Hengstenberg on The Logos

John sets the majesty of the Person of Christ before us in the strongest light, by leading our view into the depths of the Divine Being, and pointing us to the hidden background, which is thus formed to the earthly appearance of Christ.
The important question here arises: Does John found his doctrine of the Logos, who was in the beginning with God, and was God, by whom all things were made, on the Old Testament, or is this doctrine based rather on human speculations? Does John here walk hand in hand with Moses and the prophets, or rather with the Alexandrine Philo?
Thus much is certain to every one who is versed in Scripture, that if points of support for this doctrine are to be found in the Old Testament, it is to be traced to these. For all analogies favour this course. The New Testament, as regards doctrine itself, and not its mere form of expression, stands in immediate connection with the canonical books of the Old Testament; and in no case do we find ourselves referred to a middle term, and compelled, or even permitted, to go back to apocryphal or generally uncanonical literature. It is a characteristic of Old Testament prophecy, that it ceases with the prediction of the messenger who should prepare the way of the Lord before Him,—the second Elias, who should turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and of the children to their fathers; and the New Testament begins with the appearance of this same messenger, even John, who comes in the spirit and the power of Elias. Least of all in the Apostle John should we expect an exception to the rule, a departure from the consecrated ground of the Old Testament. There is in his nature a holy ruggedness, a sharp discrimination between that which comes from above and that which is of the world, the mere product of natural development.
On closer investigation, it is seen that the Old Testament does completely furnish the necessary points of connection, and that we have no reason whatever to seek such elsewhere.
We must, first of all, consider the Old Testament doctrine of the Angel of God, or of Jehovah, who is represented as far exalted above the sphere of the inferior angels, of whom are predicated all the attributes of the true God, who speaks in His name, claims for Himself the honours due to the Eternal, and is addressed and treated as God. In Ex. 23:21, He is designated as the Angel in whom is God’s name, i.e., His nature as historically unfolded and attested; in Is. 48:9, He is spoken of as the Angel of His presence (or face), i.e., the Angel in whom God Himself appears, in opposition to the inferior, created angels; in Joshua 5:14, as Captain of the Lords host, because, on account of his Godlike majesty and glory (He attributes Divine honours to Himself immediately afterwards, in John 1:15, commanding Joshua to loose his shoe from his foot, because the place was holy; and in John 6:2 He is called Jehovah), the powers of heaven, material and spiritual, the stars and the angels, are subject to Him. He appears surrounded by the latter, who are attentive to His words, in the first vision of Zechariah, where He is represented as the Protector of the covenant-people (cf. John 1:11), the Mediator between them and God, their Intercessor at the throne of grace.
The Angel of the Lord occurs first in Genesis 16. We perceive from this passage, that wherever an appearance of Jehovah is spoken of, we are to consider this as accomplished through the medium of His Angel. In Gen. 16:7, we receive for the later form of expression, “and Jehovah appeared unto him,” the supplementary words, “in His angel; “as also, e.g., in Joh 18:1. We are also led to the same result by other facts. In Gen. 28:11-22, Jehovah appears to Jacob. In Gen. 31:13, the Angel of God calls Himself the God of Bethel, in reference to the occurrence related in chap. 28. In Hos. 12:3, He who wrestled with Jacob is called Elohim, as in Genesis, but in John 1:4, “the Angel,” מלאך. Since the prophet had surely no intention of introducing a new historical particular, the ground for the mention of the Angel must lie in the presupposition, that all revelations of God occur through the medium of His Angel.
The Angel of the Lord occurs in Zechariah and Malachi, in connection with the doctrine concerning Christ. The former, in chap. 11, announces a personal appearance of the Angel of the Lord in the midst of His people, and the taking of the office of shepherd under Him. Malachi, in Mal. 3:1, foretells that the Angel of the covenant will come to His temple.
That John’s doctrine of the Logos is related to the Old Testament doctrine of the Angel of the Lord, can be the less doubted, since the Apostle himself elsewhere refers frequently and unquestionably to this doctrine. Christ, in his writings, appears with unusual frequency as sent by God. By this expression, is everywhere intimated the personal identity of Christ with the Old Testament Angel or Messenger of the Lord; for the more immediate references, cf. my Christology, vol. iv. p. 285 (Eng. Tr.). John rests on the doctrine of the Angel of the Lord, when here, in John 1:11, he designates the covenant-people as the property of Christ; and when, in John 12:41, he says, without further explanation, that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ, while in the Old Testament it is the glory of Jehovah which is spoken of.
But we meet with a not unimportant difference also between the Logos and the Angel of the Lord. The latter appears only as a mediator between God and His people, never as He by whom God has created all things. It is, however, easily perceived, that He could not be represented as such under this name. The name of angel or messenger presupposes the existence of those to whom he can be sent. It is not a designation of nature, but the name of a special office. If, therefore, in the Old Testament, a participation in the work of creation is ascribed to the same person who, from his mediatorial relation to the covenant-people, bears the name of Angel of the Lord (as we should beforehand regard as probable, since they stand in intimate connection with each other). He must in this other relation be represented under a different name.
Now, it cannot be doubted that the Logos does occur as a partaker in the creation of the world in the passage, Prov. 8:22-31, which for this subject is a locus classicus, under the name of the pre-mundane and world-forming Wisdom of God. It has been variously assumed that this is a purely poetical personification of one of the Divine attributes. But opposed to such a view is the fact, that what is pronounced here, according to the realistic rendering, of the second Person of the Godhead as sharing in the creation of the world, coincides with the distinction occurring elsewhere, in the doctrine of the Angel of God, between the hidden God and His Revealer. Add to this, that it could not be declared of wisdom, as an attribute of God, that it had been formed and brought forth from eternity. The realistic rendering has also the later national view in its favour. In the apocryphal Book of Wisdom, e.g., we meet with Wisdom manifestly as a person. It appears as the brightness of the everlasting light (Wis 7:26), the efflux of the glory of the Almighty; the worker, who made all things, Wis 7:22.
Cf. Wis 8:6, where it is said of Wisdom, τίς αὐτῆς τῶν ὄντων μᾶλλον ἐστι τεχνίτης, the masculine, as in the original passage in Prov. 8:30; and Prov. 9:9, “Wisdom, which knoweth Thy works, and I was present when Thou madest the world;”—and as she who lives with God, and whom the Lord of all things loves, John 8:3. Grimm, in his Commentary on the Book of Wisdom, p. 202, says, the author regards “the Divine Wisdom as a substance which has emanated from God, though standing in the most intimate connection with Him, to which also are ascribed Divine attributes and operations.” Besides Jesus Sirach,—whose words, e.g., in Sir 1:4, προτέρα πάντων ἔκτισται σοφία, and John 1:9 κύριος αὐτὸς ἔκτισεν αὐτήν, do not suit a mere personification of Wisdom as an attribute of God,
Philo also may be regarded as a voucher for the national view. Finally, the authority of Christ is in favour of the realistic rendering. If Luke 11:49-50 be compared with Mat. 23:34, it cannot be a subject of doubt, that in the former passage Christ represents Himself (with reference to Proverbs 8) as the Wisdom which has appeared in the flesh: διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡ σοφία τοῦ Θεοῦ εἶπε,—q.d.: Therefore say I, the Wisdom of God.
Against the realistic rendering only this one objection can be brought to bear, that the second Person of the Godhead cannot be represented as feminine. But the Divine Mediator of creation appears as personal Wisdom (fem.), because here He is considered according to His wisdom unfolded in the creation; as similarly, in Ecclesiastes, Solomon is represented as incarnate Wisdom (fem.), and as Christ also designates Himself as Wisdom. That the use of the feminine has this ground only, is indicated by the fact, that in John 1:30 the world-forming Wisdom is designated as אמון, work-man, and not in the feminine.
But we will enter somewhat more particularly into the details of this important passage. It comprises ten verses, which are divided into equal parts. In the first half is declared the existence of Wisdom before all created things; in the second, her participation in the creation of the world, and that all things were created by her.
John 1:22. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old.” Instead of, He possessed me, many render, He created me. So the LXX. ἐ̓κτισε; Jesus Sirach, Sir 1:4; Sir 1:9; Sir 24:8; the Syriac and the Chaldee; while the Vulgate has, possedit me in initio viarum suarum. The rendering created cannot, however, be justified by the usage of the language, קנה meaning only to possess, and to acquire. In Gen. 14:19, Deut. 32:6 (in the Eng. Version), Ps. 139:13, also, the meaning created is assumed by some without good reason: ראשית דרכו is explained as His first act, or the earliest of His works, with reference to Job 40:19, where “He is the chief [beginning] of the ways [works] of God” is said as of the most eminent of created beings. But the following sentence, “before His works,” is decisive against this view. Hitzig’s rendering: as the earliest of His works, cannot be allowed, since קדם can only be taken in the sense of before. Either we must translate, as the beginning, and take beginning in the sense of living beginning, in whom is the cause of the beginning, the original source of all existence, in comparison with Rev. 3:14, where Christ is designated as ἡ ἀρχὴ τῆς κτίσεως τοῦ Θεοῦ, or we must supply the preposition ב, as, indeed, it must be imderstood with קדם
Vulg.: in initio viarum suarum; so also the Syriac and the Chaldee. This latter view is favoured by comparison with Gen 1:1. Here we obtain an exact correspondence with the ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὀ λόγος: when the creation began, God already possessed Wisdom, the Logos was already with Him; so that He was before all things, and only by Him did all things consist. Col. 1:17.
John 1:23. “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” מקדמי ארץ,
Vulg.: antequam terra fieret; not in the first period of the earth, but before the earth, from the time which preceded the earth. It seems that the words, “I was set up,” refer not to the beginning of existence in general, but to the beginning of existence as creative Wisdom; as the Vulg.: ordinata sunt; or as the older expositors remark, in reginam ac principem, per quem crearentur ac gubernarentur omnia. נסך occurs in the sense of set also in Psa 2:6. The same remarks hold good of the being brought forth, in Joh 1:24.
John 1:24. “Where there were no depths, I was brought forth; where there were no fountains abounding with water. 25. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth.” There is an allusion to this passage in Job 15:7-8 : “Art thou the first man that was born, or wast thou made before the hills? Hast thou heard the secret of God (cf. ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, in John 1:1; and ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς, in John 1:18), and dost thou restrain wisdom to thyself?” Eliphaz asks Job whether he, in disgraceful self-exaltation, lays claim to the dignity which belongs to the eternal Wisdom—whether, indeed, he be himself incarnate wisdom, that he should make such assumptions.
John 1:26. “While as yet He had not made the earth, nor the streets, nor the sum of the clods of the earth.” חוצות occurs too frequently and exclusively with the meaning of streets for it to be taken in any other here. The streets are considered on account of the multitude of people which animate them. Regarded as to this, their soul, they are made by God. The parallel תבל also signifies the earth, in so far as it is inhabited by men, the οἰκουμένη.
John 1:27. “When He prepared the heavens, I was there; when He set a compass to the flood.” This presence was not an idle one—the writerʼs purpose would not have led him to mention such—but an active one. Since תהום always stands for the waters on the earth, especially of the sea, and also from its etymology is referred to the noise and roaring of the waves, the second clause can refer only to the work of the third day. Gen 1:9, and the first clause to the work of the second day, Gen 1:6-8.
John 1:28. “When He established the clouds above, when He strengthened the fountains of the deep.” Here again is a contrast of the highest and deepest parts of creation.
John 1:29. “When He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment; when He appointed the foundations of the earth.” Here sea and earth are opposed, as the heavens and earth, in the previous verse.
John 1:30. “Then I was with Him as workman; I was daily delighted, rejoicing always before Him.” אמון has the same meaning as אמן, workman, artificer, in Son 7:1. The view on which this pointing is based, is shared, as Hitzig remarks, by the LXX., Vulgate, and Syriac Versions, and is confirmed by Wis 7:22, ἡ γὰρ πάντων τεχνίτις ἐδίδαξέ με σοφία. According to Von Hofmann, אמון is to be taken as adverbial infinitive absolute, with the meaning of continually. In such forced assumptions are those compelled to take refuge who maintain the view of a mere personification. The second clause designates the joy and sacred pleasure of the creating work, which manifests itself in the endless variety of created forms. With the phrase, I was delight, compare Isa 5:7; Jer 31:20. The Vulg. has, delectabar; the LXX., incorrectly, ἐγὼ ἠμην ἦ προσέχαιρε, He had His delight in Me.
John 1:31. “Rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth, and My delight was with the sons of men.” The pleasure of creation is continued in the joy of intercourse with the children of men, in which is contained an invitation to those whom Wisdom so lovingly condescends to visit, to the equal delight of meeting her.
If now it is settled that the Old Testament affords points of connection for the doctrine of a Divine Revealer of God, and especially also of the creation of the world by Him, only one point remains in question: whether for the name Logos, under which the Divine Mediator is here spoken of, there be likewise an Old Testament foundation; or whether for this we must search for an extra-biblical point of connection.
The first question is, How is this name to be interpreted? And, in the first place, it is beyond doubt that Logos can mean only the Word. This interpretation is demanded simply by the usage of the language. “Ὁ λόγος,” says Lücke, “is never used, either by John or by any other biblical author, of the reason or understanding of God, or even of man.” If a doubt still remained, it would be removed by the unmistakeable relation in which the Logos stands to the history of creation, where all is created by the Word of God. “All things were made by Him,” coincides unmistakeably with “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made,” in Ps. 33:6, where the LXX. has, τῷ λογῷ τοῦ κυρίου οἱ οὐρανοὶ ἐ̓στερεώθησαν.
But in what sense is the Divine Revealer called the Word? There are decisive grounds against the supposition that He is so called as “the Messenger of God, who utters what He is commanded to speak, and reveals to men, in part, what they are to believe, in part, what they are to do,” so that the explanation of the name is to be sought in John 1:18; or that He is so named as the subject of evangelical announcements, or as foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament, etc. All such assumptions cannot be justified by the facts. It is not then perceived why just here a designation is chosen, which, outside of the Prologue, descending, as it does, into the heavenly depths of the origin of Christ, nowhere recurs in this Gospel, and must therefore stand in intimate relation to the specific contents of the Prologue. Here such a name only is appropriate, as designates pre-mundane existence, intimate communion with God and Divinity, and from which directly follows a participation in the creation of the world. That by the name Logos, the highest is designated that can be said of Christ, is shown by the antithesis of flesh in John 1:14; particularly when the Old Testament parallels are compared, in which flesh and God are opposed to each other. According to the same verse, the Logos, as such, has a δόξα, a glory, which He reveals. Further, according to 1 Jn. 1:1, the Logos is the incarnate Life. But of special significance is Rev. 19:13, which, in the recurrence of the name peculiar to John, has a signature of its Johannine origin. It is there said of Christ, “And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and His name is called the Word of God.” The name here must be the explanation of vesture; the destructive character being common to both, both must announce Christ as the hero, whom no created thing can withstand. A polemic name, one threatening destruction and indicating the clothing of Christ with omnipotence, is alone appropriate to this whole section.
Wherever the name Logos occurs, it is in connection with the highest and most divine that can be declared of Christ. This is inexplicable if the name were of itself such as could be given to a human mediator; it shows, that the name itself designates Christ’s fulness of Divine attributes.
Now, this is in fact the case, if the name be traced back to Genesis 1 and Ps. 33:6, to which latter passage John 1:3 here so plainly refers. In the history of creation, the external appearance of God, His creative agency, is designated as His speaking. For this reason, He, who is the medium of every external act of God, is designated by John the personal Word of God. If Christ be the personal Word of God, if all which is elsewhere called the Word of God be only a single fragment of His being, how could it then be conceived that any created thing could stand before Him? “I fear not what flesh can do unto me,” is the watchword of all those who have the Logos on their side. “Undismayed, and without fear, shall the Christian e’er appear,”—this is the requirement which is laid on all members of the Church, because the Logos is their head. If single words of God have called the world into existence from nothing, how glorious must then be the Word of God,—how lively must be our fear of displeasing Him,—how unconditional our obedience to every one of His words,—how must there be given to us in connection with Him the unconditional warrant of victory over all ungodly powers, the security for the assertion, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,”—how must all longing and desire of the soul yearn to be firmly grounded and rooted in this Word of God, and thus to become partaker of all His treasures of salvation and blessedness! Christ—the Word of God: in this is contained, on the one hand, that without Him there can be no true connection with God, as certainly as among men the word alone forms a bridge of connection; and, on the other hand, that in connection with Him an entrance is abundantly ministered to all the treasures of salvation which are laid up in Him for needy creatures. Excellently remarks Bengel: “The name Jesus shows especially His grace, and the name, Word of God, His majesty. How deeply must that which is designated by this name lie in the unsearchable Godhead! The word of a man is not only that which he speaks with his mouth, and which is perceived by the sense of hearing; but that also which he has within himself, in his mind, and which he cherishes in his thoughts. If there were not this inner word, it could not be comprised in any speech or language. And if such word is so deep within man, how deep within God, in a manner incomprehensible to us, must be His Word! To Him, whose name is the Word of God, His enemies are all as stubble before the fire. With the spirit or breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked, Is. 11:4. Therefore no sinner or liar can stand before Him.”
Although John 1:18 is not to be regarded as an explanation of the deeper and more comprehensive name of Logos, yet what is here said of Christ, that He, as the only-begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, has revealed the nature of God, in Himself invisible, is included in the name Logos. If Christ be the eternal Word of God, there must be given in Him the only medium for the knowledge of God; so that every one sees just so much of God as He has seen of Him, perceives just so much as Christ has granted him to perceive.
From the detailed account which has been given it is clear that all which John teaches concerning the Logos, both as to the thing signified and the name, rests on an Old Testament foundation, and that we have no reason to look elsewhere points of connection. The Logos of John is connected with the Logos of Philo only in so far as that of Philo, which proceeded from an obscure mingling, rests likewise on an Old Testament basis. This basis is especially evident where Philo designates the Logos as the Archangel, and the ταξιάρχης, or Leader of the host, in reference to the angel of the Lord, who, e.g., in Zechariah 1 appears surrounded by troops of inferior angels and in Joshua 5 is designated as Captain of the Lord’s host With those particulars of his doctrine of the Logos, which Philo derived from Plato or from the Stoics, the doctrine of St John, the source of which rises only in the sanctuary, has nothing whatever in common.