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ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE
BY WILLIAM JOHNS.
SIMPKIN, MARSHALL AND CO., STATIONERS’ HALL COURT;
AND R. HUNTER, ST. PAUL'S CHURCH YARD.
FORREST AND FOGG, AND R. ROBINSON, MANCHESTER.
The orthodox, or commonly received interpretation, of the introduction to the Gospel of John has descended to us through the channel of the Catholic Church, after having been wrought into its present consistency in the fourth and following centuries; and it constitutes a part of that Athanasian or Trinitarian system of Christianity, which exists now in the same state as in the darkest ages of the Church. Hence it derives all the aid that prescription and the association of ideas can possibly bestow.
It is a well-ascertained fact, that the orthodox interpretation is different from that which prevailed before the establishment of Athanasianism. This will be shewn in some measure in the commentary and notes, by extracts from the writers of the first and second centuries. The full discussion of the question would be here out of place; and it is rendered unnecessary by the concession of the most learned and competent judges.
The supporters of the received interpretation of this paragraph claim in its favour the literal and direct meaning of the words, and its perfect consistency with the general analogy and tenour of the scriptures. This assumed consistency, however, must be put to the test.
The orthodox interpretation assumes, 1. That ev agxn, in the beginning, means from all eternity:
2. That hoyos, word, is a proper name, as here used, or a personal denomination of Jesus Christ: also that it was his peculiar name as the second person of the Trinity, or as some say, in his pre-existent state:
3. That προς τον Θεον means the same as συν τω Θεώ, uith God:
4. That the phraseology ó hoyos ougš sysveto, the word was flesh, signifies, that the second person of the Trinity assumed human nature, and constituted in one person perfect God and perfect man: And,
5. That 2070s, the word, the second personal God, * “created the heaven and the earth.”
Reserving for the commentary and notes the developement of the true meaning of the expressions in the text of John, I may here be allowed to shew in a brief manner, that the above assumptions, besides perhaps some others, are indefensible, and do not conduct the serious and impartial enquirer to a satisfactory and consistent interpretation.
1. It is difficult to perceive how “in the beginning” can mean “from all eternity.” The following is Dr. Macknight's mode of reasoning on the subject: “ The Word existed at the time of the creation, (see verses 3, 10.) consequently from all eternity.”+ The consequence surely is not admissible; yet this is deemed a sufficient proof of the eternity of the 2070s, Word, the second personal God. It is evident that that, which has a period of beginning, is not eternity. See Beza's note apud Wallæum in Nov. Test.
It is understood that the second person is here said to have been with the first person in the beginning. Why in the beginning more than at any other period ? . Is not God eternally the same, without change? What can be the object of a writer in affirming, that one personal God was with another
* The notion of the orthodox, expressed in their own terms, is, In the Godhead are three Divine persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, having the same essence and attributes. This is in effect the same as that there is one essential God, and three personal Gods ;-and for greater convenience, I shall sometimes use this phraseology.
+ See Macknight's Harmon. and Paraph., 1. 3., 4to. ed.
personal God? If both possessed the essential attribute of omnipresence, must they not be always with one another ?
2. It no where appears that 2070s, Word, is a personal name of Jesus Christ as God. If the phrase the word, or the word of God, according to the idiom of the language in which it originated, mean God himself in the act of manifesting his power or other attributes, the grounding of another personal existence upon a mere form of expression is wholly inadmissible; especially when such use of the expression is not specifically sanctioned by other instances of certain and evident application.* The doctrine of the pre-existence of Jesus Christ rests upon an insufficient foundation. It is no where proposed and formally laid down as a doctrine to be believed. It is inferred from a few occasional expressions, which admit of a different meaning; and those occasional expressions must be interpreted in the rigid literal sense, a sense, it is highly probable, not intended, before they give any support to the doctrine. If the whole of the New Testament were interpreted upon that principle,—that is, if the
* The evidence that ó hoyos and ó hoyos Tou sou, is used as a personal appellation of Christ, is mainly as follows :— The eighteenth acceptation of the word ayos in Schleusner, gives the meaning, doctor, teacher; and the references are the following :-—Luke iv. 36. “And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this ?” John i. 1. " And the word was God." John i. 14. " And the word was made flesh.”. And I John v. 7, known to be an interpolation; to which he might have added, as a more plausible instance, Rev. xix. 13, “And his name shall be called, the word of God :" a Hebrew idiom for, “ he shall be the word of God.” And Michaelis acknowledges, that only John, of all the writers of the Old and New Testament, uses the word 2070s
for a person.
-See Michael. Introd. by Marsh, vol. iii. pt. i. p. 280.
It is granted that the rhetorical personification of the hoyos, and of many other expressions, is usual enough in the Scripture writers; as, for instance, Ps. cxlvii. 15, “ His word runneth very swiftly." But this is a very different thing from using it as a personal appellation.