The Word – The Two Edged Sword – Jesus

A key concept in Christology – the study of Jesus as the Son of God – is the term “The Word,” or logos in Greek.  The most authoritative reference to the term logos is in the first chapter of  the Gospel of John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.

It is because of the testimony of John, that all Christians believe that Jesus is not only the Son of God, but also God-become-man.  The Evangelist John says so himself: “He was in the beginning with God.”  It is for this reason that Christians who recite the Creed state that Jesus was “begotten, not made.”

Jesus is the Word issued forth from the mouth of God.  In Old Testament Hebrew , the term “spirit” and “breath” are the same word –ר֫וּחַ “ruah.”  When God gives life to something, he breathes the spirit of life into it.  Thus, the spirit goes forth from His mouth.  Consider Genesis 2:7

וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃

In English, this reads, “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”  The Book of Job refers frequently to the “breath of life” coming from God.  Consider Job 27:3, “As long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils…“.  The clearest reference to life coming from the breath of God comes from The Book of Psalms.   According to psalm 33,

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”

John the Evangelist does not refer to Jesus as “spirit,” though. He refers to Jesus as “the Word.” So what’s the difference? The spirit of a being is particularized. Each person has a soul. According to Platonic thought, anything that is alive has an “anima.” But only human souls survive their death. Christians also do not believe that our soul is an extension of the Holy Spirit. God gives each being a soul, and it is not the same thing as the Holy Spirit.  Our soul is given by God, but it is not “God” per se.

Jesus is “the Word” because the Logos, or “the Word” is the principle by which everything in the universe is created.  We do not usually think of Jesus in that way.  We tend to personalize Him as our Lord and Savior.  But that does not make the statement untrue.    Consider the Gospel of John verse 1:3:

All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.

St. Paul also confirms the idea that Jesus, the Word, participates in creation.  Consider Colossians 1:15-16,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

A lot of unlearned and pagan scholars argue that Paul, and more commonly, John the Evangelist, were influenced by ‘Gnostics.’  They overstate claim that John was borrowing Greek and Platonic ideas and throwing them into Scripture to convert the Jews and Gentiles of Asia Minor who knew Greek and stoic philosophy.  They argue that John simply stole the idea of “Jesus, the Word” from Platonic thought.

It’s an interesting theory, but “the Word” is present in the Old Testament, and its usage predates the Gospel of John by 600 to 1,000 years. The Book of Isaiah, written in the sixth or seventh century before Christ, speaks of the Word going forth from God’s mouth in Isaiah 55:11:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

This passage is a clear, and prophetic passage, that refers to Jesus Christ.  That is the reason this passage is included in the cycle of Scriptural readings on Easter Sunday.  Nor is it Isaiah’s only reference to “the Word” – dabar in Hebrew.  In another messianic passage, the prophet speaks these famous words in Isaiah 49:1-2:

Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples. The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.  He made of [my mouth] a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.

In Isaiah 49, the Word is a sharp-edged sword issuing forth from the agent of God.  Fortunately, we have Hebrews 4:12 to confirm that sword is indeed the Word:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…

And the phrase, “the word of the Lord” long predates Isaiah.  The phrase is found about ten times in the Torah. In the Torah, the “Word of the Lord” means the command of God. Furthermore, even within the Torah itself, whose oral tradition dates to at least 900 BCE, we have the “double entendre” to a completely un-named third party who interpolates “the word of the Lord” for Moses.  Consider Deuteronomy 5:5:

אָ֠נֹכִי עֹמֵ֨ד בֵּין־ יְהוָ֤ה וּבֵֽינֵיכֶם֙ בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֔וא לְהַגִּ֥יד לָכֶ֖ם אֶת־ דְּבַ֣ר יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֤י יְרֵאתֶם֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י הָאֵ֔שׁ וְלֹֽא־ עֲלִיתֶ֥ם בָּהָ֖ר לֵאמֹֽר׃

The words in red are “dbr YHWH,” or “the Word of the Lord.”  But the passage translates, “I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain.”  It is completely unclear who it is that stands between Moses and God, especially since Deuteronomy 5:4 just finished telling us that Moses spoke to God “face to face.”  However, it seems that “the Word declares the word,” meaning that the Word interpolated between Moses and God.

As Israelite history moves into the age of the prophets, the Word again takes on the meaning that it has a life of its own.   In Isaiah 55, the Word – the will of God – is accomplished not through human agents of God,  but by God himself, who will eventually take the form of a man.  To complete the analogy – Jesus is the agent of God, but Jesus is God.  By the exact same analogy, the Word is the agent of God, but the Word is God.

Paul uses the term logos slightly more literally – as the Gospel preached.  For this reason, the Church often teaches that the Living Word is both Holy Scripture and Jesus Christ.  Or to put it another way, Scripture – the written or proclaimed Word – has the ability to make God – the living Word – present.  Consider Romans 10:17

Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Second Timothy 2:7-9 also speaks of the relationship between the preached Word and the Word of God:

Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.

In certain passages, the “Word,” the “Good News,” and “Jesus Christ” become virtually interchangeable.  Consider Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In verse 1:18, he says.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In Greek,

λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν.

If we were to translate this passage literally, it would read,

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For Paul, the “word of the cross” is the Good News.  It is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen on the third day. Substituting “Jesus” for the word, we get the same theological meaning:

For (the Good News of) Jesus Christ is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s