Rev. Woudenberg is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Being too logical, strangely, has become an all too common criticism in these days since Karl Barth first expressed his fascination with paradoxical “yes” and “no” disjunctives. And so it is that Dr. J. DeJong, editor of the Clarion, in his recent debates with. Prof. Engelsma, faulted him for his “logical scheme of thought.” One can only wonder, is he suggesting it would be preferable to be illogical? Or would he appreciate being identified as that? Or is he suggesting some third possibility in-between? And, if so, what would that be?
But the matter is worthy of our consideration; for the fact is that logic is a perfectly biblical concept – even if it is not always recognized as such.
Commonly, of course, logic is thought of as having originated with the Greek philosophers, particularly Aristotle. There is reason for that. Aristotle in his day did do a great deal to analyze the principles of logic and lay them out in a form which could be, and was, used by scholars after him. For well over a thousand years the Logic of Aristotle was the standard by which the validity of arguments was tested. But that does not mean that logic began with him. The fact is that all the basic principles of logic are found implicit in the Bible itself.
Etymologically the word “logic” derives from, the Greek word Logos, which is a perfectly biblical term. It is translated “word,” but in its full meaning it is far more profound than that. It has within itself the idea of reasoning or thought, as J.H. Thayer in his Greek lexicon says, “as respect to the MIND: reason, the mental faculty of thinking, meditating, reasoning, calculating.” And so it was that the apostle John took up this term and used it at the heart of the powerful opening verse of his Gospel account, John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God,” of which Thayer again goes on to comment, “In John, (logos) denotes the essential Word of God, Jesus Christ, the personal wisdom and power in union with God, his minister in creation and government of the universe, the cause of all the world’s life both physical and ethical.” The very idea of reasoning and logic is, to be found implicit within this very biblical term.
Now at this point, it might be argued that this was because the language was Greek, and by it Greek thought was being taken in and integrated into biblical thought – until, that is, one discovers the real source of John’s idea, not in Greek philosophy, but deep within the Old Testament Scriptures themselves. Very clearly, what John was saying had its roots in what Solomon had said long before the Greek philosophers ever began to write: “I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions…. Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength…. The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was…. When he prepared the heavens, I was there . . . when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him” (Prov. 8:12-30). Here was clearly the thought which John picked up and echoed again in his striking refrain. John too, with his use of the word- logos, was pointing to what Solomon had designated by the use of the Hebrew word for wisdom, chokma, and upon it had built the whole of his book of wisdom, the Proverbs of Solomon. It was a wisdom which had been given him by a special bestowal of God, and which was pronounced superior to that of every other man (I Kings 3:12).
At the heart of his work, Solomon expresses a most profound and basic truth; he personifies wisdom, and identifies it with the one who was “possessed” by Jehovah, “from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was . . . .” And out of this wisdom, or according to it, the creation was made. This wisdom- this word or logic, if you will — Solomon speaks of as having been there at the creation of the world, 8:29-30: When he gave to the sea his decree . . . when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him . . . and I was daily his delight, rejoicing alway before him.” Wisdom gave to the creation its divine delight; for with that term we have Solomon’s beautiful and prophetic vision of the Son of God. This John saw, and on the basis of it went on to identify “the Word” as being “God,” the one by whom “all things were made” (John 1:3). John saw Solomon’s vision realized in Jesus Christ (John 1:14), as though through the communications of logical thought the divine life is realized.
But there is more. For out of this there proceeds what is perhaps the basic principles of what we now call logic.
To begin with, there is the matter of origin. Where does truth and proper thinking start?
At this point the Greeks tried to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, with what they called “inductive logic,” a method of seeking to extract from the examination of nature a series of basic truths out of which they could begin their process of deductive reasoning. But, as brilliantly as it was done, it only led into a futile circle of reasoning which never rises above itself; that is, it works to an extent with matters of nature, but it is never able to ascend into the matters of the spirit and of God.
Solomon, however, saw something better, as he went on to note in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” He recognized that the beginning of knowledge, and of reasoning, must be found in receiving the Word of God, from which it then applies itself to life; and so his book constitutes, from there on, a series of observations concerning this application in the lives of those who do and are blessed, and who failing to do so are found fools. Noting this, John went on to say that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Truth and beauty come to us from God through the Son, who is the source of all that we know of God: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18; see also Matt. 11:27). The point is clear, God is the source from which truth must come, and it can be found only through the Scriptures, the revelation given by and about his Son. This is where true logic must start.
And that principle leads on to another, the fact that truth so received never contradicts itself.
In the traditional study of logic this was recognized and expressed as “the principle of the undivided middle.” The point is that every meaningful expression of thought must begin with an opening general proposition, to which then is added a more particular idea or middle proposition, and leading in turn to a conclusion which was not understood at the start. But, in order for such a process of thought to be valid or logical, the middle term must not divide. That is to say – and that is what logic is all about – when speaking, one must take care that what he says does not lead to more than one conclusion, and particularly not to conclusions which are contradictory to each other.
This principle, although not technically expressed, is clearly set forth in the Bible, only in what is essentially a far deeper and more profound sense. The Bible leaves no room for contradiction. Once God has spoken, He does not change, compromise, or in any way say the opposite. God does not contradict Himself. This was implicit already in the way He introduced himself to Moses- before one word of Scripture was ever written. He said, Exodus 3:14: “I AM THAT I AM and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” It means that whatever God has determined to be, He will be; and whatever He has determined to say or do, He will always say and do. God does not change, as Moses went on to say at a later time, in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” When God says a thing, it is true; He never says one thing and means, or goes on to say, another. If one were to put it in logical terms, God never divides his middle term.
In fact, when it finally comes down to it, this is what language is all about. Language, after all, is not something made by man, in spite of what modern evolutionary thinking may suppose; it was given to man at his creation by God, the means by which God might communicate with man, and man with God. What language by its very nature provides is a means for distinguishing the various thoughts which are held within the mind, and relating them to each other in a logical stream of thought which can be taken up and replicated in the mind of another, drawing the two together in a meaningful communication of life. And the complexities of language, which can become quite exacting, are but so many logical functions by which ideas and their relationships can be clearly distinguished and used and accurately replicated so as not to divide the thought and create confusion or misunderstanding in the minds of others. Every language does it in its own way, but each is a logical structure that arises innately from a nature given man by God. God has enabled him to speak, and to do it accurately with logic.
And in that also is found the key to the understanding or interpretation of the Scriptures. That is important; for, as we all know, if one takes individual passages of the Bible by themselves, they can be made to say almost anything. And that is done. All kinds of heresies live in the claim that they were taken from the Bible, leaving so many with that almost cynical question, how can anyone know what the Bible actually says?
But to this there is an answer, a simple basic rule laid down by the Bible itself and used through the ages by the true students of God’s Word. Each passage of Scripture must be interpreted in harmony with all the rest. This is what the Bereans did, Acts 17:11: “They received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” And so we find all through the New Testament, that nothing is left to stand by itself. Repeatedly, what is taught is brought out in light of what had been taught before. Although himself inspired, each author confirmed what he said with those Scriptures which had been given before. There was always that basic presupposition, as Jesus said in John 10:35, “The scripture cannot be broken.” It cannot contradict itself. And so, one can know what the Bible says in a particular place, when with sincerity and faith he understands it in logical harmony with the rest.
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” (II Tim. 2:15). Such study is logic, God’s gift by which truth may be known.