The Gospels, part 13: The Gospel of John (4)
Isaiah, Greeks, and glory
I have confined myself in these posts on the Gospel of John to touching on a few aspects of it, rather than seeking to give a more comprehensive overview or general introduction to the book. One can find hefty commentaries on the book aplenty. The sort of things I haven’t spent much time on are those that are the most discussed. Most of us know, for instance, that the term logos (usually translated as “Word”) in the first chapter refers to a “divine principle” or intermediate and personal expression of God, through whom God creates and orders the cosmos. This word – as multivalent in its meaning as the word Tao is in Chinese – was used in this fashion in the metaphysics of the Stoics, among others; and the Alexandrian Hellenistic Jewish thinker, Philo (c. 25 B.C. – c. 50 A.D.) adopted it and even referred to the Logos as God’s “Son.” John’s Gospel, in other words, by using the term was picking up on something that was already a feature in Greco-Roman and Hellenistic Jewish thought (in the latter context, conceptually related to the Scriptural depiction of personified “Wisdom”). John’s originality is in identifying the concept with the historical man, Jesus, and explicitly calling both Jesus and the eternal “Word” that he “enfleshes” Theos – “God” (1:1; see 20:28). As I say, I haven’t dwelt on this or other much-discussed topics. John is a book that one can endlessly mine and still not exhaust its many veins of gold, so a cursory series of this kind must necessarily pick and choose where to dig. With this final post on John, however, I will touch on a subject that has been explored rather often before, and for which the remarks above about the Logos have some relevance; but I will do this, I hope, from a literary angle that will demonstrate John’s facility for wordplay.