John 1:16-18

John 1:16-18     The Word Revealing God as Father

16 Indeed, from his fulness we have all received, love upon love.
17 The Law was given through Moses;
but love and truth have come through Jesus Christ. 

The love and truth proper to God have been revealed in Jesus. The community of disciples rejoiced that they had received from and through Jesus that gracious, steadfast, merciful love of God in abundance, love upon love. For the Beloved Disciple, the invitation for believers was to move beyond words to the ever deepening realisation of their meaning – from ideas to reality, from notional assent to real assent.

The law, the Torah, mediated to the people of Israel through Moses, was itself a beautiful, but partial, revelation of the mystery of God; it was truly love. Through it, the Word came into his own. But, in Jesus, the Word became present not simply as the message given through Moses and the prophets; it had become flesh and pitched his tent among us. In Jesus, love in its fulness had built on what had been so far unfulfilled love. The love and truth of God were fully revealed in the person of Jesus.

18 No one has ever seen God –
the only-begotten God, near to the Father’s heart,
has made him known.

God as God would remain always mystery, totally beyond human comprehension. Whatever is said of God is necessarily said analogically – the words used being “more dissimilar than similar” in their meaning. Jesus, God the only Son, provided the most adequate revelation of God, beyond words – yet, still, no more than the human expression of a divine mystery.

In a sense, the Prologue started where it finished – with the community’s overwhelming experience of Jesus. They tried to understand and to express their personal experience of Jesus’ unique love and integrity. In their awe before him, they sensed that in some way his love and integrity must be divine. He was the perfect human expression of God, and, in seeing him, they saw and experienced God.


Jesus as Word and Wisdom

The insight into Jesus’ unique love and integrity developed over time in the community of the Beloved Disciple. The community was convinced that, in Jesus, God had entered the world. But, how could the infinite, unknowable God take on finite, human flesh? 

To answer their query, the community of disciples turned to their Scriptures. There they found images and words to help their search. The Scriptures had spoken of the Wisdom of God, understanding it as an attribute or characteristic of God, which, at times, they poetically personified.

The Scriptures. The Book of Proverbs (c.600 B.C.) had spoken of this mysterious figure, Wisdom:

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago...
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth…
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always... [Proverbs 8:22-31]

The Book of Wisdom – produced by Diaspora Jews, possibly as late as 40 B.C., and reflecting obvious Hellenistic influence – had also written of Wisdom, coupling it with a second image, the creating word:

“O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy,
who have made all things by your word,
and by your wisdom have formed humankind …
With you is wisdom, she who knows your works
and was present when you made the world … [Wisdom 9:1-2,9]

Hellenistic Philosophy. At the same time that the Christian community was struggling to find words to speak of Jesus, the writings of contemporary secular philosophy offered it the widely understood Greek concept of Logos – a concept that was quite familiar in the Hellenistic world of the time. “Logos” can be translated accurately as both “word” and “reason”. Philosophers used it to refer to the rationality that pervaded creation and the order that so fascinated them. Those philosophers who accepted the necessity of a creator accepted, also, that the creator operated according to reason.

Christian Insight. The disciples’ familiarity with both scriptural Wisdom and the Hellenistic Logos enabled them to move more deeply into the mystery of Jesus. They made the tremendous passage from metaphor to reality. The Word was real, and on a par with God: the Word was toward God; somehow, the Word was God.

Then, with a bold change of image, the mysterious, incomprehensible God was identified as Father; and the Word, the revelation of God, become flesh in Jesus, was the Son – near to the Father’s heart.

Next >> John 1:19-28