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I. 1 IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
CHAP. I. 1-18.] Prologue: in which is contained the substance and subject of the whole Gospel. THE ETERNAL WORD OF GOD, THE SOURCE OF ALL EXISTENCE, LIFE, AND LIGHT, BECAME FLESH, DWELT AMONG US, WAS WITNESSED TO BY JOHN, REJECTED BY HIS OWN PEOPLE, BUT RECEIVED BY SOME, WHO HAD POWER GIVEN THEM TO BECOME THE SONS OF GOD. HE WAS THE PERFECTION AND END OF GOD'S REVELATION OF HIMSELF; WHICH WAS PARTIALLY MADE IN THE LAW, BUT FULLY DECLARED IN JESUS CHRIST.
1-5.] THE ETERNAL PRE-EXISTENCE OF THE WORD: HIS PERSONAL DISTINCTNESS; BUT ESSENTIAL UNITY WITH GOD. HIS WORKING IN CREATION, AND IN THE ENLIGHTENING OF MEN, BEFORE HIS MANIFESTATION IN THE FLESH; HIS
NON-APPREHENSION BY THEM.
1.] Before commenting on the truths here declared, it is absolutely necessary to discuss the one term on which the whole turns: viz. THE WORD. This term is used by St. John without explanation, as bearing a meaning well known to his readers. The enquiry concerning that meaning must therefore be conducted on historical, not on mere grammatical grounds. And the most important elements of the enquiry are, (L) the usage of speech as regards the term, by St. John himself and other biblical writers: and (II.) the purely historical information which we possess
on the ideas attached to the term.
(a) From the first consideration we find, that in other biblical authors, as well as in John, the term LOGOS, which is the original word here, is never used to signify VOL. I.
a Gen. 1. 1. Prov. viii. 22, 23, &c.
Col. i. 17. 1 John i. 1. Rev. i. 2: xix. 13.
the divine Reason or Mind; nor indeed those of any human creature. These ideas are otherwise expressed. The usual Scripture meaning of Logos is speech, or word. The logos of God is the creative, declarative, injunctive Word of God. (b) That this is also the import in our prologue, is manifest, from the evident relation which it bears to the opening of the history of creation in Genesis. "The Word" is not an attribute of God, but an acting reality, by which the Eternal and Infinite is the great first cause of the created and finite. (c) Again, this "Word" is undoubtedly in our prologue, personal:-not an abstraction merely, nor a personification,—not the speaking word of God, once manifested in the prophets and afterwards fully declared in Christ, as Luthardt, comparing our prologue with Heb. i. 1,but a PERSON: for "the Word was with God," and "the Word became flesh:" also the Word was God, not was God's :which certainly would be said of none but a PERSON. (d) Moreover, the WORD is identical with JESUS CHRIST, as the præ-existing Son of God. A comparison of verses 14 and 15 will place this beyond doubt. (e) And Jesus Christ is the Word of God, not because He speaks the word;-nor because He is the One promised or spoken of,-nor because He is the Author and source of the Word as spoken in the Scriptures, &c.,-any more than his being called life and light implies only that He is the Giver of life and light but because the Word dwells in and speaks from him, just as the Light dwells in and shines from, and the Life H н
b Prov. viii. 30. b with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was
ch. xvii. 5.
1 John i. 2.
c Phil. ii. 6.
lives in and works from, Him. (f) This WORD, which became flesh, is not from, nor of, Time or Space (ch. iii. 31; viii. 58); but eternally præ-existent.-and manifested in Time and Space, for the gracious ends of divine Love in Redemption (ch. iii. 16, 17). (g) This Word spoke in the law and prophets, yet partially and imperfectly (ver. 17; ch. v. 39, 46); but in the personal wORD, spoke forth in fulness of grace and truth. It was He who made the worlds (ver. 3); He, who appeared to Isaiah (Isa. vi. compare ch. xii. 41); He, whose glory is manifested in His power over nature (ch. ii. 11); He, by reception of whom the new birth is wrought (ch. i. 12, 13); who has power over all flesh (ch. xvii. 2),—and can bestow eternal life (ibid.); whose very sufferings were His glory, and the glorifying of God (ch. xvii. al.); and who, after those sufferings, resumed, and now has, the glory which He had with the Father before the world began (ch. xviii. 5, 24). (h) Luthardt, in his Commentary on this Gospel, has propounded the following view of the term "Word" and its usage: "Jesus Christ is the fulness of that word of God which was fragmentarily manifested in the prophets (Heb. i. 1). But in this prologue, the Word' is not to be taken as identical with Jesus not yet incarnate, nor is He the subject of vv. 1 ff." And he urges ch. x. 35, 36 (see note there, where I have discussed this) as a key text to the meaning of "the Word."
It seems to me, that while much of his view is true and sound, that part of it will not hold which denies the identity of the præ-existent "Word" with Jesus, in the Apostle's mind. Had he intended by the "Word" of vv. 1-4 any other than the personal Son of God, who in ver. 14 became flesh, I do not see how "was with God," and "was God," could be used of "the Word." Nor again can I consent with him to disconnect the use of "Logos" by St. John from its previous history. The reasons given in this note for believing such use, as matter of fact, to have been prepared by the Alexandrine philosophy, are no way affected by the objections which he alleges, the difference between the" Logos" of St. John and that of Philo, and the corrupt character of the philosophy itself. II. (a) We are now secondly to enquire, how it came that St. John found this term "Logos" so ready made to his hands, as to require no explanation. The answer to this will
be found by tracing the gradual personification of the Word, or Wisdom of God, in the O. T. and Jewish writings. (b) We find faint traces of this personification in the book of Psalms: see Ps. xxxiii. 4, 6; cxix. 89, 105; cvii. 20; cxlvii. 15, 18. But it was not the mere offspring of poetic diction. For the whole form and expression of the O. T. revelation was that of the Word of God. The Mosaic History opens with God said, Let there be light.' Spoken commands, either openly, or in visions, were the communications from God to man. It is the Word, in all the Prophets; the Word, in the Law; in short, the Word, in all God's dealings with his people: see further, Isa. xl. 8; lv. 10, 11: Jer. xxiii. 29 al. (c) And as the Word of God was the constant idea for His revelations relatively to man, so was the Wisdom of God, for those which related to His own essence and attributes. That this was a later form of expression than the simple recognition of the divine Word in the Mosaic and early historical books, would naturally be the case, in the unfolding of spiritual knowledge and divine contemplation. His Almightiness was first felt, before His Wisdom and moral Purity were appreciated. In the books of Job (ch. xxviii. 12 ff.) and the Proverbs (ch. viii. ix.) we find this Wisdom of God personified; in the latter in very plain and striking terms; and this not poetically only, but practically; ascribing to the Wisdom of God all his revelation of Himself in His works of Creation and Providence. So that this Wisdom embraced in fact in itself the Power of God; and there wanted but the highest divine attribute, Love, to complete the idea. But this was reserved for the N. T. manifestation. (d) The next evidences of the gradual personification of the Wisdom of God are found in the two Apocryphal Books, the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. The first of these, originally written in Hebrew, belongs probably to the latter half of the second century before Christ. In ch. i. 1, Wisdom is said to be " "from the Lord, and with Him for ever:" and in ver. 4, "Wisdom hath been created before all things." Then in ch. xxiv. 9— 21, the same strain is continued; "He created me from the beginning before the world," &c., and the passage concludes with these remarkable words, "They that eat me shall yet be hungry, and they that
in the beginning with God.
drink me shall yet be thirsty." the book of the Wisdom of Solomon, dating probably about 100 before Christ, we find (in ch. vi. 22-ch. ix.) a similar personification and eulogy of Wisdom. In this remarkable passage we have " Wisdom, that sitteth by Thy throne" (ch. ix. 4)—said to have been "present when Thou madest the world" (ch. ix. 9)—parallelized with "Thy word" (ch. ix. 1, 2: see also ch. xvi. 12). In ch. xviii. 15, 16, the "Almighty Word" is set forth as an Angel coming down from heaven, and destroying the Egyptians. It seems highly probable that the author's monotheistic views were confused by the admixture of Platonism, and that he regarded Wisdom as a kind of soul of the world. He occasionally puts her for God, occasionally for an attribute of God. But he had not attained that near approach to a personal view which we shall find in the next step of our enquiry. (e) The large body of Jews resident in Alexandria were celebrated for their gnosis, or religious philosophy. The origin of this philosophy must be referred to the mixture of the Jewish religious element with the speculative philosophies of the Greeks, more especially with that of Plato, and with ideas acquired during the captivity from Oriental sources. One of these Alexandrine writers in the second century A.C. was Aristobulus, some fragments of whose works have been preserved to us. He tells us that by the "voice of God" we are not to understand a "spoken word," but the whole working of God in the creation of the world. But the
most complete representation of the Judæoalexandrine guosis, or philosophic theology, has come down to us in the works of Philo, who flourished cir. A.D. 40-50. It would be out of the province of a note to give a review of the system of Philo: the result only of such review will be enough. He identifies the "word" with the "wisdom" of God; it is the "image of God;" the “archetype and pattern of light, but itself like none of created things :" "the eldest of begotten things" "the eldest son of the Father of all that are:" "His first-begotten, the eldest angel, being as an archangel with many names (i. 427): "the shadow of God, using whom as an instrument He made the world :" "through whom the world was constituted:" "The Father which begat all gave to the Archangel and the eldest born, the Word, the eminent prerogative, that, standing between, he might divide the made from the
3e All things were made e P. xxxiii. 6.
ver. 10. Eph. iii. 9. Col. i. 16. Heb. i. 2. Rev. iv. 11.
Maker; .. and He (the Word) rejoices in the prerogative. unbegotten, as God, nor begotten, as we, but intermediate between the extremes, acting as a hostage to both :" "there are, as it seems, two temples of God; one, this world, in which also His first-begotten divine Word is High Priest:" "the viceroy of God:" "he contains and hath fulfilled all things:" "the second God, which is His Word." These instances, the number of which might be much enlarged, will serve to shew how remarkably near to the diction and import of some passages in our Gospel Philo approached in speaking of the Word. At the same time there is a wide and unmistakeable difference between his "Word" and that of the Apostle. He does not distinguish it from the Spirit of God, nor does he connect it with any Messianic ideas, though these latter were familiar to him. Besides, his views are strangely compounded of Platonism and Judaism. The "Word" seems with him to be one comprehending, or ruling, the "powers" or "ideas" of God, which, although borrowed from Plato, he Judaically calls "angels," and the "Word" their "archangel." We see by this however how fixed and prepared the term, and many of its attributes, were in the religious philosophy of the Alexandrine Jews. (f) Meanwhile the Chaldee paraphrasts of the O. T. had habitually used such expressions as the glory,' or the presence,' or 'the word,' of God,—in places where nothing but His own agency could be understood. The latter of these -the Memra, or word of God, -is used in so strictly personal a sense, that there can be little doubt that the Paraphrasts understood by it a divine Person or Emanation. (g) From these elements, the Alexandrine and Jewish views of the "Word" or "Wisdom" of God, there appear to have arisen very early among Christians, both orthodox and heretic, formal expressions, in which these or equivalent terms were used. Of this the Apostle Paul furnishes the most eminent example. His teacher Gamaliel united in his instruction both these elements, and they are very perceptible in the writings of his pupil. But we do not find in them any direct use of the term " WORD," as personally applied to the Son of God. This shews him to have spoken mainly according to the Jewish school,-among whom, as Origen states, he could find none who held "that the WORD was the Son of и 2
a by him; and without him was not any thing made that a literally, through.
God." (h) We find a much nearer approximation to the Alexandrine method of speech in the Epistle to the Hebrews, written evidently by some disciple intimately acquainted with the Alexandrine gnosis (see the opening verses, and especially "upholding all things by the word of His power"). But even there we have not the "Logos" identified personally with the Lord Jesus Christ, nor indeed personally spoken of at all, however near some passages may seem to approach to this usage (ch. iv. 12, 13; xi. 3). (i) The Alexandrine gnosis was immediately connected with Ephesus, where the Gospel of John was probably written. Apollos (Acts xviii. 24) came thither from Alexandria; and Cerinthus is related by Theodoret to have studied and formed his philosophic system in Egypt, before coming to Ephesus. (j) These notices will serve to account for the term "Logos" being already found by St. John framed to his use; and the anti-Gnostic tendency of his writings will furnish an additional reason why he should rescue such important truths as the præ-existence and attributes of the divine "Word" from the perversions which false philosophy had begun to make of them. (k) In all that has been said in this note, no insinuation has been conveyed that either the Apostle Paul, or the Writer to the Hebrews, or John, adopted in any degree their TEACHING from the existing philosophies. Their teaching (which is totally distinct from any of those philosophies, as will be shewn in this commentary) is that of the Holy Spirit; and the existing philosophies, with all their follies and inadequacies, must be regarded, in so far as they by their terms or ideas subserved the work which the Spirit had to do by the Apostles and teachers of Christianity, as so many providential preparations of the minds of men to receive the fuller effulgence of the Truth as it is in Jesus, which shines forth in these Scriptures.
In the beginning] Equivalent to "before the world was," ch. xvii. 5. The expression is indefinite, and must be interpreted relatively to the matter spoken of. Thus in Acts xi. 15, it is "the beginning of the Gospel" and by the same principle of interpretation, here it is the beginning of all things, on account of "all things were made by him" ver. 3. These words, if they do not assert, at least imply, the eternal præ-existence of the divine Word. For "was in the begin
ning" is not said of an act done in the
and the Word was with God With is here used in the sense of "chez," abiding with. Basil remarks that St. John says "with God, not in God, that he may set before us the distinctness of Person: that he may give no opening for the confusion of person." Both the inner substantial union, and the distinct personality of the "Word" are here asserted. The former is distinctly repeated in the next words. and the Word was God] This is the true form of the sentence; not God was the Word.' This is absolutely required by the usage of the Greek language: see in my Gr. Test. But the sense to be conveyed here is as weighty a consideration as the form of the sentence. Had St. John intended to say, God was the Word,'-what meaning could his assertion possibly have conveyed? None other than a contradiction to his last assertion, by which he had distinguished God from the Word. And not only would this be the case, but the assertion would be inconsistent with the whole historical idea of the Word, making this term to signify merely an attribute of God, just as when it is said, "God is love." Not to mention the unprecedented inversion of subject and predicate which this would occasion; "the Word" having been the subject before, and again resumed as the subject afterwards. The rendering of the words being then as above, their meaning is the next question. God (see the grammatical reasons in my Gr. Test.) must be taken as implying God in substance and essence,-not the Father,' in Person. It does not mean divine," nor is it to be rendered "a God"-but, as in "became flesh," "flesh" expresses that state into which the Divine Word entered
b was made. 4 f In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
b render, hath been.
by a definite act, so in "was God," "God" expresses that essence which was His in the beginning:-that He was very God. So that this first verse might be connected thus: the Word was from eternity,with God (the Father),- and was Himself God. 2.] In order to direct the mind to the difference (in unity) between this "Word" and "God," St. John recalls the reader's attention to the two first clauses of ver. 1, which he now combines, in order to pass on to the creative work, which distinctly belongs to the "Word." Thus also this verse fixes the reference of him in ver. 3, which might otherwise, after the mention of " God," have seemed ambiguous. 3.] All things (1 Cor. viii. 6. Col. i. 16), equivalent to "the world,” ver. 10. This parallelism of itself refutes the Socinian interpretation of "all things," all Christian graces and virtues,' the whole moral world.' But the history of the term "Logos" forbids such an explanation entirely. For Philo says, Thou shalt find that the cause of the world is God, by whom it was made; the matter, the four elements, out of which it was composed: the instrument, the Word of God, through whom it was constituted:" see also Col. i. 16, and Heb. i. 2. Olshausen observes, that we never read in Scripture that Christ made the world;' but the Father made the world through the Son,' or the world was made by the Father, and through the Son:' because the Son never works of Himself, but always as the revelation of the Father; His work is the Father's will, and the Father has no Will, except the Son, who is all His will (in whom He is well pleased). The Christian Fathers rightly therefore rejected the semiArian formula, The Son was begotten by an act of the Father's will;' for He is that Will Himself. and without him] This addition is not merely a Hebraistic parallelism, but a distinct denial of the eternity and uncreatedness of matter as held by the Gnostics. They set matter, as a separate existence, over against God, and made it the origin of evil :-but St. John excludes any such notion. Nothing was made without Him (the Word); all matter, and implicitly evil itself, in the deep and inscrutable purposes of creation (for it was not in the beginning, but was made), was made through Him. The punctuation at the end of the verse is uncertain,
render, the darkness.
if we regard solely manuscript authority. Some of our MSS. set a full stop at not any thing made:" so that the sense of the words following would be, "That which hath been made by (or in) him was life." The question must however be determined by the sense of the passage, which is rendered weak, and inconsistent with analogy, by adopting this punctuation:-weak, because in that case we must render That which hath been made by Him was life (i. e. having life), and that life was the light of men ;' but how was that life, i. e. that living creation which was made by Him, the light of men? -inconsistent with analogy, for St. John's usage of beginning a sentence with "in" or "by" and a demonstrative pron. should have its weight: compare ch. xiii. 35; xv. 8; xvi. 26: 1 John ii. 3, 4, 5; iii. (8,) 10, 16, 19, 24; iv. 2 al. fr. Compare also 1 John ii. 4,-ib. iii. 5. I have determined therefore for the ordinary punctuation. It is said to have been first adopted owing to an abuse of the passage by the Macedonian heretics, who maintained that if the exclusion ("without him was not any thing made that was made") was complete, the Holy Spirit can also not have been without His creating power, i. e. was created by Him. But this would be refuted otherwise, for the Holy Spirit "was," and was not made." 4.] In him was life-compare 1 John v. 11, i. 1, 2, and ch. vi. 33. life is not merely
spiritual life,' nor the recovery of blessedness,'- -as some explain it :-the Word is the source of all life to the creature, not indeed ultimately, but mediately (see ch. v. 26: 1 John v. 11). and the life was the light of men] This is not to be understood of the teaching of the Incar nate Word, but of the enlightening and life-sustaining influence of the eternal Son of God, in Whom was life. In the material world, light, the offspring of the Word of God, is the condition of life, and without it life degenerates and expires:-so also in the spiritual world that life which is in Him, is to the creature the very condition of all development and furtherance of the life of the spirit. All knowledge, all purity, all love, all happiness, spring up and grow from this life, which is the light to them all. It is not "light," but the light-because this is the only true light: see ver. 9, also 1 John i. 5.