In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Thus begins the fourth Gospel account, harkening our attention back to Genesis 1:1–“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The first word of Genesis, which provides the Hebrew title of the book, is B’reshit, “In the beginning.” The same word would have been used by Yochanan to start his Gospel account in Hebrew. (Yes, it was written in Greek–but the Apostle would have thought in Hebrew, so let’s endeavor to follow his thoughts.) If he had followed Hebrew conventions in naming a book or chapter for the first significant word to appear in it, he probably would have named this book B’reshit Beit, Genesis II, the book of second beginnings.
The word logos is used in the Septuatgint (the LXX hereafter) to translate the Hebrew word, d’var. The d’var is more than just the sound the lips make. Words, in Hebrew thought, both have power and are the full expression of a person’s being, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mat. 12:34). Therefore, Yeshua, the D’var of God, is far more than just a messenger or a created being; He is the one “in [Whom] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Moreover, in Hebrew thought, words are not only a part of a person’s inmost being being displayed before men, but words have power. As one reads the Tanakh, one is struck by the very real power of both blessings and curses. How much more then does God’s Word have power? “So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Since d’var in Hebrew is a male noun, the above verse could also be rendered thusly:
So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: He shall not return unto Me void, but He shall accomplish that which I please, and He shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent Him.
God’s Word is His “action part,” the means by which He interacts with His creation, just as our bodies enable us to interact with it. When God created the universe, how did He accomplish it? By His Word: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). Ten times in the first chapter of Genesis we read, “And God said . . .” Where Genesis 1:1 affirms, “God created the heaven and the earth,” the Second Genesis says of the Word of God, “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).
This was not Yochanan’s only source of inspiration. In the Targums, the translation of the Torah into Aramaic which were widely used in Yeshua’s time (and which Yochanan, a native of Galilee, would have most likely been very familiar with), the equivalent word is memra. Lightfoot (3.238) points out that the expression, “The memra of the Lord” is found quite often in the Targums. For example, Exo. 19:17 reads, “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with the memra of God . . .” (Also found in Job 42:9, Psa. 2:4 and 106:12, and Gen. 24:3 and 39:2.) He cautions that memra can also mean “I, Thou, He, and is frequently applied to men too.” However, that doesn’t prevent Yochanan from making a very rabbinical midrash from the use of memra to come to the conclusion that it was, for example, the preincarnate Yeshua whom Moshe brought Israel out to meet.
Moreover, as J.P. Holding points out, within Judaism there was an entire body of “wisdom literature,” which presents God’s Word, His Wisdom, in the terms that the Apostles used to describe the Messiah.
The prologue to John’s gospel makes a precise identification of Christ with Wisdom, describing the Logos’ Christological role (1:3), its role as the ground of human knowledge (1:9) and as the mediator of special revelation (1:14) — the three roles of the pre-existent Logos/Wisdom. In calling Jesus God’s Logos, John was affirming Jesus’ eternality and ontological oneness with the Father by connecting him with the Wisdom tradition.
He adds (earlier in the same article):
“Judaism understood God’s Word to have almost autonomous powers and substance once spoken; to be, in fact, ‘a concrete reality, a veritable cause.'” (Richard N. Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity , 145.) But a word did not need to be uttered or written to be alive. A word was defined as “an articulate unit of thought, capable of intelligible utterance.” (C. H. Dodd, Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 263. It cannot therefore be argued that Christ attained existence as the Word only “after” he was “uttered” by God. Some of the second-century church apologists followed a similar line of thinking, supposing that Christ the Word was unrealized potential within the mind of the Father prior to Creation.) This agrees with Christ’s identity as God’s living Word, and points to Christ’s functional subordination (just as our words and speech are subordinate to ourselves) and his ontological equality (just as our words represent our authority and our essential nature) with the Father. A subordination in roles is within acceptable Biblical and creedal parameters, but a subordination in position or essence (the “ontological” aspect) is a heretical view called subordinationism.
Gavri’el, Beth HaMashiach’s head minister, has often used a similar expression in modeling the Trinity: The Father is God’s Will, Yeshua is His Word, and the Ruach is the “Breath” which carries the Word forth. (See the “Fundamentals of Messianic Beliefs” series here.)
That Yeshua, the Word of God, was not only with God, but was God from the very beginning is not some New Testament contrivance. Rather, Yochanan’s understanding of His diety was founded on numerous passages of the Tanakh like the following:
Isa. 7:14 – If Yeshua is not truly, “God With Us,” in what sense was He ever called “Imanu’el”?
Isa. 9:6 – The Messiah is not only called “the Mighty God” (El Gibowr), but even “the Everlasting Father.”
Mic. 5:2 – The Messiah’s goings-forth are from “the days of eternity” (m’yomi olam), and it is God who “inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15).
Zec. 12:10 – Who destroys the nations in v. 9? God. Who pours out the Spirit in v. 10? God again. Who then is the one of whom it is said, “And they shall look on Me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son . . .” Unless there is a sudden change in the speaker (which is up to the skeptic to prove), it can only be God Himself who is pierced.
If one wants to know God, one has only to look to His Word, His Son, His Annointed One.