On the Logos (Part 2)

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Lectures on The Principles of Unitarianism
Lecture 11 – (By J. S. Hyndman, 1824)

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

John 1:1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

I Shall in this lecture, for the sake of argument, change the ground I formerly took; and in the first place, allow that ‘the Word’ here signifies Jesus Christ; secondly, that the sentence I have rendered ‘God was the Word’ should run according to the order of the common version; and, I ask, will the passage, after all, prove the Deity of Jesus, or at most no more than his pre-existence and his instrumentality in the creation of the world? I answer, no; and I proceed to prove it.

Jesus, then, as the Trinitarians do not dispute, is called the Word, because he was the medium of divine communications to men; because he declared to us the mind and will of God; as we declare our thoughts to one another by words. Now, how plain it is that he who was the medium of another’s communications is not the very being whose medium he is; and it is equally obvious that he is inferior to the being whose mediator he is. To deny this, is to maintain the absurdity, that the same things may be affirmed and not affirmed of the same existence at the same time. The very appellation ‘Word,’ by which Jesus is here distinguished, is sufficient to demonstrate that he is a distinct being from God, and subordinate to him in his operations. And whose Word is he?—that of God. Here again we perceive him to be distinct from Jehovah; as distinct from him as one who bears a certain name is distinct from him who bears it not.

“The Word was in the beginning.” What period is referred to? The first of time; for eternity had no beginning. The same word taken otherwise, in the Mosaic cosmogony, would produce the doctrine of the eternity of matter, or the absurdity that God created from eternity. Now there is an obvious connection between the words we are considering and the assertion ‘the Word was God.’ The assertion is, therefore, that God existed in the beginning of time. An important declaration! That God existed when he must have existed; that God existed in time, when he must have existed from eternity, comprehending all periods of successive duration in the boundlessness and immensity of unoriginated existence.

Further, the declaration that ‘the Word was God’ in the beginning of time, is one that does not naturally imply that he was God before the beginning of time, or that he was so afterwards. How different such language from that applied to Jehovah! With respect to him, it is never merely said that he was, much less that he was merely in the beginning of time, and still less that he was God in the beginning of time; but that ‘he is, and was, and is to come, the Lord God Almighty.’

“The Word was with God.” Here is a distinction of being intimated in the very terms. He who is with another is not the same existence with whom he is. Jesus, then, is a different being from God, and that he is not Jehovah is clear from the appellation ‘God’ being confined in the sentence to the being with whom he is said to have been. There is one Supreme in the Christian’s creed. He then who in a sentence is mentioned in distinction from the one God, cannot be that exclusive Deity. The name of God is not given to Jesus. Jesus is not therefore the being to whom the appellation is appropriate. By the circumstance of being with, and by the bearing of the office of the medium of divine communications, Jesus is distinguished from God, and cannot therefore be he.

Is the first person of the Trinity ever called the Word of the second or the third person? If he is not, the appellation ‘Logos‘ must denote in the nature of the person who bears it something not characteristic of the Deity; for all that can be applied to the Deity, could be predicated of the first, second, or third persons of Deity. It can at all times be said of Jehovah, that he is infinite, unchangeable, independent and everlasting. And since the title ‘Word’ expresses something which cannot be affirmed of all the supposed persons in the Godhead, it expresses something which cannot be affirmed of either.

Further, let us substitute for the Word, the appellations ‘second person’ and ‘Son,’ and from the structure of the sentence, and the application of the terms of it, we will be able to form a judgment of the nature of the system Trinitarians suppose it to contain. ‘In the beginning was the Son, the second person of the Trinity; and the Son, the second person was with the Father, the first person; and the Son, the second person, was the Father, the first person!’

“The Word was God.” ‘I have made thee God to Pharaoh,’ was language used by God to Moses. Why, in the same sense, may not Jesus be God to our world—God in the Christian dispensation? And what is there, then, in his being called so?

Again, when you find in the Gospel the expression, ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ do you not think it natural and requisite, in ascertaining the meaning of it, to supply a word, so as to understand the passage as declaring that Jesus is the medium or the revealer of resurrection and life. When you meet with the declaration of Christ, ‘This is my body,’ does not a regard for consistency and rationality in the doctrines of the Gospel require us to supply the word represents, so as to understand the passage as asserting that the bread is the representative of the body of Jesus? On the very same principle, when we meet with the phrase, ‘the Word was God,’ in order to avoid the grossest absurdity, and to maintain concord among the contents and reason throughout the scripture, we are to understand the assertion as implying that the Word represents God or communicates God’s will.

The office which is implied in the appellation ‘Word’ is that of representing God to us as we represent our thoughts to one another by words. And would it not be rational to understand the sentence as stating the same truth which would have been communicated had it been said ‘Jesus is the Word or represented God.’ We must consider Jesus as called the Word of God, because he is the expression of the mind of Jehovah, and therefore in the sentence, ‘the Word was God,’ all that we are most naturally led to understand is, that Jesus is so bright and clear an expression of God’s mind, that it was not Jesus so much as God himself that spoke to mankind. This idea is conveyed by Christ in various passages, such as, “He that believeth in me, believeth not in me but in him that sent me.” And partly on account of this it is that he is called ‘an effulgent ray of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person.’

When we consider how strongly the expression in question is guarded both before and behind; when we find the Evangelist, immediately before the passage, saying, ‘the Word was with God,’ and immediately after, ‘the same was in the beginning with God,’ can we here hesitate for a moment to understand the passage as a generally expressed statement of the office of Christ? We should think him void of common sense, and wishing to burlesque the scriptures, who would refuse to give to any other similar expression on another subject, occurring in such a connection, an interpretation in unison with the general tenor and express statements of the book in which it was found.

I have now to notice another view of these words, arising from a difference in the translation. That proposed is, ‘the Word was a god.’ This sounds strangely to an English ear; but those who consider how often persons of dignity and exalted character are in the Old Testament denomin ated ‘gods,’ and who find that in this inferior application of Theos, our Savior affirmed that it would have been justly his, had he claimed it, John x. 35, will see nothing in the assertion of the proem that Jesus was a god, which, on the supposition of his mere Messiahship, is in the least singular. The fact is, that it is a proper translation of the original; for it is a common rule of Greek grammar, that the want of the article before the noun indicates indefinite reference.

Origen, Eusebius, and Clemens Alexandrinus, three of the most learned Fathers, who spoke the Greek as their vernacular tongue, and who ad dressed their remarks to persons familiar with that language from their infancy, have remarked with some of the moderns, that the lower sense of Theos in the last clause of the first verse is indicated by the want of the definite article. Those who know that the word Theos commonly has the article prefixed in the original when the Supreme Being is intended, will not be disposed to deny the propri ety of this translation. I have myself adopted another translation, because the words, like many other passages of Greek writers, will equally bear different renderings; and because the account given by Irenæus of the object of the proem seems to suggest the propriety of taking the Logos as the predicate, and Theos as the subject, of the proposition. Nothing, however, can be more evident than this, that had the Evangelist intended to declare the Deity of the Word, he might have done so unequivocally and distinctly by the addition of the article. And it may be remarked, as an evident general proof of the inferiority of Christ, that while the Father is called God, and that with the article, thousands of times, the Son is not once called God with the article; and, which is of no consequence in the argument to remark, he is not even called God without the article more than once or twice.

“All things were by him, and without him nothing was that was.” Now, in the first place, if Jesus was the absolute creator of the world, the efficient agency of the first and third persons of the Trinity would be excluded. To speak of one subsistence in the Trinity supporting the Majesty of the Godhead, while another exerted almighty power in creation, is to contradict Scripture, which, in numerous places represents the Father as “the creator of the heavens and the earth,” and is to produce perfect distinction of being between the Father and the Son, which at once destroys the unity.

Further, the preposition dia, here translated by, and which occurs nearly three hundred times in the New Testament, universally signifies instrumental agency in distinction from hypo, which almost universally implies primary original operation and causation. Those who wish fully to understand the subject, can find no difficulty in ascertaining the correctness of this remark. And, on this ground, what can be plainer than that Jesus is not possessed of almighty power; that, supposing him to have pre-existed, he was but the agent of God in the production of the world; a being, therefore, both distinct from him, and inferior to him.

I now proceed, in the last place, to mention that explanation of this passage, which supposes the phrase en arche to mean ‘in or at the beginning of the Christian dispensation;’ that by ‘the Word’ is meant Jesus Christ; that ‘all things’ denote all things connected with that dispensation; and that ginomai does not convey the idea of natural creation.

The grounds of this interpretation are, first, that the phrase ‘the beginning,’ which occurs very frequently in John’s Gospel, is almost always used to denote the beginning of the establishment of the Christian religion, and never once the beginning of the creation; and that as this phrase is used in the introduction of John’s Epistles in relation to the same subject, and there must signify in the beginning of the Christ ian dispensation, it must have the same meaning in the proem of John’s Gospel. Some who adopt this interpretation have, with Dr. Carpenter, thought it most natural to render the first part of the verse thus: “At the beginning he (viz. Christ) was or became the Word, or the Word was or became so.”

2. It is held that the Logos must be used here as a designation of Christ, because it is thus employed in the introduction to John’s Epistle, and in Rev. xix. 13, where also the Alexandrian MS. reads ‘hath been called,’ instead of ‘is called,’ while there is no instance of its signifying a divine power in the New testament.

3. The position that ‘all things’ mean all things connected with the Christian dispensation, is maintained on this ground, that the expression in John’s writings never signifies the material universe; and that when it is spoken of in the Old or the New Testament, it is always under the distribution of the heavens, the earth, the sea, &c. as in Acts iv. 24. & xiv. 15. & xvii. 24. Rev. xiv. 7.

4. That the idea of creation is not contained in the passage, is grounded upon the circumstance that ginomai is not the word which properly expresses natural creation, but really signifies and is universally translated in John’s Gospel, and in the New Testament in general, ‘to do, to transact, to be, to become, or to come to pass.’ And with respect to the objection arising from its occurrence in ver. 10, in connection with the word kosmos, it is replied that the sense and connection of the passage require the supplement of the word enlightened, (see Matth. xxiii. 15.) or that the word egeneto is to be taken in the sense of enlightened, or as denoting a kind of spiritual and intellectual creation, which seems to be the import of the word in ver. 13, also in chap. iii. 5, 6, 7, 8, and frequently in the Epistles of Paul. That this is the import of John’s words in the passage, is further contended from the meaning of the word kosmos. As it signifies human beings in the latter part of the verse, it must, it is said, have the same meaning in the other, and not the material universe. It is conceived also, that the scope of the passage renders the whole of this interpretation necessary.

This interpretation of the words is not inconsistent with the account which Irenæus gives of the purpose for which they were written. The declaration, O Logos sarx egeneto, might have been intended to correct the notion of the Gnostics, that the Word was a celestial Aeon, by whom all things were created. Taken in connection with ver. 17, the declaration was also fitted to inform them that Christ and Jesus were not distinct beings; and that Jesus Christ, a real human being, was the only proper Word.

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

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