In the Beginning was the Logos or the Memrah?
Over the last several years I have, through my interactions on the internet, become convinced that we in the 21st century make a lot of mistakes in our interpretation of scripture because we modern Christians do not understand the people or the cultures of scripture. To help correct any misunderstandings I may have of the Gospels, I am currently listening to Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s bible study Life of Messiah from a Jewish Perspective. This has certainly reinforced how important I believe it is to understand the time and place where scripture was written. Scripture must be interpreted in the time in which it is written!
I recently listed to Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s lecture on the first chapter of John which famously begins:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Greek word for “word” is logos and in Greek philosophy includes the concepts of reason and speech. Most commentaries on the Gospel of John begin by delving into these meanings of logos in more or less depth. The idea being that John was trying to show how the Messiah fulfilled the goals of Greek philosophy in both reason (the idea of God) and speech (the expression of God).
However, there is a problem with approach: John was a Jewish fisherman and a disciple of Jesus Christ not a Greek philosopher. What John was familiar with was Jewish theology of the first century A.D. and that Jewish theology had plenty to say about “the word” but “the word” was not “the logos” it was “the memrah” (Strong’s 0565).
There were six conclusions that the Rabbis had come to about the memrah:
- The memrah was sometimes distinct from God and sometimes it was the same as God. This was a paradox that they never tried to explain. Of course it can be explained in terms of the trinity. Notice that John brings both these themes out in verse 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
- The memrah was the agent of creation. This was developed from passages such as Genesis 1 where God spoke and things came into being. John brings this out in verse 3:
All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.
- The memrah was the agent of salvation. In the Old Testament God always saved by means of his word (memrah). This salvation could be either physical or spiritual. John brings this thought into this passage in verse 12:
But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name:
- The memrah was the means by which God becomes visible. In the Old Testament God became visible by means of his memrah which we call theophanies but the Jews called shekinah’s (shekinah means to tabernacle or dwell among). Now, look at what John does in verse 14:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.
Dr. Fruchtenbaum was also careful to point out that the word to dwell here is not the usual Koine Greek word to dwell. Rather, it is the word “skene” (skay-nay) which is the Hellenized version of shekinah. So, according to this verse, His glory tabernacled (shekinah’ed) among us. I think that is really cool!
- The memrah was the agent of revelation. The Jewish Rabbis developed this concept because there are many passages in the Old Testament with the form: “the word came to …” John brings this concept in in verse 18:
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
It is through the Son that the Father is being revealed.
- The means by which God signed His covenants was by means of His memrah. There were eight covenants in the Old Testament, three made with of mankind and five with the Jewish people, and all were signed by means of the memrah. This sixth point was not made as obvious in this passage but is alluded to in verse 17:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
This is some good stuff. If these six points are Jewish rabbinical teaching from the first century A.D. then I don’t see how John could have accidentally touched on all of them like this.
I’m going to memorize these and use them on the next Jehovah’s Witness who knocks on my door!