14 The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
15 John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”
16-18 We all live off his generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made him plain as day.
Today the Bible Study group I lead on Wednesdays is beginning a series on the Gospel of John. We’re going to read through John, picking up in the study sessions those sections that seem to demand our attention. If we tried to do this word by word, we would never end. We begin with John’s “Prologue,” which is one of the most theologically provocative texts in Scripture. I’ve shared with you verses 14-18 from the Prologue as translated by Eugene Peterson (The Message). I view such single-person translations as somewhat idiosyncratic. They lack the necessary checks and balances that a committee provides to a foundational translation like the New Revised Standard Version or the Common English Version. However, there are times when a translation like Peterson’s is revealing. Now is such a time, especially as we wrestle with verses 14 and 18.
The Gospel of John begins by declaring: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1) I memorized those words years ago, and they’ve always stuck with me in just that fashion (I’ve even debated with Jehovah’s Witnesses concerning the lack of definite article prior to the Greek theos, which they argue should read "a god" rather than as God). Bible scholars have a theory as to why the standard translation is to be preferred, and I needn’t go into that at this point. What I hear in this opening statement that reflects back to Genesis 1:1 is that the Logos (Word) is God. In some form or fashion, God, according to John, took on human flesh and dwelt among us. Or, as Peterson puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
So what does it mean for God to become flesh and move into the neighborhood? Not only that, but as Peterson’s translation puts it, while no one has had the privilege of seeing God, “this one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day” (Jn. 1:18 MSG). There is an intimacy hinted at here that serves as an invitation for us to experience the same intimacy. Karoline Lewis writes this of the word translated as reveal:
In other words, the principle purpose of the Word made flesh is to bring God out, to lead God out, so that an experience of God is possible. It makes no sense for the Word to become flesh if God is not able to be experienced, and on every level of what it means to be human. [Lewis, John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries, p. 24]
However, we decide to understand the question of the divinity of Christ, I think it is important that we pay attention to John’s witness. That witness is this: God is made manifest in the person of Jesus. In his words and in his actions God is present. The transcendent has become immanent, without losing the values of transcendence. God tastes our existence in its fullness, so that we might be drawn into God’s presence. As for me, I have embraced the traditional vision of Jesus being the Word of God incarnate. That is, Jesus is God. He was in the beginning, he is now, and he shall be forever. There is much more to unpack as to what this means, but for me the Prologue of John serves to bear witness to the one I’ve committed my life to following – the Word made flesh, who moved into the neighborhood, and as a result light has shined into the darkness, and the darkness will not extinguish it (Jn. 1:5)!