In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. – John 1:1-2
Nobody can really know our thoughts until we express them in words. Likewise, we cannot know the mind of God apart from the Word of God. God expressed himself through the Word or Logos who is Jesus.
By introducing the Word, John also connects with a philosophical concept his readers would immediately understand, and then he builds a bridge from philosophy to theology.
John’s sophisticated audience, made up of Jews and Greeks, understood the Logos as the power that made the universe, giving man the ability to reason and know the truth. In the minds of the first century cultured elite, the Logos was an abstract philosophical concept that explained the workings of the universe through God.
The Stoics, for instance, taught this:
All things are controlled by the Logos of God. The Logos is the power which puts sense into the world, the power which makes the world an order instead of a chaos, the power which sets the world going and keeps it going in its perfect order.
Philo was a key figure among philosophers in the first century. He was a Jew who studied both Jewish and Greek wisdom. According to William Barclay, Philo taught this about the Logos:
The Logos was the oldest thing in the world and the instrument through which God had made the world. He said that the Logos was the thought of God stamped upon the universe; he talked about the Logos by which God made the world and all things; he said that God, the pilot of the universe, held the Logos as a tiller and with it steered all things. He said that man’s mind was stamped also with the Logos, that the Logos was what gave a man reason, the power to think and the power to know. He said that the Logos was the intermediary between the world and God and that the Logos was the priest that set the soul before God.
Philo never said the Logos was Jesus. He talked all around the subject, but never clued in to the fact that the Logos of God became a man and lived among us.
If Philo is not your kind of guy and you get lost in a sea of philosophical musings, the Star Wars movies provide a clue as to how first century people thought of the Logos. Star Wars made popular the phrase, “May the Force be with you?”
According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, “The Force is a binding, metaphysical and ubiquitous power that is the object of the Jedi and Sith monastic orders.” Said another way, The Force is an abstract power in the universe that holds everything in check. If the Force is with you, that is a good thing.
The Force is not unlike how sophisticated Jews and Greeks thought of the Logos in the first century. Sadly, their understanding of the Logos fell short of a living God with whom they could have a personal relationship.
Essentially John was saying this to the philosophers of his day: “When you talk about the Logos, you’re truly on to something. But you missed Him by this much! Yes, I said ‘Him.’ The Logos is a Person named Jesus. Do you remember Jesus of Nazareth who walked among us?” Barclay says it this way:
For centuries you have been thinking and writing and dreaming about the Logos, the power which made the world, the power which keeps the order of the world, the power by which men think and reason and know, the power by which men come into contact with God. Jesus is the Logos come down to earth. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
John’s introductory thoughts about Jesus rocked the philosophical and religious worlds of his day. He turned an abstract philosophical concept into flesh and blood and in turn spoke of a personal relationship with Jesus who is the full expression of God.