As I continue teaching the Gospel of John, as an introduction to Christology, in my jail ministry, I am amazed at how critical this basic sort of teaching of Christianity is for the inmates.
The jailhouse environment both helps and hinders the inmates in their Christian study. On one hand, they have nothing but time to study the faith, read scripture, and pray. On the other hand, religions of all stripes and sizes run wildly in jail, without regulation. They receive an Orthodox bible study from me on Thursday, but on Monday there might be a nondenominational preacher coming in. On Tuesday, a Jehovah’s Witness, Wednesday, a Mormon, and Islam is all around, always challenging the gospel of Christ. Not to mention the dozens of other theories — of space aliens building Martian pyramids before colonizing earth, of Knights Templars and other global domination conspiracies, of televangelists who promise riches to those who touch their TV screens during their prayers.
So our only hope is to continue to teach and try to get the men to see the value of living a life of repentance.
So without further adieu, let us turn to the book. We are moving at a crawl through the Prologue, Chapter 1, because these passages are major tenets of the Christian faith and need to be understood properly. We must seek to apprehend clearly the opening statement of the gospel. We have spent weeks drinking it in and digesting it, and trying to allow it to make sense to us. We read with the Father’s commentaries nearby, so we don’t fall into the snare of private interpretation.
But first, about the writer. The Apostle John is known as St. John the Evangelist in the West. But in the East, he is regarded as St. John the Theologian. A “theologian” is among the highest honorifics that can be bestowed upon a man. John is the original theologian of the Church, outside of Christ, of course. He was to give us the most important literal foundations of the Christian faith.
The Gospel opens, In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning, with God. (John 1:1-2)
We know who recorded it, but who uttered this? Who conveyed that concept that the Word was a co-originate part of the godhead?
Answer: The third part of the godhead — the Holy Spirit. And for good reason too. St Basil the Great wrote, “The Holy Ghost foresaw that men would arise, who should envy the glory of the Only-Begotten, subverting their hearers by sophistry; as if because He were begotten, He was not; and before He was begotten, he was not. That none might presume then to babble such things, the Holy Ghost says, In the beginning was the Word.”
The Holy Spirit does not get discussed until later in the gospel, when Jesus says, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17).
We needed to know, also, that the Christ the Word was with God outside of time, before the beginning, so to speak. “From the beginning He is with God; and though independent of time, is not independent of an author,” said Hilary of Poitiers. St. John Chrysostom wrote that, “God was never solitary, apart from Him, but always God with God.”
Also, we must understand that although the Father and the Son share the same godhead, they differ in personal identity. “From the Word being with God, it follows plainly that there are two Persons. But these two are of one Nature; and therefore it proceeds, In the Word was God: to show that the Father and Son are of one nature, being of One Godhead,” wrote the Blessed Theophylact.
In a sense, it may be easier to comprehend the triune God in His role as creator of both space and time. Added St Hilary, “He is infinite by Whom everything, which is, was made: and since all things were made by Him, time is likewise.”
And a brief word on this concept of beginning. This prologue is a different kind of genesis account, far different in tone than the rendering in the Book of Genesis: In John’s Gospel, the emphasis is on the creator, not the creation. “Moses indeed, in the beginning of the Old Testament, speaks to us in much detail of the natural world, saying, In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth; and then relates how that the light, and the firmament, and the stars, and the various kinds of animals were created. But the Evangelist sums up the whole of this in a word, as familiar to his hearers; and hastens to loftier matter, making the whole of his book to bear not on the works, but on the Maker,” wrote St John Chrysostom.
John’s Gospel is far different from other books compiled in the Bible, because it is interested in the spiritual before all else. It begins the foundation on the eternality of God and the reality of the godhead. All else follows from that, and the story of Christ’s emergence into His ministry flows from this purest form of theology.