Monday, March 23, 2009

Word Up, Y'all

The Greek phrase "En arche en ho Logos" begins John's Gospel. It's the soaring start to John 1, and Jesus People have heard it a trillion times. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

For John of course, the Word with a capital W was Jesus. We hear that easily. It's nice and familiar. What is harder for us to do, living outside of the first century Greco-Roman world, is for us to hear the beginning of John's Gospel in the same way as the people who would first have heard it read in a small assembly of early Christians.

The term logos can be translated to mean a verbal utterance. It does mean that. However, the reason we slap a great honking uppercase Dubyah onto it has everything to do with the broader meaning of that term in the philosophical movements of that time. Logos was a term that had deep roots in Greek philosophy, having been used since the time before Socrates to describe the underlying order and nature of the universe. It can equally well be translated as "reason," or "meaning" or "thought."

During the time of the early church, it was used by the Stoic movement to describe the creative power that caused all things. The Stoics believed that fragments of that power, the logos spermatikos, resided in every human being as the power of reason.

At it's very outset, John's Gospel is making a stunning claim for Jesus...that he is, in fact, the embodiment of the underlying creative power that formed the universe.
"Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." If you heard that in the first century, you knew exactly what that meant. Logos. The Word.

Just as the universe was spoken into existence, Jesus is God's own self-expression, in human form. Can we call him Rabbi? Does he teach? Sure. Can we call him prophet? Does he proclaim God's justice? Yup. But the most essential assertion we make about Jesus is that Jesus is integrally woven into the Creator's intent for the universe, that he manifests that intent, that in some ineffable way he was and is that intent.

How, if at all, does this relate to the way we Christians understand salvation?