Theology

Typology and Logos in the Gospel of John

The opening prologue of the gospel of St. John is theologically rich, puzzling, and poetic, thereby imbuing it with rich symbolism and imagery. The declaration that “In the beginning was the Word…[and] through him was life, and that life was the light of all humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:1-5), achieves a double continuity on the part of the authorial intention.  First, the association with the Word (Jesus Christ) with light reaches back to Genesis 1 and thereby links a textual bridge between the Hebrew Scriptures and what will become the emergent New Testament (Christian) corpus.[1] Additionally, the statement that in the Word was the “life, and that life was the light of all mankind” also establishes a bridge between the transcendent realm and the phenomenological world – thereby linking authentic life, or flourishing, with the transcendent.[2] There is, in John’s prologue, a double continuity claim being made and it is important to understand the linking of  Christ with the light of creation in Genesis 1.

The beginning of John’s gospel intentionally attempts to parallel the creation account in Genesis 1 and establish what Andreas Kostenberger calls “canonical link between the first words of the [Hebrew] Scriptures and John’s Gospel.”[3] This “canonical link between the first words of the [Hebrew] Scriptures and John’s Gospel” serves two primary purposes. First is to establish the Christian continuity and inheritance with Hebraic roots, especially as it relates to Scriptural continuity and inheritance. Second is to establish the Logos (Christ) as the source of light and life from which the world will burn radiantly like the God who lights creations afire but does not consume it. Thus John has a dual agenda that is, in of itself, reflective of the implicit dualism contained within the gospel of St. John.[4]

What is most obvious in the parallel between John and Genesis is that John recites the famous opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning…” (Gn. 1:1, Jn. 1:1). Likewise, the identification of the Logos (the Word) as the means of creation also parallels the Genesis narrative in which creation comes about from the proclamation of the word of God,[5] “and God said let there be light, and there was light” (Gn. 1:3). At the same time not only is a bridge built between God’s speech of creation in Genesis with the Logos in the opening of John,[6] that the first act of creation/speech is “let there be light” (Gn. 1:3) is equally paired, intentionally so, with the identification of the Logos as the “light of all mankind” (Jn. 1:4). The first act of creation is identified with light in Genesis and John subsequently identifies that light with the Logos (which is to say, Christ). Furthermore, since light is the first act of creation in both accounts, it is also the light that overtakes the darkness of the abyss by which light becomes the only revelation to creation which allows for the emergence of life (Gn. 1:2-4, Jn. 1:2-5).

Frederick Bruce, also noting this similarity, wrote, “In the first creation, ‘darkness was upon the face of the deep’ (Gen 1:2) until God called light into being, so the new creation (in which the Word is God’s agent as effectively as in the earlier one) involves the banishment of spiritual darkness by the light which shines in the Word.”[7] Furthermore, Mary Coloe writes, “[T]he reader is reminded immediately of the creation account in Genesis 1. A careful reading of the Prologue will reveal that the introductory verses of the Johannine Prologue are closely modelled on the first chapter of Genesis.”[8] From the onset of John’s gospel there is a visible attempt at achieving that continuity between Genesis and the author’s own work, and in particular, identify Jesus with the light of creation which gives life and order to the world. (Nor should this be surprising given that the gospel is written in the post-incarnational reality where that which was hidden in the Old Testament was revealed in the flesh—the Gospel of St. John, as well as the Epistles of Paul, already show the New Testament writers utilizing the hermeneutic of typology which the Church Fathers more fully developed in their readings of Holy Writ.)

The intention of building that “canonical link” between the book of Genesis and the gospel of St. John is meant to convey the continuity and inheritance of the Hebraic tradition by the newly found Christian communities.[9] The continuity between Hebrew Bible and emerging Christian literature is obviously on the mind of the author of the gospel.[10] That said, the more prominent and important continuity claim being made in the prologue of John is that it is not simply a distant God of light who brings about life in the world, but an active and participatory God that would eventually “become flesh” and dwell among humans.[11] It is this claim that is more pertinent, although the continuity being claimed in John in relationship to the Hebrew Scriptures cannot be overlooked or understated. In fact, this double-continuity is essential to John since the “Word made flesh” is the promised messiah.

Yet, the more radical continuity that is established in John is how the Logos is not only the light of the world and the light of creation but the very life of humanity in of itself. In this statement in John there is no gulf between the phenomenological and transcendent realms, rather, the two have been linked together but specifically granted unto humanity. The claim that the Logos is light and life to humanity (ton anthropon in Greek; Jn. 1:4) ultimately leads to the conclusion that life (of the Logos) is exclusive to human beings who possess the light of reason.[12] In this sense the continuity between the phenomenological and transcendent realms is tied to the human mind, or human reason, for God is Reason and Reason is God (Jn. 1:1) and human reason can be united with Divine Reason which is the light that gives life to humanity (Jn. 1:4).[13] This ultimately results in the emphasis throughout the Johannine text on belief, right belief, which is meant to be something reasonable which “dispels the darkness of false opinion.”[14]

That light and life also emanates from the Godhead is another important claim being made in the beginning of John. While Genesis implies a creator God that gives life, John is much less ambiguous as to where life is to be found in its fullest expression in tying life directly to the Godhead and the indwelling of God through the incarnation into the world. After all, it is the Logos that is with God, and is God, which is also the light and life to humanity. Therefore no life is possible—at least in the sense of true interior life—without an attachment to the light of the Divine Logos from which creation and life itself emanated from.[15]

However, since the act of creation – from which humanity emerged from – came from the mouth of the Logos, the germs of life are present in all humans.[16] True life, then, as a maturation into, and union with, the Logos, is to live in accordance with the light of the Logos (kata logon) which is calling humanity to it for fullness of life. In other words, life is found by coming into union (concordance) with the Divine Mind which has seeds implanted into the minds of all humans which allows us to know the light of wisdom.[17] This implies that life is only found through the Logos (Jesus) and one can only have life if one is living in concordance with the Logos (which, again, applies only to humans per the Greek injunction: ton anthropon). Furthermore, this principle of life found in and with the Logos also helps to establish why “knowing” or “coming to know” is a major theme throughout the gospel of John.

The contrast with where light and life is exclusively found is decidedly other worldly than this worldly; as Jesus says to Pilate toward the end of the gospel of St. John, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:16). This is already implied in the prologue where light and life is condescending from the realm of the transcendent to the phenomenological rather than from the phenomenological to the transcendent. There is no life found apart from the Logos for “through him was life, and that life was the light of all humanity” (Jn. 1:4). In this way John is also establishing continuity between the realm of creation and the realm of the Creator insofar that humanity has the ability to indwell in this light in much the same manner that the Logos indwelled with humanity by taking on human flesh. The bridge that is established is through the condescension of the Logos to bring light and life into the world – this establishes what John will later claim that life only comes through Jesus (Jn. 14:6) because Jesus is the eternal Logos which brought life into existence and is the same source from which life begins and ends.[18]

This is the crux of the entire gospel of John, and thus it is unsurprising that we see traces of this theme already being established at the very beginning of the prologue. The prologue serves as not only the cornerstone for the rest of the work, the prologue is also that which the rest of the themes of the work is premised upon – namely Logos as the light and life of the world. The question that immediately arises from this is to whom this light and life has been given unto: all or some? If all creation came from the Logos, and by the logic of logos spermatikos which is embedded in John’s gospel,[19] it logically follows that all humans possess the seed of divine light to come into concordance with the Logos. Which is why the Logos is the life to all humanity, ton antorophon, for humanity would share in the same seeds of nature.[20] This is logically necessary considering that creation and life emanated from Logos, thereby intuiting that life—since it emanated from the Logos—contains the seeds of life within it which needs to be “awoken” or nurtured by the light in order to dispel the darkness (Jn. 1:4-5).

Ultimately, the claim that life itself only comes from the source of the Logos is the bridge that John uses to present the salvific deity. For it is only through him that one has true life.[21] In a certain sense, there is not a dualism of separation in the metaphysics of John but a composite synthesis in which the phenomenological and transcendent realms are united through the Logos and the divine seed within all humans.[22] Not only does life condescend from heaven, which itself harkens back to the Old Testament and Hebraic principle min hashamayim, but life from below possesses the germ of life to reach up to the light once it is illuminated and can be divinized as a result of this possessing the light of life.

But an additional question can be raised as to the nature of life – whether it is entirely intellectual or whether there is room for the erotic (or desire)? That life came from the mouth of God, which straddles the line between being esoterically erotic or explicitly so in nature, there seems to a double-meaning to life and light then. It is the love of God which propelled creation, led to the condescension of the Logos into the world, and brought forth to the world life.[23] If so, then the true embodiment of life is a dual indwelling of the rational implications of light and life coming from, and only from, Logos, as well as the erotic implications of the undercurrent of love that establishes creation and pushes light and life into the world through the mouth of Logos.[24]

All of this is wrapped up in the doctrine of creatio ex amore Dei and imago Dei. For if humans are images of God, and God alone breathed into humanity the breath – or light – of life, then it follows that human life can only flourish in fullness by being in union with God as the prologue of John implies. To seek “life” or “light” in anything but God (e.g. the Logos) would be to embrace a “false idol.”[25] The portrait of life being articulated by John is not one of pure top-down condescension, but rather is unitive and circular insofar that life came from Heaven but life on earth also reaches back up to Heaven which completes the circle of life. Life is heavenly sent but life is also heavenly bound, thereby completing that circle of life.

The prologue of John is poetic, fascinating, and ripe with allusion and imagery that is meant to establish a double-continuity theme that will run throughout the rest of the gospel. First, John clearly—and immediately—establishes a link with his writing and the Hebrew Scriptures, and in particular, with the book of Genesis.  Second, from the continuity link established with the Hebrew Scriptures and John moves to establish, unambiguously, that the way of life and light comes from God and is only to be found in God. Thus life on earth is not devoid of heavenly presence (or the in-dwelling of God) but has the presence of God within it. God dwells among us, and in us, and is the begetting source of our divinization. Lastly, John’s prologue also shows the ancient reality of hermeneutical typology—the light of Genesis 1 was the preincarnate Christ. Typological hermeneutics is not an invention of the Church Fathers but embedded in the very genesis of Christianity and found in the New Testament.

In establishing this foundation, John foreshadows the themes that are contained throughout the rest of the gospel – the most important being the incarnate Logos as the light and life of the world. “Through him was life, and that life was the light of all humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:4-5). For the incarnate Logos, Christ, is the life which has been given to all and calls all to him to dispel the darkness and embrace the life to be found through him. One must recognize the important claims being established in the prologue to make sense of the rich use of signs, symbolism, imagery, and other allusions that are found in the rest of the gospel, and to see the rich realization of the typological hermeneutic at the very heart of Church tradition which John is already engaged in (and just as St. Paul engaged in as well).

 

NOTES:

[1] Andreas Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 338.

[2] Robin Parry, The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2014), 171.

[3] Kostenberger, 338. See also, Mary L. Coloe, “Theological Reflections on Creation in the Gospel of John,” Pacifica 24 (February 2011), 1.

[4] Fredrick Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 34.  However, as Bruce notes, the implicit dualism in John is not an equivalent dualism of “equal powers.”  It is one in which the light, or God, is superior to the darkness – not at the end of time, but superior to darkness from the very beginning of time.

[5] Stephen Bedard, “The Johannine Creation Account,” American Journal of Biblical Theology 12, no. 23, (June 5, 2011), 1.

[6] Coloe, 2.

[7] Bruce, 33.

[8] Coloe, 1.

[9] By the time of the general dating of the gospel of John, ca. 90s C.E., the Jesus Movement has, by now, embraced its Gentile mission and is growing more and more detached from the Synagogue which it emerged from.  Thus, it is unsurprising that the author of the gospel of St. John, aware of the Hellenized, or Gentile, nature of emergent Christianity by the late first century, takes the time to try and present its “rightful” Hebraic heritage despite all the associated problems that emerge, and historically resulted, from this.

[10] It is also on the minds of various early church fathers, notably Origen and Augustine, who see Christ as the speech, or word, of creation in Genesis.  See Origen, First Principles, trans. G.W. Butterworth (South Bend: Ave Maria Press, 2013), 1.2.1-13; St. Augustine, Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961), 13.2, 5.

[11] The claim that God would dwell among humans is a radical break from traditional Platonic theology.  Plato had famously said, “No god associates with men.”

[12] This idea is also found in Cicero’s The Laws, primarily Book I.  See Cicero, The Laws, trans. Niall Judd (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 1.23. Cicero states here, “Since, then, there is nothing better than reason, and reason is present in both God and man, there is a primordial partnership between man and God.”

[13] Cf. St. Augustine, “Tractates on the Gospel of John,” Tractate 23.6.

[14] Bruce, 33.

[15] C.K. Barret, The Gospel According to St. John (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), 35-36.

[16] Ibid., 35.

[17] Bruce, 33.

[18] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), 43.

[19] Barrett, 35.

[20] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, An Introduction to the Theology of Religions (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 56-57.

[21] This is, again, one of the major themes throughout the Gospel of John which is established by the prologue.

[22] Kärkkäinen, 56-57, 229.

[23] Cf. Frederick Meyer, Gospel of John: The Life and Light of Men, Love to the Utmost (Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade, 1970).  The general thesis of Meyer’s monograph is that the light that leads to life is one of a loving nature – that is, humans must love life moreover than to be merely contemplative or intellectual about life.

[24] The latter seems to be the case considering the emphasis on love placed elsewhere throughout the gospel of St. John.

[25] This is another theme of continuity in John insofar as whenever the Israelites strayed from the “true God” they had chosen the way of death instead of life; John is reminding all in his prologue that the way of life is found only by the way of the light of God.

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