John 1:10-18

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

The prologue to the Gospel of John is spoken by John as the storyteller. It may have been a hymn, so he may have sung it. Whether it was sung or chanted or told in a more prosaic tone, it's an expression of great joy and wonder. So the introduction to the Gospel is this hymn of joy, praise, and thanksgiving at the wonder of the Logos.

The hymn is directly addressed to the listeners. It is not a theological proclamation. It is rather a description in poetic terms of what's going to follow later in the story. It's John's version of a birth story and it answers the question, When did Jesus become the son of God? The answer in Mark is that this happens at Jesus' baptism. In Matthew and Luke it occurs at his conception. In John Jesus becomes the son of God at the very beginning of creation. Jesus has always been the Son of God. The Logos has been eternally present as an integral part of God in all of creation.

This hymn establishes Jesus as a greater man than any of the other men of antiquity about whom there were birth stories; for instance, Augustus and Alexander and Plato. The stories of their births are also associated with a kind of virgin birth; that is, their mothers conceived without their fathers being involved. But in each case their mothers are wrapped around by a snake who was a representative of the god—in most instances Apollo, but also Zeus. The god was the source of the pregnancy. One of the things that's striking about these stories (they are available in the Sources of the Gospels book) is that they are not even remotely as good as the stories about Jesus. Jesus' stories are much more interesting; they're much more compelling and have had much greater impact in the history of civilization. The degree to which Jesus' mother, the Virgin Mary has been revered throughout history is in part a direct reflection of their impact.

In the prologue there is that same kind of delight on a cosmic scale in which John is describing the birth of Jesus in relation to the presence of the Logos from the very beginning of time. The interpretation and understanding of the Logos that is reflected in the Johannine hymn is a development of Jewish wisdom tradition, specifically the tradition of Sofia.

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