"Was with God"
The Hebrew idea of being "with" someone can carry the
idea of being 'in their presence'. 2 Kings 5:1,2 speak of how Naaman
was "with" his master, and the RVmg. gives "before"
or 'in the presence of' as a translation of this idiom. He is paralleled
in the record with the maid who was "before" (RVmg.) her
mistress, Naaman's wife. When we read that the word was "with"
God, the idea is that the word was always before God, in His presence,
in His perspective. Applied to an abstract idea like the logos,
surely the idea is that God always had this plan for a Son before
Him, in His presence / perspective.
Wisdom In Proverbs
The basic idea in John 1 is repeated in Proverbs 8. In the beginning, there was a logos / word / intention with the Father. His ‘idea’ of having a Son was not thought up at the last minute, as some sort of expediency in order to cope with the unexpected problem of human sin, as some of the critics and false teachers of the first century taught. In fact, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that John actually has Proverbs 8 in mind when speaking about the logos being in the beginning with the Father.
Prov. 8:22-31 (ASV) reads: “Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, Before the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills was I brought forth; While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, Nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there: When he set a circle upon the face of the deep, When he made firm the skies above, When the fountains of the deep became strong, When he gave to the sea its bound, That the waters should not transgress his commandment, When he marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was by him, as a master workman; And I was daily his delight, Rejoicing always before him, Rejoicing in his habitable earth; And my delight was with the sons of men”.
The key issue is whether “wisdom” in Proverbs is in fact the Lord Jesus personally. A brief glance at Proverbs surely indicates that wisdom is being personified as a woman. Wisdom in Proverbs stands at the gates and invites men to come listen to her. She dwells with prudence (Prov. 8:12), and in Solomon’s time cried out to men as they entered the city (Prov. 8:1-3). None of these things are intended to be taken literally. “Wisdom” is wisdom- albeit personified. Wisdom was “possessed” by God- and yet the Hebrew word translated “possessed” is defined by Strong as meaning ‘to create’. When God started His “way” or path with men, He had principles and purpose. He didn’t make up His principles as He went along. And this was what was being said by John’s first century critics. Therefore, John alluded to Prov. 8, in explaining that the essential purpose of the Father was all summarized and epitomized in the person of His Son; and that logos was created / conceived by the Father from the very beginning. Note that Prov. 8:24,25 describe wisdom as being “brought forth” by the Father from the beginning. Again, God as it were hatched a plan. Even if we were to equate wisdom with Jesus personally, He was still created / brought forth from the Father. Somewhat different to the false Trinitarian notion of an ‘uncreate’ Jesus who ‘eternally existed’. Wisdom was the “master workman” (Prov. 8:30), or ‘the one trusted / believed in’ (Heb.)- in the sense that all of God’s natural creation was made according to and reflective of the principles of “wisdom”. John’s allusion to Prov. 8 shows that this “wisdom” was above all to be embodied and epitomized in God’s Son. From this it follows that the whole of the natural creation was designed with the Lord Jesus in mind. Somehow it speaks of Him; will be used by Him; and will in some sense be liberated and redeemed by Him from “the bondage of corruption” to share the glorious liberty of us God’s children (Rom. 8:21-24). And perhaps this is why we sense that the Son of God was strangely at peace with the natural creation around Him, and could so effortlessly extract deep spiritual lessons from the birds, flowers and clouds around Him. “Then I was by [Heb. toward] him” (Prov. 8:30) is the idea behind the Greek text of Jn. 1:1: “The word was [toward] God”. It wasn’t Jesus personally who was with God or God-ward; it was the word / wisdom / logos which was, and this was then “made flesh” in the person of the Lord Jesus. And this logos was the wisdom in Proverbs.
We’ve demonstrated that John’s Gospel begins with the idea that the “word”
of God in the Old Testament was made flesh in the person of the
Lord Jesus. But John actually continues that theme throughout his
Gospel. He continually refers to things which the Jews saw symbols
of the Torah- and applies them to Jesus. Examples include the bread
/ manna and water, and also light. The Assumption of Moses speaks
of the Torah as “the light that enlightens every man who comes into
the world”- and this is exactly the language of Jn. 1:9 about Christ.
Bearing this in mind, it is interesting to discover that nearly
all the phrases used in the prologue to John’s Gospel are alluding
to what Jewish writers had said about the “Wisdom of God”, especially
in Proverbs and the apocryphal writings known as the Wisdom of Solomon
and Ecclesiasticus(1). And they understood
“Wisdom” to primarily refer to the Torah. For example, Jn. 1:14
RVmg. states that the Lord Jesus as the word made flesh “tabernacled
amongst us”. Yet Ecclus. 24:8 speaks of Wisdom ‘tabernacling’ amongst
Israel. Skenoo, the verb ‘to tabernacle’, is of course
related to the noun skene, the tabernacle. As Israel lived
in tents in the wilderness, God too came and lived with them in
a tent- called the tabernacle, the tent where God could be met.
The idea was that God wasn’t so far from them, He chose to come
and be like them- they lived in tents, so He too lived in a tent.
He didn't build a huge house or palace to live in- because that's
not how His people lived. He ‘tented’ in a tent like them. This
pointed forward to the genuine humanity of the Lord Jesus; for the
human condition is likened to a tent in 2 Cor. 5:1. So rather than
proving that ‘Jesus was God’, this whole prologue to John’s Gospel
actually proves otherwise. The language of pre-existence was applied
by the Jews to the Torah and Wisdom, and so when John demonstrates
that the ultimate Wisdom / Torah / logos / word which was
from the beginning has now been fulfilled in and effectively replaced
by Jesus, he’s going to reference that same ‘pre-existence’ language
to make his point. As an example, the Mishnah stated (Aboth Nathan)
that “Before the world was made the Torah was written and lay in
the bosom of God”(2). John’s desire
is that his fellow Jews quit these fanciful ideas and realize that
right now, in Heaven, the Son of God is in the bosom of the Father
(Jn. 1:18). He right now is the word-made-flesh.
(1) This is shown at great length throughout
Rendel Harris, The Origin of The Prologue To St. John’s Gospel
(Cambridge: CUP, 1917).
(2) C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation
Of The Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: CUP, 1953) p. 86.