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"Thine almighty Word (Logos) leapt down from his royal throne, a fierce warrior, into the midst of a land of destruction."
This book was written more than a century before the birth of our Saviour.
There is, we think, satisfactory evidence that this notion of a personal Logos was familiar in the time of St. John; and probably had begun to be regarded with a favourable eye by many Christians. We perceive what a near approach, to say the least, bad been made to it even at the time when the Wisdom of Solomon was composed. It was the doctrine of Philo, the celebrated Platonizing Jew, who wrote long before St. John, and whose philosophical opinions were probably the same with those of many of his age and nation. His authority must have given a powerful support and sanction to the doctrine, among the more learned of his own countrymen, as we find that it afterwards did among the Christian fathers; by whom his works were read and admired, and quoted. We may easily suppose St. John to have become acquainted with a popular doctrine, and with a common use of the word Logos, without believing that he derived his knowledge directly from 'the writings of Philo. Indeed we can hardly suppose him to have been ignorant on these subjects.
This doctrine had really its origin in the Platonic philosophy. But from an accidental coincidence of expression, it would appear to a Jew or Christian, who had learnt it from this philosophy, to derive strong support from the Old Testament. One meaning of the term, Logos, in Greek, is word. Now though it was not in reference to this meaning, that the term was originally used to designate the Divine power by the Platonists, yet it happens that the divine power and agency is continually denoted in the Old Testament by the expression, Logos, word. "By the WORD of the Lord, the heavens were made." "The WORD of the Lord came unto me," say the prophets; &c. The examples of the use which we have mentioned, must be familiar to every reader.
But the term, Logos, was used to denote a supposed being, not merely by the Platonists, those who held the opinions of Philo, but likewise by a very early sect of Christian heretics, the Gnostics, who were probably contemporary with St. John. They gave the name of Logos to one of that class of beings whom they called Eons. It does not appear, however, that
* This we conceive to be the proper rendering, not "thy royal throne," as in the common version. In the original there is no pronoun.
their notions concerning the Logos corresponded much with those of the school of Philo. But in one point they and the Platonists appear to have agreed :-in not believing the personal existence of the Logos to have been, properly speaking, from eternity. That the Gnostics did not hold this belief, we have the testimony of Irenæus, from whom we derive our principal knowledge of their doctrines; nor do we suppose it to have been the opinion of any, who, at the time when St. John wrote, regarded the Logos as a person.
The doctrine concerning the Logos, as a being distinct from Gop, and intermediate between Him and his creatures, was the embryo form of the Christian Trinity. The writings of Philo, by whom it was taught, were, as we have said, a favorite study, of the Christian fathers. This doctrine, we believe, it was one purpose of St. John to oppose in the introduction of his Gospel. Using the word, Logos, in what had become a common signification of the term, namely, to denote the power of God as displayed in creation, and in his manifestations of himself to his creatures; he, at the same time, denies that it is resident in, or exercised by or through any inferior and intermediate being. He teaches, that it is to be referred immediately to God himself. "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God;" that is to say, the Logos was always with God;-what is properly expressed by this term is, that divine power, which has been always, and has been always with God. "And the Logos was God;" that is, this divine power is to be referred immediately to God; the term is not to be understood as denoting any other being.
With the views which we have given, the explanation of the rest of the passage is easy. It is not improbable, however, that in what follows, St. John may have alluded to other errors beside those which we have mentioned. The Gnostics gave the names of LIGHT and LIFE as well as that of LoGos, to distinct beings, Eons. St. John, by a different use of these terms, irreconcilable with the use which they made of them, probably intended to refer to and condemn their error.
We shall notice particularly but one other clause: "And the Logos became flesh." This seems to us no very harsh figure to denote what we believe to have been intended,-that the divine power was manifested in a human form through Jesus Christ. But if there should seem to be any difficulty in this expression, it may assist our conceptions to know, that according to a common use of the term Logos, it might be applied to any being through whom the divine power was strikingly
manifested. Thus Philo calls Moses the divine Logos,* and the high priest, a Logos.† He uses the term as synonymous with prophet; and applies it to angels, who, he says, were commonly called by this name.
If our view of the proem of St. John's Gospel be correct, it is remarkable enough, that it is now brought to support that very doctrine, the introduction of which it was intended to oppose.||
The early Christian fathers, when, following Philo, they gave a personal existence to the Logos; applied to him, as Philo had done before, the title of God, though in a very inferior sense. Upon the passage where St. John says, that "the Logos was God," they remarked, that the term God is here used without the article; and though, with it, it could denote only the Supreme Being, yet without it, it might be given to the Logos, as implying only an inferior degree of divinity.T
V. Another class of texts which has been adduced by Trinitarians, consists of passages in which the expressions are very bold and figurative, and which have been interpreted without regard to this character.
* Migrat. Abrah. p. 401.—al. Opp. T. I. p. 449. Edit. Mangey.
& Migrat. Abrah. p. 415-al. I. 463. We are referred to these passages by Stephen Nye, in his Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, pp. 74, 75.
The explanation, which we have given, is essentially the same with that of Le Clerc. See his Commentary on the New Testament, and the 8th and 9th of his Epistolæ Criticæ. Respecting the statements which we have made, and the explanation of the passage in general, the following works may likewise be consulted. Bryant's Sentiments of Philo Judæus concerning the Ayos, or Word of God. Bruckeri Hist. Phil. Tom. II. pp. 808811. Stephen Nye's Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, pp. 70-81. 12mo. Lond. 1701. Dr. Priestley's notes and paraphrase on the passage in his^ Notes on Scripture; and his account of the opinions of Philo, in his History of Early Opinions concerning Christ, vol. II. Michaelis' Introduction to the New Testament by Marsh; the part which treats of St. John's Gospel. Souverain, Le Platonisme Devoilé. Eichhorn's Einleitung in das N. T. B. I. s. 158-181. We have referred to writers whose opinions are in many respects different from each other, and from our own; but we cannot help thinking that a fair comparison of them will result in estabFishing the essential correctness of the explanation which we have given.
It should be observed, however, that a very different interpretation of the passage has been proposed and ably defended by some Unitarian critics. For this, the reader may consult Cappe's Critical Remarks on Scripture, vol. I., and Simpson's Additional Essays on the Language of Scripture. Essay VII.
Origen Comment. in Joan. Opp. T. iv. pp. 50. 51. Edit. Delaru.
The most remarkable is Colossians i. 15-17. where, speaking of Christ, the apostle says, that he is
"The image of the Invisible God, the first born of the whole creation; for by him were all things created, those in Heaven, and those upon earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or governments, or powers, all were created through him and for him; and he is over all; and all exist by him; (or, are holden together by him.)"
The moral renovation of men by Christianity is repeatedly spoken of by St. Paul under the figure of a new creation, as in the following passages:
"If any man be in Christ, he is a NEW CREATURE; (or, there is a new creation.) The old things have passed away; behold all things have become new." 2 Cor. v. 17.
"For in Christ Jesus neither is circumcision any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a NEW CREATURE;" (or, perhaps more properly, "but there is a new creation.)" Gal. vi. 15.
"For we are his (God's) workmanship, CREATED in Christ Jesus unto good works." Eph. ii. 10.
Put on the new man, who is CREATED according to [the likeness of] God, in righteousness and true holiness." Ephes. iv. 24.
The language in the passage from Colossians, on which we are remarking, is to be explained, we conceive, conformably to that in the passages just quoted, and to other similar expres sions in the New Testament. It has been conceived to declare, that the natural creation was the work of Christ. But it may be remarked at first sight, that the terms used are not such as properly designate the objects of the natural world; and not such, therefore, as we should expect to be employed, if these were intended.* In speaking of the natural creation, the same apostle refers it to God in different terms, to "the Living God who made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them."+
The words thrones, dominions, &c. undoubtedly mean, 'those who sit on thrones,' those who exercise dominion,' &c. whether the latter expressions are to be understood figuratively or literally. By a substitution then of these, and of some other expressions which we regard as perfectly equivalent to those of the original, but more conformable to our com
* Professor Stuart appears to have had some feeling of this; for he has given in his letters a very free rendering of the passage. See Letters, pp. 71, 72. † Acts xiv. 15.
mon use of language, we may convey the sense, which we believe the apostle intended, in the following terms:
"For to him all things (in the Christian world) owe their origin, the highest and the lowest,* what is seen, and what is not seen, those who sit on thrones, those who exercise dominion, those who have government, and those who have power. He is the author and master of all; he is over all, and all exist through him; (or, have a common relation to him.)"
But what is meant by those who sit on thrones, those who exercise dominion, &c.? We answer, those who hold the highest offices and sustain the highest character in the new dispensation; all those most dignified and excellent among the followers of the new religion. The Christian dispensation is continually spoken of under the figure of a kingdom; and it is in reference to this figure, that these expressions are used. Thus Christians in general are called by St. Peter, "a royal priesthood."
But further, it may help to reconcile us to this figure, to know that the titles, thrones, dominions, &c. were the same, or similar to those, which the Jews gave to their Rabbies or teachers. This fact is shown at length by Schoettgen, a critic very eminent for his knowledge of Rabbinical learning, and of unsuspected orthodoxy.† St. Paul, therefore, in using this language, merely adopted and applied to the more eminent among Christians, modes of expression, commonly applied by his countrymen to the more eminenf among themselves. He elsewhere uses the terms, governments (agxau) and powers (ove) concerning Heathen rulers.
But, in any case, this passage cannot be understood of the creation of the natural world. This is the work of God. But the person here spoken of is not God, but "the image of God, and the first born of every creature." It is not of God that it is said (in the 18th verse) that "he is the first born from the dead;" or (in the 19th) "that it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell."
VI. But a large proportion of the passages adduced to support the doctrine of the Trinity, are passages misinterpreted through a disregard of the common style of expression
*"The things in heaven and the things on earth :" It is a common expression in the scriptures, as elsewhere, to speak of any thing being in heaven, or being exalted to heaven, to denote its being highly exalted.
† See Schoettgen's Notes on Matth. vii. 29. Ephes, i. 21. and Colosa. ii. 10. in his Hora Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ.
Tit. III. 1. Rom. xiii. 1, 2, 3.