The bird that sees a dainty bower
Made in the tree, where she was wont to sit,
Wonders and sings, but not His power
Who made the arbor: this exceeds her wit.
But Man doth know
The spring, whence all things flow:
And yet as though he knew it not,
His knowledge winks, and lets his humors reign:
They make his life a constant blot,
And all the blood of God to run in vain.
Ah wretch! what verse
Can thy strange ways rehearse?
George Herbert, “The Temple”
Advocates of natural theology often invoke John’s use of the term “logos” in the prologue to his Gospel as evidence of a Biblical endorsement of natural theology and of philosophy. It is not.
Given the enormous difference between John’s logos and that of the Stoics, and given the way John has so extensively corrected their rampant misconceptions, one could no more assert that John was endorsing natural theology here than one could assert that Friedrich Hayek was endorsing Karl Marx because they both use the word “capital.” Wholesale correction is not the same as endorsement or implementation, even if a few of the terms used by both sides are the same. Simply because Hayek and Marx both deal with the financial interactions of human beings, and simply because they employ some of the same language in so doing, it does not mean (1) that Hayek endorses Marx or Marxism, (2) that their views and methods are compatible, or (3) that Hayekian thought subsumes Marxist thought. Hayek is no Marxist any more than John is a Stoic. Hayek corrects Marx all along the Marxian path, a path Hayek knows to be “the road to serfdom.” John corrects the Stoics in the same extensive way, as the analysis below will demonstrate. John does to the Stoic logos something the Stoics would never do: He identifies it with a particular Jewish man and then understands that man in light of Jewish history and Scripture, reaching back to Genesis and to the creative and powerful Divine Word, dabar.
John’s use of the phrase “in the beginning” (v. 1) refers back to the time before God had spoken, as does Genesis 1: 1. In that beginning, the Word was pros ton theon (v.1) -- in front of God, so to speak, before Him, face to face. That Word was with God and was God: God and Word, God and God. They are the same, yet they are distinct. We arrive again where we began in Genesis 1:1, the Divine unity-in-plurality (a text at which we will look in more detail later).
Christ is called the Word because it is “He by whom God reveals Himself to man, and communicates His mind and will. Christ Jesus is the Revealer of the Godhead . . . The term ‘Word’ would seem well adapted to express this. A word is that by which we communicate our thoughts to others” (Jacobus, Notes on the Gospels, p. 20).
The Logos, therefore, is not some distant and abstract principle of making, not a simple uncaused cause of an eternal world. The Logos is the Divine Person of revealing, not a mere principle of making. God here is living, creative eloquence; He is Divine speech, utterance, and creative articulation -- Word. By means of the Divine Word Who is God Himself, God Himself makes the world and thereby imparts Himself to it because the Word is God and God is the world-making Word. By making the world with his Word, God reveals Himself to us. From our perspective, in order to know God, that Word is a necessity.
For us to know God, He must reveal Himself to us. If He remains silent, He remains both unknowable and unknown. But silent He has not remained. He has spoken. To invoke the title of an important little book by Francis Schaeffer, "He is there and He is not silent." According to John, but against anything to which a Stoic might affirm, God's utterance, God’s speech, God’s Logos, God’s Word, God’s Son, has become identified with a specific human creature in recent Jewish history, a man of flesh and blood, who lived, suffered, died, and rose again in the flesh. That man is the Utterance or Eloquence of the Father to us, indeed to all creation, because by means of this Utterance, now incarnate, now made human -- by means of this very Logos -- the world itself was spoken into existence and God was revealed.
Notice carefully that the creative and revelatory flow in that Divine action is entirely from God to the world, from God to us, and not vice versa. The Son is the creative, revelatory, articulation of Elohim; He is the loving and redemptive eloquence of a gracious Father to a fallen world.
Conversely, God conceived in Aristotle's way -- an unspeaking, unhistorical, impersonal cause, an unmoved mover, or a self-thought thought, standing behind an eternal world, something known or reached by our intellectual strivings up to it, and not by its articulations to us, is incompatible with the Biblical account of creation and redemption by a speaking God Who is known to us only by His doings, not ours, and especially by incarnation in a historical person. Aristotle’s theory goes contrary to them and cannot be reconciled with them.
Only God could be in the very beginning with God, before anything that was made ever existed. Whatever was not in the beginning with God was not God -- and because only God truly knows God, unless this God who was with God and who was God speaks to us about God, we cannot know Him. He is too far above us, especially now in our fallenness. He is the Light (v.4); we are the darkness (v. 5). Our darkness has not understood, or comprehended, the Light, nor can it (v. 5). The Greek word katalambano (v.5) can mean either mental comprehension or seizing by force. Here, it seems, John means that “the light has been shining and is still shining, and never has the darkness been able to obliterate it” (Tasker, p. 45), though “obliterate it” the world has tried pointedly to do. “Obliterate” is precisely right, for that is how the children of darkness respond to the Light that reveals their sin, their folly, and their rebellion. They blot it out, obliterate it, if they can. They suppress it, exchange it for a lie, and they kill it. That is a Johannine notion with which Paul concurs in Romans 1: 18ff.
The world, indeed the whole world -- Greek philosophers included -- “knew Him not” (v. 10) because the world – Greek philosophers included -- “received Him not” (v. 11). In order to “know” Him, you must “receive” Him. Unless you know Him Who is the Word and Who is God, you do not, and cannot, know the Father. Knowing the Father requires receiving the Son. So far as we can tell, Aristotle did neither. In that sad and rebellious condition, Aristotle was simply one with a world of human beings who did not receive or know their Maker. By its own choice, “the world is closed to the Word and its light” (Barth, Witness to the Word, p. 69).
In order to know Him, to receive Him, and to become a child of God, requires a gracious and transcendent “power” (v. 12). That power is a gift (v. 12), something given, and not something humanly achieved, like Aristotle’s deductions concerning an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, and self-thought thought. To receive Him (v. 12), you must believe in his name (v. 12). Without spiritual life, which comes through belief in his name, there is no Divinely given enlightenment. Such enlightenment happens because of the will of God, and not the will of anyone else (v. 13). “Can one fail to see that revelation is presented here as a self-enclosed circle into which one cannot leap from the outside?” (Barth, Witness to the Word, 75). Revelation, regeneration, enlightenment -- in other words, knowledge and life -- they go inextricably together. Within that circle, Aristotle is not included.
When the Word came into the world, He did so, contrary to Greek philosophy, by becoming flesh (v. 14). Flesh is, so to speak, the historical medium of revelation. To the Greeks, that particular medium was unthinkable and disgusting. Merely to suggest it was to be scorned. Therefore, by asserting that the Word dwelt among us in human flesh, that He “tabernacled” with us in that fleshly way, John’s reference and indebtedness is to the Old Testament shekinah glory, and not to Greek philosophy. In His flesh, the Word was “full of grace and truth” (v.14). Between “grace” and “truth” is an intimate and unbreakable connection. Without grace, the truth about God is unknown. From His fullness of grace and truth, we all have benefited. (v.16). That benefit comes to us in the form of the Word’s “exegesis” of God, His declaration of the otherwise unseen and, to us sinners, unseeable Father (v. 18).
The contrast here between sinful human creatures, on the one hand, and the incarnate Word, on the other, is startling and humbling. It silences our pretensions. None of us, without exception, has -- or can -- see God. By “see” here, John does not mean mere eyesight. He means seeing as understanding, as knowing. For that task, our fallen and merely natural powers of sense and reason are ridiculously inadequate. By means of them, no one has seen God (v. 18).
But the Son has done what we could not. He has understood the Divine Mysteries and declared to us what He has seen, much like his disciples have done, who saw Him and declared to us what they saw (1 John 1: 1-3). They could declare God to others and to us only because the Word had declared God to them. They could speak because they first were spoken to, and because their minds and hearts were given new life and new light by God. The Hidden God came out of hiding, declared Himself in history and in the flesh, and renewed the souls of His chosen ones so that they might finally understand.
The conjunction of “grace” and “truth” here requires further elaboration: You cannot have truth about God unless you first have grace from God. That is, knowing the truth about God depends upon the grace of God. While the law came by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (v. 17), Who is the only One Who has ever seen the Father, without whose grace we could not have this divine truth. The Word has brought us the truth about God.
Though He made us, we do not know Him (v. 10). No one, indeed, has ever seen God -- except the only begotten Son. Therefore, unless the Son, the Word, speaks, we cannot and do not know God. He alone has made Him known (v.14). Only God knows God. We cannot know Him or speak of Him, as He Himself teaches (Matt 11: 27).
Put differently, the “light” and the “life” go together (v. 4). Seeing the light depends upon having the life. Without that life, we all are still in darkness, Aristotle included. Without this life (zoe), we are dead, and we cannot see. You cannot see the light (phos) if you do not have the life (zoe). He is the Light and the Life. Both life and light are wrapped up in Christ, Who is the Revealer and the Revealed, the Goal and the Means, the Light and the Life. Without Him, you do not and cannot know God. Life is indispensable to seeing the Light. Death blots out the light, and only Christ can bring the life by which we see, the new life of regeneration, the regeneration exclusively by which we see the kingdom of God (John 3: 16ff.) The natural man has no life and cannot see things that are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2: 14). Aristotle, being spiritually dead, is blind and cannot see. To follow him is for the blind to lead the blind or, even more absurdly with regard to Christian advocates of Aristotelian natural theology, is for the blind to lead the sighted. In either case, the result is sadly predictable: We remain in darkness. That darkness is condemnable: “This is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3: 19). In other words, “It was the nature of the darkness -- this deep darkness of the soul -- this human ignorance, depravity and perverseness -- to resist the light -- not to entertain it nor retain it” (Jacobus, Notes on the Gospels, p. 25). Aristotle and his metaphysical machinations are not exempt from the failings of human nature in this regard. They are its classical embodiment.
The rejection of the Light by those without the life is universal. On this point, unless you are born again by the will of God (v. 13) you have no hope. For those without the life and the light, knowing God is impossible. Whatever else they might have in this regard, it is not knowledge of God because knowledge of God depends upon divine speech. The transcendent God can be known no other way -- precisely because He is transcendent. We know him as imminent only if He speaks, only if He reveals Himself to us -- and only if we understand and do not distort that revelation. But we distort, and we do not understand. We are blind in the face of light, dead in the face of life. We knew Him not and received Him not.
He came bearing gifts. But they killed Him. In that horrifying action, they are like us in all ways. We dwell willingly, and therefore self-destructively, in the darkness that confronts and resists revelation. We ourselves are that darkness. He is the Light that scatters darkness and makes clear our path (John 8: 12; cp. 12: 35).
To scatter darkness and set it to flight is a matter of cosmic conflict and conquest, not calm persuasion. He must destroy within us both Satan’s work and our own. In response to the Divinely induced destruction that precedes our regeneration and enlightenment, we aim to kill Him. Both sides, God’s and ours, succeed, but we only temporarily. We killed Him, but He did not stay dead. Our rejection and slaughter of Him shows that in us lives no good will toward the Light, no readiness to receive it, but open conflict instead: opposition, antithesis, animosity, and murder. The darkness in us can never make itself Light, nor does it want to do so. It aims rather at making the Light darkness by snuffing it out, by replacing the Light of the world with the garish, self-glorifying, self-reflecting, artificial lights and tinsel trappings of human-made gods, which, like the fires of Hell in Milton’s Paradise Lost, give off not light, but “darkness visible” (Paradise Lost, Bk.1: 63). Even though the Light enlightens every man, we snuff out the light within us and become endarkened, not enlightened, instead.
No one can see God at any time (v. 18) because for us a direct vision of God is impossible. John’s words here “do not deny the possibility of a true knowledge of God, but of a natural knowledge of God such as can be described by “sight.” (Westcott, p. 15, emphasis added). In this sense of seeing God, even the theophanies of the Old Testament fell short. Any knowledge, any authentic recognition, we have of God, whether as sight or as insight, must be mediated. That Mediator is Christ. He mediates both our redemption by God and our knowledge of God. From His unique position in the Father’s bosom, and as the Father’s only begotten Son, He alone can declare, or "exegete," the Father for us (v. 18). The argument in vv. 17, 18 is that while Moses was highly esteemed by the Jews, by means of him no one could see God. By contrast, Jesus Christ has revealed Him. Aristotle, (1) without benefit of either the Mosaic revelation of earlier centuries, (2) or the Christic revelation of the future, and (3) subject to his own damnable evil and its inevitable suppression of Truth, knows God even less than those who killed Him, which is to say not at all. There was no knowledge of God, even in the land of Israel (Hosea 4: 1, 2). Therefore, do not expect to find it in pagan, morally debased, Greece.
Although the Logos made the world, the world did not know Him. The story here in John’s prologue is not about knowing God from nature and reason; the story here in John 1 is about the breach between the world and its Creator, a breach bridged by Him. It’s about the shameful fact of the world’s damnable and self-imposed ignorance. This is a tale of judgment, not of natural theology’s alleged insights. In other words, this prologue and chapter teach precisely what Paul teaches in Romans 1. It’s a story of condemnation: The Light has come into the world, but because of our wickedness and our preference for darkness, a darkness we hope serves to cover our sins, we hate the Light. Whoever does evil -- Don’t we all? -- hates the light because by it our deeds are exposed for what they are (John 3: 19, 20).
Do you hate the light? Take your time, and resolve to be absolutely honest, before you answer that question.
Do you hate the light? Take your time, and resolve to be absolutely honest, before you answer that question.
Excursus I: The Commentators
In order to underscore my contention that John’s use of the term “logos” is not an endorsement of, or even an implementation of, Greek philosophy, in particular, or of natural theology, in general, I cite here twenty passages from the commentary tradition, copied almost at random as I came to them in my study. The number could easily have been doubled, even tripled.
(1.) “There can be little doubt that the roots of the ideas contained in this term [i.e., “logos”] are to be sought in the O. T.” (Ross, p. 135).
(2.) “[Philo’s] misty, vague philosophizing is worlds away from John’s concrete, historical outlook on the personal Logos, who from times eternal was with God and who became flesh in Jesus Christ. The theory that John derived the term Logos from Philo is very wide of the mark; there is no real evidence that John had ever heard of Philo. It is just as wide of the mark to regard John as having derived this term from Greek philosophy” (Ross, 136).
(3.) “But, though [John] would not have been unmindful of the associations aroused by the term, his essential thought does not derive from the Greek background. His Gospel shows little trace of acquaintance with Greek philosophy and less dependence upon it. And the really important thing is that John in his use of Logos is cutting clean across one of the fundamental Greek ideas. The Greeks thought of the gods as detached from the world, as regarding its struggles and heartaches and joys and tears with serene divine lack of feeling. John’s Logos does not show us a God who is serenely detached, but a God who is passionately involved. The Logos speaks of God’s coming where we are, taking our nature upon Himself, entering the world’s struggle, and out of this agony winning men’s salvation” (Morris, pp. 116-17).
(4.) “[T]he “Word” irresistibly turns our attention to the repeated “and God said” of the opening chapter of the Bible. The Word is God’s creative Word (v. 3). The atmosphere is unmistakably Hebraic” (Morris, pp. 117-18).
(5.) “[W]e find that in other biblical authors, as well as in John, the word [i.e., “Logos”] is never used to signify the divine Reason or Mind; nor indeed those of any human creature” (Alford, p. 677).
(6.) [Comparing Philo and John] “There is a wide and unmistakable difference between his logos and that of the Apostle” (Alford, p. 679).
(7.)“It would be difficult not to recognize in these first verses an allusion to the beginning of Genesis” (Godet, John, 243).
(8.)“The term Word, no less than the term in the beginning, serves to recall the narrative in Genesis; it alludes to the expression: and God said, repeated eight times . . . All these sayings of God John gathers into one single, living word” (Godet, John, 245).
(9.) Logos as reason “is foreign to the N.T.” (Godet, John, 246).
(10.) “The word logos in John, signifies as in the whole Biblical text, word. In Philo, it signifies, as in the philosophical language of the Greeks, reason. This simple fact reveals a wholly different starting-point in the use which they make of the term. . .
“In Philo, the existence of the Logos is a metaphysical theorem. . .God being conceived of as the absolutely indeterminate and impersonal being, there is an impassible gulf between Him and the material, finite, varied world which we behold. To fill this void, Philo needed an intermediate agent, a second God, brought nearer the finite; this is the Logos, the half-personalized divine reason. The existence of the Logos in John is not the result of such a metaphysical necessity. God is in John, as in all the Scriptures, Creator, Master, Father. He acts Himself in the world, He loves it, He gives His Son to it: we shall even see that it is He who serves as intermediate agent between men and the Son (6: 37, 44) . . . in John everything in the relation of the Logos to God is a matter of liberty and of love, while with Philo everything is the result of a logical necessity. . .
“To the view of Philo, as to that of Plato, the principle of evil is matter; the Jewish philosopher nowhere dreams, therefore, of making the Logos descend to earth, and that in bodily form. In John, on the contrary, the supreme fact of history is this: “The Logos was made flesh” (Godet, John, pp. 287, 288).
(11.) “It is not in Greek philosophical usage, however, that the background of John’s thought and language should be sought . . . The true background of John’s thought and language is found not in Greek philosophy but in Hebrew revelation. The ‘word of God’ in the Old Testament denotes God in action, especially in creation, revelation and deliverance” (Bruce, John, 29).
(12.) “John’s standpoint is that of the Old Testament and not that of the Stoics nor even of Philo”(Robertson, 3, 4).
(13.) “It constantly happens in the history of thought that the same terms and phrases are used by schools which have no direct affinity, in senses which are essentially distinct, while they have a superficial likeness . . . A new teacher necessarily uses the heritage which he has received from the past in order to make his message understood”(Westcott, John, p. xv).
(14.) “It is admitted on all hands that [John’s] central affirmation, ‘the Word became flesh,’ which underlies all he wrote, is absolutely unique. A Greek, an Alexandrine, a Jewish doctor, would have equally refused to admit such a statement as a legitimate deduction from his principles, or as reconcilable with them” (Westcott, John, xv).
(15.) “Philo and St John, in short, found the same term current, and used it according to their respective apprehensions of the truth. Philo, following the track of Greek philosophy, saw in the Logos the divine Intelligence in relation to the universe: the Evangelist, trusting firmly in the ethical basis of Judaism, sets forth the Logos mainly as the revealer of God to man, through creation, through theophanies, through prophets, through the Incarnation. . . In short the teaching of St John is characteristically Hebraic and not Alexandrine” (Westcott, John, pp. xvi-xvii).
(16.) “We must not overlook the fact that the Gospel of John begins with the same words as the first book of the Old Testament. If we, like the first Christians of the Diaspora, were accustomed to reading the Old Testament in Greek, this would immediately catch our attention” (Cullmann, p. 250).
(17.) “[T]he Gospel of John did not derive from the widely spread Logos idea a doctrine of general, not exclusively Christian, revelation . . . on the contrary it completely subordinated the extra- and pre-Christian Logos to the one revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, and in this way, completely re-formed it” (Cullmann, 254).
(18.) “If the author takes over many statements about the Logos from Hellenism as well as from the Old Testament, he does not mean to say thereby that the Greeks, for instance, because they spoke of the Logos, already possessed true knowledge. That would be a modern way of thinking. This is what the evangelist is saying: The Greeks spoke of the Logos without knowing him” (Cullmann, 264).
(19.) “The word logos was a current term in Greek philosophy to denote the rational principle in man and, on a cosmic scale, the universal principle which imposed order on the raw material of which the world was made. . . But the background of John’s terminology is properly to be sought in the Old Testament, where the “word” of Yahweh is his will in action” (Bruce, Message, p. 103).
(20.) “False philosophy was dealing out to the world all kinds of error in regard to God and the modes of the Divine existence. What darkened reason was thus struggling after when ‘the world by wisdom knew not God,’ John was commissioned to set forth, as God’s own revelation of Himself. The Evangelist borrowed none of his doctrines from those systems. But he takes, in this case, a term that had become so universally familiar in the chief philosophies of the world before Christ’s coming, and this Logos that they had spoken of so blindly and ignorantly, he declares unto them” (Jacobus, Notes on the Gospels, p. 21).
In short, the Gospel of John emphasizes Jewish history and piety over philosophy. It focuses on the story of God’s redemptive works in the world, concerning which we find ourselves somewhere in the middle, somewhere short of the end, when all will be made clear, not to unaided human reason and its metaphysical speculations, but to those regenerate persons whom God has chosen for sight, for hearing, and for belief. John’s gospel does not assume that Biblical knowing and classical knowing are either the same or interchangeable. That’s another way of saying that the medieval scholastic wrestling grounds and their Aristotelian rules are not the practice field upon which one discovers the mind of Christ or learns to reproduce it. Bibliocentric thinking is learned and mastered elsewhere and in other ways.
Excursus II: John the Baptist
I take it to be a widely accepted belief among Christians, including those who advocate natural theology in the Aristotelian vein, that from even before birth (Luke 1: 41), John the Baptist understood God in Christ (and therefore God Himself) better than did Aristotle. If so, then the point to remember is that John the Baptist did not know Him. We have John’s own word on it, twice. The sinful human darkness into which we all are plunged is so deep and so all-engrossing that even John the Baptist himself did not know God when confronted by Him face-to-face (John 1: 31, 33).
We understate the case merely to say that John the Baptist was not the light (John 1: 8, 21). It’s worse than that: Even with his impressive devotion to God, even with his prophetic insight, even with his undaunted holy boldness, and even with his compelling articulation of the message of repentance -- all of which combined to make him famous -- John the Baptist himself did not know the Light (John 1: 31, 33) until it had been divinely pointed out to Him by a miraculous, historical revelation, whereby he actually saw with his own eyes the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ like a dove and (presumably) heard with his own ears the heavenly voice uttering its Divine attestation. John himself twice admits (John 1: 31, 33) that, before witnessing that divine attestation, he did not know Him, and did not recognize the only One who has seen the Father and made Him known. But because of that divine sign, that descending Dove and attesting Voice, which replaced John’s ignorance with knowledge, John finally knew and John finally testified (John 1: 34). Without that miraculous sign, John the Baptist was no better off than the Pharisees, who did not know, and did not recognize, God Himself when He stood directly before them (John 1: 26). They did not know Him Who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14: 6). They were human creatures, and, on their own, they could not know Him. Indeed, even with God Himself plainly and directly before their eyes, they did not know Him. Apart from His saving grace, no one can and no one does. In their depraved and debilitating solidarity, they were stuck on the wrong side of the canyon of impossibility. They could not know God by their own devices (John 1: 18). If, despite all their great revelational advantages, both John the Baptist and the Pharisees were blind and could not know God, how then, one wonders, without all those advantages, but with all their debilitations, could Aristotle, the pagan?
Though he was not the light, John the Baptist was a witness to it. But he was a witness to it only as a result of Divine intervention, only as a result of miracle. Even then, his knowledge of God in Christ and his witness to it were partial and vacillating. Even at the very end of his life, John still needed to ask Jesus if He were the One, or if he, John, ought to continue looking for someone else (Matt. 11: 2-6). Jesus replied by saying that He was performing the miracles predicted by Isaiah. Even at the end of his life, John the Baptist was hesitant and unsure. Please notice that in order to move from his natural condition of ignorance to his position as witness to Christ, John the Baptist required the miraculous action of God. He required even more miraculous action in order to keep that witness strong and well directed. Without miracle(s) John did not know Him, and without miracle(s) John could not maintain his witness to Him. Knowing God, and staying in that privileged position, required multiple divine actions, even for John the Baptist. John had to witness the Holy Spirit descending in visible form upon the Son before he knew the very God Who confronted him there, and even after that John had to hear about all the miracles Jesus was performing in fulfillment of Divine prophecy. Short of those miracles, even John the Baptist did not know, could not know, and could not maintain, what we all need to know, namely God, Who is revealed only in Christ (Matt. 11: 27).
Please remember for whom this impossibility loomed so large. Please remember what sort of person was stranded on the island of humanly impenetrable ignorance of the Divine. It was not simply some typological everyman; it was the best and highest of us all: not just a prophet, but one whom Jesus said was “more than a prophet” (Matt. 11: 9). We have it on the Highest Authority that John the Baptist was simply the greatest of us all (Matt. 11: 11). Yet, even the greatest among us is less than the lowest member of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 11: 11). The momentous God-caused shift from John the Baptist’s (and our) natural condition to knowledge of God indicates that only by means of God’s doing, not ours, do we desperate sinners get placed above even the highest and best of human creatures. Only then do we get to know God.
If the greatest among us required such remarkable Divine doings both in the beginning and in the sustaining of his knowing God, then how much more does Aristotle need it, and how much greater is Aristotle’s darkness because he had neither of John the Baptist’s advantages? Yet, despite that Aristotelian darkness, so many Christians turn to him for theological methods, rubric, support, insight, and apologetics. Jesus was no theological Aristotelian. Neither was Paul. Nor should you be.
From the highest to the lowest, each one of us finds himself or herself in the position of Jacob and his ignorance: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” (Gen. 28: 16). For this ignorance, Aristotle’s machinations are no cure; they are one more form of its many symptoms.
Excursus III: “Heard,” “Seen,” “Handled” (I John 1: 1-3)
In the opening verses of his first epistle, the apostle John further distances himself from the Stoic logos by asserting that his message is based upon what he himself, and others, have heard with their own ears, seen with their own eyes, and touched with their own hands (vv. 1-3) -- things no Stoic would say about their logos and which Aristotle would not say about his uncaused cause, his unmoved mover, or his self-thought thought.
The apostles' tangible and visible encounter with the divine was something to which they had given witness from the beginning: “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard,” they testified to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4: 20). It was a way of thinking and learning they gathered from Jesus Himself when, frightened by his post-resurrection appearance to them He said: “Handle me and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24: 39). Handling the flesh-and-bones body of the Logos is hardly a Stoic notion, hardly an idea related to Greek natural theology, and is indeed thoroughly inimical to it. Similarly, while Aristotle saw what he deemed were physical evidences, or consequences, of the uncaused caused and the unmoved mover, he would have ardently objected to any idea that that cause and that mover could themselves be physically and tangibly encountered, just their effects. That the Stoic logos might become flesh, or that the uncaused caused and the unmoved mover could do so, was utterly unthinkable to those whose notions they were -- though not to some of today’s Christians, who have kidnapped those pagan ideas and made them serve a purpose for which they are ill-suited and were never intended.
The tangible, audible, and visible manifestations to which the apostles had access were the sorts of epistemological advantages that Aristotle so highly valued. He valued the human powers of perception and the deductions made logically from them. With the world his uncaused cause or unmoved mover allegedly produced, Aristotle had plenty of direct contact. Of that cause and mover behind the world, he had none, nor could have. That notion he deemed impossible. But precisely what was impossible in his system -- direct sensory contact with the divine (and not just with the world Aristotle’s "divine" allegedly made) -- that is what John here and elsewhere so boldly asserts: Aristotelian and Stoic impossibilities are historical realities. Christianity begins precisely where philosophical possibilities end. No bridge can span the gap between a logically impossible human incarnation (Aristotelian and Stoic), on the one hand, and a demonstrably human and historical manifestation (Christian), on the other. No synthesis between true and false, real and unreal, yes and no, is here possible. You must pick one or the other. The impossible is not possible; the true is not false; no is not yes. They cannot both be made to serve the same affirmation without doing violence either to one concept , or the other, or both. Nevertheless, what Aristotle himself (and the Stoics themselves) considered impossible has been simply overlooked or overruled by their later Christian adherents, who have removed those limits and ignored those implications whenever it suited them. They want Aristotle, but they do not want Aristotle.
According to A. E. Brooke, John’s announcement in these verses “is no new discovery. The revelation began with creation. It was continued in the history of the nations and the People, in the work of the Prophets, Psalmists, Legislators. It culminated in the earthly life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth” (Brooke, p. 1), assertions that Aristotle himself, the very one who knew his own system best, considered impossible. But what was impossible to Aristotle is affirmed by his later Christian devotees. That affirmation undermines the integrity both of Aristotle’s teachings and the Bible’s. Aristotle says that direct, sense-based, contact with the divine is impossible. The Bible says we’ve had it for centuries.