The Gospel of John: Presenting Jesus as Logos
This paper is a limited excursus into the Logos doctrine, the main form of Christ’s epiphany in the fourth Gospel. Here, Christ is seen as an ontological principle, but an ontological principle like no other: a principle made flesh and the doors to salvation sent open by this instantiation of the doctrine of Logos, found in Greek and Chinese philosophy. This paper will deal with the Logos doctrine in the first six chapters of John’s gospel (the foundational chapters) and then deal with the secondary literature on the remainder of the Gospel on the same issue of the Logos-made-flesh.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
This famous and powerful passage of John introduces the book, and introduces its conception of Jesus. Jesus is the Word, the Word being God. The Word, Logos, is the summation of all things, their formal and final cause. The Logos is a scientific term, in that it speaks of the form of all things, and the form of forms, the interrelation of all things, that is, objects in space/time having the power of God, his energy, present within them, animating them, bring what was dead into life. But this introduction is the purpose of the following paper: to see how the Logos doctrine winds its way through the narrative, the events and sayings of Christ using both primary and secondary sources.
But the world prior to this lay in darkness, it lay in misunderstanding. The world did not understand the final cause of the universe, that is, its complete recreation in God through the Logos. This “light” is just that, to shed light on a new conception of the world, a world with purpose, with a specific and final end, to show forth the nature of the Logos as present in created things.
The very next chapter shows Christ’s first miracle: the wedding at Cana. The Logos shows himself as present in nature by and through his control over it. There is an immediate and direct link between John 1 and John 2, the revelation of the Logos and its presence in both Christ and that world He helped create. Immediately afterwards (verse 12ff), Christ then, from demonstrating his mastery over the physical universe, then will show his mastery over the temple (which is, in truth, Himself).
The following verses show Christ as showing mastery over the religion of the Israelites, a religion, as all the prophets had said, that had grown cold, ritualistic and immoral in many respects. Christ shows his prophetic reign by overthrowing the money changers at the temple.
Hence we have three things: first, Christ as King, Christ as master over nature, and Christ as prophet. Christ shows himself, through John, as King by being God, God the word, or the reflection of God. This refection, by definition, must be God, as it is God’s self knowing. By establishing Christ’s being God and Logos, John then presents Christ as priest: changing the water into wine, manifesting, through the prompting of his Mother, a miracle, and then, Christ as prophet, Christ as attacking the corrupt worship in the Temple, a favorite theme of the Old Testament prophets at all times.
Once this introductory revelation is shown, then it is time for the more gentle, preaching. Jesus is shown as priest, prophet and king, and now, will begin his mission with the conversation with Nikodemus. The world that lies in darkness has already rejected Jesus, the Jewish leaders are already plotting against him for his brazen actions. But the conversation with Nikodemus shows that there are some–a handful–that see his “power comes from God.” but already, Jesus, who has already identified himself with the Temple and a new form of worship, is introducing the role of the church and its sacraments: “No one can enter the kingdom of God without first being born of water and spirit” In other words, the Temple is about to be overthrown, and one must come to Him, or those that he will choose, in order to receive this water and spirit. Christ’s disciples were already baptizing in chapter 3, v 22-24.
Christ says in chapter 3 (v11-15) that a new dispensation is coming: the Temple is gone, now, belief (another favorite theme of the prophets) is the key: the belief in Christ as priest, prophet and king over nature and all the universe. Further, in verses 16-21, the basis of the New Covenant is laid out. First, belief is primary. Christ is no ordinary prophet, second, in that he is the Logos Himself, the reflection/image of God incarnate. Third, that the leaders of the Jews and many of the people will not recognize Him as Lord because their minds are clouded. In an interesting epistemological passage, Christ says that these people will not believe because their lives are saturated in sin. Sin has harmed their minds and hence, they cannot process the information that Christ Has been sent to preach. “They love darkness because their deeds are evil,” Christ says, in that the common, dark, view of nature is that realm of magic, of the Baalim who seek to manipulate matter for their own ends. To begin preaching Christ as Logos is to overthrow this common notion, and replace it with an idea that God is present in matter and, through the church, is bringing it to its final end. The older, pagan idea of matter is that it is dead, dead force that can be harnessed for the ends of the elite. It is this pagan view, so violently hated by the prophets, that Christ, in this passage is condemning in the harshest terms.
In similar terms, John 4, in the parable of the Samaritan woman (verses 7-15) recapitulate the Logos’ relation to the world. Christ says to her that the water that she is drawing from the well cannot satisfy. Its properties are such that it can satisfy thirst for a time, but thirst will return. This kind of worldly desire never solves the problem of desire. Christ is logically refuting the doctrine of the Baal that the world can somehow satisfy the longing of the truly human conscience. The human will does not desire temporary satisfaction, but eternal satisfaction: if the will desires happiness, it desires eternal happiness of the highest degree, and is endlessly pained by the fact that the desires of this world (which he is always told are the only desires) come and go. Christ is saying, in effect, that finally, the method of having such desires slaked permanently is here, waking among you, and causing the “elders of Israel” no end of trouble.
Chapter 5:2-9 shows a similar theme, relative both to the world that “lies in evil,” as well as Israel. It shows a large group of sick that have come to a pool in order to be cleansed. It is no accident that this story is placed subsequent to the first discussion of water in the previous chapter. Christ heals the man that has the desire to go into the pool but cannot. While the water has genuine healing properties, it is both the desire, and the desire infused with faith that will cure Israel of its sins and errors in worship. It is further no accident that the “elders of Israel” use this against Jesus, as if to show precisely what these errors are. These errors are self-righteousness and a legalism that contains within itself no faith (cf. v. 9-24). They seek to condemn Jesus for healing the man on the Sabbath, when no work is to be done. They do not care about the ethical content of the action, but only the legalistic trap that is used to ensnare Jesus. The elders, the Pharisees stand condemned for their lack of ethics and charity. And in a passage reminiscent of the first chapter, Christ says to the arrogant Jews:
class=WordSection2>The Father judges no one but has given all judgement to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life.
class=WordSection3> Again, Christ here is Logos, he is the image of the father, the very content of the father in his power and creative ability. But, as far as men are concerned, God has given all power to His image (in the sense that, as image, it contains the father in His fulness). Christ is explicitly saying here that He is God, and that the power from the father rests in the Son, and now, the Son is incarnate and bringing that power for all who believe. Faith again is stressed as over and against the Israelite legalism and the self-righteousness that derives from it. The Jews claim to know the father, but, if that were true, then they would know Christ immediately, since he is the image of the Father. If they do not know the image, they do not know He whose image is seen in Christ as Logos, the master of nature.
And again, in Chapter 6 (v 50-56):
class=WordSection4>Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes
down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? So Jesus said to them, Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
class=WordSection6> Several things are happening here that really sum up the image of Christ as presented in
John’s Gospel. First, as with the woman at the well, Christ is likening himself to a natural object, water or bread, a staple of life. But the very concept of the Logos is that the natural is infused with the Logos, with the divinity as its guiding force and its energy. Hence, it is not meant to disparage the natural world, but to reveal something, to reveal that the energies of God are present in that nature, but one requires the light to be able to see and understand this profound idea not in the least foreign to the Platonists.
Second, Christ is connecting his own ministry with the Old Testament, and specifically the miraculous feeding of the Israelite exiles with manna. Manna, then, is a foretaste of Christ, it is a foretaste of the Eucharist that Christ is about to reveal to the world. Christ is saying that he is the “new bread,” something even more miraculous than the nature of the manna in the desert. He is revealing that the Logos is present in all natural things through his energies, but that he can really be present in them for the faithful, hence, the nature oft he Eucharist in the ancient church: Christ was really present in the bread and wine at the liturgy, an explicit connection both with the wedding at Cana, the healing of the sick and the expression of Christ’s Logos-power in this
above discussion. When one eats this bread, one is ingesting the Logos itself, making the Logos a part of the human being literally. If the Logos is present in nature as the energy of God, giving nature its motion and law, then it is not a stretch to understand that, for the faithful, the Logos personally–not as creative energy only–can be present in matter, in this case, bread. The future church is being laid out here in some detail as the continuation of both the Old Testament and this New that is being described.
But what is important is that Christ reiterates that it is HE that will be injected. As the Jews worried about this sort of “cannibalism,” Christ does not deny this, but re-emphasizes it, as if to make sure there is no confusion of his meaning. This is something unique to Christ here, not to be found in Plato or the Hebrew prophets: the actual ingesting of the Logos bodily an ingestation that is, even more powerfully, necessary to salvation. Christ could not be more obvious here.
Hence, to sum up these first six chapters, they are the summary of Christ: priest, prophet and king. He is the king in that he is the image of the father, the Logos of creation. Priest in that he will be sacrificed and his flesh eaten, and in the process, the sins of the congregation will be remitted. Prophet in that he has come to condemn paganism and Jewish Temple worship. The truth is no longer to be found in these things, but in Him and Him alone.
The secondary literature is now worth commenting on. This paper concentrated solely on the primary material of John in order to lay the groundwork, but it makes sense to add the insights of scholars onto the above observations.
In Molony’s (1998) study on the Gospel of John, he holds that Christ is in fact ritually “purifying” the temple of unclean worship, the worship of the Baal of money. Of course, only the high priest in the Old Testament has the right to purify the temple for worship, and this is what causes the problem: Christ is representing himself as high priest in the process of whipping the money changers.
In addition, Molony’s work permits us to clarify the concept of Christ referring to himself as the Temple. It is true that he meant that the worship of the new covenant was to be of Him and Him alone, it also means that the Jews had become so worldly minded that they could no longer made a distinction between the method and the object of worship. In other words, their minds have become so darkened (as we mentioned above) that they can no longer distinguish the nature of God from the temple and the priests that work there. Christ is coming to purify the Temple in this way: by restoring the proper object of worship (namely Himself) and to restore the distinction between law and ritual on the one hand, and the object of the law and ritual, on the other. The Book of John is full of this conceptual confusion among the Jews, as even the ethical content of the law is put aside to make way for its literal observance, as was evidenced by their condemnation of Christ’s healing of the sick man on the Sabbath.
By the time of Christ’s passion and crucifixion and death, the fulness of Christ’s personage and mission are made clear. Moloney’s says that the remnant of Israel is defined as precisely those who had the courage to continue to preach the faith after the death of Christ. The resurrection proves all that has com before: that Christ has the power over life and death, of the very Being of nature itself (rather than nature as such, which has magical tinges). In a nuanced mode of speaking, Moloney makes it clear that it is not merely the “power over nature,” but the power over the Being of nature, the foundational principles and laws from which nature takes its being and power of action. This is of immense importance because the nature of the resurrection makes sense out of the first six (foundational) chapters dealt with above. Christ is more than just the power “in” nature, but the power that has “created” nature and its laws. This is a major distinction in both ontology and theology that will make the church distinct from the earlier cults who based their role on magic. The magician does not claim to be the being of nature, but just that he has a knack for seeing the interconnected laws of created things. Christ is saying, in effect, that he has made the magician’s craft possible, and hence, is inferior to Christ and the worship of Logos.
In the work of Carson (1991), deals not with the specifics of the action of John, but about its meaning. Hence, this work is an important guide to the gospel itself. The stress here is on the ‘Greek” nature of the Logos doctrine. While it is true that the Logos was known to the pagan Greeks, the instantiation of the Logos was another matter. It is not out of the realm of possibility that it is precisely to fulfill the concepts of the Logos (and related terms) is the point of Christ’s mission: that the Logos doctrine was seen “through a glass darkly” prior to the incarnation fo the Logos that is known in both Greek and Chinese philosophy. Logos was once an abstraction, a piece of ontology without relation to life and faith: now, all that has changed. Christ is here not merely for Israel (that largely rejected him), but also for the Greeks who recognized him precisely because of the Logos doctrine.
More importantly, though, Carson is useful for his understanding of the uniqueness of the Gospel of John relative to Christ. Allow me to summarize his findings, findings that make the above foundational chapters seem more alive: First, John is concerned with “who” Christ is, rather than on specific teachings. John is an ontological book, an ontological book with a missionary purpose: to reveal the Logos, a Logos doctrine known only by abstraction, now, known in the flesh.
Second, the nature of salvation (cf. 97). We are dealing here with salvation from the Jews who were blinded by legalism and worldly power, salvation from the perishing world of matter and its misunderstood forces, and salvation from the people around the remnant, the remnant alone who knows god.
Third, the stress on the end times, the end of nature in the sense of its final cause, something inherent within the Logos doctrine itself. Christ is the kingdom of God in that he is God’s image made flesh, and hence accessible. Nature will reach its final purpose when it expresses the Logos and power of god in a clear way.
Fourth, John’s teaching about the Holy Spirit, and His relation to this spirit as a third element in the Godhead. Fifth, the problem of misunderstanding of Christ’s teachings, with the concomitant epistemological slant that gives this book its power: Christ can be understood by a mind purified and enlightened by the Spirit Himself. A darkened mind cannot comprehend Christ regardless of the miracles such a mind may witness. And finally, the nature of the church, her sacraments, the remnant of Israel, and the New Community are all bound together within the Logos doctrine. This insight is shared in a nearly identical manner by Lierman (2006).
W. Hall Harris (2001) provides a commentary on these issues that is very important to deepen our understanding of the Logos doctrine. In fact, he offers one of many definitions of the term as “the ‘world-soul,’ or the soul of the universe. This was an all pervading principle, the rational principle of the universe. It was a creative energy.” But by Christ as being this principle, Harris adds to our idea of salvation: Christ is representing Himself as the very end of science: the final rational structure of the universe that can be investigated and understood, so long as faith in this order and creativity is present. It seems to this writer that without this insight, the basic nature and structure of the work itself is impossible or incomplete.
Concerning the Logos doctrine, one more secondary source is appropriate here. The work of Bystrom (2003) is very important, especially on the farewell discourse on the idea of the Logos (i.e. John chapters 13-17). Since the Farewell Discourse is so popular and has so much work in the literature, it needs to be dealt with in brief.
First of all, the nature of this discourse is to prepare the apostles for Christ’s arrest, torture, murder and resurrection. But this point of this is to give the final proof of Christ as Logos. The foot washing scene (13:1-20) is another method of purification, parallel to the whipping of the money changers out of the Temple: now, the apostles, since they worship rightly, are pure and enlightened.
Second, the prediction of his final betrayal sets the stage for his eventual arrest and the doctrine that even the enlightened ones will be deceived. Since Judas also received the foot washing, it remains that case that he also has had his mind darkened, and that even the full revelation of Christ was insufficient to enlighten him. Nevertheless, the victory over death must be shown in all its fulness, and hence, Christ must be tortured and murdered, only to rise again. Indeed, as Bystrom suggests, this scene is laying down several things: first, the Eucharist, second, purification and third, the nature of being a disciple, to serve even if it is to one’s detriment.
By way of conclusion, this paper has sought to show the Logos doctrine as first, the primary epiphany of Christ in this gospel, and second, to see, both in the primary and secondary literature, how this doctrine underlies the entire Gospel and holds it together. The Logos underlies the universe as well as this Gospel. In a strange way, the Gospel then can be said to recapitulate the universe in that it is saturated with reason and order, the very nature of Logos. The only regret here is not being able to take each event and saying in turn, but this would have led to a paper infinitely longer than twelve pages. Nevertheless this paper has presented a representative sample of events and words sufficient for a paper of this length.
Moloney, Francis. (1998). The Gospel of John. Liturgical Press.
Carson, DA. (1991). The Gospel According to John. Eardmanns.
Harris, W. Hall. (2001). Commentary on the Gospel of John in 25 Articles. Regent University Press.
Lierman, John. (2006) Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John. Siebeck Publishing.
Kostenberger, Andreas (1999). Encountering John, The Gospel in Historical, Literary and Theological Perspective. Baker Academic Press.
Bystrom, Raymond. (2003) God Among Us: Studies in the Gospel of John. Kindred Publications.
John 3: 1-21
cf. Also Kostenberger on this issue, 2006, 78-80
Moloney, Francis. (1998). The Gospel of John. Liturgical Press, 75
Moloney, 1998, 78
 Moloney, 1998, 477
Moloney, 1998. 447-8
Carson, DA. (1991). The Gospel According to John. Eardmanns, 25ff
Carson, 1991, 95
Carson,. 1991, 98-100
Harris, W. Hall. (2001). Commentary on the Gospel of John in 25 Articles. Regent University Press., art. 4
Bystrom, Raymond. (2003) God Among Us: Studies in the Gospel of John. Kindred Publications. 210-214
Bystrom, 2003, 214-220
Bystrom, 2003, 220.