If I had been on the Councils of Hippo and Carthage when the books of the Renewed Covenant were canonized, I would have started the canon with the book of John. It would have been the perfect parallel beginning with Genesis.
Let us look at the two opening scriptures of the Hebrew Bible and the Renewed Covenant:
“In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth. The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of G-d hovered over the surface of the water.” (CJB Gen. 1:1-2)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d. He was with G-d in the beginning. All things came to be through him, and without him, nothing made had being.” (CJB John 1:1-3)
Beresheet… in the beginning. This Hebrew word points to the start or the head of something. Basically, Genesis is saying that in the beginning, at the start of all things, there was G-d. He was the head or King of all creation. The Genesis account tells us who we are and why we are here.
However, the beresheet of John tells us who our Creator is, and it does so in terms that are almost mystical in nature. We think we understand…
…but do we really?
Let us look at the word “logos.” It originally meant word, speech, account, reason, but pre-Socratic Greek philosophers began to use it as an impersonal term for a non-theistic principle of order and knowledge in the universe. To put it in modern terms, it was the computer code of the universe that ran invisibly in the background that kept all things working as it should. To Aristotle and the Sophists, it was considered a force without compassion or passion, a working of logic that was perfect and irrefutable. It was the rational operation of the universe. It was almost mathematical in essence. Mr. Spock, anyone?
To these philosophers, logos brought enlightenment or reason. According to Steven Service in his book The Lost and Forgotten Gospel of the Kingdom: A First Century Hebraic Perspective, by the third century CE, this Greek mindset had become the dominant force in the Western world. Greek thought demanded logical explanations in order to legitimize, approve of, or accept anything.
In this rational universe, an idea or object had to be described in non-contradictory terms in order to be believed. It did not allow for the unexplained, the mystical, or the supernatural. They boxed the infinite into the finite, and nothing was allowed to act outside of reason or logic.
But John was not a Greek nor was he a Sophist philosopher. He was a Hebrew, a follower of the true G-d, the miraculous G-d, and an apostle of the messiah, Yeshua. He understood the term “logos” to mean so much more than an impersonal term for logic and order in the universe. But translating into different languages can remove meaning from the original as the translator seeks to come up with terms as close to the original context of the work but that is also familiar with his readers as well. In Hebraic tradition from the time of Abraham and onward, the term “word” was understood as the mysterious manifestations of G-d that would come into the world in order to bring the Kingdom/reign of G-d.
The Hebrew term דבר or “devar” is translated as logos or word. Many say that this is in the sense of written text, a word, or a thing. However, according to Service, the overwhelming number of occurrences in the scripture where devar serves as an indication of a direct, personal encounter with the living G-d is numerous. After looking up the word devar in Strong’s, I found that these instances of a personal encounter with Hashem could not be ignored. Let’s take one example: Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 1. (I’ll just use a scattering of verse numbers to keep this post from being overly long, but please feel free to read the chapter entirely for yourself.)
The word (devar) of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians.[a] There the hand of the Lord was on him.
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved….
Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”
Now you may think, “Ok… the writer’s just setting up the environment for when someone speaks. We’ve got some description going on here, and we’ll eventually find out what the word was that came to Ezekiel. Someone begins talking at the end of the chapter and this “talking” continues into the next chapter, so there is information being given.
However, this was more than just the conveyance of information! This was not a sterile “he said, she said” conversation or instruction or revelation. This was an encounter with the living Word… capital W … of G-d.
Understand, to a reader with an Eastern mindset such as what the Hebrews were accustomed, dreams, visions, angelic visitations, miracles, the activity of G-d’s Spirit…these were all seen as mysterious manifestations of “the word.” They were all one and the same. Steven Service states, “The Eastern mindset, so easily accepting of divergent expansive contexts of reality, infinite with complexity and far reaching in its estimation of reasonable possibility, was always advancing the scope of the knowledgebase with ongoing questions and descriptions.”
How do we reconcile the mystical and the practical? How do we know what is worthy of consideration and not just woo-woo stoner weirdness?
For starters, the sages considered the Work of Creation (Genesis 1) a subject of deep, profound mysticism, filled with hard-to-understand secrets and divine wisdom. They thought if you studied it, it could reveal truths and insights, but they also thought that study dangerous because the revelations and knowledge revealed would lead to blasphemous heresies. The Mishnah ruled that the mystical secrets found in the Work of Creation could not be taught publicly or privately unless it was one-on-one with a disciple. No more than one person at a time could be tutored by a rabbi into this mystical revelation because it was so easy to come away with a wrong interpretation of what one was reading and learning, and that could impact the faith of the nation.
Rabbinic literature reveals some of these secrets. For example, we find that Messiah was present with G-d in some way at the creation. It was also taught that G-d created all things through an agent. In some places this agent is call Torah, in some places, the Word, and in other places it is called Wisdom. And in the Aramaic Targums, it is called Ma’amar, Dibber, or Memra.
We see this a lot in Proverbs. The book personifies Wisdom throughout its chapters. Proverbs 3:19 states, “Adonai by wisdom founded the earth.” In Proverbs 8:22-31, wisdom claims she was there at the time of creation, that she stood side-by-side with Adonai and worked with him in establishing the foundations of the earth. She says she was there with G-d before anything else – before the depths of the ocean, before the mountains, before the waters above and below.
You may be thinking that we have some kind of female goddess thing going on here. Not at all. Wisdom is not a separate person from G-d—it is a unique aspect of himself. The literary device used here is almost anthropomorphic in a sense, which is the term used in literature for attributing human characteristics to something that by its nature is not human. It is man’s feeble, feeble attempts to understand the infinite while being contained in the finite.
The Targums make Wisdom into a co-creator with G-d: “From the beginning, with Wisdom the Lord created and perfected the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 Targum Neofiti
And Paul, in 1 Corinthians, refers to Yeshua as “the wisdom of G-d.” He also says in 1 Corinthians that Messiah is “G-d’s wisdom in a mystery” which was hidden before the creation.
To the rabbis, G-d’s Torah and His Wisdom were one and the same. The book of Sirach provides this transition from Wisdom to Torah. Sirach 24 says that Wisdom is “the book of the covenant of the most high G-d, even the Torah which Moses commanded for a heritage under the congregation of Jacob.”
Now, the rabbis do not imagine that the pre-existent Torah is the literal books of Moses written on a scroll. Instead, the supernatural Torah is G-d’s pure Wisdom. It is the distinct essence of G-d by which he created the universe.
In Targum Jonathan we find the “word of the Lord G-d” walking in the garden as Adam and Havah hid themselves after eating the fruit. And in Targum Jerusalem, see how Adonai responds to their attempts to hide themselves:
“And the Word of the Lord G-d called to Adam, and said to him, Behold, the world which I have created is manifest before Me; and how thinkest thou that the place in the midst whereof thou art, is not revealed before Me?”
However, as the divorce between Judaism and Christianity solidified, the Hebraic concept of the Spirit of G-d being seen in the living manifestations of the “the Word” passed from usage and was forgotten. The Greek worldview of logic and reason came to be the lens through which we read and interpreted scripture. How much of the mystical and awe-inspiring presence of Adonai that we lost! The belief in the miraculous possibility of everyday encounters with the living presence of G-d was replaced with creeds, with mathematical statements of faith.
Our Messiah, Yeshua, the “wisdom of G-d,” the One that was with Him before creation, came to us in the form of a man, lived with us in the flesh, and once crucified and risen again, inhabits every believer. How much do we experience the awe-inspiring presence of our Messiah in our lives? Are we living as if the Spirit of the living and true G-d inhabits us?
The multiple facets of G-d are too numerous to count. He is not a finite concept that can be boxed in. He is not a computer code that is unable to act outside of reason and logic. While we must be careful that we don’t begin to attribute to G-d every New Age fallacy that comes our way, that we don’t succumb to the heretical and blasphemous, I also understand why Yeshua said in Matthew 18:2-3: “He called a child to him, stood him among them, and said, ‘Yes! I tell you that unless you change and become like little children, you won’t even enter the Kingdom of Heaven!’”
It is only through the innocent eyes and nature of a child that we open ourselves up to the miraculous nature that is inherent in our G-d. It is only in surrendering our rational mind to other possibilities that we become open to the limitless manifestations that exist within the nature of our G-d. It is only then that we can begin to experience the indwelling of the infinite G-d who desires to walk and talk with us.
He cannot be contained.
He will not be contained.
Are you prepared for an encounter with the living Word?
Service, Stephen:The Lost and Forgotten Gospel of the Kingdom: A First Century Hebraic Perspective
First Fruits of Zion: Chronicles of the Messiah