This Tuesday, we are concluding our discussion of the First Creation Story found in Genesis 1:1-2:3 by discussing how the New Testament takes this story and applies it to Jesus. We will be looking at John’s Gospel Prologue (John 1:1-18) and Paul’s introductory Christological hymn in Colossians (Col. 1:15-20). Please read these selections for Tuesday.
HEBREW WISDOM IN CREATION
In each of these passages, the writers meld together the Jewish Wisdom tradition and the Greek philosophical tradition to give us an eternal understanding of the divinity of Jesus Christ. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs 3:19-20 tells us that it was through Wisdom that God founded the Earth, and through his Understanding that he established the Heavens. Later, in Proverbs 8:22-31, Scripture gives us a beautiful hymn written from Wisdom’s first-person perspective on her role in Creation. The later apocryphal work of the Book of Wisdom, says that “she is the breath of the power of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty . . . she is a reflection of the eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.” Wisdom 7:22-30. The book goes on to reflect on Wisdom’s role in creation: “O God . . . who hast made all things by thy word, and by thy wisdom hast formed humankind, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made and rule the world in holiness and righteousness.” Wisdom 9:1-3.
GREEK LOGOS IN CREATION
The Greek tradition, going back to Heraclitus in the 6th c. BC, gives us the idea of the logos (“word”). Originally seen as the universal principle which animates all creation, by the time of the Stoics in the 3rd c. BC, the logos comes to be seen as the first great emanation from God/Zeus through which all things come to be and in which all things are held together.
Wisdom/Logos in Hellenistic Judaism
In the 4th c. BC, Alexander the Great conquers Judea and Persia (where many Jews still live) and Jews become dispersed throughout the Greek-speaking (Hellenistic) world. These Hellenistic Jews are exposed to Greek learning and begin to read the Scriptures through Greek eyes. The greatest and most prolific of Hellenistic Jewish thinker is Philo of Alexandria (20BC-40AD). In his writing, Philo brings together the Greek concept of logos with the Jewish concept of wisdom. Philo describes the Logos, as the pre-existent first-begotten son of God. The Logos is the active force that brings all things into being. It is the bond which holds all of creation together. The Logos is the gift of reason to all people and the source of free will. Most fundamentally, however, the Logos is the meditating power between God and Creation. God, in his utter transcendence, cannot interact directly with the created order, and so he can only act through the Logos. A longer discussion of Philo’s concept of the Logos is HERE.
Wisdom/Logos in the New Testament
Both John and Paul will directly adopt Philo’s understanding of the Logos in describing who Jesus is, and particularly Jesus’ pre-existence and role in creation. Both John and Paul description of the Logos or the Supremacy of Christ would be well-known in the Greek and the Jewish tradition. The uniqueness of their proclamation is that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It is the Incarnation, wherein the agent of Creation puts on flesh, that may also be described as “stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Cor. 1:23).
In certain books of the Platonist, I read, not indeed in the same words, but to the selfsame effect, that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. That which was made by Him is life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehends it not. And that He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” But the Platonist did not tell me that “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in His name.” In like manner, I learned from the Platonist that “God the Word was born not of flesh, nor of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God.” But that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” I did not read in their books. St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 7.9.14.