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Torah as Word of God

It can easily be seen that if the logos is identified as the Word of God, which to the Jews was above all the Torah, then the idea of the preexistent Torah as having become flesh in the person of Messiah Jesus would have been to the Jews truly some­thing aston­ishing.

When we look at the passages in the Jewish Encyclopedia quoted above we can see a remarkable parallel with John 1.1. Note the following parallels:

In the beginning was the word—“The Torah is older than the world, for it existed… before the Creation.”

The word was with God—“God held counsel with it at the creation of the world, since it was wisdom itself (Tan., Bereshit, passim)”

The word was God—“and it was God's first revelation, in which He Himself took part.” (i.e. it was a revelation of Himself)

The parallels are the more striking when we realize that the Jewish Encyclopedia was, of course, not written by Christians but by Jews, who are here simply giving an account of what the Jews firmly be­lieved from early times. An adequate understanding of the Jewish faith in general, and their belief in the Torah in particular, is obvious­ly of great importance for understanding the way the gospel was preached to the Jews both in John’s gospel and in the NT as a whole. These Jewish beliefs are not in themselves always stated in Biblical terms, but were considered to be legitimate extrapolations from the Biblical revelation.

But the parallels do not end there; here are several more points of comparison:

(1) “It (the Torah) was given in completeness for all time and for all mankind, so that no further revelation can be expected. It was given in the languages of all peoples; for the voice of the divine revelation was seventyfold (Weber, l.c. pp. 16-20; Blau, ‘Zur Einleitung in die Heilige Schrift,’ pp. 84-100). It shines forever…” (Jewish Encyclopedia, italics added)

John: The logos was the light (of divine revelation), and in Messiah Jesus it is “the light of the world” (Jo.8.12; 9.5).

(2) “The Torah will remain forever… Every letter of it is a living creature [i.e. the Torah has life in itself]... The single letters were hypostatized, and were active even at the creation of the world” (Jewish Encyclopedia).

John: The Father “gave to the son to have life in himself” (Jo.5.26). Compare also Matthew 5.18, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

(3) (a) The Torah came “from heaven…and whosoever denies the heavenly origin of the Torah will lose the future life (Sanh. x. 1).”

(b) “Whoever separates himself from the Torah dies forthwith (’Ab. Zarah 3b); for fire consumes him, and he falls into hell (B. B. 79a);

(c) “From the earliest times the Synagogue has proclaimed the divine origin of the Pentateuch, and has held that Moses wrote it down from dictation.” (a-c, Jewish Encyclopedia, italics added)

John: The Son was “from heaven” (Jo.3.13,31; 6.38).

In Judaism, faith in the Torah was considered essential for eternal life or “the future life”. Likewise, faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life in John and in the NT generally.

Romans 10.6-9

We find further confirmation of this identification of the Torah with Christ also within the NT, in Romans 10.6-9:

 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)

 7 or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);

 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (NRSV)

Verses 6 and 8 are quotations from Deuteronomy 30.11-14 which reads:

11 For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may ob­serve it?’ 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. (NASB)

A comparison of the text in Romans with that in Deuteronomy shows how Paul identifies the Law with Christ. Even more remark­able is the fact that the words spoken by Moses (the “I” in Deut.30.11) Paul declares as being spoken by “the righteousness that comes from faith” (Ro.10.6). Moses is thus the spokesman for faith-righteousness! And this is factually correct because Moses was both a man of faith (Heb.11.24-29, where “faith” occurs 4 times) and a model of right­eousness for all time. Far from rejecting Moses, Paul claims him as speaking for Christ.

Some Christian scholars portray Paul as the adversary of the Law, regardless of his declarations to the contrary, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Romans 3:31, NASB). “Love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Ro.13.8,10; Gal.5.14). If the Law had been nullified or abolished, why would Paul concern himself with fulfilling it?[39]

What is the relevance of studying the relation of “the Word” to “the Law”?

In the book Christianity in Jewish Terms (Westview Press, 2000), in an essay entitled “Judaism and Incarnation”, the Jewish scholar E.R. Wolfson (Professor of Hebrew Studies and Director of Relig­ious Studies at New York University), shows that the notion of incarnation (such as that concerning the Word in John 1.14) is not something strange or unknown in Judaism. The following are some of his in­structive observations:

“God as Torah

“In my view, there is much evidence in the rabbinic corpus of an incarnational theology, all be it modified in light of Juda­ism’s official aniconism [the prohibition of images]. Of course, I do not wish to ignore the fact that within rabbinic literature itself one finds statements that unequivocally reject the Christ­ological doctrine of incarnation. Does that mean, however, that there is no justification for using the word ‘incarnation’ to characterize ideas espoused by the rabbis themselves? I do not think so, and, as the cluster of motifs to be discussed below will illustrate, incarnational theology is vital to the rabbinic worldview.” (p.246, explanation in square brackets added)

“Just as early Christian exegetes saw in Christ, God made flesh, so the rabbis conceived of the Torah as the incarnation of the image of God.” (p.247)

“I would like to concentrate on an incarnational tendency dis­cernable in the rabbinic view that the study of Torah is the means by which one lives in the immediate presence of God. Far from being merely rhetorical in nature, these pronounce­ments are predicated on the presumption that Torah em­bodies the divine glory.” (p.247)

Wolfson also points out that in rabbinic thought there is the idea that “the name of God is symbolically interchangeable with the Torah”, that “the name is identical with the Torah”, and that “the name is implied in the rabbinic claim that the Torah is the instru­ment through which God created the world” (all quotes are from p.248).

What is striking about the quotations in the previous para­graph is that “the Torah”, if replaced by “the Word” in each of the three statements quoted, would make perfect sense in understand­ing “the Word” in John 1. It will become clear when we study “the Word” in its Aramaic equivalent “the Memra” that “the Name of God is symbol­ically interchangeable with the Word”, that “the Name is identical with the Word”, and that “the Name is implied in the Johannine claim that the Word is the instrument through which God created the world”. None of these paraphrases of Prof. Wolfson’s statements would be objectionable to rabbinic Judaism provided that they are not understood in terms of trinitarian Christology, as he has pointed out.

On the next page of his essay (p.249), Wolfson again men­tions “the equation of Torah and YHVH” in rabbinic thought which can “speak of the Torah as the name”, as also “the archaic belief that heaven and earth were created by means of the name of God, an idea attested in apocryphal, rabbinic, and mystical sources as well, specifi­cally in terms of yod and he, the first two letters of the Tetragram­maton used to signify the complete name.” This last quotation in particular throws light on the repeated references in the Johannine Prologue that all things were created by means of the Word Jo.1.3,10 (dia with gen.: “through, by means of”).

Metonyms in Biblical Language

If we wish to avoid falling into confusion and error we must under­stand that a term like “the Word” is a metonym; the only question then is: a metonym for what? Closer attention should be paid to metonymy or synecdoche in Biblical language, that is, figures of speech in which a part represents the whole. A common example is “bread” as a synecdoche for “food” or sustenance gen­erally (e.g. “give us this day our daily bread”, Mt.6.11; Lk.11.3). Thus in English a “hired hand” is a workman and a “deck hand” is a sailor; so “hand” serves as a metonym for “person”. There is also the phrase “the long arm of the law” by which is meant that the power of the agencies of law and order can reach out and seize evildoers even if they seek to hide in remote places. “Arm” is here a metaphor for action and power, very similar to its use in the Bible. Thus “the arm of the Lord” speaks of His powerful actions. There are several metonymic figures of speech in the OT such as “the hand of the Lord”, or His Wisdom, His light, His Spirit, etc. where, in each case, the part stands for, or represents the whole.

The failure to understand Biblical metonymy results in the kind of notion about the Logos seen in trinitarianism. The following are examples of this important form of speech in the Scriptures:

The Logos and the Arm of the Lord (Yahweh)

The “word” (dabar; logos) of the Lord is no more an independent person from God than is His “arm”. For a fuller picture of the “arm of the Lord” we can consider the following verses:

Isaiah 51.9, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?”

Isaiah 40.10, “Behold, the Lord GOD (Yahweh) comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”

Isaiah 30.30, “And the LORD will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones.”

Isaiah 48.14, “Assemble, all of you, and listen! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves him; he shall perform his purpose on Babylon, and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.”

Luke 1.51, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scat­tered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”

Also John 12.38, “so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’” which quotes Isaiah 53:1 “Who has believed what he heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”

The Lord’s arm spoken of in a personalized way

Isaiah 63.12, “who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name.”

Yahweh’s “arm” appears here as though it were a distinct indiv­idual who went at the right hand of Moses, divided the waters of the sea, and “made for himself an everlasting name”!

The Hand of the Lord

Consider the parallel between Yahweh’s “hand” and His “word (LXX, logos)”:

Isaiah 48.13a, “My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens.”

Psalm 33.6, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.”

Is it right, then, for us to conclude from Isaiah 48.13 that God’s “hand”, by which He created heaven and earth, is another person distinct from Him? If not, then should we conclude that “the word” of Yahweh in Ps.33.6, by which He created the heavens, is an OT basis of John 1.1 and is to be understood as a person distinct from Yahweh, as trinitarianism insists? But if this “word” of the LORD in the OT is not a basis for the trinitarian interpretation of John 1.1, then it should be frankly conceded that this interpretation has no basis in the OT at all, since any other such use of “word” in the OT is likewise synecdochic of Yahweh Himself, just like the references to His “arm” or His “hand”.

John 1.1, “In the beginning”: the explicit link to Genesis

We noted earlier that the Hebrew Bible was not numbered in the way that most Bibles now have chapter and verse numbers. Reference to a particular book was done by quoting the first words of the book. Thus one referred to Genesis by its opening words, “In the beginning”. In so doing, there may be more to these words in Genesis 1 than referring only to its first verse or its first chapter; the intention could be to include refer­ence to the whole book and, specifically, to the remarkable and unique self-revelation of Yahweh in Genesis. The message would then be: Yahweh who was so close to man, and so caring of man as seen in Genesis, has now drawn so close to man that He has become incarnate in Christ; in this way He “tabernacle among us” (Jo.1.14).

We have also seen that Yahweh God frequently communicated with people in Genesis; He spoke to them, so the notion of “word” is found throughout Genesis both as God’s creative word as also His communicative word. The concept of “the word of God” is firmly rooted in Genesis, and from there continues through the whole Bible. The importance of “the word” does not lie in itself but in whose word it is, in this case, it is God’s word. It is, therefore, God’s communicat­ion. And with whom does He communicate in this world but with us, His creatures, His people? Thus, in this sense, “the word” is the expression of God’s immanence.

By His Logos God communicates both with us and to us. What He communicates to us is the manifold contents of His word, whet­her that is described as truth, light, or life. In so doing, God does not just communicate something to us, but thereby gives of Himself to us. We cannot have life from Him without also having Him; this is because the life which He gives is not something which can exist independ­ently of Him. In this regard, no living being exists independently of Him, whether or not they are aware of it. That is why Jesus could say, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). Accord­ingly, the Apostle Paul could quote with approval the words of one of the Greek poets who rightly perceived that “in him (God) we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

So the Word in John 1.1ff is not something mysterious; but what may properly be called a “mystery” is that “the Word became flesh” (Jo.1.14) which is certainly the central element of John’s Prologue (1.1-18). This is surely what is meant by “the mystery of Christ” (Eph.3.4; Col.4.3). We shall consider this more fully in relation to the Memra.

The Word/Logos as the Memra

We have considered in some detail the OT roots of “the Word” and we should now begin to realize that we cannot go much deeper in our understanding of it on the OT basis alone. This is precisely what trinitarian scholars per­ceived, and thus assumed that there was no other way to go than to try to extract something they could use from Greek philosophy. But here, too, they soon found that they could not get very far, hence their rather desperate conclusion that the idea of the Word was John’s own idea or invention. But this conclusion ran on to the rocks of this scholarly finding: what constitutes John’s Prologue is actually a poem which John incorporated into his gospel; in other words, it was not com­posed by John. This shatters all meaningful talk about the Word as John’s own idea. On the contrary, the evi­dence seems indisputable that the Word was something familiar to the early church, and was incorporated into this profound poem, song, or hymn used by the church, which John then used as an appropriate and effective introduction to his gospel.

It is true that the material which can be gathered from the OT alone does not in itself provide an adequate basis for understand­ing the Word in John’s Prologue. But, up to now, when we talked about the OT we were mainly talking in terms of the Hebrew Bible. We have already mentioned that in the time of Christ and the early church, Aramaic, not Hebrew, was the primary language of the people. The failure to take this crucial fact into account resulted in the discussion about the Word either coming to a dead end or getting sidelined into the error of the Biblically baseless trinitarian interpretation of it as “God the Son”.

In NT times the Jews who went to the weekly synagogue services would hear the Hebrew Bible read aloud, but it had to be interpreted for them in Aramaic. These interpretations were called “targums” (meaning “translations”). It is these that constitute what scholars call “the Aramaic Old Testament”. What can be learnt about “the Word” (Aramaic: Memra) in the Aramaic OT will clarify, strengthen, and confirm the understanding of the Word gained from our study of the Hebrew OT. This means that the OT roots of the Word in John 1.1 can ultimately be traced to the Memra of the Aramaic Old Testament.[40]

The Memra was the Aramaic word for the Greek logos. Because Aramaic was the language spoken in Israel (Palestine) at the time, Memra was a word that they would have often heard in their syna­gogues, and which they understood to be a well-known form of reference to the Name of Yahweh, or simply to Yahweh Himself. The Jewish Encyclopedia gives a concise and clear defin­ition of Memra: “‘The Word,’ in the sense of the creative or directive word or speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a sub­stitute for ‘the Lord’”. We are on firm ground when we con­clude that John was undoubtedly fam­iliar with the Aramaic OT (the Targums), as indeed were the people in Israel generally in John’s day.

Why, then, is it that Gentile Christian theology did not stop to question its own assumptions and ask: Why would the gospel written by the Jewish Apostle John derive the central theme in its prologue, namely the logos, from a Greek (Gentile) source when an obvious (or what would have been obvious to a Jew in the 1st century AD) Jewish source (the Aramaic OT) was at hand and well known to the Jews? The answer, obviously, is: What was well known to the Jews was not well known to the Gentiles. Gentiles think as Gentiles, and very few (if any) of them were versed in Jewish life, literature, and language.

Few of the early “Fathers” of the Christian church could be shown to have any knowledge of Judaica or Judaism. The same is generally true of Christians and church leaders today. Judaism is not usually a subject listed in the curriculums of Christian theolog­ical seminaries, and even Biblical Hebrew is usually an optional subject. How many Christians have heard of the Memra? So when we are constantly told that the logos derives from Greek thought, who is in a position to know that there is a better option which has its basis in the OT, especially the Aramaic Targums?

Trinitarianism and the Old Testament

The solid and undeniable fact is that nowhere in the OT is there even a single reference to the logos as person. In the LXX, logos occurs 1239 times, yet not one of these so much as suggests that logos had any personal traits or characteristics. This means that logos as a personal being simply does not exist in the OT. Trinitarian scholars are, of course, fully (and sorely) aware of this fact. The Expositor’s Commentary (on Jo.1.1) manages only to quote Ps.33.6 (LXX 32.6) (“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.”). But what exactly is its contribution to understanding John 1.1? In Psalm 33.6 “the logos of Yahweh” is equated (by way of parallelism) with “the breath (pneuma)” of Yahweh, and while the reference is to the Genesis 1 account of the creation, it is lim­ited (unlike John 1.3) to the creation of the heavens with its “starry host” (NIV). But the point is: here, too, there is no indic­ation whatever that the logos is a personal being.

The evidence indubitably indicates that the trinitarian notion of the Logos in John 1.1 as providing evidence for the 2nd person of the Trinity simply does not stand up to investigation. The OT does not provide a single shred of concrete evidence for it. A survey of the learned reference works shows that none is able to provide any OT basis for the idea of a preexistent person called Logos. If, there­fore, we want to construct a doctrine of God the Son (without which there could be no doctrine of the Trinity) by using the Logos as its foundation stone, we simply cannot find any basis for it in the OT, either Hebrew or Aramaic. Can any help be found in the OT concept of Wisdom?

The Logos as Wisdom: Wisdom Christology

Wisdom (the word is feminine in both Hebrew and Greek, not masculine like Logos) is spoken of in personal terms in Proverbs, yet everyone is aware of the fact that the lan­guage there is poetic and metaphorical, and was therefore not meant to be understood literally. In the Bible, Wisdom is never thought of as a person, much less a person distinct from God, or another person in the “Godhead”.

Continuing his discussion on the Johannine Prologue, Prof. Witherington writes:

“There is in this hymn (a ‘wisdom hymn’, p.287) an obvious drawing on material from Genesis 1. Both documents begin with the words, ‘In the beginning.’ Then too the Genesis story is about how God made a universe by means of his spoken words. Here too creation happens by the Word. But whatever debt the author of this hymn has to Genesis, Genesis 1 is not about either a personified attribute, much less a person assist­ing God in creation. It is the use of the Genesis material in the hymnic material about Wisdom both in the Old Testament and in later Jewish sapiential [wisdom] writings that provides the font of ideas and forms used in creating this hymn. Not only Prov.3 but also Proverbs 8:1-9.6 should be considered. There one learns that personified Wisdom was present at creation, but also that she called God’s people back to the right paths and offered them life and favor from God (cf. 8.35).” (Jesus the Sage, p.284, italics added)

It is evident from the above passage and from the title of his book (Jesus the Sage) that Witherington interprets the Logos in terms of what is called “Wisdom Christology”. That Wisdom in the OT is important for the understanding of the Logos in John 1.1ff is un­doubtedly true, and we shall give this fact further consideration later in this work, but in his last sentence (in the section quoted above) there appears to be insufficient concern to draw attention to the fact that “the personified Wisdom” in Proverbs was a hypo­stasized way of describing Wisdom and was certainly not an actual person, but it may be that Witherington assumes that his readers already know this. Trinitarians, of course, want to maintain that the Logos is a divine person distinct from God, but who shares his nature and is therefore coequal with Him. But none of this can be derived from the Wisdom of Proverbs, and also not from Genesis 1 as Witherington also affirms. The plain fact is that there is simply no personal Logos mentioned in the OT.

The Word and the Spirit of God

It should be noted that in the following section where the “Spirit” is capitalized, it is not because the spirit is a person but is used where the emphasis needs to be brought out clearly that the spirit being referred to is not the human spirit, or “the spirit of man”, but to “the Spirit of God”, Yahweh’s Spirit. Since “Holy Spirit” is considered a name it is usually capitalized.

(1) References to the Spirit are remarkably few in the OT:

The “Spirit of Yahweh” (ruach Yahweh, רוח יחוח): 

26 times, of which 7 are in Judges

The “Spirit of God” (ruach elohim, רוח אלהים) :  

16 times, of which 8 are in 1 Samuel

“My Spirit” 12 times

“His Spirit” 4 times

“The Spirit” once in 1Chronicles, 4 times in Numbers, 7 times in Ezekiel, and once in Isaiah (32.15) = 13

This adds up to a total of only 71 times, which indicates that refer­ences to the Spirit in the OT are few and that statistically, therefore, the Spirit is not a figure of central importance in the OT revelation. Compare this, for example, with “Abraham” who is mentioned 110 times in Genesis alone; or David, to whom there are 1025 references in the OT.

(2) The Spirit is never conceived of as a person apart from Yahweh

More important than the relatively few references to the Spirit, the OT provides no basis whatsoever for supposing that the Spirit is a person distinct from Yahweh. This means that, certainly where the Spirit is concerned, there is no basis in the OT for the doctrine of the Trinity.

“The holy spirit was God himself conceived of as speak­ing with Israel” (McNamara)

“For Judaism the holy spirit (ruach haqqodes) is God conceived of as communicating his mind and will to man.” (McNamara, Targum and Testament, p.107)

“The holy spirit was God himself conceived of as speaking with Israel. Rabbinic texts can express the same idea in other ways. In some contexts ‘the holy spirit’ can be replaced by such terms as ‘the Shekinah’, ‘the Dibbera’ (Word) and ‘Bath Qol’ (Voice). In point of fact, where in one text we find ‘holy spirit’, in parallel texts we read one of the others, these being more or less synonymous in certain contexts.” (McNamara, p.108)

“‘Spirit’ is generally not capitalized [in Rabbinic texts] to avoid the Christian idea of the Spirit as a distinct or separate being from God. From the following quotation it is again clearly shown that the Word, like ‘the holy spirit’ (as mentioned in the previous quotations), are identical in Judaism in that both communicate God’s will to man:

Dibbura (Neofiti: Dibbera), i.e. the Word, is, as we said, the term generally used in the Palestinian Targum when refer­ence is made to God’s communicating his will to man.” (McNamara, p.109)

The following is a fuller excerpt about the Spirit from the book Christianity by the renowned German theologian Hans Küng:

What is the Spirit?

“Here too we do best to approach from the Jewish tradition. According to the Hebrew Bible and then also the New Testa­ment, God is spirit, Hebrew feminine ruach, which originally means breath, breathe, wind. Tangible yet intangible, invis­ible yet powerful, as important to life as the air that one breathes, laden with energy like the wind, the storm—that is the spirit. What is meant is none other than the living force and power emanating from God, which works invisibly in both the indivi­dual and the people of Israel, in the church and in the world generally. This spirit is holy in so far as it is distinguished from the unholy spirit of human beings and their world: as the spirit of God. The understanding of Christian faith is that it is the driving force (dynamis, not law) in Christianity.

“But we should beware of misunderstandings: in the light of the New Testament the Holy Spirit is not—as often in the his­tory of religions—some third element distinct from God which is between God and human beings; it is not a magical, sub­stant­ial, mysterious-supernatural fluid of a dynamic kind (no spirit­ual ‘something’), nor is it a magic being of an animistic kind (some spiritual being or ghost). Rather, the Holy Spirit is none other than God himself. God himself, in so far as he is near to human beings and the world, indeed works inwardly as the power which grasps but cannot be grasped, as a life-giving but also judging force, as a grace which gives but is not under our control. So as God’s Spirit, the Spirit can no more be sep­arated from God than the sunbeam from the sun. Thus if we ask how the invisible, intangible, incomprehen­sible God is near and present to believers, the answer of the New Testament is unanimous. God is near to us human beings in the Spirit: present in the Spirit, through the Spirit, indeed as Spirit.” (H. Küng, Christianity, p.42, all bold letters are his)

The Logos and the Spirit

The essence of the Word is the Spirit; these are inseparably related in Scripture. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6, NIV). The word translated as “breath” is ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek and these are the words for “spirit” in both languages. Job 33:4 says “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (NIV)

The relationship of God’s word to His Spirit is seen also in 1Corinthians 2.12,13; John 3.34; 6.63. So, too, John 3.8 speaks of being “born of the Spirit” while 1Peter 1.23 speaks of being born again “through the living and abiding word of God.”

The relation of Word to Spirit could be stated in this way: the Word is the form, and the Spirit is the substance. The word is com­pared to a “seed” (Mat.13.19,20,22, etc) which carries within it the Spirit of life. Hence, as we have just seen, the Apostle Peter could speak of it as “the living word of God”. Thus, when “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jo.1.14) in the person of Christ, God’s Presence as life, light, truth, grace, salvation and, above all, His Spirit, was manifested in Christ; for, as John says, it is “from this fullness (of God in the Logos) that we have all received” (John 1.16).

Since life is embodied in the Word (Logos), it is “the word of life” (1Jo.1.1). Life in Scripture is frequently associated with the Spirit; this is true even on the level of the human spirit, James 2.26, “the body without the spirit is dead”. The Apostle speaks in Romans 8.2 of “the Spirit of life”, and in Romans 8.10: “the Spirit is life”. On the level of “the word”, in 2Corinthians 3.6 Paul both compares and contrasts the Law (also God’s word) with the Spirit, “the letter (of the Law) kills, but the Spirit gives life” (cf.Ro.7.6b). In John 6:63, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” “The word of life” can also be described as “the word of truth” (Col.1.5; 2Ti.2.15; etc), “the word of righteousness” (Heb.5.13), and “the word of faith” (Rom.10.8)! This is fullness indeed—a fullness which, according to John 1.16, all those in Christ have received.

That this refers to “the fullness” of Yahweh’s Memra/Logos/ Word is unmistakable because only in the following verse (v.17) is “Jesus Christ” mentioned for the first time in John; it is “the fullness” which filled the person of Christ. The word “fullness” (plērōma) is the same word used in Colossians 2.9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. Thus the fullness of the Word is, evidently, “the fullness of deity”; see also Colossian 1.19, and Eph.3.19 “the fullness of God”. From this we see that the Word in John’s Prologue functions as a metonym for God, and points in particular to important aspects of His Being, such as His life, His light, His truth, etc, which are highlighted in John’s Gospel as a whole. But no demonstrable connection of the Word to some sup­posed “second person in the godhead” can be found.

What is remarkable about Ephesians 3.19 (the last verse cited in the previous paragraph) is that we learn that we, too, can be filled with God’s fullness through Christ, for this verse exhorts us “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Three paragraphs earlier we saw the association of life with the Spirit in Scripture. What if we read “the Spirit” in place of “the Logos” in John 1.1? It would read like this, “In the beginning was the Spirit, the Spirit was with God, and the Spirit was God.” We would not have much problem with such a reading, especially be­cause it would fit without difficulty into what follows,

2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

If it be argued from verse 3 that the Spirit is not said to have been involved in creation, then let us take note of Job 33.4, “The Spirit of God has made (עשׂה, asah, just as in Genesis 1.26) me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

The point of drawing attention to the parallel of the Logos with the Spirit is that in the OT there is absolutely no suggestion of the Spirit being a distinct person from Yahweh. Even so, the Spirit would fit seamlessly into John 1. Even the incarnation as being applicable to the Spirit would be unproblematic for the NT as can be demonstrated without difficulty from the fact that the Spirit of God is also described as “the Spirit of Christ” or “the Spirit of Jesus”, a fact which is other­wise without satisfactory explanation. There is also the (for trinitar­ians) inexplicable statement of Christ that “if I do not go away, the Helper [i.e. the Spirit] will not come to you” (Jo.16.7). If the Spirit is a third person, why should He be unable to come while Christ was on earth? As a trinitarian I was unable to give or find any satisfactory answer to this question.

Though the Spirit is never referred to as a distinct person, yet the NT enlightens us by revealing that he functions in relation to God in the same way as the spirit of man functions in relation to man:

“For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1Cor.2.10,11).

So to the question, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34; also 1Cor.2.16; both quotations from Isaiah 40.13), the Biblical answer is that the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God in the same way as the spirit of a man knows the thoughts of the man. That is why a man can “examine himself” (1Cor.11.28), for just as “the Spirit searches the depths of God” (1Cor.2.10), so man’s spirit can search the depths of his own being.

This also helps us to understand the phrase in Genesis 1.26 “let us make man” in a way not previously thought of because of our failure to grasp the truth revealed about God and His Spirit as stated in 1Corinthians 2.10,11. In this light we can see that the “us” with whom Yahweh took counsel was His own Spirit.

Similarly, how many people understand the relationship of a man’s spirit to the man himself? Paul could speak of his spirit as being able to experience things apart from his physical being as in 2Cor.12.2,3: “whether in the body or out of it I don’t know”; or, “though absent in the body, yet present in spirit” (1Cor.5.3,4). The spirit is understood as a distinct reality within man, but obviously not as a separate person. The same is true in God as shown in 1Corinthians 2.10,11. The Spirit (like the Logos) is a reality within God, which like man’s spirit, has a definite function within God and can sometimes even be spoken of as though it functioned on its own (cf. too “the arm of the LORD”, Isa.51.9, etc), yet it is not an independent or separate person.

If even the Spirit of God cannot be shown from Scripture to be a distinct person from God, it is hard to imagine how trinitarianism could have misled us into supposing that the Logos, a previously unknown entity, is a separate person called “God the Son”. It does appear that it is not, after all, very difficult for even “the elect” to be deceived (Mat.24.24; Mk.13.22).[41]

The Holy Spirit and Yahweh’s Presence

Psalm 51.11, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”

The parallelism of Hebrew poetry indicates that these two sen­tences are parallel to each other, the second rephrasing and complementing the first. Thus “your presence” and “your Holy Spirit” are semantic parallels. This means that the Spirit refers to Yahweh’s special pre­sence, and to all the divine qualities (such as His power, wisdom, word, etc) which His presence brings. When this meaning of “His Spirit” is applied to other verses where the term occurs, it fits in per­fectly and, indeed, helps to explicate more precisely what is meant.

This also helps to explain more specifically the connection be­tween the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the promise “I am with you always” (Mat.28,20)—the promise of his abiding presence (the Spirit of Christ is none other than the Spirit of God) for the fulfillment of the great commission. The disciples received power at Pentecost so as to be able to fulfill that commission; but there is no divine power independent of the divine presence. The aspect of power which comes with God’s special presence is mentioned spec­ifically because the tiny infant church had to be reassured, as well as empowered, to accomplish what was entrusted to them.

As we saw in 1Corinthians 2.10,11 the Holy Spirit is to God what the spirit of man is to man; He is not a separate person from God any more than our human spirit is a separate person from us. To be filled with the Spirit is not to be filled with a “third person” but to be filled with Yahweh’s own presence. The problem of speaking of the Spirit as “he” is that it gives the impression that the Spirit is a distinct person from Yahweh; but the Scriptures teach us that the Spirit of God is integral to God’s Person, just as our spirit is an integral part of us, yet a distinguishable element within us.

There are very many distinguishable elements (for lack of a better term) within God’s Person mentioned in Scripture, such as His power (“His arm”, or “His hand”), His wisdom, His holiness, His love, etc., and all these find expression through His Word (Logos). But just as we would not think of His love, etc, as a distinct being from Him, why do we think of His Word as a distinct or separate being from Him?

The Spirit: Yahweh’s gift to believers

Even more important than the question: “What is the Spirit?” is the question: What is the function of the Spirit in relation to us? Or, what is the meaning of the Spirit for our lives? We understand the answer to these questions better when we know:

(1) The Spirit of Yahweh is given to believers as His gift which, when received, has transforming effect on the life of the believer.[42]

(2) The Spirit as God’s seal upon us (the seal signifies that the believer belongs to God and carries His authority to represent Him, to function as His image) and as guarantee, or down payment, from God 2Cor.1.22; 2Cor.5.5 (guaranteeing the receiving of eter­nal life, and the fulfilling of all God’s promises to us).

(3) The Spirit is the means by which we are joined or united with the Lord, 1Cor.6.17.

(4) The Spirit is in us (Jo.14.17), which is what makes us the temple of God: 1Cor.3.16; 6.19; 2Cor.6.16; Eph.2.22; 1Pet.2.5.

Because the Spirit is Yahweh God’s Spirit, in giving His Spirit to us He has, in effect, given Himself to us, to be with us and to live in us. The union and communion that this brings is the dynamic of all true Christian life.



[39] On Christ and the Law, see also Appendix 3.

[40] On the Aramaic Targums of the OT see also Appendix 4.

[41] This is not to suggest that these sayings of Jesus have already been completely fulfilled; a future fulfillment is possible because “false christs and false prophets” would find the present spiritual state of the world favorable for their activities and their teaching.

[42] See the words “give” e.g. Ac.5.32; 10.45 (“gift”); 15.8; Ro.5.5; 1Thess.4.8; and “receive” e.g. Ac.2.38 (“gift”); 8.15,17; 10.47; Jo.7.38,39; Ro.8.15; 1Cor. 2.12; Gal.3.2, etc.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church