Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Trinity in the Old Testament (Part 4): The Divine Logos

In three previous articles (part 1part 2, part 3), I laid out the beginnings of a case for the Triune nature of God in the Old Testament Scriptures. I also showed how the intricate harmonies found in the Hebrew Bible point cumulatively to its divine inspiration. In this fourth installment, I want to talk about Jesus as the divine Word, or Logos, a concept that will be familiar to readers who have read the gospel of John, where John in his prologue (John 1:1-4,14) states that,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it...14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John begins his gospel by asserting Jesus' identity as being the very essence of God incarnate. The transliteration of the Greek of verse 1 reads, "En arche en ho logos kai ho Logos en pros ton Theon kai Theos en ho Logos." You will notice that the noun "Theos" for God at the end of verse 1 lacks a definite article "ho" ("the") but precedes the verb "en" ("was"). In Greek grammar, this renders it a qualitative. Thus, John 1:1 is most accurately translated, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and all that God was the Word also was." Moreover, this divine Word has existed from eternity past. "In the beginning was the word" indicates that in the beginning (as far back as you want to push it) the Word already was in existence. And yet even although the Word is the very essence of deity, "He was in the beginning with God" (verse 2). In other words, in some other sense the divine Logos was distinct from God. This is what Trinitarians believe with respect to the Son's relationship to the Father -- the Son is in very essence deity (possessing all of that which makes God God) and yet in some other sense He is distinct from God.

Just to drive the point home, John then continues in verse 3 by telling us that "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." Nothing exists that has not been created and fashioned by the divine Logos. Thus, the divine Logos is the very essence of God. He cannot Himself be a creature.

What is the origin of John's concept of Jesus as the divine Word? I maintain that he got this idea directly from the Old Testament. It is to this subject that I turn in this article.

The Angel of Yahweh = The Word of Yahweh

In the Hebrew Bible, we also see the angel/messenger of Yahweh identified as the Word of God Himself (yes, the Word of God is a person in the Old Testament). The word of God is even assigned a masculine personal pronoun, e.g. in 1 Kings 19:9:
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Furthermore, curiously, the Word of Yahweh is apparently seen in a vision, for instance in Genesis 15:1:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
Consider, moreover, Zechariah 4:8-10:
8 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. 
In verse 8, we read that the word of Yahweh comes to Zechariah with a message. In verse 9b, we read that the conclusion of what is said by the word of the Lord is "Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you." Readers of my previous posts will recall that in Zechariah 2 we saw Yahweh Himself using those very same words to indicate that He was being sent by Yahweh.

Thus, here we see that the word of Yahweh is identified as a personal agent who has been sent with a message to Zechariah. In verse 1 of the same chapter, we learn that it was the angel of Yahweh who had been speaking to Zechariah. This at least suggests that the word of Yahweh and the angel of Yahweh may be one and the same person. To tighten this inference further, consider 1 Kings 18:31:
Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name." 
According to this text, it was the word of the Lord who named Jacob Israel. But then turn over to 2 Kings 17:34:
To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the LORD, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel
According to this text, it was the Lord Himself who named Jacob Israel. According to Genesis 32, it was the man who wrestled with Jacob who called him Israel. And according to Hosea 12:4-6:
4 He [Jacob] strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us— 5 the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: 6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” 
Thus, in this text, we learn that the man with whom Jacob strove in Genesis 32 -- the man who named him Israel -- is in fact the angel of Yahweh Himself. By putting these texts together, we learn that the angel of Yahweh is in fact the word of God Himself.

The Word of Yahweh, and the Ancient Jewish Interpreters

Am I reading into these texts, or is my interpretation in line with what the original readers understood? Readers of this blog will recall that in my previous article I noted the evident plurality of God in Genesis 19:24 when Yahweh calls down sulphur and fire from Yahweh out of heaven. The Aramaic Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan (Section IV), an interpretive translation from the Hebrew into Aramaic, puts it as follows:
And the Word of the LORD Himself had made to descend upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah showers of favour, that they might work repentance from their wicked works. But when they saw showers of favour, they said, So, our wicked works are not manifest before Him. He [i.e. the Word] turned (then), and caused to descend upon them bitumen and fire from before the LORD of the heavens.
Plenty of texts could be drawn upon to support this further. To take one more example, consider this text, again from the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan, Section III, paraphrasing Genesis 16, where the angel of Yahweh is again expressly identified as the word (memra) of God, showing that this was the understanding of the ancient Jews:
And Abram said to Sara, Behold, thy handmaid is under thy authority: do to her what is right in thine eyes. And Sara afflicted her, and she escaped from before her. And the Angel of the LORD found her at the fountain of waters in the desert; at the fountain of waters which is in the way to Chagra. [JERUSALEM. Chalitza.] And He said, Hagar, handmaid of Sara, whence comest thou, and whither does thou go? And she said, From before Sara my mistress I have escaped. And the Angel of the LORD said to her, Return to thy mistress, and be subject under her hand. And the Angel of the LORD said to her, Multiplying I will multiply thy sons, and they shall not be numbered for multitude. And the Angel of the LORD said to her, Behold, thou art with child, and thou wilt bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Ishmael, because thy affliction is revealed before the LORD. And he shall be like the wild ass among men: his hands shall take vengeance of his adversaries, and the hands of his adversaries be put forth to do him evil; and in the presence of all his brethren shall he be commingled, (yitharbeb, Arabized,) and shall dwell. And she gave thanks before the LORD whose Word spake to her, and thus said, Thou art He who livest and art eternal; who seest, but art not seen! · for she said, For, behold, here is revealed the glory of the Shekina of the Lord after a vision. (JERUSALEM. And Hagar gave thanks, and prayed in the Name of the Word of the LORD, who had been manifested to her, saying, Blessed be Thou, Eloha, the Living One of all Ages, who hast looked upon my affliction. For she said, Behold, Thou art manifested also unto me, even as Thou wast manifested to Sara my mistress.] Wherefore she called the well, The Well at which the Living and Eternal One was revealed; and, behold, it is situate between Rekam and Chalutsa. And Hagar bare Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son whom Hagar bare, Ishmael. And Abram was the son of eighty-six years when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.
Thus, here, the Word of God who appeared and spoke to Hagar is explicitly identified as none other than the messenger of Yahweh. There can thus be little doubt that the Jews understood the angel of Yahweh to be synonymous with the Word of Yahweh. It is little wonder, then, that John identifies Jesus upfront as the divine Logos (the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic memra, used in the Targumim, meaning "Word").

As revealed by the evidence above, the concept of there being a personal divine Word finds its roots long before the dawn of Christianity. In fact, the first century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria himself had a concept of a divine Logos. For example, he writes:

  • “[God] sustained the universe to rest firm and sure upon the mighty Logos who is my viceroy.” Dreams 1; cf. Agriculture, 51
  • “The Logos is “that power of his [God] by which he made and ordered all things.”” Confusion, 137
  • While God is indeed One, his highest and chief Powers are two, even Goodness and Sovereignty… and in the midst between the two, there is a third which unites them, the Logos, for it is through the Logos that God is both ruler and good. Of these two powers, Sovereignty and Goodness, the cherubim are the symbols, as fiery sword is the symbol of the Logos. Cherubim, 27-28
Philo refers to the Logos as: “God” (theos); Som I (On Dreams), 129ff, and “the second God” (deuteros theos) (Questions on Genesis 2, 62).

A similar concept can be found among the inter-testamental literature. For example, consider Wisdom of Solomon 18:15-16, which in context is alluding to the Exodus:
15 Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction. 16 With a sharp sword carrying thy unfeigned commandment, and he stood and filled all things with death, and standing on the earth reached even to heaven.
The Seen vs. the Unseen Yahweh

There is a persistent paradox throughout the Old Testament text. On the one hand, God states in no uncertain terms to Moses that "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live," (Exodus 33:20). But, on the other hand, various individuals do see God and yet live. This observation is made by various people throughout the Bible. Consider the following examples:
  • Genesis 32:20: So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
  • Judges 6:22: Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”
  • Judges 13:21-22: The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”
  • Isaiah 6:5: And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
In these instances, various individuals are struck with fear at the fact that they have been allowed to see God and yet their lives have been spared. You will also notice that these individuals beheld the face of the angel of Yahweh. It is He who makes manifest the presence of God. It is through Him that we can get a glimpse of who God is.

Recall that previously I had made a connection between the angel of Yahweh and the word of Yahweh. With that in mind, we see the role of the Word of Yahweh brought out all the more clearly in 1 Samuel 3:6-7,21, in which we read,
And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. […] And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
Thus, we see that Yahweh revealed Himself to Samuel by His Word, which we have seen to be a personal agency who is equivalent to the angel of Yahweh.

Making Sense of the Logos Theology of John

Now we are in a better position to understand the Logos theology of John. With the keys here unveiled, we can appreciate the words of John 1:18, in which we read,
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
John 1:1-3 also connects with Psalm 33:6:
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
The word translated “breath” here is actually ruach, which means “spirit”. Thus, again, we see the involvement of the Triune godhead in creation.


I am again only scratching the tip of the proverbial ice berg. But I hope that the material here presented helps you to appreciate the genius of Scripture, and the roots of John's theology of Jesus as the divine Logos.


Samuel Green said...

Great overview. Thanks.

Branka Vukshich said...

The Trinity articles are great. Here is a dif. perspective:
As created beings, we have spiritual needs: 1. to understand the power of God; 2. to feel loved & understood by God; 3. to communicate with God.
1. The Father Demonstrates the Power of God:God gave me a wonderful gift when He made me the center of my universe. Wherever I go, the universe goes with me.The wonderful gift needs tempering by a correct understanding of God’s awesome power or I might be in danger of forgetting my place in God’s order.
Fulfilling that need, the Father demonstrates His mighty power. The galaxies, spread across unending space, demonstrate majestic power.From the mighty reaches of space to the tiny atom, God’s power is manifest.After Hiroshima, even earthlings realize God keeps the mighty power of the tiny atom under His control, subdued & in its safe place.Closer to our biologic home, DNA & RNA, reveal God’s design in the intelligence & intricate design of life.
How did He do it all?He is magnificent.He is majestic beyond description.The more we learn, the more there is to admire. The manifestation of God’s power has put me in my proper place.Puny.
Jesus Demonstrates God’s love: Now “wormed”,I have no idea how to approach the Mighty One. I yearn to know that the mighty God understands me & feels with me, but the distance is too great. I need to feel Him up close & personal – breath to breath. Eyeball to eyeball.But I do not even dare to approach Him.
But, I follow the life of Jesus, feel treasured & loved.He would treat me as He did the blind beggar, the blustering Peter & the humiliated Mary. He would care for me as He did the Roman centurion, the crucified thief & the Samaritan woman. Then He reveals that He is God in human flesh.Amazing. Jesus is the perfect response of a loving God to my need to feel loved & accepted by an all powerful, magnificent, majestic God. Who could have conceived of such an answer to my need but the loving God?
The Holy Spirit Demonstrates God’s Desire to Communicate:As created beings, limited in intelligence, limited by time & space. But with the power of choice we have the capacity to either hurt or build up others. To be obedient to God & not hurtful, we need access to the Almighty Mind. Limited by our physical bodies, the Spirit unites us to God & by extension to all other created beings that choose to be united to God through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the glue of the universe. Happy to be unnoticed, but ever present, He speaks to us of our loving Brother, the magnificence of the loving Father & of the needs of our earthly brethren.Who but a loving God could have conceived of such a plan for blissful community? Incredibly, God desires to live within.
God Supplies Our Need: Jesus, God in human flesh, stooped to wash the feet of 12 jealous, erring men on the night before the Passover - a divine demonstration of Jesus’ character, the character of God the Father & character of God the Holy Spirit.
Theologians try to unravel the nature of God. But in debating this lofty theme let us not neglect the essential fact demonstrated in the life of Jesus, that the needs of God’s created beings are always uppermost in the mind of God. In the Trinity, God manifests Himself in a way that serves my needs perfectly. The Father shows His grandeur - I understand the magnificence of God & my place in His universe. The Son demonstrates how God treats His children. Then the Holy Spirit wraps the arms of Jesus around me in an intimate way. The Holy Spirit reasons with me about God’s wonderful law of love, about the life of Jesus & connects me with Jesus despite the barrier of time & space.
Marvelous Trinity. The Father, Son & Holy Spirit wrap a towel around Themselves & minister to my every need. Hear oh Israel, The Lord our God is One.

Alan Cavill said...

John got this idea directly from the Old Testament.
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