By M. Stuart, late Prof. of Sac. Lit. in the Theol. Sem. at Andover
᾿Εν ἀρχῆ is an exact translation of בְּרֵאשִׁית in Gen. 1:1; and this last verse is plainly the prototype and exemplar of John 1:1–3, with the exception that a new personage, viz. the Logos, is introduced by the apostle. Strictly speaking, the word בְּרֵאשִׁית designates the exact point when time began. But in John the assertion is, that at that point the Logos was already in existence, ἦν. In the sequel we have the assertion, that the Logos created all things without any exception, which have been created. Of course the Logos himself is assumed to be an uncreated being. In effect, therefore, ἐν ἀρχῇ in such a construction is equivalent to the phrase πρὸ τοῦ τὴν γῆν ποιῆσαι, Prov. 8:22, which there is parallel to and explains ἐν ἀρχῇ equivalent to πρὸ τον͂ τὸν κόσμον εἶναι thai, in John 17:5; to πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, in John 17:24 and Eph. 1:4; also to πρὸ τοῦ αἰωνος in Prov. 8:23. And although in strictness of speech ἐν ἀρχῇ does not of itself directly indicate eternity, yet in consequence of its connection here, and by implication, it necessarily designates, or rather implies, this idea. What is uncreated must be eternal; that which existed before all things, or (to use the language of John) before any one created thing, must be eternal; the author of all created things, must of course be self-existent.
The affirmation that ἀρχῇ here means the beginning of the Gospel-dispensation (Crellius), is so plainly against the tenor of the context, that scarcely any critics have been found to patronize it. The creation of all things is said (v. 3) to have been accomplished by the Logos; and in v. 10 it is affirmed that the world was created by him. In neither case can the Christian church be meant, (as Crellius would have it). Not in the first, for πάντα never has such a meaning; not in the second, because the assertion is made by John, that this same world which the Logos created did not know him, while the special characteristic of Christians is, that “they know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.”
In a grammatical respect, the word ἀρχῇ, employed, would seem to demand the article. So our version: “In the beginning;” and so in most languages that have the article. But in Greek, this word is one of those which by usage and special license frequently omit the article, even when (as in the present case) they have a meaning that is monadic and specific. Accordingly, ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς, ἐξ ἀρχῆς and ἐν ἀρχῆ (all without the article), are frequent both in the N. Test., the Sept., and in the Greek classics. (See Win. N.T. Gram. § 18.) It should be noted, moreover, that our idiom would employ a mode of expression somewhat different from that of the text. We should say: “At the beginning,” (not in). But in has become familiar to us, by reason of the biblical mode of expression.
ἦν, was, i.e. existed; or, to translate more exactly according to the Imperfect tense, was existing. This is the nearest we can come to giving the relative sense of the Greek Imperf. in our language. The relative sense in this case has respect to something else in the past, which existed or was done. This is designated in v. 9 and the sequel, which exhibit the Logos in his incarnate condition. His antecedent condition is contrasted with his incarnate one; and as both belong to the past time, the Imperf. ἦν is employed in its proper sense, viz. that of denoting action or being in the past, antecedent to something else that was or was done in the past. To say, as some have said, that ἦν of itself denotes timeless existence (like ἐστί inθεὸς ἐστι), seems not to be well founded in the laws of grammatical usage. The assertion of the eternity of the Logos depends not on the use of ἦν, but on the nature of the declarations respecting him. Our simple English preterite (was) fails to give here the relative sense of the Greek, as already remarked; nor can we easily remedy this difficulty in our language, for the expression was existing would seem to be in a measure unusual and cumbrous.
Ὁ Λόγος, the Word. According to the general usage of the Greek language, λόγος may designate either word or wisdom (reason). But in the language of the O. Test, and of the New,λόγος never has the meaning of reason, understanding, or wisdom, in God. The usual form, in relation to God, is ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ. But with such a limitation, the meaning of is quite diverse from that in our text, (Rev. 19:13 only excepted). God’s word means, in both Testaments, something spoken by him, or some communication or message from him. But in what possible sense could it be said, that such a word was “with him,” or that it “became flesh and dwelt amongst us?”
Equally remote from the sense of λόγος, here in John, is that of wisdom or reason; for (1), such a meaning of λόγος is without any example in the Scriptures, which usually express it by σοφία τοῦ Θεοῦ, and sometimes by καρδία, νοῦς, orπνεῦμα. It cannot well be supposed that John has here departed from the elsewhere universal usage of the Scriptures. But (2), if this could be supposed, then in what possible sense can it be said of wisdom or reason, that it “became incarnate and dwelt among us?” (v. 14.)
From whatever source the appellation now in question may have been derived, it is plain that the word is not employed in any of its ordinary senses. If it could be shown that John meant to employ it merely in the way of personification, then, whether we give the meaning of word or wisdom to it, we might easily interpret it in reference to merely a creating or enlightening and saving power; for we have parallels in the O. Test, of the like nature, e. g. Ps. 33:6. Prov. 8:22 seq., where, to the word of God and to wisdom, creative power and saving influence are ascribed. But the assertion of the incarnation of the Logos (v. 14) forbids us to regard it as a personification here either of word or wisdom. A hypostasis it must be. Even the very first assertion respecting it, viz. that it was with God, indicates this; for what could be the design of the writer in asserting here, that God’s wisdom (as an attribute) was with him? Did any one ever doubt, or need to be informed, whether the wisdom of any being is with him? And even if information of this kind were intended to be given, would not the writer have said: ἐν αὐτῷ, and not πρὸς αὐτόν? As to word, such an assertion would be unintelligible and unmeaning. Besides, to this Logos is ascribed both life and light (v. 4), where the form of expression (ἐν αὐτῷ indicates more than that the Logos was merely the instrumental cause of life and light, for it fully expresses the idea that he was the source of both. John even goes farther than this in the strength of his expression. In 1 John 1:1–2, he calls him, first, the Logos of life; and then he declares that “the Life … the eternal Life that was with the Father (πρὸς τὸν πατέρα), was exhibited to us in a visible and tangible shape.” So in John 1:9 he is called the true Light of men, and in 8:12, the Light of the world.
If now we compare these and the like expressions together, and give them their proper force, how can they be supposed to indicate less, than that they are intended to designate attributives which belong to a hypostasis? And in this, indeed, nearly all classes of interpreters appear at present to be united. But in respect to the nature and rank of this hypostasis, there is, as there long has been, a great diversity of sentiment. But our present concern is merely with the appellation Logos, and not with the rank which the being so named holds. In accordance with this we ask: Why did John so name him? And in giving him such a name, what was the special signification which he attached to it?
One thing, at least, seems to be quite probable, if not certain, in respect to this matter. Every rational and sober writer wishes and expects to be understood by his readers. Consequently he employs language which he supposes will be intelligible to them. On this ground we must suppose, that John employed the word Logos here in a sense which his contemporary readers would be able to understand. There must then have been something in the linguistic usage of that period, among the Hebrews or the Hebrew Greeks, which led the apostle to employ the appellation in question, or, at all events, which led him to suppose that it might be understood. Do the Scriptures, or does the history of the Hebrew usus loquendi of that period, cast any light on this subject?
A careful examination of the Scriptures will lead us to see, that the Hebrews were accustomed to speak of the word of God in a manner which not unfrequently led to personification; and at times they expressed themselves almost as if it were a hypostasis. The foundation of this seems to be laid in Gen. 1:3, “God said: Let there be light; and there was light.” This is equivalent to a declaration that the word of God has in it a creative power. Expressly after this tenor is Ps. 23:6, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” There can indeed be no reasonable ground to doubt, that all this is figurative, or (in other words) that it is a symbolical representation of God’s executive power or energy. The analogy, which leads to and forms the basis of such representations, is easily explained. Words are with us the signs of internal ideas, feelings, desires, purposes, etc.; and, consequently, they are as it were the outward development or representation of the internal man, or of the energies of the soul. Words are the means or instruments by which we make our desire or will known, and cause it to be executed. Nay, so closely connected are they with us, that they become the usual medium by which we carry on the process of thinking. Carrying over now to the Godhead, (as is usual in cases of representation without number), the analogy drawn from human things, the sacred writers have represented his word as accomplishing the purposes of his will. Hence a creating power, a life-giving power, a regenerating power, an enlightening power, and the like, are ascribed to the word of God. Not unfrequently is it spoken of in such a way as would seem, at first view, to indicate that it is regarded as a being, a hypostasis, which possesses and exercises attributes of its own. It is easy to illustrate and confirm this view, from both the O. Test, and the New.
Thus, in accordance with Gen. 1:3 and Ps. 33:6, it is said in Heb. 11:3, that “the worlds were framed by the word of God.” So in 2 Pet. 3:5, “By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth.” This word is a life-giving power: “Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord,” Deut. 8:3. Matt. 4:4. Luke 4:4. It gives spiritual as well as physical life: “Thy word hath quickened me,” Ps. 119:50; and so 1 Pet 1:23, “Born of incorruptible seed … by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever.” It has attributes or qualities ascribed to it; e.g. “Forever thy word is settled in the heavens,” Ps. 119:89, i.e. thy word is established and eternal. “The word of our God shall stand forever,” Isa. 40:3 and 1 Pet. 1:23. It is an agent in the execution of the divine commands: “He sent his word and healed them,” Ps. 107:20; “His word runneth very swiftly,” Ps. 147:15; “He sendeth out his word and melteth them,” Ps. 147:18; “My word that goeth out of my mouth … it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it,” Isa. 55:11. It is a messenger, going and imparting admonition: “The word of God came unto Shemaiah, saying,” 1K. 12:22; “The same night, the word of God came to Nathan, saying,” 1 Chr. 17:3; “This word from the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying,” Jer. 27:1; and so in Jer. 34:8. 36:1. To the word of God is ascribed the power of searching and discerning the most secret thoughts of men: “The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit… and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” Heb. 4:12.
In addition to the many vivid representations of this nature in the Scriptures, it should be specially considered, that the word of God, in the form of precept, prohibition, law, doctrinal instruction, prediction, and the like, is everywhere brought to view in both Testaments. It is the peculiar medium of all that may be called revelation in a specific sense. It is the principal instrument of all the communications that have been made from above to ignorant and erring man. Well may we exclaim, with the Psalmist: “Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”
We must not suppose, however, that an enlightened and spiritual Hebrew regarded the word of God as a real hypostasis or substantial being, notwithstanding the strong language thus employed respecting it. In a primary and literal sense, word means something spoken or uttered by means of the lungs, the tongue, and other material organs. God, who is a spirit, possesses no material organs; and the Hebrew, who well knew this, can hardly be regarded as literally interpreting descriptions of this nature. That on some occasions, when God, or his angel, assumed the form of man in order to hold converse with his servants, words audible to the outward ear may have been uttered, need not be denied. Indeed, this seems to be clear from such an account as we have in Gen. xviii, and from some others of a similar tenor. So at the giving of the law on mount Sinai, Ex. 19:19 seq. Heb. 12:19. But in general, when God is represented as speaking, we must, in accordance with his spiritual nature, suppose him to communicate the internal man, speaking to the mind by the influences of his Spirit. The Hebrew who understood this, would of course regard the phrase word of God, as simply designating for the most part the idea of a communication from “him, and not as conveying by any necessity the idea of an audible word, and still less that of a real and hypostatical existence. The vivid personifications of the word of God, like those above produced, are, however, very striking and expressive; and we cannot but admit, that the high importance attached everywhere in the Scriptures to God’s word, has given birth to a variety of figurative, animated, and intensive representations of it. And I may now add, that if communications of such a nature are honored with the appellation word of God in such a high sense, then it is nothing strange, that he who is the medium and the author of all saving communication between God and men, should be called the Logos of God. But of this more in the sequel.
Another important circumstance, pertaining to the usus loquendi of the Jews at the time when John wrote his Gospel, deserves to be brought distinctly into view, at the present stage of our inquiries. When the Jews returned from Babylon, the mass of them spoke the Chaldee language, modified in some degree by the ancient Hebrew. Hence it became necessary that this same mass should have the Scriptures translated into the Chaldee or Hebraeo-Chaldaic dialect. In the time of Ezra, such an interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures seems to have been made viva voce to the people at large, who were assembled together, Neh. 8:8. But not far from the beginning of the Christian era, the Targums or translations into Chaldee of the Hebrew Scriptures, were made and committed to writing; of the Pentateuch by Onkelos, and of most of the remaining books by Jonathan ben Uzziel. In these works, and in other Targums, a special idiom prevails, to a wide extent, respecting the use of the phrase word of the Lord; and it presents some views of the usus loquendi of the Jews of that period, which are not only remarkable but very striking. In my own apprehension, they have an important bearing upon the use of Logos in our text; and a brief statement, therefore, respecting the usage in question seems to be necessary.
The Chaldee word for Logos is ימְרָא, a noun with formative מ derived from אֲמַר, dixit To this noun the Targumists subjoin the Gen. דִּי יְהוֹה (abridged דּי יָי), which then is exactly equivalent to o λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ. This expression is employed in the Targums, in cases almost without number, instead of the simple יְהוָֹה or אֱלהִֹים. of the Hebrew text. In particular, wherever the Heb. represents the divine Being as in action, or as revealing himself by his works, or by communications to individuals, in a word, whenever God operates ad extra and thus reveals himself, it is common for the Targumists to say that his word operates, or makes the revelation. A few examples are necessary to show the manner of this.
In Ex. 19:17, the Hebrew runs thus, “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God;” in the Targum, “To meet with the word of the Lord” Job 42:9 (Heb.), “The Lord accepted Job;” in the Targum, “The word of the Lord accepted Job.” Ps. 2:4 (Heb.), “The Lord shall have them in derision;” in the Targum, “The word of the Lord shall deride them.” Gen. 26:3 (Heb.), “I will be with thee;” Targum, “My word shall be thy helper.” Gen. 39:2 (Heb.), “The Lord was with Joseph;” Targum, “The word of the Lord was with Joseph.” Lightfoot, that great master of Rabbinical learning, says of these and the like cases; “So, all along, that kind of phrase is most familiar amongst them,” Hor. Heb. in Johan. 1:1. Specially is this the case, when God is represented as transacting affairs of moment between himself and his people. Thus in Lev. 26:46 (Heb.), “These are the statutes which the Lord made between him and the children of Israel;” Targum, “Between his word and the children of Israel.” Deut. 5:5 (Heb.), “I stood between you and the Lord, at that time;” Targum, “I stood between you and the word of the Lord.” Deut. 20:1 (Heb.), “The Lord thy God is with thee;” Targum, “Jehovah is thy God, his word is with thee.”
Such is the striking usage of the Targumists, in respect to the phrase word of God, They carry it indeed still further, and often express by ימְרָא the emphatic pronouns myself, thyself, himself. Thus instead of the Heb. (Gen. 6:6), “It repented Jehovah,” the Targum has it, “Jehovah repented himself,” or lit. “repented in his word,” i.e., in himself. Gen. 8:21 (Heb.), “And Jehovah said in his heart;” Targum, “And Jehovah said in his word,” i.e., within himself. Strikingly is this idiom illustrated in a later Targum of 2 Chron. 16:3, where the Hebrew runs thus,” There is a league between me and thee;” Targum, “between my word and thy word.” Thus מִימְרָא came, by usage among the Jews, to be employed not only to designate God as acting or making some revelation of himself or of his will, but to be employed as a kind of intensive periphrastic pronoun to designate God himself. The transition was not unnatural. That which is often employed to express God revealed, may easily come at last to express the idea of God simply considered.
What now are we to say, as to the real nature and design of the idiom in question? Is it personification, or does it amount to the assertion of hypostasis? If we were to judge of this matter, only in view of the leading instances produced above, we might be ready to say, that it amounts to asserting hypostasis. But when we compare the idiom in its whole extent, we cannot view the matter in such a light. Even those cases which present word in the sense of the reciprocal pronoun, cannot be regarded as hypostatically designating a being different from God. But if those cases first produced above do indeed imply hypostasis, they must be understood of a being distinct and separate from God. Had the ancient Hebrews any idea of this nature? The Old Testament every where ascribes creative power and other divine attributes to God alone, in distinction from all inferior and subordinate beings. If John’s doctrine of the Logos was understood by the ancient Jews, it cannot be well affirmed that it is any where fairly developed in the Heb. Scriptures. Indeed it seems to be plainly asserted in John 1:18, that Christ, the Light of the world, was the first who fully developed the Godhead: “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” In the connection in which this passage stands, the implication is, that neither Moses, nor any other Old Testament writer, has made a full disclosure of the gospel-doctrine respecting God. “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” (v. 17.)
In very late Targums, there are indeed passages which plainly imply a hypostatic use of ימְרָא, i.e. word. But in those that were extant in the time of John, we find none which necessarily convey such a meaning. A sufficient explanation of the usus loquendi in question may be found, by resorting to personification, or (in other words) to symbolic representation. The words of men are the expressions of their desires, feelings, and wishes. They represent or symbolize the internal man. So when the word of God has efficiency, action, development ascribed to it, this ascription is made because it is the symbol or representative of the will or mind or energy of the Godhead. In this light we ought to regard the idiom of the Targums in question. A hypostasis, such as John presents, cannot well be found in them.
For what purpose, then, do we resort to them? My answer would be, that we do so in order to show how the way was already prepared for John to apply the name of Logos to Christ. The word of God in the Old Testament, and the same word in the Targums, is a symbol of God in some way revealing himself, or making himself known to men. Was it not easy and natural for the apostle to name him Word, “who alone has fully declared God,” and “brought life and immortality to light?”
Still more easily may we conceive of this, in case the context in the prologue of John, and also the general tenor of his works, unite in showing that Christ is the true light of the world, and the great medium of all saving communication between God and man. Let us see if this be not the predominant idea in the introduction to John’s gospel.
First of all, the Logos is with God, and is God; next he is the Creator of all things; then he is the source and author of all life, specially of that which is spiritual; and lastly he communicates this higher life to men, by becoming the light of men, a light shining on the darkened world of the ungodly, although not comprehended by the mass of them. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, is next introduced. He came, not as the great light that was needed, but to bear witness respecting it, that so he might induce men to regard it. The true light, in distinction both from all false ones and from all inadequate ones, was Christ. He who made the world came into it, but it rejected him; he came even to his own peculiar people, and they in general did not receive him. The Logos became incarnate; his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, was seen by his disciples, and it was because he was “full of grace and truth “that his disciples wondered and admired. The Law, indeed, existed before. There was an Old Testament revelation respecting God and our duty. But this was only a preparatory step for the complete illumination of the world. No legislator or prophet preceding the incarnation could accomplish this in an adequate manner, for no one had penetrated the secrets of the Divine bosom. “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,” v. 18.
Such is the tenor and substance of the prologue before us. It lies now upon the very face of it, that Christ, as the light of the world, is its main subject. I do not indeed consider this as indicating, that the instruction given by Christ was of itself the most important of all the things that he did, in order to secure our salvation, but as indicating that the light of truth must precede the conversion of men, and that without this, we should neither know the nature and extent of our malady, nor where we are to seek for adequate relief. The first thing which Christ did, was to instruct; after that he became the holy victim, the expiatory sacrifice, which was necessary to complete his work and secure the great end of all the light which he had diffused. As “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” John has everywhere exhibited him, almost beyond any other New Testament writer. But while he exhibits this truth in all its extent and excellence, he insists, perhaps more than any other sacred writer, on the work which Christ performed in fully revealing God, and in bringing life and immortality to light.
I must glance at a few passages out of his prologue, as specimens of John’s views in regard to this subject.
The work of the Redeemer, while on earth, was to make known the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent; which work he performed,’ John 17:3–4. “To his disciples did he manifest the name of God, for their salvation,” 17:6, 26. “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true,” 1 John 5:20. “I have given unto them the words that thou gavest me; and they have received them,” John 17:8. “As the Father hath taught me, I speak these things,” 8:28. So 12:49, 14:10. “Thou hast the words of eternal life, 6:68. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,” 6:63. “I am the light of the world … the light of life,” 8:12, and again in 9:5.” Yet a little while is the light with you,” 12:35–36. “I am come a light to the world,” 12:46. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” 14:6. “The anointing which ye have received of him … teacheth you all things, and is truth,” 1 John 2:27.
These are only specimens, and they might be greatly enlarged. But I deem this unnecessary. The prologue itself is so replete with the idea of Christ as the light of the world, as the grand medium of communicating divine and saving knowledge, that it seems to offer a plain and ready solution of the question, why Christ is styled the Logos. Communication to men of the will of God, of the doctrines of truth, of the way of salvation — the making known the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent — the bringing of life and immortality to light — are all significantly implied in the word Logos. That the word is an abstract and not a concrete one, is not a matter of chance or of insignificance. A concrete appellation here, e. g., ὁ λέγων, ὁ διδάσκαλος, or any like word, would be much tamer and less significant than the word now employed. John abounds in this kind of idiom. “I am the resurrection and the life,” 11:25. “I am the door,” 10:9. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” 14:6. “The words that I speak, they are spirit, and they are life,” 6:63. “God is light,” 1 John 1:5. “God is love,” 1 John 4:8. Can any one, who enters into the spirit of the Hebrew writers, fail to discern the intensity of expression which such an idiom presents? God is love is surely more impressive, yea more comprehensive, than God is benevolent, or God is kind. It implies not merely that he loves, but (if the expression may be allowed) that his very essence or nature comprises the element of love in itself. Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life, implies more than to say, that he points out the way, that he teaches the truth, and that he bestows life. As there is no other name under heaven? given among men, whereby we can be saved; as none can come to the Father except by him; Christ is himself most significantly named the way of salvation, not merely him who points it out. And so of the truth; for all essential and saving truth concentres in him. As to life, he does not merely bestow it. “The Father has given the Son to have life in himself,” (5:26); “In him was life,” (1:4); i.e., the life-giving principle pervades him, and makes a part of his very nature. In like manner Paul: “Christ is of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” 1 Cor. 1:30. Will any one say, then, that the abstract word Logos is not the most significant of all that could be chosen to designate Christ as the great medium of communication between God and man, as the revealer of the mysteries of God, as the discloser of all that pertains to our duty or our happiness? In a word, the essential meaning of Θεὸς λόγος, is God revealed — God who communicates with his creatures, and discloses to them the way of salvation. What more appropriate appellation could be given, than that which John has chosen?
If now this process of reasoning and illustration seems in any good degree satisfactory to the reader, it may help to augment this satisfaction, if he reflect that the principle of interpretation, which I have now endeavored to follow out, is altogether plain and of a fundamental nature. It is simply grammatico-historical. First of all, if possible, we must interpret a writer by the aid of his own writings. Next, when this fails, or is not entirely satisfactory, we may then resort to the usus loquendi, to the circumstances, the usages, the opinions, and the like, of the time in which the writer lived. I have, in the preceding pages, endeavored to do both. I have mainly relied on the leading views, which John’s prologue and gospel present, of him who came to redeem lost man. In these I have found, as it seems to me, a good reason for choosing the appellation Logos. In resorting to the Hebrew Scriptures and the Chaldee translations of them, and the idiom which pervades these in regard to word of God, I have endeavored to show, that the way was fully prepared for John to apply the appellation in question with great significance, and (taking his own explanations of the word into view) with little danger of mistake as to his design in giving to Christ such an appellation.
If the preceding view of the appellation Logos is well grounded, it follows that the solution of the question by Beza, Tittmann, and others, viz., that ὁ λόγος is equivalent to ὁ λεγόμενος, and that this means the promised one, is not entitled to our assent. ‘O hyofievog is not employed in such a sense in the Scriptures; nor does the context show that the subject-matter of the writer here is prediction or promise respecting the Messiah. We have already seen that ὁ λέγων cannot be substituted for ὁ λόγος, without greatly impairing its significant emphasis. The opinion of Doederlein, Storr, and others, that λόγος stands for author of the word, is somewhat nearer to correctness than either of the preceding ones. But even this view of the appellation is defective. These critics defend it by alleging, that φῶς applied to Christ means author of light; and ζωή applied in like manner means author of life. But we have already seen that these abstract nouns mean more than this. They designate the idea, that light and life concentre in him as their source and essence.
But other views different from these, and from any that have here been exhibited, have been taken by many of the later and recent critics. They compare the Logos of John with the representation of wisdom, as made in Prov. 8. and 9:1–12. There wisdom is personified, and is represented as the first-born of God, as being with him and being his delight, as assisting in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, as rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth and taking delight in the sons of men, as instructing and enlightening and guiding men, specially kings and princes and nobles, and in a word as opening the way, by counsel and the communication of knowledge, to all peace and prosperity and happiness.
Very easy, it must be confessed, would it be to apply all this to the Logos. But it should be remembered, first, that wisdom is poetically personified here as a divine attribute. Such an attribute the Logos is not, inasmuch as it became flesh. Next, it is clear that λόγος, in scriptural usage, never means wisdom or reason. If now John meant simply to follow in the steps of Solomon, why did he change the appellation? Christ is more than once called wisdom in the New Testament, Matt. 11:19, Luke 7:35, 1 Cor. 1:30. Why should John scruple to name him in the same way, specially since he has predicated so many things of the Logos which are also predicated of Wisdom? Plainly, I should reply, because wisdom in Prov. 8. is a divine attribute, and this could neither be represented as becoming incarnate, nor be called God. Lastly, John’s view of the Logos is given in prose, plain historico-didactic prose, while wisdom in Prov. 8. is manifestly a poetic personification of the highest and most imaginative stamp. That John has merely, or even at all, imitated or copied this, there is no good evidence in the prologue before us. The manner and style of the composition are palpably different from that which we find in the work of Solomon.
In the book of Jesus Sirach, one of the apocryphal works composed not long before the Christian era, there is a copious eulogy of Wisdom, (in chap. i. and xxiv.), which corresponds to that in the book of Proverbs, and doubtless is grounded on it. In chap. L, wisdom is declared to be “unsearchable; to have been created before all things; to be poured out over all the works of God; as given to all who fear God; and the beginning of wisdom, her crown, her fulness, her root, is the fear of the Lord.” Thus far there is scarcely any palpable personification; and the latter declarations respecting it, show that it is spoken of as a virtue or grace, and not as a hypostasis. But in chap. 24., wisdom is represented as ‘proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, before time and from the beginning (vs. 3, 9); as having sought after a resting place, and found one in Israel, at Jerusalem, in Zion, among the people of God, where she flourished like the cedar of Lebanon, etc., and produced abundant fruit. In the law of Moses she developed herself in great fulness and abundance, like an unfathomable stream sending forth divine revelations, prophecies, knowledge, and love, for all generations.’
All this falls far short of Prov. 8. as to boldness and lofty conception. The detail of the imagery, moreover, shows an anxiety on the part of the writer to appear ornate and imaginative, and exhibits much more of tinsel than of taste. Indeed one cannot for a moment suppose, after comparing the prologue of John with the chapters before us, that the apostle had before his mind at all, while writing the prologue, the picture drawn by the Son of Sirach. The personification even of wisdom, in the apocryphal writer, is on the whole but feebly developed; and far, very far indeed, is this author from representing wisdom either as being God, or as having become incarnate.
I do not see how the probability is to be made out, indeed, that any of the New Testament writers, either John or any other of them, was familiar with the apocryphal writings. It is remarkable, that nothing in all the New Testament is built on them, either of sentiment or of style. That some of the apostolic writers may have met with those apocryphal books, and read them more or less, I would not deny. But where is the passage in all the New Testament that copies after them, or is even modified by them? At any rate, John 1:1–18 is as discrepant from what Jesus Sirach has written as we can well imagine, when we consider the kindred nature, or rather the kindred offices, of λόγος and σοφία.
In the book of Baruch, 3:1–4:4, is a similar but much more indistinct representation of σοφία or φρόνησις. But it is not sufficiently prominent to require special notice now.
The so-called Wisdom of Solomon is throughout an eulogy of wisdom. Most of the book is occupied with showing how wisdom is to be sought, and what have been the fruits of it among the people of God, in securing their happiness and advancing the interests of true religion in the world, in contrast with the folly, i.e. the idolatry of the heathen. But in 6:22–9:18 is a particular and descriptive eulogy of wisdom. The writer says that it is the sum of all knowledge and virtue, etc.; it is the gift of God bestowed only on the pious through their prayers; and then, 7:22 seq., he describes it in the following manner: “Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, simple, manifold, subtile, very mobile, piercing, undefined, clear, invulnerable, benevolent, keen, unrestrained, beneficent, man-loving, steadfast, never-deceiving, care-freed, almighty, all-seeing, and pervading all intelligent, pure, and tender spirits.” He then exhibits it as «the breath of God, the pure emanation of his majesty, incapable of defilement, the radiance of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the divine activity, the reflection of his goodness. It is but one, and yet does everything; itself changes not, while it renews all things; it descends, from age to age, into the souls of the friends and prophets of God, and these only are loved by God. It is more resplendent than the sun, dwells above all the stars, and is to be preferred before the light. Its power reaches from one end of the world to the other, and it directs all things in the best manner.”
Here then wisdom is not only called a spirit, but divine attributes are seemingly ascribed to it. It is the organ of God in creating, preserving, governing, and enlightening the world. At times, in this work, wisdom seems to be neither more nor less than the Holy Spirit of God, in the sense of his efficient agency; see 1:4–7:7, 22, and comp. 9:17. 7:7. 12:1. In chap. x. seq., it is sometimes exchanged with Κύριος, and the same things are predicated of it.
Is this personification, or is it hypostasis? It seems indeed to be something more than the first, but clearly it is not the last, at least not in the sense of making this hypostasis a being separate from God. It is sometimes presented as a kind of emanation from God, tantamount to a species of spiritual substance everywhere diffused, and everywhere irresistibly active. In 8:2–9:18, the mode of representing wisdom is merely one of personification. In x. seq., a different view seems to be taken, for σοφία is sometimes the equivalent of Κύριος. But the writer is so diffuse in many parts of his work, and so prodigal of epithets and imagery, that one would find it difficult indeed to make out from him a view both consistent and intelligible. At all events, the manner and matter are, for the most part, widely different from those of John. No trace can be found in the latter of leaning upon the former. The pictures drawn by each, are as diverse as the nature of the case well admits.
But there is another Jewish writer, Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of the apostles, from whom, as some eminent critics of late affirm, John may have borrowed. Lücke, in his commentary on John (edit. 2), has strenuously labored to prove, that John’s views were in fact moulded and modified by Philo’s speculations on the Logos, if not directly derived from them. To this De Wette assents, in his Exegetical Manual. These critics profess, indeed, not to be wholly satisfied that John drew directly from this source; but they think that at all events he must have been acquainted with Philo’s speculations, and influenced by them.
The same thing has often been asserted before, and many have labored to establish the probability of the assertion. The numerous resemblances that are found in Philo, between his Logos and that of John, are the main sources of argument to which all these critics resort. Some of these resemblances, at first view, appear to be very striking. But a careful examination and comparison of the whole, leads to a conclusion very different from that which a hasty or a superficial reader might make. Dorner has recently made such an examination. He has shown, as it seems to me every unprejudiced reader must now acknowledge, that the Logos of Philo is not a hypostasis; that nothing was farther from Philo’s mind than the union of God and man in one person; that he had no belief in the need of any special atoning mediator like Christ, and no expectation of a Messiah like him who is described by John. “But,” to use the words of Dorner, “blinding as the resemblance between many of his ideas and modes of expression and those of Christianity may be to the superficial reader, yet the essential principle of the two is to its very foundation diverse. Even that which sounds like [the expressions of John] has, in its entire connection, a meaning altogether diverse… . His system stalks by the cradle of Christianity only as a spectral counterpart. It appears like the floating, dissolving Fata Morgana, on the horizon where Christianity is about to arise.” (I. s. 56.)
Such is the conclusion of the ablest writer, who has yet treated of the matter before us. It would detain me too long were I to produce, in this place, the views of Philo and the reasoning of Dorner respecting them. My intention however is, considering the importance of the subject, to exhibit them in the way of appendix, at the close of the present examination.
I must add a few general remarks, before quitting the subject of the various productions which I have already brought to view, on the efforts that have been made to show that John drew his views of the Logos from them.
Every one who is acquainted with the prejudices of the Palestine Jews against the foreign and the Grecian literature, during the apostolic age, will be slow to believe, that a fisherman from the lake of Galilee was conversant with the philosophy of Philo, or even that of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament. John might indeed, while at Ephesus, have formed an acquaintance with the writings of the Egyptian Hebrews. But were they in any repute at that time, or regarded at all as authority, among the Palestine Jews? The Sept. version of the O. Test, might be, and seems to have been, favorably regarded, by all the Jews acquainted with Greek. But the reason of this is plain. It was still the O. Test, although its costume was changed. But that Philo, or the apocryphal writers, were sources to which a genuine Hebrew would resort, in order to obtain his religious views, is a thing of which the N. Test, affords no good and certain evidence. John could not expect to commend his gospel to his countrymen in this way. The evidence, then, that he drew from such a source, ought to be very strong, in order to justify us in giving credit to it.
One more general remark, and I shall pass on to the sequel of the verse before us. This is, that when so many resemblances of the σοφία of Philo and of the Apocrypha to the Logos of John are produced, we must consider the obvious coincidence of these two words, in a variety of respects. In speaking of σοφία, a writer like Philo, or Jesus Sirach, or even like the author of the book of Proverbs, might naturally say very much like that which John has said of the Logos; for all of the first named writers personify the wisdom of the Godhead, and in this way of course they say much that may be appropriately predicated of the Logos as represented by John. The former extend the idea of wisdom to all the manifestations of the Godhead. They represent it as a creative, life-giving, governing, enlightening, sanctifying power. John has predicated the same things of the Logos. Hence the apparent similarity. But the discrepancy, after all, is striking and fundamental. They evidently, for the most part, merely personify, or, when they go beyond this (if indeed they do), they employ ,the word wisdom as a mere periphrasis for God himself; just as we use Omnipotence or Omniscience to designate him who possesses these attributes. But with John, Logos is not an attribute. It is a hypostasis in some respects diverse from God, while still it is God. Withal, it “became flesh and dwelt among us.” This last circumstance, in a most special manner, widely distinguishes the Logos of John from the σοφία of the other writers. Plainly, therefore, when the whole development in both cases is taken into view, and the nature of the subject in each is duly considered, the resemblances in some respects do not prove the derivation of John’s views from those of the former writers, inasmuch as the discrepancies are so wide and so palpable as to preclude any supposition of such a nature. Indeed I cannot resist the impression, that John purposely chose the word λόγος, in preference to σοφία, in order that he might avoid representing a divine attribute as becoming incarnate, and also avoid being confounded with the other writers who had treated of wisdom.
Πρὸς τὸν Θεόν — with God. So our version, and so the nature of the case obliges us to translate. The more usual meaning of πρός with the Ace, is towards, to, unto. But the sense of the passage here would be marred, and indeed unintelligible, if we should so translate it. Πρός has a multiplicity of meanings, and may stand before the Gen., Dat. or Accusative. In all these cases, it designates, among other things, space-relations; and with either of the cases πρός may denote proximity, nearness. That the idea which we express by at, with, near by, close to, is sometimes designated by πρός with the Acc., both in the classics and in the N. Test., is plain from abundance of examples; see Mark 6:3, πρός ἡμᾶς, with us; Matt. 13:56 id. Mark 9:19, πρός ὑμᾶς, with you; Matt. 26:55. 1 Cor. 16:6–7. Gal. 1:18. 4:18. Mark 2:2. In such cases πρός is equivalent to παρά with the Dat., as Winer has abundantly shown in his Grammar, and as any good lexicon will demonstrate. Indeed John himself has decided this by his naqa gmvtcq and naqa ool in 17:5, where the very same connection of the Son with the Father is expressed as here, viz. one that preceded the creation of the world. The same idea is also expressed (in 1:18) by the phrase, Who is in (or on, εἰς) the bosom of the Father. Nearness, intimate communion or the most intimate union, of the λόγος with God, seems plainly to be the idea aimed at byπρὸς τὸν θεόν. Still it differs from what would be expressed by ἐν τῷ θεῷ. The latter would carry with it the idea that the λόγος was (so to speak) a part or portion of the Godhead, as an attribute, etc., if metaphysically considered; or if morally understood, it would designate a moral union, harmony, or agreement. Πρὸς τὸν Θέον expresses neither of these ideas, but designates an ontological connection and communion, with the implication, moreover, that in some respect or other there is a diversity. “We should not think of saying, with any intelligible meaning, that God is with himself, when simply and absolutely considered. To say, then, that the Logos is with him, must mean, that there is a diversity of some kind between the Logos and God; although the writer has not undertaken to define in what that diversity consists. I have named the connection ontological, because it is evidently of a nature different from that which is designated in such passages as assert the moral union of God and Christ and believers; e. g. John 17:21–23, comp. vs. 10, 11.
But, after all, the inquiry remains: What is the exact idea which John means to designate? The word πρός designates, in its primary and literal sense, a space-relation, viz. the proximity of one thing to another. It may also have a kindred secondary and tropical sense; in which case it means in respect to, as to, in reference to, according to, on account of, and the like. But plainly none of these or the like tropical senses fit the passage before us. We must return, then, to the onto-logical view, and ask: What in this respect does πρός mean?
At the outset of this inquiry, some things appear to be plain and certain. An actual literal space-relation is out of the question, as has already been hinted, for the Logos and God are spiritual beings, yea purely spiritual. Now space-relations can belong only to material things, and cannot be literally transferred to spiritual ones. To say that the Logos was literally near to or with God, would therefore convey no intelligible and rational meaning. It would imply that both God and the Logos are of limited extension; an idea incompatible with the omnipresence of both. John could not have meant to teach such a doctrine; for his views of the Godhead are evidently and palpably of the most spiritual kind. Something different from this he surely designed to express. But what this was, can be discovered, if indeed it is capable of being developed, only by an accurate and careful survey of the nature of language, when applied to beings spiritual and divine. To do this effectually, we must glance at some of the fundamental principles that belong to the nature of language, and to its application to the Godhead.
(1) All language is the expression of thought and feeling. Beyond this circle it cannot go, and yet retain any definite meaning. Whatever it originally expresses, must be ideas within the circle of sensation, reflection, or consciousness, for in one or other of these ways we obtain all our ideas.
(2) No nation or people coin words beyond their necessity. They have no store-house where they are laid up. The power of coining is all they need; and this they possess. Hence it is, that in neither Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, can we find any words appropriate to express ideas or things, beyond the circle of knowledge among the nations who spoke these languages. For example, nearly all the modern technics of the arts and sciences, also all such words as designate objects that were unknown to them, whether they have relation to government, manners, customs, manufactures and instruments of various kinds, or to plants, trees, minerals, animals, and the like — all such words, which now make up one half of our language, are entirely wanting in the ancient languages. It is easy to illustrate this, by a moment’s delay. Let us choose, as an example, things now connected with the art of carrying on war by land and by sea, a matter so well known and so often practised by the ancients. How would any one translate into Hebrew or Greek, words expressive of the common implements of war at the present day? Let him be called on to translate gunpowder, gun, rifle, swivel, bomb,. cannon, Congreve rocket, and many other instruments of destruction; can he do it? Or if we transfer the scene of contest to the waters of the ocean, we may then ask him to translate this (to us very intelligible) sentence: “The brig was hulled by a broad-side from a frigate, and blown up by a Congreve rocket from a man of war.” What is the reason, now, that in not one of the cases in question, or in a multitude more of the like tenor, not a single portion of this sentence can be expressed in Hebrew or Greek, in a manner like that in which we express ourselves, or even at all, except by diffuse and inadequate circumlocution? The reason, I answer, is plain enough. All these and the like objects were never within the circle of Greek or Hebrew cognition, and of course they have no names in the respective languages. This exemplifies the position, that no store-house of words was furnished in ancient times for future use, and sufficiently illustrates our assertion, that the coining of words is limited by the need of them.
Let us pause here, for a moment, and reverse the case. The Hebrews and Greeks were cognizant of many objects natural and artificial, which are entirely out of the circle of our acquaintance, and for which we have no names. How then can we translate many things named in the Scriptures of both Testaments? We cannot do it with any exactness. We must either transfer the words of the original, and explain as we best may, or we must employ a diluted and feeble circumlocution.
(3) We have seen that no people form words to designate things out of the circle of their cognition. So long then as the invisible world is known to them neither by experience nor intuition, men do not form words intended specifically to designate the objects of that world. But before a revelation, the true spiritual nature of God, and of heavenly beings, was wholly unknown to men. An imaginary future, and imaginary gods, the heathen nations indeed thought and spoke much of. But all they said and thought, in regard to these, is deeply tinged with their supposed resemblance to material and earthly objects. Their gods are of course full of human passions and infirmities. Their heaven and hell are but copies of terrestrial scenes of happiness or of misery. They were unable to go beyond this, in their conceptions or their expressions. And it was by men of such a cast, that the Hebrew and Greek languages were moulded. Joshua tells us that the ancestors of Abraham “served other gods,” 24:2; and we know what was the state of the Greeks. When prophets and apostles, then, were called to deliver inspired messages, they were compelled to employ languages formed and fashioned by heathen polytheists and idolaters, who had no true idea of a spiritual Godhead, or of heaven, or hell. They must needs take the language as they found it, or else make a new one. But a new one would be intelligible only to the inspired, and of course it could make no revelation at all to the mass of men. What could they do, what did they do, in such an exigency as this?
They did what the necessity of the case constrained them to do. In a few cases they formed new designations, by compounding words which bore a sense in some respects similar to the one they wished to express. They gave to some words a more prolonged or a shorter form, to indicate some discrepancy from former usage. But in far the greatest number of cases, they assigned to the old words a sense in some respects new, leaving it to the context and the nature of the case to point out the meaning of them. Nothing is plainer, than that, so far as the invisible world is concerned, all the words, which designate objects there, have a meaning in some respects quite new attached to them. Take, for example, θεός, κύριος, ἄγγελος, διάβολος, οὐρανός, and the like, and a moment’s reflection will show, that not one of all these words was ever employed by the heathen Greek, before the Christian era, in the N. Test, sense. But the sacred writers did not, and could not, stop to define in all these cases. The context and the pervading tenor of the sentiment of course define the meaning of nearly all such words.
But beyond the objects of the invisible world, the like usage was necessarily extended. Of some of the Christian graces and virtues, and of all the peculiar truths of Christianity, the heathen were ignorant. How then can they be supposed to have formed words to express those things of which they had no cognizance? The Christian grace of humility, for example, which is expressed by the newly coined word ταπεινοφροσύνη, they regarded only as pusillanimity, ̓́Αρης, was with them the name of bravery, courage, martial spirit, a word kindred to ̓́Αρης, Mars, In like manner, they assigned to πίστις, δικαιοσύνη, χἀρις, and other like words, a sense quite discrepant from the evangelical one. There is not a page, nor scarcely a paragraph of the N. Test., which is not stamped with that character which a new-revelation of necessity assigns to words. Scarcely ever has a greater error in philology been committed, than that of the Purists, who maintained that the Greek of the N. Test, is entirely classical If it were so, then we should find only classical, i.e. heathen ideas in it; and then, moreover, such a style would afford demonstrative evidence to the critic, that these books were not written by Hebrews.
We have now taken a view of the general nature of the case, which has respect to the invisible world. Leaving this general view, let us,
(4) Make some more special investigation of the manner in which the Scriptures of both Testaments have disclosed to us the nature and developments of the Godhead.
In the expression of all our views of God, we borrow analogies drawn from ourselves; and abstracting from them all that savors of the finite and the imperfect, we arrive at the idea of the infinite and the perfect. So we do now, and so we are compelled to do, notwithstanding all our advantages of an improved philosophy. The ancients went all lengths in these analogies. To God is assigned by them all the members of the human body, eyes, mouth, ears, arms, hands, feet, breast, etc. To God are assigned all the passions and emotions of the human mind, sinful ones only excepted. God loves, hates, is jealous, is grieved, mocks, scorns, derides, is angry, avenges himself, and the like. He ascends, he descends, he sits enthroned, he puts on dazzling costume, he makes war, he employs the bow and arrows, the spear, the helmet, and the breastplate. In a word, all that man is or does, with the exception of what is degrading or sinful, is ascribed to God in the Scriptures. How comes it, then, that no enlightened mind ever commits mistakes in regard to the interpretation of all such passages? The answer is easy. God is a spirit This is the essence of his nature. An innumerable multitude of texts in the Scriptures exhibit him in this light, and predicate of him what can belong only to an infinite and perfect spirit. At once we say, then, that all such representations as are borrowed from our material nature and outward actions, are to be tropically understood. They are mere costume, not person. They are nothing more than symbols drawn from well known and familiar things, to indicate what we have no language to express in a direct and literal manner. Those representations, indeed, which are borrowed from the operations and affections of our own minds, comprise somewhat more of real analogy; but most of them must, when we interpret them, be greatly modified and limited. God repents means that he changes the course of his providential action. When we repent of anything, we refrain from it, and alter our course of action. The change in the course pursued, is applicable to the divine dealings; but the state of mind, in God and in us, is far from being the same. Anger in God must be a very different thing from what it is in us; but disapprobation or aversion, which lie at the basis of anger, may truly be predicated of the Divine Being. When he is said to be angry, the phraseology expresses his strong disapprobation. In saying that God derides or laughs at the attempts of his enemies, there is a vivid designation of the utterly vain and futile nature of those attempts as viewed by him. And the like may be said of most of the mental operations and affections ascribed to the supreme Being, Even loving and hating must be understood in a sense that divests these affections of all imperfection and weakness. Our exegetical guide, in all such cases, is the nature and perfections of God. We cannot reasonably apply anything to him, which shall be so understood as to derogate from his spotless and all-perfect being.
In all the ontological descriptions of the Godhead, moreover, there must of course be much of modification applied to the interpretation of the language. What pure spirit is in itself, we do not know; much less, what an infinite and uncreated spirit is. When we say: ‘God is omnipresent we do not mean, at least we should not mean, that he is everywhere diffused, like the original fiery vapor of some geologists, or like some subtile and etherial fluid. If we say: ‘God is mighty,’ we must not conceive that his might, like ours, implies compactness and vigor of muscle and sinew, and of corporeal frame in general. Even when we speak of the operations of the divine mind, we must be careful how we compare them with our own. God remembers does not imply that he makes mental effort to recal past occurrences or impressions. God knows seems, at first view, to be literally applicable. But it is not exactly so. We study, compare, reason, judge, and remember, in order to know. But through these processes the divine mind does not pass. We must abstract from the application to him all the efforts and methods of acquiring knowledge, and retain only the simple idea of perfect cognition.
It were easy to extend this examination to almost everything that we ascribe to God, in respect to his ontological nature, to his thinking, or his acting; and we should find, nearly without exception, that we must use and understand language in a modified sense. The modus in quo must be left out of the account. We, when speaking of ourselves, of necessity include this. But as God is a spirit, uncreated, perfect, eternal, without parts or passions, whatever is predicated of him should not partake of what belongs to us merely as human, mortal, progressive, and never perfect.
I have said that what we affirm of the Godhead must be modified in the interpretation of it. I prefer’ this mode of characterizing the interpretation, to that of saying that the language is always tropically used. The latter would imply too much. When we say, God knows, it is no trope. There is the assertion of cognition in the phrase. But to apply knowing to God in the same sense as we apply it to ourselves, with all the implications that it necessarily suggests to our minds when affirmed of ourselves, would be altogether an erroneous application. As has already been said, we must abstract from this, and from most other expressions that have respect to the divine actions and emotions, the modus in quo throughout. Otherwise, we overlook the nature of an infinite and perfect spirit.
Let us now return, after this long but I would hope not useless digression, to πρὸς τὸν θεόν. Clear it is, if the principles that have now been brought to view are well grounded, that a proper space-relation or proximity is out of the question. Θεός and Λόγος are spiritual beings, and therefore such an idea is irrelevant. The allegation that the Logos cannot be God, because he is said to be with him, and therefore must be different from him with whom he is, seems often to be founded mainly on the conception of a space-relation; and so far as it is so, it is not well grounded. The with, in this case, is something diverse from local proximity.
What then is it? A positive and direct answer, except in a modified sense, we cannot make to this question. But we may say thus much, viz. that an intimate union or connection between the Logos and God is asserted; and, as the case is, a connection of an ontological nature; for it is evidently the design of the writer to say something concerning the nature of the Logos. The fact then of an intimate connection is averred by him. But the manner of this, is not the subject of affirmation. When we assert that God is omnipresent, we assert a plain, simple, credible truth or fact. But do we assert or know anything of the manner in which he is so? When we assert his self-existence, is the manner of it brought into view? Or, (to come nearer to objects with which we are conversant), when we assert the union of soul and body, which makes a human being, do we even pretend to know anything of the manner of this? It were easy to extend the same inquiry to ten thousand thousand things, that we assert and believe as facts or truths, where the modus in quo is utterly beyond our reach. Even the blade of grass beneath our feet puts at defiance all our powers of knowledge, in regard to many particulars respecting it.
The fact, then, of an intimate connection between God and the Logos, may be asserted, and be credible, without any explanation of the manner of that connection. Indeed, an explanation in human language may be, and probably is, utterly impossible. Of course, then, we are not able to allege that the unity of the divine being is infringed by such a connection. We must have something that is inconsistent with that unity positively disclosed, before we can come to such a conclusion. But this cannot be said of the allegation before us. There may be a diversity, in some respect or other, in a being, which does not destroy its unity. Some diversity, indeed, we are constrained to acknowledge, in the present case. Connection or community necessarily implies some diversity or other, between the objects connected or in community. There is a ἑτερότης, as the Greeks expressed it, i.e. lit. an otherness, in some sense or other. And is not this what all believe, who maintain the doctrine of the Trinity? The Father is not in all respects the Son, nor the Son the Father. But whether the diversity in question is such as to forbid us to believe that the Son is truly divine, that is another question, and one to which our context affords an answer. For the present, I have only to add, that we must rest content with this idea of the meaning of our text, viz. that it imports the most intimate connection between God and the Logos, with the implication, at the same time, of some diversity between them. The spiritual and uncreated nature of God and the Logos, and the consequent incapacity of human language specifically to describe their nature and connection, forbid us to go beyond the generic idea of the simple fact presented to our view.
One other question remains, respecting the object or design which John had in view, when he made the declaration before us. That it was important in his view, is manifest from the fact, that he has immediately repeated the assertion that the Logos was with God, in the second verse. Why this repetition? And specially, why does he not also repeat, at the same time, the declaration that the Logos is God? The earnestness of his affirmation, manifested by the repetition, is palpable indeed to every reader; but the reason or ground of that earnestness is a matter not so obvious. In fact, I know not where to look, among the commentators, for an entirely satisfactory explanation. The whole passage seems plainly to wear the appearance of opposition to some prevailing error of the times, in regard to the Logos.
That Cerinthus was a contemporary of John, and that he taught his Gnostic doctrines at Ephesus, and was opposed by the apostle, the voice of antiquity has proclaimed. The Gnostics ascribed the creation of the world to an inferior Æon, as they named their imaginary spiritual emanations from the great Supreme. With them all matter was a production of an evil-minded being, and was in itself evil and a source of evil. Hence they denied the possibility of a real union between the Logos and a human fleshly nature. That John has controverted this heresy, in his epistles, there can be no good room for doubt; indeed it is now generally conceded. In 1 John 4:2–3, and in 2 John v. 7, are found plain and explicit declarations of an opinion opposite to that of the Gnostics respecting the Logos. Various passages, moreover, in John’s epistles are of a like tenor, and are to be interpreted by the aid of these explicit texts. And in respect to the Gospel of John, there seems to be no good reason to suppose, that the heresy in question is entirely out of its view. Doubtless we are not to regard the apostle as having intended, in his great work, principally to contend against Cerinthus, so as to take the attitude of a polemic throughout. But that he had in his mind, when he wrote the prologue before us, some of the errors of the Gnostics, in regard to the Æons, and specially in regard to the Æon whom they represented as being the Logos, seems to be altogether probable. They regarded and represented the Logos as only one of the seven primary Æons, all of which were emanations or secondary beings, separate from God and liable to change. They maintained that this Logos neither created the world, nor in reality became incarnate. The visible creation sprung, as they averred, only from the lowest of the Æons, who was apostate and degenerate; and the union of the Logos with the man Jesus they regarded as only temporary and apparent, not lasting or real. In opposition to these and the like views we may very naturally suppose John to have asserted, that the Logos was the creator of all things; that to be so, he must of course have been in union with God before the creation, and not merely one of a separate and inferior order of emanated beings; and that this same Logos became incarnate and dwelt among men. All this stands opposed to the heretical doctrines in question; not (so to speak) individually and polemically opposed to Cerinthus, but still asserting or declaring what, if admitted, would undermine the whole structure of the Gnostics. That there must have been some special call for the expression of sentiments like those in the prologue before us, every considerate reader will naturally see and feel. That the Gnostic views in question were already prevalent in a considerable degree, at the time when John wrote his Gospel, there is no good reason to doubt. Is it not natural, then, to suppose that John meant to oppose and undermine those views? Not that this was his sole or even his main object; for besides opposing Gnosticism, he was inculcating or developing truths very important.
If now the Logos was with God before the creation, and was eternal, then might he be the Creator of all things. But if he was a subsequent emanation, or belonged to a separate and inferior order of emanated beings, then he could not have been Creator, nor Redeemer in that high sense in which John speaks of him, viz. as the μονογένης τοῦ πατρός. Hence the three declarations contained in the verse before us, that he was eternal, was with God, and was God. In the repetition of the assertion that the Logos was with God (vs. 1, 2), there is, as has already been remarked, beyond all doubt an emphasis. But it does not follow, that the sentiment of this clause is in itself more important than the assertion which is not formally repeated, viz. that the Logos is God. The reason for omitting here a direct repetition of this last idea, seems to be offered to our view by the subsequent context, where the Logos is represented as the Creator of all things. Is not this virtually a repetition, even with intensity, of the idea that he was God? So it must appear to most readers; for why may we not suppose them to believe, with Paul, that “he who made all things is God?” Heb. 3:4. Creatorship is the highest evidence we can have of the being and power of God.
Had we the religious history of the times and of the place, when and where John wrote his Gospel, there can be scarcely a doubt, that the entire meaning and design of the clause πρὸν τὸν θεόν would be made plain to our apprehension. But as we have it not, we must content ourselves with such an approximation to the object desired, as the nature of the case at present admits. To sum up all in a word: Gnosticism maintained, that the Logos was an emanation from God, which not only became a separate being, but belonged to an inferior and secondary order; while John asserts that he was ever in the most intimate union with God, and moreover was truly divine. Viewed in such a light, our text is full of appropriate and apposite meaning.
We may now advance to the clause that follows πρὸν τὸν θεόν; which is, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
The first question is, Which is the subject of the clause, θεός or ὁ λόγος? The fact that λόγος has the article and θεός omits it, is not decisive, although this is the more common and classical usage. But still, a predicate may, and not unfrequently does, have the article; e. g. v. 4 here, ἡ Ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς. 2 Cor. 3:17, ὁ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμα ἐστι. 1 John 3:4, ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστιν ἡ ἀνομία, and so elsewhere in many cases. On the other hand, that θεός lacks the article, would not decide that it may not be the subject of the sentence; for it is one of those words which by usage often dispense with the article. (See Win. Gram. N. Test, on the Article.) It is the nature of the case, therefore, to which we must here appeal, in order to decide the question. If θεός be the subject, then the affirmation would be, that God is the Word; which would make no sense, unless word be made to mean an attribute equivalent to wisdom or reason. This, however, is contrary to all the scriptural usage. Moreover, this would remove the diversity between God and the Logos, which the preceding clause implies, as it would make λόγος merely an attribute of God. To all this we must add, that λόγος is, throughout the passage, the dominant subject. Like constructions in John may easily be found; e. g. πνεῦμα ὁ θεός, John 4:24. ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, 1 John 4:8, 16. That the predicate (θεός) should hold the first place in the clause before us, is altogether in accordance with what usage permits and sanctions. Such a position indicates of course that the word is emphatic, i.e. that special stress is laid upon it.
But in what sense is θεός, as a predicate, to be taken? Origen suggested, in accordance with his views of the inferiority and dependence of the Son, that “the name θεός has the article, when it means the unbegotten God, but omits it when the Logos is called θεός“It is somewhat difficult to account for such an assertion, on the part of Origen; for even in this very prologue, the unbegotten God is twice named without the article, vs. 13, 18. Often is the same usage found elsewhere, as any Concordance will show. Besides, if θεός had the article prefixed, in this case, the sense of the passage would be entirely marred; for then there, would be an assertion of the entire identity of the Logos and of God, while the writer is in the very act of bringing to view some distinction between them. De Wette has seen and candidly acknowledged this. “The omission of the article,” says he, “is designed; … and it is full of meaning; for such a clause as ὁ λόγος ἦν ὁ θεός would take away all definitive idea of the Logos, and yield only the senseless meaning (sinnlosen Sinn) that the Son is the Father” (Exeg. Handbuch in loc.) Lücke, in his Commentary, has ventured to suggest, that if John meant to assert of the Logos a nature truly divine, he could not well have omitted the article, for this would prevent all ambiguity. Had he inserted it, however, instead of making his meaning plain, he would, as we have seen, have presented his readers with the very unmeaning or paradoxical sentiment, that the Son is the Father, or that the Logos is in all respects the very same as the God with whom he is. Well might De Wette say, then, that the omission of the article here is designed, and full of meaning. By the very nature of the case, when θεός becomes a predicate in a sentence, it attains a predicative, i.e. attributive or adjective meaning, designating some essence or quality inhering in the subject with which it is connected. From the very nature of the case, also, it cannot mean, that one person, strictly considered, is another person, or that one being is another being; for this is a palpable impossibility. Θεός, therefore, must be understood as designating a nature or quality which may belong to the Logos, e. g. divine essence or attributes. But whether it means a divine nature, divinity, Godhead, in a higher or lower sense, remains to be investigated in the sequel. Yet so far as the nature of a predicate is concerned, in the present case, we are obliged to suppose that it indicates something which belongs to, or is inherent in, the Logos which is the subject of the sentence. That something we can reasonably make out, only in the way that has just been indicated.
I must remark however, in this place, that although the predicate, in this and the like cases, obtains a kind of adjective meaning, it does not follow that θεός can here be exchanged for θεῖος, divine; for this adjective is not unfrequently employed in a wider and less intensive sense than that which the noun θεός designates in the present case, when interpreted according to its scriptural usage. Nor can we translate θεός a God; for this would designate the Logos only as one among other gods, i.e. a particular individual among other individuals of the like rank. It would moreover be at variance with the adjective or attributive meaning of θεός as a predicate here, and present John as asserting, or at least assuming, the existence of a class of inferior divinities, which he surely did not admit.
If the view of the omission of the article, which has been given above, be correct, it follows that what has been affirmed of this omission, viz. that it indicates of itself the inferior nature of θεός, has no ground that is stable. John has done just what the nature of the case required him to do; and had he done otherwise, the whole tenor of v. 1 would have been inexplicable, and the design of the writer marred; for he would either have said, that the Logos was the identical God with whom he was, or that he was the only supreme God, exclusive of the Father and of the Holy Ghost. Neither of these has John affirmed.
The question whether θεός indicates a divine nature in its highest or in a lower sense, has often been raised, and is argued with much ingenuity and ability by Lucke. As he has exhibited the argument in favor of the lower sense in its best form, it becomes expedient to examine his positions.
He says that two views may be taken of the clause καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. Its design may be to limit and restrain the preceding πρὸς τὸν θεόν; or it may be merely a further unfolding of the idea of community with God, “so as to prevent its being taken in a sense either too wide or too narrow.” He regards these two positions as quite distinct, and in some measure opposed to each other. I am unable to see this. In either case, something is added which prevents a wrong interpretation of πρὸς τὸν θεόν. In the first case, the writer would say, that being with God is not to be so taken as to exclude the Logos from possessing a divine nature; in the second he would say, that in addition to the idea of being with God, we must also include the idea that he was God, so as not to take the first assertion “in a sense too broad or too loose.” It comes to the same thing, at last, in both cases; for both turn on preventing a misconception of πρὸς τὸν θεόν. The whole must depend, then, on the meaning of θεός.
Lücke further argues, that in the first case, the diversity of the writer’s design would have required a δέ or an ἀλλά before the last clause, instead of a καί. To this we might reply, by alleging (what is well known and quite frequent), that καί often has an adversative sense — and yet, and still; e. g., in v. 10, last clause. So also in John 6:70. 7:19. 9:30. 17:25. 1 John 2:4, et al., see Lex. It even expresses the stronger adversative, viz: but; e. g., Matt. 12:39. 13:14, 17. 26:60, al. The Classics themselves occasionally exhibit this idiom; and above all, the Heb. is very often employed in an adversative sense, as any one may see by consulting a good Lexicon. If necessary, we might resort to this answer, in a way merely philological. But it seems to be unnecessary. The true solution lies in the aphoristic style of John, which is quite remarkable. The nicer connecting particles, which cast such exquisite light and shade over the Attic Greek, are very often neglected in the New Testament, and the more simple Heb. structure is followed. So in the case before us. The Logos was thus and so, and the Logos was also so and so. Now if the latter addition in reality explains and limits the former clause, and does this by virtue of the sentiment which it contains, it is not necessary to put it in an adversative costume. The sentiment answers a double purpose; it teaches a truth or doctrine of high importance, and this truth at the same time prevents an erroneous conception of what had gone before. An adversative form would show that the principal design was mere explanation or limitation of what precedes. But this would not do justice to our text. John’s views extend beyond mere epexegesis.
Lücke further asserts, that the last clause cannot be regarded as a new thought, because it is not repeated in v. 2, as the rest of the verse is. But it has already been suggested, that v. 3, which asserts creatorship of the Logos, virtually and energetically repeats the idea that the Logos is God. He adds, that the article before θεός would be necessary, if it meant true Godhead. But to this, an answer has already been given.
Last of all, he takes it for granted, that John drew his ideas of the Logos from Philo Judaeus. Philo asserts of the Logos, that he was δεύτερος θεός, and θεός…...ἐν καταχρήσει. Now, says he, if Philo thus modifies θεός, with such loose views of the Godhead as he had, must not John, who had so much purer and more exalted ideas of God than Philo, of course be understood as applying the epithet θεός to the Logos, in a modified and inferior sense?
In reply to this I can only say, at present, that it takes for granted far more than can be proved, or even rendered probable. That John studied the speculative works and borrowed from the store-house of the half Gentilizing, Platonizing Philo, seems to me altogether improbable. In the sequel, by the aid of Dorner, I trust it will be satisfactorily shown, that an assumption like that of Lücke has no stable foundation.
Here Lücke has left the subject before us. But why? Has he given us any fair view of the usage of the sacred writers, in both Testaments, with regard to the word θεός, or its equivalent in Hebrew? None. It becomes necessary, then, to make some suggestions in regard to this matter.
The sum of all may be expressed in a few words. Never, in all the Scriptures, is an individual called God simply, as the Logos here is, unless there is something in the context to show that the word is to be taken in a qualified sense. In Ex. 7:1, the Lord says to Moses: “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.” In 4:16 it is thus expressed: “Thou shalt be to him [to Pharaoh] instead of God.” In both cases the meaning is plain, viz: ‘Thou shalt address Pharaoh, and work miracles, in the place of the God who commissions thee.’ When magistrates are called gods (אֱלִֹהים), or angels are so named, the context always develops what will prevent mistake, on the part of any intelligent reader. When idols are called gods, or a single idol is named a god, there never can be any doubt in what sense the words are employed. They are spoken of, as their worshippers speak of them. Jehovah they are never named. There is but one alone, to whom this name belongs. And in the New Testament, beyond all doubt, the word θεός predominantly designates the same being.
At all events we challenge a single instance of the application, in the New Testament, of the name θεός to any individual, excepting to God and Christ, or to the Holy Spirit. There is no accommodation here. The usage is uniform; it pervades the whole New Testament; and it is withal a thing so plain, that he who runneth may read.
But this is not all; for John has not only added nothing to soften the force and natural meaning of θεός, but he has immediately subjoined predicates of the Logos, which render the sense of θεός here quite plain and inevitable. The Logos was not only eternal and with God, but he was the θεός who created all things; and this in so high and absolute a sense, that not even one thing was made which he did not make, v. 3. Now Paul says, that “the invisible things of God are clearly seen by the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead,” so that the very heathen are without excuse for unbelief, Rom. 1:20. Again he has said, that “he who made all things, is God,” Heb. 3:4. Throughout the Old Testament it is everywhere asserted and declared, that “the everlasting God, Jehovah, is the Creator of the ends of the earth,” Isa. 40:28. When the ancient prophets bring to view the claims of idolaters for their idol gods, they never fail to put them in comparison with the exclusive claim of Jehovah to have created all things. They all perish; their gods are the work of men’s hands; but he endureth forever, and is the eternal and self-existent God, from whom alone came all created things. The fact that the heathen gods are not creators, shows them to be no gods. There is no act of the Godhead, which is so high, so striking, so exclusively his, as that of creation; and consequently the author of creation is at all events God to us.
If this view is scriptural and correct, then has John, who not only calls the Logos God but declares that he made all things, taught us that he is true God, supreme God, and not a mere θεὸς δεύτερος, or a θεὸς … ἐν καταχρήσει. That John and Paul agree in their leading views of Christianity, will not be questioned, I presume, by any serious and considerate inquirer. But Paul has directly asserted, that Christ is supreme God, ὁ ὧν ἐπὶ πάντων θεός, i.e., the existing God over all, Rom. 9:9. And to make this still more strong, he adds, blessed forever, Amen. Paul also has told us, that “all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, were created by Christ,” Col. 1:16; and again that “God made the worlds by his Son,” Heb. 1:2; and in Heb. 2:8–10, he has directly ascribed creation to the Son. Paul also speaks of “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,” Tit. 2:13; where the circumstance of appearing seems plainly, according to New Testament analogy, to indicate that Christ is spoken of. John himself has called Christ the true God and eternal life, 1 John 5:20; for the οὗτος here (“this is the true God,” etc.) cannot grammatically relate to any antecedent but the immediate one, and this is Jesus Christ. Besides the ἠ ζωὴ αἰώνιος, in this case, belongs to οὗτος as a predicate, and this is the name which John unquestionably gives to Christ, and not to God the Father, John 1:4. 14:6. 1 John 1:1–2. Now if the same being who is eternal life is also true God, (and this the construction of the sentence most plainly declares, for οὗτος belongs to both predicates), then does John here call Christ the true God. If so, can any words show more plainly, that John did not regard Christ as merely a secondary or subordinate God?
I am aware that Lücke and De Wette give a different exegesis of the last two texts, as others before them had done. But I cannot help dissenting from them, on grounds that are grammatical and philological. De Wette himself ingenuously states, that, as to Tit. 2:13, the New Testament .Christology, which represents Christ as making his appearance, and not God the Father, is somewhat against his view. He also acknowledges, that where God the Father and Christ are both spoken of, it is usual for Paul to insert something which makes the line of separation clear; e. g., Tit. 1:4. 3:4–6. 1 Tim. 1:2. 2:5. 2 Tim. 4:1, and often elsewhere. All this is well, for it is plainly a matter of fact in regard to the usage of Paul. Why then, in the case before us, viz: Tit. 2:13, did not the apostle put the article τοῦ before σωτῆος? I am aware that where several nouns follow each other in succession, and specially when they are of the same number and gender, the article may be, and often is, omitted after the first noun; even in cases where the sense implies the presence or rather the necessity of an article. This practice, however, is for the most part limited to particulars belonging to one whole. But wherever diversity is to be marked, or the sense becomes emphatic, the repetition of the article is necessary. In the case before us, if the great God is, as he maintains, to be separated from the Saviour, we may then well ask, why was not the article inserted after it? This consideration has appeared so weighty to most minds, that from Chrysostom down to the present time, the great mass of interpreters have been guided by it. The cases appealed to by De Wette, in support of his allegation that the article is not necessary, (2 Thess. 1:12. 2 Pet. 1:1), are diverse from the present one; for there ἡμῶν follows θεοῦ and precedes κυρίου in the first case, and so before σωτῆρος in the latter. This of course makes the distinction that is necessary to the sense required, without the aid of the article. He also appeals to Jude v. 4, “Denying τὸν μόνον δεσπότην καὶ κύριον ἡμῶν ᾿Λ. Χριστόν; where, he says, the only Lord means God the Father. But this is the only example, in all the N. Test., which is of the same construction as the one before us in Tit. 2:13; and in respect to the meaning of this clause, I cannot accede to his view. Αεσπότης, as applied to the divine Being, is a word of very rare occurrence in the N.Test.; but a case occurs in 2 Pet. 2:1, where this apostle speaks of some “who deny the Lord (δεσπότην) who bought them.” From the striking resemblance of Jude, in style, to the second epistle of Peter, we may argue with great probability, that δεσπότην is applied by the former to Christ, in the passage under consideration. The absence of the article before the second clause, renders this almost grammatically certain. If so, then De Wette has merely argued in a circle. In both cases, we seem to be grammatically and philologically obliged, to apply the highest epithets to Christ. He is the great God, and he is the only Lord,
I have already said what I deem to be a sufficient vindication of the sense given above to 1 John 5:20. Lücke has argued at great length against this view, but not in any good measure to the satisfaction of one who seeks after a clear, intelligible, and grammatical meaning in John. He accuses the orthodox of strong prejudices in regard to the exegesis of it; but he seems to me to be under opposite influences quite as strong. The main objection of De Wette is, that John does not elsewhere apply θεός with the article to Christ, (he means in John 1:1). True; but in this latter case, De Wette himself has shown that the article was omitted by design, and because it would have made nonsense if it had been inserted. Besides this, his statement seems not to be quite exact. In John 20:28, Thomas is represented as saying to Christ: “My Lord, καὶ ὁ θεός μου? If John did not utter this himself, it is clear that both he and the Saviour assented to and approved of it. The truth is, that as θεός is often applied to God the Father, or (if one will so have it) God supreme, both with the article and without it, we may well ask: Why cannot the like usage take place in respect to Christ, when he is called θεός? And if so, we can found no solid argument against his true divinity, upon the absence of the article in any case. I would merely suggest, in addition to what has been already said on 1 John 5:20, that if ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεός is to be applied to God the Father, then is the course of the writer’s thought both singular and tautologous. He had just said: “We are in the true one, [i.e. the true God, or the Father], in his Son Jesus Christ” He then subjoins: “The same (οὗτος) is the true God…” That is, according to Lucke, De Wette, and others, the apostle says: “We are in the true [God], … the same true God (οὗτος) is the true God.” This seems not to be making much progress. But quite different is the case, when (following the laws of grammar) we refer οὗτος to Jesus Christ. We have then an assertion full of meaning. And what more of difficulty is there, in supposing that John calls Christ the true God, than in the fact that he calls him God, and represents him as eternal, and then most explicitly declares him to be the Creator of the universe? Again, we may well ask: Can any but the true God be eternal and the Creator of all things?
But I must desist. My only apology for this unexpectedly prolonged discussion, is the importance of the subject. I shall content myself, for the rest, with much briefer hints.
I might add to the N. Test, usage of calling Christ God, the passage in 1 Tim. 3:16, “God was manifest in the flesh.” I am fully aware of the controversy about the reading here, viz. ὄς instead of θεός. But I take it to be now settled, beyond all fair controversy, that θεός is the true reading; and only Griesbach and Lachmann have ventured on the other, in their critical editions of the N. Test. Dr. Henderson, in his Essay on this text, (reprinted in the older Bib. Repository), has placed this matter beyond fair critical objections.
I might also appeal to Heb. 1:8:” But unto the Son he saith: Thy throne, 0 God, is forever and ever;” and that the true God is here meant, appears from the sequel, which ascribes the creation of all things to this same God. But as my purpose is not to exhaust the subject, but only to give leading touches and outlines, I must turn the reader’s attention to a somewhat different view and illustration of the matter before us, by asking the question, Whether the general usage of the N. Test, will justify us in ascribing to θεός a secondary, subordinate, catachrestic sense?
As John will best explain himself, we will proceed still further with him. In John 5:17, Jesus says, in order to justify himself against the accusations of the Jews that he had violated the sabbath, by healing the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda on that day: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work;” i.e. I have the same authority that he has to supersede the law of the sabbath. In 14:9 he says: “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” In 10:30, “I and my Father are one;” which does not seem here to mean a unity or harmony of a moral nature, as in 17:11–22. In 17:5, Jesus speaks of “the glory which he had with the Father before the world was,” i.e. from eternity. Glory from whom? Not from creatures. It must then have been essential glory. In 5:19, he says: “Whatsoever things he [the Father] doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” In 5:21, “The Son quick-eneth whom he will;” v. 25, “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and live;” v. 26, “The Son hath life in himself.” In 5:22–23, “All judgment is committed to the Son, that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.
These are only a small selection out of John’s many declarations respecting Christ. If we follow him to the Apocalypse, we open (1:6) with the ascription of “glory and dominion to him [Christ], forever and ever, Amen;” and in 6:8–14, the whole of the heavenly world are represented as ascribing to “the Lamb that was slain, power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing;” and then, again, as repeating this doxology by once more ascribing “blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever;” to which a solemn Amen is responded. If any greater honor and praise are ascribed to God than this, I know not where to find an account of it.
In four different places does John represent, in the Apocalypse, the Saviour as saying of himself: “I am the first and the last;” and (with a variation of phraseology) as declaring the same by saying repeatedly of himself, that he is “the Alpha and Omega,” and “the beginning and the end;” viz. in Rev. 1:11, 17. 2:8. 21:6. 22:13. The very same description of Jehovah is given by Isaiah, in Isa. 41:4. 44:6. 48:12. In Rev. 7:15, the Lamb is spoken of by calling him ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου—an appellation often employed in the Apocalypse to designate God supreme.
That the Lord our God is to be worshipped in a spiritual manner, and that he alone is entitled to such homage, is as much a doctrine of the N. Testament as of the Old. Indeed, it lies upon the face of both Testaments. Yet that spiritual homage, prayer, and praise, are spoken of as directed and given to Christ, and as being due to him, lies also on the face of the N. Test, writings. When Judas fell, and the apostles were about to select another apostle, they appealed in prayer to Christ, saying: “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men,” etc. i.e. do thou, who art omniscient, direct us to a right and proper choice, Acts 1:24. The dying Stephen said, with his last breath, when filled with the Holy Ghost^ and looking up to heaven: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit P Acts 7:59. Christians are familiarly spoken of as “those who call on, i.e. invoke, the name of Christ.” So Ananias, Acts 9:14. So Paul, 1 Cor. 1:2. 2 Tim. 2:22. Even a heathen writer (Pliny) has noted it as a prominent characteristic of early Christian worship, that in their public assemblies, “they sung a hymn to Christ as to God.” Paul prayed thrice to the Lord, i.e. Christ, that the thorn in his flesh might be removed, 2 Cor. 12:8. He has assured us that” whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord [Christ] shall be saved,” Rom. 10:13. The fragments of very ancient Christian hymns, moreover, are filled with praises of Christ. But the most magnificent and ample of all that is said, in any one place, of the worship and glorification of Christ, is that sublime passage of John in Rev. v., which has already been quoted, and which leaves no question whether the worship is spiritual. In heaven, what other worship can be rendered?
But I must refrain from further pursuing the subject of Christ’s true and proper rank, as it is presented by John himself, or by the other writers of the N. Test. The usus loquendi of the apostles and primitive Christians, with regard to their manner of speaking in respect to Christ, and also the manner in which Christ spake of himself, are now, I would hope, sufficiently before us to enable us to decide, whether John has probably called Christ θεός in merely a subordinate and secondary sense. And now what says conscience? I ask not merely for what an ordinary Christian conscience may say, but I would appeal, in all sincerity and honestness of heart, to the enlightened and candid critical conscience. I am aware of the many objections which philosophy can raise against the doctrine of Christ’s divine nature. I am also aware, that very many objections have been and may be raised from declarations respecting Christ, which have their foundation entirely in the fact, that he was possessed of a nature truly human. But can all these change our opinion, as to the plain and obvious meaning of such texts as have now been brought to view? Can they furnish us with any satisfactory evidence, that John has left his readers to make out, as they can, the probability that he employs θεός in a sense foreign to that of all the Bible besides?
It is not my duty nor my province, to decide these questions for others. For myself, I cannot see good reason to doubt, that John believed, and meant to teach, the real and essential divinity or godhead of the Logos. I came to the present investigation, with an effort to lay aside, for the time being, all my previous convictions and views. I have done my best to pursue the investigation in the simple way of philological and historical exegesis. I know of no ultimate appeal but this, and no higher one than this, when the question is made: What does the sacred writer mean? Did we possess the gift of inspiration, or had we an a priori knowledge of all that appertains to the mysteries of the Godhead and of the incarnation, we might then decide in an easier and more certain way, and with more authority. But as I make no claim to either of these, I have felt bound to follow the simple path of historico-exegetical inquiry. I have, after repeating the study of this portion of Scripture, and lecturing more or less upon it every year for the last forty years, gradually settled down upon the views which I have now given, and can sincerely aver, that my understanding, my heart, and my conscience, are satisfied with them. Others, of course, must judge for themselves. If I could, I would not refuse to them the liberty that I have myself taken.
I must confess, however, that it is not without pain and the most sincere regret, that I see such men as De Wette and F. Lücke virtually rejecting conclusions such as those to which I have come. The extensive critical knowledge of these writers, their general sobriety and can. dor and ingenuousness as interpreters, and their kindness of feeling toward those who differ in opinion from them, all commend an attentive and respectful perusal and consideration of what they say, on any topic of such a nature as that before us. But after all, when I find that Lücke, in his Commentary, depends principally on the alleged resemblance of John’s views of the Logos to those of Philo Judaeus, in order to make out a secondary and lower sense of θεός in the case before us, I am not prepared to follow him. He does indeed assign some other reasons for his conclusion (I. s. 266); but these have already been examined, and shown, at least as it seems to me, to be altogether unsatisfactory and inadequate to establish it. His last argument, and the one on which he appears to have most relied, I have already briefly stated on p. 43 above. I bring it to view again, merely for the sake of some additional remarks not there made. It runs thus: ‘If Philo, with his looser and indefinite conceptions about the divine unity and attributes, deemed it necessary to caution the reader against taking θεός in its usual and proper meaning, when applied to the Logos, how much more must we suppose such a strenuous assertor of the divine unity as John, intended to employ the same word in a qualified sense, when applied by him to the Logos?’
But what now, I ask, is this, except to transfer Lücke’s own difficulties about the infringement on the divine unity to the mind of John? At all events, however, the argument on this score can be turned strongly against Lücke. In our turn we have a fair claim to ask: How came John, with his high and pure and strenuous views of the divine unity, to neglect doing what even the looser and less accurate Philo has not ventured to leave undone? The latter, it is admitted, has specially cautioned and guarded his readers against giving to θεός its full and obvious meaning; and so he has saved them from mistaking him. But where has John done this? Not a word of the kind; nay, he has taken a course directly the contrary. In the next breath, after he has declared the Logos to be θεός, he tells us that he was the very θεός who created the Universe, and who is the original author of all life and light. We have moreover seen, above, how fully all his writings confirm this view. And why may we not, or rather, why must we not, believe with Paul, that “he who made all things is God?”
De Wette takes a course somewhat different. He first brings together the prominent attributes and powers of the divine word, as developed in both Testaments. He then suggests, that inasmuch as Christ was fully commissioned to dispense this word so powerful and even creative; since, moreover, he rose from the dead, was exalted to heaven, and made Lord and Governor of the Universe; it is no wonder that John was led to represent Christ as having borne a part in the creation of the world, and as now sustaining a part in the preservation of it (s. 12). He moreover deems it probable, that Philo’s works had an influence upon John. But he does not think it would be correct to say, that John had Arian views of the Logos; yet he cautions us against ascribing to him Trinitarian views. He says: “The half-Athanasian idea of a person, who has a. separate subsistence, and yet forms no proper being for itself, but partakes of one in common with other persons, we must not ascribe to John.” (s. 14).
According to the first of these two representations, then, it was only the fervid and exuberant love and wonder of the apostle, which led him to make the lofty ascriptions of attributes divine to Christ. We, of course, must not interpret them in plain and sober earnest, but with all due regard to the rhetorical language and hyperbolical nature of the expressions employed. In the second case, where it is averred that John probably borrowed from Philo, we are admonished that we must be cautious, how we make out any Trinitarian deductions from him; for Philo knew nothing of a Trinity.
What then, I would respectfully yet earnestly ask, are we to make out from John, as to the Logos? De Wette has not told us what we ought to think or believe concerning him; at least I cannot make out from him any explicit answer to this question. The suggestions which he has made, partake so largely of the quality of surmises and conjectures, that I can find no punctum stans; and on this account, I deem it unnecessary further to canvass them.
With a deeper interest still, then, I now return to the question: What says conscience? conscience both critical and Christian. The demands of criticism I have endeavored to meet. The usus loquendi of the Scriptures throughout, in regard to θεός, admits of no doubt in any other case. Why should we doubt here? Our philosophical or speculative difficulties are not to be obtruded upon John. The simple question is: Has he been his own interpreter? That question has been discussed. If we act the part of critics and simple interpreters, we cannot find good reason for doubt. Is there, then, any other satisfactory reason, why we should refuse our assent, to what he has so plainly, and (may I not now say?) unequivocally asserted?
If the appeal may now be made to a conscience both critical and Christian, then I would ask, in all serious earnestness, why we are not to give credit to that apostle whom Jesus specially loved, on whose bosom he leaned, and to whom he seems to have imparted more of the secrets of his bosom, than to any other man? I am aware of the repeated and violent efforts that have been made to destroy the credit of John’s Gospel, by impeaching its genuineness. But it has stood the fiery trial; it has passed unscathed through the furnace that was seven times heated. The time is now near, if not already arrived, when no sober critic will venture on such an impeachment. A reader intelligent, feeling, and devout, cannot well study attentively the Gospel of John, without a deep conviction, that he has developed more minutely and exactly the manner of his Master’s peculiar thoughts and expressions, than any other New Testament writer. Why then should we not give him full credit? Why not anxiously ask of him, what He who leaned upon his bosom disclosed, respecting his person and his work?
A deep Christian feeling must naturally be inclined to do this. It is easy, indeed, to speculate as philologists and philosophers, on any and every part of John’s writings, with great coolness, or even with icy indifference. In the midst of the literary and intellectual, it is easy, and even natural, to become exclusively intent on the pursuit of what belongs to these respective domains. But let him, who is descending toward the grave, and has renounced the expectation of returning to the active pursuits of life, or let any one under a deep conviction of sin, of his accountability, and of the frailty of human life, once urge on himself the questions: What am I? And whither am I going? and conscience will press upon him inquiries of awful moment. That will tell him that he is a sinner; a sinner against light and love. It will tell him, that although, through divine mercy, he may have shunned the vices that bring on him who commits them the reproaches of men, yet that every passing day and hour of conscious action has been adding to the number of his sins; yea, that even his most holy acts and desires have been attended with much imperfection, since they have fallen short of that measure of intensity and entireness which both the law and the gospel demand. Where then, and to whom, is he to look? How is he to meet in judgment that God who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, before whom the heavens are not clean, and who has said that the soul which sinneth shall die? He cannot atone for one sin. He cannot avert the sentence of condemnation. If there be any deliverance for him, it must be through him who came down from that throne where he had glory with the Father before the world was, who became flesh and dwelt amongst us, who died that we might live, and who purchased eternal redemption for us.
And that Glorious Being, full of grace and truth, who has done all this, and will do all that we can ask or need — in what light shall the dying sinner view him, that he may obtain the peace which he needs? Will he not feel constrained to say, as did an eminently devoted minister of Christ: “Whatever others may think or feel in regard to their sins and their need of a Saviour, I am fully persuaded, that nothing less than an almighty Saviour will do for me.”
At such an hour, and in such a condition as has now been described, I cannot well conceive how a Christian conscience can refrain from grasping with a strong hand, on those precious truths which John has so often and so strikingly set forth, and specially in the introduction to his Gospel. Here the trembling sinner may see the almighty, the everlasting Saviour that he needs. Here he may learn, that when looking to Christ as his only and all-sufficient Saviour, he may confidently direct his humble supplications to him. He may come even with boldness to the throne of grace on which he is seated, and lift up his voice before him, while pleading for mercy, and say: “O thou, who wast from everlasting with God, and wast .God; thou, who art God manifest in the flesh; who art the great God and only Saviour; who art the true God and eternal life; who art the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who hast all power in heaven and on earth; who art God over all and blessed forever; who art therefore able to save, even to the uttermost, all who come to thee; thou Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me!” And in a dying hour, what shall he do and say as his last decisive act, before he appears in the presence of his Maker? If he be full of the Holy Ghost as the dying Stephen was, he will look up to heaven, and see Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and like that martyr with his latest breath exclaim: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
Let me be one of those truly righteous, who thus feel and thus pray; and let my last end be like theirs!
[The remaining verses, 2–18, will be commented on in a much more brief and summary manner, in the next No. of this Miscellany, in case a kind Providence should permit the writer to continue his labors.]