“Was with God”
The idea of a “word” being “with” God or even another person has an Old Testament background. Job comments: “Yet these things you have concealed in your heart, I know that this is with you" (10:13; NIV “in your mind”). Similarly Job 23:13, 14: "What his soul desires, that he does, for he performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with him" . God’s essential plans are therefore ‘with Him’, in this figure of speech. When those plans are revealed in words, i.e. they are openly verbalized, it would be true to say: "I will instruct you in the power of God; what is with the Almighty I will not conceal" (Job 27:11). Wisdom, personified as a woman, was “with God” before creation- it was not ‘with’ the sea, but it was ‘with’ God (Job 28:14; 8:22,30). To hold a plan in one's own mind is to have it ‘with’ them. The Hebrew text of Gen. 40:14 bears this out, when Joseph is begged: “Remember me with yourself”. So for the essential purpose of God in His Son to be ‘with’ Him does not in any sense imply that a person was literally ‘with’ God in Heaven. Note the parallel between the word of God and the work of God in Ps. 106:13: “They soon forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel”. Whatever God says / plans comes to concrete fulfillment; and the idea of a Son was always in His mind. That word became flesh, became real and actual, in the person of Jesus.
“The word was made flesh”
So there shouldn’t be any problem with accepting that an abstract thing like the logos, the word, could become a person. For wisdom is personified in the Old Testament (e.g. Proverbs 7). And it is spoken of in James 3:17 as being easy to intreat, merciful, not hypocritical- all attributes of a person. “The word” is often put for ‘the preaching of the word’ (Acts 6:2,4,7; Tit. 2:5; Rev. 1:9; 6:9; 20:4). The man Christ Jesus was the word of the Gospel made flesh. He was and is the epitome of what He and others preached. This is why another title for Jesus was “the Kingdom”- He thus described Himself when He said that He, the Kingdom, was amongst them in first century Israel (Lk. 17:21). “The word of the Kingdom” is paralleled with “the word” (Mt. 13:19 cp. 20-23). The things of the Kingdom and the things of Jesus are inextricably linked. Likewise John calls Jesus “the eternal life” (1 Jn. 1:2). The life that He lived was the quality of life which we will eternally live in the Kingdom. The personality of Jesus was the living quintessence of all that He preached- as it should be with the living witness which our lives make. To preach “Christ” was and is therefore to preach “the things concerning the Kingdom of God”, because that Kingdom will be all about the manifestation of the man Christ Jesus (Acts 8:5 cp. 12). So, Jesus was “the word” in the sense that He epitomised the Gospel. This is why James 1:18 says that we are born again by the word of the Gospel, and 1 Pet. 1:23 says that the word who begets is the Lord Jesus. And it is why Lk. 8:1 describes the Lord as both preaching and “proclaiming” the Gospel of the Kingdom. Who He was and who He is [and ever shall be] is the shewing forth of the Gospel. We likewise must not only preach the doctrine of the Kingdom but proclaim it in our lives. For this is the essential witness to the good news of the Kingdom. Indeed, in all the teaching of the Lord, He was Himself the great exemplar of it. The Sermon on the Mount was the Lord unpacking His compelling vision for human life as He believed God intended, and as He Himself exemplified it. It was almost a self-explanation rather than a set of demands upon us. Yet the very fact that it was an explanation of Himself somehow makes it all the more compelling.
The word being made flesh was an act of the will on the Lord’s part. “The word was made flesh” isn’t just a piece of theological description of something that was effortlessly achieved. The principles of “the word”, the radical implications of the word of the Gospel spoken throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, had to be “made flesh” in the Lord, culminating in the crucifixion. There He was “The word was made flesh”. This was and is the ultimate outworking of the implications of the Gospel taught in Eden, promised to Abraham, developed throughout the prophets. And it didn’t happen automatically. That word was in the beginning with God, but not all ‘words’ / intentions that He ‘has’ become flesh, i.e. concrete reality here on earth. God has had various intentions which He ‘thought’ to do, but because of human weakness they don’t actually become reality. He told Israel about His plan / intention / logos of driving out the Canaanites: “If ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land… I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them” (Num. 33:55,56). He ‘thought’ to do things to them through the agency of His people; but those ‘thoughts’ never became flesh.
The extent to which Jesus made the word flesh needs some reflection. When He declared Himself as Messiah, the people who had grown up with Him were scandalized (Mk. 6:3 Gk.). He was so human that even though He never sinned, the people who intimately knew Him for 30 years thought that He was truly one of them. In our making the word flesh, we tend to irritate people by our apparent righteousness, or turn them away from us by our hypocrisy. But the Lord truly made the word flesh, to the extent that the very dregs of society could relate to Him as one of them. There is a wonder in this that requires sustained meditation. John’s Gospel especially seems to speak of the “words” and “works” of the Lord Jesus almost interchangeably (Jn. 14:10-14); in illustration of the way in which the word of Jesus, which was the word of God, was constantly and consistently made flesh in Him, issuing in the works / actions of this man who was “the word made flesh”. Consider how in Jn. 8:28; 12:49,50 He says that He says only what the Father taught Him to say; whereas in Jn. 8:28 He says He does nothing of Himself but only what the Father taught Him. His words and His doings are thereby paralleled. The parallel between the Lord’s words and works is again brought out in Lk. 9:43,44: “They wondered at all things which Jesus did…He said…let these sayings sink down into your ears”. There are no distinct ‘sayings’ of Jesus in this context; He wanted them to see that His works were His words. There was perfect congruence between what He said and what He did. Perhaps this was why He told the parents of the girl whom He resurrected “to tell no man what was done” (Lk. 8:56), even though it was so obvious; He wanted His self-evident works to speak for themselves, without the need for human words. For His works were essentially His message.
“The word was made flesh” in daily reality for Jesus. The extraordinary connection between the man Jesus and the word of God which He preached and spoke is perhaps reflected in Lk. 4:20: “He closed the book [of the words of God], and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him”. Here we have as it were an exquisite close up of Jesus, His very body movements, His handling of the scroll, and the movement of the congregation's eyes. Notice that at this stage He had only read from the scroll, and not yet begun His exposition of what He had read. The impression I take from this is that there was an uncanny connection between Him and the word of His Father. The Son reading His Father’s word, with a personality totally in conformity to it, must have been quite something to behold. He was the word of God made flesh in a person, in a way no other person had or could ever be. Thus He was indeed “The word was made flesh”. The idea of words becoming flesh is a reflection of the Hebrew idea that a person's words become their actions. Thus we read of Solomon's "acts" or, RVmg., "sayings" (2 Chron. 9:5). There is no requirement for a person to exist in one form and then turn into another form. There was perfect congruence between the personality of Jesus, and the words of God which He preached. Thus the people marvelled at Him, commenting "What is this word?" (Lk. 4:36 RV). God's word was made flesh, was made personal, in Him. In this sense there was almost no need for Jesus to say specific words about Himself- His character and personality showed forth that word, that logos, that essential message. The Jews pressured Him: "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly". But He could respond: "I told you, and you believe not: the works that I do... these bear witness of me" (Jn. 10:24,25). Of course, they'd have complained that He had not told them in so many words. His comment was that His "works", His life, His being, showed plainly who He was, His personality was "the [plain] word" which they were demanding. He was the word made flesh in totality and to perfection.
It bears repeating that “the word was made flesh” in Jesus in the sense that there was absolute congruence between His teaching and His actions. Thus He not only taught that distinctions between clean and unclean were ended; He actually went and ate / fellowshipped with sinners and touched lepers. The Old Testament prophets so absorbed the word of God that their emotions were His; they mourned and grew angry in the same way as He did. Their words were therefore both theirs and His at the same time; that's why it's hard at times in the prophets to decide whether we are reading the feelings / thoughts of the prophet, or of God. In the symbolic acts of the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 20, Jeremiah 19, Ezekiel 4 and 5) we see their actual lives and deeds being in a sense the Word of God embodied in them. Von Rad suggests that "the entry of the word into a prophet's bodily life... approximates to what the writer of the fourth Gospel says about the word becoming flesh" (1). The Lord Jesus was the greatest of the prophets and the ultimate example of God's word becoming identified with and in the very core personality of a human being. However, as a concept, the word could become flesh in men who were not the begotten Son of God- e.g. the prophets- and it's possible that Jewish minds in the first century would have actually understood John's language of "the word made flesh" in this kind of prophetic context.
As the resurrected Lord stood before the disciples, he says: “These are my words which I spake unto you” (Lk. 24:44 RV), and goes on to say that His resurrection had been predicted throughout the Old Testament words of God. He had made both His words and the words of God into flesh as He stood there. He didn’t say ‘Look everyone, I’ve risen!’. He just stood there, reminded them of the words of the prophets, and His own words, and said “These are my words”. He was so powerfully and completely the word made flesh.
John opens his first letter by speaking about "the word" as if he refers to something neuter and abstract- and yet he speaks of how he personally touched and handled it. The grammar of 1 Jn. 1:1-3 refers to an abstract idea, the logos- but the reference is evidently to the real historical person of Jesus. It seems to me that this was John's inspired way of getting over the awesome extent to which "the word became flesh", all the ideas inherent in God and in His word were expressed seamlessly in Jesus; there was such perfect congruence between the word Jesus spoke and the person He was. No longer should these passages be seen as merely the battleground for the arian-athanasian, unitarian-trinitarian argument. The wonder of what is being actually said by John needs to be taken on board by us, and risen up to; for the word is to become flesh in us as it was in our Lord.
The Name / Word Becoming Flesh
There's a Hebrew grammatical feature known as the intensive plural, whereby one great, important, significant thing is spoken of in the plural. The AV margin in Is. 53:9 speaks of the deaths [plural] of Messiah- i.e. the one great significant death of Messiah. So with elohim. It can effectively mean the ONE great mighty one. The common Old Testament Name of God, Yahweh Elohim, then becomes - Yahweh will be through the one great ONE- i.e., a prophecy of the Lord Jesus who would manifest Him supremely. Bearing this in mind, we come to John’s statement that the Word was with God, was God, and became flesh in the Lord Jesus, and we behold the glory of that. John’s Gospel is evidently full of allusions to Jewish terminology and ideas. He also alludes to many surrounding pagan ideas, recasting them with reference to the Lord Jesus, demonstrating thereby their error. Philo’s influence was significant in the first century. He had developed the idea that “the logos” was what he called the "archangel of many names," and the "name of God". The Logos is also designated by him as the "high priest”. John’s writings, and Hebrews, are at pains to show where these ideas were wrong, and in what sense they could have some truth in relation to the Lord Jesus. He, and not Philo’s abstract ‘logos’, is the one ultimate high priest; He is greater than Angels; and He is the one who ultimately came in the Father’s Name and revealed it to us (Jn. 5:43 etc.). The Son has now been given the Name of the Father (Phil. 2:6-11; Is. 9:6; Rev. 3:12); but the Son’s Name is now “the logos of God” (Rev. 19:13). The logos that became flesh thus refers to the Name of the Father, Yahweh, which became the One special one in the person of Christ.
The ideas of the Name, the word and the glory of God are heavily interconnected. I’ve explored this at length at http://www.carelinks.net/books/dh/james/james_d05.html . Jn. 1:14 says that when the word of God was made flesh in the Son of God, we saw the glory of God. If “The word” which was made flesh is in fact a reference to the Name of God, then this becomes understandable. And so the logos of God, the Name of God, being with Him in the beginning and being Him in a sense, was revealed fully in the human person (“flesh”) of the Lord Jesus. The Lord said this in so many words: “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me” (Jn. 17:6). John surely has this in mind when he comments that the word / Name became flesh, and we saw that glory, but others in “the world” didn’t perceive it (Jn. 1:14). John parallels the word becoming flesh, with the Son declaring the Father who cannot be seen (Jn. 1:18). This is in fact a reference to the declaration of Yahweh’s Name to Moses, at which time Moses was reminded that God cannot be physically seen. Thus the declaration of the Yahweh Name to Moses is paralleled with the word / Name being made flesh. The Father glorified His Name in the Son (Jn. 12:28), who was the word of God. Remember the links between the Name, the glory and the word of God. Summing up, the reference to the logos / word becoming flesh in the Lord Jesus therefore speaks of the fulfillment of God’s Name in Christ, just as any father’s name is in a sense fulfilled in his son. And countless times in the Old Testament, this had been foretold- Yahweh would be elohim, one great one- the Lord Jesus, His Son.
“Dwelt among us”
"Dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:14) can too easily be misread as meaning that the Word was once in Heaven but came to earth to live amongst us humans. But this (yet again) is to miss the Old Testament background. Time and again, the LXX uses the Greek word kenosa ("dwelt") to refer to how God dwelt in the sanctuary. The "us" amongst whom God now dwells through His logos is not humanity generally, the inhabitants of planet earth, but specifically we who believe and form His sanctuary / dwelling place amidst the unbelieving world. Perhaps this is John's equivalent to Matthew's reference to how where two or three are gathered together in His Name, there the Lord will dwell in their midst (Mt. 18:20).
(1) Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Kox Press, 2001) Vol. 2 p. 274.