The Logos in other times (1)

In the last post I showed how the whole of John’s gospel (and 1 John) weave a network of ideas together to give substance to the theme of his prologue: Jesus as the Logos of God. The conclusion was that for John, Jesus the person should never be divorced from his actions and, particularly, from his teaching. It is all of them together that constitute the logos of God.

Today I want to continue the theme by showing that John’s “logos” extends beyond Jesus’s personal teaching to include that of the prophets before him. The following post will extend that to the apostles after him. John sees (or rather, Jesus teaches) that they are all utterances of the logos –  the former looking forward to the fuller revelation of the Incarnation, of course, and the latter looking back to it, and forward to his second coming. Nevertheless, Jesus’s own logoi show that the Old and New Testaments have the authority of Jesus himself. They form the Christological basis for a doctrine of infallibility, which needs to be nuanced and refined, of course, but which is foundational to historical Christianity.

First, though, we should remember that though I have built my case on John, it clearly applies to the synoptic gospels too. The teaching and the actions of Jesus in their entirety, not just as recorded in John, are the expression of the Logos. That is obvious. It’s particularly important because the synoptics contain many other Old Testament references, often on the lips of Jesus himself. Despite frequent scholarly assertions that the Hebrew Scriptures were not canonised until much later, the gospels quote as divine authorities 21 out of the 39 OT books (from all sections) and none from outside the canon. They allude to ideas from many more.

The Old Testament is linked to Jesus’s own teaching on many occasions in John. For example:

Then they believed the Scripture and the logos that Jesus had spoken. (2.22)
Only after Jesus was glorified did they realise that these things had been written about him. (12.16)
Knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled… (19.28)
They still did not understand from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead. (20.9)

This general appeal to “the Scriptures” as teaching Jesus’s death and resurrection shows that John considered that wherever they taught this they carried prophetic authority. Jesus himself says as much:

“You diligently study the Scriptures… these are the Scriptures that testify about me.” (5.39)

In fact, elsewhere (Luke 24.45-46) it is indicated that Jesus himself explained such passages, after his resurrection. Note the prevalent “testimony” word here, indicating the solemn statement of an eyewitness, not a happy coincidence or a general principle. It is also used of John the Baptist (1.15,19,33,34; 5.33-36), who attributes his testimony to God (1.33). Twice, in fact, such eyewitness testimony is ascribed to specific OT prophets:

“I know (God) and keep his logos. Your father Abraham rejoiced at seeing my day. (8.53: note the connection to “logos“)
Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. (12.41 – v39 actually refers to fulfilling the logos of Isaiah)

The concept of “fulfillment”, meaning “completion”, occurs in several texts both about Old Testament Scriptures and Jesus’ own prophetic “logos” (18.9,32). It alludes to that passage in Isa 55.11 where God’s personified logos does not return to him without achieving its aim. Neither Scripture nor Christ ever speak idly. And Jesus also endorses that in words that make it surprising that anyone who believes Jesus to be the Logos of God should ever doubt his full endorsement of the Bible:

“Is it not written in your law… – and Scripture cannot be broken? (10.34)

It is no wonder that John even defines man’s state in direct relation to Scripture:

Everyone who sins breaks the law: in fact sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3.4)

The logic is clear once one recognises his association of Jesus with the “logos” of God, whether written or incarnate:

But whoever keeps his logos, God’s love is made complete in him. (1 Jn 2.5)
No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning. (1 Jn 3.6)

This high view of the Old Testament is really inevitable, given that the ministry of Jesus is well-nigh meaningless without the whole religious foundation the OT establishes, including of course its prophetic witness to the fact, and the meaning, of Jesus’s coming. It is no wonder, therefore, that Scripture is quoted more than 450 times in the New Testament, with its whole fabric also dependent on the Hebrew Bible. But the reason for this comes into much higher relief once the full content of John’s use of the word “Logos” is understood.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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