In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. –John 1:1-5
What is “the Word?”
Many of have gotten into the habit of referring to scripture as “the Word.” But this passage and others remind us that scripture is not the Word—because John is obviously not saying that “In the beginning was scripture.” In fact, the Church existed for centuries without the Bible as we know it today.
This is not to say that scripture, properly interpreted, does not provide reliable insight into that into which we need reliable insight. But it is important to differentiate insight into something with the thing itself.
And here John is talking about the thing itself. The “Word” to which John refers is the logos. This logos is something like a distilled, true motive principle. It is akin to logic or reason. I say “something like” or “akin” because I personally like to be careful about understanding the logos as an insubstantial idea or concept that has not actual real existence. The logos is real. In fact, by virtue of it being the fullness of truth, it is the realest thing there is.
Logos as Genesis
A particularly interesting aspect of this passage is that John posits this logos as the origin of the cosmos. Now many of those who challenge the Christian faith like to point out that the Genesis narrative in the Hebrew scriptures is inaccurate as a literal description. To this, we can readily reply that the Genesis narrative was already read by the Church as instructive allegory long before Darwin showed up—or anyone turned a telescope to the heavens. So science cannot rightly be said to have ever “falsified” that narrative. And we don’t have to put any skin at all into a literalist position to defend our faith.
What’s more striking to me—and what we may not think about as we could—is how remarkably apt John’s assertion is. I call it “prophetic physics.” As contemporary cosmologists attempt to model the beginnings of the universe using a combination of observed reality and theoretical physics, they find themselves engaging in a narrative that is very similar to John’s. That is, they are distilling the birth of the cosmos to a unified true motive reality from which everything we now experience arises.
I am not sure how John managed to be so prescient and to rightly choose to describe the origin of the cosmos in this way. But it is certainly impressive. And it certainly causes me to read the rest of what he had to say with great interest.
The Word as a “Person”
John goes a step further and asserts that we should understand this logos as a “person.” He doesn’t mean a “person” as a human being, but as a divine one. In fact, he crafts one of the most important Trinitarian phrases in scripture by saying that this logos is and is with God. Eventually, as the passage unfolds, we realize he is talking about Jesus the Christ, the eternally begotten Son who has always been with the Father and is one with Him.
This, I believe, is critically important for us to understand. Our Christ is He from whom and in whom all existence is fundamentally grounded. He who goes to the cross as us and for us—and who likewise is then risen—does not do so simply to rescue some poor schmucks who screwed up really badly. He is completing His own work for His own perfect intent. He knows what it is we ought to most rightly be, because He Himself is the grounding of all rightness and of all of us.
To me, this brings a certain coherence to the gospel. There is a triune Godhead in whom inheres and from whom arises all reality, truth, light, goodness, beauty and love. These things are not incidental to Him or to the cosmos He has authored. They are what make it His. And so ought we to be His—for by reconciling us into Himself, He brings us into the totality of proper delight.