The instructive parallel of “the Word was God” with 2Cor.3.17
2 Corinthians 3:17, Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
The parallel can be seen when the following two sentences are placed side by side:
θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (theos ēn ho logos)
“God was the Word”
ὁ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν (ho kurios to pneuma estin)
“the Lord is the Spirit”
A comparison of these two verses shows that:
(a) “God” and “the Lord” are in same position in the two sentences.
(b) “The Word” and “the Spirit” are integrally related in Scripture.
(c) In John 1.1 the past tense “was” occurs because the verse speaks about “the beginning”; 2Corinthians speaks about the present, hence the “is”.
The very next phrase in 2Corinthians 3.17 makes it clear that “the Spirit” is “the Spirit of the Lord”, who in the Scriptures is not another divine being distinct from the Lord. Here I shall simply quote the Catholic scholar Martin McNamara’s discussion of these words:
“‘The Lord is the Spirit.’ Having noted that ‘when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed’, Paul goes on to state: ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit [ho de kurios to pneuma estin] and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’. In the tent of meeting, to which the repentant Israelite withdrew, God was enthroned. From between the cherubim he spoke with Moses and Israel. God so speaking with Israel is often referred to as Dibbera, ‘the Word’. We have seen how he could equally well be referred to as ‘the holy spirit’.
“For the paraphrase of Pseudo-Jonathan (Num.7:89), in the tent of meeting, the spirit conversed with Moses and the individual Israelite. And the Lord, i.e. Adonai, the God of Israel was the spirit.
“In view of this it seems better to take ‘the Lord’ (kurios) of 2Corinthians 3.16f as ‘the God of Israel’, and not as Jesus Christ… As L. Cerfaux has put it: ‘The whole context [of 2Cor.3.17] is that of a midrash and Paul means that kurios in Ex.34:34, upon which he is commenting, should be understood as the Spirit, “the Spirit of the Lord”, who has revealed himself in the Christian community’.
“We should also compare John 4:24: ‘God is Spirit’ (pneuma ho theos), bearing in mind the manifold ways in which Paul’s teaching parallels that of the Fourth Gospel… It may seem strange that Paul should use such Jewish traditions in a letter directed to mainly Gentile Christians. The explanation probably lies in the fact that the Apostle of the Gentiles never succeeded in being anything in his mental make-up but a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” (McNamara, Targum and Testament, p.111ff.)
So just as 2Corinthians 3.17 identifies the “the Lord” as one and the same person who functions as the life-giving Spirit in the church, so the parallel sentence structure with the words “God was the Word” (or “the Word was God”) in John 1.1 indicates that God functioned as the Word in His self-revelation already “in the beginning” of His creation. It is just as the Apostle describes it in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” God speaks to all men through His creation but more fully and perfectly in Christ.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church