Recently, I have been reading comments made from members of my faith community on social media sites such as Facebook which greatly concern me. These comments contain what I believe to be heretical doctrinal statements concerning the value of Yeshua in contrast to other elements within our faith – namely the Torah, the Temple, and the Tetragrammaton (the name of God). What I aim to do here is begin a three-part teaching series where I explain how Yeshua is, in fact, greater than all three of these elements of our faith by pulling from credible sources both within the biblical text and from outside of it. I will begin with addressing that Yeshua is greater than the Torah.
As we begin to look at the evidence of my claim that Yeshua supersedes the Torah, we must first recognize what the Torah is and is not. Essentially, the Torah is the first five books of the Christian Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (for further reading, please read my article on what the Torah is). Found within the Torah is the creation story, the Exodus from Egypt, God’s law for his people, and many other foundational tenets to our faith. Though the Torah is the written revelation of God concerning these things, the Torah remains just that – a written revelation – and not God himself; I want to emphasize this relationship between God’s written revelation and he himself because this is the very opposite of what some people on social media are claiming; they are claiming that Yeshua was and is the incarnation of God’s Torah and not an incarnation of God himself, which I confidently view as heresy.
Within this view, Yeshua is either equal with the Torah or less valuable than the Torah because his existence was contingent on the preexistence of the Torah. The foundational “evidence” of this claim is almost always found within the prologue of John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) and his usage of the word λόγος (Logos; usually translated as “word”; pronounced “lah-ghas”). The one who believes that Yeshua is equal or less than the Torah tends to believe John’s usage of the Logos was a substitute for the Torah of God, which is simply not true; John is in no way referencing the written revelation of God in the five books of Moses within this prologue. In the remainder of this writing, I will address the problems with such a claim and provide evidence which refutes any and all claims that Yeshua is anything equal to or less than God’s Torah.
Authorship and Audience of John’s Gospel
Since we are addressing the prologue of John, we must be careful to employ proper biblical hermeneutics, and that requires us to examine the context of the text in question. In order to understand the intended meanings of biblical texts, one must first recognize the authorship and intended audience of said text. John’s gospel was written in Greek for Greek-speaking people, so we must consider first its relationship to the religious perspectives of the Hellenistic world in which he and the other authors of the New Testament were writing.
In John’s time (late first century), the prevailing Hellenistic understanding was the Logos as the principle of reality, which was a school of thought borrowed from the Stoics. The Stoics took from Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle the Logos and reworked it to be the sole reason behind the creation of the universe; they believed the Logos was the means through which the universe was created. Philo (25 BCE – 50 CE) interpreted the Stoic idea of the Logos in light of Yahweh as creator; the Logos, like wisdom in ancient Jewish thought, was seen as both the agent through which God created the universe and now the medium through which the world approaches God. John’s employment of the Logos in the prologue of his Gospel is remarkably similar to both Hellenists and Philo, which is understandable considering he himself was an ancient Jewish man seeking to explain his faith in the light of a Hellenistic culture and to explain it to the Gentile world.
In conclusion of authorship and audience, we must be careful to recognize that we cannot attempt to understand John’s employment of the Logos on the basis of Hellenism or Judaism alone; rather, we must recognize that the roots of his thought moved through the grounds of the dynamic world in which Jews and Greeks all cohabited. The intended Greek audience of his account would have read the prologue and recalled their concept of the Logos without having read the works of Aristotle or the Stoics, much like someone today can read or use the word “evolution” without having ever read Darwin. Because of this, we must then recognize that the Logos was never intended by John to be some sort of substitution of the Torah – an idea of which Greek readers would have had no concept or understanding; rather, the Logos was, to them, something greater – a medium through which the universe came into existence and is governed by in the present time. With John’s conclusion of the prologue beginning in verse 14, he appeals to the Greeks’ minds and personifies that very medium by making a ground-shattering proclamation that “the Logos become flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a ESV).
The Nature of Yeshua According to John
Now that we can see with evidence that the Torah was never intended to be represented by the usage of the Logos in John’s prologue, we can then revisit the opening verses in the prologue and examine John’s comparison of the Logos (Yeshua) to God himself. Remember, John’s intention of his Gospel is to explain to Greek people the reality that Yahweh is the one true God and that his creation medium has been manifested within the four dimensions of the universe in which we exist, but we must not miss the incredible claim made while invoking the idea of the Logos.
Throughout my time in the field of Biblical scholarship, I have arrived at the conclusion that John 1:1 contains the deepest level of Christian assertion in that Yeshua is Yahweh in human form. With our understanding of the Logos now fresh on our minds, let us examine how John poetically asserts that Yeshua is divine, the creator, and the physical manifestation of God on Earth.
John opens verse 1with a recalling of Genesis 1:1, but it relates here not to the act of creation, but to what existed prior to the creation, namely the Logos; John first appeals here to the preexistence of the Logos and then explains its role in the act of creation in verse 3. The contemporary reader, having already read Genesis 1, would expect to read, “In the beginning…God,” but rather than God being the focus of John 1, the Logos is. We can then conclude that John is first claiming that the Logos existed prior to the creation events of Genesis 1, necessitating that Yeshua is divine in nature and eternally preexistent.
Further in verse 1, we see John explain that the Logos was in the presence of God, literally “with the God.” John sets the foundation here with the claim that everything that Jews believe that God did in the creation of the universe was done alongside the Logos, not apart from it. He explains further in verse 3 that during the creation events, all things were created through the Logos rather than apart from the Logos. This, then, necessitates that Yeshua is the creator God spoken of in Genesis 1, proving that he is not only preexistent but also omnipotent (all-powerful).
And to conclude verse 1, John writes his greatest claim yet. After concisely expressing that Yeshua is divinely eternal and that he was that which created the universe, John says literally that “God was the Logos.” Though rendered in English (due to our syntax) as “and the Word was God,” the Greek language of the verse prioritizes the word Θεὸς (God; theos) in the sentence structure. This is a classical literary device where the most important word in the sentence is prioritized to show emphasis. John’s intention here is to express clearly that the Logos about which he is speaking is nothing short of God himself. In three short breaths, John makes what I believe to be the greatest and most impactful assertions within all of Christianity – that Yeshua is eternally divine, the all-powerful creator, and God himself. Concluded in verse 14 with the Logos being manifested into human form, we are met by the magnificent power of our God in the form of a welcoming,loving, killable human – something no other religion can say with certainty.
If you have made it this far, I thank you for sticking with me through what is surely a complicated and rigorous topic, but a topic that I believe is necessary for our spiritual growth as Christians. In the beginning of this work, I expressed my concern with a doctrine that elevates the Torah equal to or above Yeshua our King and I stand by that concern, but I hope now that you understand from a biblical perspective how this doctrine is unfounded and with certainty a heresy. Nowhere within the prologue or remainder of John’s Gospel are we met with him expressing to us that a set of stories, genealogies, or laws written in a collection of five books can be anywhere near equal to God himself. And even though the Torah is an incredibly important part of our faith, and though it be a significant portion of God’s written revelation to his people, it is not God, in whom our entire identity and existence lie.