“And the Tao was with God and the Tao was God.”
That sounds both familiar and odd, doesn’t it?
Those of us who grew up in a Christian background have all read the scripture from the Gospel of John, chapter one, verse one: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Although there’s been some disputed difference about whether this verse should be translated as “the Word was God” or, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses translate, “the Word was a god” most Christians see this verse as supporting Jesus’ divinity.
The Greek word for “word” is “Logos.” And, as many of you know, “Logos” has a Greek philosophical history to it. It was first used by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535 – 475 BC) as a word that implied “universal reason”, or the “reason above man’s reasoning” as though it was a transcendent, ideal Reason.
St. John used a Greek philosophical term to describe Jesus.
Scholars who are in the know (of which I’m not one … my ability to memorize foreign languages is almost as good as my ability to jump over buildings), believe that John was writing his Gospel with the Greeks and Hellenized Romans as his intended audience; thus, his use of Logos as a means to communicate that Jesus was the transcendent representation of all that was reasonable (Paul said that the cross was foolishness to the Greeks, so apparently John and Paul may have disagreed on this matter).
Between the time of Heraclitus and John the term “Logos” had undergone some change in meaning specifically through the attempts of Philo to synthesize the word with a Judaist understanding , and so we can only speculate about John’s conception of Logos and exactly what he meant by using it in reference to Jesus.
What we do know is that John attempted to perform some type of contextualization of Jesus to the Hellenized mind when he made use of Logos.
Interestingly enough, the Chinese Bible did a similar thing.
Instead of translating the term “Logos” for a Mandarin equivalent of “word”, they translated “Logos” into “Tao” (or “Dao”). So that it reads, “In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God and the Tao was God.” Taoism (or Daoism), as you may or may not know, is the Asian religion that brought the Ying and the Yang into popular culture.
“In Chinese culture, ‘what is truth?’ isn’t the question being asked” States Prothero, “Rather than asking after truth as did the Greeks, Taoism asks about where to go: what is the way to the Way?” For the Chinese, “The Way” is the Tao … it is the transcendent Way to life … to abundant life. Prothero continues, “In fact, of all the great religions, Taoism may be the most allergic to doctrine … to be fully human is to dance with this Dao, moving in rhythm with its core values of naturalness, equanimity, spontaneity, and freedom.” So that when the Chinese Bible says that Jesus is the Tao, they are saying that He is the personal Life force, with whom all of us need to connect.
(Eastern Orthodoxy has a similar conception of the divine dance. I wrote about it some time ago.)
Does it come as a surprise that a large percentage of the world’s population isn’t seeking the Greek Truth, but the Taoist Way?
What do you think about the Chinese Christians translating Logos as Tao? Is this a contextualization that’s gone too far?