In the days of Jesus, few people could speak Hebrew, and even fewer could read in any language. Targums were developed to help the people’s understanding in the synagogue discussions. They were written in the common language of Aramaic and included both a translation of the Hebrew and some explanation of the text.
We should have no problem understanding the idea because all churches today use Targums. The difference is that we do not read the Scripture in Hebrew or Greek, we go right to the English Targum followed by the worship leader’s explanation of the text, also based on Targums we call commentaries.
As we read the Gospels, we can see Jesus providing his explanation of the Aramaic. What we have is the Targum of Yeshua. “Thou shall not kill. But I say….”
John used the basics of the Targum in today’s reading. Here are two translations of the first two verses. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. NIV At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God, and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning. Phillips
Associating Word with God has an old tradition in Judaism. In Genesis 3:8, heard the sound of the Lord God, NIV and 3:10, I heard you in the garden, NIV was associated in the Targums with God Speaking, that is, with the Word. The phrase, The Word, was mostly substituted for any anthropomorphism in the synagogue discussions. If the Hebrew reads, I will cover you with my hand, the leader of the synagogue would substitute: I will cover you with my Word. It is not done today but was so common in the First Century it is easy to see why John wrote this section. Jewish readers knew at once what he meant.
In verse 3, Through him all things were made, NIV John seems to take away all the power of God and give it to Jesus. John did not have that in mind. We should read, through The Word all things were made. The same is true in verses 4 & 5. The Word is the light of the world.
Starting in verse 6 the Gospel writer, John, moves away from the Targum image into the world and the humans involved in his story. He begins with the Baptizer but does not yet completely leave the Heavenly sphere. He has the Baptizer tell the world that the Light of God has arrived. Now we know to read it as the Word of God has arrived.
The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world. He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognize him. NJB It should not be surprising that the Gospel of John has many references to light, including 8:12. Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ESV [The word “light” appears in all the Gospels, but only John associates it directly with Jesus.]
John has a powerful verse 12. But to as many as did receive him, to those who put their trust in his person and power, he gave the right to become children of God. CJB In verse 14 John goes on, So the word of God became a human being and lived among us. Phillips We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son. NIV
This phrase is not just a throwaway. John calls The Word the Son of God, not yet having used the name, Jesus. John then has The Word become a living person.
Don’t forget that to look upon God is to die. John is careful to maintain that separation of God and His Word. We look at his Word all the time. This whole physical universe is God’s Word. But what John wants us to understand is that The Word is much more than what we can see.
In the last two verses of today’s reading, For the Torah was given through Moshe; grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah. No one has ever seen God; but the only and unique Son, who is identical with God and is at the Father’s side — he has made him known. CJB
The identification of all these terms—Word, Life, Light, Son of God—with Yeshua/Jesus is what the rest of the Gospel is about. As we watch the human drama unfold, we do not see Jesus until verse 29 when he and the Baptizer meet.
As begin to read the human storyline at verse 29, we must be mindful of the message tucked away in verse 12. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. ESV I do not doubt that John wanted this verse to be the central point of the 18 verses. The fact that we can become children of God is a central point of the Gospel. God is more important than we are. The Word/Yeshua is more important. But for us, verse 12 is most important. It is our salvation.
Several translations read, sons of God, and that is proper because the Greek words are teknon theos, where teknon means child, son, daughter, children. John makes it clear that Jesus is the one and only Son of God who existed before time as the Word. We, on the other hand, will be adopted children and cannot expect to be equals of the Word/Son of God. Yet, we can expect to live forever basking in His Light/Life.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.