Jesus - The Word of God
Fr. Thomas Hopko · May 2, 2009
Ask the average Christian today to define the "Word of God," and he will probably say "The Bible." Fr. Thomas says Jesus is the Word, not just a word of God. He takes us to the first chapter of John to begin today's study.
We have been reflecting on the various names and titles of Jesus as found in the Holy Scriptures and then, of course, used in the liturgy of the Church. We mentioned already that the very word “Jesus” means “savior” or “victor” or “conqueror.” “Christ” is the “anointed one,” the Christ, the Messiah. Then we reflected on how Jesus the Christ is “the Son of God,” and how that is understood in the Church; how Jesus is the Lord, Kyrios; how he is called the “I am,” the “Egō eimi,” the name given to Moses on the mountain in the burning bush, the “Yahweh.” And then we reflected on Jesus as “God,” the title “theos, God.”
Now we want to reflect on the fact that in the Scripture and in the liturgy, Jesus is called “God’s Word” or “the Word of God.” And here we have again—we have to always point out—the definite article: the Word, not a word, but the Word. The entitling of Jesus, or the naming of Jesus as the Word of God, and even “the Word, being God,” is virtually, exclusively a Johannine term, to use the technical jargon. In other words, it’s found in the writings attributed to St. John the Theologian.
We do not find Jesus being called “the Word of God” in the synoptic Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, although certainly in those Gospels, he is the embodiment of God. He is the one who announces the words of God. And that in those Gospels he himself even without using the expression is certainly the Word itself incarnate, meaning that in his life, he interprets, he fulfills, he exemplifies, he completes all of the words of God as the unique, personal Word of God. But he is not called “the Word,” and the same thing is true about the writings attributed to St. Paul. All of the writings attributed to St. Paul do not call him “the Word of God.”
The letter to the Hebrews does give Jesus characteristics that are given to the Word of God in the Gospel according to St. John, but he is never called exactly “the Word of God” in the letter to the Hebrews. But in all of the above writings, all of them, he is called “the Son of God.” For example, in the letter to the Hebrews, it says, it begins with the words, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners”—this is the King James Version—“spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son”—or “by a son”—“whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he created the ages.”
That kind of an expression, “the Son who is the heir of all things,” you find that always in St. Paul, but “by whom also he created the ages,” or the worlds, “being himself the brightness of the glory of God, the express image of the Father’s Person,” certainly these… in substance, this is what would be said in the writings of St. John when they use the expression “the Word of God.” But let’s see now exactly what is said about Jesus being “the Word of God.”
Of course, we have to go first, and it’s just very normal that we would go first, to the opening verses of the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. This Gospel is read at the Paschal Divine Liturgy, on the very Sunday of the Resurrection of Christ, at the Divine Liturgy of the festival of the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, the Holy Pascha. This is what we hear at the holy Eucharist service, the Divine Liturgy, and it goes like this. This is how it sounds in Greek: “En archē ēn ho logos kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon kai theos ēn ho logos.”
And usually that’s translated: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was pros ton theon”—was with God, or was about God or was accompanying God. Some modern translations say the Word was “in the heart of God” or “closest to the heart of God.” And then it says, “kai theos ēn ho logos”—and the Logos was God. The Logos was divine. He is called “theos.” And we already reflected on this, so we will not return to it again, but that the Logos is really considered to be God. He is God together with God. He is God from God, as the Nicene Creed would say.
In St. John’s Gospel, where it says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” it continues: “And this one, he, was in the beginning pros ton theon”: with God or around God or together with God. And then it says that all things came to be through him: “panta di aftou egeneto”—all things came to be through him—“and without him—kai chōris aftou—nothing that came to be, came to be.” It’s very nice in Greek: “Kai chōris aftou egeneto oude en ho gegonen”: anything that did [come] to be did not come to be without him.
And then it says [that] in him was life, and the life was the light of men, and that this light was shining in the darkness, and that this light, which is illumining all men, was coming into the world. This is where, I should say, we find the very first, very clear, absolutely indisputable affirmation that there is the Word of God, and that this Word is divine and that he is with God and that all things came to be through this Word, and the life of God and the life of all things was in this Word, and the light of God and the light of all things was in this Word.
In contemplating this, the holy Fathers, for example. St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, the great Father of the First Ecumenical Council, but certainly those whom we call the Cappadocian Fathers—St. Basil the Great; St. Gregory the Theologian; and then, of course, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil’s brother; and then, later on, John Chrysostom, and virtually all the Fathers through history—reflecting on these verses, they say what we must understand, and if you read the whole Bible, the whole skopos of the Scripture, you will understand this, namely, that God Almighty, the one true and living God, is never without his Word, that his Word abides with him. The Word is together with him. The Word is not him; he is different from the Word, and the Word is the Word of God, but there never was “when there was no Word of God.”
As Athanasius would put it, “God is never alogos.” “Alogos”: wordless. God is never without his Word. He can’t be Wordless. Because in Athanasius, and in the other meditations of the other Fathers, they would say this, “How could you understand God who is not logikos? How can you understand God who is not having a Word?” He cannot be dumb. He cannot be without understanding. He has to have a Word.
And it will also be argued that God has to have a Spirit. He has to have a pneuma. There must be the Spirit of God. And then the argument would be: There not only has to be, but it is witnessed, in Scripture and by the saints, that God is never without his Word and never without his Spirit, and the Spirit of God and the Word of God are together with God from the very beginning and are divine with the very same divinity that God has, because they are God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
But we’re looking at “the Word” right now: the Word. So the point would be: You cannot contemplate God and his revelation to us without also contemplating his Word, and that, as a matter of fact, that Word is the agent, is the one through whom God makes himself known. It’s the one through whom God reveals himself. It’s the one, when God speaks, it is that Word that is speaking. It is that word that is delivered. It’s that Word that is heard. And there never was “when the Word was not.”
So in the history of doctrine, we know that Arius, the heretic there in the fourth century, and those who followed him, Eunomians and others, were saying that the one God is the one God without his Word; he doesn’t need his Word, but he kind of brings his Word into being from the very beginning, as a kind of a creature, that somehow God creates a Word for himself. Well, this would be considered absolutely unorthodox. It would be considered totally wrong, totally not biblical, and absolutely incomprehensible and irrational when you contemplate not only the Scriptures, but when you think, in contemplating the Scriptures, how God himself must be.
God always has his Word with him, and that Word abides with him. It is in him. You might even say, in modern American English, “The Word of God, the Logos of God, is an element of God’s very own being.” God is with his Word, and he does not exist without his Word, and his Word is divine with the same divinity as God himself is. And the same thing will be said about the Spirit. And that is why Christians, Orthodox Christians, believe that divinity, the Godhead, is the one God and Father, the Word, and the Spirit: Father, Word, and Spirit.
Already in St. John’s Gospel, in the prologue, the Word of God—the logos theou or ho logos tou theou, the Word of the God, with definite articles—is identified with the Son of God. That the Son of God, the ho huios tou theou, the Son of God… We already reflected on the Son of God, but the point we want to make now is [that] the Son of God and the Logos of God, the Word of God, are exactly the same person. They’re the same hypostasis. They’re the same reality. They’re the same being. They’re not two different or distinct persons. They are one and the same.
In a sense, “Son of God” and “Logos of God” are synonymous in the fact that they both refer to the same reality, the same person, or, in technical language, it’s the same hypostasis. But they are different names, and they connote different things, different realities. When you think of God as Son, you think of certain things. When you think of God as Word, you think of other things. Now, they’re deeply interrelated, and they cannot be separated, but there is this nuance, this distinction.
I can say now, right from the beginning, that one of the nice ways this was put in modern theology was by Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae, a Romanian Orthodox theologian of the 20th century, who was persecuted violently by the Communists. He was imprisoned. While he was imprisoned, he wrote manuals of dogmatic theology. He translated lives of saints. He translated the Philokalia writings into Romanian. He wrote many essays. He is [an] absolutely marvelous man, a genius, and, most likely a saint. He probably should be canonized someday as one of the greatest confessors of the Faith, and passion-bearers, theologians and holy men of the end of the 20th century.
But Fr. Stăniloae said in one of his writings, he said,
The second Person of the divine Trinity is called ‘Son, the Son of God,’ because God is love. And if God is love, he must express himself perfectly in another person and share his total being with that other person. And therefore he does do that, and that person is called his Son, and that is the one who was born of the Virgin Mary on earth as the man Jesus. He’s the Son of God.
But then when Fr. Dumitru was contemplating this expression, “the Logos of God, the Word of God,” he said, “The reason that that same second Person of the Godhead, the one who is named ‘the Son,’ is also named ‘the Word, the Logos,’ ” he said, “it’s because God is truth.” That God is ultimate reality. He’s the truth of all things. He is real. And therefore, his self-expression as truth is called the Logos. It’s called Word.
Because God is the truth, his Son is called the Word. Because God is love, this Word is called his Son. And then we will see later on that Fr. Stăniloae also said, “Because God is absolutely divine beauty, the same Son, the same Logos, will be called his eikona, his icon.” So that the Son of God, the Word of God, and the image of God, the icon of God, are one and the same Person. We will reflect on Jesus as the icon or the image of God at another time, but we want to meditate now on Jesus as the Word of God.
In this prologue of the Gospel according to St. John, that begins with the words:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and nothing came to be that came to be without him. In him was life. The life was the light of men. This light was shining in the darkness. The darkness could not comprehend it.
And it was this light that was coming into the world. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. The prologue continues by saying that this Logos, who is the light of the world and the life of the world—and we will contemplate Jesus as light and life at a future time, at another time—it says he was in the world, and the world was made by him, that the world came to be through him. The world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.
This is not referring to the Incarnation and to Jesus of Nazareth. The holy Fathers interpret this as meaning just in the very act of creation, the Word of God was present in all things that existed. And here, some of the Church Fathers, like St. Justin the Philosopher in the third century, later on St. Maximus the Confessor in the seventh century, will say that in everything that exists, there is the presence of the Logos. Or they might even put it another way: a logos. There is a word of God in everything that exists, and that word is what makes that thing to be what it is. It makes a human being to be a human being. It makes a tree to be a tree, a dog to be a dog, a star to be a star. And there’s this multiplicity of logoi, of words of God.
St. Augustine, by the way, taught the same thing there, called in Latin, the kind of ratio, the logoses or the words. But anyway, the idea is that there’s a kind of scattering of the words of God in all created reality, and so that within everything that exists you can come to know the Word through the specific word that is dwelling in that particular creature.
Well, maybe now is not the time to talk about that at any greater length, but it’s certainly something for you to think about. Maybe we’ll talk about it in the future. But in any case, the point is that what is perfectly united in the Logos of God gets expressed in creation, through the Logos, in all things that exist. Therefore, this prologue will say that the true light and the Logos was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him, meaning that people did not recognize the presence of God in creation.
Here the Apostle Paul will even claim that people should recognize the presence of God in creation. St. Paul says it in his own way in the first letter to the Romans, where he said that the divinity, the theotis, and the power, the dynamis, of God is in all things that exist, and that if human beings only were ready to glorify God and to thank God, they would see the presence of God—his divinity, his divine energies, his powers, his splendors, his glories—in everything that exists, and that would be the Logos, that would be the Logos himself, that that would be known in all the different things that exist, that are expressions of the divine Logos in creaturely form.
So this is a Scriptural teaching, but as the holy Fathers like Justin Martyr and Maximus would say, that in this sense, the Word of God was in the world, through creation itself, and it should be recognized by people and would be recognized if we would glorify God, thank God, have a pure heart, we would see God. We would see God through his Logos and “the seeds of his Logos,” as St. Augustine said, in everything that exists. And the reason that we don’t is because we refuse to glorify God and to thank God and to purify our heart and therefore to be able to see.
So we’re in blindness, darkness. As Maximus the Confessor would say, we are in agnoia; we are in ignorance. We can’t see. We’re blinded by our own fallenness, our own apostasy, our human apostasy. And we pass on that darkness and blindness to our progeny, to our offspring, our children. And so we are all dwelling in darkness.
Then it says, in the prologue of John, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him. The world knew him not. He came into his own people”—his own he came to—“and his own did not receive him.” And then it continues:
But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become children of God, even those to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Even here it seems that most of the Church Fathers would not see this text as referring to the Incarnation of Jesus, the coming of Jesus. They would see it as the fact that the Word came to his own in Israel, that God chose Israel. They were his chosen people. They were there. He gave his Word to them. He gave his Torah, his Law, which in Hebrew is called “his word.” It’s interesting that in Hebrew the Ten Commandments—what we call in English the Ten Commandments—are called the ten words of God. They are called the words.
In Hebrew, the expressions “law,” “precept,” “commandment,” “statute,” “ordinance,” they are all “words,” and they are all synonymous. For example, if you read Psalm 119 (LXX 118), the real long one that is chanted over the Tomb of Jesus on Great and Holy Friday, you see how they have all these different words for exactly the same thing: the expression of God in his revelatory words that he gave in his commandments and in his laws that he gave to the people of Israel. But here it says, “He came to his own people, and his own people did not receive him.” But then it claims, “As many as did receive him, who believed in his name, they were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In other words, they are sons of God. And here in the Bible, and even in the liturgy of the Orthodox Church, Israel is called God’s firstborn son.
There’s a beautiful hymn on Great and Holy Friday night—which is actually the matins of the Great and Holy Sabbath, Saturday—“Israel, my firstborn son, did not receive me.” And that is a kind of doxological or hymnographical reference to this particular text in John. He came to his own, but generally his own did not receive him. If they received him, as many as did receive him, they were given power to be called his sons.
Of course, ultimately, this coming in Israel is the coming of the Messiah. It’s the coming of Jesus. So now you get to the 14th verse of the prologue, which, according to the Russian writer Dostoyevsky, is the essence of the Christian faith. If people ask, “What really makes Christianity Christianity? What distinguishes Christianity from all the other philosophies, teachings, spiritual paths, laws, ethical systems?” If you like to use that word, “religions,” although I hate to, because I hate thinking of Christianity as a “religion.” Christianity is not one of the religions. There aren’t any “lots of religions.” There are religions, but religions are man-made things. Christianity is a revelation of God.
You get to the 14th [verse], which many believe is the very heart, the very substance, essence of the Christian faith: what makes Christianity Christianity, and this is what it says:
Kai ho logos sarx egeneto kai eskēnōsen en hēmin kai etheasametha tēn doxan aftou, doxan ōs monogenous para patros, plērēs charitos kai alētheias.
Which, translated, says: “And the word became flesh,” was incarnate, and usually it says in the translations, “dwelt among us.” Actually that verb, “eskēnōsen,” literally means “tabernacled among us.” Pitched his tent among us. And remember that the “skēnē” in the Old Testament was where God dwelt. It was the Tabernacle that the Israelites had to build according to the Mosaic commandment. And they had that tabernacle. Then they had the Temple. But now it says, “the Word became flesh, and he templed among us!” He became the Tabernacle among us. He lived as the Tabernacle of God among us. He dwelt among us.
Then it says, “And we beheld his glory.” We saw his glory, and that’s a technical term, too, in Hebrew. “Glory” is in Greek “doxa.” In Slavonic, “slava.” In Hebrew, it is “kabod,” the “kabod Yahweh.” And where you had the shekhinah, which was the divine splendor, you had the glory of God, and it was dwelling in the Tabernacle in the Old Testament.
Now it says, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory there.” The glory was in him now. And then it says, “The glory [as] of an only-begotten from a father.” And there are no definite articles there. It’s not “the only-begotten son from the father,” but “we saw glory as of an only-begotten from a father.” And of course the father is God, and Jesus is showing the glory of God as an only-begotten. And an only-begotten means the only one that can do this, the only one of its kind. There isn’t any other. No other exists.
And here, when you have the only-begotten of the Father, then he’s a son. What you have there is the identification of the Logos of God with the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father. And then it says, “This only-begotten of the Father is full of grace and of truth.” Full of grace and of truth. And then, in the 16th verse, it says, “And of his fullness”—of this plēres, of his fullness: “ek tou plērōmatos aftou,” of his fullness—”we, all of us have received”—and then it says a wonderful expression: “charin anti charitos”—“grace instead of grace.” Grace instead of grace. Grace on top of grace. Grace in place of grace. This is what we have received. It’s a nice expression that means one grace upon another grace upon another grace upon another grace, infinite.
And then the next verse says, “For the Law (the nomos) was given through Moses, but the grace and the truth”—and here you have definite articles: “hē charis kai hē alētheia, the grace and the truth”—“came to be through Jesus Christ.” So now you have the Logos identified with the Son, identified with Jesus Christ. And already here, he’s called “Jesus Christ, Jesus Messiah.”
Then the last verse is: “No person has ever seen God.” No one has ever seen God. Then it says, “monogenēs huios” or “monogenēs theos”: “No one has ever seen God, the only-begotten God” or “the only-begotten Son”—those are two different readings; we talked about that before—”ho ōn eis ton kolpon tou patros”—who is existing; he’s the existing one, in the very bosom or the loins or the innards, in the very being of the Father—”ekeinos (that one) exēgēsato—has revealed him, has declared him, has exegeted him, has made him known.” So here, you have the Logos, the only-begotten Son, the only-begotten God, and Jesus Christ identified as the very same person.
What does that mean, that he’s called “the Word of God”? Before we get into that, we should just make a little notation and to remember that in the Book of Revelation, Jesus himself is called “the Word of God,” and, of course, the Book of Revelation is considered to be also a Johannine work, that it is St. John who wrote it or it’s someone of the St. John school that wrote it, but it’s very important to read this, what we find in Revelation, because it’s another witness to the fact that Holy Scripture calls Jesus “the Word of God, the logos tou theou.”
And here’s how it sounds in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The seer, John, who writes the Apocalypse, he says this. It’s in Revelation 19:13. He says:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. He who sat upon it is called faithful and true, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God.
The Word of God. And let me keep reading:
And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him, the Word of God, on white horses. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations.
And in the letter to the Hebrews the Word of God is called a two-edged sword that cuts through the bones and marrow, the veins, the tendons of a person, cuts to the very heart. So that identification of the Word of God with a sword, a sharp sword, two-edged sword: you have this here: “[From] his mouth issues a sharp sword [with] which to smite the nations.”
And he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
And then it says:
And on his robe and on his thigh, he has a name inscribed: King of kings and Lord of lords.
Now the name that’s inscribed, that no one knows but himself, we don’t know what that is, that secret name of God. In Pauline language, it would be “the Name above every name,” the name that is known to God alone, the mystical name that is above every name. And in St. Paul, that name would be “Jesus.” It would be “the victor.” It would be “the conqueror.”
But here in Revelation, it says, “He is clad in a robe dipped in blood.” Of course, that’s pretty obvious: that he’s the crucified one. “And the name by which he is called is ho logos tou theou”: the Word of God. And it’s again with definite articles: “to onoma aftou ho logos tou theou keklētai”—has been called; “to onoma aftou ho logos tou theou”: “the name of him the word of God.”
So he’s given that name. He’s given that name in the Gospel according to St. John and in the Book of Revelation. And that is also, of course, in many, many Church services. We just have, all over the place, where Jesus is prayed to and hymned as “the Word of God.” Before we discuss what that can mean, that he is called the Word, what it does mean, let’s just remember that this is how Orthodox people sing in church.
For example, at every single Divine Liturgy, when it’s not a vesperal Liturgy, which is only a few times a year, but on every Sunday, on every major feast day, we have a hymn that is sung during the Liturgy of the Word. The first part of the Divine Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Word. It’s where people are being taught. And there’s this hymn, attributed, usually, to the Emperor Justinian, who is also in the calendar of saints in the Orthodox Church. He’s the one who built the great Hagia Sophia Cathedral, dedicated to Christ as the Wisdom of God. And we will speak about Jesus as “the Wisdom of God” later, and we will see that “Wisdom of God” is also a synonym with “Word of God,” “icon of God,” “Son of God.” These are all synonymous terms for the same Jesus.
But the hymn here of Justinian that we sing here at every Divine Liturgy begins with the words:
Only-begotten Son and Word of God, you who exist immortal (you who art immortal) and who for our salvation willed (deigned) to be incarnate (to become flesh) of the holy Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary and without changing (remaining divine), you became man and were crucified, O Christ our God, trampling down Death by death. You are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified together with the Father and the Holy Spirit: save us.
So in this hymn, Jesus is called the Son of God and the Word of God. And here’s how it sounds in Greek: “Ho monogenēs Huios kai Logos tou Theou, athanatos yparchōn”: O only-begotten Son and Word of God. Word of God. Existing, immortal: “athanatos yparchōn.” “And,” it says, “deigning, for us and for our salvation to become incarnate”—sarkōthēnai, taking flesh. It says in St. John, “The Word became flesh—ho Logos sarx egeneto.” So it says here, the Logos of God “sarkōthēnai”—became flesh—”ek tēs agias Theotokou”—from the holy Theotokos and from the ever-Virgin Mary.
And he became human without changing, and then was crucified, destroyed Death by death, and is glorified with the Father and the Spirit.
So that’s one example. I mean, another example could be some of the troparia. For example, the fifth tone in the Ochtoechos for Sunday, it goes like this: “The Word eternal (or without a beginning) together with the Father and the Spirit, is born of a Virgin for our salvation.”
The Word who with the Father and the Spirit is without beginning, is born of a Virgin for our salvation, and let us believers praise and worship, for he was pleased to ascend the cross in the flesh, to endure death, and to raise the dead by his glorious Resurrection.
Now in Greek that sounds: “Ton synanarchon Logon Patri kai Pnevmati”: the one who is without, equally without, beginning with the Father God and the Spirit of God. Now this expression, “equally without beginning,” what that means is that the Word has no beginning in time. He is in the beginning with God. He is always there with God, so he is co-“without a temporal beginning.” He has no temporal beginning. That’s what it means.
But we want to be careful here, because in the Bible and according to the Church Fathers, there’s a sense in which the Logos has his origin in the Father, because he’s the Word of God. The Son of God comes forth from God. And the holy Fathers speak of the one God and Father as the archē, the source, in Latin, the “principium,” or the fount. So very often our theology speaks of the monarchia of the Father, that the Father alone is the source. He’s the source of the Son and the Spirit, and through the Son and the Spirit, God the Father becomes the source of all that exists by creation.
But in this particular song, the point is being made that the Son and the Spirit are equally without a temporal beginning. They have no beginning in time. They are in the beginning with God, like it says in St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Here also, just as a kind of what you might call trivial point or informational point, this expression is also used very often in Orthodox churches in exclamations at the end of prayers. It will say, “Through the grace and compassion of the only-begotten Son, who is glorified together with the Father,” and it will often say “who is eternal” or “who is from everlasting” or “who is without beginning,” and that means, simply, that the Father is the source of the Son and the Spirit.
So probably a nice way to translate it would be: “Through the mercy and compassion of the only-begotten Son, from the unoriginate Father” or “from the unbegotten Father, is glorified together with the holy, good, and life-creating Spirit.” Or an exclamation could say that we give glory, honor, and worship to the Father, together with his only-begotten Son and his Holy Spirit, but [there is] that expression, that the mercy and compassion [are also] of the Son, who is glorified with the Father who has no beginning, who is from eternity.
So there are two distinct theological points that are made. One is that the Logos and the Spirit have no beginning in time. They are always together in the very, so to speak, qualities, elements, realities of the very existence of God the Father himself, who is not God without them. So that the Godhead is the Father and the Son, who is the Logos, and the Holy Spirit.
But we also want to affirm that the Son and the Spirit find their origin in the Father, eternally. St. Gregory the Theologian would say “timelessly”: in the timeless generation, the timeless proclamation of the Word that is within the Godhead itself, that is not something that belongs to the created order. It does not belong to time and space; it’s something within the divinity.
Having said these things, and there are other things… I mean, for example, I love the song, the ninth ode song, that’s read—it’s on Thursday of Holy Week; it’s on the two days before Christmas; it’s before Epiphany. It’s the ninth ode that says, “Come, let us enjoy the Master’s hospitality in the upper room with uplifted minds, and let us receive the words of the Word.” It’s such a wonderful expression: “Let’s receive the words of the Word, the exalted words of the Word whom we magnify.”
During the great feast days, we say that we’re going to “enjoy the festivities of God, and of our Master, Christ, in the banquet of immortality”—that’s the Divine Liturgy—“in the upper chamber, with uplifted minds”—it means in the very presence of the kingdom of God—“where we receive the exalted words of the Word.” So Jesus, being the Word, gives us all the words of God, all [the] different kinds of self-expressions of God. We could go through all the hymnology of the Orthodox Church, on all the great feast days, and you will find Jesus being prayed to and adored and worshiped as the Word of God, the divine Word of God who becomes human, becomes flesh, by being born of the Virgin Mary.
And here we would also say that when the Word becomes flesh, it means he becomes human. That’s how the Justinian song says. It doesn’t mean that God’s Word simply took a human body and dwelt inside it like in a temple, but the Word himself became a temple by really becoming human.
There was a heretic named Apollinaris, who said that Jesus had no nous, he had no mind, he had no spirit. The Word of God was all of his spiritual content, and then just the body was only fleshly. So he really wasn’t a real human being like we are. And St. Gregory the Theologian, among others, said, “That’s absolutely horrid. That’s not the Bible. That is not the teaching.” And that’s where St. Gregory said the famous line: “What is not assumed is not healed.” So the Word of God, by becoming human, also took, not only human flesh, but a human mind, a human soul, a human will, a human spirit. He had all those things. St. Maximus the Confessor suffered for professing this very same doctrine.
What we want to see is the following: The expression “the Word of God”... Sometimes there were scholars, especially when I was young, who would say:
Oh, that’s a Hellenistic concept. That’s not Palestinian. That’s not Jewish. It comes from the Greeks. It’s a kind of Stoic thing, that there’s a kind of logos of the creation, a cosmic logos that’s in all things, and it’s this logos that gives energy and life to reality and so on, and whoever wrote the fourth Gospel took it over and it’s a Hellenistic book. It doesn’t belong to the Hebrew tradition; it belongs to [the] Greek tradition, and therefore it’s under suspicion.
Well, I can tell you: almost nobody holds this anymore, especially since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and reading them, and then starting to read St. John in the light of the Bible, and here, when you start reading John in the light of the Old Testament Scripture, you see that the Word of God is in the Old Testament from the very beginning. Just because St. John’s Gospel calls him “Logos” doesn’t mean that you go to Greek philosophy to find out what that means, because “logos” is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew “devar” or “debar,” however it’s pronounced.
And in the Old Testament, in the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, every activity of God, God is always acting by his Word, and also, he’s always acting by his Spirit. You never find God acting in any testimony of Holy Scripture except by his Word and by his Spirit. St. Irenaeus, in the second century, said, “God has two hands.” In [the] symbolical language of Holy Scripture, God acts with his hands. One hand is his Word, and the other hand is his Spirit. One is the devar Yahweh, and the other is the ruach or the pnevma theou, the Spirit of God.
And you never have one working without the other. They’re always together. As the old saying goes in the theology schools, Orthodox ones, “God never works with one hand.” He can’t work with the Word alone without working with the Spirit. He can’t work with the Spirit unless he has the Word. And the Word is always vivified by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit himself is always bearing the Word. It’s always logikos. It always has a meaning. It always has a power, an activity, a presence of God himself.
Simply put, in the Bible you never find God without his Word and Spirit. If you look, for example, at the act of creation, God creates the world by his Word, through the Spirit. If you read just the first chapter of the Bible, it says, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. The earth was void and formless,” depending on however you’re going to translate those first words of the Bible, but then what you have is that the Spirit of God is dwelling over this abyss of nothingness, or this potentiality of being, however you want to interpret it.
So, right from the beginning, you have the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters, and then you have God speaking: “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” So God speaks. He speaks. He does it through his speech, through his act. So in Hebrew itself, the devar Yahweh, which would be translated in English “the word of the Lord”—the devar Adonai, Adonai‘s devar, the word of the Lord, of the Kyrios, the logos tou Kyriou—is also the logos tou Theou. The Word of God and the Word of the Lord are the same, because God is the Lord, the Lord is God. But just even look in a concordance and see how often the expression “the word of the Lord” or “the word of God” is used.
Psalm 33 will just say it in so many words. In the sixth verse, it’ll say, “God created the world by his Word and by his Spirit.” It’ll say—let me find it here in the Bible—it just simply says, “By the Word of the Lord, the heavens were made and all their hosts, by the breath of his mouth.” And “breath” is a synonym for “spirit.” And in Job, the Holy Spirit is called “the breath of the Almighty.” But it is this breath that vivifies and makes alive the Word of God.
St. John of Damascus put it really nicely. He said, “Whenever God breathes or acts, it’s always logikos.” The Word is always there. It’s always meaningful. It’s always a revelation. And whenever God does speak and whenever he does act, it is always living. It’s active. It’s living and active, as we already heard the Word of God called in the Letter to the Hebrews. It’s filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s inspired. Or another expression from Timothy, it’s “God-breathed.” The Word is God-breathed. The word “inspired.”
In the Old Testament you have creation done by the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Spirit. Then if you keep reading the Old Testament, you see that, for example, the Law of God, the Torah, the Law of God which are the words of God, which is the Word of God, they are all called the word of God and they are considered to be inspired, that the Holy Spirit inspires the Word of God and inspires the understanding of this Word, that this Word is not just inactive, it’s not dead. It’s alive and it has to be interpreted.
Then if you look at the Prophets—what does it say about the Prophets? It will say, “The Word of the God came to Elijah. The Word of God came to Isaiah. The Word of the Lord came to Ezekiel.” So you have the Word coming to the Prophets. When the Prophets receive the Word of God, how does it happen? It happens by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God comes upon them, and they speak the Word.
Here in the Law and in the Prophets of the Old Testament, you have no presence and action of God except by the Word and the Spirit. I even used to jest with some of my Jewish friends when I lived in New York and worked at the seminary. I would say, “You know, you folks, we think that you believe in the Holy Trinity. You just don’t want to admit it.”
They’d say, “Oh! No! There is no Trinity. There is one God, the Lord.” Sort of like a Muslim, you know.
Well, would say, “Hey, wait a minute. Don’t you believe that God has a Word? Is the devar Yahweh not divine? Is it not with God from all eternity?”
They’d say, “Of course, of course.” And the Orthodox Jews would even say the Law of Moses was pre-eternal, that it preexisted its expression in the laws that were written down in the Scripture, and then they would definitely say that the Word of God is vivified by the ruach Yahweh, by the breath of the Lord, by the Spirit of God.
And I would say to them, “You see? You believe in the one God, Yahweh Elohim, you believe in the devar Yahweh, and you believe in the ruach Yahweh, and you believe that they are always all together. Well, so do we!” So we see that as the Holy Trinity, already in the Old Testament.
When you get to the final covenant, we Christians have the outrageous belief that the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, is, in fact, that very Word in human flesh. That’s what we found in the theological Gospel of St. John: “The Word became flesh, dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” So Jesus is the Word incarnate, and as the Word incarnate, he speaks the words, he delivers the Word, and he is vivified by the Holy Spirit. And he is the Christ because the Holy Spirit is upon him, making him to be the Word.
And here we would say that by faith and by grace, every human being is created to be a word of God. We’re all created to be son—even women. We’re all created to be words, by the Holy Spirit dwelling upon us, that we could be revelations of God. But in us, that’s by grace and by faith. In Jesus, it’s by nature. He is God’s Word in human flesh. That’s who Jesus is. And therefore he makes the words known.
What we believe is that the same Word by which the world was created, which was spoken by the prophets, that was enshrined in the Law, it is that very same Word that became the man Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the Christian faith: Jesus Christ is the Word of God in human flesh.
And here we mentioned Muslims, Islam. Whenever we speak with Muslims and Islamic people, we should never say, “You have the Quran and we have the Bible.” We should say, “You believe that the Quran is the Word of God. We believe that a Person is the Word of God: Jesus of Nazareth.” And the Scriptures bear witness to the Word, but the Word is not a book, for Christians. For Christians, the Word is a Person. It’s Jesus of Nazareth, who was in the beginning with God and is the Word by whom all things were made, the Word that’s enshrined in the Torah, and the Word that the prophets spoke, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
So we never want to let anybody think that the Word of God for Christians is the Bible. It is not. The Holy Scriptures in the Bible testify to the Word, but the Word is incarnate. The Word is Jesus the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
One last thing, for today, anyway, and that is that we have to understand that in Hebrew, the expression “the word” isn’t simply a spoken word or a concept, like in Greek philosophy, like the logos. The devar—and in Hebrew actually, this is simply linguistically the truth—the word “devar,” it doesn’t only mean “word.” It means “act” and it means “thing.” So we could say: The Word of God is God’s act. The Word of God is God’s thing. And every time God speaks, he acts. And we might say, using modern slang, “He does his thing.”
So the most amazing thing for Christians is that the living God speaks. The living God acts. And here, thinking about Jews, there’s a wonderful story of a Hasid, a holy man of the Hasidic tradition, named Zusya. It said that he understood the Word of God perfectly, but he never heard it. He never ever heard it. And he was illiterate; he couldn’t read it. You say, “Well, what do you mean? How come he never heard it?” It says, “Because every time he was in synagogue, when the cantor or the reader would say, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ this Zusya would go into ecstasy.” He was so blown away by the fact that God would speak that he never heard it. But everybody said about Zusya that he knew the law of God and the Torah better than anybody, because he heard it in mystical ecstasy in the silence.
And here would be a definite teaching, that the Word of God comes out of the silence of God and leads us back into the silence of God. And the Word of God in [Greek] is “hēsychia”: it’s silent. And St. Ignatius of Antioch, in the letters, already in the early second century, said, “Whoever sees Jesus as the [utterances] of God hears also his silence” (cf. To the Ephesians, chapter 15). And Basil the Great even says, “When we read and hear the Scriptures, we hear not only the words, we hear the silence out of which they come and into which they lead us.” We interpret even the spaces between the human words which are part of the revelation of the Word.
So the Word is God’s act. The Word is God’s thing. The Word is God’s ultimate revelation in human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, the final act, the final thing of God, the final Word spoken by God, in human flesh, to reveal, ultimately. And that’s why we Christians would claim that the ultimate revelation of Jesus, of God in Jesus as the Word of God, is when he hangs silent and dead as a corpse upon the Cross and as a corpse in the Tomb. “Let all mortal flesh keep quiet, and in fear and trembling stand.” It’s silence. And in that “resounding silence”—which is an expression of St. John of the Cross: “resounding silence”—you hear the Word of God, and that Word acts in you. It cuts you. It comes into you. It inspires you. It scrubs you. It cleans you. It purifies you. Well, it’s that Word that Jesus himself really is.
So when we think of Jesus as the Word, we should not think simply of speech, and we should not think simply of writings. Certainly, we should not think of the Bible. In some sense the Bible is the word of God, but it is, St. Maximus would say, “The Bible is the Word of God incarnate in human words,” just like in the cosmos, the Word of God is incarnate in created forms, all the created forms are expressions of the Word.
So creation is an incarnation of the Word; the Scriptures are an incarnation of the Word, in words. St. Augustine said it, too: “in literas,” in words. But in Jesus of Nazareth, you have the Word himself in his own Person becoming the real human being, the real man Jesus. So he is the Word of God himself, perfectly, in the flesh, and that’s why all of his words are, in fact, “words of the Word,” as the song in the Liturgy says: “Let us listen to the words of the Word.”
When we see Jesus, hear Jesus, touch Jesus, taste Jesus, see what Jesus does, see how he acts, we are then confessing him as the Word of God, the unique Word of God, who is also the only-begotten Son and is the icon and is the Wisdom and is the peace and is the power. In fact, that’s a Paschal hymn, too. We sing, “O Pascha great and holy, Wisdom, Word of God and power.” We say that in the Liturgy: khokhmah. We say, “Sophia kai logos tou Theou kai dynamis—O Jesus, the Wisdom, the Word, and the Power of God.”
So he is the Word of God, and this is a title for our Lord Jesus Christ in Scripture. And what it means is that he is God’s ultimate, final speech; God’s ultimate, final revelation of himself; God’s ultimate and final act; God’s ultimate and final thing. He is the embodiment of God himself, as St. Paul speaks about the Torah. The Law is the embodiment of God.
Well, that embodiment of God in the Commandments literally becomes flesh and lives the human life as Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, God himself, the great “I am,” and God’s very Son. Well, he is also, as we are thinking now, the Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the personal, hypostatic Logos tou Theou, the devar Yahweh, the Word of the Lord, the Lord himself, and the Word of the Lord in human flesh, Mary’s child, Israel’s Messiah, the Savior of the whole world: Jesus Christ, the Word of God.