Exegeses are critical in interpreting biblical texts. Through the analytical approach, religious writings are dissected for an advanced comprehension of the message being presented. According to Hayes and Holladay, a number of exegeses are applicable. Some of the approaches include focusing on literary, historical, grammatical, as well as sociological aspects of the Bible. Canonization is also considered essential among the approaches. A canonical analysis is text-focused, and the idea here is that the Bible did not just appear at once. On the contrary, different books were written at different times by dissimilar authors. Under the logos approach, the focus is on grammatical criticism in order to understand the use of language and reaction from the target audience. The present exegesis relies on historical, pre-literary, redaction, cultural, mythic, and communal exegesis to explain the Prologue of John 1:1-18.
In the introductory part of every Gospel, the evangelists give early clues to the aspects that account for the life and ministry of Jesus. Out of four Gospels, Mark’s introduction seems the most compact as it recounts the baptism of Jesus towards establishing his identity as the Son of God. The genealogy of the opening used by Mark reflects that Jesus was a descendant of both David and Abraham. The author proceeds with showing that the qualifications of Jesus were messianic. In contrast, John dramatizes the Prologue by shaping the contours based on the Christological focus. Thus, it is not surprising that the Gospel of John stands out as one of the most intensive Bible passages. Despite the simplicity of both the language and phraseology used to describe Jesus as the Logos, it is evident that the influence of the structuring and wording has left a lasting impression on Christian theology.
Prologues are used to educate and prepare readers regarding the entire Gospel. In addition, some significant themes are highlighted besides the identification of Jesus being established at the onset through the use of divine portents, Christological titles, and the nature surrounding the birth of Jesus. Therefore, the Prologues are the reflections of Christological affirmations, although the one of John, besides including a poetic prologue, goes further to talk about the preexistence of Jesus as the Logos. Overall, the Prologue offers an intuitive yet highly advanced theological summary, which structure is strong as it introduces the preceding account of major themes.
Use of Logos
The author’s use of the word Logos in John 1:1-2, which means ‘word’ in modern English, has drawn close attention. Taking a look at commentaries shows that the term has a rich history in the Old Testament’s way of thinking. Reference to Proverbs 8 and Genesis 1 provide proof of the above. In addition, the Gospel of the Word/ Logos demonstrates similarities to the personification of wisdom across some Judaic traditions. However, Logos and Wisdom are not simply identifiable alongside each other since the latter is God’s creation. On the contrary, the Logos is preexistent besides being divine.
In some cases, the term Logos is the primary source for its elucidation. John’s use of the word intentionally demonstrates the ambiguity of the term in Judaism, since it is of Greek origin with the meaning of capturing transcendent and immanent perspectives within the framework of Christianity. Moreover, while the Hellenistic implications of using the word were inevitable and helpful in attracting the attention of many 21st century audiences, the links were secondary and sometimes incidental given that the Fourth Gospel had no intention of eliciting the Hellenistic perspective. In addition, the use of the term differs from its applicability into the Jewish tradition.
From the above mentioned facts, one may point out that it is highly unlikely that John could have used the term without drawing the attention of Greek speakers. Although the author could not have been aware of the interest the term could arouse, his thinking was not based on the Greek background. In truth, John had no grasp of the Greek philosophy. As a result, John was not mindful of Greek ideas in his use of the term Logos. It is also at the point where key terms such as “flesh”, “truth”, 1:14; “world”, 1:9; “believe”, 1:7, and “life”, “light,” 1:5 are introduced. John incorporates the above concepts by way of their introduction and proceeds to identify their relationship with Logos.
Taking a deeper perspective highlights what “the Word” (Logos) stood for Jesus. The use of Logos was meant to demonstrate that Jesus was alive and breathing the Word as given to him by God. In other words, Jesus was a messenger sent to reveal the Word of God to his kingdom. In addition, it is also noted that the Logos has a feminine equivalent known as Sophia. Apparently, God gave the wisdom permission to reside on earth. However, the earth was not accommodative enough. As a result, God chose to create a book. Drawing an analogy with the present-day life, it is evident that Christians treat Scripture as the Word of God given that Scripture is God’s message, which ultimately dwells with people.
The use of redaction analysis is essential in evaluating different aspects of text and their application towards achieving the intended objective of influencing the audience. In Greek, a noun is used with a definite article. In the absence of the article, the noun assumes adjective status because it describes more the features of the object in question. Instead of proving that the Word was “ho theos”, John posits that the Word was “theos”. In other words, the Word was not similar with God, but it was God himself in essence. The use of theos alongside of the article in the initial instance and not using it in the second case shows the intention of John to draw a distinction between the Word and God, while highlighting their oneness at the same time.
The phrase, “and the Word was God” is not in line with traditional Jewish divinity about the Messiah. Among the Jews, the expectation of a king resembled greats such as King David. In other words, it had to be an earthily man empowered by God. Being so monotheistic, the Jews would not fathom the use of the terminology of “the Word was God”. In addition, the use of the present tense based on the verb “shines” (in verse 5) is an indicator of a continuous activity. In other words, the light that shone while Jesus was walking through the streets of Israel still continues to shine, long time after he had left. Moreover, even the cross could not dim the light. Darkness is a state of mind that indicates that mankind has not ushered in the light. However, it is highlighted that darkness has no power over light given that the latter is given by God. It is also evident that even small light has a big impact on darkness since even lighting a candle in room changes things dramatically. Hence, as the “light of the world”, Jesus promises his followers that those who work with him cannot be in darkness; they will enjoy the light of life instead (John1, 8:12).
It is also noted that the Prologue highlights John as the Baptist in verse 6. Apparently, the community is aware of his stature and reveres him. As such, a clear delimitation of his position and association with the Logos needs clarification as suggested in verse 8 and 15. However, the interruptions in the verses affect the flow of the liturgical parts, thus arousing concerns about composition.
Historical exegesis concentrates on the exposition of the Bible through the exploration of historical bases. The prologue appears to be reflective of historical developments. In this regard, reference is made to the Gospel of John’s claims that the Word was present at the very beginning or before the time of creation. In other words, the Word is not a part of what was created later. The significance of the observation is that the view contradicts the traditional Jewish thought that God existed and worked alone while creating the world.
John’s concentration on the Word goes against Gnostic history. Under the dualistic nature of Gnosticism, such assertions could not be possible and were only qualified to be evil. Further, the Gnostics held the view that the God of creation under the Old Testament was evil; hence, he had to be different from God (Jesus’ Father) of the New Testament. In a rejoinder, John (verse 3) observes that “All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made”.
The part of John 1: 6-8 reads as follows, “There was a man whose name was John”. The use of past tense captures an event in the past. It is noted that the ministry of John was so powerful that some people mistook him for the Messiah. In order to clarify his position, John often underscored his subordinate position to Jesus. In verse 7, John makes it clear that he was only bearing witness for the light but was never the light itself.
Other Gospels refer to the author as the Baptist with the objective of differentiating him from the son of Zebedee. Instead, the Gospel talks of John without any additional information. Reverting to tradition indicates that the son of Zebedee is the writer, but he avoids mentioning his name. It is also noted that the Gospel of the Word/Logos is similar to the personification of wisdom in some Judaic traditions.
Historically, the Jews were dissimilar to other people such as the Greeks. Jews regarded themselves as the only children of God. The choice of the Logos demonstrates brilliance because it managed to bridge the divide between Greek and Jewish worlds. Early Christians were Jews, but the Word soon spread to reach the Greeks. Given that the latter category of individuals had scanty knowledge about Jesus, it was up to John to package his message in a way that would touch or appeal to people. In Greek philosophy, Logos is a common term that means that despite high volatility that characterizes the world, it is under Logos’ control. Similarly, Jews understand Logos to be the Word. Based on respect, the Jews prefer to use the phrase “the Word” rather than God. In verse 16, John speaks about how God chose to reach people more directly by sending the Word to live among them: “among us…full of grace and truth”.
Shifting attention to John 1: 9-13, the point of focus is that his own people failed to accept him. Verse 9 states: “The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world”. In the Gospel, the world (kosmos) is rebellious. Given the idea that God loves the kosmos because the light is coming into it, it should not however be mistaken for approval. On the contrary, the action is a statement about God’s love. The position is supported by the realization that the light came to every nation rather than to Israelis alone.
In verse 10, it is written that Jesus came to enlighten the world by improving human understanding. It must be noted that all existing things owe their existence to the Word. Nonetheless, the world did not recognize him, failed to understand him, declined him, and eventually crucified him. In verse 11, it is apparent that Jesus came for his people, but they rejected him. It is noted that Jesus came to Israel, and the nation did not receive him. Given that Israelis was the chosen nation, their rejection of the Messiah, whom they had waited for a long time, came as a big surprise. In verse 12, it is clear that Jesus is the Son of God. As a result, he gives the privilege to become children of the Father for those that come to him. The Son has the power to usher in his believers into the kingdom of God. The followers are also entitled to many privileges as the members of the family.
Under the current approach to exegesis, the reference is made to the usage of such genres as parables, poems, or hymns. Many of the verses in the Prologue are reflective of the heavy use of pre-literacy texts either in the form of poems or parables. For instance, the phrases “and the Word was with God” and “and the Word was God” appear poetic.
Tracing the source of the Prologue and its association with the remainder of the Gospel is also one of the primary concerns among readers. In practice, scholarly opinions on the issue vary. Some observers have linked the Prologue of John to the hymnic traditions common in the early church, while others associate it with the Gnostic faith. Further, some observers have downplayed the lyrical form by arguing that it is a mere piece of rhythmic/ elevated prose. Regardless of the source, the structuring of the prose qualifies to be poetic.
The second verse, “The same was in the beginning with God”, does not generate anything new since it is a restatement of the existence of Jesus from the very beginning. The third verse indicates that all things in the world were created not by the Word but rather via the Word. Based on the above statement, it is observed that whereas God is the creative power, the Son (the Word/Jesus) is the instrument through which the power was directed. Verse 5 introduces the aspect of life and light. In particular, the verse reads: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men”. The extrapolation here implies that what Jesus promises is more than the ordinary life. Thus, it extends beyond physical existence in order to focus on life based on one’s relationship with God. At this level, life is equated to salvation.
Given the significance of light, it is not surprising that John dwells on the attribute. Reference to Genesis 1 shows that light was God’s initial creation. One of the interpretations of the move is that creating light is viewed as a fundamental step in bringing order. In the present case, the light that is attributable to the Word represents the first step to welcoming order into one’s troubled life. It must also be acknowledged that the use of light and darkness is extensive in the Bible. Often, they are metaphorically applied to represent order (good) and chaos (bad).
Reference to verse 8 highlights the use of the word “witness”. Witnessing is the source for the term “martyr”. Reference to witnessing for Jesus is a provocation to satanic powers. Hence witnesses of Christianity are viewed as martyrs. Such a position is real today as it had been present in many regions since the Roman times. As it is unfolded in the Bible, John suffered the fate of martyrs having died because of testifying upon the marriage of Herod (Mark 6:14-29).
Part of verse 7 states that “all might believe through him”. In the Gospel, the role of the Baptist is stated clearly. Some similarity is discerned between the Baptist’s and the Gospel’s ideas. As shown in the Gospel, the purpose is recaptured at the end, indicating that the objective is to make people believe in the messianic role of Jesus and be saved in the process.
Without any doubt, there was a need for clarification about the roles of John and Jesus. John emphasizes his subordinate role since he has disciples and followers as Jesus does. Hence, the distinction was necessary to avoid any form of confusion that could have arisen.
Under the approach, the focus is on the larger culture which the communities function within. Consequently, the dominant elements of culture that seem familiar are of interest. In addition, attributes that are viewed as foreign are highlighted. At another level, the extent to which dominant cultural values are welcome becomes an area of interest. One of the characteristic features of the Prologue is the usage of universal categories. As a result, the probability of attracting people from different backgrounds becomes high. In this regard, Christians, Jews, Hellenists, Pagans, and Orientals would have been attracted despite their differences in culture, religion, philosophy, and belonging to different backgrounds.
Reference to verse 14 depicts how “the Word became flesh” in order to live in the world. Without any doubt, the verse is central to the Prologue since verses 1-13 are geared to move towards it, while verses 15-18 just reprise the statement. The phrase “the Word became flesh” is a perturbing illustration that borders on vulgarity. Flesh focuses on bodily issues rather than godly indulgence.
Putting the above perspective in culture yields interesting results. Among the dualistic Greeks, all matter is satanic. Thus, the possibility of God becoming flesh borders on the unimaginable extent. It is equated to the possibility of God becoming a prostitute. Thus, by God sending his own Son, it appears that the latter was willing to sink low in order to save the world. The use of the word “sarx” (meaning flesh) was partly meant to check the Docetic or Gnostic heresies that were likely to deny Jesus’ human nature because of the dualistic philosophy.
The final verses in the exegesis (15-18) borders on the reception of grace. According to John, Jesus was greater than him since the former was only bearing witness to the light/Jesus.
Just as the Prologue subordinates John in the eighth verse, it does the same in verse 17. It is noted that John commenced his ministry before Christ. Such spacing allowed for a perception that John was superior to Jesus. However, as the Prologue demonstrates, Jesus began his work before creation (John 1-3). The reference to culture shows that the one that comes first is deemed superior to the person that comes later. As such, it is not a coincidence that the people perceive John to be greater than Jesus.
Mythic and Communal World
From the Prologue, it is apparent that mysticism is used. The tracing of the origin of Jesus to the genealogy of Abraham and King David demonstrates the concept. Israel’s history has a close connection with Abraham since it is thought that he is the origin/father of Israel. In addition, King David was the ruler of Israel. In this regard, the mythic traditions tie Jesus to Israel.
Based on the current research, a number of aspects are discerned about communities. It is noted that two sets of communities are in perspective, namely Israel and the Greek communities. Such communities have beliefs about God that they seem to be unwilling to compromise. For instance, the phrase “the Word was God” would not be acceptable under Jewish traditions since the expectation was an earthly king, not a heavenly one. The Gnostic belief system would also find the phrase unwelcome based on its dualistic nature. Assertions of such nature would be unfathomable.
Findings and Implications
The use of prologues is essential in introducing audiences to an issue under consideration. In the current case, John exceeds expectations since he goes beyond Christological affirmations to reflect on Jesus’ preexistence as the Logos. In addition, John used a poetic prologue in his coverage of the supremacy of Jesus.
Among the main findings of the research, there is the idea that the initial source of the Prologue alongside its association to the remainder of the Gospel is unclear. In practice, scholarly opinions on the issue vary. For example, the Gnostic faith and hymnic traditions have been cited as possible explanations. The issue has also been downplayed based on the view that it is a piece with elevated prose rather than poetical verse. The Gospel of John is more of a literal piece; hence, it qualifies to be poetry. It has also been viewed as a hymn based on its rhythmic nature. The relevance of the word “Logos” lies in the idea that Jesus lived preexistent besides being divine.
The Prologue responds to the contemporary reader in many respects. From the beginning, the text establishes the scope pertaining to God’s redemption plan and ties it to creation. The Logos, the basis of creation, comes down in human form to redeem the lost creation via death and resurrection. The author’s careful application of Logos is intended to capture the imagination of a Gnostic reader, thus eliminating the likelihood of cosmological dualism. In other words, Jesus’ work is able to bring life and light across all dimensions in human life, which was previously undermined by sin and darkness.
The Prologue’s major contours are viewable based on two perspectives. In the first sense, John focuses on juxtaposing the everlasting, supra-temporal jurisdiction of God and the historical realm, which brings together the daily affairs of people being the creatures that consist of blood and flesh. In this regard, the Prologue establishes the foundational basis for the expansion of the “recognized eschatology” found in the Fourth Gospel. For example, when John speaks about eternal life, the initial Prologue has already founded the same in Jesus (the everlasting God who is also the source of life). Based on John’s testimony, God came into all the trials, difficulties, and ambiguities that humanity faces through Jesus. He came and lived with the world as one of them in order to reveal God, and he promised new life from the very begging. In the second sense, the development of the Logos equates to the reduction of the distance between God and his people. Beginning from the realm of ontology and cosmology, John links the Logos to God in verse 1 and 2. In the end, the intimacy of the association between the Father and the Logos is emphasized.