Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Devotional: John 1:1-18

I vaguely remember Sunday School teachers talking about the Greek concept of logos (λόγος) and trying to explain ideas of divine wisdom and the rational order of the universe to us bored children, who pretended to understand. We got the general idea that, rather than merely meaning “word,” logos meant something broader, but twenty-five years or so later, I’m not sure I understand it any better.

Christian tradition says that the apostle John traveled to Ephesus, a coastal city in Asia Minor, and there preached and wrote his gospel and three epistles. It’s no surprise then that he’d open his gospel (John 1:1-18) with a reference to the ideas of its ancient philosopher, Heraclitus “the obscure.” I thought it would be interesting to see what he said on the subject, so here’s a portion of the first passage provided in William Harris’ “Heraclitus: The Complete Fragments: Translation and Commentary and the Greek Text”:

Although this Logos is eternally valid, yet men are unable to understand it -- not only before hearing it, but even after they have heard it for the first time. That is to say, although all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos, men seem to be quite without any experience of it.

A few parallels between the Greek philosopher and the disciple of Christ stood out to me. Heraclitus says that logos is eternal. John says that logos existed from the beginning (v. 1). Heraclitus says that through logos “all things come to pass.” (I’d interpret this as saying everything originates from logos.) John says that logos created all things (v. 3). Heraclitus says that people remain ignorant even after hearing logos. John essentially says that people were ignorant and rejected logos (vv. 10-11).

It does look like the two are saying the same things. Yet for all their similarities, John seems more optimistic, proclaiming that there are those who recognize what logos is and accept it (vv. 12-13). And through that recognition, those enlightened (v. 9) can thus receive the grace of God (vv. 14 & 16). It is not clear to me that Heraclitus saw the future with the same hope (although that might be blamed on his works being preserved in quotes and fragments). Perhaps we can say that John took Heraclitus’ concept of logos but added hope and salvation where there was previously just knowledge.

This devotional was written as an assignment for Robert T. Davis’ course on “Johannine Literature,” which I am currently auditing at the Southern California School of Evangelism at Buena Park Church of Christ.

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