Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas: The Memra Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Memra, and the Memra was with God, and the Memra was God. (John 1:1)
John wrote in Greek, but he was Hebrew in thought and Aramaic in speech. The Greek word for “word” is logos, a word which depicted logic and reasoning. But John uses the word to mean so much more. Consider these Old Testament Scriptures:
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
(Psalm 33:6)

He sent His word and healed them,
And delivered them from their destructions.
(Psalm 107:20)

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
(Psalm 119:105)

I will worship toward Your holy temple,
And praise Your name
For Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
(Psalm 138:2)
In the Septuagint, which is an ancient translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the word for “word” in every instance is the Greek logos. It is not merely the reason or logic of God, but the very breath of God by which He created the heavens and the earth. It is the healing, life-giving power of God. It is the light of God which He manifested at Creation. It is equal to the name of God. To speak of the Word of God is to speak of God Himself.

This is exactly how the ancient Hebrew mind perceived the Word of God. The ancient targums, which were translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic, the Word of God is often used as the name of God. The Aramaic word for “word” is memra.
  • Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image.” The Jerusalem Targum has, “And the memra of the LORD created man in His likeness.”
  • In Genesis 9:17, God says to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Targum Onkelos says, “This is the sign which I established between my memra and between all flesh which are on the earth.”
  • In Genesis 17:7, God says to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you.” Targum Onkelos says, “I will establish My covenant between My memra and you.”
  • In Genesis 28:21, “then the LORD shall be my God.” Targum Onkelos has, “then shall the memra of the LORD be my God.”
  • In Exodus 14:31, where the Hebrew text says, “and believed the LORD,” Targum Onkelos has, “and believed in His memra .”
  • Joshua 12:2, “Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD.” The ancient rabbi, Jonathan ben Uziel, has, “Now swear unto me by the memra of God.
  • 1 Samuel 20:23, “And as for the matter which you and I have spoken of, indeed the LORD be between you and me forever.” Targum Onkelos says, “And the thing we spoke of, you and I, this is the memra of God between you and me forever.”
  • Psalm 62:8, “Trust in Him at all times your people.” Onkelos has, “Trust in the memra at all times.”
  • Isaiah 45:17, “But Israel shall be saved by the LORD.” Jonathan ben Uziel has, “Israel will be redeemed by the memra of God.”
  • Isaiah 45:22, “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth.” Jonathan ben Uziel has, “Turn to my memra , all dwellers on earth.”
This is in the mind of John as he opens his Gospel. He writes logos, but he thinks memra .
In the beginning was the Memra, and the Memra was with God, and the Memra was God. (John 1:1)
The startling thing is not that John equates the Memra/Logos/Word with God — that was nothing new for the Hebrew mind. The startling thing is that the Memra/Logos/Word “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and that He is identified as Jesus the Messiah, the unique Son of God (vv. 17-18).

(See also The Word Became Flesh)