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Gordon Clark vs. John Calvin on John 1:1

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Gordon Clark is famous for his translation of John 1:1 as "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God, and the Logic was God." He believed that the basic laws of logical thought (the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, and the law of excluded middle) inhered in God's thinking, and that as those made in the image of God, we ourselves must think in a manner identical to God in order for God's self-revelation to made sense of us. So Clark:

It is to be hoped that these remarks on the relation between God and truth will be seen as pertinent to the discussion of logic. In any case, the subject of logic can be more clearly introduced by one more Scriptural reference. The well-known prologue to John’s Gospel may be paraphrased, “In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God, and Logic was God.... In logic was life and the life was the light of men.”

This paraphrase-in fact, this translation-may not only sound strange to devout ears, it may even sound obnoxious and offensive. But the shock only measures the devout person’s distance from the language and thought of the Greek New Testament. Why it is offensive to call Christ Logic, when it does not offend to call him a word, is hard to explain. But such is often the case. Even Augustine, because he insisted that God is truth, has been subjected to the anti-intellectualistic accusation of “reducing” God to a proposition. At any rate, the strong intellectualism of the word Logos is seen in its several possible translations: to wit, computation, (financial) accounts, esteem, proportion and (mathematical) ratio, explanation, theory or argument, principle or law, reason, formula, debate, narrative, speech, deliberation, discussion, oracle, sentence, and wisdom.

Any translation of John 1:1 that obscures this emphasis on mind or reason is a bad translation. And if anyone complains that the idea of ratio or debate obscures the personality of the second person of the Trinity, he should alter his concept of personality. In the beginning, then, was Logic(Clark).

John Calvin, in his commentary on this verse, explicitly broaches those connotations mentioned by Clark having to do with reasoning, calculation, etc. and rejects such a translation and interpretation as inappropriate:

In the beginning was the Speech. In this introduction he asserts the eternal Divinity of Christ, in order to inform us that he is the eternal God, who was manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16.) The design is, to show it to have been necessary that the restoration of mankind should be accomplished by the Son of God, since by his power all things were created, since he alone breathes into all the creatures life and energy, so that they remain in their condition; and since in man himself he has given a remarkable display both of his power and of his grace, and even subsequently to the fall of man has not ceased to show liberality and kindness towards his posterity. And this doctrine is highly necessary to be known; for since apart from God we ought not at all to seek life and salvation, how could our faith rest on Christ, if we did not know with certainty what is here taught? By these words, therefore, the Evangelist assures us that we do not withdraw from the only and eternal God, when we believe in Christ, and likewise that life is now restored to the dead through the kindness of him who was the source and cause of life, when the nature of man was still uncorrupted.

As to the Evangelist calling the Son of God the Speech, the simple reason appears to me to be, first, because he is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; and, secondly, because he is the lively image of His purpose; for, as Speech is said to be among men the image of the mind, so it is not inappropriate to apply this to God, and to say that He reveals himself to us by his Speech. The other significations of the Greek word λόγος (Logos) do not apply so well. It means, no doubt, definition, and reasoning, and calculation; but I am unwilling to carry the abstruseness of philosophy beyond the measure of my faith. And we perceive that the Spirit of God is so far from approving of such subtleties that, in prattling with us, by his very silence he cries aloud with what sobriety we ought to handle such lofty mysteries.


I wonder what induced the Latins to render ὁ λόγος by Verbum, (the Word;) for that would rather have been the translation of τὸ ῥη̑μα. But granting that they had some plausible reason, still it cannot be denied that Sermo (the Speech) would have been far more appropriate. Hence it is evident, what barbarous tyranny was exercised by the theologians of the Sorbonne, 10 who teased and stormed at Erasmus in such a manner, because he had changed a single word for the better(Calvin)

Calvin warns against importing a purely philosophical understanding of what constitutes the "logos" into the Johannine conception, and in this connection, rejects an interpretation of the text as having to do with "reasoning" or "calculation" as inappropriate. Instead, he translates "logos" as "speech", arguing that that point of John's prologue is that, just as it was the Speech who had original created man, so also it was the Speech who would have to redeem and restore mankind from his fallen condition.

Clark, Gordon. "God and Logic." Retrieved from:



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