In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and God was the logos. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it.
—John 1:1–5 (NRSV translation)
When time began, the wisdom of God was there. In this wisdom was life and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness of the world, and the darkness cannot grasp it, nor extinguish it. . . Then the wisdom of God became a flesh and blood human being. And he parked his trailer in our neighborhood. We looked him in the face and that face reflected the light of God. . . He gave us endless knowing and understanding of love and kindness and generosity. . . No one has actually seen God, but Jesus who is close to the heart of God has revealed God to us.
—A creative paraphrase of John 1:1, 5–6, 14, 16–18
Greek philosophers introduced the concept of logos (LOG-os) to the early Christian movement, familiarized to us by the prelude to John’s gospel. Although usually translated by Christians as “word,” logos is more accurately translated as “thought” or “reason.” Clarence Jordan translated it as “idea” in his “Cottonpatch” gospels. Perhaps “wisdom” is a better understanding.
Three centuries before Jesus, Stoic philosophers proposed that the logos symbolized the divine reason or creative intelligence that is implied in the order of the universe, giving it form and meaning. For them, humans possess a small portion of the divine logos that sets us apart from lower forms of life.
For the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (25 BCE–50 CE)—a contemporary of Jesus and Paul—the logos was seen as the approachable aspect of an inapproachable and incomprehensible God. Philo believed that one cannot communicate directly with God, but can come to know and understand God through the logos, a kind of intermediary being or spirit that provides insight into the mind of God and reveals God’s governing plan for the world. For Paul, the logos of God replaced the Torah of God as the benchmark of religious understanding.
John’s gospel picks up this ancient concept, equating Jesus with the logos of God—God’s intermediary to humanity. For John, Jesus was one who understood God’s knowable mind and creative intelligence—and reflected this wisdom. During his life, Jesus was known as a teacher of great wisdom, often a radical alternative to conventional wisdom. After his death, the spirit of Jesus—now known as the “Christ”—was viewed as an ongoing reflection of God’s wisdom that could be accessed, the mind of God that could be more clearly understood in changing times.
When the prologue to John’s gospel refers to Jesus as the logos, the author is declaring that the same wisdom and intelligence that is evident in all creation can be found in the peasant teacher Jesus. John believed that the creative intelligence that shaped the universe was incarnate in Jesus, and the wisdom expressed by Jesus gives us a glimpse of the inapproachable transcendent mind of God. The creative, imaginative approach to living taught by Jesus brought about a different quality of life, a deeply authentic life incarnating love and compassion to such a remarkable degree that much of the world simply cannot grasp it.
For John, Jesus as the logos expresses a message of love—the “word of life”—that brings about a new kind of life, a new quality of life, just as God’s words at creation brought all of life into being.
Throughout the centuries, the dark power of the domination system that is manifested in every society has tried to quench the wisdom of Jesus and the lifestyle he proclaimed. But the ideas of Jesus—radical love, lavish generosity, extravagant forgiveness, inclusive hospitality, compassionate action, selfless service, a passion for justice, creative nonviolence, and simple living—continue to be embodied by individuals and small groups dedicated to following the way of Jesus.
Jesus told his followers that they are to be a light for a world that lies in darkness. Don’t hide your little light under a basket. Let your life reflect that light and let it shine for all to see.