John 1 – The Logos and the Weird Gospel

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Today’s PassageJohn 1

The gospel of Mark is weird, but at least it’s synoptic. You probably already know that Matthew, Mark, and Luke comprise the three synoptic gospels, but you may not know that the word “synoptic” comes from the Greek words συν, syn, meaning “together,” and οπτικος, optikos, the adjective form for the word meaning “seeing” or “sight.” We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the synoptics because they’re looking together at the same events from Christ’s life, looking at him in more or less the same way. John’s gospel, however, is so weird it isn’t even synoptic. In all probability, John was the last gospel to be written down, so it’s like John’s saying to us, “I’m going to complement the synoptics by giving you a whole different vantage point on Jesus Christ, and it’s going to blow your mind.” I may be editorializing a bit with that last phrase, but the fact remains: the gospel of John provides a distinct look at the life of Jesus Christ, and it is weird.

Right out the gate John is weird. Mark begins (by way of John the Baptist) with Jesus’ early ministry, Matthew and Luke begin with Jesus’ birth, but John goes further back to the beginning of the cosmos itself. His first words are the same as the first words of the first book of the Bible: “In the beginning.” John’s gospel refers back to the oldest Hebrew tradition, the fundamental Jewish understanding that all human stories ultimately begin with God creating the universe. But his gospel is also ambitious: on a fundamental level, it aims to tie this cosmic story of everything to a human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

John, famously, begins by referring to Jesus as “the Word.” At least, that’s how most English versions translate it, and it gets the point across well enough. But in the original Greek, John uses the word λόγος, logos. And a logos is more than a mere word: it can be a verbal account, a speech, a treatise, a report, a doctrine. It has a rich history in ancient Greek philosophy. And when Euclid talks about ratios in his works on mathematics and geometry? The word he uses for “ratio” is logos.

As I understand it, the idea behind the word logos is articulation. It’s putting something into words. Your head is full of logoi, all these ideas that you’ve put together into systems, all these things you understand or try to understand or think you understand, and when you talk about them, you’re bringing out your logoi to try to communicate them to other people. And when John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1), he’s talking about God doing exactly that in Jesus Christ. Jesus is what God has to say to the world. He’s God’s supreme self-disclosure. And weirdly enough, he’s God himself.

But we’ve all had that experience of trying to explain yourself and failing. You bring the logos out of your head only to find it doesn’t fit in someone else’s; the idea just isn’t getting through. And that might well have happened with God, if his Word remained in the beginning with him, life and light beyond time and space, abstracted and incomprehensible to human beings. But John attests that God doesn’t have to be alien to us. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (14), he tells us. God told us who he is by becoming a human being. He’s someone we can relate to, someone who knows what it means to be hungry, to hurt, to have emotions going off in your head at all hours of the day. He knows what it’s like to run out of wine and to really really want the good wine–but I get ahead of myself. That’s next chapter.

The point is, Jesus is God’s way to bridge the communication gap. God knows how to talk to us, and John wants you to get the message. He wants you to know the Logos.

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