Re: "In the beginning was the word" (Jn 1:1a)

From: Larry J. Swain (
Date: Wed Feb 23 2000 - 16:56:44 EST

Several responses all rolled into one, so I trust I may ask for patience.

To Polycarp who remarked that it can't mean all the things I listed: Why not? A
word in any language is not merely a lexical entry, it carries loading and meaning
larger than a lexical article--take our discussion of -monger recently and how many
different senses that word alone has, and depending on context may in fact carry
all those senses. The limitations of a word are usually only put on it by the
reader------anyway, my point is that the items I listed plus Randall's contribution
do not go beyond the lexical article in LSJ for LOGOS, and why must we say then
that this word MUST only have one of those senses in any given context? Contrary
to the words of a famous medieval Latinist, language is NOT math, one can not
merely say, ah the lexicon says this word means this in a nice synonym approach and
that's the end of it. Choose words carefully. Read the full lexical articles,
ponder the context. Meaning is less conveyed by the word, than by what the word
signifies or may signify. There are many examples of loaded meaning in the NT, in
any language (take any successful poem) for that matter. Why can't the author of
Jn 1.1-18 be using a word that is heavily loaded to convey a heavily-loaded idea
(or set of ideas)? In my view the only reason he can't be is because we believe
that he can't be.

To the person who remarked that the author wasn't a philosopher: Oh? On one level
of course he is, look at those 18 verses (and the rest of the gospel behind them
for that matter) and tell me that he is not philosophizing, or at the very least
theologizing. It is very loaded with meaning, pregnant with intent. Further he
need not have read Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus or Heraclitus to be familiar with the
ideas which would have been common enough in the Hellenistic world any more than
someone need be familiar with Hamlet to say "To be or not to be" or "Ah, there's
the rub" or with Benjamin Franklin as Poor Richard when intoning "a penny saved is
a penny earned"--many in the good ol' US of A use these stock phrases and their
ideas without ever having read Hamlet or Poor Richard's Almanac. I don't really
expect the author of John to be that much different.

To Randall: Thanks, I had forgotten that very important reference, I kept feeling
that my list was lacking but couldn't remember what I had left out. Thank you for
supplying it.

KJohn: I agree basically with what you're saying. To add to it all, there is the
"myth" of the eternal Torah (such as in IV Ezra) which if memory serves is equated
with the creative principle that I mentioned in the targumim and Randal traces for
us in midrashim. Further there also may lie behind it the notion of a god's
"genius" to use the Latin term, (Carl, Mary am I out of line on this one?) which is
sometimes depicted as "going before" the god before an appearance to a mere
mortal. These things can also be applied to the cake.

Finally, I think the LOGOS of John 1.1-18 is best illustrated by Tolkien's On Fairy
Stories essay in which he speaks of the cauldron of story: we can dip into the pot
and pull out some soup bones and say "AHA, this is what LOGOS means here!
EUREKA!" But frankly folks, on this one I am content to know the recipe and have
the whole pot and it's permeating smell rather than the boiled bones. LOGOS for
John means something mighty, mighty, mighty big is going on when that LOGOS


Larry Swain

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