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The first three Gospels make Jesus simply an ascending man, but the fourth presents him as the descending Word made flesh. Here it is plain that "Jesus the Logos" is far removed from the rank of mere humanity and is made to approximate deity. But it is impossible to decide just what rank the author assigned to Jesus, for his language is nowhere precise and definite, while some of his statements are not only confused but conflicting. The fact is that the writer was simply beginning the association of Jesus with the Logos doctrine, and he had not himself thought out its implications. It took two centuries to work out the details of the conception here briefly stated.
About all we can say is that Jesus is represented as a pre-existent being, of divine rank and creative functions, so intimately related to God that he shares his thought and manifests his glory. And yet the Son or Logos is only one with the Father sympathetically, being set off from the Eternal as a distinct individual whose rank is subordinate and whose power is derived. So much of the Father is in him that whoever sees the Son sees the Father, and for this reason the Word is to be worshiped, yet the Son is only a ray from the Infinite Source who can do nothing by himself. And as he is in the Father, so are his disciples in himself - a statement which shows that, however close the relation between God and the Word was supposed to be, it was yet a relation between separate individuals. Jesus when represented as the Logos is never even in the Fourth Gospel called the Eternal God himself; for the phrase "in the beginning," as in Gen. i. 1, brings him into the period of time when creation began; and the meaning of the most superlative phrase, inadequately translated in our common version, "The Word was God," is more truly given by these words,- The Logos was divine or a participant in the divine nature,-for if we follow the order of the Greek and keep in view how the first member of the double clause limits the second,- "The Word [Logos or Creative Agent] was with God, and God was the Word," -we see that the passage as a whole represents the Word simply as a manifestation of deity, distinctly apart from and inferior to the Infinite God himself. The admission of the learned and candid Reuss is significant: "Nowhere is there any assertion of an absolute pre-existence."
But, it must be confessed that a haze surrounds the conception of Jesus as the Logos as given in this Gospel, and we cannot tell exactly what rank the author gave him. Doubtless the author had not thought the matter out clearly for himself. We come approximately near his thought when we say that he conceived of Jesus us a superlatively divine being most intimately associated with God but an individual distinct from the Eternal. Both the old orthodoxy which sees here the Second Person of the Trinity and the rationalism which contends that nothing more than humanity is described are at fault.
This Gospel really has no doctrine of redemption in the traditional sense; it deals very vaguely with the ministry of Jesus, leaving the subject with the general statement that those who associate themselves with him are saved. But as we read this Gospel, we must remember that this is a purely ideal representation of Jesus. Something like many of the statements attributed to him he may have made, but whatever authentic materials the writer may have had at hand, they passed through the medium of his own speculative doctrine; and what we have before us, is not a historical record, but "a free conception of the thinker," a systematic presentation of Jesus' life, ruled by a theological purpose, which, though perhaps not fabricating incidents and sayings wilfully, did nevertheless re-shape, re-color, and freely expand the traditions then current.
Now, while the Fourth Gospel has certain beauties and excellencies of its own,-its spirit in places is remarkably fine and some of the thoughts are sublime - the portraiture of Jesus as the Logos, or Divine Word, there given, is, as we have seen, radically unlike the description of Jesus found in the first three Gospels. And it is evident that these are not different views of the same person, each equally accurate and historical, as assumed by dogmatic theology, but the latter must be regarded as the idealization of Jesus, made to fit the story of his life to the requirements of a philosophy of the universe and human history. And while the Fourth Gospel is no deliberate falsification of the life of Jesus, yet it presents a theory about him which grew up long after his day among people who never saw him; and this document, while valuable as a record of views which came to be held respecting him, cannot be accepted as absolutely accurate history, and we must not go to it for the mind of Jesus himself.
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