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the ministry of Christ, or that of his apostles. It also frequently signifies the beginning of the works of God, in the formation and government of the dependant universe, or any principal part of that universe.
The question to be determined is, whether the term in this passage was intended to denote the beginning of time, or the beginning of the Gospel dispensation. This can be ascertained only from the sense and scope of the connexion, or from the comparison of other passages. With a view to this end, the following observations are submitted.
1. There seems to be a designed conformity of phraseology with the first sentence of the book of Genesis. The apostle writes, “ In the beginning was the Word;" instead of the more natural order, “The Word was in the beginning."
2. In all the passages where the expression refers to the commencement of the Gospel dispensation, or of any other order of things, such signification is clearly marked by the circumstances of the connexion. But there is nothing here to suggest the inferior application. On the contrary, the fair and obvious construction, especially to the evangelist and his countrymen, whose minds were familiar with the Mosaic language just referred to, plainly leads to no other object than the beginning of all time and nature. Had it been the sacred writer's intention to lay his epoch in the opening of the Gospel dispensation, it is next to impossible to conceive that he would not have coupled his expression with some adjunct that should clearly define his meaning.
3. Upon the hypothesis referred to, the sense of the clause is singularly jejune and nugatory, not to say absurd. “The Messiah existed at the commencement of his own ministry.” It cannot be supposed that the apostle, or any writer of sound judgement, would introduce such a trifling proposition with an air so solemn and emphatic.
These reasons appear to me satisfactorily to establish, that the designed signification of the expression is, at the commencement of the created universe. Thus it coincides with the well known sense of the Hebrew phrase; and indeed, so plain and obvious is the phrase to convey the sense of the first point of time, that we find it to have been in use with the purest classical authors. It is self-evident that what existed at the actual commencement of creation, must have existed before the creation ; and whatever was before the creation, must have been from eternity.
III. “ The Word was with God." The expression denotes an intimate union of presence, society, and enjoyment. It frequently occurs in relation to different kinds of social conjunction. From it alone, therefore, no certain conclusion can be drawn; but the connexion suggests that, to be in intimate society and union with the Deity " at the beginning," at the time when the created universe had its commencement, cannot reasonably be understood of any created nature. It may, then, be most justly considered as coinciding with the meaning of our Lord, in his declarations, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.-The glory which I had, with Thee
before the world was." The fair interpretation, therefore, of being with God, in the time and circumstances pointed out by the connexion, is that the Word existed in the eternal period before all creation, naturally and essentially one BEING with the Deity, yet possessing some species of relative distinction.
IV. “ The Word was God." The order of the clauses, and the Hebrew manner of concatenating propositions, suggest a connexion of this with the preceding ; thus, "The Word was with God, in such a manner that, in fact, the Word was God.”
Samuel Crellius, feeling as it would seem the pressure of this text to be intolerable, upon the Unitarian hypothesis, boldly resolved to cut down the difficulty. In the face of all the proper evidence of the case, he proposed to alter EoE to Asor, so that the meaning should be, The Word belonged to God. For this licentious conjecture he was so rebuked, that no one is likely hereafter to take up the cause. Yet Mr. Belsham looks wistfully after it, and lauds it as “ingenious and not improbable;" while he is obliged to confess that it is “unauthorized” and “inadmissible.”
Mr. Cappe, apparently not aware that he was violating a rule of Greek construction, translates the clause, “God was the Word ;" and paraphrases it thus : Jesus Christ " was so fully instructed and qualified and authorized for the errand upon which God sent him, that it was not so properly he that spake to men, as God that spake to them by him.”
The translation being vicious, the paraphrase, upon the writer's own principles, is rendered untenable. But it may, also, be remarked that, admitting the translation, the sense of this paraphrase could never be drawn out of the words, by any process of honest grammatical interpretation. A fair paraphrase is an expansion and explication of a meaning, which is first shewn to be in the sentence paraphrased: but here a meaning is arbitrarily put upon the words, a meaning not deduced from any construction of the words themselves, but drawn from the writer's previous hypothesis.
Mr. Belsham prefers the rendering, “ The Word was a god;" taking the predicate in the inferior and accommodated signification. On this interpretation, I submit two or three remarks:
1. On a comparison of the instances of an inferior application of the word God, as given to magistrates and divine messengers, with the one before us, every one must perceive a palpable difference. In all of them, either by a strong antithesis in the connexion, or by some other equally marked circumstance, the figurative application is so very manifest, that the most careless or perverse reader cannot fail to be impressed with it. It should also be remarked, that the instances are extremely few. Their rarity, as well as their marked limitation, puts the expression far out of the range of the habitual phraseology of the Jews.
2. This use of the word is evidently declined by the writers of the New Testament. The few places in which an apparent instance occurs, have either a reference to the passages in the Old Testament, or they allude to heathen opinions.
3. It appears incredible that the apostle John should place, in the very front of his work, a declaration which might have been convered in plain and safe expressions, but which, upon the hypothesis, is couched in terms peculiarly obnoxious to dangerous misapprehension. The declaration is supposed to be, in sense and substance, this: “Jesus was a prophet of the highest order, to whom the Divine will was fully revealed, who was endowed in a superior degree with miraculous powers, and who was appointed Lord and King, in that new dispensation which he was authorized to introduce to supersede the Mosaic covenant.” And this sense the apostle conveys, by saying, “ The Word was a god;" combining it also with another expression so closely resembling the opening clause of the books of Moses, that we can scarcely suppose the coincidence not to have been intended. The first sentence in the Pentateuch was a testimo ny against heathenism: but, if the opening sentence of the Gospel declared that “in the beginning” was an inferior god, it must have been most seriously offensive to the Jew; and to the Gentile it would appear as plainly harmonizing with his accustomed polstheism.
If the sense of these clauses were nothing more than the feeble truism, that Christ existed and received Divine communications, at the commencement of his course as an inspired teacher, it would further seem unaccountable that the evangelist should instantly repeat the declaration, a declaration than which nothing could be more selfevident, or less necessary to be reiterated. But he does so repeat it; and thus he gives a proof that he was propounding a doctrine of the most important and exalted kind, a doctrine which demanded to be attentively and constantly kept in view. “This (Word) was in the beginning with God :" as if he said, 'Let it be ever recollected as a truth of the first importance, that this Divine Logos existed, at the very commencement of all things, in a state of perfect union with the Divine nature.'
V. “ All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
The expressing of the proposition first in the affirmative form and then in the negative, is one of the Hebrew modes of making the sentence strongly emphatic, and it is used by the apostle John with remarkable frequency. Thus the very manner of utterance excites the expectation of something great, and out of the range of common things. The questions to be considered are the reference of the term “all things,” the use of the preposition, and the sense of the verb.
1. With regard to the meaning of the universal expression, it is to be ascertained whether, with the generality of Christians, we are to understand it as referring to the created universe, both material and intellectual; or, with the Unitarians, as merely denoting all the arrangements of the new dispensation, whether done by Christ himself, or under his direction, by his apostles. To assist the determination on this point, I submit these remarks:
1. The usual and proper signification of the term, when, as here, put absolutely and without any limitation suggested by the connexion, is the total of a!l created things. For example, " Thou hast
created all things, and through thy will, they were, and have been created. One God, the Father, of whom are all things: one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things. Thou hast put all things under his feet. On account of whom are all things, and through whom are all things. Of him, and through him, and to him are all things.”
2. Whenever in Scripture the moral effects of the Gospel are spoken of, under the metaphor of a creation, either the ephithet new is added, or other qualifying language is employed, so that the figurative meaning is put out of all doubt.
3. In a following sentence the same clause occurs, but, instead of " all things," the evangelist employs the common term to express the created universe, or the human race as a principal part of it: “ THE WORLD was made by him.” It is fair, therefore, to explain the one by the other.
4. The most eminent grammatical interpreters, and those who are most distinguished for free-thinking habits, speak decisively in favor of the common interpretation, and with no little contempt of the other. “That the term all things,” says M. Leclerc,“ must be understood of the universe, it is needless to prove ; for, though the phrase may be applied to different objects, yet here it cannot be understood otherwise.” Semler contends that the reference to the new moral state, supposed in the Socinian and the modern Unitarian interpretation, could never have been intended by the apostle, for it would have been perfectly unintelligible to his readers. Michaelis, without the smallest hesitation, interprets the passage ; “ The Word was the Creator of all things :" and he adds this remark; “ The assertion that the Word was the Creator of the world, is equivalent to the assertion that he was God in the highest possible sense.” Morus thinks it perfectly needless to explain the words, since no language could more plainly express a proper creation. “The all things," says Rosenmüller, “must unquestionably be understood of the actual Universe : it is putting force upon both the words and the context, to interpret the phrase of the new creation.” Paulus remarks, “ The third verse, speaks of the making of the world.” Kuinel comments upon the sentence thus : “ All things, all that have been created, the universality of things : the opinion is wholly untenable, that these words refer to the moral creation, the instruction and reformation of mankind.”
11. Recourse is had to another mode of helping the Unitarian interpretations, which, with so much pains and difficulty, are attempted to be forced upon this text. It is affirmed that di aitoũ, by or through him, does not here, and in verse 10, retain its proper signification, that of a principal and efficient cause; but that it has the same sense as if it had been put in the accusative, di ditóy. So that the meaning is, on account of him, or for his sake. On this assertion, let the following considerations be attended to:
1. Not one of the scriptural instances which are alleged by Mr. Cappe, of sad with a genitive signifying the final cause or motive, appears to me satisfactory. Scarcely any of the passages seem to admit that sense, and none of them to require it.
2. The proper field of investigation, to determine the question, is the usage of the apostle John. Now, I take upon me to affirm that in all his writings, not a single passage can be found to countenance Mr. Cappe's doctrine; and that, on the contrary, every instance of drà with a genitive is decisively against him.
3. If the reader will, by the help of a Greek concordance, examine all the instances of the two constructions in the New Testament, he will find the distinction observed clearly, accurately, and, I think I may say, invariably.
11. On the meaning of the verb, Mr. Belsham expresses himself with peculiar positiveness and complacency, as if he had made a notable discovery ; “Trvopers never signifies to create.” Did this writer really intend to convey to his readers, that any critic, translator, or interpreter had taken this verb in the active signification, to create ? Or was it his wish to insinuate, that the interpretation which he opposes is founded upon such an assumption ? It is scarcely conceirable that he could believe either of these implications : yet, if not, I know not how we can acquit his argument of a gross violation of candor and integrity. If, however, he mean to assert, that this word never signifies TO BE created, we are at issue with him. Its true and proper signification is, to be brought into eristence, whether that be the first and original being of the subject, or any subsequent state or manner of existence. In all the variety of its applications, and by whatever different terms, according to its connexion, it may be translated in other languages, it always retains its essential idea, that of passiveness to a preceding cause.
A fragment has been preserved by Eusebius, from the lost writings of Amelius, a Platonist, of the third century, which shews, in a very satisfactory manner, how a classical philosopher, a heathen, understood the language of the evangelist. The passage begins abruptly, and we have no means of knowing its connexion : but this does not diminish the decisive character of its evidence. “And this indeed was the Word, by which, since it exists forever, created things were produced ; as Heraclitus himself would decide : and most certainly it is the same which that foreign writer lays down, as constituted in the order and dignity of the beginning, to be with God, and to be God; that by it absolutely all things were produced; that in it, whatever was produced, living, and life, and existing, possesses its natural properties; that it descended into bodily forms, and having put on a clothing of flesh, appeared as a human being, with which nevertheless it still shewed the majesty of its nature; and that at last, being dismissed (from the body), it again assumed its deity, and is God, the same as it was before it was brought down to the body and the flesh and the human being."
It cannot be questioned to what writer this heathen philosopher refers : and, though he comments upon the passage in his own way, nothing can be clearer than that he understood the words of the evangelist, as predicating of the Logos a proper deity, a real agency in the physical creation, an assumption of human nature from a preexistent state, and a resuming of the glory which had for a season been veiled.