually a paraphrase of what the Hebrew text says, note how the following examples attribute action to the “word” of the LORD:
And the word of the LORD was Joseph’s helper (Hebrew text: “The LORD was with Joseph”).
And Moses brought the people “to meet the word of the LORD” (Hebrew text: “And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God”).
And the word of the LORD accepted the face of Job (Hebrew text: “And the LORD accepted the face of Job”).
And the word of the LORD shall laugh them to scorn (Hebrew text: “The LORD shall laugh at them”).11
The contrast between the Hebrew text and the Aramaic paraphrases in the verses above show that the Jews had no problem personifying the “Word” of God such that it could act on God’s behalf. They also prove that the Jews were familiar with the idea of the “Word” referring to His wisdom and action. This is especially important to note because these Jews were fiercely monotheistic, and did not in any way believe in a “Triune God.” They were familiar with the idioms of their own language, and understood that the wisdom and power of God were being personified and did not represent actual “persons” in any way.
Thus, “the Word” in John 1:1 represents an intersection of the two differing Hebrew and Greek lines of thought.12 Although there are similarities, the Hebrew and the Greek languages reflect profound differences in the way the world was perceived. Boman observes:
According to the Israelite conception, everything is in eternal movement: God and man, nature and the world. The totality of existence, olam, is time, history, life. The history of heaven and earth (Gen. 2:4) is of the same form as the history of Adam (5:1), Noah (6:9), and Shem (11:10); it is referred to in each case by the same word, toledhoth [generations]. The fact that God created the world and man once and for all implies that God makes history and brings forth life and that he continues them until they achieve their goal…As space was the given thought‑form for the Greeks, so for the Hebrews it was time…For the Hebrew, the decisive reality of the world of experience was the word; for the Greek it was the thing. Yet the word had a great significance for the Greek on account of its meaning; on the whole, however, the meaning of the word is independent of the word as spoken or dynamic reality.13
As we read the gospel of John with a true understanding of the concept of logos, the wonderful love of our heavenly Father is clearly shown. From the very beginning God had a purpose, a plan that He brought to pass in the world in a way that reveals His love and wisdom and clearly expresses Himself. It should be apparent, then, that the use of logos in the prologue of John reflects the richness of the biblical usage of the term “Word” when it is used in relation to God and His creative purpose and activity.
While in John 1:1 the logos is God’s self expression and His wisdom, plan and power, many times in the New Testament the logos is the message of the coming, the life, the death, the resurrection, the ascension, the exaltation, the lordship and the coming again of Jesus the Messiah. If the logos that was “in the beginning” is understood in these terms, then it becomes clear that God had this very series of events in mind when He created the cosmos. “The Word was God” (John 1:1) in that it is God’s self-revelation, the account that God chose to give of Himself and His will to all nations.14
The logos or message of God, as it has been revealed in Jesus, includes the following account of the meaning and purpose of creation: Jesus’ coming was prophesied throughout the Hebrew Scriptures; he was finally born a man, and by his free will lived a sinless life; Jesus died on the Cross to mark the beginning of the end of the present age of sin and death, revealing that it is only a matter of time until this age and fallen humanity as it now exists come to an end; Jesus was raised from the dead to reveal that death (the experience that all humans since Adam have held in common) is contrary to God’s will and will ultimately be abolished by resurrection; Jesus was exalted as Lord to the right hand of God where he presently exercises this authority; after he comes to gather together the Church, Jesus will come again at the end of this age in judgment, bringing destruction on the unbelieving world and salvation to the community of faith; he will rule for one thousand years on this earth; finally he will destroy Satan and all evil, end the heaven and earth of the present age and begin the new heaven and earth of the age to come, a “new creation.”
“In the beginning”
Once we understand that the logos is God’s self expression, His wisdom, plan and purposes, and that it can include His power and His actions, we are in a position to really understand the full meaning of the phrase, “In the beginning” in John 1:1.
It is often simply assumed that “the beginning” referred to here is the origin of creation, identical to the creation described in Genesis 1:1 and 2. However, that assumption is usually made because most Christians believe that in John 1:1, Jesus is the “word” and Jesus was “in the beginning.” We trust that by now the reader knows that Jesus did not pre‑exist his birth and that he was not with God in Genesis 1:1. We also trust that the reader understands that the logos of John 1:1 is not identical to “Jesus.” What we will present in this section is that “the beginning” is actually a double entendre: it refers to the earliest time when God conceived of the plan of man’s salvation, but, like the rest of the gospel of John, it has proleptic overtones, speaking of the future as if it were a reality.15 Thus, “the beginning” referred to in John 1:1 also refers to the new creation of which Jesus Christ is the prototype.
The meaning of “beginning” that immediately comes to mind when John 1:1 is read refers to the time before history when God first conceived of man, and foresaw the possibility that he would fall and need a Savior. This is because of the familiar phrase, “In the beginning God” in Genesis 1:1. John tells us that “in the beginning” God had wisdom and a plan, and was prepared to start acting that plan out so that the people He created and invested His love in could be rescued from death and live with Him eternally. The crowning piece of the plan of God was the creation of Jesus Christ, who was in a very real sense, “the last word.”
However, there was much groundwork to be done before he who would perfectly represent God could come. That groundwork was laid in the time period covered by the Old Testament, and so in a very real sense, God’s plan was being expressed in wisdom and action all through the Old Testament. The logos was being expressed as Abraham set off to sacrifice Isaac, as Moses lifted the serpent up on the pole, as Solomon built the Temple, and as Isaiah penned the verses stating that the Servant of God would be pierced for our transgressions. It was expressed in pieces and parts in history, as people acted, and in prophecy, as people spoke. Then one day, probably in 3 B.C., the types, foreshadowings and prophecies ceased, and the logos, the plan, purpose, wisdom and power of God, “became flesh” in the man Jesus Christ. Thus, the word “beginning” in John 1:1 does clearly represent the plan and power of God before our history.
As we have already pointed out, “the beginning” also has overtones of the new creation. We spent a lot of time in the last chapter developing the idea that John was written from the perspective that Jesus was already in glory. This is proleptic language, writing about the future as if it were an accomplished reality. At least two places in the first chapter of John show that it too was written from the perspective that the life of Christ had already been lived and he was now in glory with His father. John 1:14 says, “…We have seen his glory…,” and John 1:18 says that Jesus “…is at the Father’s side….” We are not the only ones to consider this possibility that the “beginning” in John 1:1 can refer to the new creation also. Bruce argues for this interpretation:
It is not by accident that the Gospel begins with the same phrase as the book of Genesis. In Genesis 1:1, ‘In the beginning’ introduces the story of the old creation; here it introduces the story of the new creation. In both works of creation the agent is the Word of God.16
The Racovian Catechism, one of the great doctrinal works of the Unitarian movement of the 16th and 17th centuries, states that the word “beginning” in John 1:1 refers to the beginning of the new dispensation and thus is similar to Mark 1:1, which starts, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ….”
In the cited passage (John 1:1) wherein the Word is said to have been in the beginning, there is no reference to an antecedent eternity, without commencement; because mention is made here of a beginning, which is opposed to that eternity. But the word beginning, used absolutely, is to be understood of the subject matter under consideration. Thus, Daniel 8:1 (KJV), “In the third year of the reign of king Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me, even unto me Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at the first.” John 15:27 (KJV), “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” John 16:4b (KJV), “…And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. And Acts 11:15 (KJV), “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.”
As then the matter of which John is treating is the Gospel, or the things transacted under the Gospel, nothing else ought to be understood here besides the beginning of the gospel; a matter clearly known to the Christians whom he addressed, namely, the advent and preaching of John the Baptist, according to the testimony of all the evangelists [i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke and John], each of whom begins his history with the coming and preaching of the Baptist. Mark indeed (1:1) expressly states that this was the beginning of the gospel. In like manner, John himself employs the word beginning, placed thus absolutely, in the introduction to his First Epistle, at which beginning he uses the same term (logos) Word, as if he meant to be his own interpreter [“That which is from the beginning…concerning the Word (logos) of life.” 1 John 1:1].17
In this context of the new creation, then, “the Word” is the plan or purpose according to which God is restoring His creation, as we saw in Chapter 3. 18 As such, “the Word” was conceived in the mind of God even before this present creation, and was the center point determining the trajectory of “the diameter of the ages.” But “the Word,” or this plan, was not fully revealed to human understanding until it “became flesh” as the living Word, Jesus Christ, God’s perfect and ultimate communication to mankind. Thus, the purpose of God became the person of Jesus, whom the Bible calls “the Christ,” the Son of God, the “image” of the invisible God. As E. W. Bullinger notes on John 1:1 in the Companion Bible: “As the spoken word reveals the invisible thought, so the Living Word reveals the invisible God.”19 Paul communicates essentially this same truth, also in connection with the original creation:
2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
In the ninth verse of the prologue of John, Jesus Christ is referred to as “The true light that gives light to every man…,” reinforcing the idea that Christ is the true light that has shined in the spiritual darkness that has engulfed mankind.
So, the careful reader sees the beauty and depth of the phrase “in the beginning” in John 1:1. We believe the richness of the text is revealed when one sees that it hearkens back to Genesis and reminds us that God has been expressing Himself via His plan, purpose, wisdom and power all through the Old Testament. Yet it also includes the concept of the new creation and the “beginning” of the age when Christ will come and eventually bring everything back into an orderly subjection to God. This proleptic view of the beginning fits with the proleptic view of Christ that occurs throughout the entire gospel of John, which we studied extensively in the last chapter. We believe that it misses the point to say that the word “beginning” refers only to the beginning of time, and not at all to the beginning of the new creation, or vice versa. We think that God worded it the way He did in order to include both perspectives.
“…and the Word was with [pros] God”
We will now continue our explanation of the prologue of John, examining the phrase, “…and the Word was with [pros] God….” When pros occurs in the accusative case, as it does in this phrase, one of its meanings is “with,” as most translations have. In order for the Word to be “with” God, each must be a distinct entity. Nothing can be “with” itself. Though there are many ways that the Word could have been “with” God, we feel that, in his Greek-English Lexicon, E. W. Bullinger gives a definition of pros that fits very well in the context of John 1:1 and our understanding of the intimate relationship that exists between the logos (Word) and God.
“Implying intimate and closest inter-communion, together with distinct independence.”20
In John 1:1 we see both the independence of, and intimacy between, the Word and God. Thus, John 1:1 marvelously encapsulates a precise thumbnail description of the essence of the gospel of John, which revolves around the themes of the intimate yet independent and subordinate relationship of the Son to the Father. It is evident that one thing cannot be “with” another thing and be identical to it at the same time. Even Trinitarian scholars recognize this:
John always perceives a distinction between the divinity of the pre‑existent Son and that of the Father. If he states “the Word is God,” he still speaks of the Word being directed toward God (pros ton theon).21
Logically, nothing can be both “identical to” and “with” anything else. Actually, the phrase “…the Word was with God…” is contrary to Trinitarian doctrine. Trinitarians teach that the “Word” in this verse is the pre‑existent Christ. Yet they teach that Christ is God. Christ cannot be “with” God and be God at the same time. In order to support Trinitarian doctrine, the verse would have to say, “the Word was with the Father.” Of course, Trinitarians assert that “God” means “Father” here, but why would God author the very first verse of the gospel in such a way that, when read in a plain and straight forward manner, contradicts the Trinity, if in fact He were trying to present the Trinity as a truth? We are on much more solid ground when we believe that God knew what He was doing and plainly wrote that the Word is different from God so that we would know and understand that truth. Thus, the sense in which “the Word” was “God” is limited by this statement that it was also “with God,” and points to a meaning closer to “represents,” “manifests,” or “reveals.” Hence, the Word was “divine” because it represented and manifested God. In the same way, Jesus, “the Word in the flesh,” represented and manifested God, and, in that limited way, was “divine.”
Although many use the phrase (“…the Word was with God…”) to attempt to establish the doctrine of the pre‑existence of Christ, this idea is based upon a supposed identity between “the Word” and Jesus Christ. The argument goes: “The Word was with God in the beginning, and Jesus was the Word, therefore Jesus was there in the beginning.” The assumption that “the Word” is the man, Jesus, is reflected in the fact that Bible translators assign the masculine gender to the pronouns referring to Word. The pronouns related to logos often get translated “he” when in fact the Greek word logos, though masculine in gender, is intrinsically neither male nor female.22 In 1526, the pronoun associated with logos was translated “it” and not “he” by William Tyndale, who provided the translation that formed the basis for the KJV. Although approximately 90 percent of Tyndale’s work was preserved in the KJV, his use of the neuter for logos was changed to “he.” The Wycliffe translation of 1380, the Cranmer Bible of 1539 and the Geneva Bible of 1557 also translated the pronoun associated with logos as “it.”
But even if the pronoun associated with logos could legitimately be translated “he,” this could be readily explained by the use of personification, and does not necessitate a literal person called “the logos.” As we have already seen, the use of personification of logos puts the logos concept squarely in what is called the wisdom literature of Judaism, wherein personification of concepts is a common figure. Dunn comments on the use of personification in the prologue of John, wherein the usage of logos moves from “impersonal personification to actual person,” namely Jesus:
We are dealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than an individual divine being as such. The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine logos “he” throughout the poem. But if we translated logos as “God’s utterance” [or “it”] instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the logos in v. 1–13 to be thought of as a personal divine being.”23
The “Word” was with God in the same sense that “wisdom” was with God. Proverbs 8:29b and 30a says, “…when he [God] marked out the foundations of the earth, Then I [wisdom] was the craftsman at his side….” No one we know of believes that there was a being called “Wisdom” who helped God make the heavens and the earth. Everyone knows that wisdom is personified to make the record interesting and easy to understand. So too, in John 1:1 when Scripture says that the logos was “with God,” it is a personification. God had His plan and power, and “…when the time had fully come…” (Gal. 4:4), Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary. This means that the person called “Jesus” did not yet exist, as is the case with all human persons, until he was conceived in his mother’s womb. Prior to his conception, his existence was not personal, but prophetic, as foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures (the “Word”). Before Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary, the logos was to Jesus what promise is to fulfillment. When “the logos became flesh,” the promise was fulfilled in the form of a person. While this understanding will be objectionable, perhaps anathema, to Trinitarian believers, it must be admitted that it is not a denial of Jesus’ divine Sonship or Messiahship but, rather, a compelling alternative interpretation of relevant scriptural texts.
All the texts in which Jesus spoke of his heavenly existence with the Father before his coming (which, interestingly, are all found in John’s gospel) are best understood in a prophetic light.24 In other words, Jesus did not speak from experience about his “pre‑existence” with the Father, but, rather, he spoke out of his faith in the logos, which he understood from the testimony of the prophets of Israel. Jesus was so sure of the future fulfillment of God’s purpose and promises regarding his resurrection from the dead and his exaltation to God’s right hand that he spoke of them as having already taken place. By speaking of God’s purpose and promises as if they had already been fulfilled (i.e., proleptically), and then carrying them out by obedience to God’s Word, Jesus distinguished himself as “…the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2), the one whose faith is the model for all believers to follow.
The logos, then, as it relates to Jesus Christ, has existed in three stages: first as God’s purpose “in the beginning,” then as God’s promises to mankind, and finally as God’s person, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
“…and the Word was God,” i.e., “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”
The words “…and the Word was God…” might seem to supply the premises for a logical syllogism with a necessary conclusion:
- Jesus is the Word [logos].
- The Word was God.
- Therefore, Jesus is God.
According to standard Christian teaching, this is apparently an open-and-shut case. However, most scholars recognize that the issue is not as cut-and-dried as most Christians think. This is reflected in the various ways the verse is translated. The New English Bible superbly translates the verse as, “…and what God was, the Word was.” We also believe that James Moffatt has captured the sense better than most translations when he renders the phrase, “the Logos was divine.” The whole of Scripture, the semantic range of the Greek word for “God,” theos, and the absence of the definite article before theos must each be considered. We will quote two scholars who, after analyzing the precision of the Greek words employed in John 1:1, recognize the limitations of concluding from John’s prologue that the terms “Jesus” and “God” are in any way identical, equivalent, synonymous or interchangeable:
Because logos has the article [ho] preceding it, it is marked out as the subject. The fact that theos is the first word after the conjunction kai (“and”) shows that the main emphasis of the clause lies on it. Had the article preceded theos as well as logos, the meaning would have been that the Word was completely identical with God, which is impossible if the Word was also “with God.” What is meant is that the Word shared the nature and being of God, or, to use a piece of modern jargon, was an extension of the personality of God. The NEB paraphrase, “what God was, the Word was,” brings out the meaning of the clause as successfully as a paraphrase can. John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God [i.e., “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”]; if this be not true, the book [i.e., the gospel of John] is blasphemous.25
What it does say is defined as succinctly and accurately as it can be in the opening verse of St. John’s Gospel. But we have to be equally careful about the translation. The Greek runs: kai theos en ho logos. The so‑called Authorized Version has: “And the Word was God.” This would indeed suggest the view that “Jesus” and “God” were identical and interchangeable. But in Greek this would most naturally be represented by “God” with the article, not theos but ho theos. But, equally, St. John is not saying that Jesus is a “divine” man, in the sense with which the ancient world was familiar [the product of God and man] or in the sense in which the Liberals spoke of him [as a great man, teacher, prophet, etc.]. That would be theios. The Greek expression steers carefully between the two. It is impossible to represent it in a single English word, but the New English Bible, I believe, gets the sense pretty exactly with its rendering, “And what God was, the Word was.”
In other words, if one looked at Jesus, one saw God—for “…He who has seen Me has seen the Father… (John 14:9 – NASB).” He was the complete expression, the Word, of God. Through him, as through no one else, God spoke and God acted: when one met him, one was met—and saved and judged—by God. And it was to this conviction that the Apostles bore their witness. In this man—in his life, death and resurrection—they had experienced God at work; and in the language of their day they confessed, like the centurion at the Cross, “…Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39 – NASB). Here was more than just a man: here was a window into God at work. For “…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…” (2 Cor. 5:19 – NASB).26
Dunn, another modern scholar, also sees the prologue and its use of logos as communicating the same truth—that the Word is the image of God or that which can be known of Him. He quotes Philo, a first‑century Alexandrian Jew familiar with the sense of logos as debated and used in apostolic times:
To use Philo’s favorite sun-and-light symbolism, the logos is to God as the corona is to the sun, the sun’s halo which man can look upon when he cannot look directly on the sun itself. That is not to say that the logos is God as such, any more than the corona is the sun as such, but the logos is that alone which may be seen of God.
God is unknowable by man, except in a small degree by the creation, but the logos expresses God’s ideas to man. There is no idea of personality attached to the logos. The logos seems to be nothing more for Philo than God himself in his approach to man, God himself insofar as he may be known by man.27
Thus, even Trinitarian scholars acknowledge that to say “the Word was God” is not synonymous with saying “Jesus is God.” Indeed, the phrase, “…what God was, the Word was” communicates in a nutshell what is about to be developed in the body of the gospel of John—that Jesus perfectly represents and reflects the Father’s glory. The phrase, like the gospel itself, portrays him in his post‑resurrection glorification in which he shines as the “image of God” (See Chapter 2).
C. H. Dodd is another scholar who sees in the logos the meeting of the divine, God’s communication of Himself, with the human, the man in whom God most clearly revealed Himself. The logos is the “final concentration of the whole creative and revealing thought of God” in “an individual who is what humanity was designed to be in the divine purpose.”28 In other words, Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, is what Man was intended to be, the perfect representative of God.
“through [dia] him all things were made”
The pronoun “him” in John 1:3 (“through him all things were made”), can legitimately be translated as “it.” It does not have to be translated as “him,” and it does not have to refer to a “person” in any way. A primary reason why people get the idea that “the Word” is a person is that the pronoun “he” is used with it. The Greek text does, of course, have the masculine pronoun, because as we have already pointed out, the Greek language assigns a gender to all nouns, and the gender of the pronoun must agree with the gender of the noun. Because the noun controlling the pronouns in verse three is logos, the pronouns in Greek are all masculine, but they would only be translated into English as “he” if the noun were speaking of a person, not a thing. If the logos is not a literal person, then the pronoun should be translated as “it.”
Once we clearly understand that the gender of a pronoun is determined by the gender of the noun, we can see why one cannot build a doctrine on the gender of a noun and its agreeing pronoun. No student of the Bible should take the position that “the Word” is somehow a masculine person based on its pronoun any more than he would take the position that a book was a feminine person or a desk was a masculine person because that is the gender assigned to those nouns in the French language. Indeed, if one tried to build a theology based on the gender of the noun in the language, great confusion would result. In Hebrew, “spirit” is feminine and must have feminine pronouns, while in Greek, “spirit” is neuter and takes neuter pronouns. Thus, a person trying to build a theology on the basis of the gender of the noun and pronoun would find himself in an interesting situation trying to explain how it could be that “the spirit” of God somehow changed genders when the New Testament was written.
Because the translators of the Bible have almost always been Trinitarians, and because “the Word” has almost always been associated with Christ, the pronouns referring to the logos in verse three have almost always been translated as “him.” However, because the logos is the plan, purpose, wisdom and power of God, then the Greek pronoun should be translated into English as “it.” To demand that “the Word” is a masculine person and therefore a third part of a three‑part Godhead because the pronouns used when referring to it are masculine is poor scholarship.
Viewed in light of the above translation, the opening of the gospel of John reveals wonderful truth, and is also a powerful polemic against the primary heresies of the day. We paraphrase:
In the beginning there was God, who had a plan, purpose, wisdom and power (i.e., the logos) which was, by its very nature and origin, divine. It was through and on account of this reason, plan, purpose and power that everything was made. Nothing was made outside its scope. Later, this plan became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and tabernacled among us.
Understanding the opening of John this way fits with the whole of Scripture. Just as the word “beginning” in John 1:1 is a double entendre referring to both the beginning before history and the beginning of the new creation, John 1:3 continues that mode. John 1:3 also contains overtones of Christ’s control over the new creation. God never created anything outside the confines of His wisdom, plan and power, so it surely is true that “…without it (the logos) nothing was made that has been made.” However, it is also true that John 1:3 points toward the creation of the new order by Jesus Christ. Colossians refers to this when it says, “…all things were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16).29 Also, Ephesians 2:15 says that Christ created a “new man” out of Jew and Gentile.
The reader will recall that in Chapter 3 we saw that the Greek preposition dia is distinctly associated with Jesus Christ, and particularly his relationship to God’s creation—indicating that he is the one through whom (better understood as on whose behalf) God acted. Thus, he is spoken of as the agent or the means or the purpose of the ages and of creation itself. That this word dia occurs in the prologue of John used in this sense ties this passage to the other passages in the New Testament that describe the post‑resurrection relationship between Christ and God, particularly 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Hebrews 1:2 and 3. Jesus Christ is once again being portrayed as “the purpose of the ages,” the one through whom we have life.
To assume that Christ is the Creator of the Genesis 1 creation is to introduce confusion into what is a clear New Testament theme: God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth (as Scripture states):
and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.30
“In him was life, and that life was the light of men”
John 1:4 continues the powerful introduction to the gospel of John, and also continues with phrases that refer to both God and the original creation, and Christ and the new creation. There is no question that in God was life for mankind. The Father is life, and defined life. Christ said, “…the Father has life in himself…” (John 5:26). This is so well known that there is no need to belabor the point. Once Christ was resurrected, however, God gave Christ the job of giving life. Christ even said, “…he has granted the Son to have life in himself ” (John 5:26), and because of that, one day the dead will hear Christ’s voice and live (John 5:25).
Anyone who has a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ will testify that there is more than just eternal life in the Son, and the same was true for the believers of the Old Testament. In both ancient times and in the new creation since the Age of Grace started, a relationship with God, or with God and Christ meant life and vitality on a day-by-day basis. Psalm 36:9 mentions both life and light, just as John 1:4 does:
For with you [God] is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
Today, in the Age of Grace, Christ is the one who gives life and is our life, even as Colossians says: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”
John 1:5 (NRSV) can clearly be seen to make a reference to both the original creation and the new creation that is headed up by Jesus Christ. There is no question that when one reads, and the “…light shines in the darkness…,” that his mind is drawn back to the primal darkness of Genesis 1 and the time that God spoke the words, “Let there be light!” Furthermore, the light of God shown throughout the Old Testament. It is well known that the word “light” refers not just to physical light, but to knowledge and truth as well. And, all through the Old Testament, try as he might to obscure, blot out or discolor the light, the Serpent did not succeed. The darkness just did not overcome the light.
John 1:5 not only echoes the language of Genesis 1 but can refer to the new creation as well. It is well known that Christ is referred to as the light. For example, when Christ preached in the area of the Galilee, Matthew records:
the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
John records Jesus saying, “…I am the light of the world…” (John 8:12). Thus, anyone who studies the life of Christ and the New Testament can see clearly that John 1:5 can also refer to Jesus Christ and the light that he was, and that shown forth from him. F. F. Bruce comments on John 1:5:
In the first creation, “…darkness was upon the face of the deep…” (Gen. 1:2 – KJV) until God called light into being, so the new creation (in which the Word is God’s agent as effectively as in the earlier one) involves the banishing of spiritual darkness by the light which shines in the Word. Apart from the light (as is emphasized repeatedly in the body of the Gospel) the world of mankind is shrouded in darkness…Light and darkness are to be understood ethically rather than metaphysically; “light” is a synonym of goodness and truth, while “darkness” is a synonym of evil and falsehood.31
This relationship between light and darkness in an ethical context is clearly seen elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in the following passage from Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. The light of Christ shines in the hearts of believers and shows the way to righteous conduct:
(8) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light
(9) (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)
(10) and find out what pleases the Lord.
(11) Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
(12) For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.
(13) But everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
(14) for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
(15) Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise, but as wise,
Christ is the means by which God is making His light shine and establishing a new and righteous creation, because the one spoken of in Genesis 1 has been stained by sin. The process will be completed only when Christ has finished his work of subduing all God’s enemies, as described in 1 Corinthians 15:24–28. So again in John 1:5 we see the intricate pattern that God is weaving, using words and phrases that powerfully remind us of His great work at the beginning of time and in the Old Testament, but also pointing at the great work of His Son and the time of the new creation.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”
Of all the gospel writers, John is most concerned with emphasizing that Jesus came in the flesh. This is an important theme in the Johannine Epistles as well (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). This will be explained later in this chapter in the discussion of John’s relationship to the Gnostics, who took a dim view of “flesh.”
It is at this point in the prologue, in John 1:14, that “the Word of God” becomes associated with a particular historical person, Jesus of Nazareth. Up until this verse, the prologue has been dealing with impersonal personification of a concept called the logos, but this verse is the transition from personification to actual person.32 Dunn recognizes that to this point in the prologue there is nothing that would have particularly arrested the attention of a Hellenistic Jew.33
Again we will quote J. A. T. Robinson, who captures our sentiments about this verse:
The Word, which was theos, God in His self‑revelation and expression, sarx egeneto [became flesh], was embodied totally in and as a human being, became a person, was personalized, not just personified. But that the logos came into existence or expression as a person does not mean that it was a person before. In terms of the later distinction, it was not that the logos was hypostatic [i.e., a person] and then assumed an impersonal human nature, but that the logos was an hypostatic until the Word of God finally came to self‑expression, not merely in nature and in a people but in an individual historical person, and thus became hypostatic…Jesus is genuinely and utterly a man who so completely incarnates [in a figurative sense] God that the one is the human face of the other.34
Another scholar weighs in on this point:
For John, Jesus is really man, but in a unique, all surpassing relationship with God. Anyone who knows him knows the Father.35
Concerning the personality of the logos, another scholar, T. W. Manson, writes:
I very much doubt whether he [John] thought of the logos as a personality. The only personality on the scene is “Jesus the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” That personality embodies the logos so completely that Jesus becomes a complete revelation of God. But in what sense are we using the word “embodies”? I think in the old prophetic sense, but with the limitations that were attached to the prophets removed. The word that Isaiah speaks is the word of the Lord, but it is also Isaiah’s—it has become part of him. Not every word of Isaiah is a word of the Lord. For John, every word of Jesus is a word of the Lord.36
To us, it makes perfect sense that Jesus so internalized the standard of “It is written” that he was its very embodiment. This speaks highly of his love for the Word of God and his dependence upon it. In everything he said and did, he was looking to obey, properly explain or fulfill the Word of God, his Father. It was in this sense that it could be said of him that he was “the logos made flesh,” not that he was such by his mere birth. He had to learn to obey God and His Word (Heb. 5:8), which means that he first had to learn it inside and out.
The logos was not “made flesh” through a metaphysical or mystical process by which a pre‑existent spirit being transmigrated his eternal consciousness into a temporal human zygote at the moment of conception. The logos was “made flesh” through a process that began when God fulfilled His Word to His people by creating the long awaited Seed of Promise, the seed of the woman, the one who would be just like his Dad, the “chip off the old Rock.” This man, by internalizing the standard of the Word of God that was to guide his life, walked in perfect obedience “in the flesh.”
In Chapter 18, we will develop in greater detail the historical development of the doctrine of the incarnation and its mythological overtones.
“The glory of the only begotten one”
This term “only begotten” in the phrase “only begotten Son” in John 1:18 (KJV) is traditionally understood to refer to his virgin birth, when he was first “begotten.”37 However, it is widely recognized in scholarly circles that “only begotten” is a mistranslation of the Greek word monogenes.38 “Unique” is a profoundly appropriate term to characterize Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His uniqueness begins with the voluminous prophetic utterances about his coming. No other human being has ever been so specifically described and anticipated. Then his virgin birth is indeed another aspect of his uniqueness. Adam was created directly by God, not through the agency of a woman. Others received a child by God’s promise, but through the normal process of sexual intercourse. No other human being, even Adam, was ever directly conceived by God Himself, yet carried in a woman’s body.
No man ever walked the earth with such commanding presence and authority, nor did as many miracles. No man walked in such moral perfection nor was treated so unjustly. No man showed so much compassion for his fellow man, nor risked his own life and reputation more for the sake of helping those who were downcast and troubled. No man ever represented God so perfectly, and yet died in a manner that seemed to say that he had been cursed of God. Men have been miraculously raised from the dead, but only one has died and been raised with an entirely new and immortal body. And, finally, no man has ever sat where he sits, presiding over the angels at the right hand of God Himself.
Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God, and, as we have already seen, that sonship was clearly declared when he was “born” from the dead. That monogenes also reflects the post‑resurrection glory of Jesus Christ is evident from the qualifying phrase of John 1:18—”…who is at the Father’s side….” In other words, Jesus is pictured as being at the Father’s side, providing a capstone to the prologue and sealing it with the stamp of his exalted glory. This leads us to the conclusion that from the very first verse the prologue of John has overtones of Christ’s present state of being at the right hand of God. Thus, the prologue of John fits with the remainder of the New Testament, including those passages that describe Christ in his post-resurrection glory.
To show the relationship of the language of John, and especially the prologue, to other passages in the New Testament that define the post-resurrection identity of Jesus Christ, we have created the table below. In it we have attempted to correlate the appropriate phrases that address a similar idea. Though it may be incomplete, the general affinity of the themes of these passages can be easily seen, and helps us to harmonize some of the language which, taken by itself, might lead to the erroneous conclusion that Jesus Christ is God, an eternal being, “essential deity,” etc., as Trinitarians propose.
Prolepsis and Logos
If Jesus is not identical to the logos, what exactly is the relationship between them? The relationship of Jesus to the logos of God can best be described as intimate and prophetic, two important characteristics of the entire gospel of John. Jesus was conceived in the mind of God “in the beginning,” and was in view when God created the present heaven and earth.39 God knew His plan, and throughout the Old Testament communicated it through a body of prophetic language that pointed toward Christ’s coming. Jesus refers to this plan in his prayer on the eve of his death:
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before [pro] the creation of the world.
Peter communicates this same truth in his first epistle:
1 Peter 1:20 (NASB)
For He was foreknown before [pro] the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you
John and the Gnostics (Not a First–Century Rock Band)
We will be handling the subject of Gnosticism in greater depth in Chapter 16 on the beginnings of heresy, but the Gnostics deserve some mention with respect to the prologue of the gospel of John. As we have noted, the Gnostics seized upon the gospel of John and borrowed much of its language and many of its themes for their diverse speculations.40 This fact led many Christians of the time to doubt the credibility of the fourth gospel.41 By the end of the second century, the gospel of John was accepted as one of the four canonical Gospels. Irenaeus was the first of the “Church fathers” to fully accept it and begin to comment on it.
But we ought to ask why the Gnostics gravitated to this gospel and if the gospel of John addresses Gnostic teaching in any way. John is clearly not a polemical book specifically addressing competing Gnostic teaching, but we believe that part of its inspired genius is the way it subtly corrects the incipient Gnosticism of its day.42 Though primarily addressed to those who would believe, it was also written to maintain belief in the midst of a world full of idolatrous and anti-biblical philosophical systems. One scholar, representing the opinion of many, has noted, upon studying the relationship of John to Gnosticism: “At every crucial point the gospel is in tension with the Gnostic point of view, indeed repudiates it.”43 Thus, the gospel of John is like all Scripture—profitable for doctrine, reproof and correction (2 Tim. 3:16 – KJV). The essence of the teaching of the gospel of John that corrects Gnostic error is contained in the prologue. But before we discuss this, we will first point out earlier scriptural evidence of incipient Gnosticism and why it is very likely that there was a well-established Gnostic version of Christianity that had developed by the time John wrote his gospel.
Because Paul was fighting doctrinal battles with the proto-Gnostics at various points in his epistles, we know that the germs of Gnostic thought had already infected the Christian Church well before John wrote his gospel. In particular, the epistles to the Corinthians, Colossians, Timothy and Titus address teachings of Paul’s time that would later develop into full-blown Gnostic religious systems. 2 Peter also addresses some issues. For instance, Paul spoke of the “super‑apostles” in Corinth who thought that they had been initiated into a deeper awareness of wisdom and truth than he had, and were therefore more qualified to lead others into a truly spiritual life (2 Cor. 11:5). Paul responded that he was not a trained speaker like those men were, but had the marks of a true Apostle nevertheless (2 Cor. 11:6). Earlier, in 1 Corinthians 2:4, Paul had compared his approach with those who use “wise and persuasive words,” as opposed to the demonstration of the spirit.
What would later become fully developed Gnosticism had its roots in vain speculation that was divorced from both the accuracy of Scripture and the reality of the power of God activated by faith. What would mark the Gnostic system of thought more than anything was their dualistic view of the world: spirit is entirely good and matter is entirely evil. “Spirituality,” therefore, involved becoming as far removed from the shackles of matter as possible. Because they held the material world to be sinful and debased, they believed that the true God could have had nothing to do with its creation. Therefore they invented various intermediary deities called “demiurges,” who were responsible for the creation of this world, but these were actually evil beings who were responsible for the corruption, degradation and deceit of the material world. Thus, for John to pose the logos as intermediary to both God and creation would have corrected this growing Gnostic error. It also provided a way of looking at the relationship between God and creation that appealed to others beside Gnostics who had a problem with too closely associating a transcendent God with an imperfect creation. Unfortunately, some people took that idea too far and tried to show that God did not really wish to come into contact with His creation:
The logos theory was all too warmly welcomed by thinkers strongly imbued with Greek metaphysics, because the logos performed the cosmological function of relieving the Father, the supreme God, of the painful necessity of coming in close contact with the world.44
For the logos, an immaterial reality, to become “flesh,” integrates and connects the “spiritual” realm with the “physical” realm in a way that corrects the error of the Gnostic teaching and the tendencies of Greek philosophy. It even explains the quasi-mystical connotation of the phrase “the logos became flesh,” because John employs a poetic image to show the intimacy of God with His creation, and the extent of His involvement with it. We know from Scripture that He personally conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary. That act of creation marked the beginning of putting His Plan for the Man into action. When modern theologians and Bible teachers make the logos refer to a pre-incarnate Jesus, and then take the phrase “the logos became flesh” to mean that God became a man, they miss the precise point it is making. John is not propounding a mystical process by which a pre-existent spirit being became clothed in flesh. Rather, it is asserting that the prophetic plan and purpose of God has become a true man, “in the flesh,” and that as the “purpose of the ages,” even creation itself is organized around him.
In John 6:54, Jesus challenges and offends many of his followers by way of figuratively suggesting that they eat his flesh and drink his blood. This apparent exhortation to cannibalism would have horrified the proto‑Gnostic readers who did not even want to believe that Jesus had “come in the flesh” at all, much less “eat” his flesh. These proto‑Gnostics, the forerunners of the Docetists, were teaching that Jesus was not a true flesh-and-blood human being, because that would necessarily make him evil. They viewed him as essentially a spirit being who took on only the appearance of flesh. This teaching is also known as “Docetism.”45 John addresses the issue in a direct and stern way in his first epistle. Though he obviously spoke in a figurative manner, Jesus’ words in John 6:54 are a subtle but devastating jab at Gnostic aversion to the flesh. This is a classic example of the way God employs figurative language to confound those who are taken in idolatry.
“Pre-existence” of human beings was also a feature of Gnostic thought.46 So it is worth considering the possibility that since this doctrine cannot be supported elsewhere in the New Testament, there is a dual purpose served by employing such language in John. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that Jesus spoke in parables, a particular kind of figure of speech, to reveal those who had a firm desire to understand spiritual things. Such language served to separate out the believers from the unbelievers. The language of the gospel of John has the same deliberate quality as the parables, where the casually interested person or one who has already been deceived by mythology and philosophy could easily become misled by a loose interpretation of the language on a literal level and go off into error.47 It is highly likely that the language of pre‑existence used in John relates to the Gnostic belief in pre‑existence and contributed to their early adoption of the gospel.
At this point, it is useful to know some of the details of the Gnostic Redeemer myth, which involved a figure of light. Dart takes excerpts of Bultmann’s version of the myth to show its main features:
The Gnostic myth tells the fate of the soul, humanity’s true inner self represented as “a spark of a heavenly figure of light, the original man.” In primordial times, demonic powers of darkness conquer this figure of light, tearing it into shreds.
The sparks of light are used by the demons to “create a world out of the chaos of darkness as a counterpart of the world of light, of which they were jealous.” The demons closely guarded the elements of light enclosed in humans. “The demons endeavor to stupefy them and make them drunk, sending them to sleep and making them forget their heavenly home.” Some people nevertheless become conscious of their heavenly origin and of the alien nature of the world. They yearn for deliverance.
The supreme deity takes pity on the imprisoned sparks of light, and sends down the heavenly figure of light, His Son, to redeem them. This Son arrays himself in the garment of the earthly body, lest the demons should recognize him. He invites his own to join him, awakens them from their sleep, reminds them of their heavenly home, and teaches them about the way to return.
The redeemer teaches them sacred and secret passwords, for the souls will have to pass the different spheres of the planets, watchposts of the demonic cosmic powers. “After accomplishing his work, he ascends and returns to heaven again to prepare a way for his own to follow him. This they will do when they die.” The redeemer’s work will be completed when he is able to reassemble all the sparks of light in heaven. That done, the world will come to an end, returning to its original chaos. “The darkness is left to itself, and that is the judgment.”48
We believe that these Gnostic writings came later and used the prologue as the springboard for their speculations. But if they were contemporaneously written, then it is easy to see how John would be presenting the truth of which the Gnostic writings are the spiritual counterfeit. If somehow the Gnostic writings did come first, John would be addressing their errors in his gospel by employing similar imagery with an entirely different purpose and effect. In any event, we think it is important to recognize that one of the purposes of the gospel of John is to correct Gnostic teaching by setting forth Christian truth that is grounded in the historical reality of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, the Christ, the unique Son of God.
The prologue also pierces the elitist program of special enlightenment, subjective experience, spiritual initiation and esoteric knowledge, that was developed by the Gnostics. To all who receive him, Jesus Christ gives “…the right to become children of God” (1:12) without any initiation or special knowledge. In John, Jesus is clearly rejected by the Jews, who should have been the “initiated ones,” and so God sent him to “the world” instead. He is the Savior for all mankind, not just the elite and enlightened ones.49 We trust that as more is learned from Gnostic sources, we will gain even more insight into the precise usage of biblical terms and concepts employed by John. We will have more to say about Gnosticism in the historical section of this book, particularly Chapters 16–18.
And so we have seen how marvelously the prologue introduces the content of the gospel of John. It introduces God’s plan, power and wisdom in bringing forth His only begotten Son. It introduces the intimate but distinct relationship between the Father and the Son. It introduces the conflict between light and darkness and how darkness is not able to win that conflict. And it introduces the plan-of-God-become-flesh, whom we know as the Lord Jesus Christ. We have also seen how its language harmonizes with the other passages in the New Testament that describe his post-resurrection identity, as well as subtly introduces its readers to important truths that correct the doctrinal errors of the Gnostics. That it could accomplish all this and more in a few verses is powerful testimony to its divine inspiration. We find it ironic that the Gnostics embraced this gospel despite its repudiation of many of their doctrines, and we find it equally ironic that Trinitarians have embraced John as their favorite section of the New Testament when in fact it not only falls far short of validating “orthodox” Christian teaching, but in fact contradicts it.
Once understood, the gospel of John, including its prologue, presents a clear and compelling portrait of the One who came in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, lived a life of profound submission to his Father (the one true God) and was highly exalted because of his perfect obedience. This post‑resurrection glory of the risen Lord is so intimately associated with his earthly ministry that it provides wide literary license for a proleptic portrait of the unique One, the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than being confused by the language of John, we must work (as workmen of the Word —2 Tim. 2:15) to see its profound harmony with the rest of the New Testament. By so doing, we cannot help but stand in humble awe at the majesty of our God, the glory of our risen Lord and the wondrous perfection of the Word, the logos, that so eloquently and profoundly provides the words that give faith, hope, life and light to those who believe them.
1. The Bible itself demonstrates the wide range of meaning logos has, and some of the ways it is translated in Scripture (NIV) are: account, appearance, book, command, conversation, eloquence, flattery, grievance, heard, instruction, matter, message, ministry, news, proposal, question, reason, reasonable, reply, report, rule, rumor, said, say, saying, sentence, speaker, speaking, speech, stories, story, talk, talking, teaching, testimony, thing, things, this, truths, what, why, word, and words.
Op. cit., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Arndt and Gingrich’s revision of Walter Bauer’s work) lists the following as some of the definitions for logos (the words in bold are translated from logos):
- speaking; words you say (Rom. 15:18, “…what I have said and done”).
- a statement you make (Luke 20:20 – NASB, “…they might catch Him in some statement…”).
- a question (Matt. 21:24, “…I will also ask you one question…”).
- preaching (1 Tim. 5:17, “…especially those whose work is preaching and teaching”).
- command (Gal. 5:14, “The entire law is summed up in a single command…”).
- proverb; saying, (John 4:37, “Thus the saying, ‘One sows and another reaps…’ “).
- message; instruction; proclamation (Luke 4:32, “…his message had authority”).
- assertion; declaration; teaching (John 6:60, “…This is a hard teaching…”).
- the subject under discussion; matter, (Acts 8:21, “You have no part or share in this ministry…” and Acts 15:6 – NASB, “And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter“).
- revelation from God (Matt. 15:6, “…you nullify the word of God…”).
- God’s revelation spoken by His servants (Heb. 13:7, “…leaders, who spoke the word of God…”).
- a reckoning, an account (Matt. 12:36, “…men will have to give account” at the day of judgment…).
- an account or “matter” in a financial sense (Matt. 18:23, a king settled “accounts” with his servants, and Phil. 4:15, “…the matter of giving and receiving…”).
- a reason; motive (Acts 10:29 – NASB, “…And so I ask for what reason you have sent for me”).
2. Buzzard and Hunting, op. cit., The Doctrine of The Trinity.
3. The gospel of John is now widely viewed as having been originally written in Aramaic, a Semitic language of even greater antiquity than Hebrew, and the language that Jesus himself spoke. It was the language of the Galileans, which included Jesus. One New Testament scholar writes:
We find then, that, broadly speaking, sayings and discourse material prove to be that which displays the most unambiguous signs of translation out of Aramaic…In the case of John, not all would be willing to find Aramaic sources even behind the discourses: rather the work of a bilingual author has been postulated, in which the more natural Aramaic has left its indelible imprint on the more mannered Greek…John’s Greek can be closely paralleled from Epictetus, but in the opinion of most scholars appears to be a koine [Greek] written by one whose native thought and speech were Aramaic; there may even be passages translated from that language…this too underlines the description of the gospel as markedly Semitic.
New Bible Dictionary, “Language of the New Testament,” by J. N. Birdsall (W. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1975), p. 715. The significance of this fact is that if John’s gospel is written from a Semitic perspective, then its references to concepts like logos should be understood at least in part from a Semitic perspective also. This puts the logos concept squarely in what is called “the wisdom literature” of Judaism, wherein personification of concepts is a common figure of speech. Spirit and Wisdom and Logos (Reason or Word) are all figuratively said to have facilitated and participated in the act of creation (cp. Gen. 1:2; Prov. 8:1 and 22ff).
4. Thorlief Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared With Greek (Norton, NY, 1960), p. 58.
5. Boman cites a number of other scholars who see the Semitic view of logos, specifically Lorenz Durr, W. F. Albright, Herder and Bultmann. Ibid., p. 61.
6. “Im Anfang war die Tat”—”In the beginning was the word, the action.” J. W. von Goethe, Faust, line 1237. Quoted in Bruce, op. cit., Gospel of John, p. 29.
7. Boman, op. cit., Hebrew Thought Compared, p. 66.
8. Bruce, op. cit., Gospel of John, p. 29.
9. Broughton, James H. and Southgate, Peter J., The Trinity: True or False? (The Dawn Book Supply, Nottingham, 1995), p. 247. Broughton and Southgate note that the Spirit of God is also personified. We would add the example of Genesis 1:2, where the spirit is described as a living thing, again in the context of God’s creative action: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering [AMP – “brooding”] over the waters.”
10. William Barclay, New Testament Words, (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1974), p. 186.
11. These examples are from A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica by Dr. John Lightfoot (Hendrickson Pub., Peabody MA, 1989) Vol. 3, p. 238.
12. The NIV Study Bible note on logos (John 1:1) agrees that the “word” represents an intersection of Greek and Hebrew thought, but their Trinitarian bias is revealed in the fact that they say “Word” was a way that the Hebrews referred to God, when in fact it consistently refers to the creative activity, purpose and action of God. No Jew would have mistaken “the Word” of God for God Himself:
Greeks used this term not only of the spoken word but also of the unspoken word, the word still in the mind—the reason. When they applied it to the universe, they meant the rational principle that governs all things. Jews, on the other hand, used it as a way of referring to God. Thus, John used a term that was meaningful to both Jews and Gentiles.
13. Boman, op. cit., Hebrew Thought Compared, pp. 205 and 206.
14. A better translation of that phrase (“the Word was God”) would be “…what God was, the Word was…” (NEB), or “the Logos was divine,” (Moffatt). See Appendix A (John 1:1).
15. There are a number of passages in the Bible that have more than one meaning. In his magnificent work titled op. cit., Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Bullinger covers some of these under the figure amphibologia, or “Double Meaning.” The fact that God so intricately and carefully interweaves two meanings into one word and makes them both correct is more convincing proof that the Bible was not authored by men but by God, and that He has inspired it in such a way that only those who really look into the depth of Scripture will find its great buried treasure.
16. Bruce, op. cit., Gospel of John, pp. 28 and 29.
17. The Racovian Catechism (reprinted by Spirit & Truth Fellowship International®, Martinsville, IN, 46151, 1994). The Racovian Catechism was first published in Polish in 1605, translated into Latin in 1609, into English in 1818.
18. Although many theologians and even some translators treat the “word” of John 1:1 as if it were “the pre‑incarnate Christ” that is an unwarranted assumption. Note the following from the Ryrie Study Bible:
Word (Gk., logos). Logos means “word, thought, concept and the expressions thereof.” In the Old Testament, the concept conveyed activity and revelation, and the word or wisdom of God is often personified (Ps. 33:6; Prov. 8). In the Targums (Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament), it was a designation of God. To the Greek mind, it expressed the ideas of reason and creative control. Revelation is the keynote idea in the logos concept. Here it is applied to Jesus, who is all that God is and the expression of Him (John 1:1 and 14). Note on John 1:1 in Ryrie Study Bible Expanded Edition (Moody Press, Chicago, 1995 update).
19. Bullinger, op. cit., Companion Bible, p. 1512.
20. Bullinger, op. cit., Lexicon, p. 888.
21. Brown, op. cit., Community, p. 53. In another passage, Brown responds to A. C. Sundberg, who wrote two articles for Biblical Research Journal, “Isos To Theo: Christology in John 5:17–30” (15, 1970, p. 19–31) and “Christology in the Fourth Gospel” (21, 1976, pp. 29–37). Brown admits that later theological speculations about the equality of the Son with the Father go far beyond what can be substantiated by the gospel of John:
A classic contrast is between John 10:30 (NRSV), “The Father and I are one,” and 14:28 (NRSV), “…the Father is greater than I” [which] shows that the Christ of John still stands at quite a distance from the Christology of Nicaea where the Father is not greater than the Son.
22. The Greek and Hebrew languages assign genders to nouns, just as do Spanish, French, German and many other languages. Thus, every noun in Greek and Hebrew is assigned a gender. In Greek, there are masculine, feminine and neuter nouns, while in Hebrew there are only masculine and feminine. The origin of the gender is ancient, and does not seem to follow a specific pattern. In Hebrew, for example, altar (mizbeach) is masculine, while the menorah is feminine. An arrow (chets) and an ax (qardom) are masculine, while a sword (chereb) is feminine. A beetle (chargol) is masculine, while a bee (deborah) is feminine. In Greek, for example, logos is masculine, while rhema and euanggelion (gospel, good news) are neuter and biblos (book, scroll; from which we get “Bible”) and didache (doctrine or teaching) are feminine. “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter, while “comforter” (parakletos) is masculine. A chain (halusis) is feminine, a rope (schoinion) is neuter, while a leather strap (imas) and a nail (helos) are masculine. When these words are translated into English, we use “it” because they are things. If someone asks, “Where is the chain,” we say “It is in the garage,” not “She is in the garage.” Thus, the point should be made that just because logos is masculine does not mean that the English pronoun “he” is the proper pronoun to use when associated with it. We assert that “it” is the proper pronoun to use in verses like John 1:2 and 3, etc.
23. Dunn, op. cit., Christology, pp. 243, 256 and 259.
24. See Appendix A (John 3:13).
25. Bruce, op. cit., Gospel of John, p. 313. By quoting Bruce, we do not mean to imply that he agrees with our conclusion that Jesus is not God. What he wrote shows that John 1:1 does not have to be understood in a Trinitarian frame of mind.
26. Robinson, op. cit., Honest to God, pp. 70 and 71.
27. Dunn., op. cit., Christology, pp. 226 and 227.
28. C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, (Cambridge, 1953), p. 282.
29. See Appendix A (Col. 1:15–20).
30. The NIV correctly omits the words “by Jesus Christ” after the words [God] who created all things. These words were added to the text in an apparent attempt by an orthodox scribe to artificially insert Christ into the actual act of Creation. Christ was not in on the action, but he was the reason for it.
31. Bruce, op. cit., Gospel of John, p. 34.
32. Robinson, op. cit., Priority, pp. 379 and 380.
33. Dunn, op. cit., Christology, p. 241. Dunn writes (emphasis his): “…we must recognize that prior to v. 14 nothing has been said which would be strange to a Hellenistic Jew familiar with the Wisdom tradition or the sort of mystical philosophizing that we find in Philo.”
34. Robinson, op. cit., Priority, pp. 380 and 381.
35. E. Schillebeeckx, Christ: the Christian Experience in the Modern World (E. T., London, 1980), p. 431.
36. T. W. Manson, On Paul and John, ed. M. Black (SBT 38, London and Naperville, 1963), p. 156.
37. Ehrman argues against the translation of 1:18 as monogenes theos, “only begotten God,” although it is found in the vast majority of Alexandrian texts:
Outside of the New Testament, the term simply means “one of a kind” or “unique” and does so with reference to any range of animate or inanimate objects…There seems little reason any longer to dispute the reading found in virtually every witness outside the Alexandrian tradition. The prologue ends with the statement that “the unique Son who is in the bosom of the Father, that one has made him known” (Ehrman, op. cit., Orthodox Corruption, p. 81).
38. Robinson explains the origin of the translation:
Under the influence of the Arian controversy, Jerome [the medieval scholar responsible for the Latin translation of the Bible that became the standard text of Roman Catholicism] translated monogenes regarding Jesus as unigenitus (John 1:14 and 18, 3:16 and 18; 1 John 4:9; of all others, except Isaac in Heb. 11:17 – all KJV). He preserves the unicus of the old Latin [which Luke perpetuated in the AV as “only begotten” yet the word does not derive from gennao [birth], but genos [genus, kind]; it means “one of a kind.” Robinson, op. cit., Priority, p. 397, n.156.
39. Scripture delineates between the Creation and the foundation of the creation. This is reflected in the usage of two different Greek prepositions used in relationship to the words katabole, meaning foundation, and kosmos, meaning “world.” Some things were prepared in secret from (apo) the foundation of the world, and some things before (pro) the foundation of the world. This is a matter for further study, but it is interesting that Ephesians 1:4 says that we in the Church were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. The Church was a part of “…the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8), which was a part of “the secret” which “for ages past was kept hidden in God…” (v. 9). Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., Lexicon, p. 409.
40. F. F. Bruce comments on the early Gnostic use of the Gospel of John:
In the earlier part of the second century, the Fourth Gospel was recognized and quoted by Gnostic writers at least as much as by those whose teaching came to be acknowledged as more in line with the apostolic tradition. There are affinities to its thought and language in the letters of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (ca. a.d. 110) and in the collection of hymns called the Odes of Solomon (from about the same period, which have a Gnostic flavor… Hippolytus states that the Gnostic Basilides (ca. a.d. 130) quoted John 1:9 (about the true light coming into the world) as a gloss on the creative word “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3); if he is right, then that is the earliest known explicit quotation from the Gospel of John.
The Gospel of Truth (ca. a.d. 140), a Gnostic work coming either from Valentinus or from one of his disciples, has several echoes of [John], if not direct quotations…Later, he says, “those who were material were strangers and did not see his form or recognize him. For he came forth in flesh (sarx) of such a kind that nothing could block his progress” (31:1–7). Here “flesh” is conceded, but not in the sense of ordinary flesh: this flesh is not material or subject to physical limitations, but is rather as free from them as was Jesus’ resurrection body, to which closed doors presented no barrier (John 20:19).
A disciple of Valentinus named Heraclean, who died ca. a.d. 180, is the first known commentator on the fourth Gospel (Bruce, op. cit., Gospel of John, pp. 7 and 8).
41. This illustrates the wisdom of avoiding the trap of “guilt by association.” Because the Gnostics found John’s gospel to their liking, this fact does not bear on the truth or falsehood of the gospel itself. In fact, this reasoning is irrational to the core, and is a variation of the logical fallacy called Ad Hominem (to the man). Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of being a fraud because they did not like the people who he associated with. The canonicity of John is determined by careful analysis and comparison with the entire Bible to see if it harmonizes. On this basis, John passes with flying colors. See Appendix K for more about logical fallacies.
42. Robinson observes that John and Paul have distinct approaches to combat Gnostic thinking. This is logical because of the developing Gnostic beliefs of the latter half of the first century. Paul employed many of their own terms and used them against the Gnostic teachers, especially in 1 Corinthians and Colossians. In these epistles, he emphasized that Christianity is the true gnosis and Christ is the true wisdom. Throughout his epistles he uses many of the same Greek words the Gnostics used: pistis (faith), sophia (wisdom), gnosis (knowledge), pneumatikos (spiritual matters), musterion (secret), apokalupsis (appearing), pleroma (fullness) and eikon (image). John’s gospel, however is conspicuous in the way it avoids these terms, even pistis (faith). It uses pleroma only once, and in a different sense than the Gnostics used it. Robinson opines: “[John] seems to wish to give his opponents no handle by using the nouns [he used the verb forms instead].” One scholar suggests that in light of the conspicuous absence of all key Gnostic terms, John must have employed the term logos in the belief that it was not tainted by Gnostic overtones. Robinson, op. cit., Priority, pp. 105ff.
43. S. C. Neill, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1961 (Oxford Press, NY, 1964), p. 210.
44. Hanson, op. cit., Prophetic, p. 369.
45. The early spread of Docetism among the believers explains the use of the phrase, “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” in 1 John 4:2 and 3, to combat a false spirit that was introducing error among the believers. Those who were teaching that Jesus Christ was a heavenly messenger and not a true man were in some cases using John’s gospel as a springboard for their theological speculations, even as others cloaked in orthodoxy have used it to propound Trinitarian dogma.
46. Brown, a Trinitarian who himself believes in the pre‑existence of Christ, recognizes that “pre‑existence” was a favorite subject of the Gnostics: “A common thesis in the Gnostic systems involves the pre‑existence of human beings in the divine sphere before their life on earth. In the Fourth Gospel, only the Son of God pre‑exists; others become children of God through faith, water, and Spirit during their earthly lives. According to Irenaeus, the Gnostic initiate connected his own status with a theology of pre‑existence: ‘I derive being from Him who is pre‑existent and return to my own place from which I came forth’ ” (Brown, op. cit., Community, p. 151).
Regarding the concept of pre‑existence in the Fourth Gospel, Robinson and Dunn have opposing points of view. We side with Robinson, but believe that Dunn’s comments are important because they show the common language used by both John and the Gnostic literature. We understand the correspondence between John and the Gnostics because John was inspired to subtly address many of their erroneous beliefs, among which was pre-existence.
Dunn believes that John was “taken for something of a ride” by the “cultural evolution” of the late first century, and was influenced by the Gnostics, accounting for their early and enthusiastic acceptance of his gospel:
It could be said that the Fourth Evangelist was as much a prisoner of his language as its creator…That is to say, perhaps we see in the Fourth Gospel what started as an elaboration of the logos‑Son imagery applied to Jesus inevitably in the transition of conceptualizations coming to express a conception of Christ’s personal pre-existence, which early Gnosticism found more congenial than early orthodoxy (Dunn, op. cit., Christology, p. 264).
Robinson rebuts Dunn, as follows:
I agree that this happened, but I believe it happened to John rather than in John, and that he was “taken over” by the gnosticizers. In evidence, I would cite again the Johannine Epistles, which are saying in effect: “If that’s what you think I meant, that I was teaching a docetic‑type Christology—denying Christ come in the flesh and trying to have the Father without the Son—then this is the very opposite: it is Antichrist.”
Robinson, op. cit., Priority, pp. 381 and 382.
47. This deliberate usage of opponent’s language, mythology and metaphor is evident elsewhere in Scripture. In particular, Jesus employed the image of the afterlife adopted by the Pharisees in contradiction to the Hebrew Scriptures. In Luke 16:19ff (KJV), Jesus spoke a parable to the Pharisees revolving around their conception of “Abraham’s bosom,” a mythical and unbiblical “place” where the Jewish dead were said to dwell. Since Jesus nowhere else in the Gospels spoke of any other hope for the future except a bodily resurrection and his personal return in glory, it is clear that he did not intend to validate their error. His purpose was to teach that if someone does not believe Moses and the Prophets, even if one returned from the dead, they would still not believe. See the final chapter of our book, op. cit., Is There Death After Life?
48. John Dart, The Jesus of Heresy and History (Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1988), p. 40.
49. Phillip Lee wrote an interesting indictment of contemporary Christianity, identifying aspects of Gnostic thought that have re‑emerged in the Church today. One is the emphasis on personal religious experiences (at conversion, in worship, etc.) more than doctrine and discipline. Another is subjective knowledge over a knowledge of nature and history. Another is a shift from man’s need for deliverance from sin, which requires repentance and atonement, to his need for deliverance from ignorance, which requires special knowledge and enlightenment. The latter accounts for the name Gnostic, from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge” (Against the Protestant Gnostics, Oxford Press, N.Y., 1973), pp. 102–113.