That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
I have occasionally been asked whether the Bible is the Word of God or a word from men. The answer I give is the one I think St John would have given: Yes.
The definitive communication of the Divine Word – the Divine way, wisdom, and logic – was the Incarnation. And among the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, or at least the disciples who left us writings, it was John the Evangelist who pondered that mystery most deeply, and stated it in the most powerfully succinct sentences. He would not, then, have had much difficulty seeing that a God-breathed word could be fully expressed in and through the words and characteristic idioms of human authors. In this way John is a true humanist: for while he has no pretensions about the greatness of humanity in itself, he also has no false modesty about a regenerate man’s ability to receive and reflect the clean light of the Creator God. And John’s writings do not just say this – they display it. There is no clearer looking glass through which to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ than the writings of John. Yet none of the other Evangelists communicates so much of himself in his Gospel as John. You cannot read John without getting to know him. Yet this is not because he places himself in the reader’s view. It is because he gives the reader his own eyes and ears: “Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?”
How fitting, then, that on the third day of the great Christmas Feast, we come also to the Feast of St John the Evangelist, whose writings extol and display the mystery we celebrate at Christmas – the Incarnation – most profoundly.
Among the praises I could heap up about John, probably the one that gets closest to the heart of his excellence would be this: In the art of stating deep mysteries with economy and directness, he has no peer. For example:
The Word [logos] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Here in kernel form is everything that much later would be worked out by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (A.D. 325) and Chalcedon (A.D. 451), set forth in ancient Exodus symbols, and with words (especially logos) that resonated deeply with the Greek philosophy of John’s time. The Russian proverb says that “one word of truth outweighs the world.” Quite so. And if I put John 1:14 on one side of a seesaw, and the entire cosmos on the other, I’d fully expect to see the John 1:14 side hit the ground in the blink of an eye.
If John’s skill at capturing profound simplicities in single sentences is above reproach, though, his ability to compose coherent paragraphs, chapters, or books is more generally questioned. The charge often leveled against him is repetitiveness. I have sometimes joked that if Mark is the gospel for those with ADD, John is the gospel for those with OCD. And I have heard others compare John to a doddering old man who’ll tell you something three times because he forgot he just told you twice.
I presently have no fewer than three diverse theses about John’s frequent repetitions.
The first is exactly the opposite of the senility theory: the repetitions aren’t signs of senility and age, but of perpetual youth and vitality. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this in a man so delighted with the prospect of eternal life. G. K. Chesterton once wrote that children, precisely because of their vitality, always say “’do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.” John loves repetition the way children love repetition. If we don’t feel like keeping up with him, it is because he is younger than we.
The second is that John loves repetition the way a patient teacher loves repetition. The reason you keep covering the same ground is that true mastery requires that it be re-trod. I say this because, when John repeats himself on a subject – as he does, often – each time he approaches the subject he does so from just a slightly different angle. If you have the picture of a great artist patiently pointing out to a young protégé the subtle variations in lilies, or leaves, or sunsets, or shoulders, or strands of hair, or the colors of eyes, I daresay that’s not a bad picture of John’s method.
The third thesis brings me around to one of John’s titles: “the Apostle of Love.” There is nothing so guaranteed to produce lengthy outbursts of praise, complete with lots of repetition, as love. John, possessed of childlike vitality and sagacious patience, was possessed by love. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us,” he says in one place, in astonishment; and “we love because he first loved us.” He is love’s contemplative; he cannot help but turn over and over in his mind the glory, the steadfast love, and the faithfulness of God, as it was perfected in his dear friend Jesus of Nazareth.
And in the writings he left us, he has kindly given us means to look over his shoulder, and to be gripped by the very steadfast love and faithfulness that gripped him.
 1 St John 1:1-4 (ESV)
 St John 1:14 (ESV).
 “Dwelt among us” = tabernacled among us. This is a reference to the tent of meeting, the dwelling of Israel’s covenant God with His people. “Full of grace and truth” = “full of steadfast love and faithfulness”; cf. Exodus 34:6.
 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy ch. iv (1908).
 1 St John 3:1; 4:19 (ESV).