“1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
For a long time, it has been mistakenly thought that the ideas expressed in these three verses of John’s prologue are unique to Christianity. It was erroneously believed that this statement constituted nothing less than a ground-breaking departure from Judaism. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is not until verse 14 that an innovative idea, though one not contradictory to Judaism, was first introduced with the phrase, “and the Word became flesh.” What we read in verses 1-3 of John’s Gospel should enable us to clearly understand that the author was a committed Jew, entrenched in the rich concepts of the Judaism of the Second Temple period. His deep Jewish consciousness is evident as he structures his prologue thoroughly within the Israelite interpretive traditions of the time.
First, the author grounds his narrative in the foundational verses of the Torah – “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1) and “…God said.” Therefore, the notion that the Gospel of John is a Christian document, set in opposition to Judaism, makes no sense in the light of John’s own priorities. For John, perhaps even more than for the other Gospel writers, everything begins with the Torah. Secondly, the idea of the Word (Logos/Memra/Davar) of God possessing extraordinary qualities and functions in relationship to God Himself, was not new to Second Temple Judaism.
For example, Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who was roughly contemporary with Jesus (but probably never met him) wrote: “…the most universal of all things is God; and in the second place the Word of God.” (Allegorical Interpretation, II, 86); “…the shadow of God is His Word, which He used like an instrument when He was making the world…” (Allegorical Interpretation, III, 96); “This same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race… neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities…” (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, 205-6)
My simple conclusion is this: The “Word of God” (Logos) in John’s Gospel is a thoroughly Israelite concept. In no way does it represent an addition or a departure from the multifaceted Judaism of the days of Jesus.