Vol. 22 New Series December, 1960 No. 6 HOW IS CHRIST GOD'S "WORD"? A friend in United States very kindly sent me a copy of a most useful new theological book, called "The Christology of the New Testament", by a French Professor, Oscar Cullmann, who was born in Strasbourg. This volume, of over 300 pages, undoubtedly adds considerably to our knowledge and understanding of God the Father and the Son's relationship with the Father.
The book is divided into four parts, and Part Four is devoted to The Christological Titles which refer to the Pre-existence of Jesus.
The author says the first Christians could apply all statements about God also to Jesus, on the basis that Jesus was Kurios (the Greek word for Lord). But it would be a heresy to claim a complete identification between the Father and the Son, because such a passage as 1. Cor. 8:6 shews a distinction . . . . . "for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are, and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we exist." Says the author, "We shall seek in vain for a more precise definition of the original relationship between God the Father and Christ the Kurios." Even with the titles 'Logos' (Word) and 'Son of God' we approach a closer definition of this relationship only in so far as they refer directly to the pre existence of Jesus, His being 'in the beginning.' But these names too do not indicate unity in essence or nature between God and Christ, but rather a unity in the work of revelation, in the function of the pre-existent one. The Logos title traces all the revelatory work of God in Christ back to the beginning of all things, to the pre-existent divine work of Jesus, thus connecting redemption and creation. But the essential relationship between God and the pre-existent Jesus may not be answered ontologically, that is, by speculation about 'natures,' but with reference to the history of revelation.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was toward (or, with; or face to face with) God, and God was the Word" (John 1:1). But John, to prevent speculation on this, moves immediately from being to the act of revelation: "All things were made through Him (or, came into being through Him) . . . . and the Word became flesh."
The author then takes a grand step: "Looking at the end rather than at the beginning of time, Paul leads us in 1. Cor. 15:28 to the very threshold of a complete eschatological absorption of the Son in the Father: 'When all things are subdued to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.'"
Dr. Cullmann then says "It is possible to speak of the Son only in connection with the revelation of God, but in principle at least one can speak of God also apart from revelation. But the New Testament is interested only in revelation. This is the source of the New Testament paradox that the Father and Son are at once one and yet distinct—a paradox which the later Christian theologians could not explain because they attempted to do so by speculative philosophical means."
JESUS THE WORD (LOGOS) The word logos occurs over 300 times in the New Testament. In the A.V. or King James version it is rendered as word 208 times, Word 6 times (not counting 1. John 5:7), saying 50, account 8, speech 8,matter, thing, and utterance, each 4 times, and by over a dozen other words once or twice. The primary idea in Greek is speech, discourse, word; hence also oration, narration, argument; a saying; expression.
John is the only writer who uses logos with reference to Jesus as the Word—four times in ch. 1 of his Gospel, once in verse 1 of his first Epistle, and in Revelation 19:13. This was a necessary title for him to use when he wanted to mention the relationship between the divine revelation in the life of Jesus and the pre-existence of Jesus. This incarnate One, the Son of Mankind as He appeared in flesh, is the centre of all history. Therefore the question of His pre-existent work arises also. He did not appear from nowhere. Thus John's Gospel emphasizes very strongly the participation of the pre existent Christ in creation. The creation belongs to divine revelation just as does salvation through Him who became flesh. Both Genesis and John's Gospel commence with the words "In beginning." Christ was the Mediator both of Creation and of Revelation.
The author then goes on to discuss the Logos in Hellenism. Various old religions had their own idea of a "Logos." But these did not lead to Christ. My own idea is that these "Logos" ideas sprang from the Theophanies (appearances of God) recorded in the Old Testament, such as that described in Genesis 18, where Jehovah appeared to Abraham in human form. I described some of these appearances in the May— June, 1950, issue of The Differentiator, in chapter one of the series "Who is Our God?" Jacob saw "God face to face" (Gen. 32:24-30); Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, along with seventy elders of Israel went up into the mount and saw the God of Israel (Exodus 24:9-11). Not long afterwards "Jehovah speaks unto Moses face to face, just as a man is speaking unto his friend" (ch. 33:11). See also Joshua 5:13-15 and Judges 6:11-22, where Joshua and then Gideon see Jehovah.
It is impossible to believe that these extraordinary appearances of Deity were not described all through the Land of Israel, and also in the surrounding countries. They must have caused a great deal of interest and excitement, and perhaps fear. Probably among the heathen countries one result was the multiplication of "gods many and lords many" (1. Cor. 8:5). Prof. Cullmann says the Logos concept was so widespread in ancient religious life that many different ideas were spread abroad, but John's Gospel interpreted afresh the Logos idea.
Prof. Cullmann attaches great importance to the fact that the Word of God acts powerfully. He cites the creation account as an example. "Let there be light, and there was light." Every creative self-revelation of God to the world comes through His word. "His word is the side of God turned toward the world." Psalm 107:20, "He sends His word and heals them." Psalm 33:6, "By the word of Jehovah the heavens were made."
THE LOGOS CONCEPT APPLIED TO JESUS The title Logos expresses very forcefully the unity in historical revelation of the incarnate and the pre-existent Jesus. It also clarifies the relation between Christ and God as understood in the New Testament. This is of very great importance. As, however, the title Logos or Word is only applied by John, in six cases, Prof. Cullmann enquires whether other N.T. writings gives the idea of the pre-existent Jesus, and the specific relationship between God the Father and Jesus characteristic of the Johannine Logos. The answer is that some of Paul's writings shew nothing essentially different. But first we must examine the ordinary common-place term logos, where not a title.
What about the word which the Lord preached? John must have considered this when in his prologue he used the title Logos. This is suggested by the basic Johannine thought that Jesus not only bringsrevelation, but in His own person is revelation. He brings light, and at the same time is Light; He bestows life, and He is Life; He proclaims Truth, and He is Truth. So also the Logos: He brings the word, because He is the Word. The Logos which Jesus proclaims is at the same time God's eternal revelation. The total human life of Jesus is the centre of the revelation of Divine Truth. The word of God which is identical with Jesus' proclaimed logos is 'truth' (John 17:17, Hallow them in Thy truth. Thy word is truth); but Jesus Himself is the truth in person (John 14:6, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life). Thus the ordinary Johannine use of the word logos directly clarifies the designation of Jesus as Logos.
The prologue of the Hebrews Epistle, "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son," is a clear parallel to the prologue of John, when it is considered that the author mentions in the same sentence the creation of the world through the Son, and in the next verse says this Son 'reflects the glory of God' and 'bears the stamp of His nature.' This passage, exactly like John 1:1, connects the divine word in the Son with the creation of the world, and defines the eternal relationship of the Son to God the Father.
John's statements concerning the Logos are the result of deep theological reflection about the life of Jesus as the central revelation of God. 'Logos' in John means the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth, the Word who became flesh, who is God's definite revelation to the world in this human life—an unheard-of thought outside Christianity.
In order to understand correctly the first verse of John's prologue, we must keep in mind verse 14—the Word become flesh. Although the prologue begins by referring to the being of the Word with God even before the time of Creation, John is already thinking of the function of this Word, His action. The essential character of the Logos is action; God's self revelation consists in action.
Here we have one of the few N .T. passages which speak of the being of the pre-existent Word. We are told something about the source of the divine action of revelation, and John's purpose is specifically to nip in the bud the idea of a doctrine of two gods, as though the Logos were a god apart from the highest God. The 'Word' which God speaks is not to be separated from God Himself; it 'was with God.' Thus there is nothing here of the Arian doctrine of the creation of the Logos from nothing, or of Origen's doctrine of an emanation. The 'Word' of God is rather with God Himself. Nor is the Logos subordinate to God; He simply belongs to God. Nor is He a second being beside God. The subject and predicate of John 1:1 may not be reversed. We must not say "God was with the word" (theos En pros ton logon), because the Logos is God Himself in so far as God speaks and reveals Himself. The Logos is God in His revelation. Thus the third phrase of the prologue can actually proclaim "and the Word was God" (kai Theos En ho logos). John confirms this statement in ch. 20:28, where Thomas' bold opinion is given. "My Lord and my God." Now observe that the Lord did not condemn this statement, because it was true.
Prof. Cullmann is always very careful to avoid the erroneous assumption that there is no distinction at all between God and the Logos. John repeats with emphasis in his prologue: "He was in the beginning with God." If we say of the Logos, 'He is God,' we must at the same time also say, 'He is with God.' God and the Logos are not two beings, and yet they are also not simply identical. The New Testament does not resolve this paradox. Again we find it in John 10:30, 'I and the Father are one,' but in John 14:28 we find 'the Father is greater than I.'
The Logos is the self-revealing, self-giving God—God in action. This action only is the subject of the New Testament. Therefore all abstract speculation about the 'natures' of Christ is quite useless, and improper. We cannot even speak of the Logos as apart from the action of God. We can only say of the Logos what John's prologue tells us and no more—He was in the beginning with God, and He was God. Then the prologue moves immediately to the action of the Logos: "All through Him came into being," The self-communication of God occurs first of all in creation. That is why creation and salvation are very closely connected in the New Testament. Both of them have to do with God's self-communication. The Logos who appeared in flesh as a human mediator is the same Logos who was already the mediator of creation. Because John's Gospel sees the central revelation of God in human life, it takes very seriously the fact that from the very beginning all revelation is an event, an action of God—and vice versa, that all divine revelatory action is a Christ-event. In other words, creation and redemption belong together as events of salvation.
Paul too makes Christ the mediator of creation, in 1. Cor. 8:6 and Col. 1:16. The same is found in Heb. 1:2 and Rev. 3:14. Here Prof. Cullmann mentions John's "bold identification of revelation (logos) with the person of Jesus." The word of God proclaimed by Jesus is at the same time the word lived by Him; He is Himself the Word of God. Theological reflection about the revelation in Jesus led to the conviction that from the very beginning Jesus Christ was God in so far as God reveals Himself to the world. If God has so revealed Himself in the life of Jesus that in this life the whole fulness of the divine glory itself has become manifest then Jesus must also previously have been God's revelation to men. Therefore He is God in so far as God communicates Himself. Therefore from the very beginning when one thinks of God, he must also think of Christ.
The Hebrews Epistle also calls Jesus the "reflection" and "stamped image" of God. Here reflection leads to a specific definition of the relationship between God and Jesus, done in such a way that the deity of Jesus is asserted without His being simply identified with God.
Paul also calls Christ "God's Image" (2. Cor. 4:4) and "Image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). This leads to the Son of Man concept as found in Phil. 2:6, where there is a great contrast between the obedience of Christ as the pre-existent Image of God and the disobedience of Adam, who was created in the Image of God. The concepts 'Son of Man' and 'Logos' are thus very closely related. The former shews rather wherein consists salvation through the 'Man' Jesus; the latter emphasizes more strongly the idea of revelation as such. The divine glory itself, the manifestation: of which was formerly limited to Bethel (cf. John 1:51), or to the Temple at Jerusalem (John 4:21), has now become visible in a 'man' (John 1:14: "And the Word became flesh, and tabernacles among us").
No other early Christian writer so carefully follows through to its final consequences the thought that God has revealed Himself in the Christ become flesh. The viewpoint of revelatory history is central also in 1. John, where Jesus is not absolutely designated as the Logos, but given the attribute 'Logos of life' (1. John 1:1); and in Revelation 19:13, where Christ is called 'The Logos of God,' as eschatalogical revelation. This view dominates the whole Gospel of John, but the prologue leads us back in the direction of the very beginning to the farthest limit of revelatory history in the past, when already before creation the Logos was with God. In the same way Paul leads us with his Son of God concept in 1. Cor. 15:28 in the other direction forward to the farthest limit of revelatory history at the end, when the Son, having subjected all things to the Father, subjects Himself also, so that God becomes 'all in all,' and it is no longer necessary to distinguish between the Father and His Word of revelation.
No fewer than four times does Prof. Cullmann glory in that verse, 1. Cor. 15:28, and no wonder, seeing that it goes farther into the future than any other scripture.
Near the beginning of his book he enumerated the most important titles of Christ: "Prophet, High Priest, Mediator, Servant of God, Lamb of God, Messiah, Son of David, Son of Man, Judge, Holy One of God, Lord, Saviour, King, Logos, Son of God, God." Truly indeed, He is God, and I have a book two hundred years old wherein He is called "the very GOD of the aeons."
I hope to deal with another chapter in Prof. Cullmann's book ere long.
A.T. Last updated 5.3.2006 Vol. 22 New Series December, 1960 No. 6