I’m planning on making this a continuing Bible study series with some early church wisdom thrown in here and there. If you enjoy this multi-part analysis of John, there may be more to come.
The Gospel of John is my favorite gospel. It’s also one of the more controversial gospels of the four because it’s not a synoptic gospel. This means it doesn’t cover exactly the same territory or have the same narrative structure of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some also question if it was even authored by John, but church tradition takes it as it is.
The gospel of John clearly has a different mission. It’s style and arrangement are more directed towards Gentiles with an emphasis on unpacking philosophical and theological ramifications for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, starting right off the bat with a dive right into Greek philosophy. It’s intellectually rich, but also simple enough that a child could understand the significance of the events told.
In the early church, the four gospels were to be read by new Christians in succession, with John being the last one read around Passover (Pascha). It’s a book that highly emphasizes Jesus as the Christ and takes focus on the last year of His ministry, so for the newly baptized, it could be thought of as the crescendo to a beautiful theological orchestra.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (NKJV)
The “Word” (logos) is a Greek concept founded by Heraclitus in the 5th century BC, which stands for the principle and order of knowledge. It is the grounding from which all order comes from. In other words, Jesus Christ is the foundation of existence and the purpose of order in Creation. Just in verse 1, John is setting the stage where all history and the universe comes through Him and because of Him. The love story of God has a beginning and it’s before time even began.
Wherefore from this point first he makes his beginning, and as he advances, declares that God is, and does not like Plato assert, sometimes that He is intellect, sometimes that He is soul; for these things are far removed from that divine and unmixed Nature which has nothing common with us, but is separated from any fellowship with created things, I mean as to substance, though not as to relation.
And for this reason he calls Him The Word. For since he is about to teach that this Word is the only-begotten Son of God, in order that no one may imagine that His generation is passible, by giving Him the appellation of The Word, he anticipates and removes beforehand the evil suspicion, showing that the Son is from the Father, and that without His suffering (change).
Do you see then that as I said, he has not been silent as to the Father in his words concerning the Son? And if these instances are not sufficient fully to explain the whole matter, marvel not, for our argument is God, whom it is impossible to describe, or to imagine worthily; hence this man nowhere assigns the name of His essence, (for it is not possible to say what God is, as to essence,) but everywhere he declares Him to us by His workings. For this Word one may see shortly after called Light, and the Light in turn named Life.
Than the beginning is there nothing older, if it have, retained to itself, the definition of the beginning (for a beginning of beginning there cannot be); or it will wholly depart from being in truth a beginning, if something else be imagined before it and arise before it. Otherwise, if anything can precede what is truly beginning, our language respecting it will go off to infinity, another beginning ever cropping up before, and making second the one under investigation.
There will then be no beginning of beginning, according to exact and true reasoning, but the account of it will recede unto the long-extended and incomprehensive. And |12 since its ever-backward flight has no terminus, and reaches up to the limit of the ages, the Son will be found to have been not made in time, but rather invisibly existing with the Father: for in the beginning was He. But if He was in the beginning, what mind, tell me, can over-leap the force of the was? When will the was stay as at its terminus, seeing that it ever runs before the pursuing reasoning, and springs forward before the conception that follows it?
Astonishment-stricken whereat the Prophet Isaiah says, Who shall declare His generation? for His Life is lifted from the earth. For verily lifted from the earth is the tale of the generation of the Only-Begotten, that is, it is above all understanding of those who are on the earth and above all reason, so as to be in short inexplicable. But if it is above our mind and speech, how will He be originate, seeing that our understanding is not powerless to clearly define both as to time and manner things originate?
So, what both Chrysostom and Cyril are saying is that the Life which sustains and keeps all things is in Jesus Christ with God. The mystery that energizes the universe was present with Him from the beginning. And the “beginning” actually isn’t a beginning point in the sense that human reason can grasp, but the space before all else. It is the eternal, infinite pre-existence of all things.
Many cultures and traditions have tried to encapsulate the logos into language. The Chinese have the concept of the Tao, which is a concept that C.S. Lewis covers in some of his writings (including my favorite, The Abolition of Man). So, this concept of a pre-existent, sustaining entity is a very old concept and John is saying that the revelation of it is in Jesus Christ. This is spectacular news for mankind. One might even call it…good news.