Christological creation – 2: the real co-creation

One good place to start, but by no means to finish, when looking at creation christologically is St John’s concept of Logos. We must avoid the trap of buzzword “Logos Theology”, because apart from its use in John’s gospel prologue, there are only two rather equivocal references to the term, both of them in the Johannine corpus. But it is true that the meaning of Logos permeates his whole gospel, and maybe provides an understanding of how other NT writers came to give Christ exactly the same divine role in creation (Paul, Peter and the writer to the Hebrews). At the very least it gives a dramatic expression to that role.

The most helpful translation I’ve found in this case is the New English Bible:

When all things began, the Word Already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; no single thing was created without him. All that came to be was alive with his life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered it.

There seems little doubt that John gained some insights from his Jewish contemporary Philo or his sources, who tried to synthesize Greek philosophy and the Bible. Philo took a Stoic use of logos,  God’s means to create and reveal his will. On one hand he identified it with the Platonic world of forms, ie plan and power. On the other he identified it with OT motifs: the Angel and Name of Yahweh and wisdom personified as in Proverbs 8. He also sees it as  paraclete (advocate, cf John’s calling the Spirit “another paraclete“), as Son of God [note John’s preference for that title), and as the ideal man.

But John, by alluding to Genesis 1, mainly means to personify in Christ the Hebrew word dabar, translated in the Greek OT as logos. If Jesus is God, why is he not mentioned in Genesis? John replies, “He is! God’s creation is through his word of power, and that word is Christ.” This is a richer idea than it may at first seem to us. Dabar really means “word-act”:

word has to do not only with a spoken statement but also with an activity, that word according to the viewpoint of the Old Testament witnesses and to that of Israel’s Near Eastern neighbours has the character of both power and activity…

The phrase “these words” can mean “these events” (Gen 15.1, 22.1 etc). Thus the prophets can say they “saw words” (Amos 1.1, and Isa 2.1) that were for them objects or events to address. Since a “word” contained or unleashed an event, it consequently was filled with the power and strength either of this event or of the object it named. The “word” not only expresses but also contains the essence of this object (Josh 5.4  and 1 Kings 11.27).  This may be compared to the personal names in the Old Testament or the giving of names as a component of creation in the Babylonian Enuma elish and in Gen 2.19. The word is a word of power (Genesis 1; Isa 40.; 55.10f; Jer 23.29; and Ps 33.4,9), has a dynamic character, and is much more bound with the concrete meaning or content of what it names than is the case with our more generalised term “word.” A “word” has to do with a word event or a state of affairs. (Horst Dietrich Preuss, Old Testament Theology, Volume 1)

There is also a relationship to royal power in the use of dabar. The Books of Kings use it formulaically when they mention “all the other acts [=words] of King X”. The New Testament too carries over this word-act sense of dabar in its general use of logos.

So John’s Logos is Christ the eternal word-act of God the Father, through whom (rather than by whom) creation occurs. Outside John, exactly the same thought is repeated in 1 Cor 8.6; Col 1.15ff; Heb 1.1-3, 10-12; 2 Pet 3.5.

So, given the reference to God’s Spirit in Genesis 1.2, we can see more than the beginnings of a Trinitarian understanding of creation in the New Testament. This, rather than “creation being given freedom to create itself” is the Biblical concept of co-creation. But before I look at some implications of that, I want to return to the link between “dabar” and “Christ as Logos“. For Preuss also says this:

… The construct relationship of debar yahweh (“word of YHWH”) occurs 242 times in the Old Testament; furthermore, 225 instances of this construct relation are a technical expression for the prophetic word of revelation, whilst only seven occurrences refer to the legal word of YHWH.

When “the word of the Lord” comes to a prophet, it doesn’t predict events, but brings them to be. The dabar of Scripture is a speech-act, not “mere words”. So far from being “incarnational” or “kenotic”, the scriptural model of Scripture is actually creational: the same dabar yahweh that brought the world into being brings God’s revelation into physical existence. That’s why John and other NT authors keep saying, “Thus was fulfilled the word of the prophet” or “This had to come to pass.” This creational sense is to be understood also in the words that Jesus himself speaks as the Logos, and especially for the gospel message per se, which has the same creative authority as God’s creating dabar. That of course is why the gospel is said to have power, rather than being a simple proposition for people to consider and accept or reject. Thus the New Bible Dictionary says:

The term [logos]is used absolutely (eg to preach the Word) and with a number of genitives (the Word of God, of Christ, of the Cross, or reconciliation, of life, etc). These show that the gospel story is seen in the New Testament as essentially a presentation of Christ himself; he is the Word which is preached.

Now the first implication of this is surprising: if you want to take on board John’s doctrine of the Logos as the divine source of creation and salvation, you can’t avoid accepting as well the closely linked doctrine of the Logos as the source of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. This is very far from modern “Logos Theologies” which, often, seek to divorce Jesus both from Scripture and the Gospel into some Platonic realm of reason and logic and mysticism. Scripture is actually oneof the means God in Christ uses to bring about creation.

Here are some more implications of Jesus as Logos and co-Creator.

Firstly, there is no division between God the Father as source of creation, God the Son as his Word, or God the Spirit as his agent. There is just one plan, one purpose stemming form the will of the Father. In his ministry, John records Jesus on several occasions saying that he has said only what his Father told him to say, in the way he told him to say it. The same is true of “co-Creation”. God is One. So if “freedom”, as everyone nowadays seems to be suggesting, is such a priority in God’s creation, how come obedience and willing submission is so prominent within the Trinitarian God who actually created all things?

The answer, and this is the second implication, is that freedom isn‘t a priority at all, but love and, as we shall see in another post, glory. The creation we see was the fruit of the mutual love between the Persons of the Godhead. Seen in another light, the creation was executed by the same Christ who gave himself for us, and like his love for us his creation is a reflection of the Father’s own love. So Christians ought to take more seriously than they do the active love of God within his creation, as decribed in say Psalms 104, 139, 145 and 147. If we don’t discern that love, we don’t really believe Christ was involved, and we have corrupted vision.

This leads to a third implication, which is that creation did not involve the diminishment of God through kenosis in any way, but the enlargement of God, if that were possible, through love. Creation was, and still is, a joyful act that still causes the morning stars to sing together and the angels to shout for joy. God is magnified through his Creation. Scripture (the Logos) makes no apologies for it, nor sees any reason to.

Fourthly, and connected to this, creation is entirely the product of God’s wisdom. The Logos motif sees Jesus as that wisdom, but wisdom is of course an essential attribute of God. If you like, the whole Trinity discussed how they would do it wisely, joyfully and lovingly for eternity before starting the project. So it ill behoves the Christian to find fault with it.

Fifthly and more prosaically, creation is not incompatible with the use of secondary means (though not necessarily dependent on them). Comparing (directly, not analogically!) the process of revelation, God’s dabar brings about God’s purpose through the human author, but also sometimes through human agents thereafter: King David, the Babylonians, Judas or whoever. Yet whatever the causal chain, the word-event fulfils utterly the original will of the God who created it. This too must be our view of secondary causes in nature: they never act against, or independent of, the Logos, Christ, who spoke them into being. If they did, there would be two Creators, rather than One in Three.

How’s that to be getting on with?

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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1 Response to Christological creation – 2: the real co-creation

  1. Jon Garvey says:

    I’m adding this as a comment to avoid interrupting the flow of this series of posts. An interesting blog by theologian James Mc Grath on “The ‘Authority’ of the Bible” here

    Do you see the difference from the creational view of Scripture I’ve described above? Scripture, in McGrath’s view, has only the authority we ourselves grant it, which in daily experience is certainly true, just as God’s law may be obeyed or not as we choose.

    But the divine Fiat of Genesis 1 had the authority to create the Universe. The dabar yahweh of the prophets had the authority to bring about the fall of Israel, the New Covenant in Christ etc whatever anybody said in reply.

    Perhaps a good point of reference are the words of the Lord Jesus, which he describes thus: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life,” or, “I do not judge him … That very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” Now, is it true that Christ’s words have only the authoriyty we give them, or is something more involved? And if so, does one not have to establish conslusively that the same truth does not apply to the rest of Scripture?

    As ever, the divide is the assumptions you bring to the table: whether it is the theological naturalism of a Langdon Gilkey or a supernaturalist view in which God involves himself in reality.

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