Feb 122013
 
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
— Jeremiah 17:9, ESV

The Epistle to the Romans is considered to be Paul’s statement of Christian doctrine.  The entire epistle is written with the Gospel in mind from start to finish.  It deals with the human condition leaving no one exempt and offers the only solution to our predicament, Jesus, the Messiah.  This series of posts is going to look at our innate knowledge of God and the concept of self-deception as discussed in Romans 1:18-23.  The passage reads:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.1

There are a few key points that we can surmise from Paul’s remarks here that really help to define not just the rest of the epistle for us, but the predicament of the world around us.  The first is that man can and does suppress the truth which can simply be called self-deception.  By that we would mean that man on some level literally deceives himself from trusting things which would otherwise be plainly known.  The second is that there are things which can and should be known about God by man, which is often called general revelation or natural theology.  Often in systematic theology, the idea of general revelation deals with those things that can be understood about God by looking at the world around us.  Taken together and in the context of the passage quoted above, we can say that man has within himself an innate knowledge of God but suppresses, or holds down that knowledge in order to avoid its conclusions.

Of course, this idea creates all sorts of conflict for those interpreting the passage.  Do people really intentionally deceive themselves in some way so as to avoid certain outcomes without knowing that they are doing so?  Paul seems to clearly state that this is the case.  The argument really centers around the question of to what extent this is done and accomplished.

Sense of Deity

In Book 1, Chapter 3 of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin mentions the sensus Deitatis or sense of Deity which he notes must come from natural instinct.  He writes:

THAT there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.2

Further, Calvin goes on to state that this is evident just by looking at all cultures in the world around us.  Even the farthest removed from civilization have some form of a god whom they worship and so he concludes “that a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart.”  Calvin even states that it is absurd to suggest that religion is simply the invention of man in order to subdue society because man would not so easily go against what is natural to him and so man must be “previously imbued with that uniform belief in God” in order for him to succumb to those who would devise such things.  And this is the point: that the knowledge of God, the sense of Deity, that Paul is speaking of here is innate, it is natural, it is inborn in every human being.

We don’t always think of belief in God as a natural instinct but the Bible plainly does.  The Bible simply doesn’t bother to give an accounting or argument for the existence of God, but instead, it hints at the impossibility of the contrary, that without the Christian God knowledge would be impossible.  And this is the real starting point that I think determines how we live, preach, teach and defend the Christian faith.  Where apologetics has largely attempted to reason man towards a belief in the Christian God as though the non-Christian is starting with a blank slate in his mind and our reasoning from looking at the universe around us eventually makes it plainly obvious, the Bible rather presumes that by nature the non-Christian actually already has an innate knowledge of God and that Creation, the universe, rather attests to that innate knowledge.  Indeed, the very attempt to ‘reason’ by way of argument wouldn’t even be possible without God.  It is with this idea in mind that I think R.H. Mounce is correct in stating that “[d]isbelief requires an act of rebellion against common sense.”  He continues:

It displays fallen humanity’s fatal bias against God. Although the created order cannot force a person to believe, it does leave the recipient responsible for not believing.3

And this is why Paul can proclaim in Romans 1:20 that they are without excuse.  The Greek word, anapologetos (ἀναπολόγητος ), is actually from the same word that gives us apologetics, which connotes a legal defense, however, the alpha privative negates the legal defense so the person is stripped of any legal standing.4  It is in this sense that the non-believer cannot be reasoned to believe in God.  The non-believer already has built within him an innate knowledge of God which he has suppressed.  This is not to discredit reasoned arguments for the existence of God since they are incredibly valuable for the believer in his own life and the preaching, teaching and defense of the faith.  I would only submit that arguments for the existence of God should be used with the desire to awaken the knowledge of God that is already there.

Invisible Attributes

In Romans 1:20, Paul states that God’s invisible attributes have been clearly perceived since the creation of the universe.  The clearly perceived has the sense of receiving both sensual and mental impressions.  In other words, the perceiving going on is through common sense.5  We might say that through Creation, God’s existence and subsequent invisible attributes are inescapable.  But what are these attributes?  Specifically, they are His eternal power (ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις) and divine nature (θειότης).

In Part 1 of The Johannine Logos I discussed Stoicism as one of the competing worldviews in the first century.  For the Stoic philosophers, the universal law that guided and controlled everything was called the divine logos and they saw that this logos was expressed through nature.  Because of this they understood that they should live in accordance with what they were perceiving.  Why is this important?  Because Paul is making use of what appears to be Stoic thought in these invisible attributes, which his readers would probably be familiar with.6  Paul is by no means advancing Stoic thought, but rather pointing to the fact that even they not only understand to some degree, these attributes that God has revealed, but it has pointed them in such a direction that it influences how they live.  Contrast that to the man who denies what he innately knows and lives contrary to what is clearly perceived.

Conclusion

The innate knowledge of God in every man is not something that is learned by using human reasoning faculties.  Rather, it is a part of the light that is given to every man in John 1:9, the Wisdom of God.  It is only through the use of human reasoning that man can hold down or suppress the knowledge that is inborn.  Doing so is contrary to the natural order which Paul will illustrate further in Romans 1.  In the next post I will look at man’s relationship to God regardless of whether he is a believer or not.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1845). Vol. 1: Institutes of the Christian religion (55). Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society.
  3. Mounce, R. H. (1995). Vol. 27: Romans. The New American Commentary (78). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  4. The alpha privitive is the pre-fixed ‘a’ or ‘α’ added to a word in order to show negation.  Perhaps one of the most familiar examples is theist verses atheist where the theist believes in God and the a-theist does not believe in God.
  5. Vol. 4: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (948). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  6. Seeley, David. (1994). Vol. 5. Deconstructing the New Testament. (130). Leiden: Brill.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Feb 012013
 
This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series The Johannine Logos

In this series of posts I have demonstrated that the translation of John 1:1 as “In the beginning was the Logic and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God” is a valid translation but offered a variation that, I believe, is much more digestible, which is “In the beginning was the Wisdom (of God) and the Wisdom (of God) was with God and the Wisdom (of God) was God.”  I’ve shown that John’s prologue is not borrowing from the competing worldviews of the day but rather confronting them and demonstrating Christianity as not only unique but logically valid.  What’s more, John’s logos doctrine is found entirely in the Old Testament Scriptures and had already largely been fleshed out as the Memra doctrine in 1st century Jewish Theology.  Because of this it would make more sense to accuse any competing worldview of borrowing from Christianity and not the other way around.

Logos is the idea of reasoning or the expression of thought.  How we get from Jesus being the Logos, or the Wisdom of God, in the Prologue of John’s Gospel to Jesus being the intellectual content of truth, or the embodiment of truth itself comes to us in John 1:14 which may be read as:

And the Wisdom (of God) became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, the fullness of grace and truth.

So we can say that this truth, wisdom, doctrine, logic, or logos is the very mind of Christ and that logic is the way that God thinks and subsequently the governing principle that the universe operates on.  But what does this mean for the Christian?  What does it mean for the non-believer?  The answer to those questions is actually pretty simple.  The truth is that we wouldn’t even be able to ask the question were it not for the Christian worldview.  In other words, the Christian worldview is a precondition of experience, knowledge and interaction with the world around us.  This final post will look at the relationship between logic and epistemology as it stems from the logos doctrine of the Gospel of John and precisely what it means for both the Christian and non-Christian.

Laws of Logic

It is largely understood that there are three fundamental laws of logic1 and they are:

  1. The Law of Identity: P is P.
  2. The Law of Non-contradiction: P is not non-P.
  3. The Law of the Excluded Middle: Either P or non-P.

The Law of Identity states that something is itself and not something else.  If the statement “It is raining” is true then the statement is true.  The law which follows from the first is The Law of Non-Contradiction which states that something cannot not be that something at the same time and sense.  So the statement “It is raining” cannot be both true and false at the same time and place.  The third law is the Law of the Excluded Middle.  The Law of the Excluded Middle states that the statement “It is raining” is either true or false and that there is no other alternative.

These three principles, or laws, literally govern reality and thought and are not mere convention.  We know this because they are self-evident and if one tries to deny them they must use the very laws they are denying which is self-defeating.  For example, if you were to deny the law of identity then you are denying that the law of identity is the law of identity.  This is absurd because the law of identity is the law of identity by definition.  So the law of identity is axiomatic.

Logic and Epistemology

How does this apply to John’s use of logos?  Simply, in the beginning was the Logic, or Wisdom of God (a rational mind).  Through the Wisdom of God everything was created.  The Wisdom of God gave light to every man, that is to say, man can make sense of and relate to the world around him because he has been given the capability of doing so by the Creator.  This, of course, can only be done in a world that operates in an orderly fashion or based on guiding principles.  The Creator is the ultimate source and standard of truth.  Without this, there is no reason to believe that your senses can ever bring about truth since there is no authority, other than yourself, to determine that your senses have led you to truth.

Dr. Greg Bahnsen in his famous debate with Dr. Gordon Stein on the existence of God concluded his opening statement with:

When we go to look at the different world views that atheists and theists have, I suggest we can prove the existence of God from the impossibility of the contrary. The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist world view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes. In that sense the atheist world view cannot account for our debate tonight.2

Things like the laws of logic and moral absolutes must be grounded in something of authority in order for them to be binding on anyone.  Further, if they are to be utilized then they must be understood on some level but for that to be the case then the authority must have granted the capability to discern and communicate.  So when we say that the Wisdom of God gave light to every man we are saying that man was created in the image of God.  This doctrine is what gives us predication and language.  When my four month old daughter smiles at me in response to my smiling at her we have actually communicated and interpreted something and no matter how trivial a smile may seem the communication and subsequent interpretation of the smile would be absolutely impossible were it not for the Wisdom of God having imparted light to every man.

Continuing along these lines, the fact that order exists in the universe is meaningless if there is no one to understand said order.  But how can anyone understand order unless he has the faculties to do so?  If we grant that you even have the faculties to understand order, how do you know that those faculties can be trusted?  Often someone will claim that they’ve been reliable over time but this is ridiculous because without God you don’t even have the preconditions to understand what reliability is.  But if we grant that you can understand what reliability is and you are relying on the reliability of your faculties over time this still doesn’t justify how you can know that your faculties will not become unreliable tomorrow or that the reliability of your faculties over time was nothing more than an illusion.

So laws of logic and moral absolutes do exist and they are universal in nature.  This means they cannot simply be a matter of convention or agreed upon by society in order to properly operate.  Once we say they are needed to properly operate then they become universal in nature.  If we insist that they are simply a matter of convention then I can disregard your convention and there is no reason to even continue the conversation because you have your convention and I have mine.  But no one really lives this way.  As noted above, the laws of logic are axiomatic.  Without them we cannot even begin to be able to interact with the world in which we live.

Further into the Bahnsen / Stein debate, Bahnsen cross-examined Stein:

Bahnsen: I heard you use “logical binds” and “logical self-contradiction” in your speech . You did say that?
Stein: I used that phrase, yes.
Bahnsen: Do you believe there are laws of logic then?
Stein: Absolutely.
Bahnsen: Are they universal?
Stein: They are agreed upon by human beings not realizing it is just out in nature.
Bahnsen: Are they simply conventions then?
Stein: They are conventions that are self-verifying.
Bahnsen: Are they sociological laws or laws of thought?
Stein: They are laws of thought which are interpreted by man.
Bahnsen: Are they material in nature?
Stein: How could a law be material?
Bahnsen: That’s the question I’m going to ask you.
Stein: I would say no.3

This is how the non-Christian must respond.  There is a conundrum to be in when on the one hand you accept that laws of logic are axiomatic and self-verifying but at the same time say they are simply a matter of convention.  If they are axiomatic then they must have a transcendent source by which they are governed.  The atheist cannot account for them and works very hard to wiggle out of the predicament that he’s in.  If they are mere convention he has to somehow explain why his convention is correct.  He does so by saying they are self-evident but if they are self-evident then they aren’t simply a convention, they are universal.  As a result the atheist is using the laws of logic to deny the laws of logic and ends up with nothing more than nonsense.  Continuing with Steins cross-examination of Bahnsen:

Stein: Dr. Bahnsen, would you call God material or immaterial?
Bahnsen: Immaterial.
Stein: What is something that’s immaterial?
Bahnsen: Something not extended in space.
Stein: Can you give me any other example, other than God, that’s immaterial?
Bahnsen: The laws of logic.
Stein: Are we putting God as an equivalent thing to the laws of logic?
Bahnsen: No, only if you think all factual questions are answered in the very same way would you even assume that by thinking that [if] there are two immaterial things that they must be identical….
Stein: I’m not assuming that. I’m just assuming that because the laws of logic are conventions among men. Are you saying that God is a convention among men?
Bahnsen: I don’t accept the claim that the laws of logic – that Christ’s laws of logic – are conventional.4

Stein insists that the laws of logic are conventions among men, but look clearly at Bahnsen’s response.  The Christian doesn’t accept the claim that the laws of logic are conventional – that is even if they are conventions my convention rejects your convention.  The atheist has no reason for the discussion and it might as well end there.

As should become evident, the non-Christian cannot justify how he knows anything at all.  This is not the same as saying the non-Christian doesn’t know anything but rather, that he has no reason to believe anything that he knows and that is the issue that should always be pressed.  Ultimately the unbeliever cannot live consistently in his worldview and so the worldview is to be found irrational.  In Bahnsen’s closing statement he said:

The transcendental argument for the existence of God has not been answered by Dr. Stein. It’s been evaded and made fun of, but it hasn’t been answered. That’s what we’re here for: rational interchange. The transcendental argument says the proof of the Christian God is that without God one cannot prove anything. Notice the argument doesn’t say that atheists don’t prove things, or that they don’t use logic, science or laws of morality. In fact they do. The argument is that their world view cannot account for what they are doing. Their world view is not consistent with what they are doing; in their world view there are no laws; there are no abstract entities, universals, or prescriptions. There’s just a material universe, naturalistically explained (as) the way things happen to be. That’s not law-like or universal; and therefore, their world view doesn’t account for logic, science or morality.5
Conclusion

The Johannine Logos is a theologically rich and masterfully crafted apologetic.  It is a logical presentation and defense of Christianity.  It is an authoritative declaration of our source for the faculties we take for granted every day.  For the Christian, it means that we have justification and grounding for the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, objective moral values and the ability to do science.  For the non-Christian, it means that they have no justification or grounding for any of these things but use them anyway.  They are borrowing from the Christian worldview and as a result relying upon the very things which they deny.  If anyone disagrees with this then they should provide an argument that demonstrates what their foundation is if not the Christian God.

  1. Moreland, J. P. (2007). What Are The Three Laws Of Logic?. Apologetics Study Bible. 1854. This article is available online here.
  2. Page 5 of the transcript of this debate which can be found here.
  3. Same as footnote 2, Page 11-12
  4. Same as footnote 2, Page 12
  5. Same as footnote 2, Page 35

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Jan 242013
 
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The Johannine Logos

The prologue to John’s Gospel is a rich proclamation of Christian theology with its roots in Old Testament Scripture.  It confronts the competing worldviews that have largely dominated the philosophical atmosphere of human history.  While much of this series has centered around John’s use of logos in John 1:1-18, it’s worthwhile to take a look at it in other areas of his Gospel, along with his use of another Greek word of similar meaning, rheema (ῥῆμα).  While rheema, singular, doesn’t occur in John’s Gospel, rheemata (ῥήματα), plural, does.  In chapter 3 of Dr. Gordon Clark’s book, The Johannine Logos, Dr. Clark first looks at the use of logos by itself and then looks at the verses where logos and rheemata are used together.1  This post will present some of those highlights.

In Part 3 of this series I demonstrated the translation of John 1:1 as ‘In the beginning was the Wisdom (of God) and the Wisdom (of God) was with God and the Wisdom (of God) was God.‘  Using that as a spring board, I went to Proverbs, particularly chapters 8 and 9, where Wisdom is personified.  Having defined logos as the idea of reasoning, or the expression of thought, we can now look at its usage elsewhere in John’s Gospel.  As should become evident, the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the Memra is the absolute starting point for everything.

Direct Statements Or Teachings

There are a few different ways that these occurrences could be categorized.  The first is to look at when logos refers to a direct statement or message.  To start, John 2:18-22 reads:

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.2

I italicized word in verse 22 because that Greek word is logos.  The disciples believed the Scripture and the logos that Jesus had spoken.  Here, the logos is the statement “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  However, the logos isn’t the literal statement, but what Dr. Clark calls the intellectual content of the statement or teaching.3  Note that the disciples believed the Scripture (most likely Psalm 69:9 in particular since it was just quoted in John 2:17) and the logos.  Therefore, the statement has an intended meaning and the logos in this verse is the intellectual content of the statement.

Another verse worth looking at is John 6:60.  The verse reads:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Here, saying is the Greek word logos, the verse may more literally be: This is hard, the logos; who can hear it?  In this instance the logos doesn’t refer to any one statement, it refers, instead, to the entire teaching of John 6:22-59.  In this teaching, Christ symbolically discusses his death and resurrection and that belief and trust in what he is teaching brings eternal life.  For some background to this, please see my post The Lamb’s Supper by Dr. Scott Hahn, Part 3; John 6.  The word for listen in this verse is akouo (ἀκούω) and would be like saying “who can accept this?”  It’s not that the logos is simply something to understand, it is something to agree with, to trust in.

Dr. Clark also notes instances where the logos is referencing Old Testament quotations.  One that I’ll address here is John 12:36-43 which reads:

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

Here, both Isaiah 53:1, 6:10 are what the logos refers to and an example of the logos being fulfilled.  Interestingly, the passage itself is addressing the fact that despite all the signs Jesus performed, people refused to believe in Him, the logos, the Wisdom, the Memra, the Logic, the Word of God.

Indirect Statements Or Teachings

Another category is where the logos indirectly references a statement or teaching.  In these instances, the logos is clearly referring to a previous statement or teaching but it isn’t recorded.  John 5:22-24 reads:

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

In this case, as it was in John 2:22, word is logos: “Whoever hears my logos and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”  The logos, in this instance, doesn’t refer to a specifically quoted statement or teaching.  It could, perhaps, refer to the teaching Jesus is giving in this passage, that He and The Father are one and all judgement has been given by The Father to The Son.  Notice the obligation to trust in the logos, that act of trusting in the logos leads to eternal life, just as it did in John 6:60.

With that in mind, look at John 5:36-38:

For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.

Again, word is logos: “…you do not have his (the Father’s) logos abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.”  Jesus points to his works, that they testify to whom he is and states that those who do not believe him do not have his Father’s logos, his doctrine, his theology, his truth.

Logos And Rheemata

Turning to the contrast between logos and rheema, it’s important to understand how rheema may be defined.  Dr. Clark states that rheemata in a very literal sense are the sounds that come out of one’s mouth when one speaks, although rheemata, of course, will refer to words that are written down as well and Dr. Clark notes this.4  The UBS Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament also confirms this:

ῥῆμα , τος n what is said, word, saying; thing, matter, event, happening5

To be sure, there is some overlap between logos and rheemata so if we are going to make any distinctions we should be careful in doing so.  The primary distinction is that Jesus is never called the rheema but He is called the logos.  The secondary distinction is that rheemata may be the literal words as symbols that have meaning while logos is the intellectual content or meaning of the words.  As an example, the word cat is a rheema, or word, that symbolizes the animal we call a cat.  Dr. Clark is careful to make sure that the symbols are not treated as less than the thing symbolized.  He writes:

…people other than philosophers and semanticists hardly think about these distinctions.  Most of the time they keep in mind the thing symbolized, even though they may mention the symbol.  But in an anti-theological epileptical seizure they will sometimes inveigh against mere words, forgetting the truths they stand for.6

The point is that words have meaning and if we are to attempt to strip that from the words, then nonsense is all that is left.  How incredibly stupid that would be, and the first occurrence of rheemata in John’s Gospel will demonstrate that.  John 3:33-36 has John the Baptist speaking of Jesus, pointing to Jesus.  It reads:

33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

The implications of John 3:33, that God is truth, cannot be removed from John 3:34 or anywhere else in Scripture.  Since God is truth and Jesus is the fullness of truth (John 1:14, 14:6) and has been given the Spirit without measure, then naturally the rheemata, the words that Jesus utters are truth.  They contain the divine authority of God and cannot be placed at a lower level than the logos.

John 12:48 contains both logos and rheemata:

The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

Here, the one who rejects Jesus and does not accept his rheemata will be judged by the logos that he has spoken.  The rheemata here are the words of Christ, perhaps the sermon, the message, while the logos, the teaching, the doctrine is the judge.  Of course, Christ here has spoken the logos as well.  It’s also worth pointing out that the Greek word for spoken is laleo (λαλέω) which connotes hostility against something or someone in an accusatory sense.  Further, we know that Christ Himself is the judge, the logos, since God the Father has given all judgement to the Son, as John 5:22 states.  I think it is appropriate to close on that note because it comes full circle.  The logos in the prologue is still the logos in John 12:48 and He utters the very words of God.

Conclusion

There are many other examples that could be discussed but this should suffice to illustrate a few things.  In John 1:14 it is said that Jesus is the fullness of grace and truth and in John 14:6 Jesus says He is the truth.  In John 3:34 it is said that Jesus utters the very words of God and God is truth.  The relationship between Jesus and truth cannot be severed.  Jesus is the Wisdom of God in John 1:1 who gives light to all men in John 1:9.  The universe was created by and through the Wisdom of God in John 1:3 therefore we can say the governing principle that the universe operates on is the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the Memra.

The propositions, the teachings, the doctrines, the logos given by Christ is the very mind of Christ.  It is reasonable, therefore, to say that logic is the way that God thinks.  God is not capricious, nor does he operate in an illogical or irrational fashion.  Words have meaning and the meaning cannot be severed from the words no matter how hard people try to today.  Of course, people don’t live as though there is no truth or that logic is simply a convention.  Every time we speak or think or act, we are engaging intellectual content.  The very fact that this sentence gives off any meaning at all means that there is intellectual content behind it that cannot be removed from it.  The Christian can say that without the Wisdom of God, knowledge would be impossible.  In other words, logic is objective and is grounded in the Wisdom of God.  The fact that human beings are rational can only be because human beings were made in the image of God.  Anyone attempting to be rational without acknowledging God is simply borrowing from the Christian worldview.

  1. Much of the content of this post finds its source in The Johannine Logos by Dr. Gordon Clark, however this post is only a brief sketch.  Dr. Clark’s book is available through The Trinity Foundation and it will be an incredible asset to anyone’s library.  This post is by no means meant to be a replacement for the book or chapter.
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis mine.
  3. Clark, Gordon. (1989). The Johannine Logos (48). Jefferson, MD; The Trinity Foundation
  4. Same as footnote 3; Page 52.
  5. Newman, B. M. (1993). A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. (159). Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies.
  6. Same as footnote 3; Page 53.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Jan 102013
 
This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series The Johannine Logos

Having established in Part 1 and Part 2 that John’s use of logos was in fact extrapolated from the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures and put into the language of the competing worldviews of the day, we can finally go back to the word itself and determine how best to translate it for our own use.  Is logos and logic one in the same?

The previous work was necessary in order to demonstrate that we need to think in terms of Christian theology finding its root entirely in the Old Testament.  Without that basic understanding in place, we may otherwise be tempted to look outside of Scripture for answers in order to grasp John’s prologue.  The consequences of not relying on Scripture as the foundation of the logos doctrine simply lead to inconsistent conclusions like that of John borrowing the ideas from Greek philosophy and therefore creating something new for Christianity.  It’s ridiculous to come to such conclusions about a passage that introduces Jesus as the Word, or Logic of God.

Logos And Logic

John 1:1 in most English translations reads: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  Dr. Gordon Clark asks if word is a good translation and looks at the possible options given in the 1940 edition of Liddel & Scott, noting it has 5 and a half columns with 90 words to the column on the logos entry.1  It would be pedantic to go through them all but for a few that Dr. Clark notes: computation, reckoning, account, ratio, explanation, pretext, plea, argument, principle, law, reason, definition, narrative, speech, oracle, wisdom and finally, word.  Dr. Clark continues:

Should the inexperienced translator write, In the beginning was the reckoning? Or, In the beginning was the pretext? The Hypothesis, the debate? Clearly the list of possible meanings, the list all by itself, is not of much help in arriving at a good translation.2

Having already established its usage in Greek philosophy and the Memra in 1st century Jewish theology, it should be readily apparent that no single English word will suffice.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t do a little better.  The translation choice of word only becomes useful after some understanding that it has more to do with reasoning than it does with any given word in a language.  Language itself is meaningless unless it has defined principles, reason, or logic.  With the knowledge of the list of words given above, competing Greek philosophy, the Memra in 1st century Jewish theology, knowing that logos itself shares root with the English word logic and that nothing in life is even capable without some basic principles of logic, the meaning behind the word logos may best be the idea of reasoning, or the expression of thought.3  If logic is the science of valid reasoning, then logic is an acceptable translation choice that certainly conveys more appropriately the doctrine that John is articulating.

But even that brings with it some baggage.  Most people, whether they are aware of it or not, without all the discussion brought to light in the previous entries are likely thinking of Aristotelian logic and while that is certainly valid, it isn’t necessarily helpful.  Syllogistic theory and sets of propositions feel more like human tools than the Preexsitent Word Of God.  Dr. Clark writes:

Therefore, if one hesitates to translate the first verse as, “In the beginning was the divine Logic,” at least one can say, “In the beginning was Wisdom.”  This translation is accurate enough; it preserves the connotations; and it conveys a satisfactory meaning to the average mind.

Therefore a more suitable translation of John 1:1 is:

In the beginning was The Wisdom (of God) and The Wisdom (of God) was with God and The Wisdom (of God) was God.

And with that, where else should we turn but to the Book of Proverbs, the wisdom book of wisdom books.4

Wisdom

The Book of Proverbs is much more than a collection of sayings or principles for life and I believe that if logos in John 1 were translated in English to wisdom, then it would also make sense to have a concordance link us back to Proverbs 1-8.  And what does Solomon use for the introduction to Proverbs?  Proverbs 1:1-7 reads:

1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
2 To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
6 to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of [wisdom];
fools despise wisdom and instruction. 5

While this isn’t a commentary on the Book of Proverbs, there are a few items that really become invaluable aids to John’s prologue.  The introduction to the Book of Proverbs may be considered as the first 9 chapters finding its culmination in chapters 8 and 9.  Here, wisdom is personified and we find some attributes that we would normally apply to Christ.  Proverbs 8:1-3 reads:

8 Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2       On the heights beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3       beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: 6

The first thing that stumps people is seeing the use of the female pronoun her.  This isn’t something that should hinder the otherwise clear messianic overtones of the passage.  In Biblical Hebrew, every noun has a gender, they are either masculine or feminine.7  In this case, the Hebrew word chokmah (חָכְמָה) is a feminine noun and therefore receives the feminine pronoun her or she.  With that in mind, wisdom is about to speak.

In Proverbs 8:4-5 wisdom is available to all.  In Proverbs 8:6-9 the words of wisdom are noble, what is right, truth and righteous with nothing crooked or twisted.  They are straight to him who understands and right to those who find knowledge.  This should start to echo back to what we know of Jesus, particularly in John 14:6 where Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life.  Proverbs 8:10-11, wisdom tells us to take wisdom over silver, gold, jewels and anything that we might desire.  In Proverbs 8:15-16 we are told that by wisdom kings reign and princes rule.  This is not to say that they use wisdom, but rather they are put in place of authority by wisdom as noted in Daniel 2:21 and Romans 13:1.  Proverbs 8:17 reads “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”  This as well echoes back to John 14:21 where Jesus says “he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Once we get to Proverbs 8:22 the genealogy of wisdom is given as The Preexistent One.  In Proverbs 8:27, wisdom was there when the heavens were established.  But when we get to Proverbs 8:30-31, wisdom was not only there, but beside God like a master workman, being filled with delight and rejoicing before Him in the children of man.  This again should immediately turn us to John 1:1-3 where the logos, the Word, the Memra, the Wisdom is with God and is God and nothing is made but by him.  But if that isn’t enough, Proverbs 8:35 states that whoever finds wisdom finds life.  In John 1:4 we read that in the logos, the Word, the Memra, the Wisdom, was life and the life was the light of men.  In Proverbs 9:4-6 the final plea is made to whoever is simple and lacks sense, or perhaps to him who is hungry, eat of wisdom’s bread and drink of the wine that wisdom has mixed.  In John 6:35 Jesus says “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  Wisdom says “Leave your simple ways and live!

The Prologue

With some final notes on the prologue of John’s Gospel we should have a pretty well carved out view of the Logos, the Word, the Memra, the Reason, the Logic, the Wisdom of God.  In verses 1-2 the Wisdom is eternal, that is outside time or space.  We step from eternity to Creation in verse 3.  From Creation to life in verse 4.  From life to the fall in verse 5, where the effects of the fall are seen as the darkness cannot ‘grasp’ the light, that is to say that darkness cannot understand, take hold of, or possess the light.  To say ‘overcome’ is a valid interpretation, but as Dr. Clark notes it finds conflict with John 1:10-128 which may be better understood by seeing the emphasis in bold:

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive himBut to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

Since wisdom is the light and came into the world but was not known or received then it makes more sense to understand that the darkness in verse 5 did not comprehend the light.  In verses 6-8, we come to what would be present day for the author and John the Baptist is introduced as the one who is a witness about the light (wisdom), to point people to the true light (wisdom).  In verse 9 we come to what I believe is the crux of epistemology, general revelation.  The true light, the Wisdom, the Logic, is what gives light (wisdom, logic) to every man.  Without this light knowledge would be impossible.

Continuing to verse 10, he (the Wisdom, the Logic) came into the world.  This is global in scale.  But the world didn’t know him.  In verse 11 he came to his own, that is his people, Israel.  This is no longer global, but focused.  But even his own people did not receive him.  However, in verse 12 that invitation to receive him is given globally, that is, it is not only to his own people.  And to all who did receive him, who believe on his name, the right is granted to become a child of God.  In verse 13, these are not born of flesh or blood but of God; you do not have to be born of Israel to receive Israel’s God.  Further, the birth of flesh and blood is physical but the birth into the Kingdom of God is spiritual.  Contrast that with verse 14, where the spiritual, the Wisdom, the Logic, the Word of God is born physically, that is, he puts on flesh and blood and tabernacles among us.  He is the only, that is the only one of it’s kind, Son from the Father.  He is the fullness of grace and truth.

Conclusion

The logos is best understood as the idea of wisdom, or the expression of thought and our English word logic, as the science of valid reasoning.  Having a firm foundation of John’s theology deriving from the Old Testament Scriptures along with a decent grasp of the usage of the word logos we can come to a seamless understanding of logos in the Prologue to John’s Gospel.  Reading wisdom as logos in the first three verses gives a clearer sense to the remaining verses in the chapter.

The Prologue to John’s Gospel shows itself to be a theologically rich tapestry and the starting point to Christian philosophy.  The Wisdom of God is eternal, uncreated and personal.  He is the Creator, arbiter and sustainer of all things, He is grace, He is truth and He gives wisdom to every man without which knowledge would be impossible.  This wisdom is what we might refer to as general revelation, however as the Prologue states, the darkness couldn’t grasp Him, the world didn’t know Him and His own people did not receive Him.

In the next post I’ll take a look at the use of logos in the rest of John’s Gospel and contrast it with another word that often ends up translated just the same in our English Bibles.

  1. Clark, Gordon. (1989). The Johannine Logos (14). Jefferson, MD; The Trinity Foundation
  2. Same as footnote 1.
  3. Same as footnote 1, page 19.
  4. The classification of Wisdom Literature in the Bible consists of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.  Lamentations is considered a part of the Wisdom Literature but often ends up ordered as a postscript to the Book of Jeremiah which is included in the Major Prophets.
  5. Translation is from the ESV except the brackets which would read knowledge.  Emphasis mine.
  6. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  7. Futato, M. D. (2003). Beginning Biblical Hebrew (18). Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
  8. Same as footnote 1, page 25.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Jan 032013
 
This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series The Johannine Logos

As demonstrated in Part 1 of this series, the prologue in John’s Gospel stands as a stark contrast between the competing worldviews of the day.  But since the competing worldviews at the time of the apostles are just as prevalent today, John’s logos doctrine is also just as applicable for us, if not more so.  Since we know that John was certainly not borrowing from the various logos doctrines in order to create something new, the question becomes one of where John’s understanding of the logos originates.  The answer to that lies in the Old Testament Scriptures.

In the centuries leading up to the birth of Christ, the Hebrew Old Testament had been translated into Greek.  This Greek translation is called the Septuagint, or LXX, so named after the 72 scholars who undertook the assignment.  The Septuagint is the version of the Old Testament often quoted in the New Testament.1  This Greek translation provides ample opportunity to see how the Logos of God is used in Jewish Scripture, well before the time of the Apostles.  What’s more, the Hebrew Scriptures, which often used the Hebrew word devar (דָּבָר) where we see the Greek logos, were in place long before Heraclitus began creating his logos doctrine which, as we’re about to see, demonstrates quite clearly that the divine Logos in John’s Gospel was already understood in Jewish thought.  Because of this, it would actually be more honest to suggest that the competing logos views at the time of the Apostles had been borrowed and corrupted by the Greek philosophers of the day instead of the other way around.

The Logos And The Memra

To begin, the first place to look is in Jewish thought regarding the Old Testament Scriptures.  The Targums are rabbinic paraphrases and commentaries of the Old Testament that were beginning to surface around the time of the Apostles.  In them we find rich Jewish Theology and ample discussion about the memra.  Memra is an Aramaic word often translated in English as ‘word’ much like the Greek word logos is, but like the Greek word logos, it carries with it much more than the act of speaking.  These writings show that there were at least six well clarified doctrines of the Memra derived from the Old Testament that are also pointed out in the prologue to John’s Gospel.2  Using the Old Testament alongside the Septuagint and Targumim, we can see these doctrines taking shape and show that John was simply articulating Jewish theology of first century Israel.

The Logos Is The Same But Distinct

In the Preamble to this series I took a brief look at Genesis 15 showing how the ‘The Word of The LORD’ compares to John 1:1, illustrating that even as far back as Genesis we can see the Word as God and yet distinct. The Targums only amplify this.  As noted in the Chronicles of the Messiah:

Based upon the Targumic Memra-theology, later Jewish mystics continued to espouse the concept of God creating and intersecting the universe through means of an intermediary form. God’s self-revelation is compared to light emanating forth from Him. Consider the following passage from a popular Chasidic work which speaks of the “Divine Light” as an agent of God in creation, not separate from God, yet distinct from God: “There is a manifestation or self-revelation of the [Infinite God] even before the act of creation. This manifestation is called Light of the [Infinite God] and we speak of this Light as equally omnipresent and infinite. This distinction between [Infinite God] and Light of the [Infinite God] is extremely important … For when speaking of [the creation process] we relate this to Light of the [Infinite God] rather than to the Luminary and Radiator, the [Infinite God]”3
The Logos In Creation

Probably the greatest hint to look back to the Old Testament comes from John’s first words, John 1:1 which clearly echoes Genesis 1:1 where ‘In the beginning God’ spoke Creation into existence.  In John 1:3 we read that all things were made through the Logos of God and likewise in Psalm 33:64 we read:

By the Logos of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

In Genesis 1:27 we read:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (ESV)

The Jerusalem Targum of Jonathan renders Genesis 1:27 as:

And the Memra of the Lord created man in His likeness, in the likeness of the presence of the Lord He created him, the male and his yoke-fellow He created them.

John 1:1 is clearly amplifying Jewish theology in order to show the Logos as the agent of Creation.  Nothing that was created was created without the Logos.  As Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum notes in his commentary on Genesis:

In the beginning of John 1:1 chronologically precedes the In the beginning of Genesis 1:1, because obviously the Messiah, the Logos, the Word, the Memra, preceded the creation of the heavens and the earth.5
The Logos As The Means Of Salvation

Dr. Fruchtenbaum notes:

The third thing the rabbis taught about the memra was that the memra was the agent of salvation. Whenever God saved throughout the history of the Old Testament, whether it was a physical salvation such as the Exodus out of Egypt or a spiritual salvation, God always saved by means of His memra, by means of His Word. In John 1:12, John said: But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.6

For example, Genesis 49:18 simply reads:

I wait for your salvation, O LORD.

However, the Jerusalem Targum of Jonathan paraphrases the same verse as:

Our father Jakob said, My soul hath not waited for the redemption of Gideon bar Joash which is for an hour, nor for the redemption of Shimshon which is a creature redemption, but for the Redemption which Thou hast said in Thy Memra shall come for Thy people the sons of Israel, for this Thy Redemption my soul hath waited.
The Logos As The Manifestation Of God

Often called a theophany, the visible manifestation of God occurs throughout the Old Testament.  The Angel of The LORD appears to Hagar in Genesis 16:7-14.  It isn’t until those later verses where it becomes evident Hagar was speaking with God.  Likewise in Judges 6:11 we read of the Angel of The LORD who appears to Gideon and in Judges 6:14 we see that it is none other than The LORD who is speaking and turns toward Gideon.  Also, in Joshua 5:13-15 the Commander of The LORD’s Army appears to Joshua and introduces himself in the same manner as God does to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:4-6.  And so when we arrive to John 1:14 we see that the Logos who is with God and who is God became flesh and dwelt among us.

In the Targums, the Memra is the agent by which God becomes visible.  The rabbi’s called this the Shechinah.  The Greek word for dwell in John 1:14 is skenoo (σκηνόω) and likely derives from the Hebrew shechinah (שָׁכַן).  In John’s usage it doesn’t simply denote the Logos becoming temporal, but rather, that this is the presence of the Eternal in time.7

In Exodus 40:34 we read:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

There we see the Glory of the LORD manifest itself by means of a cloud covering and filling the tabernacle, the mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן), the shechinah (שָׁכַן).  This is why John 1:14 is best translated:

And the Logos (of God) became flesh and tabernacled among us.
The Logos As The Revelation Of God

John 1:18 states:

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed Him.8

Throughout John’s Gospel Jesus claims to reveal God.  In John 14:8 the disciples ask Jesus to show them the Father.  Jesus responds in verse 9 that if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father.  In other words, Jesus, the Logos, the Memra is the revelation of God.

The Logos As The Seal Of The Covenants

The Memra in the Targums is the means by which God signed and sealed His covenants. Genesis 17:7 reads:

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (ESV)

The Targum Onkelos renders Genesis 17:7 as:

I will establish my covenant between My Memra and between you.

John demonstrates that Jesus fulfills the Messianic expectation through Jewish theology.  Jesus signed the New Covenant through the shedding of His blood on Calvary.  As Dr. Fruchtenbaum closes his section on the six doctrines of the Memra, he writes:

The six things which were taught about the memra in rabbinic writings are true of this One about whom John is writing: Jesus of Nazareth: He is the memra, the logos, the Word.9

But there are a few other items that should be noted as well.

The Logos As Life

John says the Logos is life.  In John 1:4 we read:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (ESV; emphasis mine.)

This echoes back to the logos in Deuteronomy 32:44-47 which reads:

Moses came and recited all the logos of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun. And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the logos by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the logos of this law. For it is no empty logos for you, but your very life, and by this logos you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”

This same theme of the logos being and giving life is found throughout the Scriptures, in particular, Psalm 119:25 which reads:

My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your logos!

Looking back to the creation narrative we can see in Genesis 2:7 God breathes the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils.  Again, this clashes with both philonist and deist who refuse to acknowledge a Personal Creator.  Further in John 8:12 we read:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (ESV; emphasis mine.)
The Logos As Light

Looking back at John 1:4 we read that the logos is the light:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (ESV; emphasis mine.)

This theme is also found throughout the Old Testament as far back as Genesis.  Anyone who’s read through the Creation narrative may wonder how God says ‘Let light be…’ on day 1 in Genesis 1:3 and yet the sun, moon and stars weren’t created until day 4.  Modern day Epicureans enjoy mocking this, only serving to demonstrate their own ignorance while doing so, living out Romans 1:22-23 to the letter.  We can read John 9:5 where Jesus says:

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (ESV; emphasis mine.)

Jesus also says in John 12:46:

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (ESV; emphasis mine.)

This doesn’t mean that the logos is a created being since nothing was made except through him.  However, Jesus said that as long as he is in the world, he is the light of the world.  This finds further agreement in Revelation 22:5 which states that there will no longer be any need of the light of the lamp or of the sun because God will be the light in the new heavens and earth.  John 1:5 also echoes back to Genesis 1:3-5:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (ESV; emphasis mine.)

Recall back to Deuteronomy 32:46 which reads “Take to heart all the logos by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the logos of this law.”  The Logos is a major theme in the 119th Psalm.  In Psalm 119:105 we read:

Your logos is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Further in the same chapter, Psalm 119:130 reads:

The unfolding of your logos gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
The Logos As Sustenance

Along the same lines as the logos being and giving life we can see the logos as the bread of life.  John 6:35 reads:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (ESV; emphasis mine.)

In Matthew 4:4 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 in response to the devils tempting:

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (ESV; emphasis mine.)

I discussed this theme in my post on John 6 where there are multiple instances of the words or commandments of God being eaten so that they become a part of our being.  While the actual Greek word logos is not used in these instances, the ideas still clearly find their root in the Old Testament.  Jeremiah 15:16, Ezekiel 3:1-4, Psalm 19:9-11 and Psalm 119:103-104 are all worth looking at in this context.

Conclusion

It should be readily apparent at this point that John’s Logos doctrine finds itself throughout the Old Testament, in the Memra doctrine of first century Israel.  John wasn’t creating anything new, he was simply putting Jewish theology into the vernacular of the world around him.  To deny this any longer is simply a matter of being willfully ignorant, or perhaps, to deceive.  This discussion is far from exhaustive and much of these sources are readily available to anyone with an Internet connection.  There really is no excuse.

Having established the sources of John’s theology and presentation of Christ as the divine Logos the next post will look into the meaning behind the word Logos along with some notes regarding the Prologue of the Gospel of John.

  1. Whenever you go back to take a look at a quote in the Old Testament that a New Testament writer used and see that it doesn’t seem to match up as well as you’d think, it is likely because they are quoting from the Septuagint, whereas most of our modern English Bibles have the Old Testament translation based on the Masoretic text, a Hebrew translation from roughly the 7th century AD.
  2. Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (1983). Vol. 127: The Messianic Bible Study Collection (5–8). Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries.
  3. Jacob Immanuel Schochet, “Mystical Concepts in Chassidism,” introduction to Likutei Amarim: Tanya trans. Nissan Mindel et al.; Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, 1998, 889. Notes obtained from Torah Club Volume 4: Chronicles of the Messiah; First Fruits of Zion.
  4. All Greek word searches were performed using the Lexham Greek-English Interlinear Septuagint in Logos Bible Software
  5. Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (2008). Ariel’s Bible commentary: The book of Genesis (1st ed.) (31). San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries.
  6. Same as footnote 2.
  7. Vol. 7: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (386). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  8. This is likely translated in various ways but the theme is likely best understood by this rendering.
  9. Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (1983). Vol. 127: The Messianic Bible Study Collection (8). Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Dec 272012
 
This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series The Johannine Logos

While embarking on word studies in Scripture may send some running, I would argue that we shouldn’t be so eager to presume such tasks to be so insignificant for ourselves.  After all, if it wasn’t for such word studies much of Scripture, or any other ancient text, would largely be lost to us.  Of course, there are certain people who enjoy such endeavors and those whom God has gifted for such a task but it would be negligent to simply take their word for such things.  Luke commends the Bereans over the Thessalonians in Acts 17:11 simply because they wanted to make sure that what they were being taught lined up with Scripture.

The task of taking up these sorts of studies may not always be easy but at the very least, the work one puts into it will always be rewarding.  These days it seems as though we’ve determined that communion with God is something that cannot be intellectual.  In fact, intellectual pursuit seems, more and more, to be belittled or ridiculed as though it is the antithesis of communion with God.  I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard pastors, my own included, say something along the lines of ‘… you can’t think your way to God’ while at the same time trying to encourage their congregation to ‘… trust in God’ as though the act of thinking and the act of trusting have nothing to do with each other.  This sort of talk is nonsense and incredibly unscriptural since we are actually commanded to ‘love the LORD your God with all of your … mind.’  Dr. Clark has a lot to say about that which ultimately comes from the conclusions brought about by a word study of the word logos as used by John in his Gospel.

The Logos

The word logos is actually a transliteration of the Greek word λόγος which is translated as ‘word’ in the opening verses of John’s Gospel.  With it put in place, John 1:1 reads ‘In the beginning was The Logos and The Logos was with God and The Logos was God.’  As I pointed out in the Preamble to this series, we know that The Logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel is a title for Jesus since John calls him Jesus in John 1:36.  The question to answer is whether or not word is a good translation of logos and what the meaning is behind logos in the opening verses of John.  Since John chose this word as a title for Jesus then he must have had a reason for doing so along with an intended meaning behind it.

Dr. Clark notes that at least part of the reason why logos is translated as word in our English Bibles stems from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible which translated logos as verbum1.  What’s interesting about the use of verbum is that our English word verb is essentially the same word and both are words used to denote action.  The problem is that verbum does not share origin with the Greek word logos but rather eiroo which has more to do with actual words that are spoken which only brings us back to the current English use of word today.  Logos, however, does share origin with an English word that we use today which is none other than the word logic.

But while logic may be a better word choice it doesn’t necessarily shed a great deal of light on what John intends to convey in his prologue.  It certainly adds a bit of dimension to it, especially if you are someone who is interested in epistemology which is a word defined as the study of knowledge and also, not incidentally, finds part of its root in the Greek word logos.  It’s not unlikely, however, that when people hear the word logic their minds immediately drift to what is known as Aristotelian logic, whether they realize it or not.  Aristotelian logic, or Aristotle’s logic, while somewhat valid in thinking about John’s use of logos, however, shouldn’t be considered the end of it by any stretch and John probably didn’t have the idea of syllogistic theory in mind when he wrote ‘In the beginning was The Logos’.  So what was the Apostle John trying to convey when introducing The Preexistent One in his Gospel?

It’s helpful to have a brief understanding of the Greek usage of the word.  The word logos becomes a technical term in philosophy prior to the time of the apostles and by the time John would be writing his Gospel there would be a few major conflicting worldviews that Christianity must confront.  With that idea in mind we can read John’s prologue as a demonstration of Christian doctrine in opposition to the prevailing ideas of the day.  This is, of course, a major difference in how one would go about reading John 1:1-18 from most secular commentators since they would have you believe that Christianity is simply borrowing from the mystery religions of the day.  This, naturally, takes some unpacking.

Colliding Thought

At the time of the apostles there were numerous systems of thought and theories of the cosmos.  Paul confronts the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Acts 17.  He’s subsequently brought into the Areopagus so they can hear what he has to say.2  The Epicureans believed that the universe was comprised of atoms which had no inherent properties.  These atoms would combine to create objects and leads to a form of materialism that simply recognizes pleasure as the greatest good.  The Epicureans, while holding to a belief in the mythical gods, didn’t believe in any sort of divine providence and subsequently saw such belief as superstition.  It could be said that the Epicureans weren’t much different than the atheists today which is what the Stoics viewed them as anyway but we could refer to them as deists, that is they didn’t believe in a personal God.  Of course, some prominent atheists don’t have a problem with deism.

Stoicism, however introduces us to the logos.  Their view of the cosmos was that of an eternal fire guided by a universal law.  They were following the ideas of Heraclitus who saw that since everything was changing or in constant flux, everything must be made of fire since fire is the fastest moving of the four elements.3  The universal law that guided the fire and controlled everything was called the divine logos.  The Stoics taught that every man is a spark of divinity and subsequently everything is God, or parts of God.  The Stoics may be regarded as pantheists and it isn’t hard to see that in many new-age movements today; all you have to do is tune in to Oprah Winfrey.

One that seems to come closer to Christian thought but misses the mark was the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria who considered the world of ideas as ideas in the mind of God.  Likely influenced by Plato who did not actually have a logos doctrine, he called the world of ideas the logos.  This can sound all well and good to the Christian and indeed church history has been incredibly, perhaps mistakenly, influenced by Philo however what we have to realize is that Philo’s philosophy kept the immaterial entirely separate from the material which is not in line with the Scriptures at all.  Instead, the Judeo-Christian God creates the world, interacts with the world and has personal interest and involvement not just with His creation but His image-bearers, human beings.

ApotheosisOfGeorgeWashingtonGnosticism was also on the rise by the time John would write his Gospel.  Paul seems to deal with the influence of Gnosticism in the Epistle to the Colossians.  While Gnosticism varies quite a bit there are a few traits that are shared.  One of the primary themes was that salvation was attained through knowledge and overcoming the material world and as such, Jesus didn’t come to earth divine, but instead attained divinity through knowledge, teaching his disciples to do the same.  Gnosticism is alive and well today in various forms, Freemasonry perhaps being one of the more recognizable.  Just walk into the Capitol Rotunda and look up to see the Apotheosis of Washington.  There in the heart of the US, the power center of the world, is Gnosticism not only on display, but representative of the esoteric schools guiding and shaping the very world we live.

War of the Worldviews

Of course there were other schools as well but these predominant views serve the purpose of demonstrating that John was not merely borrowing from the common worldviews of the day when writing his prologue, nor was John introducing something entirely new.  Instead, John was using Old Testament theology that showed the early church that there could be no compromise in Christian thinking.  Christianity was not and is not a synthesis of competing worldviews.  Contrary to popular belief, Christianity stands in clear opposition to all other systems of thought.  As John 1:1-3, 14 reads:

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. … And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

As Borchert states in the New American Commentary on the Gospel of John:

Verse 1 of the Prologue … is a foundational confession (1) that the Logos has an origin that supersedes the created order of time and space, (2) that this Logos has an identity distinct from the previously understood designations for God, and (3) that the Logos must also be understood as part of the unity of God. Community and unity are in Christian theology two compatible sides of the eternal God. Here then are the beginnings of Christian reflection on the mind-stretching concept that became known as the doctrine of the Trinity.4

A foundational confession, to say the least.  For the Epicureans who believed that the atoms without any inherent properties collided to create everything around us, the Logos doctrine of John states everything, even those atoms, was created by and through the divine Logos with order in mind.  For the Stoics who regarded everything as a part of the divine, the divine Logos is distinct from His creation.  Of course, if the Philonist wasn’t put off from the first three verses, the 14th verse of John surely seals the deal as the divine Logos became flesh.  Finally, for the Gnostics, Jesus never became divine, He was diety from the beginning.  That John was concerned with demonstrating the uniqueness of Christianity is further amplified by John 1:19-34 where the testimony of John the Baptist points others away from himself and to Jesus.

Conclusion

Once it is recognized that the reason John wrote was “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” it’s easy to see that the prologue was anything but an amalgamation of the competing philosophy of the day.  To the contrary, John was probably quite intentional with how he wrote, in order to demonstrate that Christianity was not only totally distinct, but exclusive.

It’s also interesting that the philosophical climate really hasn’t changed.  Today’s environment is full of atheism, deism, pantheism and gnosticism which makes John’s prologue just as applicable in understanding the uniqueness of Christianity.  But John wasn’t inventing anything new either.  Instead, John had the Old Testament Scriptures in mind which will be discussed in the next post.

  1. Clark, Gordon. (1989). The Johannine Logos (13). Jefferson, MD; The Trinity Foundation
  2. Or, perhaps, to determine whether he has the right to say it.
  3. Same as footnote 1, page 15.
  4. Borchert, G. L. (1996). Vol. 25A: John 1–11. The New American Commentary (106). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Dec 202012
 
This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series The Johannine Logos

The Gospel of John is perhaps the most engaging book of Scripture.  In fact, were it not for Revelation, which was also written by the apostle John, I would say it with certainty since no other book of the Bible lends itself so well to child and scholar alike.   It could be said that the prologue itself is possibly the easiest and yet most difficult passage of Scripture to grasp.  The passage isn’t written in any cryptic fashion, rather it flows easily as you read through those first 18 verses, and yet it leaves you with such wonder that you can’t help but feel like you’ll never fully comprehend it’s weight, which seems particularly fitting since the passage is introducing us to the preexistent Word of God.

In his introduction to his book The Johannine Logos, Gordon Clark noted that “[t]he Gospel of John is the most hated book of the Bible, and the most beloved – for the same reason, namely, that it was written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through his name.”1  Dr. Clark was quoting John 20:31 as the root cause of the conflict, in particular it’s presentation of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God.  No other Gospel account puts it as plainly as does John’s and since John tells us why he wrote what he wrote it is incumbent on the reader to make sure that he is understanding it with that intent in mind.

The Word of the LORD

Several years ago I saw John 1:1 translated as: In the beginning was The Logic and The Logic was with God and The Logic was God.  I marveled at this since it gave a more rounded view, not just to the first few verses themselves, but to the climax of the prologue, verse 14, which would then read: And The Logic became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Prior to this I had always read John 1 with the idea of the Word of God in mind.  This is very common for Christians and is certainly correct in understanding.  Reading John 1:1 as “In the beginning was The Word [of God] and The Word [of God] was with God and The Word [of God] was God” helps to shed some light on this.  Anyone who has read through the Old Testament to some degree has likely read something along the lines of “And the Word of The LORD came to…”2 which should immediately remind us of the first verses of John.

The Word in John 1:1 is Jesus, as John 1:14 states that The Word became flesh and subsequently John the Baptist identifies him as Jesus, the Lamb of God, in John 1:36.  When we look back through the Old Testament we can see this interaction between The Word and God.  Genesis 15 is a good example of such where in Genesis 15:1 The Word of the LORD comes to Abram in a vision.  The Word of the LORD converses with Abram and then in Genesis 15:7 he tells Abram specifically who he is, he says “I am the LORD” that is Yahweh, יהוה.  Just as the first verses of John identify Jesus as God and yet distinct, so does Genesis 15 identify the Word of the LORD as God and yet distinct.

The Logic

Seeing John 1:1 use ‘The Logic’ in place of ‘The Word’ gives us an even bigger picture of what John may have been trying to convey in the opening verses and subsequently throughout his Gospel.  While ‘The Logic’ is just as much Jesus as ‘The Word’ is, the idea of The Logic may help us peer even more into what He said and did.  Ultimately this would have implications for the believer, not just with how we should live but even how we should think.

At the time I had first come across the translation I had only recently started thinking about how transcendental knowledge3 relates to the Christian faith.  Logic is transcendental in that it is a precondition to knowing anything.  But how do we really know this?  Some might argue that logic is simply a convention while others argue that it is objective and binding.  The answer is that we know it due to what is often called the impossibility of the contrary, that is, without logic we wouldn’t even be able to begin interacting with the world in which we live.  While this is certainly the case, it seems to beg the question of what this logic, if it is objective, is grounded in and this, I believe, is at the heart of what the prologue to John’s Gospel can answer.  But what hasn’t been addressed yet is whether or not the translation is valid.

Dr. Gordon Clark’s The Johannine Logos was listed as a reference for translating John 1:1 in that manner.  The Johannine Logos is a rather small book that does just what it’s title suggests4, that is, it looks at all the occurrences of the word logos5 along with usage and some historical highlights in order to reach a conclusion about John’s intention behind using the word as a title for Jesus.

In this series of posts I aim to look at whether or not the translation is valid and, if so, what it’s implications are for the Christian.  In order to do that I will be making extensive use of The Johannine Logos since Dr. Clark has done most of the work in order to get to the conclusions already.  Any implications from this bring with it the question of application such as how I, as a Christian, am to think about God, interact with God, relate to God and subsequently glorify God; issues that are certainly not meant to be taken lightly and shape the very way we look at the world around us.

  1. Clark, Gordon. (1989). The Johannine Logos (1). Jefferson, MD; The Trinity Foundation.
  2. See Genesis 15:1, 1 Samuel 3:1, 2 Samuel 7:4, 1 Kings 6:11, 1 Kings 21:17
  3. When I use the term transcendental, I am primarily thinking of Kant’s discussions of the conditions for the possibility of knowledge. This is not a question of knowing something, but rather a question of how we can know something.
  4. The term ‘Johannine’ is simply the name of John in adjective form.
  5. Logos is the transliteration of the Greek word λόγος, translated as Word in our English Bibles

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.