What and Who is the “Word of God”?
In contemplating the many words and phrases that history assigns to Jesus Christ, many titles and idioms highlighted in Sacred Scripture come to mind i.e. Rabbi, Priest, Prophet, King, Zealot, Insurrectionist, Messiah, Redeemer, Son of God and Lamb of God. The most confounding words that signify who Jesus Christ is leap out at a Christian at the very beginning of St. John’s Gospel: 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 were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. What and Who is the “Word of God”? What does this phrase mean to the Jew, Christian and Gentile? Amongst the backdrop of other Gospel Writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke) what was St. John the Apostle trying to communicate to his surrounding community? In light of these questions, this short essay examines one of the most fundamental proclamations of St. John’s Gospel namely, Jesus Christ is “The Word of God”. In order for one to understand the depths and origins of these words we shall briefly touch on the following topics; first, what is St. John trying to proclaim in his Gospel to the audience of his day; second, who is the “Word of God” according to Sacred Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church; third, why did the “Word” become Incarnate.
What is the Word of God: The “Logos”
In order to comprehend the deeper meaning behind the phrase “Word of God” one must first understand something about who St. John was evangelizing to in his Gospel and “What” is the Word of God. St. John’s writing references several allusions to scriptural and liturgical symbols associated with Israel (Jn 1:1, 29, 45, 51) etc., highlights his “Living Water” discourse with the Samaritan women at the well (Jn 4), and provides a brief story of some Greeks (Gentiles) who wished to meet with Jesus (Jn 12:20). When reading John’s gospel, the backdrop and themes appeal to both a Jewish and Greek Culture. The term “Word” or “Logos” in Greek signifies multiple meanings in Jewish and Greek antiquity – “word”, “statement, or “utterance”. The implications of its origin are profoundly philosophical and biblical. In their commentary on, The Gospel of John, Francis Martin and William Wright tell us “that while John is certainly thinking of God’s Word in the Jewish tradition, his Greek word for ‘Word’, Logos, had an established history in Greek philosophical thinking. Plato and Aristotle used the term logos for thought and speech that was rational. For the Stoics, logos was the part of the universe that made it reasonable and thus understandable by humans.” To the Greeks, the Word was God’s intelligible expression of the Universe and how he designed and governs it. In Jewish antiquity, the Word is the powerful utterance of God that brought all things into being at the birth of Creation (Gen 1:3, Ps 33:6, Wis 9:1). In the Book of Genesis (Gen 1:3) we read that “God said” meaning that He spoke or breathed creation into existence. The profound question here is can the human intellect receive God’s Divine “Word” as the Jews understand it? John’s Gospel proclaims and teaches us that in God’s infinite Wisdom he created a being or creature (humans) with natural reason and an intellect that could come to know the Ultimate Truth (God) and by a Divine Light share in his Divinity as we read in Jn 1:9 “the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world”. In other words, God created man with an intellect that could receive his Word. Furthermore, St. Thomas Aquinas explains in his Summa Theologica that “the light of natural reason itself is a participation of the divine light” and the Catechism of the Catholic Church sublimely highlights that man by his natural reason “recognizes the voice of God which urges him to do what is good and avoid what is evil.” Even the created realities surrounding man are a witness to God’s infinite Wisdom and Being (Romans 1:20). With this knowledge and understanding then, is the Word simply a concept or abstract idea outside of time and matter? Or is the Word a person with whom man could share a personal relationship with?
Who is the “Eternal Word”
To fully grasp the meaning behind the Eternal Word and “who” the Eternal Word is, one must first distinguish between the two phrases “word of God” and “Word of God”. Sacred Scripture is the “word of God” inspired by the Holy Spirit and written down by human authors. The “Word of God” is the Father’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who is the Eternal Word… born of the Father before all ages (Apostles Creed). The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, proclaims in its opening preface that “this Sacred Synod takes its direction and affirms from the opening of St. John’s Gospel that ‘We announce to you the Eternal Life (Word) which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us’ The very first lines of St. John’s Gospel illuminate precisely the pre-existence of God the Son when he says “In the beginning was the Word” connecting Jesus Christ to the origin of the “Word” into eternity past. Beneath the themes of dualism in St. John’s Gospel i.e., light and darkness, life and death, truth and lies, St. John brings to the forefront the ultimate and underlying truth of his Gospel; Jesus is the “Word of God” who existed with God the Father before all Creation. This truth begins in the Old Testament when we read of the Son’s Divine Nativity in Psalm 110:3 “Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendor; before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.”. St. John emphasizes that the “Word of God” who is Christ “was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (Jn. 1: 2-4). In (Jn. 3:34) John the Baptist testifies of the Christ that “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God….” and in (Jn. 17:5) we see the edifying testimony to the pre-existence of the “Word” when Christ’ speaks of His Eternal Divinity proclaiming “and now, Father (Abba), glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made.” In all this, St. John’s Gospel enlightens us to the truth that the “Word of God” was with the Father from all Eternity outside of time and space. Christ was begotten in the Divine Rest and unchangeable stillness of the Holy Light… born of the Father before all ages.
Why did the “Word of God” take flesh: Divine Condescension
For when the fullness of time arrived (Gal 4:4), the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us in His fullness of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). Christ established the kingdom of God on earth, manifested His Father and Himself by deeds and words, and completed His work by His death, Resurrection and glorious Ascension. In this most profound text found in Dei Verbum one can see the tenets and synthesis of our Catholic Faith. Why did God, Eternal Wisdom, become Incarnate? The profound yet simple answer is found in our fallen nature. Because man lacked Grace there had to be a Divine mediator who was sent by God, not a simple man or moral teacher, who could atone for our sins and bring us into union with the Holy Trinity. No mere man could do this; only God could. Through Divine Condescension, God participated in human nature and as it sublimely states in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them.”. In St. John’s gospel the fullness of God’s Divine Plan and His reason for entering time/humanity is fully revealed “for God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). In the Incarnation now humanity sees the image of God in His Divine Son – Jesus Christ. Francis Martin and William Wright. explain that “the Scripture speaks of the Lord’s “glory” as a perceptible manifestation of his awesome presence. By seeing his Glory, John refers to a sensible revelation of God himself in Jesus, the incarnate Word. The opening to the Letter of the Hebrews affirms John’s Gospel proclaiming “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the ages.” (Heb 1: 1-3) God became man so that man may participate in His Divine nature. Every Sunday, Catholics around the world profess at the Mass in the Nicene Creed the sole reason why the “Word” became flesh singing “For us men and for our Salvation he came down from heaven.”
Conclusion: A continual Trial in the hearts of all men, Who is Jesus?
This essay attempted to provide a brief synthesis and study of “What” and “Who” is the Word of God and “Why” did the Word become Incarnate. In the minds of many i.e. Jews, Philosophers, Gentiles, Modern Scholars - the theological, intellectual and historical debate over who Jesus “was” and “is” continues on to this day. The greatest trail in History; the trial of Jesus Christ before Pontius Pilate arguing with the Jewish Hierarchy over who Jesus was ended with a clear verdict: Jesus is the “Word of God” con-substantial with the Father before all Creation. May the great words of the prophet Isaiah ring out in the hearts of all humanity and acknowledge who the “Word of God” is singing “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a ‘word’ that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow every tongue shall swear” (Isa 45:22-23). Let all believers recognize the great words of St. Bernard when he writes the following on how a Christian should view the “Word of God”:
the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living.
And may we perpetually invoke and proclaim the most sublime profession of our Catholic Faith in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:
O only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal being, you who deigned for our salvation to become incarnate of the holy Mother of God and ever virgin Mary, you who without change became man and were crucified, O Christ our God, you who by your death have crushed death, you who are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us!
“In Him (Christ) we see our God made visible, and so we are caught up in Love of the God we cannot see” (Preface to Christmas Mass).
 Word Study: Word (Jn 1:1) Logos (Gk.): “Word”, “statement”, or “utterance”. The term is used 330 times in the NT. The background of this concept in John is both philosophical and biblical.
 Francis Martin and William M. Wright, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2015) 33
 Hahn, Scott, Catholic Bible Dictionary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2009) 962
 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theological 1, q. 12, a. 11
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000) 1706
 Pope Paul VI, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (18 November 1965), 1
 Ibid., 17
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000) 104
 Francis Martin and William M. Wright, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2015) 39
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000) 108
 Ibid., 469