The De-Mystified Logos -- John 1 as it was meant to be read

Nov 23 22:00 2003 Phil Maxwell Print This Article

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...John 1 and the word ‘logos’ has long been one of the most hotly debated passages of the Bible, which also relates to the currency most theologians grant it as a supposed proof text for supposed essential doctrines like the deity of Christ, trinitarianism, and related tenets. For this reason alone, the passage is arguably of dubious value as a basic doctrinal proof text, which is my first point. It simply doesn’t make sense to feature such a controversial passage as a primary proof text for fundamental tenets of doctrine. …There are plenty of Bible passages regarding the nature, identity, and origins of Yahshua the Messiah, and His relationship to God the Father that are much more clear and concise than this. Nevertheless, reasonable or not, since John’s Prologue is so commonly employed as a litmus test for defining who is a true Christian, the need to investigate its true meaning is far more than tangent theological aerobics. A reasonable approach to interpreting Scriptural precepts is outlined in Isaiah 28 and echoed in many other passages throughout Scripture:Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: (Is 28:9-10 KJV)Like any branch of knowledge, the spiritual truths of Scripture follow a natural order. For example, we wouldn’t attempt to teach algebra to those who haven’t learned basic math, and, likewise, if an algebra problem were to yield answers that defied underlying precepts (like 2x3=5), then it would not be accepted as true. Similarly, we shouldn’t attempt to interpret the implication of the nature and identity of Christ in John’s Prologue outside the numerous Scriptural precepts that naturally precede it, and neither should we accept any interpretation that contradicts the same. Otherwise, the product of our interpretation ends up being is what theologians call eisegesis, which is when someone reads their own bias into a passage rather than drawing the true meaning out of the text itself, which is called exegesis. As I will show, this is what is commonly done with regard to the Prologue.If there is any consensus amongst scholars regarding John 1, it is that by and large the English translations simply don’t convey the full implications of John’s original intent, particularly with regard to the Greek word ‘logos’, which is commonly translated ‘word’. Yet, many shamelessly assert major doctrinal points from the English text as though it accurately represents the original thought, even though it is well known that it doesn’t. These seek to render the passage into a simple unequivocal statement of the deity and incarnation of Christ, typically arguing that since “the word was God” (v. 1) and “the word became flesh” (v. 14), then God became the man Yahshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), who is, therefore, God. This bias has been incorporated into most of the popular English translations and paraphrases, some going so far as to misrepresent ‘logos’ as ‘Christ’ or ‘the Son’ even though the original Greek text says nothing of the sort. Then, building on this shaky foundation, generally follows many explanations of how this human being, the Son of God, is also God. Because of these things, not the original thought represented by John’s words, this verse has become a virtual cornerstone of so-called ‘orthodox Christology’. Having encountered many apologists for these doctrines over the years, I have found no other passage more highly regarded as a supposed proof text for these misguided conclusions regarding the nature and identity of the one true God and His Son, Yahshua. Obviously, my own bias is contrary to ‘orthodox Christology’, but the point here is neither my opponents’ bias nor mine, but what John truly meant in the prologue of his gospel. Considerably elevating the importance of carefully scrutinizing this passage is the accompanying belief that affirmation of the deity of Christ is the primary defining element between true Christianity and cults. In the past, dissenters have been silenced by whatever force was necessary – seizure of property, banishment, imprisonment, torture, and execution. In modern times, they are held to be anti-Christ heretics who are stigmatized, vilified, and ostracized by the most vocal proponents of ‘orthodox Christianity’, while the overwhelming majority of the two billion or so professing Christians of the world quietly acquiesce to their teachings; same spirit, different season. While the Scriptures repeatedly uphold belief in the true identity of Yahshua as the step one must take to truly enter the ranks of Christianity, the one they were to confess allegiance to was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16) – NOT ‘God the Son, the Second Person of the Triune God’ or any such thing! The revelation of the Lord Yahshua’s true identity as preached by the apostles was always straightforward, simple, and comprehendible by even the most simple minded would-be disciple. It was to be the foundation upon which Yahshua would build His Church, opposition by the gates of hell notwithstanding. Yet, the concept of Christ not only alleged to be set forth in the prologue of John’s gospel, but also held to be essential elements of the Christian faith are also held to be a great mystery that transcends human comprehension. …True faith is found in believing and holding fast to provable truths that are learned precept upon precept, the most basic of which is that Yahshua is “the Christ, the Son of God”. Neither Scripture nor the apostles require any further confession.Thus, we are left with a passage that has been grossly misrepresented standing as a cornerstone of doctrines held so important as to justify both dividing up the body of Christ and doing violence against dissenters. The true identity of Christ as preached by the apostles and revealed in Scripture is not so mysterious or incomprehensible that new and would-be believers can’t see it clearly for themselves. There is no need to rely upon a controversial passage to establish who “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is unless the aim is to otherwise represent Him, which is exactly what orthodox theologians have done with John 1. The Bible tells us to “prove all things; hold fast that which is true” (1 Th 5:21 KJV), and the application of that precept could be no more important than it is with regard to who the Lord and Savior truly is. Again, John’s Prologue raises so many issues that scholars can't agree upon, it is hardly well suited for the purpose of proving any major doctrinal point, much less such a supposedly basic and important tenet of the Christian faith that must be understood and affirmed by even new and non-believers as a condition of being received by others in the family of God.Nevertheless, the majority of Christians earnestly believe what theologians and translators commonly contend John meant in his prologue – that the logos or word literally represents the person of God, and that He literally became flesh as the man Yahshua. They accept this and all its difficult implications as a great mystery that goes beyond human comprehension, unwittingly parroting a circular argument based on text already skewed with the bias of the point they argue. They rest easy in the apparent security lent by the popularity and antiquity of their doctrinal views, never realizing how the plethora of evidence supporting their views all traces back to a common root: The decrees of post-apostolic consortiums founded on the absurd assumption that the Scriptures didn’t adequately answer the question Yahshua posed to His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We wouldn’t consider the overwhelming display of support for a political issue at a rally for the same cause to prove its worthiness. Yet, that is essentially what the monopoly of power established by the marriage between the ancient Catholic Church and the Roman Empire in 325 A.D. has rendered Christianity to be in the world for nearly 1700 years – a rally for doctrines developed by men bearing no apostolic credentials. The reason most Christians blindly agree that Yahshua is more than the Son of God is because the voices of dissent have been squashed like fans for the visiting team at a homecoming game. …It is notable that the very same power and authority that established ‘orthodox Christology’ also worked long, hard, and violently to keep the Scriptures and all dissenting voices away from the general population. Before the advent of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation, an earnest seeker of the truth would have been hard pressed to find a straight answer to the question of who Yahshua was and is outside the papal system. If that is hard to relate to, perhaps it would help to consider that the theocratic Roman Catholic Empire was not that much unlike Muslim regimes such as modern Saudi Arabia or the Taliban in Afghanistan: Religious dissent was a serious crime, fully enforced by the power of the government. …Key to what follows is the word 'logos', both its generic definition and the various concepts it represented as THE logos in the minds of John's contemporaries. Of particular concern will be whether or not the personification of the logos in John 1 was intended as an abstraction or to indicate a literal distinct person. To this end, I will show that the concept embodied in the logos was commonly personified in literature – the Scriptures, Hebrew, and Philosophers – but not with the thought of it being a literal person, much less the Messiah. Either John was endeavoring to communicate in a rational, coherent way that would be understood by those who spoke the language he wrote in, or he was deliberately trying to be vague and confusing by using a previously unknown definition of the word ‘logos’. I believe he was trying to communicate high spiritual concepts in ordinary, understandable language, but I don't think he was trying to say what many think.When we read, “the Word was God…and the Word became flesh,” we naturally draw certain conclusions based upon what we already believe and how this reads. IF the translators accurately translated the text, and IF we understand their words as John's contemporaries would have understood his words, we'd be fine in this. However, being the imperfect tools for communicating thoughts that words are, we must at least consider the possibility that something may have gone amiss between John’s pen, modern translations, and our minds. Even words passed directly between the closest of people often require further explanation, so this is quite reasonable. What IF the translations are somewhat lacking? What IF there were some implications related to cultural elements of that time that are not evident in the text itself? Discerning what WE conclude about English renderings of John 1 is easy, but discovering what THEY were meant to understand from John's Greek text is quite another, especially in the case of this passage. One thing is for sure, the true meaning of what John wrote is not what we or anyone else thinks, but what was actually intended at the time it was written. On this point, Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary comments:[In order to interpret the Bible correctly] We must first discover what the passage meant in the day and age of the author. …[This is important because] the Bible was not actually written directly to us, and it makes sense to put ourselves in the shoes of the original audience if we are to understand its message properly.1My primary contention is that the Greek word ‘logos’ represented a thing and not a person to John and the Greek-speaking population of that day in general, much like the term ‘word’ is to English speaking people of this day. For instance, we might say ‘a man is his word’, but no one would take this as meaning that a man’s word is literally that man, even though the statement might literally mean that. Although I make no pretense regarding my own bias, this contention is specifically against the typical arguments raised from John 1 in support of the deity of Christ doctrine, not the doctrine itself. Whether or not the deity of Christ doctrine is true, John wrote ‘logos’, not ‘Christ’, and meant it according to the common usage of the word in his time, not ours. I will offer evidence by way of numerous points that will follow, documented by sources that generally incorporate a bias against my own conclusions. Several of these pertain to translation ambiguities, others relate to the implications of the word ‘logos’ with regard to religion and philosophy of John's day, and then more show the precedent and likelihood that the personification of the logos in John 1 was meant as a poetical abstraction, not literally. In the end, if the word of God – the logos – did not mean the literal person of God, then reading “the word was God…and the word became flesh” as a statement meaning that the unchangeable God (who is distinctly not a man) actually became a man is untenable. God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; (Nu 23:19)For I, Yahweh, do not change; (Mal 3:6)For full text of article, notes, references, copyright info, and downloadable/printable MS Word version, click De-Mystified Logos.

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