The epithet word was in current use in the Alexandrine philosophy in the days of the apostle John. With this, of course, John was undoubtedly well acquainted, and some critics have even thought that John borrowed his ideas concerning the Logos from that source. Such writers as Philo and others made reference to the Logos. They entertained certain conceptions of the functions of the being or idea, as they thought of it, bearing that name, but what a difference between their concept and that of the apostle John!
The Writings of Philo
Let us look at the writings of Philo, a Jewish philosopher who flourished from about 10 B.C. and who lived during the days of Jesus and the early apostles. Observe the following extracts:
The wise man is ever longing to discern the Ruler of the Universe. As he journeys along the path that takes him through knowledge and wisdom, he comes into contact first with divine words, and with these he makes a preliminary stay.—De Posteritate Caini (On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile), vol. 2, sec. 6, pp. 337-339.
To His Word, His chief messenger, highest in age and honour, the Father of all has given the special prerogative, to stand on the border and separate the creature from the Creator. This same Word both pleads with the immortal as suppliant for afflicted mortality and acts as ambassador of the ruler to the subject.—Quis Rerum .Divinarurn Heres (Who Is the Heir of Divine Things), vol. sec. 42, p. 385.
One of these is a Divine Word, the other God Who was before the Word. . . . But when he has his place in the divine Word he does not actually reach Him Who is in very essence God, but sees Him from afar.—De Sonzniis (On Dreams), vol. 5, book I, sec. 11, p. 331.*
But we do not believe that John borrowed his concept from pagan philosophy. He had no need to do so. He had access to divine records, records of certainty and truth. He had access to the Jewish commentaries on the Word of God. He was not groping among the subtleties of philosophical reasoning and the vain imaginings of men's minds for truth. He knew the truth of God, and with sublime dignity expressed in no uncertain language the glory of Him who is the Logos, the Divine Son of the eternal God.
But John's doctrine is not Philo's, and does not depend upon it. The differences between the two are pronounced. Though both use the term Logos, they use it with utterly different meanings. In John it signifies word, as in Holy Scripture generally; in Philo, reason; and that so distinctly that when Philo wishes to give it the meaning of word, he adds to it by way of explanation, the term oijua, word.—Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 31.
The Cambridge Bible also has a good note on this thought:
The Logos of St. John, therefore, is not a mere attribute of God, but the Son of God, existing from all eternity, and manifested in space and time in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the Logos had been hidden from eternity all that God had to say to man; for the Logos was the living expression of the nature, purposes, and Will of God.... Human thought had been searching in vain for some means of connecting the finite with the Infinite, of making God intelligible to man and leading man up to God. S. John knew that he possessed the key to this enigma.—The Cambridge Bible (Cambridge: University Press, 1923), St. John, p. 62.
Note also the following from the writings of Ellen G. White: "Through Christ the Word, a personal God created man and endowed him with intelligence and power."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 415.
Targums of the Old Testament
Apart from the few references we gave to the Old Testament at the beginning of this article, what other ancient records were there to which John might have had access? How did he know the truth on this question? How could he sublimate this wonderful revelation of God, that Christ was the Eternal "Word" of the ever-living God? Undoubtedly he was informed by divine inspiration. But it should be remembered that John, like others in the early group of apostles, knew about the Targums of the Old Testament. These had been part of their heritage as members of the Jewish congregation. The Targums, or paraphrases of the Old Testament, had been in use for a long time before the days of the early church. It seems that they were used in the synagogue, and as a Jew, John must have known about them.
On the use of the "Word" in the Targums, notice the following excellent editorial note from Moffatt in his New Testament Commentary:
In the Old Testament, and particularly in the prophetic writings, the idea of the "Word of the Lord" as such a vehicle is of frequent occurrence; in poetical passages that "Word" is sometimes all but personified. The process is carried farther in the popular Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament known as Targums, in which reverence forbids the assumption of direct contact between God and the world, and the "Memra," or "Word of God," is supplied as the vehicle of intermediate action in God's dealings with men. Thus Gen. 3:8 in the Targum reads, "They heard the voice of the Memra of the Lord God walking in the Garden." The parallelism of the first verses of the Prologue with the opening verses of Genesis seems to prove that John is moulding his thought of the creative Logos upon this Old Testament conception of the Word as the vehicle of Divine activity.—The Gospel of John (Harper and Brothers), p. xxxv.
Furthermore, we quote also from the introduction to the Targums of the Pentateuch, the English translation, as given to us by Etheridge:
Among the momenta of the Targums there is one of such great importance to the Christian theologian, that it would be unpardonable to omit it in these brief notices. I allude to the remarkable use in them of the title . . MENIRA DA-YEYA., "the Word of the Lord."
The Aramaic term . . . Memra, is a noun, composed with the formative . . [M], from the root . . . ['amar], "to speak." In the numerous passages referred to, it is employed with the genitive of the Divine Name, . . . [Jehovah], . . . answering to the New Testament epithet, Aoyo; rob 61 Eoii, as applied to the Messiah.--J. W. ETHERIDGE, Introduction to the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch (London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1862), pp. 14, 15.
The Aramaic word Memra is used in the Tar-gums as applied to the Word of God nearly six hundred times, about three hundred of which are classified as reasonably certain, according to Alfred Edersheim.* In his article he deals with the "Memra or Logos of Onkelos," and lists the number of times the word is used in the Tar-gums, not only of Onkelos but in the Jerusalem Targum and the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel. A study of the paraphrases, or Targums, on the Pentateuch is certainly interesting, illuminating, and instructive. In many places where the word "God" is used, they give the epithet "Word"; they give "Word" also for the "angel" of the Lord. We list the following instances from the many which might be given " with the expression as it occurs in the King James Version first, and next from the Targums:
Hence we can see several ways in which John could have become well acquainted with the expression. He did, however, what had never been done before. By divine inspiration he gathered up what had been revealed in earlier days and in a very clear and forceful manner applied this expression to Christ the Lord in the sublime language we find in the opening verses of the Gospel that bears his name.
The Pulpit Commentary has this good note on this thought:
The Jewish translators and commentators had so thoroughly grasped the idea, that they were accustomed, in their Ghaldee paraphrases of the Old Testament, to substitute for the name of the Most High, the phrase Memra-Jah, "The Word of the Lord," as though the Lord, in his activities and energies, and in his relations with the universe and man, could be better understood under the form of this periphrasis than in that which connoted his eternal and absolute Being. The Targum of Onkelos —the oldest, most accurate, and precious of these documents—in numerous places substitutes "the Word of the Lord" for Jehovah, "the Word of Elohim" for Elohim, and "the 1,Vord of the Lord" for the angel or messenger of Jehovah. Thus in Gen. vii. 16 it is said, "The Lord protected Noah by his Word:" xxi. 20, "The Word of the Lord was with Ishmael in the wilderness." In Gen. xxciii. 21 Jacob made a covenant that "the Word of the Lord should be his God;" Exod. xix. 17, "Moses brought forth the people to meet the Word of God."—on John 1:1, pp. 5, 6.
Observe still further on Frederic Godet. He remarks in his Gospel of St. john:
"To those Hellenists and Hellenistic Jews, on the one hand, who were vainly philosophising on the relations of the finite and infinite; to those investigators of the letter of the Scriptures, on the other, who speculated about the theocratic revelations, John said, by giving this name Logos to Jesus: 'The unknown Mediator between God and the world, the knowledge of whom you are striving after, we have seen, heard, and touched. Your philosophical speculations and your scriptural subtleties will never raise you to Him. Believe as we do in Jesus, and you will possess in Him that divine Revealer who engages your thoughts.' "— Quoted in M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 2, pp. 30, 31.
Ellen G. White comments:
Christ, the Word, the only begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father,—one in nature, in character, in purpose,—the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God.—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 31.
Let us then revere the name of Him who enters into the fullest counsels of the Most High, He who is the thought of God made audible, He who is the Alpha and the Omega, He who is also the everlasting Word of the Eternal God.
* These three quotations are taken from Philo's works as published in the Loeb Classical Library, George Putnam's, New York, 1884, Volume references as given above are from this edition. There are also many other references, of which the following are part:
Immutabilis Sit (On the Unchangeableness of God), vol. 3 S sec. 13, pp. 41-43.
De Mutatione ffominum (On the Change of Names), sec. 3. vol. 5, p. 151; sec. 13, vol. 5, p. 185; sec. 20, vol. 5, p. 200 sec. 38, vol. 5, p. 253.
De Opiftcio Mundi (On the Account of the World's Creation Given by Moses), sec. 6, vol. 1, p. 21.
Lesum Allegoria (Allegorical Interpretation of Genesis II. ft III.), book 2, sec. 21, vol. 1, p. 279; book 3, sec. 73, vol. 1, p. 443.
De Agricttltura (Oil Husbandry), vol. 3, sec. 12, p. 135.