Renewing Biblical Wisdom:
A Brief Explication of John’s Prologue through the Lens of Evolution
Question: “How to read the Gospel in light of evolution?”
Robert: Jesuit polymath Pierre Teilhard de Chardin believed that matter progressively evolved into human persons, and that human persons are progressively evolving into Spirit. The writer of John’s Gospel maintained a similar belief. While the term “evolution” would not have appeared—in a formal sense—in his Greek lexicon, the dynamic presence of divine becoming in and among the natural world is evident in the rhythmic, almost mystical quality of his sentences.
Drawing heavily on Wisdom literature, John concentrates on Christ as the Wisdom of God. Taking special note of Proverbs 8, for instance, Christ is pre-existent with God “from the beginning” (John 1:2) and the one through whom “all things came into beginning” (John 1:3). John is assiduous to demonstrate this slow yet ongoing development through the process of history and time. We observe this gradual unfolding of abstract being into life itself, and then immediately the movement of life into light, at the outset of his Prologue:
In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
And without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
And the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:1-5).
The powerful and sudden life-light merger then steadily transmogrifies into human form, from an allegorical rendering of divine Wisdom into the conscious manifestation of God. John proclaims:
He came as a witness to testify to the light […]
He himself was not the light,
But came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone,
Was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
And the world came into being through him (vv. 7-9).
The full implications—the theological center—of John’s personification of God’s self-expression through the deep mystery and meaning of the Word are now unmistakably revealed:
And the Word become flesh
And pitched his tent with us,
And we have seen his glory,
The glory as of the Father’s only one,
Full of grace and truth (v.14).
And what does this “Word made flesh” suggest for the world (at least on a fundamental level)? John answers this question in the preceding verses:
From his fullness
We have received,
Grace upon grace.
The teaching indeed was given through Moses;
Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (vv. 16-17).
Couched in John’s poeticism is the notion that God has forever been present in the world; Christ is simply the one who has made, and continues to make, this presence perceptible. In a similar fashion, the Mosaic covenant has never been devoid of the Word but through the human contours of the Word, we now comprehend the teachings of Moses more clearly, more precisely, more personally, and more fully. By greater extension, the Word, which is forever in the world, is continuing to become through the promise and progress of evolution. As the spearhead of evolution, the consciousness of divinity is continuously growing and maturing through the intellectual integration of our minds and the deepening compassion of our hearts. In other words, the self-understanding of God is becoming clearer, more precise, more personal, and, yes, evermore more whole through the discovery and harnessing of our own particularity: the slow but constant release of our own abstract being made life. John’s Prologue details the gradual emergence of God’s Word into a person, let us therefore garner from this inchoate truth the energy of life necessary to bring the development of this person to full, psychic completion. Let us begin to read and live the Gospel anew.