Mar 262013
 
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Why Christians Should Celebrate Passover

The answers to why Christians choose to celebrate or observe Passover are certainly many and varied.  But once it’s stated that the celebration should be done, the reasons become much more focused.  In the first part of this discussion I undertook the biblical relevancy of celebrating Passover, along with the demonstration that the early church was indeed participating in a Seder of some form.  In this final post, I will respond to some of the common objections to observing Passover and show that doing so can, and should be, an expression of worship.

Answering The Objections

Just as the reasons to celebrate are many, so are the reasons given not to.  But one common element that can be said for most of the objections is the discussion of legalism.  As I mentioned in Part 1, legalism is largely understood as the use of the law (the Torah, or the 10 commandments) as a means to obtain and retain salvation.1  There is always going to be a fine line between what we do and why we do it.  Legalism, most certainly, is a matter of the heart.  It is presumptive to suggest that every time we refrain from telling a lie when we really want to tell a lie, that we don’t because we are afraid it will somehow change the status of our justification.  In the same sense, it is presumptive to suggest that the annual observance of Passover is in any case done for the same reason.  Because the answer to the objections that pertain to legalism may largely be discussed overall in this post, I will be addressing the objections that are a bit more complex.

Everything The Passover Pointed To Has Been Fulfilled

The argument is typically that because everything the Passover pointed to has been fulfilled, there is no need to observe Passover.  There are two primary issues found with this objection, first, that the observance of Passover was done because it pointed toward a future fulfillment, and second, that even if the first were true, there should be no memorial observance.  As we’ll see, both of these items hinge on what the Passover was originally given as and what Christ’s fulfillment subsequently provided.

There is no doubt that Christ fulfilled the Passover but to suggest that its observance was done to look forward to the accomplishment of Christ is a bit misguided.  The institution of the Passover holy week was given to the Israelites in Exodus 12 and Exodus 12:14 specifically states:

14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.2

Since, in its very command, it is explained that it is a memorial, why would we suggest that its ancient observation had anything to do with what it pointed toward?  Of course this has nothing to do with the fact that the Passover ultimately finds its fulfillment in the crucifixion of Christ as our Passover Lamb but the instructions specifically state that it is a memorial and its keeping is as a feast to the LORD.  The Hebrew for “memorial day” in this verse is zikkaron (זִכָּרֹון) and signifies a time of remembrance.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that the subject of the verb is often “internal mental acts”.  It states:

Most examples of the Qal of zākar refer to inner mental acts, either with or without reference to concomitant external acts. Examples of internal mental acts are the Jews’ recollection of Jerusalem (Ps 137:1) and their remembrance that they had been slaves (Deut 5:15).3

And so we can determine that the Passover was, for the ancient Israelite, to be a time of internal reflection and a celebration, or feast to the LORD.  But the passage in Exodus further continues, in Exodus 12:24-27:

24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ ” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

In verse 24 we read that the observance of Passover is as a statute, that is a custom or ordinance.  It is an act of service to God and is to be taught to the children of Israel forever.  There is no indication at this time that its observation was to look forward to Christ’s fulfillment.  To the contrary, it was observed in remembrance of the event that freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and an opportunity to teach their children about God.  Because of this, we can see that the objection to celebrating Passover “because everything it pointed to was fulfilled” is ultimately flawed due to its presuppositions.

The Seder Has Been Shaped By Times And Circumstance

This objection largely claims that because the Seder has probably changed between the time of Christ and the earliest haggadah4 in existence it would be impossible to know for sure what the Passover feast and order of events were that Christ and His disciples observed.  The claim is indeed true.  There is roughly 1,000 years between the Passover observed by Christ and His disciples and our earliest copies of a written Haggadah.5  The problem with this objection is in what it presumes.  First, it presumes that there was no liberty with the observance of the Passover and second, it presumes that what was being observed as recorded by the Gospels and other extra-biblical writings can’t be pieced together.

In addressing the second issue, the truth of the matter is that we can piece much of the evening together and have done so.6  Using the four Gospels in the new Testament and how they record the events leading up to the crucifixion along with what we know of the observance of Passover in the 2nd temple period and the earliest references to the Seder we can put together an order that isn’t incredibly different from what most observe today.

Of course, times and circumstance have certainly played a role in the various customs of the Seder and it would be impossible to know everything that is observed today that wasn’t observed 2,000 years ago.  It may be claimed that because we don’t have the order written down precisely, we shouldn’t attempt to reconcile it.  But this idea presumes that families in the 2nd temple period had copies of the order of events like we do today and that presumption is unlikely.  The truth of the matter is that the information that the Torah gives along with the oral tradition of what was developed would have been more than enough for families to shape their festivities in a format that went along with the legal and religious customs while allowing for their own traditions.  That leads to the first issue with this objection, the idea that there was no liberty with the observance of the Passover.

The idea that there would be no liberty for family traditions in the observance of Passover is itself flawed.  While there were indeed legal items that had to be followed, they could not encompass the entire night let alone the week long events.  Just as today, it is quite reasonable to conclude that families would have come up with many traditions that were unique for themselves.  The observance of Passover, or any feast for that matter, was never meant to be a burden for the Israelites.  They were celebrations that commemorated events in their history.  Passover was, and is, looked forward to by the Jewish people just as Christians look forward to Christmas or Easter which themselves are used to commemorate events in the history of our faith.

So, in order to properly observe Passover must we know exactly what Christ and His disciples did?  The answer is “certainly not.”  The Torah, along with the Gospels, provides some basic information of what Christ and His disciples observed.  When put together with some extra-biblical data, the night, and week for that matter, can be given a basic outline for the Christian to participate in along with the liberty to introduce some of their own traditions for the family to follow.

We Don’t Need Another Sacrifice

Indeed, we don’t.  But in the framing of this objection it is presumed that the celebration of Passover is to offer another sacrifice other than the one true sacrifice offered by Christ.  And this is where the issue becomes thorny.  The Christian church participates in the Eucharist or what most protestant evangelicals call Communion or the Last Supper.  This comes from Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:17-19 where Jesus breaks the bread and pours the wine at the Last Supper and tells the disciples to do this in remembrance of Him.  But just what is this that he’s referring to?

Well, what this is in Luke 22:19 is the Passover feast.  As Jesus says in Luke 22:15, just a few verses earlier:

15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”[Emphasis mine.]

Incidentally, this is also specified in Matthew 26:17-19 and Mark 14:16.  It is of my opinion that Jesus was not creating anything new for His disciples to participate in.  Communion as we know it may not have been a regular practice until the 4th century AD.7  In fact, there is strong reason to believe that what Paul was responding to in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 was the participation of Passover in an irreverent and haphazard manner and not communion as is so often discussed.

Rather, what Jesus was declaring in these passages when He instructs His disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” is a new focus for our “inner mental acts,” our remembrance, our memorial.  It is to be about Him, His sacrifice, His completed work on our behalf.  It is as though He were telling His disciples that their observance of Passover was previously in remembrance of their freedom from Egyptian slavery, but now the observance of Passover is the celebration of His accomplishment, His fulfillment of what Passover was, in a concealed manner, looking forward to!  And it is from this understanding that the parallels are brought into focus.

Once the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, but they were freed by God so that they could come into the land that God had given them and worship Him just as Exodus 12:24-27 states.  So once were we, as unbelievers, slaves to sin, but as Christians, freed by God and His incredible sacrifice on our behalf so that we too could come into right standing with God and worship Him.

Christians Should Celebrate Passover

And all of that brings us back to the third and most important reason Christians should celebrate Passover and that is this: it is an expression of worship.  To participate in the prescriptions that have largely been put into practice for some 3,500 years, instituted by God Himself, and given ultimate focus for us by Jesus Christ on the night of His betrayal could be nothing more and should be nothing less than an expression of worship to Him.  Exodus 12:28 reads in part “And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.”

Is it any wonder that when Moses and Aaron gathered the elders of Israel to tell them what was about to take place that the peoples response was worship?  Exodus 4:31 reads:

31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. [Emphasis mine.]

As the New American Commentary on Exodus notes, bowing and worshiping says “I submit, I agree, I cooperate.”8  Participation in the observance of Passover is more than just an opportunity to learn about what happened on the night of Christ’s crucifixion.  It’s more than simply getting together with friends for an order of service and a meal.  As good and worthwhile as those things are, it is, rather, a way prescribed by God to say “I submit, I agree, I cooperate.”  And that is precisely what Jesus commanded of us, to do this in remembrance of Him.  He is now our focus for worship at Passover.  His accomplishment.  His work on our behalf.

In modern Christianity we have managed to put our worship into a box.  We have largely confined it to going to church on Sunday morning and spending a few minutes singing songs together.  And there is nothing inherently wrong with that, but I think we’ve managed to limit what worship is about.  We’ve fooled ourselves into worship being largely about us, even though we would rarely ever admit this.  But God didn’t necessarily allow the Israelites to determine how they would worship Him.  Instead, He gave them very specific instructions that they were to follow, instructions that permeated every facet of their lives.  In Christianity we have largely brushed them aside.

But with the action of brushing aside much of the prescriptions God gave to the Israelite community is the idea that these commands were simply arbitrary, that there was no other reason to follow them than simply the fact that God commanded it and since we’re free in Christ, any attempt to is to burden yourself with the law.  I think this is a naive and shallow view.  Do we really think that God had no reason to give the Israelites instructions on what to eat other than to burden them with His commands?  Is there any possibility that maybe God actually knew what food was good for them and what wasn’t, and that the act of obeying such commands was a form of worship, a demonstration of trust?

Legalism is indeed an item that needs to be kept in check in the Christian life.  That issue should not be minimized.  God cannot be bought.  We have been set free and as Hebrews 4:16 states, we can come boldly to the throne of grace.  What is grace but unmerited favor?  Therefore it is unreasonable to do anything in thinking that it somehow merits our salvation or makes us holier another.  And just as we don’t keep from telling lies in order to gain the blessings of God, the same should be true for the observance of a feast.  Rather, we do it because His ways are perfect and our obedience is an expression of worship.  A way of saying “I submit, I agree, I cooperate.”

In the Seder there is fellowship.  There is Scripture, prayer, song and the breaking of bread.  We can literally “taste and see that the LORD is good!”9 and it’s because of all of this that I think every Christian should celebrate Passover.

Conclusion

In these two posts I have submitted what I think are 3 primary reasons for why Christians should celebrate Passover.  They are biblical relevance, the leading of the early church and the expression of worship.  I have also worked to correct some of the problems that underlie the objections that come about regarding Passover observance.

  1. For a great discussion on legalism, see What Is Legalism? on CARM.
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 1999 (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (241). Chicago: Moody Press.
  4. Haggadah is the Hebrew word for “telling” and typically refers to the liturgical texts that are used for the order of the Passover Seder.
  5. See the Haggadah entry at the Jewish Encyclopedia site.
  6. Since this discussion is not about what the Seder entails, I won’t address it here.  There are many sites that do this in a much better way than I could.  For how the night of the Last Supper has been reconstructed, please see the article Passover And Last Supper by Robin Routledge.
  7. I am basing this on the writings of Theodoret of Cyrus, which was discussed in Part 1.
  8. Stuart, D. K. (2006). Vol. 2: Exodus. The New American Commentary (290). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  9. Psalm 34:8

_____________

© 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 192013
 
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Why Christians Should Celebrate Passover

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest for Christians to celebrate Passover and participate in a Passover Seder.  This has naturally caused a lot of questions and confusion over the what, why’s and how’s that come along with the observance of particular rituals and services in Christianity.  The reasons for this are numerous and any attempt to discuss them will leave many items out but I thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor to present my own case in a short, two part series, for why Christians should celebrate Passover and respond to some of the criticisms against it.

Fear Of Legalism

Because Christianity itself is, most simply, trust in a message system, it spans across all cultural, geographical, ethnic and generational boundaries.  That being said, we tend to bring with us cultural, geographical, ethnic and generational baggage.  Questions will always abound as to whether something is permissible because that something may very well be questionable when broached by others with quite different perspectives that have been formed by the places and times we’ve grown up in, among other things.  At the same time, that something may otherwise be what we might consider morally neutral as far as Scripture is concerned.  Even so, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good or bad for all people in all areas throughout all human history.

But what about when that something is specifically prescribed in Scripture, commanded by God even, but has centered itself around a specific people group?  Because Christianity has severed ties with Judaism in certain ways,1 when it comes to something like celebrating Passover, particularly by participating in a Seder, the argument will almost always center around the question of legalism.  Legalism is largely understood as the use of the law (the Torah, or the 10 commandments) as a means to obtain and retain salvation.2

Certainly, the concern over legalism is a valid one in regards to anything we do.  As Paul writes in Galatians 2:21 “… if righteousness were [obtained] through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”3  Of course any idea of obtaining salvation through means of some form of works, prescribed or not, is entirely counter to most Protestant or Evangelical teaching.  After all, Christ died in order to complete the work, that is, pay the price, that we never will be able to pay.  The moment you add something to that completed work, you are taking something away from it.  It is as good as saying it’s not enough.

But the discussion of legalism itself presumes something that largely never gets addressed, namely the why of celebrating Passover to begin with.  It presumes the answer to the question of why is to obtain some sort of merit and subsequently, that desire takes us back under the burden of the law; something that Christ freed us from.

Of course, if that was an answer to the why question then the argument of legalism would certainly be valid but I surmise this would be in the extreme minority of reasons.  In truth, there are numerous reasons why Christians should celebrate Passover but I think we can focus on three reasons as primary, they are biblical relevancy, the roots of the early church and finally worship.

Biblical Relevance

Asking the question “Is celebrating Passover biblical?” almost sounds silly since the story of Passover, the history of Passover, the celebration of Passover and the commands about Passover come directly from the Bible.  If it were not for the narrative of Scripture, there would be no Passover to speak of.

Furthermore, just what is it about Passover that Jesus fulfilled?  Why was Jesus crucified on Passover?  Where does communion come from?  What do we refer to when we speak of the ‘Lord’s supper?’  Again, without Scripture there would be no answers to these questions, but there are answers to these questions and they are all answers pertaining to the celebration of Passover.

And when we think in terms of biblical relevance, what then should be thought regarding Easter?  Easter is nowhere to be found in Scripture, not the celebration of it, the discussion of it, the narrative of it or even the thought of Easter is seen anywhere in Scripture.4  Rather, what you do see is the very denunciation of its pagan sources which have basically been adopted by Christianity and given Christian meaning.  While I don’t believe there is anything necessarily wrong with celebrating Easter as a placeholder for the resurrection of Christ for the reasons I mentioned above, when it comes to biblical relevance there is simply no comparison.

The question of biblical relevance leads to the question of whether or not the celebration of Passover is forbidden in Scripture.  I believe it would be very hard to make a biblical case against celebrating any of the seven feasts of the Lord.  There is simply no command, even to be implied, that anyone was to cease celebrating the feasts.  To the contrary, the New Testament actually encourages us to keep Passover.  1 Corinthians 5:6-8 reads:

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Some may be inclined to claim that Paul was only speaking in some spiritual sense but I have simply not heard any decent arguments to demonstrate that that’s all Paul had in mind.  Rather, I believe Paul is intending this to be interpreted in a very literal manner while giving it’s spiritual implications.  There are a few reasons for this.  The first is the idiom of cleansing out the old leaven.

Searching For Chametz

Throughout most of Scripture, leaven is a picture of sin.  Even here, in verse 8, Paul compares “old leaven” to malice and evil and “unleavened bread” to sincerity and truth.  Further, in Galatians 5:9, Paul likens leaven to the hindering persuasion that was keeping the Galatians from obeying the truth.  Jesus likewise, in Matthew 16:11-12, warned his disciples to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees.”  Verse 12 specifically addresses the fact that Jesus was speaking figuratively; the leaven was a symbol of their false teaching.

Bioor Hametz, the burning of leavened bread

After searching for leavened bread, according to Jewish tradition, one must burn it so there will be nothing left for the whole holiday of Pessach.

God commands the Israelites in Exodus 12:15 to remove all leaven from their homes on the first day of the seven day feast of unleavened bread.  Customs have come about from this, much like a game the families would play, in the days leading up to Passover.  In “the searching for chametz,” Mom typically hides 10 pieces of leavened dough around the house and Dad subsequently leads the children to find the leaven with a candle, a feather and a wooden spoon.  Once all the leavened pieces have been found, they are swept up into the spoon with the feather and wrapped in a white linen cloth.  The leaven is later burned in a ceremony called “the burning of chametz.”  Today this ceremony often takes place by means of a community bonfire.5

In John 2:13-15, Jesus cleanses the temple after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just as the Passover week is about to begin.  He marches into the courtyard, fashions a whip and proceeds to drive out the money-changers.  He demands that His Father’s house not be a house of trade.  In fact, in Mark 11:17, Jesus says His Father’s house had been made into a den of robbers.  Jesus was getting the leaven out of His Father’s house.  Is it any wonder that Jesus was later nailed to a wooden cross and subsequently wrapped in white linen garments?  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Jesus, who “knew no sin” was “made sin” for us.  This should start to sound familiar.

Of course, we cannot say with certainty that Paul has all of this in mind in 1 Corinthians 5:7 but we have to remember that Paul is using Jewish idioms in his writing to a gentile community of believers.  In my view, it makes the most sense to me that they, at the very least, knew well of these ceremonies, if they weren’t participating in them already.

The second reason I believe Paul is writing of Passover in a literal manner is that Paul calls Christ “our Passover Lamb” who “has been sacrificed” and uses that as the reason to “celebrate the festival” with “the unleavened bread…”  Again, these are symbols of Passover being spoken of in a very literal manner to gentile Christians.

Other Direct References

Finally, in Acts 20:6 Luke writes that Paul and his companions waited to sail to Troas until after the feast of Passover which he was celebrating with the Philippians.  The Philippians are thought to be mostly gentile converts6 and so again, we have good reason to believe that the apostolic church was celebrating Passover.  But it doesn’t stop with Passover.  In Acts 20:16, Paul is hastening to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentacost and in 1 Corinthians 16:8 Paul explains that he intends to stay in Ephesus until Pentacost.

Apart from the biblical, we also have extra-biblical material that suggests the early church was indeed celebrating the feasts.  The Epistle of the Apostles (Epistula Apostolorum) from the 2nd century discusses the need to keep the Passover, calling it the agape (love) feast, even though Christ had fulfilled it.  Theodoret of Cyrus, from the 5th century, discusses that even Emperor Constantine had a problem with the thought of believers keeping Passover multiple times a year.7  It is clear that the early church kept the feasts, likely having been taught by the disciples themselves.  This went on for some time, but eventually the gentile influences probably drowned out the Jewish roots of the faith.

Conclusion

Celebrating Passover is indeed a biblically relevant practice, one that was probably utilized by the early church for several hundred years.  That should inform us enough that there is nothing wrong with celebrating Passover and that it should be encouraged.  Nevertheless, there will always be detractors.  In the next post I’ll take a look at common objections and finally demonstrate that the Passover Seder is worship that should not be deterred.

  1. I use this idea somewhat loosely.  Judaism today is not the Judaism of the 1st century or the Judaism outlined in the Torah; How can it be when there is no temple, no priesthood and no sacrificial system? In that sense Judaism was forced to sever ties with it’s concrete structure at the same time Christianity was birthed.
  2. For a great discussion on legalism, see What Is Legalism? on CARM.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  4. Due to the poor translation choice of “Easter” in Acts 12:4, those who hold to KJVO might be inclined to object but the Greek word is pascha (πάσχα) which comes from the Aramaic pesach (פסחא) which is essentially the same as the Hebrew pesach (פסח), the very word used in Exodus 12:11.  It’s usage often encompasses the entire Passover week-long celebration.
  5. See the following links for more information: Leaven – Jewish Encyclopedia, Preparing for Passover, Passover – History & Overview
  6. Freed, Edwin D. (2005). The Apostle Paul And His Letters. London, UK: Equinox Publishing.
  7. Theodoret of Cyrus. (1892). The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret (B. Jackson, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume III: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historial Writings, etc. (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) (48). New York: Christian Literature Company.

_____________

© 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

_____________

© 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.

_____________

© 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.

_____________

© 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.

_____________

© 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.

_____________

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

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

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

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

The Word of the LORD

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

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

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

The Logic

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

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

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

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

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

_____________

© 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.

Jul 272012
 

After a brief discussion on Facebook regarding Catholicism and Christianity, a family friend was kind enough to bring me four Catholic teachings: 3 from Dr. Scott Hahn and 1 from Tim Staples of Catholic Answers.  Having heard of both men, Tim Staples, in particular due to debates and dialogue with James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries, I was actually happy to have an opportunity to listen to some of the teachings that I hear so much about but often not directly from Catholicisms own apologists.

I was initially planning to do a series of discussions regarding the Johanine Logos, which incidentally, was inspired by the original post which brought me these four CDs, but after receiving the CDs I thought I would put that aside for the time being and focus these studies as part of a series of posts regarding their respective topics.  They are:

The three lessons by Scott Hahn deal directly with Catholic doctrine and tradition:  The Lamb’s Supper discusses the Eucharist, The Virgin Mary Revealed Through Scripture discusses Mary as the ‘New Eve’ and ‘Queen of Heaven’  while Why Do We Have A Pope? affirms the Petrine succession claimed by the Papacy.   I’ll be addressing these first since they interest me most.  The audio by Tim Staples deals with his conversion from Evangelical Christianity to Catholicism.

I’ll state from the outset that obviously I’m approaching these with some major presuppositions, most importantly, that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore any and all doctrine must be taught and defended by Scripture and Scripture alone.  Catholic teaching has a history of eisegesis when it comes to interpreting Scripture; the Petrine succession of the Papacy is built on a rather dubious handling of Matthew 16:18-19 and the idea that Mary is revealed as the Mother of all in Revelation 12 is hardly supported, especially since the symbolism regarding the woman in Revelation 12 is actually revealed by Scripture in Genesis 37:10.  Are we to trust that Rome had a new Revelation and Jacob was wrong? Since I hold that all Scripture is the axiom for a correct system of thought it follows that all doctrine should be supported by Scripture either directly or indirectly and in the case of the two items discussed here, they are supported neither directly or indirectly.

Nevertheless, I do expect to learn some interesting insights and I don’t wish to dismiss all of the teachings at the outset, although I already dismiss the conclusions based on what I already know.  There is no neutrality here.  I am unlikely to be persuaded because I already know the Truth.  The Truth is a person and He said when we know Him, He set’s us free.  That statement alone should give anyone pause before seriously considering the Catholic tradition since they cannot both be true.

 

_____________

© 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.