The first chapter of John’s gospel is a brilliantly planned invitation.
John wanted to invite both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jewish groups) to read his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. To do this, he literarily connected Jesus to concepts from both cultures. In this way, the beginning of John’s gospel is a unique invitation to read beyond the introduction into the heart of the story.
How did John invite a Jewish audience to read his gospel? Here are some examples from the first chapter.
- John 1:1 – “In the beginning…”
- this wording has obvious ties with the Old Testament story of Creation in Genesis 1:1 that opens with the same phrase.
- John 1:14 – “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
- The Greek word translated as “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled” (lived temporarily). The tabernacle/temple was the center of Jewish worship.
- John 1:29, 36 – “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
- Lambs were often used as offerings in Jewish worship ceremonies.
- John 1:51 – “Truly, Truly I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
- This recalls a dream that Jacob (a father of the Jewish faith) had in Genesis 28:10-13.
By including these references… John captured the interest of his Jewish readers by taking Old Testament stories and concepts about God (creation, tabernacle, sacrificial lamb, stairway to heaven) and connecting all of them directly to Jesus. This was a very effective way to get a Jewish audience interested in reading the rest of his gospel.
How did John invite his Gentile audience?
- John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Logos.”
The Greek word “Logos” is derived from a verb meaning “to speak”. Heraclitus (535-475 BC), a pre-Socratic philosopher, was the first to begin to develop different associations with the Greek word “logos”.
Heraclitus described all things as being in a process of continual change. His “world of change” was not chaotic, but structured by a “divine world-order”. He referred to the this as the “logos”. He further described the “logos” this way…
- the “divine controlling principle of the universe”
- that all things happen according to the logos, but that people do not understand it.
- He considered the logos to be responsible for the creation and organization of reality.
- The logos was not material in nature, but it created and controlled the material world.
John chooses to open his gospel this way (John 1-5, 14):
In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And the logos became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
When John describes Jesus as the Logos (John 1:1, John 1:14, and also in 1 John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13) he is referencing many longstanding philosophic concepts with which the Gentile world of his day would have been very familiar. It was his invitation to a Gentile audience to read further and discover the true “creator” and “organizer” of the universe.
John’s unique invitation to a diverse readership is discussed in more detail in The John Study video lesson for chapter 1. You can watch the video by visiting: THE JOHN STUDY VIDEOS page.
And remember to listen to the Rethinking Scripture Podcast podcast episodes that correspond to this post: