The Religious Background of the Logos
By Charles D. Wilson
Whence came the Johannine concept of the Logos? Certain liberal scholars have claimed that it was derived from Greek philosophy via Philo or Alexandrian Judaism. Others (significantly some Oneness theologians), while denying philosophical roots, have argued that John deliberately used Greek philosophical terminology to refute specific Hellenistic heresies regarding the Logos as an inferior, secondary deity or as an emanation from God in time that were creeping into some Christian circles in his day.”
But there is more to it than that. It seems that many scholars have focused on the Greek background of the Logos but place little emphasis on the Jewish roots of the Johannine concept of the Logos. Thus we are left with many loose ends. In this paper, I propose that the true roots of the Christian Logos are to be found in pre-Christian Judaism, not Greek philosophy. To properly understand the Logos, we must first define the term and how it fits into Oneness theology and then discuss it in both Greek and Jewish contexts
The Greek word logos means both the expression of a thought and the inward thought itself. 2 Greek philosophers emphasized the logos as “thought” or “reason,” while Jewish thinkers placed emphasis on the “word,” or the expression of inward thoughts. 3 In John 1, the Logos is portrayed both as “thought,” or plan of redemption in the mind of God, and the expression of that plan in the Incarnation. God put flesh on His plan in the form of the man Christ Jesus. 4 According to Flanders and Cresson, the Logos was “God’s means of self-disclosure.” 5 Through the Incarnation, God disclosed His eternal plan, or Logos.
In no way could the Logos refer to a second deity. David Bernard expresses the early Jewish view of the apostle John: “The Logos (Word) of John I is not equivalent to the title Son in Oneness theology as it is in trinitarianism. Son is limited to the Incarnation, but Logos is not…. Before the Incarnation, the Logos was the unexpressed thought or plan in the mind of God…. In the fulness of time God put flesh on the Logos; He expressed Himself in flesh.” 6 This Oneness viewpoint is backed up by the pre-Christian rabbinic interpretation of preexistence. Preexistence is that which occurs eternally “first in the mind of God.” 7 Thus, “it is not a hypostatically distinct person, but the plan, purpose and even predestination on the part of God in eternity prior to its becoming actualized in creation and history.” 8
The Social Setting of the Gospel of John
Ancient tradition associates Johannine Christianity with Ephesus. 9 Euseblus (Ecclesiastical History 3.1, 23; 5.8) quotes Clement, Origen, and Irenaeus concerning John’s ministry in Asia, and John’s Gospel may have well been written here in the late 80s or 90s A.D. 10 Perhaps John was addressing a mixed audience of both Jews and Gentile Christians.” I will focus on the Jewish audience and the problems therein that John’s Gospel answers.
John wrote his Gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Shortly thereafter, Pharisaic scribes had reorganized Judaism by emphasizing fidelity to the law and tradition and enforced a strict way of life and conformity of liturgical usages. 12 Apocalyptic Judaism was dying and Gnostic ways of thinking were entering into the Jewish community. 13
There was a resurgence of Judaism in the Ephesus area. 14 The strong disavowal of Christ’s claims to Messiahship grew. Marinun de Jonge states, “In that period, existing estrangement between the followers of Jesus and the local synagogues must have led to a definite break, and expulsion of the former.” 15 It must have been rather hard for some Jewish Christians to handle this in the beginning. These expelled Christians were Jews who had seen themselves entirely within the orbit of the Jewish community. The choice was clear: renounce your faith in Jesus or face the pain of excommunication. 16 Some, no doubt, began to wonder whether Jesus was really the promised Messiah or not. Was he really the way to the truth? John’s Gospel answers these questions in a straightforward manner. No Jew needed to fear excommunication from the synagogue. Christ’s claims do indeed have merit.
The Struggle for Understanding
Robin Scroggs states, “The Gospel of John is to be placed at a late stage in the struggle of the Johannine community for self-understanding. It reflects energetic debates with the Jewish community. In this tension-filled crucible the author has formed a story about Jesus to deal with the issues raised by these struggles.” 17
The problem is quite simple: How does one know that truth to which he must commit his life? Hellenistic religious thinkers agonized over ways of stating the problem and fought with others when it came to solutions. In Judaism, the Torah was the accepted constitution, whose author was God. But conflicts arose concerning how to interpret it. This, in turn, raised the ultimate question: How is YHWH and His will revealed? The Pharisees had their own answers also. Philo states that at least some Hellenistic Jews were struggling with their own answers. 18
John provides the solution. No Jew needs to be confused or fear excommunication from the synagogue. Jesus is the way to truth (John 1:17). When God put flesh on His plan, the ultimate truth of God was disclosed for all to see. No human mind can think through to divine truth. Without revelation, divine truth remains remote. God has to reveal it to man. In narrative fashion, John sets out to prove that Jesus had a unique origin (God in flesh) in order that the revelation expressed through the fleshly Jesus be taken as true, over against all other competing truth claims.
To verify Christ’s claims in the thought realm, John would have to turn to Jewish thinking rather than Greek philosophy. To absolutely prove that Jesus was indeed the key to understanding the Torah and the truth, John would have to utilize Jewish ideology regardless of audience or language terminology, because Jesus was a Jew and the plan of redemption must be revealed through the Jews, not the Greeks.
While the roots of the Johannine concept of the Logos may be found in Jewish thought, the term logos itself is Greek. It is utilized extensively in ancient copies of the Greek New Testament. If John originally wrote the fourth Gospel in Greek, he would have used logos in a technical manner while displaying Jewish ideas, 19 although many liberals have failed to admit it.
Since many scholars have emphasized the Greek background of the term, it would be worthwhile to discuss the Logos in the Greek context before turning to Jewish thought.
The Greek Background of the Logos
The Greek word logos was a technical term used notably in several philosophical systems that antedate Christianity. Its philosophic use goes back to Heraclitus about 500 B. C. 20 Later, it was used by the Stoics, some of whom influenced Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria.
Heraclitus used the term logos for the rationale principle, power, or being that speaks to men both from without and from within. 21 William Barclay claims he believed the logos to be “the reasoning of God,” the principle of power under which the universe continued to exist. “The reasoning of God” was the controlling factor in a universe where everything was in a “changing state of flux.” 22 According to Roland Nash, Heraclitus and later Stoics saw the logos as “a cosmic law of Reason that controls the universe and is immanent in human reason. The Stoics regarded human reason as an extension of the Reason that pervades the entire cosmos . . . the Logos of Heraclitus and the Stoics was neither a personal God nor even a personal being, but a metaphysical abstraction.” 23
Plato used logos for the divine force creating the world. 24 He believed that human beings participated in two different worlds. One of these is the physical world that we encounter through our bodily senses. The other is a world of immaterial and eternal essences that we contact through our minds. This ideal world of Plato, sometimes called the world of the Forms, contains all the archetypes of the particular things that exist in the physical world. 25 This ideal world is perfect and eternal, while the physical world is imperfect. In this ideal world, there is one Form that is higher than all others. It is called the Form of the Good and is described as the necessary condition of human knowledge and the creative and sustaining cause of the world of the Forms. 26 It is this superior Form that functions as Plato’s Logos. Xeneocrates (396-315 B.C.), his follower, identified the Good as Plato’s God. 27 This view became firmly established in Middle Platonism (100 B.C.-A.D. 100). 25
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) rejected Plato’s theory of the Forms. To him, the Forms exist as essential parts of the particular things in the physical world that we apprehend through our senses. 29 In his view, Logos was “insight.” 30 Finally, Philo (about 25 B.C.-A.D. 50) must be mentioned. An Alexandrian Jew of the dispersion, he proclaimed a philosophy that combined Platonic and Stoic elements. 31 Like Plato, Philo taught of a divine transcendent and unknowable God who dealt with the physical universe through the use of intermediary beings. The most important of these beings was the logos. 32 He came up with this term by combining the Greek idea of thought and the Jewish idea of speech. 33
However, Philo did not use the term logos in a consistent manner. It was applied to the name of God, the thoughts of God, and to a principle subordinate to God. 34 At other times, he applied logos to several mediators between God and man, such as angels, Moses, Abraham, and the Jewish high priest. 35
While the Christian Logos was the “thought,” or plan of God, it was never a subordinate principle or being. The identification of the Logos with a second deity was conjured up by later Christian thinkers of the second century. Nash states, “Some of Philo’s reinterpretations of Plato made it easier for later Christian thinkers to use Platonism as a philosophical framework for their Christian world views.” 36 Robert Grant adds, “The Johannine term logos is now interpreted in relation to Stoic and Middle Platonic philosophy and generally to the thought of Philo of Alexandria. In Middle Platonism, a model was provided for viewing the supreme God as undescribable and the Second God as the fashioner of the universe. It would appear that Justin, for example, used a pattern like this.” 37 Thus, we learn the reason for much of the confusion concerning the Johannine concept of the Logos today.
Fifty years ago, the view that John was influenced by Philo’s use of logos was something of an ethical doctrine in certain circles. 38 For the most part, however, the drift of contemporary scholarship has been away from a Philonic source of the Johannine concept of the Logos. 39 Grant states, “There is little to suggest that John had read something about the philosophers, although the influence of Philo may have reached the circles in which he wrote.” 40
To where must we turn to find the true source for the Johannine concept of the Logos? Grant suggests, “It seems more probable that he. . . read the Old Testament.” 41 Yes, we must turn to the Jewish Scriptures, which originated with God. Postexilic Judaism would later reflect the sacred thoughts found therein. It is here, in Jewish thought, that we must search for the roots of the Christian Logos.
Before entering into the next section, it is worth noting that the Jews themselves accuse the Greek philosophers of borrowing some of their teachings. Perhaps among them was the Jewish concept of the “word.” Irving M. Zeitlin, a Jewish professor at the University of Toronto, recently stated, “Josephus observes that the wisest of Greeks may have borrowed their conceptions of God from the principles laid down by Moses, a theory that had been propounded earlier by Aristobulus (second century B.C.), and adopted afterward by Philo and later writers. Josephus cites Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Plato, the Stoics and other philosophers, all of whom appear to have held similar views concerning the nature of God.” 42 While many used this as a reason to mix philosophy and religion together, we believe that the Greeks distorted these Jewish teachings after borrowing them.
Let us turn to ancient Jewish thought and see what we can discover.
The Jewish Background of the Logos
Most contemporary scholars do not see a conscious relationship between Alexandrian Judaism and the New Testament use of logos. They have pointed out that alongside the philosophical or Alexandrian views of logos, there are other independent notions in pre-Christian Judaism that serve as an excellent background for John’s use of logos. I am not implying that Christianity evolved. Rather, God directed John to use preexistent concepts when He inspired John to write the fourth Gospel. Below, I will discuss three Jewish concepts that mirror the Johannine concept of the Logos: Wisdom, the Word (dahbar), and the Memra. The first two may serve as possible Old Testament roots, while the Memra is a postexilic concept that agrees with Old Testament doctrine in many ways.
The Old Testament concept of poetic personification mirrors the prologue of John. In Proverbs, the wisdom of God is personified as a woman in a poetic sense. In no way does it refer to a second person in the Godhead. If it had been, wisdom would have been personified as a man, not as a woman, for Jesus was the Son of God! Simply stated, wisdom is an attribute of God–part of His omnipotence–that has been personified for us to understand it better.
British scholar T. W. Manson explains, “We find in the late Jewish literature a tendency to speak of the attributes of God as if they had a separate existence. This tendency is specially marked in the Wisdom literature. The passages that are especially relevant to our present problem are those in which the wisdom of God is, to some degree, personified.” 43 British New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn affirms that most specialists “would agree that the principal background against which the Logos prologue must be set is the Old Testament itself and the thought of inter-testamental Hellenistic Judaism, particularly as expressed in the Wisdom literature.” 44
Ancient Jews believed that God used His wisdom in creating the world (Psalm 136:5; Proverbs 3:19; Jeremiah 10:12). His wisdom was not a separate person from Himself. It is part of God. It is something that God possesses, and something that He can impart to mankind.
Oneness scholar David Bernard explains, “Since Christ is God manifested in flesh, all the wisdom of God is in Christ (Colossians 2:3). This does not mean Christ is a separate person from God, but rather that in Christ dwells all of God’s wisdom and power (along with God’s other attributes). Through Christ, God reveals His wisdom and power to man. Wisdom is simply an attribute of God described in the Old Testament and revealed through Christ in the New Testament.” 45
The Johannine concept of the Logos is laid out in a pattern that reflects the Wisdom tradition. Andrew Feuillet states, “Proverbs 8, (Apocryphal) Sirach 29, and John’s Prologue have the same general structure: the preexistence of Wisdom, or of the Logos, their role in creation and their soteriological role. Wisdom plants her tent in Israel (Sir. 24:8: in lakob kateskenosen); the incarnate Word dwells among us (eskenosen en hemin) (1:14). When John contrasts the Law and the Logos incarnate (1:17), could we say that he is correcting Sirach, which identifies Wisdom and the Law (24:23)?” 46
Both Wisdom and John’s Logos are quasihypostatic. The “thought” or plan of God, which is, in fact, God (John 1:1) because it represents His innermost desires, is revealed through the Incarnation. In the prologue, the Logos is personified but is not subordinated. The Logos is God Himself and His innermost desires laid out in a structured manner. This was the view of John and his followers.
The concept of poetic personification is also found in Hellenistic Judaism. In the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, a preexistent Wisdom is identified with Law (1:4). Some Jews have even confused John’s Logos with the Torah. Chapters 7-9 of the Wisdom of Solomon also utilizes this concept. What all of this demonstrates is that if it is necessary to locate some source for John’s unique use of logos, there is no need to turn to Philo as the exclusive source. Anyone who was not familiar with Philo could easily have started with the Jewish personification of wisdom ((sophia). 47). 47
2. The Word
Some scholars see the Old Testament use of “the word (dahbar) of God” and “The word of the LORD (YHWH)” as a possible source for the Johannine concept of the Logos. The “word” is used in ways that suggest an independent existence and personification to some scholars. (See Psalm 33:6; 107:20; 147:15, 18; Isaiah 40:8; 55:10-11.) But, upon close analysis, the word of YHWH does not refer to a literal personification. God’s word is part of Him and can never be separated from Him. The word of YHWH does not imply a distinct person any more than a man’s word implies that he is composed of two persons. 48
Why do some people get confused and think that the word of God in the Old Testament refers to a separate person? Perhaps they do not understand the way Jews thought and wrote. They were very poetic in the way they wrote, especially in Psalms. James D. G. Dunn explains that these texts present the word of YHWH “as Yahweh himself acting decisively in creation, in judgment, in salvation. When a sovereign speaks his subjects obey; when he commands it is done. So the utterance and command of Yahweh are simply ways of saying the Yahweh brought his will to effect, that Yahweh achieved his purpose, when Yahweh speaks, things happen.” 49 Dunn doubts that the personifications of wisdom and the word in the Old Testament actually mean a literal personification. They are simply different methods of describing God’s acts. The Jews emphasized the active word (Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 33:6, 9; 147:15; 119:25).
The Johannine concept of the Logos mirrors this concept in a precise manner. In the prologue, the Word or Logos is described in ways that seem to suggest a separate existence but upon close scrutiny cannot refer to a separate person in the Godhead. The personified Logos or “plan of God” cannot be separated from God. The Logos is actually identified with Him. It represents His innermost desires. YHWH’s Word, which found its ultimate expression in the Incarnation, was personified for teaching purposes.
Here, I wish to develop the hypothesis that John knew of the Memra and echoed it in the first chapter of the fourth Gospel. No doubt, one can trace the origin of the conception of the Memra linguistically to Old Testament passages in which the Hebrew word dahbar (“word”) is employed. The Jewish Encyclopedia states, “In Scripture ‘the word of the Lord’ commonly denotes the speech addressed to patriarch or prophet (Gen. 15:1; Numbers 12:6; 23:5; I Sam. 3:21; Amos 5:1-8), but frequently it denotes also the creative word: ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made’ (Ps. 33:6; of Ps. 33:9; . .
.)”50 The above passage, Psalm 33:6, with its reference to the word’s action in creation, recalls the repeated phrase “And God said” in Genesis 1, where the Hebrew verb amar is identical to the Aramaic root from which the Memra is derived. In later, more recent Targumic exegesis, the Memra occurs repeatedly in passages where the Hebrew represents God as speaking, acting, or manifesting Himself to mankind. 51 In other words, the Memra represented the divine name of God, YHWH, when it came to God’s activities, just as the Shekinta and the Yekara represent the divine presence and glory of God.
Little studied by scholars, the Memra disappeared in late antiquity, possibly due to incorporation of Memra doctrine into the Christian doctrine of the Logos. (The Shekinta, or Shekinah, also disappeared but reappeared centuries later in Jewish thought.) The Memra begs for attention.
The Memra and Its Relationship, to the Divine Name, YHWH
According to early Targumic exegesis in Neofiti 1, the Memra seems to be an exposition of the divine self designation (‘HYH, vocalized as ehyeh). In Exodus 3:13, Moses wanted to know the name of the God who was speaking to him. V. Cassuto, late professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explains why Moses wanted to know this:
According to the conception prevailing in the ancient east, the designation of any entity was to be equated, as it were, with its existence; whatsoever is without an appellation does not exist, but whatever has a denomination has existence. The meaning of an object’s name indicates its nature and determines its characteristics; in Talmudic parlance (B. Berokhath 7:b): “the name is a formative factor” Thus two things were clear to Moses: (a) that the God of the Patriarchs has a specific name, although His people had forgotten it after leaving the place where He had revealed Himself to the ancestors (Others believe the divine name was always known up to Moses’ day, but by then only a customary appellation. 52); (b) that this name expresses the attributes of the God of the Patriarchs. He realized that the knowledge of this designation was necessary to him in the propagation of his mission among his brethren. He himself was prepared to obey and devote his capacities to their fullest extent to fulfilling the charge of his ancestral God, but he anticipated that when he appeared to kinsmen as the messenger of the God of the Patriarchs, they would ask him the name of Him who sent him, and, especially, the meaning of the designation. [The full significance of the divine name was not revealed to the patriarchs. They understood His attribute of being with His creatures, an attribute connected with the Tetragrammaton, but they did not fully realize that YHWH means One who fulfills His promises, which was revealed in Exodus 6.) He deemed it essential, if they were to believe in him and in the One who sent him, to know how to answer these questions. 53
God, in response to Moses’ inquiry, identified Himself as “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Moses was commanded to tell the children of Israel that “I AM” had sent him unto them. The key expression in verse 14 is “I AM THAT I AM” (Hebrew, ehyeh asher ehyeh). The verb ehyeh, as pointed out in the Masoretic text, is considered a Qal imperfect first person singular of the root hayah (hwh- “to be, become”). This clause is extremely important because the verb forms reveal the essential idea of the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, commonly translated as “Jehovah” in English versions. The Hebrew word yhwh is, in fact, the third person form of the root hayah (hwh). If the Qal sense is maintained, it carries the fundamental idea of the self-existence of God and simply means “I am the One who is.” This has long been the view of conservative scholars. 54
Biblical man was initiated into the knowledge of the divine name YHWH and thereby into a knowledge of God Himself when Moses encountered the theophany of God in the burning bush in Exodus 3. It was here that the divine name, YHWH, was invested with the meaning conveyed by the
grammatically related ehyeh.
Martin Buber’s view, as described by G. H. Parke Taylor, holds that “in Exod. 3:14, by use of the imperfect gal, first person, of the verb (meaning both “I am” and “I shall be”), YHWH is understood to be expressing the reality of his unconditioned existence and sovereignty over the future. But in terms of the theophany of Moses, the emphasis is placed upon the reality of his continuing presence with Moses and with his people. In light of the fact that the verb can be used both in the present and future tense, the twofold Ehyeh in this verse means, “I am and remain present” and “I will be with you,” in the words of Exodus 3:12, ‘ehyeh ‘immakh, “I will be with you.” 55
So YHWH, in the light of Ehyeh, signifies, “I am the One who is and will be there (with you, with them, with us, etc.).”
Now, let us relate this to the Targums. By ehyeh, in the view of Pamela Vermes, the targumists understood that God was communicating to Moses the knowledge that He has of Himself. They extended the notions of divine presence and absolute independence implicit in ehyeh asher ehyeh so that God is at the same time represented as the everlasting Creator by stressing, whenever the context allows, the association of ehyeh with other tenses and forms, particularly the passive and imperative of the verb hayah. Thus, YHWH . . . is . . . expounded so that the past is included, i.e. he was always there, he is the Eternal One. In addition, he is identified with him who, in the beginning, with his words, “Be there!” and “Let it be there!” called the universe into existence and presence: the Creator.” 56
But there was something concerning the Godhead that remained to be expressed, namely, that the medium in which God works and exists is that of speech.
So the targumists, possibly in the second century B.C., began to replace ehyeh with memra, the Aramaic term for “word.” 57 Again, Vermes, after having analyzed the Targum of Neofiti I to the Pentateuch, states:
“YHWH is ehyeh, and ehyeh is the “Memra of the Shehkinta of YHWH.” This is to say, the verb amar and its derivatives go to join those of the verb hayah, and the combination of presence, speech, and creation is rounded off and made perfect. God is the supreme, ever-living, never-silent Speaker. He is the Speaker of His own Shekhinah, Speaker of the presence of the whole of creation. YHWH’s Memra is His “hand.” YHWH’s Memra is his “voice.” And even more frequently, YHWH’s Memra is His “heart,” the seat of His thinking: e.g., Gen. 8:21, “YHWH said in His heart,” is given by Onkeleos and Ps-Jonathan (specific Targums) as “YHWH said in his Memra.” 58
Robert Hayward sums it up this way: “The Targums to Exodus 3:12, 14, therefore, show that the Memra is equivalent to God’s ‘HYH and is a means of speaking about His presence with His people in the past and in the future, in creation and in history. Memra is the exegetical shorthand which the Targumists have evolved to express their insight into God’s Name for Himself” 59
Some trinitarians try to make the Memra into a separate hypostasis, apart from that of the Father. But this cannot be true. We must remember that the Memra was a representation of Ehyeh, the descriptive name of the Father, YHWH. In other words, the Memra was God Himself. Even in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees never considered the Memra of the Targums nor the Shehkinah of the Talmud and the Midrash, however personified for haggadic purposes, as being in any sense a personality coexistent with God Himself. They stressed the strict unity of God. 60
To them, God was one.
Could John Have Known of the Memra?
Memra doctrine was alive in John’s day. 61 John himself knew of it, we believe. There are many affinities to targumic traditions in the fourth Gospel. The identification of Jesus with the true bread from heaven (6:41-51) seems to relate directly to a haggadic passage found only in Neofiti I (the Palestinian Targum); the well of Jacob and Jacob’s ladder are the subjects of targumic exegesis in much the same way as they are in John’s Gospel.
As to the prologue of John itself, it should be noted that there are direct connections between it and Exodus 33-34. Both Memra and Exodus 34:6-7 expound the name YHWH in a manner involving the mercy of God, which relates to the prologue of John in an interesting way. 62
We conclude, after examining this evidence, that John probably knew of the Memra. His whole Gospel, including the prologue, reflects targumic tradition. I am not implying that early Christianity easily fit in as simply another sect within the context of Judaism. Christianity is a step beyond, but deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition, primarily the Old Testament.
Did John Use the Memra?
Let me answer the question this way. While John was obviously influenced by the Old Testament concept of the dahbar (word), he wanted to prove that Jesus was, beyond doubt, the promised Jewish Messiah (John 20:31). Edward P. Blair states, “This Gospel may have been addressed to Christians still in Jewish synagogues of the Graeco-Roman world, who, in the last quarter of the first century were being pressured to renounce faith in Jesus on pain of excommunication. The book would encourage them to persist in their trust in Jesus.” 63
To get Jews as well as Gentiles to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, John would have to discuss Jesus in light of the Old Testament and the Jewish tradition. It is for this reason that the fourth Gospel has so many affinities to the Judaism of his time.
The fourth Gospel is indeed a very Jewish book. While many scholars claim that the thought forms used by John were those of the Hellenistic world, we point to a background in the Old Testament and then-current Jewish thought. Liberals would disagree with me, ruling out any Jewish background in the prologue of John. In light of this present study, I would ask them to reevaluate their opinions.
The Johannine concept of the Logos is comparable with the targumic doctrine of the Memra. John pleaded with the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah and did so in such a way that they could easily discover it by analyzing Jewish traditions, such as the Memra doctrine, in conjunction with the Old Testament. When we compare traditional Oneness theology with Memra doctrine when approaching the prologue of John, we find that the two parallel each other rather closely.
The Prologue of John in Light of Memra Doctrine
For fruitful results, let us suppose that John actually did use the Memra and analyze the prologue from that perspective.
The prologue of John begins with these words: “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1). Based upon the assumption that John did utilize Memra theology, this would mean, “In the beginning was Memra.” To Jewish thinkers in the synagogue, John was saying that before and at the time of creation, there was God’s “HYH (or Ehyeh,” I AM THERE.” The self-naming God of revelation, the Everlasting One, is there. The God of thought, communication, and activity is there. This is reasonable since the Targums expounded Ehyeh as the “One who said and the world was there, and who is to say, and it will be there.” When we compare the two, we find that both the Targums and John 1:1-3 place the Memra and the Logos in a creation context.
The next phrase in John 1:1 is: “And the Word was with God.” The targumist would render it, “And theMemra was with God.” In light of Jewish thought, this cannot imply any secondary entity in the Deity. Rather, here we have an exegesis of God’s descriptive name, ‘HYH. “God’s speech” was with Him. To the targumist this meant that His “voice” or “heart” with with Him. (We could add that His “plan” was with Him.) This is what they mean by the term Memra, which was intended to add the dimension of speech to Ehyeh, the descriptive name of YHWH. Yes, the God of communication was there with a redemptive plan to be fully revealed through the Incarnation.
John 1:1 concludes, “And the Word was God.” Here again the targumist would say, “And the Memra was God.” Since the Memra is a representation of the descriptive name ‘HYH, it would obviously mean that the Memra was YHWH, the Father Himself. It could never refer to a separate entity, such as the Sonship, which obviously began at Bethlehem. John Paterson, a Oneness Pentecostal scholar, elaborates:
A remarkable proof that Jehovah is the Word is found in the Aramaic versions of the Old Testament, commonly called the Targums. Some of these were in use among the Jews for many years before the time of Christ. In them, in every passage which implies bodily characteristics or corporeality, the term Memra replaces the Name Jehovah employed by Moses. This term Memra signifies the Word, and to Him are ascribed all the attributes and glory of God, the Targums at the same time recognizing that it was He Who appeared to the patriarchs and prophets.
So here we have both Scriptural proof and historical evidence that the One Who showed Himself to Abraham, and to Moses, and to the elders of Israel was none other than the Eternal Spirit in a visible, personal FORM under the exalted Name of Jehovah, the Word. 64
When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am [Ehyeh]” (John 8:58), He was not implying that the Sonship was eternal. Here, He was not speaking as the Son. The Father, the Eternal God (Elohim) of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who was dwelling within the Son, was speaking. Many unbelieving Jews were upset by Jesus’ claim to divinity.
In John 1:3, we read “All things were made by him.” In light of Memra doctrine, this would be rendered as “All things were made by the Memra.” We find that talmudic literature would agree. One passage states, “The Holy One, Blessed be He, created the world by ma’amar” (Mechilta, Beshallah 10). (Ma’amar is the directive or expression of the will of God, an oath; Hebrew equivalent to Memra.) Compare this with Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,” and Proverbs 3:19, “The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.” The universe was created by the thoughts of God expressed, or Speech, as signified by the Memra.
John 1:4 states, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” This certainly reflects a targumic tradition. Neofiti I, states, “The first night when the Lord was revealed above the earth to create it. The earth was void and empty and darkness was spread over the face of the abyss–and the Memra of the Lord was the light and it shone and he called it the first night.” (Cf. Genesis 1:25). Later Jesus would express God’s light to mankind.
John 1:14 states, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” To the targumist, this would mean, “And the Memra became flesh, and tabernacled among us.” Ehyeh, the formless Elohim, took on human flesh, the Shehkinah, or visible dwelling of YHWH. YHWH’s plan took on human flesh. His name took on flesh. 65 The decrees of His “heart” were made manifest. The merciful, active, and personal presence of God, summed up in the name Ehyeh, took flesh as His tabernacle to sojourn among us. All of this is implied by the term Memra, which signified God, the eternal Speaker.
YHWH came to die for man’s sins when He wrapped Himself in human flesh, fulfilling the role of Savior. This is reflected in targumic tradition. The Memra is also a Savior, being a Redeemer God as in Targum Neofiti I to Exodus 6:7; 29:45.56 The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Deuteronomy 32:39 states:
When the Memra of the Lord shall be revealed to redeem His people He will say to the nations, See now that I am He who is there and who was there,and I am He who will be there, and there is no other God besides Me. I, in my Memra, kill and make alive. 67
This can be easily applied to the deity of Jesus Christ. Revelation 1:8 states: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” Here, Jesus referring to Himself, gives an exposition of God’s descriptive name Ehyeh. It is Ehyeh who “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Revelation 1:5) when He came to dwell among men as Jesus Christ. Through Christ, the desires of God’s “heart,” or the Memra of the Lord, was revealed to redeem mankind. Someday, He will proclaim to all the nations that He is Ehyeh (Revelation 1:7-8).
The rest of John 1:14 reads, “(And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” In light of the targumic tradition, the deity of Jesus Christ can be depicted as the Memra. In other words, YHWH was speaking. The desires of His “heart” took on flesh. Jesus, if John presented the deity within Him as the Memra, was the revealer of God’s merciful, active presence in creation, redemption, and covenant. YHWH Himself was tabernacled among men in flesh. Jesus personified God’s descriptive name Ehyeh, the living proof that the God revealed to Moses at the burning bush is with His people.
As can be seen, the Johannine concept of the Logos and the Memra doctrine of the Jews are comparable and reflect traditional Oneness theology in many ways. But it must be emphasized that we cannot present the Memra as the sole antecedent of John’s Logos. John was obviously influenced by the Old Testament concept of the dahbar. The poetic personification of hokum (“wisdom”) in Proverbs also backs up the concepts in the prologue of John. My main aim in this paper is to show that the Johannine concept of the Logos reflects a Jewish thought form and that it both reflects and is comparable to the targumic tradition of the Memra, the origin of which, no doubt, can be traced back to the Old Testament concept of the dahbar.
We conclude that John’s concept of the Logos is very Jewish, rather than Hellenistic, and that it is reflected in the Judaism of his time.
As Oneness Pentecostals, we must always focus on the Jewish background of the New Testament. The early Christians themselves were Jews. We must try to avoid describing the Godhead in Gentile terms. When the Greek Apologists started thinking like Gentiles, they became confused. We must avoid making the same mistakes. We will not have to worry if we always remember to keep thinking like the early Christian did–to think “Jewish.” After all, the first Christians were Jews.
1. David Bernard, The Oneness of God (Hazelwood, Mo. Word Aflame Press, 1983), 61.
2. John Paterson, God in Christ Jesus (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1966), 9.
3. Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 81.
4. Bernard, The Oneness of God, 60.
5. Henry Flanders, Jr., and Bruce Cresson, Introduction to the Bible (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1973), 511.
6. David Bernard, Essentials of Oneness Theology (Hazelwood Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1985), 22-23.
7 G. B. Caird, Doctrine of Christ in the New Testament, 77.
8. David Reed, Origins and Development of the Theology of Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States (Unpublished Dissertation: Boston University Graduate School, 1978), 286.
9. J. E. Stambaugh and D. L. Balch, The New Testament in Its Social Environment (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 152.
10. H. Wayne House, Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984).
11. By implication, it seems that John could have addressed a mixed audience. On the one hand, his Gospel is a very Jewish book. It easily disapproves many distorted notions of late first-century Judaism. But, while there was an obvious Jewish readership, some scholars find indications that John anticipated Gentile readers. The following points have been noted: (1) there were readers who knew the general regions of Palestine, but not specific locations. (2) As to languages, Hebrew and Aramaic terms are introduced as foreign words (John 5:2; 19:13,17). Some used this as proof that the original version of the fourth Gospel was written in Greek, not Aramaic. (3) While the intended audience has a rather extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, John goes to great lengths to elaborate upon Jewish beliefs and practices. This manner of writing suggests to some that John was addressing a Gentile audience. For more information on these areas, see R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 205-27
12. Marinus de Jonge, Christology in Context: The Earliest Christian Response to Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1988), 143.
13. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel of John and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 43, 58.
14. B. C. Aker, “John, Gospel of,” Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee, eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 502.
15. De Jonge, 143.
16. Expulsion from the synagogue was a dreaded event. Edward Burgess states, “Rejection from the synagogue was most humiliating during the rabbinic period between 300 B.C. and A.D. 500. While there were several degrees of banishment, the most severe was herem (anathema), or excommunication from society for an indefinite period. The person under anathema had to act as if he or she were in mourning. The excommunicated person could not wash or eat with the family. If the offender did not repent after three warnings, charges were drawn up and read in the synagogue. Candles were lit and the ram’s horn was blown. The candles were then put out and the notice of excommunication was posted. On occasion the violator of Jewish law was scourged. Jesus warned His disciples to expect scourging in the synagogues (Matthew 10:17).” Christ, the Crown of the Torah (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 41.
17. R. Scroggs, Christology in Paul and John (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 56.
18. Stambaugh and Balch, 57
19. Some scholars believe that the fourth Gospel was originally written in Aramaic, not Greek. George M. Lamsa states, “The Gospels, as well as the Epistles, were written in Aramaic, the language of the Jewish people, both in Palestine and the Graeco-Roman Empire…. Greek was never the language of Palestine. Josephus’ books on the Jewish Wars were written in Aramaic. Josephus wrote (41 A.D.): ‘I have also taken a great deal of pain to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language; although I have so accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness. For our nation does not encourage those that learn the language of many nations. On this account, as there have been many who have done their endeavors, with great patience, to obtain this Greek learning there have yet hardly been two or three that have succeeded herein, who were immediately rewarded for their pains.’ (Antiquities XX, X12)…. Indeed, the teaching of Greek was forbidden by Jewish rabbis. It was said that ‘it was better for a man to give his child meat of swine than to teach him the language of the Greeks.’ ” George Lamsa, “Introduction,” The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1957), lxx. If Lamsa’s view is correct, John’s original audience was totally Jewish. But in light of points raised in note 11, many scholars do not accept this hypothesis. A manuscript in Greek could easily be understood by a mixed audience, or, for that matter, a Jewish audience who spoke both Greek and Aramaic.
20. Roland H. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 81.
21. Earle, 81.
22. Marvin D. Treece, “The Oneness Exposition of John 1:1-14,” Symposium on Oneness Pentecostalism 1986 (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1986), 227.
23. Roland H. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 60.
24. Earle, 81.
25. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World, 32-33.
26. Ibid., 34.
28. Ibid., 35
29. Ibid., 46-47
30. Earle, 81.
31. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World, 83.
32. Ibid., 84.
33. Earle, 81.
34. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World, 84.
36. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man, 60.
37 R. M. Grand, The Early Christian Doctrine of God (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1986), 64.
38. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World, 82.
40. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God, 54.
42. Irving Zeitlen, Jesus and the Judaism of His Time (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 7 It must also be noted that while the Greeks may have studied Jewish thoughts, they studied other schools of thought as well. This raises the possibility of another source for the Greek concept of the Logos. William Chalfant quoted Woodbridge: “Plato learned ‘the teachings of Zoroaster, the secrets of the Magi, the laws of Moses, and the mysteries of Egypt.’ ” (William Chalfant, “Origin of the Trinity’ in Symposium on Oneness Pentecostalism 1986 (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1986), 85, quoting Frederick J. E. Woodbridge, The Son of Apollo (New York: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1929), 17-20. Each school of thought had its own logos concept.
In the same symposium, both Chalfant and Thomas Weisser espoused the view that the Greeks had actually borrowed their concept of the logos from Babylonia, but failed to discuss the view of Josephus and Aristobulus that the Greeks borrowed their conception of God from the Jews. Actually, it is possible that the Greeks borrowed from both schools of thought. But whatever side one takes, one thing is certain: the Greek philosophical concept of the logos is not compatible with the Johannine concept of the logos.
43. T. W. Hanson, On Paul and John (London: SCM, 1963), 141.
44. J. D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 215.
45. Bernard, The Oneness of God, 162.
46. A. Feuillet, Johannine Studies (Staten Island, N.Y.: St. Paul Publications, 1965), 81.
47 Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World, 86.
48. Bernard, The Oneness of God, 161.
49. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World, 86. See also R. H. Lightfoot, St. John’s Gospel: A Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 52-56.
50. K. Kohler, “Memra,” The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: 1904), 8:464.
51. C. F. gurney, The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922), 38. As to a clear definition of Targums, we turn to Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 397-98:
An important source for the way in which the Hebrew Bible was understood is found in the Targumim (plural of Targum). As knowledge of biblical Hebrew declined, the custom arose of following the Scripture reading in Hebrew in the synagogue with an Aramaic paraphrase, the Targumim or Targums. They preserve the way passages were commonly interpreted. Since the people often remembered passages best according to the way they were paraphrased, it is not surprising that sometimes the text was quoted according to the meaning given in the Targum rather than according to its actual wording. Thus Ephesians 4:8 cites Psalm 68:18 according to a form known to us only from the Aramaic Targum (and the apparently related Syriac translation of the Psalms). For a long time the Targums were not written down, but eventually, as with the oral law, they were. The dates below pertain to the written texts, much earlier traditions of interpretation may be included. The two principal Targumim are Targum Onqelos to the Pentateuch, which perhaps originated in Palestine before being used in Babylonia at the end of the third century, where it soon won high esteem, and Targum Jonathan to the Former and Latter Prophets, in use in Babylonia in the early fourth century. The names Onqelos and Jonathan are the equivalent of Aquila and Theodotion, and may have been transferred from their Greek versions to the Aramaic Targums. These were the Targums in use in Babylonia.
Most of the Palestinian Targums are later. That to the Torah came to be called also by the name of Jonathan (as in the Etheridge translation), but it is now commonly called Targum Yerushami or Targum pseudo-Jonathan to distinguish it from the Targum on the Prophets. The Targums to the Writings came later, although that to the Psalms is fourth or fifth century. Fragments of earlier Palestinian Targums to the Pentateuch exist. One manuscript (Codex Neofiti I in the Vatican Library) contains a complete Palestinian Targum to the whole Pentateuch. Considerable attention has been given to the claim that it contains an early form of the Palestinian Targum, perhaps going back as
early as the first century.
The Aramaic rendering of the Hebrew text was introduced during the Exile, when Aramaic became the popular language of the Jews. By New Testament times, Hebrew had become the language of the schools, while Aramaic remained the spoken language of the people. During the whole course of this history, however, the Hebrew text of the Scriptures was greatly revered. Scribes refused to tamper with it. For this reason, the Hebrew text was always read in the synagogue service before it was rendered in Aramaic. Some see a possible reference to a public paraphrasing of the Scriptures into Aramaic in Nehemiah 8:8.
At first, the Targums could only be transmitted orally. But sometime before Christ, the date is uncertain, these Aramaic paraphrases began to be written down. John obviously knew of them. We know this is plausble because Rabbi Gamalial I (A.D. 25-50) and his grandson, R. Gamaliel II (A.D. 40-110) knew of a Targum to Job. (See Martin McNamara, Targum and Testament-Aramaic Paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible: A Light on the New Testament (Shannon, Ireland: Irish University Press, 1972), 64. An early Targum to Job was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, but has not as of the present been translated. The earliest editions of the Targums have been lost, but it is believed that the existing targumic manuscripts reflect the earlier tradition.
52. W. G. Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary, vol. 2: Exodus (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1983), 65-66.
53. V. A. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1967), 36-37
54. J. J. Davies, Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986). 72-73.
55. G. H. Parke-Taylor, Yahweh: The Divine Name in the Bible (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1975), 54-55. We should also note that the idea of Abraham’s knowing the divine name YHWH does not conflict with Exodus 6:2-3. When we read, “But by my name JEHOVAH [YHWH] was I not known to them [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]” it does not mean that they did not know the name YHWH. They knew it but did not understand it. Its full meaning was revealed to Moses later. Abraham had named a place by the compound name of Jehovah-Jireh or YHWH-yireh (Genesis 22:14). For him to have come up with a compound name like this, Abraham had to know of the divine name YHWH, although he did not know its full meaning. The Bible has no contradictions!
56. R. Vermes, “Buber’s Understanding of the Divine Name related to Bible, Targum, and Midrash” Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. 24, no. 2 (Autumn 1973), 152.
57. Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra (Totowa, N.J.: Allanheld and Osmun and Co. Publishers, 1981).136-17.
58. Vermes, 152.
59. C. T. R. Hayward, “The Holy Name of the God of Moses and the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel,” New Testament Studies, 25:23.
60. R. Travers Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period (London: Lindsey Press, 1982), 32.
61. M. E. Boismard, St. John’s Prologue (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 136-140.
62. Here we will elaborate upon the direct connections between the prologue of John and Exodus 33-34. After the golden calf was destroyed Moses made a request of YHWH: “Shew me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18j. The request was only partially granted; the Lord made His goodness (or majesty) pass before Moses, and proclaimed His name, YHWH, but Moses could not see His face. “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18). However, Jesus, the “Son, which is in the bosom of the Father,” declared Him before men many centuries after Moses. Jesus manifested YHWH in the flesh: people could easily look upon YHWH’s manifested face–the human face of Jesus. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses received the rest of his request in a direct manner–he actually saw YHWH’s manifested face in all His glory. Obviously, John must have been thinking of this incident when he wrote John 1:14.
Returning to our passage in Exodus, we find that after Moses requested to see God’s glory, YHWH descended in the cloud and stood with Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:5). The Lord passed before Moses and expounded upon His name YHWH, revealing it in another dimension not known previously. Not only was YHWH known as Ehyeh asher Ehyeh (or the Eternal One, Exodus 3) and as the One who keeps His promises (Exodus 6); He was also the God of mercy. The Lord proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6, Theile’s Masoretic Text). Simply stated, YHWH was revealed as the Merciful One. Later Jewish thinkers understood these verses as an exposition of the thirteen attributes of mercy. (The number thirteen is a rabbinic tradition, the exact number varied among different sects of Judaism.)
The King James Version speaks of YHWH as being “abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). These two attributes of the merciful YHWH are echoed in John 1:14. Here, we find that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Yes, the Logos (or the Memra, that is, Ehyeh in Hit: active role of carrying out His redemptive plan) was made flesh. YHWH was in His role of activity. He was speaking! “The Word . . . made flesh” was “full of grace and truth,” just as YHWH in Exodus 34 was “abundant in goodness [or mercy] and truth.” This is no mere coincidence. YHWH, the Father, and the deity of Jesus Christ are one and the same! YHWH was manifest in the flesh. The Memra was made flesh. God was speaking!
When Moses requested to see God’s glory, the “goodness” or majesty of YHWH passed before him and the Lord proclaimed His name. In John 1, we find that the “fulness” of YHWH was received by mankind through Jesus Christ. He also brought the “grace” and “truth” of YHWH to mankind. Just as all of these things were involved in God’s partial display of glory to Moses, so are they involved in the display of God’s glory (or manifested essence) to men through Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
In His physical manifestation of glory, YHWH would primarily use light. W. A Pratney states, “Light is radiant, not absorbent; energy, not matter; tangible, though formless. As God must show Himself in some way to mankind, light-glory becomes His most common appearance (Exodus 24:16-18; 29:43; 40:34ff; 1 Kings 8:10ff; 11 Chronicles 7:1ff; Ezekiel 1:28; 3:12ff; Acts 9:3).” W. A. Pratney, The Nature and Character of God (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1988),113. This light was also involved in the manifestation of Christ in all His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. To Moses and to us today, light becomes a symbol of the God who is merciful, gracious, good, pure, and truthful.
Old Testament Jews were under the law. While YHWH Himself was full of goodness and truth, the Jews were in a ritualistic dispensation. The way of the law was very hard. It could not offer the “grace” or “goodness” of YHWH to mankind in a direct manner; it could only point to the future. When Jesus came, He declared the Father to men (John 1:18). He brought to men what the law could not “grace.” In the wilderness, the Jews could not receive the “truth” of YHWH directly either. Their Tabernacle system was full of types that pointed to the future manifestation of “truth” by Jesus (John 1:14). Just as Moses only received a partial picture of God’s glory, the Jews could only perceive God from a distance. Today, we can talk to God in prayer as though we were “face to face.”
Now let us focus on God’s name. Just as YHWH in theophany form proclaimed the name of YHWH before Moses in Exodus 34:57, Jesus manifested God’s name before men (John 17:6); the only difference was that now He was known as Yeshua (or Jesus) instead of YHWH. But the name YHWH has been incorporated into the new name Yeshua. The Lord had told Moses, “This (YHWH) is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations” (Exodus 3:15). Nathaniel Urshan uses this verse when he states that the name of Jesus, when translated, means “Yahweh who saves.” This is the fulfillment of the promise made by God to continue His name: “Here is a memorial with a name established unto all generations, and adapted by the Lord Almighty.” Nathaniel Urshan, Consider Him-David’s Son and David’s Lord (St. Louis, Mo.: Pentecostal Publishing House, n.d.), 29. William Bousset in his study of early Christology recognizes that in the fourth Gospel “the name of Jesus plays the same role as the name of the Old Testament Yahweh.” Wilhelm Bousset, Kyrios Christos: A History of the Belief in Christ from the Beginnings of Christianity to Irenaeas, 5th ea., trans. John E. Steely (New York, Abingdon Press, 1970), 215 Simply stated, Jesus displayed the majesty of YHWH before men bringing them “grace and truth” and proclaiming the name of God to be Yeshua or “YHWH Savior.”
Now that we have discussed in detail the direct connections between Exodus 33-34 and the prologue of John, let us conclude by relating the Memra to all of this. C. T. R. Hayward states:
The presence of God in redemption comes to the fore in Neofitti I to Exod. vi. 7, where God promises that His Memra will become a redeemer God for Israel. Several times in this Targum does the Memra appear as redeemer, as well as being party to the covenant made with the Fathers, a covenant already recalled in Exod. vi. 5. It can also be shown that Memra is equivalent to God’s good mercies, which recalls the Rabbinic “Measure of Mercy”: this mercy is naturally associated with the covenant and redemption of Israel in Neofitti l’s version of Exod. ii. 24-5, where the Targum declares that God “remembered in His good mercies” the covenant which He had sworn with the Fathers “and He said in His Memra” are parallel, and equivalent in meaning.
That Memra is equivalent to God’s mercy explains its importance in creation, for it is common Jewish teaching that God created the world by mercy. The Palestinian Targums to Gen. iv. 8 depict the argument between Cain and Abel as including the question whether the world was created and led (i.e. sustained) by mercy. (C. T. R. Hayward, “The Holy Name of the God of Moses and the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel ‘ New Testament Studies 25:24.)
Yes, when YHWH expresses Himself to mankind, He displays complete mercy. God, “in His good mercies ‘worked with mankind, wishing to redeem man back to Himself. His memories, or “the desires of His heart,” when expressed in the Incarnation, directly involved mercy. His Memra or “plan” was made flesh for a reason: to die for man’s sin. The merciful, active, personal presence of YHWH was in Christ, manifesting the innermost desires of His heart in a real, genuine way. Yes, God was
All of this is an excellent parallel to John’s prologue and reflects the Johannine concept of the Logos in an interesting manner. Just as the targumist used the Memra to represent the merciful God of the Old Testament in His role of activity, God’s innermost desires were being manifested in the Incarnation in a context of mercy. For further study, see Norma D. Hooker, “The Johannine Prologue and the Messianic Secret:’ New Testament Studies, 21:40-58. See also Thomas B. Dozeman, “Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Yahweh’s Gracious and Compassionate Character:’ Journal of Biblical Literature 10 (1989): 207-23.
63. E. R. Blair, Abingdon Bible Handbook (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), 244.
64. John Paterson, God in Christ Jesus (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1966), 10-11.
65. Since the Memra stood for Ehyeh, the active, personal presence of YHWH, C. T. R. Hayward states that “St. John, then if our hypothesis is correct, depicts Jesus as the Memra, who is God’s Name, manifesting God’s glory, full of grace and truth of the covenant, dwelling with us in the flesh, which Jesus Himself describes as a Temple (2:19), the very dwelling place of the Memra. We are reminded, too, of St. Matthew’s understanding of the birth of Jesus as it fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Where two or three gather in His Name, He declares, there I am (Ehyeh, later replaced by Memra or the Targums) in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).” C. T. R. Hayward, “The Holy Name of Moses and the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel:’ New Testament Studies, 25.
In other words, God’s name took on human flesh. Today, when we gather in His “name” (Yeshua or Jesus), Ehyeh, or God’s active and personal presence, is among us, speaking to us from His innermost being. David A. Reed states,
One of the most prominent dwelling places of Yahweh was in His “name.” Yahweh chooses to dwell with Israel by putting His “name” in a special place (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 21). For instance, His Name might accompany His glory as when Moses asked to see His glory and was told by Yahweh that when the glory passed by His Name would accompany it.
The Jewish concept of “dwelling” forms part of the mental framework for early Jewish Christians to express the nature of God’s presence in Jesus. Instead of using Greek forms of metaphysics, a Jewish Christian would find such concepts as tabernacle, temple, glory, and Name as ready vehicles for interpreting his experience of Jesus. (Origins and Development of the Theology of Oneness Pentecostalism, 211-12.)
66. Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: the Memra, 119. 67. Ibid 29
By Clifford Readout, Jr.
The thanks of our entire fellowship are due to the executive leadership of the United Pentecostal Church International for making these symposiums available to us, and to the Symposium Committee, especially Brother J. L. Hall, for the hours of labor given to put the plan into practice. Thanks is also due to the brave souls who bring ideas for our edification, consideration, and clarification. They are brave souls because they are subjecting their positions to the review, analysis, and critique of their brethren. But please be assured that this forum is one of brethren, true men, the sons of one Father, with nothing set down in malice.
As we mature along with our symposium, we will grow to appreciate even more the constructive analysis and corrections offered to our thinking by both the papers and the varied responses to them. We must address and correct any errors in our thinking and especially in our doctrine for the sake of the lost, whose believing depends upon hearing the truth we are called to proclaim. And who is more well qualified to refine our concepts, creeds, and conduct than those who share with us the foundation of revelation, redemption, and rejoicing?
Nothing is easier than being a critic of other men’s labors. It is easier to tear down than to build correctly. It is also easier to take offense when one’s labor of love is criticized than it is to
receive correction and go on to perfection. No one knows these things better than the brave souls who have submitted papers and faced the respondents! We respondents have had some few days to chew on our subjects and refine our critique, but the poor paper presenter has no advance notice of what our responses will contain! For this reason we must not allow the responses to be the last word about the matter, nor should we depend on the hurried and brief remarks made to the responses to be the last words either.
Every paper submitted to our symposium should demonstrate its justification for occupying our time and thought. “The Religious Background of the Logos” by Charles D. Wilson offers the following expressions of its reason for being:
1. “In this paper, I propose that the true roots of the Christian Logos are to be found in pre-Christian Judaism, not Greek philosophy. To properly understand the Logos, we must first define the term and how it fits into Oneness theology and then discuss it in both Greek and Jewish contexts.”
2. “The fourth Gospel is indeed a very Jewish book. While many scholars claim that the thought forms used by John were those of the Hellenistic world, we point to a background in the Old Testament and then-current Jewish thought. Liberals would disagree with me, ruling out any Jewish background in the prologue of John. In the light of this present study, I would ask them to reevaluate their opinions.”
3. “My main aim in this paper is to show that the Johannine concept of the Logos reflects a Jewish thought form and that it both reflects and is comparable to the targumic tradition of the Memra, the origin of which, no doubt, can be traced back to the Old Testament concept of the dahbar.”
The first proposal and the reasons for it are clearly presented by the paper. Proven Jewish roots for the Johannine Logos would necessitate redefinition of the Logos Christology that is the very heart of trinitarian theology. Any request to reevaluate existing opinions based on previously undiscovered, unconsidered, or overlooked evidence is a worthy request. This paper does present evidence strong enough to require reconsideration of the forcing of Hellenistic definitions into manifestly non-Hellenistic literature. The success of the paper in its first two stated purposes also validates the author’s “main aim” of showing a distinct relationship between the targumic Memra and the Old Testament dahbar to the New Testament Logos. It is an interesting and relatively under emphasized approach to the study of the Logos, yet one which yields results that require attention and the incorporation of it into an understanding of essential Christian doctrine. The writing of this paper and our consideration of it, then, is justified and valuable.
With that said, allow the offering of some criticisms that might assist in improving the paper and its importance to understanding biblical doctrine. This paper is primarily directed to “liberal scholars.”There are a few minor points of technique that would make the paper more acceptable to an opposing but objective scholarly audience.
The methodology expressed in the first stated purpose is the reverse of accepted investigative and apologetical method. The author writes, “To properly understand the Logos, we must first define the term and how it fits into Oneness theology and then discuss it in both Greek and Jewish contexts.” Rather, first the true roots of the Logos of John must be demonstrated, and then the term can be examined in all contexts so that a correct definition can be determined. Only then can the role of the word and concept in theology be properly established. Restructuring the paper to follow this method would greatly enhance its impact.
Careful use of sources is also important. Citing a published author as evidence for a statement does not necessarily prove the point. Not all authors are authorities. It is important that an appeal to nonbiblical sources be limited to those the jury considers authoritative.
It is important that a study treat its thesis as a thesis until the proof is established by the presented evidence. Statements that indicate acceptance of the proposition as fact must not be offered as part of the proving of the question. When God’s people speak as the oracles of God they may speak with authority without offering evidence. But when offering arguments and evidence for reasoning and understanding, the thesis may not be treated as the underlying truth from which the investigation proceeds. These are technical corrections that would lend greater force to the paper.
The paper contains the statement: “I am not implying that Christianity evolved. Rather, God directed John to use preexistent concepts when He inspired John to write the fourth Gospel.” This statement requires that attention be given to the concept and role of plenary inspiration in the religious background of the Logos. Christianity has, until relatively recent times, traditionally held to the full and absolute divine inspiration of the autographs of the Bible. Along with verbal inspiration, Christianity has traditionally held that God has accurately preserved His Word into every generation. The parallel of Exodus 33 and 34 to John 1 given in note 62 is perhaps the pinnacle of excellence in this paper, for it indicates the role that verbal inspiration would play in determining the meaning of Logos. If God inspired and preserved the wording of the prologue of John (and the rest of Scripture), any investigation of the roots of the Logos could properly be limited to God’s own usage.
This is done primarily by study of the word and concept within the New Testament itself, in the Septuagint (Greek) and Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament (to allow parallel studies of the Hebrew terminology and concepts that correspond to the Greek), and secondarily, with least significance, in other related Hebrew and Greek literature. If plenary inspiration is accepted, the secular use of words must not be allowed primary influence in theological definitions. It is presumptive of the creature to demand that the Creator’s use of words conform to the common, secular understanding of those words. The generation of idolatry is man defining God in terminology that God has not chosen in His prior revelation. God does not conform to our understanding, but in His omnipotence and by His omniscience He can and does raise our understanding to conformity with His transcendent reality. We must allow the first Author of language, the very speaker of the Word, the Alpha and Omega, to define Himself, to reveal Himself, in the Word: spoken, heard, written, become flesh, and lived out in our sight.
There is another factor in the study of the Logos that would strengthen the conclusions of this paper. This is the use of the prepositions that relate logos to arche (beginning) in both the prologue of John and I John. The Logos is defined as “in” and “from” the beginning. 2 Yet the Logos is never linked to the Arche with the preposition “before.” 3 Since Christ is defined in Scripture to be both the Logos and the Arche 4 and Scripture insists on God’s existence being without beginning, we must ask, In the beginning of what was the Word? and That which was from the beginning of what? Thus, the use of the two different prepositions “in” and “from” and the exclusion of the preposition “before” relating the Logos to the Arche/beginning must be significant to any scriptural definition of the Logos. Claims that the phrases, “in the beginning” and “from the beginning” are idioms meaning “before the origin” are unsubstantianted in the Scripture.
Inclusion of these two lines of investigation seems necessary to validating the thesis that the Logos of John bears little relationship to the Hellenistic concept. Yet considering the time constraints of the symposium as currently formatted, the author has done a commendable work and presented the theological world with enough reason to reconsider its acceptance of the Hellenistic interpretation of the
Logos in the prologue of John.
1. The English word oracle in the Greek New Testament is derived from a diminutive of logos. Its four uses in the New Testament are germane to understanding the Johannine usage. (See Acts 7:38; Romans 3:2; Hebrews 5:12; I Peter 4:11. See also login from the Septuagint of Exodus 28:15.)
2. John 1:1: en arch en ho logos; I John 1:1: ho en ap’ arches.
3. The preposition pro–before, prior to–is never used to link logos and arch.
4. Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:8; 3:14; 21:6; 22:13; and others. The relation of logos to speaking then makes several texts pertinent. For example, Hebrews 2:3 indicates, “Salvation having received a beginning to be spoken by the Lord” and John 8:25 indicates, “Even consistently the same that was first spoken.”
Clifford Readout, Jr. is pastor of the Apostolic Church of Enfield, Connecticut, and district foreign missions director for the Connecticut District.
Charles Wilson is a member of New Life Apostolic Church in Detroit, Michigan. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Wayne State University in Advertising Design. In addition to his work in this field he is involved in preaching, teaching, writing, and children’s ministry. Having authored numerous articles and lessons, he has a special interest in biblical history and Jewish backgrounds.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM THE SYMPOSIUM ON ONENESS PENTECOSTALISM 1988 AND 1990, AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1990, PAGES 227-271. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PUPROSES ONLY.