GHC Review 20: The Johannine Logos

GHC Review 20; The Johannine Logos
The Johannine Logos: The Mind of Christ by Gordon H. Clark, Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1972, 90 pp.

Gordon Clark’s The Johannine Logos is not a full commentary on John’s Gospel but a focused study on the apostle’s use of the word logos and his doctrine of it. It is a most excellent book.

In the introduction Clark critiques those who have given a very late date to John’s Gospel. Rather than taking a second century date like the liberals, or a pre-70 A.D. date like some conservatives, he argues that John wrote his Gospel “late in the first century” (p. 12) and presumably after having written Revelation as the Gospel was “his final book” (p. 13).

He then notes four differences between John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels. The Synoptics have an extended account of Jesus’ ministry while John focused on a period of about twenty days. More so than the synoptics, John relied on personal reminiscences. The synoptics also focused on Jesus’ public ministry while John emphasizes the impression Jesus made on a few individuals. Lastly, he notes, the gospels were each written with different purposes. “Matthew’s purpose, so it seems, was to convince Jews that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. … Mark wrote a short account of Jesus’ ministry, presumably for the Romans, chiefly. Luke was particularly interested in chronology. … John … so that its readers might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they might have life in his name.” (p. 14)

Chapter 2 – THE PROLOGUE
“’In the beginning was the Logos.’ What can Logos mean?” (p. 15) The Liddell and Scott Greek lexicon lists meanings including: “computation, reckoning, account, measure, esteem, proportion, ratio, explanation, pretext, plea, argument, discourse, rule, principle, law, hypothesis, reason, formula, definition, debate, narrative, description, speech, oracle, phrase, wisdom, sentence, and at the very end word.” (p. 15)

Clark argues “word is a poor translation in verse 1.” He hints at his own choice of translation in saying “There indeed an English word with the same root as Logos. Though it would make a somewhat inadequate translation, it would convey some meaning, a relatively accurate meaning; but for a peculiar reason, which this study hopes to dispel, many people dislike it.” (p. 16) Of course, the word Clark is referring to “logic.”

He then reviews the use of the term logos among Greek philosophers. For Heraclitus the logos is “a universal law that does not change” amidst the constant flux of all things. (p. 16) For the Stoics the logos, or plural logoi, are that which controls each individual thing. Philo had another view referring to the world of ideas in the mind of God as the logos.

Clark argues, however, that what influenced John was not the Greek philosophers but the Old Testament. He quotes Kittel: “There is a great difference between Hellenistic Logos speculation and the New Testament Logos.” (p. 17) And, he writes, “If this term is to be understood as an element borrowed from Greek philosophy, if John’s thought is construed as similar to that of the Gnostics and the Hermetic literatures, it is strange that the further and frequent occurrences fo the word in John are so totally devoid of such meaning. If, on the other hand, logos is simply an ordinary Greek word with all the meanings that Liddell and Scott list, and if John’s thought and even the word itself have an Old Testament background, then a very different pictures comes into focus.” (p. 18) Even so, “there is nothing absurd in supposing that John deliberately wrote his Prologue to warn his Gentile Christians against false forms of the Logos doctrine.” (p. 18)

“Now, in summary, the ordinary meaning of the Greek term, i.e., the list in the lexicon, can fairly well be combined into the idea of thinking, or the expression of thought. The English cognate is Logic, the science of valid reasoning. As a Greek philosophic term, Logos indicates a supreme intelligence controlling the universe.” (p. 19)

“Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to say that the Word was God, and the German romanticists refused to say that God was Word or Reason.” (p. 19) For Faust life is deeper than logic. Experience is valued over theory. He would prefer the verse to say “In the beginning was the Deed.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures which reads in John 1:1, “Originally the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” But proper Greek grammar shows that this is a mistranslation. John’s first two words are en archee, the same first two words of Genesis in the Septuagint translation. This is “evidence that the subject of which John speaks is God: In the beginning God.” (p. 22)

In verse 3 John makes the explicit reference to creation, again evidencing that he did not get his ideas from pagan sources, for they had no notion of a fiat creation, such as Genesis describes.

“The life that was the Logos, the creator, was the light of men; and the light shines in the darkness. Verse 5 surely cannot refer to physical darkness. The remainder of the Gospel squarely opposes any such literal view. The light is the spiritual and the darkness also is spiritual, rational, or intellectual.” (p. 23)

On verse 9 Clark argues that the noun which the phrase “coming into the world” modifies is not the light but “every man.” I studied this question a while ago, and if I recall correctly, Clark’s view agreed with the KJV translation, but not the NIV, ESV, etc. His view is important to his overall philosophy. He writes, “The sense of the verse seems to be that Christ enlightens every man ever born by having created him with an intellectual and moral endowment.” (p. 24-25)

The remainder of the chapter emphasizes the doctrines of Grace and the doctrine of the incarnation in John’s prologue and ends with a sustained critique of the views of Rudolf Bultmann.

Back in chapter 2 Clark had noted that from Genesis to Ruth the translators of the Septuagint generally replaced the Hebrew root DBR with the Greek rheemata, but in the prophets they far more frequently used the Greek logos. Here now in Chapter 3 more detail on the meaning and use of these words is given. Throughout the chapter Clark provides numerous Bible verse references.

Rheema (singular) and rheemata (plural) mean word and words, ordinarily spoken words. Clark contends that in a noticeable proportion of its instances in John “logos means a sentence, a propositions, a doctrine, an objection of intellectual apprehension. They make it indubitable by quoting the proposition to which they refer.” (p. 38) He gives examples that show logos referring explicitly to a sentence, a whole sermon, an Old Testament verse, and a prophecy of Christ’s. “It is always an intelligible proposition.” (p. 40)

Returning back to John 1:1 and the apostle’s doctrine of the Logos, Clark writes, “the Logos of verse 1 is the Wisdom of God.” (p. 40) “God does not work haphazardly. He acts rationally. Some of this wisdom is expressed in the propositions o the previous list. They are the mind of Christ: they are the very mind of Christ. In them we grasp the holy Wisdom of God. Accordingly there is no great gap between the propositions alluded to and Christ himself. The Platonic Ideas, as interpreted by Philo, and by him called Logos, are the mind of God.” (p. 40)

“Jesus is never called the Rheema, as he is called the Logos. Rheemata in a very literal sense are the sounds that come out of one’s mouth when one speaks. These are not thoughts; they are sounds in the air; they are the symbols of thoughts.” (p. 42)

Because in some verses the message of Christ is a logos and later the same message is called rheemata, Clark concludes “Logos and rheema designate the same thing.” (p. 43). Also in Luke’s Gospel “can be seen the identity of the two terms.” (p. 43)

Because of what has been said earlier in the chapter, I take it here that by “identity” Clark means that the auditory words, the symbol, or rheemata sufficiently convey a meaningful proposition, or logos. The terms are not interchangeable.

Chapter 4 – TRUTH
A theme of this chapter is that truth is of propositions, intellectual content. This contention is made in opposition to ideas like Emil Bruner’s truth as encounter. Backing his contention Clark references numerous verses in John’s Gospel that each use the word truth. Clark writes, “There is no personal truth that is not propositional.” (p. 50) “Christianity is taught, not caught.” (p. 52)

The remainder of the chapter is a critique of A. W. Tozer’s view of truth. Tozer has a two-fold theory of truth. Clark’s rejection of Tozer’s theory leads nicely into chapter five where he discusses he own view of saving faith which relies on truth being of a single type.

But before moving on, it might be of interest to note Clark’s comment on page 58 that The Presbyterian Journal is “a journal that claims to defend orthodox Presbyterians from the onslaughts of the dialectical theologians.” The background is that the editor of the journal, G. Aiken Taylor, rejected an article Clark wrote on A. W. Tozer. And in doing so, Taylor misidentified an objectionable statement of Tozer’s as that of Clark’s. Clark pointed out the mistake to Taylor, but Taylor never responded to acknowledge his mistake.
So Clark wrote the following letter which will be reproduced in whole:

November 21 1970
Dr. G. Aiken Taylor
The Presbyterian Journal
Dear Dr. Taylor,

Enclosed is the review of the book you sent me. I am inclined to use this occasion to continue a correspondence that you broke off.

Recall that I had protested against your using a sermon by Dr. Tozer that attacked the doctrines of the Westminster Confession. You refused to publish my reply because of certain phrases you disliked. When I pointed out that those phrases were Dr. Tozer’s and not mine, and that you incorrectly put them in my mouth, you did not reply.
Your editorial policy seems to continue to undermine the Confession. This summer you published an article that argued that Christians should remain in corrupt churches because the tares and wheat must grow together and only the angels at the end of the world may separate them. This conflicts with the Presbyterian principles of church discipline, and may explain why so little discipline has been enforced. But I do not expect such attacks on our doctrine to come from a periodical that is supposed to call for a return to the Confession.

Then again on the front cover you printed a statement that for the right bringing up of children all that is necessary is merely to allow the Spirit to control. Merely indicates that no Biblical teaching is to be given to the children. Allow disallows that the Spirit is Almighty God and does not stand on human being’s allowance. The Spirit works how and when and where he pleases, and no one merely allows him to do anything.
This continuing editorial policy suggests to me that you may be trying to undermine the Confession and trying to prevent the establishment or reestablishment of a Reformed church in the south.

If my protest seems vigorous, it is meant to be.
Yours very truly,
Gordon H. Clark

After another set of letters between the two men without resolving their disagreements, Clark severed connections, finally writings “I cannot honest support or aid a person who both quotes me incorrectly and who constantly opposes the doctrines of the Confession.” (Gordon H. Clark to G. Aiken Taylor, Dec. 14, 1970)

And so, Clark’s conclusion was that The Presbyterian Journal only “claims to defend orthodox Presbyterianism.” It was, under Taylor’s leadership, perhaps Presbyterian more in name than fact.

And so, without getting his article published in the journal, Clark writes on Tozer in this chapter of The Johannine Logos.

Chapter 5 – SAVING FAITH
“In view of the clear and repeated assertions of the Gospel it is strange that anyone who considers himself conservative or even orthodox should minimize faith or belief and try to substitute for it some emotional or mystic experience.” (p. 69)

“The nature of saving faith is an important division of theology. Therefore one should pay strict attention to what John’s Gospel says on the subject.” (p. 70)

“There is no antithesis between believing Jesus as a person and believing what he says.” (p. 71) “In literary usage one may say that one believes a person; but this means that one believes what the person says. The immediate and proper object of belief or faith is a truth (or falsehood), a meaning, the intellectual content of some words; and this intellectual content is in logic called a proposition.” (p. 72) “To believe a person means precisely to believe what he says.” (p. 73)

“It is regeneration to eternal life that causes the intellectual belief. Thus acceptance of the propositions is a mark of having been regenerated and of having eternal life.” (p. 73) “Be sure to note that the Apostle John never mentions mystic experience. He never says one must get behind the text to something other than the words or doctrine. He repeatedly says, if you believe, you are saved.” (p. 74)

From page 74 to 88 then Clark writes about and critiques the traditional view of faith as understanding (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia). This part absolutely must be read for yourself. Importantly, Clark asks, “Can fiducia be so defined as to make it an independent third element in faith, or is faith essentially assent to a known proposition?” (p. 81) “The desire to find a third element in faith, in addition to understanding and assent, seems, if we may judge by popular preaching, to be aided by a psychological illusion.” (p. 87) “What better conclusion can there be other than the express statements of the Bible? Permit just one outside of John. Romans 10:9-10 says, ‘If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your mind that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.’” (p. 88)

The arguments of this chapter are more detailed and expanded on in Clark’s later Faith and Saving Faith.
Finally, to end this view I want to reproduce below a letter Clark received from Robert Strong, an old minister friend from their OPC days, and then note a couple other relevant letters.

5422 Clinton Boulevard
Jackson, Mississippi 39209
Professor of Homiletics
March 4, 1974

Dear Gordon:

What a strange thing for an editor to do. You have good reason indeed to be upset.
I have just finished your The Johannine Logos. It is splendid.

Another edition should soon be called for. Suggestions: correct the spelling of anarthrous, develop as a fourth point of difference about the autopic gospel that John’s report of Christ’s discourses contrasts as to the style and method with the synoptics (Matt. 11:27 is one of the very few places that sound like John); amplify your phrase “voluntary assent” to take still better care of those who rely so heavily on fiducia.

I am making my colleagues read your book that they might be still better prepared to deal with anti-intellectualism.

Kind regards to you and Ruth –

A couple other items might be of note from Clark’s letters. Clark wrote to John Robbins on 11/3/80 saying “I would like to expand the Johannine Logos; or at least correct a most unfortunate misspelling on one page.” (Was a second edition was ever released? I know that the Trinity Foundation has a version of the book, but whether it was edited at all I do not know.) And Robbins wrote to Clark on June 23, 1981 “I’ve gotten a Covenant Seminary graduate to write a paper (he calls it “Logology”) on the use of logos and rheema in the non-Johannine books in the NT. I have seen the introduction; it looks good. We hope to publish it in the July/August issue of the Review.” That article was published in the Trinity Review and can be found here.

The following review of The Johannine Logos is from Blue Banner Faith and Life, Vol. 28, Jan-Mar, 1973, No. 1, p. 85-86.
ghc review 20; the johannine logos, review, blue banner faith and life, vol 28, jan-mar, 1973, no. 1, p. 85-86ghc review 20; the johannine logos, review, blue banner faith and life, vol 28, jan-mar, 1973, no. 1, p. 85-86. bghc review 20; the johannine logos, review, blue banner faith and life, vol 28, jan-mar, 1973, no. 1, p. 85-86. c

For the previous review in this series see here.
For the next review in this series see here.

5 thoughts on “GHC Review 20: The Johannine Logos”

  1. Pingback: GHC Review 19: Historiography Secular and Religious | A Place for Thoughts

  2. Ok, that was weird. When I first clicked the link it went to Trinity review article Clark responds to Mavrodes. Then, after I wrote what I thought was a correction with the right link, I clicked it again and it linked to Logology. Sorry, just trying to help!

  3. Pingback: GHC Review 21: II Peter, A Short Commentary | A Place for Thoughts

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