We shall know one day just how near we come in the New Testament to the very words of the Lord. That we have them with a difference, I cannot doubt. For one thing I do not believe he spoke in Greek. That the thoughts of God would come to the heart of Jesus in anything but the mother-tongue of the simple men to whom he spoke, I cannot think. Are we bound to believe that John Boanerges, who indeed best, and in some things alone, understood him, was able, after such a lapse of years, to give us in his gospel, the very words in which he uttered the simplest profundities ever heard in the human world? I do not say he was not able; I say, Are we bound to believe he was able? The gospel of John is the outcome of years and years of remembering, recalling, and pondering the words of the Master. We cannot tell of how much the memory, with God in the man, may be capable; but I do not believe that John would have always given us the very words of the Lord. God has not cared that we should anywhere have assurance of his very words; and that not merely, perhaps, because of the tendency in his children to word-worship, false logic, and corruption of the truth, but because he would not have them oppressed by words, seeing that words, being human, therefore but partially capable, could not absolutely express what the Lord meant, and that even he must depend for being understood upon the spirit of his disciple. Seeing it could not give life, the letter should not be throned with power to kill; it should be but the handmaid to open the door of the truth to the mind that was of the truth.
The Spirit of the Disciple
"And the Father Himself...hath borne witness of Me" (John 5:37)
by Dave Roney
There she was just walkin' down the street
Singin', "Do wah diddy, diddy, dum diddy do"
Snappin' her fingers and shufflin' her feet
Singin', "Do wah diddy diddy, dum diddy do"
(Manfred Mann, recorded 1964)
Words, all words spoken by men, are symbols. There is no reality in the words themselves, but only in what the words stand for and represent. We must make sense of the words which, in and of themselves, are insensible; a correspondence must be made between the word representation and the actual reality which the word is communicating; it is why we must often “define our terms,” so that we are “on the same page,” and expressly why the field of Logic had to necessarily be developed. It is why an expanded vocabulary is necessary, for the better our words, the better we are able to relate or else project our thoughts and describe the reality at hand. It is why we must bring to bear analogies and metaphors which serve to enhance and make easier the understanding of what our words actually mean in reference to reality.
In the quote above, we easily “make sense” of the first line because we can link the words to the reality of a young woman, apparently attractive to the speaker, singing while she walks down a street; we can help our understanding by drawing a mental image of the scene and by identifying that scene through both personal experience and imagination: And the important feature to recognize is that all sane people, even though they shall have their own unique details to work into the incident, will nonetheless all see the same basic scenario of a woman singing as she walks down a street. There is a correspondence between the words and what they represent: But consider the second line, “Do wah diddy, diddy, dum diddy do:" What meaning can such nonsense words contain? Any form of art which leaves the interpretation thereof to the observer is tending toward nonsense, because the reality represented by the symbolism has been blurred, obscured, perhaps completely destroyed; “Cubism” in art, “Jabberwocky” in poetry, the illogic of a madman's ravings, or what we know as “the foolishness of men” when they speak or write those things which do not align with actuality, are examples.
But man is created in the “image” of God, therefore speaks because His Maker speaks; what is the difference between the speaking of God and that of men? It is chiefly this; whereas when men speak, their words are symbols which represent some reality, when God speaks His words are the reality. Herein lies a transcendence which we cannot fathom. A man speaks of the created thing, a tree, and his symbolic word can never adequately describe the extrinsic reality; God speaks the word “tree” and the entire world is populated by them in a profusion of sundry shapes and species! I say “I am a person,” but there is no person in the words; God declares “I AM” and it is He actually, the Reality and no symbol.
The speaking of God comes not by His voice alone, but by the work of His Spirit breathing and His Son doing; it is with God the totality of speaking in utterly Divine tri-fold dimension which man cannot even imagine: All those things, reality, whether material or immaterial, concrete or abstract, past or present or future, are real to us and actually real because of God, Who is Ultimate Reality. And even as He has spoken the worlds into being, so also those things are maintained and exist by and through Him: “All things are upheld by the power of His word (Hebrews 1:3). There is no separation between the speaking of God and reality, the two are one thing; we serve no god such as the Deists, who say that God wound the clock and walked away, allowing it to tick through time further unsupported by Him. When our Lord declares that man shall not live by bread alone, those things made, but “by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God,” He speaks of the actual Reality behind the adjunct reality of bread, of the essential rather than the supplementary, of God Himself above the things of God.
Now consider the words of Christ; were they reality? Being found in fashion as a man, as every man, a part of His diminishment was that to truly be “like” us who were originally created in the “likeness” of God, thus to qualify Himself as our Atonement, He must take upon Himself the furthest humiliation of our limitations. He must speak, not as God, but as man; He, from whose lips is Reality, must, as “the child born, the Son given,” speak in symbols such as all other men. It is why He spoke in parables, by metaphors, analogies, used hyperbole, and drew examples from the Nature which He had created. He must, become a small child, like any babe, and begin to learn the symbolic words of men and how to apply them logically, truly, cohesively, and coherently.
But let us now consider what St. John says concerning Him: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This “Word” is the Greek “ Λόγος,” (logos), and does not here carry the meaning such as the names of objects, but encompasses vocabulary itself, and in this case the Divine Vocabulary, that which has Spoken all things into being. For many centuries, God had “spoken” to men, but on their level, not creatively, but as denotative, or extensional; He must “put the cookies on the bottom shelf so the small children can reach them.” This He worked to accomplish by prophets and oracles, by practical experiences and miracles visited upon His people, by an accumulating body of Scripture, by Levitical code and sacrificial system, a Davidic throne and in all other ways; He worked in the world of men by things common in that world which men understood, or feared, or imagined, or needed, or loved, to present to them His Truth, His Reality. Yet, through so many centuries of such working among them, they could not yet see, did not understand, were in need of something even greater than the entire complex of the foregoing manifestations. The Owner of the Vineyard had, in effect, sent His servants, but they had been ignored and rejected; at the end He said “Ah, I will send My Son; Him they will hear!” And yet, true to the Lord's parable, they seized the Son and slew Him; but that was essential to the Speaking, for out of Death has come Life, so has Death died, and Life now reigns. I come now, at last, to the reading for today, the first in the series titled “The Knowing of the Son.”
“That the heart of God would come to the heart of Jesus in anything but the mother-tongue of the simple men to whom He spoke, I cannot think.”
If this Jesus, this Logos, this Word, speaking in a human form, had sent out the undiluted, unvarnished, fullness of the Divine Speech to men limited in their creaturely understanding of words, then it would have been essential that they consider His every word as “the letter of the Law,” in which case the Old Testament legalism would have been replaced by a new form of religious legalism. But, if this Logos is speaking of the entire Divine Vocabulary, i.e. the corpus of the Eternal Thought, the Infinite Idea, the Immutable Notion, Purpose, and the Plan for the ages extending without equivocation or contradiction or omission from and throughout all eternity, then we must regard the form of the speech issuing from Christ's lips as the garment, and not the body itself. The Ultimate Reality is cloaked in His words; the words speak of the Reality, but are not the Reality.
Christ speaks in a form that men can understand, albeit not exhaustively comprehend; His every word is reflective of that which would, in the case that He spoke without varnish the full Mind of God, be to us incomprehensible and to the Speaker unutterable. It would be, for a poor example, similar to an articulate mother speaking in high vocabulary to her two year old child; he could not understand, and she may as well not speak if he cannot; thus though she might utter her high words, they have become enigmatic at best, and that foolishness of the unreality of a word symbol which cannot be attached to a reality at worst, thus unutterable. We note this in God our Father as He dealt with men, in Christ Jesus, and also in the Spirit Who “makes intercession for us in groanings which are unutterable.” This “unutterable” speaking is in Divine language which would baffle us, be incomprehensible, which cannot be set in human vocabulary but far exceeds the capability of our lisping tongues. In our present condition, God must ever conceal part of Himself from us, and show us only what we as creatures are able to see, to hear, and to understand. Anything more would be lost upon us. It is the graciousness of God to reach down to us on our level and communicate with us in extraordinary kindness.
From the Babylonian captivity forward, the Aramaic took root and then held sway among the Jews, so that by Christ's day it was their common language (His cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” is a direct usage of the Aramaic). Hebrew was known and spoken by the priests, was readable by the educated Jewish population (though not often, or well, spoken); the Koine was known and spoken by the merchants as it was the international language of the empire and commerce; but a dialect of Aramaic was the common tongue of the Jews, and was the language Christ spoke. There is evidence that at least a portion of the New Testament was originally penned in Aramaic, and the Persians to this day refer to their Scripture as harking back to that originality. When St. John wrote his Gospel, it was years after the actual events had taken place; he wrote in Greek, relied on memory, and the scenes depicted were for a Jewish culture of now two millennium past; we are reading translations of the Greek, drawn from copies of copies made, detached from the original language, its idioms, the meanings of which often drew from everyday events and things peculiar to the chosen people, now long passed into history. What chance, do you suppose, that the actual words of our Lord, spoken in Aramaic, recalled from memory, translated into Greek, subsequently into English, which language itself has been in a constant state of evolution since its beginning, correspond closely to the words of Christ we read today?
“God has not cared that we should anywhere have assurance of His very words; and that not merely, perhaps, because of the tendency in His children to word-worship, false logic, and corruption of the truth, but because He would not have them oppressed by words, seeing that words, being human, therefore but partially capable, could not absolutely express what the Lord meant, and that even He must depend for being understood upon the spirit of His disciple.
Seeing it could not give life, the letter should not be throned with the power to kill; it should be but the handmaiden to open the door of the truth to the mind that was of the truth.”
He does not say “ And the Father Himself...hath spoken of Me” but, rather, that God has “borne witness of Me.” For the truth, the Jews had paid closest heed to the Scripture, looking to the words as though in the words was life, yet the Son said unto them “You search the Scriptures; in them you think you have life, yet it is they which are bearing witness of Me;” thus, the Father and the Scripture have “borne witness” of Him. Words of men, all words, even Scripture, are but symbols for reality; in the flesh of Christ is the reality itself made manifest. “All things are from Him, and through Him, and to Him” as says St. Paul in Romans 11:36: It is Him, not the things of Him; it is not man's words put to parchment but the One from Whom they come, speaking through the Christ, and it is to this Living One that all words, human or Divine, symbolic or reality itself, are sent out and return for meaning.
MacDonald says “He must depend for being understood upon the spirit of His disciple.” As a man, our Lord spoke in the words of men, thus those words were symbolic and referred to reality even as does our language today, and so also every language. In His humanity, there were things the Lord did not know, only His Father in Heaven; and we, likewise, do not comprehend all concerning the things of God. What is common between us and Christ is “the spirit of His disciple;” we as the disciples of our Lord and He as the Disciple of His Father and ours. No version of Scripture is inerrant, including the Greek texts extant from ancient times; this has no bearing on the inspiration of Scripture, the essential truth in it. It is not the critical, Pharisaical, letter-of-the-Law interpretation of Scripture which contains any Life, but the Man Christ Jesus to Whom all Scripture points, Who is the center and circumference of all meaning, whose symbolic words were verified by the reality of what He did, His humble obedience to the exacting will of The Will.
To those at Phillipi, that city in eastern Macedonia where the Apostle had taken the Gospel of Christ, he wrote in his Epistle “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...” and what was the mind of Christ? It was sheer, absolute, indefatigable, and utterly willing obedience to the Will of God devotedly worked out in Him during His earthly tenure by unfeigned and purest Love of and for God. The “mind of Christ” was and is no intellectual matter but is “ the spirit of His disciple.” Man, the natural man, demands to know before he will believe; but the ordering of God is that a man must first be obedient to all which he knows to be obedient, and if he will do this, then will he begin to know. And if we will do this, we will discover (as will others) that our symbolic words are beginning more and more to become reality itself. Our words will ever in this life remain as symbols, but we will be approaching reality as we become ever more the images of Christ in our world.
As an aside, a suppositional one, but one precious to me because I can imagine none greater or more glorious for the children of the Father than this, I see by the imagination a coming Day when God our Father shall put His arm about our shoulder and say to us “You see that blank place in the heavenlies? I left it blank on purpose; I left it that way just for you. Now, just as My Son, your Elder Brother, could break little fishes in pieces to feed the multitude, not by His own power but by Mine which I freely gave to Him, I am now in like fashion giving you the power to go into that blank space and create worlds, and make them full of colors, and glories, and joys, and make beasts which you will love and they will love you, and you shall speak to them as they will speak to you, and by My power which has become part of your own Divine Nature which I freely share with My children, I bequeath to you, as My heir, and the joint heir of all which My Son possesses, this great creative power.” And if that should be the case, as it must except that perhaps my imagination has been too small, then we who have become truly like our Lord, and so also like our Father, shall speak with the ability not to do so only in symbols which represent reality, but as reality itself...