In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and what God was the word was. This word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through it, and apart from it nothing came into being that has come into being. In it was life, and the life was the light of humankind. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 Revised English Version).
No five verses in the history of theology, and greater philosophy have been quite as profound as that which John spake in the prologue of his Gospel. This chapter has long been considered by Christians to be the heart of the eternal logos – and the subsequent literal incarnation of it, in the man Jesus. From Tertullian to Augustine to Aquinas, the incarnation narrative has been the central binding tenant of Christian metaphysical formulations. Recently even, E. Michael Jones, a controversial Thomistic thinker, published his magnum opus Logos Rising, reiterating sterner than anybody before him the essential nature of the Trinity; and more specifically, the logos incarnate. According to Jones’ thesis, Western civilization grew uniquely out of Aquinas’ ability to synthesize the Aristotelian “unmovable mover” with the God of Jesus and the Apostles. More importantly, according to Jones, those unable to reconcile theology and Greco-Roman philosophy (specially Jews and Muslims), have fallen far behind us Christians intellectually thus resulting in inherent hostilities. Jones’ masterpiece is sure to last throughout the years. He is beautifully able to reconcile a diverse amount of ideas harmoniously and provide a coherent worldview for Christians in a post-modern reality to subscribe.
Is it even True?
But is the central idea, that of logos incarnating, even true? More precisely, is this the same Apostolic doctrine we read in our Bibles every Sunday? For most of my Christian life I would have answered yes to both. After considering the alternative interpretations of John’s prologue, I cannot in good faith parrot either. This is not to say a reinterpretation of John’s prologue is why I now consider myself a biblical primitivist, in fact, first John was the only chapter in my way from it. Outside of the beautifully poetic, sometimes prosaic Gospel of John, the idea of Jesus being the result of an ‘incarnation’ is simply unfounded.
Sidenote – Overview of the Word
Before we unpack the birth of Jesus, let us first dispel the idea that the word is a person. Much like God’s spirit, breath, wind, or countless other attributes given to God in the old testament, these are nothing more than personifying the activity of God in our natural world. Should we give personhood to God’s spirit or word, yet not his breath? Us as humans have spirits, are they, like God supposedly, separate persons? As you can see, synthesizing the personification of the Jews in the old testament of YHWH with literal personhoods in the new, is foolish.
True Birth of Jesus
Both in Luke and Matthew, Jesus is said to be begotten through the virgin birth as the Son of God, later to be anointed God’s Messiah, our savior, and ultimately the head of God’s church. Not only is Jesus a truly begotten man – one without literal pre-existence, but he is even descended from the lineage of King David. This is quite literally the opening of Matthews’s Gospel even: “A scroll of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1). There are but two irrefutable instances of Jesus being called God in the Bible, Philippians 2:5-6, and John 1:18, the former which clearly destroys the narrative of equality,
“though he was in the form of God, considered being equal with God not something to be grasped” (Philippians 2:5-6).
But then why, still, is Jesus called God in these verses? As J. Dan Gill states in The One: In Defense of God, it is for the same reason that the judges of the old testament were called “God” from the Hebrew translation of the word “Adoni”. In the Old Testament, the term Adoni refers to multiple different men under the era of Judges. Were these men then, part deity? Of course not, they all believed that YHWH was the all-powerful true God (Adonai). However, there heavenly mandate and power they possessed in Judea because of it, rendered them worthy of the title. This is similar in how “Lord” is used both to describe a higher authority, or of course, the highest authority. The word “Adoni”, importantly distinctive from Adonai (the title of true God), in such contexts follows this pattern, and if we were confused, Philippians 2:5-6 is there to assure us.
Yet even more confusion arises with the convolution of conceptual pre-existence with literal pre-existence, and most importantly, the logos begotten, and the logos incarnate.
The idea of conceptual pre-existence is not a complicated concept. When God says to Abram,
“Get out of your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. and I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse the one who curses you, and all of the clans of the earth will be blessed in you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
He is not saying this will appear at the exact moment in time, but his promise exists forever as a concept that God, through divine intervention in time, will make true eventually. So then why do we not apply the same logic to the messianic promise? Why are we then expected to believe Jesus literally pre-existed, because God’s promise of him as messiah did? Thus, when Jesus says in John 8:58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am the one.”, it should be interpreted as him being a pre-existent concept in the mind of God, not as a sentient pre-existent being named “God’s word”.
Jesus was a man born of Mary, begotten by God miraculously in a virgin. His only nature was that of a man, and every miracle he did was through the father God.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing, for whatever he does, the Son also does in the same way.” (John 5:19).
There is no dual nature exposited here, for that which he as a man cannot do, God does through him. Yet, Jesus was unique to man in a critical way. He was the perfect man. He never sinned, he was the literal Son of God, he conquered death at the cross so we may live eternal; and he sits at the right hand of God because of all this, still presiding over the Church in spirit. Believing in his resurrection, is ultimately our only guaranteed way to the Father, and due to that – Jesus deserves our undivided worship. Yet two realities remain – he is not YHWH, and his eternality had a beginning date, at the time he was begotten in 0 AD. Then why does John’s prologue seemingly introduce Jesus as the word? Much like how Jesus was a begotten man and our messiah, and a perfect man, Jesus’ relationship with God was perfect, he infallibly embodied the word of God because there existed no barrier between him and God. In such a way, Jesus is the path not only for man to live eternal, but he is the path in how we should orient our relationship with God. Due to our inherent sinful nature, this is of course impossible. Yet still, Jesus’ perfect relationship with God to the point of which John poetically describes “the word becoming flesh”, gives us as readers every bit of reason to orient ourselves towards the incomprehensible perfection of Jesus.
Why Begotten-ness is Better
Though Aquinas’ Trinity in practice, and Jones’ theories of the incarnation being the centrality of the Western disposition are coherent and brilliant, they fail the test of reality. The reality that Jesus was miraculously begotten, and thus we as men, have the same capacity to at least try to embody some of God’s word is a far more applicable and revolutionary idea. It is almost trivializing to instead make Jesus into a god-man, incarnated from the heavens to earth, with no ability to be tempted or sin if he wanted to. What makes Jesus miraculous rather, is that he could have sinned but chose not to. When Matthew says, “Then Jesus was led up by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the Devil.” (Matthew 4:1), he is describing a genuine temptation, yet Jesus’ perfect relationship with God preventing him from falling victim. The idea of the begotten man Jesus manifesting and fulfilling God’s logos through perfect relationship is not only a more hopeful concept for mankind – it is the ultimate reality.
Solution to the Political Economy?
Perhaps if we were to reframe every circumstance in light of trying to fulfill perfect harmony with God’s word, we would achieve a substantially healthier society. The puritans understood this idea better than almost anybody in history, and as Americans we can trace back both from the foundations of our Republic to literal lineage, men and women that oriented themselves towards this ultimate reality of “living as Jesus would”. Unlike in Judaism, the almost autistic adherence to law did not shackle the puritans, courage and righteous inclinations about right and wrong defined them and framed the very basis of order that allowed for liberty to flourish. Should we not re-find this ultimate reality, integral in the original American creed, God will surely look past us.
Revised English Version Bible
The One: In Defense of God by J. Dan Gill
Logos Rising: A History of Ultimate Reality by E. Michael Jones