Was the “Word” a Person?
Reply: Unitarians, especially those of the Socinian school of thought, often interpret John 1:1‒14 this way. They rightly point out that, in Scripture, God’s word is the expression of His will, that it flows from His wisdom and encompasses His plan, purpose, and creative power, and that it is often personified as God’s agent in the world. They also rightly emphasize the Hebrew thought underlying John’s prologue.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s word is sent forth from God to heal, deliver, create, and accomplish God’s purpose (Psalm 33:6; 107:20; 147:15; Isaiah 55:11). In the apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon, the word is identified with the angel of death who struck the firstborn of Egypt. God’s “all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth” (Wisdom 18:15‒16, NRSV).
Similarly, wisdom is presented as God’s companion and creative agent. “I was appointed from eternity,” says Wisdom, “from the beginning, before the world began” (Proverbs 8:23, NIV). Wisdom was at God’s side when He established the foundations of the earth, set the boundaries of the sea, and arranged the heavens. “Then I was a craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence” (verses 27‒30).
John’s prologue echoes these personifications of God’s word and wisdom. From this, some have concluded that the Word of John 1 is simply a personification of the divine plan (which encompassed God’s wisdom and creative purpose) that was with God before the creation of the universe and took form (was “made flesh”) in the miraculous conception, birth, life, and ministry of Jesus Christ.
The Socinians are right in pointing out that John drew from the word/wisdom imagery supplied by Hebrew wisdom literature. But I believe they fall short at precisely the point at which John departs from the word/wisdom imagery. That point is John 1:1c: “…and the Word was God.” In the Hebrew wisdom literature, the word was with God before the world was made and served as God’s agent in creating and in carrying out the divine purpose, but nowhere is the word (or wisdom) identified as God!
John’s declaration, “the Word was God,” does not allow the conclusion that the Word of John 1 is simply the personification of God’s plan. Even if we suppose that the Word was “God in action,” we still cannot justify saying that the Word was other than God. John has defined “the Word” for us. Regardless the degree to which he draws upon Hebrew personifications, he tells us plainly that “the Word was God.”
Until we accept John’s own definition of “the Word,” we will not be able to recognize the profundity of verse 14. It reads, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (NKJV). This does not mean that God’s preexistent plan finally materialized. It means that God became a man!
Verse 14 serves as the foundation for the rich Christology that follows—from the many statements on Christ’s preexistence and participation in the Father’s glory to the “I Am” passages to Thomas’ affirmation, “My Lord and my God!”
New Testament scholar Raymond E. Brown said, “If Jesus is not ‘true God of true God,’ then we do not know God in human terms. Even if Jesus were the most perfect creature far above all others, he could tell us only at second hand about a God who really remains almost as distant as the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle” (An Introduction to New Testament Christology, Paulist Press, p. 150). But in Jesus we see more than an agent, for in Him we discover that God has come to us as one of us! Now we can relate to our Creator in a way that was not possible before.