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literal meaning and grammatical construction of every sentence were to be rigidly adhered to, without regard to the oriental character of the style and idiom, and in despite of those portions which are plain and literal no small degree of confusion, contradiction and absurdity would ensue.
The indirect personification, in which the word aoyos appears to be used, does not require it to be understood as a personal denomination, or proper name, of Christ in any way. Many other words are used with a similar application ; for instance pws, light : John xii. 46. “ I am come a light into the world.” Who thinks of connecting with this phraseology the same kind of deductions as with the foregoing? Besides if noyos, the word, is to be considered as the representative of any personal existence, it is that of the Father. This is clear not only from John i. 1. “ And the word was God,” but from many other passages; for example, John xii. 48, 49. “ The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day: for I have not spoken of MYSELF, but the FATHER which sent me, &c.;" and v. 50.“ Whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the FATHER said unto me, so I speak.” This clearly points to Jesus not as the originator, but the representative of the word: and if a personal existence is expressed in the term Word, it is surely that of the Father.
The word of God” in Heb. iv. 12. means God himself. For by a careful perusal of the chapter we discover, that from v. l-10. is a parenthesis, inserted for confirming the thing said of old in respect to the Israelites, now applied by the Apostle to Christians, chap. iii. 15. “ While it is said, To-day, if ye will hear his voice, &c.” Therefore by joining v. 1. to 11 and 12., and referring it in its right application to what went before, we obtain the sense and connection in the following manner : “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest” (the promise, or thing
said, as stated already, is found in chap. iï. 15. as also 7-11.) “any of you should seem to come short of it...... Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest fall after the same example of unbelief. For the word of God is quick and powerful, &c.” That is, it is sure to inflict the same punishment upon you as them, if you follow their example of unbelief.
Though according to the true notion of the Trinitarian doctrine it must be believed, that the three persons, or (more correctly speaking) the three personal Gods, are eternally coexistent, the assertion is again repeated in the second verse, that the hoyos, meaning (as is asserted) God the Son was in the beginning (interpreted, from all eternity) with God the Father; but through the whole proem no mention is made of God the Holy Ghost, or the third personal God.
3 and 4. The expressions used in the original will scarcely admit of the meaning attached to them in the orthodox interpretation, as will be shewn in the commentary.
5. The orthodox interpretation of the third verse imports, that the visible universe was created by the WORD—the second personal deity. But it is difficult to acquiesce in any way of reconciling this with the frequent declarations which occur, ascribing the creation of “the heaven and the earth” to the essential God, the Father of all. It is true that the operation of God in the creation is said to have been effected by his Word, and by his Spirit, as if they were necessary instruments, without which the Almighty Creator could not operate. But it will be fully proved, that this way of speaking is a well known idiom of the Hebrew language; and if we interpret it literally, we must personify a considerable number of other instruments, of which God is said to have made use.
Not to notice minutely the various incongruities of the Trinitarian interpretation, and its unauthorized assumptions, in this place, it is natural to ask- What is the coherence of such a proem? What object did the Evangelist propose to answer by such an obscure and mystical introduction to the life and ministry of Christ ? For mystical and obscure it surely is, according to the orthodox interpretation. If he meant to commence his history with the assertion of the personal deity of God the Son, would he not have stated it more plainly, and maintained it through his whole account, uniformly and consistently, in many passages of which it is, in appearance at least, flatly contradicted ? In the next paragraph, (ver. 19—34,) the manner of designating the person of the Messiah is very different from that which it is natural to expect from the Trinitarian exposition of the proem. John the baptist (ver. 20) says, “I am not the Christ.” Why should John disavow himself to be the second personal God ? How was it possible for any one to entertain such a notion, that John the baptist was God the Son ? Was it likely that John would caution men against an error, which it was exceedingly improbable they should ever entertain ? In a subsequent passage, (ver. 27,) John acknowledges the much greater worthiness of a person then living unnoticed among the Jews, and coming [i. e. with a divine commission] after him. He designates that person (ver. 29) as “the Lamb of God.” He describes him (ver. 30) as a man coming after him, but having obtained the pre-eminence before him, because he was his superior in dignity.* Was such a comparison natural between John and the second person of the trinity ? He says, (ver. 31,) '“ And I knew him not; but that he should be manifest to Israel, therefore am I come [by a divine commission] baptizing with water.” If Christ was in reality the
This acceptation of the words TgWTOS ILOu nu, in the common version, “ he was before me,” will be proved to be correct in the commentary on verse 15.
second personal deity, known from the beginning to be the Almighty Creator of all things, eternally existent with the first and third personal deity, but now become Godman, could John and his countrymen remain ignorant of his true character, until the manifestation of the Spirit at his baptism? Is this part of the account coherent and probable? And John states, (ver. 34,) that in consequence of observing the supernatural appearance of a dove, (as he had been previously directed to expect, when he received his commission from God,) descending and remaining upon the man, whom before he knew not, he recognised the person of whom he was the forerunner, and afterward " bare record, that this is the Son of God;" that being the designation of the Messiah often given in the New Testament; and it was a denomination used by our Saviour himself, when he expressly disclaimed equality with God, (John x. 36.) The thoughts and remarks which occur in the second paragraph, could not surely be made by the writer of the proem, if he had intended it to be understood in the orthodox sense.
There is a considerable degree of similarity in expression between the proem to John's gospel and the beginning of his first epistle. In the latter, however, no countenance whatever is given to the Trinitarian interpretation of the former. There “the word of life," and “eternal life,” is said to have been “ with the Father,” [agos tov matega] and to have been “manifested to us."
6 that which was from the beginning—heard—seen-looked upon—and handled.” This phraseology designates the intimate acquaintance of the Apostles with Jesus Christ, and his doctrines and precepts, from the commencement of his ministry. If the phraseology in the epistle afford any clue to the interpretation of the gospel, it will not lead to that which the orthodox have adopted.
I deem it necessary here to consider what the main object
of John was in writing his Gospel, and also that of the proem in particular.
As much of the matter contained in John is not to be found in the other three Evangelists, a presumption arises, that he intended his gospel as a supplement to them. But it is to be observed that he no where assigns this as his motive; and therefore, at most, it can only be viewed as a plausible conjecture. If Luke's gospel were regarded in that light, his introduction would
appear to give it some countenance. It is supposed by Michaelis that John wrote his gospel to oppose
the errors of Cerinthus. He thinks that he uses the terms λογος, ζωη, φως, μονογενης, πληρωμα, in reference to the opinions of the Gnostics, who abused those terms. In another place, he says that John, in his gospel, was under the necessity of retaining these expressions, because he makes antithesis against the Gnostics. Michaelis also latterly adopted the opinion of Norberg, that John wrote to confute the errors of the Sabians, or the disciples of John the baptist. The authority on which Michaelis chiefly relies, is the following passage of Irenæus :-“John, the disciple of the Lord, declaring this faith, * and by the publication of the gospel, designing to root out the error, which had been sown among men by Cerinthus, and long before by those who are called Nicolaitans,
thus began the doctrine which is according to the gospel — In the beginning was the word.”
Wetstein does not seem to lay much stress on the notion of John's Gospel being supplementary; but he thinks that its chief object was to oppose the heresies beginning to appear,
* " This faith” refers to the sentence immediately preceding, which is as follows :-" Thus truly God and the Father is one and the same, who was indeed proclaimed by the prophets, and taught by the Gospel, whom we Christians worship and love from our whole heart, the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things which are in them.”—Iren. Oper., lib. iii. c. 11.