That it is on the basis of the Passion that the disciples recognized him as Lord and Christ is clear throughout the New Testament; it is this crucified Jesus that the house of Israel is to acknowledge as Lord and Christ, the designated Son of God. The question which was to plague Christianity thereafter, whether, if he was “made” such by God, he was Lord and Christ before, is misleading in its application of temporal categories to the eternal Jesus Christ. It is the crucified and risen Jesus Christ that the Gospel proclaims as the eternal Son of God, interpreting Scripture through the prism of the word of the Cross.
The Lordship of Christ is made in a very distinctive manner in John, by an allusive play upon the etymology of the name YHWH offered in Exodus 3:14, “I AM who I AM,” in the “I am” sayings of Jesus. The most striking occasion is when Christ asserts, “Before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:58). The affirmation here is clearly not temporal, or as John Chrysostom points out, Christ should have said, “I was.” ["Why did he not say, `Before Abraham came into being, I was,' instead of `I AM'? As the Father uses this expression, `I AM,' so also does he; for it signifies continuous existence, irrespective of all time." John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 55 (on John 8:58-9).]
Similarly, when Jesus approaches his frightened disciples on the water, he reassures them by saying “I am, do not be afraid” (John 6:20); the RSV translates his statement as “It is I,” though there is certainly an allusion to the divine name here. [For other non-absolute uses of "I am" see John 6:35, 51; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5.] This statement of Christ appears in the chiastic center of the Gospel, the new Exodus, when Christ declares “I AM” and leads the new Israel to the other shore of the sea. [Cf. P. F. Ellis, "Inclusion, Chiasm, and the Division of the Fourth Gospel," St Vladimer’s Theological Quarterly, 43.3-4 (1999), 269-338; and his The Genius of John: A Composition-Critical Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1984).] Again, John contains the most developed affirmations of t. divinity of Jesus Christ.
Finally, it is in John that Jesus Christ is called for the first time by title “Word,” the term which, in abstract theological reflection often comes to replace the name Jesus, and it is also here that the explanation of Christ’s work of revelation and redemption in terms of a model of descent and ascent is sketched most clearly.
In John, Christ’s activity of revelation and redemption is represented as a dramatic descent and ascent, although the moments of descent and ascent are never described, but are always presumed as a means of heightening the superiority of Christ over all others. [Cf. W. A. Meeks, "The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism," JBL 91 (1972) 44-72.] Or more accurately, it is not that these moments are never described, but that they are not separated: the moment of humiliation is the moment of exaltation, and both occur on the Cross. It is when Jesus speaks of his coming glorification that we also hear that this will be a return to his eternal existence with the Father (John 17).
The very identity of Jesus Christ has become so united with the kerygma about Christ, the Word of God which Paul preach (Colossians 1:25-6), that Jesus Christ, according to John, is himself the Word of God incarnate. In the term “Word” there are at least two interconnected ideas, that of revelation and that of the revealer, as these should not be separated too hastily.
Christ is the Word of God, who, as such, exists before the world, with God, and is, to use later imagery, spoken out into the world; he is God’s own expression in the world. The function of revealer is so closely bound up with the person of Jesus, that he is, in fact, the embodiment of the revelation: he is the Word made flesh. Not only are his words revelatory, but he is revelatory in himself, coming into the world from above, a divine self-revelation. The identification of the crucified one as the Word of God is continued in the book of Revelation, attributed to John, where it is the rider who comes on the white horse, “clad in a robe dipped in blood,” who called by the name “the Word of God” (Revelations 19:11-13).
This understanding of Christ as the “Word of God” is deepened by John with the affirmation that Jesus is himself God (John 20:28); and by emphasizing his uniqueness as the “only-begotten” Son of God. In the New Testament, the title “only-begotten” does not strictly speaking, carry the connotation of “begetting,” but refers rather to the uniqueness of the one so described, who is “one-of-a-kind.” [John never ascribes a beginning/begetting to the Word and Son, Jesus Christ: the Word was with God (John 1:1), and Jesus simply is, he is "I AM." The only certain use of this for Jesus is John 18:37, where it is paralleled by the phrase, "for this I have come into the World," that is, it is not a clear or purposeful reference to his birth, but applies rather to his mission. It is not certain that 1 John 5:18 applies to Jesus; R. E. Brown (The Epistles of John, The Anchor Bible [New York: Doubleday, 19821, 619-22), and R. Schnackenburg (The Johannine Epistles: Introduction and Commentary, trans. R. and I. Fuller [New York: Cross road, 1992], 252-4), argue convincingly that “the one begotten by God” (a description John never uses for Jesus elsewhere) is the Christian, who is protected by God, giving grammatical structure similar to John 17:2.]
It was translated in the Old Latin as unicus, and only later, in the context of the Arian controversy, did Jerome change it to unigenitus, which thereafter became the standard translation. [Cf. D. Moody, "God's Only Son," JBL 72.4 (1953), 213-19] The background for this term is clearly the description of Isaac as yahid; this was translated in the LXX by “beloved” (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16), though Isaac is described as the monogenes of Abraham in Hebrews 11:17.
Thus the term does not refer to the act of begetting, for Abraham had another son, Ishmael (cf. Genesis 21:12-13), but refers instead to a special quality that makes a son unique to (or as the LXX puts it, “beloved” by) his father.
The titles Son, Word and God, when applied to Jesus Christ, do not have the same meaning, but they are applied to one and the same subject, who is, in this way, understood to be pre-existent, beyond time and the world, who is God in God, the mediator of God in creation and the revealer of God in the world by His appearance in the flesh — the Word of God Incarnate.
The sources for this distinctive Johannine theology have been soughs in all sorts of places, often furthest afield from the most obvious, that of Scripture and earlier New Testament writings. The theme of the Word of God is of course a recurrent one in Scripture: it functions to reveal God, as well as to manifest his power and his wisdom. Parallels to John can also be found in the wisdom literature of Scripture: the Wisdom of God exists from the beginning, dwelling with God (e.g., Proverbs 8:22-5 Wisdom also comes to men (Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 24:7-22; Proverbs 8:31 and “tabernacles” with them (Sirach 24:8); Wisdom, “the book of the commandments of God,” is also said to have “appeared on earth and dwelt with men” (Baruch 3:37-4:1). Other writings from the New Testament also draw upon the imagery found in the Wisdom literature, such “image,” “effulgence,” and “wisdom” itself, for their interpretation Christ (cf. Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:3; Wisdom 7:26).
It is possible that the term “Word” came to predominate in Christological reflection a reaction to the increasing use of “wisdom” in Gnostic speculation, or an apologetic approach to Greek culture. More likely, though, is the already traditional use of the phrase “word of God” to refer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which he himself is: the identity between reveal and revelation. [A similar suggestion was made by E. Hoskyns, that the choice of the term "Word" in the Prologue was determined by the fact that by that time "the Word" had become synonymous with the Gospel itself, so that in using the term "the Word" the Prologue already contains a reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus; the Gospel, as the apostolic word, has become identified with the content of the Gospel, Jesus Christ (E. C. Hoskyi The Fourth Gospel, 2nd rev. edition., ed. F. N. Davey [London: Faber and Faber, 194; 159-63). A similar point is made by B. Lindars (The Gospel of John, New Century Bit Commentary [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972], 83).]
If the adoption of the term was indeed an apologetic outreach to the Greeks, this is simultaneously undermined by John. Just as significant as the introduction of the term “Word” for Christ, is the combination of this description with that of the Word “becoming flesh,” diametric opposites for any Greek philosopher. While the term “Word” appears to apply almost exclusively to Christ as divine, it is nevertheless held inseparably together with a term which stands at the opposite extreme from divinity, that of flesh. The Word becomes flesh; the Word of God is flesh, this man, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
John heightens the contrast beyond that of any other writing of the New Testament. The Word may well be eternally divine in His eternal abode with God, but he is no less equally really flesh. With these antithetical descriptions held in such a stark unity, it is not surprising that there were continued attempts to loosen the unity of flesh and Word, or to deny the flesh element, through some kind of docetism.
It is this which makes the Johannine legacy at once the most stimulating for future reflection, and also the most dangerous. F. C. Conybeare, at the beginning of this century, observed that, “If Athanasius had not had the Fourth Gospel to draw texts from, Arius would never have been confuted.” To which Pollard later added, “If Arius had not had the Fourth Gospel to draw texts from, he would not have needed confuting.”[T. E. Pollard, Johannine Christology and the Early Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 3; citing Conybeare's review of A. Loisy, Le quatrieme Evangile, in the HibbertJournal, 7 (1903), 620.]