Mar 122013
 
This entry is part 5 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.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
— Jeremiah 9:23-24 (ESV)

This series of posts has looked at man’s innate knowledge of God as laid out in Romans 1:18-23 in that man was created in God’s image, as God’s image-bearers and with the light referred to in John 1:9 that gives every man the ability to interact with the world in which he lives.  But man continually works hard to hold down that sense of Deity, to suppress it in a manner that denies the Creator and subsequently leads to the wrath of God revealed.  It is this revelation of God’s wrath that takes us back around to Romans 1:18, the same verse with which this series began.  But before looking at the revealing of God’s wrath, we should look at the revealing of God’s righteousness and for that, we need to go a little further back, particularly Romans 1:16-17.

The Righteousness Of God Revealed

Romans 1:16-17 reads:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”1

When Paul says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” he essentially lists two reasons for why he is not ashamed, the first, that it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe it and the second that it reveals the righteousness of God.  But how is it that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God?

There are certainly numerous views as to exactly how the gospel reveals the righteousness of God but for sake of this post I want to look at the aspect that was raised in Part 2 of this series.  In that post I discussed the relationship to God that every human being has, that it is a position of right-standing with God.  In this sense the gospel reveals the righteousness of God for those who believe by changing the recipients status of righteousness.  Mounce clearly notes that “[t]he result is that people of faith are declared to be righteous.”2  Of course, this is through no work of our own.  One of man’s greatest problems is that he insists on becoming righteous by his own means.

Contrast Christianity with every other system of thought and you will find that every other system of thought has at least one thing in common that Christianity does not.  It is that non-Christian systems demand that you can do something to merit righteousness.  Christianity, however, insists that this is impossible.  In fact, our standing before God is entirely determined by our faith in Him – it is “by faith for faith” in that our right-standing begins in faith and is subsequently carried out through faith.  We can do nothing but trust in God.  As I wrote in my Salvation page “If our current predicament could be described as our current world and God being separated by a great chasm, the thinking of our current world desires a way to get to God on our own, that is, we as humanity must find a way to bridge the chasm.  Christianity, on the other hand says that only God can bridge that chasm and provide a way to Him.”

But if we can only be declared righteous through trust in the gospel then without that trust we are by definition unrighteous.

The Wrath Of God Revealed

And about this unrighteousness Paul writes in Romans 1:18:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

It is in this unrighteousness that the pagan man suppresses the plain innate knowledge of God and it is against this unrighteousness that the wrath of God is revealed.  The contrast between the righteousness of God being revealed from the gospel and the wrath of God being revealed from heaven needs to be stressed.  Man is subject to God’s wrath which is a direct result of man’s unrighteousness, that is to say, God’s wrath is revealed because man has suppressed his own nature that was given him by God.

The importance of God’s wrath in a discussion of the righteousness of God being revealed cannot be overemphasized.  If God is righteous3 then by nature He cannot let sin go unpunished or simply tolerate any acts of wickedness.  Any judge who does such things is considered a crooked judge.  The JFB commentary defines the wrath of God as “righteous vengeance against sin.”4  The first part of Proverbs 11:21 reads “Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished”.

All of that being said, Jesus commands us to preach the Gospel!5  Why?  Because the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God.  The Gospel is what allows a person to be in right-standing with their Creator again.  That man would go so far as to suppress the truth they’ve been given, God goes farther to reveal His righteousness again.  In Romans 10:4 Paul asks:

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Think about that.  Mankind, left to his own devices will do nothing but suppress the truth of God.  Surely, how can anyone call on the name of the Lord if they have suppressed their innate sense of Him?  It follows they must be told, but if they are never told, then how can they hear?  The answer is that Christ crucified must be preached.  God has provided a way in which man may be declared righteous and it is up to us to preach it to those who are perishing.  Think of what 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  That “power of God” leads us right back to Romans 1:16 and the first reason Paul gives for not being ashamed of the gospel.  As the second half of Proverbs 11:21 reads “but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered.”

Conclusion

Mankind was created with an innate knowledge of God.  We were made in God’s image, as God’s image-bearers.  But mankind has suppressed, that is held down or imprisoned that innate knowledge in order to go his own way.  Even the creation testifies to the Creator, but man has chosen to deny this and instead go so far as to worship the creation itself.  Therefore our position to God is one that is an object of wrath.

But as 2 Peter 3:9 says God is not willing that any should perish and has chosen to reveal His righteousness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is, though we are objects of God’s wrath, we can be declared righteous by faith in the message of the cross.  But because mankind is suppressing the truth, this message must be preached.  This is why Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for all who believe.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Mounce, R. H. (1995). Vol. 27: Romans. The New American Commentary (73). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. Righteousness may be thought of as just, as we would think of a just judge.
  4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ro 1:18). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. See Mark 16:15

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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.

Mar 052013
 
This entry is part 4 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 Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
— 1 Corinthians 3:20 (ESV)

One of the primary examples the Bible uses to describe a fool comes from Psalms 14:1 which says that “the fool says in his heart there is no God.”  While this comes as a surprise to many, it really shouldn’t.  As I’ve shown in the previous posts of this series, we are given an innate knowledge of God and to deny this goes against the natural order.  Even by man’s own wisdom we would consider anyone denying the natural order of the world a fool so if an innate knowledge of God is a part of the natural order, then it follows that a denial of such is foolishness.  Scripture goes on further to note that that which is wisdom in the worlds eyes is foolishness as far as God is concerned, but that which is foolishness to the world, particularly the Gospel, is the power of God.1  We can see this thought taking shape in Romans 1:21-23 which reads:

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.2

Many of the most popular English translations have done much to water down not just the message of Scripture as a whole but even specific words that are utilized in the original Greek and Hebrew.  One such word is moros (μωρός) which is the word used here in Romans 1:22 for fool.  The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament lists “stupid”3 as a suitable rendering for moros and the Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon explains it as “nonsense, thoughts devoid of understanding”4 but what few tell us is that moros is actually the Greek word from which we get the English word moron.5

A Moron By Any Other Name

Vincent Cheung notes that “[a] moron by any other name is still an idiot, and there is really no reason to use other words and expressions unless it is to hide our true meaning and to reduce the offensiveness of the biblical message.”6  I agree and I don’t think we should be willing to compromise what the Scriptures say.  This is important for numerous reasons but for the sake of the topics being dealt with in these posts the problem isn’t that the unbeliever, in particular the atheist, needs more information but that the unbeliever has made the subsequent choices that has rendered his intellect inept.  In other words, his mind is broken.  This can be seen much clearer in Romans 1:22 when we translate it as “claiming to be wise, they became morons” and we are perfectly justified in doing so.

The exasperation in trying to discuss any of life’s tough questions with the atheist is due to the completely polar starting point.  In the case of the atheist the starting point “there is a God” is broken.  This is what the Scripture says and the sooner we are able to recognize that the easier our discussions with our non-Christian friends will become.  This doesn’t mean we adopt their starting point for sake of argument, but rather, we reduce their worldview to the absurdity that it is and only after it has been destroyed are we able to start putting it together in a proper fashion.

For example, when someone wants to bring about a moral accusation against the Bible, such as the typical but misguided “the Bible condones genocide”, the Christian usually wants to run to the Bible’s defense and explain in a rational manner why certain things in Scripture had to come about.  While this is perfectly acceptable and fruitful to learn about, it really is meaningless for the unbeliever.  Rather, the Christian needs to turn it around on his accuser.  He must demand a standard by which the non-Christian is bringing about the accusation to begin with.  The atheist is in a predicament; he is making a moral judgement without a standard to judge by.  Unless the accuser can show the ultimate and objective moral standard by which he is accusing Scripture, there is no reason to bother answering his accusation because the accusation itself is nonsense.  What business does anyone have claiming that someone’s moral values are wrong unless he subscribes to objective moral values?  In this instance the non-Christians accusation is as misguided as claiming that Drew Driver didn’t stop properly at a stop sign while denying that there is a proper way to stop at a stop sign.

Futile Thinking

And it is in this same manner that Paul states the pagan man has become “futile in his thinking.”  If we know God, then we are obligated to honor Him as God and give thanks to him for not only is it that we live and move through Him7 but also that He has graciously provided everything we need.8  By ignoring, or suppressing this knowledge, the pagan man is forced to come up with his own version of reality, one by which he ends up worshiping the creation instead of the Creator!  Worshiping the creation is nothing more than idolatry, no matter how the act itself eludes the atheist.  Incredibly, Paul is able to describe the modern day Epicurean with startling accuracy, indicative of the fact that even with all of the supposed knowledge modern man has, nothing has really changed in 2,000 years.

The idea of becoming futile in thinking is one that needs to be stressed.  First, the word thinking (διαλογισμός) is one that denotes deliberation, reckoning, rational thought.9  Being able to correctly perceive anything requires the capability of proper reasoning.  John 1:9 states that the Wisdom of God gave light to all man and from Genesis 1:27 we know that we were created in the image of God.  It is this light, I believe, that gives us the capability to reason or make use our senses effectively at all.  Without the light, nonsense results since we have no means by which to determine and correctly use input from sight or sound or touch if we are relegated to the senses alone.

Second, the word futile (ματαιόω) connotes worthlessness in that it serves no purpose, things are simply done in vain.  Paul is quite literally speaking of worthless rationality.  But notice that they became, that is they have fallen into futile thinking.  In other words, this worthless rationality was never the way it was supposed to be but rather, a direct result of the failure to give honor and thanks to the Creator God.  Mankind was made in the image of God and the Wisdom of God gave light to every man.  Part of that light was an innate knowledge of God but man suppressed that knowledge, refused to give thanks or honor to their Creator and subsequently became futile in their reasoning faculties as a result.10

Conclusion

Futile thinking is a direct result of the suppression of the innate knowledge of God in Romans 1:18-23.  Because the starting point necessary for a proper understanding of reality is wrong, the pagan man’s intellect is basically broken.  He is forced to come up with his own version of reality leading ultimately to the worship of creation rather than Creator.  All of this comes right back around to Romans 1:18 where, because of all of this, the wrath of God is being revealed.  The final post for this series will discuss the revelation of God’s wrath.

  1. See 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Vol. 2: Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (450). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
  4. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. HELPS Word Studies copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc., Entry available here.
  6. Cheung, V. (2005). A Moron By Any Other Name. Boston, MA. www.vincentcheung.com
  7. Acts 17:28; also see Part 2 of this series.
  8. See Matthew 5:45 and Acts 14:17.
  9. Vol. 2: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (96). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  10. Much more could be said of the contrast between light and darkness, wisdom and foolishness in Romans 1:21 leading even further into the discussions of John 1:9 but for sake of brevity I would recommend The Johannine Logos series, particularly Part 4.

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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 262013
 
This entry is part 3 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.

7 “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; 8 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. 9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. 11 Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food? 12 Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.
— Job 12:7-12 (ESV)

In evangelical Christianity, God’s disclosure to man is referred to as revelation.  This revelation can be segmented into two parts typically called general revelation and special revelation.1  General revelation deals primarily with the witness of creation to a creator while special revelation reveals God on a much more personal level which is reserved for Scripture.  Therefore we can say that special revelation is everything identified in Scripture that is not already a part of general revelation.  While creation itself cannot identify the means of Salvation, Scripture can and does.  This post will look at general revelation in light of Romans 1:18-23 as it stems from the sense of Deity and relationship to God that every human being is born with.

General Revelation

Since general revelation is identified through the witness of creation it can be sub-categorized into areas of specific study.  To start with, creation consists of the physical created order.  This is the world in which we interact with in our day to day life.  What we can perceive about the world around us can generally tell us something about the one who created it.  The next segment is typically that of human nature.  How we interact with the world around us as well as relate to our fellow man can and should be able to tell us a bit about our Creator.  The final major category is what is often called God’s revelation in human history.  In this case we are studying God’s work throughout history and His interaction with man.2

Apologetics will, more often than not, attempt to start on some sort of neutral ground with the non-Christian and build a case for a Creator as attested by creation.  This would, for the most part, seem the appropriate thing to do but recall in the previous discussions for this series and from the discussions in The Johannine Logos, that we are already dealing with this understanding in place.  Instead of seeing general revelation as a means or tool to reason someone to God, we should look at general revelation as a testimony to their innate knowledge of God or sense of Deity that is already in place.  This, by no means, turns general revelation as we know it on its head, but rather, better aligns it with Scripture.  In Romans 1:19-20, Paul writes:

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.3

There are several things that can be drawn from these two verses.  First, that things about God can be known outside of Scripture.  This is because God has shown it to all of mankind.  Furthermore, the things that can be known about God outside of Scripture are plain.  That is, we don’t need any more than our intuition, or common sense, to understand some of the most basic things of God.  God has already given us the capabilities of knowing about Him.

I once saw an illustration of just how basic this understanding should be for us.  It was a scenario of a bunch of fleas sitting around and discussing the existence of a dog.  Their conclusion was that there was no evidence of a dog and therefore they decided that no dogs exist.  Just as they were affirming this a storm erupted and the ground beneath them began to shake.  The next thing we see is a dog getting sprayed with a garden hose and shaking the water off his coat.  Now granted, we don’t believe in pantheism, but it is in this sense that Carson Weitnauer so well puts it when he writes that “[f]rom the Christian perspective, the atheist’s situation is akin to climbing the world’s tallest building in order to more ably broadcast the message that a belief in architects is a primitive fantasy.”4

The Physical World

That God can and does reveal himself in the physical world is evident.  In verse 20, Paul describes a couple of divine attributes of God,  his eternal power and divine nature.  As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, these seem to allude to attributes that Stoicism had been using in their descriptions of the divine logos.  The point is that these things are clearly perceived.  Human beings don’t really even have to reason to get to this point.  It’s just common sense.  It is because of this that Paul states the pagan man is without excuse.

We can reason in a manner to explain what is clearly evident.  That the universe is an ever changing environment tells us that it is not eternal, that is unchanging.  Since the universe is not eternal it must have began at some point but whatever caused that beginning had to itself be outside of the created order, thus eternal and supernatural.  So it is plain that an eternal God is the best explanation of the world around us.

We know that the Bible states the Christian God is the creator and thus the cause for the origin of the universe (Genesis 1).  But God is also proclaimed as the sustainer of all things, that is to say that God upholds all things by His will and nothing could continue were it not through Him.  These are juxtaposed in Colossians 1:16-17 where Paul writes that “all things were created … through Him” and that “in Him all things are held together.”  This is further amplified In Hebrews 1:1-2 where the universe, the ages, the time worlds “was made through Him” and that he “sustains all things through His powerful word.”

God as sustainer is also evident by general revelation.  Since the universe is clearly ever changing, there must be a governing principle by which it is sustained.  Without it there is absolutely no good reason to believe that it will operate tomorrow in the same manner that it operates today.  Without God, man is left void of any rational reason to believe that the world will continue on as it supposedly has in the past.  However, the universe does function in a relational manner and it only makes sense to understand that the same principles the universe operates on today will be used to uphold the universe tomorrow.5  Therefore general revelation can also account for God as the sustainer of all things.  These confirm our innate sense of Deity as the best explanation of the universe and even tell us, just as Paul says, that God is eternally powerful and has a divine nature.

In Human Nature

The natural man also has the light given by the Wisdom of God (John 1:9) and since we are His created creatures we are clearly in relationship to Him.  Special revelation confirms that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and so from the worldview of the Christian it makes sense that human nature would also stand to reveal some of the characteristics of our Creator.

From the start, we are relational creatures.  In order to be relational there is a necessary precondition that tells us we can communicate in a manner that makes sense and doesn’t result in nonsense.  The fact that this sentence has meaning demonstrates that we can reason and communicate and make sense of the world around us.  If we could not then there is no point to the discussion.  This should confirm our innate understanding that the Creator who created us is also relational for how else could a relational being such as man exist?  Special revelation confirms this in that God interacts with His creation and particularly makes and keeps promises with His people.  Further, He has chosen to communicate with His creation by the written word, that is Scripture.

What’s more, human beings are thinking creatures with rational minds.  The phrase I think therefore I am is self attesting in that you cannot think if you are not.  Since mankind is rational and thinking it stands to attest to a rational mind as the Creator.  Again, special revelation confirms this.  We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all of your … mind” in Matthew 22:37.

Our moral compass is a part of the intellect revealing God.  By nature, man seeks justice.  Anyone who demands that there is no objective moral standard has no reason to complain when you punch him in the face for no reason.  What is often called the ‘golden rule’ seems to exist throughout all cultures and all of human history.6  Therefore objective moral values demonstrate an aspect of the Creator God.  Special revelation confirms this through Scripture.  God is called the “Just Judge of all the earth” in Genesis 18:25.  From all of this, the Christian God is the best explanation for human nature.

Human History

God has revealed himself in human history in that His covenant people, Israel, have existed and still exist.  Special revelation confirms this and further states that they will never cease to exist in Jeremiah 31:36.  His interaction with them demonstrates their God must be the Creator God.  John MacArthur in his sermon on Sovereign Election, Israel & Eschatology said:

When Frederick the Great asked his chaplain for proof of the truthfulness of the Bible, he said, “Give me a brief defense.” His chaplain replied, “I can do it in one word. Israel.” Israel. They exist. There they are. Israel, understood as a people preserved by God for an eschatological kingdom, has immense apologetic value. Immense.7

Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum calls Israelology “the missing link of systematic theology” and indeed it is.8  While Israel is neglected for various reasons the Jewish people desperately need to be put back in place as a subject of God’s revelation in human history.  It is simply absurd for the Christian to ignore this incredible testimony to God’s interaction with mankind that is going on right now in our daily news.

Conclusion

General revelation is the attestation to the sense of Deity that is innate in mankind.  Paul affirms this as does the field itself.  Further, everything in the field of general revelation is subsequently affirmed in special revelation which not only discloses more of God to us, but also the path to Him, that is Salvation.  God has revealed himself through creation in the sense that mankind is able to affirm his natural understanding of God.  This does not mean that man can come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ through general revelation, but that this revelation is adequate to condemn every man as accountable to God.  In the next post I will look at the futile thinking that is the wisdom of the world.

  1. General revelation may also be referred to as natural theology.
  2. Geisler, N. L. (1999). Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker Reference Library (670). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  4. Gilson, Tom; Weitnauer, Carson (2012-03-09). True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism (Kindle Locations 295-297). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Although special revelation gives us further reason to trust that the universe will function tomorrow as it does today. Genesis 8:22 tells us “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
  6. This is not to say that all cultures interpret it the same.  How the moral framework is implemented is not the same as the moral framework itself.
  7. PDF transcript available here and audio available here.  For a discussion of this topic see Probe Ministries essay Israel’s History Written In Advance.
  8. His book is titled Israelology: The Missing Link of Systematic Theology.

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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 192013
 
This entry is part 2 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.

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.
— 1 Chronicles 28:9, ESV

The invitation of a personal relationship with God is often over simplified when discussed.  This isn’t to say that a relationship with God must be complicated, but what is often overlooked in the discussion, or perhaps presumed, is our relationship to God and since this is logically prior it needs to be handled before any further discussion of a relationship with God can take place.

In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul discusses man’s predicament from three points of view and leaves no one without excuse.  He starts with the lawless or pagan man in Romans 1:18-32.  The issue here, and what is being focused on in this series of posts, are those who claim that there is no God and therefore live according to that idea.  But Paul states that idea is absurd and that the lawless are actually suppressing the innate knowledge of God that they have in order to accomplish this.  The next group he goes after could be referred to as the moral man in Romans 2:1-16.  The moral man thinks of himself as morally superior and casts his own judgement on those around him.1  His problem is that he cannot even live up to his own standards and therefore in passing judgment condemns himself.  The final group, whom Paul calls the Jew, can be referred to as the religious man in Romans 2:17-29.  This is the group of people who by blood lineage were given the Torah, or the Law, and were probably the most sincere and committed to God and yet even they dishonored God by breaking the Law since their outward obedience didn’t line up with their inward condition.2

Relationship To God

It’s important to note that through these two chapters, Paul has condemned all of humanity.  In Romans 3:23 he states that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  No one, by his own merit, is in right standing with the Holy and Righteous One True God.  That is the predicament of every man.  We can think of this standing to God as a position and that is what is meant by relationship to God.  In this sense, every human being is in relationship to God since they are created in the image of God and have the light from John 1:9 given to them.  The question is what that relationship entails.  Going back to the passage at hand, Romans 1:18-19 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.3

So from the perspective of Christianity, everyone is in relationship to God but under the relationship of disobedience.  That man takes his unrighteousness and uses it to hold down or suppress the truth is an act of disobedience.  That man has been given the innate knowledge of some of God’s attributes, the attributes that are stated to be inescapable and yet he works against what God has graciously given him is an act of disobedience.  Man is working against the clear natural order to produce something that runs contrary to his natural instinct.

Dr. K. Scott Oliphint has written quite a bit about this relationship to God that the unbeliever is in. He writes:

The first thing worth considering when we develop a biblical apologetic approach is that every living person is in a relationship to the one true God. It seems to me that this truth is all too easy to forget. Such forgetfulness may be due, in part, to the emphasis on the radical transformation that takes place when God adopts us into his eternal family; an emphasis that we must continue to have. However, because we often focus on the relationship we have to God by virtue of our union with Christ, we can forget that unbelievers are related to God as well. We should remember that even those outside of Christ are in a covenant relationship to the God who made them.4

I believe that this starting point when looking at the world around us is incredibly helpful.  What is being stated is that there are only two worldviews as far as the Christian is concerned: The Christian worldview and the non-Christian worldview.  Both the Christian and non-Christian are in a relationship to God.  One is obedience and the other is disobedience.  One is at peace and the other is in rebellion.  This is what Jesus proclaims in Matthew 12:30 when He says “whoever is not with me is against me.”

Of course, the common objection is that this is too restrictive but that doesn’t make it any less true.  It does not deny that there are variations of the non-Christian worldview such as atheism, pantheism or Islam but they are still non-Christian systems of thought.  Once we recognize this and understand that the non-Christian is in open rebellion against the Creator then we can begin to show the irrationality of the non-Christian worldview.

The Creator-Creature Distinction

From the first verse of Genesis we see that God is distinct from His creation.  In John 1:1-3 we see that He exists prior to, or outside of His creation and nothing was created without Him.  Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17 state that all things are held together, or sustained, through Him.  If all things in creation are held together or sustained through the Creator that includes mankind.  But the Creator also created mankind apart from the rest of creation as He created mankind in the image of God.  We, as human beings, are the image bearers of our Creator.  We are His representatives.  As His creatures who are His image bearers and are continually sustained by Him, we are dependent upon and obligated to our Creator.5  As Paul states in Acts 17:28, “in Him we live and move and have our being.”

Our relationship to God is one that naturally follows from being created as His image bearers.  As of Genesis 3, however, the relationship with God was severed.  This subsequently affects our standing, or position to God and as a result we are now disobedient.  The obligation hasn’t changed, that is we are still related to our Creator, we are dependent upon and obligated to Him, but our own desires have taken over and worked to serve ourselves rather than God.  From this point of view, it is easy to see Paul’s reasoning in Romans 1:18-23.  Man was created by God, in the image of God, dependent upon and obligated to God but chose to sever that relationship from the start.  Having done so goes contrary to what we were designed to do.  Denying the very Creator who created us in His image, the very one we are dependent upon, the very one we were Created to serve goes so contrary to the natural order, that we must hold down, or suppress or most basic intuition to do so which is why the wrath of God gets revealed.  The rest of Romans 1 flows naturally from this understanding.

Conclusion

Mankind, being in relation to God is still obligated to Him.  God is the source of our being and without Him we would not exist.  To deny God is to deny our own creator.  It is as good as saying we have no biological parents.  Doing so runs contrary to the natural order and puts us at odds with the world around us as Paul so explicitly points out in the rest of Romans 1.  The next post will take a look at general revelation, that is what we can know about God through the world around us.

  1. This is not to say that we cannot judge. Christians are commanded to judge properly, not as though we ourselves are morally superior, but judging what we rightly know versus judging what we do not know.
  2. Much more could be said about these three items but brevity is being used here.  The intention is simply to show that all of humanity is in relationship to God.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  4. Dr. Oliphint, K. S. From the article Unbelievers and the Knowledge of God: Biblical Warrant for a Presuppositional Apologetic.  Retrieved from the Web Archive on February 5th, 2013.
  5. See Jeff Down’s excellent article A Covenantal Apologetic.

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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 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.