1-3-4 “The word was God”
Not believing in God and not believing in His word of the Gospel
are paralleled in 1 Jn. 5:10. God is His word. The word “is” God
in that God is so identified with His word. David parallels trusting
in God and trusting in His word (Ps. 56:3,4). By our words
we personally will be condemned or justified- because we too ‘are’
our words. When Samuel told Eli of the prophetic vision which he
had received, Eli commented: “It is the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:18). He
meant ‘It is the word of the Lord’; but he saw God as effectively
His word. “The word”, the “word of the Kingdom”, “the Gospel”, “the
word of God” are all parallel expressions throughout the Gospels.
The records of the parable of the sower speak of both “the word
of God” (Lk. 8:11-15) and “the word of the Kingdom” (Mt. 13:19).
The word / Gospel of God refers to the message which is about
God, just as the “word of the Kingdom” means the word which is
about the Kingdom, rather than suggesting that the word is
one and the same as the Kingdom. “The gospel of God” means the Gospel
which is about God, not the Gospel which is God
Himself in person (Rom. 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor. 11:7; 1 Thess. 2:2,8,9;
1 Pet. 4:17). So, the word of God, the word which was God,the
Gospel of God, was made flesh in Jesus. “The word of Jesus” and
“the word of God” are interchangeable (Acts 19:10 cp. 20; 1 Thess.
1:8 cp. 2:13); as is “the word of the Gospel” and “the word of Jesus”
(Acts 15:7 cp. 35). The word wasn’t directly equivalent to Jesus;
He manifested the word, He showed us by His life and words and personality
what the Kingdom was like, what God is like; for the word which
He “became” was about God, and about the Kingdom. He was the entire
Gospel, of God and of His Kingdom, made flesh. He could speak of
His words abiding in us (Jn. 15:7), and yet make this parallel to
He personally abiding in us (Jn. 15:4,5; 14:20). "The word
was God" can't mean that the word is identical with God- for
the word "was with God", or "was in God's presence".
The NEB therefore renders: "What God was, the Word was".
G.B. Caird suggests the translation: "In the begnning was a
purpose, a purpose in the mind of God, a purpose which was God's
own being" (1).
In the person of Jesus, there was an uncanny and never before, never again experienced congruence between a human being and his words. And our witness should be modelled on His pattern- we should be the living embodiment of the doctrines we preach. The message or word of Jesus was far more than the words that He spoke from His lips. In one sense, He revealed to the disciples everything that He had heard from the Father (Jn. 15:15); and yet in another, more literal sense, He lamented that there was much more He could tell them in words, but they weren't able to bear it (Jn. 16:12). His person and character, which they would spend the rest of their lives reflecting upon, was the 'word' of God in flesh to its supremacy; but this doesn't necessarily mean that they heard all the literal words of God drop from the lips of Jesus. I have shown elsewhere that both the Father and Son use language, or words, very differently to how we normally do. The manifestation of God in Christ was not only a matter of the Christ speaking the right words about God. For as He said, His men couldn't have handled that in its entirety. The fullness of manifestation of the word was in His life, His character, and above all in His death, which Jn. 1:14 may be specifically referring to in speaking of how John himself beheld the glory of the word being made flesh. It seems to me that many of us need to learn these things in our hearts; for our preaching has so often been a matter of literal words, Bible lectures, seminars, flaunting our correct exposition of Bible passages and themes. When the essential witness must be of a life lived, a making flesh of the word which is God. To ignore this will lead us into literalistic definitions of literal words, arguments about statements of faith, endless additions of words and clauses to clarify other words...whereas " the word" which the Lord Jesus manifested was not merely human words. There was far more to it than that. It was and is and must ever be a word made flesh. This is why nothing can replace personal witness and personal, one on one teaching as the way that conversions are really made. And yet increasingly we tend to try to use media to preach- TV, CDs, internet, video, tapes etc. There is nothing personally 'live' in all this; there can be no communication of truths through their incarnation in our own personalities. And yet this was how God communicated with us in His Son; and how we too reveal His word in flesh to others.
“The word was God”. The words of the Lord Jesus were the words which He had 'heard' from the Father. But this doesn't mean that He was a mere fax machine, relaying literal words which the Father whispered in His ear to a listening world. When the disciples finally grasped something of the real measure of Jesus, they gasped: " You do not even need that a person ask you questions!" (Jn. 16:30). They had previously treated Jesus as a Rabbi, of whom questions were asked by his disciples and then cleverly answered by him. They finally perceived that here was more than a Jewish Rabbi. They came to that conclusion, they imply, not by asking Him questions comprised of words and hearing the cleverly ordered words that comprised His answers. The words He spoke and manifested were of an altogether higher quality and nature than mere lexical items strung together. Here was none other than the Son of God, the Word made flesh in person. And this, of course, was why the unbelieving Jews just didn't understand the literal words which He spoke. They asked Him to speak plainly to them (Jn. 10:24); and the Lord's response was that their underlying problem was not with His language, but with the simple fact that they did not believe that He, the carpenter from Nazareth, was the Son of God. Is it going too far to suggest that all intellectual failure to understand the teaching of Jesus is rooted in a simple lack of faith and perception of Him as a person?
As the word of God, the message of God in flesh, Jesus was God’s
agent, and as such could be counted as God, although He
was not God Himself in person. P. Borgen brings this out in an article
‘God’s Agent In The Fourth Gospel(2).
He quotes the halakic or legal principle of the rabbis, that “An
agent is the like the one who sent him”, and quotes the Babylonian
Talmud Qiddushin 43a: “He ranks as his master’s own person”.
This, therefore, was how those in the 1st century who
understood Jesus to be God’s agent would have understood Him. John
Robinson, one time Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, observed that popular
Christianity “says simply that Jesus was God, in such a way that
the terms ‘Christ’ and ‘God’ are interchangeable. But nowhere in
Biblical usage is this so. The New Testament says that Jesus was
the Word of God, it says that God was in Christ, it says that Jesus
is the Son of God; but it does not say that Jesus was God, simply
like that”(3). And he goes on to apply
this good sense to an analysis of the phrase “the word was God”
in John 1. He argues that this translation is untenable because:
“In Greek this [translation “the word was God”] would most naturally
be represented by ‘God’ with the article, not theos but
ho theos. Equally, St. John is not saying that Jesus is
a ‘divine’ man… that would be theios. The NEB, 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”- in the sense that His perfect character reflected that
of the Father(4). The lack of article
["the] before "God" is significant. "In omitting
the article before theos, the author intends to say that
the Logos is not actually God but only... a divine emanation"
“He came unto his own”
The context here speaks of both the word which was “in the beginning”, and of Jesus personally, whom John had witnessed to. Acts 10:36-38 RV puts this in simpler terms: “He sent the word unto the children of Israel, preaching the gospel of peace by [in] Jesus Christ…that word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; even Jesus of Nazareth”. The sequence and similarity of thought between this and John 1:1-8 is so great that one can only assume that John is deliberately alluding to Luke’s record in Acts, and stating the same truths in spiritual terms: ‘In the beginning was the word of the Gospel which was with God. And then John came witnessing to Jesus, and then the word as it was in Jesus came to the Jews…’. Paul pleaded with his fellow Jews: “Brethren, children of the stock of Abraham…to us is the word of this salvation sent forth” (Acts 13:26 RV). Yet he also wrote that in the fullness of time, God “sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). The Son of God was “the word of this salvation” / Jesus. “The word was God”.
(1) G.B. Caird, The Language And Imagery Of The Bible
(London: Duckworth, 1988) p. 102.
(2) In Religions In Antiquity (Leiden:
Brill, 1968) pp. 137-148.
(3) John Robinson, Honest To God (London:
SCM, 1963) p. 70.
(4) Ibid p. 71.
(5) Oscar Cullmann, The Christology Of The New Testament
(London: SCM, 1971) p. 266.